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President Trump's Defense Team Prepares Arguments For Impeachment Trial; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Yet To Propose Rules For Senate Impeachment Hearing; Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D- MI) Is Interviewed On Senate Impeachment Trial; NYT Editorial Board Reveal Endorsement For The Democratic Primary. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We do want to note it is exactly three years ago today that the president was inaugurated, swearing to protect and defend the constitution. At issue before the Senate, whether the president has broken that promise.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: The White House that until noon today to file a legal brief outlining why they believe President Trump should be acquitted. Although we've 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, in their view, is not criminal. Democrats rejecting that position, arguing the president is a threat to national security.

BERMAN: Alan Dershowitz also rejects that opinion in 1999. He says that criminal behavior is not needed to impeach a president.

Joining us now, CNN Political Commentator, Joe Lockhart. He was President Clinton's press secretary during the impeachment then, and CNN senior commentator and former Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich is here as well. And Joe, I want to begin with you because you've been through this.

During the Clinton impeachment trial there was an agreement between Senate majority and minority leaders on the rules. There is no agreement now, so that's one difference. Another difference is we don't have any idea what the process is or what the rules will be because Mitch McConnell hasn't told anyone yet. Why do you think that is? What does he get out of that?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The fact that we don't know is a problem. The fact that the House managers don't know is a big problem. They had to start as early as Wednesday to begin to present their case. They don't know how much time, they don't know how to break that up. And I think it's a combination of things, I think. McConnell is still trying to figure out in his caucus how far he can push this. He wants to shut this town as quickly as he can.

The other is he wants to mess with the gears of the Democratic machine trying to present this. He wants to make it as hard as possible for them to present their case, and he wants, I think, to make it as hard to watch as possible. That's why you hear about 12-hour days. No one can sit through a 12-hour day, unless you're an absolutely committed partisan or journalist.

HILL: Unless it's your job. So we will all be sitting through 12-hour days, which will be more like 15. Buckle up.

A lot of what we're seeing, though, and the big questions surround, of course, the rules and what we're going to see and the fact that we don't know anything yet, and for Democrats, of course, it keeps coming back to witnesses. The question that is posed to Republicans is should there be witnesses.

Governor Kasich, the case the Democrats make is you can't have a fair trial if you're not hearing from people directly. Do you believe this would be seen as fair if there are no witnesses?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right now, we're in a political world, and fair or not fair, it is going to be depending on what position you have or who you are. I've always been a believer of having more information, not less. And so the Democrats are going to push, and then where are we? You're going to need four Republicans to say we're going to call witnesses, that will be decided after the first presentations both by the Democrats and then by the Republicans.

And then we'll see where the votes are. It's just going to be that simple. Are there four Republicans this think it's imperative you call those witnesses, or are they just not going to say we should do it? And that's going to be up to the United States Senate and the members of the Senate. And then they will have to be held responsible for what they do by the voters. But in terms of fair, unfair, it's sort of like watching a football game. If you get a good call you think the referees are great. You get a bad call, you think they are not. It's not that complicated.

BERMAN: What pressure do you think those four Republican senators that people are looking at the most closely, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Lamar Alexander, maybe Cory Gardner a bit, what kind of pressure do you think they feel, governor?

KASICH: Well, first of all, the question is are they using their conscience? I happen to know a couple of them. I think they are going to use their conscious. Secondly, there's some that are on the razor's edge, and it probably works to their benefit to say we should call witnesses, but it's highly partisan. So if you come from a red state it's easy to say we're not calling witnesses. If you come from a state that's more balanced, then you feel pressure to try to figure how to maneuver, unless you let your conscious be the override. And that's the way I think it ought to be in politics.

Things twist and turns, days come and days go, but at the end you've got to determine what you feel best about. And I know Joe went through impeachment. I voted on impeachment. So it's just a matter of what does your conscience tell you, and then if there's political ramifications, then you're playing a different game than I played.

HILL: How much do you think, and what's your sense of how much that game has changed in the last 20 years?

LOCKHART: I think it's changed radically. I think while then Representative Kasich and former governor at the time, we were on different sides, the whole process was taken more seriously.

[08:05:00]

I don't think there was anyone who viewed it as just purely political. There were Democrats that took it seriously. You remember during the Starr investigation, a lot of the pressure came from Democrats in the House to get the president to deal with this. In the Senate there was 100 to nothing vote on the rules. Tom Daschle and Trent Lott sat down. It's now very Trumpian.

The White House argument is absurd. It's this circular thing which is he has Bill Barr saying the president can't be even charged with something criminal, but can't be removed by impeachment unless there's something criminal. It makes no sense. And even Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, you can go back in 99 and see clips that will openly be in the opposite places they were then.

So it is now -- there was a seriousness back then that no longer exists, and I think it comes from the president. You just see that he doesn't -- he sees everything through a personal lens rather than the presidency and the country.

BERMAN: Let's go back.

LOCKHART: Let's go back.

KASICH: And John, what I would add to this, however, is, and I hear what Joe is saying, we're not only have been drifting, but over the period of the last since I left the Congress in 2000, we have been running into this unbelievable partisanship. And it's been growing year after year after year with either leaders on the Republican side or the Democrats' side not really wanting to calm it down.

And it has the implications for affecting this, of course, but there's so many other issues that go unattended to, high priorities that we should be bipartisan on where Democrats and Republicans ought to say, yes, this is really a clear and present issue, present danger, we need to get about it, and we're nowhere now. And it's just reflected in impeachment, but it exists in so many other areas which has profound negative implications for the United States of America.

BERMAN: We're starting to get our first sense of how the president's defense team will present a defense. Alan Dershowitz, who for some reason claims he is not defending the president but actually is, he was out over the weekend saying that basically the president didn't commit a crime, and unless the president commits a crime, a statutory crime, he or she cannot be impeached. But you know who disagrees with that? Alan Dershowitz. This was the Harvard law professor during the Clinton impeachment process. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR EMERITUS: 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 liberty, you don't need a technical crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I suppose that's one of the risks of bringing Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, having an episode of "I Love the 90s" on is that you may get different views than they want to project now.

LOCKHART: It shows, I think, the lack of seriousness of their legal argument. You saw the six-page memo they put out, which was just an attack on the process. Again, no defense of the president or the underlying facts.

I think the president wants to make this about who is making the argument, not what the arguments are, a FOX TV production rather than a serious legal idea. And Mitch McConnell is trying to weigh whether he can get away with it or not. He'd love to, but I think as Governor Kasich points out, Republicans, there are Republicans, I think, a few with a conscious and there are a few that are going to face the voters, and they have got to decide.

We saw Martha McSally make her decision last week by going after Manu Raju, which is an interesting way to make an announcement that you're against witnesses, but that's what it was, full on in with Trump. We'll see what Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, who have a different set of dynamics than, say, Lamar Alexander, who is retiring, or Lisa Murkowski, who, again, she's an independent. The Republicans tried to keep her out of office. She won as a write-in. So there's no allegiance to the party. We'll see what they decide.

HILL: Governor Kasich, real quickly, the other push, we now has been on timing, that this needs to be wrapped up. And we're hearing the president wants it done before the state of the union. Is trying to push it through you think what Republicans want to be known for, just trying to shut this down, period?

KASICH: I think optics matters. There was originally an idea that they ought to vote to dismiss off the bat and that's not flying. And so I think it's a lot about optics. How do they feel, how does the public feel? As for me, I'd like to have as many facts as possible and get it over with and move on.

BERMAN: Governor Kasich, the refs are always wrong, by the way, in case you were wondering about the refs. You brought that up earlier. Joe Lockhart, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

KASICH: God bless the work of Martin Luther King and all those great and tremendous patriots who rode and drove civil rights from the bottom up so we could have a more fair and balanced society. Long way to go but made a lot of progress.

[08:10:07] BERMAN: A picture of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in our nation's capital. Governor Kasich, thank you so much for remembering along with us. Joe, thank you as well.

So we still don't know what the proposed rules will be for the trial of the president. We will speak to one of the senators who will be a judge and juror, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: President Trump is on trial before the U.S. Senate. It begins in earnest tomorrow. But as of now we don't know how that trial will play out, what will the process be. We don't know because the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to share his proposal with the full Senate or the American people.

Joining me now is one of the 100 U.S. senators who will be in that room for the next one, two, maybe three, four weeks, who knows, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us this morning. What does it tell you that Mitch McConnell has yet to come forward with the procedures he's proposing for this?

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW, (D-MI): First, John, it's great to be with you this morning. And if you step back a second, we have essentially the head of the jury saying he's working with the accused and his attorneys, that he's going to do everything he can to block relevant witnesses that would get at the truth, e-mails, documents.

[08:15:00]

And now he won't even tell us what the rules are.

And so I think that they've been scrambling for some time to try to figure out how to make this happen as quickly as possible, and how to avoid having relevant witnesses, people in the room, people that were on the e-mail, sending the e-mails, the relevant documents, all the things that the American people want.

I know people in Michigan, they just want us to step up and listen, hear the truth, and not be part of hiding the truth.

BERMAN: Which are the witnesses you would like to hear from most?

STABENOW: Well, I think that Senator Chuck Schumer has laid out the four most relevant witnesses. Certainly, John Bolton, but we need to hear from the acting Chief of Staff who was the head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney and his staff person, the others that were essentially either on the call or involved in what now is very clearly an illegal act, the independent arm of the Federal government, who is called the Government Accounting Office has made it clear.

They didn't say maybe they broke the law. They broke the law. And so the folks that were involved in doing that, and we know from e-mails that there were others in the Office of Management and Budget, others in the Department of Defense, very concerned that in fact, that was happening. Those are the people that we need to hear from.

BERMAN: I noticed you did not mention Lev Parnas who we have now heard from in interviews and newspaper articles talk about his role in pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

STABENOW: Right.

BERMAN: Why didn't you include Lev Parnas in that list?

STABENOW: Well, this is certainly that list of four people that we've put forward. We certainly want to focus on those four. I would not be opposed at all to his coming in.

I think he just adds some context and color to what we already know from the House. I mean, it was very clear from the House, what we're talking about here in terms of withholding the aid and basically leaving a young new leader of a country that's in a war with Russia out there, having our support for them in the past be so critical and holding that up for political purposes, basically holding the money hostage unless they would do what the President wanted to help him win reelection and so, I think --

BERMAN: Do you have questions about his reliability?

STABENOW: It's really not that, it's a question -- I would be happy to hear from him. So this is just more of a question of, are we going to be able to move forward at all with the four basic witnesses that are relevant?

BERMAN: One of the proposals that we understand that Majority Leader might come forward with today or tomorrow when we finally hear what the rules are, is to have 24 hours for opening arguments for each side, but condense those 24 arguments into 12-hour days, which would be a much shorter time period and much longer days, then took place in the Clinton impeachment trial. How do you feel about the possibility of having these 12-hour marathon days?

STABENOW: Well, John, for those of us who work 12-hour days, I'm certainly willing to do that. My colleagues are, but this is really all of the process of trying to rush -- rush things, hide things, you know, try to use maneuvers and rules rather than operating in a fair and open way. That's what people want. That's what people in Michigan want, whether they support impeachment, don't support impeachment.

Everybody knows that when you have a trial, you have witnesses, you bring in relevant documents, you show the e-mails, where are the e- mails?

And the fact that they are trying to rush it through in a way that would minimize it, I think really does a disservice to the Congress and does a disservice to the American people.

BERMAN: We did hear from the Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last night, your Democratic Leader last night suggesting, that he might use some maneuvers. That's a word you just used, maneuvers early on in the process to get some votes. So what maneuvers from Chuck Schumer would you support?

STABENOW: Well, I would say rather than calling it a maneuver, it's really his right to offer an amendment. And so the way the rules are established under the Constitution, there's certain basic things.

The leader of the Senate offers a resolution, you would hope it would be bipartisan to move forward on what the rules for the whole process are in their trial, but that's not going to happen here.

So instead of that, the leader of the minority, Senator Chuck Schumer has the right to offer an amendment and what he will do is offer an amendment or amendments that ask that we have relevant witnesses and documents.

[08:20:10]

BERMAN: What do you anticipate it will feel like being in the Senate chamber with no phone, not being able to talk, only being able to send notes? What's that going to be like?

STABENOW: Well first, I have to tell you, I admit, I'm addicted to my phone and my iPad and just spending an hour. So last week at a time, you know, I was constantly looking down to look at my phone, and so I think this will actually probably be healthy for all of us, but will be a challenge.

But most importantly, from the moment the House Managers brought the Impeachment Articles over and I don't think I'll ever forget the Clerk of the House coming in and just reading the fact that there were -- not the documents --but that the Impeachment Articles, the impeachment of the Donald John Trump, President of the United States, and when they got to that part, President of the United States, I just felt -- it was just a wave go across, you know, almost every Democrat, by the way, who was sitting there as they were bringing them in.

I only saw one Republican colleague sitting on the other side, in addition to Senator McConnell when they brought the Articles to the Senate, but we were there and you could just feel a wave of somberness.

I mean, this is a very sober moment. It's a part of the Constitution. It's what makes us separate from Russia and other dictators around the world. People around the world, governments around the world are looking to us to see whether or not we really believe in our Constitution, whether we really believe in checks and balances, whether we have the courage regardless of the outcome, to stand up for what we believe is right and true. And that sense of responsibility really came over me.

BERMAN: Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

STABENOW: You're welcome. HILL: "The New York Times" editorial board endorsing two candidates for the Democratic primary. So why not just pick one? We will ask, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:26:11]

HILL: With just two weeks to go into the Iowa caucuses, "The New York Times" Editorial Board revealing its endorsement for the Democratic primary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this perilous moment, both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. For this reason, we are breaking with convention and putting our support behind not one, but two candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Each of whom articulates a different path forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Joining me now is Kathleen Kingsbury. She's the Deputy Editorial Page Editor of "The New York Times." Katie, good to have you here this morning. And you note, there will be those dissatisfied, the editorial page is not throwing its weight behind a single candidate.

There's been a little bit of that out there this morning. Why two and why now ahead of Iowa?

KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think that people misunderstand the point behind endorsements. We really wanted to educate readers, we're not putting our weight behind one candidate versus another. We're not, you know, tapping that candidate for victory.

Instead, we really wanted to give people a wide range of understanding of the race, and we really thought that voters should be the ones that decide the future of the Democratic Party.

HILL: Voters should be the ones, but this is still an endorsement. And this is still an endorsement of two people. So it's tough to hear that and say that you're not putting your weight behind them because what you are doing is saying, here is why these two people we think are the best choices.

KINGSBURY: These are the best choices for two different paths forward, and I think that one of the things that we came out of hours and hours of endorsement interviews feeling was that the Democratic Party is really at this tension point. And that itself, the party and its voters needs to determine what the path of the party should be.

HILL: Do you feel that in laying that out and in picking the two people you see as the best candidates for those two paths, are you trying to force that discussion and that sort of moment, this crash that the party needs to have this discussion amongst itself?

KINGSBURY: It's a fight that the party has been itching to have since 2016, and what other tool is there? What other vehicle is there? Better vehicle out there than voting and the public forum.

HILL: These interviews that you did with some of the candidates, not all, the range of questions was different for each candidate. You sat down, you sort of asked them all kinds of different things.

I do want to play a little bit of the conversation. First with Senator Klobuchar. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KINGSBURY: Why don't talented people want to continue to work for you?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But they do. I hope you meet the people outside in the hall. I may not be the leading candidate right now, but I have beaten like 19 people, including every governor.

And so you can't run a presidential campaign if you have a dysfunctional work environment. My campaign manager is the same one I've had for 14 years. My State Director has been with me for seven years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: So in the endorsement and in making your case for Klobuchar, one of the things that you note in talking about that moment and the criticism that she received in the way she treated her staff. You note that there have been -- that Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders -- they have a reputation in certain cases for berating their staff as well. But it's never been seen as a political liability for them.

KINGSBURY: Yes. You're meaning Vice President Biden.

HILL: I'm sorry. Yes. So when you bring that up, I mean, you specifically point that out, you asked her about it, people have questions about it. And you say it is an important question, but note that none of the men had been asked about that, or has been seen as a political rather liability. Is there something missing from that discussion then?

KINGSBURY: This has been the most transparent endorsement process that "The Times" has ever done. We've released transcripts from over 15 hours of interviews.

I think the reader should really go and look at the senators' response to that question and make up their own minds. For us, we feel as though she has been very contrite on this issue.

[08:30:09]