'This Week' Transcript 1-12-20: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, January 12.

ByABC News
January 12, 2020, 9:50 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday,January 12, 2020 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We need to see the arena. Is that too much to ask?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The stage now set for a Senate trial, after Speaker Pelosi makes her move.


PELOSI: I will send them over when I'm ready. And that will probably be soon.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But will there be witnesses in the Senate?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to protect presidential privilege.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And Iran retaliates. With no American casualties, the president declares victory.


TRUMP: Iran appears to be standing down.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But the world now bracing for what comes next.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The Iranians have been making threats publicly every day.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Amid a fierce debate over the administration's intelligence.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT): I find this insulting and demeaning.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Utterly unconvincing.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): We need to have a debate about the separation of powers.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): We have more questions than we have answers.


STEPHANOPOULOS: A constitutional struggle over war powers and impeachment all playing out in the first weeks of an election year, the stakes high, the consequences unknown, the politics perilous.

This morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joins us live for an exclusive interview.

Plus, Trump National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, and insight and analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.

We will break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week." Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week." It's been packed with big news, so let's get right to our exclusive headliner, the speaker of the House. Nancy Pelosi. Madam Speaker, welcome.



STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to begin with impeachment. You told your colleagues on Friday to be prepared to send the impeachment articles to the Senate this week. So, will it happen this week? And have you settled on House managers for the trial?

PELOSI: Well, what I did say is, I would be consulting with my members this week, on Tuesday morning, at our regular caucus meeting, that we would vote to send them over, and we will determine in our meeting when we send them over.

But it -- we have never -- I have always said I would send them over. So there shouldn't be any mystery to that.

What we did want, though, and we think we accomplished in the past few weeks, is that we wanted the public to see the need for witnesses, witnesses with firsthand knowledge of what happened, documentation which the president has prevented from coming to the Congress as we review this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as you know, Leader McConnell didn't budge on witnesses at all. He's not promising up front to have witnesses.

PELOSI: Well, he has -- he will -- I think that he will be accountable to the American people for that. Over 70 percent of the American people think that the president should have those witnesses testify. So, again, it is -- it's about a fair trial. They take an oath to take -- have a fair trial. And we think that would be with witnesses and documentation.

So, that dynamic has -- now the ball is in their court to either do that, or pay a price for not doing it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, one of the points that Senator McConnell has made is that they're just following -- that he's going to follow the Clinton model, that you have a couple of weeks of presentations by each side, and then you have a vote on witnesses.

It was a 100-0 vote for that procedure back in 1998-1999. So why isn't it fair now?

PELOSI: It isn't the same thing. There are at least six reasons, and I could take the whole program going on how it is different from that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the biggest one?

PELOSI: But the biggest one is that the witnesses were all deposed. Those witnesses that eventually came were all deposed. The president has not allowed the witnesses to be deposed for the House or for the Senate yet. So the evidence was there. It was just a question of bringing it more to the forefront. So, that -- it's a very major difference. You can depose the witnesses or you can't. But the fact is, is one of the things that I think is really important, what I think people should be very aware of, very unusually, the leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has signed on to a resolution to dismiss the case, to dismiss the case. That, in his view, may be good...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he's committed to having the presentations first now.

PELOSI: I'm telling you that he signed on, on Thursday to a resolution to dismiss the case.The dismiss -- dismissing is a cover-up. Dismissing is a cover-up. If they want to go that route, again, the senators who are thinking now about voting for witnesses or not, they will have to be accountable for not having a fair trial.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You made the point that the president has blocked the witnesses. And that's true. But some of your critics have said that the House could have done a lot more to exhaust the alternatives, to go through the entire process in the courts, and get -- to see if they would rule on witnesses. One of those critics is a very important figure in the Senate, Senator Susan Collins. Here's what she said.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R-ME): The House chose not to go to court to enforce its subpoenas. So, there are gaps in what the House has sent us. I don't understand the House's decision on that.


PELOSI: That isn't even true, we are in court on the witnesses. It could take a very long time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you pulled back the subpoena on John Bolton.

PELOSI: Well, we -- but on the other witnesses we have been in court. And we haven't eliminated the possibility of ever subpoenaing and going forward with Bolton, but he has said in this two weeks' period, there was another piece of progress that we made, that he would -- he would respond to a subpoena from the United States Senate.

But the fact is, is that the president of the United States, again, quite different from President Clinton. President Clinton allowed witnesses to come forward. President Trump has prevented that from happening.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not wait for the courts to rule?

PELOSI: Well, because it'll be -- how long do the courts take? We had -- we have confidence in our case that it's impeachable and this president is impeached for life, regardless of any gamesmanship on the part of Mitch McConnell; however, that could stay come to bear. But we're confident in the impeachment. And we think there's enough testimony to remove him from office.

However, we want the American people to see the truth, and why are they afraid of the truth?

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if the Senate does not subpoena John Bolton and other witnesses, will the House move to subpoena them?

PELOSI: Well, it's not excluded, it's not excluded, but we'll see what they do. But we do think that there's enough evidence to remove the president from office. But we've done our job. We've defended the constitution of the United States. We would hope that the Senate would do that as well.

This is about -- in your introduction, you talked about the War Powers Act and this -- it's a constitutional challenge, and we feel very proud of the courage of our members to vote to impeach the president. There's nothing that the Senate can do that can ever erase that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Any second thoughts about holding on for three weeks?

PELOSI: No, no, no. We feel that it -- it's a positive result in terms of additional emails and un-redacted information that has come forward, that Bolton has said that he would testify if subpoenaed by the Senate, other information that has come forward. And more importantly, raising the profile of the fact that we need to have witnesses and documentation, and if we don't that is a cover-up.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, just before we came on the air President Trump -- literally 30 seconds before we came on the air, President Trump sent out a tweet to me asking me to ask you a question. We're going to put it up on the screen right now. I'm not going to read the whole thing, but you see there right there, he calls you Crazy Nancy again, wants to justify Adam Schiff's comments during the House hearings. And he says, your hearings were unfair and biased.

And this draws on -- built on what he did on Friday night. I want to show him on Friday night on Fox News.


TRUMP: She's obsessed with impeachment. She has done nothing. She's going down as one of the worst speakers in the history of our country.


PELOSI: Let me just say, it's Sunday morning, I'd like to talk about some more pleasant subjects than the erratic nature of this president of the United States, but he has to know that every knock from him is a boost. He's the president who said I should have impeached George Bush, because of the war in Iraq, and now he's saying I'm obsessed.

I held on this because, frankly, I said Donald Trump is not worth impeachment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You did say that.

PELOSI: He's not worth it, but when he crossed that line on Ukraine he violated the constitution in such a way that could not be ignored.

So again, I don't like to spend too much time on his crazy tweets, because everything he says is a projection. When he calls someone crazy he knows that he is. Everything he says you can just translate it back to who he is.

But again, it's Sunday morning. Let's be optimistic about the future, a future that will not have Donald Trump in the White House one way or another. Ten months from now we will have an election if we don't have him removed sooner. But, again, he'll be impeached forever.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to talk about Iran, as well. I'm not sure it's a more pleasant subject, but I do want to talk about that.

PELOSI: Well, no, it's not unpleasant to talk about the constitution of the United States. This is what we take an oath to protect and defend. This is what this president has violated again and again. This is a president who has said Article II says I can do whatever I want. It does not.

This is a president -- a Constitution that Benjamin Franklin said is a republic if we can keep it. Not a monarchy. And Article II that says, well, I can do whatever I want, makes it a monarchy.

So, this is in -- a defiance of the valor of our Founders and what they established -- disloyal to his oath of office. And so -- you know, as I say, every knock from him is a boost. And everything he says about somebody else is a projection of his own weakness --


STEPHANOPOULOS: You said he's violating the Constitution again and again. Do you think it’s possible that the House might have to file new articles of impeachment?

PELOSI: Well, let's just see what the Senate does. The ball will be in their court soon.

And as I say, we -- I think that the American people have been very fair about saying, yes, we do want to see witnesses. That wasn't part of the discussion three weeks ago. It is now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move on to Iran right now. Several of your colleagues have taken issue with the administration's justification for taking out General Soleimani.

PELOSI: Uh-huh.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They said it was designed to stop an imminent attack and President Trump has said that Soleimani was planning attacks on four U.S. embassies. I know you can’t talk specifically about intelligence --

PELOSI: That’s right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- you’ve received. But do you think the administration has been straight with the American people about the reasons for taking out General Soleimani?

PELOSI: I don't think the administration has been straight with the Congress of the United States.

The -- when I was informed with the confirmation that the United States had taken out Soleimani, who's a terrible person, let's not be confused and the motivations of Iran are bad. So, there's no question about that.

How -- again, with my intelligence background I’m fully aware of the danger of Soleimani. However, what we wanted to do is not escalate a war.

When they called and told me that the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs confirmed that we were involved in this action, I said, well, you should have informed the Gang of Eight in advance of this, this leadership and the chairs of the Intelligence Committee and ranking members, House and Senate. We had to keep it close.

You had to keep it close? Well, we had to keep it close because we didn't want it to get out. What you're saying is you don't trust the Congress of the United States with sources, and methods and timing? We had to keep it close.


PELOSI: And that’s just not -- that's wrong. That is wrong.

And so, then, if you have seen, even Republicans have complained about the nature of their presentation at the classified briefing. They have to understand, Congress has the power to declare war. This is a War Powers Act. We passed legislation further defining that this week.

This is an important discussion. Forget -- I don’t say forget Donald Trump -- this is about all presidents and all Congresses as to the Constitution.


STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s about having the support of the American people as the United States seeks military action. So, that’s what I’m asking you --

PELOSI: That’s the most important thing and there's no appetite in the public for war.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is what the public's being told consistent with your -- what you're being told privately?

PELOSI: Well, I’m not absolutely sure what the public is being told because it changes every time you see something.

But it is -- this is nothing -- let me just say -- I want to say this, because it's Sunday morning. I just took a group, a bipartisan group in December to the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a very bloody battle, thousands and thousands of Americans killed in that war -- battle, and it was a decisive war in World War II, decisively battle in World War II. And it was remarkable, an ally effort to defeat the Germans there.

And this glorious ceremony in a couple of a few days, but also the closing ceremony, the king of Belgium, the duke of Luxembourg, the president of Germany, saying when you freed Belgium and Luxembourg, you freed Germans, too, in winning this war. It was beautiful.

But why I bring it up now in relationship to this is, at the end, one of our veterans -- and we were there really to see our veterans, thank our veterans, praise our veterans, embrace our veterans, as we have done at other anniversaries, one of the veterans spoke for the group, 90-some years old, beautiful, lovely, spoke beautifully about the sacrifice, the struggle. Spoke about the band of brothers, the allies, the effort, the challenges.

And at the end, he said, I don't know if this is appropriate to say but I’m going to say it anyway, I -- I urge all of you to pray for peace, for our veterans, for our men and women in uniform, for our children, for our future, for the world --

STEPHANOPOULOS: The question --

PELOSI: -- we have to move toward peace, not escalation of war.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is how we get there. We're seeing now demonstrations in the streets of Iran against the regime.

Do you support those protesters and would it be a good thing if they brought the regime down?

PELOSI: Well, the regime -- the protesters are -- are protesting, as I understand it, this brand of protesters, about the fact that that plane went down. And many students were on that plane. And these are largely students in the street.

I think the Iranians should have not had commercial flights going off when there was --

STEPHANOPOULOS: They're calling out the regime for lying. They're saying death to Khomeini as well.

PELOSI: Yes. Well, whatever it is.

But the fact is this, the -- there were protesters in the streets before against the regime. After the taking out of Soleimani, there were protesters in the street, joined together, as you know, against us. That wasn't good. Taking down this plane is a terrible, terrible tragedy. And they should be held accountable for letting commercial flights go at a time that was so, so dangerous.

But there are different reasons why people are in the street. Of course we would love to see the aspirations of the people of Iran realized with a better situation there, but escalating the situation -- unless we've exhausted every other remedy --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which we haven't?

PELOSI: Well, we don't know that. We don't know that. And if the first -- the first action to be taken on the threat of -- there -- there are -- a lot of bad actors who are doing bad things and threatening bad things to us. We know that. Iran being one of them. And it being a -- it's proxies doing bad things to our interests throughout the world. But how do we deal with that in a way that calms rather than escalates?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to ask you a question about the 2020 election and foreign policy again.

"Bloomberg" is reporting this Friday the possibility that there's an investigation now on whether or not the Russians are trying to help President Trump and hurt Joe Biden. Again, we see that right there, U.S. probes as Russia's targeting Biden in 2020 election meddling. The probe (ph) comes --

PELOSI: Oh, I see (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: As senior U.S. officials are warning that Russia's election interference in 2020 could be more brazen than in 2016 or the 2018 midterm election.

How worried are you about Russian interference in 2020? Are we doing all we can to prevent it?

PELOSI: No. And the president of the United States is in complete denial about Russia's role. As I have said in terms of this president, all roads lead to Putin. He has -- he said he's not going to accept the assessment of our own intelligence agents, that they are -- that they were very much involved in 2016 election. That 24/7 now they are still engaged. He's trying to blame it on Ukraine and this silliness that has been debunked again and again, but he and his folks still keep advancing it.

Everything that he has done, whether it's in Syria vis-a-vis the Turks, whether it's been in Ukraine in terms of withholding assistance as they try to fight the Russians, his denial about their role in our election then and now, all roads lead to Putin.

And sometimes I wonder about Mitch McConnell, too, what's he -- why is he an accomplice to all of that. He has resisted the sources --

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your answer?

PELOSI: going in a manner commencement with the threat for state agencies, whichever they are in a state (ph), could be the secretary of state or whatever, to protect our infrastructure, our critical infrastructure, of elections. He says you shouldn't even call that critical infrastructure.

So it's all of a -- of a piece with them. And that's why it's really important for the facts to come forward, the witnesses to be heard, the documentation to be reviewed so that the American people can see, so that no other president in the future could ever think that it's OK to engage in the way that this president has, to undermine the Constitution, undermine our national security and doing so, as well as jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Madame Speaker, thank you for your time this morning.

PELOSI: My pleasure. Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Lots more coming up. The president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, plus, Nate Silver from FiveThirtyEight and our powerhouse roundtable.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He will do everything that he can, possibly, to bait me. And, by the way, whomever the -- if I'm not your nominee, if I were to drop dead tomorrow, guess what? Do you think he's not going to go after and lie about and misrepresent, and deal in the dirt with whomever the candidate is? He'll come up with something in their lives. But the difference with me is I've taken it now for eight months, and I'm still winning.


STEPHANOPOULOS: There's Joe Biden. He leads the national polls, and the new primary model for FiveThirtyEight makes him the top candidate as well.

But a brand new poll from “The Des Moines Register” puts Bernie Sanders on top there for the first time. Sanders is strong in New Hampshire as well.

So, is Joe Biden really the favorite for the nomination? We asked Nate Silver, do you buy that?


NATE SILVER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM: So, we just came out with a forecast of the primaries at FiveThirtyEight.

And we're pretty darn excited about it. Our model literally simulates the entire process, from Iowa in February, to the Virgin Islands in June.

And the question is, can some candidate hit the magic number of 1,990 delegates?

Our forecast has Joe Biden as the most likely person to win the majority of delegates.

But let's break that down.

Say Biden wins Iowa, for example. If he does, then he's off to the races.

Now, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might fight back in New Hampshire, but, even then, the race could start to look a lot like Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie in 2016. So our model says Biden has about an 80 percent chance at a delegate majority if he wins Iowa.

But Biden's polling in Iowa isn't that great. He's basically in a four-way tie there, which means there are three other people who could win.

So what happens if Biden loses Iowa? Well, then his chances fall all the way to 20 percent, our model says. He could still fight back, maybe in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina.

But any Democrat who loses Iowa is facing a bit of an uphill battle.

So, sorting through all these scenarios, our model gives Biden about a 40 percent chance of winning the majority of delegates.

So, do I buy that Biden is a favorite? Well, not quite. To me, being a favorite means over 50 percent. And Biden is winning less than half the time in our model.

So, if he doesn't win, then who else might?

Our model says Bernie Sanders has the next best chance with around a 22 percent chance of a majority. He has plenty of strength in Iowa and New Hampshire. And if he wins two or three early states, he'd be in the driver's seat for the nomination.

Warren comes next with a 12 percent chance of winning a majority. Then there's Pete Buttigieg. Our forecast pegs his chances at about 10 percent.

But there's still one big if. What if no one wins a majority, say, because the early states produce three or four different winners? Well, that's a real possibility, too. In fact, our model has about a 15 percent chance of there being no majority at all.

And if that's the case, we are potentially looking at a contested convention.

Sure, it sounds a little crazy, but until people actually start voting, our advice is not to rule anything out.



You can see Nate's full 2020 forecast at FiveThirtyEight.com.

The roundtable is coming up, plus President Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien.


STEPHANOPOULOS: White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is standing by. We'll be right back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: There you see demonstrations in Iran overnight, taking on the regime after the downing of that Ukrainian jet liner with so many Iranians on board, angry protests in the streets of Tehran. I want to talk about that now with the White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. Mr. O'Brien, thank you for joining us this morning.

We've seen the president send out messages of encouragement to those protesters, warnings to the Iranian regime not to mess with them. Is the regime in trouble right now?

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think the regime's having a very bad week. They shot down Ukrainian International Airline 752. And the president's condolences and sympathy goes out to the passengers, their families, and their friends and loved ones. The Iranians then denied shooting the aircraft down, then give a different story about the aircraft coming close to sensitive military installations, changed it again and said it was because of the United States.

This was a regime that's reeling from maximum pressure. They're reeling from their incompetence in this situation. And -- and the people of Iran are -- are just fed up with it. Moreover, they lost their top female athlete, Kimia Alizadeh, has just defected to the west. So this has not been a good week for the Iranian regime, that's for sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What more can and will the United States do to support those protesters and does the United States basically now support a policy of regime change?

O'BRIEN: Well, look, it's never been our policy to change the regime in Iran, but the people of Iran are going to have, you know, hopefully have the ability at some point to elect their own government and to be governed by the leaders they choose. I mean we hope that around the world. But that's not our policy. And -- and we're going to support human rights.

The best thing we can do for the Iranian people and for -- for the world is to continue our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Iranian regime never obtains a nuclear weapon, stops their terrorist activities in the region and cuts back on their ballistic missile program. We're going to keep doing that. We're going to work with our allies. And I think we're going to see some additional assistance on that front coming out of Europe that has not been forthcoming in the past. But I think you're going to see the Europeans getting onboard in the coming weeks as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We've got a new poll out this morning that show a majority of Americans are concerned about the administration's Iran policy, not convinced it's going to make the American people safer, the world safer as well.

And we've just, of course, spoke with Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress about the quality of the intelligence leading up to that strike on General Soleimani.

What the president has said about four embassies being targeted seems to be at odds with what a lot of Democrats and others heard in those briefings. So does the administration have an obligation to come out with -- with -- with better intelligence, better explanation of what happened so they can convince the American people to get behind their policy?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think the American people are behind this president. He's shown incredible restraint in the face of provocation after provocation from Iran, the downing of drones, attacking the Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia, even with this latest missile attack. So he's shown he's -- he's modest in his -- his dealings with other countries. But when you threaten to kill or to maim Americans, that's something this president won't put up with. We had very good intelligence.

I would love to release the intelligence in light of this. This is kind of a Washington story, I believe. I'd love to release the intelligence. The reason we don't, George, is because that same intelligence, those same streams and channels are what allows us to protect Americans going forward. So rather than have a short-term political win, release the intelligence and say I told you so, we want to keep the American's safe -- people safe going forward.

So we're going to be circumspect. But everything the president has said is consistent with and his interpretation is very consistent with the intelligence which showed that Soleimani was plotting to kill Americans, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and our diplomats. And so, you know, we -- we --we feel -- we feel very good about it and we feel good about the explanation that's been given to Congress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if -- but if -- but if -- if General Soleimani was targeting four embassies, why weren't those embassies alerted? Why weren't they evacuated?

O'BRIEN: Well, listen, we're not going to cut and run every time somebody threatens us. And I think you saw what happened in Baghdad, which was very different than Tehran 1979, very different than Benghazi.

When the Baghdad embassy was attacked, we moved a company of marines in on ospreys, we moved a platoon of -- of Army infantry in and we said this is not going to -- we're going to draw a line here. We are -- we are not going to have another Benghazi. We're not -- not going to have another Tehran embassy takeover where our diplomats are taken hostage. And -- so the president was decisive. I can tell you with respect to other embassies in the region, we've taken very reasonable security precautions there and it's something we monitor all the time.

But, look, these are -- you know, these are dangerous places and our diplomats and our military forces are out on the front lines of freedom and -- and representing us well and we did the very best we can to protect them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned Baghdad. Of course, as you know, the Iraqi parliament has voted to have U.S. troops leave Iraq. President Trump has said he's OK with that, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he won't even discuss it.

So what is the U.S. policy regarding American troops in Iraq right now.

O'BRIEN: Well, I think we all agree, Secretary Pompeo, the president, the whole -- the vice president, the whole national security team, we'd love to have American soldiers come back to the United States. The reason that U.S. soldiers were in Iraq was, number one, to -- to defend ourselves early on in the process. But -- but, later, has been to defeat ISIS.

When the president took over, ISIS had a caliphate the size of Great Britain, stretching across Iraq and Syria. That caliphate, physical caliphate, has been defeated. That's why our folks were there.

Look, we're looking to -- to multilateralize the obligations there, bring our European allies in to take a bigger share of the -- of the burden in helping the Iraqi people defend themselves against ISIS and -- and other threats.

And -- and, look, in the long run, we'd like the Iraqi soldiers and -- and their military to defend their country and -- and allow our -- our men and women to come home. So I think it's fully consistent. The secretary's comments, the president's comments, are -- are consistent. Let's get the Iraqi's stood up so that we can bring our folks home. That would be great.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to ask you a question about Russian election interference. I showed Speaker Pelosi that "Bloomberg" article suggesting that U.S. officials are concerned that Russia is at it again, trying to hurt Joe Biden, interfere in our election in even more brazen way than in 2016. You also heard the speaker say that she believes that the president is in some way is complicit with this by repeating these conspiracy theories about Ukraine that are rooted in Russian propaganda.

So, has the president told Vladimir Putin to cut out this election interference in 2016, and will he continue to do that even if it appears the Russians are trying to hurt Joe Biden?

O’BRIEN: He’s absolutely told Putin to make sure that that doesn't happen.

And the idea that the president of the United States would collude with the Russians -- I mean, this is a partisan fantasy that's been -- the flames which have been fanned for three years now. There’s zero truth to it.

There are a bunch of countries that would like to interfere with our elections. There are the Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians. And trust me, most of them would like to see President Trump leave and have a more malleable leader coming after him, where they could go back to the -- the status quo before the president came in.

And so, we're concerned about it. Look, I don't want Russians, or Chinese, or Iranians or any others interfering with the Trump campaign, with the Biden campaign, with any campaign. And I think the president feels absolutely the same way.

And to suggest otherwise is unfair and frankly a bit dangerous. That’s the sort of thing that I think the Russians try to foment, you know, and others, is divisions in America. We need to stand together and put -- put that sort of language aside for sure.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Setting aside -- Setting aside the word -- the use of the word "collusion", if the president is repeating conspiracy theories that are consistent with Russian propaganda, isn't that helping the Russian effort?

O’BRIEN: I -- you know, I -- I don't see that. We've been very clear on our position with respect to the Russians and that’s to stay out of our elections. We’ve been very clear with the Chinese and we’ve been very clear with the Iranians. And, look, I think all of our leaders in both parties should have that same approach.

But trying to use these things for some partisan -- sort of partisan advantage is really disappointing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. O'Brien, thanks for your time this morning.

O’BRIEN: Thanks for having me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is up next. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President and members of the Senate, I announce the presence of the managers on the part of the House of Representatives to conduct proceedings on behalf of the House concerning the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, the president of the United States.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Flashback a little over 20 years, the impeachment articles delivered on President Bill Clinton back in 1999 -- likely to happen to President Trump this week in the House.

We're going to talk about that in our roundtable, with Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, ABC political analyst right now; Patrick Gaspard, political director and ambassador to South Africa for President Obama, and now the head of the Open Society Foundations; “Washington Post” congressional reporter Rachael Bade; and “Time’s” national political correspondent, Molly Ball. She has the cover story this week on Nancy Pelosi right there.

You called it “Her Gamble”, Nancy Pelosi’s gamble. We just heard from the speaker as well.

And, Rachael, I want to begin with you. You heard the speaker say that -- she actually did gain a lot by holding up these articles of impeachment for three weeks. A lot of skepticism on Capitol Hill.

RACHAEL BADE, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, definitely. I think -- it’s -- she’s clearly putting a positive spin on what a lot of Democrats have privately said was a failed strategy.

I mean, she and Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, set out to, number one, try to get a commitment from McConnell on witnesses, firsthand witnesses to have them to testify in a Senate trial. She also said she wanted to see a resolution about, you know, how the whole proceedings would be governed. She got neither of those.

And I know her team has sort of said, look, she was able to hold out. There were a bunch of news revelations that happened over the holiday break. Bolton came out and said he's willing to testify. She was holding articles the whole time.

But those things probably would have happened regardless of whether she was holding them. And, in fact, there might have even been more news focused on those things, if everybody wasn't asking, what is Nancy Pelosi doing for the articles?

So I do think there are a lot of Democrats who, while not going on the record and saying it, a lot of them have concern about this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other things, Molly Ball, Democrats are saying, though, off the record is, one of the reasons they say she had to do this was, they just couldn't trust Mitch McConnell, given his history, looking back at what happened with Justice Scalia, that maybe he might even move quickly to dismiss.

MOLLY BALL, "TIME": That was a possibility that they talked about.

And the whole standoff between Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell was very sort of unstoppable force meets immovable object, right, the two of them both very strong and very clever tacticians.

I think that that was probably never a strong possibility, just because of President Trump. It's been clear from the start that he always wanted to have the exoneration of a Senate trial, not a mere dismissal.

And he has been putting pressure on McConnell behind the scenes this whole time. And so that -- if there was any leverage on the part of the Democrats, that was where the leverage sat.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Chris Christie, it does seem like the president now has bought on to Mitch McConnell's strategy of no witnesses, if McConnell can actually succeed with that strategy.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And I think that was inevitable, George, because, in the end, nobody does this better than Mitch McConnell.

And that's what Nancy Pelosi learned over the last three weeks, and what Chuck Schumer has learned time and time again. The fact is, McConnell is a -- is the new -- since LBJ, he's the new master of the Senate. He knows how to count votes. He knows how to keep people in line. He knows how to get this done.

And the president has learned over time, by watching all the judges he's gotten confirmed, and all the ways he's done things that has made the president's legacy even better, that it's probably smart to listen to McConnell on this.

This has been a really good three weeks for the president. And it's largely because the speaker made a serious error in political judgment, in my view, by holding back.

In the end...

STEPHANOPOULOS: In the end, though, it's going to be a one-week difference in the start of the trial.

CHRISTIE: Well, I understand.

But during this period of time, it's allowed people not to focus on the beginning of a trial and the discussion of that. We didn't have special reports on the beginning of a trial. We weren't on TV in the middle of the day covering all this stuff.

And he was allowed to talk about other things and do other things that we will -- I'm sure we will talk about later.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Patrick Gaspard, it is true that McConnell has held his caucus together, getting -- with this process of, we're going to vote witnesses later.

That pressure, though, on those senators up for election next year on the issue of witnesses is going to be met immediately with votes by Democrats.


And I'm not entirely sure it's been a great three weeks for the president, Governor.

CHRISTIE: I'm shocked.

GASPARD: And I really do think that we're having a process argument. We're arguing balls and strikes after the game's already been decided.

The president of the United States has been impeached by Congress. Nancy Pelosi may have got called about whether or not she should proceed one or two weeks later. It's now moving to the Senate.

And you're right that nobody's better than Mitch McConnell at obstructing governance.

CHRISTIE: That wasn't what I said.


GASPARD: But now the pressure -- but now the pressure is on him and his caucus and senators in states that were won by Hillary Clinton last time whose names are on the ballot now. And they have got to defend this process.

CHRISTIE: The game is over George. The game is over.

He's not going to be removed. And so...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident there aren't going to be witnesses?

CHRISTIE: I'm pretty confident, yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you're up there every single day.

BADE: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have heard Mitt Romney say he wants to hear from witnesses.

Susan Collins gave an interview to her hometown paper, "Bangor Daily News," at the end of the week which suggested she was ready to vote for witnesses.

Can that reach critical mass?

BADE: So, keep in mind, they need four Senate Republicans.

Democrats are going to have to convince four. And that's going to be an uphill battle. I mean, again, we're talking about McConnell here. He knows his conference very well. He knows how to sort of stay in touch with his moderate members and protect them, but also keep them on the team.

And I think, going back to the McConnell-Trump relationship, that's the dynamic that I am watching. I think it's really interesting, two totally different politicians, one full of bombast, one who never shows his cards and is very quiet.

And yet, throughout this whole past few weeks, Trump has been deferring to McConnell over and over again regarding witnesses. McConnell privately convinced him, let's not call in Hunter Biden, let's not call in Joe Biden, let's do no witnesses, because if they bring in someone like Bolton, it's mutual assured destruction is what he's told his members.

So, again, the question is going to be, can he convince his moderates and Trump to do what he thinks is in the best interest for his conference?

And that's a really tough balance he's going to have to strike.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And a lot is going to depend on how this plays out over the next couple weeks.

You talk about the Trump-McConnell relationship.

Molly Ball, I was struck by Speaker Pelosi's final words there about Mitch McConnell, suggests he's also in league with the Russians.

That relationship completely deteriorated.

BALL: It does.

I mean, I think there is still sort of a mutual grudging respect, right. They both see each other as masters of their respective domains. But it is not a -- they're not friends, that should not surprise anyone.

And I think you see her, you know, sort of needling him the same way that she needles Trump, trying to get under his skin. I don't think that works with McConnell the same way it does with Trump. But, you know, she's been going after him on this issue of election security and making these insinuations about the relationship with Russia, and so she's willing to go there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: She's willing to go there. And Patrick Gaspard, it does, according to that Bloomberg report, seems the Russians aren't going to back off at all heading into this election.

GASPARD: Well, why should they when they've got an administration in Washington, D.C. right now that refuses to put up any guardrails in this process and you have a President of the United States who has given the American people his assurance that Vladimir Putin has told him they had nothing do with this last time, and it was probably the Ukrainians who were mucking in the election.

So, the Russians have given absolutely every encouragement, and it's incumbent upon not just Democrats, but Republicans in the House and Senate to push back against this president and this administration on election integrity. As to their credit, they did in 2017 and 2018. They need to double down on that, on that pressure.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, listen, in the end, law enforcement is going to do what law enforcement does. You know, I'm confident in the FBI director. I'm confident in the attorney general. I think that they'll both do what needs to be done to protect the integrity of the election, and I think they'll have a lot of allies on Capitol Hill to do that.

So, I don't think that's going to be an issue. It will be an issue in that there's no doubt in mind that foreign entities like Russia will try again. But I'm very confident in the new leadership at the FBI, very confident in the new leadership at the Justice Department to do what they need to do.

GASPARD: But let's be clear, governor, they're not -- it's not just a question of them trying again, they are trying right now in real time.

CHRISTIE: Right, as is the FBI, as is the FBI and the Justice Department to stop them.

GASPARD: They're a little slow. I have had conversations with civil rights groups in this country who are already astounded by the ways that social media are being used to disincentivize participation in census and in the elections and this here...

CHRISTIE: Well, we have some big issues, Patrick...

GASPARD: . . . without a commensurate response from the Justice Department.

CHRISTIE: We have big issues about what the Justice Department can and can't do vis-a-vis platforms like Facebook and some of the other social media. And we've seen from Facebook, them saying that, you know, they're not going to take down ads that they know are not true. There's a real free speech discussion here that needs to be had in this country versus election security.

But that doesn't implicate law enforcement.

GASPARD: Would that congress would actually have it.

CHRISTIE: I don't know who will or won't, but in the end law enforcement, when those folks step over the line, I'm confident in the FBI director. He'll make sure his folks are investigating. And in the end, I think Bill Barr will do the things he needs to do to make sure that our integrity is protected.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The first votes of 2020 only three weeks away in Iowa. And we have a brand new Des Moines Register poll showing a bit of movement there by Bernie Sanders, now, a small lead, ahead of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang a little bit farther back.

And Molly Ball, this is anybody's ball game right now in Iowa, complicated by this upcoming Senate trial, which is going to pin down Sanders, pin down Warren, pin down Klobuchar, as Buttigieg and Biden have free reign in Iowa.

BALL: That's right. And you know that this is on all of those candidates' minds, especially, you know, the nominal leader in that very tight poll, Bernie Sanders, is not going to be able to be out there on the stump. And it's a potentially big problem to try to do these things simultaneously. The senators are required to be there at the trial, but they can't talk, and so they're sort of sitting on their hands watching the clock wind down.

I think the coming debate this week is going to be very important, because the field is so tight...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's likely to happen before the articles are sent over to the Senate.

BALL: That's right, so at least they will be able to -- we know they'll be able to make the debate, but after that, who knows. And this is really anybody's game.

I think also because of the way the delegate thresholds work, there's a possibility that we have essentially a four-way tie going into Iowa. We also have a four-way tie sort of coming out of Iowa, and going into New Hampshire. So, it is going to depend a lot on the way those results are interpreted, as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We should explain that a little bit more. This year, for the first time ever, there's actually going to be two vote counts in Iowa. There's going to be a count of every delegate who walks in, and then after, there's a second vote inside the caucuses and any candidate who doesn't get 15 percent, their supporters can go to someone else, so there is going to be two different vote counts. You could have two different winners on the caucus night.

Rachael, on this issue of the impact of the trial on the caucuses as well, this issue of whether or not there are witnesses means it could bleed into New Hampshire and beyond if the trial actually does decide to call witnesses.

BADE: Yeah, so a blessing and a curse for Democrats. I mean, Democrats have been wanting to hear from John Bolton for literally months. I mean, the top Republican talking point pushing back against these charges against the president has been, oh, your witnesses are secondhand information. None of them have actually been talking to the president. Well, Democrats want to hear from those people who have been talking to the president, Bolton, Mick Mulvaney. But if they decide, at the end of it, it's going to take about two weeks for them to go through opening arguments --

STEPHANOPOULOS: At least, yes.

BADE: Yes, do some questions. If they decide -- if they get that fourth Republican to call in, you know, Bolton or some of these first-hand witnesses, then that could mean another two to four weeks, I mean, of -- of impeachment trial all throughout the various caucuses in the states. That could be a big problem for Bernie Sanders, for Elizabeth Warren, who, right now, are in the top in Iowa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Patrick Gaspard, as this is all happening, you also have, of course, the Iran events of the last week, which has opened up on the Democratic side a much more fierce debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden over national security and foreign policy.

GASPARD: Yes, and that's actually a great playing field for Joe Biden and I actually think for Bernie as well. It's problematic for --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Playing to different audiences?

GASPARD: Playing to different audiences. And I think it's actually problematic for Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Buttigieg that the conversation has moved from domestic priorities to foreign affairs.

Bernie Sanders has done an excellent job of linking the challenge in Iran and foreign intervention with his basic case that he makes about privilege in this country and who suffers the consequences of these kinds of interventions. And Joe Biden, of course, has played to his natural strength of his experience in the Foreign Relations Committee, vice president, somebody who's had to be in the box making really tough calls. So playing to very different audiences. I think they've been able to burnish their strengths and regrettably box out from the conversation Warren and Buttigieg at a critical moment in Iowa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and, Chris, the president, of course, was declaring victory after that retaliation by the Iranians, which seemed to be designed not to take out American casualties. But his instinct still seems to be, I don't want any part of this mess in the Middle East.

CHRISTIE: No, he doesn't. Listen this has been his foreign policy approach right from the beginning. And I think the president showed a great deal of patience on the attack on the Saudi refineries, on the drone attack where he did not respond. And I think finally he felt like he had to do something and respond to it. And he took a very, very direct and aggressive way to respond. And I -- now he's saying, OK, and we've read that there were back channel messages sent right soon after, like, don't escalate. Don't put us in that position.

This is a president who doesn't want that. He doesn't want the endless wars. But he also can't stand for the idea that American embassies can be at risk as well. That's why I think, in the end, it was a very good couple weeks for the president on this because those who want aggressive action were very happy about the attack. Those who don't want expansion --

GASPARD: Well --

CHRISTIE: Saw the president wasn't doing that as well.

GASPARD: But -- but even -- but even --

CHRISTIE: And one last thing. Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker, boy, they're real fans of the -- of the Pelosi strategy, I guess, right?

GASPARD: You know what -- you know what, Governor --

CHRISTIE: Three weeks -- three weeks that they've waited now. And that extends them even further into the -- into the season. Nancy Pelosi is not going to be getting any cards or letters from those four thanking her for her great, failed strategy.

GASPARD: Governor -- Governor, I just want to say that in -- in -- in the polling that was cited by George in the previous segment, we're seeing that this president doesn't have a tremendous amount of credibility, even amongst Republicans and independents on this issue. There's a sense that this attack in Iran has made American troops less safe, not more safe.

And I wanted to also say here, Governor, that you talk about a response from this president.


GASPARD: What is the response? Wednesday we're told --


GASPARD That this was for past acts. Thursday we're told it's for future acts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's going to have to be the last word. We're out of time for now.

CHRISTIE: Well, people at our embassies are safer, I'll tell you that. Very, very safer (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a good day.