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Trump Takes "Zero" Responsibility for Impeachment; McConnell: "I'm Not An Impartial Juror"; Anti-Trump Rallies Across America; Country; Pacers Snap Lakers' Road Winning Streak at 14. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 05:00   ET





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'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.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, December 18th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East Coast.

Let's repeat that date. It is Wednesday, December 18th, 2019, which is 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 among 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, thank you so much.

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

Jim Acosta with more 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


BRIGGS: Jim, thanks.

Here's more from this remarkable letter from the president 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 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.


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 would be derelict in their congressional duty if they don't vote for impeachment.


ROMANS: It's Senate Minority 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, former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

McConnell, though, 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 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.


BRIGGS: 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."

ROMANS: All right. With all the impeachment drama, lawmakers, they got some work done on Capitol Hill, addressing gun violence, among other things. Details 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: And 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: All right. The NBA's top rookie sidelined, Zion Williamson? Andy Scholes has the "Bleacher Report" next. What?



BRIGGS: For the first time this NBA season, the Lakers and LeBron losing outside the city of Los Angeles. Remarkable.

Andy Scholes has that story in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.


You know, the Lakers were 14-0 from Staples Center heading in last night. They did lose a road game to the Clippers on opening night, but that was basically a home game since it was at Staples.

The road winning streak though on the line. Andy Davis out with a sprained ankle. LeBron James trying to pick up the slack. Look at this no-look pass by Dwight Howard. That was a beauty. Then, later, LeBron, he'd be on the signing catching the alley-hoop for the reverse slam.

So the Pacers were up three with ten seconds to go. The Lakers had a chance to tie it, but Rajon Rondo's deep three-pointer no good. Pacers upset the Lakers, 105-102.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: I wish we had an opportunity to win the game we just did. We were able to keep our composure throughout adversity. Some up or down, still being able to make a game out of it, which we did tonight, but sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, which is OK.


SCHOLES: Up next for the Lakers, a huge matchup with the bucks Thursday night on TNT.


Zion Williamson returning to full weight bearing activities on the floor for the first time since having surgery on meniscus, in his right knee, back in October. The Pelicans, though, still not getting a timetable for Zion to make his NBA debut. The top overall pick dominated the season with 23 points and six rebounds a game.

Zion back in the locker room getting an early Christmas gift from one of his teammates, Lonzo Ball, gifting all players a custom Xbox. Zion was so happy after he got it, he went over to Lonzo and said, hey, give me a big hug. That's the Christmas spirit right there.

Someone else in the Christmas spirit? Panthers, Cam Newton trading his helmet for a Santa cap yesterday. His surprise sleigh dropping off $25,000 with the donations to the Urban Promise after school program in Charlotte. Along with backpacks and clothing for the kids. Then he handed out $100 gift cards to staffers at a local elementary school. In all, he handed out over $150,000 worth of donations and gifts.

Finally, check out this wild crowd in London cheering at this event. Guess what this is for? It was for darts.

Fallon Sherrock becoming the first woman to beat a man in the BBC world championship and the huge crowd on hand absolutely loving it.

You know, Dave, going to a darts event wasn't on my radar, but after watching this, I want to see what it's all about, because this looks amazing.

BRIGGS: That is remarkable. How much booze do you think was being served at that competition. I thought the same thing when I saw this going viral yesterday.

Darts? I never played outside of a bar. That is --

SCHOLES: Apparently, it's a big thing overseas.

BRIGGS: Yes, quite the party, man. Thank you, Andy.


ROMANS: I'm a reigning dart champion.

SCHOLES: Is that right?

ROMANS: From a certain establishment in Iowa State University. I was very good.

SCHOLES: Wow. Learned something new every day.

ROMANS: I'll take you on.

ROMANS: All right. 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.



ROMANS: Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years' probation. Gates flipped on the president in the Mueller investigation. The judge praised him for choosing to share the truth under enormous political pressure, calling it an important public service. Gates admits helping former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort concealed $75 million in foreign bank accounts during their years of Ukraine lobbying work. He told the judge he accepts responsibility for his actions.

BRIGGS: 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.

ROMANS: Tomorrow night's Democratic primary debate will go on as schedule. A 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 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: Workers are expected to ratify the agreement next week.

BRIGGS: According to his doctor, 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden is, quote, healthy and vigorous and fit to execute the duties of the presidency. Biden's campaign releasing a summary of his medical condition yesterday. Biden's doctors say he's being treated for an irregular heart beat that's causing no symptoms. The former vice president also takes medication to lower cholesterol and to prevent blood clots, acid reflux, and seasonal allergies.

EARLY START continues right now.



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


BRIGGS: President Trump defiant on the eve of his inevitable impeachment.


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


ROMANS: That is the Senate majority leader, 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 the last hours before lawmakers cast their fateful votes.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START on a historic day. I'm Dave Briggs

ROMANS: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans. It's 29 -- almost 30 minutes past the hour.

And it's date is historic, Wednesday, December 18th, 2019, a grave day in American history. The House of Representatives will vote today on articles of impeachment.