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GAO Finds Trump Administration Illegally Withheld Assistance from Ukraine; Parnas Implicates Top Trump Officials in Ukraine Plot; Soon, House Managers Formally Present Impeachment Articles to Senate; Questions on Whether New Evidence Will Be Presented in Senate Trial; Cipollone & Sekulow to Defend Trump in Senate Trial. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 16, 2020 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:32:56]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is live CNN special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper.

An urgent decision this morning about the hold that the Trump White House put on aid to Ukraine, as we're minutes away from Democrats reading out the impeachment articles on the floor of the U.S. Senate, articles dealing with the Ukraine scandal.

We learned this morning that the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld military assistance that Congress had authorized for Ukraine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacting to that announcement from GAO just minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): When I was in grade school, there was a sign on the wall, under the carters, it said, "What a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive." You see this more and more and more in all of this, this tangled web to deceive that the administration is engaged in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Trump administration calls the decision overreach and accuses the GAO of rushing, and I'm quoting now, "to insert themselves into the impeachment narrative."

The impeachment moving forward this hour here in Washington. In just moments, the articles will be read aloud and later the U.S. Supreme Court's chief justice will be sworn in to preside over the Senate trial. TAPPER: There are big questions about witnesses and about evidence in

what the Senate will allow, prompted by eye-opening comments by Lev Parnas. You might remember he's the indicted Ukrainian associate of Rudy Giuliani.

Parnas told CNN's Anderson Cooper that everyone around the president knew about the scheme at the heart of the impeachment that Ukraine's president would announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for White House meetings and aid.

He also claims that Giuliani clarified to him that he was not working in the interest of U.S. national security, but in the personal interests of President Trump, mainly to secure his re-election in 2020.

BLITZER: Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. CNN's Manu Raju is on the scene for us.

[11:35:03]

Manu, there's a serious question now of what new evidence could potentially be introduced in a Senate trial.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it is a big question about whether or not Republican Senators will agree to allow that new evidence to come forward.

In talking to Republican Senators who are either in difficult re- election races, vulnerable Senators, and Senators where the president's allies either saying that we'll consider that question later or there's dismissive about the idea of bringing forward new evidence because they say it is the job of the House to do just that.

They're ready to hear the opening arguments on both sides and eventually move to acquit the president.

One of the president's closest allies, David Perdue, who is in frequent communications with the president, I asked him just moments ago whether or not he would be open to hearing new evidence, including this new Parnas evidence, and here is how he responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Do you think the Senate should consider new evidence as part of the Senate trial that has come out?

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): Certainly not.

RAJU: Why not?

PERDUE: Because that's not our job. Our job is to respond to what we have been given in the case built by the House. They have given us two very weak articles of impeachment. Our job is to look at what they our job is to look at what they brought us and decide if that rises to the level of impeachment.

RAJU: But if there's it new information -- but if --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: The question about how this is going to happen is going to occur, essentially like this, the House managers will submit an evidentiary record detailing exactly the evidence they have gathered up until this point.

And after the trial begins, that's when the questions will emerge about whether additional evidence could be considered.

And Democrats are saying there could be more revelations that could come out. We have seen that happen since the president was impeached in December and potentially court cases that could lead to even more documents coming out.

And then at that point, if Democrats want to enter that evidence into the record, Senators would almost certainly get a chance to vote about whether to allow that to happen. And 51 Senators would have to allow that to go forward. That means 47 Democrats have to get four Republicans to join ranks. So that is an open question.

And, of course, the big other open question, whether or not they would allow witnesses to come forward and testify. That's certainly unsettled at this point. But it shows the unpredictability ahead as we get into this historic trial -- guys?

BLITZER: This certainly will be historic. There are significant developments, already agreed to, but so many more not agreed to yet.

TAPPER: And this is only the third time in the history of the United States that there's an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. The first one was in the 1868, you have to go to 1999 and now today, the impeachment of Donald Trump.

And Nia-Malika, some big questions for the Senate as they decide whether or not to allow witnesses and new information. And there are a number of Republican Senators who feel under the gun. They are up in tough re-election matches.

And you can see some of that frustration, shall we call it, bubbling up in an interview -- not an interview. Manu Raju in the halls of the capitol today asked Senator Martha McSally if she was going to be willing to vote for witnesses. And she responded in a way that I was stunned by. But let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Should the Senate consider new evidence to support the impeachment trial.

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): You're a liberal hack.

RAJU: You're not going to comment?

MCSALLY: You're a liberal hack. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He said -- he was asking the question of the day, the one that you heard Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, a strong supporter of the president answer. He said, no, I don't think so.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

TAPPER: McSally just calls Manu Raju, respected widely on Capitol Hill by Democrats and Republicans, calls him a nasty name.

HENDERSON: Yes, a prize-winning excellent journalist. And what she does is attack the media in this case. She is under the gun. She'll have a tough re-election.

People like Susan Collins also a tough re-election. Susan Collins has answered this question saying she would be open to witnesses.

I think the question for all of the folks on the Senate side, the Republicans, people like Lamar Alexander, people like Mitt Romney, all whom have said maybe they're open to witnesses.

I think the question is which witnesses. Are they talking about Bolton? Are they talking about Hunter Biden? Are they talking about Joe Biden? Because they're obviously -- there's a desire from Republicans to have those folks, the Bidens testify as well. Certainly, Donald Trump would love to see that.

So that's the question. They seem open to witnesses. But there's going to be a question going forward of is it going to be all the people that the Democrats and Republicans want, or just the people that the Democrats want, people like Bolton, people like Pompeo, Giuliani.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And, John, it is not just a bad moment for Senator McSally. She then tweeted out, her staffers, little video caught on camera, and doubled down in the name calling, is this a strategy? Is this -- what is this?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is telling because there has been a competition now among the consultants and among the staff and legitimate question, what do we do. I'm running in a purple state, running in a competitive race, I need Independents and I would like to get Democratic votes.

[11:40:07]

But what they're being told mostly is she can't win without the Trump base. She can't. If she abandoned the Trump base and the president turns on her, she is done.

Susan Collins' state is a little bit different, in a state like Maine where she's tried to put this middle ground of, I'm open to it, I want to listen, let's just wait. Senator McSally could have had an easy answer. Nice to see you, Manu, we're about to begin the trial, let's listen to the evidence, we'll make that decision. Perfectly reasonable, right? Perfectly reasonable.

Instead, she attacks. She's made her decision. She's sticking with the president here. We'll see if it works.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we had experiences, all of us, walking through Capitol Hill, asking Senators and members of Congress questions they don't want to answer. And it is a very incredibly telling moment. And not just as you said that she called him a liberal hack, but that she is using it as a campaign strategy.

But there's also something that is really basic, which is grace under pressure and grace under fire. And I get the politics of this, what she is trying to do, as you explained. But, come on. Really, come on.

Manu Raju, as you said, is -- I'm not being defensive of him because he's my colleague, but there's nobody who looks at him with a real objective lens and sees anything but objectivity. That was a ploy and a play --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: The question is, the question of the hour.

Another question of the hour, Wolf, has to do with Lev Parnas, the indicted Ukrainian associate of Rudy Giuliani, who is now doing interviews.

BLITZER: He's a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine originally, but certainly doing some explosive interviews and saying some very, very sharp, pointed criticism, blaming the president of the United States for knowing everything about this alleged scheme.

Jeffrey Toobin is with us.

Jeffrey, what is the possibility that Lev Parnas might be called as a witness in the Senate trial?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: My operating assumption has always been with the United States Senate, what Mitch McConnell wants, Mitch McConnell gets. Mitch McConnell doesn't want Lev Parnas, he doesn't want John Bolton, and he doesn't want any witnesses.

You know, if you heard Anderson Cooper's interview with Lev Parnas, and you were looking at the impeachment articles, the only thing you could say is, boy, I would certainly want to hear from him, I would certainly want to at least explore what he has to say. Perhaps discredit it later, but the idea that it is not relevant or important is just preposterous.

But, you know this is, as we will say many times over the next few weeks, a political undertaking more than a legal undertaking. And the Republicans in charge are trying to defend the president, not trying to find the facts. And any witnesses, whether it's John Bolton or Lev Parnas or anyone else, is a potential interference with that mission.

And I don't see any way, at least at the moment, where Mitch McConnell will be voted down by enough Republican colleagues to have these witnesses speak.

BLITZER: What do you think, John?

KING: Well, if you take Parnas in the context of the other things we have learned since the House voted to impeach a month ago, it makes a case for listening to witnesses.

Let's not take Mr. Parnas at his word. The Ukrainian foreign minister today saying, I'm not sure about his credibility. He should be questioned. The documents should be matched up. Nobody should sit here and say he said this, therefore, it's true. The president deserves the chance to cross-examine him.

One thing we'll get in the Senate is word from the president. We haven't heard the president's team try to dispute the facts here. What does Lev Parnas say? What documents does have?

Connect that to the fact the Government Accountability Office now says the president broke the law. Well, the president can say, oh, that's just this agency of the government, whatever.

But what else has come out since the impeachment vote? E-mails from top Trump administration officials about withholding the aid. Even they question the legality of it. Some of the Trump administration officials question the legality of it.

So you now have documents, texts from Mr. Parnas, Rudy Giuliani letters that Mr. Parnas released, a government agency saying this broke the law. There's new material that anybody would think should be put in the record and debate. And if the president's team can dispute it, fire away.

BASH: And it feeds into the very carefully crafted terms that we heard Democrats using, more aggressively since last Sunday when Nancy Pelosi used the term "cover-up."

Fair trial. "Fair trial" is a term they were told -- my understanding, in a leadership meeting last week by a pollster, Democratic pollster, that plays very well when it comes to making the argument for having the documents or, more importantly, witnesses admissible.

It's not about the outcome and acquittal. It's about putting pressure on these Republicans, particularly those who are up for re-election.

[11:45:04]

BLITZER: Up next, the White House defense. Who will the president pick to defend him at the Senate impeachment trial?

Much more of our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:50:13]

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's live special coverage of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Nancy Pelosi naming seven House managers to prosecute the event.

BLITZER: And the White House right now finalizing its legal defense team and deciding who will defend the president to the Senate and to the American people.

TAPPER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us from the White House.

Kaitlan Collins, who will lead the White House defense?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We know that Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, who is President Trump's outside attorney, will be the two main figures you'll see on the floor.

Now Jay Sekulow is someone people are familiar with. He has done several interviews throughout the year defending the president. Pat Cipollone is not as recognizable to the average viewer. He hasn't done any television appearances since he's been in office. None even in recent history we've been able to find.

So that will be something interesting to watch because, of course, this is a president who cares very much how this argument comes off over television.

Now, two of Pat Cipollone's deputies from the White House counsel's office will also be helping in this effort, though it's unclear whether they'll be speaking roles like Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow will.

But the question still remains is if they're going to add any other attorneys to this team. The White House has been hinting behind the scenes that they do have a chance to maybe add someone in the coming days. The question is, who is that going to be.

We know they made outreach to people like Alan Dershowitz, who the president wants him on the team, though, so far, Dershowitz has been hesitant to accept that role.

So the question is, who will be another legal mind that will help shape the president's defense. The White House has not formally announced any of this yet. Yesterday, during a call, they did not preview when they're going to.

But something they're dealing with behind the scenes are these new revelations coming from Lev Parnas, something the White House has been disputing. But it's something they're sorting through, all these new materials being released, the relationship with Rudy Giuliani and the text messages.

You can see you can see that the president's other personal attorney was sending to this guy. So those are still things they're having to deal with as they are still essentially setting up who it is that will be defending the president starting next week.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thank you very much.

BLITZER: I want to bring in Michael Gerhardt, our senior legal analyst. He's an expert on impeachment, knows the history of all these impeachments well.

What do you think the White House is going to do in terms of bolstering that legal defense team?

MICHAEL GERHARDT, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's a really good question. And I think the reason that we haven't heard anybody else being added to it yet suggests they're having problems figuring out who will do a good job or could do a good job.

This is not a trial like we'd see in a courtroom. This is political theater. At the same time, it's not so much about the law. It's about the facts.

So which kind of lawyer can come into this and be honest in talking about a defense of the president of the United States?

One risk I think Cipollone, as White House counsel, has is that he's a member of a Bar Association. And a member of a Bar Association is under a duty to be candid and truthful before a tribunal.

So Cipollone will have to make representations about the evidence that's out there and about the president's innocence or guilt. Depending on what he says, he could put himself in trouble if, for example, he denies there's no evidence the president did what the articles charge.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Coming up next, any moment, we're expecting House managers to walk to the Senate floor to formally present the articles of impeachment against President Trump.

We're going to have much more of our special coverage. We're going to squeeze in one quick break. Stay with us.

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[11:57:12]

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is live CNN special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

TAPPER: And I'm Jake Tapper.

We're moments away from a solemn, historic moment on the Sente floor, the start of the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now, here's what we expect to see happen in the coming moments. The Senate will officially receive articles of impeachment. The House impeachment managers, seven of them, will be escorted onto the Senate floor where they will read the articles aloud.

I want to bring in Alan Frumin, our CNN contributor, Senate parliamentarian emeritus.

Alan, you know a lot about this. The statement Nancy Pelosi released a little white ago said these seven impeachment managers, including the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul Irving, they will lead a procession through the national Statutory Hall through the capitol rotunda.

And at that point, they will go into the Senate. And the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, he will then read the articles of impeachment.

ALAN FRUMIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the managers will be greeted at the door of the Senate, possibly by the secretary for the majority. She's the one who announced the message that the House had impeached President Trump.

And she is Laura Dove. She is a long-time Republican staffer. She's the daughter of my predecessor as parliamentarian, Robert Dove. She may very well announce them again.

What usually happens under these circumstances is the sergeant-at-arms makes a proclamation, and then the managers are invited to, quote, "exhibit or present" the articles of impeachment. And presenting or exhibiting the articles simply means reading the articles. They're relatively short, so that shouldn't take very long.

And usually after the articles have been read, the managers retire.

The Senate usually, under these circumstances -- and it's hard to say usually since we don't have a lot to go on historically -- appoints a committee to escort the chief justice of the United States into the chamber. And that escort committee is usually two or three members from each party.

The chief justice will then be escorted into the chamber. He will be administered the oath for trial by the Senate's president pro tempore, Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa.

After which, the chief justice will assume the chair and administer the oath for the trial to all Senators currently present.

TAPPER: Can I ask you a question about last night? Last night there was like a weird disconnect because the House managers went over there with the articles, and the Senate just rejected them. They wouldn't accept them at that time. They said come back tomorrow.

[12:00:04] FRUMIN: I don't think that was a question of rejecting the articles. The first step that had to be taken was the House formally notifying the Senate that they had adopted articles of impeachment.