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Witness Vote Likely to Fail after Alexander Says He's a 'No'; U.S. State Department Advises Against Travel to China. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2020 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican Senator Lamar Alexander says he plans to vote against witnesses.

[05:59:30]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be the most significant vote he makes in his career, and it's one of the last votes he'll make.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The president's impeachment trial could be over.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call the impeachment hoax. And that's what it is. It's a hoax.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): I'm gravely concerned about what this means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are likely to move on Saturday at the end of which, the president will be acquitted.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He will not be acquitted. You cannot be acquitted if you don't have a trial. And you don't have a trial if you don't have witnesses and documentation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, January 31. It's 6 a.m. here in New York.

And Russia, if you're listening, 2020 is open for investigations. This morning, not only is the Senate about to acquit the president for asking for foreign assistance in the election; the Senate is now poised to say it doesn't even want to hear all the evidence.

The breaking news overnight, it is a no from Senator Lamar Alexander. By all accounts, he was the deciding vote on whether to hear witnesses, including John Bolton, who reportedly has written that the president explicitly told him that aid to Ukraine was tied to investigating the Bidens. Senator Alexander released a statement overnight, explaining his no

vote. We will read it to you shortly. There's a lot in it, including the fairly shocking statement that Alexander thinks the Democratic House managers have proved their case.

There is also a new statement from John Bolton overnight. But first, there is one bit of Constitutional intrigue left. Alexander's vote means the best Democrats can do is really lose or tie on witnesses. Senators Collins and Mitt Romney are expected to vote yes. We don't know yet about Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. She says she'll announce her decision later this morning. If she's a yes, that makes a 50/50 tie.

Who breaks the tie? Well, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, could, but only if he wants to. More on that shortly.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the impeachment trial continues this afternoon at 1 p.m. Eastern. There will be four hours of debate, and then the critical vote will take place. If witnesses are blocked, the senators have a potentially long night ahead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to move forward with final arguments. Then a potential vote to convict or acquit the president could take place very late tonight or early Saturday morning.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with the latest. A lot happened while our viewers were sleeping, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Alisyn. And remember, it was just four months ago that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, announced that she was opening an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Now we are just hours away from we -- what we expect will be the crucial vote to acquit the president of his allegations.

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FOX (voice-over): Senate Democrats' hopes to introduce witnesses into President Trump's impeachment trial seemingly dashed, thanks to a late-night announcement from key Republican Senator Lamar Alexander.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): I'm deeply disappointed in it. I -- I think that it -- that makes it likely that the Senate may have the first impeachment trial in history that have no witnesses at all.

FOX: The Tennessee lawmaker releasing a statement announcing he will vote against this afternoon's motion to consider additional evidence and witnesses. Alexander writing, quote, "It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation." But adding, "The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate."

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I think with this announcement, the chances of additional witnesses now has plummeted. And I think we are likely to move on Saturday to final judgment, at the end of which the president will be acquitted.

FOX: Overnight, Senator Susan Collins announced she's already made her decision, saying she'll vote yes, because, quote, "I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case."

It's still unclear if Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski will join her. Their support would push the Senate to a 50/50 tie. Democrats growing increasingly frustrated by their GOP colleagues.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): He has been let off the hook by Republicans, who are not going to vote for his conviction, but he is not going to be set free by the American people, I hope, who get that this was not a fair trial.

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FOX: And in just a couple of hours, we expect that crucial vote on witnesses. It will probably happen around 5 or 6 p.m. tonight. After that, the actual final vote on whether or not the president is guilty of what and whether he deserves to be removed from office.

One of the key questions, though. What happens if there is a tie? There is not a lot of confidence that what Justice John Roberts would do would break that tie. So likely no vote on witnesses -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right, Lauren. Thank you very much for that.

Joining us now, John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst; Anna Palmer, CNN Washington correspondent for "Politico"; and CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

We'll get to John Roberts. We'll get to Lisa Murkowski in just a moment. But first, I really want to look at the big picture here. Let me read you part of Sen. Lamar Alexander's statement.

[06:05:00]

He says, quote, "There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. He said this on television on October 3 and during his July 25 telephone call with the president of Ukraine. There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens."

Here's the crazy part: "The House managers have proved this with what they call a mountain of overwhelming evidence."

So John Avlon, my question to you is what's the long-term impact of this? Of acknowledging the House managers proved their case. The president of the United States asked for foreign assistance in a campaign. He withheld aid --

CAMEROTA: Taxpayer money. BERMAN: -- in order to get foreign assistance. What's the implications

of Lamar Alexander, and therefore, effectively, Republicans in the Senate, saying, You know what? It all happened. They proved it. We don't care.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's massive. I mean, Lamar Alexander saying that the president lied, the White House lied, his lawyers, in effect, lied to the American people from the beginning. That this happened. And that it doesn't matter to the extent of impeachment. It's inappropriate, but not impeachable.

Here's the problem. It sets the precedent that, as you said in the open, it opens the door to foreign interference in our elections. That presidents can request foreign governments to try to interfere on their behalf in elections. And that is 100 percent counter to what the Founding Fathers wanted and warned against. But that's the new standard Republicans have backed.

Also the standard? That witnesses are not necessary in a Senate impeachment trial. That's never happened before. But they have chosen not to hear more information.

CAMEROTA: Michael Smerconish --

AVLON: And that itself, I think, sends sort of a sinister signal.

CAMEROTA: Michael Smerconish, there's another part of the Alexander statement that I also think is really stunning. So let me just read that.

He said, "It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid" -- also, another word for that is taxpayer money -- "to encourage that investigation. When elected officials appropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law; but the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year's ballots simply for actions that are inappropriate."

Your thoughts this morning?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If I had shown the two of you -- if I had shown all of you Lamar Alexander's statement with some very light redacting and then I were to ask you, so which way do you think he's voting? I think I could have convinced you he was voting in the opposite direction. That's the stunning thing about it.

My second observation is I don't think he's alone. I frankly think that the sentiments that he expressed in this statement are largely the sentiments of Republicans. They won't acknowledge it, but some of the reporting has discussed how, behind closed doors, there's an acknowledgment that the president was wrong.

Third observation is I've always believed that the clock was the Democrats' enemy. I don't know whether Lamar Alexander really means it when he says, Hey, voting on Monday in Iowa is also a rationale. I don't know if the voting weren't to begin for another six months, if he wouldn't have come to the same conclusion.

But the juxtaposition of people casting ballots while this is going on was always problematic for the House Democrats.

BERMAN: It is interesting, Anna, because again, Alexander said the Democrats proved their case. That's not going to make President Trump happy. But his happiness on that matter probably isn't what's most important to the White House this morning.

It does begs the question, what's to keep a campaign from opening an Office of Outreach for Foreign Investigations? Is there anything?

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON REPORTER, "POLITICO": I mean, at this point, it doesn't appear that the senators are willing to go further than saying inappropriate in terms of foreign interference. Certainly, many of them have said publicly and privately that it makes them uncomfortable, what the president has done.

And clearly, this week what Alan Dershowitz was arguing, that if a president is elected -- wants to be re-elected, and it's for the good of the country, they should be able to do anything, did not sit well with a lot of Democrats, and certainly, some Republicans.

I think the big question here is what happens after the decision not to have witnesses. Do Democrats have some amendments? Are there procedural motions? What kind of mischief is going to happen? Because I've covered the Senate and the Capitol way too long to know that this is going to be cut and dry. They're going to have one vote for witnesses, and they're going to move, all of a sudden, to closing arguments.

CAMEROTA: But Anna, I mean, does anything change the ultimate outcome? I mean, regardless of whatever mischief they can stir up tonight, the president's going to get acquitted.

PALMER: I think right now, it looks as though he's acquitted. We were this morning going through playbook, trying to find who would be the potential other senator that would potentially vote yes besides, you know, Mitt Romney, Murkowski, and Susan Collins; and there really isn't anyone. And right now it does not appear that John Roberts is going to vote and put his -- tip the scales in one way or the other, and so he's not going to say, Yes, I'm going to vote for witnesses.

[06:10:08]

So no, I think at this point, it's pretty much -- the end game is already decided. But there is going to be some, I think, debate and potential different votes that could impact senators who are up for re-election like Cory Gardner in Colorado. That Democrats are going to try to put them in a tough position.

BERMAN: I don't know that acquittal was ever the question here. I think it has always been obvious he was going to get off. And the bar is high for convicting --

CAMEROTA: But there was a feeling -- I mean, I think, at least, out among viewers that, if witnesses came forward, if there were more -- was more evidence that came forward, that something could change the equation. That it wasn't all just an exercise in futility.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I know that some of us in the media thought it was an exercise, perhaps, in futility. But there was always a feeling that something could break open.

BERMAN: I will tell you, that if you read Lamar Alexander's statement, if there was that feeling, it's clear that the answer was no. There never was.

And the bar for conviction is high and should be high. The bar for hearing witnesses and getting facts, you would think is low and should be low.

But John, to the point that Anna was making about John Roberts -- and Smerc, I want you on this, too -- if there's a 50/50 tie, technically, the presiding officer is the chief justice of the United States.

AVLON: Correct.

BERMAN: He could, if he wanted to, break the tie for witnesses. Salman Chase did it in the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. History did not look kindly on the Supreme Court justice for doing so in 1868, but John Roberts could.

AVLON: But the -- the contemporary verdict of Salman Chase and the Johnson trial aside, we have a precedent for a chief justice breaking a tie in a Senate impeachment trial. It's been done. It can be done. It's within his power. And his presiding status is somewhat analogous to the role of the vice president in breaking ties.

That said, people expect widely that John Roberts will be reticent. He will not want to intrude on such a question.

But it does go to the heart of the integrity of the process. He's presided over a trial with no witnesses, where people are -- senators are actively choosing, largely along partisan lines, to not hear relevant new information. And so there is something on him. We shouldn't say, well, it's not just it's not likely to happen, because it would be seen as impolite in the balance of powers. The balance of powers are being violated right under his nose.

CAMEROTA: Also, I mean, there -- in terms of logic, some of this defies it, Michael Smerconish. You know, the logic of a trial, according to what we've all known in our lives, is that it has evidence, it has witnesses.

The logic of a tie, as we all see at our kids' soccer games every weekend, is that not one -- that doesn't mean that one side wins. When it's a tie, there's a shootout. And I'm not suggesting a literal shootout in this case in the Senate. But you take my point --

AVLON: I do. CAMEROTA: -- that all of this defies what we've known to -- things to mean in the past.

SMERCONISH: If there were a legal answer to your question, I'd give it. If I could cite the rules, if I could point you in the direction of the Constitution. But they say nothing about what should now take place.

So instead, I offer you this gut check, as someone who has paid close attention and watched his body language. He's been a very passive participant. The only time that he really exerted any influence was to thwart Rand Paul from outing the whistle-blower. That tells me he doesn't want to be the tie-breaker.

BERMAN: Yes. I do not think that Democrats should be holding their breath today for John Roberts.

CAMEROTA: You don't think they'll be a shootout?

BERMAN: I also don't know that Lisa Murkowski is going to vote yes on witnesses. She may not want to put the pressure on John Roberts to have to break the tie. We still have to hear from her, and that announcement could come at any point this morning.

You guys, stand by. We've got a lot more to talk about. John Bolton had a statement overnight. The president's not going to like that one bit.

And I think there are questions for Democrats this morning. What could they have done differently --

CAMEROTA: Sure.

BERMAN: -- perhaps before this point that might have led to a different outcome?

CAMEROTA: And also just the bigger picture of what does this mean starting Saturday? What does all of this mean? President Trump is likely to be acquitted. What message does it send to President Trump and future presidents about presidential power?

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[06:18:33]

CAMEROTA: Former national security advisor John Bolton is speaking out. Not to the Senate, but he is speaking out.

CNN affiliate KXAN reports that Bolton showed support for those who have testified in the impeachment proceedings. At an event last night, he said, quote, "All of them acted in the best interest of the country as they saw it and consistent to what they thought our policies were. The idea that somehow testifying to what you think is true is destructive of the system of government we have, I think is very nearly the reverse. The exact reverse of the truth." We're back with John Avlon, Anna Palmer, and Michael Smerconish. So

John Avlon, why then, didn't he comply with the House request for him to testify?

AVLON: I think there was a rush at the time to try to finish his book, not get crosswise with the White House, to see if he could be compelled to testify. Because for a lot of witnesses, that's the fig leaf they need to go forward and say what happened. Partisan loyalty can be powerful.

But now we've got a situation where the book's going to come out. The facts are out there. The Senate Republicans proactively blocked witnesses, specifically Bolton, because they did not want to confront uncomfortable facts. Even, if in the case of Lamar Alexander, they're willing to acknowledge them passively and in private; that the president has been lying about this from the beginning.

But that's the real issue. The Senate chose not to hear facts and witnesses that were directly relevant to this case. They couldn't be bothered. And hyperpartisan polarization has short-circuited our system, and this is more evidence of it.

[06:25:11]

BERMAN: It is interesting John Bolton is praising those who chose to speak out when he has chosen not to. Period. I mean, he chose not to speak to the House. He's chosen not to speak publicly. He says he's willing to speak to the Senate, but he could have spoken out a long time ago.

Also interesting, as far as Lamar Alexander is concerned. He wants to leave it up to the American people, but he is part of keeping information from the American people that might help them make their decision in the election.

But I do want to move on. Anna, to the question of Democrats now, there's the real question, by the way, if every Democrat will vote to convict the president of the United States. Where do you see that going?

PALMER: Yes, certainly, that's been the story on the sidelines a little bit behind the scenes, is what happens with some of these moderate Democrats -- Senator Joe Manchin, you know, Doug Jones from Alabama. Where do they end up on this issue?

It seems as though they're going to vote to -- with Democrats, keep in line with them. But you never know. I think Joe Manchin is kind of one of those guys in particular that loves to kind of flirt on these issues and then almost always sides with Democrats.

So I think it's kind of these little dramas that are playing out. But now, as you've said, I mean, we're basically going to move where they're not going to have witnesses. They're going to move to acquit him. And so it's kind of less of an issue, frankly, in terms of what the outcome is. It's more where do they see their stamp on history, I think. CAMEROTA: And so, Michael, if the president is acquitted, what does

that mean for the country? What does that mean for his perception of his own power moving forward?

SMERCONISH: Well, maybe it means that we're now witnessing the Alexander doctrine. And the Alexander doctrine is that a president's efforts to get a foreign government to meddle in an American election don't rise to the level of impeachment. Because that's the conclusion, if I take it face value, the statement that the senator put out.

BERMAN: That's a crazy place to be. I have to say it's a crazy place to be. Although, again, I think the crazier thing is not to hear evidence and not to hear from all the witnesses who can tell you what may have happened in the pursuit to get foreign interference.

AVLON: Yes.

BERMAN: Removal from office is a very, very high bar.

John Avlon, what could Democrat have done differently? Should they have done anything differently? And/or is this not a good outcome for them politically? Can they not point back at this over the next several months and say, cover-up?

AVLON: Look, to answer your last question first, yes, they can claim it's a cover-up. They can say the president has been proven to be lying. The Republicans acknowledged that. And they can say this is a dangerous precedent.

I think they probably, in retrospect, should have included some charge like bribery or extortion, which was debated, which would have mimicked the exact language and could have been called a criminal defense, taken that off the table.

Also, it appears that there's a sweet spot for impeachment. You know, you need to start an impeachment proceeding, not in the first year of a presidency and not in the last 18 months of a presidency to avoid the election argument.

But just -- the macro point, you know, Michael just coined the Alexander doctrine. The Founding Fathers absolutely understood and made it very clear that one of the greatest dangers they foresaw was foreign powers interfering and influencing our elections. And for it to be called inappropriate, to be given a pass on this, that is an incredibly dangerous precedent. Because it opens the door.

And does anybody think seriously, by the way, that Republicans would not vote to impeach a Democratic president for doing just this? And that just shows how hypocritical and how shallow and how -- how hyperpartisan and mindless so many of the debates we're seeing are, even at this high level.

BERMAN: All right, John, Anna, Michael, thank you all very much for being with us this morning.

CAMEROTA: Be sure to tune in to "SMERCONISH" tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Eastern. That is directly after a special edition of NEW DAY, which you should tune into at 7 a.m. Eastern tomorrow if you want more of this.

BERMAN: Yes. It will be an historic NEW DAY and an historic "SMERCONISH" tomorrow at 9 a.m. No question about that.

The State Department has issued its most serious alert, telling Americans not to travel to China as the coronavirus outbreak grows. We'll tell you what you need to know about this, next.

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[06:28:43]

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, the State Department issued its highest- level warning, advising Americans against travel to China because of the coronavirus outbreak. The warning follows the first reported person-to-person transmission of the virus here in the United States.

I want to bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, how concerning is this new case, this person-to-person transmission here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question it's concerning. There's now evidence of spread within the United States. That never happened during the SARS epidemic. So just to keep that in context.

But also, this person who now has it, to whom it was spread, is the spouse of one of the people who -- who was known to have this infection. So they had close contact when the person was symptomatic. So it's a little less concerning for wider spread. I think the risk to the general population still remains pretty low.

The United States now is among the list of six countries where we do have evidence of spread. China, obviously, but you can see the list of other countries there.

And it's because of the spread in other countries that the World Health Organization took this step yesterday, John, of declaring this is a public health emergency of international concern. That's -- that's something -- you know, these declarations sort of were in response to the SARS epidemic, and they've only happened a few times throughout history now.

You know, back 2009, the H1N1, Ebola. You can see the list there. But this public health emergency now sort of gives a signal to countries.

END