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Sen. Lindsey Graham's Challenger, Jaime Harrison, Live On New Day; Saudi Arabia Sentences Five People To Death For Khashoggi Murder; "Safe" Parking Lots Give California's Homeless A Lifeline. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 23, 2019 - 07:30   ET




You're willing to walk away from whatever spine you had beforehand. I mean, why do they make these sacrifices?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well look, serving in Congress is certainly a great honor, privilege, and responsibility but -- and I enjoyed every moment of it -- but the job didn't mean everything to me. I was never going to put myself in a position where I was going to try to defend the indefensible or explain the inexplicable.

And I would say that to my colleagues -- you know, the job isn't worth it if you're going to simply espouse things you don't believe in or defend conduct that you know is indefensible.

So I think a lot of members have -- I've always said this. They have to think more about their legacies than their elections. And frankly, if they stand up and do what is right, quite often, voters are going to reward them.

Now, I understand the primary pressures out there. I used to get them, too. But you know what -- you know what you do to a primary opponent? You go beat him. You don't hide under the -- you don't hide under the table and worry that the -- you know, worry about coming out from under it because somebody's going to attack you.

You've got to go fight. This is politics. You've got to be a little tougher than this.

CAMEROTA: And, Jonathan, about the Republicans that you spoke to that were forced out of Congress or forced into early retirement because they dared --


CAMEROTA: -- to speak out against President Trump, how are they -- I mean, are they regretful that they spoke out? MARTIN: Yes. No, if anything, the sentiment that you get from talking to folks like Mr. Dent did and Congressman Dave Trott from Michigan, who I spent some time with last week, is they wish they had spoken out more actually when they were there. And some of them wish that they were still there because they believed that they would take a harder line with President Trump.

Now, easier said than done. As current members of Congress would point out, some of that courage may not all be there if they were still in Congress.

But no, the sense is certainly they wish they had done more when they were there and they felt constrained, obviously. But looking back and watching the president's conduct day in and day out, they would have like to have sort of done more at the time, I think.

CAMEROTA: See, what I've noticed, Charlie, is that it's not just people who are afraid of the president's wrath, it's also people who like the praise -- the president's praise. There is something --


CAMEROTA: -- kind of intoxicating about being on the receiving end of that praise.

Ergo, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who was a Democrat in New Jersey until last week, and he publicly gave his support to President Trump. So watch this moment.


REP. JEFF VAN DREW (R-NJ): You have my undying support --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you -- thank you very much.

VAN DREW: -- and always.

TRUMP: And by the way, same way.

VAN DREW: Thank you.

TRUMP: I'm endorsing him, OK? We're endorsing him.


CAMEROTA: Delicious -- just a delicious exchange there for Congressman Van Drew, who didn't offer just his support -- his undying support, Charlie. Your thoughts?

DENT: Well, all I can say is -- all I can say -- all I can say -- look, I've served under three presidents and it's certainly nice when they say nice things about you.

But I was in situations with George Bush and Barack Obama and then, of course, Donald Trump where we had to -- we had to diverge. We couldn't agree. And you recognize that your job is to be a check -- it's not to be a rubber-stamp -- for any president. You have to stand up sometimes when you disagree and tell the president -- it's OK.

And I've found that -- you know, I could do that with President Bush and President Obama and we could still have a civil relationship and be friendly, recognizing that we don't agree on every matter. Most adults understand that. Presidents understand that, except this one, apparently.

CAMEROTA: OK, former --

MARTIN: Yes, the key difference I think, Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: Quickly, wrap it up, Jon.

MARTIN: Yes, real fast, I'm just trying to imagine the look and Bush and Obama's face if somebody had been sitting in the Oval next to them and pledged their undying loyalty. I think they would have gotten that sort of like -- you know, smile on their face and had a chuckle or two and kind of like rolled their eyes.

But this president not only likes it, he expects it and he relishes it, and it works.

CAMEROTA: He does. He appears to have an insatiable appetite for it.

Jay Martin, thank you for sharing all of your reporting. People can read it, obviously, in "The New York Times."

MARTIN: Thank you and Merry Christmas.

CAMEROTA: Former Congressman Charlie Dent, thank you for your perspective -- John.

DENT: Yes, Merry Christmas.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. One of the president's strongest allies in Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is facing a reelection challenge. Up next, we're going to speak with one of the Democrats hoping to unseat him in the new year.




SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): She's taking a wrecking ball to the Constitution. This is the latest in a series of constitutional train wrecks orchestrated by Nancy Pelosi.


AVLON: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has gone from a stern critic of President Trump to one of his most prominent supporters, especially when it comes to the president's battle against impeachment. But how will Graham's defense of the president factor into his race for reelection next year?

Joining me now is Sen. Graham's Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison. He's the associate chair of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Harrison, great to have you on NEW DAY.

Let's start here. You know, a lot of folks stereotype the south and it breaks down upon closer inspection. The first district in South Carolina was just won by a Democrat

But when you look statewide, it is a steep climb. You haven't had a Democrat win a major statewide office since 1999. Lindsey Graham has won by 15 points his last two races.

Why do you think you have a shot?

JAIME HARRISON (D), SOUTH CAROLINA SENATE CANDIDATE, ASSOCIATE CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, partly -- well, thank you, first and foremost, for having me on this morning.

Well, partly, Lindsey Graham has never had a candidate like me -- someone who grew up here in South Carolina and understands the hardships that many folks face each and every day in this state. But at the same time, raising significant resources in order to put on a great ground game and a great race. He's already admitted that I'm the greatest challenger that he's ever had in his -- in his time in the United States Senate.


But this is what's even more important. We are rolling up our sleeves addressing the issues that people care about here each and every day here in South Carolina.

Whereas we once had a senator that did that, Lindsey Graham, but he doesn't do it anymore because he cares more about Washington, D.C. and being relevant in D.C. than he cares about being relevant here in South Carolina. We are helping people address the issues that they're dealing with and Lindsey Graham is up in Washington trying to be important.

AVLON: Why do you think Lindsey Graham changed? He went from being a really tough critic of the president and obviously, a good friend and ally of John McCain to being the exact opposite over the past two years. Why do you think he changed?

HARRISON: It all goes down to relevance. You know, Lindsey had an interview in "The New York Times" the early part of this year and in that interview he said the two most important things to him was getting reelected and being relevant. He didn't even utter the two words, South Carolina, in the entire interview.

For me, what is important is helping people. We've started a program here in South Carolina called Harrison Helps where we go all across the state of South Carolina rolling up our sleeves, helping people address the issues they're dealing with on a day-to-day basis. And we're building this new movement because we see the gap right now that Lindsey Graham is totally focused on. He has become an entity in Washington, D.C.

But we need people here to address the fact that our hospitals are closing.

Right now, just recently, it was announced that North Charleston, which is a city right outside of Charleston --


HARRISON: -- is the number one city in the country in terms of evictions.

So we're building this new movement and I want people to come and join us at It's time to send Lindsey Graham home.

AVLON: So what do you say to folks who say look, maybe President Trump isn't their cup of tea down in South Carolina -- not necessarily as popular as people think -- but the economy is doing well in South Carolina? That's the bread and butter pocketbook issue they're going to pay attention to.

How do you deal with that as a Democrat?

HARRISON: Well, the economy can't be doing too well if we have a city that is the number one city for evictions in the country. That means that the cost of rent is higher and is increasing at a higher pace than the wages in those communities.

In North Charleston -- and Charleston is a booming part of South Carolina --

AVLON: It is, yes.

HARRISON: -- but our people can't keep up.

The tariffs have had a tremendous impact on our state. We have one small company in Allendale County whose tariffs increased from $200,000 a month to $1 million a month. Therefore, they have to lay people off.

And so, for some, Wall Street and all of those folks -- yes, their stocks may be doing better. But for people on Main Street, they are suffering and they need a senator who is going to focus on them; not tell them well, you know -- Lindsey said about the tariffs -- we just have to experience a little pain.

AVLON: Right.

HARRISON: I don't know what kind of pain he's talking about. Maybe his elbow is a little sore from golfing so much.

But the real people down here are really experiencing pain and I'm going to help them with it. AVLON: Well, and Sen. Graham talked a lot about the textile industry when he first came into the Senate.

Let me ask you this, though. Obviously, he's become a pit bull on impeachment. Were you in the Senate, how would you vote on impeaching President Trump?

HARRISON: Well, if I were in the Senate right now and I would take that oath of office, which basically meant that I needed to be an impartial juror, I would want to hear both sides of the issues. But right now, we have Lindsey Graham saying that he's going to be -- he's not going to be fair and he's not even going to pretend to be.

I mean, people in South Carolina send you to Washington, D.C. to do your job. He takes two oaths of office -- one, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And the second oath that he's going to take is to be an impartial juror.

We want to hear the president's side of this issue because these are very credible accusations that have been made about him stepping over the rule of law, and so we want to hear about that. And you would think our senator would want to hear that but again, he wants to be relevant. He wants to be the best friend of the president instead of being the best senator that South Carolina has, and that's just really, really sad.

AVLON: So I guess your answer is you'd keep an open mind and you'd want to see witnesses.

Jaime Harrison, I want to thank you for joining us on NEW DAY.

HARRISON: That's exactly right. Thank you. Happy holidays to you.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

OK, we have some breaking news right now. Death sentences handed down in the murder of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. So who exactly was sentenced to death and who was not? A live report, next.



CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking news this morning. Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death for the murder of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But what about the man who the CIA says ordered that hit?

CNN's Nic Robertson is live in London with all of the breaking details. What have you learned, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Alisyn, very interesting. The Saudis announcing this really without any sort of drum roll coming ahead of it so no -- or very few international journalists able to get to the press conference in Riyadh to ask some of those pressing questions. This is a trial -- an investigation that's had very little transparency.


What we do know now is that five people have been sentenced to death. Three people have been sentenced to a maximum of 24 years in jail. Those five sentenced to death, that is for directly participating in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

But I think the real headline here is that three people have no charges against them and these -- at least two of them -- are very, very close to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and therein lies the big clue here. This is Saud al-Qahtani, very close to the crown prince, and Ahmed Asiri, the deputy director of intelligence have no charges against them. So this does seem to distance the crown prince from the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

A rendition gone wrong is what the Saudis have always claimed.

Now, those five people facing the death penalty -- the Saudis haven't announced who they are. But we do know from the investigations at the U.N. special reporter that two of the people facing a death sentence were Maher Mutreb, the intelligence official in charge of the operation often photographed close to the crown prince, and Dr. Tubaigy, AKA the bone saw doctor, who were both heard -- before Jamal Khashoggi entered the consulate where he was murdered they were heard discussing how to dismember him.

So this verdict does seem to, in a way, distance the crown prince -- distance the crown prince any involvement in this killing -- John.

AVLON: Thank you, Nic.

Also breaking overnight, the Taliban is claiming responsibility for an attack that killed a U.S. service member in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman says that the U.S. and Afghan government forces were targeted with IEDs while conducting a raid in the northern province of Kunduz.

At least 20 Americans have been killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. And it comes as the U.S. and Taliban are at an important stage in peace talks.

CAMEROTA: Paris' iconic Notre Dame Cathedral will not hold Christmas services following the catastrophic fire there in April. This is the first time in more than 200 years that the famed cathedral has not held Christmas services. It even stayed open for Christmas during Nazi occupation in World War II. The cathedral's rector will, however, celebrate midnight mass on Christmas Eve at a nearby church.

AVLON: Oh, just heartbreaking.

All right, torrential rain and flash floods forcing the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to briefly close overnight. Weather conditions have caused major delays and flight cancelations elsewhere.

But how will this weather impact holiday travel this week? Well, CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray has your forecast -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, even today, it's going to be trouble, especially in the southeast. We've had relentless rains. Especially if you're taking the roadways because we have had nonstop rain all weekend long across much of the southeast.

Now, this will exit the region for today, so if you are leaving, say, later this afternoon or even tomorrow, you will be in much, much better shape.

Flood alerts up for portions of Georgia, South Carolina -- flood warnings, flood watches in effect. And you can see -- watch South Carolina. That's where the bulk of the rain is going to be today, so dangerous travel on the roads there. But it does leave by early tomorrow morning so you might want to hold off there if you have a little flexibility because tomorrow looks much, much better across the southeast.

But we're talking about two to four inches of rain between now and tomorrow morning around the Charleston area -- could see even more -- four to six inches, and so that's a lot of rain in one day. That's why those flooding concerns are there.

But much milder air is going to start settling in. No white Christmases across much of the east or the northeast -- much of the northeast, I should say, because temperatures are going to be pretty mild. Forty-eight degrees in D.C. on Wednesday. New York will be at 43.

Look at the south. Atlanta almost hitting 70 degrees tomorrow. We will be running more than 10 degrees above normal -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer, thank you very much for that look ahead.

Meanwhile, more people along the west coast are getting hit hard by the affordable housing crisis. Some of those who were left homeless are, though, getting a lifeline in a parking lot.

CNN's Dan Simon explains.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Is it somewhat comfortable?


SIMON (on camera): No?

KUSH: It's very uncomfortable.

SIMON (voice-over): Each night, Lauren Kush climbs into the back of her Toyota Prius, turning it into a bed.

KUSH: My knees basically get -- are to here and my torso barely fits in here, so it's like this. SIMON (voice-over): She is part of a surging population of homeless in California living in their vehicles -- cars, and RVs. Sixteen thousand in Los Angeles County alone, more than a quarter of the nearly 60,000 homeless throughout the county.

MEGAN SUE BELAFONTE, HOMELESS, LIVES IN AN R.V.: Even though it's on wheels it's still a house.

SIMON (voice-over): Megan Sue Belafonte and Sharhonda Beavers are living in this rickety RV on the outskirts of San Francisco.


SHARHONDA BEAVERS, HOMELESS, LIVES IN AN R.V.: I like being in control and I get to change my neighbors all the time.

SIMON (voice-over): Without it, they say they'd be on the streets living in a tent.

BELAFONTE: Over medium, you flip over.

SIMON (voice-over): Here, they say they can spread out and cook their own meals.

It's an element of the crisis far less visible but no less painful for people like Megan Sue, who says she was evicted from her home three years ago after her husband died of cancer.

BELAFONTE: I didn't have the money for first, last, and a month's down payment. I didn't have any credit because it was all in my husband's name.

BEAVERS: I try to save all my receipts.

SIMON (voice-over): Homeless advocates say the growing number of people living in their vehicles has prompted a need for so-called safe parking spaces.

EMILY KANTRIM, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, SAFE PARKING LA: The two largest populations that apply to a safe parking program, seniors over the age of 62 on a fixed income, and people under the age of 40 saddled with college debt.

SIMON (voice-over): Emily Uyeda Kantrim manages the nonprofit Safe Parking LA, which works with churches and other organizations to provide parking spaces at night for the homeless. This lot in L.A.'s Koreatown has security guards, basic restroom facilities, and is situated in a quiet neighborhood allowing occupants to get some rest.

SIMON (on camera): How long do people typically use the lots?

KANTRIM: I mean, it could be anywhere from a week to -- very sadly, it could be over a year for someone who is -- has very high needs, that's working with a case manager.

SIMON (voice-over): San Francisco has opened up its first safe parking lot, joining other Bay Area cities like San Jose and Oakland. Pioneered by Santa Barbara more than 15 years ago, safe parking lots have reached other states as well, including Oregon and Washington.

KUSH: I don't have to worry about being raped. I don't have to be worried about being robbed in the middle of the night.

SIMON (voice-over): Lauren, now an Uber driver, calls the L.A. lot a lifesaver. She's been using it since June.

A college graduate, she worked a number of decent-paying jobs before things bottomed out. She recently enrolled in a computer coding class, determined to make a better life for herself.

KUSH: I am going to be an office worker again. I'm not going to be here doing this. I'm moving out of this situation.

SIMON (voice-over): Making a night's rest able, she says, by a safe parking safe all the more important.

Dan Simon, CNN, Los Angeles.


CAMEROTA: That is really interesting how that move can actually help lift people out of their situations.

AVLON: And it can help people in a tough time during the Christmas season.

CAMEROTA: All right.

We want to thank our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, Democrats are ramping up their demands for the Senate impeachment trial. NEW DAY continues right now.


JEREMY HERB, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Newly-released e-mails reveal that the White House's order to freeze Ukraine aid came roughly 90 minutes after President Trump's call with President Zelensky.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This e-mail is explosive.

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: There's nothing new in these e-mails about the timing, truly.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): President's make mistakes. I don't know if this call was a mistake.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): They're looking for a fair trial, not a fake trial.

EDDIE MURPHY, ACTOR-COMEDIAN, HOST, NBC "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": This is the last episode of 2019, but if you're black, this is the first episode since I left back in 1984.

If you had told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring stay-at- home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail -- who is America's dad now?


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: I'm sorry that we cut that off because his facial expression after that was very Bill Cosby also.

AVLON: Classic -- Jell-O Pudding Pops, yes. A lot -- a lot there that was epic.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, December 23rd, 8:00 now in the east.

John Berman is off. John Avlon is here. Great to have you here.

AVLON: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: So, Democrats are continuing their calls for key Trump administration officials to testify in President Trump's upcoming Senate trial, especially now that we've seen these newly-released e- mails.

The e-mails reveal an official from the White House budget office ordered the Pentagon to suspend military aid to Ukraine 90 minutes after that now-infamous call on July 25th between President Trump and Ukraine's new leader. It was on that call, you'll remember, that President Trump pressured President Zelensky to investigate Mr. Trump's political rival.

The e-mails also show that the White House budget office knew that the hold on the aid would raise concerns and so he told others to, quote, "keep quiet about it."

AVLON: Democrats are pouncing on the new chain of e-mails. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer says it's even more important now that the White House officials testify in the upcoming impeachment trial.

Lawmakers are on holiday break as the impeachment stalemate continues.

And new from overnight, a court filing from the Justice Department arguing that the courts should not weigh in on the dispute between the House and the Trump administration over former White House counsel Don McGahn's testimony in light of impeachment proceedings.

CAMEROTA: OK, so we have a lot to talk about. Let's bring in CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett, CNN senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga, and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart.