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Trump Adds to His Legal Team as Impeachment Trial Starts; Battle Over New Witnesses and Evidence Heats Up; 11 U.S. Troops Injured in Iran Missile Strike; Interview with Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY) on Ukraine Aide and Impeachment. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired January 17, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.
One of the big unknowns in the Senate impeachment trial now revealed. Who will be representing -- presenting the president's defense before the Senate and the country just days from now? You will likely recognize some of these names as we're now just learning.
Sources are telling CNN that they include Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who led the investigation that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment, constitutional attorney Alan Dershowitz, a fixture on cable news, and Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr during the Clinton investigation.
And that's not all. Let's get to it, CNN's Kaitlan Collins has this new reporting. She's joining me now.
Kaitlan, what more are you learning and hearing about the president's legal team?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we have been hearing for several days that there was a chance the president could add people to his legal team as they went along. We have been waiting to find out when they were going to announce this because, you know, the president had been back and forth between adding those House Republicans, adding new attorneys, and now it's these three seasoned attorneys that the president is adding to his team, who obviously have a lot of television experience.
That's a big factor for the president when he's deciding who it is he's going to pick because of course we had reported he had been voicing some concerns about his White House counsel Pat Cipollone not having a lot of television experience and then going on the Senate floor and defending him.
Now we know that it is going to be Alan Dershowitz, Robert Ray who succeeded Ken Starr at the Office of the Independent Counsel, and then of course Ken Starr, who was the hard-charging prosecutor who led Bill Clinton's impeachment.
Now Alan Dershowitz is a really notable figure because the president and Dershowitz have been going back and forth over this whether or not he was going to join the team, Kate. And the president had made clear he wanted Dershowitz on his team. Dershowitz had been hesitant, not eager to take the job, we were told. And the president also being advised against having him on the team.
That's because if not only his ties to people like Harvey Weinstein, who he was briefly on his defense team, but also other people, like Jeffrey Epstein, who he has come under scrutiny for his ties to him. And he's right now involved in this lawsuit with a woman who says she was a victim of Jeffrey Epstein's, but also says that Alan Dershowitz sexually abused her and defamed her, something that Alan Dershowitz has countersued her for, something that is still playing out in the courts. So some people feared if the president brought Dershowitz on his team, it could be a distraction.
Now he's also got Robert Ray and then of course Ken Starr, who has been on FOX News, making appearances, the president often quotes him on Twitter. And of course he's such a notable figure given the role he played in Bill Clinton's impeachment.
Monica Lewinsky is already responding to that this morning, tweeting a response to Ken Starr joining this team, seeming to express some exasperation and surprise that the president has added him on to his legal team, but we are told that Ken Starr is not likely to take a role -- a speaking role when this trial does get kicked off on Tuesday, Kate. But Alan Dershowitz will be taking a speaking role. He's going to be taking the constitutional aspect of all of this.
It's something that they've made clear in a statement that, of course, he says he voted for Hillary Clinton but he feels like the stakes are so high here. That is why he's coming on to represent President Trump in this impeachment trial.
So, Kate, it is going to be fascinating to watch it play out on Tuesday.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Kaitlan, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
So while the trial won't start in earnest until Tuesday, there is still a lot happening behind the scenes. Not only are we learning the legal team, but we want to show you, give you a look at what you can expect over the next days this weekend. The House managers and the president's defense team, they're putting together -- pulling together and filing briefs for either side. And, of course, the debate rages on over whether to allow new witnesses and evidence into the trial.
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill tracking that. It's a very important side of all of this.
Manu, what is the very latest that you're hearing about the possibility of witnesses?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you're going to see this flare up on the Senate floor on Tuesday. That's when the Senate will reconvene and those opening arguments will take place. The House Democrats to make their case about why the president should be removed from office. But before all that happens, the Senate will vote on a resolution drafted by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell setting up the terms for the trial.
And in that resolution there is no guarantee that witnesses will come forward or the documents that have been blocked by the White House will be produced. That's something of course that Democrats have demanded they wanted in that resolution. So what Democrats are going to, when they go to the floor on Tuesday, they're going to try to force votes to amend that resolution, to demand witnesses come forward. And Republicans are expected to block that, to reject that amendment and vote for what they are approving.
And in their resolution, they are expected to include language that will say there should ultimately be a vote about whether to call for witnesses and that should happen after there are opening arguments to take place and after the senators ask questions. But even if that vote were to come to pass, it's unclear about which witnesses will come forward.
Democrats, of course, Kate, have called for John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, as well as Mick Mulvaney's his top aide Robert Blair, and a top budget -- White House Budget Office official Michael Duffey, all to come testify. The Republicans have not yet to commit to any of that, even the Republicans who have signaled an openness to have witnesses have not gone as far as Democrats have.
So ultimately the question will come down on the floor when they vote, probably after the arguments are done, whether Republicans will ultimately break ranks, join with Democrats to call any of those witnesses or get a deal to bring some of the Republican -- the White House witnesses as well, so a lot of unpredictability here, Kate, as we head into this momentous trial in the days ahead.
BOLDUAN: Yes. And it seems all the formalities that were very expected have now taken place and now the unpredictability really begins.
Thanks, Manu. I really appreciate it.
Speaking of witnesses, one person who wants to be a witness in the Senate trial is Lev Parnas. He's the associate of Rudy Giuliani, who's indicted on campaign finance violations. He's got a lot to say. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Parnas says the president tried to fire former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, multiple times. In one instance Parnas describes watching Trump tell an aide to get rid of her. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": Why did they hate her?
LEV PARNAS, INDICTED ASSOCIATE OF RUDY GIULIANI: Because she was supposed to be a Soros left -- she was supposed to be a leftover from the Obama-Soros Democrat era and that she was --
COOPER: That's what you were told?
PARNAS: She's not a Trumper and to my knowledge, he -- the president fired her at least four times, maybe even five times, I mean, once in my presence.
COOPER: Yes. Explain that, you said that he fired her in front of you?
COOPER: What happened?
PARNAS: That was the first interaction about her. We had -- it was a dinner at the -- private dinner for super PAC in Washington, D.C. at the Trump Hotel. And in the conversation, the subject of Ukraine was brought up and I told the president that our opinion that she is bad mouthing him and that she said that he's going to get impeached, something like that, I don't know if that's word for word. But that she was --
COOPER: You said that at the table.
COOPER: Where the president was?
PARNAS: Correct. Correct. And his reaction was, he looked at me like he got very angry and basically turned around to John DeStefano and said fire her. Get rid of her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, two CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, former federal and state prosecutor, and Anne Milgram, a former New Jersey attorney general.
Guys, thank you for being here. First and foremost, I want to ask about the Lev Parnas factor, if you will. But first and foremost, what do you -- what is your reaction when you hear about Trump's legal team here?
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: So the legal team, I mean, there are a couple of reactions. First of all, these are very serious lawyers. They are long-term practitioners, particularly if you think about Dershowitz, he is a professor for many years. There are a lot of issues around them. They have been conservative spokesman. They've been spokesmen for the president on TV.
But they're serious lawyers, which to me says that the president knows he really needs to up his team. That they're walking into a trial where the American public is going to be watching and he has concerns about the team he has.
The second point is that I do think Dershowitz brings a lot of issues with him with these allegations of sexual assault. It's not clear to me how much that will matter. He wanted to be a witness in the House judiciary. That he has not called, the Democrats would not call him as a witness. But obviously now he joins the legal team. So it's going to change the dynamics, I think.
BOLDUAN: So Trump is taking this seriously. Does the makeup of the legal team tell you anything about the strategy and approach that Trump's defense will kind of make, will be -- you know, look like?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So it tells me they're bracing for war as Anne said. This is a really serious team. And one thing where they have a lot of experience is in criminal, both prosecution and defense work. I mean, there's decades worth of criminal experience here. So he's ready to go to the mats and really defend himself. There was some theorizing at some point that he might not even put on a defense at all. And it tells me they're not expecting a quick dismissal. Whatever they do --
BOLDUAN: Really? OK.
HONIG: Yes. There is no way. I mean, they're expecting now to have to go all the way.
BOLDUAN: Even though at this point, let's say one more time, the outcome at this moment, from what we hear from Republicans and the senators -- all of the senators who will be voting, the outcome still is -- this moment in Trump's favor.
HONIG: Yes, we still have a process, but this legal team understands when you're in a trial setting, unexpected things happen. It's a dynamic situation. Whatever they do now there was going to be riddled by hypocrisy. To have Ken Starr, a guy who spent years trying to throw a president out of office for lying about sex in a civil deposition is now defending a president who has been impeached for trying to shake down a foreign country to interfere with an election. I don't know how you square that.
MILGRAM: And just to Elie's point on that, it's worth talking about the fact that they did have witnesses at the Clinton impeachment trial and so I think Ken Starr, it's going to be --
BOLDUAN: That's an interesting element. That's right.
MILGRAM: Right. You know, they're going to argue against having any witnesses and Ken Starr, there were witnesses who were called so I think they're --
BOLDUAN: Ken Starr -- there were thousands of pages of depositions against --
MILGRAM: Yes. And then there were trial witnesses. So I think this sets up an interesting conflict.
BOLDUAN: What about what Kaitlan was saying that Ken Starr is not likely to take on a speaking role? I don't know what that means just as a layman. Does that mean something?
HONIG: Yes, I'm not sure why that is. I mean, not everybody I guess can get up and take the podium.
HONIG: But it might be because the hypocrisy is so obvious. As Anne said, I mean, not only did they have the three witnesses at the Clinton trial, but in the leadup to that, Ken Starr talked to Monica Lewinsky's ex-boyfriend. He talked to Kathleen Willie's dentist. He talked to White House window washers and painters. He created new law to talk to the Secret Service. They fought it in court. And he got to talk to the Secret Service and now he's going to say the American people shouldn't hear from primary witnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney? So maybe having him stand up would highlight that.
BOLDUAN: Really quickly, Anne, can I ask you about Lev Parnas? He wants to be a witness. We have no idea if he'll be called. What do you think is significant about what Parnas is laying out and in addition, what do you make about the credibility problem that he very clearly faces?
MILGRAM: Right. I think that's a great question. The first thing we should say is, it's very unusual for somebody who has been indicted by the Southern District of New York to start doing all these news interviews and coming out. And it's clearly a play to hopefully not get -- to lessen his sentence, to lessen and also to sort of improve his public reputation by coming forward.
So there is a credibility issue. There's no question about it. But the second piece where I think is really important, is I've read through the text messages and the notes from the Ritz Carlton, Indiana, that's physical evidence. And that is really hard for people to discount. And that basically sets out this quid pro quo as well as the surveillance of the American ambassador. So I think there is a lot more questions that have to be raised, but what it does tell us is there is additional evidence that's going to come out.
BOLDUAN: The uncertainty of the moment is real. It's going to be very important how this all -- what happens in the next couple of days.
Thanks, guys. Thanks so much.
Coming up for us, days after the Iranian missile strike in Iraq, we are now learning more about the impact of the attack on U.S. troops. Much more on that ahead.
And later, a CNN exclusive, the wife of Andrew Yang breaks her silence. She says that she was sexually assaulted by a doctor and had to watch her attacker walk away with just a slap on the wrist. Why she's speaking out now in such an emotional and courageous fashion. That's coming up.
BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We're learning more today about how dangerous and serious Iran's attack was when it launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. The Pentagon now saying 11 service members were injured in the attack. Though president said this the day after the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No Americans were harmed in last night's attack by the Iranian regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And we're now learning more.
CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. CNN's Arwa Damon was just in Iraq and saw the damage from the Iranian attack firsthand.
Barbara, what are you learning now from the Pentagon?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we just had a briefing from the chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman and what he tells us is very interesting. It was yesterday when Defense Secretary Mark Esper was first informed about any of this, when he was in a meeting and he was interrupted by General John Heighten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who comes into the meeting and says this has happened.
Eleven people have been evacuated out of Iraq. Eight of them have gone to the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, three have gone to Kuwait. These are places where they can get proper screening for potential brain injuries. There are some MRI facilities available to them that are not available in the Al-Asad Base in Iraq.
What we know now is that for TBI, for traumatic brain injury, there is actually no requirement to notify the Pentagon immediately. Immediate notification is for wounds such as loss of limb, eyesight or something like that. It's a very interesting question. Because of course traumatic brain injuries, the symptoms can emerge days later and it is the silent injury of war. There's no blood, there's no bandages, but it is very serious, of course, to those who suffer from it -- Kate.
And Arwa, you were first journalist to visit the base after the attack. Let me play some of your reporting from inside for viewers real quick.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some crammed into bunkers that weren't built to withstand missiles like these.
These kinds of small bunkers exist throughout the base, but they're meant to protect against rockets and mortars. The ballistic missiles that were fired are about 3,000 times more powerful than that. The blast from this one knocked over a four-ton T-wall, but if that hadn't happened, those who were sheltering here probably would not have survived. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: You can clearly see the destruction and damage. And you clearly lay out how these -- some of these bunkers were ill equipped to handle such an attack.
DAMON: Yes, and Kate, look the entire base was ill equipped to handle such an attack. Frankly lucky that they had Saddam Hussein-era bunkers that most people were able to shelter. And also remember, at the time of the attack, there were around 2,500 people there between the U.S. military, other coalition forces and the civilian contractors.
Those who we were talking to were telling us about how these blasts were so big, they reverberated through their bodies. Some talked about being knocked around by the blasts, especially those that were crammed into the smaller bunkers. So it's really not surprising actually that we do have cases, 11 cases where service people were concussed.
But at the same time, it is worth noting, again, that this could have been significantly worse had the military not begun to put together a picture based on intelligence of what was actually going to be happening.
They had a few hours to take cover in any way that they could because this specific base again was not equipped to defend against this kind of a ballistic missile attack. Many of these soldiers had never been through anything like this before. Remember, they are not used to being on the receiving end of this kind of firepower. They're used to being the ones, Kate, who are delivering it.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Arwa, thank you for your reporting the ground. That's really one of the only reasons we can see exactly what the base looked like in the aftermath.
Barbara, thank you so much for staying on it and bringing us the update on these 11 service members and we'll stay on top of their progress and what it really means. I really appreciate it, guys.
Coming up for us, government watchdog concludes the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld aid to Ukraine. So what can Congress do about it now? One member of Congress pushing for change joins me next.
BOLDUAN: The Trump administration violated the law. That is the conclusion by the nonpartisan government watchdog asked to look into the president's decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine. The Government Accountability Office released its finding yesterday, as we reported and at the core of the GAO's report is the law prohibits -- is that the law prohibits the president from withholding money approved by Congress and not alerting Congress that it is doing so. Democrats call it a bombshell. Republicans are questioning the timing
of the release, though the GAO responded to that criticism saying this to the "New York Times." "There was no coordination of timing with any entity outside of GAO."
Joining me right now, Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
Congressman, thanks for coming in.
REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D-KY): Good morning, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Thank you. GAO now says the administration violated the law. But I've seen nothing on what recourse you all have, even after this decision. Is there any?
YARMUTH: Well, that's a really good point. Actually the only recourse we have would be impeachment. So that would be kind of redundant at this point. I think the most disturbing part of this finding and, by the way, they have been looking at this for months, we've been in contact with GAO about this and other instances in which the government is -- the administration is basically used funds for which they were not intended or held them up.
So this is a long-standing study they have been -- analysis they have been doing. But there really is no recourse. And that's why we're considering legislation to try and tie down the administration a little bit more tightly. And also possibly to come up with some penalties, which would unfortunately only be possibility of fines if they deliberately violated the law.
BOLDUAN: What exactly -- other than penalties, penalties are straightforward, if you could get -- if you get that through, but what would the reforms actually look like and change in the future?
YARMUTH: Well, one of the things we're talking about is increased transparency, so we'd have increased reporting requirements from the administration. So we knew if they were spending the money that they were supposed to be spending. And one point of clarification to your introduction.
YARMUTH: The only way that the administration can spend money -- can withhold money that we have appropriated is if they -- for programmatic reasons. So for instance, if we create a grant program and nobody applies for the grants, then obviously they wouldn't be forced to spend the money. But the law says, the 74 law says they cannot withhold money for policy reasons. In this case, the administration was even worse than that because this was part of the administration's scheme to withhold money to get a political result from Ukraine. So they not only violated the law, they violated it for very, very personal political reasons, which makes the offense much more heinous, I think.
BOLDUAN: So there is much to be learned if this moves forward in terms of reforms. Let me ask you about the issue at hand right now, as the impeachment heads to the Senate. The president's legal team was at least parts of it, was just announced, including Ken Starr, Rudy -- not Rudy Giuliani, Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz and Robert Ray. Rudy Giuliani wanted the job and clearly at least doesn't have it at this point. What does that tell you about his defense strategy?
YARMUTH: It tells me that they're going to try to muddy the water. And they got people who are pretty much sycophantic for the administration. I mean, Ken Starr and Dershowitz have both been -- also not just sycophantic, but they've also been running counter to the vast preponderance of legal thinking on the issues involved here. So they're going to try to argue apparently that whatever he did, he can do and there's nothing wrong with it.
I don't think they're going to try to refute the facts because they've been pretty clear on the record that they don't believe that what the president did was impeachable. Most legal experts disagree.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks for coming in.
YARMUTH: OK, Kate, good to see you.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
So one of the more outrageous pieces of new information that has come out, has come to light, courtesy of Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas is the --