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Alexander Vindman's Patriotism; Republicans Increasingly Complaining About House Managers' Repetitiveness; Interview with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 10:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman has sacrificed enormously for our country. That a member of the Senate -- at a moment when the Senate is undertaking its most solemn responsibility -- would choose to take to Twitter to spread slander about a member of the military is a testament to cowardice."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby is CNN's military and diplomatic analyst. He's here with us right now.

You know, it's really sickening, when you think about this, John, what this senator is doing to this Iraq War veteran, a son of Soviet Jewish immigrants to the United States, came here without anything settled in Brooklyn, he would up in the State University of New York at Binghamton, then Harvard. Went into the military 20-plus years ago, served in Iraq and now she's claiming he's not even patriotic.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. I mean, of all the people in this entire sad saga of impeachment, he's the only one that actually has literally bled for his country. And I think he deserves the credit and the credibility that goes along with that.

Look, you can argue whether you think he was the right guy for the job at the NSC, or whether he had enough experience (inaudible). I think those are weak arguments, he clearly does. But you could make those cases. But to question his patriotism and his loyalty to the country when he has shed blood for it and when he has an impeccable service record, I think, is beyond the pale.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's just a stunt. It is a stunt because it's like, notice me, Mr. President. Raise your hand, notice me. Look at this, look at this on Twitter. Please retweet me, tell me you love me, tell me you like me. Please.

And -- and it's just embarrassing for her. And I mean, it's mortifying, honestly. And I think it's just a way to try and get noticed during this trial, when you're supposed to keep your mouth shut.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

BORGER: And you're not supposed to be doing exactly what she's doing, and it's sort of saying, look, I'm not taking this garbage seriously. And look at this guy, Vindman, and Mr. President, aren't I fabulous. HENDERSON: Right. I think Gloria is exactly right here, and we've seen this work before. I mean, we were on this panel a couple of days ago, talking about Martha McSally and her response to a very good question from Manu Raju, and she basically called him a liberal hack, got all sorts of adoration from Trump, from Trump's followers, from "Fox News."

And so I think this is exactly what we're dealing with. This is how you get attention, this is how you get support in the Trump era. He has set the tone, she sounds very Trumpian, in going after someone who bled for this country in the way that he went after John McCain when John McCain was living, and after John McCain died. So I think this is what we see.

And also, it's a -- you know, she's a former House member, now she's in the Senate. In a way, we'd come to see folks in the House as kind of more in keeping with this kind of, you know, attacks and this sort of mean-spirited thing. But now we see it, I think, in the Senate as well.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: The other thing, John, that's interesting about it is -- and I think the admiral said this -- you can criticize Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, you can criticize the things he's said, you can criticize his testimony, you can say, you know, his position that -- you know, that he came from a position of, like, I know better than President Trump, those are all completely fair arguments to make against him.

But to repeat internet smears, Twitter smears, and to question the patriotism of a soldier who has literally, as the admiral says, literally bled for his country? That kind of thing used to be beyond the pale.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. He stepped into the arena, he had the courage to defy the president and to testify. The president did not want anyone to testify, so he made himself fair game, if you will, for political discourse.

You want to question his -- what he said, you want to question his -- that's all fair game. To question his patriotism is reprehensible. It is reprehensible. And to do it by retweeting falsehoods, demonstrably false things? The senator should know better, her staff should know better, her political team back home in Tennessee should know better.

That she's from Tennessee makes her safe, I assume. I assume her senior colleague, Lamar Alexander, who's a much more serious, a much more gentleman maybe will have some words with her. But they were not happy with her running to begin with.

Lamar Alexander, one of the reasons he was not a fan of the Marsha Blackburn candidacy was to Nia's point. There are a lot of people in the Senate -- and some of this goes back years, but particularly in the Senate now -- who don't think much of the House Republicans, and they didn't want her over. I would just say this. Look, it is fair game to question what Colonel

Vindman told the Senate -- told the House, if you want. But they take the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, when they begin these proceedings. You know, they do it in a safe place.

This guy, you know, for a couple of years, rode around in Humvees that were getting blown off the roadside in Iraq. He still has shrapnel in his body from that. This is -- it's almost like a, just a how dare you moment.

TAPPER: Indecency keeps getting rewarded. That's the thing --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: -- there is no reward for decency, there's only a reward for indecency in today's Trump Republican Party.

KIRBY: I would just add a (ph) note (ph), I think -- he -- it's important for people to remember, he would be -- he'd have been derelict in his duty if he had not reported the concerns that he heard.

Again, you can argue the veracity of what he heard or not, I get that. But his oath of office demanded that he reports things when he sees them going awry. And he didn't go outside the chain of command as the senator claimed. He went through his chain of command. In fact, he mentioned it to Ambassador Sondland immediately after the meeting, that he had concerns about this quid pro quo --

[10:35:08]

BORGER: Directly.

KIRBY: -- and was directed to go see the lawyer, Mr. Eisenberg, at the National Security Council, which was certainly in his chain of command for where he was. So he did everything process-wise correctly, and it would have been derelict in his duty had he not --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And if he's really unpatriotic, why is he still working at the National Security Council right now, for the president of the United States? He has not been fired, he's still on active duty, U.S. Army serving at the National Security Council.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, if she -- I think if she did the right thing, she would at least apologize for calling him --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: No, she went on "Fox News" --

TAPPER: You know, this wasn't an off-the-cuff thing. This is a bunch of tweets, this is -- this was thought through --

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: But there's a pattern.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But, you know what, when you make a mistake --

TAPPER: -- this is a -- this is a strategy of --

BLITZER: -- when you make a mistake and you accuse a war veteran of being unpatriotic, the right thing to do is to apologize.

BORGER (?): Gentleman Wolf.

TAPPER: We don't live in that world any more, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, that's the right thing. That's what --

TAPPER: I agree with you.

BLITZER: -- our moms and dads always told us.

TAPPER: I agree with you, but we don't live in that world any more.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, over two hours to go to the start of day four of the president's impeachment trial. And as Democrats continue to lay out their case, Republicans keep criticizing the repetition. But that's exactly the president's political playbook. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:40:57]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Twenty-four hours from now, President Trump's legal team will finally get a chance to defend him against articles of impeachment, making the case why he should remain in the White House.

Many Republican senators have complained that the House managers' case is too repetitive, when in fact repetition is exactly the president's modus operandi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): Today in the Senate --

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): -- the Democrats have literally bought into that premise, that if you just say it often enough, it must be true. And we've heard the same story, rinse it, recycle it, and repeat it.

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): You can only listen to the same thing so many times before you memorize it --

REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): They're laying out their case multiple times. It was interesting, yesterday, they really made the same case three times. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Our guests are back. Also joining us, Brian Stelter, CNN chief media correspondent, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources." It is -- I mean, the irony is clear, Brian. That -- I mean, the president has -- is the master of just repeating the same thing over and over again, and it's effective. Witch hunt, all the code words that he constantly uses.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I feel like we're seeing the pot calling the kettle boring, because that has been the right-wing strategy in the past few days, say this is boring, the Democrats are repeating themselves over and over again, and it is absolutely the president's tactic.

It's been very effective --

COOPER: Right. I would be curious to see --

STELTER: -- the past four years.

COOPER: -- have any of them ever said, about the president, you know, he sort of says the same stuff over and over again --

STELTER: Right, right. It's also the tactic from Sean Hannity and his colleagues on "Fox News," in primetime. Hannity has notecards with the same messages, he repeats the same messages every day. That is why he's often described as a propaganda arm for the White House.

But anyway, it's a typical strategy of dodge, deny, deflect. What they're trying to say is, this is not interesting, no one's watching. And of course, ratings are actually above average for all of the channels right now.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's also true that -- I mean, the Democrats recognize that most people have jobs, have lives, they're not watching all the hours. So if they want to give people the opportunity, and if you just tune in for a half an hour in the evening, you get the gist of why the president has been impeached.

So I mean, it's not just that they want to repeat for the sake of repeating, it's that they recognize there are different audiences, they're playing to it.

STELTER: It's also a strategy in place to get messages through to a Fox audience, to a right-wing audience that maybe hasn't heard the full story yet. Chuck Schumer, for example, blasting Fox -- live on Fox yesterday, that was intention on Schumer's part. He believes that it's important to get a message through to a segment of the population that maybe hasn't heard all the evidence yet.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's also a curious thing that the Republicans are angry about the concept of repetition when Adam Schiff is making the case that if you don't want history to repeat itself in the form of the next election, if you don't want to have a foreign interference problem again, maybe you should act to prevent repetition. And that is the argument that I think should have gotten through and should continue to get through.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think we may see a fair amount of repetition from the Trump team. I think one of the things they're probably focusing on is that they think that the repetition is boring, it's not kind of interesting enough.

I think we're going to see repetition, but I think we may actually see tighter presentations from the Trump team kind of repeat ,you know, key slogans in a way.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: They also want to get this thing over with. I mean, that's a big difference. You know, you have the State of the Union coming up, a week from Tuesday. McConnell really wants this thing over.

If the Republican -- if the Trump lawyers, they have three days. If they only take one or one and a half, that gets them -- especially if they think they have the votes to avoid --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER (?): Do you think that's likely, that --

TOOBIN: I do. I don't think there's any way they'll take all three days.

COOPER: They're not going to do a deep dive into all the evidence, and refute every e-mail, do you think?

TOOBIN: I would think it would be more of a racing dive into the parts of the water, which they want to get into.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Remember, this -- this --

TOOBIN: I mean, I'm sorry, I don't want to push that metaphor too incomprehensibly. But I -- you will not see the kind of comprehensive review of the evidence, but you will see certain facts emphasized.

For example, you know, one of the big conflicts here has always been about, you know, the -- President Zelensky has said, well, I didn't feel any pressure. That's something that you hear from Republicans all the time.

[10:45:08]

Democrats' response is, of course, he's not going to say he felt pressure, he needs the support of the Trump administration.

But that argument, for example, is a factual argument you will hear.

COOPER: Well, also, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is actually going to Ukraine and no doubt, that will likely somehow emerge as well.

NAFTALI: Well, what's going to be interesting is, this is really the first time the president, through his lawyers, will actually defend himself, as opposed to saying that this whole thing was, you know, nonsense.

So this is their challenge, as the lawyers. And we notice they were not well-prepared during the debate over documents and witnesses. They -- the Trump White House has never had to actually go step by step and explain the evolution of this policy. That's going to be tough for them.

COOPER: I'm not sure they're even going to try to do that.

NAFTALI: We'll see.

COOPER: I mean, we'll see.

Ahead, new reporting on how senators are already prepping their questions for both sides. We'll speak live with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:50:33]

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. I'm Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, and I'm joined here by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York. Thank you so much for joining me out here --

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Thanks, Dana.

BASH: -- it's a little bit cold.

I want to start by reading you what one of your colleagues on the other side of the aisle, Lisa Murkowski, said about the notion of bringing witnesses, or voting to allow witnesses because she obviously, as you well know, is one of the key Republicans who has said she's open to it.

Here's what she said. "The House made a decision that they didn't want to slow things down by having to go through the courts. And yet now they're basically saying you guys gotta go through the courts. We didn't, but we need you to."

So what's she saying is -- and this is the context of this -- is that the Republicans in the Senate brought in a former judge yesterday, and who made the argument that if you vote for witnesses, the White House is going to claim executive privilege and the courts are going to have to decide. And she's saying, wait a minute, you didn't want the courts to decide in the House process, why should we be the one to send this question to the courts?

GILLIBRAND: I think she's concerned about the wrong issue. First of all, her job and my job and all senators is to review the facts and the evidence. We heard such powerful testimony over the last two days about these crimes that were committed by the president, and his entire administration withholding aid. We heard of a testimony that has yet to be heard. We've heard that

Bolton would have serious material evidence that is necessary for us to make our determination. We heard that there are documents in the State Department and the DOD that are absolutely relevant and important for us to hear. So she should want that information, so she can do her job.

BASH: She's being pressured by her own party, you know, very, very strongly, as you know --

GILLIBRAND: But they vote (ph) -- of course --

BASH: -- to say no.

GILLIBRAND: -- but she has a constitutional responsibility to do her job, to get the facts and to make a determination about whether these serious crimes were indeed committed.

If the White House tries to block that testimony and takes it to court, then we'll go through the courts. And there's no reason why, under this circumstance, the court couldn't give an expedited review, very quickly --

BASH: There's no promise.

GILLIBRAND: -- because of the urgency.

I believe each branch of government recognizes their constitutional duties. The separation of powers is really important, and courts for public interest can expedite any proceeding that they choose to.

And I believe --

BASH: They're not doing it for the Don McGahn case, that's taken a year.

GILLIBRAND: Agreed, but this is an impeachment proceeding, this is now a trial in the U.S. Senate. The heightened scrutiny and the urgency of this is very different than any other normal court case.

BASH: I know you have relationships, a lot of the Senate women have relationships across the aisle. You guys do a dinner every month. Are you making these arguments to Senator Murkowski as she's getting this intense pressure from her fellow Republicans?

GILLIBRAND: So I've been reaching out to my Republican colleagues to see if they have questions, thoughts, want to discuss issues. And so far, I've not made any progress with anyone in particular. But I'm going to keep trying. And every one of our breaks, I try to meet with Republicans and see if there's issues they want to talk about.

But I think the House managers have done an outstanding job. I think they've really laid out the evidence of abuse of power extremely well. We're now going to hear more about obstruction of Congress. I think they've made their case, I think it's airtight.

And I think for some Republicans that I've heard about, who have been saying, oh, we're just getting the same old facts over and over again, there's nothing new? Well, when you put your head in the sand, you shouldn't be complaining that it's dark. Ask for the witnesses, ask for the testimony.

Agree -- they'll have an opportunity after the president makes his case, to vote again on whether they want these witnesses. And unless they feel they have all the evidence they need to convict, they should be asking for more information.

BASH: Before we go, I have to ask you about a moment that one of my colleagues witnessed. Shortly after a "New York Times" story was reported last night that Senator Kamala Harris was considering endorsing Joe Biden, she saw you go over and talk to Senator Harris.

I'm sure you're not going to tell me about your conversation or whether you talked about this, but you two ran for president, you've not endorsed anyone yet. Are you thinking about it? And do you want to tell me if you talked about it with her?

GILLIBRAND: No, I definitely don't want to talk about what I talk about with my colleagues. But I think the process to choose our nominee is really important, and I think for all of us who chose to try for that extraordinary honor, I think our views are relevant.

[10:55:12]

So at some point, I will endorse. And I will want to give guidance to New Yorkers about what I think. But I am letting the process play out a little more, out of deference to all my colleagues who are still running, and who are really doing a fine job. I'm very proud of our colleagues who have run.

BASH: Senator Gillibrand, thank you so much.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

BASH: Appreciate it.

And we're going to take a quick break. Our coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump will resume after a quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)