Return to Transcripts main page
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) Interviewed about Timelines for House Democrats Impeachment Process; U.S. Diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor to Testify to House Committees on Possible Quid Pro Quo between President Trump and Ukrainian President; President Trump in Tweet Compares Impeachment Inquiry to Lynching; Trump Calls Impeachment Inquiry a "Lynching". Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired October 22, 2019 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It's America's top diplomat in Ukraine. Bill Taylor is his name. He'll go before lawmakers, investigators in the next hour. And you'll remember that in several texts Bill Taylor questioned cutting off military aid to Ukraine for political purposes. He called it, quote, crazy. The text lay out how career civil servants had the impression that there was a quid pro quo.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And new reporting this morning in the "Washington Post" and the "New York Times," the president's hostile views on Ukraine apparently cemented during meetings this year with, you guessed it, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and also the autocratic prime minister of Hungary.
And shifting gears, the president is pleading with Republicans to get tougher on the impeachment process. Democrats are now realizing the inquiry could drag on longer than expected because of all the leads they're getting from witnesses. But is time on their side?
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman James Clyburn. He is the House Majority Whip. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. And let me just say, this is the first time we've had a chance to talk to you since the passing of your wife, known and loved by so many as Dr. Em. So I want to pass on our heartfelt feelings of sympathy to you and your family.
JAMES CLYBURN, (D-SC) HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: Thank you very much for that. And thank you so much for having me this morning.
BERMAN: So Bill Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, a former ambassador to Ukraine, he testifies today behind closed doors to these three hearings. He is the one who wrote in a text message, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? Where does he fit in to the congressional impeachment investigation in your mind?
CLYBURN: I think he's a very, very important piece of all of this. I think that we can go back and forth with our opinions about what may or may not have happened, but when we get this kind of a document, and we hear these kinds of expressions, we know that within this administration, there were people raising red flags. There were people offering alternatives. There were people who just were trying to raise caution. And it seems as if Mr. Taylor was one of those people. So I think his testimony today would be very, very critical to whether or not we ought to move forward with impeachment.
BERMAN: You still have questions about whether or not you ought to move forward with impeachment?
CLYBURN: I personally don't have any questions, but I really feel that in spite of what I may feel, we ought to lay out the facts. We ought to gather them so the American people, many of whom do have questions, can see very clearly and succinctly exactly what the issue is all about. That's the responsibility that we have here as a Congress. And I would hope that people will allow us that. The problem we have now is when we look at past history, we don't have a special counsel doing this, doing the investigations in secret. We have to gather these facts as Congress. And we are doing this where in the past you've had special counsels doing it away from public view. And when they are ready, they will lay out for us whether or not we should go forward.
BERMAN: You led me right to my next question here, which is about the timing. Let me read to you CNN's reporting on what could be an extended timeline in this impeachment inquiry, which you just seemed to allude to here. "Democrats involved in the investigation say that the initial hope among some in their party was that the matter could be wrapped up before the end of the fall. That now seems overly ambitious. "I think it's more like between Thanksgiving and Christmas for the end of the investigation," said one Democratic member involved in the probe. After that, it's a strategic decision about when to bring it to the floor." So if you're looking at the calendar, and this is part of your job as part of leadership, when do you want the full House to be voting on articles of impeachment?
CLYBURN: As the majority whip, it's really part of my job. It is my responsibility to gather the votes. And I would be much more comfortable if we were to do this in such a way that everybody in our caucus will be comfortable with the timeline. As I have lived quite a while now, but with every passing day, I think about those old adages. Haste makes waste is one of them. Let's not be hasty here. Let's take our times. Let's do what is necessary to lay the foundations. And I really believe that we ought to have the American people satisfied with the product once it's reduced.
BERMAN: Does that mean before Christmas, Congressman?
CLYBURN: I would hope it's before Christmas, but it may be after Thanksgiving as well.
BERMAN: So between Thanksgiving and Christmas?
CLYBURN: I'm not going to put a timeline on it, but that's kind of where I feel.
[08:05:02] BERMAN: Because after New Year's, you run into the Democratic
presidential contest. Iowa just 104 days away. Do you have concerns there could be overlap there?
CLYBURN: Well, Iowa won't be until February. South Carolina falls into that pre-window as well. And so even if we're not done before Christmas, it could be done just after New Year's and still be out in front of the presidential caucuses and primaries.
BERMAN: Congressman, I am loathe to read presidential tweets often when they're intentionally inflammatory or say things that are not true, but the president just wrote something moments ago that I feel requires your reaction to this. He is trying to coalesce Republican opposition to the impeachment inquiry, and he just wrote moments ago, "All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here -- a lynching." The president just called this impeachment inquiry a lynching. Your reaction.
CLYBURN: Well, the president has also been pretty loose with his words, and this is another indication of that. I really believe this man is prone to inflammatory statements, and that is one word no president ought to apply to himself. I've studied presidential history quite a bit, and I don't know if we've ever seen anything quite like this. Andrew Johnson never would have described what was happening to him this way. And certainly, Bill Clinton didn't, nor did Nixon. So this president is, hopefully, an anomaly.
BERMAN: Does using a word like that in a situation like this offend your sense of history?
CLYBURN: Yes, it does, very much so. I am not just a politician. I'm a southern politician. I'm a product of the south. I know the history of that word. That is a word that we ought to be very, very careful about using.
BERMAN: Congressman, we opened this segment by offering our condolences for the loss of your wife. The full Congress this week is mourning the loss of Chairman Elijah Cummings. And I know Thursday and Friday of this week there will be some ceremonies for that. And I just want to get your thoughts on the chairman.
CLYBURN: Well, he was just a magnificent person. Elijah Cummings and I were very close friends, as you probably know. His roots were in Clarendon County, South Carolina. His parents came out of the Mt. Zero Baptist Church. And it had a big homecoming right after he got elected up in Maryland down at Zero Baptist Church for Elijah, and it was the biggest crowd I had ever seen in that church. Every bench was full of people, the balcony full of people. He was dearly beloved by a lot of people. People associated him with Maryland, but we loved him in South Carolina. And he came back to his roots very often on my behalf and for others. We have lost a real giant whose shoulders were very strong for all of us to stand upon. And I really, really grieve with his family and his constituents as well.
BERMAN: Congressman Jim Clyburn, we are sorry for your loss and we're very appreciative of you being here this morning. Thank you so much. CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me.
CAMEROTA: All right.
BERMAN: Look, two very interesting things from the congressman, there. Number one, I think he just gave us the parameters of the timeline here. He basically said between Thanksgiving and Christmas on a vote.
CAMEROTA: I guess, if they can get it done. The timeline keeps shifting because they keep getting more information and having to call more witnesses.
BERMAN: But that means the House vote -- the question is, where does that put the Senate trial if there is one? Does that push it until after the new year? He wouldn't commit to a vote closer to Thanksgiving, so perhaps there. And the other thing is, is his reaction to the president's use of the word "lynching" there. I think he was deeply offended.
CAMEROTA: Yes, he had to process that in real-time as we all did.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine arrives on Capitol Hill any moment for this critical testimony in the impeachment probe. What will Bill Taylor reveal?
BERMAN: And we have exclusive CNN reporting on a rift in the royal family. Are Prince Harry's comments being taken the wrong way?
CAMEROTA: We think that it is important to read a tweet that the president just sent out because it is so inflammatory. We don't, obviously read them all, we don't often read them in real time, but this one really is demanding our attention. So here's what the -- is on the president's mind and what he's just said. "So some day, if a Democrat becomes president, and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the president without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here -- a lynching. But we will WIN!"
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's grotesque. People ought to go to Montgomery, Alabama, where there is a new, the last couple of years, the national memorial to the victims of lynching. And it's an extraordinary thing. And lynching is an actual thing that happened in this country. There are thousands of people, virtually all African-Americans, who were lynched, that is, killed without any sort of due process. And it's a tremendous stain on the history of this country. There are people alive who have memories of seeing lynchings back in the 20s and 30s. It's just grotesque that the president in his self-absorption and ignorance, tremendous ignorance of American history, would invoke lynching there. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But it's also a pattern,
as with all things with Trump. Using the most inflammatory possible language to make a point about how things are being unfair to him, but in doing so, really trying to get into the country's deep racial wounds.
This is often what he does in an attempt to get people's attention, to be controversial, to be inflammatory. But it doesn't make any sense in this context, and I don't think that we -- you know, in some ways, I don't think we should indulge the effort to kind of make this about some controversy that he is concocting on social media in order to get people to focus on this tweet and not why he's so upset which is --
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And I hear you, we debated whether or not to talk about it, but I think the reason we decided that this would be a moment to talk about this is our fact-checker Daniel Dale says that it's the first time the president has used the term lynching, at least in a tweet. And, you know, again, if there's a spectrum, it just goes -- it seems to go farther down that spectrum.
PHILLIP: But this is -- this is about the history of the word lynching. The president knows what lynching is in this country. He was not born yesterday. He understands what that means.
And I think he's doing it intentionally and it's in part to really get a rise out of people, but doing it -- doing it on the backs of something that is deeply hurtful to a lot of people in this country.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And look -- go ahead. We should also note David Gregory is with us here.
David, go ahead.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the fact that he is -- this is grotesque. And to inject this into the political bloodstream is just another example. And at a critically grave time right now in the country and in our politics, that the president adheres to no limits and there are no boundaries. And what this is is really a stain on the presidency itself which is much bigger than him.
But he's using it in seeking to delegitimize it in a way and to delegitimize any political process that has him as a target. That's the more lasting damage that he's doing. And I say it's such a grave time because Republicans who are already in a very difficult position of having to defend him have to wake up yet again and face something else that they have to answer for if they're going to stand by him in front of their constituents.
BERMAN: I'm sure they're going to tell us they haven't read the tweet or they're deeply uncomfortable with it, and then change the subject.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Or Mitch McConnell, as he always says, I don't comment on tweets. BERMAN: I will say, the why and the when of this tweet to me seem
relatively obvious which is that we're like 40 minutes away from hearing from Ambassador Bill Taylor, the senior diplomat in Ukraine, in the words that we have seen from him, are as damning as the words the president just wrote about himself. Bill Taylor is the one who in text messages to Ambassador Gordon Sondland suggested flat out that he was concerned there was, in fact, a quid pro quo.
He wrote, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?
Jeffrey Toobin to which Sondland responded --
CAMEROTA: Call me.
TOOBIN: Call me.
PHILLIP: Call me, maybe.
BERMAN: Is Taylor minutes away --
CAMEROTA: To quote Blondie.
TOOBIN: I know, Alisyn, you're always good on these musical references.
PHILLIP: Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me, Maybe."
TOOBIN: I'm sorry, that's a generation --
GREGORY: I remember --
BERMAN: Now Gregory wants in on this.
GREGORY: I'd just say, I remember Blondie, of course.
TOOBIN: The gray haired caucus here.
BERMAN: The point is, the point is, is that Taylor at least on paper or digitally, ironically, might be the most important witness yet because he is someone who has a contemporaneous record of expressing concerns about a quid pro quo.
TOOBIN: Exactly. I mean, if you believe, and I think it's correct that the core accusation here is that the entire relationship of the United States to Ukraine was based not on the national interest but was based on getting dirt on the president's political opponents. The most provocative statement we have from a witness who is not the president himself is that tweet because that tweet spells it out. I mean, conditioned on is quid pro quo and, you know, we'll see what he says. And, of course, we'll see what he says about what prompted him to send that text message.
That's the most important --
CAMEROTA: Bill Taylor is a longtime -- I mean, he is well-regarded, obviously, highly regarded and respected, a long time career diplomat. So, he knows how things normally run.
CAMEROTA: And so, he will be able to testify today about what got -- what was so aroused his -- I don't know, suspicion or anger that you engage in these.
PHILLIP: He was always hesitant to take that job, you know, according to our reporting, in part because of what he saw the former ambassador to Ukraine being pushed out of the job. So, clearly, he was already suspicious about what was going on here and just like Gordon Sondland writes this lawyerly tweet, call me, let's not put this in writing.
What Bill Taylor is doing is putting it in writing, trying very much to make sure that his concerns are reflected on paper so that for a time such as this, when we are now looking at those messages, and seeing clearly that there were people who were raising those concerns at the time, in the moment, and believe that there was something fishy going on.
BERMAN: David Gregory who joins us from Studio 54, what are you looking for? What are you looking this morning in the testimony?
GREGORY: Well, speaking about one of my contemporaries, Dean Acheson, former secretary of state, I think he'd be appalled there's all this texting going on in diplomatic circles.
But to be serious about that, the fact that Taylor wanted to make a record, as Abby suggests, is because he understood how inappropriate this relationship was and this course was. And I think what's been striking about the congressional investigation so far, the inquiry so far, is how much deeper this Ukraine story goes than just the phone call.
I mean, from Sondland himself who was a political appointee, we got how uncomfortable he was with what the president is doing. Now we'll get more, perhaps to amplify on the reporting and "The Times" and "The Post" this morning about the extent to which that President Trump was being led down this path by authoritarians in central Europe and Russia to marginalize Ukraine. Not representing U.S. interests.
When you have a government that is a fledgling democracy, trying to look toward the west and reform that Trump looked at Ukraine, on the advice of Giuliani and others saying, no, let's use it to get to the bottom of how we can get dirt on political opponents.
TOOBIN: David's point relates to what you were talking to Congressman Clyburn about earlier which is this investigation is taking a little longer than they expected. When they thought it was just sort of the partial transcript, let's go to impeachment, that's one version of this investigation.
Now, as David points out, there are -- the tentacles of this story are getting spread wider and wider which is creating -- I mean, it's good if you are looking for evidence, but it takes longer to collect it which --
CAMEROTA: But do they have to collect it all? I mean, the Democrats have to decide today if they have to collect it all or if they want to wrap this up before the end of the year, because this as you know from a being reporter, you can go down a million different tentacles and rabbit holes and they can do that forever. But it sounds like they now feel some pressing timeline.
TOOBIN: Absolutely. And remember, the actual impeachment hearings will not be before Adam Schiff's Intelligence Committee. They'll have to sort of gin it up all over again to do it before the Judiciary Committee which is a complex process. Going to take some time. Already here we are in latish October. It's hard to think how that can get done by the end of the year.
GREGORY: And just a practical point, if you are a Republican who doesn't want to take a vote on whether to remove the president in the Senate, doesn't it get a lot easier after the first of the year to say, you know what, if this is a close call, why don't we let the voters decide because we're almost there anyway?
PHILLIP: And the argument gets harder for Democrats to make. But I do the question about, should they not just take a vote here depends on what Nancy Pelosi wants to do. If she wants a straight party line vote, she could take the vote tomorrow.
But if she wants to build a critical mass of Republican support, she might need more time to do that. We might need more information to come out.
BERMAN: I will say the censure vote yesterday against Adam Schiff, where 185 Republicans voted for it and not one single one voted against it might show that she's not building a lot of support in the House for impeachment right now.
TOOBIN: Fair point.
BERMAN: All right. Friends, thank you very much for that.
Iraq says U.S. troops leaving Syria cannot stay in Iraq. This as Turkey hopes to resume its military offensive soon. We're going to speak with a congressman just back from the Middle East, next.
CAMEROTA: There's a big development in terms of the U.S. troop pullout from Syria. Iraq officials now say those U.S. troops leaving Syria cannot stay in Iraq. And also the very brief five-day cease- fire that was negotiated between Turkey and the U.S. last week is set to expire this afternoon.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have just return from a trip to the Middle East where they went to review the security situation there.
One of them is Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch. He went on a trip to Jordan and Afghanistan. He also serves on the House Oversight Committee.
So, you're the perfect person for us to speak to this morning, Congressman. Thank you very much for being here.
Tell us what you saw in terms of security in Jordan and Afghanistan.
REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): Good morning, Alisyn.
As you know, Jordan has a long border with Syria. So, they're already receiving huge numbers of refugees in respect to the incursion in northern Syria. They're also concerned about the long-term security implications. They've been a great partner with the U.S. and Israel in policing that area and also providing security to both Israel and Jordan.
They're deeply concerned that the president's decision unannounced to them has really given the Iranian militia and also Bashar al Assad and other rebel groups in that area to have full sway. They destabilized the region by withdrawing those U.S. troops and allowing the Turkish military to come in.