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Interview With Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA); U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Under Surveillance?; House Sends Impeachment Articles To Senate; House Managers Deliver Articles Of Impeachment To Senate; Putin Unveils Dramatic Power Play Likely To Extend His Grip On Russia. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 15, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we're following breaking news on historic new steps in Congress paving the way for President Trump's impeachment trial to finally begin in the Senate.

We just saw the newly named House managers take the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, after they were signed by the speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

We're breaking down everything that just happened and what happens next.

I will speak live with the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, in his first interview since he was tapped to be the lead impeachment manager.

First, let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, who is watching all of this history unfold.

Just saw the articles of impeachment delivered to the Senate for only the third time in U.S. history. The House managers and the House representatives still have those articles of impeachment. They will bring them back tomorrow at noon.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's exactly right.

But for all intents and purposes, this is the Senate's ball game now. What you saw last hour was ceremonial, but it was necessary and something people have been waiting for the last several weeks, the House managers, all seven of them, appointed by Speaker Pelosi earlier today walking the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump across the Capitol, through the Statuary Hall, through the Rotunda, over to the Senate side, and bringing a message over to the Senate that the House is ready to send the impeachment articles to the United States.

The Senate responding that it is ready to receive the articles and it will receive them at noon tomorrow. That is when the House impeachment managers will return to the Senate and where they will read through those articles of impeachment. After that, at 2:00 p.m., the chief justice of the United States

Supreme Court, John Roberts, has been invited to the United States Senate to preside over the impeachment proceedings, as is laid out in the rules of this process.

Once he arrives, he will be sworn in to preside over the proceedings by Senate President Pro Tem Charles Grassley. Once he's sworn in to preside over things, then all 100 senators will be sworn in as well.

Once that point occurs, Wolf, pretty much close the book on the calendar for any senator throughout the course of this process. They will be required to be in their seats. They will be required to have no electronics. They are not allowed to have any reading material outside of the scope of the trial itself for every hour that they are sitting in the Senate chamber during this trial.

Now, obviously, today and tomorrow, largely ceremonial, largely procedural. The real meat and bones of this trial will begin on Tuesday. That is when the Senate is expected to debate and vote on the initial resolution laying out the ground rules for the trial.

And here's what they are in short. For 24 hours, the House managers will be able to present their case. It should take probably about three or four days. After they present, the president's defense team will then take to the floor. They will present their case for an equal amount of time, 24 hours spread over a couple of days.

After that is completed, United States senators, all 100, will have the opportunity to ask either side questions that they have based on those presentations.

They will get 16 hours for that process. Should take a couple days as well. And it is at that point, Wolf, that the biggest questions will arise, something we have been asking senators of both parties about repeatedly over the course of the last couple of weeks.

What will the next stage of this trial look like? Will there be the votes, 51 necessary, a simple majority, to subpoena witnesses, to subpoena documents? It's something Democrats have been hammering home that they want for the better part of this entire delay, as we have been waiting for the House to send over the articles of impeachment.

It's something the Senate majority leader has made clear he is not in favor of. However, he has also countered that if Democrats want witnesses, and if Democrats get the votes to have witnesses, the president's team wants witnesses too, and that could also occur.

So those are the things we're keeping an eye on in the future, but for the near term, Wolf, this, after months in the House of investigations, of inquiry, closed-door depositions, public hearings, obviously, the votes on the House floor, it is now in the Senate's court.

It is up to 100 members of the Senate for only the third time in the history of the United States to decide whether or not to remove the president of the United States from office. BLITZER: As far as you know, Phil, where are those two articles of

impeachment, those documents signed by the speaker about an hour or so ago? Where are they right now?

MATTINGLY: The best I was told up to this point is they are in a holding period right now. We don't actually know physically where they are. You obviously saw them being walked over in a blue folder, both articles of impeachment.

But, as Manu noted a short while to you ago, the president -- the United States Senate was not ready to receive the actual articles themselves. It had been a bit of a kerfuffle throughout the course of the day between the House Democratic leadership and the Senate leadership as to how these articles would be delivered.

How they settled this essentially is that the message was delivered. The House -- or the Senate responded with their own message saying they were ready to receive it and basically saying, hey, hold off on those articles until about 12:00 tomorrow, and we will take them.

So, for the moment, the articles are in the possession on the Senate side of the chamber. The Senate has not officially received those articles yet or had them read out. But they have received the message and made clear that the House managers are to return to the United States Senate to read those articles on the floor tomorrow and officially kick off this process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to go to -- hold on for a moment. Phil.

[18:05:00]

I want to bring in our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, who's over at the White House speaking to his sources over there.

So, you saw all of this history unfold. I assume they're watching very closely at the White House as well.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I would say there is a lot of relief over here at the White House now that these articles of impeachment have been moved over from the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has really been frustrating people over here, over to the Senate, where they believe the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is going to have a lot more control over what takes place over the next couple of weeks.

So we saw President Trump earlier today doing his best to try to look unfazed as these House Democrats were transferring these articles of impeachment over to the Senate.

But the president's team is gearing up for battle, make no mistake. They are warning Democrats that, if they want witnesses at Mr. Trump's upcoming trial in the Senate, the White House, president, they want witnesses as well.

They were having a conference call with reporters earlier today. Senior administration officials were even saying that they may still block the former National Security Adviser John Bolton from testifying at this upcoming trial, despite the fact that John Bolton has said in a letter that, if he is subpoenaed, he will come and testify.

And so that is potentially a powder keg in all of this, Wolf, that we don't know whether or not that will be resolved in due time or whether that's going to prolong these proceedings.

Now, the White House has also, Wolf, not had any kind of real explanation as to what is detailed in these new documents that are related to Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani that were revealed by House Democrats late last night.

Aides to the president were asked about this on this conference call earlier today. And they were not really forthcoming with any kind of information.

And so the White House is still grappling with that disclosure as well. Now, the other thing we should point out is that the White House would like to see Senate Republicans -- and they mentioned this earlier today -- push through some kind of quick dismissal of the impeachment case.

That's obviously not going to happen. One final thing that we're going to be looking for this evening, Wolf, it could come out this evening over the next 24 hours, the White House has still the announcement to make in terms of who the president's Senate trial team will be.

That is exactly who will represent the president in this upcoming trial in the Senate. We know that the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, will represent the president, that Jay Sekulow, his outside attorney, will also be on that impeachment team.

But whether or not some of these -- these more feisty House Republicans that we saw so much during the House proceedings just a short while ago, whether they will participate in the Senate, that remains to be seen. That's the next shoe to drop in all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, we will get back to you.

Joining us now, the lead impeachment manager for the House of Representatives, the Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff.

Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so you just took this truly historic walk from the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate with the articles of impeachment, the two articles of impeachment in the hands of House clerk.

What does this moment mean for the country?

SCHIFF: Well, obviously, this is something that is rarely happened in history.

It has been, I think, only three occasions where the impeachment of a president has gotten to this stage. And that's for good reason.

We expect, I think, that only the most serious abuses, those that threaten the oath of office, the constitutional structure that our founders presented, will reach this point. And, here, what you had -- you had a president trying to withhold millions in military aid to an ally at war to try to get help in cheating in the next election.

That is very much what the framers had in mind for these circumstances. So we feel the weight of history. We feel that we are carrying out the will of the framers of our Constitution. And that's a pretty serious load to carry.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, you heard him a little while ago. He directed you and your House managers to come back tomorrow to formally begin the impeachment trial. He wants you back at noon Eastern.

So why did this notification happen tonight? Walk us through this process.

SCHIFF: Well, the way the process works is, when the articles are passed, and when the resolution to effectuate them passes, as it did today, then they're immediately transmitted to the Senate.

And the Senate schedules the date for the formal reading of the articles. And the Senate has scheduled that for tomorrow at noon. So, we will go back to the Senate chamber. We will read the articles. We will then be dismissed for a couple hours.

And the senators will then come in and take their oath, as well as the chief justice. And that will probably be it for tomorrow.

And then the trial will begin, as I understand it, in earnest on Tuesday of next week.

BLITZER: You will be serving as the lead impeachment manager.

The speaker says she was looking for impeachment managers who can litigate this kind of case.

So, what strengths do you and the other six managers bring to this trial?

SCHIFF: Well, there's a lot of experience among the six of us.

[18:10:03]

I had the experience of actually being lead impeachment House manager in the last impeachment in the Senate, which was the impeachment of a corrupt federal judge, who was convicted on each of the articles.

And I served as a prosecutor for many years in Los Angeles.

My other colleagues also have a variety of everything, from courtroom experience, to other experience with impeachment. Zoe Lofgren, for example, was a staff member on the Hill during the Nixon impeachment. She was a Judiciary Committee member during the Clinton impeachment. And now she's a House manager during the Trump impeachment.

Others bring other experience. Jason Crow, an Army Ranger, brings his military experience in talking about how important it was for Ukraine to get this military aid to fight off the Russians, a conflict that has claimed about 15,000 Ukrainian lives, having someone with a military background that can speak to that.

We wanted members to reflect the geographical and diversity of the country. So, it's, I think, a very good team that the speaker is assembled with the right skills and representative of the country.

BLITZER: You in the House Intelligence Committee have just released more documents from Lev Parnas, the indicted business partner of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, including voice-mails.

What can you tell us about these new materials?

SCHIFF: Well, among the more significant things are a letter that Giuliani wrote to the president of Ukraine seeking a meeting to discuss a particular matter.

That, of course, were the investigations he wanted done of Joe Biden. And, in that letter, the president's attorney says he is undertaking these actions with the knowledge and consent of his client.

So we don't know what the president's defense is going to be, because it keeps changing. Mostly, it's an effort to deflect.

But if the president should try to say, well, I had no idea what Rudy Giuliani was doing or throw him or Gordon Sondland or someone else under the bus to declaim responsibility for a scheme that he was orchestrating, here is very graphic documentary proof that, no, Giuliani was your agent. You knew what he was doing. It's there in writing for all to see.

And this underscores, Wolf, the importance of documents. Witnesses may tell the truth, and witnesses may lie, but documents generally tell the very straight story.

The White House has been sitting on hundreds and hundreds of documents that they refuse to release to Congress. The senators should demand them. If they're going to follow the Clinton model, which they really haven't, all of those documents were turned over before the trial. They should make that evidence available to the senators and to the House managers.

BLITZER: I know you -- you and your staff, you have released hundreds of pages, new documents tonight. Are you still going through them? Are they still being translated? Give us the upshot of how significant potentially they might be in

convincing some, let's say, moderate Republican senators to vote in favor of getting new evidence, allowing witnesses to appear.

SCHIFF: Well, there's a tremendous volume of documents and materials that Mr. Parnas has turned over to us.

We are still going through them, Wolf, because there's such a great volume. Many of them are in Russian, and they had to be translated. And, fortunately, we have members of our staff that can help do that.

But there is still a great many other documents to go through. And it's not just what we got from Lev Parnas. Of course, we have seen successive disclosures of documents as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation that has shed light on the fact that, at the Office of Management and Budget, when they were holding up the military assistance to Ukraine, nobody had an explanation for why.

Those documents make it clear the order came from the president through Mick Mulvaney, that they were worried about the legality of what they were doing. In fact, that corroborate testimony we have that two OMB officials resigned because of their concerns about the legality of what was happening.

So these documents are obviously very important, illuminating, corroborating.

And if the senators are serious in taking their oath to be impartial, they're going to want a fair trial. They're going to want to see the evidence.

Mr. McConnell would like to characterize what goes on in the Senate as not a trial at all, but, rather, the appeal from a trial in the House, where the record is set.

But, of course, that's not what's in the Constitution. The founders didn't say, the House tries and, the Senate, here's the appeal. No, they said the House charges, the House impeaches, and the Senate tries.

The senators, like in every other trial in America and in every other impeachment in history, should get the documents and hear the witnesses themselves.

BLITZER: One of the more moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine, is now questioning why this is only just being revealed right now.

She suggested this means you and your House colleagues did an incomplete job. Those are her words.

If she is skeptical of this new information, how likely is it that it will be included in the Senate trial?

[18:15:03] SCHIFF: Well, what the senators need to realize -- and we hope to inform them of this during the trial -- that the reason why we haven't had documents up until now is because the president has refused to turn them over.

So, if Senator Collins or other senators are interested in the documents or why they haven't been available yet, they should turn those questions to the White House and say, why are you hiding this? Why are you holding this back? Why aren't you releasing this information?

If you're going to claim that somehow the president should be exonerated, show us the proof.

In terms of Lev Parnas, he was subpoenaed. He refused to provide the documents. He was indicted. He made a decision -- after getting rid of the lawyer Dowd, who also represented Donald Trump, he made a decision to cooperate and started providing the documents.

So this was the soonest we could get them. That's not a justification for any senator to just say, well, why didn't the House have them before? There's a very good reason we didn't have them before. The real question is, why aren't they asking the president to release the documents that he has?

BLITZER: The new evidence that has now been released by the House includes text messages that appear to show some sort of surveillance by a man named Robert Hyde, and a possible threat to Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

I'm curious, Mr. Chairman, how do you interpret these text messages?

SCHIFF: You know, I can't -- I have to say it's deeply disturbing to see that it looks like someone had the ambassador under surveillance, that there were implicit or potential threats to the ambassador.

And we don't know where those originated or the explanation for them, but we're determined to find out.

BLITZER: Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani, he's about to speak publicly on television. His lawyer says he's been making his case with a flash social media campaign that's been ongoing.

The lawyer has been doing it. Do you believe Lev Parnas is a reliable witness?

SCHIFF: Now, I don't want to make any judgments about his credibility or others until we have the opportunity to flesh that out.

But I will say this. The documents that he has been willing to provide have been very informative and very important. So, we appreciate that cooperation. We think it is shedding important new light on the president's scheme, and when it got started, and Rudy Giuliani's role and the role of others.

We're seeing how just deeply troubling that is, including, as you say, indications that the ambassador who was the subject of this vicious smear campaign was being surveilled.

It may shed light, for example, on a call that she had with a high State Department official back in Washington, who said, you need to be out on the next plane. We're concerned about your security.

She didn't understand what that was about. These new documents may shed light on just how well-founded those concerns were.

BLITZER: Yes, I have gone through some of those documents, and they are very disturbing.

As you know, four Republican senators have now said they're open to witnesses in the Senate trial, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah.

Are you confident that these senators will stick to their word, potentially vote with you? You need 51 senators to allow witnesses to appear. Right now, there are 47 Democrats. If all of them stay firm, you need 51 to get witnesses.

What do you think?

SCHIFF: Look, I hope all the senators, not just these four, take their oath seriously.

They're going to be sworn in. They're going to be sworn to an oath that requires them to be impartial. I think, if they're truly impartial, they're going to want to have a fair trial, fair to the president and fair to the American people.

They're going to want witnesses. They're going to want to see the documents. So I hope they're going to take that oath seriously.

I would also remind the senators, when they're making these decisions, that this information is going to come out anyway. If they don't vote to make these documents available, just as we are seeing over the last three or four weeks, the information is going to come out anyway.

And at some point, if they vote against witnesses and documents, they're going to have to explain, when the new evidence does come out, why did they oppose hearing this when it would have made a difference during the impeachment trial? Why did they blind themselves to the truth?

And I wouldn't want to have to answer that question, having voted against a fair trial with witnesses and documents. So, this is going to come out. It ought to come out when it would really matter.

BLITZER: As you know, the president and some of his allies, they say they're ready to have witnesses as well.

[18:20:00]

And they cite Hunter Biden, for example, the whistle-blower, and you yourself. You have heard this from the president and others. Are there any circumstances, Mr. Chairman, under which you would make

a deal with the Republicans and agree to testify or agree to these other witnesses that the president wants?

SCHIFF: Well, in terms of my own testimony, this is really not a serious thing.

This is something the president used as a talking point. I'm not sure what my testimony would be, since I'm not a fact witness, except he's guilty, you should convict him. I'm not sure that's particularly helpful to the president.

But the desire to have Hunter Biden, for example, this is a desire just to continue the smear campaign that they sought to get the Ukrainians to do.

Hunter Biden doesn't have relevant information in this trial. The issue is, did the president withhold hundreds of millions of dollars to coerce Ukraine into helping him cheat in the election?

Hunter Biden can't tell us about the president's role in withholding that aid or what his corrupt motives were. Hunter Biden can't tell us why the president wouldn't need would the president of Ukraine, which was also leverage that Trump was using to try to get his Ukrainian counterpart to help him cheat in the election.

So, he's not a relevant fact witness. And I think this is basically the GOP's way of saying, yes, Bolton is relevant, yes, Mulvaney is relevant, yes, the people you want are relevant, but if you're going to get them, we're going to make you take someone who's not relevant that will help the president smear his opponent.

That's not taking their oath seriously. That is taking factionalism to a degree that the founders warned us about. And I just hope that they don't go there.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, you have been very generous with your time on this truly historic day here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's get some analysis on what we just heard.

Dana, he's going to -- he's the lead House manager. He's going to be the lead prosecutor, for all practical purposes, in this case against the president of the United States.

And you hear some of his arguments.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

And one of the -- we kind of looked at each other on the panel as you were doing that, that interview, because one of the most cogent and the one that we're going to hear more and more in that way, I believe, was when you asked about whether or not he believes that the documents that they released will be admissible in the Senate trial.

And the argument that -- sort of the highlight of what he said was, why -- if they say no, the senators say no, we don't want to see these, looking back in history, or maybe in the short-term history on the campaign trail for a lot of these senators, the question will be asked of them, why did they blind themselves to the truth?

Because, as he warned, the truth will come out eventually. And if they don't say yes now, and it comes out later, they're going to look bad.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: That's political pressure.

And also, just as we have been sitting here, I have been texting with a source who is a senior Republican official with knowledge of the discussions going on. And I asked about witnesses. And the source said, "I think neither the White House nor critical Republican senators have decided yet about the witnesses."

So I think they don't want witnesses. But I think the door is open a crack. I also asked about the president's -- the White House team, and the source said that the White House is still considering a -- quote -- "mystery surprise lawyer."

BLITZER: That they will bring in somebody, in addition to the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, Jay Sekulow, the president's personal attorney, someone else, some sort of high-powered lawyer that the president would like to see on television.

GANGEL: That there is someone else.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right.

GANGEL: A very Donald Trump move.

HENDERSON: Totally. Totally.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I suspect it's not going to be Rudy Giuliani.

GANGEL: I don't think so, although I know that Jeffrey Toobin, who's no longer with us the last hour, that was his dream, but I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It may be a dream, but it's not going to come true, I suspect.

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: Nia, what did you think of what we heard from the lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff?

HENDERSON: You really have to think about those Republicans who are in vulnerable seats, right, people like Susan Collins, people like Cory Gardner, people like Martha McSally, and this question that Adam Schiff asked, this idea of, if they say no to witnesses, how does that sell on the campaign trail, right?

How are they going to go to their constituents and say, this was one of the most important things to happen, but we weren't curious enough to have more people and more information come forward?

So I think, if you're Susan Collins, you probably want to figure out a way where you can seem like you want witnesses, but actually not even end up having witnesses.

But that will be -- that will be a difficult needle for all for these folks to thread.

But now you have the Democrats, right, going on offense, talking about the process, right? We saw that with the Republicans on the House side when they were in the minority. And that's what Democrats are doing now.

[18:25:03]

You hear them talking about this idea of whether or not Republicans are going to be complicit in the president's a cover-up. That language, I think, is going to frame the Democrats' standing going forward.

BLITZER: Laura Coates, we now know the general timeline of what to anticipate, at least in the next several days.

Tomorrow, at noon, the House managers will come back before the Senate. They will read the articles of impeachment. At 2:00 p.m., the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will show up in the U.S. Senate. He will be sworn in, together with the senators.

But the trial actually won't begin until Tuesday. Tuesday, the trial will begin. Then the prosecution, the House managers, they will have three or four days to make their case. The White House legal team, the defense team, they will have three or four days to rebut.

And only then will the Senate have to decide whether to call witnesses and get new evidence. And those could be very close votes. You need a majority of 51.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, and, of course, mind you, they have also had since mid-December to gather their case, to be able to talk about the defense.

The timeline may technically begin tomorrow with the swearing-in of the chief justice presiding over the case. But, really, it began long ago when the impeachment articles were actually agreed upon and voted upon. And so, going forward, they're going to present all this evidence.

And, of course, the discussion we had earlier, trying to not and decide whether to have witnesses after everything has already been laid out for the public will be like trying to unring a bell, to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Once these facts have been presented -- and I know Nancy Pelosi spoke about having people who are litigation-heavy, having an emphasis on litigation.

The reason she said that, as opposed to a prosecutor, per se -- I have been both -- as a prosecutor, it focuses on witnesses, being able to have witnesses be the mouthpieces and the vehicles in which you convey and persuade information.

But litigators have to rely on the documents, preparing for the worst- case scenario, making those come to life, trying to use the discovery and the documents you have already received to paint the picture in a persuasive and distilled way.

And so she was focused on this worst-case scenario, being in a position where she had to persuade everyone publicly and not yet know if there would be a witness to say a single word.

That's why you have these seven people, the litigation-heavy focus, and, because of this, she's planning on the bulk of their case has to come in before they decide on witnesses.

Now, of course, one final point, Wolf, it'd be the very first time in all of the 15 impeachment trials that the Senate has ever presided over, including justice, judges and the like, if they do not call a witness. It'd be the first time in a 200-plus year history of hearing witnesses and hearing impeachment trials.

To have this be the moment to depart from that precedent would be shocking, given all that we know.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, Jim Baker, that Adam Schiff, before he was a congressman, he was a federal prosecutor out in Los Angeles. He knows how to prosecute.

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He knows how to prosecute. He knows how to put together a case.

It is a different trial than any other type of trial that exists, whether it's a civil trial or a criminal trial in the United States. It's a very different animal.

But they -- as Laura was saying, they have to figure out how to make these documents speak to the jurors, the senators and also to the American people. They have to figure out how to tell this story, how to make it come to life, how to use summary documents, how to use exhibits, that type of thing, to tell the story that they want to tell in the time that they know they will have, because they can't count on having witnesses.

I think that the senators are really -- the senators who are sort of on the fence about this on the Republican side are really in a pickle, because, if the president does not want witnesses, he will put heavy pressure on them.

And they will be really -- they will really have to make a tough political judgment to defy the president or to worry -- and to worry about the judgment of history, because they might still be in office when he's out of office and all these things come to light, and they will have to figure out how to deal with that.

BLITZER: It's a real dilemma that they're going to have.

Pamela Brown, I know you you're working your sources. What are you hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House has yet to announce its official team for the Senate trial. And so that's going to be interesting to see, because as Jamie is hearing, and I'm hearing as well, there could be additional names on that list that haven't already been floated out there.

The White House is still going back and forth, Wolf, on whether to have those GOP allies in the House represent the president on the Senate floor. It's interesting, because the White House has had a good chunk of time to make this decision. But there is still some last- minute going back and forth on that issue, with John Ratcliffe, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows being the final contenders.

But I'm told by a source familiar that it's unlikely -- although the president wants them to be on the floor for him, it's unlikely that they will end up on the floor, because Mitch McConnell has come out against it, told the president, look, this could bring chaos, and this is going to potentially turn off some of the more moderate Republicans. Don't do it.

So, the president's been sort of vacillating.

GANGEL: And even though they have had a lot of time, this is Donald Trump's defense.

I think we shouldn't be surprised that things are happening at the last minute.

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: You know, Susan Hennessey, there is some really disturbing new information that has been released by the House, new evidence suggesting surveillance of the then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Ambassador Yovanovitch, including some text messages from some individual named Robert Hyde to Lev Parnas, who has now been charged, an associate of Rudy Giuliani among other things, that they seem to indicate that she was being watched. This is very worrisome.

She's talked to three people. Her phone is off. One text message says, they will let me know when she's on the move. They are willing to help if we/you, would like a price.

Another text message from Robert Hyde to Lev Parnas, guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money, what I was told. If you want her out, they need to make contact with security forces.

What do you make of what clearly seems to be some threatened surveillance of a sitting U.S. ambassador, a distinguished ambassador to Ukraine?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: It's hard to know precisely what to make of this. That said, it is plainly alarming, it is plainly something that needs to be investigated and sort of gotten to the bottom of.

It also highlights the number of unanswered questions here and the number of threads that haven't yet been fully explored. And this all comes back to whether or not additional witnesses, additional information is going to come up in these impeachment proceedings and any information that doesn't come up in the impeachment proceedings, whether or not the House will return to it after the trial has concluded in order to get to the bottom of this.

But think for a minute about the amount of information that has come out since we first heard that there was some kind of whistleblower allegation against the president with the transcript of the call, all of the information that came out before Adam Schiff's majority report in the agency (ph), laying out the narrative, all the information that we found out after Schiff's report came out.

In the intervening period, information -- new emails from OMB, new reporting regarding meetings between John Bolton, secretaries of state and defense with the president in which they attempted to prevail on him to release this military aid, now this new tranche of documents and really alarming and then potentially highly consequential material, both these text messages and also a rather incriminating email or letter from Rudy Giuliani to the president of Ukraine in which he says that he's acting with the knowledge and consent of the president of the United States.

And so if we think about that body of evidence that it all comes out in one direction, that none of it thus far has been exonerating of the president, that has to be looming large in the minds of moderate Republicans who are thinking about what new information might come out and whether or not, when all is said and done, they are going to be perceived as having acted fairly and reasonably and having fundamentally upheld their oath of office at, really, this most critical solemn moment.

BLITZER: Jim Baker, you are the former FBI General Counsel. When you see this new information, this new evidence that has just emerged, what do you think?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I would be shocked if the FBI doesn't -- if it hasn't already, if it doesn't open an investigation, at least a preliminary investigation. These documents and all the other facts and circumstances around this provide an ample basis for the FBI to open and conduct an investigation to see what type of activities these people were really engaged in.

It does seem very threatening and there are a number of statutes that could apply here that are intended to protect federal employees from this type of interference, intimidation, whatever it was that they were trying to do. But it cries out for additional deep investigation by people who have legal authority to compel testimony and the production of documents.

BLITZER: We remember her testimony, Maria Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, when she said she was hearing things that gave her serious concern for her own security. And it's one of the reasons they said, you better go back to Washington right away. There may be a security threat. That's a worrisome development.

Laura Coates, you're a former federal prosecutor. How credible is Lev Parnas? He has been. He has been indicted. He's about to do some television interviews, we're told. How credible is he given his record?

COATES: Well, we'll see how credible he is in terms of persuading people that he actually does have the information he has and he was in cahoots in some way. But in terms of judging credibility on somebody because of a record or because they are now charged with a crime, I wish I could say that all of my witnesses and my trials were Mother Theresa's, Wolf, but they are just not.

The people who are the best witnesses against are pimps are prostitutes, against drug dealers, are drug addicts, against people who are gangbangers are people who are often members of the gang. And so the notion that I would discredit him entirely because of an indictment would be farfetched.

However, there is something about judging somebody's credibility based on what they stand to gain and whether they are providing the information for self-serving reasons or because they are truly credible and truthful statements.

[18:35:09]

And whether or not they can be flushed out as truthful is going to be the name of the game, I'm curious to see how he performs in these television interviews. I'm shocked that he is given that he has an indictment in New York along with his colleague, Igor Fruman, who has chosen to remain silent, perhaps to his benefit. I don't know why he's just chosen to do so now, but it seems very clear that he has a vested interest in having his story told. I'll wait and not pass judgment whether it's credible or not quite yet.

BLITZER: Everybody -- Laura -- everybody stand by. There is a lot more we're watching right now. History unfolding here in Washington, D.C. much more of our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We now know the immediate next few days how this impeachment process, the impeachment trial in the Senate is going to unfold. Phil Mattingly is up on Capitol Hill watching it very closely.

Those two articles of impeachment, they were brought from the House of Representatives, signed by Nancy Pelosi, over to the Senate. And now we wait until, what, noon tomorrow then, 2:00. P.M.

MATTINGLY: Wolf, that's exactly right. For the public phase of what you're going to see over the course of the next couple of days, at noon tomorrow, the House of managers -- the House impeachment managers appointed today by the speaker have been invited back to the United States Senate. They'll go to the Senate floor. They will read the two articles of impeachment.

Two hours later, at 2:00 P.M., the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts, has been summoned essentially to the United States Senate. He will be sworn in to preside over the impeachment trial. Afterwards, he will swear in all 100 senators. So what you're going to see in the next two days, at least publicly, is going to be part procedural, part ceremonial, really cueing up everything for next week.

But, Wolf, what's also interesting to me is something I've been paying very close attention to the last couple of weeks, and that's behind the scenes, specifically about what's going on inside the Senate Republican Conference. I think there's kind of a misconception.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kind of puts down a dictate and all other 52 members of the conference just immediately get in behind him. Certainly, the endgame often lines up very closely with what the majority leader wants at the beginning of a process. And in this case, the majority leader has made clear, he wants a short trial, the presentation, the senator questions and no witnesses.

But he's also very attuned behind the scenes to what his conference is doing and he's got a lot of competing kind of variables here. You obviously have the president, I think Jamie and Pamela were talking earlier about the president has a lot of things that he wants to see in the trial that the majority leader disagrees with.

Over the past several weeks, several months, the two of them have been speaking on the phone quite regularly, McConnell kind of trying to walk the president through the process, trying to underscore why certain positions that McConnell holds on this will be best for the president and be best for how to get through this process, I think in the words of one person I was talking to earlier, as unscathed as possible.

And you also have the conference itself. You have the moderates in the Republican Conference and, obviously, everybody pays close attention to. Senator Susan Collins in a tough re-election race in 2020 in a swing state, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, you have institutionalists, like Senator Lamar Alexander, individuals like -- you have Mitt Romney, who doesn't necessarily fit in either of those casts but has made very clear he wants to hear from witnesses, something some of his other colleagues don't feel like.

And then you have some of the president's closest allies inside the Republican Conference who want to do what the presidents want to do, who wants to call people like Hunter Biden or Joe Biden to come testify as well. And so watching the majority leader work behind the scenes and listening to others explained to me how he's been working behind the scenes to try and address all of those concerns has been very interesting.

There have been changes, I am told, to the initial organizing resolution that will lay out the rules of the road for the first couple of weeks and changes to make some of the moderates more happy, some considerations that may make some of the president's allies more happy as well.

But one thing to keep in mind in this first stage of the process, it's really going to launch on Tuesday. There will be two weeks, and we talked about this a little bit ago, where all of the senators are essentially locked into the Senate chamber for hours on end with no electronics, no iPads, no cell phones, no documents or no papers in front of them that they could read that are outside of the scope of the trial.

Time is the majority leader's friend in this case. This is something that multiple people have spoken to him have talked to me about. The idea that senators, by the end of these two weeks, the first couple of weeks process, will be tired, will be frustrated. To some degree, they will be annoyed that they aren't allowed to go talk on the Senate floor. A lot of senators like to do that. A lot of senators like opportunities to perhaps show up on camera as well.

But maybe more importantly than that, that time gives McConnell more opportunity behind the scenes to work with those senators, to hear their concerns, to try to address those concerns, and in his view, get it to a place where the trial ends or at least the endgame appears how he wants it to be.

I think one thing to make clear though is kind of walk through all of that process. Majority leaders know how this is going to end. People assume McConnell has everything laid out and has all his cards in place. He certainly is working and moving the pieces around right now. But he doesn't know how this is going to end in terms of whether or not there will be witnesses or documents.

One thing Democrats and Republicans both agree on, there aren't 67 votes to remove the president of the United States. It just simply isn't there and there's nothing really that anybody I've talked to, Democrat or Republican, feels will ever get it there.

And so the question right now and the issues that both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are attempting to work through and work around right now is whether or not there will be 51 votes, a simple majority, to subpoena documents and to subpoena witnesses, and how those two leaders work over the course of the next couple of weeks as these initial presentations roll out, as the questions from the senators roll out to the managers and to the president's defense team. This one is going to be fascinating.

And, two, will in and of itself dictate how long this trial goes, who and if any witnesses are going to be called and, frankly, how history is going to remember how this trial was held in the United States Senate, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be really, really important to see all of this unfold.

[18:45:01]

Nia, you and I flew back from Iowa this morning. It's hard to believe. It seems like a long time ago.

HENDERSON: Yes.

BLITZER: All 100 senators have to be in the Senate. They have to be quiet. They have to be listening. They will be sworn in, including Democratic presidential candidates who are on the debate stage last night, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, another Democratic senator, Michael Bennet. He wasn't on the debate stage.

HENDERSON: Right.

BLITZER: But he's a presidential candidate: They're going to have to stop their campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire and come to Washington and be jurors.

HENDERSON: Yes, they're going to be on jury duty. They're not going to be able to talk or speak. It's not like they could have viral moments in the way that they would if they were doing sort of a committee hearing.

So, if you are those senators in these crucial days before folks go to vote in Iowa, the Iowa caucus is February 3rd, this is going to put a dent in your momentum. This is going to put a dent in your abilities to connect with those voters as they start to make their final decision.

So, if you're Joe Biden, you're happy. If you're Pete Buttigieg you're certainly happy because you're going to be able to be there in the way that these others won't be.

There has been talk about maybe some sort of pooling of resources to fly back to Iowa. But they're going to be here --

BLITZER: Yes.

HENDERSON: -- Monday through Saturday for this trial, at least for the foreseeable future, two or three weeks or so.

GANGEL: And maybe right through the caucus.

HENDERSON: Exactly.

GANGEL: And the other interesting timing is that the president has been invited to give his State of the Union Address on February 4th. He could, this happened with Bill Clinton, end up giving his tune address in the middle of his impeachment trial.

BLITZER: Yes, I remember that with Bill Clinton did that, spoke for more than an hour, never mentioned the fact that there was a trial, an impeachment trial in the Senate happening earlier in the day and continuing next day as well. You know, Laura, some of the new documents that have been released,

there's a note from a Ritz Carlton Hotel in Vienna, Austria, from Lev Parnas, writes this: Get Zelensky to announce that the Biden case will be investigated.

It raises all sorts of suspicions out there that have already been -- that a lot of the Democrats already have that the president of the United States was primarily interested in withholding that military assistance to Ukraine as leverage to get dirt on the Bidens.

COATES: You mean B did not stand for Burisma, Wolf? It stood for the Bidens, instead. I think this was probably one of the worst kept secrets of this when it comes to the motivations of the president as was articulated through witnesses like a Gordon Sondland, like others who essentially scoffed at the idea of saying, well, hold on, it was pretty well known that Burisma and Biden were used interchangeably to get to the very same point, and that there was essentially a pretextual reason to suggest it was about the natural gas company going forward, when it was linked to Hunter Biden being on the board.

And so, you look at this document -- again, we don't know when it was written. It does have the location of Vienna on it. We don't know exactly when it was written. Was it written before or after this phone call? We just don't know all the details of that.

But we do know as a pattern of behavior and according to the other documents that go along with it, there certainly was a collective and concerted effort to ensure that there was some way to help the president politically by tapping into some discussion about Burisma and/or the Bidens with the Ukrainian president and Giuliani facilitated even before -- even while Zelensky was the president- elect, before he was actually the president.

So, we have a pattern. All of this, of course, will be and should be used with the House managers going forward to build the case that supports the articles of impeachment they have already decided upon.

BLITZER: You know, Susan Hennessey, this other letter that was released from Rudy Giuliani to the president-elect of Ukraine, President Zelensky, in which he says I represent him as a private citizen, not as president of the United States. In my personal capacity as personal counsel to President Trump, and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you on this upcoming Monday, may 13th or Tuesday, May 14th.

What did you make of that letter?

HENNESSEY: Yes, it's something we might refer to as incriminating evidence. It's Rudy Giuliani putting in writing that he was acting with Trump's knowledge, at Trump's request and on Trump's behalf. While he says in his letter he sort of takes pains to say, well, I'm only the president's personal lawyer. I'm not -- I'm only representing him in a personal capacity, it's plain what he's saying.

He's saying he is seeking this meeting because it's a personal favor to the president of the United States. So, there in black and white what we already suspected. So, this really is an incredibly significant document, one of the more significant documents to come out of this new trove of information.

The other thing that's really significant here is that it shows Giuliani and Lev Parnas are in communication with Yuri Lutsenko, who as the time the top prosecutor in Ukraine. So, we aren't talking about people having conversations amongst themselves about what they might communicate to Ukrainian officials.

This is actually the president's team and for the president's purported legal team having direct communication for the prosecutor while he was in office about the announcement of this investigation.

And so, really, this is critical documentary evidence. We talked before about whether or not Lev Parnas is credible witness or not, there are questions -- there are questions about whether or not he is credible. But the documents like these become so incredibly important because you don't have to rely on somebody's word. You can see it for yourself.

Now, if Rudy Giuliani wants to dispute it, then he can say that it's not real.

O'DONNELL: Very quickly, Jim Baker, how significant are these new documents?

BAKER: They're very significant. They all continue to point, as Susan was saying earlier, in the same direction. They are supportive of the case that the House has made with respect to impeachment. They don't contradict that.

This particular document doesn't say, you know, they want the announcement of the investigation as quid pro quo for releasing aid, but it's consistent with the articles of impeachment. It supports the House's case.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're following including another major development, a disturbing power play by the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:57]

BLITZER: Tonight, a dramatic new power play by Russia's Vladimir Putin. It's likely to tighten his grip on the country and extend his leadership for years.

Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Putin is shaking up the Kremlin, Russia's constitution. What does it mean for him and for President Trump?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for Vladimir Putin, it means there's a good chance he'll stay in power until he dies. For Donald Trump, it could mean more questions and criticism over his relationship with the former KGB colonel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Vladimir Putin seems to be shrewdly moving pieces around to ensure he stays in power even after his term- limited presidency ends in 2024. Putin made a grand announcement, even projected on the side of a Moscow building, proposing sweeping changes to the Russian constitution that would strengthen the power of parliament and prime minister and weaken the presidency.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The proposed innovations are significant changes to the political system, the roles of executive, legislative, and judicial authority.

TODD: And no sooner had Putin proposed those changes, then the entire government resigned, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

ANGELA STENT, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Putin is telling his own population and the rest of the world, I'm in charge now and even after 2024 when I have to resign the presidency, I'm still going to be around and I'm still going to be a player.

TODD: Putin's been in power for 20 years, longer than any Kremlin leader except the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin.

Putin's worst political enemy, opposition leader Alexei Navalny quickly tweeted that the people who thought Putin would step away from power in 2024 are idiots and said: The only goal of Putin and his regime is remaining the sole leader for life, taking ownership of an entire country and appropriating wealth to himself and his friends.

And tonight, there's concern about how Putin's tightening grip on power will affect his dealings with President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would be great to get along with Russia.

TODD: Trump has sided with Russia over his own intelligence agencies, has been seen as overeager to please a strong man who experts say is adept at manipulating Trump. And analysts say Americans should be worried that a more powerful Putin will become even more emboldened.

STENT: The average American should realize Russia is not going to change its playbook. It's still going to try to interfere in our upcoming election, probably via social media, maybe not in the cyber realm anymore. They still would like President Trump to win a second Trump, and they will continue to do whatever they can to benefit from all the disagreements between the U.S. and its European allies.

TODD: Putin and Medvedev have choreographed a similar routine before. Medvedev was elected president in 2008 when Putin faced term limits. Putin became prime minister but wielded most of the power. Putin then returned to the presidency in 2012.

SUSAN GLASSER, AUTHOR, "KREMLIN RISING: VLADIMIR PUTIN'S RUSSIA": Vladimir Putin said never mind the jig is up, we're going to be changing seats again. Medvedev was un-summarily ushered out of the president's office and Putin ran again for the presidency. So, you can see why people believe that Putin will do almost anything to hold on to power.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: So, could anything or anyone inside Russia threaten Vladimir Putin's hold on power? Analysts say if anything can, it could be the faltering Russian economy or the fact that many young Russians really don't feel like they have much of a future there.

But experts say Putin could now be doing what Chinese President Xi Jinping did not long ago. He could be setting himself up to be leader for life. And he likely is, Wolf, and also the State Department made no statements today until just moments ago, when it did say it is watching the situation and it is warning Russia against malign behavior.

BLITZER: So, the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is against seemingly doing Putin's bidding. Has ever gone against Putin?

TODD: He has in fact, Wolf. When Medvedev held the Russian presidency in 2011, Putin was angry with him for not using a U.N. veto to block air strikes against Libya. Putin shoved Medvedev out of office, though, the following year.

BLITZER: All right. Dramatic developments unfolding in Russia as well.

Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks very much.

And to our viewers thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.