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House of Representative to Vote on Articles of Impeachment against President Trump; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Interviewed on whether House Speaker will Send Articles of Impeachment to Senate at This Time if Passed in the House; Sources: GOP to Force Motions to Delay Proceedings Today. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We appreciate you having been here for our special coverage.

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington with Jake Tapper, and this is CNN's special live coverage of the House impeachment vote. On this truly historic day President Donald J. Trump is facing the harshest and rarest of rebukes by the United States House of Representatives. He's about to become only the third leader of this country ever to be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. Jake, when this day is over, President Trump will have an indelible mark on history.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's true. Not just a mark. A stain. This is only the second time in modern American history this has happened. This is a serious day, a solemn day, a traumatic day in many ways. And in fact, when you think about the last time the country went through this during the Clinton years in the late 90s, a big difference was back then you had a president who was contrite, who was apologetic, and he supported by the Democratic Party, but they were saying what he did was wrong, it just wasn't impeachable.

Here, for the most part, we have a president who is defiant. He wrote a rather -- I don't know how to express it -- rude and defiant letter to Nancy Pelosi yesterday. And you have a Republican Party that is saying that the president did nothing wrong for the most part. So that means, in my view at least, the partisan divide about this impeachment is even worse than it was last time. And I don't think we should belittle how traumatic this is for the country, for people who support the president, for people who oppose the country. It's an ugly day.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And as you and I know from our previous experience, it doesn't happen very often. I want to go to Dana Bash. She's up to Capitol Hill right now. Dana,

you're watching all of this unfold, and you have a special guest with you, someone who will be presiding over at least part of this historic day.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the man who led the investigation into what led to this impeachment. Thank you so much, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for joining me.

So in just a couple of hours, this is going to happen a few steps from where we are. It's solemn. It's grave. We've heard all those words from you. What message, after all of this, do you want Americans to take away from what they see on the floor?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA) CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I'd like Americans to recognize that the president betrayed their trust, abused the power of his office to help cheat in an election, the next election, and sacrifice our national security to do so. And that is not something that we can accept in the office of the presidency. And if we accept it in this president because some people share the same party with the president, then we're going to have to admit of a level of corruption in that office for all future presidents. And so there's a lot at stake here in what we do today, both for today and for the future.

BASH: So after this, it's going to go down this hallway over to the Senate side. Will you be a House manager presenting your case to the Senate during the trial?

SCHIFF: Well, that will be up to the speaker to decide. She has made no announcements of her thinking.

BASH: Have you heard from her about it?

SCHIFF: I'm not going --

BASH: I know you don't want to get ahead of her, but you talked about it.

SCHIFF: I certainly do not want to get ahead of her. It will be her decision. We certainly talked about the issue of House managers, but that will be a judgment call for her to make, and that's why she is the speaker.

BASH: Speaking of the speaker, I'm sure you saw the multi-page letter that the president wrote to her yesterday saying a lot of things, including that what you are doing is declaring an open war on democracy with this impeachment vote. The speaker called it sick. What's your reaction?

SCHIFF: It is a long, angry, rambling letter of someone who appears not well. And I'm not sure any other way to describe it.

But, look, the president wants to think that the impeachment provision, which the founders put in the Constitution, is somehow unconstitutional. That makes no sense. It was a constitutional remedy meant for a president like him who put his personal interests over that of the nation. But this president believes he is the state, that he can do no wrong, that under Article Two, as he has said, he can do anything that he wants. Well, he can't. He's not a king. He's not our ruler. He is an elected president who can be removed for abusing his power, and that he has done.

BASH: So on that note, the president in the Oval Office attacked you directly. He was sitting next to the president of Guatemala. He lamented you can't be prosecuted for telling the, what you call parody, of the July 25th phone call. Here's what he said. He said "In Guatemala, they handle things much tougher than that." Is that a threat?

[08:05:00]

SCHIFF: I think that's what he intended it to be. This is a president, after all, who has said of people who blow the whistle on him that they're traitors and spies and should be treated as traitors and spies used to be treated. We used to execute traitors and spies. So this is not a president above threatening anyone who gets in his way. Anyone who stands up to him --

BASH: Do you think jail is really what he meant?

SCHIFF: No. I think the undertone is very much a reference to Guatemala's violent history. But look, he is not going to intimidate me, and, thankfully, we have courageous public servant comes and testify who were not intimidated by him either. They did their constitutional duty. I'm going to do mine. I took an oath as well, and --

BASH: I'm sorry, when you say violent history, can you expand on what you mean by that? How did you take what the president said as a potential call to violence?

SCHIFF: I think it was quite deliberately designed to be a threat. And this is the president's modus operandi. I'm not the first person he made a veiled threat about, I won't be the last. But this is precisely the kind of conduct Americans should not accept in the Oval Office. He has so debased that office with his threats and his temper tantrums, but more to the point, he has sacrificed our national security by withholding military aid from an ally at war so that he could get help in cheating in the next election. That is what brings us to this day.

BASH: So there was a report in "The Washington Post" that you sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence. And you want to declassify some of the testimony from his aides. And "The Post" reports that your letter says there are profound questions raised about the vice president's knowledge of the president's actions in Ukraine. Do you have evidence that the vice president did something that was untoward or even inappropriate or illegal?

SCHIFF: Mr. Sondland testified that he informed the vice president at that meeting in Warsaw that the aid was being withheld, that the president wanted these investigations, and that the two were tied. And he got no visible reaction from the vice president, not a, you don't know what you're talking about, that couldn't possibly be, what does this mean. None of that. Just a silent acknowledgment, if you will.

This classified issue goes to the vice president's knowledge of this scheme. It should be declassified. It has nothing classified in it. It is not appropriate to classify something because it will conceal material that is either embarrassing or incriminating. If the vice president thinks his call is perfect, then he should release his call and he should release this classified submission.

BASH: We've seen the chairman of the Intelligence Committee release classified information before. If he doesn't say yes, will you do it anyway?

SCHIFF: That is a process that has been abused in the past. I would like to see the intelligence community declassify this if the vice president will not.

BASH: One of the questions going forward is whether or not the House will hold the articles of impeachment until the Senate gets its act together on what a trial will look like. Is that a good strategy?

SCHIFF: That will be a decision for the speaker if and when to transmit the articles should they pass as we presume that they will today. I have to say I'm deeply concerned by the comments from Mitch McConnell that he does not intend to be impartial, that he does not want to hear witnesses, he does not want to see documents, he's not interested in finding out the truth. Now the evidence is already overwhelming, but he's afraid, clearly, that it will become even more overwhelming.

BASH: So do you think given that, it's a good idea to hold on to the articles here until maybe he can be convinced otherwise?

SCHIFF: Well, I hope that he will engage in a good faith negotiation with Senator Schumer about the nature of the trial so that the American people get to hear from these witnesses. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to hear from Bolton and Mulvaney. They want documents from the State Department to be revealed.

BASH: And are holding the articles potential point of leverage for you?

SCHIFF: Well, that will be a decision for the leadership.

BASH: What do you think strategically? Could it be?

SCHIFF: I don't know the answer. But I do know this. There are witnesses that have knowledge. They are witnesses like John Bolton that the Senate should hear from. There are documents, many of them deeply incriminating, that should be released by the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget. And the senators of both parties should want that evidence to come to light. If they're doing their constitutional duty, they should want that evidence to come to light. BASH: So we -- speaking of coming to light, we have now in the last

week seen that there are big problems in the FISA courts, the court that approves secret spying or surveillance, whatever you want to call it. Will you, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee start to work on reforming that very important court?

[08:10:02]

SCHIFF: Yes. And we'll have an opportunity to do so with the renewals of the FISA legislation. But also given the decision by the FBI director, which I think is absolutely not only appropriate but necessary to implement the recommendations of the inspector general so there are real reforms. The letter opinion issued on the FISA court which was scathing, and appropriately so, calls on the FBI and the Department of Justice to reform the process so that when there are proceedings like this in the future, the court can have confidence that it's getting the full information.

BASH: You have been one of the faces of this whole process. Given that, how do you want history, which is going to be made today, to remember you and how you handled yourself and the things that you said and did?

SCHIFF: I think about this a lot, not so much from the perspective of history, I guess, but from the perspective of whenever the day comes I have grandkids, and they want to know what did grandfather do when he was in the Congress. I want them to be proud of what I did. I want them to know that when we had a deeply unethical man running the country, that their grandfather stood up to him. And I feel privileged only in one respect during this dark time, that I am in a position I can make a difference when I think our democracy is deeply at risk.

BASH: Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for your time this morning.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BASH: I really appreciate it.

Wolf and Jake, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, and thanks to the chairman of the Intelligence Committee as well.

Jake, this moment, abuse of power, obstruction of Congress. We're going to hear a lot about high crimes and misdemeanors.

TAPPER: And then also what we just heard from the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, a little suspense. Generally today we know what's going to happen. The Democrats appear to have the votes to impeach the president. But he refused to answer the question or demurred as to -- asked whether or not Speaker Pelosi wants the articles of impeachment passed, assuming they do, whether or not she would actually send them over to the Senate where it looks like they will die a quick death, he did not say whether or not she would. There has been some talk among Democrats about not sending them over because Mitch McConnell and others, Republicans there, have basically said that they're not going to be impartial jurors.

BLITZER: And they don't want any witnesses either. All right, we're standing by for the start of these truly momentous impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives and a very unusual and dramatic gathering of House Democrats on the floor. Our special coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:16:35]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our special coverage of the House impeachment vote.

Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, I understand you are getting new information on how this is about to unfold?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. Republicans are weighing how far to take their objections on the floor of the House today in terms of delaying that final vote that is expected this evening on two counts.

Republicans concede that there's virtually nothing they can do to prevent the president from getting impeached. Now, they are weighing how far to go in making their objections known. One of the things they can do is mount a number of procedural objections through the course of the day, move to adjourn the proceedings in the House and ultimately delay things for some time. It could delay things for potentially for hours.

What I'm told is that Republicans are planning to limit the number of procedural objections at the moment, but we can expect the procedural objections to be made at the top when the House reconvenes at 9:00 a.m. We expect Republicans to make their first procedural objection to mount their frustrations about how the process has unfolded.

On the Democratic side, they are setting the tone differently. Nancy Pelosi has called all of her members to come to the House floor when the chamber convenes at 9:00 a.m., which is unusual. Typically, that does not happen when the chamber convenes on a day like today, on Wednesday morning. The speaker would gather behind closed doors with their members, discuss the legislative business at issue, but the focus being a historic and momentous day, Pelosi wants to set a somber and serious tone with her members. Bring them all to the floor.

But expect the intensity to begin right off the start when Republicans make their frustration known when the chamber convenes within an hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's going to be so, so powerful and dramatic.

Manu, stand by.

You know, Jake, this president's legacy is clearly very sensitive to the stain that today is going to be on that legacy.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He likes to say this helps him, that this is just revealing the -- how partisan the Democrats are. But the truth is and you can tell this from the six-page letter he wrote Speaker Pelosi, he hates this. It's very apparent. He hates the fact that his presidency will forever be known with a big black checkmark next to it as, one of only three U.S. presidents, two in modern days, to have been impeached by the House of Representatives.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, this is a president who once said this is impeachment light. He was talking to supporters at a rally and not a big deal, impeachment light. Look at the things they're using against me.

But when you look at this letter yesterday, this is a president, as you were saying, Jake, who doesn't think this is impeachment light at all. He understands what a stain it is. It's also clear now he has given in to Mitch McConnell who says no witnesses. The president, remember, wanted witnesses. He wanted to be defended.

TAPPER: He wanted it to be a spectacle.

BORGER: And he's -- yes. He wanted it to be a great show. And the letter yesterday, I think, is his version of witnesses, i.e., his side of the story and his insults about people who would vote to impeach, you know, calling them everything except un-American and maybe he even did that.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's given in for now. Let's see if the president stays in that spot.

BORGER: Yes.

KING: Mitch McConnell has told him the math is in your favor. Don't do anything to mess with the math. We'll see if the president stays in that spot.

But it's important to Manu's point about the speaker wanting to be there when the house comes into session. Obviously, it's a momentous day. But to have all the Democrats on the floor, that's a show of force by Nancy Pelosi. This is very personal.

[08:20:01]

Just like it was Newt Gingrich versus Bill Clinton, back in the day, until Gingrich was forced out in the middle of impeachment. That's a reminder of the unpredictability of impeachment politics.

But Pelosi is the face of the Democratic Party here going in. She wants all the members on the floor. And at the moment, she has the advantage in the sense the Trump campaign, the joint committee with the Republican National Committee, Republican super PACs the past month have spent well in excess of $10 million trying to sway these Trump district Democrats to vote against impeachment. It hasn't happened. Given the last 24 hours, they've all come home for the Democrats.

Nancy Pelosi is winning the politics of the moment. We'll see how it plays out.

TAPPER: And it's really remarkable when you look at this announcement. About 30 Democrats from these congressional districts Trump won in 2016, and overwhelmingly, they are going to support the articles of impeachment, even in districts that have a ten-point Republican advantage, 14-point Republican advantage. They are really making a show of being defiant on their own terms.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And we'll see that today on the House floor as John alluded to.

The president never thought this day would happen, right? In some ways, Nancy Pelosi didn't think this day would happen either. She was reluctant to get here, but it was those house members that were able to flip those districts, those Trump districts that were a deciding factor. They looked at the evidence they had before them. Of course, it mounted as the impeachment hearing went on and they felt like they wanted to draw that line in the sand and send a signal to this president and future presidents that this was unacceptable behavior.

That you couldn't ask a foreign power to interfere in your re- election. The president must wake up today with knots in his stomach. We saw I think in that letter how he was feeling, the rage, the sense of victimization, the anger.

He knows it's a stain on his record. He likes to think of himself in superlatives. The best this, the biggest this and now he's a part of this very small group of presidents who have been impeached.

BORGER: I remember when it wasn't that long ago when Nancy Pelosi said, you know, Donald Trump is not worth it. He's not worth impeaching. And Adam Schiff felt the same way. They were on the same page.

Look at the turn they've taken and the turn those Democrats and those 31 Trump districts have taken. They didn't want impeachment. Their leaders didn't want impeachment. Then the Ukraine story broke and she said, this is something we need to pay attention to because this is about something larger than Donald Trump. It's about the Constitution.

TAPPER: Although even though the articles of impeachment are focused on this Ukraine story. You can't look at the Ukraine story or this impeachment in a vacuum. This is for these house Democrats part of a piece. I think that if President Trump had been a more conventional president and then Ukraine happened, I don't know that we would be doing this today covering this impeachment.

This is about the fact, even if it's not in the articles of impeachment that Trump in 2016 as a candidate invited Russian election interference and then after the whole Russia investigation and Mueller testified, the day after Mueller's testimony, President Trump then had this phone call with the Ukrainian president and asked him to investigate the Bidens.

This is about a pattern and feeling like this is the straw that broke the camel's back. We have to take a stand.

BLITZER: Professor Jeffrey Engel is with us, the presidential historian.

Professor, how harshly will history judge this president following this day?

JEFFREY ENGEL, SMU PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY DIRECTOR: You know, there's no doubt he's completely rewritten the first sentence and surely the first paragraph of whatever chapter in history books are about President Trump. We're not going to talk about president Trump without mentioning that he was only the third president formally impeached by the House of Representatives. And it strikes me we've only had this three times but this one is different in a variety of ways.

This is one of the first where the president is defiantly saying he didn't do what he's accused of. Andrew Johnson boasted he did what he did. Just boasted what the Congress has impeached him for.

Bill Clinton, of course, was contrite and mentioned he was sorry for what he did and it wasn't over whether he did something right or wrong. Everybody knew he had lied. The debate was whether or not that was impeachable.

This is the first time we're seeing a president, if you will, push back, actively argue that what he did was not only right, but not wrong. That's really remarkable. But, again, we have only three -- two presidents and three times in American history.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point. As President Trump faces impeachment, he's lashing out. It's not sitting well with some of his fellow Republicans.

We'll have much more of our special impeachment coverage just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:29:09]

BLITZER: Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, I understand you're getting new information as far as the reaction to the six-page letter the president released last night?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some reaction on Capitol Hill. Talked to an official late last night that said the reaction among some GOP senators was not good in response to the six- page letter from the president to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the words of this Republican official, of course not, was how this person responded to whether or not folks up on Capitol Hill on the Republican side in the Senate liked what they read in that letter. But I talked to some officials who said, listen, if you want to

understand where the president's head is right now, read this letter. And according to a source very close to the president, the president essentially needed to get this letter off his chest. Get these feelings off of his chest.

Now, he's still getting things off his chest. He's just fired off a tweet that appears to reprise part of that letter. If we have it we can put it up on screen.

END