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Democrats React to Trump Defense Team Arguments; Trump Impeachment Defense Team Concludes Opening Arguments. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired January 28, 2020 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And I'm wondering, if someone asks a question, whether, in a response, they might have something ready to go on that. Just saying.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: More videos.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's interesting, because, if you take a look at -- one of the main arguments the White House lawyers have made is, they go back a few months to what Nancy Pelosi herself was saying about impeachment, what Adam Schiff was saying about impeachment.
You want to do impeachment, you have got to really have at least some bipartisan support. You can't just do it with one party.
HENDERSON: That's right.
And you heard from some of the folks back in the day, when Clinton was impeached, saying that you shouldn't -- impeachment shouldn't be used in a partisan way. It will diminish the power of the presidency, and just we're lamenting the scourge of impeachment.
And then you heard Cipollone close there basically saying in the era of impeachment, for good, you know it should end. Listen, I felt the video was very effective. I think he should have ended right after the video. It might have been odd to end with the Senate chamber there laughing, as they did in reaction to that video.
But he ran a little long. And I think, overwhelmingly, I do think they used their time really well. And it probably was in some ways more flabby than it needed to be. Right? I'm not sure you necessarily needed Ken Starr's homily, ironic homily, about the dangers of impeachment, other than the fact that you wanted to sort of have Ken Starr as part of this.
BLITZER: Alan, we're all TV people, so we like video. That's very important to us, but from the Senate perspective -- and you're the former parliamentarian -- correct me if I'm wrong. Is it all that unusual that so much video, so many of these video clips were being used by both sides of these past several days?
ALAN FRUMIN, FORMER SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN: It's tremendously unusual.
You just simply don't see that on the floor of the Senate. We saw it in the Clinton trial. We're seeing it now. We have never seen it before and possibly since. This simply doesn't happen.
An impeachment trial in the Senate is simply a unique situation, for lack of a better word, a unique spectacle. This just doesn't happen.
BLITZER: In the impeachment trial, the video was of the depositions that had been taken of the three witnesses who actually testified behind closed doors, and then they ran sound bites. They ran clips of those depositions.
FRUMIN: Well, yes, that's what they did in the Clinton trial, and obviously that's what the Democrats would like to see happen in this trial.
BORGER: Here's the question I have about Cipollone's closing argument about, we're close to an election. Why would you undo an election? The American people -- defend our Constitution. Defend the sacred right of every American to vote and choose their president.
Does that mean that the Constitution's to be interpreted that you can't impeach a president in an election year? Is there anything governing this? And there's nothing in the Constitution.
BORGER: So he's making the point to the American public, which is, you ought to decide. These folks ought not to decide for you.
HENDERSON: Right. And there is a sort of limited time frame for impeachment, which, as you said, isn't in the Constitution at all.
BORGER: What is it? It's not. Of course, it's not.
HENDERSON: Yes. It's their interpretation of it.
BLITZER: And, Laura Coates, he did say, Pat Cipollone, he said, end the era of impeachment for good right now. Use your energy -- he was speaking to the 100 senators. Use your energy and resources to work together with the president to solve the American people's problems.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, one of the big problems that many of the American people have is the idea that the separation of powers is much more fragile than anyone thought and the constitutional structure and the impeachment process is being used in this way.
That's a big problem to address, but notice what Cipollone began his statement talking about in the closing, thanking Mitch McConnell as majority leader. It's interesting because, of course, you're talking about the notion of waiting in an election year for the people and voters to decide.
Well, if past is prologue, taking a page right out of the playbook of Mitch McConnell to say, yes, remember Merrick Garland? Well, let the American people decide on a consequential issue that will have a long- term effect on things.
And, of course, one thing I was thinking about when Pat Cipollone was talking, people might think to themselves, why not use all the time? Why not run out the clock? Why would somebody take a seat after having 24 hours of the House impeachment managers?
Well, you're really trained if you're a prosecutor or a trial attorney to sit down when the point has been made and never to address points that you hope that people will forget and be dismissive of.
If you take the time to rebut every single point, then you are giving it more air, more life, and assigning more gravitas. I think that's they're trying to do and avoid. That and possibly their audience of one said, you have done enough. I'm fine. The damage has been done.
The question will be going on whether it will actually move the needle, or Alan Dershowitz with his even if philosophy has given them enough coverage and an exit ramp.
BLITZER: So, Jeffrey Toobin, we have now heard the opening arguments from the House managers, the seven House managers. We have heard the opening arguments from the White House counsels going back.
And they both had several hours. The House manager spoke for a lot longer than the White House counsels did. But step back and give us your assessment. Who was more effective?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the overwhelming thought I have anyway about an impeachment trial is, it is much more a political process than a legal process.
So I don't look at this as if, what are the 12 anonymous, fair-minded jurors going to think? There are 53 Republicans in the Senate and 47 Democrats. That's the most important fact about this trial, more important than any of the evidence that was presented.
The most obvious point is that Donald Trump is not going to be thrown out of office. This trial will end either with or without witnesses, but there will certainly not be 67 votes to convict him.
The Democrats are closer to witnesses than they have been since the first day of the trial because of what "The New York Times" printed. I mean, the new -- the John Bolton formation is so critical, it is so much at the heart of what this trial is about.
Why did the president cut off aid to Ukraine? Why did the president refuse a meeting with him in the Oval Office? That's what this trial is about.
And John Bolton has direct firsthand evidence of what the president thought about those issues and why he acted the way he did. The idea that we could have a trial on this subject where the single most important witness who is available to testify does not testify would really undermine the credibility of not just this trial, but the Senate as an institution.
BLITZER: But even if he were to testify and make all of those points exactly as you describe those points, Jeffrey, do you think it's even realistic at all that 67 U.S. senators would vote to convict and remove the president from office?
TOOBIN: Absolutely not. I don't think there is any chance that, regardless of what John Bolton said, there will be 67 votes.
But I don't think that's the standard. I think the standard is, are you going to have a trial or not? Are you going to have a trial where the facts in dispute are addressed?
It's not my place, I don't think it's anyone's place to tell the senators how to vote. That's obviously a political and legal judgment they're going to make. But I think every American has the right to say, is this a fair trial? Is this a way to conduct an inquiry into the set of facts that the House has brought to the Senate?
That's a legitimate question. And I think it's a separate question from what the ultimate result is going to be.
BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point.
And, John, you have heard it, I have heard it from a whole bunch of senators, saying, why are we doing this? In the end, we know what the result is going to be. We're just going to drag it on and on and on. And several of them, the Republicans make the point that we heard from Pat Cipollone, we have got other business to do.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the one hand, that's an irresponsible answer, in the sense that you just took an oath.
Whether you like it or not, you're in the middle of this constitutional procedure called an impeachment trial, and you swore an oath to be an impartial judge and jury.
On the other hand, it's just a reflection of the tribal age we live in. And to Jeffrey's point, there's nothing on the table today, absolutely nothing, zero, that would suggest that all 47 Democrats, plus 20 Republicans, would convict and remove the president.
Now, the only possibility you have a conversation of is that possible is if the trial is extended, and you get more witnesses. So Jeffrey makes a very good case there, an incredibly good case there, for transparency, for good government, where there's a question the table about the conduct of the president of the United States.
You have an opportunity through Mr. Bolton and maybe others to answer it. Why would you pass that up? That is a great argument for transparency and government.
Mitch McConnell doesn't care. He doesn't care. He wants to get this over with, because we're in an election year. It's not just the president on the ballot. This Senate Republican majority is on the ballot. And he believes in the states that matter to him on the map, yes, there are some big question marks like Colorado, Arizona and Maine, but besides that, he thinks he's on pretty safe ground. Let's go.
BORGER: But now don't you think there's a question here about whether the American people have a right to know, whether they have a right to know and make a judgment, whether the president is impeached or not, whether they have a right to know what happened, what transpired and what they believe?
Because they may believe, in the end, if they hear Bolton that, yes, the president may have done this, but it is not impeachable. They may believe that.
KING: Well, they have 48 hours to light up the switchboards, if you will.
BORGER: That's right.
KING: But, remember, you talk to them all the time.
KING: You talk to the Democratic candidates for president who are out there every day. And this say even their own voters aren't clamoring for it, because they believe the end result is locked.
But then you also give the Democrats a talking point, which is to say that there cannot be vindication if the trial was rigged, right, which is the word they use. There's no -- and Adam Schiff said this, I believe, on day number one or -- you can have indication if the trial was not complete and fair -- I mean, we can see it already -- if they don't get Bolton.
BLITZER: All right, everybody, stick around.
There's a lot more we need to assess. We're covering the trial, the Senate trial, the impeachment trial of the president of the United States.
Much more after this.
BLITZER: The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is reacting to what we all just heard from the White House lawyers.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): So, I thought the summation by Mr. Sekulow, the president's lawyer, showed how weak their case was.
He said, we don't have eyewitness accounts, that all we have is a newspaper article.
Well, Mr. Sekulow, President Trump, we want to get witnesses. You can bring Bolton right into this chamber, and he can swear under oath and be cross-examined by you.
He also kept saying, this was a policy choice. And he points to the letter of July 25.
Three words never come out of his mouth that were in that letter, Hunter Biden, CrowdStrike.
So, they -- they just cannot address the issues. Their whole argument is diversion. And if you don't believe the newspaper report, call the witnesses. If you don't believe the people around who said what Trump did was wrong, and they had heard it secondhand, or Sondland heard it firsthand, call Mulvaney, call Bolton, call Blair, call Duffey -- Duffey.
So, the bottom line is very simple. We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That's what witnesses and documents mean.
The president's lawyers have spent three days avoiding the truth, pointing fingers here, there and everywhere. Even, one of them gave a political speech on the floor. It was like a campaign rally, because they don't want the facts. They don't want the truth. They're afraid of them.
I think their case has been extremely weak on one of the most serious things you can accuse a president of doing, which is organizing foreign interference in American elections, threatening a country, you will cut off your aid unless you interfere in our election.
When I was in high school, I read in my textbook that one of the things the founding fathers feared most was foreign interference in elections. And this was back in the '60s. I said, what are they talking about? That doesn't happen.
Well, once again, the founding fathers were a lot smarter than all of us. That's just what they worried about. That's just what Trump was doing.
And let me make another point. If he's allowed to completely stonewall, to do absolute obstruction on everything, and not be held accountable, he will do it again and again, and future presidents will do it again and again.
And this grand experiment we call democracy will have been fatally, fatally eroded, because when Americans lose faith that elections are fair, when Americans lose faith that it's Americans determining who elects the president, rather than a foreign power, we got trouble.
SCHUMER: One at a time.
QUESTION: Bottom line, sir, do you believe that we're going to get witnesses?
SCHUMER: Look, I hope that we have just four Republicans. All we need is four who rise to the occasion and say, we need to find out the truth.
And I would remind my Republican friends, these witnesses we have asked for are not Democrats. They're not anti-Trump people. They're his own appointees. We don't know what -- if what they say will be exculpatory or further incriminating.
But let the chips fall where they may. Get the truth.
QUESTION: Would you consider a witness exchange program?
SCHUMER: No, we want -- look, we want these four witnesses and these four sets of documents, because we want a fair trial and a true trial where the facts come out.
They can call who they want. Ask yourselves, why are they talking about a trade? They could call Hunter Biden if they had 51 votes for him today. They don't. I don't believe they have the votes, because a good number of Republicans know two things, that Hunter Biden is a diversion and makes the trial into a circus, like a couple of the president's lawyers did yesterday.
And, second, it confirms the fact that President Trump is obsessed with Hunter Biden and Joe Biden. So, in other words, he's willing to risk American security and risk elections to go after Biden.
Now he's willing to despoil one of the most sacred things the Senate can do, a trial on impeachment, because he's so focused--
BLITZER: All right, let's go over to Adam Schiff, the lead House manager.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I want to begin this afternoon with a few observations on the rather abrupt end to the president's case.
It's clear, I think, today that they are still reeling from the revelation of John Bolton's book and what he has to say, the very relative -- relevant and probative quality of the testimony that he should give the Senate.
As I'm sure you have seen, the president's own former chief of staff General Kelly has stated that he believes John Bolton and, more importantly -- and that is extraordinary, in and of itself, that the president's own former chief of staff believes John Bolton and, by implication, does not believe the president of the United States that he worked closely with for such a long time.
[15:20:18] But, more importantly, he also recognizes the importance of calling John Bolton as a witness, of swearing him in, of letting the senators hear for themselves that very relevant testimony.
The president's lawyers today and in their prior presentations really did not, cannot defend the president on the facts. Instead, they used their time on the floor today to go through a list of grievances, which I'm sure the president was delighted to hear, but, nonetheless, not particularly relevant to the charges against the president here today.
They used their time in defense to smear the Bidens, an object that they unsuccessfully sought to do with the whole Ukraine scheme, attacked the managers and other distractions.
But in terms of the actual facts themselves, while they have at their disposal any number of administration officials and agency officials who worked with the president, by the president through this whole period of time, did they choose to rely on any of them, call any of them, hear from any of them, any of them that could come and testify and support the president's position?
And the answer is, not a single one, because none of them can. And the one that has now offered to come forward, they are determined to try to prevent.
But I don't think, frankly, that we could have made as effective a case for John Bolton's testimony as the president's own lawyers.
And part of the way they did that today was, the bulk of Mr. Sekulow's argument was, this is merely a policy difference. That's all this is. They're seeking to impeach the president over a policy difference, as if, as Sekulow would have us believe, Donald Trump released the military aid because he was so grateful that the Ukrainian Parliament passed a anti-corruption court bill, and he was just waiting for that the whole time, OK?
No one believes that. No one believes that. I'm confident there isn't anyone in that chamber or anyone in the country who will buy that explanation.
They make very few bones about it. One of the GOP senators remarking, I think publicly today, that we pretty much know the facts here. And we do. We know that the president withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from an ally at war in order to coerce that ally to helping him cheat in the next election. It is indefensible.
And, so, what do they have to fall back on? They fall back on the argument that, OK, he did it, we all know he did it, but we're going to find a criminal defense lawyer whose expertise is not really constitutional law, and who admits he's out of the consensus on this, to come in and make the argument that is effectively, the Constitution says, so what?
That abuse of power, you cannot impeach a president for abuse of power because it's too nebulous a concept, as if article one simply reads, abuse of power, and sets out nothing further, as if he's been impeached for the mere label of abuse of power, as if the article didn't charge him with withholding military aid, a vital meeting, and seeking to get foreign help in his election to help him cheat.
But, of course, that's exactly what the article charges. And that is evidently what they cannot contest.
And so the question -- there are really two questions. The first is foundational, and that is, will there be a fair trial? Up until this point, all the senators have heard is argument. A fair trial involves witnesses, and it involves documents.
So the question that will now be before the senators -- they will have questions for us in the next two days, but the question squarely before the senators is, will there be a fair trial?
Will there be a trial that Americans overwhelmingly want? Those that are for or against the president overly want the trial to be fair, which means the calling of witnesses.
So that is the threshold issue that the Senate will have to decide.
We know what those witnesses will say, because they have said it already. They said it during the course of our proceedings, as we showed Mick Mulvaney admitting that the aid was tied to these investigations, Sondland admitting that, while the president claimed no quid pro quo, he effectively described a quid pro quo, that, in order to get that military aid, the president of Ukraine was going to have to go to the mic and announce these investigations, and, what's more, he should want to do it.
So, the question is, with a conduct that egregious, are we prepared to say that we will simply have to accept that in this president and future presidents, that we will have to accept the idea that a president can so blatantly sacrifice the national security of his country in order to get help cheating in the next election?
I think the founders would astonished that anyone could even try to make that argument.
Now, let me make one other point with respect to Mr. Bolton, because you have heard this refrain also.
The House should have taken the year or two years that it would have taken to force John Bolton to testify. They should have forced him to testify.
But I want you to hear what Donald Trump's lawyers at the Justice Department are saying, not in the Senate, but before the court of appeals, on this subject.
This is in the Committee on Judiciary vs. Don McGahn.
Summary of argument: "The committee lacks Article 3 standing to sue to enforce a congressional subpoena demanding testimony from an individual on matters related to his duties as an executive branch official."
So, here they are. The president's lawyers are this duplicitous, I kid you not. They come into the Senate, which they refer to as a court, and they say, the House should have sued in court to enforce subpoenas on witnesses like John Bolton. And they go to court and they say, the House may not sue in court to compel a witness to testify.
That is the legal duplicity of the president's team, and it's in black and white. So, that's basically it. Are we going to get a fair trial, or are we not? Is the Senate going to hear from someone that every American now knows is a key and important witness on the most egregious of the president's conduct, or are we not?
And I don't see how the oath of impartiality can be interpreted any other way than demanding a fair trial that includes witnesses and documents.
We will take some questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Schiff, are you confident enough that the Senate will call witnesses that you're beginning preparations for that? If so, how? And Republicans have named your name in some of these conversations. Are you yourself prepared to possibly be dragged into this?
SCHIFF: Well, first, are we preparing?
We have prepared for John Bolton. We have a lot more work to do to prepare, now that we know more of what he is likely to say. But we will be prepared when the time comes.
And at the end -- I think, at -- the most crucial is not the skill of his examination or cross-examination, but, rather, letting the senators evaluate his credibility, letting him tell his story, and not tell it in a book.
Are we really going to require the country to wait until his book comes out to find out information that senators could have used to make the right decision on conviction or acquittal?
In terms of the sort of red herrings, well, if we're going to call -- if the House managers want to call relevant witnesses, we want to call irrelevant ones, because we want to make them pay a price for getting witnesses who are at the heart of this scheme.
That's not a game we're interested in playing.
QUESTION: But you may have to.
SCHIFF: Well, I can tell you what my testimony is: He's guilty, and he should be impeached. And I think the idea is an absurd one. But, then, this is what you have to fall back on when you know just how damaging John Bolton's testimony is going to be.
And I would say the same of Hunter Biden. If they want a witness for witness, then let them call Mulvaney. Mick Mulvaney has said that he disputes what John Bolton has to say. Let them call Mick Mulvaney. Let them call Secretary Pompeo.
Let them call people that are percipient witnesses to this scandal and this corrupt scheme. If they want a witness for witness.
But that's not really what they want. They want a distraction. And I don't think the senators want to allow their proceeding to be turned into a circus.
QUESTION: Mr. Chairman?
QUESTION: Republicans are now arguing, Senator Paul among them, that John Bolton is not a credible witness.
They're saying that his -- his intentions might not be as clean -- clean as it is perceived to be. What would you say to that argument about Bolton's credibility?
Are you concerned at all about how the American public will perceive him? Certainly, some Republicans are trying to paint him as a person who has a vendetta and, you know, a grievance against the president.
Well, you know, let me turn to some--
SCHIFF: Yes, please.
REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Thank you.