Return to Transcripts main page


House Panel Sets Rules For Impeachment Debate Ahead of Vote; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD): Executive Branch Not Honoring Investigation and Subpoenas "Is a Very Dangerous Prospect that Would Have Terrified And Horrified And Shocked The Framers Of Our Constitution". Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] MCGOVERN: 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 floor and announced that there would be a rule governing how that proceeding would move forward.

When the Clinton articles of impeachment were brought forward, there was a unanimous consent request to, kind of, govern how we conducted ourselves. And I'm not sure how likely it would be that we would get a unanimous consent request.

I'd like to ask unanimous request, without objection, to enter into a record a letter that was sent to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee signed by, I think, 70 Republican members, including the -- Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, and basically -- and let me read the key line here is: "We will avail ourselves of every parliamentary tool available to us in committee and on the House floor to highlight your inaction." Translated means to try to delay and to make this process as impossible as it can be made.

I'm not sure, in light of this letter, that we could get a unanimous consent request with regard to these proceedings to break for a cup of coffee, never mind, you know, determine the rules of engagement. So, I'd point that out.

In terms of process, I just want to, again, state for the record, because I think it's important, that I think the House has engaged in a fair impeachment inquiry process.

Democrats and Republicans have had equal opportunity to participate in the months-long impeachment inquiry. Members of both parties have been involved at every stage in this process, from sitting in and asking questions in closed-door depositions, to questioning witnesses in open hearings. The committees took more than 100 hours of deposition testimony from 17 witnesses, held seven public hearings, which included Republican-requested witnesses. They produced a 300-page public report that laid our their findings and evidence.

The Judiciary Committee then took that report and conducted two public hearings evaluating the evidence and legal standard for impeachment before reporting the two articles that we are dealing with here today. And I should also point out that President Trump was provided an opportunity to participate in the Judiciary Committee's review of the evidence presented against him, as President Clinton was during his impeachment inquiry. President Trump chose not to participate. President Trump to date has not provided any exculpatory evidence, but instead has blocked numerous witnesses from testifying about his actions.

And so, I just thought it was important to point that out.

Mr. Raskin, I saw you scribbling furiously while Mr. Collins was testifying. I don't know whether there is something you wanted to respond to.

RASKIN: Well, thank you Mr. Chairman.

You know, my friend, Mr. Collins, speaks very fast, so it's hard to keep up with everything that he's saying. A couple of things...



MCGOVERN: That's all right, I'm from Massachusetts and people say the same thing about my accent. So...


RASKIN: I give you credit, you were making an effort at the beginning and so was I, so they accuse me of the same.

Let me -- let me -- he raises some really important points and I'd love the chance to briefly address them.

The -- one thing that we've been hearing is that we didn't charge crimes. And in some sense, that just duplicates a basic confusion that people have about what the process is.

We are not criminal prosecutors prosecuting a criminal defendant in court to send to jail. That's not what we're doing.

We're members of Congress who're working to protect the country against a president who's committing high crimes and misdemeanors, that is constitutional offenses against the people of the country.

Now, lots of the conduct that we plead in our specific articles alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress themselves could become part of criminal indictments later on, but it's been a curious thing for me to hear our colleagues across the aisle repeatedly make this point and, kind of, spread this confusion that there are not crimes in there, when they were the very first ones to be saying and continue to say the Department of Justice cannot prosecute the president, the president may not be indicted, the president may not be prosecuted while he's in office. That's the position they take. They then cannot turn around and say, "Oh, and you can't impeach him because you haven't charged him with any crimes and prosecuted him and indicted him."

You see, heads I win, tails you loose is the essence of the argument.

And, of course, if you go back to the Richard Nixon case, we didn't have to see that Richard Nixon has been convicted of burglary in the District of Columbia by ordering the break-in to the Watergate Hotel before he was a accused -- before he was charged with abuse of power as a high crime and misdemeanor. That's exactly what we're charging President Trump with here.

We don't have to first go out and prove that he committed bribery or committed honest services fraud or committed extortion, all things that he really could be prosecuted for later. We simply have to allege the course of constitutional criminal conduct he was engaged in.


And so, I think that we can set that one aside.

A second thing that -- that my friend said was that there were no fact witnesses; that -- that this was based on the report that was delivered to us by the House Committee on Intelligence. And, of course, that's a play on words too. There were 17 fact witnesses who appeared before the House Committee on Intelligence, the House Oversight Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The way that we structured this impeachment process, which is completely our prerogative, under Article I, Section 2, Clause 5, as you said Mr. Chairman, is to have the fact investigation into this affair which involved foreign governments and ambassadors and so on in the Intelligence Committee, then to have them bring the facts in a comprehensive report to the House Judiciary Committee, which would then make the decision about the law. Do all of these events rise to what we think is impeachable conduct? And, of course, we did.

So, there are lots of fact witnesses. The fact we also had the counsel for the House Intelligence Committee come and -- to deliver the report and defend the report and all of my friends on the other side of aisle had the chance to question, as we had the chance to question.

When you say there were no fact witnesses, that's also a perfect description of what took place during the Bill Clinton impeachment, because all of that took place as part of the independent counsel investigation by Kenneth Starr.

There were closed-door secret depositions taking place there. Then Kenneth Starr came to deliver the report, and remember, all the boxes of material they brought over in a U-Haul truck, and gave it to the House Judiciary Committee. That was the end of it.

Monica Lewinsky didn't testify before the House Judiciary Committee. There were not witnesses who had been there who were brought before the House Judiciary Committee.

So we're following the exact same pattern, I think, that took place there, except that it was the House of Representatives here which did it's own fact investigation through this assortment of committees.

Finally, the -- well, the -- let me just say a word about the fairness of the process. And, you know, we all know what they teach you in law school, which is if the facts are against you, you pound the law. The laws are against you, you pound the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, you talk about process and you pound the table.

And I'm afraid I've seen a little bit of that in the performance of our colleagues here. And I don't blame them because they're dealing with the hand that they were dealt. We have 17 fact witnesses and all of their depositions and all their testimony was published, all part of the report. Everybody -- everybody can find it and all of their testimony is essentially unrefuted and uncontradicted.

It tells one story, which is the president of the United States conducted a shakedown of a foreign power. He used $391 million that we in Congress had voted for a besieged, struggling democracy, Ukraine, to defend itself against Russian invasion and attack.

To coerce that -- the president of that foreign government, President Zelensky, to get involved in our election campaign. What did he want him to do? Well, he wanted President Zelensky to make an announcement on television that Joe Biden was being investigated.

Now, what does that have to do with the foreign policy of the United States? What does it have to do with what Congress voted for? What does it have to do with any legitimate interest of the U.S. government?

But the other thing that he wanted President Zelensky to do was to rehabilitate the completely discredited conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine and not Russia that had interfered in our election.

Our entire intelligence community, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the Senate Committee on Intelligence issued a report about this. All of them say the same thing, which is that it was Russia that conducted what the Department of Justice called a sweeping and systematic campaign against our election in 2016.

You remember, Mr. Chairman, they injected propaganda into our polity through social media, Facebook and Twitter and so on. They directly conducted cyber-invasion and attack and espionage against the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, Hillary Clinton's headquarters. And they directly tried to get into our state boards of elections. Not two or three, all 50 of them, they tried to get into. That's what Russia did.

And now, suddenly, we have the president of the United States telling President Zelensky that if he wants the $391 million that we voted for him and that he's been certified for by the Department of Defense and the Department of State, clearing every anti-corruption screen that would have been put in place and called for by Congress.


If he wants the money and if he wants the White House meeting that he desperately wanted to show that America was on Ukraine's side and not Russia's side, if he wanted to get that stuff, he had to come and get involved in our presidential campaign. And he had to rehabilitate this discredited story about 2016.

I yield back.

MCGOVERN: Well, thank you.

You know, I think -- I mean, listening to some of the commentary on the news from some of the pundits, and sometimes I think people need a lesson in constitutional law, that's why it's great that you're here.

Let me ask you a basic question because I think sometimes people don't understand this. Why is impeachment in the Constitution?

RASKIN: Oh, that's a great question. And Mr. Collins invoked indirectly my favorite American revolutionary, Tom Paine, who of course wrote Common Sense and the Age of Reason. And he said you can't have one without the other. In other words, you need the common sense of the people and you need people to be conducting things according to reason, rationality, facts, empiricism, science.

But why did Paine come all the way over here to participate in the American Revolution, which was not foreordained to win in any way? Because America was the first nation in history born out of a revolutionary struggle against monarchy, against the idea that you could have hereditary rule.

Paine said a hereditary ruler is as ridiculous as a hereditary mathematician or hereditary artist, right? He said the people have got to decide on their own leaders. Now, impeachment is an instrument that our founders put into the Constitution, informed by the British experience.

There was impeachment that parliament had, but it wasn't against the king, it was only against royal ministers. Why? Because of the British doctrine, the king can do no wrong. Right? That's kind of like, the king can do whatever he wants. The king can do no wrong, and therefore the king couldn't be impeached.

But our founders insisted that impeachment be in there, not just for other civil officers who might high crimes and misdemeanors against the people, but against the president himself. And of course the president in the domestic emoluments clause is limited to a fixed salary in office, which can be neither increased nor decreased by Congress, and he can't receive any other emoluments from the government itself, any other payments.

The president is effectively an employee of the American people. That's the way he's designed, he's not above the people, he's a servant of the people like all of us are. And the president's core job is what? To take care that the laws are faithfully executed. And if he doesn't faithfully execute the laws, if he thwarts the laws, if he tramples the laws and he commits crimes against the American people, then we're not going to send him to prison. He's not going to go to jail for one day, but he needs to be removed in order to protect democracy.

MCGOVERN: And for the record, why is abuse of power an impeachable offense?

RASKIN: Well, abuse of power is the essential impeachment offense, that's why it's in there. What it's about is elevating the personal interests and ambitions of the president above the common good, above the rule of law and above the Constitution.

And so the founders didn't want a president who was going to behave like a king, we'd seen enough of that. We wanted a president who was going to implement the laws. Go out and, you know, implement the Affordable Care Act and implement the environmental laws. So that's you job, you know? That that's what you're supposed to be doing.

MCGOVERN: And so we've seen evidence that the president decided to withhold from Ukraine important official acts -- the White House visit, military aid -- in order to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of Vice President Biden and the 2016 elections. Why does that constitute an impeachable offense?

RASKIN: So, well, it basically implicates every single one of the concerns that were raised by the founders at the Constitutional Convention. One, it places the personal political agenda and ambitions of the president over enforcing the laws and enforcing the rule of law.

Two, it drags foreign powers into our election. That was something that the framers were terrified about. There was a great exchange between Adams and Jefferson about just this issue, that there would be constant foreign intrigue and influence, attempts to come and influence because we would be an open democracy, and so people would try to exploit our openness by getting involved in our elections with their foreign government concerns.

Which is why the president had to have complete undivided loyalty to the American people and to the American Constitution, and not get involved with foreign governments, not drag foreign governments into our affairs.

So basically, you have everything that the framers were concerned about, tied up into one bundle here, which is involving foreign governments in our elections, placing the president's interests over all of -- over everything else, and then essentially threatening the rule of the people and democracy.


MCGOVERN: And where do you draw the line between a legitimate use of presidential power and an abuse of power? I mean -- and why is it significant that President Trump acted for his personal political advantage and not for the furtherance of any valid national policy objective?

RASKIN: Well, that's a great question because our colleagues have shrewdly zeroed in on the fact that some of the witnesses, including Ambassador Sondland said, "Well, of course there was a quid pro quo. The president was not going to release the -- the aid. He was not going to have the meeting until he got what he wanted in terms of political interference."

And then even the president's White House chief of staff said, "Yes, of course there was a quid pro quo" -- I'm not quoting directly, so I don't have the exact words, but he was saying, "Yes, this is -- this is the way we proceed. Get used to it." OK.

And our colleagues have said, "Well, there's always quid pro quos tied up in foreign policy." In other words, it's legit to say to a foreign government, "We will give you this aid if you comply that the aid is all being used in the proper way. We will give you this assistance if you attend these conferences and meetings with us to make sure that the assistance is being used properly," and so on. There's nothing wrong with that.

But look at what happened here. This was -- this was an arrangement where the president conditioned all of this foreign assistance that we had sent, $200 million to the Department of Defense, $191 million to the Department of State, to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia. And the president said, "But I" -- but what he was holding out for was the interference of the Ukrainian president in our election to harm his political opponent.

And I think everyone can recognize that is not the normal kind of push-and-pull and arrangements that nations make for each other. Why? Because the president privileged his own political interests. And that's why it was all done secretly. Luckily, there were witnesses who were willing to come forward and to explain what happened.

MCGOVERN: And, Mr. Collins, I'll ask you and Mr. Raskin the same question. I mean, was the president's call with President Zelensky perfect, as the president has said?

And was it appropriate for him to ask another country to investigate an American citizen?

COLLINS: I've -- there was nothing -- I've said this before. There was nothing wrong with the call. And then, when you look at it -- and, again, I -- frankly, the last -- the problem we're having right now is, is exactly the last 15 minutes of this.

Great oratory on a lot of things that mean nothing to this actual impeachment. I mean, we get down to the bottom line here, and -- and I'll just leave it at that. Let him answer that question. I'll get back to it later. Because everything that's been thrown out here is exactly what the problem we've had in the discussion. And this idea of throwing (ph) law, in fact, we've just proven the facts. We've talked about the law. The law wasn't broken. They didn't put it in the Constitution (ph).

So I'm not -- I can yell on both of them. I can talk about both of them. The problem we have here is, is this is the very problem we have -- and I'll just address one thing before I let it back, or if you want me to switch right now, I will. MCGOVERN: I mean, that's fine. Mister...

COLLINS: OK. I'll give it to him.

MCGOVERN: That's fine. I'm looking at, you know, the president, in the transcripts, saying, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

I mean, I -- do you think it was a perfect call?

COLLINS: Well, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman actually said it was perfectly OK for the president to ask for a political call. And I can actually -- that was his in testimony.

MCGOVERN: And do you think it's...


COLLINS: He said -- Lieutenant Colonel Vindman said, "Would it ever be" -- it was asked, "Would it ever be U.S. policy, in your experience, to ask a foreign leader to open a political investigation?"

He replied, "Certainly, the president is well within his right to do that."

MCGOVERN: I mean, do you think it's right for the president to ask a foreign government to investigate a U.S. citizen like that?

RASKIN: No, I think it's absolutely wrong. And, you know, one of the interesting things about the hearings, of course, was that -- that every single -- I think every single member of Congress who has at least endorsed the impeachment inquiry has said that it's completely wrong for the U.S. president to use any of the means at his disposal to drag foreign governments into our election.

And we were unable to get our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to weigh in on that, saying, "Well, let's assume that you think -- let's stipulate you think that the president did nothing wrong here. Do you think it's wrong for the president of the United States to get foreign powers involved in our election?"

And we couldn't get an answer. I reissued the invitation to Mr. Collins. Because I -- I believe that, in his heart, he thinks that's wrong. And I certainly would not want that to become the pattern for all future presidencies.

COLLINS (?): I think the interesting thing here is, Mr. Chairman, if I could, I would -- I don't want this to become the pattern for future impeachments. I think this is the problem I have.

And the understanding here is, I guess it's OK, though, to get involved in a 2016 election when you pay a third party to go pay for a dossier.

I mean, these are the kind of things that we can talk about. But the interesting issue that is just discussed here is exactly where we are right now, in a question and a comment. Because the -- what Mr. Raskin just brought up is an interesting point.

So is it OK if you're running for president that you can't be investigated, even if you did something overseas?


So if you're running for president and you did something overseas, it would be -- it would be off-limits, according to Mr. Raskin's argument, for the United States government to investigate that. That's the argument he just set up. And I think you need to be very careful with that argument.

MCGOVERN: I appreciate -- I guess, again, I mentioned this in my opening statement. The frustrating thing is that it's hard -- I mean, I -- what seems so obvious to so many of us about inappropriate behavior, we can't even get -- I mean, I look at, you know, our former colleague Charlie Dent says he's spoken with Republicans who are absolutely disgusted and exhausted by the president's behavior.

Another former Republican colleague of ours, David Jolly, said we've witnessed, quote, "an impeachable moment."

Former Republican Congressman Reid Ribble of Wisconsin said, "Clearly there was some type of quid pro quo." When asked if he believes the testimony presented warrants impeachment, he said, "I do."

Former South Carolina Republican Bob English, who served on the Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment said last month in a tweet, "Without a doubt, if Barack Obama had done the things revealed in the testimony in the current inquiry, we Republicans would have impeached him."

Joe Scarborough, former Republican congressman from Florida said, "Every Republican knows that Donald Trump was asking for dirt on Joe Biden in exchange for releasing military funds."

I mean, I -- I get -- well, let's go on to -- I don't know. Do you want to respond, Mr. Raskin?

RASKIN: Sure, I'd be delighted to. But one thing -- I just passed a note saying I may have gotten the numbers wrong. The Department of Defense had a $250 million appropriation for the purposes of aiding Ukraine and the state had $141 million. I may have misspoken and said $200 million.


RASKIN: But -- but, you know, as to that point, again, I feel for my friends because I think they're put into a situation, put into a box, so to speak, which was what President Trump was quoted as saying about what he wanted to do with President Zelensky. He wanted him in a -- a box -- about statements.

But I think they're put into something of a corner here because the president has declared his conduct perfect, absolutely perfect, and he can do whatever he wants. And so they are unable to say -- to make the case that I would make; if I were trying to defend the president, I would say, "OK, that was totally wrong and off-limits, but it's not impeachable for X, Y and Z reasons."

But they're not allowing anybody that space to say it. They must go with the president's assertion that this was categorically correct; there was nothing wrong with it; it was perfectly right. And, you know, he quoted legal scholars. He didn't name them, but he invoked legal scholars who told him that the call was perfect as well.

MCGOVERN: And I -- I, kind of, want to move my questioning along here, a little bit. So let me ask you, on the issue of obstruction of Congress, why is obstruction of Congress an impeachable offense?

RASKIN: Well, look -- and this is something -- Mr. Collins made a really important point, which is that we've got to think about this in institutional terms, OK? And he rightly calls us to redouble our commitment to fairness in the process.

I've seen lots of fairness in this process. I've seen the -- in the closed-door depositions, I saw the Democratic counsel get an hour; I saw the Republican counsel get an hour. I saw the Democratic members get to question; I saw the Republican members get to question. I have seen this committee bend over backwards to get all of the depositions out as quickly as possible, while the president of the United States is stopping at least seven witnesses from coming forward. It may be more than that.

But he has blockaded witnesses. The president, who says the process is unfair, is the one who's stopping everybody from coming to testify, and is essentially trying to blockade the whole investigation.

Look, why is this essential, Mr. Chairman? It's essential because -- for institutional reasons. It's essential for institutional reasons because in the future it might be a majority Democratic Congress, it might be a majority Republican Congress, but in any event it's Congress. And one of our jobs as -- as members of Congress is to make sure that the president does not violate the laws. We are supposed to stand sentinel to make sure that the president will only enforce the laws, take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

Well, what happens if you get a president who totally trashes the law? OK, some of us think we may be there now. I know some of our colleagues don't believe that, but certainly they can imagine a situation where a president advertises spectacular disrespect and contempt for the law, and trashes the law. What is our ultimate check against that? It's going to be impeachment; that's why it's in the Constitution.

But now we have a president who, for the first time in American history says, "I am going to try to block the ability of Congress to impeach me by not turning over one single document, by trying to hold back people from testifying, like Secretary Pompeo, like Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney -- like multiple other members of administration. I don't want them to come forward and testify." And so we're going to have to use our common-sense to derive conclusions about what that means. What does our common-sense tell us when you have all these other people are coming forward and testifying about the misconduct of the president, and then the president trying to block everybody else from coming forward to testify in his administration?


MCGOVERN: And let me just point out for the record, we've requested several documents and testimony from members of this administration, and what has the president and his administration done in response? Nothing.

And just, I think it's important for people to understand just for the record: requests for documents from the State Department, ignored; request for documents from the Department of Defense, ignored; request for documents from the vice president, ignored; requests for documents from Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, ignored; requests for documents from Giuliani associate Igor Fruman, ignored; requests for documents from the White House, ignored; requests for documents from Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, ignored; request from testimony of former National Security Advisor John Bolton, ignored; requests from the testimony of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, ignored.

And here's a list of all the requests that have been made. The red marks are basically they demonstrate noncompliance, that they have been ignored. I think this is what you call obstruction plain and simple.

And in fact, the only people that have complied with our request have been patriotic public servants, many of them defying instructions that they not comply.

And, I mean -- I guess I just ask, you know, what presumptions should we make when the president -- when a president prevents witnesses from complying with congressional subpoenas?

RASKIN: Well, let's use our common sense. People who have exculpatory evidence, which is just a fancy way of saying evidence that shows their innocence, want the court to see the evidence. People who have evidence that demonstrates their innocence would bring that to Congress. People who have evidence which they think might be inculpatory, people have evidence which may lead people to believe in their guilt, will try to keep it away.

But you just make a really profoundly important point, Mr. Chairman, which link Articles One and Article Two of the impeachment articles: Do we want to set a precedent that people -- that U.S. citizens can become president of the United States by inviting foreign powers to get involved in our election, then once they're in, if Congress decides that their conduct is impeachable and involves high crimes and misdemeanors, they can then pull a curtain down over the executive branch and not allow any investigation, not allow subpoenas to be honored, and so on?

That is a very dangerous prospect that would have terrified and horrified and shocked the framers of our Constitution.

MCGOVERN: Thank you.

And I -- do you want to -- do you want me...

(UNKNOWN): (Inaudible).


MCGOVERN: OK, well, I'm about to yield to the -- to my ranking member. I'm sure has lots and lots of questions.

But I do want to take a moment, because I think it's important that we remember this. I want to remind everybody why we're here today.

The president abused the power of his office for his own personal gain and obstructed a congressional investigation to look in to that conduct. How did he do that? He withheld aid for a country that was under siege by Russia to leverage help for his political campaign.

President Trump's abuse of power has endangered our free elections and national security remains an ongoing threat to them both. He's showed us a pattern of inviting foreign interference in our elections and trying to cover it up twice, and he's threatened to do it again.

With the 2020 elections fast approaching we must act with a sense of urgency to protect our democracy and defend our Constitution. On our first day as members of Congress we took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I did not swear allegiance to a political party, I swore allegiance to the Constitution, and I hope all my colleagues will do the same.

With that I would yield to the ranking member, Mr. Cole, for any questions he may have.

COLE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And you're right I do have a lot of questions. And I appreciate your forbearance because it's a...

MCGOVERN: I'm very liberal (ph).

COLE: Yes, you are.


In this sense in the finest sense of the word. So I express my appreciation for that (inaudible) as we've discussed.

And to my friend, Mr. Raskin, a number of my questions have been crafted -- or were originally crafted for Chairman Nadler. You may or may not be able to answer those directly. We certainly understand why he's not here, and we -- as the chairman said, we sympathize with him in the difficult time. But we think they're still important for the record.

RASKIN: I appreciate that (ph). COLE: I wanted to sort of highlight that for you.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record a document entitled, quote, "How We Resist Trump," unquote, authored by Congressman Jerry Nadler, and posted on on November 16th of 2016.

MCGOVERN: Without objection.

COLE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

In this document Chairman Nadler wrote, quote, "We cannot wait four years to vote Mr. Trump out of office, so we must do everything we can to stop Trump and his extreme agenda now," unquote.

Mr. Raskin -