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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

51 Percent of Americans Want Trump Removed From Office; Impeachment Trial Preparations. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 20, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The White House says impeachment is one word, two syllables, that rhymes with parade.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking right now: a brand-new CNN poll coming out on THE LEAD taking the pulse of the nation. Do voters want the Senate to remove President Trump?

Today, the Trump legal team laying out its defense, slamming the Democrats' case as a charade, and making claims that may clash with the Constitution.

Plus: barnstorming. With exactly two weeks until Iowa, candidates flood the zone, while one major newspaper is slammed for an endorsement that says either will do.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news in the politics lead, brand-new CNN polls out this hour on the eve of President Trump's Senate impeachment trial. And this comes as the battle over witnesses takes center stage tomorrow, with more evidence coming to light on a near daily basis.

CNN political director David Chalian joins me now.

And, David, what are respondents saying here on the eve of the Senate trial?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Take a look. This is the big number on the main question. Should the Senate vote to convict and remove President Trump from office?

A slim majority of Americans in this poll, Brianna, 51 percent, say yes; 45 percent say no. I want to show you some key demographics. It'll look like how we have seen America sort itself when it comes to President Trump's approval.

But take a look among women. You will see here first 59 percent of women in this poll say convict and remove the president; 42 percent of men say so. That is a pretty significant gender gap. Again, we see that time and again in all polling related to President Trump.

You will see a familiar pattern here among race. Take a look; 86 percent of African Americans, vote to convict and remove is what they want to see the Senate do, 65 percent of Hispanic Americans in this poll, 42 percent of white Americans in this poll.

And age is also a telling factor. Take a look at the age divide here. Under 45 years old, 56 percent of those Americans want to see the president convicted and removed from office; 45 and older, only 47 percent want to see him convicted and removed from office.

KEILAR: And, David, what does America think about whether witnesses should be included in the Senate trial?

CHALIAN: This may be the most important number in the poll; 69 percent in this poll say, yes, witnesses should be included.

Brianna, you know that 70 percent of Americans don't agree on anything these days. This is a huge number. And look at it by party. This is fascinating. Look at this number here; 48 percent of Republicans, of Republicans believe there should be witnesses in this poll; 44 percent of Republicans say no.

This number right here is going to be a critical number as Democrats try to seek to get those four Republican senators over to their side voting for witnesses.

This is some political power to help them do so.

KEILAR: And what does the American public think about whether the charges against the president are true?

CHALIAN: I find this fascinating.

Take a look here. Majorities for both articles think they're true; 58 percent say President Trump did indeed abuse the power of office; 57 percent say he obstructed Congress, as laid out in the articles. That means that this includes people who actually don't think he should be convicted and removed.

But they're saying that what he's alleged of doing, he did -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, David, stick around. We have more from you.

I do want to bring in our panel to discuss this.

So, Bill Kristol, there are 51 percent who are in favor of convicting and removing the president. This is compared to the 45 percent who are opposed. Does this surprise you? What do you make of this?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I think the big picture is this.

Back in August, when the Ukraine story broke, or I guess it was early September, and there was a big debate, would Speaker Pelosi go to impeachment, I was strongly in favor of it. And I had many, many discussions and arguments with people who didn't like Donald Trump, but who thought this is very risky politically.

Look what happened under Clinton. There was not majority support for doing it at the time. The numbers were about 40 percent. This will be backlash, backfire. Trump's approval will go up.

What's amazing -- what is most interesting to me is that that has not happened. The numbers aren't great for the Democrats or for those who are in favor of -- but a better majority in favor of conviction, Trump's approval stuck at 43 percent, 70 percent want witnesses, I think it's interesting that the public is as supportive as it is.

And I think it's a huge victory for Nancy Pelosi.

KEILAR: Anyone disagree?

(CROSSTALK)

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And yet when you -- then there's this other question about how Democrats are Congress are handling impeachment.

And 46 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. So that's the political risk for Democrats. If...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: They're underwater on this.

KUCINICH: They're underwater on that.

KRISTOL: but they were underwater before impeachment.

You asked, do you approve of the Democrats in Congress, it wasn't going to be any better than that anyway. So I think they have gotten away pretty scot-free politically on this, don't you think?

KUCINICH: I just don't think we know the answer to that yet, because I think if we look in these -- because what's going to matter are these members from marginal districts.

And if their districts look like that, that's a problem.

[16:05:02]

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Flip it, Karen, because if you look -- Republicans are faring much worse, which is an important thing to point out.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right.

KEILAR: You were going to say?

FINNEY: Well, what I was going to say is, that's part of why how this whole thing, what the rules are, how it all plays itself out is so critically important, because if you are Lisa Murkowski, you want this to be a civilized, thoughtful process.

You do not want the president tweeting all over the place, Republicans losing control of the process. So, I think I agree with what you're saying. But at the same time, I think how this plays out will determine where these numbers go.

And, remember, just last week, we were having a conversation about, what did Nancy Pelosi gain by holding onto the articles of impeachment? Well, here it is. I mean, this very big win.

KEILAR: What do you think, David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think -- listen, I think we don't know yet how exactly this is going to play out.

We're very likely at the peak of Democratic support, because now the -- essentially, the Republicans are going to be able to control much of the show in the Senate.

So I don't think the Democrats -- I don't think Nancy Pelosi certainly hasn't gotten hurt. The Democrats haven't gotten hurt, but I'm not sure they have gotten as big a win yet as Bill said.

If in fact -- I think one of the things they are doing it smart in this period is to put emphasis not on the facts of the case, which we have heard so many times, and it's been so repetitive, but to put emphasis on the witnesses as a symbol of what's fair.

And there we see that they're playing on very safe grounds to push that issue. And they can possibly come out of this -- even if there's a -- they don't win the witnesses, they have got an issue.

KEILAR: And the polls bear that out, because 69 percent of those surveyed are in favor. Look at this; 69 percent say that witnesses should be included in this Senate trial; 26 percent say no.

OK, the other thing, Jackie, is 48 percent of Republicans say that there should be witnesses.

KUCINICH: Right, which is why you see the Susan Collins, Mitt Romneys of the world saying that, yes, we'd like to see witnesses now.

Now, there's caveats there, right? After the case has been made, and then they will decide and there will be votes. So who these people are, that also might be a moment of contention.

But that -- that's why you see some of these Republicans, Mitt Romney is not a moderate, but he's someone who's known to think these things through, are taking these positions.

But I will say the biggest variable of all of this, Mitch McConnell can have as much control in the world. He does not control the president. He does not control his Twitter feed. And that is going to be a free radical this entire time.

(CROSSTALK) GERGEN: Do we know what the process is? Is the vote on witnesses taking place? Is Schumer going to push it before they begin all these hearings?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Schumer may try to make that happen.

But I think McConnell thinks he has 51 votes to go ahead with the presentation of the cases by the managers and the defense attorneys and then go to a vote, and then go to votes on witnesses.

But as Jackie suggests, we don't know what kinds of votes, how many. And McConnell loses control once they're sitting -- it's a court of impeachment. Senators can make motions. The chief justice can make determinations, which could be overturned by 51 senators.

So I think it's a little more fluid and unpredictable a situation than we think. John Bolton could be testifying live before the United States Senate one week from now. That's a pretty big wild card to have out there.

KEILAR: Yes.

GERGEN: I thought -- Pelosi, I think, has played her cards very, very well on this.

I have to say that McConnell had done one thing which was really smart. And that is to detail what the president wanted to do, and that is to put the firebrands from the House into the management team on the Senate floor.

I think that would have been a circus. And he's got much more control over the kind of conversation and the tenor of the conversation without the Jim Jordans there.

KEILAR: Yes. No, it's a very good point.

So when you look at all the variables, whether it's, hey, is John Bolton going to testify, will we see Lev Parnas, will Hunter Biden be up, are we going to see these witnesses right away?

Or is it going to be farther off in the future? And I wonder how critical you think that is, Karen, to hear from witnesses quickly, which is what Democrats want, vs. later, which is more likely what's going to happen?

FINNEY: I certainly think it becomes harder and harder for the Republicans to deny witnesses and evidence, because, again, as much as they like to make the comparison to the Clinton impeachment, remember that Ken Starr was a multiyear, multimillion-dollar investigation. And he turned over boxes and boxes and boxes of evidence and data.

And they did actually have people come and testify. I think becomes harder also the more other things are coming out, Lev Parnas coming out, the GAO report coming out saying the president did actually break the law. So I think the more these other outside factors come in to play, I think it will make it a lot harder to deny witnesses.

KEILAR: Let's see what this says for the overall approval rating for the president.

David Chalian, what is this -- what is it with impeachment hanging over President Trump?

CHALIAN: Yes, it is as rock-solid steady as it always is with Donald Trump.

He's at 43 percent approval in this poll, Brianna, exactly where he was last month, 53 percent disapproval.

[16:10:01]

Take a look where he stacks up now against all his modern era predecessors in January of the election year. He's down here at the bottom of that list.

You see here, that is not where he wants to be, right? He's going to want to move up here. Now, we have seen people down towards the end, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, get elected to a second term, but Donald Trump is at the bottom of that list with his current 43 percent.

KEILAR: Yes, no, it's so key.

And I even have heard from Democrats. I think we all have, who realize which way this is likely going to go in the Senate, barring something huge, something kind of nuclear and unforeseen that happens.

They expect the Republicans are going to pretty much stick together, that they're not going to convict the president. So looking there, that may be the big -- this may be the number they really should be looking at, but will this help defeat President Trump, do you think?

KRISTOL: I think, normally, an incumbent government with a 45 percent approval is not...

KEILAR: Normally?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Fair enough. Fair enough.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I will subside. I will subside after saying that.

Normally, 43 percent isn't great, but it's a different era.

KUCINICH: Well, you see this in the poll, right, that 45 percent of people don't think it's going to make any difference.

There's not -- and it's because of this president.

(CROSSTALK) GERGEN: But the interesting thing is, it's not just that the 43 percent is rock-solid. It's that the 53 percent also appears to be rock-solid.

And if that's the case, the Democrats going with a 10-point advantage into the general election, that's a pretty big difference. And it makes it harder to climb.

And they have got the -- they will have the argument, this is the first president in history who had been impeached in his first term. Just think what his second term is going to be like.

KEILAR: We have got a lot more from these brand-new polls out, what impeachment might mean for Donald Trump's reelection chances, and in those key battleground states.

Plus, they call it a charade that could cause grave damage -- the 100- plus pages giving us a sneak peek at Trump's impeachment defense.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:15]

KEILAR: In the politics lead, the White House legal team is dropping a 110-page defense of the president this afternoon, just hours ahead of the impeachment trial. President Trump's lawyers argue he cannot be impeached because he didn't commit any crimes, and claim it would have been appropriate for President Trump to bring up the Bidens with the president of Ukraine.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports from the White House, Democrats are already firing back, previewing a testy start to the impeachment trial tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: On the eve of his impeachment trial, President Trump's legal team is previewing its defense and calling on the Senate to swiftly acquit him. In a 110-page legal brief, Trump's attorneys argue that neither of the impeachment articles against him are valid, because they don't include violations of the law, writing, they do not remotely approach the constitutional threshold for removing a president from office.

The brief also indicates his legal team won't just attack the articles of impeachment, but also defend his conduct toward Ukraine, including floating a baseless and debunked theory that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election despite his former Russia ambassador testifying this.

FIONA HILL, TRUMP'S FORMER TOP RUSSIA EXPERT: This is a fictional narrative. This is being perpetrated and promulgated by the Russian services themselves.

COLLINS: In their own brief, Democrats argue the president solicited foreign interference in the next election for his own political benefit. What neither side seems to know is whether the trial will include new witnesses. Democrats say they'll force votes and say the White House claim that the articles are invalid is, quote, chilling and dead wrong.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We are going to demand votes, yes or no, up or down, on the four witnesses that we have requested.

COLLINS: But the president's legal team says that witnesses aren't needed.

ROBERT RAY, COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: It has to be fair. There has to be witnesses on both sides. It's very simple.

COLLINS: Trump's attorney Robert Ray did not answer whether the whole legal team has met in person yet. As one of the new attorneys, he says that he is not part of it, and despite Trump personally asking him to join.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I didn't even see the brief until after it was filed.

COLLINS: Alan Dershowitz is also reversing his stance on whether a president can be impeached without committing a crime.

This is what he said in 1998.

DERSHOWITZ: It certain doesn't have to be a crime. If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don't need a technical crime.

COLLINS: Now that he's representing Trump, he's arguing this.

DERSHOWITZ: Without a crime, there can be no impeachment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Brianna, just a few moments ago, the president's legal team returned back to the White House after they went to Capitol Hill for one last walk through before that Senate trial formally gets under way tomorrow. They also visited the vice president's office up over on Capitol Hill. That's where they're going to be holed up over the next several days, potentially weeks as we see how long this trial is going to get.

Though, we should note Alan Dershowitz was not there with the rest of the team on Capitol Hill just now.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

OK, David, you're a former adviser to President Clinton, what do you make of this White House argument that President Trump can't be impeached because he did not commit a crime?

GERGEN: Well -- I think that you bring in the lawyers and I think most lawyers will tell you that it has been well understood and accepted that you do not need to have a formal violation of the criminal law in order to be impeached. That that's a standard too high. And Alan Dershowitz may argue that, but almost everybody else in the legal community says it's just not true.

I -- it is interesting that in the briefs that the Republicans filed over the weekend, they make that argument that it's got to be a criminal violation to count.

[16:20:08]

KEILAR: And we expect that he'll be saying abuse of power doesn't match the level, right, of bribery or treason.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's what they are trying to say, but remember, this is also a president who said very early on his own presidency that if the president does it, it's not illegal because I'm the president. I can do whatever I want. So -- and that is not a sound legal argument, but that is certainly a rhetorical argument that they've been making for quite some time.

You know, look, I think -- at the end of the day, though, Americans understand fairness, going back to what we are talking about before, and I think you're seeing that in these polling numbers, they understand that if you're not going to let evidence come forward or you're not going to let witness testify, you must be blocking something. You're stonewalling.

GERGEN: Yes.

FINNEY: So, I think people will understand as the process unfolds, and there should be a lot of pressure on McConnell and the Republicans to live up to what should seem like a fair process, and I don't think Americans are going to buy the argument that it has to be a criminal conduct in order to impeach a president.

GERGEN: I agree.

Adam Schiff made an interesting point the other day when he said that there have been 15 impeachment proceedings in the Senate in American history, those include not just the president, but the federal judges. And in every single one of those 15, there have been witnesses and there have been documents.

KEILAR: Yes. No, it's a very good point.

There's an entire section of this defense filed by the White House today that's titled, quote: It would have been appropriate for President Trump to ask President Zelensky about the Biden Burisma affair. Burisma being, of course, that energy company that the former vice president's son sat on the board of.

So, this suggests that the legal team is really ready at this point to defend that president's actions as far as Ukraine, instead of just attacking the articles of impeachment. What do you think about that?

KUCINICH: We'll see how they do it. And -- but you have heard it through the president's defenders as this entire thing has gone on. If that's the case, why try to cover it up initially, if it is so above board, if it was so -- why say different things, because at one point, it wasn't about Biden. It was just about corruption and that's why it mattered.

There have been a lot of different stories on this and in terms of, you know, what has been said from the official channels of the White House, and the story keeps changing. I guess they have settled on one at this point, but that would be my question.

KRISTOL: John Bolton, who was national security adviser to the president and had been in government for over three decades, when he heard about what was happening told not one but two of his different deputies, Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison, go see the White House counsel, stay out of this, go see the White House counsel, this is a drug deal.

If this was so wonderful, why did John Bolton who is not exactly a liberal Democrat in the White House, who knows the law but is a tough- minded guy wiling to push hard for his policies, why did he react in that way? That's another reason necessarily why Bolton, of all of the different people who could testify, would be very interesting. I mean, why -- you were there in real time.

KEILAR: Right.

KRISTOL: What's so alarmed you? And the three of us worked in the White House, it's unbelievable to tell someone, hey, this thing that just happened that the president is involved in, go see the White House counsel. I mean, that doesn't happen everyday, right?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: This is not in the normal times.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: That's right.

So, we are retiring that word, and we talked about that, Bill.

OK. So, there's the new CNN poll. We actually asked voters about how impeachment is going to affect President Trump's 2020 chances. And this is what they said 28 percent say that it helps him, 23 percent say it hurts him, 45 percent say it doesn't make a difference.

Jackie, I mean, this is -- we were talking a little bit about this before, I mean, they're just resigned to this not changing anything.

KUCINICH: Right. I think that when you are talking to people who are in various states, impeachment is not the first thing that you hear about. It's health care. It's, you know, a bunch of things that actually affect their lives, which is probably what this president is going to be judged on.

Impeachment is such a political process, and I think so there is so much polarization, both, you know, out in the country and in Washington, that there is this feeling that perhaps this Washington- driven situation isn't going to affect how people cast their votes.

KEILAR: When this trial gets under way in just hours, we are expecting a long and heated day as the senators are going to battle over the format. And we're going to talk to one senator who is in the middle of it all, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:19]

KEILAR: We are less than 24 hours away from the start of the impeachment trial and all signs are pointing to nothing short of a contentious battle both on the Senate floor and behind closed doors.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer preparing to offer at least one amendment to the impeachment rules in an attempt to get witnesses to testify and documents now blocked by the White House to be turned over to the Senate. And much of this is in closed session, and it is out of the public view.

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, you have some brand-new reporting about how all of this is going to unfold tomorrow. Tell us.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, once Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveils that organizing resolution, which has not be publicly released yet, but would set the parameters of the trial, then the Senate is going to begin what could be a very contentious fight over that resolution.

Now, we expected the beginning of that debate to be in an open --

[16:30:00]