Return to Transcripts main page


Democratic House Managers Present Case Against President Donald Trump. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 22, 2020 - 13:30   ET



SCHIFF: but these are not unique times. Deep divisions and disagreements were hardly alien concepts to the framers so they designed the impeachment power in such a way as to insulate it as best they could from the crush of partisan politics.

The framers placed the question of removal before the United States Senate, a body able to rise above the fray, to soberly judge the President's conduct or misconduct for what it was, nothing more and nothing less. In Federalist 65, Hamilton wrote "where else than in the Senate that have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in this own situation to preserve unawed and uninfluenced the necessary impartiality between an individual accused and the representatives of the people, his accuser?"

It is up to you to be the tribunal that Hamilton envisioned, it is up to you to show the American people and yourselves that his confidence and that of the other founders was rightly placed. The Constitution entrusts you to responsible -- to the responsibility of acting as impartial jurors, to hold a fair and thorough trial and to weigh the evidence before you, no matter what your party affiliation or your vote in the previous election or the next. Our duty is to the Constitution and to the rule of law.

I recognize there'll be times during the trial that you may long to return to the business of the Senate. The American people look forward to the same but not before you decide what kind of democracy that you believe we ought to be and what the American people have a right to expect in the conduct of their President.

The House believes that an impartial juror, upon hearing the evidence that the managers will lay out in the coming days, will find that the Constitution demands the removal of Donald J. Trump from his office as President of the United States. But that will be for you to decide. With the weight of history upon you and as President Kennedy once said, "a good conscience, your only sure reward."

In drafting our Constitution, the framers designed a new and untested form of government. It would be based on free and fair elections to ensure that our political leaders would be chosen democratically and by citizens of our country alone. Having broken free from a king with unbridled authority who often placed his own interests above that of the people, the framers established a structure that would guarantee that the chief executive's power flowed only from his obligation to the people rather than from a sovereign whose power was conferred on him by divine right.

In this new architecture, no branch of government or individual would predominate over another. In this way, the founders ensured that their elected leaders and their President would use the powers of office only to undertake that which the people desired and not for their personal aggrandizement or enrichment.

What did those who rebelled and fought a revolution desire? No different than what we, the generations that have followed, desire, that no person, including and especially the President, would be above the law. Nothing could be more dangerous to a democracy than a Commander in Chief who believed that he could operate with impunity, free from accountability. Nothing, that is, except a Congress that is willing to let it be so.

To ensure that no such threat could take root and subvert our fledgling democracy, the framers divided power among three co-equal branches of government, the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial branches, so that ambition may be made to counter ambition. They provided for presidential elections every four years and the framers required that the President swear and oath to faithfully execute the law and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Even with these guardrails in place, the framers understood that an individual could come to power who defied that solemn oath, who pursued his own interests rather than those of the country he led. For that reason, the framers adopted a tool used by the British Parliament to constrain its officials, the power of impeachment.

Rather than a mechanism to overturn an election, impeachment would be a remedy of last resort.


And unlike in England, the framers applied this ultimate check to the highest office in the land, to the President of the United States.

Impeachment and removal of a duly elected President was not intended for policy disputes or poor administration of the state. Instead, the framers had in mind the most serious of offenses, those against the public itself.

Hamilton explained that impeachment was not designed to cover only statutory or common law crimes but instead crimes against the body politic. Hamilton wrote the subjects of his jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men.

Or in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They're of a nature which made (ph) with peculiar propriety be denominated political as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself.

In other words, impeachment would be confined to abuses of people's trust and to the society itself. This is precisely the abuse that has been undertaken by our current president when he withheld money and support for an ally at war to secure a political benefit.

The punishment for those crimes would fit the political nature of the offense. As James Wilson, a delegate of the Constitutional Convention and a future associate justice of the Supreme Court reasoned, impeachments are confined to political characters, to political crimes and misdemeanors and to political punishments.

That punishment the framers determined would be neither prison nor fines but instead limited to removal from office and disqualification from holding future office. The framers chose to undertake impeachment for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors to underscore the requirement of an offense against society.

In this phrase, high modifies both the crimes and the misdemeanors and that both relate to a high injustice. A transgression committed against the people and to the public trust. The framers had two broad categories in mind.

Those actions that are facially permissible under the president's authority but are based on corrupt motives such as seeking to obtain a personal benefit through public office. And those that far exceed the president's constitutional authority or violate the legal limits on that authority.

In Article 1, we deal with the first evil, which the framers wished to guard against. That is cases in which a president corruptly misused the power otherwise bestowed on him to secure a personal reward.

Guarding against the president who undertakes official acts with a corrupt motive of helping himself is at the heart of the impeachment power. As one scholar explained, the president's duty to faithfully execute the law requires that he under takes actions only when motivated in the public interest rather than in their private self interest.

Efforts to withhold official acts for personnel gain, counterman the presidents sacred oath and therefore constitute impeachable behavior as it was conceived of by the framers. In Article 2, we also deal with a second evil contemplated by the founders who made it clear that the president ought not operate beyond the limits placed on him by legislative and judicial branches.

Impeachment was warranted for a president who usurped the power of the constitution that was not granted to him, such as to defy Congress the right to determine the propriety, the scope, and the nature of impeachment inquiry into his own misconduct.

The framers fashioned a powerful chief executive but not one beyond accountability of law. When a president wields power in ways that are inappropriate and seek to extinguish the rights of the Congress, he exceeds the power of his constitutional authority and violates the limits placed on his conduct.

Obstruction of a separate and coequal branch of government for the purposes of covering up an abuse of power, not only implies a corrupt intent, but also demonstrates and remarkable antipathy towards the balance of power, contemplated and enshrined in our Constitution. It is a betrayal of the president's sacred oath of office, and of his duty to put the country before himself.


On September 24th, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would move forward with an official impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump.

The announcement followed public reporting in the United States and Ukraine that the president and his agents sought Ukraine's help in his re-election effort, and revelations that the White House was blocking from Congress an intelligence community whistleblower complaint, possibly related to this grave offense.

The next day, on September 25th, under extraordinary pressure, the White House released publicly the record of the July 25th call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The call record revealed that President Trump explicitly requested that the new leader undertake investigations beneficial to President Trump's re-election campaign. Upon release of the record of the call, President Trump claimed that the call was perfect.

Far from perfect, the call record revealed a president who used his high office to personally and directly press the leader of a foreign country to do his political dirty work.

Asking for a favor, President Trump insisted that President Zelensky investigate a formidable potential political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as the baseless conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election to assist then- Candidate Trump's opponent.

Witnesses who listened to the call as it transpired testified that they immediately recognized, these requests did not represent official U.S. policy and instead were politically charged appeals not appropriate for a president to make.

Key witnesses emphasized it was not necessary that Ukraine actually undertake the investigations, only that the Ukrainian president announce them.

President Trump's objective was not to encourage a foreign government to investigate legitimate allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing abroad, made clear as well by the fact that the investigations he wanted announced have been discredited entirely. Rather, the president simply wanted to reap a political benefit by tarnishing a political rival and attempting to erase from history his previous election misconduct. To compel the Ukrainian president to do his political dirty work, President Trump withheld from President Zelensky two official acts of great importance: that coveted White House meeting, to which the president, Zelensky, had already been invited; and $391 million in military assistance Ukraine needed to fight the Russians.

For a strategic partner of the United States in a hot war with Russian-backed forces inside its own borders, the symbolic support conferred on it by an Oval Office visit with the president of the United States, and the life-saving support of our military aid was essential.

As the House's presentation will make clear, in directly soliciting foreign interference and withholding those official acts in exchange for the announcement of political investigations beneficial to his re- election, the president put his own interests above the national interest.

President Trump undermined the integrity of our free and fair elections by pressing a foreign power to influence our most sacred right as citizens, our right to freely choose our leaders. And he threatened our national security by withholding critical aid from a partner on the front lines of war with Russia, an aggressor that has threatened peace and stability on an entire continent. In so doing, the president sacrificed not only the security of our European allies, but also our nation's core national security interests.

President Trump undertook this pressure campaign through hand-picked agents inside and outside of government, who circumvented traditional policy channels. President Trump intentionally bypassed many U.S. government career officials with responsibility over Ukraine, and advanced his scheme primarily through the effort of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

President Trump carried out this scheme with the knowledge of senior administration officials, including the president's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Council Legal Advisor John Eisenberg, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.


When the president became aware that this scheme would be uncovered, he undertook an unprecedented effort to obstruct the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry and to hide it from the public and from Congress, including all evidence related to his misconduct.

That cover-up continues today, as the administration has not provided a single document pursuant to lawful subpoenas by the House. The administration also continues to prevent witnesses from cooperating, further obstructing the House, efforts the president is no doubt proud of, but which threaten the integrity of this institution, of this Congress as a coequal branch of power, our ability not only to do oversight, but to hold a president who is unindictable, accountable.

But despite these efforts to obstruct our inquiry, the House of Representatives uncovered overwhelming evidence related to the president's misconduct through interviews with 17 witnesses who appeared before the Intelligence, Oversight and Reform and Foreign Affairs committees.

Many of these witnesses bravely defied White House orders not to comply with duly authorized congressional subpoenas. And were it not for them, were it not for Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was the first through the breach, we may never have known of the president's scheme.

I want you to imagine, just for a minute, what kind of courage that took, for Ambassador Yovanovitch, the subject of that vicious smear campaign, to risk her reputation and her career, to stand up to the president of the United States who is instructing her, through his agents, you will not cooperate. You will not testify. You will tell them nothing.

Or Bill Taylor, West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran with a Bronze Star and something he was even more proud of the Combat Infantryman's Badge. He knows what courage is, showed a different kind of courage in Vietnam, but he also showed courage, as did others in coming forward in defying the president's order that he obstruct to tell the American people what he knew.

But for the courage of people like this, and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman a Purple Heart recipient, but for their courage we would have known nothing of the president's misconduct -- nothing.

When the president directs his ire towards these people, this is why -- because they showed the courage to come forward. Now we held, in the Intelligence Committee seven open hearings, with 12 fact witnesses -- separately the Judiciary Committee held public hearings with Constitutional law experts and council from the Intelligence -- House Intelligence Committee as it sought to determine whether to draft and consider articles of impeachment.

The House also collected text messages related to the president's scheme, from a witness who provided limited personal communications. Since the conclusion of our inquiry new evidence has continued to come to light through court order releases, of administration documents and public reporting -- underscoring that there is significantly more evidence of the president's guilt, which he continues to block from Congress, including the Senate.

Nevertheless the documents and testimony that we were able to collect paints an overwhelming and damning picture of the president's efforts to use the powers of his office to corruptly solicit foreign help in his reelection campaign, and withhold official acts and military aid to compel that support.

Over the coming days you will hear remarkably consistent evidence of President Trump's corrupt scheme and cover-up. When you focus on the evidence uncovered during the investigation you will appreciate there is no serious dispute about the facts underlying the president's conduct.


And this is why you will hear the president's lawyers make the astounding claim that you can't impeach a president for abusing the powers of his office. Because they can't seriously contest that that is exactly -- exactly what he did.

And so they must go find a lawyer somewhere. Apparently they could not go to their own attorney general, who was just reported in a memo he wrote as part of the audition for attorney general, which opined that a president can be impeached for abusing the public trust.

Couldn't go to Bill Barr for that opinion. Couldn't go to even Jonathan Turley their expert in the House vote opinion. No -- they had to go outside of these experts, outside of the Constitutional (inaudible) to a criminal defense lawyer and professor.

And why? Because they can't contest the facts. The president was the key player in this scheme, everyone was in the loop, he directed the actions of his team -- he personally asked a foreign government to investigate his opponent, these facts are not in dispute.

Ultimately the question for you, is whether the president's undisputed actions require the removal of the 45th president of the United States from office, because he abused his office and the public trust by using his power for personal gain by seeking illicit foreign assistance in his reelection and covering it up.

Other than voting on whether to send our men and women to war, this is -- there is, I think no greater responsibility before you than the one before you now. The oath that you've taken to impartially weigh the facts and evidence, requires serious and objective consideration. Decisions that are about country, not party -- about the Constitution, not politics -- about what is right and what is wrong.

After you consider the evidence and weigh your oath to render a fair and impartial verdict, I suggest to you today the only conclusion consistent with the facts of law, not just the law but the Constitution, is clear as described by Constitutional law experts testimony before the House. If this conduct is not impeachable, then nothing is.

Let me take a moment to describe to you how we intend to present the case over the coming days. Today you will hear the details of the president's corrupt scheme in narrative form, illustrating the timeline of the effort through the testimony of numerous witnesses who came before the House, as well as the documents and materials we collected as evidence during the investigation.

After you hear the factual chronology, we will then discuss the Constitutional framework of impeachment as it was envisioned by the founders. Before we analyze how the facts of the president's misconduct and cover-up lead to the conclusion that the president undertook the sort of corrupt course of conduct that impeachment was intended to remedy.

Let me start with a preview of the president's scheme, the details of which you will hear during the course of this day. President Trump's month long scheme -- months long scheme to extract help in his 2020 reelection campaign from the Ukrainian president, involved an effort to solicit and then compel the new leader to announce political investigations.

The announcement would reference two specific investigations -- one was intended to undermine the unanimous consensus of our intelligence agencies, Congress, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help then-candidate Trump, and another to hurt the presidency of former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Kremlin itself has been responsible for first propagating one of the two false narratives that the president desired. In February 2017, less than a month after the U.S. Intelligence Committee released its assessment that Russia alone was responsible for covert influence campaign designed to help President Trump win the 2016 election.

President Putin said as we all know, during the presidential campaign in the United States, the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favor of one of the candidates -- in favor of one candidate. More than that, certain oligarchs -- certainly with the approval of political leadership, funded this candidate, or female candidate to be more precise. Those were Putin's words, February 2, 2017.


Of course this is false, and is part of a Russian counter-narrative that President Trump and some of his allies have adopted. Fiona Hill, Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council described Russia's effort to promote this baseless theory.


HILL: Based on questions and statements I've heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and perhaps somehow for some reason Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian Security Services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our own intelligence agencies confirmed in by parties (ph) and Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute. Even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.


SCHIFF: This, of course, was not the first time the President Trump embraced Russian activity and disinformation. On July 24 of last year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a quote, sweeping and systemic fashion to benefit Donald Trump's political campaign. Mueller and his team found that quote, the Russian government perceived that it would benefit from a Trump presidency and work to secure that outcome. They also found that the Trump campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts. And just as he solicited help from Ukraine in 2019, in 2016 then Candidate Trump also solicited the help from Russia in his election effort. As you will recall at a rally in Florida he said the following.


TRUMP: Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think that you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens.


SCHIFF: Following Special Counsel Mueller's testimony during which he warned against future interference in our elections, did the president recognize the threat posed to our democracy and renounce Russian interference in our democracy? Did he choose to stand with his own intelligence agencies, both houses of Congress and the special counsel's investigation in affirming that Russia interfered in our last election? He did not.

Instead, only one day after Special Counsel Mueller testified before Congress, empowered in the belief that he had evaded accountability for making use of foreign support in our last election, President Trump was on the phone with the President of Ukraine pressing him to intervene on President Trump's behalf in the next election.

Let's take a moment to let that sink in. July 24th, Bob Mueller concludes lengthy investigation, He comes before the Congress. He testifies that Russia systemically interfered in our election to help elect Donald Trump, that the campaign understood that and they willfully made use of that help.

July 24th that's what happens. The very next day -- the very next day, he is on the phone, President Trump is on the phone with a different foreign power, this time Ukraine trying to get Ukraine to interfere with the next election, the next day. That should tell us something. That should tell us something.

He did not feel shamed by what the special counsel found. He did not feel deterred by what the special counsel found. He felt emboldened by escaping accountability. For the very, very next day he is on the phone soliciting foreign interference again. Now, that July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky was a key part of President Trump's direct and corrupt solicitation of foreign help in the 2020 election. The request likely sounded familiar to President Zelensky who had been swept into office in a landslide