Return to Transcripts main page


Soon, Democrats Begin Final Day of Case Against Trump; GOP Uses Trump's Executive Privilege Threat in Fight Against Witnesses; Schumer Speaks As Dems Lay Out Case To Remove Trump; Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) Discusses Impeachment & Schumer Outlining Need for Witnesses & Documents; Schumer Calls on Four GOP Senators to Vote for Witnesses in Press Conference; Democrats Launch Pre-emptive Strike on Trump's Lawyers over Bidens. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 11:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer, live here in Washington, alongside Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper and Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

Today, the Democratic House managers wrap up their presentations. They have right around eight hours left of the 24 hours allotted to them and we expect they will utilize every second of that time.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yesterday, the House Democrats focused on impeachment article number one, which is abuse of power.

Today, the focus is article two, allegation of obstruction of justice. Several allegations, rather, which says, quote, "Without lawful cause or excuse, President Trump directed executive branch agencies, offices and officials not to comply with House subpoenas."

That move blocked witness testimony and the production of documents in the House investigation into the president's withholding of security aid to Ukraine.

The president's renewed threat that he will assert executive privilege if the Senate votes to allow witnesses and more documents could dampen Democrats' hope of getting a few Republicans to break ranks and support the call for new evidence.

Our Dana Bash and Phil Mattingly are both our Capitol Hill now where they have been hearing from a host of Senators on the issue.

Dana, what is the argument? Why would the president's threat keep Republicans from voting to hear from more witnesses and to read more documents?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The argument that Republicans heard in a lunch yesterday is that, what the Democrats and the House are asking for now, that is something that they should have done and could have done when this impeachment process was moving through the House of Representatives.

But, more importantly, what they are saying is that it -- if and when the Senate votes, yes, we would like a witness, then the White House will undoubtedly claim executive privilege on someone like John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff, saying he can't tell you the things that he told me, because it is bound by executive privilege. That will have to go to the court.

So what the Republicans are hearing is, not only will that take time, which is maybe not that persuasive of an argument, but what they're hearing from their fellow Republicans is that it is hypocritical. They're saying the Democrats are being hypocritical because they didn't want to go to court before but they know they're going to go to court now.

According to Senator Lisa Murkowski, who spoke to our Jeremy Herb, it sounds like that had a little bit of sway with her because she repeated that notion back to him. But otherwise, they're keeping their powder very dry.

You heard Kirsten Gillibrand, a moment ago, who has a pretty good relationship with particularly Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, sort of female Senators across the aisle, and they're not going there and they're not engaging with the Democrats.

And probably not very much with the Republicans either because they're trying to keep their own council as they make what they understand are going to be very controversial decisions no matter which way they go on this question of witnesses.

BLITZER: That's an important point.

Phil, based on what you're hearing, what is the Democrats game plan going into this final day of their opening arguments?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, a couple of things you want to keep an eye on. As Jake noted, they're focusing on article two. They're going to be focusing on obstruction of Congress.

What dovetails with that argument and with that article is the pitch for exactly what you're talking about now, why you need the witnesses, why you need the documents, and why this argument you see today will be very sharply focused and tailored on that small group of Republicans Senators that Democrats hope will come over to their side, to help them get votes to -- whether to subpoena documents and witnesses going forward.

The other thing I think you're going to have to keep in mind, this is the close. This will be the closing argument at some point today.

Obviously, we saw House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff finish with a flourish last night. Even though it was a 9.5, 10-hour day, every Senator in the chamber, in their seats, rapt with attention, whether they like or dislike Adam Schiff. You'll see a significant portion, at least at the back half of the arguments today focusing on that. The reason why is this. Keep in mind, the Democrats have had an

unencumbered shot over the course of the last three days to make their case. Nobody standing up and objecting. Nobody giving the other side of things.

That's about to shift. The White House is about to get the same exact thing going in their direction before Senators get to ask questions and before that all-important crucial vote on whether or not to go forward on witnesses and subpoenas for documents.

Democrats know that. They understand that this will really be their last chance, to be able to answer questions, their last chance to make their case to the Republican Senators, to the people watching across the country.


They hope will help push public sentiment in their direction and plan to take advantage of that -- guys?

BLITZER: Phil, I want you to stand by.

Dana, stand by.

Joining us now, Republican Senator from Indiana, Mike Braun.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. MIKE BRAUN (R-IN): Good to be on.

BLITZER: We may have to break away temporarily just to hear what the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer says but you'll be with us, we'll get your reaction if we have to do that.

But let's start with a key issue now.

Do you believe, Senator, that freezing U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, almost $400 million, denying the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky, a meeting at the House and demanding an investigation into the president's political rival, the former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter Biden, do you believe that was benefiting U.S. national interests, benefiting Americans, or benefiting the president's personal political interests?

BRAUN: So obviously, that's the question that we all have been trying to grapple with. And I think, for me, I watched the House proceedings so closely, through all three versions, behind closed doors, public version, and then the four constitutional experts. And I think it is a serious question.

And all along, you know, I've said that it was inappropriate. Probably shouldn't have done it. Is it impeachable?

Because, Wolf, what we're dealing with here is a very binary equation. If you are impeached, and then either acquitted or convicted -- I think Nikki Haley said it best, it is the death sentence when you're engaged in an impeachment trial if it is a guilty verdict. You got to temper it all with that.

And I believe they are building as strong a circumstantial case as they can, and I don't think they have anything concrete. So whether that's going to fly or not or whether you need more information, we're going to be crossing that boundary here in a few days.

But the one thing we haven't had is the crossfire, the counterpoint, you know, from the defense. And I think there's going to be a lot that the Dems even set up for discussion, deeper and broader than what might have been the case had they not been so laborious and so detailed.

I heard most of that stuff, four, five times repeated, over the first couple of days. So I expect to see more of that today on obstruction of Congress.

BLITZER: Senator Braun, I want you to stand by. The Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is speaking now. Let's listen in and we'll discuss.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Senator Schiff gave a commanding closing argument at the end of the day. There are lots of constitutional precedents, lots of legal and factual arguments to make. But he spoke to the American people's common sense and appealed to the sense of right and wrong.

No Senator, Democrat or Republican, would deny it had an effect on the chamber.

And I look around at the Republican members, a lot of what they're hearing, they don't want to hear. They don't want to hear the true facts because it puts them in such difficult positions.

We're seeking light and the truth.


SCHUMER: And as you see, the truth always prevails, despite a few detours along the way.

In any case, they don't like to hear it. But they -- at several times yesterday, the testimony was so compelling, that their eyes were focused almost to a person last night on what Adam Schiff had to say.

Another moment was when Congress member, Garcia, talked about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. It was touching. And got to every American and I hope every Senator. Didn't get to all Senators. We heard about one of them, what she said yesterday.

But when Vindman stepped forward, a Purple Heart veteran, and said, his dad called and said, aren't you worried this will hurt you, he said this is America, we believe in the truth.

The truth matters. Right matters. And that's what we want. The plain truth. The managers also increased the case even further, for witnesses and


The granular discussion of the White House meeting, the infamous meeting where Bolton said to Fiona Hill that he didn't want to be part of any drug deal, it was clear who was the chief, cook and bottle washer in this whole horrible scheme, this whole evil scheme. Mick Mulvaney. Because Bolton said, Mulvaney, you and Sondland are doing this, I'm not part of it.


Why can't we hear from Mulvaney? He knew exactly what Trump did. He knew exactly what Trump's motivations were. He knew who else was in on the deal. There seemed to be many of them.

So it was incredible.

And one more thing stood out. The managers were anticipating the counterarguments from the president's counsel. Since the president's counsel goes second, they wanted to go forward.

I thought Rep. Nadler did an excellent job showing how the president doesn't need to have a -- doesn't need to have committed a criminal offense to be impeached and removed from office. Reflecting on what impeachment meant to the founding fathers.

Rep Garcia explained how to president's insinuations about the Bidens are baseless, anticipating that the president's lawyers would focus on the Bidens.

And Representative Schiff discredited this absurd idea that President Trump cared deeply about corruption and foreign countries. It was a brilliant strategy.

If the president's counsel now get up and make those arguments, every Republican Senator and the American people will have heard already why those arguments are utter nonsense.

So in short, the House managers have already set a very high bar for the president's counsel to meet. They laid out a series of facts, none of which are in dispute.

As the president's counsel prepares to mount their defense tomorrow, I hope they don't just sound like President Trump's tweets. That they don't simply resort to finger pointing, name calling and debunked conspiracies. As the American people know, this moment is far too important for that.

So after the very compelling case that the House managers have presented, boy, oh, boy, the president's counsel have their work cut out for them.

Now, as you know, every day, we hear a different story from the Senators, from many Senate Republicans, about why they oppose a fair trial and why we can't have witnesses and documents. It's usually some shiny object that has nothing to do with the actual facts and law of the case.

So here is the latest one. And that is, it will take too long if we do it later. That's the -- that's the diversion of the day. They have one a day.

And so let me say this. First, we heard the Republicans all vote to delay things. The Mitch McConnell scheme was to say, because he knew that a lot of Republicans were seriously thinking and are seriously thinking of witnesses and of documents, they said, let's not do it now, let's hear the arguments, and then do it.

And now they're saying, we don't have enough time to do it. Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth, holy moly. So -- but it is a very flimsy excuse.

First, as I said, Democrats attempted to settle this question at the beginning of the trial, so there would be no delay. We warned them. Say you want to do it later, it is going to take longer.

But, second, it is not going to cause much more of a delay. They point back to the House and said it will take months and months and months and months.

But if subpoenas are issued from the Senate, by definition, the subpoenas will be bipartisan. And they will be signed by the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. And people and those who are subject to those subpoenas are expected to comply.

Mr. Bolton has already announced he'd testify if the Senate issued a subpoena. He's not in the executive branch. So executive privilege cannot be used against him because it can't be used to prevent a witness who is willing to testify.

But even if witnesses don't comply with the subpoena, and those who work for the president might not, despite the bravery of people like Hill and Taylor, they would be given very prompt judicial review given the urgency and the stakes of an impeachment trial.

And finally, there's a simple answer. When our Republican friends claim it would take too long, they really want a fair trial, go tell the president not to invoke executive privilege. He's the one delaying it. Not us.


And if this is a serious as it should be, to them, they'll go to the president and say, we don't want executive privilege invoked.

If the president believes he did nothing wrong, that everything is perfect, he should have nothing to fear from these witnesses and documents. They're his appointees. The documents are written by people who are allies of him.

In Watergate, President Nixon considered invoking executive privilege to prevent White House aides from testifying in the Senate but quickly realized it would be untenable, as it is here now.

The Senate Watergate Committee, on a bipartisan basis, told President Nixon they would not accept an assertion of executive privilege to shield wrongdoing.

So the bottom line is, the argument that we shouldn't call witnesses because it would provoke a fight over executive privilege or take too long is flimsy.

If you believe the Senate ought to hear all the facts, you can say so and vote so. And if you do, stand by it. Well, don't say, I really want witnesses, but it will take too long. That's not the case.

The bottom line, we're seeking the truth in a momentous time in the American republic. It is on the shoulders of four Republican Senators to join us in demanding it.

We made the argument forcefully. The American people have made the argument forcefully that they want the truth. Will four Republican Senators, just four, rise to the occasion, do their duty to the Constitution, to their country, to seek the truth?

Who's next?

BLITZER: All right, so there's the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, has been kind enough, patient enough to stand by. He's been listening to Senator Schumer.

Let's get your reaction, Senator Braun. What did you think? Are you ready to allow witnesses and more documents to come forward in this next phase of this Senate trial?

BRAUN: So that's not first time I've heard exactly what Senator Schumer said. And as long as he's been here, I think he knew quite well what the dynamic was going to be. And I think they're going to have it play through that, the fact that it came over here, when it did, and that the rules will be controlled by our side.

And I was for a fair presentation. If I feel that I need more information, I'll have an open mind towards witnesses. But we already had 11 videotaped witnesses. They had three in the Clinton proceedings. And the only guideline we have, Wolf, is what happened 20 years ago.

So -- I think it is also a little bit of a full argument because when -- if and when we get to witnesses, it will certainly involve -- I'm almost 100 percent certain this would be across the board in our conference, a reciprocal nature of witnesses. And they know quite well who those witnesses would be on our side.

I think it is disingenuous to talk about their needing witnesses when they categorically dismissed the fact that any of our witnesses would be relevant. So that is a difficult discussion as well.

TAPPER: Senator, it's Jake Tapper.


TAPPER: John Bolton, the former national security adviser, made it clear he's ready and willing to testify, all he needs is a subpoena.


TAPPER: He's also made it clear through his attorney he has relevant information. Why would you not want to hear from him?

BRAUN: Well, I think, at this point, you've got to put it in the context of how long the whole process is taking to get here, stumbled in a way when the Mueller report didn't work out.

You have a guy like John Bolton, who knows which way he would testify? Bolster maybe the president's point of view.


BRAUN: I think that will fall into the larger framework. I can guarantee you, if Bolton comes in, there would have to be something worked out to what witness they would agree to, in a real quid pro quo. If they get a witness, we're going to get a witness.

I do know the process. If we get there, that is the way it will work, once we cross the threshold of whether we need more information.

I can tell you this, of any Senator here, I think I paid as much attention, because I heard comments, well, I learned something new. I watched all three versions of the House inquiry. And this is repackaged and the same information. There wasn't one frame in the audio visual that I had not seen before.

And they did put together an impressive presentation, if you look at the massive amount of information, and the repetition.

But I think it is going to have to cut more deeply if they're going to make the case, especially the people from where I'm from in Indiana and throughout the heartland of the country.

So I understand the inclination of somebody who is Republican to support a Republican president and a Democrat to support a Democratic president.


Are you not concerned that if the Senate does not do a thorough and vigorous consideration of the facts, including hearing from a very conservative Republican, former national security adviser, who is basically begging to testify to let the facts be known, are you not setting up an argument from Democrats this is a sham trial?

That Republicans who control the Senate didn't want any interest -- didn't have any interest in hearing all the relevant facts and, therefore, Democrats will argue, therefore, President Trump is not truly exonerated? He has actually just been helped by a coverup?

That is what Democrats will argue if Republicans do not permit those who want to testify to testify.

BRAUN: I think each Republican Senator will have to answer that question. And I think it is going to boil down to the context within which this all occurred.

I recently, just today, spoke to somebody from my home state, my hometown, that is not drilling in on the process part of it, or even what you talked about. Mostly concerned that it came over as a purely partisan package. So it is going to be different in every state, how this is measured.

I do think it is aimed at the swing states. And I think they probably did what they did on the first evening, to trot out each document request, each witness request, to kind of do it virtually, knowing that it may not get the witnesses. So I think they kind of covered their bases there.

And whether we're held accountable because we didn't fully get information, or whether we're held accountable by our own constituents that we're belaboring a process, is going to be up to each Senator to measure that.

BLITZER: So you'll make up your mind, I assume, in the next few days and we'll see what happens.

BRAUN: I will.

BLITZER: Senator Mike Braun, you've been very patient. Thank you very much for joining us.

BRAUN: You're welcome.

BLITZER: All right, Democrats launched a pre-emptive strike defending the former Vice President Joe Biden against attacks from the president's defense team. But could that backfire? The White House says yes.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage. I'm Anderson Cooper.

In less than two hours, Democrats will begin their final day of arguments.

Yesterday, they launched a pre-emptive strike, defending Joe Biden and directly addressing Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm that put Hunter Biden on its board, as Vice President Joe Biden pushed for the removal of the Ukrainian prosecutor who is investigating Burisma. That prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was widely seen as corrupt.


REP. SYLVIA GARCIA (D-TX): In short, the allegations against Vice President Biden are groundless.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Because Shokin was corrupt, Vice President Biden had urged his removal. This was in accordance with U.S. policy.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The phony political investigations that President Trump demanded from Ukraine were part of a scheme to sabotage a political rival, Joe Biden, and cheat in the 2020 election.


COOPER: According to reports, the investigation of Burisma had ended. Bringing all of this up was calculated but, Democrats say, a necessary risk. They maintain the real reason the president put pressure on Ukraine was he was bent on digging up dirt on a political rival and his actions were never about rooting out corruption.

The president's lawyers see it as an opportunity.


JAY SEKULOW, OUTSIDE LEGAL COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't understand, for the last five hours, it has been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma. They kind of opened the door for that response. We'll determine, as a defense team, the appropriate way to do it.


COOPER: Back now with our panel --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Give me a break. I mean, give me a break. Oh, we weren't going to raise -- oh, we weren't going to raise Burisma at all. But now that the Democrats have raised it -- I mean, come on.

Look, I don't blame the Republicans for trying to use this for political advantage. But to suggest that somehow they weren't going to raise Biden's name and they weren't going to mention Burisma until the Democrats, you know, raised it, that's complete phony baloney.

COOPER: It does seem -- it would be malpractice for them not to raise this.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, but I think putting aside whether they raise it or not, I think over the next three days, we're going to see something akin to the trial of Joe and Hunter Biden. That's what we can expect from the president's lawyers.

Imagine it. You know in an hour after hour, day after day of uninterrupted live TV time for the president and his lawyers to lay out their theories about Joe and Hunter Biden and the -- it is true, the Democrats were smart to anticipate that and try to pre-but that, but to prepare for a lot of Joe and Hunter Biden. COOPER: In fact, Laura, the idea of calling Hunter Biden as a witness,

which some Republicans have raised, that's besides the -- that would just interfere with Ross' point of just uninterrupted, they can say whatever they want to say for the next three days.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It would. The idea of shooting themselves in the foot and opening the door for that sort of discussion.

But as a prosecutorial strategy, you have got to take the wind out of the sails of the defense team being able to say, well, they haven't even mentioned it, what don't they want you to hear?

You want to lead with your trump -- forgive the pun -- but you also have to allow for the presentation of bad evidence that could present an Achilles heel for you.


Would I spend an exhaustive amount of time on the information? No?