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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Reports: Giuliani South Business in Ukraine While Pushing for Biden Inquiry; NY Times: Justice Department IG Report Expected to Undercut Trump's Claim that FBI Spied on Campaign. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:14]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: From America's mayor, perhaps to America's defendant. Tonight, Rudy Giuliani's potential legal problems are mounting and now, President Trump appears to be distancing himself from the attorney he once said, quote, very much knows what's happening.

I'm John Berman, in for Anderson.

And on top of that, new reporting from "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" that says at the very same time, Rudy Giuliani was conducting his shadow diplomacy campaign for the president, attempting to drum up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine, he was also working to secure contracts with those same officials that would have paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It also appears no deal was ever finalized, but he was essentially trying to leverage his White House connections for money. Something he's accused the Bidens of doing, but without any evidence.

These latest reports come just two days after CNN reported on federal subpoenas for Giuliani's associates seeking information regarding his consulting business. Until lately, President Trump has appeared to stand by his attorney. It appears he is now trying to put a bit of daylight between them.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, THE O'REILLY UPDATE: What was Rudy Giuliani doing in Ukraine on your behalf?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you have to ask that to Rudy, but, Rudy -- I don't even know -- I know he was going to go to Ukraine and I think he canceled a trip. But Rudy has other clients other than me. And --

O'REILLY: So, Rudy Giuliani, he's your personal lawyer. Giuliani is your personal lawyer.

TRUMP: Yes.

O'REILLY: So you didn't direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them? TRUMP: No, I didn't direct him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, keeping him honest, the idea that the president didn't direct him is somewhat hard to believe. Remember the July 25th call with Ukraine's president, President Trump said that Giuliani, quote, very much knows what's happening. And he said, Giuliani would call him about what they had discussed. Difficult to distance from that.

Now, the idea of the president trying to distance himself from people under fire is hardly new. Gordon Sondland, quote, I hardly knew the gentleman. Michael Cohen, quote, he worked for me. You could say more or less part time. Paul Manafort, quote, he wasn't with the campaign long. And now, Rudy Giuliani, no, I didn't direct him.

For more on Giuliani's problems, one of "The Washington Post" reporters who broke the story about the dealings in Ukraine, Matt Zapotosky.

Matt, thank you so much for being with us.

What are the details of these deals and negotiations that Giuliani was working on in Ukraine?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, starting around February, which is the same time period that Rudy is trying to press Ukrainians and this Lutsenko guy in particular for Biden-related investigations, he's talking with Lutsenko about a contract to do work for Lutsenko. There's never one that is finalized, but the details of the draft that are kicked around or maybe he will get a $200,000 consulting fee, $300,000 consulting fee. They contemplate involving some other allies of the president, lawyers here in town. Joe diGenova and Vicky Toensing, ultimately, it never comes to pass.

The idea that was contemplated with Rudy would -- excuse me, was Rudy would do some work for this guy particularly with some asset kind of recovery mission he wanted. But it seems clear the implication here is this guy was sort of trying to buy some goodwill with a person close to the president. It ultimately never comes to pass, but it's just a really interesting thing that we sort of reported on today.

BERMAN: Interesting is one way to put it. You know, for Giuliani, it would have given him a way to get cash from a client who was potentially getting him information on the Bidens which would have helped his other client, President Trump, whom Giuliani doesn't charge.

Did I get the sequence right there?

ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, there's this weird confluence of interests here. You have President Trump who wants to investigate the Bidens and he wants the Ukrainians to do that. You have the Ukrainians who want help recovering what they believe are stolen assets, and also just general influence in the U.S. And they think Trump has that. Rudy has that. And then you have Rudy who is trying to make money kind of in between

the middle of them. It's just a very interesting, as I say, confluence of various competing and parallel interests.

BERMAN: Yes, the words money and influence come up a whole lot in that last paragraph of yours right there, Matt.

Just finally, what does Rudy Giuliani have to say about all this?

ZAPOTOSKY: Well, Rudy, today, I can't say he disputed the reporting, but he has really harped on the idea that he ended up getting no money, that no deal was ever consummated. That is sort of important from a legal perspective. If he had agreed to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of Ukrainian officials and didn't register under this thing called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, that could be a crime. So it is sort of key that he doesn't ultimately apparently ink a deal like that.

But these draft deals themselves could be evidence that he was attempting to do that. Just because he didn't ink these deals doesn't mean there is no legal problem.

[20:05:03]

But that's been his response today, is to harp on the fact that, hey, I never actually went through with this.

BERMAN: Matt Zapotosky, thanks so much for joining us. Terrific reporting. Have a happy Thanksgiving.

ZAPOTOSKY: Thank you. You, too, John.

BERMAN: So, let's follow-up in that last point with CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, who is also a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District, which is investigating associates of Rudy Giuliani. CNN senior political analyst and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers is here, and CNN senior political commentator and former Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum here as well.

Elie, does this put Rudy Giuliani in any further or more legal jeopardy? What are the legal implications for all these new information?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It could, John. The problems for Rudy Giuliani keep stocking up. Let's just sort of rewind.

Parnas and Fruman, two of his closest associates, are indicted by the Southern District of New York. We know Rudy Giuliani himself is being investigated by the Southern District, which he used to lead. We know that that whopper subpoena got served the other day relating to Rudy's business listing all these different crimes.

Now ,the potential crime I see here is what Matt referred to, FARA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act. What that says is if you are representing lobbying for a foreign interest, foreign national, you have to register with the U.S. government, so that government officials up to and including the president will know who they are talking to and who they are aligned with.

And as Matt said, the fact that he didn't get paid is helpful to Rudy because if he had, there's no question he's lobbying. But you don't need to have a payment. You can still be lobbying for free, for other consideration, for in exchange of favors as could have happened here as well. So, it's just one more iron in the fire for Rudy.

BERMAN: Yes, he tried to get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine fired. He ultimately succeeded in that, Rudy Giuliani.

Who was he doing that for? That could be a key question.

HONIG: Exactly. Remember, she -- the ambassador, Yovanovitch, picked a fight with Lutsenko: She went after him on anticorruption initiatives.

BERMAN: So, Rick, Senator, I asked Elie about the legal jeopardy he might be in. What about the political jeopardy here? Because I said this before, if you ask any Republican in Congress how far they're willing to stick out their neck for Rudy Giuliani, what they will tell you is not at all. Not at all. He's nothing but trouble for the Republican argument right now.

How do you see it?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, it shows at a minimum that he had some bad judgment here. I mean, when you're there to, to represent the president as he clearly was there doing, you don't, then, solicit -- well, again, to be fair to Rudy, what he said is that he was solicited and that he was simply responding to the solicitation. And that there was no contract ever consummated.

You can't run into a foreign agent issue if there's no contract to hang your hat on. So, I don't think there is a real legal issue here. But there's -- just poor judgment on his part if engaging in any kind of back and forth with someone who is in the middle of this whole, you know, Ukraine investigation.

BERMAN: It's a whole lot of back and forth, isn't it, Kirsten, because it's not just for this contract, but he's also trying to get these guys to do work for him investigating the Bidens, and then you tie in the U.S. ambassador. The list goes on and on. The questions just keep mounting.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I also think -- let's remember back to what Donald Trump ran on, draining the swamp. I mean, this is just very swampy behavior, right? It also shows why it's not a good idea to have somebody out sort of freelancing, doing this shadow diplomacy that really is supposed to be handled by people who are appointed to positions in the U.S. government, who are held to the highest ethics standards that Rudy Giuliani is not holding himself to.

So, even if he didn't do anything illegal, he certainly did something improper. And I mean, there is also this argument we keep hearing from Trump people saying, well, they weren't successful in their scheme, so it doesn't matter.

You know, it seems that he was, you know, willing to do this, I mean, at least according to the reporting. And he was telling Lutsenko he would going to have to pay money to get a meeting with the attorney general, right? So, I mean, this is extremely shady behavior at a minimum, and this is the president's personal lawyer.

BERMAN: A personal lawyer who also isn't getting paid at all, which is also interesting --

POWERS: Well, he's obviously trying to get paid other ways.

BERMAN: Exactly, get paid from someone.

Senator, I want to ask you what we heard from the president about all this, his latest claim, and we play some of them, an interview with Bill O'Reilly, that he didn't direct Giuliani to do anything. Again, that sort of contradicts what he was saying to President Zelensky in the July 25th phone call. According to the rough transcript, the president says of Giuliani, quote, I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you, end quote.

And also a few weeks ago, Giuliani tweeted, in part, quote, the investigation I conducted concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption was done solely -- solely as defense attorney to defend my client.

In other words, everything I did, I did for the president. It's just hard to distance from that, isn't it?

SANTORUM: Well, yes. I think, again, trying to read in what I can see is a light fair to the president, which is one thing to have someone sort of assigned to do some work in that area, another thing is to, quote, to direct it.

[20:10:08]

And, I think, you know, what the president is saying, look, I wasn't involved in the details, I didn't direct anything. I just -- I left it up to Rudy to sort of work on this.

And I think you can -- you can -- the statements are not inconsistent if you take the word direct as to mean to actually point him and have him do specific things, which I really doubt the president was having him do.

BERMAN: Elie, you worked in the Southern District of New York which is where Rudy Giuliani came from, among other places. The president keeps referring to him as a vaunted crime fighter. And he has a record.

But is that still the same Rudy Giuliani we're dealing with here? Because I'm not sure that an active criminal genius butt dials reporters while he's making phone calls about foreign interactions.

HONIG: And cyber security genius, let's remember, as well. No, look, it's sad I think when you step back for a minute because he

was a legendary prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. His portrait is up on the wall with other sort of U.S. attorneys that served over the years. There's no way he's the same person now. He's changed.

You wouldn't -- one thing they teach you at the Southern District is you don't go anywhere near the line. If you're in a gray area, you get out of t. We used to say if you're asking, then you know you're in a gray area and get out of it immediately, right?

So, he is -- he is definitely in gray areas. The fact that he's under investigation by the Southern District itself tells you he's come too close to the line. And I guess we'll see whether he crossed it or not.

BERMAN: Gray might be the brightest color he's dealing in here.

All right. Friends, stand by.

Just ahead, we have more breaking news. "The New York Times" reports a soon-to-be released I.G. report is expected to undercut President Trump's longstanding claims of spying on his 2016 presidential campaign.

And later, more push back, new push back from the fired Navy secretary on the case of a controversial Navy SEAL that President Trump ordered to have his rank reinstated.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:16:07]

BERMAN: More breaking news tonight that knocks down conspiracy theories peddled by the president and his supporters the past several years. "The New York Times" is reporting the inspector general for the Justice Department found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside the Trump campaign in 2016.

These latest findings according to "The Times" are expected to be included in the I.G.'s report scheduled to be public on December 9th. And while the report does criticize some FBI leaders for their handling of the investigation in some ways, "The Times" says it undercuts claims by President Trump and his conservative allies that FBI officials spied on his campaign.

This might be unwelcome news for the president and his supporters who time and time and time again claimed precisely that. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Major developments again tonight on the deep state spying on the Trump campaign.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): To spy on the Trump campaign. LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Spy on the Trump campaign.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I'm shocked to hear they put a spy in the campaign.

HANNITY: Deep state spying scheme.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Spy inside the Trump campaign. Back to the FBI.

HANNITY: FBI spies.

GIULIANI: Or maybe two spies.

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: It looks as if there could have been a second spy.

HANNITY: These spy revelations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spies in this campaign.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Ran a spy ring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A spy to infiltrate his campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, to review, no spies. And we could have played several more minutes of sound like that.

Back with us, Kirsten Powers and Rick Santorum, along with Josh Campbell, a former FBI supervisory special agent and a CNN law enforcement analyst and author of a book relevant to this conversation, "Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's War on the FBI".

Josh, I want to start to you. I'm sure you're shocked the FBI didn't find any evidence to back up these allegations or the I.G. report didn't find any evidence to back up these allegations, given that there was never any evidence of these allegations.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: There wasn't. I mean, I mean, this was a political narrative to start. Let's just say, you know, at the outset, who did this investigation. This wasn't a partisan. This was an independent entity inside the Justice Department that is responsible for unearthing wrongdoing by FBI employees.

It is also important to say that this is not a clean bill of health for the FBI, according to "The New York Times" reporting. There is a fault found by employees. But there's larger narrative that there was some type of political operation inside the FBI working on behalf of President Obama for the political purpose of bringing down Donald Trump is undercut, yet that is the narrative that we have continued to see time and again, John. BERMAN: Kirsten, to you. I'm sure we're going to get tons of

apologies now. That sound clip we just played was really stunning because that was a coordinated, orchestrated effort by the president and his allies, some of whom are in the media, to spread what now appear to be lies and misinformation.

So, you know, like I said, where is the apology going to be?

POWERS: Well, there is not going to be an apology because I think that they're -- because they did identify some problems with the FBI, they were lower-level employees mainly, but they did identify some problems and I -- we're very critical and rightly critical where you have an employee who doctors an email, CNN I think broke that story. And that's obviously, you know, absolutely terrible and should not have happened and that person should be held accountable and they will be held accountable.

But I think what will happen is you will have the Trump supporters latch onto that and ignore the broader story, which is that the underlying claims against the FBI were allegedly, at least, debunked if this reporting is correct. That the allegations the president and his supporters were making against the FBI just are not founded.

BERMAN: The criticism of the investigation is real, and I'm going to ask Josh much more about that in a second, Senator. But the specific claim that was made -- and we played the sound again and again and again, there was a spy or spies, multiple, placed inside the Trump campaign.

[20:20:03]

The inspector general says that's not true. And, look, even the U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr trafficked in that notion publicly in the hearings, right?

SANTORUM: Well, look, I mean, what we have here is a leak and a leak that is clearly a leak to put a particular spin to a particular news agency, "The New York Times," which is certainly not a pro-Trump news agency. And we're running with this as if it's fact.

I mean, we're going to know in about ten days whether this is -- what this new leak is and this new spin on this I.G. report, whether it's true or not.

I can tell you in talking to people that, you know, are talking to other folks who have seen or -- seen this report are not saying the things that you're saying here. They're actually very much looking forward to this report. And they think this report will be very damning to the FBI.

BERMAN: I hope you come back --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Hold on one second, Josh. Come back with us in 10 days, Senator. SANTORUM: I look forward to t.

BERMAN: I know a little something about leaks being a reporter who has worked hard in this business for a long time. It seems to me that leaking this information on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, you don't want this publicized. You're trying to sneak this out there.

This smells a little bit like the type of leak that maybe the administration wants to get out there when people aren't paying attention, but we'll see on December 9th.

Josh, to you, the seriousness of the infractions that are listed here, I don't know if the word is misconduct, but it seems to be poor coordination, clumsy work. One criminal referral having to do with falsifying records, how serious is that?

CAMPBELL: Well, it's serious in a sense that law enforcement has to comport themselves, in accordance to policy and certainly accordance with the law. If there is anyone that's found anyone with these great law enforcement powers that is found to abuse that power, that person should be held accountable. With the person who is alleged to have doctored some type of document, that sounds like criminal activity. That person should be prosecuted if it is borne out.

The problem is that there's been this conflation between, you know, these reports of this low-level information and this larger narrative that there was some type of attempt by the Obama administration to spy on President Trump and his allies. And I'll just add that includes our fellow panelists here, former Senator Rick Santorum.

On this network last year, he said, and I quote, most Republicans see a real problem within the government and within the Obama administration of politicizing not just DOJ, but the IRS and every other agency of government to come after conservatives and Republicans, continuing this narrative that somehow the FBI was weaponized by the Obama administration. This reporting does not appear to bear that out.

Last point I'll say on that's correct we just heard the senator say he talked to someone who talked to someone who knew about the report. That sounds like a leak.

BERMAN: Senator, quickly?

SANTORUM: Yes, guilty. Obviously, there's a lot of people putting spin on this and "The New York Times" is putting their spin on it. I'm just telling you that I've heard from other people who have a very different spin. So, we'll wait and see.

I mean, we can -- we can speculate all we want. But we'll wait and see here. All I do know is that there's -- there was a hearing schedule for next week that has now been postponed and that to me is probably not a good sign for those who think this is going to be a banner day for the FBI.

BERMAN: We'll see the report soon enough. Kirsten, I want to close this with you.

I happen to think "The New York Times" is solid here. They have good reporters on this. We'll see the report when it comes out.

But this gets to the bigger problem of the spin machine that the White House has here, how they're able to create a year of questions and a year of noise about the idea of a spy within a campaign, again, when there seems to be no basis for that at all.

POWERS: Right. And I think the thing is once you do that and you have somebody at the level of the president of the United States pushing this narrative as well, you really can't put that genie back in the bottle. I think the damage has been done to the FBI.

President Trump came into office and he has sort of systematically attacked every institution that, you know, that most Americans used to hold in higher respect. Not to say they're perfect, you know. I certainly have been critical of the FBI before, but he has systematically gone after every institution and tried to turn Americans against them.

BERMAN: Josh Campbell, Kirsten Powers, Senator Rick Santorum, here's what I would like for each of you to have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving.

SANTORUM: Same to you.

CAMPBELL: Same to you.

BERMAN: All right. A member of the House Judiciary Committee joins us to talk about the latest "New York Times" report that undercuts the president's defense. What the president knew and when he knew it. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:29:04]

BERMAN: New reporting tonight on whether the White House will accept the Democrats' invitation to be part of Wednesday's impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill. Two officials tell CNN that currently -- that's the keyword currently -- the thinking inside the White House is it will likely not send an attorney to the House judiciary hearing.

No doubt, part of the problem, new reporting keeps undercutting President Trump's defense. The latest that he knew about the whistle- blower complaint well before telling Gordon Sondland that he wanted, quote, no quid pro quo from Ukraine. So if that report is true, this is the time line as we now know it.

On August 12, the whistle-blower filed his or her complaint with the inspector general.

"The New York Times" is reporting someone in late August -- at some time in late August, White House lawyers told President Trump about that complaint. Shortly after that, in early September, Gordon Sondland had his no

quid pro quo call with President Trump.

Days later, Congress was notified of the complaint and on September 11th, the aid was released.

[20:30:00]

As you can see, this latest timeline makes it clear the President was well aware of the whistleblowers' complaint prior to claiming no quid pro quo, and prior to releasing the aid.

For more now on the flood of new reporting, we're still getting about what the President knew. Congressman Steve Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, who's taking part in next Wednesday's hearing.

So, Congressman Cohen, given the fact that each day It seems we learned more about what the President knew and when he knew it. Are you concerned that this impeachment process is being rushed through before all the facts are known, more stuff may still come out?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I think things will come out. And I think things are going to come out for as long as he's president and after he's president. And we will continue to pursue those issues and we can still have hearings in Intel and Judiciary on actions that he took that are relative of the Constitution, that are relative of law. That affect our national security, all those things can still be a subject for hearings and possible another. If there's something comes out that's impeachable, that doesn't mean you can't have another impeachment. There's no rule that you win once, and (inaudible).

BERMAN: So this report that Rudy Giuliani was in talks to be paid by Ukraine's top prosecutor. It just seems like all roads lead to, from, or through Rudy Giuliani. I know he's been subpoenaed for documents, but why not try to get them to come and testify before Congress?

COHEN: Well, I think we could request it but I think he goes through all the same stonewall rigmarole that the others in the Trump team have done to avoid testifying. None of them want to testify because they've got a choice there of telling the truth and/or suffering from the charge a perjury. And none of them want to be in the same boat as Roger Stone and be convicted of lying to Congress or lying in committees or reports or whatever, and none of them want to tell the truth. So they're going to avoid it at all possible reasons.

And all roads lead to Giuliani, all roads lead through Russia. So you've got a combination. It's really kind of ironic what's happened to America's mayor.

BERMAN: So CNN is reporting that, well, a final decision has not been made. The White House likely will not send an attorney to the House Judiciary Committee hearing next week, which you will be a part of. How, if at all, will that impact what your committee is trying to accomplish in this hearing? Well, I think it will hurt the Trump defense that they're not being given due process because they are given due process and they're not taking avail themselves of it. When you complain, and complain, and complain, and then you have an opportunity to put your story to the American public and you don't want to do it, and you don't want to be subject to cross examination yourself, it shows you don't have a very good story and a very good defense. They don't have a good very good defense.

All they've got is certain Republicans who will jump up and down and say it's a circus, and make it into a cartoon show and try to do all they can to ravel the chairman and disturb, and not bring up any challenges to the facts that have been clearly shown that he -- and the team were all in cahoots. Sondland laid it out. They were all in the loop.

BERMAN: On the subject you brought up complain, complain, complain, you said that's what your Republican colleagues are doing. As if on queue, your Republican colleague on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, this is what he tweeted this morning.

He wrote for Democrats to claim next week's hearing gives Donald Trump a chance to defend himself is a joke. Instead of bringing Adam Schiff under oath we're bringing in academics whose minds are already set against POTUS to give their opinion on this sham impeachment. So what's your response to Congressman Collins?

COHEN: The majority gets to pick three witnesses. The minority gets to pick one witness. So we'll have one witness who they chose, we'll have three. That's the way it worked, that's the way it work for the eight years Republicans were in charge. They never complained about it.

To bring in Adam Schiff, Adam Schiff doesn't have any first hand knowledge that's just a ruse. And that he wouldn't have anything to tell us. And if they want to get the name of the whistleblower, the whistleblower is protected that's why you protect whistleblowers so they won't be out it and have a president who says they should be given the penalty for treason that was used in older days which was an execution.

He's putting the whistleblowers life in jeopardy, his job certainly to go, and that's just not the way that the system is supposed to work. And it's -- this is all, they just throwing everything they can up rather than deal with the facts that the President and his team, subverted our constitution, took -- use our national security and put it in jeopardy for his personal political benefit.

BERMAN: Congressman Steve Cohen, we want to thank you for your time and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

COHEN: Same to you. Nice to be with you.

[12:35:01] BERMAN: Up next, the President reversed this Navy SEAL's demotion after he was acquitted of a murder in Iraq. The Navy Secretary did not agree with the move and has now lost his job. Tonight, he's speaking out again against the President, the Commander-in-Chief, his message when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Tonight, the Navy Secretary forced out of his job is speaking out again and firing new attacks against the President. Now, it's been a busy week so a reminder here.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was ousted last weekend after he and the President disagreed over the reinstatement of a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murdering an ISIS fighter in Iraq. The SEAL Eddie Gallagher was found guilty of posing for a photo with a body of the fighter which is against regulations.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Spencer was fired for going outside the chain-of-command and proposing a secret agreement with the White House. Spencer is not going quietly. In his resignation letter, he said he could not "in good conscience" obey the President's order. He blasted the President again in a TV interview.

And now tonight, in a Washington Post op-ed titled, "I was fired as Navy Secretary, here's what I learned because of it," Spencer writes about the President, "This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review. It was also a reminder that the President has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices".

[12:40:04]

Joining me now for his take on this, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, a former Pentagon Press Secretary during the Obama administration. Admiral, great to have you with us.

This is a scathing rebuke of the President, on top of a scathing rebuke of the President, on top of another scathing rebuke on the President. But this puts it in bigger terms. This puts it in really national security terms. What do you make of it?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. He's certainly not going quietly and he's trying I think in this op-ed to sort of frame it in a larger narrative of the danger of having the commander-in-chief, who is not familiar with processes and the rule of law necessarily on the military battlefield, getting involved in what is essentially an administrative review process.

This last review process for Eddie Gallagher was not about a trial system. It was about an administrative review. And I think that's the larger story he's trying to say here.

BERMAN: Yes. And Spencer points out, you know, he doesn't think the President understands how the military works, the set of rules and practices and principles --

KIRBY: Right.

BERMAN: -- that it's based on because the President went to help a single individual who happens to be a political supporter and was asked for help on Fox News.

KIRBY: Right. So, a couple of points here, John. First of all, you know, I don't think we need -- we should hold it against the President that he doesn't understand what it's like to be in the military. Lots of presidents have been elected to the Oval Office without serving in the military. I don't think we want to live in a country where you have to be a veteran to be president of the United States. But he did get involved from the very, very early stages of the Gallagher case all the way through it, in a very tactical level.

And so what concerns me is, a, the message this sends to the troops, 99 percent of them who aren't getting in trouble. What this means about the credibility of the justice system over them going forward. And then, the second concern I have is what happens if now -- and I'm postulating here -- but if other troops that are now going through the justice system for whatever offense, now just want to appeal to Fox News or right wing veterans groups or the President himself, is he going to get involved in all of these? Because he's opened up now potential Pandora's Box he's going to have to deal with.

BERMAN: It would be the smart move. If you're in that circumstance, why wouldn't you try that? Now, you're just throwing up percentages here.

I want to read a different part of Spencer's piece which in some way is even more scathing. He writes, "Americans need to know that 99.9 percent of our uniformed members always have, always are and always will make the right decision. Our allies need to know that we remain a force for good, and to please bear with us as we move through this moment in time".

It's that last line. Please bear with us as we move through this moment in time. He's basically saying, President Trump is a blip.

KIRBY: Yes, the question is exactly that, like what's -- how long is this moment here? And will the President, you know, Spencer in his headline was, here's what I learned from what happened in my firing, what has the President learned. I don't know the answer to that. I hope the President has learned to back off the justice system and let military commanders manage this.

It doesn't mean that it's perfect. In Gallagher's case, there was prosecutorial misconduct. The Navy did not acquit itself well in his case. And sometimes it is appropriate for the commander-in-chief to weigh in. But I hope the President has learned not to get too involved in the details.

The other thing about the last line, John, that's important, is about the allies and partners. And the message we need to be sending them that we will and we can hold our troops accountable to the rules -- the laws of war and standards of conduct when we're operating in their country. And I wouldn't want them to take away from all this nonsense that we aren't capable and willing to do that.

BERMAN: Very quickly, I want to put your State Department hat on now because tonight the President signed the Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act into law, which is a little bit of surprise because it enacts tough sanctions on China for its crackdown in Hong Kong while these negotiations, trade negotiations are going on with China. It wasn't a certainty with signing, a grantee, but a signing statement and said he wouldn't necessarily enact every part of the law or follow through on every part of it.

KIRBY: Yes.

BERMAN: But what do you make of this signing?

KIRBY: Well I'm glad he did it. I actually wish he had not done a signing statement and had not caveated that signature the way he did. We need to see the United States coming out full-throated in support of these Democratic protests and these peaceful protests. In fact, moving forward with, you know, Democratic reforms in Hong Kong. And he shouldn't necessarily tie it to the trade negotiations.

You can do this in a silo. It doesn't mean that the Chinese are going to like it, but it's possible for to us do that. We've done it before. I wish he had been a little less equivocal, but I am glad in the end that he didn't sign it.

BERMAN: Yes. For many politicians standing up for democracy isn't quite so hard. Admiral Kirby, great to have you with us tonight, really appreciate it.

KIRBY: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Happy Thanksgiving.

KIRBY: You, too.

BERMAN: Still ahead, a new CNN poll in the 2020 Democratic race for president, who has the lead and who has fallen, that's next.

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[20:45:00]

BERMAN: Let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour, sir.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: JB, if I don't get to talk to you tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving.

BERMAN: You too.

CUOMO: I'm thankful for you brother you got a beautiful family, a beautiful guy. You're a tribute to the profession. You make me better and you're a good friend. BERMAN: You're OK.

CUOMO: I'll take it. I'm aiming for mediocrity, and I usually fall short. Now, what we're dealing with tonight is that the new information about Rudy Giuliani makes this situation seem like more of what it seems to be already, shady.

We have a great legal panel of people who have looked at cases like this before, what would be crossing the line for Rudy Giuliani ethically, within political moves here, legally. We'll look at all the headlines from that perspective and a special Thanksgiving wish at the end.

BERMAN: All right. Chris, thanks very much. See you in a few minutes. More news ahead on this Thanksgiving Eve, including new CNN polling on the 2020 Democratic presidential race, who's in front and who may be closing in, next.

[20:49:47]

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BERMAN: There's new CNN polling out of the latest state of play when it comes to the contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. With that, here's CNN's John King.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, there's constant chatter here in Washington and in New York that Joe Biden is weak, that his candidacy somehow someday will collapse. But if you look at our new poll, two words apply to the former vice president, leader and resilient. Let's take a look at the numbers.

We asked Democrats and likely Democratic voters who's your top choice, a national poll, national poll, with the former Vice President at 28%, a healthy lead. Senator Sanders at 17, Senator Warren at 14, Mayor Buttigieg at 11, several candidates at three including Michael Bloomberg, registering in our poll for the first time. But way down here at the bottom of the Democratic pack, again, the former vice president on top as he says in the national poll.

Now what happened? What would happen if the candidates at the bottom those you see a 3% and those who have even less support? What if they dropped out? Would Biden suffer then? Our poll says the answer that is no, at least not for now. The former Vice President, if you just had these four in the race gets 35%, Senator Sanders 23, Senator Warren 20, Mayor Buttigieg 17.

Warren owned the summer, she was the darling of the Democrat. She rose in the polls but as we get to the fall, nine and half weeks now to the first vote, the Democratic voters seem to be looking more to the center, more to the moderates.

[20:55:09]

Here's one way to look at that. If you add up top choice Biden and Buttigieg, you get 39 percent. Top choice of the progressives, Warren and Sanders 31 percent. Not a huge gap, but the moderate voice in the Democratic Party seems to be getting more attention, more love, if you will, from Democratic voters. John?

BERMAN: All right, our thanks to John King. So as with all polls, this latest one is only a snapshot at a given time, and as John King just reported doesn't reflect what's happening in either Iowa or New Hampshire.

With me now to discuss, Karen Finney, a former Senior Spokesperson for the Clinton presidential campaign, and former South Carolina Lawmaker Bakari Sellers who is supporting Kamala Harris for president, both are CNN Political Commentators.

Karen, I want to start with you what really is the top line out of this poll, which is the resilience of former Vice President Joe Biden, how do you see it?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's absolutely correct. I mean, there are a couple of things that I think we need to take into account. Number one, we've consistently seen and we've heard this tug for voters between head and heart, the desire to be Trump and their belief that Biden seems to be the person voters continue to believe can be him.

The second thing though in our poll that was really interesting was, when we asked voters about issues and who you think would do the best job on those issues, Biden also led in many categories. In healthcare, I think he was sort of -- even with Bernie, so that shows people both think he can be Trump but also trust him on the key issues they really care about.

BERMAN: And, Bakari, another story in our poll, and also the Quinnipiac poll, which came out just one day before. Elizabeth Warren seems to have stalled or in some cases, is slipping. Do you have a why there?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what we're saying is the ebb and flow of this race. This race is wide open. I think one of the things that people know is first, what we're seeing is a snapshot is nine and a half weeks away from the first balance cast. That's very important.

We've seen John Kerry. We've seen many others pull out victories, Barack Obama, this late in the game where they were down exponentially and actually rose to win.

But Joe Biden has been resilient. The biggest problem that people like Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders have is that they have to win Iowa and New Hampshire. They have to win Iowa and New Hampshire. The field will be cut down largely after that, but they have to win.

And Elizabeth Warren continues to slip and Pete Buttigieg rise to the top. There is no path for Elizabeth Warren to actually secure the nomination. And so I think that's her biggest problem. Pete Buttigieg poses a mortal threat to her in Iowa and New Hampshire and Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire as well.

BERMAN: And then, Karen, we also saw John King talking about the rise of the moderates. You do the math there, you add up Biden and Buttigieg. They seem to be leading Sanders and Warren, and there's some other numbers inside the polls which indicate the same thing. Do you see voters saying that maybe we don't want to go as progressive as some of the other candidates are trying to go?

FINNEY: Well, I think voters aren't sure yet what they want. I mean, this is the part of the, you know, race where you're dating. You haven't committed, right? We still hear that, frankly, from voters who say, well, I currently am supporting this person, but I'm -- my -- I'm open to supporting someone else. And I think I agree with Bakari in that we're going to continue to see that fluidity. But I would argue that the entrance of Bloomberg into the race and the layout of the calendar means the first four early states are not -- it's not going to be so deadly if you don't win, because this contest could go much longer.

BERMAN: You're shaking your head, Bakari.

SELLERS: Yes, I don't find that to be true at all. I think the Mayor Bloomberg trying this Rudy Giuliani theory is just simply not going to work. And I think for someone who doesn't have any continuous connections with the African American community, particularly in the south, is going to have a hard time running through a primary in the south.

But I also think Bloomberg is going to have many of the same problems now -- Bloomberg is going to have many of the same problems. This reinforces the argument, the top line argument about Joe Biden. He's going to have the same problems that Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders have, which is that you have to secure a large portion of the African-American vote.

Joe Biden has that. There are many people like myself and others who think that Cory and Kamala are in the best position if he falters, but that's the case.

BERMAN: Go ahead, Karen.

FINNEY: Bakari, it's basic math. The first four early states are only 10 percent of the delegates that you need. The big states, like Texas, Florida, or much later. And so again, if Bloomberg can find a way, and I'm just saying -- look, Bakari, I don't know, between you and I, who's done this more, right? Like, I'm just telling you that I think it changed the calculation a bit in that. You can make the argument that if I don't do --

SELLERS: I wholeheartedly --

FINNEY: -- or you can keep yourself alive beyond the first four and beyond --

SELLERS: I hear you and I appreciate the argument. And I hear you and I just remember being a young country legislator with a tall skinny guy with a funny name named Barack Obama, who actually pulled off a miracle in Iowa, then came back from 5, 10 points down at this point had a 33-point swing to win South Carolina. That propelled him into Super Tuesday.

BERMAN: Right.

SELLERS: Bet on Bloomberg if you choose but if he doesn't win the first four, nothing will happen.

BERMAN: Bakari Sellers, Karen Finney, let's have a happy Thanksgiving. Thank you very much for being with us tonight. Bakari, I'm going to see you tomorrow morning on "New Day".

Time now to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time."