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Sources Say House Democrats Could Begin Public Hearings By Mid- November; Republicans Protest The Process Of Impeachment; Steyer Calls Trump A Taitor And Criminal. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- is doing out there, perhaps --


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The players have criticized the president, and so that's why he doesn't want to do it.

KING: Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics. Don't go anywhere, a busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

And underway right now, the president thanking Republicans for storming an impeachment inquiry hearing room, delaying a diplomats testimony about the Ukraine scandal for hours as Republicans try to make the point that they're being cut out of the process even though they aren't.

Plus, the U.S. would soon start moving tanks and troops into Eastern Syria to protect America forces guarding Kurdish oil fields. This is a new a poll that finds three quarters of Americans worry that ISIS will re-emerge.

And freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill under investigation under an allegation that she had an improper relationship with a congressional staffer after she admits she had a relationship with a staffer on her campaign.

As Republicans protest the way the Democrats are running the impeachment inquiry, these closed door depositions could soon give way to public hearings and bring the impeachment of President Trump right into your living room.

Our Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill. And, Phil, tell us what you're hearing about this potentially new timeline here.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So I think the way you need to look at, Brianna, is this is going to work in stages. House Democrats obviously launched the impeachment inquiry, it's a little over a month old, and everything up to this point has taken place behind closed doors, hours-long depositions, some of which included explosive testimony and some which, as you noted, included some theatrics from Republicans who are a little bit frustrated that it's taking place behind closed doors.

But what we're being told and what Democrats have made clear is this will move into the public domain. They do plan on holding public hearings, some public hearings that may include some of those individuals that have testified in depositions behind closed doors.

This is part of the process, first, behind closed doors for depositions, then public hearings, all the while drafting an impeachment report that would serve as the basis for any articles of impeachment that may come through.

Now, Brianna, you mentioned Republicans' frustration particularly in the House about the process up to this point. It's worth noting that more than 40 Republicans have had access to all of these depositions. The leadership has access to the facility as well and things will move public.

But what this underscores, these Republicans, largely at the behest of President Trump, you've seen it on his Twitter feed, want to show that they're fighting, want to fight in any way they can, even if it's on process instead of substance, that's what you're seeing, and I'm told that is going to continue repeatedly in the weeks ahead. This is the ground they want to fight on, not necessarily the substance, and you're going to see a lot more of it, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Phil Mattingly on the Hill, and as you just heard Phil say there, the Republicans are fighting the process of the impeachment inquiry. They are struggling to defend the president on the substance of the depositions that are happening behind closed doors.

A group of Republicans rushed into the secure room during the deposition of one diplomat yesterday to protest being shut out, even though actually almost half the members of Congress who have access to this room for these hearings are Republicans from the three committees that are conducting these hearings.

And according to Axios, a number of the actual Republicans who barged into the secure room had no reason to barge in because they are on those committees, 13 Republicans who are allowed in the room.

Our Tom Foreman is here. And, Tom, privately, many Republicans have told CNN it is hard to defend the president against this testimony. Some of these folks are very respected diplomats who served both Republicans and Democrats. That's certainly not stopping Republicans from trying to argue against impeachment.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And if you consider some of the actual rules in place where you can see why those arguments may be falling flat, let's consider some of the chief questions being raised by the president's defender.

First, are congressional Democrats following the law in this impeachment inquiry? The Constitution plainly states in Articles 1 and 2, the House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment if the House suspects the president has committed treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. So if are these closed-door hearings lawful? Absolutely.

Second, shouldn't the president's side be able to question the witnesses? The Constitution makes no allowance for that. If Trump is impeached, meaning, he's formally charged with doing something wrong, he will be able to defend himself when he goes to trial in the Senate. At any event, as Phil noted, there are Republicans in these House hearings now in position to raise questions on Trump's behalf and they're doing so.

Third, did the House need to vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry? There was an authorizing vote when Nixon was on the verge of impeachment, there was a vote when Bill Clinton was impeached. This has undeniably been the custom in Congress, so Republicans might reasonably expect it and they would like a vote, especially since it would allow them to exert more political pressure on elected Democrats from places where Trump has support. But the law does not say Democrats are legally obliged to hold such a vote and help the Republicans, and they have not.


And lastly, does impeachment have to be about a crime? As so many Republicans keep saying, there is no crime here, no crime here. Not according to according to a Congressional Research Service analysis in 2015, which found three areas in which a president could commit impeachable offenses, which are not inherently criminal.

First, abusing power, that is using the office to, for example, intimidate witnesses, interfere with an investigation and so on. Second, behavior incompatible with the office, lying under oath, committing sexual assault, being drunk on the job, something like that, that sort of thing. And third, misuse of power for improper purposes, such as personal gain. For example, if he used it to push a tax audit on an enemy or to aid an illegal endeavor, or, indeed, to line (ph) your own pockets. All of those things would fall under impeachable behavior, many of these may not be criminal, but nonetheless, you can see, Brianna, many of the written -- the complaints being raised by Republicans, there are questions here actually are answered by the law and not the way they would likely to be answered.

KEILAR: Tom Foreman, thank you for that great explainer.

I want to talk this over now with Sabrina Siddiqui, National Politics Reporter for The Wall Street Journal. We have Rachael Bade, Congressional Reporter for The Washington Post. And from Dallas, we are joined by Presidential Historian, Jeffrey Engel.

Rachael, to you first, because you have some great reporting out in The Post today with your colleague, Karoun Demirjian, about Democrats planning to move soon on the impeachment inquiry and bringing, really, this public. Tell us about this.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. So pressure is really building on the Democrats right now. We just went through the Republican sit-in that happened yesterday in the skiff where they were able to hold up the impeachment inquiry for five hours.

KEILAR: The secure room. The skiff is a secure room.

BADE: The secure room.

KEILAR: No cell phone is supposed to be in there.

BADE: Sorry, Washington jargon right there.

KEILAR: Just being clear.

BADE: Also, we have sources saying that in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, a top ally of the president, they're going to be introducing this resolution just sort of condemn Democrats for this private, closed-door impeachment inquiry they have going on right now.

And what this is doing is it's putting pressure on the Democrats who have always said that they're going to open this up at some point. But you have moderate Dems who are privately expressing concerns to the leadership, saying, should we be worried about this? There is a lot of interest in this publicly. And so they want to potentially move faster.

So at the earliest, we're going to see them open this up in mid- November. It could be sooner if we see Republicans continue to try to stop these depositions from happening because they could, in theory, do that, which would cause a big problem for the Democrats.

But, look, the Republican talking point right now is very much centered in the process, not substance. And right now, that is working, perhaps, but it's just a matter of time before Democrats take that away because they're going to open this up for public hearings.

KEILAR: It's an argument that lawmakers are always susceptible to if they're doing something behind closed doors, which a lot of business on Capitol Hill tends to be, right? But then it looks like it's not transparent.

I do want to point out, though, Sabrina, that this argument for why you get more done behind closed is actually something that both parties have made. The Republicans did this during Benghazi. Let's listen.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC): I could just tell you that of the 50 somewhat interviews we have done thus far, the vast majority of them have been private and you don't see the bickering among the members of Congress in private interviews.

The private ones always produce better results.


KEILAR: That may be the case, right, that we're hearing about these depositions in particular as well.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's not only with respect to getting better results, especially when you talk about classified information that cannot be revealed publicly, but I think we can all agree it's not unusual for depositions to be gathered behind closed doors, whether it's an impeachment inquiry or any other type of congressional investigation before it's eventually taken public.

And I really think Rachael hit the nail on the head when she said this is really about Republicans being unable to defend the president on the substance, so all that they really have is this campaign to go after the process.

And I think the antics that you saw with Republicans storming that secure area yesterday was really an effort to distract from the very damning testimony of the acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, on Monday in which he essentially confirmed that he believed aid was being withheld to Ukraine for the purposes of the Ukrainian government launching an investigation that the president wanted into the Bidens, as well as trying to undermine the investigation to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

And so it's also an effort by Republicans who are facing a lot of pressure from this president to have his back, to show him that they are willing to take this fight to Democrats.

But, again, a lot of what you've seen in recent weeks has been testimony that has corroborated a lot of what's in the whistleblower report, and Republicans, they would admit that they can't really defend the president when it comes to the substance of the allegations, so they're going to go after the process.


KEILAR: And I think we would all like to see this in public. I mean, everyone is curious what is going on behind closed doors. We've heard some of the -- or we've seen some of the opening statements, Jeffrey. We've heard some of the details through the great reporting of our folks up there who are covering this on the Hill.

But when this does become public, the Watergate hearings changed public opinion. Do you think this will?

JEFFREY ENGEL, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes. You know, in fact, Watergate has a specific historical example that can really help us shed some light on this. Because, at the same time, they were doing private hearings, closed-door hearings, closed-door questioning of witnesses in the morning, they would oftentimes then do a live open public hearing in the afternoon.

In fact, the time when we discovered that there was a White House taping system, which, of course, was crucial to how you we understand Watergate, in fact, that, ultimately, we're able to hear the president's words, was actually revealed to the committee in closed session in the morning, who then asked the same question in public so they would get a public response. And it really does shape the way the public understands it, but it doesn't necessarily give all the information.

And, frankly, everybody in Congress understands that no matter what side you're on, that there are some moments that are done in private, questions, queries, investigations, and then you can turn the same thing around in public and ask questions to elicit the public brouhaha, if you will.

KEILAR: Does it also, Jeffrey, give Republicans a chance to know what is going, just like a deposition, it allows the opposition the chance to know what might be coming so that they can better counter those things?

ENGEL: I honestly think if Democrats are thinking in those terms, then they're in big trouble. And the reason is that one of the lessons again from Watergate, and, again, frankly, one of the lessons from Clinton's case as well, is that the more evidence came out, the more information that was available, that meant that the more the American people could make the ultimate judgment to inform their legislators.

In the Nixon case, the more information that came out, the more sunlight came into the case. Peter Rodino, the New York congressman who was the head of the judiciary, recognized that the truth, in fact, was on his side. And so he wanted everybody to do depositions, everybody to gave interviews. In the case of Clinton, the more the public understood what happened, the more they were willing to forgive Clinton, or at least not see it as a high crime.

So there is a real sense in which, I think, the Democrats, if they think that they have an impeachable case, what they need to do is allow as much information out as possible, because the public is smart enough to understand what's true and what's not.

KEILAR: All right. Jeffrey Engel, thank you, Rachael Bade, Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you guys so much.

And happening right now, members of the public are filing into the Capitol to pay their respects to late congressman, Elijah Cummings. He is now lying in state in Statuary Hall.

And breaking news in the 2020 race, the Democratic field shrinks by one as Congressman Tim Ryan announces he's dropping out.

Plus, as the president continues to tout his order to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans are worried ISIS will re-emerge.



KEILAR: Right now, Congressman Elijah Cummings is lying in state at the U.S. Capitol. Cummings, the first African-American lawmaker to receive this honor, which is reserved for presidents and really just a few selects statesmen. Cummings was the son of sharecroppers. He served in Congress for decades and he never let anyone forget that he came from Baltimore. He was so proud of his city.

Over time, he became one of the most powerful members of Congress, and he was and still is today so respected by both sides of the aisle. Actually, it was his dear friend, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, who just remembered him a short time while ago.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): I was privileged enough to be able to call him a dear friend. Some have classified it as an unexpected friendship. But for those of us that know Elijah, it's not unexpected or surprising.

Perhaps this place in this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships. I know I've been blessed by one. God bless you.


KEILAR: Yesterday, during a ceremony in Baltimore, Cummings' wife, Maya, recalled how just one day before his death, her husband was wheeled up to the top floor of his hospital. And Mrs. Cummings said, quote, he looked upon the Inner Harbor, and he looked upon South Baltimore where he grew up, and he looked town downtown and he looked to the west side and it was so glorious. He said, boy, I've come a long way.

Congressman Cummings served as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and he was doing that job until the very end. And aide tells The New York Times that Cummings was signing subpoenas from his hospital bed.


He was a large figure in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. The Oversight Committee is one of the three committees leading the investigation against the president.

Joining us now to discuss is the Democratic Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer. And, Tom, I certainly want to ask you about the investigation. But, first, I know that you are keeping an eye on these events from California and I want to give you a chance to share your reflections on Congressman Cummings.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Brianna, I think it's important to remember that Congressman Cummings did his job with dignity and with decency and morality throughout. He was the kind of leader who actually shows the way to behave, and he actually did a fantastic job running that committee.

He was straightforward and honest and strict, but at the same time you could understand that he was coming from a value-driven morality, and I think it's the kind of moral leadership that is so often in this country coming from the African-American community, and I think, in fact, we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his leadership and also the way that he displayed it. He didn't just talk the talk, he really walked the walk of decency and moral leadership in this country and the deepest kind of patriotism.

So I think we will all miss him and we should all remember the kind of job that he did and the way that he did it.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about your recent comments about President Trump. You called the president a traitor, you called him a criminal. We have actually just, on this program, been discussing whether it has to be a crime that he's impeached for, and the answer is no. There are a few different measures by which he could be impeached, and there is abuse of power, for instance, there is using his office for personal gain. I guess, what crimes do you think he's committed, and do you set the bar high in a way that maybe Democrats don't actually even need the bar to be set?

STEYER: Brianna, I think that this president has been corrupt from day one. I think that he has committed crimes, I think we all know that. Michael Cohen is in prison for the crimes that he committed at the behest of this president.

But you're absolutely right, the question here is, as an impeachment question, has he broken his trust with the American people? Has he broken his word to the Constitution and his trust with the American people, and the obvious answer to that as well is yes.

I think that this Ukraine incident, as we see the evidence mount, that it was very clearly a quid pro quo, that he was using his office to benefit himself personally, politically, and then trying to cover it up is very clear. It's also completely consistent with what he's done since the first day he has been in office.

Look, I started the need to impeach movement over two years ago because I felt that his behavior was absolutely the most corrupt in American history and that the American people needed to rally around the idea and to push the people in Washington, D.C. to hold him accountable and to protect the system from his kind of corrupt behavior and his cover-ups.

KEILAR: Tom, I want to ask you about what is going on in Syria. You've seen the president saying he's pulled troops out of Northern Syria. We've seen them move from there. It seems, though, as if they've largely just been reshuffled to Eastern Syria. Do you view what has touted as a troop pull-out to actually be a troop pull-out?

STEYER: Look, I think there is no question about what Mr. Trump did was wrong on every level. He had no idea what the mission was. He had no process. I mean, he decided this in a single phone call with no consultation, and he completely abandoned our partners and allies.

So now when the whole world and even the members of his parties are condemning him for his incompetence, he's trying to then figure out how to get back to the place he started from that he actually -- and to undo his mistake. But this is exactly the kind of behavior that you expect from somebody who has no concept of what he's doing and no process to make decisions in a thoughtful way. So, look, this is a president who is panicked.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about what you would do, because there are a lot of Americans who are concerned about it. A poll finds that most Americans believe that ISIS could reconstitute. This is something that a vast majority of Americans believe could happen. Less than 1 percent of voters think that you would be the best to handle foreign policy.

So we know what you think of what the president has done, we've heard the criticism. Now what would you do?


STEYER: Look, I think in all these situations, if you heard what I said about what he didn't do, that's what we need to do. The first question is you have to have an idea of what the mission is, why those troops are there in the first place. Then you need to have a process where you understand, in consultation, we were there, those troops were there to support the Kurds in containing ISIS. That's what they were doing there.

So in pulling them out, you're walking away from that mission. You're also walking away from our relationship with our partners and allies.

KEILAR: But that's done. So if you were president, that would be the situation you were handed. I mean, you can Monday morning quarterback what the president has done, and there's been plenty of criticism of it, but what would you do with the set of factors that you're handed?

STEYER: Look -- but, I mean, Brianna, to be fair, what you're saying is once someone has made a disastrous mistake, now what do you do to make it up? You have to go back and try and reconstitute the mission and to figure out what you can do. But the reality is we're no longer in the situation before the mistake.

So now we're in the situation of trying to figure out given that the mission is control of ISIS, how do we go back in and try and support the Kurds in controlling ISIS, knowing that they no longer can trust us because we already threw them under the bus, and knowing that the situation has changed completely. So, yes, it's going to take a while to redo that. It's going to be much more expensive, it's going to be much more difficult because of a gigantic mistake that was made.

The basic point about life is you have to know what your mission is. You can't make gigantic mistakes because the cost of them is much greater after you've done them.

KEILAR: I'm not going to make an equivalence between different mistakes, but there are many examples of presidents making mistakes and the next president having to clean up that mistake or there being an economic crisis and the next president having to deal with that. Would you then try to rebuild the relationship with the Kurds, or would you have to look at these factors that you're handed and say, I'm going to have to take a different approach? Could that mean more troops? I mean, what would you do?

STEYER: I think you've got try to rebuild the relationship with the Kurds. But I think -- and I think your example is right. When a mistake has been made, you have to actually turn the page and understand that the situation is different, and you're going to, therefore, act differently with the new set of facts on the ground. I completely agree with that.

So in this case, yes, the point is to control ISIS, the first choice would be to work back with the Kurds and question is exactly how effective could that be over time?

But the real question here is (INAUDIBLE) this president, this is a perfect example of what he does. He doesn't know what the mission is, and he has no process. So for him, the idea of abandoning allies, if you listen to his approach which is America First, he doesn't even recognize the idea that we can have allies.

You know, we don't have allies in Western Europe, our traditional allies. He spent time explaining that they can no longer trust us and this is an example perfectly on the world stage that other countries of the world cannot trust the United States and our world is not good.

We've got to undo that starting day one. We have to go back to being a value-driven country who operates transparently, supports its allies and works together in concert to get things done. It's a complete opposite of what Mr. Trump does.

KEILAR: Tom Steyer, thank you so much. It was a pleasure having you on.

STEYER: Brianna, thank you for having me.

KEILAR: And breaking now, Congressman Tim Ryan has formally dropped out of the race for president. In a video posted online, Ryan said he was proud of his campaign. He thanked his supporters and he promised to keep fighting for forgotten Americans.

In our most recent poll, Ryan was polling at 1 percent.

Tanks and troops could soon be on the move in Syria as the U.S. works to protect troops that are stationed near Kurdish oil fields. This as a new CNN poll finds that a majority of Americans are worried about the situation there. We'll be live from the region, next.