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Bolton's Willingness to Testify at Impeachment Trial Puts Pressure on McConnell to Call Witnesses; Pelosi Not Revealing When She'll Deliver Articles of Impeachment to Senate; Rep. Ami Berra (D- CA) Discusses the Upcoming Briefing of Gang of Eight on Soleimani Death, Confusion on U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Iraq; Puerto Rico Under State of Emergency Following Powerful Earthquakes. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:32:16]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: There's already so much uncertainty in terms of what is going to happen next on Capitol Hill with the impeachment of President Trump. Now you can add one new question to the mix. What will John Bolton do, or maybe say?

The president's former national security adviser announcing yesterday that he is willing to testify before the Senate if handed a subpoena. He's clearly a central figure as he was one of the few with direct knowledge of what the president knew and said and when with regard to aid to Ukraine and ask for investigations.

Does this increase the pressure now on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow witnesses to testify? And what does this mean for the House, which never called him to testify as he preemptively took the case to court.

Let's find out. CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, I just posed the questions. Are you going any answers? What are hearing about the new Bolton factor today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has his conference in line. Most, if not all Republicans are behind his strategy to push back on the issue of witnesses until after the arguments begin in the Senate trial.

Now, after the arguments begin in the Senate trial, that's when the question is going to come, because it requires 51 Senators to vote to compel witness testimony, to vote to issue subpoenas.

And yesterday, I spent all afternoon talking to some of those key Senators, swing votes, Senators in difficult re-election races, some who are retiring, who may be under less pressure in lining up with the president. They have all essentially, punted saying we'll wait until we're actually in the trial, let's make a decision then. So pressure could intensify as we get into the trial phase.

Now one thing the Republicans in particular are pointing to is the decision by Nancy Pelosi not yet to send over the articles of impeachment over to the Senate because Mitch McConnell said he will not begin that trial until those articles are sent over.

And when I asked John Cornyn, one of the top Republicans in the Senate, why not just issue an subpoena, he said, first, she needs to send over the articles but he contended the House should have pursued his testimony first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Why not send him a subpoena so you can hear what he has to say?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Because we need to -- we need to respect the House's role as the instigator of the impeachment articles and, presumably, the 17 witnesses that testified in the House that will be available here.

RAJU: Should the speaker withhold the articles indefinitely?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): The speaker will make her own decision on this. I think we have seen, over the last number of years that, you know, Speaker Pelosi is a thoughtful and usually -- you may not always agree with her approaches, but nine times out of 10, they've worked out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:35:01]

RAJU: So Nancy Pelosi is not telling anyone, Kate, about her plans to deliver those articles of impeachment over to the Senate. In fact, she has not told her closest confidantes. And I'm told Chuck Schumer does not know her plans. He thinks they could be delivered this week, but he himself doesn't know according to multiple sources.

The big question is, when she comes back to the capitol today, does she indicate her plans. Everyone on Capitol Hill is still guessing -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Leaving everyone guessing, including Chuck Schumer. The waiting game continues.

Thanks, Manu. Really appreciate it.

With me, Elie Honig, former federal and state prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

Good to see you.

So John Bolton, talk about this. He says he's willing to testify if subpoenaed. We don't know what he'll say, right? We don't know who it will help, you it will hurt. You can make assumptions but, whatever. From a prosecutor's perspective, how important and how much of a risk is his testimony?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is hugely important. And it is a big risk really for both sides. We don't know exactly the specifics of what he will say.

But we do know this, John Bolton had a one-on-one meeting with Donald Trump, he tried to convince Trump to release the foreign aid, Trump said no.

We learned from the reporting with Esper and Pompeo, with Trump for the same reason, to try to get Trump to release the foreign aid, he said, no.

That's crucial, firsthand direct evidence of why Donald Trump did what he did, the central question in this impeachment. Bolton can answer it.

BOLDUAN: What do you think of Bolton's reasoning here? I'm trying to -- going through his statement he put out yesterday, we all recall that, first, he started in a place that needed to be kind of worked out in court, on the question of absolute immunity or essentially executive privilege, before he would talk to the House. That's where it was.

And now he's in a place that he says, since it is clear the court won't decide before the Senate acts, he's now willing to testify if a subpoena is issued. Does that make sense?

HONIG: No, he's all over the map. He's changing his position, seemingly by the week. Here we are now.

BOLDUAN: What do you think that means? That's what I don't get.

HONIG: I think he wants to be seen as somebody who understand his duty and will do the right thing and not one of these people like Pompeo and others who are hiding from a subpoena.

But it is curious to me he said, he changed his position from before.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

HONIG: As you noted, he said now I will testify. And how about the House? What if the House of Representatives issues him a subpoena today?

BOLDUAN: Can the House do that?

HONIG: Yes, they can, legally. You see some of the -- you saw Senator Cornyn and we have seen Marco Rubio and others struggling to tap dance around and make up excuses as to why they can't subpoena him. Well, the House -- they're done. And once they're done, they can't issue subpoenas.

Nonsense, they can issue subpoenas up today, tomorrow. They continue to investigate. There's no legal time limit on this. BOLDUAN: Also, with the legality aside, if John Bolton wants to talk,

is there anything stopping him from holding a press conference or doing an interview?

HONIG: It is a great point. He's got his book deal. He's got his Twitter. If you have something to say, John Bolton, come out and say it. It is important, obviously. We don't know which way it is going to go, but it is important.

I don't know what game he's playing. He seems to want to talk and what he has to say is crucial.

BOLDUAN: Let us all standby and see and watch.

Thank you, Elie. Appreciate it.

HONIG: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, in just hours, Congress will get its first briefing on the drone strike against Iran. What answers are lawmakers looking for? A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joins us, next.

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[11:48:09]

BOLDUAN: For days, Democrats were demanding details about the strike that killed Iran's Qasem Soleimani. Today, Congress may get some answers. The so-called Gang of Eight, the group of eight top congressional leaders, will be briefed by the administration on the Iran situation in just a few hours.

That meeting will then be followed by a full House and full Senate briefings tomorrow.

One of the big questions, of course, that remains is, what was the imminent threat that the president said Soleimani presented that demanded the drone strike to take him out.

Joining me now, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Congressman Ami Berra.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.

REP. AMI BERRA (D-CA): Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You're going to be briefed tomorrow. What do you want to know first and foremost?

BERRA: Just as you said, we want to know what exactly this imminent threat was, what led to taking this particular action at this particular time.

And Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Esper should not expect they conduct the questions. It is our job to understand why this action was taken. They're putting us on war footing now. We're deploying troops to the region. And this is where Congress has to insert itself.

BOLDUAN: I want to play for you what the president's national security adviser, what he said this morning about that key question, what led to the drone strike to take out Soleimani. Let me play it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He was plotting to kill, to attack American facilities, and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were located at those facilities, correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That's from Robert O'Brien, Congressman. When you hear that from him, does that give you more confidence in the justification for the strike?

BERRA: No, not at all. We're going to want exact specifics. Was there an imminent threat happening?

We have known Iran has been a bad actor, Soleimani has been a bad actor in the region through proxy groups.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BERRA: What changed at this particular moment in time?

[11:45:02]

BOLDUAN: Soleimani, as you said, is understood by really everybody here to be a bad guy. A general, just earlier this hour, he told me that Soleimani made himself a target when he took on the role that he had, which was planning attacks that had killed Americans. So why not take him out?

BERRA: Well, so he's had this role for, you know, the last decade or two. And both President Bush and President Obama had the ability to take him out. They understood the ramifications of that. That would be considered by the Iranians an act of war and there would -- this would ratchet things up. That's why we find ourselves right now.

Think about where we were a year or two years ago. We had the Iran nuclear deal. Iran was not enriching uranium. We had folks in Iran. We had dialogue. And look where we are today.

So it is almost as though the Trump administration policy is taking us backwards as though they want us to go to war.

BOLDUAN: You know, the last 24 hours has been marked by particular confusion, if you will. For lack of a better term, it is confusing in the face of life-and-death circumstances that they're looking at when it comes to this escalation with Iran.

You got a letter from a U.S. one-star general to his Iraqi counterpart saying the U.S. is preparing to withdraw from the country and then the Pentagon then needs to then head to -- had to come out and say that's a mistake because they were in the planning that at all.

Then, the whole thing over the cultural sites, which we have been talking about this hour and in previous days.

With all of that in mind, do you trust the administration's ability to handle the crisis, where it is today and where it goes from here?

BERRA: You know, I don't. I mean, when you think about President Trump, on his best days, he's not forth coming with information.

If we are going to war footing, this is where you would want to work closely with Congress. This is where you would want -- to get the public prepared for what potentially might come and they have done none of that. It doesn't even appear that the entire administration is on the same page.

So, you know, this looked like a haphazard decision that maybe one or two individuals made.

BOLDUAN: What does -- a key question now is, what happens now. What does de-escalation look like? Who takes that first step to de- escalate? These are all things that have been raised by U.S. allies in response to the attack. What is your view on that?

BERRA: I think you'll see Congress starting to act. You know, certainly this week we will vote on a war powers resolution to try to limit the administration's ability to counteract. One has been introduced by Senator Kaine on the Senate side.

I'm happy our European allies are engaged in conversation, trying to open dialogue with the Iranians.

And what we really have to do at this juncture is try to de-escalate this and not have an accidental war. Because it would not be easy. It would be -- it would require a massive troop presence there. And I don't think the American public wants to get mired in another war in the Middle East.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I'll be very interested to get your take on what you hear, what you can discuss, when you get the all House briefing tomorrow.

Thank you, Congressman. Thank you for coming in.

BERRA: You're welcome. Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, it's likely the most-damaging earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in over a century. Residents, still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, are now facing a new crisis. We're on the ground in Puerto Rico, next.

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[11:53:06]

BOLDUAN: It may be the most-powerful earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in over a century. Last hour, Puerto Rico's governor declared a state of emergency. It's understandable. The 6.4-magnitude quake struck just off the island's southern coast this morning. Less than three hours later, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit.

They are just the latest in a series of earthquakes that hit Puerto Rico in the last 24 hours. And the damage is extensive. The power outages widespread.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is in Puerto Rico. She joins me by the phone.

Leyla, what's the latest where you are?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Kate, we just arrived in southern Puerto Rico where I am, trying to get a better idea of the situation here.

This is the area that's been most affected by the earthquakes that we've seen in the last few days. This morning being a very strong one. But as you mentioned, there's been an increase in seismic activity since December 28.

The governor just spoke. She said she has issued a state of emergency. She has activated the National Guard. So we should start to see assistance here in terms of the National Guard helping people in their homes.

We've seen quite a bit of damage, not only to homes, but to a school, a very old Catholic church.

Hospitals have had to readjust how they're treating patients, early this morning, taking them out, bringing them back into the hospital and then an aftershock came so they had to kind of relive that all over again.

A disaster declaration, as a few hours ago, anyway, has not yet been declared, but we understand that President Trump has been briefed. The FEMA administrator, Peter Gaynor, just recently tweeted that he's been in touch with the governor.

Given what this island has seen in the last two years, after Hurricane Maria, we know this is a pretty vulnerable place, especially when it comes to power. There are still places that have not had power restored. We're seeing some municipalities get power back.

[11:55:08]

I can tell you right now, I'm looking into the sky and I see helicopters circling above an area. So the assessment is very much still continuing.

I want to note there's been one death reported and multiple injuries also reported -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: You let us see how those numbers changed, which is scary to have as people understand what's going on.

Reminder, this is an island still recovering from Hurricane Maria and the aftermath of everything that its dealt with in the aftermath.

Leyla, thank you so much.

We'll be right back.

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