Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
House Managers and Trump Lawyers Wrap Closing Arguments. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired February 3, 2020 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] JEFFRIES: -- with a mountain of evidence.
President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up. President Trump corruptly abused his power. President Trump obstructed a congressionally and constitutionally required impeachment inquiry with blanket defiance. President Trump solicited foreign interference in an American election and shredded the very fabric of our democracy.
House managers have proven our case against President Trump with a mountain of evidence. If the Senate chooses to acquit under these circumstances then America is in the wilderness. If the Senate chooses to normalize lawlessness, if the Senate chooses to normalize corruption, if the Senate chooses to normalize presidential abuse of power then America is in the wilderness.
If the Senate chooses to acquit President Trump without issuing a single subpoena, without interviewing a single witness, without reviewing a single new document, then America is truly in the wilderness. But all is not lost. Even at this late hour, the Senate can still do the right thing.
America is watching, the world is watching, the eyes of history are watching. The Senate can still do the right thing. The scripture says in second Corinthians, the fifth chapter and the seventh verse, "encourages us to walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
We've come this far by faith and so I say to all of you, my fellow Americans, walk by faith. Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, the left and the right, all points in between. Walk by faith. There are patriots all throughout this chamber, patriots who can be found all throughout the land, in urban America, rural America, suburban American, small town America. Walk by faith.
Through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys, the trials and the tribulations of this turbulent moment, walk by faith - faith in the Constitution, faith in our democracy, faith in the rule of law, faith in government of the people, by the people and for the people, faith in almighty God. Walk by faith.
The Senate can still do the right thing and if we come together as Americans then together we can eradicate the cancer that threatens our democracy and continue our long, necessary and majestic march toward a more perfect union.
SCHIFF: Mr. Chief Justice, I want to begin by thanking you for the distinguished way you have presided over these proceedings. Senators, we are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. If Lincoln could speak these words during the Civil War, surely we can live them now and overcome our divisions and our animosities.
It is midnight in Washington, the lights are finally going out in the Capitol after a long day in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. The Senate heard arguments only hours earlier on whether to call witnesses and require the administration to release documents it has withheld.
Counsel for the President still maintains the President's innocence while opposing any additional evidence that would prove otherwise. It is midnight in Washington but on this night, not all the lights have been extinguished. Somewhere in the bowels of the Justice Department, Donald Trump's Justice Department, a light remains on. Someone has waited until the country is asleep to hit send, to inform the court in a filing due that day that the Justice Department, the Department that would represent justice, is refusing to produce documents directly bearing on the President's decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine.
The Trump administration has them, it is not turning them over and it does not want the Senate to know until it is too late - send. That's what happened last Friday night when you left home for the weekend in a replay of the duplicity we saw during the trial when the President's lawyers argued here that the House must go to court and argued in court that the House must come here, they were at it again, telling the court in a midnight filing that it would not turn over relevant documents even as they argued here that they were not covering up the president's misdeeds. Midnight in Washington, all-too-tragic a metaphor for where the country finds itself at the conclusion of the -- only the third impeachment in history and the first impeachment trial without witnesses or documents, the first such trial, or non- trial in impeachment history. How did we get here?
In the beginning of this proceeding you did not know whether we could prove our case. Many senators, like many Americans, did not have the opportunity to watch much, let alone all of the open hearings in the House during our investigation, and none of us could anticipate what defenses the president might offer. Now you have seen what we promised -- overwhelming evidence of the president's guilt. Donald John Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars to an ally at war and a coveted White House meeting with their president to coerce or extort that nation's help to cheat in our elections. And when he was found out, he engaged in the most comprehensive effort to cover up his misconduct in the history of presidential impeachment, fighting all subpoenas for documents and witnesses and using his own obstruction as a sword and a shield, arguing here the House did not fight hard enough to overcome their non-invocation of privilege in court, and in court that the House must not be heard to enforce their subpoenas, but that impeachment is a proper remedy. Having failed to persuade this Senate or the public that there was no quid pro quo, having offered no evidence to contradict the record, the president's team opted in a kind of desperation for a different kind of defense: First prevent the Senate and the public from hearing from witnesses with the most damning accounts of the president's misconduct; and second, fall back on a theory of presidential power so broad and unaccountable that it would allow any occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania to be as corrupt as he chooses, while the Congress is powerless to do anything about it. That defense collapsed of its own dead weight.
Presidents may abuse their power with impunity, they argued. Abuse of power is not a constitutional crime, they claimed. Only statutory crime is a constitutional crime, even though there were no statutory crimes when the Constitution was adopted.
The president had to look far and wide to find a defense lawyer to make such an argument, unsupported by history, the founders or common sense. The Republican expert witness in the House would not make it. Serious constitutional scholars would not make it. Even Alan Dershowitz would not make it, at least, he wouldn't in 1998. But this has become the president's defense, and yet, this defense proved indefensible. If abuse of power is not impeachable, even though it is clear the founders considered it the highest of all high crimes and misdemeanors, but if it were not impeachable, then a whole range of utterly unacceptable conduct in a president would now be beyond reach. Trump could offer Alaska to the Russians in exchange for support in the next election, or decide to move to Mar-a-Lago permanently and let Jared Kushner run the country, delegating to him the decision whether to go to war. Because those things are not necessarily criminal, this argument would allow that he could not be impeached for such abuses of power. Of course, this would be absurd. More than absurd, it would be dangerous.
And so Mr. Dershowitz tried to embellish his legal creation and distinguish among those abuses of power which would be impeachable from those which wouldn't; abuses of power that would help the president get reelected were permissible and therefore, unimpeachable, and only those for pecuniary gain were beyond the pale. Under this theory, as long as a president believed his reelection was in the public interest he could do anything, and no quid pro quo was too corrupt, no damage to our national security too great. This was such an extreme view that even the president's other lawyers had to run away from it.
So what are we left with? The House has proven the president's guilt. He tried to coerce an ally into helping him cheat by smearing his opponent. He betrayed our national security in order to do it when he withheld military aid to our ally and violated the law to do so. He covered it up, and he covers it up still. His continuing obstruction is a threat to the oversight and investigatory powers of the House and Senate, and if left unaddressed, will permanently and dangerously alter the balance of power. These undeniable facts require the president to retreat to his final defense. He's guilty as sin, but can't we just let the voters decide" He's guilty as sin, but why not let the voters clean up this mess? And here to answer that question, we must look at the history of this presidency and to the character of this president, or lack of character, and ask, can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in that very election? Can we be confident that Americans, and not foreign powers, will get to decide, and that the president will shun any further foreign interference in our democratic affairs? And the short, plain, sad, incontestable answer is no, you can't. You can't trust this president to do the right thing, not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can't. He will not change, and you know it.
In 2016 he invited foreign interference in our election. Hey, Russia, if you're listening, hack Hillary's emails, he said, and they did immediately. And when the Russians started dumping them before the election he made use of them in every conceivable way, touting the filthy lucre at campaign stops more than a hundred times. When he was investigated he did everything he could to obstruct justice, going so far as to fire the FBI director and try to fire the special counsel, and asked the White House counsel to lie on his behalf.
During the same campaign, while telling the country he had no business dealings with Russia, he was continuing to actively pursue the most lucrative deal of his life: a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow. Six close associates of the president would be indicted or go to jail in connection with the president's campaign, Russia and the effort to cover it up.
On the day after that tragic chapter appeared to come to an end with Bob Mueller's testimony, Donald Trump was back on the phone, this time with another foreign power, Ukraine, and once again seeking foreign help with his election, only this time he had the full powers of the presidency at his disposal. This time he could use coercion. This time he could withhold aid from a nation whose soldiers were dying every week. This time he believed he could do whatever he wanted under Article 2. And this time when he was caught, he could make sure that the Justice Department would never investigate the matter. And they didn't.
Donald Trump had no more Jeff Sessions. He had just the man he wanted in Bill Barr. A man who's view of the imperial presidency, a presidency in which the Department of Justice is little more than extension of the White House Counsel is to do the president's bidding.
So Congress had to do the investigation itself. And just as before, he obstructed that investigation in every way. He has not changed. He will not change. He has made that clear himself without self-awareness or hesitation. A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way.
Even as the most recent and most egregious misconduct was discovered, he was unapologetic, unrepented, and more dangerous undeterred. He continued pressing Ukraine to smear his rivals even as the investigation was underway. He invited new countries to get involved in the act, calling on China to do the same. His personal emissary, Rudy Giuliani, dispatched himself to Ukraine trying to get further foreign interference in our election. The plot goes on. The scheming persists and the danger will never recede.
He has done it before, he will do it again. What are the odds if left in office that he will continue trying to cheat, I will tell you 100 percent. Not five, not 10, or even 50 but 100 percent.
If you have found him guilty and you do not remove him from office, he will continue trying to cheat in the election until he succeeds. Then what shall you say. What shall you say if Russia again interferes in our election and Donald Trump does nothing but celebrate their efforts.
What shall you say if Ukraine capitulates and announces investigations into the president's rivals. What shall you say in future when candidates compete for the allegiant (ph) of foreign powers in their elections.
When they draft their platform so to encourage foreign intervention in their campaign, foreign nations, as the most super of super pacts of them all if not legal somehow permissible because Donald Trump has made it so and we refuse to do anything about it but wring our hands.
They'll hack your opponent's emails, they'll mount a social medial campaign to support you. They'll announce investigations of your opponent to help you and all for the asking, leave Donald Trump in office after you have found him guilty. And this is the future that you will invite.
Now we have known since the day we brought these charges at the bar (ph) to conviction requiring fully 2/3 of the Senate may be prohibitively high. And yet, the alternative is a runaway presidency and a nation whose elections are open to the highest bidder.
And so you might ask how given the gravity of the president's misconduct, given the abundance of evidence of his guilt, given the acknowledgement by Senators in both parties of that guilt, how have we arrived here with so little common ground.
Why was the Nixon Impeachment bipartisan. Why was the Clinton Impeachment much less so. And why is the gulf (ph) between the parties even greater today. It is not for the reason the president's lawyers would have you believe.
Although, they have claimed many times, in many ways that the process in the House was flawed because we did not allow the president to control it, it was in reality little different than the process in prior impeachments.
The circumstances, of course, were different. The Watergate investigation began in the Senate and it progressed before it got moving in the House. And there, of course, much of the investigative work had been done by the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski.
In Clinton there was likewise an independent council that conducted a multi-year investigation that started with a real estate deal in Arkansas and ended with a blue dress. Nixon and Clinton, of course, played no role in those investigations before they moved to the House Judiciary Committee.
But to the degree you can compare the process when it got to the Judiciary Committee in either prior and recent impeachments, it was largely the same as we have here. The president had the right to call witnesses to ask questions and chose not to.
The House majorities in Nixon and Clinton did not see their subpoena power to their minorities and neither did we here. Although then, as now, we gave the minority the right to request subpoenas and to compel a vote and they did.
So the due process the House presided here -- provided here was essentially the same and in some ways even greater. Never the less, the president's counsel hopes that through sheer repetition they can convert non truth into truth. Do not let them. Every single court to hear Mr. Feldman's arguments has rejected them.
The subpoenas are invalid, rejected by the McGahn court. They have absolute immunity rejected by the McGahn court. Privilege may conceal crime or fraud, rejected by the court in Nixon. But if the process here was substantially the same, the facts of the president's misconduct were very different from one impeachment to the next.
The Republican Party of Nixon's time broke into the DNC and the president covered it up. Nixon too abused the power of his office to gain an unfair advantage over his opponent. But in Watergate he never sought to coerce a foreign power to aid his re-election.
Nor did he sacrifice our national security in such palpable and destructive way as withholding aid from an ally at war. And he certainly did not engage in the wholesale obstruction of Congress or justice that we have seen this president commit.
The facts of the -- President Clinton's misconduct pale in comparison to Nixon and do no hold a candle to Donald Trump. Lying about an affair is morally wrong and when under oath it is a crime.
But it had nothing to do with his duties in office. The process being the same, the facts of President Trump's misconduct being far more destructive than either past president, what then accounts for the disparate result in bipartisan support for his removal. What has changed.
The short answer is we have changed. The members of Congress have changed. For reasons as varied as the stars, the members of this body and ours in House are now far more accepting of the most serious misconduct of a president as long as it it's a president of one's own party.
And that is a trend most dangerous for our country. 50 years ago no lawyer representing the president would have ever made the outlandish argument that if the president believes his corruption will serve to get him re-elected whether it is by coercing an ally to help him cheat or in any other forum (ph), that he may not be impeached, that this is somehow a permissible use of his power.
But here we are. The argument has been made, and some appear ready to accept it. And that is dangerous, for there is no limiting principle to that position.
It must have come as a shock -- a pleasant shock -- to this president, that our norms and institutions would prove to be so weak. The independence of the Justice Department and its formerly proud Office of Legal Counsel, now mere legal tools at the president's disposal, to investigate enemies or churn out helpful opinions not worth the paper they are written on.
The FBI, painted by a president as corrupt and disloyal; the intelligence community, not to be trusted against the good counsel of Vladimir Putin. The press, portrayed as enemies of the people.
The daily attacks on the guardrails of our democracy, so relentlessly assailed, have made us numb and blind to the consequences.
Does none of that matter anymore if he's the president of our party? I hope and pray that we never have a president like Donald Trump in the Democratic Party, one that would betray the national interest and the country's security to help with his re-election. And I would hope to God that if we did, we would impeach him, and Democrats would lead the way.
But I suppose you never know just how difficult that is until you are confronted with it. But you, my friends, are confronted with it. You are confronted with that difficulty now, and you must not shrink from it.
History will not be kind to Donald Trump. I think we all know that. Not because it will be written by Never Trumpers, but because whenever we have departed from the values of our nation, we have come to regret it. And that regret is written all over the pages of our history.
If you find that the House has proved its case and still vote to acquit, your name will be tied to his with a cord of steel and for all of history. But if you find the courage to stand up to him, to speak the awful truth to his rank falsehood, your place will be among the Davids who took on Goliath. If only you will say, enough.
We revere the wisdom of our founders and the insights they had into self-governance. We scour their words for hidden meaning and try to place ourselves in their shoes. But we have one advantage that the founders did not. For all their genius, they could not see but opaquely into the future.
We, on the other hand, have the advantage of time, of seeing how their great experiment in self-governance has progressed. When we look at the sweep of history, there are times when our nation and the rest of the world have moved with a seemingly irresistible force in the direction of greater freedom.
More freedom to speak and to assemble, to practice our faith and tolerate the faith of others. To love whom we would and choose love over hate. More free societies, walls tumbling down, nations reborn. But then, like a pendulum approaching the end of its arc, the outward movement begins to arrest. The golden globe of freedom reaches its zenith and starts to retreat. The pendulum swings back past the center, and recedes into a dark unknown.
How much farther it will travel in its illiberal direction, how many more freedoms will be extinguished before it turns back? We cannot say. But what we do here, in this moment, will affects its course and its correction. Every single vote, even a single vote by a single member, can change the course of history.
It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you who will say, enough?
America believes in a thing called truth. She does not believe we are entitled to our own alternate facts. She recoils at those who spread pernicious falsehoods. To her, truth matters. There is nothing more corrosive to a democracy than the idea that there is no truth. America also believes there is a difference between right and wrong, and right matters here. But there is more. Truth matters, right matters, but so does decency. Decency matters.
When the president smears a patriotic public servant like Marie Yovanovitch in pursuit of a corrupt aim, we recoil. When the president mocks the disabled, a war hero who was a prisoner of war, or a Gold Star father, we are appalled. Because decency matters here.
And when the president tries to coerce an ally to help him cheat in our elections and then covers it up, we must say, enough, enough. He has betrayed our national security and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections and he will do so again.
You will not change him, you cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What's right matters even less, and decency matters not at all. I do not ask you to convict him because truth or right or decency matters nothing to him, but because we have proven our case and it matters to you. Truth matters to you. Right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are.
In Federalist 55, James Madison wrote that there were certain qualities in human nature, qualities I believe like honestly, right, and decency, which would justify our confidence in self-government. He believed that we possessed sufficient virtue that the chains of despotism were not necessary to restrain ourselves from destroying and devouring one another.
It may be midnight in Washington, but the sun will rise again. I put my faith in the optimism of the founders. You should, too. They gave us the tools to do the job, a remedy as powerful as the evil it was meant to constrain: impeachment. They meant it to be used rarely, but they put it in the Constitution for a reason.
For a man who would sell out his country for a political favor, for a man who would threaten the integrity of our elections, for a man who would invite foreign interference in our affairs, for a man who would undermine our national security and that of our allies. For a man like Donald J. Trump.
They gave you a remedy, and they meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it. We have proven Donald Trump guilty, now do impartial justice and convict him.
I yield back.
J. ROBERTS: The majority leader is recognized.
MCCONNELL: Mr. Chief Justice, I ask unanimous consent, the Senate, sitting in (ph) as (ph) a court of impeachment, stand adjourned under the previous order.
J. ROBERTS: Without objection, so ordered.
MCCONNELL: I suggest the absence of a quorum.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right, you've been listening to -