Transcript: Correspondents Panel on "Face the Nation," December 29, 2019

Correspondents Panel: A look back at the year's most important stories

The following is a transcript of an interview with the CBS News' correspondents panel that aired Sunday, December 29, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MAGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face the Nation and our annual CBS News Correspondents Year End roundtable. It's now in its sixty ninth year, which means it's even older than Face the Nation itself. The tradition started in the very early days of television news. Joining me today to continue it for 2019 are our beat reporters based here in the Washington bureau. David Martin covers national security. You usually see him at the Pentagon. Jan Crawford covers the Supreme Court and keeps us straight on all legal issues. Jeff Pegues covers the Justice Department and Homeland Security. Nancy Cordes has been very busy up on Capitol Hill covering Congress. Paula Reid is our go to when it comes to all things particularly legal with the president. She's now full time at the White House. And Major Garrett was formerly chief White House correspondent and he now covers just about everything in Washington as our chief correspondent in this town. Thank you all for being here. Nancy, you've had an incredibly busy end of year and we may start 2020 with a trial. Or will we? Will President Trump face a trial in the Senate? And what does it look like?

NANCY CORDES: Act one is over. Act two is just beginning. We will definitely see a trial. I think it will happen in January. You know, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell have done this dance so often they could do it with their eyes closed. It's just that now they're fighting over impeachment. They're staking out their positions early. She says she wants to know what this trial is going to look like, whether there will be witnesses before she sends the articles of impeachment over. He says he doesn't have to listen to what she has to say. Fine. These are their opening salvos. And what will happen over the course of this holiday is quiet. Negotiations will go on the two sides. We'll see if they can strike some kind of deal that sets a- sets up an overall framework for what this trial will look like, how long it will last, whether there will be witnesses.( 00:01:54) And the stakes are incredibly high. You can see why the two sides are issuing these ultimatums, because at the end of the day, what this trial will determine is whether the president stays in office.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, Major, we begin and end the year with impeachment. What- what will the president do here? Because he chose not to participate in the House case. If it goes to a trial, what is he going to do?

MAJOR GARRETT: So he's going to take a lot of advice. And he has offered conflicting messages about what he wants. At times saying, I want a full blown trial. I want lots of witnesses. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are saying, look, if the Senate is prepared to acquit you, Mr. President, take the acquittal and go.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's basically exactly what Lindsey Graham was saying. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Not go but- yes. Not go go. But just take it right and move on. And I had a long conversation with one of the key negotiators for the president, Eric Ueland, who's head of his legislative affairs, who said we're still developing our strategy and the president's still going to build his legal team. Eric Ueland left open the very real possibility the president will add lawyers from the outside, not Rudy Giuliani, but others. Constitutional law experts know this to build his team in preparation for a trial. The most likely outcome, I think, is the president will, I think, move over time toward this, something that looked a little bit like the Clinton impeachment trial. A presentation of the charges, questions from the senators, and then possibly a motion to dismiss. And if 51 Republican senators agree to that and talk the president into it, that could be the sum total of this process.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the president will be the first impeached president to run for re-election. Does this stick? Does it hurt? And does it in any way impact Republicans in trying to win the majority in 2020?

MAJOR GARRETT: I don't want to fall back on to be determined, but literally that it's all we can say about this. Will it stick? Yes. It sticks for history. It doesn't unstick you as president of the United States to be impeached ever, point one. So that much we know for sure. Point two, does this become something that Republicans have to continue to explain all year long or something that Democrats have to continue to explain because the process was illegitimate or that evidence was weak? Here's what Democrats I know we're banking on. Something else will happen that the president will do or some other questions related to this or another topic will be raised and they'll say, see, we were on to something. Republicans criticized this all the way and we were more right than wrong. If there's a concern Republicans have about anything unknown in this case or what may come, it's that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Chief Justice Roberts will be presiding over this trial when and if it begins in the new year. So Jan, what do we need to know about how he's going to try to run this?

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, I mean, the chief justice, I think, is going to go in there with one goal, and that is to not be the story. I think he's going to really take a page from his predecessor and how he ran the trial of President Clinton, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and just not be the story. I think what's interesting for the chief and for the court in general is that as he is presiding over that trial across the street at the Supreme Court, the justices are in the middle of what is probably the biggest term in recent memory. Every contentious issue is on the docket this year from gay rights, guns, abortion, immigration, even a battle over whether or not President Trump has to release his tax returns and financial records. So while he's across the street, you know, there in the Senate, he's also got a day job back at the Supreme Court. And this term, Katy Bar the door is going to be a big one. And all these decisions coming out right in the middle of the presidential election cycle. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's going to be significant. I know, Paula, for the State Department and for the secretary of state, this was an incredible, unexpected focus for impeachment that thrust these people who like to be on the sidelines working on policy right into a pretty harsh spotlight. Secretary Pompeo said he would be willing to testify and present evidence as required by law. He seems pretty confident he's not actually going to have to do that.

PAULA REID: His confidence--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it a safe bet? 

PAULA REID: It's a pretty safe bet that the White House will not ask him to testify. And this question right now of what do you do if you were subpoenaed by Congress and the White House tells you you can't cooperate, is currently being litigated and different officials have different views on this. Right now, former national security adviser John Bolton, he and his deputy, they're litigating this. They've asked the courts to decide if they have to cooperate. But then you have acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who says, look, it doesn't matter what happens in the Bolton litigation. I would file my own case if they try to make me testify, because they believe that if the White House can protect the president plus one, Mulvaney is that plus one. So I do not anticipate that the White House will allow any of these officials to testify. And I would not expect that the litigation would be resolved in time for them to participate in any of the present ongoing litigation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about the possibility Major opened up there with something more to come, the other legal shoe to drop? Both you and Nancy, would you weigh in on what does that actually mean for a trial? 

NANCY CORDES: If more of these witnesses are compelled to testify? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: No, if more evidence that we don't know up to this point, and you think, I think of Rudy Giuliani and his ongoing legal troubles, if there is new evidence, information that comes out due to a trial, due to some kind of court proceeding on the outside, what does it do to what happens inside the capital and the trial to come?

NANCY CORDES: I suppose it's possible theoretically that minds could be changed, but we have a pretty clear idea already of exactly what happened and there were exactly zero Republicans who voted to impeach this president. So the notion that there's one more piece of information out there or one more witness who might testify, who would suddenly lead to the dam bursting open and Republican senators voting to remove this president from office. You know, again, theoretically, it's possible, but realistically, I think it's unlikely to happen. Now, Giuliani is a wildcard here. I mean, he is still traveling to Ukraine, talking to former prosecutors, claiming that he's got more evidence about Joe Biden and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and all the rest. That's something that Republicans dearly wish he would stop doing. So, you know, and the president continues to praise him--

PAULA REID: Absolutely, yeah. 

NANCY CORDES: --and egg him on. 

PAULA REID: And he's--

NANCY CORDES: So, you know that- that is a problem for the president. But at this point, we don't see any signs of the Republicans wall of support for him crack- cracking.

PAULA REID: Because Giuliani said he would be willing to participate in the Senate trial. He wasn't even interested in being a witness so much as he was in cross-examining. But he is alone in thinking that that is a good idea, mostly because he is currently under investigation by the Trump Justice Department. And there is no one in the West Wing except for the president who has ever suggested to me that they believe he is helping his defense at this time. So the president, as you noted, he believes that he brings gravitas to his case. He still sees him as he was in 9/11. It's unclear if the president would support his participation. But again, he would be the lone voice thinking that bringing Giuliani into this trial would help the president's case.

MAJOR GARRETT: And just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting that some new evidence might emerge in early 2020 that would change the outcome of the trial. But things might come out that would be suggestive that the president was more guilty than the current body of evidence suggests. And I think Democrats think that is at least possible, possibly likely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David Martin, I want to get you in here, because this is all the politics of it. But this came from the national security world, this concern. It all comes back to anti-tank Javelin missiles. Russia's annexation of Crimea, an intervention in Ukraine. All of this is the backdrop to what led to the withholding of military aid and the political standoff. What is the bottom line here in terms of if Vladimir Putin is emboldened? Does the Pentagon have concern that all this public posturing has hurt their position?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, there's politically emboldened and how can he not be politically emboldened when you have so many elected officials in the United States parroting his talking points? But I and the military and the Pentagon all look at this through more nuts and bolts eyes and what we see is that ever since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the U.S. military has doubled down on its plans and its training for reinforcing Europe. Last year, I went to an exercise in Norway which was the biggest since the end of the Cold War. Next year, the Army is going to put more troops into Germany than it has in this century. So, the U.S. military, despite all the bad mouthing of NATO, the U.S. military is continuing to- to concentrate on the defense of Europe. That doesn't mean that all of this hybrid warfare, the cyber attacks and the disinformation that- that continues. But in terms of somebody coming across the border, the U.S. military has been on top of that since- since Crimea.

MARGARET BRENNAN: France's president called this an open wound in the middle of Europe. And I know end of year we're looking at this potential cease fire. Vladimir Putin and Russia constantly come back. Speaker Pelosi said it always comes back to Vladimir Putin. Jeff Pegues on that, the Russian interest front. Tell me about election security going into 2020. Will Russia try to replicate what they did in 2016?

JEFF PEGUES: Well, I think that's what U.S. officials are anticipating. But having covered this issue, it's hard to believe that when a criminal breaks into a house, he's going to use the same tactic the next time. And so that is the- the challenge here is trying to harden the systems that were weak in 2016. But then how do you try to anticipate what the Russians might try to do next? Every time we see any type of cyber attack, the tactics evolve. And so from what I'm hearing, there is some concern that those tactics might evolve further in 2020. And even though U.S. officials have made some gains, working with state officials across the country and hardening these voter databases and helping with a routine scanning of these voter databases, there is still some concern that there remains a vulnerability there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.S. intelligence assessment said not just Russia, but China, Iran. 

JEFF PEGUES: Well, exactly. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: All things to watch and worry about in terms of election security. But I'd like for both you and Paula to weigh in on the other big probe that we don't yet know the results of, and that is what's called the Durham investigation. This is all about the attorney general. And Jan, you may know a bit about this as well given your past interviews with him. What is it that we can expect the attorney general to reveal about the origins of the Mueller investigation, the probe of the probe? Is this going to be what President Trump is looking for?

PAULA REID: I think it is. Even if, as my sources tell me, it's unlikely that anyone will be criminally charged. This is no longer just a review. This is a criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. I don't expect anyone will be charged, but the president doesn't necessarily need anyone to be charged, because if this is released next year during the 2020 campaign, it's an opportunity for the president to revisit everything that we just heard in the inspector general's report about the mistakes that were made. So it is a great opportunity for him. And the attorney general has recently confirmed that this is a pretty broad investigation. This isn't just about the FBI it's not just about FISA. This is looking to private people, private entities, all the intelligence agencies. So there's a big opportunity for President Trump during the campaign to revisit what he believes is an affirmation of all the allegations he has made about the origins of the Russia investigation being politically motivated. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is the impact at those agencies?

JEFF PEGUES: Well, and I was going to say that this upcoming I.G. Report, I think sometimes people get confused about the two. This will focus, as Paula noted, on the CIA's actions, because, you know--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you talking about the Durham report? 

JEFF PEGUES: --the Durham report, you know, even though there's been a lot of focus on the FBI's actions, a lot of the Russian investigation originated with the CIA and specifically John Brennan, who's been very vocal about his role at the start of this investigation, in that they were seeing the contacts and then he went to his counterpart in the Russian government, told them to stop. And also obviously brought this to the attention of James Comey at the FBI. So, as Paula noted, this is an investigation, the I.G. Investigation that Durham is running that will look broader scope. And we'll probably hear more about the CIA in that report.

JAN CRAWFORD: Yeah, this is a highly respected prosecutor, both sides of the aisle. So I think that the report will have quite a bit of currency when he comes out with it. The attorney general made clear and has consistently made clear there was spying on the Trump campaign. He doesn't understand that word to be pejorative, it is what it is. I mean, it- it- it- there was. What was the grounds for that? Was there justification? It's- as Paula indicated, it's a very broad charge that he has. And clearly, the attorney general believes there's good reason for it.

JEFF PEGUES: And, of course, Chris Wray keeps pushing back against that term, "spying." He keeps--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The FBI director? 

JEFF PEGUES: That is not something that we would say. (00:15:27) And even though there's been all this--

JAN CRAWFORD: I mean if you think about what- what the attorney general means by that, that's surveillance. There was surveillance, spying done it's not- so he's saying, look it up in the dictionary. This is- why are we having this debate over semantics? And what was the grounds for it? Was there justification for it? That's what he's troubled by.

JEFF PEGUES: Yeah, and I understand that. But I also think that the FBI would say, you know, that assigns a nefarious motive to what they were trying to do. I mean, what they were seeing in 2016 with this was this widespread Russian operation. And they were seeing not only cyber attacks, but the contacts with Trump campaign officials. And so that's why you have FBI officials pushing back against that. And what they try to emphasize is this fact that, you know, the IG report that Horowitz conducted found that their- that their launch of this investigation was justified and there was no political bias involved, even though there were mistakes made in the FISA applications. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We hear about this on the campaign 2020 trail.

MAJOR GARRETT: Sure it is in which vein of grievance for the president and his supporters, to be sure. And in this season, where there is sometimes references to the island of misfit toys, President Trump's orientation to every behavior is it is the island of perfect activity. Nothing is wrong. Nothing could be questioned in the campaign, even though these linkages amid this Russian activity were suspicious and identified as such. Legitimate veins of inquiry. President says no, absolutely not. We go back now to Ukraine. Everything is perfect. You ask most Republicans on the Hill, they don't believe everything was perfect. They will not- they will argue that on the president's behalf in a impeachment proceeding. But privately, they think this is a bit pushing it, but for the president, everything is always perfect. It is that politics of absolutism. And until it stops working for him, he's going to stay there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David Martin, the Trump administration is staring down an end of year deadline of sorts set by Kim Jong un of North Korea, saying that diplomacy expires and they are preparing for the test of satellite, a long range ICBM. What this does is it basically throws into question President Trump's centerpiece foreign policy issue and thrust us pretty close to crisis, not just in an election year, but at a pretty critical time for North Korea's nuclear program. How much stronger are they now? How much bigger is the threat?

DAVID MARTIN: Well, it's been more than two years since they tested a long range missile that could reach the United States, but you can be sure Kim Jong un's rocket scientists haven't been sitting around popping bonbons for the past two years. They've been hard at work trying to develop a better, more reliable, more accurate missile. And we will know how much progress they've made when we start seeing their tests and if they have developed a missile that doesn't just have a theoretical range of reaching the United States, but has a no kidding military capability to drop a nuclear warhead on us, then we are in a situation we have never been in before with North Korea, despite all these decades of crises. So it's a big deal. (00:18:46)  Twenty--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Its a- it's a huge deal behind this- behind the impeachment seas the national security community is very focused on exactly that. CBS's Robert Carlin predicts we are about to see the unraveling of the situation in East Asia and the beginning of the most serious, most dangerous crisis we have seen at a time we're paralyzed with our domestic political struggles. (00:19:08) That's pretty stark. 

DAVID MARTIN: And he's not a guy who lets his hair catch on fire.

MAJOR GARRETT: No, he's not an alarmist at all. Quite to the contrary.

DAVID MARTIN: 2019 in North Korea is going to be remembered as the year the music died and the music being this Fantasia that Kim Jong un would give up his nuclear weapons and the US and North Korea would live happily ever after.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it thrust us into 2020 politics. And we will take a break here because we have a lot more to talk about on the other side of this break. Stay with us with our predictions for 2020.

PART TWO 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we're back now with our CBS News correspondents panel. Jeff, hard to believe that we started in 2019 with the longest government shutdown in history and it was all over immigration. And then we end the year and nothing really has changed on immigration on the legislative side. But what is actually happening now at the border?

JEFF PEGUES: Well, we don't see the border in the headlines as much as we used to, especially earlier in the year. I mean, if you're a supporter of this administration, they've made some progress in terms of the apprehensions at the border. In fact, I think it was in May, the number of apprehensions was up to one hundred and thirty something thousand. In November of this year, it was down to thirty three thousand. So they've- they've made some progress there if you support the administration. And I think that shows because it's not in the headlines as much as it was. But of course, if you're on the other side of this and you are not a fan of the tactics that the administration uses you- you still have ammunition to use in your argument that what they're doing along the border is unjustified, unfair and every other "un" you could probably think of. You know, they've been limiting the asylum claims and there are still questions of how kids are being separated from their parents and how long they've been separated from their parents. And so there is still a lot to critique there. But again, if you're a supporter of the president, you look at those apprehension numbers and they're down quite a bit, which, of course, means that they aren't seeing as many people trying to cross the border as they've seen in the past.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jan, you mentioned a really busy year on the court. One of the things that will be ruled on is what to do with these so-called dreamers, the DACA program. What can we expect when when that when will that happen?

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, that's the case about President Trump's efforts to rescind that Dreamers program that President Obama put into place with the sign of a plan by executive action.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it effects hundreds of thousands of people.

JAN CRAWFORD: Right. And it's obviously one of the more controversial cases the term. But I think with that case, as with all of the cases on the court's docket this year, that we're going to be following very controversial cases. It's foolish to try to predict what this court's going to do. I would not be surprised if the president loses that case, but this is a court in transition. In the olden days, and I've covered the court for quite a long time, you could get a pretty good feel for the way the court was going to decide a case based on how they ask the questions at argument. A lot of the questions were designed to get the vote of Justice Kennedy. So the justices would generally tip their hands because they'd be really going after that side that they disagreed with during oral argument. Now they ask questions of both sides. It's- it's a very different feel at argument which makes this court very difficult to predict. So I think, you know, anytime that you see someone saying it looks like the court's going to rule this way, take that with a grain of salt.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But we can expect this before the election? 

JAN CRAWFORD: All of these cases will come down- most controversial cases come down by the end of the term in June, right in the middle of the presidential election. So you're gonna get the Supreme Court weighing in on DACA, abortion rights, gay rights, gun rights, potentially the president's tax returns. I mean, these are all any given year, one of these cases would be landmark blockbuster term. This is a very unusual year for the Supreme Court in that we've got all of them. And that's partly because the court last year was so quiet. They punted on a lot of these issues after the contentious Kavanaugh hearings. They kind of wanted to cool the temperature. So last year was very quiet. That's why I said this year it's buckle your seat belts. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that red meat lands right in the middle of election season. 

MAJOR GARRETT: It will make the future of the court a central issue of the 2020 campaign. It was a partial issue in 2016, identified by then candidate and then ultimately nominee Donald Trump. He put out a list for the first time in the history of American presidential politics. This is who I would choose from if I become president for the Supreme Court. As Jan well knows, the president's legacy already on adding to the federal bench, both at the district court level and at the circuit court level, is ahead of many of his predecessors. He is already remaking the federal bench.

JAN CRAWFORD: That is a- that is a story that he- people really aren't focused on either. I mean, he's already put a quarter of the federal appeals court judges on the bench right now, about 50 federal appeals court judges. He's transforming the federal judiciary, 133 district judges-- 

MAJOR GARRETT: It's long been an issue for Republicans, it will be a huge issue for Democrats. And these decisions will come just before the conventions in July.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the president has done that with a very strong assist from the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, Nancy.

NANCY CORDES: Exactly and that's why when Speaker Pelosi started suggesting that she was going to withhold these articles of impeachment, he said, great, I'll just call up a few more judicial nominations and we've got plenty to fill the time. You know, hold on to those articles for as long as you want. This is, without a doubt, the top priority for the Senate majority leader. He has the majority now, but several of his members have tough re-election fight. So he is going to try to get as many judges as possible confirmed. There's been all kinds of legislation, some of it bipartisan legislation that has come over from the House, but he's made no bones about the fact that he wants to spend a lot of his time on these judges.

JAN CRAWFORD: And if I can say why this is important and as obviously we talk about the Supreme Court, the court only takes up about seventy five cases a year. Most of the decisions and the policy they're getting made in those appeals courts.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And David, I want to come back to you on another emerging crisis, and that is Iran. President Trump campaigned in 2016 on being stronger and deterring Iran. His policy has not done that yet.

DAVID MARTIN:  No, it hasn't. But we are basically conducting a campaign of economic warfare--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

DAVID MARTIN: --against Iran-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Through sanctions. 

DAVID MARTIN: --through sanctions. And when a nation is under attack, it tends to strike back with the means that it has at its command. And lately, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, have been shelling bases where U.S. troops and U.S. personnel are located. Those rockets are not precision guided weapons. And all it's going to take is one of those weapons to hit an American dormitory and American office building and it is game on. And sure, you can say both countries don't want war, but the margin for- for error is very slim. Iran is a ticking bomb.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the president's red line, as you just indicated there, was a single American casualty? 

DAVID MARTIN: A single American casualty. (And the Iranians, according to U.S. intelligence, actually devote a considerable amount of time to debating, well, exactly how many dead Americans could we get away with? Well, now he's told them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, you're putting chills down our spine with our predictions of the year to come (laughter). We're all going to need a drink by the end of this.  

MAJOR GARRETT: From the Holiday- from the holiday cheer corner, David Martin.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know. 

DAVID MARTIN: Thank you.

NANCY CORDES: It's been nice knowing all of you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But it is a sobering and important reality when- when we- you know, we talk just about the politics with the national security community is concerned about in really severe fashion are some of these flashing lights. And you don't, Major, hear a lot about them on the campaign trail right now. I know it's not supposed to impact Democratic primary voters, but they may be forced to start talking about what David is describing, if these situations flare.

MAJOR GARRETT: If these situations flare, if these situations flare and the headlines force a reckoning with these underlying issues that most Democrats during the campaign have not talked about, it's been primarily focused on domestic policy. And if I could say just two things about the Democratic nomination, two resilient forces, you don't get a lot of credit for their resilience. One, Joe Biden, middling debate performances, not big crowds, doesn't raise nearly as much money, yet he stays near the top both in most of the early states and nationally. Also, Bernie Sanders, thought to be kind of an also ran. Oh, he was there in 2016. He has remained a potent and immovable force. And if you ask yourself what Democrats position to do, well, credibly. Well, in all four of the first contests, the answer is Bernie Sanders. Others have risen and fallen. Bernie remains resilient. Those are two fascinating stories to keep track of on the Democratic side heading into 2012.

(00:08:15)

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to go around the table. Paula, can you start us off, though? Undercovered story and your beat and story you wish you could have covered.

(00:08:22)

PAULA REID: Oh, a story I wish I could have covered, Jeffrey Epstein. I mean, that case had everything and I'd watch our colleagues in New York covering that and I'd always say, my God, this trial has everything. This would have been the trial of a lifetime to cover

MARGARET BRENNAN: The New York financier-- 

PAULA REID: Exactly. I mean, the victims--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who committed--

PAULA REID: --the people who were working with Jeffrey Epstein. How he got away with this for so long. What happened in his previous cases? I definitely had a little green eyed monster on not having the time of the bandwidth to cover that. And, of course, he will not go to trial because he- he is now deceased. But that was definitely a case I wish I had covered. And in terms of undercovered story, I'd say the same thing I said last year, which is the opioid epidemic across the country. How that continues to impact lives, but how continues to morph too and how the Trump administration is trying now to focus more on fentanyl. What's happening with opioid deaths decreasing in some aspects, but now fentanyl and their efforts to try to block that from coming from foreign countries. I think that's a story that that doesn't get enough attention. But there's only so much- so much bandwidth, but truly important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nancy? 

NANCY CORDES: Undercovered story on my beat, anything but impeachment. I mean, Congress just passed a one point four trillion dollar spending package, all kinds of goodies stuffed in there, got very little coverage. Big trade deal, very little coverage compared to impeachment. Gun policy. We thought there was a huge breakthrough after El Paso and Dayton. The president came out, said that he was for red flag laws and he was for perhaps strengthening background checks, that the White House would be issuing some kind of proposal. We haven't seen anything. We haven't seen anything from the White House, we haven't seen a single hearing in the Senate. Nobody talks about it anymore. Story I wish I'd covered? Well, Paula, got to interview Elmo and Big Bird at the Kennedy Center. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: I was jealous. It was pretty cool. 

NANCY CORDES: And that was pretty cool. I would have gotten a lot of street cred with my kids. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah, exactly. What about you, Jeff?

JEFF PEGUES: Let's see. What were the questions again? Undercovered--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your undercovered beat and what you wish you could covered.

JEFF PEGUES: Undercovered. I think these ransomware attacks on these cities across the country. It is costing tens of millions of dollars to these cities and it's still sort of flying under the radar. And ultimately, that is a cost that will be passed on to taxpayers. You know and I think people don't understand the implications of this, how it affects these cities. The cost implications, of course. And then story I would like to cover more, one that is sort of developing now on this beat, is Attorney General Barr's approach to law enforcement. Taking a much different approach on the Obama administration did it in terms of what he's saying, the messages that he's communicating in support of law enforcement and in the eyes of some alienating community, because after the Obama administration or during the tail end of the administration, there was this effort to bring community and police together. Now, there are some who see Barr trying to- well, rolling back some of those developments and some of that progress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jan?

JAN CRAWFORD: So I think the underreported story on my beat is President Trump's transformation of the federal judiciary. I mean, we talk about the two Supreme Court justices, but he's appointed a quarter of the federal appeals court bench now 50, 133 or more at this point, federal district court judges. Those judges are appointed for life. It's the president's most lasting legacy. They will be on the bench deciding issues of enormous importance to everyday life for generations. The story I wish that I had covered? I would say the women's basketball final four, college basketball. It's a great event. I'm a big women's basketball fan. Incredible athletes and competition and I wish I'd cover that because that would suggest that we covered women's sports more. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good point. David? 

DAVID MARTIN: Well, at the risk of boring people. It's the withdraw-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: No now you have to be cheery. You're scaring us David. 

DAVID MARTIN: The withdrawal of the United States from the intermediate range nuclear forces deal with Russia- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The INF treaty. 

DAVID MARTIN: The INF treaty. It doesn't have much to do with Russia. It has to do with China because China was not covered by their treaty. And so China had been developing these missiles for years and years. And now the U.S. can start developing those missiles and it's already conducted two tests. And what's at issue here is the buildup on those islands in the South China Sea. China has been making these military bases all around the South China Sea. Once the U.S. has an intermediate range land-based missile, it will be able to threaten every single one of those buildup islands in the South China Sea. The arms race with China is on and in- in many cases like these missiles. we're playing catch up with China.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that is, I would say, on underreported, undercovered and also back in your scary bucket, David because there is so much, particularly on the diplomatic front, that is causing concern with China right now. The abuse of and mass detention of Muslim minorities in China, under-covered, talked about at the State Department, not talked about President Trump, but the human rights abuses and the scaling up of surveillance within China seen as a very scary test case for what may happen next in other parts of that country and with the military buildup you're talking about a lot of people talking about it, but not on TV. So we're doing that today--

DAVID MARTIN: Do I get to tell you my-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sorry- yeah, yeah--

DAVID MARTIN: -the story I wish I-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What did you wish? 

DAVID MARTIN: I wish I had been there when they got Baghdadi.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's-- 

PAULA REID: That's a good one.

DAVID MARTIN: That- that man was evil. And to have been there when he was brought to justice, I think, would have- would have been a great experience. Plus, I would have been able to report whether or not he screamed and cried in his final moments, as the president said he did. 

JEFF PEGUES: Do we know yet? We still don't know, do we?

DAVID MARTIN: No. I don't think we're ever going to know. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Unless you can interview Conan.

NANCY CORDES: Have you gotten to the bottom of whether Conan is a boy or a girl? 

DAVID MARTIN: The- all I can tell you is the latest, which is he's a boy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the picture they released was of a girl. 

NANCY CORDES: It was a girl.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was a female dog 

NANCY CORDES: Takes one to know. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Anyway, Major final to you.

MAJOR GARRETT: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Undercovered and and wish you'd cover it.

MAJOR GARRETT: Right. So sometimes undercovered stories are complicated. And this one, I think, falls resolutely in that category. The president's relationship to people of color in this country. His rhetoric is indefensible, even by many Republicans. Charlottesville, send her back this year, is what people hear and think about when they think about the president and people of color. And yet it can be fairly said that this administration, because of President Trump's quiet prodding, has done quite a bit for funding of historically black colleges and universities. The first step back, which was a massive first step toward criminal justice reform. Just a couple of weeks ago, in this newly signed defense bill, there is a law that says if you are seeking work for the federal government or any contractor, you don't have to be asked and you cannot be asked about your criminal history until right toward the end. That's a significant change long sought by criminal justice advocates, plus opportunity zones in the tax bill directed at communities of color. That is a legacy on the agenda side, that almost any president after three years would want to claim, particularly President Obama. Many of those things were sought. But you know what? Republicans would not go for it. Quietly, persistently, President Trump has pushed Republicans in this direction. And I think that's an under-covered story and part of something that neither he nor Republicans really talk about it, but it doesn't make it any less real.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It is all tucked inside and it must pass-- 

MAJOR GARRETT: Yes, indeed. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -in that piece of legislation. 

MAJOR GARRETT: What would I- what I would I wish I covered this year? Anytime I see our brilliant colleague Mark Phillips in the water covering an environmental story, that's why I want to be. I'm a native of San Diego, California. I love the ocean. I care deeply about its future. When I see Mark in the water talking about its future, that's where I want to be.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Major Garrett on the climate beat. What is your prediction for the new year?

MAJOR GARRETT: It's safe, but it's important. That election turnout in November of 2020 will be the highest it's been in a century. It could near or possibly exceed 70 percent. And that goes to something that you talked about a little bit earlier, which is how safe will the systems be. They will be pressed to their absolute limits. And one thing we can say, whatever we can say about President Trump's role in American political life, he's made it more participatory. We had a record high turnout in the midterm election in 2018. We'll have record high turnout in 2020.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David Martin, you have an incredible track record in your predictions. Although I do have to say there's kind of a two year delay, often. You predicted talks directly between President Trump and Kim Jong un. Two years later, it happened. You predicted the demise of al-Baghdadi, who you just talked about. Two years later, it happened. So what's the prediction for 2021? 

JEFF PEGUES: Pressure.

DAVID MARTIN: You know, I don't do well under pressure.

So, 2020 is shaping up to be the year of maximum danger. We've got these two ticking bombs out there, Iran and North Korea. We've got a president, a commander in chief running for re-election under the shadow of impeachment. But I'm going to draw back from the brink. I'm going to predict that we have an incident which serves as a wakeup call for our vulnerability in space. We are going to lose the services of some vital satellite, maybe, say, the global positioning satellites that runs all our- our lives. It will just be temporary, but the worst part about it will be we won't know whether it was a technical malfunction, an accident, or an attack by a foreign power. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because of our cyber vulnerabilities? 

DAVID MARTIN: Because of the amount of effort that Russia and China have been putting into anti-satellite weapons. Ever since they witnessed what we could do with space in the Gulf War of 1990. That's how long they've been working on this. And they know that our military and now our- our economy just depends on those satellites up in space. If you're going to- if you're going to strike America in its center of gravity, that's where it is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jan Crawford, bring us back from the brink.

JEFF PEGUES: Tough- tough act to follow. 

JAN CRAWFORD: Yeah, I mean, that's like- it's like the- today's version of the space race. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. 

DAVID MARTIN: Yeah. 

JAN CRAWFORD: But- but the stakes are a lot higher than putting somebody on the moon. I guess my prediction would be, if I go back to my beat, my prediction would be that the Supreme Court's not going to make anybody happy this year. I don't think that it's going to be a court that is uniformly conservative with rulings from President Trump or one that's going to be uniformly surprisingly positive for liberals. I think they'll split the difference and as a result, it'll give everybody something to complain about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jeff?

JEFF PEGUES: Okay. So I'm going to predict something that has a little bit to do with my beat and the rest is off the beat. So I think the Baltimore Ravens are going to win the Super Bowl. 

JAN CRAWFORD: Oh come on that's really going out on a limb. 

JEFF PEGUES: I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Jan. (00:20:07) Well, I mean listen, you're right. They have the momentum heading into the playoffs. (00:20:14) And, you know, for a city like Baltimore, that takes so many hits. Now, the mayor that's going to prison, the president, of course, has called it a rat infested city. But I had some- an opportunity to sit down with the head coach, John Harbaugh, who, you know, talked about the team and the city and how Lamar Jackson, this MVP candidate, the quarterback is really representative of what Baltimore is. And that is a town with a lot of grit, a town that never gives up. And I just think given all that has happened there, they have the momentum. I think they're to win the Super Bowl.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. We'll let you check that off as the 2020 prediction. 

JEFF PEGUES: Okay.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Nancy?

NANCY CORDES: Well, I'm going to go out on a limb, predict that Democrats will retain control of the House. Republicans will retain control of the Senate, though the margins in both will shrink. And I think that while the impeachment inquiry in the House is over, the investigations of this president are not going to stop. They've won some early court battles. They'll win some more, I predict, in 2020. And so we could get a very fascinating glimpse for the first time at not only possibly the president's tax returns, but also his personal and business finances.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Paula? 

PAULA REID: I predict that the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, will be charged by the Justice Department. We know that they are currently reviewing his finances. It's not that hard to run afoul of foreign lobbying requirements. And Giuliani has told me he denies that he's broken any laws. But he also tells me that Bill Barr would never charge me. But that completely flies in the face of what Bill Barr has said publicly. Bill Barr was just asked several days ago what he thinks of Giuliani's work, these investigations he's carrying out on behalf of the president in Ukraine, looking into the Bidens and the unsubstantiated allegations that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. And Bill Barr was clear that this kind of work is better left up to the Justice Department and through sources in the Justice Department I've learned that the attorney general is not pleased to be lumped in with the president's personal attorney. So if Rudy Giuliani truly believes, as he has told me, he believes this is ideologically motivated, that he did nothing wrong, but Bill Barr wouldn't charge him. I believe he is wrong. I don't- I cannot speak to whether he would actually be convicted, because while it is easy to run afoul of these laws, it is tough to get a conviction. But there are a lot of questions about where he's getting his money. And you have two of his close associates who have been charged who have an incentive to cooperate. And we have learned that they have received hundreds of thousands, millions in some cases, of dollars from folks with ties to oligarchs in Ukraine and some Russian--

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the Russian mob. 

PAULA REID: Exactly and the Russian mob. Doesn't look good.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Major?

MAJOR GARRETT:  Didn't I start us off?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Oh, you did. (00:23:01) I'm sorry. 

MAJOR GARRETT: I'm like do I have to have another one? I- I--

JEFF PEGUES: You had two. 

MAJOR GARRETT: --the buckets empty. I'm sorry, Margaret, that's it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's an exam. 

MAJOR GARRETT: That's all I got. That's all I got. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't have a Super Bowl pick?

JEFF PEGUES: Yeah, come on what about the--

MAJOR GARRETT: I could take a shot at Alabama, but I won't. 

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, we've already gone down a dark road-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

JAN CRAWFORD: --with the Ravens so let's just leave them out of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Anyway, it  was good to have all of you here. And we will all be back in a moment.