Return to Transcripts main page


Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) Discuses John Lewis Diagnosed With Cancer, Top Trump Aides Knowing Withholding Ukraine Aid Would Cause Firestorm, & John Bolton, Mark Esper, Mike Pompeo Trying To Get Trump To Reverse Course On Ukraine Aid & U.S. Airstrikes On Iran, Syria; Voters Confront Sanders On Health Care; Sanders & Buttigieg Attack Biden On Voting For Iraq War; NTSB Investigates Plane Crash In Louisiana. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: "While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were, and that I have a fighting chance."

The 79-year-old congressman was diagnosed after a routine medical visit earlier this month.

And sources tell CNN that President Trump is increasingly frustrated by the stalemate over the impeachment process, which was apparent by his barrage of conspiracy theory tweets this weekend.

This comes as "The New York Times" reports that, behind the scenes, there's details about the White House decision to hold up military aid to Ukraine.

One quote here from Mick Mulvaney in an e-mail exchange. He said, "I'm just trying to tie up some loose ends." And then he asked, "Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine and whether we can hold it back?" The aid responding to him, Robert B. Blair, said, "It would be possible but not pretty. Expect Congress to become unhinged if the White House tried to countermand spending passed by the House and Senate."

That is from "The New York Times" story.

I want to discuss this with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, of Maryland. He's a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. He also serves on the finance committee.

Senator, I want to ask you about what happened in June, but I also want to talk about your colleague, John Lewis, and this announcement that has saddened so many people. He has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. There's such concern for him from people who have known him from decades.

And you were in the same class in the House of Representatives in 1987. This must have been worrisome news for you to learn.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Absolutely, Brianna. First, it's good to be with you.

John Lewis has been a great friend. We were elected at the same time to the Congress of the United States. We shared the same experience as far as becoming the new members of Congress. We've remained good friends. He's quite an inspiration for all of us.

He's been through so many struggles in his life. We know this will be a difficult struggle. We are with him. Our prayers are with him. Our thoughts are with him.

And I know that he's a fighter and he'll do everything he can to continue the fight in the United States House of Representatives.

KEILAR: If ever there's a fighter, it is John Lewis for sure.

I do want to ask you about this "New York Times" report that shows top Trump aides knew withholding aid to Ukraine would cause a firestorm months before it happened. The president, of course, still acted -- he still withheld the aid. What does that tell you?

CARDIN: It tells us how important it is in the Senate trial on impeachment that we hear directly from those parties that knew exactly what the president had in mind when he held up the aid, and that we receive the documents, including the email exchanges that took place.

It's absolutely essential for the Senate to have a fair trial that, those witnesses be heard from directly. They were not heard from in the House. The president refused to allow these individuals to testify or to present the documents. So for a fair trial in the Senate, we have to hear from the sources themselves.

KEILAR: "The New York Times" is reporting that in August, national security adviser, John Bolton, secretary of defense, Mark Esper, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, were all standing around the president's desk. They were trying to convince him to reverse course on freezing this aid. Is that particularly significant to you?

CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. It's showing that those that are responsible for national security recognized there was no reason to withhold the aid from the point of view of the legality since Congress appropriated it. But more importantly, how it compromised Ukraine's national security, how it aided Russia, who was our enemy.

And I think our national security advisers all tried to tell the president, don't withhold that aid. That's not in the national security interests of the United States. It's certainly going to be harmful to Ukraine, and your legality on doing this is very questionable.

KEILAR: Early this morning, my colleague, Jim Sciutto, asked Republican Mark Green about this Oval Office meeting, and this is the response he gave. Let's listen to this.


REP. MARK GREEN (R-TN): I would expect those guys to share their opinions with the president, and I would also expect them to walk out and either execute the president's wishes or, you know, just maybe even leave if they disagreed with the president.

The president asked Ukraine to investigate the former vice president and whether or not he used his position to get his son millions of dollars in lucrative contracts. Down here in Tennessee, the vast majority of people are completely fine with that, so it's a non-issue from the beginning.


KEILAR: What's your reaction to that?

CARDIN: When the president of the United States reportedly asked the president of another country to do a political favor for him, to get involved in our elections by researching an opponent and trying to give information that could be harmful in the presidential elections to a political opponent of the president, and making it clear that there's a contingency on a presidential visit or releasing aid, no, that's not all right.


That's very much against the use of power by the president of the United States.

That's the articles of impeachment that have been sent to the Senate. It's now up to the Senate, obviously, to hold an open trial where we can hear from the direct witnesses.

But no, it's not OK for the president of the United States to use his political office for personal advantage rather than for the American people.

KEILAR: Over the weekend, as you know, Senator Cardin, the U.S. launched airstrikes in Iraq. This was in -- Iraq and Syria. This was in response to rocket attacks that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. soldiers.

Do you have any concerns that this is going to escalate into a bigger situation, or do you have confidence that the U.S. will be able to keep this under control?

CARDIN: Brianna, I have concerns as to how the president -- what the president's policy is in regard to Iraq and Syria. Clearly, Iran is a dangerous actor. They do things that are extremely against -- very much against our national security interests. We know that. They're acting in a way that destabilizes that region of the world.

Our problem is what is the U.S. policy. We saw inconsistencies in Syria when the president allowed loud the Turks to enter that area, going against our Kurdish ground fighters. We saw the United States pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement, which isolated America and our allies in the nuclear innovations of Iran with Iraq and Syria. They're doing military operations without the approval of the Iraqi government.

I just don't understand what our strategy is. And I think the president made a major mistake when he pulled out of the nuclear agreement when Iran was in compliance with the nuclear agreement.

KEILAR: Senator Cardin, thank you so much, and a Happy New Year to you, sir.

CARDIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Senator Bernie Sanders called out by voters who say his health care plan is going to cost them their jobs. We'll have his response.

Also, new details about what caused a plan to crash -- a plane -- pardon me -- to crash in Louisiana, killing five, including a well- known sports reporter.



KEILAR: Democratic hopefuls return to the campaign trail after the Christmas holiday, right after it. And for two days, New Hampshire voters confronted Bernie Sanders about his health care plan and its impact on employment. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work for a health insurance company. I have for my whole life. That's what I know. I'm 58 years old. Help me. You're going to take away my job. I believe in you. I think this is the way to go.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Let me tell you what we're --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need a new job.

SANDERS: We're going to transition you, give you the job training and the opportunity if your job is lost.


KEILAR: We have CNN political analyst and national political correspondent for "Time," Molly Ball, here with us.

He was honest. I will say this about Bernie Sanders. If you lose your job, if your health insurance changes. He admits it's a possibility. But at the same time, that's a bit disconcerting. We've heard on the campaign trail from time to time people who work

for health insurance companies. There's a lot of those employees. How big of an issue is health care and health care how it affects employment going to be, do you think?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: On the one hand, I think we really have seen the big debate of the Democratic primary be to hash out what it would be mean to transition to a single health payer system. It tripped up Elizabeth Warren and she had to think back to the complications and finances of that. And now we're hearing Bernie Sanders have to explain parts of that.

I think the big picture is that people like Medicare For All when they first hear it, and then the more they hear about the disruptions that it might cause, the more you see that public support eroding, even among Democratic voters.

At the same time it's a little odd. I know health care is still a top issue for many voters, but the last Democratic president passed health care reform, and yet, it is still the number one thing that all of these Democratic presidential contenders seem to be talking about.

There's a lot of other issues out there. And so it is a little strange to me that they've all gotten wrapped around the axle of health care.

You know, Bernie Sanders is a serious contender. When you are seriously in contention, as he is, especially in the early states, you've got to do more than just have slogans. You've got to be able to explain things, and specially to those New Hampshire voters who can be tough.

KEILAR: Yes, they're flinty.


KEILAR: Let's talk about Joe Biden because he's actually taking hits on his Iraq voting record, both from Bernie Sanders and from Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Is this something that's going to affect him, or is this just baked into Joe Biden, everyone knows where he was on the Iraq war?


BALL: I don't think everybody knows. I think most people's impression of Joe Biden is as vice president. So things that happened before that -- I think we've seen voters learning more and more about, you know, his record in the '90s with Anita Hill and the crime bill, and also his record in the 2000s when he did support the Iraq war.

At the same time, this is kind of ancient history at this point. I don't think it's as live an issue as it was, say, in 2008 where it became a major difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, because it was really fresh in voters' minds because President Bush was still in office. And Democratic voters were very concerned about being able to undo the Bush record, particularly on foreign policy. I have not felt like foreign policy is a huge factor in this campaign,

but I don't think it helps. I don't think it helps with Democratic voters to learn this about someone.

KEILAR: Over the weekend, the former vice president had to reverse course on his original statement that he wouldn't comply with a subpoena to testify in President Trump's impeachment trial, should it come to that. The next day, he said he would comply with any subpoena. Which that's the right answer, right? That's the right answer.

So what do you make of this, and why do you think he said what he said in the beginning?

BALL: It seems like it was just a bad instinct, right? It seems like just sort of knee jerk. His feeling was, well, I think this process is ridiculous and they shouldn't be going after me.

I feel like we've heard that recently from another person who possibly occupies the White House right now, and just because you don't like that someone is coming after you with a subpoena doesn't mean you can just ignore it, generally, in law.

So I think this is a really interesting episode in terms of what it shows about Biden's instincts and also the fact that he did reverse course, the fact that this wasn't an accident, he didn't misspeak.

But he did listen to the criticism and he did reverse himself and basically explain that he realized why that wasn't a good instinct in the first place.

KEILAR: Right, you're not above a subpoena, right, which is what Democrats have been saying to so many administration officials.

Molly, thank you, Molly Ball. We appreciate you being here today.

BALL: Thank you. Happy New Year.

KEILAR: Still ahead -- happy New Year.

Still ahead, federal hate crime charges have been filed against a man accused of stabbing five people at a Hanukkah celebration. What police say they found in his home and how his lawyer and family are defending it.



KEILAR: Just into CNN, a stunning new account of a woman who ran barefoot to help victims of a plane crash that killed five people Saturday morning in Louisiana.


MICHELLE RAWLS, WITNESSED PLANE CRASH: By the time it come out the cloud, it was vertical sideways. You could hear the sound of it coming lower. No engine sounds or anything like that.

I could hear a woman screaming. That's whenever I was running. My feet were already burning. So I couldn't go any further. It ignited more, and then I could hear one more "help me."


KEILAR: Horrific account.

Let's go to Lafayette now where Natasha Chen is following the story.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN REPORTER: Brianna, from this plane crash, there's only one survivor who was on that plane. He's in a local hospital in Lafayette right now. Another person who was on the ground in a car, in that post office parking lot, she suffered severe burns and she's being treated in New Orleans.

Now, of the five people who were killed, we know, as you mentioned, there's 30-year-old sports reporter, Carley McCord. She worked at WDSU.

I was able to speak over direct messages on Twitter with her husband. He was talking about how she loved fiercely, how she's so competitive, and liked to joke around with the family. He's, of course, incredibly hurt right now.

But he did want to say this, He said, "I mean, I could write a book on Carley right now, but I can't find the words. It's so hard and it hurts too much. I want her here with me, that's all I want. She is and will forever be my world."

He did say wasn't able to get off work Saturday, otherwise, he would have driven with Carley to Atlanta for the game. She boarded this plane that crashed shortly after takeoff.

I'm going to step aside now to show you what's happening in the field behind us. Investigators are looking at pieces of the wreckage in that field. The debris field spans about a quarter of a mile.

This is going to be particularly challenging for these investigators because there was no flight data recorder on this plane. It's not typical for a plane like that to have one.

Investigators also say there was no distress call. They're relying heavily on a couple witnesses and witness videos that were turned into them.

Here is the NTSB senior air safety investigator talking about what they know right now.


JENNIFER RODI, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: One witness, who has pilot experience, stated that the landing gear was retracted. The attitude at the time of impact is estimated to be wings level. I do not have a nose-down angle indication at this point. The wreckage is massively fragmented and charred, melted, and partially consumed by fire.


CHEN: We're expecting more information from NTSB this afternoon as their investigators continue to work in this field. They also told us yesterday they expect to have all of this cleared by the end of today -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Natasha Chen, in Lafayette, thank you so much.

On New Year's Day, be sure to check out the new CNN film of the life and career of pop icon, Linda Ronstadt.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She came to Los Angeles.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Linda Ronstadt.


LINDA RONSTADT, SINGER: I was 18 years old and we formed a little band called ourselves the Stone Ponies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole damn thing broke loose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was rock music, folk music commingling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can we define what this is going to be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Linda was the queen. She was like what Beyonce is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the only female artist to have five platinum albums in a row.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" was a hit on the country charts. "You're No Good" was a hit on the R&B and pop chart. Linda became the first artist to have a hit on three charts.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was the first female rock 'n' roll star.