Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Attacks Pelosi, Democrats After Calling for Unity; WaPo: U.S. Developing Options to Combat Russian Interference; North Korea's Christmas Gift?; Impeachment Fight. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: "New Year's Eve Live" begins at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

Thanks so much for joining me this afternoon.

Erica Hill fills in for JAKE TAPPER on "THE LEAD."

It starts right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: He's throwing haymakers on Boxing Day.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Hours after a Christmas message about understanding and respect, President Trump unloads on Speaker Pelosi, as the battle over the what, when and how of the Senate trial continues.

Information warfare. A new report details the military's plan to launch a counter cyberattack if Russia messes with 2020 like it did four years ago.

Plus: the buddy system. On the day of a critical vote in Israel, how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to pull a Trump to hang on.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Jake.

And we begin with the politics lead.

So much for that Christmas unity. Just hours after calling for a -- quote -- "culture of deeper understanding and respect," the president spent the day on Twitter assailing Democrats, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her crazy and her district filthy.

Mr. Trump is notably frustrated about Pelosi refusing to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate, as both Republicans and Democrats negotiate possible rules for a trial.

As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, neither side seems to be budging, as a crack is emerging in the red wall of Trump's GOP jurors in the Senate. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A key Senate Republican voice expressing discomfort with the words and actions of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell on impeachment.

MURKOWSKI: We have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. And so I heard what Leader McConnell had said. I happen to think that that has further confused the process.

MATTINGLY: Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a moderate who has bucked her party on health care and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, responding sharply to this:

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this.

MATTINGLY: Murkowski making clear she also has concerns with how House Democrats ran their impeachment probe.

MURKOWSKI: Speaker Pelosi was very clear, very direct that her goal was to get this done before Christmas.

MATTINGLY: Yet underscoring the tenuous situation McConnell finds himself in, with negotiations over what a Senate trial will look like at a standstill.

MCCONNELL: We can't do anything until the speaker sends the papers over. So, everybody, enjoy the holidays.

MATTINGLY: Should McConnell lose four of his 53 Republican senators, he would lose control of the process, something Democratic sources tell CNN they are keenly aware of and have used to cultivate potential Republican allies in recent weeks.

For Democrats, who acknowledge there is little to no chance of pulling the votes together to remove President Trump, it's the trial itself that has become the battle.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): If it doesn't have documents and witnesses, it's going to seem to most of the American people that it is a sham trial, a show trial.

MATTINGLY: Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer continuing his push to subpoena four witnesses and reams of documents relevant to the allegations. McConnell has insisted any witnesses or documents subpoenas be dealt with after the initial presentations, as was done in the impeachment trial for President Bill Clinton.

MCCONNELL: We remain at an impasse on these logistics.

MATTINGLY: All as House Democrats have yet to appoint impeachment managers or send the articles to the Senate at all.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a letter to colleagues this week, touting the impeachment vote as -- quote -- "overwhelming and inspiring, and the number of people who want to be managers is indicative of our strong case."


MATTINGLY: Now, Erica, who those managers will be one of the opening question -- open questions, as we wait to see when and if the speaker will actually send the articles of impeachment over.

What I'm being told right now is twofold. One, don't expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to blink on what he wants, at least in the opening stages of the trial. And, two, expect those articles of impeachment to come over pretty soon after lawmakers return to the Capitol sometime in January.

When and what the actual details will be, well, we're going to have to wait and see on that, Erica.

HILL: We are waiting on that, but I like pretty soon. It's at least some -- somewhat of a development.

Phil, thank you.

Taking a look at all of this, Brendan, as we listened to those comments from Lisa Murkowski, what are the chances that we will see more Republicans come out and question perhaps how Mitch McConnell is handling this?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER ADVISER TO PAUL RYAN: Yes, I'm skeptical we're going to see a lot of that.

This feels to me like when it was in the House, and everybody was looking for cracks in the wall of the GOP, and we ended up with zero Republican votes for it.


Mitch McConnell has shown time and time again he has very strong control over the Senate floor, all of the operations, and has done a really good job keeping his senators in line.

And I actually think that him working with the White House is more Mitch McConnell telling the White House how he's going to do things more than the White House telling him how it's going to work.

But if it's -- if there's going to be any cracks, it's going to be maybe a Lisa Murkowski, but probably those vulnerable senators who are up for election this time. Talking about Susan Collins in Maine or Cory Gardner in Colorado or Martha McSally in Arizona.

Those are -- those senators are in swing states. They're -- the only thing that Mitch McConnell cares really more about than anything right now is keeping his Senate majority. And so if those three people come to him and say, I need witnesses, I

need a better process than this, that's the only way I could see him blinking on this. Otherwise, he has no reason to.

HILL: If only we could all be a fly on the wall for that conversation, if they actually happen.

We should point out, of course, that Senator Murkowski was also critical of Nancy Pelosi, talking about House Democrats, talking about how the process was rushed, in her mind, only to now sit around a little bit.

And she also talked about the fact that they could have actually gone to the courts, Maeve, have and chose not to.


And, certainly, that has been a Republican talking point throughout this entire process. But, clearly, Nancy Pelosi did not want to wait and wanted to move this along, so that they would potentially -- the House's piece of it would be done by Christmas.

And I do think, to Brendan's point, that we're going to know a lot more about what McConnell will allow and what the structure of a trial will look like after some of these vulnerable senators have been at home, talking to their constituents, and potentially hearing back from some of them that they don't want to see a two-second process, where this flies by this, this potentially huge, historic moment.

And I think there is some degree of risk for senators who appear to not be taking this seriously, especially -- I mean, this is -- it's unprecedented. And it's something that they will have to explain to those moderates and those independents and other people as we go into the election year.


HILL: And, Maria, to that point about talking with constituents while they are home over this holiday break, it's important that those constituents really represent all of those who they represent in terms of the conversations that are being had.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. No, that's exactly right, Erica.

But I think one of the things that you have seen from Democrats in the House that I think has surprised some people and has made, I think, Democrats really proud is that they are first and foremost voting their conscience and voting to uphold their oath of office.

And, yes, they are also representing the people that they promised to represent in a fair and equitable fashion. And, look, in terms of the Senate, I agree with Brendan. I don't think that there's going to be a lot of senators that are going to be -- quote, unquote -- "part of the crack in the red wall." But here's the problem with Mitch McConnell's situation. He doesn't need a lot. He needs just a handful. Certainly, there will not be 67, right, enough to remove the president, at least we don't think at this point.

But there can certainly be enough that will put a sort of kink in the plan for Mitch McConnell, if he wanted to do this really quickly. To Maeve's point, if they come to him and say, look, we do need witnesses, we do need to see some more documents, I think that's a loss for McConnell and certainly for Trump, who has now wanted this to be really quick in order to get this out of the way.

HILL: Ron, as we look at the other piece of this, coming from the House, in her dear colleague letter just before Christmas, Nancy Pelosi said members are clamoring to be House managers.

But no one's really saying it on the record. And it sounds like these folks certainly aren't. Take a listen.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I have no desire to be one of the managers.

REP. KIM SCHRIER (D-WA): That is not a job that I, as a freshman congresswoman, would want. I don't think that you fight firebrands with firebrands.

QUESTION: Do you want to be one of those managers for the Senate trial?



HILL: So, Ron, everyone seems to be clamoring.


Well, look, it's asking a lot of a swing state -- swing district member to want to be one of the impatient managers. You do have the 31 Democrats in districts that Trump carried. All but two of them ended up voting for impeachment and feel comfortable doing that, in part because not all of them believe that Trump is going to win their district again.

But the history -- or asking them to kind of be the face of the impeachment, I think, is asking a lot. Don't forget that Adam Schiff is in Congress, because, as Maeve knows, in 1998, he beat one of the -- I guess, in 2000, he beat one of the impeachment managers, Jim Rogan of Pasadena.

To me, the question on the Senate is not only kind of the partisan question, but the institutional question. Winston Churchill said, where you stand depends on where you sit. So it's not going to be a surprise if whatever they think about the underlying evidence, all or virtually all Republicans say, in the end, that Donald Trump's actions did not justify removal from office.


But it's another thing to say, from an institutional perspective, that you are going to, in effect, validate a strategy in which the White House has systematically blocked the testimony of key officials and the transfer of documents.

The idea that the country would make a decision of this magnitude, only the third time we have ever had a trial in the Senate, without hearing from John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney, and that Republicans in the Senate are going to say, we're OK with that, with establishing that precedent for a future president, that still seems to me, from an institutional perspective, pretty remarkable.

BUCK: I don't disagree with that.

But let's be clear what Mitch McConnell is saying. He's saying, let's use the same precedent that we had in 1999, when 100 -- when senators voted 100-0...

BROWNSTEIN: But, Brendan, they had witnesses. They had witnesses. They had testimony.

BUCK: But, at this stage, at this stage, all they did was pass a resolution setting the rules for managers to come over.

And it was not until after that point that they passed a second resolution naming witnesses. And all he's saying right now is, let's hold off until that point, and then we will assess whether we need witnesses then.


BROWNSTEIN: And do you believe that he would ultimately fulfill that precedent and allow the witnesses to testify?


BROWNSTEIN: Or is he OK with the thought that we would go through this entire episode and never hear under oath from John Bolton?

I think the answer is, he probably would be perfectly fine with that.

BUCK: I think he wouldn't. I think he's made clear that he's fine with that.

But, ultimately, it will come down to whether 51 senators agree with that. And so all he's saying is, let's get past this first point and then 51 senators are going to decide whether we need more.


CARDONA: But here's the problem with that. It's a very different situation than we had in '98. And what Lisa Murkowski said, after all the criticism that she took

when she said that she was disturbed by McConnell's statements, which she should be, then is, if I want to be seen, if people see me as somebody who's open-minded and wants to see things fairly, I'm OK with that.

More senators should feel the way she does.

HILL: OK, we're going to leave that there for the moment. But don't worry. This is a topic that will keep on giving as we move in here.


HILL: President Trump blasting Speaker Pelosi, as we mentioned, just after that Christmas Chris call for unity and respect, and admitting he's actually worried about one consequence from impeachment.

Plus, the so-called Christmas gift the world has been waiting for, undelivered so far, but just what is North Korea planning?



HILL: In our politics lead, President Trump today drowning out his message of holiday unity with a deluge of impeachment complaints and attacks, but also one admission, he sees impeachment as hurting his relationship with world leaders.

As CNN's Pamela Brown reports from the White House, even a sunny vacation can't distract the president from his troubles at home.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, President Trump shutting the short-lived Christmas spirit by attacking Democrats and calling his impeachment unfair, tweeting: The radical left do-nothing Democrats wanted to rush everything through to the Senate because President Trump is a threat to national security. They are vicious, will say anything, but now they don't want to go fast anymore. They want to go very slowly. Liars.

The president specifically targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, labeling her San Francisco district, quote, filthy, dirty, and smearing her as crazy.

Trump tweeting: Now Pelosi is demanding everything the Republicans weren't allowed to have in the House. Dems want to run majority-run Republican Senate. Hypocrites.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We wish everyone a joyous and merry Christmas.

BROWN: The Twitter tirade in stark contrast to the unifying message Trump delivered on Christmas, saying in a statement: While the challenges that face our country are great, the bonds that unite us as Americans are much stronger. Together, we must strive to foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect, traits that exemplify the teachings of Christ.

But even on Christmas Even, Trump launched a baseless attack against Speaker Pelosi when he did a video conference with U.S. troops --

TRUMP: She hates the Republican Party. She hates all the people that voted for me, and the Republican Party. And she is desperate to do.

BROWN: With impeachment on the president's mind, later that night, Trump was spotted talking with Attorney Alan Dershowitz who was in discussions to join Trump's defense for the Senate impeachment trial.

Dershowitz has stated publicly, he has offered Trump legal advice.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY: The advice I've given the president in public, on television and in my op-eds, is to go for a very short, constitutional defense, focusing on the inadequacies of the two charges.

BROWN: Also on Christmas Eve, the Trump campaign launching this new website, designed to help Trump supporters win arguments with their liberal relatives, giving talking points on a number of topical issues.


BROWN: And a source close to the president's legal team says there continues to be serious discussions about Alan Dershowitz as well as some of the president's GOP allies joining his defense team in the Senate trial. But given how fluid everything is, in terms of the timing of when it will start, the source says the only thing for certain right now is that the White House counsel Pat Cipollone will lead the defense in the Senate trial, will have several deputies helping him and the president's personal counsel will be playing a role as well.

Back to you, Erica.

HILL: Very interesting.

All right. Pamela, live at the White House for us. Thank you.

As we look at all of this, and the president's tweets, the president continued to complain on Twitter today that the process, quote, has been very unfair with no due process, proper representation or witnesses.

Of course, in reality, the president chose not to participate, block both witnesses and evidence, Brendan, but the false talking point is clearly one that the president is sticking with.

BUCK: Yes, and the president is saying both things. He wants a fast trial or there's not enough time. It feels -- the president is a lot like a parrot. He sits in front of "Fox & Friends" and repeats whatever the argument that was made, whether it's -- as long as it was in his favor, he will repeat it and he says it.

So, it's not surprising that he's doing this. I think what's most amusing is how Nancy Pelosi is so clearly in his head, though.


HILL: Uh-huh.


BUCK: So obvious really on he liked Nancy Pelosi and he thought genuinely that he was going to be able to work with her and somehow he's now surprised that she's leading this impeachment. And it really gets under her skin and drives him nuts. So, it's not surprising that they're doing it again attacking her specifically.

HILL: He also quoted a supporter who said Republicans should support a motion to dismiss the case not have an impeachment trial. But, Ron, there's this whole pesky thing called the Constitution that comes into play.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there's that. Well, there's that.

And, look, there's also the reality as we talked about in the first segment. That there a number of Republican senators who, while in the end are unlikely to, you know, vote to remove President Trump from office, they don't want to go home and say they did not take this seriously. I mean, you're talking about, you know, when Bill Clinton was impeached, there was no more than a third, 35 percent of the country that ever said remove him from office. We're at half the country now consistently. It never got that high under Nixon until the very last poll.

I mean, we are -- you know, the country is closely divided on this. But the fact that we're closely divided on a step so unprecedented as removing a president from office, there's an awful lot of tailwind behind that notion. And I don't think those senators can go home and simply say, we just brushed this off. Martha McSally has come close to do that, quite a statement in Arizona. But for Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, even on North Carolina or Iowa, that is a risky bet to kind of brush it aside.

HILL: The other thing that's interesting that's coming out, just reported from Josh Rogin at "The Washington Post," is that there could be a change afloat at the State Department. There's been a lot of speculation, of course, about Mike Pompeo. Will he run for Senate? What will he do? Mitch McConnell, of course, perhaps wanting to see him run for Senate to protect that seat.

But as we look at this, and the possibility is being floated about who could replace Secretary Pompeo, Maeve, it is interesting timing, to say the least.

RESTON: Certainly. And it's not particularly a good thing for President Trump in the sense that one of the issues that moderates and independents bring up all the time is this constant churn and turnover and sense of sort of uncertainty and the feeling that there are so many empty desks in the executive branch and in the White House. People do have real concern about that and it makes them question the president's judgment. So, I think if we were to have that kind of change-up, even if it's something that Mike Pompeo wants, that you do remind people of sort of the constant level of disruption within this administration, Erica.

HILL: There's also the question of -- because the president also complaining that impeachment is making it hard for him when it comes to dealing with foreign leaders. That being said, as we're looking at all of this, could the president benefit from a new secretary of state in any way to maybe help him move forward post impeachment trial, Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I doubt it. Everything we said from the very beginning since this president was elected is oh, look, you know, he's got some adults around him. They'll be able to check him, they'll be able to moderate him. We all know that that is now not true. There is no moderating this president, no matter who his cabinet is, no matter what advisers are around him.

And I think to Maeve's point, to go a little deeper on that, you know, the reason he's losing independents and the reason why he's losing women -- and we know that there's a record gender gap and I think we might talk about that a little later on, is because of the chaotic nature of his presidency. Every single day, there are not one, not two, not three, but like 53 things that are chaotic and I think people are sick of it. This will add to that chaos, which will be very hurtful to Trump going into 2020.

BUCK: Yes, I think the president has trouble with world leaders going beyond impeachment, whether it's the Paris climate accord, the tariffs or, you know, attacks on NATO. I don't think that's his problem.

HILL: Impeachment is probably not it.

BUCK: It's weird time to not have a secretary of state. There are a lot of dangerous situations going on in the world and it would be a very difficult time to get someone confirmed quickly.

HILL: Confirmed, exactly.

CARDONA: His biggest problem is --

HILL: We'll have to leave it there, but don't worry. There's more to come.

The new information warfare tactics -- the U.S. military is now reportedly developing tactics to head off Russian aggression. Could Putin be one of the targets?


[16:28:46] HILL: U.S. military officials are developing new information warfare systems that could target Russian officials and oligarchs if Russia interferes in the 2020 presidential elections. That's according to a new report in "The Washington Post."

I want to bring in CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood and Nina Jankowicz at the Wilson Center, who has written extensively on Russian disinformation campaigns and also working on a new book titled "How to Lose the Information War."

Kylie, first, give us a sense. What are we looking at here? What is the U.S. military considering in terms of options to deter Russia?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the arm of the Pentagon that works on cyber operations is developing capabilities that could go after Russian senior officials and Russian elites, Russian oligarchs with cyber tools, so essentially targeting in a very specific way their personal data. Now, that is something that they can do because they have been working on this for years now and they can do it in a very targeted way. That is what "The Washington Post" is writing.

Now, the Pentagon is not confirming nor denying this report, essentially saying that, yes, Cyber Command does, in fact, help DHS and helps the FBI on operations, and also said that, quote: When authorized, it's taking action to disrupt or degrade malicious nation state cyber actors' ability to interfere in U.S. elections.

So, yes, they are preventing outside actors from getting involved in U.S. elections, but not commenting on the specific nature of what "The Washington Post" has revealed in their reporting.