Return to Transcripts main page


House Democrats Move Closer To Articles Of Impeachment; President Trump: "I Want A Trial" In The Senate; Impeachment Witnesses: Ukraine Call "Unusual and Improper"; Impeachment Witnesses' Sworn Statements Undercut Trump's Spin. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2019 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

It is decision time for the Democrats. How many articles of impeachment will they draft, and how quickly will the case against the President move through the critical next steps?

Plus, who to watch most closely as Congress takes a break and lawmakers spend time back home. So far there are no Republicans who say they support impeachment. GOP leaders predict a number of Democrats will join them in voting no.

And today the President weighs in. The evidence of leveraging official Ukraine business in exchange for domestic political favors is beyond overwhelming. But the President says he did nothing wrong.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've looked like fools over the last five days. These interviews - these were their witnesses. This was the best they've got.


KING: And we begin the hour with decision time for the Democrats and the President testing his impeachment defense. It's been a huge week on Capitol Hill nine witnesses over the last three days testifying in public impeachment hearings. Democrats believe their case is compelling. All the more so after Former Top Trump Russia Aide Fiona Hill detailed how she, her boss, and at least one other senior White House aide knew the President's Ukraine policy had crossed the line and reported it to lawyers.

President Trump was clearly watching. He now says he looks forward to a Senate trial and he's already working on his witness list. There are several critical steps before any senate trial. House Democrats are anticipating a very busy December. Multiple Democratic sources telling CNN they believe there will be a House vote to impeach the president by Christmas.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now live from Capitol Hill. Manu, Democrats really believe they can get a floor vote by Christmas. What are the key steps and potential obstacles?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is they certainly do right now behind the scenes, the House Intelligence Committee is drafting a report detailing what the findings of this investigation that has been going on since late September. Expect that report to come together somewhat quickly.

We expect it to be essentially turned over to the House Judiciary Committee early as the first week in December. At that point the Judiciary Committee is almost certain to start moving forward on articles of impeachment against the President. The question is exactly how those articles will be draft? How many articles there ultimately will be?

But Democrats are talking about bribery, obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress, abuse of power. They expect those to be part of the discussion going forward. And then after the House Judiciary Committee considers the matter, then a vote would happen in that Committee before the full House could vote in that.

The expectations are now on Capitol Hill that that could happen before December, which would make President Trump the third American President to be impeached by the house in U.S. history but there is still questions about exactly what will happen in the Senate, whether a Senate trial would take several weeks or just a couple of weeks.

There are still discussions on going about the Republican strategy there. But the House strategy is moving is pretty clear Democrats believe there is enough evidence to move forward even though there's still questions about whether or not they should pursue some of those key firsthand witnesses like John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, people who have refused to comply with a Democratic request but have firsthand information, particularly about what the President was doing.

At the moment, John, Democratic Leaders, Nancy Pelosi have no appetite in pursuing those witnesses in court, fighting something that could delay the proceedings further instead using that as evidence that they believe in obstruction of Congress instead. That's how things plan to shape up. Democrats believe they're there, that the President almost certainly will get impeached in a matter of weeks. John.

KING: Manu Raju live on the Hill, I appreciate the live reporting. With me in the studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Dana Bash, Jonathan Martin with "The New York Times" Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post" and Julie Pace with "The Associated Press".

A lot of questions Manu just laid out there. How many articles were specifically do they say? How quickly do you get to the Judiciary Committee? How quickly does that committee vote? Does it have any more hearings? And yet is this real, that they believe they can get this all done 33 days from now is Christmas?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It looks pretty real. I mean, after all the days of testimony that we've had since last Wednesday, we talked to a number of House Democrats and got a temperature check of how they are feeling in terms of their pursuit of the impeachment inquiry? They think they've made a pretty good case over the last several days. They think the testimony is very dangerous to Trump. They think that they have a good case to take to the American people. So I think it's just a matter of when this happens. We're looking at that Christmas deadline and certainly looking at a trial in January in the Senate.


KING: And I just want to put up on the screen just what's next because this is complicated for the Democrats to pull off. This has been in the Intelligence Committee they're not going to handing it off a new Chairman and a new committee as it moves over the articles of impeachment would be in the Judiciary Committee.

And again then you have to have a committee vote, and then it comes to the floor and it comes to the full House. If you asked Democrats today how many articles, how sweeping, you will have a debate and a divide. They are not settled on this yet. How do they figure this out?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're going to have a debate and it will ultimately going to be Nancy Pelosi who is the decider. The debate is about the articles of impeachment focused on the Ukraine issue. Obviously there is obstruction, obstructing Congress from the President and others, but then there is a real debate about how much to bring in Russia? How much to bring in the Mueller investigation?

I've talked to several House Democrats who have senior positions who really do want to make it more broad. So the question is whether they do that, and frankly, just to be a realist here, does it matter what they do? Will it change any votes at all? And it seems to me that in talking to Republicans and watching their reaction, the answer is no.

KING: All right, as of today it's very interesting. I just want to your point about Speaker Pelosi and how important she is as we go through these next steps. We've seen Adam Schiff as the face of the Democrats for the last couple weeks, the leading face of the Democrats. Some Democrats to your point say, let's go back to the Mueller report.

Some other Democrats say, let's fight in the court. We want to get Mick Mulvaney in the witness Chair. We want to get John Bolton in the witness Chair. Nancy Pelosi says no, we're moving quickly.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, we're not going to wait until the courts decide. That might be information that's available to the Senate in terms of how far we go and when we go? But we can't wait for that because, again, it's a technique. It's obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress.


JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": They're basically choosing between what's more important, being able to lay out a very clear obstruction of Congress article of impeachment and be able to point to the fact that the White House has blocked Mick Mulvaney, Acting Chief of Staff, other White House officials and also documents, material that could back up some of these witnesses, or is it more important to get this into the record.

Most of the Democrats that we've talk to say that they actually think that the case right now is pretty solid. They understand that there might not be that single smoking gun. They're not even sure though if they got that that would be enough to convince - so they're ready to move forward with what is the case.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I mean, look if you watch the reaction from the testimony and then the subsequent media interviews of the Republicans on the committee, it's clear that they're not going to get Republican votes. They couldn't get one to open the inquiry itself, let alone actually finding impeachable offenses.

So it's not clear to me why House Democrats would want to wait any longer. If you can't get lame duck members of Congress who are not going to be on the ballot again, whose careers are coming to an end, what's the point of waiting for months to come to wait for the courts?

KING: And then you have heard some of those Republicans we're talking about some of this later in the program. But you have that some of the Republicans starting to move to move to the aisle like this, this was bad. Rudy Giuliani shouldn't have been involved, it shouldn't have happened, but none of them have moved anywhere near saying they were to impeaching the President which is important math as you go forward.

We had a technical issue at the top of the program. The President in a Fox & Friends interview this morning said he looks forward to a Senate trial. No President wants to get impeached. No President does - so just to set that aside but my first day on television.

No President wants to get impeached, but he sounds as if now they're warming to this idea. There is some of the President's allies that have been pressuring the Senate to say, we're just going to vote to dismiss. Now is it because he has to accept this? The President saying I want Hunter Biden, I want Adam Schiff. Now Adam Schiff presumably would be one of the House Managers, so he'll testify in some capacity but not in the witness chair like the President wants.

BASH: Just like what's going on in the House Democratic Caucus, about how they actually proceed with the articles of impeachment, there is a broader debate going on, first of all, within the Republican Party with Senators who met with key members of the administration yesterday to start to game this out, but there will also be a negotiation between Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Leader. This is what happened 20 years ago in the Clinton impeachment. This

is all a discussion about who they bring, and it's not just up to the President, it's - let's just say he says, I want to bring in Hunter Biden, which I can't imagine the Democrats agree to, then they'll have to agree to give the Democrats a really juicy witness. That's how this works.

KING: All right, so those negotiations will play outgoing as we go forward. I just want to come back to again we had technical issues at the beginning. You said there is no smoking gun witness. But one of the reason the Democrats were more confident at the end of that hearing yesterday was that you did have Fiona Hill, who was a very compelling witness, who would not let herself be pushed around by the Republicans.


KING: And who took it inside the west wing. She said her boss John Bolton she and Colonel Vindman all knew this was wrong, had crossed the line, had gone into what she called a domestic political errand and all told the lawyers.


FIONA HILL, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: Utilizing Ambassador Bolton told me that I am not part of this whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.

DANIEL GOLDMAN, MAJORITY COUNSEL: What did you understand him to mean by the drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland were cooking up?

HILL: I took it to mean investigations for a meeting.

GOLDMAN: Did you go speak to the lawyers?

HILL: I certainly did.


KING: This part was critical for the Democrats in the case. Part of the Republican argument is going to be, we don't like this, either, but this is how the President operates. He doesn't trust the bureaucracy so he brought in Rudy. He dent trust the Ambassador, so he maybe it was horrible the way he treated her, but it's in his power to bring her home. This is a witness saying, corrupt, intent, we knew they told.

PACE: There might not be that smoking gun, but Fiona Hill in particular painted an incredibly vivid picture of deep concern inside the west wing among the people who are closest to the President. This is an outer ring story. This is among people who were around him on a daily basis who were in charge of this process.

I think at the very end of the hearing yesterday, there was a pretty powerful moment from hill and also David Holmes who was alongside her and said, when they were asked what kind of precedent does it set, taken this aside from Trump, what kind of precedent does it set if Congress allows an American President to ask a foreign government for political help?

And she said very plainly, it's a very bad precedent. That's what Democrats are trying to do, make this a bigger question.

MARTIN: And that raises the question therefore of whether some folks in the Senate want to have a vote to censure so that they can go on the record condemning the behavior without going that ultimate step of convicting him.

KING: Well, I think that depends largely on how the rest of the House process plays out? Do the Democrats make such a compelling case that especially those swing Republican Senators of reelection feel pressure. We'll come back to this later. Up next, the big moments from this week's testimony and the President's line of defense.



KING: The President today challenging the credibility the of key impeachment witnesses. It's important to remember, as we go through an example or two, that the witnesses were under oath and that the President has a very casual relationship with the truth. The President suggests this morning that a July 25th phone call between him and his Ambassador to the European Union never happened, or at least didn't happen the way the impeachment witnesses say it did.


TRUMP: How about the guy with the telephone? How about that one? I guarantee you that never took place.


KING: Now, let's listen to Gordon Sondland, the man on the other end of the line confirm, under oath, before Congress, yes, the call took place.


GOLDMAN: One of the things that you had now remembered is a discussion that you had with President Trump on July 26th in that restaurant in Kyiv, right?


GOLDMAN: You called President Trump from your cell phone from the restaurant, is that right?

SONDLAND: That's right.


KING: Now, the President made a point on his Fox & Friends call-in this morning that he has, "Really good hearing". He doubts that David Holmes, a veteran Counselor in U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, could anyway hear his words sitting across the table from Ambassador Sondland. Holmes under penalty of perjury said he could hear the President loud and clear.


DAVID HOLMES, COUNSELOR, U.S. EMBASSY IN UKRAINE: I could hear the President's voice through the earpiece on the phone. The President's voice was loud and recognizable. I heard the President ask, so he's doing the investigation?


KING: Interesting, it was a long interview this morning. Largely friendly, all though even though Fox & Friends host challenged some of the things the President said this morning because he does veer sometimes far from the truth. He is testing his defense here. If you go back through the testimony, it's overwhelming. All the witnesses, if you think of building blocks, support each other. The basic story they're telling, it's really not challenged.

PACE: There are facts after these two weeks that are beyond dispute at this point. Several facts that are damning to the President, he indisputably ordered advisers to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine. He asked the Ukraine President, and we know this from his own words and his own transcript, to investigate the Bidens and the DNC.

We know that there were multiple people in the United States and in Ukraine who were deeply concerned that this aid package was dependent on the investigations. That has been proven. You can argue, and Republicans certainly are, that none of those things are impeachable, but there is a damaging case about a President using his powers for personal political gain.

KING: And let's just go back through some of it. This is Jennifer Williams, State Department aide detailed to the Vice President's Office. And Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman saying they were on the July 25th call and it made their heads pop.


JENNIFER WILLIAMS, ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I found the July 25th phone call unusual.

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: It was inappropriate. It was improper for the President to request - to demand an investigation into a political opponent.


KING: Let's, before we discuss, just add into that. We already brought up Fiona Hill, again the top Russia aide, a key Deputy to National Security Adviser John Bolton who work closely with Colonel Vindman who you just saw there again making the connection that no, this is not just being disruptive, this is crossing a line. [12:20:00]


HILL: I actually said to him, who put you in charge of Ukraine? I'll admit I was a bit rude. And that's when he told me the President, which shut me up. I actually realized having listened to his deposition that he was absolutely right. He wasn't cooperating with us because he wasn't doing the same things that he was doing. He was involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national security foreign policy.


KING: Those three words and the way she said them, "Domestic Political Errand" at a time Ukraine desperately needed an ally and a friend.

BASH: Exactly. And those are really the key points from all of the hearings, and to hear it from somebody who came into the administration after she was gone voluntarily because she feels to passionately about her expertise, which is Russia, and she said really eloquently that she took the President at his word that he wanted to repair relations with Russia. That's why she was there.

She, like many of the others who testified, are inherently apolitical, and to see this happen was something that she is obviously incredibly upset about. Here's the "yes but" part of this which we're going to have to keep saying, and I don't want to get too deep and too philosophical, but as you said, these are facts that were built up in this case.

And we are now at a time where there are considerable number of people who don't care about that and want to believe their own truth. Example A is the notion that Ukraine was responsible for meddling in American elections. The Intelligence Community very clearly, not the Obama Intelligence Community, even those in Trump world who read it say that is false.

MARTIN: If you watch those clips, John, you recognize why a lot of folks on the Hill, on the GOP side, would like to make a pivot to, it's improper, it's inappropriate, it shouldn't happen but it's not impeachable. They've been dying for weeks to do that. They can't because the President doesn't want to back off anything, and he wanted it to be a perfect phone call, as he said.

Look what happened two Sundays ago. The Ranking Member of the House Committee, Mac Thornberry, serious, fairly low-profile member, said something to the effect of just that. It's not appropriate but you shouldn't impeach him over it. Trump lashes out on Twitter and says no, it was perfectly appropriate.

PACE: He wants a difference on the substance of what he did.


KING: I don't think-- KIM: He is not getting it.

MARTIN: He will not give it all.

KING: Especially as we get to the Senate. The House members, they have more traditionally drawn districts most of them are safe. They're much more Trumpy than when you get to the Republican side. You're going to have much more Republicans in the - Mitt Romney is not going to go to the floor of the United States Senate and say, this is perfect. He is going to say this was wrong I don't think you impeach a President over that.

I think that's where we are headed here. Again, one of the questions was, can you get this to the President? Was this just Rudy freelancing? Was that Ambassador Sondland sort of winging it? Ambassador Sondland when I first came Washington, not in the loop was a term used by a Former Vice President who became President George H. W. Bush. Gordon Sondland said everybody was.


SONDLAND: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19th, days before the presidential call.


KING: By everyone, he meant the Vice President of the United States, and the Secretary of State, not to mentioned the Acting Chief of Staff of the White House and the President.

KIM: That's why, it's all the more remarkable that to Julie's point earlier, all the facts are mounting up and they do not look good for the President. I think that's clear at the end of the day. What's also clear at the end of the day is despite the parade of witnesses, the mounting evidence, does this change Republicans' minds?

I think we saw both sides really harden in their respective corners. You're going to have Republicans point to the fact that, for example, the questioning of Volker and Morrison when they kept questioning him. Did you have evidence of quid pro quo? No. They're going to turn to Sondland's testimony when he asked; did anybody on this planet tell you directly that the President had condition of aid for foreign investigations of the Bidens? And he said no because without that and as Julie said earlier, without that direct evidence, without Trump physically saying, please hold this up unless you investigate the Bidens, it's not looking good for the Republicans.

KING: And the Democrats are trying to make the case where you won't give us Mick Mulvaney's, you won't give Mick Mulvaney's deputy, you won't give us Mick Mulvaney's top Chief of Staff aide. They're the people who do know but with absent that test - direct testimony you're right, that's the case the Republicans will make.

Up next, Congress is on a break now that means lawmakers are home. That means some will be have the courage to do town halls. Who should we watch, as they vote on impeachment proceedings Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy says, watch the Democrats. He bets many of them will join the Republicans.



KING: There is a break now in the impeachment process meaning time at home for lawmakers likely to soon face key votes on impeaching the President of the United States. Some will get watched more closely than others. There are nearly 20 Republican House members who are retiring at 2020, for example.

And there are 30 house districts who voted for President Trump back in 2016. So far there are no Republicans who say they support impeachment. That's important. And house Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy predicts a fair amount of Democrats will vote no. President Trump is focused more and more on the Senate these days where an impeachment trial will be held. Bringing--