Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with George Conway; Interview with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL); Analysis of Republican Party Members' Views of Trump. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 22, 2020 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE ATTORNEY: -- I hope that we never see one like this again, even though I agree with a lot of his policies. But where are the boundaries? The boundaries are gone, the constitutional norm is gone if the Senate doesn't do the right thing here.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you know any Republicans senators, have you had conversations --


TAPPER: -- with Republican senators about any of this? No?

CONWAY: No, no.

TAPPER: What's your best guess, as somebody who has been a player in Republican politics in the conservative legal world for years and years, about what is going through their heads when they see this evidence, they read the transcript, as President Trump is constantly asking us to do.

And I mean, these are not stupid people. They understand this -- the issues, as you have just described them. What are they thinking?

CONWAY: I can only assume that they're engaging in some sort of political calculus that involves their own combination of their own personal situation, like will I be attacked by people from the right in a primary if I'm up for re-election in 2020?

I think the other calculation is that, you know, this is a -- this somehow benefits the other sides, the liberals, the socialists, which makes no sense to me because if he had been impeached or removed for what he did in obstructing the Mueller investigation, Michael Pence would be president of the United States and everybody in the Republican Party, I think, would be better off. So that makes no sense to me.

But to go back to the first one, with senators, I mean, the whole point, the framers thought the Senate would be a cooler -- it was the saucer where legislation would cool. They thought that senators would be more thoughtful and more contemplative and less -- less moved by the passions of the day because they had six-year terms. Now, I get the people who are up for re-election have something to be

afraid of. But if you're up in 2022 or 2026, why are you afraid now? Why -- this -- he'll be gone by then, I hope.

And what they really should be thinking about is, it's a great honor to be a United States senator. But the reason why it's a great honor to be a United States senator is because you have a certain amount of electoral independence with a six-year term, and that gives you the opportunity to stand up and do what's right.

And that's what should matter to them, what they are going to be remembered for. I mean, you did this marvelous commentary, a few months back, about Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. I mean, that's what Susan Collins should be thinking about, her legacy. Not whether she's going to win in 2020.

They should be thinking about their legacy, about doing the right thing. It should be -- this whole trial should be -- every aspect of it should be a vote of conscience, not some test of party loyalty to Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump.

TAPPER: For those who don't know, in 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Republican of Maine, went to the floor of the Senate and decried McCarthyism, that's four years before Edward R. Murrow did it, four years before the Senate censured him.

A lot of her colleagues were just terrified of Joe McCarthy. A lot of her colleagues were just like, he could destroy me. He's going to call me a communist, he's going to destroy my career. They'd seen it done --


TAPPER: -- they'd seen it done, anybody who's ever driven on I-95, you go across the Millard Tydings Bridge. Millard Tydings was defeated by Joe McCarthy and his henchmen --

CONWAY: And now there's Flake, and people are afraid of being tweeted at. But, you know.

TAPPER: But what's your message to them? You're going to get tweeted at for this interview, if you haven't been already. You're going to get -- I mean, what's your message to the Mitt Romneys and the Susan Collinses of the world who are -- who don't want that unpleasantness in their life?

CONWAY: They should be taking those tweets as a badge of honor. Most tweets don't hurt.

TAPPER: Yes. What do you make of the Dershowitz argument, Alan Dershowitz's argument?

CONWAY: Oh, the argument that the -- only a crime --

TAPPER: Yes. CONWAY: -- can be impeachable? Well, it's contrary to hundreds of

years of parliamentary and American history. Abuse of power was something that -- and misuse of power was something that public officers in Britain were removed for, very frequently, with -- through the impeachment process.

But on the -- I can put it this way. What that argument means is that, all we expect from a president is that he not be a criminal. And we go to work -- when you go to work every day, I mean, is the test for you to keep your job, whether or not you commit a crime?


CONWAY: Well, it shouldn't be for the president of the United States either.

TAPPER: All right. George Conway, thank you so much for this time. You're going to join us for more --

CONWAY: Yes, absolutely.

TAPPER: -- commentary, but we do --

CONWAY: Happy to be here. Thank you.

TAPPER: -- appreciate all this time you've given us.


Any moment now, we expect to see senators arriving for the president's impeachment trial. We are standing by to hear from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. We're going to bring that to you live. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Stay with us.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper, this is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

As the opening day of the trial extended well past midnight, nerves became frayed, tempers flared, the House impeachment managers and President Trump's legal team went head-to-head for hours with tensions finally, well, boiling over as they sparred over the president's blocking of witnesses in the House investigation. That prompted the chief justice to issue an unusual warning.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), LEAD IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: There's a reason why we're here until five until midnight, and that's because they don't want the American people to see what's going on here.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): President Trump does not want you to hear from Ambassador Bolton. And the reason has nothing to do with executive privilege or this other nonsense.

So far, I'm sad to say, I see a lot of senators, voting for a cover- up.

JAY SEKULOW, OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in this body, on the floor of this Senate, said executive privilege and other nonsense.

I'll tell you what's treacherous, come to the floor of the Senate and say, executive privilege and other nonsense.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms, to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body.

One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.


COOPER: I want to bring in our senior legal analysts Ross Garber, Laura Coates, CNN's chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali.

Tim, how unusual is that sort of language?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The chief justice was saying this is not the House of Representatives. The language that was used by both sides was very reminiscent of what we heard at the House of -- in the Judiciary Committee.

What the chief justice was saying is, this is the Senate, this is not the House, you're not going to talk this way --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And very different from what he's used to hearing at the Supreme Court. You know, even as passionately as they disagree there, the level of discourse is much cooler.

Don Verrilli, who was the solicitor general under President Obama, always used to refer to his adversary as "my friend." You know, my friend argues this, my friend argues that. That's not -- what -- so I think not only was he concerned about -- it's just not the kind of rhetoric that he's comfortable with. And I thought it was a gentle admonishment, but a heartfelt one.

COOPER: Roberts also made another comment, right afterward. I want to play that.


ROBERTS: In the 1905 Swain trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word "pettifogging." And the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used. I don't think we need to aspire to that high a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.


COOPER: I'm not even going to try to explain what pettifogging -- do -- OK, Ross? Ross?

TEXT: Pettifogging: adjective, 1. old-fashioned worrying too much about details that are minor or not important

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Who among us hasn't used that term, Anderson? What do you mean?



ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, no. I've learned not to use it --


GARBER: -- I actually tweeted it out this morning. Merriam-Webster says a pettifogger is a lawyer whose methods are petty, underhanded or disreputable. Do not say that in the United States Senate --


GARBER: It's a bad word.

COOPER: There you go.


COOPER: So no pettifogging here either.

Laura, what did you --

COATES: But of course, it makes sense. I mean, you're putting an undue emphasis, really, on the petty things. And what we're trying to do is to focus. And they're the great deliberative body because they're supposed to be deliberating over what is before them, not on tertiary issues, not on things that should be left unspoken.

And the focus, I think -- as Justice Roberts was just saying -- we're actually here not to have the Senate on trial or the House managers to be on trial, we're here because Donald J. Trump is on trial for impeachment.

if we're focusing on that, we'll be able to cloud out all the other sounds.

COOPER: Although, Ross, it's interesting though because that was the Democrats' message at the start of this, which is that the Senate itself is on trial. GARBER: Yes, which is sort of an odd thing to sort of, you know, come in and accuse the deciders of potential misconduct. But I think -- I think Justice Roberts was ready for this moment. I think the chief justice had this -- this example.

And I think he was, not without reason, concerned that things might get out of hand, and that was a good time to sort of lay down the marker and say, I'm the presiding officer and we're not going to -- we're not going to have that kind of conduct.

TOOBIN: It's also worth pointing out that these lawyers and the House managers, they're human beings. It was midnight. They were exhausted, they were pissed off. They were -- they were frustrated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- had gone on for 11 hours.

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, and so they said some things that were, you know, maybe five percent over the line, and I think Roberts' criticism was also modest. So I thought it was all basically appropriate on all sides.

NAFTALI: His mentor, Chief Justice Rehnquist, did something similar. He didn't have a prepared statement. I agree with Ross, he seemed to be reading, the chief justice seemed to be reading that.

But Rehnquist also, when he was presiding over the trial of Bill Clinton, he also used an opportunity to establish his authority, when he corrected one of the House managers.

COOPER: Dana Bash is standing by. She's leading our coverage from Capitol Hill this morning -- Dana.


And I have with me Senator Rick Scott of Florida. Senator, thank you so much for taking the time to come on.

First question is --

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Especially after saying up all night.

BASH: Yes. It went into the morning.

SCOTT: I got -- yes.


BASH: What time were you done?

SCOTT: I got home about 2:20.

BASH: So -- OK, so given that, I know that this was the Democrats' move last night, and they were pushing to change the rules in order to have some witnesses and documents on the front end.

But big picture, about witnesses, when we get to that point, how do you go home to Florida and tell your constituents that you were a part of a very -- that you were an impartial juror, and that you got every bit of information you could, and not vote to allow witnesses. What's the down side --

SCOTT: Right.

BASH: -- in hearing from witnesses?

SCOTT: I think -- I think it's very important to have a fair trial, and I think that's what Mitch McConnell's committed. I think if you look at last night, what we said was we're going to go through this process -- just like we did with Clinton -- you know, we're going to hear from both sides, we're going to ask questions and then we'll make a decision on witnesses.

And I think that's what they did with Clinton, it seemed to work out.

BASH: Are you open to witnesses?

SCOTT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is the process. This is what we all agreed to --

BASH: For real, open to witnesses?

SCOTT: Oh, yes. I mean, wouldn't (ph) we all love to hear what happened with Hunter Biden, as an example. Why -- why did (ph) it happen?

BASH: Well, I'm talking about -- well, OK. So let's -- what about John Bolton? If he was the president's national security advisor, he says he has things to say, very relevant to the case that the Democrats are prosecuting. Would you like to hear from him?

SCOTT: I'm open to witnesses, OK? So -- but I think we ought to go through the right process. Last night, we were talking about the process. What the Democrats wanted to do -- here's what I watched last night.

Think about what the Democrats said. Oh, they have an overwhelming case. And then remember what they did in the House? Oh, we've got to do it so quickly. And then they held it for 33 days.

Then last night, they said, well, we have an overwhelming case, but we do need to get some more information, that they could have gotten over in the House. I mean, they could have subpoenaed John Bolton, and they decided not to do it.

BASH: And then it would have taken, you know, endless months and they would have been -- this is what they argue -- they would have been probably past the election, and it would have made this process --

SCOTT: But how is it different? I mean, the -- any president, including this president, has a right to the privileges. He's got a right to, you know, executive privilege, and the court is the one that gets to make those decisions.

I mean, the same issue will happen here. And so why didn't they do it -- why didn't they do it where they should have done it, over there?

So, look, I think it's fine what we went through last night. It was a lot of process, got really boring. I don't know if you stayed up to watch it, it got -- I think it was like...

BASH: Did you stay awake?

SCOTT: Yes, I did. You have to stay awake. You have to sit in your chair --

BASH: Not everybody did.

SCOTT: -- you can't -- you can't drink anything but water.

BASH: Let me ask you about the fundamental question in Article I, which is that the president abused his power and it is an impeachable offense. The president's attorneys argued, very clearly, that they don't think it's an impeachable offense, that you have to actually commit a crime, like in the criminal code, to be impeached. Do you agree with that?

SCOTT: Well, let's remember what it says. It says Treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. I think it's a pretty high standard. On top of that, let's remember the consequences here.

I went back and read through some of the -- what people said after the Clinton -- what they were saying, how they voted in the other one. And what a lot of people said is that let's remember, you know, they said, Bill Clinton did the wrong thing but we're changing an election.

That's what we're doing here, we're just -- we're changing two elections. We're changing the 2016 election, and we're kicking somebody off the ballot in 2020.

BASH: As you've said to me, the Clinton trial was very different in a lot of ways. One is that he did commit a crime, he lied under oath --

SCOTT: Right.

BASH: -- this is totally different. And is the argument that they're making to you, as a juror, that the president -- a president, any president needs to commit a clear crime in the criminal code in order to be impeached? Does that fly with you? Or should the president be held to a different standard because that's the whole purpose of impeachment?

SCOTT: Well, I mean, when it says other high crimes and misdemeanors, I think it's a pretty high standard. So whether you have to --


BASH: So was it -- let's be specific. Was it OK for him --

SCOTT: I don't know whether he --

BASH: -- to make a phone call and say to the leader of a foreign country, please investigate my political opponent and potentially do that? Or they're arguing it happened at --

SCOTT: Right, and we saw the transcript --

BASH: -- by holding up the military aid.

SCOTT: So -- so first off, it's the House job. They have this -- they said they have overwhelming evidence, it's their job to prove the case. It's not the Senate's job to prove their case.

On top of that, it's high crimes and misdemeanors, all right? And so what we watched last night is, they didn't talk -- they didn't really present anything that would say that, you know, that President Trump, he made the phone call and he said X.

Because what we know is, we know the transcript. The transcript didn't say that what they said in the beginning, what Schiff said in the beginning, that he -- it was -- is tied to it.

BASH: So I want to ask you just to dig a little bit deeper on this question. My colleague Sara Murray and others have reported about e- mails released by the OMB, showing there were at least four Republican lawmakers' offices who reached out to officials and questioning the holdup of aid to Ukraine.

So doesn't that signal that there was a lot more that you as a juror should know, but the White House is not allowing the documents to be part of this trial?


SCOTT: But -- so here's the way I look at it. I want to follow what we did with Clinton, and I want to be fair. But I don't believe it's my obligation to go prove their case. It's their obligation to prove their case.

They said this was so important, they had to do this so quick. And they didn't -- wouldn't even go through the process, wouldn't go through the court process.

We have a process. The president does have rights. And so -- and then on top of that, we're sitting here with an election, what, nine months away? And what the public is saying to me is, why aren't you reducing drug prices? Why aren't you securing the border? I mean, there's no conversation about balancing the budget, things like that.

So -- but we're going to go through this process, I'm going to be impartial, I'm going to listen to all the evidence. I stayed up all last night, listening to them. It got pretty boring, but we did. And so we'll see what happens.

BASH: Before I let you go, I just want you to listen to something. This is a different topic --

SCOTT: Sure.

BASH: -- that President Trump said before he left Davos, when asked about the fact that 11 service men were actually injured in the retaliatory strike that Iran put forward a couple of weeks ago. Listen to his response.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say -- and I can report -- it is not very serious, not very serious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you don't think that a potential traumatic brain injury is serious?

TRUMP: They told me about it numerous days later. You'd have to ask the Department of Defense. No, I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen.


BASH: You have a lot of injured veterans in your home state of Florida. Do you think when they get a head injury, that's a serious injury?

SCOTT: Well, it would sure seem like it would be. So -- and you worry about them, you know.

BASH: Does it concern you that the president just said he doesn't consider that a serious --

SCOTT: Well --

BASH: -- he said --

SCOTT: -- I hope it --

BASH: -- in fairness, compared to other injuries, but let's just focus on this injury.

SCOTT: I hope it's not. I mean, I -- I've been to the V.A. facilities, the one in Tampa does a lot of head injuries and I've seen some horrible head injuries. I hope this didn't happen.

I'm glad the president killed Soleimani, and I hope both the United States and Iran figure this -- figure this out, because it's not good for anybody.

BASH: What about the comment that he made, do you -- are you comfortable with what he said?

SCOTT: Well, I don't know enough -- I don't know enough about how bad their injuries are. Hopefully, you know, they're not bad. And so I -- I mean, I served in the Navy. I worry. And I mean, I was lucky. I didn't go -- I didn't have to fight in a war, my dad did. And so you worry about people all the time.

BASH: Senator, thank you so much.

SCOTT: Thanks.

BASH: Appreciate your time.

Wolf, back to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks very much, Dana. Thanks, Senator Scott, for us as well.

Let's get some reaction to what we just heard. George Conway, glad you're still with us.

CONWAY: Thank you.

BLITZER: What did you think, from Republican Senator Rick Scott?

CONWAY: Well, I just think it's distressing for him to basically say that, you know, to justify what happened yesterday, so that he's not -- that they don't want to hear -- vote to hear witnesses now. And I don't think it makes sense for them to pretend that they can make up for it later if they're not going to hear witnesses.

So I think this pretense of fairness is -- is misleading. I think --

BLITZER: Do you think there will be four Republican senators who will join the 47 Democrats --


CONWAY: I don't know. I don't know whether there will be or not, I just know that it should have been an easy vote yesterday to hear the witnesses because it's their job to do that. And that should -- it should have been a foregone conclusion, not a matter of something that was subject to any debate unless there's a specific item as -- issue as to the relevance of somebody's testimony.

But the subpoenas that they are asking for yesterday, with the Schumer motions, were well within the bounds of relevancy.

TAPPER: You say it's their job, but I mean, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is literally the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wasn't even going to read the transcripts of the depositions for the House impeachment inquiry.

CONWAY: I don't even know what to say to that. That's just so outrageous.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Senator Scott just said, in explaining it, that it's not our job to make their case.

CONWAY: Right, but it's also their job not to prevent the House managers from making their case. It is their job to allow the House managers to make their case, it is their job to weigh the evidence, to hear the evidence, not to block it and not to hear -- not to just block it outright before even knowing what it is.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT You also hear some of the Republican explanation's a little scattershot in the sense that, on the one hand, he said, well, remember in the Clinton impeachment trial, a lot of people decided what the president did was wrong, it was just not worthy of conviction and removal.

He didn't say that that's what President -- he thought that what President Trump did. But in the same interview, he said, well, remember the transcript, the transcript. Well, this is the transcript. If Republicans keep saying the transcript -- like the president says the transcript is perfect, they believe if they could keep saying it, they will convince at least their people that that's the case.

Here's the transcript to President Zelensky.


Rudy very much knows what's happening, he's a very capable guy. If you could speak to him, that would be great.

The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped a prosecution. A lot of people want to find out. Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging.

So on and so forth. This is not perfect, this is not perfect. You can argue it's not impeachable, if you want, but the -- to argue it's perfect? If this is perfect, then they're setting a very different standard for presidential conduct.

But it's interesting, we watch the Republicans, they're just trying to get through the interviews. They're just trying to run out the clock because Rick Scott, he said he's open to witnesses? You want to put some money on the table --


KING: -- where Rick Scott's vote is going to be on this one?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, he's certainly not one of the senators -- and he, of course, is new to the Senate, he's not somebody who we're looking at as somebody who could break ranks with the president. He just got elected in 2018, he's not up for re-election for a while, but yes.

I mean, you hear Mitch McConnell's talking points in what he's saying, in sort of response to it. You hear the president's talking points as well. And ultimately, he sounds like somebody who is not going to break with the president, not going to break with the Republican Party because it's a lot to ask of these folks, to basically, you know, right, you know?

I mean, not -- essentially break with what -- everything they've known. Break away from this club that has meant their careers, that has meant everything to them. And we'll see who is sort of brave enough to do it. We hear from some, people like Susan Collins maybe, people Mitt

Romney, people like Lisa Murkowski. Can you get to four? It doesn't necessarily appear that way.

TAPPER: But I also think one of the issues here, it's not just about their re-election. I also think there is something, we talked about this off-camera the other day, about comfort of life. A lot of these people are friends with big-donor Republicans.

The Republican Party is now likely, for the foreseeable future, the Trump party, and not the Republican Party that you signed up in. And they don't want to have their calls go unreturned, they don't want to be snubbed at social affairs. It's not just about re-election or campaign checks, it's also about the fact that the Republican Party, the president lies about the percentage of Republicans who approve of him, but he's not wrong that it's super-high and that's their life, that's who the people they have to deal with.

BORGER: Well, George, you've got a PAC that is not the Republican Party, that Donald Trump --

CONWAY (?): That's an anti-Trump --


CONWAY: The Lincoln Project.

BORGER: And I'm sort of curious as to about the -- how you've been ostracized or how the folks who are running that PAC have been ostracized from the party, from the Trump party?

CONWAY: I -- I think my colleagues who are running The Lincoln Project would probably be better to speak to that, because they are political operatives, they're political consultants. They've toiled in the vineyards of Republican politics for decades.

I'm really, at bottom, a lawyer --

BORGER: Right.

CONWAY: -- and I practice -- I -- my law practice didn't involve Washington for the most part, 98 percent of it. It involved, you know, dealing with securities cases and contract cases and all that stuff.

And, you know, I have lots of -- lots of friends who are, you know, in the Federalist Society, I'm a member of the Board of Visitors of the Federalist Society. And I'll tell you this. I think, deep down, most of those people know that Trump is wrong. And they know what right is, they just don't want to say it.


CONWAY: It's just too painful. In fact, at one point I learned from someone who had worked in the White House Counsel's Office, that one of the biggest -- some of the biggest fans of my Twitter feed in 2018 were in the White House Counsel's Office. (LAUGHTER)

CONWAY: Because lawyers, it just violates -- it just offends lawyers, the things that Trump does or thinks he can do. And particularly a thing I mentioned to Jake earlier, before you all came here, Trump's attack on Sessions for allowing the two Republican congressmen to be indicted. I think there were -- that gave great offense among Republican lawyers.

But --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both of whom ultimately pleaded guilty, we should note.

CONWAY: Correct. And they -- but, you know, it's just not worth it to any one individual to speak up.

BLITZER: I know you're going to stick around, you're going to stay with us, right?


BLITZER: Right. Don't go too far away. Everybody -- we're waiting to hear from the Democrats any moment now. We're going to bring you that, live. The Senate Democratic leader is going to have a news conference.


Also, we're learning new details about the president's conversation with his lawyers. We'll take a quick break.