Return to Transcripts main page


House Democrats to Bring Impeachment Charges against President Trump; Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Reportedly Open to Convicting President Trump after House Impeachment; National Guardsmen Issued Weapons to Guard Washington D.C. against Possible Further Threats of Violence; Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) Interviewed about Second Impeachment Effort against President Trump; Sources: Trump Discussed Pardoning Himself, Children After Insurrection. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired January 13, 2021 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is an all out political earthquake. CNN has learned that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is open to impeachment. A source says McConnell hates President Trump for inciting the insurrection and plans never to speak with him again. As of this morning, President Trump is expressing no regret, and he is making new threats.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Federal investigators say they are pursuing thousands of leads on the identities of these domestic terrorists so they can bring sedition and conspiracy charges against them. America's most senior military leader is issuing a rare statement, warning their troops about their constitutional duty to reject extremism. Metal detectors have been installed now outside of the House chamber after multiple House Democrats told CNN they were worried about other members carrying firearms.

We begin this historic day with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill. What do we expect?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, this will be a history-making moment today. Later today the House will vote to impeach President Trump for the second time. Notably this time around he will be impeached with the support of some Republicans. At this moment, five Republican members are going to be voting in favor of impeachment, and very notably there, you also have the number three Republican in the House, Liz Cheney, supporting impeachment.

Meantime, the Senate is preparing to receive the articles of impeachment after the House sends them over later today, and potentially signaling the start of a Senate trial. Now, Mitch McConnell, notably over the last few days, we have been hearing reporting from sources saying that he's furious at President Trump after the attacks up here on the capitol and is pleased about the impeachment effort that's going forward. And he believes, according to sources, that impeaching Trump could help separate Trump from the rest of the Republican Party. Now, Mitch McConnell's viewpoint, of course, so important here.

Republican sources telling CNN that if McConnell supports conviction, Trump will almost certainly be convicted. Reminder, you need two- thirds of the Senate, that's 67 senators, quote, this Republican source says, "If Mitch is a yes, then he is done."

Now I just also want to transition and give you a brief glimpse into something going up on here on Capitol Hill. As we know now, now it is heavily guarded by National Guard. This a picture this morning of dozens upon dozens of troops laying on the floor here, of course, potentially get something rest in between shifts. This, of course, just speaking to the moment, this new posture up here on Capitol Hill, Alisyn, certainly a heavily guarded and watched moment.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. What a photograph, Sunlen, right there of how the U.S. Capitol now has to prepare. Thank you very much.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings. She served as a house impeachment manager during the first impeachment of President Trump. Congresswoman Demings, thank you very much for being on with us. What should we expect less than an hour from now?

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Well, good morning, Alisyn. It's great to be back with you all. And, wow, it is just unbelievable that we find ourselves at this point. But as the speaker likes to say, the times have found us, and President Donald Trump will be impeached later today. And as you well know, it will be the second time in a year, a little over a year, and actually the second time in American history. But we will get this done. It's about accountability, and we have a constitutional duty to hold him accountable.

CAMEROTA: I'll put up on the screen the names and pictures of the five Republicans who have publicly said that they will join Democrats in this effort, including the third highest ranking Republican, Liz Cheney. Do you expect, have you heard any others that will join you?

DEMINGS: I pray that other Republicans will join us. I was very pleased to hear Liz Cheney, who is my classmate, say last night that this was -- we've never seen a greater betrayal. And whether Republicans admit it or not, they have never seen a greater betrayal than what we've seen from this president. So I applaud the five who have come out publicly. I applaud them for their courage. I applaud them for their commitment to faithfully executing the duties of their office. And I pray that others will be voting with us, because it is the right thing to do for our nation. I pray that we'll see more Republicans step out and speak up and vote in favor of impeachment later today.

CAMEROTA: And Congresswoman, how about on the Senate side when it gets there? Have you been surprised by the things that Mitch McConnell is allowing to be said publicly about his feelings now about President Trump? And what do you think he is going to do once the House votes to impeach?

[08:05:07] DEMINGS: I have to tell you, I cannot help but reflect on the first impeachment trial and all that has occurred since then. Imagine if the Senate had held the president accountable and removed him a year ago. We think about the response to COVID-19 and the unbelievable number of people who have lost their lives, as we think about the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, the death of a U.S. Capitol police officer and four other people who have lost their lives. But I have been encouraged by the statements of Mitch McConnell that he may be ready to hold this president accountable. It is encouraging news. I believe the Senate can do whatever they have the political will to do. We can impeach and remove, and I'm hoping that Leader McConnell is signaling that he's at that point with this president.

CAMEROTA: You, of course, were also a law enforcement officer. And I want to ask you about the briefings that you all have been getting about what to expect and the threats against lawmakers, and also that photograph that we just saw that our Sunlen Serfaty just showed us of National Guardsmen, right now, or this morning, I should say, sleeping on the floor in the capitol with their weapons for whatever -- to be prepared for whatever is going to happen next. What have you prepared yourself for what to expect?

DEMINGS: Well, let me just say, before we can appropriately move forward, it is critical that we understand what went wrong on last Wednesday. And so we need to look at the intelligence that law enforcement had, the sharing of intelligence between local and federal agencies. We need to look at staffing. We need to look at equipment. We need to look at -- there was a ton of information, as you well know, that was out there in open sources. And so we need to clearly understand how the breach upon the capitol was able to occur in the first place.

I was encouraged by the briefings from the acting chief, the assistant chief and the acting sergeant at arms the other night. I certainly feel better than I did a few days ago. I am not at the point where I need to be yet. I know that there have been protocols put in place, many of them that you already know about, that certainly make me feel safer. We're not where we need to be. I'm confident that we will get there.

CAMEROTA: But as a former police officer, I've read that you don't believe this was a spontaneous riot that just sort of ran amok. You think that, what, they had inside help?

DEMINGS: I think it was well-planned. I think it was well-organized. And let me just say this, I commend the brave men and women of the U.S. Capitol police. We've seen them fighting for their lives. We've seen them fighting to protect us, our staff, and the sacred building, the U.S. Capitol. We know one lost his life trying to do that.

But, obviously, this was a well-planned, well-coordinated breach of security attack on our capitol. And I do believe, when we look at how the attackers were able to -- they knew where they were going. In many instances, they knew directly where they were going, and I know many members of Congress get lost in the Capitol. And so I do believe there was some inside assistance. We know that there are officers who are being investigated and others. We'll see how those investigations turn out, but we need to do everything that we can right now to prepare for a safe and smooth transition of power on January 20th.

CAMEROTA: Do you think they had any help from sitting members of Congress?

DEMINGS: I've been so disappointed in some of the sitting members of Congress, as you well know. Some of the protocols that we put in place involve members having to go through magnetometers to enter the House floor.

Now, when we think about all that the Capitol police have gone through over the last week, when we think about what we as members of Congress and our staff members have gone through over the last week, for members of Congress to get in confrontations with the U.S. Capitol police because they don't want to go through magnetometers certainly causes me to be very, very concerned.


And so we're going to get to the bottom of it. As I said, there are investigations that are occurring. And if any members of Congress participated, helped to organize, orchestrate the attack on the U.S. Capitol and, quite frankly, the attack on us and the American people last Wednesday, they need to be held accountable.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman, as a former impeachment manager, what is your advice today to the impeachment managers?

DEMINGS: Well, as a former impeachment manager and as a former law enforcement officer, I've taken several oaths that I would protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. My advice would be, I think we have an exceptional team with the newly appointed impeachment managers. My advice to them is to remember the oath that they have taken and do their -- fulfill their constitutional duties, which I am confident they will do.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Val Demings, thank you for taking time on this very historic day to talk to us and help us understand what's happening and what to expect. We appreciate it.

DEMINGS: Thank you.


BERMAN: New video just in to CNN. National Guard troops being issued weapons at the U.S. capitol. You can see some getting handguns. You can see rifles being distributed there. This comes one week after the deadly insurrection, and, obviously, it comes just ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. CNN's Brian Todd is live at the capitol. And Brian, you have a look at this security now going into place. What are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, to say this is a city on edge is clearly an understatement. I've been here for decades. I've really never seen security in this city ramped up to the degree that it is now, and that includes the period on and right after 9/11. It's comparable to that period, I have to say.

You mentioned the guns that the National Guardsmen have been issued. We can show you that they are wearing them right now at the perimeter of the U.S. capitol here on the west side. You see those gentlemen, the National Guardsmen there, carrying semiautomatic rifles beyond that fence. This fencing has been put up since the rioting of last week. The question is, is the perimeter going to be pushed back further than it is now?

We know, you see the National Guardsmen there, and as you mentioned, John, they've just been issued their weapons. There are going to be about 15,000 National Guardsmen throughout the city in addition to thousands and thousands of law enforcement officers from many different agencies, the Capitol Hill police, the D.C. Metropolitan police, many other jurisdictions.

OK, here you see the fencing, and then you see the risers and the grandstands for the inauguration right beyond it. And again, the question is, the perimeter. Where is it going to be? Is it going to be here? Is it going to be pushed out further? I can tell you that in this city, things are so ramped up and it is not only hard to drive in this city. They've shut down all the streets around the capitol, and they've pushed the perimeter of shutdown streets way out as well. Very hard to drive in the city. You see some of the blockades over here beyond us here on 1st Street Northwest, and then down toward Pennsylvania Avenue, toward the White House that way. You see a blockade down there. Vehicle traffic very, very restricted in this city.

It's even hard to walk in some places. My view and I when we were coming down here, we were stopped a couple of times by law enforcement officers, asked for IDs and asked where we were going. So you've got that sense that this is really ramping up. Multiple threats, they've got threats of possibly thousands of armed protesters converging on the city this weekend, threats that people will try to surround the capitol and the White House. And they are just getting ready for those. And the question is, they won't discuss operational tactics, John, but are they going to try to separate protesters? Are they going to try to push perimeters even further out? How will they confront these people if and when they come? Those are questions that are going to be answered in the coming days, John.

BERMAN: The preparations they're making today will be crucial in that. Brian Todd, listen, thank you for being there and showing us all this. Please stay safe.

We are in for a rollercoaster few days here. Think about this, what if Donald Trump is impeached today, and he will be, but tomorrow or the next day, he pardons himself for some of the actions he took. That won't affect impeachment directly, but what message will that send to senators who will vote on his conviction? We're getting new reporting on all of this, and it could have major implications. That's next.


CAMEROTA: President Trump will be impeached an historic second time today. Multiple sources tell CNN that President Trump has talked about pardoning himself and his children for their roles in this Capitol insurrection.

Joining us now, CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Also with us, Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary of homeland security in the Trump administration.

John, let's just remind people of how President Trump incited this armed insurrection on Wednesday. What you're about to hear are his words at the rally beforehand and then the domestic terrorists parroting them during the insurrection.

Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake, this election was stolen from you, from me, and from the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't get to steal it from us!

TRUMP: You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength. And you have to be strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want our country back!

TRUMP: We're going to try and give our Republicans -- we're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our house. This is our country. This is our country.


CAMEROTA: John, no wonder he wants to pardon himself. He must be scared.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, Alisyn, President Trump is like a wounded animal at this point. He doesn't have a lot of room to run. His ability to lash out directly at others or inspire others to commit violence as he did last week has been curtailed by the fact that social media companies have shut down his direct access, his ability to send messages in the way that he had done in the past.

He's losing his political room to maneuver because Republicans who had been so slavishly loyal to him throughout previous misbehavior over the last four years are now beginning to stand up.


Liz Cheney, of course, most notably yesterday in the House, Mitch McConnell sending signals about his view of where the impeachment process is and where it ought to go at the moment. But one thing the president can do, he still retains in the last few days, assuming that he gets cooperation from his White House legal team to draw up the right paperwork, is take steps to protect himself.

And the reality is that he has never in his life been in more legal jeopardy than he is right now. There is legal jeopardy from ongoing federal investigations and state investigations for which he cannot shield himself with the pardon. But now you've got the added threat of the charges related to this inspiration or incitement of the insurrection.

And so -- and the fact his son Don Jr. was there saying, we're coming for you at that rally before President Trump himself spoke. So he's got a lot of exposure. He's got legal problems. He's only got a week left in office, so I think people -- there's high expectation that he will take whatever steps he can, whether legally, dubious or not, to do what he can to protect himself on the way out the door.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: To be clear, he has had conversations about pardoning his family and self-pardoning since the insurrection.

And, Elizabeth, you cannot pardon yourself out of impeachment. That is not pardonable, as it were. But to me, the timeline, the possible timeline here, so fascinating. Impeached today, which will happen.

Say he self-pardons himself or Don Jr. in the next two or three days, then the Senate Republicans who have to decide on conviction are staring that in the face. And Mitch McConnell, who in this political earthquake yesterday, lets it be known to everyone on earth that he's open to the idea of impeachment and he's pleased with it. Talk to me about the potential impact you think this will have on Republicans.

ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, I hope, and it looks like the dam might be breaking, but I hope that Republicans of conscience are seeing this for what it is, that we have a grave threat facing our country, that the emergency is not over. We're in the middle of a national emergency. We have national guard deployed sleeping on the floor of the capitol.

I drove in to the city today. The streets are all shut down, as it should be. But why? Not because of some foreign invader but because of U.S. citizens who have been deluded by Donald Trump to believe that the election was stolen and think that violence is their only answer at this point.

And the best way that we can tamp down some of this violence, it won't be all of the violence that could be curtailed, but some could be curtailed if Republicans would come out and say with a united voice, the election was not stolen. Donald Trump has been lying to you. President Biden is a legitimate president, and what Donald Trump did last week in the weeks leading up to January 6th is an impeachable offense, and he deserves to be held accountable.

That would go a long way to reduce the number of people in this country who feel disenfranchised who feel that violence is the only answer. Now, we still have some extremists in this country. I'm very concerned about law enforcement has a very tough job on their hands. But if Republicans would stand up at this moment and say the election was not stolen. And what Donald Trump did was wrong, that would help law enforcement get a hold on this threat that we're facing.

CAMEROTA: And, Elizabeth, is it really that simple? I mean, because when you hear that crowd, that blood-thirsty crowd, they appear to have become radicalized. And so, are you saying that just as simple a statement as that, from Republicans in some sort of unified voice can deradicalized and de-program that thinking?

NEUMANN: For many. I think we're at this precarious moment. We are seeing chatter. There's a great op-ed in the "Boston Globe" today by Dr. Miller-Idriss. She's an expert in extremism.

And she's echoing what I have been saying, what others have been saying that what happened on January 6th is seen by some in extremist circles as a rallying cry as this moment of reckoning, and they are actively working to recruit MAGA world, people that they believe are disenfranchised or disappointed by Trump. They're trying to recruit them into white supremacy. They're trying to recruit them into anti- government extremism.

So, as various people that supported Trump are wrestling with what they saw last week, they kind of are at various whims. They could do a path of saying, you know what, Donald Trump did lie to me and this is ridiculous and there's a grieving process and we need to be empathetic to those people who choose to let go of this lie.


But then there's this other darker force at play that is trying to recruit people into white supremacism, into violent extremism. So, we are at the very dangerous moment and it is really incumbent on anybody with a leadership role.

If you're elected Republican, if you are in the church and supported Trump, if you are just a local conservative Republican that supported Trump -- please speak out, please help people understand that this election was not stolen. That Donald Trump has been lying to them and that the correct path forward is to -- is one of peace, one of nonviolence. You can protest, but you do not need to be showing up at the Capitols over the next week protesting a lie.

BERMAN: John Harwood, you don't let people off the hook.

HARWOOD: Hey, guys.

BERMAN: Go ahead. Go ahead, John.

HARWOOD: Yeah. No, I wanted to punctuate what Elizabeth said. And get us to put a little perspective about where we are. We all remember 20 years ago when al Qaeda attacked the United States and I was working in downtown Washington and saw, by the evening, saw military vehicles rolling down Connecticut Avenue. We are 20 years later back at a point of that kind. You saw Brian Todd's report. We've seen National Guard troops with

weapons sleeping and preparing in the Capitol visitors center. Donald Trump made that happen. Donald Trump created this danger and has nurtured this danger.

And the fact is that that danger may represent a greater threat to the United States than they -- al Qaeda posed to the United States. The reason I say that is because the country united against the threat from al Qaeda.

But the threat that we face right now is a threat from within. Donald Trump has nurtured and fostered that threat and the only positive thing we can take from that is, at this moment, influential people in both parties appear to be recognizing that and are stepping up to confront it.

BERMAN: John Harwood, Elizabeth Neumann, thanks so much for being with us.

And, of course, with CNN for this unprecedented moment in U.S. history.

Special coverage all day of the second impeachment of Donald Trump.

So, states across the country beefing up security at capitol buildings. How they are getting ready for armed protests, next.