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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Giuliani Under Fire Over Dirt-Digging Ukraine Trip; Trump Focused on Impeachment; Republican House Members in Danger Over Impeachment Vote?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:32:07]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with the politics lead.

Thirty-one House Democrats represent congressional districts that President Trump won in 2016. And for them, a decision on impeachment may carry with it their congressional career.

But what about House Republicans in swing districts? How are they making their decisions?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): While many in the political world are focusing on House Democrats in swing districts and how they may vote on impeachment...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't agree with this. I just don't.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): So I will be voting yes on obstruction.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TAPPER: Less focus is being given to House Republicans from purple districts and how they might vote. The reason? As of now, Republicans appear united against impeachment.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republicans have never been so united as they are right now, ever.

TAPPER: In order to justify that position, many Republicans simply deny reality, as seen here by Congresswoman Debbie Lesko of Arizona.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why is it ever OK for an American president to ask a foreign power to investigate rival? Why do you think that's OK?

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): He didn't. He didn't do that.

RAJU: He did ask.

TAPPER: He sure did do that. Trump himself has said he asked Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. TRUMP: If they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens.

TAPPER: Denying facts and evidence has become the rule of the day.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Ukrainians, third, didn't know that the aid was held up at the time of the phone call.

TAPPER: Congressman Jordan of Ohio making that claim, despite this testimony from a Pentagon official:

LAURA COOPER, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: A member of my staff got a question from a Ukraine Embassy contact asking, what was going on with Ukraine security assistance?

TAPPER: It may be difficult for the public to imagine these same Republicans tolerating the same offenses from a Democratic president. And that was the test laid out in 1974 by Illinois Republican Congressman Robert McClory, who initially supported for President Nixon, and then changed his mind.

REP. ROBERT MCCLORY (R-IL): I have heard it said by some that they cannot understand how a Republican could vote to impeach a Republican president. I cannot and do not envision my role in that dim light.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I'm Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.

TAPPER: Then House floor manager Lindsey Graham asked the same basic question during the Clinton impeachment in 1998.

GRAHAM: If a Republican president had done these things, would a Republican delegation had gone to tell him to get out of town? I hope so.

TAPPER: Flash forward 21 years, and Senator Lindsey Graham got his answer.

GRAHAM: I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Coming up, a new admission by Rudy Giuliani raising red flags today about his continuing efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens.

Up next: how his moves our music to Putin's ears.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:21]

TAPPER: In our politics lead today, President Trump today called his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani the greatest crime fighter.

But as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports from the White House, it's investigations Giuliani pushed for that led to President Trump's pending impeachment, which is clearly dominating Mr. Trump's mind right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two days away from likely becoming the third president to be impeached, President Trump is defiant and defending his attorney.

TRUMP: He sees all of the hoax that happens when they talk about impeachment hoax or the Russian collusion delusion. And he sees it. And he's a -- he's a great gentleman. And he was, again, the greatest mayor in the history of New York, and probably the greatest crime fighter in the last 50 years.

[16:40:06]

COLLINS: Most of his grievances are being aired on Twitter, where he fired up dozens of tweets this morning alone and many more over the weekend, including one jab where he falsely claimed Speaker Pelosi's teeth were falling out of her mouth as she answered questions on the articles of impeachment.

QUESTION: You yourself accused him of bribery. Why did you decide not to make bribery one of the articles of impeachment.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I myself am not a lawyer. Sometimes, I act like one.

COLLINS: In the clip, Pelosi's speech is uninterrupted and her office isn't commenting on the president's tweet, for now.

The president also had his eye on a new poll from FOX News, which shows 50 percent of registered voters want him impeached and removed from office, while 41 percent oppose impeaching him altogether.

Support for impeachment hasn't grown as Congress has conducted its hearings. But, according to the poll, it hasn't shrunk either. Other numbers could also prove troubling for Trump; 53 percent of those surveyed believed he abused the power of his office, 48 percent think he obstructed Congress, and 45 percent say he committed bribery.

As he often does with numbers he doesn't like, the president dismissed the poll as inaccurate and weighted toward Democrats.

White House aides say impeachment is weighing on Trump.

PAM BONDI (R), FORMER FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Is this difficult? Of course it is.

COLLINS: Pam Bondi is the former Florida attorney general who Trump brought in wake of impeachment. And she defended the White House's close coordination with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, in shaping the trial.

BONDI: The president deserves to be heard. We should be working hand in hand with him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, you remember that trip that Rudy Giuliani made to Ukraine last week where he told "The Wall Street Journal" that he got more information than the president could imagine?

Today, when the president was asked what had Rudy Giuliani told him about the trip, he said -- quote -- "not much."

TAPPER: One also wonders how much of that information was accurate.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And in our world lead today, Rudy Giuliani has given the clearest admission yet that he worked to get then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch removed from her position because she was hurting his -- quote -- "investigation into the Bidens."

Giuliani telling "The New Yorker" -- quote -- "I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way. She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody" -- unquote.

And as CNN's Frederik Pleitgen now reports, Rudy Giuliani's self- proclaimed fact-finding mission is being condemned today by anti- corruption activists in Ukraine, and it's being applauded by the Kremlin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani's continued efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine are disgusting, some anti-corruption groups in that country.

DARIA KALENIUK, ANTAC: It's not search for truth. It's actually continued spreading disinformation, in the best tradition of Kremlin.

PLEITGEN: And it's music to the ears of Putin-controlled TV in Russia, who are eager to paint themselves as innocent, despite the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions about Russian election interference in 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It turns out the State Department is wired to remove Trump's power and to stop the case of corrupt Biden from being investigated, as Giuliani says.

PLEITGEN: Giuliani, who spoke with Trump last week after returning from a supposed fact-finding mission to Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, tweeted this weekend a string of clips from pro- Trump right-wing media outlet OAN, claiming to lay out his findings, which he says prove fraud by the energy company Burisma, which employed Joe Biden's son Hunter and alleges that then Vice President Joe Biden had the Ukrainian prosecutor general investigating the case, Viktor Shokin, fired.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He will testify that he was investigating Biden's son. He will show you the documents that prove he was investigating Biden's son. PLEITGEN: There is no evidence that Biden did anything wrong. And

Giuliani is also refusing to acknowledge the clamor by European and American leaders alike at the time for Shokin to be fired due to his alleged corruption.

Ukraine's main anti-corruption action group, AntAC, which has also been in Giuliani's crosshairs, tells CNN there was broad consensus that Shokin was ineffective, and provided us with documents apparently showing that he actually hindered large parts of the investigation into Burisma.

KALENIUK: Under his leadership, prosecution is not reforming. And, actually, he is blocking the attempts to do the reforms and to perform proper investigations.

PLEITGEN: AntAC says the same goes for Ukraine's next prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, another one of Rudolph Giuliani's proclaimed witnesses.

Neither Shokin nor Lutsenko replied to CNN's efforts to contact them.

[16:45:05]

KALENIUK: Giuliani continues surrounding him with the most notorious, corrupt people in Ukraine with bad reputation, who are helping to feed this disinformation.

PLEITGEN: And Kremlin-controlled media is clearly gobbling up the message, portraying America as weak and Ukraine in disarray, but President Trump as the winner.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: Yes, Jake, and Kremlin media was really having a field day with that all day.

But those anti-corruption agencies there in Ukraine really very much saying that all this is having a chilling effect, some of the things that Rudy Giuliani is doing, a chilling effect on some of their efforts to promote transparency in their country -- Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you so much.

With the full House impeachment vote less than 48 hours away, President Trump is hitting a dubious mark. What's he done this year more than the last two years combined?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:35]

TAPPER: In our politics lead, the Washington post's fact-checking team declaring today President Trump has now made more false and misleading claims this year, 2019, than in 2017 and 2018 combined. Another sign of President Trump's current mood, his tweets, more than

50 tweets and retweets today attacking the Democrats leading impeachment, attacking the Bidens, attacking the media, the FBI, and on and on and on.

So, Seung Min, there's no indication the Senate's going to convict President Trump. So why is he apparently freaking out? Like, what's the big deal? He is safe. The Senate is not going to do anything.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's also true. But he's also going to have a pretty black marker on his political history, on his place in U.S. history when he almost certainly on Wednesday will become the third U.S. president to become impeached.

That is something. Even if he does escape this, goes the route of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and does get acquitted in the Senate, this is a marker that no U.S. president wants. And I think that is very cognizant in his mind right now.

But also he's making his public case. He is targeting Democrats in those Trump districts who could face political backlash. He's urging the party to stay together, hang together in the coming Senate trial. So a lot of this is messaging. A lot of this is preparing his ranks for next month, but clearly a lot on his mind lately, especially in his Twitter account.

TAPPER: And on top of the new impeachment polls, FOX News also asked voters about President Trump's behavior; 53 percent say the president abused the power of his office; 50 percent say he obstructed justice; 45 percent said he committed bribery.

I mean, those are pretty big numbers. I would think, Amanda, that that's probably fairly upsetting as well to have almost half, half, a majority of the country, depending on the question, thinking that the president has actually carried out illegal deeds.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

For a man who loves polls, you think that would be a wakeup call. I think it was a wakeup call to some of the hosts in that network.

But when it comes to his tweeting, I mean, can he tweet any harder? Can he scream any louder? I don't think it's making a difference. I mean, he can't keep making the argument over and over again. It's not getting him anywhere, as evidenced by that very poll.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about Rudy Giuliani, because Giuliani, you would think, at this point, maybe they would bring it back and like, OK, Rudy, go -- please, just like calm it down.

No, he goes to Ukraine. He's upsetting -- you saw in Fred Pleitgen's piece, he's upsetting anti-corruption Ukrainian activists. And now he's back sharing his documents that he's uncovered that he got from two former prosecutors that are widely perceived to be corrupt themselves.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR: Well, and it goes to this question of like, what is the endgame here?

But President Trump, I guess, today, maybe he was a little bit more hesitant about talking about what Giuliani had found. But he was kind of cheerleading this. And it's like, what do they expect to get from this?

They -- it seems that the president truly believes or he wants to be not just -- he doesn't want the Senate just to acquit him. He wants to come back and say that he has been completely vindicated and, you know what, it wasn't me that was corrupt. It is Biden. Biden is corrupt.

And if he can prove that, then that makes everything OK. I don't think it actually works that way. But -- and the president -- going to his tweets, I went through his tweets for a big project over the summer.

And even before impeachment...

TAPPER: I'm sorry. My condolences.

(LAUGHTER)

CARPENTER: Are you OK?

TAPPER: My condolences.

It's a dark place.

RASCOE: I like a little punishment.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: But, no, even before impeachment, he had been tweeting even more like just darkly and just like really going after lawmakers in a really visceral way.

Like, there was a difference even before impeachment happened. So it's not really clear like what's going on and whether he was just getting worked up at the end of the Mueller investigation.

But this has been an ongoing trend for him for the last few months.

TAPPER: And, Jen Psaki, we have seen some really strange behavior, obviously, so much of it, that we can't even get to all of it, making fun of the emotional displays of a teenage girl with Asperger's, making fun of Nancy Pelosi's dentures.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

TAPPER: He just shared some tweet from Rudy Giuliani.

Let's bring one up, sources telling CNN the two men on Friday after Giuliani returned from Ukraine, among the claims Giuliani is making, that former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin as proof of money laundering by Burisma and the Bidens, and that he says he was poisoned and he died twice and is now back.

This is Rudy. This is the president's lawyer. I mean, what?

PSAKI: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: No, that's like all you can say sometimes.

Look, I think President Trump, obviously, his followers or his supporters are holding tight with him. But, also, if you look at the polling, it's not just among the public at large. It's also independents who have moved over the last couple of months to support impeachment, think he did something wrong.

[16:55:10]

Democrats are united. He has to be thinking about that as well. So that's why I think it's becoming a little more frenetic and insane in the last few weeks.

TAPPER: All right. He died twice. I'm still stuck on that.

Everyone, stick around. Thanks so much.

Coming up: Maybe we can talk it out? The United States is reaching out to North Korea to try to ease the growing tension.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Well, that's all the time we have. I don't know what happened to the time.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @JakeTapper. Tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

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