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President Trump Comments on Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani; Chief Justice, Senators Sworn in For Impeachment Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 16, 2020 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): Do you solemnly swear that, in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws, so help you God?

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That was, of course, John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, officially sworn in to preside over the Senate impeachment trial.

A few moments later, all 100 members of the U.S. Senate, as far as we know, took an oath of their own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice, according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?

UNIDENTIFIED SENATORS: I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We're actually told it was 99 senators. One of the senators, his wife is ill.

And then, one by one, they walked over and signed their names into history in the Senate Oath Book.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is tracking all of the developments for us.

But we're going to start with Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, what's going on at the White House right now? How is the president responding? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we should

note one interesting thing.

The president had an event on his schedule today talking about prayer in public schools. It was supposed to start around 2:00 p.m., but just a few minutes before, we got notification from the White House it was actually going to be delayed half-an-hour.

And while they didn't explain that delay and what the reason was behind it, we should note that it was going on as these 99 senators were being sworn in.

Now reporters are in the room with the president. We're waiting to see if he has any comment on these new revelations that could shift this Senate trial that we're going to see play out over the next several weeks.

Our sources have been telling us behind the scenes for days now they thought this was going to be a pretty easy trial. They're even hoping that it won't go longer than two weeks. But now, with these new revelations, one from the report saying that the administration violated the law by withholding that military aid to Ukraine, and then, two, these new revelations from Lev Parnas, that, of course, indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani's, is now saying the president was aware of all of his actions he took in Ukraine.

Those actions, of course, part of a larger pressure campaign on the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens. The question is, how are those two events that happened today going to potentially shape the Senate trial?

We know that the White House counsel team, as they have been finalizing their defense ahead of Tuesday, the formal start of this trial, have now been having to go through these documents that were released by House Democrats that show messages, including the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who, of course, Lev Parnas was saying briefed him on everything that he was told about what was happening here at the White House and vice versa.

And so those questions are going to be how the defense team responds to that. So far, we have seen the White House dismissing not only that report about violating the law when it comes it withholding the aid, but also these new revelations from Lev Parnas saying they are not concerned about what he has to say, Jake, though, of course, we're going to learn just how concerned they could potentially be depending on whether or not he's someone who appears at this trial.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk all of this over with our analysts.

Jamie Gangel, let me start with you.

We have seen so far from the U.S. Senate moments of bipartisan display, somber moments, serious moments, but it's not likely that that's going to last. JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: No.

I have to say you used the word gravity earlier today, and just -- I have been around this town long enough to have watched the last impeachment, but when the chief justice was sworn in and at the end Senator Grassley said, "God bless you," I have to say it took my breath away, just the weight of the moment.

And I wondered what President Trump was thinking. And I think, quite quickly, that moment is going to fall away, because as we see this trial play out on the Senate floor, which will be formal -- they're not allowed to ask questions -- there's going to be a political battle off the floor, both with -- we saw Bernie Sanders go up to the microphone, so you have the presidential.

But also we have seen Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler. What is the word we have heard a lot in the last 24 hours? Cover-up. The Democrats are going to have their messaging out front and center.

TAPPER: And, also, I have to say one of the things we're going to see, in addition to partisan battles, Susan Glasser, is two different realities being presented to the American people, because it's not original to observe that the president's defense relies in large part on ignoring things that the administration have said, things -- statements the administration has made.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, that's right, Jake,

I think that's a super important point. You know, even yesterday, when the House was voting to approve the articles being sent over to the Senate after this holiday standoff, you had the House minority leader in the well of the House. And he talked about this as a national nightmare. He criticized Democrats.

[15:05:11]

You know, there's a lot to argue over in normal political terms. I never heard never heard the word Ukraine come from his mouth.

And so this is that sort of fundamental unreality of this, as compared with, say, the Clinton trial. And I, too, you know, am old enough to have listened to every word, I think, of that trial.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: For the record, everybody is, except for Abby.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GLASSER: That goes without saying.

(LAUGHTER)

GLASSER: You know, that's the amazing difference here, is that Bill Clinton not only was expressing contrition, but, fundamentally, it wasn't an argument over what happened. It was an argument over what the United States Senate should do with this rather unseemly set of facts.

And right now you have a situation where there's an enormous pile of evidence. Democrats are the only ones who want to talk about it, and you also have basically the most successful stonewall in history in an impeachment proceeding.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But I will say, as the one person who was not here for the '99 hearing, it does strike me that the other part about this is that there is so much unfinished business in this impeachment process, that there is all of this potential evidence that exists out into the world that we haven't fully litigated, and some of it is being litigated in the press.

And to Kaitlan's report earlier, it's something that's a growing cause of concern to people around the president that this is not all sewn up. The Senate is not getting this all packaged together, and we ail know what's out there.

There's a lot to this that hasn't been fully just investigated, and part of the job of the Republicans in the Senate on behalf of the president -- and many of them are saying they are working to try to make this as painless as possible for him -- is to try to prevent as much of that from coming forward as possible.

This isn't just about whether or not we're going to hear again from certain witnesses. This is about whether or not there are going to be people coming into this process who we have not heard from at all and who will have very important information.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hold on one moment.

The Senate minority leader, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is speaking.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: ... everybody.

Now, as everyone here knows -- whoops. Go ahead. Get your footing or your kneeing, or whatever it is.

So, as everyone knows, we have all been sworn in by the chief justice of the United States to serve as judges and jurors in the impeachment trial of President Trump.

When the chief justice walked in, you could feel the weight of the moment. I saw members on both sides of the aisle visibly gulp.

The weight of history sits on shoulders and produces sometimes results you never know will happen. For some of us here, this is the first time we have done this. For

others like myself, it's the second time, but I assure you there's no difference.

Even though I have gone through this before, for all of us, the solemnity, the gravity of the moment in our history hits you square in the back when you take that oath, a separate oath designed by the Senate, only for senators who will serve on a court of impeachment.

The feeling in the Senate chamber was solemn, serious, profound. The weight of history, the eyes of history, you feel it, are upon you.

I know every one of my colleagues felt it. I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle felt it.

You all heard the reading of the articles of impeachment by Representative Schiff at noon. It was a solemn recitation of charges that proved are crimes against our democracy itself. To actually hear the charges read, even though we have heard them many times before, impresses the seriousness of the charges.

This is not something trivial. This is not something everybody does. This is not something that can be dismissed. President Donald Trump is accused of coercing a foreign leader into interfering in our elections, and then doing everything in his power to cover it up.

These are exactly the kind of offenses the founders most feared when they forged the impeachment clause in the Constitution. Do we want foreign powers to determine our elections? Do the American people want someone from overseas determining who's their president, who's their governor, who's their senator, who's their congressman?

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This is what the nation has feared for centuries, and we fear it today more than ever with this president.

This is very, very serious stuff. This is not trivial, because it's hard to imagine a greater subversion of our democracy than for powers outside our borders to determine the elections within our borders.

And for a country to attempt such a thing on its own, as Russia has done, is bad enough. For an American president to deliberately solicit such a thing, to blackmail a foreign country with military assistance to help him win an election is unimaginably worse.

I am actually filled with anger when you read the attempt to subvert our democracy.

So, these charges are serious, very. And it's on those charges which the Senate has to render a verdict. Remarkably, crucial pieces of information related to the charges against the president are still coming out.

Last night, Lev Parnas, an associate of the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, gave an astonishing interview on national television that further implicated the president in a plot to remove the U.S. ambassador and pressure Ukrainian President Zelensky into announcing investigations into one of the president's leading rivals.

And just today, through the good work of Chris Van Hollen, who you will hear from shortly, the GAO found that it was illegal, illegal for President Trump to withhold military assistance from Ukraine to pressure them to interfere in the 2020 elections.

Both the revelations about Mr. Parnas and the GAO opinion strengthen our push for witnesses and documents in the trial.

The GAO opinion especially makes clear that the documents we requested in our letter to Leader McConnell are even more needed now than when we requested it last month, because President Trump, simply put, broke the law.

Every senator will get a chance to vote to obtain these documents next week.

Now, returning to how I began, the oath we all just took will weigh heavily on senators to consider this question about how fair a trial we have.

We have asked for four fact-based witnesses -- fact witnesses, and three specific sets of relevant documents. The witnesses are not Democrats. They are the president's men, his top advisers, who he appointed.

The documents are not Democratic documents. They are just documents, period.

Every Senate impeachment trial in our history, all 15 that were brought to completion, featured witnesses, every single one. Leader McConnell is fond of citing precedent. We have all heard him about 1999.

The precedent in impeachment trials in the Senate is to have witnesses. To have no witnesses would be a dramatic break with precedent. It would mean the first impeachment trial of a president in history with no witnesses, the first impeachment trial of anybody that went to completion in the Senate's 200-and-some-odd history without witnesses.

So, in the coming days, each of us, every one of us, Democrat and Republican, will face a choice about whether to begin this trial in the search of truth or in service of the president's desire to cover it up.

Now that every senator has sworn a solemn oath before God and the American people to do impartial justice, let every senator reflect on that choice, and let history weigh on every one of our shoulders.

Senator Harris.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Thank you, Leader Schumer.

I would argue that not only is this an impeachment trial, but that the very integrity of the United States Senate is on trial.

What is before us are charges that are arguably the most serious charges that have ever been leveled against a president of the United States.

And where there has been an abandonment of responsibility to uphold the ideals, much less the words of the United States Constitution by the president of the United States, that responsibility now rests on the shoulders of each member of the United States Senate, which is to uphold the integrity of our system of democracy, uphold the integrity of our system of justice, and to uphold the integrity of the United States Senate, which has a responsibility to do fair and impartial justice, which means demanding that the American public and each member of this body receive all evidence, documents, and individuals who are witnesses.

[15:15:40]

So that we can engage in a fair deliberation and make the decision that reflects the ideals and the values and the very principles of the United States system of justice, and so that is what is before us today.

And we took a very solemn oath. It's a very serious matter, which each of us should take responsibly and take seriously, understanding that whatever the party affiliation of the president of the United States, right now, it is incumbent on the United States Senate to do the work of upholding America's Constitution and our system of justice.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Senator Harris.

Senator...

BLITZER: All right, so we're going to continue to monitor this news conference, Jake.

But I was struck by what the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said, that the new information being made available by Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani's associate who's under criminal indictment now, the interviews that he's now been giving, including to our own Anderson Cooper, plus the information that just came out from the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, that the Trump administration broke the law by suspending, by not providing that nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine, he's making it clear he wants that to be part of the trial that begins next Tuesday in the Senate.

TAPPER: Yes, and this gets into the difference, the stark difference, between the Clinton impeachment in 1999 and the Trump impeachment of today.

The Clinton impeachment, for people who aren't old enough to remember, there was a very independent attorney general named Janet Reno, who has since passed, who Bill Clinton appointed and then spent the next eight years regretting it, who appointed -- who allowed the independent counsel, Ken Starr, to investigate basically anything he wanted to investigate, which led to the Clinton impeachment. But there was an investigatory body that looked into and came up with

the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, or at least the case against Bill Clinton, that the House then took up.

In this case, we don't have anything like that. There has not been an attorney general as independent as Janet Reno since Janet Reno, but this case was referred to the Justice Department, what President Trump was doing allegedly with Ukraine. And the Justice Department, under Bill Barr, who is very loyal to Donald Trump, decided, nothing to see here.

So that left the House of Representatives to investigate this.

And you're an investigatory counsel. That leaves us in a situation where it is not as clear-cut as what we had during Watergate or what we had during Clinton, because, basically, the arm of the executive branch of government that was supposed to look into this decided not to.

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: Right, Jake.

We were joking, Abby -- and I was a 27-year-old committee counsel when the Clinton impeachment happened. I was on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee. So I -- it's deja vu. Only, I'm a lot older.

So, I think that, to your point, the -- remember what Nancy Pelosi said? I keep going back to but for Nancy Pelosi in my mind. But for her, we wouldn't be here.

And history's going to judge her, I think, well, because, 100 years from now, whatever happens in this moment, had she turned those articles over immediately, I believe this would have been dismissed, and I don't think we would have gotten all this other stuff that we have gotten.

So, to your point, the House of Representatives, if you remember, Pelosi did not want to impeach. She made that clear after the Mueller report.

But when this Ukraine thing happened, it happened really fast. And I think the House of Representatives did the best with what they could.

And don't forget, folks watching at home, two articles of impeachment. The obstruction of Congress article is exactly why we're talking about this. They couldn't get everything they needed to do the thorough job that Susan Collins and others want to chide them for. They couldn't get the documents. They couldn't get the witnesses.

What were they to do? That's really the question here.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

And this is scary for Republicans in the Senate. This is a very dynamic situation right now. This isn't like the Starr report, where they laid everything out. They knew the story. They had all the unfortunate details of that story. This situation is completely different, because they don't know Lev

Parnas. They haven't been paying attention, as we all in the media have, to every single piece of this story. They will be forced to now, sitting in the Senate. They're going to have to listen to all of this.

[15:20:07]

But it is such a dynamic and unprecedented situation, that they're probably -- well, do we want to -- now I'm going to date myself again. Do we want a Perry Mason moment here, where somebody comes in and suddenly the case has changed, which may be what happened with Lev Parnas, for example?

And so Republican senators are uncomfortable with all of this, because, on the one hand, they know that, yes, in most trials, you don't turn away evidence that could help or hurt someone. You just -- you want all the evidence you can get.

But, on the other hand, they have a problem here, which is a president who doesn't want any of them to admit any ounce of wrongdoing. With Bill Clinton, they could go in there and said, his behavior was shameful, we disagree with what he did, but this is not an impeachable offense.

Republicans have no leeway in this. They have to say the president did nothing wrong, or he's jumping down their back and going to hurt them in their reelection.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around.

There's a lot more news we're following on this important day.

And speaking of Lev Parnas, you're about to hear his claims in a new CNN interview, including the claim that there was indeed a quid pro quo, and it came at the direction of the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What was your message to Poroshenko?

LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: For Poroshenko is that if he would make the announcement, that he would get -- Trump would either invite him to the White House or make a statement for him, but basically would start supporting him for, you know, president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:59]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr President, what is your response to Lev Parnas, who says that your efforts in Ukraine were all about 2020, that you just wanted Joe Biden out?

What's your response?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know him.

I don't know Parnas, other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people, including people today that I didn't meet, but just met them.

I don't know him at all, don't know what he's about, don't know where he comes from, know nothing about him.

I can only tell you, this thing is a big hoax. It's a big hoax. We call it -- this is the current hoax. We have gone through the Russian witch-hunt. We have gone through a lot of them, from probably before I came down the escalator, but certainly since I came down the escalator.

You take a look at what's happened. And, in the meantime, our country...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: He's trying to probably make a deal for himself.

ACOSTA: (OFF-MIKE) Giuliani (OFF-MIKE) Ukraine (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I don't even know who this man is, other than I guess he attended fund-raisers, so I take a picture with him. I'm in a room, I take pictures with people. I take thousands and thousands of pictures with people all the time, thousands during the course of a year.

And, oftentimes, I will be taking a picture with somebody, I will say, I wonder what newspaper that one's going to appear in?

No, I don't know him. Perhaps he's a fine man. Perhaps he's not. I know nothing about him.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: He describes (OFF-MIKE) more than just taking pictures, Mr. President. He says that...

TRUMP: I don't know him. I don't believe I have ever spoken to him.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: ... Giuliani. You were on the phone with Giuliani, and he said...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I don't believe I have ever spoken to him.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: ... president of Ukraine.

TRUMP: I meet thousands of people. I meet thousands and thousands of people as president. I take thousands of pictures.

And I do -- and I do it openly, and I do it gladly. And then, if I have a picture where I'm standing with somebody at a fund-raiser, like I believe I saw a picture with this -- this man, but I don't know him. I had -- never had a conversation that I remember with him.

ACOSTA: So, when he says...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: He certainly -- let me just tell you, you just have to take a look at the calls.

ACOSTA: So, when he says Mulvaney knew about this, that Bolton knew about this...

TRUMP: Quiet.

You just have to take a look at the pictures. You just have to take a look at the polls. You see, I don't need anybody's help. We're doing phenomenally well.

The economy is the best it's ever been. We have never had an economy like this in history. We just made the two best trade deals in the history of our country.

We are doing well. I don't need the help of a man that I never met before, other than perhaps taking a picture at a fund-raiser or something, if that's where it was taken.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: He makes it sound like this was just about taking out Joe Biden.

QUESTION: Are you still going to Davos? And if you are, what's the message you want to send...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I will probably be going to Davos. I have been invited. We have tremendous world leaders.

And we also have great business leaders, and we want those business leaders all to come to the United States. Some of the businesses left the United States because they were disgusted with what happened, and now they're all coming back. We are booming.

Our country's the hottest country anywhere in the world. There's nothing even close. Every world leader sees me, they say, what have you done? This is the most incredible thing that we have ever seen.

I understand the stock market today broke 29000. When I came in, it was a fraction of that. It was a number that, frankly, would have gone, and it would have been cut in half had the other person or the other party won. The number would have been cut in half.

We are doing so well, and I want to get more. We have tremendous room for growth in our country in terms of the economy. We have tremendous, powerful room for growth.

So, I'm going to be going to Davos. I will be meeting the biggest business leaders in the world, getting them to come here. I will also be meeting with foreign leaders. OK?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You talked about prayer and faith today. What's your message to the millions of Catholics in the United States? Why should they vote for you in the upcoming election, Catholics?

TRUMP: Well, I have a great relationship with Catholics. I have done so much for Catholics.

You take a look at the abortion issue. You take a look at many of these, you know, Mexico City. You take a look at so many of the different issues.

My relationship with Catholics and the Catholic Church has been very, very good, as you know very well.

Yes, Jeff (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. President, Rudy Giuliani wrote a letter to Zelensky requesting a private meeting, and he said it was in his capacity as private counsel to President Donald J. Trump. This was before the inauguration.

Did you authorize him to write that letter, and what was your understanding of what the meeting was supposed to be about?