Return to Transcripts main page


Republicans Set to Block Witnesses in Trump Impeachment Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2020 - 15:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But she criticizes the House. Check.

She criticizes the attacks on the Supreme Court. Is that Rand Paul for trying to expose the whistle-blower and putting the chief justice in a bad position, or is it Elizabeth Warren for proposing a question, or is it both?

She's clearly not a fan of the president's behavior either. The interesting part to me is, she made this decision, which will make the Republican -- her Republican colleagues happy, because it will get the trial -- we now know the trial will be over. It might go a few more days, but it won't be a few more weeks.

But she apparently, according to Manu Raju and others on the CNN staff on the Hill, are among those pushing McConnell to take a few days here to not rush the vote, so that senators can have time to speak. Susan Collins, who's in a tough reelection battle, working with her, according to Manu's reporting, that part is fascinating to me.

Do these senators, who -- how many of them? Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, wanting time to speak and explain themselves doesn't surprise me, given the history, their sort of semi-maverick role, if you will, or outlier role sometimes within the Republicans.

But how many others? Are there others? And you read Marco Rubio's statement, Jake, earlier today, where he does take a shot at the president. He's not hugging -- it's not a tough one. I get it. I get it.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's really between the lines. You really have to squint.


KING: Yes. Right? You have -- and so, does he just want his statement to stand for it and let this go, or do other senators, other Republican senators want to go to the floor?

Does Lamar Alexander want to go to the floor and read his statement into the record, where he does say, I don't like what the president did here, I just don't think it's impeachable?

TAPPER: Rob Portman from Ohio, senator, Republican senator, actually used the word wrong, the W-word, not just inappropriate, but wrong.


TAPPER: But, Senator Santorum, you know Lisa Murkowski. You have respect for her.


TAPPER: Tell us.

It was hard to tell where she was going to land if you just went by the questions she asked during Q&A period, because she would ask a question that was tough for one side, and then she would ask a question that was tough for the other side, just on the matter of new witnesses.

SANTORUM: Yes, I think what Lisa's statement reflects is what I thought -- I think any member would be going through who's in her position, which is she knows her voter isn't going to be decisive.

And so you actually do consider the ramifications of your vote, given the fact that your vote isn't going to make a difference. But I think, as Wolf pointed out, putting the Supreme Court on the line, and she does -- she kicks the House pretty hard in this statement, she kicks the Senate pretty hard.

And she's saying, we have already sullied the House. We have already sullied the Senate. The president has done his job of sullying the executive branch. The last thing I want to do is now bring the Supreme Court into this mess. And I'm going to end this.

And so you can say, well, she's diverting, she's dodging, but Lisa is a pretty straight shooter. I think she's a very thoughtful person. And I think she's just saying, end the mess.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this would have been completely valid had she put this statement out a few days ago.


SANTORUM: She had to wait until she knew it didn't count.

PSAKI: But what was strange about this and what doesn't -- is not going to sit well with people is that she was undecided, was contemplating it.

This bombshell, "The New York Times" story, comes out, and then she comes out and says, oh, wait, that -- we don't need witnesses. We don't need to hear more. The timing of it is tortured.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But she also said that the House's articles of impeachment were flawed and rushed. So, maybe it wouldn't have mattered to her anyway.


TAPPER: I don't see anything in that statement that is even vaguely critical of President Trump, though. I don't see anything.



And I read this, in my initial reading, the last statement about the Supreme Court, as specifically to Warren. Now, that may be because I'm a Democrat, but I thought that was a pretty clear...


TAPPER: I didn't think it was a -- Alan, talk about the importance of this moment for senators to speak, because for a lot of us who are watching this, the vote is really all that matters.

I only remember one person speaking on the floor of the Senate during the Clinton impeachment. And that was Joe Lieberman, who people thought might vote to convict, but ultimately was talked out of doing it. And he gave a statement in which he really talked about the agony of watching fellow Democratic president go through and put the country through what he did, based on the corrosive behavior of Bill Clinton.

Why is it important for these people to give statements about how they voted?

ALAN FRUMIN, FORMER SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN: Well, unless they change the actual rules, you're not going to hear any senator speak.

The best they can hope for at this point is that they can have records, statements submitted for the record. It would take a resolution or motion to suspend the rules to have senators actually have their voices heard during the trial.

Right now, the best that the Democrats can hope for is that their case continues to be made by the House managers.

TAPPER: So, John, what are you reporting then? I mean, because you said that they want to speak.

Are you saying that McConnell is going to suspend the rules to allow them to speak?

KING: You heard Schumer. They're trying to cut some sort of a deal.

I have a couple e-mails from people on the Hill, and I have been looking at the reporting that Manu has filed in as well. There's some conversation going on that Senator Durbin said that it's McConnell who wants to push the vote back until Wednesday.

The White House is, by all of our -- CNN's reporting, is asking this to be done before the State of the Union. They're willing to wait out the weekend, but they want it done on Tuesday.

And this is a back-and-forth. And you heard Schumer, a little prickly there at the end, I'm not going to take any questions. He said there's no deal.

So, obviously, they would have to reach an accommodation of some sort of a deal.


And I guess Alan would know this better than me. Would they have to suspend the trial or put the trial in recess for them to give speeches? Or would they just have to have a new resolution that said we're going to have a speaking period?

FRUMIN: Well, they could get unanimous consent to permit senators to speak and dare their colleagues to object.


FRUMIN: What colleague is going to object to that...


SANTORUM: I had heard rumors that they were going to give every member 10 minutes.

BORGER: Fifteen minutes.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're getting some new information.

Dana Bash, who is up on Capitol Hill with Manu Raju, what are you guys learning?


We can add to the conversation, what we have been hearing here in the halls at the Senate about the notion of when they're going to have a final vote and the question of senators wanting to have their time to make their case on the Senate floor for the record in a public way, because they have been sitting there for a very long time.

We have been hearing the trial, but they haven't been able to speak. There's a whole bunch of to-ing and fro-ing going on behind the scenes about when they will potentially take the final vote.

And that statement by Chuck Schumer that we just took live, that was really telling.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really was, because he said, we have not reached an agreement, him and Mitch McConnell, about the final process to get to a vote.

And what we're hearing, what your sources are telling you, what we're -- what I'm also hearing is that there is going to be -- there's this discussion now to have the final vote on Wednesday. Now, that is much different than what we were hearing last night.

Republican leadership was pushing hard to get this done late tonight. And one big reason why, as you were saying, the members have been sitting around. They want a chance to express themselves.

I have been told that Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins want to have about the same amount of time that occurred in the Clinton trial, those deliberations that occurred. Those happened behind closed doors, about three days' time. They want to have about the same amount of time, but that would be in a public session.

Now, they're also running into some logistical issues because the State of the Union is Tuesday. The Senate floor will be closed for part of Tuesday.


BASH: The Iowa caucuses are on Monday.

RAJU: The Iowa caucuses are on Monday.

So Mitch McConnell is proposing a Wednesday time to have the final acquittal vote. But the White House really wants this done Tuesday, so the president can announce in the State of the Union he has just been acquitted.

It just doesn't seem that that is possible at this point.

BASH: And that's really the key. The key is it's not -- now that we know where Lisa Murkowski stands and since last night your reporting on Lamar Alexander, we know, unless there's something that we really don't expect, that there won't be a vote to allow new witnesses.

So we don't have any expectation that the president will be convicted, unless, again, something dramatic happens. So now it's all over but the when.

And for people out there wondering, why is this an issue, it is an issue because it is history, and because these senators want a chance to sort of say their piece. And the fact that this is a real negotiation going on between the Senate Republican and Democratic leader is really telling.

And the fact that the Iowa caucuses and four Democratic senators are sitting there saying, can I please get out of here?

RAJU: Yes.

BASH: But they can't really say that, because they have to show that they're doing their duty.

RAJU: And a lot of Republicans too, that we have not heard a lot of Senate Republicans speak their mind about exactly where they come down on these issues.

A lot of them have said, we're jurors. We're not going to deal with this. One senator, Ben Sasse, who has said virtually nothing, he came up to us and he told us, a lot of Republicans agree to what Lamar Alexander said. A lot of us -- it speaks to a lot of us.

Well, then I asked him, well, do you think the president acted inappropriately? He would not answer that question. We will see if he decides to do that and other senators decide to express their views, if they have the time to speak.

BASH: Yes, because, remember, as we have been saying since the beginning of this trial, a lot of it is about the votes, but so much, maybe even more right now because we are in an election year is about persuading public opinion -- back to you, Wolf and Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Dana and Manu, thank you so much.

Stay with us. We're waiting for the Senate to reconvene.

More live CNN special coverage of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump after this quick break.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to our special coverage.

The U.S. Senate is about to come back from a recess in the impeachment trial, where we will hear the president's legal team argue why more witnesses should not be called.

These debates are happening just as "The New York Times" has a brand- new report about John Bolton's manuscript, where the former national security adviser claims, according to "The Times," that the president directed him to orchestrate some of the pressure campaign in Ukraine.

He claims that Rudy Giuliani was in the room for that conversation, among others, Rudy Giuliani denying that in a tweet -- quote -- "The meeting 'The Times' describes is a lie. If Bolton is the source and he believed this was so bad, why didn't he quit? How much integrity and honor will a man sacrifice for greed and revenge?"

Continuing -- quote -- "I considered John Bolton a friend. During my investigation uncovering massive Democrat corruption in Ukraine, he never complained to me. Now he says he did to Pompeo. If he did, he's a backstabber. If he didn't, he's a liar."

BLITZER: All right, let's bring in Jeffrey Toobin and Laura Coates.

They're going to do some legal analysis for us, first of all.

Jeffrey, what do you think about this uproar that has developed with this "New York Times"' report?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's one background fact that has somewhat gotten lost.

And that's that the president is guilty. The president -- the House managers proved what they set out to prove.


That's what Senator Alexander acknowledged. Senator Toomey acknowledged it earlier today. Senator Sasse, who's very fond of instructing the rest of us on the place of morality, sort of halfway acknowledged it.

So, the fact is -- and Rick Santorum, I thought, said something very wise earlier today. He said the Republican senators are very afraid of the drip, drip, drip. And by that, I think he means the drip, drip, drip proving further that the president is guilty of what he's accused of in these two articles.

So the goal of the House managers, it would seem to me, is to just get this thing over with, because the longer it goes, the more facts come out, and every fact shows that the president is guilty of these impeachable offenses.

BLITZER: What about that, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that the House managers have to balance that test between what they have all the information out there.

Remember what Lamar Alexander said yesterday. It wasn't whether the president did this. It's what they should do about it. And so it does turn the tide from being that political calculus of proving the point, being very comprehensive in your approach to the evidence that you do have and presenting it in the holistic way, and then being thought to politically beat a dead horse.

And they have to measure what those two mean. But I have to point on two things that Jeffrey talks about, the idea of the background things.

Number one, Senator Murkowski, you are mistaken. Congress, as a body, did not fail, but perhaps the Senate has, and breaking from precedent in having any witnesses, if they so decide to do that. That's a failure of the Senate not to receive all the evidence, not a failure of Congress and the House to actually bring it.

And, number two, I protest vehemently the fact that John Bolton is seen somehow as being very magnanimous and all of this, that somehow because of his willingness to testify, he is absolved of being asked the question as to, why now?

Why, once you realized that the person who was also represented by your by your attorney, Kupperman, filed a suit about the subpoena and then had to -- and they withdrew it, and then said, no, I still want an answer, why not then offer to tell what you have told in your book?

Why must we hear from "The New York Times" repeatedly about what you have said? Why must we hear from people who are at your lectures or book tours about what you have said, especially now, if you know that you may be the linchpin? Then why not speak up?

Instead, this discussion of perhaps John Kelly, the former chief of staff, and John Bolton, who are pretending as if, oh, I think this is the right thing to do.

Well it's kind of like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." You could have clicked your heels three times and gone home any time and now you want credit fully? I don't buy it.

TAPPER: It's interesting.

But, Senator Santorum, before the break, we were talking about -- or during the break, we were talking about my theory that, when they do major court cases today, and there's a jury trial, the -- especially if there's a lot of money behind one of the -- either the prosecution or the defense, especially the defense, they do profiles of the jurors.

They try to figure out, what will appeal to these jurors, whether it's based on demographics, or they know the identity of the jurors, and they can figure out what might appeal to that person. And they target specific arguments to those jurors.

Jamie Gangel the other day noted that when Senator Lamar Alexander, who was a former legislative aide to Howard Baker, who played a major role during Watergate, asking the question, what did the president know and when did he know it, originally asking it as a way of trying to help President Nixon, ultimately came to be on the other side of that.

There was no mention of Howard Baker that I discerned. There was no mention of anything that might appeal specifically to that juror. And I also wonder if that was a failure logistically. I'm not talking about what should be or the law or the Constitution or whether or not what President Trump did is wrong.

Just logistically, was that a failure to not try to like look at Murkowski, look at Alexander, try to figure out psychological arguments to appeal to them?

SANTORUM: No, I think it -- you have to be very careful how you do it. You don't want to make it obvious that you're going after a particular senator by talking about, oh, Senator Alexander, you did this, or you did that. That would be a big mistake.

But you could very easily work in the Clinton -- excuse me -- the Nixon impeachment and the role that Howard Baker played and talked about the Senate in its great -- in its wisdom or the House in its old days.

Those kinds of appeals and bringing would have been smart. But, again, if you look at who they put us House managers, that's not who those people are. These people are folks who were focused on making the case to the American public and appealing to the base.

They did -- unlike a lawyer who's there to win the case, they know they weren't going to win the case. So they didn't even try to win the case?


TAPPER: You really think that?


SANTORUM: No, because they knew they could never win.

TAPPER: You agree with...


PSAKI: I agree completely with this.

SANTORUM: There you go.

PSAKI: I mean, the Democrats made a calculation they were not impartial jurors in the room, that people may have said they were on the fence. They weren't really.


And they were making the case to the American public the whole time. That may be cynical, but I think that that's right.


TAPPER: ... you both agreeing.

BORGER: Well, I agree, because even making the case that Rudy Giuliani was a big player and that he had nothing to do with foreign policy, people sitting in that room know what Rudy Giuliani was doing.

They knew that the president said to the three amigos, go talk to Rudy. And now you know that Rudy Giuliani, as a result of "The New York Times" today, was in the Oval Office meeting where it was very clear that the president wanted him to meet with the president of Ukraine.


TAPPER: We should just note that that's denied by Giuliani, the president and others. OK.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

But when you're talking to the American, who are following this case the way we are, and good for them -- I mean, it's been a slog.

(LAUGHTER) BORGER: They are looking at this and saying, OK the president's entitled to have an outside adviser. And that's the case -- that's the case I think that his attorneys were making, so, again, not to the Senate, because, in a way, it was predisposed.

SANTORUM: I disagree.

The one really very important thing that the White House did that won the day for them on witnesses and I think everything else and made everybody comfortable was the argument that Dershowitz and Ray put together on the standard, the constitutional standard.

TAPPER: Even if he did it, you can't...


SANTORUM: That was not an argument for the American people. That was an argument to the United States senators. And they did a great job.


TAPPER: You're talking about the argument, even if it's guilty...


TAPPER: Even if he did everything they're saying, it doesn't rise to the level.

SANTORUM: You're going to see lots of statements from and lots of comments...


BLITZER: Because Robert Ray made it clear this was not a perfect conversation that the president had.


BORGER: You are right about that. They threw them the bone.


BORGER: They needed that bone.

But they were also throwing that to the American public.


SANTORUM: Not to the base.

BORGER: You have a good point.

KING: And you're seeing, again, in the statement by Portman -- yes, in the statement by Alexander, in the statement by Portman, to a lesser degree, the statement by Rubio, you are seeing people tracking the Ray, that either it was inartful, it was inappropriate. Portman says wrong.

They're trying to find out, but it doesn't reach the bar of impeachment.

SANTORUM: Very important.

KING: The other thing -- and the House managers have been trying to make this point, essentially trying to guilt or shame the senators, saying, you know, you're going to cast a vote for no witnesses.

And in the next days and weeks and months, more of this is going to come out. This back-and-forth between Bolton and Rudy Giuliani proves they're right. These are not shy men, John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani.

Now, does it have any impact? Does it change public perception? Does it cost one or two of these senators who are on the ballot this year or part of their race or anything? Don't know. But this is not going to end. Whenever this trial ends, this is not going to end.


BLITZER: I just want Alan Frumin to join us for a moment.

Alan, you're the former Senate parliamentarian. What we're waiting for now, once this trial resumes, the House managers, they still have another half-an-hour to go in their arguments, in their statements.

But the White House lawyers now have two hours. They will go next, as long as they want. They could go as long as two hours. Then the House managers will still have a half-hour to respond. And then walk us through.

There will be a vote on whether or not there will be witnesses.

FRUMIN: Once this time is used, it's possible for somebody to propose an amendment to this motion.

BLITZER: Before the vote.

FRUMIN: Yes, before the vote.

The resolution setting up this process speaks of four hours of arguments. It does not explicitly bar amendments. It does not explicitly authorize them. And so I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if a senator attempted to offer an amendment, in part to get more time for arguments on the part of the House managers.

At this point in time, the Democrats know they're not going to win by action. They can only win by words. And they may think that this is a way of getting more time for the House managers to make their case.

TAPPER: By the way, we should just note, Lev Parnas, the Giuliani associate who's been indicted, and is of dubious credibility, his attorney just wrote a letter to Mitch McConnell, saying basically he has stuff to testify about. He's willing to do so. He would detail -- quote -- "the efforts he and a handful of Republican operatives engaged in over a period of months to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch and gather dirt and Joe and Hunter Biden."

I'm guessing that's not going to make a difference either, but there you go, another offer of another witness.

BLITZER: He clearly is anxious to speak, Mr. Parnas, indeed.

All right, we're waiting for this trial to resume. Momentarily, it will.

Stay with us. We will be right back.



TAPPER: Welcome back to our special coverage.

The U.S. Senate it is about to reconvene from a brief recess in the impeachment trial, where we will hear the president's legal team argue against the efforts by House impeachment managers, Democrats, to subpoena additional witnesses.

Surprisingly, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is bucking with the president's lawyers, telling a New Jersey newspaper today -- quote -- "If I was advising the U.S. Senate, I would say, if you don't respond to 75 percent of the American voters and have witnesses, it's a job only half-done. You open yourself up forever as a Senate that shirks its responsibilities."

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us now for more on this.

Kaitlan, you have some more information this.


This is the second time the former chief of staff has weighed in, in recent days in private remarks that he's making that aren't on camera or he is doing these big interviews, where he is saying that he believes that these people should come forward and speak.

He's saying that, essentially, if they do not hear from witnesses, he said today he believed it would only be half-a-trial.

Now, today, he also went on to repeat his claim that he believes that John Bolton is an honest and honorable guy, something he said a few days ago, after you saw the people who still work here at the White House were criticizing