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Any Moment, Key GOP Vote To Announce Decision On Witnesses; Fmr. Rep Joe Walsh (R-IL) Says, Senators Voting Against Witnesses Are Cowards. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2020 - 10:00   ET

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


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 could mark the end of the historic trial and the acquittal of President Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Just the third time in American history the U.S. Senate has held a trial and vote on removing a sitting president from office. But before we get to a final vote on the two articles of impeachment, we will hear four hours debate on whether to call additional witnesses in the trial. There has never been a Senate impeachment trial without new witnesses.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: After that debate, the senators will vote with Democrats needing least four Republicans to break ranks to allow new witnesses, such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Some thought that Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander could be a critical yes vote on allowing witnesses. Alexander ended speculation last night by declaring he would vote no. But not before Alexander admitted that what the president did was, quote, inappropriate and that Democrats had essentially proved the part of the case dealing with Ukraine.

Senator Alexander, who is retiring, said, quote, 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. He said the House managers have proved this with what they call a mountain of overwhelming evidence. But Alexander also argues that the inappropriate action, quote, does not meet the U.S. Constitution's high bar for an impeachable offense. And Alexander said that if, quote, this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart.

BLITZER: With Lamar Alexander a no, all eyes are turning to Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican, who said she needed to take time to think about what she's heard so far and whether she needs to hear more from a potential witness.

TAPPER: Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill. And, Dana, let's start with Senator Alexander's big news. Was his decision really that much of a surprise? We knew he was retiring. Meaning, he may have been able to vote without any sort of election consequences. But he's also a stalwart Republican and close ally of Senator Mitch McConnell.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, this -- none of the people who are his close allies are surprised, which is why they have been leaning so far into the idea that they felt comfortable that he was going to vote no. But how he got to that -- that final vote is interesting.

I've been told this morning, first of all, I think I reported with you guys, over the last couple of days, we could see Senator Alexander, he had two notebooks on his desk in the Senate, one notebook he had notes. And another he had -- it was a legal pad and he was writing furiously. I was told this morning that was, in fact, the backbone of the statement that he and his office released late last night, forming his argument for why he is going to vote no on witnesses and obviously ultimately no on whether or not to convict the president.

The other interesting sort of behind the scenes action going on is that when Alexander, as he was poised to release that statement, he went to tell Mitt Romney, another person who we weren't sure how he was go, now we know he's going to vote yes on witnesses, he told him, but then he went into a private office, a hideaway office on Capitol Hill, and spoke to Senator Murkowski.

Now, CNN first reported that meeting last night as it was happening, but I'm told this morning that the reason Alexander wanted to do that is that the two of them are very close and that he didn't want to try to pressure her, didn't try to lobby her at all to come his way and vote no. But he wanted to explain his thought process and his decision process before she read it in the statement.

So that is kind of some of the behind the scenes that went on here as Lamar Alexander was finalizing his statement and telling the people who mattered most to him in the Senate.

BLITZER: Dana, we have all been paying very close attention to the questions involved here as we move forward. Senators, they have been asking questions for the last two days to try to get in some insight into what's going on. What are you hearing? What is the latest you're hearing right now about Senator Lisa Murkowski?

BASH: Everybody is on pins and needles here. I mean, you can feel it, waiting to see what she does. Not because it's necessarily going to mean if she votes yes that there will be witnesses.

[10:05:04]

Because as you've been reporting, it would mean very likely that it would be 50/50, up to the chief justice, unlikely he would weigh in and therefore a tie vote would fail. But it would make it a lot cleaner for the Republican leadership if she -- if she did not vote yes. Which is why we have been reporting from up here the conversation that went on inside the Republican lunch yesterday was about this very topic, about the 50/50 notion and the whole goal, we are told, of Mitch McConnell bringing that up was to remind the senators how much easier it would be if it were not a 50/50 vote. Now, that's not to say that Lisa Murkowski is going to make her decision based on, you know, making the vote cleaner for her colleagues or for history, but that certainly has been part of the pressure tactic on her. But we should know very soon because she has said through her office that she will put out a statement this morning.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much.

We're going to go over to Anderson right now. Anderson, you've got more.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, thank you very much, Jake. I'm here with the panel, legal and political and historical. Jeff Toobin, what happens now? I mean, beyond Lisa Murkowski, if this is now normal behavior or at least maybe not great behavior but not impeachable, are there guardrails on the president?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's a great question. And I think we'll find out. One of the interesting questions that I think is unresolved at the moment is what is the House of Representatives do now to continue its oversight functions? Does the House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, call John Bolton as a witness? That is certainly a possibility. Do they subpoena the documents that the White House has been protecting?

Bolton is a particularly interesting case because he's indicated some willingness to testify. I assume all the other fights will simply get locked up in the courts and through the election. But Bolton wants to testify and I think there is a reasonable possibility that the House will want to pursue this. The implications are just political at this point, not impeachment related.

COOPER: The political implications, I understand that there're public hearings, they're trying to get Bolton to come and others to come and testify in his public hearings, and it's very public. If it's just winding its way through the courts, I mean, if they file to try to get the documents and it's winding its way through courts, that doesn't seem to have as big a political cost.

TOOBIN: No, I don't think it does. And I think that's -- and that's why one of the things that, I mean, just sort of big picture that we've learned, remember, when the Democrats retook the House, in the last -- now more than a year ago, a lot of us said, oh, well, now they're going to be all these big investigations of the White House. And what we've learned is that the White House can successfully stone wall the entire oversight function. They can fight witnesses. They can fight document production. Don McGahn, you know, the White House Counsel, the House won in the district court. But do you see Don McGahn testifying? No. Because it has taken so many months to even get to that stage.

So I think the only real prospect for oversight is among people who actually want to testify. And that seems to include Bolton. But other than that, I think it's just going to be more court fights and the White House is going to continue successfully stonewalling. LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Remember, you know, you're talking about Bolton's willingness to testify, remember, he could have testified and express that willingness to the House as well at the time that they were pursuing that. He waited until the Senate, now maybe because it's a Republican-led Senate, he has greater aspirations outside of the books, et cetera, to be a part of the entrenched camp in that respect. But he could have done so.

And also today, he could still -- knowing the writing may be on the wall, he could still speak out right now. And so it's a little curious to figure out whether the pursuit of justice through the House will actually have any impact on Bolton. But I'm looking at the idea of whether Justice Roberts looks at the notion of kind of the exercise and futility that might be the writing on the wall here. And will he even want to weigh in on this issue, thinking is this the point in history that I put my thumb on a scale if it is akin to being kind of moot in the long run. Is this the time I weigh in?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And I don't think so. A couple of things to keep in mind, first is Congress has never, in its history, removed a president. So I don't think the removal of the president is actually really provided many guardrails. The guardrails have come from congressional oversight. And here, and we have been talking about it for a while now, you know, I think what Bolton was counting on was the House being more aggressive, and the House didn't issue him a subpoena.

[10:10:07]

They didn't try to enforce the subpoena with respect to Kupperman.

And so I think it is going be very interesting now to see what steps the House takes because I think it has been months now before since they had an oversight hearing. It's been months since they've issued subpoenas. It's going to be interesting to see what the House does now because one could argue it's even more politically perilous for them to act at this point.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Last night, Lamar Alexander said that the president's conduct had been inappropriate. That was an opportunity for him to enforce Congressional oversight. And he could have done that by voting for witnesses. He could conclude in the end that he could have concluded in the end that this doesn't rise to the level, that this abuse of power doesn't rise to the level of an abuse of power that should mandate the removal of the president, but he didn't.

Instead he did the worst thing. He said this is inappropriate, but we don't need to learn anything more about it. In other words, he abdicated the Senate's role in oversight. And that's why I believe his statement was so dismaying. It weakens your Article I power in favor of your Article II presidential power and I don't understand why someone like Lamar Alexander, a Nixon veteran, who knows the cost of the Nixon cover-up, would have done this.

COOPER: Stay with us as we await the key decision from Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Plus, it looks like President Trump will be the first impeached president to run for re-election. Will this impact the 2020 race? We'll discuss with a Republican running against Trump.

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BLITZER: With just three days left until the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates from both parties are making their last minute pitches to voters. Republican (INAUDIBLE) Joe Walsh is one of them. He has visited the states dozens of times, recently writing an op-ed in the Des Moines Register saying this. In the hundreds of hours I've spent talking to regular Iowans over the past few months, I found in Iowa what I found nearly everywhere else I've campaigned. Communities of people who should be thriving, but instead are suffering all because of the erratic and reckless administration, communities of people exhausted with the Donald Trump show, yearning for a president who will focus on the country.

TAPPER: The former Illinois Republican Congressman Joe Walsh joins us now. Congressman, thanks for joining us as always.

First, I want to get your reaction to Republicans saying that they are going to vote against having new witnesses, specifically we have heard from Senator Lamar Alexander that he is going to vote no. He says that the Senate doesn't need to hear any witnesses because the House impeachment managers have already basically proven their case, he said. President Trump withheld that Ukraine -- that aid for Ukraine at least in part to try to get them to conduct the investigations into the Bidens, but he says it does not rise to the level of impeachment.

FMR. REP. JOE WALSH (R-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, Jake, Wolf. Just cowardly, I mean, absolutely cowardly. I'm a Republican running for president. This is a difficult thing for me to say, but these Senate Republicans are going to pay a big price in November for what they're about to do. And they deserve to pay a big price.

I mean, think about it, think about -- I don't think any of us sufficiently understand how profoundly wrong it is what they're about to do. These Senate Republicans are going to render a verdict without demanding a trial, no witnesses, no evidence, no documents. They're going to decide acquittal or removal without a trial. I mean, that's profoundly wrong. And most of your polling and most of the polling around the country knows that most of the American people know that that's wrong. And Senate Republicans are going to pay a price for that this November. It's so disappointing.

TAPPER: Who do you think is going to pay a price? I mean, obviously, Lamar Alexander is not running for re-election. Most Republican voters do not support impeachment. And so, I mean, obviously, Susan Collins who says she's going to vote for additional witnesses and additional documents, you're not talking about her. Mitt Romney says he's going to vote the same way. But who are you talking about? WALSH: Any -- Jake, I think any Republican up for re-election this November in the United States Senate is in real trouble. And they will lose, and people like Cory Gardner and even Thom Tillis and Susan Collins.

Look, I was campaigning yesterday in Iowa. I was working the line outside of Trump's rally before they went into the rally. And, yes, most of those folks in line to go listen to one of Donald Trump's lie- filled rallies, they're not going to abandon the Republican Party. But Cory Gardner and Republicans need more than just that base to win. The polling shows that 75 percent of the American people wanted witnesses, wanted evidence, wanted an actual trial. And for these Republicans to just not even ask for -- I mean, sit through John Bolton, sit through Mick Mulvaney, and then if you want to acquit the president, do it.

[10:20:05]

But to not even demand a trial, the American people know that's wrong, most of them do.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Congressman, to the warning that former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie aimed at Republican senators who might actually go ahead and vote for witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): You could very well see the president encouraging or creating primaries against senators that are up this year if they went and voted the other way. I can definitely see him attempting -- at least attempting to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree?

WALSH: No. Look, Chris Christie is doing Donald Trump's bidding. Chris Christie will say whatever Donald Trump wants him to say. Wolf, Jake, I -- look, I don't recognize this Republican Party. Again, this is such a weird feeling. Because I'm a Republican challenging the sitting president, these Republican senators who -- I mean, think about this. Trump's defense team the other day pretty much said that Donald Trump can do whatever he has to do to get re-elected. The defense team said in essence that Donald Trump is a king. And tonight, Senate Republicans will go along with that. They will embrace Donald Trump as a king.

That's not my Republican Party. And I think for a lot of Republicans out there, that's not our party at all. I think what the Senate Republicans are about to do is going to form a permanent split in this party.

TAPPER: Former Congressman Joe Walsh, coming to us from Des Moines, Iowa, thank you so much, good to see you, sir.

Let's get back to Dana Bash on Capitol Hill. Dana?

BASH: Thank you, Jake. And I'm here with Senator Kevin Cramer from North Dakota. Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

Let's start with what your Republican colleague, Lamar Alexander, said very late last night in a statement. I'm going to read part of it to you. He said 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 investigation, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. Do you agree with him that what the president did was inappropriate?

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): It was unartful, for sure. But I don't think he did anything wrong. No, I think Lamar makes an interesting point. And what I like about what Lamar is saying is he illustrates the diversity of opinion within a range that leads to the same conclusion. And I think that's the honest answer from him. I think he drew a conclusion, same conclusion I'm going to draw, but I probably don't share that harsh a view or criticism.

BASH: You called it unartful, but he's very harsh, saying it's not impeachable. But what -- but he says flatly that the House made its case already successfully that there was a quid pro quo.

CRAMER: But they didn't make a case for impeachment. And I would --

BASH: But just on the quid pro quo, whether it's impeachable, do you agree with that?

CRAMER: I don't. I don't think that -- I'm not saying there wasn't a quid pro quo, but I don't think they made it a compelling case that they could prove that it was a quid pro quo. We could argue that whether or not John Bolton would have secured that conviction or not, but, again, I think you still have the same outcome, which is part of the formula we all have to consider whether we want to extend this or not, because there are other ramifications.

BASH: Okay, so if you're not -- it sounds like you're not totally convinced that the House Democrats couldn't have made that argument with John Bolton. So why not hear from John Bolton then? Why not vote yes when this vote comes this afternoon?

CRAMER: I think there are a couple of reasons. Because contrary to what Adam Schiff may say, calling one more witness doesn't mean we're only going to have one more witness. That would be so unfair to the president and to his team to not let them call any witnesses while Adam Schiff goes on a fishing expedition in the Senate.

Second of all, the ramifications of going through this and still not removing the president means the Senate doesn't work, means we don't continue with legislation, it means the divide gets wider, not narrower, and there is an election in a few months. So let's get on with the work of the people and put this behind us.

BASH: Let's go back again to the crux of what Senator Alexander said, which is that he thought it was inappropriate and kind of game it out. It sounds like based on what he's saying and you're sort of saying, it's okay for any president to make the ask that the president made asking a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and withhold aid in the meantime. So what happens when the next president does that?

CRAMER: That argument in a vacuum is one thing. But in a broader case, it is very different. Because, remember, the political opponent that you speak of was the vice president of the United States perhaps caught up in corruption in a very corrupt country with a son working for a very corrupt company.

[10:25:00]

That's not irrelevant.

BASH: When you were in the House, you were the Republican leader --

CRAMER: We may never want to go into that. I know.

BASH: But, no, you didn't investigate. If it was such a big deal, the Republicans, when they had the majority, they would have investigated. It wasn't until the former vice president became a real potential opponent that --

CRAMER: Well, other things happened as well. There was a new -- a new leader, president of Ukraine, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, who had then now just recently won a majority in parliament. And so there wasn't a moment in an opening and an opportunity. And that gets to the argument, what was the motive of the president, and then we have to get inside of his head and we're talking about impeachment and removal.

BASH: So one last question. What does your gut tell you about Senator Murkowski?

CRAMER: Yes, you know, my gut tells me that she probably will be a no vote on more witnesses. However, you talk about Lamar Alexander and his thoughtfulness, Lisa is equally thoughtful and Susan is thoughtful, Mitt is thoughtful, and I think everybody else that have a different opinion on various things are all thoughtful. And that's why I tend not to -- especially in the situation like this, where we all have all of the information, it's not like there is an expertise in a particular committee or something with legislation, we all have all of the information. I trust the integrity of everybody who comes to the same conclusion and who comes to different conclusions.

BASH: Senator, thank you so much. I appreciate you taking the time.

CRAMER: It's my pleasure, thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

We'll take a quick break. The CNN coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump will continue in a moment. Stay with us.

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