Return to Transcripts main page


House Judiciary Committee Begins Impeachment Hearing; President Trump Meets With Turkey's President Erdogan At NATO Summit; CNN Obtains GOP Constitutional Scholar's Opening Statement. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 4, 2019 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are just hours away now from the first impeachment hearings conducted by the House Judiciary Committee. This is the committee that would draw up and perhaps will draw up articles of impeachment.

And today, they will hear from four constitutional law professors who will talk about the historical standards for impeachment, and they'll be asked to give their assessment whether President Trump's actions meet the bar for removing him from office.

Joining us now, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, CNN senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga, and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

And, Jamie, I do think that they want to have a high-minded conversation about constitutional law with these four constitutional law professors. The problem they may face is it's in the House Judiciary Committee, which has some of the most raucous, bomb-throwing members in all of Congress. And by the way, it has 41 of them, so there are going to be a lot of people with a lot to say.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you saying you think this is going to go sideways today?


Look, no question about it, we've seen -- we've seen this before, but I think that this is actually a pause in the action. They're taking today to hear from these lawyers while they figure out the next step.

Let me go out on a limb. They're going to have articles of impeachment. They're going to vote on it. But they're trying to figure out -- I think it's really about having a little time for what's going on in the backroom, deciding what exactly those are going to be and how they're going to write them.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I just like the idea that there will be this split-screen for viewers of the high-mind ivory tower academic argument about what the framers intended versus Congress in real time -- you know, going -- doing whatever they do. I mean, pontificating some -- maybe impugning the character of some of these spokesmen. This is just so interesting to watch that all play out today.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This is the challenge I think that the House Judiciary Committee faces today. There needs to be a sweet spot between a boring, sort of non- accessible law review symposium on the one hand, and a complete circus on the other hand.

And I think there is a way to do that. I think what they need to do is sort of what we just saw in Jamie's piece -- is put this in proper historical perspective. Let's step back and let's understand we're not just talking about some partisan squabble here. This is sort of exactly right down the middle of what the framers had in mind.


This is a president coordinating with a foreign country to undermine his own political opponents at the expense of our national security. I think if they can drive home that one sentence they will get their job done. It's not going to be easy but I think that's the task.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: But I think what everyone can expect to walk away with is that each side is going to cherry-pick what they want to hear, right? So no one's walking into this -- I hate to be so cynical but I think few people are walking into this with sort of an open mind and let's see what these experts are saying and then I'm going to be convinced.

Speaking about the experts, a couple of them, at least, are known to the public and they've written op-eds and they've spoken out about how they think that this hearing and impeachment hearing has gone along thus far.

Jonathan Turley, at times, has gone after Schiff and then said that he doesn't think some of the things that Schiff has said and pointed to leads to impeachment. Noah Feldman has also weighed in throughout the past.

But what makes this different from what we heard from the fact witnesses is the fact witnesses -- and I said this yesterday -- the fact witnesses, at times, were asked do you think that what the president did or do you think that these actions are impeachable? They say hey, I'm only fact witnesses. I'm only laying out what I saw transpire and why it alerted me and alarmed me.

What these witnesses today are going to be able to say is yes, indeed, I do believe it's impeachable or no, I don't.

BERMAN: And they may be able to say more than that based on Jamie Gangel's terrific reporting. They may be able to say --

GOLODRYGA: That was their primer.

BERMAN: Not just -- it's not just that I think it's impeachable, but someone, say, like Alexander Hamilton or James Madison may find it impeachable.

GANGEL: So the issues for those who were not watching at 6:50 this morning, we went back to Madison, and Hamilton, and Ben Franklin and the concerns we're seeing here today are exactly what they laid out -- interference from a foreign power, bribery -- it is textbook.

Yesterday, we were talking about Donald Trump said this process has been unfair and it's not what the founders had in mind. It is textbook what the founders had in mind.

What will be interesting also for the Republicans is there has been no defense. There's been no defense from the White House. They have denied, they have called names, and they have yelled about the process being unfair.

But to see these constitutional lawyers up there, no matter what side of the political side they're on, it's going to be interesting because it is about substance.

HONIG: And to Jamie's point, the -- it was so telling to me that the lead defense -- the number one defense in the Republican report that came out two days ago was this idea that Donald Trump is this dedicated heartfelt corruption buster.

I mean, they really led with that? Does anyone believe that for a second? Can anyone point to one case anywhere, anytime, any country other than the Bidens and this DNC conspiracy, that Donald Trump has shown one whit of interest in?

I was stunned that they led with such a patently ridiculous first line of defense.

GANGEL: Yes. One thing I'm wondering if it will come up today is we've heard the Republicans say that the election should take care of this. We're in an election year. The founders, I can tell you, did not think that an election -- the timing may not be great as we go into 2020, but this was not about elections.

Whenever there was a problem, impeachment was the check. You do it now. You do not wait.

So I wonder whether the Republicans will raise that with any of the lawyers today, but it is not something.

GOLODRYGA: And the founders were obsessed with foreign interference, right? They were obsessed with foreign interference and U.S. politics.

And so, for the president to continually say that this was a perfect call, that he did nothing wrong, and for Republicans to defend that when they know better -- when they argue that there was a meeting at the U.N. The president met with many world leaders at the U.N.

That does not signify the importance of a meeting at the Oval Office. That does not signify withholding aid to a country -- an ally -- that for U.S. national interest at stake, you withhold money for until you get dirt on your political opponent.

Putting your self-interests ahead of the country is something the Founding Fathers would have viewed as definitely not a perfect event.

BERMAN: You know, I'm beginning to wonder -- and this has something to do with what Jamie suggested before -- this is a moment to breathe or take pause -- are they going to get this done before Christmas? I'm really beginning to wonder whether that's possible. What is today? Today is December fourth, right.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but is it -- so today is going to be just one day. They're going to lay out the case as the legal experts see it, and then they're going to move to writing the articles of impeachment.

BERMAN: There's another day of hearings that we can expect, which is when the Intelligence Committee officially presents their report. And maybe Dan Goldman will go and answer questions before the committee about the contents of the report. They may do that.

The Republicans may get a day if they want it. If the White House wants a day to go present its case --

CAMEROTA: OK, but we're still well ahead of December 25th. So what do you think, Elie?

BERMAN: I don't know. Articles take a long time.

HONIG: Time flies, time flies. But yes, now they're in the process of taking those 300 pages that we saw yesterday and really boiling them down to a digestible, understandable -- it's not an indictment, but it's like an indictment -- articles of impeachment.


And it's a difficult exercise. I've been through it as a prosecutor. And what you have to do is sort of find something that's going to be broad enough to cover all the conduct here. And I think we will see a broadly-phrased abuse of power article, but also not so broad that it's limitless.

And so they have to decide how are they going to phrase the Ukraine issue. Are they going to bring an article for obstruction? I think the report yesterday made very clear they will. It was way stronger on obstruction than I expected.

And how will they deal with Mueller and Russia interference? Will that be its own article? That's another strategic consideration.

GANGEL: I actually -- I actually think the report has given them the roadmap to these articles of impeachment. It was so specifically laid out section by section that you can almost take it from there.

CAMEROTA: OK, panel. Thank you very much for being with us on this very busy morning. And a lot is happening overseas as well in London. We're getting breaking news. BERMAN: Yes, breaking news. We just understand that President Trump just met with the leader of Turkey, President Erdogan. That will be controversial given everything that's gone on over the last few months.

CAMEROTA: One-on-one behind closed doors.

BERMAN: In an unannounced, unscheduled meeting.

So we'll talk about that and the meetings that are still to come, next.



BERMAN: We do have some breaking news for you. CNN has just confirmed that President Trump just met one-on-one with Turkey's President Erdogan and this meeting was not on the president's schedule today. We did not know this was going to take place.

Joining us now from London, CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Also, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson.

Kaitlan, I want to start with you. Tell us about this meeting.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the White House isn't confirming how long they met or what they talked about but they said they'll get back to us with those details soon.

But they are confirming a meeting that was not expected to happen, not on the president's schedule -- this meeting with the Turkish President Erdogan. Though, if you have been paying attention to what the president has been saying, you could see that this is something that he was open to doing since he just welcomed Erdogan to the White House not so long ago.

Now, the question, John, is what exactly they talked about because Turkey has been a major point of contention during this summit and we saw it play out during that very testy exchange between President Trump and the French president yesterday, where they were talking about Erdogan. And the president was touting his relationship with him, saying that it was a good one -- this relationship that we know has been very cozy.

And, Macron pushed back really heavily on the president, saying that no, Turkey is actually not in compliance with any of the NATO rules right now because they purchased that Russian missile defense system.

Now, John, we've heard the president say time and time again that essentially, Turkey had no choice, he says, but to buy it because the Obama administration was preventing them from buying an American missile defense system.

But, John, experts say that's not true. They say actually, Turkey not only wanted to buy the missile defense system, but they wanted to be able have -- to have technology transfer, which essentially would have allowed them to build their own missiles, and the U.S. did not want that to happen. That is why that didn't happen. But the president has continued to say that essentially, they just stopped them from buying it.

But, Macron pushed back on that yesterday during that meeting, saying no, they could have bought one from the Europeans if they wanted to. But instead, they chose to defy NATO.

Now, another point of contention that you saw yesterday was Macron saying that he and the president have a very different agreement on what constitutes a terrorist group because as you've seen what the Turks have tried to do so far in the last few weeks, something that has been really under scrutiny where after the president decided to withdraw those U.S. troops from Syria, leading to that Turkish incursion into Syria, is Turkey has tried to frame these Kurdish fighters as terrorists or as bad people.

And, Macron was saying yesterday that there is not a mutually agreed- upon definition of that here at this NATO summit. A pretty stunning thing to see these alliances -- these allies be able to disagree on something like that.

Though we did see the president and Erdogan next to each other in the group photo this morning -- a photo we were watching to see the interactions between Trump and Trudeau and Trump and Macron after that video leaked of them appearing to mock him. But instead, we saw the president not standing near either of those leaders but standing right next to Erdogan as they were smiling for that photo today.

BERMAN: Gosh, Nic, it's very interesting to just watch in real time all of these alliances shift and play out. I mean, you have been talking about how we've seen him -- President Trump before be extremely close to President Macron, and now that he's shifting away and towards Erdogan.

And all of this, of course, sets up for minutes from now when we see him sit down with Angela Merkel.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sorry, I don't think -- I didn't hear you properly there at the beginning.

He is sitting down with Angela Merkel. Well, if he's been able to hold this meeting with President Erdogan behind closed doors, will he choose to do the same with Angela Merkel?

Yesterday, when he spoke about Germany, he was very clear, as he has been before having had that over the years the difficult relationship with Angela Merkel where -- you know, the talk about Mercedes cars, the handshakes that she didn't get in the White House, the putdowns that she's had at NATO meetings before about Germany's defense contribution.

Germany is increasing its defense contribution. It was 1.2 percent back in --


ROBERTSON: -- 2014 and it's up to 1.38 percent now. But it's still short of that two percent --

CAMEROTA: OK, good, good.

ROBERTSON: -- of GDP to be spent on defense spending that President Trump wants.

So will she get the same treatment that, say, that Prime Minister Trudeau got yesterday where President Trump put him on the spot twice by saying how much do you pay? What's your contribution?

So this, I think, is what we're looking for now -- how does the president handle this today with Angela Merkel.

BERMAN: All right, Nic Robertson for us, as well as Kaitlan Collins. Thank you very much.


We are waiting to see the president meet with Angela Merkel. We'll bring that to you live when it happens. But --

CAMEROTA: We've just gotten in our hands Jonathan Turley's opening statement. He is one of the constitutional experts who will be testifying today at the House Judiciary Committee. And it is very interesting -- it's colloquial in its language. So we will read some of it to you as soon as we come right back.


BERMAN: All right, breaking news. CNN has just obtained the opening statement from the Republicans' witness at today's congressional hearing, constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, who will testify very shortly.


Joining us to talk about this is Elie Honig.

I should note that Turley is a professor at George Washington University's School of Law.

Let me read you what Turley will say. It's 52 pages long. But to sum it up, Turley basically says in 52 pages, I just think the House Democrats went about this the wrong way. He's not saying or excusing the president's actions.

What he says is, "I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. If the House proceeds solely on the Ukraine allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president."

I do want to note -- we don't have a graphic for his -- Turley goes on to say that the hearings and the process -- "It's not wrong because President Trump is right. His call was anything but perfect and his reference to the Bidens was highly inappropriate.

It is not wrong because the House has no legitimate reason to investigate the Ukrainian controversy. The use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one's political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense."

HONIG: So, two reactions.

First of all, this is a recipe to kill impeachment by slow-playing it. What he seems to be saying here is we don't have enough yet. We need to wait. We need to get all these witnesses in.

First of all, whose fault is it that nobody's heard from Bolton, Mulvaney, Giuliani, Pompeo? It's the White House's fault.

Second of all, as a practical matter -- and look, this is why people sometimes like academics. We're in the real world here. As a practical matter, if the Democrats have to go to court and fight and get all these witnesses, we'll be way into 2020 way too late.

The other thing I disagree with is this notion that there is a paucity of evidence, as the professor says here. I don't what kind of worldview that is. This is a -- this is a strong case. I've prosecuted bribery cases. This is stronger than many of the ones that I have seen.

The July 25th call, that's not -- that's not indirect evidence, that's not. There's no guesswork involved in that; that's the centerpiece of the case. So he's taking a really myopic view, I think, of the evidence here.

CAMEROTA: He's saying they haven't tried hard enough to get the first-person witnesses. He's saying that the Mulvaneys, the John Boltons, they have the real information. And what he's saying is this is not a case of the unknowable -- that they actually do have the answers.

And I hear what you're saying that the court morass would take a long time but they could fast-track it.

OK, so that's one argument, right -- his argument.


CAMEROTA: And we heard from Congresswoman Jayapal today and from others on the Democratic side is actually, time is of the essence because the president is in real time trying to affect the 2020 election with help from outside foreign interests and we're approaching the 2020 election.

HONIG: I think Adam Schiff has sort of quoted The Who here -- "won't get fooled again." That's The Who, right?


HONIG: Because he saw what happened to Jerry Nadler. Jerry Nadler played these games in court, he got dragged along, and he got nothing -- next to nothing done in seven months.

Adam Schiff is a pragmatist. He realizes they don't have that luxury of time. He's got to move now. He's doing the best he can with the call, with the texts, with these witnesses, several of whom had direct evidence.

BERMAN: All right. In other news, the president's lawyer and friend, Rudy Giuliani, is responding to the revelation inside the impeachment report that he's all over the phone records. We didn't know about these phone records. All over the phone records -- eight calls in one day with the White House -- an OMB official.

He is responding for the first time. He says, "The mere fact I had numerous calls with the White House does not establish any specific topic. Remember, I'm the president's attorney."

CAMEROTA: OK, well --

HONIG: Not much of a denial. I mean, look at the pattern here and look at the broader picture. He's having these -- a series of phone calls at crucial times with crucial players. I think all he's really saying there is you don't know what I said in those calls, yet.

BERMAN: I have a question for you.


BERMAN: The president's attorney -- private attorney -- why would he or she be calling OMB, Office of Management and Budget? What personal legal reason would the president's attorney have to be talking to OMB?

HONIG: It's a great question. I think we also know who was at OMB at one point was Mick Mulvaney. I don't know if he kept his same phone exchange or not.

But I think the logical inference to draw is it had to do with the hold on foreign election aid. Why the president's personal private attorney would be doing that is very much an open question.

But all Rudy is really saying there is you don't know what I said. That could change though, especially if Lev Parnas flips.

CAMEROTA: One more thing I thought was interesting in the Jonathan Turley opening statement, which is again, 52 pages long. We don't know how much he'll -- we don't know how much he'll read.

He said, "It is not wrong," -- what's happening -- "because we are in an election year. There is never a good time for an impeachment."

On that note, I think we should just leave it there, that there's never a good time. But today, you will see the next step of it.

Elie, thank you --

HONIG: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- very much.

All right, we're expecting to hear from President Trump soon. CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings begins right now with Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER": Good morning, and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Any minute now, President Trump will sit down with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.