Return to Transcripts main page

CNN RIGHT NOW

House Intel Report Accuses Trump Of Misconduct, Obstruction. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 3, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The other thing that is interesting is how, the sort of the case for impeachment that it makes is the damage to the President -- the damage the President has done to our relationship with a key strategic partner will be remedied over time, and Ukraine continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support in Congress.

But the damage to our system of checks and balances and to the balance of power within our three branches of government will be long lasting and potentially irrevocable if the President's ability to stonewall Congress goes unchecked.

They're making the case that this is the demise of the entire democratic system on which the country is based if this is not addressed, and remedied.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Well, and this is sort of a message to Republicans. This is not about Donald Trump only. This is about the system you were elected to uphold: our democracy, our constitution in which it is our job as members of Congress to point out when a President has abused his power, and that's what this is about.

KEILAR: I want to go back -- this is Congressman Eric Swalwell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): ... office to leverage your taxpayer dollars to have a foreign government try and cheat an election.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, what do you think the Articles of Impeachment should look like? Should it be abuse of power? Should it be obstruction of Congress? It'll be more than that.

SWALWELL: We're looking at that now. You know, we have our first hearing tomorrow morning with constitutional scholars, essentially, you know, they're going to look at the evidence and, you know, go through just exactly what it is and what it means, you know, to our Constitution, and most importantly, to our national security.

RAJU: So you haven't made a decision yet about whether the President should be impeached? SWALWELL: No, you know, I think it's important that we reserve

judgment. The report is powerful, overwhelming evidence. And again, this is one of the largest investigations ever in America that relied on the fewest amount of documents.

We had almost no documents. Seventy one document request sent to the White House, 12 individuals who we asked to come in who refused to do so and yet, because of the courage of ambassadors and Department of Defense officials, we were able to lay out what we found.

And you also will see in that report, the power of congressional subpoenas. We, you know, were able to subpoena phone records that kind of tied together with some of these individuals like Rudy Giuliani, Ranking Member Nunes and others were doing throughout the scheme.

RAJU: Was there anything in the report that we have not seen? I mean, we have seen a lot of stuff publicly through your depositional transcripts, at least, through the witness testimonies. Is there anything different in here that we don't already know?

SWALWELL: I would look at, you know, the phone records where we couldn't get witnesses to come in, we subpoenaed outside, you know, third-party phone records, and that kind of weaves together, you know, the timeline and corroborates a lot of what the witnesses testified to who did come in.

RAJU: Thanks. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: All right. That was Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the House Intel Committee says he is undecided on impeachment.

Based on his public comments, it seems -- it seems like he is certainly leaning very heavily in one direction. I think we know what that is.

Okay. So when we're talking about what the narrative is going to be what -- you said something that was very -- that you thought was very important, Sofia, which is they're making this very broad -- a very broad case about what this is.

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE G.O.P. INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: They are making it about democracy and we are.

KEILAR: But, they also in the executive summary are spelling out this narrative for what happened in the case of Ukraine. The President conditioned a White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine on a public announcement of investigations beneficial to his reelection campaign.

It goes on to say, so the President removes anti-corruption champion, Ambassador Yovanovitch. These are really the headlines in this. The President's handpicked agents begin the scheme, then President Trump froze vital military assistance, then President Trump conditioned a White House meeting on investigations.

The President's agents pursued a drug deal. The President pressed Zelensky to do a political favor. The President's representatives ratcheted up pressure on the Ukrainian President.

It goes on to say Ukrainians inquired about the hold on security assistance. Then the President's security assistance hold became public. The President's scheme unraveled is what it says.

But lastly, the President's Chief of Staff, Pamela, confirmed aid was conditioned on investigation.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, they are using the Chief of Staff's own words at the podium in the White House to make their case about quid pro quo, about what you just laid out that the President was using his office for personal gain from a foreign power.

And basically in the second paragraph here on the summary, they make note of look, the President was being propped up by his own administration officials. He was going around career officials in his administration and being propped up with the knowledge of his administration political officials including Pompeo, the Secretary of State; Rick Perry, and Mick Mulvaney.

But they make the case because this is about the President, and we talked about this before, they are trying everything back to the President.

[14:05:02]

BORGER: Right, but they're trying to make the case also -- to follow up -- is that this just isn't the phone call and that part that you read of this executive summary talks about a dramatic crescendo that was a months' long campaign driven by President Trump, in which his own senior officials participated.

So to those people who would say, well, Trump is just being Trump and this is who he is, and it was that phone call, which he calls perfect. They are saying stop.

KEILAR: They're saying essentially, it's a conspiracy.

BORGER: Exactly. Written by the President --

KEILAR: That's right. Somewhat widespread, certainly many people who were involved in it.

BORGER: Who knew and who participated in this, including not only people who worked for him, but his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

NELSON: There's a line that struck me here on the very first page, "An unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this Impeachment Inquiry." Again, I see three articles right in here: obstruction of justice, abuse of power or abuse of office, however you want to say it, and then obstruction of Congress. Those are -- those you can jump out at whatever else they might come up with, but they're going to be, I think at least three articles.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: One question also is whether or not they will when they end up drawing up the Articles of Impeachment, whether they will specifically identify bribery, with respect to the financial assistance that was held out and that it might be one of the things that we hear articulated tomorrow in the hearing that's going to take place with the constitutional law professors as to whether or not the facts that are described in the report and that have been unraveled through the investigation constitute bribery in terms of the impeachment provisions in the Constitution.

KEILAR: Let's go to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, you are live in London because the President is actually there for the NATO Summit.

I think he is actually in Buckingham Palace right now meeting with the Queen. Tell us what you're hearing at this point in time or certainly what the anticipation has been like from White House officials ahead of this.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, we're waiting to see what the President has to say about the Schiff report. You know, they'll have a response to it, I think, in due time, but I will tell you, the President in addition to throwing his weight around with some of these world leaders today, we saw him getting into a back and forth with Emmanuel Macron, the French President earlier today.

He also has been weighing in on this Impeachment Inquiry and talking about the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff in very personal terms as he was sitting down with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Earlier today, the President said of Adam Schiff, quote, "I think he's a maniac. I think Adam Schiff is a deranged human being. I think he grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious. I think he's a very sick man. And he lies."

You know, the President of the United States is talking about the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in just unbelievably personal terms and just getting to what you were just talking about a few moments ago, he sees all of this as a conspiracy. He sees this as a conspiracy involving House Democrats, involving the Intelligence Community, involving what the far right refers to as the Deep State in the U.S., and so on.

And when he was asked about, you know, whether or not the White House, whether the administration will take part in these impeachment proceedings moving forward, he was talking about the House Judiciary Committee hearing that's supposed to take place tomorrow, and he said, why would he take part in that? Why would the administration take part in that when they're going to have three constitutional scholars for the Democrats and one for the Republicans?

And so he is seeing this in deeply partisan, deeply political and deeply personal terms. And so, you know, it just goes to show you that this administration, this White House, it's just another tea leaf, that they're not going to participate in any of this while it's in the House.

Now, he did offer a bit of a sneak preview of coming attractions as to whether or not this gets to a Senate trial. If it gets to the Senate, he did say earlier today that he may be open to having the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, participate in those proceedings in a trial in the Senate. We will just have to wait and see whether or not it ever makes its way over to the Senate.

But no question about it, he is talking about this in just unbelievably personal terms, Brianna. This is way under his skin, this Impeachment Inquiry, and it sounds like that is not going to stop anytime soon.

We're waiting to find out whether or not the White House, whether or not the President is going to respond to all of this, but as we've been reporting over the last couple of days, they're just showing no signs that they want to participate in any of these proceedings in the House. The President calling it a hoax today, a sham and a fix and so on.

He is making it very clear where he stands on all of this -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Jim, you are certainly in the right place to get that reaction. It's hard to imagine that he will not be reacting to all of this very soon. Jim Acosta in London. Thank you so much.

So let's look at this. I mean, we know the President, I mean, he sees this in partisan terms, but he clearly thinks he hasn't done anything wrong here, right?

[14:10:00]

KEILAR: Although, he sort of oscillates between saying it was a perfect call, and then also misrepresenting some of the things that were discussed on the call, which would actually indicate to something, there was something the matter with it.

What did White House officials, Pamela, think, and then as they're reading this here, and then the Republican report, which just kind of ignores facts. What are they looking at here?

BROWN: You know, it's interesting, I just had -- got a response from someone who is close to the White House who is saying, look, the Democrats are making this all about democracy. Democracy is on the line.

The Democrats can't walk that back. That is something that White House officials, those close to the White House are seizing on, as we get the first read of this report that this is bigger, as you've been pointing out that the Democrats are making this bigger than just, you know, here is what's going on in Ukraine.

This is about democracy. This is about our system of checks and balances.

KEILAR: So they see that as a weakness in the argument they are making?

BROWN: They do. They say this is a line that Democrats can't walk back. Yes.

KEILAR: Why --

NELSON: Why would they think --

KEILAR: Why do they think that's a weakness?

BORGER: Because they would say if you like democracy, have an election.

BROWN: They believe it is political -- yes, they believe it is a political overreach and a misreading of how this will play out with the voters. Again, this is their -- this is the kind of the early read from people who are on that side of things, but that's the way they look at it.

And it is interesting, too, because on the transcript, I mean, even today, I was talking to someone who pointed to, we will look at the -- whatever comes out in the report, go back to the transcript.

But what is so clear here is the dramatic crescendo that the Democrats point to saying - that was just one piece of the puzzle in all of this.

KEILAR: One of the things in this preface it says, it talks about George Washington and what he said. It said, "In his farewell address, President George Washington ..." and this seems to answer sort of what you were saying there, Pamela, warned of a moment when, quote, " ... cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be able to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

NELSON: I mean, Brianna, this is a huge moment for America, and I've been saying this for weeks, it's about who we're going to be in this moment and who we're going to be going for.

Now, I realized that politically, the President plays to his base and we know that we're really living into Americas right now because if you turn on another network versus this network or another network, you hear entirely different set of facts and narratives.

It's kind of scary, because if you don't know, you don't know who to believe at this point. And I think what's dangerous is that the Republican Party, Lincoln's party, has now adopted a position that says it's okay to subvert democracy. It's okay to gloss this over. It's okay not to honor checks and balances. Is that really the Hill they want to die on? Because that's a bad Hill if yes.

BORGER: Well, you know, this summary report talks about that because the question -- the question that Schiff's Committee raises is, if you can't agree on the facts and the truth, how can you have a debate?

NELSON: You can't.

BORGER: And it says this, it says, " ... but perhaps even more corrosive to our democratic system of governance, the President and his allies are making a comprehensive attack on the very idea of fact and truth. How can a democracy survive without acceptance of a common set of experiences?"

KEILAR: One of the things this also makes the case for is impeachment. To your point where White House officials or those in Trump's corner think, oh, you're attacking democracy with this. So you are seeing that this is about democracy. They're laying out the case here to say impeachment isn't some crazy radical idea.

Impeachment is clearly outlined in the Constitution. This is actually something that is part of the, you know, the founding document.

I do want to get to Manu who is actually, he is on the Hill. He has been pouring through this report, 300-pages, a 17-page preface in summary here. Manu, give us the latest from where you are.

RAJU: Yes, this report essentially lays out two broad categories: Presidential misconduct, as well as obstruction of Congress. That is general -- the general nature of how the Democrats look at the investigation that has happened so far and you can expect that's how the Articles of Impeachment will ultimately be addressed.

One dealing with the Democrats and then our view, abuse of his office in the way that the President dealt with Ukraine. They're saying in this report that the July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky in which Trump urged Zelensky to open up an investigation into the Bidens, they are saying that is not the only thing.

They're laying out a broad timeline here of an effort, a long scheme and their words of the President using the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to move forward on these investigations, withholding security assistance, withholding a vital meeting that the Ukrainian administration sought. That's all part of the misconduct aspect of the Democratic report here.

And probably what we're going to see when Articles of Impeachment are ultimately drafted is that they're going to lay out abuse of power, probably, they could even go as far as bribery. We'll see how that is wrapped into the ultimate decision here about abuse of power.

But at least abuse of power seems almost certain as a result of this misconduct that the Democrats layout here.

[14:15:07]

RAJU: And then obstruction of Congress. Almost certainly, you can expect an Article of Impeachment about obstruction of Congress. What the Democrats layout here is what they call unprecedented stonewalling here by the President's refusal to allow witnesses to come and testify, his refusal to provide documents from the State Department, as well as from the White House to turn those over to Capitol Hill. They're blaming this all on President Trump's directive from his top

aide in one section about obstruction piece of it, it says this, "Donald Trump is the first President in the history of the United States to seek to completely obstruct an Impeachment Inquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives under Article 1 of the Constitution, which vests the House with the sole power of impeachment."

"He has publicly and repeatedly rejected the authority of Congress to conduct oversight of his actions and has directly challenged the authority of the House to conduct an Impeachment Inquiry into his actions regarding Ukraine."

So you're seeing here what they're trying to make the argument with, where this comes down, going forward, how they ultimately expect the House Judiciary Committee to deal with this as they start to draft the Articles of Impeachment.

But the Democrats were careful here not to explicitly say that the President should be removed from office. They stop just short of that saying ultimately, that is up the House Judiciary Committee, up to the full House, but it's pretty clear here where they stand.

They, in fact, do believe the President should be impeached and that the President did commit these acts, abusing his office, engaged in misconduct and clear here, obstruction of Congress in their view -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. They make the case for impeachment as an institution, and then they make the case against the President. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

And I just want to show folks, this is it. Okay. Three hundred pages. This is a very lengthy report that has come out from the House Intel Democrats.

And one of the key points that they make that Manu just outlined, Carrie Cordero, is that the President has gotten in the way of their investigation. This is about checks and balances, and he is out -- he is usurping the ability of Congress to do the job that it is imbued with in the Constitution.

CORDERO: Yes, I think -- I mean, clearly in Congress and Chairman Schiff have demonstrated and articulated their concern about the obstruction all throughout the process that Congress has been frustrated by the administration and the President's directions to witnesses.

It says, for example, in the summary that we have, already a dozen witnesses followed President Trump's orders, defying voluntary requests and lawful subpoenas and refusing to testify.

So clearly the obstruction is something that Congress feels, at least the members that are authoring this report feel that they have a constitutional responsibility to create a historical record showing that President -- a President -- not just this President, but a President cannot just completely shut down and refuse to participate in an Impeachment Inquiry and to oversight by Congress.

But I do think they'll continue on the obstruction path. But I think one of the most important things that's in this summary is the statement in the summary that, quote, "The President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States." And that really gets to the core of the presidential misconduct that Manu was describing.

KEILAR: Yes. And that also undercuts one of the things that Republicans and supporters of the President will say. They'll say, well, when Vice President Biden was Vice President, you know, he was kind of holding something over the Ukrainians' head because a prosecutor, he wanted a prosecutor out. Except he was executing U.S. foreign policy, right?

He was -- this was what was considered the prevailing interest of the U.S. when it came to policy with Ukraine.

BORGER: And our allies.

KEILAR: That's right. That's right.

CORDERO: And it was a key point that Fiona Hill made, where she described her realization that she was doing foreign policy and her colleagues were engaged in doing actual foreign policy and national security on behalf of the United States.

And Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland and other individuals working on the President's behalf were working on what she called the domestic political errand. And that was where it's an important distinction, and it's one of the more nuanced things that this inquiry is going to have to explain is the difference between conducting foreign policy and doing personal political bidding.

KEILAR: Robin Wright is joining us. She is a Joint Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Wilson Center. What are you thinking as you are hearing what is in this summary of this very lengthy report?

ROBIN WRIGHT, JOINT DISTINGUISHED FELLOW AT THE U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE AND WILSON CENTER: Well, the thing that strikes me is, this began with foreign policy, and Donald Trump today is in London with -- celebrating 70 years of Western cohesion and unity on issues that have to do with democracy.

[14:20:13]

WRIGHT: How embarrassing is it for him? How much does this undermine not only his ability to conduct foreign policy, but America's credibility? And it's not just shameful in terms of the way it plays out among us. It has repercussions for our ability, not just during the Trump presidency, but I think down the road that the United States would stoop to the level of trying to compromise the safety of a country that's on the front line with Russia militarily for his own political gain.

That's just that's just unprecedented when it comes to American history.

KEILAR: Do you think Robin that that's too distant in the history of the country for a lot of Americans to say, oh, yes, that really matters. That's very important to me personally, to the health of the country to have this cohesion, to have these alliances.

Do you think that's something that really -- I mean, I think people obviously who are steeped in foreign policy, they understand just how important that is. But I wonder if there's a lot of Americans who -- that's not something that convinces them.

WRIGHT: The one thing that came out of these hearings was the fact people realized there was a country called Ukraine and very emotionally, the way Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor talked about how Ukrainians are dying every day to protect their territory and the West in general against Russian aggression.

The tragedy in all of this is that we talk a lot about the aid finally getting through, but the fact is that the Trump administration has also done nothing in terms of countering Vladimir Putin on his annexation of Crimea and his support for separatists there.

This really is the front line for us, too. It's not just for Europe. This is where the tensions that have played out during the Cold War and now playing out in the post-Cold War world.

There is so much at stake in the repercussions of this report and what happens in this impeachment hearing, I think will play out for a very long time, not just in our own elections.

NELSON: It brings me back -- she underscores my point. We're going to decide who we are and what we're going to tolerate. There's a line here on Page 3. "The Impeachment Inquiry has found that President Trump personally enacting through agents within and outside of the US government solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine to benefit his reelection."

To your point, how embarrassing. He is there for NATO. He is with the Queen of England right now. Everybody knows what's going on. It's like the 800-pound elephant in the room. And America looks ridiculous right now.

And the question is, what are we going to do about it at home? And I'm embarrassed as a lifelong Republican, I am embarrassed and ashamed of the Republican Party that not one person could stand up and say, this conduct is unacceptable. It's not about partisanship. It's about what's right and what's wrong. And it's a shame that not one Republican in the House has done that. I'm more hopeful in the Senate --

KEILAR: One did and then he had to leave the cart, right?

NELSON: Well, Justin Amash. Right. But other than that, not one in the House and I'm hoping Mitt Romney leads a charge like Margaret Chase Smith in the Senate. But I'm not optimistic there either. BORGER: You know, what's also troubling is that the new Republican

defense seems to be that Ukraine interfered in one way or another in the 2016 election, something that American Intelligence officials did not find, something that Bob Mueller did not find, and something that the Senate Intelligence did not find.

KEILAR: There's no indication that happened. There were some Ukrainian officials ...

BORGER: There is absolutely no indication.

KEILAR: ... who voiced that they were oppositional to the President because he was oppositional to Ukraine.

BORGER: Exactly.

KEILAR: Sorry. I just had to make that very clear.

BORGER: Exactly. No, no, no. Exactly. So it is one way of trying to defend the President by saying, well, you know, he just doesn't, you know, didn't like Ukrainian election interference, which of course, never occurred. And that is beside the point.

I think what this report is pointing out here is that A, the president didn't mention corruption on that - on his phone call with Zelensky.

And B, that's really not what this is about. This is about stopping military aid on behalf of an ally against an aggressor - Russia. Russia, not our friend; our foe, Russia. And if that can be pointed out to the American people that this benefits Russia, and the Republican Party used to be a party that really cared about how we dealt with Russia, maybe that will have some impact. I'm not sure.

But I'm wondering if we're going to hear this, you know, Ukraine tried to influence the election defense, as we heard from Senator Kennedy over and over again as this plays out because it was in the House Republican report here and there's no place for it in this.

KEILAR: All right, we're going to get in a quick break. This is the report out now, the House Intelligence Committee report on impeachment. It is a doozy 300 pages. We are going through it here at CNN because perhaps you don't have time to today. We'll be right back with this breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:29:55]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar and this is CNN's Special Live Coverage.

[14:30:10]