Return to Transcripts main page


GOP Senator 'Disturbed' by McConnell's White House Coordination; Report: Bloomberg & Steyer Hit $200 Million Mark in Ad Spending; 'Washington Post': National Security Establishment Facing Climate of Mistrust after Ukraine Crisis. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 06:00   ET



SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): I heard what Leader McConnell had said. I was disturbed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lisa Murkowski has some problems with what Mitch McConnell said. Where she comes down on this may be the ultimate question.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are hoping that at least four Republican senators will break ranks to compel witness testimony.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're in a very good decision. Ultimately, that decision is going to be made by Mitch McConnell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the concern for Mitch McConnell. I think it probably will have an effect on how McConnell and the leadership moves forward.

TRUMP: They treated us very unfairly. They didn't give us anything. Now, they want everything.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, December 26, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Berman is off. John Avlon is here.


CAMEROTA: Did you have a merry Christmas?

AVLON: I had a very merry Christmas. More importantly, the Cubs had a very merry Christmas.

CAMEROTA: Is that more important, really, than your family, John? Well, I hope Margaret's not awake.

AVLON: And by Cubs, I mean our children.

CAMEROTA: Bear cubs.


CAMEROTA: Got it. That's great. Good for you.

AVLON: It was amazing.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for being here.

OK. So we begin with the first possible crack in Republican ranks over the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a key potential GOP swing vote, says she was, quote, "disturbed" by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement that he is working in total coordination with the White House and the president's defense team.

Murkowski also says House Democrats made a mistake in forging ahead with impeachment without testimony from key administration officials like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney. Now, Democrats are pushing for those witnesses at the Senate trial, but they need four Republicans to agree to it.

AVLON: And it remains unclear whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will formally send the impeachment articles to the Senate. President Trump is spending this holiday week airing his grievances about the process, complaining that Democrats have treated him unfairly, insisting that Republican leaders in the Senate should run a trial however they see fit.

The president's re-election campaign even launching a website with talking points for his supporters this holiday season.

We begin with CNN's Kristen Holmes, live in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is spending the holidays -- Kristen.


Well, President Trump is not a man who takes any sort of dissent well, particularly when it comes from a member of his own party. You'll remember just two months ago when Senator Mitt Romney criticized the president, and then President Trump spent days on Twitter, slamming Romney and calling him names.

And this is a critical point here. President Trump has been spending days touting party unity within Republicans. He even talked about the impeachment House vote numbers at rallies. So any sort of crack in that GOP wall is likely to not go over well.


HOLMES (voice-over): When it comes to President Trump's impeachment trial, one senator giving the first seen that all Republicans may not be ready to fall in line. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who could be a potential swing vote, expressing her discomfort with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's leadership.

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

MURKOWSKI: In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed. I happen to think that that has further confused the process.

HOLMES: Murkowski's comments coming as McConnell expects unity among his party to control rules in the upcoming trial. GOP sources telling CNN McConnell is open to going straight to the Senate floor without support from Democratic leadership, as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushes for more witnesses and documents.

MURKOWSKI: How we will deal with witnesses, I think remains to be seen.

HOLMES: The moderate lawmaker was also critical of House Democrats for not going to the courts to compel testimony from key administration officials like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney.

MURKOWSKI: I think they -- they tripped over themselves to get to shortcuts to get this to the Senate before the end of the year. And now they're realizing that maybe they didn't get everything that they needed. So they put it in the Senate's lap.

HOLMES: Democrats hopeful more Republican senators are willing to enter Trump's trial impartially.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I hope we're all going to find a way that, as we go into this impeachment trial, we're going to look at the facts and we're going to all protect the democracy that we love.

HOLMES: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still has not sent over the articles of impeachment to the Senate as she wants to know how the GOP-led Senate will conduct the impeachment trial.

REP. KIM SCHRIER (D-WA): She is doing the right thing, and she has proven herself to be an incredible leader.

HOLMES: Meanwhile, President Trump confident McConnell will produce another no-vote on impeachment and acquit him.

TRUMP: We're in a very good decision. Ultimately, that decision is going to be made by Mitch McConnell, and he will make it. He has the right to do whatever he wants. He's the head of the Senate.

HOLMES: Trump lashing out at the process in tweets late last night once again complaining about Pelosi's oversight on what he calls a, quote, "scam impeachment."

TRUMP: She hates the Republican Party. She hates all of the people that voted for me. She's doing a tremendous disservice to the country. She's not going a great job.


HOLMES: And any sort of kind of backtracking or criticism is a problem for Mitch McConnell for several reasons. You know, you talked about that House vote -- excuse me. That Senate vote on the floor setting the procedure, setting the rules. He actually needs a majority there, so he only can lose about two Republican senators. So very important he keeps everyone in line.


I do want to note that, if you're thinking there might be an impasse before January in this standoff over the trial rules, don't hold your breath. Congress is not back in session until early January.

CAMEROTA: Yes. It does seem as though there is still an impasse. Kristen, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

So could any Republicans be convinced to allow witnesses at the Senate trial? We will discuss that next.



CAMEROTA: Key Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski says she was, quote, "disturbed" to hear Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say that he is working in, quote, "total coordination" with the White House for the Senate trial. So what does her disturbance mean?

Joining us now, are CNN political analyst Seung Min Kim. She's a White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and Michael Shear. He's a White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Great to have both of you here early with us.

Seung Min, what does it mean? I mean, what -- what do you take away from Lisa Murkowski saying that, actually, out loud in an interview?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly underscores some discontent from really key Republican senators about how Mitch McConnell has handled at least the Senate part of the Senate -- President Trump's impeachment process.

And we heard a little bit of criticism when that -- when the focus shifted over to the Senate, when Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, another vote we're watching very closely, also sort of distanced herself from how McConnell said he was in close coordination, total coordination with the White House.

But certainly, by far, Lisa Murkowski is the most explicit criticism of the process that we've seen so far. And she also, remember, back in September was very critical and very candid about what she saw or how concerning she found President Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian leader. So she's been a wild card for us to watch for some time now. And just

to know a little bit about Lisa Murkowski and her history, she does have a fiercely independent streak. She's not someone who's kind of prone to arm-twisting by Senate -- Senate party leadership. I mean, she is someone who lost her Republican primary in 2010, was kind of ditched by her own party leadership. But won re-election by the strength of her own write-in campaign.

So she doesn't have a lot of loyalty to party leadership, and that can be concerning to Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

AVLON: Yes, that -- that was a fascinating race. She won re-election as an independent on a write-in.

But Donald Trump very popular in Alaska. So Michael, my question to you is when you look at the list of senators who could be persuadable, the real game -- and there's, you know, three Democrats and I think we've got around eight Republicans listed there. The real question is whether they'll vote for witnesses.


Because in the two impeachment trials we've had at this point in our history, no president has been removed from office. Where do you think the real levers are for Republicans we could see here to say, We should hear from more witnesses, as we have in the past?

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think -- first of all, I would inject a bit of skepticism here. I mean, the kinds of procedural votes that we're talking about, whether or not to have witnesses, what the procedures of the Senate trial will look like, are generally the kinds of votes that -- that party members stick with their leadership on.

You know, you generally see a break from leadership on kind of votes of conscience at the end. But in the procedural steps, they tend to stick together. So it's entirely possible that, despite the expressions of concern by Lisa Murkowski and others, that in the end, they may stick with McConnell, at least on the procedural -- procedural moves.

But I do think the one wild card here is President Trump. I mean, look, President Trump has been all over the map. But there have been times where he himself has been pressing on Twitter and in comments for witnesses, for a robust trial that would somehow, you know, sort of lead to an effort, a public effort to defend him. That's what he wants to see in a trial.

And so there is the possibility, at least, that if that -- that expression of interest in a big sort of trial that might have witnesses, if the president himself puts that kind of pressure on McConnell, you could see some movement on that front. But I guess I'd put myself in a skeptical camp at this moment.

CAMEROTA: Another, I think, key senator to watch is Mitt Romney. As we know, he hasn't been in lock step with the administration. Cory Gardner also in a tough district.

So let's listen to what they had to say about this. And you guys speak Washingtonese, so you'll help us parse this. Listen to them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be OK with it if it was a Democrat asking a foreign government for help to investigate?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO): What we saw immediately was a jump to a very partisan -- very partisan, serious use of a tool in the Constitution.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Ultimately, we may well become a jury. And if that's the case, I think people want to make their own decision and not jump to any conclusions at this early stage.


CAMEROTA: OK. Do they want witnesses or not, Seung Min?

KIM: It's unclear right now. I would say, if you could translate a little bit of Washingtonese for you there, I would say just from those comments, Gardner might be more likely to stay and toe the -- or stay with the rest of the party than perhaps Mitt Romney here.

But it is -- it is going to be a question that these Republican senators are going to have to answer for -- or going to have to address in the next couple of weeks.

I think McConnell will be able to persuade enough of his members, 51 of the Republican senators, by saying, Look, we are doing what the Senate did in 1999, which is basically agree on the easy stuff first. Figure out the number of hours for opening arguments and the number of hours for questioning, and punt that question of witnesses further down the line.

And recall that, while McConnell clearly doesn't think witnesses are necessary, he hasn't ruled out that option. And perhaps that would be enough for, you know, the folks like Romney and Collins to side with McConnell on the procedural steps, at least at the outset. But obviously, we'll have to wait and see how much the pressure builds on them in public for bringing some of these witnesses on board.

AVLON: So Michael, taking into account your skepticism about the possibility of any Republicans peeling off, do you think there's any new information that could cause Republicans to move? Is there any bright line that would cause them to question this president and the need for witnesses?

SHEAR: Well, I mean, I suppose so. You know, there's -- there's not -- the House has said that they're continuing to keep the investigation open, to the extent that new information comes in.

But I think, you know, they're in a quandary at the moment, because the new information is actually likely to come from the very people who they want to call, who the administration is blocking at the moment.

So -- and look, part of what Gardner and Romney and others that are in these kind of more moderate -- facing these more moderate electorates, what they need to prove is that they are engaged in a fair process. Because the -- their electorate doesn't want them to be participating in something that they think is sort of a sham trial.

And so I think that's their interest. That's -- when they give those sort of equivocal answers what the message that they're trying to send, especially to their sort of independent-minded voters is, Look, you know, I'm going to be pushing for something that is seen as fair and even-handed.

And Senator McConnell's comments about being in lock step, obviously, don't -- don't support that. So they're trying to sort of walk that fine line so that they're seen as fair-minded by those independent voters.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for that translation, both of you.

AVLON: All right.

CAMEROTA: Very helpful. Seung Min, Michael, stick around. We have more questions for you.

AVLON: All right. Now, if you've watched any TV the past few weeks, you are bound to have seen an ad for one of these two Democratic candidates.

[06:15:07] And we're going to discuss the massive -- and I mean massive - amount of money the billionaires are spending on campaign advertising. That's next.


AVLON: All right. The Iowa caucuses are a little more than one month away. And the ad wars, well, they are heating up. Politico reporting that billionaire candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have already spent -- get this -- a whopping $200 million on TV and digital advertising. And that is more than all of the other candidates combined.

So back with us to discuss this Seung Min Kim and Michael Shear.

Seung Min, let's start with you. This is an unprecedented amount of money. They are dwarfing the field. But they are -- you know, not at the bottom of the pack, but haven't exactly broken out. What is or could be the impact of this mammoth spending?

KIM: Well, that's -- that's yet to be seen, clearly. But it is certainly a major amount of money. And you see kind of the strategy that, particularly, the New York City -- former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to take here, because he's trying to use his mammoth wealth and lots of fortune to kind of boost his standing and really focus on that -- on those Super Tuesday states. [06:20:06]

Because while it is yet to be seen, I mean, there is a scenario where the first four nominating contest could have four separate winners because of the volatile nature of the -- of the presidential race so far.

So Michael Bloomberg, conceivably, could sweep in on that Super Tuesday where he's focusing so much of his ad spending.

But the thing, though, is that what's happened -- what's helped Bloomberg here a little bit is that, by spending so much of his own money, he's helped kind of set his own narrative and his own -- be able to tell his own story about his experiences in, for example, combatting climate change and working on issues to -- or working on ending gun violence.

But it is a question how far spending can actually go. In the Politico story, there's a person quoted there saying, you know, same -- you know, after you see the same ad ten times, you know, what kind of impact could it have at the end of the day?

And remember, the former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, spent $55 million, as well, and he clearly languished until he eventually dropped out early in the race in 2016.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, here's one possible metric. Here's one of the latest national polls, Michael. And you see here that Bloomberg, OK. He's only at 4 percent. However, this is an NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. He has leapfrogged all of these people. Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Booker, Yang, I mean, that have been doing a lot more of the, you know, old-fashioned just shoe-leather retail politics than he has.

SHEAR: Absolutely. Look, the -- money can buy you name recognition. That is -- this is, you know, if that weren't true, people wouldn't be spending, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars in presidential campaigns, ultimately, on advertising. T

here are two things, though, that it generally can't buy you. Having spent a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire and the early states, the people who vote in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary reward the people who have been on the ground, who have been in the House parties. And, you know, who have been at the small rallies talking to voters.

And, you know, at least our historical experience suggests that people who come in at the last minute or people who only, you know, spend -- spend ad dollars generally aren't rewarded.

And the second thing that the early states generally do is provide momentum. And you know, in past contests -- and every contest is new, and this could be, you know, a different scenario, as Seung Min says. If there is no momentum coming out of the four early states, because everybody has sort of won one and nobody has sort of gathered that kind of momentum, it could play to Mayor Bloomberg's strength in Super Tuesday. But -- but generally that hasn't been the case. Generally, there has been somebody who emerges, having a lot of momentum from winning one or two or maybe three states.

And in that case, it's hard to see how even all of this ad spending could -- could sort of rocket you to the top if, by the time it gets to the Super Tuesday, you really haven't been part of the action.

AVLON: That's all looking forward. Let's talk about what's happening right now. Brand-new article, "Washington Post," fascinating about the downstream effect of the Ukraine crisis on morale in the State Department and the U.S. reputation around the world.

I just want to read, Seung Min, the opening paragraph, because it's a stunner. "The new Russia adviser in the White House," it says, "the third in just six months -- has no meaningful background on the subject. The only expert on Ukraine has never spoken with President Trump, only been mocked by him publicly. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv will soon be without its highest-ranking diplomat for the second time in a year, as another ambassador departs after being undermined by the U.S. president and his personal attorney."

The entire article is really striking, but Seung Min, what are you hearing in your reporting about morale in the State Department and how the president may be affecting perceptions of the U.S. overseas?

MIN: Well, I mean, this has been such a -- this has been such an issue for this administration. Not just in the State Department, but in so many other key agencies.

I mean, we have seen the issue of acting officials, the turnover at major -- major departments and agencies, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security.

But you've seen this distrust, and you've seen this concern and morale issue really deepen as the impeachment inquiry began and the whole issue with Ukraine began. And I think that -- and that's causing -- and that's been causing, clearly, a lot of concern within the agencies.

And the problem here, too, is that, once the president sets the conversation, sets the tone, sets that narrative, you have so many of his allies, both on Capitol Hill and off Capitol Hill, not coming to the defense very often of these career officials who are doing the hard work, the diplomatic word [SIC] -- diplomatic work abroad. You have a lot of -- you have a lot of defense coming from Democrats, which you saw very often during the impeachment hearings. But not too much from -- not too much from Republicans.

I keep thinking about when Colonel Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, when the president's allies started, you know, casting him as somehow disloyal to the country.


And there was some Republican pushback from Capitol Hill, saying that kind of rhetoric wasn't appropriate, but a lot of Republican lawmakers even jumped on that and kind of -- and kind of continued to feed that notion.

And so I think the environment has been an incredibly difficult one.

CAMEROTA: I think so too. I mean, we're out of time. We can talk more about it later in the program, but when -- when there's been three Russia advisers in just six months, and the current one has no meaningful background in the subject, that's beyond morale.

AVLON: You think that's a problem?

CAMEROTA: That's degrading the entire mission statement of it. But I'll leave you on that note. Michael Shear Seung, Min Kim --

AVLON: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: -- thank you, both, very much.

Now to this.

SHEAR: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: There's a new study. It says a specific diet practice could be key to helping people live longer. This is one that will be impossible for me to do. But we are going to report on it.

AVLON: I'm excited.



CAMEROTA: If you are traveling back today from the holidays, Mother Nature may have some headaches in store. CNN meteorologist Jennifer Grey is watching a cross-country storm.

What are you seeing, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GREY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we are. This is originating in the west. It's going to bring a lot of snow and rain to a lot of the country.

Look at Los Angeles right now.