Return to Transcripts main page


Impeachment Trial Kicks Off With Fierce Battle Over Rules; Trump's Impeachment Trial To Begin With Senate Clashes. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 21, 2020 - 12:30   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The expectation is that the vote on the rules, the underlying resolution offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is at a wood 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, both said they are OK with the way the McConnell resolution turned out.

I think it's worth noting here what what's been going on behind the scenes. I am told over the course of the last several weeks, McConnell was clueing in his members throughout this entire process, ensuring that they knew what was coming, ensuring they knew what would be in the resolution, and not moving forward, I'm told, with anything until he was sure that all 53 Republican senators would be behind him on that front.

Now Democrats, Anderson, we've seen them repeatedly in public over the course of the last couple hours express their outrage about how this is all happening. They are now meeting at this moment privately, just, you know, 47 Democrats in the caucus talking about how they are going to handle the debate and the potential amendment process later today. Now you heard from Senator Schumer, the Democratic leader, earlier saying he will have amendments today, his first amendment will be to subpoena documents related to the withholding of Ukraine security assistance, and that's --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Phil, I just want to listen in.

BARRY BLACK, U.S. SENATE CHAPLAIN: Keep us from dishonor only by walking in your precepts can our lawmakers remain within the circle of your protection and blessings. Lord, turn their ears to listen to your admonition as you infuse them with the courage to obey your commands. We have trusted you since the birth of this land we love. That is why we will declare your glory as long as we have breath. Lord, as our senators prepare to gather for today's impeachment trial, we declare that you alone are our hope. We pray in your mighty name, amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen. Will you please join me in the pledge of allegiance.

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS: I pledge allegiance to the flag under the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

COOPER: Phil Mattingly, sorry Phil, I'm sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to hear the invocation, also the Pledge of Allegiance. Explain what you've been hearing from other senators you've been talking to.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think right now, as I was saying before Barry Black, the Senate chaplain gave the opening prayer, and pay attention to that everyday, Anderson. Lloyd Ogilvie in -- back in 1999 I think caught a lot of senators' attention when he gave the opening prayer each day of the trial, and obviously Barry Black will likely be doing the same thing here.

In just a short moment, you're going to hear from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who will give opening remarks before the trial actually begins.

COOPER: He's talking now. Sorry, let's listen in.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Last Thursday the United States Senate crossed one of the greatest thresholds that exists in our system of government. We began just the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

This is a unique responsibility which the framers of our Constitution knew that the Senate and only the Senate could handle. Our founders trusted the Senate to rise above short-term passions and factionalism. They trusted the Senate to soberly consider what has actually been proven and which outcome best serves the nation. That's a pretty high bar, Mr. President, and you might say that later today, this body will take our entrance exam.

Today, we will consider and pass an organizing resolution that will structure the first phase of the trial. This initial step will offer an early signal to our country. Can the Senate still serve our founding purpose? Can we still put fairness, evenhandedness and historical precedent ahead of the partisan passions of the day?

Today's vote will contain some answers. The organizing resolution we'll put forward already has the support of a majority of the Senate.


That's because it sets up a structure that is fair, evenhanded and tracks closely with past precedents that were established unanimously.

After pretrial business, the resolution establishes the four things that need to happen next. First, the Senate will hear an opening presentation from the House managers. Second, we will hear from the president's counsel. Third, senators will be able to seek further information about posing written questions to either side through the chief justice. And fourth, with all that information in hand, the Senate will consider whether we feel any additional evidence or witness -- witnesses -- are necessary to evaluate whether the House case has cleared or failed to clear the high bar of overcoming the presumption of innocence and undoing a democratic election. The Senate's fair process will draw a sharp contrast with the unfair and precedent-breaking inquiry that was carried on by the House of Representatives. The House broke with precedent by denying members of the Republican minority the same rights that Democrats had received when they were in the minority back in 1998. Here in the Senate, every single senator will have exactly the same rights and exactly the same ability to ask questions.

The House broke with fairness by cutting President Trump's counsel out of their inquiry to an unprecedented degree. Here in the Senate the president's lawyers will finally receive a level playing field with the House Democrats and will finally be able to present the president's case -- finally, some fairness.

On every point, our straightforward resolution will bring the clarity and fairness that everyone deserves, the president of the United States, the House of Representatives and the American people.

This is the fair road map for our trial. We need it in place before we can move forward, so the Senate should prepare to remain in session today until we complete this resolution and adopt it.

This basic four-part structure aligns with the first steps of the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999. Twenty-one years ago, 100 senators agreed unanimously that this road map was the right way to begin the trial. All 100 senators agreed the proper time to consider the question of potential witnesses was after -- after opening arguments and senators' questions.

Now, some outside voices have been urging the Senate to break with precedent on this question. Loud voices, including the leadership of the House majority, colluded with Senate Democrats and tried to force the Senate to pre-commit ourselves to seek specific witnesses and documents before senators had even heard opening arguments or even asked questions.

These are potential witnesses, Mr. President, whom the House managers themselves -- themselves declined to hear from, whom the House itself declined to pursue through the legal system during its own inquiry.

The house was not facing any deadline. They were free to run whatever investigation they wanted to run. If they wanted witnesses who would trigger legal battles over presidential privilege, they could have had those fights. But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee decided not to. They decided their inquiry was finished and moved right ahead.

The House chose not to pursue the same witnesses they apparently would now like -- would now like the Senate to pre-commit to pursuing ourselves.

As I've been saying for weeks, nobody -- nobody will dictate Senate procedure to United States senators. A majority of us are committed to upholding the unanimous bipartisan Clinton precedent against outside influences with respect to the proper timing of these mid-trial questions. [12:40:00]

And so if any amendments are brought forward to force premature decisions on mid-trial questions, I will move to table such amendments and protect our bipartisan precedent.

If a senator moves to amend the resolution or orders to subpoena specific witnesses or documents, I will move to table such motions because the Senate will decide those questions later in the trial, just like we did back in 1999.

Now, Mr. President, today may present a curious situation. We may hear House managers themselves agitate for such amendments. We may hear a team of managers, led by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee chairmen, argue that the Senate must pre-commit ourselves to reopen the very investigation they themselves oversaw and voluntarily shut down.

It would be curious to hear these two House chairmen argue that the Senate must pre-commit ourselves to supplementing their own evidentiary record, to enforcing subpoenas they refused to enforce, to supplementing a case that they themselves have recently described as "overwhelming," overwhelming and beyond any reasonable doubt.

So, Mr. President, these mid-trial questions could potentially take us even deeper into even more complex constitutional waters. For example, many senators, including me, have serious concerns about blurring -- blurring the traditional role between the House and the Senate within the impeachment process.

The Constitution divides the power to impeach from the power to try. The first belongs solely to the House. And with the power to impeach comes the responsibility to investigate.

The Senate, agreeing to pick up and carry on the House's inadequate investigation, would set a new precedent that could incentivize frequent and hasty impeachments from future House majorities. It could dramatically change the separation of powers between the House and the Senate if the Senate agrees we will conduct both the investigation and the trial of an impeachment.

What's more, some of the proposed new witnesses include executive branch officials whose communications with the president and with other executive branch officials lie at the very core of the president's constitutional privilege.

Pursuing those witnesses could indefinitely delay the Senate trial and draw our body into a protracted and complex legal fight over presidential privilege. Such litigation could potentially have permanent repercussions for the separation of powers and the institution of the presidency that senators would need to consider very, very carefully.

So, Mr. President, the Senate is not about to rush into these weighty questions without discussion and without deliberation, without even hearing opening arguments first. There were good reasons why 100 out of 100 senators agreed, two decades ago, to cross these bridges when we came to them. That is what we will do this time as well. Fair is fair. The process was good enough for President Clinton, and basic fairness dictates it ought to be good enough for this president, as well.

So the eyes are on the Senate. The country is watching to see if we can rise to the occasion. Twenty-one years ago, 100 senators, including a number of us who sit in the chamber today, did just that. The body approved a fair, common-sense process to guide the beginning of a presidential impeachment trial.

Today, two decades later, this Senate will retake that entrance exam. The basic structure we're proposing is just as eminently fair and evenhanded as it was back then. The question is whether senators are themselves ready to be as fair and as evenhanded.

The Senate made a statement 21 years ago. We said that presidents of either party deserve basic justice and a fair process.


A challenging political moment like today does not make such statements less necessary, but all the more necessary, in fact.

So I would say to my colleagues across the aisle, there is no reason why the vote on this resolution ought to be remotely partisan. There's no reason other than base partisanship to say this particular president deserves a radically-different rulebook than what was good enough for a past president of your own party. So I would urge every single senator to support our fair resolution. I urge everyone to vote to uphold the Senate's unanimous bipartisan precedent of a fair process.

SCHUMER: Now, before I begin, there has been well-founded concern that the additional security measures required for access to the galleries during the trial could cause reporters to miss some of the events on the Senate floor. I want to assure everyone in the press that I will vociferously oppose any attempt to begin the trial unless the reporters trying to enter the gallery are seated. The press is here to inform the American public about these pivotal events in our nation's history. We must make sure they are able to. Some may not what happens here to be public. We do.

Now, Mr. President, after the conclusion of my remarks, the Senate will proceed to the impeachment trial of President Donald John Trump for committing high crimes and misdemeanors. President Trump is accused of coercing a foreign leader into interfering in our elections to benefit himself, and then doing everything in his power to cover it up. If proved, the president's actions are crimes against democracy itself.

It's hard to imagine a greater subversion of our democracy than for powers outside our borders to determine the elections from within. For a foreign country to attempt such a thing on its own is bad enough. For an American president to deliberately solicit such a thing, to blackmail a foreign country with military assistance to help him win an election is unimaginably worse. I can't imagine any other president doing this.

Beyond that, for then the president to deny the right of Congress to conduct oversight, deny the right to investigate any of his activities, to say Article II of the Constitution gives him the right to, quote, "do whatever he wants," we are staring down an erosion of the sacred democratic principles for which our founders fought a bloody war of independence. Such is the gravity of this historic moment.

Now, once Senator Inhofe is sworn in at 1 p.m., the ceremonial functions at the beginning of a presidential trial will be complete. The Senate then must determine the rules of the trial. The Republican leader will offer an organizing resolution that outlines his plan, his plan for the rules of the trial.

It is completely partisan. It was kept secret until the very eve of the trial. And now that it's public, it's very easy to see why. The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump, for President Trump. It asks the Senate to rush through, as fast as possible, and makes getting evidence as hard as possible.

It could force presentations to take place at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning so the American people won't see them. In short, the McConnell resolution will result in a rushed trial with little evidence, in the dark of night, literally the dark of night.

If the president is so confident in his case, if Leader McConnell is so confident the president did nothing wrong, why don't they want the case to be presented in broad daylight?

On something as important as impeachment, the McConnell resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace. This will go down, this resolution, as one of the darker moments in the Senate history, perhaps one of even the darkest.


Now, Leader McConnell has just said he wants to go by the Clinton rules. Then why did he change them in four important ways -- at minimum -- to all make the trial less transparent, less clear, and with less evidence?

He said he wanted to get started in exactly the same way. It turns out, contrary to what the leader said -- I'm amazed he could say it with a straight face, that the rules are the same as the Clinton rules -- the rules are not even close to the Clinton rules.

Unlike the Clinton rules, the McConnell resolution does not admit the record of the House impeachment proceedings into evidence. So Leader McConnell wants a trial with no existing evidence and no new evidence. A trial without evidence is not a trial, it's a cover-up.

Second, unlike the Clinton rules, the McConnell resolution limits presentation by the parties to 24 hours per side over only two days. We start at 1:00. Twelve hours a day, we're at 1:00 a.m., and that's without breaks. It'll be later. Leader McConnell wants to force the managers to make important parts of their case in the dark of night.

Number three, unlike the Clinton rules, the McConnell resolution places an additional hurdle to get witnesses and documents by requiring a vote on whether such motions are even in order. If that vote fails, then no motions to subpoena witnesses and documents will be in order. I don't want anyone on the other side to say "I'm going to vote no first on witnesses, but then later I'll determine it."

If they vote for McConnell's resolution, they're making it far more difficult to vote in the future, later on in the trial.

And finally, unlike the Clinton rules, the McConnell resolution allows a motion to dismiss at any time -- any time in the trial.

So in short, contrary to what the leader has said, the McConnell rules are not at all like the Clinton rules. The Republican leader's resolution is based neither in precedent nor in principle. It is driven by partisanship and the politics of the moment.

Today, I'll be offering amendments to fix the many flaws in Leader McConnell's deeply unfair resolution and seek the witnesses and documents we've requested, beginning with an amendment to have the Senate subpoena White House documents.

Let me be clear. These amendments are not dilatory. They only seek one thing, the truth. That means relevant documents. That means relevant witnesses. That's the only way to get a fair trial. And everyone in this body knows it.

Each Senate impeachment trial in our history, all 15 that were brought to completion, feature witnesses -- every single one. The witnesses we request are not Democrats. They're the president's own men. The documents are not Democratic documents. They're documents, period.

We don't know if the evidence of the witnesses or the documents will be exculpatory to the president or incriminating. But we have an obligation, a solemn obligation, particularly now during this most deep and solemn part of our Constitution, to seek the truth, and then let the chips fall where they may.

My Republican colleagues have offered several explanations for opposing witnesses and documents at the start of the trial. None of them has much merit. Republicans have said we should deal with the question of witnesses later in the trial. Of course, it makes no sense to hear both sides present their case first and then afterward decide if the Senate should hear evidence. The evidence is supposed to inform arguments, not come after they're completed.

Some Republicans have said the Senate should not go beyond the House record by calling any witnesses. But the Constitution gives the Senate the sole power to try impeachments -- not the sole power to review, not the sole power to re-hash, but to try.

Republicans have called our request for witnesses and documents political. If seeking the truth is political, then the Republican Party is in serious trouble.

The White House has said that the articles of impeachment are "brazen" (ph) and "wrong (ph)." Well, if the president believes his impeachment is so -- is so brazen and wrong, why won't he show us why?


Why is the president so insistent that no one come forward, that no documents be released?

If the president's case is so weak that none of the president's men can defend him under oath, shame on him and those who allow it to happen.

What is the president hiding? What are our Republican colleagues hiding?

Because if they weren't afraid of the truth, they'd say, "Go right ahead, get at the truth; get witnesses; get documents."

In fact, at no point over the last few months have I heard a single, solitary argument on the merits of why witnesses and documents should not be part of the trial. No Republican's explained why less evidence is better than more evidence.

Nevertheless, Leader McConnell is poised to ask the Senate to begin the first impeachment trial of a president in history without witnesses; that rushes through the arguments as quickly as possible; that in ways both shameless and subtle will conceal the truth -- the truth from the American people.

Leader McConnell claimed that the House has run -- had ran the most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history. The truth is Leader McConnell is plotting the most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment trial in modern history, and it begins today.

The Senate has before it a very straightforward question. The president is accused of coercing a foreign power to interfere in our elections to help himself. It's the job of the Senate to determine if these very serious charges are true. The very least we can do is examine the facts, review the documents, hear the witnesses, try the case -- not run from it, not hide it -- try it.

Because if the president commits high crimes and misdemeanors and Congress refuses to act, refuses even to conduct a fair trial of his conduct, then presidents, this president and future presidents can commit impeachable crimes with impunity, and the order and rigor of our democracy will dramatically decline. The fail-safe -- the final fail-safe of our democracy will be rendered moot. The most powerful check on the executive, the one designed to protect the people from tyranny will be erased.

In short time, my colleagues, each of us will face a choice about whether to begin this trial in search of the truth or in service of the president's desire to cover it up; whether the Senate will conduct a fair trial and a full airing of the facts or a rush to a predetermined political outcome.

My colleagues, the eyes of the nation, the eyes of history, the eyes of the Founding Fathers are upon us. History will be our final judge. Will senators rise to the occasion?

I yield the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the previous order, the leadership time is reserved. Morning business is closed. Under the previous order, the Senate stands in recess subject to the call of the chair.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, so there you have the stage now being set for the start of this truly historic trial in the United States Senate. And we heard two very, very different arguments from the Senate Republican Leader, the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democratic Leader, the Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Very different arguments about the initial proposal for the rules of this trial that the Republican Leader is about to put forward.

And there's going to be, Jake, a very serious debate over the next couple hours on these rules. The question is who has the votes to stop these rules from going forward? The Democrats seem to be in trouble right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's right, Republicans have 53 votes. You need 51 to pass the rules. You just heard, as you say, two very different interpretations of those rules. The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointing out what with he sees a serious flaws in the presentation that the Democrats in the House have brought over to the Senate. And you heard Chuck Schumer day -- calling this a disgrace, the rules that McConnell is proposing, because they allow, in his view, a cover-up.

It should be noted that when McConnell talks about how these rules follow the precedent of the Clinton impeachment, he's right in some respects and wrong in others.