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Trump Adding Ken Starr And Alan Dershowitz To Legal Team; Senate Trial Begins As New Revelations Emerge; Parnas Says, I Saw Trump Tell Aide To Fire Ambassador Yovanovitch. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2020 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Erica Hill in for Brianna Keilar today, she starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: I'm Erica Hill in today for Brianna Keilar.

Underway right now, President Trump adding five familiar names to his defense team as his impeachment trial gets underway. Just what insight does this offer into the president's defense strategy?

Out of sight, Democratic senators in the 2020 race scrambling to make the most of the time they have left on the campaign trail. How will they keep up the momentum while doing their day job in the Senate?

Mike Pompeo, now pledging to investigate whether a former ambassador was under surveillance overseas, but why did it take him days to respond to the bombshell allegations?

And we're now learning several U.S. service members were hurt in that Iranian missile attack last week, this after the Pentagon said there were no casualties.

But, first, the Senate trial for President Trump's impeachment now officially underway, and we're now learning who the president has chosen for his legal defense team. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, expected to have the lead roles.

However, sources tell CNN Mr. Trump also enlisted the help of these seasoned lawyers, Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who, of course, led the investigation that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment. Constitutional attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Florida attorney general and White House impeachment adviser, Pam Bondi, Jane Raskin was part of the president's legal team during the Mueller investigation, and Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr during the Clinton investigation.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. So, Kaitlan, what more can you tell us about the president's new legal team?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have heard they were considering adding additional attorneys in recent days. We did know it was going to be precisely until more recently. But the president wanted to add some seasoned heavyweight attorneys and he wanted him to have one qualification, which all three of these share, television experience.

That is something the president have been talking about over the last several days voicing concerns about people like Pat Cipollone, saying that they haven't appeared on T.V. a lot, if at all, and he wanted to make sure they have got a strong presence in front of the cameras when they're presenting on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

So that is why you're seeing the president add these people, and these are favorites of his from Fox News that he's been watching for months, namely Ken Starr, who has been on there essentially on Fox & Friends regularly. You see the president also quoting him on Twitter.

And then also Alan Dershowitz, who not only does the president watch on television, but he's relied on him for advice. You see him right there down at the bottom, second from the left. The president has relied on him for advice throughout the Mueller investigation and during his impeachment over the fall. So it's no surprise the president wanted them on the team.

The surprise came that Dershowitz joined, because we had been hearing from sources there had actually been some back and forth between the two of them about whether or not Dershowitz was actually going to join the team, because he didn't seem eager to take the job, but now he is going to be on the team, even though some people had advised against it, Erica, because, of course, he does have ties to Jeffrey Epstein, he's (INAUDIBLE) scrutiny for those ties. And he's even involved in some legal cases related to them, and White House advisers essentially thought that it would bring that to light if the president elevated him by putting him on his team. So how that goes remains to be seen.

Ken Starr, of course, getting his own reaction to this from the one and only Monica Lewinsky. Of course, Ken Starr led the investigation that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment, and Monica Lewinsky was at the center of it all and she responded like this on Twitter, saying, this is definitely an are you f-ing kidding me kind of day. No reference to Ken Starr there though. That was shortly after that news had broken.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins with the latest for us. Kaitlan, thank you.

One issue the president's legal team may have to deal with is, of course, new witnesses. That is if Democrats get at least four Republican senators to help them out.

Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill. And, Lauren, I know you're actually hearing a little bit more about majority leader Mitch McConnell and how he's been handling his caucus behind the scenes.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Erica. We know that McConnell has been saying for weeks and even months that he plans to follow the Clinton model. What that means essentially is that the House managers would make their case, the White House defense team would make theirs and then they would put off a vote for witnesses until later. But we are now learning, based on some new reporting and sources familiar, that Susan Collins, one of the moderates who has been working very closely with McConnell on what this resolution will look like that they'll vote on on Tuesday, essentially wanted to ensure that she got this all in writing. So what happened was when lawmakers returned from the Christmas break after many of these moderates were facing pressure back home, she took a copy of that 1999 Clinton organizing resolution and brought it to McConnell's staff and essentially said, what's going to be different here, what will this look like and what will be the same?


What we learned transpired was meetings between Collins' staff, Murkowski's staff, Lamar Alexander's staff and Senator McConnell's staff, as well as Romney's staff, as well as the senators themselves. They worked out details word for word what this resolution would look like.

And we should always add that until we see this resolution, nothing is final. What they were fighting for essentially was an eventual vote on whether or not senators are ready to hear from witnesses. That would come after the initial presentations and questions from senators. And that's very important for people like Collins who have to run for re- election in 2020 and want to make sure they can go home and defend the case that they really fought for a fair trial.

So, a significant development, of course, that behind the scenes, we're getting more of that color about what exactly those negotiations looked like. Erica?

HILL: Lauren Fox with that new reporting for us. Lauren, thank you.

Joining me now to talk about all of this, former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno, Washington Post Columnist Max Boot and Melanie Zanona, Congressional Reporter for Politico.

Let's start first with what we're learning about the president's legal team. So, Max, the addition here of Ken Starr, Robert Ray and Alan Dershowitz, specifically when we look at Alan Dershowitz, who we understand will be taking on the constitutional argument here, how do you see that playing out and him as a choice?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's an odd choice. I mean, I think the combination of Dershowitz and Starr kind of reuniting the so-called all-star team that defended Jeffrey Epstein on sex crime charges in Florida, and they both bring a lot of baggage to the case. I would actually focus more on Ken Starr than I would on Dershowitz in this case, because, remember, Ken Starr in 1999 was saying that Bill Clinton should be impeached for lying about sex. And now he's saying Donald Trump should not be impeached for misusing military aid to blackmail a foreign country into helping him politically, which is a far more serious offense.

And remember also, Ken Starr is going to be arguing, we don't need any more witnesses, and yet, when he was actually conducting his investigation of Bill Clinton, he interviewed everybody, including Monica Lewinsky's hairdresser, the White House window washers. Everybody talked to him. And now we have not heard from the key players, people like John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Pompeo and others.

And so I think there is an imperative here to hear from those people, and the precedent that Ken Starr and the Republicans said in 1988-1989 this actually works against them in this present instance. So this seems to me like another example of Trump just going with big names that he sees on T.V. without thinking through the implications of those choices.

HILL: Joe, would you agree with that, that there's actually more baggage to these choices than there are benefits in terms of putting together a strategy for the president?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER DOJ PROSECUTOR: I mean, strategy has never really been this president's strong suit, right? He seems to be very reactionary. I mean, it's an interesting combination. You have work horses and you have shown horses here, right? You have lawyers who will roll up their sleeves and really defend the case and then you have lawyers who will be good on television. It's an interesting combination.

Whether that skill set outweighs that baggage that just you pointed out though, yet to be seen, because you're right, there's a lot of historical references here now. Back to the Clinton years, what went right, what went wrong, and a lot of those comparisons do not bode well for the president.

HILL: We'll watch and see how that plays out. What's also interesting is what we've seen from Mitch McConnell publicly, right? We have seen, Melanie, this unwavering support of the president, and yet with the new reporting behind the scenes, we're learning a little bit more about how he's listening, what he's doing to make sure that his caucus, in fact, stays united. How is all of this playing out?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: He is threading a very thin needle right now. He has a bunch of different factions within his own conference that he's trying to deal with. You have the hardliners who are pushing for controversial witnesses like Hunter Biden. They have the moderate vulnerable Republican who are up for re- election, like Susan Collins, then there is the institutionalist who want a very serious and somber proceeding. And so you're seeing little bones that he's throwing to each member of these.

He had a meeting with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul where he heard them out about the idea of hauling in witnesses like Hunter Biden, but then also behind the scenes, he's allowing Susan Collins and others to have this at least option to turn to the question of witnesses further down in the trial.

I would just point out though that even though a number of these Republicans are supporting the up or down motion on whether to call witnesses, that doesn't mean they're all going to agree on the same witnesses. And you still need four of them to come together on a single specific person. And so far, the only one who said, I want to hear from John Bolton, is Mitt Romney.

HILL: Which is interesting an point and important to point that out.

As we look at these two, there's, of course, this new information from Lev Parnas. And a lot of Democrats really jumping all over it, pointing to this, saying, this is a perfect example of why we need to allow new testimony, why we need to hear from witnesses. But there are, Max, legitimate questions about Parnas' credibility that can't be ignored. Are Democrats lining up behind him too quickly or do they have a point there that he could be an important person to talk to?

BOOT: Well, I'm not sure that Democrats are really lining up to vouch for Lev Parnas' credibility.


I mean, like most of the people around Trump and Trump himself, he has very little credibility, but he did see things and he is making charges and he does have documents. I think what Democrats are really saying is not we believe this guy 100 percent. What they're saying is, let's put him under oath. Let's get at the truth of this. Let's treat this like an actual trial. When you have people making allegations, let's hear from them.

The Republican response is just ridiculous, which is that if they didn't testify in the House, then we can't let him testify in the Senate. I mean, that's like saying somebody has been indicted and there is new evidence that develops before their trial, but you can't present the evidence at trial because it wasn't presented at the indictment. That's not how it works.

HILL: Well, the bottom line is we don't know exactly how it's going to work yet because we don't have the rules yet. So it could be Mitch McConnell could very well say this is how it's going to work, this is how I wanted it work and get those votes.

BOOT: If McConnell manages to keep witnesses from testifying, this will be the first time in the history of Congress that we've had an impeachment trial without witnesses. That would be a gross miscarriage of justice, and that's why I think you've seen four or five Republican senators who have signaled that they are open to this, because they realize it would be a travesty not to hear from any witnesses.

HILL: To Max's Joe, what we're hearing from Republicans, their pushback, obviously, is, well, you should have called them in the House. If you had to deal with legal issues, you should have done that in terms of subpoenas, in terms of pushback from the White House.

When we look at what we know, right, even putting some of this evidence out, if it is not allowed in, from what you've seen, do Democrats have what they need to make their case at this point in the Senate?

MORENO: Erica, I think even without this new evidence and new witnesses, Democrats have a solid case, right? And I think a lot of them have already indicated how they're going to vote because they're comfortable with the evidence that's already on the record.

Republicans will have to make a tough choice, right? It's one thing to say I heard all the evidence and I voted to acquit, basically, to not remove the president. It's another to go back to the voters and say, basically, I kept my head in the sand. I refused to hear all the evidence and I voted to acquit. I think that's a much more difficult sell. And it's not all 53 Republicans. It's those four to six Republicans that have to worry about the reaction from their constituents.

HILL: Those four to six Republicans, we talk a lot about the Republicans and people watching the Republicans, but Vice President Pence, penning this op-ed on The Wall Street Journal, where he is calling on Senate Democrats and saying, it's time for you to put the party aside, it's time for you to look at the evidence. And he said it will be a profile in courage for Democrats to vote with Republicans, which is great, because this is the same argument that we hear Democrats in many ways making to Republicans, Melanie.

But, again, we talk a lot about Republicans, we've talked about some of the people we're looking. Who are you looking at overall on both sides of the aisle? I mean, who is everyone trying to aim at this point?

ZANONA: Well, I'm not sure, first of all, Pence's opinion is going to have much flow (ph) with Democrats considering he is embroiled in the Ukraine scandal. But that being said, some of the Democrats who we are watching, Doug Jones of Alabama, he's one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is in a really tight race with Martha McSally, and then there's Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has crossed party lines before in siding with the president on a number of high profile issues. So we are keeping an eye on them.

But I think the strategy for the White House is to try to make less of a political appeal to them. And as you saw in this op-ed, it's more of a constitutional argument. I think perhaps that is part of the strategy to bring in Alan Dershowitz. They're not just going to focus on things like Hunter Biden and Adam Schiff. They're going to try to make a serious legal argument, as far as we can tell.

HILL: It's interesting too that we're seeing this because there is this push for -- remember what you were sent to Washington to do from both sides. There is a reminder of the oath that senators are taking. You know, the oath they took when they became, when they were sworn into office, but also the oath as jurors in the Senate. That's getting a lot of attention. And they should be taking it into consideration.

BOOT: They should be. And, unfortunately, you've had comments from Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and others basically saying they're going to vote to acquit no matter what, so they're showing they're not going to take their oaths of office seriously.

Now, on the other side, I actually think Democrats are following the evidence, because it's just not correct to say that they have been wanting to impeach Trump from day one. In fact, there's been a lot of evidence to suggest that impeachment was warranted in the past and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi never went forward because she didn't think the case was compelling enough. Well, now, clearly, the case is compelling enough.

So what is the actual defense Republicans are going to mount? I think the fact that Alan Dershowitz is in there indicates what the defense is. It's basically a version of the O.J. defense. It's jury nullification saying, ignore the evidence, vote to acquit despite the mountain of evidence. That's essentially the Republican argument. It's ironic that Mike Pence is saying that Democrats should buck their party because their entire argument and defense of Trump is based on party loyalty, saying Republicans should not vote to impeach no matter how much evidence suggests that Trump did something wrong.

HILL: Well, it reminds us too of something the president once said, which I'm paraphrasing. But what you're seeing and hearing isn't really happening. Remember, there are all those moments.

Max Boot, Melanie Zanona and Joseph Moreno, thank you all.

48 hours after we learned the Ukraine ambassador may have been under surveillance while in Ukraine, Mike Pompeo now pledging to look into it.


Plus, 2020 candidates out in force this weekend trying to maximize their time on the campaign trail before four of them have to go to their day jobs for the president's impeachment trial in the Senate.

And days after the Iranian missile strike in Iraq, we're learning of injuries to nearly a dozen American service members.


HILL: Democrats want to add new evidence to the impeachment trial, evidence laid out by indicted Rudy Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas. Speaking with our Anderson Cooper, Parnas said he worked with Giuliani to force Ukraine's hand in announcing an investigation of Joe Biden.


He talked about quid pro quo demands, implicated Vice President Mike pence and said that President Trump was personally involved, especially when it came to the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Take a listen.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Why did they hate her?

LEV PARNAS, INDICTED RUDY GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: 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: That's what I was told, she's not a Trumper. And to my knowledge, the president fired her at least four times, maybe five times, I mean, once in my presence.

COOPER: Explain that. You said that he fired her in front of you?

PARNAS: Correct.

COOPER: What happened?

PARNAS: That was the first interaction about her. We had -- It was a dinner at -- a private dinner for a Super PAC in Washington, D.C. at the Trump Hotel. 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 where the president was.

PARNAS: Correct, correct. And his reaction was he looked at me like, got very angry, and basically turned around to John DeStefano and said, fire her, get rid of her.


HILL: John DeStefano is a counselor to the president who left the White House in late May. He announced his resignation May 20th, which was also Marie Yovanovitch's last day as ambassador of Ukraine.

Well, after the new evidence emerged suggesting Yovanovitch may have been illegally surveilled before being fired, it took Secretary of State Mike Pompeo more than 48 hours to even acknowledge the allegations.

On the radio program, the 20 Catch Show (ph), the secretary said the State Department would be investigating.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I've not met this guy, Lev Parnas, to the best of my knowledge. I've never encountered, never communicated with him. We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there. I suspect that much of what's been reported will ultimately prove wrong. But my obligation as secretary of state is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate any time there's someone who posits that there may have been a risk to one of our officers. We'll obviously do that.


HILL: John Hudson is a National Security Reporter focusing on the State Department and Diplomacy for The Washington Post.

So, John, if as the secretary just said, we just heard him in his own words there, he says it's his obligation to investigate a potential risk, why would it take him nearly three days to announce that?

JOHN HUDSON, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, that's a good question. I mean, right now, he has taken a see no evil, hear no evil approach saying he didn't know Lev Parnas, never communicated with Lev Parnas, wasn't even aware of any type of surveillance, illicit surveillance under one of his former ambassadors.

So there are questions about why it took so long. His point person for external communications, Katie Martin, has not been responding to questions about this process, and so it has left a lot of people wondering, especially as the Ukrainian government said that they would launch an investigation into any illicit surveillance that was happening on Ukrainian soil.

So it was a significant event that he said that he is going to investigate it, look into it. It's clear that he has doubts about the veracity of these things, and I think there is some legitimacy to some of the skepticism. As you know, Lev Parnas does not have a sterling reputation, either does the pro-Trump congressional candidate who is the associate in this case. So there is a lot of questions about what type of surveillance this was, and the State Department is now saying that they'll look into it, but they're coming from a place of skepticism right now.

HILL: Well, we'll see what that finds.

I think it's important too though, as we're looking at all of this, to really step back. Because any diplomats overseas, especially if you're in Ukraine, right, there is probably some sense that you need to know that you're being watched. You also expect to be protected by the State Department. So at the heart of this allegation is the fact that a U.S. ambassador was allegedly being surveilled and her safety was at risk. Just put into context for us how concerning that could be or should be.

HUDSON: Well, it would be absolutely concerning. And the State Department has a massive bureaucracy in place called the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that is put in place just for this matter of making sure that our top diplomats who are posted around the world are not being spied upon, they're not being tracked.

These people are the ones who need to represent the United States around the world with confidence and know that their personal safety is ensured and that their movements, and to some extent, their communications are secure and they can communicate back to Washington, and they can deal with their interlocutors in a way that is safe.

And especially in a country like Ukraine which is a U.S. ally, you would expect the U.S. ambassador there to be in a safe place.


So you're absolutely right, this is a strange scenario, a strange allegation. And that's why some people were looking for the department to immediately acknowledge that they would be looking into it. It took a little bit of time but now you have Pompeo saying, yes, they are going to look into it.

HILL: I also want to ask you about this. There is a new excerpt from your colleague's new book, A Very Stable Genius, about the president. And in this excerpt that was published, we learn about a meeting that was six months in to the president's term to essentially educate the president and to try to rein him in, to not just explain history to him but the way international relations work certainly from the role of the president on down. He reportedly responded to a lot of it by not only calling the assembled brass in the room losers, but said they're, quote, a bunch of dopes and babies. So the advisers who called that meeting are gone.

We know the president goes his own way. He's demonstrated that again and again. There is increasingly less pushback within the administration. What's fascinating to me, and I'm just wondering if you're learning anything from your reporting, is the fact that we still are not hearing more from for former officials, and I'm talking about even people like Rex Tillerson, people who are not running for office, who don't necessarily have anything to lose, and yet they are silent. But some of them were concerned enough to put together this meeting.

HUDSON: Yes. Well, that's a very interesting point. You're absolutely right that there is this team, sort of alumni network of former officials who clearly had grave concerns and significant differences with the president on foreign policy. And the segment that you were just referring to, this tank meeting, was sort of a moment where those officials tried to get together and tried to impart their views on President Trump, and it totally backfired.

Now, the question of why aren't they speaking up more right now, I think that we've seen that the president has very credibly enforced his motto, which is he always punches back. So even when there has been relatively restrained remarks from secretary -- former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about some of the concerns, some of the things he experienced while he was in government, Trump has ferociously shot back at him, calling him dumb as a rock, and really criticizing him in some of the worst ways you might expect, in ways that would not normally expect of a former secretary of state. These are supposed to be elder statesmen at this point, yet they're still getting in Twitter feuds with the president of the United States.

And so I think that has been some of the reason why you've seen a sort of quiet from former officials, his former chiefs of staff, his former secretary of state, why they haven't been particularly vocal in their now private lives.

HILL: Still fascinating though, isn't it? John Hudson, I appreciate your insight. Thank you.

HUDSON: Thanks.

HILL: Still ahead, it is still the final weekend before the president's impeachment trial and 2020 candidates turned impeachment jurors are now scrambling to make the most of it.

Plus, new details about that Iranian missile attack, why we are now just learning about injuries to nearly a dozen U.S. service members.