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Impeachment Trial Begins Tomorrow; Democratic Candidates Escalate Attacks; Impeachment Trial Process. Aired 7:00-7:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2020 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It involves documents.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If we call one witness, we're going to call all the witnesses. There's not going to be a process where the Democrats get their witnesses and the president gets shut out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first time in history where a president has been impeached for a non-crime. I think every senator is going to take this very seriously.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): From your idea this would have appalled the founders who were worried about exactly that kind of solicitation of foreign interference in an election for a personal benefit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY.

Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me this morning.

Great to have you here.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Always good to be here.

Start of a rather busy week.

BERMAN: Yes, busy and strangely uncertain. We know the president is on trial. That is historic. But this morning, one day before the Senate impeachment trial begins in earnest, no one has any idea how the heck the thing will actually be run.

So far the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not provided the public, let alone the full Senate with any information about the rules he intends to propose. We do know he does not want any guarantee of witnesses and multiple sources tell CNN that he is weighing limiting the number of days for opening arguments.

Overnight, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, warned he might use procedural maneuvers to force votes on witnesses. Now, it is worth noting that it was exactly three years ago today that the president was inaugurated, swearing to protect and defend the Constitution. At issue before the Senate now is whether he has broken that promise.

HILL: Well, the White House has until noon today to file a legal brief outlining why they believe President Trump should be acquitted. Although we have already seen the first glimpse of that defense. The president's legal team arguing he never should have been impeached in the first place because his conduct over Ukraine is not criminal. Democrats rejecting that position, arguing the president is a threat to national security.

BERMAN: Joining us now, Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for "Politico," CNN "EARLY START" anchor and Justice correspondent, Laura Jarrett, and CNN political commentator and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.

Anna, I want to start with you because no one tracks the agenda of Washington more closely than you do. And we don't know exactly what's on that agenda for the Senate trial starting tomorrow. Mitch McConnell has kept it very close to his vest. Why? And what's the impact of this?

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": I think it's a strategy that McConnell is trying to employ in terms of keeping his conference together. There's been a few Republicans, moderates in particular like Susan Collins who have said they're open to witnesses, something that Mitch McConnell doesn't want. So I think he's trying to keep the conference at bay, but also keep the president happy and make sure that he does not speak out too forcefully on this issue before the trial gets started.

I think it's really frustrating Senate Democrats, clearly Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last night taking to a press conference to voice that frustration because the whole ballgame for Democrats right now is witnesses. They want them. Mitch McConnell is not agreeing to it yet. And so I think that is what's really going to be the drama that's going to play out in the next, you know, 24 to 48 hours.

BERMAN: Anna, one other question. What's the deal with these 12-hour days that we're hearing? How is it that Mitch McConnell and why is it that he might do this with the schedule?

PALMER: Clearly, Mitch McConnell wants a fast trial. He is looking to make this as short as possible. I think there's a lot of pressure from the White House and other White House allies to get this done before the president comes to Capitol Hill later this month to give his State of the Union Address. And this would make sure that this could condense it as much as possible.

I think you're going to hear some real pushback from Democrats on this. Twelve-hour days are pretty long. But I think that this is going to be another one of those friction points between Republicans and Democrats.

HILL: And as we watch all of this friction play out, it is fascinating that we don't know what's happening. And as Anna pointed out, Chuck Schumer pushing back on that last night. But, Charlie Dent, I just want to get your pulse on this. We also had

some reports from Lauren Fox on Friday about how McConnell has been meeting with Republicans, has been open to listening from them, specifically venerable Republicans more moderates.

And as all of this is playing out, how much of this do you see as a real McConnell strategy here that he recognizes that this is concerning to Democrats and is specifically holding out because he knows he can?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, Erica, I think what's happening here is that they're going to adopt the Clinton impeachment process but on a compressed schedule. It seems to me that McConnell is under real pressure from his more moderate and swing state members and retiring members to actually have some witnesses. And I do believe -- I'm making a prediction here, I think there will be some witnesses and that will help -- that will blow up the schedule then. They're not going to complete this thing by State of the Union, I think, if there are witnesses.

So McConnell, yes, he's trying to please the president. But, more importantly, he has to please his member who are up for election. And it seems to me that witnesses would lend to a more fair trial and they're very sensitive to that fact.

[07:05:02]

BERMAN: We got a sense, Laura, finally -- well, we now know who's going to represent the president at this trial and it includes Ken Starr --

LAURA JARRETT, CNN : Some members are more excited about that job than they are the --

BERMAN: I know. Exactly.

Well, Alan Dershowitz spent the weekend telling us he's not really representing the president.

JARRETT: Yes.

BERMAN: Not really is (ph). I don't know what he's getting at there. What I do know is that the argument he is making is one that has been argued against by none other than Alan Dershowitz.

So let me play you Dershowitz v. Dershowitz here. This is what the former Harvard Law professor, or professor emeritus, now says he will argue.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY: I will be paraphrasing the successful argument made by Justice Benjamin Curtis in the trial of Andrew Johnson back in the 1860s where he argued that the framers intended for impeachable conduct only to be criminal-like conduct or conduct that is prohibited by the criminal law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So that's Dershowitz now saying that to be an impeachable offense it has to be a statutory criminal offense.

You know who argues against that? Alan Dershowitz.

HILL: Alan Dershowitz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DERSHOWITZ (August 24, 1998): So it certainly 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Interesting legal arguments from both Dershowitz and Dershowitz.

JARRETT: It's amazing what a difference 20 years can make.

BERMAN: Yes.

JARRETT: I mean, look, there are defectors like Dershowitz, like Starr who will make this argument. But the vast majority of legal scholars have made the point that there doesn't have to be an actual crime. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say there has to be an actual crime. The Federalist Papers talk about an abuse of power. So many people testified throughout the last several weeks and months, we've heard on Capitol Hill, laying out all of the historical precedence on this. It's interesting that this is where they have to go. This is the argument they have to make perhaps because the facts are a harder argument.

BERMAN: Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 65, which is what you're referring to, and I know you have committed to memory. Alexander Hamilton talks about impeachable offenses as those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, the abuse or violation of some kind of public trust. Abuse or violation of some kind of public trust.

And there have been, you know, impeachments of presidents before for abuse of power. There have been impeachments of judges for things that did not include criminal offenses. It's a historic based on the precedent and also based on the writing surrounding the Constitution.

JARRETT: Yes, I mean, not to mention the fact that there was a report that just came out from the Government Accountability Office. Now, they laid out the fact that there was actually a violation of the law. Not of criminal law, but still, the Empowerment Control Act. Not something you talk about every day, but Congress has the power of the purse and the president withholding funds violated that federal law.

Now, that may be something that senators should have on their minds as they're debating all of this over the next several weeks.

HILL: It is fascinating to watch and I feel we've had this conversation a number of times, but now it's being solidified as we're getting a sense of what the defense is going to be. The fact that it is not going after the substance, right, it is going after -- calling this constitutionally invalid. Taking a different take on what it means for impeachment.

So, former Congressman Dent, as we look at all of this and we see this playing out, what is your sense, especially now being on the other side of this, right, but with that hindsight of your experience, how much of that is actually getting through to the American people? How much of that messaging do you think? Because it's coming from both sides, right, what they want people to hear. How much is the average American listening?

DENT: Yes. At times I think much of the American public has tuned out the noise of Washington, particularly on impeachment. Minds have already been made up. Although I do think most Americans recognize that the president's conduct was at the very least inappropriate and the debate is whether or not this rises to a level of impeachment.

But that said, I don't think that most Americans are obsessed with impeachment. I really believe that. And you can hear that from these Democratic candidates who are, you know, parading around the country. They don't seem to be talking about impeachment that much or many of them will say they're not hearing as much about impeachment. So I think that's probably the case.

That said, this whole issue does rise to the level of impeachment. And it has to be debated and taken seriously.

BERMAN: Anna, I want to ask you about a new book that's causing a lot of waves here. And I do want to note that you are the co-author of one of my favorite books to come out of Washington over the last year. There is another book out now by Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig getting a lot of press too. It is called "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America."

I want to read a couple of exerts from this that people have been talking a lot about. It gets to meetings that President Trump had with generals and his foreign policy team very early on in the administration where the president allegedly told them, quote, I wouldn't go to war with you people, Trump told the assembled brass addressing the room.

[07:10:08]

The commander in chief barked, you're a bunch of dopes and babies. It goes on, Trump unleashed his distain, calling Afghanistan a loser war. That phrase hung in the air and disgusted not only the military leaders sitting at the table, but also the men and women in uniform sitting along the back wall behind their principals. They all were sworn to obey the commander in chief's commands and here he was calling the war they had been fighting a loser war. You're all losers, Trump said. You don't know how to win anymore. I think from the standpoint of some of those people in the room, and

perhaps the people telling these stories, they see the president there as an aberration, as something counter to the values that they uphold.

I also could see Trump supporters and perhaps the president himself saying, yes, this is what I ran on.

PALMER: Yes, I think the brash rhetoric that works on the campaign trail and that a lot of the president's supporters really like getting, you know, hearing from him in that way clearly does not resonate with military brass, with people that are serving on the front lines and are making those decisions.

I think one of the things -- and it's a great book that -- everything that I've read about it so far. I have it on my kindle, so I'm going to read the whole thing hopefully in the next week or so. But all of the excerpts that have come out so far really in totality I think go back in time. And there's so much of an information flow right now where every day you're kind of in this, you know, what's happening next scenario. And it really ties together from the beginning of the Trump administration onward about kind of how uninformed he was on foreign policy decisions, where the U.S. standing in the world is, and how he was really unwilling to listen to a lot of the adults in the room that, frankly, a lot of those advisers that were in that scene, General Mattis, John Kelly and others, are no longer there, they were really trying to keep the guardrails around Trump to make sure that he didn't go and kind of with some of the impulses that maybe would be against or counter to U.S. interests.

HILL: Yes, the point of that whole meeting was to educate the president and to rein him in, which clearly did not work. At least, you know, based on the account we -- we're seeing in that excerpt from the book.

And, Charlie, you've been on the receiving end of some of this as well coming at you from the president. I'm just curious, what's your reaction now to the account that we're hearing about this meeting in particular?

DENT: Yes. I'll tell you, my reaction was this. This remedial session that was schedule by Tillerson and Mattis and Cohn was really meant to educate the president about the rules-based order, the security -- the security and strategic and economic benefits of it and why it matters to America's security interests. And it turned into a situation where the president is disrespecting and insulting the uniform military. It almost speaks to a hostile work environment.

And, you know, I've been that situation too during the healthcare debate where he told me I was going to destroy the Republican Party, it would be my fault, I was being very selfish, you know, blah, blah, blah, I'm going to, you know, blame you. But that's what had does, you know, and I think he gets a little defensive. When somebody shows him information or -- that he is uncomfortable with, you know, he'll -- he'll push back. He can be very aggressive. And, again, speaks to a hostile work environment. But, more importantly, I mean I think these three patriots were really

-- and they're adults. They were just simply trying to explain to the president why these alliances matter. And why America has benefitted from an economic and security standpoint. Apparently the president doesn't have any appreciation for this order that the greatest generation gave to all of us.

BERMAN: Charlie, Anna, Laura, great to have you here. Thanks for being with us.

HILL: Two weeks to go now until the Iowa caucuses and the gloves as we're seeing are coming off in the Democratic race. We're going to break down the latest line of attack, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:17:41]

HILL: With just two weeks to go now until the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic candidates are escalating their attacks, going after one other on everything from Social Security, to campaign financing. Over the weekend, Senator Bernie Sanders addressing his recent feud with Senator Elizabeth Warren when it comes to the electability of women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that gender is still an obstacle for female politicians?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I -- the answer is yes. But I think everybody has their own sets of problems.

All right, I'm 78 years of age. That's a problem. There are a lot of people that say, well, you know, I like Bernie. He's a nice guy. But he's 78 years of age.

If you're looking at Buttigieg, he's a young guy. And people will say, well, he's too young to be president.

You look at this one, she's a women. You know, look at this.

You know, so everybody, you know, brings some negatives, if you like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Joining us now, O. Kay Henderson, the news director for Radio Iowa.

Great to have you back this morning.

The points that Bernie Sanders makes there, part of what's interesting, and I know you've talked about this before is, when he talks about age and what's seen as ageism among Iowa voters.

How are those comments hitting Iowa voters this morning? O. KAY HENDERSON, NEWS DIRECTOR, RADIO IOWA: Well, this weekend I had the opportunity to sort of do random sampling of about 900 people at three different candidate events. And only one of the people that I talked to brought up this feud among the candidates and specifically addressing the Sanders/Warren discussion about whether a woman can be president. And this person wasn't swayed one way or the other by it.

So it's not really coming up from the grassroots. This really is something among the candidates as they, you know, try to, in this final sprint, make their case.

And one of the most interesting parts of this weekend was Joe Biden's response to Bernie Sanders bringing up the Social Security issue. It was almost, you know, channeling Bob Dole, tell him to quit lying about my record. Remember that famous comment? Because these folks know that the majority of people who will attend the Iowa caucuses are probably going to be above the age of 60.

BERMAN: What impact does that have? And you have a chance to talk to a lot of these older voters as well.

HENDERSON: Right.

BERMAN: On the one hand you would think that, oh, older voters might be more inclined to support someone, an age cohort.

[07:20:04]

But you think that's not necessarily the case.

HENDERSON: No. I do find a lot of older voters who are attracted to Buttigieg because specifically he is young and they want to inject sort of new energy into the party and they think that he does that. Whereas you find older voters, I talked to an 86-year-old this weekend who said it's ageism, Bernie will be fine.

So it's sort of -- it's sort of the same question about electability. It just depends on your life experience and how you look at each of these candidates.

HILL: It's fascinating, too, that two weeks out we have this polling, 40 percent, just 40 percent, have made up their mind. And we know Iowans take this very seriously. And we talk about this every four years. And I love those conversations because it's a reminder that this is an important decision for people, and that it should be, and that when -- especially when it comes to any vote that you cast. But it's fascinating too that this is where we're at two weeks out.

HENDERSON: Right. And in the context of these U.S. senators now being stuck in Washington and not being able on a daily basis to make their case one-on-one with Iowans, I talked to voters last night and they're sort of saying that it doesn't really matter if they're not here. We sort of know who each of these people are. We know the plans in the case of Elizabeth Warren and the platforms of the others that they've been presenting. We're just so filled with angst because this is a choice that we

believe will send sort of shockwaves through the entire country. And they realize that if they choose incorrectly, they could, you know, wind up with a nominee, like John Kerry, who they felt very strongly about, 38 percent of them felt strongly that he was the person here in Iowa that should advance out of the caucuses. And then it turned out that he was unable to defeat a sitting president.

So they really do understand the stakes of how difficult it is to defeat a sitting president. And they're just racked a little bit with guilt.

BERMAN: How closely are people in Iowa watching "The New York Times" endorsements that came out overnight?

HENDERSON: Well, I haven't had a chance to be in a crowd of people to, you know, sort of gauge how that may play in Iowa, but I do think, as I'm talking with Iowans, one thing I'm struck by is that they're more engaged in having conversations with the people that they know, rather than going online and seeing the conversation on Twitter.

As I watched Twitter last night and saw the endorsement be announced, I found there was a lot of discussion among, you know, people in the political community who are either -- who primarily are paid to be here. We're either reporters or we're people working on campaigns. I didn't see a lot of conversation among the grassroots voters who will be making a decision on February 3rd.

BERMAN: It's a lot of talk about that disconnect between the Twitter world and the real world when it comes to nominating a president. You're on the ground there. Very interesting to get your take on it.

Key, great to have you with us.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, the impeachment of President Trump, the trial begins in earnest tomorrow. We don't know the rules yet. We do have a sense of what it's like to be on the floor of the Senate when it's all happening. We're going to speak to someone who was there 20 years ago, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:27:49]

BERMAN: President Trump's impeachment defense team has until noon today to file a trial brief with the secretary of the Senate. And as we sit here this morning, so much is unknown about how this will all proceed because the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't told the American people, let alone the full Senate, what the rules of the process will be.

Joining me now is Stewart Verdery. He is the former general counsel to the Republican Assistant Majority Leader Don Nichols in the Senate during the Bill Clinton impeachment trial. STEWART VERDERY, GENERAL COUNSEL TO ASSISTANT MAJORITY LEADER IN

CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: Right.

BERMAN: Great to have you here.

VERDERY: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Historical perspective, I think, is so important.

VERDERY: Right.

BERMAN: How are both sides now -- the impeachment managers and the president's defense -- how do you think they are preparing today?

VERDERY: Right.

BERMAN: And to what audiences do they intend to speak?

VERDERY: Well, there's a couple different audiences for sure. Obviously the first is kind of the relatively small number of Republican moderates that might want to extend the trial, perhaps look at documents, move to depositions. And that is a known few. Senator Collins or Murkowski, Senator Romney and the like. And many of them have indicated they might be willing to do that after the opening statements and perhaps the question period, which we can get to in a second.

But perhaps, more importantly, the American people, do they look at this -- again, most people seem to have made up their mind. But in the solemn environment of a trial, is there a shift in public opinion that would put pressure on wavering Republicans?

BERMAN: Yes, the short term goal here may be to convince four people to have witnesses, not convince two-thirds of the Senate to convict.

VERDERY: That's right.

BERMAN: And that could shape how the impeachment managers particularly make their audience -- arguments and perhaps --

VERDERY: And the defense, of course.

BERMAN: And the defense.

Talk to me about the question period. You brought that up.

VERDERY: Yes.

BERMAN: Because after the opening arguments for both sides, you have this question period. Now, it's not questions that can be spoken out loud.

VERDERY: That's right.

BERMAN: And that matters. VERDERY: We had actually written cards. They, you know, little three

by five cards, and senators would be filling them out by hand and handing them up to a clerk to be read by the chief justice, either to the House side or the -- to the defense team. And it was very unusual because in a Senate floor, it's usually somewhat free-wheeling. And this required people to put things in writing. It may deny people kind of the viral moment of, you know, I want to ask the tough question to either side.

[07:30:00]

In the Clinton trial, it was somewhat pro forma, to be honest, and it didn't really get a whole lot of new information. I think in this case, you may see Republicans in particular trying to get things on the record that would