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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Earthquakes Hit Puerto Rico; Biden Attacks Trump Over Iran; Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 7, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, certainly, no shortage of information that he could share with those senators.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, he sounded the alarm internally, saying that he didn't want any part of the drug deal that some of them were cooking up on the Ukraine scandal.

COLLINS: Yes.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell sits on both the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. He joins me now.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

So, sources tell CNN that Pelosi, the speaker, has not looped in her closest allies, including Senate Minority Leader Schumer, on her plans to hand over the impeachment articles.

Meanwhile, McConnell says he has the votes to start the trial with no witnesses, if he -- if they so decide. With all due respect, this leverage gambit does not seem to have worked.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Well, she should still just do the right thing.

Having the votes is one thing. But if you have a key witness that the House was not able to obtain who is now saying he's willing to come forward, the right thing seems to be, well, let's hear from this witness.

TAPPER: Should the House call Bolton to testify if the Senate does not do the right thing, in your view, and subpoena him?

SWALWELL: Yes, I will leave that to the speaker and Mr. Schiff.

I think, right now, though, the Senate has an opportunity to assure the speaker that the American people and the president will get a fair trial, which includes hearing from a key witness like John Bolton. I personally think, Jake, that we put forward enough evidence to warrant removal. But if senators have questions about any gaps in the evidence because the president told witnesses to not come forward, well, now you have a witness who is willing to come forward.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama said he's ready for Pelosi to send over the impeachment articles to the Senate.

He told CNN -- quote -- "I'm hoping they will come over here soon. I think most people are ready to get moving on this."

Is it time, sir? Is it time for Pelosi to hand over the articles of impeachment?

SWALWELL: I think it's time for Leader McConnell to say that the American people will get a fair trial.

And I just -- Jake, I cannot understand why you would say, we're not going to have this witness come forward. Now, I also don't understand why John Bolton doesn't just tell the American people what he has. Other people who work for him came forward, and the president did not ultimately block them.

So, Mr. Bolton, Don McGahn, other people who have followed lawless orders by the president, it's not like the president has a mute button and will just stop them from speaking. They can actually do a real service to the American people and tell us what they know.

TAPPER: Well, when it comes to the question of why not have new witnesses come forward, an argument that we're hearing from Republican senators is that the House should have called those witnesses during the impeachment inquiry and, if they resisted, take them to court and force their testimony.

SWALWELL: Yes.

TAPPER: Senator Marco Rubio said -- quote -- "The testimony and evidence considered in the Senate impeachment trial should be the same testimony and evidence that House relied on when they passed the articles of impeachment. Our job is to vote on what the House passed, not to conduct an open-ended inquiry."

What's your response?

SWALWELL: Well, first, John Bolton said that he was going to go to the courts and fight us there.

And he even said that in his statement yesterday, if we subpoenaed him in the House.

But I think the biggest difference the American people should know is that the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the Senate hearing. And so if he were to rule that a witness is relevant, you could conclude that, if you did go to the courts, the leader of the Supreme Court is telegraphing how the courts would probably rule.

So that's probably telling you, you should just testify. That's a big difference than what we had in the House.

TAPPER: I guess I wonder just like what world do you guys live in if you think that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is going to get his robe dirty with the political tenor of this, or Mitch McConnell is going to feel in any way pressured to do the trial the way House Democrats want to do it, when this is a guy that wouldn't even have a hearing for Merrick Garland?

I mean, I understand you live in a world where you think things should be in a certain way, but that's not the world that I live in.

SWALWELL: Yes.

Well, I live in a world where these senators have constituents to answer to. And my hope is that they will be calling their senators and saying, in any trial, when you have a witness come forward who has seen a lot, who called this Ukraine scheme a drug deal, you should allow that person to testify.

I hope the phones are ringing right now, and senators are still persuaded by what their constituents actually think.

TAPPER: Senator Elizabeth Warren, who's running for president, Democrat of Massachusetts, she told me on Sunday that she thinks it's fair to raise the question as to whether or not this attack on Soleimani was ordered by President Trump to change the subject from impeachment.

I thought that that was a stunning allegation. What do you think?

SWALWELL: I don't believe that there is intelligence to justify the imminence rhetoric that the president has put forward.

I have reviewed the evidence. I don't see what the administration is putting forward.

I also believe that it's a dramatic escalation that makes American troops much, much more in harm's way. I think it was reckless.

And I want to see more from the administration. And Speaker Pelosi has announced that, this week, we're going to put forward in the House some restrictions through our war powers -- war powers abilities.

TAPPER: Do you think the president was doing the proverbial wag the dog?

SWALWELL: I will just say, he didn't make us safer. And the intelligence that I have seen does not suggest that there was any imminent attack coming.

And I will leave it at that, Jake.

[16:35:00]

TAPPER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you so much. We always appreciate your time. SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks.

TAPPER: Senate Republicans now appear they will start the impeachment trial without a promise to call witnesses, but can they ignore John Bolton raising his hand to speak?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our politics lead today: Despite the curveball thrown by former National Security Adviser John Bolton, when he expressed a willingness to testify at the Senate impeachment trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claims he has the votes he needs to set the ground rules for the trial without Democratic support and possibly without witnesses, including Bolton.

Democrats were, of course, hoping that Bolton's announcement would sway enough vulnerable Republicans to vote in support of allowing witnesses. McConnell now says those matters will be dealt with after opening statements, which could, of course, theoretically mean never.

[16:40:08]

So let's talk about all this.

Nayyera, what chances do Democrats have to get witnesses, especially Bolton, once the trial starts?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, listen, the pressure that the Democrats are putting on is putting on a body that they don't directly control. So that's the Senate. It ultimately will be up to the senators and whatever pressure of the American public.

I will say, though, that Bolton not appearing before the House, and now saying he is willing to appear before the Senate does open the door for someone like Chairman Schiff to say, OK, well, we want to invite you back. There's still some questions and there's continuing other investigations, or whatever the reason is, but to bring Bolton in and have a deeper discussion about what -- how Trump develops foreign policy, and also what the engagement has been ongoing with Russia and Ukraine.

So there's still an opportunity for the House here to bring John Bolton into this, but I don't think they could force anything out of the Senate.

TAPPER: So there's what should happen. And, theoretically, let's just posit for a second, Scott -- you're close with McConnell -- theoretically, that Bolton should testify.

Are you surprised at how much the Democrats have not been flooding the offices or the airwaves surrounding the Republicans who might be vulnerable, such as Susan Collins in Maine or Cory Gardner in Colorado or Martha McSally in Arizona, not pressuring them in any effective way?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I'm not surprised, because the game here has been clear from the beginning.

They don't really care about removing the president. They just care about using impeachment as a hyperpartisan political tool that they think will score some points in the upcoming election.

They never had a prayer, in my opinion, of leveraging -- whatever that meant -- anything against any of these Republicans. Look, these Republicans have eyes and ears. They can see what's going on here. And most of these senators have already formed an opinion about this.

And that's not going to change. John Bolton, this issue today, he was so important. It's so important we hear from Bolton that they never even subpoenaed him in the House. And now they're on TV arguing that Mitch McConnell needs to drag him in?

The whole thing has been ridiculous from start to finish.

TAPPER: Take a listen to a comment made by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. He's a friend of Bolton's. He is a Republican.

He made the point that Bolton's a private citizen. Theoretically, he can talk anytime he wants. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS): No reason that John Bolton can't just say something publicly right now.

So I have never known him not to say something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, this has been a bit of a bizarre sort of game of cat and mouse or, where's Waldo, or catch me if you can, whatever sort of reference you want to make to John Bolton, essentially now saying, I will testify if I get a subpoena, probably understanding that it's not likely that he's necessarily going to get a subpoena from the Senate.

He can go before the cameras any time. He can sit down with a television anchor like Jake Tapper and say all he wants to say.

TAPPER: Sure. Come on over. Got a warm seat for you.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes.

I mean, he obviously is on Twitter all the time as well. So it's unclear why he feels like he wants to do this.

JENNINGS: He said he was prepared to testify, which I interpret as being different than I will testify, because the point that was just made is right on.

He can just write it all down and send it over in a letter. You could do anything. But he hasn't done that. And so I think he anticipates maybe, if he did get a subpoena from anybody, that the White House would then try to invoke executive privilege, and there'd be a court fight and so on and so forth.

So I actually looked at his statement a little differently than I think it's being interpreted today, which is prepared to testify is different than champing at the bit.

HAQ: He also doesn't want to get caught up in that whole back and forth of who's standing for rule of law and who's getting in the way of rule of law.

So by saying that he's willing to comply with a subpoena and come forward, he takes himself out of the conversation, which is ultimately Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, saying they abided by rule of law. They want the Senate to do the same.

TAPPER: Chairman Rogers, forgetting the political maneuvering here, OK, and subpoenas and how -- don't you want to just know what he has to say?

As an American, don't you think it's of interest what John Bolton has to say?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Clearly.

And I would have liked to have heard it through a reasonable, rational process. If they're going to impeach a president, the House should have done a thorough job, candidly.

TAPPER: You think that they were rushed?

ROGERS: They said they were rushed. They said, we're in a hurry. We got to get this done before Christmas. We got packages to buy and stuff to wrap.

I mean, we're talking about the impeachment of a president and overturning the vote of 60 million people. That should not be taken lightly. Even if you think he's guilty, that to me means you go the extra mile. You don't shorten it up.

I think what Bolton's doing is basically this. He's saying to the Senate -- I completely agree with where you're going on this -- hey, I will come in and testify if you can make it happen, number one. He's trying to do two things, tell the institutional national security folks out there, I did the right thing. I abided by executive privilege.

Oh, by the way, Senate, United States Senate, I did say I would come in and testify for you all if you could make it happen. I think this is just about preserving where he wants to go in the future. I don't think this is a serious, I'm ready to come up and drop the bomb and drop the mic and walk out and the president gets voted guilty. I just don't believe that. And, again, the longer this goes -- I went

back to Michigan, and I had some business in San Francisco over the holidays. I will start with San Francisco, because these were self- proclaimed anti-Trump Democrats.

[16:45:11]

TAPPER: Yes.

ROGERS: Who were telling me, I don't get -- this all looks messy, and it looks political.

These are people who don't like Trump 20 minutes after they go to sleep and 20 minutes before they get up in the morning. And they were adamant about.

TAPPER: Right.

ROGERS: And my argument is, the longer this goes, I think the more political it is, and more of those kinds of folks are going to rope into this notion like, this is all just Washington, D.C., being Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

Coming up next, how Joe Biden today tried to seize on the Iran crisis and President Trump's decision to order a deadly strike.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, in what may be his most pointed attack yet, former Vice President Joe Biden delivered a speech solely dedicated to slamming President Trump's handling of Iran and overall foreign policy, calling Mr. Trump dangerously incompetent and incapable of world leadership.

[16:50:12]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we have heard so far from this president are tweets, threats, and tantrums.

This is a president with a history of lying about virtually everything, who's destroyed his own credibility and that of the United States on the global stage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Arlette Saenz joins me now.

At one point, Biden was essentially giving Trump a play by play of how to act presidential.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jake.

And Joe Biden, this was really one of his most stinging rebukes yet of the president. As you mentioned, he said that his foreign policy was dangerously incompetent.

And Biden as he stood there with those American flags standing behind him, he issued a challenge to President Trump, insisting that he must provide an explanation for his strategy and evidence that there was actually an imminent threat when he decided to order the strike against Iran's top general.

Take a listen to what Biden had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Mr. President, you have to explain your decision and your strategy to the American people. That's your job as president, Mr. President, not dear leader, not supreme leader.

You're required to work with Congress, Mr. President. You're required to abide by the war powers resolution, Mr. President. And you cannot pursue war with Iran without consent and authority from Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now, at one point in the speech, Biden even said that President Trump hasn't demonstrated any presidential gravitas and that he, Joe Biden, was attempting to do just that.

And that gets at the heart of what this speech was about. It wasn't just taking on and criticizing President Trump, but it was providing an opportunity for Biden to try to present himself as someone who can step into the role of commander in chief on day one if he's elected president.

Now, Biden has a very long foreign policy record, which he likes to tout, but it's also come under some criticism, particularly from his Democratic rivals, like Bernie Sanders, who are critical of Biden's vote on -- in -- back in 2002 on the Iraq War, but certainly foreign policy has now been thrust front and center to this campaign.

And these candidates are going to continue to make their case as we get closer to the caucuses -- Jake.

TAPPER: Arlette Saenz, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

One week from now, the last debate before the Democratic Iowa caucuses, the CNN presidential debate, in partnership with "The Des Moines Register." You can watch it live next Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

A string of powerful earthquakes in Puerto Rico in a matter of minutes. We're live there with what's being done to help the people on that island still struggling from those two hurricanes.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:18]

TAPPER: In our national lead today, back-to-back earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and today's may have been the most damaging in a century.

The 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit the U.S. island overnight. We know at least one person was killed, a 77-year-old man. This came after a 5.8 quake yesterday.

CNN's Leyla Santiago toured damage in some of Puerto Rico's hardest- hit areas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crippling aftermath of earthquake after earthquake hitting Puerto Rico, a historic church, much of it reduced to rubble, a coastal landmark collapsing, a hospital evacuated, beds lining the street, homes rocked off their foundations, and widespread power outages.

IVELISSE PEREZ, EARTHQUAKE VICTIM (through translator): The church in Guayanilla and the town is destroyed, the homes, the cars underneath homes. It's chaos.

SANTIAGO: The governor declaring a state of emergency, with hundreds of thousands of customers without drinking water on an island that has been already struggling in the more than two years since Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The 6.4 earthquake, believed to be the most damaging in more than 100 years, hit while most were asleep. One man died in a wall collapse. Others were hurt. And then a powerful aftershock forcing news anchors at CNN affiliate WAPA to leave the set.

The USGS estimates more than 400,000 people felt strong to very strong shaking amid a flurry of seismic activity in recent days, including another damaging 5.8 quake just yesterday, and now they're dealing with more terrifying aftershocks.

Many still have never recovered from the hurricanes. Much aid still has not made its way to the island.

(on camera): He's saying, after Hurricane Maria, he still had hope, and they were able to recover, but not with this, he says.

(voice-over): Tonight, Puerto Rico's governor says $130 million in emergency aid has been made available.

GOV. WANDA VAZQUEZ, PUERTO RICO (through translator): We're talking about a situation Puerto Rico had never been exposed to in 102 years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO: And, Jake, I want to paint the picture of the destruction here.

You see this house right there? That is the home of a man named Manolo (ph). He shared what this looked like just 24 hours ago.

I want to show you the picture, because it doesn't even look like the same house. But it really tells the story of the level of destruction that they're seeing here, which explains why so many people have said that Hurricane Maria, for them, was not as bad as this was here in the southern part of the island.

TAPPER: Leyla Santiago reporting from Puerto Rico -- Leyla, thank you so much.

Stay safe.

[17:00:00]