Return to Transcripts main page
The Source with Kaitlan Collins
Special Counsel Takes Trump Election Case To Supreme Court; Putin Announced He's Running Again In 2024, Days Later Navalny Is Missing From Prison; Giuliani Stands By False Claims About Election Workers. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 11, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's it for us. The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now. See you, tomorrow.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Tonight, straight from THE SOURCE.
The Supreme Court, getting a remarkable request, from Special Counsel, Jack Smith. The High Court says it will fast-track consideration, of Trump's claim that he's immune from prosecution, in his election case.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani in court, today, with a jury is set to decide how much he'll pay, for defamatory lies that threatened the lives of two election workers, lies, I should note, that he is still pushing outside the courtroom.
Also, the pregnant woman at the center of a flashpoint, in America, right now, has just left her home state, to get an abortion, as the Texas Supreme Court has just ruled against her. We'll have the latest.
I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.
Tonight, we have exclusive reporting, in the Trump classified documents case. A phone call that, apparently is of interest, to Special Counsel, Jack Smith, from the former President, to a former longtime employee, at Mar-a-Lago, who was there, for key conversations, surrounding that case. More, on that important reporting, in a moment.
But also, we have major news, about the nation's highest court, on Jack Smith's second case, against Donald Trump, which the Special Counsel is warning could be delayed indefinitely, if the justices don't intervene. He's asking them to move, and to do so quickly.
Now, the Supreme Court has agreed to at least put its consideration, of whether or not to hear that case, on a fast-track. At the heart of this is Trump's argument that he's immune from prosecution.
By doing this, Jack Smith is essentially leapfrogging, past an appeals court, on the matter, where it was likely headed next, likely trying to beat Trump at his game that we know his lawyers are at least pursuing here, of delaying his legal troubles.
Jack Smith is arguing that quote, "Nothing could be more vital" to our democracy than holding a former President accountable.
The Supreme Court responded, just hours after he made that filing, and gave Trump's team a deadline, of nine days from now.
Trump's claim has been that Presidents are exempt from being prosecuted, in federal court, for crimes that were committed, potentially, while they were in office. He has now until December 20th, to respond to this expedited ask, by Jack Smith.
He responded to Jack's Smith's filing, unsurprisingly, by criticizing him. He does so, on a near-daily basis, saying that he is quote, "Attempting to bypass the appellate process."
Here's what his legal team has argued previously, about the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LAURO, TRUMP ATTORNEY: This is -- this is going to be the most important civil rights constitutional case, in decades.
Everything that President Trump did was while he was in office, as a president. He is now immune from prosecution, for acts that he takes, in connection with those policy decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: That is John Lauro, Trump's attorney.
But now, Jack Smith is asking the High Court, to use an unusual procedure here. But it does have historical precedent.
Because it's the same maneuver, that was used, with President Nixon, regarding his refusal, to turn over tape recordings, and other documents. That was when the justices rejected his claims of presidential privilege, and they moved quickly, so that one of the Watergate-era cases could also keep moving.
Question of whether or not that history applies, tonight, is a big one.
And I'm joined now, by former Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr.; and former Senior Investigative Counsel, for the January 6 Select Committee, Temidayo Aganga-Williams.
Thank you both, for being here.
I mean, Cy Vance, let me start with you, because this isn't even just a case about Trump. It's almost bigger than him in the sense of if they do agree to take this up, the precedent that this could set.
CYRUS VANCE JR., FORMER MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It is obviously a very important step, Jack Smith has taken. I think he has made the right call, in terms of trying to expedite
this, given the calendar that the -- political calendar, and the court calendar. And Tem and I were talking. It's fascinating, as to what the court will do. But I think he's done the right thing by expediting it.
I don't think the issues that Jack Smith presents are particularly novel. We know from Nixon that a president can be investigated, while in office. We know from the case I was involved with, Trump v. Vance, that a president could be investigated for prior -- for conduct, prior to when he was in office.
I don't think, as Donald Trump says, that he could go to Fifth Avenue, and shoot someone, while he's the president, and be immune from office. That prosecution might be delayed, while he was in President, or having committed another crime.
But I don't think the President's arguments, in my view, really can surmount the precedent that has already been set, in the Supreme Court, about the constitutional protections of a president.
COLLINS: Yes. And clearly, what the Trump legal team has been trying to do here is kind of drag this out. I mean, they're going to an appeals court, here. Jack Smith is basically trying to, to go over that and say, "Eventually, this is going to go to the Supreme Court, I might as well go to them now."
What do you make of the fact, Tem that they went, and the Supreme Court justices responded, quickly, not necessarily of what they're going to do with the case, but to at least fast-track whether or not they will hear the case?
TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6 HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE: I think it's a positive sign, for Jack Smith. I think this shows they're taking it seriously that they're going to act swiftly. And I think it makes it all the more likely that in the long-term, we're going to hear -- get it to a quick resolution of this case.
I mean, it's clear the former President wants to have it both ways. Kaitlan, as you know, before Judge Chutkan, he was asking her to basically stay all deadlines, as they were going up with the circuit, trying to slow things down there, because he says he needed a higher court to rule, because he would be harmed, if the case went forward, and he was ultimately found to have immunity.
Jack Smith is calling his bluff. He's basically saying, "If you really think you have immunity, let's go to the ultimate decider now." And I think that's a good move here. It's bold. But I think it's what's required.
Because if you have a delay here, I think it's likely that will -- President Trump would never see a day in courtroom, if he wins the presidency. COLLINS: How do you think the court sees this? I mean, you have been on the other side of the Trump delay tactic. They don't shy away from it. They openly acknowledge that this is a tactic of theirs, to delay this past the election. How do you think the Supreme Court looks at this?
VANCE JR.: In our own experience, in litigating to the Supreme Court, in trying to obtain Trump's tax returns? First of all, the -- every court at every level treated it seriously, the District court, the Appellate court, the Second Circuit, and the Supreme Court, in terms of moving the case, in its calendar.
So, I think they -- I think they will treat this as a serious issue. I don't know how they come out. But I do you think that they will -- they understand the importance, and the timing of Smith's request. And I think they will respect that is my guess.
But I -- but how they rule on it? If, in my view, if they're looking at Supreme Court precedent, I think I know how they would rule on it. I really don't know what they're going to do.
COLLINS: Well, that's a good question. Because you think -- do you think that they would grant it?
VANCE JR.: Well, no -- I think that they would grant the expedited hearing. And I think, on the merits?
COLLINS: They'd reject it?
VANCE JR.: They'd reject, you know?
COLLINS: That he's immune?
VANCE JR.: Yes, they reject immunity.
COLLINS: OK but, so there's a question, tonight, about the makeup of who's going to be hearing this.
Justice Clarence Thomas, there's two Democratic senators, saying that he should not -- that he should -- one saying he should consider recusing, one saying he should flat-out recuse, because of something, you know well, which is his wife, Ginni Thomas' efforts, to overturn the election, to push to overturn it, and at the heart of this case, are Trump's efforts, to overturn the election.
I mean, is that something that is at all likely here, you think?
AGANGA-WILLIAMS: I think it's unlikely that Justice Thomas would recuse himself. But I think the calls, for that consideration, are very appropriate.
The Committee had messages between Ginni Thomas, and the Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, about the very issues that President Trump is charged with. And she was expressing her support, for overturning the election results, to Mark Meadows, as he was playing train conductor, for all kinds of folks, trying to get messages, to the White House. I think, if you imagine the same scenario, and you found out, for example, that Judge Chutkan's husband was involved with these issues, I can guarantee you the former President will be calling for her, to recuse herself.
So, I think, here, when you find the facts as a justice here, his wife having access to the White House? And she doesn't have access, in my opinion, because she was somehow purely a conservative leader. It's because of who she's married to, which is a Supreme Court justice. And I think it does undermine the Court's independence, to have Justice Thomas weighing in, when his wife was involved, in the same orbit of criminal conduct.
COLLINS: I have a strong feeling he's not going to recuse himself.
COLLINS: We know that part of Trump's data is apparently something that Jack Smith, we don't know how much, but he does have part of it. He is planning to use it, in this case.
We're also learning something interesting, in a separate case, about Trump's use of the phone, Cyrus, which is we're reporting that three months after that search, that the FBI did, of Mar-a-Lago? And this is in the other Jack Smith case, the documents case.
VANCE JR.: The Florida case.
COLLINS: The Florida case.
That Trump took this unusual step, of calling a longtime employee, who had quit. He said he went to pursue another business matter. But he essentially was calling him repeatedly, that there were interactions talking about offers, a legal representation, complimentary tickets, to a golf tournament, repeated reminders that he could come back to work, for Trump.
This is reporting from Katelyn Polantz.
Why is that something that Jack Smith is interested in?
VANCE JR.: Well, assuming it's admissible, it's to prove that Trump under, I think, the theory, was trying to circle the wagons, around all the witnesses, who had relevant information, and those that he had a personal connection with, would be within that circle of wagons.
I don't know the facts. But if I were -- but based, as you describe it, that's what I think Jack Smith would be doing, was that in response to subpoenas, in response to an investigation, the former President was reaching out, in a way that in one sense might seem appropriate. But it's for the jury to decide what was his intent, when he did that.
COLLINS: Yes, it wasn't mentioned in the filings. But we'll see if it pops up anywhere else.
Cyrus Vance Jr., Temidayo Aganga-Williams, thank you both, as always.
VANCE JR.: Thank you.
COLLINS: And joining me now, is someone who knows the way that Donald Trump ticks, what gets under his skin, Anthony Scaramucci, who had a brief stint, as a Communications Director, for the White House. Of course, maybe better known as The Mooch.
Mr. Scaramucci, thank you, for being here.
I just am curious what you think is kind of going through Donald Trump's head, right now, as Jack Smith is here, surprising everyone, by going past the appeals court, going straight to the Supreme Court, and basically trying to cut off Trump's known strategy, of delaying his legal troubles.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER TRUMP WH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, so, I think it's a brilliant move, by Jack.
But if you really want to get inside the President's mind, he's very, very worried. You've got 91 counts, for big indictments. It feels like he is the Al Capone, of our current political system, meaning people think he's untouchable, just like they did with Al Capone, or somebody like John Gotti, but they actually are not untouchable. And so, he's very, very worried.
I do know that he thinks because he appointed six of those, or -- excuse me, three of those justices, but he has six that are conservatives, I do think that he thinks he's got a good shot there. He thinks that that court is politicized, and will tip to his favor. And obviously, Jack Smith doesn't think that. I certainly don't think that.
And I think it's a great strategy, Kaitlan. We'll have to see what happens. But I think the President is very worried.
COLLINS: Yes, whether or not it works.
And, I mean, when you say he's very worried, it's not out there to say that what he is staring down, right now, potentially is a second term, as President, or if he does end up going to trial, as is scheduled, right now, for at least one of these cases? This one, though, it's at the heart of this, in March that he could be potentially facing a prison sentence, if they are successful in a conviction. I mean, is that all he's thinking about, at this point, do you think?
SCARAMUCCI: I do. And I also think that Mark Meadows, I mean, we're leaving that out of the equation.
But this is not, you know, he's not able to say, uncertain things, that this is a witch-hunt, by Democratic leadership, or Democratic district attorneys, or attorney generals, and so forth. He's just not able to say that. You have one of the key witnesses, ran the Freedom Caucus, and was his
last Chief of Staff. And so, that's right inside the wheelhouse. And so, that's another reason why he's worried, about these people that have access to his phone, or he's talked to, on the phone.
Kaitlan, you covered him for a long time. And you had sources, inside the White House, that were always concerned, about the President's morality, and his judgment, relating to what was legal and what wasn't legal. And I think Jack has evidence that proves a lot of illegality, on the part of the President.
And so, the question I was going to -- would love to ask Cyrus, or others is, are they able to submit proof of what the President did with the Supreme Court? Or is this a procedural case, in front of the court, in terms of what's going on, with immunity, while you're president?
And so, I think that's that issue, because if Jack comes out this thing, with five or six smoking guns, I'm just wondering what justice who wants there to be impartiality, and wants to preserve the American democracy, how they would feel about those facts, if they unfolded?
COLLINS: Would you like to weigh in?
VANCE JR.: Sure.
COLLINS: I'm curious, your thoughts on that as well.
VANCE JR.: I think the Supreme Court, today, is a very different court than the one that we appeared before, several years ago. It is, as Mr. Scaramucci said, three, now Trump appointees.
I like to believe, even though I think the Supreme Court has been perceived as perhaps the most political court, in the country, rather than the least, I like to believe that the justices will call it as they see it, under the law.
And my own personal view is that I think the issues of presidential immunity, in this case, are not that unclear. And I think they -- if they follow the law that's been started with Nixon, went through Clinton, went through -- went through Trump's last travails, to the Supreme Court? They'll conclude that, as some have said before, no one is against the law.
No president stands immune, from investigation or prosecutions, once he or she is no longer in office. When you're in office, it's a different, perhaps different kettle of fish, because you have a country that the country -- that the citizenry has elected you to lead. When you leave that office, you lose those immunities.
COLLINS: We will see what they decide.
Thank you very much for that.
Good question, Scaramucci. Thank you very much for joining us as well.
Ahead, there are major developments, in the case that we have been following here, closely, of a pregnant woman, in Texas. She sued to have an emergency abortion. The Texas Supreme Court has just weighed in, ruling against her. Her desperate decision, now, to leave the state, because of her health.
Also, jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, missing, according to his attorneys. More on that mystery of his whereabouts, coming up.
COLLINS: There's been a dramatic turn, for the Texas woman, who is at the center of a legal fight, to end her high-risk pregnancy.
Kate Cox's doctors say that her unborn child has a fatal genetic condition, and will not survive, that her own health is also at risk.
She's been in and out of the emergency room, we are told by her attorneys. And now, they say that she has left the State of Texas, to have the emergency abortion procedure, elsewhere. That came just hours before we learned that the Texas Supreme Court, tonight, ruled against her, reversing a judge's ruling, last week that gave her permission, to seek an abortion, to have an exception there.
Joining me, tonight, is Ana Navarro. You know her well, as a part of this CNN family. But she also has her own personal experience, to share about this, about what women, just like Kate Cox, are going through. And she joins me now.
And I'm so glad that you're here, especially given what we just heard, from the Texas Supreme Court, in this filing.
I want to read part of it for people, who haven't said -- who haven't read it. And they said in this that "No one disputes" that her "pregnancy has been extremely complicated." They said, "Any parents would be devastated to learn of their unborn child's trisomy 18 diagnosis." But "some difficulties in pregnancy, however, even serious ones, do not pose the heightened risk to the mother" that "the exception encompasses."
What do you make of that?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have so many feelings, right now. I am heartbroken, for this mother.
I am infuriated, and I am indignant, as a woman, at the idea that all of (ph) Austin, Texas, so in state capitals, and all sorts of states, and judges, who are not doctors, are questioning what the medical advice to this woman is.
Look, Kaitlan, I had the news given to me that I had an ectopic pregnancy. That means that the fetus is not viable. And that means that if you don't terminate the pregnancy, you could die in the process. And so, I know what it's like, to get that heart-wrenching news.
Her news is much worse. She's 21 weeks pregnant. She's fighting for her life. She's fighting for her fertility. Making her give -- taking away her choice, taking away her right, taking away her ability, to get health care, in her own state?
I've heard so many people say online, cavalierly, casually, "Oh, but why didn't she go to another state?"
Do you to know what it's like to have to terminate a wanted pregnancy, and not be able to go and lay down, in your own bed? Not be able to go cry, into your own pillow? Not be able to lean on your friends, and your family, and your village, where you live? Not be able to go to see your doctors? To have to go out of state, stay in a hotel, incur that cost, incur those extra days of missing work?
Do people understand what that takes, having to leave your village, in order to have to go vouch for your life, and take care of your own health, somewhere else? That is cruel. That is inhumane. That is certainly not American. And it's certainly not God's will.
Shame on those politicians in Texas, telling this woman, what she can or cannot do.
And I want to remind America, that it's not just Texas. It's also Deborah Dorbert, in Florida, the woman who had a fetus, who had a baby that had no kidneys, and who was told that child was certainly going to die. And she couldn't get an abortion, in Florida, and had to hold that baby, in her arms, for 90 minutes, as that baby gasped for air, and died in her arms.
And it's 14 other states that have laws like this that are incredibly restrictive. And so, for people who think, maybe this is just Texas, or maybe this is just Florida? No. Every woman in America should be indignant, at the idea that politicians are telling us, and telling doctors what to do.
Criminalizing doctors? Criminalizing doctors? Criminalizing women? Where do we live? Is this Gilead? It's horrendous.
COLLINS: And I just want to say, first off, thank you for sharing that. Because I know that there are a lot of other women, probably watching, right now, who have had similar experiences. And so, just you saying that out loud, I think, is really powerful.
And when you talk about what a woman goes through, who has to have this procedure, what it means, in the aftermath of that, you may have also thought about with Kate Cox, as you know, she left the State of Texas, today, to go get this procedure. There are a lot of women, who can't afford to leave their home states, to go and have.
COLLINS: I think about my home state of Alabama. There are a lot of women there, who can't afford to go out of state, to somewhere that they can get this procedure.
NAVARRO: That's right. Listen, the woman I mentioned, in Florida, Deborah Dorbert, could not afford to go out of state.
I mean, it's so -- do people understand the amount of people, who don't have the savings, to be able to on, one day or the other? It requires looking for a doctor, out of state. It requires paying for travel. It might require paying for childcare. It require, in your home state, it requires staying in a hotel, staying somewhere, as you recover.
This is not like getting your nails done. These are procedures that require days off, and recovery. And you're doing it what, in a hotel, in a different state that you had to?
And in some of these states, in places, like Florida, in places, like Texas, in the South East Coast, you have to drive thousands of miles, to get to a state, where you might be able to get this done. It just, it is cruel. It is callous, to think "Oh, she can go to another state."
And listen, we may not have seen the end of this, right? Because in Texas, any yahoo can press charges, against this woman, any yahoo can bring suits against this woman, and criminalize this woman, or criminalize anybody who may have helped her, in doing this. It is absurd.
It is, I feel like I am reading a chapter of The Handmaid's Tale. I cannot believe this is the United States of America, in 2023.
And I hope the women, who are feeling like I do, today, do not forget this, and carry this indignation, and this anger, and this infuriation, to the ballot, and to the voting booth, because those people, mostly men, in state capitols, who are telling us what we can and cannot do, deserve to be voted out.
COLLINS: Ana Navarro, again, thank you, for sharing that personal story with us, and with everybody, out there. I really appreciate it.
NAVARRO: Thank you, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Thank you for coming on, tonight.
Up next, Ukrainian president, Zelenskyy has just returned to Washington. He has key meetings, on his schedule, tomorrow, with President Biden and lawmakers. He's hoping to rescue what is currently a stalled aid package.
Republican senators, including my next guest, will be critical to the potential outcome.
[21:31:08] COLLINS: What you're seeing here, is what many Ukrainians live in fear of. A Russian missile strike, destroying this home, not on some remote battlefield. This is in the heart of Ukraine, right in the capital of Kyiv, what you're seeing here.
In the east, Ukrainian troops have been pushing the Russians back, with improvised drones. But their weapons to fight off President Putin's forces are dwindling, as negotiations in Washington, over more funding have stalled, amid Republican demands, for immigration changes to be included.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): "I think it'll be very difficult without American help," he says. "Our supplies are also ending. So, we need this."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: That's Ukrainian soldier that you're hearing from there, as Ukrainian president, Zelenskyy, is also bringing that same appeal, to the White House, and to Capitol Hill, tomorrow. He says that Putin is seeing his quote, "Dreams come true," as delays for more aid are continuing in Congress, tonight.
I'm joined now by Republican senator, Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin.
Senator, thanks for joining, on such an important issue.
Obviously, as I mentioned, President Zelenskyy is coming, before the entire Senate, tomorrow morning. Is there anything that you could hear, from the Ukrainian president, that he could say, that could change your mind, on getting a Ukraine aid bill passed, before the end of the year?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Look, Kaitlan, well, first of all, I'm highly sympathetic with the courageous people of Ukraine, who have been invaded by the war criminal, Putin. There's absolutely no doubt about that.
At the same time, I'm highly sympathetic to all the families, who have lost loved ones, to fentanyl overdoses. I'm highly sympathetic to the young women, who are sex-trafficked, because of our open borders.
President Biden and the Democrats' open border policy is a clear and present danger to America. About 6 million migrants, during his administration, entered this nation. Either they've been encountered, processed and dispersed, or about 1.7 million have been detected as gotaways, we have no idea who these people are, or where they are -- where they are.
And when you have Hamas calling for Days of Rage, and the FBI Director saying that all the -- all the flashing lights, all the dangerous signals are flashing, right now, it's something we need to be concerned about.
So unfortunately, this is about the only leverage Republicans have, to force this administration, to actually secure the border. And I think we ought to take that opportunity, because this is our top, our top national security and homeland security priority.
JOHNSON: Priority is to secure that border.
COLLINS: I understand this is a big push, from Senate Republicans. They want immigration changes tied to a part of this.
Well I want to talk about your views, on the border, what you think needs to happen.
But on this issue, specifically is -- do you believe that Ukraine aid, another round of funding, will get passed, this year, which the White House says it urgently needs to happen, not be punted to 2024?
JOHNSON: That's hard to say. We have to secure our border. Not just getting minor immigration changes, we actually have to secure the border. It's a national security imperative, priority for America.
In terms of what happens in Ukraine? Unfortunately, unfortunately, we're into the 22nd month of now, what is just a bloody stalemate. It's not a fair fight.
Ukraine cannot really do what would be necessary, to really defeat Russia. So, the only way this war ends is through a negotiated settlement. Every day that goes by, more Ukrainians die, more Russian conscripts die, I take no pleasure in that, more of Ukraine is destroyed.
So, I think, the strategy, on the part of the administration, in Ukraine, should be trying to use whatever aid they get, to try and bring Putin to a negotiated settlement.
COLLINS: But if you don't give them any aid, I mean, what does that look like? A negotiated settlement, what do you think that they should cede? How do they decide what to give up to Russia?
JOHNSON: Well, again, it's very difficult to say exactly what they need. We've heard different things.
For one thing, we've heard an adviser, to President Zelenskyy, say they're stealing, like there's no tomorrow. We heard that Ukraine's pretty good funding through the winter, and then all of a sudden, now it's the end of December.
So, unfortunately, you cannot trust this administration, to tell you the truth. I'd like to get the truth out of them. Don't know that's really going to be forthcoming.
But again, the top priority, of our nation, right now, is to secure our border, not just minor immigration reform.
COLLINS: Well Senator?
JOHNSON: And not send American taxpayers'--
COLLINS: Those questions--
JOHNSON: --tax dollars over to Ukraine, as sympathetic as I am, with Ukrainian people.
COLLINS: Those questions you have, about the policy, I mean, wasn't there a briefing, on Capitol Hill, last week, where administration officials were there talking about why they needed more aid, for this funding? Did you ask them those questions then?
JOHNSON: They were asked. They don't answer the questions. Again, one senator, who'd been briefed, said that Ukraine had, you know, they're going to be fine through the end of the winter, and asked the question, "So why now is at the end of December," you don't get a straight answer out of them.
So again, you simply can't trust this administration, to tell you the truth.
COLLINS: But did you ask those questions?
JOHNSON: I asked, what is the endgame here? Yes, I asked, you know, when I was at President Zelenskyy's inauguration? I met with him two months later, because I was the European -- the Chairman of European subcommittee and Foreign Relations.
Back then, President Zelenskyy wanted a peace agreement with Putin. This is when Putin had already annexed Crimea, who had friendly control of eastern Ukraine. He wanted to do a peace deal. I don't know what changed from then to now. I know the impeachment was not helpful to Ukraine.
COLLINS: Well he invaded--
JOHNSON: I don't think -- I don't think -- I don't think--
COLLINS: I mean, sir, you could say that Russia--
JOHNSON: --Putin would have invaded under Trump.
COLLINS: --they invaded Ukraine.
JOHNSON: But again, he invaded, because of the weakness of this administration. It is a tragedy. It's a tragedy that's happened--
COLLINS: OK. But you're saying--
JOHNSON: --because of President Biden's weakness.
COLLINS: Senator, OK. But you're saying you don't understand what changed. I mean, Russia did invade. We all watched it, of course. And it's, that invasion is still going on.
But you talk about your concern for the Ukrainians and what happens there. I understand you don't like what you're hearing, from the White House. But is the answer to that stopping all funding, from -- to Ukraine, from the U.S.? Because they're celebrating it, what happened, in the Senate, last week, on Russian state TV.
JOHNSON: I've said repeatedly--
COLLINS: And President Putin is as well.
JOHNSON: I've said repeatedly, I would not only vote for, but I would promote funding for Ukraine, if it is made contingent, on actually securing the border, by establishing metrics, monthly metrics that the administration would have to meet, before the funding would flow, on a monthly basis. I would vote for that. I would promote it.
But this administration must secure the border, before we send additional funding to Ukraine. It's an easy proposition.
We would be doing the administration enormous political favor, if we force them, to secure the border. That would take one of the biggest problems President Biden has, in terms of his reelection, off the table. We would force him to do that.
JOHNSON: We'd be doing him a huge favor. I don't know why he doesn't understand that.
COLLINS: What you're asking for, and I'm not sure how this would work, is basically you want aid to Ukraine, conditioned on how many people are crossing the U.S. southern border? I think that's a big question.
COLLINS: But before I let you go, Senator, I do want to ask about this. Obviously, it's your home state.
10 Republicans, who signed paperwork, falsely claiming that Trump won there, in the 2020 election, have now agreed to withdraw that paperwork, acknowledge that Joe Biden did win the election, and also agreed to not serve as an elector, in the 2024 election, or in any election, where Trump is on the ballot.
But there is one person, who still serves, Robert Spindell, on a state agency that is responsible for administrative -- administering elections and certifying the results. Do you think that he should resign from that, given the role he played, in the fake electors scheme?
JOHNSON: No. Again, there was an active court case. There are all kinds of irregularities, in Wisconsin, in the 2020 election.
In order to make sure that the case just wasn't determined to be moot, they had to have an alternate slate of electors, just like Democrats have done, repeatedly, in all kinds of different states.
So, there was nothing untoward about what they did. There's nothing illegal about what they did. They were just an alternate slate of electors.
COLLINS: They were going to court. They had $2.4 million, on the line, in damages, if they lost this case at trial. That's why they took this deal.
JOHNSON: I know. They've been harassed -- they've--
COLLINS: But to say -- are you saying that they did nothing wrong?
JOHNSON: I realize Democrats have used the civil courts, to harass these poor individuals. It's unfortunate. It's a travesty. But that's what Democrats do. They view politics as a blood-sport. It was unfortunate.
These folks did nothing different than what many Democrats have done in many states--
COLLINS: They certainly did, Senator.
JOHNSON: --throughout history.
COLLINS: I mean, there were multiple slates of fake electors, including in your home state. They're acknowledging that they were playing a role in trying to improperly overturn the election. That's what they said, as part of this agreement.
JOHNSON: They got themselves, out of a nuisance lawsuit. They agreed to get, to settle a nuisance lawsuit that never should have been brought.
COLLINS: So you think it's fine that someone?
JOHNSON: It was a harassment lawsuit. It is a travesty of justice.
COLLINS: You think it's fine that someone, who tried to overturn a legitimate election, is still on a board that helps--
JOHNSON: Democrat electors have done that repeatedly.
JOHNSON: Democrats have done--
COLLINS: Which one?
JOHNSON: Democrats have done the same thing. Republicans never tried to criminalize them.
COLLINS: In Wisconsin, there's been fake slates of electors?
JOHNSON: No, it's happened in different states.
COLLINS: Which ones, sir?
JOHNSON: I didn't come prepared, to give you the exact states. But it's happened. It's happened repeatedly. It has happened repeatedly. Just go check the books.
COLLINS: Which books?
JOHNSON: I mean, there have been often the slates of electors, by Democrat electors, in our history. Again, you didn't -- this wasn't what this interview is going to be about. I'll come in and I'll provide you the information.
COLLINS: OK. I look forward to--
JOHNSON: But I'm absolutely certain about that.
COLLINS: --I look forward to your office, sending that information. We'll publish it, if it's accurate.
JOHNSON: Will do that.
COLLINS: Senator Ron Johnson, a busy day ahead, on Capitol Hill. Thank you, for your time, tonight.
JOHNSON: Have a Merry Christmas.
COLLINS: Meanwhile, in Russia, Putin's nemesis, and opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, apparently has disappeared, from prison. The White House says it is deeply concerned, by this development.
What his daughter is now saying, tonight?
COLLINS: Tonight, Russia's most prominent opposition leader, and one of Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics, his arch nemesis, really, Alexey Navalny, appears to be missing.
Putin finds him to be such a threat that you may recall Russian agents tried to kill him, by poisoning his underwear, with a lethal nerve agent. He survived, but just barely. And despite that attack on his life, he returned to Moscow.
Navalny was then convicted, on bogus charges, and sent to a harsh penal colony.
His daughter just spoke to Anderson Cooper, about these concerns, about his whereabouts, tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DASHA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S DAUGHTER: There have been many instances, where they have transferred him, or just didn't want him to come out, because whenever my dad has a court hearing, he uses that, to speak up against the war, or tell people to question the regime.
And Putin has actually just announced that he is going to be running for reelection, in the coming presidential elections. And they don't want my father to speak up against that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Here with me tonight is the Director of the CNN Films' Oscar- winning documentary, "Navalny," Daniel Roher.
Daniel, thank you, for being here.
I mean, I know that you've been speaking with Navalny's daughter that we just saw there, his other family members, who are obviously deeply concerned about him, tonight. What have you heard from them?
DANIEL ROHER, DIRECTOR: Well, Kaitlan, in addition to what the rest of the world knows, that Navalny has functionally been disappeared, by the Russian government. We don't know where he is. And that is so very unsettling, in lieu of assassination attempts, and repeated attempts, to silence him, over the last 24 months, over the last 10 years, really.
But on an emotional level, for Dasha and Yulia, Alexey's daughter and wife, obviously, it is devastating and upsetting and disorienting, when your husband and father just disappears, at the hands of this regime. It's very, very unsettling.
COLLINS: What's your sense of, of what Putin is doing here? I mean, after being part of that documentary that was so incredible, and just really showed what a threat Navalny is to Putin, how much he views him as a threat, what's your biggest fear, about this?
ROHER: Well, Kaitlan, I think it goes without saying that my biggest fear is that the regime is trying to murder Alexey. This is a project that they started years ago.
Originally, they tried to poison him, with a Soviet-era nerve agent, called Novichok, the events of which are depicted in our documentary. And since then, they have thrown him in prison, where he has been in a gulag, in solitary confinement, in torturous conditions, for the better part of the last three years. It's very clear that they're trying to silence him.
Now, this latest disappearance comes three or four days, after Putin announces that he's going to be running again, in Russia's next sham election, for another six years of power.
And it's no coincidence that Navalny disappears a mere three or four days after Putin makes the announcement. What it really speaks to is just how frightened the regime is, how nervous Putin personally is, about this guy.
COLLINS: I think it's a -- obviously, it's just such a concern, for everyone. Of course, no answers that his family or his attorneys have gotten. And we'll be watching it all closely.
Daniel Roher, thank you.
Meanwhile, another story that we're following here, Rudy Giuliani was back in court, today, found liable for defaming two election workers. Now, a jury is about to decide the price that he is going to pay.
COLLINS: Donald Trump's former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, facing a potentially ruinous trial, of his own, tonight, as he could be forced to pay up to $43 million in damages, to the two former Georgia election workers, mother and daughter, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, you know them well, who were simply doing their jobs, back in 2020, when Giuliani falsely accused them, of voter fraud, trying to demonize them as symbols of a rigged election that wasn't rigged.
He claimed that they were acting suspiciously and, yes, I'm being serious now, saying like they were acting like drug dealers, accusations that led to them being harassed, by people, who even showed up at their home.
Rudy Giuliani has already been found liable, for defaming these two women. But now, we're in the penalty phase of this case.
This is how day one went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you regret what you did to Ruby Freeman--
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Of course I don't regret, I told the truth. They were engaged in changing votes.
REPORTER: There's no proof of that.
GIULIANI: Oh damn right there is. Stay tuned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: There is no proof of that. It's not true. It wasn't true then. It's not true now.
Here, tonight, is someone, with the truth, Andrew Kirtzman, who knows Rudy Giuliani extremely well, having followed him, for three decades, as a Political Reporter, and the Author of "Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor."
I mean, what do you make of the defiance that you see of him coming out of court, as he did, today?
ANDREW KIRTZMAN, FORMER NYC POLITICAL REPORTER: That it's absolutely extraordinary. I mean, it's very characteristic, of Giuliani, who never admits a fault in anything. But seeing what he's facing, in terms of damages, and sticking to that allegation is really something, it's really something.
COLLINS: I mean, he is about to potentially have to pay a lot of money that we know he doesn't have.
COLLINS: His attorney today was saying that $43 million would be the civil equivalent of the death penalty.
But I wonder, as someone, who's covered him, for as long as you have, what you make of the fact that he's being held accountable, for what he said?
KIRTZMAN: Right. Well, like, I think Giuliani is finally paying the price, for a lifetime of character assassination.
I mean, destroying reputations is what Rudy Giuliani does. He did it as prosecutor. He did it as mayor. In my book I write about his -- an election campaign, in Catholic school, when he stood up in an audience, and eviscerated a candidate, for senior class president. I mean, this is what Giuliani is, and what he's done.
And, in some ways, the public, when he was Mayor, kind of appreciated it. I mean, he took over New York City, as a mayor, when New York was in decline. His predecessor was kind of a passive presence. And Giuliani was a fighter. And The New York Times endorsed him for reelection in 1997. They called him a human hand grenade, right? There was something about him that people kind of liked.
COLLINS: But they meant it as a compliment, then?
KIRTZMAN: They meant it as a compliment, absolutely.
COLLINS: And now, the grenade has--
KIRTZMAN: You know?
COLLINS: --the pin has been pulled?
KIRTZMAN: Yes. Well, Donald Trump certainly liked those qualities, in Giuliani. And the problem now, in this trial, is that he's under a microscope, because he -- they lost the election. And it was clearly easy, to determine that Giuliani was wrong about this. And now, he's paying the price.
COLLINS: And you've -- but he's still defiant, in coming out, with his adviser there.
But I've also noticed, just as someone, who has covered this world, and used to see Rudy Giuliani, at the White House, all the time, he seems very isolated--
COLLINS: --from this life that he used to have.
KIRTZMAN: Sure. I mean, he's also broke, right?
So, I mean, he is, at one point, when right after 9/11, his consulting firm earned $100 million, in five years. I mean, he owned, was it, seven houses, and a 11 country club memberships. I mean, he was on top of the world.
Fast-forward, he's selling his apartment, his last, I guess, asset, trying to stave off this -- trying to stave off bankruptcy.
COLLINS: So, what does it mean if he is -- if he gets hit, with $43 million? I mean, even half of that?
KIRTZMAN: Right. I think he'll have to -- he'll have to declare bankruptcy. I mean, he's got 10 civil suits, filed against him, right now. He's been indicted. He's an unindicted co-conspirator -- conspirator in D.C.
COLLINS: Just think of Rudy Giuliani--
KIRTZMAN: He's just overwhelmed.
COLLINS: --Rudy Giuliani, having to file bankruptcy, though, is kind of remarkable, to, if you -- to watch the political world, to know what he used to be.
KIRTZMAN: Right. Well, it's one of the great rise and fall stories of our lifetime.
COLLINS: Andrew Kirtzman, as someone, who's covered it, I mean, it's a dramatic story. Thank you for that.
COLLINS: And thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.
"CNN NEWSNIGHT WITH ABBY PHILLIP" starts right after a quick break. So, stick around.