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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
U.S. Troops Injured in Iran Attack?; Trump Names Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz to Defense Team; Pompeo Says State Department Will Investigate Possible Surveillance of Ex-U.S. Ambassador. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 17, 2020 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A defense team dynamic duo that kept Jeffrey Epstein out of jail.
THE LEAD starts right now.
An impeachment defense dream team? President Trump beefs up his legal team with names you know from infamous defendants and from their time on TV.
The Pentagon initially said no U.S. troops were hurt by the Iranian missile strike last week, but, since then, new information and several troops medevaced out. Are they going to be OK? And why the discrepancy?
Plus, alleged neo-Nazis, 1,500 rounds of ammo, and a state of emergency, as Virginia officials have nightmares of another Charlottesville.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The president now has the defense team that he hopes will get him acquitted and perhaps shift the entire tone of the Senate trial. In addition to his personal attorney Jay Sekulow and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, President Trump is now adding some high-profile and controversial picks.
Some thought Alan Dershowitz, who has defended O.J. Simpson Jeffrey Epstein, would prove too controversial even for President Trump, but the Harvard professor will deliver oral arguments, according to the spokesman for the Trump legal team, along with Ken Starr, who also helped to defend Epstein.
Starr, of course, most notably, along with another new Trump defense attorney, Robert Ray, were, as independent counsels, making the pro- impeachment arguments just 21 years ago against Bill Clinton.
It will be interesting to hear Starr make arguments that contradict what he said in the 1990s, such as this about Bill Clinton obstructing Congress:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN STARR, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: The president and his administration asserted three different governmental privileges to conceal relevant information and they delayed and impeded the investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, many of the newest hires on the president's defense team had been making pro-Trump arguments for quite some time now on the president's favorite television channel.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Days before his Senate trial gets under way, President Trump is adding firepower to his legal team, bringing in Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz and Robert Ray to help make his case from the Senate floor.
The three seasoned attorneys all have one quality in common that means the most to the president: television experience. Ken Starr is the hard-charging prosecutor whose independent counsel investigation led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment.
STARR: Those acts constitute a pattern of obstruction that is fundamentally inconsistent with the president's duty to faithfully execute the law.
COLLINS: Back then, Trump didn't always thanks so highly of Starr.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Ken Starr is a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is disaster.
COLLINS: Now Starr appears regularly on FOX News, where sources say the president has watched him closely as he's analyzed his own impeachment.
STARR: There is a huge question. Will there be witnesses?
COLLINS: Another FOX regular, Robert Ray succeeded Starr as the independent counsel and issued the final report on Clinton.
ROBERT RAY, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: You don't impeach an administration based upon policy differences.
STARR: Alan Dershowitz gained fame after defending high-profile clients like O.J. Simpson, but has since come under scrutiny for his ties to Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, and is now embroiled in a lawsuit with a woman who says she was a victim of Epstein's, all allegations that Dershowitz has denied.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: As a criminal lawyer, being shocked by an allegation doesn't mean that I won't defend somebody.
STARR: Dershowitz was reluctant to take the job, but in the end -- quote -- "believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution"
Sources say Trump has been talking about the upcoming trial nonstop, and ended his celebration with the LSU football team today with this riff on impeachment:
TRUMP: But you got a good one now, even though they're trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe it? Can you believe that?
STARR: Now, Jake, we are also being told by sources that those House Republicans who were once being considered as additions to the president's defense team are now no longer expected to take a formal role in all of this.
The situation has been incredibly fluid, literally changing on a day- to-day basis this week, but, right now, the latest is, they are not expected to join in any formal capacity, instead working behind the scenes, though we have been told some of them are continuing to prep just in case they're added at the last minute.
TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.
CNN's Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.
Manu, you're learning that senators are preparing for a contentious start to this trial, as Democrats look to force witnesses. Tell us more.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, expected on Tuesday.
That's when the Senate will reconvene and they actually will begin to debate the resolution has been drafted by Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, setting up the parameters for the trial.
Now, in that resolution, it is not expected to include a requirement that witnesses come and testify or that documents be provided up front. And, of course, Democrats have for weeks been demanding all that be included.
So Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, plan to offer amendments on the floor of the Senate to demand that to be part of the trial.
Now, expect Republicans to push back, to fight back on these, but the Democrats do have the right to offer amendments, multiple amendments, and each of these could be debated for about two hours each.
So, depending on how many the Democrats decide to offer, it could delay the opening arguments that could actually occur as the House Democratic managers prepare to initially make their case.
Now, also, in an interesting twist, Jake, some of this could happen behind closed doors, because senators are not allowed to speak publicly and debate while the trial is in session, so they would have to vote by a majority vote to go behind closed doors.
But if they decide to keep it in public, the House impeachment managers would debate the amendments, and the White House's defense team would fight back -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
Joining me now, Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. President Trump asked him to leave that position. He is now a CNN senior legal analyst.
Preet, thanks for joining us.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.
TAPPER: Let's start with these new additions to the Trump legal team. What do you make of the picks? How do you think they will shape the tone of the trial?
BHARARA: So it's interesting
I am terrible at predicting what the president will do. I had thought, after seeing the reports that the sort of more vocal, strident supporters of the president in the House, like Jim Jordan and Doug Collins and others, were not being considered, because folks in the Senate like Mitch McConnell thought there should not be a circus-like atmosphere, I thought that he would pick quieter, less controversial lawyers to defend him in the Senate.
And then he would have his serious lawyers in the Senate who maybe are not so controversial, and also have his controversial folks on television. It was the best of both worlds for him. He has now chosen to pick folks, as those clips reveal, people have very, very strong feelings about Ken Starr and about Alan Dershowitz and to a lesser extent about Pam Bondi.
And so I think he's looking to increase ratings for the trial, when it would seem that his best, I think, approach to this might have been quiet, deliberative kinds of lawyers who would make a case based on the law and the facts, and wouldn't draw attention to themselves.
He's actually, in this way, not speaking as a legal -- in the legal dimension, increased viewership of the upcoming impeachment trial.
TAPPER: Starr and Ray, obviously, best known from the Clinton impeachment. Starr called several witnesses to testify in the investigation, President Clinton himself, Monica Lewinsky, 11 of her friends, family, even an ex-boyfriend and a counselor, as well as multiple White House aides.
This is not on the Senate floor, of course. It is notable now that he's put in the position of defending not having witnesses, when, in actuality, the Republican House impeachment managers did have new witnesses or witnesses testify before the Senate, not in person, but on video.
BHARARA: Yes, it will lead to a credible claim of hypocrisy. That will be exacerbated because President Trump has picked someone who is on -- not only on record, but on videotape during the proceedings 21 years ago saying the exact opposite of the kinds of things that the president wants them to say now, including that clip that you showed a couple of minutes ago, showing what Donald Trump thought about Ken Starr back then.
So it serves a little bit of a distraction. It seems to me that the president is not -- as with all sorts of other issues, not trying to persuade people who are undecided or who are against him to his side, but just playing to the base, because a lot of people are going to tune out, whether right or wrong, will tune out people like Ken Starr, tune out people like Alan Dershowitz.
TAPPER: Paul Rosenzweig, former senior counsel to independent counsel Ken Starr, went on Twitter. He's depressed about Starr taking the gig.
He told me that Starr recommended impeachment against Clinton in part because -- quote -- "Clinton abused his constitutional authority by lying to the public and the Congress, refusing six invitations to testify voluntarily, invoking executive privilege, lying to the grand jury, all as part of an effort to hinder, impede, and deflect possible inquiry by the Congress of the United States."
Yet, Rosenzweig told me, "Trump's conduct in this regard is far worse" -- unquote.
And he wants Starr to try to explain it. What do you think?
BHARARA: I think that's exactly right.
It's -- as we talked about it, and as the news has been unfolding, it's just not clear why you pick someone like Ken Starr, because it's going to allow people to make two tracks of argument. One, you can respond to the arguments being made, and then, second, you can attack the person making the argument.
Generally speaking, you don't want so much attention to be drawn to the outer proceeding comments made in the past by a lawyer. But this is a political process. Ken Starr has as much name recognition as any lawyer in the country associated with the opposite of what he's standing for now.
And so, to the extent that public sentiment matters -- and, by the way, it does, because that affects how senators on the fence may be thinking about this issue.
[16:10:05] And public sentiment about Ken Starr moves in a particular direction. So I don't think it's helpful to the president. And it's odd to me. And I'm not surprised that he's disappointed.
TAPPER: The president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who, of course, is a part of this scandal, the Ukraine scandal, made it clear that he wanted to help the president, help defend the president.
He's made comments many times talking about it. What do you make of the fact that he is not, at least as of now, part of the Trump legal team for the impeachment trial?
BHARARA: It seems like President Trump has gone up to the edge of insane, without crossing over into insanity, because I think, as a legal matter, political matter, optics matter.
Having Rudy Giuliani to defend him in the Senate doesn't make any sense. In addition to all the other reasons you might imagine, the testimony on television by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, makes it very clear that Rudy is a witness in the matter.
Lev Parnas had all these associations and dealings in Ukraine. He's meeting with Rudy Giuliani every day to talk about those things. And then we don't know what Rudy Giuliani said to the president, what the president's knowledge of all this activity was, that forms the heart of impeachment.
Rudy is a witness. He can't be a lawyer, no matter how badly Trump wants him to be.
TAPPER: We will see. I think you just guaranteed that he's going to be named to the legal team just by saying that.
TAPPER: Preet Bharara, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
TAPPER: He's got questionable credibility, but he says he witnessed a key conversation with President Trump about the then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Then, the first votes have already been cast in the 2020 primaries, as one candidate claims the system is rigged against the competition.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our politics lead today, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani is now detailing to CNN what he claims was his role in getting the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine fired. Lev Parnas says he told President Trump in spring of 2018 that he believes that Marie Yovanovitch was bad mouthing the president, and seconds later, Parnas claims that the president told the aide to get rid of her.
Now, Parnas has a serious credibility issue, but some of the evidence he has produced has further backed up the allegations being made about the president and his team in the Ukraine.
As CNN's Alex Marquardt reports, today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finally addressed one of the questions that the text messages provided by Parnas has raised.
ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three days after it was revealed that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch might have been under illegal surveillance, the country's top diplomat, her boss, Mike Pompeo, finally broke his silence and addressed it on right wing radio.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We will everything that we can to find out if something took place there, I suspect that much of what has been reported there will be proven wrong.
MARQUARDT: A State Department official said today an investigation had already been launched on Tuesday after text messages between American Robert Hyde and Giuliani associate Lev Parnas were handed over to Congress, but it had not been addressed until today.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, will you investigate the surveillance of Ambassador Yovanovitch?
MARQUARDT: The ominous text conversation discussed Yovanovitch's supposed movements in Kiev. She's next to the embassy, Hyde writes. Then, later, they will let me know when she's on the move.
Pompeo today claimed he knew nothing about any surveillance of Yovanovitch.
POMPEO: Until this story broke, I had, to the best of recollection, had never heard of this at all.
MARQUARDT: Hyde also denies ever tracking her.
ROBERT HYDE (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Those are heavy accusation. I mean, I mean, it was just colorful. We were playing.
MARQUARDT: Parnas told Anderson Cooper he didn't take Hyde seriously.
LEV PARNAS, INDICTED RUDY GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: I'll be honest with you. If I thought it was real, I would have contacted the authorities.
MARQUARDT: Ukraine has launched an investigation of their own, now eight months after Yovanovitch was removed by President Trump. Parnas says that Yovanovitch, who's a career diplomat, was hated and that he personally heard Trump demand that she be fired. PARNAS: I told the president that in our opinion, that she is bad
mouthing him and that she said that he's going to get impeached. 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.
MARQUARDT: Whether it was about Yovanovitch or the broader quid pro quo with Ukraine, Parnas says nothing would have been done without the president's order.
PARNAS: Rudy wouldn't do anything without the president's order, just like I wouldn't do anything without Rudy's.
MARQUARDT: Now, one other name that Parnas brought up is former Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Perry led the U.S. delegation to President Zelensky's inauguration and Parnas says that Perry spoke with Rudy Giuliani before and after and was told to tell the Ukrainians to launch that investigation into Joe Biden. When they didn't, Giuliani blew his lid, according to Parnas.
Now, the Energy Department maintains that Perry had only one phone call with Giuliani and never heard Biden or Burisma come up -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.
Let's chew over all this.
Ayesha, Parnas said he coordinated directly with Giuliani and they had a protocol to prove to Ukrainian officials that Parnas had some political power. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: I put him on speakerphone, and Rudy at the time told him that I represented the president of the United States, and that everything I say that to be taken with that authority.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC360": Rudy Giuliani said on speakerphone to the man who now runs Ukrainian intelligence that you represent Giuliani and the president?
PARNAS: Absolutely. Not the president directly.
COOPER: He represents the president.
PARNAS: Correct. And that's why they spoke to me and that's why they -- that's why I got out of there alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And we should point out that John Dowd who represents, who is the player that he represents exactly here?
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, he --
TAPPER: He's representing Rudy at one point?
RASCOE: He was representing the president, and then he came in and was supposed to be representing Parnas and the other man --
TAPPER: And he said that Parnas represented him legally --
RASCOE: Yes, yes, yes, and said that they were working on the president's legal team.
And so, therefore some of this would be attorney/client privilege. Now, of course, the president is saying that he doesn't know anything about Parnas. He doesn't -- you know, he doesn't have any recollection of him, and the White House is saying that you can't trust Parnas, because he has been indicted.
This is a pattern though, right? So basically the president is either tangentially or the people connected to the president, Rudy Giuliani, who the president doesn't deny has said that this is my personal lawyer, people connected to them, they get indicted, and then it is, oh, well, you can't trust this person, and they are not trustworthy, and they just got indicted.
But why are all of the people, and even in the outer circles of being able to be connected to the president? That issue of Rudy Giuliani saying that I represent the president of the United States, some of those documents that were released, that's what he says. He says I represent the president in a personal capacity, but he is still saying that I represent President Trump.
You have to think that if you are in Ukraine and you are getting that sort of the letter from Rudy Giuliani, are you going to think, yes, I should take this meeting, because he is connected to the president. He is representing him in some personal matter, and do I want to make Trump mad?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I am not a lawyer, and Charlie is, but the idea of the president could have personal business with a foreign head of state or foreign actor is also puzzling, and I don't know what the legal --
TAPPER: You are talking about Rudy writing a letter to the president of Ukraine --
KUCINICH: Well, right. Yes, exactly, like --
TAPPER: -- and wanting a meeting with him?
KUCINICH: And even though it is Rudy is his personal attorney, well, there's no personal business between the heads of state, I don't -- and you would know better than I would.
TAPPER: And the former legal counsel for the RNC, what's your take? Do you find this -- I understand that Lev Parnas is not going to be carved on Mt. Rushmore tomorrow, but is that not problematic?
CHARLIE SPIES, FORMER CHIEF LEGAL COUNSEL, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Yes, I think it is a distraction and nothing to do with the charges in front of the Senate, and the important part of the story is that Giuliani has been pushed out of the legal team. If they wanted to convince Sean Hannity, then Rudy is a great lawyer, but if you wanted to convince the swing senators whether it is Joe Manchin or whether that's my old boss Mitt Romney, then having somebody really respected like Ken Starr and the person with the most investigative experience in America is Robert Ray, those are really effective lawyers for down the middle arguments. And I think the president stepped it up by bringing them in and moving past sort of the Giuliani show stuff.
MEHDI HASAN, THE INTERCEPT: You don't think it is embarrassing that he called in the Jeffrey Epstein legal team to represent him in the most important of his life?
TAPPER: Starr and Dershowitz both represented Epstein, among others.
HASAN: Among others, O.J. and other great players.
SPIES: And that is what is wrong with the media is to say that Ken Starr, Judge Starr who spent a quarter century as one of the most respected lawyers in America and Alan Dershowitz on the left, he was talked about for the U.S. Supreme Court, he is a legal lion for liberals on constitutional scholars --
HASAN: And Starr left Baylor over a cloud of what he had or had not done in terms of the sexual abuse --
SPIES: With respect to the football team, yes.
HASAN: There's a lot of scandal involving Starr, and, of course, just on his impeachment record, Trump is on record for calling him a lunatic for trying to impeach Clinton, now he hires the guy to defend him in his own impeachment trial. And I think it sends a message to the world, it's a reminder, it's a weird unnecessary reminder to the world, the Republicans are fine with impeaching presidents as long as they are Democratic and not Republican. That's not the greatest of message.
TAPPER: And, Jackie, let me bring you here, because is that a distraction, because there are a lots of clips and we ran one or two of them of Ken Starr making arguments against Bill Clinton that one could very easily apply to Donald Trump in terms for instance not turning over documents or witnesses?
KUCINICH: You know, it seems -- impeachment is such a political process. We've seen this with politicians, we've seen this with lawyers now, that it's very easy to switch sides and whether or not the American people choose to hold them accountable for that, that's the open question.
But this is the nature of this process. There are so many parallels for the opposite side with the Clinton impeachment, and we will keep on seeing this, but it's not -- it will be for them to judge.
TAPPER: For instance Chuck Schumer back --
TAPPER: -- back then saying that there should not be witnesses. Today, he is making an argument --
KUCINICH: Well, exactly, if you stick around long enough --
HASAN: But to be fair to Schumer, I'm not always fair to Schumer, his arguments then was the witnesses had already been heard in the House. Here, the argument is, Mick Mulvaney has not been heard in the house, John Bolton has not been heard in the House, that's' why you need to hear them.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.
The Pentagon first said that no U.S. troops had been hurt in the Iranian strike, but now, the story is changing as more information has come in. The latest on that, next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: We are back with the world lead now.
After initially claiming that no Americans had been hurt, the Pentagon now says that several U.S. troops were injured when Iran fired 16 missiles at bases in Iraq last week. Eight service members in fact were sent to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany and three to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to treat concussion symptoms.
Now, a defense official tells CNN it can take days for those systems to appear, and Defense Secretary Esper was just made aware of the injuries yesterday.
We have a team of correspondents covering the story across the globe.
Let's start with Arwa Damon in Istanbul.
And, Arwa, how are these soldiers doing? And tell us what you saw when you visited teh base after the attack?