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Soon: Trump Legal Team Begins Final Day of Opening Arguments; Senators Reportedly Considering Allowing John Bolton as Witness in Impeachment Trial; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) Interviewed on Calling Witnesses in Senate Impeachment Trial; Lakers Postpone First Game after Kobe Bryant's Death. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 28, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And this morning there are new allegations from Bolton's manuscript, this, of course, from his upcoming book. "The New York Times" reports that Bolton also writes that he expressed concern to Attorney General William Barr about President Trump granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China. So are Republicans worried what other bombshells could come out as the president's defense team gears up for a final day of their opening arguments?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: On Monday, the president's lawyers largely avoided the Bolton news. Instead they talked about the Bidens, Rudy Giuliani, even the economy. But eventually, we did begin to hear what could be their last line of defense on Bolton. It came from law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has already contradicted the Founding Fathers and in some cases himself. But listen to what he said, again, about the suggestion that President Trump personally told John Bolton that aid to Ukraine was conditioned on investigating the Bidens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER: Nothing in the Bolton revelations even if true would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: This morning it's all about counting votes. Will four Republicans come forward to call for Bolton's testimony under oath? The trend at least appears to be moving in that direction. More are open to it. And there is new reporting this morning that the White House is bracing for that possibility.

Joining me now is Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He is the assistant majority leader -- minority leader in the Senate, the whip. Senator Durbin, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D-IL) SENATE MINORITY WHIP: Good to be with you, John. BERMAN: Senator Angus King of Maine, who is an independent but

caucuses with you, says he predicts that anywhere between five and 10 Republicans will vote along with the Democrats for witnesses. Now that's Senator King's prediction. It's your job to know. So this morning, do you think you have the votes, or where do you think the votes are?

DURBIN: I hope Angus is right, but I can't tell you the number of Republicans who are likely to vote for witnesses. I do believe that the information coming out relative to John Bolton is certainly relevant to the impeachment complaint itself. And I do believe he as well as Mick Mulvaney and the other two members of the administration we've asked for all should be called as witnesses.

BERMAN: Pat Toomey, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, has suggested that he would be open to what he calls a one for one swap, if you get John Bolton, then the Republicans will get to call someone, presumably Hunter Biden. Where is thinking among Democratic leadership now on that possibility?

DURBIN: Listen, we're not trading baseball cards. We're not kids sitting around here picking our favorites and putting them in the middle of the circle. What we're talking about are relevant, material witnesses. What we've asked for are four people who worked for the president. We don't know what they're going to say. They've not been deposed in a way that we can anticipate their testimony, but they were all there at the critical moments when decisions were being made in the White House. They have heard what the president had to say when it came to his plan for Ukraine. And I think that is the important step to take forward.

This idea of bargaining, well, we'll give you one irrelevant witness for one material witness -- baloney. These should be material witnesses, and we have said we want the chief justice to be the last word on it. Let the chief justice of the Supreme Court decide whether they are material, probative witnesses.

BERMAN: You say baloney, but does that mean no?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you, I'm not going to be standing up and arguing for that in our caucus, and I don't believe there's any sentiment for it.

BERMAN: You heard Alan Dershowitz at the end of the day yesterday, after largely the president's defense team avoided the news from Bolton, suggest that even if everything John Bolton says is true, even if John Bolton were to testify that the president directly told him that aid to Ukraine was linked to investigating the Bidens, Alan Dershowitz says that it's not an abuse of power. How would you respond to that?

DURBIN: I would just say to this, Professor Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor with great credentials in criminal law, standing before us, waving Blackstone's book and quoting him, to have him say us to, listen, don't bring a witness in. There's nothing he could possibly say of importance or relevance. Give me a break, professor. You can say that in your classroom, but in the real world, we believe that people under oath telling the truth are the best way to have an outcome in this trial that is credible across America.

BERMAN: The other thing is, is what John Bolton says is true and testifies to it under oath, if what he says is true the president is lying, correct? The president has flat out said that he didn't say that to Bolton.

DURBIN: That's exactly right. And that's why it is so important to put Mr. Bolton under oath and ask him the question. I don't know what he'll say under oath. No one does. But what we're saying, in a trial, that's how things work. Put your hand on that Bible, stand up and tell the truth or face the consequences.

BERMAN: One of the things that has started to happen is that senators have begun to submit their questions to party leadership.

[08:05:04]

After the president's defense team finishes, then there will be a 16- hour question period. The questions get read to the various counsels and they'll answer them. I don't suppose you will tell me exactly what the questions are, but can you at least tell me what the nature of the questions that you expect to hear will be?

DURBIN: Understand the process. Each and every Democratic senator can't speak for the Republicans, but each and every Democratic senator has had an opportunity to sit down and put together questions. We went through, we started with 20 or 30 on my staff, and I said get that down to a lower number. We're down to about nine or 10 of our questions. We're not going to get nine or 10 questions. We are trying to coordinate this so we do it in a thoughtful way.

And not surprisingly, many Democratic senators are asking the same question. So we don't want to have the same question repeated. Several senators may stand together for one question. I remember 20 years ago under the Clinton impeachment, I submitted a question, four or five other Democratic senators at the time had the same question. They joined me. So we're trying to organize this into something that really does help move this forward in terms of pursuit of truth.

BERMAN: Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa yesterday, the president's team focused on the Bidens yesterday, talking about Hunter Biden, saying things about Joe Biden. Some of the things they said about Joe Biden were not true. But Senator Joni Ernst when it was all said and done said this yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JONI ERNST, (R-IA): Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening, and I'm really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: One of the things that's suggested in the Articles of Impeachment is the president called on the investigations -- he leaned on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens to hurt Joe Biden electorally. Did the Republican senator there just say she wants to see how this hurts Joe Biden electorally?

DURBIN: That's exactly what she said. And I saw that quote this morning, and I think it's unfortunate that it's reached that point. I'm not naive. We're in the midst of these caucuses and elections and choosing our own nominee for president, and political people across America in both parties are following what's happening in this impeachment trial.

But I don't think we should be measuring the impeachment articles and their veracity, their truth and whether they should be taken seriously, on the impact it's going to have on an Iowa caucus voter. What it boils down to is we are in pursuit of what actually happened, the actual truth, so that the American people can join us in deciding whether this president stepped over a line he shouldn't have.

BERMAN: Last question, because you were there in 1998 and 1999. What was it like to sit in the chamber yesterday and hear former independent counsel Kenneth Starr talk about the fact that he worries that Americans might impeach too much?

DURBIN: It was breathtaking for me to sit and listen to Professor Kenneth Starr lecture us on not abusing impeachment. I can remember what happened, and most Americans my age can remember what happened when Kenneth Starr was, in fact, his own special prosecutor moving forward in this. So it really was a golden moment in the Senate. A number of us were squirming in our chairs as he was giving us his lecture.

BERMAN: You were a very young man, so people your age.

(LAUGHTER)

DURBIN: Thanks.

BERMAN: Senator Durbin, thank you for being with us this morning, appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thanks, John.

CAMEROTA: John, we're learning new details about the final moments before the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others. The Lakers have postponed tonight's game against the rival Clippers as the team and the city try to come to grips with this tragedy. CNN's Brooke Baldwin is live in Los Angeles outside the Staples Center. What's the scene there this morning, Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, good morning. We were here this time yesterday. Let me tell you, just walking around, the memorial area has grown, first from this plaza, and now you can see the Staples Center behind me. They have opened up this entire road because they anticipate so many people showing up, especially considering the fact, as you just mentioned, they opted to cancel tonight's game. People were willing to pay $2,000 just to sit in the nosebleeds. That is how badly people wanted to be part of this first home game that will not be.

Just some perspective for you. The NBA rarely postpones or cancels games. John Berman would know this. The last time the NBA canceled a game was after the Boston Marathon bombings back in 2013. And before then, you have to go back to the Kennedy era just for perspective there.

I talked to our good friend Rachel Nichols, formerly CNN, ESPN reporter. She has great lines into the team. And I said what's the thinking behind this. Her quote was the Lakers are too devastated to function. We know that there have been discussions since the crash between the Lakers and the league and the Clippers, and ultimately, with three counselors around all day yesterday, these guys just weren't up for it. And you can -- your heart goes out to them. You understand why that would be. The Clippers honored that.

[08:10:00]

I want to read to you, this is the first statement that the Lakers have put out since Kobe Bryant's death. Part of it reads "The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences. This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family, and we will share more information as it is available."

Someone huge here in the Los Angeles community and beyond, LeBron James, he broke his silence. He spoke out on social media. When you read the post, it just rips at you. He said he kept trying to write it over and over and he just kept crying. He revealed that he spoke with Kobe Bryant that Sunday morning before that fateful crash, referred to Kobe as his brother. Referred to Gigi as his own family, his own niece.

As far as the investigation goes, listen, it's going to take some time. The NTSB said that they are obviously looking into weather as a factor, they're even asking members of the public to send in their own photos of weather from that area on Sunday. The final radio transmission from the pilot of the helicopter said he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer.

And John, no word yet as far as any funeral plans. The next home game here at the Staples Center is Friday night. You know people in L.A. and beyond want to come and pay their respects beyond simply these beautiful memorials that have been popping up. Perhaps that will become some sort of de facto memorial for Kobe Bryant. We will wait to see, John.

BERMAN: I imagine it will be. Look, I understand postponing the game. It's just too hard, I think, for some of those players right now to get on the court.

BALDWIN: Totally. BERMAN: They just aren't up to it. They want another day or two to digest it all. Brooke Baldwin, it's great to have you there. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

"The New York Times" is getting new details about what is in John Bolton's upcoming book. What effect could this have on the call for impeachment witnesses? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:15:25]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's legal team begins its final day of arguments just hours from now. This comes as even more new details about former national security adviser John Bolton's upcoming book is reported by "The New York Times".

Joining us is Maggie Haberman, the White House correspondent for "The New York Times". She's part of the team who is breaking this news about Bolton's book. And David Gregory, our CNN political analyst.

So, Maggie, there was more. Bolton has more to say. It's not just about Ukraine. He also was apparently based upon your reporting, concerned about things he was seeing the president do with other leaders.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Alisyn. He, in the book, as we were told, describes talking to Bill Barr, the attorney general. Bolton voiced concerns the president was doing what were tantamount to personal favors for dictators. He mentioned Erdogan of Turkey. He mentioned Xi Jinping of China.

Barr in Bolton's recounting shares some similar concerns. His concerns about the appearance the president is creating by these conversations he's having with -- in one case, Erdogan at the G20, in another case with Xi Jinping in relations to a telecoms firm ZTE where the president intervened to lift sanctions. And in terms of Erdogan, it related to criminal charges or criminal investigation into a bank in Turkey.

All of this underscores sort of this broader message that we're getting out of what is in this book, according to our sources, where he's just describing a president who is concerned about essentially his own interests, for lack of a better way of putting it or not necessarily putting the country ahead of himself. And it remains to be seen, I want to keep coming back to this, we did yesterday as well, this manuscript is at the White House. So we don't know yet whether White House lawyers might have gotten a look at or knowledge of what was in it, what Bolton would testify to if he was going to do so in this Senate trial, but the book basically presents this outline of it, as we understand it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we don't know.

HABERMAN: Right. BERMAN: And Republican senators don't know, which seems to be the real issue this morning, and maybe the impact of your new reporting. It's interesting it's about Erdogan and Xi Jinping, David Gregory.

It's a reminder to Republican senators that there's more. That John Bolton might have more, and they don't know. So if they cast a vote for no more witnesses, they don't know what's around the next corner.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the crucial point. And that is the big deal here, that the ground has shifted. You are talking about a crucial insider, the president's national security adviser, a conservative of longstanding in Washington and administrative circles who is saying there is something fundamentally corrupt about the president's approach to foreign policy and the pursuit of his own interests over that of the country.

This is a huge deal. And it's frankly unseemly that all of this is getting ready to come out in a book when you got an impeachment proceeding. So, I think there's no question the ground has shifted. Has it shifted enough?

And you already see the Republicans' lawyers, the president's lawyers saying, well, even if all this is true, it's still not impeachable. So, you know, there's a lot of ground to cover here as to whether we actually hear from Bolton himself. There's clearly movement toward that. You're hear a lot of senators talk about that. Raise the sector of getting witnesses they would want as well. I just don't know where it goes yet, but this is certainly changed things.

CAMEROTA: Let's listen to one of the lawyers, Robert Ray, the president's lawyers say, now, no, that call with Ukraine was not perfect.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT RAY, WHITE HOUSE DEFENSE TEAM: Many of you may come to conclude or may have already concluded that the call was less than perfect. And I have said on any number of occasions previously and publicly that it would have been better in attempting to spur action by a foreign government in coordinating law enforcement efforts with our government to have done so through proper channels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Uh-oh. Uh-oh.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

HABERMAN: There's no way the president -- there's no way the president was happy seeing that. That having been said, there was a difference between the way we've seen this time and time again in the Mueller investigation or in other matters that what the president wants and what his lawyers are going to do are not always the same thing.

[08:20:06]

The president has been adamant with people for months he wanted people to say this was a perfect call. That was a clear acknowledgment from Robert Ray, I think, not just that he needs to have some credibility because he has said this before, clearly, and publicly, which he alluded to, but the fact they recognize they're talking to senators, some of whom don't think this was a perfect call. And they have to give them something, again, this goes back to what we'll see them say over and over again which is that, this doesn't rise to an impeachable offense.

And I just want to say, I'm somewhat more skeptical than David is that this is going to necessarily lead to witnesses. It might. I just think that we really don't know, and I think the desire for Republicans to have this wrapped up fairly quickly remains pretty strong. I think they'll wait and see what their constituents are saying.

GREGORY: Right. But I think it's not -- we're not looking at a whole game here, right? We're looking at a few people. But I think Maggie may be right. I mean, this is really the game between a few senators and how Mitch McConnell wants to play this and there is down side risk, right?

If all of a sudden, they say we're going to shut this down, the book comes out, there's all these revelations, it looks increasingly bad politically for Republicans which they may want to head off. Look, we could be headed toward more of a Justice Kavanaugh type conclusion where there is this -- some kind of compromise that Democrats don't really like that looks like a fuller accounting of what happens, you know, to say that they did it.

CAMEROTA: But, David, I just have to ask you, I don't understand that line of logic. Robert Ray is saying, it wasn't perfect. I personally didn't like it. A lot of you think it stinks to high heaven, but get used to it. That's what you're going to get for the next 11 months.

Is that the line of logic?

GREGORY: Yes, no, I think -- I actually think it's preposterous. The idea of an attorney standing up and saying, yes, this really wasn't great. It's a little inconsistent with the robust defense, but this is the nature of the proceedings which is also political.

As Maggie said, they are trying to give some room there for Republicans who are going to say, wow, this was bad judgment. Who would do this? If you want an investigation you go to the attorney general. You don't do it with a foreign president and make that demand to announce something like that. But it all turned out well in the end because the aid flowed and there was never this investigation. So, maybe he had some bad impulses but we're not going to impeach him over that. That's to me -- I think you'll see a lot more of that in the second term or the remainder of the first.

BERMAN: And I know -- I know I'm naive and Pollyannaish and living in a different world. But if what John Bolton says is true, then the president is lying. And he's lying about something at the center of an impeachment trial, lying about something the American people have been focused on for months. Lying about something that's not minor and it just seems to me that should matter. In some universe, that should matter.

HABERMAN: When you are -- when you are somebody who does not really have it in them to be shamed, which is what we have seen with this president over and over again, even with the "Access Hollywood" tape which I think he considers one of the worst days of his life when that came out and he was very embarrassed by him and it caused him pain personally, which is different, it is -- people will hear this in a way different than I intended, but it's an edge.

If you are not going to be shamed and you're going to ploy straight ahead and keep walking and you have a partner in Mitch McConnell who also looks, you know, pretty down the road at winning, that is where you're going. There's a school of thought among some Democrats, not Democrats in the Senate, but some Democratic operatives wondering why not just agree to Hunter Biden being called? It makes a lot of people cringe and Democratic senators who like Joe Biden cringe but they figure at the end of the day, these people were suggesting this, they'll gain more than they lose.

Democrats have not been willing to make that kind of deal. I understand why they're not. But when you are dealing with an opponent who is going to do what it takes to win, then I don't know why you're surprised.

GREGORY: John, to underscore your point, in the Clinton impeachment, the argument was he lied but he lied under oath which corrupted the criminal justice proceeding.

Here, you actually have Republican defenders saying, well, even if he lied, it wasn't under oath, but to lie as part of an impeachment proceeding or have his representatives lie, if this is contradictory information that's coming forward, pretty striking.

CAMEROTA: Thank you both very much -- Maggie, David.

BERMAN: So at least two Republican senators, two, say the revelations from John Bolton strengthen the case for witnesses. Will others join them? A member of the Senate gives us his prediction, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:53]

BERMAN: So, at least two Republican senators now say they're open to calling witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial. That comes after the new revelations in the draft of former national security adviser John Bolton's book. Those revelations are that Bolton says the president told him that aid to Ukraine was linked to investigating the Bidens.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Ed Markey from the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

And, Senator, I can deliver to you a piece of news this morning. CNN has just learned from sources close to the president's defense team that they intend to present for just two more hours today. Two more hours, and then they'll be finished.

Is it your understanding at that point you go straight to questions? What do you think happens after that?

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): Well, that would have to be something which was determined by a conversation with Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. But if that is the case, then I think we would be ready to proceed. But I would leave it to that conversation to determine what exactly the schedule would be.

BERMAN: The president's defense team largely ignored the news in the forthcoming Bolton book, big news because it gets to the heart of the case in the articles of impeachment. The president abused his power to investigate a political rival. They ignored it until the end of the day when Alan Dershowitz says.

END