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AT THIS HOUR

Pelosi to House Dems: We "Honored Our Oath" with Impeachment; NYT: Boeing Preparing New Strategies to Regain Public Trust; Remains of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Goble Returned to U.S. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired December 25, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me and welcome to a special Christmas edition of AT THIS HOUR. President Trump is spending this Christmas morning in Florida. But there is no escaping the impeachment drama that continues to unfold even on this holiday. Here was the president and first lady on their way to America dinner last night. Just listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you pray for Speaker Pelosi at church?

Did you pray for Speaker Pelosi tonight?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Merry Christmas, everybody.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you pray for Speaker Pelosi today?

TRUMP: We got a great year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: But before that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is looking back at the year that was and taking stock of the chaotic division that has characterized much of 2019 if not all. In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Pelosi called last week's vote impeaching the president quote, "inspiring and overwhelming." Obviously, Republicans will disagree there.

At the very same time the focus remains in the Senate now, sources telling CNN, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he does want to cut a deal with Senator Schumer on the rules of the road for a Senate Trial, but importantly, he also, according to sources, is willing to go it alone without the Democratic leaders buy-in.

New this morning, McConnell may have some work -- forget about the Democrats - some work to do with his own party. One Republican senator saying that she is "disturbed." Her wording by the Republican leaders admitted close coordination with the White House ahead of the Senate trial.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is following the president. She is in West Palm Beach, Florida right now. So, Kristen, Senator Lisa Murkowski, she's been one of the Republicans to watch. What else is she saying here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she sat down for this interview. And it was the first time we really heard from her. She said she wanted a fair and full process. And then she criticized McConnell saying he was working with the White House for the same reason that Democrats have criticized those comments, essentially being that senators, both Democrat and Republican are to be sworn in as fair, unbiased, impartial jurors for the Senate impeachment trial.

And here's what she said in the interview. She said, "And in fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed. To me, it means that we have to take that stem step back from being hand in glove with the defense. And so, I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process."

This is important for two big reasons, one as you said, Lisa Murkowski is a Republican, but she is a vote to watch. She is a swing vote. She does not always go with the Republican Party. In fact, she voted against confirming Justice Brett Kavanaugh. So, she was one to watch already.

The second reason being this is the first sign of discord we've seen among the Republican Party since that impeachment vote happened about a week ago. It really has seemed as the Republicans are lock step with the president. This shows a little bit of a crack here.

And lastly, as you mentioned, Mitch McConnell now opened to this idea of setting the rules, himself, without any Democrats. Well, in order to do that, he needs 51 votes. Now, of course we know Republicans hold the Senate. And clearly, he is saying this out there to our sources he feels a little bit of confidence from the Republican Party there. But he can only afford to lose two votes. So this break is significant.

BOLDUAN: It is. And to be clear, of course, Kristen points it out perfectly. This isn't calling into question the eventual outcome which requires a two-thirds vote in order to remove the president from office. This is still the rules of the road that are also very important for what the public is or is not going to see once a Senate trial does begin. But to the speaker's letter then, Kristen, to Democrats, calling the impeachment vote inspiring. Any response from the White House to this today?

HOLMES: No response from the White House yet. But keep your eye on Twitter. Because this holiday one thing is clear, impeachment is really on President Trump's mind. We haven't seen that much of him. But we have heard a lot from him on Twitter.

But when it comes to that note, Pelosi there, a year end note. She is really supporting her troops. She is talking about the legislation that they've passed. And then she says this about impeachment. She says, it now remains for the Senate to present the rules under which we will proceed. We can then appoint the managers. The vote on the Floor was overwhelming and inspiring and the number of people who want to be managers is indicative of our strong case.

I also do want to mention two things here. One is you talked about McConnell being open to setting the rules. We also know that Republicans still want those articles of impeachment to be transmitted before they begin that process. Even though they're not certain it has to be. This is a part of a formal process. This is not a note that sounds like she is going to hand those over any time soon without having some kind of guarantee of a fair trial. So, that's one interesting thing there. The other is of course, I just want to point out what those managers are. Those are the House Democrats that would serve as the lawyers defending - excuse me -- defending the case, presenting the case to the Senate in an impeachment hearing. Kate?

[11:05:06]

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Kristen, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

So, now in North Korea, Christmas day has already come and gone. Why is it particularly noteworthy this year on this day on this holiday as the country's leader threatens to send the United States, quote, "A Christmas Gift."

U.S. military officials had said they were expecting the North to conduct a long-range ballistic missile test. That would be the gift.

This would be an escalation from the series of missile tests that Pyongyang has conducted since the summer. As you can see obviously right here on this graphic. Still, President Trump when asked about this threat yesterday said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Let's see, maybe it's a nice present, maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test, right? And they get a massage. And I get a nice present from him. You don't know. You never know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: You never do. Joining me right now, CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, she was a senior adviser to President Obama's national security adviser and David Sanger national security correspondent for the "New York Times".

Guys, thank you for being here on this holiday. I really appreciate it. On a very un-holiday-like topic nut nonetheless. So the first question, of course, then, Sam, is what is the message if North Korea conducts a missile test around Christmas, around the New Year at all? And then what is the message if they don't I guess?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Kate, honestly, to anyone not wearing a blindfold and earmuffs, Kim has already sent us a message over the past 18 months, over the past year. He has seriously expanded his weapons capabilities. That includes both his missile capabilities, the amount of material that he could use to make a bomb. The technology needed to improve his weapons. He did an underwater missile test in October. The first in three years.

The point is that his weapons program has continued to advance. The message loud and clear to anyone that is focused on policy not politics is that he is deeply focused on advancing his program, not freezing it in the first instance and certainly not denuclearizing. A missile test would be additional provocation. We have to look at the larger picture here which is that Kim remains intent on improving his military capabilities.

BOLDUAN: You know it's very most basic. We still don't have a shared definition of what the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula actually is, David. I continue to harp on that point. But as you point out in a great piece, a similar missile test two years ago is what led to President Trump's then threat of fire and fury being who would be the next fall out? For everyone, a walk down memory lane here, here's from 2017. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Since then, two summits, little progress. And much more. I mean do you get any sense in your reporting that the administration's tactics are really changing at this point?

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that the main thing that's changing, Kate, is the president's own calculation of his own political interests here. And fire and fury was important at a time early in this administration where he was trying to establish his credentials for toughness. Remember he hired generals to be around him, almost all of whom are now gone. He wanted to project the image of a president who was willing to go and strike back.

Now that he's invested in the relationship with Kim Jong-un. I think it's a good thing he did meet Kim. He is basically saying because of this relationship, though, the complete nature of the relations between the U.S. and North Korea have changed. And that the very fact that he and Chairman Kim get along is equivalent to creating peace. And as Sam's pointed out, it isn't.

What's happened is that the capability has steadily increased. They haven't surged. They haven't gone back. They just kept doing what they were doing and then this whole arena and the nuclear arena and yet they've improved the atmospherics. Now, if he conducts the test, obviously that ruins the atmospherics for a good long time. And I think that's probably a part of the hesitation and calculation going on in North Korea right now. BOLDUAN: Interesting. And then, Sam, you have -- let's just call it the John Bolton factor at this moment. The president's former national security adviser really trashing Trump's policy towards North Korea in this interview with Axios, here being a key bid.

[11:10:06]

He says, "The idea that we are somehow exerting maximum pressure on North Korea is just unfortunately not true."

I mean Bolton is suggesting that Trump is bluffing on his pledge to stop North Korea's nuclear program. What does that do to all of this in the moment?

VINOGRAD: Well, crying wolf has consequences. And as you just played Trump's promise to invoke fire and fury and not fall through on that means that the North Koreans really don't have much of a reason to believe that Trump is going to do what he says he's going to do.

Now, I don't support fire and fury. What we have seen is coercion Kim-style. Kim is trying to coerce President Trump to lift sanctions. He's been slowly pushing the envelope in doing more provocative tests over a series of time. Short-range tests, potentially preparing for a satellite launch, and really seeing what he can get away with President Trump.

So, while Kim is testing these weapons, he's also testing President resolve -- President Trump resolve and President Trump really has not responded definitively to these provocations by Kim so it certainly looks like President Trump is bluffing. We all know, Kate, that North Korea is a foreign policy quote/unquote "success" that President Trump points to on the campaign trail and we're going into an election year, of course.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. And really quick, David, because, look, this has been a problem, North Korea that has spanned administrations.

That is one thing very clear. Obama did not make progress. Did not fix or solve the problem. I read with great interest in your piece that you are hearing from senior foreign policy officials and military folks and that they're saying that they're bracing for possibly the most serious cycle of this crisis. Yet, why is that?

SANGER: Well because they don't really have a Plan B at this point, Kate. Their plan, if there is a launch is to go back to the United Nations and try to tighten up the sanctions breaches that the Russians and the Chinese are engaged in right now.

What does that take you back to? Basically, the strategy of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, right? And of course, it's exactly that to the president said he would walk away from because he was determined to solve this problem. What he's discovered over the past three years is there is a reason this problem hasn't been solved for the past 30 years, because if you are really going to crank up the pressure, as Mr. Bolton suggests, you are also willing to go risk war and that would mean completely cutting off the oil supplies to North Korea and really provoking something bigger.

BOLDUAN: Right.

SANGER: And the president doesn't want that. The Chinese don't want that. The Russians don't want that. And so you end up basically creating an atmosphere that tolerates the buildup of the nuclear forces. You know, President Trump is not the first one to do that. George W. Bush used to say to me when I was White House correspondent, I won't tolerate a nuclear North Korea. Well, he tolerated one.

BOLDUAN: And so we see. And so it continues, David, thank you so much. Sam, it's great to see you. Thanks, guys.

VINOGRAD: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, just days after firing at CEO, new documents reveal how Boeing is developing a strategy to win back public's trust even before the max jet is clear to fly. Will it work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:40]

BOLDUAN: It is a company in crisis. Not only is Boeing still facing questions after two horrific plane crashes killing 246 people in the past year. In just the past week, the company announced it was suspending production of the 737 Max Jet and the company's CEO was fired. Add to that, another huge challenge, if and when the Max flies again, will the flying public feel safe enough to get on board. According to "The New York Times," Boeing has actually been surveying thousands of passengers to get an answer to that very question.

Joining me now is CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich. It sure seems that Boeing didn't want this information out there, this survey out there. What is it saying?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: It's really interesting, Boeing is essentially doing sort of behind the scenes damage control right now. They have been serving thousands of passengers around the world asking them would they feel safe getting on this plane again when it comes back into mission. 40 percent of passengers in the month of December, this month say no they would not. And that's unchanged from October which was also about 40 percent of passengers said no they would not feel safe getting onboard.

What's also interesting is this is all according to "The New York Times" and documents that they got. It also reveals that the - that Boeing has been calling up airlines and have been holding conference calls, about 30-minute conference calls and suggesting about how they deal with passengers who may feel nervous getting on a flight. So you show up to the gate, you are feeling a little bit nervous, they're advising that the gate agent rebook that passenger on another flight or have the pilot come out and talk to the passenger to try to quell their fears.

Also, if you are having a panic attack maybe mid-flight, realizing all of a sudden that you are on this airplane, same thing. Boeing is suggesting having the pilot personally get involved and talk to the passenger or treating it like a medical emergency in flight, really trying to comfort these passengers.

But we reached out to Boeing on all of this and here's what they told us. They say, quote, "We routinely engage with our airline customers' communications teams to seek their feedback and brief them on our latest plans. Each airline is different in their needs, so we provide a wide range of documents and assistance that they can choose to use or tailor as they see fit."

But the idea is that Boeing clearly is realizing they have a lot of trust to make up for with passengers.

[11:20:02]

BOLDUAN: (INAUDIBLE)

YURKEVICH: Also, with airlines who have thousands of orders in with these planes, but you know, this is also as you mentioned coming on the heels of firing their CEO this week. And so, clearly a lot of work ahead of them. These planes are again, not even being produced right now. I don't even know when they will be back in the air. But the key thing is making passengers feel comfortable.

BOLDUAN: Right. And that's one of the key realities of this, right? They don't even have a timetable when the Max Jets are going to be back in the air.

YURKEVICH: Right.

BOLDUAN: They're in the process of doing this.

YURKEVICH: Right.

BOLDUAN: Thanks Vanessa. Thanks for being here.

YURKEVICH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Coming up next for us, he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, just days before Christmas. Now one fallen service member is returning home.

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[11:25:28]

BOLDUAN: On any given day, it is the most solemn ceremony. The dignified transfer of service members remains, killed overseas and returning to the United States. But it's particularly painful when it happens on Christmas Day.

Just moments ago, this at Dover Air Force Base, the dignified transfer of Sergeant 1st Class Michael Goble of New Jersey. Sergeant Goble died Monday from injuries sustained during a combat operation, Sunday, in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. His death marking the 20th American service member to be killed by hostile fire this year in Afghanistan.

CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood is in Washington with more. Kylie, none of us can imagine what this family is having to go through and having to go through this on Christmas day no less. What more are you learning about Sergeant Goble?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Kate, an extremely solemn ceremony that we just watched at Dover Air Force Base. It was attended by over a dozen U.S. officials, including national security adviser Robert O'Brien, chairman of the joint chief of staff, Mark Milley. And it was a really devastating moment. This is an army sergeant who just finished his third tour in Afghanistan. This was his third time being there.

He is a 33-year-old from New Jersey. And really, folks described him online as a true patriot, a fearless leader, someone who really represented the values of American soldiers and the other devastating reality, Kate, is that he is also a father. He has a young daughter and so it's going to be a really, really tough holiday season for that family, one that you and I really cannot even begin to imagine.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Kylie, thank you for bringing his memory to light and speaking about his young daughter, of course. I mean this is also a painful reminder of just the cost so many American families pay in America's longest war. It's 200,000 men and women are serving, currently deployed overseas on this Christmas Day. And I think I know Kylie agrees. We all need to do a lot more, more than a moment, more than just one television, news segment to pay our respects, and to offer up our genuine gratitude for the sacrifice that all of these families - all of these families continue to give. Thank you so much, Kylie. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, you should never call it a flyover country and you should definitely not call the Midwest -- the Midwest that if you are running for president. What the all-important Midwestern voters are saying that they are looking for in 2020. That's next.

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[11:30:00]

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