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Republican Senator "Disturbed" By Impeachment Coordination Between McConnell, White House; Trump Lashes Out At Pelosi, Dems In New Series Of Angry Tweets Over Impeachment; GOP Sources: McConnell Open To Setting Rule For Impeachment Trial Without Dem Leader's Support; Republican Senator "Disturbed" by Impeachment Coordination Between McConnell, White House; Report: U.S. Cyber Command Contemplates Info Warfare to Counter Russian Election Interference; Netanyahu Claims Victory in Party Leadership Contest, Copies Trump Playbook. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 17:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We're seeing what may be the first crack in the united Republican front backing the President. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, who's considered a moderate, says she is disturbed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's coordination with the White House over the impeachment trial. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal is with us to discuss this all and our correspondents and analysts have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez, who is outside the President's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

And, Boris, the President keeps lashing out on Twitter. Tell us about this.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna. Just one day after the President put out this message of respect and unity among Americans, he's lashing out, lambasting Democrats, specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. All this happening as one prominent Republican is raising questions with her comments about impeachment and how united Republicans are when it comes to that issue.


SANCHEZ: As impeachment looms over President Trump's holiday vacation, one key GOP lawmaker is speaking out.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): -- that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense.

SANCHEZ: Senator Lisa Murkowski's openly criticizing the way Republicans are handling the impeachment process, specifically taking aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's close coordination with the White House.

MURKOWSKI: When I heard that, I was disturbed.

SANCHEZ: The moderate Republican senator is now a wild card for McConnell, who can't lose more than three Republicans in order to keep control of the impeachment trial. And possibly a problem for the President, after also admitting she remains undecided on whether she would vote to remove Trump. The image of a united party that the President frequently brags about --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had 196 or so Republicans voting 100 percent. We didn't lose one Republican vote in the House.

SANCHEZ: -- now showing some cracks. Just hours after a Christmas Day call to Americans to exemplify Christ by fostering a culture of deeper understanding and respect, President Trump went on the attack, blasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a barrage of tweets, again, calling the speaker crazy and saying her district is one of the worst anywhere in the U.S. when it comes to the homeless and crime. She has lost total control.

As Russia, China and Iran announced joint military exercises in the Indian Ocean and the world awaits if North Korea will make good on a threat of a Christmas gift, Trump is also accusing Democrats of hindering his foreign policy tweeting, "Despite all the great success that our country has had over the last three years, it makes it much more difficult to deal with foreign leaders and others when I am having to constantly defend myself against the do-nothing Democrats and their bogus impeachment scam. Bad for USA."


SANCHEZ: Brianna, back to Senator Murkowski, it certainly would be a surprise to see President Trump accuse her of some form of disloyalty. He understands how precarious this situation is for him in the Senate. That's why for weeks, he's been courting Republican senators with weekly lunches at the White House and glowing reviews of their work on Twitter. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes. It's been very noticeable, Boris. Boris Sanchez in Palm Beach. Thank you.

Let's dig deeper now on this firsthand of Republican disunity when it comes to impeachment. CNN congressional reporter, Lauren Fox is here for us.

And, Lauren, McConnell needs moderate senators like Murkowski in order to keep control of the impeachment proceedings and what they're going to look like. How problematic could Murkowski's dissent be for the Majority Leader?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: reporter: Well, I think that's very notable here, Brianna, that Murkowski is not only attacking what she views as McConnell being -- saying that he's not an impartial juror is being problematic but she's also attacking the Democratic process over in the House of Representatives. Remember, Lisa Murkowski is still a Republican. She is still someone who even though she has an independent streak, she votes largely along party lines with her party. Now, she has voted against President Trump in the past when it came to not repealing the Affordable Care Act. She also voted against his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. That, of course, another notable vote.

But Lisa Murkowski is only one of several senators to watch. Remember, she's not up for re-election in 2020 but Susan Collins, a moderate from Maine, is, as are others like Cory Gardner from Colorado and Tom Tillis from North Carolina, all worth watching as they try to sort of balance essentially making the President happy, making their base happy but also trying to get some of those independent voters when they're up for re-election, Brianna.

KEILAR: And, Lauren, what happens if Republicans and Democrats don't reach a deal over the impeachment trial?

FOX: Well, Mitch McConnell has been very clear. First off, he needs Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, to send him those articles of the impeachment. But there are rules established for how to run an impeachment trial if he and Schumer can't come to some kind of agreement.


Essentially, this trial would run six days a week. Senators wouldn't be able to talk. There would be very scheduled motions when senators wanted to basically ask for a motion or ask for witnesses, they would have to have the presiding officer, which in this case would Justice Roberts deal with that in writing. So that gives you a sense of the established precedent. But McConnell could go to the floor with his own resolution without Chuck Schumer's support as long as he had 51 votes, Brianna.

KEILAR: Fifty-one votes, the key. Lauren Fox, thank you.

And joining us now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He is on the Judiciary and the Armed Services Committee.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Thank you very much for having me.

KEILAR: So when you hear your fellow senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski saying she's disturbed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise of total coordination with the White House even, we should know, she really took a hit at the House Democrats for how they proceeded, does this make you think that there is a crack forming in the Republican Party?

BLUMENTHAL: Her statements very definitely reflect cracks in the implacable McConnell wall. I know from having talked to a number of my colleagues that her misgivings reflect the strong reservations that a number of my Republican colleagues feel about this charade and sham that apparently McConnell wants at the behest of the White House. For him to say that he will not be impartial, that he will take his cues from the White House, that he will be acting hand in glove, as Senator Murkowski put it with President Trump, in effect puts the defendant in charge of his own trial. And that offends a number of my Republican colleagues and, frankly, there's also a court of appeals here, the court of public opinion. They're at home right now, and they are hearing from their constituents, as I am here in Connecticut, that they want a full and fair trial. I think they're going to want to be avoiding the appearance of being puppets, enablers of an unfair and sham proceeding.

KEILAR: Do you think that Murkowski could be a candidate or maybe other Republican senators could be candidates to break ranks with Republicans? Would it be to either on voting to remove the President from office or do you think it would be on those initial votes that we're expecting Chuck Schumer to force on getting more witnesses and documents?

BLUMENTHAL: Certainly on these initial votes that set the rules for this trial, her courage could be contagious. But remember that these witnesses and documents may, in fact, contain very incriminating, additional evidence. And that's profoundly important in a trial that involves such abject criminality. In effect, holding hostage taxpayer funds, military aid for an ally fighting for its life in return for personal support and favors. That kind of bribery and abuse of power is exactly what the founders sought to prevent through the impeachment proceeding.

And I think that witnesses and documents are not only necessary for a full, fair proceeding, but also could present very strong additional evidence. By the way, I think the evidence right now is overwhelming. I'm willing to listen to more evidence if the President has any evidence that shows his innocence, but right now, as a former prosecutor, I could say I rest my case.

KEILAR: Your colleague, Doug Jones, a Democrat, mind you, from Alabama, so he's going to face a tough re-election there in that very red state. He doesn't think that it's clear. He thinks there's gaps. What do you say to him and maybe even some other Democrats who aren't as confident about where this case stands as you are?

BLUMENTHAL: I very much respect Doug Jones' integrity. He wants to listen to the evidence presented already, but he, too, is insisting on those documents and witnesses, as he said in one of his tweets, I believe, don't confuse gaps in the evidence with insufficiency of evidence. And the burden is on the President now to come forward with those documents. He has refused every single one requested by the House, every single one from the Office of Budget and Management, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of State. And to come forward with those witnesses that he has blocked.


And so Doug Jones is saying, along with a number of my other Republican and Democratic colleagues, we want to see those documents and witnesses. KEILAR: Do you think that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are going to come to an agreement on the trial process? I mean if you had to say one way or another, what do you -- which direction do you think it's going to go?

BLUMENTHAL: The statements made by Senator Murkowski certainly indicate that there are cracks in McConnell's support and he needs those 51 votes. So I think he will also need to talk to Senator Schumer and to give us the documents and witnesses that are so necessary for a full, fair proceeding.

In a trial that is momentous and its importance, this kind of abuse of power, in effect saying to a foreign leader that the president of the United States wants his help for his own personal benefit in return for performing an official act is not only bribery under the statute it is exactly the abuse of power that the founders sought to prevent. They were deeply fearful about this kind of foreign influence.

KEILAR: When do you expect the trial to begin?

BLUMENTHAL: There is no reason unnecessary delay. I certainly hope there will be no indefinite delay. Nancy Pelosi understandably has insisted that there be some assurance of a full, fair proceeding before she appoints the managers after all of the great work and the courage shown by those witnesses, professional career public servants who came forward.

KEILAR: But just to be clear, Senator, and pardon my interruption, not just to appoint managers, but to send over the articles of impeachment, because she's holding on to them right now. And how long can she withhold those, do you think? How long is that feasible?

BLUMENTHAL: My hope is that we will proceed with purpose without unnecessary delay, without haste, just as the House has done. And I think it will be very likely as soon as possible. I think there will be some agreement. I hope there will be, because we owe it to the American people.

KEILAR: Early in the New Year?

BLUMENTHAL: I certainly hope early in the New Year.


BLUMENTHAL: And we're just about there.

KEILAR: We certainly are. It's just around the corner. You've heard Republican criticism. You've heard the President criticizing Democrats, saying that it's hypocritical for your party to claim urgency through the House process, through the investigation and then to wait on turning over the articles of impeach. What do you say to that criticism?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, that's a good question, Brianna. What I would say to that criticism is that the threat here is an ongoing one. And as the founders anticipated, impeachment is to be used in the kinds of threats where the next election actually is in peril, where corruption can undermine the integrity of the coming election. That's exactly the situation we have here.

And so Leader Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi was absolutely right to move forward with purpose, without haste, as she did. And the evidence compiled so far is really overwhelming. My strong feeling is that we will avoid any unnecessary delay. And we should move forward with purpose.

KEILAR: All right. Senator, thank you so much. Senator Richard Blumenthal, we really appreciate you being on "The Situation Room."

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

KEILAR: And up next, who will Speaker Nancy Pelosi pick as managers to make the Democrats' case during a Senate trial? And how long will she hold those articles of impeachment?

Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett is standing by to take our questions.



KEILAR: President Trump is taking to Twitter to lash out at Democrats, and in particular, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as he awaits his upcoming trial by the U.S. Senate.

With us now is Texas Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett. He is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sir, thank you so much for joining us on this holiday week.


KEILAR: So Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still holding on to these articles of impeachment. Withholding them right now from the Senate because she wants the trial to be fair, as she puts it, or at least, highlighting that it's not, as she thinks. But we've seen Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski say she's actually disturbed by Leader McConnell's pretrial coordination with the White House. Do you think that Murkowski's dissent could lead to trial conditions that are more palatable for you and other Democrats?

DOGGETT: Well, one would hope so. I think it's rather not worthy that just the fact that one Republican senator says that she might want to hear the evidence before making up her mind is newsworthy. That's what you would expect every juror in the Senate to do. And some were using the reason that they would be a juror as a reason not to comment for the last several months.

Senator McConnell on the other hand has basically said he doesn't plan to follow his oath to be impartial under the laws and the constitution. His commitment is to a cover-up. And so Speaker Pelosi, I think, quite rightly said there's no rush here. Indeed, the Senate did not get the articles formally transmitted with the managers until the first week of January during the Clinton proceeding.


And so there's not really been any delay so far, but there is a reason to at least think a little bit about whether there will be a fair trial here, or for the first time in American history to have an impeachment trial with no witnesses, which seems to be what McConnell is saying. So I'm pleased that Senator Murkowski spoke up on this.

And as far as President Trump's tweets, you know, what permeates them, as best I can tell, is fear. He is always fearful of strong women, but here, he's fearful of the truth that it might come out. The witnesses that had been requested by Senator Schumer are not from out in left field. They're from the people that surround this president. His chief of staff that who said just get accustomed to this kind of misconduct. And so it's a reasonable request that there be a real trial, not just a set of arguments and a quick vote in the Senate.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about impeachment managers. This is House Republicans, House Democrats send them over for the Senate trial and the Speaker has not yet selected who she wants to send. Is there something you have in mind for who you would like to see as an impeachment manager? Would you like to see a veteran? Do you think freshman lawmakers should be included? Should they have, you know, trial experience, be a lawyer? Is experience on these relevant committees that have taken part in the investigation essential? What do you think?

DOGGETT: Well, I have complete confidence in the Speaker to make that decision. She has said one of the reasons for not rushing this is to understand are we really having a trial with witnesses called the way a trial occurs in cities and communities all over our country, or is this just a show where all that the Senate plans to do is rubber stamp whatever President Trump wants? That seems to be what Mr. McConnell has discussed so far. And that type of proceeding may well affect who she would have as our managers.

Clearly, Adam Schiff, who's done such a remarkable job that Senator -- that President Trump is always attacking him, Jerry Nadler also is a clear choice from the Judiciary Committee. But there's so much talent out there. Again, you might adjust, depending on the type of proceeding we're about to have. I think it's also noteworthy with Senator Murkowski and the other senators that unlike the normal proceedings in the Senate, where Senator McConnell can block consideration of gun safety or equality or voter protection legislation that we passed in the House, here every senator is equal. And so each senator will have to decide, do they want a fair proceeding where witnesses are called, or do they only want to rubber stamp the White House?

And I think each of those senators will be held accountable, depending what they decide about that. I think the only thing more outrageous these days in Washington than President Trump and his fearful tweets are those Republicans who have enabled him to do this and to take a little more freedom and a little more freedom until we have a tyranny here if he is not restrained.

KEILAR: Is there sort of a shelf life on Speaker Pelosi withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate? Is time up at a certain point here?

DOGGETT: I don't think there really is. I don't expect to see her hold them indefinitely. But at least one significant legal scholar within the last year, I think probably more than one, has suggested that if there's not to be a fair trial in the Senate, there's no need to send them at all. I expect something will get resolved and they will be sent. I hope that what we have is a fair proceeding where witnesses are called and we can get the truth out to the American people. They may well be the ultimate jurors and they're entitled to hear all of the evidence.

KEILAR: You think she's going to send them?

DOGGETT: I would expect that she probably will send them in, in coming weeks. You know, one other advantage of the fact they're not going there, the minute the Senate comes back, is that it removes any excuse the Senate has on the very important United States/Mexico/Canada trade agreement that we approved by --

KEILAR: But I just want to ask you about the timing of the articles because we just talked to Senator Blumenthal, you may have heard this. You know, he is --


KEILAR: You know, he's eyeing the beginning of January but you're not saying the beginning of January. You're not committing really to it.

DOGGETT: Well, I don't. I --

KEILAR: Do you disagree with that timeline?

DOGGETT: I don't know that it will be the first week of January. We come back on the night of January the 7th. And all I'm saying is there's an advantage because the Senate can take up other important business first, still get to this in January. Again, if all they envision is doing whatever the White House wants to suppress all the evidence and just hear a couple of hours of argument, that could be wrapped up very quickly in January.


I hope and believe that the American people deserve more than that kind of kangaroo court that just rubber stamps what Trump wants, which is to hide all the evidence and cover up his abuse.

KEILAR: Congressman Lloyd Doggett, thank you for joining us.

DOGGETT: Thank you. Thank you so much.

KEILAR: And coming up, will more Republicans have misgivings about Senator Leader McConnell's strategy of total coordination with the White House for the President's impeachment trial?

And will the President accomplish anything by his continual eruption of angry tweets complaining about impeachment?



KEILAR: Amid the partisan impasse over President Trump's upcoming impeachment trial, we are following what appears to be the first crack in Republican unity. Moderate Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska says she is disturbed by the coordination between the White House and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Let's talk about this now with our experts. And, first, why don't we just listen to what Senator Murkowski had to say. This is what's getting all of this attention.


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

And if we are tasked as the full Senate to do impartial justice under the constitution and the law, that's the oath that we will swear to uphold at the commencement of this proceeding. Then, to me, it means that 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.


KEILAR: You know, Margaret, it's interesting and sort of -- you know, your ears sort of go, what, for what Lisa Murkowski said. It is interesting that President Trump has not fired back at her, right? What does that tell us?

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE AND POLITICS EDITOR, AXIOS: Well, that's true. Although, he has fired back, just not at her.

KEILAR: That's right.

TALEV: I mean, he has been going bananas on Twitter for the last couple of --

KEILAR: He's not naming her, right?

TALEV: And she didn't -- and she's not talking about him. She chose her words very carefully. She knew exactly what she was doing. She knew that if you give an interview like that, it's not going to stay local.

But, also, President Trump like -- it seems like he loses control of his emotions and stuff, but he understands politics. He understands elections, and he understands that going after Nancy Pelosi is a much more effective tool for him right now with his base than going after a female Republican senator who is choosing her words very carefully.

I think if like -- if his frustration continues to boil and he needs to go after a Republican senator, it's much more likely to Mitt -- to be Mitt Romney than it is to be Lisa Murkowski.

KEILAR: No, that's a very, very good point. I wonder, Shawn, when you look at Mitch McConnell as he is trying to keep his conference together, he's surveying the scene about what he can do as far as the ground rules of this impeachment trial. How much does what Lisa Murkowski said factor into this?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND COMMUNICATION ANALYST: Well, you know, I think there's a time element to this here.

I think that if Lisa Murkowski does not say another word before Nancy Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, then this absolutely will factor into what Mitch McConnell ultimately does. But, look, the -- what really matters here are the very next words that Lisa Murkowski says.

Because when she is pressed on this the next time she says something publicly, she's either going to clarify her remarks based on all the attention she's getting, or she's going to reinforce what she said previously, or she's going to walk it back. And what -- and so, that's what's really going to determine whether or not Mitch -- this is going to play into what Mitch McConnell does.

That's one of the reasons why I think that Nancy Pelosi is being particularly clever here and just kind of waiting with regard to sending these articles of impeachment over to the Senate House -- over to the Senate side.

Because what she's doing is she is allowing for people to now focus on the process on the Senate side and to look at what Mitch McConnell is doing and to make a determination as to whether or not they think the process on the Senate side is fair.

And so, the more time she waits to do that, the more we'll see people like Lisa Murkowski and others come out and say whether or not they think that this process is fair and whether or not they think that the Senate should take a more professional approach to this -- to this trial.

KEILAR: And, Jackie, McConnell, at least in these initial votes we're expecting about -- are there going to be more documents, are there going to be witnesses at this trial -- he can only afford to lose three senators. So is that a real concern, that he could lose that many?

JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST POWER UP": Yes. You know, just to play devil's advocate here, Senator Murkowski has always been known for being independent and pretty, you know, beholden and loyal to her constituents. She said at the end of that interview, actually, that she's happy that she is -- to not be the rubber stamp on Donald Trump's policies.

So even if you have people like Cory Gardner, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Mitt Romney all deciding that they don't want to be on the record voting against witnesses, they don't want to be on the record voting against the release of documents, that's still isn't 20 Republicans coming out to impeach President Trump.


And Mitch McConnell realizes that, and I think he is OK making sure that these -- his vulnerable Republicans protect themselves while the rest of his majority projects unity. And I don't think you're going to see President Trump want to highlight those individual Republicans who have sort of defected from the coalition.

KEILAR: All right, everyone, stand by. We have so much more to talk about. I'm going to ask you about U.S. Cyber Command's plans for dealing with Russian meddling in 2020. A new report has some very interesting details in it.



KEILAR: And we are back now with our analysts and our experts. And I want to discuss a very interesting story today in "The Washington Post." "The Post" reporting that the U.S. military is developing aggressive new information warfare tactics to counter Russian interference in the upcoming 2020 elections.

Because this is the expectation. You know, there was 2016; Russia's trying to do these all over again. We've heard I.C. officials say this is ongoing, right? Sam, can you speak to what that might look like?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure. This is cyber psyops or psychological operations. There has been reporting for over a year now that the newly established Cyber Command did really take a page in the Russian playbook and go into very private places in Russia and really lurk around.

The idea was to show that we could get into Russian infrastructure and that we had the ability to influence some of their key systems, whether that be the Internet Research Agency servers that were used to actually influence us or other places.

New reporting now indicates that we may be upping the ante a little bit and thinking about using information warfare against senior security officials in Russia, for example, or, potentially, oligarchs.

Now, let's remember, the goal. The goal is, again, to show that the United States has the capability to access individuals' perhaps personal information, private servers, et cetera, to raise the cost to those individuals acting against us, really.

Now, the key part of the article is that these operations alone are unlikely to change Russian behavior. But if married with other things like sanctions or other activities, they could, again, start to change the cost-benefit analysis.

KEILAR: And, Margaret, you've covered multiple presidents now and their interactions with Russia and Vladimir Putin. I wonder what -- what do you think would be the reaction of Russia to have the U.S. say, oh, you're messing with us, well, we can mess with you, too?

TALEV: Well, Vladimir Putin will probably want to have some personal conversations with President Trump over the phone and in person.

But what's important to understand from this piece is that these are procedures that have been ramping up since at least 2018 in the mid- term elections, that this is a case where the cyber and military arms of the U.S. government are finding ways to work together increasingly.

And this is kind of the institutions and inside the United States government that are meant to protect election systems and protect national security, saying we're going to move ahead with plans to protect the United States no matter what the messaging from the Oval Office is.

KEILAR: And, Jackie, they have some autonomy. The President doesn't necessarily have to be on board. This isn't something directed by him per se. But how important is that piece?

ALEMANY: That's exactly right, Brianna. And as my colleague and -- Ellen Nakashima so diligently reported, this is being spearheaded by U.S. Cyber Com.

And in the past, we have seen the President react to news articles and certain operations that hurt -- that have targeted Russia, that he wasn't previously aware of, in a pretty negative way. That being said, this is something that is going to be really welcomed by the intelligence community.

You know, I keep thinking, when I look back on 2019, one of the biggest moments that stands out to me was Robert Mueller when he was on the Hill, testifying after the release of the -- of the Mueller report, saying the Russians are still interfering and meddling in U.S. elections. It's happening right now as we sit here.

So, you know, the President has been known to tweet and make statements that fly in the face of overwhelming intelligence community assessments, but we'll see if this is on his radar or not.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, that's really -- that's really a question, Shawn. And I wonder, you know, we don't know exactly where the President is on this, but what are your thoughts on how that could, if at all, impact things here?

TURNER: Well, look, you know, I continue to work with people in the intelligence community. And one of the things that's been really gratifying from a national security perspective is that there is an understanding that there is a mission and that there's kind of this global belief that the President wants the intelligence community to carry out that mission.

And he's been some -- been somewhat hands-off with regards to this, in particular with regard to going after the Russians, particularly as we were dealing with Russian interference in the mid-term elections.

I do want to add one thing to what Sam was saying with regard to the target here because I think it's really important.

You know, everything Sam said was right, but another element of this is you have the Internet Research Agency where you have everyday people -- you know, you've got, you know, close to a thousand people who are going in, and they are -- they are the people who are on the ground floor with regard to developing the kind of messaging that's being injected into the U.S. information space.

This also -- this article also is including those people when it comes to the potential targets. That's going to those everyday people and saying look, we know who you are, we know what you're doing, we know where you work, and we're going to make life very difficult for you if you keep it up.


You know, if you -- if you make people afraid to go in and do this work at the Internet Research Agency, then it's going to be very difficult for Vladimir Putin, for the oligarchs, for all the people who support that organization to launch this sort of information warfare attacks on the United States.

So this is very good news for the I.C. And I think that the I.C. will have somewhat of an autonomous role here in terms of going after these people.

KEILAR: Shawn Turner, Jackie Alemany, Margaret Talev, Sam Vinograd, thank you so much to all of you for that discussion.

And coming up, an update from Israel where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a crucial challenge to his leadership and using the Trump playbook to fight back.



KEILAR: We're following a tense primary election in Israel where a rocket fired from Gaza forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off the stage during an election-eve rally.

Let's go now to CNN's Oren Liebermann. Oren, tell us what happened here.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is claiming what he's calling a huge victory in this race as we wait for official results.

Huge victory, what might that look like? Something like an 80-20, a 70-30, an indication that he is not only in charge of his own Likud Party, but he remains the leader of Israel's right-wing.

About an hour after polls closed, he tweeted -- huge victory. I thank the Likud members for the trust, the support, and the love. With God's help and with your help, I will Likud to a great victory in the coming election and will continue leading the state of Israel to unprecedented achievements.

Netanyahu, perhaps, all along, had his eye on the upcoming election in March where he has borrowed campaign strategies from his friend in Washington.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): This is becoming a familiar image among friends, a black and white picture of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointing at the camera. The caption says, they're not only after me, they're after us.

It's copied from President Donald Trump who used a similar image with a similar message days earlier. The well-documented political bromance has been a focus of Netanyahu's messaging, featuring heavily in election campaigns.

On Christmas Eve --

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Merry Christmas to all our Christian friends.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): -- Netanyahu promising another political gift from the Trump administration.

NETANYAHU (through translator): We are going to bring American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and, pay attention, in all of the settlements, those in the blocks and those that are not.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Netanyahu and Trump share much more than style. As Trump faces impeachment, Netanyahu faces criminal indictment -- charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust -- in three corruption investigations. Netanyahu has insisted he is innocent, calling the charges an attempted coup and a media-driven witch-hunt.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call it the rigged witch-hunt.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Language we've heard from Trump as well.

In messages like this, Netanyahu has painted himself as the victim while leaning, once again, on his relationship with Trump to boost his standing.

But Trump borrowed on this one.

TRUMP: -- I want to especially thank a great man and a great leader, the leader of India, Prime Minister Modi, my friend. (APPLAUSE)

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): It was with another populist leader, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that we first saw the message.

NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA: A great American president, Mr. Donald Trump.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Modi's supporters created and spread a meme, a picture of the Hindu leader with words -- in reality, they're not after me, they're after you. I am just in the way.

With his India first style of politics, Modi has celebrated Trump's America first brand.

MODI: It believed in American future and a strong resolve to make America great again!

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Modi has also shown his love for Netanyahu. In 2017, becoming the first sitting Indian Prime Minister to visit Jerusalem.

While Modi isn't facing any personal corruption scandals, his government has been facing massive protests after the passage of a controversial immigration law that, critics say, discriminates against Muslims.

That's three nationalist leaders united by a love of brash tactics and strongman strategies.

For Modi and Trump, this style of campaigning worked. It's less clear with Netanyahu who faces a third straight election within 12 months, having already failed to form a government twice.


LIEBERMANN: Now that this leadership race is out of the way and Netanyahu claims victory, it's on to the third election in 12 months in March where we'll see if anyone can break Israel's political deadlock.

KEILAR: All right. Oren, thank you so much. Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem for us.

And coming up, will Senate Republicans stay in lockstep for President Trump's impeachment trial?




KEILAR: Happening now, seeing red. The President keeps his Christmas tirade going, lashing out against impeachment, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats. Could a potential crack in his GOP defense also be on his mind?