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House Panel Holds Final Impeachment Hearing Before Vote. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] COLE: -- Real Clear Politics average of polls on impeachment shows the country evenly split, with 46.5 percent of Americans in favor of impeachment and 46.5 percent against. That is hardly what I would call a national consensus in favor of impeaching President Trump. When half of Americans are telling you that what you're doing is wrong, you should listen.

I think this is especially the case given how close we are to the next election. In 11 months the American people are going to vote on the next president of the United States. Why then are we plunging the country into this kind of turmoil and this kind of trauma now when the voters themselves will resolve the matter one way or another less than a year from today?

All it does achieve is make the political polarization and divisions in our country even worse. That makes no sense to me.

Though we may be moving forward with a vote, I certainly do not believe the majority's proven its case or convinced the American people that the weeks of wasted time was worth it.

And personally, I believe the articles themselves are unwarranted. The majority is seeking to remove the president over something that didn't happen, the alleged quid pro quo with the president of Ukraine. Never mind that the foreign aid went to the Ukraine as it was supposed to, and never mind that no investigations were required for the Ukraine to get the aid, and never mind the two participants in the famous conversation, President Trump and President Zelensky, said nothing inappropriate happened.

According to the majority, however, a quid pro quo that never existed is an appropriate basis for removing the president from office.

And yet even though the majority has not proven its case, and even though there's no basis for impeachment, they're still moving forward today. What I cannot discern is a legitimate reason why; why the majority is moving forward when the process is so partisan, why they're moving forward when the American people are not with them, why they are moving forward when they haven't proven their case, and why they're moving forward when there is no basis for impeachment.

Why? Why put the country through all this?

It makes even less sense to me when we consider the realities of the United States Senate. We already know that the votes to convict and remove the president from office simply aren't there. Bluntly put, this is a matter that Congress as a whole cannot resolve on its own, yet the majority is plunging forward regardless of the needless drama or the damage to the institution and to the country knowing full well that at the end of the day the president will remain in office. And for what? Scoring political points with their party's base?

Again, Mr. Chairman, this does not make any sense to me. We didn't need to go this route. We didn't need to push forward on a partisan impeachment process that had only one possible result. But we're here anyway, regardless of the damage it does to the institution and regardless of how much further it divides the country.

As I said at the beginning, Mr. Chairman, this is a sad day for all of us. But it is especially sad for me knowing that this day was inevitable, preordained from the start. No matter what happened, no matter where the investigations led, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was pushing since the day they took over to impeach President Trump.

The facts don't warrant that, Mr. Chairman, and the process is unworthy of the outcome. The president should not be impeached, and I urge all members, both here in the Rules Committee and tomorrow on the House floor, to vote no.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

MCGOVERN: Thank you very much.

And I appreciate your -- your comments. Obviously we have strong disagreements.

And I just -- one technical point I'd like to make. None of us in the House have had an opportunity to vote on impeachment. The resolution that the gentleman refers to -- which some of us opposed tabling it because we thought it should go to committee where it could be appropriately evaluated.

And that's what this process has achieved. The relevant committees have done their work, investigated the claims of wrongdoing by the president, and now the Judiciary Committee has recommended articles of impeachment. So the first time anybody in this House will get an opportunity to vote on impeachment will be tomorrow.

Having said that, I want to welcome both -- both of our witnesses. And, Mr. Raskin, we will begin with you.

RASKIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Good morning, Chairman McGovern, good morning, Ranking Member Cole, good morning to all of our distinguished colleagues on the House Rules Committee and good morning to my friend Mr. Collins.

[11:35:00]

It is my solemn responsibility this morning to present for your consideration House Resolution 755 and the accompanying House Judiciary Committee report concerning the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors committed against the people of the United States.

I'm appearing, as you said, Mr. Chairman, this morning in place of Chairman Nadler, who could not be with us. I am sure I speak for all the members of both the Judiciary Committee and the Rules Committee in sending strength, love and prayers to Chairman Nadler's wife, Joyce, and all of our hopes for a speedy recovery.

The Judiciary Committee, along with the other committees which investigated President Trump's offenses, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Oversight and Reform, bring these articles with a solemn purpose and a heavy heart, but in act of faith with the constitutional oaths of office that we have all sworn.

The investigating committees conducted 100 hours of deposition testimony with 17 sworn witnesses and 30 hours of public testimony with 12 witnesses. The Judiciary Committee is now in procession of overwhelming evidence that the president of the United States has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, violated his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and violated his constitutional duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

We present two articles of impeachment supported by hundreds of pages of detailed evidence and meticulous analysis. The evidence and analysis lead inescapably to the conclusions embodied in these articles of impeachment.

First, President Trump has committed the high crime and misdemeanor of abuse of office.

He abused the awesome powers of the presidency by using his office to corruptly demand that a foreign government interfere in our American presidential election in order to promote his own political campaign in 2020.

He corruptly conditioned the release of $391 million in foreign security assistance that he held back from the Ukrainian government, along with a long-hoped-for White House presidential meeting.

He conditioned those on Ukrainian President Zelensky's agreement to go public with two statements: one statement was announcing a criminal investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading presidential candidate and rival of the president; the other statement was announcing an investigation that would rehabilitate a discredited pro-Russian conspiracy theory, by showing that it was Ukraine and not Putin's Russia that tried to disrupt the last American presidential election in 2016.

This scheme to corrupt an American presidential election subordinated the democratic sovereignty of the people to the private political ambitions of one man, the president himself, it immediately placed the national security interests of the United States of America at risk, and it continues to embroil the nation and our government in conflict.

Second, after this corrupt scheme came to light, and numerous public servants with knowledge of key events surfaced to testify in our committee investigations about the president's actions, President Trump directed the wholesale, categorical and indiscriminate obstruction of this congressional impeachment investigation.

He did so by ordering a blockade of administration witnesses, by trying to muzzle and intimidate witnesses who did come forward, and by refusing to produce even a single subpoenaed document.

In the history of the republic, no president other than this one has ever claimed and exercised the unilateral right and power to thwart and defeat a House presidential impeachment inquiry, yet that would have been the final and unavoidable result of the president's outrageous defiance of Congress had 17 brave witnesses not come forward in the face of the president's threats and testified about the Ukraine shakedown and its scandalous effects on our national security, our democracy and our constitutional system of government.

But make no mistake: While this investigation was saved by the courage and old-fashioned patriotism of witnesses like Ambassador William Taylor, Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill, the president's aggressive and unprecedented resistance to congressional subpoenas for witnesses and documents is blatantly and dangerously unconstitutional.

[11:40:00]

If accepted and normalized now, it will undermine, perhaps for all time, the congressional impeachment power itself, which is the people's last instrument of constitutional self-defense against a sitting president who behaves like a king and tramples the rule of law.

By obstructing an impeachment inquiry with impunity, the president will have the power to actively destroy the people's final check on his own corrupt misconduct and abuse of power. The framers insisted that we have impeachment in the Constitution precisely to protect ourselves from a president becoming a tyrant and a despot, and we cannot and we will not allow the impeachment power itself to be destroyed.

These articles charge that President Trump has engaged in systematic abuse of his powers, obstructed Congress and realized the worst fears of the framers by subordinating our national security and dragging foreign powers into American politics to corrupt our elections, all for the greater cause of his own personal gain and ambition.

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that the president shall be impeached for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. This is the essential check that the people's representatives maintain over the executive branch.

As our constitutional expert witnesses testified, the framers sought to capture a broad range of presidential misconduct and wrongdoing through this provision, but the commanding and comprehensive impulse for including the impeachment power in the Constitution was to prevent the president's abuse of power, which the framers saw as the very essence of impeachable conduct.

In Federalist Number 65, Hamilton wrote that impeachable offenses are defined by abuse of some public trusts. From the Federalist Papers and the records of the Constitutional Conventions and the ratifying conventions, we find that the framers feared principally three kinds of betrayal of office by abuse of power: abuse of power by exploiting public office for private, political or financial gain, number one; number two, abuse of power by betraying the national interest and the public trust through entanglement with foreign governments; and number three, abuse of power by corrupting democratic elections and denying the people proper agency through self-government.

According to the framers, any one of these violations of the public trust would be enough to justify presidential impeachment for abuse of power. However, President Trump's conduct has realized all three of the framer's worst fears of presidential abuse of power.

Never before in American history has an impeachment investigation crystallized in findings of conduct that implicate all of the major reasons that the framers built in impeachment into our Constitution.

Mr. Chairman, the conduct we set before you today is not some kind of surprising aberration or deviation in the president's behavior for which he is remorseful.

On the contrary, the president is completely unrepentant and defiantly declares his behavior here perfect; indeed, absolutely perfect. He says that Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to do whatever he wants, conveniently forgetting Article II, Section 4, which gives us the power to check his misconduct with the instrument of impeachment.

We believe this conduct is impeachable and should never take place again under our constitutional system. He believes his conduct is perfect, and we know therefore that it will take place again and again.

Indeed, our report points out that this pattern of showing spectacular disrespect for the rule of law by inviting and welcoming foreign powers into our elections was in plain view in the 2016 presidential election. America remembers when then-candidate Donald Trump uttered the imperishably infamous words, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing." And just five hours later, Russian agents moved to hack his political opponent's computers as part of their continuing effort to upend the 2016 presidential campaign.

As identified by the Justice Department, the Trump campaign had more than 100 contacts with Russian operatives over the course of that campaign and none of them were reported by the Trump campaign to law enforcement or national security agencies.

Moreover, during the special counsel investigation into the sweeping and systematic Russian campaign to subvert our election, President Trump engaged in another systematic campaign of obstruction of the investigative process to obscure his own involvement.

[11:45:00]

Mr. President -- Mr. Chairman, we present you, not just with high crimes and misdemeanors, but a constitutional crime in progress up to this very minute.

Major Giuliani, the president's private lawyer, fresh from his overseas travel looking to rehabilitate once again the discredited conspiracy theories at the heart of the president's defense, admitted that he participated directly in the smear campaign to oust Ambassador Yovanovitch from her job.

According to the New Yorker magazine, Giuliani said, "I believe that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way. She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody." And here, of course, Mr. Giuliani refers to the president's sought-after investigations into Joe Biden and the remnants of the discredited conspiracy theory pushed by Russia as propaganda that it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered in the 2016 American presidential election.

Given that an unrepentant president considers his behavior perfect, given that he thinks the Constitution empowers him to do whatever he wants, given that he and his team are still awaiting President Zelensky's statement about investigating Joe Biden, given that he has already invited China to perform an investigation of its own, we can only ask what the 2020 election will be like, or indeed what any future election in America will be like, if we just let this misconduct go and authorize and license presidents to coerce, cajole, pressure and entice foreign powers to enter our election campaigns on behalf of the president. Who will be invited in next?

The president's continuing course of conduct constitutes a clear and present danger to democracy in America. We cannot allow this misconduct to pass. It would be a sellout of our Constitution, our foreign policy, our national security and our democracy.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.

MCGOVERN: Thank you very much.

Mr. Collins, welcome back to the Rules Committee.

COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's good to see you. And Mr. Cole as well, a member who I've spent many hours in this room with.

You know, the chairman made a statement about my friend here, Mr. Raskin, and he is a fine attorney and it's been amazing to me throughout this year how the Judiciary Committee has sidelined fine attorneys like himself into not asking questions and to not being a part of the process. It's been really interesting to watch, because he's actually a good one. And as you said, he was a good constitutional attorney. I'm not a constitutional attorney. I'm a pastor and an attorney from rural (ph) Georgia. But I believe that you take another look at this and you can apply constitutional lenses, we all sit through those classes, but it's a common-sense lens. It's a common-sense lens.

Mr. Cole made a comment in his opening statement. He said -- you said, Mr. Cole, it doesn't make sense. Yes, it does. It makes perfect sense.

Look at the pattern. You know, the only thing that is -- that is a clear and present danger right now in this room is the pattern of attack and abuse of rules and -- and decisions to get at this president that started over three years ago, really the night he was elected.

And -- and I said the other day in the committee hearing, I talked about, you know, having the means, and the motive and the opportunity. The opportunity for this day occurred last November when we lost majority. It occurred.

I mean, they already talked about it for years and prior, and so now we just bring it forward. And we've tried a lot of different things to get there. And we'll talk about that, I'm sure, as the time goes on today.

And look, we can have plenty of time to talk about the articles and the very vague articles that we did. It's pretty interesting if you read the report from the majority, there's a lot of discussion about crimes, but they couldn't find it in themselves to charge one. Again, common sense.

Articles -- and when you think about impeachment, you're thinking about impeaching a president in particular for crimes, you're thinking about -- you're sitting it down and goes -- it was -- and this majority has tried so hard to be like Clinton and Nixon and failed so miserably. But every time we try -- we try once again, except the one thing -- when it came down to the very end, the one thing they couldn't do was actually find the crime.

They talk about it a bunch. If you read their -- read the majority's report, it is well written, it is some of the best work you'll see, frankly, in some ways of fictional accounts of what this actually is. But it actually talks about it.

But the problem here is a majority bent on finding something for this president.

So, Mr. Cole, it's not a surprise. In fact it's a sad day, not only for the Rules Committee, but for the Judiciary Committee.

[11:50:00]

You know, it's telling that the articles of impeachment -- to show you how partisan this is, and really the concerning part that I see -- and Mr. McGovern is a friend. And we disagree -- and you're exactly right, we disagree probably on a lot of things, is this glass half full, half empty? And that's fine, that what's we're supposed to do, that's what our voters send us here for. But to find ways to actually work -- and we have worked together.

The question I have here, though, is, if this was as your -- as the speaker said, just supposed -- should be overwhelming, bipartisan and the American people understand it, then why are we in the Rules Committee today? When it was with Clinton, it was a (inaudible) straight to the floor. It wasn't -- didn't have to come to the Rules Committee, because both sides could see there was something needed to be discussed. And that's not true here, and so we're having to bring it up here to the Rules Committee, a place that I have spent many hours. And many of us on this group have discussed many things, but this is -- should not be one of them.

You know, it's interesting -- and I hear a lot today and I've heard already from Mr. Raskin and from the chairman as well, a discussion on the founders. And it's interesting, we cherry-pick the founders -- and that's OK; that's what, you know, partisans do. When you're in a partisan impeachment, you cherry-pick the founders. If you like this partisan (inaudible).

But the one that's not mentioned is the very thing we're here for, and that was found -- I believe it was in Federalist -- I think it was 65. It was Hamilton. When he said this: He said the founders warned against a vague open-ended charge because it could be applied in a partisan fashion by the majority of the House of Representatives against an opposition president. Alexander Hamilton called partisan impeachment, regulated by more of the comparative strength of parties than the real demonstration of innocence or guilt, the greatest danger.

And additionally, the founders explicitly excluded the term maladministration from the impeachment clause because they did not want to subject present -- presidents to the whims of Congress, their words.

James Madison said so vague a term will be the equivalent to a tenure during the -- during the pleasure of the Senate. And I would say it would be a tenure to the pleasure of this House.

When we understand what's going on here, when we look at the -- the -- the discussions here, there are many things that I want to talk about but the first I want to do is, when we talk about how we get to a certain place, proper process leads to proper results, and we've not had any of that in this process.

I have always said, and I've said it many times in our discussions lately, is that this all about a clock and a calendar, and has been for awhile. Since January when we were sworn in, it's about a clock and a calendar.

Why do I say that? Because we had to get to it by the end of the year because if we went into the next year, it would be really too close, especially from the House's perspective, to the elections that they're trying to interfere with. And yes, they're trying to interfere with elections -- the 2020 election, by actually beginning this process and then going forward.

Now, the conduct (inaudible) the American people. The clock and calendar know no masters except themselves.

You see, our committee held its first hearing on December 4th, literally the day after Schiff publicly released his report. In the first minutes of the hearing, Mr. Sensenbrenner furnished the chairman with our demand for minority day of hearings. The chairman also set a deadline of December 6th for Republicans and the president to request additional witnesses.

But it wasn't until Saturday, the day after the deadline, that Chairman Schiff transmitted 8,000 pages of material to the Judiciary Committee. And we still haven't gotten everything, not that it matters to the majority.

For -- for institutionalists, this should bother you. You can -- you can still go ahead and vote your yes tomorrow and vote for yes today and do that, but it should matter for this institution that while I was in Georgia, I received a call from my staff saying, "They just released 8,000 documents on thumb drives," some of which were going to be kept in a secure holding. And when I asked the chairman about these documents, where they were going to be, he said, "Well, we're not going to read them either. We're not going to have a chance to go them. We're just going to go ahead with what we're doing."

That was from my chairman, who I respect greatly. We've done a lot of things together. But it has been very difficult when in a hearing of this magnitude how can anyone, Republican or Democrat, actually go back and look at their constituents in the face and say, "We looked at all the evidence. I looked at everything and I came to this conclusion?"

No, we cherry-picked the evidence and we only used what we wanted to because that material -- which by the way, has still not all been released. There's the inspector general I.G. report that still (inaudible) has not been released.

Now, whether it's good or bad is irrelevant. But when you're talking about impeaching a president, shouldn't the underlying evidence sent to Judiciary Committee actually matter?

Again, it doesn't take constitutional experts coming in and telling us about it. It takes common sense to know that you don't impeach somebody without at least making all the evidence proper.

But you know that's what happens when you're to the tyranny of a clock and a calendar. When you're the tyranny of a clock and a calendar, nothing else matters. It's like what's going to happen here in the holidays is you're getting close to that day and you're supposed to give that gift, nothing else matters and you just got to go get it. And if at the last minute if you don't have anything -- Mr. (inaudible), I bet you've done this -- you go out and you just buy the first thing you get.

[11:55:00]

And this is what was happening, the clock was running out so they found a phone call they didn't like. They didn't like this administration. They didn't like what the president did. They tried to make up claims, though, that there was pressure and all these other things that they've so outlined in the report.

But at the end of the day, it's simply last-minute Christmas shopping. They ran and found something and said, "We can do it."

But no crimes. None in the articles. Abuse of power, in which any member can make up anything they want to and call it an abuse of power. But in the report they document bribery and extortion and all these other things which they can't put into the articles. And then the obstruction of justice.

Again, it's sort of interesting that I just read Chairman Schiff transferred on a Saturday 8,000 pages of what we were supposed to be working at for the next hearing.

We submitted our list of witnesses to Nadler -- to Mr. Nadler before Schiff sent us -- we submitted it before Schiff had sent us any more evidence. Last Monday we had a hearing so Schiff's staff and Nadler's consultants could tell us that the president needs to be impeached. Again, nothing from Chairman Schiff, who had made the reference to himself being like Ken Starr. But for those in this room who've at least opened a history book, Ken Starr actually came and testified and took questions from everyone, including the White House counsel.

On Monday, the chairman rejected all of our witnesses out of hand. And on Tuesday, the morning after, the presentation of articles were unveiled.

Remember, think about this. No factual based witnesses. We had a bunch of law professors, one for us. By the way, I did ask for another one; didn't get it. No reasoning. We just went back -- we were in impeachment hearings and we went back to the normal 3:1 ratio. I asked for one more and basically didn't get it. It was an interesting conversation between the chairman and I. Didn't get it.

Then we came in and we got our witness list summarily dismissed. We get information dumped to us in the middle of what we were supposed to be doing right before we're having to have hearings before we had -- after the fact we had to turn in our witness list.

Judge, I don't think this would fly in any regular normal court proceeding, because I know this is not. So before anybody wants to tweet or say anything, we're not in a court. I know that. We're in a kangaroo court it feels like in this place, because all of this is backwards. What's up is down and down is up. We're more "Alice in Wonderland" than we are House of Representatives. Because whether you agree that he needs to be impeached or not, do you not think there needs to be a modicum of process and rights?

All of this is true. The rules completely aside. The minority hearing day broken. Access to committee records rule broken. Due process rights for the accused in impeachment completely out the window. Rules for decorum in debate, well, we've seen that broken even on the House floor.

H.Res. 660, the authorization for this whole thing, the chairman could have used it to run a fair process. Unfortunately we didn't.

The problem comes down today is there are several things I'm going to leave you with, Mr. Chairman, and this is it.

After all that has been said, all that's been talked about and all that went into that wonderfully written report there are four facts that will never change.

Both the president and Mr. Zelensky say there was no pressure. The call transcript shows no conditionality in aid and in investigation.

By the way, Mr. Sondland, their key witness, the only thing they ever quote is his opening statement. They don't like to quote when he actually was questioned when he said, "Well, yeah, I presumed that." And then we talked about Mr. Yermak, Mr. Yermak said, "We didn't have any conversation about conditionality of aid." That was just -- that came out just the other day. I'm not sure where we're getting this, but it definitely wasn't the call transcript.

Ukrainians were not aware the aid was withheld even when the president spoke. And Ukrainians did not open investigations, didn't get a meeting and still got their aid.

But what did we see last week and over the past two weeks? We saw Mr. Zelensky -- President Zelensky pillared (sic) in our committee. He's either a liar -- a pathological liar according to the majority, or he is so weak he shouldn't be governing that country. That's tragic, we actually did that to this sitting leader -- world leader in our committee.

These are the kind of things that bother many of us.

But also I know this is also on a clock and calendar too. We'll have a few hours here and we'll talk about it, but I will remind my majority friends -- and I do consider you friends -- the clock and the calendar are terrible masters and they lead to awful results. And yes, there will be a day of reckoning. The calendar and the clock will continue, but what you do here and how we have trashed the process in getting here will live on and it will affect everything that we've come for.

And so, whatever you may gain will be short-lived, because the clock and the calendar also recognize common-sense, which has not been used in this proceeding.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

MCGOVERN: Thank you very much.

I want to thank both of you for your opening statements.

Mr. Collins, you raise the issue of why we're here in the Rules Committee today. And let me just state for the record that, as you know, the Constitution gives the House the sole power of impeachment and the power to determine its own rules.

When President Nixon -- during the time he was going to be impeached, the chairman of the Rules Committee, Chairman Madden, actually spoke on the House --