Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Soon, Senators Question Trump Team & House Managers; Chief Justice Rebuffs Rand Paul's Question on Whistleblower; Some Democrats Could Vote With Republicans on Acquittal; Commerce Department Indicates Last Year's Economy Grew at Slowest Pace; High Winds Knock Down Parts of New Border Wall; Trump's Lawyers Argue President Can't Be Punished for Violating Foreign Policy Because President Sets Foreign Policy; Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols Discusses Impeachment Not About Policy At All. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 30, 2020 - 11:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:32:42]

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. I'm Dana Bash, on Capitol Hill.

And I'm joined by my colleague, Phil Mattingly, my intrepid colleague, Phil Mattingly, who keeps us all on top of everything here.

So given that, where are we right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is what you need to pay attention to today. Republican leaders feel like they're moving close to have the votes to block the witness vote. It could be very quickly. As we've been reporting, this as well. Right after, when they try to get to the final acquittal of the president.

BASH: Just tomorrow night.

MATTINGLY: Which is tomorrow night.

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: Could be as soon as tomorrow night --

BASH: A procedural vote.

MATTINGLY: -- procedurally on what happens and if the witness vote fails.

But pay attention to the question-and-answer session. I think a lot of people are overlooking that and paying attention to which counts. Some of the questions asked, particularly by moderate Senators we're all keeping an eye on, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney as well, elicited fascinating answers yesterday. And answers from the managers and White House team that I do think

will have an effect on how they think about things, maybe not the witness vote, how they vote on the actual final articles of impeachment.

And also there's questions that the White House team hasn't been able to answer if a fulsome manner. I've been trying to figure out where this all goes, because there will be an after effect of what happens when this is all over. And I think those questions matter when we get past this.

BASH: Speaking of the questions, you have some new reporting on Senator Rand Paul and his attempt to ask a question about the whistleblower that the chief justice rebuffed yesterday.

MATTINGLY: Yes, this is fascinating. It was all happening behind the scenes yesterday. We kind of got clued in on it. You could see Rand Paul during a break, talk to the secretary of the Senate, a well- known, well-respected staffer for McConnell. And he was very frustrated.

The reason why is he wanted to ask a question about, quote, "the origins of the investigation." What he meant by that was he was going to name the alleged whistleblower in that question.

Obviously, the chief justice has to read the questions. What I'm told is the chief justice made it clear to Senators earlier in the week he would not read any questions with the alleged whistleblower name in them.

Senator Paul says, look, you don't have the right to tell me, as presiding officer, what I can and can't ask.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: And according to Rand Paul's spokesman, he's absolutely going to try today.

This has been a structured process in how Senators ask questions, when Senators ask questions. So how this will work is a complete unknown. How the chief justice reacts to this is a complete unknown. But there could be interesting --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Will be some drama.

MATTINGLY: Get your popcorn ready --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Real quick, before we go, Democrats, we have been understandably focused on Republicans. But there are a trio of Democrats who could vote with Republicans and maybe give the president some bipartisan bragging rights.

[11:35:10]

MATTINGLY: It could be a bipartisan acquittal. In fact, that's what Republicans are banking on. Keep an eye on Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and Doug Jones of Alabama.

And all of them have made clear -- well, Kyrsten Sinema has spoken a lot on where she stands on things. We had questions from her yesterday. Particularly Senators Johnson and Manchin, how they're wrestling with this process. Obviously both are reflection of where they're from, their states and their constituencies but also the ins and outs, legal, whether or not it meets the threshold.

I think there's a very real possibility, even Democrats acknowledge this, that all three could vote no on one article, maybe both articles.

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: But keep a close eye on this. We have been focusing so much on Republicans. But Democrats they're not altogether on this either.

BASH: So good to see you, Phil.

MATTINGLY: I like what we have done with this place. Nice.

BASH: Yes. Yes. Thanks. Thanks for your help with that.

We'll take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about. We're about 90 minutes away from start of this day, day nine of the Senate impeachment trial.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:58]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The pace of America's economy appears to be slowing down. Preliminary data from the Commerce Department indicates last year's economy grew 2.3 percent, the slowest pace in three years.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: While the number is still solid, that is the weakest it has been since President Trump took office.

John Harwood is CNN's White House correspondent.

John, how is the White House explaining this?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry Kudlow, the head of the National Economic Council, said a few minutes ago that the fourth quarter was better than expectations. They have come in around 1.9, but acknowledged we can do better, we want to do better.

This is a result that is short of the 3 percent to 4 percent growth that President Trump had promised. But it is also returning back to the arc the economy was on before President Trump took office. Larry said it is a fundamentally healthy economy and he's right about

that. But it was fundamentally healthy when President Trump came in, notwithstanding all the rhetoric about carnage.

We had the wear off of the stimulus that came from the tax cuts, and spending increases that occurred. There was some uncertainty weighing down growth in 2019 over the trade war. That perhaps has lifted now.

But this is a 2 percent growth economy. It bumped up briefly over that level. And now it is back right where it was before.

BLITZER: This comes as the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, John, is issuing a new warning about the rising deficit. How is the White House responding it that?

HARWOOD: Larry is one of those people who I've known for a long time who has never traditionally been concerned about deficits. But the deficits are now back to a trillion dollars.

In reality, there's a lot of money in the world right now and so there's no particular reason to think that the economy, at this moment, is a threat.

However, the larger the deficit is, the less room you have if we do have a downturn. There's still a non-trivial chance that we would begin a recession in 2020. And in that case, you want the government to spend more.

And it makes -- the larger the deficit is in good times, the more difficult it is to respond to bad times when they come.

TAPPER: John Harwood, at the White House, thank you so much.

Newly installed portions of the border wall along the U.S./Mexico line have collapsed. Knocked down by high winds.

BLITZER: This was the scene yesterday. Look at this. The wind was so strong, parts of the wall fell into trees on the Mexican side of the border.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now.

Ed, the wall fell apart. Part of an ongoing project to improve the existing sections of the wall.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT Hi, Wolf. You can imagine anything having to do with the border wall in the Trump administration is going to garner a great deal of attention.

Here, as you mentioned, in California, in the southeast corner of the state, this is an area where border wall construction is -- has been under way for some time. And this isn't new border wall construction per se, it is replacing other barriers that were already there.

Customs and Border Protection officials are saying there was high wind gusts in that area yesterday afternoon that toppled over a portion of that wall.

And it had to do with the fact that, according to the CBP officials, the concrete where the barriers was installed into had not yet had time to cure. So it wasn't fully settled yet.

If you look at the video, you see other sections, down a ways from where this section toppled, you can see the border wall still standing upright.

CBP officials say that there was a concrete that wasn't perfectly set just yet and it was those high wind gusts that toppled everything over yesterday.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, moments ago, said the president will not be truly acquitted if no further witnesses, no new witnesses are allowed in the Senate impeachment trial. We'll discuss that in a moment.

[11:44:54]

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's lawyers at his impeachment trial are standing by one of their key arguments that the president can't be punished for violating foreign policy because he is the policy, and he alone can dictate what that policy is.

Here's the question to the president's legal team from Republican Senators. It is read by the chief justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The House managers have argued aggressively that the president's actions contravene U.S. foreign policy. Isn't the president's place, certainly more than career civil servants, to conduct foreign policy?

[11:49:57]

PATRICK PHILBIN, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY COUNSEL: It is definitely the president's place to set U.S. foreign policy. And the Constitution makes this clear. Article II, Section I vests the entirety of the executive authority in a president of the United States. And it's critically important in our constitutional structure that that authority is vested solely in the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Tom Nichols is an author, professor of the naval college.

Tom, thanks for being with us. You put an opinion piece in today's "USA Today" that I thought was really interesting because you say this trial and this impeachment wasn't about policy at all, that what the president was doing was not -- it wasn't about policy.

TOM NICHOLS, PROFESSOR, U.S. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE, HARVARD EXTENSION SCHOOL & AUTHOR: Right. The United States has a policy on Ukraine and Russia. And people like Fiona Hill and John Bolton and Alexander Vindman and others were trying to follow that policy.

What the president did was to create a second policy under the blankets. As I say in the piece, it's not really a policy. It's more of a scheme where he deputized people who don't work in the government. I should say, I don't speak for the U.S. government.

He deputized people who are not government employees, people like Rudy Giuliani, and told them to do things that were in direct contravention of stated American policy, which was to help Ukraine.

So the people, who were trying to further the president's policy, did their constitutional duty. They reported it and tried to deal with it when they found evidence of some kind of plot to undermine what they thought was actually the president's stated policy.

The president's lawyers and the Republicans in the Senate are trying to be very clever and call anything that the president does policy. By that reasoning, you could never impeach the president for anything, because all he would have to do is say, well, it was policy. That's a ridiculous argument

COOPER: The president's actions and Rudy Giuliani's actions were actually undermining what official U.S. policy was. They were -- the ambassador to Ukraine, whether you think she was doing a good job or not, she was trying to execute American foreign policy, which was an anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.

NICHOLS: You know, and it's really sad to see people who clearly know better, somebody has obviously intelligent as Senator Lee asking this question and throwing out these cheap shots about, you know, unelected bureaucrats.

Those appointees and civil service people were trying to further the president's policy. The publicly stated policy was, we are going to help Ukraine against Russia.

The president then sent in his personal lawyer to say, stop helping Ukraine against Russia.

And when challenged, the president's lawyers say, well, they were both policies and everybody should have just been doing what the president wanted at any given moment.

The president does set policy. On that, the president's lawyers are absolutely right. But the president doesn't have the right to set policy as a hidden policy, keep it from the Congress, keep it from the government, and break the law while doing it.

That whole argument is just completely laughable. But it gets traction because, again, it makes it sound like there's all this disloyalty and rank insubordination throughout the government.

COOPER: It's a continuation of this sort of drumbeat it seems like we're hearing from the president's attorneys, essentially, that Donald Trump is the state, which is an argument that Adam Schiff was making, that there's nothing distinguishing the interests of Donald Trump and the interests of America, that they are one and the same because he is the state.

NICHOLS: Yes, that argument is just crazy. It's un-American. And it's unconstitutional. Donald Trump is the custodian of the Article I executive power for his term in office. He does not magically become the personalization of state power like some kind of a monarch.

You know, and it shows you how far the president's team is going, that they're basically saying that whatever the president does is perfectly acceptable because the president did it.

They're taking Richard Nixon's line that if the president does it, it's not illegal. And they're taking it even further and saying, if the president does it, it's good and right and everyone must do it, too. And that's just ridiculous.

COOPER: Tom Nichols, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

NICHOLS: Thanks for having me.

[11:54:28]

COOPER: In a short time from now, the question-and-answer phase of the impeachment trial will resume. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, moments ago, saying the president won't be truly acquitted if there are no new witnesses in the Senate trial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, live 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, it's round two of questions from the jury. Chief Justice John Roberts read out 93 questions from the U.S. Senators yesterday. But there was one he refused to read. We're going to get to that in just a few moments.

TAPPER: But first, we're getting new comments from members of both the Senate and the House, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

[12:00:02]

Our Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, the speaker is claiming that President Trump will not be truly acquitted if the Senate refuses to hear from new witnesses.