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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

The Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The House impeachment managers will pick back up to begin their presentation on article two, impeachment article two, which is obstruction of Congress.

Let's chat about this all.

And, Carrie, you're joining us here, so we will start with you.

What do you expect to hear from Democrats when it comes to obstruction of Congress?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what they're going to have to lay out is, first of all, what documents they want and what witnesses they want, and why they want them.

Whether they start -- if they were to start with the witnesses, they're going to have to explain why each witness, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, why those individuals have specific knowledge, firsthand knowledge, which was such a issue that came up during the House proceedings, firsthand knowledge of what was going on, and what they observed, and the president's involvement in wanting the assistance and the announcements from the president of Ukraine directly.

And they are individuals that have not been heard from before. They did not come and appear before the House proceedings. And so that would be new information for the Senate to consider.

TAPPER: What's also interesting about this is, basically, the attorney general, Bob Barr, has taken the argument that, you know, you can't pursue a president in any other venue other than impeachment.

There was this memo that came out. And so, if you can't...

CORDERO: Right.

TAPPER: If there's no oversight over a president, except through the impeachment process...

CORDERO: Right.

TAPPER: ... and you can't get documents or evidence through the impeachment process...

CORDERO: Right. Then what it makes is, it makes... TAPPER: ... then, basically, you have a king.

CORDERO: It's a president who's not accountable to any branch of government.

And that is not what the constitutional system is. That's not the way the framers designed it. The entire purpose of the impeachment provision was so that the Congress, as a political branch, could hold a president accountable for his behavior in office, for actions that he took that are abuse of power or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

And so, if you subscribe to the position that the Justice Department has across many administrations that a president can't be indicted for any behavior, and then if you say, and we're not going to cooperate by providing evidence or witnesses to Congress to conduct its impeachment inquiry, then what we have is an unaccountable executive.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes.

I just want to bring in Dana Bash, who's anchoring our coverage from Capitol Hill, as well.

Dana, the House lawyer -- excuse me -- the White House lawyers now are saying they're only going to do three hours tomorrow. They could have done as many as eight hours tomorrow, eight hours Monday, eight hours Tuesday, but they're clearly cutting back. They want some of the senators to go out.

But it looks to me -- and you're hearing stuff up there -- you're right on the scene -- that the White House counsels, they don't necessarily need three days, 24 hours, they think, to make their case.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only that.

You heard Jay Sekulow talking to reporters a short while ago saying, it's not up to us whether or not we have a long day on Saturday or not.

But when it comes to what their client, the president, wants, you saw that he -- he doesn't think them arguing on a Saturday is a great thing for him. The president is always thinking about the show and ratings.

So, for them to just do a short session on Saturday, and really start in earnest on Monday is actually something that the president's legal team is clearly welcoming.

One other quick thing I just want to add, which is noteworthy as we look ahead to what we're going to hear from the House managers when they restart shortly on obstruction, you know, we have been talking a lot about the Republicans and whether they're going to come along to the Democratic side.

We haven't been talking about some moderate Democrats and whether they are going to break with their own party on at least one of these articles. And this second article, obstruction of Congress, could be one that

people like Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona or even Joe Manchin of West Virginia don't agree with their fellow Democrats who are prosecuting this case on, because you're going to hear the president's team make a very strong argument that you can't say that the -- that they obstructed Congress, when the Congress never went to the courts to help settle it.

TAPPER: That's an interesting point, Dana Bash.

And, John King, there actually was a member of the House, Democratic congressman who -- a freshman who just won that seat in Maine's 2nd Congressional District, a Trump district...

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

TAPPER: ... who voted that way. He voted in favor of article impeachment one, abuse of power, and against article of impeachment two, congressional -- obstruction of Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And if you talk to the people who defend the president professionally, their lawyers, they say: This isn't abusing our power. This isn't obstruction. This is just balance of power. This is just executive privilege.

[16:05:03]

Let's listen to Val Demings, House impeachment manager.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): ... indulgence.

What I can tell you today is that we are closer today than we were on yesterday, because I am prepared to present Article II, obstruction of Congress.

The second article of impeachment charges the president with misusing the powers of his high office to obstruct the House impeachment inquiry.

We are here today in response to a blanket order issued by President Trump directing the entire Executive Branch to withhold all documents and testimony from that inquiry. President Trump's obstruction of the impeachment inquiry was categorical, indiscriminate and historically unprecedented.

And its purpose was clear, to impede Congress' ability to carry out its duties under the Constitution to hold the president accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors. As part of his effort to cover up evidence of his scheme to solicit foreign interference in the upcoming election, President Trump did something no president has ever dared to do in the history of our Republic. President Trump directed the entire Executive Branch not to cooperate with the House's impeachment inquiry. President Trump blocked every person who works in the White House and every person who works in every department, agency and Office of the Executive Branch from providing information to the House as part of the impeachment inquiry.

This was not about specific narrowly-defined security or privacy issues nor was it based on potential privileges available to the Executive Branch. Indeed, President Trump has not once asserted executive privilege during this process.

This was a declaration of total defiance of the House's authority to investigate credible allegations of the President's misconduct and a wholesale rejection of Congress' ability to hold the President accountable. The President's order executed by his top aides substantially interfered with the House's constitutionally authorized power to conduct an impeachment inquiry.

At President Trump's direction, the White House itself released -- refused to produce a single document or record in response to a House subpoena that remains in full force and effect and it continues to withhold with all those documents from Congress and from the American people.

But it is not just the White House. Following President Trump's order, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense all continued to refuse to produce a single document or record in response to 71 specific requests, including five subpoenas.

Additionally, following President Trump's order, 12 current, our former administration officials continued to refuse to testify as part of the House's impeachment inquiry. Not only current administration officials but former administration officials as well.

Nine of those witnesses, including senior officials with direct firsthand knowledge of the President's actions continued to defy subpoenas for testimony because of the President's order. And yet, despite President Trump's obstruction as you have heard and seen throughout the House managers' presentation of the facts of the President's scheme, the House gathered overwhelming evidence of his misconduct from courageous public servants who were willing to follow the law, comply with subpoenas and tell the truth.

On the basis of what -

[16:10:00]

of that formidable body of evidence, the House adopted the first article of impeachment. These witnesses also testified with great specificity about extensive documents, communications and records in the possession of the White House and other agencies regarding the President's scheme to coerce Ukraine's leader to help his reelection.

As you have heard over the past few days, the House was therefore able to develop an extensive catalog of specific documents and pertinent communication that go to the heart of the President's wrongdoing and which the President has ordered be concealed from Congress and the American people.

Revelations of evidence harmful to the President have only continued since the House compiled its investigative reports. Recent court ordered releases under the Freedom of Information Act as well as disclosures to the media have further demonstrated that the White House, OMB, State Department and other agencies are actively withholding highly relevant documents that could further implicate the President and his subordinates.

Over time, these documents and this evidence will undoubtedly come to light and I asked this body to not wait to read about it in the press or in a book. You should be hearing this evidence now. Hearing this evidence now.

Now, there is one point that I would like to make very clear. President Trump's wholesale obstruction of Congress strikes at the very heart of our Constitution and our democratic system of government. The President of the United States could undertake such comprehensive obstruction only because of the exceptional powers entrusted to him by the American people.

Only one person in the world has the power to issue an order to the entire Executive Branch. That person, Senators, as you know is the President and President Trump used that power not to faithfully execute the law but to order agencies and employees of the Executive Branch to conceal evidence of his misconduct.

Now, I know that no other American could seek to obstruct an investigation into his or her wrongdoing in this way. We all know that no other American could use the vast powers of our government to undertake a corrupt scheme to cheat to win an election and then use those same powers to suppress the evidence of his constitutional crime.

We would not allow -- I am convinced that we would not allow any member of our state or local governments to use the official powers of their office to cover up crimes and misdeeds. As this body is well aware, mayors and governors have gone to jail for doing so. Sheriffs and police chiefs are certainly not immune.

If we allow President Trump to escape accountability, we will inflict lasting damage on the separation of powers among our branches of government, our fundamentals system of checks and balances. It would inflict irreversible damage by allowing this Commander-in-Chief and establishing precedents for future presidents to act corruptly or abusively and then use the vast powers of their office, the Office of the Presidency, to conceal their own misconduct from Congress and the American people.

[16:15:00]

In other words, we would create a system that allows this President and any future president to really do whatever he or she wants. It is an attack on Congressional oversight, not just on the House but also on the Senate's own ability to oversee and serve as a check on this and future presidents, both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Without meaningful oversight, without the power of impeachment, Americans will have to come to accept a far greater likelihood of misconduct in the Oval Office and they would not be able to look to other branches of government to hold their president, the people's president, accountable.

Executive power without any sort of restraint, without oversight and without any checks and balances is absolute power, and we know what has been said about absolute power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This is the very opposite of what the framers intended. The framers of the Constitution purposefully entrusted the power of impeachment to the Legislative Branch so that it may protect the American people from a corrupt president. Well, the times, Senators, have found this.

If Congress allows President Trump's obstruction to stand, it effectively nullifies the impeachment power. Senators, we are the keepers, the protectors, the defenders of what the framers intended and we must hold any unprincipled and undisciplined executive accountable.

Senators, I know that this is not easy. I don't take this moment lightly. These are tough times. I remember quite a few tough times during my 27 years as a law enforcement officer.

But we must stop this President. Today, we will explain why. First, we will review key facts regarding the scope and breadth of President Trump's unprecedented actions to stop the House's impeachment inquiry. As you well know, we covered many of these facts on Tuesday when we explained in depth what evidence the President had blocked from Congress.

We addressed documents we know the White House and other agencies are concealing and we addressed testimony the President's aides would provide if they testify under oath. We will, therefore, review the documents and witnesses briefly.

Second, after surveying relevant history and constitutional law, we will explain why obstruction of Congress, in and of itself, warrants impeachment and removal from office.

Finally, we will demonstrate that President Trump is, without question, guilty of obstruction of Congress that his defenses like any legal foundation and that his actions pulls a dire and continuing threat to the foundation of our constitutional framework.

This is very simple. It's simple. The President abused the powers entrusted in him by the American people in a scheme to suppress evidence, escape, accountability and orchestrate a massive cover up, and he did so in plain sight and his obstruction remains ongoing.

[16:20:00]

GARCIA: Mr. Chief Justice, Senators, President's counsel, before I start, I, too, want to thank all the Senators for being so patient and being such good listeners. It reminds me quite frankly of one of the first days that I went to what was effectually called baby judge school when we first got started and those are the first two things that they told us, that we needed to be patient and we needed to listen and that we needed to be fair and always give the opportunity to be heard to each side.

And I must say that you have certainly been playing a very good role as judges because, although I know that the press calls you jurors, I know that you are in the role of judges, and I commend you for being good listeners and for having the patience to listen to us this last two days and our final remarks today. So, thank you, all.

Now, Ms. Demings has given us an overview of the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. So, let us now turn to the facts of the case because to fully appreciate the scope and the scale, the scale of the President's wrongdoing, and the size of the coverup he has orchestrated requires an understanding of the evidence that he has lawlessly, lawlessly hidden from Congress and the American people.

President Trump categorically, indiscriminately and in unprecedented fashion obstructed Congress' impeachment inquiry. In other words, he orchestrated a coverup and he did it in plain sight.

First from the beginning, the Trump administration sought to hide the President's misconduct by refusing to turn over the Intelligence Committee whistleblower complaint. That complaint would sound the first alarm of the President's wrongdoing.

Second, the President issued an order prohibiting the entire, the entire Executive Branch from participating in the impeachment inquiry. No cooperation. No negotiation. Nothing. Or as we say in Texas, nada.

Following the President's orders, federal agencies refused to produce documents and key witnesses refused to testify. In fact, the President sanctioned specific directions to officials ordering them to defy congressional subpoenas.

Third, and perhaps the most reprehensible of all, the President waged a campaign of intimidation against those brave public servants who did come forward to comply with their obligation under the law.

Senators, as I've mentioned, I'm a lawyer and a former judge, I have never ever seen anything like this from a litigant or a party in any case. Not anywhere.

But from the very beginning of this scandal, President Trump has sought to hide and cover up key evidence. The coverup started even before the House began to investigate the President's Ukraine-related activity. It began when the White House sought to conceal the record of Donald Trump's July 25 call with the President of Ukraine by placing it on a highly classified system.

But as we've said before, there was no legitimate national security reason to do so. The coverup continued. A top OMB official instructed to freeze, to be quoted, [16:25:00]

"closely held." In other words, don't say anything to anybody.

Senators, in order to lawfully withhold the funding, the President was required to notify Congress about the amount of money involved and why he was intending to freeze it. Instead, the White House tried to keep the fact of the freeze secret.

Maybe they kept it a secret because a senior White House aide, Rob Blair, accurately predicted to his boss, Mick Mulvaney, quote, "expect Congress to become unhinged if it learned that bipartisan aid approved for valuable foreign partner was being frozen for the President's personal gain.

But the coverup reached its peak soon after August 12th because on August 12th, a whistleblower filed a lawful and protected complaint intended for Congress with the inspector general of the intelligence community.

The President, who is the subject of the complaint, learned of the filing well before Congress and the American people. In an effort to conceal the whistleblower's concerns, the White House and the Department of Justice took an unprecedented step.

No administration had ever intervened in such a manner before. But President Trump maneuvered to keep the whistleblower's concerns from the Congressional intelligence committees. In the history of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, no credible and urgent complaint had ever, ever been withheld from Congress, not ever before.

It was through immense public pressure and vigorous oversight by the House that the Trump administration ultimately produced the complaint to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. I'll add that even when it was produced, it was weeks after the legal deadline.

If the President's efforts to conceal the whistleblower's concerns had succeeded, Congress would never have learned about the existence of the complaint, let alone the allegations that it contained. But this attempt to hide key information from Congress was only the first sign of what was to come.

Following new deeply troubling revelations about the President's July 25 call, on September 24th, the Speaker of the House announced that the House investigations into the President's scheme to pressure Ukraine for personal gain would be folded into the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

Just days later, the President began to attack the legitimacy of the House impeachment inquiry. While standing on the tarmac of -- at Andrews Air Force Base, President Trump argued that the House impeachment inquiry, quote, "shouldn't be allowed."

He claimed that there, and I quote again, "there should be a way of stopping it, maybe legally through the courts." Let's watch the President and what he had to say.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My call was perfect. The President, yesterday, of Ukraine said there was no pressure put on him whatsoever. None whatsoever. And he said it loud and clear for the press. What these guys are doing, Democrats are doing to this country is a disgrace and it shouldn't be allowed. There should be a way of stopping it, maybe legally through the courts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARCIA: There should be a way of stopping it. Soon after, President Trump took the matters into his own hands. The President used his authority and his office to wage a relentless and misleading public campaign to attack the impeachment inquiry.

The President spent time at rallies, in press conferences and on Twitter trying to persuade the American people that the House's inquiry was invalid and fraudulent. Here are just a few of the President Trump's comments about the impeachment inquiry.

[16:30:00]