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12 Dead, Dozens Injured in Kazakhstan Plane Crash; Impeachment Stalemate Continues as Trump Stews; Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) Discusses Impeachment Stalemate & Senate Trial; Navy SEALs Paint Disturbing Picture of Eddie Gallagher. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

We start with the very latest on a plane crash that left at least 12 people dead and dozens more injured. The tragic scene unfolding this morning in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan. The airline is called Beck Air. The flight was carrying 93 passengers and five crew members.

Officials say, shortly after takeoff, the plane lost altitude and broke through a concrete fence and crashed into a two-story building. Just looking at the wreckage there, it is almost amazing that people even survived.

CNN's Nathan Hodge is live from Moscow, following all of this.

Nathan, what's the very latest?

NATHAN HODGE, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Kate, we have just heard a few hours ago from Kazakhstan's deputy foreign minister that, following the preliminary investigation, investigators are looking at pilot error or technical issue that caused this crash.

And adding that the plane, on takeoff, the tail hit the runway twice. That is one thing investigators will look at. This is they continue to probe this incident. As we look at the scene of this aircraft, the fuselage broke apart on impact.

The one thing aviation experts pointed to was there wasn't a catastrophic fire that followed. That might have made the casualty toll much, much higher.

Officials are saying 12 people died in the crash. Tomorrow has been declared a day of national mourning in Kazakhstan.

Officials and authorities in Kazakhstan have halted the operation of that airline of Beck Air. Certainly there will be more fallout in the coming days -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A lot more to learn. Exactly right. Nathan, thank you so much. Really appreciate the update.

Back here in the United States, the suspended state of impeachment limbo continues. Few signs of talks taking place two break the stalemate between Mitch McConnell and Speaker Pelosi over Senate trial. All the while President Trump is stewing about the impasse from Florida.

While the speaker is keeping silent, her daughter, Christine Pelosi, is not, offering some insight into her mother's mind-set at this stalemate drags on. Listen.


CHRISTINE PELOSI, DAUGHTER OF NANCY PELOSI: Nancy Pelosi does everything with the long game in mind, building consensus in her caucus, her great Democratic majority that has done so much for the people.

She will do what is necessary to make sure she has done all she can, exhausting all her constitutional remedies. That is the most important thing going into 2020. Let's listen to the facts, follow the evidence and make sure that nobody is above the law.


BOLDUAN: CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood is joining me from Florida where the president is traveling.

Sarah, what is the very latest from there?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Kate, before hitting the links today, the president was active on Twitter going after Speaker Pelosi. That has been a daily routine for the president. In-between mingling with guests at Mar-a-Lago, rounds of golf, the president has been firing off missives, many of them aimed directly at the speaker.

It is clear he is agitated by the uncertainty surrounding the impeachment trial. He is eager for his symbolic day in court. He does not want to be acquitted by the Senate trial. He wants to be exonerated. He wants a chance to clear his name.

Even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is signaling he is willing to wait as long as it takes, because, in his eyes, Speaker Pelosi is not leveraging by withholding from the Senate something lawmakers would rather not deal with in the first place.

President Trump is not that patient. He wants the Senate trial to get started.

Sources told CNN, before the president came to Mar-a-Lago, there was a little bit of concern that the amount of time the president was spending at his resort and the amount of time he would spend in that unstructured environment, mingling with his friends and allies would cause him to fall back on his instincts, perhaps abandon the more measured path McConnell laid out for him. That remains to be seen. He is expected to be heavily staffed next week, Kate.

But the Democrats show no signs of letting up. They are mounting the pressure on McConnell to hold a trial that includes live witnesses, includes the things that Democrats want to see, including more document acquisition from the White House. But McConnell at the moment shows no sign of budging despite the president's clearly increasing frustration as he spends the holidays down here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: The routine that set in is one of the strangest things of it all.

Sarah, thank you so much. Great to see you.

Joining me now, CNN congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, and congressional bureau chief for "Politico," John Bresnahan.

Good to see you guys.



BOLDUAN: What are you hearing right now? I asked the Democratic Congressman Greg Meeks yesterday if there are any conversations. I was like I'm not even asking content. Are people even talking? He said likely, possibly, but definitely not definitely.


BRESNAHAN: Nothing right now. I checked with McConnell's office, Schumer's office and Pelosi's office. No talks, no communications, no action right now. I think they all feel like they are where they need to be at the moment.

Let's be realistic about this. Pelosi is withholding the impeachment articles from the Senate. But there wasn't going to be any Senate action before January 6th anyway. It is leverage but not a lot of leverage.

Right now, no action, no discussion, no talks. They are digging in and seeing who blinks first.

BOLDUAN: As Sarah pointed out, Lauren, there's something strange that the routine set in in this stalemate. No one is talking. Maybe someone makes a statement. Schumer or McConnell makes a statement. And then Trump tweets about it from morning until evening.

What's not clear -- and I don't know what you're hearing -- but what's not clear is what is going to break up that routine.

FOX: I think you have to remember that this is a two-week recess on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers aren't around. It's not as if they can't pick up the phone.

When members are in the same room together, things start to break loose. Conversations start to change the dynamics because the moderate Democrats and Republicans who might regularly talk on the Senate floor, aren't able to be together. Perhaps that's the reason why you are seeing the stalemate.

We were waiting all week for Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer to sit down and negotiate when this trial would start. That didn't put them in a great spot going into a two-week recess when they were not even able to decide whose office to meet in. That was one of the sticking points.

So I will tell you, the fact that they met off the floor and unable to come to an agreement wasn't a surprise to many of us who were surprised they hadn't met at all until the end of the week.

BOLDUAN: I have a suggestion, either CNN's, the House or the Senate. Or a delightful cubicle somewhere that you would like to host. We'll open it up to everybody.



BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

John, there's been a lot of ink spilled on the McConnell declaration that he is working in complete coordination with the White House on the trial. Trump is not the only voice here, right? There are other competing interests that McConnell does need to consider here.

BRESNAHAN: Yes. The Senate is up for grabs in 2020. I mean, and it's becoming more clear that, you know, Republicans in swing states, Susan Collins, in Maine, Cory Gardener, in Colorado, this is a tough issue for them. Collins is facing ads from Never Trumper groups, calling on her to support witnesses. Mitt Romney is another person, the Senator from Utah.

So there's some pressure on Republicans. Senator Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska, said she was disturbed by McConnell's comments on the Sean Hannity show that he was coordinating that closely with the White House.

So there's -- McConnell has to walk a fine line here. He has to balance the needs of his incumbents and the president. So he's in a tough spot here.

McConnell, after knowing McConnell for a long time, he is never going to rush. He's not going to give into pressure. He'll to what he wants to do. He is going to have a strategy. He will stick to it as much as he can.

BOLDUAN: I would like an example of McConnell feeling pressure on the timeline.


BOLDUAN: There really isn't one, as we wait with bated breath outside his office.

Lauren, I do find it fascinating that there are some things not laid out in the constitution but simply in Senate rules of how a Senate trial could look and could feel. What are you learning?

FOX: Well, Kate, there are Senate rules. They were updated in 1986. Of course, we have the Clinton trial in the 1990s as an example of how this can work.

And I will caution, any of this can change if you have a majority of Senators who want to change the rules. And of course, Schumer and McConnell could come to an agreement.

Generally, what McConnell has warned his conference about is that they will be in session six days a week. There's absolutely no talking for punishment of potential imprisonment. That is one of the oaths that potentially could be taken.


The other thing you will see is John Roberts, chief justice, presiding over the Senate trial. You also likely will have Senators having to ask questions to witnesses or offer motions in writing to the chief justice. That's something different than you would normally see.

The big question and joke on Capitol Hill is, who can stay quiet, who will be first to get in trouble for talking. A lot of Republicans have their bets on Lindsey Graham.

BOLDUAN: Never a bad bet.

John, you mentioned Lisa Murkowski. She said she was disturbed by the coordination on the White House. If other moderate Senators are going to push back, do something similar, what is that going to look like? Where is the point clear that McConnell needs to change tactics?

BRESNAHAN: I don't think it's there yet. It's not clear yet.

McConnell, he's prepared to proceed without an agreement. If they don't reach an agreement, he is prepared to go to the floor and open the impeachment, assuming he gets the articles of impeachment sometime early in January. Begin the trial without an agreement if he has to.

He will play it by ear, constantly checking with his moderates, swing state members, how do they feel, how do they sense things are going.

As much as Nancy Pelosi, you know, keeps, like her daughter Christine said, keeps an eye on the caucus, Mitch McConnell is in touch with members. And he knows where they stand on these issues. He's always very clear with them.

That's his secret as leader. He has been leader for a long time. He will continue when he's reelected this fall, next November. He'll be constantly watching them.

Witnesses may be an issue, or at least documents probably will be an issue for, you know, Romney or Collins or Murkowski. Will documents be the issue where they say they say we deserve to have more information on this. We'll see.

Again, McConnell will proceed slowly, he'll proceed cautiously, and he will do what he needs to do to protect his majority.

BOLDUAN: Stand by to stand by. Good to see you. Thanks for coming on.


BOLDUAN: Coming up, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is he on his way out? Why the speculation is now reaching a fever pitch and who the president is reportedly eyeing as his replacement.

We'll be back.




REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I think she's being smart in, A, creating space for Democratic Leader Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to try to come together and agree to some rules of engagement, as the Republicans and Democratic leaders did in the previous impeachment trial.

Secondly, she's got to be worried, as I said earlier, about statements from the majority leader, who said there would virtually be no distance at all between the Senate and the White House.


BOLDUAN: That is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly offering what has been the message from House Democrats, that Speaker Pelosi is right to withhold the articles of impeachment from the Senate until the majority leader lays out the rules of the road ahead.

But still, even with just five days to go to the new year, Mitch anything McConnell is not blinking. The president looks like he is growing impatient. Continuing on his Twitter tear, against the speaker, the process and everything in between. Yet, Congress remains at a standstill.

Joining me is Republican Congressman from Louisiana, Mike Johnson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Thank you for coming in, Congressman.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Hey, Kate. Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

All the reporting is you are one of just a few House Republicans under consideration to join the president's defense team during the Senate trial. You met with White House counsel last week.

JOHNSON: We have all gone home to enjoy the Christmas holiday with our families. Everybody needed a break. We will be heading back soon.

The decisions on the defense team, final decisions have not been made yet. I would be honored to serve if asked. I really do believe in the president's case. I made that clear. We will see what develops.

BOLDUAN: I'm fascinated with the process and how it plays out. Is it clear to you if any Republican member of the House, what role they would play in the presentation of the president's defense alongside White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, in the Senate?

JOHNSON: It hasn't been decided yet. There are a lot of things are still up in the air.

Look, I think it's a little bit laughable, frankly, that some of our Democratic colleagues are bemoaning the lack of process or procedure when the reason we got here because Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler and the rest engineered a broken point in the House.

It is why the president is so frustrated. He's why he's anxious to go to trial. He wants to put on his case, his evidence to prove his innocence.

I think, at the end of the day, I think he will be acquitted. And I expect it will be bipartisan. I think there will be a couple on moderate Democrats or more compelled to vote in favor of the acquittal once they see how bare bones and vapid this case is that the House Democrats are advancing.


BOLDUAN: You call it a broken process. There's, of course, a debate that, all of this is moving too fast or too slow. You're on the Judiciary Committee. You were part of the public hearings. Do you think it was rushed?

JOHNSON: Yes. It was rushed. If you look at the historical precedent, it moved 20 times faster than the Bill Clinton impeachment proceeding.

And the reason, remember, is our Democratic colleagues, Nancy Pelosi and the rest, said they were breathless in their sense of urgency. They said it had to be done. They said Donald Trump was an existential threat to the Constitution and our way very of life. Once they got the vote in the House, they decided to stall and hold it for a while.

They lost credibility, I think, with the majority of the American people who see this as a flawed process.

Remember, they committed to impeach Donald Trump the day he was elected to presidency --


BOLDUAN: Not the entire House.


JOHNSON: But 95 percent of them, not all, but 95, a big chunk voted to impeach Donald Trump before July of this year when the Ukraine phone call with Zelensky took place. There hasn't been a lot of objectivity on the House side, that's for sure.

BOLDUAN: I am hearing from you what I have heard from other Republicans. I asked Democratic Congress Greg Meeks yesterday about this criticism, if there was urgency to move through the House because the president presents an ongoing threat of interference in the 2020 election, then how do they defend slowing down the process in the Senate?

And I want to play for you what he said.


REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): There's only one person that has been trying to obstruct this process. Only one. And that's the president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: But the House moved ahead even with that in mind, with --

MEEKS: It is the House's responsibility. I know this is not an actual trial. This is a process within our system and it's political in nature. But an active process to break it down, to equate it.

What we did was basically issue an indictment. When you are indicted, you don't have to go through all the rigorous procedures that you have to go through in a trial or at a trial.

We put forward and had enough facts from enough credible witnesses to indict. There was reasonable cause to indict this president for the two counts that he were impeached with.


BOLDUAN: His point is that it's not a re-do, a broken process to call witnesses in the Senate. It is not broken in not holding it up. That's what happens in trial. What do you say to that?

JOHNSON: Right. Gregory Meeks is a close friend. I think he's a great guy. I disagree with him on this.

He's not on the House Judiciary Committee and he wasn't present for a lot of that.

The reason they rushed the process -- you know, Congressman Meeks is talking about obstruction of Congress. But they brought an article of impeachment on that basis when all Congress had to do was go to the judicial branch, the third branch of government, and ask a judge to compel discovery. If they thought the president was not turning over documents over

witnesses, that is the appropriate step. That has been done in the past. They said they didn't have time to do it. Now they've slowed it down.

BOLDUAN: But on the witnesses, would you like to see witnesses testify in the Senate?

JOHNSON: Yes. That's a very important point, Kate. If we look at precedent in the procedure, what happened in 1999 in the Clinton impeachment trial, is that both sides put on their cases. They called them opening statements, but that was the rules agreed to, 100 to zero.

They put on their cases. There were questions asked by the Senate. Then they decided which witnesses to put on.

We have to cross that bridge when we come to it. I think that's what Leader McConnell is suggesting should happen. I'm not sure why Schumer would oppose it since he voted for that in 1999.

BOLDUAN: I do find both sides -- essentially have said the opposite since 1999. So I'm stopping using that as an example and I will just talk about the hearing now, as you all know.

I find it interesting and fascinating you think witnesses could be useful and witnesses should be seen, heard in the Senate.

Thanks so much for coming on, Congressman. Happy holidays. We'll see what happens as progress is made and the president decides his defense team.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Kate. Happy New Year.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.


Coming up, they describe him as "toxic and evil." For the first time, you are hearing directly from the Navy SEALs who turned in their platoon chief for alleged war crimes. What they say -- what they say and how Chief Eddie Gallagher is responding. That's next.


BOLDUAN: "Evil, toxic, disgraceful" -- that is now Navy SEALs serving under Special Operations Chief Eddie Gallagher describe him in a series of taped interviews that have never been seen publicly before.

The video recordings, along with thousands of text messages, were obtained by the "New York Times" and they paint a dark and disturbing portrait of Gallagher and reveals also the pain and anguish that is clearly felt by the members of his platoon in deciding to turn him in.

Here's just a bit. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED NAVY SEAL: The guy got crazier and crazier.

UNIDENTIFIED NAVY SEAL: You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody.


BOLDUAN: This all gets back to the charges, trial and intervention by President Trump of the former SEAL team commander. Gallagher was recently acquitted on all but a single war crime's charge.

Chief Gallagher responded to the new reporting from "The Times" this way --