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House Begins Debate On Articles Of Impeachment; Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) On His Vote On Impeachment; Lessons On Impeachment From Clinton White House Insiders. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 07:30   ET

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


[07:30:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, in fact, his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is doing it again publicly, going to Ukraine to dig up dirt. And so what one can infer from all of this is that given the opportunity, given the audience, the president would absolutely ask another foreign government to get involved in the U.S. election.

And, Kaitlan, that is what the Senate now will have to contend with as impeachment moves there and there will be a Senate trial. Now, we think we know how this will go.

But the senators are in a different position than the members of the House are. The script gets flipped over there where you have some vulnerable Republican senators.

Susan Collins, who just announced she's running for reelection --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BERMAN: -- today, who will have to explain why she thinks it's OK that the president, today, is admitting he would do this all over again.

COLLINS: And it's also important to remember the Senate feels very differently about President Trump than the House does. They are completely two different bodies -- their makeup, how these members act.

You've seen that play out if you watched those hearings last week -- the president's most ardent defenders -- what they were saying. You're not going to see that from some of these Republican senators.

The thing that's different there is Mitch McConnell who, of course, as a pretty tight grip on his conference. And that's why he wants this to be so quick because he knows there are those senators who are in vulnerable positions and he wants to be able to protect them from making any kind of damaging votes.

But what you said about the president repeating his behavior is really interesting and that's why it makes what Maggie said about this being similar to the aftermath in the "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" tape so striking. Because the one difference is that after "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" the president had this brief moment of remorse where he apologized, though he later went back on that apology. But he did have a brief moment of embarrassment and remorse and that is not something we have seen as this process has played out since September.

And you see that even in his letter where he makes several statements that are factually incorrect, like saying he immediately released the transcript of his call, which he didn't. The call happened in July. We didn't get a copy of it -- until September -- of that transcript.

But I think you're right about the behavior aspect of all of this.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Maggie, Mitch McConnell has announced that he has no interest in being an impartial juror. He wants everybody to know exactly where he stands.

Here he is in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: He said that he's been working with the president and the White House hand in glove on this.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. Look, I mean, we certainly know in the Clinton impeachment that Tom Daschle's staff was talking to the White House but I don't think that you saw anything quite like this.

And at the end of the day -- if, as Mitch McConnell says, it is correct, this is a political process -- someone might want to remind the president of that as he constantly talks about due process, which is a criminal proceeding as if that has any relevance here. And we have heard him say that over and over.

Look, Kaitlan is exactly right. The Senate is a completely different body, as you know. The way they are going to go about this is totally different.

Where McConnell has been, I think, very clear in where he does diverge with the president, he has wanted to make clear there's going to be no daylight publicly. That Mitch McConnell does not want to call witnesses. He has made that clear in private conversations to any number of senators and White House staff.

The president toggles back and forth between agreeing and wanting witnesses to be called. That's part of why you saw this letter is there are not likely to be witnesses in the Senate trial. There are not 51 votes to approve them. So the president was trying to essentially bring in his own witnesses on paper. BERMAN: It doesn't look like there are 51 votes to approve the Hunter Bidens of the world. What's not clear this morning, at least on the phone calls I've been making -- and they just don't know -- they legitimately don't know -- is if there are 51 votes to try to get John Bolton?

HABERMAN: No, that's true.

BERMAN: Mitch McConnell doesn't know --

HABERMAN: That's right.

BERMAN: -- if there are four Republicans --

HABERMAN: Yes, and I'm referring to the Hunter Biden and the (INAUDIBLE) witnesses, to be clear about that.

BERMAN: Totally, totally, and I'm just moving it forward.

HABERMAN: Yes.

BERMAN: It is interesting to me, again -- and, Susan Collins is running for reelection. She just announced it today, David. And, Susan Collins is going to have to explain to the voters in Maine -- it's a purple state.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BERMAN: -- maybe more blue than purple -- why she doesn't want to hear from John Bolton or why she doesn't want to hear from Mick Mulvaney. This is something that will be a challenge for her and for Cory Gardner. Go to Boulder and try to make that case.

CAMEROTA: Seventy-one percent of Americans in the latest poll -- I think it's a Gallup poll -- say that they would like witnesses at a Senate trial.

GREGORY: Right. No, I think it's such an important point.

And to the point you raise about Rudy Giuliani, the specter of the president doing it again and seeking this kind of help again. Who is supposed to stand up to that if it's not the Senate and if it's not lawmakers?

And let's not forget, Susan Collins also needs a lot of backup from the Republican Party given her vote in favor of Brett Kavanaugh -- Justice Kavanaugh and that episode, which was so difficult for her politically.

[07:35:00]

The bigger point to me about all of this is that if institutions don't act like institutions bigger than partisan politics, they're merely partisan. And right now, you have only partisanship and that's bigger than the institutions. So the Senate can't do anything if there's not the votes. And that

means that the president can look at the Congress and say look, if I have the votes and there's no check on me if I want to do what I want to do.

And that's where Washington is right now. It's just a question of where the votes are. The fact that there is such unity on both sides in this question of impeachment is really striking.

BERMAN: David, Maggie, Kaitlan, thank you so much for being with us this morning --

HABERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: -- this historic morning.

More and more Democrats have come out over the last 48 hours and said they will vote for impeachment, including Democrats from districts that voted by a wide margin for President Trump. How did they come to the conclusion that the president should be impeached? We're going to speak to one of these members, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:40:15]

BERMAN: Hours from now, the House of Representatives will vote to impeach the President of the United States by a margin that is bigger than was anticipated just a few days ago. The vote is going to include members from districts that voted for President Trump, in some cases by fairly wide margins.

Joining me now is Congressman Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat from New York. He announced yesterday that he will vote yes on impeachment. And your district, Congressman, voted for the president in 2016 by 15 points.

I want to read for our audience something you wrote yesterday in explaining your vote. You wrote, "There is little doubt the president made a grave error in his call with Ukraine. The fact that the president made a political request to a foreign leader of a troubled country with the intention for it to impact an American rival is beyond disappointing. It is unconstitutional."

You looked at the evidence produced over the last two months. What did you see that led you to reach this conclusion?

REP. ANTHONY BRINDISI (D-NY): Well, really, for me it took this final weekend and into the beginning of the week to really go through again all the transcripts, look at articles that have been written about impeachment, talk to constitutional law experts.

And what I felt after looking at all the evidence that there was sufficient evidence to move forward with articles of impeachment in the House. And ultimately, it will be up to the Senate to decide what they will do. But for me, I felt that there was sufficient evidence to move forward.

BERMAN: Why is it important to take this stand?

BRINDISI: Well, I think it's important because ultimately, our responsibility -- I feel my responsibility is to the Constitution and the rule of law.

I've always said that the troubling part of all of this for me is that I've actually worked pretty successfully with the president on major initiatives, like the new trade deal we're going to pass tomorrow and other things that are going to be good for American families.

But I also recognize that we are an equal branch of government and we have a responsibility here to follow the Constitution, to follow the rule of law. And for me, that's the most important thing.

BERMAN: The president won your district by 15 points. We just mentioned that. To what extent did that factor into your decision?

BRINDISI: Well, to be honest, politics did not play into my calculation. We live in the greatest democracy in the history of the world and ultimately, the voters will have their say.

But I felt that I had to do my duty as a member of Congress, which is the greatest honor of my life, to uphold the Constitution. And when I looked at all the evidence, I felt there was sufficient evidence to move forward with articles of impeachment.

That may not be a politically popular thing in my district but I think, for the most part, people in my district want their representative to vote their conscience and to do the right thing, and that's what I did in this instance -- what I'll do today -- and focus on the other things that we're actually getting done for the country.

It's been a pretty successful week, last week and this week, with the announcement of the major trade deal, which we're going to pass tomorrow.

We got the defense bill done in the House. It's going to be on its way to be signed by the president. Major wins in there for our military and our country.

We're doing a lot of different areas. I got my Fentanyl Sanctions bill passed in the National Defense Authorization.

So there's a lot of good things happening and I think it shows what we can accomplish around this place when we actually compromise and get things done.

BERMAN: It is interesting because there have been some Republicans who have made the argument in hearings that this is a vote that will hurt the Democrats politically. They're not arguing on the facts. They seem concerned about your political future.

So how much do you think it will hurt your reelection bid and how much do you care? BRINDISI: Well look, you're elected by the voters back home. I always say that this is not my congressional seat, this is their congressional seat and they have a -- they will have the ultimate say who their representative is. I think for the most part, voters in my district are more concerned about the issues that affect them every day.

You know, we've done over a dozen town hall meetings in the last year and rarely does the issue of impeachment ever come up. It comes up but it's certainly not the main focus of these town hall meetings.

People come to these meetings talking about how we do lower drug costs, how do we rebuild our infrastructure, how do we support our farmers and our veterans? Those are the issues that people care about in my district.

And if you look at the work that I've done over the last year, working with the White House to get this new trade deal passed, working with the White House to get my first bill signed into law that will support our veterans, working with the White House on this defense bill -- I think looking at the body of the work, that's what voters back home are going to actually care about and judge you on.

BERMAN: And you've been working on a measure that I think has one of the better slogans in political history -- "Stick A Fork In It" which is -- right -- which is basically to require that flatware that the military buys be purchased in America. And it is in your district, the one manufacturing plant that makes this.

[07:45:05]

Will you be successful in getting this measure through?

BRINDISI: We will. It's included in the final defense bill, which is going to be -- it's already passed the House and will be on its way to be passed in the Senate, and then on to the president.

And this is a major win for district. Most people don't realize that up until 2006, the military had to buy American-made flatware. But we lost all of our manufacturers here in this country back then, so they stopped.

Now we have a great company that happens to be located in my district that makes flatware. It's the only American-made flatware company. And I always say that when we're spending taxpayer dollars, especially for our brave men and women, they should have the best.

And as long as we have a domestic supply of flatware, as long as the price is competitive, there's no reason why our military and other federal agencies should not be purchasing from American companies, supporting American manufacturing and American workers, which is something the president, himself, has championed.

BERMAN: And as you say, you can stick a fork in it. I just wanted to say that one more time --

BRINDISI: It's all done.

BERMAN: -- because I like -- I like political slogans.

Look, one of the things we have heard from House leadership and we consistently hear from members is what a serious day this is and in some ways, what a hard moment this is.

And I want to know from you what it's like today as you are about to cast this vote. Is it hard because of the possible political implications? Is it hard because of the weight of saying that a president should be removed from office? Why is this a difficult moment?

BRINDISI: It's going to be a somber day around here. And I said this past week that in my political career this is the toughest decision I've had to make, not because of the political implications but because of the nature of what we're doing here.

Impeachment is a very serious matter and I honestly can't think of another vote, other than maybe sending our brave men and women into battle, that is more serious than impeachment. So --

BERMAN: Can I ask -- you say it's one of the toughest votes you've had to make, but is it tough because of the nature of it or tough because it was a close call on the facts?

BRINDISI: No, I think it was tough because of the nature of it. Talking about impeaching a president for the third time in our nation's history is a serious matter and I agonized over this decision. I wanted to wait until the last minute and be -- and really look at all the -- all the evidence that's been laid out before I finally made a decision.

I think it was wrong for members on both sides who were quick to either condemn the president or who rushed to his defense without seeing all the facts and evidence. And that's why I waited until everything was out.

I went back this weekend and looked at all the transcripts again and ultimately, came to the decision that I came to. But I understood that this is a very serious matter and that's why I wanted to give it the due respect it deserves.

BERMAN: Anthony Brindisi, thank you for joining us this morning. Please stay in touch over the next several weeks.

BRINDISI: Thank you.

BERMAN: It will be very interesting to hear back from you.

BRINDISI: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting to hear from him today on this important day.

So in a little more than an hour debate will begin on impeaching the President of the United States. It is almost 21 years to the day from the country's last impeachment. So we will speak with two people were part of that historic day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:52:50]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HENRY HYDE (R-IL): Mr. Secretary, by direction of the House of Representatives and pursuant to House Resolution 614, I hereby deliver these articles of impeachment. Would you hold this? Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That was December 19th, 1998, almost 21 years to the day of today.

BERMAN: I remember where I was.

CAMEROTA: Do you?

BERMAN: I do.

CAMEROTA: I don't know that I exactly remember where I was but I remember the era well, and that's when the House voted to impeach President Clinton and then hand-delivered those articles of impeachment.

So what can the country expect this time around?

Joining us now are two Clinton White House insiders who well remember where they were --

BERMAN: And better than me, probably.

CAMEROTA: -- on that day. We have former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart, and former White House adviser Paul Begala.

You know that I love these segments because I just don't think that we can talk enough about the stark contrast and yet, some of the comparisons, and it's great to have you both here.

So, Joe, one more time, let's get in the time machine and just go back to you on that very day.

BERMAN: Oh, he looks the same.

CAMEROTA: Oh, you look exactly the same.

BERMAN: He looks very similar --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- in 21 years.

CAMEROTA: You haven't aged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE LOCKHART, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- of the view that he is the commander in chief. He will continue to pursue what he thinks is in our national security interests and he is able to pursue our national security interests regardless of what Congress does.

REPORTER: Joe, in addition to (INAUDIBLE) what has the president been doing the last 24 hours to influence the impeachment vote?

LOCKHART: Very little. He's been working hard on other issues. He's been working hard on keeping up with the operation that's ongoing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It's a press briefing. I almost don't know what this is. What's --

CAMEROTA: I don't either.

BERMAN: What is this when the press secretary stands at the podium?

LOCKHART: It's -- what is this foreign thing that I haven't seen before?

CAMEROTA: Yes, we're really waxing nostalgic.

LOCKHART: Yes.

CAMEROTA: OK, so Joe, what were you thinking and feeling on that day at that moment that we just watched?

LOCKHART: You know, it's really strange to say now but that day didn't feel very much different than a lot of other days. We knew what was going to happen and we'd been preparing it for a while. We had a plan. And then that day just blew up because of Bob Livingston going to the -- to the floor of the House and resigning because of an affair.

[07:55:07]

And, you know, there was a moment there where I thought I -- you know, this is just too much -- I can't. I took a breath and Paul and I and some others went in and saw the president and said here's what we think we need to do. The president said here's what we're going to do and we got right back on it.

So it was -- and like I said, in some ways, it was weirdly normal and then crazy.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: We can't let Paul off the hook, so let's go back down memory lane and see Paul Begala with gray hair. Oh, no sound. There's just Paul with gray hair which is really --

CAMEROTA: That's all. We don't need to hear from him. We just want to see him.

BERMAN: You don't need to hear anything there.

You know, Paul, when we talk about the difference, I am struck by the difference in polling, right? If you look at 1998, should President Clinton be impeached and removed from office, it was 34 percent yes, 63 percent no. Now, it's 45 percent yes, 47 percent no. Some polls have it 49 percent yes, 46 percent no.

But there's a big difference in the polling. How does it feel similar or different to you?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think that's the biggest difference. There was a clear national consensus with Clinton that he should not be impeached, he should not be removed, two to one. It wasn't close.

And by the way, the day after the impeachment vote, which was December 19th -- the after day it, December 20th, CNN did a poll. Clinton's favorable shot up to 73 percent -- the highest U.S. president. Not because people thought it was a good idea to have an affair and lie about it, but because that's how passionately they opposed the impeachment.

This impeachment is like everything in Trump's America, much more 50- 50.

I do think Trump -- of course, we -- Joe and I have been trying seriously, through this show, to advise him. He -- you read that letter. There's no contrition, there's no remorse, there's no accountability, there's no reaching out to the party opposite, there's no forward-looking agenda.

I helped write those statements for Bill Clinton. He did all of that through the time he was being impeached and he showed the country that he really was a president who could pull the country together, and this guy just doesn't seem to have that.

CAMEROTA: One of the things that I've been so struck by during this current time -- this, leading up to the impeachment is how many Republicans say over and over the Democrats hate this president. The Democrats hate President Trump, as though that's some sort of excuse or that's some sort of badge of honor. I mean, they never take the next logical step as to what has happened to inspire such hatred.

But, Joe, at that time, did you feel as though the Republicans hated President Clinton?

LOCKHART: Well, I felt like there were people like Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich who felt like they could -- they were so interested in exercising raw power that it did border on hate. I felt like there were a lot of people in the Republican caucus who went along because they felt like it was in their interest. You know, the biggest difference between this time and last time is in 1998, Democrats and Republicans equally took this process seriously. Democrats have -- one of the first people to use the "I" word was Dick Gephardt -- you know, that this might be impeachable.

There was a lot of problems that we had in the United States Senate. There was some talk about going down to talk to the president at various times.

In the House, we had, I think, 38 members of the Democratic Party vote to open the inquiry; five who voted with them. And those are not huge numbers but both sides took it seriously and they debated the same basic facts.

This time, the Democrats are using evidence and facts, the Republicans are making up conspiracy theories. And the fact that no one's going to vote on something so much more consequential than what we were talking about in '98 shows that they -- they're not a serious party any longer and they don't -- they don't view the Constitution and the rule of law the way they used to.

BERMAN: Paul, once you're impeached you can't get unimpeached. So what it's going to be like for President Trump dealing with this in the days, weeks, and years ahead?

BEGALA: Well, I'm sure he'll try to claim -- should he be impeached, which looks likely today -- should he be tried and then not removed office in the Senate, I think he'll try to claim some vindication.

I think this letter -- I've read it three times now and I'm really interested in it. I thought -- I think it's wrong to say it's deranged or demented or sick. That's unfair to people with mental illness and we all know and love people who struggle with that. It is not.

I think we need to talk about it in a more fundamental way. It is tyrannical. It is evil, this letter.

What he is telling us is that he's going to attack every check and balance on his power -- the free press, the Congress, the FBI, the Judiciary, the Intelligence Community. He wants to do to the country what he's done to the Republican Party -- the party of Reagan, the party of Lincoln -- and made it into a bunch of sycophantic lickspittles.

And this is today, the day that the Constitution is going to be tested and I hope our Congress is up to it.

BERMAN: Well, we will see what happens -- play out on the House floor starting very shortly.

Paul, Joe, thank you so much for being with us.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it's a very important morning. We appreciate you having been here for our special coverage.

BERMAN: And, CNN's special coverage of these impeachment hearings continues. Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper take over in Washington.

END