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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Impeachment Defense Team Concludes Opening Arguments; Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) is Interviewed About the Impeachment Trial. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 28, 2020 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, how long can the senators ignore that 500- pound white mustache in the room?
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump's defense rests, and some Republicans get restless and move closer to wanting key evidence that could be the smoking gun in the Ukraine scandal, as the president's former Chief of Staff John Kelly says: I believe Bolton.
The impeached president and the indicted prime minister, their big plan unveiled for peace in the Middle East, and the response just in from the Palestinians -- quote -- "No, no, a big no."
And new details on the crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others -- the special permission given to his pilot just moments before the chopper went down in flames.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
A monumental day on Capitol Hill in our politics lead today, the Trump defense team wrapping up their opening arguments, making the case that a duly elected president should not be removed from office, especially so close to an election, and that this all boils down to mere policy differences.
Tomorrow, the Trump impeachment trial will pick back up with 16 hours allotted in total for the president's defense team and the Democratic House impeachment managers to answer any questions submitted by U.S. senators.
But, from there, the next steps are unclear. The trajectory of the trial has been upended after new revelations from John Bolton's forthcoming book that Trump explicitly called for a quid pro quo, security aid for Ukraine in exchange for them investigating Democrats.
Now, Trump denies it. But Trump's former Chief of Staff John Kelly said -- quote -- "I believe John Bolton."
"The majority of Americans would like to hear the whole story," Kelly said, "so I think if there are people that could contribute to this either innocence or guilt, I think they should be heard" -- unquote.
And, as CNN's Sara Murray reports, it seems more possible than ever that four Republicans will break from their pack and vote to hear from additional witnesses in the trial, though the White House is working hard to stop that from happening.
PAT CIPOLLONE, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: That ends our presentation. Thank you very much.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's a wrap on the opening arguments from the president's defense team, but a vote on whether to call new witnesses is still up in the air.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected president of the United States, it is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts.
MURRAY: Trump's defense the more that impeaching the president would be dangerous.
SEKULOW: Danger. Danger. Danger. You are being asked to remove a duly elected president of the United States, and you're being asked to do it in an election year, an in election year.
CIPOLLONE: Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their ballots?
MURRAY: The arguments from Trump's lawyers come after "The New York Times" reported former National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote in his manuscript that Trump told him directly he was withholding security aid for Ukraine until Ukraine pursued investigations into Joe Biden and his family.
Today, Trump team used the president's own words to defend him.
SEKULOW: Here's what the president said in response to that "New York Times" piece. "I never told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book."
MURRAY: And used lawmakers' decades-old comments against them.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): This is unfair to the American people.
SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): The Republicans are crossing out the impeachment standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.
CIPOLLONE: This should end now, as quickly as possible.
MURRAY: Next up, senators get up 16 hours over two days to question House impeachment managers and Trump's defense team. Democrats are expected to use much of that time hammering home their call for witnesses, in hopes of winning over a moderate Republicans.
Today, Senator Mitt Romney signaled he would be open to a witness swap.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I'd like to hear for John Bolton. And I think the idea that's been expressed in the media about having each side be able to choose a witness or maybe more than one witness on a paired basis has some merit.
MURRAY: Senator Lisa Murkowski said Bolton "probably has some things that would be helpful for us," while Senator James Lankford suggested senators should first be able to review Bolton's manuscript, then make a decision on witnesses.
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): We can read all of it and see -- see for ourselves if there's anything significant there.
MURRAY: Now, Republicans are meeting right now behind closed doors. We could get another sense of the temperature of the Republican Party on the potential of witnesses later this afternoon, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.
As Trump's legal team tries to push aside calls for John Bolton's testimony, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is giving it new life, saying that he believes John Bolton and that Americans want to hear the whole story.
Let's go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's at the White House for us.
Kaitlan, yesterday, Republicans tried to avoid as much as possible John Bolton. Today, they seem to be trying to avoid as much as possible John Kelly.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, two former Johns who worked in the White House that are now giving them some grief because they are pushing for Bolton to testify.
And John Kelly says that he believes what Bolton wrote in his book, which, of course, has been at the center of all of this since Sunday. And according to "The Sarasota Herald-Tribune," John Kelly, the former chief of staff who worked closely, of course, not only with President Trump, but also John Bolton, said that he thinks that Americans, some of them believe that this is a political process that shouldn't be happening.
But he said, and this is interesting, "I think some of the conversations seemed to me to be very inappropriate, but I wasn't there, he says, "but there are people that were there that ought to be heard from." So it'll be interesting to see how Democrats try to use this to push for Bolton to testify, how Republicans try to push back on what John Kelly is saying here.
And, of course, Sara just laid out, Jake, that there is this fight that is still going on over these witnesses. We're not going to know where that's going until Friday at the earliest, but it's notable that the White House feels a lot better today.
They were more comfortable addressing these Bolton allegations after Dershowitz came forward yesterday, because, before that, when "The New York Times" had first reported on Bolton on Sunday night, the White House was essentially sent into a panic mode and thought that there was a chance they could lose up to a dozen Republicans on the witness vote here, Jake.
That's really stunning, because before they had just been wondering about three or four. It was up to a dozen -- by nearly a dozen by that point. But now they say they feel a lot better for now.
TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.
Let's chat about all this. So much to talk about.
But, Carrie Cordero, we also just heard from Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser. He sat down with Christiane Amanpour. Take a listen.
He says that Trump has been vindicated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: We have a team that deals with the impeachment because it's a -- it's a nuisance.
The defense is going great. Honestly, I feel like, again, it's very easy to defend, when they don't really have any legitimate accusations against you. So we're very pleased with the defense. We feel like, again, the president's been totally vindicated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you think the president has been totally vindicated?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I don't think, based on the case that we have seen, he's been vindicated.
And I think Jared Kushner speaking about it shows why it is probably not a great idea to have your family working in the White House, because it doesn't really carry a lot of credibility when it's a family member who's making the argument on your defense,.
But on the substance of it, look, the president's legal team has really made two main arguments, one, that the charges themselves are invalid, which is not the consensus constitutional view. Most constitutional lawyers believe that the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are legitimate charges. And the other argument that they're making is basically that the president's conduct is OK, that his asking for an investigation falls into his foreign policy authority.
That is contradicted by much of the House testimony that we heard when the House had its hearings, and it's contradicted by the new information that is coming out about John Bolton statement.
And so it just plays into why the Senate should call John Bolton.
TAPPER: And, Bill Kristol, yesterday, the president's defenders really avoided, until Dershowitz spoke in the evening, they really avoided acknowledging this huge story about what Bolton is alleging in his book.
Now, Jay Sekulow today did acknowledge it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEKULOW: What we are involved in here, as we conclude, is perhaps the most solemn of duties under our constitutional framework. It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That's politics, unfortunately.
And Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically to be above that fray.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: John Bolton's book is a leak and an unsourced manuscript.
BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Look, John Bolton, the case for him testifying was extremely strong before we knew about the manuscript.
I mean, why -- Fiona Hill testified under oath that, after the meeting in the White House that she went to representing Bolton, Bolton said, go talk to the White House counsel. You shouldn't have -- we don't -- we can't have anything to do with this drug deal.
Tim Morrison, so who's a friend and worked for John Bolton, really a true believer, along with John Bolton, said that Bolton also told him to go see the White House counsel.
Bolton is a lawyer, a very experienced public servant. If he is that -- was that alarmed. Leave aside the book. If he was that alarmed in real time to what was happening there, something bad was happening.
So then the question is, did the president order the something bad that was happening to happen or did he know about it? How much was it his baby, as opposed to Gordon Sondland's or Rudy Giuliani's?
Well, there's one person -- several people who would have some sense of that, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton. [16:10:03]
They have to testify. It really isn't about the book. It's about the previous sworn testimony that already puts Bolton and Mulvaney, I would say particularly, maybe Pompeo, at the core, at the center of answering the core question, which is, exactly how much did Trump know, and when did he know it?
TAPPER: And, Jen Psaki, John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, does not comment very often on what's going on at the White House.
But, last night, according to "The Sarasota Herald-Tribune," he said: "If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton," and also basically called for Bolton to testify.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He did. Or that's what I took away from it as well.
And John Kelly may not have been there for this moment, but he certainly saw President Trump in action. He saw how he behaved around national security issues. He listened in on phone calls and conversations with foreign leaders, as we have seen other times, and when we saw President Trump go out and ask the Chinese to do some research and dig on Biden.
So this may be the tip of the iceberg. And I would guess that John Kelly knows a lot as well, not that he should testify, but that none of this surprises him.
TAPPER: And Lindsey Graham is now offering what Lankford first proposed, Senator Lankford, that the Bolton manuscript be made available to the Senate, if possible, in a classified setting, where each senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination.
In other words, it seems to me that would be, let's get this 500-page manuscript in a room. People can read it, but there's no reason to have him testify.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, which is weird.
I mean, it's like Oprah's book club or something in the Senate reading this Bolton book. Why they wouldn't actually want him there to get a fuller account of what went on is bizarre.
I think one of the things that's interesting is, I feel like we are ending up where we began, which is with looking at these four people, really sort of two-and-a-half, right, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski seems to be in and out in terms of whether or not she really wants witnesses. It's not really clear.
And the other one is, of course, Lamar Alexander. It hasn't really expanded, right? I mean, there's some ideas that maybe it's growing, but not really. Ron Johnson today said he would like to hear from Bolton just on
TAPPER: Yes, Bolton should do an interview.
HENDERSON: Do an interview.
TAPPER: And if he wants to come, by the way, there's a seat right here for him.
HENDERSON: Which would be great, but it's also not about being under oath. It's not about having to vote for witnesses.
HENDERSON: So sort of the universe of Republicans, it hasn't really expanded if you look back at two weeks ago, or whenever we started this. It feels like it's been two weeks. It hasn't really expanded.
So I think, in that way, I think we will see what happens on Friday, but it seems like we're sort of standing still.
TAPPER: So, you anticipate that they're going to vote against witnesses?
HENDERSON: Listen, predictions are dangerous, especially when they're about the future, but it seems unlikely.
TAPPER: Right. Interesting.
Coming up, I will talk with a member of President Trump's defense team about the even slightest possibility of negotiating a deal for John Bolton to testify.
That's next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we are back with our politics lead.
President Trump's legal team wrapping up his defense just moments ago and now, the focus shifts to tomorrow's questioning and the impending vote on whether new witnesses will be called to testify, new witnesses.
Joining me now is Republican Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana. He's one of the House members on President Trump's impeachment team. He's also in the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Hey, Jake. Glad to be with you.
TAPPER: So, former Chief of Staff John Kelly says that he believes John Bolton's claim that President Trump directly told him that security aid for Ukraine was dependent upon the country investigating the Bidens. Kelly also said he thinks Bolton is a man of integrity and should be heard from. What do you think?
JOHNSON: I respect General Kelly, but he's not a member of the U.S. Senate. Ultimately, they're the ones that have to decide that.
And I think you've heard a number of senators over the last two days coming out as various pieces of the defense have been presented and they said -- they think it's a very compelling presentation, that they understand that the facts don't change regardless of what Bolton or Kelly or anyone else says, and, of course, the president himself said that he never told John Bolton any of the things that we are hearing have been alleged.
So, look, it does not make any difference at the end of the day as Professor Dershowitz explained so well yesterday. The Senate, first, has to answer the threshold question, whether the articles of impeachment that were sent over are valid on their face, they're not, because abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not impeachable offenses and it doesn't really matter what anybody says. Those are the facts that are stubborn and you can't get around.
TAPPER: I don't know that that interpretation is a fact, the idea that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not impeachable offenses. They certainly were impeachable offenses during the Nixon impeachment. They certainly were impeachable offenses during the Clinton impeachment.
Let me ask you a question, you say President Trump denies that conversation took place. You are aware of how often President Trump says things that are not true, right? I mean, he is known for saying things that are false, lies, misinformation -- it happens quite often.
JOHNSON: I don't agree with that characterization.
But I will tell you that he is not the only person, the only individual who has refuted what has been reported about this Bolton manuscript over the last 24 hours or so. Attorney General Barr said that it's inaccurate as well in terms of the timing and the things that he knew and the rest.
Look, I thought that it was interesting what Senator Lankford suggested, hey, put the manuscript in the SCIF and let people go down and read it. It was interesting. I thought Senator Schumer, when he came out and said, no, that's not right, that's not important, we shouldn't do that. Why, they said, because if you put something on the SCIF, it made (ph) you trying to hide something.
Hello? That's how the House case was put together in the first place. That's what we have been complaining about since all this began. Adam Schiff and those folks --
JOHNSON: -- had the super secret hearings in the basement.
So, if they had a problem with it, why they didn't have a problem with it in the first stages?
TAPPER: You participated --
JOHNSON: There's a lot of hypocrisy around here.
TAPPER: You participated in that deposition, right? You participated in the depositions in the SCIF because you're a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
JOHNSON: No, that's an important point. Even though we're the committee with jurisdiction, I was not allowed in the SCIF.
It was Intel and Oversight that were allowed to do that. Not us.
TAPPER: Well, there were three committees that were allowed.
JOHNSON: Judiciary wasn't and that's the critical point. We're the ones that have jurisdiction over impeachment, and we're the ones that were supposed to have ultimately voted to send the articles to the full House, and we never saw the intelligence, yes.
TAPPER: Oh, it was Foreign Affairs, that's right. It was Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight.
JOHNSON: And Oversight, right.
TAPPER: So let me ask you a question, but you know that there were House Republicans that were in SCIF is really the larger point I was trying to address. You know that there were House Republicans there. So --
JOHNSON: There were, but it was a small subset of the House.
TAPPER: Right, it was 48 -- 48 I think were allowed.
TAPPER: So when Pat Cipollone, the president -- the White House counsel, went on the floor of the Senate and said that House Republicans were not allowed in the SCIF, which you know is not true, did that bother you, because you know that there were House Republicans who spent hours and upon hours in the SCIF, Mark Meadows --
TAPPER: -- Elise Stefanik. I mean, you know that what Cipollone said was not true.
JOHNSON: But, yes, you and I have talked about this before. I am the ranking member of the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary, which is the only committee that really has jurisdiction over impeachment. And as we just discussed, I've never been able to see all of this evidence so-called that was gathered in the basement. It's a problem. And what Cipollone said was, the Republicans haven't been able to get in there. A lot us weren't.
You're talking about a small subset, there's 199 Republicans in the House, most of us didn't. And most Democrats didn't either.
TAPPER: Forty-eight Republicans is not nothing.
But the other thing -- let's talk about the House Judiciary Committee, because you are on that committee. And Jay Sekulow told the Senate that the president wasn't allowed to participate in the House Judiciary Committee process at all, that he wasn't allowed to cross- examine the witnesses, that he wasn't allowed to have counsel there, and he was not invited.
You know that that's not true. He was invited to participate in all of those things. And Cipollone wrote a letter saying that we're not going to participate. That's something else that the president's team said to the Senate that wasn't true. Again, that must bother you.
JOHNSON: No, Jake. Here's the reality. This investigation went 79 days, 71 of those 79 days, the president's counsel was blocked out of the proceeding.
Adam Schiff did not allow them in the basement. They were not allowed to be present for the presentation of all this evidence. They weren't allowed to ask questions. Republican witnesses weren't allowed. There's no appropriate cross-examination, because the Republican questions were stifled.
All of that is true and irrefutable and is unprecedented, because in the Clinton proceedings, in Nixon, and even back to Andrew Johnson, as far as I can tell --
JOHNSON: -- that was not the case. And so, that's what Jay Sekulow and the counsel is complaining about because it was not fair.
TAPPER: No, no, he was specifically talking about the House Judiciary Committee process and I will put the quote up on Twitter so people can see what I'm talking about.
JOHNSON: Do it, but what he means by that, he -- I don't know the exact language, I'm not sure which part are you talking about. I watched all of the proceedings --
TAPPER: It's when he referred to the trifecta, when he referred to the trifecta. He talked -- he was specifically talking about the House Judiciary process.
We only have time for one more question. Let me ask you and you'll get the last word, and that is you're talking about witnesses -- the need for witnesses, the need for cross-examination. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that 75 percent of the American people say witnesses should be allowed to testify in the impeachment trial, 20 percent say no.
You can't get 75 percent of the American people to believe -- to agree on anything, but they want witnesses, and why block them?
JOHNSON: Well, a lot of those, by the way, are Trump supporters --
JOHNSON: -- because they want to hear from the Biden --
JOHNSON: -- both the Bidens, and the whistle-blower and maybe Adam Schiff himself.
But look, at the end of the day, the Senate is the body that's given this responsibility and will ultimately make that determination, and I think a majority are going to decide at the end of the day that the summary by Professor Dershowitz was right and the rest of this is not needed, because they know the facts, the facts don't change and I think we have enough here.
If we drag this out indefinitely, Jake, just think about what it will do to the country. It will further divide us perhaps irreparably going into the election year. How does that behoove anyone if we already know the outcome of this? I think commonsense has to prevail here at some point and I hope that it will.
TAPPER: Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana, always pleasure to have you. Thank you so much, sir.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Joe Biden's response today after a Republican senator said that President Trump's Ukraine dealings might have been something that could affect the Iowa caucuses and his standing in them. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, we are less than one week away from the Iowa caucuses and despite the backdrop of the Senate impeachment trial, former Vice President Joe Biden is seizing the moment, especially after these comments from Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst yesterday which came after a detailed presentation by the president's attorneys that described the Bidens in the harshest possible light.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): I am interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucusgoers, and will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: CNN's Arlette Saenz is in Davenport, Iowa.
Arlette, what is Vice President Biden's reaction to that?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jake, Joe Biden is taking these comments from Joni Ernst head on, arguing that they provide a clear insight into President Trump's thinking.
Take a listen to what he had to tell voters in Muscatine, Iowa, earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Did anyone see what your Senator Joni Ernst did yesterday? She spilled the beans. She's just came out and flat said it. You know, the whole impeachment --