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Trump's Letter to Pelosi; Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is Interviewed about Impeachment; Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) is Interviewed about Impeachment. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's still getting more things off of his chest this morning. He's just fired off a tweet that appears to reprise at least part of that letter. If we have it, we can put it up on screen. It essentially is going back to the president's grievances about what's happening today.

Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the radical left, do nothing Democrats, and I did nothing wrong. A terrible thing. Read the transcripts. This should never happen to another president again. Say a prayer.

That part about saying a prayer, he may be asking people on the Republican side or perhaps all Americans to pray for him, but it also may be a reference to what he said yesterday in that scathing letter to Pelosi when he seemed to mock the very notion that she would be praying for him. Of course she said last week that she prays for the president all of the time.

One thing we should mention, Wolf, the president said yesterday to me and other reporters in the Oval Office, that he won't be watching the proceedings today. But a senior White House official said the president will be briefed throughout the day on how things are going on inside the House. So he is going to be keeping tabs on all of this.

But, Wolf, no doubt about it, for a president who has had his back against the wall multiple times over the last three years and throughout the course of the 2016 campaign, this feels like a very different moment over here at the White House. This is a president, as we saw yesterday in the Oval Office, who is almost breathing fire at this point. He is outraged over this impeachment. He sees it as an injustice. And I suspect we're going to see more of those frustrations vented throughout the day.

Wolf and Jake.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We certainly will.

You know, Jake, it's interesting that you -- you and I, all of us, have now gone through this letter several times. It shows how angry he is in what's going on.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I mean it's like a 60-tweet thread put on White House stationery. And it's full of falsehoods and lies and typical attacks.

One thing we should note from the -- about the tweet that Jim just read from, it says, if you look at the transcripts, read the transcripts, I did nothing wrong. The reason we're here is because members of the Trump administration were so alarmed at the phone call, and it's not just about the phone call, this multi-month campaign by Gordon Sondland and Rudy Giuliani and others to get the Ukrainians to announce these investigations, political investigations, that would help President Trump.

So he can have his opinion, obviously, about his phone call and think that it shows that he did nothing wrong, the rough transcripts that's out there. But, in fact, that phone call alarmed so many members of his own administration that that's why we are at the brink of his becoming only the third president in American history to be impeached.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point.

We're going to be speaking with the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. That's coming up.

Also, a key Democrat who's got a very, very difficult decision to make today.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:37:44]

BLITZER: Let's go to Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill. She's got the top Republican in the House of Representatives with her.

Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you so much.

And thank you so much, Mr. Leader, for joining me.

First question is about the president. You're in constant contact with him. You're very close with him. That letter yesterday, have you talked to him about that letter and what he was thinking?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Well, I was with him yesterday at the White House and talked to him a little about that, but I really talked to him about all the other things that we still have to get done. I mean he's going through impeachment at this moment. And if you read through the letter, there are things in that letter that have been said in hearings.

Like Jonathan Turley, a constitutional scholar and a Democrat who did not vote for the president, when he came before the hearing of the committee, he said the only abuse if the Democrats move forward would be on the Democrats. And that's part of what's on that letter.

BASH: So -- so that's -- so that's -- that's true. But the rest of the letter, it was like a series of -- of Trump tweets on White House stationery.

As -- as a leader, as a person who respects the institution, did that bother you?

MCCARTHY: What bothered me is, you know, we're moving through with impeachment. What bothers me is the meaning of impeachment itself. When you look at our forefathers, what Alexander Hamilton said, what he feared the most, that a political party would use this for their own political gain, not for the rule of law, that's what we're facing today. Is this going to be the new norm?

And even today, as we move forward, and we listen to some Democrats on the floor say if it doesn't pass the Senate, we'll come back and impeach him again. When you have more than 70 members who vote for impeachment before this even goes forward.

BASH: Do you think -- do you think he bears any responsibility? Did he do anything wrong with that phone call, with the actions that we saw testified to by a number of non-partisan, career people. Do you feel -- do you feel comfortable --

MCCARTHY: He did nothing that --

BASH: Nothing wrong?

MCCARTHY: That rises to the level of impeachment.

BASH: But he did some things that trouble you?

MCCARTHY: He did -- look, I'm a member of Congress. The only vote I have before me today is about impeachment. And the idea that when you sit back and listen to where we are today, the speaker has just admitted last week that she's been trying to impeach him for two and a half years. The chairman of the Judiciary is where --

BASH: I think what she meant was that there were people who were pressuring her to do that. But, go ahead.

MCCARTHY: Well, let's just walk through. She said for two and a half years.

Chairman Nadler, read "The New York Times," he campaigned for the chairmanship --

BASH: But --

MCCARTHY: He campaigned for the chairmanship with his own members saying he'd best (ph) for impeachment.

[08:40:04]

The freshman that gave them the new majority, Congresswoman Tlaib, on the very first day that she was sworn into office, a few mere hours later, she said she was going to impeach the mother --

BASH: I -- I hear you. I hear you on the -- MCCARTHY: No, but also look at who was at the Rules Committee.

BASH: On the -- on the rhetoric on the left.

MCCARTHY: It's not the --

BASH: I just want to follow up on something that you just said.

MCCARTHY: Yes.

BASH: Or didn't say. Did the president do anything wrong?

MCCARTHY: The president --

BASH: Not -- take away impeachment.

MCCARTHY: He did nothing to be impeached. He --

BASH: But did he do anything that bothered you?

MCCARTHY: That's not the question. There's people I work with every day. The speaker does something that bothers me. Members of my own Congress do something that bothers me. But you want to demean impeachment that low?

Remember what you're asking when you're impeaching somebody. You are removing the duly elected individual of the United States of America simply because he made you upset, simply because you disagreed with something?

BASH: So --

MCCARTHY: This president campaigned on the idea that he would be different. That he would drain this swamp. So it upset somebody?

Was anybody in there that they had a hearing that they did not give him due process even though they got to pick who the witnesses were? Does it upset you that a FISA judge just yesterday wanted to know when the FBI spied on him when he was running for office? Does it upset you that the Intel Committee chair, who they took this impeachment to, know -- actually defended that FISA court to the American public.

BASH: I hear -- I hear what you're saying, but you don't want to say that it -- that it upsets you?

MCCARTHY: Does up -- no, does it up -- no, it upsets me that we would be here today because someone's upset.

BASH: So on -- given everything you just said, will you use the tactics that you have at your disposal to delay what happens on the House floor today? What will we see from Republicans?

MCCARTHY: What tactics -- what tactics do I have?

BASH: Or do you -- do you? I don't know. That's actually a question.

MCCARTHY: No. It -- 218 (ph) controls here.

BASH: But just in terms of delaying and gumming up the works, are you going to try to do that in any way?

MCCARTHY: Did we do that at all in the hearings that we didn't have any fairness in? No. We simply played by the facts. And at the end of the day, when the facts come out, it proves it correct.

What's interesting to me inside Rules Committee yesterday, that Congressman Raskin, who they had lay out the case for them, two days before the president was sworn into office, you know what he said? He was at a rally talking about impeaching the president. If the truth comes forward, every single place (INAUDIBLE), they want to impeach this president because they cannot beat him in an election. That is wrong. That upsets me.

BASH: Will you lose even one Republican in these votes?

MCCARTHY: No. No.

BASH: Not one?

MCCARTHY: Remember what the Speaker Pelosi said. And I agreed with her in March when she said this. She said impeachment was so divisive to this nation that it had to be overwhelming, it had to be compelling and it had to be bipartisan. Even by the speaker's own criteria and requirements, she's not met one of those, but she's moving forward because she had a timeline. Does it upset you that when this all started with Adam Schiff who said he was concerned the administration would try to block a whistleblower from testifying that the whistleblower has not testified? Does it concern you that Adam Schiff said he did not know who this whistleblower was, but his staff met with him?

BASH: Mr. --

MCCARTHY: Does it concern you that Adam Schiff defended the FISA court and said nothing wrong when we have a new judge that says there is.

BASH: Mr. Leader, we have to -- I have to go back to the studio. I appreciate you taking the time to talk.

Thank you.

MCCARTHY: I appreciate you.

BASH: Thank you very much.

Wolf and Jake.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, please thank Kevin McCarthy for us.

Jake, you've got a guest.

TAPPER: Yes. With us right now is freshman Democrat Elissa Slotkin from Michigan. She is one of the 30 House Democrats elected to represent districts that President Trump won in 2016.

I want to ask you about your important vote today, but, first, your reaction to what you just heard there from the minority leader.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Two things really struck me. One, he just said, you know, we're doing this because we're upset. And, to me, that's -- it's insulting. I mean, if I were upset, I get upset every day about something. But, for me, this is a very different thing. The president of the United States reached out to a foreign leader and asked for help against a political rival for personal gain, not for the interests of the country. That's not something that just makes us upset. That is a precedent that cannot be allowed to move forward because today it's a Democratic -- or a Republican president asking for help on an investigation of a rival. Tomorrow it's a Republican president asking for a cyberattack. So it's demeaning when he says, well, people are upset about it. I want him to be upset about that, right? That the president of the United States did that.

And then, secondly, honestly, I -- I thought about his grandkids one day watching that video. And I don't think that history is going to reflect well on people who put defending someone in their party ahead of what they know the founding fathers said very explicitly they were worried about, which is foreign influence in our political process.

TAPPER: The House minority leader refused to answer the question that Dana tried several times to get him to answer.

SLOTKIN: Yes.

TAPPER: I get that you don't think this is impeachable, Minority Leader McCarthy, but does it upset you at all? Was it wrong? He just would not answer the question.

[08:45:01]

SLOTKIN: Yes, and I think, you know, when it comes to an issue as big as this, you just got to kind of call a spade a spade. And I understand that he's going to protect the president. He's being clear about that and he's gotten folks in lockstep. But I -- I would like to hear a little bit of integrity there to just say, you know what, I don't like what he did. It's not right. I don't like the story it tells. Something to reflect on the fact that inviting a foreign anything into our political process is just -- is just not right. And, you know, I just -- I'm sad. And I think about having to explain this years later with the hindsight of history and it's not going to be, I think, a positive view for them.

TAPPER: President Trump won your congressional district by --

SLOTKIN: Seven points.

TAPPER: Seven points. This vote could theoretically be a reason why your congressional career theoretically ends.

SLOTKIN: Yes.

TAPPER: Have you made peace with that?

SLOTKIN: I have. Listen, this is -- I get told this all the time by media and papers and that kind of thing and I just think there has to be a time where things are beyond politics. And, to be honest, I had never planned on running. I'm a former CIA officer and Pentagon official. This was never in my plan. And, guess what, no one dies if I don't come back in 2020, right? But I have to be able to walk out of that job being able to look in the mirror. And that is more important to me than compromising my integrity just to be re-elected. I'm just not going to do that.

TAPPER: The -- you work across the aisle a lot by nature and also by virtue of your district being a swing district. Are you hearing anything from House Republicans about this vote and their feelings being other -- other than in lock step with President Trump?

SLOTKIN: Well, I mean, listen, I've had colleagues, Republican colleagues that I work with quite closely, come up to me and sort of want to talk through their logic on why they're voting no and understand why I'm voting yes. There's certainly conversations going on.

To be honest with you, there's still bipartisan work going on. I'm going to go back to the office today and just get in deep on the USMCA, the vote on sort of the next agreement after NAFTA.

TAPPER: The trade deal, yes.

SLOTKIN: That's a huge deal for my state, for Michigan, right? That is a huge, important moment. And Republicans and Democrats have negotiated that.

So I think sometimes people think no bipartisan work is going on. Despite the tension that's going on around impeachment, we are still working where we overlap. And that is the goal, right? The goal is not to be a country where we can't agree and can't compromise. The goal is to get back to a healthier place where we can work on interests that overlap.

TAPPER: So why are you voting to impeach President Trump? Why do you think he abused power? Why do you think he obstructed Congress?

SLOTKIN: I mean, for me, I did what I always do as a CIA analyst, what I was trained to do, which is, I took over, you know, my desk. I put every report out there. I killed a lot of trees by printing everything out. I went back to the base documents, you know, our founding documents, and then I went back for some historical reference to the Clinton impeachment documents and the Nixon impeachment documents, and I looked at the full body of information. And that full body spoke to two things. One, that the president, as he and his lawyer acknowledged back in September, they went to a foreign leader and asked for an investigation on a rival. Not for the gain of the United States, but for his personal gain. The body of information supports that firsthand and secondhand accounts.

And then obstruction of Congress. The Constitution. I was at the Archives for a holiday party by chance last week. A bipartisan holiday party. And it was at the National Archives, which houses the Constitution. And it's very hard to read the faint writing, but it gives the soul power of impeachment to the House of Representatives. It's clear on that. And you may not like it, but his refusal to answer a subpoena, to send a witness, his actual guidance to the executive branch was no one participates. He doesn't get to make that decision, even if he doesn't like it. Our founding fathers made it very clear in the Constitution, so that's why I'm also voting yes on obstruction of Congress.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan, thank you so much for being here on this solemn and sober day. We appreciate it.

If I don't see you, Happy Hanukkah. Thank you so much for being here.

SLOTKIN: Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And coming up, the House is about to begin the final steps to impeach President Trump. We're about to go live to the House floor for a show of strength by Democrats as history unfolds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:53:30]

TAPPER: We're only moments away from the start of the historic floor debate in the House of Representatives on these two articles of impeachment against the president of the United States.

It will be intense by all accounts, the arguments on both sides, Jake.

TAPPER: And think about this. While we tend to look at this and hear from the Democrat and Republican representatives, these debates in partisan fashion, just to -- to take a step back, the House of Representatives, all right, a democracy democratically elected by the United States, the people of the United States, is officially telling the world today, we think President Trump abused his office. We think he is not fit to be president. We think he should no longer be president. This isn't just rhetoric. This isn't just some congresswoman at an inaugural festivity cursing and saying that they're going to impeach President Trump. This is an official statement by a majority of the House of Representatives. It is -- it is traumatic. It is sober. It is upsetting in a lot of ways. And it is as strong a rebuke as our founding fathers gave to the United States.

BLITZER: Certainly is. It -- and as we say, it will be historic.

Anderson -- Anderson Cooper is with us as well.

Anderson, this is a moment that the president is dreading.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It certainly is and is quite angry about, as we saw in the -- well, I wouldn't say surprising letter that he sent to -- to Nancy Pelosi, but interesting letter nonetheless.

Jeff Toobin, we're here with the whole group.

What are you expecting today? I mean just -- just, again, in terms of the historic nature of this, it is extraordinary.

[08:55:02]

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is extraordinary. And as we, you know, we're saying very often, it's the third time that a -- that a president is going to be impeached. But it's even more historic than that because it's the first time the voters will have a chance to pass judgment on an impeachment. The -- you know, all the other impeachments that the -- presidents have not (INAUDIBLE) re- election.

COOPER: Bill Clinton, it was already his second term.

TOOBIN: And Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him and then he resigned. But, again, he was in his second term. And -- and Andrew Johnson, it was before presidents had term limits.

But, you know, it adds an element to this -- to the occasion today that is completely unprecedented because everybody is looking really at two things here. You know, the impeachment itself, but what it means for the election next year. And, you know, I want to give you a ringing -- I don't know. I don't know what it means.

COOPER: And, Jamie, I mean, that is something that Democrats are obviously very well aware of. I mean what Elisa Slotkin yesterday and others have talked about, you know, table-top issues that they want to get back to and get to as quickly as possible, they say they've already been doing that, but in terms of the public's consciousness.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And it's one of the reasons that Nancy Pelosi waited a long time and was really dragging her heels until the whistleblower report came out. They are worried about the political consequences of this.

But what one former White House official said to me last night is they were reading the letter to Nancy Pelosi and pointed out the president likes to be the victim in all of this. But he's not the victim. This is a pattern of conduct going back to 2016. Russia, you know, if you're listening. And I think it's important to remember today that one of the reasons we're here is because of the whistleblower, because of the officials who came out and testified against the directive of the White House. And you have to wonder what the debate would be like today and what the votes would be like today if John Bolton had testified, if Mulvaney had testified, and if all of those documents had been released.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You know, to your point about the election. In -- this is the core of impeachment. 2016, Russia interfered in the election. The core of the allegation here is that the sitting U.S. president elicited foreign interference in the election by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political opponent. Whether you believe that or not, that is the core of the allegation here.

And what's truly remarkable to me is even as the country is hurdling towards impeachment, that elicitation of foreign interference is continuing right before our eyes. The president's personal attorney went to Ukraine, met with not very trustworthy individuals there, pro- Russian members of parliament, one who trained with the KGB, to dig up more dirt from a foreign source on a political opponent. Will this country have a bipartisan rejection of that kind of behavior? No, it won't be. It will be a purely party line vote. And that has direct implications for an election that's already under way. Just 11 months from today. It's happening before our eyes. And I think that's a truly remarkable thing for Americans to witness.

JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, to Jim's point, I think one of the things that really drove so many Democrats over the edge here was, obviously, the whistleblower report looking at the notes from this call, but the notion that we need to protect our next election. And President Trump has shown a pattern of a willingness to not only accept but also pursue information about his political opponents from foreign adversaries. It's important to remind people that it wasn't just Russia. It wasn't just Ukraine. But he also made that pronouncement about china from the white House lawn. Who knows what we don't know. I think that's what drove many Democrats -- national security Democrats, like Elissa Slotkin, over the edge.

COOPER: Republicans are saying, though -- yes, but Republicans have -- are saying, and we heard from Kevin McCarthy just a short time ago talking to Dana Bash, are saying the Democrats have been planning impeachment from the get-go. From day one of this administration.

PSAKI: You know, the facts just simply don't play that out. There were many Democrats, many who I spoke with, and met with and saw, and I certainly was one of them, not elected, but who felt impeachment wasn't the right path around the Mueller report. But things changed when we saw the whistleblower report, when we saw the notes from the Ukraine call and it was so clear what the president of the United States was doing, was willing to do, was actively doing.

And, you know, this is a moment in history and I think when the history books look back, when my children are being taught this in their classes, they will see quite a contrast on the politics of today because you have about a dozen Democrats, Elissa Slotkin is one of them, who are putting their political future at risk because they're doing what they think is right, what their conscience is telling them what is right, what they think their constitutional duty is.

On the other side, we don't expect to have a single Republican stand up and say, it isn't OK for the president of the United States to abuse his power.

[09:00:01]

And that's quite jarring.

COOPER: Scott. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think -- they have been plotting impeachment since before he was ever sworn in. I mean there was an article in --