Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Letter to Pelosi, House Democrats Are Declaring Open War on Democracy If They Impeach; Interview with Sen. Michael Bennet (D- CO) Presidential Candidate, about Trump and Impeachment; Giuliani Says Trump Still Supports Dirt Digging in Ukraine; Indicted Giuliani Associate Won't Be Jailed Pending Trial. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: As the House debate the rules for tomorrow's historic impeachment vote, the Senate is looking already looking of course ahead to their expected trial in January. Democratic Senator and Presidential candidate Michael Bennet is with me, he also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And so Senator Bennet, welcome back.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks for having me back, Brooke. Appreciate it.

BALDWIN: We have a little bit to discuss today. I do want to begin, of course, as the Senate prepares to hold this impeachment trial on the President next month, I have to get your reaction to this six-page letter that the President sent today to Speaker Pelosi. Let me just read part of it for folks who are watching if they haven't heard about this yet.

He writes, there is far too much that needs to be done to improve the lives of our citizens. Is time for you and the highly partisan Democrats in Congress to immediately cease this impeachment fantasy and get back to work for the American people.

[15:35:00]

While I have no expectation that you will do so, I write this letter to you for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record.

What did you think when you read this?

BENNET: I thought it was absolutely pathetic when I read it and I thought history is going to judge Donald Trump very harshly as it should. You know, he has pursued an approach to the presidency where he starts lying first thing in the morning and he lies all day long. And then the next day it's a whole other series of lies and the day after that, just the way he ran his real estate business in New York. But history will not be kind to him on this stuff, because it will

catch up to his lies. He's relied on a social media environment and a cable news environment where from day to day he just changes the subject.

Just the discussion about Ukraine alone in there where he says you know I did this and you know I did that, and he refers to President Zelensky. I mean, my first reaction was, maybe he should invite President Zelensky to be a character witness in the trial in the Senate.

And then my second reaction was maybe he should invite Vladimir Putin to be his character witness in the trial. People that are Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, are not going to buy what he's saying in this letter.

BALDWIN: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about, Senator Bennet. Because let's home in on your colleagues across the aisle in the Senate. How do you think this letter will sit with them and when it comes to the trial in January, will this change anything?

BENNET: Well, I don't know. I mean I certainly don't think it's going to have a positive effect for the President, because it really does show that he's existing in some completely alternate reality. There are people on the other side who are saying, well, he shouldn't have done what he did with Ukraine but it doesn't rise to an impeachable offense.

I wonder if they think the President continues to believe that what he did in this attempt to extort a foreign leader to get them to involve themselves in a Presidential campaign if he can't understand how wrong that was, maybe that will lead them to reflect and change their vote. I just don't know.

What I do know is that the American people are being really poorly served by the guy that's in the White House right now.

BALDWIN: We've learned over here at CNN that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and some over at the White House are nervous about Republican Senators who may support Democrats, right, in having perhaps some of those witnesses come to trial. How valid are those concerns? What are you hearing from some of your colleagues?

BENNET: Well, I believe that the list that Chuck Schumer put forward was a very reasonable list. I support that list and I think Trump should be saying, let me have these witnesses. You know, they're the people that work for him. But as you know, he's completely stonewalled the House from its ability to be able to hear the witnesses, and as your earlier guest said, the courts would take too long.

So we're trying, again, in the Senate to put witnesses in front of the American people in part so they can also make a judgment about what happened here. So, it says a lot to me --

BALDWIN: What about your fellow Coloradan, Cory Gardner? BENNET: Yes, I haven't been able to talk to him about it in the last

couple of weeks. So I don't know where he is. But I do think that it's going to be very hard for some Republicans to vote against having some witness testimony as part of this discussion in the Senate.

BALDWIN: Over this past weekend, Senator Bennet, you told a town hall, assuming the facts don't change, that you will vote to convict President Trump. Is that first of all still the case? Has anything changed in the last 24, 48 hours?

BENNET: Well, the only thing that's changed is he's underscored the fact he has absolutely no idea why he did what he did was wrong, which is staggering to me. I mean, if any CEO in America had done what Donald Trump has done, he'd be gone. By the way, not even the impeachment stuff. If we had a CEO in America, who spent all their time, no offense to you, Brooke, watching cable television and tweeting as a result of it 24 hours a day, we'd find something else for them to do.

That's not a reason to impeach him but it is a reason for him to be a one-term President and I think unless the facts change, I will vote to convict. And unless he actually treats Congress with some respect here, because we're representing the American people in this process. It allows witnesses to come forward instead of stonewalling the investigation, which he's done from the start.

BALDWIN: Now let me ask, let me push you a bit because I hear you on especially with this letter, voting to convict, but how can you say that voting to convict without having sat through the trial?

BENNET: Well, I said that if the facts don't change. So if the trial doesn't show anything different than what we've learned in the House of Representatives.

[15:40:02]

Then what we're going to working on is a set of facts that looks like what they developed in the House of Representatives. Be hard not to convict on those facts since it's a pretty ironclad case notwithstanding what the President says about it.

I mean I think the President's admitted to the behavior that is in front of us and I think on top of that he has made it impossible for the House to hear these witnesses and to have a full airing of -- if you were innocent, he should send the witnesses forward to testify. He should have done it in the House. He should have done it in the Senate. Instead what he's done is every step of the way tried to avoid the responsibility, or the accountability that a President should accept.

BALDWIN: Last question, Senator. Just going back to this six-page diatribe from the President. Do you think this is a preview of an impeached but not removed President Trump?

BENNET: I do. I think that he will spend the next, you know, however many months he is in office, until the election, lying to the American people about his lack of accomplishments. And trying to say that he's been a victim somehow, when the reality is, he's the one that's disgracing our democracy every day. He ran for office saying I alone can fix it.

Since he's been President of the United States, he's completely disregarded our First Amendment freedoms, the independence of the judiciary, the importance of separation of powers, the democracy itself. And I for one don't think the American people want to have another four years of this chaos in the White House.

That doesn't mean that it's going to be easy to beat him, but it does mean that I think somebody who runs for the presidency is saying we're going to restore opportunity to the American people and we're going to restore integrity to this government, is going to be able to win in purple states, beat Donald Trump and move the country forward again, which is what we have to do.

BALDWIN: We'll let the American people be the judge come next year. For now, Senator Michael Bennet, thank you so much.

BENNET: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Hope to talk again. Thank you.

BENNET: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Also today, just to add this to everything else percolating. Rudy Giuliani is speaking out and he says that he still has the full support of the President for his not so secret mission in Ukraine. What he told CNN about digging up dirt.

[15:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Right now in our nation's capitol, as the House Rules Committee sets the table for tomorrow's historic impeachment vote, the President's personal attorney is at it again. In a phone conversation with CNN, Rudy Giuliani said that the President has been, quote, very supportive of his continued efforts to dig up dirt on his political rivals in Ukraine.

That admission only fueling the Democrats' central argument as they press forward with impeachment. This is happening after a stunning accusation earlier today. Giuliani tweeting the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was, to quote him, obstructing justice. And just 24 hours ago Giuliani told "The New Yorker" that he needed Yovanovitch out of the way to solicit Ukraine's help in digging dirt on his client's political rivals.

So CNN reporter Michael Warren is all over this for us. And so, Michael, despite you know all things impeachment, the President is still very supportive? What does that mean? What do you make of that? MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Well, it suggests if what Giuliani is

telling CNN is true, that through all of this ordeal, the whistleblower report, the investigations, the impeachment inquiry, that the President does not feel chastised by any of these revelations that he continues to be sort of moving ahead status quo using his personal attorney, expecting his personal attorney to continue to dig up dirt.

As we just saw recently, Giuliani returned to Ukraine again telling us, re-emerging this week to tell us as well as these other outlets that the President's behind him right before, just a day before the President is likely to be impeached by the House really just underscores that.

BALDWIN: In this phone conversation Giuliani apparently emphasized that he and the President are on offense when it comes to pursuing dirt on Democrats. You brought up the vote tomorrow, how might all this play into the impeachment process?

WARREN: Well, it's clear that the President and his team around him sort of view the result of impeachment as sort of already played out. The Democrats are likely to impeach him, and the Senate very likely to acquit him. And so it really seems like offense is meant to sort of redirect the conversation away from impeachment.

Which really frankly will be a very bad, difficult day for the President, and refocus it on, you said, Marie Yovanovitch. Refocus it on Joe Biden. Which was a real focus of Giuliani's work to dig up dirt in Ukraine. And really kind of, again, as Giuliani says, to play offense moving forward past what, it's clear the team views as sort of an already figured out decision.

BALDWIN: All right. Michael, thank you. Let's move to more breaking news now. We have just learned of a rare move by the usually secretive FISA court now slamming the FBI after that Inspector General report. So let's go straight to our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez. What' the story here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, that Inspector General report details 17 instances in which the FBI included inaccuracies or omissions in the Carter Page FISA application and of course now the court, the FISA court is reacting to that.

[15:50:00]

And I'll read you just a part of the response here from the court. They're telling that the FBI has to by January 10th provide some kind of explanation of what they plan to do to change the way they do things and here's the quote from the ruling.

It says, the frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported by or contradicted by information in their possession and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable. Essentially the judge here is saying that when can we believe the FBI

if they didn't do their job properly in this most high-profile of circumstances. This is one of the most -- they knew this was going to be one of the most scrutinized cases in FBI history and yet they still screwed it up.

And the judge is saying come back at me in early January and tell me what you're doing to fix these problems and to make sure that this doesn't keep happening. It's a very unusual as you said thing for this court to even speak out and to speak out publicly, and here they are taking the FBI to task.

BALDWIN: Here they are. Evan Perez, thank you.

Let's move on. Just into CNN. A judge just decided if an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani's will remain free until his trial. His explanation for taking $1 million from a Russian account.

[15:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: An indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani's who helped him try to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the Bidens is trying to stay out of jail and he just got a big reprieve. At a hearing just this afternoon in New York, a federal judge declined to revoke Lev Parnas' bail while he awaits bail on charges of funneling illicit campaign donations to U.S. political candidates. Prosecutors wanted him behind bars alleging he concealed a million dollars that he received from a Russian bank account and lied about his assets.

And Kara Scannell is with me here now. You were saying he looked quite relieved. Back to the million dollars. What do we know about the source of the million dollars?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, we learned today in court from both the government and Parnas' attorney that the million dollars was a loan from one of Dmitry Firtash's lawyers. One of his Swiss lawyers. He has American lawyers here. Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing who were talks to represent the President. It was not from those lawyers. It was from a Swiss lawyer.

That they had given -- this is according to Parnas' lawyer -- a $1 million loan to Parnas' wife and that money was then used as a down payment for a home and to pay personal experiences. But prosecutors are taking a big issue with this, saying that does not smell right. You know that doesn't pass the smell test.

Why would this lawyer be giving Parnas' wife a loan in that amount of money, you know? And then they said they said that Parnas was using it as though it was not a loan, as though it was just a payment, with no intention of paying this back.

So prosecutors using this as just another example to say they don't really understand Parnas' sources of financing, where his money is coming from. They said they had to do a lot of leg work to even get to the bottom of that. And you know this is a big issue here with Parnas saying you know that he has burned all his bridges.

And in fact that when his lawyer inquired about the loan with the Swiss lawyer who had given it to his wife, the lawyer said this is too much bad publicity, he wants to take the loan back and is recalling it. It's not clear where all that money has gone because what we also learned today was that Parnas' bank account had once this $1 million loan now it's down to $94,000. Something that the judge even said today that it's a little suspicious to have your bank account run down that quick. This only came in September just a few months ago.

BALDWIN: So what about -- OK, so push it forward on the investigation. House investigators have resisted talking to him even though he had said he had useful information for them. Do you think that they might change their mind?

SCANNELL: Well, it's interesting because we see the House moving along on this path, they are on a pretty quick speed to get to the impeachment. But Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has said they are still conducting an investigation. Whether that is going to involve Parnas remains to be seen.

But his lawyer even articulated again today in court he wants to cooperate. He is asking the government to turn back over the devices that they've received from Parnas so they can continue and begin providing Congress with information that he has.

BALDWIN: OK. Kara, thank you very much.

And just one other quick piece of new I just wanted to pass along to everyone, the Senate today passing this historic measure, it marks a big win for both the President's daughter and senior White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, who pushed for this legislation. Senate members approving a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees.

This is the first time in history this has happened. It also includes money to establish President Trump's space force. The vote was 86 to 8. It came after months of contentious wrangling. The final deal struck with only a handful of days left before Congress wraps up for the year.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

[16:00:00]