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Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is Interviewed about Impeachment Trial; Massive Explosion in Houston; "The Hill" Sill Reviewing Conspiracy Columns; Democrats Defend Biden. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 08:30   ET

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


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[08:31:19]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The impeachment trial of President Trump resumes a little bit later.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana, who has been in the room for every bit of this trial so far.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

If I can, I just want you to clear up one thing. You said watching this trial has been like sitting on a tractor. What exactly do you mean by that?

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Well, it's just that you spend long hours sitting on a tractor and listening to the radio or listening to CNN or whatever it might be. So I'm accustomed to spending long hours in a day in one spot. That isn't -- that isn't a problem.

I'm going to tell you, I found this trial very interesting. We've had some long days, but there's not a single day, and maybe not even a single moment of the day, that I haven't learned something. Not only learned something about the information in the charges, but learned something about the United States Senate as I see the people sitting around, some of them making this very, very seriously, others not as seriously. And I think that this is a very -- it's a very important time in our country's history because it's about accountability, it's about making sure that nobody's above the law.

BERMAN: It is interesting, you compare it to sitting on a tractor, which I might say is hard work, right? Sitting in a room listening to people make cases in a chair, not as hard to me. It doesn't seem as hard to me, yet a lot of your colleagues have been complaining not just about the hours but also about the repetition. Some Republican senators have been complaining that the House managers are saying the same thing repeatedly.

What do you make of that argument?

TESTER: Well, I think it's -- I think it's helpful because it instills what the arguments are in your head. I anticipate the defense is going to do the same thing. I think repetition is the key to expressing knowledge and making knowledge stick with you when you come to a deliberation. So I think it's important.

As far as working long hours and all that, I'm going to tell you, there's families all over this nation that work long hours every day, every week, every moment to make ends meet, to be able to afford health care and send their kids to college and the list goes on and on. We're not overworked in this joint, I'll tell you that. We can do more work.

BERMAN: So, Senator, you do represent a red state. You're a Democratic senator in Montana, which reliably votes for Republicans, at least for president.

What have you been hearing from your constituents about this?

TESTER: Well, I think my constituents want to know the truth and they want accountability. They don't want this process politicized. They just want to get to the truth so that they know that if somebody's done wrong, that they're held accountable.

I think in Montana, you know, as everywhere in the country, I don't think we're any different. We love this country and we want this country to be around for generations to come. And I think this is a moment in time that we have to take seriously because I do think our democracy and our country is on the line.

BERMAN: What happens if and when the president is not removed from office? What is to keep a future president from soliciting campaign help from a foreign country? Because there will be precedent. There will be precedent for a leader to make that request.

TESTER: Look, if the president is proved guilty on abuse of power, it opens the door for the next party and for the next president regardless of political party to run wild. And I think it's a bad precedent to set and that's why --

BERMAN: If he's found innocent. If he's -- sorry, if he's found not guilty.

TESTER: If he's -- if he's -- if he's found not guilty, then there better be evidence to prove that because I think that's important. But if he's found not guilty, that means the evidence has been shown that he hasn't done what's been claimed in the impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

BERMAN: And you think that opens the door for future presidents?

TESTER: Well, if he's found -- if he's found not guilty and those charges are debunked, I think it holds everybody accountable.

[08:35:00]

But if he's -- but if, in fact, those charges are not debunked and the evidence is not debunked and he is still found not guilty, we've got a problem. BERMAN: So, Senator, again, you are someone who will work across the

aisle. Have you made any outreach yet to some of these Republican senators who might be on the fence about whether hearing of future witnesses?

TESTER: Look, I think that that point was made very, very strongly on Tuesday with the amendments. I think that the prosecution has talked about information that they wish they had that they didn't and we could get with some subpoenas. And we've talked about witnesses, whether it's Mulvaney or Bolton or whoever. There's a number of them.

In the end, it -- the information that's being presented today and the need to get more information to be able to make a good decision and make this a fair trial, it really falls upon the individual members. And I will tell you that I don't want a member coming up to me and telling me what I need to do. And I do the same to them.

This is -- we're in a trial. We're in the same room all together. We're hearing the same information. I think we need witnesses. I think we need information, not because the House's case is weak, I think it's very compelling, but because I think it would help us in our decision-making.

And if President Trump is innocent on this, he should be demanding we have witnesses and that we have more information. And as far as I heard last night on one of the programs, President Trump saying, well, I would have to just make it so that they couldn't testify because they might give classified information. Look, these are adults. These are folks, for the most part, that have been in government for a while. They know how things work. That is not an excuse that holds water in my book.

BERMAN: Senator Jon Tester, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

TESTER: You bet.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John, there has been a huge explosion in Houston. A live report on what happened there, next.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: We do have some breaking news right now out of Houston.

There has been a huge explosion this morning at an industrial plant. If you look at your screen right now, you can see the destruction. The blast was captured on a surveillance camera nearby. Authorities say one person at this hour is unaccounted for.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us with the breaking news.

What have you learned in terms of the details, Ed? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, that plant area is also surrounded by the suburbs of northwest Houston. So one resident told one of our local affiliates this morning they thought their house had been struck by lightning. Other residents describing their ceilings caving in because of the shockwave emanating from this blast this morning. So an incredibly startling way to be rattled out of your bed around 4:30 Central Time this morning, just about three hours ago.

As you mentioned, one person unaccounted for at this point. Only one other injury reported so far. It's still early in all of this.

But emergency crews there on the scene are saying so far no reports of air quality issues. The local school district there says they will continue to resume classes as normal. They are urging people in that immediate area to avoid being outside and inhaling the air for the time being as they continue to do the surveys of the air quality around there.

But just absolutely stunning images coming out of Houston this morning as this blast rocked this area of northwest Houston around 4:30 this morning.

John.

BERMAN: All right, Ed, we'll take it thee. Thanks for staying on this for us.

So more than two months after announcing a review, "The Hill" newspaper has yet to complete its promised evaluation of columns written by John Solomon. He is the former executive reporter there who pushed these conspiracy theories about Ukraine which helped trigger the chain of events that led to the impeachment of the president.

CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy joins us.

And, Oliver, you know, John Solomon's name is all over all kinds of this testimony and the story, he's in that nexus, the combination between Giuliani and Parnas and Ukraine and everything here. So what's going on?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, John Solomon's really the guy who has helped shape public perception of Biden, of Ukraine, more than anyone really in the past couple of years. Any time you hear a Republican lawmaker, a president's defender, the president (INAUDIBLE) himself talk about Biden, Hunter Biden, you can probably point back to John Solomon's work. It's really the underpinning of the Republican Party's arguments when it comes to defending the president.

And so he's faced a lot of criticism from people who have relevant information. People who have firsthand knowledge of some of these events. They've come out and said, you know, in front of House investigators, in front of Congress, you know, these stories were not accurate. They're not true. And so "The Hill" newspaper announced this investigation more than two

months ago. They said, we're going to come out, we're going to annotate, correct when appropriate these columns. And we still haven't seen the findings of that review. The House impeached the president and "The Hill" newspaper says we're still reviewing these columns.

BERMAN: That's all they say, they say we're still looking? You've been pressing them.

DARCY: I've been pressing them for weeks. I'm asking them, you know, what's the update? What's going on? The editor in chief of the newspaper, Bob Cusack, told me yesterday they have no exact timetable. That's his words, no exact timetable for this review. But he says he's confident that it's going to be finished soon. When soon is, we don't know. And, again, there's no apparent timetable. So --

BERMAN: Is John Solomon still working there? Is he still working as a reporter?

DARCY: He is still in this -- he's definitely working in media. He's no longer working at "The Hill" newspaper. He's now a contributor on Fox. He's been, you know, a regular on Hannity, if you watch Hannity's show, night after night, you see John Solomon. He's one of the main characters, so to say, on Hannity's show. And he's still spreading these theories. He defends his reporting adamantly.

And so it's really interesting to see what "The Hill" does. Are they going to support his columns that he wrote there or are they going to come out and correct them? We're waiting to see. Hopefully we know before the Senate finishes the trial.

BERMAN: Hard to imagine that, because that could be three days from now.

But, Oliver Darcy, thank you very much for your reporting and being with us.

DARCY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, did House impeachment managers just open the door for President Trump's defense team to talk more about the Bidens?

[08:44:58]

We put that to a famous Harvard Law professor, next.

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JAY SEKULOW, OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: What I don't understand is for the last five hours, it's been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma. They've kind of opened the door for that response. So we'll determine, as a defense team, the appropriate way to do it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: In just hours, House impeachment managers will wrap up their case to convict and remove President Trump from office. And as you -- what you just heard was that on Thursday they tried what some lawyers believe to be a controversial tactic of bringing up the Bidens.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, as well as what we will see tomorrow, is Laurence Tribe. He is a Harvard Law School professor and author of "To Kill a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment."

Professor Tribe, thank you very much for being here.

LAURENCE TRIBE, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Hi, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So let's talk about that. So, bringing up the Bidens, which is what the Democrats, the House managers, did yesterday, good idea or bad idea?

[08:50:03]

TRIBE: I think it was a good idea because the door is already open. Everybody knows, or at least almost everybody knows that the only thing that the Trump defense can argue that even remotely resembles an actual defense on the merits, an actual explanation of why the president was not just dramatically and dangerously abusing his power is this cockamamie argument that comes from Putin-driven propaganda that there was a problem that triggered the president's concern, and it was Joe and Hunter Biden, that there was a real concern about corruption in Ukraine and that that's what made it legitimate for the president, despite the Impoundment Control Act, despite what everyone around him was saying, despite the fact that the Pentagon had already said, Mr. President, the corruption problem is not a reason to withhold this vitally needed aid --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TRIBE: That he was really concerned about corruption. And so if the prosecution hadn't done this, remember, they don't have a chance to rebut, then the defense would have walked right through that door, smeared Biden, created this myth. So they had to anticipate that and -- and, you know, kill it in advance. And I think they did a great job of it.

CAMEROTA: I think that's really interesting because what Jay Sekulow seemed to be suggesting there was, well, we weren't going to mention the Bidens, but they opened the door, so I guess now we're going to have to go back to the drawing board --

TRIBE: Right. Yes.

CAMEROTA: And figure out how to bring that up. I mean I think that that struck some as absurd.

But here's what struck you. I want to read what you tweeted about yesterday. You said, the House managers are doing a great job blowing up Trump's phony defenses in advance. I feel sorry for team Trump if I didn't remind myself that nobody is forcing them to represent a dictator wannabe, a demagogue who threatens all we stand for as a representative democracy.

So, basically, you are suggesting that the Trump team has their work cut out for them. You know Alan Dershowitz, of course. He was a longtime colleague. You have watched Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone in action. So what do you think their strategy is going to be in terms of defense?

TRIBE: Well, I think they're going to try to distract. They're going to try to say that the president really is a corruption fighter. They're going to say that we really need more evidence. This evidence isn't compelling. But then, on the other hand, they're going to argue there shouldn't be more evidence.

They're going to, you know, throw everything at the wall and hope that something sticks. They're going to make this very strange Alan Dershowitz argument that it doesn't matter if you abuse your power, that's not really enough like a crime. That's not really an impeachable offense. They're going to try to distract. They're ultimately, I think, going to say that even if the president did everything that's claimed, we really should keep him in power.

And I think that for people who have followed closely, and I think most people are hearing a lot of this stuff for the first time despite how repetitive it may seem to those of us who follow it closely, to people who actually take it all in, it's clear that we have a president who, as Adam Schiff said in his brilliant closing last night, is in it for himself. He's going to use every tool that the presidency gives him, control over hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to a beleaguered ally in order to get not real investigations into corruption, he doesn't care about that, he just wants them announced so that he can besmirch Biden whom he was worried about.

It's interesting that, you know, he had no concern about all the aid that was flowing to Ukraine before Biden announced for president. Then suddenly he discovers that of all the countries in the world, it's like Casablanca, of all the beer joints in the world, you have to stop here. Of all the countries in the world, Ukraine is suddenly the one where he's worried about corruption, even though the Pentagon has said they have a new corruption fighter as president. They need this money desperately. They need a White House meeting.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TRIBE: So once all of that is laid out, that for his own benefit, the president was willing to endanger our security --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TRIBE: And endanger the people on the ground, you have to realize, he's dangerous. And the people who say that doesn't matter, it wasn't really a crime, are desperately reaching for something that just isn't there. And I think as Adam Schiff said, if reality doesn't matter anymore, if truth doesn't matter, if right doesn't matter, then we're really lost. So I keep desperately hoping that people will listen and that even if he's acquitted, it will be recognized that he did what is charged and that no future president should do it because no future president can count on having somebody like Mitch McConnell there in his hip pocket to pull his -- pull him out of the fire.

[08:55:15]

CAMEROTA: Well, I appreciate that you keep bringing up that the Pentagon had certified those funds because Ukraine had, to their mind, resolved much of their corruption issues. So had the secretary of state certified that. So before the aid was held, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state said that they had licked their corruption problems enough that they were --

TRIBE: Right.

CAMEROTA: They were able to get that -- those funds.

But Professor Tribe, thank you very much for giving us your perspective as you have watched all of this unfold.

TRIBE: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: John.

BERMAN: All right, on top of all of this, we do expect to hear from Senate leaders shortly. What news will they have on the next steps in the trial? That's next.

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