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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Giuliani Continues Dirt Digging on Biden; Interview With Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA); House Debates Rules For Impeachment Vote; Trump Sends Angry Letter to Pelosi Over Impeachment. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Your response to that?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): So, my response to that is that we have an obligation.

And this has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans anymore. This has to do with what our founding fathers decided would be grounds for impeachment, a treason, bribery or high crime and misdemeanor.

Bribery is written all over the transcript or the summary of that July 25 phone call. And the president has to be reined in. He cannot continue to abuse the power and office of the presidency, as he has been wont to do.

And so it's our responsibility at this point to take action to impeach him. And I think that there's going to be a very powerful message that will be expressed to him tomorrow. He can have his rant today. He's going to hear from those who represent the American people tomorrow.

TAPPER: Well, Congresswoman, you say that bribery is written all over the rough transcript of that call with President Zelensky on July 25. But it's not -- the word is not written all over the articles of impeachment.

It doesn't use the term bribery or extortion or any of the other crimes that have been alleged, including by the House Judiciary Committee. Was that a mistake?

SPEIER: Well, actually, I asked Norm Eisen, who is the counsel to the committee, about that specifically, because I think bribery is something that should be specified.

He said, it was subsumed in the abuse of power impeachment article. So, I'm sure it will be raised tomorrow by many of us as part of the makings of abuse of power.

TAPPER: Majority Leader McConnell said today that he's not an impartial juror in the Senate impeachment trial. What was your reaction to that?

SPEIER: Well, I think, we're going to have to call for a mistrial before it ever gets over to the Senate.

My understanding is that each of the senators is going to have to take an oath that they will independently evaluate the evidence for impeachment and for conviction.

It sounds like there's no interest in doing that whatsoever. And I would think Mitch McConnell should recuse himself.

TAPPER: Have you talked to any House Republicans, any of the ones who -- whose votes might have been possible for impeachment at one point, whether congressman from Florida or Will Hurd from Texas?

Have you spoken to any of them about their thoughts?

SPEIER: Well, I have spoken to a couple of members, not the two that you identified.

And they look at it from a reelection perspective. When 80 percent of the Republicans do not support impeachment, they would be hollowing out their base of support. So, a decision is being made here, not based on the Constitution, but based on the reelection for many of my colleagues.

TAPPER: You obviously think that this is a very clear and shut case. Polls indicate that it's -- the country's divided, at the very best, for your case. There's also some reason to believe that polls might be slipping a little bit among independents.

But, be that as it may, why do you think there isn't this stampede among the public, in public opinion, to agree with you that the president should at the very least be impeached?

SPEIER: So, it's messy for the American people. They have their lives to lead. They have got to put food on the table. They have got to go do their jobs, and they find all of this way too messy.

What should be compelling, though, is the fact that 700 historians and 500 legal scholars have all opined that, in fact, the grounds for impeachment are clear, even with the fact that the president has withheld those who could be persons of information that would be relevant to this.

No document from the State Department or from the Department of Defense has been forthcoming. I mean, we have been able to piece this together on Kurt Volker's text messages and one e-mail from Ambassador Sondland.

There has been a concerted effort to obstruct this investigation by the president. And then you have to ask the question, if you're so innocent, Mr. President, why wouldn't you cooperate with this investigation?

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

SPEIER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Can you ever have a fair impeachment trial if some members of the jury have already said publicly that they're biased?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:50]

TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news.

Democrats and Republicans in the House battling over final rules for the debate during tomorrow's impeachment vote, as both sides also fight over whether witnesses will appear at an eventual Senate trial come January.

Joining me now to discuss, constitutional lawyer Ross Garber and former Justice Department official Elliot Williams.

Ross, let me start with you.

Bottom line -- and you're no MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporter, but, bottom line, you don't think the Democrats have made the case effectively?

ROSS GARBER, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY: Yes, they haven't. And I have been critical of that all along.

They have not sold the public on impeachment. You have had constitutional scholars who've done a great job of talking about the Constitution. You have got lawyers who've done a great job of lawyering.

What you haven't had is a sales pitch to the public. Now, I will say, during the Rules Committee hearing today, I think Representative Raskin actually did a decent job of sort of summarizing the case, probably the best I have seen.

But as we have seen from public opinion polls, the public hasn't been sold since the beginning of this process. And that's key in an impeachment.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think part of the problem is, this is what happens when you have an impeachment trial in the age of Twitter and Instagram. People want viral videos and explosive, splashy moments.

[16:40:00]

And if just look at the facts, Jake, of the transcript of the call, the president's conduct, the president's conduct with respect to Mayor Giuliani, and on down, there's a factual record that establishes that the president violated his oath of office.

Now, again, it's dry. Congressman Raskin is a constitutional law professor. And so he's not going to appear to be a splashy individual that's going to sell to the public.

But that's, I think, what we're confronting here. It's just we are in a different media and news information, news gathering climate than I think even the 1990s were.

TAPPER: The chairman -- I'm sorry -- the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Collins of Georgia, he's made the point that the Democrats are just on this timetable, the calendar and the clock, and they have been slaves to that. They want to get this done as quickly as possible, and that has undermined their case in terms of going to court to force the White House to release documents and witnesses, in terms of getting other witnesses.

Do you agree with that? Is that is that your main contention with how they have done it?

GARBER: No.

I think, sort of in a prototypical impeachment, it should be something that just shocks the conscience, that the public sees it and says, holy cow, this public official can't continue to serve for another day. That's the prototype.

So I don't think an impeachment needs to or should go on for a long time. Having said that, these are issues that it may be taking a while for the public to sort of wrap their heads around, or it's not there. I mean, it's, I think, one of the two. Either the case isn't there, or the Democrats just haven't done enough to build the case.

And I think that's -- that's what it boils down to.

TAPPER: Elliot, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, making the same basic argument about how Democrats really didn't exhaust this before voting to impeach tomorrow.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Chairman Adam Schiff and House Democrats actively decided not to go to court and pursue potentially useful witnesses because they didn't want to wait for due process.

So now the Senate Democratic leader would apparently like our chamber to do House Democrats' homework for them. And he wants to volunteer the Senate's time and energy on a fishing expedition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Elliot, your response?

WILLIAMS: He's as good an actor as he is a politician, Jake.

Honestly, this is all theater and somehow the majority leader's sudden belief in process. What would be different -- and that's the question that ought to be asked the majority leader -- if this had played out? Would he suddenly, had this gone through the court, suddenly have

decided that all these witnesses need to appear in the Senate, or that the House -- that the House's process was properly conducted?

It's -- he's playing a role and he's doing it quite effectively.

TAPPER: would like to point out that it is worth noting Rick Gates, the president's deputy campaign manager in 2016, was sentenced today to 45 days in jail, three years probation. Gates is one of six of President Trump's associates convicted of federal crimes, the president, of course, that Republicans say cares deeply about corruption.

Ross Garber, Elliot Williams, thank you so much for your time.

Rudy Giuliani with nonstop admissions that are music to the ears of Democrats -- that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:47:53]

TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN today that the president is -- quote -- "very supportive" of his efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine. And the two are on the same page, he says.

But it is important to remember where Giuliani is getting much of his information in Ukraine, from two former Ukrainian prosecutors who experts formerly and currently in the Trump administration have called not credible and corrupt.

Here's how the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine described one of these men, Yuriy Lutsenko.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE: I told Mr. Giuliani that, in my view, the prosecutor general with whom he had been speaking, Mr. Lutsenko, was not credible and was acting in a self-serving capacity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And then there is this exchange with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch bout a different Giuliani source, Viktor Shokin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): In fact, did Giuliani try to overturn a decision that you participated in to deny Shokin a visa?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Yes, that is what I was told.

SCHIFF: And that denial was based on Mr. Shokin's corruption?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: As CNN's Sara Murray reports for us now, the list of Republicans questioning exactly what Mr. Giuliani is doing is growing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani is still running his own game of diplomacy, aiming to dig up dirt on Democrats in Ukraine.

In a phone interview with CNN, Giuliani said President Trump was -- quote -- "very supportive" of his efforts in Ukraine.

QUESTION: How much has Giuliani shared with you about his recent trip to Ukraine?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not too much. But he's a very great crime fighter. He's a great person who loves our country. And he does this out of love, believe me. He does it out of love.

MURRAY: Giuliani stopped short of saying whether Trump directed him to go on his most recent trip to Kiev, but "We're on the same page," Giuliani told CNN.

Giuliani's comments back up a central argument for Democrats in favor of impeaching the president, that Trump and his personal attorney have pressured Ukraine to pursue investigations to benefit Trump politically.

In his latest media blitz, Giuliani admitted to helping recall the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a well-known anti-corruption advocate, saying he spoke with both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about it.

[16:50:09]

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

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: You forced out Marie Yovanovitch. You said...

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Of course I did. I didn't need her out of the way. I forced her out because she's corrupt.

MURRAY: With an impeachment vote set for Wednesday, Giuliani still insisted to CNN, "Just in case you think we're on defense, we're not." But if this is Giuliani's attempt to play offense, both parties say he could be stirring up trouble.

SCHIFF: But what I found most striking about Giuliani's comments was the admission, the confession that they needed to push Ambassador Yovanovitch out of the way to -- because she was going to get in the way of these corrupt investigations that Giuliani was pushing.

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): Extremely disturbing. And I think one of -- it argues again for slowing down, putting these guys under the threat of perjury under oath, and testify to find out, what's all the things he was doing over there?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Pompeo has been asked repeatedly what he thinks of Giuliani's adventures in Ukraine.

He has also repeatedly dodged the question -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

I mean, this is just stunning. This is like if, in the middle of the Clinton impeachment, Bill Clinton was out dating on the town, just like doing -- just flaunting this.

(LAUGHTER)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right.

TAPPER: It's almost unbelievable.

HENDERSON: No, he is unbelievable

Rudy Giuliani had sort of been laying low, and then kind of teasing this stuff on Twitter, apparently working on some documentary with a right-wing network.

And here he comes out at this point essentially helping the Democrats' case, the case they laid out essentially saying that the firing of Yovanovitch was sort the first part of this month-long scene. And then here he is saying essentially, yes, the Democrats' case here was right in terms of what he was doing.

So it's very bizarre. I think Democrats and Republicans are united in wanting Rudy Giuliani to go away.

TAPPER: And I have to say there's no evidence that Ambassador Yovanovitch is corrupt or has done anything wrong. None.

JACKIE ALEMANY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, there's none.

Most of what Giuliani has been peddling have been conspiracy theories. He clearly needs better sources. But the reactions to this story this week, Giuliani's countless interviews, I think, really distill the parallel universes that Republicans and Democrats are living in, one fact-based, one not.

When you have Rudy Giuliani having repeated contact with Lutsenko and the former prosecutor generals in Ukraine, and then coming back and talking to President Trump on the tarmac about it, this is behavior that Republicans call simply pushing the envelope, and behavior that enrages Democrats and makes them say, this undercuts the defenses that you have put forth for this president throughout this entire impeachment process.

One, that President Trump is concerned about corruption. He's clearly not, when he's talking about Joe Biden with Rudy Giuliani. And, two, that this whole process has not been -- that the president has not been directly implicated in this process and that he has not directly ordered Giuliani and Gordon Sondland and all these players to carry out this pressure scheme on Ukraine.

TAPPER: And we had a piece yesterday from Fred Pleitgen. The Kremlin loves what Rudy is doing. And anti-corruption activists in Ukraine, heralded ones, respected ones, hate what he's doing.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Man, they never listen to me, but, like, they can't help themselves.

I mean, the origination of this whole Ukraine storyline is like the day after the Mueller report comes out, and he's got some heat off him. He's like, oh, you know what we should do? Talk to Ukraine about investigating political adversaries on the home front.

TAPPER: Yes.

HAM: I mean, they cannot help themselves.

TAPPER: And again, the idea -- I mean, this is a whole day is night and black is white defense, the idea that, like, crooks are the good guys, and the good guys are the crooks.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

Look, I mean, Giuliani is basically wearing a T-shirt that says, I'm guilty and I'm part of this conspiracy with the president. And Republicans are like, nothing to see here.

So, if you're a Democrat, you're like, what the heck, this is not in normal circumstance. And on the Kremlin front, of course they love this, because this is confusing the entire argument of what corruption is and what corruption isn't.

And Trump and Giuliani are helping them confuse that in their own environment.

TAPPER: And then you also have these two indicted Giuliani associates who were indicted for campaign finance violations funneling money illegally to pro-Trump organizations.

HENDERSON: Yes. And they have wanted to talk here and essentially implicate some of the players in this. What I think is also suggests is that the president hasn't quite

damaged Hunter Biden and Joe Biden as much as he initially wanted to, right? He essentially likely wanted to knock him out of the primary process. Joe Biden seems to be doing OK at this point.

So you see Rudy Giuliani and this president, in this letter, for instance, really trying to advance more and more...

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: In fact, Joe Biden's doing better than he was probably at the beginning of the start of the impeachment process, maybe a little unrelated, but still.

HENDERSON: Right.

TAPPER: And Giuliani also told CNN today he and President Trump are -- quote -- "on offense" when it comes to digging on dirt on Democrats.

What does that look like, offense? I can't even -- I mean, if this is -- if this is the beginning of offense, I can't even imagine.

[16:55:05]

ALEMANY: Yes.

I think, like the president, Giuliani knows the value of sucking up all the oxygen in the room and getting all the attention on him.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have got more to talk about.

New reaction from members of Congress to President Trump's scathing, interesting, unhinged, whatever you want to call it, letter to Nancy Pelosi.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in tomorrow for our special coverage of the major vote in the House to impeach President Trump. It starts at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @JakeTapper. Tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. See you bright and early tomorrow.

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