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Soon: Impeachment Trial Resumes with Debate & Vote on Witnesses. Any Moment: Key GOP Vote to Announce Decision on Witnesses. GOP's Alexander: Dems Proved Case, But It's Not Impeachable. Senate GOP Poised to Reject Witnesses, Acquit President. Schumer Speaks as Senate Posied to Acquit Trump. Schumer: Trump's Acquittal "Meaningless" if no New Witnesses. Senate's Poised Acquittal of Trump: What is Impeachable Now?. Trump's Own DOJ Argues He Can Be Impeached for Defying Subpoenas. Warren's Impeachment Question Takes Aim at Chief Justice. Schiff on DOJ Contradicting Trump Lawyers: "Can't Make This Up!" Awkward Moments on Floor Involving Schiff, Nadler, & Warren. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2020 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL)

JOE JOHNS: I'm Joe Johns at the White House, and this is CNN.

WOLF BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer live in Washington, alongside Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, Dana Bash up on Capitol Hill. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

The guessing game about to end with all 100 U.S. Senators expected to make a very public, and very historic votes deciding whether President Trump becomes the first U.S. president actually removed from office.

JAKE TAPPER: That's right. There have been three impeachments before but nobody has ever been removed from office. Moments ago outgoing Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee spoke to reporters about this announcement of his decision to vote against allowing any new witnesses in the trial.

Alexander calling the president's actions, "inappropriate," but continuing quote, "the question is whether you apply capital punishment to every offense. And in this case, I think the answer is no, let the people make that decision... and especially since the election begins Monday," a reference to the Iowa Caucuses.

BLITZER: Today there will be four hours of debate on the Senate floor before the witness vote, and we could see the final vote -- the two articles of impeachment, very late tonight.

TAPPER: And while an acquittal is all but certain for the president, because it would require 67 votes in the Senate to remove a president from office, there still could be one more moment of drama in the Senate (ph) that involves Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican -- one of a group of Republicans whose yes or no votes could lead to a tie on the issue of whether to call new witnesses.

A tie that could theoretically then put Chief Justice John Roberts on the hot seat, would he break the tie? Let's get over to Capitol Hill and CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash. She's with CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju, who just spoke with Senator Alexander. Dana and Manu?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, thanks Jake. And Manu, I know you got some really fascinating detail about what led to Senator Alexander's decision, what did he say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we asked him -- just moments ago I caught up with him as he was coming in to the Capitol for the morning and he said that he had come to the decision earlier this week, but he wanted to listen to all the questions that were happening, in case anything changed his mind.

And ultimately decided that there was enough evidence to prove that the president did something wrong, but not enough evidence to prove that this was impeachable. So I asked him specifically, what was the distinction that he made between impeachable conduct and inappropriate conduct.

He said impeachable conduct is a very high bar, he said it's treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors -- he said, and to me an error in judgment, an inappropriate and improper telephone call or action doesn't add up to treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.

And then I asked him also about, whether or not there's this (ph) foreign interference in the elections as the Democrats have been making the case that it was what the president was doing. He said, again, he called it inappropriate, wrong for the president to do it. He said the question is whether you apply capital punishment to every offense, and I think in this case the answer is no.

He said, in this case don't pull the president off ballots that are already being printed, as we get in to primary season starting in the Iowa Caucuses on Monday. He said, let the elections ultimately make this decision. So he's going a bit further in criticizing the president's conduct, but he's trying to make the case that this is not -- doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

BASH: A lot further. I just had Senator Kevin Kramer here, and he wouldn't go that far. He said what the president did was inartful, but not inappropriate. I mean, he says point blank in a statement and again to you, that what the president did was inappropriate. And so the question now is -- well first of all, let's just do the short- term, how much of an impact do you think Senator Alexander will have on Senator Murkowski?

I was told that when they had that meeting that CNN reported on last night that he wasn't trying to lobby Senator Murkowski, but just give her the courtesy because they're very close, of telling her what his decision is and why. But you still have to wonder how much of an impact it is going to have, especially since it was so thoughtfully and really carefully written.

RAJU: No question. And they're very close, as you know. I mean, they had the meeting, I asked them if they coordinated their statements in any way. He said they did not coordinate, he said they're all making a decision on their own, he said he'd wanted to touch-base with her ahead of time which is what they did.

But you're right, I mean this could certainly have an influence on what she decides. Ultimately though, Mitch McConnell does not want this to be a 50-50 vote because politically it looks worse for the Republicans, particularly the ones who are running for reelection, they could be hammered for saying they're the ones who cast a decisive vote against witnesses and documents -- it's a little bit easier, they believe to make that argument if it's a 51-49 vote versus a 50-50.

And of course the unclear (ph) sort of question (ph) about what Chief Justice Roberts would do in a 50-50 split, likely not to break the tie --

BASH: Right.

RAJU: But, who really knows? That's why the pressure is on Murkowski from Republicans to side with Alexander.

[11:05:00]

BASH: And we're going to hear from her any minute, or certainly before the day is over and maybe even sooner. Manu, thanks so much for your great reporting.

RAJU: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Jake and Wolf, back to you.

TAPPER: All right Dana and Manu, thank you so much. Let's talk about this, and John King let me start with you. Senator Alexander doing what we thought he essentially would do, condemning the action mildly, calling it inappropriate but saying he's not going to vote for new witnesses. And the interesting argument though is, we don't need new witnesses the Democrats proved their case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, he says the Democrats proved their case. Now you could make the flipside argument of in the interest of transparency shouldn't we get the full story from John Bolton? Shouldn't we get the full story from the documents even if (inaudible). Senator Santorum is smirking at me, you know, transparency --

TAPPER: We'll get to you Senator, hold on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop smirking.

KING: It used to be -- it used to be, and all administrations in recent years -- all administrations going back to the beginning. But in recent years administrations have become much more stubborn about turning over documents, this is not unique to Donald Trump. In this investigation what the Trump administration has done is just beyond what anyone has done in the past.

TAPPER: Although, Alexander criticizes this charge -- the obstruction of Congress, he thinks it's bogus.

KING: Right, he thinks it's bogus because they didn't go to court --

TAPPER: Right.

KING: And that has been a -- that has been a default for the Republicans, and again, you can disagree with that argument, but that at least is an argument that they should have gone to court, they should have pressed.

And we will see in the months ahead, the Democrats whether they win or lose the Don McGahn case and other cases -- some of these issues could come back. The Democrats kind of a political box (ph) if they try to bring them up after impeachment it will look like they're being gratuitous.

But back to Alexander, you know his history, he came in to office in Tennessee after a corrupt governor, he's a protege of Howard Baker, who back in the Nixon days, asked the -- you know, what did the president know and when did he know it?

And so if there was a Republican who was going to stand up and say, you know what, I think we need more here -- it could have been him. It's an interesting way for him to end his political career. Corruption -- the Senator Baker role had been throughout him (ph) -- throughout the career.

Now he's just deciding -- you know, he's very frustrated with Washington, he wants to do more, he's one of the former governors who say why can't this down get anything done? Now he's going home, this has been his last real big act.

BLITZER: Schumer -- Chuck Schumer is speaking now, let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: Relevant documents in this trial, for a very simple reason, this is about truth, and today the Senate will vote on whether witnesses and documents are allowed in this trial.

The importance of this vote is self-evident. Trials have witnesses. Trials have documents. The vote today is about whether the Senate will have a fair trial of the president of the United States.

So it's deeply disturbing, that on something of such importance to the future of our democracy, a few of my Republican colleagues announced last night they'd vote against hearing additional evidence.

It's clear where the American people stand on the issue. Republican senators who decide to go against the will of the people will have to reckon with it.

The result of today's vote is still an open question. But I would note that, even in Senator Alexander's statement announcing his opposition to new evidence, he said that it was proven that the president did what he was accused of.

He came to the wrong conclusion about hearing evidence in this trial. That's clear. But Senator Alexander, a senior Senate Republican, a retiring member, said out loud that I think most Senate Republicans believe in private, that, yes, the president did withhold military assistance to try to get Ukraine to help him in his elections.

And, yes, the president did interfere with congressional investigations of that misconduct. He said yes, the president conditioned foreign aid and a White House meeting with an ally at war on the performance of bogus investigations that would help his re- election.

Alexander rejected 90 percent of the argument from the president's counsel that the president did nothing wrong. He acknowledged that the president did something that the founders feared most, the potential corruption of our national elections by a foreign power, solicited by none other than our own president. And to hide that gross misconduct, the White House exhausted every legal trick in the book to prevent Congress from investigating.

If my Republican colleagues refuse to even consider witnesses and documents in this trial, this country is headed towards the greatest cover-up since Watergate. If my Republican colleagues refuse to even consider witnesses and documents in the trial, what will the president conclude?

[11:10:00]

We all know he'll conclude he can do it again and Congress can do nothing about it. He can try to cheat in his election again -- something that eats at the roots of our democracy.

And one more point, a point I've been making for -- for weeks, but is most relevant today: If my Republican colleagues refuse to consider witnesses and documents in this trial, the president's acquittal will be meaningless, because it will be the result of a sham trial.

If there are no witnesses, no documents in this trial, there will be a permanent asterisk next to the acquittal of President Trump written in permanent ink. So Senate Republicans face a choice today between seeking the truth and covering it up, between a fair trial and a farce, between country and party.

No matter what the results --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so you hear Senator Schumer, the top Democrat, the Minority Leader in the Senate for the (ph) very strong words if the Republicans continue to resist witnesses, new evidence -- it will be the greatest cover-up since Watergate.

It sounds to me, if you read between the lines, he anticipates there won't be any new witnesses --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I don't think you have to read between the lines too much. He -- and we're also hearing what Democrats are going to say, which is A the president's going to cheat again and this acquittal is meaningless without witnesses and documents, this is a cover-up.

But, if I were a member of Congress -- and you're shaking your head again, Senator. But if I were a member of Congress I'd be sitting today and I'd be asking the question, is this the end of accountability? Because, what's your job? Your job is oversight -- your job is to be the check and the balance, which take your pick.

And in this particular case there seems to be -- they seem to be saying, OK, we were stonewalled and that's a good -- you know, that's a good thing to do because it can get you through months, and months, and months.

And so if you decide to stonewall the Congress, it's a good political tactic and it worked in this particular case and you can't (ph) impeach a president anywhere near an election because that would take away the voting rights of the public, although of course that's nowhere in the Constitution.

So if the president -- Democrat or Republican wants to time what he or she does, that's terrible, you can time it right near an election and you're -- and you know, you're scot free and if you're a member of Congress this is your job. So the question that I have, and I think a lot of people should be asking is, what's your job if you're in the Congress? What do you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: And I expect that's going to be exactly what Democrats do moving forward. I mean, today we saw what Senator Schumer will say as often as he's given the opportunity throughout the day, perhaps until late tonight when there's a vote.

I think most Democrats know exactly where this is headed, so -- there are still some optimists out there who will tell you that, look, we didn't know John McCain was going to vote how he did on the Affordable Care Act, who knows?

But I think we all know where this is headed, but I think tomorrow when they wake up they'll be doing exactly what Gloria said, this is really a Senate play for Democrats -- this is about holding Thom Tillis accountable, Corey Gardner accountable.

All of these Senators who have made the bet that they're going to run a base election and they're going to be with Trump, and they're going to -- and Democrats are going to go out there and say they're not fulfilling their duty, they didn't fulfill their Constitutional duty, they're rubberstamping the president, that's what you'll hear them say over the coming months.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Chuck Schumer can't have it both ways. Democrats can't have it both ways, say that it's a cover-up and they didn't look in to it. And at the same time say look -- Lamar Alexander and many Republicans like myself said they'd (ph) proved the allegations in their case. The problem is the allegations in their case are not sufficient to convict a president --

BORGER: How many Republicans will come and say that?

SANTORUM: I -- well I'm going to tell you how many Republicans feel that way, I don't know how many

BORGER: No, no -- but how many --

SANTORUM: Republicans are going to come out and say it. But I think -- you saw at the end, Lindsey Graham and others asked questions focusing in on the insufficiency of this charge.

TAPPER: Of the action, right.

SANTORUM: Of the action.

TAPPER: So clearly you don't think it's impeachable, let me just ask you though, worthy of removing him from office. Do you think it is technically -- not legally, but just in terms of like, just speaking colloquially, OK? Is it abusing his power?

SANTORUM: Well first off, (inaudible) the whole question whether abusing power is such an amorphous term as to whether --

TAPPER: What about misusing his power? I mean, like --

SANTORUM: But again, I mean, presidents you can argue -- GAO issued documents against every president over the last five presidencies saying they broke the law.

TAPPER: Right.

SANTORUM: So you can say, well, did they misuse their power? You can say yes, but do you -- as Lamar Alexander said there's Republicans (ph) -- and this is what people who opposed me in Bill Clinton's impeachment which is yeah he broke the law, yeah he misused his office -- but you don't remove a president for this.

[11:15:00]

BORGER: But they said that (ph).

SANTORUM: But Lamar Alexander said that.

BORGER: Well, he's leaving. OK, he's leaving the Senate, and how many others --

SANTORUM: And -- but there were others -- but there were others who -- I was with Paul Begala early this morning, Bill Clinton did nothing wrong. I mean, other than he -- you know, he did something --

TAPPER: He worked for Bill Clinton, I mean --

SANTORUM: Well yeah, but my point is you have people all over the spectrum.

TAPPER: Right.

SANTORUM: And you're going to have people who are going to say he did nothing wrong and this is a complete sham, and you're going to people say well it was inappropriate, inartful -- you're going to have a whole variety of opinions within the caucus.

And you can't just say, well they're trying to cover-up --

BORGER: The president's lawyers said it was perfect, it was appropriate, there was nothing wrong with it. The president says it's perfect.

SANTORUM: So does Paul Begala say that about (inaudible) --

BORGER: How many of them --

TAPPER: Yeah, but Ruff, Charles Ruff, President Clinton's attorney on the floor of the Senate said he found what Bill Clinton did immoral. I mean, so there was at the very least an acknowledgement that what President did was wrong even if they said it wasn't impeachable.

I think what some people are concerned about is what precedent does this set? This, I don't think that you as president or a senator, would ever do this -- would ever ask a foreign power to help you in an election by --

SANTORUM: I'd be very surprised if Donald Trump's going to ask any more foreign powers --

TAPPER: But why do you say that? Because --

PSAKI: Well, I -- I think you should --

SANTORUM: Well because there's a price that -- he paid a huge price here.

PSAKI: No, no, no, no -- but you should not be surprised because he had this call with the Ukrainian president the day after --

TAPPER: The day after Mueller testified, yes.

PSAKI: The day after Mueller testified. He went out on the White House lawn --

SANTORUM: I think it (ph) --

PSAKI: And made an offer to the Chinese. I think it's very clear. So what Lamar Alexander, let's -- we can give him a little credit for weaving this carefully, or better than most Senators. However, he is saying let's leave it to the electorate to make the judgment in 2020.

SANTORUM: It's all out there.

PSAKI: The problem with that is that President Trump has shown himself willing --

SANTORUM: Do you --

PSAKI: And susceptible --

SANTORUM: Do you really believe --

PSAKI: And having the desire to seek influence --

SANTORUM: Do you really believe --

PSAKI: From a foreign government (inaudible).

SANTORUM: Do you really believe that Ukraine announcing an investigation of Joe Biden would have had any material effect on this election?

TAPPER: Yeah.

PSAKI: Yes.

SANTORUM: The answer is absolutely not.

PSAKI: I think we all do.

SANTORUM: Absolutely not.

PSAKI: So you may be in the minority there, but he is willing to do more, he's willing to do anything to be elected and that's what the danger is (inaudible) --

BLITZER: All right quick question, you voted to impeach Bill Clinton.

SANTORUM: I did.

BLITZER: And you say that there were mistakes -- major mistakes made by Bill Clinton, major mistakes made by Donald Trump --

SANTORUM: He committed the crime, I mean --

BLITZER: Well --

SANTORUM: Now the question --

BLITZER: Well --

SANTORUM: Look Ed Martin (ph) (inaudible) --

BLITZER: Here's the question --

SANTORUM: It's a high crime. PSAKI: (Inaudible) --

BLITZER: Here's the question -- here's -- here is the question --

SANTORUM: Excuse me, he lied under oath.

BLITZER: Here is the question -- the activities, the actions taken by Bill Clinton and the actions taken by Donald Trump, which were worse?

SANTORUM: I would say a clear breaking of a criminal statute, lying under oath and corrupting and telling a witness to lie is a very serious offense. I would say -- and this goes back to what Philbin was saying yesterday.

The idea that the president didn't have legitimate grounds to bring this up -- should he have brought it up? Probably not. But did he have legitimate grounds based on all the news articles and television reports that were coming out contemporaneous with the time that he made the call -- all about Biden and all about this information, to him, I suspect a lot of this was new information. And so, it was on his mind. Should he have done it? No, but I don't think there was any illicit intent in what he did, no.

BORGER: So here's another difference with Bill Clinton. When Bill Clinton was being impeached and after he was -- he was not impeached in the Senate --

BLITZER: Convicted.

BORGER: Convicted in the Senate, he apologized. He apologized.

TAPPER: After months and months of lying.

BORGER: Right, and he lied for seven months going in to the trial, I get it.

TAPPER: His White House dragged the Monica Lewinsky thing through the mud --

BORGER: I get it. No, no, no, no --

TAPPER: I mean, it's not acquirable (ph).

BORGER: But he admitted -- but he admitted in the end that what he did was wrong. And I, you know, maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think you're going to see that from this president.

TAPPER: Oh, that's going out on a limb.

BORGER: Because he never admits anything.

BLITZER: All right, we're waiting for Senator Lisa Murkowski to announce whether she will support witnesses in the impeachment trial. You're going to see the moment. Also, when Adam Schiff called out how the Justice Department contradicts the president's own legal team. TAPPER: Plus, Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth

Warren makes the Chief Justice question his own legitimacy, we'll discuss that next, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL)

[11:20:00]

ANDERSON COOPER: We're still waiting to hear from Senator Lisa Murkowski, that's the scene you're seeing on the right, I believe that's at her office, people are waiting for a statement from her. We're also about an hour and a half away from the start of what will very likely be the final day of President Trump's impeachment trial barring any surprises.

Republicans appear to have the vote to block witness testimony and from there they'll likely move to acquit the president on both charges abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

So I want to focus on that second charge, the obstruction charge because lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff noted a big instance of hypocrisy, in his opinion, noting that in court right now the president's Justice Department is arguing that the president can be impeached for ignoring subpoenas, something his administration did throughout the House investigation, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) LEAD IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: The Justice Department in resisting House subpoenas is in court today and was asked, well if the Congress can't come to the court to enforce its subpoenas because, as we know they're in here arguing Congress must go to court to enforce its subpoenas but then the court is saying thou shall not do that.

So the judge says, if the Congress can't enforce its subpoenas in court then what remedy is there? And the Justice Department lawyers response is, impeachment. Impeachment. You can't make this up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Ross, is that an example of hypocrisy? You're an impeachment professor.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, it pretty much is, right? I mean, the White House has argued that they can't go to court, and here they're in the impeachment proceedings saying, well you have to go to court. But the White House would say on the other hand, you know, the House is going to court in one instance, but decided to not go to court in the other instance.

[1125]

In the end, what I'm going to be most interested in is to see how this plays with the Senators. How many Democratic votes, if any -- but how many Democratic votes do they pick up for acquittal on this count? Because I -- I've said all along, I think count in particular is the weakest count.

Putting aside going to court, not going to court -- you know, what the House didn't do in my opinion was actually, you know, reach out and try to negotiate. Sure, it --

COOPER: Try to negotiate what?

GARBER: If I were -- if I were White House counsel here, I wouldn't have written this sort of blanket letter that the White House counsel issued here. I would have reached out and tried to negotiate -- engage in an accommodations process. But the House didn't do that either. The House --

COOPER: What would the terms in negotiation might have been (ph)?

GARBER: So yes, for example, one of the things the White House said was with respect to testimony of administration officials that administration lawyers could not attend those depositions.

You know, that might be something where the House could say, look this is important stuff -- the House -- the White House is being intransigent, is objecting -- we're not going to get that testimony unless we allow an administration lawyer there. And so you know what, maybe at least for the less sensitive ones we'll allow the -- an administration lawyer there.

There are all sorts of ways. Usually the way this works is -- and it's happened throughout our history. The branches butt heads. Congress wants information, the White House and the president say no, they butt heads and then they negotiate, and negotiate. And the House doesn't get everything it wants, the White House gives in a little bit.

Sometimes what happens is they go to court -- the House goes to court and demands information, goes to court and sues and that results in some give by the White House. None of that happened here.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The missing ingredient in your analysis, I think, is the issue of good faith. Was there ever any good faith on the part of the White House in this purported negotiation they wanted?

Remember whose the head of the White House, it's the president of the United States who has said repeatedly in his helicopter press conferences, we are not cooperating -- we're not giving them witnesses, we're not giving them documents. So that's the position.

You know, this idea that we can just sort of ignore what Donald Trump says is like, oh well that's just him -- or that's just something he says on Twitter -- no, he's in charge and he said we're not cooperating. So the idea that if the Democrats had just been like, nicer in the House that would've given them more -- I just think that is not true.

GARBER: Except here's where we are. Where we are is an article of impeachment that is guaranteed to fail and the House didn't get the information they were looking for. LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But their -- but the issue here --

GARBER: That's where we are.

COATES: That's true, however remember you're talking about who is in charge, the Constitution did not require for the House to have to go to the Judicial branch or to go through exhaustive measures in order to get the information.

They were charged with the ability to be able to say we can call out abuse of power and the like, and so to now add the requirement feels like you're moving the goal posts in a way, and trying also in good faith to ignore the fact that they were never going to deal, and they shouldn't have exhaust all remedies.

COOPER: Two awkward moments on the floor -- one when Adam Schiff tried to stop his colleague Jerry Nadler from speaking and from closing -- having the finishing remarks. Yesterday when -- also when Senator Elizabeth Warren submitted a question to Chief Justice John Roberts about his legitimacy, about that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL)