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GOP Rep's Trump Defense; Trump Attacks Dingell; Democrats Debate Tonight; Trump Impeached by House. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 19, 2019 - 08:30   ET



RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Done it's. it's not -- just don't go there. There are certain places you don't go and Hitler, Jesus Christ, a few -- those are -- you just don't do that.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Well, in that case, let's just look at Congressman Loudermilk's argument that he was making, instead of his bad analogy, Jen. Let's -- what he's saying is that the president didn't have the right to face his accusers. That's an interesting argument because the president chose not to participate in the House proceedings where his accusers showed up and swore under oath and testified, but he didn't allow anyone in the White House to participate. So how does that work that he couldn't face his accusers?

JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's exactly right, Alisyn. And as we all know, he'll have the opportunity again in January when there's a Senate trial. Should he decide that he'd like to testify, I'm sure that the Democrats would welcome that, even if Mitch McConnell might not.

So, obviously, as Rick said, it certainly is never the answer. The answer is never to compare Donald Trump to Jesus in any -- in any way. But also the analogy is inaccurate in that he's had every opportunity to do that. Also, there's been a preponderance of evidence and really this was just a bad way of trying to make the process argument that was a consistent theme throughout the day yesterday.

SANTORUM: Well, let me just -- just one correction is -- and that -- and that is that what Loudermilk was trying to say is that the whistleblower is the accuser that he wasn't able to face. And that -- I think that was the point. Poorly made, but that was the point he was trying to make.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but even that point doesn't make sense to me. Here's the list of accusers that he could have faced, had he shown up, Fiona Hill, Tim Morrison, Gordon Sondland, Bill Taylor, Colonel Vindman, all of these --

SANTORUM: Yes, but the person who started it all -- I understand, the person who started it all.

CAMEROTA: Hold on -- hold on, Senator. All of those testified to the very same thing that the whistleblower made. SANTORUM: Again, I mean, I'm just saying he's making -- he's making a

point. Again, I don't think the point was well made, but it is a legitimate complaint that this whistleblower, who sort of started everything, has not been heard from.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But how is that legitimate, Rick? Just explain this. That we've moved on from the whistleblower. All of those people that I just named are people who had the same information, or more, much more, that -- than the whistleblower. So how is that point legit?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, it's legitimate in that, you know, there's concern about how the whistleblower first came to be in the first place, their coordination with the -- with Adam Schiff and his office. I mean all of these things are --

CAMEROTA: That was after the whistleblower came with the information.

SANTORUM: Again, I mean, it's -- it's an improper, at least from what Republicans are claiming, it's an improper, you know, investigation from the start. And -- and so --

CAMEROTA: But do you think so? I mean whistleblowers are allowed in this country. Whistleblowers come forward with information. That's how whistleblowers work.

SANTORUM: Yes, that's how whistleblowers work, but this was all second and third-hand information, number one. And, number two, it was -- it was clear that they were coordinating with a congressional committee that wasn't being honest with the American public while they were doing it.

CAMEROTA: They show -- that's how they report. They report to the Intel Committee. That's how -- this -- that's how this works.

Jen, my point is that, haven't we moved on from that? I mean I know -- I hear what Rick's saying.

SANTORUM: I agree.

CAMEROTA: I hear Republicans say this all the time.

PSAKI: We --

CAMEROTA: But there were all sorts of other witnesses that do have firsthand information.

PSAKI: Exactly, Alisyn. We -- we moved on months ago from the whistleblower complaint. And I think it's important to remind people that part of the risk here was that many Republicans in Congress were threatening to reveal the identity of the whistleblower. So that was part of the concern.

But beyond that, as you already noted, all of these witnesses came and testified in public and gave even more detail than what was in the whistleblower complaint. We saw the notes from the transcript of the call. Donald Trump himself, his chief of staff made -- confirmed many of the details that have -- were in the whistleblower complaint. So we have moved far beyond that. It was kind of an outdated and poorly done analogy.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Rick, while I have you, as a former senator, are you comfortable that the White House wouldn't let any direct witnesses participate?

SANTORUM: No, I'm -- look, I think that's something that the White House has a right to assert its privilege that, you know, they don't want certain documents and certain people to testify for executive privilege. And my big problem with the second article of impeachment is there's a process you go through in determining whether that's a credible claim.

And you go to court. And I -- all this call for urgency on the part of the Democrats, that they had to do this to stop the president, well, the only way you're going to really stop the president is to actually get the president convicted. Impeaching him doesn't stop him. What will stop this president from interfering with the next election or doing whatever else they're worried about is actually convicting him. And you're not going to convict him, obviously, unless you have evidence far beyond what they have now that the president was doing a lot of wrongful things.


SANTORUM: The only way you do that is to go to court and then get the president to turn this stuff over.

CAMEROTA: I think they're still fighting some in court. I think that that -- they are still -- they didn't want to wait for that because, as we know, courts can take months. But I think that there are still cases in court.

SANTORUM: You can't charge a -- you can't charge a president in -- for an impeachable offense by doing what every president has done for the last 200 years, which is to protect their own, you know, separation of powers --


CAMEROTA: Every president has called --

PSAKI: No --

CAMEROTA: The president of a foreign country and asked for help with their political rival, Rick?

SANTORUM: No, every president has claimed executive privilege on certain communications. Every one of them has refused -- including President Obama, and went to court and lost and then had to turn things over. That's what you do. You don't impeach them.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Jen.

PSAKI: I have to say, this is actually unprecedented obstruction. Every president in the past, they have tried to make the effort to get to a place where they would provide documents, provide witnesses. Maybe not every document and every witness, but that's where you would start from. And any White House, Republican or Democratic, before this. So this is unprecedented obstruction. That's why, you know, there was an article of impeachment that passed the House last night.

CAMEROTA: OK, guys -- guys --

SANTORUM: It's a process you go through.

CAMEROTA: I -- I hear you, and you've made that point, Rick, and I appreciate that.

But I want to move on to what happened last night.

The president was at a rally in Michigan, home state of John Dingell, this historic figure, obviously, in Congress. He recently died. His wife, Debbie Dingell, is a congresswoman. She is grieving.

Rick, did you hear what the president said about Debbie Dingell and John Dingell?

SANTORUM: I did. I knew John Dingell, served with him in the House. Know Debbie. And two fine people. Two very distinguished public servants. But, frankly, even if they weren't, you don't say that. And the reality is that this is, you know, what I say, and many Republicans say, you know, we love what our -- what our president does. We don't like often what the president says, particularly when it comes to these types of personal attacks.

It's bewildering to me that he would go into Michigan where John Dingell is still revered. I mean he did a lot for the state of Michigan, and then make that type of comment. It is not helpful to him. It is not helpful to his cause. And I wish, as many, many Republicans do, that he would stop these gratuitous, nasty personal attacks. There's plenty of other things that he can go after Debbie Dingell on, you know, on her vote or anything else without attacking her deceased husband.

CAMEROTA: Senator, should he apologize?

SANTORUM: Yes, of course he should. I mean that's just -- that's beyond the pale. And I would hope he would. You know, I don't think any of us are particularly optimistic that he will, but he should.

CAMEROTA: Jen, do you think that it says something about how upset he is about impeachment? He has said he's enjoying this on some level, but attacking the late congressman who, as Rick says, is beloved in Michigan, because his wife voted for impeachment? How do you interpret what happened last night?

PSAKI: You know, Alisyn, I think it reflects how deeply this is impacting him. You know, this isn't the first time he has attacked the memory of somebody who has been a life-long public servant. We all watched as he did that to Senator John McCain. And there are others beyond that. And it's certainly is reflecting that he knows this is a stain on his

record, on his mark in history. There are others, in my opinion, but there's only two other presidents -- you know he's -- he's one of the only presidents who's ever been impeached, and that's not something that -- that will change. It's done now. The House vote happened. And he's fully aware of that.

I would just echo something Rick said about Michigan. I mean John Dingell is an institution. Still is an institution. The Dingell family. And they have effectively spoken to the anger and fears of the white working class that Donald Trump tapped into. So this is not about politics but even on the political front it was completely stupid and beyond the pale comment by President Trump.

CAMEROTA: Rick Santorum, Jen Psaki, thank you very much for the conversations.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Cruel and dumb. That's a heck of a combination for one night.

Democrats running for president will face off tonight. You can see the debate on CNN. Also on PBS. How will Democrats stand out? There will be fewer of them on stage than ever before. We have a live report from the debate, next.



BERMAN: Big day in the Democratic primary race. Tonight, the last debate of 2019 with the fewest candidates on stage at once. Just seven have qualified for this debate, which means you'll get to hear more from each one than ever before. It will be hosted by PBS and "Politico." It begins at 8:00 p.m. And you can see it right here on CNN.

Ryan Nobles live at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a preview of what we're going to see. And what we're going to see, Ryan, is very different.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John, because there are fewer candidates on stage, we do expect that they're going to get more of an opportunity to talk about some of these big issues that the Democratic field has been focused on. And in many ways these Democratic candidates are hoping to regain the spotlight. The 2020 campaign, for the most part, has been put on the back burner because of impeachment. We do expect impeachment to come up tonight, but there isn't the expectation that there will be a heavy focus on that. Instead, these Democratic candidates would prefer to focus on those issues they think their voters are concerned about.

One of the big things we're looking for, though, will Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, come into focus tonight? He has, for the most part, escaped any kind of criticism from some of his Democratic competitors, at least on a debate stage. But that could change now that he is thought to be one of the leaders in Iowa, which is, of course, the first caucus state.

And then, of course, could there be a breakthrough moment from some of the lower tier candidates? Maybe Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is still pretty far behind the upper tier of candidates, but is showing some signs of life in Iowa.


Does she have the opportunity to break through here tonight?

And, of course, John, though, there is some concern about a lack of diversity on this stage tonight. Senator Kamala Harris had qualified for the debate but she, of course, dropped out. That means there are no African-American or Latino candidates on this stage tonight. That has led to some criticism, not only from candidates like Cory Booker and others who did not qualify, Julian Castro, but also the candidates who did make it here tonight saying the DNC should relook at the way they invite candidates to this debate here tonight.

Should be an important debate, John. A lot online for these candidates here. As you mentioned, the last debate of 2019.


BERMAN: Thank you so much, Ryan Nobles, at the debate sight. Can't wait to see it tonight at 8:00 Eastern Time.

CAMEROTA: So, for just the third time in U.S. history, a president has been impeached. These are the headlines that the country is waking up to. A famed Watergate reporter, Carl Bernstein, knows a thing or two about history. He gives us "The Bottom Line," next.



CAMEROTA: As of last night, President Trump is the third president in American history to be impeached. So what is the impact on all of this on the country, and what's next?

Well, here with "The Bottom Line" is Carl Bernstein, CNN political analyst and knower of things like that question.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Knower. I like being a knower.

CAMEROTA: I mean your thoughts on President Trump becoming the third president in history to be impeached.

BERNSTEIN: Well, first of all, the offenses are grievous and the stain, I think, will continue to spread as the process continues. I think there are Republicans who have a feeling that this impeachment process thus far, and yesterday's vote, represents a time bomb, that this is not over. None of us knows where this is going. The impact of this continues into the election, into the campaign, and there is a tremendous amount of information out there that journalists are working on, that we do not know about yet.

The Ukraine allegations and the clues provided by what occurred are a road map for all kinds of investigators in the coming months. And I believe, and I've talked to some people, that there are people in the Senate who understand that this might be a time bomb. That there is time remaining until the election. Obviously, to the trial, too. I'm not saying that necessarily it is going to be a time bomb that explodes, but I think there's a real possibility of it based on conversations with others.

BERMAN: How would that happen, though? Republicans control the Senate. They control hearings. They control Senate investigations. And to an extent, they control the Senate trial process. Nancy Pelosi --

BERNSTEIN: I'm not suggesting that the outcome of a trial is going to be any different than an acquittal with perhaps no Republican votes for conviction. There may be some. We'll see.

But this is an ongoing process. The stain of this impeachment continues into the election. It could continue to spread.

I don't want to be too speculative here. All I'm suggesting is that I know that there's more information out there. And it's up to the press. It's up to other investigators to find out what it represents. If it's exculpatory of the president of the United States, so be it. We need to find out about that.

But the idea that Mattis, that Kelly, that Tillerson, you can go down the list of the people close to Trump who believe and know that he is the first president probably in our history who is a danger to the national security himself, and that's part what this impeachment is about. What he did with Ukraine is a grave, grave danger to the national security of the United States.

No surprise to Tillerson and those others, the kind of conduct that he engaged in, and the idea that this is an isolated event, when we see so much going back to the beginning of this presidency, it is tied to favoring the interests of Putin, of Russia as opposed to the interests of the United States. I think we need to take a big, deep breath here, particularly as reporters. Not be pejorative, not make up our minds about anything, as I say. If there's something exculpatory, that would be extraordinary. And we're duty-bound to find it if it is.

But I suspect, from what we've seen so far, and one of the things -- reasons that the Dingell comments are so important is it reminds senators who knew Dingell over a long period of time what Donald Trump is about. This goes to the very core of him, his disdain, his contempt for process, for decency. They get it. A lot of Republican senators.

You know, there are a good number of reporters who have talked to Republican senators through this whole presidency and they, a good number of them, are the first to say, you know, we are really scared of this president's stability. We believe that he is a demagogue in the mold of Joe McCarthy. Maybe somebody, maybe Susan Collins, will be like Margaret Chase Smith, the heroic senator from New England who got up and challenged Joe McCarthy more than 50, 60 years ago. We've got a long way to go, especially to Election Day. And with

Donald Trump, again, talk to people around Donald Trump who know him. He understands the stain of this and the stain can continue to spread between now and November.


And, again, maybe he'll pull a rabbit out of the hat and then he will come out looking clean as a whistle between now and then. But have I heard any senators express that prediction? No.

CAMEROTA: If Republican senators really do feel the way that you say that you have heard --

BERNSTEIN: Not all by any means.

CAMEROTA: Of course. Of course. But even those who do, if they do, (INAUDIBLE) to say it out loud --

BERNSTEIN: They're craving, and they have been craving -- they have been craving from the beginning, as have a lot of House members, Republicans, who have enabled -- look, this is also -- this impeachment is a verdict on the Republican Party. And what that verdict represents and how it's going to play over the next year and for maybe a generation, we don't know yet.

BERMAN: Well, we don't even know, Carl Bernstein, thank you very much, how a Senate trial will play out.

BERNSTEIN: That's exactly right.

BERMAN: Or if it will play out.

BERNSTEIN: That -- and that element as well. That's exactly right.

BERMAN: Nancy Pelosi is delaying transmitting the articles of impeachment.

In just a few minutes, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, he will make a statement.

CAMEROTA: That we do know.

BERMAN: 9:30. We're watching it very closely. Our live coverage continues right after this.