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Trump Speaks as Senate Kicks Off Impeachment Trial; Trump Continues to Insist He Doesn't Know Parnas Despite Claims; Interview with Sen. Debbie Dingell (D-MI); Interview with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Presidential Candidate; Senate Impeachment Trial; GOP Arizona Senator Calls Reporter a Liberal Hack; Intel Officials Ask Congress Not to Hold Public Hearings on Worldwide Threats, Fearing They Might Anger Trump. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 16, 2020 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the President Donald J. Trump, this was before the inauguration. Did you authorize him to write that letter and what was your understanding of what the meeting was supposed to be about?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know anything about the letter but certainly Rudy is one of the great crime fighters in the history of our country. He's certainly probably the best over the last 50 years. He was also the greatest Mayor in the history of the city of New York.

I think Rudy was truly an outstanding man, an example his endorsement of Bloomberg, got Bloomberg elected. He wouldn't have even been Mayor. But Rudy was greatest crime fighter and Rudy is somebody that, frankly, having him on my side was a great honor for me, and it has been a great honor for me.

Rudy Giuliani -- Rudy Giuliani did a phenomenal job over a long period of time in fighting crime, and frankly, he's a very legitimate guy, a very straight shooter. I didn't know about a specific letter. But if he wrote a letter, it wouldn't have been a big deal.

Rudy was always -- it was very important to Rudy that I be a great President, and that's OK with me. It was very important to a lot of people because our country was going to hell, and now our country's on a path that we haven't seen in decades and decades. We've never done better. Go ahead. No, no, not you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the trial starting next week, what's your view on how long it should take?

TRUMP: I think it should go very quickly. It's a hoax. It's a hoax. Everybody knows that. It's a complete hoax, the whole thing with Ukraine. So you have a perfect phone call. This is a call fortunate -- it was actually two phone calls. You people don't report that. There were two calls. They were both perfect calls. In fact, probably among the nicest calls I've ever made to foreign leaders.

Now, so you had these perfect calls, and everybody says it now. Before they knew they were so good because fortunately they were transcribed, you had other people saying terrible things about the calls. You had a fake whistleblower that wrote a report that bore no relationship to what was said. Everything was false.

You have now the Ukrainian President and the Foreign Minister of Ukraine saying there was nothing done wrong. In fact, they said there was absolutely no pressure whatsoever. Everything was perfect. And they impeach.

It's totally partisan. We had 195 to nothing Republican votes. I guess we got a Democrat actually came over to the Republican side. We had 195 to nothing. This is a hoax. It's a shame. I did the biggest deal ever done in the history of our country yesterday in terms of trade and probably other things, too, if you think about it. The deal with China, and that was the second story to a total hoax.

Today we just had passed the USMCA. It's going to take the place of NAFTA, which was a terrible deal, and the USMCA will probably be second to this witch hunt hoax, which hopefully everyone knows is not going anywhere. There was nothing done wrong. This was a perfect phone call.

Think of it, the President of the United States who's led the greatest growth, the greatest economic revival of any country anywhere in the world, is the United States as big as it is, we're doing better than any other country by far. Our unemployment numbers are the best they've been in over 50 years. African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, unemployment the best in the history of our country.

And I've got to go through a hoax, a phony hoax put out by the Democrats so they can try and win an election that hopefully they're not going to win. It was put out for purposes of winning an election. Our country is doing great. Our country has never done better. So they figure the only thing they can do. They failed on the Mueller report -- that was a bomb. After two and a half years they failed.

Now they said what can we do, and they picked up a phone call that was perfect, but they didn't know it was perfect. They only found out later. They made up a phone call, what they did -- look, what they did, you have a corrupt person. He's a corrupt politician named Adam Schiff. And he made up a phone call. He went out -- you'll hear about this as you grow older -- he went out, and he said things that -- he said quid pro quo eight times. It was no times. He said don't call me. I'll call you. That's a mob statement. I never said that.

Fortunately, I released the transcript of the call. The transcript was perfectly accurate, and now everybody agrees because it went through a lot, and they said, well, could you add one word here. Our lieutenant colonel said, well, I think they should add -- they added the word -- everything, everyone agrees the transcript is perfecto, done by total professionals, right?

But I released that after they had done these fraudulent acts, and you get impeached on this. We have the greatest economy in the history of our country. We have the highest job numbers. [15:35:00]

Today it was just announced we have more people working in the United States than ever before in the history of our country, almost 160 million people. We're doing an incredible job. And for absolutely no reason --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, during that call he said --

TRUMP: -- and for absolutely no reason -- I got a page.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you address this?

TRUMP: It's a disgrace, and it's a hoax. Thank you very much.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump revealing there that the impeachment trial that is about to commence is certainly getting under his skin. There was almost too much there to fact check, but let me just note that in terms of the President's continued insistent that the phone call with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky was perfect, even the witness, called by the House Republicans, Jonathan Turley said that the phone call was not perfect.

Indeed it did launch the impeachment inquiry because of concerns by the whistleblower that the President was essentially shaking down Ukraine in order to benefit himself politically for his reelection.

Secondly, the idea that this all comes from the Democrats is belied by the very fact that that came from a whistleblower in the Trump administration as did all of the testimony before the House impeachment inquiry in which various Trump administration officials talked about the misdeeds that they saw in their posts -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let's get reaction to what we just heard from the President and what's going on, on this historic day. Joining us right now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan. She's the Co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, what's your reaction to what you just heard from the President that this whole thing is simply a hoax and that he doesn't even know who this guy Lev Parnas is?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): You know, quite frankly, it just -- his tone, his belligerence, his disrespect for people, and then not understanding of what people are talking, that the GAO today found that his actions were not OK.

That we continue to have revelations every day about what happened, and there isn't an ounce of maybe somebody misunderstood me or it's just obnoxiousness. And quite frankly, I'm getting more and more concerned because the tone of every discussion he has, every public appearance is dividing this country further and making language that you should not be acceptable. It should be respectful, not there. BLITZER: What did you think of -- I assume you saw the interviews that

Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate, who's under criminal indictment right now, what did you think of what he had to say, and is he credible from your perspective?

DINGELL: I have no reason to know that he's not credible, but more than that I think he is a reason that there should be witnesses in the Senate. So that as this trial goes forward that it is open, transparent and fair. Which is why I think the Senate needs to have witnesses as new information becomes available. And they should have it in their consideration. But I think the American people need to see a fair trial that's open and transparent with these facts.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, it's Jake Tapper. I'm just wondering, you have been very somber throughout this entire process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to keep all House Democrats on the page of being somber and serious recognizing the gravity of this all.

Yesterday, however, many Republicans and even some independents I saw on social media took a lot of issue with the fact that Speaker Pelosi and top Democrats of the House had a signing ceremony for the articles of impeachment in which they were handing out pens that were used, and that's often done with legislation, but this wasn't a legislative accomplishment. This is an impeachment of a President. Moreover, people were smiling for the cameras, taking pictures together. Did you have any concerns about the tone that was being set there?

DINGELL: I think for the Speaker it was a solemn moment. You are correct that it is a traditional procedure that when she enrolls a bill she has the people that worked on it the hardest who have helped get it there, and what she did yesterday is part of a ritual that she always does, which is to use different pens so that people that have worked on it.

Walking over to -- from the House to the Senate is also part of the ritual of the Congress. I am serious about this. I think this is one of the saddest days in my history. President Clinton was probably -- I wasn't as engaged or paying as much attention quite frankly as I am now as a member of Congress, and I am worried for this country.

I continue to be worried about how divided this country is. And even walking to the airport when I got back to Michigan today, people stopping me in every direction, you know, like when are you going to get rid of him.

[15:40:00]

To this is all a fraud, and you guys are a hoax. I just heard that walking through an airport.

This country is divided, and the job of the President of the United States is to try to bring us together, not divide us further. And the Mueller report that you just talked about. One of the underlying themes in it that nobody pays attention to is how Russia is trying to divide us as a country, and this is just one more thing that's dividing us. Instead of a transparent process that explains to the American people why people are concerned and letting people make their own judgments.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, given the benefits of 2020 hindsight, would you have told House Democratic leaders you don't think it's a good idea to have a signing ceremony that appeared to many people to be celebratory in nature during such a serious time?

DINGELL: I am a very smart woman, and I don't -- quite frankly, I don't think it would have occurred to me to even think about it because I do know that this is a ritual of bills when the Speaker signs them. So you know, some people are -- you know, I think it was a very solemn occasion, and I know the members that are participating in this process, they took it very seriously, feel the sobriety of it.

And I think right now we're going to have people interpret everybody's actions to the perspective that they want to see. What I'm focused on, worried about how divided this country is. How do we restore civility? How do the American people see a fair, open, transparent process?

And we let the Senators who I hope all go into this having not made up their mind, though, you know, we could probably look at people on both sides, but they took that oath today, and let's see the facts and have them make a decision based on the facts.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, thank you so much. We hope you're doing well.

DINGELL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Still ahead, the Senators who will hear the impeachment case against President Trump, they have now been sworn in, and that includes four U.S. Senators who are also running to replace him in the White House. One of them, Senator Michael Bennet, he's standing by live. He'll join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:45:00]

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN live, special coverage of a landmark moment in U.S. history, the official opening of the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. It comes amid new and potentially game changing details from Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, who directly implicates the President in the Ukraine scheme.

Let's turn now to Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He sits on the Intelligence Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, very quickly, what was it like today when you were sworn in and understood the enormity of this trial?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a very solemn moment and I think for everybody in the chamber having the Chief Justice there, I think, underscored just what an important moment this is in the country's history. BLITZER: So give me a reaction to these allegations now leveled by Lev

Parnas. He's a criminally indicted individual. Do you believe him? Does he have credibility?

BENNET: Well, I think I'm going to want to make that judgment over time, but I think there's a huge amount of documentary evidence that he's got that has been turned over to the House that seems to connect him to the President and Rudy Giuliani and what is alleged here. So this is the reason why we need documents and maybe he should be a witness with the other witnesses.

BLITZER: What do you think, do you think he should be a witness?

BENNET: I want to reserve judgment on that, but I definitely think we should have witnesses, and I definitely think we should consider the documents that he's turned over.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your Republican Senate colleagues about witnesses?

BENNET: I think that pressure is building to have them. I think the public believes that it's ridiculous to have a trial, call it a trial, and not have witnesses and not have documents. And remember, this isn't just about the Senators sitting in that chamber. It's people sitting at home who are trying to make a judgment themselves about what the President did or didn't do.

BLITZER: Because Lev Parnas' allegations that the President knew everything, he was involved in everything. He was coordinating with Rudy Giuliani who was coordinating with him, I mean, that's a pretty serious allegation.

BENNET: It's a serious allegation, but it's entirely consistent with every single stitch of testimony there was in the House. It's consistent with what Giuliani has said about what he was doing in Ukraine and what he was saying he was doing in Europe.

We now actually have explicit evidence about why President Trump was so anxious to fire our own ambassador, which raises all kinds of national security implications, so this is really serious.

BLITZER: I want to play a clip, our Congressional reporter, Manu Raju, a man you know well. He's always on the Hill. He's one of the most respected Congressional journalists out there.

He had this moment when he asked about witnesses to one of your Republican colleagues, Martha McSally of Arizona, and it's been very upsetting to me personally, but to a lot of people, to see her exchange with him. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator McSally, should the Senate consider new evidence as a part of the impeachment trial?

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): Manu, you're a liberal hack. I'm not talking to you.

RAJU: You're not going to comment? About this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:50:00]

BLITZER: You saw what she said, I mean, it's -- I assume you know her.

BENNET: First of all, well, I know both of them. He is one of the best reporters on The Hill to begin with, and this is a symbol of a country that is slouching toward autocracy. When you start to attack the motivations of the press, the free press in this country, it raises the question about whether we want to live in a democracy or not, and whether we value truth or not.

You interrupted your broadcast today to have the President of the United States sit in the oval office and say, the economy has never been better than it is today. Barack Obama's administration created more jobs than Donald Trump's administration on average per month.

I mean if Donald Trump were creating jobs at the same rate Barack Obama were creating jobs, we'd have a million more jobs here in this country right now. And our foreign bankruptcies have been up over 24 percent. Farm income is down 16 percent. The President has had to basically pay off farmers with $28 billion he borrowed from the Chinese to keep them afloat during this trade deal.

Things are the not great for everybody in this economy and these charges are serious charges. This is not some attempt to distract the American people from the glorious economy Donald Trump has built. And the attack by my colleague on the free press is a disgrace.

BLITZER: Yes. Let me get your thoughts on the trial that's going to begin at 1:00 Eastern time on Tuesday. You're going to have to sit there Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday there'll be hearings.

You're not going to be able to read your messages and texts or anything like that. You're going to have it sit there. Some of your Democratic Presidential competitors, they are not Senators.

They are going to be able to campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. They are out this. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, that's a pretty significant advantage they have over you and your other Senate colleagues who are running for the Democratic nomination.

BENNET: Well, we have to fulfill our constitutional responsibility. And I will do it gladly. It's a privilege to be there in the Senate. And I feel fortunate that I've spent more time in New Hampshire than any other candidate.

I feel fortunate I'm in the middle of 50 town halls that nobody else has done and I'm going back to New Hampshire this weekend and I will be back in Iowa on Monday and then I'll be back in my seat for Tuesday for the trial. We'll be able to do it all. BLITZER: And you'll be stuck in D.C. for the rest of that --

BENNET: For as long as it takes.

BLITZER: That's the nature of what's going on right now. Good luck out there on the campaign trail.

BENNET: Thanks, Wolf. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado. CNN by the way is now learning that the intelligence chiefs are pushing Congress not, repeat not to hold public hearings on worldwide security threats out of fear that it will anger President Trump. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's new reporting out right now that an annual security briefing may be cut back in order to avoid angering President Trump.

CNN has learned that the U.S. intelligence community is pressuring House and Senate lawmakers to drop the public portion of the annual worldwide threat assessment. The reason last year's session provoked an angry outburst from the President who reportedly felt that the nation's spy chiefs were contradicting him with comments like this one about Iran from Dan Coates, who was then Director of National Intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN COATES, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: While we do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities, we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device, Iranian officials have publicly threatened to push the boundaries of the JCPOA restrictions if Iran does not gain the tangible financial benefits it expected from the deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:55:06]

BLITZER: The next day the President tweeted this -- the intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive. He added, they are testing rockets and more, and perhaps intelligence should go back to school.

Our national security reporter Kylie Atwood is with us right now. It's pretty extraordinary to see the intelligence chief saying, well, we'll give a report to Congress but we won't speak publicly.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Or we don't want to speak publicly, right. Because is that this comes off, as you just noted there, last year after this worldwide threat assessment was provided in a public hearing to Congress. President Trump then came out frustrated with some of their assessments because they contradicted some of his policies with regard to Iran and North Korea. So what is the worldwide threat assessment? It's a report that is put

together by U.S. Intelligence Committee every year. This community goes through everything that they have to provide this assessment. And then there are open hearings provided to Congress to both the intelligence community on the House side and the Senate side and they are able to ask questions about what they have found.

Now our reporting is that in the preliminary discussions about planning for these hearings, it was the intelligence community officials who brought up the idea of not holding those public hearings.

They did say they would provide classified background briefings, but we are now learning that the House intelligence community has asked, they had asked ODNI, the Director of National Intelligence, Joseph McGuire, to hold this hearing on February 12th. We don't yet know if they have agreed to that invitation.

BLITZER: Let's hope they show up. It's very, very important. Kylie, thank you very much. CNN special coverage of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump continues on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper. That's next. I'll be back in one hour in the "SITUATION ROOM."

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