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Soon: House Democrats Lay Out Abuse Of Power Case Against President Trump. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 23, 2020 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00]

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear how that is going to differ when it comes to what they're actually saying, the arguments that they're making, differ from what we heard yesterday and then he says the before.

But when you talk about and think about abuse of power, it goes to the heart of the notion of impeachment. And it also goes to the question of what the president did. Because despite what evidence the Democrats have or don't have to present, they do have what the White House released, which is a transcript of the president's call, which many Democrats said just that on its face is an impeachable offense, that is abuse of power.

And so the Republicans who are persuadable, if there are any, one of the key questions is, okay, yes, maybe what he did was improper, though we don't hear that a lot from a lot of Republicans, because the president doesn't like to hear that, but is is an impeachable offense. So we are going to hear the House managers make the argument that, yes, in fact, it is an impeachable offense. Jake and Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we can see, Dana, the House managers. They are beginning to file into the Senate chamber right now. We're waiting for the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, to begin this process. There will be a prayer, there will be a pledge of allegiance. We'll watch it all unfold. This is history unfolding.

John King, you and I covered the Bill Clinton impeachment trial 21 years ago. And you remember the first four days when the Republican House managers, they made a very, very forceful, powerful case against the then sitting president of the United States. But then the White House Counsel, they had four days to rebut and they came back very, very strong. And as a result, a lot of attitudes changed. That could happen this time potentially as well.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The conversation changed as you went through the trial. The one thing that never changed was the math. It was clear at the beginning of that trial as it is at the beginning of this trial that there are not the votes to convict and remove the president.

The question was, they had witness question in the Clinton trial that the Republicans did carry the day, and then they had the votes to do it and that they don't here this time. But it was interesting, I remember, especially the first day when the Republican managers made their case against Bill Clinton inside the White House, there was a sense of anxiety.

BLITZER: Yes, they were beginning to freak out a bit.

KING: They said, these guys did a really good job on the first day. And they realized, not that they were prepared anyway, not that they didn't have an A-plus legal team to defend President Clinton back in those days, but they sort of looked down their noses a bit at the House. And after that first day, I remember them thinking, wow, we have our work cut out for us, and they clearly met the test.

BLITZER: All right.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You see the chief justice, John Roberts, taking his seat. Let's listen in.

BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Let us pray. Almighty God, our rock of ages, be omnipresent during this impeachment trial, providing our senators with the assuring awareness of your powerful involvement. May they strive to have a clear conscience in whatever they do for you and country.

J. ROBERTS: Senators will please be seated. If there is no objection, the journal of proceedings of the trial are approved today. The sergeant at arms will make the proclamation.

[13:05:00]

SERGEANT AT ARMS: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, all persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the Senate of the United States is sitting for the trial of the articles of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives against Donald John Trump, president of the United States.

MCCONNELL: Mr. Chief Justice?

J. ROBERTS: The majority leader is recognized.

MCCONNELL: It's my understanding the schedule today will be similar to yesterday's proceedings and we will plan to take short breaks every two or three hours and will accommodate a 30-minute recess for dinner assuming that is needed.

J. ROBERTS: Thank you.

Pursuant to the provisions of Senate Resolution 483, the managers of the House of Representatives have 16 hours and 42 minutes remaining to make the presentation of their case.

The Senate will now hear you.

The presiding officer recognizes Mr. Manager Schiff to continue the presentation of the case for the House of Representatives.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Chief Justice. And thank you to the senators for two, now, very long days.

We're greatly appreciative of Chief Justice, knowing that, prior to your arrival in the chamber each day, you have a lot of work at the court, necessitating our beginning in the afternoon and going into the evening.

But I also want to, again, take this opportunity to thank the senators for their long and considerable attention over the course of the last two days. I'm not sure the chief justice is fully aware of just how rare it is, how extraordinary it is, for the House members to be able to command the attention of senators sitting silently for hours...

(LAUGHTER)

... or even for minutes, for that matter. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the morning starts out every day with the sergeant at arms warning you that, if you don't, you will be imprisoned.

(LAUGHTER)

It's our hope that, when the trial concludes and you've heard us and you've heard the president's counsel over a series of long days, that you don't choose imprisonment instead of anything further.

Two days ago, we made the case for documents and for witnesses in the trial. Yesterday, we walked through the chronology, the factual chronology at some length. Today, we'll go through Article 1, the constitutional underpinnings of abuse of power, and apply the facts of the president's scheme to the law and Constitution.

And here, I must ask you for some forbearance. Of necessity, there will be some repetition of information from yesterday's chronology, and I want to explain the reason for it. You have now heard hundreds of hours of deposition and live testimony from the House condensed into an abbreviated narrative of the facts. We will now show you these facts and many others, and how they are interwoven. You will see some of these facts and videos, therefore, in a new context, in a new light, in the light of what else we know and why it compels a finding of guilt and conviction. So there is some method to our madness.

Tomorrow, we will conclude the presentation of the facts and law on Article 1, and we will begin and complete the same on Article 2, the president's unconstitutional obstruction of Congress. The president's counsel will then have three days to make their presentations, and then you will have 16 hours to ask questions, and then the trial will begin, and then you will actually get to hear from the witnesses yourself, and then you will get to see the documents yourself, or so we hope, and so do the American people. And after their testimony and after we've had closing arguments, then it will be in your hands.

So let's begin today's presentation, and I yield to House manager Nadler.

NADLER: Good morning, Mr. Chief Justice, senators, my fellow House managers and counsel for the president. This is the third day of a solemn occasion for the American people. The articles of impeachment against President Trump rank among the most serious charges ever brought against the president, and as our recital of the facts indicated, the articles are overwhelmingly supported by the evidence amassed by the House, notwithstanding the president's complete stonewalling, his attempt to block all witnesses and all documents from the United States Congress.

[13:10:00]

The first article of impeachment charges the president with abuse of power. President Trump used the powers of his office to solicit a foreign nation to interfere in our elections for his own personal benefit. Note that the act of solicitation itself, just the ask, constitutes an abuse of power.

But President Trump went further. In order to secure his favor from Ukraine he withheld two official acts of immense value.

First, he withheld the release of $391 million in vital military assistance, appropriated by Congress on a bipartisan basis, which Ukraine needed to fight Russian aggression; and second, President Trump withheld a long-sought-after White House meeting which would confirm to the world that America stands behind Ukraine in its ongoing struggle.

The president's conduct is wrong. It is illegal, it is dangerous and it captures the worst fears of our founder -- frame -- of our founders and the framers of the Constitution. Since President George Washington took office in 1789, no president has abused his power in this way. Let me say that again. No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections. Prior presidents would be shocked to the core by such conduct, and rightly so.

Now, because President Trump has largely failed to convince the country that his conduct was remotely acceptable, he has adopted a fallback position. He argues that even if we disapprove of his misconduct, we cannot remove him for it. Frankly, that argument is itself terrifying. It confirms that this president sees no limits on his power or on his ability to use his public office for private gain.

And of course, the president also believes that he can use his power to cover up his crimes. That leads me to the second article of impeachment, which charges that the president categorically, indiscriminately and unlawfully obstructed our inquiry, the congressional inquiry into his conduct.

This presidential stonewalling of Congress is unprecedented in the 238-year history of our constitutional republic. It puts even President Nixon to shame.

Taken together, the articles and the evidence conclusively establish that President Trump has placed his own personal political interests first. He has placed them above our national security, above our free and fair elections, and above our system of checks and balances. This conduct is not America First, it is Donald Trump first. Donald Trump swore an oath to faithfully execute the laws. That means putting the nation's interests above his own. And the president has repeatedly, flagrantly violated his oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERHARDT: And I just want to stress that if this -- what we're -- if what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created a Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NADLER: All of the legal experts who testified before the House Judiciary Committee, those invited by the Democrats and those invited by the Republicans, all agreed that the conduct we have charged constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors.

Professor Michael Gerhardt, the author of six books and the only joint witness when the House considered President Clinton's case, put it simply. "If what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable."

Professor Jonathan Turley, called by the Republicans as a witness, agreed that the articles charged an offense that is impeachable. In his written testimony, he stated, "The use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one's political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense," close quote.

Thus far, we have presented the core factual narrative. None of that record can be seriously disputed, and none of it will be disputed.

We can predict what the president's lawyers will say in the next few days. I urge you, Senators, to listen to it carefully.

[13:15:00]

You will hear accusations and name-calling. You will hear complaints about the process in the House, and the motives of the managers. You will hear that this all comes down to a phone call that was perfect, as if you had not just seen evidence of a months-long government-wide effort to extort a foreign government, but you will not hear a refutation of the evidence. You will not hear testimony to refute the testimony you have seen.

Indeed, if the President had any exculpatory witnesses, even a single one, he would be demanding their appearance here instead of urging you not to permit additional witnesses to testify. So now let me offer a preview of the path ahead.

First, we will examine the law of impeachable offenses with a focus on abuse of power. That will be the subject of my presentation then my colleagues will apply the law to the facts. They will demonstrate that the President has unquestionably committed the high crimes and misdemeanors outlined in the first article of impeachment. Once those presentations are concluded we will take the same approach to demonstrating President Trump's obstruction of Congress.

The second article of impeachment we will begin by stating the law then we will review the facts and then we will apply the law to the facts proving that President Trump is guilty on the second article of impeachment as well. With that roadmap to guide us I will begin by walking through the law of abuse of power.

Here I'll start by defining the phrase, in the Constitution high crimes and misdemeanors. When the framers selected this term they meant it to capture, as George Mason put it, all manner of great and dangerous offenses against the nation. And in contemporary terms the framers had three specific offenses in mind, abuse of power, betrayal of the nation through foreign entanglements and corrupt of elections.

You can think of these as the ABC's of high crimes and misdemeanors, abuse, betrayal, and corruption. The framers believed that any one of these standings alone justified removal from office. Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School explained this well before the House Judiciary Committee. Here is his explanation of why the framers created the impeachment power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FELDMAN: The framers provided for the impeachment of the President because they feared that the President might abuse the power of his office for personal benefits, to corrupt the electoral process and ensure his re-election, or to subvert the national security of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NADLER: That is the standard as described by Professor Feldman. It is correct. And of course where all three of these concerns appear at once, abuse, betrayal, and corruption, that is where we have the strongest possible case for removing a President from office. Later on we will apply this rule to the facts.

Abuse, we will show that President Trump abused his power when he used his office to solicit and pressure Ukraine to meddle in our elections for his personal gain. Betrayal, we will show that he betrayed vital national interest, specifically our national security, by withholding diplomatic support and military aid from Ukraine even as it faces armed Russian aggression. Corruption, President Trump's intent was to corrupt our elections to his personal, poetical benefit.

He put his personal interest in retaining power above free and fair elections. And above the principal that America's must govern themselves without interference from abroad.

Article 1 thus charges a high crime and misdemeanors that leads abusive power, betrayal of the nation, and corruption in the elections into a single unforgivable scheme. That is why this President must be removed from office, especially before he continues his effort to corrupt our next election. The charges set forth in the first article of impeachment are firmly grounded in the Constitution of the United States. Simply stated, impeachment is the Constitution's final answer to a President who mistakes himself for a king.

The framers had risked their freedom and their lives to escape monarchy. Together, they resolved to build a nation committed to democracy and the rule of law, a beacon to the world in an age of aristocracy. In the United States of America, we the people would be sovereign. We would -- we would choose our leaders and hold them accountable for how they exercise power in our behalf.

[13:20:00]

In writing our Constitution, the framers recognized that we needed a chief executive who could lead the nation with efficiency, energy and dispatch, so they created a powerful presidency and vested it with immense public trust. But their solution created a different problem.

The framers were not naive. They knew that power corrupts, they knew that republics cannot flourish and that people cannot live free under a corrupt leader. They foresaw that a president faithful only to himself would endanger every American so the framers built guardrails to ensure that the American people would remain free and to ensure that out of control presidents would not destroy everything that they sought to build.

They imposed elections every four years to ensure accountability. They banned the President from profiting off of his office. They divided the powers of the federal government across three branches and they required the President to swear an oath to faithfully execute the laws.

To the framers, the concept of faithful execution was profoundly important. It prohibited the President from exercising power in bad faith or with corrupt intent and thus ensured that the President would put the American people first, not himself.

A few framers would have stopped there. This minority feared vesting any branch of government with the power to remove a President from office. They would have relied on elections alone to address rogue presidents. But that view is -- was decisively rejected at the constitutional convention.

Convening in the shadow of rebellion and revolution, the framers would not deny the nation an escape from presidents who deemed themselves above the law. Instead, they adopted the power of impeachment. In so doing, they offered a clear answer to George Mason's question, "shall any man be above justice?"

As Mason himself explained, "some mode of displacing an unfit magistrate is rendered indispensable by the fallibility of those who choose as well as by the corruptibility of the man chosen." Unlike in Britain, the President would answer personally to Congress and thus to the nation for any serious wrongdoing.

But this decision raised a question. What conduct would justify impeachment and removal? As careful students of history, the framers knew that threats to democracy can take many forms. They feared would be monarchs but also warned against fake populists, charismatic demagogues and corrupt kleptocrats.

In describing the kind of leader who might menace the nation, Alexander Hamilton offered an especially striking portrait. Mr. Schiff read this portrait in his introductory remarks and it bears repetition. "When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortunate, bold in his temper, known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty, when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity, to join in the cry of danger to liberty, to take every opportunity of embarrassing the general government and bringing it under suspicion, to flatter and fall in with all of the nonsense of the zealots of the day, it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ride the storm and direct the whirlwind."

Hamilton was a wise man. He foresaw dangers far ahead of his time. Given the many threats they had to anticipate, the framers considered extremely broad grounds for removing presidents. For example, they debated setting the bar at maladministration, to allow removal for run of the mill policy disagreements between Congress and the President.

They also considered very narrow grounds, strictly limiting impeachment to treason and bribery. Ultimately, they struck a balance. They did not want presidents removed for ordinary political or policy disagreements but they intended impeachment to reach the full spectrum of presidential misconduct that might threaten the Constitution and they intended our Constitution to endure for the ages.

So they adopted a standard mint (ph), as Mason put it, to capture all manner of great and dangerous offenses incompatible with the Constitution. This standard, borrowed from the British Parliament, was high crimes and misdemeanors.

In England, this standard was understood to capture offenses against the constitutional system itself. That is confirmed by the use of the word "high" as well as by parliamentary practice.

[13:25:00]

From 1376 to 1787, the House of Commons impeached officials on a few general grounds, mainly consisting of abuse of power, betrayal of national security and foreign policy, corruption, treason, bribery and disregarding the powers of Parliament.

The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" thus covered offenses against the nation itself. In other words, crimes against the British Constitution. As scholars have shown, the same understanding prevailed on this side of the Atlantic.

In the colonial period and under newly ratified state Constitutions, most impeachments targeted abuse of power, betrayal of the revolutionary cause, corruption, treason and bribery. These experiences were well known to the framers of the Constitution.

History thus teaches that high crimes and misdemeanors referred mainly to acts committed by officials using their power of privileges that inflicted grave harm on society. Such great and dangerous offenses included treason, bribery, abuse of power, betrayal of the nation and corruption of office, and they were unified by a clear theme -- officials who abused, abandoned or sought to benefit personally from their public trust and who threatened the rule of law if left in power faced impeachment and removal -- abuse, betrayal, corruption. This is exactly the understanding the framers incorporated into the Constitution.

As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wisely observed, "the purpose of the Constitution was not only to grant power but to keep it from getting out of hand." Nowhere is that truer than in the presidency. As the framers created the formidable Chief Executive, they made clear that impeachment is justified for a serious abuse of power.

James Madison stated that impeachment is necessary because the President quote "might pervert his administration into a scheme of oppression," closed quote. Hamilton said the standard for removal had an abuse or violation of some public trust.

And in Massachusetts, Reverend Samuel Stillman asked "With such a prospect of impeachment, who will dare to abuse the powers vested in him by the people. Time and again Americans who wrote and ratified the Constitution confirmed that presidents may be Impeached for abusing the power entrusted to them.

To the framing generation moreover, abuse of power was a well understood offense. It took two basic forms. The first occurred when someone exercised power in ways far beyond what the law allowed. Or in ways that destroyed checks on their own authority. The second occurred when an official exercised power to obtain an improper personal benefit, while ignoring or injuring the national interest.

In other words, the president my commit an impeachable abuse of power in two different ways: by engaging in clearly forbidden acts. or by taking actions that are allowed but for reasons that are not allowed. For instance to obtain corrupt private benefits.

Let me unpack that idea, starting with the first category. Conduct clearly inconsistent with the law, including the law of checks and balances. The generation that rebelled against George III knew what absolute power looked like. It was no abstraction to them. They had a different idea in mind when they organized our government. Most significantly they placed the president under the law, not above it. That means the president may exercise only the powers vested in him by the Constitution. He must also respect the legal limits on the exercise of those powers.

A president who egregiously refuses to follow these restrictions by engaging in wrongful conduct may be subject to impeachment for abuse of power. Two American impeachment inquiries have involved claims that a president grossly violated the Constitution's separation of powers. The first was in 1868 when the House impeached President Andrew Johnson who had succeeded Abraham Lincoln after his assassination at Ford's Theater.

In firing the secretary of war, President Johnson allegedly violated the Tenure of Office Act, which restricted the president's power to remove cabinet Members during the term of president who had appointed them. The House of Representatives approved articles charging him with conduct forbidden by law. That is an action that is an abuse of power on its face. Ultimately the Senate acquitted President Johnson by one vote. This was partly because there was a strong argument that the Tenure of Office Act, which President Johnson was charged with violating, was itself unconstitutional -

[13:30:00]