Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

House Intel Report Accuses Trump of Misconduct, Obstruction. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 3, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

MARVIN PENDARVIS (D-SC), STATE REPRESENTATIVE: The issues like economic prosperity that are the ones that people really need, the ones that we want...

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Representative...

PENDARVIS: ... make sure that our candidates -- yes.

KEILAR: OK. Thank you so much for joining us.

I know I'm afraid to -- I'm going to lose you here on the window momentarily. So we will continue this conversation.

Representative, thank you so much for joining us.

And "THE LEAD" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This is CNN breaking news.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're starting an hour early today to cover this major breaking story in a day you may come to remember. The House Intelligence Committee this afternoon released its 300-page Trump Ukraine impeachment inquiry report, as it calls itself, laying out its case, saying that President Trump indeed conditioned official presidential acts involved in Ukraine on that country's leaders announcing investigations that would help President Trump politically.

Any moment now, we are expecting the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, to speak about what he clearly sees as two key potential articles of impeachment, one, the president's -- quote -- "overwhelming misconduct," in Schiff's view, and, two, unprecedented obstruction.

Let's go right to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what strikes you in this report? What do you think is most interesting or important? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the

Democrats tried to lay out two cases, one, misconduct by this president, laying out in detail what happened as the president was pushing, dealing with Ukraine policy, pushing for investigations into his political rivals, at the same time as that vital to Ukraine had been withheld, at the same time as that meeting with the Ukraine president and President Trump had been delayed, also at the same time obstruction of Congress.

The Democrats tried to make it very clear what they say is unprecedented stonewalling by this president, and it's making clear that they expect articles of impeachment likely will be drafted based on this report. It likely will include obstruction of Congress, likely will include abuse of power.

Now, they stop sort of explicitly saying what those articles of impeachment should look like. But it's very clear what the Democrats lay out here is that they believe that the president should be impeached.

Now, we are expecting Adam Schiff to come out any moment here. And, Jake, when he does, I will step aside.

But, also, Jake, in part of this report, it says -- the statement coming out from the leaders of this, it says: "The evidence of the president's misconduct is overwhelming. And so too is the evidence of the obstruction of Congress. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction."

Here's the chairman right now, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, let's listen in.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Good afternoon.

Today, we transmit the report of the work of three committees, the Intelligence Committee, the Oversight Committee, as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee, into the president's misconduct with respect to Ukraine.

And, at the outset, I want to just thank the incredible members of all three committees, as well as our amazing staff that did long hours of work through depositions, open hearings, and compiling all of the evidence into today's report.

It was an enormous task.

And I want to begin by acknowledging the great work of the great and late colleague of mine Elijah Cummings. We continue to be inspired by his legacy and guided by thoughts of his integrity and the great moral clarity that he always showed in his work.

I also want to thank my colleagues Chairman Engel, Chairwoman Maloney for their tremendous work as well. This report chronicles the scheme by the president of the United

States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president's political dirty work.

It involves a scheme in which Donald Trump withheld official acts, a White House meeting, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military assistance, in order to compel that power to deliver two investigations that he believed would assist his reelection campaign.

And I want to underscore, first of all, just how important that White House meeting was to Ukraine. Ukraine has a new reformer as its president, President Zelensky.

A meeting with the most important patron of Ukraine, the president of the United States, in the Oval Office carries enormous significance, both to the people of Ukraine, but as equally important to Russia, that the United States has Ukraine's back in its conflict with a nation which invaded its territory.

The military assistance is also absolutely essential. As President Zelensky goes into negotiations with Vladimir Putin, the fact that the United States is providing substantial military assistance approved on a bipartisan basis by Congress is enormously important.

[15:05:07]

The withholding of that aid, even for a period of time, sends a disastrous message to friend and foe alike that the United States does not have the back of its ally.

So these were things that Ukraine desperately wanted and needed. At the same time, there was something President Trump desperately wanted and believed that he needed. And that was an investigation that would damage the rival that he feared apparently the most, Joe Biden, as well as an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in our last election.

Now, that conspiracy theory, which is often summarized or characterized by the term CrowdStrike, that conspiracy theory is a Russian narrative. That is a conspiracy theory put out, promulgated by Vladimir Putin to deflect attention away from Russia's interference in our own election, and to try to drive a wedge between the United States and the nation of Ukraine.

So that's what the president wanted, these two sham investigations, one into Joe Biden, also debunked and discredited, that sham investigative theory, but also into this idea that Ukraine interfered in our election, not Russia.

And he was willing to sacrifice the national security of the United States by withholding military aid and diplomatic recognition in the form of that White House meeting in order to get what he wanted.

That scheme, however, was discovered, because, among other things, a courageous person stepped forward and blew the whistle, but also because Congress announced that it would investigate the matter.

Once we began our investigation, and once it became clear to the president and to the White House that this was going to become public, the scheme was going to become public, only then did the president of the United States release the military aid.

And as for that White House meeting that Ukraine so desperately sought, that has still not happened to this day.

Now, what does this mean for Americans? Why should they care about what the president did vis-a-vis Ukraine? Why should they care indeed about Ukraine?

First of all, this is not about Ukraine. This is about our democracy. This is about our national security. This is about whether the American people have a right to expect that the president of the United States is going to act in their interests, with their security in mind, and not for some illicit personal or political reason.

So Americans should care deeply about whether the president of the United States is betraying their trust in him, betraying that oath that he took to the Constitution to protect our country and defend its institutions. So, we should care about this. We must care about this.

And if we don't care about this, we can be darn well be sure the president will be back at it doing this all over again, because, indeed, he already has.

First, there was the invitation to Russia to interfere in our last election. Hey, Russia, if you're listening, hack Hillary's e-mails. And, indeed, later that day, they tried to do exactly that.

But then there was the use of this official power to compel another country, Ukraine, to interfere in the 2020 election. And even after, even after our investigation began, even after the impeachment inquiry began, there was President Donald Trump out on the White House lawn once again making it abundantly clear that he wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

And what's more, he wanted other countries to interfere in our election as well, and that China should also investigate the Bidens.

This is the result of a president who believes that he is beyond indictment , beyond impeachment, beyond any form of accountability and, indeed, above the law. And that is a very dangerous thing for this country, to have an unethical president who believes they're above the law.

The question now is, what does Congress do about this? One of the other very important elements of our report today which goes beyond the president's misconduct with Ukraine goes to the president's obstruction of the Congress, of a co-equal branch of government.

And I want to underscore also the seriousness of this misconduct, because the president informed every department for which we sought records, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, which has the records about the withholding of the aid, the Defense Department, his own White House personnel, to refuse to turn over a single document in answer to congressional subpoenas.

The president instructed witnesses not to appear. The president used his office and his bully pulpit to try to intimidate witnesses.

[15:10:07]

If the Congress allows a president to so fully and blanketly obstruct the work of Congress, even involving an impeachment investigation into the president's own misconduct, then we are begging for more of the same. We are signaling to any future president that they can engage in whatever corruption, malfeasance or negligence, and they are beyond accountability.

And to my GOP colleagues, they need to consider that, when we have a Democratic president, are they willing to say, in answer to their oversight, that a president may simply refuse?

Because, if they are, and if we do, it will mean that the balance of power between our branches of government will be fundamentally altered, and altered for the worse. It will mean that future corruption, malfeasance, and incompetence will be far more likely than it is today.

The facts here are really not seriously contested. Indeed, the testimony of the witnesses was remarkably consistent. And you might be forgiven, having watched the hearings and watched the reaction of the members of the two parties to the testimony of these witnesses, if you thought that there were two different hearings going on at the same time.

This points out another danger that the founding fathers were all too aware of, and that is the danger of excessive factionalism. That is that a political party may become so wedded to a president of their own party that they're unwilling to do their constitutional duty.

But I firmly believe that, if one party relinquishes its responsibilities to the Constitution and to their oath, it does not relieve us of our obligation to the same.

And I hope that every member of the House and the Senate, whether these proceedings go forward in the House or they don't, will keep in mind their duty is to the Constitution, not to the person of the president.

That ought to be our guiding principle.

Finally, I think what's presented to us here is really so aptly summed up in what the president's own chief of staff had to say, when he informed the country that, yes, indeed, they had withheld military aid to get this political investigation. He told us to get over it, to get over it.

That is what the president does. We should just get over it. This is essentially what he was saying, that we need to just get used to the idea of a corrupt president and get over it.

And so we will have to decide, given that the evidence of this misconduct is so clear and uncontested, are we prepared to just get over it? Are we prepared to say that, henceforth, we must expect from this president and those who follow that there will be a certain amount of corruption in which the national security of the country will be compromised, in which the oath of the office will mean that much less, in which the belief in the rule of law in the United States will be that much less?

Is that what we're simply to get over or get used to?

Well, I, for one, don't think we should get over this. I don't think we should get used to this. I don't think that's what the founders of this country had in mind. Indeed, I think that, when they prescribed a remedy, this kind of conduct by a president of the United States, putting his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people, was exactly why they prescribed a remedy as extraordinary as the remedy of impeachment.

And so we have a very difficult decision ahead of us to make. And I have every confidence that the Judiciary Committee, in consultation with the entire caucus and our leadership, will not only receive this report, as well as the reports of others, and make a proper determination about whether articles of impeachment are warranted.

With that, I'm happy to respond to your questions.

RAJU: Mr. Schiff. Mr. Schiff. Mr. Schiff.

QUESTION: When did you obtain the cell phone records that are in this report? And what did they tell you that you didn't learn otherwise from the witnesses you interviewed?

SCHIFF: Well, I can't go into specifics of dates in which we obtained certain evidence, or indeed whether we obtained communications from one or multiple parties.

[15:15:00]

But, certainly, the phone records show that there was considerable coordination among the parties, including the White House, coordination in the smear campaign against Ambassador Yovanovitch, which cleared the way for the three amigos to take over a significant part of Ukraine policy, coordination in the execution of that policy, and that this was indeed a continuum that began even prior to the recall of the ambassador.

Now, Garrett (ph), your question gets to a very important point, which is, there is more investigative work to be done. One of the issues that we are looking into is, did this scheme begin far earlier than we first understood?

Was the scheme, in fact, put in place to try to pressure the last president of Ukraine, Poroshenko, and his corrupt prosecutor general, Lutsenko, into conducting these same investigations? And was that plan put into a turmoil and chaos when this new reformer, Zelensky, surged in the polling and ultimately won that presidency?

That is something we continue to investigate. And that is something that these phone records also shed light on.

But even as we believe that we cannot wait because the president's efforts to secure intervention in the next election persist, we continue our investigation, and we will.

RAJU: Mr. Schiff, just to be clear, it sure sounds like you support impeaching the president.

Do you support impeaching and then the Senate removing him from office?

SCHIFF: I'm going to reserve any kind of a public judgment on that until I have a chance to consult with my colleagues, with our leadership.

And I think this really needs to be a decision that we all make as a body. So, I'm going to continue to reserve judgment.

But I -- as you can tell, I am gravely concerned that, if we merely accept this, that we invite not only further corruption of our elections by this president, but we also invite it of the next president.

So I am keenly aware of the significance of the precedent we set in whatever direction we move. And I'm also very strongly guided by the fact that one of the seminal moments in this scheme took place the day after Bob Mueller testified.

The day after Donald Trump thought that the last investigation was over, he began the next significant step in a new course of misconduct.

Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SCHIFF: Well, I'd say a couple things.

First of all, as I mentioned, we continue to investigate whether this scheme began earlier than expected, whether this scheme also involved the last president of Ukraine.

But, look, we have provided overwhelming evidence in this report of a scheme to pressure the current president of Ukraine to conduct these political investigations. Will it move others if we're able to show that this was not the first time, this was the second time?

I think what we have produced in remarkable short order is so overwhelming that it ought to be presented to the Judiciary Committee now, without any further delay. If we do uncover additional evidence -- and we do learn more every day -- we will feel free to file supplemental reports to the Judiciary Committee. But there is, I think, grave risk to the country with waiting until we

have every last fact, when we already know enough about the president's misconduct to make a responsible judgment about whether we think that's compatible with the office of the presidency.

QUESTION: Do the phone records cast out on anything you heard from the witnesses or anything the president has said publicly?

SCHIFF: No, they don't, at least that I can identify at this moment.

I think the phone records are remarkably consistent with the coordination of a lot of this scheme. Now, we obviously don't have complete phone records. And some of the phone records are deeply suggestive of who the parties were talking to, particularly in the White House or the Office of Management and Budget.

But because of the president's effort to stonewall investigation, including not turn over their own phone records, not only to us, but to witnesses like Sondland, who asked for them, we don't have all the answers.

But we do know this without any doubt. And that is, the president of the United States solicited foreign interference in our election and used the power of his office, the power to convene a meeting in the Oval Office, the power to provide or withhold hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to an ally at war to get his political dirty work done.

[15:20:10]

The only question is, how much more, how more extensive was the scheme, how many others may have been involved, what was the full knowledge and participation of other parties?

And while we intend to get the answers to those questions and let the American people know the full facts, we do not intend to delay, when the integrity of the next election is still at risk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, your report mentions, cites call records involving Ranking Member Nunes.

Did you speak to him or inquire about those with his office? And do you believe he should recuse himself later today on this vote?

Also, do you or your staff plan to present this report to the Judiciary Committee in person?

SCHIFF: The rules adopted by the Judiciary Committee provide that our staff counsel will present the report to the committee. So that's what we expect will take place.

In terms of the ranking member, it won't surprise you I'm going to reserve comment. It is, I think, deeply concerning that, at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity.

Now, there's a lot more to learn about that. And I don't want to state that that is an unequivocal fact. But the allegations are deeply concerning. Our focus is on the president's conduct first and foremost.

It may be the role of others to evaluate the conduct of members of Congress.

Thank you very much.

TAPPER: That was the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Democrat Adam Schiff of California, speaking after the release of his committee's Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry report, which is more than 300 pages.

Schiff says that the evidence shows President Trump withheld a White House meeting and much needed security aid to Ukraine, $391 million worth, to compel the leaders of Ukraine to announce and to open investigations that President Trump believed would benefit him politically.

Schiff was directly asked by CNN's Manu Raju, and refused to say publicly if he supports impeaching President Trump. The chairman also said there's more investigative work to be done, including whether this pressure campaign, as he called it, started earlier than is currently believed.

Let's talk about this.

One of the points, Nia-Malika, that Chairman Schiff is clearly making is that this wasn't just about one phone call with the president of Ukraine.

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

I mean, he is laying out in this report of 300 pages -- there's an executive summary -- and we obviously heard from weeks of witnesses -- that this was a months-long scheme.

He also hinted at that it may be even longer in what this report lays out and what the witnesses laid out as well. And he said in his press conference there that this was a scheme to coerce an ally into doing the president's dirty work, very simple language that you hear Adam Schiff using, very simple language as well in this very damning report.

I think there was a sense over these last days or so that the president and the GOP had kind of taken the wind out of the sails of Democrats in some ways.

And with this report that Adam Schiff says should be referred to the House Judiciary Committee immediately, right, he is talking about a sense of urgency because of the threat to a current election. And this president seems to essentially think that he can use his own power, his own office in official acts to coerce a foreign government to interfere in an American election.

TAPPER: And, Maggie Haberman, one of the things you hear from Republicans is that fighting back against Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, House Democrats on impeachment has unified the Republican Party behind President Trump as perhaps never before.

But one thing you don't hear is any refutation of the facts as they are laid out in the report and as we have come to hear in the public hearings.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, at least not so far. I expect we might hear more as we go forward.

And, remember, we're going into a Senate trial where we have no idea what that's going to look like. But certainly, right now, what they have focused on is this idea that the president -- that nothing turned up any connection directly to the president, there's no testimony about the president saying anything any of his aides.

This is probably, frankly, one of those times where the president is saved by the fact that he doesn't use e-mail and he doesn't respond to text messages, because there's nothing in writing, and that is what they focused on after the Mueller report. They're doing it again.

One thing I am struck by in this summary is, it goes over the obstruction of witnesses -- that's their words, Democrats -- that the White House blocked all of these witnesses from testifying.

That's the opposite of what we saw in Mueller, which, again, remains really important here. We saw again yesterday these 302 interview summaries released from the Mueller interviews with a number of White House aides.

[15:25:01]

Those were really significant in laying out a case. And the White House has clearly learned its lesson, in its mind. And Republicans have as well.

TAPPER: And you have been looking over the report, as we all have.

And one of the things that strikes, you said, Elliot, is that the idea that they paint a picture of this campaign with Ukraine, the pressure campaign, as the Democrats call, puts the entire electoral system at risk, it puts American democracy at risk.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right.

TAPPER: Explain.

WILLIAMS: So the point is, this is bigger than Donald Trump.

For basically three years, we have been seeing a president that has made his -- let's say, made his money or made his name by flouting norms of government, right? That's sort of what many -- why many people actually elected... TAPPER: The great disrupter, sure.

WILLIAMS: A disrupter, which is why many people voted for the president in the first place.

Well, that actually carries legal and historical consequences. And what they're saying here -- and the exact line is this repeated and pervasive threat to our democratic electoral process.

They are making a historical point.

TAPPER: How so? How is it a threat?

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: Well, they're making a point that nothing -- OK, well, how is it a threat?

No -- the president is enlisting the help of foreign actors in meddling in our system of elections. What they're saying here is that any future president has the incentive to do that again if they don't stop it here.

So, again, this isn't just about norms and Donald Trump breaking glass and changing things. This is actually about violating our basic system of how our government is supposed to be run.

HENDERSON: And I do think this is actually a more compelling argument for Americans than the national security argument in terms of the president withholding this assistance from Ukraine.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

HENDERSON: Most people probably can't pick Ukraine out on a map.

So I think this -- you pointed out here -- and it wasn't so, I think, front and center in a lot of the hearings, the idea that it is disrupting an American election.

TAPPER: And, Gloria, one of the other things that's really interesting in this report is that it really seems to suggest that this wasn't just President Trump and a few low-level diplomatic people.

In one part, it says Ambassador Sondland told Vice President Pence that he was concerned that the security assistance had become tied to the issue of investigations, that everything is being held up until these statements get made. And Pence nodded in response.

The idea that there are a number of senior administration officials, not just President Trump, who are tied up in this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

I think, as Ambassador Sondland famously said, everyone was in the loop. I think this is the committee's version of everyone was in the loop. And there is a point where they talk about this dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump, because everything, of course, is driven by the president, according to this executive summary.

And that -- in which senior U.S. officials, including the vice president, secretary of state, acting chief of staff, secretary of energy, and others, were either knowledgeable or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the president, co-conspirators, in another word

And I remember when Sondland testified to this about Pence. Pence -- and what Sondland did was, he said, I pulled the vice president aside for a quick minute at -- on September 1 in Warsaw before he went in to meet with Zelensky and told him that I thought that this was going to be about investigations.

And Pence then released almost immediately a rebuttal, saying, no, no, no, that never occurred. And this report challenges Pence's disclaimer on this, saying, well, you didn't really address what Sondland said.

So the vice president here, they're holding culpable, and saying he knew too.

TAPPER: And it's not just the vice president, Maggie.

Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, used to be the chairman, until the Democrats took control of Congress in 2018, Devin Nunes is all over this report, and not in his role as ranking Republican on the committee.

HABERMAN: Right.

TAPPER: He's in there as, well...

HABERMAN: We don't know.

TAPPER: A lot of phone messages with Giuliani, phone messages with Giuliani's indicted friend Lev Parnas.

(CROSSTALK)

HABERMAN: Yes. And we don't really -- look, these durations of these calls are fairly short. We don't know what they are about.

But they're going to raise questions that the ranking Republican on this committee was having these discussions with the president's lawyer, with these witnesses about these facts that Democrats are saying were not real.

WILLIAMS: And particularly given how much of a stink was made about a supposed conversation between the whistle-blower and staff to the House Intelligence Committee, they have sort of thrown that away if Lev Parnas is off talking to Devin Nunes repeatedly.

TAPPER: Well, they seem to be suggesting that there was a -- that this is all part of a disinformation campaign, right, the idea -- call records also show communications between conservative journalist John Solomon -- he's an opinion columnist with "The Hill" -- Trump allies on the days surrounding Solomon publishing an article connecting former U.K. Ukrainian Ambassador Yovanovitch to the Biden allegations.

"Over the course of the four days, following the April 7 article, phone records show contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon."

So, it's all this about this -- I mean, it's drumming up this idea that the Bidens are corrupt...

HENDERSON: Right.

TAPPER: ... and that Ukraine interfered in the election.

HENDERSON: Yes.

And -- and at least the first part

[15:30:00]