Return to Transcripts main page


Debate Over John Bolton Testimony Continues; Fact-Checking the Impeachment Hearing; Interview with Sen Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 28, 2020 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: -- "Fox News," that's the way it worked last night. The guy is a traitor, suddenly he's a prisoner of the left wing, whatever you want to call it.

And the assumption is -- and I don't think it's necessarily true -- that Bolton leaked this manuscript. He did what he was supposed to do, which was he handed it for review on December 30th. Somebody else did, sure it's going to help his book sales, et cetera.

I think they believe he shouldn't even write the book because, of course, that would mean that he's a traitor to the president when in fact, John Bolton probably -- knowing John Bolton, as you do, probably sees this as the right thing to do for his country. But now, he is perceived as being on the wrong side. And the fact that he even said he would testify if there were a subpoena, is also considered an act of treason by some -- and I think that's absolutely ridiculous.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And by the same token, John, we're also seeing liberals and progressives embrace John Bolton in a way --



TAPPER: -- that is rather shocking.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: George W. Bush had to appoint John Bolton U.N. ambassador through a recess appointment because John Bolton could not get the votes of Democrats in the United States Senate. So I think Democrats should have some trepidation that John Bolton is on some white horse, coming to ride to the Democratic Party's rescue.

However -- however, what he says and what we've seen of this manuscript so far is incredibly damning. The question now is, will the Senate decide it has to bring him in? And let John Bolton answer the questions about his motivations. Why are you doing this? Are you doing this to sell books?

And, remember, if you look at it now, first the -- yesterday's big story, the quid pro quo and, I think, just as significantly if not more significantly, the concerns raised by Bolton and Pompeo about Rudy Giuliani --

TAPPER: According to Bolton's book.

KING: According to the book, that they both raised concerns that Rudy Giuliani was working in the interest of his clients and his own financial interests, and essentially playing the president. That was their concern that they raised. Is that true? That's why you would have a witness. Is impeachment the right place to have those witnesses? That's what the next few days are going to be about.

But now, today, the latest installment, that he went to Bill Barr, the attorney general, was concerned the president was somehow doing favors for other authoritarian leaders, that does track with what we've heard from the very earliest days of the Trump presidency, from Secretary Tillerson -- former Secretary Tillerson, from former Secretary Mattis, from the anonymous essay and then the anonymous book.

That there are people -- especially in the national security apparatus -- who view themselves as guardrails, essentially running ahead of the president to push him back on the road, that he -- and so this has been the conversation. Is he different and disruptive? Or, as Bolton alleges in this manuscript, is he dangerous?

That's -- that's the conversation that goes back to day one.

BORGER: Well --

TAPPER: And Senator Santorum, I'm guessing that you like and respect John Bolton, you see the world -- especially in foreign policy -- through different ways. What do you think is motivating him? What's your take on all this?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know. I haven't spoken to John Bolton, but I -- the only thing I would question is sort of the timing of submitting the book for review. I mean, you're doing it at a time when it's -- knowing the history of what goes on in this White House, that leaks are prevalent, to submit this manuscript at this time, I think, was bad judgment.

I have no problem with John Bolton writing a book. I know John Bolton well. I mean, he ran for president, people forget. I mean, this is someone who deeply believes in his worldview and what is best for America, and I think he felt compelled to write something about the state of foreign policy in America and where our country's going.

I have no problem with any of that, I have no problem with him criticizing the president. I have, actually, no problem with him recounting conversations with the president. I just really question the timing of doing this when you know that something like this could happen, and I think that was not judicious.

BORGER (?): So maybe he shouldn't have submitted it?

SANTORUM: Well, he should have waited -- he should have waited until this impeachment thing passed, then you can submit it and, you know, publish your book.

TAPPER: Well, publication date is in March. In any case, Nia, we'll see what the book actually claims. But as John points out, this -- what we've heard does track with a lot of what we've heard from other players in the administration, who were, quote-unquote, "guardrails" for --


TAPPER: -- the president, although I'm sure he resented any notion that anybody was there to control him. And, you know, had concerns even though they too were conservative and believed in much of the president's worldview, they had concerns about things he was doing.

HENDERSON: No, I think that's right. I mean, you sort of get the clash between sort of establishment Republicans, who initially were part of this administration in sort of the Trump style of Republicans, and you saw this, I think, at play even with Jeff Sessions, right?

Somebody who was a rock-ribbed Republican, in many ways the architect of a lot of Trump's ideas on immigration, he tracked very closely with Trump's ideas and then he goes against Trump, recuses himself in the Mueller probe, and then all of a sudden he is persona non grata to this president, and also to conservatives more generally.

So, you know, speaking out against this president has not been a good career move for a lot of Republicans.

TAPPER: Coming up, the president's defense team turned the Senate trial into an attack on Joe and Hunter Biden. We're going to fact- check some of those claims, plus --


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting some new details on the investigation into Kobe Bryant's tragic death including what happened in the final moments before the crash.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our special coverage of the Senate impeachment trial. We want to highlight a moment from yesterday's arguments that lacks some essential context.

President Trump's lawyer, Pam Bondi, played a video clip of former Vice President Joe Biden from 2018. She left out some important facts. Let's listen.



PAM BONDI, TRUMP IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY: Years later, now, former Vice President Biden publicly details what we know happened, his threat to withhold more than a billion dollars in loan guarantees unless Shokin was fired. Here's the vice president.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I said no, I said, I'm not going to -- or we're not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, you have no authority, you're not the president, the president said -- I said, call him.


I said, I'm telling you, you're not getting the billion dollars. I said, you're not getting the billion. I'm going to be leaving here, and I think it was, what, six hours? I looked and I said, I'm leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor's not fired, you're not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch.


He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.

BONDI: What he didn't say on that video? According to "The New York Times," this was the prosecutor investigating Burisma, Shokin.


COOPER: CNN's Daniel Dale is here to help us fact-check this moment. So what did Pam Bondi leave out there?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: She left out a lot, Anderson. First and foremost, we have no good evidence that this prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was actually investigating this company where Hunter Biden sat on the board, Burisma, at the time Joe Biden applied this pressure.

In fact, Shokin's former deputy, a man named Vitaly Kasko, has said publicly that Shokin had allowed this investigation to become dormant at the time, and that was also the perception of Ukrainian anti- corruption activists.

Number two, Shokin was widely seen as corrupt. This was the view of those activists in Ukraine, this was the view of the U.S. diplomatic community -- we heard testimony to that effect from George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch. And this was the view of U.S. European allies.

The consensus was that companies like Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, would stand a greater chance of actually being investigated with another prosecutor, not Shokin.

Number three -- and this is related to number two -- Biden was acting in accordance with the official policy of the U.S. government. This wasn't Biden running off to help his son in some way, this was Biden executing the government's position.

We heard the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt in late 2015, give a speech in Ukraine specifically castigating Viktor Shokin's office for having corrupt actors and impeding necessary anti- corruption reforms.

And number four, there was at least some bipartisan support for the initiative to get rid of Shokin. We have a letter, signed by three Republican senators as well as Democratic senators in February of 2016, calling on Ukraine's then-president, Petro Poroshenko, to press ahead with what they called "urgently needed reforms to the prosecutor general's office. So this was not just Biden, and it was not even just Democrats -- Anderson.

COOPER: Daniel Dale, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

I want to get reaction from Jeff and Laura. Laura, I mean, it's common, I guess, for an attorney to leave out some part of the argument that doesn't fit their actual argument.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, that would be successful if everyone didn't already have the facts, of course, right? If you already didn't know what was left out.

And particularly this, they're trying to equate what Joe Biden did with that Ukrainian prosecutor in withholding certain aid, with what Donald Trump is accused of doing in withholding aid.

The difference is, what the motivation was and who it was benefiting. They'd like people to believe that Biden was benefiting himself and was self-interested and hoping to help his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of Burisma.

But in reality, it was that particular prosecutor who was refusing to investigate actions of corruption, and actually removing the prosecutor hurt Burisma in the end.

Now, try to equate it now and leave out that very key detail and try to conflate the two, is what they're trying to do to try to shame the Bidens, to try to use this to say that he is somehow corrupt, had nefarious intent.

But they still can't get over that hurdle, Anderson, of saying, why is this different? Because one was for national security and one was on the behest of U.S. policy, and one was for a self-interested reason.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I'm sorry, I just -- what Pam Bondi said fits very well with what Joni Ernst said, today, about, boy, I can't wait to see the Iowa caucuses and see how this basically hurts Biden.


COOPER: Whether people will vote for Biden --

TOOBIN: Right. Remember why we're here. This whole thing is about damaging Joe Biden. That's why the president got involved with this, that's why that misleading argument was made by Pam Bondi, that's why Joni Ernst wants to use this process against Joe Biden.

The entire focus of the Ukraine matter, defined broadly, was not to fight corruption, not to protect American security, but to hurt President Trump's rival in 2020. And whether it's misleading the Senate, as Pam Bondi did, or using this process to hurt Biden in the Iowa caucuses, as Joni Ernst mentioned today, it's all the same story.


COOPER: I want to go back to Dana Bash, who's on Capitol Hill -- Dana. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, thank you so

much. And I'm here with Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Thank you so much for joining me.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): You're welcome.

BASH: A couple questions about things that are breaking right now. Let's start with something that Mitt Romney told my colleague Manu Raju just a short while ago, which is that he would be open to, effectively, a witness swap, that if Republicans want -- if Democrats want a witness, say John Bolton, then Republicans should be able to get a witness too.

Can you see yourself and your Democratic colleagues agreeing to that at all, no matter who the Democratic witness -- who the Republican witness would be, rather?

MERKLEY: Well, philosophically, in a trial, both sides get to choose their own witnesses so I'm supportive of the general concept. But the Republicans have introduced something that's just completely inappropriate, and that is to try to continue the assault that Trump was taking on the Bidens, and make that the core of the trial. And that's something, if laid out in that manner, I could not support that.

BASH: Meaning, you would be OK for them in theory to pick a witness, but not if it's Hunter or Joe Biden?

MERKLEY: Yes. For example, their core argument is that the president had a motivation that was based on policy. Perhaps corruption, perhaps burden-sharing with Europe. And they've provided no evidence for that. So a witness who was coming in to providence of that would be -- would be relevant.

But to continue the strategy that the president had of assaulting the Bidens in trying to influence the next election, turns this into a circus and it would be entirely inappropriate.

BASH: Something else that's percolating. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma is proposing the idea of, instead of hearing from John Bolton as a witness, getting the manuscript -- that's apparently in the White House somewhere, in the NSC, and certainly the book publisher has -- putting it in a classified setting and allowing senators like you to read it.

MERKLEY: Well, I must say, the common law of any trial is that you have access to witnesses and documents. And in this case, the Republicans have blocked that at every turn. The inability to have a deposition with Bolton is a continuation of an effort to prevent full information.

Because the types of questions that could be asked of him, to lay it out thoroughly, are the type of information, we get a firsthand account of what went on in the Oval Office. And that's exactly what the Republicans are trying to block.

BASH: So that's a no?

MERKLEY: That is a statement that is entirely insufficient, as compared to a deposition and testimony.

BASH: Because I don't need to tell you, you're talking about common law and the way a trial is, this is -- impeachment is a political exercise. So you make --

MERKLEY: Well, I --

BASH: -- accommodations that maybe you wouldn't in a court of law.

MERKLEY: -- I mean, no other impeachment has blocked witnesses and documents in this fashion. This is an entirely new corruption of the responsibility that we have under the Constitution and under this trial. And so we have to resist this corruption and say a full and fair trial, that's what the American people understand our role is, and we have to fight for that.

BASH: Just broadly, before I let you go, you were listening to the president's lawyers all day yesterday, you'll hear them again this morning. You were telling me before we came on about your reaction to what Dershowitz said, Alan Dershowitz, specifically on the notion that John Bolton, even if what he says is true in this manuscript, it's unimpeachable.

MERKLEY: Yes, I really thought Dershowitz disgraced himself because he said, essentially, that even if a president commands the power of state to corrupt a future election by seeking the intervention of a foreign power, that that's not something that impeachment would be appropriate for.

It's exactly the type of foreign interference that the founders talked about, it's exactly the type of abuse of power the founders talked about. And when Dershowitz went on to say there has to be an explicit crime -- and he noted, by the way, that most scholars disagree with him -- he didn't explain why most scholars disagreed.

And that's because the conversation among the founders was about using this phrase -- high crimes and misdemeanors -- because of its flexibility for uncertain future circumstances.

BASH: Senator, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

MERKLEY: You're welcome.

BASH: We are going to take a quick break, here at CNN. We have a lot more of our coverage of the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, coming up.


Also, more information coming in about potential witnesses, even a witness swap. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: More heartfelt condolences today over the death of an NBA superstar.

TAPPER: Kobe Bryant was one of nine people killed when a helicopter crashed on Sunday in Southern California. All of the victims have now been identified. Among them, tragically, Bryant's 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

BLITZER: The NTSB's investigation now says the pilot had gotten special permission to fly because of extremely low visibility. In his last communication with air traffic control, the pilot said he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer.

TAPPER: Tonight, to honor the victims, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers game is being postponed as mourners continue to grieve outside the STAPLES Center.

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel also got emotional, remembering Kobe Bryant, who was a frequent guest on his show.


JIMMY KIMMEL, ABC HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Kobe was a hero in the way Superman is a hero. He was so big, it was almost like he was a fictional character. He was a real-live superhero with a costume and everything, walking amongst us.


Those of us who love the Lakers know it seemed like he always came through, he always showed up to save the day. He wanted to save the day. He had a force of will, he never gave up.

As an athlete, he was incredibly gifted, more than almost anyone. He was talented beyond reasoning, yet he worked harder than everyone, he worked harder than people with much less talent than he had. He took his job and his pursuit of excellence so seriously, he was completely dedicated to being as good as he possibly could be, which is inspiring to anyone who does anything.

And we loved him because of that, but we also loved him because he was ours. We watched him grow up here. He came to L.A. when he was a teenager and unlike almost every other superstar athlete, he never left. In his 20-year career, he only wore two uniforms: for the Lakers and for the United States' Olympic team. There were times when it seemed like he would leave, but he didn't. He stayed until the end.

There's no silver lining here. It's all bad, it's all sad. He was a bright light. And that's how I want to remember him.