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Impeachment Trial to Begin with Fierce Debate Over Rules; Trump Lawyers, Senate Allies Push to Ensure Bolton Does Not Testify Publicly; Trump Speaks at World Economic Forum. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired January 21, 2020 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just hours before the Senate trial, Mitch McConnell unveiled a resolution detailing how the trial would take shape.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Each side gets up to 24 hours over two days to lay out their case.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This resolution is totally departing from the Clinton resolution, despite what Leader McConnell promised.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants a fast trial, not fair trial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to get it in before the State of the Union. If they aren't, they're crazy.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, January 21, 6 a.m. here in New York.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Are you ready?
CAMEROTA: I'm ready. I'm ready. I mean, I think that the country seems ready. People are very eager to see what's going to happen today.
So the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history begins in just hours. President Trump's legacy and America's system of checks and balances are at stake. The trial begins with a fierce debate over these proposed rules laid out by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last night. These are rules designed to quickly acquit the president and make it more difficult to consider evidence.
BERMAN: Despite what Leader McConnell had promised, this is not the Clinton model. This is a radical departure from the impeachment process of Bill Clinton 21 years ago. Not just the pace, which seems designed to get the president acquitted by next week, but also the framework. Not a single shred of evidence collected by the House of Representatives will be part of the record, at least for the time being.
Overnight the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, warned of a cover-up, calling the McConnell rules a national disgrace. We will speak with Schumer shortly about how he intends to proceed today, despite the fact that the Republicans appear to have the votes.
This morning there are signs that the American people are in a different place than Mitch McConnell. In our brand-new poll, 69 percent of voters say they want witnesses. That includes a plurality of Republicans.
Also this morning, new reporting on contingency plans from Leader McConnell, should the Senate decide it does want witnesses. Plans to keep at least one of those possible witnesses, former national security adviser John Bolton, completely hidden from the public. We have that new reporting in just a moment.
First let's begin with CNN's Lauren Fox, live on Capitol Hill with what we are about to see today, this moment in history.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. This has been months in the making, John, and in just a few hours, the Senate trial will begin at 1 p.m. today.
It all culminates, of course, in that vote on whether or not President Donald Trump should be removed from office.
FOX (voice-over): If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has his way, the vote to convict or acquit President Trump will come sooner, rather than later. McConnell presenting his proposed trial rules that break from the Clinton model.
He wants House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team to present their case over two days, in two 12-hour sessions. That could stretch well into the night.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): He has many motivations. They are all political, and they're all designed to help his people. And certainly, they're designed to cover up what the president did.
FOX: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, outraged by McConnell's resolution, saying he'll offer amendments to address its, quote, "many flaws."
SCHUMER: It's clear McConnell is hellbent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through.
FOX: McConnell's proposal also does not automatically include evidence submitted by the House. And any subpoenaed witnesses would have to be deposed before the Senate decides if they will testify publicly. SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): So I guess we are going to have a trial not
only with no witnesses but no evidence. That is bizarre and insulting and damaging to the national security of the United States of America.
FOX: Trump's Republican allies suggesting they're eager to move forward with the facts already presented.
SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): For the House to send us something, two articles, and then say, Oh, but, by the way, hey, Senate, we want you to call all these other witnesses that, you know, we didn't have time to do that because we were in such a rush. We had to get it done before Christmas. We had to fulfill a political promise.
Donald Trump has done nothing wrong.
FOX: In 110-page filing, Trump's lawyers blast the impeachment trial as a, quote, "rigged process" and "a brazenly political act that must be rejected."
The House managers submitting their own rebuttal, asking senators to, quote, "honor their oaths by holding a fair trial" and "convict the president on both articles."
FOX: And of course, we don't know how long this impeachment trial is going to go, but what we do know is that we're going to have our eyes on those moderate Republicans to see how they're feeling throughout this trial and to see whether or not they want to actually have witnesses. Of course, it takes four Republicans to vote with Democrats to get any of those Democratic witnesses they've been hoping for, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for setting all of that up for us. Joining us now we have John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst; Rachael Bade, CNN political analyst and congressional reporter for "The Washington Post"; and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart. He was President Clinton's press secretary during that impeachment.
OK, here we go, everyone. I want to read for you what Mitch McConnell said about how this was going to follow the Clinton model pretty exactly. He said this last week. "All we're doing here is saying we're going to get started in exactly the same way 100 senators agreed to 20 years ago."
John, that was not the truth, as we found out last night. It is different, very different than what happened with the Clinton impeachment.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and that's the line McConnell has been using, and he lied to the people in the country and, presumably, his colleagues, as well.
Two important departures. One, he's going to try to jam through 24 hours of debate in two days, not four. That's a strategy to kind of overwhelm the system and exhaust the participants.
And the second one that's even more important, I think, is the potential to vote individually on all elements of admitting evidence from the House, separate from the question of whether there should be witnesses and new evidence in this trial.
CAMEROTA: How can the evidence not be part of the official record?
AVLON: Because he's trying to overwhelm the system. This is a speed up and slow down strategy, and it's being driven by the desire to get it done by the State of the Union.
And just keep this in mind. I did a little homework on this. Clinton's Senate impeachment trial took five weeks. Andrew Johnson's took nine weeks. These folks are trying to get it done in a week, maybe less.
BERMAN: And I think Mitch McConnell would say, Right on, yes. I am trying to get this done --
BERMAN: --by the State of the Union address.
So to what end? What does McConnell get out of this? What is the effect of all of this, Joe?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's balancing two different political constituencies. One is the president and the Republican Party writ large, but he's also trying to balance the vulnerable senators that are in his caucus.
What he did last night was come down hard on the president's side, because he has made life potentially miserable for these vulnerable Republicans; because they have to face their voters, who now see that this is a cover up. It is not an open or fair trial.
And I think, you know, what the Democrats should do is just stand up, and what Schumer should do is offer the Clinton rules as an amendment, as a substitute, and say, Y'all promised the Clinton rules. Now we're going to give you a chance to vote to see if you are truth tellers or liars. It's that simple.
AVLON: That's right.
CAMEROTA: Rachael, if Mitch McConnell gets his way today, and it goes as the rules -- as he stated last night, as he laid out, I should say, last night, what's going to happen today? Does this wrap up at a certain time? Does it go until 1 a.m.?
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, look, we're going to be up late for the next couple of weeks, in fact, you know, I tweeted last night something to my fellow reporters. Everybody get a good night's sleep, because we're probably going to be going until 1 and 2, 3 in the morning for the next couple of days.
I mean, this is really quick, but clearly, McConnell, the president has been pushing him, Get this done by the State of the Union. I want to show up in the House and say, I'm an acquitted president, with Pelosi -- obviously will be right behind him, so he would be able to troll her when he says that. This is a top priority for the White House. And so McConnell is trying to accommodate that.
Now, the question I have, following these senators for so long, is how are they going to stay awake this long? I mean, Chuck Grassley is 86 years old. He's one of the most senior members in the Senate. He has a 9 p.m. bedtime every single night, and he tells all of us about it. How is he going to do this for multiple nights on end? I don't know if they can keep it up.
So it will be interesting to see. These rules will obviously be adopted today. It's just a matter of how long do they debate them? But, you know, do they have to sort of reassess as they go, because this is going to be really intense.
BERMAN: I will make one side note here. The chief justice of the United States has a side job, which is to be chief justice of the United States.
CAMEROTA: His side hustle.
BERMAN: So he is going to preside over the Senate until 2 a.m., and then he's going to go to the Supreme Court tomorrow morning and do chief justice stuff, right? So he's going to be burning the candle on both ends.
I think that we just need to take a step back, once again, and make clear what this is all about. This system that Mitch McConnell has laid out here is not to provide for the American people an open window into what went on. It is not to lay out as many facts as possible for the American people or, for that matter, for the Senate to see.
It seems that this is designed to do it quickly with as little information as possible.
BERMAN: Let me just read the rules of evidence situation here. "Materials in this record may be admitted into evidence by motion after the Senate has disposed of the question of whether it shall be in order to consider and debate under the impeachment rules any motion to subpoena witnesses or documents."
BERMAN: What that means is that nothing the House did, not a shred of evidence from the House of Representatives is, as of now, part of the Senate impeachment record.
And if this were a trial, OK, an actual trial in a court, what that would mean is you would not be able to submit a statement or make a statement about that evidence, because it's not there yet. You would hear an objection, objection, evidence not in order or evidence not in the trial yet, or facts not in evidence. So what Mitch McConnell is trying to do is create a system here, John
-- and you alluded to this -- that if you don't go his way, this will go on forever. He's going to say, we're going to vote on every single piece of evidence if you want to hear any of it.
AVLON: That's exactly right. And he's trying to overwhelm the system and exhaust the American people and make people in the Senate think that it would be so much easier not to do their job, like every other Senate trial has done, and hear from new witnesses. To hear significant new evidence that's come out, as well.
Look, this is really simple at the end of the day. No matter how he tries to jam the system, the senators on the floor need to recognize that the eyes of history are on them. This is not simply something where you can get rolled by a bully or intimidated by process.
Do you think the president is above the law? Do you think presidents should ask foreign powers to interfere in elections on their behalf and then cover it up with impunity?
Because Republicans, much to my amazement, are still arguing what the president requested. We just heard Marsha Blackburn in the clip earlier. The president did nothing wrong. That's despite all the evidence. You could argue total credibility, president did not behave well, but he should not be removed for this. That is a completely credible argument. No president has been removed.
But the fact they're falling into line to that degree, that they're willing to ignore all the evidence, history will not be kind to them. And it will be even less kind to vote -- to senators from swing states with elections coming up.
CAMEROTA: And on one other basic level, Joe, Americans know -- I mean, it is so built into our fabric that trials have evidence and witnesses. That -- those are the two ingredients, really, of trials and that Mitch McConnell doesn't want either one.
LOCKHART: Yes, well, let's remember with Mitch McConnell, and Americans probably have forgotten already, but he's had two cracks at this already with -- with Brett Kavanaugh and with Merrick Garland where he jammed the system. And he didn't care about the optics, and he said, I just want to win.
CAMEROTA: It worked.
LOCKHART: And it worked in both cases. So that's what he's operating on.
But I think you're right. I think Americans do have this innate sense of fairness when it's presented to them and they can't look around, and they can't ignore it.
And that's where the Democrats' opportunity is here. I actually think there's a -- there's a counterintuitive way to look at the limited time. It will force them to, I think, do two important three-hour blocks in prime time, which the Clinton trial never was in prime time. It ended every night around 6 p.m. It was very, you know, nice and tidy. We were never in prime time, and that was a help to us.
So I think they have to -- they have to approach it this way, which is nobody has heard anything about this. So on -- the two blocks have to be I don't care what we said before or what we're going to say after. We have to tell two distinct stories over two nights. And America is just tuning in now, and that's important.
BERMAN: All right, friends, stick around.
CAMEROTA: All right. Coming up in our next hour, we will speak with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He had a lot to say last night when these rules of the impeachment trial came out.
BERMAN: And we have a key piece of new reporting from Rachael Bade, who is with us, on contingency plans for Mitch McConnell. He's laying the groundwork for what happens if he does lose on witnesses. What if the Senate says it does want to hear from John Bolton?
Well, Mitch McConnell's got a plan. Rachael will tell us that Americans will never hear a peep of it.
BERMAN: New reporting overnight from "The Washington Post" that the president's legal team and his Senate allies, namely Mitch McConnell, working behind the scenes to develop a contingency plan to prevent former national security adviser John Bolton from testifying in public.
Rachael Bade broke this story. She is back with us, along with Joe Lockhart and John Avlon.
Rachael, first of all, interesting that McConnell and friends think they need a contingency plan. Even more interesting what you report that plan is. Tell us.
BADE: Yes. So basically, this was the -- the mastermind, I guess you could say, of the Trump White House defense team. This is something they came up with and have been sort of talking to Senate Republicans about over the weekend.
And it's this notion that, if they lose the witness battle, if they're going to call witnesses, they have this sort of Plan B. And the No. 1 goal of that Plan B is to make sure John Bolton does not testify live on national television in a Senate trial.
And so just to be clear, a lot of my Senate sources are still saying they don't think Democrats will get a fourth Republican to vote on witnesses. So they're sort of expressing confidence.
But also it shows that they're not even sure that they're going to win on this fight. And so that's why they're putting this sort of plan together.
It's two pieces. The first one is that the White House would claim executive privilege over Bolton. If he refuses to sort of go along with that, they would sue him and try to get an injunction in court to keep him silent while this is litigated, which would really drag things out.
And the other idea that was sort of new that we heard about was this notion of just putting him in a classified setting. Going to a classified deposition, which would keep him from actually telling his story, from -- keeping it from going out to the light of day. And that would be one way that they could sort of control this.
But I think it really underscores that they're nervous about John Bolton. They don't know what they're going to say -- what he's going to say. And a lot of Republicans have sort of been hopeful that he wouldn't turn on the party.
But, look, I mean, he called this whole Ukraine matter a, quote, "drug deal" and told his underlings to report it up the chain legally, because he was concerned that a law was broken. So they're not willing to risk it, and they're trying to keep it covered.
CAMEROTA: That -- that, I think, is really important, John. I mean, there's been all sorts of speculation. We've done it. The pundits have done it, about are Republicans worried about John Bolton? Now we know. I mean, they've revealed their hand. They are really worried about John Bolton. They want to keep him in a bubble.
AVLON: They have been really worried about any witnesses, which would seem to beg the question of why they're falling into line under the lie that the president did nothing wrong. Because if that were true, the White House would be begging for direct witnesses to exonerate President Trump.
Instead, all along, they've done everything they can to block them. That tells you where the truth is. This is an attempt to continue the cover-up. If they get forced to have witnesses, they're going to try to hide it from the American people.
BERMAN: And drag it out.
BERMAN: It's the same thing as the overall rules here, Joe. By saying the White House will exert executive privilege, what they're saying is if you want to hear from Bolton, there is going to be a fight that could be months long, Susan Collins. If you really want this to happen, are you prepared to tell voters in Maine that this will be three more months?
LOCKHART: Yes, and the flip side of this, though, is Susan Collins, Cory Gardner all have to face this, which is John Bolton is writing a book. He's going to tell his story. They -- they cannot seek an injunction against his book. My guess is most of this is not classified.
So if you're a Republican, do you really want to take the short-term view of shutting -- you know, shutting this down and then, two months later, a book comes down with bombshell after bombshell. And the voters say, Well, why didn't we hear this when the president's trial was going on?
So this is not a slam dunk for Republicans, and it's why we're sitting here at the start of the trial, still wondering what these four Republicans, five Republicans are going to do.
AVLON: Tying yourself to Donald Trump means not telling the truth; is not a winning strategy in Colorado or Maine what those two senators are doing.
So the question is, if you're going to try -- go down fighting, would you go down fighting on behalf of your conscience in a way that you'll look back upon with pride, or do -- you're just going to sell out and sink as a result?
CAMEROTA: And so Rachael, beyond John Bolton, there's also this move to, even if they want other witnesses, even if Mick Mulvaney, they want -- they decide that they need to hear from him, from people in the room, they -- explain how they would depose them first.
BADE: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, I think this notion that -- McConnell knows what he's doing, right? He's run the Senate for a long time. He knows his conference really well.
And there's sort of been talk about how, if this is going to happen, people think that he is going to sort of bring people together and say, Look, if we're going to do witnesses, we need to keep it -- we need to do depositions. We need to close the room, keep people from seeing it.
And this is kind of what they did in 1999 with Bill Clinton. The difference then was that those -- the transcript of those closed-door depositions were then released; and pieces of those depositions were then played on the Senate floor as evidence, was sort of presented to the public.
The problem here is that, obviously, most Republicans don't want more evidence out. And so there would have to be a vote. It would have to be 51 senators that would have to vote to enter whatever they heard from these closed-door depositions into the record. That's just another hurdle that Democrats will have to sort of surmount if they're going to show what John Bolton said or what Mick Mulvaney said.
This also goes the same for Hunter Biden, though. I mean, if they're going to do some sort of witness deal, that also would be behind closed doors. So you know, Trump wants Hunter Biden in the witness seat. He wants him testifying in public. It does go both ways on this.
AVLON: Susan Collins should listen to Susan Collins from 1998. She should ask herself what Margaret Chase Smith would do. You know, keep your dignity. Keep your integrity, even in this environment. Especially in this environment.
I don't know why senators would do anything else, but that seems to be the way the winds are blowing. And that's a dangerous moment for democracy.
LOCKHART: The one other difference, though, to add to what Rachael said, is in 1998, 1999, yes, they brought three witnesses in. It was all agreed upon. All of those witnesses had testified at the grand jury. All of those witnesses' testimony from a secret grand jury was put in the Starr Report. It was -- you know, and the Democrats went along with this. Like, let's bring this three witnesses. We'll do it.
And the irony is, is Monica Lewinsky turned out to be a great witness for the Democrats, because she was prepared. And she basically blew away the Republican, you know, Congressman Ed Bryan.
You cannot compare, you know, 1999 with now. This is a full-blown presidential/Mitch McConnell cover up. It has been from the beginning. They've done everything they can. They've gone to court to keep witnesses from testifying. We haven't seen a single document from the administration. You can't compare it. This is a cover-up.
BERMAN: And one thing is, as mad as the senators are today, we won't really be hearing from them.
BERMAN: This will be argued by the House managers and the president's defense team, which is fascinating.
CAMEROTA: OK. Friends, thank you very much.
President Trump is once again on the world stage as his presidency faces a major test. So what he's saying about impeachment as he addresses economic leaders at Davos, next.
CAMEROTA: At this hour President Trump is in Switzerland and just finished addressing the World Economic Forum. His impeachment trial is clearly on his mind.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live in Davos with more.
What's he saying, Jeremy?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the president just wrapped up his remarks here at the World Economic Forum.
The president really did focus on the economy. That is, of course, typically the topic at hand here at the World Economic Forum. The president listing a series of statistics that he says shows that the U.S. economy is booming and benefitting from his own administration's policies.
But this forum this year, Alisyn, is focused on the climate crisis. And the president did not shy away from that topic, despite the fact that, of course, he is very much not at all on the same page as the organizers of this forum and most of the attendees.
In fact, the president, rather than talking about efforts to address climate change around the world, the president touted the fact that the United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas. And he panned those who are touting the overwhelming science around climate change merely as alarmists. And he compared them to doomsayers of the past.
So that was quite a remarkable moment here that we saw from the president where he really hit this issue head-on, despite the huge gap that there is between him and the attendees here; but also, of course, most leaders in the developed world.