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More Than 200 People Now Charged In Connection With Riot; House Impeachment Managers Set To Walk Into Senate For Trial. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 9, 2021 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00]

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: It's pure --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Reelection.

KING: -- pure and simple on the ballot in 2022. And if he runs for reelection, he wants to stay in the former president's good graces, the guy who was mocked as little Marco back in the 2016 primaries like many of those people who were mocked by the president, who then called him a cancer on the Republican Party, who then said if he was elected, he would destroy the Republican Party.

Now they are all velcroing themselves to him. That's a political argument. It would have been nice if months and months ago, he stood up to then President Trump when he was ignoring and refuting and objecting to science and common sense in the pandemic. Now the pandemic is suddenly important, management of the pandemic is so critically important now to Republicans. Where was that? Where was that a year ago or nine months ago?

But again, this is the political argument that Republicans are trying to say, this is bad for the country. And I'll come back to where I began. If it is bad for the country to have this trial, what is your alternative accountability or does the former party of law and order think Donald Trump just deserves a walk here? Make the case.

BLITZER: All right, we've got a lot to discuss. And we're going to watch all of this unfold history unfolding. Jake, back to you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks Wolf. The two sides will argue over the constitutionality of holding this impeachment trial, including whether Donald Trump's First Amendment right protects him from consequences.

Plus, a member of the extremist group charged with conspiring to attack the Capitol says, he once worked with the FBI and had top secret security clearance. We'll have details on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:36:07]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: As more suspects from the January 6th attack are facing jail time and federal charges. Some are employing the Trump defense blaming the former president for their actions that day. There's one example from the attorney for Jacob Chansley, who's the so called QAnon shaman, seen in so many videos from that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERT WATKINS, ATTORNEY FOR JACOB CHANSLEY "QANON SHAMAN": For people like Jake, for millions of Americans, they truly did hang on every word of their president, our president, the person that we permitted day in day out to speak to us in ways and in fashions that simply weren't true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that defense certainly dovetails with what Democrats are trying to prove starting today. With me now to discuss CNN's senior legal analyst, Laura Coates, Ambassador Norman Eisen is a former ethics czar at the White House. He also served as special oversight council for the House Judiciary Committee during Trump's first impeachment. Also with me, CNN legal analyst, Ross Garber, who teaches impeachment law at Tulane Law School.

Laura, thanks so much for being with us. Do these suspects defenses does it help Democrats at all?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it helps their defense in the sense that they could. I mean the Democrats in the sense they can say, look, not only did the President instruct, people actually followed, it wasn't just a happenstance or coincidental that people arrived at the ellipse, that they followed his instructions, that they stormed the Capitol, that they left when he told them to do so. It all is part of an overall contextual argument about what the intent of the President was knowing how he could be really a master manipulator and somebody who could be the puppet master for far too many people that particular day and others.

And so it all goes towards their claim and their ability to make the case that says this wasn't just a regular Joe Schmo making a comment on the block somewhere. This was the President of the United States, somebody that had these people in the palm of his hands. And when he had the chance to do so, he squeezed and threw them in the direction of the United States Capitol.

COOPER: I mean Laura, it is kind of fascinating that all these people, you know, who are calling themselves, you know, Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, the QAnon people, when they're actually, you know, facing charges, they suddenly change all their beliefs pretty quickly and turn on the President, the one they have all these oaths of loyalty to.

COATES: You mean their tail go between their legs. Yes, that's right, Anderson, because when it's a idea of the United States government against somebody, which is what happens in a federal prosecution, United States versus your name, suddenly you don't have a whole lot of friends and places to turn. And if the very person that you were following, the ringleader, already made you out to be the persona non-grata, remember what the President did when he was still in office, he extended that 10 foot pole and said, look, I know -- I don't condone this behavior after several times of trying to say he did not, he didn't condone the behavior, he said that they were should be prosecuted.

At that point in time, people began to turn. And as a prosecutor, I can tell you it's almost music to your ears as a prosecutor when the ringleader turns his back on the people that he has led because it invites cooperation and invites more information about what was actually said, it invites more evidence into the overall frame. And you're seeing that happen right here.

COOPER: The -- they call him the QAnon Shaman, I mean I don't want to call him a Shaman because I don't want to insult shamans. The QAnon, you know, costume wearer, Norman, according to his attorney wants to testify at the impeachment trial. Do Democrats need to call witnesses to make their case?

NORMAN EISEN, SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR THE HOUSE AT TRUMP'S FIRST IMPEACHMENT: Anderson, they will have some of the most powerful witness testimony possible already on video, both from the President himself his own words. As Laura points out, not just on January 6th, that was the culmination. He whipped this mob into a frenzy for months, telling them their democracy was being stolen because the election was stolen. But then the fighting words on January 6th, they have that video testimony. That will be their most important witness. You'll hear him again and again.

[12:40:13]

You'll undoubtedly hear his crooked call to Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger also to try to drive the frenzy, flip the Georgia results. And then the individuals like Mr. Chansley's lawyer, some of these insurrectionists themselves who will appear on video and say, I'm here because the President told me to attack and then conversely, many of them say leaving because the President told me to leave. So those are the most important witnesses.

COOPER: Just stand by everyone. More than 200 people have now been charged in the insurrection at the center of today's impeachment trial. We're now learning that one of them says he previously worked for the FBI and held a, according to him a top secret security clearance for decades, he claims.

CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown has the reporting. So Pamela, this man named Thomas Caldwell, what do you know about him?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's 66 years old. And his lawyers claim that he has held the top secret security clearance since 1979. And he says he worked for the FBI from 2009 to 2010. He has now been charged. He's one of the more than 200 people charged following the riots, as part of a conspiracy and extremist groups conspiracy to allegedly attack the Capitol building. He is from Virginia. As I pointed out, he worked for the FBI. And he claims to have held this top secret security clearance. Now he has argued that DOJ has not shown proof that he was inside the Capitol building in the day of the riot. But as with so much of these charges you're seeing and the paperwork from DOJ, social media was a big clue for this man, Thomas Caldwell.

You're seeing in the in the paperwork that he posted on social media, on his Facebook page inside. So it's really remarkable, though, to think that this is someone who has now been charged in the Capitol building riots and appears according to him to work for the FBI for a year.

COOPER: Yes. Pamela Brown more learning, no doubt, thanks very much.

Next Tuesday night, President Joe Biden will join me live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We'll have an exclusive Presidential Town Hall starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I hope you join us for that. And as the impeachment trial is set to start very shortly, President Biden is staying far from the fray keeping focused on his agenda. The White House says we'll go live to the White House, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:04]

TAPPER: The White House today making it clear that it's business as usual, even with the former President Senate impeachment trial about to get underway. CNN's chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us now. Kaitlan, President Biden making a point that he's not focusing his attention on the impeachment trial of his predecessor.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the White House says he has one viewer who will not be turning into the current or the former president's impeachment trial that's happening. They say that's because he's too busy focusing on his own agenda here, which of course is dealing with that coronavirus relief proposal that he is still trying to make sure has all 50 Democrats on board with it in the Senate as they are drafting that legislation this week in the House while the Senate is of course, focused on former President Trump.

And so the White House says he's going to be doing that, he's got a trip to the Pentagon and other to the National Institutes of Health as well, that's on his schedule. And so they are going out of their way to say this is not going to be something that's taking up a lot of time of President Biden.

So of course, he has weighed in on it at times. He has declined to say how he believes former President Trump should be held to account. He did not say the other day, whether or not they should take any action against him after this trial does go forward, instead saying leave that up to the Senate. So of course, now here comes the briefing. And we'll talk about that there, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Dana and Abby are back with me. And Abby, listen to President Biden yesterday, he weighed in on whether or not he thinks Trump will testify.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course, we've got an offer to come and testify. He decided not to. We'll let the Senate work that out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He's basically keeping a hands off approach to this, arm's length.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I think punting to the Senate, a body that he knows very well, because he's been a senator -- he had been a senator for decades. But he's doing it intentionally not trying to weigh in one way or another because I think for two reasons, one, this administration truly does want to focus on the task at hand for them, which is governing, dealing with the virus, dealing with the economy, writing the federal government.

But then the other part of this is that I don't know that he and his aides think it would be particularly helpful for him to weigh in one way or another. One of the key arguments Republicans are making is that this is some sort of political vendetta that is actually designed to ultimately help Joe Biden. Remember, the senators are going to consider potentially, if Donald Trump is convicted, they would consider whether to ban him from holding federal office ever again.

And that is something that the argument against that from some Republicans is that that is a secret bid by Democrats to help protect Joe Biden, if Joe Biden were to run again. I think Joe Biden's trying to stay out of that conversation altogether.

TAPPER: And Dana, you heard earlier in the broadcast, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who's up for reelection in 2022, talking about how this impeachment trial doesn't deliver one job to one American, how it doesn't put one vaccine in the arm of one person who needs it. And obviously, that's empirically true. But the business of governing is still going on, right?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Of course.

TAPPER: I mean, explain that to our viewers.

BASH: Of course, to quote Bernie Sanders there, trying to walk and chew bubblegum, at the same time. And it is happening. I mean, the political reasons that Abby laid out are very real for President Biden and his top advisors to not get involved. There's also the policy reasons which is that he understands very well that he is going to be judged on how he gets the country back in shape and how quickly he does it.

And focusing on, you know, trying to find the sweet spot among Democrats for the COVID bill is very real. What's interesting is I talked to a sort of -- a Democratic Hill source last night who's very much in touch with the White House, who said that what they're hearing privately on the Hill, Senate Democrats, is what we're hearing publicly. You know, the administration is getting calls from Senate Democrats saying any guidance, anything you want us to do, anything you want us to emphasize or not?

[12:50:12]

And the answer is, no. We really are just staying out of it and letting you do your thing as jurors. And the reason is politically, but also so that they can focus on what the President's promises were that he made during the campaign, which is not to convict a former president, but to fix the health care crisis and fix the economy.

TAPPER: A lot of work to do on the economy and the pandemic, of course. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jake, thank you.

The House impeachment managers, they have an enormous challenge. They got to convince 17 Republican senators to vote with all 50 Democrats to convict the former President. Among the jurors, there still could be some surprises in the House managers say they have some surprising evidence that potentially could change some minds.

Our political director, David Chalian, is joining us right now. So David, walk us through which senators, we should be watching very closely.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, just a reminder of the balance of power right now in the U.S. Senate, it's a 50-50 evenly divided the Senate. So as you noted, if all 50 Democrats were on board with conviction, they would still need to find 17 Republican senators, we have a few clues of where to look of where those potential Republican votes for conviction may exist.

If you look at first the five senators who just a couple of weeks ago voted with the Democrats saying this is indeed a constitutional trial. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey, these five are the first five you're going to look at to hear what they're thinking about the trial.

But then there are a couple of others who voted with the Republicans saying this is not a constitutional exercise but I think it's worth just keeping an eye on. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio, both of these senators are retiring. Now Portman has already made a statement that indicates he thinks this whole process is more about dividing the country. And he really wants to focus on trying to bring the country together and he'll some divisions. But again, they're both retiring. They're not facing voters again.

And if indeed, there's some compelling new evidence, well, perhaps managers may see these two senators as additional targets. But again, Wolf, that's nowhere near the 17 that they need to convict. BLITZER: Yes. All right, David, standby. John king, let me get your analysis. It's an enormous challenge, but the House managers, all nine of them, and they're going to be walking in to the Senate momentarily right now to begin the formal official part of this trial. They say they have some new evidence that they're going to put forward, a video evidence, specifically which is so compelling.

KING: They want to connect what the former President said at that rally. And also what the criminals, the insurgents, the insurrectionists did at the building where many said they were sent by Trump, many leaving.

BLITZER: Here they come. You can see a Jamie Raskin right at the front, Jamie Raskin. Let me just tell our viewers, Diana DeGette of Colorado, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Eric Swalwell of California, Ted Lieu of California, Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Madeleine Dean, Madeleine Dean, I should say, of Pennsylvania, and Joe Neguse of Colorado, those are the House managers who will be making the arguments in favor of conviction.

KING: Right. And they have a high bar and they know that because Republicans are dug in, most Republicans are dug in and the idea that he's gone, can we please just make this go away? Do not draw me into this anymore. They know they have that high bar. But to the evidence, the former President's own words, not just at that rally, he's the one who invited his supporters to come that day when he knew the Electoral College ratification would be happening in the Congress. He is the one who said things before the rally. He is the one who then was silent for a long time during the riots and the insurrection, a domestic terrorist act against our own government.

And then you had many of those, they are on site saying, they were sent by the President or when they left saying they were going home because he finally hours into a tweeted that they should go home. Can they convince 17 Republicans to come along? That is the challenge of the next few days. Will Republicans say this is just a political exercise, many of them are saying that, I'll come back to where I was before. If you do not think this is the appropriate forum to hold Donald Trump accountable, what is?

And that is an issue which the Republicans have not said much. But, look, those Democratic House managers, they're the prosecutors. They know they have a very high bar because of that first vote, and then we'll get another one today on the very question of constitutionality. That is a process argument. It's a place where a lot of the Republicans would like to stay. They would like to say, we don't want to talk about what happened. We don't want to talk about four years of Trump and then that final horrific day of the insurrection. They want to say this shouldn't happen, as opposed to addressing the issues.

And, again, that's -- they were there. Most of them were there that's -- you're watching it's cleaned up now, but that's a crime scene.

BLITZER: And you can see them while walking in right now being escorted in these, are the nine House managers who will argue in favor of conviction. The former President was and he was then the sitting President. He was impeached in the House of Representatives. Remember John, 232 to 197, including 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the President in the Senate. As David Chalian reminded us, you need 67. You need a two-thirds majority to convict.

[12:55:18]

KING: Right. And so that is the high bar to get assuming all 50 Democrats stay there, to get 17 Republicans, that is the challenge. The math going in, does not look good. However, we have lived through four years of surprises and disruption and things that go north heading south and things that look east being west.

And so I think everyone should have an open mind here. It's certainly with the responsibility, the oath every senator took, Democrats and Republicans was to keep an open mind and to hear the evidence. So we will watch the case made by these House managers. We will then listen to the rebuttal of it, the defense by the President's attorneys. Then we will get to the question of whether we have witnesses or early indications are no. But let's watch how this plays out. And again, I think the bar here is very high for those Democrats.

But to your point, they say they will connect the dots, using the former President's words, his actions, his e-mails to his supporters, his tweets with what the rioters, the criminals said on that very day. Can they do it? That's why we have a trial.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny is up on the Hill for us. Jeff, so walk us through right now what we're about to see. We know that the Senate will come to order. This will -- they really have choreographed specifically what they need to do as we continue to see -- there's the Senate Majority, now Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walking in.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. This is coordinated minute by minute. And you do see Senate Minority Leader now, Mitch McConnell, one of the many differences from the last impeachment trial, the Minority Leader. He's walking from his office onto the floor of the Senate. It's about a 32nd walk or so very quick walk. But again, those are the very hallways where this scene of the crime happened. So that is something to keep in mind. But we are also going to see the other senators arriving.

One other thing to point out, Wolf, though, yes, it's the second impeachment trial but there are some new jurors, if you will, some new senators, if you will, 10 new senators who have arrived in the senate since the first impeachment trial, six Democrats, four Republicans by my count. So this is also something new here. So these members of the Senate and jurors are going to be hearing this evidence for the first time. But, you know, there is a sense here on Capitol Hill talking to senators in both parties.

Yes, it's somewhat familiar, but they are keeping their powder drive to a point except for some Republicans. And Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota released this statement just a few moments ago, kind of summing up what some Republicans are saying. He said this, welcome to the stupidest week in the Senate. The House Speaker is now making a mockery of Congress and one of the most serious institutions in our country. It's disgusting.

That view though, Wolf, is not shared by many Republicans, and certainly all Democrats. There are Republicans who are keeping an open mind on this as they begin to arrive in that Senate chamber as well. So this is a different moment. It's a very different article of impeachment from the first time, so this is going to be a very different proceeding. You can see the senators, they're beginning to arrive in the Senate chamber.

What are their differences, we are not going to see all the senators sitting at their desks during this entire proceeding, because of COVID. That's something else that's new. So they'll be watching from off the Senate floor if they choose, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a difference from the first Senate impeachment trial of Trump a year ago, that was before COVID. And now all of a sudden, there's COVID for the past year. So we're going to see some differences, at least on the floor of the U.S. Senate. All right, Jeff, thank you very much. Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York appeal to Republican colleagues this morning to listen closely to what he says will be new evidence in the trial. But what that evidence will be and if Democrats will call witnesses is still yet to be determined. CNN political director, David Chalian, is back with us. David, as we watch for the trial to play out, it's already clear how the arguments are being framed for both sides.

CHALIAN: Yes. Both sides have put together these legal briefs and we've read through them. Let's do Trump's defense key arguments first, Jake. The trial is unconstitutional. That's what today's debate is entirely about. They don't even want to get to the substance. The argument from Trump's legal counsel is simply that he's a former president and therefore, the entire impeachment process is moot for him is their argument and this trial should not take place.

There are other big argument that you're going to hear a ton of throughout the trial is that Trump's speech is fully protected by the First Amendment as free speech that everything he said at that rally and the lead up to it for months in terms of the big lie, Jake, that that's all just free speech, and he's allowed to say those things. That's an argument that they're going to put forth saying he didn't incite a riot.

And then they're going to frame the entire impeachment process as political theater. Democrats are engaged in pure political theater is what Trump's defense Capitol say this is all about hurting the former President politically, not about actual violation of his oath of office.

[13:00:07]

TAPPER: All right, David, thank you so much.

CHALIAN: Sure.

[13:00:00]