Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Trump Team Argues To Change Nature Of American Democracy. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 30, 2020 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: It begins right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. I'm Wolf Blitzer live here in Washington alongside Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper and Dana Bash, she's up on Capitol Hill. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.
Today is round two of questions from the jury. The chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, read out 93 questions from the senators yesterday, but there was one that he refused to read, we'll get to that later.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump defense team introduced a stunning new argument into the debate on the Senate floor yesterday. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz put forth a shockingly robust argument about presidential powers that when it comes to asking a foreign country to interfere with the election in any way, Dershowitz suggested that would be perfectly okay, as long as the president truly believes that action is in the nation's best interest, the action that he be re-elected.
And that monumental claim of quite expansive presidential powers sparked a fierce back and forth between Trump's legal team and the Democratic House managers. Take a listen to this quick excerpt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, TRUMP IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY: The 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): I think the Alan Dershowitz from 21 years ago understood that, yes, while you can't impeach for a policy difference, you can impeach a president for abuse of power. That's what he said 21 years ago. Nothing has changed since then. I don't think you can write off the consensus of constitutional opinion by saying they're all never-Trumpers.
PATRICK PHILBIN, DEPUTY COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: If there is credible information, credible information of wrongdoing by someone who is running for a public office, it's not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light if it's credible information.
SCHIFF: I would like to ask questions of the president, put him under oath. But we're not here to indulge in fantasy or distraction. We're here to talk about people with pertinent and probative evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That shocking argument from Alan Dershowitz is now front and center as senators consider whether to vote to approve new witnesses or other evidence in the case. Dana Bash is anchoring our coverage from Capitol Hill.
Dana, what reaction, so far, have you been hearing to Dershowitz's new interpretation of presidential powers?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been hard for many Republicans to answer a lot of the sort of obvious questions about the consistency or inconsistency of the arguments that you heard from the president's defense team. But the Dershowitz argument has been the hardest bar none. Because the notion of any Republican kind of admitting with a straight face that they would agree with that argument, if there were a Democratic president, it is hard -- it is hard for them to even pass the laugh test. And, privately, they would admit that.
But, publicly, it's a different ball game because, at this point, they feel they are so close to the end, they feel that they are so close to getting past this, they don't want to say anything or do anything that would help to rock the boat and make it so that this goes on for a longer period of time. But that, again, publicly, Republicans are, you know, sidestepping it, somewhat defending it, but, privately, not so much.
TAPPER: And, Dana, there were several questions that could not be answered during yesterday's session because of the blocked release of documents or witnesses, such as email exchanges between Lisa Cooper and Ukrainian contacts, Lisa Cooper, a Pentagon official that could answer when exactly Ukrainian government officials knew that something was going on with the security aid being withheld from that country. The Senate expects to vote on witnesses tomorrow.
How confident are Republican leaders that they have 51 votes to block any new witnesses, any new documents?
BASH: Confident, Jake. They are increasingly confident. Now, to be clear, they are not saying publicly that they feel that they are there because they don't -- again, they don't want to jeopardize it. But when you look at the numbers, they see that there are really three Republicans, they believe Susan Collins and also Mitt Romney are almost firmly yeses on witnesses, Lisa Murkowski is maybe a yes on witnesses. And then that leaves the Democrats one vote shy.
And they have been increasingly confident that the person who people have been looking at as the potential for that vote, Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, is going to go with his party leadership. They don't know that, but they are being much more -- they appear in private conversations much more confident that it's going to go that way.
And one quick little bit of color, I was in the chamber yesterday watching Lamar Alexander. He had two notebooks, one he was using to take notes on what he was hearing, but then he had a legal pad and he was writing and writing and writing, either he was writing a statement or something that, you know, took a lot of his attention and focus whether or not it was something that he plans to say in and around the witness vote, we don't know but it was really noteworthy to watch him.
TAPPER: Dana Bash, thank you so much. And, Anderson, let me bring you in, because one of the things that's so interesting, Anderson, is that it may be the Democrats actually used the vote on witnesses and documents more as a cudgel in the 2020 election than the vote to acquit or convict or remove President Trump, because they will accuse Republican senators like Cory Gardener or Martha McsSlly, whoever, of engaging in a cover-up. That one Democrats think might be more damaging even.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In Particular, I mean, Mitt Romney, I thought, got to that area when his question yesterday to the counsels was essentially, you know, what is the exact date that the president actually made the decision to stop aid and how did he transmit that, and they couldn't answer that. The fact that we don't even know the public record of U.S. foreign -- what they are alleging was U.S. foreign policy is extraordinary. And I think that's something that obviously Democrats are going to be pointing out. Not only did they do that yesterday, but today as well.
Jeff Toobin, CNN's Chief Legal Analyst, a federal prosecutor, he's a former student of Alan Dershowitz. John Dean is here, CNN Contributor, former Nixon White House Counsel.
Jeff, your thoughts on Dershowitz, because now, Dershowitz is now saying that he's being mischaracterized. He just sent out two tweets. He said, they characterized my argument as if I've said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national security, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.
He also tweeted, taking advantage of the fact most of our viewers didn't actually hear the Senate Q&A, CNN, MSNBC and some other media willfully distorted my answers, more to come.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we just ran an excerpt from his speech where he said essentially what we said he said.
COOPER: Actually, we have another excerpt.
COOPER: Let's just --
TOOBIN: Let's play that. (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.
They never allege that it was based on pure financial reasons. It would be a much harder case if a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, unless you build a hotel with my name on it, and unless you give me a million dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds. That's an easy case. That's purely corrupt and in the purely private interest. But a complex middle case is I want to be elected. I think I'm a great president. I think I'm the greatest president there ever was. And if I'm not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly. That cannot be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOOBIN: It can be. I mean, this is what this case is about. I mean, the president -- I mean, the accusation here is that the president went to the -- the president of the United States went to the president of Ukraine and said, look, I am going to withhold this $390 million unless you announce an investigation of Joe Biden.
As Alan Dershowitz said, I think Donald Trump honestly believes that his election is in the national interest, he believes that he's going to be the best president for the next four years, so it is worth it to him to withhold this money.
This is a fundamental difference of constitutional law, whether such an act is a high crime and misdemeanor and it also relates to the question of witnesses. Because John Bolton knows about what the president's motives were in going to the president of Ukraine.
And the fact that if they don't let Bolton testify or get his -- you know, get his information, that means they're adopting Dershowitz's view that it doesn't matter. As long as the president thinks it's in the national interest for him to be re-elected, he can do what he wants.
COOPER: John, it does seem to open the door, again, not a lawyer, but it does seem to open the door for any kind of excuse. All politicians think it's essential and in the best public interest that they get elected, it doesn't mean it is.
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I was listening in real-time yesterday, as soon as I digested what he had said, I tweeted, he had unimpeached Richard Nixon, who believed -- Nixon was truly motivated by the belief he was the best person to be president of the United States. He was a peacemaker. So he obstructed justice and abused powers to enhance his own power and that was his motive. It wasn't financial, it wasn't ego gratification, he thought it would be --
COOPER: Dershowitz does seem to be arguing it's got to be a financial motive, that it's --
TOOBIN: Sort of. Well, although I'm not sure exactly how that parses out, that if the president of Ukraine gave Donald Trump a suitcase of cash in return for a decision, I assume Dershowitz would think that was an impeachable offense. But, you know, in a way it's worse when you have an abuse of power. Because, you know, anybody can be bribed with a suitcase of cash. Only a president can say, you're not getting the money that Congress authorized. Only a president can use the powers of the presidency in a corrupt way and that, I think -- and this goes back to the debate about the framers and, you know, Alexander Hamilton and Federal 65.
What they were concerned about was presidents abusing their power. They weren't concerned about -- I mean, they were concerned to a certain extent about everyday crimes, like suitcases of cash, but they were concerned about presidents who abuse their power, and that's what this case is about.
COOPER: Big picture now, it seems like the Republican Party, because that is now the party of Trump, is arguing that foreign interference is okay, that it's okay to seek help from a foreign government, and that it's not impeachable if foreign government does --
DEAN: That's the result of their action if they give Trump a pass. They have set up precedent that this is okay behavior. So why won't other presidents do it? I'm hopeful, for example, if this is done the way it appears to go down and quickly, that Mitch has it under control. I hope the House turns around and censures this man because they wouldn't agree with it. And certainly Nancy and the House managers don't agree with this. And they're fighting tooth and nail to try to make the Senate wake up and realize what they're doing.
It's true. Republicans are having trouble at the poll increasingly. They suppress vote. They want to give powers to the president the president never had before. They were 180 degrees away from this at one point.
COOPER: It's so interesting, too, because it is a -- for the president, it's a belief, and I think it was Adam Schiff who said this yesterday that the president seems to believe he is the state, and what is best for -- whatever is best for him personally to get elected, whatever is best for him personally is the best thing for the country.
TOOBIN: Well, that's the Alan Dershowitz argument, that if you believe that you are the national interest, then you can do anything you want to stay in power. And, you know, when you talk about setting a precedent for future presidents, we don't have to worry about future presidents. The current president thinks that this precedent is one he can use. That's why he says China should do an investigation of the Biden family. It is quite clear from everything that the Donald Trump has done as president, and in his private life, that he feels his personal interest is something that justifies virtually anything. And --
DEAN: And that is a very, very frightening precedent.
COOPER: Yes. John Dean and Jeff Toobin, thanks.
Ahead, nearly three-quarters of all Americans say the Senate should call witnesses, but Republicans are coming up with a series of reasons why they shouldn't. Stay with CNN's special coverage.
BLITZER: We're back for day two of the question and answer period of President Trump's impeachment trial. This is where both Democrats and Republicans, they submit questions, chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, reads them aloud and then either the House managers or the president's legal team respond. This is expected to last once again all day. And then tomorrow we expect what is likely to be a very heated vote over whether or not to hear from witnesses.
TAPPER: As it stands right now, Republican leaders say they're confident they will have the votes to block testimony. Is that what their constituents want? According to a brand-new poll from Quinnipiac, three out of four voters say witnesses should be allowed to testify in the Senate trial, that includes nearly half of all Republican voters. More Republicans want to hear from witnesses than not.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.
Senator, to be frank, it appears that the momentum is with Republican leaders. It appears that they will have the votes to block witness testimony and only get maybe two or three Republicans joining with your caucus to vote for more witnesses and more testimony, more documents. And then it's also possible, I think, if not likely, that there will be a bipartisan vote to acquit President Trump.
It seems possible that Manchin, Sinema and maybe even Doug Jones, but certainly Manchin and Sinema have their minds open to voting to acquit President Trump on both counts. What do you think of this?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I'm focused right now on trying to persuade my colleagues that we need those witnesses and documents so we have the truth, and so that this whole process has some credibility.
You know, I'm deeply worried about the net result the day after we're done here. We have an argument that the president has made on the floor of the Senate through his lawyer that he can do anything he wants as long as he thinks it helps his re-election, which he thinks is in the public interest. That includes foreign interference, smearing a political opponent and possibly the message to the president, a cover-up works, blatant defiance pays off and it will be given a seal of approval by an ultimate acquittal.
So I am deeply concerned about the net result here in terms of not only feeding the cynicism, distrust to the American people, but also in effect unleashing the worst instincts in this president for the remainder of his term. And, obviously, there is always a possibility of another term. But right now, it will make the presidency even more dangerous. And I hope my colleagues will understand that point and that we will have a vote for witnesses and documents. I still have that.
TAPPER: Senator, you were just alluding to arguments that Alan Dershowitz, the president's attorney, the Harvard law professor made on the floor of the Senate yesterday. He is now saying that his arguments are being mischaracterized. He says, quote, they characterize my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest. We have actually, obviously, been playing the sound of what he actually said. What's your response to Dershowitz?
BLUMENTHAL: He said it. I was there. It prompted laughs, but also a deep anger. I felt that outrage and many of my colleagues did, we walked off the Senate floor and we said to each other, did he really say that? And so we went to the transcript, and, in fact, he did, as you have replayed it. And it would be obviously laughed out of the courtroom, it would be ridiculed in the first year constitutional law class, but it is deeply dangerous because the American people, many of them believe that, in fact, politicians will do anything to get re- elected. It is untrue.
But Alan Dershowitz or more precisely Donald Trump, because his lawyer is speaking for him, wants the American people to believe that it is okay to invite foreign interference, to smear a political opponent, to ask a foreign leader to investigate a U.S. citizen, anything goes, even illegality as long as it helps him, and that is not the law, thankfully, in this country.
BLITZER: Senator, it's Wolf. I want to get your thought, and I know you have a strong feeling that, let's say it's a 50/50 tie on the floor of the Senate. There are 53 Republicans right now, 47 Democrats. If three Republicans on the Senate floor go ahead and vote for witnesses, it would be 50/50. You want the chief justice, John Roberts, to break that tie and actually directly get involved?
BLUMENTHAL: I hope the chief justice will decide that we have a real interest here in justice. And his responsibility is to assure the credibility and trust of the American people in our justice system. That is part of his constitutional role. So I think there is a powerful argument for his breaking the tie. But the real weight of this decision should be on my Republican colleagues. They will be haunted by history.
Eventually, all this truth will come out, not in months or years, but literally in days because John Bolton's book, even if the president tries to censor it, as he now seems to be doing, will eventually be seen and parts of it will be leaked and there will be more Freedom of Information Act results and more leaks in Washington, D.C., eventually everything comes out.
So my Republican colleagues will be haunted by history but also by the voters this November. I hope they'll think about their long-term political interest as well as what's right for the country.
BLITZER: Yes. If it is a 50/50 tie, there won't be witnesses because it hasn't passed and a lot of experts don't think John Roberts necessarily is going to get that directly involved.
So you probably need four, not three.
Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
TAPPER: Still ahead, Trump defense attorney Alan Dershowitz is claiming abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. Constantly invoking the name of one of his colleagues from Harvard, that professor will join us to correct the record next. Stay with us.