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Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is Interviewed about Impeachment Hearings; Impeachment Hearings Begin Today; Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00]

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): In exchange for a meeting with the president of the United States in the Oval Office and the exchange for other things as well. It's clear the Republicans can throw up all kinds of smoke screens they want, but the truth is the truth.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Chairman Eliot Engel, thanks so much for joining us.

ENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're waiting for the impeachment hearing to get underway up on Capitol Hill about a half an hour or so from now. Stay with CNN for complete live coverage.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:35:15]

BLITZER: Right now we're just about a half an hour away or so from the beginning of these truly historic impeachment hearings up on Capitol Hill.

Let's get a closer look right now at how Democrats and Republicans are getting ready right before this first crucial hearing is set to begin.

Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill for us, our senior congressional correspondent.

So, Manu, walk us through what we're about to see.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're about to see a very significant scene unfold. Both sides recognize how significant this moment is to shape public perception about exactly what happened as the White House, as the president, particularly, was pushing for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and why that nearly $400 million in aid for Ukraine had been withheld. Two witnesses, State Department officials, will testify and make clear their concerns about exactly what was happening here.

And Democrats here recognize also the significance of this moment that could lead to the president's impeachment. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, I'm told, just moments ago behind closed doors talked to her colleagues about impeachment, calling it a, quote, very serious day for our country. She's saying that the House is going to recognize its responsibility as, quote, custodians of the Constitution. And when she spoke to reporters going into that meeting, she made clear that she wasn't happy with the way this was going -- turning out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We are defenders of our democracy. So I'm very prayerful, thoughtful and actually sad today that our country has to come to a place where the president doesn't understand that Article Two does not say that he can do whatever he wants, that he is not above the law, and that he will be held accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So how they'll be holding the president accountable in the Democrats' view is that they're going to move pretty quickly here in the House Intelligence Committee phase of this investigation. Next week there will be eight witnesses who will come forward. People who have already come behind closed doors, including people like Alexander Vindman, who serves on the National Security Council, who listened in on that July phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, someone who raised concerns about that, the president's ask to investigate the Bidens, concern it could undercut national security.

Other people also expected to testify who will also raise concerns about the push on Ukraine policy led by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney. People like Fiona Hill, the former top Russia adviser, as well as the current ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, whose testimony differs in some ways, but also had raised concerns about Giuliani's role.

So we expect, Wolf, to hear a consistent theme starting today about the unusual effort by this administration to pursue this Ukraine policy outside normal diplomatic channels. And expect Republicans to say these witnesses didn't have any direct knowledge of what the president actually wanted.

Wolf.

BLITZER: You mentioned what the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is saying today. Back in March, she said this. She said she wanted to make sure that if there were going to be impeachment hearings, it would be bipartisan. She told "The Washington Post," impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path because it divides the country.

So that was then. This is now. What happened?

RAJU: Yes, a big shift happened in the aftermath of that whistleblower complaint becoming public. She had not wanted to go down the impeachment route even after the Mueller report came out detailing those episodes of obstruction of justice allegedly that the president engaged in to thwart the Mueller investigation, even though member after member in the House Democratic Caucus had pushed for an impeachment inquiry. She did not think that was the right way to go. But in the aftermath of the whistleblower complaint, and there were concerns that were raised about the president potentially withholding this Ukrainian aid in order to push for that investigation into his political rivals, and after the president himself admitted to it that pushing the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden, that changed her calculus, and now she is moving forward.

But, Wolf, you mentioned it, she wanted this to be bipartisan, but this has -- nothing about this is bipartisan. Republicans are in lock step opposing this going forward. They've already voted against the resolution on the floor to set the procedures for this public hearing. And expect today, in open session, for Republicans to aggressively push back against what they see as a, in their view, an overreach by this Democratic majority as the Democrats believe they are on the right side of history.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, an important point.

All right, Manu, we're going to get back to you. This is truly an historic day up on Capitol Hill, the first public impeachment hearings into President Trump. They will begin only minutes from now.

Our special live coverage will continue right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:44:00]

BLITZER: An historic day here in the nation's capital. In a few minutes, this historic moment will begin with the impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives, the House Intelligence Committee.

You know, John Dean, let's talk about the history of what we're about to see. What -- this is only the fourth time in American history that a sitting president is going to have to face the possibility of being impeached.

[09:45:04]

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: That's exactly right. And I was thinking about the witnesses who are going to appear. I'm sure Taylor and Kent are very comfortable. They're not rattled in any way. They want to be there. The reason they got subpoenas is they don't want to be whistleblowers. They want to be compelled to give this testimony so there's a reason they're there. But they're quite comfortable.

The people who are anxious are the Republicans and the counsel who are preparing to question and who need to bring out a story and tell a story. And that -- that's unpredictable. They don't really know how that will unfold. So while we're repeating history, every time it happens, Wolf, it's

different. And we are going to see lots of surprises today.

BLITZER: You're seeing Joaquin Castro, a member of the Intelligence Committee, from Texas, he's in the middle of the screen over there.

When you take a look at these four presidents now who have faced this possibility, David Gregory, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, now Donald Trump, when President Trump sees that list, he's probably not very happy to be included in that list right now.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he's not. And it's, you know, he has put himself in the position of seeing this only one way, in a purely political context in a way to seek to delegitimize him and to separate it from any abusive behavior. I think there's so many interesting themes today, one of which we heard just moments ago from Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, who is making a larger argument about an assertion that this president has made, which is that the power vested in the executive is nearly absolute. That he can do almost anything he wants. That he can obstruct this investigation.

This is a larger argument being made by Democrats than just about this presidency and this president. And at the same time, Republicans are going to be making an argument to say, look, this is so close to an election, why not let the people decide in the election and to insulate the president from this conduct.

And I come back to something I've felt for a while, which is, those Republicans, and it seems to be a high bar in the Senate, who would ever vote to convict this president, might they say, look, I don't like this behavior, I don't like how he handled himself, but he is bold and brash and inexperienced as he was during the campaign. I'm not sure I want to weigh in on this process. I want to let the voters decide. I think we're going to hear a lot of that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, and, of course these hearings can be unpredictable, as John Dean knows better than anybody else. In the Watergate hearings, the tapes were revealed. This is different because I think the Democrats would argue you started with the smoking gun here, which was -- which was the conversation. And now they're going to build -- build out that conversation with Zelensky and the president of the United States.

But, in the same sense, while you started with the smoking gun, you don't know what will happen during these hearings.

DEAN (ph): No.

BORGER: You don't know what new evidence will be -- will be brought. You don't know how the American public is going to react to these career diplomats and their -- and their testimony. This hasn't happened in more than two decades. And what the hearings will do for the American public, which will be so informative, is it will lift the veil on how American foreign policy should be conducted and how American foreign policy was conducted. And I think what these two diplomats are going to do is say, look,

this was an existential crisis and continues to be for Ukraine against the Russians. And what we were doing was holding up money to get to them. And people were dying in Ukraine and continue to die fighting the Russians. And this policy was holding up that money. What else we will learn, we do not know.

GREGORY: And only in the Trump presidency would your starting point be, yes, I did it.

BORGER: A smoking gun. Exactly.

GREGORY: It's unbelievable.

BORGER: So what (ph).

GREGORY: Right. Right. So what.

BLITZER: The history of the moment, Nia, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right.

BLITZER: There were trials in the Senate. They were acquitted. They were not removed from office. Richard Nixon, there was no impeachment necessary because he quit. He resigned.

HENDERSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Knowing that he was about to be impeached and probably convicted in the Senate.

HENDERSON: That's right. Donald Trump is in a unique position because he is standing for re-election. The folks you just mentioned there, not standing for re-election. So there is an extra burden that he faces. And as David alludes to, sort of an extra talking point that this provides Republicans, which is essentially, listen, there's an election in a year. Why don't you let the American people decide this. I think if you are a Republican who is up for re-election yourself, you've got to figure out, can you essentially say, listen, this was wrong what the president did, but it isn't -- it isn't impeachable, right? He shouldn't be removed from office.

[09:50:00]

But then the question is, should he face any punishment at all, right, for doing something like this. And Democrats, obviously, want to draw a line in the stand and say, this isn't acceptable for this president, it's not acceptable for any American president going forward. And that's where they want their party to rally around.

And you've seen that so far. Almost a unanimous vote to get to this process from Democrats. No Republicans siding with the Democrats. And you almost expect the same thing in the Senate.

But, listen, if you're Democrat, you want to (INAUDIBLE) off this, put all of the facts on the table as quickly as you can and as digestively as you can so Americans can understand it and talk about it and sort of understand it in a very simple way, talk about it around the water cooler. And I think today you also want to have sound bytes, right?

I don't necessarily think there has to be sort of a slam dunk moment, but they definitely need to have some sound byte moments that people can remember.

BLITZER: Ross Garber, you teach impeachment law to Tulane Law School.

ROSS GARBER, TEACHES IMPEACHMENT LAW AT TULANE LAW SCHOOL: Yes, I do. And I think one of the challenges is that, you know, we heard from Manu about the speaker's desire to have this be a bipartisan process. And that makes good sense politically. It makes good sense historically. And it makes good sense for governing. And I think that's going to be the speaker's big challenge here.

When the Nixon process got to this point, the vote was nearly unanimous. Only four representatives voted to not start impeachment proceedings. In the Clinton process, 31 members of the president's own party, his own party, voted to begin the impeachment process. Here the dynamics -- the Democrats are going to start off in a much tougher spot because not a single Republican voted to even start the impeachment process and two Democrats even defected and said, we're not even going to start the impeachment process.

So one of the things I'm going to be looking for here is to see whether these proceedings actually change any minds or potentially change any minds because otherwise there is that very strong risk that it's going to be viewed as a partisan processed and less legitimate.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, and this is such an important point because there has to become a point that these proceedings rise above partisanship. And that the members of Congress start to take their own constitutional duty seriously.

What's different about this particular set of facts in this impeachment proceeding is that this involves national security. It involves the foreign affairs of the United States. And the issues that the members here are going to need to consider are going to have historical, long-term consequences regarding what is acceptable in American national security and foreign policy and whether it's OK for a president to abuse his office in order to get political favors from a foreign government.

It's basically whether or not they are going to green light foreign interference in Democratic processes in elections and members are going to -- are -- have to, at some point, think about the fact that they don't work for the president. They are not part of the executive branch. They have an independent constitutional duty.

GREGORY: But I think what's so striking about what you're saying is how unlikely it is that that will be the result, that our politics are so polarized and --

BLITZER: By the way, Adam Schiff, there you see him in the middle of the screen, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has just arrived. He'll be gaveling this session into order and making an opening statement and the ranking Republican, Devon Nunes, will do the same.

GREGORY: And that there's the potential for members to see it as their view, I think it's unlikely that they do that.

What -- the fact that you have lawyers present I think is so helpful to draw these witnesses out and get the facts before the American people. And, indeed, the American people could have the kind of reaction that you are talking about, Carrie, separate from how members of Congress will actually do their job.

GARBER: Because, David, we heard that during Nixon. Nixon had the support of Republicans until he didn't.

GREGORY: Yes.

GARBER: Until the floor collapsed. And Clinton, there was that same issue. So, you know, here they're -- we'll say -- have to see how it plays out.

BLITZER: All right, Manu Raju's in the hearing room.

Manu, I understand you're joining us on the phone right now.

Give us a little flavor of what's unfolding. You see the chairman, Adam Schiff, just sitting down.

RAJU: Yes, that's right, they're getting ready for this hearing to take place any minute. We're waiting for the witnesses to arrive. The cameraman and photographers are all lining up around, waiting for the -- this hearing to start, waiting for these witnesses to enter. And also in the hearing and the audience are members of the various committees who are not a part of the House Intelligence Committee. A number of members who, on both sides of the aisle, who did take part in the closed door depositions recall that those were done by three different committees.

Now, this hearing is being done just by the House Intelligence Committee.

[09:55:00]

So we're seeing a number of -- a number of members who serve on these various committees come to (INAUDIBLE) witness these proceedings.

So, right now, the -- right now we're waiting for the witnesses to come in. We're waiting for -- now we're expecting the crowds to come in, outside in the hallways, Wolf, too, crowds and crowds of people are waiting to come, members of the public, waiting to come and watch history unfold before their eyes, the beginning of these public impeachment proceedings that will take pleas in just that matter of moments.

We do expect the witnesses to walk in, too, in a matter of seconds here as Democrats and Republicans prepare for their line of questioning. Staff councils are getting ready to ask questions as well. They are getting seated too, now, Wolf, and this moment about to unfold before our eyes, history unfolding as the Democrats prepare to move forward on this impeachment proceeding, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there we see Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, under enormous pressure right now, been under enormous pressure for a while. He's going to be gaveling this session into order, bringing these two witness and having them sworn in. They have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We're talking about Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who oversees U.S. policy towards Ukraine from the State Department perspective. Both of them are career diplomats. Both of them have served in the U.S. foreign service for decades right now. And their credibility will be very, very significant.

You know, Carrie Cordero, some of the Republican critics of this whole process will say, well, these are never Trumpers. These are individuals who are part of the so-called deep state. I don't know if any Republican member or Republican lawyers is actually going to make an allegation like that, but we've heard it repeatedly.

CORDERO: We have, from the president himself on his Twitter feed. As far as I know, there is absolutely zero, zero evidence that either Bill Taylor or George Kent were in the never Trump camp during the 2015-2016 election campaign season. And there's a way that we can measure that. There were two significant letters that were written at the time, one by over 100 -- signed by over 100 former Republican affiliated national security officials, one of 50 or so very senior Republican national security officials. They did not sign either of those letters. They did not, as far as I know, write any op-eds. There's nothing to base that allegation on other than simply throwing out an allegation and hoping that some people believe it.

BORGER: And, Wolf, let me point out something about Adam Schiff. He was not one who was early on the impeachment band wagon. Adam Schiff --

BLITZER: Like Nancy Pelosi.

BORGER: Like -- and he and Nancy Pelosi were in the same camp, which is, after the Mueller report, they felt, OK, we're going to continue to pursue these strands, but he was not pushing for impeachment.

And I spoke with him the other day and kind of what he told him drove him over the edge was Ukraine, was the phone conversation, was the fact that the president said, do me a favor, though, and investigate my political opponent and he felt at a certain point you had to pay attention to that, not just as a Democrat, but for future generation of presidents who needed to know that, yes, there is -- there are some things you cannot do, as Pelosi, of course, said today.

GREGORY: Wolf, I think --

HENDERSON: And -- GREGORY: Go ahead.

HENDERSON: And you see Republicans there, some -- they have some signs up there, obviously taking advantage of the fact that this is a televised hearing. I think one of them says, if we don't impeach him, he'll be re-elected.

GREGORY: Right.

HENDERSON: And this is, of course, is a statement from Al Green.

And what they're essentially trying to --

BLITZER: A Democratic congressman.

HENDERSON: A Democratic congressman, essentially trying to say, this is what Democrats have wanted to do for the last three years, essentially since Donald Trump was elected that they have been on the march to try to impeach him.

And it is true that there were some Democrats who did want to impeach him way back when. But as Gloria points out, Adam Schiff was not among them.

BORGER: Right.

HENDERSON: A lot of the incoming freshmen class certainly were not among them, anyway. But you see Republicans wanting to make that point.

GREGORY: Wolf, I think it's --

BLITZER: By the way, that's Jim Jordan, without the suit coat on. He usually comes just a shirt and a tie.

HENDERSON: Right.

BLITZER: He's been sort of detailed to this committee as well, the Intelligence Committees. He's on the Oversight Committee. They want him to be a part of this process, the Republicans.

GREGORY: I think it's so important to look for, in the early going of this hearing, which is, ask yourself this question, why did these witnesses who are first on the docket, what motive do they have to lie or somehow target the president? They are really compelling witnesses in that way. And if there is evidence that they were somehow never Trumpers, there is an obligation on the part of Republicans to confront them in an open hearing with that evidence. The public has a right to know that. Let's see if they do it. I think that's an early challenge for Republicans. Let's see if they confront them with that evidence.

BORGER: And, you know, this isn't a matter of shifting American foreign policy that way.

[10:00:00] These were never Trumpers who wanted to move American foreign policy in a different direction. These are State Department officials who wanted to comply with American