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Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) is Interviewed on Impeachment; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) Interviewed on House Judiciary Committee's Hearings in Impeachment Inquiry; FBI Investigating Shooting at Pensacola Naval Base as Act of Terrorism. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 9, 2019 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- minister is in the White House while the president is being impeached. It can't be an accident.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: John, thank you very much.

BERMAN: CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continues right now with Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. One hour from now, the evidence, a critical House Judiciary Committee hearing set to kick off up on Capitol Hill. We'll hear congressional investigators from both sides make their case in this impeachment showdown. Democrats say they will show a pattern of impeachable behavior by the president of the United States rolled into a solid case. The Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says if this were a trial, the jury would conflict in three minutes flat, his words.

The president's defenders will argue that Democrats failed to present direct evidence that Trump committed any wrongdoing at all. Sources say Ukraine is the focus today, but the Mueller report will also be a part of the discussion. It's a historic week here in Washington that likely will end with a committee vote to send articles of impeachment to the full House of Representatives.

Let's begin up on Capitol Hill. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us once again. Manu, this is going to be a very, very lengthy hearing.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lengthy and contentious hearing, and likely a very significant one, too, because Democrats believe that this hearing is going to lay out the case, the strongest case that they have, that the president engaged in impeachable conduct. They're going to lay out what they call, quote, a pattern of behavior by the president which he violated his oath of office in their view. They're going to detail that through his actions as it came to his handling with relations with Ukraine. But I'm told also that is not going to be the only thing that is

discussed. Ukraine will be a central focus of today's hearing, but expect some discussion too about how he handled issues like the Mueller investigation, whether or not he tried to obstruct justice in undercutting that investigation as detailed by the Mueller report.

Today's hearing is going to be like the past impeachment hearings but different in some notable ways. How it's going to begin is similarly, the chairman of the committee, Jerry Nadler, is going to deliver an opening statement followed by the ranking Republican Doug Collins. But then they are going to two witnesses who will first testify.

Those witnesses from the House Judiciary Committee, those counsels on the committee, the Democratic counsel Barry Berke, the Republican counsel Steve Castor. Each of them are going to provide their own opening arguments of sorts, what Democrats say this is going to be essentially like a trial. Berke is going to lay out a detailed case of the president's conduct, a pattern of behavior that they want to continue to focus on as a theme throughout this hearing.

And after those two counsels testify, they are going to step aside, and two others counsels will come forward. Those counsels will be the Intelligence Committee attorneys. That's Dan Goldman on the Democratic side, Castor again on the Republican side, will present each side's respective reports as part of that Ukraine investigations. They're going to testify for about 45 minutes each, detailing their own sides' reports.

And then afterwards we're going to get into the questioning. The questioning will take place much like past questioning in impeachment hearings. Jerry Nadler will have the first opportunity to ask questions along with his staff counsel for 45 minutes, followed by the Republican side, and every single member of that committee will get five minutes to question the witnesses.

Now Wolf, this is also significant because this is likely the last public hearing that we are going to see in the aftermath of weeks of public hearings that happened before the Intelligence Committee, closed door and public, and also last week's hearing before the House Judiciary Committee afterwards. We can expect votes on this committee, on those articles of impeachment. That could occur as soon as this week followed by full House action next week. So we'll wait to see what those articles ultimately are, Wolf. But clearly today a significant moment, part of this investigation into the president, Wolf.

BLITZER: History unfolding here in Washington. Manu Raju, thank you very much. We'll get back to you.

The White House has refused to take part in today's impeachment hearing. Let's go to our Pamela Brown, she's over at the White House right now. So what is the Trump administration, Pamela, saying?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, not only is the White House refusing to participate in this House process in a departure from past administrations during impeachment proceedings, but the White House is telling Democrats they should end their proceeding altogether now, arguing it's baseless, that Democrats haven't shown a single shred of evidence, even as Democrats say there is plenty of evidence, Wolf, from the president himself that he abused his office for personal gain by seeking Ukraine's help to probe his political opponents.

But impeachment is clearly top of mind for the president. He had a very busy Twitter weekend, tweeting and retweeting Sunday more than 100 times, mostly on impeachment, painting himself as the victim of Democrats' hatred toward him, arguing they've tried to find every excuse to impeach him since the day he took office.

The White House is very much looking forward, looking ahead to making its case in the Senate trial. It has spent the last several weeks preparing its argument that the president was well within his rights to ask Ukraine to look into the Bidens. And President Trump, we should note, has no events on his schedule during the hearing this morning. It's expected he will watch some of it as he has for most of the other hearings. Wolf?


BLITZER: I'm sure he will. Pamela, thank you very much.

The House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler says if this evidence was presented to a jury, President Trump would be convicted, in his words, in around three minutes. Joining us now, New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. The jury will be in the Senate. You guys have to come up with charges. So what do you anticipate will happen this week in your committee, the Judiciary Committee?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): It's my expectation that we will focus on the overwhelming evidence that the president abused his power by pressuring a foreign government to target an American citizen, Joe Biden, for political gain, and at the same time withheld, without justification, $391 million in military aid to a very vulnerable Ukraine that remains at war with Russian backed separatists.

BLITZER: Will the articles of impeachment refer specifically only to Ukraine, or are you going to bring the Mueller report conclusions into it as well?

JEFFRIES: That remains to be seen. Nothing has been ruled in, and nothing has been ruled out.

BLITZER: Where do you stand?

JEFFRIES: We'll see what the evidence is in terms of the presentation today. I haven't taken a position. I'm going to reserve judgment as a member of the Judiciary Committee. We'll be involved in this process.

But it is going to be important for us to continue to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution, present the truth to the American people, particularly as it relates to that phone call where the president uttered five words that will live in infamy, "do us a favor, though." That was at the heart of the pressure campaign to try to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election and undermine America's national security.

BLITZER: What are you bracing for from your Republican colleagues?

JEFFRIES: Well, their defense effort to date has been delay, deny, distract. They have not addressed the substance of the allegations. That's because they have an incredibly weak case.

Now, we want to continue to give the president every opportunity to try to present information to explain away his behavior, though all of the witnesses that have come forward, including Ambassador Taylor, a West Point graduate, have said there was no legitimate public policy reason for the president's withholding of the aid, no legitimate substantive reason, no legitimate national security reason. This was all about politics.

BLITZER: Some of your Democratic colleagues from, let's say more moderate Democratic colleagues, from districts that Donald Trump won in 2016, they're pretty nervous right now. You want to stay in the majority in the House of Representatives, right?

JEFFRIES: We want to continue to govern on behalf of the American people and be able to focus --

BLITZER: It's better to be in the majority than the minority.

JEFFRIES: That's correct.

BLITZER: How worried are you, though, that some of these Democrats in these districts that president won in 2016, they're getting pretty nervous themselves, some of these members who were newly elected, and we've seen some of that. Watch this, and then we'll discuss this clip. Watch this.


REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER, (D-VA): No one has dispelled or attempted to dispel or provide evidence that would exonerate the president. That remains time to do that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to prove your innocent?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's been proven guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you are going through this process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Criminal finding. No crime. You don't investigate something without a crime.


BLITZER: Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, you want her to be reelected, but clearly she and many of her more moderate Democrats are nervous right now.

JEFFRIES: if the American people understand that we continue to work on issues like driving down the high cost of life-saving prescription drugs on their behalf, fixing our crumbling infrastructure system, working to get to a better trade agreement, deal with surprise billing, work on addressing our gun violence epidemic, as we are doing, I think that we will retain our majority.

But at the same time, we do have a responsibility as a separate and coequal branch of government to serve as a check and balance on an out of control executive branch. That is not the Democratic Party playbook. That is a playbook in a democratic republic. Madison made clear that founders didn't want a king, a monarch, or a dictator. They wanted a democracy. That is what we're defending, Wolf.

BLITZER: Does it make any difference to you at all that if you do impeach the president in the House, it's going to the Senate for a trial, you need a two-thirds majority to convict and remove him from office, 67 seats, 67 senators need to approve it. That's almost certainly not going to happen.

JEFFRIES: Let's take one step at a time, and we do know, I think, a CNN poll recently indicated that 70 percent of the American people, that includes Democrats, Republicans, and independents, believe that the president engaged in wrongdoing. And so we've got to present that information in the most compelling fashion this week and see where it goes.

BLITZER: So talk about the schedule this week. You're having a hearing today. This is the last hearing, right?

JEFFRIES: It may be the last hearing. Chairman Nadler hasn't said that definitively.


But to the extent that the president continues to withhold documents, withhold information, withhold individuals such as Mick Mulvaney or Mike Pompeo or John Bolton from testifying, it very well may be the last hearing.

BLITZER: If it's the last hearing, you want to vote in the Judiciary Committee on articles of impeachment when, Thursday or Friday?

JEFFRIES: That's possible. But again, the schedule hasn't been set. We're going to continue to proceed expeditiously because this does relate to a matter of urgent national concern, as members who have been appointed by Trump, for instance, the inspector general to the Intelligence Committee, have indicated.

BLITZER: And assuming you approve the articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, it goes to the full House next week?

JEFFRIES: That would be correct to the extent that that decision is made. It may go to the House of Representatives in terms of the floor next week, but that's a leadership decision led by Speaker Pelosi. BLITZER: But you're a leader.

JEFFRIES: That's correct. But all roles lead to Nancy Pelosi along with the House Democratic Caucus.

BLITZER: All right, I understand what you're saying. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, thanks so much for coming in.

JEFFRIES: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're following some other news this morning as well. The FBI says it's investigating the Pensacola shooting as an act of terrorism, but it has not determined a motive for Friday's attack. The 21-year-old gunman was a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force and was a flight training student at the U.S. Naval base. We've also learned that he used a hunting license to legally buy the weapon used in the attack. The Defense Secretary Mark Esper yesterday confirmed that at least one Saudi national filmed the shooting. We also know that one friend of the shooter has been detained.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is in Pensacola, Florida, for us right now. Brynn, so what else do we know about the investigation and the shooter?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we know that the FBI and other federal agencies still have boots on the ground here investigating, and we're told by investigators that they're trying to determine if this gunman acted alone in the sense of a lone wolf, or was he part of a larger network, and was there any ideology that really spurred him to commit this attack?

And part of that is really just trying to figure out a timeline, right. And we know from a source that this gunman actually did visit home, went back to Saudi Arabia at some point, returned back to the country, was actually, according to our sources, in New York City over the Thanksgiving holiday. And according to sources to CNN have told us that even his Saudi national friends said his demeanor had changed, that he was a different person, that he was more observant, he wasn't drinking as much. So really investigators are trying to pinpoint what triggered that change. And of course, that will give them somewhat of a motive.

Now let's keep in mind, as you just said, Wolf, that the FBI has not declared this or said this is an act of terrorism. Rather they're investigating it as an act of terrorism to open up more investigative tools. The president as well has not declared this an act of terrorism, and we know he had several conversations with the Saudi Kingdom, really pointing to those conversations and passing along their condolences rather than reflecting on the fact that this man, it's well known, hated America.

BLITZER: We know that three U.S. sailors were killed in the attack, Brynn. We're also told they ran towards the gunman saving many lives. What more have we learned about the victims?

GINGRAS: Yes, certainly, Wolf. This community is hailing them all as heroes. It's striking to know that of the three men, none are older than 23-years-old. They just reported to this base recently. They were just getting started in their military careers. Let me give you their names, Joshua Watson, just 23, Mohammed Haitham, 19, and Cameron Walters, 21. They had a dignified transfer yesterday, their bodies returned back to their families, all described, again, as heroes, but also just as men that loved their country, wanted to serve their country. And I can tell you this community is still mourning their loss.

BLITZER: And our deepest, deepest condolences to their families and their friends. All right, Brynn, thank you very much, Brynn Gingras, in Pensacola.

Less than an hour away now, a critical day in the impeachment hearings set to begin. Lawyers for House Democrats and Republicans will give their closing arguments. That's coming up. We're covering it thoroughly. Our special live coverage will continue right after this.



BLITZER: All right, minutes from now, House Democrats will have one of their last chances to make the case for impeaching the President of the United States.

We're looking at live pictures coming from the hearing room. Right at the top of the hour, the Judiciary Committee will hold this hearing to review the Intelligence Committee's findings of the next move, introducing Articles of Impeachment in the Judiciary Committee, possibly by the end of this week, and if they're approved, they go to the full House of Representatives next week for a final vote.

Now, let's bring in our team of experts. Tim Naftali, you're our presidential historian. Walk us through the history of this day.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, in the Clinton era, this day was the day that Ken Starr presented the evidence of the Starr report. In the Nixon period, this didn't happen. In the Nixon period, John Doar who was the counsel for the committee, and he's a Republican, so they had a bipartisan committee. He gave over six weeks, he laid out the evidence did not argue for or against impeachment.

The point was that the members of the Judiciary Committee, each one was a juror and had to assess the material on their own. It was behind closed doors. The public did not hear the materials. They would learn the materials later.

So in the Nixon case, this was done behind the scenes. In the Clinton case, this is very public, very much like what we're going to see today. It lasted a whole day. And Ken Starr presented his evidence, and then both sides of the committee had an opportunity to question him, and then the President's attorney, David Kendall, questioned Ken Starr and of course, today the President will not be represented by his own choice. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting Dana, and you've covered Capitol

Hill for a long time. The Republicans complain that it has been totally unfair. They're not getting opportunities to hold what they call minority hearings.


BLITZER: They get all these documents, the basic evidence. You know, 24 hours before a hearing, they get thousands of pages, they don't really have time to review them. And we heard -- just heard from the Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, he is complaining.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is complaining. This has been kind of the Republican talking point. Some of it, I would say a modicum of it is valid, but for the most part, it's not. Because what they're trying to do is undermine the process and prove the reason why the President is not sending his lawyers or anybody to go and defend him because they're trying to say that this is, you know, borne out of what -- they call it a fruits of a poison tree. That this whole -- that the initial whistleblower report was bad and then the process since then has been unfair to Republicans.

It's not true. In large measure it has been the way that Republicans conducted their investigations. In Benghazi, lot of depositions, hundreds of them behind -- hours of them behind closed doors. And of course, when it comes to Clinton, they were afforded similar, you know, abilities to go and defend him.

I had the judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on "State of the Union" yesterday and asked him about just even the most basic, latest Republican requests, which is, can we have a day where we have our own witnesses? Can we have a little bit more time to read the documents and he punted?

BLITZER: He didn't say yes, he didn't say no.

BASH: No, but it was pretty clear the answer is ...

BLITZER: Is public opinion going to really change as a result of this hearing and what happens this week and next week? Because most of you know -- most of the evidence is already out there.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's out there. It's a unique circumstance where the President has said what happened in the very beginning and justified it at the very beginning. So it's -- it's so difficult to predict.

I think this is a kind of play that's playing out in pretty short order and we seem to know the result.

What I do think is going to be compelling about today is the idea that both sides will be able to lay out a case for why this is impeachable conduct and why it's not and hearing from counsel on both sides will finally give some narrative to the actual reports that have been released.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, what are you looking for specifically this morning?

TOOBIN: One thing in particular, do the Republicans have a factual response to the accusations against the President? Because, you know, as Dana said, we've had a lot of complaints about the process. They didn't get the paperwork in time. They want more witnesses. But is the President's behavior appropriate? Is it impeachable? What did the President actually do?

I mean, like there are factual questions that haven't been resolved entirely, like, for example, it seems completely clear that the President conditioned the meeting with President Zelensky on his announcement of an investigation. The evidence is somewhat more ambiguous on whether the money, the aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the announcement of the meeting.

I'm interested to see how the Democrats put that issue forward and how they try to prove that there was an exchange of ...

GREGORY: And establishing whether the President directly gave this order about the aid, about the meeting.

BASH: About the aid.

TOOBIN: Correct. And, you know, the other interesting question will be, how do both sides deal with the fact that many of the key witnesses have not testified? I mean, the Democrats have made you know, very good use of the witnesses and the documents they have, but there's no John Bolton. There's no Mack McLarty. Wow. That sounds ...

I am in a fugue state here. Now, I'm very concerned about H.R. Haldeman ...

BLITZER: All right. Standby. On that note, I want to bring in Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of California. He sits on the Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks so much. We're having a little laugh. Laughter over here over some names. But that's life in the fast lane.

Let's talk a little bit about what's going on. First of all, what are you going to be looking for first of all this morning?

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA): Well, most importantly, is the question of the fact that the Republicans have requested a number of witnesses that have been rejected by the Democratic majority.

Republicans requested nine witnesses. Schiff vetoed six of those. We requested a minority day which by the way isn't a request - that is a right that the minority has. One of the few rights that the minority has in the House is to ask for a day of hearings with their witnesses.

That's not open to debate. It's not open to approval. That is a right in the rules. That's so far been rejected by Nadler. At least he has refused to acknowledge it.

[08:25:02] MCCLINTOCK: And in a democracy, in a free society, the prosecution

does not get to choose which witnesses the defense calls and yet that has been one of the big defects with these proceedings.

BLITZER: Yes, and you heard that Dana Bash just say, she asked Jerry Nadler about that minority hearing yesterday and he punted. He really didn't give a specific yes or no, but he --

MCCLINTOCK: The Democrats love to say --

BLITZER: Go ahead and make your point.

MCCLINTOCK: The Democrats love to say that no one is above the law. They have one caveat, except for themselves.

BLITZER: We'll get into that. But let me play this clip. This was also what Jerry Nadler, the Committee Chairman told Dana yesterday. Watch this.


REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): We have a very rock solid case. I think the case we have, if presented to a jury would be a guilty verdict in about three minutes flat.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to that?

MCCLINTOCK: Well, in the two weeks of hearings, they had one-sided with their handpicked witnesses, not one witness was able to provide firsthand testimony that the President ordered a quid pro quo. Two witnesses had firsthand knowledge of the President ordering that there not be a quid pro quo.

Hearsay evidence is not allowed in court for a reason. It is gossip. It cannot be confirmed. And yet that is the entire basis of the Democrats' case. It would be thrown out of court in three minutes.

BLITZER: The Democrats make the point that if you read the rough transcript of that July 25th phone call between the President and President Zelensky, there's evidence there. They also say the President admitted as much on camera on October 3rd. Watch this.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your call? Exactly.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens.


BLITZER: So how do you defend that? MCCLINTOCK: I think the President has every authority and right under

the Constitution to conduct our foreign relations. He is commanded by the Constitution to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

The entire executive authority of the government is vested with the President. He has every right and every responsibility to request a foreign government to assist in the investigation of potentially corrupt dealings between American and Ukrainian officials.

Don't forget that just last year, three Democratic senators wrote a letter to the Ukrainian government demanding that it cooperate with the Mueller investigation. The President's serve request is of exactly the same nature. The only difference is he actually has the constitutional authority and duty to make that request, which the senators did not.

BLITZER: Because the argument is that if he is really concerned about the Biden's -- Hunter Biden, the son; Joe Biden, the former Vice President, instead of asking a foreign leader for helping an investigation, go to the Justice Department, go to the F.B.I. and get them to investigate.

MCCLINTOCK: We discussed this last time I was on the show and I went back and looked at the transcript again. He's asking for their cooperation with an investigation and referred them to the Attorney General. Now, what ongoing investigations are going on in the attorney general's office? I don't know.

But that was the reference that he made in the conversation. It is perfectly proper and appropriate for the President to do so.

BLITZER: We're seeing some prominent Republicans point the finger at Ukraine in their defense of President Trump's actions. Listen to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on "Meet the Press" yesterday.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): On the evidence, Russia clearly interfered in our election, but here's the game the media is playing. Because Russia interfered, the media pretends nobody else did. Ukraine blatantly interfered in our election.


BLITZER: All right, so the U.S. Intelligence Community has concluded, they briefed the Senate on this that this is a conspiracy theory originally put out by Vladimir Putin himself. Why do think there are some members of your party advancing this theory that the Russians are pushing?

MCCLINTOCK: Well, there's no dispute that Alexander Chalupa, a paid consultant for the D.N.C. was actively soliciting the Ukrainian Embassy and officials within that embassy for dirt on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

There is no dispute that there were Ukrainian officials interfering in our election by writing scathing editorials against President Trump's candidacy. If we're concerned about foreign interference in our elections, we ought to be concerned with all foreign interference on our elections.

BLITZER: But writing editorials and making statements is very different than hacking a D.N.C. server, a computer and stuff like that was the Russians clearly did.

MCCLINTOCK: Well, you know, clearly those allegations are of a far higher degree than what the Ukrainians were doing, but the fact that there were attempts by a D.N.C. consultant to enlist the help of a foreign power in the election ought to be concerning to everyone.


It is exactly the same principle. And if we are a system that values equal justice under law, we ought to be investigating these things regardless of whose ox is being gored.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise. I know you've got to run. But there's no evidence that Ukraine was doing anything close to what the Russian intelligence services were doing, is that right?

MCCLINTOCK: The Ukrainian government, I would say, we don't have any evidence of that. We do have evidence of Ukrainian government officials interfering and we do have evidence, clear evidence, that the DNC's consultant was actively soliciting a foreign government for assistance.

BLITZER: Congressman McClintock, we'll continue this conversation down the road. I know you've got to run. Thanks so much for joining us.

MCCLINTOCK: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right, so moments from now, congressional investigators will make their respective cases for impeachment or against impeachment. We'll hear from Democrats and Republicans. How far will the articles go and what will be the White House strategy?

Much more of our special coverage right after this.



BLITZER: An historic week here in the nation's capital. Just moments away from kicking into very, very high gear. Right at the top of the hour, the House Judiciary Committee will hold the next impeachment hearing and it could go on for several hours. The stakes could not be higher right now. Congressional investigators will present evidence that could make Donald Trump only the third president in the United States history to be impeached.

We're told the hearing will play out like a trial with each side giving opening statements and arguments before rounds and rounds and rounds of questioning. There are more than 40 members of the Judiciary Committee. Each will have -- each member will have an opportunity to ask questions.

Let's get back to our experts.

And, Carrie, I specifically want to know what you're looking for this morning?

CORDERO: Well, what I'm thinking about this morning is why it is that the Ukraine facts have resulted in today, have resulted in this hearing and these proceedings and the Mueller report didn't. And I think there's two reasons for that. One is that it pertains to the integrity of our elections and its prospective (ph). The allegations concern what the president did while he was president, trying to solicit foreign interference in the election.

And the second piece has to do with national security and defense. The fact that the facts that are put forth are that he was withholding the defense assistance. There was the White House meeting as well. But I think the withholding of the defense assistance and using potentially foreign policy and national security authorities for personal, political gain is the central issue.

And what I'm looking for is whether or not the Republican counsel ever takes on those facts because so far they haven't. So far, in everything that we've heard, from the other -- the Republican counsel or Republican members of Congress in both settings, whether it was the Hipsy (ph) hearings, the House Intelligence hearings or the Judiciary proceedings in the constitutional professor's hearing, they have not taken on those central facts.

GREGORY: And it's so interesting that what Republicans are lifting up is such a thin defense around Ukraine that, no, the way you're supposed to think about this is that President Trump was so concerned about rooting out corruption in Ukraine that that's why he put this pressure on the new administration when, in fact, he was clearly coercing them to dig up dirt on his political opponent and selling out national security interests in the process. That is the fundamental allegation against him that they have not defending very well --

BLITZER: You know --

GREGORY: Suggesting alternatively that, no, it's Ukraine that interfered instead of Russia.

GARBER: And, David, so far the Republican strategy has actually seemed to work. What I'm -- what I'm looking for today is there -- there are all of these analogies to a trial. This is not a trial. An impeachment is a political process. And so what I'm looking for is to see whether the Democrats are able to, in a way they haven't so far yet, reach out to independents, reach out to even potentially persuadable Republicans because that is the ballgame.

That's what this is about. This isn't a legal case. This isn't about just marching through the evidence. This isn't about marching through whether this hearsay exception applies or this hearsay exception applies. It is about making a compelling case to the American people, making a compelling case to Republicans. And so far it doesn't look like a single Republican has been persuaded to come over.

Public support for impeachment has gone down. And, you know, we saw last week the first Democrat to come out and say they weren't in support of impeachment. So that's what I'm looking for today.

BLITZER: You know, the Democrats say, Jeffrey, this is a slam dunk, three minutes a jury would convict no doubt about it. Republicans say, not so fast.

What do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, I -- you know, this is a political process. It's not a legal process. And I think, you know, the -- the partisan divisions, which are always present in an impeachment struggle, are here in even more dramatic form because that's the politics in which we live. I mean in 1998/99, during the Clinton investigation and impeachment, you know, it was a highly partisan enterprise. But there were a very small handful of Democrats who voted against Clinton and Republicans, like one or two who voted -- who voted for Clinton. Now it's just much more divided.


And I think that's more a reflection of our politics than the evidence in this case. I mean I --

BASH: And can we go back to what -- sorry.


TOOBIN: Go ahead, please.

BASH: That what the congressman that you talked to before the break --

BLITZER: Congressman McClintock.

BASH: Congressman McClintock --

BLITZER: A Republican.

BASH: Said to you, which matches what Congressman Mark Meadows, a very close ally of the president, said to me in an interview yesterday, which we're hearing more and more from people who want to declare their support for the president and their opposition to this process, even inching -- not just the process, inching out there on the substance. It's a new thing. What he said is that he thinks it was OK for the president to make that phone call, to make that ask to a foreign leader.

I mean that is a fundamental difference of perspective. If he truly believes that, and I have no reason to think he doesn't, you have that argument versus some of the most moderate, conservative Democrats, especially on the issue of national security, who are putting their political necks on the line here saying it's the opposite. That is absolutely the wrong thing to do and you're jeopardizing American democracy and national security and all -- and it just was the wrong -- it was an abuse of power. That is a real difference on the substance of this and not just on the processes --

GREGORY: He's --

CORDERO: You know what's -- you know what's interesting about that, Dana --

BASH: Yes.

CORDERO: Is that there's no White House counsel willing to show up and make that argument.

BASH: Exactly.

CORDERO: And there's no private lawyer or prominent, private attorney willing to be representing the president and make that argument that that's OK for the institution of the presidency to do.

BASH: You're right.

BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by.

We're getting ready for the start of this hearing, only moments away.

Another historic day here in Washington, D.C. House lawmakers moving one step closer to impeaching the president of the United States.

CNN's special live coverage will continue right after this.



BLITZER: All right, we're only minutes away from a critical hearing up on Capitol Hill. You're looking at live pictures.

The Judiciary Committee getting ready to meet to decide the scope of the articles of impeachment against President Trump. Lawmakers arriving for this, the latest phase of this truly historic process.

Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold.

So what are you seeing now, Manu?

RAJU: Well, Democrats are preparing to lay out their case about why the president deserves to be impeached. What they plan to do is lay out what they're calling a, quote, pattern of behavior about the president's conduct in office and they're going to use what -- cite what he did in relations with Ukraine as a central part of that narrative. But expect other aspects to be discussed as well, including his handling of the Mueller investigation, his efforts allegedly to undercut that probe. Expect that to come out and particularly towards the top of the hearing.

Now, I'm also told that there's still been discussions behind the scenes about what those articles of impeachment actually look like. But despite a weekend session of the House Judiciary Committee Democrats in which they actually prepared for today's hearing on both Saturday and Sunday, they have not been briefed on the specifics of what is in those articles of impeachment and when the vote will occur, although we do expect that vote to occur in the committee this week.

But it's a sign of how closely held these discussions are between the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

Now, today's hearing will kick off a little bit different than in past hearings because there are going to be two different panels that will testify. The witnesses that will first testify are the House Judiciary Committee counsel, Barry Burke on the Democratic side, Steve Castor on the Republican side. Democrats plan to lay -- do -- open this like an opening argument for a trial of sorts, lay out their case in that panel.

Now, those witnesses will not take questions after that. Then there will be witnesses who will testify who are part of the House Intelligence Committee investigation, the Democratic counsel, Dan Goldman, and the Republican counsel, Castor. Steve Castor will sit for that as well. They'll each lay out their own details for their own reports and then they will take questions. And those questions, Wolf, are expected to take all day long in this marathon hearing, a contentious hearing, a significant hearing because this could very well be the last public hearing before those votes occur on articles of impeachment that could go before the full House as soon as next week.

BLITZER: And when the Republicans say they want minority hearings, and they say they're entitled to have a minority hearing, you know, Dana interviewed, you know, the chairman of the committee yesterday, Jerry Nadler, who didn't give a straight answer on whether or not they would have that kind of minority hearing.

RAJU: Yes, it doesn't sound like that's going to happen. Democrats -- Republicans -- Democrats have not said this explicitly that that would not happen. But what they're almost certain to do is to push that off until some later point, potentially after there are actually votes on the articles of impeachment. But they have not said so explicitly yet. But, at the moment, nobody expects that wish to be granted, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens on that front, if anything.

Manu, we'll get back to you.

Much more of our special coverage right after this.



BLITZER: Any minute now the House Judiciary Committee will hold the next impeachment hearing. It could be rather dramatic.

Let's get back to our (INAUDIBLE). And, Jeffrey Toobin, the Republicans keep making the point that Nixon committed a crime and he was about to be impeached but he resigned instead. Bill Clinton committed a crime, lied under oath, he was impeached, acquitted in the Senate. They argue that there's no evidence that President Trump actually committed a crime and, as a result, he should not be impeached.

TOOBIN: Right. This was an argument the Democrats tried to take on head on during the law professor arguments last week because the point they made -- and this is really, I think, undisputed under the Constitution, that it doesn't have to be a crime, a criminal offense, to be impeachable. It has to be, most importantly, an abuse of power, an abuse of the power of the presidency. And that is what the president -- the president's accusers have said that this whole relationship with Ukraine is, that it may or may not be bribery or extortion under federal law, but it really is abuse of power.


And if you look at the debates of the framers, if you look at the Federalist Papers, they were most concerned about abuses of power even more than criminal offenses.

BLITZER: Let me get the historian, Tim Naftali, to weigh in.

NAFTALI: The -- one of the most powerful arguments that the centrists, I don't mean politically centrists, the people who are open minded in the Nixon case, these were Republicans and southern Democrats, the strongest argument they made for impeachment was not that it was based on a crime, it was that impeachment is a safety valve in our system. It's a safety valve if the president's conduct is threatening to our constitutional order, he must be removed. And that was the argument that moved them because, in some cases, they had a circumstantial case, which is enough in a criminal court, but not necessarily enough in a political court. And they said, this case is strong enough for us to make the argument that we have to remove him for the sake of our constitutional order. That, I think, is the argument that Democrats are trying to make and we should see them making it today and whether they make it well or not, well --

BLITZER: That's Doug Collins, the ranking Republican -- the top Republican on the committee, there his back to the screen over there.

Go ahead.

GREGORY: Ross said something important, I think, earlier, which is, Democrats have to argue to the American people this is about the facts, of course, but there's something larger. It's also about the prerogatives of the Congress, that Congress has a role to play. What Nancy Pelosi has said, this is an abuse of power by the president in a way that only the president can abuse power. That's what violates the Constitution. That circumvents the accountability and the oversight role of the Congress.

And it's interesting, you know, the idea that the president can do anything he wants, and in this case not cooperate, that's what they're fighting against. Everybody should be on board with that.

And, you know, Peggy Noonan in "The Wall Street Journal" over the weekend had a terrific column in which she talked about the Iran Contra hearing -- I mean, you know, the Iran Contra case and she said, and Jeffrey was involved in this, you know, he actually waved privilege, did he not, and allowed people to testify and cooperate. That's -- that's something that I think Democrats want to lift up.

TOOBIN: And so -- and so did Nixon.


TOOBIN: Nixon -- I mean, you know, we all remember our friend, John Dean, who's now a contributor, the president could have stopped him from testifying.


TOOBIN: H.R. Halderman, the White House chief of staff, he testified. John Ehrlichman testified. During the whole Clinton matter. Clinton supplied documents. Clinton himself testified before Starr's grand jury.

GREGORY: That's an important --

NAFTALI: One of the big differences -- one of the big differences is that Nixon believed he had to show the American people he was complying.


NAFTALI: He didn't want to fully comply because he knew what he knew and he didn't want Congress to know all of his crimes. But he wanted at least to make a case that he was trying to meet his responsibilities under the Constitution. That's what's so different this time.

BASH: And that was -- that was the M.O. of the Trump administration at the beginning with the Mueller investigation. They gave them everything that they wanted.


BASH: They gave them all the documents, all the witnesses, people who were working at the time in the White House, people who had left, people who were working in the campaign. They said, have at it. That was their approach and then they changed that once they realized it -- it backfired. GARBER: Right. I think -- that's exactly it. Yes.

BASH: And that's why you -- I think -- there's no question that the experience that they had with the Mueller investigation led to the stonewall of this investigation.

TOOBIN: Your -- it's an interesting use of the word backfire. By disclosing evidence that showed he was guilty -- BASH: Politically backfired. Politically backfired.

TOOBIN: It backfired. Yes. No, but, you're right --

BASH: Yes.

TOOBIN: It did backfire because the evidence was incriminating.


TOOBIN: The problem is, that when you have incriminating evidence, you either withhold it or disclose it. They have now decided to withhold it.

GARBER: Yes. I think -- so I think -- I think David's right, you know, that the Democrats challenge is to show sort of this non-compliance, but it -- but I think it has to go further and they have to show the American people why they should care, because one of the big differences, I think, between today and Nixon is the amount of confidence and -- and the amount of respect the Americans have for our institutions of government. And so I think that's -- that's going to be the challenge, to show -- show the American people why they care and then that sets up the debate that the White House has been responsible or not.

BLITZER: Carrie, go ahead.

CORDERO: Well, just coming back to this issue of a crime. I think actually by the time all of these proceedings are over, the American public will see that there actually are allegations of substantial crimes, primarily in the area of obstruction of justice, and that gets to obstruction with respect to the president's obstructive acts of this Ukraine inquiry and then there also is the question of whether or not they will include in the final acts articles of impeachment, obstructive acts, up to potentially ten or so that were documented in the Mueller report.

But I think the key is that for purposes of this proceeding, that's not the persuasive issue on whether or not he will be impeached. That's going to get to the abuse of office.

BASH: And Carrie -- Carrie -- I totally agree with you and -- because it goes to what you were pointing out, it is such a different era. The reason Donald Trump is president is because of the disdain for institutions of government, for institutions, you know, big business, for institutions of the media, across the board, and the president, since he's been in office, has stoked that in an unprecedented way.


So the argument that they're going to make about the fact that he's obstructing certainly matters on a --