Return to Transcripts main page


The Case For Impeaching President Donald Trump; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) On New Revelations Showing Trump Lied About Ukraine Timeline; Kurds Say They Feel Betrayed By President Trump. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 07:30   ET



NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, ATTORNEY, AUTHOR, "IMPEACH: THE CASE AGAINST DONALD TRUMP": -- of some sort of impeachment in there to prevent a president from borrowing -- you know, getting help from a foreign government.

So it's a paradigmatic case and it's bizarre.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is. And when they write high crime they don't mean crime as in criminal code.

KATYAL: Exactly.

BERMAN: What do they mean?

KATYAL: So, they mean an abuse of the public trust.

So whether you look at 1787 or you can even look at the way Mike Pence, when he was in the House of Representatives in 2008, put it and what I call in the book the Pence rule, when a president is putting his interests above those of the American people, that's what a high crime and misdemeanor is.

BERMAN: Mike Pence literally said that out loud.

KATYAL: He did in 2008, so that's the -- the book begins with that. It's the epigraph. I call the Pence standard and just ask that simple question.

And that's why I wrote the book. I said, you know, look, Americans -- I know we have Republicans and Democrats and Independents. Just think about this by flipping the identity of the political parties. Imagine it wasn't President Trump alleged to do this; imagine it was President Obama who was conspiring with a foreign government to get help on his rival, Mitt Romney or whoever.

How would you feel about that? And I think the answer to that is that, whether you're a Republican, Democrat or Independent, that's the president putting his personal interests above those of the American people. That's squarely in impeachment territory. BERMAN: And when we talk about impeachment and the fact the framers put it -- the framers put it in the Constitution for a reason, how attainable or unattainable do you think they believed it should be because --

KATYAL: Right.

BERMAN: -- you have people out there saying oh, no, no, no, no -- it should never be used. It's this thing that's out there but should never be used. But if that were the case, why would they put it in there?

KATYAL: Exactly. I mean, I feel like those arguments are designed to reave this clause out of the Constitution altogether. And so it's in there for a reason.

But you're absolutely right, they didn't want this to be a regular thing. And that's why in the House of Representatives it's a majority vote to effectively indict the president -- to say oh, we formally think there's a problem.

Then there's a trial in the Senate and it requires a two-thirds vote in order to actually remove a president from office. That's a high bar, as it should be.

My point in the book is this is the rare case that actually meets that high bar and if we don't impeach this president then what are we saying to future presidents? That you can go ahead and cheat in an election and get help from a foreign government? I can't imagine that's a system of democracy we'd want to have.

BERMAN: I want to get to the case against President Trump in just a moment, but I want to lay more of the groundwork here.

You use another example -- because we often talk about it here -- what crime -- literal crime or criminal code was broken here. You make the case that specifically, the framers didn't have that in mind because the case of perhaps what if your brother had murdered a presidential candidate. Explain that.

KATYAL: Exactly. So the phrase is high crimes and misdemeanors and you were saying well, some people think it means a crime. It actually doesn't. A crime is neither necessary nor sufficient.

Many crimes, like Aaron Burr, famously now because of the "Hamilton" play -- musical. He did kill someone but nobody thought of impeaching -- nobody thought of impeaching because he had killed Hamilton in a duel. It was a crime, but it wasn't a crime against the state. It wasn't a crime against the American people and therefore, that's not impeachable.

By contrast, you can have things that aren't crimes but are obviously impeachable. Suppose the president wakes up tomorrow and says you know, I want a new Canada. Well, you know, there isn't necessarily a criminal statute that prevents that but nonetheless, it's an impeachable offense. The framers used the words bribery -- in bribery, treason or other high crimes and misdemeanors. This -- you know, so bribery is one of the few things that they did enumerate and we might want to talk about that as something that President Trump is alleged to have done.

BERMAN: All right, one more question before we get to the current case, which is one thing you hear people say is oh, we have an election coming up. Let the election decide. But as you note again, specifically in the discussions about putting this in the Constitution, that's not what the framers wanted.

KATYAL: Yes, absolutely. So, you know, that was what Jerry and others said instead of having an impeachment clause. And others said no -- actually, we need this in order to safeguard elections themselves.

So the way I think about it is suppose you and I -- like, we're playing a game of Monopoly and I got accused of cheating. How would it be if I just said to you OK, well let's resolve whether I cheated by playing another game of Monopoly?

I mean, here, the president is alleged to have cheated in the 2020 election and now, he's saying oh, well, I just want to have the 2020 election. That puts the cart before the horse.

BERMAN: So, finally -- again, a big part of the book is laying out what impeachment means and what the framers meant. And then you make the case that this meets those standards. Why?

KATYAL: Because this is squarely what our founders thought impeachment was for. When you're putting your interests above those of the American people, that's a breach of -- you know, as lawyers, we call it the breach of fiduciary duty -- the idea that you are violating the most central tenet of your oath.

And here, what the president did -- and he's got so many shifting stories. He's tried this and that. He's saying oh, NATO didn't provide enough aid or it's all hearsay -- this or that.


But I think everything that the whistleblower said has now been corroborated. The idea is that the president withheld congressionally-appropriated, taxpayer-paid-for aid in order to advance his personal and private agenda.

BERMAN: Adam Schiff and some of the Democrats are now using the word bribery --


BERMAN: -- a lot. Now, the framers do use that word.


BERMAN: Why is that word important and what does it mean in this context?

KATYAL: So, bribery wasn't even a crime in 1787 but it was one of those impeachable offenses. And I think the central idea is the same idea about self-dealing and putting your interests above those of the American people.

And when you have a president who says hey, I'll let you have this $400 million in aid -- which I need a favor though, first, and that favor is a personal favor, that's the problem. Because if a president can use his awesome powers as commander in chief under the Constitution to do these kinds of things, there is no stopping point because the president does, under our Constitution, have so many different tools available to him.

BERMAN: All right. I think it's important you're not just thinking about the law, you're also thinking about our Thanksgiving dinner --

KATYAL: Absolutely.

BERMAN: -- and our families. And one of the things you're offering is impeach mats?


BERMAN: Explain here. I have a paper copy.

KATYAL: Yes. So they're on my Web site at

And basically, the idea is and one of the reasons I wrote the book is I am so concerned that Trump tears us apart and it becomes a left versus right issue. And this impeachment proceeding doesn't need to be that.

I really think that you can look at this and say from a principled basis what's the right thing to do here? And again, the best way to do that is I tell my law students on day one is flip the identity of the parties, pretend it's President Obama, and ask yourself do really want this to be the behavior our president engages in?

BERMAN: Neal Katyal. The book is "Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump."

The placemats sure to provoke many, many friendly discussions tomorrow. Appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much.

KATYAL: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Alisyn.


"The New York Times" reports that President Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint and the congressional investigation before he released the military aid to Ukraine. What does this mean for the Senate trial, next.



CAMEROTA: "The New York Times" reports this morning that President Trump released the military aid to Ukraine only after the whistleblower complaint was made public to him and a congressional investigation began.

So joining us now to talk about what's next, we have Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal. He serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, great to have you here. Thanks for being in the studio.


CAMEROTA: So, one of the Republicans' defenses that they have been using for weeks now is that the president decided to release all of those millions of dollars to Ukraine only after people determined that Ukraine was no longer corrupt. Nope, that wasn't the rationale. It was only after he was briefed about the whistleblower complaint and knowing about the congressional investigation.

Here is how "The New York Times" puts it. "President Trump had already been briefed on a whistleblower's complaint about his dealings with Ukraine when he unfroze military aid for the country in September, according to two people familiar with the matter. Lawyers from the White House counsel's office told Mr. Trump in late August about the complaint, explaining that they were trying to determine whether they were legally required to give it to Congress, the people said."

Does that change the equation in the Senate?

BLUMENTHAL: It adds additional evidence. It empowers further the case against the president. It confirms the evidence coming from the president's own mouth, really. It's still the July 25th conversation about doing us a favor in return for the aid -- soliciting a bribe, in a sense.

And what this report shows very, very importantly is the president decided to release the aid when he knew his cover was blown -- he was caught. And he wanted, in effect, to concoct an additional alibi or cover.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that changes some of your Republican colleagues' talking points about this?

BLUMENTHAL: My Republican colleagues are continuing, sadly -- very unfortunately, defend the president. And now, they are defending him with these crazy conspiracy theories about Ukraine hacking into the Democratic campaign or in some way interfering with the election, rather than Russia.

That's a conspiracy theory that has not only been completely debunked, it's also dangerous for our national security because it gives Putin a cover. If it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered with our election, Putin is given additional cover to continue his attack. CAMEROTA: I'm just curious. When you run into them in the hallway do you ever say what are you doing?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, not maybe in those terms but yes, we talk about it and they're continuing to defend the president. And what I find so reprehensible, really, is that they will have to eventually face the facts.

And we have a responsibility here that is bigger than any one of us. This is a vote and a process that will be for the history books. History will haunt them, and history would haunt us if we failed to pursue this impeachment proceeding.

CAMEROTA: Well, speaking of history, in the not-too-distant past, one of your Republican colleagues, Sen. Lindsey Graham, shared very warm feelings about Joe Biden. He talked about Joe Biden.

Let me just play that for you -- this is from 2015 -- and then we'll talk about what's happening today. So, watch this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If you can't admire Joe Biden as a person then it's probably -- you've got a problem. You need to do some self- evaluation because what's not to like? He's the nicest person I think I've ever met in politics.



GRAHAM: He is as good a man as God ever created.


CAMEROTA: So then, this week, it comes out that Sen. Graham wants to personally investigate the Bidens. He's asking for documents and transcripts to be released.

So what do you think Sen. Graham is doing?

BLUMENTHAL: I think it's an effort to distract. It's part of the Republican strategy. They have blocked the witnesses from coming forward, like John Bolton.

And part of the strategy is really just to create an additional narrative. This one is purely fiction. It's been completely refuted and debunked that Ukraine --

CAMEROTA: That the Bidens -- that there was any wrongdoing and -- but, I mean, they would say that Democrats are blocking Hunter Biden from coming forward and he's central to this. So if Democrats aren't afraid of anything why not let Hunter Biden come forward?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, Hunter Biden is far from central to any of the impeachment investigation. He is not only on the periphery, he's irrelevant. And the question about Joe Biden, he has been shown to do nothing wrong.

But here is the main point. I really regret that my colleague, Sen. Graham, is raising this distraction because I think we all have a constitutional responsibility that ought to be above politics. And the President of the United States has declared a policy of complete non-cooperation through his counsel, on October eighth, that he will block witnesses and testimony and documents. And I think we have a larger responsibility here.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, as you know, brought up the idea of censure and she's not the first person to talk about this.

What do you think about that -- censure instead of impeachment?

BLUMENTHAL: We have a responsibility under the Constitution when there is an abuse of trust and power, and that kind of responsibility has to be fulfilled through a thorough investigation, which is now ongoing, and through consideration in the Senate through a trial of whether to remove the president. And so, I favor letting that proceeding go forward, making it factual, considered, and fully legal.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, of course, censure would be easier, it would be faster, it would take the control out of Mitch McConnell's hands. If the House just voted to censure then, I mean, do you really think that the president is going to be removed from office -- voted and removed from office by the Senate? So wouldn't it sort of circumvent some of the problems that you all are confronting?

BLUMENTHAL: This process really has to be about politics. It has to consider our constitutional responsibility, which is to consider removal. And so I think censure, while it may be easier, may be quicker, falls short of what our responsibility has to be. And the focus on these extraneous factors really does a disservice to it.

CAMEROTA: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, have a very happy Thanksgiving.

BLUMENTHAL: You, too. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you here. Thanks for being here.



BERMAN: So, two months after President Trump ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria, America's Kurdish allies are left feeling abandoned and betrayed.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel that you trust the Americans still?


BERMAN: We'll have more from Clarissa Ward in the region, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: This morning, the aftershocks of one presidential decision. Two months ago, President Trump ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria, paving the way for a deadly incursion by Turkey. Nearly 200,000 Kurds were forced out of their homes in this offensive. Many who now live in makeshift camps say they feel betrayed by President Trump.

CNN's Clarissa Ward live in northern Iraq now with more. Clarissa, what did you find?

WARD: Well, John, we literally just returned from northern Syria. We spent nearly a week there trying to get a sense of how the Kurdish people have been affected by the Turkish military offensive, by this drastic move by President Trump. And essentially, we found a lot of anger, a lot of bitterness, and a desperate humanitarian situation.


WARD (voice-over): Class should be in session now, but here in Hasakah, the school has become a temporary shelter for displaced people.

In one classroom, we meet Ibrahim Hassan. The Kurdish father of five tells us he was forced to flee his home in Ras al-Ain with his children when the Turkish military operation began.

This is what remains of his house. Ibrahim says it is one of many in his Kurdish neighborhood that was deliberately ransacked by Turkish- backed forces.

IBRAHIM HASSAN, DISPLACED SYRIAN KURD (through translator): They took everything, and after they took all our belongings they set it on fire and burned it all.

WARD (voice-over): Just days before the offensive began, Ibrahim's children had posed smiling with U.S. troops patrolling the area. He says America's presence gave him a false sense of security -- then suddenly, they were gone.

HASSAN (through translator): Since America betrayed us, every time I look at these photos of my children with the Americans, I want to erase them.

WARD (on camera): Do you feel that you trust the Americans, still? (Speaking foreign language).

HASSAN: Bialtabe la.

WARD (on camera): Bialtabe la -- definitely not.

HASSAN (through translator): Now we hear and we see on television America saying that they're only here for the oil. Why did Trump do this? You have betrayed all of the people.

WARD (voice-over): It's a sentiment we found shared by many here. Nearly 200,000 people have been displaced by Turkey's offensive. Hundreds of their homes have been damaged or looted.


Local authorities are now trying to move them out of the schools so that class can start again, and into hastily-built camps like this one. Conditions are bleak and resources are scarce.

Because of the security situation, international aid agencies have had to pull out, leaving the Kurds with no one to rely on but themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WARD (on camera): So, she's saying it's really difficult here because it's very cold, especially at night. They don't have enough food, they don't have electricity, and the water is not good.

WARD (voice-over): Camp organizers say there are 3,000 people living here now with more arriving every day.

WARD (on camera): Almost everyone in this camp is from the town of Ras al-Ain, and Ras al-Ain used to be around 75 percent Kurdish. Now, though, we're told there are just a handful of Kurds left. And the people here believe that the ultimate goal of this Turkish offensive is to essentially push the Kurds out of this area completely and change the ethnic makeup of it forever.

WARD (voice-over): Turkey has done little to alleviate their fears. As the Kurds have poured out of these areas, Arabs have been bussed in -- Syrian refugees, who Turkish authorities claim are originally from these areas.

After more than eight years of civil war, this part of Syria is full of stories of people forcibly displaced. In the Christian village of Tal Nasr, we find more families from Ras al-Ain sheltering in the ruins of a destroyed church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WARD (on camera): Will you try to go home, I asked these women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WARD (on camera): There's no home to go to, they reply.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WARD (voice-over): ISIS cleansed this area of Christians when it was on control. They have yet to return. Now, the village provides refuge for another people forced from their homes with no sense of a possible return.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: What a report, Clarissa.

So I understand U.S. troops have started patrols now -- restarted with the Kurdish forces. What can you tell us about that?

WARD: I think everybody on the ground honestly has a sense of whiplash, John. At one point, it seems President Trump says we're done in Syria, we've defeated ISIS, we're pulling out. Then he says no, we're going to leave some soldiers there to look after the oil.

Now, we hear from the U.S. military that patrols are starting again. That ongoing operations are continuing to try to essentially take out residual ISIS sleeper cells that still exist throughout the country.

But basically, there's a sense among the Kurds, John, that absolutely, they need America. They need America as some measure of protection against Turkey. But at the same time, there's also a feeling that maybe this is simply a day late and a dollar short -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: And your reporting, which is so important, Clarissa, we see the impact on tens of thousands of lives. Thank you so much for going and telling that story -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, winter wreaking havoc for Thanksgiving travelers. NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These freezing temperatures, they are expected to last throughout the week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have blankets, we have food, and we have food to share with others. I always have a full tank of gas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounded like it was going to be a pretty major storm so we thought we'd better get here early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump found out about the whistleblower and the fact it was going to become public. He knew what he did was wrong, so he released the aid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so much for no quid pro quo. So much for I want nothing. He only said that after he got caught.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adam Schiff and the Democrats have attacked a very successful president.

BLUMENTHAL: Essentially, what it shows is consciousness of guilt.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, November 27th, 8:00 here in the east.

We've got some serious weather issues this morning --

CAMEROTA: I know, really troubling on the highway.

BERMAN: -- for the millions of people on the road. Back-to-back winter storms serving up a heaping side of Thanksgiving travel troubles.

Millions of Americans waking up to winter storm advisories. In the west, a powerful system packing hurricane-force winds is lashing the area with heavy rain and flash flooding. In the Midwest, blizzard conditions already causing widespread travel delays. And in the northeast, we have high winds and that's threatening to ground the balloons at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

CAMEROTA: We are also following new revelations that show President Trump lied about the Ukraine timeline and his motivation for releasing that military aid.

The White House budget -- a White House budget official testified to Congress that two of his colleagues quit after expressing their concerns about President Trump withholding that aid.

And "The New York Times" reports that when Mr. Trump finally did release the aid in September, he had already been briefed about the whistleblower complaint.