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INSIDE POLITICS

Mitch McConnell: "I'm Not Anxious To Have This Trial"; White House: Nancy Pelosi's Position On Impeachment Is "Untenable"; Senator Roy Blunt Avoids Answering When Asked If Trump Made A Mistake; Newly- Released Emails White House Froze Ukraine Aid Shortly After July 25th Trump-Zelensky Call; Senator Amy Klobuchar: Donald Trump Doesn't Have A Monopoly On Rural America. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 23, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

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DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: --calls the L.A. lot a life safer she has been using it since June. A college graduate she worked in a number of decent paying jobs before things bottomed out. She recently involved in a computer coaching class determined to make up better life for her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to be an office worker again, I cannot be here doing this. I'm moving out of the Situation.

SIMON: Make a night's rest enable she says by a safe parking space all the more important. Dan Simon, CNN, Los Angeles.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Dan, thank you so much for that. Thank you all so much for joining me on "Inside Politics" with Manu Raju starts right now.

MANU RAJU, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm Manu Raju. John King is off today. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A new legal challenge as one of the House Democrats today as they pursue the testimony a Former White House Counsel Don McGahn the new legal challenge tied to the impeachment of the President. Meanwhile in the campaign trail Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to have her own ghosts in her own wine cave. Look at her past fund raising contradicts her tag on Pete Buttigieg.

We start with the major story on Capitol Hill on impeachment. Senator Mitch McConnell's home in Kentucky and he wants voters there to remember who started the standoff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): And as I've said repeatedly, we can't take up a matter we don't have. And so hopefully they will be on the way over at some point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four Republicans have filed to primary you. Do you are you worried about your job at all?

MCCONNELL: Well, you'll get a report on this business and I'll get two not sure one in the primary, one in the general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: We begin the hour in the holiday week trapped in steel made over impeachment. Today Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling Fox News that Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to keep withholding articles of impeachment, that's fine by him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: I'm not anxious to have this trial, so if she wants to hold all the papers, go right ahead. We're at an impasse. We can't do anything until the Speaker sends the papers over, so everybody enjoy the holidays.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Yes, there's probably one key player who is not enjoying his holiday vacation, and that is President Donald Trump. The President made it clear both publicly and privately that he wants a speedy trial and the chance to clear his name in the Senate. That puts him directly at odds with the Majority Leader.

The President tweeting his frustration at Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of being, "Unfair", breaking all rules, even predicting she'll lose the House Majority in 2020. Her response, defiance, insisting she wants to know what sort of trial the Senate plans to conduct before she does anything.

Now here to share the reporting and their insights CNN's Sara Murray Josh Dawsey with "The Washington Post" Oliver Knox with SiriusXM and Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post". It's pretty clear from this morning that there's really been no movement though since Schumer and McConnell met last week.

Senate Minority Leader as McConnell left town without any deal moving forward. Nancy Pelosi won't send over the articles of impeachment until she has an idea what the process is going forward. She says that she isn't name the Impeachment Managers first but House has to vote on those Impeachment Managers and that's not going to happen until January 7th at the earliest. So we're looking at a prolonged stalemate here, potentially.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, clearly this is a game of chicken both sides are playing right now. I mean, we were talking before the show a little bit about how popular amongst voters, even those who don't support the impeachment of the President, a lot of them do want to hear from these key witnesses.

Mick Mulvaney the Acting Chief of Staff, John Bolton who had concerns about Ukraine at the same time though as Democrats are sort of making that point they're giving Republicans a bit of leverage in not sending over the articles. This gives them the GOP, the President, the sort of talking point about process, and what are the Democrats doing?

Are they playing with politics? Are they trying to keep Trump from being acquitted in the Senate? And so we're just going to see which talking point sort of breaks through with the public more and who blinks first, because both sides have arguments that they're trying to make, and Democrats trying to make this a real trial with real witnesses that they think are important, they're also potentially undercutting themselves.

RAJU: The question of leverage is an interesting one because McConnell says he's in no rush, he would rather not have the trial at all; he wants to move on to other issues. He is a person who doesn't want the trial and that's the President last week he tweeted he wanted an immediate trial. He said, so after the Democrats gave me no due process in the House, no lawyers, no witnesses, no nothing, they now want to tell the Senate how to run their trial?

Actually, they have zero proof of anything they will never even show up. They want out. I want an immediate trial he said and over the weekend Marc Short made his case about why Nancy Pelosi should send the articles over. Here's what the Vice President's Chief said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARC SHORT, VICE PRESIDENT PENCE'S CHIEF OF STAFF: It's a really untenable position, we think, for Speaker Pelosi to say this President is such a clear and urgent danger to the world, to the globe, that we have to basically trample his constitutional rights to force a quick impeachment and then say, well, we're going to hold up impeachment papers and articles of impeachment to send to the Senate. How can you possibly justify the contrast to say this is urgent to then say, well, we'll have to wait and see?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:05:00]

RAJU: Josh, you covered the White House for "The Washington Post." The President wants a trial immediately does that give the Democrats anymore leverage to it because the President may force McConnell to agree to something or no?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the mix that we see with the President's incarnation as you said the top witnesses to have Hunter Biden, to have others. He has tweeted even bringing in Schiff to testify which clearly amongst the Republicans are not going to happen. There is not the vote say you will follow the witnesses that he want to talk to even people close to the President.

The President wants some sort of public vindication, though. He watched a House trial and he made the decision pretty early on, we're just not going to participate in this process because we don't think the outcome will be what we want it to be. The Senate trial, he thinks the outcome will be what he wants it to be and he thinks he has more control. He wants to see that happen. Now McConnell is telling him behind the scenes this is what we've reported I think others have as well, we don't want all these witnesses. You don't need this to be six or ten weeks long, let's get this done quickly and move on. Whether he can be assuaged to do that or not remains to be seen.

RAJU: And he's giving different messages to different people depending on what they say. And of course and ultimately to is whether or not any Senators break ranks? Ultimately we will get to a trial where there is going to be a moment where there will be votes for witnesses, and then four Republican Senators, if they were to break ranks, could join Democrats to vote to compel witness testimony.

It remains to be seen if we get to that point whether anyone will defect. It is interesting to see though some of the members who are up for re-election the moderate members on the Democratic side, Republican side, how they're position themselves, being very cautious? Susan Collins the main moderate who is up for reelection in a tough state.

She sent the letter to its constituent over the weekend saying it would be inappropriate for me or any Senator to comment on the merits of the House's inquiry at this point. I've challenged President Trump on many occasions, including during his campaign. I will continue to speak out when the administration acts inappropriately.

I've asked her many times about the merits of the case. She said I'm a juror I'm not going to comment, et cetera. Doug Jones, who is a moderate from Alabama, someone who is in a very difficult race as a Democrat, Republicans, of course, is targeting that race, he says he hasn't made a decision yet on whether to convict or acquit the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DOUG JONES, (D-AL): I'm trying to see if the dots get connected. If that is the case, then I think it's a serious matter, I think it's an impeachable matter. But if those dots aren't connected and there are other explanations I think are consistent with innocence, I will go that way, too. I've got to make sure that what I really want to see, though, is to fill in the gaps. There are gaps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: I guess the question is, if these Senators were to break ranks running for reelection, how much would their base revolt against them if they were to acquit the President, Doug Jones did that or if Susan Collins were to vote to convict the President? It will be very difficult for them to survive a reelection - ranks.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: 20 years ago we had a similar dynamic in terms of calling witnesses or not calling witnesses to the Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. A couple things happened. One is that the Senate voted behind closed doors on whether to call witnesses. They argued over what format it should be. In the end we didn't have live witnesses in the world of Senate what we had was videotaped testimony taken behind closed doors of Monica Lewinsky, of Clinton's friend Jordan and of Sidney Blumenthal, the White House aide. When we talk about calling witnesses we don't know what it's going to look like?

Back then the problem for the White House was a number of moderate Democrats who were publicly very critical of the President's behavior, I'm thinking a bit like John Burro or Joe Lieberman, for example. I don't know how this plays out for people like Doug Jones, but it's a similar dynamic to what it was 20 years ago.

RAJU: Yes, it is interesting too because the Democrats were criticizing the behavior of the President even if they don't say it was impeachable, and now you're seeing more and more Republicans refused to even criticize any of the conduct, even asking for an investigation of by foreign power of the President's political rival.

Yesterday Roy Blunt, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is a member of the Republican Leadership in the Senate was asked by our colleague Dana Bash about whether the President did anything wrong, and he tied it to Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did he make a mistake?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Why is it so hard for Republicans to even say the President did anything wrong here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because they're cowards and they're afraid of the President's power and they're afraid he's going to fire off a tweet and criticize them. I think the Republican Party that is very concerned about the President's approval advocated a lot of their conscience during the 2016 campaign and they're going to kind of keep chugging forward.

They haven't really faced any repercussions with voters, at least in the Senate, when it comes to that and so I think that they really do believe that Mitch McConnell in the Senate is going to protect them. He's going to make sure that Republicans are not in a worse position when it comes to this vote.

He's going to make it at palatable for them as possible to say, we couldn't connect the dots. Never mind the fact that we couldn't connect the dots because the White House won't provide the documents and it has not allowed any witnesses to testify who are at the center of this mess. We couldn't connect the dots so we have no choice but to not convict the President and by the way this is all a sham. Let's move forward to 2020.

[12:10:00]

RAJU: Right, I mean, good.

DAWSEY: One of the more astonishing moments of this whole saga to me was when the President started telling Republicans you can't say the call was bad, but not impeachable.

MURRAY: Right, he tweeted it.

DAWSEY: Right, early on folks were saying this call wasn't perfect but we shouldn't impeach him. The Republicans were number or more the President said stop saying that say the call was perfect. And just among House Republicans they all fell in line. A lot of the Senators just went quiet.

You look at his popularity in a number of states where he's 85, 90 percent among Republicans, obviously his popularity is way lower, historically low at some levels overall, but among Republicans he has a grip on the party like no one else does. So when he goes out and says, you have to defend me, and if not, I'm going to tweet at you. I can go to your state, I can punish you in a whole myriad of ways, these people get on line and they get in line quickly.

BADE: I heard Senator Mitt Romney was the first test case on that I mean, he had tweeted that what he saw on the call was disturbing and he didn't approve of it, and right away we saw conservatives including Club for Growth go after Mitt Romney in terms of ads. So the President and his allies laid down a marker early and they said if you're going to even say something that's wrong, then you're going to have repercussions here.

RAJU: And that's going to be the interesting thing of these Senators were up for re-election even in swing states that got Corey Gardner or Martha McSally will they be able to break ranks at call for the President with it or are whether they're concerned of because of the fact that the stranglehold that the President has on the party if they do break ranks then the backlash will intensify. It will be interesting to watch.

Up next, a set of newly released emails sheds light on parts of the impeachment case. What it means for a trial in the Senate?

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[12:15:00]

RAJU: We'll come back the Justice Department is telling the courts day out of anything would leave it to impeachment. In the late night filing the Trump Administrations own DOJ told a federal appeals court to avoid weighing in on the fight over the testimony of Former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Here is a quote. If this court now were to resolve the merits question in this case, it would appear to be weighing in on a contested issue in any impeachment trial. That would be a questionable pro propriety. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for early January the filling though could be one of the most potentially significant court cases to be resolved during the impeachment proceedings.

The Democrats are still going to respond that on a brief, probably making them the case this is all part of a pattern of behavior by the President in the way he handled the questions about investigations to him and obstruction of questions and the like. But the underlying evidence here for the Mueller probe is needed for the impeachment inquiry.

The argument that they're going to have to make though is that they need this information, still, and it won't undercut their case. How do you think the Democrats are going to be able to balance this delicate dance they have from the courts and having to deal with this impeachment probe going forward?

BADE: Well, I mean, the Democrats they had a legal fight with the White House regardless of impeachment I mean, they have issued dozens of subpoenas for witnesses and documents on a whole bunch of investigations including one related to Mueller's probe right here that we're talking about, and the White House ignored them.

So even before the impeachment fight started, Democrats were going to go to the courts to try to fortify Congress' right to do oversight and subpoena the administration, which the administration totally ignored. I do think they sort of potentially open themselves up to a problem when they said we need this as part of impeachment.

Now, behind the scenes, if you talk to any Democrats in the House, and I'm sure you did as well on the Hill, they were never looking at Mueller - having hearings for Mueller. Nobody thought they were going to be having Don McGahn as part of an impeachment hearing. But they did make this legal argument that we're on a timeline, we need this right way, and so now that impeachment is done in the House, the White House is obviously trying to drag this out or dismiss that because of this. But the constitutional clash is still there regardless of impeachment.

RAJU: And there is not going to be the issue to about getting the underlying information from the Mueller probe in which they are also arguing is part necessary for the impeachment inquiry, but now we're in the new phase. That is going to be the question going forward.

Also the question of going forward is about some of the new information that's come out through the course of this over the weekend. There was news over the weekend of an email that was released through a separate lawsuit of an outside group that was pursuing information in that request, and they got information from Michael Duffey who is a top official at the Office Of Management And Budget still is and he was essentially put the hold on the Ukraine aid from going forward.

What was interesting about this email is that it showed the interaction that he had about 90 minutes after that phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine in which the President of course urged this Ukrainian government to open the investigation into the Bidens. Then he says in this email, he said, based on guidance I have received and in light of the administration's plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine security assistance initiative, please hold off on any additional DOD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process.

Now OMB responds in a statement saying calling it reckless to tie the hold of funds to the phone as been established and publicly reported. They say the hold was announcing in an agency meeting on July 18 and they were saying this line was out of context. Sara, what does it shed light on in this investigation? It shows that they were talking about the hold on military aid soon after that phone call with Zelensky?

[12:20:00]

MURRAY: It does and while you know they were internally telling other agencies on July 18th that this hold was going to happen, it wasn't until the day of President Trump's call with Zelensky that OMB actually made the move to freeze this money. And it's really telling that within 90 minutes all of a sudden this order comes from the White House from Michael Duffey, who is a political appointee, he's not the kind of career person who would normally deal with this kind of money flowing through OMB.

And the word is we need to freeze this money and another line that follows up is, let's keep this quiet just between the people who need to know because Michael Duffey even at that point realize as that this is going to be potentially a problematic, or potentially a sensitive issue.

Now OMB can complain that this was taken out of context, and if it was taken out of context it's because a lot of the other stuff that was in that 150 page document was redacted. And if you didn't get to spend your Friday night time until midnight to 1 am to Saturday reading it, I can assure you that a lot of that stuff around it was redacted. And I think this is why we see Chuck Schumer coming out and saying we really need these documents, because they do begin to paint a picture of how this phone call set off other actions.

RAJU: Yes. Now on the Schumer question, you mentioned he did put out a letter sent to all Senators today demanding several areas of documents from the administration. They talk about efforts of pressure to Ukraine to announce investigations. That's one of the areas he wants information about. Also withholding of the White House meeting for President Zelensky, which was be sided as that quid pro quo by a witness Gordon Sondland in order to freeze and unfreeze military aid to Ukraine.

I wonder though you know the reason why the Democrats didn't get this information is because the White House blocked it, they chose not to go to court to get this information, but we're seeing more information come out to the Democrats you think heard in moving quickly on the impeachment inquiry in the House rather than trying to go through the courts even if it could take months.

DAWSEY: One of them I knew shared the details does come from OMB. OMB is clear they're repeatedly putting temporary holds on this money. They repeatedly having to tell DOD officials stop eventually DOD says we need in writing that the administration really wants to do this. They're skeptical.

And you seem kind of have a bureaucratic infighting play out because no one understands why suddenly the President has called for a hold on this money. But OMB, as you said, has stonewalled - Director I'm not testifying, his deputies I'm not testified. The only person with OMB who has testified was one career official, Mark Sandy. Everyone else is kind of in a black hole now.

Our news organizations other "The New York Times," CNN have filed for four years have tried to get documents from OMB. What's interesting about OMB is in the White House both documents don't have to go you to frame the records at. The White House has privilege. OMB documents can become public their agency documents.

So at some point more and more and more is going to come out about what happened inside OMB through lawsuits, through information requests, through lots of things they have to comply with that the White House doesn't. How long the Democrats could have waited? What if they stalled three months, six months? How long can that process play out? I don't know that that works, either.

RAJU: And then you start of running into the election year and it may be get delayed until the President gets reelected, maybe it goes to the new term of the Presidency, maybe it doesn't goes the way all together because the President doesn't get reelected that was the quandary that made the decision now they have to deal with see how they handle it on the Senate side and we've a lot to tell you in the weeks ahead.

Up next though, Senator Amy Klobuchar is embarking on an ambitious campaign across Iowa, and she's not worried about the leader there, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I'm the right package. I like to joke that 59 is the new 37 to Mayor Pete, that I'm someone who is in between the ages. I am a new generation of leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:25:00]

RAJU: The 2020 Democratic Primary will face its first big test just 6 weeks from today in the Iowa Caucus. It marks the start of a chaotic election year and we have just one Democratic Debate before Iowa votes on February 3rd. And after that there will be a mix of debates, two more primaries and the Caucus until we get to Super Tuesday. And now in the push to get the voters four candidates are on the Iowa trial today Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senators Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Michael Bennett. CNN's Kyung Lah joins us from Council Bluffs, Iowa where Senator Klobuchar is the middle of an ambitious bus toward. Kyung, so how is the Senator feeling after last week's debate?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's feeling quite bullish actually. And if you can sit her down long enough, she's meeting people here in Iowa and she'll tell you that she feels that had a very strong debate that she was able to break through some of the chaos, that she made her argument to her national audience.

And she's bringing that argument now here to Iowa. She is on a bus tour to where 96 Counties that she will hit by the end of today, 99 Counties by the end of the week, the only candidate, her campaign claims, who will have gone to every single county in Iowa who will be on the January Debate Stage.

So what she is seeing along this bus tour, as we've been watching, are these rooms in these small towns that are filled, that are enthusiastic. Some people say, yes, she is my one, but overwhelmingly, a lot of people are now giving her a hard look saying she's up there in their top two, top three.

One of the most persuasive arguments they found from her is that she is arguing she is the one to rebuild the blue wall. Here is what the Senator means, as she told us aboard her bus.

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KLOBUCHAR: 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. The people want to check on this guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: And the check being not just from the base.

END