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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Preparing For Information Warfare Against Russia?; Impeachment Impasse; Crack in Republican Senate Support of Trump?; Interview With Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA); Key GOP Senator Disturbed By Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) Coordination With White House On Impeachment; Editor Quits After Christian Post Defends Trump From Criticism By Another Evangelical Publication; U.S. on Alert for North Korea "Christmas Gift" as Holiday Passes with No Sign of Provocation; Rain, Snow and Wind Threatening Post-Holiday Travel. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: 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?

[18:00:08]

Disturbed. A key Senate Republican vents her concerns about GOP coordination with the White House ahead of the president's trial. It's a new wild card in the impeachment impasse.

Cyber-war vs. Russia? The U.S. military reportedly is developing an aggressive new strategy to hit back if Moscow interferes in the 2020 election. We will break down the possible tactics and targets.

And avalanche rescue. Holiday skiers are buried in a snow slide, as a holiday on the slopes turns into a nightmare. We will have the latest on the search operation.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On this day after Christmas, there's no respite from President Trump's ranting against impeachment, as a potential first crack in his Senate firewall has been exposed.

GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski now publicly admits that she's disturbed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise that he will coordinate with the president's impeachment team during the trial. Now, her remarks have given Democrats a new glimmer of hope that some moderate Republicans might break ranks on terms for the trial, as partisan negotiations remain deadlocked.

This hour, I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman Don Beyer. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. And, Phil, Senator Lisa Murkowski's remarks have raised new questions about whether the president's GOP defenses are going to hold.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna.

And, look, let's be completely clear. Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska, is not saying she wants to remove the president, but is raising questions about the alliance between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House, the types of questions that Democrats hope may actually give them an opportunity to structure the trial in a way they want.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

MATTINGLY (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."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Now, Brianna, it's worth noting, while Senator Murkowski has raised some concerns, she certainly is not going completely against where Republicans are.

And, in fact, when you talk to Republican officials, both senators and their top aides, they don't expect a mass exodus at any point, obviously, somewhat similar to what we saw in the House.

But here's why this is important. As I noted in the piece, if four Republican senators decided to join with Democrats, they can essentially structure the trial any way that they want to.

[18:05:02]

And if they don't -- this is also an important point -- while Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, and McConnell are attempting to reach a bipartisan agreement on the structure of that trial, if they cannot, McConnell has made clear, with 51 of his 53 members, he is willing to move forward on the structure he wants, whether Democrats like it or not, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it is a crack, but maybe it doesn't spread, right? We will have to see.

MATTINGLY: Exactly. Have to wait and see.

KEILAR: Phil, Phil Mattingly, thank you for that report.

Now to the president and his intensifying tirade against impeachment.

CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez is covering Mr. Trump's holiday stay in Florida.

And, Boris, the president has been lashing out at Democrats on Twitter. Tell us about it.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna.

Just a couple of hours after the president put out this Christmas Day message calling for deeper understanding and respect among Americans, he took to Twitter to call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi crazy.

Today, he went on, suggesting that her district in California surrounding San Francisco is one of the worst in the country when it comes to homelessness and crime, saying that she's lost total control of it, the president railing again against impeachment.

He also tweeted about foreign policy, arguing that Democrats are bad for the country because they're hindering his ability to carry out his vision of foreign policy.

That tweet coming at a notable time, considering that the world is still waiting to see whether North Korea is going to make good on that promise of a Christmas Day gift.

Further, we have reported that Iran, China and Russia are holding these military exercises in the Indian Ocean. So, it's unclear exactly why the president would send that out, but there's a lot going on when it comes to foreign policy. Maybe he's looking for someone to blame.

KEILAR: It's worth noting, Boris, that the president has not responded yet to Murkowski's criticism. What does that tell you?

SANCHEZ: Yes, well, it's obvious. The president is very aware of how precarious the situation in the Senate is.

You heard just now from Phil that Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose three Republican senators if he wants to keep control of a Senate trial. So they're closely counting these votes.

Of course, you have to keep in mind, the president has frequently bragged about how united Republicans are and how beautiful that is. Now that there's a crack in that, the president may sort of scale further his attempts to court Republican senators, which has already been pretty aggressive.

For weeks, we have been reporting that he's been hosting these weekly lunches for Republican senators at the White House. We have also seen him take to Twitter to write glowing reviews of their work. Really, it'd be a surprise to see the president accuse Senator Murkowski of disloyalty at this point -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Very good point.

Boris, thank you from West Palm Beach.

And joining me now, we have Democratic Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia.

Thank you so much for coming in on this holiday week.

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA): Yes, thank you, Brianna, very much.

KEILAR: So, first off, the speaker right now still is holding onto the articles of impeachment. She says she wants to see the trial in the Senate be fair.

She's certainly highlighting that she thinks it is unfair. But with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski saying she's disturbed by coordination between Mitch McConnell and the White House, do you think that that is something, that concern by Murkowski is something that's going to lead to a more acceptable trial rule situation for Democrats?

BEYER: I sure hope so.

I think Nancy has made the case very well that we saw what Mitch McConnell did to Merrick Garland, just totally taking the Supreme Court thing and turning it upside down.

We have sent him 275 bipartisan bills that have passed the House that are sitting on his desk. He proudly calls himself the Grim Reaper. And you just showed the clip where he says he's going to coordinate with the White House.

It's hardly a fair and impartial trial, which we all want and think the president deserves.

By the way, one thing that most people missed is that there actually has to be a House vote to send the impeachment over and papers to the Senate with the managers. We didn't -- we had one day to do that. And we didn't do it. So we really can't do it until the 7th of January.

KEILAR: Which is when you're back, right?

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: OK, so let's talk about these managers.

The House Democrats, the House Republicans, they each get to send House managers for the Senate trial. What kind of qualities should a House manager have? Should this be a veteran? Should there be some freshmen or a freshman who's considered for part of it?

Do they need to have trial lawyer experience? Do they need to sit on these relevant committees that have been investigating the president?

What do you think?

BEYER: You can see why there are probably 40 people who want to be the managers right now, yes.

KEILAR: At least, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

BEYER: Well, I'm sure one thing, it will be diverse. I mean, we are the party that represents diversity.

So, expect to have women, people of color, old veterans and young people. But I think the primary thing that our speaker is going to want is people who can very clearly evoke the story of what happened with the president's -- trying to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

That's the story that we want to get across and develop from the evidence.

KEILAR: So you want someone or you expect -- you expect managers who are going to communicate that.

But you're also seeing this as an opportunity to present an idea of what the Democratic Party is and what it looks like, compared to what the Republican Party looks like?

[18:10:05]

We have heard Kevin McCarthy say Jim Jordan, John Ratcliffe, and Doug Collins.

BEYER: Oh, my goodness, that would be very good for us.

When you look at the party, there's 200 Republican senators -- members of the House right now, only 13 women. And that's about to drop to less than 10.

On the other hand, our party is so incredibly diverse. It just does give us a chance to show off some of the spectacular freshmen that we just selected last year.

KEILAR: Do you want to see one of them on there?

BEYER: Oh, at least one. I hope so.

KEILAR: At least -- really?

BEYER: Oh, yes, absolutely.

KEILAR: That's a lot of fresh blood there on that. OK. So...

BEYER: But a lot of them come from very deep backgrounds. They have been prosecutors and CIA agents and constitutional scholars.

So, we have a good team.

KEILAR: OK.

So, how long can the speaker hold onto these articles of impeachment?

BEYER: I don't begin to second-guess her, although I suspect that it won't be that long.

I mean, she wants -- to be enough pressure to have the right kind of fair trial, for example, witnesses and documents. On the other hand, we didn't go through all of this national pain to get to the impeachment without wanting there to be a trial.

So I don't see us holding them indefinitely.

KEILAR: OK.

So, Senator Blumenthal said he hoped early January. I hear you're saying January 7 is the earliest, because that's when you're back.

BEYER: Yes. And..

KEILAR: Is that what you're expecting, January 7?

BEYER: Sometime around that.

It's fascinating, the whole Senator Murkowski thing, because you look that you also have Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins, Tillis in North Carolina, Daines in Montana. You have a bunch of people who are at risk, Martha McSally in Arizona. There's been a lot of pressure on them to be coming out for a fair trial also.

KEILAR: And I heard you before say, yes, you only had a day to get those articles over to the Senate.

But Speaker Pelosi has been clear about why she wants to hold the articles. And it's to highlight what she thinks is an unfair process, either to influence that to be more to her liking, or just to broadcast her message, which is that she thinks it's unfair, even if it doesn't kind of go more her way.

BEYER: Yes, because she realizes that she doesn't have power over the Senate.

So, you're right. She can deliver the message. She can put subtle applied pressure, which she is very good at doing. But, in the end, if McConnell can control his 53 Republican senators, he gets to decide.

KEILAR: So, right now, Republicans, the president, they're saying it's hypocritical of Democrats, because Democrats expressed the need for a swift-moving process in the House investigation because this was urgent, right? This had to do with an upcoming election.

That was the point that you all tried to make. But now it's being slowed down through a process that may or may not affect what the outcome is in the Senate rules. They're saying that's hypocrisy.

BEYER: Well, no.

First of all, we did this the day before we all adjourned for the Christmas vacation. And there was no way the Senate was going to come sit here through the Christmas break and take it up.

They're going to get it probably just about the same time they would have gotten it anyway. If we go back to the Bill Clinton impeachment, for example, he was impeached on December 18. They didn't send the articles over until January 6 with the impeachment managers. So this is pretty much the way it's been done.

KEILAR: When is this trial going to start, do you think?

BEYER: Well, I don't want to predict what the speaker is going to do.

But she always acts intelligently, logically, and with great reasonableness.

KEILAR: January?

BEYER: I think January, yes.

KEILAR: Mid-January?

BEYER: Well, the more some of these Republican senators come out and ask for a fair trial, the faster that will happen, I think.

KEILAR: And so are you expecting that? You think that will move it up maybe to-mid January, if it was...

BEYER: I think it would encourage it, yes, absolutely.

KEILAR: And if you don't, then she holds the articles, you think, or you would support her doing that?

BEYER: I will definitely support her.

But I don't want to second-guess her. She's in the room where these decisions are made. And I'm trying to interpret from outside.

KEILAR: Yes. All right, trying to pin you down.

(LAUGHTER)

BEYER: But I know you only have so much wiggle room.

Congressman, thank you so much.

BEYER: Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: I really appreciate you coming in.

BEYER: Happy Boxing Day.

KEILAR: Yes, happy Boxing Day.

U.S. Cyber Command reportedly is planning for a counterattack if Russia interferes in the 2020 election. We're going to look at the aggressive options they have on the table.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:25] KEILAR: On the brink of the 2020 election year, the U.S. military reportedly is developing aggressive new information warfare tactics to counter Russian interference.

"The Washington Post" details options that are being explored by Cyber Command.

Former FBI general counsel and cybersecurity expert Jim Baker is here with us to break it all down.

First, though, let's bring in CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood.

And, Kylie, what options are being considered by the Pentagon?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, so according to this "Washington Post" report, it's information warfare tactics that the Pentagon is developing to essentially roll out and go after Russian elites and senior Russian officials, including Russian oligarchs.

And, essentially, what these capabilities would allow them to do, according to this reporting, is go after their sensitive personal data. So think about e-mails they send, their online accounts. Any kind of thing of that nature, the U.S. would be able to go after, if Russia does indeed meddle in the 2020 election.

So this is something that, now that it has been reported, is kind of a deterrent to Russians, because they know that this is being considered. Now, the Pentagon, we asked them about this report today. And they said that they didn't want to comment on any specific things that they are carrying out, any active developments that are under way.

But they did say that the Pentagon is -- quote -- "When authorized, taking action to disrupt or degrade malicious nation-state cyber- actors' ability to interfere in U.S. elections," not denying "The Washington Post" reporting there.

KEILAR: So it's like, we're not saying we're doing this, but we have the capabilities to do what is described in that report, basically?

ATWOOD: We have the capabilities to, and we have also been ordered to develop those capabilities.

KEILAR: Yes.

ATWOOD: Because, remember, in 2018, President Trump signed an agreement with the Pentagon that essentially gave them more capabilities, gave them more authority to carry out these cyberattacks on their own, without getting sign off from the White House, which was the case in the Obama administration.

So the Pentagon is doing their job and preparing, if they have to roll out any of these tactics.

KEILAR: So, Jim, what do you think this would look like in real terms, and what wouldn't it look like?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So it'll probably be hard to see exactly for all of us exactly what's going on. It's probably going to happen covertly, I would think, because the objective here is to detect what the Russians are doing, deter it, and then defeat it if you have to

But the goal there -- the key thing here, I think, is with deterring it. So they're going to want to raise the costs for the actors that actually have fingers on keyboards, so pull e-mails, pull documents that they have, pull financial records to show disloyalty, corruption, other malfeasance that they would then be threatened with having exposed.

[18:20:16]

I don't think you're going to see messing around with their actual finances with the banking system, anything like that.

KEILAR: Because what happens then? What does that bring in to...

BAKER: Well, that raises the stakes for the whole world, really, with respect to showing that there are vulnerabilities in the financial system.

KEILAR: I see.

BAKER: And that would also create a norm where this would be something that would be OK to do on a global -- that adversaries could do. I don't see the U.S. trying to do that.

I don't see the U.S. doing some type of WikiLeaks kind of...

KEILAR: Dump.

BAKER: ... dump of e-mails in a public setting. This is to deter people from engaging in this type of activity.

So it can be very effective if it's done secretly.

KEILAR: And so the logical way to deter, it sounds like, is to embarrass or endanger someone's employment.

BAKER: To threaten the...

KEILAR: Threaten to do these things.

BAKER: Threaten embarrassing...

ATWOOD: Yes.

BAKER: Threaten -- raise the stakes that, hey, we have stuff on you that, if you don't stop this activity or tell your bosses you don't want to engage in it, or if you're an oligarch, if you don't start putting pressure on Putin to back off of this, we have stuff that we can dump. KEILAR: Yes, it's very interesting.

OK. So one of the things here is that oligarchs are a possibility. Military officials are a possibility. Security officials are a possibility, intel officials, right? Putin...

BAKER: And the services themselves, yes.

KEILAR: That's right.

ATWOOD: Yes.

KEILAR: Putin is not a target, according to this report. Why is that?

BAKER: According to the reporting, that's right, because that would take the specific approval of the president of the United States.

And the president of the United States heretofore has not even acknowledged that Putin, the Russians were involved in this in 2016. So, I mean, that would -- under any circumstances, targeting a head of state would be a very significant escalation.

But here you have the added dimension that the president doesn't acknowledge that, that Russians have done anything wrong. So I think that makes it more tricky.

ATWOOD: And also talk about setting a precedent, when you say you don't expect them to go after the financials of these oligarchs, because that could open a can of worms.

Essentially, then, if the U.S. intelligence and Cyber Command is going after President Putin himself, that is almost giving the green light to other state actors working for perhaps the Russian government or other governments to go after the president of the United States, who's the leader of the country.

That's a bold move.

KEILAR: Are there any risks in doing this, Kylie?

ATWOOD: Tons of risks, because even though they say they're not going -- they're not planning to go after Putin, he is not on the board right now, there is the fact that they are announcing that they are looking into this information warfare, which Russia has already engaged in.

So, essentially, they are admitting that they're going to plan to meet Russia where it already is. But it is also the fact of the matter is that Russia and other countries are going to see this reporting, see the they're doing this and perhaps up their own ante.

KEILAR: Now, the president doesn't actually have to be on board with this, right, because Cyber Command has autonomy.

But as he learns more about this -- and he's obviously taken a softer certainly rhetorical approach on Russia and in his interpersonal interactions with Vladimir Putin -- what influence might he exert on this?

BAKER: Well, he's the commander in chief. It's all under him. He's responsible for all of this. He's the one that has to make sure that all elements of the executive branch are doing what they need to do to defend the country from a full range of threats, including this threat to our elections.

So, the president, at the end of the day, has all the responsibility for protecting the country. At the same time, he's clearly delegated a significant amount of that authority, according to various reports, to the secretary of defense, and is expecting DOD and Cyber Com to actually figure out the game plan and move out on this.

So the president's responsible, but DOD is -- should be -- should be providing him with a range of options, as well as other parts of the government, the intelligence community, DOJ, State Department.

ATWOOD: And, at the end of the day, if he sees something that they are doing that he doesn't like, he could put the kibosh on it. And the reality is that that could happen once it has already happened.

So it could be something that becomes publicly known. And then he puts a kibosh on it. That has happened before with this president.

KEILAR: What would force the Russians to change their behavior, Jim?

BAKER: Money.

KEILAR: Money.

BAKER: It's all about money.

I mean, Russia is a corrupt country from top to bottom. And thinking about it -- thinking about Russia like a regular government is not the right way to think about it. It's more like an organized crime syndicate, where various significant mobsters, if you will, agree to a particular leader, but the leader has to keep them happy by providing them with the ability to collect money, to earn money, and then to spend it, and to travel around the world and enjoy it.

So, putting -- so, sanctions, restricting Russia's access to financial systems, that type of thing. It's all about money.

[18:25:00]

KEILAR: That is the bottom line.

Kylie Atwood, Jim Baker, thank you so much to both of you.

And just ahead: A key GOP senator is disturbed by impeachment trial coordination with the White House and Senate Republicans. Is it a sign that Republican unity may be cracking?

And the president's idea of a holiday vacation is golfing and, tweeting, as we know -- why he can't and won't stop fuming about impeachment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Tonight, as negotiations over the president's impeachment trial remain deadlocked, one Republican senator's words are casting a shadow over the process.

Moderate Lisa Murkowski publicly declaring that she's disturbed coordination between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House.

Let's bring in our analysts and our experts to talk about this.

And, Phil Mattingly, we should take a look at exactly what Lisa Murkowski said. It was understated, but this was heard loud and clear all the way from Alaska to Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURKOWSKI: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:30:04]

KEILAR: How significant is that, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends. And I'm not trying to dodge a very good question.

So the import of this trial or what's coming next in the trial is the details, right? And so Lisa Murkowski is saying that she has a problem with what the majority leader said and how close he appears to be with the White House is certainly something that raises a flag for a lot of us who haven't heard Republicans certainly in the House, but even in the Senate, even moderate Republicans in the Senate, those who are up for re-election have largely kept their powder dry, even when in the wake of what the majority leader said.

When it becomes actionable is when Lisa Murkowski says, you know what, I'm going to vote with Democrats on a resolution to have the witnesses that they want. I'm going to vote with Democrats on a resolution to subpoena the documents that they want. That changes the game a little bit, not entirely. They need four Republicans to come across.

But at this point in time, when you listen to the entirety of what Senator Murkowski said, she also said she had concerns with House Speaker Pelosi ran the process in the House. She also said that she was -- she agreed to the idea of replicating with the Clinton '99 trial, which frankly lines up with where McConnell is on how he wants to this trial to go. So it's one of those we'll have to wait and see.

But I do think it underscores. We have heard so few Republicans come out and say anything against where the White House is or where their leadership is. And that's why everybody stopped and said, okay, maybe this is a little bit different when you get to the upper chamber.

KEILAR: That's right. Even a little sort of disturbance in the force becomes big thing when other people haven't disturbing it.

The president, it's worth nothing, Maeve, he's not tweeted, he's not responded to Murkowski. I mean, I guess it is safer to rail against Speaker Pelosi. But he's also someone who gives into his impulses and this must bother him.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Absolutely, and the fact that Pelosi very much put a wrench in the works for him. I mean, I know in one day, he's saying if he wants it to move quickly, and last week, he wanted it to be a longer trial. But, clearly, Pelosi has gotten into his head here, as we saw from his tweets all day. And I think the more that he sees a lack of unity on the Republican side, the more that that will potentially rattle him.

But this is really serious and historic. And for these Republican senators who take that oath of office really seriously, I mean, they are thinking through this. Mitt Romney, we know, has been reading a lot about impeachment and sees this as like a really serious responsibility that he is facing. So I don't think it's going to be just a cakewalk for the president going forward over the next few weeks.

KEILAR: I want to highlight a new tweet from Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal pro bono, we should add lawyer. It's just important to note, right? This is what it says. Removing a president less than a year before an election must only occur if his remaining in office irreparably damages the nation. Well, the Pelosi two-week vacation proves this is an unlawful coup for partisan political purposes. The taxpayer should not have to pay.

He is making this point that Republicans have made that it's hypocritical to say everything needs to move quickly and then withhold the articles of impeachment while everyone is away for their holiday vacation. But what do you think what Rudy is saying here?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's nonsense. First of all, Republicans have leaned so heavily on this year before an election sort of argument. They did it with the Merrick Garland nomination, the last year of Obama's term, they're doing it now with impeachment. Nothing in the Constitution says that impeachment is a substitute for an election. It's a device that members of Congress can either use or not use any time in a president's term.

In terms of this idea of, well, it has to be a rush, therefore, it's a sham, we're only talking about a two-week delay here. As Phil was saying, there is a delicate dance going on between the White House and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi right now. But this isn't extending for months and months. This is a period of a couple weeks during the holidays. Maybe it will be different if there's some impasse when they come back in January.

KEILAR: Phil Mudd, what do you think about what Rudy Giuliani said, the argument he's making? Because -- and also the fact that he's been touting unity within the Republican Party, and now he's seen this teensy little split with Lisa Murkowski.

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think there're a couple of things here. First, if you think that the president has done something substantially wrong, whether it's three years out or one year out an election, you're suppose to sit there as an impartial jury, as you would do outside the Senate and say, let's judge the facts.

What Mitch McConnell is saying, as the judge and part of the representation of the jury is we're not going to judge the facts, we're going to defense and say, we'll say the same things they do.

That said, let's look at one other point. How many Democrats before they ever heard the impeachment facts, before they -- I'm talking about Democrats in the House decided they were in favor of impeachment. I think this has been a partisan effort before this ever started. The chances you get many Republicans to vote against the president in the Senate is about the same chance I get a man bun in the next 24 hours.

I think this whole process has been unfortunate because I think years down the road, when you teach impeachment in civics in high school, if this is your example, this is painful.

[18:35:04]

KEILAR: Phil Mattingly, I want to see Phil Mudd with a man bun.

MATTINGLY: You can make that happen.

KEILAR: I think I can.

MATTINGLY: You have the power to do so.

MUDD: No, we can't.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and people can work on that.

KEILAR: We got that. Hey, I think we work in a visual medium and we can figure it out.

Okay. As we are blessed to have two Phils on our panel today, Phil Mattingly, focusing on Lisa Murkowski, but there're two things here really when it comes to Republicans maybe peeling off to be with Democrats. No one expects that they're going to get 20 Republicans and the president is going to be convicted. That just does not seem like a possibility right now. So then the next thing is, well, what does this impeachment trial look like? Are there some Republicans going to be in this position where they're thinking, I can't say, no, I don't want more information, I'm going to have to vote, and the Democrats only need three Republicans?

MATTINGLY: Four. I think that's the thing, right? When you look at what Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has done over the last week-and-a-half, it's been a full-blown blitz to try and get witnesses, really, to differ from what they did in 1999. They included the witnesses and the document request in a single resolution at the start of the trial. The reason is to put pressure on people saying, look, if you don't want this to be considered a sham trial, then you should want witnesses, you should want these documents.

I think the interesting thing here is that that can also work the other way. And I talked to some Republicans, including Senator Susan Collins, a moderate, who everybody always looks to in situations like this, who did not appreciate what Schumer did by making public his request, wanted him to do this all behind the scenes with McConnell as well. So there's a pull and push here.

And also note, when Mitch McConnell said what he said, the word that he said on Fox News that disturbed Senator Murkowski, keep in mind, he is doing that for a reason as well. He obviously also has an audience of one, that he needs to make sure that the president is in line with the structure that he wants this trial to take. And McConnell is keenly aware of the need to give people like Murkowski space, to give people like Susan Collins space.

So all of this is part of a process that we've seen play out on a number of different issues legislatively, and otherwise, nominations as well, that we're going to see really kick into high gear over the course of the next couple of weeks, all leading up to what is this trial actually going to look like and is it reasonable that Lisa Murkowski is kind of a canary in a coal mine for Democrats who want help on this or just kind of a one-off that eventually fades away when it comes to the trial phase.

KEILAR: All right. All of you stand by, including Phil with his aspirational hairdo.

Just ahead, an editor of a Christian publication says he had no choice but to step down amid an evangelical battle over President Trump.

And we're getting new insight into the fortune being spent by billionaire Michael Bloomberg since he joined the Democratic presidential race last month.

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[18:40:00]

KEILAR: There are more signs of division within the evangelical community and its support of President Trump. An editor of The Christian Post has quit because the paper defended Mr. Trump after another evangelical publication criticized the president in an op-ed. I guess, the question here, Phil, is is this showing a widening divide or is it just illuminating a divide that was already there where the vast majority of evangelicals support President Trump and some don't?

MATTINGLY: It seems the latter. And I think, look, I'm not as tapped into the evangelical community as I think I would want to be to fully report on the story. But I do think that anybody who's covered President Trump or covered the campaign in 2016, and especially on the Republican side knows, one, the power of the evangelical community, and two, that they're not monolithic, right? That they, like any other faith or any other subsection of faith have people that believe different things.

And I think what we've seen over the course of the last week or two is something I have seen whether through conversations with voters or whether through the online conversation that there are people who identify as evangelical who have a lot of problems with how the president has operated both in his personal life, both how he operates kind of bombastically in public but there is also a far more pervasive kind of faith in what he is doing because of the policies that he's pushed forward.

And I think there's no argument that what he's done to benefit the evangelical community in terms of what they want to see is unsurpassed, I think, by any president prior, because most Republican presidents, even those that were very close to the evangelical community, were so concerned about going too far in supporting them and alienating other kind of mid-section voters, and President Trump just hasn't been at all.

SWERDLICK: Yes. No, I think what Phil is saying is right. You're not going to see a crack in that support for President Trump. The overwhelming majority of white evangelical Christians, I think that's an important distinction, support President Trump and will continue to support President Trump.

But the fact you had the Christianity Today op-ed and The Christian Post editor resigning this week suggests to me that, at an intellectual level, there are some folks out there starting to question the trade-off between evangelical Christians are getting that agenda they want from Trump but not necessarily feeling good about supporting all of his misleading statements or even lies, his morality, et cetera.

KEILAR: I spoke with one author who actually has a book coming out shortly here one evangelical Christians, Phil Mudd. And what she said was she basically says what Phil Mattingly is saying here, no, that this isn't really increasing the divide. But a lot of evangelicals are very happy they've been given the agenda, they've been given power through President Trump. I mean, what do you think about this?

MUDD: I think there's a split screen here, first, to get to what David Swerdlick was saying. This is like people on the left looking at Pete Buttigieg saying, I don't like that you're not far left enough.

[18:45:05]

I mean, who are they going to vote for if you're not a Pete Buttigieg supporter on the left? Are they going to vote for Donald Trump? I don't think so.

That said, I can speak because the first 22 years of my life, I went to Christian schools. If you can explain the schizophrenia in here as we go through history in 10 or 20 years, 50 years, and explain how evangelicals say in terms of lifestyle, lying about paying off a pole dancer, lying to every spouse you ever had just in the past few weeks, making fun in the public of a 16-year-old who speaks out on global issues including global warming, and to say that's the message that we were taught in school, the split screen is they like what they're getting but the passage along the way is pretty Machiavellian.

The end justifies means, I suppose.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Pole dancer, yes, but also porn actress and director -- I don't want to diminish the accomplishments of Stormy Daniels. Just to be clear about that.

MUDD: She won a lot of awards.

KEILAR: She has a career whether you agree with it or not.

MUDD: Yes.

KEILAR: All right. Maeve, let's talk about the money, because there are some really rich dudes who have gotten into the race, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, they have spent a combined total of $211 million on TV. I mean, these numbers are huge. So, you were like, a person who talks to the real people who are going to determine the outcome of this election. What are they saying?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, first of all, those numbers alone, it sounds like lighting cash on fire in someone's backyard.

KEILAR: Oh, crazy.

RESTON: But I was shocked when I was on Elizabeth Warren's bus tour two days last week that I actually ran into one of two voters, one of whom mentioned Michael Bloomberg as a possible choice and the other mentioned Steyer, and both of these people said to me, I think this will go on forever. Look at how much Trump has raised. We're going to need somebody rich to go up against him. And that was their voter rationale.

Now, that is a very, very tiny slice of people. As we know from the polls, these guys are not getting very far. But if this does result in a split decision and you have a different person winning each primary state, there is a scenario people start paying more attention to Michael Bloomberg when you get closer to Pennsylvania or some of those other Midwest states.

And who knows what will happen? KEILAR: It is so fascinating.

Maeve, Phil, David, and our second Phil Mudd, getting a man bun, if you missed that. Phil Mudd, not Mattingly, is getting a man bun, just want to be clear.

All right. Just ahead, your post-holiday travel could be snarled by a major storm. So, stand by for the forecast and we'll tell you how a dramatic major operation turned out after an avalanche left holiday skiers buried in snow.

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[18:52:09]

KEILAR: Christmas has come and gone without any sign that North Korea has delivered a threatened gift to the U.S., but Kim Jong-un could still follow through on his ominous warning.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is on the Korean Peninsula. She's joining us now from Seoul.

Paula, how closely is the U.S. watching North Korea right now?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the U.S. and South Korea, and everyone in the region is watching them very closely. U.S. officials tell CNN that they are quite puzzled that there hasn't been a weapons test at this point. There was a general assumption among administration officials that this Christmas gift would be a weapons test and there has been intelligence indicators that the components have been moved around.

But we're also hearing from one source who is familiar with North Korean thinking that the likelihood of a big provocative test, a nuclear test or an ICBM test around the Christmas period was very unlikely, but according to U.S. officials, that window has not closed yet. They believe there could be something up until early January on Kim Jong-un's birthday.

Now, we do know that the U.S. President Donald Trump has reacted to the suggestion there would be a Christmas gift. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's OK. We'll find out what the surprise is and we'll deal with it very successfully. We'll see what happens. Everybody's got surprises for me, but let's see what happens. I handle them as they come along.

Let's see -- maybe it's a nice present. Maybe it's a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANCOCKS: Now, we also know there have been reconnaissance flights over the peninsula, Brianna. So, clearly, the U.S. is watching very closely.

KEILAR: All right. Paula Hancocks, thank you so much for that update from Seoul, South Korea.

And just ahead an avalanche threatens the lives of holiday skiers and prompts an urgent rescue operation and we're monitoring a Christmas storm that could turn your post-Christmas travel into a nightmare.

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[18:57:14]

KEILAR: Well, if you are heading back home after the holidays or maybe you're about to, beware. There is a major winter storm threatening to complicate this busy travel season by unleashing rain, snow and wind, and a whole lot of it.

Meteorologist Tom Sater is joining us now.

Tom, tell us what to expect.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, this is the one to watch, Brianna. Authorities in southern California are trying to tell folks try to stay off the roads. The rain is going to be heavy, especially with burn scars there could be some debris flows. There's mountain snow. San Joaquin and San Bernardino Mountains, the skiers are loving that, while in Chicago, at midnight, it was 56 degrees. That's like an average low for the end of April into June. So, they were going, you know, to the pier and enjoying Lake Michigan.

Heavy rainfall, though, is going to flood areas of Arizona. We've got a ground stoppage at the airport in Las Vegas right now for winds. But this is going to start cranking up and when we watch it move in the next couple of days, the snow is going to start to spread in the Central Rockies and to the planes. Denver has yet to pick up any measurable snow this month.

If they go through this month without measurable snowfall, it will be the first December without that in 113 years. Although it looks like the snow will provide it in the next couple of days. Heavy rain then moves into areas of New Mexico, into Texas. Not a lot of snowfall, but Flagstaff will see a couple of inches as well, as this storm really starts to crank up and there's the jet stream and it will follow that highway up into the northern plains.

In blue are advisories and this is where the next stage will start to unfold and we'll find not only rainfall, heavy at times, but the snow could be quite blinding and that will cause flights and, of course, troubles on the roadways.

Here it moves into areas of Kansas, heavy rainfall, Omaha down to Dallas, this is Saturday morning. We get into Saturday night and Minneapolis will have some problems, mainly staying in rain, but I think changing over to snow, they're going to be right on the rain/snow line. Chicago could have problems. This is into around Sunday morning. Heavy rainfall moves to St. Louis down to the south. So, if you look at the accumulation values and really pretty much is quite heavy in parts of the Dakotas up to the north, but rain will cause these issues, too, and we're having volume problems around at the airports down in areas around Fort Lauderdale. So, that's something else to toss into the equation.

All right, here is Friday, Phoenix, Albuquerque, problems. Vegas, Denver, a little bit down into the Plains, and, of course, into Florida, a little drizzle up around New York and Boston. As we go into Saturday, there's your Minneapolis problem, Kansas City, and Dallas, still Denver, that's their first snow for the month.

East of the Rockies, though, it has been unbelievably warm, almost too much for holiday weather, 25, even 30 degrees warm than normal. St. Louis stays in the 60s into the weekend, New York is still up to 51 on Friday, Washington, D.C. in the mid-50s, that's nice.

But this storm is going to pose a threat as it moves across the country. So, again, pack your patience. Already we're seeing regional flights an issue, but that's because everyone is trying to get to the ski slopes and the volume is big.

So, again, heed the warnings of the advisories from the authorities, that is, try to stay off the roads. This rain will cause big problems in some of the valleys and areas of southern California in toward Arizona.

KEILAR: All right. Tom, thank you so much.

SATER: You're welcome.

KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar. Thank you for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.