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House Set to Vote to Impeach President Trump; McConnell: "I'm Not An Impartial Juror"; Pro-Impeachment Rallies Across the Country; Holiday Shipping Deadlines. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 04:30   ET



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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump 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.


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





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

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs. It is 4:30 Eastern Time right here in New York, on Wednesday, December 18th, 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.


ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly on the eve of today's historic impeachment vote, President Trump also fired off a letter.

Mr. Trump's six-page single-spaced tirade is 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 the letter for the, quote, purpose of history.

Jim Acosta with more from the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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


BRIGGS: Jim, thanks.

It is a remarkable letter. We recommend you read it.

More from this leader to House speaker. Mr. Trump writes, there are not many people that 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, quote: You apparently have so little respect for the American people that you expect them to believe that you are approaching this impeachment somberly, reservedly, and reluctantly. No intelligent person believes what you are saying.

Here now is Speaker Pelosi's response.


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

[04:35:00] 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.


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

ROMANS: Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer's call for witnesses at an expected impeachment trial shot down by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As 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 reversal for Senator McConnell.

Here's what he said about Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999.


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, quote, partisan outcome with the president being acquitted.

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




BRIGGS: Thousands of people taking to the streets in cities like New York, Nashville, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, and Atlanta, all of them echoing the same theme, 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.

TASHA HAMLETT, PROTESTER: 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 vote begins at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. Join Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper right after NEW DAY.

Amid all the impeachment drama, lawmakers got some work done on Capitol Hill, addressing gun violence, paid family leave, among other things. Details, next.



ROMANS: FedEx has been trying to turn its business around, but still struggling, posting a 40 percent drop in profit, a 3 percent decline in revenue for the just ended fiscal second quarter. Shares dropped nearly 7 percent in after-hours trading following the report. FedEx has been dealing with several challenges, global trade disputes, cut down its international shipping business. It also lost Amazon as a major customer.

FedEx said it was hit with higher costs associated with its effort to grow weekend shipping services and it cut its forecast again for the year. Still, FedEx executives appeared optimistic, telling investors that expanding to seven-day shipping should help profits in the coming quarters.

The House has approved a nearly $1.4 trillion spending deal for next year to avert a government shutdown. The huge package of bill includes a pay raise for military and civilian federal workers, money for election security and gun research, and a repeal of three health care taxes that help pay for Obamacare. The deal maintains the current $1.4 billion for a border wall, far less than the $8.6 billion the White House was seeking.

The measure still needs to clear the Senate and President Trump must sign it before federal funding expires on Friday.

BRIGGS: Paid family and medical leave for 2.1 million federal workers passed by the Senate in an historic vote. The measure was backed by Ivanka Trump and the president has already said he will 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.

ROMANS: All right. Rudy Giuliani tells CNN that President Trump still supports his effort to dig up dirt on Democrats in Ukraine. But where is Giuliani getting his dirt?

Fred Pleitgen has more from Moscow.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Seemingly unfazed by President Trump's possible imminent impeachment, Rudy Giuliani is continuing his push to dig up dirt on the Bidens.

TRUMP: He has a lot of good information. I hear he's found plenty.

PLEITGEN: But in Ukraine, Giuliani is relying on some dubious and controversial figures. Giuliani is meeting with two lawmakers, Aleksandr Dubinsky and Andriy Derkach who have been spreading unsubstantiated corruption allegations about former Vice President Joe Biden. Of course, it was President Trump who pushed Ukrainian leader Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter who was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma on a phone call that's now at the heart of the impeachment proceedings.


TRUMP: I believe there was tremendous corruption with Biden.

PLEITGEN: That's where two more of Rudy Giuliani's proclaimed witnesses come in. Former Ukrainian prosecutors general, Viktor Shokin and Yuri Lutsenko.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take us back to the first time you were appointed --

PLEITGEN: In an interview with the right-wing pro-Trump channel OAN, Shokin claims he was fired at Biden's behest for investigating Burisma, even though there was international consensus that Shokin was ineffective at fighting corruption. His successor, Yuri Lutsenko, who was also forced to leave office for

being ineffective says he often butted heads with former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled after a smear campaign against her spearheaded by Giuliani, and in a stunning twist, Giuliani is now acknowledging he wanted Yovanovitch out.

Yovanovitch needed to be removed for many reasons, most critical, she was denying visas to Ukrainians who wanted to come to U.S. and explain Dem corruption in Ukraine, Giuliani tweeted today.

Diplomat George Kent in a closed-door testimony in the State Department objected to a visa request from Shokin due to his ineffectiveness in fighting corruption. Yovanovitch later corroborated that.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Did Giuliani try to overturn a decision that you participated in to deny Shokin a visa?


SCHIFF: And that denial was based on Mr. Shokin's corruption?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes, that's true.

PLEITGEN: Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Moscow.


BRIGGS: Our thanks, Fred.

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

Here's Evan Perez.


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: All right, thanks for that, Evan.

Former Trump campaign chairman 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 claimed 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: A new study shows teen marijuana vaping is soaring, even as the CDC and FDA warn users about a mysterious and potentially deadly lung illness. According to the National Institutes of Health monitoring the future survey, the percentage of 12th graders who reported vaping THC in the previous month nearly doubled year over year to 14 percent in 2019.

THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Researchers surveyed more than 42,000 students in eight, tenth and twelfth grade for the study. The CDC says 52 people have died this year from lung injuries associated with vaping.

ROMANS: And that's so terrifying, because parents --

BRIGGS: Fourteen percent.

ROMANS: -- because parents can't tell their kids are doing this. I'm telling you, when I talk to high school students and ask them, is this going on in your high school, they're like, absolutely. Kids leave the cartridges in the bathroom, like right in a little corner of the sink or something and the kids get out of class and they share the same vaping card -- this just happens all the time. Parents really need to talk to your kids about this.

All right. Still, shopping for the perfect Christmas gift? There's time to get gifts delivered by Christmas. But time is running out.

CNN business has those deadlines, next.



BRIGGS: Four-fifty-three Eastern Time.

And 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 building department spokesman could not confirm 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 Yorkers are safe and conduct a thorough investigation.

According to city records, inspectors cited and fined the building's manager in April because of failure to maintain the exterior.

ROMANS: Just awful.

All right, tomorrow night's Democratic primary debate will go on as scheduled. A labor dispute between a California union and a catering provider that threatened to derail the debate has been tentatively resolved. All seven Democratic 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 pick line. That left top officials 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 must 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 said he's being treated for an irregular heartbeat that is causing no symptoms. The former vice president also takes medications to lower cholesterol and to prevent blood clots, acid reflux and seasonal allergies.

Another shot of cold air from Canada bringing more chilly weather to the Northeast and heavy snow to the Great Lakes.

Here's meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.



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. Thanks for that. That's your weather. Here's your business this morning.

First, a check of markets around the world. A mixed performance really here on Wall Street. Futures right now with only seven trading days to go in the decade, up just a little bit. Look, stocks managed to close at new all-time highs for the second day in a row, the Dow closed up just 31 points, but that was enough for a record. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also eked out small gains.

There are seven days left in the decade, trading days left in the decade, it's been a tremendous year for investors. The S&P 500 is up 27 percent for the year, the ten-year total return on the S&P 500, a cool 245 percent.

All right. Two of the world's leading carmakers have agreed to merge. Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot will combine to create the world's fourth largest automaker. Combined annual revenue, nearly $190 billion.

The two firms say the merger will create an industry leader, focusing on sustainable mobility. The deal expected to close in 12 to 15 months.

All right. Important deadlines here. Are you still shopping for the holidays?


ROMANS: The clock is ticking to get your gifts delivered by Christmas and the first night of Hanukkah. The U.S. Postal Service expects to deliver roughly 16 billion cards, letters, and packages this holiday season.

If you want to beat Santa to get those gifts under the tree, here are the deadlines you need to know. You have until tomorrow to get your packages to the post office. Tomorrow. FedEx has a Friday deadline for standard ground service. UPS is giving you until next Monday, the 19th. That's for three-day select.

Are you shopping on Amazon? Today is the last day to order your gifts for standard shipping. Need more time? Target is guaranteeing same- day delivery on Christmas Eve.

BRIGGS: Well, merry Christmas.

ROMANS: You're not done? You're not ready?

BRIGGS: Not done? I have not started. I have never neglected Christmas quite like 2019.

ROMANS: I'm a little worried.

BRIGGS: Today, Amazon. That's my game.

ROMANS: Yes, just sit down.

BRIGGS: Just going to apologize to loved ones. They're all going to be late.

Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day.

For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.



TRUMP: (AUDIO GAP) that is a disgrace.


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's the Senate majority leader who's supposed to swear an oath to impartial justice before a Senate impeachment trial.



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

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START on this historic day. I'm Christine Romans.