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Christian Post Editor Quits Over Pro-Trump Editorial; GOP Senator "Disturbed" By McConnell's White House Coordination; Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski Expresses Concerns about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Stated Approach to Impeachment Trial; Reporting Indicate U.S. Diplomatic Corps Degraded during President Trump's Tenure. Aired 8-8:30ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: See is, quote, disturbed by the coordinated between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House in the lead up to the president's impeachment trial. Murkowski is one of a handful of senators whose votes are pivotal to the rules that will shape this ultimate Senate trial.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: And Democrats are pushing for testimony from key administration officials like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney at the Senate trial. But here's the thing, they need four Republicans to agree. President Trump spent the holiday railing about process and criticizing Democratic leaders.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now, we have CNN political correspondent Abby Philip and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart. He is president Clinton's former press secretary. Abby, Senator Murkowski, how significant is this? I think you were telling us that she's known to have, in the past, marched to the beat of her own drum. But the fact she's coming out publicly and saying that she's not comfortable with what Mitch McConnell has said, what's the significance?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think she's clearly sending a message to McConnell that she wants there to be at least an appearance of a fair trial in the Senate. I think it is problematic for a moderate or for someone like Murkowski to go into this process and having to explain to their constituents that the fix was in at the very beginning. So there's that. I think there's a signal to McConnell, you need to back away from this kind of rhetoric that we're just working with the president to get him exonerated at the very beginning.

But then she also had more to say that was about what happened in the House. And she criticized Democrats for not calling more witnesses, for their handling of the impeachment proceedings in the House. And that leads me to believe that maybe she's concerned about McConnell's rhetoric here, but I'm not sure that she's really going to push him to do what the Democrats want, which is to have a bit of a more open trial where there are witnesses called and where there are people who are brought forward who refuse to testify in the House. I'm not sure she's willing to go that far because I think that would mean crossing the president, and not even she wants to do that. I don't think there are going to be many Republicans who are willing to cross President Trump on this.

AVLON: Certainly, Joe, we haven't seen that. And I think that's one of the key questions here, is what can compel Republicans to cross that Rubicon. Murkowski has done it on the past on health care, for example, on Justice Kavanaugh. So I want to play a bit of sound, though, of Senator Murkowski in her own words laying out the broader principles she's hoping to see from a trial.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: Any way we move forward, I think it's going to be important that, at a minimum, the process that the Senate uses is one that is fair and full. And that's going to be my push as we move forward.


AVLON: Fair and full would seem to indicate witnesses. That was the precedent set ultimately in the Clinton trial. What can Democrats do to reach out to Republicans, the four senators they need to win, like Lisa Murkowski?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's a couple of Republicans, Murkowski being one. I'd say Mitt Romney being the other, that Democrats can reach across the aisle and have reasonable conversations with. But those two aren't enough. I think what Republicans are going to have to figure out, particularly those in cycle, people like Cory Gardner, Martha McSally, Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, you've got about 75 percent of Americans who say they want to see witnesses, they want to get to the bottom of this. Witnesses has become a catchphrase for, let the people who know what happened talk.

And those people, I think, will respond to polling in their state. If they feel like it hurts them in their election to go quickly and follow McConnell, I think they will buck McConnell. And I think this is a bit of a coordinated effort. I think Murkowski went first because Romney has a repetition that he's a bit of a never-Trumper. And we'll see what Romney says. But then we've got to watch those senators in cycle because they're the ones who are going to decide this.

PHILLIP: I think also watching some of the senators who are retiring is going to be a big element of this as well. I think that some of these people have to look at their future outside of Congress and say, OK, how important is it to be on the right side of President Trump versus doing what they might think is important for their reputations, for their legacies, and for the chamber, for the Senate writ large. Impeachment is such a rare thing that you have to imagine that some of these senators are thinking beyond just this moment. What precedent are they setting today that they would have to defend down the road?

AVLON: That's what they should be thinking of, but where's the actual evidence of that?

PHILLIP: I think that's exactly right. We haven't -- the thing is we haven't heard from a lot of these members.


They've been standing by this whole idea of, we're jurors. We're not going to talk about this. Even Mitt Romney has said that. He stopped talking about this process early on because he said -- Susan Collins is another one. I don't want to discuss this because I'm a juror. Well, we're getting to the point where the trial is about to start. We need hear from some of these people about what is important to them about what this process needs to look like to preserve -- this is a constitutional power that the Senate has. They have to do something to preserve that that actually means.

CAMEROTA: We do have a little bit of sound from Senator Mitt Romney and from Senator Cory Gardner, another senator to watch. So Joe, let me play this for you and you can attempt to read the tea leaves here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be OK with it if it was a Democrat asking a foreign government --

SEN. CORY GARDNER, (R-CO): Here's what we're doing. 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: Do you hear anything there you can glean?

LOCKHART: Well, I think Romney has signaled a couple of times that he's troubled by what the president has done. And that's a unique position in the Republican Party right now. There are not a lot of people willing to say that. I think Gardner is in a tough spot. Colorado is a state that's been increasingly moving in the blue direction. And again, I think he's the one that's probably going to be under the most pressure. You'll all remember a clip of him running away from a reporter asking him similar questions.

The fact that none of these people have come out and backed the majority leader shows that this is still a live issue. It's not decided. And they are all waiting to see how this plays out over the next couple of weeks.

AVLON: All right, Abby, I want to switch gears for a little bit and talk about the downstream effect of this entire Ukraine crisis because it goes actually to the heart of the GOP's identity in some respects. And there is a fascinating article in "The Washington Post" I want to read, and this is P-304. For decades, "The Washington Post" writes, the GOP cast itself as the champion of the FBI, CIA, Pentagon, and other nationals essentially institutions. But over the past three years, Republicans have repeatedly turned on those agencies when necessary to protect Trump's presidency." That really goes at the heart of the GOP's entity since certainly Eisenhower on and Ronald Reagan. What crisis does this create for the GOP politically as well as institutionally in the federal government right now?

PHILLIP: It's a real question how it's possible that the commander in chief, the president of the United States, can basically have the position that everybody who works for the government is his enemy. That doesn't seem to be sustainable because ultimately, these people work for President Trump, and in some cases, he's talking about people he put into those positions. So it has become a little ridiculous, frankly, where the sort of deep state conspiracy theory has started to eat its own.

And I think Republicans are going to, at some point, have to look beyond the Trump era, whether that is in a year or in another four years after this next election. What does the relationship with the government, with the federal workforce look like? We need those agencies. We need the FBI and the CIA to keep us safe. We need the foreign service to keep us safe. We need the Pentagon to keep us safe. So if the president is making the Republican Party the enemy of the entire government, I don't think that can continue for much longer, frankly.

CAMEROTA: Joe, I was so struck -- excuse me -- in reading -- I'm going to tackle this cold in public --


CAMEROTA: -- in reading "The Washington Post" story at how much the diplomatic corps has been degraded. I knew on a personal toll, I knew just watching the witnesses during the House proceedings that it was taking a personal toll on people like Marie Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor, but I didn't know institutionally on how much they have been degraded. And here's this passage that I think is so interesting. "The new Russia adviser at the White House, the third in just six months, has no meaningful background on the subject." What's the point of having a Russia adviser with no meaningful background in Russia?

LOCKHART: Well, there's a couple levels to this. There's been a war on expertise by Donald Trump because expertise challenges him. He goes by his gut and what he thinks. And when people present real evidence to him, he wants them out of the room. So that's happened.


And I also think -- I have this vision of the Republican Party as sort of Donald Trump and Mike Pence as Thelma and Louise driving the party off the cliff. They were a party that for so long was known for being tough on communism, tough on Russia, free trade, anti-protectionism. And now you've got this swing back to social conservativism that is so much at odds with the demographic changes that are going on in this country, with millennials, they can be personally conservative but socially quite liberal. Once you take Trump, this big personality, this reality TV host out of the picture, what is the Republican Party left with? And if you watch what happened in the House hearings, it's not a good

sign. You had yelling and shouting and pointing fingers, but no real substance to what the party stands for. So I think they're in a very, very tough place. And if they -- maybe they pull it off if they manage to win reelection in 2020, but if Trump loses, the autopsy within the Republican Party is going to be fascinating, because it's not a party that stands for anything anymore, except backing their personal president.

PHILLIP: And just quickly to Joe's point about the war on expertise here, President Trump has always had a position on Russia that was at odds with virtually everybody in his own government. And that's been the through line of all of this. But this Russia expert who works in the White House is working physically closest to the president. And that person, in order to do that job with President Trump having completely different view of Russia than everybody else, can't have that much expertise, because in order to have expertise, you would believe, you would agree with the position of the State Department, you would agree with the position of the other experts that have worked there. It's a very tough spot, and it's a tough job to do if you know a lot about the subject.

AVLON: I just want to highlight what you just said. The only way the president can find a Russia adviser who shares his perspective is to find someone who has no expertise in the issue of Russia. That is a stunning statement.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Joe, thank you both very much.

As you know, some of President Trump's biggest support comes from evangelical Christians. But lately some high-profile evangelical publications are speaking out against President Trump. You're going to hear from one editor of a prominent Christian newspaper who just resigned over this.


CAMEROTA: An editor for "The Christian Post" just resigned over an editorial defending President Trump. He says his paper is choosing the president over its principles. Napp Nazworth was the politics editor to of "The Christian Post" until he quit this week, and he joins us now. Mr. Nazworth, thanks so much for being here. It's going to be really interesting to get your perspective. What was it about your paper's editorial that made you resign?


NAPP NAZWORTH, FORMER POLITICS EDITOR, THE CHRISTIAN POST: Well, first of all, it was the fact it wasn't editorial. I was going to publish it as op-ed. But when I was told this would be the position of the paper, of the news site, I said that's not something I can support.

And it wasn't so much criticizing "Christianity Today" that I had the problems with. It was the parts of the editorial where it was basically saying we're aligning with the interests of President Trump. And I thought that is not -- I can no longer work for an organization that has decided to go in that direction.

CAMEROTA: So the editorial -- so your resignation follows what happened at "Christianity Today" where the editor in chief put out an editorial basically saying that President Trump is immoral and calling for President Trump's removal. That editor in chief left. And then he was criticized by all sorts of high-profile public evangelical figures. And then your newspaper decided to weigh in and criticize "Christianity Today."

So here's just a little portion of what they said. I want to repeat 402 for our viewers right now.

Our religious and other freedoms will not long survive a government of elites, so convince their superiority that they're willing to compromise constitutional due process after illegally manipulating the nation's national security and law enforcement apparatus behind the scenes to depose a duly elected sitting president -- all the while declaring arrogantly to the American people that it is for their own good.

So, I mean, it sounds like your newspaper has taken the position that what -- that, you know, Mueller's investigation and the Democrats looking into President Trump is illegal somehow.

NAZWORTH: Yes, it's some odd sort of conspiratorial thinking. They sound sort of like Breitbart in that. We've never sounded like that before. That's not the types of positions we take in the past.

Previously, when we wrote editorials, it was all the editors involved. One person would write the first draft but we'd all be involved in working on it together. And the first time when we ever did was we wrote an editorial in 2016 under the headline "Donald Trump is a scam."

This was before he became the nominee. We all agreed back then and understood who Donald Trump was. I didn't change my mind about Donald Trump, but some of the other editors did.

CAMEROTA: Why? What changed for them?

NAZWORTH: I'm trying to make sense of that myself. You know, once he became the nominee, then it just seemed to happen sort of slowly that they became much more Trumpish, some of them much more Trumpish over time. I don't understand it. I'm trying to make sense of it myself.

CAMEROTA: So, what conclusion have you come to? Is it that they are putting politics over principle? Is it that they like being on the receiving end of his policies?

NAZWORTH: Yes, I'm not exactly sure. I think in some of the policies, they support, it seems like when you read that editorial they're talking about this sort of elitism versus populism. I wish that they would just be gospelism.

It's very sort of a Marxist sort of type way of thinking about class warfare and it's -- I don't really understand it, to be honest. CAMEROTA: What did you boss say to you when you said you were going

to resign over this?

NAZWORTH: It was difficult. They didn't want me to leave. I didn't want to leave.

We tried to figure out a compromise where I would be able to stay, but when I was told that this was our editorial position, I warned them, if you go down this road and join team Trump, then that will destroy the reputation of the "Christian Post." And I was told that is the direction they want to go. And at that point, you know, we had reached the impasse and I really had no other choice but to leave.

CAMEROTA: I was interested to hear you say the "Christian Post" is one more place readers can go for biased confirmation but one less place where they can go to exercise their brains. So what does that mean?

NAZWORTH: Right. So we always tried to be a place that presented both sides, of course, evangelicals are divided on Trump, about 50/50. And so, we wanted to be the place where all of us could come together to present our different points of views, and we've done that.


And part of what's helped is me being there, you know, as an editor who could help keep the news sight in line with that regard. And so I'm worried now that without me there, that, you know it will no longer be a place that presents the alternative view to team Trump and the evangelicals who support him.

CAMEROTA: You say that it's 50/50 for evangelicals. Our latest polls show the approval rate among evangelicals is 75 percent for President Trump and those who disapprove of him are 22 percent.

We're basically out of time. But do you know what is next for you?

NAZWORTH: Let me say, that's only white evangelicals. So if you include nonwhites, then the number is much lower. I don't know what's next for me. This all happened so quickly. I was not planning for it. I was very shocked by it.

And right now, I'm just trying to enjoy the holidays with my family.

CAMEROTA: That sounds like a good plan.

Napp Nazworth, thank you very much for coming in and sharing your perspective. Really interesting to talk to you.

NAZWORTH: Thanks for having me.


JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: What a fascinating conversation.

All right. A Republican senator seemingly breaks ranks with leadership over impeachment. The question is, will other Republicans follow in rebuking McConnell's total coordination with the White House? We're going to discuss, next.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. We'll be working through this process, hopefully in a fairly short period of time in total coordination with the White House counsel's office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate.



AVLON: All right. Those remarks leading Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to break ranks with her party, saying she's disturbed to hear Mitch McConnell say that ahead of the Senate trial.

Joining me now are: CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, who was an adviser to the Senate Majority Leader, and Alice Stewart, former communications director for Ted Cruz.

Great to have you both on NEW DAY. I hope you had a very merry Christmas.

Let's start with you, Scott. I mean, your boss has been trotting a very tight line with the White House. He also says he wants to use the Clinton trial standard. Who would have thought that would be a new standard of civility and bipartisanship? But here we are.

Ultimately, the White House back then didn't want any witnesses but the Senate settled on three. Isn't that a reasonable standard to follow through? Fair?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what the Senator McConnell has said is that he does want the Clinton rules which passed the Senate at the time 100-0.

AVLON: That's right.

JENNINGS: They heard presentations from both sides and made decisions about witnesses at that point. If you listen to Senator Murkowski's interview all the way through, she wants the Clinton rules which is what McConnell has said. So, I know there's an effort to be made here to put some daylight between Murkowski and the rest of her colleagues but it strikes me the Republicans are on the same page.

AVLON: Well, just -- let me press you on that point, though, because the result after that 100-0 vote, as you said, Trent Lott working together with Tom Daschle, they settled on three witnesses. That process led to three witnesses.

Is that something you believe the Senate majority leader is genuinely open to?

JENNINGS: Well, I think -- I think he's open to hearing presentations from both sides and seeing where the case goes at that point. I think this is a purely partisan exercise because, though, even if you end up trying to compel witnesses, I'm not sure they'll ever show up. I mean, the House obviously didn't have much of a chance or much of a success getting people to show up. I don't know how long you want this impeachment to go on.

But if you wouldn't show up in the House, why would the White House ever allow people to show up in the Senate? I don't know.

And then, if the court ever did compel them, I'm not sure their lawyers would advise them to answer questions. And so, to me, I think a lot of people want to go through this exercise to drag this out. But the result is going to be what it's going to be. The president is not going to be removed from office and ultimately, the American people are going to decide how they feel about this in November.

AVLON: Alice, that's obviously overwhelmingly likely. The two impeachments we've had to this point in history, no president has ever been removed even after having been impeached by the House. My question to you is this, Murkowski did say that, you know, maybe the Democrats made a mistake not pushing for witnesses via the court. But here we are in the Senate.

If the White House and Republicans are saying that the president did nothing wrong, why wouldn't the GOP want witnesses who would presumably exonerate the president?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because for that very reason, they say they have done nothing wrong and they don't see anything that's come out of the House as indicating that there's something further to look into.

And Murkowski was also critical of the House, not just for not showing certain witnesses but she had concerns with the time table of it. She was concerned with the fact that Nancy Pelosi telegraphed from the very beginning that she wanted all of this done by Christmastime, which is what she got. And now they're slowing it down before the Senate.

But I wouldn't read a whole lot into what Murkowski is saying yet. She has expressed reservations but I wouldn't necessarily classify this as breaking from the Republicans over in the Senate. But she is asking for certain things.

And she is saying, look, I'm not going to prejudge the information we have here. I'm not going to jump to conclusions. I'm going to go into this as all of them should with an open mind, with an open to the information they're going to get out, and make her final decision based on the information she receives.

So I think that's a smart way to go about it. She's just been a little more vocal than others. But it's the right way to go into it without prejudging the information and listening to everything that comes before them.

AVLON: Well, certainly, Alice, that's consistent with the oath senators takes at the start of an impeachment trial. But Scott, the Senate majority leader has said I'm not an impartial juror. So that standard that Senator Murkowski --

JENNINGS: Yes, join Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris --

AVLON: Let's not do moral equivalence here. He's head of the body. He's head of the body.

JENNINGS: If you want to -- if you want to start recusing senators for taking positions on Donald Trump, you're going to have like one or two folks sitting in the Senate for this entire trial. This is a ridiculous attack on McConnell.


AVLON: Yes, but just answer the point. Should he be impartial or not?

JENNINGS: The Democrats, they themselves have several members who've already taken a position on it. I'm sorry?

AVLON: But Alice was laying out the standard that Murkowski was being consistent with the oath, holding that up as a standard. The senator majority leader who oversees the body -- so let's hold him to a higher standard than Bernie Sanders at the moment -- is saying that he's not interested in that. Do you think that's a problem or no?

JENNINGS: I think -- I think virtually every member of the Senate has decided how they'll vote on this.


JENNINGS: And if you think -- if you think that people in there who genuinely don't know how they're going to vote on it, I've got a bridge I'll sell you sitting right behind me. I mean, it is -- this is over.

AVLON: A very nice bridge as well.

JENNINGS: This is a purely partisan exercise to affect the 2020 election.

AVLON: Well --

JENNINGS: Democrats want to put Republicans in a bad spot on votes.