Return to Transcripts main page


Historic Week, Trump Poised To Become Third President Impeached; Staff Quits After New Jersey Democrat Signals He's Switching Parties; Obama Says Women Indisputably Better At Leading. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 13:00   ET




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

Underway right now, a historic week. The stage is set for President Trump to become only the third American president to be impeached by the House. And it comes as the Senate Democratic leader announces what amounts to his party's opening bid in negotiations with Republicans over what the Senate impeachment trial should look like.

Plus, as one House Democrat in a Trump-won district faces constituents over her decision to vote for impeachment, another is a no and is set to switch parties.

And former President Obama reportedly says women are better leaders than men and takes a shot at those who refuse to give up power.

We start with the countdown to what will be a day for the history books in the House of Representatives this week. The impeachment of President Donald Trump expected to come on Wednesday. The House Judiciary Committee, which voted last week to send the articles to the full House, issued a 600-plus page report laying out the case. It says in part, President Trump's abuse of power encompass both the constitutional offense of bribery and multiple federal crimes. He has betrayed the national interest, the people of this nation and should not be permitted to be above the law.

I want to get right to Capitol Hill where our Manu Raju is and always will be from early morning to late at night. Manu, you've been working the halls. What are you hearing at this hour?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats are very confident that they're going to have the votes on Wednesday to impeach the president, that historic vote, as you mentioned, the third time in history that this would occur.

Right now, the Democratic leadership, they're not planning on whipping this vote. They don't believe they actually need to because they do believe those 31 House Democrats, people who serve in districts that President Trump carried in 2016, by and large, most of them will vote ultimately to impeach the president and likely on both counts, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

And in a key sign this morning, Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat, a freshman who initially opposed moving forward on the impeachment inquiry but then got behind it in the aftermath of the Ukraine revelations announced her support this morning, saying that she would vote on both counts of both articles of impeachment that are expected to come on Wednesday.

Now, when she went to a town hall in her district this morning, she got reception from both sides, pushback, applause, a sign of how divided her district is.


REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): I hope you believe me when I tell you that I made this decision out of principle and out of duty to protect the amendment of the Constitution. I feel it in my bones and I will stick to that regardless of what it does to me politically, because this is bigger in politics.


RAJU: Now, expect some more Democrats to make a similar position known, ones who serve in those swing districts. But there are at least two right now, Democrats who are expected to vote against the articles of impeachment, including Jeff Van Drew, the freshman Democrat who told people, colleagues over the weekend that he planned to switch parties, become a Republican at the urging also of the president.

Van Drew, of course, is basing his own political problems in his district. It raises questions of whether he can even win as a Democrat, which is one reason why we expect him to announce within days that he will switch to be a Republican.

But nevertheless, we don't really expect more than just a handful of Democrats to vote against the articles of impeachment and we don't really expect any Republicans to vote for the articles impeachment other than the former Republican, turned independent, Justin Amash. So, largely, this vote on Wednesday, a historic one, will be a partisan one as well. Dana?

BASH: Manu, thank you so much, as always.

And if the House does impeach the president, as it is expected to do, as Manu just laid out, the process moves quickly to the Senate floor trial, and the wrangling there is already well underway.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's coordinating with the House on the process for the Senate trial and added that there is, quote, no chance the president is going to be removed from office. And now, the Senate Democratic leader is weighing in and Chuck Schumer sent a letter to McConnell asking for four specific witnesses.


REP. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We don't any fishing expeditions. We're not trying to be dilatory. We're trying to have the kind of justice America is known for, which is swift but fair justice.

I wrote this letter because Mitch McConnell seemed to be going off in his own direction and there was no semblance of even discussing a fair, balanced trial where the facts come out.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: You want a deal though with McConnell. You don't want this to get to an impeachment trial with no deal, right?

SCHUMER: What I want above all is a fair trial. I hope Mitch McConnell -- I expect Mitch McConnell will help us create that. If he doesn't, we'll have to see where to go from there.


BASH: The White House responded to Schumer's letter saying they're going to review it rather today.

Our CNN's Sara Murray is here now. Sara, those four witnesses that Chuck Schumer was talking about, tell us about it.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, they could all hold key pieces to this puzzle of what exactly happened when it came to the president's demands from Ukraine. You know, there is Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, who, of course, has refused to testify but admitted in that press briefing he had at the White House that Trump wanted to hold up aid to Ukraine in part to get those those investigations that he was demanding. Of course, Mulvaney later walked that back and insisted he never said it.

Another person who has resisted testifying who Schumer wants to hear from is John Bolton. He was the former national security adviser to President Trump and, of course, would have been privy to a number of these conversations about how the president wanted to deal with Ukraine and why they were holding up this money and this White House meeting. Again, he's refused to testify.

Next up is Robert Blair. He is a close adviser to Mick Mulvaney. He was with him at OMB. He came over with him to the White House and he was involved in these discussions about holding up the money and was communicating with the Office of Management and Budget.

And the last person on this list is Michael Duffey, someone else who has refused to testify at least in the House proceedings. He is a current OMB official, and he was in an odd position because he was a political appointee who helped hold back this money for Ukraine. Normally, that's a job reserved for career staffers, again, someone we have not heard from.

And none of these folks are going to show up willingly at the Democrats' request. They are all hiding behind this White House demand that they not show up and testify, so we'll see if that's any different when it gets to the Senate, Dana.

BASH: Yes, hard to imagine it will be. Sara, thank you so much for laying that out.

And joining me from Capitol Hill is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Senator, thank you so much for joining me.

I want to get to the quote that you gave last week. You said what the president did is, quote, an attack on our democracy, and you also said, quote, that you have to hold the president accountable for this kind of misconduct. It sounds like you've made up your mind already on impeachment. Have you?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, Dana, it's good to be with you.

Here's where I stand. I think the House has forward a factual case on impeachment, that the president withheld these important military funds and other office -- promises of office visits in order to extract political concessions and political favor from the head of Ukraine. I think that's been established.

However, and I want to add this very important caveat, I am open to hearing new information, new facts, testimony from witnesses, look at documents. And if there's other information out there that would exonerate the president, then, obviously, I would take that into account before rendering any kind of final decision in this matter.

BASH: Okay. So on that notion of new information, you heard Senator Schumer, you read his letter last night. He's talking about four witnesses that were not heard from in the House. Obviously, what he is doing is opening the conversation for negotiations with Republicans on witnesses. How do you expect or hope this plays out when it comes to what witnesses, if any, you will hear from as a juror in the Senate trial?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Dana, we call this a trial, and I think most Americans understand that in our system of real trials, people get to call witnesses, fact witnesses on the subject matter that's relevant, and get documents on relevant subject matter. So if you're going to have a fair trial, you shouldn't be closing the door on relevant evidence.

And Mick Mulvaney has a lot of relevant evidence. You just reported that he made that public statement saying that they were withholding aid in order to extract these political favors. John Bolton is said to have called this whole thing a drug deal. So these are very relevant witnesses.

And what is very, very troubling is to have people like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham say that they don't want to look at the evidence, that they've already made up their mind irrespective of what this new evidence might show. Even though Senator Graham, for example, said a while back that if there was really a quid pro quo that that would be a really bad thing. And now they don't want any evidence. BASH: So, Senator, you just mentioned two witnesses, potential witnesses. You mentioned Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff, and John Bolton, his former national security adviser. Is it fair to say, let's just game this out, that if those two were part of a negotiation that Republicans, you know, okayed, is it fair to say that Republicans should get witnesses that they might want, like Hunter Biden?


VAN HOLLEN: So, Dana, I go back to the metaphor of this is a trial. I mean, it is called a trial. And in a normal trial, and I used -- I've been in trials, I've been an attorney in trials, that would be the kind of question for a judge.

And I think in this circumstance that would be more likely to be dismissed by a judge because it's totally irrelevant to the president's conduct. Here, the impeachable conduct is the president's effort to get this foreign government to interfere in an American election. And there is no factual showing that, you know, what Hunter Biden did or what Vice President Biden did is relevant at all to that.

So, I would say, look, we have a chief justice that will be presiding. It's an open question as to how active and engaged the chief justice will be on ruling on some of these issues, or whether the chief justice will just hand the decision over to the majority leader.

BASH: Well, you mentioned the chief justice who will be the judge in this so-called trial, but as you well know, this is not the kind of trial that you see on Law & Order. I mean, this is a very different ball of wax here and it is a political one. So it could be that there could be a deal, a decision made by the Senate to, you know, decide on which witnesses going in. It's not unheard of that that would be done as part of sort of the parameters of the trial.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's exactly right, Dana. But, again, I think the overall approach should be one of what does a fair trial look like on the charges that have been made here? And that's where it's undeniable that people like Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton are fact witnesses at the center of this case. And so we should stop calling it a trial --

BASH: Do you see a world in which Hunter Biden comes?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think there is going to be a world on which Hunter Biden comes. But as you mentioned, ultimately, everything is up to a majority vote. But I think you're going to find lots of Republican senators, at least Republican senators, who recognize that that whole issue is a red herring, that it's a distraction, and that it will be perceived by the majority of the American public the way a normal judge would probably perceive it, to be outside of bounds and unfair, whereas these other witnesses are clearly within the facts of the case.

BASH: So while I have you on, I've covered you for a long time and I want you to put your political hat on, because I remember it wasn't that long ago when you were in charge in the House of getting House Democrats elected. At that time your job was to keep the House majority, and you did that during that time.

So look at what's happening there now. Just, for example, you heard Manu report about Elissa Slotkin. She turned her district in Michigan from red to blue, she's voting yes on both articles of impeachment, she got an earful, both pro and con, at a town hall this morning. Does this complicate the Democrats' goal of keeping the majority in the House in 2020?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think so because I don't think anybody can really read all the political science here to figure out how this shakes out. Which is why -- Speaker Pelosi has been clear that this is not a political vote, it's a vote of conscience. And this is one of those moments, Dana, that every member of the House really needs to decide what they think is important to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Which is why she just had that town hall meeting and explained her position, and she'll let the political chips fall where they may.

But I think at the end of the day, even for those swing voters who may disagree with a particular decision, I think they will respect a member of Congress who comes out and clearly states their position and explains why.

BASH: Senator Chris Van Hollen, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

VAN HOLLEN: It's great to be here. Thanks.

BASH: And a group of aides to a House Democrat quit after he is making moves to switch parties over impeachment. Up next, we'll talk about the real reason why it looks like he's becoming a Republican.

Plus, former President Barack Obama criticizes older people for staying in power too long. Hear what he says about women in power.

And the Navy is investigating gestures made in the crowd at the Army- Navy game this weekend and whether they were white power signs.



BASH: In exodus, a staff is underway in the office of a key freshman congressman. Six aides to Representative Jeff Van Drew say they signed up to work for him as a Democrat, and they don't want to stay now that he's poised to switch to the Republican Party.


The New Jersey congressman opposes impeaching President Trump, and has from the start, and he's struggling with Democratic voters back home.

With me now is the congressman's home state governor, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and he is a Democrat serving in his first term. Governor, thank you so much for joining me.

First, you released a scathing statement that I read last night, and here's what it said in part so our viewers see it. You said, betraying our values by siding with Donald Trump is the final straw and made it impossible for him to continue being supported by our party as grassroots activists, local party leaders in his district and I have made this clear in recent weeks.

So I just want to put this in plain language. You're saying it's not so much that Congressman Van Drew wants to be a Republican right now. He is getting pushed out of your party, the Democratic Party, because he is not voting the way you want him to vote.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): First of all, it's good to be on with you, Dana. He's doing this. The party is not doing it, he's doing it. He's putting politics over the Constitution, he's putting cuteness over courage and he's cutting and running. He apparently saw some poll numbers he didn't like. He's on the wrong side of impeachment. I completely support and, overwhelmingly, Democrats in New Jersey support the speaker's approach. He has no choice.

I'm a former U.S. ambassador. This behavior is well out of line by the president and his team. It's patently obvious to overwhelmingly all the Democrats in the state want this except for him. He's also making his decision based on a poll and/or one issue. And to be a proud Democrat, it takes a whole lot of building blocks. It's education, it's healthcare, it's women's health, it's the environment, it's gun safety. And I think it's a time to be a proud Democrat stand up for our values and what we believe in, and he's chosen not to.

BASH: So you're saying he has chosen not to, but what I'm getting at it it's not as though he woke up and said, you know what, I kind of think I'm really a Republican. It's that, as you mentioned, he had a poll. He has or had a Democratic primary opponent and could have lost his seat if he didn't switch to the GOP. Is that fair?

MURPHY: Yes. I don't know what's in his head, but I think it's very fair. As I said, he's put politics over the Constitution and over his responsibility, and I think it's pathetic. But we're going to move on. We're going to turn the page and a Democrat is going to win that seat in 2020.

BASH: How are you so sure? I mean, President Trump won in that district. You know very well New Jersey is a blue state but not that district. The president won by four-and-a-half percentage points.

MURPHY: I think you speak to our values and you're true to yourself. I think whenever Democrats get cute and they try to get into another lane, they find that others are already in that lane, and those others are called Republicans. Let's stand up for who we are, what we believe in.

Again, it's kitchen table stuff. It's education, it's healthcare, it's job security, it's the environment, it's gun safety, it's women's health, the stuff that adds up to being a Democrat, whether it's in Jew Jersey in any district or around the country. And I think it's time to be proud of that and to stand up and be courageous and talk to that and ask for support based on those core values.

I think when you try to get cute, you try to get into somebody else's lane, you get run over and that's what's happened to him.

BASH: So one last question. He is not the only one who was sort of grappling with this or is in your state. There is another Congresswoman, Mikie Sherrill. She turned a red district blue. She's in a different part of your state. Do you think if she votes yes on these articles of impeachment, she could be in trouble politically in 2020?

MURPHY: Mikie is extraordinary. There were a number of first-time winners last year, in addition to Mikie, Andy Kim, Tom Malinoswki. Each of them are extraordinary. They are good examples of the positive side of this. They are courageous. They are standing up and making a decision based on the facts and defense of the Constitution. I think they'll be rewarded for that.

BASH: Governor Phil Murphy of the great state of New Jersey, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And up ahead, urgent talks are underway on the fate of that trade deal struck between Democrats and the president after an 11th hour snag. Hear why.

Plus, he doesn't speak out very often, but former President Barack Obama diagnoses what he thinks is wrong about people in power roles. Stand by.



BASH: Former President Barack Obama is giving some intriguing insights into his thoughts on leadership. At a recent event in Singapore, he reportedly said that he believes women are indisputably better leaders than men. That's according to the BBC and Singapore Straits Times.

Now, President Obama said he was confident that if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see improvement across the board.


Let's bring in one of my favorite women, CNN's Abby Phillip, who is joining me now.