Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Boeing CEO Out; Saudi Arabia Sentences Five to Death in Khashoggi Murder; North Korea's New Threats; Interview With Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA). Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 23, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: So, let's start with what we heard from the Justice Department, these arguments, again, filed overnight.

Do those arguments hold water?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Depends who you ask. Depends who you're sitting next to, right?

(LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: If I'm a Department of Justice lawyer, Erica, I'm going to say, absolutely, they do, they carry the day.

But let's just try to evaluate it objectively. I think the court clearly has a place here. Why? You can't on the one hand argue that, you know what, McGahn is absolutely immune. He's not going to go to Congress, because I say so. If you don't like that, go to the court. OK.

So then we go to the court, and then you get a district court ruling that says that presidents, we elect them, we don't elect kings or anything else, he has to testify.

But if there are specific issues that you feel are privileged, that you feel fall into a legal exception, he could cite that at the time of his testimony. And then, of course, now you say, well, no, it's going to impede upon what we're doing here.

I don't think it's a credible argument. Look, as lawyers, we get paid to make arguments. We get paid to support clients and what they want to have us do, as long as those arguments are not what we call frivolous, meaning they have no merit.

But I think, at the end of the day, it's really not a legitimate argument to make that the court has no place. It may impede upon the impeachment proceedings and therefore hold off, hold the phone, don't do it. I just think that, no, it's not at all.

HILL: You think this is a stall tactic?

JACKSON: I do. I mean, look what else? It's been a complete stall. We know that

Congress has a responsibility. And that responsibility includes getting information from the executive.

HILL: So, to your point, in terms of Congress has a responsibility, the House, as we just heard, is saying, listen, part of the reason that we need to hear from Don McGahn is that we are not done investigating. And there could be more articles of impeachment.

JACKSON: There very well may.

I mean, it's premature, right? I think they have to get through this. There's been an impeachment. We will see what happens now at the Senate trial in terms of whether there's actually more evidence and information and facts. And will those facts, Erica, actually matter?

But, sure, I mean, look, if you do something that's impeachable, the House has a role to ferret out what that is. And to the extent that McGahn has critical information that he has not conveyed because he's being held and not to testify, I think the court should make a ruling. They should proceed.

HILL: You think they should make a ruling.

Just quickly, do you think McGahn and other important witnesses could be compelled to testify?

JACKSON: I don't see it. I mean, I think they should be, but at the rate this is going, you talk about the Senate trial. For purposes of the Senate trial, I think that's completely in the arm of one Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.

I think he will call the shots. And I think, basically, they will not be compelled, unless he says they're compelled. I don't see that happening.

HILL: Might take a Christmas miracle for that.

JACKSON: It very well may.

HILL: Appreciate it, my friend. Thank you, Joey.

JACKSON: Thanks, Erica.

With one Democratic senator saying there are holes in the impeachment case, did the House overplay its hand? We will ask a Democratic member of the House next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:37]

HILL: House Democrats today pushing back on the Justice Department, arguing they still want former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify because they're not done investigating the president and caution McGahn's testimony could result in even more articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump.

That is in response, of course, to this late-night filing by the DOJ which argues the federal court should say out of the matter.

I want to bring in now Democratic Congressman Ami Bera of California.

Good to have you with us today, sir.

So, if Don McGahn were to say something that you feel incriminates the president, would you really expect that there could be more articles of impeachment in the House?

REP. AMI BERA (D-CA): Certainly.

I think it's important to understand the process we just went through. The House is responsible for doing the investigation and doing the oversight. And impeachment isn't recommending removal from office. Impeachment is actually bringing the charges.

So we thought there was enough evidence to bring article one, which was abuse of power. We thought there was enough evidence to bring article two, which was obstruction of Congress. And there was debate about a potential article of obstruction of justice.

I think that's what's taking place right now. We're still doing the investigation into that potential obstruction of justice. And that's where Don McGahn comes in.

HILL: The McGahn case, of course, heads back to federal appeals court next Friday.

Initially, Democrats wanted to move things along quickly. But would you now support a delay on the Senate trial until you know whether you would actually here, could hear from Don McGahn?

BERA: Possibly.

Again, we do have some concerns that Mitch McConnell, who kind is your foreman of the jury, which is the Senate, saying that he's already made a decision to acquit the president. That doesn't suggest a fair trial.

And I think the president ought to have a fair trial. They ought to see witnesses. Again, if there's additional evidence for a potential third charge, maybe you do delay for a bit, but you don't want to delay forever.

HILL: Maybe a bit, not forever.

You voted, of course, in favor of the two articles of impeachment. As we know, Speaker Pelosi is refusing to send those articles over until she learns more about how Leader McConnell plans to conduct the trial.

I'm curious. Now that you're home in California, what are you hearing from folks in your district about that decision? BERA: You know, I think folks understand that they'd like to see a

fair trial and understand the parameters of the trial.

I also think there are a lot of Americans that are ready to move beyond the impeachment back and forth and want to start focusing in on bread-and-butter issues like prescription drug prices, infrastructure, et cetera.

HILL: So, if they want to move beyond, we know Mitch McConnell had said, look, there's not going to be a resolution until the new year.

And there has been some pushback on the decision by Speaker Pelosi. Are you concerned that holding out on these articles is starting to negatively affect Democrats?

BERA: Well, I would hope everyone goes home for the holidays, and comes back with some Christmas cheer, and we're actually able to come to some consensus.

I know Leader Schumer and McConnell are having trouble kind of agreeing on what the parameters of a trial would look like. It's their responsibility. And, again, I would hope they come to a conclusion that there will be a fair and impartial trial.

HILL: Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama signaling that he sees some gaps in the evidence that's been put forth. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): But if those dots aren't connected, and there are other explanations that I think are consistent with innocence, I will go that way too.

[16:40:00]

There are gaps. Now, people can make up their mind with gaps in testimony. But I would like to see a full and complete picture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: He would like to see a full and complete picture. Do you agree?

And are you concerned at all the impeachment case that's been put out there, what we know thus far from House Democrats, is not rock-solid, especially if there's a chance there may not be additional witnesses or evidence?

BERA: Well, I think Senator Jones is absolutely correct.

Again, remember, what we did last week was, we brought the charges against the president. Now it's about the trial presenting the evidence and presenting the case.

And then those jurists, like Senator Jones, will have to make a decision guilty or not guilty. HILL: And is there enough there if there is not additional evidence

or witnesses that are ultimately presented, if there is not an agreement here? Do you think there's enough to truly make a case at this point in the Senate?

BERA: Yes, there was enough to bring charges.

I think the reason why Senator Schumer is pushing for witnesses is Mick Mulvaney was in the room. He can either exonerate the president or support and corroborate the evidence that's been presented.

Mike Pompeo was in the room. John Bolton was in the room. These are folks that have direct facts. And they ought to be at that trial, so Senator Jones and all of the senators can hear all the facts and they could come to their conclusion.

HILL: Let's talk quickly 2020 before we let you go, of course, just days away from the new year. And the 2020 race will certainly dominate the headlines and politics.

Today on CNN, your fellow California Tony Cardenas endorsed Joe Biden for president. Which candidate are you endorsing in 2020?

BERA: Yes, I have endorsed Joe Biden as well.

And, again, I think he's the one candidate who can step into office on day one, reassure our allies. The president's been very disruptive in foreign policy. And, right now, we need someone who's ready to lead on day one. And I think that's Vice President Biden.

HILL: Democratic Congressman Ami Bera of California, appreciate you joining us, and happy holidays.

BERA: Thank you. Happy holidays.

HILL: As North Korea's Kim Jong-un threatens to send the U.S. an unwelcome Christmas gift, a former Trump top aide is now accusing the president of being soft on the rogue regime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:46:47]

HILL: In our world lead, the charm offensive apparently didn't work.

A source telling CNN the Christmas gift North Korea threatened could be a new hard-line approach to the United States that could possibly include a new missile test.

Meantime, former National Security Adviser John Bolton is accusing President Trump of bluffing on North Korea, suggesting an all-talk approach is putting U.S. forces at imminent risk.

CNN's Barbara Starr has more from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former National Security Adviser John Bolton slamming President Trump for failing to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, tweeting this afternoon: "There is no real policy. The risks to U.S. forces and our allies is imminent and more effective policy is required before North Korea has the technology to threaten the American homeland."

Bolton doubling down on critical remarks he made this weekend, telling Axios: "The idea that we are somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is, just unfortunately, not true."

Bolton had a much different view last year:

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Physically, we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year.

STARR: Bolton's comments come as North Korea threatened a -- quote -- "Christmas gift" to the U.S. That's left U.S. intelligence and the military looking for signs of what the North Koreans are planning.

New images show expanded efforts at one plant for production of long- range intercontinental ballistic missile launchers. At the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the U.S. is looking for signs of more advanced engine missile tests or launch of a long-range missile that could threaten the U.S.

There are even worries of an underground nuclear test, even though these tests tunnels were supposedly destroyed by Kim. A source familiar with the North Korean leadership's current thinking tells CNN Kim is expected to take a wait-and-see approach as he assesses Trump's political vulnerability.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He sees Trump as being weakened by impeachment. He thinks that the United States itself is going through really a political crisis, in essence.

STARR: Kim has met with his top military leaders and is expected to address a Workers Party meeting Sunday. The U.S. will be looking for any hints of what may be the come.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: It was the murder that outraged the world, but now, more than a year after the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death for their roles in his death, while clearing a former top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A senior Trump administration official responding to the verdict says -- quote -- "This is an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable. And we encourage Saudi Arabia to continue with a fair and transparent judicial process." But, as CNN's Nic Robertson reports, many are unconvinced justice was done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): The verdicts, including five death penalties, eye-catching, but not yet convincing.

[16:50:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): First, the death sentence for five of the defendants who committed and participated in the murder of the victim. May he rest in peace.

Second, imprisoning three of the defendants for covering up this murder and violating regulations, for a range of sentences that total 24 years.

ROBERTSON: But no names released of the guilty, the only ones named, those found not guilty, significantly, two of them close to the Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, former senior adviser Saud al-Qahtani and ex-deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri blameless, apparently distancing the crown prince from CIA claims he had a role in "The Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi's killing.

The verdicts validating what Saudi officials said all along, a rendition gone wrong.

Ahmed al-Assiri, deputy head of Saudi's GIP intelligence agency, also close to MBS.

Despite the verdict, many questions remain. Where is his body? Who killed him and how?

What we do know, a Saudi hit team entered the consulate a few hours ahead of Khashoggi. The hit team included intelligence officer Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, in charge, forensic Salah Mohammed al-Tubaigy, and more than a dozen others, including Mustafa al-Madani, the body double, who dressed in Khashoggi's clothes, left by the back door laying a false trail.

In reality, Khashoggi had been killed minutes after entering the building. His last words after being attacked, I can't breathe, I can't breathe, before he was dismembered by Dr. Tubaigy's bone saw.

[15:20:13]

His remains were believed to be driven off in black vans shortly after, from the consulate to the nearby consul general's residence. His girlfriend, waiting outside, raised the alarm.

Turkish authorities listened to audio recordings from the consulate, then rushed to the airport, questioning members of the hit team about to leave on private jets, and searching some of their baggage, but found nothing and let them leave.

In the following days, the Saudi government denied killing Khashoggi, the consul general even taking reporters on a hokey tour of the consulate. Eventually, 16 days later, Saudi authorities finally gave Turkish investigators permission to search the consulate and the consul general's house. There was evidence of a cover-up, but no body.

In the coming weeks, local farms were searched, a consulate vehicle recovered from an underground car park, but still no leads. All questions lead back to Saudi, where the hit team fled.

Finally, after more than two-and-a-half weeks, Saudi authorities admitted Khashoggi was killed by Saudi officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was killed in the consulate. We don't know in terms of details how. We don't know where the body is.

ROBERTSON: The year-long trial lacked transparency, done behind closed doors with no cameras and no international monitors. Many questions remain, not least, where is Khashoggi's body?

(on camera): Turkish officials are saying the verdict fails to meet their expectations and falls short on justice and accountability.

Britain's foreign secretary also had a note of caution, saying that Saudi Arabia needed to hold all those responsible to account.

(voice-over): Amnesty International also calling the verdict a whitewash.

A U.N. special rapporteur tweeting, "It's anything but justice," in a long thread laying out the crimes committed.

Those likely to face the death penalty include intelligence officer Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, in charge of the operation, and forensic doctor Salah Mohammed al-Tubaigy, AKA, the bone saw doctor, who allegedly dismembered Khashoggi's body inside the Saudi Consulate.

No indication if body double Mustafa al-Madani, who dressed in Khashoggi's clothes, left by the back door, laying a false trail, was one of those convicted of a cover-up, or one of those more than 20 questioned, half of whom were released.

Other surprises include the acquitting of the consul general, who, four days after the killing, took reporters on a hokey tour of the consulate.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: The head of Boeing is grounded, as the airplane giant closes out one of its most turbulent years to date.

That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:23]

HILL: In our money lead, the head of the world's largest aerospace company is out.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg forced out after a historically tumultuous time at the company, with two deadly crashes just months apart, both involving Boeing's best selling commercial jet, the 737 MAX.

Now, the ouster comes after the company announced it was suspending production of the plane.

Joining me now, CNN's business editor at large, Richard Quest.

So, Richard, why now?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because the board was worried over the most recent spat that Boeing had with the regulator the FAA, in which it seemed that Muilenburg was trying to prevent the FAA to get the plane back in the sky.

Now, whether he was already wasn't isn't relevant. The point is, the FAA felt he was. The FAA made it clear, the new head of the FAA saying repeatedly, the plane will only fly when we determine if it's safe to fly.

And, basically, it became more of a liability to keep him there than not. Remember, Erica, it was always a case of when he would go, not if. And the board finally decided, and somewhat strangely, to be frank, two days before Christmas. They decided it was time to go.

HILL: They decided it was time.

But what you bring up about the FAA too really speaks to a larger point of what all of these -- all of this en masse, these tragedies, is -- frankly, this glaring revelation that, for the most part, Boeing was essentially policing itself.

How much of that has changed at this point?

QUEST: It's changing. The whole process is changing.

But that's the nub of this issue, that Boeing -- the loss of trust in Boeing, but also the loss of trust in the regulator. So now you have a regulator that's trying to be as regulatory as it possibly can to prove that it can still do it, it still has the ability to force and to make the rules necessary.

But they're -- both organizations are grappling with the fact they have got to get the MAX in the air. Boeing hasn't provided the necessary data. The FAA is determined not to let them get away with anything, and because the FAA also has to regain credibility with other global regulators. This is a mess, make no bones about it, and it will be quite a bit longer before it's sorted out.

HILL: It certainly will.

We know you will stay on top of it, though, and continue to keep us updated. Richard, thank you.

QUEST: Thank you.

HILL: Thanks for joining us today on THE LEAD.

You can catch me on Twitter @EricaRHill. Be sure to tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

Stay with us. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now: at an impasse.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell slams House

[17:00:00]