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The Impeachment Of Donald Trump; Interview With Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) On Impeachment Trial; Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Is Interviewed About House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Decision To Wait Three Weeks To Send The Articles Over To The Senate; CNN Iowa Poll Shows Voters Divided Over Impeachment; Pelosi Defends Withholding Articles, Warns Of Senate "Cover-Up;" Senate Impeachment Trial Expected To Begin This Week. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 12, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:16]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: A very good Sunday evening to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're glad you're with us. Thank you for being with us for the CNN Special Report, THE IMPEACHMENT OF DONALD J. TRUMP.

It is all quiet on Capitol Hill right now. There is a live shot at the capitol. But that all changes in a matter of hours as the nation gears up for an historic week, perhaps the most significant in the impeachment process this far, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And this is a fact. The Senate is set to try the sitting U.S. president on high crimes and misdemeanors as alleged by the House. Trump is just the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, in this case. The Senate could begin its trial as early as this week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said lawmakers will meet on Tuesday to discuss exactly when and how to send those articles of impeachment to the Senate. You'll remember, she had delayed sending them in an attempt to pressure the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to agree to what she described as a fair format for the trial crucially including calling witnesses. We should note, one key witness, the president's former national security adviser, has volunteered to testify.

McConnell, however, has not agreed to those demands. And we should note the Senate is likely to acquit President Trump. However, Speaker Pelosi says impeachment will be and remain a stain on the president's legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We have confidence in our case that it is impeachable and this president is impeached for life. We feel very proud of the courage of our members to vote to impeach the president. There is nothing the Senate can do that can ever erase that. We will have an election if we don't have him removed sooner, but again he will be impeached forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Our special coverage kicks off tonight with our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, glad you're here. Lay this out for us. OK. What is expected to happen this week, how could this all play out?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So something is expected to happen this week, which is a little bit different than what we've seen over the course of the last three. Here's what's actually going to happen. On Tuesday Speaker Pelosi will meet with her caucus behind closed doors. It's something they do weekly but that is the check-in that's going to be the trigger for the vote that's to come afterwards.

Right now our expectations are that vote will take place on Wednesday. And what that vote will entail is essentially the naming of the managers, the Democrats in the House who Speaker Pelosi will select to prosecute the case in the United States Senate. By naming those managers and having that vote, once that vote passes, it essentially triggers the ability for the House to transmit the articles of impeachment to the United States Senate.

Now how that's actually going to happen, the managers themselves, guys, will physically walk the articles of impeachment across the capitol from the House floor to the Senate floor to present them to the Senate. Now one of the big questions is how quickly does this kick into gear in the Senate?

Well, guys, very quickly. By the next day at 1:00 p.m., the Senate trial will start. Now the first couple of days we expect to be largely procedural. There will be swearing in of the chief justice, swearing in of all 100 senators. We expect the actual kind of nuts and bolts, meat and bones of the trial to start with presentations likely some time the next week. But that's what we're going to see this week, guys.

SCIUTTO: So, I know you've heard this from Democrats. We've heard about it on this show. They feel that they gained something from this delay.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: John Bolton volunteering to testify, Democrats will say it exposed other e-mails and communications that draw a direct connection between the president and his decision to withhold the aid. But I wonder if in private Democrats you speak to buy that because clearly some of them in their public comments are becoming -- have been becoming uncomfortable with how long the delay was.

MATTINGLY: Yes. There is no question Democrats particularly Senate Democrats were losing patience with the holding of the article strategy. Here's a couple of things, and the speaker laid this all out last week that they believe, Jim, as you noted, the kind of news reports, revelations about e-mails that hadn't been released kind of making clear how deeply intertwined the withholding of the Ukraine aid was with senior officials at the White House.

That's something that the House wasn't able to necessarily uncover during its inquiry before the actual impeachment vote. Obviously, John Bolton's willingness to testify was kind of the biggest chip that Democrats believe they now have in the wake of this three-plus week hold. But here's the reality.

The speaker asked for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to agree to witnesses up front. He did not. The speaker asked for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to unveil his rules proposal organizing the first part of the trial. He did not.

So in terms of tangible things that they accomplished when it comes to the Senate trial, there's not a lot there to speak for. But in terms of the message that they are trying to get across and basically underscoring that if witnesses aren't allowed that at some point this would be considered a sham trial, the message they believe they have, the actual benefits for what's going to come next, not as much, guys.

HARLOW: Yes. Phil, thank you for the reporting. A busy few weeks for all of us. We appreciate it.

[20:05:00]

We have just heard from the White House in the past few minutes, a White House official telling our Jeremy Diamond, quote, "We've been prepared since before Christmas and we remain prepared," of course, talking about their response in a Senate trial. This is after nearly a month of waiting for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to deliver those articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Let's bring in Jeremy Diamond. He joins us at the White House.

How much should we make of this? I mean, they're not really disclosing any new details from what they said a few weeks ago.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. Well, Poppy, look, the legal team for the president has spent the last several weeks finalizing the president's legal defense. So there has been some work that's been done over the last several weeks. But there's also been a lot of waiting, frankly, over here at the White House. That, however, is expected to end this week.

And this is when we start to see some of the White House's first official legal response to those impeachment articles. Once the House votes on those House managers, something that's expected to happen mid of this week, the White House will then have a process over a couple of days where it formally answers a Senate summons for the president to appear at his trial. That is where we will see the White House argue that these charges in these articles of impeachment do not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

And we're also expected to see by the end of this week a legal brief from the president's legal team, which will outline essentially its core arguments as it relates to the president's legal defense. Now there is still some work that needs to be done. And part of that is because the White House has been waiting to see who exactly the White House -- sorry, the House Democrats will name as their impeachment managers, how many of them they will name.

That will determine how many attorneys for the president actually go to the Senate floor to argue on his behalf. As of now, though, Jay Sekulow, the president's outside attorney will be one of those lawyers, and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, will really be leading things from the Senate floor. But then we do have this tweet from the president to throw into the mix.

And that is the tweet from the president saying, "Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, no pressure impeachment hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat witch hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree."

So there the president suggesting that he would rather not have a trial at all in the Senate. That certainly not what appears to be happening at the moment.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it was one of his favorite prefaces there, right? Many people are saying. Oftentimes it's him who is saying that.

DIAMOND: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy Diamond, at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our experts, Dana Bash, CNN chief political respondent, John Dean, CNN contributor, former Nixon White House counsel, of course with his own famous testimony, and Sophia Nelson, former House GOP investigative counsel and opinion contributor at "USA Today."

Thanks to all of you. Dana Bash, let's step aside from all the political posturing here from Democrats, from Republicans, from the president. The fact is the Senate will sit in trial beginning this week of a sitting U.S. president for only the third time in the country's history. Place that into context today.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's hard -- it's important that you said that, Jim, because we have been going back and forth, will she send the articles, won't she send the articles? In some ways it's a bit anti-climactic in that there was so much drama around this as the House was voting before Christmas. But you're exactly right. This isn't routine. This is or at least certainly hasn't been up to date in American history.

And there is a reason why it is still pretty unclear exactly how the Senate is going to go forward because during the Clinton years they wrote the rules for the first time in a hundred years. There are processes, there is a general road map. But this is so unusual, that is why we are waiting to see how it goes out.

The one thing I will say just briefly about what Jeremy just read from the president about, you know, some people are saying that there should be a dismissal. Some people are also saying and sometimes that is even people close to and around the president, depending on what day you get them, that they don't want that.

They want an acquittal for, if nothing else, then just to have that but also, for a political year, to have that as an ad, to have the chief justice of the United States, you know, hit the gavel and say the president of the United States is acquitted.

HARLOW: Yes. And have that, perhaps, Dana, by the State of the Union on February 4th.

BASH: Right. February 4th.

HARLOW: John Dean, if we could just take a moment to talk about John Bolton here because, again, just to reiterate, he could tell the world everything he knows now. He doesn't have to wait. But he is constrained and will see the reality of the constraint by executive privilege, right? I just think a lot is being made of John Bolton is going to talk if they call witnesses. But isn't executive privilege going to tie his hands on a lot?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Poppy, there is no way the president can stop him from testifying if he wants to testify.

[20:10:02]

Executive privilege is something that has got to be very specifically invoked. It can't be just a general injunction against testimony. So, Bolton has a lot of freedom to do what he wants to do if he is subpoenaed. And the president has very limited power if Bolton wants to actually tell the story.

SCIUTTO: Sophia, so, Mitch McConnell has said on the question of witnesses specifically that let's hear the arguments first, in effect. Let's hear the case first and then consider the question of witnesses. And he says that that follows the format of the Clinton trial in the Senate in 1999. Is that an accurate comparison? And how exactly will that play out?

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL (1997-1999): Jim, we've talked about this a number of times before and it is an accurate comparison. What they did, Dana is exactly right, that it was the first time in a hundred years back when Clinton was impeached that the Senate had to write the rules. And it's very important, I want to talk about Senate rule number one, and it's something everybody ought to go read.

And, again, I'm referring back to what we have as the model now which is the Clinton impeachment. And that rule is very specific about what has to happen. And it's a shall command, I want to deal with the president's tweet. He is acting as if the Senate really has some type of way to not do this or to dismiss it. I disagree.

Rule number one makes clear that once the impeachment process is triggered, the secretary of the Senate shall, then it has to receive the managers and receive the articles. And then there is a process that takes place. They have to be sworn in, the senators. So I don't think the senators have an option which is really important that I think the public understand.

This is a shall command. I'm not talking about what the Constitution says. I'm talking about what the Senate rules say. So I think that this issue of whether or not we'll get witnesses, I have been saying all along, I think we will get the witnesses, I think they are going to follow the Clinton model, and I think it's going to become very difficult for the Republicans to dismiss this with a motion out of hand.

And I don't think that Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and at least four Republican senators will allow that to happen. I have faith in this process with everything we've seen, I trust the process. And I think that you will see witnesses just like you did in the Clinton impeachment. It's just going to take us a minute to get there.

HARLOW: Dana, it seems like Nancy Pelosi's rhetoric has changed in the last 24 hours it's changed. Right? The fact that she said, and we played it earlier, quote, "The president is impeached for life. No matter what happens in the Senate he's impeached for life." And then also listen to this, listen to what she said about McConnell and essentially she is also talking about Senator Josh Hawley here who presented the legislation in support of dismissing all of this.

Here's what she said about that, calling it a cover-up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: I am telling you that he signed on Thursday to a resolution to dismiss the case. Dismissing is a cover-up. Dismissing is a cover-up. If they want to go that route again, the senators who are thinking now that voting for witnesses or not, they will have to be accountable for not having a fair trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: You know, accusing sitting senators of being in the middle of a cover-up, Dana. What changed?

BASH: Well, several things. One is I thought it was interesting that she was kind of using Trumpian rhetoric there.

HARLOW: Yes.

BASH: You know, kind of trying to, as my understanding, is that she calls this kind of thing jiu-jitsu where she takes, you know, somebody else is trying to do to her and she does it to them. But second of all, my understanding is that this past week in one of the private meetings that Democratic leaders had, they were presented with polling, polling in the six battleground states. And they were told that the term "fair trial" really plays.

And that's why we hear her and other top Democrats repeating that over and over again. And what it means is that even if -- their understanding and their belief is that even if a senator is not going to vote yes to convict the president, to impeach the president, and vote no on acquittal, at least between, you know, now and that moment they should be held accountable for that term fair trial.

Now what is a fair trial? That is obviously in the eye of the beholder. But she is trying to set those parameters by talking about the need for witnesses and obviously at the bare minimum not do a dismissal.

SCIUTTO: Right. I mean, the question of witnesses, John Dean, is central to this demand for a fair trial there. I just wonder, Mitch McConnell, he's a tough sucker. Right? You know, we've seen it in a number of instances here. After hearing the case, will senators necessarily get a vote on whether to hear witnesses, or could -- is it up to McConnell? I mean, can McConnell block that and just decide, you know, I haven't heard anything convincing, I'm ready to move to a vote?

[20:15:00]

DEAN: A couple things. First of all, 51 senators will control the process once it starts, while the chief justice does have -- he presides, he really has very little influence, and is more of a symbolic fixture than actually running a trial. But what's going to happen is really because of what Nancy did.

Hindsight is forgetting the situation she was in before they voted on articles of impeachment. McConnell was talking about having a trial before Christmas, and at worst case, before the end of the year, and just dismissing this thing. So her withholding the articles really has upped the stakes and made the fair trial a real issue.

HARLOW: Thank you all very much. I'm sorry we are tight on time, Sophia. You'll be back very soon.

NELSON: OK.

HARLOW: Of course, Dana, John, we appreciate it.

Still to come, as we ramp up to the potential start of the Senate trial this week, we will talk to two sitting senators about what they expect.

SCIUTTO: Yes. They're going to be sitting jurors in a number of days. Plus, new polling shows voters in Iowa, the first state to vote, divided over impeachment. This as we are days away from the last presidential Democratic debate before those Iowa caucuses. You will hear from people in that state, what they think about all this, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:20:25]

HARLOW: After weeks of waiting, the Senate will now get its turn. It appears perhaps even this week in the impeachment spotlight. This as the president's Senate trial expected to begin possibly at some point this week. There are still many questions about the length and key, whether witnesses will be allowed to be part of that trial. The outcome the president's likely acquittal, is considered a foregone conclusion. But, hey, anything can happen.

Joining me now, Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

It's nice to have you, sir. I'd like to begin on impeachment and then I'd like to move on to Iran. Let me get your take on what your fellow senator, Susan Collins, said. She said to the Bangor Daily News on Friday, she is working with a small group of Republicans in the Senate to try to figure out if they've got the numbers there to support having witnesses called. You need 51 on board for that. And she said, quote, "We should be completely open to calling witnesses."

A, do you know who she's talking to about that, who she's working with? And is it your belief as we sit here tonight you're going to get those witnesses?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, Poppy, it's good to be with you. And I hope Susan Collins and other Republican senators end up voting to call relevant fact witnesses and relevant documents. You cannot have a fair trial in the United States of America without those. And I think what you've seen in the last couple weeks as Speaker Pelosi withheld the articles of impeachment was growing public attention on the importance of having a fair trial and growing pressure on senators like Senator Collins to not be complicit in a cover-up.

And let's make no mistake. If you know you have witnesses who have relevant factual information to key issues at trial, voting against calling those witnesses is being complicit in a cover-up. It's like closing your ears and your eyes to the information and the evidence. So, Republican senators are going to have to vote on this question eventually.

Senator McConnell may have succeeded in delaying that moment of reckoning. But he hasn't avoided the moment of reckoning. It will come.

HARLOW: I noticed there that twice you used very specific words. You choose your words carefully. I know that, Senator. Complicit in a cover-up. You said it twice. Did any Republican -- any senator who doesn't think that hearing from these witnesses is necessary and complicit in a cover-up? It's strong language and it echoes what Nancy Pelosi said this morning about McConnell's efforts and Josh Hawley's efforts to dismiss the impeachment. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: I'm telling you that he signed on, on Thursday to a resolution to dismiss the case. Dismissing is a cover-up. Dismissing is a cover- up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Dana spoke to us last segment about internal polling that is showing Democrats that fair trial is polling well with people. Is there a concerted effort here among Democrats in the Senate and the House to now call anyone who doesn't agree with you on witnesses being called complicit in a cover-up?

VAN HOLLEN: Poppy, I don't know. I can tell you that nobody needs to take a poll or survey to know that the American people overwhelmingly support a fair trial and that the American people recognize that means calling witnesses and documents. And what Senator McConnell has been trying to do is rig the trial to prevent those people from coming and telling the truth under penalty of perjury. And that is tantamount to a cover-

up. If you deliberately vote to deny access to information that is directly relevant to the two articles of impeachment, that's exactly what's going on. It would be --

HARLOW: But, Senator --

VAN HOLLEN: If a mistrial in any normal trial in the United States for a judge not to allow witnesses to be called.

HARLOW: But isn't there a key difference here? Because those that disagree with you will point to the fact that the House had this opportunity. The House did not have to wrap up and vote on impeachment when it did. It could've waited and waited for the courts to decide. And I understand that that is taking longer than many would like. But the counter argument to that would be, are you not complicit if you didn't just wait for the process to play out in the House and now you're putting it on the Senate?

VAN HOLLEN: No. Look, the House had a huge body of evidence. They had 11 witnesses. In the Clinton proceedings in the House, they didn't have any witnesses except for one, Ken Starr.

[20:25:06]

Well, the House in this case they took a lot of testimony. They've got overwhelming evidence. The president said in December that he wanted a big trial in the United States Senate, that he wanted witnesses. He said on December 3rd that he wanted Mick Mulvaney to testify. And all the witnesses that we're trying to call are people who were not allowed to testify in the House. Why? Because President Trump blocked them from doing that.

So, you have the Clinton trial where the witnesses that they wanted to call in the Senate had all previously testified under oath. In this trial the witnesses we're trying to call have never testified under oath because President Trump blocked them.

I will say that Mitch McConnell, his comparison to the Clinton trial, it may come back to bite him because in that trial of course in the end we did have witnesses.

HARLOW: You did. Before we go I said I wanted to get to Iran, and I do. And I'd like to ask you about this. There was a really important exchange this morning, Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" had your Republican colleague in the Senate, Senator Mike Lee, on. And he asked him about Americans and their ability to trust what the government is saying when there are so many mixed messages about what intelligence there was that warranted taking out General Soleimani. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: How worried are you about the integrity of the information we're being told?

REP. MIKE LEE (R-UT): Well, I'm worried. And as a United States senator and as a voter and citizen, I've learned not to simply take federal government's word at face value. I mean, look, we were lied to about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We were lied to for a couple of decades about what was happening in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Significant to hear that from him. Do you share his concern?

VAN HOLLEN: I do, Poppy. He is absolutely right. Look, we heard in the lead-up to the Iraq war back in 2002, 2003 about all the evidence of weapons of mass destruction. That turned out to be false.

It turned out that political folks were manipulating the intelligence to get the outcome and policy they wanted, which was going to war in Iraq. And I do believe that there are lots of folks in this administration who are working to manipulate the intelligence and they have taken us right to the brink of war, which is why it's so important that the Congress take up the war powers resolution.

HARLOW: Do you have any evidence? I mean, you just said you believe that administration officials are, quote, "manipulating the intelligence." Is that based on evidence you've seen?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's based on two things. It's based on public statements that you know President Trump has made that were -- where that information was totally new and would have been made available in a classified briefing but wasn't. And, second, in the classified briefing, there is no standard by which the evidence that they provided met the imminent threat threshold.

And, in fact, I would go farther to say that the information provided in that hearing showed that there was not an imminent threat by the plain meaning of that term as it's been used in the context of the use of force.

The idea of an imminent threat in the use of force has a very specific meaning. And the evidence provided did not come close to meeting that. In fact, the evidence provided affirmatively showed there was not an imminent threat. So for them to try to use that term to justify their actions, which are leading us toward the brink of war, is outrageous, and it's irresponsible and it's reckless. And that's what you're seeing from people like Mike Lee.

HARLOW: Senator Chris Van Hollen, thank you for your time tonight.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you. Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Jim? SCIUTTO: Coming up this hour, the Senate impeachment trial could begin

in just a few days. It could slam right into the Iowa caucuses. How do caucus-goers in Iowa feel about the impeachment process? We're going to take you there to hear it.

[20:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: The Iowa caucuses and the official start of primary season just 22 days away. How is the impeachment playing out in Iowa? CNN's senior national correspondent Kyung Lah, has the latest from speaking with voters there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At a Des Moines political gathering for progressives of faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inviting people of good faith and of good conscience to do something about stopping the Trump administration.

LAH: Republican James Temme is in the crowd, watching the looming Iowa caucuses and Senate impeachment trial.

JAMES TEMME, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: If you just look at what's happened, factually, he should be impeached. He should not be our president.

LAH: Does that make you -- how do you feel about that? I mean, you're a Republican. You're saying that your Republican president should be impeached.

TEMME: It's not the Trump Party. It's not the Trump Party. It's the Republican Party. And we've gotten away from that somehow.

LAH: Is it possible that you might caucus with the Democrats?

TEMME: Oh, absolutely. Oh, I'm not going to vote for Trump if he's a candidate, absolutely not.

LAH: That disgust also among progressives supporting Bernie Sanders in Davenport, Iowa.

KATE HANSON, PROGRESSIVE IOWA VOTER: He is lining it up to, you know, to favor himself and has in the past.

RON HANSON, PROGRESSIVE IOWA VOTER: Regardless of what the Senate's going to do, the people are going to speak --

K. HANSON: And hopefully ...

R. HANSON: -- come election time.

[20:35:04] LAH: But as the clock ticks down to the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, a Senate trial complicates a campaign for the senators, from Bernie Sanders --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a United States senator, I am often on the floor of the Senate and it looks like next week I'm going to be spending a lot of time on the floor of the Senate. Between you and me, I'd rather be here in Iowa.

LAH: -- to Amy Klobuchar.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But as a woman running for president, I never thought I was going to have a fair playing ground. You always know you have a higher standard to meet and this is just one more obstacle to overcome. The fact that I may be in Washington at a critical time where we should be campaigning.

LAH: Seeing less of the candidates makes choosing who to caucus for, tougher for Lynn Swanson.

LYNN SWANSON, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: I was with a group of friends recently. There were eight of us. We were all in the same boat. We can't -- we can't pull a winner out of the hat.

LAH: Swanson's friend, a Republican, just wants any trial to finish fast.

JIM HAGENBUCHER, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: It needs to end and it needs to end quickly and get it behind us. Because he's not going to be impeached. He is not going to be kicked out of his office. So, let's get this behind us and be done with it.

LAH: And that's one area where Republicans and Democrats agree in this Iowa coffee shop. They believe they know how a trial will end, but not how it impacts who wins in Iowa.

OLIVIA DAVISON, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: So, it just kind of sucks that that's what everyone's talking about right now, what everyone's worried about, when really, we should be deciding, like, who is going to take his place.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: So, as often as I've heard voters these last few days, tell me who their selection is, those are the top tier names. Just as many of them say that they are undecided or willing to switch. And then you toss in this impeachment trial, Poppy. One of the voters I spoke with said it's a lot like taking all of the checkers pieces, throwing them up in the air and waiting to see where they fall. Some of them aren't going to decide until they walk into that caucus room. Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes. Wow. All right, Kyung, such an important state to be in, always fascinating. We appreciate it very much. Be sure to watch the final Democratic presidential debate before Iowans go to caucus. CNN and the Des Moines register host six contenders. It all starts 9:00 Eastern, Tuesday night, only right here on CNN. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:40:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: There is one more skirmish in the ongoing power struggle House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of course, over the impeachment of President Trump. Today, Speaker Pelosi harshly criticized McConnell for supporting a resolution that would dismiss the two articles of impeachment.

She calls that move a cover-up. Joining me now is Senator Jeff Merkley, he's a Democrat from Oregon. He is on a Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks so much for taking the time tonight.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Good to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Speaker Pelosi, she's defended her decision to wait three weeks to send those articles over to the Senate. I wonder if you agree that her decision was a wise one and if you could tell us why.

MERKLEY: Yes, I do agree because we weren't going to be in trial over the holidays. And what she did was draw attention to the fact that to complete our constitutional responsibility, as a check and balance on the executive, there needs to be a full and fair trial. And this is something that every American understands that that's what a trial is all about.

SCIUTTO: As a practical matter, you know, and I understand the argument, McConnell did not budge on that issue. He says, listen, we'll hear the case first and then there will be a vote on whether there'll be witnesses. I'm sure you speak often not just to your Democratic colleagues but to your Republican colleagues, not that they let on to strategy, but from those conversations.

Do you believe there will be enough Republican votes to get to 51 to acquire witnesses to testify, particularly John Bolton, who's volunteered, as you know?

MERKLEY: Well, if I was placing a bet, I would doubt that there would be four Republicans join us, but it is possible. And it's important that it happens because my Republican colleagues understand that to fully participate in the manner envisioned by not just the constitution but by their oath impartiality that will take in the beginning of the trial, each side needs to be able to present the documents and relevant witnesses.

But their arms are being twisted by McConnell who wants to view this as a partisan arena, not an exercise of constitutional responsibility. And so, they're struggling. And I think, really, we'll have at least two or three, but McConnell will try to keep there from being a 51st vote. I sure hope that as many of my colleagues who have shared that they're struggling with this, will come down on the side of their responsibility. SCIUTTO: You know that the partisan divide over this issue, you know, not surprisingly over the issue of impeaching a president, and partisanship in no shortage in the country today. I just wonder as an experienced politician like yourself, honestly, has impeachment strengthened or weakened the president? Because there are some. The president makes the argument.

But some of his supporters who are rallying around him, in this moment. I wonder from a political stand point, do you think it's possible he emerges stronger from this?

MERKLEY: Well, I think it has weakened him. I think we are going to continue to see information come out. It happens every single week, more information about his involvement, trying to get a foreign country to intervene in the 2020 election. And this dribble adds to all the other issues that people have with this president. It's not a high point for America.

I just received a -- just had a series of townhalls. I did 12 townhalls in the start of January, and mostly very red counties in my state. And people were unanimous in wanting a fair and full trial. They may disagree about the outcome of it. But that sense of justice, that sense of responsibility, that sense of no one above the law.

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And when they hear things like the president is going to invoke executive privilege to block people from testifying, it just strikes him as -- there is just this fundamental something's wrong with this that the president should be able to block evidence from coming forward.

SCIUTTO: Interesting. And Speaker Pelosi has referred the same polling on that -- take advantage for a moment of your position on the Senate Foreign Relations tensions, very real ones, with Iran. It was interesting, a little disturbing to see senior administration officials today and over the last several days, stumble over themselves, sometimes turning themselves into rhetorical pretzels over exactly how imminent, credible and specific the intelligence was of an Iranian attack on U.S. embassies of the region.

And the Defense Secretary Mark Esper said very directly on an interview this morning. He did not know specific intelligence that the president has claimed that Iran was going to threaten -- was threatening four embassies in the region. You've been briefed on the Iran threat. Did the administration mislead the public?

MERKLEY: I think they did. If there is an argument that there is an imminent threat, well, then we would have a target, a timeline, an actor. We have other actions declined -- inclined to interrupt that imminent threat, and we didn't hear any of that. And the bird was that Soleimani has been a mastermind of attacks on the U.S. in the past, and that sense is responsible for a lot of deaths of Americans.

And we all agree with that. But that's as his role as the general who oversees the Shiite militias. That's what he does, as he works to plan strategy in the region. It now appears that he had been on the scope at least since May, in a very serious way for this administration. That's a long time ago. This seemed to be just a moment when the president got fed up and said, let's take him out without thinking about the strategic implications. Because those implications hurt U.S. security rather than help U.S. security.

SCIUTTO: Senator Jeff Merkley, pleasure to have you on the program tonight.

MERKLEY: Good to be with you, Jim. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Ahead for us, so once those articles of impeachment do reach the Senate, what should you expect? How is the process all going to play out? We'll explain it next.

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SCIUTTO: The Senate will begin a trial of a sitting president of the United States this week. That's the expectation. We only have two presidents back in the 1860s and the 1990s. Lots of open questions. There could still be surprises. What should you expect?

HARLOW: With us now, as someone who has seen an impeachment trial and have been part of more than one, first-hand. Alan Frumin is former Senate Parliamentarian, CNN contributor, witnessed five judicial impeachment trials, as well as the impeachment trial on the acquittal of President Clinton. You know this so much better than we do, so we are very glad you're here. What do you think Americans should expect, maybe even as soon as this week?

ALAN FRUMIN, FORMER SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN: Well, Poppy and Jim, your viewers who sometimes may leave CNN to watch C-SPAN are in for some surprises. You're going to have a very different physical environment on the floor of the Senate. So, the Senate is going to look quite different. And the Senate is going to sound quite different. So, visually and audibly, the Senate is going to be a very different place.

Physically, you're going to see desks being brought in to accommodate the managers on the part of the House, and you'll also see desks being brought in to accommodate the president's counsel. In the Clinton impeachment, the House sent over 13 managers. And that presented quite a challenge on the floor of the Senate to fit a table in that could accommodate their 13 managers. One of those managers was Henry Hyde who is 6'5" and about 300 pounds.

And it was rather interesting to watch the dynamic play out with Senator -- Manager Hyde blocking the view of a number of the senators. We don't know at this point how many House managers there will be. My guess is there will be as many members of the president's counsel as there will be House managers.

From an audible standpoint, the Senate is -- an impeachment trial is truly unusual. Senators are required or expected to attend but required to be silent. So, they must, in essence, show up, but shut up.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

FRUMIN: The impeachment rules do not permit debate.

SCIUTTO: So, you won't have the freewheeling that we saw -- freewheeling we saw in the House side. Tell us about, you know, the questions that really stand in the balance here, one being will we hear testimony from witnesses? You did have testimony from witnesses in the Clinton impeachment trial, though via depositions that were delivered outside of the hall.

Based on what you know, of course, set the politics aside for a moment, based on what you know of the rules, is that something that our viewers are likely to see as this trial proceeds?

FRUMIN: Well, that's going to depend on the Republican majority. Another substantial difference between the way the Senate operates generally. And an impeachment trial is generally the minority has rights and privileges when the Senate's in its usual mode. In an impeachment trial, the trial by its rules is a majoritarian arrangement. And the orders for the trial are decided by majority vote, simple majority. There is no filibuster.

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There's no -- there's no power that the minority has. So, the public will or won't see witnesses really based on the votes of the majority and those few Republicans in the middle, senators Collins and Murkowski, and possibly some others, really hold the balance of power here.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure. Alan, we will have you back. Alan Frumin, we appreciate it very much. Certainly, we need your expertise over the next few weeks. We have much more ahead. Stay with us.

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