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Donald Trump Impeachment Trial; House Dems Lay Out Case Against Trump. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 23, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] NADLER: president would call a foreign leader and demand a sham investigation meant to kneecap his political opponents, all in exchange for releasing vital military aid that the president was already required by law to provide.
No one anticipated that a president would stoop to this misconduct, and Congress has passed no specific law to make this behavior a crime. Yet, this is precisely the kind of abuse that the framers had in mind when they wrote the impeachment clause.
And when they charged Congress with determining when the president's conduct was so clearly wrong, so definitely beyond the pale, so threatening to the Constitutional order as to require his removal -- and that is why we are here today. You must judge for yourselves whether justice will be had for President Trump's crimes against our freedom and the Constitution.
I will conclude by highlighting a few points that merit special emphasis as you apply the law of impeachment to President Trump's misconduct. First impeachment is not for petty offenses, the president's conduct must constitute as masons put it, a great and dangerous offense against the nation -- offenses that threaten the Constitution.
Second, impeachable offenses involve wrongdoing that reveal the president as a continuing threat if he is allowed to remain in office. In other words, we fully recognize that impeachment does not exist for a mistake, it does not apply to acts that are merely unwise or unpopular. Impeachment is reserved for deliberate decisions by the president to embark in a course of conduct that betrays his oaths of office and does violence to the Constitution.
When the president has engaged in such conduct and when there is strong evidence that he will do so again, when he has told us he'll do so again -- he's told us that it's OK to invite interference from a foreign power in to our next election, the case for removal is at its peak.
This is certainly the case when he invites, indeed attempts to compel a foreign government to help him subvert the integrity of our next election. There can be no greater threat to the republic.
Finally high crimes and misdemeanors involve conduct that is recognizably wrong to a reasonable, honorable citizen. The framers adopted a standard for impeachment that could stand the test of time. At the same time the structure of the Constitution implies that impeachable offenses should not come as a surprise.
Impeachment is aimed at presidents who act as if they are above the law, a president who believe their own interests are more important than those of the nation and thus at presidents who ignore right and wrong, in pursuit of their own gain.
Abuse, betrayal, corruption -- here are each of the core offenses the framers feared most. The president's abuse of power, his betrayal of the national interest, and his corruption of our elections plainly qualify as great and dangerous offenses.
President Trump has made clear in word and deed that he will persist in such conduct if he is not removed from power. He poses a continuing threat to our nation, to the integrity of our elections, to our democratic order. He must not remain in power one moment longer.
GARCIA: Mr. Chief Justice, Senators, president's counsel, we will now walk through the president's abuse of power, the corrupt object of his scheme, his three official acts, carrying out his scheme, his attempted cover-up and exposure, and the harm to our nation, and continuing threat caused by his misconduct.
Let's start, first, with the object of the president's scheme. And, Senators, we have today provided handouts so that you can follow along in our slides.
So as this first slide indicates, in this portion of our presentation, we will discuss the evidence that shows overwhelmingly that President Trump directed this scheme with corrupt intent with one corrupt objective: to obtain foreign assistance in his re-election bid in the 2020 United States presidential election.
We will walk through, first, how the president wanted Ukraine to help in his re-election campaign. He wanted Ukraine to publicly announce two investigations. One, into his political rival Joe Biden; and the second, into the debunked conspiracy theory related to Ukraine interference in the 2016 election. President Trump himself later confirmed this intent in public statements.
We will then explain how we know these investigations were solely for President Trump's personal political gain. First, President Trump made clear, he cared only about the announcement -- the announcement -- of the investigations, not the actual investigations.
Second, President Trump similarly made clear, he cared only about the big stuff -- the big stuff, meaning his political investigations.
Third, he used his personal attorney, Mr. Giuliani, who repeatedly told us he was pursuing the investigations in his capacity as the president's personal lawyer, and that this wasn't about foreign policy. Fourth and fifth, there is no real dispute that these investigations were never part of an official U.S. policy and they in fact went outside official channels. The Department of Justice even publicly confirmed that they were never asked to talk to Ukraine about these investigations, never.
Sixth, multiple officials who knew what was going on, repeatedly reported these concerns to supervisors and even the NSC legal advisors.
Seventh, Ukraine expressed concerns multiple times, that these were political investigations and Ukraine didn't want to get involved in domestic U.S. politics.
Eighth, the White House tried to bury the call.
Ninth, President Trump himself told us he really wanted and cared about -- in his own words, in many public statements. And finally, despite the president's counsel's attempts to justify his actions, the evidence makes clear that President Trump did not care about anti- corruption efforts in Ukraine. This was only about one thing, his political investigations.
If (ph) you're following along, on this slide -- now, as I mentioned, the object of the president's scheme is clear: two investigations to help his political re-election.
The Constitution grants the president broad authority to conduct U.S. foreign policy. He is our commander in chief, and chief diplomat. When the president of the United States calls a foreign leader, a president's first and only objective should be to get foreign leaders to do what is in the best -- what's best for the U.S. national interest, consistent with the faithful execution of his oath of office and consistent with official U.S. policy.
But, on July 25, when President Trump called the president of Ukraine, President Trump did the opposite. Instead of following official U.S. talking points, instead of listening to his staff on what was important to our national interest, President Trump asked Ukraine for something that benefited only himself: his political investigations.
And not only did these investigations diverge from U.S. national interests. As you'll hear, President Trump's actions harmed our national security. In putting himself above our country, he put our country at risk. And that is why his actions are so dangerous.
Now, let's take a moment and look carefully at the two investigations that President Trump sought from Ukraine, which are at the heart of the president's scheme, and how he stood to benefit politically from Ukraine's announcement of each.
As you can see on this slide, the first investigation was, of course, of former Vice President Biden. Let's go straight to the July 25 telephone call again, where President Trump stated clearly each of these investigations he wanted. So let's start with Vice President Joe Biden and his -- and the removal of corrupt prosecutor in Ukraine.
The first investigation related to former Vice President Joe Biden and the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings, on whose board his son, Hunter Biden, used to sit. President Trump himself summarized the theory behind his request in broad strokes in his July 25 call with President Zelensky.
Here's what he said. "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution. And a lot of people want to find out about that, so that whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into that, it sounds horrible to me."
Now let's look carefully at the investigation President Trump was asking for and what it was based on. In short, President Trump asked for the investigation into Biden based on a made up theory that no one agreed with, no one.
We'll go into it -- this in more detail but at a high level, the allegation is that late in 2015, Biden pressured Ukraine to remove the then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin by threatening to withhold approximately $1 billion in loan guarantees if he was not removed.
According to this theory, Vice President Biden did this in order to help his son in a company called Burisma. Vice President Biden's son sat on the board of Burisma. As the theory goes, Vice President Biden tried to remove Ukraine's prosecutor all to make sure the prosecutor wouldn't investigate that the -- that specific company, Burisma, because, again, his son was on the board.
Then, senators, if that doesn't sound far-fetched and complicated to you, it should. So let's take this step by step and start from the beginning. In 2014, Vice President Biden's son, Hunter, joined the board of the Ukrainian national gas firm Burisma Holdings.
At the time, Burisma's owner, a Ukrainian oligarch and former government minister, was under investigation. In 2015, Viktor Shokin became Ukraine's Prosecutor General, a job similar to Attorney General in the United States.
Although Shokin vowed to keep investigating Burisma amid an international push to root out corruption in Ukraine, he allowed the Burisma investigation to go dormant -- allowed it to go dormant. That is when he was removed.
He was not actively investigating Burisma, he had let it go dormant. Moreover, Shokin was widely perceived as ineffective and corrupt. George Kent, the second most senior official at the U.S. embassy in Kiev at the time, described Shokin as quote "a typical Ukraine prosecutor who lived a lifestyle far in excess of his government salary, who never prosecuted anybody known for having committed a crime and covered up crimes that were known to have been committed."
In late 2015, Vice President Biden, who had assumed a significant role in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, publicly called for the removal of Mr. Shokin because of his failure -- his failure to adequately combat corruption.
But Vice President Biden wasn't alone. The European Union, our European allies, the International Monetary Fund, reformers inside Ukraine also wanted Mr. Shokin removed to reform the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office -- to reform it.
Reforming the Prosecutor General's Office was also supported on a bipartisan basis by the Ukrainian Caucus here in the Senate. On February 12th, 2016, after Vice President Biden had urged for the removal of Mr. Shokin but before the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove him, a bipartisan group of senators, including senators Portman, Durbin, Shaheen, Ron Johnson, Murphy, Kirk, Blumenthal and Sherrod Brown sent a letter to President Poroshenko that urged him to make urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General's Office.
The month after the senators sent that letter, Mr. Shokin was fired -- he was fired. So let's be very, very clear. Vice President Biden called for the removal of this prosecutor at the official direction of U.S. policy because the prosecutor was widely perceived as corrupt, and with the support of all our international allies his actions were therefore supported by the Executive Branch, Congress and the international community.
Common sense would tell us that this allegation against Joe Biden is false and that there was no legitimate basis for any investigation. But there are several other reasons, you know, that the only reason President Trump wanted Ukraine to announce the investigation into Biden that was also -- solely for his very own personal benefit.
So if you look at the slide, it'll summarize some points. First, none of the 17 witnesses in the House's inquiry said there was any factual basis for this allegation, not one of the 17. To the contrary, they testified it was false.
Second, as I mentioned, the former prosecutor general, Vice President -- general -- Vice President Biden (ph) was widely considered to be corrupt and failed to investigate corruption in Ukraine. Thus, removing him from office would only increase the chances that Burisma would be investigated for possible corruption.
Third, because the prosecutor was so corrupt, Vice President Biden calling for his removal was also at the direction of official U.S. policy and undertaken with unanimous support of our allies.
Fourth, the successor to the fired Ukrainian Prosecutor General admitted that Vice President Biden's son didn't do anything wrong in connection with Burisma. So the entire premise of the investigation that the President wanted Ukraine to pursue was simply false.
Finally, President Trump didn't care about any of this until 2019 but -- when Vice President Biden became the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination and polls showed that he had the largest head- to-head lead against President Trump, that became a problem. Let's start with the first and second points. Vice President Biden's conduct was uniformly validated by the witnesses in the House investigation who confirm his conduct was consistent with US policy.
Every single witness who was asked about the allegations again said that Biden had nothing to do with it and it was false. They testified that he acted properly. Every witness with knowledge of this issue testified that Vice President Biden was carrying out official US policy in calling for Shokin's removal. Shokin was corrupt and this witness explain the US was not alone in this view.
All of our European allies also supported this action. There is simply no evidence, nothing, nada in their record to support this baseless (ph) allegation. Id like to go through some of that testimony now. First here, Dr. Hill and Mr. Holmes so let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COUNSEL: Are either -- Dr. Hill are you aware of any evidence to support to allegations against Vice President Biden?
HILL: I am not, no.
COUNSEL: And in fact, Mr. Holmes, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine who Vice President Biden encouraged to fire was actually corrupt, is that right?
COUNSEL: And was not pursuing corruption investigations and prosecutions, right?
HOLMES: My understanding is the prosecutor general at the time, Shokin, was not at that time pursuing investigations of Burisma or the Biden's.
COUNSEL: And in fact removing that corrupt prosecutor general was part of the United States anti-corruption policy, isn't that correct?
HOLMES: That's correct. And not just us but all of our allies and other institutions that were involved in Ukraine at the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GARCIA: Ambassador Yovanovitch too confirmed these points. Let's watch her testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COUNSEL: And in fact when Vice President Biden acted to remove the former corrupt prosecutor in the Ukraine did he do so as part of official United States policy?
HILL: Official US policy that is endorsed and was the policy of a number of other international stake holders, other countries, other monetary institutions, financial institutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GARCIA: And similarly when asked if there was any factual basis to support the allegations about Biden, George Kent replied, "None whatsoever". Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Mrs. Williams also confirmed that they are not aware of any credible evidence to support the notion that Vice President Biden did anything wrong. And Ambassador Volker testified that the Biden allegations were not credible and that Biden "respects his duties of higher office".
Now as I mentioned there was also concrete reason that the US government wanted Shokin removed. As David Holmes, a senior official that the US Embassy in Ukraine testified by the time that Shokin was finally removed in 2016 there were strong concerns that Shokin himself was corrupt and not investigating potential corruption in the country.
In fact, part of the concern was that Shokin was not investigating Burisma. Under Shokin the investigation into the owner of Burisma for earlier conduct had stalled and was dormant. That was part of the reason why the United States and other countries wanted to remover Shokin. Because of this, and as confirmed by witness testimony we will hear shortly, calling for Shokin's replacement would actually increase the chances that Burisma would be investigated. In other words Shokin was corrupt in not investigating allegations against Burisma, so when Vice President Biden was calling for Shokin's removable and advocating for his replacement it would actually increase chances of Burisma's investigation.
Ambassador Yovanovitch made this point during her testimony, let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLDMAN: And in fact, if he helped to remove a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor general, who was not prosecuting enough corruption, that would increase the chances that corrupt companies in Ukraine would be investigated, isn't that right?
YOVANOVITCH: One would think so.
GOLDMAN: And that could include Burisma, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GARCIA: President Trump and his allies have tried to justify President Trump's withholding of military aide and a White House meeting unless Ukraine announced the investigations he wanted. By saying it's the same thing the vice president did when he called for Ukraine to remove its corrupt prosecutor, it is not the same thing.
[14:25:00] As you've just heard, Vice President Biden followed official U.S. policy. He went through official channels to remove the prosecutor that was corrupt. And he did it with the support of our allies. That is the exact opposite of what President Trump did. He pushed Ukraine for an investigation that has no basis, that no one agreed with, that was not at all U.S. policy, and that only benefited him.
George Kent addressed this very point during his testimony, let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLDMAN: And, Mr. Kent and Mr. Taylor, the defenders of the president's behavior have made a big deal out of the fact that Vice President Biden encouraged the Ukrainians to remove a corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutor, 2016, Mr. Shokin. And in fact, Senator Rand Paul on Sunday said, and I quote him, "they are impeaching the president, President Trump, for exactly the same thing that Joe Biden did."
Is that correct? Is what the president -- what the president did in his phone call and what Joe Biden did in terms of Mr. Shokin, are those exactly the same things? And if not, how are they different?
KENT: I do not think they are the same things. What former Vice President Biden requested of former President of Ukraine Poroshenko was the removal of a corrupt prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, who had undermined a program of assistance that we had spent, again, U.S. taxpayer money, to try to build an independent investigator unit to go after corrupt prosecutors.
And there was a case called the "diamond prosecutor" case in which Shokin destroyed the entire ecosystem that we were trying to help create, the investigators, the judges who issued the warrants, the law enforcement that had warrants to do the wiretapping, everybody, to protect his former driver who he had made a prosecutor. That is what Joe Biden was asking, remove the corrupt prosecutor...
GOLDMAN: So Joe Biden was participating in an open effort to establish -- whole of government effort to address corruption in Ukraine?
KENT: That is correct.
GOLDMAN: Great. So, Mr. Kent, as you look at this whole mess, Rudy Giuliani, President Trump, in your opinion, was this a comprehensive and whole of government effort to end corruption in Ukraine?
KENT: Referring to the request in July.
KENT: I would not say so, no, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GARCIA: In short, the allegations against Vice President Biden are groundless. And so there is no comparison, none at all, between what he did and the -- President Trump's abuse of power.
Now, let's turn to the third point. Part of the allegation against former Vice President Biden is that he pushed for the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor's removal in order to protect his son from the investigation. In fact, the president's claim about being concerned about corruption, Ukraine had recently emphasized this component of the theory that the president wanted Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden's work on the board of Burisma, not the former vice president.
This too, is false. Simply false. You need look no further than the July 25th call and the president's own statements to see that the president wanted the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden.
Let's look again at what the president's call said. Quote: "The other thing, there is a lot of talk about Biden's son that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot off people wanted to find out about that. Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging he stopped the prosecution. So if you could look into it, it sounds horrible to me."
The president was clearly asking President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden. And what did the president say on the White House lawn on October 3rd when he was asked about the Ukrainian scheme? He said. quote: "Well, I think if they were honest about it, you saw the film yesterday, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens."
It's a very simple answer. He said "the Bidens," plural. Not one Biden, the Bidens. It's clear that the president wanted what he wanted from Ukraine, an investigation to smear his political rival.