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Evangelical Leaders Condemn "Christianity Today" Editorial Criticizing Trump; Amy Klobuchar Hopes To Capitalize On Momentum After Standout Debate Performance; Saudi Arabia Sentences Five To Death In Khashoggi Murder. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 23, 2019 - 13:30   ET



SARAH POSNER, CONTRIBUTOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So a magazine like "Christianity Today" doesn't have the singular resonance it might have had back in the '60s and '70s.

So when you see these 200 evangelical leaders pushing back on "Christianity Today," that is the evangelical America that supports Donald Trump.

It is the mainstream of evangelicalism. Eight percent of white evangelicals opposed impeaching President Trump. And these leaders who that wrote that letter are the strongest supporters of President Trump and they represent those voters.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And, Father Beck, the head of "Christianity Today" says they did lose some subscribers. That's important to note. But he said they ended up gaining three times as many new subscriptions regarding Trump's removal.

What do you make of that and what do you make of whether this is just something that is some kind of blip on the radar or that more people could actually be affected by an op-ed like this?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Brianna, first of all, "Christianity Today" is a centrist magazine, not on the far left like the president says it is.

I think a lot of what Sarah says is correct. But even in your introduction, evangelicals are Bible-believing Christians. If you take the Bible as a whole, you are hard-pressed, I think -- evangelicals, some of them are saying now, especially younger ones, to continue to support this president.

So I think what we are seeing are cracks in that support. Because issues like immigration and the treatment of migrants, the environment, these count, especially to young evangelicals.

The Ten Commandments, even hard, fast evangelicals. What about the Eighth Commandment, bearing false witness, which is lying. The president has been shown to have lied a lot.

So do those who believe in the Bible or the Seventh Commandment against adultery, do they simply toss all of that out because of a few issues that they think are more important, like abortion or the appointment of Supreme Court judges? I don't think so.

I think what we're going to see is a further erosion. Because while 80 percent of white evangelicals may have voted for this president, now this president has been in office for quite some time and has done things that a lot who voted for him no longer agree with and would not support again.

KEILAR: Sarah, I know you say, yes, there's a crack, but it was there all along. There's a group of evangelicals who don't agree with the president and, yet, it's a very small slice of the overall evangelical pie.

When you hear Father Beck sort of outlining some of the issues that are confronting all voters -- and I think, look, a lot of voters are full of contradictions, right? It's hard to fully understand -- they believe in one thing but their actions say another thing.

How do you make sense of where evangelicals are on reconciling what they think is important morally and then supporting someone who very clearly goes against a lot of the things that they say they believe in?

POSNER: Well, for the white evangelicals who are supporting President Trump and supporting him through every scandal and controversy of his presidency, this is really more about their power than it is about morality.

They say it's about morality, and they say it's about their religious freedom or opposing abortion or saying that LGBT rights infringes on their religious liberty, but they have gained a lot of political power during Trump's presidency.

It's not just the judges that he's appointed. It's not just the policies that he's created. It's that he's let them create the policies.

He's appointed conservative evangelicals to be cabinet secretaries. He's appointed them to important political appointments in agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice that are making key policy.

And what's very important to them is that they are the drivers of this policy, of these policies. And they have power in this presidency.

So they're willing to overlook any wrongdoing by the president because they believe he was chosen by God to save America at this time, and that he's giving them the power to do it by giving them the tools of government by which to do these policies.

KEILAR: Father Beck?

BECK: And yet, they follow a Jesus who opposes the abuse and misuse of political power. So I think you're hard-pressed to say that is a Christian following. Also, I think if you look at what the teaching of Jesus is, say, what

is salvation? Who gets saved? That's only in Matthew 25 in the Christian scriptures. And the criteria? Did you feed the hungry, did you clothe the naked, did you visit the imprisoned? It's all about compassion to the outcast, to the poor.


So if that's the criteria, and that is scripturally based, how do you, as a Christian, say this doesn't matter? This is what Jesus says is most important about getting into the kingdom. How do you say that doesn't matter as a Christian?

I don't think you can simply focus on power and say this is good for us. What about the humility Jesus teaches? What about the powerlessness that Jesus teaches? I think these are key issues to keep in mind when we're looking at this predicament.

KEILAR: Such an important conversation.

Father Beck, Sarah Posner, thank you.

Senator Amy Klobuchar blitzer Iowa on the heels of a strong debate performance. She tells CNN her mission in that key state, what it is all about.

Plus, five men are sentenced to death for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi but what justice served? A friend of the journalist will weigh in.



KEILAR: Fresh off the heels of a strong debate performance, 2020 Democratic candidate, Amy Klobuchar, is crisscrossing Iowa hoping to keep up the momentum. She just finished a four-day, 27 country swing with the goal of visiting all of Iowa's 96 counties before caucus day on February 3rd.

Klobuchar recently sat down with CNN's Kyung Lah, joining us now from Council Bluff, Iowa.

Kyung, how is the Senator feeling after the debate last week.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she feels like she made a crack. She was able to crash through the noise on the debate stage, making her argument there. She's bringing it here to Iowa.

What we were able to see along bus tour, enthusiastic crowds, people willing to give her another look, but not quite sold yet.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): The Midwest is not flyover country to me. I live here.

I hope you saw the debates.



LAH (voice-over): Senator Amy Klobuchar believes now is her upswing. The Minnesota moderate crisscrossing 27 counties in Iowa.

KLOBUCHAR: Hurry up. Get on the bus.

LAH: From rural to suburban venues.

KLOBUCHAR: We have 40-some days left. We have this incredibly important impeachment hearing. I don't know when I can come back.

LAH: As a Senate trial looms and the clock ticks.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, everybody.

This will be our 79th county.


LAH: Inside the Klobuchar campaign, their come-from-behind strategy is to meet Iowans face-to-face.

KLOBUCHAR: It's one of the counties that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's one of the Trump counties -- Trump Obama counties.

KLOBUCHAR: -- Obama won and then Trump won.

LAH: And chip away at the more moderate candidates polling higher.

(on camera): When people in those rooms say, why should I, when I have a new person like Pete Buttigieg or someone who's, you know, tested like Joe Biden, why -- why should I consider someone like you?

KLOBUCHAR: I think I'm the right package. I like to joke that 59 is the new 37 to Mayor Pete, that I'm someone that's in between the ages. I am a new generation of leader.

LAH (voice-over): An argument of her Midwest experience, sharpened from the debates to the stump.


KLOBUCHAR: All right, got a little taller.

LAH: She's won in Trump districts, urban, suburban, and rural. So when they heckle --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to pay for it? LAH: -- she'll tangle to convince them.

KLOBUCHAR: A question was raised there from the peanut gallery about how we pay for things. I have actually outlined how I'm going to pay for every single thing that I have proposed.

I don't think that Donald Trump has some kind of monopoly on votes in rural America or in suburban America. Not for a second. And you saw a lot of suburban and rural voters that voted for women, they voted for Democrats, including Independents and moderate Republicans.

So, the evidence is there that people want a check on this guy.

LAH: The hard part, getting Iowans to decide.

JEFF BUTLER, IOWAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: I like Pete, and I -- and I like Amy. They've always been my top two.

LAH (on camera): What is going to push you to decide?

BUTLER: I get to meet Amy tonight.

LAH (voice-over): After he's listened to her?

BUTLER: I probably went from 50/50. Now I'm 78 percent for Amy.

LAH: We did find a number of voters pledging to caucus for Klobuchar, including Judith Anderson, won over just this week.

JUDITH ANDERSON, IOWAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Her sense of humor and relating to people directly was a wonderful experience.

LAH (on camera): Did the debate have anything to do with it?

ANDERSON: Oh, lord, yes.

LAH (voice-over): But overwhelmingly, many were like Jan Morris.

(on camera): How many?

JAN MORRIS, IOWAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight --

LAH (voice-over): There are so many to choose from, she says.

MORRIS: There's 17

LAH (on camera): MORRIS: Seventeen candidates. You've heard --


MORRIS: I personally heard speak, yes.

Amy is definitely in the running.

LAH: Do you feel you're running out of time as far as making a decision?

MORRIS: Oh, no. February 2nd, maybe February 3rd.

LAH: That's when you'll make a decision?


KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much, guys.


LAH (voice-over): For the candidate working on an upset, the slow grind continues.


LAH: So 42 days left before the Iowa caucuses. But those numbers, those number of days actually less for Senator Klobuchar, because, Brianna, she has to pull off the campaign trail to take part in any sort of Senate impeachment trial -- Brianna?


KEILAR: Indeed.

Kyung, thank you so much for taking us on the campaign trail with you. Kyung Lah, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Journalist Jama Khashoggi, last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of 2019, and now five men are sentenced to death in connection with his murder. Why many are calling these trials a sham, next.


KEILAR: Saudi Arabia sentencing five people to death for the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. The "Washington Post" columnist was killed and allegedly dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year while in a self-imposed exile after speaking out against the Saudi crown prince.


Saudi officials released 10 defendants due to lack of evidence. Several of them had close ties -- have close ties to the Saudi royal family, including a former top adviser to the crown prince.

Joining me now to discuss this is Aaron David Miller. He has spent more than two decades in the State Department, including serving as a Middle East negotiator. And he was a friend of Jamal Khashoggi.

As you watch this, Aaron -- and let's talk first about your view on -- I'm curious about how Saudis are receiving this. But what is your view on whether this is a sham trial as many people, especially those close to Jamal, say it is. AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Identify the word you

want: cover-up, whitewash, sham, Saudi justice. There's so many things wrong with this verdict, beginning with the fact that three of the key participants in this premeditated murder were either found acquitted or weren't even charged.

Then there's the issue of the narrative that the Saudi government is still putting out, including the chief prosecutor, this, in fact, was an accidental killing, it wasn't premeditated.

That's contradicted by the U.N. report this summer, which documents fairly authoritatively, it would seem, exactly what the Saudis wanted to do. And our own CIA's assessment with medium to high confidence the crown prince either had foreknowledge or ordered the killing.

KEILAR: That's the assessment from the CIA. When you put it that way, the Saudi government is sentencing to death five individuals who are at least partially responsible for a killing that the Saudi government appears to have had knowledge or even ordered.

How is this being received by people over there? Do Saudis see it like this?

MILLER: I don't think there's a public opinion poll that would reveal honestly what the vast majority of young Saudis think.


MILLER: I think Mohammad bin Salman had bamboozled through his own reforms and his own charisma. Very popular among Saudi middle class and Saudi youth.

So I'm sure no country wants to see its ruler attacked by foreign media, particularly, or by the chattering classes in Washington. So there's a rally around the crown prince.

And I think, by and large, he's got a lock on Saudi public opinion. So I think they bought pretty comprehensively the story on this.

KEILAR: And let's talk about his family. Because they were at the trials. There have been reports that some of them have been receiving hefty pavements from the royals. Then a short time ago, his sons tweeted out that the sentence was, quote, "fair to us."

What did you make of that?

MILLER: Look, I can't judge these kids. I lost my own father this year to natural causes. I mean, they're grieving.

At the same time, the Saudi government, the "New York Times" has reported, has paid thousands in monthly subsidies as well as very expensive homes in Saudi Arabia. They've been not critical of the Saudi government.

There may be discord among them, what I'm told. But I think, by and large, they're accepting the realities fatalistically, however angry they may be about what the Saudis have been telling them. That, in fact, this is what occurred. This is not much they'll be able to do about it.

I feel horribly for all of them, including his fiancee.

KEILAR: What is the U.S. role in all of this? How has the U.S. affected the situation?

MILLER: I have watched and participated in forming, advising on policy toward the U.S./Saudi relationship for a long time under Republican and Democratic administration. We've acquiesced and flattered the Saudis before.

But what this administration has done goes beyond anything that would be considered even moderate. We validated Saudi behavior. We've created enough margin for error and political space for the crown prince essentially to do more or less anything that he wants.

There should have been an FBI investigation. Congress wanted the Global Magnitsky Act imposed, which would have forced the administration to at least reach a judgment as to how high the culpability went for this.

And the FBI, certainly like the agency, concluded there was credible evidence that this was not a rogue operation, was not an accident. It was a cold, brutal, premeditated killing by the Saudi government and probably authorized by the Saudi prince.

KEILAR: Aaron David Miller, thank you for coming in to discuss this.

MILLER: Thank you, Brianna.


KEILAR: Still ahead, Boeing fires its CEO as the company continues to grapple with safety concerns following those two deadly 737 MAX crashes.


KEILAR: A big shakeup at Boeing. CEO Dennis Muilenburg has been fired after the company faced a series of setbacks this year with its 737 MAX airplane, including two fatal crashes that killed 346 people.

In a statement, Boeing explained this decision, saying, quote, "The board of directors decided a change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward."


News of the ousting comes just one week after Boeing announced it would suspend production of its 737 MAX starting next month. .

And that is it for me

Jessica Dean continues our coverage right now.