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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Recording Describe 2020 Meeting That Fueled Fake Electors Plot; Trump Lawyers Compare Special Counsel Jack Smith To The Grinch For Seeking To Keep Federal Election Subversion Trial On Schedule; Judge Rebukes Giuliani's "Defamatory" Remark At Defamation Trial; Haaretz Opinion: Netanyahu Must Be Politically Destroyed, Or Israel Will Go Down With Him; House Votes To Open Impeachment Inquiry Into President Biden. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 13, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: pained only by CNN, a lawyer in the Oval Office shortly after Donald Trump's 2020 loss later describing key moments that led to the fake electoral scheme, which resulted in criminal cases against many people, including Donald Trump. CNN's Marshall Cohen is here with the exclusive reporting.

So, Marshall, we're talking about Kenneth Chesebro, the Wisconsin attorney, what happened in his interview with prosecutors and in the Oval Office?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Well, he told prosecutors about what he called a photo op gone wrong. In the Oval Office in December 2020, go back to that hectic time. At that moment, Trump's team in Wisconsin had just lost their election challenge. And the lawyers who led that case were in D.C. for a meet and greet with their client. Before they walked into the Oval Office, they were told, do not give him false hope, do not indulge the conspiracies about the election.

Some of them listened. Some of them didn't. Here is a clip from Ken Chesebro describing what the lead attorney in Wisconsin, Jim Troupis, told Donald Trump.


KENNETH CHESEBRO, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: It's clear that Troupis personally told the president there was zero hope for Wisconsin. As part of this message, I think, crafted to try to get him to concede or just you know, give up this long shot challenge. So, there was a conscious effort to deflect him from a sense of any possibility that he could pull out the election.


COHEN: Zero hope. That's what he said. So, look, some people around Trump told him that he couldn't win. And he went on tried to overturn the election anyway. That's a huge part of Special Counsel Jack Smith's criminal case. That indictment is filled to the brim with examples of Trump being told by advisers and lawyers that he lost. This Oval Office meeting was not in the indictment, so it builds on the existing case, the existing evidence against Trump.

TAPPER: And you also say that another part of the audio reveals something that could possibly help Donald Trump's defense. Tell us about that.

COHEN: Yes, that's when Chesebro started talking in the meeting with Donald Trump. Again, remember, he was told don't give trump any hope. Once the conversation moved to Arizona, he did just that. Take a listen.


CHESEBRO: So, I ended up explaining that Arizona was still hypothetically possible, because the alternate electors voted. And I explained the whole logic. Because the alternate electors had voted, we had more time to win the litigation. So, it was, I think, clear in a way that maybe hadn't been before that we had till January 6 to win.


COHEN: So, he brought up January 6, brought up the fake electors. He told Trump that there was still a viable path to keep contesting the election. This was immediately met with fallout, Reince Priebus who helped arrange the meeting because of his Wisconsin connections in the White House.

TAPPER: Former RNC chairman and the former White House Chief of Staff, yes.

COHEN: Exactly. He helped arrange the meeting. He was in the room. He was livid. Listen to Chesebro describing Priebus's reaction


CHESEBRO: Right after the meeting, Troupis said that Reince Priebus was extremely concerned with what I told the president about Arizona and about the real deadline be January 6, and that he was going to do damage control, Reince was going to follow up. And, I mean, I was trying to mitigate whatever optimist I guess I created.


COHEN: So, some people told Trump he lost. Some people told Trump he could keep fighting. We all know which path he chose, which of course, ended with the insurrection here in Washington.

TAPPER: Yes, also ended up with Kenneth Chesebro getting indicted.

COHEN: And Trump.

TAPPER: And Donald Trump. Marshall Cohen, excellent reporting. Thank you so much.

Senior Political Correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman is here. She left her Pulitzer Prize at home.

Maggie, what stands out to you most when you hear this, these tapes, Marshall's excellent reporting?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Honest, it's terrific reporting. And it's actually the fact of this meeting happening in the first place is what stands out to me because when Chesebro pleaded guilty and Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty, the basic takeaway for people around Trump was, well, Chesebro didn't really deal with Trump directly, so he doesn't know that much but Jenna Ellis did. There's clearly a lot more to learn about what was happening in these various interactions. And the fact, as Marshall said, he brought it up proactively, giving the desire by all of these people around Trump, not to the same degree, but to please him, to bring him --


HABERMAN: -- some kind of offering is what stood out to me there.

TAPPER: And Chesebro is clearly willing to talk pretty openly --


TAPPER: -- in a way that could be pretty damaging to Donald Trump. What do you know about others in Trump's circle who might also be willing to flip, I'm thinking of course of a different White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Are the dominoes starting to follow here?

HABERMAN: I think we're going to wait a long time until we would see something like that. Look, I can't predict whether Meadows will flip. If he does, I think it would be proud problematic for Trump just given the volume of what he knows but I think that he shared enough with investigators that they're going to be able to paint a pretty compelling picture at this point already. I'm not sure how badly they need a plea like that as opposed to a plea like this. I just would say one other thing that stood out to me from that audio is that Reince Priebus was probably having PTSD --



HABERMAN: -- from trying to have, you know, a meeting not get derailed from the time when he was Chief of Staff in that White House.

TAPPER: It's also just so odd, because here you have this president and he has all these people that he knows, the White House Counsel, his attorney general, former White House Chiefs of Staff like Reince Priebus, et cetera, all of them saying it's over, you lost. And then this -- just these stragglers are coming and people he doesn't know, barely knows, whatever, they tell him what he likes, so he listens.

HABERMAN: So, there used to be a line that one of his senior advisors would use, which is that if Trump wants an opinion on something, he will ask 49 people and then a 50, out of that 50, it will give him the answer that he wants. And that's literally what you saw here. It was a parade of people, as you say, telling him, this is over even if they weren't all doing it that declaratively, there were enough people telling him, you are out of options here, and then he gets one who says, no, no, no, this is real. And he goes for that.

TAPPER: Yes, it's just these stray dogs that he brings in and just listens to them bark as long as he likes the sound of it. Let's move to the news today, a federal judge just pause Donald Trump's 2024 election interference case which could lead his March 2024 trial to be delayed. Earlier today Trump lawyers compared Special Counsel Jack Smith to the Grinch for trying to keep the trial on schedule. Here's what they wrote. This is an honest to God court filing, my hand to God. Quote, "This proposed schedule would require attorneys and support staff to work round the clock through the holidays, inevitably disrupting family and travel plans.

It is as if the Special Counsel growled with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, "I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming. But how?" So the lawyers of Whoville could have oblique Christmases is I guess is the argument. What are their real world and political consequences and legal consequences if the trial is delayed? And how likely do you think it is?

HABERMAN: It's -- there is a real possibility of the trial will be delayed? I think that the March 4 start date has seemed aspirational for some time. The question is, how long does it start, say before the Republican nominating convention in mid-July? Does it start at some point later in the summer? Would the judge feel OK starting it in August?

And there's so many variables built into this. It's very hard to say when this will began. It is still seen as the likeliest trial to start before the election if not the only one, but there's a lot of moving parts.

TAPPER: And obviously you can't keep these trials -- you can't keep track of them without a program, especially when you bring in some of the other players. Rudy Giuliani already found liable for the defamation of those two election workers, who the court found were greatly harmed by his election lies. They're seeking 10s of millions of dollars. At a trial today does -- trial today, they -- Giuliani told reporters, everything he said about the women was true. And this could support another defamation claim according to the judge. We know Giuliani already has serious financial troubles due to all the Trump legal cases at this point. Does he have value digging into these lies more than the money he could lose become of it, do you think?

HABERMAN: No, it's hard to fathom why Giuliani is saying what he is saying. And I think that anybody who has been around Giuliani who is no longer with him privately says the same thing. People can't understand what the strategy is here.

TAPPER: Why is he even testifying? I mean, to be quite frank, he says a lot of really wild, crazy, untrue things. And he's now saying them, you know, under oath.

HABERMAN: Based on people I talked to who are close to him, there is a part of him that genuinely believes that he has been proven right about various things, whether it is some of his arguments about Hunter Biden, because remember, he was the one who was trying to force that laptop into the conversation in 2020. That he genuinely believes that he is right and some of the allegations he is making here. And they all, not all, but many of them have adopted the Donald Trump ethos of fight, fight, fight. If you believe you're right, then you fight. And I think that is what he is doing.

This is different than what I would have expected to see him do a couple of decades ago.

TAPPER: Last question. Donald Trump has clearly been campaigning something of a basement campaign, something of the kind of campaign that Joe Biden did in 2020. A lot of Republicans made fun of them. They talked about Donald Trump was out there doing six, seven events a day, Joe Biden was doing maybe one. Donald Trump's not even doing one campaign event a day, he might be doing two or three a week.

Obviously, he's 77. Obviously, he's far and ahead the front runner, he doesn't need to do it. At what point do you think the pride that he feels about the fact that he used to be so vigorous and able to do this and it's pretty apparent that he doesn't seem capable of doing it anymore, at least there's no evidence that he can do it anymore that that's going to cause him to try to get back into that old routine.


HABERMAN: Among other things he's not doing rallies, yes, he is older, yes, he is far ahead, they also cost a lot of money, and so they don't see the reason to spend campaign resources when they don't have to. I don't think that that is proving himself in that way as a top of mind concern for him, especially if as they hope Iowa delivers him a sizable victory on January 15. Remember, it's a state that he lost --

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: -- in 2016.

TAPPER: To Ted Cruz.

HABERMAN: He is so much more focused on the legal cases than on specifically the political campaign on balance right now, and specifically the case we haven't talked about, the New York attorney general case, because that involves his business and that involves the extent to which he is going to be able to continue to run his business as is. And we will know the details of that outcome in January. He will appeal whatever that is, and that's going to go on for a while. But that case cuts at the heart of his identity and who he is. It is just fundamentally different than anything else we're talking about.

TAPPER: It seems very likely he's going to lose that case, have to pay a fine and maybe lose his business license in New York.

HABERMAN: It could be a really big hit. We don't know how many properties it impacts.


HABERMAN: We -- there's so many unanswered questions. TAPPER: It's tough to say that case got in his way. Maggie Haberman --

HABERMAN: He already hasn't. He's already lost it.

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: The question is just what the outcome is.

TAPPER: How bad the penalty is going to be.

HABERMAN: Correct.

TAPPER: Right. That's what I mean.


TAPPER: Maggie Haberman, thanks so much.

This hour the House starting a series of votes, expected to include whether or not to formalize an impeachment inquiry into President Biden for what you ask, good question, we're going to go to the Hill with CNNs Manu Raju. We'll talk about that next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead where within the hour we expect the Republican led House of Representatives to pass an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. This comes after months of Republican holdout saying there is no evidence that they've seen suggesting that President Biden financially benefited personally from any of his son Hunter's business dealings. Despite saying that, they are now getting in line saying, yes, we're going to open an inquiry to see if there is anything there.

This vote comes hours after Hunter marched up to Capitol Hill, defying House Republicans subpoena to testify behind closed doors for an interview. This is what Hunter had to say.


HUNTER BIDEN, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S SON: There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business, because it did not happen. I'm proud of my time serving on a dozen different boards of directors. And I'm proud of my efforts to forge global business relationships.


TAPPER: CNN's Manu Raju was on Capitol Hill with -- where it has certainly been a dramatic day.

Manu, why does it seem that most, if not all, House Republicans are going to support this impeachment inquiry vote, even though some of them are still saying they haven't seen any credible evidence that President Biden financially benefited from any of Hunter's business deals?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of those members are coming from the swing districts, from the 18 Republicans who are from districts that President Biden himself carried. They are making a big distinction, they're trying to say this is just a vote for allow the investigation to go forward, empower the investigation to try to get documents where they're unable to get documents, give them more power in court. Even though there's -- impeachment inquiry has been going on since September, this is just a vote to symbolic vote of sorts to say that this is formally been authorized. But those members are still downplaying or saying that this is much different than actually charging the President with high crimes or misdemeanors saying that there is a much more evidence gathered before they will agree to charge the President, making the fourth President ever to be impeached. But still, there are still some seniors prominent Republicans in the House GOP who are making very clear that they believe that impeachment is still likely, that is in the words of one congressman, Byron Donalds.


REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): So I think there's plenty of proof there. We're going to tie all this down. So I think it's pretty likely that we end up moving towards impeachment, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We want the evidence to speak for itself.

RAJU: A lot of those members say they haven't seen the evidence yet to prove that Joe Biden active cropley (ph) to help his son.

DONALDS: Well, that's what we're going to finish our investigation. So our point is very clear, voting for an impeachment inquiry allows us to finish our investigation.


RAJU: So this vote is expected to happen later this hour, Jake. And we do expect that Speaker Mike Johnson will have the votes along party lines to officially authorize this impeachment inquiry. There's potentially one Republican no vote, Ken Buck of Colorado, we'll be watching his vote. But he cannot afford to lose more than three votes. And we don't expect that to happen.

But still, Jake, there is still a lot of questions about where this investigation goes, what evidence they'll actually get and whether it'll actually lead to the President's impeachment. All major questions for the new speaker, as he grapples with a lot of members who want to push for impeachment, others saying, where's the evidence? Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. It's a good question. Meanwhile, House Republicans are moving forward with putting Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress.

RAJU: Yes, and we expect those proceedings to continue on in the new year just from threat from coming from James Comer, the House Oversight chairman, as well as Jim Jordan, the House Judiciary Committee chairman in the aftermath of Hunter Biden's decision to defy the Republican subpoena today. They said that they plan to move forward with those proceedings. But those proceedings will take some time. First it has to get approved by the House committee then the full House and then referred to the U.S. attorney before deciding whether charges can be placed. So, Jake, that's going to take some time.

But Republicans say they still plan to press ahead on that if Hunter Biden does not comply.

TAPPER: Little quiz for you Manu, can you think of a current Republican chairman of the House committee who also defied a congressional subpoena?

RAJU: Well, that would be Jim Jordan of the House select committee --

TAPPER: Oh, yes.

RAJU: -- decided not to comply with that subpoena.

TAPPER: Yes, yes. True. Good. All right. Collect your prize after work.

Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Coming up, some of the criticism inside Israel right now of the country's controversial prime minister. I'm going to speak next to the man who says Benjamin Netanyahu, quote, "Must be politically destroyed or Israel will go down with him."



TAPPER: Our 2024 lead. Cue the music. Yes. Nice. All right.

So, 33 days, 33 days, that's all we have left until the Republican Iowa caucuses, January 15. And it's now when you're going to see the candidates trying to break through the noise and win over votes in the next 33 days. And that's what we're seeing today. Let's bring in CNN's 2024 team. Kristen Holmes, start with you. Donald Trump back in Iowa today. What do we expect?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, we're told this is going to be one of his traditional stump speeches here in Iowa. He will go after Ron DeSantis mainly. Talking about his record while he was in Congress and ethanol. He thinks this is a winning talking point for him. Really the larger point here is that we're hearing from Donald Trump's team that there is this renewed sense of confidence here in the first caucus state, particularly because of that Des Moines register poll that hadn't met 51 percent and Ron DeSantis at 19 percent. Something you and I have talked about is that on the ground here in Iowa GOP operatives have long said, and this is people who support Trump or DeSantis, both, that they believe that while the polls were correct that they thought the margin was smaller.

[17:25:11] But given this most recent polling, they don't think it's possible for DeSantis to catch up. And that is something that I'm hearing from the Trump team they are really capitalizing on. Now, just -- despite that, we are seeing Donald Trump ramping up his campaign. This is the beginning of a number of stops. He will be in New Hampshire and Nevada over the weekend and then back in Iowa.

But one thing to make clear is that even though he is ramping up his presence on the campaign trail, he is still being far outpaced by his rivals, who are still trailing him in the polls, both in Iowa and nationally. Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny is in New Hampshire with Nikki Haley, former ambassador and South Carolina governor. She's trying to capitalize today on a big endorsement last night from the state's high profile popular governor, Chris Sununu. What's her pitch to voters today, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Governor Sununu calls this a reset in the New Hampshire primary race. We will of course see about that. But they pitch that Nikki Haley is making to voters, including at this room here in Keene, and just a short time, is that she is a new generational candidate, that she is someone who can reach out to a broad cross section of voters. Now she of course, has not spent nearly as much time in her campaign saying what is bad about Donald Trump, but what she would do for the future. So there certainly is a strong sense that the endorsement from the very popular governor here.

Ken move the needle for her, at least they hope it can. He'll be putting his political organization behind her. They'll be campaigning aggressively, really a two person show, if you will, but it really is somewhat of a race for second place here. And she may be ahead of DeSantis on that score here in New Hampshire, not an Iowa, but Donald Trump still commands the lead here in New Hampshire as well. But she is making the argument that it's time for voters to take a leap.

She makes a general election argument, Jake, that she can defeat President Biden to head to head matchup far more than Donald Trump can. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. And Jessica Dean still in Iowa. I saw you there last night ahead of the big CNN town hall tonight with Vivek Ramaswamy.

Jessica, how is Ramaswamy trying to stand out?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're still here, Jake. Vivek Ramaswamy is going to take the stage behind me at 09:00 p.m. Eastern with Abby Phillip. Look, he is all across the state of Iowa. Just to show you a map that I believe we have, you can see kind of all of the places he's hitting. That's just today.

So that is really how he's trying to contrast himself with these other candidates. You mentioned that Des Moines Register NBC News poll that had Trump at 51 percent, Ramaswamy is polling in the single digits. So, he certainly has a lot of room to make up to be a contender here in Iowa. But you can't fault the energy that he's putting out. I think by the time he makes all of those jobs and then counts our town hall and one post town hall stop, it will be 10 stops in one day, he's going to continue that pacing for the next several days, Jake. So that's what he's hoping might possibly set him apart.

TAPPER: All right. Kristen Holmes, Jeff Zeleny, Jessica Dean, the 2024 team, thanks to all of you.

Vivek Ramaswamy, again, we'll get his moment center stage tonight in the CNN presidential town hall, where my friend and colleague Abby Phillip will moderate the discussion between Ramaswamy and Iowa voters. That's tonight at 09:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

We're going to turn to our world lead now. In a growing public rift between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon, the White House desperately trying to clean up Biden's comments after he told supporters on Tuesday that Israel's offensive in Gaza is, quote, "indiscriminate," the bombing indiscriminate while publicly other Biden administration officials have been insisting that Israel's intent is to limit civilian casualties. Joining us now, senior writer on Israeli and American Politics for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Alon Pinkas. He's also a former ambassador, and served in as an adviser to multiple Israeli foreign ministers and a prime minister.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. So in your recent article in Haaretz, titled "Netanyahu Must Be Politically Destroyed, or Israel Will Go Down with Him," you lay out the prime minister's missteps and your view with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the U.S. you say, quote, "Netanyahu always meddling in and manipulating internal U.S. politics has impressively managed to turn Israel into a wedge issue in Washington, in contrast to decades of sacrosanct bipartisanship." What do you make of how Biden has been trying to handle this relationship and the chasms we've seen bubbling up in recent days such as Biden, I don't know if it was accidental or not, but Biden saying the other day that Israel was indiscriminately bombing Gaza?

ALON PINKAS, FORMER ISRAELI CONSUL GENERAL, NEW YORK: Well, hi, Jake. Well, look, Biden manage this admirably. I mean, I can't think of any other president, Republican or Democrat, that would have handled this is in a better way given that parallel to this there's a Ukraine crisis and parallel to that there's a China challenge and all that and other things. But by handling it the way he did, he also put himself in a certain bind by extending to Israel his generous, heartfelt, unwavering support by visiting here.


You know, 11 days after the war broke out after the atrocities of October 7th, he positioned himself in a way that he thought in due time would allow him to apply pressure or, you know, use levers of power or influence over Netanyahu. What he didn't, apparently, what no one in Washington thought would happen is that out of the catastrophe of 7th of October, Mr. Netanyahu will go back to his old MO, to his old modus operandi and try to initiate, instigate a showdown with Biden because it helps -- he thinks at least it helps him politically.

TAPPER: How concerned are you, I've heard some Israelis expressed this concern that the Prime Minister is going to continue this war in Gaza longer than it needs to go because the moment it's over those crowds, calling for his resignation and the political desire to get rid of him as prime minister, and you know this better than I, it's very strong. He's very unpopular right now. I think his approval rating is like 25 percent, that he just wants to stave that off as much as possible. Do you think he's actually cynical enough that he would extend the war longer than it needs to go so as to stave that off?

PINKAS: Absolutely. On a scale of one to 10, he's an 11. In terms of cynicism and the way he's manip -- trying to manipulate even the American-Israeli relationship and take advantage and abuse the friendship that Biden extended to him. But there's also, to be fair, you know, extending the war is not his sole decision. There's the military, there's the defense minister, there's a war cabinet in which two members of the opposition both of whom are former IDF, Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staffs, so he's not alone.

So I'm not sure he can pull this off. And so while there is a conventional wisdom that he would like to extend the war, the question is, Jake, how do we define the day the war ends, because it's not going to be a, you know, a clear cut day or clear cut scenario, the war may change for me will morph into a low intensity conflict, Israel will stay in Gaza. It will conduct incursions. It will conduct so called Search and Destroy operations, against the better judgment and wishes of the Biden administration, at least in terms, Jake, at least in terms of how they view the so called day after, the post-war in Gaza, which they don't see Netanyahu as a partner in shaping.

TAPPER: The other thing that's been remarkable is to see the families of the hostages emerge as this potent political force, and members of the Netanyahu cabinet, treating them with hostility. Ben-Gvir and Smotrich and those others saying, we lost Alon, I think. All right, well, we'll bring him back at another time and talk --

PINKAS: No, you didn't.

TAPPER: Oh, you didn't. OK, you're there. Oh, there you are. You're back.

PINKAS: I'm right here.

TAPPER: OK, good. Well, we lost your visual for a second there. But what do you make of that? I mean, I just -- it's obviously very sensitive. But and it's not as though, you know, there aren't hostage families in the United States, they call out President Biden, because that happens here, too. But still, I mean, I got to believe that the heart and soul of the Israeli people are with the families of these hostages.

PINKAS: Look, part of the defining narrative of what being Israeli, what being a Zionist would be, you know, this entire story here is about, you know, taking care of each other. It's about caring, you know, it's a value in Judaism. And what you see from the government is complete disregard. In fact, it's one of the sources and points of contention between the Biden administration and Mr. Netanyahu, wherein I've heard members of his administration ask out loud, how is it possible that Biden seems to care about the hostages, all hostages not just those with an American citizenship, how is it that he keeps, that he looks and sounds and acts as if he cares more than Mr. Netanyahu?


As for his government? Absolutely. Look, for the last two weeks, Jake, the issue of the hostages, which should have been the paramount interest of the government is not even raised publically.


PINKAS: Which is why per your remark, the families are becoming a potent, and they could be the source of those and you said that in your introduction, the source where at least the core of the upcoming demonstrations, and they're going to be big.

TAPPER: Yes, they are going to be big. I don't know anyone who thinks Netanyahu is going to survive this politically after October 7th, his entire pitch to the Israeli people was --

PINKAS: Well, I do.

TAPPER: You do?

PINKAS: He does.

TAPPER: Oh, he does.

PINKAS: No, I don't at all. I think he should have resigned on day one or week one, but he certainly is sure that he's here to fight this epic historic fight this Second War of Independence. You know, he's selling a new, a completely new narrative about this war, and he's absolutely sure he can withhold and withstand, no withhold, withstand this event.

TAPPER: Well, he's the longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli history. So who knows? Alon Pinkas, thank you so much. Please come back again soon.

Another big story this hour, the impeachment inquiry vote on the House floor. We're going to talk about that next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back. We're waiting for the House of Representatives to vote on opening an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden after months of Republican holdout saying that they don't see any evidence tying President Biden to financially benefiting from Hunter's business dealings. Now they're getting in line saying, yes, let's open an inquiry, get all the facts on the table. That vote will be the next one up. So we'll continue to monitor the floor of the House of Representatives. Let's bring in our panel to start. And it does look like the Republicans are going to have the votes to launch this impeachment inquiry even though I don't know three months ago, it didn't look like they did.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they're putting themselves in a really weird box here I think, because once you open an impeachment inquiry, then you either have --

TAPPER: No you got to impeach.

BEDINGFIELD: Some, right. I mean, you either have some subset of Republicans voting not to impeach well, great for Joe Biden. Or you have Republicans in these Biden districts who take a vote to impeach, not good for them. So really, at the end of the day, the political miscalculation here for House Republicans seems odd to me. But I understand they're driven by a very vocal faction in their caucus who have wanted to see this happen from day one.

I think, for Biden, you know, he just has to continue to put this in the bucket of the three P's. It's personal, it's political, and it's pointless. And that's sort of been the message around this. That's the way people have mostly received it. And if Republicans are choosing to make that to carry the banner forward on this, then I think voters are going to hold him accountable for that.

TAPPER: Morgan, I want to get your view on it. But I do want to ask my team to bring the vote back up if we could. Oh, that was a different vote. This is ordering the previous question. I've got the House of Representatives with the ordering the previous question. Nevermind. That's not the vote. That's ordering the previous question, whatever that means. What do you think of this?

MORGAN ORTAGUS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: So it's interesting that you're starting to hear some of the rhetoric from more of the moderate members shift in that they're supporting this, but they're saying things like, well, we're going to see where the investigation leads, we're going to, you know, we're going to try to uncover in turn over every stone, that sort of thing, so that they're trying to seem that they are being prudent investigators, and that they are not just chasing after the President for political reasons.

It's an odd year to do it, certainly in an election year. And I think if you talk to some of the hard right, that have been pushing it, they would say, but you are prosecuting our nominee during election year.

TAPPER: Right.

ORTAGUS: So why can't we, you know, investigate your president, your nominee during election year, as well. I think when it comes to the House, I mean, listen, most Republicans will say quietly behind the scenes, it's going to be they feel very confident about the Senate, really, really tough to keep the House, it might be a razor thin majority for whomever gets it. And so I agree with you, for the people for the 10 seats and California and New York, that Republicans want to get this small majority, it's going to be really tough to defensive of this.

TAPPER: And Republicans only have a three seat birth year.

BEDINGFIELD: Right. And I think that that the argument you were making that the hard right is making about well, you're, you know, you're coming after our nominees, we're coming after yours, that in and of itself is a losing argument, right? Like that is an argument that absolutely appeals to the far right to the base. But for most moderate voters, for most swing voters, what we've seen time and again, is that that retribution argument actually doesn't land with them.

I mean, this is something Republicans have tried to make a centerpiece of their case against Joe Biden since 2019, when he was running. And it hasn't gotten traction, in part because it feels so political, so.

ORTAGUS: I will say from a staff perspective, I was at the State Department for President Trump during his first impeachment over Ukraine, and it came down while I was at the United Nations with Mike Pompeo, we had just gotten E3 to agree to move the ball on Iran and some really important ways. And we thought we had big news. And then Nancy Pelosi came out with a press conference.

So I will say that it is very distracting towards the staff. So you wonder how it will affect the campaign when they're not only having to deal with the impeachment, but they're also having to deal with Hunter Biden's antics every single day. Like today, for example, when --


ORTAGUS: -- to define and so defying the subpoena. So you wonder how the White House staff can be focused on what they're trying to get done from a legislative perspective and multiple wars on multiple fronts at this point that are not going well. There's not a lot of good news for this --

TAPPER: Yes. When you refer to his antics, another term for it might be he's punching back. I mean, they -- he has a new strategy. He used to kind of just stay out there in California, and just take the incoming with his attorneys. Now he's hired these new more aggressive attorneys Abbe Lowell. And he actually went to a place right in front of the Capitol called the swamp. That's not meant pejoratively. That's actually where that camera area is called. And he said this.


HUNTER BIDEN, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S SON: There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business because it did not happen. There is no fairness or decency in what these Republicans are doing.



TAPPER: So I don't know if you guys can hear that because I couldn't in my earpiece, but he said there's no evidence to support the allegation my father was financially involved in my business because it did not happen. There is no fairness or decency in what these Republicans are doing. And I do have to say, whatever you think of Hunter Biden, and there's certainly a lot of people in this town Democrats and Republicans that do not think a lot of him.

There is a certain kind of like, cruelty to the campaign against him. Where is Hunter? Where is Hunter? Where is Hunter? Don't you think that can back that can -- that might backfire on some Republicans?

ORTAGUS: No, I mean he took it -- he took money from at least five countries, including the country that Joe Biden names is the number one geopolitical competitor and threat to the United States, the Chinese Communist Party. He did it while, his father was vice president. He did it while his father knew he was going to run for president. And it makes no sense why son would do that to his father in the first place. But to say that there's no evidence. Well, we don't know. We haven't done the investigation yet. So we'll see what happens.

But what we do know for sure, is that he did take money from these countries after he said that he didn't. And he did. He did engage in influence peddling. There's no way around it. And so what's unseemly is not the Republicans, what's unseemly is his behavior.

BEDINGFIELD: He's a private citizen. There's been no evidence that Joe Biden in any way interfered inappropriately in his business. I mean, Republicans have been trying to make this case for five years. The House Republicans on the House Oversight Committee have been trying to make this case. They have said time and again as recently as today, that they did not have evidence that they could put forward that showed any wrongdoing by Joe Biden or any inappropriate connection between Joe Biden and Hunter Biden's business. He's a private citizen.

He also where I -- well disagree with this substance of what you just said. But I also disagree with the assessment that there won't be blowback for this. Remember, the debate in 2020, Joe Biden stood on the stage next to Donald Trump. Donald Trump went after Hunter. Joe Biden said, I love my son, I'm proud of my son, he suffered. I think everyone watching this debate has somebody in their life who struggled with addiction. That was one of the most powerful moments of the debate by making this personal, by talking about his personal relationship with his son. That was the way people really absorbed the issue and remembered it.

So I'm not I'm not sure I agree that there won't be blowback for Republicans trying to hammer on this again and again and again with no evidence.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, I think one of the issues is that however unseemly Hunter Biden and his behavior have been, he's out there more aggressively suggesting that this campaign against him is going to lead to a bad place, like he went on Moby's podcast, right. He went to Moby's podcast, and he said, they're trying to kill me, right? And like, maybe you don't buy that, maybe you think that's him being melodramatic or whatever. But he is somebody who quite obviously has lots of problems and addiction and the like, and like, I don't know, I mean, like, I don't know where this ends.

ORTAGUS: Yes, I think there's a lot of people, almost everybody who's watching this has probably had somebody who has someone in their family suffer from addiction, somebody who died of fentanyl, it's a massive epidemic in this country. But just because you have an addiction problem doesn't excuse your behavior and dealings with foreign countries while your father is Vice President. And I think that's a difference. Hillary Clinton got flack for way less than this to the Clinton and Global Initiative ways.

TAPPER: Yes, she also was the candidate though.

ORTAGUS: She was the candidate.

TAPPER: Anyway, but let's take a quick break. We're going to squeeze in a quick commercial, come right back. As you see on agreeing to the resolution Republicans 207, not voting 13, oh, 208, not voting 13. We're going to watch this vote. Stick with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news. The House of Representatives has just voted to open the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden this after months of Republican holdout saying that they were not willing to do so because they had not seen any credible evidence tying President Biden to financially benefiting from Hunter's business dealings. Now they all appear willing to sign on to at least opening the impeachment inquiry. You see right there. It's 233. Oh, it's a different vote. I'm sorry. OK. MJ Lee is at the White House. MJ, what is the mood around the White House regarding this impeachment inquiry?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, as for these impeachment inquiry efforts, the White House continues to maintain that this is a political stunt. Generally, that's sort of been their umbrella response to many things remotely related to the President's son. What is interesting is sort of seeing the White House sort of trying to balance defending Hunter Biden sort of generally, including the comments that we saw earlier today, that were kind of remarkable as the President's son was trying to separate it out in his own troubles from his pre -- from his father and his father's conduct.

But also just trying to not really get into the space of sort of publicly advising the President's son how he should handle some of these legal issues that he's confronting, including on Capitol Hill with these inquiries. The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean- Pierre today was asked multiple times about how the President sees the issue of an individual, including the President's son defying a congressional subpoena. She wouldn't comment on that.

But the President has actually weighed in on this precise issue back in 2021. He was asked about people defying subpoenas related to the January 6th investigation, and he said those people should be prosecuted by the DOJ. So this kind of question comes up in the context of previous comments that the President has made in the White House is sort of forced to say, no comment selectively. Obviously these are two very different sets of circumstances and there's just no ignoring the fact that we are talking about the President's son here. And publicly, the White House continues to also say, the President, the First Lady, they remain very proud of their son, very proud of his recovery.


And everything that has gone into the President's son trying to better his life, basically, even as these Republican efforts continue to try to get him in legal trouble, to try to bring to light and connect the dots basically, and say that any actions that have come from the president's son that there's a connection there to the President himself.

TAPPER: But MJ, we know that the President did know that Hunter was going to defy the congressional subpoena and that he was going to do that stunk this morning, right, the President was aware of that?

LEE: Well, what the White House said was that he knew what Hunter Biden would say on Capitol Hill today, though, you know, the White House Press Secretary was asked, was he involved in actually helping to draft what Hunter Biden would say? They wouldn't comment on that. Again, another situation where they're shedding a little bit of light on what the President knew, but ask for more specifics. They're just not getting into it.

TAPPER: All right, MJ Lee at the White House, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The big news, the House of Representatives has voted to formalize an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. More reaction to this major move coming up next in The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Stay with us.