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Trump Admits to Very Offense Democrats Are Looking to Impeach Him Over; Some Republicans Do a 180 on Biden's Dealings in Ukraine; Author Brenda Wineapple Compares Andrew Johnson's Impeachment Trial to Trump; Murder Victim's Family Forgiving Ex-Cop Sparks Debate in U.S. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 3, 2019 - 14:30   ET



NANCY GIBBS, DIRECTOR, SHORENSTEIN CENTER ON MEDIA, POLITICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL & FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, TIME MAGAZINE: In this case, that it is fine to call on foreign governments to investigate what he considers the corruption of his rivals.

And that we see over and over again, that he honestly believes that whistleblower is not a patriot but a spy. Or that -- that, you know, congressional leaders investigating him are guilty of treason.

These are -- it is not just that these things are not true, it's that it tells us something how he views his office, the power of the presidency. And I think it's important that we reckon with the implications of having someone who's misunderstanding of his office is as profound as it is.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Misunderstanding or the notion of ignorance.

You've focused in and so did Frank Bruni in his column, on the word "perfect." He's describing his phone call with President Zelensky, it was perfect, arguing he didn't do anything wrong and Republican lawmakers are echoing it.

In your piece, you argue, "Ignorance has a different intention than deceit, but sometimes ignorance can be more dangerous."

How do you mean?

GIBBS: People say all politicians lie. I don't subscribe to that. But a world of spin and exaggeration and selection of facts that is part of politics.

This is something fundamentally different. I found striking about his call with President Zelensky was that this was not a moment of trying to rally his base or to set a public political narrative or slow a shiny object in front of reporters. This was a private phone call between two heads of state, which gives you an idea what he genuinely thinks is true. And in this case appears to genuinely think he was the victim of a conspiracy between the Ukrainians and the Clinton campaign, and wants to pressure a foreign leader into providing the evidence of that.

If you have a president absorbing conspiracy theories, embracing them, and activating his government to explore them, that is, in a way, even more troubling than just the sort of routine falsehoods that might be -- come out of a president's mouth at any given day.

BALDWIN: Also I was stunned by your point on Russian President Vladimir Putin, right? How he has used deceit as performance art. Explain what he did and how there's a parallel.

GIBBS: When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, they just completely lied about it. Said they weren't doing it, even though, like, everyone knew that was a lie. And the very boldness of it was part of the process. If you can get people to doubt their own eyesight, instincts and judgment, and deceit and the elimination of the possibility of facts and reality has been part of Putin's --

BALDWIN: Success.

GIBBS: -- game forever. That is a different thing than we're seeing here.

As often as these two presidents have been compared to one another, Putin has got about it different lit but very successful in affecting political discourse elsewhere whether it's even possible to know what's true.


Nancy Gibbs, really smart piece. Thank you for coming on. Appreciate it.

GIBBS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We are watching Capitol Hill as a key State Department official testifies behind closed doors about how he helped set up meetings between Rudy Giuliani and Ukrainian official.

Also ahead, CNN dug up a letter showing how some Republicans have done a 180 when it comes to Vice President Joe Biden's dealings in Ukraine.

We'll be right back.




JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: The administration also understands the way to the reform move in Ukraine. Vice President Biden has been a great advocate for reform in Ukraine.


BALDWIN: That is what a Republican appointee said about Biden three years ago to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Turns out, Joe Biden wasn't the only one calling for Ukraine to clean up its corruption in 2016. A bipartisan group of Senators, including three Republicans, were doing the same. So where are those Republican voices today?

As President Trump falsely accuses Biden of pressuring the Ukrainian government that year to fire a prosecutor to stop investigations into his son, again, there has been no wrongdoing either by Joe Biden or his son, Hunter.

With me now, CNN "KFILE" senior editor Andrew Kaczynski.

So did some digging, find this bipartisan letter on Ukraine. What was it about and who signed it?

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN "KFILE" SENIOR EDITOR: A letter sent by the Ukraine caucus, which was a bipartisan -- actually still around -- a bipartisan Senate caucus dealing with issues related to Ukraine.

And this letter that they sent in February of 2016 was to the then- president of Ukraine, Poroshenko. Quote, "We press you to surge ahead with the prosecutor-general's office and judiciary."

That's the same prosecutor-general's office that the Obama administration and European Unions and others pushed for Ukraine to push out that prosecutor for not looking into issues of corruption.

And I preface this with there's really no -- there's no proof for any of the claims Trump said about Joe Biden pushing out this prosecutor to protect an investigation into his son.

But what's really interesting about this letter is it undermines Trump's claims, because it shows there's basically bipartisan support --

BALDWIN: Republicans and Democrats?

KACZYNSKI: Republicans and Democrats. And their language actually echoes language that Vice President Biden used in a speech to the Ukrainian parliament in December. He said almost identically, you need to reform the general prosecutor's office and the judiciary overhauled as well.


BALDWIN: "KFILE," Andrew Kaczynski, thank you for digging that up. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the striking similarities between President Trump and the first U.S. president who faced impeachment. The author of the book of former President Andrew Johnson breaks down what we can learn from that moment back in history. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BALDWIN: Let's talk about a president who catered to white supremacists, whose outburst and temperament were called unfit for office and whose opponents in Congress were so disturbed by his behavior he, quote, "believed they no longer has a choice. Impeachment was the only way to stop a president who refused to accept the acts of Congress."

The word depicting not President Donald Trump but President Andrew Johnson, the first president of the United States to be impeached back in 1868.

That excerpt comes from the book, "The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation."

There's no mention of Trump in this book, but in describing Johnson's saga, Trump just hangs over these pages.

American historian and literature professor, Brenda Wineapple, wrote "The Impeachers."

I asked, when did you start writing this during a commercial break, you said six years ago.


BALDWIN: Under the Obama administration. No idea.


BALDWIN: The similarities between the two presidents are striking.

WINEAPPLE: They are.

BALDWIN: What is most striking to you?

WINEAPPLE: One is the kind of populism that Trump loves to go to the people. I think he's going to the people for a rally today, and that's what Johnson did. That Johnson was filled with anger and invective and he said things that were astonishing in his own time, just the way we hear expletives now.

But more than that, there was a sense of the rule of law, and that he, Johnson, really decided that he could -- that he knew better than Congress and could act alone pretty much without Congress and why Congress and the people against him said, look, the president's not a king, you can't do anything you want.

So, you know, there are really almost uncanny similarities. Maybe it's true with anyone whose impeached there would be those kinds of similarities but they are striking. BALDWIN: In the case with president Johnson House voted to impeach

Senate acquitted him and the vote is on the screen. Throw it up there by one vote. One vote. So what happened? How did he survive and how did that -- I don't know -- taint his legacy forever?

You know, it came very close. On the one hand, just one vote. That's pretty much a damning indictment. On the other hand, there are those who feel that if it hadn't been just one vote that Johnson had in his pocket or people for Johnson had in their pocket other votes.

There was, you know, bribery going on, on what today we call dark money and wafflers. People at the last minute who felt maybe we shouldn't do this and got scared and got cold feet.

These were people, the Republicans, not the same as the Republicans today, but they were in the majority, and the ones trying to get Johnson out of office, and they didn't do it.

But to go to your second question, his legacy is deeply tainted.

BALDWIN: This is what really stood out for me as I was reading your book. This is from - "Despite the fact he wasn't forced from office, the nation learned and American president was not a king." A quote. That's what you wrote.


BALDWIN: And I want to cite his "New York Times," reviewer, saying, "had not succeeded but worked." Continues, "It's a noble conclusion to an illuminating book, but given how preoccupied with our endless news cycle it's hard to forget the words of one disappointed specter at Johnson's trial. Most men prefer to be deceived, cheated, anything rather than to be bored."

WINEAPPLE: So pathetic. I know. I know. I know.

BALDWIN: What can we take away from history? How does a nation survive this?

WINEAPPLE: The nation did survive that. And that's partly what I meant when I said, it worked.

It worked in two ways. One, the process worked. Actually, a vote in the House, Johnson was impeached. There was a vote in the Senator. He was acquitted.

But he's always going to be impeached forever. You remember he was one of the very few American presidents that were impeached. In that sense, it worked. And the process was very orderly and the country went on.

So in that particular sense, it worked, both in terms of putting a mark on him and his presidency, and also in terms of, you know, of the -- the resources we have for survival, which are important.

BALDWIN: The book "The Impeachers." You were unintentionally impressed in writing about such things.

WINEAPPLE: I got creative.

BALDWIN: Brenda Wineapple, thank you very much.

WINEAPPLE: Thanks for having me.


BALDWIN: And coming up, this emotional sight in a courtroom is prompting debate over forgiveness. The brother of a murdered man hugs and forgives the ex-police officer who killed him. But what if the roles were reversed? That's next.



BALDWIN: "I forgive you." Those simple yet polarizing words sparking an extraordinary debate over forgiveness and race. This, after the brother of Botham Jean hugged and forgave former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, after sentenced to 10 years for killing Botham in his home.


UNIDENTIFIED BROTHER OF BOTHAM JEAN: I don't know if this is possible but can I give her a hug, please?


BALDWIN: The courtroom fell silent as these two embraced for nearly a minute.

Emotions becoming so high even the presiding judge was overwhelmed. Judge Tammy Kemp embraced Guyger and gave her a Bible.


TAMMY KEMP, JUDGE: You can have mine. I have three or four more at home. This is the one I use every day. This is your job for the next month.


BALDWIN: But the display of forgiveness inside the courtroom sparked heated debate over the judge's actions and whether Guyger, convicted on a murder charge, is even worthy of any forgiveness so soon.

With me now, CNN Van Jones, host of CNN's "REDEMPTION PROJECT," an extraordinary series bringing families of victims face-to-face with their perpetrators.

Nice to see you.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: This sparked such a conversation. Where are you on the subject of forgiveness?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "REDEMPTION PROJECT": Well, first of all, the crime is almost unforgivable. You have a police officer going into the wrong home, rather than ducking for cover and calling for backup, just shoots this guy who's eating ice cream in his underwear.

And the verdict is really unfair. Ten years? She'll probably serve five. I work with people serving 30 years for drug offenses, nobody got hurt.

In the face of that injustice, what do you do? Any response is fine. Outrage. Listen, I can't forgive this, I understand that.

But I think the fact that this young man's brother, who knew him and knew the kind of person he was, said, I forgive you, because my brother would have, and I want you to give your life to Christ and to redemption and I want to give you a hug and encourage you. That's -- that should be OK, too.

In other words, I'm not saying everybody has to do that, but the idea that you have people who have that capacity, who can find that within them to say, this is completely unjust, but I wish you no ill-will, and I don't want to become bitter, I don't want to become the hatred and anger I've seen take over this process.

BALDWIN: He should feel empowered.

JONES: Empowered to do that. And I was moved by it.

Whenever there's violence across racial lines, it's like, are we, are we going to accept this kind of mistreatment forever? Is there going to be any justice here? But for an individual to say, I don't want to give in to hatred, is a good thing.

BALDWIN: All of these conversations, what if the races were reversed.


BALDWIN: Charles Blow, a columnist in the "New York Times," commentator at CNN, wrote, "Black people repeatedly demonstrate an other-worldly beauty in the granting of grace to the undeserving. But the question remains, when are black people in the wrong and in the vice granted this grace, when are innocent black people granted this grace?"

JONES: He's 100 percent correct.


JONES: It's because of our experience with being enslaved, Jim Crow, terrorism. We have developed in our community almost a superhuman capacity for grace and forgiveness the way we see the Christian command to love our enemies, to forgive. We take it very, very seriously.

We don't see it returned. And I think often America takes our grace for granted. They assume that this community can continue to be brutalized, and we're never going to retaliate and do the things, frankly, George Washington and others did when they felt they were being mistreated. Everybody assumes black people are going to be forgiving.

I don't think it's a bad thing we have this fact. It's a bad thing America doesn't respect it and reciprocate.

But this is an example. Two interracial hugs. The two toddlers that hug and it moved the world. And now we have -- these two adults hugging.

There's something about this. There's a desire for some kind of reconciliation in the country. But it comes at great cost of black people to extend it.

I hope white people look at themselves in the mirror and says, could I do that. Shouldn't I find a way to be more forgiving in my own life and with other communities of people?

BALDWIN: Van Jones, I appreciate your heart --

JONES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: -- and compassion over these incredibly sensitive issues.

Thank you very much. Nice to have you on.

JONES: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: One more note for anyone. Just into CNN, Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign says he will be released from the hospital and return to the campaign this weekend. It comes after news of a blockage found in one of his arteries. The campaign says the Senator does plan to be at the CNN/"New York Times" debate on October 15th.

[15:00:05] That is it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for joining me this last hour.

A special edition of "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.