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Source: McConnell Tells GOP Senators He Doesn't Currently Have the Votes to Block Witnesses; President Trump Attacks John Bolton on Twitter; Senate to Vote on Possibility of Calling Witnesses for Senate Impeachment Trial; John Bolton Mentions Attorney General Barr in Book Concerning Conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 29, 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]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He believes Bolton, which means that the president's former chief of staff thinks the president is lying.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A vote on witnesses will likely take place on Friday. President Trump appears concerned. He is attacking Bolton via Twitter with a lengthy message just moments ago. A growing number of Republican senators now acknowledge that President Trump may, in fact, have held U.S. military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations of his political rivals, but they now claim it does not warrant removal from office or even hearing new evidence.

Joining us now we have Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent, Rachael Bade, "Washington Post" Congressional reporter, and John Dean, former Nixon White House Counsel and CNN contributor. Rachael Bade, in terms of the fact that yesterday there were maybe a dozen Republicans who had enough lingering questions about what had been revealed from John Bolton to say that they don't know how they would vote on witnesses, where are we today?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's clear Mitch McConnell is trying to get his ducks in a row. That's how they're looking at this right now. There was a lot of uncertainty on the Hill on Monday after this big Bolton bombshell. We were asking -- we were asking Republicans how is it that you don't want to hear from John Bolton. And a lot of them would not answer the question. Some of them even got mad and sort of just ignored us and stormed off.

They had this meeting yesterday, and Mitch McConnell made two points. The first one was that if we call in witnesses, this is going to drag out and it's going to take a long time. We're going to have to hear from the Bidens, potentially call in Adam Schiff, even maybe the whistle-blower, and that this could last a really long time. And a lot of these senators are tired. They want to move on.

Republicans have also been latching on to this argument that Alan Dershowitz has been making, which is that even if everything happened the way House managers say it did, and of course the John Bolton news certainly seems that way, he's confirming the top allegation that military aid was held for these investigations in Ukraine, that that is not impeachable.

And so we're starting to hear some Republicans say we don't need to hear from any more witnesses because even if it's true, let's say it's all true, we can't -- he can't be pushed out of office for this sort of action.

So a lot of uncertainty on the Hill right now. McConnell, they seem to be feeling better yesterday than they were feeling on Monday, because if the dam hasn't broken yet and we don't yet have a fourth Republican saying he or she will vote to have witnesses, I don't know that it will ever break given the huge news that we saw Monday night.

BERMAN: It is interesting, though. One person who does seem nervous and rattled about it this morning is President Trump, because he just unloaded on John Bolton in a way that we have not seen to date. I'm talking kitchen sink, nuclear Defcon zero level tweeting here. And I'll just read a part of it so you get a sense. He says "For a guy who couldn't get approved for the ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn't get approved for anything since, begged me for a non-Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying don't do it, sir, takes the job, mistakenly says" -- and then he goes on and on and on and on. This is just a litany of complaints about John Bolton here. And Kaitlan, I think it's to send a message to Republicans who might be on the fence. How do you see it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I can't believe you didn't read the World War Six part that the president said we would essentially be in if John Bolton was still the national security adviser. But this tweet is doing two things. It could be sending a message to those Republicans who are still on the fence about whether or not they are going to vote to include witnesses, because essentially, if they, do they could be on the receiving end of tweets like this from the president.

And it's notable, also, it's a big shift in what the president was saying just last week when he was in Davos in Switzerland giving a press difference, talking about John Bolton, and he had this lengthy answer. But one interesting and striking part of it was he said you don't want people testifying if they didn't leave on good terms. Obviously, John Bolton did not leave on good terms. We reported that at the time.

But the president said, and this was really interesting to me. He said that was due to me, not to him. So the president was essentially saying he was responsible for John Bolton leaving on bad terms. And now, of course, that John Bolton is threatening to up end his impeachment trial, you are seeing the president lash out at him and essentially give this fodder for those Republicans on Capitol Hill that Rachael and other reporters are going up to. They can use these talking points.

But, of course, it was the president who hired John Bolton, and it is true that people advised against it, but the president was the one in the decision who brought him on and kept him on for a significant amount of time. CAMEROTA: As he says, he only has the best people around him, and so

he, I guess, is rethinking that today? But John Dean, politics makes strange bedfellows, and it's very interesting to see what's happened inside the beltway of the people who now consider John Bolton persona non grata, people who used to really revere him, and the people who are defending him. And one of those is the president's former chief of staff, John Kelly.

[08:05:03]

These two men did not always see eye to eye, but John Kelly was at an event, and he said, quote, "If John Bolton says that in his book, I believe John Bolton." He also went on to say that John Bolton was a man of great character. Just interesting to see who is stepping up to take which side.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: From personal experience, I understand this dynamic from Bolton's standpoint. And trust me, he knew this could come before he broke rank. He understood what Trump was capable of and still is capable of. And so he calculated that when he made his decision. Other people around him know, Kelly certainly knows the situation. So I think that Trump is actually putting more spine in Bolton and his determination to do what he thinks apparently is right or protect himself from --

CAMEROTA: And what will that look like? What does John Bolton think is right? He's going to wait until he's subpoenaed?

DEAN: He's going to tell the truth.

CAMEROTA: He's going to tell the truth, but he's going to, as we pointed out many times, he could do that today.

DEAN: He might do it outside the forum. And that would put it out there.

BERMAN: Look, you say you know how John Bolton feels, obviously, because you went and testified before Congress famously. John Bolton did have the opportunity to do that already.

DEAN: He did.

BERMAN: So there's a big difference between what you did and what he did already.

DEAN: He was late to the move. But he's made the move decision now, knowing very well he's got a very vindictive boss, former boss. He left on bad terms. A lot of people are afraid of Trump. I suspect a lot of people on the Capitol Hill, the reason they're not doing anything is their fear of him. The Twitter, the fact they'll get primaried. And that's one of the reasons, though, however, that some people, Mitch is putting a heavy burden on some of those Republicans to go into states that are purple and try to get re-elected. And it's going to be very tough.

BERMAN: I think the combination of what Mitch McConnell did last night, which is to say we don't have the votes yet, which was to put pressure on that small handful of senators, and what the president tweeted this morning, it's part of the same mission here. This is to say to those senators, you're next. If you vote against what I'm after, you're next. You're on the receiving end of this tweet.

Rachael Bade, you have some new reporting this morning on what we may see today, because we are entering this fascinating new phase of the impeachment trial where Republicans and Democrats on the Senate get to ask questions on these cute little cards. Very small little cards which are unique in that there's one thing a senator hates, and that's being succinct. He or she is going to have to be succinct when they write the question. There's a look at it right there. But you are getting some reporting on what the senators might choose to ask and to whom.

BADE: Yes, that's exactly right. It looks like both sides are going to try to use their time, at least part of their time, they each have eight hours to ask questions, to basically go after either the impeachment managers or the White House defense. Basically, Democrats want to ask the White House defense team about what they knew about John Bolton's book. There's already been a statement from the White House saying some of these guys had not seen the manuscript when they were up there saying the allegations that the military aid was being held for an investigation was not true. I was talking to Senator Kaine the other day in the hallway about this, and he said to me I feel misled, I feel like they lied to me. And so some of these Dems want to ask the White House, what did the counsel know? Were they briefed at all? Did they mislead the chamber?

And on the other side, Republicans are, of course, you can predict this, they're going to go after Adam Schiff. Schiff has been the top impeachment manager. There was some reporting done months ago that his committee was in contact with the whistle-blower very briefly before this all spilled out into the open. And Republicans have sort of grilled Schiff on this, and they want to hear more about what was said, who was doing the talking and the communicating, what did he know about these sorts of comments or these allegations before they became public. And so you can expect that they're obviously going to go after him.

I do want to make one more comment, though. You guys were talking about this pressure campaign, McConnell talking to people privately, the president going out on Twitter to put pressure on these moderate Democrats. It's been interesting because Mitch McConnell has actually told the president to lay off these moderate Republicans if you want to stick -- the team to stick together. You can't go out there and pressure them. I just wonder with Trump tweeting, how long can he hold that position, because he's clearly getting very frustrated, and we know how much he likes to tweet.

CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, I think this is going to be really interesting to see today, the question and answer period, because it's more dynamic. It's back and forth. It's not just one side pontificating for 16 hours. It goes back and forth. But in terms of the Adam Schiff question, that will be fascinating to see how Republicans -- Republicans have always suggested somehow that he was sort of in on it. But Adam Schiff has already answered this, hasn't he?

[08:10:00]

Don't we know the answer? Correct me if I'm wrong, but that there is a process by which a whistle-blower comes forward, and part of the process is going to a committee and to the staff on the committee and making your complaint? Is that going to be his answer, or is this going to be some sort of surprise reveal?

COLLINS: I think Adam Schiff's issue what that he was on television in an interview, and he said that they had zero contact. And then, of course, he later walked that back, said they had had some contact, not him, but members of his staff. So the thing with that is, though, he's going to be prepared for that question likely, because he knows it's coming. He's heard these Republicans pointing that out in the hallways at the Senate.

But of course, what's notable about this and as this is going to be going back and forth, and we do expect them to probably use all 16 hours they have to ask questions, is that they have to answer these questions pretty much on the spot. So there are going to be some that they're expecting, but there are going to be some that they're likely not expecting. And they're not going to have a lot of preparation time to get ready to prepare to answer these questions. So that's going to be interesting who the House managers pick to answer certain questions.

Of course, you can expect Adam Schiff to take a big outsized role. But also the question is going to be, who from the president's team is taking certain questions, because, of course, they have a bunch of different figures on there. So it will be really interesting to watch it all play out.

CAMEROTA: OK, friends, thank you all very much. Great to get your perspective and reporting.

John Bolton's new book does appear to be dragging Attorney General Bill Barr into the impeachment battle. New reports show that private conversations between Bolton and Barr are featured in Bolton's draft manuscript. And that means the attorney general may not be able to stay out of this political fight that he's been trying to avoid for months. CNN's Evan Perez joins us with more. What have you learned, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE REPORTER: Good morning, Alisyn. These two men, John Bolton and Bill Barr, go back decades to the Reagan administration. They've been friends all these years. Of course, we've been marveling at the fact that Bill Barr, the attorney general, has managed to sort of evade all involvement in this ongoing controversy over the Ukraine call that the president made and the impeachment inquiry.

But, obviously, Bolton is now making a bid for his own -- he wants to be a witness in this thing. And so that's why what Bolton says in his new manuscript is very interesting. He says that he and Barr shared concerns about the president trying to do favors for the leaders of China and Turkey. He says that he warned Barr right after the July 25th call that his name had come up.

Now the justice department disputes what Bolton is saying, and you can bet that Bill Barr wants to push back on some of this. He says that he did not say some of the things that John Bolton says in his book. But now what this sets up, John, is that we will see if John Bolton ever becomes a witness either in the impeachment trial or later on that it will be his word versus the word of Bill Barr. And that will make things very, very interesting.

BERMAN: It will. It will. Again, though, if John Bolton does testify, what he says will be under oath, under penalty of perjury. Evan, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

PEREZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: This new poll shows that 75 percent of Americans want to see witnesses in the impeachment trial, 75 percent. So if Republicans block it, what's the political risk there? Will there be a backlash? A plurality of Republicans want to see witnesses, too. Stick around.

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[08:17:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told fellow senators that Republicans don't currently have the votes to block witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial, but underscore that it's still a work in progress.

What do Americans think? They want witnesses. Seventy-five percent of Americans in a new Quinnipiac poll say they want to hear from witnesses.

Joining me now, Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania and senior political commentator, and Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and a CNN political commentator.

Let me put more of that polling up on the screen so people can just see how overwhelming it is. When I tell you 75 percent of Americans want to see it, a plurality of Republicans, 49 percent to 43 percent, an overwhelming number of Democrats, 95 percent to 3 percent.

And look at the independents there, 75 percent to 18 percent say they want to hear witnesses.

So, Paul, for months Republicans have been saying, oh, Democrats are taking a giant political risk with impeachment. What political risk, Paul, do Republicans face if they vote against witnesses when 75 percent of Americans, including 75 percent of independents say they want them?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. So far, there has not been a backlash against the Democrats since they began impeachment. They actually won the Kentucky governors race. They won the Louisiana governors race. They won the House and Senate in Virginia. So, the elections since impeachment began have almost all gone for the

Democrats. But the Republicans have a huge risk here. And the risk is not so much the vote to convict or acquit. The risk is that polling you just showed about witnesses.

Fair-minded people believe a trial has to have witnesses and evidence. And if you vote against that, you know, look, I don't mean to spoiler alert, Donald Trump is not going to lose his job over this. He's just not. The fix is in. He got more than enough senators to block any conviction.

But you might, Senator. You might lose your job and keep that in mind. One of the lessons of this is that the Congress has more at risk in impeachment politically sometimes than the president.

BERMAN: Senator Santorum, I can see by your face you may not agree with Paul.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't agree. I just go back to 1999. I ran for re-election in 2000, and, you know, I -- the impeachment of bill Clinton in my state was not a popular thing. The vast majority of people in my state did not want him convicted. It wasn't about witnesses. It was about the actual vote on impeachment.

I voted on both articles to convict the president and I won by five points and while George Bush was losing the state by four. So I just don't think it's all that relevant when it comes down it that the impeachment vote, certainly a vote on a procedural issue like witnesses is going to have any kind of impact in the upcoming election.

And I would just say for those Republican numbers, I'd be curious how many of those Republicans who want witnesses want to hear from Hunter Biden, not John Bolton.

BERMAN: They might, but it is that 75 percent of independents.

SANTORUM: No, I think those numbers are legit. I just don't think it's that important a number.

BEGALA: Here's, I think, the risk. This is where it's different from 1998, 1999.

[08:20:01]

There's a lot more facts that are going to come out. They're going to come out. The stone wall will not hold. The cover-up will not last.

And so, senators need to not worry about how their vote on witnesses looks in two days or seven days but in 278 days when we get to that election. And then new evidence comes out. Voters are going to say, I think fairly, why didn't you bring that out at the trial? Why didn't you allow that to come out at the trial?

John Bolton's book is going to be published. And it may be true. It may be false. I don't know what's in it, but it's going to be important and revelatory. And that will not be the last word either.

Senators are taking a firm step in thin air and they're doing it on behalf of Donald Trump who does not give a rip snort about them.

SANTORUM: No, I disagree with that, too. Most Republicans feel the way I feel. Even if John Bolton's statement is true, even if there's more information that proves the president withheld aid, it's -- what Professor Dershowitz and Robert Ray said the other night, even if it's true, it's not impeachable and certainly you don't remove a president for that.

BEGALA: Why are they afraid of witnesses?

SANTORUM: Well, because it's going to -- because it drags out the political theater.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Look, John Bolton is not going to just walk up there and testify. The president is going to try to block the testimony. They're going to go to court.

BEGALA: Why?

SANTORUM: It's going to prolong this process, and Republicans don't want this thing dragging out.

BEGALA: Why is Trump going to block it?

SANTORUM: Because he believes it's privileged information that's --

BEGALA: Baloney.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: You dismiss it, but that's what he's going to say.

BEGALA: He's going to say a lot of things. He's already waiving executive privilege this morning on Twitter. He doesn't care about the privilege.

I've never seen a case where every new fact tends to be incriminating. There's got to be some exculpatory fact.

SANTORUM: Incriminating to what? There's no crime. I mean, the articles of impeachment don't allege a crime. So you keep -- you throw the word incriminating when there's no crime.

BERMAN: Well, I will say, I will say on that point, which has been chewed over a lot, Jonathan Turley who defended the Republicans in the House impeachment trial, emphasizes you do not need a crime to have an impeachable offense.

SANTORUM: That's fine.

BERMAN: Rick Santorum agrees with that also. So, again, and when you say Alan Dershowitz says it wasn't an abuse of power. Alan Dershowitz was on the defense team that said O.J. wasn't guilty. I'm not saying Alan Dershowitz isn't right in this case but just because --

SANTORUM: That was not an issue of constitutional law, John. He's a constitutional lawyer.

BERMAN: Just because Alan Dershowitz -- just because Alan Dershowitz says it doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

SANTORUM: I think he made a compelling case.

BERMAN: That's different than saying just because Alan Dershowitz said it -- which is what some Republican senators are saying.

SANTORUM: No, I agree with that, but I think you made a very compelling case.

BERMAN: Can we -- do we have the Rudy Giuliani sound? I want to address something happening to John Bolton here right now. John Bolton who has given his life for the Republican cause and is a conservative that was a star of Fox News for ten years is now very much in the crosshairs.

Listen to what Rudy Giuliani said about him overnight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: Here's the only conclusion I can come to and it's a harsh one, and I feel very bad about it. He's a backstabber.

He never said to me, I've got a problem with what you're doing in Ukraine. Never once. Never winked. Never sent me a note. That's classic back stabber.

So I feel I've got a slump character here. I find his testimony about the president close to incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Backstabber from Rudy Giuliani. The president with this nuclear tweet this morning, all these Republicans, including some on Fox who were his friends have come out and started beating up John Bolton.

Senator Santorum, is this something you're proud of for the Republican Party to do?

SANTORUM: I think Rudy's is a personal issue. According to "the New York Times," he went after Rudy personally and said some rather unflattering things about him. I can understand if it's true that he never said anything to him to his face that that's not a class act to the part of Bolton to say those things and then not have it brought to Rudy's attention.

BERMAN: But what about everything else? SANTORUM: Yes, everything else, I disagree with that. Look, I have a lot of respect for John Bolton. I think that he's -- he is beyond anything else, he's a cause by. He deeply believes his world view is the right one and has stood up, in spite of some harsh backlash toward him and stood up for the values and principles. And I think he disagrees with a lot of what the president is doing in the foreign policy area and I'm not surprised he'll be public about saying that.

BERMAN: Can I ask you quickly, who are you more inclined to believe about an account of a conversation? Are you more inclined to believe John Bolton or President Trump?

SANTORUM: I am inclined to believe the president says a lot of things that the president never follows through with. So that's -- it would not surprise me that at some point, the president in a moment of frustration said that. Again, did he follow through?

BERMAN: When the president says he never -- when the president said that to John Bolton or says he didn't say that to John Bolton, he is now lying? And I do think that's important.

Paul, Senator Santorum said he found John Bolton to be a man of enormous credibility. What have you felt about John Bolton over the years?

(LAUGHTER)

[08:25:01]

BEGALA: Yes, I think he lied us into war in Iraq. I think his credibility is very suspect and I don't like that he's all of a sudden a liberal hero.

But we have a way to resolve this. Swear him out under oath.

Why is Rudy going on Fox News instead of going into a deposition under oath with pain of perjury? Why don't we have the documents? I mean, we've been doing this in Anglo American jurisprudence for hundreds of years.

You get all the evidence, you get all the facts, you get all the documents, you get all the testimony and that gets you to the truth. All we have now is a sham and a farce and a cover-up.

And I know the deal is rigged. I know the Senate is not going to convict him. It's like if you have a mafia trial and you are the defendant and you look up and half of the jury is named Soprano. You're not going to lose. But we have to get to the facts and the truth. That's why this thing is a complete sham.

SANTORUM: Let me -- final point to make it again, Paul, that Republicans, even if -- I think most Republicans believe John Bolton that Donald Trump said what he said. It doesn't matter with respect to the -- their verdict in the case.

BEGALA: Because he can shot a man off Fifth Avenue. SANTORUM: So, getting to the truth is irrelevant certainly for the price it would inflict on the Senate to have this further testimony come forward because it's not going to be consequential in the decision-making.

BERMAN: That is interesting. Before you say it's true that most Republicans believe John Bolton and also believe the president is lying publicly about it. Great to have you on. I really appreciate it.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We always learn a lot from their conversations.

BERMAN: That was fun.

CAMEROTA: Great job.

BERMAN: President Trump's impeachment trial is about to go off script when both sides get to pose questions to each other. How are lawmakers preparing for today? An impeachment manager tells us, next.

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