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Trump Threatens Iraq with Sanctions if U.S. Troops are Expelled; Congress Back Monday as Impeachment Articles Remain in Limbo; Body of Iranian General Killed in Strike Returned to Tehran; New Unredacted White House E-mails Showed Clear Direction from Trump. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired January 05, 2020 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Sunday evening to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a CNN Special Report, the "IMPEACHMENT OF DONALD J. TRUMP."
Tonight President Trump is back in Washington after more than two weeks at his Florida resort and he's facing not one but two trials that could change the trajectory of his presidency and this country. One in the Senate over his impeachment, the other as commander-in- chief as thousands of U.S. troops deploy to the Middle East after the killing of Iran's top general.
SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, the president made news on Air Force One saying that he will slap Iraq -- that's right, Iraq, U.S. ally Iraq -- with sanctions if they expel U.S. troops. In fact he says they would be worse than the sanctions he's imposed on Iran, of course the president has identified as an enemy, that he's willing to go to war with. That's a remarkable thing for a U.S. president to say.
Let's go to CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, is that a serious threat from the president? We now know that the White House was lobbying Iraqi officials to block this vote by the Iraqi parliament requiring U.S. troops to leave. He's not happy with the results. Will he follow through with sanctions?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And they did vote, in fact, earlier on that, agreeing saying essentially that the government needs to start working toward that, getting rid of these U.S. troops, ousting them from there, though it's still far from clear if that's going to happen. But the president is talking about the possibility of this. And I want to read what the president said in full to reporters on Air Force One.
It was an off-the-record session but they put this on the record, and the president said, quote, "If they do ask us to leave, if we don't do it in a very friendly basis," he says, "We will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before." Then he continues, "We have an extraordinarily expensive air base there. It costs billions of dollars to build," he says, "long before my time." He says, "We're not leaving unless they pay us back for it," essentially talking about the cost repaid for those U.S. troops there if they do move forward with this vote.
Pretty remarkable that the president is now threatening to sanction Iraq and in a large manner he is threatening in this way if they do move forward with that. But that's not all he said. He also doubled down on that threat that we saw from the president yesterday where essentially arguing that if Iran does respond to the killing of this top commander by striking Americans or American assets that they would then be prepared to target several sites in Iran including cultural sites which, of course, immediately raised criticisms that that would violate international law.
But that doesn't seem to stop the president because tonight he's doubling down on it saying, "They're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to torture and maim our people, they're allowed to use roadside bombs, and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."
Now that comes after the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in several interviews this morning was not directly answering questions about whether he personally thought that those would be fair targets for the U.S. to go after. Now the president is not only repeating it, he's doubling down on it.
SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thanks very much.
HARLOW: Yes. Thank you, Kaitlan.
As the president continues to defend his threats against Iraq, you just heard -- and Iran, these new sanctions threats against Iran I think have a lot of people asking a lot of questions. All of this coming as he faces this impending impeachment trial on Capitol Hill.
SCIUTTO: With me now CNN congressional reporter Manu Raju.
So, we got the impeachment trial coming. Interesting, Senator Ben Cardin, of course, a Democrat, said to me just a few moments ago now is the time for Nancy Pelosi to send the articles over.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
SCIUTTO: A Democrat. He's not the only Democrat to say that. Do you see a well spring of sort of bipartisan impatience, might you say?
RAJU: Yes. I think so. Because members want to know what the schedule is going to be. This state of limbo is not helpful for Democrats, too, who are planning, advance planning things back home, what to do on the weekends. Remember, this is going to be six days a week.
RAJU: When this happens in the Senate. Senators typically go home on Thursdays. They get in town on Monday night.
SCIUTTO: They like their three-to four-day workweek. Yes.
RAJU: Yes, exactly. They're going to be here six days a week. So this is throwing their schedule into flux. So I think that's one thing that will really push Pelosi to really make clear when she will send over the articles of impeachment.
It was interesting today earlier, Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, probably one of the few people who have a real window into what Nancy Pelosi is thinking, made clear when he talked to Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" today that he now believed that holding onto the articles will be an indefinite thing. He did think it was going to happen in a matter of time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): One success that this has already had is flushing out McConnell, showing that he is working in cahoots with the president.
There is both Democrats and Republicans who are now having to go on the record and say, do we want witnesses? Do we want to see the documents? Do we want the American people to hear the evidence? Do we want a real trial, or do we want a cover-up?
It's clear I think from the president and Mitch McConnell, they don't want a trial anymore. They don't want witnesses. They don't want documents. They don't even want, Jake -- they don't even want a verdict. They want a dismissal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So Schiff was trying to make the case that he believes that it has achieved its purpose in withholding the articles, shining the spotlight on what the Democrats believe is an unfair process by not agreeing to witnesses and not agreeing to documents upfront. Mitch McConnell just wants to have opening arguments and deal with those matters later.
So the question is, is that enough for Nancy Pelosi to believe that it's time to send the articles over and begin that trial? Because, as we know, the Senate Democratic and Republican leaders are at a stalemate over what the process is. And Mitch McConnell says he's not starting the trial until she sends over the articles. It seems like it's a matter of time before she does this, though.
SCIUTTO: Understood. So maybe we'll know as soon as this week. Manu Raju, stay with us.
HARLOW: Yes, Manu, stay with us.
Let's also bring into this conversation former Nixon White House counsel John Dean and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Good evening to you, thank you guys for being here. And Gloria, let me just begin with you. You know, what should Americans prepare themselves for this week? What does your reporting tell you is going to happen by Friday evening with the impeachment of the president?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's really hard to know. Before I came on the air earlier, I was talking, communicating, e- mailing with a Democratic leadership aide who said that they're not publicly saying what Nancy Pelosi intends to do, as Manu was saying, that the situation with Iran has not changed anyone's mind about proceeding or not proceeding or delaying with any kind of articles of impeachment.
And it's clear, I think, that Pelosi at some point maybe by the end of this week is going to release them. The Democrats are getting impatient. She will probably want to talk to her caucus about how they do it. And I think that she just didn't want to do it before she knew what the situation was with everybody back in town.
I don't think she wanted to leave it all dangling out there before the recess. There was no reason for her to do so. McConnell is a wily guy, and there is a lot of stuff he could have done including calling for a vote for dismissal. So, I'm presuming she is going to send them over, and we'll learn a little bit more about who the impeachment managers are going to be and what the shape of any kind of a discussion on the Senate floor or a trial really with witnesses, if there are any, would look like.
SCIUTTO: John Dean, in the Nixon White House in which you served, there were concerns in the depth of the impeachment crisis about President Nixon's decision-making in the national security sphere. There were even his advisers who were worried about him maintaining the nuclear codes. I'm not saying we're at that stage here with this president by any means, but based on your experience, you have impeachment looming over the president, you have a severe and worsening crisis in the Middle East.
As you look at this president, is that something you're confident that he has the ability to juggle, if that's the right word, and to make substantive decisions in the national security context as he faces these political challenges at home?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not at all confident this president has the capability to multitask, if you will. Nixon did, although he was stressed. Now, the parallel is actually the fact that both are running cover-ups. Nixon was running and protecting his tapes. This president is covering up witnesses and information of a similar ilk that could hurt him if it was released. So that's the stress on them that they must maintain a cover-up while making national security decisions. And I don't think this is the healthiest atmosphere to be in. And Trump is not likely to be out of this mode for a long while. HARLOW: Manu, help us understand, because if anyone knows the ins and
outs of what you can and can't do in Congress, it's you. So play this out for us. Lindsey Graham says he is going to lobby McConnell to just go ahead and hold the Senate trial without ever getting the articles of impeachment. I guess that would take McConnell changing the rules, which I guess he can do. So could that happen?
RAJU: I don't think so. I mean, it's very hard for Lindsey Graham to succeed in that route. There are two ways to do that. One is actually change the Senate rules and doing that requires 67 votes. And that's simply not going to happen with 53 Republican senators.
RAJU: The other way is what's known as a nuclear option, which can change the rules by a simple majority of votes, and that's 51 votes. And even doing that would cause a lot of pushback from members of the Senate Republican conference who do not like using the nuclear option. Of course, that's been used now to change the rules on judicial nominees, confirming those civil majority bases. But still many are very leery about continuing to go down that route. So I would guess, if they actually move that route, Mitch McConnell agreed to go nuclear, he probably would not get more than 35, 40 votes, maybe 42, 43 votes to go that route.
And Mitch McConnell himself doesn't want to do that. He's content not having the trial.
RAJU: Doing other things. Continue to confirm judicial nominees. Maybe move on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. Do things like that. Not deal with the trial. So right now that's wishful thinking on Lindsey Graham.
SCIUTTO: So, Gloria Borger, we have this odd disconnect, right, because you have an impeachment trial.
BORGER: In many ways.
SCIUTTO: You have a looming or really present crisis in the Middle East. But you have -- this is a presidential election year. The first votes are, you know, a few weeks away here. And the candidates on the trail, they're not talking a lot about impeachment at all.
BORGER: No, they're not.
SCIUTTO: Often. It seems, you know. And yet they may very well -- we're beginning the process, right, of seeing who's going to challenge President Trump here.
BORGER: Right. And you know, that may be another calculation on McConnell's part. I mean, you've got a bunch of candidates out there who are running for president who will be stuck in the Senate during any kind of impeachment proceeding. And maybe McConnell would like him to be stuck in the Senate. They would not like to be stuck in the Senate. And you also have an electorate that is exhausted by all of this. They're divided almost right down the middle about whether he should -- President Trump should be impeached or whether we should just let this continue until the next election and then let the voters decide.
And so, you know, you have -- you have a problem for these candidates who are out there. They're talking about health care, they are talking about what people want to hear about, education, all kinds of things. Now they're going to be talking about Iran. Now they're going to be talking about foreign policy and how this president conducts foreign policy. People don't want to talk about impeachment because, effectively, the cake is baked. And they know it.
He's not likely to get impeached by the Senate. They understand what occurred. Most people, a majority of people believe the president probably did something wrong. But they've made up their minds about it, and they want to move on. So it's a difficult position for these presidential candidates.
HARLOW: You make a great point, Gloria, because the polling, as Jim and I have pointed out, a lot, has gone down in terms of those who actually want the president removed from office.
HARLOW: Even among Democrats. It's still 77 percent, but a month ago it was 90 percent.
John Dean, let me ask you this. There is really interesting reporting that has to do with Don McGahn, right, former White House counsel, and the Democrats in the House pushed to get the courts to get him to be forced to essentially testify. And you play this out here, and the argument amongst some is if they hear something from him that would, you know, warrant a third article of impeachment against the president, they're willing to do that.
What do you make of that at this juncture?
DEAN: At this juncture, the Court of Appeals just heard oral arguments on the McGahn case. It's already been decided in the lower court that he should testify, that he has no absolute immunity. And the judges at the Court of Appeals were somewhat doubting about that argument that he has absolute and they probably will uphold the lower court. So then the issue is, will it go to the Supreme Court, and will the Supreme Court even take it?
That could take time, and unless that shakes out real fast, I think McGahn is off the table. But, however, if he is on the table, he could well result in producing an article of impeachment, because he certainly has direct evidence of the president's obstruction of justice, according to the Mueller report.
SCIUTTO: And, Manu, I wonder, is it a mistake to say that it's fully baked? Right? Because you do -- I mean, we have, since the close of the House impeachment inquiry, we've learned new information, whether that's moved the dial enormously or at all, we don't know yet, but you did learn new information here. Might you get a witness, if not via agreement among Republicans but by court order?
RAJU: Look, it depends. It depends on how much pressure builds on some of these members to decide that they want to hear some of these -- people from coming forward. Right at the moment, if you just look at the general makeup of the Senate Republican conference, they are all in line with the president and Mitch McConnell, less, maybe a handful, are not. And you need four to break ranks. And when I count the numbers, I see maybe three at the moment.
RAJU: Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski. Who's the fourth? I don't know, because the vulnerable Republican senators need the president to win re-election.
RAJU: At the same time I'm going to be convinced those three senators would vote on every single issue the same way when it comes time to maybe calling witnesses, asking for documents. So I'm very skeptical that the Democrats are going to get anything they want in this trial as Mitch McConnell will probably move to try to dismiss it or acquit the president very soon after those opening arguments.
SCIUTTO: Just very quickly, by rule, could the Supreme Court chief justice who presides over the trial, and there's a little bit of debate and question about this, could he say, I rule, there must be witnesses?
RAJU: You know, that's a very good question. I don't think we know the exact answer to this, because in the Clinton case they had a deal on the witnesses. Bipartisan deal. When there's not a deal like this, how the chief justice come down on some of these key questions? It's going to be fascinating to play out because a lot of these parliamentary issues are going to be settled essentially on the floor in front of all of our eyes.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, Poppy, maybe we'll be surprised.
SCIUTTO: Have we -- have you ever been surprised at all in the last couple of weeks by anything?
HARLOW: I think I've learned one thing in the last year and it's not to predict anything because you never know.
Guys, thank you very, very much for staying up late with us on Sunday night and working overtime. We appreciate it.
SCIUTTO: Well, in the backdrop of the impeachment dispute, simmering tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The president threatening now to attack Iranian cultural sites if Iran tries to retaliate for the killing of the top general. Well, that's against international law, U.N. agreement that U.S. is a party to. We're going to get a report from Iran.
HARLOW: Also, the reporter who got an exclusive look at how concerned the Pentagon really was about the president's decision to freeze that aid to Ukraine, the unredacted e-mails that she got access to, will join us.
HARLOW: Tonight, the body of Qasem Soleimani is back in Tehran. This is after the United States killed basically the shadow commander, right? The top general in Iran. Iran continuing to lob threats at the U.S. promising swift revenge on military sites.
SCIUTTO: Well, those crowds there show you the domestic political pressure the leaders are in Iran, you imagine, to retaliate. President Trump is defending his threat to target cultural sites in Iran if it were to retaliate. I spoke with two senior U.S. officials currently serving this president who say there is deep opposition within the administration to hit cultural sites. One official said the idea is immoral, self-defeating, and also, Poppy, as we've said in this broadcast, happens to be against the law, international law.
HARLOW: Yes. Yes, no question. Such important reporting, Jim. Thank you for getting that.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen who spoke exclusively with the top military adviser to Iran's supreme leader -- Fred.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jim and Poppy. Yes. There's been a lot of anger here in Iran ever since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. And you've heard those calls for revenge coming from pretty much all levels of Iranian politics from the President Hassan Rouhani, the foreign minister, and also Iran's supreme leader himself.
Well, I spoke today to the main military adviser of the supreme leader. And he essentially told me three key things. He said, first of all, the Iranians are going to respond militarily to the assassination. They are going to be hitting military targets. But, importantly, they also say they don't want a full-fledged war with the United States. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOSSEIN DEHGHAN, MILITARY ADVISER TO IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER (through translator): The response for sure will be military and against military sites. Let me tell you one thing. Our leadership has officially announced that we've never been seeking war and we will not be seeking war. It was America that has started the war. Therefore they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions.
The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they've inflicted. Afterwards they should not seek a new cycle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: So the Iranians essentially saying they will retaliate but they want it to end there. It's quite interesting, because I also asked him how big a blow this actually was to the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which of course the foreign operations wing of the Revolutionary Guard of which Qasem Soleimani was the head.
And this adviser told me, look, despite the fact that of course Qasem Soleimani was a towering figure for the Revolutionary Guard, he's already been replaced and they say that the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force is not going to miss a beat. And that also means Iran's efforts and Iran's capabilities at foreign operations are also going to continue exactly the way that they have before.
One of the things that's also, by the way, gotten this adviser pretty angry, and a lot of other Iranians pretty angry, is the fact that President Trump tweeted that there were 52 targets that apparently were in the crosshairs of the U.S. including targets that were important to Iranian culture. That didn't go down very well at all. The adviser saying, look, if President Trump names 52 targets, we are going to name 300 targets -- Poppy and Jim.
HARLOW: Fred Pleitgen, important interview.
HARLOW: Thank you very, very much.
SCIUTTO: Yes. There's a word for that called escalation. Right?
HARLOW: Yes. Yes.
SCIUTTO: And that of course is the danger if that's where we end up.
Clear direction from POTUS, that stands for president of the United States, to continue to hold. That's a quote. New un-redacted documents reveal a behind-the-scenes picture of President Trump's orders to withhold that military assistance from Ukraine.
We're going to speak to a journalist who exclusively reviewed those documents, coming up.
HARLOW: All right. Well, welcome back. This week we got a little bit of a sense of what a thorough Senate impeachment trial could prove and show, and that possibly includes a direct link between President Trump and the decision to withhold congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine. Why? Because Just Security has obtained un- redacted e-mails concerning the hold, and in one of the e-mail chains shows Michael Duffey, a White House official with the Office of Management and Budget, writes, quote, "Clear direction from POTUS to continue hold." POTUS, of course, means president of the United States.
Kate Brannen is the editorial director of Just Security. She broke this story. Remarkable reporting. She's here with us.
Thank you so much.
KATE BRANNEN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, JUST SECURITY: Thank you for having me.
HARLOW: For being here. It's incredibly important reporting. And it's been out there for a few days now. So the president tweeted about it with someone saying nothing new to see here. For Americans getting off of holiday going back to work, and they're -- you know, and reality and the potential -- you know, this impending Senate trial for the president, what is the biggest takeaway from these e-mails that they should know that we didn't know from the redacted version?
BRANNEN: From the e-mails themselves, the biggest story is the extent to which the Pentagon was concerned about the legality of holding this funding up, and the amount to which they communicated that repeatedly to officials at the Office of Management and Budget. And then I would say the other story is the fact that they were redacted so heavily in the first place when they were released.
HARLOW: And to your redaction point, I think this is very important because since your story broke, as you know, the "New York Times" has reported that the White House is refusing to comply with these FOIA requests, refusing to turn over 20 e-mails between Michael Duffey, who is party to one of the e-mails you got, and an aide to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. OK. So, essentially e-mails between Duffey and the president's office.
HARLOW: The fact that they having in the past turned over but heavily redacted other e-mails that the White House is now, according to the "Times," not willing to turn them over at all. How interested are you in seeing those e-mails? What does it indicate to you?
BRANNEN: I would love to see them. I think it's an interesting question why not release them at all, why not, you know, release them heavily redacted as we saw with this first batch? It's either that the contents of the e-mails themselves are sort of so incriminating, or maybe perhaps someone has raised the point to me that now that I've been able to report on the e-mails even though they were redacted, there might be concerns that sort of the redactions have some kind of vulnerability or something like that, or they're concerned about leaking.
You know, somebody giving a reporter the e-mails. So, yes. I think when your question about what should Americans kind of take away from this is the extent to which the administration is not cooperating with this -- with the impeachment proceeding. And it's sort of astonishing that, as a reporter, I'm able to get more from the administration than the Congress is through the power of subpoena.
HARLOW: Yes. Well, remember, by the way, the four witnesses that Schumer is asking for in the Senate trial, one of them is Duffey. You've got Duffey, Robert Blair, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney. And those are people who have not spoken to House investigators that, you know, tied to these e-mails that you got.
The Pentagon very concerned, as e-mail exchanges show. Explain how high up the concern went at the Pentagon and just the level of confusion and chaos between the parties here. Because these e-mails reveal atypical conversations about congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
BRANNEN: Totally. So I would say that the Pentagon's concerns were known by the Defense secretary at the time. These e-mails don't prove that definitively, but it would be tough to say otherwise. It does show that a draft letter was written up that was going to be sent from the deputy Defense secretary to the head of OMB. That letter was never sent because they kept kind of waiting for the president to change his mind and release the money but it shows sort of they were willing to ratchet it all the way up to the deputy Defense secretary to express his concerns to OMB. And to your second question, I have forgotten what it was.
HARLOW: I was just saying how chaotic --
BRANNEN: Oh, how chaotic, right.
HARLOW: This all appears to have been in terms of just -- I mean, even if you read like one of the exchanges, it's specifically mentioned in your piece, an e-mail between Elaine McCusker, of course, who was the acting Pentagon comptroller, with Michael Duffey, associate director of National Security Programs at OMB. The e-mail where McCusker takes everyone else off the CC line.
BRANNEN: Right. Right.
HARLOW: Right? And they've had pretty cordial conversation before then and just writes back to Duffey and says, you can't be serious, I'm speechless. The personalities of them coming through, basically saying, well, if this doesn't work, I'm going to pin this on you -- on you guys.
BRANNEN: Yes. As what -- the clock was ticking towards September 30th, which was the end of the fiscal year, so every day, they inched closer to that, the pressure and the, you know, the panic was rising, and you can see that in the e-mails. The September 30th date is so important because of the money, all of the money didn't get out the door at the Pentagon by then, it would be violating the Impoundment Control Act.
HARLOW: Yes. BRANNEN: And so, everyone's getting nervous that they're going to get pinned with that. And so, there's people throwing each other under the bus, and everybody really nervous and just waiting for the President to change his mind, which he does, but without any rationale articulated at the end, sort of, in furthering the confusion.
HARLOW: It's important reporting if people haven't read the entirety of it, they should. And if anyone gets those e-mails, I think it might just be you. We'll see what happens. Great reporting.
BRANNEN: Thanks so much.
HARLOW: Thank you very, very much, Kate. We appreciate it. Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's great reporting, Pop-Pop, because, you know, redactions are meant to take away classified material, et cetera. It appears that redactions were used to take away inconvenience information --
HARLOW: That's a great point.
SCIUTTO: -- as opposed to things where there was a national security interest. You know, that's a big issue.
HARLOW: It is. All right.
SCIUTTO: Well, we got other news. Lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill this week with an impeachment at an impasse so far. What does that mean for the upcoming Senate trial? We are going to discuss, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Let me clarify, Senate rules and Senate history for those who may be confused. First, about this fantasy that the Speaker of the House will get to hand-design the trial proceedings in the Senate, that's obviously a nonstarter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: That's Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, slamming any idea that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would play any role in determining upcoming impeachment trial proceedings. And as the stalemate over when the House speaker will transfer the articles to the Senate continues, we are getting new details about a batch of Ukraine-related e-mails, the White House is reportedly refusing to turn over.
According to the New York Times, the Trump administration is withholding 20 e-mails, exchange between official of the Office of Management and Budget and a top aide to acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Of course, these are folks in the White House with the direct line to the President. Andrew McCabe is here. He's the former deputy FBI director and a CNN contributor. So, Andrew, you know, one consistency of this whole process has been the White House blocking everything it can --
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Everything.
SCIUTTO: -- right? Witnesses, documents, et cetera. In fact, you know, the witnesses who showed up in the House impeachment trial who served this government, basically did so defying --
MCCABE: That's right.
SCIUTTO: -- the White House.
MCCABE: That's right.
SCIUTTO: I just wonder, given your experience in the FBI, how long can the administration do this successfully?
MCCABE: The probable answer to that question is likely long enough.
MCCABE: Right? They are playing against the clock here. They're not necessarily playing against the law. They are not playing against the Democrats. They are playing against the clock. The positions they have taken all require intense litigation through the federal courts, most of which would result in front of the Supreme Court.
That takes a long time, and they are playing the odds that no one will ever get there. They won't have enough runway to get to a decision on any of these issues about compelling the production of things like these e-mails or the witnesses.
SCIUTTO: Yes, and, in effect, tempting or testing the Democrats as to whether they have the, kind of, stomach to wait that out, right? You know, the courts, et cetera, to compel.
MCCABE: That's right. And it's interesting too, to note that many of the Republican concerns about the process in the House were on exactly that point. They thought that the House didn't essentially fight the administration far enough in the courts and that there were additional remedies available to the House that they didn't take advantage of through the judicial process. Of course, we know the House felt strongly that that would have been a waste of time and they needed to act quickly.
SCIUTTO: Now, there were certainly -- there had to be a political element to that decision by Nancy Pelosi and others. But the argument they make, and this is not an undue one, is that, listen, if the essential charge here is that the President was soliciting a foreign power, foreign help in the election -- for an election, that's what, 10 months away --
MCCABE: That's right.
SCIUTTO: -- that there's urgency to act now. I mean, you know the substance of threats from foreign countries to interfere in 2016 and elsewhere, and you know -- you know what the President has at least talked about doing --
SCIUTTO: -- while turning to and, by the way, his lawyers over in Ukraine, still digging up dirt.
MCCABE: That's right.
SCIUTTO: I mean, is that a valid argument from the Democrats that there was urgency here?
MCCABE: I think it's a very valid argument, particularly with the pending election that's right upon us now in 2020. And the -- combined with the administration and the President's boldness and basically saying the call was perfect, I did nothing wrong, and continuing to send his personal attorney over to Ukraine to try to further this strategy of obtaining negative information on candidate Biden and Lord knows who else.
So, I think it's a very valid concern on the part of the Democrats. However, I also believe that they are undermining their own valid argument by now delaying transferring those articles of --
MCCABE: -- impeachment.
SCIUTTO: And, listen, it -- they may go over there this week, which --
SCIUTTO: And it could be -- it could be a wash in the end, and that folks would've been watching football and on vacation. But we'll see -- we'll see. There could be a lot of -- a lot of surprises. A top House attorney has now floated the idea of a third article of impeachment, which will be interesting. You know, this related to the Mueller investigation. I listened to Adam Schiff this morning and I want to get your reaction to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): What the House counsel is saying is, we have been trying to get testimony from people like Don McGahn. We have been trying to get the grand jury material as part of the impeachment inquiry. And for those senators who say, well, why didn't the House wait on the Ukraine articles until you exhausted the court remedies?
The reason is, because on those articles, the President was trying to seek foreign help in the election. It's not sufficient to say let's wait another year or two years to get these witnesses in, if the President is trying to cheat in the next election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Is it fair if the President's personal attorney is still going to Ukraine? He's just returned. And the President called him the moment he landed. And he says he is going to present this information to the White House. Tell our viewers why they should care about that.
MCCABE: Why they should care about?
SCIUTTO: Care that, you know, continue looking to a foreign country --
SCIUTTO: -- digging up dirt on Joe Biden, you know, that kind of thing, from foreign sources, as we know, we know one of the -- one of the Russian -- or Ukrainian lawmakers that Giuliani met with, he was pro-Russian and was trained by the KGB, not your best source if you are the President's lawyer.
MCCABE: There are a million reasons that people should be concerned about this. This is literally opening the Pandora's box, not just to inviting foreign interference into our elections, but also in accepting and propagating the myths perpetrated by our most significant adversary, the government of Russia.
So, when the President and his defenders come out and say things like, you know, we are -- we held up the defense assistance to Ukraine because of our concerns about corruption. They are essentially parroting the party line from the Kremlin. When the President comes out and says we think that the Ukrainians meddled in the 2016 election and not the Russians, he is basically delivering the position that Vladimir Putin would like the world to believe. So, the question is, why? Is that just expedient to the President in trying to defend himself in the impeachment action, or is there something else we should be concerned about?
SCIUTTO: Something else, meaning what?
MCCABE: Meaning, why is it that our President and his administration continues to embrace and propagate information they get from the Russians? That is something we have never seen before. It is the one place that any president should be most concerned about.
So, if you send your personal attorney over to Ukraine and you're willingly asking for and accepting information that might have been delivered for some nefarious purpose by the Russians, we should be very concerned about that.
SCIUTTO: Andrew McCabe, thanks very much. Poppy?
HARLOW: As Ron vows to retaliate for the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the President is broadcasting how the U.S. would respond via Twitter and without congressional approval, we will get reaction from Democratic Senator Chris Coons on the Foreign Relations Committee, next.
HARLOW: All right. In just a few hours, Congress begins its new year by itself. The impeachment battle and its unprecedented tone would be enough to keep the Senate incredibly busy. But now, both chambers will have to consider how far the President is willing to go with Iran, and how lawmakers should respond within just the last few hours.
We're seeing why it's already looking like a bipartisan -- like bipartisanship is a nonstarter on this front. Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware joins me tonight from Iowa. Senator, thank you for being there. We appreciate it very much.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Thank you, Poppy. Great to be on with you again.
HARLOW: So, today, the Iraqi parliament voted to end U.S. troop presence across Iraq. And in response, the President tweeted and threatened Iraq, a U.S. ally, with sanctions and threatened that those sanctions could, "make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame." What is your response to that?
COONS: Well, Poppy, I am struck by the way in which President Trump is conducting foreign policy by blustery tweet rather than by a clear strategy, engaging our allies and explaining to the American people how he's going to make us safer. I am very concerned by reports that the United Kingdom wasn't briefed before this attack on General Soleimani. They have been our vital partner in the war against ISIS.
And if we also now are losing the support and partnership of the Iraqi people, their parliament, their prime minister and president that, I think, puts even more at risk our presence in the region.
This will create a vacuum that will be filled by Iran and by the Shiite militia who are supported by Iran and the country. In the end, this is not a good thing for the United States.
HARLOW: Well, an American contractor, as you know, was killed by the regime on December the 27th. And that appears to be what the line was for this president, right? He didn't respond in this fashion after the drone was taken down or after the Iranian attack on the Saudi oil fields, but this American contractor being killed was that line, it appeared. Why not take General Soleimani out? Why is that not make -- it sounds to me, like, in your opinion, the world a safer place?
COONS: Well, let's be clear first, that General Qassem Soleimani was a terrible person. No American should mourn his passing. He was directly responsible for planning and carrying out dozens of attacks that killed hundreds of American troops over many years, as well as thousands of civilians across the region. He and the Quds Force, which he has led, have contributed to violence and destabilization across the region. So, I certainly don't mourn his death.
But it is a step that was not taken by the Bush administration, the Obama administration, by our British allies over many opportunities over many years, because they can -- they were gravely concerned that it would greatly escalate violence in the region and put at risk our partnership with the Iraqi government. So, I'm looking forward to what the Senate deserves, which is a detailed classified briefing on what justified this dramatic escalatory step.
COONS: And I, frankly, think the President still owes the American people a clear strategy.
HARLOW: And given that you haven't seen the intelligence yet, we haven't seen the intelligence. I would just say for our viewers the chairman of the Joint Chiefs called the intelligence, compelling, said it was a significant campaign of violence that was planned, and we would be "culpably negligent" if we did not take action. Now, you are in Iowa because you are supporting --
HARLOW: -- former Vice President Joe Biden's candidacy. He was asked today --
COONS: That's right.
HARLOW: -- on a (INAUDIBLE) reporter if he believes that President Trump used this attack on Soleimani as a distraction from impeachment. Listen to that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Donald Trump is using this Iran situation to distract from impeachment?
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know, but it will have the effect of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: He said, I don't know but it will have the effect of that. And I wonder what you, as a sitting senator, on the Foreign Relations Committee, think. Do you believe that this strike now was an effort to distract from impeachment from the President, as some of your Democratic colleagues have at least suggested?
COONS: Well, I don't know that, Poppy. And I think that's something that all of us should be asking is, whether or not our president, who has, on a number of occasions, taken abrupt ill-informed foreign policy decisions, is making decisions that are really in the best interest of our Armed Forces, of the American people, of our security in the world, or whether he's taken issue -- he's taken initiatives that really were ill-informed. Let me take us back for a moment. He made an abrupt decision to pull all American Forces out of Syria, in a way that abandoned our Kurdish allies and that was strongly opposed by a number of leaders in the career military. The first time he did that, his former Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, a decorated four-star Marine Corps general, resigned in protest.
The second time he actually carried that out without consulting with leaders in Congress or our closest allies. President Trump has shown a tendency towards making abrupt, ill-informed decisions that have put our security at risk and created vacuums in the region that have been filled by Russia or Iran. So, I am concerned that this action might well have been taken without it being well grounded in a strategy or justified by intelligence.
But given what you just quoted to me about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I will look for some briefing on this, this coming week.
HARLOW: Yes. OK. Finally, quickly before we go, 30 seconds left.
HARLOW: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said today that he believes "there is a decent chance that four Republicans will join us." And that is join his call to have these four witnesses called in a Senate trial and to agree on that before the trial begins. Do you know of four of your Republican colleagues in the Senate who are willing or have told you privately that they will vote yes for witnesses pre-trial?
COONS: Poppy, I don't have the names of four senators I'd be willing to share with you tonight, who have considered this and decided that they want to stand up for a fair trial, for the evidence to be presented in front of the Congress. The Senate does have an historic obligation here.
And I hope that my colleagues will weigh the evidence here and weigh our role, our constitutional role, and communicate to Majority Leader McConnell, that they will insist on the witnesses and the evidence that's required.
What I saw in the House, in front of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee was President Trump stonewalling, refusing to do what President Clinton and President Nixon did in their impeachment proceedings and direct their senior associates and cabinet officials to respond to subpoenas and to testify under oath.
If President Trump has a case to make, now is the time for him to make it. And Republicans, my colleagues in the Senate, who I will rejoin tomorrow in Washington, I hope at least four of them will step forward and stand for our role in the constitutional order and stand for the historic role that the Senate has as this trial begins.
HARLOW: I think none of us know where this thing is going to go. This week, we will be all over it. We appreciate your time. Have a safe flight back. We'll talk to you in Washington.
COONS: Thank you, Poppy.
HARLOW: Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much, and we'll be right back.
HARLOW: Tonight, as Congress returns to Washington this week, it's really anyone's guess what happens with the Senate impeachment trial. Can Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer peel away enough Republican members and have them actually vote to subpoena witnesses and documents, Jim, before a trial begins?
SCIUTTO: Then there's the more far-fetched question whether there would be enough votes to remove the President from office, seems very far-fetched. CNN's Tom Foreman plays out different possible outcomes and the senators who could matter most in this consequential moment.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Poppy. Hey Jim. The U.S. Senate right now is under Republican control, 53 seats are held by that party, only 47 by the Democrats, and the 2 independents who caucus with them.
That means if every single vote in the impeachment trial went along partisan lines, the Democrats could not even produce the simple majority they would need to prevail in procedural votes, and they would fall woefully short of the super majority, 67 votes necessary to convict and remove the President. So, their hope rests on the idea that some Republicans might come to their side. The question is who?
Let's start with these five who are up for re-election. Each has some reason or has given some sign they might turn on Trump, such as Susan Collins of Maine who's always been a bit independent. She says she will wait to weigh in on the trial until the evidence has been presented and the procedures are set. Trump lost Maine by three percentage points. And despite that, she's basically saying she is not in lockstep with the Republican leadership.
What about the senators over here? Why are we calling them wildcards? Same reason. Each one might have some cause to go against Trump. Mitt Romney easily won his Senate seat in Utah in 2018. He's been a sharp critique of Trump many times, says he is keeping an open mind about all of that. And even though Trump won Utah by 18 percentage points, Romney clearly is a very powerful force there, and he's not afraid of him.
Let's look at Lisa Murkowski up in Alaska. It's unclear where she stands on impeachment. She has said she is disturbed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's total coordination between the White House and the Senate. She diverged from Trump on his choice of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, and she's done all that even though Trump won Alaska, solidly. But here's the thing, even if all eight of these folks went against Trump, and there's really no reason to believe they necessarily will, but even if that happen, a problem remains for the Democrats. Look at the numbers, they all go that way, and the Democrats are still short. With that number, the Democrats would still have to go back to the Senate floor and find an additional 12 Republicans willing to join them if they want Donald Trump out of office. Poppy, Jim?
HARLOW: Tom Foreman, thank you very much.
SCIUTTO: It does show exactly there the math of this, right, Poppy?
HARLOW: Oh, yes.
SCIUTTO: And it's virtually -- I don't want to say virtually impossible because nothing's impossible, but far-fetched if they would get to that figure.
SCIUTTO: Well, as we watch and wait for what happens next in the impeachment of President Donald Trump, we reflect on the impeachment 21 years ago, of President Bill Clinton.
HARLOW: That's right. Up next, in a CNN Special Report, Wolf Blitzer revisits those events with lawmakers who played pivotal roles, Clinton advisers who sweated every moment and journalists who covered every word. Thank you so much for joining us this Sunday night. We will see you bright and early tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.
SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. A CNN Special Report, "THE TRIAL OF WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON" starts in just two minutes.