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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Iranian Commander Vows "Harsher Revenge" Still to Come; Pelosi Defends Decision to Hold Impeachment Articles; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D- HI) is Interviewed About Pressure on Pelosi to Send Impeachment Articles and the Coming Senate Impeachment Trial. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 9, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our world lead today -- perhaps the missiles were just the opening salvo. Despite President Trump saying that Iran appears to be backing down, a commander in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is publicly warning that this week's attack was just the beginning, vowing a, quote, harsher revenge for the death of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is on the ground for us in Iraq.

And, Clarissa, you visited the site of where one of those Iranian missiles hit in Iraq. Do we know exactly what the target of that missile was?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question we were trying to answer, Jake, was this question as to what exactly the Iranians were trying to do with these strikes. Whether they were trying to send a message for whether they were trying to actually kill people, create casualties as some officials in the U.S. administration have suggested.

We went to this very rural area about an hour and a half outside of the city where I am now, Erbil. We found the site where one of the missiles hit. Local security officials telling us there's nothing in that area, no U.S. presence, nothing to see at all really except a refugee camp just under a mile away.

Take a quick look at what we saw.

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WARD: This is where one of the missiles hit. You can see this area of impact. If you go through some of these small craters, you can also find some shrapnel from where the missile hit.

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WARD: Now, of course, its entirely possible, Jake, that the missile just did not go off where it was supposed to. That the missiles are perhaps not as sophisticated as the Iranians would like to have the world believe they are.

And more broadly speaking, this is still an important strategic area for the U.S., the Kurdish areas in the north of Iraq are where the special operations and the fight against ISIS have been conducted from.

But still, it was interesting to see that it was essentially a pile of dirt with some shrapnel in the middle of nowhere, Jake.

TAPPER: Hmm, Clarissa, this commander's comments seems to be contradicting what other leaders are saying about the missile attack. They said it was not intended to kill anyone.

WARD: That's right. I mean, we're getting mixed messages on all sides. Everybody has their line of rhetoric they are trying to push. And at the end of the day, the proof will be in the pudding, so to speak.

I think we're going to see protests now starting in Baghdad against the foreign presence or the presence of foreigners, particularly, Americans. Iran is likely to continue to try to really drive a wedge between the Iraqis and the U.S. as it tries to fulfill its vow to push the U.S. out of this region entirely. That obviously is not going to be an easy thing to do.

But you can be sure it's not going to be done also through traditional methods. Iran will be relying on proxies and this could take many months, if not years, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward in Erbil, Iraq -- thank you. Stay safe.

Publicly, House Speaker Pelosi is not saying when she will hand over the articles of impeachment, but behind closed doors, that could be a different story.

Stay with us.

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[16:38:08]

TAPPER: The politics lead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today dismissing public calls by fellow Democrats and standing by her decision to keep holding on to the two articles of impeachment against President Trump. In her view, and despite all evidence to the contrary as of yet, the articles continue to give her leverage for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to commit to a fair Senate trial, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I'm not responsible to Mitch McConnell.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing pressure from even her own party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once again rebuffed growing calls to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

PELOSI: No, I'm not holding it indefinitely. I'll send them over when I'm ready, and that will probably be soon.

COLLINS: Pelosi said she's waiting on the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to announce the trial rules so she can choose which House members will prosecute the Democrats' case.

PELOSI: Is that too much to ask?

COLLINS: The House voted and passed the two articles before Christmas. But Pelosi has declined to send them to the Senate with hopes of pressuring Republicans to call witnesses and demand documents that the House never saw.

PELOSI: He'll keep asking me the same question and I keep giving you the same answer.

COLLINS: Now, even some Democrats say it's clear McConnell isn't going to budge. And it's time to move forward.

Like Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat who leads the House Armed Services Committee, and urged this on CNN today.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Yes, I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is.

COLLINS: Less than three hours later, Smith walked that statement back, saying he misspoke. And if the speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision.

Today, President Trump said he'd leave it up to McConnell on whether to call witnesses, but if it were up to him --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would like to hear Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Adam shifty Schiff, and some others.

[16:40:05]

COLLINS: Democrats want to call former national security adviser John Bolton. But if he does show up, today, Trump signaled the White House may try to restrict what he will say.

TRUMP: We have to protect presidential privilege. When we is start allowing national security advisers to just go up and say whatever they want to say, we can't do that.

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COLLINS: Now, Jake, Nancy Pelosi isn't telling anybody when she's going to send these articles of impeachment over. Not even her on chairman in a meeting this morning. Though we should note that Republicans for their part during their lunch today guessed that those articles could be send over by the end of the week and that trial could be started by next week. Though John Cornyn warned that it's all just speculation.

TAPPER: Just speculation.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She's on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us as always.

Do you see any advantage for Speaker Pelosi to continue to hold on to the articles of impeachment at this point?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): I'm not second-guessing anything that Nancy Pelosi does. And she said today that the articles will be sent to the Senate soon.

In the meantime, here we are in the Senate working very hard and arguing for a fair trial, which means that we should have relevant witnesses and relevant documents, something that Mitch McConnell is doing his very best, he's doing his darndest to make sure that doesn't happen.

So, Jake, you know, just as the president tried to rig his election by shaking down the president of another country for his own political purposes, this Senate trial is being rigged by the president through Mitch McConnell to not call any witnesses or provide any documents.

TAPPER: Well, on that topic, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signed on to legislation from Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, that would allow for a vote to dismiss any articles of impeachment if they don't arrive from the House within 25 days of the House vote.

What do you make of that?

HIRONO: That is all part and parcel of the Republicans' desire to not have a fair trial. So, I see it as yet another distraction, another attempt to stone wall.

Meanwhile, what we're faced with is and what the trial is going to be about is whether it's OK for the president to do what he did regarding Ukraine. So that's something they don't want to face.

And I am waiting for the president to mount a defense for the trial that is going to occur in the Senate. And I would like him to do that, because, you know, mounting a defense means producing evidence. So, he calls this process a witch hunt and all of that. That's not evidence, that's just what I call rhetorical nothingburgers.

TAPPER: So --

HIRONO: So, meanwhile, we actually want evidence, facts. And Mitch doesn't want to go along with that.

And he's doing what the president wants. When the president says he's leaving it up to Mitch, oh, give me a break. Because at the very beginning, Mitch said he's just going to talk to the president to get his marching orders from the president.

TAPPER: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told CNN that the Intelligence Committee in the House has no plans to hear or subpoena a testimony from John Bolton ahead of the Senate impeachment trial. He says there's little to be gained by going that route.

Do you disagree? Should the House subpoena Bolton? Because it doesn't look like there's any guarantee the Senate will.

HIRONO: The thing is, Jake, that there will be times when the Senate is going to have to vote on whether or not they are going to go along with not having any witnesses. There will be motions, there will be a couple votes where the senators are going to go on record whether or not witnesses should be called, the documents should be produced.

So, regardless of where Mitch McConnell wants to go to totally stone wall and not face what the president did, the senators are going to go on record, including some vulnerable Republican senators.

And let's face it. The majority of the American people want a trial that is fair. That means calling relevant witnesses and getting relevant documents.

TAPPER: Do you think -- well, take a listen to what we have been hearing this week. Congressman Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats criticizing the strike on General Soleimani, quote, are in love with terrorists. And we also heard from the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley.

Take a listen.

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NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership.

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TAPPER: What do you make of all that?

HIRONO: It's pretty sad how low the Republicans will stoop because nobody is mourning the death of Soleimani, including, of course, the Democrats. Those are just lies. But I figure they've entered the moral dead zone, that is the Trump White House.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

HIRONO: Uh-huh, thank you.

TAPPER: Protecting the president and his family not cheap, but the Trump administration wants to wait until after the election to tell you how much it costs. Find out why, next.

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TAPPER: In our money lead today, the Trump administration is, at least for now, refusing to share with the American people just how much taxpayers are spending for Secret Service protection for President Trump and his family when they travel.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is heading the effort to keep that information secret, at least until after Election Day 2020, as first reported by "The Washington Post."

CNN's Tom Foreman now takes a closer look at how this fits a Trump administration pattern of withholding such information from the public.

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TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trips by the president to his resorts in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey, trips by the first lady, his children and more in his circle, all of it requires Secret Service protection.

And now congressional Democrats want routine reporting about how much that costs taxpayers. But hold on. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is negotiating to have the public price tag cap kept private until after the election this fall.

[16:50:03]

His office says it's part of legislative negotiations to return the Secret Service from Homeland Security to Treasury.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secret Service is fantastic. These are fantastic people.

FOREMAN: Still, the secret numbers could be big.

"The Washington Post" cites documents showing the government spent about $96 million travel by Obama over eight years, while, with the current large first family, Trump's travel cost $13.6 million in just one month in 2017.

By CNN's count, Trump has spent nearly one-third of his presidency away from the White House. And while he vowed he'd never gulf as much as his predecessor:

TRUMP: He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods.

I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf.

FOREMAN: The president has spent 257 days at a Trump golf club, often without disclosing whether he played golf or who he played with.

And as for his pledge to always be open about what he was doing and where and why:

TRUMP: I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far.

FOREMAN: Trump has still not released his tax returns, there have been no regular White House briefings in almost a year, and, of course, numerous administration figures have been ordered not to talk to Congress about the impeachment probe, just some of the items that are fueling Democratic demands for at least a better accounting of Trump's travels.

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FOREMAN: Still, the Treasury Department is bristling at this, saying the timeline Democrats want to reveal these costs for Secret Service protection is purely political, that all they want to do is hang an unfair price tag around the president's neck right before the big vote -- Jake.

TAPPER: Well, unfair is in the eye of the beholder.

FOREMAN: It is, indeed.

TAPPER: It is -- the number is what the number is.

What's the normal amount of time an administration takes to report these figures?

FOREMAN: Normally, this would be reported in December. The problem is, that hasn't happened for a couple of years anyway. They have had various explanations or excuses as to why they haven't reported the cost.

Bottom line, it comes down to this, Democrats are saying, yes, it's a big number. It's a big family. The public ought to know. The White House is saying, maybe you ought to know, but you're not going to know before the vote, if they can prevent it.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

President Trump reversing a policy that has been in place for 50 years, and it could have consequences for the health of your children and your grandchildren and even you.

Stay with us.

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TAPPER: In our national lead now, President Trump announced today that he is weakening environmental rules so he can make it easier for major projects such as bridges, highways, mines or pipelines to be built.

The administration proposing major changes to a 50-year-old environmental protection law which they say will speed up the construction process. But environmental experts warn, easing those regulations could also speed up the effects of climate change, as agencies will no longer have to consider the effects of their projects on matters such as gas emissions or rising sea levels or climate change.

CNN's Drew Griffin joins me now.

Drew, why is this change significant?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's a huge gift, especially to the energy industry, because, just as you said, that whole climate change science issue is basically going to be off the table for these individual permits for those projects.

In other words, if you can't directly say that this tiny project here, where we're going to drill, we're going to build, we're going to do anything, is going to affect the climate, then you don't have to study the climate.

Secondly, it's just going to make everything faster, Jake, two years or less for big projects, one year or less for smaller projects. By design, that just means less study, less scientific research is going to go into whether or not there's going to be any environmental impacts from these projects moving forward.

TAPPER: And, Drew, the interior secretary, David Bernhardt, we should point out, he's a former top lobbyist for the oil and gas industry.

Is he -- in doing this, in heralding this and helming this, is he carrying out what his former employers would want him to do?

GRIFFIN: Absolutely.

This is the granddaddy of them all in terms of Bernhardt has been doing. And we should also mention Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who's working at the EPA, heading the EPA.

These guys both were lobbyists for the energy industry. There have been smaller rule changes ever since the Trump administration came in kind of nipping and picking at these environmental rules. This is the granddaddy.

This is what they've been really working for, which is to get a lot of the cumbersome, as they view it, EPA process out of the way so they can get their projects moving.

And, you know, there may be some urgency in this as they look towards what could potentially be the end of the Trump administration. They want to get this on the books this year.

TAPPER: Is it a done deal? Can anything be done to stop these rule changes?

GRIFFIN: They will file this in the Federal Registry, 60 days' comment period.

During that time, environmental groups all across the country are already threatening to do everything they can. One, the Natural Resource Defense Council, says everything in our toolbox to stop this from taking place.

Look for this to head to courts.

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet show @THELEADCNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

Thanks for watching.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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