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Trump Vents about Trial Stalemate; New Story on Halted Ukraine Aid; John Lewis Diagnosed with Cancer; Winter Storm Moves East; NFL Playoff Schedule Set; Biden Now Says He'd Comply with Subpoena; Truck Bomb Rocks Somali Capital. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The stalemate over the Senate impeachment trial showing no signs of a breakthrough. Sources tell CNN that the president is growing increasingly frustrated over the impasse. We're also learning new details about the efforts to withhold military aid from Ukraine.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is spending the holidays.

And, Jeremy, "The New York Times" has this extraordinary account of the 85 days' worth of effort of withholding aid to Ukraine. And it's really interesting the timeline.


Look, the president is entering his second week of vacation here in Florida, away from Washington, but the president still has impeachment top of mind, it appears. He has been growing increasingly frustrated in the first week of his vacation here and continues to be quizzing aides and allies about his impeachment defense strategy.

Nothing has really changed, though, in that week of vacation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to set rules for a Senate trial. And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, still has yet to transmit those articles of impeachment over to the Senate.

But we are learning new details, as you mentioned, John, from "The New York Times" about that aid freeze and all of the efforts and the concern early on about what this aid freeze could mean. And what we're seeing is that some of the president's top aides were very clear-eyed about what this would provoke in Congress by freezing this aid.

Here is a section of "The New York Times" story. Let me read it. I'm just trying to tie up some loose ends, Mr. Mulvaney wrote. Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine and whether we can hold it back? The aide, Robert Blair, replied that 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 the Senate.

So, as you can see, early concern from some of the president's top aides here. Robert Blair, who is a special adviser to the White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

And, of course, that aid freeze in late June set off efforts, both by career officials, as well as by some of the president's top advisers, to try and get the president to reverse course. One of those came in late August, according to "The New York Times," when you saw the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, as well as the president's national security adviser at the time, John Bolton, attempting in late August to convince the president that this was in America's interest to release this aid to Ukraine. Of course it would take several more weeks before the president actually did that after he learned about that whistleblower complaint and, of course, after the House began investigating that whistleblower complaint. The president had also begun hearing from Senate Republicans about these allegations of a quid pro quo.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Jeremy, thank you very, very much.

Let's talk about this, all the developments. CNN political analyst Rachael Bade joins us, she's a congressional reporting with "The Washington Post," and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart, of course, he was President Clinton's press secretary during his impeachment.

Appreciate you both being here. Happy Holidays. Hope you got a little bit of rest last week.

Well, the article is fascinating. It is striking. Eighty-four days of so much happening. This is the part that really struck us. Let me read it. Quote, opposition to the order from his top national security advisers was more intense than previously known. In late August, Defense Secretary Mark Esper joined Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the national security advisor at the time, for a previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting with the president where they tried but failed to convince him that releasing the aid was in the interest of the United States.


Rachael, previously, you know, undisclosed meeting. And "The Times" paints the picture of them standing around the Resolute Desk all together, witnesses of this, trying to convince the president to act differently.

How significant?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes, I mean this absolutely is a gold nugget that they found here. I mean the big question for investigators and one I don't know that we're ever going to learn is, did the president respond to anything about the investigates by Ukraine into his allies needing to happen in order for that aid to be released? Now, we don't see that per say in this article. According to the reporting, he sort of responded that, oh, you know, Ukraine is corrupt, I can't be turning over this money. But there's a key question here is, what else did he say about these investigations of his political rivals in that meeting?

And it just underscores how little we know still about what these top aides heard from the president's lips. I mean Republicans have made their top line of defense in this whole impeachment inquiry that we haven't heard a firsthand account of whether Trump was leveraging this money for these investigations.

Now, these three people were talking we know in late August trying to get the president to back down saying it's in the United States' national security interests to release this money. These are people, you know, you would think, if the president really had nothing to hide, that he would say go up to The Hill and testify. Clear my name. But, again, the White House has been blocking these folks. And, again, it just really puts the pressure on McConnell and Republicans in the Senate when they have this trial to bring in these people that heard from him firsthand.

BERMAN: That's right, if John Bolton would help the president, why not say, go testify and say in that meeting I never said the investigations were tied to the aid. John Bolton could answer that question.

Joe Lockhart, when you see this article, this extraordinary detail develop over the Christmas holiday, you see something a little different here. You see people trying to get their stories straight.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, or at least get their story out first. I think it's -- it's a reflection of both great reporting by "The New York Times," but also a sense that this idea of witnesses is becoming more real. And if this -- if it is becoming more real, then a lot of different parties want to make sure that their version gets out first. I think you can see this a little bit here in the story where the national security team is very aggressive in this story about saying, hey, we were the good guys here. We kept trying to push Mulvaney and OMB. You see some internal dissention within OMB where the career guys get pushed aside for the political appointees. You see them -- the -- people putting the lawyers front and center by this sort of convoluted idea of, how can we develop a legal theory for countermanding Congress. And then you see, you know, someone acting on behalf of Mick Mulvaney saying, oh, well, Mick always left the meetings when Rudy was there for -- for (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Right.

LOCKHART: So I think that's why you get such a clear picture that you've got a lot of people now with incentive to talk.

HARLOW: Incentive to talk, wanting to get their stories out there ahead of any testimony that we may have or may not have from witnesses in a Senate trail.

Given all of that, Rachael, how striking is it that the White House has not settled on a defense strategy yet?

BADE: Yes, no, there's been some really interesting reporting coming out of Florida, Mar-a-Lago, about the president asking people, how do I defend myself? I mean there -- the one thing that the White House and Republicans seem to agree on is that the White House top council, Pat Cipollone is going to be leading the charge on this. But there's been a push sort of behind the scenes, my understanding from talking to my sources on The Hill, that some people want to see folks like Jim Jordan leading his defense as well over in the Senate. Some of the House members, the president's top attack dogs, going over to the Senate to defend him.

However, clearly, there's some pushback on that in the White House. And we've sort of seen Republicans struggle to figure out, what is the best way to defend the president. Clearly he's thinking about these next steps and we'll just have to see where he comes down because Mitch McConnell apparently is a little uncomfortable with the idea of some of the House attack dogs coming over to defend the president. But if the president wants it, what more can he do?

BERMAN: Total coordination. Mitch McConnell has told us one thing. they're working in total coordination.

HARLOW: Totally, lock step.

Thank you both. Appreciate it. Rachael, Joe.

BADE: Thank you.

Sad news this morning. Civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis disclosing that he has been diagnosed with and is battling stage four pancreatic cancer. How he plans to fight it, next.



HARLOW: Former Presidents Obama and Clinton are among the many offering words of support for civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis. This is after he announced late yesterday that he is battling stage four pancreatic cancer.

Our Elizabeth Cohen joins me more with details on his prognosis.

I was so struck by his statement, Elizabeth. He says, I have been in some kind of fight for freedom, equality, basic human rights for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one that I have now.

Tell us what this prognosis means.


When you hear that from someone as heroic as John Lewis, that really does say something. The congressman has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer,

which is the most advanced stage. That's not unusual, unfortunately. Pancreatic cancer often -- people feel perfectly fine, and so it's not caught until it is quite late. So the treatment is sometimes surgery if it's operable, also chemotherapy and radiation sometimes before the surgery, sometimes after, sometimes both. It is definitely a tough road.

And, unfortunately, with stage four pancreatic cancer, when you look at, from the time of diagnosis and then you go five years forward, five years after the diagnosis, only 3 percent of those patients are still alive.


Congressman Lewis says that he goes into this clear-eyed. He understands what the odds are. He also mentioned there have been some advances that have refined the treatment, surgery has gotten refined. They're better at knowing which chemotherapy agents to use. And he says, by the grace of God, I will be on the front lines again soon.


BERMAN: One thing we know is that he will fight.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

A winter storm bringing rain, ice, and snow to the northeast. It's also causing dangerous travel conditions in the northern plains.

Chad Myers with the forecast.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, really we got a lot of colors on the map today, and we never like that when you're trying to get home or travel anywhere. It is going to be an icy mess across parts of the Northeast.

This weather is brought to you by Celebrity Cruises. Visit to book your award winning vacation today. And that may be a good idea.

Across parts of the Northeast, the snow continues, the ice across parts, the Mass turnpike, the Green and White Mountains. And this is going to be good news for ski resorts. We're going to get some snow in the higher elevations. But there will be ice on the roadways, in the valleys, and this is going to be a problem. Not for New York City. You're going to be 44. Not for Boston. You're going to be 38. But you get away from the cities and a little bit of a higher elevation, and this is going to be an ice and snowstorm for you.

Getting in and out of the northeast airports today will be very difficult. Newark, La Guardia, JFK, Boston. All of those airports will be difficult. Even in parts of Ohio, there's 114,000 people without power because of the wind. And if the wind is knocking down trees, certainly it will slow down your airplane as well.

We'll watch these warnings for you and update you as the day goes on.


BERMAN: And don't be fooled by the pretty colors on the map.

MYERS: That's right.

BERMAN: The pretty colors on the map don't tell you it's going to be nice. They tells you the opposite.

HARLOW: Yes. As someone delayed on a flight coming back from vacation with a one and three-year-old, I pray that doesn't happen to anyone else, or anyone sitting next to them.

BERMAN: I was just delayed in a middle seat by myself.

HARLOW: I don't feel bad for you.

Joe Biden backtracking after saying he would not comply with a subpoena to testify in the president's Senate impeachment trial. Where does he actually stand on this? What would he actually do? We'll talk about it, next.

BERMAN: Alone.



BERMAN: So the NFL playoff schedule is set after a thrilling final week of games. And by thrilling I mean extraordinary disappointing.

Coy Wire has more on who is in and who is out in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: We'll talk about your Patriots in a minute, John.

Good morning to you.

They say football is a game of inches, right? Well, that is exactly what determined the winner of the 49ers/Seahawks game with the NFC West title on the line. Seattle fans celebrating the return of Marshawn Lynch. But after a penalty pushed them back to the six yard line in the final seconds, they don't go to beast mode. Russell Wilson throws to Jacob Hollister, who's barely denied the touchdown. Watch rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw with a huge hit for the Niners. The win gets them a week off and the number one seed in the NFC. The road to the Super Bowl now goes through San Francisco for the first time since 1997.

During Dallas' huge win over Washington, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' playoff dreams being shattered by a guy named Boston who plays for Philly. Dallas needs the Eagles to lose in order to make the playoffs, but at just 5'6" tall, Boston Scott is smashing the Giants, spinning on air. Look at him. The former practice squad player runs for three touchdowns in the second half alone. The Eagles run their way into the playoffs for a third straight season. They host the Seahawks in the wildcard round on Sunday. Dallas, they missed the playoffs for the sixth time in Jason Garrett's nine full seasons as head coach.

Here are your playoff matchups. The Buffalo Bills going to Houston and the Titans go to New England on Saturday while the Saints host the Vikings and Philly host Seattle on Sunday.

But, John, a tough loss for your Patriots yesterday, upset by the Dolphins. They drop to the three seed and now have to play in the opening round for the first time in a decade. And they've never made the Super Bowl when they had to play in the opening round.

BERMAN: Let me -- let me just say this, though, one more week of Patriots football and Tom Brady, not necessarily a bad thing. You can look at it that way. So, glass half full.

WIRE: There you go, John. And they always find a way, right?

BERMAN: Then didn't yesterday against a pretty bad team. They didn't find a way at all.

All right, Coy, appreciate it.

Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden is now clarifying remarks on whether he would comply with a congressional subpoena. He now acknowledges that he will cooperate if served with one.

Joining us now, CNN political commentators Alice Stewart, she's a Republican strategist, and Aisha Moodie-Mills, a Democratic strategist.

Let me play you what Joe Biden now says, which is that he will comply with a subpoena.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would, in fact, abide by the -- what was legally required of me. I always have.

This is a trial that relates to Donald Trump's behavior. Did he violate the Constitution? Pure and simple. And I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that stays the focus, not anything else.


BERMAN: So the reason he had to clarify is because he did an interview with "The Des Moines Register" where he said he wouldn't comply and then he was asked about it even again, he said, do you stand by your earlier statements that you wouldn't comply if you were subpoenaed to testify in an impeachment trial before the Senate. Biden said, correct, and the reason I wouldn't is because it's designed to deal with Trump doing what he's done his whole life, trying to make -- take the focus off him.

So, Aisha, I think we've now settled that the vice president will comply if he is subpoenaed, but it took a long time to get here. What's going on?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I don't think this is about the subpoena and the law. Of course Vice President Biden's going to follow the law no matter what it is.

He's the thing, though. The challenge is that this is multiple times in his campaign that he's had to reverse course. He's doing these 180 flips because for whatever reason I think that he speaks without necessarily being fully prepared, without like his, you know, listening to his staff and understanding kind of the consequences on doubling down on something that's wrong. I'm reminded about the Hyde Amendment and his, you know, flip-flopping around abortion funding and having to reverse course there. And I think that it's going to be problematic for him to be so -- a little bit indignant going forward and refusing to reverse course and then a couple days later having to reverse course. It just doesn't seem like he quite knows what his messaging is supposed to be and has conviction around that.


HARLOW: Yes, there's a bit of, if you're explaining, you're losing here, right?

Alice, you, interestingly, think that Biden should fight a subpoena if it were to come for three reasons. Lay them out for us.


I think there's a lot at stake here. One lesson he should have learned is going before "The Des Moines Register" editorial team, you need to make sure and have the answers straight and follow through with it.

But, look, he -- moving forward, I would love to hear what he has to say with regard to Ukraine and his involvement with that. But from a communications and a strategic standpoint, as you say, there's three reasons why I don't think he should.

First and foremost, we haven't heard from any of the Republicans that have been under scrutiny with regard -- from that -- during the House inquiry. So that is, I think, a reason why he should avoid it. Also, it gets him off message. He's on the campaign trail running for president. Ideally, he should be talking about what he's going to do to work on the economy and health care and education. And, thirdly, it could potentially put him in some type of political or legal jeopardy doing so, going on the record answering these questions.

So, from a strategic standpoint, I would not recommend it. And I don't think it will ever happen. I expect we will see Joe Biden testify under oath the same day we will see Donald Trump's tax returns, which will be the third of nevuary (ph). HARLOW: That's a new word.

BERMAN: Just kept going and going and going.

HARLOW: It's my 2020 word.

BERMAN: Look, you know, Joe Biden got out there the message he wanted to get out, which is that he didn't do anything wrong in his mind, it's ridiculous that he should have to testify when this is about the president's conduct. But, ultimately, he needs to say he will comply with the law. And he got to that point.

Aisha, I'm old enough to remember a Democratic primary where a prohibitive frontrunner may have lost, or at least partially, contributing to her defeat, was her vote for the Iraq War in 2003. And I'm talking about Hillary Clinton. Now Pete Buttigieg is trying to take on Joe Biden on that same issue.



MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I certainly respect the vice president, but this is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment. He supported the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime, which was the decision to invade Iraq.


BERMAN: Is the Iraq War vote, does it have the same resonance today in, what is it, 2019, nearly 2020, that it did in 2008?

MODDIE-MILLS: So, I would imagine that the vote specifically doesn't have the same resonance, but the point is -- is clear that Pete is trying to make. And what he's saying is that when you've got a 30 year or 40 year track record, the truth is, is that you have a lot to critique. And so today the question becomes, what would Biden and others in this field, who have been around a long time, do differently than they did before? What are some of the lessons that they've learned?

The interesting thing about, you know, the pot calling the kettle black is that while we can critique the people who have been around a long time, the truth is that Mayor Pete doesn't really have a record to critique. And so I think that this is going to be interesting in terms of how it plays out on the campaign trail. And it will also, going back to Biden and his kind of coming full 180 on issues, the truth is, is that he hasn't necessarily deeply dialed back some of his most problematic votes and some of the things that he did when he was in the Senate. It's a real talking point conversation opportunity I think that Pete is weighing in and is really trying to jab him on it.

BERMAN: Aisha Moodie-Mills, Alice Stewart, very happy you were here. Have a wonderful New Year and enjoy all your thirds of nevuary.

STEWART: Thank you, John.

MOODIE-MILLS: Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: Thanks, ladies.

All right, developing overnight, the death toll is rising to 85 after a truck bomb exploded at a busy intersection in Somalia's capital. The U.S. military and Somalian forces retaliating with three air strikes targeting the terror group al Shabab.

CNN's Farai Sevenzo joins us live from Nairobi this morning with more.

What are the details you have at this hour?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN JOURNALIST: Yes, good morning, Poppy.


Good morning again, Poppy.

The truck bomb that went off on Saturday has killed 85 people. This is because also the Somali National Emergency Committee keep adding up the figures because the people had been missing and they've now been found. So we're up to 85.

Of course, this is all to do with al Qaeda affiliated terror group known as al Shabab. They are the one true terror group that operates throughout this region. Remember, January the 15th they attacked a hotel here in Nairobi. But, of course, the main victims are constantly the Somali people themselves.

We know that this truck bomb went off at a busy intersection which was bordering Banadir University. So young people, young Somalis are part of the many, many, many victims.

And this is not the first time this has happened. Remember, October 2017, over 500 were killed in yet another truck bomb. But the U.S.' Africa command have been very, very strident about this. They say that this is an organization that exports (ph) violence regionally and eventually wants to attack the United States homeland itself.


So while al Shabab is operating, they are always being hit back by U.S. Africa Command.

Back to you, Poppy.

BERMAN: All right.