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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Hold Articles of Impeachment from Senate; Report Indicates Vladimir Putin Influenced President Trump into Believing Ukraine Interfered in U.S. Elections; Christianity Today: "Trump Should Be Removed From Office"; Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is Interviewed About His Presidential Campaign. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- unless the Senate agrees to hear witnesses at a trial. Mitch McConnell says fine, don't send them. But the key new ingredient that will complicate McConnell's life is this -- the president wants a trial, and soon.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, it was a smaller stage for the Democratic debate last night, but it delivered some big moments and a lot of substance. This on the day after President Trump was impeached. For the first time South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a target after his rise in the Iowa polls. The seven candidates also had some heated discussions over health care and their own experience. One candidate who was on the stage, Amy Klobuchar, and who did not -- and another one, who did not make the cut, Senator Cory Booker, both of them are going to join us later this hour.

But joining us right now, we have Bianna Golodyrga, CNN senior global affairs analyst, Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, and Laura Jarrett, CNN justice correspondent. Great to have you all here.

Let's talk about where we are with impeachment, because I need you guys to explain how this impasse is going to be broken. So Nancy Pelosi says she is not going to send the articles of impeachment over until Mitch McConnell can guarantee here that it's going to be a short trial. Mitch McConnell has guaranteed that he will not be an impartial juror and in fact he is working hand in glove with the White House. And he also says, fine, don't send them over. I don't want to have a trial in the Senate. As John pointed out, the only fly in the ointment here since they both agree they don't want a Senate trial is that the president wants to have that moment of President Trump being acquitted in the Senate. So what is going to happen, Elie?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Donald Trump needs to get some serious legal advice. And I know he's not the world's easiest client, but somebody needs to sit him down in a serious way and say, you do not want a circus here. You do not want a long, drawn out trial. You are not going to have that moment of vindication. You are winning right now. The status quo right now is Donald Trump will not be convicted in the Senate. One thing they teach us when we're baby prosecutors is, if you are winning in court, shut up and sit down. And someone needs to tell Donald Trump, maybe a little nicer than that, but shut up and sit down.

CAMEROTA: But how is it winning to have been impeached without being acquitted?

HONIG: Oh, no, that's over. But in terms of the ultimate outcome in the Senate. And if he thinks he's going to have a dramatic trial that's going to somehow undo the impeachment in the House, he's kidding himself.

BERMAN: That's the thing. The president wants a Senate trial because in his head, somehow, he thinks it means he can get unimpeached. He can't.

HONIG: Exactly.

BERMAN: He can't. He's been impeached.

HONIG: Unimpeachment is not in the Constitution.

BERMAN: It's not a thing. He's been impeached. The question now is whether he'll be removed from office. And with this maneuver, I think a lot of us are wondering yesterday morning, what is Nancy Pelosi doing here? It's a lot more clear to me this morning, at least, because she's created this third party, the president whose interests and Mitch McConnell's are not in line. And there's now tension there.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: And to have the specter of it weighted over him for a long time. Obviously, the reporting shows he's not happy about it. He's privately fuming about it. He's talking to his buddy Senator Lindsey Graham, saying, what's going on? He thought this was going to be done, maybe even by the Iowa caucuses. And now Nancy Pelosi is wielding her power to show, I don't have to move this along.

And so we're going to be at least until January and maybe even longer, because what does she have to lose? To drag this out as long as possible. There may be a tipping point in which voters say, OK, enough is enough already, but right now, she gets to lord this over the whole holidays. He's going to be down at Mar-a-Lago, probably not happy about this.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And the president may have even a bigger reason to want a big show and a trial and to have people like Hunter Biden and Joe Biden testify, because look who had a really good night last night. Joe Biden really found his moment, and even addressing a question of whether or not he was too naive to assume that in a post-Trump world maybe there could be some bipartisanship. And he said, look, I of all people am not naive because I know. Look how they have attacked me.

And so you have someone who has came out arguably stronger. And the president, yes, he's always going to be that impeached president, but he wants someone else to go down, too, and that's Joe Biden, and that's Hunter Biden. CAMEROTA: Here's what Senator Lindsey Graham said last night about

this after speaking to President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC) SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I just left President Trump. He's mad as hell that they would do this to him, and now deny him his day in court. The reason they are denying him his day in court is because they know their case sucks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: What day in court? He wasn't participating. Was President Trump going to show up at a Senate trial?

HONIG: No way. No way he was going to show up. But look, he was going to send his legal team there. He declined to show up in the House but he would absolutely have to show up in the Senate.

CAMEROTA: He would. So they would have to participate on some level in the Senate?

BERMAN: That's the answer is yes. The answer here is --

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Wow.

BERMAN: Looks like yes.

CAMEROTA: Any time I say something brilliant, this goes off. So they couldn't just stonewall the way they did in the House. They would have to show up?

JARRETT: They could still, but unprecedented, again.

HONIG: They could. To me, it's crazy that we're arguing about, should there be witnesses at a trial? Call me old-fashioned, but isn't that what trials are all about?

[08:05:04]

The precedent here, I learned from Professor Gerhardt yesterday, 40- something witnesses in Andrew Johnson's trial, three in Bill Clinton's trial, and the Bill Clinton trial, the record was set. It was in a box. You had the Starr Report. Here there's so many unanswered questions, and we're thinking of seriously having a trial with no witnesses? I don't know how that's palatable.

BERMAN: And 71 percent of Americans in our poll say that they want to hear witnesses in the Senate trial. And what was it, 64 percent of Republicans?

CAMEROTA: Republicans, sure.

BERMAN: So if the fight is about hearing witnesses, at least as a matter of public opinion right now, the Democrats are winning. Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia has come out and said he wants witnesses, which is interesting, because he could be someone who said -- who knows how he could vote in the end here. But he wants witnesses. And then this puts pressure on those four to six Republican senators like Susan Collins, Cory Gardner. They're going to be asked, what do you want to see happen now?

JARRETT: And they have to listen to their constituents, I think, over the holidays. They could potentially get pushback on this and say, wait a minute. It's one thing, we're in defense of the president here, but have no witnesses whatsoever? And I think that's sort of the thorn in McConnell's side. He doesn't care what Nancy Pelosi is doing, but if he gets even a handful of those vulnerable Republicans to say, wait a minute, we have to hear from a few people, I think that's where things get interesting.

GOLODRYGA: And the reason you have 71 percent of Americans agreeing that there should be witnesses is because this isn't asking for too much, right? It's not an over the top request to have the people who have firsthand knowledge of what transpired as witnesses in this trial. And I think Republicans and Mitch McConnell need to just come to a conclusion as to whether this is a trial or this is a political process, because he's weighing both all the time, and it's one or the other, but it can't be both.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about this really interesting piece in the "Washington Post" overnight. Journalists, as you all know, as well as pundits and regular people, have tried to figure out where the Ukraine conspiracy theory began, what the genesis of this was that planted it in President Trump's head. Was it Rudy Giuliani? Well, according to the "Washington Post," it was a different source. It was Vladimir Putin. So here's -- they basically say after meeting privately in July, 2017, the Russian president Vladimir Putin, at the Group of 20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him according to multiple foreign officials familiar with his assertions. And as you know, he meets privately one on one with Putin away from transcribers. And go on. You had --

BERMAN: The money quote from the "Washington Post" is this. "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."

CAMEROTA: And there it is.

GOLODRYGA: So we spend, I think, too much time focusing on Putin's role in all of this, because it's not really from any one of his predecessors, right. Every single Russian leader, Soviet leader, wanted to interfere in U.S. elections at some point, and was transmitting false tales about what was happening in the U.S. and wanted to cause discord and chaos internally. The difference is you finally have a president who is willing to buy into that, who trusts this person. Why, we don't yet know. But it's still baffling to me that we continue to hear these stories years after this took place, that these are his top advisers who are now coming out off the record and saying here's something that should have set off alarm bells internally and, I think, nationwide in real time. It's really telling. And we need to stop normalizing this buddy-buddy relationship, because there's nothing normal about it, and it's a real harm to U.S. national security.

HONIG: One of the things that I see here that I think we've seen time and again is you want your decisionmakers, you want your president, your government to take the facts and reach a conclusion. And here it seems they're doing is they start with the conclusion. What do we want the end story to be, and then backfill in the facts here.

BERMAN: Can I tell you one other reason how these two discussions we've had play in together and why Republicans have told me over the last month, one of the things that concerns them as there's a delay in the Senate trial is they just don't know what's around the corner. They don't know what new information can come out. They don't know what newspaper is going to publish which finding.

CAMEROTA: This person, this former senior White House official, might this person come forward and explain the conversations that they directly heard?

BERMAN: There's the fear of the unknown, and not just that. There's the expectation, Laura, among some Republicans is that there is more out there. Whether or not we find out what it is, there's more.

JARRETT: We haven't heard from John Bolton. This is a key fact witness, right. We haven't heard from Mulvaney. We haven't heard from the people who were in the room for some of these conversations. Pompeo. We could name a dozen people who were present for some troubling episodes who we haven't heard from. And there are plenty of former officials who are obviously privy to a lot of this information and willing to talk. But it's amazing that the "Washington Post" publishes that article. Obviously, it's eye-popping. But Fiona Hill testified. We spent a lot of time trying to disabuse of this notion and this conspiracy theory. A lot of this is out there not from anonymous sources on background, but public testimony.

[08:10:02]

GOLODRYGA: And every single Republican, almost every single Republican knows better. So anybody that's defending the president's argument that it's now Ukraine, they know that's not the case. And they should be equally alarmed.

HONIG: To Laura's point, if there's a real trial lawyer on that team, what they are telling Donald Trump is trial is unpredictable, it's dynamic. You are at risk as long as this trial is open. Who knows who could come forward? I've seen all sorts of surprises happen midtrial for good, for bad. So as long as this is an open matter, who knows what could happen?

CAMEROTA: And Elie, are there still court cases that might compel John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney to come forward, or were those retracted? Where are we with those witnesses?

HONIG: There is no case on Bolton and Mulvaney. That's essentially become article two here of the articles of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. The only one that's still alive is Don McGahn, which is now at the court of appeals, but it would take a miracle for that case to be finished with the court of appeals, potentially the Supreme Court on the same timeframe. And remember, Mueller and McGahn is not even part of the articles, so I don't see that breaking the logjam.

BERMAN: Bianna, Elie, Laura, great to have you here. Happy holidays to everybody. I know it's dangerous to say that. I keep poking the bear by saying "happy holidays."

CAMEROTA: It's fine. Who is the bear?

BERMAN: "Happy holidays" is very controversial. You're not supposed to say "happy holidays."

CAMEROTA: But there are two holidays right now, so I think that it's fine to use the plural.

BERMAN: One would think you could say it, but it upsets a lot of people to say "happy holidays."

CAMEROTA: We'll see what Twitter does to you.

(LAUGHTER)

A prominent Christian magazine calling President Trump profoundly immoral and saying he should be removed from office. What does this mean for his support from evangelicals? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:43]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Quote: Trump should be removed from office. That's the headline from "Christianity Today," a leading evangelical magazine founded by the late Minister Billy Graham.

Evangelicals are, of course, one of the key pieces of President Trump's base and their support will be crucial if he is to win re- election in 2020.

So, joining us to talk about this, we have Ben Howe. He's the author of "The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values".

Ben, great to see you this morning.

BEN HOWE, AUTHOR, "THE IMMORAL MAJORITY": Thanks for having me.

Tell us what the significance of this statement from "Christianity Today" is about how the president, they say, is so immoral that he deserves to be removed from office.

HOWE: Well, you know, I think the fact that a Christian who feels compelled to speak out to his fellow Christians about what should be expected of them is a great thing, but I think there's a little bit that he was missing in the article.

One of those things is that Donald Trump hasn't changed, even before he ran for president. We've known who he is. That's one of the reasons I opposed him in 2016 and why I continue to not support him into his presidency.

But if you are trying as an evangelical leader to convince other Christians that they need to move away from Donald Trump, simply pointing out the things they already know about him, that they knew about him when they voted for him isn't going to do that. They already know these things. They've already become content with it.

What really needs to happen is to understand that it's the manner in which they support him, the lengths they will go to in that support. That's the problem and also that they embrace so much negativity and not, you know, embracing the ideas of the sermon on the mount, loving your neighbor, loving your enemies, things of that nature. That's the problem.

Donald Trump is just putting up a mirror to that group. It's not about him in a lot of ways.

CAMEROTA: Well, I hear you, but I think the editor is trying to make that point. I'll read you the passage where he talks about that.

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in support of his blackened moral record, we might say this. Remember who you are and whom you serve.

Consider how --

HOWE: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump's immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.

HOWE: I -- and I read the article and I understand that he is addressing the fact that they support him, but he's using that immorality that Trump has committed. He's using the things that Trump has done and said and only that.

He's not talking about -- he's saying this guy is immoral. You shouldn't support him. What he's not talking about are some of the horrible things we've seen, people like Robert Jeffress and others who are claiming that if you are a progressive, you can't be a Christian. People talking about partisan politics even outside of Donald Trump as though there is one side who is going to go to heaven and one side that's going to go to hell.

There's so much that this group has said, not just in defense specifically of Donald Trump, but in the whole idea of partisan politics and Republican politics. There -- it needs to be harder on the people beyond just you're supporting an immoral president. They have become immoral beyond that. The ways they're acting emulates what he does.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

And what about -- I mean, the things -- I mean, to your point, the things in the past that they somehow had to stomach. I mean, we could go through the litany of paying hush money to a porn star and lying about it in a statement, mocking a handicapped person at a rally. I mean, we could go on and on up to today, this week where we've seen what he said about late Congressman John Dingell.

How do evangelicals reconcile all of that with their own faith?

HOWE: Well, I talk a lot about this in my book. Basically, what they've done is they've created a moral dilemma. It's not a real moral dilemma, but they've placed Donald Trump into a position where he is supporting things like, let's say, you know, abortion issues.

[08:20:08]

He's going to be a pro-life president, Supreme Court, things of that nature that they think are a higher moral concern than any problems he brings to the table. So as long as they can continue to hold this greater good that they believe he's accomplishing as the reason to support him, there's virtually nothing he can do that is going to make them lose their support.

And, you know, even in this instance, the shift here with this article is not that the evangelical -- I'm not convinced the author, you know, was a very MAGA guy to begin with. I think really what this shows to me is that more and more people are comfortable -- leaders are comfortable with the idea of saying these things and not concerned about alienating those evangelical Christians. I think that's significant because there has been a fear, especially in publications like this, that if they go to anti-Trump for instance, they are going to lose their readership.

CAMEROTA: So, but tell me a little more about that. You think the fact that this editor of "Christianity Today" has said all of this means that, what, he's not afraid of losing his readership?

HOWE: Well, I think that there is a stigma for a lot of Christians that -- for a lot of Christians who have opposed Trump that it didn't start right away. Early on in the primaries, there was a big divide among Christians about whether or not to vote for Trump, whether or not to support Trump. He didn't actually get a significant or at least a majority of evangelicals, even at Super Tuesday he had less than 50 percent.

The rallying started in the summer of 2016. And within a few months, it became almost as though if you oppose Trump, you supported things that were antithetical to Christianity and that was sort of the birth of what happened over the next few years, to getting to the point where I said earlier, progressives aren't going to heaven and things of that nature.

So, I think what's significant is if there's Christian leaders who obviously still want to be able to reach throngs of people and they know those throngs of people by and large support the president and they are still willing to say this without worrying about alienating, that's a strength as a Christian certainly, and it also shows that stigma that they're not concerned about could be a result and this remains to be seen, of what they are hearing on the ground. What they are hearing from others. Whether or there really is a shift in the evangelical base remains to be seen, but the fact that more leaders are coming out and saying these things I think is significant.

CAMEROTA: OK. Ben Howe, we appreciate you being on. Your book, "The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values" -- great to talk to you.

HOWE: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, with the leading Democratic candidates squared off over wine caves and other serious issues, there were candidates not on the stage. How Senator Cory Booker expects to be there next time. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:27:32]

BERMAN: The final Democratic debate of 2019 was the smallest and least diverse group seen so far. Senator Cory Booker did not qualify, but he still managed to make an appearance during the debate with this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're only going to see this ad once because I'm not a billionaire. I won't be on tonight's debate stage but that's OK because I'm going to win this election anyway. This election isn't about who can spend the most or who slings the most mud. It's about the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Joining me now, presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker. He joins me from Urbandale, Iowa, where he's campaigning.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

Have you seen the debate? And, if so, what did you think?

BOOKER: I didn't watch the debate. I was making calls to Iowa voters last night. Heard a lot of frustration from folks that there was more talk about wine caves than there were about gun violence or reproductive rights. We really got to be careful as a party about tearing each other down at a time where we see what's going on in Washington and we need to unite, frankly, bring our party together so we can bring a real fight to beat Donald Trump and push McConnell back to the back benches.

So, that's what I'm working on and I'm so happy that here in Iowa, our campaign is really surging.

BERMAN: Well, I will tell you, even though you were not on the stage, voters in our focus group that Gary Tuchman did, they talk bodies you. We have some video. I don't know if they can see it.

A few of them said they're going to caucus with you and even showed up with Cory Booker t-shirts. So, you're still on the mind of some Iowa voters. And in a moment, which I'm not sure you seen it, you were mentioned on the debate stage by one of your competitors, Andrew Yang. I want to play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage. I miss Kamala. I miss Cory, though I think Cory will be back.

(CHEERS)

The question is, why am I the lone candidate of color on this stage? Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns.

You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now that's his take. I wonder what your take is on this. Why was Andrew Yang the only candidate of color on that stage last night?

BOOKER: Well, it's frustrating. We had our best debate in the last one of the debates here. Focus group again overwhelmingly chose me as the best performance. And we saw a surge in online donations, but there were very few polls between that debate and this one.

We've now, since they closed the debate stage, we've seen now ourselves, this is why Andrew is saying I'll be back, because we're popping in the polls. Our numbers are rising.

And so, it's frustrating. So, you know, you see in Iowa here, wall to wall.

END