Return to Transcripts main page


Soon Senate to Vote on Impeachment Charges. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 5, 2020 - 15:30   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's listen in to the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: -- the facts are not seriously in dispute. In fact, several Republican Senators admitted they believe the President committed this offense with varying degrees of opprobrium, inappropriate, wrong, shameful. Almost all Republicans will argue, however, that this reprehensible conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

The founders could not have been clearer. William Davie, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, deemed impeachment quote, an essential security less the president quote spare no efforts or means, whatever, to get himself re-elected.

James Madison offered a specific list of impeachable offenses during the debate in Independence hall. A president might lose his capacity or embezzle public funds. A despicable soul might succumb to bribes while in office.

Madison then arrived at what he believed was the worst conduct a president could engage in. The president could betray his trust to foreign powers, which would be fatal to the Republic. Madison's words.

When I studied the Constitution and the Federalist Papers in high school, admitted I was skeptical of George Washington's warning that quote, foreign influences, one of the most baneful foes of Republican government, unquote.

It seemed so farfetched. Who would dare. But the foresight and wisdom of the founders endures. Madison was right. Washington was right. There is no great subversion of our democracy than for powers outside of our boarders to determine elections within them.

If Americans believe that they don't determine their Senator, their governor, their president but rather some foreign potentate does that's the beginning of the end of democracy.

For a foreign country to attempt such a thing on its own is contemptible for an American president to deliberately solicit such a thing to blackmail a foreign country into help him win an election is unforgivable. Now does this rise to the level of impeachable offense, of course it does. Of course it does. The term high crimes derives from English law. Crimes were committed between subjects of the monarchy.

High crimes were committed against the crown itself. The framers did not design a monarchy; they designed a democracy, a nation where the people were king. High crimes are those committed against the entire people of the United States.

This president sought to cheat the people out of a free and fair election. How could such Fan offense not be deemed a high crime, a crime against the people. As one constitutional scholar in the House Judiciary hearings testified; if this is not impeachable, then nothing is. I agree. I judge that President Trump is guilty of the first Article of Impeachment.

The second Article of Impeachment is equally straightforward. Once the president realized he got caught, he tried to cover it up. The president asserted blanket immunity. He categorically defied Congressional subpoenas, ordered his aides not to testify, and withheld the production of relevant documents.

Even President Nixon, author of the most infamous presidential cover- up in history, permitted his aides to testify in Congress in the Watergate investigation.

The idea that the Trump administration was properly invoking the various rights and privileges of the presidency is nonsense. At each stage of the House inquiry, the administration conjured a different bad-faith justification for evading accountability. There is no circumstance under which the Administration would have complied.

When I asked the president's counsel, twice, to name one document or one witness the president provided to Congress, they could not answer. It cannot be that the president, by dint of legal shamelessness, can escape scrutiny entirely.

Once again, the facts are not in dispute. But some have sought to portray the second Article of Impeachment as somehow less important than the first. It is not.

The second Article of Impeachment is necessary if Congress is to ever to hold a president accountable again, Democrat or Republican. The consequences of sanctioning such categorical obstruction of Congress would be far-reaching and they will be irreparable.

I judge that President Trump is guilty of the second Article of Impeachment. The Senate should convict President Trump, remove him from the presidency, and disqualify him from holding future office.

The guilt of the president on these charges is so obvious that, here again, several Republican Senators admit the House has proved its case. So instead of maintaining the president's innocence, the president's counsel ultimately told the Senate that even if the president did what he was accused of, it's not impeachable. This has taken the form of an escalating series of Dershowitzian arguments, including quote, abuse of power is not an impeachable offense; quote, the president can't be impeached for non-criminal conduct, but also can't be indicted for criminal conduct; quote, if a president believes his own re-election is essential to the nation, then a quid pro quo is not corrupt.

These are the excuses of a child caught in a lie, each explanation more outlandish and desperate than the last. It would be laughable if not for the fact that the cumulative effect of these arguments would render not just this president, but all presidents, immune from impeachment and therefore above the law.

Now several members of this chamber said that even if the president is guilty, and even if it's impeachable, the Senate still shouldn't convict the president because there's an election coming up, as if the framers forgot about elections when they wrote the impeachment clause.

If the founders believed that even when the president is guilty of an impeachable offense that the next election should decide his fate, they never would've included an impeachment clause in the Constitution. That much is obvious.

Alone, each of the defenses advanced by the president's counsel comes close to being preposterous. Together, they are as dangerous to the Republic as this president, a fig leaf so large as to excuse any presidential misconduct. Unable to defend this president, arguments were found to make him a king.

Let future generations know that only a fraction of the Senate swallowed these fantasies. The rest of us condemn them to the ash heap of history and the derision of first-year law students everywhere.

We are only the third Senate in our history sit as a court of impeachment for a president. The task we were given was not easy. But the framers gave the Senate this responsibility because they could not imagine any other body capable of it. They considered others, but they entrusted it to us. And the Senate failed.

The Republican caucus trained its outrage not on the conduct of the president but on the impeachment process in the House, deriding, falsely, an alleged lack fairness and thoroughness. The conjured outrage was so blinding that the Republican majority ended up guilty of the very sins it falsely accused the House of committing. It conducted the least fair, least thorough, most rushed impeachment trial in the history of this country.

A simple majority of Senators denied the Senate's right to examine relevant evidence, call witnesses, review documents, and properly try -- try the impeachment of the president, making this the first impeachment trial in history of this country that heard from no witnesses.

A simple majority of Senators, in deference to, and most likely in fear of the president of their party, perpetrated a great miscarriage of justice in the trial of President Trump. As a result, the verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless. By refusing the facts, by refusing witnesses and documents the Republican majority has placed a giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial, next to the acquittal of President Trump, written in permanent ink. Acquittal in an unfair trial with this giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial, is worth nothing at all to President Trump or anybody else.

No doubt the president will boast that he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn't a trial by any stretch of the definition. And the American people know it too.

We've heard a lot about the framers over the past several weeks. About the impeachment clause they forged, the separation of powers they wrought, the conduct they most feared in our chief magistrate. But there is something the founders considered even more fundamental to our Republic, truth.

The founders had seen and studied societies governed by the iron fist of tyrants and the divine right of kings, but none by argument, rational thinking, facts, debate. Hamilton said the American people would determine quote, whether societies are really capable of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or forever destined to depend on accident and force.

And what an astonishing thing the founders did. They placed a bet with long odds. They believed that reflection and choice would make us capable of self-government; that we wouldn't agree on everything but could at least agree on a common baseline of fact and of truth.

They wrote a constitution with the remarkable idea that even the most powerful person in our country was not above the law and could be put on trial. A trial, a place where you seek the truth. The faith our founders placed in us makes the failure of this Senate even more damning.

Our nation was founded on the idea of Truth, but there was no truth here. The Republican majority couldn't let the truth into this trial. The Republican majority refused to get the evidence because they were afraid of what it might show.

Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but in order to countenance this president, you have to ignore the truth. Republicans walk through the halls with their heads down. They didn't see the tweet. They can't respond to everything he says. They hope he learned his lesson this time. Yes, maybe this time, he learned his lesson.

Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but in order to excuse this president you have to willfully ignore the truth and indulge in the president's conspiracy theories. Millions of people voted illegally. The deep state is out to get him. Ukraine interfered in our elections.

You must attempt to normalize his behavior. Obama did it too, they falsely claim. Democrats are just as bad. Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but this president is such a menace, so contemptuous of every virtue, so dishonorable, so dishonest, that you must ignore, indeed sacrifice, the truth to maintain his favor.

The trial of this President, its failure, reflects the central challenge of this presidency and maybe the central challenge of this time in our democracy.

You cannot be on the side of this president and be on the side of truth. And if we are to survive as a nation, we must choose the truth. Because if the truth doesn't matter, if the news you don't like is fake, if cheating in an election is acceptable, if everyone is as wicked as the wickedest among us, then the hope for the future is lost.

The eyes of the nation are upon this Senate, and what they see would strike doubt in the heart of even the most ardent patriot. The House Managers established that the president abused the great power of his office to try to cheat in an election, and the Senate majority is poised to look the other way.

So I direct my final message not to the House Managers, not even to my fellow Senators, but to the American people. My message is simple, don't lose hope. There is justice in this world, and truth, and right. I believe that. I wouldn't be in government if I didn't. Somehow, in ways we can't predict, with God's mysterious hand guiding us, truth and right will prevail.

There have been dark periods in our history, but we always overcome. The Senate's opening prayer yesterday was Amos 5:24, let justice roll down like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. The long arc of the moral universe, my fellow Americans, does bend towards justice. America does change for the better, but not on its own.

It took millions of Americans hundreds of years to make this country what it is today. Americans of every age and color and creed who marched and protested, who stood up and sat in; Americans who defended this democracy, this beautiful democracy in its darkest hours.


SCHUMER: On memorial day in 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes told his war weary audience that, quote, where the one accepts from fortune her spade and will look downward and dig or from aspiration her acts and cord and will scale the ice, the one and only success, which is yours to command, is to bring to your work a mighty heart.

I have confidence that Americans of a different generation, our generation, will bring to our work a mighty heart, to fight for what's right, to fight for the truth, and never, never lose faith. Yield the floor.

TAPPER: All right, that was the Democratic majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer. We are expecting the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky to talk at any moment really. [15:50:00]

And when that does happen, we will bring it to you. In the meantime I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin. And, Jeffrey, one of the things we now know that there will be a bipartisan vote in favor of removing President Trump from office for the first time in American history even though as with every other time in American history, it will fail. But now we're waiting to see if it will be a bipartisan vote to acquit President Trump. We still don't know how Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, is going to vote.


TAPPER: Oh, there is Mitch McConnell. I'm sorry I'll come back to you in a second.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) MAJORITY LEADER: -- was made for moments like this. The Framers predicted that factional fever might dominate House Majorities from time to time. They knew the country would need a firewall to keep partisan flames from scorching -- scorching our Republic.

So, they created the Senate, out of necessity, James Madison wrote, of some stable institution in the government. Of some stable institution in the government. Today, we will fulfill this founding purpose.

We will reject this incoherent case that comes nowhere near -- nowhere near justifying the first presidential removal in history. This partisan impeachment will end today.

But, I fear the threat to our institutions may not, because this episode is one of a symptom of something much deeper. In the last three years, the opposition to this president has come to revolve around a truly dangerous concept. Leaders in the opposite Party increasingly argue that if our institutions don't produce the outcomes they like, our institutions themselves must be broken.

One side has decided that defeat simply means the whole system is broken. That we just literally tear up the rules and write new ones. Normally -- normally when a Party looses an election, it accepts defeat. It reflects and retools. But not this time. Within months, Secretary Clinton was suggesting her defeat was invalid. She called our president illegitimate.

The former president falsely claimed that President Trump didn't actually win, he lost the election, the former president said. And members of Congress have used similar rhetoric, a disinformation campaign weakening confidence in our democracy.

The very real issue of foreign election interference was abused to fuel conspiracy theories. Three years prominent voices said, it had been a secret conspiracy between the president's campaign and a foreign government.

But when the Mueller Investigation and the Senate Intelligence Committee debunked that, the delegitimizing endeavor, it didn't stop. Didn't stop. Remember what Chairman Schiff said here on the floor, he suggested that if an American -- if the American people reelect President Trump in November, that election will be presumptively invalid as well. That's Chairman Schiff on this floor, saying if the American people reelect President Trump this November, that election will be presumptively invalid as well.

So, they still don't -- still don't accept the American voter's last decision and now they're preparing to reject the voter's next decision if they don't like the outcome. Not only the last decision, but the next decision. Head we win, tails you cheated.

And who can trust our democracy anyway, they say. This kind of talk creates more fear and division than our foreign adversaries could achieve in their wildest dreams. As Dr. Hill testified, our adversaries seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.


And as she noted, if Americans become consumed by a partisan ranker, we can easily do that work for them.

The architects of this impeachment claim they were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both. First, the House attacks its own precedents on fairness and due process. And by rushing to use the impeachment power as a political weapon a first resort.

Then their articles attack the office of the presidency. Then they attack the Senate and called us treacherous. Then the far-left tried to impugn the Chief Justice for remaining neutral during the trial. And now, and now, for the final act, the Speaker of the House is trying to steal the Senate's soul power to render a verdict.

Speaker says she will just refuse to accept this acquittal. Speaker of the House says she refuses to accept this acquittal, whatever that means. Perhaps she will tear up the verdict like she tore up the State of the Union address. So I would ask my distinguished colleagues across the aisle, is this really, really where you want to go?

The president isn't the president? An acquittal isn't an acquittal? Attack institutions until they get their way? Even my colleagues who may not agree with this president must see the insanity of this logic. It's like saying you're so worried about a bull in a China shop that you want to bulldoze the China shop to chase it out.

And here's the most troubling part, the most troubling part, there is no sign this attack on our institutions will end here. In recent months, Democratic presidential candidates and Senate leaders have toyed with killing a filibuster so the Senate could approve radical changes with less deliberation and less persuasion.

Several of our colleagues (inaudible) briefed to the Supreme Court threatening political retribution if the justices did not decide a case the way they wanted. We've seen proposals to turn the FEC, the regulator of elections and political speech into a partisan body for the first time ever.

All these things, Mr. President, all these things, a toxic temptation to stop debating policy within our great American governing traditions and instead declare a war on the traditions themselves, a war on the traditions themselves.

So colleagues, whatever policy differences we may have, we should all agree this is precisely the kind of recklessness, the kind of recklessness the Senate was created to stop. The response to losing one election cannot be to attack the office of the presidency.

The response of losing several elections cannot to be threaten the electoral college. The response of losing a court case cannot be to threaten the judiciary. The response to losing a vote cannot be to threaten the Senate. We simply cannot let factional fever break our institutions.

It must work the other way as Madison and Hamilton intended. The institutions must break the fever rather than the other way around. The framers built the Senate to keep temporary rage from doing permanent damage to our republic. The framers built the Senate to keep temporary rage from doing permanent damage to our republic.