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Trump Responds to Christian Magazine Calling For Impeachment; Impeachment Stalemate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 23, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: It starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: 'Tis the season for a stalemate.

"THE LEAD" starts right now.

A White House official called it a sensitive request that needed to be closely held. Newly released e-mails about freezing aid to Ukraine prompting Democrats to renew calls for more information.

President Trump has a plan to reassure evangelicals after a scathing rebuke from a top Christian publication. Will it work?

Plus, as North Korea threatens to deliver the U.S. a Christmas gift, a former top Trump official says the president is doing it all wrong.

Welcome to THE LEAD on this Monday. I'm Erica Hill, in for Jake.

And we begin with the politics lead. A renewed push from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to get documents and witnesses for the expected Senate impeachment trial.

The move comes on the heels of newly released e-mails which detail how the effort to freeze aid to Ukraine began roughly 90 minutes after that now infamous July 25 phone call.

But as CNN's Manu Raju reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he doesn't expect a resolution to the stalemate until the new year.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new chapter in the fight over President Trump's Senate trial, as Democrats push for a slew of documents, and Republicans continue to wait for the articles of impeachment from the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again today pointing the finger at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Look, we're at an impasse. We can't do anything until the speaker sends the papers over. So, everybody, enjoy the holidays. RAJU: Sources say McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

have no plans at the moment to talk, after Schumer demanded the leaders first agreed to hear from witnesses blocked by the White House and review scores of documents withheld at the president's request.


RAJU: In a letter to all senators today, Schumer detailed the wide range of documents he believes senators must see to conduct a fair trial. And so far, Pelosi says she needs to see what the Senate process is first, before naming managers to prosecute the case and before delivering the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

(on camera): Is that -- is that the requirement? You need to see a fair process before sending...


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We would hope there would be a fair process justice, just as we hope that they would under the Constitution.

RAJU (voice-over): McConnell today pushing back.

MCCONNELL: It seems to me a rather absurd position to say after you have impeached the president you won't send the papers over to the Senate for the impeachment trial mandated by the Constitution.

RAJU: But Democrats now have fresh ammunition after a court ruling prompted the release of an e-mail showing White House budget official Michael Duffey calling for the freeze on military aid to Ukraine just 90 minutes after the July phone call in which Trump urged the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Schumer demanding Duffey's testimony.

SCHUMER: If there was ever an argument that we need Mr. Duffey to come testify, this is that that information. This e-mail is explosive.

RAJU: Yet Republicans remain reluctant to criticize any part of Trump's conduct.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): Presidents make mistakes. I don't know that this call was a mistake. But, again, I think there are plenty of mistakes have been made by both President Obama and President Trump regarding Ukraine.


RAJU: Now, when the trial eventually starts, the focus will be on whether four Republicans will break ranks and vote with Democrats to compel witness testimony.

But no one is revealing how they will vote yet. And even one in a potentially tough race, Joni Ernst, told me she didn't want to hear from Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton. Erica, she said that should have been the House's job -- Erica.

HILL: That's an interesting revelation right there. Manu, thank you. Appreciate it.

As we look at all of this and where we stand, John Avlon, these e- mails that were released over the weekend, they do offer some new insight into how the aide was withheld and ultimately released. What do they change?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a question of whether Republicans are going to recognize facts as being something that are important to any decision they make.

The news that Manu just broke that Joni Ernst, senator from Iowa, is saying that she doesn't want to hear from witnesses, that that's something the House should have done, I think, is stunning considering that she's got a tough reelection. She's in what's traditionally been a swing state.

And she's saying that she's going to be part of the know-nothing caucus in the Senate. That is stunning and disturbing.

The real question is, is there any information that could come out that would open or change Republicans' minds? That itself seems -- the answer seems to be no. And that's disturbing, just from a reason together on behalf of the republic level.

HILL: Well, putting together those two points, Manu's reporting that we just heard there about Joni Ernst not wanting to hear from Mulvaney or Bolton...


HILL: ... but also the fact that Democrats are quick, S.E., to jump on these e-mails and say, well, look at this, look at what this connects in terms of the dots.

But yet, if you step back for a minute, it doesn't necessarily say X happened. There's some redactions. And, therefore, we know it's exactly what the president's mind-set was. This is what forced it to happen. This is exactly how it played out.


But I think if you did, to John's point, I'm not sure that would change minds. If you have already said the president's going to be acquitted, as Mitch McConnell has, if you have already said, I don't need to hear from any of your witnesses, as Joni Ernst just said, you have already decided that none of this is impeachable and the president is innocent, this is a witch-hunt.


So, I mean, I think the idea that this is an impartial, neutral exercise, really on both sides, I will say, is naive. This is a performance.

It's a performance that might have a constitutional, moral underpinning behind it, sure, but it's a performance.

HILL: Well, in terms of that, and senators on both sides, just want to play a little bit of what Senator Dick Durbin had to say to Dana Bash about Senators saying how they plan to vote. Take a listen.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): I think they have gone too far.

How can they hold their hands up and say, I swear impartial justice, I'd like to sit at the managers' table with the president's team?

You can't do that. They shouldn't have done that.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Well, Democrats have done it too.

DURBIN: And I would say that of Senator McConnell and Senator -- well, they shouldn't.


HILL: They shouldn't. Keith, they shouldn't on both sides.

And yet, to S.E.'s point and to Dana's point, they have been doing it.

CUPP: They have.

HILL: Now we even hear Democratic Senator Doug Jones saying, hey, listen, I need a little bit more to connect these dots.

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's a lot of information that's already out there that we know. And there's more information that may come if there is a fair trial.

I think the Constitution dictates there should be a fair trial. I mean, we don't necessarily want to have a show trial. And I think Nancy Pelosi is right to sort of wait until she finds out what exactly is the process before she -- the impeachment managers will be from the House.

Now, in terms of the Republicans, I think they're in a difficult position too, because if they're going to go along the lines that they say that, whatever Trump does, they're not going to make any reason to -- not going to have any reason to think that there's anything wrong with it, then they're going to have to defend that forever.

They're going to defend that through the rest of the year. And we know there's going to be more Trump scandals that are going to come down the way.

This is a guy who started off two days before he took off, he paid a $25 million fraud settlement. And just a few days ago, he paid a $2 million settlement or was responsible for a $2 million settlement. So he's got corruption on top of corruption on top of corruption that

they're going to be accountable for and they're going to be held accountable for from here on out.

HILL: I will point out, though, depending on what happens, right, with what everything we -- everything we see in the Senate, who's to say?

I mean, you look at those things, and you say the president should be held accountable for all of this. If he's not being held accountable at this point, I mean, what would change Joey Jackson, that, all of a sudden, some other conduct would then get the support?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think anything.

So let's talk politics and let's talk legal, right? Generally speaking, in my line of business, facts matter. When you go and you're presenting to a jury, you give them facts.


HILL: I would say we can all agree in our line of work. Facts matter to all five of us.



JACKSON: And that's a problem, right? When you're parading in front of a jury, you're asking them to look at facts.

Now, there are facts that may be harmful to you that you, as an attorney, may want to minimize. And there are facts that certainly are helpful that you want to maximize.

But when you look at this here, we're talking about -- it seems to me that there are facts that are very compelling. Seems to me we can also get additional facts. And if you want to make the argument that, you know what, it's hearsay, we don't have direct witnesses, well, you know what, Mr. President and administration, you are in a position to provide those direct witnesses, but you're not doing it.

I don't think any fact, even if we hear from Mulvaney, right, the Budget Office, we hear from budget-level authorities, we hear from the secretary of state, we hear from the president, I don't really think it's going to move the needle, because it goes to the political point.

I think people are entrenched, Erica, in their positions.

HILL: Really quickly, as you point out about information, these e- mails that came to light over the weekend, we know about them because of a freedom of information request.

Do you think, Joey, in looking at that, do they help to make the case in terms of setting up the case with facts for why it's important to have witnesses and evidence in a Senate trial? JACKSON: I do, and just for two reasons.

I mean, look, if you look at the e-mails, or at least the essence of what we know about the e-mails, we see that there's this connection, right, this link; 90 minutes after a call, there's the indication that we're going to hold off in aid.

Well, if you're looking for a connection, that seems to me to be a pretty compelling one. Second issue, when you're talking about, but don't say anything, keep it quiet, keep it on the hush, that goes to what we lawyers call consciousness of guilt.

If something helps me or helps my client, I'm going to jump on top of a desk and going to say, look, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is exhibit A.

But you're going to say, keep it quiet? That goes to show you know what you're doing is wrong. So you know what? It's troubling.

AVLON: Yes, I mean, that's what the e-mails show very clearly. The fact pattern isn't good.

And when they say -- when the woman from DOD asks, what caused this change in policy, the answer is redacted.

HILL: Redacted. So we don't know what's there. Not the last we will talk about them.

President Trump, meantime, focusing his anger on an unusual target in front of a group of young conservatives.

Then, Saudi Arabia sentencing five people to death for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but there are more questions now than answers after the trial.



HILL: President Trump announcing a rally for evangelical Christians in Miami next week.

Now, this comes in awake of a top Christian publication calling for Mr. Trump's removal from office because of his -- quote -- "blackened moral record."

Yet, as CNN's Boris Sanchez reports, some 200 other evangelical leaders are already speaking out in support of the president.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump hitting the links at his West Palm Beach golf club Monday and hitting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Twitter, still angry over impeachment, calling the process unfair, and suggesting Pelosi will lose the House for Democrats in 2020. The next election and his support among evangelicals also top of mind

for Trump, on the heels of a scathing call for his removal from office in "Christianity Today," a centrist evangelical magazine founded by the late Reverend Billy Graham, the Trump campaign launching the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition, scheduling a rally specifically for Christian supporters next week in Miami, as 200 evangelical leaders rush to Trump's defense, signing a letter bashing the magazine, calling their op-ed offensive.


One of those leaders, Jerry Falwell Jr., tweeting a controversial defense of Trump, writing, quote, the impeachment by the Democrats was their Pearl Harbor. I predict that 2020 election will be Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the Dems.

Over the weekend, Trump also railed during a speech to a group of conservative students ranting about a frequent but unusual target, windmills.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never understood wind -- you know, I know windmills very much. I've studied it better than anybody.

SANCHEZ: Falsely claiming they create pollution.

TRUMP: Tremendous fumes, gases, are spewing into the atmosphere.

SANCHEZ: Saying they cripple property values without any proof.

TRUMP: And if you are a house within vision of some of these monsters, your house is worth 50 percent of the price.

SANCHEZ: And that's not all.

TRUMP: A windmill will kill many bald eagles. It's true.

SANCHEZ: Even though there is no proof that is true, the president took his claim even further.

TRUMP: They're noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard. Just go and take a look.


SANCHEZ: Erica, in response to the criticism, "Christianity Today" has come out and said they stand by their op-ed. The editor-in-chief saying they hope this starts a dialogue among evangelicals about President Trump's actions in office -- Erica.

HILL: We will look to see what that dialogue ultimately is.

Boris, thank you as always.

I also want to play a little bit of what Senator Roy Blunt had to say this weekend to Dana Bash on "STATE OF THE UNION" talking about evangelical support for the president. Take a listen.


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): The faith-based community, generally, is very supportive of the president because he is very supportive with them.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Do you struggle personally with the kinds of things he described?

BLUNT: If you look at the president's actions, if Roy Blunt looks at the president's action, no president in my lifetime has been aggressive in trying to achieve the goals that faith-based voters have set out than this one has.


HILL: And what are some of the goals? S.E., if we look at this and there is much said about this in the last few days as well, his legacy in the courts alone and appointing conservative judges. Also, when we look at this, does this boil down to a point of conservative judges, and outlawing abortion, does that matter more at this point, is it your sense, than the central tenets of someone's faith, especially when you're talking about evangelical voters?

CUPP: Yes, and I'd Israel to that list as well.

Look, I'm an atheist. I went to Catholic school for most of my life, though. And the goal is not to identify policies that you might subscribe to and then put aside your moral issues. That's not what the Bible teaches, that is not what Christianity teaches.

And I'm not going to pretend to know what is in the hearts and minds of millions of evangelicals. But it's concerning. And I do hope that this op-ed creates a dialogue, because I think it is one that evangelicals should be having. They're not a monolith and they don't all vote the same or based on the same things.

And, look, every vote is a complicated vote no matter who you are and what your moral compass is. But I would say I think this is an opportunity for a Democrat like Pete Buttigieg, who speaks Christianity fluently and the other Democratic candidates don't, and it's a put-on and you could tell it is a put-on. For someone like Pete Buttigieg, this is a real -- this is a real important part of his life and I think it might be nice to know if you're a Democratic voter that there are Christians left in the party who could talk the talk and walk the walk, if you might be considering switching your vote from Trump to some other candidate.


HILL: Keith, go ahead.

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I just don't know why evangelical movement has hijacked Christianity in America, because African-American evangelicals do not feel the same way about Donald Trump. They do not feel the same way about the conservative push and the unwillingness to talk about racism in America.

I've talked about this before. The white evangelical community supported slavery in America. They supported segregation in America. They support racism in America today. And so I think we have to make a clear distinction between the black gel and the white evangelical community.

CUPP: It is too big to say white evangelicals are --

BOYKIN: I'm not saying --

CUPP: But that is exactly the way they lose evangelical voters. You don't have to go that far.

BOYKIN: I'm not talking about winning voters. I'm talking about saying the truth.

The truth is black Christian community writ large has been different from the white Christian community writ large. And I'm not saying that everybody in those communities is the same because neither one of them are monolithic.

CUPP: Yes.

BOYKIN: Nor is evangelical community monolithic.

But for God's sake, Republicans have been selling the idea they're the moral majority party, the party of family values for 30, 40 years now, and it's just not true.


Democrats should be able to at least say that we believe in some sort -- in some sort of ideas that if you believe in Christianity, that Christ believed in, what about helping the poor and helping the needy? What about helping people who are sick? All the Republicans even talk about is one issue, one issue -- abortion. That is not the only issue in the Bible and Jesus never mentioned abortion for God's sake.

HILL: It is a fair point. John, you want to jump in?

AVLON: Yes, look, look, I mean, A, it is a mistake to consider the evangelical movement monolithic. B, there should be more honest competition. No political party could lay claim to the Bible, I mean, from James Madison on down, one of the founding precepts of our country is that we don't have a founding religion.

But it is troubling to see white evangelicals overwhelming support this president even at numbers exceeding an authentic born again Christian George W. Bush --

HILL: Right.

AVLON: -- who pursued many of the same policies.

And I think it comes down to a deal that is sometimes lost on Democrats. There is the sense that he -- we have the same enemies. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and he might be a King David figure who we will accept all his personal peccadilloes because he is pursuing our agenda. But that itself is a dangerous game to play, especially in the name of Christianity.

HILL: I do really want to get your take on this, too, because we're out of this time of this segment. But, Joey, I just want to get your take on this, because that is an important conversation we need to keep having. The other thing that I guess we've heard in the last however many hours is we know that the president has long claimed that the FBI and the Obama administration spied on his campaign. But this is what Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, had to say over the weekend.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Well, we pause from one moment and you read this I.G. report by Horowitz, here's the FBI, they broke into President Trump, at the time candidate Trump's campaign, spied on him and then covered it up. It is a modern day Watergate.


HILL: It is a not a modern day Watergate. That is a lie. It is completely false. As we know, of course, from the Justice Department inspector general.

JACKSON: See, the problem is that facts matter, but they almost don't. The fact is if you are in one party, there are facts. I guess you want to ignore it.

The inspector general essentially said there was no spying, notwithstanding that, Erica, the president himself continues to push the narrative that it was. Now you just showed the slip there suggesting that it was and it is just not true. But that supports a political narrative which you feed to your base which apparently is acceptable and it is just wrong.

One other quick point just to pivot back to S.E.'s point, about this whole issue. You see this is an opportunity, the op-ed for the evangelicals for Mayor Pete, I see it as an opportunity for the Republican Party. I mean, there was someone who had the guts to come out and to stand tall and to say enough. I view what the president's doing as grossly, not my words, their words, immoral, right?

Why does it take this particular newspaper, of course, the president's casting it as a left-wing newspaper. That is not true either. Facts matter. They seem not to matter in this era.

But someone has to stand up and even it appears now with this impeachment proceeding, no one is. It is a perfect call. And everyone says, it's a perfect call.

HILL: We're going to continue to rely on facts, though, because you're right, they do matter. Meantime, the fight for witnesses. Up next, House Democrats just

responding to the Trump administration's attempt to keep a key figure from testifying.



HILL: We're back now with the politics lead.

House Democrats insisting they still need the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn because their investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice continues and could, in theory, lead to additional articles of impeachment.

That is in response to a filing overnight from the Justice Department, which argues the courts should avoid weighing in on McGahn while a impeachment trial is pending.

I want to bring in CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

So, Evan, DOJ also saying that since the articles of impeachment do not include obstruction of justice, which they want to hear from Don McGahn about, his testimony is irrelevant at this point.


In the articles of impeachment, there is only one cursory sort of reference to the Mueller investigation and that is one reason why the justice department said that the courts first of all should stay out of this. That is their argument for some months now that the courts should play no role in a fight that is between Congress and the White House.

But at the heart of this is the importance of this big question, which is can the president give absolute immunity to his close aides. That is what the president is arguing. That these people don't even have to show up to -- in response to a subpoena from Congress, in this case, Don McGahn who as you know was the former White House counsel and was an important witness in the obstruction of justice part of the Mueller investigation.

HILL: And the House is also arguing that it needs Mueller grand jury secrets to show in the Senate impeachment trial President Trump's pattern of soliciting interference and obstruction.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. That's the one reference they make in the articles of impeachment that have been approved. But the question here is, you know, what does this matter for any other parts of what the House Democrats are doing?

And I think what the courts are struggling with, and certainly what the administration is trying to exploit here, is the fact that the Democrats have already voted for these articles of impeachment. And the answer is from the House Democrats is we could always impeach him again essentially. We could add articles of impeachment in addition to the ones that have already been approved.

HILL: Be interesting to see how that would work.

Evan Perez, appreciate it as always. Thank you.

CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson back with me now.

So let's start with what we heard from the Justice Department, these arguments again filed overnight. Do those arguments hold water?

JACKSON: Depends who you ask --