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New York Times Reports, Bolton Book Alleges Trump Tied Ukraine Aid To Biden Probe; Investigators Looking For Cause Of Crash That Killed Kobe Bryant. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2020 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer live in Washington alongside Jake Tapper, Chris Cuomo and Dana Bash, she's up on Capitol Hill. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

We're also following the latest on the investigation into the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, And seven others in a helicopter crash in Southern California.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: But, first, coming up in just a few hours, the Senate will gavel back into session after a one-day recess. The president's defense team will go on the offensive today, we're told, for the second day of opening arguments.

Today's arguments, however, come in the wake of a report describing damning new information from President Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton. The New York Times reporting a draft manuscript of Bolton's upcoming book details a conversation in August where President Trump explicitly told Bolton that he wanted to continue withholding nearly $400 million in critical security aid to Ukraine until Ukraine agreed to help with two investigations, including an investigation aimed at former Vice President Joe Biden, a conversation, we should note, that President Trump denies.

BLITZER: the Bolton revelations could throw a wrench into the Republican leaders' hopes of avoiding any new witnesses in the Senate trial. Democrats need at least four Republican senators to join the call for more evidence.

Dana Bash is leading our coverage from Capitol Hill. John Harwood is over at the White House.

Dana, what kind of reaction, first of all, are you hearing from there on the claims from the Bolton book?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I could tell you, Wolf, the feel up here is different today than it was just a couple of days ago when the kind of sense was that this was a train heading right for a potential final vote without witnesses.

What I'm not hearing Republican senators saying, okay, yes, count me in for witnesses, what we're hearing is a lot of silence, a lot of frustration that this is coming at this time. And specifically I'm told from a source familiar with conversations that Republican senators are making clear to the White House that they are very frustrated, that the White House apparently had this manuscript, or at least the key parts of it, back at the end of December, and that nobody on the Hill was told about or at least key players were not told about it.

There seems to be some scrambling going on as we speak to figure out who in the White House had their hands on it, more importantly how much did they disseminate. For example, one key question is did the White House Counsel have this information, was he part of the process of looking through it. And, obviously, that's incredibly relevant because it is the White House Counsel who is making the argument against impeachment, against convicting the president.

Right now, in a couple of hours, we'll continue that argument on the Senate floor, so there is a lot of kind of, you know, quiet frustration, but also scrambling to figure out the whos, the whats, the whens. And then ultimately after that, it's going to be whether or not there will be an actual vote to get John Bolton and in what form.

And all eyes are on Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to figure out how he sees his conference, whether he sees there is a change and whether he will change his approach to this in Bolton and whether or not there will be pressure even for other witnesses, like Mick Mulvaney, who is also mentioned in The New York Times story.

TAPPER: John, the draft manuscript from Bolton was actually sent to the White House weeks ago by Bolton's attorney. We're told it was viewed by member of the National Security Council, the NSC. Should we assume that both President Trump and Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel, knew about this before the presentation, the defense presentation over the weekend began?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I would say, Jake, that any assumption we would make about that question comes at our peril. This is a White House that has said just a few minutes ago that no one outside the National Security Council viewed that manuscript. But, remember, and this is also a president of the United States who said he didn't know Lev Parnas before a private recording of him at an intimate 90-minute dinner emerged when he responded to Parnas, his advice about getting rid of his ambassador to Ukraine.

So we don't know. We know that the White House lawyers had represented to the Senate that there was no direct witness with direct knowledge that the president had engaged in this quid pro quo.

[10:05:03]

Now, John Bolton, potentially, a very senior aide to the president, would belie that claim. The question is going to be how intense are those objections that Dana referred to by Republican senators and are they enough to force them to take a different stance than they were poised to take last week before this news came out?

TAPPER: All right. John Harwood and Dana Bash, thanks so much. Stay there. We're going to come back to you.

And, Wolf, the real question here is are there going to be four Republican senators for whom this news is important enough that they're willing to say, we need to hear from Bolton. And I don't know that there are, to be completely candid, just watching the way that Republicans in the Senate have really rallied around President Trump. I can see Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah all saying, as they have said, we need to hear from witnesses, we need to have all the information in front of us, this is obviously new information that the House Democrats did not have access to.

But I don't know if there is a fourth. I don't know if Senator Lamar Alexander or any of the other Republican senators up for re-election next year in purple states, Martha McSally in Arizona, Cory Gardener in Colorado, I don't know if this will be enough to change their minds because President Trump's hold on the Republican Party is so strong.

BLITZER: And, you know, what's interesting also is that let's say there are four Republican senators. I don't know if there are. I tend to agree with you. But let's say there are four. Will they then demand that Hunter Biden or Joe Biden be part of the witness equation that they have to be part of this, otherwise it's not going to happen? And will that, if the Bidens, for example, are going to be called as witnesses, will there be some Democratic senators who will say, they're not going to vote for it? Because they want -- they want John Bolton, they want Mick Mulvaney, but don't want the Bidens to have to testify because supposedly they're totally irrelevant to all of this, that's the argument they've made.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, although, Republicans control the Senate, Democrats don't, and there is a sentiment among some Democratic senators of let's call their bluff. Let's call their bluff and say, fine, Hunter Biden testifies, Joe Biden testifies in some sort of secure way, even the whistleblower. Because what is at issue here is not what Joe Biden did or what Hunter Biden did. There is no threat that Hunter Biden is going to be impeached. Let's do that and then in order to get the testimony from Bolton, which is germane. So some Democratic senators have said why not?

BLITZER: It's interesting in this letter that John Bolton's lawyer wrote to the White House on December 30th, you and John Harwood were just talking about it, specifically in the letter. The attorney representing John Bolton, Charles Cooper, he specifically says that they were handing over this 500-page manuscript. We understand that the contents of Ambassador Bolton's manuscript will not be reviewed by or otherwise disclosed to any persons not regularly involved in that process.

There is a whole bureaucratic process to make sure no classified information, any secure compartmental information, anything like that is included and they say materials submitted for review will be disseminated to other persons or agencies only to the extent to identify classified information. In other words, the lawyer for John Bolton was suggesting, you can't submit this to the political guys at the White House because they'll be upset when they read this. TAPPER: Right. And let's bring in Chris Cuomo. Chris, the truth of the matter is, and the reason why I'm skeptical why that this will necessarily have an effect on any Senate Republicans beyond the three who are already potentially willing to hear new evidence is we already know that John Bolton is willing to testify. He's made that clear. His attorney has already stated he has new information that the public and that the Congress does not know about. And that has not been enough. Maybe this is a tipping point, but I'm not so sure. What do you think?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think that if you are looking at it through the lens of political implications for this, everything you and Wolf are saying makes sense. I think that in terms of how this affects the case, it's going to look differently, I would suggest, especially to the president's defenders. Why? You don't bring up bad information during a presentation like this. So a lot of the reporting this morning about what will they do about this today, I would be shocked if they even mentioned this, because you don't introduce bad news into your own presentation.

In terms of what it means for witnesses, a step into the political for a moment, you know, the Democrats have to be careful what they wish for. If you get witnesses because it's obvious here that we don't know what happened at the top of the food chain, and Bolton is certainly, as you said, Jake, germane to the conversation.

[10:10:01]

And you have to give him the benefit of the doubt on credibility because this president deserves zero, zero confidence for credibility on anything. He is a known and habitual liar. Of course, then the wild card becomes whether or not Bolton has any proof of this conversation that he says that happened. But on the legal side, if there are witnesses, are the Democrats willing to get a Bolton, a Mulvaney, et cetera, for a Joe Biden in the seat with questions from senators who would love to derail that campaign.

So, legally, first, Jeffrey, am I wrong about the idea of do the defense lawyers for the president bring up this Bolton speculation today?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely not. I think you're absolutely right, that they will continue trying their case as if this is not in evidence yet, but it is in the real world. And, you know, it's very easy, I think, to overthink the situation here. What we have now is obvious proof that there is relevant evidence out there to the core question in this case. It's been obvious, frankly, to most of us for a long time, but now, it's even more obvious that John Bolton has direct evidence about whether the president authorized a -- or initiated an improper, if not, unlawful quid pro quo. He has this information.

And if this is anything like a fair trial, if this has a pretense of being an inquiry into the facts of what happened here, they have to call Bolton as a witness.

CUOMO: So, assuming, Laura, that Bolton doesn't have information, he has knowledge, this is what the president told me, and I don't have any copy of anything, I don't keep those kinds of notes, I don't have it. At a minimum, you have give him the benefit of the doubt credibility, even with book sales thing, and I know his website went live last night just as this story started to break, it seems that this is beneficial to his cause.

But the legal argument, why does it change? Why wouldn't the defense argument stay the same, which is, yes, okay, fine, the president wanted to hold up the aid, we never argued he didn't, but he did it for legitimate reasons?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you're going to still hear the comments about hearsay and you don't have direct documentary evidence. I don't put much weight into the absence of documentary evidence. Of course, many people have conversations and don't memorialize it in some way.

But the real issue for me is that the GOP could potentially have their cake and eat it too in the sense of, you know what, it's out there, why call him now? If all he's going to tell us is that there was exactly what you're talking about, the notion of he wanted a condition of some release of aid on an investigation, we know all this. This now seems cumulative as opposed to additive. And in that respect, we may not want to call him.

Now, that's a laughable argument, of course, because the very first time that we're able to undermine the argument that no one had a direct conversation, no one personally heard from Trump is what's happening. But I suspect they will try to use it and his book sale and the fact that, of course, he released his publication date of March 17th, so he's not going to wait for clearance to go forward with this.

And we already know the senators have been unwilling, to date, to have this be an elongated process, even though it means we may lose out on the full context of the -- this is the unpublished manuscript, Chris. This is not the final product. What else went into it? What were the notes that were involved? That's what a testimony would actually provide.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ross.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, so far, we have been talking about testimony. One of the issues with testimony is, as Senate Republicans have noted, there is the potential for the president to hold that process up. One of the things we learn though, in fact, in some ways, the main thing we learn from The New York Times story, is that there are dozens of pages of already written, in essence, you know, his account, dozens of pages about this Ukraine issue.

And so, wait, put aside the testimony for a second, if I were the House Democrats, or Senate Democrats, I would be focusing on getting the already written information. And I have been wondering --

CUOMO: Subpoena the document.

GARBER: -- for weeks now why the House, which has independent subpoena authority, doesn't have to wait for the Senate, why the House Democrats haven't subpoenaed witnesses and more importantly documents and information, exactly.

TOOBIN: But also let's talk about the patriotic duty of John Bolton and Simon & Schuster. Simon & Schuster has in its possession a document that is highly relevant to the most important question that will be addressed by the Congress perhaps in decades. And they're going to stick around and wait until March 17th because they'll sell more books? I mean, I understand --

CUOMO: Hasn't Bolton already showed that he's been selectively patriotic here?

TOOBIN: Okay. I mean, yes, but you can be worse or you can be better. And, you know, John Bolton is not the only person to make this decision.

[10:15:00]

I mean, this is a company that is a book publisher, and I love to sell books and I'm like authors who sell books. But, you know, this trial is going to end this week unless John Bolton becomes a witness. And I just think that the moral question here is not entirely separate from the legal question, I'm sorry, John.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Historically, this is in a parallel to the so-called smoking gun tape. The reason I say that is the contents of that conversation were really known. The hard evidence of it were unknown. Here, you have a parallel. Bolton obviously wrote this manuscript before this became an intense issue and before he probably even told people he had any inclination to testify. I think the inclination to testify was to protect the fact he did have revelatory information in his book.

So this could have a startling effect on the Republicans. They could say, here's a very key witness. He had direct conversations. We don't know the degree of the exchange with the president on this subject. We don't know if it is once, twice, multiple times. And when you put Barr in the loop, Giuliani, Pompeo and Mulvaney, this is makes him a very important witness to these proceedings. I don't see how they can just pass over it.

CUOMO: All right. Let's hold it up here, let's take a break. We're going to be talking about this all morning. It is certainly going to be the headline that drives the intrigue on this.

Plus, NBA icon, Kobe Bryant, and his 13-year-old daughter, among nine killed in a helicopter crash in California. There have been tributes around the world and it's only just begun. We have the latest on the impact and the investigation, next.

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BLITZER: Around the world, shockwaves and sorrow at the news of the death of the NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, one of basketball's all-time greats. He was among nine people killed when their helicopter crashed into a California hillside on Sunday.

TAPPER: Also on board, Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, called, Gigi. The two were part of a group traveling for a basketball game in Thousand Oaks, California. Gigi was scheduled to play yesterday. Kobe was expected to coach.

BLITZER: The crash also killed Orange Coast College Baseball Coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa.

The helicopter went down in Calabasas Sunday morning about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Today, the FAA and the NTSB, they're on the scene trying to determine what happened.

TAPPER: News of Kobe Bryant's death spread quickly. He was a legend both on and off the court and had been for decades. The Black Mamba, as he referred to himself, was a fierce competitor, an outspoken ambassador for the sport he loved, he helped elevate the NBA to an international level during his 20-year professional career.

BLITZER: Tributes seen across the NBA show just how much he meant to the game, many teams honoring Kobe Bryant on the court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Pelicans will now take a 24-second shot clock violation and then Boston will do the same and take a 24-second shot clock violation in honor of number 24, Kobe Bryant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were chanting Kobe's name earlier tonight. And I think you'll hear it throughout the course of the evening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they will take a 24-second violation. So the two numbers that Kobe Bryant wore in his career, number 8 and number 24, big honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to take a 24-second violation in honor of --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of tears, very sad. CNN's Brooke Baldwin is outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the home of the Lakers.

Brooke, I can only imagine what the fans there are going through today.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I mean, good morning to both of you, Wolf and Jake. I was just like you all, sitting yesterday, glued to my phone, watching all the tributes and the emotional words pouring in. And I raised my hand, I wanted to be out here and honor Kobe Bryant and all the lives lost by being here and covering it and hearing from these fans. And they're at a loss for words.

It's just after 7:00 in the morning here in Los Angeles. The sun has now risen and we're starting to see folks coming through the plaza, Staples Center in front of me.

And just from where I'm sitting, I'm counting one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight giant photos of Kobe Bryant, in loving memory. And Matthew Alvarado is with me, good enough to hang with me and share a little bit. And I know this has been so emotional for you. First, just show me your ball and tell me what it says.

MATTHEW ALVARADO, KOBE BRYANT FAN: It says, dear Kobe, thank you, you are the great of all time. Rest in peace, Gigi.

BALDWIN: And you wanted to come out before the day gets going. I mean, this whole area was just jammed last night until 2:00 in the morning. Why show up?

ALVARADO: I definitely want to give respect to one of my favorite basketball players, Kobe. And I want to get the day started here early, beat the traffic.

BALDWIN: Why does this supersede sport? This is about family to you.

ALVARADO: Yes. Kobe Bryant has definitely been, to many of us, like a beacon of light.

[10:25:00]

Growing up, I was always into basketball. Basketball was my therapy, my medicine, my outlet. And I think without Kobe, that wouldn't have happen.

BALDWIN: Matt, thank you so much.

And just, Wolf and Jake, you know, I've been just found myself watching so many older interviews with Kobe Bryant and it's this whole -- you know, his nicknamed the Black Mamba because he would just kill on the court, but it's Mamba Mentality, right? It was the title of his first book.

And in watching an interview, we talked about how it wasn't just an attitude but a way of life. And I think it's just something that everyone out here really around the world are taking with them today and the days as people continue to mourn the loss of one of the greatest of all time and his daughter and all these pairs of parents and children on board that helicopter.

Back to you, guys.

TAPPER: Another tragic day in Los Angeles. Brooke Baldwin, thank you so much.

To his family, Kobe Bryant, of course, was much more than an NBA superstar, he was a devoted husband to his wife, Vanessa, the father of four daughters.

Joining us now, L.A. Times Sports Columnist Arash Markazi. Arash wrote about how much Bryant's family meant to him. And you spoke to Bryant just a few months ago. Tell us about that conversation. ARASH MARKAZI, SPORTS COLUMNIST, L.A. TIMES: Yes. I mean, the conversation that we had was about the season. That was why I wanted to talk to him about the upcoming season. And he was focused on Gianna. He just loved watching her play so much. So his focus was on her season. When I asked him if he was going to go to the first game of the season, he said, no, I'll keep up with the score on my phone but I'm going to watch her play. That was his focus. And he was content with the career that he had, but Gigi gave him a new passion for the game and he loved going to games with her.

Again, when he retired in 2016, he didn't go to a ton of games. But when she wanted to go to a game, he went with her. So when they sat court side, he just loved the conversations that they would have. He would talk to her about, you know, player tendencies and adjustments and things like that. So he loved to watch the game next to her.

TAPPER: And one of the things I was trying to explain to my daughter why people were so sad about the loss of this man, and one of the things I kept coming back to, because, obviously, when you look at his life in totality, you know, there is some complicated and upsetting parts of his story. But the thing about Kobe Bryant that struck me is he really seemed to be on a quest to be a better person constantly, even though he had made some very significant mistakes. Part of his story is that he was striving to be a better person, not just on the court, but off.

MARKAZI: Yes. When you think about the helicopter, he got that helicopter because he wanted to pick up his kids from school, he wanted to take them to school, he wanted to be there for those moments. So, again, when I told him, are you going to come see the games this season, and he said, no, like, if I go to a game, that means that I can't be at home with my kids. And so being a father, being a husband, being a better man was so important to him.

And, again, the relationship that he had with Gigi was so special. That was the best friend. Towards the end of his career and in retirement, she was by his side throughout. She would drive to work with him, fly to work with him. I mean, she -- the passion that he had for the game was with her. And he didn't force that on her, she just loved the game so much.

And so, again, while he was content to move on with his life and do other things, she kind of brought him back to the game that he loved.

BLITZER: It's Wolf, Arash. In terms of basketball legacy, where do you think Kobe Bryant ranks in terms of all-time greats?

MARKAZI: He's up there, Wolf. I mean, I've always said he's in the top five and, again, we can have that debate. But I think what kind of -- what this moment is showing us is to appreciate players when we have that moment in time. And so, again, we can have those debates about Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe. But, hopefully, this gives us a chance to just appreciate the players for who they are and for what they bring to the game.

And really, Wolf, the impact that he had on the younger generation of players, he always loved spending time with these guys, whether it was Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, who were not on the Lakers, he loved spending time with them and teaching them.

BLITZER: He was a great teacher and a great basketball player and a great man. Arash Markazi, thank you so much for joining us.

MARKAZI: Thank you.

TAPPER: As we await the start of the president's defense team, the big question, will former National Security Adviser John Bolton's new book revelation change the course of this Senate impeachment trial? Our special coverage continues. Stay with us.

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