Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
House Votes To Advance Trump Impeachment Investigation; House Impeachment Probe Escalates, Enters New Phase. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired October 31, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: I appreciate you being with us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Stay with us.
Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now. Have a great afternoon.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, a monumental day for the fate of the Trump presidency, the House holding its first impeachment, elevating their inquiry to a public investigation. Also, who defected and how did swing state Democrats vote.
Plus, the president's top Russia adviser abruptly quits before his testimony today as he tells Congress what the president was trading for an investigation into the Bidens.
And perhaps one of the most important figures in the Ukraine scandal refusing to testify until he gets subpoenaed, then Rudy Giuliani, the man at the center of this entire scandal, says he's not worried about the president turning on him.
We start with that historic House vote setting up something we've only seen two other times in American history, televised public hearings on the possible impeachment of a president. House members making a public declaration on the impeachment process voting to move ahead to what will be the next phase of the investigation.
But first, let's bring in our Tom Foreman to break down the tally on the House floor. And, Tom, coming into this, there were 229 Democrats who were on the record supporting an impeachment investigation. What's the level of support that we saw on the floor today?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw that grow a tiny bit, Brianna. You can see it is 231 here, and the Republicans held absolutely firm, all 194 against it, independent is one. Among the two, no Democrats, which are interesting and worth noting, are two lawmakers who came from districts that Donald Trump won very strongly before. If we take a look at them now, Jeff Van Drew from up in New Jersey and Collin Peterson from Minnesota.
In both cases, they raised concerns about the divisive nature of what was happening, this notion that this is going to divide the country even deeper and keep people from getting things done. But, again, they both came from districts where Donald Trump did very well and won strongly. So the fact that they pushed back at all is really fairly remarkable and interesting to look at.
The other to look at here is Justin Amash. Justin Amash up in Michigan is one of the people who was a Republican earlier this year and he changed over to become an independent. And he tweeted earlier in this process saying, look, president will be in power for only a short time. This is just today he said this. But excusing his misbehavior will forever tarnish your name.
To my Republican colleagues, reaching out to the people who you left, when he became an independent, step outside your media and social bubble. History will not look kindly on disingenuous, frivolous and false defense of this man.
So the battle are absolutely clearly drawn here as it were before. But now, numerically so, Brianna, does this guarantee an impeachment vote in the House, so it doesn't guarantee there will be one, it doesn't guarantee it will pass because some may not go that way. But, certainly, it is a big precursor to that and suggests the Democrats certainly have the numbers in a big way.
KEILAR: All right, Tom, thank you for breaking that down for us.
And the White House is condemning that vote calling it unfair, unconstitutional and un-American. President Trump also lashing out on Twitter right after the vote that, in effect, green-lights a second round of hearings that are going to be held in public.
Let's go to Rachael Bade. She's a Congressional Reporter for The Washington Post and a contributor here on CNN. And there's only two members of the Democratic caucus who broke ranks, Rachael. Did Republican leaders worry that they might lose some GOP votes as well?
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Brianna. I can tell you from covering Republicans for the past few years, I've seen them sweat a whole lot more about votes and vote tallies. They were whipping this, that is true. They were reaching out to a lot of Republicans who have criticized the president in the past, whether it's on Ukraine or other issues like Syria.
I'm told that the White House has been reaching out to Republicans as well since the day that Speaker Pelosi said she was going to have this vote, and that Trump has met with a bunch of Republicans one-on-one or in groups.
However, they were able to bring people together fairly easily, it looks like, and that is significant because we've seen several witnesses come forward and testify that Ukraine was pressured wrongfully and that there was some form of a quid pro quo. That damaging testimony didn't appear to affect the Republicans, at least today.
KEILAR: All Right, Rachael, thank you so much for that report from Capitol Hill. We appreciate it.
And now that the House has formally voted to move ahead with impeachment proceedings against President Trump, let's take a look at what happens next now.
CNN Legal Analyst and University of North Carolina Law Professor Michael Gerhardt is with us, we have CNN Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, we have CNN Political Analyst and former Justice Department spokesperson under President Trump Sarah Isgur, and CNN Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown.
All right, so let's -- what happens next, Elliot? Let's talk about the next steps.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are still more depositions to be had. In fact, there's a lawsuit today over -- I don't remember Kupperman's first name, but John Bolton's deputy. And so they still need to decide a few more people who are going to come in, John Bolton, former White House National Security Adviser. He's -- there's a debate over whether he will be testifying as well.
After that, then we will move to public hearings, which we have not seen yet because a lot of these proceedings have happened behind closed doors. And then depending on what they find, they will probably proceed to a vote on article of impeachment.
KEILAR: I'm actually glad you forgot Kupperman's first name, Elliot. And here's why, there are so many names. You are not the only person that I've spoken to. And this is what we're talking about day in, day out, and it's hard to keep track of this, Sarah.
I wonder, as Democrats, I mean, you see what a heavy lift they had by this vote as they're trying to maybe convince some Republicans and certainly to convince voters. This is like -- we need a flowchart, and that's just if people would even pay attention to it.
SARAH ISGUR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And this has been the problem with their messaging strategy and the coverage so far that they've gotten. There has been the sort of drip, drip, drip word. The only way to follow this is like reading a Tolstoy novel. There's a thousand characters, I can't keep track of him and like you sort of tune in but you have to be tuning in 24 hours a day.
It's why, I think, we saw such a straight line partisan vote today. There is no reason to abandon your leadership at this point on either side. I'm actually very surprised that the two Democrats flipped because I don't think it's going help them electorally. Republicans are going to say, Democrats are for impeachment. These two guys don't get a pass.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's really what the White House is banking on to. I was talking to an official last night who was saying in their view what they're hoping for is this is going to backfire against the Democrats, that for people outside of the beltway who aren't paying attention to the drip, drip, drip and aren't following all the nuance.
This official said, look, if you ask someone outside of the beltway who is not closely watching that they would probably say, oh, yes, this has to do with about some call about Ukraine with the President. And they're going to --
KEILAR: If they even say that.
BROWN: If they even say that. And they're really going to be moving forward in terms of strategy, which they're still working on and trying to shape, are going to targeting the moderate Democrats in those Trump districts, saying, you know, instead of working on the issues that affect you, this person is focused on impeachment.
WILLIAMS: I think by being straight party line, at least on the Republican side, that gives them the argument. So it's something we saw Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, roll out today was, well, Nancy Pelosi said it was going to be bipartisan, and look, it wasn't bipartisan, here you go. That was a strategy on their part to keep all their focus, not because they've been using these process arguments by saying that the process is flawed, therefore, the whole thing shouldn't happen.
KEILAR: Michael, put this in to some historical context for us, especially when we think of the last time that we saw impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. How is this comparing?
MICHAEL GERHARDT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Alexander Hamilton gave us some insight into that. In the Federalist Papers, he suggested that the initiation or beginning of an impeachment inquiry was bound to be caught up in passions. And that's what we're seeing.
This is still near the beginning. We're still trying to do some basic fact-finding, trying to figure out what happened, what did the president know and when did he know, the things questioned that came from the Watergate era.
And so once that fact-finding is done comprehensively, then almost all of it, I suspect, will be shared publicly. And the public will be informed all along the way. And at some point will be how much do the facts matter.
KEILAR: So let's review the facts. What would the Democrats -- what is -- let's just go back to basics here. What's the impeachable offense here, Elliot?
WILLIAMS: So, again, the tricky thing is there does not have to be a crime committed for there to be an impeachable offense. Congress was vague in the Constitution, as Michael knows better than anybody else. So the point is gas the president used the office to his personal benefit. Has he violet his oath of office? Has he acted in a political manner outside the bounds of the presidency? But it's nebulous. But here, it's conditioning foreign aid on the opening of an investigation to a political rival, period.
KEILAR: It can't be nebulous, right, if Democrats are going to sell this to the American people.
ISGUR: With less than a year before a presidential election.
KEILAR: That's right.
ISGUR: With so many of their candidates with a primary that will probably go pretty far into the primary calendar, a DNC that doesn't have a lot of money to support that nominee. This is a huge uphill battle for them right now. There's a messaging problem. They do not have a standard bearer for the party is yet. And we've got an election less than a year that's going to require enormous amounts of money and enormous ground game and a huge amount of base support where the bases aren't quite sure what the message is yet.
WILLIAMS: Well, the message is clear. The question that's something the Republicans are rolling out is, we know -- they're starting to say, we know the president did it but I just don't think it's an impeachable or a removable offense. It's clear what happened on that call. We can all agree what happened on the call.
Now, the question is whether -- it's certainly whether Republicans in the House or Senate are going to find it to be an impeachable or removable (ph), and that's up in the air.
KEILAR: Michael, I want to read a tweet from Ivanka Trump because I think it does reveal kind of some of the mindset that we're seeing within Trump world. She said, surrounded by enemies and spies catching and perverting every word that falls from my lips or flows from my pen, and inventing where facts fail them. This was Thomas Jefferson's reflections on Washington, D.C., she says, in a letter to her daughter -- his daughter, Martha. Some things never change, dad.
What do you think about this mindset?
GERHARDT: Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
And so I think what we're seeing is a classic battle. I mean, this is, in some respects, an impeachment that we might have been able to foresee where the parties kind of line up on different sides. And each of them is going to pick out sort of a place to take their stand.
Republicans right now are saying it's all about process because that does work better than trying the facts. And Democrats are focused on the facts because, so far, they're rather deserving. A president soliciting foreign intervention in an election to help himself is, in abstract, a very serious problem.
And so the more we learn about that, we'll see if it has some public opinion.
KEILAR: They're going to stand by for me, if you will. The president's top Russia adviser is right now testifying, expected to back up claims of quid pro quo. Hear what he is revealing.
Plus, what former National Security Adviser John Bolton says needs to happen before he testifies.
This is CNN's special live coverage.
KEILAR: Right now on Capitol Hill, the second White House official who was on the July 25th phone call with President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. Tim Morrison is the top adviser on Russia and Europe on the National Security Council at the White House, but he announced his resignation last night just hours before he was to testify.
Acting ambassador to Ukraine -- actually the top U.S. diplomat, I should say, to Ukraine. He's essentially acting as the ambassador, but he's not. Bill Taylor mentioned Morrison's name 15 times in his opening statement.
Taylor raised concerns about President Trump pressing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, writing in text messages that it was crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.
Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju. He is following all of this on the Hill.
Manu, have you heard anything about Morrison's testimony so far?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're learning some new details about what Tim Morrison testified about behind closed doors today. Now, yes, he was on that July phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, in which President Trump urged Zelensky to open up an investigation into the Bidens.
Now, what we are learning is that he had concerns that that call transcript would leak and that it could have adverse consequences. And this, of course, came as he was working to bolster relations with Ukraine.
Now, we're also told that he was involved in discussions about what to do with that transcript after the fact. We have now learned separately that there was an effort to prevent that transcript from leaking, an effort to put that in a safe so st would not get out into the public domain. But he definitely, according to our sources, had concerns that it would leak.
Now, throughout the course of today, he talked about -- it's come up in questions about Bill Taylor's testimony, the top diplomat from -- U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, someone who mentioned, as you said, Morrison's name 15 times throughout his opening statement. And we're told that he did corroborate what Bill Taylor said behind closed doors, that Bill Taylor had said that the president had sought to withhold aid to Ukraine and had been told that he's waiting for the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. They did deviate, we're told, on some details like the location of some of -- in at least one interaction. But for the most part, they corroborated what Taylor told the committee.
Now, also we're told that Morrison has been giving his opinions about what he views as right or wrong, and he has said previously, we've heard, that he has indicated that what the administration did was essentially legally sound, and that's something he has reiterated today. Republicans are coming out saying that it essentially undercuts the Democrats' narrative so far. They are happy with what they have heard.
Democrats pointed out -- one Democrat we talked to, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said that there had been a tussling between the attorneys of the committee, as well as the attorneys of Morrison about what questions that he could answer, would have told separately that there have been questions about his interactions with President Trump but he has not been able to answer or not been willing to answer certain questions about his interactions with Trump under the direction of his attorney.
So some details coming out here, corroborating what Bill Taylor said, also saying that what the administration did was perfectly legal, in his view, but also raising concerns about the ramifications of that call transcript being released. And now that it's been released, of course, this is now central in this impeachment inquiry.
KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you.
And I'm back now with my guests. We have Pamela as well as Sarah, Elliot and Michael.
And, Pamela, unlike the first White House official who was actually on this call to testify, this witness, Morrison, has had one-on-one conversations with President Trump.
BROWN: That' right. And even though as Manu reported, he is not going into the substance of those one-on-one conversations because of executive privilege, what his lawyers are advising. He has had a front row seat to a lot of this as a top official of the NSC overseeing the region.
And so what is key about this is is that he is corroborating Taylor's account of the quid pro quo, and the White House can no longer say that, well, this is someone who was removed and it's two degrees of separation, it's secondhand. This is someone who had direct conversations with the president who we know is witness in these conversations with the president and Sondland talking about withholding Ukraine aid in order to for Ukraine to announce these investigations.
And what is also going to be difficult for the White House is the fact that Tim Morrison is someone who is seen as a supporter of President Trump, he is seen as a conservative hawk. And so, previously, the White House had gone after Alex Vindman with the president saying he's a never Trumper and Taylor --
KEILAR: That has no basis, in fact, you should say.
BROWN: Exactly, that has no basis, in fact, but the point is they've tried to go after these previous witnesses, throwing out out outlandish things, a liberal bureaucrat calling Taylor that.
In Morrison though is someone who is seen to be a supporter of President Trump publicly, if you talk to people around him, and so that's going to be difficult for the White House in terms of trying to counteract what he said today.
ISGUR: This is where the Democrats' process has actually been very smart. Remember, it's hard to remember so far back, weeks and weeks ago, this all started with a whistleblower and the White House was putting a lot of eggs in the basket that they were going to be able to attack the character of the whistleblower, by having all these witnesses come forward and now having people who were very hard to caricatures as being against the president, the whistleblower no longer matters.
And, frankly, even if you can find a few of these people who you can qualify as never Trump or hopelessly liberal deep state bureaucrats, as long as you have some people corroborating who aren't, it really takes that talking point off the table for the White House long-term. And that's something -- we've talked about a lot of things that are not in the favor of the Democrats, that is something that is staunchly in their corner right now.
KEILAR: Elliot, Morrison has his counsel there, and there are some things that he is not going to talk about. He was in a unique position in his role at the White House. What kind of issues does that raise?
WILLIAMS: Well, it doesn't raise issues. Look, I'll be perfectly candid. You want senior advisers of the president of the United States and the president of the United States to be able to have candid conversations that helps the government work and helps the White House function effectively. The problem is that when you start to using relationship as a shield for misconduct, which as we've seen the president hasn't shown the willingness to do here. So he is in a very special position.
And we've talked about Kupperman -- Charles Kupperman, to get the name --
KEILAR: Thank you, Elliot.
WILLIAMS: But Kupperman and Bolton, this is going to come up with that. And something that I'm watching closely is the lawyer, which is where that case goes today and what is the reach of the privilege that they can extend over their conversations. Because it is legitimate. There is some degree of privacy. But, again, it just can't be a shield of misconduct, and that's what the president is trying to do.
KEILAR: He is going to land a different point of view, Michael. And you've heard -- I mean, I have interviewed Republicans who say that some of these witnesses, they feel like their opinions are wrong. So how does that affect -- I mean, maybe not exactly the findings, but how does that affect this situation?
GERHARDT: Well, I think it really helps define the situation. In some respects, we are all being challenged to make the -- to use a Chico Marx line, to figure out whether or not do you need me or your eyes? And to some extent, that's what's going on in these situations. Certain things happen and then we're challenged to determine they were real or not.
So we've got a number of people testifying who are hardly never- Trumpers, hardly political all the way. These are professional public servants and otherwise people who were holding themselves up to high standard of performance. And they are just telling the truth, as best we can tell. And it's not like Tolstoy, just so you understand, it's like life and then it's messy. And we've got to kind of clean it up and figure out what's going on.
I would just say one other thing. You can't pick a time when you're going to impeach. The information becomes public when it becomes public, and that's just the challenge the Democrats have. It's not like they picked this time to talk about Ukraine.
KEILAR: Michael Gerhardt, thank you so much. Elliot Williams, you agree with him. Sarah Isgur, Pamela Brown, our brilliant minds today, thank you all so much.
And just ahead, I'm going to speak with a Democratic lawmaker about two of his colleagues who broke ranks to vote against the impeachment inquiry.
Plus, Congresswoman Katie Hill giving her final floor speech before she resigns over inappropriate relationships and revenge porn pictures, we'll hear her message.