Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

House Panel Voting Now On Impeachment Probe; Trump Had Productive Background Check Talks With Three Senators; Interview with Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); Trump Could Tap Pompeo To Replace Bolton; Trump To Visit Baltimore After Denigrating The City. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: -- Poppy Harlow.

[10:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Right now, the House Judiciary Committee is voting the ground rules for possible impeachment proceedings against the president. And we are learning this morning that some of the Democratic members on that committee have already dropped a list of possible charges against the president, crucially, including obstruction of justice.

HARLOW: But outside that committee, the argument is not necessarily over the charges, it's actually over what to call the process itself. Is it impeachment or oversight or some combination of both?

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, outside of the vote. So it's underway and Nadler was pretty clear this morning, saying, I'm done with talking about what this is and what it isn't.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He said, we are conducting an investigation to determine whether or not to impeach the president of the United States. Call it what you want, but the ultimate outcome could be recommending impeaching this president and just moments ago, they finished voting on this resolution, setting the ground rules for this investigation.

This resolution was adopted by this committee by a 24 to 17 party line vote after two hours of acrimonious debate, where Republicans criticized Democrats of what they said were changing the rules in the middle of the game, and not explicitly saying they're in an impeachment inquiry, even though a number of Democrats say that's exactly what they are doing, conducting formal impeachment proceedings.

Now, some of the Democratic leaders, however, have not quite aware of Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee Chairman, has been, saying that they're just simply doing an ongoing investigation of matters that they have been looking into, such as potential obstruction of justice.

I talked to one member of the committee, Steve Cohen, earlier who told me this could have implications, even though he says the ultimate recommendation could be impeachment. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Why do you think the Democratic leadership cannot say that they are conducting an impeachment inquiry right now?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): I have no idea. What I'm interested in is the facts that would be brought out by hearings and the facts that the grand jury testimony has, that's where the meat and potatoes are in this Mueller report.

RAJU: Wouldn't it be helpful if everybody was on the same page and calling at the same thing?

COHEN: Probably. But it's hard to get, you know, 235 people to call anything the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, we're still waiting for the chairman of the committee to come out, Jerry Nadler. We'll see if he addresses reporters, which is why I'm looking over in the corner, watching his door, to see if he comes out.

But he has made it pretty clear, guys, that he wants to make a decision about whether or not to move forward on impeachment by the end of the year. The question ultimately will be with the leadership (INAUDIBLE), will they decide to go ahead, but a significant move just moments ago, voting on a party line vote to set the ground rules of this investigation.

This investigation now can more forward and the chairman himself has the authority to say that these hearings in the weeks ahead area impeachment hearings, and we can see that happen next week when Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager, is scheduled to testify before this committee. Guys?

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: It will be quite a moment, quite a remarkable one. Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks very much.

I'm joined now by California Democratic Congressman, John Garamendi. He also serves on the Arms Services Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us today.

First question in the simplest terms for folks watching at home, is there a formal impeachment inquiry of the president?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Absolutely. That's exactly what they did. However, you want to take it, we are now in a formal process. That's extremely important, as I see it, because that gives standing together information. It makes it going to be very difficult to stonewall because we are doing our constitutional responsibility moving down, determining whether there are facts that would lead to an impeachment vote sometime later, probably next year. But, yes, it's very, very important in my mind, it is the standing that we now have under the Constitution to proceed to investigate.

SCIUTTO: You know as well as I do, however, that, one, there is not large public support for impeachment of this president, even among people who do not support the president, and two, you have Republican control of the Senate, so even if you got an impeachment through the House in terms of conviction, of course, taken up in the Senate, you need 2/3 vote, it ain't going to happen. So why do this so close to the 2020 election when you have a chance to remove the president at the ballot box?

GARAMENDI: Because there's been wrongdoing. Right now, I just left a meeting with the acting secretary of the Air Force talking about Prestwick, the airport in Scotland, that we have seen an incredible threefold increase in the number of times the Air Force has used that facility right next to the Trump golf course there, of now 245 times this year in the last eight months. Why? How did that happen, when before it was maybe 50 times?

So there's all kinds of questions out there about the corruption [10:05:00] with this man and with his administration to say nothing of the Mueller report, which in and of itself has plenty of reasons to move forward with an impeachment inquiry.

Bottom line is we have a task to do here. We have a corrupt president. We need to get those facts out there, whether it involve, say, ultimately an impeachment vote in the House, or a trial in the Senate. That's down the road. We need to lay out those facts. That's our responsibility. We must do that.

On the armed services committee, we are proceeding with the Prestwick thing, together with the Oversight Committee.

SCIUTTO: And we'll continue to ask for updates on that story.

I want to ask about another issue, it is gun legislation. President Trump has said he spoke with Senators Murphy, Toomey, Manchin, about the idea of expanding background checks. But as you know, the president has often reversed himself on a whole host of gun control measures. Do you trust the president to get definitively behind substantial gun control legislation?

GARAMENDI: I trust the members of Congress and the Senate to do what is necessary to protect Americans. We absolutely have to have these measures, just as simple as they are about background checks, eliminate the loopholes, deal with the issues at gun shows and on and on. That's our responsibility.

The president ultimately can decide whether to sign the bill or not. But I would think each and every one of us should have the courage to stand up to protect Americans. It would be nice to have the president along, but frankly, you can't count on him because it does change every day.

SCIUTTO: Well, beyond the president, it would require GOP lawmakers to do something they've been loathed to do, which is to stand up to the NRA which opposes universal background checks. Do you believe your Republican colleagues in the House and across the way in the Senate will do so?

GARAMENDI: I just mentioned courage, didn't I? Didn't I just mention the responsibility that we have to protect Americans? I would hope that every single one of us, Democrat, Republican and an independent, would stand up and say, I am going to protect Americans. I am at least going to provide a vote for background checks. All of the loopholes, get those out of the way.

It seems to me that it doesn't take much courage to do that, but for some, that may be a substantial leap for them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The president is a shortage of courage on this particular issue.

I want to talk to you about the president, his now outgoing or gone, national security adviser, John Bolton. There was a remarkable moment in the Oval Office where the president indicated that because the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, did not like John Bolton, that that seemed to be a factor in his decision. Tell us the significance of a president seemingly taking the preference of a hostile foreign leader for such a senior role.

GARAMENDI: Yes, and one of the most egregious leaders in the world, a man that has no problem of killing most of his relatives in the most aggressive manners. No, I do not understand the love affair that President Trump has with Kim Jong-un. He uses the word I'm in love with him. What's going on here? This is craziness.

So who knows what's going to happen here. But the reality is North Korea is a very serious problem to the United States as well as to the neighbors and certainly to South Korea. We've seen North Korea continue to build its nuclear arsenal despite the love affair that Trump has with Kim Jong-un. We see North Korea continue to shoot off missiles, more and more sophisticated missiles despite the love affair that the president has with Kim Jong-un. This is a bad relationship.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can ask you, CNN is reporting that the night before Bolton was fired, he and Trump got into a heated argument specifically over the president's invitation of the Taliban to Camp David as part of a larger negotiation on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Based on what you know of the administration's withdrawal plan, does that look to you like a capitulation?

GARAMENDI: It looks to me like it's an incomplete negotiation. First of all, I never understood why the negotiations did not include the legitimate Afghan government. They were on the sidelines. It seems to me there's no way that you can have a successful negotiation when one of the key partners is not at the table. Nonetheless, that's where this president had been going.

The notion of inviting the Taliban to Camp David is absolutely beyond belief. If the president was responsible for that invitation, thankfully, Bolton had a very short conversation and said, no, this is the wrong thing to do. And if the president backed down, all the better. Bad idea, never should have happened in the first place.

Hopefully, the negotiations are absolutely essential. Hopefully, they'll move forward in a more productive way that will ultimately lead to a situation where [10:10:00] Afghanistan no longer needs to have American troops. I suspect that will be a long, long time for now. But nonetheless, those negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States and also the surrounding countries is essential, it must go forward.

SCIUTTO: Congressman John Garamendi, thanks for taking the time this morning.

GARAMENDI: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Later today, President Trump heads to Baltimore to speak at a retreat for House GOP members.

HARLOW: It's his first visit to that city since calling it, and I quote, disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess a couple of months ago. Joe Johns is at the White House with more.

Not expecting the warmest welcome maybe by everyone there.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Probably not, Poppy. You know, there's a lot of chatter on social media that there just might very well be some protest. And you're right, that quote about a rat and rodent-infested mess in Baltimore did not endear the president to the residents of Baltimore.

But when you think about it, the president's criticisms are also very much about Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Now, he, of course, is conducting investigations into the president. So all of that mixes up into one ball, and what you have is the president going up there for a Republican retreat, nothing, in fact, having to do with the City of Baltimore proper, and the question, of course, will be what kind of reception he gets.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Joe, the administration got a major win from the Supreme Court when it comes to asylum seekers, basically denying a stay. So the administration's measures can go into effect. How significant?

JOHNS: Well, it's significant for a couple of reasons. Number one, that means the administration can put in its rule that says, if you come through a third country, then the United States can block you from entering the United States for purposes of asylum.

But there's another piece of this is sort of flying Under the radar. That's a procedural piece. Of course, the administration, particularly the attorney general, have been very much upfront in the idea of nationwide injunctions against their immigration policies and why, in their view, those things need to be stopped or need to be curtailed.

So the question, when you look at this as whether the United States Supreme Court decided with some dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whether it was a good idea to go in and step in, essentially on the side of the Justice Department. Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe Johns, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will come face-to-face tonight for the first time in round three of the Democratic presidential debate. Exactly what's at stake, what can we expect to see, we're going to discuss.

HARLOW: Also, look at the devastation. That is Great Abaco in the Bahamas. 2,500 people are now reported missing since Hurricane Dorian devastated that country. Many survivors say they are still desperate for help. We'll take you live there again in a minute.

But let's listen to the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York. He has just come out of the committee room. It looks like he's going to speak to reporters about impeachment.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): This morning, the Judiciary Committee adopted amended procedures to enable us to more effectively carry on the investigation that we're involved with. This investigation will allow us to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump.

Some call this process an impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about nomenclature. But what we are doing is carrying on an investigation as to whether to recommend -- to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment for the president.

With these new procedures, we will begin next week an aggressive series of hearings, investigating allegations of corruption, obstruction and abuse of power against the president. The investigation will go well beyond the four corners of the Mueller report, and we will be starting with our first hearing on September 17th. We expect among others, we expect Mr. Lewandowski to testify. Thank you very much.

RAJU: What kind of impact --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long do you expect this process to take?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys. Thank you, guys.

RAJU: What kind of -- what are the implications of the leadership not calling this an impeachment inquiry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys.

RAJU: Do you have any concerns that the speaker won't call it an impeachment inquiry?

NADLER: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys. HARLOW: So the important questions you just heard reporters trying to ask there, many of them, Jim, came [10:15:00] from Manu Raju, our reporter. As soon as Manu is ready, they'll let us know. Okay. Manu is with us.

Manu, it looked like he wanted to answer you, you know, he stopped and then his team was sort of like, let's go, let's go.

RAJU: Yes, that's right, guys. He didn't seem to want to answer any questions about the debate that's been going on in the Democratic caucus, which is whether or not they are actually conducting an impeachment investigation. He says that he's done with it. He said, what they are worried about right now is simply the ultimate outcome, which is whether or not to recommend that this president should be impeached. He said that they do plan to have what he's calling an aggressive set of hearings.

Here, we have the ranking member right now, Doug Collins, guys, let's take a listen here.

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): This is the most well-covered procedural hearing I've ever seen in my life for rules that already existed. And so I made the point earlier today, these rules are not new. I've heard many reporters today say, well, these that were -- there's nothing new about what we just saw. These rules were already in our rules. The chairman could have done these at any time he wanted to. This is not new today.

What is new, like I said in my opening statement, this is a filter. This is to make you believe something is happening more than what is actually happening. And this is why it matters. Because when you report to the American people, you have to definitely do it in smaller sound bites. And for anybody to say this moves us closer to an impeachment inquiry or anything else, it's just simply not true because these rules simply clarify stuff packaged together in a warehouse, in a resolution stage that says, we're doing nothing more than simply what we have done before. And the chairman had these powers before. So anybody that reports these are new rules is not accurate reporting.

RAJU: What's the difference though? I mean, ultimately, they may decide about impeaching -- whether to impeach this president, whether to recommend articles of impeachment. What's the difference about what they call it?

COLLINS: Did you see the 900 pages that I set up there? When you actually get into an impeachment inquiry, which, by the way, they do not have the votes for, this stays in the committee. It doesn't go to the the committee. This does not go to the House floor. So they are covering for the moderates who don't want to vote for impeachment, the vast majority of those who don't want anything to do with this. They're covering for it by keeping it in the committee.

But if they were to actually go to an impeachment inquiry, which is what they promised to the American, then there is over 900 pages of procedures and precedence that would be applied, that would actually be due process.

One of the biggest jokes today in this hearing was that they were giving the president due process by allowing his attorney or him to write a letter after the fact. You can write a letter after the fact. That's nothing new. And if that's due process, this committee is following a long way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, (INAUDIBLE), said that he dares to -- double dog dare to go and bring it to the full floor. Do you feel the same way? I mean, do you say, just bring it?

COLLINS: I mean, look, this majority has been struggling with it, all along, and that's their problem. What they have found so far is they don't -- they have lost their way on this, and their own party, if they had it, they would have brought it a long time ago. Right now, they don't have it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think about the accusations of self- dealing, involving the president's properties and resorts?

COLLINS: I was just asked this question just a minute ago. This committee can continue to do any investigation. That's the chairman's right. I support the chairman to be able to call hearings. I may disagree with him, and we'll vehemently disagree on the parts of this.

This has nothing to do with the investigation. Today was simply to get you all here to cover something that is really, frankly, a snooze fest most of the time because it was packaged in such a way, and starting from last Friday when it leaked out that they were doing this, that this was an impeachment inquiry. It's not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I'm asking you about the substance of the --

SCIUTTO: You see, the question there, turning to the question of the president's possible directing of Air Force business to his Turnberry resort. But the real headline, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, saying that they have voted to move forward based, at least on what some members of the party, Poppy, are calling a formal impeachment inquiry. We haven't seen the last of this.

HARLOW: No, we have not. Okay. So let's take a break, and let's come back and talk about all of that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:20:00]

HARLOW: All right. So, clearly, Democrats are divided on impeachment, and you have a Supreme Court win for the president overnight, a big one on the issue of asylum, and the search for a new national security adviser is underway. There's a lot going on this Thursday morning.

Let's discuss with our panels, Sabrina Siddiqui and Wes Lowery are here. Good morning to you, guys. Let's start on impeachment, because as Jim laid out, the news is they're going to move forward, the Judiciary Committee voted to move forward with this. Now, Nadler didn't want to answer any questions, Wes, on what does this mean, and the semantics and leadership not wanting to call it an impeachment inquiry.

Doug Collins says, quote, they're covering for their moderates. Where does this go.

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly. It's interesting because there's a semantic debate that's happening here, but it speaks to it and it's symbolic of a real debate in the Democratic caucus, right? The last CNN count I saw, I think it's, what, 134 of the 235 House Democrats want to move forward with impeachment proceedings of some sort. But those who are not -- so a slim majority. But those who are not in the majority desperately do not want that, including, some might say, House Speaker Pelosi, who has not formally supported impeachment proceedings in part because she's politically looking out for the moderate members of her caucus, right?

There's been a divide amongst Democrats from the day Donald Trump got elected. Some folks who worry that [10:25:00] if there is overreach, if people seem to zealous to go after him, that it might cause backlash, and others who are saying, look, we think Donald Trump is an existential threat to our democracy and we need to get him out of office.

And so we're seeing this continue to play out and we're seeing it play out in semantics games. As Doug Collins noted, they didn't do much today besides reassert rights that Jerry Nadler already had, but there's messaging in there, signaling there, Nadler signaling to his people that we're working on this.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina, I said this the last hour, I'll say it again, if this was reversed and Republicans were really in this fight, they would be skywriting impeachment over Washington right now. It'd just be everywhere, without question or division.

You know, beyond the semantic differences, beyond the opposition from the leaders who are conscious of swing districts in the upcoming election, the fact is that the wheels of an impeachment proceeding are rolling forward. Are they not, in terms of you're going to have folks called up to the Hill to testify, they're gathering information. And it looks like, at some point, you're going to have a vote.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. This is effectively impeachment without giving it that specific tag. And I think this vote today, while it is largely procedural, it is the first time that the House Judiciary Committee has taken a vote on language that explicitly refers to impeachment. And they are trying to expand the committee's investigative scope, for example, by allowing witnesses to be questioned by committee staff so that they could juggle more witnesses at once.

The key question for Democrats is who is actually willing to come to Capitol Hill to testify against this president. The timing of this coincides with Nadler having issued subpoenas for Corey Lewandowski who, of course, played a key role in the Trump campaign, as well as former White House aides, Rick Dearborn, who is the Deputy Chief of Staff on Policy, and Rob Porter, the former White House Secretary. Now, so far, only Lewandowski is slated to appear before the committee.

So the real challenge for Democrats is going to be finding that star witness. The White House has blocked most of their efforts to get many of those who played a key role in the Mueller report to appear before lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And so as they do that evidence- gathering, we still haven't seen a real breakthrough for the committee when it comes to having some of those people come forward.

HARLOW: All right. So, Wesley, let's switch gears here and let's talk about gun legislation, because that's also going to get and continue to get a lot of focus as lawmakers are back on Capitol Hill after the summer recess.

145 CEOs this morning, from Uber's CEO to Lyft, to Levi Strauss, sending this letter to the Senate and saying you have to do something specifically on red flag laws, et cetera. You even had Thrive Capital, founded by Jared Kushner's brother, Josh Kushner, on there. You had Bain Capital, founded by Mitt Romney on there. This is CEOs and business leaders stepping in where lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility to do something.

But I wonder if it matters. Is it going to change anything or will only withholding all political contributions actually change something?

LOWERY: Well, it will be interesting. At the end of the day, it comes down to Mitch McConnell, whether or not he's willing to bring some of these pieces of legislation up to a vote or not. And he and the Republican leadership get to make that decision.

And it is really fascinating here. I was just with a CEO earlier this week who was talking about the idea that businesses have a lot of power in our democracy. They are powerful interest groups. They get to put their foot on the scale time and time again, and not always publicly this way, often privately in what they oppose and what they lobby for.

But this is really interesting, right, that there is a lot of frustration, polling shows it consistently that there is a fair amount of bipartisan support for some amount of gun control measure, no matter what that means, whether that'd be red flag laws, whether that'd be background checks. And there's been gridlock in Washington on in issue, going back to Manchin/Toomey years ago, under the Obama Administration, post-Sandy Hook. And so there's this big question now, will Republicans bring it up.

Now, I think the business pressure could provide some additional pressure. What we also know, President Trump, while he has kept a close relationship with the NRA, loves to be able to say he has done something that Barack Obama couldn't do. He did this criminal justice reform and talks about it all the time. And os perhaps there's an opening there. But we'll see what happens.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we'll see. I mean, if he calculates the NRA is going to punish him in the next election.

Sabrina, what is interesting beyond what companies are doing, it does seem that there's bipartisan support growing for a red flag law, in particular that that one might be able to cross the threshold. Is that realistic at this point?

SIDDIQUI: It's hard to say. Republicans have said that they favor these so-called red flag laws, which effectively bars someone [10:30:00] temporarily from being able to purchase firearms if they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. But the version of the legislation that Republicans support would --

[10:30:00]