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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC); Mitt Romney Announces Vote to Remove President Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 5, 2020 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:08]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're starting a bit early today. And I'm joined by Wolf Blitzer because of this very historic day.

Soon, the U.S. Senate will render a verdict in the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

But we now know that, for the first time in history, there will be a bipartisan group voting to convict the president.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And a rather, rather huge surprise, Republican Senator Mitt Romney emotionally announced on the Senate floor that he will break ranks and vote to convict and remove President Trump.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.

I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced.

I was not wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, Romney explaining in detail why he's voting now, about to vote to remove the president from office.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's exactly right. There was no hedging. There was no gray area. There was no uncertainty. Senator Mitt Romney making clear that he believed the president had absolutely done wrong and had absolutely deserved to be removed from office based on the -- at least the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, Romney saying at one point: "The phone call and what the president did was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights," also saying it was "the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of office that I can imagine."

And just to kind of set the scene here, guys, about 30 minutes before Senator Romney came to the floor to speak, I spoke to several Republicans. They were walking into their regular closed-door lunch, and not a single one of them thought Romney was going to vote to convict.

He kept his own counsel. Most Republicans thought he would give a scathing speech, as one told me, but eventually vote to acquit. That ended up not being the case.

And, guys, I think what's most important is the length and detail to which the senator went through not just to explain why he was going to vote to convict, but also the process that he took to get him to that point, and, perhaps most importantly, something I think a lot of people haven't been paying as close attention to, how history would view this moment.

He went back to that issue repeatedly over the course of the speech, really kind of giving insight into his thinking over the course of the last several weeks.

TAPPER: And, Phil, it's Jake here.

Senator Romney says he's well aware there are going to be repercussions, not just for him, but for his wife, for his children and for his grandchildren, because of the decision he's making today.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's just the reality at this moment in the Republican Party, a party that's 90-plus percent behind President Trump, who has said repeatedly this has been a perfect call, that he did nothing wrong.

But Romney made the point on the floor that he was very well aware of that. And that almost underscored or -- underscored why he decided to come to this point. Why would he put himself through that, he said, if he wasn't so certain about his perspective?

And, guys, I think it's worth noting, behind the scenes, I have talked to several people who have spoken to Senator Romney over the last couple of weeks. And one put it in this context, that he, compared to his Republican colleagues, felt like he was kind of in a different universe, as he listened to the presentations over the course of the last several weeks, couldn't understand why so few of his colleagues were in the same place that he was, even though he knew that the president obviously would come down hard and his allies would come down hard if he ended up voting to remove.

Repeatedly, behind closed doors at conference lunches, he made the pitch for witnesses, he made the pitch to vote in favor of subpoenaing documents, only to essentially be talked down by other Republicans who said they essentially last week had heard enough, didn't want to hear anymore. They were in their place, and he just needed to go off on his own.

He went off on his own, guys, not just on the witness and documents vote, but now voting to -- will vote to remove the president and make that a bipartisan vote. It will fail, but it will be bipartisan, guys.

TAPPER: That's right, Phil Mattingly.

And let's talk about this with our panel.

And, George Conway, I mean, let's take a step back. The historic moments of this is rather startling. I mean, this is only the third time in American history that there's been a Senate vote on whether or not a president should be removed from office.

And unlike the Andrew Johnson impeachment removal vote, unlike the Bill Clinton removal vote, because of Mitt Romney, it will be a bipartisan vote to remove him from office. It will not succeed. It will not be a supermajority vote of 67 votes, but it will be bipartisan for the first time ever.

GEORGE CONWAY, HUSBAND OF KELLYANNE CONWAY: And on this sad day. Senator Romney's speech and Senator Romney's position, his vote, is nothing short of inspiring to me.

The -- his eloquence in defending his compliance with his oath was truly remarkable, because standing alone among the 53 Republican senators, he's facing it all by himself. And he had -- they have two oaths, the senators.

One is their regular oath of office to abide by the Constitution and preserve and protect and defend it. And the second oath is to do impartial justice. And what does that mean?

[15:05:05]

Impartial justice means it shouldn't matter who is in the dock. You do the same thing if it's a Republican that you would do if it was a Democrat.

And I can't believe for a moment that those 53 Republican senators wouldn't vote to convict a Democrat who had done exactly this appalling abuse of power.

And Mitt Romney recognized that. And Mitt Romney complied with his oath because he did what he would have done if it were anyone else other than a Republican president there. And that's that's the difference between him and the other senators who just are not complying with their oath.

TAPPER: Senator Santorum, I know you disagree?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: I do. And I have very -- very -- two minds about this. Number one, in many

respects, I agree with George said that I think Senator Romney weighed this, made a decision, and based upon what he laid out and the facts and circumstances as he saw them, I think the idea that someone else could look at those same facts and circumstances, and without partisan intent, make a different decision is insulting, and I think not accurate.

I'm not sitting here with any partisan intent. I'm not running for anything. And I would not have come down where Mitt Romney did. And I think a lot of Republicans feel that way. There may be some, for purely partisan -- I'm not suggesting that.

I think a lot of people looked at the facts and said, yes, all that, but like Lamar Alexander, came down on the other side. So I think that's one aspect.

The other aspect is, I see Mitt Romney as someone who's trying to find his place in history here a little bit. And John McCain had a very successful career in being just what Mitt Romney is doing today.

And I think maybe the fact that McCain is no longer there, Romney sees his role as sort of filling that void and being the contrarian within the party, and being -- and, frankly, just like George said, being praised highly by many for doing so.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Mitt Romney is somebody, A, who thinks of history, but also thinks of his family. And don't forget who George Romney was.

George Romney is somebody who ran for president, came out against the war in Vietnam and lost and ended up --

TAPPER: Marched for civil rights in the '60s.

BORGER: Right, exactly. And ended up giving up his political career or his national political career, effectively, because after he came back from Vietnam, he said something, I believe, like, we were fooled by the generals, but I can't --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, he said brainwashed, brainwashed.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Brainwashed by the general.

TAPPER: He was speaking facetiously, but the media unfairly attacked him for it.

BORGER: That's right.

And Romney talks about his father a lot. His father was a huge figure in his life. And when I watched Romney on the floor today, I thought that Romney was thinking of his father. And I remember, during presidential debates, that Ann Romney told me

that he always had a piece of paper, "What would George do?" on his podium.

And so I think when he when he said, my faith has meant a lot, I also think he was thinking of his father meant a lot and his family meant a lot to him.

TAPPER: And just when he was talking about his father, McKay Coppins in "The Atlantic" has an interview with Romney about this decision.

BORGER: Oh, OK.

TAPPER: And it says: "Throughout the trial, Romney was guided by his father's" -- pardon me -- "favorite verse of Mormon scripture, search diligently, pray always and be believing and all things shall work together for your good."

So his father and his faith were a big part of it.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Absolutely.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And that's what -- I mean, he was speaking as a man of faith. I mean, that was the top portion, the portion that really made him emotional.

He could hardly get through it when you talked about swearing an oath before God and how he takes that oath enormous -- he thinks it's an enormously consequential oath. What did God demand of him? So, yes, I mean, that's what I saw of Mitt Romney, somebody who is thinking not only his father.

His father was huge in the Mormon faith as well. And that has guided his life for all of his life, really, and guided his family's life. So that's what I saw.

BLITZER: He's going to face, John, a lot, a lot of anger from his fellow Republicans and others.

Let me play a clip. Here is Romney explaining why he has decided that the president of the United States should be removed from office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The president's purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:10:01]

BLITZER: John, he doesn't mince any words.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, those are incredibly strong words.

And there is no doubt he was already an outcast in the Republican Party. And he will be more so now.

It is very fair to go back through the history of Mitt Romney and say that, on some policy issues, including his own health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts, when he tried to go from being that, a more moderate New England Republican, to become a more can I be the presidential nominee Republican, he did -- he has changed his positions.

He has been inconsistent on policy issues. But back to the point he made, where he choked up, if you have covered Mitt Romney over the years, spoken to him over the years, you can question him on the policy issues. You can't question him on the faith.

And so he will be criticized for this. The senator is right. He's a politician. He's trying to find his place in Trump's Republican Party.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Yes, every leader is trying to find his or her place.

And because of the overwhelming allegiance to this president, he will be criticized for it. But to the point of any politician, forget his party, who talks about his personal faith, you can disagree with it. You can think -- can disagree with where he landed.

But if you have been around him over the years, that part is genuine. That is who he is. It's who he is because of his father. It's who he is in his own individual life. It's who he is because of his leadership in his church. And it's who he is in the surrounding of his family.

When you see his children, his grandchildren, and his family, this is part of the Romney tradition. You don't have to like it, but it's genuine.

TAPPER: It reminds me of when Senator Lieberman, who was an Orthodox Jew, went to the Senate floor and talked about his faith and his morality, his sense of right and wrong, and what Bill Clinton did was wrong, although he ultimately was talked out of voting to remove President Clinton from office, but he was very close.

And the Clinton people, as you know, had to do a lot of work to convince him otherwise. It was the last time I remember somebody talking about their faith so much on a decision like this, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, I can only imagine we're about -- I assume we will hear

from the president of the United States fairly soon.

I can only imagine what he's about to say about Mitt Romney.

TAPPER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: The Senate vote on impeachment charges, by the way, less than an hour away. It's supposed to happen right at the top of the next hour.

What his peers are saying about Senator Romney's decision to vote to convict President Trump.

We're going to talk to Republican Senator Tim Scott. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:25]

TAPPER: Welcome back.

We're awaiting a historic vote on the impeachment charges against President Donald J. Trump.

And we're joined now by one senator who has said that he will vote to acquit President Trump, Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

He was singled out last night by the president during the State of the Union address for his work on opportunity zones.

Senator, thanks so much.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Yes, sir.

TAPPER: So, your colleague from Utah threw a little bit of a curveball into today's proceedings.

SCOTT: Sure.

TAPPER: Let's play a little bit of what Senator Romney just said a few minutes ago on the Senate floor.

SCOTT: Sounds good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: As it is with each senator, my vote is an act of conviction.

We have come to different conclusions, fellows senators, but I trust we have all followed the dictates of our conscience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your reaction to his announcement that he will vote to remove President Trump on impeachment article one?

SCOTT: Yes, I'm not surprised, to be honest -- honest with you.

There's no question that, if you look back at the campaign trail, there seems to be an animus between Romney and the president for the entire time he's been senator.

So, it's not a surprising conclusion that he's drawing. I think it's unfortunate, and I don't think it's consistent with the facts.

But it's his to make, so I can't question the intentions of his heart. But I certainly can say that the consistency of his position led us to -- at least led me to the conclusion that this is not a surprise at all.

TAPPER: Well, he said that he has voted with President Trump 80 percent of the time, and he noted that, politically, it's easier for him to vote to acquit President Trump, but he's doing this because of the facts, not because of animus.

You don't -- you don't agree? You don't believe him?

SCOTT: Well, I mean, I think, from a policy position, there's no question that Mitt Romney is going to be consistent with the president's policies.

I think there's always been this chasm that's been evident and, frankly, palpable to most of us. So, I can't speak to the intent of a person's heart. I won't suggest that I am.

I am saying that, historically speaking, that we can look over the last several months, and anyone that comes to a conclusion that this is surprising, that is surprising to me.

But he obviously has said in his floor speech that he is making this decision based on his convictions of his heart. I am not in a position to question that. I am simply looking at the historical information that's been provided over his public campaign.

TAPPER: So, Senator Romney is one -- pardon me -- Senator Romney is one of many Republican senators who has said that what President Trump did was either inappropriate or wrong, including Republican Senators Thune and Sasse and Collins and Murkowski and Toomey, obviously, the majority of the Democratic House.

A majority of the American people, according to recent polls, think President Trump abused office.

Do you disagree that the president did something wrong in this instance?

SCOTT: Well, the conclusion of my colleagues, I assume, is based on the same transcript that I read.

And the question that you're having answered is, did the president do something impeachable on that call? And the answer that those folks that you just named are coming to is, the answer is, no, he did not.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No, no, I don't mean impeachable, obviously not -- obviously, you don't --

SCOTT: Jake, Jake, Jake, hear me out here.

TAPPER: OK.

SCOTT: Thank you.

So, they're -- they have come to the conclusion that's not impeachable. The question is, was it proper?

And what do you say about the -- whether it was proper or not? And you're hearing from a number of the colleagues who say that, while it was not impeachable, it was not proper.

I think that goes back to whether or not he was talking about the 2016 election. Was he talking about the Bidens? And is it ever appropriate for a United States president to speak about and look for information on his opponent?

And I would say, under -- in that prism, the answer is no.

The question -- if you ask the question, should the president of the United States exclude any citizens from the question of obstruction and corruption, I think the answer is, he should not exclude any citizen, no matter what office they are running for.

[15:20:09]

And this really comes to the question of, where's the threshold that the president should not look for rooting out corruption? If you think it's his opponent -- do you think it's someone who's a serious candidate? Do you think it's someone who is a candidate for Senate, for Congress, or county council or city council?

So there are a lot of layers there that you would have to pull back to come to a real conclusion.

I'm not sure that that's happened with everyone. But, obviously, there are a lot of folks who believe that he did something improper.

TAPPER: But you're not one of them?

SCOTT: Well, I think that the question, should he look for ways to root out corruption, my answer is, he should. Did he do something that was impeachable? My answer is, he's innocent of anything impeachable.

But was it a perfect call? I have said from my first interview to this interview that it was not a perfect call. Certainly, I wish he wouldn't have mentioned the name Biden. But I don't find that he is -- once again, I don't know the intent of his heart. I don't find that the information, the evidence suggests that there

was no reason for us to have a serious concern about Burisma and corruption.

TAPPER: OK, so you're saying it's not a perfect call, and perhaps that you wouldn't go about the same thing if -- were you in the same shoes, that you wish he hadn't said Bidens.

Do you think that President Trump should be a bit more contrite about the call, even though, clearly, you don't think it rises to the level of impeachable or removable? Should he be apologetic? Should he be chastened in any way?

SCOTT: Well, the president will not be apologetic. He does not see --

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: That's certainly true.

SCOTT: -- the same facts that I do. I think he thinks it was a perfect call. I think he actually believes that.

So, I don't know that you should expect anything different from President Trump.

I am looking forward, however, to working on other priorities of the American people that we should be getting to. And I hope that we're getting to it, as I used to say, quick, fast and in a hurry.

TAPPER: All right, come back and talk about opportunity zones with us.

SCOTT: Please.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Talk about other things.

We appreciate it, Republican Senator Tim Scott, South Carolina.

SCOTT: Let's do it.

TAPPER: And as we wait for this historic vote, we are also getting some more results from the Iowa caucuses, believe it or not.

Will that change the strategy in New Hampshire for any of the Democratic presidential candidates? Remember them?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:05]

BLITZER: President Trump is setting the tone for what a post- impeachment presidency may look like, even after the Senate takes its final vote in the trial.

The president spent much of his State of the Union address making the case for a second term.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, let's start with the latest news.

Was the White House, as far as we know, the president expecting Senator Romney to vote to convict?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, going into this day, White House officials were pretty clear-eyed about where Romney has been, what he's been saying over the last few weeks.

But they had seemed to be holding out a little bit of hope that this vote was going to be bipartisan, but not in the way that Mitt Romney just made it. They were actually hoping some of those red state Democrats would cross over, vote to acquit the president.

And so they were essentially holding out hope that Mitt Romney would not vote to convict the president on either of these charges. And President Trump himself seemed to even believe that there was a little bit of a chance of that, but now, of course, you see that is not going to be the decision here, judging by what Mitt Romney just said.

And we should note that the president was actually supposed to -- expected to be in front of reporters around 2:00, when Mitt Romney was making this speech. But the White House canceled that spray for the press to come into the Oval Office with the president at the last minute.

So we did not get to hear his thoughts on all of this.

And, Wolf, we should note one other thing that White House officials have been talking about over the last several days, if Mitt Romney did vote to convict the president, was what an awkward position it puts his niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel, who is, of course, the chair of the Republican National Committee.

She's very close to the president and his campaign manager. She speaks with him often. And now she is here having to issue statements saying that she and the rest of the GOP stand with President Trump on this.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

Will the president's legal defense team, Kaitlan, be up on Capitol Hill in the Senate during today's roll call for the impeachment vote?

COLLINS: Yes, the whole impeachment defense team is expected to be up there.

The legislative affairs director is up there right now avoiding answering questions directly on Mitt Romney's decision, but they will be there for this vote to come down. And, like we said, they are still hoping some of those red state Democrats will cross over to acquit the president, though, of course, that is still to be determined, as well as if we are going to hear from the president on this.

Of course, Wolf, it's expected we will at some point. The question is just when and how.

BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thanks very much.

All right, so the news on Romney, that's going forward.

We're still only a few minutes away from the top of the hour, when there will be the actual vote in the U.S. Senate.

Are there other surprises that may be in store?

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)