Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

House Intel Report Accuses Trump of Misconduct, Obstruction; Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is Interviewed About the House Intel Report and the Impeachment Inquiry; Sen. Kamala Harris Dropping Out of 2020 Presidential Race. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 3, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We begin this hour with the major breaking news, a day for the history books, with President Trump's -- quote -- "misconduct" detailed in more than 300 pages by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, who argue that President Trump personally, and with the help of multiple senior administration officials, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the upcoming 2020 election to benefit himself.

[16:00:13]

Democrats are making the case that, by doing so, President Trump put his own interests above those of the United States of America, undermined the integrity of the upcoming election and endangered U.S. national security.

The report also underscores what Democrats view as a -- quote -- "unprecedented effort" to obstruct an impeachment inquiry. President Trump, of course, refused to comply with the investigation, to provide any subpoenaed documents or allow top aides to testify.

In the report, Democrats also pointedly accuse the president of attacking and intimidating witnesses who did comply with subpoenas, making note that it is a federal crime to do so, carrying a criminal sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

For his part today, President Trump referred to the chairman of the committee before this was released as deranged.

But as CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports, Democrats argue that the evidence of the president's misconduct and obstruction of Congress is -- quote -- "overwhelming."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Overwhelming, the amount of evidence House Democrats said today, of the president's misconduct with Ukraine and his obstruction of Congress.

The new report from the Intelligence Committee stating: "The president placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security."

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): The evidence is overwhelming that he abused his office to leverage your taxpayer dollars to have a foreign government try and cheat an election.

MARQUARDT: The 300-page report details the committee's findings after an eight-week historic investigation.

Their blistering conclusion? That it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the president since the inquiry began.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): 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.

MARQUARDT: Chairman Adam Schiff launched the investigation in September, prompted by the whistle-blower's complaint. That complaint centered around the July 25 call in which President Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky for a favor and investigations into a 2016 elections conspiracy theory and the Bidens.

"Our investigation determined that this telephone call was neither the start nor the end of President Trump's efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain," the report reads. "Rather, it was a dramatic crescendo," an effort, Democrats argue, that included Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, saying they were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the president.

Pompeo was on that July 25 call, and Mulvaney famously admitted to the quid pro quo before walking it back.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

MARQUARDT: The committee report alleges that the president's misconduct in Ukraine was not an isolated occurrence, nor was it the product of a naive president.

Trump, according to the committee, benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election that the then candidate welcomed. Now, they say, the president is soliciting China and Ukraine to interfere, which presents a clear and present danger that the president will continue to use the power of his office for his personal political gain.

The central role of Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine policy runs throughout the entire report. It details his calls with the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, and Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes. In April, the report says, Mr. Giuliani had three phone calls with a number associated with OMB and eight calls with a White House number. Giuliani had been pushing for the ouster of U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. She was recalled in May after what the committee called a baseless smear campaign.

The report reads: "Her ouster set the stage for other U.S. officials appointed by President Trump to work in cooperation with Mr. Giuliani to advance a scheme in support of the president's reelection."

The committee also detailed the lengths the administration went to not cooperate, saying not a single document was produced by the White House. Officials were also blocked from testifying or handing over records.

In the end, the committee does not recommend impeachment, saying that will be left up to the full House, whether the president shall be held to account, they say, and whether we as a nation are committed to the rule of law, or instead whether a president who uses the power of his office to coerce foreign interference in a U.S. election is something that Americans must simply get over.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: So this report is now the baton that is being handed off to the Judiciary Committee to serve as the basis for the articles of impeachment that they will draft.

[16:05:09]

Now, the White House issued a quick response to the report, saying in part: "This report reflects nothing more than Democrats' frustrations. Chairman Schiff's report reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there's evidence of nothing" -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let's talk about all this.

Paul Begala, as the Democrat the table, let me ask you. I know you believe the president committed impeachable offenses. But let me ask you, do you think the Democrats have done an effective job of making the case to the American people?

We see support hovering around 50 percent for impeachment and removal from office. That's not overwhelming.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's overwhelming compared to what?

It's much higher than Nixon, for example, except Nixon's final days. With Clinton, it never got above 30. By the way, 30 wanted Bush and Obama to be impeached too. There's always 30 percent wants to get rid of a president.

And it was around 30 percent a few months ago for this president. It's gone from 30 to 50. So, I guess a long way of saying yes.

Adam Schiff just -- he gave a long statement, he issued a long report. There's six words that I think Democrats ought to keen on. "No one is above the law."

That's something everybody can understand. That goes back to 1215 and the Magna , long before even there was an America, that notion that no one's above the law.

And when you read this report, you see again and again and again this president putting himself above the law. The laws don't apply to me, whether it's the laws about bribery, whether it's the laws about obstruction of justice. They make a really compelling, overwhelming case on it.

TAPPER: Scott, let me ask you.

So, Congressman Schiff says this in the summary of the report. This is a question three, full screen number two.

"Is the remedy of impeachment warranted for a president who would use the power of his office to coerce foreign interference in a U.S. election? Or is that now a mere perk of the office that Americans must simply get over?"

I mean, they're trying to make -- Schiff is trying to make it a larger question. Is this going to be what we accept in U.S. presidents?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think this is one of the great weaknesses that the Democrats have run into here.

And that is that everything either has to be fully support this or we have to impeach the president, when I think a lot of Republicans are going to land on some degree of, I don't love this. It was bad judgment. I'm not all that worried about it, but largely in the bucket of it's not impeachable, especially when you consider that we're heading for an election.

I don't think most Americans want to say that presidential conduct, whether you judge it to be something worse than bad judgment or not, has to go immediately to the level of impeachment.

We have never thrown a president out of office. And I don't think people on the cusp of voting for the next president want to throw one out now. I think they want to have a say in the matters.

I just -- I have always thought one of the biggest challenges for the Democrats here was forcing this into a binary choice, you either condone it or you want to impeach, when most people I think are somewhere in the middle.

TAPPER: Well, that may be true. And points for being in the reality- based universe, but we do hear -- and you do on your beat as well hear from a lot of Republicans, especially House Republicans, who also seem to see it as binary. And they support President Trump. The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee issued a report that said President Trump did nothing wrong.

And Schiff addresses this almost directly in his preamble, saying: "Perhaps even more corrosive to our democratic system of governance, the president and his allies are making a comprehensive attack on the very idea fact and truth. How can a democracy survive without acceptance of a common set of experiences?"

There are a lot of Republicans, maybe not in the country, but on Capitol Hill, that are not even agreeing to the idea that the president did anything objectionable.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Or they're also furthering conspiracy theories that have been debunked.

Your reporting yesterday on the Senate Intel Committee saying that there was no evidence to suggest that Ukraine meddled in the election for Hillary Clinton, and yet Republicans have further pushed that.

There's -- and, yes, you're not seeing many of them have a nuanced debate about this. It's very much tethering themselves to Trump, because a lot of them do see their reelection futures tied to Trump and that if they split from him in any way, shape or form, that it could hurt them in the long run.

TAPPER: And get that. I get that it could hurt them and their own political ambitions. And it could even hurt President Trump.

But there's a future beyond that I think the Democrats at least are trying to bring some attention to.

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

And you hear Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi and other members talk about that all the time, this idea of them not wanting to set this as a standard for American presidents, that they can get away with this going forward, be it a Democratic president or a Republican president.

But you do have, I think -- there are folks who are thinking about their reelections and then folks like Will Hurd, who doesn't even have a reelection, who's just sort of looking at I guess his future in the Republican Party.

It's also just true that this Republican Party is owned lock, stock and barrel by Donald Trump. I mean, these are Trump's people. I mean, that has been a kind of the remarkable story of these last three years, a bit surprising, if you saw how he ran in 2016, that somebody like Lindsey Graham, for instance, would be his biggest cheerleader.

[16:10:01]

But that has happened on the Senate side, as well as on the House side. Now, listen, the House side is probably a little bit more conspiratorial, some of the folks on the panel. It probably won't be like that on the Senate side. But, by and large, I mean, the overwhelming leadership of the folks on the Hill, they're with this president.

They have been. And that's unlikely to change.

TAPPER: And, Laura, a name in here quite a bit is Devin Nunes, the congressman from California who's the ranking Republican on the committee

And he's not in there just because he's the ranking Republican on the committee. He's in there because the committee goes into all sorts of phone records detailing conversations that he had with Rudy Giuliani, with Giuliani's indicted associate Lev Parnas, a lot of stuff.

Schiff wouldn't explain what he thought Devin Nunes had done, but, obviously, it's in there for a reason.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right?

What Schiff kind of explains is that these new phone records, which we hadn't seen before, show a coordination of a smear campaign, not only when it came to Ambassador Yovanovitch, but also just this larger conspiracy.

And, yes, Schiff didn't go into potentially what was discussed in those phone calls that appeared very short. But it's surprising and a bit ironic that here we had a few weeks ago Nunes on the committee saying -- blowing up this big idea that Schiff knew who the whistle- blower was, that Schiff was communicating directly with the whistle- blower, and yet Nunes appears to be at the very heart of what this investigation was about.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

And we're going to have much more on our breaking news. We're going to hear from a member of the House Judiciary Committee that will take over the impeachment inquiry with a public hearing tomorrow.

Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin is live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:16]

TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee putting out impeachment report this afternoon. They accuse President Trump of undermining national security and his, quote, Ukrainian scheme and engaging in a, quote, unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.

Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee is anticipated to hold its first public hearing with four legal experts under oath. Joining me now to talk about this is one of the members of the

Judiciary Committee who will be in that hearing tomorrow, Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who also helped lead the Clinton impeachment in the House.

Congressman Sensenbrenner, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to begin with this new report. It says this, quote: The president placed his own personal and political interest above the national interest of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the election process and endangered U.S. national security, unquote.

Now, I know you don't think President Trump asking President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens was out of bounds. Is there anything in the report that changed your mind?

REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER (R-WI): Well, I got the report an hour ago. It is over 300 pages long, and I do speed read but not quite that fast.

You know, let me say that I don't think the president has committed an impeachable offense. No president should be above the law but they shouldn't be below the law either. And what Trump said to President Zelensky was, can you do me a favor?

Now if that is an impeachable offense what about then Vice President Biden saying I'm holding up a billion dollars of aid unless you fire the prosecutor in six hours and bragging about it? The problem I think, you know, is, is that this is a moving target and there are a lot of people, including a lot of my colleagues, who have hated Trump from the beginning.

You do not impeach a president because of policy differences or because you hate him and you didn't vote for him and we're sorry that he won. There has to be something more serious than that. And telling the president of Ukraine will you do me a favor is not the serious thing that the Framers thought it should be.

TAPPER: The Biden thing I don't want to get off on a path thing but the Biden thing was something that even Republicans, the international monetary bank and others were calling for, the International Monetary Fund and calling for the prosecutor to be fired. So --

SENSENBRENNER: That may very well be true, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes.

SENSENBRENNER: But not the way that Biden framed it when he came back here and bragged about it.

TAPPER: So, I --

SENSENBRENNER: At least we didn't stop the country for a couple of years having an impeachment inquiry on him.

The Intelligence Committee is vital to our national security --

TAPPER: So --

SENSENBRENNER: And they spent the last three months not doing the oversight of intelligence that we need, but going on an impeachment witch hunt. It's as simple as that.

TAPPER: So, Congressman, so you talked about you don't think that phone call demonstrates anything wrong because the president phrased it as do me a favor. Democrats in the report argue that the call between Trump and Zelensky was just a, quote, dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump that for months there had been this effort involving President Trump and multiple senior officials and involved president Trump with holding a visit to the Oval Office for President Zelensky and of course that $391 million of security aid that was ultimately released after the whistle-blower came through.

SENSENBRENNER: Well, neither Trump nor Zelensky said there was a quid pro quo involved, number one. Zelensky wasn't even aware at the time that the aid was being held up. And on September 11th, which was about six weeks after the call, the aid was released and Ukraine got the money.

[16:20:07]

TAPPER: After the whistle-blower came forward.

SENSNEBRENNER: Well, it is after the whistle-blower came forward. But we also ought to realize that Ukraine is probably the most corrupt country in Europe and one -- in the world. And I think we all ought to be assured that when we do release foreign aid to any other country, that money is being used for the purpose for which it was sent and not ending up in somebody's pocket or Swiss bank account.

TAPPER: So I guess one of the other points that the Democrats are trying to make here is that this is setting a precedent. And that if Republicans allow this to be deemed acceptable, then in the future a President Elizabeth Warren could press China to investigate Jared Kushner's family and how they promoted investor visas or President Buttigieg could ask Azerbaijan to look into the Trump Tower deal there. There are all sorts of allegations of corruption.

That would be OK for you for a Democratic president to ask a foreign country to do them a favor and look into a political rival?

SENSENBRENNER: Well, we have mutual legal assistance treaties with most countries. So, if there was a violation of a U.S. law, where there's evidence in a foreign country, the MLAT ends up requiring a foreign country to cooperate with us.

But this goes much deeper than that. It goes back to the way the Framers set up our government, and that was is that the executive should not be dependent upon having a majority in the parliament or in the Congress and in our case, the developed separation of powers and Adam Schiff and his crowd have completely thrown separation of powers in the waste basket. So, if we ever in the future have a president of one party and the majority in the House in another party, the Congress isn't going to repeat this mistake, not do the people's business and be involved in a two or four-year long witch hunt to try to boot the president who was duly elected by the American people out of office. That is what we're seeing here.

TAPPER: So, I want to play for viewers your opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998 and here you are talking about President Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENSENBRENNER: He has not owned up to the false testimony, the stonewalling, the obstructing. He's used legal hair splitting and redefinition of words to perpetuate those lies. The president lied, obstructed and abused power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I think a lot people will see that clip and think, you get offended when Democrats abuse power but you don't get offended when Republicans abuse power.

SENSENBRENNER: There is a big difference. Kenneth Star, who was an independent investigator, which Adam Schiff is not, you know, it ended up doing a lengthy investigation and sent us 36 boxes worth of evidence and said that Clinton lied both in a civil deposition and in grand jury testimony under oath.

That's the big difference. Whatever Trump did or didn't do on that phone call was not under oath. It was not in a judicial proceeding where the courts have to have the truth in order to administer justice.

And that is why witnesses in any judicial proceeding are put under oath. Big difference between the two. Starr found that Clinton lied under oath, in both the civil and grand jury proceedings, nobody has said that Donald Trump has lied under oath.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, we don't have time to get into all of the differences but obviously, Attorney General Janet Reno had the integrity to let Ken Starr be an independent counsel and investigate this whereas Bill Barr decided there was nothing to look at here.

Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, thank you so much. Good luck to you in retirement.

SENSENBRENNER: Oh, well, thank you. I'm not running again so I'm not worried about anybody saying they're never going to vote for me again.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir. Appreciate your time.

SENSENBRENNER: Yes.

TAPPER: She was once looked at as a Democratic favor. Now, she's on the list of possible running mates. A shocking exit in the 2020 race. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:10]

TAPPER: Breaking news in our 2020 lead. After a promising start with huge crowds and impressive fundraising numbers, California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris this afternoon announced she is dropping out of the race for president.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

And Senator Harris blamed her decision squarely on money.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that was her official reason and that is the reason, of course, she was getting out of the race. She simply did not have the money to go forward and pay the staffers. Of course, why wasn't she raising money? That is the central question here.

She really found herself, you know, without a particular home. She wasn't a progressive, she wasn't necessarily a moderate. She had a couple of feet in both camps.

She started that way back in January when you asked her if she was for Medicare-for-All. She vacillated, but that was sort of a sign of what was to come for her campaign.

But she addressed her supporters this afternoon in a video and this is why she said she couldn't go forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've taken stock and I've looked at this from every angle. And over the last few days, I have come to one of the hardest decisions --

[16:30:00]