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Iraqi Protestors March on U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton Reportedly Asked President Trump to Release Held up Aid to Ukraine in Oval Office Meeting; Volunteer Security Guard Stops Shooter During Religious Service; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) is Interviewed About the Senate Impeachment Trial and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); NYPD Increases Security Measures in Times Square. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2019 - 08:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The president wrote this morning "Iran killed an American contractor, wounded many. We're strongly responding and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified."

Let's go to Arwa Damon. She has all the details for us this morning. Arwa, what can you tell us? This is obviously a region you've covered closely and been to many, many times.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. And look, there's a couple of things to highlight. First of all, these are not just ordinary Iraqi protesters. These are mostly members of what's known as the Popular Mobilization Force. This is a force that came to existence after ISIS was marching through Iraq towards Baghdad. But it's mostly made up of members who were, yes, part of a variety of very powerful Shia militias, many of whom did have close ties to Iran.

And while ostensibly they are currently part of the Iraqi security forces, many will tell you that Baghdad has very little control over them. So when the U.S. carried out these strikes against one of these groups called Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi government viewed it as being an assault on its own security forces. At least elements within the Iraqi forces viewed it as being that.

Now, these individuals who managed to a certain degree just march to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, then did attempt to set fire to the outside of it. They were raising their own flags. They were chanting anti-American slogans, calling for the Americans to get out. They spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the embassy. They were breaking the security cameras outside. What we now know is that the embassy is on lockdown and, according to a spokesperson, the staff has not been evacuated, and the ambassador himself is on R and R. He's on a vacation that was previously scheduled. He's been gone for about a week.

Now, the Iraqi prime minister, the caretaker prime minister, is to a certain degree trying to calm down the situation, although, remember, he called those strikes by the U.S. a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, but he is calling on the protesters to not resort to violence, although the country is currently in a period of mourning.

Of course, everyone is watching this very, very closely because any potential escalation that would result in death would potentially have very devastating consequences.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And that's key new information that they have not evacuated staff, because that would give a sense that they feel they could get the situation under control. Arwa Damon, thanks very much.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She's the White House correspondent for "The Times." Trump has made Iran a centerpiece of his foreign policy, of course withdrawing from the nuclear deal. A number of military responses, although no response for the shootdown of the U.S. drone. As you see what's happening there now, a test for the Trump administration policy?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a test for the Trump administration policy. It's a reminder to this president, I think as he has seen many times in the last three years, that campaigning on getting out of the Mideast sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

And, look, I don't know whether he spoke to his national security adviser or any other advisers about the tweet that he put out this morning, but we have not seen before during these kinds of crises in the Mideast since 9/11 any U.S. president -- Twitter didn't exist for half that time, but you did not see George W. Bush in the early days of Twitter, you did not see President Obama tweeting out their response. That is a volatile situation if it escalates, as you just heard, that it's going to present a real challenge for this president. And this is as he is facing all kinds of challenges on the domestic front. So we'll see how he handles it over the next couple of days, and we will see how that scene plays out. But he is very aware of the power of television, as you know, and he knows that voters can see these images and can be very alarmed by them.

HARLOW: Look, leading our newscast all morning, and you're going to continue to see them through the day. Your reporting was remarkable. You and your team on the 84 days of the Ukraine crisis unfolding. And you made a ton of news revealing the end of August, a Oval Office meeting between Pompeo, Esper, and Bolton around the Resolute Desk, pleading with the president to release to aid to Ukraine. My question to you this morning on that is what have you heard in terms of if that is moving the needle at all for Republicans in the Senate to back witnesses coming to testify in a Senate trail, namely witnesses like those three who could shed light on something previously unknown directly tied to why the president has been impeached.


HABERMAN: So far, we have not heard of any movement among Senate Republicans trying to move away from this plan to call witnesses, or the hopes of calling witnesses by Democrats. Mitch McConnell has been very clear with his caucus and with the White House, he does not want witnesses called because I think he sees it as a pandora's box for the reasons you just described is it can go in all kinds of different directions. And I think you're going to see Democrats continue to put the pressure on. I think they were going to do that anyway. But we certainly saw yesterday a number of Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, point to our reporting as why he thinks that there should be witnesses.

The other thing that I've heard in the last two days is that this again is raising questions about the speed with which the House inquiry took place. The decision not to go to court to try to force witnesses, and the argument that this could have been handled there as well. I think that it is going to take an enormous amount of change in the fact set for Republicans to say they think there should be witnesses.

And, to be clear, again, we talk about this as if this is a normal trial. It's not a normal trial. We don't really know quite what this will look like, but it's not going to be witnesses sitting in the box. They will be deposed in a different way, and then those will be shown.

SCIUTTO: But isn't this an enormous change in the set of facts? You have the president's senior most national security advisers coming to him to get this aid released, acknowledging that it's his decision. The Republican defense has been, well, there's no direct line to the president here. They went straight to the president and said, Mr. President, you have to change this. And yet they are the witnesses blocked by this president from testifying. It's an alarming demonstration of where we are in this debate here, because it does not seem that facts move the dial.

HABERMAN: Again, I think it's going to take a fact of -- what was Trump's line during the campaign? He could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his crowd wouldn't leave him. I think that it is going to take a huge change in the fact set beyond what we -- I think we uncovered a lot of new information. We set out to try to describe this timeline of the hold on the aid which had been less discussed, frankly, than the call that the president had with President Zelensky of Ukraine. I still think that right now that is not going to move where Republicans are.

HARLOW: One question that I think we were all left with reading your reporting and learning about this previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting is whether or not the president brought up the Bidens in that conversation or investigations or any demand of that sort from Ukraine. Obviously, would have reported it if you knew that, but I just wonder --

HABERMAN: Right. We just leave on the floor.

HARLOW: Clearly. But I just wonder if your reporting leaves you with -- do you have any questions still about whether that came up or not? And anything you learned in the last 48 hours?

HABERMAN: Right. I have a lot of questions. Listen, I think we were clear in our story. Here's what we know, here's what we still don't know. And from what we were able to determine, these two issues, the aid was playing out on one track, the freeze, and then the efforts by the president and Rudy Giuliani to secure an announcement of investigations upon investigations was playing out in another.

Some people who are obvious targets for questions, such as Mick Mulvaney or Rob Blair, his deputy, they have suggested to people that they did not connect and did not realize that they were in tandem, and when they did, they did not realize that there might be a link. Again, these are things that can only be answered if witnesses are called. There's still a lot that we don't know about this whole episode.

SCIUTTO: A number of other witnesses who testified under oath that there was a clear connection, the ones that did show up despite the White House ban on that. I wonder, as you look at this, because Joe Biden himself has referenced the possibility of him being subpoenaed before the Senate. And I've asked a number of Democratic senators if they'd be willing in effect, to trade a subpoena to Joe Biden for a subpoena for these other administration officials here. Is that a subject of serious discussions between Schumer and McConnell?

HABERMAN: I think it's something of a nonstarter because I just don't think that McConnell is going to go along with that. I think that McConnell is going to be pretty steady in his desire not to see witnesses called. And I also think that, candidly, the subject of Biden getting subpoenaed, while it is the way that this has all played out is very upsetting to a lot of Democrats and who see a false equivalence in questions about what Hunter Biden did, there are also a number of Democrats who will privately say, and a few, you saw Pete Buttigieg say this week, who I think will say it publicly, that they do have concerns about what Hunter Biden was doing while his father was in office. That does not mean the allegations that Rudy Giuliani is making are founded, but it does mean that some don't necessarily want to go down that road either.

HARLOW: Let's stick on the Rudy Giuliani point for a moment, because we are learning more and more. Even this week "The Washington Post" reporting that Giuliani had this phone call with --

HABERMAN: It's a great story.

HARLOW: -- with Maduro in Venezuela in the midst of all the chaos there, and the U.S. figuring out its policy on that front. Freelancing here? Sort of permission from the president to do this? Or just a tacit acknowledgment that this is what he's doing as the president's private lawyer, but also increasingly, clearly, having had a role in U.S. foreign policy?


HABERMAN: Right. I think that, look, it's one of the many questions that we're not going to know the answer to unless you have people under oath, and you're going to have Rudy Giuliani and the president both claim attorney-client privilege, and I think you will see that continue. But, look, these are legitimate questions to be asking. And then asking about what Rudy Giuliani was doing, whose interests he was representing. Was he at the same time he was working as the president's lawyer, whether this was personally advantageous to him in his own private work? And I think that the question is how many more revelations like this will we see in the coming months?

SCIUTTO: It also highlights, listen, Rudy Giuliani may not have exactly a Midas touch when it comes to foreign policy issues because Venezuela did not turn out -- you'll remember a few months ago the Trump administration thought they were going to get a win. They were championing Guaido. Of course, he's disappeared. Maduro is still in power.

HABERMAN: John Bolton actually was the one leading that push, and it was part of what sparked the rift between the president and John Bolton, well ahead of the aid hold that Bolton objected to. But again, I think that we're going to see other questions come up about where there was an intersection of Rudy Giuliani's personal client work with U.S. policy interests. And it may not be illegal. We know that there's a Southern District of New York investigation going on into Rudy Giuliani. No idea where that will lead. The argument you hear from the president's folks often is, there's nothing he did that he could be arrested for. I have no visibility into that investigation right now, but certainly at minimum, these are questions we'd be asking of any lawyer working for a president under a similar situation.

HARLOW: And he has the president's support. And he was down in Mar- a-Lago just days ago reveling and enjoying himself.

HABERMAN: Correct.

HARLOW: There you have it. Maggie, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Maggie, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Happy new year.

HABERMAN: Happy new year.

HARLOW: Get a nap. Have fun tonight.


SCIUTTO: Get some rest.

HARLOW: So I say to a busy reporter and mother of three.

So ahead, the tragic story that we're still learning more about from over the weekend, the man that police say stabbed five orthodox Jews at a rabbi's home just outside of New York City has officially been charged with federal hate crimes. Investigators have uncovered a trail of online searches, journal entries where he wrote about Hitler, searched about synagogues and American companies founded by Jews.

Let's go to our Brynn Gingras. She is live again this morning for us in Monsey, New York, with more. The criminal complaint, all six pages outlining incredibly troubling mindset that he might have had. BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Definitely, Poppy. And

the family of 37-year-old Grafton Thomas spoke to the media, and they said this is not a man that has anti-Semitism in his blood. This is a man who is a former marine who has a history of mental illness, has been hospitalized, has been taking medication.

However, as you just noted for the viewers, the criminal complaint, six pages for these five federal hate crime charges, it's very detailed. And it is disturbing. There's a lot in there that authorities put about the evidence that they uncovered from Thomas' car, from also his home, including journals. They say they found journals that had references to Hitler, to Nazi culture, pictures of the Star of David and the swastikas. And then they also said in this criminal complaint that there were cell phone searches, Internet searches on a cell phone, essentially looking for German Jewish temples near me, according to this complaint. Also just searches about police presence at synagogues in New York City. That search, according to the complaint, happening on the day of this actual attack here in Monsey.

But it is really disturbing about what was in this complaint. And he was in court, Thomas, yesterday, on these five federal charges, and he's going to be back in court this week on Friday for the state charges of attempted murder. And again, he pleaded not guilty to those, but we will learn more about this as these two cases continue on. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras in Monsey, New York.

Now to another attack on a house of worship. The man who fatally shot a gunman inside a Texas church during Sunday services now being credited with taking him out and saving lives with just one shot. Volunteer security guard Jack Wilson, who is a former reserve sheriff's deputy as well as an Army veteran, says he began watching the attacker from the moment he walked into the church. CNN's Lucy Kafanov live near Ft. Worth, Texas, with more. What else are we learning about these six seconds between when the first shots were fired, and when the shooter was taken down?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is close-knit community, a close-knit congregation. People recognize one another. And so Jack Wilson knew something was wrong when a stranger dressed in a wig with a fake beard walked into those Sunday church services before he began opening fire. Now jack Wilson owned a firing range. He trained many members of the congregation to operate arms in self-defense. And so when that shooter pulled out the long gun and began firing, Jack Wilson responded within seconds. Take a look.



JACK WILSON, STOPPED CHURCH SHOOTER: My training, you know, says that if I see a weapon, especially in that scenario, because that's my job. You train but you hope you never have to go to that extreme. If you do, your training will kick in and that was evident yesterday. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KAFANOV: Nearly 250 people in that church that morning. A lot more lives could have been lost if it wasn't for that quick response. We're also learning more about the shooter Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43 years old, a homeless man.

Authorities have reported that he's had numerous arrests and convictions over the past decade. We also heard from family members of the shooter and acquaintances. They described him as someone who struggled with depression. He had a brother, a younger brother who he was close to that committed suicide. The Sunday shooting, the day of the shooting was actually the anniversary of the birthday of the brother. Family members say he struggled with, quote, demons -- guys, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Lucy, thank you for being there again this morning and for that reporting.

Ahead for us, how long will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hold on to the articles of impeachment and keep them from the Senate? We'll ask a ranking Democrat, next.


HARLOW: All right. Congress back in session next week. When will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi send the articles of impeachment to the Senate?


Will she?

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee, the chief deputy whip for Democrats.

Good morning. Happy New Year, sir.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Good morning. Happy New Year to you.

All right. So, if Mitch McConnell does not agree to witnesses testifying in the Senate trial or at least agree to it before the trial begins, because he says he'll consider it in the middle of a trial, should Nancy Pelosi send the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

KILDEE: Well, this is my view. We shouldn't send them until we have assurances it's going to be a fair and honest trial. I think one of the elements of that would be --


HARLOW: Does that mean witnesses? Does that mean assurances of witnesses?

KILDEE: I think it -- HARLOW: Yes?

KILDEE: I think that's one of the elements that we're looking for. Obviously, I'll leave it to the speaker to determine when she thinks that threshold has been met, but I think especially when now new information continues to come to light, it paints an even starker picture of how this president was aware that the withholding of this military aid was something that he was controlling and that it was having a negative effect on Ukraine.

And he continued to persist, despite some of his closest, some of his top people around him trying to persuade him otherwise.

That's information that we ought to explore. We didn't have access to that information during the House inquiry. And it's information that we ought to take a look at.

HARLOW: Just quick yes or no. Would you be comfortable as your colleague in Congress, Jim Clyburn, said he is with an indefinite hold on the process?

KILDEE: Well, yes. I mean, I think indefinite until we have some assurances that the trial isn't going to be a sham.

HARLOW: But you might not get those --

KILDEE: This is an important moment in --

HARLOW: I guess I'm saying --

KILDEE: We may not get there. That's up to Mitch McConnell.

HARLOW: OK. So that would mean that the president's impeached but never tried by the Senate? I just wonder. There's not a lot in the Constitution about how a Senate trial should work. That's why we're sort why where we are.

But you would be comfortable with that if you don't get assurances that a trial would be fair?

KILDEE: Yes, I'm not going to say I'm comfortable with it because I'm never comfortable when the Senate refuses to do its job -- whether it's dealing with impeachment or not taking up a prescription drug bill that we passed that would help millions and millions of Americans get access to affordable medicines. They don't take that up either. And I'm not comfortable with that.

So it's troubling that Mitch McConnell seems to have ceded his entire responsibility to directives from the White House. That doesn't make me very comfortable, but I don't think we can buy into that notion and simply say, well, that's the way it is now so we're just going to let it go.

The House has a real role and a real stake in the Senate trial. This is not a case of the House does its work and then everything is under the control of the Senate. They certainly control the process, but we have an important role to play in this. And it's really critical that it'd be a fair process.

HARLOW: A very important role to play, the House, especially this time around with it, you know, doing the -- you know, Democratic-led House committees doing the investigation itself. You don't have a Starr report, for example, this time around.

And given the remarkable reporting by Maggie Haberman, Mark Mazzetti, and that team at "The New York Times" over the weekend that uncovered a late-August meeting in the Oval Office between Pompeo, Bolton, Esper and the president with them pleading with him to release the aid to Ukraine, I know hindsight is 2020. But, you know, the House investigation didn't uncover that. Journalists at "The Times" did.

Was this process rushed? And are you, Democrats, now asking the Senate by calling these additional witnesses, asking the Senate essentially to finish work that the House did not wait to get done or wait on the courts to decide on in terms of those witnesses?

KILDEE: No, I don't think -- I don't think our process was rushed because the threshold that we were looking for is whether or not we felt there was ample evidence to demonstrate that the president exceeded his authority, abused his power and then tried to obstruct Congress.

The obstruction of Congress was happening in plain sight by everybody. But you make a very important point. Essential to a civil society, to a Democratic society, is not just the functioning of the institutions of government but the free media, the free press being able to dig and do their job and bring facts to light.

Thinking about that reminds us this president has done everything he can to not only discredit the process of government through the oversight that Congress places upon him, but he has done everything he can to diminish the legitimacy of the free press. It's an important element of a civil society and the reporting that is now coming out is a good example of that.

HARLOW: But what their reporting shows is that it's still operating, right? That it can't and hasn't been stopped in this country, thank goodness.

One more quick beat (ph) for you on this and then I want to --

KILDEE: Thank goodness.

HARLOW: -- roll on to something else, and that is the urgency, right?


I mean, the words used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying: We can't wait for the courts to decide.

Jamie Raskin: The president's conduct constitutes a clear and present danger.

House Intel Chief Adam Schiff, quote: We view this as urgent. That was just a matter of weeks ago and now this hold on the articles

of impeachment from moving forward.

They were talking about what they believe is a risk to the next election and to national security.

Why was that a risk and urgent to address a few weeks ago and now it seems like most Democratic members are OK with this all holding for I don't know how long.

KILDEE: Well, it is urgent and it's -- because it's so urgent that we actually have to get it right, simply saying that it's urgent and moving in the House based on that urgency and then handing it over to a Senate that will simply dismiss this and not really deal with it in a fair and open fashion doesn't address the urgency of the situation. There's also another fundamental difference, and that is that in the case of the House, we had to go through every step of the court process in order to enforce a subpoena. And it looked like that could take many, many months.

In this case, it will be Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts enforcing any subpoena that the Senate trial might put forward.

HARLOW: Yes. And you bring up a --

KILDEE: I have a suspicion that those will be dealt with much more quickly.

HARLOW: You bring up a really interesting point. One that Jim and I ask many of our guests about, is that, sort of, what power does the chief justice have to compel witnesses to testify? That will be tested in this trial, it appears, or could be.

Finally, just -- I'd like to leave on this. Your colleague Democrat John Lewis diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Obviously, we're all rooting for him. You know, he's been a giant in Congress.

Just your thoughts as we head into the New Year about your time with him.

KILDEE: Well, you know, one of the real honors that I have serving in the House of Representatives is being able to walk over the floor and sit with John Lewis, or to serve on the Ways and Means Committee with him. He is just a powerful figure in our nation's history.

But as you may know, everything we know about him as a public figure is matched by his personal behavior.


KILDEE: This is just one of the finest people I've ever known in my life, and we're all pulling for him. As he said, he has more bridges to cross, and we are pulling for him and hoping to cross those with him.

HARLOW: What a vision as he meant so much to this country, so many decades ago, marching over that one.

Thank you. Happy New Year, Congressman.

KILDEE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: More bridges to cross. Powerful.

Well, it is New Year's Eve. So, in just hours, hundreds of thousands of people are going to pack the streets of Times Square here in New York to usher in 2020 and a new decade. The New York City Police Department taking new measures to protect revelers. It's an enormous operation.

CNN's Miguel Marquez, he is live in Times Square with more.

You know, explain to our viewers all that goes into it. I mean, they have those pens to kind of divvy the crowds up. They've got security screening. This is an enormous security effort there.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As many as a million people in this area in just a few blocks north of where we are will pile into here. And it is a massive effort. Thousands of police officers, tens of thousands of people with this Times Square alliance, sanitation workers and everything to put this all on.

The ball is just down there. This is where all the action is. This is the massive set of stages for the Times Square celebration.

These cages or the railings in front of us, these are the pens. Once you are in there, you cannot get out. They will have thousands of police officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes. They're going to have resources in the air, on the water, the rivers nearby and also the entire area around Times Square blocked off.

They will also have drones if the weather permits. Last year, they weren't able to fly them. They'll also have a team that will be watching for rogue drones. So if there are drones up they want to take out of service. They have some way to do that, they believe.

The brave, the stupid, the brave, the crazy, they are already lined up. The people who are in front there from Canada, they're waiting for the K pop band BTS that will play later tonight. Hello though.

They've been here since 10:00 a.m. yesterday. And there's about 300 people behind them waiting to get into these pens which they'll open up soon. Times Square for now is still open. Police will soon lock all of this down and start putting people into these pens. And then the party will be on.

Back to you.

SCIUTTO: The stupid, the brave, the crazy. I've got dibs on that for the band name.


SCIUTTO: You can't have it.

HARLOW: Miguel really doesn't want to get stuck inside those cages.

MARQUEZ: All right, fine.

HARLOW: All right. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Two best friends, one epic night. Ring in the New Year with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. Our New Year's coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

HARLOW: 2019, a pretty good year if you're invested in the market. But what if you're not?

Christine Romans on the state of the U.S. economy, next.

SCIUTTO: And check out this incredible show in the nighttime sky from Sydney.