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Trump Defiant Before Impeachment; McConnell: "I'm Not An Impartial Juror"; Pro-Impeachment Rallies Across the Country. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 04:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To impeach the president of the United States for that is a disgrace.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump remains defiant on the eve of his inevitable impeachment.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Impeachment is a political decision. I'm not impartial about this at all.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's the Senate majority leader, who is supposed to swear an oath to impartial justice before a Senate impeachment trial.




BRIGGS: Pro-impeachment demonstrators rally in several cities from coast to coast in these last hours before lawmakers cast their fateful historic votes.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, December 18th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east, 47 days to the Iowa caucuses.

But it is today, today, Wednesday, December 18th, 2019, a grave day in American history. The House of Representatives will vote today on articles of impeachment. They charge President Trump with violating his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Those articles certain to pass and almost entirely along party lines.

Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill with a look ahead at this consequential day.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, in a few hours, history. The House is slated to vote to impeach President Donald Trump, making him the third president in the history of the country to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

Now, the votes aren't even in question anymore. House Democratic leaders know they have the votes to pass both articles of impeachment. One, obstruction of Congress, two, abuse of power. The vast majority of the front line members of the caucus, the members people weren't sure which way they'd go on this issue, they are voting "yes." All but one or two at this point have committed to doing just that.

So, this is a foregone conclusion at this point. However, you are going to want to pay attention to the House floor throughout the course of this day, as they debate this momentous and historic occasion. You're going to have Democrats make clear why they believe the president has conducted impeachable acts, why they believe they've gotten to this point as it relates to the president's decision to withhold U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, in what Democrats allege is exchange into investigation into his political rivals.

And you are going to have Republicans unified to a person. Not a single Republican expected to vote and break and vote with Democrats on those articles, why they oppose this and have opposed this each step of this process, every step of the way, from the closed-door depositions, to the public hearings in the House Intelligence Committee, the impeachment hearings, the Rules Committee meeting that went for hours on end yesterday to today, the House floor vote.

Now, I will tell you this, Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday night shortly before members kind of broke for the evening, sending a letter to all of her Democratic colleagues, laying out the stakes and the solemnity of the occasion and also asking every several member of the Democratic Caucus to join her tonight floor when the floor opens up at 9:00 a.m., keep an eye out on that, as well. Everybody knows the stakes for the votes they're about to take and the history behind what they're about to do.

Now all that's left to do is to vote -- guys.


BRIGGS: OK, Phil Mattingly, thank you.

On the eve of today's historic impeachment vote, President Trump also fired off a letter. Mr. Trump's single-space, six-page tirade addressed to Speaker Pelosi. It attacks the people and processes lined up against him, sometimes in very personal terms, but President Trump says he intends for the letter -- for the purpose of history.

Jim Acosta with that from the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, President Trump is taking very personal swipes at Democrats as the House is just hours away from this impeachment vote, the president fired off an angry letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of trying to orchestrate a coup. Mr. Trump told me in the Oval Office he takes, quote, zero responsibility for what will certainly go down as a stain on his legacy.

Here's more of what the president had to say here at the White House.

And, Mr. President, do you take any responsibility for the fact that you're about 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. To impeach the president of the United States for that is a disgrace and it's a mark on our country.

ACOSTA: The president sounded hopeful that the Senate would hold a vote on his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico before an impeachment trial, but that may be wishful thinking. If it's delayed, the president likely won't take the blame for that either.

As for the letter, it comes more across like a campaign speech or a six-page tweet than a legal document coming from the White House.


It's filled with his grievances against Democrats, accusing Pelosi of viewing democracy as an enemy -- Dave and Christine


ROMANS: And, Jim Acosta, in terms of the historical record, that letter is certainly something for history to judge.

Here's more from the president's remarkable letter to the House speaker. Mr. Trump writes: There are not many people who could have taken the punishment inflicted during this period of time, and yet done so much for the success of America and its citizens. He goes on to tell Pelosi, you apparently have so little respect for the American people that you expect them to believe that you're approaching this impeachment somberly, reservedly, and reluctantly. No intelligent person believes what you are saying.

Here's the speaker's response.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Reaction to the president's letter?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No reaction. It's ridiculous.

RAJU: You have no reaction? Why not?

PELOSI: I mean, I haven't even really fully read it. We've been working. I've seen the essence of it, though, and it's really sick.


ROMANS: Ridiculous and sick.

Just hours after the president released his letter to the speaker, she sent a letter of her own to her Democratic colleagues. She told them they would be derelict in their congressional duty if they don't vote for impeachment.

BRIGGS: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's call for witnesses at an expected impeachment trial shot down by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Schumer wants to hear from four witnesses, including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser, John Bolton.

But McConnell has other ideas.


MCCONNELL: The Senate is meant to act as judge and jury, to hear a trial, not to re-run the entire fact-finding investigation, because angry partisans rushed sloppily through it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): By announcing that he doesn't want to have witnesses, he doesn't want to have documents is not rising to the level that a senator should rise to. He's being a pure partisan.

All we need is four Republicans to vote with us, to produce these witnesses, to produce the documents. And I expect that some will. I expect that some will.


ROMANS: It should be noted this is a complete reversal for Senator McConnell. Here's what he said about Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in '99.


MCCONNELL: Every other impeachment has had witnesses. It's not unusual to have witnesses in a trial.


ROMANS: So why the about-face 20 years later? McConnell is not being coy about it.


MCCONNELL: I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision. I'm not impartial about this at all.


ROMANS: McConnell is even predicting a partisan outcome with the president being acquitted.

All right. Protesters in dozens of U.S. cities rallying against President Trump and for his impeachment.




ROMANS: Thousands of people taking to the streets in cities like New York, Nashville, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, all of them echoing the same thing, the president must be removed from office.


JEFF GILBERT, PROTESTER: And this represents an existential threat to this country. This is probably the biggest threat to our democracy, certainly in my lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is crazy that we're going through this right now. I can't imagine if Obama had done this, where we would be. Like, he would be in jail right now.


ROMANS: CNN's special coverage of today's impeachment debate and vote begins at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Join Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper right after "NEW DAY".

BRIGGS: All right. Amid all the impeachment drama, lawmakers getting some work done on Capitol Hill, addressing gun violence among other things. Details are next.



ROMANS: Bipartisanship on impeachment eve, the House passed a $1.4 trillion spending package, avoiding a looming shutdown and funding the government through September 2020. The bill is full of money for different projects, delivering wins for both parties. And it is anything but paid for. "The Washington Post" reports the deal could add more than $500 billion to deficits over the next decade. The deficit already topping $1 trillion this year.

Growing deficits add to the country's already ballooning national debt. The U.S. debt passed $23 trillion for the first time in history in October.

BRIGGS: For the first time in more than two decades, Congress is allocating money to address gun violence. The spending bill passed yesterday by the House includes $25 million to research the issue. Half of the money will go to the CDC with the other half earmarked for the National Institutes for Health. Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York led the charge for the funding. She said the best researchers in the country will work to identify ways to reduce deaths and injuries from firearms.

ROMANS: Paid family and medical leave for $22.1 million federal workers passed by the Senate in an historic vote. The measure was backed by the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and the president has already said he'll sign it. It provides paid leave for 12 weeks. The president's daughter says she will continue to advocate for making paid family leave a possibility for all American workers heading into the election year.

BRIGGS: Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates who flipped on the president in the Mueller investigation has been sentenced. The judge commending Gates for an important public service and for choosing to spare the truth under enormous political pressure.


CNN's Evan Perez explains.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A federal judge sentenced Rick Gates, the former Trump deputy campaign chairman, to 45 days in jail and three years probation. Gates was a star witness in the Russia investigation, led by Robert Mueller. His cooperation helped prosecutors in their cases against Paul Manafort, his former boss, and Roger Stone, a friend of the president's.

Gates spoke briefly in court, saying that he accepted full responsibility for his actions. Judge Amy Berman Jackson commended him for that, but she seemed to use the sentencing to send a message to political leaders in Washington.

Attorney General Bill Barr recently cited findings from an inspector general report to claim that the Russia investigation should never have been started. The judge said, quote, Gates' information alone warranted, indeed, demanded further investigation. The crimes he admitted to, the judge said, are facts, not alternative facts.

And Gates isn't done with cooperating. Prosecutors said in court that he's assisting with an ongoing investigation -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: Evan Perez, thank you for that.

Now, Paul Manafort is in the hospital. Sources tell CNN he suffered a heart ailment in prison. The 70-year-old Manafort is serving a 7 1/2- year sentence in Pennsylvania. His lawyer claims he and Manafort's family are being kept in the dark about his specific medical condition. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is not commenting, citing privacy and safety concerns for inmates.

BRIGGS: All right, ahead, there's a deal in place, clearing the way for Thursday night's Democratic debate to take place. The agreement and the story behind it, next.



BRIGGS: We're learning more about the woman struck and killed by falling debris from a building in Midtown Manhattan. The NYPD identified her as 60-year-old architect Erica Tishman. The buildings department spokesman could not determine what the debris was or what caused it to fall, but she said engineers will perform a full structural stability inspection to ensure all New Yorker are safe and conduct a thorough investigation. According to city records, inspectors cited and fined the building's manager in April because of a, quote, failure to maintain the exterior.

ROMANS: Tomorrow night's Democratic primary event will go on as schedule. The labor dispute between a California union and a catering provider that threatened to derail it has now been tentatively resolved. All seven Democratic presidential hopefuls participating in the debate, declared their support for the union last week. They said they would not attend if they had to cross the union's picket line. That left top officials from the Democratic National Committee frantically searching for a solution. Once a tentative deal was reached, Senator Elizabeth Warren celebrated with union workers.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Congratulations, Unite Here. You have won.


All across this country, working families are faced with two options. They can back down or they can roll up their sleeves and get in the fight. The workers of Unite Here get in the fight and they won.



ROMANS: The agreement still has to be ratified by workers. That's expected to happen next week.

BRIGGS: According to his doctor, 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden is healthy and vigorous and fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency. Biden's campaign releasing a summary of his medical history yesterday.

Biden's doctor says he's being treated for an irregular heartbeat that's causing no symptoms. The former vice president also takes medications to lower cholesterol and to prevent blood clots, acid reflux, and seasonal allergies. ROMANS: All right. Another shot of cold air from Canada bringing

more chilly weather to the Northeast and heavy snow to the Great Lakes.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri with the latest.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, guys. Another quick-moving system here to bring with it some cold air and lake effect snow across portions of Michigan, particularly the western area of Michigan and the Eastern Great Lakes getting snow showers out of this. Really, that's the most favorable spot here for some heavier snow totals, but even then, talking 6 to 8 inches. Notice how quickly it all exits here by Thursday morning, not much of it left in the forecast.

Totals, right on the eastern shores, the highest amounts, a couple of inches, areas indicated in purple as much as six inches as possible. And then into New England, limited amounts expected, but that is about it. But the cold air is certainly going to linger for a couple of days.

Winter officially arrives come Saturday. And just in time, we get a little bit of southerly surge here. The temperatures will want to moderate back out.

As we kind of wrap up autumn, we do so with extremely cold air. Marquette, only 8 degrees. Chicago, a February-like 21-degree afternoon. New York City, the best you can do, about 36 degrees.

But you'll notice the forecast across much of the country, including areas around Atlanta, by the first full week of winter, climb up into the 60s. And New York City much the same as well, temps there climbing up to the middle 40s -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. We'll take it, I guess. No choice.

BRIGGS: What choice do we have?

The coming hours will go down in American history. The House of Representatives will impeach an elected U.S. president for just the third time ever. Our coverage continues next.




TRUMP: To impeach the president of the United States for that is a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: President Trump defiant on the eve of his inevitable impeachment.


MCCONNELL: Impeachment is a political decision. I'm not impartial about this at all.


BRIGGS: That is the Senate majority leader, supposed to swear an oath to impartial justice before a Senate impeachment trial.