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John Bolton Now Says He Is Ready And Willing To Testify If Congress Subpoenas Him; Fears Grow Over Potential Iran Retaliation Over U.S. Killing; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Moves To Limit The President's Actions In Iran With War Powers Resolution Vote. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired January 6, 2020 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. A very busy day. Don't go anywhere.

Brianna Keilar continues our breaking news coverage right now. Have a great afternoon.

[03:00:12]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters and we begin with breaking news that could tremendously impact negotiations over President Trump's impeachment trial.

Trump's former National Security Adviser, John Bolton now says he is ready and willing to testify if Congress subpoenas him. Bolton's name came up during key testimony.

The President's former top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, told Congress that Bolton directed her to talk to National Security lawyers at the White House after becoming aware Rudy Giuliani was spearheading an effort to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

Bolton also called Giuliani a hand grenade who will blow up -- who will blow everyone up according to Hill and referred to the alleged quid pro quo as a drug deal. Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department. So Kylie, do we know what prompted Bolton's decision to testify?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: We don't know specifically what led to this statement today, Brianna, but what we are learning, according to a source familiar is that John Bolton tried to reach out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before he blasted this statement out on Twitter, essentially, to give the Majority Leader a heads up that he was going to be saying that, yes, if I am subpoenaed, I will provide testimony in the Senate trial.

Now, of course, they have not made a decision, a formal decision as to if there will be folks that are coming up and providing testimony, witnesses that are part of this Senate trial. But it is important to note, however, that the White House did not

know that this statement was coming and there was no one else up on Capitol Hill who was given a heads up.

It was quite a shocking statement to see today, and of course, it comes as Congress is planning to come back and figure out what this Senate trial is going to look like. This is going to be a very key part of that.

Now, John Bolton is someone who had faced criticism over the last few months because he did not provide testimony as part of the House Impeachment Inquiry, but he was not subpoenaed by the House.

And he was, according to a source familiar, quite curious about that and surprised that he was not subpoenaed because he was dangling out the fact that he knew information about the withholding of aid to Ukraine, that had not been disclosed by other officials who provided testimony.

So clearly, he is saying that he is willing to testify. There are a lot of questions about if that will happen and what the legalities will look like if the White House tries to prevent him from providing any of the information he knows.

But a source familiar with this statement and his crafting of this statement, essentially says that it speaks for itself, he is willing to provide that testimony. And that is big news today -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is. Kylie, thank you so much. Now Democrats right now are already pointing to Bolton's willingness to testify as a big boost for them. CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Democrats believe that the decision by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi to withhold those Articles of Impeachment and not send them over to the Senate has actually worked to their advantage. Now, that is their argument.

They're saying that in the interim, time over the last couple of weeks, they have seen some developments and learned some issues from the press about documents suggesting the President's knowledge of the withholding of that Ukraine aid and other matters, as well as now this new significant development of John Bolton saying he is willing to testify before the Senate in a trial.

Now, Nancy Pelosi is still unclear when she would send over those Articles of Impeachment. There's expectation on Capitol Hill that it could be any day, but she is not saying yet. And Mitch McConnell is saying he will not start a trial until he gets those Articles of Impeachment.

But what I'm hearing from a senior Democratic aide is that they believe that this strategy has had value because it led to this development of John Bolton indicating his willingness to testify. Now, the same aide told me that there's been no advance notice given

to the Speaker's office that Bolton would provide this statement.

But the question ultimately now is what the next step is moving forward on this testimony. Now, in order to get John Bolton to testify, there needs to be 51 senators in the chamber to vote to compel him to come forward and we know 47 Democrats serve in the chamber, likely all of them would vote to do so.

But are there four Republican senators who would agree to go that far? That is still a question. We still have not yet heard from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader in an official statement about how he plans to pursue things, but expect him largely to say what he's been saying for last couple of weeks.

They should begin the trial, have the opening arguments, then they can deal with the witnesses later? The question, Brianna, is if there is not ultimately enough votes to get John Bolton to come forward, if Republicans decide not to compel his testimony, issue him a subpoena, do House Democrats then go forward and issue a subpoena to get him to testify for their chamber?

[13:05:00]

RAJU: Bolton has not said he would testify before the House, but something that he has not said definitively, one way or another whether he would ultimately testify in light of this new statement, and we still don't know whether the House will go that route, ultimately.

But at the moment, the question is on the Senate whether the Senate Republicans do and if there are enough votes to compel his testimony, but it is definitely scrambling the calculation on Capitol Hill with John Bolton's very significant statement here -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It certainly is. Manu, thank you. Manu Raju live for us from Capitol Hill. And joining me now to discuss is CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger and former Federal prosecutor, Joseph Moreno.

Okay. So how does this now add, Gloria, to the ammunition that House Democrats are demanding, right? They have ammunition as they demand for witnesses to be called in and they want the Senate to basically have witnesses they didn't have. Does this help?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes, tremendously. As Manu was pointing out, I think there's a lot of pressure now on Mitch McConnell and you never know what Mitch McConnell's going to do and how he is going to react to pressure.

But you have had Republicans complaining that the Democratic case against Donald Trump was all hearsay, people who didn't have firsthand information.

And Bolton was everywhere, heard everything, is the person who can provide firsthand information about what occurred with Ukraine. He is also somebody who has been testified about as having said, I think it was Fiona Hill, you know, who talked about how he was saying, you know, I don't want to get involved in there -- in the drug deal -- in the Mulvaney and Sondland drug deal.

He said, Rudy Giuliani is a grenade that's going to blow everybody up. So they want to hear from him. And I don't see how Mitch McConnell can make the case, well, we want a fair trial in the Senate, while denying somebody who has firsthand information the ability to testify when he says he's willing to do it.

KEILAR: What if that does happen though, Joe? I mean, what are the -- what are the levers that House Democrats can perhaps pull? What then?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER D.O.J. PROSECUTOR: Okay, so House Democrats can still subpoena him now. Just because the President has been impeached doesn't mean they can't effectively reopen that subpoena.

BORGER: But he doesn't want to go to the House.

MORENO: He doesn't want to go to the House. Okay, so now the Senate. Let's just say that Bolton does get a subpoena, let's say either Mitch McConnell concedes or four Republicans jump ship and vote with the Democrats.

Bolton is not saying though, that he would not respect a court order. And what will most definitely happen is that the White House will challenge that subpoena. So we will back where we started.

Bolton will say, look, I'm happy to respond to a subpoena if a court tells me to, and we will be in the same boat we were as if the House Democrats had subpoenaed him in the first place.

BORGER: And then I think the question is, what if the court says, you have to testify. I think Bolton is aware of issues of privilege, et cetera, et cetera.

But, as were other people who testified before the House, but what if the court then speeds up the process and says, well, you do need to.

MORENO: That's the ultimate test. It is easy for him to say this now, it's a lot harder for him to defy a court. So I think that either way; we're going to have to see this play out in the courts and then we'll find out if Bolton really will show up and we'll hear from him.

And he is essential, there's no doubt about that. Any fair proceeding meant we should have heard from him, if not in the House, definitely in the Senate.

KEILAR: Because as you mentioned, what we know just through what Fiona Hill said, right, but there's a lot more we want to know. What else? What other questions would Democrats would really -- any on the up and up investigator want to know from Bolton?

BORGER: Well, they really would want to know, what was the actual story about why this aid got held up? And I might caution here that while the Democrats are eager to hear from Bolton, don't forget who John Bolton is. He is a true conservative. He is a conservative on foreign policy.

Clearly, the President and he have no love lost, obviously. But this is a difficult situation for John Bolton who wants to have a career after this among conservatives.

And so how is John Bolton going to handle testifying this way, in a way that perhaps might put the President in a bad light? I mean, it was sort of the, I quit, you're fired when he left and --

KEILAR: That's right.

BORGER: And you know, he has lately been praising the President on his moves on Iran.

KEILAR: That's right, because he's very hard line on Iran.

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: Gloria, thank you so much. Joe, really appreciate it.

And now to the crisis that is unfolding between the U.S. and Iran after the targeted strike on a top Iranian General. His family now vowing revenge.

Plus, President Trump doubling down on threats to target Iranian cultural sites. That's actually considered a war crime to do so.

And Speaker Nancy Pelosi moving to limit the President's authority on Iran and the President fires back.

This is CNN's special live coverage.

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[13:14:23]

KEILAR: The world holding its breath over what's next after the U.S. kills a top Iranian Commander. President Trump and America are increasingly isolated as concerns grow over how Iran will retaliate over the targeted strike on Qasem Soleimani.

So here's where we stand right now. As Congress is returning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving to limit the President's actions in Iran with a War Powers Resolution vote.

But the President claims legal notice to Congress is not required, that he is notifying them by a tweet anyway and he is also doubling down on his threat to commit war crimes by attacking cultural sites in Iran.

[13:15:03]

KEILAR: And the administration is still silent on specific Intelligence showing an imminent threat that led to Soleimani's killing.

Though the President asked over the weekend by reporters on Air Force One about releasing the Intel there said he is open to that possibility.

On the ground in Iraq, Americans are becoming much less welcome as this alliance is fraying. The Iraqi Parliament voted yesterday to expel American troops, a move that President Trump says will be met with harsh sanctions.

But we begin with massive angry crowds, many chanting "Death to America," taking to the streets of Tehran for the funeral of General Soleimani. His daughter saying the killing would bring a dark day for the U.S.

And Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed and wept over the General's body.

In the meantime, Iran's Foreign Minister sent a message to President Trump in part tweeting this, "Have you ever seen such a sea of humanity in your life?" Continuing with, "Do you still want to listen to the clowns advising you on our region?"

Senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is on the ground. And Fred, you are in the middle of all of this. What was it like?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Brianna. Well, there certainly is a lot of anger and a lot of frustration and mourning also on the streets of Tehran, as hundreds of thousands of people turned up for that procession with the coffin of Qasem Soleimani and many of them really very much, obviously in a state of mourning, but also extremely angry as well.

You know, I was down there in those crowds and it was immense to see how many people actually turned up, how many people actually had pictures of Qasem Soleimani, how many billboards there were as well, because of course, while he's very controversial among Western nations and in the U.S. also, he is someone who is very much revered by a lot of people here in Iran because they say he was someone who fought against ISIS and therefore they believe made Iran a lot safer.

Now, there was also a lot of anger that was mixed in as well. And you know, I've been at a lot of these demonstrations here in Iran. I have never seen one with an atmosphere like what we saw today.

There were a lot of people carrying placards that simply had two words on them, harsh revenge, and that's what they were calling for against the Trump administration, specifically. They say they wanted revenge for the killing of Qasem Soleimani and they want that revenge to happen as fast as possible.

And of course, a senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader has told us that the Iranians are definitely going to strike back militarily. They say they're going to strike back against military sites. But they also say that they don't want all of this to lead to a wider escalation and possibly a war in the Middle East. Of course, that would be devastating for this entire region.

But certainly, from what we've seen today, on the streets of Tehran, there are a lot of people who are extremely angry at President Trump -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Frederik Pleitgen, thank you and President Trump is firing off tweets today about Iran and impeachment.

But it was his repeated threat over the weekend to commit what fits the definition of a war crime that is getting a lot of attention. The President threatened strikes on 52 Iranian sites, including culturally important locations, if Iran were to retaliate against the U.S. and he is defending that threat, even though destroying cultural sites is considered, as we said, a war crime that's under international law.

Now, Mr. Trump also informed Congress that his tweets would serve as notification of any military strike on Iran. Also writing that legal notice is not required.

CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins is here now. And Kaitlan, tell us what you're hearing from the White House.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, that tweet itself from the President has gotten a lot of pushback from Democrats who said that is just not how this is going to work.

Something you're continuing to see that criticism from Democrats over how the administration has handled this strike and the fact that lawmakers were essentially left in the dark that we are now being told that we can expect a briefing from President Trump's top national security aides for the Senate this week where they'll likely learn more about this intelligence that Mike Pompeo said they had that led them to believe there was a threat that was imminent and that is why they carried out this strike.

But it's also coming as there are some mixed messages coming as what the President said they are going to do, depending on how Iran responds to all of this, and that's the President threatening over the weekend to target those 52 sites he say that they have already prepared for a case Iran does do something.

And he said, of course, that it includes cultural sites, which became a really big point of backlash from people who said that would violate international law.

Now, you're seeing aids try to say that the President did not say that starting with the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who did six interviews yesterday defending the administration here saying the President did not say that.

And then this morning, Kellyanne Conway told reporters the same, saying the President didn't say he was going to target cultural sites though, Brianna, you can not only read it in the President's tweet from Saturday, but he also repeated it to reporters on Air Force One yesterday, saying essentially he didn't think it was fair that the Iranians get to do what they do and that the U.S. would not be able to respond in a manner like that.

[13:20:06]

COLLINS: Though we do have sources telling us that there is a lot of opposition to going after sites like that inside the administration.

So whether or not it's just a threat from the President still remains to be seen. But it also comes as he is pushing back on Iraq saying that if they do move forward with that vote to oust U.S. troops and the presence that they have there that he is going to sanction Iraq.

He says if they leave, it would not be on friendly terms and that he wants the United States to be paid back for that very expensive military base there.

So essentially, while you're seeing aides like Pompeo argue that they are here for de-escalation, you're seeing the President continue to ratchet these tensions up as people are essentially waiting to see how it is that Iran responds to all of this.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan, thank you so much. Kaitlan Collins at the White House and I want to talk about all of this now, with Tamara Cofman Wittes. She is a former State Department adviser on Near Eastern Affairs under the Obama administration. She is now a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Middle East Policy Center. Tamara, thanks for joining us.

TAMARA COFMAN WITTES, FORMER STATE ADVISER ON NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS UNDER THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Happy to be here.

KEILAR: We are so happy to have you, especially if you can help us kind of make heads or tails of this. We hear Kellyanne Conway and Secretary of State Pompeo completely misrepresenting what the President is saying.

I think it's pretty telling that they actually have to lie about what he says because that's how serious what his threatening is. What was your reaction to hearing this threat about a possible targeting of 52 sites, including cultural sites?

WITTES: Well, look, it's a lot of bluster. It's throwing dust in the air. I think the Pentagon in its own very well-established practices for vetting targets would question both the legality and frankly the strategic value of targeting cultural sites, and uniformed officers know that it is illegal for them to carry out illegal orders and that they would be held accountable for that.

But honestly, I think that we have to pull back and ask, what is the strategic objective of all this bluster? The administration says it struck Qasem Soleimani end war, not to start one. And so what is the pathway out of this crisis? That's the question that I think President Trump needs to answer.

And all of this heated tweeting is not helping us de-escalate this crisis. KEILAR: When you're -- you talk about that kind of template of

questions, legal questions, really, that would be asked when it comes to cultural sites. Do you think that that was applied when it came to the killing of Soleimani? Because I mean, I hear you proposing what sounds like a very reasonable, pretty like boilerplate process for going about looking at targets.

Do you think something similar was done with the killing of the General?

WITTES: I'm confident that the Pentagon and its lawyers and the and the rest of the interagency and their lawyers would have an argument as to why the targeting of Qasem Soleimani was legal under both domestic and international law.

The argument they seem to have conveyed to Congress is that they viewed this as imminent self-defense, and that gets to the question of what was the Intelligence that suggested there was an imminent threat to American presence or American interests or American forces in the region? We don't know.

And so whether the White House was willing to convey some concrete information to congressional leaders and more importantly to the public, I think it's going to be very important in determining whether there's going to be support for whatever their path is forward.

By the way, you know, we have very measured support right now from European partners who are with us on the ground in Iraq, sharing Intelligence with them on this potential attack, I think is also going to be important.

KEILAR: When you look at this fight now over whether the President is really allowed to do what he is doing in this conflict, does the War Powers Act, because this is the resolution that the Speaker wants to have a vote on, does it allow the President to mount and offensive of a significant scale against Iran without congressional approval?

WITTES: Look, this is an extremely murky issue in American law. In practice, the War Powers Resolution has not been an effective restraint on the Executive Branch and its ability to conduct military operations abroad.

You know, this came up during President Bush's term. It came out during President Clinton's term. And what we've seen is that Congress has so far been unable or unwilling to gather enough strength to constrain the President in the ways that the War Powers Resolution in principle would allow them to do.

[13:35:05]

WITTES: We did see one instance last year when we had Congress vote on U.S. participation in the conflict in Yemen and the President was prepared to veto that resolution.

So it takes a lot of will in Congress. And I know that Speaker Pelosi wants to bring this to a vote in the House, but we have yet to see whether Senator McConnell on the Senate side is going to let it come to the floor at all.

KEILAR: Yes, it seems very doubtful. Tamara Cofman Wittes, thank you for joining us.

WITTES: My pleasure.

KEILAR: This is the message. You're not a dictator. Those were the words in the House Foreign Affairs Committee after President Trump claims his tweets are all the notice that Congress will get before he launches military action.

This as we're getting new insight into how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly convinced the President to carry out that deadly air strike.

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