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Impeachment Managers Speak After Trump Acquittal; Senate Votes To Acquit Donald Trump, 57 Guilty, 43 Not Guilty; Pelosi Rejects Censure For Trump, Says It Lets GOP Off The Hook; Interview With U.S. Virgin Islands Democratic Delegate To House Of Representatives, Stacey Plaskett (D). Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 13, 2021 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:03]

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): So the bottom line is we convinced a big majority in the Senate of our case. I'm very proud of the exceptional hard work of these managers who worked through the night many nights over several weeks to make this case to the Senate and to the union.

As to -- I just want to say one word about the whole thing about witnesses. We were able to get treated as live, under oath testimony, the statement of our colleague, Congresswoman Jamie Herrera-Beutler. We were able to get a stipulation to that and get it into evidence today by asking for her as a witness.

If you listen Mitch McConnell and the Republicans who are now hurriedly (ph) explaining why they voted not to convict, all of them are hinging on a legal argument, jurisdictional or some other legal argument that who could never be overcome by any number of witnesses. We could have had 5,000 witnesses and Mitch McConnell would be making the same speech, because what he's asserting is that that the Senate never has jurisdiction over a former president.

And for reasons I don't need to belabor because a big part of the trial was about this, we reject that completely. It's totally at odds with our history. The Blunt case, the Belknap case, the text of the Constitution, the original intent of the Constitution, the original understanding of the Constitution, the Senate's own precedence and so on.

But in any event, the point is that no number of witnesses demonstrating that Donald Trump continued to incite the insurrectionists even after the invasion of the Capitol would convince them. They wouldn't be convinced. They were hinging on a matter of law, which we thought we had settled back on Tuesday, of course, when the Senate elected to exercise jurisdiction and to reject that jurisdictional constitutional argument.

But it is what it is. Mitch McConnell clearly feels that Donald Trump remains a huge problem for the Republican Party, even if he has been disgraced in the eyes of the country. That is not my jurisdiction and I really don't have anything to say about that. I think they will have to deal with the political dynamics within their own party. So, we did get Donald Trump at least to admit that he's a former president now. So that's good news. He's not asserting that somehow, he's still president and they're recognizing at least in a de facto sense the legitimacy of this presidential election, which, of course, President Biden won by more than 7 million votes and by a margin of 306-232 -- 306-232 in the Electoral College.

With that, I will close my remarks. And questions are open for any of us. And I'm going to share the podium with my distinguished colleagues. OK, yes.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The beginning of the procedural motion, five Republicans (INAUDIBLE) they voted on the Rand Paul motion and it was synced (ph) on the constitutionality (INAUDIBLE) of conviction. So what's to say if you didn't push harder on witnesses, try to get someone to provide more (INAUDIBLE) shed a little light into Donald Trump's thinking that you couldn't have a number of Republican defectors?

RASKIN: All right. Somebody else want to take a shot of that. I thought I addressed that. But anybody else want to -- yes, please, Stacey.

STACEY PLASKETT (D), DELEGATE TO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: Listen, we heard from this -- from the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, that we have proven the case. He said specifically the House managers have proven the facts of the case. And before we started yesterday, we knew when we rested, we rested with overwhelming evidence as to the facts of this case.

These all jurors were also witnesses to the crime. They knew specifically what was happening. And then they were -- we found additional information about Herrera-Beutler, which we, on yesterday evening, we decided that we were going to go after. And we got it. We got that information to further amplify what we had already proven there in court.

There is no other additional witnesses that were friendly to us that were not there on the screen, the body cameras of the Capitol police officers. How much more resonance would that have given to them than the actual seeing the day of the insurrection? Individuals that others of us would have liked to have called, like the president who we invited is, in fact, the defendant and does not have to testify.

[17:05:02]

Other individual who may have been there with the president were not friendly witness to us and would have required subpoenas and months of litigation. They are still McGahn in impeachment one a year later.

And so we believe that we have shown that this president is a disgrace to our country. Mitch McConnell himself said that. These senator have decided to hang their hat on jurisdictional grounds, which are not based on evidence, which are not based on the facts and they will have to be judged for that. We have done our duty to the American people.

RAJU: -- Kevin McCarthy at all as a possible witness?

RASKIN: Let me introduce Speaker Pelosi, and I'll come to you next.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Thank you. It had not been my intention to come to this press availability, however, tempting it would be to sing the praises of our House managers on behalf not only of the House of Representatives, on behalf of the American people.

And I have to say personally on behalf of my grandchildren who do great hope and inspiration from each and every one of you. We could not be prouder of your patriotic presentations, the clarity in which you presented, and, again, the inspiration you have been to so many people. So, I thank you for that.

When I see all of them, it reminds me that when we recruit candidates to run for office, when we see them self-recruiting, we always say, well, I could be the president of my university or I could be the head of my hospital department or this or that. So, I have to think about whether I run for Congress. We always say, we don't want anybody without options. That's why we're looking to you to run because you have options. That shouldn't be a reason for you not to run.

But what we saw in that Senate today was a cowardly group of Republicans who apparently have no options because they were afraid to defend their job, respect the institution in which they served. Imagine that it would be vandalized in so many bad ways that I won't even go into here and that they would not respect their institute, that the president of the Senate, Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence, was the chant, and they just dismissed that. Why? Because maybe they can't get another job.

What is so important about any one of us? What is so important about the political survival about anyone of us that is more important than our Constitution that we take an oath to protect and defend? But why I came over was because I listened to Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell, who when this distinguished group of House managers were gathered on January 15th to deliver the articles of impeachment, could not be received because Mitch McConnell had shut down the Senate and was going to keep it shut down until right -- until the inauguration.

So, for him to get up there and make this indictment against the president and then say, but I can't -- I can't vote for it because it's after the fact, the fact that he established, the fact that he established that it could not be delivered before the inauguration.

Now, when you think about January 6th, between January 6th and January 20th, you're only talking about just under two weeks, a day under two weeks. So, the big lie, stop the steal, the big lie that you talked about, stop the steal was the momentum for getting these people there on the 6th, they honestly believe for whatever reason, maybe too much social media, whatever -- watch social media, that movie -- why they were thinking that that was true, that the election was not legitimate, whatever the reason the president told.

So, okay, sir, that's the 6th. A week later, we impeach in the House. Thank you so those who participated right away, Jamie Raskin, Ted Lieu and David Cicilline. They had it all written up and ready to go, bipartisanly passed the House and then two days later ready with the case to take to the Senate.

[17:10:07]

Oh, we can't receive it. And then, by the law, it shows they receive in the next day, start the trial.

For Mitch McConnell, to create a situation where it could not have been heard before the 20th or even begun before the 20th in the Senate, to say all the things he said, oh, my gosh, about Donald Trump and how horrible he was and is, and then say, but the time that the House chose to bring it over -- no, we didn't choose. You chose not to receive it. So, I think that's really important.

And, again, it doesn't matter. As Jamie and others have told us, you can have the case after the person is out of office. So, it's an elementary discussion. The Senate rules in that way, in honoring precedent on this. So, it wasn't -- it didn't matter except it was not the reason that he voted the way he did. It was the excuse that he used.

And so that's why I think it's important because that was a very important speech. I though Chuck Schumer's speech was remarkable in laying it all out. I think he was inspired by all of you because you raised the level of all this to such a place of patriotism and knowledge of our country, our history and what we owe our children.

Again, we always say, honoring the vision of our founders, worthy of a sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and respecting the aspirations of our children, they did all of that. And as the distinguished manager said earlier on this presidential weekend, our sense of patriotism is still stirred (ph) and were called upon in a strong way.

So I want to thank them. I want to thank Stacey Plaskett. Thank you, Stacey. Thank you, Madeleine Dean. Thank you very much, Joe Neguse. Thank you, Eric Swalwell. Thank you, Diana DeGette. Thank you, David Cicilline. Thank you, Ted Lieu. Thank you, Joaquin Castro. Thank you very much, Mr. Lead Manager, on all of this. We just couldn't be prouder.

I've been hearing from my grandchildren who are very sad that justice wasn't done. But by 15 votes, the Senate voted to convict, a good bipartisan statement about what has happened. It would not have been accomplished without your brilliant presentations. So, I thank you for that, and I yield the floor back to all of you as I leave.

RASKIN: Madam Speaker, thank you for your confidence in us. I was going to go next to Scott. Will you take the next one?

REPORTER: I have a question for the speaker if she had a comment about Mitch McConnell's (INAUDIBLE) suggesting that President Trump still was liable criminally or civilly for everything he did in office. Do you think now that the Justice Department or the state attorney general should pursue the legal --

PELOSI: He even hedged on that. Remember when he talked about -- when he talked about incitement, he said he didn't think this rose to the level -- so, he was hedging all over the place. I don't know whether it was for donors or what. But whatever it was, it was a very disingenuous speech.

And I say that regretfully because I always want to be able to work with the leadership of the other party. I think our country needs a strong Republican Party, it's very important, and for him to have tried to have it every which way.

But we will be going forward to make sure that this never happens again in terms of what were the -- to investigate and evaluate what caused this both in terms of the motivation but also in terms of the security that we have to have as we go forward, recognizing how inflaming even some of our elected officials can be.

But I defer to all these distinguished lawyers about that.

RASKIN: All right, let's see. So --

REPORTER: So, Speaker Pelosi, is censure an option right now?

PELOSI: Censure is a (INAUDIBLE) of the Constitution. It lets everybody off the hook.

[17:15:02]

Oh, these cowardly senators who couldn't face up to what the president did and what was at stake for our country are now going to have a chance to give a little slap on the wrist. We censure people for using stationary for the wrong purpose. We don't censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol.

REPORTER: Good answer.

RASKIN: Yes?

REPORTER: Can you explain (INAUDIBLE) contemporaneous notes from the congresswoman deposition possibly leading to other depositions? Is that (INAUDIBLE) January public statement into the trial record? Did you try and reach out to her at all? And then, separately, did the White House side indirectly or directly had any involvement in the decision all you're (INAUDIBLE)?

RASKIN: You know what, I don't want to -- we tried this case as aggressively as we could on the law and on the facts. We did everything that we could. We got from the president's lawyers exactly what we wanted, which was the entering into the evidentiary record of the statement by our colleague, Congresswoman Beutler. And we got that. I was able to read it before the entire country, and it became part of the case. And it became an important part of our case.

Again, you know, we could have had 500 witnesses, and it would not have overcome the kinds of arguments being made by Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who were hanging their hats on the claim that it was somehow unconstitutional to try a former president or that the First Amendment somehow gave him a right to incite violent insurrection against the union. And, you know, they're going to have to live with those arguments that they made.

But we think that we overwhelmingly approved our case. I think Mitch McConnell's statement showed that they knew we overwhelmingly proved our case. And all that might have happened if we had, you know, bargained for ten witnesses on our side, ten witnesses on their side, the first person they said they wanted to bring up and to cross examine is Nancy Pelosi.

They would have turned the whole thing into a circus. And we conducted it with solemnity and legal seriousness and decorum, and you saw the conduct of the lawyers on the other side. And you know what Donald Trump's track record is. We were not going to allow them to turn it into a farce.

REPORTER: Congressman Raskin, why didn't you raise her comments sooner? She said (INAUDIBLE). Why didn't you introduce it in the trial sooner?

RASKIN: Well, the first time that I saw the statement was yesterday. That statement was released yesterday. So, you know, what's interesting is the premises on these questions is somehow we've failed to prove the facts of the case. I think in the eyes of the entire world and the country, we overwhelmingly proved the facts of the case. And Senator McConnell just conceded that that wasn't the issue.

You've got to talk to the 43 senators who are basically saying, no amount of facts would have made any difference to them because they didn't think that the president was subject to the jurisdiction of the Senate. That was the argument you just heard Mitch McConnell make.

So, I -- you know, I mean, forgive me for reacting strongly to that, but that seems to me to be a completely bizarre conclusion to these events to say that somehow if we had just had one more witness, Mitch McConnell would have come over to our side. Just listen to his words.

Yes?

REPORTER: Thank you. I just want to follow-up on an earlier question. Did the White House convey to you in any way they did not want witnesses throughout the process? Did the White House tell you they wanted a short (INAUDIBLE)?

RASKIN: I have never spoke to anyone from the White House or to President Biden or the vice president, none of them, no. And I made the call. So, you want to blame somebody, you know, yes.

REPORTER: In terms of witnesses, how you scratched them out --

RASKIN: Well, remember, you know, when you get in a situation like this, you -- look, if we had needed any witnesses to make our case, then we would have gone all the way and insisted on witnesses and a six-week trial or eight-week trial, or whatever. We didn't. We overwhelmingly proved our case. Senator McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, just conceded that, right? All of them are saying, you know, you won on the facts.

PLASKETT: You said something -- it was two things that we had to do, right? We had to first have a motion for witnesses, which we did when we were supposed to do it, which was after the prosecution moved the fence, made their case.

[17:20:03]

We made a motion to allow for witnesses. And then after that, we requested one witness. The Republican counsel for the president, the former president, said he was going to bring 100 witnesses. We got the essence of what we wanted, which was the statement of Congresswoman Jamie Herrera-Beutler. The defense got nothing.

And I think that what you're doing is making a lot out of -- and dismissing the incredible evidence of havoc, mayhem and what this president had done over a period of months to bring destruction to our democracy by talking about if you had two or three more witnesses, what was going to happen.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): One thing I would just add is, remember, there's a reason that the request for witnesses comes at the conclusion of the case, because we had an opportunity to see the president -- the former president's counsel and decided whether or not we needed to provide additional witnesses. Don't forget, our case was filled with dozens of witnesses who were presented by way of video and statements and recordings.

And it was only last night we learned about this new information and we got the best of both worlds. With got that testimony in the record before the jury, without any risk associated with it. And that's important to remember. This is a congresswoman who repeats a telephone call between Kevin McCarthy and the former president of the United States, in which Kevin McCarthy is pleading for help, saying help us, we're under attack.

The president first starts to blame another group. And he says, no, President Trump, these are your supporters and we're in danger here. And he says, well, Kevin, maybe they care more about the election than you do. That came before the Senate jury through the statement Mr. Raskin read. So, we got the evidence in of the witness that we wanted to present and that was a victory for us.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): The defendant, President Donald John Trump, was let off on a technicality. And that's essentially what you heard Mitch McConnell say, that they let him off on what they perceived at least to be a procedural issue, which was because of the constitutionality of the matter. They couldn't proceed to the substance. The doctrinal interpretation both on the liberal side and the conservative side strongly disagrees with that assessment, but they let him off on a technicality.

And you also heard Mitch McConnell go up there and say essentially that we overwhelmingly proved our case, that, substantively, Donald Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection. And it has been, I know for all of us, an honor to work and a solemn honor to work on this case. But even though we didn't get 67 votes, this has been the most bipartisan vote for impeachment and conviction ever. And we know that we spoke the truth on the Senate floor. And the American people, by and large, have agreed with us.

And one final remark on all of this, you know, this episode from January 6 on has been very taxing on the American people, ushered in a new era thanks to Donald Trump of political violence. And so, most of all, my reaction to the decision of a majority of Republican senators not to convict Donald Trump despite the overwhelming evidence is not only sadness but also apprehension for the nation. Because, as I said during my remarks, the defense counsel's main argument is that there's nothing wrong with what Donald Trump did and he could do it all over again. And as a nation, we just have to hope that that isn't the case.

RASKIN: All right. I think that we're going to close it up. I just want to remind everybody that this was the most bipartisan impeachment in the history of the United States. It was the largest vote in the U.S. Senate ever to convict a president who's been impeached. And it was the most bipartisan conviction vote in the Senate that we've ever seen in a case of a presidential impeachment.

But there's one other number to look out for if you listen carefully to what's being said now after the trial. There are 57 senators who voted to convict on the facts in the law. Now, add to that the number of senators who say they believe that Donald Trump was factually guilty but that the Senate didn't have jurisdiction or there was some other constitutional issue.

But just take the one who is say, we don't think that we could convict him because of this January exception.

[17:25:04]

He was able to get away with it at the end of his term. If 10 or 15 or 20 of them say that, that means you've got a supermajority who are saying that the president actually is guilty of these crimes, which we think we have overwhelmingly and convincingly demonstrated to the American people.

Thank you all very much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. So, there you have the nine House impeachment managers and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, making the case why they felt that the former president of the United States was guilty of incitement of insurrection.

John King is with me. I think it's really important that we focus is on this vote, 57 in favor of conviction, 43 Republicans opposed to conviction, not guilty. You need 67. You needed ten more. They couldn't get ten more. As a result, there was the acquittal.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And even many Republicans, including the leader, Mitch McConnell, who voted not guilty, are now issuing statements, or in his case, the speech on the floor slamming the former president, saying what he did was reprehensible, saying what he did was morally repugnant, saying what he did may land him in a criminal court.

And so there is no doubt, as the House managers were just saying, they did prove their case because they got seven Republicans that have the courage to vote on the record and a number of other Republicans who are saying they voted the way they voted because of a technicality.

Now, that's a cop out. The Republicans, many of them, are still frightened, frankly, of defying Donald Trump. He is still ten Republican votes in the House to impeach, seven Republican votes in the Senate to convict, which means the majority of Republicans stood with Donald Trump, even though many of them are now giving speeches saying he incited an insurrection.

So, that is the legacy -- it's an indelible a stain on the former president and his now legacy for the Republican Party as we move into the next chapter, which is the post-impeachment, post-trial of Donald Trump. And with all the questions of number one, a new president trying to get his agenda through, but number two, what happens to the Republican Party, how much influence does the former president continue exert, does he want to exert 2022 or 2024 and so on?

But this is a significant verdict today. The House managers are disappointed they didn't get to two-thirds. But it is fascinating to watch now, A, the seven Republicans who had the courage following the ten Republicans on the House side who had the courage and then what I call, rationalization, there are stronger words you might use, but people who are coming out now understanding what the American people think, understanding what people watching around the world think.

So, like Mitch McConnell to come to the floor and say what the president did was horrible, it was morally indefensible, he's still criminally liable and yet he voted not guilty. So, there's a -- we talked about this earlier, there's a Trump Rationalization Syndrome happening.

BLITZER: Right. I mean, Mitch McConnell, think about this, he said, and I'm quoting him now, President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day, the assault on the United States Capitol. He did not do his job. He didn't take steps that federal law could be executed and order restored. No. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded.

But then he said, constitutionally, he was not eligible for conviction even though the Senate, a few days earlier, five days earlier, had voted that, what, 56-44 that, constitutionally, the Senate could go ahead with the trial.

KING: Right. That is the can't try a former president excuse or rationale. I think there are some legal scholars who say that but the overwhelming majority say, no, especially because he was impeached while he was still president. It's not like they were impeaching him and convict as a former president. He was impeached as president. It was the schedule of the trial. And

that's why you saw the indignant Nancy Pelosi show up at the House manager's press conference. She said she did not plan to come until she saw Mitch McConnell say, well, because he's a former president, I considered the trial illegitimate.

Remember, Donald Trump was still president. Mitch McConnell was still the Senate majority leader when the House voted to impeach and McConnell made crystal clear in his view there was not time to hold a trial, that it would not happen before the Biden inauguration.

So, Nancy Pelosi is essentially calling, forgive my language, bullshit, that you could have said, send the article over, we will start the trial proceedings while he was still president and then you wouldn't have this argument, we can do this. She raises a very legitimate point.

BLITZER: And I think it's fair to say that if Mitch McConnell had said publicly in the blunt terms that he used today how guilty Trump was of this insurrection, in instigating this insurrection, it would have had an impact on other Republican senators and that 57 vote could have been 67. You needed ten more. Mitch McConnell would have been one. You would need nine more after that.

KING: And, remember, Mitch McConnell did not support the president's big lie, but he also, for days and days and days and weeks, and our Capitol Hill team can give us the exact number, refused to call Joe Biden the president-elect because he did not want to make Donald Trump mad.

[17:30:04]

So he was not out there alleging fraud. He was not out there alleging that the electoral vote should not be counted. But he was among the Republicans, again, because of their fear for Trump, would not stand up right away and say stop it, this must stop.

BLITZER: Yes, he did say, at the very end, he said, you know, Trump might still be punished. There's a criminal justice system. He is not immune. He's a former president, meaning he's a private citizen.

So potentially, whether the Justice Department or the state of Georgia or New York, they can still go after him.

KING: The speech explains very clearly Mitch McConnell, in his own words, Mitch McConnell, explains very clearly what he thinks, that Donald Trump is a toxic cancer on the Republican Party and a toxic cancer on the country the country. And he's hoping somebody else does something about it.

BLITZER: Yes.

All right, Dana, over to you.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Wolf.

I'm still here with my colleagues, Abby Phillip and David Chalian.

Can we just also go back to Speaker Pelosi for a second, who kind of just appeared in that press conference and was so incensed, so angry,

Understandably so, given the fact that she really would have given the impeachment article to the Senate, had she not heard pretty clearly, like we all heard, from Mitch McConnell when he was still in charge of the schedule of the Senate that he wasn't going to bring them back from recess.

But going off about how the Republicans who hung their acquittal vote on that technicality were cowards.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: I think that's why she appeared.

BASH: Right.

CHALIAN: But I think the McConnell speech is what prompted her to appear --

BASH: I agree.

CHALIAN: -- before cameras to make this point.

Because it's -- it is really hard to listen to Mitch McConnell make the argument -- Wolf just went through the words -- and not have that reflect poorly on the 43 Republicans, he, being one of them, who voted to acquit because those two things don't sync up.

You can't decry the trauma on our democracy that we all suffered, the entire country suffered this trauma, this attack on our very democracy, and not have a moment of accountability in the actual vote where it matters.

But to give lip service to the fact that it actually was a totally inappropriate violation of an oath of office kind of attack on the democracy.

Those things don't square in anybody's mind who's watching this.

So, Nancy Pelosi has every right to be infuriated like that and to go before the cameras.

And obviously, she also wanted to praise her nine House managers, her lawyers that she tapped for this job and commend the job they did.

But I wonder, absent Mitch McConnell's speech, if we would have heard from Pelosi tonight.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was sort of like a last dagger at the Democrats from McConnell to basically make the House impeachment manager's case for them and then vote to acquit.

You know, also you heard Jamie Raskin make this point that the Senate, as a body, made a determination already about the constitutionality issue. And Mitch McConnell is the Senate minority leader, very recently was

the Senate majority leader. And I cannot imagine another situation in which McConnell would completely put aside the precedent set in his own body in order to make a completely separate judgment of his own about the constitutionality of something that they were about to do.

The president of the -- that vote that they took, to say that this was a constitutional proceeding, is now Senate precedent. And McConnell just ignored that.

But he did it because he wanted to be able to do both things, wanted to be able to say I don't think we should, you know, vote to convict Trump but also condemn it. You cannot have it both ways on this issue no matter how hard he tries.

CHALIAN: I think it's an important point that Abby's making. I think -- I'm sure our reporters will be doing this -- but every single Republican Senator who hangs the explanation of their vote of acquittal on this notion of they don't think it was constitutional to hold the trial should be pressed on that very question.

But the body you serve in came collectively as a body with a majority vote to a different conclusion. And the trial moved past that. And I just think each one of them should have to be pressed on that.

BASH: That's such a great point.

I want to bring in Jamie Gangel.

Jamie, on what we're talking about, but also, on what Nancy Pelosi said about all of these Republicans.

But it seems to me she was really specifically trying to stick it to Mitch McConnell, saying that the reason that they voted the way they voted is because they can't get another job.

They are clinging to power because they know that politically voting to convict Donald Trump could be a political death sentence to a lot of these Republicans.

[17:35:02]

And at the same time, you heard McConnell saying things that it looked like he was trying to wipe the slate clean of Donald Trump for the Republican Party. But it is not that easy.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Not so much. You know, I was just -- I wrote down words that Mitch McConnell said as he spoke. "Foreseeable, unconscionable, obvious that Trump could stop it. The GOP is still the party of Donald Trump."

And, Dana, you and I have seen Nancy Pelosi angry. She was really angry today.

I think that the reality is a number of members of Congress, both on the House side and the Senate side, I've spoken to, as we say privately, over the last four years because they won't go on the record.

And they'll say to me, Jamie, I have to stay with Donald Trump. I'll lose my primary. I'll lose my seat.

And that is very real. They want the job. They want the free parking space at national airport. They want the staff.

(CROSSTALK)

It's unfortunate, but they will not let go.

Oh, I'm sorry. You were going to speak.

BASH: No, no. You just made me think of another question for you. And I want to ask David about this afterwards as well.

This is on the notion of they want to keep their jobs. But Mitch McConnell is really upset that he is not majority leader, he is minority leader.

And part of the reason, I would say maybe the reason for that, is because Donald Trump screwed up the Georgia Senate races and got to the point where the Democrats won. It's 50/50.

And Chuck Schumer is the majority leader. He's looking ahead to 2022. Wants to get the Republicans back in the majority.

And he has a very different set of political realities in order to do that.

Because, you know, yes, there are primaries, as you were talking about within the Republican Party. But if a Trump kind of Republican wins a primary in a swing state, then there goes that race. He saw that happen in different contexts for many years.

So, I'm just wondering how much of that is going on in Mitch McConnell's head right now.

GANGEL: Yes, 100 percent. I'll just say one thing quickly and then David, who's the expert on this, can weigh in.

I think it's not only that what happened in Georgia that Mitch McConnell is thinking about.

Let's not forget that his wife, Elaine Chao, was a member of Trump's cabinet and she resigned after January 6th. So, we know how they felt about that.

But it's not just losing seats. Even if he wins seats, will they elect him leader? I think he was worried about his own position in the Senate leadership if he did not go along with where most of the Republicans were.

Now, David can say what's correct, but it just strikes me that he's worried about being leader as well.

BASH: That's a really good point.

I know, David, you're skeptical of my question about whether -- if Mitch McConnell had given that speech, which was the argument that the House managers spent a week giving, and then voted to convict and not acquit, could he have brought 10 more or nine more Republicans along with him.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I know you're skeptical but --

CHALIAN: It could have happened.

BASH: Yes.

CHALIAN: I'm just saying the list of Senators --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: But it also speaks to what she was saying about his place --

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: Exactly. Jamie is spot on.

Again, that's why the word "leader" is so profoundly misused in the notion. It's not unlike what we saw with Kevin McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene at a certain point.

If you are the leader of your party, you want to set the path. And Mitch McConnell is trying to set the path for the Republican Party he thinks is going to be most successful.

That's why he praised Liz Cheney and slammed down Marjorie Taylor Greene. That's why he's giving this rebuke of President Trump.

Because he thinks just going down the Trump support route is not the way to win Senate seats in the long run, to win back the majority, to win the presidency.

And Georgia is the perfect example for this, Dana. You highlighted it correctly. Because Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue tied themselves so close to Donald Trump in the midst of the big lie, in the midst of setting the groundwork for January 6. While all of that was going on, they tied themselves.

Kelly Loeffler, just two nights before, right, announcing she's going to join the challenge to the electoral vote certification in the Senate.

[17:40:05]

Well, she's no longer a Senator. She's no longer -- neither is David Perdue.

Going down that route was demonstrable by the voters in Georgia the wrong political choice. Mitch McConnell sees that. He's trying to steer his party in a way.

But he also understands -- as Jamie is saying, he wasn't wanting to get so far afield from where the bulk of his conference is. And the bulk of his conference, like the bulk of Republican Party across the country, like we see in all of the public polling, still is in Trump's camp.

BASH: Well, the conference -- I'm not so sure -- what Jamie was saying about the private conversations she has. The people -- the Senators are probably not there. You're saying their constituents.

CHALIAN: After years of private conversations, I'm not sure they get much credit for that. The reason they're private is because they will run afoul of their voters --

BASH: I hear you.

CHALIAN: -- if they were to go public.

PHILLIP: And they're the very same people who privately criticized and disdained Trump are publicly his most staunch supporters for political -- just raw politics because they know they can't survive without it.

I agree with you, David. You don't get credit for whispering in the cloak rooms of the Senate that you don't like Trump.

You know, McConnell may have had ultimately no choice on this matter, that he is still leading a party that is largely Trump's.

But I think it's -- he may be a little misguided in the view that he can have one foot in Trump land and one foot outside of it and still effectively lead.

I think we saw what happened with minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, when he tried to do exactly the same thing and he got rolled by Trump. He got rolled by Marjorie Taylor Greene.

And now it seems very clear who is actually running the party on the House side.

I think it'll become pretty clear on the Senate side what's happening there, too. And it's not necessarily, I don't think, going to be a McConnell view that Trump needs to be repudiated.

I think the louder voices, the Ted Cruzs and the Lindsey Grahams, have won the day on this one.

BASH: Do you agree with that?

CHALIAN: I do. I think you're going to it. Listen, a lot of these Senators, maybe not Lindsey Graham anymore, but have presidential ambitions.

And as the contest to fill the post-Trump void, if Donald Trump doesn't seek the presidency again, which by the way, some of these Republicans allowed him to have that option still by not voting to convict, the Marco Rubio, Rand Paul's, Ted Cruz's, Josh Hawley's, Tom Cotton's of the world.

I think you're right. They're making the calculation they're not going to be able to successfully court Republican primary voters if they do a full Trump repudiation.

I don't think that's why we're hearing speeches from those folks the way we heard Mitch McConnell's speech.

BASH: Yes. But you were always using the word primary. And that is the key difference we have to remind our viewers between the intraparty fight and the fight that they all will have to win depending on the state statewide and then also in a national election.

I want to bring in one of impeachment managers right now, a delegate from the Virgin Islands, Stacey Plaskett.

Thank you so much for joining us, giving us, Abby and me, your first national post-trial interview on CNN.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: Delegate Plaskett, thanks for being with us.

STACEY PLASKETT (D), DELEGATE TO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FROM U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: Sure. Thank you.

PHILLIP: So many Republicans came into this impeachment trial clearly with their minds made up.

Did you go into this trial thinking that you would be able to bring 17 Republicans over to the view that Trump was guilty or was this about the larger principle for Democrats?

PLASKETT: I think all of the impeachment managers, as a team, made the decision that we were presenting this case to 100 Senators as well as to the American people.

And we did that through the evidence. We worked really hard along with a tremendous team of professional staff to present a case to the people of what happened on January 6th. And even leading up to January 6th.

And I think that there's no question in anyone's mind that the president of the United States incited insurrectionists to not only storm the capitol but to try and stop our republic, the peaceful transfer of power.

As you heard from Mitch McConnell's own speech, he said the House managers proved the facts. They proved the facts of the case. And he even pointed to the events leading up to that insurrection and the fact that remained that case.

They have looked for an excuse as to why not to hold the president accountable, and for that, they're going to have to answer.

PHILLIP: Yes, and to that point, what went through your head when you heard McConnell essentially repeating your case to you after just having voted to acquit the former president in Donald Trump?

[17:45:02]

PLASKETT: Just disappointment. And an individual who did not have the courage to think that his country was more important than his party and the leadership. That was what I felt was very disappointing.

As a parent and as an American, I think, however, that the thing that has given me hope is having seven Republican Senators stand up for what's right.

And knowing that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the events as we saw it, and as we demonstrated by absolutely overwhelming evidence.

All of those Senators were witnesses to the crime themselves. So, I think that the evidence was there.

And history will judge those who did not support the conviction harshly.

BASH: You said that you made your case on the evidence. You did not need witnesses. It would not have made a difference in bumping that number up higher than seven Republicans, which is completely understandable, as you said. Even Mitch McConnell basically said that.

However, there are some Democrats that I'm hearing from -- you're probably as well -- watching what happened and thinking that Senate Democrats in their deal making with Republicans undercut you and other House managers by agreeing to go forward without witnesses.

Did they?

PLASKETT: Well, I think that, you know, I'm not going to get into what the negotiations among Senate members are.

But, listen, we rested our case before the defense did. And we were pleased that we had overwhelming evidence that demonstrated the facts and that article of impeachment, that Donald Trump did what we say he did.

It was then up to the defense to put forward a case. They did not in my opinion. I think everyone was underwhelmed by what they said.

They tried to come up with different theories that never addressed the issues at hand.

And so on the night before today, last night, we found out that our colleague, Jaime Herrera Beutler, did issue a statement which additionally corroborated what we had proven.

We came in this morning, made a motion for a witness. That witness was her, as you saw. We wanted that statement on the record. We got that, along with the Republican defense counsel, counsel for the president, saying that he possibly wanted 100 witnesses. He didn't get that. And so I think what you saw after that was Senators had made their

minds, made their decisions, and those Senators who voted against found an excuse not to do the right thing.

And I know that people are disappointed that Americans -- listen, nobody wants to lose. I wanted to win this case, along with all of the impeachment managers.

I think you could see that in the amount of passion as well as meticulous work that we put into this case.

So, finding a reason as to why these Senators wouldn't do that just baffles most people's mind. And I think it's that they have not put their country above themselves or above their party.

BASH: We heard leader manager, Jamie Raskin, just a few moments ago, say that he was the one who decided not to call Mike Pence and other potential witnesses.

As a prosecutor and someone who, as you said, you were trying to build a record for history, never mind whether or not you had enough evidence, which you believe you did, would you have like to have heard from people like that for the record books, for the history books --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: -- regardless of their votes?

PLASKETT: Let's remember that in the first impeachment trial, we were requesting the witness of Mr. McGahn, right? That is still in litigation. That witness has still not come forward.

Are the American people going to wait for another year of us litigating to have the vice president come forward? Who was not going to be a friendly witness. Kevin McCarthy was not going to be a friendly witness. They were going to drag this out in courts as long as possible.

We believe that the evidence has shown what, in fact, happened in an overwhelming manner. And that history will judge it that way. As well as the American people saw what happened on January 6th.

And you know the case was presented and the evidence was there. And whether those individuals came forward and spoke is never to be

known.

You know, one of the things, as a prosecutor you know, you don't of your own volition necessarily call a witness that you don't know what they're going to say.

You don't know -- I don't know what Mike Pence is going to say. He has - although, he told the president he was not going to follow his last instruction to obstruct the constitutional duty that he had to certify the election, he went along with him for almost four years prior to that in all of the despicable things that had president did.

[17:50:03]

So, would he have told the truth? Who knows?

PHILLIP: Yesterday afternoon, for those who have been watching these hearings, you took a moment to criticize the defense counsel's prevalent use of black women and people of color, talking about fighting in these video montages that they played.

I want to play a little bit of that moment for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PLASKETT: I'll briefly say that defense counsel's put a lot of videos out in their -- in their defense, playing clip after clip of black women talking about fighting for a cause, or an issue, or a policy.

It was not lost on me as so many of them were people of color, and women, and black women.

Black women, like myself, are sick and tired of being sick and tired for our children, your children, our children.

This summer things happened that were violent. But there were also things that gave some of us black women great comfort.

Seeing Amish people from Pennsylvania standing up with us, members of Congress fighting up with us.

And so I thought we were past that. I think maybe we're not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: There's no question that what happened on January 6th has an undercurrent of white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and so much more.

What message do you think this acquittal verdict sends to the white supremacists and domestic terrorists and to the people they targeted, not just on January 6th, but in general?

PLASKETT: Well, I think you've seen through the actions of some members of both House and Senate that they agree with some of those actions.

Some of them agreeing with it on January 6th and immediately thereafter. And some potentially by their vote.

And I think that we need to careful of what we have going on in this country.

The kind of rhetoric as well as actions that have been condoned and fanned and inflamed by the past president, Donald Trump.

But I want everyone also to be aware that the majority of Senators did not agree with that and voted against it.

And the majority of members of the House, in impeaching President Trump, also agreed that that is not America.

And so that is what should give us hope. There's a lot of work we have to do.

Listen, Abby, I believe, as a black woman, I had a responsibility to say something. If we're put in those places and put in those positions, that to whom much is given much is required.

And that that was not an opportunity and not a place I would not speak about what they were attempting to do in terms of dog whistles and gas lighting that was happening in those videos.

And I think that we're going to continue to see people stand up, people like yourself, people like me, people like Dana Bash and others, who believe in what's right and are going to call it when they see it.

PHILLIP: You're also a prosecutor. And there's now the possibility that Trump could be charged criminally or civilly for some of the things that happened January 6th and before that.

Would you bring that case? Would you recommend that the Biden Department of Justice bring a criminal case against Trump now?

PLASKETT: Well, I think that my job right now is to be a member of the House of Representatives. I'm not going to try and tell both the Justice Department, who will be run by amazing, fine people -- I want to shout out my sister, Kristen Clark, who is heading up the Civil Rights Division coming up.

And then to those individuals who are in the New York -- the attorney general, as well as in Fulton County, they're going to make decisions that are appropriate for their people, for the American people. And we'll wait and see.

PHILLIP: Would you agree, though, that he is criminally liable at this point?

PLASKETT: Listen, I think that the charges that we brought were in fact criminal. I think that we proved that he is in fact an inciter- in-chief. That is, in fact, criminal.

For an individual to raise themselves up, to try and destroy this republic, he led an insurrection, albeit an attempted one that failed., but an insurrection against the republic.

That is a high crime and a misdemeanor.

BASH: Before we let go, we wanted to ask you, just reflect on what it's like to be a House manager in such a historic event like an impeachment, in the trenches, with your Democratic colleagues, many of whom I should say including yourself are part of the younger generation of the Democratic caucus.

PLASKETT: Well, thank you for saying I'm younger.

(LAUGHTER)

PLASKETT: I don't know if my children would agree with that.

But what I will say is that no one could be finer than to have a lead manager like Jamie Raskin, who I had the pleasure of being his student many years ago in law school as well.

[17:55:05]

And so I think there was a camaraderie and also a teamwork and knowing we were there for higher good, to demonstrate that we will fight for this republic.

Everyone just dug in. There was no great personalities. No one better than the other.

Everybody did the work, really trying to be very thoughtful, supportive, even critical of one another as we tried to prepare for this trial.

Because who would have thought that a president of the United States would try and overthrow our government? And so we saw that as something that was profoundly important.

And I think we and the tremendous, tremendous staff that was with us worked that way.

BASH: Impeachment Manager Stacy Plaskett, you are a delegate from the United States Virgin Islands, and we are grateful for your time this evening.

PLASKETT: Thank you.

PHILLIP: Thank you for being with us.

BASH: Thank you.

Very interesting on a whole bunch of levels.

I just want to start with your really good question about the criminal charges, because that is the next step.

The question is whether or not the Justice Department, the Biden Justice Department, or perhaps there's, you know, some jurisdiction on a state and local level will do something unprecedented, which is to pursue charges against a former president?

PHILLIP: I mean, there are layers to this. You heard her mention New York. You heard her mention Fulton County.

What's happening in Fulton County is directly related to the impeachment charges. It's about Trump's call with the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger.

But there are a lot of other cases involving Trump's tax returns, and business dealings, and all kinds of things that have potential criminal liability for him, too.

There's also a huge question of whether the Biden Justice Department even touches this hot potato. And I'm not sure that that really has a clear answer.

But she seemed to think that the details of the charges that they put -- in that impeachment article also are a road map for criminal charges.

And how that is carried is very much an open question. And who carries that out is very much an open question.

CHALIAN: You say we don't have a clear answer on the DOJ -- Biden DOJ pursuing charges. But we do have an upcoming confirmation hearing with the attorney general.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: And I can imagine this being a line of questioning as to whether or not he intends to pursue charges as ag for the -- against the former president of the United States.

I also think, to hear Delegate Plaskett make the case, as you asked, understanding how near impossible this mountain was going to be to climb to get 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict.

Now that didn't diminish the seriousness of purpose, the passion, the meticulous preparation that was put into place here. Because they understood -- she just made so clear -- the role in history this has.

When history looks back on this episode, it's going to be the House managers' version of events of this episode that -- that is the historical record.

PHILLIP: You know, what also struck me about her -- you were asking her about witnesses, and this debate about whether you call them to hear from them, whether it changes votes or not.

But she made an important point about the way in which the issue of witnesses from the last impeachment trial still hasn't been settled.

BASH: Yes.

PHILLIP: That Don McGahn case, she is right, is still up in the air.

And that becomes I think a real question for the Republicans who voted against impeachment on constitutional grounds. And for Mitch McConnell.

If you are a president, and you are impeached, well before the end of your term, could you just simply hold the case open, push back on subpoenas from the legislative branch in order to extend this past your term, and get out of jail free?

I mean, it's a real question now that Congress feels -- you saw the impeachment managers for two trials now believe that they cannot get witnesses who are opposing witnesses to come before them and testify.

That's a very, very serious thing that has really profound implications for in process.

BASH: And the only time we've seen that happen in modern history -- I don't know if there were witnesses in the first -- in the Johnson impeachment.

CHALIAN: I don't know either.

BASH: But for our purposes, in modern history, the only time we've seen witnesses is it's part of a deal.

It's when one side wants a witness so badly they're willing to give up, you know -- they're willing to give in and give in to the other side to bring one of their witnesses.

And that obviously wasn't going to happen in this case for a variety of reasons.

CHALIAN: Or the last case, as Abby pointed out -- and to your point, Abby -- I think this is your point, correct me if I'm wrong. But the overall potential diminishment of impeachment as a remedy is what you are discussing.

PHILLIP: Yes.

[18:00:00]

CHALIAN: And that is such a profoundly dangerous thing.