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THE SITUATION ROOM
Pelosi Delay's Sending Impeachment Articles to Senate; McConnell and Schumer Meet Amid Impeachment Standoff; Trump Distressed by Looming Impeachment trial Delay; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed About Impeachment; Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) is Interviewed About Impeachment; Impeachment Standoff Deepens Between House and Senate; Schumer Asks McConnell to Consider Dem Proposal Over Holidays; Report Says Ex-White House Officials Feared Putin Influenced Trump's Ukraine Views as Editorial Pushes for Trump's Removal from Office; Leading 2020 Democrats Debate for Last Time This Year; Mar-a- Lago Breach Raises Security Concerns; McConnell Speaking Amid Impeachment Standoff. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 19, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Martin Savage in Altoona, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @jaketapper. Tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now. Standoff. All eyes are on the developing deadlock between Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell. When will the Speaker turn over the newly approved articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial? And will the majority leader give any ground?
Trump lashing out. The White House had hoped for a speedy trial in the Senate but Pelosi's latest move has taken the President by surprise. Mr. Trump is reportedly growing distressed amid the uncertainty and refusing to apologize after lashing out with new insults against a widowed congresswoman.
Debate stage set. Democrats are about to face off for the final showdown of 2019. We'll share an exclusive new poll on the state of the race. The debate coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and PBS.
And Mar-a-Lago spy? Another majority security breach at the President's South Florida mansion. For the second time in nine months a Chinese national forced her way onto the property raising concerns about espionage just one day before President Trump is set to travel to the residence he calls his southern White House.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the situation room.
Tonight we are tracking the deepening standoff in Congress where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing to turn over the new articles of impeachment to the Senate until Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sets the terms for a trial. The House just adjourned for the year meaning there won't be any action on impeachment until at least January 7th at the earliest.
President Trump pinning his hopes on swift vindication from his fellow Republicans in the Senate now distressed by the looming delay House Speaker.
Senator Mazie Hirono, a key Democrat of the Judiciary Committee and our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of today's top stories.
Let's begin with our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.
So Manu, what's the Speaker now waiting for?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the House actually just closed doors for the year meaning that there will not be a vote that could lead to these articles being transmitted to the Senate until the week of January, starting of January 6th. And there is not going to be a vote until January 7th. So when the trial starts in the Senate is still an open question.
The Speaker herself is saying that she wants to understand exactly the process under way for that trial so she can determine who she can name as managers from the House, people who would actually prosecute the case in the Senate. And that in order for her to make that decision she needs to hear that from what the Senate is going do. And then that will lead to all the steps going forward.
But the House needs to cast a vote in order for that to happen. And the House being gone, meaning that there will not be any action until early January putting off the trial for the indefinite future.
Now, last night after the House voted to impeach the President, Speaker Pelosi suggested that there needed to be a "fair process" before they move forward on setting the articles across just prompt (ph) Senate trial. She did not explain what that fair process was. So earlier today when I asked her is she was still standing behind the notion of demanding a fair process, she stopped just short.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We'd like the see a fair process. We'll see what they have and we'll be ready for whatever it is.
RAJU: Is that the requirement, you need to see a fair process before submitting the articles?
PELOISI: We would hope there would be a fair process just as we hoped they would honor the Constitution. By the way I saw some -- oh, I didn't see it, but I heard some of what Mitch McConnell said today. And it reminded me that our Founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don't think they suspected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: So, the question is whether or not her members in her caucus will get behind her. At the moment she does have support from her Democratic caucus members. There are some freshmen, though, who say they will let Pelosi push to try to get what they believe is a fair process, get witnesses to come forward, get the documents they requested. But there are some who are suggesting they still want this to happen soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): They can't drag on forever. And if this now starts some long process, that's not good. So I want it to go over. But I think it's all right to ask for the process and what it will look like when it hits the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So that's going to be the big question for the Speaker, exactly how -- when she will actually allow this to move forward. And lawmakers going just left the House. The senators are just finishing up their votes for the year, Wolf. So, a lot of uncertainty about when that trial will actually start as Congress adjourns for the year here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, very uncertain situation. We know that Senator Schumer met with Senator McConnell this afternoon. What are you learning about that meeting?
RAJU: Well, Wolf, they did meet for about 20 minutes during an extended series of votes. And it appears there is no agreement between McConnell and Schumer. Schumer's spokesman just put out a statement saying Senator Schumer made clear to Senator McConnell that the witnesses and documents are necessary to ensure a fair trial in the Senate. Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell -- Senator Schumer asked Senator McConnell to consider Senator Schumer's proposal over the holidays because Senator Schumer and his caucus believe the witnesses and documents are essential to a fair Senate trial."
And just a reminder what Senator Schumer asked for, initially, he had asked for four witnesses to come forward before the Senate. That includes Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, people who did not come before the House Impeachment inquiry because the White House had intervene. Mitch McConnell pushed back and said that he would not allow that because he believe it was the effort -- the House's job to pursue those witness.
He said they should have gone to court to get those witnesses. And he said they're not a fact-finding body in the Senate. So that is still seems to be a standoff between the two sides. So, it appears they are no closer to an agreement, which also leads to the question of when that trial will actually start. It appears there will be more days of negotiations ahead as we head into the New Year, Wolf.
BLITZER: I thought it was going to start January 7th when they all get back to Washington. But clearly it's going to be delayed at least for a few days, maybe longer. We'll see. Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Now to the reaction from the White House where President Trump is growing anxious and distressed by the latest uncertainty over his impeachment trial in the Senate. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now.
Jim, this was not necessarily what the President was expected?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, Wolf. And even after being impeached President Trump isn't sounding very apologetic about his actions in Ukraine or his nasty comments on Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.
As one Mr. Trump's own advisers told me earlier today the President's low blow aimed at Dingell was "unforced error." The President is also ripping into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she was warning she just mite might hold off a trial in the Senate.
PELOSI: Article 1 is adopted.
ACOSTA (voice-over): One day after he was impeached in the House, President Trump is sounding anxious, ready for the Senate the get on with it and hold a trial where Republicans are in charge and expected to acquit him.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't feel like I'm being impeached because it's a hoax. It's a setup. It's a horrible thing they did.
PELOSI: Good morning.
ACOSTA: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is causing heart burn at the White House holding out the possibility she may wait to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she can be assure GOP leaders will conduct a fair trial.
The President call this impeachment unconstitutional, even though impeachment is actually in the Constitution.
TRUMP: They are playing games. They don't want to put in their articles, their ridiculous phony fraudulent articles. And I think they are not allowed to do that here, it's unconstitutional. A lot of other things but they don't want to put them in because they are ashamed of them.
ACOSTA: The President has stressed how the trial could be delayed peppering his allies with questions about how the trial is taking shape.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You know, he called me at 7:30, I think, and he said, sir, what's going on? And I said, I really don't know.
ACOSTA: Democrats are demanding that top administration officials testify about Mr. Trump's dirt for dollars deal with Ukraine.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): I have little doubt that if we tell the President that he can escape scrutiny in this instance he will do it again and again and again.
ACOSTA: In a sharp contrast with his impeachment there is bipartisan outrage over the President's mean-spirited comments aimed at Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, widow of long-time law maker John Dingell.
TRUMP: Debbie Dingell, that's a real beauty.
ACOSTA: At his rally in Michigan, the President mocked Dingell for voting in favor of impeachment, suggesting her late husband was possibly looking up from hell.
TRUMP: Maybe he is looking up. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you regret your comments to her?
ACOSTA: The President refused to take questions about Dingell who is reminding him she is still in mourning.
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I don't want to politicize my husband. I don't want to politicize his death. It is still something that I am really grieving over. This Thanksgiving was really hard. And Christmas is harder.
ACOSTA: White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham defended the President by saying Mr. Trump was just punching back. But that's not true, the Dingells didn't punch first.
STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As we all know the President is a counter puncher. It was a very, very supportive in wild crowd. And he was just riffing.
ACOSTA: Speaker Pelosi said the President's remark revealed his character.
PELOSI: Just because he gets a laugh for saying the cruel things that he says doesn't mean he's funny. It's not funny at all. It's very sad.
ACOSTA: The President used his appearance in the Oval Office to introduce the newest member of the GOP, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who bolted from the Democratic Party.
The President also told reporters he is all but settled on White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to be his lead attorney in a Senate trial. And despite being impeached, this just in Wolf, the President finally secured the legislate of when he has been seeking for years as the House has passed his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.
All week long, Wolf, the Republicans have been saying the Democrats hate this President but they did like his trade deal, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly did a very lap sided win in the House of Representatives.
ACOSTA: That's right.
BLITZER: So the President gets a major, major victory on this trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Thanks very much for that.
Let's discuss the latest developments with Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Thank you.
BLITZER: The House is leaving for the holidays as you know without sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Do you support this decision by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi?
HIRONO: I think it makes perfect sense for the Speaker to say that the Senate should establish its rules as to how we are going to proceed with the impeachment trial before she appoints her managers. I think that's a perfectly reasonable position to take. And that's the position she's taking.
BLITZER: What concessions can the Speaker hope to win from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell when he isn't even eager to hold a trial to begin with?
HIRONO: The negotiations will take place between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell. And if we can get four brave Republican senators to agree to having witnesses then we will be able to have witnesses. But it's going to take the Republicans to come forward, four of them, at least, for that to happen. And so we will establish the rules and the procedures. Whether they are fair or not we can argue over.
And frankly I don't necessarily expect it to be fair because Mitch McConnell has made it plain that he doesn't want to call any witnesses. So once again, we are confronted with the Republicans who have nothing to offer that addresses what the President did, which was to shake down the president of another country for his own political ends using almost $400 million in taxpayer money as the bribe.
See, they don't address that. They are constantly turning to other things and saying, oh, what about this and what about that, what about this? I say, you know what we should be looking at what the President did. And they have no defense.
Now the trial is an opportunity for the President to mount his defense. And I am calling on him to do that. And I would say witnesses such as Mulvaney and Bolton who were right there, they could exonerate the President. They should come forward. But the President doesn't want them to testify. I wonder why.
BLITZER: If they testified under oath, they might exonerate the President.
HIRONO: Well, of course.
BLITZER: And maybe not. I assume one of those four brave Republicans you're referring to would be someone like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, for example who's been critical of the President from time to time. But, now he says he doesn't have any reason to question Mitch McConnell's approach. Could you really count on any Republicans to back you in calling for witnesses?
HIRONO: No. I am not holding my breath that four senators will come forward to say we should have witnesses. This is a definition of a fair trial. So, what we're going to end up is, we will have procedures, we will have rules. They would not be what we would like but there you have it. And that's why this is yet another example of how the Republicans simply cannot address directly what the President did. Because, you know, if so, then they are really saying the President did it, so what. It's what I call the so what defense.
And this is what Chuck Schumer is talking about. If we do not hold the President accountable for shaking down the president of another country in doing what he did, then we know for a fact that this President is going to continue to abuse his powers. And he will thumb his nose at anything that Congress does in terms of subpoenas.
So, you know what, if this is the kinds of democracy we are living in, that is not a democracy, that is a totalitarian state. And I think Trump really likes that. He sees himself as a dictator. He likes that. He thinks he can do anything he wants as president this country including shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue and not being held accountable for it.
BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on some of the Republican arguments we heard on the House floor yesterday. Watch this. This is Congressman Mike Kelly. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE KELLY (R-PA): On December 7, 1941 a horrific act happen in the United States. And this one that President Roosevelt said this a date that we'll live in infamy. Today, December the 18th, 2019 is another day that will live in infamy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So he is comparing this impeachment vote in the House to bombing of Pearl Harbor which drew the United States, of course, into World War II Pearl Harbor being in your home state of Hawaii. What's your reaction to that?
HIRONO: The Republicans who have come up with any argument that they can, but they cannot come up to defending -- they can't come up with anything to defend what the President did. So it's all these distractions. They even liken the President to Jesus Christ. Good grief. How can you take these people seriously? You know, it's what I call that these arguments are rhetorical nothing burgers. They keep tossing them out bass they can't address the main question.
And when they do, and if they do not hold this President accountable they are really saying he did it, so what. Mulvaney pretty much said that. Hey, everybody, get used to it. No. This is not a getting used to it kind of a situation. We have a President who is out of control.
BLITZER: And clearly you are not getting used to it. Senator Hirono --
HIRONO: Of course not. I'm fighting back every minute and moment.
BLITZER: I can see. Thank so much for joining us.
HIRONO: Happy holidays.
BLITZER: Happy holidays. Merry Christmas, happy New Year. Appreciate it very much.
Coming up, so what's the next step now that the House has voted to impeach the President? But Speaker Pelosi is refusing to sent over the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, a member of the Intelligence Committee is standing by live. He'll join us and discuss strategy.
BLITZER: Less than a day after their historic passage, the articles of impeachment against President Trump appear stalled right now. The Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing to send the articles over to the Senate. And House members are leaving for the holidays without voting to name impeachment managers for a Senate trial.
Joining us now, the House Intelligence Committee member Joaquin Castro. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. The House is leaving for the holiday recess. You'll be bolting, you'll be getting out of town without sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. Could this decision by the House Speaker backfire on Democrats if there is a long delay or maybe even no trial in the Senate?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): I don't think so. Because Speaker Pelosi is doing it for a very good reason, which is to figure out what the rules of the road are going to be in the Senate, whether there is actually going to be a fair trial, an impartial trial there. You know, the nation I think was very shocked about a week ago to hear Mitch McConnell talk about how he was basically working with the White House on setting up this whole trial. And so that caused great concern for not only the Speaker and the Congress, but a lot of people. And so she's going to take some time to work with Mitch McConnell and try to make sure that it's a fair process.
BLITZER: Do you want her, the Speaker, to transfer the articles as soon as the House reconvenes, I think January 7th? Or do you support her waiting longer.
CASTRO: Well, number one, as she said, she's definitely going to send over the articles of impeachment to the Senate. And I trust her on the timing. But its also important, Wolf, that we take this pause because I think it's important for the American people to realize what's going on that you have in Mitch McConnell the person who is supposed to be presiding over this trial or at least arranging the rules of evidence and so forth who is saying that he is neither impartial and that he is working with the person who is on trial, with Donald Trump, so that they are in cahoots on this. You know, Americans expect a lot better than that.
BLITZER: Is there any serious talk among the Democrats about maybe never sending the Senate these articles of impeachment? Is that seriously under consideration?
CASTRO: No. I've never heard that discussion. At least within the caucus.
BLITZER: What if McConnell doesn't blink and he says there's not going to be any witnesses?
CASTRO: Well, I guess we'll have to figure that out if we get to that point. But, you know, we believe that the Speaker, in meeting with Mitch McConnell and all of the different parties that are involved in setting up this trial that we can come to an agreement where Mitch McConnell is not just going to be in the pocket of the President throughout this process.
BLITZER: The Senate Majority Leader, McConnell, says he isn't even anxious to hold a trial. And so far it doesn't look like he is facing any serious pressure from more moderate Republicans in the Senate to call witnesses. Does the Speaker really have much leverage here?
CASTRO: Well, I think it's not just about the politics of it or the partisanship. The Speaker is standing up for the American people. We owe this to the American people, a fair trial, and a fair process. It's not just about Republicans and Democrat. So she is standing up for her duty and for the American people in doing this.
BLITZER: So some of the vulnerable Democrats who won in Trump districts, let's call them, stuck their necks out to vote in favor of these two articles of impeachment. Are you putting that potentially and even more difficult political positions they are worried about getting reelected, as you know, by dragging this out?
CASTRO: No, you're right. I think for them -- many of them did fell like it was a tough vote because the people in their districts may be or perhaps more skeptical about impeachment. But, I think they also know that they did the right thing, that people will respect them for that and that when it comes to this process all Americans, whether you're Republican or Democrat should want a fair and impartial process. And the Speaker of the House pausing for to a second to make sure that that happens is not something that's going to be a political liability.
BLITZER: Previously the -- your Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that your investigation would in fact continue even after impeachment. Is that the case?
CASTRO: Yes. I believe that that's still very much possible. Look, we're going to make sure that we investigate every significant lead in terms of either the President or someone at the White House who has committed wrongdoing. That's our responsibility to the people that we represent. So I hope that if there are witnesses like Rudy Giuliani or others that are willing to come forward and testify in front of our committee, that they'll do so.
BLITZER: Congressman Castro, thank so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, sources describe President Trump as distressed over the sudden holdup as far as the impeachment effort in the Senate is concerned. Will there even be a Senate trial in January?
BLITZER: All right, we're just getting this report in from the "Washington Post," the headline, former White House officials say they fear Putin influenced the President's views on Ukraine in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The first sentence -- almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on the theory that troubled the senior aides. Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House.
Basically, this is a very, very long and detailed report, Phil Mudd, in the "Washington Post," saying it wasn't Russia that interfered, it was Ukraine and that Putin was the President's source.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: But I tell you, the thing that surprised -- not surprises me but that disturbs me here is you're talking about when the President has already taken office. He gets intelligence briefings from the Intel guys, top-secret, before he takes office.
So he's in the Oval Office presumably getting regular updates on technical intrusions. That is the C.I. -- the National Security Agency looking at Russian entities going into U.S. computers. And he still says, as he did, by the way, at Helsinki, I don't believe the Intel guys. I don't believe the billions of dollars of Intel we collect. I believe Putin. Who clearly has an interest in saying, ah, it wasn't me, it was the Ukrainians. BLITZER: Susan, let me read to you a couple of sentences from this, I
think we can call it, pretty bombshell report from the "Washington Post."
The President's intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign and the blame he casts instead on a rival country led many of his advisors to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine's culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
One more sentence. One former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because, quote, Putin told me.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so we've already seen some initial reporting that this Ukrainian conspiracy theory actually originated with the Russians. I think that this is evidence of an even more direct line.
Keep in mind that we -- there have been numerous undisclosed conversations between President Trump and President Putin, conversations that took place without staff, without comprehensive readouts. This raises really, really significant questions about what the nature of those conversations was.
Now, remember, that transcript of the phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky was only one of the calls that were moved on to this -- to this specially segmented server in order to prevent scrutiny.
There are serious questions about who were the other leaders that the President spoke to that his staff reacted to those calls by attempting to move them into this secured server so that nobody would find out about them and whether or not any conversations with President Putin and what -- are among that group and -- and if conversations like this in which, essentially, President Putin is giving conspiracy theories to the President of the United States is then taken up as official U.S. policy.
BLITZER: Yes, this is clearly in Russia's interest. And you know, Laura, the "Washington Post" says that the idea that it was Ukraine, not Russia, was promoted by Putin at a July 2017 Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. It was at that time, according to the "Washington Post," that President Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So the President has been brewing about -- brooding about this for quite some time, for the course two of years, which lends more credence to the claim that this was not a happenstance coincidental call in July of this year that prompted and led to the whistleblower complaint and, of course, impeachment proceedings.
This has been brewing for so long for the President. Remember that old phrase, trust and verify? That only applies if you actually have a reliable source you are actually getting information from.
Russia remains a geopolitical rival to the United States of America and thus should not be automatically trusted, particularly when the President of the United States refuses to do so and extend that same courtesy, shall we say, to the intelligent community, who he refuses to simply trust and then allow the content verify to go through.
This indicates to me the President of the United States is really much more beholden to the truth-telling of Vladimir Putin than he is to his intelligence community, which is really problematic for the head of the executive branch of government.
MUDD: But just a quick comment as an Intel guy, he -- remember, Putin's a KGB guy. There is a phrase we use for this in the Intel business. It's called plausible deniability. That is, covering your tracks.
What that means is saying if we're going to do something, can we cover our tracks by saying, hey, there is a reason, a plausible reason, somebody else might have done it? That's the Ukrainians. This, in the Intel business, is plausible deniability. It wasn't --
MUDD: -- with the Ukrainians.
MICHAEL GERHARDT, BURTON CRAIGE DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF JURISPRUDENCE, THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL: It's also the basis for the impeachment.
GERHARDT: You know, the articles of impeachment that were just approved by the House of Representatives focused on a conversation, focused on an event that, basically, can be traced back to the Russians. And the question becomes as -- the concern is, what's the extent of Russian influence over this president?
And for the President not to disclose that and for the President to seem to be subservient to that is the concern for a lot of Americans.
BLITZER: There is an amazing, powerful editorial -- I want to shift gears -- in "Christianity Today" that has just been published.
Trump should be removed from office. It's time to say what we said 20 years ago when the -- a president's character was revealed for what it was.
Let me read a couple of sentences from this "Christianity Today" editorial.
We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the President's moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the President's positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.
HENNESSEY: Yes, I think that this speaks to a trend that we've seen for a long time. And that this is that the Republican Party is becoming the party of Trump, but it's becoming a shrinking party. The idea that the President of the United States has claim over this moral majority any longer, that he does speak for sort of these core Christian values that have been central to sort of the Republican platform since Ronald Reagan, isn't the case anymore.
And so, I do think that we are going to see more and more people speaking out and saying what we're seeing here is fundamentally wrong. It's fundamentally inconsistent, you know, with the values that we purport to hold and to hold other people accountable to.
COATES: And let's look ahead, too. I mean, remember, this idea of compartmentalizing the President's behavior from his policy agenda, et cetera, has been a theme and a constant refrain over the course of the last several years, which is the reason why you have people who've been advocating to -- who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, for example, have been overlooking perhaps the President's other indiscretions that have been laid.
And yesterday, we saw over, what, 11 hours of debate testimony, each different representative talking about the litany of accomplishments of the President of the United States from the economy. They spoke about the unemployment rate to the immigration reform and the like. Talking about that is an example to overlook and compartmentalize the Ukrainian telephone call.
What you're seeing now is a rebuke of that very notion. And I wonder how it's going to bode in the upcoming election now that we know that it may be a forgone conclusion.
BLITZER: And just some context, you know, Michael. This magazine, "Christianity Today," founded by Billy Graham. It's not some, you know, wild publication. This is mainstream Evangelical Christianity leadership. I'll read a sentence.
In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that "Christianity Today" will help Evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is significant -- is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment.
So this is a mainstream Evangelical publication that Billy Graham founded.
GERHARDT: Which should be of concern, not just to the President and the Republican Party but to Americans more generally. The President has to be accountable for something. If he's not accountable to a higher moral vow -- moral values, which
our constitution seeks to ensure, if he's not accountable to the law or the constitution, to whom is he accountable? Brings us back to the impeachment articles. It appears to be to his own best interest.
BLITZER: Let me play this clip. And I think this is probably a -- it's not mentioned here, but it's probably a source of concern to a lot of Evangelical Christians. And, Phil Mudd, I want to get you to respond.
This is the President, last night, mocking Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a widow whose husband died not that long ago. He was a member of the House of Representatives, a distinguished member, a World War II veteran for more than 50 years. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She calls me up. It's the nicest thing that's ever happened, thanks so much. John would be so thrilled. He's looking down, he'd be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.
I said, that's OK, don't worry about it. Maybe he's looking up, I don't know.
TRUMP: I mean, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congressman Dingell is from Michigan. The President was speaking in Michigan. He was beloved in the state of Michigan.
MUDD: He was. I mean, remember what happened with John McCain. Why are we surprised by this? And by the way, anybody, including "Christianity Today," who wants to object to that, I'm going to tell you one thing.
Look, the questions are -- questions of humility, courtesy, kindness, charity, did we see any of these during the election when the President attacked every single opponent using stupid fourth-grade terms, like Lying Ted?
I mean, if we look at this and say we're surprised, this is what the Americans voted for. You can't impeach somebody if they have low character. The Americans wanted this, they got it. And he told us who he was during the campaign.
BLITZER: Yes, this is --
HENNESSEY: But it doesn't just go to his own sort of personal crassness. And, frankly, it's just a sort of a disgusting comment to make about someone. It also goes to the way the President of the United States views the powers of the presidency. Everything is a trade. If he does something nice for somebody else, even if it's part of the office, he deserves something in return.
BLITZER: All right, everybody, stick around. There is a lot of news that's unfolding right now. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We are just hours away from tonight's Democratic presidential debate which you can watch on PBS and on CNN. Our CNN political director, David Chalian, is in Los Angeles getting ready for the debate. So what are you expecting, David?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. Well, I think there are several things to watch. Obviously, it's the first time these candidates are going to be on the debate stage since that impeachment vote in the House last night. The first time since that health care ruling out of the courts that indicate -- indicates the individual mandate may not be constitutional.
I have no doubt both of those things are going to come up, but take a look at the state of the -- state of play. Our latest CNN poll out today shows Joe Biden maintaining his national front-runner status, 26 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders at 20 percent, Warren at 16, and Buttigieg down there at eight.
Only seven candidates on the stage today. It's the smallest debate stage of the cycle, so everybody has a little bit more time to make their arguments. And I would be watching to see, does anybody try to take Biden down a peg? He's been that national front-runner for the entirety of the campaign.
And do Buttigieg and Warren mix it up on a stage the way that they've been doing it sort of apart from each other on the campaign trail? Will they -- will they take that to the stage when they're -- when they are sharing the stage tonight?
I mean, one other thing in our poll. Take a look at electability. Joe Biden is seen by Democrats, by far, as the one that can beat Donald Trump. That's the argument that everyone else has to try to break into in terms of Biden's support on the stage tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a major and very powerful argument indeed. David Chalian on the scene for us in Los Angeles. Thanks again.
And once again to our viewers, you can watch tonight's "PBS NewsHour- Politico Democratic Presidential Debate" right here on CNN and on your local PBS station. Our coverage starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.
[17:51:42] BLITZER: Police in Florida say yet another Chinese national made an
unauthorized entrance at Mar-a-Lago. The latest breach is raising serious concerns about a pattern of security failures at President Trump's private residence.
Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. Brian, what did you find out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we found some serious security concerns among those who know Mar-a-Lago and all the activity there, about how susceptible it's been, recently, to intruders. This case is another red flag. Those concerns are even more heightened tonight since the President is about to head to the resort for the holidays.
TODD (voice-over): Lu Jing's behavior was strange but determined, according to police. The 56-year-old Chinese national has become at least the third person in a little over a year to breach security at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and the second Chinese woman to make her way onto the property unauthorized in just under nine months.
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Was her intent a -- an intelligence issue? Was it to try to cause harm to the property? Was it to -- to try to, you know -- you know, test the security structure that's there? Right now, we just -- we're not sure.
TODD (voice-over): According to the Palm Beach Police, on Wednesday afternoon, Lu Jing first tried to enter Mar-a-Lago through the main gate. She was turned away by security, but she quickly walked about 100 feet to the service driveway, entered Mar-a-Lago there, and got about 100 yards inside the perimeter, snapping pictures on her cell phone. She then got away and was later apprehended miles down the road.
Today in court, she pleaded not guilty to loitering, prowling, and resisting arrest. Critics have long complained that Mar-a-Lago is not secure from intruders.
LAURENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR, "MAR-A-LAGO: INSIDE THE GATES OF POWER AT DONALD TRUMP'S PRESIDENTIAL PALACE": It's so easy to do this. It's been that way since the beginning. They've been warned by all kinds of people, and it's a failure of the Secret Service.
TODD (voice-over): But the Secret Service doesn't need to protect the club when the President is not there as he wasn't yesterday, a former agent says. And when the President is there, security goes beyond just controlling access to the resort.
WACKROW: Everybody, whether they're a private guest or a guest that's just coming for one night to that location, are screened for all types of physical security threats. So whether that's, you know, sharp- edged weapons, guns, explosives, all of that risk is -- is taken out of the equation by the process that the Secret Service, you know, puts forth. TODD (voice-over): When police tried to detain Lu Jing, they say she
balled up her hands into fists, crossed her arms on her chest, began screaming, no, no, no, and began pulling away. She could've been a random, erratic person simply trying to get into Mar-a-Lago. There is no indication she is a spy.
But in March, another Chinese national, Yujing Zhang, got past three security checkpoints at Mar-a-Lago carrying a thumb drive, a laptop, an external hard drive, and four cellphones. She was convicted of trespassing, not espionage.
But a source told CNN her case was connected to a larger federal probe of potential Chinese spying efforts. Former spies say Zhang and Lu Jing could have been informal intelligence operatives, not highly trained, sent into Mar-a-Lago to probe.
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER SENIOR INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OPERATIONS OFFICER, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Certainly, they could be trying to test to see the response time of security personnel. Also what someone can get away with in terms of what they're carrying on their person. It could be just a probe but all designed by and for a foreign intelligence service to really test the defenses.
TODD: Has security at Mar-a-Lago been enhanced since the March incident? Is it going to be stepped up further after this latest breach? The Secret Service did not get back to us on that.
We also pressed the agency to respond to criticism that security there has been somewhat lax in recent months. They did not respond to that either, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd reporting. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is speaking right now on the impeachment of the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): -- precedent, breaking the impeachment of President Trump.
Our conversation was cordial, but my friend from New York continues to insist on departing -- departing -- from the unanimous bipartisan precedent that a hundred senators approved before the beginning of President Clinton's trial.
Back in 1999, senators recognized that there might well be disagreements about questions that would arise at the middle and end of the trial, such as witnesses. And so, here's what happened. All a hundred senators endorsed a common-sense solution -- we divided the process into two stages. Two stages.
The first resolution passed unanimously before the trial began. It laid groundwork such as scheduling, structural early steps like opening arguments. Mid-trial questions such as witnesses were left until the middle of the trial when senators could make a more informed judgment about that more contentious issue.
All a hundred senators -- including me, including Senator Schumer, and a number of our colleagues on both sides who were here in 1999 -- endorsed the first resolution as a bipartisan minimalist first step. As of today, however, we remain at an impasse because my friend, the Democratic leader, continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump.
He wants to break from that unanimous bipartisan precedent and force an all-or-nothing approach. My colleague wants a special pretrial guarantee of certain witnesses whom the House Democrats themselves did not bother to pursue as they assembled their case, or he wants to proceed without giving any organizational resolution whatsoever. So, as I said, we remain at an impasse on this logistics.
For myself, I continue to believe that the unanimous bipartisan precedent that was good enough for President Clinton ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair.
And, Mr. President, of course, there is the matter of the articles of impeachment themselves. In a highly unusual step, the Speaker of the House continues to hem and haw about whether and when she intends to take the normal next step and transmit the House's accusations over here to the Senate.
Some House Democrats imply they are withholding the articles for some kind of leverage, so they can dictate the Senate process to senators. I admit I'm not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want. But alas, if they can figure that out, they can explain it.
Meanwhile, other House Democrats seem to be suggesting they'd prefer never to transmit the articles. Fine with me. And the Speaker of the House herself has been unclear on this. Her message has been somewhat muddled.
So here's where we are, Mr. President. We have the curious situation where following House Democrats rush to impeachment, following weeks of pronouncements about the urgency of the situation -- urgent situation -- the prosecutors appear to have developed cold feet.