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New Details Emerge on Ukraine Scandal; Fed Hate Crime Charges Filed Against Accused Hanukkah Attacker. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: And we still have much to learn. And this study is helping us to learn and better understand that problem as well.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN HOST: All right, Jacqueline Howard, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

HOWARD: Thank you.

NOBLES: And "THE LEAD" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And on the fifth day of Christmas, Putin gave Trump a ring.

THE LEAD starts right now.

It was a -- quote -- "POTUS-level decision." A "New York Times" investigation digging deeper on the White House denying Ukraine almost $400 million in security aid, and President Trump bent on keeping that money on hold.

Federal hate crime charges now filed against the man accused of a Hanukkah attack on Orthodox Jews. What is behind all this hate continuing to rise?

Plus, Iran vows revenge after the U.S. drops bombs on militia sites in Iraq and Syria. How many more sparks can this powder keg take?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with our politics lead.

It is official. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with the president of Ukraine this week in Kiev, arriving after the top diplomat there, Bill Taylor, who testified in the impeachment inquiry, was encouraged to leave his post, and as we learn new details about the White House efforts to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine to at least in part push Ukraine to commence an investigation that might help President Trump politically, as admitted by the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

In e-mails obtained by "The New York Times," Mulvaney asked about with holding the aid nearly a month before that now infamous Trump-Ukraine phone call in July, only to be cautioned by one adviser -- quote -- "Expect Congress to become unhinged" -- unquote.

"The Times" also reports a previously unknown meeting where President Trump's top national security officials tried to convince him to release the aid, arguing it was in the best interests of the United States, only to be rebuffed by a defiant President Trump.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins now takes a closer look at this failed pressure campaign and what this might mean for the impeachment trial in the Senate.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump is starting his second week in Florida at his West Palm Beach golf course today, but although he is miles away from Washington, impeachment is still at the top of his mind and in the headlines.

A report from "The New York Times" reveals new details about Trump's demand to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, with a top aide to the chief of staff accurately predicting the chaos it would cause.

Rob Blair telling Mick Mulvaney in an e-mail over the summer, well before Trump was impeached, that restricting the aid was possible, but that the White House should -- quote -- "expect Congress to become unhinged."

The report also reveals that in late August, the secretary of state, defense secretary and national security adviser all met with Trump to convince him to release the aid. According to "The Times," then National Security Adviser John Bolton told Trump it was in America's interests, and the defense secretary, Mark Esper, added, "This defense relationship, we have gotten some really good benefits from it."

But Trump's mind wasn't changed by their united front. Instead, he responded: "Ukraine is a corrupt country. We are pissing away our money."

In between rounds of golf and dinners with old friends, sources say Trump is assembling his defense team for his looming impeachment trial. He was seen golfing with former South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy on Sunday, who has been giving him impeachment advice from the outside.

But the trial remains at an impasse, with Republicans and Democrats at odds over what it should look like.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): When the American people walk away from the Senate trial, if we ever have one, I don't want them saying, well, we were just run over by the same truck twice.

COLLINS: Trump has also been on the phone with world leaders, including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The White House says Putin called to thank Trump for sharing information that thwarted a potential terrorist attack in Russia.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, yesterday, the president was golfing with Trey Gowdy.

Today, it is senator Lindsey Graham, who we should note in a recent interview with The Daily Beast said that Rudy Giuliani should vet that information he got while he was in Ukraine through the intelligence community before briefing any lawmakers on it because he says it could be Russian propaganda.

TAPPER: Gee, I wonder.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

And let's talk about this now.

Let me start with you.

Big picture, these revelations from "The New York Times," this -- everything going on behind the scenes about this pressure on Ukraine, withholding the aid, will this affect the trial, will it affect the demands, the requests from Democrats to have witnesses?


KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it all -- it helps Democrats make their case, that these are the people that would not show up for the House's impeachment inquiry.

Clearly, they knew something about it. Clearly, there was discussions going on. We had some inkling of that from Gordon Sondland's testimony and others. We'd seen some e-mails passing -- passed around.

But this is even more corroboration of what they have suspected the whole time, which is that everybody knew something about what was going on with the aid money, and thus that -- making it that much more incumbent to hear from these witnesses.

That doesn't necessarily change the minds, though, of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others who just want to get this done would say, let's stick to the facts, those in the House's inquiry, just not add anything more and not have any new witnesses all.

But this is going to be a reinvigorated fight now along the exact same parameters that we have been having it for the last few weeks.

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: It does give Speaker Pelosi an opportunity to continue to withhold the articles of impeachment.

Prior to this, it was just a broader sense of fairness and wanting to have witnesses and more of an appropriate, standard trial. But now there's actually something for Democrats to hang their hat on, which is that the witnesses that they subpoenaed that were blocked by the White House have material evidence and can speak directly to the crimes perpetrated by the president of the United States.

So, in theory, Speaker Pelosi now has an actual argument vs. just a political argument to withhold articles of impeachment indefinitely, potentially even fighting these subpoenas to the Supreme Court.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's not a whole lot new in this article, other than what we already knew. This puts a little meat on the bones.

What stood out with me was the fact -- we all knew that Mick Mulvaney is really carrying the president's water on this, but there are key meetings that he was left out of. What was the reason for that? Was it to give himself plausible deniability, or was it for the president and Rudy Giuliani to have attorney-client privilege?

I think that is one of the questions that many Democrats will have a moving forward. They might have some questions for Mick Mulvaney. But the reality is, Republicans in the Senate pretty much have their minds made up and they know exactly what they're going to do moving forward.

And I don't see anything out of this article that's going to change their minds.

TAPPER: Although, Jane, I have to say, I mean, Mick Mulvaney is in these e-mails that "The New York Times" uncovered a month before the call talking about withholding the aid.

JANE COASTON, VOX: Again, I agree that I don't think this is going to change minds for Republicans, because I think Republicans are answering to a larger than, more -- to them, more important master, which is Trump, who basically holds control of their popularity with voters.

And I also think it's interesting that we see so many times with this administration there's been kind of a standard deviation difference between Donald Trump and the Trump administration. And you see in these e-mails and time and time again that deviation, that difference breaking down, that what Trump wants becomes what the administration wants.

We saw earlier how the Trump administration has been very tough on Russia, while Trump himself has not been. But, again, we're starting to see that line break over and over again.

HAQ: It also points to the -- what happens when Democrats decide they're no longer going to be playing to what Republican senators may or may not do, right?

This is part of taking the power of the party back. And it's something that you will see on the campaign trail as well. And now we're seeing what the official government version of that looks like, with Nancy Pelosi saying, it really doesn't matter what Mitch McConnell thinks anymore and who he's playing to. I'm playing to the 50 percent of Americans who believe that the president not only should be impeached, but should be removed.

DEMIRJIAN: The problem is there that it's not a hard fast 50 percent. And that 50 percent of Americans is not voting just on impeachment.

Democrats this entire time have not wanted to become the party that just wants to impeach the president. They wanted to get over it, so they would go back to the kitchen table issues. The longer this goes on with her not passing the articles, that becomes problematic for the Democrats after a while.

And also, look, there's another element here that we're not talking about, which is the president and what the president potentially tweets and if he gets upset. We were talking before this article about he's firing off about the whistle-blower, about Nancy Pelosi.

Does he say let's just make a deal on witnesses and say he doesn't care anymore and undercut the Senate Republicans' position? All of that matters, too. And the more time that goes on without a resolution of this, the more Trump becomes an element that could shift the balances.

And, remember, as much as it's not about playing to the GOP senators in the middle, they are going to be the ones that will cast the deciding votes about whether you have a deal to have certain witnesses or no witnesses at all.


HAQ: ... Pelosi maintaining her power and making sure that Trump doesn't get the automatic acquittal in January or February that he's been hoping for.

STEWART: The reality is, yes, 50 percent support impeachment, but 50 percent don't.

And the House process has not really moved the needle whatsoever. And there have been some polls out that after this House inquiry and the investigation, the support for impeachment has gone down and the president's approval rating has gone up.

That is something that Nancy Pelosi cannot fight against. And the reality is she has control in the House and how they executed their inquiry. Mitch McConnell has control in the Senate. And he's going to be the one to determine how and when they move forward.

TAPPER: And, Jane, you were talking about the divergence between what Trump wanted and the administration and how they're actually coming together, the administration getting more in line with what the commander in chief actually wants.

"The Times" also reports that the Budget Office lawyers were working with the White House and the Justice Department on a legal argument, because, remember, this aid was not just President Trump's back pocket cash to like give to whomever he wanted. Congress passed it. The House passed it. The Senate passed it.



The president signed into law. He had to give it up, and that they were working -- to Ukraine -- and the White House Legal Office and Budget Office were working on ways to figure out how constitutionally he could withhold it, even though I'm not sure that he could.


And you see in the piece how e-mails back to it were just saying, like, no, this is ridiculous. I'm speechless that you would even suggest that.

But I want to get back to something. You mentioned how Americans are focused on kitchen table issues, but I also think Americans are focused on kitchen table issues like corruption.

Corruption is how this story allegedly began, Trump's purported concern about corruption, but I think Americans can easily talk about issues like corruption in government, while talking about health care or defense and other issues as well.

But I also think it's important to remember that all of this is tied together in context. You mentioned Trump's polling number is going up.

Trump's polling numbers may have remained -- gone up or remained static possibly because of good economic indicators, though the stock market does not really tell you how most people are, because 55 percent of Americans hold stocks and the other do not.

But I think it's important to remember that all of this polling, all of this information is taking place in a context. And that context impacts how people are polled and that context impacts how people feel about the presidency, or even the process of impeachment.


TAPPER: Nayyera Haq, I want to ask you, what do you think about the fact we finally got a readout from the White House on the call between Putin and Trump that was placed on Sunday?

It's not unusual now that the president will have a call with the president of Russia or wherever, and we don't -- we in the press and the American people, we don't find out about it originally from the White House, as it used to be the case. We find out about it from state media in Russia and Moscow.

HAQ: Right.

We were all horrified, I think it was two years ago, when the first meeting with the foreign minister of Russia, as well as a Russian state media reporter were allowed in the Oval Office, and White House reporters weren't.

And, unfortunately, that has continued to be the norm of this presidency. And we do -- we see that the president is incapable of separating his responsibilities for national security as a president and his own personal interests.

And that's ultimately what is underlying all of the conversation of corruption -- corruption and impeachment and the campaign.

TAPPER: And Ukraine, obviously.

Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Up next, multiple violent attacks on religious communities in New York -- new details on what investigators found in the accused attacker's journal, after he went on a stabbing spree inside a rabbi's home.

Plus, six seconds, two victims, and the new law that helped stopped a Texas church shooting in mere moments.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news in our national lead.

Grafton Thomas, the man accused of stabbing five orthodox Jewish worshippers at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, Saturday, just wrapped up a court appearance. Federal hate crime charges have now been added. Family and friends said he suffered from mental illness and never previously expressed any anti-Semitic beliefs but prosecutors this afternoon said they found journals with anti-Semitic writings in the suspect's home.

Thomas faces five counts of attempted murder.

As CNN's Sara Sidner reports, the Saturday attack is part of a growing spate of violence against Jews across the U.S.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Grafton Thomas is now facing federal hate crime charges after what police say they heard from witnesses and found in his handwritten journal. A reference to Adolf Hitler and Nazi culture on the same page as the drawing of a star of David and a swastika.

Thomas' attorney disputes the anti-Semitism allegation.

MICHAEL SUSSMAN, SUSPECT'S ATTORNEY: Reverend Page and I review scores of papers which frankly showed the ramblings of a disturbed individual. But there is no suggestion in any of those rambling and pages of writing of an anti-Semitic motive. SIDNER: Witnesses say the suspect slashed his way through a house

full of orthodox Jewish worshipers, injuring five, and leaving behind a terrible blood-soaked scene during a Hanukkah celebration.

Josef Gluck was inside of the home.

JOSEF GLUCK, SURVIVED STABBING ATTACK: When I first saw him, I just saw him wielding the knife back and forth trying to --

SIDNER (on camera): Was he saying anything.

GLUCK: Nothing. He didn't say a word to anyone inside. He spoke to me outside once.

SIDNER: What did he say?

GLUCK: Hey you. I'll get you.

SIDNER (voice-over): Gluck managed to get out.

GLUCK: There were kids in there so I decided to run back in.

SIDNER: Run back in and fight. His only weapon, the furniture around him. Now in shambles.

GLUCK: Picked it up from the back and I put it in his face, he was two feet away from me and I hit him in his face and he started coming after me out toward the door.

SIDNER: When the attacker left, Gluck followed worried he was about to go into the synagogue next door. By then the ambulances were arriving, treating the wounded.

JOSH HANS, HATZOLOH EMS OF ROCKLAND COUNTY: It was a very jarring scene. It was a lot of blood.

SIDNER: This attack, the 13th attack on the Jewish community just this month in New York, according to the governor's office.

ROBERT JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: I don't recall them selling licenses to have open hunting season on Jews, but it sure could make Jews feel that way.

SIDNER: Less than two hours later, police tracked the suspect down, using the license plate number Gluck had given them.

GLUCK: Jewish mothers could sleep more calm that night, not worried about their kids going to school the next day or their husbands going to pray the next day or shopping the next day, not knowing what's going to happen.

SIDNER (on camera): You were a guardian angel?

GLUCK: God is the guardian. I'm a messenger.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SIDNER: Now, of the five people who were injured, we understand that four are out of the hospital, including Rabbi Rottenberg's son. We do know that one elderly gentleman, a man who had a skull fracture remains in the hospital in critical condition according to friends of the family -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Sidner in New York, thank you.

Joining me to talk about this is "New York Times" editor Bari Weiss. She's the author of the new book, "How to Fight Anti-Semitism". Also back with me is Jane Coaston, who covers anti-Semitism and white nationalism for "Vox" among other topics.

Bari, let me start with you. This is kind of a sensitive question, but do you think the reaction by the politicians and the media would be any different if these recent anti-Semitic attacks had been committed by supremacists instead of who they were committed by?

BARI WEISS, STAFF EDITOR AND WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES OPINION: I do. And the reason for that is because it took a man walking in with a machete the size of a broomstick for there to be public outrage during the holiday of Hanukkah. Remember when he walked into the rabbi's house in Monsey, New York, not 30 miles from where I'm sitting right now, there had already been nine hate crimes against Jews in New York City and Brooklyn that week. Three weeks ago, there was a attack in Jersey City that attacked a kosher market. I went there the day after the attack.

And viewers probably don't know this, I'm from the synagogue in Pittsburgh that was attacked, Tree of Life, attacked about a year ago to the day and to that case there was a outpouring of communal solidarity and support. When I went to Jersey City the day after that attack, there was not a single flower or single condolence card. I went up and down the street asking people to say something about the attack that happened on their neighbors and it was all they could do to get people to say they were sorry for what had happened.

That's really, really disturbing to me and it tells you is that in certain cases, when the person is wearing a MAGA hat or when they could be connected to the alt-right, that's sort of a clean case, right? It is someone who we all -- people of conscience see as a villain. But what happens when the attacker is someone that when we -- I mean we people of conscience see them as part of a victimized group. It seems then that a lot of people don't know how to make sense of that.

TAPPER: Right. I mean, just to clarify, obviously, you're speaking hyperbolically. You're not talking about everyone with a MAGA hat.

WEISS: Of course not.

TAPPER: Of course, I just want to clarify because the internet is insane.

Jane, what do you think of what Bari just said? COASTON: Yes, I think one of the challenges we have is that we keep

wanting to use anti-Semitism or racism as a cudgel against our political opposites, forgetting that anti-Semitism exists across the political spectrum. You know, there will famous instances of the far right and far left coming together on the subject of hating Jewish people. You see Nation of Islam making cause with George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party back in early in the 1960s. And a lot of the most virulent anti-Semitism comes from the Nation of Islam and some of its accolades.

And so, I think that one of the challenges we face is that, you know, anti-Semitism is a bipartisan issue. It is an all-partisan issue. It is not an issue that is just connected to one particular racial group. It is something that infects and morphs and defigures people and communities.

And it's something that we have to be ready to speak out against, because one of the things that has been really horrifying about these attacks that have been taking place in New York state and elsewhere against Jewish people is that the only similarity has been the subject of the hate. You know, the people have been different. Some have been people of color. Some have been white. But that doesn't really matter, when all of the victims are Jewish people, specifically people who are orthodox. I think that's worth noting.

WEISS: People who are visibly Jewish.

COASTON: Yes. And I think that is worth speaking up on because, you know, this is happening to people who are visibly Jewish. This is people who are orthodox, people who are, you know, proud to celebrate their religion and do so in full view. And absolutely should be able to do so. That's part of the foundation of this country.


COASTON: And so it is extremely concerning to see that the only thing that seems to bring all of these different attackers together is hating Jewish people.

TAPPER: And, Bari, you and I have talked about this before, it does seem like when there are anti-Semitic attacks or remarks from the left if you pointed out, people on the left attack you. From the right, if you point it out, people on the right attack you. And there are people like you who are trying to say, as Jane just did, this is a disorder across the political spectrum and people should stop using it against each other and start uniting.

WEISS: Exactly. And the first thing that I think can happen is for the mayor of New York city, who too often has been talking about anti- Semitism as if it is a partisan issue, that is only tied to the president, I think the first thing that he could do is put on a kippah and say every one of conscience should join with me on a solidarity through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn where Jews are being assaulted in the street.

And, by the way, it's not just in Brooklyn. My friend's father-in-law the other day, he was assaulted on the Upper Side of New York because he was wearing a kippah.


Another friend's father was walking out of "Fiddler on the Roof" in Yiddish the other thing, he wears a kippah. He was said things that I cannot repeat on national television.

It's not just happening in the Hasidic enclaves of Brooklyn, of Haredi enclaves of Brooklyn. It's happening to people on the Upper Side of Manhattan who are, you know, advertising their Judaism in public.


WEISS: So I think that is -- Jane put it exactly right, anti-Semitism is a culturally inherited disease and in times in which the sort of moral guardrails that keep bigotry down, when those moral guardrails are dismantled, we see it cropping up in all kinds of different places. It's not a partisan issue. It has no color. It has no political party, but the thing that needs to happen from the elected leaders is they need to be saying that, and the first way for them to do is to show solidarity with the Jewish communities that are being attacked.

TAPPER: Bari and Jane, we appreciate your voices and your strength in this difficult time. Thank you so much.

Jane, come back to the panel. We need you for the next segment.

Coming up next, another attack on worshipers, a Sunday service turning deadly after a gunman opens fire in a church. How one man ended the rampage in a matter of seconds.

Stay with us.