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Democrats and Republicans Continue Negotiations over Possible Senate Rules for Impeachment Trial; Rudy Giuliani Gives Interview after Returning from Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 24, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's going to be good.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, President Trump is spending the holidays at his Florida estate. The president is expected to speak with troops serving overseas in a video call in about an hour. But his impeachment trial looms, and Congress is stuck in a stalemate. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, is still pushing for documents and witnesses with real information. This comes after new emails raise questions about how the aid to Ukraine was frozen just 90 minutes after President Trump's infamous July 25th phone call to Ukraine's new leader. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is showing no signs, though, of cutting a deal across the aisle.

AVLON: Also new this morning, President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is unloading in a sprawling new interview after his trip to Ukraine. Giuliani insists he has done nothing wrong in his pursuit of foreign dirt on the Bidens. Among many things, he said he'd love to represent the president in this impeachment trial, and calls his former colleagues in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office idiots, and worse, for investigating him.

Joining us, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN contributor Joe Lockhart, President Clinton's former press secretary, and CNN global affairs analyst Bianna Golodyrga. Great to have you all on this Christmas Eve. Let's start with impeachment and then move to Rudy. Joe --

CAMEROTA: I'm going to have a lozenge while we talk.

AVLON: A lozenge. If you had lozenge on your Bingo card, have another cup of coffee.

(LAUGHTER)

AVLON: Joe, who would have thought that we'd be looking back on the Clinton impeachment as a gold standard of civility and bipartisanship. But that is where we are. Mitch McConnell saying that he will follow the rules as they were done then. Let's take a listen to what he is saying and then have you trans translate it for us into truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We haven't ruled out witnesses. We've said let's handle this case just like we did with President Clinton. Fair is fair.

Every other impeachment has had witnesses. It's not unusual to have witnesses in a trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: OK, Joe, what's he talking about. What's that Clinton-era standard that we need to return to?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We should remember that Trent Lott and Tom Daschle did get together and got rules and got a 100 to nothing vote. Imagine today getting a 100 to nothing vote.

AVLON: That's a possibility?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It doesn't happen. On lunch.

LOCKHART: You couldn't get 100 to nothing vote on Christmas, or Santa Claus, or any of those things. But McConnell is not being straight with you here. The 100 to nothing vote was a two-phased system where they'd start, they'd let the lawyers argue for a couple of days, and then take a vote on not if they be witnesses, which witnesses. So they approved three. Their House managers wanted 20. The Clinton White House wanted zero. But they approved three.

AVLON: You guys wanted none, but you agreed ultimately.

LOCKHART: No, but again, it wasn't up to us. It was up to the Senate. We told Senator Daschle that we wanted this thing done as quickly as possible. It was a logical place. And the Senate did what they wanted to. The Senate was not controlled by the threat of a mean tweet, which is it appears to be what the Senate is now.

And I just have to say that Mitch McConnell talking about fairness and norms and institutions is about the most ridiculous thing you can do on Christmas Eve. This is a guy who took 200 years of history and denied Merrick Garland a Senate vote. So I don't think Democrats are going to take too kindly to lectures from Mitch McConnell on the couch at "FOX and Friends" talking about fairness.

GOLODRYGA: But it's much easier for him to talk about process than defending the president's actions, right. So there's one Republican who really wants a trial, and that seems to be the president. So Mitch McConnell could well do without one, right. And he wants to make one short, sweet. The president will be acquitted and move on. And the question is, will the president be OK with that. He wants something theatrical. He wants to have witnesses. Mitch McConnell is doing everything he can to say no, we will have no witnesses.

LOCKHART: And just going back to 99 for one second, the irony of the great debate about witnesses was when they put Monica Lewinsky on camera in the deposition, she destroyed the House manager's case. It was a net-plus for the Democrats because she told the story in a way Ken Starr hadn't told the story. She filled in some blanks, some exculpatory evidence, and the Republicans at the end of the day were like, we want -- there's no way we want her on the House floor. We don't even want people to see the video.

CAMEROTA: What's weird, Dana, is that new evidence keeps coming out every week. And so in some ways, that makes the Republicans' case the Democrats were rushing this, and it makes the Democrats' case the Republicans are wearing earmuffs and don't want to hear any new evidence. Every week, including the emails this week, because of the FOIA request, where we now know the timing the Ukraine aid being frozen.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I totally agree with you, Alisyn. And what I heard in the comments from both Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell were baby steps towards each other.

[08:05:05]

Not giant leaps. Not compromise tomorrow, but baby steps. Baby steps in that Mitch McConnell said, as he said but maybe in a less emphatic way last week, we're not ruling out witnesses, whereas before the reporting was that he didn't want witnesses, period, because he had said internally that it was mutually assured destruction, which we can get to in a second. But so he's moving a little bit.

Chuck Schumer is not saying we have to agree on witnesses before we start a trial. He's saying at a minimum, we want to have votes on witnesses. So you see where this is heading when it comes to a potential compromise. Whether they're going to agree on the number of votes they'll have, who they're going to vote on, that's where the rubber meets the road, and that's what they're going to have to deal with, the really hard stuff they're going to have to deal during this break before they start in January.

GOLODRYGA: And at least in terms of public opinion, there's a reason the White House released these emails through the FOIA request on a Friday news dump, right, thinking that no one would talk about it and it would be buried. So the least the Democrats could do is bring this to light as Americans go home and members of Congress go home, and maybe perhaps people move on and start talking less about impeachment, Republicans and Democrats are putting this front and center saying, look, there could still be a lot of information that we don't know that's not out there right now. And the White House is covering it up.

AVLON: And that's such an important point. Two things here. One, FOIA requests are why this is coming out. Your government is not responding. It's responding to lawsuits by journalistic and good government organizations. And the second thing is Dana Bash, giving us a little bit of hope on Christmas Eve that maybe there's something --

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: I'm a giver, John Avlon. AVLON: I wouldn't go too far down that road, but I love the spirit

behind it, the spirit of the season.

BASH: I was careful. But I do think the hope is, it's directly related to what Bianna and you just said. It's because the more we learn about, Chuck Schumer, it's not his first rodeo. Coming out and jumping on this email that said 91 minutes after the president hung up with the Ukrainian president, the aid was held up. That makes it harder for Mitch McConnell, because it makes it harder for his senators who are going up before the voters in November in purple and sometimes blue states to say, no, I'm not going to try to get these people to come forward so we do learn.

GOLODRYGA: And mutual destruction works both ways because at the same time you have Nancy Pelosi with some vulnerable Democrats from moderate districts who don't want to have the impeachment cloud hanging over them for months to come. They had a vote and thought it passed.

LOCKHART: But I think we shouldn't focus solely on Schumer/McConnell, Pelosi/McConnell. The key to this may at the end of the day may be Schumer and Pelosi talking to Trump because people's equities are not aligned here. And Trump can deliver as many votes as he needs in the Senate. And if Pelosi and Schumer can figure out a way to get the president involved in these negotiations, their leverage goes way up.

BASH: I see Chinese food and ice cream in the future, Joe.

LOCKHART: What's that?

BASH: Chinese food and ice cream, I see it in the future.

LOCKHART: Yes.

AVLON: New Year's prediction.

CAMEROTA: Let's move on to Rudy Giuliani. He's given this really eyebrow-raising, interesting interview to "New York" magazine, the reporter Olivia Nuzzi. They went and drank Bloody Marys. This was December 8th, this interview, and it is the day that he returned from Ukraine. Everybody wanted to know what was he doing there this time around. Why is he still doing this? She also asked him about his relationship with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, what he thought he was going to get out of these guys.

Here's what he said about that, "They look like Miami people. I know a lot of Miami people that look like that and are perfectly legitimate and act like them, Giuliani said. Neither one of them has ever been convicted of a crime. Neither one. And generally that's my cut-off point, because if you do it based on allegations and claims, well, you're not going to work with anybody, he said laughing, particularly in business." Well, Dana, no, they've actually been charged with crimes. They've been charged with trying to illegally -- with successfully illegally funneling money to U.S. elections.

BASH: Of course. Of course. He's trying to explain why he got involved with them in the first place and just use the Giuliani Google translate, which I think John Avlon can as well. He's saying I know a lot of guys like that who are players who you can see on the scene wanting to get into the mix. But it doesn't make them criminals. But you're, obviously, right. It's completely different when they have been indicted for crimes.

GOLODRYGA: And reminder of where the name Fraud Guarantee, the company name came from, it is because Parnas had been indicted and associated with criminal activity. He did not want that to be the first thing that came up in a Google search.

[08:10:03]

So lo and behold he decides to name his company Fraud Guarantee but at least that's associated with a company and not necessarily his checkered past.

CAMEROTA: Kind of brilliant.

AVLON: I wouldn't go that far. I think the core thing to remember is the company was called Fraud Guarantee. You didn't mishear that at home.

Dana, I want to go back to you because I know you have known Rudy Giuliani for many years, as have I. And there's a dark poetic irony about the fact that this article and interview came out almost 18 years to the day after he was named "Time" magazine's man of the year after leading the city of New York through 9/11. And there's a conversation in this interview about his legacy. And I want to read it to you. In it he says, Olivia Nuzzi writes, "He reads his own press and sees that his friends, these sources close to him, are being weaponized by the conspirators, helping to paint a public portrait of a man unglued. These are concerned people who have told him to be careful with his legacy. And my attitude about legacy, Rudy says is, f- it."

Does someone who spent a lot of time with politicians, usually they're pretty covetous of something like legacy.

BASH: Of course.

AVLON: What's going on in your eyes?

BASH: What we see here is him trying to reclaim his legacy, as much as he says he's not. His trips to -- trip to Ukraine, his insistence that everything that he is talking about, the conspiracy theories about Joe and Hunter Biden, are true is his attempt at vindication for his legacy. He says it's for his client. And you have to take him at his word that it's about the president, but it's also about Rudy Giuliani being remembered for getting it right.

Whether he will get there, that is a very uncertain, I think, that's -- well, it's unclear. I don't think he's going to get there with going down this road. I'll just say it. But the notion that he's not concerned with his legacy -- he did change when he got on the Trump bandwagon. He went out there defending the president, defending the then-candidate in a way nobody else was, going further than anybody else was, and it was a part of his personality that, John, you've probably known for years that he didn't put forward when he was America's mayor.

AVLON: Look. I'd say that Trump has an ability to bring people into his gravitational field. He certainly does think he's going to be vindicated, but it does remind me of one of Ronald Reagan's favorite jokes about a little boy who comes across a giant pile of manure and digs in it, an eternal optimist, he says there must be a pony in here somewhere.

LOCKHART: And I think politicians do care about their legacy, but what they care about most when they are out of office is their relevance, and ISIS that is the key to what's going on with Rudy. He can't stand not being in the middle of everything. Even at the risk of making a fool of himself, which he's doing, he is relevant again.

GOLODRYGA: And on that note, you can't help but think about the article that came out that was written by Maggie Haberman just the day before and talked about the pivotal, crucial role he played in the rise of Michael Bloomberg and the endorsement of Bloomberg as mayor following Rudy Giuliani. And now compare that to this train wreck of an interview. Beautifully written by Olivia, but it's kind of a really sad fall from grace.

AVLON: Bianna, Dana, thanks for joining us. Joe, stick around.

BASH: Merry Christmas.

GOLODRYGA: Merry Christmas.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

AVLON: Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah to all.

Next up, Republicans in Congress are holding the line, defending President Trump's dealing with Ukraine. A high-ranking Republican lies, and several times in just seconds, to make his case. We're going to dig into that. We discuss it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:44]

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of the highest ranking Republicans, flat-out lied about the FBI spying on President Trump's campaign. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): If you pause for 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. They broke into his campaign by bringing people into it. They have been trying to cover it up for the whole time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: All right. Not so fast. Facts first.

The Justice Department's own inspector general report that McCarthy is referring to specifically debunks that conspiracy theory, finding no evidence whatsoever of spying. But what does this tell us about the Republican Party's efforts to defend Donald Trump?

Joining me now, CNN political commentators, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.

Kings of the Keystone State, great to have you both with us.

Rick, I want to go to you and I just really reinforce this to folks. What the I.G. report specifically said about these allegations that McCarthy repeated that the FBI did not try to recruit members of the Trump campaign as confidential human sources, did not send sources to collect information in Trump campaign headquarters or Trump campaign spaces, and did not ask them to join the Trump campaign or otherwise attend campaign-related events as part of the investigation.

Nonetheless, in addition to the video you just saw of Kevin McCarthy, he doubled down and tweeted the same thing. He tweeted this: The FBI broke into President Trump's campaign, spied on him and then tried to cover it up. This is a modern day Watergate.

Senator Santorum, why is Kevin McCarthy lying.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think he is.

AVLON: Yes he is, sir. Explain why he is.

SANTORUM: John, let me explain. What Kevin is referring to is the fact that they were using -- they used FISA to get into Carter Page's and wiretap and get information and, of course, he was talking to people at the Trump campaign on occasion. And that's, quote, breaking in, using a false -- I mean, if the I.G. report is clear about anything, it's the abuse of the FISA system --

AVLON: It is.

SANTORUM: -- to get that wire on Carter Page which was then used to listen to people in the Trump campaign.

So, it's not direct, I agree with you. They did not directly go in and recruit people and they did not directly take -- wire people in the Trump campaign, but they did use that wire from Carter Page to spy on the Trump campaign. And that's what Kevin is referring to.

AVLON: That's what Kevin is referring to, you say.

OK. Let's put it in additional context for folks, and stay with you on this. Kevin McCarthy is directly repeating President Trump's talking points about the I.G. report before it was released. Right down to the worse than Watergate line. He's repeating what the president said before and after the report.

When the report specifically says there was no spying. I take your point about FISA. There are reforms that need to be made but that's a thin read for --

SANTORUM: See, I disagree with that. I don't think it's a thin read at all. Look. I think in the end, this FISA issue and the issue of the FBI and the processes that were abused, and I think clearly for partisan purposes is going to be the bigger story come November than --

AVLON: Really? Worse than Watergate? Worse than Watergate, Senator?

SANTORUM: I think you're going to see lots of indictments of FBI individuals for the role that they played in this. And I think that will be a huge story come November.

AVLON: Charlie Dent, what say you?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The I.G. -- look. The I.G. was pretty clear. He felt the Russia investigation was justified and properly predicated. They're very clear about that.

They're also clear there were problems with the FISA applications and surveillance warrants. No question about that.

But look, as Republicans, we've always been the party of law enforcement. We are the party that defended the FISA process. Heaven forbid there's another terror attack and it's going to take forever and a day to get a FISA warrant. We're going to go down this road this again pre-9/11. We better be very careful about how we go about attacking the FBI.

Clearly, they were justified in initiating that Russia investigation.

[08:20:04]

According to the I.G., problems with the FISA. So, we ought to be clear about that. There's a lot of spin going on here that really is unnecessary at a time like this.

SANTORUM: Charlie, I couldn't disagree more. I think this is a hugely serious issue that's being glossed over. I think you're going to see the -- Durham's report and indictments are going to be shattering to a lot of people. And to get to the bottom line that you can't just wipe this off. Oh, they just made mistakes.

No, these are seasoned professionals who sequentially lied to the FISA court in order to continue to investigate a campaign.

And, Charlie, I'll ask you this, if someone -- if someone who volunteered for your campaign was suspected as being involved with Russia and the FBI didn't come to you and tell you that someone potentially close in your orbit is involved and we need to look into them and they didn't tell you, you'd be ticked off. I'd be ticked off. This is just rogue in my opinion. AVLON: Look, let me get in here because Senator Santorum, first of

all, I want to remind folks the FBI Director Chris Wray said this was specifically not spying. There are issues with the FISA process. We'd all agree. There's a degree of moving the goal post to the Durham report because some folks were invested in the mass indictments they believe would come out of the I.G. report that did not materialize.

But I want to -- there's a little bit of a Christmas silver lining here, Senator Santorum, because back in the day, there were a lot of folks on the left very upset about FISA and the process. A lot of Republicans who supported the Patriot Act said they were just crying Chicken Little. Now maybe there's a little common ground between you and folks concerned about the FISA process?

SANTORUM: Well, we assume the FBI is going to do what they should do which is there's no counterparty in a FISA application. There's nobody there to argue on the other side, so the court expects the FBI to present all the evidence that's exculpatory as well as those that support the warrant. And they didn't do that. And the question is, how often they don't do it?

So, look, if you have people with bad motives at the FBI, they can abuse the FISA process. And that's why the FISA court took a step, I think a remarkable step of actually condemning the FBI and saying you have to clean up your act.

AVLON: So, there was a point to the critics of the FISA process back in the day?

SANTORUM: Yes, no question about it.

AVLON: All right. Now, listen, one thing I love having you on NEW DAY, and whenever you're on here at CNN is that it's an example of the robust civil disagreements you can have among, not only fellow Republicans but from the same state. That's the kind of civil disagreement we're not seeing enough of in Washington among the Republican Party, particularly around impeachment.

But I want to read you a quote that one of your former colleagues, Charlie, Dave Trot gave to "The New York Times", to J. Mart and Maggie Haberman. He wrote, quote: Trump is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically unfit for office, and I'm sure a lot of Republicans feel the same way. But if they say that, the social media barrage will be overwhelming.

Do you think that's an accurate assessment of the way people talk behind closed doors?

(CROSSTALK)

DENT: Yes, I do. I know Dave Trott well. I was in the meeting with Dave Trott when he made comments about the president's failed leadership on health care. I was there.

Yes, members do say things like that about the president's unfitness intellectually and emotionally at times. I think it's very clear they say these things. So this is hardly shocking news to anyone.

Look, many members are just simply worried about their primary situation, and that's why they are stomaching what they are. I mean, and that's why they try to defend the indefensible or explain the inexplicable. Most of them chose to remain silent because it's just too difficult to try to explain this stuff.

AVLON: Senator Santorum, do you think the role that social media is playing, the trolls and bots are intimidating folks into silence? That silencing dissent and robust disagreement within the party and within American politics?

SANTORUM: I think that's happening. I think it's happening within American politics generally. You just look at what's going on in the Democratic primary and how many people just went way, way left because of the -- of what was happening on social media. Anybody that would stand up and say, you know, capitalism is good, you're a betrayer.

So it's happening on both sides, and, look, I would agree that there are members on the Republican Party who don't believe President Trump is competent to do this. But I don't think there's anywhere near the majority, and I think most people like the president because he's a fighter and they're willing to put up with a lot of the crap to get someone who is willing to fight back.

SANTORUM: We'll certainly say so. I want to thank you both for joining us. Merry Christmas to you both.

SANTORUM: Merry Christmas. Thank you, to everybody.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John.

Democrats are calling for testimony from key witnesses at the impeachment trial, including former national security adviser John Bolton.

[08:25:02]

Now, one of Bolton's top aides is calling him out for staying silent. He's with us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: Democrats want to hear from witnesses with direct knowledge of the president's directive to freeze aid to Ukraine. And that includes former national security adviser John Bolton. According to our next guest, Bolton is dodging having to tell the truth about Ukraine. Why?

Joining us now is Mark Groombridge. He's a former senior policy adviser to John Bolton.

Mr. Groombridge, thank you very much for being here. We really appreciate getting your perspective as someone who has worked with Ambassador Bolton -- who had worked with him for so long and knows his thinking. Here's what you tweeted out about this. You said: Ambassador Bolton, I was your handpicked senior adviser at

State and the U.S. mission to the U.N. You are dodging. The constant is what you know about Ukraine. The variable is how you present that information. The only logical conclusion is that you are placing profits over patriotism to sell books.

So, Mr. Groombridge, is that what you think this is about? Do you think he's about -- that's what this cat and mouse game is about?

MARK GROOMBRIDGE, FORMER SENIOR POLICY ADVISER TO JOHN BOLTON: It is. And that view was reinforced last Friday which was a game-changer. Keep in mind that after Ambassador Bolton left the White House, he's been pretty tight-lipped, particularly about impeachment. He's been speaking through his lawyer on and off.

But on Friday, he gave a remarkable interview with National Public Radio. And he revealed two points that I think sort of tip the scale.