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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
GOP's Mitch McConnell Looks To Impose Speedy Senate Trial; Senators Expected To Clash Over Impeachment Trial Rules; CNN: White House, Senate GOP Working To Keep John Bolton From Testifying Publicly; Soon: Impeachment Trial Kicks Off With Fierce Battle Over Rules; Senators, Trump Lawyers Begin Arriving For Impeachment Trial. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired January 21, 2020 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CANNON (R) 1999 HOUSE IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: --and what we're doing today what the Senate Majority is doing today is similar to what was done the precedence is there I think it is appropriate. But the House ought to be doing much deeper and clear investigation. Thus far all we have - we have the Mueller report, did you guys saw Mueller testify? He didn't have his cookies. We were attacking the President not trying to make America better.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Congressman Cannon thank you so much for spending some time with us on this historic day.
I'm Wolf Blitzer alongside Jake Tapper. We're live here in Washington for CNN's Special Live Coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. Anderson Cooper is also here on the nation's capital and our Dana Bash is leading our coverage from Capitol Hill.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In just about an hour we're going to see the start of this historic trial just the third ever gaveled intersection in the Senate floor. The decision facing the 100 Senators is this. Is what President Trump did bad enough, damaging enough to warrant removing him from office something that has never happened in American history?
BLITZER: President Trump is just the third President in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives and passed two articles of impeachment. The first for abuse of power over his withholding of military aid to Ukraine an U.S. ally who may actively pressured to announce an investigation against the political rival the Former Vice President Joe Biden.
The second article is for obstruction of Congress and the successful efforts by the Trump White House to block the testimony of key witnesses and the production of possibly damaging documents. The question of witnesses as we move ahead with the trial will also be a key part of the discussions in the Senate today.
TAPPER: During this trial, some will argue that the President did not break any laws, but what the Senators and you at home must decide is whether impeachment is about the law, or is it an oral argument about defending the constitution of the United States and what it stands for?
BLITZER: Democratic leaders, they are promising a fierce fight over documents and witnesses in the President's impeachment trial. The Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying he will offer what he calls a series of amendments today to the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's resolution that dictates the trial rules.
TAPPER: Senator Schumer the Minority Leader says he's doing this now because he believes he might not get another opportunity later on. He needs four Republicans to break with Senator McConnell. That will prove tough. Senior Sara Murray is back with us. Now Sara, walk us through McConnell's rules of the road.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Well, I mean as you pointed out this will all kick off at 1:00 today. They'll have their partisan food fight over the rules that will govern this trial but everyone expects that Mitch McConnell will have the votes to get what he wants?
And what he wants is to get this over as quickly as possible that means that each side of the House impeachment Mangers and the President's defenders will get 24 hours for their opening argument. They would each get two days to use these 24 hours. So we're looking at some potential late nights ahead.
And this is a much more condensed time frame than what we saw under the Clinton impeachment rules. Now after that we move into the second phase of this trial this is when the senators will have 16 hours to submit questions. It is not going to be where we usually see Senators talking on the floor. They will submit their questions in writing to Chief Justice John Roberts.
After that we move to the third phase. This is the big fight. This is the question of whether Senators want to hear from witnesses, whether they want to see documents. They'll have four hours for debate on that. And then they're going to vote and if that vote goes down, if they do not get enough Senators to vote to get more information, we could have a few more deliberations a few more motions, and then ultimately the vote on the articles of impeachment.
If it plays out this way, this could all be over in a matter of days. Of course, the big question mark is how Senators will break on the question of more information, either documents or witnesses?
BLITZER: Sara, thank you very much. Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much, Wolf and Jake. The trial is set to begin in less than an hour. Right now we're waiting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He is expected to make comments today on the Senate floor.
Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. What are you hearing? We're certainly hearing from a lot of Democrats this morning saying that Mitch McConnell's rules not do a cover up, we heard that from Jerry Nadler. Is that what we're going to hear in the debate on those rules as well? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is going to be a fiery debate that is going to kick off in about an hour. First it is going to be a debate on the McConnell resolution itself. The impeachment Managers will lead the case against the resolution.
The President's defense team is going to make the case for the resolution then Democrats will offer amendments a series of amendments to demand witnesses to come forward, to demand documents to be produced and each of those amendments could be debated on for hours. But expect each of those Democratic amendments to go down, because most Republicans, if not all Republicans, believe that this should be dealt with after.
Now one swing Republican I just spoke to moments ago, Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican Senator, someone who has said that he does want to hear from John Bolton. But he told me that Democrats are approaching this the incorrect way. He's not concerned about the changes from the McConnell rules compared to the Clinton rules, and he says that question about witnesses should be dealt with later.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R-UT): The changes are pretty modest and I don't think are significant in any dramatic way. So, for instance, whether something is going to be taking 12 hours per day or eight hours per day, it's still going to be covered in the news. What is officially going into evidence doesn't make a big difference because the Senators are of course free to look at all the information they have that comes from the House.
ROMENY: So I think those two issues are just not big ones. I think the Democrats make a mistake when they call outrage time and time again. If everything is an outrage, then nothing is an outrage. The big issue, I think, relates to witnesses and the discussion of witnesses the vote of witnesses that counts is going to be after opening arguments.
My guess is today they're going to have lots of motions on witnesses, we've all told them we're not going to deal with that now, we're going to deal with that after opening arguments just like during the Clinton process.
RAJU: You're going to vote against all the amendments today?
ROMNEY: Well, I haven't seen all the amendments, but if they bring up witness amendment for instance, I'm going to say no. I've already indicated I'm interested to hear from John Bolton, perhaps some others, but I'm not going to be making that vote today, I'm going to make that vote after the opening.
RAJU: Okay. All right, thank you sir. I appreciate it. Thank you for your time.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: So that shows the challenge that Democrats have right now in trying to get 51 Senators to get behind their move to subpoena these witnesses, because right now there are not the votes to do just that. So we'll have to worry about that after the opening arguments, after the Senators to have some time for questioning.
And the question is will there be those votes, at the moment if they do go forward Anderson, there are still several steps to bring them forward. Witnesses to testifying public first of all have to be deposed behind closed doors, and then Senators have to vote about allowing them to come forward.
So that's why there is a lot of skepticism right now in Capitol Hill that there will be any witnesses so far as it appears possible that President if there are no witnesses and no subpoenas for documents could be acquitted by sometime next week Anderson.
COOPER: Manu Raju, thank you very much back with our team Ross Garber, Impeachment Expert and Legal Analysts. What is wrong with the Republican argument or do you believe there is anything wrong with Republican argument of we don't need to do with this witness thing now. We want to do it think there is anything wrong with the republican argument of, we don't need to deal with this witness thing now, we want to do it after the cases have been made?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the big issue with it is the Democrats will say well that's not how a trial works. How do you start a trial and not know whether or not you can call witnesses? What the Republicans will say is well, except all of this process that's happening now all of the arguments, all of the discussions by the lawyer, that's all preliminary to deciding what information is necessary to be able to make our decision as Senators on the issue.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Can I - I just think what something Mitt Romney said was really interesting and I think it may be a preview of what we're going to hear a lot over the next few days. Among these Republicans who are at least quasi open to witnesses, the idea that, well, I'm open to witnesses, but what the Democrats are doing to get witnesses is wrong.
So they're going to try to have it both ways. They're going to say, look, I was open to witnesses, but the Democrats were so bad and so partisan and so inappropriate in how they went about it, I'm going to vote against it. And I think Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney look for that argument. That argument is going to at least and it is an attempt for them to have it both ways. Now voters buy it or not I have no idea but that is something I think we should be aware to look for.
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think there are two big, big considerations that are out there that the public should have in mind when they listen to the debate, if they do later today. One, this is the first time that the President's party has ever controlled a Senate trial in the history of the United States. It's never happened before. Either it was the other party, or it was a fraction in the case of Andrew Johnson. This is the first time. So the problem for the Democrats is that this is - it's the President's party who is running the show in the Senate, and they understandably are nervous and want some protections right at the beginning.
Second big difference is that we witnessed the largest cover-up; the largest stonewall of an impeachment in history during the House period of this. So this is the context.
COOPER: You're saying because of the documents--
NAFTALI: Because not - they didn't respond to one - the President didn't respond to one subpoena. That's unprecedented. Richard Nixon didn't get to the trial stage, but he did respond to subpoenas for documents.
COOPER: Let me just stop you right there, because Republican Senator Santorum was on last night saying look administrations do that all the time they refuse congressional subpoena.
NAFTALI: What Senator Santorum's argument was he talked about fast and furious. He talked about Clinton - sorry he talked about Obama. One other things that George Washington made set down was this the understanding that there is something different about an impeachment.
Yes, there is going to be a struggle between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. And George Washington said to the House you know, you want documents about foreign affairs, I'm going to give them to you. It's not your province.
NAFTALI: But if you would ask me for an impeachment that would be different. So the argument that there has always been a push and pull between the two branches, of course, but this is different. This is special and our founders understood it as such so I don't think the Obama argument is useful at all.
One last point is very important. If you have this massive stonewall, the Senate has the power, in our constitution, to be an active player in judging a President. The idea that it is supposed to be passive that is suppose to in the words of Adam Schiff, read the cold record of a grand jury and live with it is nonsense. The Senate knows all those senators know that the White House has stonewalled. They have an obligation to the public to try to get the information that the House couldn't get.
COOPER: But Laura it is not just witnesses, it is also these documents which haven't gotten pray as much attention but Democrats today Jerry Nadler certainly focusing on documents as well as Schumer.
TOOBIN: Schumer said that's going to be their first motion.
COOPER: Explain why the documents are so important? LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know documents don't have that little nagging problem of biased normally or a partisanship. They speak for themselves as you often here in court the documents and of course you know sometimes how they're waiting or why they're waiting or the motivation or the context is important to give the full story.
But if we're using documents as a way to explain the story you take away the idea of people having little bugs in their ear.
COOPER: We're talking about tens of thousands of documents.
COATES: Talking of tens of thousands - I mean remember the Clinton impeachment it was 90,000 documents that were hand over willing by a President. You're talking about documents are dealing with the contextual information you really need to understand what the President was doing?
We just warn it's pretty ridiculous you heard Mitt Romney say Anderson to Manu Raju the idea. We know what don't worry that is going laid tonight the media will be you the summary in the morning for the American people. I mean the idea that you'd have this - a separation of powers and oversight that documents being so important to give a full story on the landscape.
And that it need not happen while the American public had the ability to see transparency in action and judge themselves who are Senators is another example of why this trial in many ways as some have called a rigged and I call it an incomplete exercise in democracy because you have to have the documents, the transparency and willing an able- bodied of Senators who want the information.
GARBER: But here's the issue. The Senate has no more power to get those documents than the House does. And I think we're going to hear that sort of over and over again from the Republican Senators. The House had the opportunity to get these documents the House had the opportunity to get these witnesses.
It decided it could do a complete investigation in fact the House Managers say they've got an overwhelming case without all that information. Now we're in the Senate. Republican Senators are going to say, look, we've got the same problems. We asked for those documents, the White House was going to assert Executive Privilege. And now we're forced with having to litigate in court which would take forever. House you said this was an emergency we had to make a decision on it very quickly. We're in the same boat.
COATES: A great document, though, the President's own readout about the call that has underlying aspect of it. So it is true that we want Congress thought it would have been exercise in futility and go on if they try to litigate the issue and not get anything. But the bigger issue here is what they have, what they presented to get the articles of impeachment they feel it sufficient to make the case that the President of the United States has abused power by holding funds and more importantly you don't have a single document. Obstruction of Congress is pretty much laid out in that area. NAFTALI: So look, if the President's party which controls the Senate asks for documents, I'm not saying they're going to get them but it changes the discussion in the country, because it means that this is a non - this is a bipartisan effort to get at the facts. So yes, for us they may not get more documents, but it's different if a Republican Senate asks for them.
COOPER: The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump starts just a short time from now. Senator Schumer and McConnell they're expected to speak on the senate floor. You'll be seeing that, we'll bring to you live. Plus, as the fight for witnesses' heats up and documents details on the plans between the White House and lawmakers to stop public testimony. The special coverage continues in a moment.
TAPPER: Right now we're keeping an eye on the U.S. Senate. In less than 45 minutes, the start of the impeachment trial commences. Moments ago one of the key Republican Senators, Mitt Romney, who we don't know how he's going to vote this way, told CNN he thinks the Democrats are making a mistake by so aggressively challenging the process that has been laid out by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Out Dana Bash is anchoring our coverage from Capitol Hill. Dana, the basic argument is that if everything is a crisis nothing is a crisis. Do Democrats risk losing Mitt Romney and other Republicans like him that they need to get on board with the push to have witnesses and documents and other evidence called in this trial?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Based on what Mitt Romney told our colleague Manu Raju, yes. That was a really significant interview that Manu had with Senator Romney, because he is really a key player here.
He isn't necessarily talking to Republicans, pulling them along behind the scenes, but he's a leader on this notion of wanting witnesses. He's been saying it for some time. He's a Republican who is in a very Republican state. His name is Mitt Romney.
So he's okay politically, but when it comes to taking a page from his book, you can bet that other Republicans like Susan Collins who was in a tough reelection race Cory Gardner same situation and others were looking what he said and fine cover, fine political cover.
BASH: Mitt Romney was saying what the Democrats are going to be doing today in trying to force votes to allow the documents and witnesses. Then I'm okay to do it, too. It was really a shot across the bow, I think, to Democrats to say, calm down, we're going to be with you but if you push this too hard, we're not.
TAPPER: Interesting, Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Wolf. BLITZER: You know it's interesting, John, that he's saying, Mitt Romney, that later after the opening arguments from both sides he might be open to witnesses. We hear the same thing from Susan Collins the Democrats need four Republicans to go ahead.
Must say after the opening arguments there is a motion for witnesses and the Democrats get their way there are 51 who vote in favor of witnesses and John Bolton being one of those witnesses that the Democrats want.
You heard Schumer say if the Chief Justice of the United States actually signs a subpoena calling for John Bolton the White House is going to resist that. They may want to fight it and go to the courts. But if the Chief Justice of the United States signs that subpoena authorizing it, they'll have a tough time in court.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They might have a tough time in court. The best answer to that question is if that happens, we don't know what happens next in the sense that the administration has signaled it would assert some privilege over John Bolton does that mean we go to court right away?
Does that mean John Bolton, the Chief Justice signs, John Bolton answers the subpoena and they have some preliminary conversations behind closed doors just like the House Intelligence Committee did in the House inquiry. The Republicans complained about it why you're bringing witnesses to the basement behind closed doors? They complained about it, that's the way it always works.
You have a private meeting first, you try to figure this out what is John Bolton going to say? And then yes, there could well be - if the question is, did you tell Fiona Hill? Has she testified? Go to the lawyers this is a drug deal. I don't see how that is covered by privilege?
If it is what did you say to the President? That could well be covered by privilege in any administration. They would have to sort that out when they get there. To come back to the point Dana was making there about Mitt Romney, just think about who Mitt Romney is?
Eight years ago he was the Republican nominee for President. Now he is a loner in his own party or he not may be loner but he is not the majority of its party. He would think, we watched this happen to John McGahn the late Senator from Arizona who was the Republican nominee, was a central figure in the party in the Trump age, he became isolated.
In the Trump age Mitt Romney is isolated. Can they get to four votes? Maybe but the fact that the opinion of a man who was the Republican nominee eight years ago is the minority of in the Republican Party tells you everything you need to know about the Trump aids.
A newly elected Senator Josh Hawley just said on Capitol Hill, I'm prepared to vote today. Normally you would expect Senators of both parties. Yes, most of them know how they're going to vote at the end. But you would expect them on the first official day of the trial to say, this is it, historic moment, let's just listen to the testimony, let's see how this plays out, instead you have so many of them already saying we're done, let's go home.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that what Mitt Romney is reacting to is that he understands these are not going to be easy votes for moderate Republicans, so-called moderate Republicans, that when you have a vote on do you want documents, you want to get these documents automatically transferred?
You have to explain that to your constitutions if you vote no witnesses also very tough votes. He and other Republicans would rather just have one of those votes not a whole series of votes. So I think the Schumer strategy obviously is to have more of those votes and get those Republicans on the record.
TAPPER: All right, stand by, everyone. We're learning new details now about one of the President Trump's Personal Attorneys, Jay Sekulow. Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown joins us now to tell us more. Pamela, tell us about the role of Sekulow on this legal team?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jay Sekulow is President's private outside attorney and he's taking the leading role in the president's defense alongside White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. In fact, we know that both Jay Sekulow, Pat Cipollone is there in the building in the Capitol. We will be hearing from them for the first time I'm told on the Senate floor today.
Jay Sekulow is someone that the President has wanted to be on this floor defending him because he is someone who not only has the legal experience, he's argued 12 cases in front of the Supreme Court over the last four decades but he is also someone who has media savvy.
He has shown himself to be a depth at defending the President on cable news. Many people saw him during in the Russia probe. He was the President's Lead Personal Attorney during the Russia probe. He's someone who has years and years of media experience, so he is expected to bring more flare to the defense, and he's a prime time tested counterweight to Pat Cipollone who has been behind the scenes and has no television experience.
And so that is a big reason why the President wanted him on the floor, because of that media savvy that television experience the President wants a show.
BROWN: He wants this to be theatrical. He wants it to be interesting. And Jay Sekulow is someone the President believes can bring that to the table. I spoke to Jay Sekulow about his role, and he said that one of the things that really prepared him for this moment is of course, the Russia probe, as I mentioned.
As his colleague Jane Raskin, who is also on the legal team, said they were really - this was really forged through the - of the Russia probe being steered down by a special prosecutor in some ways this is not viewed as much of a challenge among the lawyers after having gone through that experience with Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel.
And so Jay Sekulow said he very much feels prepared. He's been working alongside Pat Cipollone more than a month for this moment. He compared their relationship to John Lennon and Paul McCartney saying they work very well together, and we're going to seeing this playing out on the Senate floor shortly.
BLITZER: Pamela, thank you very much. Still ahead, we're going to take you live to Capitol Hill where Senators are now arriving. This is CNN's Special Live Coverage.
COOPER: as we speak, lawmakers are beginning to make their way into the Senate Chambers for the start of the impeachment trial. Also members of the President's defense team Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone have arrived. Our Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill. So Phil, I know you're getting some new details about how Senators will vote on the rules that govern the trial?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes Anderson, that is right. We basically spent the last hour or so, we're talking to more than a dozen Senators as they made their way over to the U.S. Capitol. And here's kind of the baseline of things talking to Senators from both parties.
The expectation is that the vote on the rules, the underlying resolution offered by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is that it will split straight down party lines. Obviously we've heard from Senator Mitt Romney, we heard last night from Senator Lamar Alexander a retiring Tennessee Republican --