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Trump's Lawyers Present Main Arguments Amid Bolton Bombshell. President Trump's Legal Team Begins Day Two Of Impeachment Defense. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired January 27, 2020 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Trump's attorneys have said that there are no first-person witnesses. That's not true. But according to this manuscript, there's even one more that we now know about. The president is, of course, denying all of the accusations, tweeting that Bolton is only trying to sell his new book.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the bait now, Jake, is going to be will there be four Republican senators who will join 47 Democratic senators, get to the simple majority of 51 in the U.S. Senate and allow witnesses to come forward.
TAPPER: That's the numbers. The larger philosophical debate is given the fact that we have this explosive new revelation, President Trump's national security adviser saying in his book that President Trump directly ordered this quid pro quo and Bolton has already made it clear that he wants to testify, given that fact and given the fact it's in a book and we're going to find out all about it whether it comes out in March or whether Bolton testifies, do the Republicans in the senate, are they going to continue to stand with the president even as his defense team continues to make comment after comment that are not true, or at least, according to this Bolton news, disputed? Are they going to put loyalty to the president above what some argue is loyalty to the American people to find out what the actual facts are in this case.
BLITZER: And I wonder in the White House legal defense that's about to be unfolding for the next several hours, how much of the John Bolton revelation will they be willing to discuss?
TAPPER: That's a big question. I mean, because, obviously, is the big news on Capitol Hill, no matter how much some people try to poo-poo it. It is big news. Yes, we have known for a long time that Bolton wants to testify, that Bolton has information that we have not learned about. But now, we have the fact that this is going to come out sooner or later. It's in the book. We didn't know that until The New York Times broke the story. It's going to be in the book. It's got to be on the minds of all of the senators there. And the big question for them is loyalty to the president worth more than their duties in, as being U.S. officials, trying to find out what really happened.
BLITZER: And what will be fascinating is not only what he writes in the book but the notes that he has.
TAPPER: He's known as a diligent note-taker.
BLITZER: The contemporaneous notes, because he had a yellow legal pad that he was writing all the time, apparently.
TAPPER: And this is not his first book. He keeps detailed notes. We should note that although people like Rand Paul and others on Capitol Hill who are defenders of the president and certainly not a fan of John Bolton's world view are now describing him as a disgruntled employee, and the president is describing him as just somebody trying to sell books, this is somebody who has been iconic in Republican foreign policy circles for decades. And so it's interesting to see, first of all, Republicans line up to attack him, which I'm sure we're going to see, and also Democrats and members of the resistance who have maligned and distrusted John Bolton for decades line up and act as if he's the second coming of Bobby Kennedy.
BLITZER: Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold. Dana, I just want to set the scene for our viewers. The chief justice will walk in. There will be an open prayer, pledge of allegiance, we'll hear from the Senate majority leader and then the legal team for the president of the United States, they'll come forward and they will have eight, nine, ten hours if they want tonight to go forward and make the case on behalf of the president.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, they've got all day. And in the short-term, the big question is, as Jake just laid out, whether or not they are going to acknowledge the elephant in the room, whether or not they are going to talk about and even try to explain away this big news about John Bolton, especially given the pretty dramatic case that they made on Saturday, well-received among especially the kind of teetering Republican senators, that the case can be made there is no firsthand knowledge of this quid pro quo. Well, how do you say that on the one hand and have this news on the other hand? So that's the first question, is how and whether or not the president's legal team are going to defend it.
And then the other sort of important note on the atmosphere is that they are talking not just to Democrats who kind of, you know, most of whom don't believe what they're saying, but also they're going to be talking to some Republicans who are really upset and frustrated. I was told earlier by a source familiar with conversations making clear to the White House that they feel that they should have been -- that they're in the dark and they should have known about this.
And one of the open questions is whether members of this legal team, including and especially the president's counsel, the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, whether he was presented with this manuscript that has been in the White House, apparently, since the end of December.
My understanding is that there was a lot of fact-finding going on behind the scenes by a lot of White House aides and Republicans here on Capitol Hill trying to get to the bottom of that. Let's listen to the chief justice.
TAPPER: We're seeing the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, gaveling it all in. Let's listen now.
BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Let us pray. Lord, through all the generations, you have been our mighty God. As millions mourn the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and those who died with them, we think about life's brevity, uncertainty and legacy.
Remind us that we all have a limited time on Earth to leave the world better than we found. As this impeachment process unfolds give our senators the desire to make the most of their time on Earth. Teach them how to live oh God and lead them along the path of honesty.
May they hear the words of Jesus of Nazareth reverberating down the corridors of the centuries and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. And Lord thank you for giving our chief justice another birthday. Amen.
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: Please join me in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Please be seated. If there is no objection, the journal of proceedings of the trial are approved to date. Without objection, so ordered. The sergeant-at-arms will make the proclamation.
SERGEANT-AT-ARMS: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the Senate of the United States is sitting for the trial of the articles of impeachment, exhibited by the House of Representatives against Donald John Trump, president of the United States.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Mr. Chief Justice?
ROBERTS: The majority leader is recognized.
MCCONNELL: As the chaplain has indicated on behalf of all of us, happy birthday. I'm sure this is exactly how you had planned to celebrate today.
ROBERTS: Well, thank you very much for those kind wishes and thank you to all the senators for not asking for the yeas and nays.
MCCONNELL: And for the information of all the senators, we should expect a break every two or three hours. And then at 6 o'clock, a break for dinner. And with that, Mr. Chief Justice, I yield the floor.
ROBERTS: Pursuant to the provisions of Senate Resolution 483, the counsel for the president have 22 hours and five minutes remaining to make the presentation of their case. The Senate will now hear you.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Senate, managers.
What we've done on Saturday is the pattern that we are going to continue today, as far as how we're going to deal with the case. We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all.
We are going to highlight some of those very facts we talked about, very quickly on Saturday.
You're going to hear more about that. I want to give you a little bit of an overview of what we plan to do today in our presentation.
You will hear from a number of lawyers. Each one of these lawyers will be addressing a particular aspect of the president's case. I will introduce the issues that they're going to discuss, and then that individual lawyer will come up and -- and make their presentation. We want to do this on an expeditious but yet thorough basis.
Let me start with just, for a very brief few moments, to take a look at where we were. One of the things that became very clear to us as we looked at the presentation from the House managers was the lack of focus on that July 25th transcript. And that's because the transcript actually doesn't say what they would like it to say.
Now, we've heard -- and you will hear more -- about that in the days ahead. We know about Mr. Schiff's version of the transcript, you heard it, you saw it.
I want to keep coming back to facts, facts that are really undisputed. The president, in his conversation, was clear on a number of points. But so was President Zelensky. I -- I mentioned that at the close of my arguments earlier; that it was President Zelensky that said, "No pressure. I didn't feel any pressure." And again, there's this kind of reading of minds, what were -- people were saying. I think we need to look at what they actually said and how it's backed up.
It is our position, as the president's counsel, that the president was at all times acting under his constitutional authority, under his legal authority and our national interests, and pursuant to his Oath of Office. Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath.
It was interesting, because there was a lot of discussion the other day about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, and one of the things that we reiterate is that he himself said there was -- he did not know if there was anything of crime or anything of that nature. He had deep policy concerns, and I -- I think that is what this is really about, is deep policy concerns, deep policy differences. But we live in a constitutional republic where you have deep policy concerns and deep differences. That should not be the basis of an impeachment. If the bar of impeachment has now reached that level, then for the -- the sake of the republic, the danger that puts not just this body, but our entire constitutional framework in is unimaginable. Are we going to have, every time there's a policy difference of significance or an approach difference of significance about a policy, we're going to start an impeachment proceeding?
But you know, as I said earlier, I don't really think this was about just a phone call. There was a pattern and practice of attempts over a three-year period to not only interfere with the president's capability to govern -- which by the way, they were completely unsuccessful at. Just look at the state of where we are as a country -- but also interfere with our constitutional framework.
I'm going to say this because I want to be brief: We are going to have a series of lawyers address you, so it will not be one lawyer for hours and hours. We're going to have a series of lawyers address you on a variety of issues. This is how we envision the president's defense going.
We thought it would be appropriate to start with an overview, if you will, of some of the significant historical issues and constitutional issues involving impeachment proceedings, since we don't have a long history of that, and I think that's good for the country that we don't, and I think we would all agree. But if this becomes the new standard, the future's going to look a lot different.
So we're going to hear next from my co-counsel, Judge Kenneth Starr. Judge Starr is a former judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He served as the 39th solicitor general of the United States, arguing cases before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the United States.
I had the privilege of arguing a case alongside Judge Starr, and we were talking about it earlier, many years ago. He also served as the independent counsel during the Clinton presidency and authored the Starr Report. He testified for almost 12 hours before the Judiciary Committee with regard to that report.
Judge Starr is very familiar with this process. He is going to address a series of deficiencies -- there's some legal issues -- with regard to Articles 1 and 2, constitutional implications, historical implications, and legal implications of where this case now stands.
So I would like to yield my time right now to, if it pleases the chief justice, Kenneth Starr.
KENNETH STARR, FORMER UNITED STATES SOLICITOR GENERAL: Thank you.
Mr. Chief Justice, House managers and staff, members of the Senate, the majority leader and the minority leader, at the beginning of these proceedings on January 16th, the chief justice administered the oath of office to the members of this body. And then again on Tuesday.
In doing so, the chief justice was honoring the words of our Constitution. Article I, Section 3. We all know the first sentence of that article by heart: "The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments."
But then the constitutional text goes on to say this: "When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on earth -- oath or affirmation." That oath or affirmation in turn requires each member of the Senate to do impartial justice.
Now, this constitutionally administered oath or affirmation has been given in every proceeding in this body since 1798. Indeed to signify the importance of the occasion, the Senate's more recent traditions called for you -- as you did -- to sign the book. And that book is not simply part of the record, it's entrusted to the National Archives.
In contrast, members of the House of Representatives do not take an oath in connection with impeachment. The framers of our Constitution well knew when an oath or affirmation should be required: the Senate, yes; the House, no.
And thus, each member of the world's greatest deliberative body now has special -- indeed, unique -- duties and obligations, duties imposed under our founding document.
During the Clinton impeachment trial 21 years ago in this chamber, the chief justice of the United States ruled in response to an objection that was interposed by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.
The senators are not sitting as jurors, Senator Harkin noted. And the chief justice agreed with that proposition. Rather, the Senate is a court. In fact, history teaches us that for literally decades, this body was referred to in this context as the high court of impeachment.
So, we're not in a legislative chamber during these proceedings, we're in a tribunal. We're in court.
In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton, who's been quoted frequently in these proceedings -- but in Federalist 78 he was describing the role of courts. Your role.
And in doing so he distinguished between what he called the exercise of judgment on the one hand, which is what courts do, and the exercise of will or policy preferences, if you will, on the other hand. That's what legislative bodies do.
According to Hamilton, courts were to be, in his word, impartial. There's that word again.
I know that's a daunting task for judges struggling to do the right thing to be impartial, equal justice under law. It's certainly hard in life to be impartial. In politics it's not even asked of one to be impartial. But that's the task that the Constitution chose to impose upon each of you.
And significantly in this particular juncture in America's history, the Senate is being called to sit as a high court of impeachment all too frequently. Indeed, we are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment.
In the House, resolution after resolution, month after month has called for the president's impeachment. How did we get here with presidential impeachment invoked frequently in it's inherently destabilizing, as well as acrimonious, way?
Briefly told, the story begins 42 years ago. In the wake of the long national nightmare of Watergate, Congress and President Jimmy Carter collaboratively ushered in a new chapter in America's constitutional history. Together, in full agreement, they enacted the independent counsel provisions of the Ethics In Government Act of 1978.
But the new chapter was not simply the age of independent counsels. It became, unbeknownst to the American people, the age of impeachment.
During my service in the Reagan administration, as counselor and chief of staff to Attorney General William French Smith, the Justice Department took the position that, however well-intentioned, the independent counsel provisions were unconstitutional.
Why? In the view of the department, those provisions intruded into the rightful domain and prerogatives of the executive branch, of the presidency.
The Justice Department's decision was eventually rejected by the Supreme Court, but mostly importantly in helping us understand this new era in our country's history, Justice Antonin Scalia was in deep dissent.
Among his stinging criticisms of that law, Justice Scalia wrote this: "The context of this statute is acrid with the smell of threatened impeachment." Impeachment.
Justice Scalia echoed the criticism of the court in which I was serving at the time, the District of Columbia Circuit, which is actually struck down the law as unconstitutional and a very impressive opinion by renowned Judge Lawrence Silberman.
Why? Why would Justice Scalia refer to impeachment?
This was a reform measure. There would be no more Saturday Night Massacres, the firing of the special prosecutor as he was called, Archibald Cox, by President Nixon. Government would now be better, more honest, greater accountability, and the independent counsel would be protected.
But the word impeachment haunts that dissenting opinion, and it's not hard to discover why. Because the statute by its terms expressly directed the independent counsel to become, in effect, an agent of the House of Representatives. And to what end? To report to the House of Representatives when a very low threshold of information was received that an impeachable offense left undefined may have been committed.
To paraphrase President Clinton's very able counsel at the time, Bernie Nussbaum, this statute is a dagger aimed at the heart of the presidency.
President Clinton nonetheless signed the reauthorized measure into law, and the nation then went through the long process known as Whitewater, resulting in the findings by the office which I led, the Office of Independent Counsel, in a written report to the House of Representatives. That referral to Congress was stipulated in the Ethics In Government Act of 1978.
To put it mildly, Democrats were very upset about what had happened. They then joined Republicans across the aisle who, for their part, had been outraged by an earlier independent counsel investigation, that of a very distinguished former judge, Lawrence Walsh.
During the Reagan administration, Judge Walsh's investigation to what became known to the country as Iran-Contra spawned enormous criticism on the Republican side of the aisle, both as to the investigation itself but also as to the statute.
The acrimony surrounding Iran-Contra and then the impeachment and the trial and President Clinton's acquittal by this body led inarguably (ph) to the end of the independent counsel era. Enough was enough.
And living through that wildly controversial 21-year bold experiment with the independent counsel statute, Congress, in a bipartisan way, had a change of heart and allowed the law to expire in accordance with its terms in 1999. That would be the well-intention reform measure. Died a quiet and uneventful death.
And it was promptly replaced by Justice Department internal regulations promulgated by Attorney General Janet Reno during the waning months of the Clinton administration.
One can review those regulations and see no reference to impeachment. None. No longer were the poison-pill provisions of presidential impeachment part of America's legal landscape. They were gone. The Reno regulation seemed to signal a return to traditional norms. Impeachment would no longer be embedded in the actual laws of the land but returned to the language of the Constitution.
But in the meantime, America's constitutional DNA and its political culture had changed. Even with the dawn of the new century, the 21st century, impeachment remained on the lips of countless Americans and echoed frequently in the people's house. The impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick.
Ironically, while this was happening here at home, across the Atlantic the use of impeachment as a weapon disappeared.
In the United Kingdom -- from which, of course, we inherited the process -- impeachment was first used more than two centuries before those first settlers crossed the Atlantic. But upon thoughtful examination, a number of modern-day Parliamentary committees looked and found impeachment to be obsolete. Among other criticisms, members of Parliament came to the view that the practice, which had last been attempted in Britain in 1868, fails to meet modern procedural standards of fairness. Fairness.
As Sir William McKay (ph) recently remarked, impeachment in Britain is dead.