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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
House Managers Present Closing Arguments In The Senate Trial. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired February 3, 2020 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DEMINGS: The evidence is unequivocal.
Despite this pressure, by mid-August President Zelensky resisted such an explicit announcement of the two politically-motivated investigations desired by President Trump. As a result, the White House meeting remained unscheduled, just as it remains unscheduled to this day.
During this same timeframe in August, the president persisted in maintaining the hold on the aid despite warnings that he was breaking the law by doing so, as an independent watchdog recently confirmed that he did. According to the evidence presented to you, the president's entire Cabinet believed he should release the aid because it was in the national security interest of our country.
During the entire month of August, there was no internal review of the aid. Congress was not notified, nor was there any credible reason provided within the executive branch. With no explanation offered, and with the explicit, clear, yet unsuccessful quid pro quo for the White House meeting in the front of his mind, Ambassador Sondland testified that the only logical conclusion was that the president was also withholding military assistance to increase the pressure on Ukraine to announce the investigations.
As Sondland and another witness testified, this conclusion was as simple as two plus two equals four. If the White House meeting wasn't sufficient leverage to extract the announcements he wanted, Trump would use the frozen aid as his hammer.
Secretary Pompeo confirmed Sondland's conclusion in an August 22 e- mail. It was also clear that Vice President Pence was aware of the quid pro quo over the aid, and was directly informed of such (ph) in Warsaw on September 1, after the freeze had become public and Ukraine became desperate.
Sondland pulled aside a top aide in Warsaw, and told him that everything -- both the White House meeting and also the security assistance -- were conditioned on the announcement of the investigations that Sondland, Giuliani and others had been negotiating with the same aid earlier in August.
This is an important point. The president claims that Ukraine did not know of the freeze in aid, though we know this to be false. As the former deputy foreign minister has admitted publicly, they found about it within days of the July 25th call, and kept it quiet.
But no one can dispute that even after the hold became public on July -- on August 28th, President Trump's representatives continued their efforts to secure Ukraine's announcement of the investigations. This is enough to prove extortion in court, and it is certainly enough to prove it here.
If that wasn't enough, however, on September 7th, more than a week after the aid freeze became public, President Trump confirmed directly to Sondland that he wanted President Zelensky in a public box, and that his release of the aid was conditioned on the announcement of the two sham investigations.
Having received direct confirmation from President Trump, Sondland relayed the president's message to President Zelensky himself. President Zelensky could resist no longer. America's military assistance makes up 10 percent of his country's defense budget, and President Trump's visible lack of support for Ukraine harmed his leverage in negotiations with Russia.
President Zelensky affirmed to Sondland on that same telephone call that he would announce the investigations in an interview on CNN. President Trump's pressure campaign appeared to have succeeded.
Two days after President Zelensky confirmed his intention to meet President Trump's demands, the House of Representatives announced its investigation into these very issues.
Shortly thereafter, the inspector general of the intelligence community notified the intelligence communities that the whistleblower complaint was being improperly handled -- or improperly withheld from Congress, with the White House knowledge. In other words, the president got caught. And two days later, on September 11th, the president released the aid.
To this day, however, Ukraine still has not received all of the money Congress has appropriated, and the White House meeting has yet to be scheduled.
The identity of the whistleblower, moreover, is irrelevant. The House did not rely on the whistleblower's complaint, even as it turned out to be remarkably accurate.
It does not matter who initially sounded the alarm when they saw smoke. What matters is that the firefighters -- Congress -- were summoned and found the blaze. And we know that we did. The facts about the president's misconduct are not seriously in dispute, as several Republican senators have acknowledged publicly.
We have proved that the president abused his power in precisely the manner charged in Article I. President Trump withheld a White House meeting and essential congressionally appropriated military assistance from Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the upcoming presidential election on his behalf.
The sham investigations President Trump wanted announced had no legitimate purpose, and were not in the national interest, despite the president's counsel's troubling reliance on conspiracy theories to claim the president acted in the public interest.
The president was not focused on fighting corruption. In fact, he was trying to pressure Ukraine's president to act corruptly by announcing these baseless investigations. And the evidence makes clear that the president's decision to withhold Ukraine's military aid is not connected in any way to purported concerns about corruption or burden- sharing.
Rather, the evidence was presented to you -- that was presented to you is damning, chilling, disturbing and disgraceful. President Trump weaponized our government and the vast powers entrusted to him by the American people and the Constitution, to target his political rival and corrupt our precious elections, subverted our national security and our democracy in the process. He put his personal interests over those of the country, and he violated his oath of office in the process.
But the president's grave abuse of power did not end there. In conduct unparalleled in American history, once he got caught, President Trump engaged in categorical and indiscriminate obstruction of any investigation into his wrongdoing. He ordered every government agency and every official to defy the House's impeachment inquiry. And he did so for a simple reason: to conceal evidence of his wrongdoing from Congress and the American people.
DEMINGS: The president's obstruction was unlawful and unprecedented, but it also confirmed his guilt. Innocent people don't try to hide every document and witness, especially those that would clear them.
That's what guilty people do. That's what guilty people do.
Innocent people do everything they can to clear their name and provide evidence that shows that they are innocent.
But it would be a mistake to view the president's obstruction narrowly, as the president's counsel have tried to portray it. The president did not defy the House's impeachment inquiry as part of a routine inter-branch dispute or because he wanted to protect the constitutional right and privileges of his presidency. He did it consistent with his vow to fight all subpoenas.
The second article of impeachment goes to the heart of our Constitution and our democratic system of government. The framers of the Constitution purposefully entrusted the power of impeachment in the legislative branch so that it may protect the American people from a corrupt president.
The president was able to undertake such comprehensive obstruction only because of the exceptional powers entrusted to him by the American people. And he wielded that power to make sure Congress would not receive a single record or a single document related to his conduct, and to bar his closest aides from testifying about his scheme.
Throughout the House's inquiry, just as they did during the trial, the president's counsel offered bad-faith and meritless legal arguments as transparent legal window-dressing intended to legitimize and justify the president's efforts to hide evidence of his misconduct.
We've explained why all of these legal excuses hold no merit, why the House's subpoenas were valid, how the House's -- House appropriately exercised its impeachment authority, how the president's strategy was to stall and obstruct.
We've explained how the president's after-the-fact reliance on unfounded and in some cases brand-new legal privileges are shockingly transparent cover for a president dictate a blanket obstruction.
We've underscored how the president's defiance of Congress is unprecedented in the history of our republic. And we all know that an innocent person would eagerly provide testimony and documents to clear his name, as the president apparently thought he was doing, mistakenly, when he released the call records of his two telephone calls with President Zelensky.
And even as the president has claimed to be protecting the presidency, remember that the president never actually invoked executive privilege throughout this entire inquiry, a revealing fact, given the law's prohibition on invoking executive privilege to shield wrongdoing.
And yet, according to the president's counsel, the president is justified in resisting the House's impeachment inquiry. They assert that the House should have taken the president to court to defy the obstruction. The presidents argument is as shameless as it is hypocritical.
The president's counsel is arguing in this trial that the House should have gone to court to enforce its subpoenas, while at the same time the president's own Department of Justice is arguing in court that the House could not enforce the subpoenas through the courts.
And you know what remedy they say in court is available to the House? Impeachment, for obstruction of Congress.
This is not the first time this argument has been made. President Nixon made it, too. But it was roundly rejected by the House Judiciary Committee 45 years ago, when the committee passed an article for obstruction of Congress for a far less serious obstruction than we have here.
The committee concluded that it was inappropriate to enforce its subpoenas in court. And as the slide shows, the committee concluded that it was inappropriate to seek the aid of the courts to enforce its subpoenas against the president.
This conclusion is based on the constitutional provision vesting the power of impeachment solely in the House of Representatives.
And the express denial by the framers of the Constitution of any role for the courts in the impeachment process.
Again, the committee report on Nixon's articles of impeachment.
JEFFRIES: Once we strip the president's obstruction of this legal window-dressing, the consequences are as clear as they are dire for our democracy. To condone the president's obstruction would strike a death blow to the impeachment clause in the Constitution.
And if Congress cannot enforce this sole power vested in both chambers alone, the Constitution's final line of defense against a corrupt presidency will be eviscerated. A president who can obstruct and thwart the impeachment power becomes unaccountable. He or she is effectively above the law. And such a president is more likely to engage in corruption with impunity.
This will become the new normal, with this president and for future generations. So where does this leave us?
As many of you in this chamber have publicly acknowledged in the past few days, the facts are not seriously in dispute. We have proved that the president committed grave offenses against the Constitution. The question that remains is whether that conduct warrants conviction and removal from office.
Should the Senate simply accept or even condone such corrupt conduct by a president? Absent conviction and removal, how can we be assured that this president will not do it again?
JEFFRIES: If we are to rely on the next election to judge the president's efforts to cheat in that election, how can we know that the election will be free and fair?
How can we know that every vote will be free from foreign interference solicited by the president himself?
With President Trump, the past is prologue. This is neither the first time that the president solicited foreign interference in his own election nor is it the first time the president tried to obstruct an investigation into his misconduct but you will determine -- you will determine -- you will determine whether it will be his last.
As we speak, the president continues his wrongdoing unchecked and unashamed. Donald Trump hasn't stopped trying to pressure Ukraine to smear his opponent nor has he stopped obstructing Congress. His political agent, Rudolph Giuliani, recently returned to the scene of the crime in Ukraine to manufacture more dirt for his client, the president of the United States.
President Trump remains a clear and present danger to our national security and to our credibility around the world. He is decimating our global standing as a beacon of democracy while corrupting our free and fair elections here at home.
What is a greater protection to our country than ensuring that we, the American people alone, not some foreign power, choose our Commander in Chief? The American people alone should decide who represents us in any office without foreign interference, particularly the highest office in the land.
And what could undermine our national security more than to withhold from a foreign ally fighting a hot war against our adversary hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to buy sniper rifles, rocket- propelled grenade launchers, radar and night vision goggles so that they may fight the war over there, keeping us safe here.
If we allow the president's misconduct to stand, what message do we send -- what message do we send to Russia, our adversary, intent on fracturing democracy around the world? What will we say to our European allies already concerned with this president about whether the United States will continue to support our NATO commitments that have been a pillar of our foreign policy since World War II? What message do we send to our allies in the free world?
And if we allow the president's misconduct to stand, what will we say to the 68,000 men and women in uniform in Europe right now who courageously and admirably wake up every day ready and willing to fight for America's security and prosperity, for democracy in Europe and around the world?
What message do we send them when we say America's national security is for sale? That cannot be the message we want to send to our Ukrainian friends or our European allies or to our children and our grandchildren who will inherit this precious republic and I'm sure it is not the message that you wish to send to our adversaries.
The late Senator John McCain was an astounding man, a man of great principle, a great patriot. He fought admirably in Vietnam and was imprisoned as a POW for over five years, refusing an offer by the North Vietnamese to be released early because his father was a prominent Admiral.
As you all are aware, Senator McCain was a great supporter of Ukraine, a great supporter of Europe, a great supporter of our troops. Senator McCain understood the importance of this body, this distinguished body, and serving the public, once saying quote "glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you."
The Ukrainians and the Europeans and the Americans around the world and here at home are watching what we do. They are watching to see what the Senate will do and they are relying on this distinguished body to be constant to the principles America was founded on and which we've tried to uphold for more than 240 years.
Doing the right thing and being constant to our principles requires a level of moral courage that is difficult but by no means impossible. It is that moral courage shown by public servants throughout this country and throughout the impeachment inquiry in the House, people like Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Her decades of nonpartisan service were turned against her in a vicious smear campaign that reached all the way to the president.
Despite this effort, she decided to honor a duly authorized congressional subpoena and to speak the truth to the American people. For this, she was the subject of yet more smears against her career and her character, even as she testified in a public hearing before Congress. Her courage mattered.
People like Ambassador Bill Taylor, a West Point graduate who wears a Bronze Star and an Air Medal for valor and his proudest honor, the Combat Infantryman's Badge. When his country called on him, he answered again and again and again and battled in foreign affairs and in the face of a corrupt effort by the president to extort a foreign country into helping his re-election campaign, an effort that Ambassador Taylor rightly believed was crazy. His courage mattered.
People like Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who came to this country as a young child fleeing authoritarianism in Europe. He could have done anything with his life, but he true (sic) chose public service, putting on a uniform and receiving a Purple Heart after being wounded in battle fighting courageously in Iran. When he heard that fateful July 25th call in which the president sold out our country for his own personal gain, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman reported it and later came before Congress to speak the truth about what happened. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's courage mattered.
To the other public servants who came forward and told the truth in the face of vicious smears, intimidation and White House efforts to silence you, your courage mattered. You did the right thing. You did your duty. No matter what happens today or from this day forward, that courage mattered.
Whatever the outcome in this trial, we will remain vigilant in the House. I know there are dedicated public servants who know the difference between right and wrong. But make no mistake: These are perilous times. If we determine that the remedy for a president who cheats in an election is to pronounce him vindicated and attack those who exposed his misconduct.
SCHIFF: Senators, before we break, I want to take a moment to say something about the staff who have worked tirelessly on the impeachment inquiry and this trial for months now. There is a small army of public servants down the hall from this chamber in offices throughout the House, and yes, in that windowless bunker in the Capitol who have committed their lives to this effort because they, like the managers and the American people, believe that a president free of accountability is a danger to the beating heart of our democracy.
I am grateful to all of them, but let me mention a few: Daniel Goldman, Maher Bitar, Rheanne Wirkkala, Patrick Boland, William Evans, Patrick Fallon, Sean Misko, Nicolas Mitchell, Daniel Noble, Diana Pilipenko, Emily Simons (ph), Susanne Grooms, Krista Boyd, Norm Eisen, Barry Berke, Joshua Matz, Doug Letter, Sarah Istelle (ph), Ashley Etienne, Terry McAuliffe, Dick Meltzer and Wendy Parker.
Some of those staff, including some singled out in this chamber, have been made to endure the most vicious false attacks to the point where they feel their lives have been put at risk. The attacks on them degrade our institution and all who serve in it. You have asked me why I hired certain of my staff, and I will tell you: because they're brilliant, hard-working, patriotic and the best people for the job, and they deserve better than the attacks they have been forced to suffer.
Members of the Senate, Mr. Chief Justice, I want to close this portion of our statement by reading you the words of our dear friend and former colleague in the House, the late Elijah Cummings, who said this on the day that the speaker announced the beginning of impeachment inquiry: "