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Soon: Second Day of Q&A in Senate Impeachment Trial; Dershowitz Argues for Nearly Unchallenged Presidential Power. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired January 30, 2020 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're headed right to the critical moment, a vote to determine whether or not there should be witnesses in this trial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have any lingering questions about direct evidence, you can subpoena Ambassador Bolton and ask him that question directly.
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): We've heard the evidence. They don't have a case. Let's vote.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): My Republican colleagues can't complain about not seeing anything if they put blinders on, and history will haunt them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would really welcome a bipartisan acquittal of President Trump, and I want to get this done this week Friday.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): My gut tells me we're making progress, progress, progress.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, January 30, 6 a.m. here in New York, and it will be another day of questions and answers in the impeachment trial of President Trump.
This morning, Republicans are expressing confidence that they will have the votes they need to block witnesses. At this hour, only two Republicans, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, appear to be leaning strongly towards voting yes for witnesses. A third, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, appears inclined to join them. But Democrats need four Republicans.
So all eyes are on retiring Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. He is known to be close with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he has not tipped his hand yet. If witnesses are called, the White House is prepared to fight them.
The Trump administration is threatening former national security adviser John Bolton not to publish his new book. They claim it could cause, quote, "grave harm" to national security.
BERMAN: Yes. Not only going to extraordinary ends to make sure that John Bolton doesn't testify, but to keep him quiet to make sure the country doesn't learn what John Bolton has to say in a trial or otherwise, at least any time soon.
Also, what some are calling the remarkable argument being floated by the president's attorney, Alan Dershowitz. Some also called it stunning. But one might reasonably call it bonkers.
Dershowitz has argued that, if a president thinks that getting himself reelected is in the public interest -- and what candidate doesn't think that? You run because you think it would make America better. Dershowitz argues that if you do something to help get you elected, it can't be impeachable. It's good for America if I get elected, so I can do anything I want that helps. Anything. The implications are staggering.
Dershowitz also seemed to argue that anyone who disagrees with his legal theories, even presumably folks from past centuries, they're all "never Trumpers." Think about the math on that.
So that is where we are this morning. Happy Thursday. Let's get right to Lauren Fox, live on Capitol Hill. And this will be another interesting day, Lauren.
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And last night was another long day on Capitol Hill. Expect more of the same as we enter into the second day of Q&A for senators who have questions. We are just one day away from that very critical vote on whether or not there will be witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump.
FOX (voice-over): A hundred Senate jurors, finally getting the chance to submit questions in the impeachment trial. The first for President Trump's defense team from three key Republican senators, who could help decide whether witnesses will be introduced.
CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal, political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article 1?
FOX: And their response?
PATRICK PHILBIN, DEPUTY COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: If there were a motive that was of public interest but also some personal interest, we think it follows even more clearly that that cannot possibly be the basis for an impeachable offense. Once you're into mixed motive land, it's clear that their case fails. FOX: And from the day into night, the senator taking turns, pressing
the House impeachment managers and Trump's lawyers to elaborate on their views.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): All quid pros are not the same. Some are legitimate, and some are corrupt. And you don't need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which.
FOX: With just one day until the senator's crucial vote to decide whether they'll hear from any witnesses, some top Republicans say there's one thing they're sure of.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): If the Democrats get their wish to call John Bolton as the 18th witness in this matter, I am confident we're not going to do the kind of one-sided partisan show that the House did. We're calling Hunter Biden, too.
FOX: If the vote for witnesses fails, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to move toward a quick vote to acquit the president.
HAWLEY: It's time to bring this to an end. Let's vote. We've heard the evidence. They don't have a case. Let's vote.
FOX: Democrats keeping a close eye on three red-state caucus members who have yet to announce their stance and potential Republican swing vote Lamar Alexander, who could give Democrats the 51 needed to bring in witnesses.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's optimism diminishing as the clock runs out.
SCHUMER: The president and Mitch McConnell put huge pressure on these folks. I hope we can get witnesses and documents. It's an uphill fight. Are we -- Is it more likely than not? Probably no, but is it a decent good chance? Yes.
FOX: And we know that, if that acquit -- if that witness vote fails tomorrow, what you can expect to see is that leadership could move very quickly to acquit the president -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Lauren, stay with us, if you would. Let's bring in John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst; and Joshua Geltzer, Georgetown Law professor and former National Security Council director for counterterrorism. We are going to rely on your NSC expertise here.
Lauren, let's just start with you very quickly.
So at the moment, let's just see where the senators are. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney are leaning towards yes. Lisa Murkowski is maybe going to join them. We have Cory Gardner there. He's a no. Lamar Alexander is undecided. And then we have, under "unclear," Senator Rob Portman and Senator Bill Cassidy. Is that --
BERMAN: I'm not --
CAMEROTA: Was that your stomach? Or --
BERMAN: That was both.
CAMEROTA: -- an editorial comment?
BERMAN: We have them under unclear. We haven't been paying attention. That's what I'm saying.
CAMEROTA: So you say no?
BERMAN: Well, let's ask Lauren.
CAMEROTA: Oh, hi, Lauren. What do you think?
FOX: I would say that, after talking to Bill Cassidy yesterday outside a Veterans Affairs hearing, I'm pretty confident that the direction that Bill Cassidy is leaning is against witnesses. He essentially is starting to argue that it is time to move on, that essentially, he is not sure what John Bolton could provide.
Of course, all eyes are on Lamar Alexander, like you said. He is retiring in 2020. He is a close ally of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But in all the conversations that I've with that senator and with folks in his office, what I am hearing is he cannot make a decision until after the Q&A is completed.
So he is very listening to these arguments. He's very much in play. And it's just fascinating, because he is somebody who came up with McConnell. He is someone who is close to the majority leader. He is someone who worked very closely to secure, in the resolution, a vote on witnesses; and, yet, we still don't know exactly where he stands.
When he was negotiating on that resolution, I'm told it was more as sort of the middleman between Susan Collins and McConnell, because he sort of speaks both of their languages. He understands Collins' concerns, and he understands the pressure that the majority leader is under. So certainly still the person to watch for those reasons.
BERMAN: Yes, but beyond that, it's hard to come up with one Republican senator who looks like he or she might be considering hearing witnesses, John Avlon. I listened very closely to each and every question that was asked.
We talked about Rob Portman. Rob Portman was on a lot of the questions that were these softball lobs to the president's defenders here. Questions like, Why is the president's case so great? I'm not being literal there. But they were basically along those
lines. So it's pretty clear where Rob Portman is going there.
Did you see any other wiggle room for anyone beyond Alexander?
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And so I think a lot is -- is going to be determined by Lamar Alexander, sort of, you know, will the headline be, "Lamar Alexander Saves the Republic" or "Saves the Republican Party"?
And that's not necessarily an overstatement. Because remember, a longstanding conservative argument has been, "A republic, not an empire."
But the argument put forward by the president's lawyers yesterday is a King Trump defense.
And so given the fact of John Bolton, this new information, it is stunning to me that, you know, three days later, Republicans are saying that this Republican icon, who's saying that the president lied, that he directly connected the withholding of aid to the investigation of a political rival, doesn't represent new and relevant information. That's being complicit in a coverup. And that's a very serious thing. In addition to buying into the precedent-setting argument, the absurd arguments being put forward by Alan Dershowitz yesterday.
CAMEROTA: Joshua, I just want to talk about; I want to zero in on Rob Portman first, Senator Portman. Because he is very interesting to watch throughout this whole process, because he was one of the senators who, in early 2016, along with then-Vice President Biden, sent a message to the president of Ukraine, who was Poroshenko at that time, to get rid of, basically, this corrupt prosecutor, Shokin. They felt the same way back then.
He said, we -- he signed a letter. It was a bipartisan letter that they sent to Poroshenko: "We urge you to press ahead with urgent reforms to the prosecutor general's office."
So having him sit there and listen to all of these -- this stuff about why would Joe Biden try to get rid of this prosecutor, he knows the answer.
JOSHUA GELTZER, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN LAW: He does know the answer, or at least he should. And if you've been a part of formulating U.S. policy to Ukraine, it would be natural to want to know what's happened since, why has it apparently gone off the rails in this way, in which something that's about U.S. national security, at least seems to have been wrapped up into the current president's political future.
And there's a way to get to the bottom of that, which is put John Bolton on the witness stand; ask him questions; find out what exactly the president said to him, directed him to do, directed others to do in front of him; and then have what you need to assess whether the president's behavior here constituted an impeachable offense.
BERMAN: Josh, we're also going to lean on you as a former member of the National Security Council staff. What's going on with the John Bolton book here?
There is this exchange of letters where the Bolton team sent the book to the NSC to review, as you have to do when you sign the NDAs and agree to see top-secret stuff when you work there. And they basically wrote back, and they said there's a lot of stuff in here that's classified and top secret, so you can't use it. What does this mean?
GELTZER: On the surface, this looks normal. But it's hard to believe that, deep down, what's going on is normal.
So on the surface, to submit something for prepublication review is to elicit, at times, an answer like this, an answer from the White House that says there are parts of what you've submitted that we're concerned about. And then what should happen next -- and it can happen promptly -- is a back and forth. What's in there that's a problem? What else can I use? What else can I say that's not classified to tell the basic story I want to tell?
So the letter looks normal. But the fact that it's John Bolton, the fact that it's happening now, the fact that it's not moving forward as expeditiously as John Bolton's lawyers would like, given what we've seen from their follow-up with the White House, all of that, at least, has to lead us to ask the question, is there something going on here where politics is playing a role in something that it shouldn't be?
CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, we're basically out of time, but I just want to say one last thing, because I have a source from the National Security Agency, for -- who had worked there 20 years. She conveniently was a classification advisory officer, John Avlon, so she's done this many time with big-shot's books.
And she said, if the manuscript really does include top-secret material, OK, which is what the letter said, then the NSC would have to confiscate John Bolton's personal computer and destroy his hard drive. And they would -- the fact that they're not sending agents over right now to do that is curious, if that's what they really believe.
AVLON: Which would indicate that this is political. This is a brushback pitch, in part, because of the belated nature of this. And basically, saying, We're going to freeze you from speaking. It adds ballast to the argument that Mitch McConnell is making in private, that this is a giant hassle for senators going forward, because everything will be tangled up in -- in additional witnesses. This is political, make no mistake.
BERMAN: All right, friends. Stand by, because the proximate question is what happens to Donald Trump's presidency? But there's a bigger question here, which is what happens to America? What are the arguments that are being made mean for this country going forward? And I ask that, because the president's lawyers have made a defense and an argument that will blow your mind that redefines what a president can do. Stick around. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BERMAN: So this morning, in an argument that has turned the legal world upside-down, the president's defense team seems to be redefining the powers of the president, redefining them towards infinity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DERSHOWITZ: Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and mostly, you're right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: John Avlon and Joshua Geltzer are back with us right now.
Look, this is not about Alan Dershowitz, but let me say one thing about Alan Dershowitz here. There are a lot of senators who are saying, Oh, my gosh, Harvard emeritus law professor Alan Dershowitz says that; it must be true.
I spent some time in Cambridge. Some of the wrongest people I know, right, were there, including people who use words like "wrongest." So that is not a defense for Alan Dershowitz's claim here.
BERMAN: And Josh, if you look at what he says there, it blows your mind. He says if a president is running for re-election because he thinks getting elected will help America, he can do anything, anything. And that redefines the presidency and, frankly, redefines America.
GELTZER: That's right. Sometimes, things that sound like they're not right are just not right. And that's not right.
What we know is that the framers intended impeachment to be a protection against the abuse of public office, public trust for private benefit. They made no distinction between private benefit in the form of personal re-election campaign versus private benefit in the form of a check in one's bank account. Here in Washington, it's hard to say which some people value more.
The president here is alleged to have done this for a private benefit, his own re-election. That's in the realm of impeachable offenses.
CAMEROTA: I mean, John, just to put a finer point on it, Dershowitz is arguing for unchecked, unrestrained presidential power?
AVLON: Yes. And he may be dismissed -- the case may be dismissed as absurd by 99 percent of constitutional scholars, but if Republicans in the Senate back this argument, they are making it precedent. And let's look at the impact on America it would create. Because that
argument would exonerate Richard Nixon and repudiate Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers, who argued that impeachment was explicitly for the misconduct of public men who abused the public trust. Watergate could be OK, as long as somebody, a president felt that their re-election was in the public interest.
And while the Justice Department has said, through their legal counsel opinion, that a president can't be indicted for criminal conduct, the only avenue to reign them in is impeachment, if this becomes precedent, the president will be unchecked.
And just take this into account. Think for one second as a measure of the oath of impartial justice. If a Democratic president's had made this argument, what the Republicans' response would be. All those alleged passionate small-government conservatives would be outraged, and they should be.
But they are standing mute today for short-term partisan self- interest. But they're not going to get a redo on this. This will become the precedent. This will become what they are on record supporting. And it is an insane expansion of executive power, beyond anything the Founding Fathers ever contemplated.
BERMAN: Yes. You say Watergate would be allowed under this framework. Watergate's chump change under this framework, right?
BERMAN: You can do anything under this framework.
And Dershowitz wasn't ambiguous here. He went on; he expanded on that. He goes, Look, a president goes, I want to be elected. I think I'm a great president. I think I'm the greatest president that ever was, and if I'm not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly. That can't be impeachable, he says. That can't be impeachable. I have to ask Ukraine for help to get reelected, because I'm such a great president. That can't be impeachable.
This means a president can do anything. Anything, Josh. And it just -- the Republican senators, some -- Tim Scott late last night, seemed to have some discomfort with this. It's not going to change how he votes, but he was uncomfortable with what Alan Dershowitz was saying there. I would hope that we hear some more discomfort from the Republicans this morning.
GELTZER: That's right. It's one thing for these Republicans to decide, for whatever reason, that they don't want to vote to remove President Trump from office. But to have them along the way embrace this behavior, rather than say something really wrong happened here. For whatever reason, we don't think it's an impeachable offense. But it's terrible; it's wrong. It's an abuse of the Oval Office and the trust that's put in the person who sits there. That is a problem both in terms of how we think about all sorts of
legal regimes in this country, ethical regimes, campaign finance law regimes; and it is a problem for the future of the office-holders who might be tempted to build on this precedent.
CAMEROTA: You know, John, you said this isn't about Alan Dershowitz, but on some level it is about Alan Dershowitz. And the reason I say that is because, John Avlon, so many senators have publicly said that they are swayed by what he's saying. That they're putting stuff in Alan Dershowitz's opinion, because he is a Harvard professor emeritus.
So they -- I mean, you hear them say, Well, I heard Dershowitz's argument, and he has convinced me.
And what is interesting about Alan Dershowitz, as we all know, is that he feels diametrically different than he, Alan Dershowitz, did during the last impeachment. And in 1999 he said something completely opposite.
And so this professor that they're putting so much stock in is a moving target. His opinion on presidential power and, certainly, on impeachment and if you need a crime, is a moving target. So just because he feels this way and argues compellingly, or whatever, I guess, convincingly to them, doesn't mean that next month or 11 months from now or in the next administration he wouldn't feel completely differently again.
AVLON: No, and just because the Trump defense team found a unicorn willing to advance a self-serving argument for the president that contradicts everything the Republican Party allegedly believes in, doesn't mean it's representative of the legal community, constitutional community, or otherwise.
Of the four legal scholars put forward during the House impeachment, all of them agreed on one thing, including Jonathan Turley: you don't need to commit a crime to be impeached. That was the first argument he made.
But what he did yesterday was blow the doors off any constraints or accountability on presidential power. So again, you've got to say any Republican who believes in what they've been saying about small government, about a republic, not an empire; about constraints on power, call -- you know, this is a chance to stand up and articulate what you believe in when it counts. Because this King Trump argument being put forward will become the precedent, whether they like it or not. They're not going to get a redo when a Democrat becomes president. It's incredibly dangerous, incredibly hypocritical.
BERMAN: And just for anyone who makes the argument, Oh, if Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor says it, it must be true, I just point to the '90s and O.J. Simpson. I will just say, in theory, Alan Dershowitz can say things occasionally that might not be true.
And this is bigger than him. And it's bigger than the impeachment vote.
BERMAN: The case he's making is about America.
Josh, John, thank you very much.
CAMEROTA: OK. So also, we want to get to this. The very first public comments from Vanessa Bryant since the death of her husband and daughter. Her message to everyone today.
CAMEROTA: For the first time since the helicopter crash, we are hearing from Kobe Bryant's widow. She spoke about her family and her loss in an emotional Instagram post.
CNN's Omar Jimenez is live at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with the latest.
What did she say?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, as emotional as this has been for friends and fans across the world, it's maybe been harder on no one more than Vanessa Bryant, Kobe's now-widow.
She posted to Instagram a statement, along with a picture of her and her family, reading, in part, "There aren't enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved."
It goes on to say, "I'm not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it's impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing, because Kobe and our baby girl Gigi are shining on us to light the way."
And that's as grieving, not just for the family but around the world.