Return to Transcripts main page


Legal Teams Face Final Day Of Questions Before Witness Vote. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 30, 2020 - 13:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Assuming that there is not a voting support of more witnesses, is there then going to be a vote in favor of acquitting President Trump?


And it seems likely that if they do not call witnesses, that Senate Republicans are pretty united in acquitting President Trump, and it's possible that at least two Democrats, specifically Joe Manchin of West Virginia and perhaps Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will join with Republicans in acquitting the president. So it doesn't matter, really.

Ultimately, even if it's a completely party line vote, President Trump will be able to say, I was acquitted by the Senate, even though Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is out there preemptively trying to say, if they don't call for additional witnesses, then he will not be acquitted. Of course, constitutionally, and according to the law, he will.

Let's go to Dana Bash now. Dana, what are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, this has been a slog for a lot of these senators. Obviously, they will tell you they are doing their job, they are doing their constitutional duty. But yesterday, there were more than 90 questions that they were able to ask, and it made the dynamic in the chamber much more lively and because they were actually able to engage and not just listen. We're going to see the same kind of dynamic today.

And then the question is going to be whether or not through the questions or, obviously, more through the answers, any minds will change. I have not talked to any sources in either party up here on Capitol Hill who suggest that many minds are going to change, you know, between now and the vote that we're going to see first and foremost tomorrow for the witnesses, which is the first key vote and, obviously, ultimately, for acquittal or conviction of the president.

But it will still be noteworthy to kind of get a sense, as we did yesterday, of where some of these key senators, where their heads are, what they're really interested in by way of these questions. We saw it and heard it from Senator Collins, Senator Murkowski and the others whose eyes we are keeping locked on as we see the last -- what could be the last 24 hours of this incredibly historic event. TAPPER: All right. Dana bash, thanks so much.

And let's chat about this while we wait for Chief Justice Roberts to gavel the proceedings into session. And, Nia, one of the things that's very interesting is, big picture, the idea that President Trump is going to be removed from office, 67 votes, that has never been realistic. But the big question right now, will there be enough votes for new witnesses, and it is astounding when you step away from it. I mean, it's tougher because we're covering this all day, every minute of the day.

It is astounding that the conservative icon, former national security adviser of President Trump, John Bolton, is out there saying, I would like to testify, just subpoena, he has a book. In the book, he alleges a direct quid pro quo conversation. President Trump's former chief of staff, Marine General John Kelly saying, I believe Bolton, and he should be allowed to testify. And senators, almost all of them, saying, republican senators, meh, I don't care.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's exactly right. Listen, we went into this knowing that there could be some surprises, right, some new information that could come out that could possibly change it. This was the new information. Maybe it changed things a little bit in terms of how they talked about things. But in terms about how they thought about things and whether or not they wanted witnesses to come forward, it doesn't seem like anything has changed.

We've been talking about the same small group of folks for days now. It hasn't expanded at all. They now have the language to essentially say, sure, John Bolton is interesting, we sort of know what's in his book, even if everything that he has said in his book, even if everything that Adam Schiff alleges, it doesn't matter. This doesn't rise to the level of impeachment. So they have their story. They have their way to talk about why they will acquit him.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But here is what has changes. I was making myself some notes earlier along with my producer that, first, it was all about process. This was unfair, it was held in a basement secret meeting with depositions, the president's lawyers weren't allowed, et cetera. Then it proceeded to the facts of the case.

Well, this wasn't really a quid pro quo. Ukraine didn't know the money was being withheld, and by the way, in the end, the money was released. And then yesterday, we heard the arguments about presidential power, which now seem to loom large over all of this, which to me it seems to be the end of the accountability of the President. And so we move from one to the next to the next.

And all the arguments have been bought by Republicans, hook, line and sinker, including the last one, which is that the president can do anything he wants if he believes he's acting in the national interest, and his own election is in the national interest.

[13:05:04] So every single argument they've gone along with, but they've had to change the arguments. They've had to fine-tune the arguments because of the Democratic case. Who knows what will --

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the who knows part is what makes it fascinating, because Lamar Alexander, he is key here. The Senator --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hold on for one moment. The chief justice of the United States.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment.

The chaplain will lead us in prayer.


Eternal Lord God, send your holy spirit into this chamber. Permit our senators to feel your presence during this impeachment trial. Illuminate their minds with the light of your wisdom, exposing truth and solving uncertainties.

May they understand that you created them with cognitive capabilities and moral discernment to be used for your glory. Grant that they will comprehend what really matters, separating the relevant from the irrelevant.

Lord keep them from fear as they believe that your truth will triumph through them. Eliminate discordant static with the music of your wisdom. We pray in your great name, amen.

ROBERTS: Please join me in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I pledge allegiance to the flag to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Senators will please be seated.

If there is no objection, the journal of proceedings of the trial are approved to date. The deputy sergeant at arms will make the proclamation.

DEPUTY 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: The Senate will conduct another question-and-answer period today. We were able to get through nearly a hundred questions yesterday. Senators posed constructive questions and the parties were succinct and responsive. So I'd like to compliment all who participated yesterday.

We will again break every two to three hours and look to take a break for dinner around 6:30. We've been respectful of the chief justice's unique position in reading our questions, and I want to be able to continue to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Mr. Chief Justice?

ROBERTS: Oh, the senator from Washington.

MURRAY: Mr. Chief Justice, I send a question to the desk for the House managers.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

Senator Murray asks the House managers: Yesterday, when asked about why the House did not amend or reissue subpoenas after it passed its resolution authorizing its impeachment inquiry, the House managers touched upon the House having the sole power of impeachment, as specified by Article I of the Constitution.

Could you further elaborate as to why that authority controls despite any arguments brought forth by members of the defense team contesting the validity of those subpoenas?

SEN. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Mr. Chief Justice and senators, that's a good question. The answer is that these were validly issued subpoenas under the House rules. The White House argument to the contrary is wrong, and it would have profound negative implications for how Congress and our democracy function.


On January 9th, 2019, the House adopted its rules -- like we do every Congress -- and these rules gave the committee the power to issue subpoenas. They're not ambiguous rules, and here is the relevant portion of Rule 11 on slide 55.

The House's standing rules give each committee subpoena power for the purpose of carrying out any of its functions and duties as it considers necessary.

This investigation began on September 9th, before the speaker's announcement, on September 24th, that it would become part of the impeachment inquiry umbrella.

The president doesn't dispute that the subpoenas issued by these committees were fully within their respective jurisdiction. The argument is that somehow, by declaring that this investigation also falls under an inquiry to consider articles of impeachment, which gives Congress, actually, greater authority, that somehow it nullifies the traditional oversight authority. And this just doesn't make any sense.

Now, the president counters that we have to take a full vote on impeachment first because that's what's been done in the past. In the Nixon inquiry, however, the Judiciary Committee needed a House resolution to delegate subpoena power, and that's different than the committee's standing rules today.

Precedent actually compels the opposite conclusion. Several federal judges have been investigated, impeached and convicted in the Senate without the House having ever taken an -- an official vote to authorize the inquiry, and a federal court recently confirmed there was no need for a formal vote of the full House to commence impeachment proceedings.

But even assuming a House vote was necessary, there was a vote. The text of House Resolution 660 declared that the six investigative committees of the House were directed to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry in -- whether there was sufficient grounds for the House of Representatives to exercise its constitutional power to impeach, and the committee report which accompanies a resolution specifically described the subpoenas that had been issued by the investigating committees and said, quote, "All subpoenas to the executive branch remain in full force."

So why didn't the House committee just reissue these subpoenas after the resolution? The short answer is they didn't need to. The subpoenas were already fully authorized.

In any event, even after the resolution passed the committees issued subpoenas to Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair, four other witnesses, and the president continued to block those subpoenas.

The argument about a full House vote really is just an excuse about President Trump's obstruction. The president refused to comply with the House subpoenas before the House vote and after the House vote.

The only logical explanation is the one that President Trump gave us all along: He was determined to fight all the subpoenas because in Trump's -- President Trump's view, according to what he said, he can do whatever he wants. Now, that's not what the constitutional republic entrusted to us by the founders had in mind.

This argument doesn't just imply (sic) to impeachment; it would apply to ordinary oversight investigations, and it doesn't just apply to the House. It would also apply to the Senate. By sanctioning the president's blanket obstruction, the Senate would be curtailing its own subpoena power in the future, as well as the House's, and the oversight obligation that we have, as we now know it, would be permanently altered.

I yield back.

ROBERTS: Thank you Ms. Manager.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Mr. Chief Justice?

ROBERTS: The senator from Kentucky?

PAUL: I have a question to present to the desk for the House manager, Schiff, and for the president's counsel.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted.

SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI): Mr. Chief Justice?

ROBERTS: The senator from Wisconsin?

BALDWIN: Mr. Chief Justice, I send a question to the desk.

ROBERTS: Thank you.


The question from Senator Baldwin is addressed to the House managers. "Given that the White House counsel could not answer Senator Romney's question that asked for the exact date the President first ordered the hold on security assistance to Ukraine, what witness or witnesses could answer Senator Romney's question?"

SEN. JASON CROW (D-CO): Thank you, Chief Justice. Thank you, Senator, for the question.

You're right, they were not able to directly answer that question and we believe that there is a tremendous amount of material out there in the form of e-mails, text messages, conversation and witness testimony that could shed additional light on that, including an e-mail from last summer between Mr. Bolton, Mr. Blair where we know from witness testimony this issue was discussed.

What we do now is from multiple witnesses, Ukrainian officials knew that President Trump had placed a hold on security assistance soon after it was ordered in July of 2019. So we -- we know that not only did U.S. officials know about it and OMB communicated about it but the Ukrainians knew about it, as well.

We know from former Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Olena Zerkal, she stated publicly, in fact, that the Ukrainian officials knew about it and had found out about it in July.

We also know from the testimony of Laura Cooper that her staff received two e-mails from the State Department on July 25th revealing that the Ukrainian embassy was quote "asking about security assistance," end quote, and that quote "The Hill knows about the FMF situation to an extent and so does the Ukrainian embassy," end quote, and that was on July 25th, the same day as President Trump's call with President Zelensky.

What we also know is that career diplomat Catherine Croft stated that quote "she was very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterparts diplomatic tradecraft, as in to say they found out very early on or much earlier than I expected them to," end quote.

We also know that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified that by mid-August, he was getting questions from Ukrainians about the status of security assistance. So there is a lot of evidence surrounding it.

The administration continues to obstruct wholly our efforts to get the e-mails and correspondence that we have asked for. That obviously can be remedied by this body with the appropriate subpoenas, namely a subpoena to Ambassador Bolton to testify and a subpoena to the State Department -- and Department of State, Department of Defense and others to actually provide that material.

Last thing I'd like to say is last evening, counsel for the President was asked the question about why did the -- the hold for Ukraine differ from holds in the Northern Triangle and other holds like Afghanistan?

He provided an explanation that I'm still trying to wrap my brain around because he seems to be the only person in the administration that actually has an explanation and -- and as far as I could tell, the explanation was somewhere along the lines of one was public in trying to -- public pressure on the countries in question and one was not, was a private conversation and a private effort to put pressure.

If that were true, then of course there would be plenty of evidence, plenty of e-mails, text messages and other correspondence within the entire interagency process that we know is robust that would illustrate that to be the case. But they have failed to provide any evidence to corroborate that.

And let me finish with this. I happen to know that a lot of people in this chamber, a lot of people in the chamber on the other side of the Capitol, including me, have often described much consternation about red tape and bureaucracy and layers of government that run too slow.

And I sometimes share that concern, right? That sometimes it takes a long time, there are memos for everything, e-mails for everything, there's paper trails for everything in this town.


I think that is true with respect to this issue. And it is time that we actually see that information so we can get to the bottom of what actually happened. This body should get that information.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Mr. Manager.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): Mr. Chief Justice.

ROBERTS: The Senator from Pennsylvania.

TOOMEY: Mr. Chief Justice, I send a question to the desk on behalf of myself and Senators Sasse, McSally, Crapo, Thune, Young, Ernst and Braun.

ROBERTS: The question from Senator Toomey and other senators is for counsel for the president.

Given that the election of the president is one of the most significant political acts in which we as citizens engage in our democratic system, how much weight should the Senate give to the fact that removing the president from office and disqualifying him from ever holding future federal office would undo that democratic decision and kick the president off the ballot in this year's election?

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Members of the Senate, one of the concerns that we've raised throughout this process, over the last several months and going back to the time when the House was dealing with this in their various committees, is we're in an election year.

There are some in this room that are days away from the Iowa Caucuses taking place. So we're discussing the possible impeachment and removal of the president of the United States, not only during election season -- in the heart of the election season. And I think that this does a disservice to the American people.

Again, we think the basis upon which this has moved forward is irregular, to say the least.

But I do think it complicates the matter for the American people, that we're literally at the dawn of the new season of elections -- I mean, we're at that season now -- and yet we're talking about impeaching a president.

And I want to tie this in to the urgency that was so prevalent in December with my colleagues, the managers. It was so urgent to move this forward that they had to do it by mid-December, before Christmas. Because national security was at stake.

And then they waited 33 days to bring it here. And now they're asking you to do all the investigation, although they say they've, you know, proved their case but still need more to prove it. Or as we believe -- and I want to be clear here, that their entire process was corrupt from the beginning and they're putting it on this body.

SEKULOW: But to do it while the American people are selecting candidates for nomination to be the head of their party, to run as president of the United States, some of you in this very room, and to talk about the removal of a president of the United States, I think that's all part and parcel of the same pattern and practice of irregularities that have taken place with this impeachment proceeding since the beginning.

The speaker allowed the articles to linger. It was such a nationally urgent matter that they could linger for a month.

So we think that this points to the exact problem that's taken place here and that is, as my colleague Mr. Cipollone, said this is really taking the vote away from the American people.

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Counsel.

The senator from Montana.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Mr. Chief Justice, I send a question to the desk for the House managers.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

Senator Tester asked the House managers: Yesterday Mr. Dershowitz stated, quote, "If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest that can not be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment," end quote.

Do you believe there is any limit to the type of scope of quid pro quo a sitting president could engage in with a foreign entity as long as the intent of the sitting president is to get re-elected in what he or she believes is in the public's best interest?


SEN. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Chief Justice, Senator, there is no limiting principle to the argument that we heard last night from the president's team. That is if there's a quid pro quo that the president believes with help him get re-elected and he believes his re-election is in the national interest, then it doesn't matter how corrupt that quid pro quo is.

It's astonishing that on the floor of this body someone would make that argument.

Now, it didn't begin that way in the beginning of the president's defense, but what we have seen over the last couple days is a descent into constitutional madness,

Because that way madness lies if we are to accept the premise that a president essentially can do whatever he wants, engage in whatever quid pro quo he wants, "I will give you this if you will give me that to help me get elected. I will give you military dollars if you will give me help in my re-election, if you will give me illicit foreign interference in our election."

Now, the only reason you make that argument is because you know your client is guilty and dead to rights. That is an argument made of desperation.

Now, what's so striking to me is almost half a century ago we had a president who said, "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal." That, of course, was Richard Nixon.

Watergate is now 40 to 50 years behind us. Have we learned nothing in the last half century? Have we learned nothing at all?

It seems like we're back to where we were. The president says it, it's not illegal. Or Donald Trump's version, "Under Article II, I can do whatever I want." Or Professor Dershowitz point, if it's -- if the president believes it helps his re-election, it is therefore in the national interest; he can do whatever he wants.

In fact, much as we thought that we progressed post-Watergate and enacted Watergate reforms and we tried to insulate the Justice Department from interference by the presidency, we tried to put an end to the political abuses of that department, as much as we thought we enacted campaign finance reforms, we are right back to where we were a half century ago. And I would argue, we may be in a worse place, because this time -- this time that argument may succeed.

That argument, if the president says it, it can't be illegal, failed, and Richard Nixon was forced to resign. But that argument may succeed here now. That means we're not back to where we were, we are worse off than where we are.

That is the normalization of lawlessness.

I would hope that every American would recognize that it's wrong to seek foreign help in an American election; that Americans should decide American elections. I would hope and I believe that every American understands that, and every American understands that's true for Democratic presidents and Republican ones.

I would hope that we would understand it. I would hope that this trial would be one conducive of the truth.

The senator asked what witnesses could shed light on when the president ordered the hold and why. Well, we know Mick Mulvaney would. That instruction came from OMB.

You remember the testimony, Ambassador Taylor, that shock that went through the National Security Council and the shock experienced in that video conference when it was first announced, and the instruction was, this comes through the president's chief of staff, OMB, but it's a direct order from the president.

Well, Mick Mulvaney knows when that order went into place and he knows why that order went into place. And he made that statement publicly, which he now wished to recant. I'm sure he got an earful from the president after he did.

But apparently it doesn't matter. None of that matters, because if the president believes it's in his interest, it's OK.

Now, there was an argument also, well, what if it was a credible reason? Of course, there's no evidence that this was a credible reason to investigate the president's rival. But let's say it was credible reason, does that make it right?

What president is not going to think he has a credible reason to investigate his opponent? What president is going to think he doesn't have a credible reason or wouldn't be able to articulate one or come up with some fig leaf?

They compounded the dangerous argument that they made that no quid pro quo is too corrupt if you think it will help your re-election. They compounded it by saying, and if what you want is targeting your rival, it's even more legitimate. That way madness lies.

[13:30:12] _