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Impeachment Articles Accuse Trump of Abuse of Power, Obstruction; Trump Heading to Rally After Impeachment Articles Unveiled; Trump Meets with Russian Foreign Minister in Oval Office; Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) Interviewed About Donald Trump, Impeachment Articles, Democrats, and Russia; Some Vulnerable Dems Want Censure Instead of Impeachment; Barr Disputes Key Finding in I.G. Report; White House: Trump Warned Russian Foreign Minister Against U.S. Election Interference; Bombshell Report Exposes Lies and Failed Promises about Afghan War. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 10, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The committee will begin voting at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday. And follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @jaketapper. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Articles of impeachment. House Democrats unveiled two charges against President Trump setting the stage for his impeachment and Senate trial. Tonight we're learning new details of how and when it will all play out.

Trump versus the FBI. The President lashes out at the bureau and its director in the wake of a Justice Department watch dog report while the attorney general doubles down on his efforts to discredit his own inspector general's findings.

Oval Office meeting. President Trump huddles in the White House with the Russia's foreign minister even as he faces impeachment over his dealings with Ukrain, a country Russia invaded and continues to battle.

And handing Trump a victory? Amid the impeachment drama, Democrats strike a deal with President Trump on his sweeping new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. As they tried to remove him from office, did Democrats just give the President a political win?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in "The Situation Room."

We're following breaking news. For only the fourth time in American history the House of Representatives has drafted articles of impeachment against the President of the United States. They accuse Donald Trump of abusing the power of his office by trying to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and obstructing Congress in its efforts to investigate the matter.

And there is new information just coming in about the impeachment timeline. The Judiciary Committee now says it will begin formal consideration of the articles tomorrow evening. We'll talk about the breaking news and more with Congressman Eliot Engel. He's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and analyst are also standing by.

First, let's go straight to the Capitol, our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us. And Manu, a truly historic day up on Capitol Hill that sets the stage for the President's impeachment, so what happens next?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, expect the action to happen pretty quickly in the House. Tomorrow formal impeachment proceedings to take up those articles of impeachment will begin in the House Judiciary Committee in the evening. The 41 members of the committee will each deliver opening statements detailing why they are for or against the impeachment. Expect those arguments to come down along party lines.

And then Thursday, that's when the votes will occur in that committee. There will be amendments, a lot of Republican amendments try to change, undercut the articles of impeachment. Democrats will beat back virtually all of those amendments. We'll see how many Democrats if they offer any at all. And then that's when the committee will vote to ultimately approve those articles of impeachment.

And once the committee approves it, it will send it to the full House to move forward. And then almost certainly next week the Democrats will have the votes to impeach the President on two counts, one, abuse of power, the other, obstruction of Congress all related to the President's handling of relations with Ukraine and allegations that he leveraged his office in order to push that country to open up investigations that could help him politically.

Now, earlier today when Democrats made that historic announcement, both the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee made the case to voters that they had no choice but to move forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: 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.

We must be clear, no one, not even the President, is above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Some would argue, why don't you just wait. Why don't you just wait until you get these witnesses the White House refuses to produce? Why don't you just wait until you get the documents that the White House refuses to turn over?

Why don't you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now behind the scenes there's been a debate for several days about whether or not to add a third article of impeachment on obstruction of justice detailing the allegations over in the Mueller report that show the President sought to undercut that investigation.

Now, number of Democrats did advocate for that. I'm told from sources that Nadler himself advocated for an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice. Others did as well, but there were concerns by going that route, they could lose Democratic support, particularly from freshman members who are concerned about going that route and wanted to keep it focused instead on the Ukraine matter. And ultimately Nancy Pelosi sided with the decision of focusing on those two articles of impeachment, which is why they are moving forward on those and the votes will, of course, come in the coming days here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu I understand you're learning there -- are there some disagreement about how long the Senate trial should go? What's the latest?

[17:05:04]

RAJU: Yes, behind the scenes there's been discussions about exactly how long that trial should take place. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, wants that to happen quickly. He wants it to be done, get it off of his plate. He said that after opening arguments would be made starting in January, that's when they would move potentially to dismiss the overall charges and that requires a simple majority of 51 senators to vote to dismiss those charges.

But we're also hearing from our White House team, our colleagues in the White House team are hearing from their sources that President Trump wants actually a longer trial. He wants actually something that would allow him to bring in witnesses, allow Republicans and Democrats to hear from various witnesses that he believes would exonerate him. But that is something that a number of Republicans are eager to avoid because they are concerned it could turn into a side show of sorts, a distraction. It could drag things out. Undercut what the Senate agenda is -- the Republicans want to focus on.

And ultimately too, Wolf, is a question of whether or not there are enough senators that would agree to call some of those witnesses from coming forward. They will need 51 senators to agree on virtually anything. And at least one Republican senator told me today, Mitt Romney, he told me that he is, "an open mind" when I asked if he would vote to convict the President. So, there are some senators who want to hear the testimony, hear the evidence before they do anything else. So that's something they'll have to sort out behind the scenes before they decide how to proceed on the Senate trial, wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

President Trump certainly has had plenty to say about the articles of impeachment. We expect to hear more from him later tonight. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us.

Jim, the White House clearly knew all of this was coming.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. President Trump is on his way to a rally in Pennsylvania where the White House says he is likely to respond to the articles of impeachment announced by House Democrats. But the President had one other notable item on his agenda and perhaps the irony of all ironies, he had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister here at White House. The Russian Foreign Minister visited the White House the same day Mr. Trump took another step toward impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no pressure whatsoever.

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the President now facing two articles of impeachment in the House, aides to Mr. Trump say he is clear-eyed about what lies ahead. A vote to impeach almost certain in the House and a trial to come in the Senate where the White House could call their own witnesses from the Biden family to the whistleblower.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's not relieved but we did expect this. We want it to be fair. If this in fact moves to the Senate as we think it will, it needs to be fair, it needs to be thorough.

ACOSTA: The President started today lashing out from his social media bunker tweeting, "To impeach a President who has proven through results, including the strongest economy in our country's history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done nothing wrong, is sheer political madness."

As for a Senate trial, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who's been barred from testifying in the House says it's up to the President to decide who will participate.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We'll do whatever the President wants us to do. It sort of comes down to it. So if the Senate decides to take live witness and the President directs us to do it, we will. If he directs us not to, we won't.

ACOSTA: That dodging answer is why House Democrats decided to move forward with articles of impeachment without the testimony of potential blockbuster witnesses from the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

SCHIFF: The argument, why don't you just wait amounts to this. Why don't you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheese just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? That is what that argument amounts to.

ACOSTA: The White House strategy had been to paint Democrats as do- nothing lawmakers. That's much tougher now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is giving the green light to the administration's new USMCA trade deal.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.

ACOSTA: Just as House Democrats were accusing the President of pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Joe Biden, the ghost of 2016 arrived at the White House. And the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who didn't answer when asked if the Russians will interfere in 2020?

Will Russia stay out of the 2020 election, sir?

SERGY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I will say, "Good afternoon, Mr. President."

ACOSTA: At a press conference with Pompeo, Lavrov flatly denied Moscow meddled in 2016 which is false.

LAVROV (through translator): We've highlighted once again that all speculation about our alleged interference in domestic processes in the U.S. are baseless. There are no facts that would support that.

ACOSTA: Pompeo politely warned Lavrov not to try it.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic process as we will take action in response.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now that the impeachment process is likely to move forward in the Senate, lawmakers have a log jam in the making. Senate Republicans are expected to conduct a trial of the President after the New Year and before moving to passing the USMCA trade deal which means one of the President's top domestic priorities will have to wait for weeks as his administration hangs in the balance.

[17:10:13]

And, wolf, as for the President's meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the White House just put out a read-out, an official read out of that meeting just a short while ago. And just the last few minutes the White House says the President did warn the Russian Foreign Minister not to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. Of course, Wolf, the President's critics will say, you should have done that four years ago and it is now too little, too late. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you. Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, he's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thanks so much, Congressman, for joining us.

As you know this is truly a very historic day here in the United States. How did you decide on the two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: Well, it was basically a consensus. The feeling was that those were the two strongest items and add to something that could be easily explained. And so the decision was made to go with two. And could have been three or any amount, but everyone felt that this was the best way to move forward.

BLITZER: Privately we're told the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler was actually advocating for including a third article, obstruction of justice, part of the -- making that three articles of impeachment reflecting the findings of the Mueller report. You said today that Democrats are better off not including obstruction of justice. Just tell us why.

ENGEL: Well, I think there is some concern about the clarity of it. Whereas as the other two articles that we went with were certainly crystal clear and easy to understand. And then it was just a better way to prepare and a better way to move forward on this.

BLITZER: The Judiciary Committee, they just announced, will begin considering these articles, these two articles tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. What do you expecting from that process?

ENGEL: Well, of course, it's a lengthy process. It's probably going to go way into the night. But that's the process. And that will finish by Thursday we're told and we'll come back next week and that's when we'll vote on the articles of impeachment.

BLITZER: So you think the full House of Representatives will have a vote by the end of next week at some point?

ENGEL: I would imagine so, yes.

BLITZER: You've kept these two articles narrowly focused, mostly -- almost completely on Ukraine, but do you still expect some moderate Democrats to break and vote against these two articles of impeachment?

ENGEL: I don't know. I would hope we would have some middle of the road Republicans who would break in and vote for the articles of impeachment. But what was brought up and what's in these articles is really a horror show and it's not something that of us should just take for granted or look the other way or think it's equal to everything else we're doing. So I wish there would be some help from the other side because we're not talking about political parties, we're talking about the future of our republic. And I think that's what important to all of us.

BLITZER: A small group of vulnerable moderate Democrats are pushing for censure instead of impeachment. Does that reflect the real fear of losing their seats as a result of this?

ENGEL: Well, look, every person has to decide for his or herself, you know, what they're going to do. I generally think that if you feel a certain way, you make that vote and you explain it to your constituents. And I think that every other person who's elected can do the same thing. So, each one has their own decision to make and their own set of criteria. And, you know, again, I hope that everybody searches their soul.

Wolf, this isn't a happy time. It's not a happy time for our country. It's a very, very serious time. And that's why we thought that to just let this go -- happen and not do what we did would be detrimental to our form of government, detrimental to our country and we think we had to act the way we did.

BLITZER: The White House has just released a read-out of the President's meeting in the Oval Office earlier today with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying the President warned him about election interference here in the United States. Are you encouraged, Mr. Chairman, by that?

ENGEL: Well, I don't know how encouraged I am. I'm kind of chuckling a little bit because we all know the Russians were involved in the last presidential election and we know that President Trump seems to like Mr. Putin and kind of believes what the Russians say. I, on the other hand, don't believe anything that the Russians tell us.

I think they have showed time and time again that they -- the only trust you can get from them is that they want to try to sabotage anything that the United States does. So, you know, the old Shakespeare line, we think "The lady doth protest too much." I think the Russians and the Russian Foreign Minister doth protest too much.

[17:15:10]

BLITZER: Yes. And as the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded by the Russian interference in 2016, one of their goals was to sow political descent here in the United States. If that was one of their goals, clearly their ambition was accomplished. Mr. Chairman, Eliot Engel of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

ENGEL: Thank you, Wolf. Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump lashes out at his hand-picked FBI director. Is Christopher Wray on thin ice right now because he accepted the findings of a watch dog report that undercuts the President's conspiracy claims about the Russia investigation?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:30]

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following this hour. New criticism of the FBI by the Attorney General William Barr, he's contradict his own inspector general's report which says the bureau acted properly when it opened its Russia investigation. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

So, Brian, there's also new reaction from the FBI director to this report.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We just learned that FBI Director Christopher Wray recorded an internal video message to the FBI rank and file about that Justice Department inspector general's report on the Russia probe. Wray, according to an FBI official, reiterated that the bureau did properly open the Russia investigation but he did say they would address some of the mistakes that were made. This comes as Director Wray finds himself the latest target in what has become Donald Trump's ongoing war with the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): President Trump vents his anger at another FBI director. In a Twitter broadside today, the President saying "I don't know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI which is badly broken." A reaction after Wray spoke of how pleased he was that the Justice Department's inspector general found the Russian election interference investigation was properly launched and there was no political bias influencing decisions in the probe.

Wray brushed back on the President's claims that some in the FBI were part of a deep state conspiracy against him.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think that's a kind of label that is a disservice to the 37,000 men and women who work at the FBI, who I think tackle their jobs with professionalism, with rigor, with objectivity and with courage and I think it's an affront to them.

TODD: But Wray's boss, Attorney General William Barr, doubled down on President Trump's criticisms of the FBI's Russia investigation.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: They kept on investigating the President, well, into his administration after the case collapsed.

TODD: Trump had some notorious public battles with FBI directors and other bureau officials. He fired his first FBI Director James Comey after clashing with him over the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: Comey, lies and leaks. He's a liar and he's a leaker.

TODD: Trump then accused Comey's immediate replacement, Andrew McCabe, and top FBI lawyer James Baker of being out to get him. He repeatedly eviscerated former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page who had a relationship with each other. Accusing them of being part of a cabal of Trump haters inside of the bureau after their personal texts critical of Trump were made public.

TRUMP: Lisa Page, who was forced to leave the FBI, and her lover Peter Strzok, who we got their text messages and what they said in those text messages was shocking when you talk about bias.

TODD: In one tweet Trump called Comey, McCabe, Strzok and Page "clowns and losers," wondering around "will the FBI ever recover its once stellar reputation."

A Trump biographer says the President simply doesn't tolerate being challenged by those around him. MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": It doesn't matter if it's a spouse telling the truth about his infidelities or if it's a law enforcement officer trying to do his duty. The right thing to do where Donald Trump is concerned is to serve him. Any other duty is superfluous and he'll be angry at you and really try to destroy you if you cross him.

TODD: Tonight, analysts are concerned that Trump's repeated attacks on FBI directors and their aides have serious security consequences.

CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO THE ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: When the President is denigrating the FBI, he's hurting it as an institution, he's hurting its reputation with the American public and that it harms -- that is bad for its national security in law enforcement mission.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: CNN has reached out to the White House to ask if Trump has or will ask Christopher Wray to resign as FBI director. White House officials told us they believe that's unlikely but they acknowledged Trump could act without warning.

We should point out the Justice Department inspector general's report said there was political support for Trump within the FBI. It says after Trump won the presidency in 2016, one FBI agent messaged another saying it was like watching a super bowl comeback. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get some insights from the former FBI general counsel, CNN legal analyst Jim Baker, I should say the aforementioned Jim Baker as well.

What do you think is motivating the Attorney General of the United States, Bill Barr, to publicly and very forcely contradict the results, the conclusions of the inspector general's report?

[17:25:12]

JIM BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: At one level this is all very confusing and I can't really fathom what the attorney general is up to. On another level, at the end of the day, this is all about power. This is about the President confusing and I can't really fathom what the attorney general is up to. On another level, at the end of the day, this is all about power. This is about the President maintaining his power, maintaining his status in office as President of the United States. So that's what's going on with respect to his claims about the Russia investigation. That's what's going on with what he was trying to do in Ukraine. That is -- as he's trying to stay in power.

And I think his administration wants to make sure that that happens. And so it's reacting to anything that seems to be critical of the narrative that the President and others have created over the past couple of years.

BLITZER: Watch this, how the Attorney General Bill Barr characterizes the FBI's opening of the Russia investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: The basic official version is that we thought the Russians were hacking into the DNC and on July 23rd WikiLeaks dumped DNC e-mails. Then a foreign official comes in and says, you know, back in May this guy said something in a bar to me. It was a suggestion. It's a suggestion. And before they even interviewed that person, they opened the counterintelligence investigation on the whole campaign on the idea that this must reflect pre-knowledge of the hack.

I'm saying that when you actually look at the surrounding circumstances that was a bridge too far. I mean it wasn't reasonable for them to assume that. And the proper response was to talk to the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You were at the time the FBI general counsel, was that how it happened.

BAKER: No, that's not how it happened. What we were worried about was Russia. This whole thing, all this time has been about Russia. It's not been about Donald Trump or the campaign. It was about the FBI obtaining foreign intelligence information to thwart the activities of the Russians to interfere with our elections and to otherwise harm the United States.

The FBI has been focused on Russia for decades. That is what this was about all the way through. And so these claims that we're somehow obsessed with or focused on undermining the President or trying to overthrow him or cause a coup or something like this is all just baloney

BLITZER: Yes, you were there --

BAKER: I was there. I was one of the people involved. And I was one of the people making these decisions.

BLITZER: Right.

BAKER: And I can tell you that we were focused on Russia, we were not focused on what the President was doing or whether his -- or his political fortunes.

BLITZER: Yes, he was in private practice at that time. He wasn't there. You were there.

BAKER: Yes.

BLITZER: The attorney general today repeated his claim that the Trump campaign was spied on by the FBI. When you hear that, what's your reaction?

BAKER: That's just false. I mean, to use those kind of terms as a technical matter given how the attorney general has tried to explain it, I sort of get what he's saying, but it makes no sense and it's denigrating to the efforts that we undertook.

And if that is the case, then Americans are being spied on all of the time by Bill Barr Justice Department and the FBI, it's just -- because the FBI engages in foreign counterintelligence investigations and counter terrorism investigation all of the time using the same technics.

BLITZER: Jim Baker, thanks very much for coming in.

BAKER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And stay with us for more on today's historic breaking news. House democrats unveil two articles of impeachment against the President of the United States.

[17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following major breaking news. House Democrats, today, unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Trump. Let's discuss with our experts.

Ron Brownstein, what does it say that this Ukraine scandal pushed these Democrats to this point?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's easy to forget that after the Mueller testimony, the Democratic leadership had essentially scotched the idea of impeachment.

But I think the Ukrainian behavior was so egregious that they felt they had no choice. That if they did not make a clear statement against this, knowing this President, knowing the way he understands weakness, that he would go further.

To me, the big question is, even if they impeach him, if every Republican in both chambers says this is OK, they will be defending things. I think, in the future, they'd go even further beyond the boundaries.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Look, and to that, and one of the most significant things was not the articles of impeachment that we saw but the one that we didn't see, which was that despite reports that Jerry Nadler and others were actually advocating for the inclusion of an -- of an article of impeachment related to Mueller, the leadership decided not to do this. They wanted this very, very clean, sort of simple narrative.

I do think that's a decision they might end up regretting, in part for the reasons that Ron just mentioned, which is that we have really clear and convincing and in a lot -- and in a lot of cases, undisputed evidence that the President criminally violated the law, criminally obstructed justice.

And so, to the extent that the House decides and has decided not to impeach for this, that's going to have long-term ramifications in terms of the message that they're saying to future presidents about what is acceptable conduct.

BLITZER: Yes, because the two articles are abuse of power, obstruction of Congress.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But it was a -- it was a political decision, in the end. The decision was, I don't want to lose the so-called front-liners.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

BORGER: Those -- what is it, 30 to 40 --

BROWNSTEIN: Thirty-one --

BORGER: Thirty-one?

BROWNSTEIN: Thirty-one Democratic districts that Trump carries.

[17:35:00]

BORGER: That Trump won. Thirty-one members who didn't get elected saying they wanted to impeachment Donald Trump, who didn't want to impeach after Mueller, and were very nervous about this.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right.

BORGER: And I think Nancy Pelosi wants to return after the next election as Speaker of the House. And so, they decided to make it narrow. And, by the way, are you hearing a lot of complaints about that?

SWERDLICK: No.

BLITZER: No.

BORGER: I'm not.

SWERDLICK: Yes, I agree with Gloria. I think these articles -- these two articles were designed, Wolf, for consensus.

The Speaker knows how to count votes. She has -- there are 231 Democrats in the House, she needs -- excuse me, 431 people in the House, she needs 216 votes. As long as she has got those and they can move forward and kick this to the Senate and get it off their plate, that is the top line that she can get.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HENNESSEY: Listen, I don't see how they can credibly make the case that this is not about politics, this is about a solemn constitutional obligation about putting boundaries on the President, and then make very, very obvious political calculations. I do think that that pretty dramatically undercuts the message that the Speaker has been trying to --

BORGER: But they wanted to win. (CROSSTALK)

SWERDLICK: But, Susan, the one thing I -- I don't think they're saying that the President didn't do other impeachable conduct.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

SWERDLICK: They're not saying that the Mueller report -- they agree with the Attorney General there was nothing wrong done there.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

SWERDLICK: They're just simply saying we are able to move forward as a caucus with these two articles.

BROWNSTEIN: And --

HENNESSEY: The problem is you can't make a neutral statement. By not impeaching him, they are saying --

BORGER: But they want to win. You know, they want to --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.

BORGER: If they impeach --

BROWNSTEIN: And he will be impeached --

BORGER: -- they want to win the votes.

BROWNSTEIN: And he will be impeached, right? I mean, that's the -- the other model was -- you know, and people forget that when Clinton was impeached, the House Judiciary Committee, the Republicans, advanced four articles to the floor, and two were voted down.

SWERDLICK: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: So only two went on to the Senate. So they could've done it that way. They could've tried to satisfy everybody by allowing everyone to vote on the floor on the broader ones, but they made a decision, as David said, to maximize consensus within the party. And the fact is that, at the end of the day, it sure looks like he will become the -- you know, the third president --

BORGER: And I understand --

BROWNSTEIN: -- impeached.

BORGER: I understand your argument. I understand it and there is a part of me that agrees with it, but the other part of me says, you know, wait a minute, A, they had to win; B, they know that Republicans are united. And I don't think they wanted to put articles of impeachment on the floor that either could be voted down or where they wouldn't get a unified or almost completely unified Democratic caucus.

HENNESSEY: Look, on the political considerations, that might be right, but there's no way to credibly way to make the case that that's the appropriate constitutional function for the House to be playing.

BLITZER: That's an important point. Important point.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All of you made important points. We have a lot more we need to discuss. Much more on the breaking historic news right after this.

[17:37:32]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our experts.

You know, Gloria, on top of everything else, the President had time today to invite Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, to the Oval Office. A statement just released by the White House says President Trump warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections.

BORGER: Well, there you are.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right.

BORGER: Better late than never --

BROWNSTEIN: Well --

BORGER: -- wouldn't you say? And we'll see what Mr. Lavrov has to say about his conversation with the President. I mean, it's not -- it's not surprising that the White House would put out this statement --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BORGER: -- saying, you know, the President really gave it to him this time. We'll have to get a full --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: You know, and if they -- if in fact he means -- I mean, there is the deterrent, the act that Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner and Chris Van Hollen and others sponsored in the Senate -- it does have co-sponsors from both parties -- that would impose automatic severe sanctions on Russia if they intervene again in 2020.

Mitch McConnell has refused to allow it to come up to a vote. The sponsors have been trying to get it added to the defense authorization. It doesn't look like it's going to happen. And the view in the Senate is that it's being held because the administration doesn't want it to go forward.

So, in fact, if he does want to send a clear message to Russia, he has a vehicle to do so really right at his fingertips.

BORGER: Yes.

SWERDLICK: Right.

BORGER: Immediately.

HENNESSEY: Look, but the bottom line is we don't know whether or not the President said this because he excluded U.S. press from the room. Once again met with Lavrov, met with a Russian official while not having the transparency --

BORGER: At least there weren't Russian photographers there this time.

HENNESSEY: This time, they weren't actually there. Without having the transparency and credibility and letting the Kremlin essentially shape the narrative or have -- put people in a position in which we aren't exactly sure what was told.

SWERDLICK: Right.

HENNESSEY: Also, keep in mind, this is the second meeting for Lavrov before Zelensky --

SWERDLICK: Yes.

HENNESSEY: -- the President of Ukraine, has even had its -- had his first meeting. So in some ways, this is also the President sort of thumbing his nose on the very day he is being impeached for that offense.

SWERDLICK: Right, and that's the message.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

SWERDLICK: The message is whatever I said or didn't say is toothless because I give multiple meetings to Foreign Minister Lavrov while President Zelensky, A, doesn't get a meeting, and, also, what did -- what is so urgent that the President of the United States needs to meet with the Russian Foreign Minister on the day impeachment articles are coming out?

It is a little reminiscent of the President talking to Zelensky the day after the Mueller testimony.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And this goes back to what we were talking about before, Susan. I know your point about the Democrats, but I think the bigger point here is that the President is a student of weakness. And if every Republican in both chambers says this behavior is OK, I see nothing here to sanction, they can be assured that they are going to get more of it.

And they're going to get behavior that is perhaps more extreme, and they're going to be waking up, at some point down the road -- six months, 12 months, maybe if he is re-elected, 18 months -- defending things that they could not imagine that they would've defended. Simply because he is interpreting what is happening as his belief that they will defend him no matter what he does. SWERDLICK: I agree with you except that I think that's already

happened. We've already crossed the Rubicon on that point.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following, including a truly shocking new investigation by "The Washington Post" exposing years and years of lies and failed promises about the war in Afghanistan.

[17:45:00]

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BLITZER: Also tonight, a bombshell series of investigative reports in "The Washington Post" exposing heartbreaking truths about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which has claimed some 2,400 U.S. lives and cost nearly a trillion dollars.

[17:50:09]

BLITZER: The "Post" says, over three administrations -- George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump -- the U.S. failed to deliver on its promises and officials routinely lied to the American people about the war.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. This is truly, truly a bombshell, so heartbreaking. Tell us more, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, and I know you agree, I think these documents bare reading by every American. The Afghan War is America's longest war. Thousands of Americans have died, a trillion dollars in U.S. taxpayers' money have gone there.

And what we learned from these papers is a campaign across multiple administrations of both parties to mislead the American public on the essential question of whether the U.S. was or even could win the war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): A massive, new trove of confidential documents obtained by "The Washington Post" reveals U.S. officials systematically lied to the American public about the Afghan War virtually since the beginning, 18 years ago. The objective? To conceal widespread fears that America was losing.

"The Post" says it has obtained more than 2,000 pages of documents, some part of a lengthy government report called "Lessons Learned" and that, quote, several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public.

They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul and at the White House to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case. The report includes interviews with more than 600 people with firsthand war experience. It includes memos from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,

who once wrote in April 2002, six months after the war began, I know I'm a bit impatient but the fact that Iran and Russia have plans for Afghanistan and we don't concern me. He ends the note with help, exclamation point.

General Douglas Lute who served as the White House's Afghan War czar for President Bush and Security Adviser to Obama is quoted in the report saying, in 2015, we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan. We didn't know what we were doing.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What we're looking at here is something that calls into question not only our military operations but also is a dishonor to the sacrifices that have been made by the servicemen and women in Afghanistan over these years. This is an inexcusable way to run things.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The revelations are reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Defense Department study of the Vietnam War, which was first made public in 1971 when they were published by "The New York Times."

LEIGHTON: It's very similar to what happened with the Pentagon Papers because I -- again, a strategy is being called into question. The rosy picture that's been painted by our political and military leadership is not the real picture on the ground.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): To date, the U.S. has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, the government has spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion according to an inflation-adjusted estimate cited in "The Post." In the report, one unnamed executive with USAID estimated that 90 percent of what the U.S. spent was overkill.

"The Post" says it obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year quest. In response to the piece, Defense Department Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell said Monday, quote, there has been no intent by DOD to mislead Congress or the public. Most of the individuals interviewed spoke with the benefit of hindsight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: The parallels here to the Vietnam War, to the Pentagon Papers, just alarming.

The military spent years, decades even, rebuilding confidence following the lies exposed by the Pentagon Papers, rebuilding how they taught commanders, taught officials to talk about the war or account for success in the war.

Wolf, it's remarkable to see similar problems happen yet again.

BLITZER: I can only imagine and brace for a similar report about the long U.S. war in Iraq as well.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BLITZER: I suspect there could be some horrifying news as far as that is concerned also. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much to you. Thanks to "The Washington Post" also for breaking this important story.

There's more breaking news we're following here in the SITUATION ROOM. Articles of impeachment against President Trump have been unveiled, and we're just learning that the next key steps in the process will begin tomorrow.

[17:54:55]

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Impeachment charges. President Trump is formally accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, becoming only the fourth leader in this country to face articles of impeachment. Tonight, House Democrats may take the next step even more quickly than expected.

[18:00:05]

Disputing the report. Attorney General William Barr is speaking out, refusing to accept the new --