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Trump Poised To Be Third President Impeached In History Today. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired December 18, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Another historic moment right now. There is a procedural vote going on on the House of Representatives, Jake. But by the end of the day, the president of the United States is almost certainly going to be impeached. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. And now President Donald Trump is about to become the third president to be impeached.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It will forever be a black mark on his record. He will be impeached. It will be a part of his history. And as much as he protest it, as much as he pretends this doesn't bother him, as much as his staff is trying to make him feel better, they're having a rally for him in Michigan where he will be surrounded throngs of tens of thousands of his supporters, this bothers him. He knows that this is historically undermining of him, of his presidency and that it is a judgment and it's one that maybe viewers disagree with, but it is a judgment by a majority of the House of Representatives representing the American that this president, what he did was wrong and that he needs to be removed from office in their view.
BLITZER: And right now they are beginning the discussions on the rules, the rules that were approved yesterday by the House Rules Committee. They have to go through this now. And then eventually they'll get fairly soon into the real debate over these two articles of impeachment.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And we saw them debate some of this yesterday. 10 or 12 hours, they did this. And this will be part of it as well today.
The meat of this though, obviously, is going to be what happens at the end, the actual vote with these folks, in some ways, putting their political careers on the line in deciding to vote either way with or against this president. So that will be the big moment that everyone is waiting for. Certainly the president waiting for that as well, his supporters, folks who have wanted him to be impeached for many years now as he alludes to people like Maxine Waters, people like Al Green as well, and we'll see the reaction.
And we know the country at this point is divided. That probably won't change. But this will be a president that will have to go into his re-election unlike any president we've seen with disdain on his legacy.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a president -- I think it was Manu who asked him. Was it Manu or was it -- it was one of our reporters asked the president, do you admit you've done --
BLITZER: Jim Acosta.
BORGER: Jim Acosta, thank you. Manu is on the Hill. Do you believe you did anything wrong, anything? No not at all, not at all. Zero. And that is -- that is what the American people are hearing from him. Bill Clinton, as we were talking about 21 years ago, Bill Clinton admitted and apologized. It took him a while, lied to the American public for seven months before he did, but eventually said, I'm sorry, I made a mistake. I messed up, I think, was the phrase.
This is a president who will never say that and who will blame the Democrats and Republicans are afraid of this. They're afraid of crossing him.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Having lived through it, I don't want to give him too much credit. He apologized because he got caught.
BORGER: That's right.
KING: Told by a court he had to testify to a grand jury at that point.
BORGER: And lied.
KING: At that point, he had to talk the first time and came back and --
TAPPER: By the way, if there wasn't DNA evidence, he probably would be denying it to this day.
BORGER: I agree with him. You don't want to give him too much credit.
KING: But this president -- this president -- we would not be here today if this president, to your point, that said, you know what, now that I study this more closely, now that I understand what rouge Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine, whoa, sorry, went too far. If he had said that, we would not be here today. But this president will not show contrition.
And the other point is this majority, if you read that letter yesterday, the rage, the falsehoods, this House majority, the size of it was born of that behavior in the midterm elections. Yes, the opposition party normally wins in the first midterm election of the presidency. The Democrats were expected to gain. But the size of this House majority today, the reason Nancy Pelosi has this cushion, the reason we're focusing on these Democrats in the districts where Trump won is because the midterm was such Democratic wave election.
What was that borne of? A revolt against the president in suburban America because of the kind of behavior you see in that six-page letter, rage, anger, tweeting at 4:00 in the morning.
KING: Yes, lying.
And so as the president watches this today and watches the House Democrats impeach him, there is a mirror moment here. You might have a Democratic majority. You might. But you wouldn't have this big of a Democratic majority if not for his --
TAPPER: And one of the points the House Democrats make is that even though they know that the president will not be removed from office because the Republican majority in the Senate will not vote, that way, you need a two-thirds majority, so it's not even 51 votes but they probably won't even get 51 votes, is they need to make a check on President Trump's behavior. Because their argument is he asked for election interference in 2016 and then came this big investigation in the Mueller report into what exactly happened when it came to the Russians coordinating with his campaign that he ultimately found nothing that can be prosecuted but potential obstruction of justice.
And the point is that the day after Mueller's testimony before Congress, that is the day that this telephone call took place. An official transcript, an official record or rough transcript of the president's asking the president of Ukraine investigate the Bidens, the word corruption does not appear in that rough transcript. Investigate the Bidens is what he wanted, even though there are members of the House of Representatives who deny that he even said that.
And their point is, you have to like take a stand because every time you let something like this slide, then the president does something more.
BORGER: And that was in response to the Republican saying, why are you rushing this through? We have an election year from now. What's the big deal? Just why rush it through? And their response is, because he's doing it again and he can't be allowed to do it again, and that is Adam Schiff's main argument. And if he becomes a floor manager, I believe we will hear that from --
KING: The enabling of all this is really remarkable by House Republicans. I have to say this because whether it has to do with this behavior, which House Democrats are alleging is criminal, they're calling this bribery, although that's not in the articles of impeachment.
There is, for instance, take what President Trump did in the last week when it came to that environmental activist, the 16-year-old girl with Asperger's. And he attacks her, not her position on environmental issues. He attacks how her emotional displays are.
She has Asperger's syndrome. It is not difficult for any thinking adult to say that's indecent behavior, no adult should do that. If you want to disagree with her environmental stance, that's fine. If you want to disagree with some her policy pronouncements, that's fine too. But you don't go after somebody, a teenager with Asperger's, about how they displayed their emotions.
But the House Republicans, and into some degree now also, sadly, the Senate Republicans, cannot even bring themselves to say that's indecent. You shouldn't do that. No adult should do that. They say things like, well, you know, the president displayed -- he talked in a way that the American people are used to by now, not maybe the way I would do it. And the point is every time that they let something like this slide, then the president takes it one step further.
BORGER: They're all. That's what it is. They're all in at this point.
BLITZER: I want to go to Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. The chairman of the Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, is speaking right now. Manu, walk us through what's unfolding.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, they're moving forward on the date over the rule of the ultimate floor debate on the articles of impeachment. This is a necessary, a procedural move that is necessary by the half of the House, to structure how to debate on the articles of impeachment could go forward.
So what this rule that was proved by committee last night, this rule that essentially sets the parameters and outlines for how the legislative debate on the articles will actually transpire in the hours ahead. It says there are six hours of debate that will occur. Once rule is approved, there will be six hours of debate about the articles of impeachment. They will be split evenly between the Republicans and the Democrats.
And also there are a lot of discussions behind the scenes between Democrats and Republicans about how far the Republicans will go to actually delay the ultimate vote when the president is going to get impeached tonight.
Now I am told that there was a deal essentially that was cut behind the scenes in which the Republicans asked for an extra hour of debate, so move it up to six hours of debate on the articles of impeachment. In exchange, they said that they would limit the number of procedural objections that they amount that would delay the ultimate proceedings on the floor.
So that happened behind the scenes. I am told Adam Schiff meet the members privately today. So we'll see if the Republicans stick by that. But at the moment, we are expecting those -- what we saw this morning, them voicing their concerns, voicing a couple of procedural votes to voice their displeasure of the process, but perhaps that will be limited. We ultimately may get to that final vote, that ultimate vote that the president will be impeached later tonight.
BLITZER: All right. Manu, stand by. Jim McGovern, the chairman of the Rules Committee is speaking. Let's listen in. REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-MA): Madame Speaker, this really is that serious.
Over the past several months, the House of Representatives has been conducting an impeachment inquiry into the 45th president of the United States, Donald John Trump. Our inquiry is simply to answer the following question. Did President Trump and his top advisers corruptly withhold official government actions to obtain an improper advantage in the next election?
e now know, through the hard work of our investigative committees and because of the president's own admission that the answer to that question is yes.
The president withheld congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine, a country under siege, not to fight corruption, but to extract a personal, political favor. President Trump refused to meet with Ukraine's president in the White House until he completed this scheme.
All the while, leaders in Russia, the very nation holding a large part of Ukraine hostage, the very nation that interfered with our elections, had another meeting in the Oval Office just last week. The president of the United States endangered our national security, the president undermined our democracy and the president, a successor to the same office as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, betrayed his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
These aren't opinions, these are uncontested facts. Now I've read the details of the July 25th phone call with President Zelensky, where President Trump said "I would like you to do us a favor, though." I've seen the televised press conference where his Chief of Staff openly admitted to this deal and told the nation to just "get over it." Hours and hours of depositions by the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees have been conducted, where witnesses outlined the president's direct involvement in this scheme.
The evidence is as clear as it is overwhelming. If a president undermining our national security and using the federal government for his own selfish, personal gain is not impeachable conduct, then Madam Speaker, I don't know what is.
Now I've heard some on the other side suggest this process is about overturning an election. That is absurd. This is about protecting our democracy. These facts are beyond dispute. The only question now is whether we are willing to tolerate such conduct, not just today by President Trump but furthermore by any president of either party. To not act would set a dangerous precedent, not just for this president but for every future president.
You know, 11 months ago, many of us took an oath right here in this chamber. I've had the privilege to take that oath 12 times now and I believe it is not just for show. It is a contract between each of us and the people we represent, to place the national interests above partisan interests and to preserve those laws that make our country unique.
We cannot reconcile the president's abuse of power and obstruction of Congress with the oath of office that we took. Madam Speaker, we are being tested on something greater than our ability to toe a party line, something more than our ability to score the next great television soundbite. This is a democracy defining moment. History will judge us by whether we keep intact that fragile republic handed down to us by our forebears more than 200 years ago or whether we allow it to be changed forever.
For the sake of our country's future, I hope and I pray that my colleagues will make the right decision. I reserve the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: Gentleman reserves. Gentleman from Oklahoma?
COLE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, I thank my good friend, the gentleman from Massachusetts, Chairman McGovern, for yielding me the customary 30 minutes. I yield myself such time as I may consume.
SPEAKER: Gentleman's recognized.
COLE: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
Well, Madam Speaker, today is a very sad day for all of us, for me personally, for the Rules Committee and the entire House of Representatives, and most importantly for the American people.
For the second time in my life, the House of Representatives will be voting to impeach a president of the United States, but unlike in 1998, the decision to have this vote is not the result of a bipartisan process nor an open or fair process. Instead, it's going to be a deeply partisan vote coming at the end of an unfair and rushed process prescribed solely by Democrats to ensure a predetermined result.
Impeachment of a president is one of the most consequential acts the House of Representatives can take and it should only be done after the fullest and most careful consideration, yet today after a truncated investigation that denied the president due process, cherry-picked evidence and witness testimony to fit their narrative, and trampled on Republicans minority rights, Democrats in the House are pressing forward with a partisan impeachment vote.
Doing so contradicts Speaker Pelosi's own words, back in March of this year, when she said that, quote, "An impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path because it divides the country," unquote.
But if we're really being honest, Democrats have been searching for a reason to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected. In December of 2017, a current member of the majority forced a vote to impeach the president. And even then, long before there was even an impeachment investigation, 58 Democrats voted to impeach the president.
And those members have only grown since then, to the point where the majority is now pushing forward with a final vote on impeachment, heedless of where it takes the country and regardless of whether or not they've proven their case.
And if my colleagues in the majority believe they have proven their case, let me be clear: They have not. The entire premise of these articles of impeachment rests on a pause placed on Ukrainian security assistance, a pause of 55 days.
The majority has spun creative narratives as to the meaning and the motive of their -- of this pause, alleging the president demanded a, quote, "quid pro quo," unquote, but with no factual evidence to back it up. Security aid to the Ukraine was released; the administration did so without the Ukraine ever initiating an investigation into anyone or anything.
It's even more startling to me that the majority wants to move forward with this resolution given how substantially flawed and procedurally defective the entire process has been.
The Judiciary Committee, which drafted these articles of impeachment, engaged in an abbreviated process, hearing from no witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the events in question. They did not conduct their own investigation, and only held two hearings on this topic before drafting the articles, one with staff and one with constitutional law scholars. That's hardly the type of lengthy and serious consideration a topic as grave as impeachment demands.
The committee actually charged with an impeachment investigation was the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, not the Judiciary Committee. But that committee, too, followed a primarily closed process. Republicans were denied the right to call witnesses or subpoena documents. And the president was denied the right to representation in the committee's hearings.
Without respecting minority rights and without respecting due process rights of the president, how can anyone consider this a fair process?
Madam Speaker, it gets worse. The articles of impeachment we are considering today are based on the Schiff Report, the final document produced by the Intelligence Committee and transmitted to the Judiciary Committee. But the Schiff Report includes unsubstantiated allegations, it includes, in some cases, news reports as the only evidence supporting so-called factual assertions, and it includes at least 54 different hearsay statements as assertions of evidence without any firsthand information from witnesses to corroborate those statements.
The author of the report, Chairman Schiff, was never questioned by the Judiciary Committee and he refused to sit for questions or to explain how his committee conducted its investigation. In fact, during the staff presentation of evidence at the Judiciary Committee, Ranking Member Collins asked how the investigation was conducted that resulted in the drafting of the Schiff Report. But he never received an answer.
During the Rules Committee consideration of House Resolution 755, there were numerous times when the members on both sides of the aisle posed questions to our witnesses, questions they could not answer because they sit on the Judiciary Committee and were not the author of the report that brought about H.Res. 755.
The author has never appeared before members of the minority to explain a single thing in the report, or to provide factual information supporting the many assertions it contains.
Madam Speaker, this is no way to go about impeaching the president of the United States. The articles before us are based on very limited information. They are based on hearsay, on news reports, and on other unsupported allegations. They are based on a report written by a member of Congress who refused to answer questions about it. And I do not believe the allegations, which are subject to interpretation, actually rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
To make matters worse, when Republicans attempted to exercise one of their rights under House Rules, they were shut down by Chairman Nadler. Under Clause 2(j)(1) of Rule 11, the minority is allowed to demand a minority hearing day.
On December 4th, the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee properly exercised that right and transmitted a demand to Chairman Nadler for a hearing day at which the minority could call their own witnesses. And to be clear, Madam Speaker, a minority hearing day is not subject to the chair's discretion. It is a right, and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee properly demanded the exercise of that right.
And yet Chairman Nadler declined to allow a minority hearing day to be held before the voting of these articles. I think we can all agree that it would have been better for the institution and for the American people to allow all voices to be heard, and all witnesses to be questioned before proceeding to a vote on something as -- this consequential.
And yet the majority trampled on that right. But I suppose I should not be surprised by any of this. When the House passed H.Res. 660, the resolution setting up the official impeachment inquiry less than two months ago, I warned the House that the majority was doing was setting up a closed unfair process that could only have one outcome.
And today, we are seeing the end result of this closed and unfair process: a quick rush to judgment, forced through not one but two committees in short order with minority rights trampled, witnesses left unquestioned and due process ignored.
It is also disappointing that members are not being given more time to debate this issue on the floor. Last night at Rules Committee, I offered an amendment to double the amount of floor time debate from six to 12 hours. This would have allowed for roughly the same amount of debate time used in the Clinton impeachment, and it would have ensured that all members could have the opportunity to speak on the floor. Unfortunately, that amendment was not accepted.
While I know my friend Chairman McGovern did the best he could, I do think it's ironic that when all is said and done, the 13 members of the Rules Committee spent more time discussing H.Res. 755 in committee yesterday than we will spend debating it on the House floor for every member today. I think that's a disservice to the members of this body and to the American people.
Madam Speaker, we deserve better than a flawed process that led to this flawed outcome. The House of Representatives deserves better than that. The president certainly deserves better than that. More importantly, the American people deserve better than what we're doing here today.
I oppose proceeding any further. I oppose the rule. I opposed this limited and unfair process and I certainly oppose impeaching the president of the United States. With that, I urge opposition to the rule and I reserve the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: Gentleman reserves.
Gentleman from Massachusetts?
MCGOVERN: Madam Speaker, I'd like to ask unanimous consent. I want to insert in the record a -- a statement, a letter that I sent with regard to the members' day. I want to correct -- I think it's important to correct the record, that there were zero points of order that lie against H.Res. 755.
SPEAKER: Objection, so ordered.
MCGOVERN: And, Madam Speaker, I want to yield myself 30 seconds.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
MCGOVERN: Yeah, we're here to talk about the president's behavior, and that's what I think we all should be focused on, not just process. But I want to just say that I'm proud of the process.
Democrats and Republicans have had equal opportunity to participate in the months-long impeachment inquiry. Members of both parties have been involved at every stage of this process, from sitting in and asking questions in closed-door depositions to questioning witnesses in open hearings.
The committees took more than a hundred hours of deposition testimony from 17 witnesses, and held seven public hearings, which included Republican-requested witnesses. They produced a 300-page public report that laid out their findings and evidence.
The Judiciary Committee then took that report, it conducted two public hearings, evaluating the evidence and the legal standard for impeachment before reporting of the two articles...
SPEAKER: The gentleman's time's expired.
MCGOVERN: I yield myself an addition 15 seconds.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
MCGOVERN: President Trump was given the opportunity to participate in the Judiciary Committee's review of the evidence presented against him. He chose not to participate. And President Trump to date has not provided any exculpatory evidence but instead has blocked numerous witnesses from testifying about his actions.
At this point, Madam Speaker, I -- I would like to yield three minutes to the gentleman from South Carolina, the Majority Whip, Mr. Clyburn.
SPEAKER: Gentleman's recognized for three minutes.
CLYBURN: I thank the gentleman for yielding me the time. Madam Speaker, I rise today feeling the full weight of my duty as a member of this august body, reflected upon our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
It is my sincere belief that under the circumstances that bring us here today, there is only one path for us to take to fulfill that oath. Thomas Paine, in this first of a series of pamphlets entitled The American Crisis, published 243 years ago tomorrow, intoned that "these are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldiers and sunshine patriots will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands it -- by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered."
These words were written at a time when our founders were rebelling against tyrannical rule of the British monarchy. Today, we have a President who seems to believe he is a king or above the law. Paine warned us that so unlimited a power can belong only to God almighty.
My faith leads me to take very seriously the final words of our oath, to faithfully discharge the duties of the office, so help me God. Madam Speaker, three days ago I joined with a bipartisan delegation of our colleagues celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. We laid wreaths at the memorials of Generals George Patton and McAuliffe. We visited foxholes that were occupied by some brave soldiers who fought in some of the worst winter weather ever visited upon a battlefield and we visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery, the final resting place of thousands of them and General George Patton.
They were not summer soldiers in their efforts 75 years ago to preserve the republic and we must not be sunshine patriots today in our efforts to protect the Constitution upon which this great republic stands. While our fight is not in the trenches of battlefields but in the hallowed halls of this Congress, our duty is no less patriotic, and I yield back.
SPEAKER: Gentleman yields back. Gentleman from Oklahoma?
COLE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I yield myself 15 seconds just to respond to my friend.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's recognized.
COLE: President Trump, for the record, was not provided the opportunity to challenge the facts and still has not received the materials the Judiciary's required by H.Res. 660, another example of why this isn't a fair process. With that, Madam Speaker, I would like to yield to the gentlelady from Wyoming, the distinguished Chairman of the Republican Conference for the purpose of a unanimous consent request.
CHENEY: Madam Speaker, I ...
SPEAKER: ... gentlelady.
CHENEY: Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to amend H.Res. 767 to provide for voting by a manual call of the roll so the American people can see precisely who is supporting the impeachment of a duly elected President.
Members should be required to stand and identify themselves openly and on camera on the question of adoption of these articles of impeachment.
SPEAKER: All time has been yielded for the purpose of debate by the gentleman from Massachusetts. Does the gentleman from Massachusetts yield for this unanimous consent request?
MCGOVERN: I do not.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Massachusetts does not yield. Therefore, the unanimous consent request cannot be entertained. Gentleman from Oklahoma?
COLE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Madam Speaker, I yield to the -- my good friend, the gentleman from Missouri, the distinguished Secretary of the Republican Conference for purpose of a unanimous consent request.
SPEAKER: Gentleman shall state his request.
SMITH: Thank you, gentleman. Mr. Speaker, I -- Ms. -- Madam Speaker, I ask for unanimous consent to amend H.R. 767 to provide for 12 hours of debate, equally divided by the majority and --