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Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) Interviewed on House Managers Presentation of Impeachment Case against President Trump; Soon: House Managers Begin Final Day of Arguments. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congresswoman Val Demings, thank you for being with us this morning. We'll let you go prepare for the presentations, which being in just a few hours.


BERMAN: And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom is next. For our U.S. viewers, a big day in the impeachment trial. NEW DAY continues now.

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

BERMAN: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, January 24th, it's 8:00 in the east. And in just a few hours, House managers will have their final chance to make their case unchallenged that the president should be removed from office, and also, really, the final chance to make the case that the trial of the president should include witnesses previously unheard from and documents previously unseen. There are some signs that Senate Republicans have already made up their minds, at least most of them have. First, the case made by the lead manager Adam Schiff last night.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA) CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If right doesn't matter, it doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the Framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well-written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn't matter, we're lost.


BERMAN: In terms of new witnesses, without Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, there is virtually no way for Democrats to get the numbers, the 51 votes they need, which is why this sentence, this statement from Lisa Murkowski concerned so many of them. She says "The House made a decision that they didn't want to slow things down by having to go through the courts, and yet now they're basically saying you guys got to go through the courts. We didn't, but we need you to." That's from Lisa Murkowski. The question is, does that sound like a senator who is itching to vote yes on witnesses?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned Mitch McConnell and the president's allies are working hard behind the scenes to convince Republicans that new witnesses would extend the trial indefinitely. And that's the same message the White House is sending as well. They are threatening to exert, the president is, to exert executive privilege on every new witness or document.

So today, House prosecutors will focus on the obstruction of Congress case against the president. Tomorrow Mr. Trump's legal team gets its turn.

Joining us now is one of the jurors. He is Republican Senator John Barrasso. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, (R-WY): Thanks for having me, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you. I know you guys have had late hours, I know you've had busy days, so we really appreciate it. So let's start here. What have you -- what new information have you learned from the House managers' presentation?

BARRASSO: In some ways it's like Groundhog's Day. About every hour- and-a-half they start over again. I think one of the interesting things yesterday afternoon, they deviated from that by spending so much time talking about Vice President Joe Biden and the money that his son Hunter was given by a Ukrainian company under evaluation for corruption to the point that this morning in "The New York Times," the headline on the front page was that the case has taken a risky turn yesterday by so much focus and discussion about the Bidens, even in Adam Schiff's closing statements last night.

CAMEROTA: I think that part of what they were talking about was the corruption of the prosecutor who had been in charge and that then Vice President Biden had, along with allies, effectively gotten rid of and then suddenly came back to the fore with President Trump.

But I want to get back to what you were saying originally. So you think it's repetitive and Groundhog Day. So you've learned nothing new? That would suggest that you watched all of the hours of the House impeachment case. Were you able to do that? Were you able to read all of the transcripts before now?

BARRASSO: What I'm saying, Alisyn, is that some of the videos that they've been playing for this, the third day, they have played, like Fiona Hill, I think I must have seen one of those videos five or six or seven times. And I think for most senators, after they see something a couple of times, they don't need to see it six times. I understand that a lot of these arguments are being made for people at home who can't watch all day long. But I trust those people at home. I would say let the voters decide.

The last guest you just had on, Representative Demings, who is one of the managers, she has said the evidence is overwhelming. We heard Jerry Nadler saying they have a mountain of evidence. It's rock solid evidence. I think that after we hear the House, after we hear the White House make their case the next three days, then we're going to have 16 hours of time to ask questions. All of the senators can ask questions. We're then going to vote. Do we need additional information? Do we need to hear from new witnesses, or should we move to a final decision?


CAMEROTA: And what's your feeling about that?

BARRASSO: I want to hear what the White House says in their defense. I want to hear the 16 hours of questions. But if the case is overwhelming by the House, and this is about removing the president of the United States, the most serious decision I think that the Senate would ever be asked to make, then we may know that we've had enough. People can make their own decisions. But if those people say, no, I need even more information, then you can bring in a number of witnesses, and you know there's a list on both sides.

CAMEROTA: And you're open to hearing from witnesses?

BARRASSO: Well, I'm going to -- I'm open to take a vote after three or four more days of hearing testimony and asking and answering questions to say, do we need more information or can we go to final judgment at that time?

CAMEROTA: Case in point, let's just break it down for people at home so that we can be specific. For instance, do you know enough about that August 29th cable from Ambassador Bill Taylor, he was so alarmed, he says, by what he was seeing that he sent a cable, which he'd never done before, to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the aid. Do you know enough about that cable?

BARRASSO: I know enough about the situation in Ukraine having been there three times, having been there when the Russian helicopters landed in Crimea to take Crimea. I know about the incursions. I've been to meet with the freedom fighters in eastern Ukraine.

CAMEROTA: Sure, but I mean about the hold on the aid.

BARRASSO: I know enough about how the Obama administration --

CAMEROTA: Of course, I know that you have been there --

BARRASSO: -- had withheld aid for years, and now the president of the United States has done much more for the people of Ukraine than any previous administration. So I know a lot about that situation.

CAMEROTA: But in terms of holding the aid, do you know what so alarmed Ambassador Bill Taylor? Because that's one of the things that Chairman Schiff was talking about that you could get the answer to what was so alarming, Bill Taylor, that he sent a never before done first-person cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So about that, would you like to know more?

BARRASSO: Actually, the House manager in the last segment said the evidence already is overwhelming. If the evidence truly is overwhelming that the House has brought forward, then everybody ought to be able to vote immediately on that evidence alone and don't need any more information.

CAMEROTA: I hear what you're saying. But they're saying --

BARRASSO: This is the case that's being presented by the House. What the House did was rush this --

CAMEROTA: But they're also saying -- you know that the House wants to hear from witnesses and more documents. They've also said that repeatedly. So wouldn't it be helpful to have all the information?

BARRASSO: You know, Alisyn, what this is about, and Chuck Schumer has been pretty out front about it. This isn't about removing the president. It's about Chuck Schumer trying to become the majority leader in the United States Senate. He has targeted specific members of the Senate. He has attacked the Senate, the process, the senators, running commercials against them. That's what this so much of this is about. It's not just about removing the president. It's about trying to defeat four Republican senators who are going to be running in 2020. So he is the majority leader. He said so much in "The New York Times."

CAMEROTA: So you think that everything that is happening in the Senate is about Chuck Schumer, not about why aid to Ukraine was held up?

BARRASSO: Oh, much of it is, absolutely. This is an effort by the Democrats to take control of the majority of the United States Senate. It's about the 2020 election. I would say let the voters decide. Voting is starting next Monday in Iowa, in New Hampshire the week after that. People are going to have a chance to vote in November for the president. Adam Schiff said that the 2016 election wasn't legitimate and the 2020 election isn't going to be legitimate. I don't know who made him the judge and the jury on all of these things. I have much more faith in letting the American voters decide. This is an election year, and what they're doing now is interfering, I believe, with the election process, not only for president but also for the United States Senate.

CAMEROTA: In terms of voters and what they've said they want in terms of polling, they have been pretty unanimous throughout many polls in saying that they do want to hear from witnesses. It's 69 percent in some polls. It's 70 percent in other polls.

But I want to ask you one last thing about something that one of your Senate colleagues said. This is from Senator Marsha Blackburn. While this was going on yesterday, she tweeted -- and I'm not sure that -- maybe it was during a break. I'm not sure about the timing. It was at 4:06 p.m. But she tweeted about Colonel Vindman. And she said "Adam Schiff is hailing Alexander Vindman as an American patriot. How patriotic is it to badmouth and ridicule our great nation in front of Russia, America's greatest enemy?" And then she went on to say things that have not been proven about Alexander Vindman. She basically is besmirching him, she's saying that he is friends with the whistleblower, she saying he's a liberal. She's saying all sorts of things that I don't think she could actually know. But is Colonel Vindman a patriot or not?


BARRASSO: I don't -- every senator speak for themselves. She will speak for herself, and you can ask her where that all came from. But I will tell you, in terms of you mentioned some polling numbers. CNN's poll says a majority of Americans believe what's happening in the Senate is a fair trial, and only one in three Americans believe that what happened in the house behind closed doors and by keeping the president's team off the field was a fair process. Only one in three thought that the House was fair. A majority in a CNN poll say the Senate is fair.

CAMEROTA: Well, that is great that you have the endorsement of the American people, but they do also believe that in a fair trial, you do hear from witnesses.

BARRASSO: Well, the evidence is overwhelming. We've talked about that in the past. This is a little different than what you would talk about a courtroom trial. Clearly, we're going to have a chance to hear from the White House defense. We're going to ultimately make a decision of if we need more information, more witnesses, whether that's Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, the whistleblower, Adam Schiff himself, whether it's John Bolton. You can run a list of names. We're going to have a chance to vote on that because we're using the same process that was used in the Bill Clinton impeachment.

And you know Chuck Schumer voted against all witnesses at that time and actually voted to summarily dismiss the charges. We're going to have a chance to vote on witnesses, but only after we hear the defense from the White House, and then 16 hours of questions by the senators. And if the evidence is truly overwhelming, we shouldn't need to hear from anyone else at that time.

CAMEROTA: Also senator, I know you sit next to Senator Lindsey Graham.


CAMEROTA: And where was he during the moment that his archival video was played from 1999?

BARRASSO: Well, I'm sure -- it's interesting because you don't see the entire Senate chamber on both sides. This is bipartisan. There are usually about 10 or 11 senators who are standing up against the back walls. Some of these have back problems, some of these folks have leg concerns. They stand. They stretch. They're in the chamber watching, but they don't necessarily are doing it from their seats.

CAMEROTA: So did he see that video of him seeming to say, well, actually, really saying the opposite of what he is saying now?

BARRASSO: I talked to him about it. He said I looked pretty good back then, didn't I? So I know he saw the video.

CAMEROTA: OK, there you go. And I also heard you say, just on a lighter note, that you're afraid that Senator Lindsey Graham is going to get you thrown in jail. And why is that?

BARRASSO: Because every day they start the procedure and say you have to be silent under penalty of imprisonment. And you know, Lindsey is a talkative guy. I sit next to him, and he has a lot of things he likes to share. You know how it was back in school, Alisyn. The teacher blames the guy that's saying shh, but the guy that has actually started it sometimes gets away with it.

CAMEROTA: I do remember that, senator. Of course, that begs the question, are people taking this seriously? Are your Republican colleagues who we see have the fidget spinners and all of that, do you sense that people are engaged enough?

BARRASSO: People are very engaged, very focused. Sometimes when they play a video for the sixth or seventh time for the benefit of the viewers at home, if we've seen something six or seven times like a TV commercial, you might say, I don't need to see this again. I know what they're doing. But that's what some of this is not really meant for the senators in the chamber who have seen this before. As I said in so many ways it's like Groundhog's Day. After an hour-and-a-half presentation, they go back and start all over, and you see that with each of the managers making their arguments. You see it with Adam Schiff. They're really not bringing forth new information. They didn't yesterday, and I wonder if they will today or it will just be a rehash of the information that we've already heard.

CAMEROTA: And we'll see if the president's team brings forth new information or repeats any of their points tomorrow.

BARRASSO: They haven't had a chance to even start yet.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

BARRASSO: They haven't had a chance to start.

CAMEROTA: Of course, tomorrow we'll be here watching them begin their case tomorrow. But Senator Barrasso, again, we know it's a busy day for you. Thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

BARRASSO: Thanks, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Two things. First of all, I think you just ratted out Lindsey Graham. I think John Roberts, if he wants to put Lindsey Graham behind bars, just had testimony that could actually do it.

Number two, that was a great interview. You asked him a question, what about the memo written by Bill Taylor to Mike Pompeo?

CAMEROTA: That's one thing we could hear more of.

BERMAN: He gave you three answers. None of them were to the actual question you asked. I counted at least three different answers. It was really interesting to hear that.

BERMAN: Just a few hours from now, the House impeachment managers get their final chance to make their case to the Senate unopposed. We will discuss much more of what's at stake, next.



BERMAN: In just a few hours, the final chance for the House impeachment managers to present their case unopposed, that is before the president's defense team begins their arguments.

Joining us now, CNN political commentators, Charlie Dent, the former Republican congressman; CNN political commentator, Joe Lockhart, he was President Clinton's press secretary during his impeachment, and Joshua Geltzer, former senior director for counterterrorism for the National Security Council and a Georgetown law professor.

And, Professor, I want to start with you here, because you're more educated than the rest of us. You note the house managers have been making three arguments. One, abuse of power, two, obstruction of Congress, and then the third, which is you, senators, are on the hook for what we consider to be the House managers a cover-up.

Today, we're going to hear the case about obstruction of Congress. But I expect very much for the managers to lean into that third area you're talking about. What do you think they will do?

JOSHUA GELTZER, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: I think that's exactly right. On the surface, today's presentation may focus on the president and how, according to that second article, he obstructed Congress. He said no documents. No witnesses, asserted the notion of absolute immunity, despite courts rejecting it. But that whole presentation will be like holding up a mirror to the U.S. Senate itself and saying, do you want to be part of this obstruction? Or do you want to be a place where, in fact, the full truth comes out? Witnesses do show up? Subpoenas get approved and documents come in.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Dent, what about that? Do you think that your colleagues in -- your Republican colleagues in the House and now what you're seeing in the Senate, haven't they surrendered to the idea that the president has obstructed them from seeing all the documents?


I mean, they are -- they seem to be quite comfortable with that. We just had Senator John Barrasso on who feels like it's too repetitive. They don't need to see any more documents.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I would have to think that most Republican senators right now believe in their own guts, even if they haven't said it publicly, that what the president has done here has been terribly wrong. I think that's -- that's clear. And I think they probably feel very resentful they've been placed in this position, and it's true.

I think they've heard all the arguments before. And I think they have to do a real gut check here. You know, do they want witnesses or not? And that's the big question.

And I think, you know, right now, it's a close call whether you'll get those four Republican votes. I think they should. If I were a Republican senator right now, I have to look myself in the mirror and say, you know what, would I ever have used my office as a senator to solicit a foreign head of government to benefit my campaign? And every one of them would say, absolutely not. And I think that's what we're up against here, the question of standards.

And that's the sad part of this whole discussion. I thought I understood the rules around Washington about the things you could and couldn't do. And this president is just shattering those norms and standards.

BERMAN: Well, that's the thing people have been discussing, which is when the president is not convicted and not removed from office, what is to keep a future president or senator from making a specific request before a government to get involved in an election? Because now, there's precedent that you can do it and not have any kind of sanction.

America is going to have to live with that going forward. And I don't think we know yet the repercussions.

Joe, I want to read a statement from Senator Lisa Murkowski. She's one of the Republicans that Democrats absolutely need to get the 51 votes for witnesses. She says the House made a decision they didn't want to slow things down by going through the courts. And yet, now they're basically saying you guys got to go through the courts. We didn't, but we need you to.

So, if you are a Democrat this morning, which, in fact, you are, and you see that statement, does that fill you with hope that she may vote to hear witnesses?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It doesn't fill me with hope. I don't know that it fills me with as much dread as you might expect because none of this is on the level. I think Congressman Dent just made the point that this is a gut check. And I am -- I've been around this long enough to know the Senate of today is not the Senate of 20 years ago and certainly not the Senate of 50 years ago that passed the Great Society, Civil Rights, Voting Rights Act. That's impossible to think of with the cast of characters in there.

These people will go and do a check and they'll do a check, and it goes to what Schiff was saying last night. They'll do a check about what's in their interest, not what's in the country's interest.

And I think Charlie is right. In their heart, they know this is wrong, but they know they are safer politically to stick with the president. And that in a nutshell tells you everything that's wrong in the Senate and the House in Washington right now.

CAMEROTA: She also said she was going to go home and take a bath and have a glass of wine which I find has a clarifying effect on my thoughts. BERMAN: You don't need an impeachment trial for that.

LOCKHART: That may be swelled with optimism. That helped.

CAMEROTA: Sometimes that does change your thinking. And so, professor, as you watch everything that unfolded yesterday and prepare for today, do you think that ultimately we will see more documents, more witnesses?

GELTZER: It's my hope at least because the American people, and you've been discussing this morning the polling numbers on this. Whatever they think of Donald Trump, whatever they think of the Ukraine extortion scandal, they do think that what's happening in the Senate should look like a real trial. And whether that leads to a claim of exoneration or whether that leads to his removal from office, they want to see what they see in other trials, what they see in the movies, on television, because it's based in reality which is witnesses who show up and tell the truth and put the facts out there.

And if that makes it uncomfortable for senators to have to vote one way or the other, so be it. But the American people want that and they're entitled to it.

BERMAN: You talk about discomfort there. That's what the argument that Mitch McConnell is making behind the scenes. If you vote for witnesses, the White House is going to exert executive privilege and this is going to go on and it's going to be so awkward.

Professor, from a legal standpoint, though, isn't that a circular argument here because the House managers are saying we need witnesses because the president has blocked them to this point and the Senate Republicans argument is, he's going to keep on blocking them so we can't have them?

GELTZER: Absolutely right. It's indulgence. It's acquiescence in the very article of impeachment, the second one, that's being brought to the Senate floor. The idea that because the president resisted, not just particular documents, not just certain lines of questioning for witnesses but wholesale, because the president said we're fighting all the subpoenas. Those were his words. Now for the Senate to say, well, we want to indulge that or acquiesce in that, that seems to be a dereliction of duty.


That Senate -- that role of the Senate in our constitutional system, they seem to be almost giving it away.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Congressman Dent, you said earlier that you believe that if they do a gut check, if your Republican colleagues do a gut check and they were forced -- you know, if you give them a truth serum or whatever, that they would say that they believe what the president did is really wrong.

But how do you know that? I mean, I'm just curious. What's your evidence of that? Because it seems as though when we get to interview Republicans, that there is an ethical -- their ethics have changed. I mean, you know, I think what we just heard senator Barrasso say was, well, I saw what was happening in Ukraine, and I am very happy that the president agreed to give aid to Ukraine.

That doesn't sound like somebody who thinks what the president was doing was wrong.

DENT: Yes, but I haven't heard too many Republicans in Congress actually defend the actual conduct of soliciting Zelensky, you know, for the investigation. I think most of them are very uncomfortable with that, and then holding up the aid.

I think -- they don't argue the facts. Most of them will not argue the facts. They argue process, ad nauseam. And so I think that is the case.

And I've told you before, I was chair of the Ethics Committee. I never liked to have to sit in judgment of my colleagues. I didn't volunteer for that job, but somebody had to do it. And somebody got to sit down and say, here are the standards and here's what we expect.

And I was involved -- I was involved with witnessing some of my friends who are former members of Congress forced to resign or be sanctioned by the House for their own misdeeds or misconduct. And one thing I learned too, and this is what I find so stunning is that when a member of Congress would say something absurd and we would be asked to comment on it, that member would sometimes come to us and say, boy, I can't believe you said what you said about me. And I said, you owe me the apology. You're the one who caused the problem. And you are the one who started the fire.

And they scream about the firefighters. And that's what's happened with the president, unfortunately. He starts the fires and screams about the firefighters.

BERMAN: Congressman, Joe, professor, thank you all for being with us today.

CAMEROTA: Thanks a lot.

DENT: Thanks.

BERMAN: Coming up, we're going to speak to one of the people who will be in that room, one of the senators who will soon have to vote on witnesses and evidence. Where does he see this case going, and what more does he need to hear? That's next.