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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

House Debates Rules For Impeachment Vote; Trump Sends Angry Letter to Pelosi Over Impeachment. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with breaking news.

President Trump, ahead of the historic impeachment vote in the House tomorrow, has sent a stunning and scathing stream of consciousness letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The letter appears to be something of a dictated 2,700-word rant, almost as if it's 60 angry tweets cobbled together and put on White House stationery, complete with the now familiar all caps, multiple exclamation points, accusations, projections, falsehoods, insults, grievances, about 40 references to himself, I, me, my, and four to the American people.

A letter that President Trump says he wrote for the -- quote -- "purpose of history."

The letter accuses Democrats of violating their oaths of office and cheapening impeachment, trying to steal the 2020 election and -- quote -- "declaring open war on American democracy by pursuing impeachment."

President Trump calls the abuse of Congress article of impeachment a -- quote -- I'm sorry -- the abuse of power article of impeachment "a completely disingenuous, meritless and baseless invention of Pelosi's imagination," and in terms of the case for obstruction of Congress -- quote -- "preposterous and dangerous."

The president misrepresenting a number of quotes from Speaker Pelosi and Joe Biden, also accusing Pelosi of either lying when Pelosi says that she prays for him, or that she prays for him -- quote -- "in a negative sense."

And, of course, the president also claims that his phone call with Ukrainian president was perfect, when we know, if his own administration officials had shared that view, the president would not be right now on the brink of only the third impeachment of a U.S. president in the history of this republic.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins me now live from the White House.

And, Kaitlan, it does not appeal as though this letter went through much in terms of editing.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, a lot of it mirrors the own punctuation you see the president use on his Twitter feed, random capitalization.

And a lot of it reads like the president himself dictated this letter, this letter that, Jake, the White House sent out while the president was in the Oval Office with the leader of Guatemala.

And we have seen the president over the last several weeks, and really ever since September, attack this impeachment inquiry. But what you're reading here in these six pages is essentially a summary of all of his objections.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To impeach the president of the United States for that is a disgrace and it's a mark on our country.

COLLINS (voice-over): On the eve of a House vote to impeach him, President Trump fired off a missive to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of violating her oath of office and "cheapening the importance of the very ugly word impeachment."

Writing in a six-page letter that read like his Twitter feed, the president claimed: "You are declaring open war on American democracy."

The president accusing Pelosi of offending Americans of faith by saying she prays for him -- quote -- "when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense."

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I still pray for the president.

COLLINS: In his crusade against the two articles of impeachment printed on White House letterhead, the president claimed "More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials."

The president ending his letter by telling Pelosi that: "The American people will not soon forgive your perversion of justice and abuse of power."

As House Democrats head toward the impeachment vote, the president told reporters today he hasn't been paying attention, but made no mention of his scathing letter.

TRUMP: No, I'm not watching. I haven't -- I have not seen it. Look, it's a hoax. The whole impeachment thing is a hoax.

COLLINS: And he made clear he takes no responsibility for potentially being the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

TRUMP: No, I don't take any, zero, to put it mildly. They took a perfect phone call that I had with the president of Ukraine, an absolutely perfect call. You know it. They all know it. Nothing was said wrong in that call. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, despite this letter from the president, that vote is still going to happen tomorrow.

And even he seems to hint in here at the end that he doesn't think this letter is going to change the outcome of that vote. But he says: "I write this letter to you for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record."

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's chew over all this.

And let's start with -- CNN is using the term scorching or scathing to describe the letter. It really -- there's so many adjectives that could be used.

I just would like to go around and just like get -- how would you summarize the letter? What's the word you would use?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Typical.

TAPPER: Typical?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Alarming.

TAPPER: Alarming.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exhaustive.

TAPPER: Exhaustive.

JACKIE ALEMANY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Trump.

TAPPER: Trump. It is very Trump.

HAM: I would just like to say, we did a lightning round, and we actually answered with one word.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes. I know, it was really good.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: So, Speaker Pelosi said that she prays for the president.

On the first page, the president says that he doesn't believe her and she's offending people of faith. "And it's a terrible thing you're doing, but you will have to live with it, not I."

[16:05:10]

Mary Katharine, "Not I," exclamation point. (LAUGHTER)

HAM: No, this is...

TAPPER: There are eight exclamation points, by the way, in this letter.

HAM: As Nia noted, it's a very typical Trump letter.

It's very -- it's quite long. There are some things that are true in it. And I will point some of those out, just because -- for the sake of argument.

TAPPER: Why not? Sure.

HAM: But the idea that people on the committees have long said impeachment should be bipartisan, and this is likely not to be, I think is a point worth making, and one that's on his side of this argument

But a lot of it is pretty, pretty exhausting.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Exhausting, in addition to exhaustive.

He says -- quote -- "You're breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American democracy."

I mean, of course, impeachment is in the Constitution.

ALEMANY: Right.

I think what Trump understands is that this impeachment process is essentially boiling down to a battle between the court of public opinion and the court of law. And you have seen Republicans and Democrats take two different sides of that.

Everything else about this letter is in line with what Trump tends to do when he's in a time of crisis, which is impugn his opponents, muddy the waters, rebuke the facts, and lash out. This letter also comes at a time when I think the president's realizing that he's not going to get what he wants when it comes to a Senate impeachment trial.

He's not going to get that exoneration. He's not going to get that theatrics that he loves to relish in. And so I think we're going to be hearing a lot more directly from him. We do know that this is a president who thinks he's his own best spokesperson.

HENDERSON: Yes, that was my sense of it.

Like, at this point, it seems like Mitch McConnell, they are going to have a trial. Probably not a lot of witnesses. You saw Schumer and McConnell debating that today.

So it's like, OK, President Trump, why don't we let you put all of your feelings almost like a diary entry?

HAM: Burn book.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes, your burn book.

ALEMANY: The greatest hits. Cathartic.

HENDERSON: In as many words as possible, you sit here and you dictate it, get your exclamation points out, burn Nancy Pelosi as much as you can.

And that was what was so striking to me about this. Like, he really can't stand, A, being impeached. Even as he says, oh, this is helping me, he hates this, right? And he also can't stand Nancy Pelosi, talking about her not believing that she's actually praying for him, talking about this idea that she is going about this in a solemn way.

And in here, he's like essentially I -- "Perhaps most insulting of all is your false display of solemnity" and basically says that you hate me, Nancy Pelosi, she says -- he says of how she feels about him.

And we, of course, saw what she felt about the use of the word hatred there.

TAPPER: And one of the things it says, he says, the president says that this is all about Democrats not able to get over his win in 2016.

About Pelosi, he says: "You view democracy as your enemy."

HENDERSON: Yes.

TAPPER: And then, honestly, this is almost like a letter that Kim Jong-un wrote, like, in terms of just, like, the hyperbole.

HENDERSON: Yes, and the florid nature of it.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It's like really, really strong.

PSAKI: A lot of good adjectives, jumbled.

TAPPER: And then -- quote -- "You apparently have so little respect for the American people, you expect them to believe that you're approaching the impeachment somberly, reservedly and reluctantly. No intelligent person believes what you are saying."

That's not accurate.

PSAKI: No, actually, I think that Speaker Pelosi, whether you like or not, has done an excellent job of keeping it somber and serious and avoiding a circus.

And if you watch what Senator Schumer has been doing over the last two days, one, he's made for this moment, because he loves a good press conference, but he's trying to do the same thing.

I don't think he is under the illusion that 67 senators are going to vote to convict the president. But he wants to complete the process in the Senate with the perception in the public that he handled it very soberly and seriously.

And I think he's he's trying to do that. I will point out there was one line -- it was exhausting, and it was also predictable. But there was a line that we have seen of the same message from a number of Republicans, which is the last line where he says, "One hundred years from now, when people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another president again."

And we have seen a number of Republicans suggest that this is lowering the bar for the future, that impeachment is going to happen to everybody.

That is ludicrous. I hope Democrats go out there and say, if a Democratic president does this in the future, that president should be impeached, because that is a line that we're seeing happen over and over again.

ALEMANY: That's the president already trying to edit his obit, edit the history books himself by impugning this whole process.

TAPPER: Yes.

Of course, it's the third impeachment of a president in my lifetime. I mean, like, it's not like it never happens.

ALEMANY: Yes.

TAPPER: It happens when presidents cross a line.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: Yes, think it's also worth pointing out that we may be accelerating that process right now.

TAPPER: It's roughly every 20 years.

PSAKI: I will say, though, if a future president, if it becomes standard, that a president of the United States is going to ask a foreign adversary for dirt or a foreign ally for dirt on their political opponent, then now we're setting the bar that that's OK.

And I think a Democratic president should be impeached if they do that in the future.

TAPPER: Well, I think we are setting that bar. I think that's exactly what is going to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: That's certainly what Democrats want to do, and say that this is not what American presidents should do, and, if they do it, they will at least face an impeachment in the House and scrutiny in the Senate as well.

[16:10:07]

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about this hour.

Before that letter was sent out, the big story came out of this small committee room in the House, the debate before tomorrow's big impeachment debate next.

Plus, the chief juror in a Senate impeachment trial, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with an admission that you would never hear in any actual courtroom. What is it?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:10]

TAPPER: In just about 24 hours, President Trump will face an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, and today, the House Rules Committee is setting the stage for those historic proceedings while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is also preparing for the Senate expected trial, shooting down a Democratic request for witnesses.

By CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports for us, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning to force a vote and put every senator on the record.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): This is a day where we're going disagree and disagree very strongly.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Partisan divide on full display, on the eve of just the third vote in history to impeach a president. The ground rules being seat by a House panel for tomorrow's final vote.

REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-MA): Now, it's up to us to decide whether the United States is a nation where no one is above the law.

MARQUARDT: Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin representing the House Judiciary majority arguing that the president has been unrepentant.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): 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, it will take place again and again.

MARQUARDT: While House Judiciary Republicans represented by ranking member Doug Collins held the line for the president. REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): The clear and present danger right now in

this room is the pattern of attack and abuse of rules and decisions to get at this president.

MARQUARDT: A new CNN average of recent polls shows that Americans are split on impeaching and removing the president by a narrow margin more oppose it. All of this setting the scene for the Senate trial to come with leadership contentiously disagreeing today on the Senate floor over what the trial should look like.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shooting down Democrats' proposals which called for more high-profile Trump administration witnesses.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If House Democrats' case is this deficient, this thin, the answer is not for the judge and jury to cure it over here in the Senate. The answer is the House should not impeach on this basis in the first place.

MARQUARDT: Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had requested subpoenas for, among others acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): What is Leader McConnell afraid of? What is president Trump afraid of, the truth? But the American people want the truth.

MARQUARDT: For Schumer to win this argument, he needs four Republican senators to vote with Democrats. But so far, the eight moderate Republicans in Schumer's sights are showing little signs ever defecting.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I'm talking to colleagues, listening to the leadership and giving it a great deal of thought.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: So Schumer and McConnell are no closer to agreeing how this historic trial will look when it's expected to start in just a few weeks. Now, after speaking on the Senate floor today, Schumer said McConnell is using the Senate to participate in what he called a cover up while McConnell told reporters because this is a political process, he does not intend, Jake, to be an impartial juror at all.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

And let's listen to that sound from McConnell saying he's not going to be an impartial juror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate.

SCHUMER: I would ask every one of our Republican colleagues, do you want someone who proudly says they are not impartial to be on a jury, judging high crimes and misdemeanors, serious charges against the president of the United States?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And the Senate likes to think of itself as more of a distinguished bipartisan place of comity where people can get along and come to an agreement. But this sounds more like a House, to be frank.

ALEMANY: Yes. And McConnell is facing a lot of pressure from the White House, although it does seem they succumbed to this idea that McConnell might know what he's doing here.

TAPPER: Yes.

ALEMANY: At the end of the day, McConnell does need to protect his majority. And that appears to be the calculus. I interviewed Senator Mike Braun this morning from Indiana who is pretty conservative and even he said that, you know, in line what McConnell said about mutually assured destruction, that it's probably best just to get this done quickly and that he's unlikely to change his mind and he doesn't think any new witnesses would even bring any new information and that most senators have been listening. They listened to four weeks of witnesses and testimony in the House and that there's -- you know, everyone has heard what they need to hear.

TAPPER: Well, there are a number of key witnesses we haven't heard of that Democrats want, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney at the White House, former national security advisor John Bolton and a number of other officials.

Is it going to be hurtful to Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the Republican up for re-election, Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado, up for reelection, for Democrats to say they voted against even calling witnesses?

[16:20:04]

HENDERSON: Possibly. If you're any of those senators, just a handful of the ones you picked out there, you were worried about that, particularly Susan Collins who is probably going to face a pretty stiff challenge there from a Democrat in her home state. But most of these senators, if not all, right, have made up their minds about this. They're going to play coy a bit. And you heard Mitt Romney say that he's going to talk to his colleagues and I'm sure Collins will do Susan Collins does which will, you know, sort of play this will she or won't she until the end and ended up probably voting with this president.

But like most Americans who have made up their minds and senators have also made up their minds, how to run in he some of these states on the Senate side, if your Susan Collins, you're essentially going to be in trouble, right, if you vote to not impeach and not to call witnesses. At least seem like you're going about this in a not completely partisan way.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, take a listen to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on the floor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: Senators who oppose this plan will have to explain why less evidence is better than more evidence? The American people understand if you're trying to conceal evidence and block testimony, it's probably not because the evidence is going to help your case. It's because you're trying to cover something up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I think he thinks that might actually be more devastating to Susan Collins and Cory Gardner than voting not to remove the president from office. Like the idea -- that might be reasonable, you don't think that you should remove a president from office but you're not going to let witnesses come forward?

HAM: I'm not sure he's right. There's the Graham position which is we don't even need to gavel this thing in. It's already over, or the Schumer position. And McConnell is basically taking the goldilocks position. I think he probably knows the temperature of his caucus and what they are willing to do. I think it's unlikely that the Senate subpoenas Bolton when the House did not do so, when Democrats -- they're not willing to go through the process of a judiciary dealing with these questions of who can come and testify.

And then the other question is, how much appetite do voters actually have for this in a place like Colorado or Maine?

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: I think that's an open question and you have seen independent voters who are important skeptic fiscal sliver not be moved by House hearings. And that's an important part of this because I think part of the allegation we're using such a potent tool of impeachment is to convince people who are not convince when you start it. And they haven't gotten there.

TAPPER: In fact, in the latest CNN poll, there's some slippage in favor of not removing the president, not impeaching him and against impeaching.

In CNN poll of polls which is a survey of all different polls, it's 46 percent say yes to remove, 49 percent say no. And in that CNN poll, Democrats went down from the like in the 90s like 77 percent. There's still a lot of support.

PSAKI: That's true, but my bet is it's not because Democrats are less inclined to remove the president from office, it's that they are worried this could make it easier for him to get re-elected.

TAPPER: Right.

PSAKI: I don't think we know that from that data but that's my best guess. I do think what Senator Schumer is looking at is the fact that 70

percent in a recent poll of the American public thinks people should testify and he is viewing this as an opportunity, given the cover-up of this by members of Congress, could not play well in their states.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about.

The president's letter is making waves on Capitol Hill. Up next, a reaction from a member of the House, a member of the two committees involved in the impeachment inquiry.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:28]

TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

Thanks but no thanks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejecting the Democratic request for key Trump administration officials to appear at an impeachment trial in the Senate against President Trump in January. Tomorrow, the full House of Representatives will vote, likely to impeach President Trump.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who serves on the House Intelligence and House Oversight Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to the letter President Trump just sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later this afternoon. It's six pages long. So, I won't read the whole thing.

But in one part it says, quote: You have spent three straight years attempting to overturn the will of the American people and nullify their votes. You view democracy as your enemy.

Your reaction.

SPEIER: Well, the letter is more like a midnight rant by the president and regrettably, it's filled with lies which he often uses to promote a particular perspective that he wants to show. The fact of the matter is that telephone call with President Zelensky was not perfect. It was filled with references to meet with Rudy Giuliani, my attorney. That has nothing to do with the American people, has everything to do with his re-election bid and wanting a foreign country to be engaged in his efforts to undermine one of his opponents.

TAPPER: One thing that is true in the letter it does point out a number of Democratic leaders in the House said if an impeachment ever were to happen, it would need to be bipartisan and it doesn't appear as though this impeachment will be bipartisan in any way.

Your response to that?

SPEIER: So, my response to that is that we have an obligation, and this is nothing to do --

[16:30:00]