Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats Unveil Two Articles Of Impeachment Against Trump; Barr Dismisses Own Agency's Watchdog Report On Russia Probe. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired December 10, 2019 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- and through the next weeks ahead as we go.


Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Dana Bash is in for Brianna Keilar. She starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

DANA BASH, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Dana Bash in for Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, a major milestone on a path to a historic event, the House is one step closer to making Donald J. Trump the fourth president to go through impeachment, the third to be impeached since the Constitution was adopted on September 17th, 1787, 232 years ago.

After presenting their case for impeachment to the American people, House Democrats boiled it all down to two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The House committee on the Judiciary is introducing two articles of impeachment charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The evidence of the president's misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested. And how could it not be when the president's own words on July 25th, I would like you to do us a favor though, lay so bare his intentions, his willingness to sacrifice the national security for his own personal interests.

And when the president got caught, we committed his second impeachable act, obstruction of Congress, of the very ability to make sure that no one is above the law.


BASH: Article I is abuse of power, which is directly linked to the president's efforts to trade taxpayer money to Ukraine for the promise of an investigation into the Biden family. Now, article II is obstruction of Congress, which circles the White House efforts to impede the investigation by refusing to allow key witnesses to testify and by refusing to turn over key documents in the case.

I want to get straight to Capitol Hill to Manu Raju, who has been all over this, and talking to probably almost all of the members of the Democratic Caucus between this morning and now.

What are you hearing about the key decision to just do these two articles and not go more broad to talk about and to do an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice referring to the Mueller report?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are two big reasons. One, they believe that this message was the clearest for the American public to understand, that the president used the power of his office allegedly to push this foreign government to announce these investigations into his political rivals. That was an easy message to sell for the public to understand. And also the second big reason, the votes. They wanted to make sure that they have enough votes in order to get this over the finish line, and there is wide expectation that they will be mostly united on these two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

At the moment, two Democratic congressmen are indicating that they will vote against it. They have already voted against formalizing these procedures going forward, so that is not a surprise. At the moment, we'll see if there are any other Democrats to defect.

But there was an expectation to add a third article of impeachment about obstruction of justice, to detail the allegations in the Mueller report. The president moved to undercut that investigation, as many Democrats have pushed, that that could actually cost them votes on the floor.

And I'm told Dana behind the scenes in Nancy Pelosi's office last night with her leadership team, they discussed this, they debated this, the idea of even possibly seeing this voted down was brought up. That was not looked at favorably by the speaker, which is why they decided on these two articles.

And those two articles will be voted on in the House judiciary Committee on Thursday. That's expected to be a marathon session. We'll see if that extends into Friday, and then next week, that historic vote on the House floor to make President Trump the third American president to get impeached by the House. Dana?

BASH: So interesting. Such fascinating reporting, Manu, about what happened in the speaker's office last night as they debated exactly how to go forward. Thanks, Manu, I appreciate it.

And Congress forwarded four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton back in the late '90s, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. For Richard Nixon in the '70s, there were three articles, which, of course, never got votes because he resigned first. I want to bring in our Alex Marquardt to take us through what Adam Schiff today called overwhelming and uncontested evidence that led to the two articles being drafted against President Trump. Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, as you and Manu were just discussing, having talked of more articles of impeachment for President Trump, including that obstruction of justice article going back to the Mueller probe, that, in the end, was not included. In fact, Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee telling Manu that they wanted two rock solid articles.

So that question, what is the rock solid evidence? Let's first start with what the Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, said today. He wrote or he said rather, it is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest.


That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election. Now, that speaks to that first article of impeachment, abuse of power.

Democrats lined up witnesses who testified that the president solicited Ukraine to interfere in the next election by asking for that investigation into the Bidens. And until Ukraine announce that investigation, almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine was withheld, as well as a meeting at the White House for their new President, Zelensky.

Now, all these witnesses spoke to the Intelligence Committee both behind closed doors and in open hearings about what they knew about the president exchanging that aid and that White House meeting for the investigations that he wanted. In fact, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, a point man on Ukraine, said, in no uncertain terms, yes, there was quid pro quo.

Now, let's look at that second article of impeachment, the obstruction of Congress charge. This is what Jerry Nadler said earlier today. A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people and above congress' power of impeachment, which is meant to protect against threats to our Democratic institutions, is the president who sees himself as above the law.

Now, Democrat accused the president and the White House of unprecedented obstruction of Congress. They handed over -- so the White House handed over no documents, and all of these key officials, including the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, were blocked from testifying.

So what's next? There will be a vote in the Judiciary Committee on these two articles of impeachment, then everything moves to the full House for a vote on impeachment, and that, Dana, could take place as soon as next week. BASH: They're hoping before Christmas. Alex, thanks so much for walking us through all that.

And with that context, let's get straight to Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips, a Democrat on both the House Financial Services Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

You are a Democratic House majority maker. You beat a Republican congressman and help put your party in charge of the House and even in a position to consider this impeachment. So with that, let's talk about the two articles of impeachment.

Is this what you were hoping for, a narrow scope?

REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Well, I'll tell you, Dana, none of us came to Congress to impeach the president. So when you talk about what our hopes were relative to articles, that's all relative. But I do believe, based on our oath to the Constitution, we have no choice. And I remind everybody watching that we are not the judge. We are the grand jury to determine if the evidence presented is worthy of a trial in the U.S. Senate. We certainly believe it is. And that's our foremost responsibility. That's our oath to the Constitution. And I do believe the two articles are appropriate.

BASH: So you will vote yes on both?

PHILLIPS: Based on what I've read, I will, absolutely.

And I want to make this clear too that, of course, a lot of the conversations about Ukraine and the abuse of power, our founders and one of their greatest fears was foreign meddling in our affairs. They anticipated that in our Constitution, I believe. They surely did not anticipate a president of the United States inviting it.

But what's most important, and I want to turn everybody's attention to, is obstruction of Congress. In 1857, Congress made contempt of Congress a crime against the United States. If we can't obtain documents and witnesses to provide oversight and fulfill our oath to the Constitution, it is a slippery slope whether a Democrat is in the White House or a Republican, everybody should be attuned to that.

BASH: So you're talking about obstruction of Congress. There was a big debate. I know you know far better than I in your caucus about whether to add another article of impeachment dealing with obstruction of justice that the Mueller report laid out. In fact, they laid out ten instances of potential obstruction of justice. But Robert Mueller said, it's up to you, Congress, to decide.

So by not including that in the articles of impeachment, are you House Democrats essentially saying the president didn't obstruct justice in the Russia investigation?

PHILLIPS: No, I'm not saying that. But I do believe that the two articles that have been presented are appropriate, they're concise, and I hope we can accomplish this in an expeditious manner. But this is -- and this is a lot more about the presidency and less about the president. We have got to draw a line whether it'd be obstruction of justice, in this case, obstruction of Congress. They are both imperative (ph).

BASH: Well, let's just stick on Russia for one second because I've talked to some of your colleagues who are bracing for tough races, who have said, bringing Mueller in muddies, their arguments back home about the Ukraine situation you were just talking about, making it harder to explain to constituents. Would that have been the case?


Would it have been harder for you?

And let me just ask you, if there was an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice dealing with Mueller,, would you have voted no or yes?

PHILLIPS: So, Dana, relative to this whole thing, there is such a spirit of self-preservation in Congress comprehensibly and we're trying to elevate principle over self-preservation. So when we talk about muddying the waters or how it might affect the next election, that's actually at the root of the greatest problem here in Washington, there're too many people focused on their next election, not on justice and, frankly, the Constitution.

Since that's all hypothetical, I can't specifically opine. But it's clear from the Mueller report, there are many cases of potential obstruction. I wish we had been in a position to obtain documents and witnesses to have corroborated that, but I do believe the two articles are appropriate and the ones on which we'll vote next week.

BASH: So I hear what you're saying, this is about doing what's right, following your oath as a member of Congress, but you are in a tough district in Minnesota. Is it possible that you could lose your seat over voting yes on these two articles?

PHILLIPS: Sure, it's possible. And if I do, if I vote my conscience and I uphold my oath to the Constitution, I will have done right by my oath and for prosperity. And that's exactly why I did this. In fact, Dana, I promised my daughters the morning after the 2016 election that I'd no longer just be an observer. I tried to be a participant not to impeach the president but to provide oversight.

And that is my legacy. Having done so, I can look in the mirror and rest comfortably in the days to come. And I wish more members in both sides of the aisle, we look at it at the same way, because this president will not be in the White House forever, we know that, and there will be future presidents that may abuse power, and we've got to draw the line in the sand and unify around truth and fact, which I know is complicated these days.

BASH: That's the understatement of the hour. Congressman Dean Phillips, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Dana. BASH: Thank you.

And more breaking news, the attorney general of the United States doubled down on his claim that the Trump campaign was spied on despite an investigation inside the FBI that doesn't really say that.

And as that's happening, the president goes to war with his own hand- picked FBI director because that director, you see there, Christopher Wray, he refuses to buy into conspiracy theories that the president supports.

This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.



BASH: Attorney General William Barr is now joining President Trump in going after the inspector general's report on the 2016 FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Listen to what he said.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do disagree with the I.G., and that was whether there was sufficient predication to open a full-blown counterintelligence investigation.

I felt this was very flimsy. And I think when you step back here and say, what was this all based on, it's not sufficient. Remember, there was and never has been any evidence of collusion, and yet this campaign and the president's administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.


BASH: Well, what the report actually said is that no one who launched the FBI probe or was involved in it into the Trump campaign did so with political bias.

Here's the FBI director, Christopher Wray, and what he thought of the report.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's important for the American people to know that when the FBI opens an investigation, it does so with proper predication, with proper authorization based on the law and the facts and nothing else. And I think it's important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the biggest takeaway and the most important takeaway from the report for you?

WRAY: Well, I think there are a number of takeaways that are important. One, that we fully cooperated with this independent review, two, that we fully accept its findings and recommendations, three, that the inspector general did not find political bias or improper motivations impacting the opening of the investigation or the decision to use certain investigative tools during the investigations.


WRAY: Including FISA, but that the inspector general did find a number of instances where employees either failed to follow our policies, neglected to exercise appropriate diligence or, in some other way, fell short of the standard of conduct and performance that we and that I, as director, expect of all of our employees.


BASH: Now, the president took issue with Wray's comments, tweeting, I don't know what the report -- what the report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me. With that attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men and women working there.


So much to discuss with a terrific panel. Evan Perez, you covered the FBI and the Justice Department and have for some time. What do you make of Bill Barr's comments?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It was an extraordinary interview simply because we're not used to hearing an attorney general say things like this, especially about a report from the internal watchdog, the inspector general, who did find some problems in the one aspect of this case that really -- again, there are 17 instances where things were left out or put inaccurately in the Carter Page FISA. But that is not the entire investigation.

I think that's what Bill Barr is doing, he is essentially taking the criticisms, which are valid, of the one part of this, which is the Carter Page FISA, and extrapolating it to the entire investigation. And I think, again, if you look at the Mueller report, you'll see why there was plenty of reason for the FBI to start this investigation.

The Trump campaign was -- there was a cast of unusual people who were doing some weird things. And if you're the FBI and, again, you don't have the benefit of hindsight, if you look back and you see what they're seeing, of course, they had to do an an investigation. And I think that's one of the things that I think Barr is sort of just glossing over.

BASH: Glossing over and leaving an impression intentionally, it seems, that there were wire taps of the Trump campaign and, you know, the kind of thing that --

PEREZ: Of which there wasn't.

BASH: There weren't, which Donald Trump said early on in his presidency, he's continuing to say that.

And I just want to read, as, Pam, you weigh in here, what this part of the inspector general report actually says. It says, we found no evidence that the FBI placed no CHSs, confidential human sources, which is a wire-tapping, or UCEs, undercover employees, within the Trump campaign or asked any CHSs or UCEs to report on the Trump campaign.

So this is -- it could be apples to oranges, but it's interesting that Barr is continuing to push this theory which there is no evidence according to the I.G. report.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And the FISA surveillance of Carter Page was after Page had left the campaign. And it's worth reiterating that because it seems like Barr is trying to inflate that as well as, oh, we'll see the campaign was spied on.

But what strikes me as a reporter who covers this White House is just everything he said, he was basically echoing what President Trump says, just in a more lawyerly way, right? I mean, the message is still very much the same. He refuses to deviate from what seemed to be these conspiracy theories, the fact this was a witch hunt, that this shouldn't have started in the first place. He made very clear this idea that the campaign was spied upon even though the inspector general's report finds that that actually didn't happen.

I mean, there is no daylight between the president and his attorney general. If the president was watching that interview, you can imagine he was watching it with a lot of glee.

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: Dana, to her point, I think my big concern is the damage that's being done to our institutions. The attorney general is the one cabinet official that's supposed to be the non-partisan, the non-political person because he or she is the law enforcement officer. For an attorney general, he did this with the Mueller report. He's doing it again now to basically, like you said, echo the political points which is what he's not supposed to do. I think he's doing great damage to the American public knowing who I believe in this mess.

Christopher Wray is also a Republican. He's saying one thing defending and the attorney general is attacking him and the FBI. It's a problem.

BASH: Sophia, the attorney general is actually speaking live. Let's listen.

BARR: -- underway on Hill, and the attorney general is not part of that process. And at this stage, I'm just not going to comment on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing at on --

BARR: I will say that on the other articles of impeachment relating to obstruction, I don't believe it's the case that where somebody, including a branch of government, is asserting a legal privilege that they have under the law that that constitutes obstruction. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second article says President Trump directed the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives, and under -- given to the Constitution, gives the House sole responsibility for impeachment. This is, itself, represents obstruction.

BARR: But as I said, I just said what I said, which is it was predicated on advancing claims of privilege that have been previously advanced in other administrations. And I don't consider that obstruction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's not unprecedented?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's move on to the other issue that was occupying a lot of your attention yesterday, which was the publication of the report of the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, into origins of the -- and the conduct of the investigation of President Trump and his associates around the Russia allegations about collusion with Russia.


Mr. Horowitz, in his report, said yesterday, we concluded that the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane, that was the name given to the investigation, to obtain information about or to protect against a national security threat or federal crime. You said, in response to that yesterday, the FBI launched an intrusive investigation on the thinnest of suspicions that were, in my view were, insufficient to justify the steps taken. Can you tell us what exactly it is -- where exactly you disagree with Mr. Horowitz?

BARR: Well, first, let me say I think there are sort of three parts or issues, let's say categories of analysis in the report. The first is, was the investigation adequately predicated, a start of it? The second one is, how was it conducted? And I break that down into two things. How was it conducted before the election and how was it conducted after the election?

The real meat of Horowitz's work and the real thrust of the report actually deals with the conduct of the investigation, where I think it quickly became apparent that it was a travesty and there were many abuses, and that's by far the most important part of the report, and I think Mike Horowitz would agree with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The abuses, these -- I want to come on to this in detail. But abuses that, in particular, refer to the FISA application, the application to the -- for the --

BARR: And also the fact that, from day one, it generated exculpatory information and nothing that substantiated any kind of collusion. But put that aside for a minute going back to the issue, in many ways, sort of the issue of whether it technically was adequately predicated is something of academic interest only. But where I disagree -- and, by the way, Mike knows I disagree with him, and there's still people in this town where you can be adults and professionals and have disagreement without tearing each other's hearts out. So it's just one of those things. We have disagreements in the Department of Justice.

But --

BASH: Yes. We're going to talk about what we just heard from the attorney general.

Evan, just on that last part that he said to me, I mean, there is so much we can dissect, just that last part where he said about FISA and about the investigation into the Trump campaign, in general, he said, from day one, there was evidence that was exculpatory that there was no collusion and the FBI ignored that. Let's just start with that. True or false?

PEREZ: It's just not true. I mean, look, I think one of the things that you have to look at is, again, he's talking about the FISA application and there were concerns. And if you could see -- if you read the report --

BARR: And IFSA wire tapping?

PEREZ: The wire tapping, right, the surveillance of Carter Page. And one of the things you can see in the inspector general report, you see that they are talking about -- there was some disagreement behind the scenes about renewing it and renewing it. And perhaps there was something wrong there. But what he's talking about in his sort of summation of the investigation, I think, that's not true. I mean, there was a lot of information still coming in. There was information coming in after the election that gave the FBI another more reason to say, okay, let's look at that and figure this out.

Again, this is not something you normally hear from an attorney general, because one of the things you do when you're the FBI and you're standing and watch is if you see things that just don't make sense, you investigate it. Obviously, in hindsight, you can maybe say, okay, there was just some strange people doing some weird things. But at the time, you don't know that.

And I think the attorney general is making some judgments in hindsight that perhaps people at the time watching everything going crazy were not really sure. I mean, we've never dealt with anything like this before.

BROWN: Also over the fact it was happening, the Russians were hacking and there was activity, very obviously, coming from the Russians.

NELSON: And he's glossing over the fact that the things that exonerate the FBI here that they did do what they were supposed to do, as Director Wray has said and has come under tweet fire by the president. I'm going to let you talk because we've all talked.

BASH: No. But on that, really, I mean, one thing he did allude to which was what he and the president and others are grasping on are some pretty damning conclusion, not about, again, the reason, that saying that the investigation was politically motivated, it flatly says it was not, but how it was conducted that they just -- they screwed up in a lot of places and didn't follow protocol.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, some of the results of this report are not flattering for the FBI. It does not look good. There were mistakes clearly made.


There were misjudgments. There were things that you could even say were nefarious that they found and rooted out in some cases.