Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Soon: White House To Submit Response To Democrats' Impeachment Brief; Donald Trump Defense Team Lays Out Defense Strategy; Trump Defense Team: Charge Trump Obstructed Congress Was "Frivolous And Dangerous"; Trump Defense Team: Process To Impeach Was A "Charade" Both In Substance And Process; Senator Elizabeth Warren And Senator Bernie Sanders Take Jabs As Election Heats Up. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 20, 2020 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: --it is critical oversight role the ISC is working in good faith with the House Intelligence Committee to respond to request on a broad range of topics and will continue to do so. Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: But is still the acquisition sitting out there from Adam Schiff just as they're about to head over to the Senate to begin the impeachment trial. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it Alex, there are much more to follow up on that.

Thank you all so much though for joining me today. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to a special holiday edition of "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. The President's defense, the Trump Legal Team right now filing its detailed trial brief with the Senate, arguing the President did nothing wrong and the Democrats' case does not meet the constitutional test for impeachment and removal.

Plus testing time now for Mitch McConnell the Senate Majority Leader wants a quick trial with no new witnesses or no new evidence. Democrats are about to fight that plan, but they need a handful of Republicans to break with the President and their party to succeed.

And the 2020 Democrats are quoting black voters on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The first votes now just two weeks from today also out in an MLK event this morning, a Former President who knows a lot about impeachment and controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I bring you greetings from my wife, who, according to "The Washington Post" last week, has now been the most exonerated person in history. That's a mixed bag. That means you've been falsely accused more than anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: We begin this hour with the top lines at the White House impeachment defense. The President's legal team facing a noon deadline that's right now to file its response to the 111-page brief the Democratic House Managers filed over the weekend. We'll give you specifics from that document as we get it. This morning we did get an early preview of the argument from one of the President's newly hired lawyers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, TRUMP IMPEACHMENT DEFENSE TEAM MEMBER: The framers of the constitution did not commit impeachment on grounds like abuse of power or obstruction of Congress. We need criminal type behavior - treason and bribery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The White House legal submission will start the clock on an impeachment sprint this week with a Democratic rebuttal expected tomorrow, shortly followed by the real start of the trial. Whether the White House argument would hold legal war with real judges well, a lot of lawyers dispute that but the deciders is here are partisan Senators.

And the math, at least at the moment, is clear. Acquittal of the President is expected. But there is big drama over witnesses. There is also the issue over how to square the many damning facts with the President's mantra that he did absolutely nothing wrong here? Listen here to newly hired Alan Dershowitz. He is struggling a bit to answer a very straightforward question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe Donald Trump abused the power of his office, yes or no?

DERSHOWITZ: It's irrelevant. Abuse of power is not the criteria for impeachment, any more than dishonesty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you personally believe Donald Trump right now, with the evidence that you've seen in front of you as one of his attorneys, abused his power, yes or no?

DERSHOWITZ: I'm not going to answer that question yes or no, it's irrelevant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get straight to the White House and CNN's Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan a very important moment for the President's team they have never up to this point in the process giving us a detailed legal rebuttal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we're still waiting to actually hold the document in our hands the White House hasn't sent it out yet but they did just have officials brief reporters essentially ahead of this previewing what this document is going to look like? It's lengthy and essentially if you want just the top line of it, they're calling on the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment and acquit the President.

They go on and they say that they believe that the House impeachment process was a charade, in their words, not only just in the substance but also the process, and they feel like this is actually going to be the first time that the President is able to lay out his case.

Of course, you did not see any White House Attorneys or anyone arguing on the President's behalf during the House impeachment process. They say this is going to be different because it's going to allow the President to make his case against these articles of impeachment.

Now, what they didn't preview is how long they think this trial is going to last? They essentially say that's something that we're going to be able to figure out tomorrow. They repeated their calls for that swift dismissal of these impeachment articles. Something that you've heard from people like Lindsey Graham says they do not think it's going to happen.

They're going to have these Senators at least listen to the opening arguments before they make decisions going forward from there. But also in here you are essentially seeing the White House say they feel it was a slanted process in the House and now they're going to make the President's case here.

One interesting thing to note, when they were asked about the core tenets of these articles of impeachment, about the President withholding this aide and the White House meeting and his calls for the Ukrainians to announce those investigations into the Bidens, the White House is arguing that the two of those are that those several things are not linked.

And they don't believe that House Democrats have not been able to effectively make that case linking those two in the big point of contention what that is going to be looking at what the Democrats put out on Saturday, that lengthy outline of what their argument is going to be where they said here, we're laying out the facts of these witnesses and what they said, linking these things in the President's pressure campaign on these Ukrainian officials.

Now when we actually get this document, we are expecting it to be pretty long. It is going to have quotes from President Zelensky, Gordon Sondland all of these officials that the White House feels help make their case ahead of their argument there.

[12:05:00]

COLLINS: You're actually going to see come to life this week.

KING: Very much looking forward to actually having that document to be able to read it. Again so far most of the White House has been political not substance Kaitlan, I suspect we'll see you back in a few minutes as we get the document and begin to go through it. With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights Julie Pace with "The Associated Press" Dan Balz with "The Washington Post" Francesca Chambers with McClatchy and our CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero.

Carrie, I want to start with you in the sense that I want to constantly remind our viewers this is the Senate, this is not a legal proceedings. So they could make a political argument and win. Right now the math is in their favor so maybe they should make a political argument and win and just keep the math where it is.

But the White House says on this call it is a charade. The House case is a charade, both in substance and in process. Let's focus on the substance. You can argue it's not an impeachable offense if you want to make that case to the Senators, but it's not a charade if you read through the impeachment report, if you read through the witness testimony.

Whether it was Ambassador Sondland saying it was a quid pro quo, Ambassador Taylor talking about how concerned he was about Rudy Giuliani's involvement outside the government if you will. Fiona Hill said her boss called it a drug deal. We could go on and on here. Ambassador Yavanovitch talked about the pressure campaign.

Colonel Vindman talked about being on the call with the President and thinking you can't do this. You're the President of United States, you cannot do this, you can't ask for political investigation. Can they get away with saying it's a charade on the substance, or do they have to answer the questions?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think this is the interesting part of their argument, is that they're not just saying, here's all the facts, we dispute the facts, or here's all the facts and we don't think the facts meet the impeachable standard, the standard to be - well, he's been impeached, but the standard to be removed from office which the Senate could vote.

They're actually attacking the constitutional process, and I think that's really interesting and it's somewhat dangerous, really, because what they're saying is that the abuse of power article of impeachment is a legitimate argument on the part of the House Managers.

If you take that argument at its face, what they're saying is there is no ability to argue that a President can abuse his power, because impeachment is the only remedy for that. So, you know, until we get for the election. So I just think they are going very far, and contrary to sort of thinking about a historical precedent here when they're attacking the constitutional process itself.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think the reality is Donald Trump doesn't care about historical Presidents. Donald Trump cares about himself and what happens to him in this trial? It's actually a very Trumpian argument to put the substance aside and get to the process and to try to make this a purely political argument that tries to discredit his opponents. He's actually had quite a bit of success over the last several years in having that kind of argument where he puts aside whatever his opponents are actually saying and focuses on the mere fact that they're Democrats and they're against him and they're looking for any reason to undercut him.

And I would say, if you look at where Republican Senators have been, early on in this process we did hear a little more concern from some Republicans about the substance of what Trump had did and a lot of that has gone away even before the trial has started. There was maybe a very small handful of Republicans who are out there really saying, I want to be convinced that what he did was not wrong.

KING: And I think that's an interesting point because we've seen this. This is the administration that brought us the term "Alternative Facts." This is a President who will stand up - I'm holding up a blue piece of paper - and say, this is red, this is red, this is red, and then dare Republicans to disagree with him.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: And what we've seen over the course of time has dually suggests is that fewer and fewer and fewer Republicans are prepared to disagree with him because they know that the wrath of Donald Trump is more than they're willing to take on politically.

There are a few who, in the end, may hope to go for witnesses, but that's a fight that's going to come in some time from now, not right this week. And Donald Trump holds these people very close and they are very nervous about him.

KING: And so we're going to see Alan Dershowitz is going to make a constitutional argument, Ken Starr is going to make more of a historical argument, saying this doesn't meet the bar. One of the things they said on this phone call is that the people working in the Trump Legal Team said the impeachment articles fail to cite any violation of law.

Now Alan Dershowitz argued just the opposite about 21 years ago that you don't have to. Again, this is more of a political process. Because the Democrats don't say the President violated and they don't cite specific sections of a federal law, and we've seen some Republicans try to make this point, they're going to try to say therefore, it goes away. The constitution doesn't say that, but that's what they're going to argue.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Right. And to that point, I was just on a call with the sources close to the President's Legal Team however they're putting it today, so the argument that they're also making on substance is not just that it doesn't cite a particular crime, but even then they would argue that it's not a high crime or misdemeanor, which would drive to the level of an impeachable offense.

But to your point, the flip side of the argument that they are making, and this is just the White House's argument, but they are saying that it would be an abuse of Congress not just an abuse of his power but an abuse of Congress, what they're doing.

[12:10:00]

CHAMBERS: Because any President in the future who is subpoenaed and, therefore, doesn't respond to those subpoenas or this doesn't go all the way through the courts, that it is something that any President could therefore be impeached on these grounds in the future.

CORDERO: Well, and the other argument that they're going to make is that the activity the President was engaged in, his conversations with President Zelensky, were a legitimate exercise of his national security or foreign policy authority. That is a - from a national security perspective, that is a dangerous thing. Because the text of the call and the other witnesses who have testified in the House proceedings show that what he was doing was for his personal, political benefit.

KING: And so if that's a new precedent, what does the next President do and the President after that? One other quick point here, in the sense that this one is more interesting argument I think in the sense that one other things they're going to argue is frivolous and dangerous from what the House did on the obstruction count, saying they should have gone to court that the President didn't want to give documents.

The President didn't want to give them witnesses. We have three branches of government for a reason and they should have waited. The House Democrats say we tried this in the Mueller inquiry we're still in court of Don McGahn since going back heading to April. So we weren't going to do this in this case.

To me that's a more reasonable argument, and the facts about what the President did are not really in dispute. But the idea that should you impeaches a President without first exhausting all means in court? That one is more interesting.

PACE: Yes. And I think that they have found it that actually resonate with people who might be on the real voters who might be on the fence a little bit about the substance of this, because it puts the onus on the Democrats to say why they felt the need to get this done by Christmas.

And while Democrats have two and a half, three years to look back at how the administration has resisted turning the information over to Congress, there was a very clear effort by Democrats to get this done by the end for political reasons.

They wanted to get this done before we got into the primary process they wanted to get this done in a relatively short time frame because they didn't know how the politics played? So, on this matter the administration feels like they've got a pretty compelling public argument.

KING: Quick break, we'll come back to that very point the administrations deadline was 12 minutes ago to file its legal brief at the Senate for the President's impeachment trial. Tomorrow the Senate comes into session to debate the rules, and that will be spicy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:00]

KING: Welcome back. About to get our first detailed look at the President's legal strategy for the impeachment trial this hour. Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill and CNN's Phil Mattingly. Phil, obviously the briefing from the President's team comes in we haven't seen the details of their legal case just yet, and then tomorrow by this time the Majority Leader will be trying to get through his plan for the rules. Take us inside all that.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. One thing sources close to the legal team wouldn't say when they were on that call with reporters just a short while ago was what they expected the structure of the trial to look like, at least in the initial stage?

Make no mistake about it they know exactly what's coming. They have been very closely in touch with the Senate Majority Leader's office with Senate Republicans about what that will entail. Here's what some important thing to remember. I think, there's been a lot of questions about why haven't you seen the resolution yet? Why aren't the rules for the initial stage of the trial out yet?

Here's the reality. They weren't done as far as this weekend, at least as far as I was told and the reason why is this? Look, the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out a couple of weeks ago and made very clear all 53 Republicans were behind his strategy to move forward on a partisan basis without Democratic votes with the initial structure of the trial.

However, the actually in the weeds details of that resolution then needed to be worked out with several key elements of the Republican conference. For moderates, they made clear they wanted specific language in that resolution to grant an up or down vote on whether to seek more witnesses, period, or subpoenas for documents as well.

Conservatives wanted to make sure they were looped in and the White House was as well. So the White House was able to maintain the things they wanted in the trial. That's what's been going on behind the scenes. There have been very intense meetings about what that language will actually entail?

Here's what we know at this point in time. McConnell tomorrow will introduce a resolution that will allow for presentations from both sides, 24 hours per side. At this point in time those presentations will be limited to two days. So rest up, drink your coffee, it's going to be potentially a very long couple of days. At which point Senators would then be allowed 16 hours to ask questions, any questions they want from any Senators who want to ask them.

Then we would get to the idea of votes on witnesses or subpoenaing documents. However, that initial resolution is technically amendable, and I'm told Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are preparing amendments to try and force votes on witnesses and subpoenaing documents on the front end.

Now they don't have the votes for that. They don't have 51 votes to be able to add language into the resolution related to witnesses and documents, but all this underscores is this is going to be tense from the get-go, there are going to be difficult votes from certain members from the get-go, and this is something you're going to see continue over the course of the next week or two as this trial continues to play out.

The big question is when everything is all said and done and you get to the stage of the trial where there will be substantive votes on witnesses and documents, will 51 Senators exist to hear from somebody like John Bolton or to subpoenaing documents from the White House. And the reality is this you're not going to have an answer to that until the initial presentations come through.

That is what four Republicans who have opened the door to witnesses have said. They want to hear those initial representations. I've been told nothing that makes me think they're going to make up their minds before the end of those presentations. So keep an eye on the votes tomorrow.

We know how they're going to end up but there will be feisty and they will kind of set the tone for things, however, you probably won't get a firm answer on things, John, until those initiations for trial have all played out in the next several days.

KING: Perhaps some clues tomorrow but not final answers. Phil Mattingly live on the Hill. That's why as we come back into the studio Heather Caygle from "POLITICO" joins our conversation. That is why it's so important the tone the President's team sets in this brief today.

Clearly they want to make the case, we're done, there is nothing here we don't need more. The House Democrats filed the 111-pages on Saturday. It makes the case, we got a really good case already they say, but to be fair to the American people have to play this out and they cite a number of examples of why you would want to hear from John Bolton? Why you want to hear from Mick Mulvaney? Why you might want to hear from Lev Parnas?

[12:20:00]

KING: The Democrats lay that part out. The question is, unless - first that Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell has the votes. He doesn't have a huge margin, but as of today he has the votes. The question is can Chuck Schumer make this case?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY): We will force votes on witnesses and documents, and it will be up to four Republicans to side with the constitution, to side with our democracy, to side with rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Part of this is that Schumer had it calibrated right in the sense that they want to push out of the box no question to get in the record we want witnesses. But if he pushes too hard, does he risk pushing Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney back into the Republican corner where they say okay, you don't have the votes. Let's wait.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, that's a great question and I think everyone is watching tomorrow to see how many amendments Schumer will try to push? How long into the night he will drag and keep the other Senators there and sitting and debating this and voting?

And I think everything that we've been told is we expect one vote to push for witnesses and documents out of the gate. We expect that to fail. But I don't think Schumer is going to play too many policy and political games tomorrow because he doesn't want to alienate the moderate Republicans that will possibly vote with him later down the line.

KING: Okay, if we could put that calendar potential calendar graphic back up there, nothing is certain until they pass the rules but McConnell get his way. In the Clinton trial they had 24 hours but it was presentations over three days, McConnell wants to do it in two days, the same what the defense send it over 24 hours, McConnell wants to do it over 2 days, then you have 16 hours of questioning.

Members of the Senate submit a question to the Chief Justice. If they keep that calendar, the key votes could be next Wednesday or Thursday. The Bill Clinton trial went on for five weeks. Mitch McConnell is hoping to get to a decision point in this one in one week.

PACE: And McConnell has two things that he has got to consider here. On the one hand, Trump wants a speedy trial, and McConnell wants a speedy trial, too, so there is some urgency to get this done. On the other hand, he does need to make this look like it's a real trial, like this was not rushed, like they did have an opportunity for both sides to make their arguments.

It's the witnesses, of course, that could push that much further than that. I guess the question is if we do wrap this up sort of middle to end of next week, will that look like the Senate really considered both sides of the argument?

KING: And on the argument no, the Republican argument no, we've heard enough. Here's a little preview of what you're going to hear over the next 24 hours on the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R-TX): If the House isn't prepared to go forward with the evidence that they produced in the impeachment inquiry, maybe they ought to withdraw the articles of impeachment and start over again.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, (R-AL): If the case looks so flimsy as some people say, if there's nothing to it, it doesn't rise to impeachable offenses. Like a court of law, the court disposes of it.

SEN. DAVID PERDUE, (R-GA): My personal preference, Chuck, would be to see this thing dismissed out of hand. What Mitch McConnell has decided to do, I fully support. He has all 53 Republican Senators backing him on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Those are all pretty allies of the President and allies of the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who runs a pretty tight ship. We're going to see McConnell tested here as we saw Pelosi tested in the House. The question is can the House Impeachment Managers be so persuasive to convince Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and one more may be it is Lamar Alexander or maybe it is Rob Portman to say, you know what leader, I'm sorry we want witnesses.

BALZ: Well, I think it does point out the pressure that is on the House Managers. I mean, they're so much focused on the Republicans in the White House but particularly McConnell and how he is going to hold his forces together?

But I think that the House Managers have to make a very persuasive case in order to draw these Republicans in at the time they finally make the decision about whether they're going to call witnesses? And if that presentation doesn't go as strongly as they want, if there are questions that the Senators raise that they are having difficulty answering, then that could sway some of those handful of Republicans who might vote for witnesses to stick with McConnell and not do it.

KING: We think the math is pretty clear, but especially on the witness question, the quality of the lawyering is going to matter as we go forward here. We're going to come back to this a little bit later. But two weeks to Iowa the 2020 field is getting testy. In South Carolina a moment of unity as the 2020 candidates honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:25:00]

KING: Back to impeachment and details from the President's new legal brief in just a few moments. But first 2020 Iowa votes two weeks from today and the 2020 Democrats are getting more testy because of the calendar, the high stakes and the wide open race.

The contenders for the most parts putting their time between South Carolina and Iowa today you see here Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders chatting as they wait for Martin Luther King Jr. Day March in South Carolina.

No evidence at least in this conversation, that the dust-up last week over Warren's left ability has carried to this week instead both Warren and Sanders in recent days poking at the Former Vice President Joe Biden calling up past Biden comments about potential changes to serve security. And this from Biden is certain to turn up the volume even more warning

listen that a ticket led by either of the progressives who would hurt the Democratic Party in much of the country.

[12:30:00]