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House Democrats in Final Day of Opening Remarks; The Impeachment Trial of Donald J. Trump. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2020 - 15:00   ET

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


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The framers of our Constitution were particularly fearful that a president might misuse or abuse the power of his office to undermine the free and fair elections at the heart of our democracy. Sadly, that moment has arrived.

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President Trump's repeated solicitation of a Ukrainian investigation was a clear effort to leverage foreign interference to bolster his prospects in the 2020 election. In other words, to cheat in his election. In our democracy, power flows from the will of the people as manifest in free and fair elections, one person one vote is fundamental in our democracy.

President Trump's invitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election for the purposes of helping him win an election undercut the Constitution's commitment to popular sovereignty. Americans are now left to wonder if their vote matters or if they're simply pawns in a system being manipulated by shadowy foreign forces working on behalf of corrupt interests of a lawless president.

Over the long-term, this weakens our democratic system's capacity for self-governance, by encouraging apathy and non-participation. Cynicism makes it easier for enemies to influence our politics and undermine the national good.

Indeed this is precisely what Vladimir Putin intended when he meddled in the 2016 election, for us to become more cynical, for us to lose faith in the notion that the American system of government is superior to the corrupt autocratic model of government that he has erected in Russia and sought to export to places like Ukraine.

These are not the free and fair elections that Americans expect or demand if foreign powers are interfering. How can we know that our elections are free from foreign interference, whether by disinformation or hacking or fake investigations? We must not become numb to foreign interference in our elections.

Our elections are sacred. If we do not act to put an end to the solicitation of foreign interference in our election by the president of the United States, the effect will be corrosive to our elections and our values. Future presidents may believe that they, too, can use the substantial

power inferred by them by the Constitution in order to undermine our system of free and fair elections, that they, too, can cheat to obtain power or keep it. That way disaster for the great American experiment in self-governance.

As you have seen, there is powerful evidence that President Trump will continue to betray the national interest to a foreign power and further undermine both our security and democracy. This creates an urgent need to remove him from office before the next election.

To explain the nature of that continuing threat, let me describe Russia's ongoing efforts to harm our elections. The president's corrupt refusal to condemn or defend against those attacks, his statements confirming that he welcomes foreign interference in our elections, so long as it is meant to help him, and his conduct proving that he will persist in seeking to corrupt elections at the expense of our security and at the expense of those elections.

Let's start with Russia's ongoing attacks on our democracy. At the heart of the president's Ukraine scheme is his decision to subscribe to that dangerous conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for interfering in 2016.

President Trump and his men pressured Ukraine into investigating this bogus piece of Russian propaganda, and in doing so, they aided Putin's concert -- concerted plot to undermine our security and democracy.

Special Counsel Mueller warned that Putin's plot was ongoing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): Is this -- in your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election or did you find evidence that suggests they'll try to do this again?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: No, it wasn't a single attempt, they're doing it as we sit here and they expect to do it during the -- the next campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: "Not a single attempt, they're doing it as we sit here and they expect to do it in the next campaign." That was Special Counsel Mueller's stark warning. And we now know that Director Mueller was right. Just the other week, we saw public reporting that Russian hackers (ph) may be using phishing e-mails to attack the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, presumably in search of dirt on Joe Biden.

Those are the same tactics deployed by the same adversary, Russia, that Special Counsel warned about in the last election. It may be Russia once again attempting to sway our election for one candidate, this time through Ukraine.

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Indeed, President Trump, to this very day, refuses to accept the unanimous assessment our Intelligence Community and law enforcement professionals -- that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign and poses a threat to the 2020 presidential election. Instead, he views it from his own personal lens, whether it is an attack on the legitimacy of his 2016 electoral victory.

Special Counsel Mueller's testimony on July 24, 2019, the day before the President's call with President Zelensky, contradicted President Trump's claim that this was quote "a clean campaign." Mueller found that individuals associated with the 2016 campaign of the President welcomed Russia's offers of assistance and adjusted their political strategy so that then candidate Donald Trump might benefit from Russia's assistance.

When they were subsequently asked by U.S. law enforcement about their activities, President Trump's advisors repeatedly lied. In Helsinki, in July of 2018, however, President Trump refused to acknowledge the Russian threat to our elections.

When a reporter explicitly asked whether he believed Putin or the U.S. intelligence agencies on the issue of foreign interference in the 2016 election, President Trump said quote "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia" and talked about the DNC server.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server -- why haven't they taken the server, why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee. I've been wondering that, I've been asking that for months and months and I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media -- where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be but I really do want to see the server.

But I have -- I have confidence in both parties. I -- I really believe that this will probably go on for a while but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server -- what happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They're missing, where are they?

What happened to Hillary Clinton's e-mails? 33,000 e-mails, gone, just gone. I think in Russia, they wouldn't be gone so easily. I think it's a disgrace that we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 e-mails. I --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: I'm sure you remember this. It was, I think, unforgettable for every American but I'm sure it was equally unforgettable for Vladimir Putin. I mean, there he is, the President of Russia, standing next to the President of the United States and hearing his own Kremlin propaganda talking points coming from the President of the United States.

Now if that's not a propaganda coup, I don't know what is. It's the most extraordinary thing -- it's the most extraordinary thing. The President of the United States standing next to the President of Russia, our adversary, saying he doesn't believe his own intelligence agencies, he doesn't believe them.

He's promoting this kooky, crazy server theory cooked up by the Kremlin, right next to the guy that cooked it up. It's a breathtaking success of Russian intelligence. I don't know if there's ever been a greater success of Russian intelligence.

Whatever profile Russia did of our President, boy did they have him spot on. Flattery and propaganda -- flattery and propaganda is all Russia needed. And as to Ukraine, well, they needed to deliver a political investigation to get help from the United States.

I mean, this is just the most incredible propaganda coup because as -- as I said yesterday, it's not just that the President of the United States standing next to Vladimir Putin is -- is reading Kremlin talking points -- he won't read his own national security staff talking points but he will read the Kremlin ones -- but it's not just that he adopts the Kremlin talking points, that would be bad enough.

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It's not bad enough, it's not damaging enough, it's not dangerous enough to our national security that he's undermining our own intelligence agencies, it's not bad enough that -- that he undermines those very agencies that he needs later, that we need later to have credibility -- we just had a vigorous debate over these -- the strikes against General Soleimani and the President has made his argument about what the intelligence says and supports. How do you -- how do you make those arguments when you say the U.S. Intelligence Community can't be believed?

Now we've had a vigorous debate about what that intelligence has to say. That's not the issue here. The issue here is if you undermine the credibility of your own intelligence agencies, you weaken the country for when you need to rely on them, for when you need to persuade your friends and your allies "you can trust us when we tell you this is what the intelligence shows."

How do you make that argument as the President of the United States when you've just told the world you trust the Russians more than your own people? You trust Rudy Giuliani more than Christopher Wray. How do you make that case?

And if you can't make that case, what does that mean to our security? But that's not the end of it. It's not just a propaganda coup, it's not just the undermining of our agencies, it's also that the buy in to that propaganda meant that Ukraine wasn't going to get money to fight the Russians.

I mean, that's one hell of a Russian intelligence coup. They got the President of the United States to provide cover for their own interference with our election. They got the President of the United States to discredit his own intelligence agencies. They got the President of the United States to drive a wedge between the United States and Ukraine.

They got the President of the United States to withhold aid from -- from Ukraine, in a war with Russia, in a war that is claiming Ukrainian lives every week. Has there ever been such a coup? I would submit to you in the entire length of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had no such success -- no such success.

And why? Because a former mayor of New York persuaded a President of the United States to sacrifice all of that for a cheap shot at his political opponent, for a smear against his political opponent. Was it worth it? I hope it was worth it -- I hope it was worth it for the President cause it certainly wasn't worth it for the United States.

Now, you could see President Trump did not blame Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence agencies who interfered in our election for the question surrounding his victory. He did not blame the people who worked for his campaign and were subsequently convicted of lying to our law enforcement agencies.

No, he blamed the investigators -- Special Counsel Mueller, the man charged with getting to the bottom of Russia's interference in 2016, and he chose to believe Vladimir Putin, a former Russian intelligence officer, rather than his own intelligence agencies.

We can see a pattern here. President Trump solicited interference from Russia as a candidate in 2016 and then his campaign welcomed Russian interference in the election. In Helsinki, President Trump chose to believe Putin over his own agencies.

"I don't see any reason why it would be," referring to Russia. Instead of denouncing Russia's interference, he denounced those investigating Russia's interference and he raised that now familiar DNC Crowdstrike server thing. "I really do want to see the server. I don't think we can go on without finding out what happened to the server."

That's the exact same server that President Trump demanded Ukraine investigate during his July 25th call (inaudible) Zelensky. When the President talked about the DNC server in Helsinki, with Vladimir Putin standing by his side, he was referencing the same discredited conspiracy theory about Ukraine interference in 2016 that Putin repeatedly promoted.

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Let's look at this Washington Post article from July 2018. "In the end, Trump's performance alongside Putin in the Finnish capital seemed like a tour through his most controversial conspiracy theories, tweets and off-the-cuff musings on Russia -- except he did it all while abroad, standing just feet from Putin, the leader of one of America's greatest geopolitical foes.

"The spectacle in Helsinki also underscored Trump's eagerness to disregard his own advisers, his willingness to flout the conclusions of his own intelligence community -- that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections -- and his apparent fear that pressing Putin on the subject might cast doubt on his electoral victory."

White House officials told The Washington Post that President Trump's remarks in Helsinki were, quote, "Very much counter to the plan." That's another understatement of the century.

If that sounds familiar, it's because the witness who testified before the House as part of the impeachment inquiry, they all said the same thing about the July 25th phone call. The president ignored vital national security issues he was supposed to raise and instead raised disproven conspiracy theories about 2016 and the DNC server, the very same Russian propaganda he publicly endorsed in Helsinki.

Do you think it's going to stop now? Do you think if we do nothing, it's going to stop now? All of the evidence is to the contrary. You know it's not going to stop.

The president just told one of the members of this body he still wants Biden investigated. It's not going to stop unless the Congress does something about it.

President Trump's betrayal began in 2016 when he first solicited Russian interference in our election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: That betrayal continued in Helsinki in 2018 when, as we saw, he rejected the intelligence community's assessment about Russian interference in that same election. When he criticized U.S. officials, investigating the Russia interference, and instead promoted Putin's conspiracy theory about Ukraine.

The betrayal continued in 2019, when he carried out a scheme to cheat in the 2020 election by demanding that the leader of Ukraine, a U.S. partner under military attack by Russia, announce an investigation into the same baseless conspiracy theory about a DNC server and the bogus allegations about Vice President Biden.

And the abuse of power continues. He is still trying to cheat in the next election. Even after the scheme came to light, even after it became the subject of an impeachment inquiry, it continued. And the false statements about it continued.

President Trump repeatedly asserted that he had a prerogative to urge foreign nations to investigate U.S. citizens who dare to challenge him politically. You know, I mean, just for a minute, we should try to step into the shoes of someone else. My father used to say, you don't understand a person until you step in their shoes. I always thought he invented that wisdom himself, until I watched "To Kill a Mockingbird" and found out that Atticus Finch said it first.

But let's just try to step into someone else's shoes for a moment. Let's imagine it wasn't Joe Biden. Let's imagine it was any one of us. Let's imagine the most powerful person in the world was asking a foreign nation to conduct a sham investigation in to one of us, what would we think about it then? Would we think that's good U.S. policy? Would we think he has every right to do it? Would we think that's a perfect call?

Let's step for a minute in to Ambassador Yovanovitch's shoes, and were the subject of a vicious smear campaign that no one in the department that we work for, up to the Secretary of State thinks has a shred of credibility.

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Let's step in to her shoes for a minute. Spent our whole life devoted to public service, served in dangerous places around the world -- and we're hounded out of our post. And one day someone releases a transcript of a call between the president of the United States and a foreign leader, and the president says there's going to be some things happening to you -- or to you, or to you, or to you, or to you. How would you feel about the president of the United States?

Would you think he was abusing the power of his office? And if you would, it shouldn't matter that it wasn't you. It shouldn't matter that it was Marie Yovanovitch. It shouldn't matter that it was Joe Biden. Because I'll tell you something, the next time it just may be you. It just may be you.

Do you think for a moment that any of you, no matter what your relationship with this president, no matter how close you are to this president -- do you think for a moment that if he felt it was in his interest, he wouldn't ask you to be investigated? Do you think for a moment that he wouldn't?

And if somewhere deep down below you realize that he would, you cannot leave a man like that in office when he has violated the Constitution. It shouldn't matter it was Joe Biden, it could have been any of us -- it may be any of us. It shouldn't matter that it was Marie Yovanovitch, it'll be some other diplomat tomorrow, for some other pernicious (ph) reason.

It goes to what Mr. Jeffries said, it goes to character -- you don't realize how important character is in the highest office in the land until you don't have it. To give a (ph) president willing to use his power to coerce an ally to help him cheat. To investigate one of our fellow citizens -- one of our fellow citizens. Yes, he's running for president -- he's still a U.S. citizen -- he's still a U.S. citizen, and he deserves better than that. And of course it wasn't just Ukraine, it wasn't just Russia -- there was the invitation to China to investigate the Bidens. It's not going to stop. September 19 Rudy Giuliani was interviewed on Chris Cuomo on CNN, we've probably all seen the clip. When asked specifically if he had urged Ukraine to look in to Vice President Biden, Mr. Giuliani replied immediately, of course I did -- of course I did.

It shouldn't matter that it was Joe Biden. Wasn't Hunter Biden there (ph), it was Joe Biden. It wasn't Hunter Biden on that call, it was Joe Biden. But it shouldn't matter whether it's Hunter Biden or Joe Biden, we're talking about American citizens. It shouldn't matter to any of us which American citizens.

And he hasn't stopped urging Ukraine to conduct these investigations. Mr. Giuliani hasn't, Donald Trump hasn't -- to the contrary and consistent with everything we know about the president he has done nothing but double-down.

During his first week -- the first week of December Mr. Giuliani travelled to Ukraine and Hungary to interview the corrupt former Ukrainian prosecutors who had been pushing these false narratives about Vice President Biden and this kooky conspiracy about 2016. Mr. Giuliani met with current members of the Ukraine Parliament who have advocated for that same fraudulent investigation.

In June of last year President Trump told ABC News that he would take political dirt from a foreign country if he was offered it again. If he has learned anything from the tumult of the last three years it is he can get away with anything -- he can do it again. Can't be indicted, can't be impeached -- can't, if you believe our attorney general, even be investigated.

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Our founders worried about a situation just like this. James Madison put it simply, President "might betray his trust to foreign powers." In his federal address George Washington warned Americans to be constantly awake since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.

John Adams in the letter to Thomas Jefferson wrote, "you are apprehensive of foreign interference. Intrigue, influence. So am I. But, as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign influence recurs."

Or to quote the president's Chief of Staff, "get over it. There's going to be politics in foreign policy." Well I don't think that was John Adams' point, and I don't think that was James Madison's point, and I don't think that was George Washington's point -- if it was they would have said get over it.

They recognized, as I know we recognized, what a profound danger that would be, for that to become the new normal. Another election is upon us, in 10 months voters will undertake their most important duty as citizens by going to the polls and voting for their leader. And so we must ask, what role will foreign powers play in trying to influence the outcome? And if they take the president's side, who will protect our franchise if the president will not?

As charged in the first article of impeachment, President Trump has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.

Based on abuse of power for which he was impeached, and his ongoing efforts to solicit foreign interference both directly and through Mr. Giuliani, there can be little doubt that President Trump would continue to invite foreign interference in our elections again and again.

That poses an imminent threat to the integrity of our democracy. Our founders understood that a president like Donald Trump might one day grasp the reins of power, an unremorseful, overreaching executive, faithful to himself only, and willing to sacrifice our democracy and national security for his own personal advantage.

His pattern of conduct repeatedly soliciting foreign interference in our elections for his own benefit confirms that he will stop at nothing to retain his power. He willfully chose to place his personal interests above the country's and the integrity of our elections, there is every reason to believe that will continue.

He has stonewalled Congress and ordered executive branch agencies, organizations that work for the American people, not for the president, to join in his obstruction. He deployed Mr. Giuliani to Ukraine to continue advancing his scheme that serves no other purpose then advancing his 2020 re-election prospects.

He attacked witnesses, public servants, patriots who stayed true to their oath and leveled with the American people about the grave national injury that resulted from the president's misconduct. And he continued to urge foreign nations to investigate American citizens that he views as a threat.

The threat that he will continue to abuse this power and cause great harm to the nation over the course of the next year until a new president is sworn in, or until he would be re-elected, is not hypothetical. Nearly exposing the president's scheme has not stopped him from continuing this destructive pattern of behavior that has brought us to this somber moment.

He is who he is. That will not change. And nor will the danger associated with him. Every piece of evidence supports that terrible conclusion, that the president of the United States will abuse his power again.

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