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Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is Interviewed about Impeachment; House Impeachment Vote Today; Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Day in America as the House gets set to vote to impeach the president.

NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today the House is set to vote to impeach President Trump.

QUESTION: Do you take any responsibility for the fact that you're about to be impeached?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't take any. Zero.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president fired off an angry letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of trying to orchestrate is coup.

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

I've seen the essence of it, though, and it's really sick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're literally tell you that they're going to defy their oath. They're going to be the rubber stamp for Donald Trump.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm not an impartial juror.

This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): He's not rising to the level that a senator should rise to. He's being a pure partisan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome you to a special edition of NEW DAY on this historic day. Donald J. Trump is expected to become just the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Lawmakers will debate the articles of impeachment for six hours as the president stands accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Democrats will present their case saying that Mr. Trump pressured a foreign leader to investigate his own political rival and then blocked the investigation into those allegations.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Last night, in dozens of cities across the country, protesters marched in rallies for the president's impeachment. This was the National Mall -- or much like they did in the National Mall for Richard Nixon's impeachment four decades ago. Nixon resigned before he was impeached.

Today's vote comes almost 21 years to the day after the impeachment vote of Bill Clinton. But this time it is different. President Trump is not apologizing, not conceding anything in this fight. In fact, his words overnight and the actions of his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, he's given every indication he would do the very things he will be impeached for all over again.

CAMEROTA: OK.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington. She on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us this morning. I know it's a very busy morning for you and everyone in Congress.

So let's talk about what's going to happen this morning. I know that Speaker Pelosi has sent a letter to the Democratic caucus asking all Democrats to join her on the floor at 9:00 a.m.

What do you think this morning and the rest of the day will look like?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, I think that this morning will be a test of the character of our elected officials. It will be a test to the resilience of our Constitution and the vision of our framers.

I mean we are in an extremely grave moment where this president, and you saw it in his letter, which I would just say is unhinged, refuses to admit that he has done anything wrong. Everything is perfect. He has taken, you know, what the framers clearly would have seen as an abuse of power and an impeachable offense and he is trying to just say over and over again that it's perfect when it's not.

The reality is the president asked a foreign ally to interfere in our election. He coerced him by holding up military aid. And now he's trying to say there's nothing wrong with it. This president -- this is what occurred to me when I read his letter. He -- I don't think there's anything he thinks is above his prerogative to do. That is exactly the kind of person that the framers wanted to make sure we would not have in office.

So, today, you will see all of us as Democrats approaching the gravity of the moment with the seriousness that it deserves. You will see us quoting the facts on the floor. You will see us sticking to the oath that we swore ourselves to. And I just hope that there are some Republicans who are able to put

country over party, like those patriots did when they came and testified in spite of the president's obstruction, and recognize that what we are voting on today is not just about Donald Trump. It is about the sanctity of our elections, the vote of the people and the future of our democracy.

CAMEROTA: beyond your hope about Republicans showing some sort of solidarity, do you have any sense that they will?

JAYAPAL: I really don't. And, you know, I think it's pretty tough to do this job if you don't have constant hope and optimism for the future of the country.

But, you know, based on what the Republicans have been saying so far, I -- I don't know whether any of them will be able to vote for the Constitution or will choose to vote for the Constitution, I should say.

But I do think that the American people are watching. And I think that the facts are very clear for every defense that the Republicans gave us in committee. You know, we were in there for 18 hours on the markup of the impeachment articles.

[07:05:04]

Every single thing that the Republicans said, we were able to pull apart with the facts, with the evidence that's on the table, with multiple, corroborating testimonies.

So I would just say to any Americans who are watching who are unsure, read the transcripts of people who were appointed by President Trump and, you know, who served the president and yet felt that they had to come forward because this was so egregious, such an abuse of the power that was entrusted to the president.

CAMEROTA: You called the president's letter that he put out yesterday, the six-page letter, unhinged. Why do you think he wanted that out on the eve of this impeachment vote?

JAYAPAL: Well, I think this is what he does. He essentially tries to make a case that has no defense to it whatsoever, but he thinks that if he says it loud enough and with enough exclamation marks and enough sad and sick and words like that, that somehow that exonerates him. Well, it doesn't. If you look at that six-page letter, there are no facts there for his defense.

The president refused to come and testify or send his counsel. He has refused to send any witnesses or release any documents. And, you know, Alisyn, that is unprecedented. Nixon didn't do that. Clinton didn't do that. That is clearly putting himself above the Constitution. And I think that that's what the letter represents. I think it's a sad moment when the president literally has no defense, no ability to counter the facts that are on the table that he abused his power.

And I just keep coming back to that. When you abuse your power as the president of the United States, you are betraying the country. You are betraying our national security. And you're betraying the votes of people. Because, remember, our democracy is based on the idea that power doesn't come from the bloodlines of monarchs, it comes from the votes of people.

And so if the president is interfering, inviting foreign governments to interfere in our election, he is taking away your vote and my vote. He's undermining that core idea that creates a democracy in the first place and gives him power to begin with.

CAMEROTA: Speaker Pelosi, as I mentioned, put out her own letter last night. I'll just read a portion of it. She says, during this very prayerful moment in our nation's history, we must honor our oath to support and defend our Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Is she implying that President Trump has somehow become a domestic enemy?

JAYAPAL: Well, I -- I think that what she's saying is, when you have a president who is an enemy of our democracy, who is abusing his power, that that is a grave and serious threat to democracy. She quotes all the time, you know, the quote that this is a republic if -- if we can keep it, if you can keep it. I think that is an important point here.

You know sometimes -- I've been thinking about this over the last several weeks of being in these hearings and reading all the depositions. I think that we haven't had to fight very hard for our democracy recently. I think that people think that it just sustains itself on its own. But the reality is, the Constitution is the protective tissue that allows us to have a democracy. And we have to fight for this democracy, just like the revolutionaries did on the battlefield, just like people fought for it in the underground railroad, just like people fought for it in the civil rights movement on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We have to fight.

If we think this democracy is worth it, if we are proud of who we are as a country, then we have to fight for it. And I think we've gotten a little soft on thinking that it's just going to sustain. It does not sustain on its own. We -- it's -- it's worth it, Alisyn, for us to stand up and recognize that we are the ones that ultimately have the power to protect or destroy our democracy.

CAMEROTA: And just to be clear, you do think that President Trump is an enemy of democracy?

JAYAPAL: I think that President Trump is abusing his power. And that is undermining and destroying our democracy. That is just very, very clear.

CAMEROTA: You know, President Trump, I think that in his letter, and he has said that he often feels besieged by Democrats and the things that they say about him. He has felt insulted and somehow kind of under attack from Democrats. And he, as you know, often turns the tables and issues personal attack, levels personal attacks at Nancy Pelosi. And you have been on the receiving end of some of his very personal attacks. And I'm just wondering how that feels to be on the receiving end of that.

JAYAPAL: It's -- it's a sad day. I -- you know, when he's calling me a loser and a hater, he's commenting on Nancy Pelosi's teeth, he's, you know, he's leveling criticism at anybody who says anything about him.

[07:10:03]

He is a bully. He's a bully in the White House. And he is not acting in the interests of the country.

You know, we -- we entrust that power to the president to do what is right for the country, not what is right for him. And everything that we are putting forward today and all the attacks that he is leveling against us are essentially, you know, he's -- he's leveled attacks at you and the free press. I mean this is -- this is not how the president of the greatest democracy in the world should act. And I think that he will continue to abuse his power unless we stop him.

CAMEROTA: So, congresswoman, are you interested in being an impeachment manager when the trial is in the Senate?

JAYAPAL: It would be an incredible honor to be asked. It's the speaker's decision. But, of course, I would love to do it. I've spent eight months immersing myself in all the facts and figuring out how to, you know, present these in the most understandable way for the American people. So, of course, if I was asked, I'd be -- I'd be honored. But I trust the speaker's judgment on who the right people are.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Jayapal, we really appreciate you coming on and taking all this time for NEW DAY. Thank you very much.

JAYAPAL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: John.

BERMAN: All right, we're just hours away from the debate on the House floor that will end with the president being impeached. What should we look for today in this historic moment? Some of the best source reporters in America join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:16:09]

BERMAN: So, in just a few hours, the House will pass two articles of impeachment against President Trump, making him just the third president in U.S. history ever to be impeached.

Let's talk about this moment. Joining us now, Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and a CNN political analyst, David Gregory, a CNN political analyst, and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Maggie, we're here. I mean, we are here. This will happen by the end of today. I think this is a day that Donald Trump never expected would come to pass.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you're right. And I think that what you have to look to at a proof point of that is the fact that we've been hearing out of the White House for weeks now that they didn't believe that Nancy Pelosi had the votes. They believed there was going to be 218. They believed they were going to flip a lot of Democrats. They believed that the 31 moderates, Democrats who had won in Trump-leaning districts, were not going to vote. The majority of them are going to vote for impeachment.

So I think that they had done a lot of tricks either with the media to try to convince us that things were not going the way they were, which is just traditional spin, but some of it, I think, was them believing what they were saying.

And to your point, here we are. He doesn't want to be impeached. I understand that he is energized by a fight always. We've seen that with him repeatedly. This reminds me, his behavior right now, the most of the "Access Hollywood" weekend fallout in October of 2016 after that tape was released and he went to the debate in St. Louis and attacked Hillary Clinton with some of her husband's accusers. His behavior right now reminds me of that. That doesn't mean he's enjoying this. That doesn't mean he wants this. And that doesn't mean that just because he sees political advantage to it that he isn't acutely aware of the negative historical connotation here.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, you've been around Washington for a long time. You've covered many presidents. What are your thoughts this morning?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, a few different thoughts.

I mean I think Maggie's take is so interesting about, you know, a president who spoils for a fight, who sees the political advantage, but who no doubt wants to live in the legitimacy of the office. When he ticked off in his angry rambling letter what he sees as all of his accomplishments, I think it is a window into what he thinks he can be known for, what he can build a legacy around. And yet what he really comes back to is that center point which for him is no limits, no boundaries.

Which gets to the other point. John Harris in "Politico" this morning I thought had a good column, asking anybody who opposes impeachment to ask themselves what they would do with these set of facts if Hillary Clinton were president. There's no question that Republicans would be in the same place that Democrats are.

Which goes to the final point and the takeaway. As partisan as impeachment was when I covered it back during Bill Clinton, we're in a different era now. There are walls between committees. You know, the Intelligence Committee, which had great sharing among staff members. Now I'm told by committee members that there's a complete wall of separation. It's become completely shut down along partisan lines. And that's really what we're seeing. I wonder what the future then is after the Kavanaugh nomination fight, after impeachment here of Trump. We're in a different era of partisanship that has gotten uglier and uglier.

BERMAN: Kaitlan, I wonder what it will be like as of tonight, or tomorrow, when President Trump, you know, is at an event, or people talk about President Trump, and, you know, the second or third sentence will be impeached by the House of Representatives. President Trump impeached by the House of Representatives, dot, dot, dot.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And often throughout his presidency, John, we've seen the thing that has irked the president the most is not necessarily the actual event that happens or what people think about a decision he's made, it's the coverage of something. So essentially over watching today, over the next few days, as this is all playing out, that's what people around the president think is going to be the worst problem that they have to deal with because often that is what drives him the craziest is the bad or negative news coverage about him.

[07:20:00]

And so essentially the president realizes that today's vote is a foregone conclusion, but he still fired off that letter anyway yesterday because he still wants the last chance to get his thoughts out there, to get what he has to say about this out there because essentially he doesn't feel like his side is being told, even though you've seen his Republican allies spreading those talking points about the White House day in and day out. But the president himself still does not want that negative coverage of him being impeached.

CAMEROTA: OK, friends, stick around, if you would. Kaitlan just brought up the letter. And we do have some reporting on the background to that letter, what went into it, how long he's been stewing about that. So we'll share that inside reporting, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:25:09]

CAMEROTA: Welcome back to our special coverage as we watch Congress get set for President Trump to be impeached today. The president shared his thoughts in an angry six-page letter filled with false and misleading claims.

Back with us now we have Maggie Haberman, David Gregory, and Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, I'll start with you.

Your reporting, in terms of the background of this letter and how it came to pass, the president has been ruminating on this for a while?

COLLINS: Yes, they started drafting this letter early last week. It was kept really closely inside the White House, which is pretty remarkable because things inside this White House aren't too tightly closely held normally. But this is something that was. So it even surprised some officials when the White House released this letter yesterday. But the president essentially wanted to be able to send a direct message to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. That's why they decided to send this letter. They had been debating which day to release it, whether they were going to do it early this week and then they waited until yesterday so essentially they could get it out before the vote today.

But one other interesting thing of note is that the White House council, Pat Cipollone, who is pretty widely expected to be the person leading the president's defense in this impeachment trial, was pretty much left out of this process of drafting this letter until the end when he was brought in, did a review, looked at -- made some edits, but essentially was not a main player in drafting this later, which is pretty notable given the fact that he is expected to take such a lead significant role in what's going to happen in the Senate trial.

BERMAN: Maggie, you've got your own reporting on this letter.

HABERMAN: I -- everything Kaitlan said is true. What was striking about is was the fact that the White House counsel's office, the president did not want them involved. It was him basically in conjunction with Steven Miller and also Eric Ueland, the director of the office of legislative affairs, and another aide to Mick Mulvaney, who helped out on this.

But it reminded me a lot of just -- in tone and also in terms of how it was constructed of the original version of the letter that President Trump did when he wanted to fire Comey, which was basically, as one aide at the time put it to me, a primal scream from the president, worked on with Steven Miller. Steven Miller is, obviously, able to channel the president in a very specific way.

And it is true that the White House counsel's office came in at the end, at the very end. The president was pretty clear with people. He didn't want to be told that he couldn't do certain things as he was conducting this letter. And I think that says a lot about the degree to which he believes that no one is fighting for him the way he thinks they should be. That has been a complaint of his this whole time. Initially he was complaining that people were not defending the call itself with the president of Ukraine. That they were saying, well, it was inappropriate but it's not impeachable. He's actually gradually gotten Republicans to move away from that. I can't think of a Republican who is saying there was a problem with that call at this point. They're all in lock step with him. But for him it's just not enough and he had things on his mind and he wanted to get them out.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, I have been so struck as we have played old video of this week years ago when Bill Clinton was impeached. I had forgotten how contrite Bill Clinton -- President Clinton was during that. And, I mean, just the difference in tact between that -- going to the microphone, apologizing for being flawed or for the mistakes and hurting his family and all of that stuff, and this letter that we saw yesterday from President Trump.

GREGORY: Yes, it's so interesting. I was having a similar thought this morning as I was -- as I was driving down thinking about impeachment in 1998. And, remember, this -- you know, President Clinton did something wrong and was contrite about it. And then the fight was really but is that an impeachable offense. And it was obviously a big debate about that.

Here you have a complete defense on all of the facts, both that what he did was right, he says, and that the process is wrong. And so what's so striking is that in this letter you see a president who's not just arguing that somehow executive power is so complete to cover all of his behavior it -- because if it were just that, the White House counsel could amplify that argument. The fact that the president didn't want the counsel or lawyers involved is so telling.

Look, this is a president who was a candidate in a debate said, well, if I lose, maybe I won't honor, you know, the results of the election. Maybe I won't consider it legitimate. No -- no boundaries, no limits. That's how the president has approached his work.

And -- and I should point out, this letter is, without a doubt, a template for how he's going to run next year. You'll see it. He'll have a rally tonight. I mean this -- this will be the script.

BERMAN: It may also be an admission of how he will behave today and has behaved in the last several days, because what he is saying is that I will do this again.

[07:30:04]

And, in fact, his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is doing it again.