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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Is Interviewed On Letter He Wrote Regarding Potential Witnesses For Senate Impeachment Trial; Senator Schumer Wants Mulvaney, Bolton To Testify In Senate Trial. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired December 16, 2019 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: 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.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So these four individuals are individuals who did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry. Their testimony would be new. You mentioned you're going to send this letter to all Republicans. You can do almost anything you want in a Senate impeachment trial if you can get 51 votes. That means you would need four Republican votes.
BERMAN: What kind of discussions have you had with any Republican members?
SCHUMER: There's been lots of discussions. And look, a lot of our Republican members are troubled by what the president did.
BERMAN: Like who?
SCHUMER: I'm not going to get into any names. But some of them have said we need to see more facts. No one has given a single -- let me make two points here. Of the facts the House has presented, not one has been rebutted.
There have been a lot of wild goose chases and conspiracy theories that some of our Republican friends, not too many, have talked about, but not one of these facts has been rebutted, nor has there been a single good reason why these folks can't testify. They say the chief of staff shouldn't testify. Chiefs of staff testify before Congress all the time. There's no executive privilege.
BERMAN: In your letter to Mitch McConnell you say, and I quote, "We would, of course, be open to hearing the testimony of additional witnesses having direct knowledge of the administration's decisions regarding the delay in security assistance funds to the government of Ukraine." We would be open to hearings the testimony of additional witnesses.
BERMAN: Does that mean if the Republican said to you, we want to hear from Hunter Biden?
SCHUMER: Look, if no one -- not a single person I've heard, even those who want Hunter Biden have even alleged that he has knowledge of the fact case the House has presented. This shouldn't be for Democrats to bring in their favorite conspiracy theories and Republicans to bring in theirs.
This is an august and solemn proceeding. It's a very important proceeding. These four witnesses have all direct knowledge of the facts. If Mitch McConnell or any other Republican says, witness y or witness z might also have specific knowledge as to what happened, of course I would think they should be able to testify.
BERMAN: But witness y or witness z, in your mind, does not include Hunter Biden?
SCHUMER: They have not shown -- I agree, they have not shown a single bit of evidence that Hunter Biden can answer any of these facts. He's a distraction.
And let me say this, John, the American people want to know of each of us as senators, do we want all the facts to come out in this proceeding, whatever we think of President Trump, or do we want to get -- be engaged in a cover-up. No one, no one has given a reason why these shouldn't testify.
If President Trump is so certain that he did nothing wrong, what is he afraid of? What is he hiding when he says Mulvaney or Bolton or the other two witnesses shouldn't testify? He hasn't given a single answer other than to tweet show trial and all this. That doesn't answer the facts.
BERMAN: If the testimony from these four individuals is so important to you, and if you're confident that Hunter Biden doesn't have anything to hide, why not make that trade? If you want to get these four guys and the only way the Republicans will do it is say Hunter Biden, why not make that deal?
SCHUMER: I hope they won't. I don't think they should. I think they know that the American people would see that as a total political distraction. So I think we should focus on having a fair trial, not dilatory, both sides treated equally, balanced but getting all the facts to come out. Hunter Biden doesn't add to that. He's basically, the people who have advocated Hunter Biden, Lindsey Graham advocates Hunter Biden, I think he says I've made up my mind already. Come on.
BERMAN: Joe Manchin, we heard Senator Manchin suggest that he would be open to the idea of Hunter Biden. But all I'm saying, again, if it's the only way to get these four people, it's the only way to get these four people --
SCHUMER: I'm not going to negotiate here in public, OK. But the bottom line is I haven't seen a single bit, a scintilla of evidence that Hunter Biden would add anything other than show, circus, distraction.
BERMAN: Let me ask you, as a legal matter.
SCHUMER: George Washington, James Madison, the people who set this stuff up, they wouldn't want a Hunter Biden type thing to happen at an impeachment hearing.
BERMAN: And by the way, I'm not suggesting that he has any evidence that would be helpful.
BERMAN: I was saying as a mere political matter, if you wanted to get these four witnesses how far --
SCHUMER: Let's not make this into a circus. Just the facts.
BERMAN: If there were to be a subpoena from a Senate trial and the chief justice of the United States signing off on it, is there any way someone could resist such a subpoena, do you think?
SCHUMER: Look, I hope they wouldn't. I hope the chief justice would understand the need for the facts. But I also hope our Senate Republicans -- let me tell you, there are a good number of Senate Republicans who are troubled by this, that's in private conversations, who say I'd like to see all the facts.
All we need is four. We're not asking them to -- they shouldn't make up their minds on how they're going to vote, but they should be making up their minds on getting the facts out. Again, what is the reason? What is the only reason Mulvaney should not testify? The only one I can imagine is they're afraid of what he might say, President Trump is.
BERMAN: What kind of pressure does your letter and does this request for these four witnesses, what kind of pressure do you think that puts on Republicans?
SCHUMER: Look, I went to Mitch McConnell two weeks ago and I said let's negotiate, let's sit down and try to come up with a fair process. Mitch McConnell did not come and call me and ask to do that. Instead, he first spun out his own theory of what a trial should be, and then he said, well, he's going to do just what president wants. So this letter is an attempt to get it back in the middle, to get it to a fair and balanced trial that's appropriate.
We use the 1999 model in a lot of ways, and we're not trying to delay, we're not trying to bring in extraneous people. Again, we're trying to get to the bottom of what actually happened. The House has made a very strong case. There's sort of a burden on the president to rebut that case. He's done none of that.
BERMAN: Do you have a meeting set up yet with Leader McConnell?
SCHUMER: He hasn't asked yet.
BERMAN: He has said in response to your letter last night, he says it's coming.
SCHUMER: OK, good.
BERMAN: You imagine it's coming, right?
SCHUMER: I would love to sit down and talk to him, and my hope is, either him, and if not him, a number of Republicans will support something along these lines so that we can actually get a fair trial and the facts to come out.
BERMAN: Let me ask you, Mitch McConnell did say that he is in roughly lockstep with the White House on planning the impeachment trial, and a number of Republicans have said they've already made up their minds. Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC) SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX): Senators are not required, like jurors in a criminal trial, to be sequestered, not to talk to anyone, not to coordinate. There's no prohibition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You were shaking your head. Why?
SCHUMER: What Lindsey Graham said speaks not of the fairness of the trial or the facts. It speaks of him. And it demeans him. And it will not go down as a great moment in history for Lindsey Graham.
BERMAN: Haven't you made up your mind on whether you think --
SCHUMER: No, I have not. I am seeking the facts. Again, I don't know what these four witnesses will say. Maybe they'll help President Trump. They're his allies, they're his appointees. I want to get the facts under oath.
BERMAN: You, of course, in 1998 -- granted you were in a unique situation is that you were in the House for the impeachment process. You voted for impeachment, and then you became a senator.
BERMAN: And voted to acquit President Clinton.
SCHUMER: I'm a historical footnote, having been both on the House side, and then I had been elected to the Senate, so I was on the Senate side.
BERMAN: You were three for three. It is different. However, you did make clear you had already made up your mind. You were asked directly, a vote for Chuck Schumer for the Senate is a vote for acquittal, and you said yes. You said yes. So you had predetermined before.
SCHUMER: The facts are much different here. That was about something that President Clinton did, not as president, but as a human being, and a failing as a human being. This is about the president's overreach of power.
I was so touched, still am, by those seven House members, all of whom served in the military or the CIA, all of whom were in districts that Trump won, who said, we don't know what the effect will be electorally. In fact, I heard one of them did a poll and it said that that person might lose. But they said, if we don't do this, this president will overreach even more, and future presidents will overreach more, and our Constitution will be in shambles. I respect this. This is so different than in 1999.
BERMAN: And that is one of the key questions, and we have heard it and I know we will hear it, which is to say, do you think it's OK for a president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival? The answer to that question is fundamental to all this. But again, historically speaking, you also voted against admitting new evidence into the Senate trial in 1999.
SCHUMER: Well, that's because they jammed it.
BERMAN: Look, but you --
SCHUMER: In other words -- no, no, no.
BERMAN: What's different, saying in 1999 I don't want any evidence, new evidence, no witnesses. You said no new witnesses in in 99.
SCHUMER: The Republicans could not negotiate a fair bunch of witnesses with the Democrats, and just there was a 55-45 vote. That was because it wasn't a bipartisan negotiation. It should be now.
BERMAN: Again, you voted no for new evidence then. Now you're asking for new evidence and new witnesses.
SCHUMER: What I'm asking is there be a fair negotiation, focused on the facts between McConnell and I that I would expect Democrats and Republicans to support. I expect some of my Republican colleagues when they see this letter will say that's fair. They don't want to be a part of a cover-up.
BERMAN: Is there a difference in your mind between 99 and now? No witnesses then.
BERMAN: What is it? SCHUMER: There's a difference in the whole basis of the situation, but we should have the facts come out. There was a whole report done. The fact situation, the leading up situation with Ken Starr, totally different than now.
BERMAN: How long, in addition to asking for these four witnesses and documents, you also lay out a timeline here. How long, in your head, do you envision this lasting total?
SCHUMER: The bottom line is I'm not going to set an amount of time. We don't want it dilatory. We want to do it, as I said, fair and speedy. So we should have all the facts come out. It shouldn't be rushed and truncated to avoid facts from coming out, but it shouldn't be prolonged any longer than it has to be.
BERMAN: You have got five Democratic senators running for president. How do you intend to protect them?
SCHUMER: It's what I've said. I've said this is a solemn and serious obligation that the Constitution imposes on us. Their schedules are of much less importance. We should do what's right for the trial, and they should be there.
BERMAN: Even if it means missing a debate in Iowa, say on January 14th?
SCHUMER: Yes. Yes, one isn't close to the other.
BERMAN: Tough cookies.
SCHUMER: One isn't close to the others.
BERMAN: The White House has since responded this morning in real time to your letter, an official -- hang on, an official involved in the matter says, they will review your proposal today.
SCHUMER: Good. That's -- I'm glad it's different than some of the tweets that just say show trial, everything is perfect, et cetera. So let's see. Let's hope.
I expect any fair-minded person -- and by the way, I think the American people, Democrat or Republican, when they hear about this, we have another obligation. People have to believe this government is on the level. We have an obligation to the American people that they believe that this has been done in a fair way, not in a rushed way, not in a circus style way, and not in a dilatory way, but a fair way.
BERMAN: The polls have been interesting. The polls haven't moved. Granted, the most recent poll from FOX News, 50 percent are in favor of impeaching and removing the president. That's a high number. It's an historically high number.
SCHUMER: Can I be honest with you, John? Polls should have nothing to do with this. I know polls are out there and there is reality. This is a solemn responsibility, and I didn't write this letter because of polls. 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.
BERMAN: 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.
BERMAN: What do you see as the chief justice role in this?
SCHUMER: The chief justice has presided in a very -- I think Rehnquist said, I did nothing, and I did it very well. And I suppose, I don't know this, that the chief justice -- look, you would think in a regular trial if the prosecution, these would be the House managers when they are appointed, asks for witnesses, the judge would give them a benefit of the doubt. In this situation he'll probably, my guess, send it over to the state, and we depend on a number of Republicans to vote with us and help make it fair.
BERMAN: What happens if there is no deal?
SCHUMER: Let's hope there is. This letter is an attempt to create a fair deal, not simply I'm going to do what White House wants or I'm going to do just what I want, which is what Mitch McConnell has been doing up until now.
BERMAN: And do you think there are still minds to be changed in America?
BERMAN: And in the US Senate?
SCHUMER: Yes, particularly on what a trial is like. I think the American people have -- when you ask them, do you think that these witnesses should testify, factual witnesses, will say they should, and they will think, if the president is resisting, they're going to say to themselves, lots of them, not just Democrats, what is the president hiding?
BERMAN: I asked you before, what happens if Mick Mulvaney resists, or John Bolton was not subpoenaed, did not receive a subpoena, although indicated he would fight it in the impeachment inquiry. What if he says I would resist it here? Could that lead to a delay? Are you willing to wait in this case?
SCHUMER: Let's not presume. Let us hope fairness will prevail.
BERMAN: Are you convinced Mitch McConnell --
SCHUMER: I expect it to. The Constitution demands it.
BERMAN: One other historical note here. Did you have an issue with Mitch McConnell saying he was coordinating the trial with the White House?
SCHUMER: For him to talk to the president is one thing. For him to say I'm going to do just what the president wants is totally out of line.
BERMAN: But just those discussions, because Tom Daschle told us in 1998 he had no personal discussions with the president, that's because they were fighting at the time, there were some personal issues there, but his staff was in constant contact with the White House.
SCHUMER: As I said, discussion in this kind of situation is not out of the question at all. Saying you're going to do just what the president wants is totally out of line, and Mitch McConnell has received a lot of justified criticism for that.
BERMAN: Senator Chuck Schumer, we do appreciate you being with us this morning. Please keep us posted as you enter these negotiations in the next few weeks and months. Historic.
SCHUMER: Thank you. I will keep you posted.
BERMAN: Appreciate it, senator.
So we have a lot to discuss about everything we just learned. Stay with us.
HILL: We just heard from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who says he wants a Senate impeachment trial with witness testimony in contrast, of course to the shorter trial Senate Republicans favor.
Joining us now to discuss, CNN Political Commentator, Joe Lockhart who was President Clinton's Press Secretary during his impeachment. Also CNN National Security and Legal Analyst, Susan Hennessy, and CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory.
Good to have all of you with us. Great interview, John, as always.
As we're hashing everything we're seeing though, this, of course, comes out of the letter that Chuck Schumer sent to Mitch McConnell outlining the four witnesses he wants to hear from and also saying very clearly, look, if you have other people you think we should hear from who have firsthand knowledge of what we're actually talking about here about withholding aid to Ukraine, let us know.
I'm curious, Joe, based on your history, as you sat there and you listened to Senator Schumer lay out his case, what do you think the chances are that we're going to see witnesses? That we are going to see some sort of real negotiation with Mitch McConnell?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think the real negotiation is not going to go on between Schumer and McConnell. I think, in 1999, there was legitimate negotiations where Tom Daschle
and Trent Lott went off and worked on a deal, and the deal they put together made everyone angry, which meant at the end of the day, it was a pretty good deal.
LOCKHART: I think Chuck Schumer is going to be put pressure on four or five Republican senators who have political vulnerabilities or maybe still have a conscience, you know, whatever, you know, pick your reason therefore, but that's where and I think, you know, what stood out for me was I think he made a powerful case for this, and when it came to the, you know, the issue of Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, he didn't say absolutely not. He said, they have no reason to be there.
So I think you'll see that negotiation playing out. Ultimately, I don't think it will come to fruition, because I don't think President Trump will make the deal. I think he is desperate to keep Mick Mulvaney from opening his mouth on this given what he knows.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And this is the real problem that Joe is hitting on. You know, the President may say he wants a big show of this and wants a big trial. What lawyers understand is that when you start calling witnesses, bad things can happen because there can be multiple stories and they can say things under cross examination, you might not want them to say. That could be true of Hunter Biden. It could be true of Mick Mulvaney.
I think it's interesting, too, that Senator Schumer is focused on the aid piece of this, the holding up of the aid. Why? It's narrow and focused. Two, he knows the Republicans and Democrats agreed on the importance of aid flow into Ukraine for defensive purposes. It's a way to go at an area that's more bipartisan, but I still think there's going to be the inclination on the part of Republicans to do less rather than more.
BERMAN: I thought it was really interesting to hear him identify a political pressure point here, Susan. Up until the last few weeks, everyone has been talking about oh, there are moderate Democrats in the House who feel pressure to vote yes on impeachment.
Schumer has flipped the script overnight with this one letter and identified, I think, a sore spot for three, maybe four Republicans in the Senate: Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Lisa Murkowski. If you don't want to hear from John Bolton, a fact witness who may have firsthand knowledge of what happened here. If you don't want to hear from Mick Mulvaney, you've got to explain why.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think he is smart to be sort of zeroing in on one of the issues with the Republican talking point here, which has been that they've said that this has been a rushed process, there hasn't been sufficient fact finding. It's hard to square that with a desire to not call these witnesses in.
Now, keep in mind, in the context of an impeachment trial, Mitch McConnell does not have the same kind of control over the Senate. He doesn't have the same kind of control over what happens in that trial, and so I do think that Schumer is smart to sort of focus on those few senators who might at least be committed in this notion of wanting to have a sense of legitimacy, wanting to be able to look their voters in the eye and say, look, even if I voted ultimately to acquit, I did care about this. I was concerned by it. I wanted to hear the evidence and see what it said.
You know, that's a pretty different message from what we're hearing from people like Lindsey Graham or Mitch McConnell, who are who are basically saying, we've already made up our minds. We don't think there's any sort of real issue to even -- you know, a real question of even needing to hear witnesses at this point.
Obviously, they feel politically secure enough to sort of make that representation. But obviously, there is that sort of core group of senators.
You keep in mind that similar to what we saw in the Kavanaugh, you know, confirmation hearings, the questions came up and then senators like Jeff Flake, were able to essentially use their concerns in order to force the hand of their colleagues to at least investigate issues further.
BERMAN: Joe, I'm very fascinated by the fact that you did not hear no, never on Hunter Biden. And just to be clear, I'm going to get beat up on a liberal Twitter for this. I'm not suggesting that Hunter Biden has any facts here pertaining to this case. It's a political issue here.
But what I was trying to get to is, if Democrats want these four witnesses and think that they may make the case that the President withheld aid. They have direct knowledge of it, how far would they be willing to go? What might they be willing to give? And you didn't hear a no?
LOCKHART: I didn't hear a no. And let me go back. In 1999, there were real institutionalists in the Senate who put the aura of the Senate and the history of the Senate above all else. Tom Daschle had to deal with Robert Byrd every day. And Robert Byrd cared a whole lot more about the Senate that he did about Bill Clinton. Trust me on that.
That doesn't exist now. So what now? What we're going to have is publicly negotiated political deals and I think the Democrats might show some willingness to bring in extraneous people to try to force the President's hand.
LOCKHART: Again, it's not McConnell's hand. And again, I think at the end of the day, this collapses under the President's unwillingness to -- but if you're playing a political game here, and I don't mean game as in, something that's not important, then you play this out and this could have an impact on the public. If the public sees the Democrats going to great lengths and, you know,
putting this out there and the President is still saying, you know, doing Lucy and the football then that could have an impact.
The other thing I'd say is, you know, there's a lot of different equities in the Senate right now. And not all of them are Joe Biden's on the Democratic side. And I think, you know, again, it's not going to happen, but Joe Biden and Hunter Biden telling the story of their lives on the Senate floor, and what everything they've gone through and what they've been able to do with their lives and what that family has been able to do with their lives will create quite a contrast with Rudy Giuliani and, you know, Lev Parnes and all of these crazy characters that are running around running, you know, an alternative foreign policy.
GREGORY: John, I think we also have to call Senator Schumer out for his disingenuousness, and you brought this out in questioning about impeachment back in 1998.
You asked him, wait a minute, you weren't for new evidence back then, you are for now. New witnesses, then you said no. Now, you say yes. He said, oh, well, that's different because that was basically an illegitimate impeachment. That's what he said.
That kind of had to do with his behavior versus today, he saying it has to do with the President's behavior.
LOCKHART: Can I just jump in? There is a difference there, which is in 1998, everyone who was a fact witness sat in a grand jury and testified under oath with the Starr investigation. There were no new witnesses. There were no new facts.
GREGORY: That's correct.
LOCKHART: We haven't heard from most of the people who have firsthand information.
GREGORY: That's fair. That's fair, Joe, but I think what he is arguing here is, I didn't hear him -- well, he said that was different in terms of the Starr report coming up, but here, he is saying that back then, it was fundamentally different. He is really casting aspersions on the legitimacy of impeachment back then as comparing it to now.
And the truth is, these are political arguments, Republicans have a different vision of what it was in 1998. This is the issue today.
LOCKHART: I just don't think he is -- yes, I don't -- I just don't think he used his strongest argument there.
BERMAN: Susan, we want to give you the last word here, a closing thought in what we've seen today.
HENNESSEY: No, like, I think the key testimony of individuals like Mick Mulvaney, somebody who was actually in the room and understands what happened with regards to this aid, you know, the American people still have real questions about the extent of the abuse of power, the possibility of the President of the United States committed a crime.
Remember, Mick Mulvaney has already given that initial press conference. He has created the perception that this was about political maneuvering, withholding this aid, and so it is incumbent upon the White House to produce them at this point to answer those very, very serious questions.
BERMAN: David, Susan Joe, thank you all very much.
HILL: Staffers quitting on a Democratic congressman because of the big switch he is expected to announce. That's next.