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CNN RIGHT NOW
Mad As Hell, Trump Demands Senate Impeachment Trial; Evangelical Magazine Says Immoral Trump Should Be Removed; Wife Of U.S. Diplomat Charged With Causing Death of U.K. Teen. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired December 20, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: -- sticking with him and I don't know if there's anything he can do.
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: We will watch in the election. While we've been on the air, Speaker Nancy Pelosi inviting the president to give his State of the Union on February 4th. We'll see if that date sticks with February 4th.
Brianna Keilar starts Right Now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, he's mad as hell and making demands, why President Trump wants his day in court before the Senate.
An evangelical Christian magazine says the president needs to be removed, and now he's responded.
Despite all of this with 76 percent of Americans saying the economy is good, is the president closer to or further from re-election after this week?
Plus, a new report raises the question about whether Vladimir Putin is literally the Trump whisperer.
And the wife of an American diplomat charged in the car accident that killed a British teenager. I'll be speaking with the family.
But, first, an enraged President Trump is now eager for vindication amid a stalled standoff between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and now we're told that Trump is heading to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays fresh off the heels of impeachment as plans for his Senate trial remain in limbo.
Let's go to Kaitlan Collins. She is at the White House. She has some new reporting for us. And, Kaitlan, I understand that there are some officials who are worried about the president's upcoming trip. Tell us what you're hearing. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Brianna, this trip already gives aides some anxiety because the president is down there, he's at his own club, he's talking to people at the club, members of the club, his millionaire and billionaire buddies. And they always kind of groan when he goes on these trip because then there is always outside influence on the president, even more so concerning this time around because the president is going to be down there for several weeks and, of course, it's coming at a really critical time in his presidency as the Senate trial is looming.
Now, while the president is in Mar-a-Lago, there are going to be some pretty critical decisions to be made about what the defense is going to look like when the president does get that trial. And he's already irritated over it, as you heard from Senator Graham, who said the president was mad as hell over this delay because, essentially, he said he wants his day in court.
Now, the concern is while the president is down there, the longer he's down there, the more influence these outsiders, outsiders outside of the administration and strategizing that's been happening for the last several months here is going to happen. So that is really the concern here. So you're going to see a lot of the top aides to the president travel with him down there for the second half of the trip. Essentially, he'll be pretty well staffed as they are getting ready to come back to Washington for what they hope will be a very quick trial.
The question is whether or not that outside influence changes the president's mind in the meantime, because as we've reported, he's already asking questions about his White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, who is pretty widely expected right now to be the lead for his defense in the Senate trial, but the president isn't questioning people about whether or not they think he'll be good on T.V. Because we know that's not only critical to the president, but this is seen as more of a political trial than one that would happen in a courthouse, for example.
So those are the questions that are going to be made, a lot of decisions to be made in a very crucial time in his presidency, so that's something to keep an eye on while the president is in South Florida at his club, Brianna.
KEILAR: I wonder what the mood is over there and with the president, Kaitlan, just because -- I mean, obviously, this has been a tough week for the president. He was impeached. But there's also good poll numbers when it comes to the economy. What is the thinking there about how he's positioned going into this key political year?
COLLINS: Yes, good numbers with the economy. They see these numbers like the ones in the CNN impeachment poll about whether or not voters believe the president should be impeached and removed from office, how they believe that's remained steady or decreased some over these last several weeks. So they're essentially trying to square that. They keep pushing these numbers to the president saying, look what you're doing.
But he is still very irritated over this deep down and kind of in a sense of disbelief that he actually was impeached. Because, of course, that is something the president was incredibly resistant to which aides warned him about when he was going into the 2018 midterms saying if Democrats get the House, your presidency is going to be on the line.
So, now, essentially, what he's looking for now that he's been impeached is this vindication in a Senate trial. And now you see with Speaker Pelosi, the drama going on on Capitol Hill, he's concerned that he's not going to get it as quickly as he wants it, and, of course, that has put the president in a mood that most aides who have spoken with him in the last several days would not describe as a good one.
KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan, thank you for that reporting. We appreciate it.
I want to discuss all of this with Francesca Chambers, she's a White House Correspondent from McClatchy D.C., and Kevin Carroll, he's a former senior Homeland Security official under President Trump and he's a former CIA case officer.
Francesca, you heard Kaitlan's reporting. Officials around the White House are worried.
They're worried that President Trump is going to this Mar-a-Lago echo chamber and maybe it's not going to be good news for the holidays. What do you think? Are they in the right place to be worried?
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY D.C.: Well, nearly every day when he's at Mar-a-Lago, he starts it the same. It's tweeting about things. It's then going to his club where we don't always see him playing golf but he's expected to be playing golf or sitting in his club and talking to who knows. I mean, we're not seeing who is coming in and out of there, as Kaitlan noted, that he could be talking to.
And one question is, what does he decide about how he wants to respond to Nancy Pelosi and how he wants to respond to what could potentially happen in the Senate while he's down there. We know that he's still deciding who he will have represent him. Pat Cipollone is a leading contender for that. But he has not finalized that.
And before this, you and I were talking about what could they realistically do even if he wasn't at Mar-a-Lago? Until he makes that decision, there is not very much they could be doing because those are the people who will be arguing the case.
KEILAR: Kevin, as the president is now looking from the White House at what's going on here with the articles of impeachment not heading over to the Senate yet, a Harvard scholar, Noah Feldman, who we saw testify before Congress, wrote this today in a Bloomberg op-ed. He says, if the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn't actually impeached the president. If the articles are not transmitted, Trump could legitimately say that he wasn't truly impeached at all.
And he makes the case that, I mean, yes, there's been the vote but that's not the end of impeachment. So even just to say the president is impeached just sort of shorthand, but, legally, these articles have to be sent to the Senate. Do you look at that and think that the speaker knows that? Is she making a mistake here?
KEVIN CARROLL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I think she is making a mistake and Professor Feldman is making a novel argument. There's only about clauses in the Constitution about impeachment but they don't say anything specifically about impeachment managers transmitting the articles. It simply says that the House has the sole power of impeachment and the Senate has the sole power to conduct the trial and that the chief justice will be in charge if the president is the defendant.
So I think they are making mistake by not sending them over. If they wanted to do sort of a censured resolution, they could have done that. It would have been a lot simpler. But right now, the impeachment course has left the House barn. It's in the Senate corral.
KEILAR: This could be music to the president's ears. You say it's a novel argument. But the president and his advisers must be saying, hey, this is the guy Democrats brought forward to testify as a constitutional expert, and he's saying that, technically, I haven't been impeached yet.
CHAMBERS: I think they're really baffled, honestly by everything that's --
KEILAR: They don't know what it's going -- they look that they don't know what's going on?
CHAMBERS: Yes. They're like, what's happening right now? And one thing White House officials told me was that they think first Nancy Pelosi said that there was a sense of urgency that they needed to do this impeachment really quickly because the president was a clear and present danger. But now, this process could be being delayed further into January than was orijeannally expected, so they're questioning, okay, well, either it's urgent or it's not urgent, so they're questioning that.
But they're also confused about this idea that Nancy Pelosi -- first, they wanted to use it as leverage to get witnesses, Democrats did, and now she's saying, well, I want to see what the Senate does first. And so I think that they're very confused by what's happening right now. And it's hard to respond to something until they know what her next move is too.
KEILAR: Who isn't confused? Kevin, who isn't confused right now? It's kind of confusing.
CARROLL: It really is. The way the Constitution is set up and the way system is set up, it's virtually impossible for the House to force the Senate to do something or the Senate to force the House to do something. I used to be a House staffer. The Senate very much looks at the House like the kids at Christmas dinner.
KEILAR: That's right, very well said.
CARROLL: So it's just not likely that Speaker Pelosi is going to be able to have that much influence over what Leader McConnell does on his side of the Capitol.
KEILAR: It's left of the House barn, right? It's in the Senate corral, as you said. Kevin Carroll, thank you so much, Francesca Chambers, I appreciate it.
And while the White House is embroiled in impeachment, the president is enjoying some of the strongest economic numbers of his presidency. And according to a new CNN poll, Americans are taking notice. 76 percent of those polled see the economy as strong.
Jeanna Smialek covers the economy and the Federal Reserve for The New York Times and she joins us now to dissect all of this. Jeanna, thanks for being with us.
And you've seen this economic report that show the GDP ticked higher in the third quarter. What does this signal to you about the health of the overall economy?
JEANNA SMIALEK, ECONOMY AND FEDERAL RESERVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think one of the important messages from that that GDP number was just how strong consumer spending was. So what we saw was really a confirmation of what we already knew, which was that growth was looking okay, not stellar, but pretty decent in the third quarter.
But what we saw was consumer spending get revised even higher, which is just a piece of what we've been seeing broadly in this expansion, which is that the consumer is just really driving things forward.
Even as business investment pulls back and even as uncertainty weighs on companies, it seems like every day households feel very comfortable opening their wallets and going out and buying restaurants and services and all sorts of things.
KEILAR: And 76 percent of Americans saying they feel the economy is strong. That's a huge number. This is the best that we've seen in 20 years and it's really a sign that if they see the economy as strong, they're feeling it, right, on this very personal level. What do you make of this optimism?
SMIALEK: Yes. And I think one thing that is important to keep in mind when you think about those really solid confidence numbers is, A, that they are echoed across a broad range of data. Several confidence indicators still show the consumers are really holding up throughout this expansion. And B, that consumers are by far the biggest part of the economy. They make up more than two-thirds of spending in the economy. And so the fact that they are feeling so strong and looking so robust really does bode well for this expansion, which, as you guys note often on this show, is already well past its all-time record. This is the longest expansion America has ever had.
KEILAR: Yes, we're watching a lot of green right now there on the board. Jeanna, thank you so, Jeanna Smialek, breaking all that down for us.
The president firing back at an evangelical Christian magazine that says the he's immoral and needs to be removed from office.
Plus, did Vladimir Putin actually influenced President Trump personally to push a debunked conspiracy theory. There is a stunning new report we're going to take a look at.
And the wife of an American diplomat charged in the car accident that killed a British teenager. I'll be speaking with a close friend who speaks for the victim's family, ahead.
KEILAR: In a stunning and sharp rebuke, a leading Christian publication is calling for President Trump to be removed from office either by the Senate or in the next election. The editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, which is a magazine founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham, wrote an op-ed where he says this, in part, this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.
CNN's Michael Smerconish is joining us now. I mean, this was just a smack down in this column, Michael. What do you think about this? What's your reaction?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: So it's significant, Brianna, because of the constituency. This is 25 percent of the American electorate. According to surveys in the last election, 80 percent of evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump. His approval rating right now, according to the latest Marist survey is 75 percent. So he won their votes and they are overwhelmingly supportive of him, so he doesn't want to lose any ground from this base.
But I don't think that this editorial is going to make an impact, and the reason that I don't think that will be the case is there is really nothing regulatory, no new information in it. Evangelical Christians, they already know all of this about President Trump, and what matters to them the most is what they're getting from him in terms of remaking the federal judiciary.
His 50th appellate court pick was confirmed a week ago. That's 50 in three years. Barack Obama only got 55 in eight. And he is appointing lockstep conservatives to the federal judiciary, and in the end, that will matter more.
KEILAR: I do want to note the president's criticism of this magazine. It's a prominent evangelical magazine. Like I said, it was founded by Billy Graham. But it gets this backlash from him. He calls it a leftist magazine when really it's a centrist magazine. What do you think about this, that he courts evangelicals, but when he gets even this whiff of criticism from this publication, he really slams them and actually lies about them?
SMERCONISH: I think he's giving fodder to his supporters so that they have got some kind of a response. I mean, it's almost akin to that single-spaced, six-page letter that he released just on the eve of being impeached. He always wants to make sure that his talking points are represented. And, frankly, I think you'll probably hear that parroted now in conservative media outlets even if it's not the case.
KEILAR: Let's talk about this week, right? He has been impeached, he gets a trade deal and 76 percent of Americans say the economy is good. So when you look at all of this as a whole, do you think that the president is further from or closer to being re-elected?
SMERCONISH: This is not a copout on my part. I'd answer it this way. He is exactly where he would be otherwise. What was most stunning to me this week was the data that showed that as the hearings progressed, hearings in which many observers thought, wow, they're actually putting together a cognizable claim here of an abuse of power, those wanting him impeached, their numbers actually declined both in the Marquette survey of Wisconsin and the Gallup survey of the nation, generally.
So what I'm amazed at is this wall that seems to exist between the dysfunction in D.C. and the economy and market forces, you know, with the Dow continuing to be on fire. It seems like none of that, which we've been paying close attention to is having any impact on the economy, or in some strange way, it's having the reverse impact on the economy.
KEILAR: Very interesting, Michael. Thank you so much, Michael Smerconish, and we will make sure to catch your show. Michael's show is this Saturday at 9:00 A.M. Eastern. It's called Smerconish.
And just in to CNN, charges have just been filed in the death of a British teenager who was in a motorcycle accident involving the wife of a U.S. diplomat. She fled the U.K. And I'll be speaking to the victim's family spokesperson ahead.
And also as the list of retiring GOP lawmakers continues to grow, the top House Republican claims it's because all of the, quote, new blood coming into the party. We will talk about that.
[13:25:00] KEILAR: Now, to an update in the case of the British teen who was killed when the wife of a U.S. diplomat crashed her car into his motorcycle. The U.K.'s Crown Prosecution Service has just charged that woman, Anne Sacoolas, and she is being formally charged now with causing death by dangerous driving.
Harry Dunn was killed in the U.K. in August after he was hit by a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road. And at the time of the accident, police say, Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and then fled to the U.S. soon after the crash.
I'm joined now by Radd Seiger. He is a close friend of the Dunn family. He is serving as their spokesperson. And, Radd, first, just tell us how Harry's parents are doing, how they're reacting to this news and if you've received any update on Sacoolas' extradition.
RADD SEIGER, SPOKESMAN FOR THE FAMILY OF HARRY DUNN: Good evening from London, Brianna. The parents are just as they were, still bereft and heartbroken and thinking about the loss of their son, first and foremost. But, obviously, today has been a huge day. They were told two nights ago that there was a less than 1 percent chance of having anyone held accountable for the loss of their son. Clearly, today is a significant move away from that.
You know, it's important to also say that this is now a live criminal case against Anne Sacoolas so we must be very careful not to prejudice her right to a fair trial when she comes back to the U.K. But that said, I've seen statements emanating from the United States, the State Department and from her lawyer. Look, we'd say that the matter is now in the hands of the U.K. authorities, and as you've all seen, they strongly believe that they've got a case against her, and it's in the public interest to prosecute her. So, you know, we will simply await developments now.
KEILAR: I do want to read that statement from her attorney. This is part of it here. It says, this was an accident, and a criminal prosecution with a potential penalty of 14 years imprisonment is simply not a proportionate response. We've been in contact with the U.K. authorities about ways in which Anne could assist with preventing accidents like this from happening in the future as well as her desire to honor Harry's memory, but Anne will not return voluntarily to the United Kingdom.
You said when she returns to the U.K., she is basically saying -- her attorney is saying she's not going to return to the U.K. What is your understanding about how that might occur if your expectation is truly that at some point she comes back to Britain?
SEIGER: Well, we sat in a meeting with the chief prosecutor in London earlier today when he explained to us that extradition proceedings are about to be commenced against her. Now, despite what anybody is saying over there in the United States, this is going to be dealt with under the rule of law. There is an extradition treaty between the two countries, and it's not a matter of what the accused person feels about what is and what is not proportionate. It's about complying with and abiding by the rules of the country that you live in. And here in the U.K., if you take somebody's life and your driving falls well below the normal standard, you know, you are then potentially going to be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving. Those rules would apply to you, Brianna, if you moved over here. They apply to me as an American who lives here.
No one is above the law, No one.
KEILAR: Can I ask you, because the Trump administration has stood by her, and it appears that the U.S. government --