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Senator Lamar Alexander Announces He Will Not Vote in Favor of Allowing Witnesses in Senate Impeachment Trial; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) Interviewed on Possibility President Trump Will be Acquitted in Impeachment Trial without Witnesses being Called; Alexander: Dems Proved Case, But Voters Should Decide Trump's Fate; Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is Interviewed About the Impeachment Trial. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired January 31, 2020 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN DELANEY, (D) FORMER PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: And I've had some amazing supporters here in Iowa and I want to thank them all. And of course, most importantly, I want to thank my amazing wife and my four daughters. It's been an amazing journey. We've made a difference. And now we've got to win in November and actually start governing in this country.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Delaney, thanks so much for being with us.
And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom with Max Foster is next. For our U.S. viewsers, this is the day, the final day likely of the impeachment trial. NEW DAY continues right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republican Senator Lamar Alexander says he --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be the most significant vote he makes in his career. And one of the last votes he'll make.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's impeachment trial could be over.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call it the impeachment hoax. And that's what it is, it's a hoax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm gravely concerned about what this means.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are likely to move on Saturday at the end of the day the president will be acquitted.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: 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 VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
BERMAN: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, January 31st. It is 8:00 in the east.
And this morning, here's a question. What is to keep a presidential candidate from opening an office of foreign interference outreach going forward? Maybe nothing, because the breaking news overnight, a no from Senator Lamar Alexander. No witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, and he is almost definitely the deciding vote.
It's very revealing. Listen to this. He says, quote, "There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld the United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The House managers have proved this with what they call a mountain of overwhelming evidence." The Democratic House managers have proved their case, Alexander says. He even concedes that he believes the president acted inappropriately, but he says not enough to remove him from office or hear from any more witnesses.
Now Democrats would need four Republicans to vote with them to force witnesses. Senator Collins and Mitt Romney just moments ago officially announced -- he officially announced he is a yes vote on witnesses. Alaska's Lisa Murkowski says she will announce her decision this morning. We're waiting for that. If she is a yes, it would be a 50/50 tie. Then what happens? Well, it would be up to the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, to step in and break a tie if, if he wants to. That would be unchartered historic territory. Unclear he wants to dive in and cast that tiebreaking vote.
CAMEROTA: The impeachment trial continues at 1:00 p.m. eastern. If witnesses are blocked the senator ahead of them, a potential vote to convict or acquit the president could take place late tonight or early Saturday morning.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's one of the House impeachment managers and chair of the Democratic Caucus. Good morning, Congressman.
HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D-NY) HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: Let me read a little bit more of that late-night statement from Senator Lamar Alexander. He says "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. When elected officials inappropriately 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 ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate." What do you think of Senator Alexander's position?
JEFFRIES: It's disappointing. I think that Senator Alexander has clearly indicated we have presented an overwhelming case to prove the guilt of Donald Trump as charged. The facts are largely uncontested, and the president must be held accountable. He solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election. Most people who have been reasonably following the case presented by the House managers will come to that conclusion. And if you come to that conclusion, that Donald Trump tried to cheat, he got caught, and then of course, he worked hard to cover it up, he should be held accountable, and the Constitution indicates that accountability means conviction and removal.
CAMEROTA: Doesn't look as though that's the way it's going to go. And Senator Lamar Alexander, it was interesting his statement last night. This happened at 11:00 p.m. last night. Some people are just waking up right now and hearing it. And as you say, he points out that you did -- the House impeachment managers did prove their case, but it wasn't enough. And so what do you think you and your fellow House managers did wrong to not convince him to want to hear from witnesses or see more documents?
JEFFRIES: Well, I don't want to play Monday morning quarterback because it's not Monday morning yet. We still have a case to make on the floor of the United States Senate. There will be four hours of debate as it relates to the need for relevant witnesses.
And we will make the best use of our time led by our lead manager Adam Schiff who has been doing a phenomenal job. What is clear is the American people overwhelmingly understand there should be a fair trial. The president deserves a fair trial. Our democracy deserves a fair trial. The Constitution deserves a fair trial. And a fair trial means witnesses. A fair trial means documents. A fair trial means evidence. And for the first time in American history, the Senate may conclude that it's going to conduct an impeachment trial in the absence of a single witness. So we're going to make our case.
CAMEROTA: Well, OK. When you make your case, you have been making your case, but today when you continue to make your case you might be able to sway Senator Lisa Murkowski who we -- according to our reporting is still on the fence this morning. If you do, it becomes a 50/50 tie. Do you believe that Chief Justice Roberts should step in and be a tiebreaker?
JEFFRIES: Well, we'll see if we get to that moment, because there are several other senators who haven't announced their decision as it relates to whether they're going to support witnesses or not.
CAMEROTA: Like who? I'm just curious, Congressman. Who do you think is still a possibility?
JEFFRIES: Well, listen, I mean, I don't want to get into the business of calling the names of individual senators, but you've got a senator in Arizona, you've got a senator in Colorado, you've got a senator in North Carolina, you've got senators all over the place who haven't indicated one way or another where they're going to go on the question of witnesses, particularly as it relates to John Bolton who had a direct conversation with Donald Trump apparently in the Oval Office where President Trump said to Ambassador Bolton that he was demanding these investigations and withholding $391 million in military and security aid from a vulnerable Ukraine to try and get him. That is presidential extortion. That's a geopolitical shakedown. That's an abuse of power. And hopefully there will be some senators who will come to the conclusion that, at minimum, witnesses should be heard so that the truth can be presented to the American people.
CAMEROTA: Maybe. But again, this morning it feels less likely than it did last night at 10:59 p.m. with Senator Lamar Alexander coming out and saying he is now a no on witnesses. And so, I think what you keep saying is that all the polls suggest that a majority of Americans want to hear from witnesses. The Quinnipiac poll, the most recent, had it at 75 percent of Americans believe witnesses should be allowed to testify. And so what do you say to them this morning when they wake up and hear this news that it doesn't look as though it's going to go that way?
JEFFRIES: Well, I have great respect for the United States Senate, and I believe that both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, have sat through the last two weeks attentively with dignity and respect, giving all of us the opportunity to make our case. And we have one last chance today at least on the question of witnesses.
What I think the senators will be asked to consider in the context of the presentation made by House managers, are we going to normalize presidential lawlessness? Are we going to normalize presidential corruption? Are we going to normalize presidential abuse of power in the manner that Professor Dershowitz suggested that we should? That would be problematic for the country, for the Constitution, and for America, and God help us all if we go down that path.
CAMEROTA: We just heard in our open there, maybe you heard it, that Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president can't be acquitted if there's no trial, and there can't be a trial if there's no witnesses. But that's not true. The president can be acquitted. And as you know, there a vote to convict or acquit. Maybe she means vindicated, but do you agree with the speaker of the House that the president cannot be acquitted?
JEFFRIES: Well, I'm not going to comment on what guilt or innocence will come out of the trial while I'm still in the midst of the trial. But I fundamentally and strongly agree with Speaker Pelosi's point, and she's been a phenomenal leader of the House at this very tumultuous time. I fundamentally agree with her point that in the absence of witnesses, in the absence of documents, in the absence of evidence, in the absence of a fair trial, how can the American people conclude that justice was done? Many will conclude that it was not.
CAMEROTA: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, we'll be watching very closely today. Thank you for your time this morning.
JEFFRIES: Thank you very much.
BERMAN: It was interesting, the congressman didn't want to jump ahead past today, but the outcome is essentially clear at this point.
[08:10:00] And it does raise the question, what next? What next? How does the country, the Senate, the Congress approach this? We are going to speak to a U.S. senator who will cast a vote today, several, in fact, next.
BERMAN: So a key Republican senator now says he is opposed to calling witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. Lamar Alexander has come out and said he is a no vote overnight. And that all but guarantees that the Senate is going to vote in a few hours to say no to all witnesses.
Joining us now -- all right. I'm getting people telling me in my ear that our guest can't hear us.
CAMEROTA: Kaitlan can.
BERMAN: Let me introduce who might be able to hear. Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House correspondent. And we might have someone else, depending on the audio. Kaitlan, let me continue trying to say what I was saying. Lamar Alexander says he's voting against witnesses. That means that the Senate is going to vote against hearing witnesses today, and almost certainly acquit the president on these charges by tomorrow morning.
Let me read to you the statement that Senator Alexander put out, because it's very interesting. By saying he was going to vote no on witnesses, he did concede that the House managers have proved their case. He goes on to say "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. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law."
He does say 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.
But, Kaitlan, this is diametrically apposed to what the president has said.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BERMAN: He says his phone call was perfect, like --
COLLINS: It's interesting how the response to this is going to be, because, is he saying the president should not be re-elected? That's a question that some people may pose to Senator Alexander in the coming days because he's saying it's not up to us to remove him from office. It's something the voters should decide.
But, John, you're exactly right, that this is not the argument that President Trump has been making but it's really an argument that President Trump has been alone in making. That essentially it was a perfect phone call, that he acted appropriately, the way he conducted himself with relations to those Ukrainian officials.
And you are seeing Alexander saying, no, the president is guilty of what the Democrats accused him of, but we are not going to remove him from office in the Senate and that's why he's not going to vote for additional witnesses and documents to be brought forward. And a lot of that was really indicative in that question he signed onto yesterday which said even if John Bolton does come forward and he does admit and say all of this, it was at the doing of the president, he instructed this and he tied these two things together, would that rise to the level of impeachment?
And, of course, the president's team argued no, it would not. But the question will be, how does the president react to the way that Alexander characterized his actions, saying that the president acted inappropriate, saying it undermines the rule of law by conducting yourself in this manner? And I do not think that is something the president will like. But his legal team is happy because they believe this means no witnesses, of course, and they were not sure how Senator Alexander was going to vote on this.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Let's bring in Karoun Demirjian. We've figured out our audio goblins.
BERMAN: Something going on. It might -- there's a lot of concern in the control room over you, Karoun.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm flattered. I'm very flattered, yes.
CAMEROTA: Congressional reporter for "The Washington Post", of course.
Karoun, we just had Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, one of the house impeachment managers on. And he -- look, I am also a big believer in the element of surprise and that anything is possible. And he seems to be kind of pinning his hopes that during these next four hours of closing arguments that something could still happen and that somebody somewhere in Congress is still on the fence and they could make such a compelling argument that somebody is moved. Your thoughts?
CAMEROTA: I lost you a little bit there, Alisyn, but I think you were asking about Jeffries' argument. I think, look, this puts the House Democrats in a difficult spot just because they have been making the point the entire time as they've been trying to prove their case, making the point that if you believe us and you don't actually do something here, then you're basically saying that there's no check on the president. He can do whatever he wants. That he can choose to basically make his own objectives supersede what the national American interest is.
And so, they are basically watching -- for them, this sort of an argument from Alexander is fairly a crushing one because it says, well, you proved your case but it doesn't matter really in the sense of you had a case but it wasn't to convict. And so, that kind of puts them a little bit on the back foot and they've been making this argument that insofar as that's the conclusion of senators and that's actually a greater systematic problem than it is just a question of whether or not President Trump should be in office.
And I think they are probably watching to see what the rationale is from Lisa Murkowski and to see if there is any chance that Justice Roberts decides he's going to cast the tiebreaking vote, but for him to do that, frankly, would be stepping into a realm that hasn't been stepped in before. And also, he's got to weigh whether it's worth it for him to weigh in on these questions of a balance of the branches, basically, which is what the court will end up having to see cases like that in the future and to do so at a juncture that's about witnesses not about the ultimate decision of the acquittal of the conviction of the president.
BERMAN: If you can hear me, Karoun --
DEMIRJIAN: I can hear you now, yes.
BERMAN: It seems highly unlikely, I doubt the chief justice will jump into this, and he may not get a chance because Lisa Murkowski might be a no vote.
BERMAN: There's another question about Democratic votes, right? There is a legitimate question about whether every Democrat will vote to convict the president when it comes to that. There have been questions about Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and maybe even Doug Jones from Alabama.
What are you hearing on that, and what does it mean if the president ends up with some Democratic votes?
DEMIRJIAN: I think if the president ends up with Democrats supporting his acquittal then you're going to see the same victory lap there was in the House when you had two Democrats voting with the president on certain -- one Democrat on both articles of impeachment but other Democrats saying that they also didn't think the impeachment charges stuck.
I think that if the president gets to say it was a bipartisan acquittal and it was not bipartisan on the other side to vote to convict him at the end of the line that, I think, for him, is going to be something he takes straight to the campaign trail.
And I think that, you know, look, it's obvious the senators we're looking at who are -- people who are asking questions about, they are representing states where there are a lot of Trump supporters and they can't, for their own political futures, afford to take a step here that directly counters what their electorate believes should happen.
Now, it's a mixed election in those states but it's enough that you have been looking at this handful of senators for a number of different policy decisions in the Senate to join Republicans. And now, this most major decision they'll make in this term about the president's guilt on these impeachment charges, if that is enough to actually try to push him out of office.
Lamar Alexander has kind of given them the framework to say, I think he's guilty, but I may not vote to convict here. And yet, some may choose to side with Democrats because there has been this greater unity in the party. At least in terms of how the process of the trial should go.
And you've heard all of those people say they'd like to at least see witnesses and if they aren't going to maybe get that, maybe that puts them in a mind-set where they stick to the Democrats. But they are the ones who will be watching if this does not get to the next stage of calling witnesses, if Murkowski doesn't join the Democrats and if Roberts doesn't break that tie.
CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, I want to ask you about something that Senator Rick Santorum, former Senator Rick Santorum on our air a couple of hours ago. He was basically saying that these four or five months have been probably so trying and so unpleasant. I mean, I'm paraphrasing right now, and I hope I'm representing him correctly, that the president, he sure will have learned a lesson from this experience and, you know, this won't happen again. I mean, that's what the logic if you follow it to its end would suggest.
From your reporting inside the White House, is there a feeling of contrition and that this was wrong, what happened with Ukraine and he wouldn't try something like this again?
COLLINS: I think it depends on who you're asking. If you're asking the president's staff, they don't think that this was appropriate. They do not like the way that all of this went down. Of course, you can point to his own former national security adviser and the book he's writing about this.
But as far as the president himself, he truly has not, you know, said privately, I should have said that or oh, I shouldn't have done that. And I think that's evident in the fact he still speaks with Rudy Giuliani about this on a regular basis. Rudy Giuliani who has been the person going back and forth between Ukraine and the United States is still conducting matters like that.
If you read his Twitter feed. He's saying he believes they're going to be proven right. And, of course, about the fact it has been a very long few months for the White House ever since this really first got kicked off in September, shocking them when Pelosi announced they were going to pursue this impeachment inquiry. I think you have to point back to the president's own conduct and the fact they've been through a lot of investigations in this White House, namely the Mueller investigation, and the day after Robert Mueller testified was when the president made this phone call at the center of his impeachment and, of course, now his impeachment trial where he did bring up the Bidens. He did bring up that debunked theory about Ukraine.
And I do want to point out that walking away from this trial today, if the president is acquitted in the wee hours of the morning, there are still two things that we never got answers from, from the president's legal team. And one was, what was the actual date that the president withheld this aid to Ukraine? He was asked, Patrick Philbin, the deputy White House counsel, was asked multiple times, what was the exact date? He could not point to one.
Another question that they had was, did the president bring up Ukrainian corruption investigations into the Bidens before Joe Biden entered the race? Philbin was unable to point to any evidence of the president bringing that up before it was clear that Joe Biden was going to be running for office. And it doesn't appear we'll get answers to either of those questions before this is all over.
BERMAN: This is clear that Alexander Lamar doesn't care about the answers to those questions this morning.
Karoun Demirjian, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much for being with us.
The U.S. Senate is about to acquit President Trump at his impeachment trial. And one of the questions is, will any red state Democrats vote with the Republicans? One of those senators joins us next.
BERMAN: Republican Senator Lamar Alexander announced that he will vote no on hearing from any witnesses or seeing new documents in the impeachment trial of President Trump, which means that Republicans will likely be able to block any new witnesses. And it puts the president on track to being acquitted in the Senate as early as tonight.
Joining me now is Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana.
Senator Tester, thank you so much for being with us.
Your reaction to the statement from Lamar Alexander?
SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Well, it's too bad. I mean, I think that this will be the first impeachment trial in history where we haven't had new documents and new witnesses. And I think that does set a precedent that is not good for this country and it's not good for checks and balances. It's not good for separation of powers.
And furthermore, quite frankly, I don't think the defense is engaged on the prosecution's points.
And I know you guys have talked about that a lot. But I think it's rather obvious, it' very obvious, in fact, that the president withheld aid so the Ukrainians would do an investigation to withhold Oval Office visit, but -- but --
BERMAN: What's remarkable -- what's remarkable is that Senator Alexander agrees with that.
BERMAN: He says the House managers proved that. He agrees that the president's actions were inappropriate, but he says that it should be left to the American people to decide in the next election. So, how would you address that?
TESTER: Well, I would just say this: what the president did was try to corrupt the election. And the election is not a remedy when you have somebody that's being charged with these charges of abuse of power that's trying to corrupt the next election. That's not a remedy.
And so I think it's really important that we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and, you know, I mean, look, it isn't over until it's over, but the writing appears to be on the wall.
BERMAN: It's not over until it's over. One of the opening questions is whether every Democrat will vote to convict the president when it comes to that either late tonight or early tomorrow morning. Do you know where the votes are there?