Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democrats Set to Debate; Senate Preparing to Begin Impeachment Trial; Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is Interviewed About the Impeachment Trial; Tonight: 2020 Dems Debate as Sanders, Warren Feud. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired January 14, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He said, yes, he does, because, he said, defending the southern border is also part of protecting the homeland.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: OK.

SCHNEIDER: So, of course, getting support from his Cabinet members -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jessica, thank you.

Thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Beginning the final chapter of impeachment and the final showdown before Iowa. Slow news day.

THE LEAD starts right now.

About to get served. Minutes ago, the Senate majority leader announcing when an impeachment trial could begin, as Speaker Pelosi says she will hand over the articles tomorrow.

Tonight is the night, live on CNN, the last debate before the first votes, and it comes as the feud between two candidates with very similar fan bases could erupt on stage.

Plus, the shifting stories on the Iran strike -- the Trump administration is going from the attack was imminent to, no, no, no, this is part of a long-term strategy.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin in the politics lead today, a huge 24 hours ahead in the Trump presidency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate tomorrow and hold a vote on which House lawmakers will manage the impeachment case.

This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects the Senate trial to start on Tuesday.

Just hours from now, though, Democratic presidential candidates will take the stage in Iowa for the CNN/"Des Moines Register" debate, the final showdown before the actual Iowa caucuses 20 days from today.

Polls indicate the caucuses are essentially a jump ball at this point.

And these two stories are about to collide, because three of tonight's debate participants are senators who will be jurors in the coming trial and will need to be in Washington, not on the campaign trail.

And potentially the first fight they and their Senate colleagues will wage, whether the Senate and the American people will hear from additional witnesses.

Democrats arguing, if the president has nothing to hide, then the White House should want officials such as John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney to testify. Republicans are warning Democrats, be careful what you wish for, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Good morning, everyone.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After waiting nearly a month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will vote Wednesday to send its impeachment charges against President Trump to the Senate.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The speaker indicated, with the full consent of the caucus, that those articles of impeachment will be transmitted to the Senate.

COLLINS: Following a closed-door meeting with her caucus, Pelosi issued a statement, saying: "The American people deserve the truth and the Constitution demands a trial."

But there are still questions about what that trial will look like. Pelosi offering no hints today about which Democratic lawmakers she will choose to serve as prosecutors, announcing that too will have to wait until tomorrow.

JEFFRIES: That is a question to be addressed by Speaker Pelosi.

COLLINS: The vote will kick off Trump's long-awaited trial in a matter of days.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Next Tuesday.

COLLINS: Jump-starting a clash between Republicans and Democrats over their demands to include new witnesses and evidence.

MCCONNELL: There's no constitutional exception for a House majority with a short attention span.

COLLINS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued against both today.

MCCONNELL: House Democrats' case cannot simultaneously be so robust that it was enough to impeach in the first place, but also so weak that the Senate needs to go fishing.

COLLINS: But after the White House blocked House Democrats from gaining access to crucial witnesses and key documents...

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Who's ever heard of a trial without witnesses and documents?

COLLINS: ... Democrats say it's necessary for a fair trial.

SCHUMER: And these witnesses, by the way, are not what Republicans say, they're Democratic plants. They're the people appointed by President Trump.

COLLINS: As moderate Republican senators debate whether to vote to include witnesses, the president's allies are warning it can go both ways.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): I think if we want to have a fair trial and have witnesses from everyone, that would include Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and really the whistle-blower.

COLLINS: White House aides insist Trump isn't worried about new witnesses, despite him saying he will invoke executive privilege if his former National Security Adviser John Bolton is subpoenaed.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I hate to talk about hypotheticals. But let's be clear. The president is not afraid of a fight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, if the trial does get started on Tuesday, as McConnell predicted earlier, the president is slated to be out of the country. He's scheduled to go to an economic forum in Switzerland.

And while he canceled that trip last year because of that government shutdown, right now, the trip is still on, White House officials tell us, though, Jake, we know this is a president who doesn't like traveling out of the country anyway, and certainly not when there's big news about him.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this.

Hilary Rosen, let me start with you.

[16:05:01]

Take a listen again to what Majority Leader McConnell said today on the Senate floor about Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: House Democrats' case cannot simultaneously be so robust that it was enough to impeach in the first place, but also so weak that the Senate needs to go fishing.

If the existing case is strong, there's no need for the judge and the jury to reopen the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: How do Democrats counter that?

(LAUGHTER)

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Mitch McConnell is -- he's so smart to be such an obvious hypocrite here, that he knows that the White House prevented people from testifying in the House.

He knows that the House had no choice but to go forward without testimony from key witnesses, and that a key witness, namely, the former national security adviser, John Bolton, has offered to come and give more information to the Senate.

So, you know, I think this is just theater that he's doing. It's obviously -- look, we have to own this. It's theater the Democrats are doing too.

But the American people do need to see that it is the Republicans at this point trying to keep information from them.

TAPPER: Are Republicans going to be able to prevent witnesses? It seems like there's a majority support for witnesses out there, and the polling indicates, and also there are Republican senators who say they want to hear witnesses.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Obviously, we need 51 members of the Senate to make that decision.

But the overall consensus from those in the Senate, they want to hear -- let's hear the case. Let's hear both sides and, at that point, make a decision whether or not we need to hear more witnesses.

But to Hilary's point, the reality is, if Hillary Clinton -- if Nancy Pelosi was so certain about these articles of impeachment, and she was so certain it was time to pass these articles, then she would be rushing to the Senate for them to put this on the floor.

And the fact that she delayed it for three weeks, in my mind, says she wasn't confident with this. And her idea and her decision to slow-roll this has really backfired. She's one of the most strategic people in Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: And for her to slow-roll it to this degree, it was a very calculated gamble that she did not win. TAPPER: Karen, I know you want to play with this.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I want -- we're going to come right to you. But I want you to take a listen to this exchange, because it's on point to what was just said. Take a listen this point.

CNN's Manu Raju about this with Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, specifically about Pelosi withholding the articles for weeks and weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why did she release the articles? Why did she say she would ultimately release the articles if they weren't going to do what she considers a fair trial?

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CT): She will be doing -- she's thought very carefully about this in conjunction with the committee chairs who have been responsible for this.

And she will make her case and proceed forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I didn't get an answer there really.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK. I will give you an answer.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: So, what did Pelosi accomplish here?

FINNEY: Well, what are we talking about right now? Whether or not there should be witnesses. And that's what we have been talking about for several weeks.

And if you look at the polls, seven in 10 Americans actually think the president should let the people come forward, those who were not able to testify during the House proceedings, and testify. They have important information. We know that.

And the only reason to not let them come forward is because you have something to hide. And I guarantee you that is what a lot of people think. We have all watched crime shows, and they always tell you, when the person doesn't testify on their own behalf, it always makes you wonder, well, what are they hiding?

And in this instance, I think, with Trump, I mean, because we know he is so -- has such a penchant for lying, it's very hard for them to make a credible argument as to why not have John Bolton go ahead and testify?

There certainly can be things that are -- you can still hold confidences and protect national security. That doesn't mean he can't answer a simple question like, so, did you say that -- I forget the quote that he said about it being a drug deal or what have you.

What's wrong with being asked that question?

TAPPER: So what about the idea that Republicans are saying, OK, you know, some Republicans are saying, OK, maybe we will have witnesses, but that means we get to call witnesses too?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

TAPPER: And you just heard Rand Paul say Hunter Biden, Joe Biden and the whistle-blower.

HAM: Yes, I remain completely mystified by Pelosi's plan on this. The House controlled one part of the process. The Senate controlled the other part of the process. Everyone knew this when we began. She had no leverage when she began.

She remains with no leverage, which is why she's going to hand them over. So if they are going to get witnesses, the way they're going to get witnesses is that Republicans will get witnesses that they want to hear.

They could and should have, I think, subpoenaed people in the House like Bolton and let them go through the judicial process to determine what would be national security concerns. They decided not to do that.

What was the argument? That they had to get this done super, super fast, but apparently they didn't, because here we are sitting on it three weeks later.

ROSEN: Come on, is disingenuous to say she sat on. This is over the holiday.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: Right? The Senate was out of session.

It's not like if she had delivered the documents, that they would have immediately started the trial. They wouldn't have.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Do you think Pelosi has accomplished something?

ROSEN: Yes, I think that she's created a conversation that did not exist before. I think Karen is right on that.

[16:10:01]

I do think, whether it's John Bolton or anyone else, the -- it's the president's behavior on trial. It is not Joe Biden's behavior. It is not Hunter Biden's behavior.

It is whether or not the president used his power as a president to withhold already congressionally sponsored money for political purposes. And it has nothing to do with why he might have done it, just that he did it.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: Right. But it's Mitch McConnell's decision what to do moving forward. Nancy Pelosi had her chance. It's now Mitch McConnell's.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: I agree with that.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

We got more to talk about.

How Joe Biden, of all people, could theoretically benefit most from the pending Senate impeachment trial -- why the top House Republican is suggesting that today.

Plus, the sharpened attack lines coming in now and setting the tone for tonight's Democratic debate, only on CNN.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our politics lead today, the vote is tomorrow to send the impeachment articles to the U.S. Senate, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the trial in the Senate will probably start on Tuesday.

[16:15:00]

Joining me now is New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez who will be, as will all his colleagues, a juror in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. Senator Menendez, thanks for joining us as always. Do you really think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to allow witnesses?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, I don't think that -- left to his own volition, he will allow witnesses. But the question will be whether several of my Republican colleagues who say that they express an interest and a desire to see witnesses, whether they'll vote that way.

If they do, then there will be witnesses and the only way that we don't have witnesses, if Republican senators, at least a few of them, don't join us to have certain critical witnesses. We're not looking for a lot of witnesses. We're looking for critical witnesses that can shed light on some of the essential elements of the House's impeachment articles.

TAPPER: Who are you looking for? John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, anyone else?

MENENDEZ: John Bolton, the former national security adviser, who two- thirds of the people want to see testify, and Mulvaney, the chief of staff, some of the people at OMB who got the call after President Trump spoke to the Ukrainian president and said the President wants a hold on these monies, I think those are some of the essential people that need to testify, as well as some essential documents that I think proved the case.

We've begun to see a series of emails and other correspondence that has come out by virtue of litigation in the courts. Imagine if we had all of those documents to deduce what really happened here. And most Americans know that a trial, whether they are a juror or been a participant in it, includes witnesses and documents.

TAPPER: Senator, obviously, the Republicans control the Senate. The Democrats don't. So, that's who the Democrats want to testify, as you just said.

Republican Senator Rand Paul gave a warning about the risk of calling witnesses, writing, quote: My colleagues can't have it both ways -- calling for some, while blocking others. If we're going to give a platform to witnesses the Democrats demand, I look forward to forcing votes to call Hunter Biden and many more.

Now, I understand you think that Hunter Biden is not germane, that the whistle-blower doesn't need to testify, and on and on, but is that a trade you're willing to make, given the fact that -- let's be honest -- the Democrats don't have the votes? I mean, you need the Republicans to join with you.

MENENDEZ: Well, I think that some of the senators who I have spoken to, and who I hear publicly expressing concerns and interests about having witnesses don't want to turn this into a circus.

There's a difference between having witnesses that have substantial and substantive information and can shed light on the issues of the charges that the House has brought to their impeachment articles and then creating a circus. If we want to create a circus, that's a different thing.

I think Republicans run a risk if they actually want to have a Hunter Biden or others that have no substance on the articles of impeachment, that at the end of the day, it'll be seen as a circus, and it won't be the fair, full, honest trial that the American people want to see.

TAPPER: Listen to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy today arguing that by holding back the articles until now, Speaker Pelosi essentially helped Joe Biden in his presidential bid.

Let's roll that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): No one questions about what she gained was nothing. But if there's anyone who gained from this, it'd be anybody who's running for president that's not in the U.S. Senate. With Iowa quickly upon us in early February, those four senators who are running for president will now no longer have a voice. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: McCarthy also called on Biden to suspend his campaign while the trial is going on. What do you make of all that?

MENENDEZ: It's pure politics. Look, if, you know, President Trump has elicited and had Rudy Giuliani go to Ukraine, now, the Russians are in the midst of doing what they did in his last election, looking into Burisma, the company that Hunter Biden worked on, to see if they can dig up dirt. The Russians are once again digging up dirt for the President, it's politics.

At the end of the day, the speaker wanted to ensure that the sanctity of the House's efforts were preserved and an opportunity in the Senate to leverage the opportunity for witnesses and documents. And I think that the documents that have come out that make a compelling case and witnesses that even some Republican senators are now saying they want to see inure to the benefit of what she's done.

So, I don't think this is about the politics of Joe Biden or anybody else. It's about the sanctity of the impeachment process that the House took.

TAPPER: Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, thanks so much.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: The candidates have arrived at tonight's debate site, sure, warm greetings now, but there's one particular riff that could theoretically break wide open in a matter of hours.

[16:20:00]

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: That's a live look at the CNN Democratic debate stage in Des Moines, Iowa.

[16:25:02]

That's our 2020 lead today.

Tonight at the CNN/"The Des Moines Register" debate, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will stand just feet apart for the very first time since their first major public conflict which touches on the issues of sexism and electability. The spate is causing some progressives to panic, as CNN's Arlette Saenz reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Six Democratic contenders coming face to face on the debate stage tonight, as multiple clashes are brewing.

Up first, a major divide among the top two progressive candidates, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren engaged in a personal battle.

CNN first reporting Sanders told Warren in a private 2018 meeting that he didn't think a woman could win a presidency. Warren confirmed in a statement: I thought a woman could win, he disagreed.

Sanders and his campaign pushing back.

JEFF WEAVER, SANDERS CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I think their wires are crossed. It was a discussion about Trump, misogyny, sexism in politics, and the difficulty of running in the era of Trump for women -- the special challenges that women face in the era of Trump. But, you know, those conversations can sometimes get misconstrued.

SAENZ: The crisis with Iran also thrusting foreign policy front and center tonight. Joe Biden sees his experience as an advantage, but Sanders is trying to turn Biden's long record into a liability, saying he was on the wrong side of history on the Iraq war.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you can make that decision. All I know is that I know what that vote is about, and when you had an administration that is itching to go to war, they were itching, everybody knew that, you don't give them the authority, you vote no. That's what I did.

SAENZ: But Biden is trying to keep his focus on President Trump. The new ad on Iowa airwaves stressing electability.

AD ANNOUNCER: He's got Joe Biden on his mind.

SAENZ: Tonight's debate stage will be the smallest yet, and also the least diverse. Democratic contender Deval Patrick, calling on the DNC to change its criteria to qualify for future debates, saying the rules have not served to demonstrate to Democratic voters or to the nation the breadth and depth of diverse talent in the field.

But the DNC isn't budging.

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We had the most diverse field in American history and I'm proud of that. And what we said every month was that, the closer we got to Iowa, we would do what we have always done, which is raise the bar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, while this battle has been brewing between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders off stage, an aide to Warren says she's not interested in looking for a fight with Bernie Sanders on the debate stage tonight. They simply pointed back to her statement from last evening when she said she wasn't interested in further discussing that conversation with Bernie Sanders in further detail -- Jake.

TAPPER: Arlette Saenz, live in Des Moines, Iowa -- thanks so much.

Let's discuss.

So, Hilary, let me start with you, the explanation that we heard from the Sanders campaign last night was basically, look, they got their wires crossed, what Bernie was trying to say, what Senator Sanders was trying to say was Trump will exploit misogyny and sexism and make it difficult for a woman to win.

ROSEN: Yes.

TAPPER: He wasn't saying he doesn't believe a woman will win.

ROSEN: What they were saying is the little lady misunderstood.

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY: Right, exactly.

ROSEN: Look, my guess is, my prediction is that there were some conversation today between Warren and Sanders, if not directly, with their camp, because it's actually not in their interest to take it on each other.

TAPPER: It doesn't help either one of them.

ROSEN: It doesn't help either one of them, because they need to, you know, stop Joe Biden, and they need to stop Pete Buttigieg. And so, they are better off collecting as many delegates as they can among the two of them than dividing them.

So I imagine that this is going to go away pretty quick, but we won't forget it.

STEWART: Right, she may not be going on the debate stage looking for a fight with Sanders with this, but she is going to get one, because this has occupied all the oxygen in the newsroom for the last 24 hours, and despite how it came out, she has put him in the heels talking about this at a critical time.

So, from a strategic standpoint, he has -- she has been successful in getting him off of the message at a critical time. He is three points ahead of her in Iowa, and this is a critical, final stretch to the caucuses. And for her to get him off message, it was (INAUDIBLE) her.

ROSEN: It think that's a good point. And the other thing is, even if she doesn't go after him, she can stay quiet, but Amy Klobuchar, this is an opening for her to talk about women. It's an opening for Joe Biden to talk about his support of women.

So, other people may end up doing this without her.

FINNEY: But it's also a fair question to say, did you say this or not? She says you had this conversation, you say you didn't say it, what happened?

TAPPER: So, there is this, I'm going to try it again, because Sanders doesn't have supporters in this table. So, I will play the role.

HAM: I can jump in.

TAPPER: But here's the idea -- here's an argument, I have heard plenty of Democratic women --

HAM: Yes.

TAPPER: -- say that they are afraid that a woman cannot win. I'm sure that you've heard that if not maybe even said it at one point or another yourselves. Sanders has his certain blunt style. Maybe it came out wrong. Is that possible?

HAM: Well, I am willing to believe a lot of very bad things about Bernie Sanders. Actually, it does not ring true to me that he would genuinely believe --

[16:30:00]