Return to Transcripts main page


Sen Chris Coons (D-DE) Was Interviewed About What He Ask to President Trump's Defense Team During the Impeachment Hearing; Vote on Witnesses Hangs on a Thin Thread; Witness Vote Likely to Fail After Sen. Lamar Alexander Shares His Decision on Witness Vote. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 23:00   ET



SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): What is striking to me, first, is the answers that we got to a question that was asked early this evening, which was, and this was a question I asked, if the president were to call witnesses which of his witnesses would testify directly to what the president said, what the president did around withholding aid from Ukraine that might exonerate him.

The answer of course, was to change the subject and to talk about folks who couldn't directly testify to what the president did.

Because, frankly, I think there are no witnesses who the administration can put on who will give foreign testimony to clear the president or they would have done that. It's striking.

And so, instead, what the White House counsel repeated again tonight was a defense that said, even if everything argued by the House is true you can't impeach the president.

That's a stunning position to take, a suggestion that it really is OK for the President of the United States to seek foreign interference in an election for his partisan political benefit.

And I frankly think when Russia and China hear things like that what they're hearing is an invitation to interfere in our upcoming election.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: It does -- I mean, set a precedent, it seems, that whether it's future presidents or even this president could then continue -- could continue to do. Actually, I'm sorry. Manu -- I've got to run, got to Manu Raju for a second. Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We got this statement from Lamar Alexander and he is a no. That means that he is going to vote against moving forward on witnesses and documents, and that could mean the swift end to the president's impeachment trial.

He says this, I'll read you the statement that just came out. "I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and more witnesses but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and does not meet the United States Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense.

The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate. The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.

I believe that the Constitution provides, that the people should make the decision in a presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday. Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with the consent of the governed not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide."

So, he makes very clear I am a -- I work with -- he says, I -- there's no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and does not meet the high bar for the Constitutions for impeachable offense under the Constitution.

So, what does that mean here, Anderson? That means that the votes are simply not there at the moment to move forward on impeachment documents, and probably will not be there tomorrow, assuming there's nothing that happens to break a potential tie-breaking vote if it does come to that.

Because looking at the math here, there are 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats. Two Republicans are expected to vote for moving ahead. They need -- Lamar Alexander is a no. So, the only person who -- there is still a question about is Lisa Murkowski. And if it's 50/50, she votes to decide to vote with the Democrats, does the chief justice vote to break a tie.

Expectation here is that's not going to happen which means that if he doesn't break a tie and she's a no, even if she votes for it that means that the president's impeachment trial could be over as soon as tomorrow night, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Manu, thank you. We'll come back to you. I want to go back Senator Coons. Senator, what do you -- what's your reaction?

COONS: Well, Anderson, I'm very disappointed to hear that. I have served with Senator Alexander for a decade and on many occasions have known him to be a thoughtful and seasoned senator. I disagree strongly with his conclusion tonight.

But let me simply say this, and I'll say it to him when I get a chance tomorrow. If the conclusion he's reached is that what the president did was inappropriate, but that the people should decide in the upcoming election, the very least we should do is to make sure that the next election is a free and fair election, without foreign interference.

And I frankly think if the American people are to make up their minds in this next election about whether or not to reelect President Donald Trump, they should know the facts. Getting John Bolton to testify was frankly an exercise in making sure

the American people got to hear directly from someone who was in the White House and knew what the president had directed be done.

If I hear what you just conveyed about Senator Alexander's statement, he essentially said that the House case has been proven, but it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. And I hope everyone will reflect on what that means.

Because what the House charged President Trump with was inappropriately using the powers of his office for his own partisan political advantage to try and coerce another country, Ukraine, into ginning up a fake investigation into his chief political rival.


That's really a pretty stunning admission, and a striking thing to say it doesn't reach the level of impeachment.

If all of us can agree that we want our elections to be free and fair then there are bills that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to bring up for a vote that would strengthen our election system and that would make it clear that it is illegal for foreign powers to interfere in our election and for candidates to seek and accept it.

We could do more to make sure our next election is free and fair. And Anderson, I just can't tell you how disappointed I am this evening to hear that announcement from my colleague Lamar Alexander.

COOPER: And is it your understanding, as well, that now that Alexander is a no, if Senator Murkowski is a yes, and then it would be a tie, 50/50, the chief justice could break that tie, but --

COONS: He could.

COOPER: But chances are he would not if he's sort of going on the Rehnquist model. Is it your understanding then that it would just then --


COONS: There is --

COOPER: -- then the move, then it would be over, it would die there, because --


COONS: Correct. Anderson, there is a precedent from the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson where the chief justice broke a tie twice. This was Chief Justice Chase. He broke a tie twice. And then there was a vote by the full Senate to invalidate the asserted power of the chief justice to break a tie. That vote failed.

And so, the precedent is there, where a chief justice can rule, break a tie in a way that then has a significant impact on the trial. So, there is precedent if the chief justice should choose to rely on it.

I can't predict how he might act in this case. We know the chief justice is quite concerned about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, how it's viewed in history. And my hope would be that he, given that view, would side on openness, and witnesses, and making sure the American people know what happened in this case. But obviously we'll get a chance to see the outcome of tomorrow.

COOPER: Assuming this goes in the direction that certainly it's looking like it's going now based on Lamar Alexander's vote, is there anything to indicate to you that President Trump would not do this again, if this is OK with Republican senators --


COOPER: -- to have foreign interference in an election, or to have the request made by the president of the United States for foreign interference against his political opponents, is there anything to stop him from doing it again?

COONS: No, and that's the whole concern here is that impeachment is the ultimate constitutionally directed remedy for the Senate. There was some back and forth tonight on the floor with the House managers and White House counsel about what else could we do to constrain this president and they were suggesting some of the other powers of the Senate to hold up nominees, or to vote against his appropriations priorities.

And Adam Schiff, the House manager, sort of -- I won't say he mocked that suggestion but he'll say that's a pretty thin read on which to stand in the face of a president newly emboldened and without any guardrails.

I'll remind you, Anderson, one of the striking things about the alleged facts here is that it was literally the day after Bob Mueller, special counsel Mueller came and testified that this call with President Zelensky of Ukraine happened in which President Trump said do me a favor, though.

So, my concern, the concern of many of my colleagues, is that President Trump will stand before us next Tuesday night in his state of the union, declare himself fully exonerated and promptly begin engaging in more inappropriate actions inviting foreign interference in our upcoming election.

COOPER: You think he will?

COONS: I certainly hope not, but there's nothing to suggest that he will feel constrained, in fact, as I'm sure you well remember it was in the middle of the 2016 campaign that he publicly invited Russia to interfere by searching for his opponent's e-mails.

The later Mueller investigation, and intelligence community work concluded that it was literally exactly that day that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, began hacking into former Secretary Clinton's server. And in the middle of this impeachment inquiry President Trump went out on the front driveway of the White House and invited China to join in trying to dig up dirt on his leading rival for the presidential campaign here in 2020.

So, I don't think President Trump will be restrained in any way going forward if the outcome in the next few days is as you were suggesting.


COOPER: If he went onto the front lawn of the White House tomorrow and said, again, you know, Ukraine, if you're listening, I'd still like you to, you know, announce an investigation, and China you too, and Bosnia and, you know, Serbia, and anybody else he wants, would -- I mean, do you think he'd here a peep from any Republican senators other than Mitt Romney or Susan Collins?


COONS: Anderson, that is -- that is exactly the burden on my Republican colleagues, if they are saying that they cannot move forward to even listen to witnesses, to even request documents, that they can't say or do anything to restrain this president then the burden is on them to take action, to be responsible, to act like senators to show that they have the best interest of our country at heart and to push back on an unrestrained and unconventional president.

Look, it was Donald Trump who as candidate said I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone dead and get away with it. Sadly, predictions of his unrestrained behavior from his campaign are coming true.

And while I understand some of my Republican colleagues may like the results of his policies, or may agree with some of his initiatives you certainly can't think it's good for the American people or standing in the world or rule of law to have a president who in such brazen ways just thumbs his nose at our Constitution and at the way that we all should conduct ourselves in public life.

COOPER: And it seems he has legal cover, at least from Professor Dershowitz as long as he personally believes --


COOPER: -- it's in public interest that he gets reelected and that there's a -- you know, that he believes it's good for the country and even if it's good for him in the mix, as long as it's a mix of rationales of motives, then that's not impeachable.

COONS: That was the jaw dropping argument made by Professor Dershowitz last night and then ultimately repeated by White House counsel tonight in response to questions, was that you cannot impeach a president for doing something where there are mixed motives and some of his motives are to advance the public good even if that's just true his own reelection. That is a wide-open invitation to interference in our election, to

playing dirty politics and to further rigging the system of the upcoming election. I'm gravely concerned about what this means and that there was a serious assertion of that as a standard of conduct for our president.

COOPER: Senator Coons, I appreciate your time, thank you.

COONS: Thank you.

COOPER: Back with our legal and political team. I want to read this key line again from Senator Lamar Alexander's statement tonight saying he'll vote no on witnesses. Quote, "I work with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses but there's no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States' Constitution -- the United States Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense. The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate," unquote.

Let's get reaction from the panel. It does seem, and Senator Coons seemed to believe that says that Alexander believes that the argument that the Democrats are making was proven. It's just not impeachable.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's what it says. It's a little baffling. I have to say there are a lot of negatives in there and -- I mean, it's not a crystal-clear sentence.

The only thing that's clear is that he's not voting for witnesses and that he thinks the president's behavior is inappropriate so he doesn't agree with the president that this was the perfect phone call and that his behavior was perfect.

But, I mean, let's be clear, this means that this trial was a sham.


TOOBIN: This trial was not a trial in any meaningful sense of the word. There is -- we know relevant evidence out there in the world. There are documents. There are e-mails. There are texts. And there are witnesses. Which could shine very clear light on what went here -- what went on here and the Senate says we're not interested. That's a disgrace.

COOPER: John Dean?

DEAN: This was not a profile in courage by Lamar. And I'm a little surprised. Not totally. But I keep thinking this will be the most significant vote he makes in his career and is one of the last votes he'll make. And I -- obviously he's not standing for reelection. He's standing down. I think this is kind of a sad end note for his career.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK. So, you disagree with him but why is it that a profile in courage --


DEAN: Because I'm --

SHIELDS: Do you disagree with him?

DEAN: No, no, no. I think if he --


SHIELDS: He's not -- hang on, he's not standing for reelection.

DEAN: That's right.

SHIELDS: He's not a MAGA hat wearing Trump supporter, he's been a long-time public servant, he was the governor of Tennessee, he was the education secretary under Bush 41, he worked with you in the White House prior to that.


And he just gave you a very principled statement saying I disagree with the president's behavior. He has no political reason to do anything other than his conscience. And you don't think that's a vote of courage.

And he's going to be criticized by people on this station and all over the media. I think it's a huge vote of -- stand of courage on his part. He's going to get eviscerated by people like you.

TOOBIN: But is it right? I mean, you may be right on the issue of courage. I'm just talking about on the merits. Is it the right decision?

SHIELDS: I think it reflects what a lot of Americans believe. And it certainly reflects what a lot of Senate Republicans believe. Which is this may have been inappropriate had this -- had the Democrats not overreached and perhaps brought censure is a vote to the Senate, maybe we would have voted for this.

They went too far and tried to remove him in an election year. It doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. That's a principled thing for him to say. You may disagree with it but it's a principled thing for him to say and it's the view that a lot of Americans also hold.



COOPER: Kirsten, do you believe they would have voted for censure?

POWERS: They would not have voted for censures. So, let's not sit here and pretend like --


SHIELDS: They would have gotten more bipartisan. POWERS: They would never have voted for censure. There's absolutely no way. Now I don't know whether you can call it a profile in courage or not a profile in courage, but let's also not pretend because somebody leaves office that they don't have a life in Republican politics afterwards. OK.

So, everybody has calculations that they make. The issue is how can you sit and not watch what we have all sat and watched and merely think that something inappropriate happened? I mean, that's just not what happened.

We heard from the lawyers over and over, the president's lawyers saying there's nobody who can say that they heard this from the president suggesting that if we could hear from somebody who heard it from the president that perhaps it would be relevant.

We have somebody, and they have chosen to not have that and that's what this statement is about. That -- this statement is about not wanting to hear from the person that we kept hearing we needed to hear from. So, it's not a real trial and it's not a real exoneration.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And it's a cover-up. That's what the Senate has now done. They have covered up what the president of the United States has done in his grievous action when they had the ability to find out more. And reach a bipartisan, as it were, decision if we could hear from the witnesses, if Mr. Bolton could come in and tell us, is there anything else there? No. Maybe it would be exonerating.

This is a cover-up. Plain and simple. And there has been no attempt throughout this proceeding by the Republicans in this Senate of the United States, the so-called world's greatest deliberative body, which we now known we now can see how deliberative it is, that we have seen now a really shameful episode in our history that's going to read down for many, many years, particularly because of the Dershowitz catechism for the cult of Trump.

That is an astonishing assertion that Dershowitz made about what the president can do.

COOPER: Mike, I'm wondering what you think of Senator Coons saying, you know, that the president could do this again, I mean, that there's nothing to stop him, that there's no --


SHIELDS: One of the things that he said was it's up to my Republican colleagues to call him out. Senator Alexander called him out in that statement, he was -- it was inappropriate.

DEAN: Wow.

SHIELDS: I also think --


DEAN: Wow. That was vicious. Vicious.

SHIELDS: I also think that it is dangerous and this is just where we are in our politics. Now what the Democrats are going to say all through the election is, Donald Trump is winning, well he's obviously getting foreign influence, he's stealing the election. that's what this is being tied up. So, if he wins --


COOPER: Well, no. I'm just wondering --

SHIELDS: That is a very dangerous result of all of this if that's where the Democrats go.

COOPER: But my question was, would that be OK with you if he did it again tomorrow?

SHIELDS: No, of course. You should not have foreign interference in our elections, of course, I don't believe we should have foreign interference in our elections.

COOPER: But if it's not -- it's not an abuse of power --


POWERS: What's the punishment for it?

COOPER: It's not an -- I mean, what's to stop it?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Impeachment. Under normal circumstances it would be impeaching a president who engage in that kind of -- you know --


SHIELDS: First of all, we had a Mueller report that said that he did not collude with Russia. So, first of all, that didn't happen.

COOPER: Well, I didn't say that -- just on this.

SHIELDS: Secondly, it is debatable as to whether or not that's what happened here. I mean, and you and I have argued, we're in a different place on this. I believe that the president of the United States talking about the former sitting vice president to another country and saying we need to investigate what they may have done that is corrupt is -- who happens to be his political opponent is not something that --


WILLIAMS: In exchange but conditioning aid in exchange -- I mean --


SHIELDS: Well, look, yes. WILLIAMS: But again, it's the conditioning of the act on the official

election, you know. But just on a different point, I agree with Jeffrey that the statement that we just heard was a little bit of gobbledygook and it was sort of all over the place.

I think the most tragic part of it is how he hinges it on the fact that it's an election year. Because if that's the case, if we now have made the choice that we can never impeach another president in an election year he can't do it ever again and he should never have done that the three times --


COOPER: So, what I guess -- I just don't understand. So, tomorrow Rudy Giuliani could set up an office, like two blocks from the White House, and hire Igor Fruman --


COOPER: -- and Lev -- if he's not sent to jail, or Lev Parnas, although I think he's done with Lev Parnas, and he could start doing this -- he could start operating for the president again overseas doing stuff, and that would be fine.


WILLIAMS: And something we've talked about, we talked about this thing just yesterday on the show, it would be foolish for him not to because the rules now say that it is very much, number one, it's perfectly permissible behavior for a president and his stooges to engage in, and number two, even if he does it and they know he does it he cannot be impeached for it and won't be removed for it. So why not?

COOPER: In fact, --

WILLIAMS: Go ahead and invite the --


BERNSTEIN: This is a license.


BERNSTEIN: This is a license.

TOOBIN: And remember who we're talking about. I mean, we're talking about Donald Trump who never feels chastened by anything.

DEAN: That's right.

TOOBIN: And so, he will see this and I think he's probably correct, as a victory. That this -- the Democrats failed here, and, you know, I mean, you -- you're in Republican politics, do you think there is any chance on the state of the union on Tuesday he will say, as Bill Clinton did, you know, I sure screwed up but I didn't deserve to be impeached, do you think there is any chance you will see any humility? COOPER: No, it's a perfect call.

TOOBIN: I mean --

SHIELDS: No, I don't.

TOOBIN: Yes, so?

SHIELDS: And I think if he did, he wouldn't be rewarded for it and that's just not -- mean, he has not gotten to where he is by doing anything other than being who he is. So, he's not going to that.

DEAN: I agree.

POWERS: But hey -- the thing is they have -- Republicans have redefined what a president is and what a president can do. Right? I mean, even the -- they've even rejected the idea that you could impeach a president for an abuse of power.

So, if you can't impeach a president for abuse of power what does that mean? What does it mean? A president commits abuse of power and what? There's no remedy. I mean, that is the Republican argument.

SHIELDS: If a prosecutor brings -- if a prosecutor brings a case, that they're -- no they're not going to get 67 votes in the Senate. So, they teed this up. They went too far. They overreached. They contributed to this --


POWERS: What happens if --

SHIELDS: This is the interesting thing. Carl, and I respect what you were saying before about how partisan this is. It takes two to be partisan, both parties have to be partisan. Everyone has to (Inaudible). In fact, when he's acquitted it will probably be a bipartisan vote, you'll probably get a couple of Democrats. So, the most bipartisan vote in this will be his acquittal.

COOPER: I guess I understand your criticism of the process, and just a totally valid argument you make. I guess I'm just wondering about tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the rest of this term and, you know, and onward, clearly, you're not comfortable with the idea of the president repeating that action.

SHIELDS: I'm won't be comfortable with any president soliciting foreign aid if that's what they did. That is not been proven to be the case here. We have federal laws against people doing things like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. There are things that you can't do that you can be prosecuted for in the Department of Justice has people to investigate you.


WILLIAMS: Michael -- SHIELDS: Suddenly tomorrow there's a -- you know, the Trump campaign

is now free to just go and break the law left right and center because of what happened tonight.

POWERS: But Mike --

WILLIAMS: Presidents have -- individuals have been impeached, federals have been impeached for showing up to work drunk. Literally the idea that now abuse of power is not the kind of thing that you can be impeached for is foolish. Dozens of --

COOPER: All right.

WILLIAMS: I'm sorry. go ahead.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break. There's a lot going on this late hour, including as we just mentioned, the real center figure in all of this, John Bolton. He is speaking out, that's next.



COOPER: So, Susan Collins is yes on witnesses tonight, Lamar Alexander is no, but it is a no with a message to the president, President Trump.

I'm quickly reading another portion of his statement now. Quote, "It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations it undermines the principle of the equal justice under the law."

Just quickly go back to scene as Kaitlan Collins in the White House. She has more late developments on the man who would be a star witness, John Bolton, who is apparently speaking tonight. Kaitlan, where is he, what's he saying?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We may not see him on the Senate floor given Alexander's statement tonight. But John Bolton is speaking at a private event in Austin, Texas today behind closed doors. It was this private lunch that he went to.

And during a question and answer session he made some really notable comments that are now being reported on defending those officials who went and did go and testify on Capitol Hill despite essential and a directive from the administration, telling them they didn't have to go forward, that they were protected.

And instead, according to this report it says that he praised Fiona Hill, Tim Morrison, Alex Vindman, Bill Taylor, and Marie Yovanovitch. He said, quote, "all of them acted in the best interest of the country as they saw it and consistently to what they thought are policies were." He then goes on to say that members of the administration should feel like they are able to speak their minds without retribution. The idea that somehow testifying to what you think is true is destructive to the system of the government we have I think is very nearly the reverse, the exact reverse of the truth.

That's what he said behind closed doors. This report also says, Anderson, that he briefly mentioned his new book though it doesn't go on to say what all is in that new book or what comment John Bolton made behind closed doors. Of course, about that book that has been at the center of all of this.

And of course, given the statement tonight we may not hear more from John Bolton, at least not publicly, until that book does get published.

COOPER: I know -- we probably don't know if this was a paid speech. I think it was to a private company, though, correct?

COLLINS: Yes. It was to a private company. It was essentially for their clients, it was at a hotel, but it doesn't say whether or not he was paid for this.

COOPER: I can --

COLLINS: Of course, this is typically what people do --


COOPER: I'll tell you 95 percent sure he was paid for a private --

COLLINS: Yes. That's the --

COOPER: It's a financial company, correct?

COLLINS: Yes, it's a financial company. He was essentially speaking to their clients, typically in an event like that. It's not unusual for something that John Bolton, he did that before he came into the administration, though we should be clear it doesn't say 100 percent whether or not he was paid for that speech.

COOPER: Any plan in place from the White House if the president is, in fact, acquitted tomorrow night, as it seems to be what will happen?

COLLINS: Well, what's also interesting is if the president is acquitted tomorrow night, he's not going to be in Washington.


He is slated to leave tomorrow afternoon to go to Mar-a-Lago, where he is going to spend the weekend there.

So if that does happen, he would not be in Washington, which is also notable because when this when this trial got started, he wasn't in Washington, he was out of the country, actually in Switzerland at that economic forum. So he may not even be here as just down the street. They could be voting on whether or not to acquit him.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do we know -- is Rudy Giuliani still the president's personal attorney?

COLLINS: Yeah. Last time we checked, they did say he was still his attorney, which is notable because you saw the deputy White House counsel today, Anderson, having to defend Giuliani, saying he didn't believe he was taking a formal role in any of this foreign policy though, of course, officials testified they felt like they had to go through Rudy to handle all matters that came to Ukraine.

But as of right now, Rudy Giuliani is still representing the president. Of course, the question of just how much he's involved going forward after given all of this is still an open question.

COOPER: Yeah. Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much. Back now with the legal and political team as well. So, Jeff, what happens tomorrow?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, there will be a debate on witnesses, for starters, I think, for Manu who got a briefing from John Thune who is part of the republican leadership, senator from South Dakota, four hours about witnesses that presumably now will be voted down. At that point, Senator McConnell will try to move to a vote on the merits.

That motion to -- motion to go to the merits is amendable. And presumably the Democrats led by Senator Schumer will try to put in some amendments. So, I think it could be a very long night if they're trying to do this all in one night with four hours on the motion, and then perhaps a series of more motions.

And then, you know, presumably you're going to want to have senators be heard on this. This is one of the most consequential votes they'll ever take.

COOPER: Mike, do you expect Democrats to -- in the House to continue, you know, trying to get documents, to continue trying to get witnesses?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER RNC CHIEF OF STAFF: Oh, yeah, I don't think they're going to give up. I mean, they have -- they have banked their majority in the House on this. And it wouldn't be my advice.

I think the old Nancy Pelosi was smarter than the current Nancy Pelosi, the one that said in '18, told her candidates, don't talk about impeachment, focus on health care, focus on pocketbook issues, that's how we'll win the majority.

Now, they've sort of dug themselves into this hole and they don't have a walk back with their base and say, oh, it's over, we don't care about this stuff.

COOPER: Elliot, is it possible for them, you know, not to pursue witnesses but to pursue documents through the courts which is sort of out of the public view and therefore not something that's necessarily covered, you know, in the grinding months that it would take?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: One of the things that was at the center of the impeachment trial was how long the courts take, right? And I guess, you know, these political calculations of whether it's worth it still to proceed with the courts given, you know, number one, given that you know what the position of the president's going to be and it could just take an excruciatingly long time.

It's an unfortunate argument to hear because -- particularly the Senate talked about how long courts will take, and this whole Senate impeachment trial could take a long time, so we ought not to pursue down the road. Look, they have very few functions in the world and oversight and frankly impeachment is one of the constitutionally- mandated ones. So the idea that pursuing these matters to their fullest is a waste of energy or time. It's an insult to the American people.

COOPER: John Dean, I mean, what are the guardrails then that exist for preventing this kind of behavior before besides the, you know, stern concern of Republican senators?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, one of the things that's hard for me to believe is that the southern district is just looking the other way on what is a conspicuous conspiracy that's been going on. Now, they can't indict the president, but a lot of people around him are certainly at the edge, if not involved, in criminal behavior.

TOOBIN: Wait, wait, wait, John. I think you got to be careful.

DEAN: I am -- the crime is conspiracy to defraud, pretty clear, 18 U.S.C. 371.

TOOBIN: I know the statute. I mean, I don't know who's --

DEAN: Well, the removal of an ambassador for improper reasons. It starts back that early. It goes on.

COOPER: A president can remove ambassadors if they --

TOOBIN: Yeah. I mean --

DEAN: I said improper reasons. I mean, you know --

TOOBIN: I don't think that's a conspiracy to defraud, to be honest. I mean, I think the remedy here is impeachment. If the president abused -- we've been down that road. The Senate doesn't want to do it, OK. But the idea that there are going to be criminal prosecutions --

COOPER: Politically, too, to Mike's point.


COOPER: I mean, that also just plays into the witch hunt, you guys are never going to give up on this, now you're going after it through the southern district.

WILLIAMS: Right. But removing the ambassador spoke to the president's intent with respect to the impeachment. I don't think you're going to get to charge it as a --

COOPER: We got to take another quick break. We are going to pick up the conversation. Next, two presidential historians on what just played out tonight in this last 35 minutes and the long-term impact it may have.


COOPER: We talked before the break about the guardrails on the president and any president, assuming President Trump is acquitted. I just want to read a couple of passages from Senator Alexander's statement.


COOPER: He says, "It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law."

I just want to read one other paragraph that we have. It says, "The framers believed that there should never, ever be a partisan impeachment. That is why the Constitution requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate for conviction. Yet not one House Republican voted for these articles. If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to

succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist. It would create the weapon of perpetual impeachment to be used against future presidents whenever the House of Representatives is of a different political party."

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's one of the strangest arguments that they've made, I think, because it's basically saying if we as Republicans choose to not consider anything that you say, then it's a partisan --

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Who's partisanship? Who gets to be bipartisan?

POWERS: -- absolutely not cross the aisle under any circumstances and not consider any information and then call it a partisan --


POWERS: -- situation. You're the ones who made it partisan. So it doesn't really make sense. But what I really -- what Lamar Alexander needs to answer is a question I asked earlier, what then is the remedy in this situation? You can't seriously be saying that you have to wait for an election.

What if a president comes in and in the first week abuses power? Is he actually saying that there's nothing we can do? We just have to sit and wait four years until people vote? I mean, that's the question that needs to be answered.

BERNSTEIN: Let's take a look at this partisan question one other way. Let's just imagine, for a moment, if Obama had ordered an investigation of Trump's children by a foreign power, knowing that Trump might run against him, and tried to take action to preclude the candidacy of Donald Trump by smearing him, imagine -- I would think that Obama would be impeached with an awful lot of democratic support and republican. There would be no question about a bipartisan impeachment.

TOOBIN: You have thought it was missing one thing.


TOOBIN: Is if Obama said we are withholding aid --


TOOBIN: -- that's -- you know, what makes it so much worse.

BERNSTEIN: Add that into the equation.

TOOBIN: Yeah. That's what's the problem is.

BERNSTEIN: Add that into the equation with Donald Trump's children. It would not be a close call, Mike. He would be impeached because --

SHIELDS: This is a common --

BERNSTEIN: -- Republicans and Democrats would join together because the rule of law has been so offended. And what has occurred here, and something you said before that was very wise, I thought, about, we know Donald trump and about his -- I believe what we know about Donald Trump is his contempt for the rule of law.

And Republicans know this in the Senate. It unites many of them in their view of Donald Trump. What they have done tonight is to say, it's all right, we'll forget about the fact that we know he's contemptuous of the rule of law. We will give him a license. And he now has it.

SHIELDS: So, let me ask you a question back on that. First of all, you're hypothetical. This is a --

BERNSTEIN: And I don't like to do hypotheticals, but there is --

SHIELDS: There's a common thing. When Obama was president, Democrats would say if George W. Bush had done this, what would Republicans say? Now, Democrats say if Barack Obama was president -- Barack Obama was the beginning of the era that we live in a partisanship. He was one of the most partisan presidents in history.

He did not work with the republican Congress, he governed from the left, and he campaigned from the left, he said there are more of us than them and we're just going to beat them in elections from the left. That began -- I know Democrats don't want to admit that. POWERS: That's just not what happened.

BERNSTEIN: He was not contemptuous of the law. You can argue, and I think that -- look, we are in a cold civil war in this country and that's also reflected in what we've seen tonight. But the Republicans had a chance to have a truce in the cold civil war and they blew it.

SHIELDS: Let me ask you another really quick hypothetical. So after Bill Clinton was acquitted in the Senate, did that mean that he could commit perjury just whenever he wanted to from that point on? Did that mean that he could have inappropriate relationships with people in the White House anytime he wanted?

That is not a standard. There are laws in the country. So the idea that President Trump has been -- is going to be found not guilty of what happened, just like in any person who walks out of a courtroom that's found not guilty, is now an innocent person.

WILLIAMS: The difference is President Trump has gone on the record defending his conduct in a way that Bill Clinton never -- Bill Clinton didn't say --

SHIELDS: He said I'm sorry.

WILLIAMS: Bill Clinton did not say --

SHIELDS: He can commit perjury all he wants if he says I'm sorry.

WILLIAMS: -- you know what? I'm going to lie under oath again, and I'm proud of having lied under oath.

SHIELDS: He had criminal referrals in his impeachment.

WILLIAMS: The way in which --

SHIELDS: Did the Senate say, you know what, he can just keep committing crimes?

WILLIAMS: The way in which they handled and treated their own misconduct is very, very different, and you know that.


COOPER: All right, let's take a quick break. Throughout the night, our conversation has --


COOPER: -- to the historic nature of the last few hours of breaking news. We will speak next to a pair of distinguished historians. We will be right back.


COOPER: This is a kind of night when it's easy to get wrapped up in each new breaking development. Right now, though, we want to look at how the headlines tonight, tomorrow and the coming days may become chapters of history yet to be written.


COOPER: We have two CNN presidential historians with us, Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University, and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, Tim Naftali. Doug Brinkley, your thoughts tonight? I mean --

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I'm disappointed in Lamar Alexander. He was one of those senators to be a kind of a special cut that you never -- an independent spirit. He is from Tennessee. And remember, during the Watergate days, he had Fred Thompson turn in many ways on Nixon, particularly Howard Baker.

That was the Republican Party back then. It's not the Republican Party now. What Lamar Alexander has done, I think, is hurt his legacy in history, seeming more as a partisan player right now than somebody that was thinking about what's best for the liberty of the country.

COOPER: Tim, I mean, are there any guardrails now on the presidency?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: In one way and in part, tonight is the end of the period that started in Watergate when there was a bipartisan acceptance of the concept of abuse of power.

Lamar Alexander talked about how this was a partisan impeachment. What he didn't add was the reason it was a partisan impeachment was that the Trump party is no longer willing to accept certain assumptions about the limits on presidential power.

And so what we're seeing tonight is an old Nixon veteran, in a way, in a 19th century way with a statement, saying it's OK to let the Article II power, the presidency, dominate our government. He said what President Trump did was inappropriate. In fact, he said the House managers have proven their case, but there was nothing he felt the Senate could do about it.


BRINKLEY: I'm wondering what's going on with John Bolton at this point. I mean, he's somebody that seems at any moment should have been taken to a podium and just tell us what's going on. Instead, our country is in this nightmare about when is this book coming out, when is it, this and that, instead of just speaking truth to power.

COOPER: I mean he's making what seems to be a paid speech today.

BRINKLEY: Yeah, and he's going to be making paid speeches all spring. He's going to be getting money for his book. We've all been kind of held hostage on his financial paradigm. But Democrats watching tonight or Americans concerned about President Trump's overreach should remember what Nancy Pelosi said.

This president has been impeached and that's going to be remembered big in history. He is in that loser's club. That happened to Andrew Johnson and Nixon and Bill Clinton. And so it's not a nothing. Pelosi made that very clear. But things are going to get speedy after state of the union address and Iowa coming and the cycles --

COOPER: I mean, if President Trump, the day after, you know, Mueller testifies, calls up the president of Ukraine and does this, tomorrow, what is to stop him from --

NAFTALI: Nothing.

BRINKLEY: Maybe the fear of these whistleblowers in government, he maybe didn't realize how he can get burned. And the fear --

COOPER: So what? They blow a whistle and nobody listens.

BRINKLEY: The way that this --

NAFTALI: Well, the country listened.

BRINKLEY: A lot of people -- he got impeached over it and it's something, you know?

NAFTALI: I was going to say that what this impeachment should have done is made it painful for a president to do what he did. It was always clear from the beginning that there weren't two-thirds senators or the senators were going to vote to remove him. But the question was do you let him get away with it? And the House decided no. And unfortunately, no Republican agreed in the House.

COOPER: I wonder how many Republican senators are going to make a statement even close to Lamar Alexander, which is not exactly saying it wasn't a perfect call by any means, by any stretch. I mean, how many Republicans are just going to say, you know, it's not -- whatever happened wasn't impeachable and that's that without actually putting on a record about what they think of that call.

BRINKLEY: That's what a lot of them are going to do. Lamar Alexander in his mind is a state's person. He's seen himself. He thinks the letter you just put on to the country is going to live in the ages.

That's a great statement about our democracy because -- so he's going to damage himself with academic historians like Tim and I, but in the Republican Party now, they're high fiving Lamar Alexander. Let's face it, he has when push comes to shove been a Republican loyalist from Reagan to George W. Bush to today.

COOPER: He may not be a senator any more, but he has to live somewhere and, you know, all his friends are, you know, who his friends are and he wants to be a Republican servant.

BRINKLEY: Red state Tennessee.

NAFTALI: When John Kennedy wrote "Profiles in Courage" or when Ted Sorensen helped John Kennedy write a book, he chose eight senators. We actually don't have a lot of "Profiles in Courage" in the history of the Senate. And tonight was an opportunity to add another one. And maybe we'll see some courage tomorrow.

There's no -- you know, when you think beyond tomorrow as a politician, particularly one who is retiring, saying the right thing for the country will get you eternal thanks.


NAFTALI: Doing what Senator Lamar Alexander did today might give him thanks tomorrow, but he will be forgotten or remembered for all the wrong reasons because of what he did.

COOPER: Tim Naftali and Doug Brinkley, I appreciate it. Thank you for being here. We'll be right back. More ahead.


COOPER: What a difference a few hours and a single U.S. senator can make. Lamar Alexander's decision tonight has changed the course of the impeachment trial of the U.S. president and added to a chain of other decisions that may affect how presidents behave or misbehave from here on out.