Return to Transcripts main page


McConnell Doesn't Have Votes to Block Witnesses; Republicans Should Vote for Witnesses; No Warning System on Bryant's Chopper; Aired 7:00-7:30a ET

Aired January 29, 2020 - 07:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans have the votes to block witnesses from the impeachment trial or not? Senator McConnell says not right now. What does that mean? We have the latest on NEW DAY.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): There's a lot of hysteria about Mr. Bolton's testimony. Frankly, I think his testimony will be redundant.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: If Bolton doesn't testify, this trial is a travesty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how you vote not to hear from somebody who appears to have evidence about the central issue in the case.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: McConnell is saying that they don't have the votes locked down yet.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): There are 10 to 12 Republicans who have never said a bad word about witnesses. I think it's up in the air right now. Are we feeling better today than we did a few days ago? Absolutely.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If there's one witness, there's going to be a bunch of witnesses, and I don't think we need any more witnesses.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): The truth eventually is going to come out.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

President Trump's impeachment trial enters a new phase today. In a matter of hours, senators will get their first chance to ask questions, although they will not be allowed to speak. We'll explain how that works. Sixteen hours of written questions are likely to spread across today and tomorrow. And Chief Justice John Roberts will direct those questions to the House managers or to the president's defense team who will then have five minutes to respond to the question. There is no limit on the number of questions or topics.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So in the midst of this, a genuine moment of uncertainty. Uncertainty over whether the Senate will allow witnesses in this trial. And a brand new poll, 75 percent of Americans say they want them.

And late yesterday, CNN learned that Mitch McConnell said he doesn't yet have the votes to block them. Not yet. It doesn't mean not ever. But not yet. And why is this important, of course, because John Bolton, the former national security adviser, says that in a conversation the president told him that aid to Ukraine was linked to investigating the Bidens.

Joining us now, Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent, David Gregory, CNN political analyst, and Joe Lockhart, CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House press secretary.

Kaitlan, I want to go first to you with the very latest reporting on what you're hearing about what the White House thinks. Where are the votes? McConnell says he doesn't have them yet to block witnesses. Does the White House and do Republicans think that means not ever?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the important part about McConnell saying he doesn't have them yet, as you saw those senators coming out of that meeting saying that they feel good that they're going to get them.

And the White House is essentially waiting to see what it is that McConnell is going to say here because they're really relying on him. And they have ever since that Bolton story broke on Sunday night when they were so essentially panicked over that story and how furious that they were hear -- how furious the Republican senators were that they were hearing from over that manuscript of John Bolton's that they were worried they could lose up to a dozen of those Republican votes on witnesses.

So they feel a lot better now, Dershowitz is gone, he's been forward on the Senate floor. A lot of Senate Republicans liked him. But they are still not in the clear yet and they're trying to keep a really close count on where all this is going. So we should be clear. They do not feel like they're in the clear on it yet but they just feel a lot better than they did on Sunday.

Though, of course, the big question is going to be how this question and answer session goes.

CAMEROTA: And, David Gregory is this a sign of this 24 hour news cycle where things bubble up and they sound like headlines and it's John Bolton making this bomb -- these bombshell revelations and senators get unsettled and then Mitch McConnell just says like, take a deep breath and it passes.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's partly that. And I just think there's an ability here to close ranks because the prevailing view is, this is still going to end the same way. Even if you are more convinced that the president was really inappropriate, corrupt, abused his power, it's an election year and why force this issue right now? The idea that that somehow tips isn't clear yet.

And I think there's enough Republicans, even those who are wavering, who are afraid of what Lindsey Graham said in the set-up there, which was, if we have one witness, we're going to have a lot of witnesses. And the specter of that is something that I think most Republicans don't want.

The danger here, of course, is that Bolton's testimony is so important because it is so central to the case against the president and there are -- there is the potential still that Republicans, at least a few, want not just witnesses but could ultimately be swayed to vote for the president's removal based on what he has to say. That's the big danger.

BERMAN: Yes, and, of course, John Bolton, once again, if what John Bolton says is true, that the president told him that aid to Ukraine was linked to investigating the Bidens, then the president is lying about this. John Kelly, the president's former chief of staff, we now learned said, quote, if John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton. In other words, the president's former chief of staff thinks the president is lying. That should always be of note.


That should always be curious to any senator of any party.

Also curious is the president's statement overnight where the argument he makes against John Bolton testifying is frankly dishonest, right? The president tweeted, quote, why didn't John Bolton complain about this nonsense a long time ago when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, nothing.

That's a lie. John Bolton did complain about this repeatedly for months.

CAMEROTA: According to sworn testimony from witnesses who heard it.

BERMAN: According to sworn testimony under oath have testified, multiple, Fiona Hill, the drug deal, John Bolton called this a drug deal. He broke up White House meetings about this because he was uncomfortable about it. He did not make a peep, he made several peeps. He hasn't testified under oath and Joe Lockhart, despite Mitch McConnell saying that he doesn't have the votes yet, I'm still not sure that Democrats will get what they need.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm with you, I think McConnell leaking out that he didn't have the votes was a strategic thing. I think -- I think he feels like he does have the votes. But what he wants to do by saying that is keep the pressure, you know, from the right wing constituents on these members on these members. And I think he wants to, in some ways, create an off ramp, just in case between now and Friday there's another bombshell, so he can't, you know, the problem with these bombshells is, if they move a bunch of votes, it's very hard to stop four going to eight going to 12 and then, you know, you know, having its own momentum.

So I think he put that out strategically yesterday knowing he has the votes just to keep the pressure on. And just as a little insurance policy in case John Bolton shows up in this chair sometime in the next couple of days or (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: We can make him sit somewhere else. We would never make you move.

LOCKHART: He can go on the couch, right.

BERMAN: He could sit over here, but I get your point.

LOCKHART: But -- so I, again, I -- it's not Mitch McConnell's style to -- when he's in trouble to project he's in trouble. So when he says he's in trouble, you know he's in pretty good shape.

CAMEROTA: Something else is --

GREGORY: You know the other thing about the 24-hour news cycle, Alisyn and John, is, you know, the next couple of days is a long time. And, obviously, supporters of the president are trying to muddy up the story.

You know, one of the questions, John, you raised it, why didn't we hear from Bolton? You know, why is it that he wanted to get closer and closer to the book actually being published before he said he'd be available to testify in an actual impeachment trial? And that's what he's done, to ensure that he could publish it in a book before he actually sits with investigators or part of an impeachment inquiry in the House. So even -- you know, there's John Kelly coming to his defense.

I think that McConnell's got to be looking at the potential for the next couple of days to diminish him as a witness.

COLLINS: Well, and on the John Kelly thing, we also have to note, him speaking out on John Bolton is really significant because, yes, they worked closely together in the West Wing. They did not always get along.

I was just rereading one of our stories this morning that we broke where they had gotten into this profanity-laced argument in the West Wing to where they were essentially shouting so loudly that people at their desks were turning their heads and looking over at one point when they were both working in the West Wing. So they were not the best of buds all the time.

So having John Kelly come out, this is the first time he's really weighing in, in a significant way on all of this and saying that he has heard about these conversations, he wasn't there, he heard they were inappropriate and that if John Bolton knows about them, he should come forward and testify, does really speaks to this because you're seeing Republicans, who typically would be on John Bolton's side, and Democrats, who typically wouldn't, really reverse their roles here in whether or not they're supporting him coming forward. GREGORY: Right.

CAMEROTA: Joe, I hear you that just because yesterday a dozen Republicans had some questions or even maybe some crisis of conscience about what John Bolton was saying that doesn't mean anything about today, doesn't tell us anything about tomorrow.

But just explain to us, how does Mitch McConnell reign them in? Why is he so successful? If a dozen yesterday were so unsettled about John Bolton, and we know, as David Gregory just pointed out, anything could happen today and anything could happen tomorrow.

LOCKHART: Yes, they're unsettled because their interested in their own standing, particularly those in the cycle.

I think the big clue that we saw a little bit of yesterday but we're going to see a lot of today is senators taking the position and it's a little bit of a derivative of Dershowitz saying, yes, even if he did it, this isn't impeachable.

And the ironic thing is, up until the White House defense team put on their case, every senator said he did nothing wrong. The White House defense put on their case and they're now all saying, well, maybe he did it. And it's OK if he did it. And we don't like it. But you saw -- I -- there was senator wicker from Mississippi, a very conservative guy last night, went out of his way to say I agree with the president 95 percent of the time, but I'm not that comfortable with this phone call and maybe it's not, but, boy, we shouldn't remove him over that phone call.


BERMAN: Well, that is an argument.

LOCKHART: And that's a -- and that's -- and I think that's what's going on in the caucus. That will probably anger the president. But the -- you know, the -- what the Bolton bombshell has done is sidelined the president as a power broker here and put it all in Mitch McConnell's hand. And he knows how to handle his caucus.

BERMAN: Quickly, Kaitlan, I want to get to you, because you do have some new reporting.

You were asking some questions last night to I guess sources close to the president's legal team about what they knew and when they knew it about the John Bolton manuscript.

COLLINS: Yes, this was a really notable exchange. We had this background briefing call with reporters and it was sources on the president's legal team essentially going over the closing arguments of the day. And one of the questions I posed to them was whether or not they had been briefed or seen that manuscript of John Bolton's. We know that he turned it over to the Records Management Office. That's the office within the National Security Council that's supposed to scrub it, make sure there's nothing classified in it before it gets published. That's protocol. And, of course, that has essentially somehow led to this now getting out with "The New York Times" reporting on it.

And so we asked, well, has the legal team seen this or been briefed on it? And the person on the president's legal team would only say that they had not reviewed it. They said no one outside the National Security Council has reviewed it. But they did not mention the word about briefing.

So I pressed again. I said, well, has anyone been briefed on it? They said they were not going to get into the details and would only say no one on the legal team has reviewed it, which is notable because we've been pressing the White House. They've still got this copy of this book. It's obviously threatened the president's impeachment trial. And so the question is, who in the West Wing, if anyone, has been briefed on the contents of whatever else is in this manuscript.

BERMAN: And it's important because if they were briefed on it, then some of the initial arguments made in front of a hundred senators and the chief justice of the United States were misleading and dishonest when they said that no one -- there is no firsthand account of anyone saying that the president directly linked the aid to investigating the Bidens.


BERMAN: Kaitlan, great reporting.

Joe, David, wonderful to have you on this morning.

The Senate showdown over whether to call witnesses is on. There is a moment of uncertainty here.

Also, we're going to see questions from the senators today. How will that go?

Stick around.




JAY SEKULOW, OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That's politics, unfortunately. And Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically to be above that fray.


BERMAN: That's President Trump's defense, hoping to convince enough Republican senators to vote against allowing witnesses in the president's impeachment trial. This is after the revelations in John Bolton's upcoming book.

Mitch McConnell told his conference yesterday that he doesn't have the vote to block witnesses yet. We're now joined by Gregg Nunziata. He was general counsel to Senator

Marco Rubio and former counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gregg, do you hear me? I think we might be having some audio problems. Nod twice if it's yes.


BERMAN: Fantastic. It is an impeachment time miracle.

Listen, you have become something of a hero to the left because you are a Republican who's been critical of the Republican's case. But before you're too beloved by the left, I just want to tell our viewers that you helped steer through several Republican Supreme Court nominees. You are someone who is very much a Republican. I just want to make everyone dislike you before we start the interview.

NUNZIATA: Thank you. It's good to be hated on both sides.

BERMAN: Excellent.

But, listen, so you heard Jay Sekulow there make the case that Hamilton would be against witnesses. Well, we see a new poll which says 75 percent of the American people say they want to see witnesses this this trial. And you note, based on your scholarly reading of history, you actually think that Alexander Hamilton and the founders would very much want witnesses because you note that Hamilton considered impeachment to be a national inquest into the conduct of public men (ph).

What do you mean by that?

NUNZIATA: You know, that's right. That was very clearly part of the discussion at the constitutional convention that a part of the function of impeachment is not just examining the possibility of removing a president or a judge or another official. Part of the whole purpose of it is kind of conducting a public examination of what people in office are doing and how they're conducting their affairs.

That's the role of Congress. It's meant to be a productive thing for the country to see how appointed officials and elected officials are conducting the public business. I don't think Republicans have anything to fear from developing a factual record here. That's part of the job of the Senate.

So this -- the case I'm making is not a case against President Trump, it's a case for the Senate's power and for Congress to conduct vigorous oversight, including through the impeachment process.

BERMAN: One of the arguments that we have finally heard the president's legal team make is that even if you believe John Bolton, it doesn't constitute an abuse of power and he shouldn't be removed from office. But you take that argument one step further, and you say, well, even if you agree with that, it doesn't mean you should be against witnesses. Why? NUNZIATA: No, I think that's exactly right. I mean for the reason I

was just saying. I think it's important for Congress to understand how appropriated funds, how taxpayer dollars are being spent and how the president is conducting official U.S. policy. I mean this is part of their role.

And it's fine if you -- I think there's a strong case to say that even if the president did something wrong here, this is not the kind of thing that warrants the traumatic experience of removing a president that's still supported by half of the population. But there's no reason to not examine what happened and develop that record.

So if you believe the president did something wrong but not enough to warrant removal, examine what that is. If you think the president did nothing wrong, which many Republicans do, get that on the record too. There's no reason to close your eyes to what occurred.

BERMAN: Why do you think, then, they are so afraid of having John Bolton testify?


NUNZIATA: Well, look, it's not surprising, and this isn't new, that people in the Senate who are members of the same party of the president have a natural instinct to try to protect the president with whom they agree, the president they support.

It's not that long ago, you may remember, when we had another president on trial in the Senate, a Democrat, and virtually every Democrat but one, I think, voted against witnesses and new evidence. Senate Democrats, House Democrats, including some congressmen who are still around and active in this impeachment, really tried to shut down that impeachment.

I mean this happens. We live in a partisan time, but that doesn't mean that kind of on the outside we -- that voters should accept that. Congress should examine the conduct of presidents. It's a very, very simple proposition. It's why the Constitution was designed that way. It's what our founders wanted. And I don't think that we or the country should have anything to fear about developing a record, particularly when, as here, there's facts in dispute. The president is telling a different story than it appears that John Bolton is willing -- is ready to tell. So we ought to hear from him.

BERMAN: If -- they both can't be telling the truth. If what John Bolton says is true, the president is lying and I do think it's notable that John Kelly, the president's form chief of staff, says he believes John Bolton, which means the president's former chief of staff thinks the president is lying. That is notable in any time.

I do want to ask you what you think of how some people have turned on John Bolton so quickly, including some of his friends in the Senate, including some of the people he worked with for ten years at Fox News.

NUNZIATA: It's remarkable, of course. I mean we -- I came to this town, you know, during the Bush administration where John Bolton was a hero, and Donald Trump was a Democrat. And a lot has changed since then.

But we -- you know, we live in a -- we live in a partisan era and an era where folks are very committed to playing for their party, and their team. And that's unfortunate. I think that we should want to hear the perspective of somebody like Bolton and hear him out. And certainly someone who has served in multiple Republican administrations going back decades.

BERMAN: I want to leave with one wonky question here, Ken Starr, ironically, argued in some ways that we have too many impeachments now, once more going back to the founders. It's not clear to me that the founders believed that at all.

NUNZIATA: No, I don't think so either. I think that the founders probably would be surprised by how few impeachments we've had. We've only had impeachment trials now of three presidents, one cabinet secretary and a bunch of judges. I mean impeachment was meant to be a very important tool for Congress to maintain its authority, to keep the judiciary and the executive in check, to police misbehavior and to publicly kind of air disputes when there's even a question about the conduct of, again, as Hamilton said, public men. So, yes, you know, I don't think there's anything to be feared from occasionally having the Senate question a president or question a cabinet official about how they conducted the public's business.

BERMAN: Gregg Nunziata, a man with fewer and fewer friend, you are always, always welcome here. Thanks for being with us.

NUNZIATA: Thank you so much, John. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


BERMAN: I'm just trying to ruin everyone's life.

CAMEROTA: No, I know. I mean he seems nice, but I guess that, I don't know, he has a lot of enemies.

All right, now to this. We have new details for you about the helicopter crash that claimed the life of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other passengers. You're looking at new video of the crash site from the NTSB. Investigators tell us that Kobe's helicopter was not equipped with a warning system that could have alerted the pilot if he was too close to the ground.

Let's go live to Calabasas, California, and CNN's Omar Jimenez.

Omar, what else are you learning.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, there is a lot that the NTSB is working with this -- work with on this investigation and a lot that they aren't.

Significantly what they are working with is this flight data that shows where the flight of this helicopter began in southeast L.A., came up through the northwestern portion and showed significantly at the end the rapid dissention that resulted in what investigators describe as a high energy impact. Likely the helicopter was still in one piece before it missed clearing this hill by just 20 to 30 feet.

Notably, what they are not working with, you touched on it early, that terrain awareness and warning system that's designed to prevent unintentional impacts. That is something that was actually recommended by the NTSB based on a similar crash that happened over ten years ago, but not by the FAA.

Notably also not in the helicopter, a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder. All factors that are going to be going into this investigation.

And while we have learned new details on the investigative side, over the course of these past few days, there have been details that have come out at times heartbreaking on the personal side about the lives that these people touched.

Notably, there was a teenager at Kobe Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy, which is where everyone on this helicopter was headed for a game that day, who, just a day prior, was able to snap a selfie with Kobe as he was walking by. Blurry, sure, but at the time reportedly told the kid, hey, I'll get you tomorrow. That tomorrow never was able to be lived out by the Lakers icon.


This kid, notably, and has to be broken up like so many other people have been, not just here in the Los Angeles area and those touched by the Lakers organization, but the millions across the world who followed the legacy of Kobe Bryant, including, notably, teammates, Shaquille O'Neal and people that worked with him at the organization, Jerry West, who had the time to reflect on what has been an awful and tragic few days here in Los Angeles.


SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, RETIRED NBA PLAYER: We're not going to be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony. We're not going to be able to say, I got five, you got four. The fact that we're not going to be able to say, if we would have stayed together, we could have got 10. Those are the things that you can't get back.

JERRY WEST, FORMER LOS ANGELES LAKERS GENERAL MANAGER: Honestly, I felt like his father for two years. I don't know if I can get over this. I really don't.


JIMENEZ: Lots of tears shed over these nine killed over these past few days.

As for our next update, the NTSB says in just about ten days' time they will be issuing a preliminary report with more factual information on the investigation, John. BERMAN: And that was legendary player and Lakers General Manager Jerry

West there, who was literally the symbol, the NBA's graphic symbol. So, in a way, what you saw there was the symbol of the NBA broken over Kobe Bryant.

Omar Jimenez, thanks so much for being with us.

So how will the impeachment trial affect Democratic voters in next week's Iowa caucuses? And what we are learning about this proposed, should we say, alliance between two candidates. That's next.