Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Source: Mitch McConnell Signaling He's In Favor Of Impeachment; National Guard Members Seen Sleeping On Capitol Floors Overnight; Soon: Trump To Become Only President Impeached Twice; Source: Mitch McConnell Has Not Yet Informed Members On When The Trial May Be; Awaiting Debate Over Second Impeachment Of President Trump. Aired 12- 12:30p ET
Aired January 13, 2021 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's what you are seeing on the right hand side of your screen that the vote is underway given the COVID restrictions. It takes longer than normal. I want to thank everybody for our coverage this morning. Special coverage continues right now with Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're looking at live pictures from the U.S. Capitol right now. The House of Representatives taking truly unprecedented action aimed at holding President Trump accountable for the deadly domestic terror attack there exactly one week ago.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington with CNN special coverage. We are witnessing something never seen in the history of this country until now.
Donald J. Trump on the brink of becoming the first and only President of the United States to be impeached twice we're standing by for a debate on a single article of impeachment charging President Trump with incitement of insurrection.
House members returning to the chamber where they took cover and then fled for their lives when pro-Trump rioters stormed in, egged on by the president. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving toward a quick vote in the hours ahead. Confident there is enough support to decisively impeach President Trump again.
This time Democrats will be joined by at least five Republicans and likely more, including the third ranking GOP Representative Liz Cheney. She says no president has ever committed a greater betrayal of his oath and office.
All of this is playing out as law enforcement is on a high alert for the possibility of new attacks in the seven days left until Trump's presidency ends and President-Elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. Let's go to my colleague Jake Tapper. He's joining us. He's got more. Jake?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Thanks so much, Wolf. And it is a solemn and grim day here in the nation's Capitol where it feels like an occupying force is taking control because of the fears that the president's own supporters will stage terrorist attacks, more terrorist attacks and while it is true no president has ever been impeached twice, it is also true that no President of the United States has ever incited a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol.
It is a grim day, it is a day of accountability Dana and I think one of the big questions going forward is what about the other people that were part of this? This is a day where we're focusing on accountability for President Trump but what about all the other people who fed the lies?
What about all the other members of congress who incited the crowd? There is now an investigation that is supposed to be going forth about whether or not members of congress, we should point of course Republican members of congress, conducted reconnaissance with some of the attackers? It is a really, really ugly set of events.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is and because of everything you just said the security at the Capitol and around this Capitol city is nothing like I have seen really since post-9/11.
I mean, just to see the images that our colleagues on Capitol Hill captured, you see them there, of National Guard troops just sleeping and resting in the Capitol to protect the Capitol in a way that it wasn't one week ago today to protect the members even those who, as you said, enabled this, is not something that I can believe.
And when you think about it Jake and Abby, this is to protect the country not from a threat like we saw in 2001 with Osama Bin Laden radicalizing people to come to the United States to harness. It's to protect from a President of the United States and his enablers radicalizing Americans to harm the people elected to serve.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's coming from inside the House and in so many ways, we can't forget that this is happening just days before we are supposed to have a transition of power. This feeling of unwise in Washington, this feeling of distrust among members of congress, they can't even trust each other to be in the same workplace, this feeling of the country being sort of under siege from itself.
The FBI scrambling to find the people who were a part of this plot to riot and to try to stop the government from operating it's happening on the eve of a transition of power. And I think that we can say at this point that we've been talking about a peaceful transfer of power for many, many months now in a theoretical way because we've never really had to test it.
And I think for the first time we are facing the prospect that that principle has already been violated. It was violated last week when there was violence on the Capitol and now we are bracing ourselves for what could happen in just a few days. And it's a really said moment for this country in addition to the other history that is being made here today.
But the impeachment proceedings that we are about to see are happening, as you said, Jake, not just because President Trump.
PHILLIP: It's historic not just because President Trump is being impeached a second time. It's because of why he is being impeached. Never has a president on the eve of his exit from office created such an environment in Washington, created such danger for another branch of government. And that is why we are here today.
TAPPER: Yes, I mean, I saw a statement from Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, saying that President Trump has promised there will be an orderly and peaceful transition of power. And I read that, and I was, like that ship has sailed.
PHILLIP: Yes, it's already done.
TAPPER: We have been denied an orderly and peaceful transition of power. There are now five people dead that day, two subsequent suicides, one from a Capitol police officer. And Dana, just one other note I worked on Capitol Hill on September 12th, 2001 and everybody was scared, but the show of force was not like what you're seeing there. There are many, many more national guardsmen in the Capitol today than I recall there being on September 12th, 2001.
BASH: You're exactly right. And I know we're going to go over to Wolf. But as you say that what we expect to see when it comes to the military force by inauguration is going to be more here in Washington than in Iraq and Afghanistan.
TAPPER: That's because the threats, in many ways, are from House Republicans and Senate Republicans who have incited this riot and also been spreading these lies. And there are fears of even worse complicity. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. And I was up on capitol hill earlier this morning, and I saw those national guard troops fully armed right now bracing god forbid for the worst. We'll have much more on that coming up. I want to go to Manu Raju who is covering all of this for us upon Capitol Hill right now. So set the scene, they are ramping up this rules vote that will allow the formal vote on the resolution, the impeachment resolution Manu to begin.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I know it will be a bipartisan majority in the house that will impeach Donald Trump on the charge of incitement of an insurrection. The second time Donald Trump will be impeached, the first time in American history that has happened on multiple occasions to a sitting president.
He's only been three in American history who have been impeached Donald Trump being one of the three. And we expect republican defections to grow. Right now five are publicly announced I am told from republican sources, they expect possibly around a dozen Republicans to break ranks.
That's the expectation at the moment. No one knows exactly for sure because Republican leaders are doing something they did not do back in 2019. They're allowing the members to vote their conscience. They're not pressuring their members to fall in line inside with Donald Trump as the party is badly divided.
Now the division is playing out all throughout the hallways. I've talked to multiple members who are angry at one another about how they have handled things on people who have tried to side with Donald Trump and overturn the elections, Congressmen like Jim Jordan and Paul Gosar who'd made that fruitless attempt to try to throw out the electoral votes last week, despite what happened on Capitol Hill with that violent mob.
They are calling for the removal of Liz Cheney, the number three Republican who is serving right now as the conference Chair of the republican conference. They want her out because she supports impeaching the president. Now, other Republicans say that they are not concerned about the backlash that they might receive from the right.
One congresswoman who plans to vote to impeach, Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Butler just talked to me moments ago. I asked her if she has any concerns about the backlash that she may get for her vote back home. She says, "I am not in fear at all". She said the decision was not a fear-based decision.
She called this the most consequential vote I've ever taken as a member, and expect her to go to the floor sometime this afternoon and make her remarks about why she is breaking ranks, siding with Democrats to impeach this president. Now at the same time other Republicans may break ranks Pete Meijer who is a freshman from Michigan who is considering voting to impeach Donald Trump.
I just asked him if you would vote to impeach, he would not say he's putting out a statement soon he said. I said are you concerned about the backlash from the right? He said time will tell. So Wolf, you are seeing a Republican Party badly splintered here, some siding with Donald Trump, others pointing fingers. And then we'll see what happens when it gets to the senate. Will they convict and prevent Donald Trump from ever holding office again, Wolf.
BLITZER: Truly an historic day here in the United States. Manu we'll get back to you, OK when Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House watching all of this unfold. Kaitlan, what are you hearing over there? What are you seeing?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a sense developing that the president has severely underestimated the level of anger that exists among Republicans in the senate so far. And we're told that the president is upset about what's been going on but not in the lens of he didn't realize this.
But Wolf, just that the president was not expecting this in the sense of what you are seeing from McConnell, from people like Liz Cheney coming out, not only saying that she's going to vote to impeach the president, but saying that he betrayed the oath of office as president.
And so, this is coming Wolf on a day where the president is about to be impeached for the second time. He is the only president to ever have that under his list of accomplishments or attributes, I guess as you would put it.
COLLINS: But Wolf, he has no public appearances scheduled. The president is basically invisible today. Currently we are not expecting any kind of a public remark from him. So far and this comes as behind the scenes there is also no legal strategy, at least no comprehensive one that has been developed so far for what they are going to be doing about the senate trial if this comes to fruition.
And if it looks like the president could potentially be convicted by members of his own party and so he's talked about Alan Dershowitz, Rudy Giuliani representing him but we've spoken to several people behind the scenes. They say there is no strategy going on here, no real legal team that has been put together. So it's not clear exactly how the White House is going to pursue this because this comes at a time when Wolf, a lot of senior aides is checking out.
This is their last weeks on the job. A lot of cabinet secretaries have been avoiding the president. And of course, Wolf, the ultimate way that we typically hear from the president is on social media. And right now, he can't do that given he has been suspended in some form or fashion from Twitter, Facebook, and now even YouTube.
We are told there is actually an internal divide over how to handle that and that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, is one person who intervened in an effort by other officials like the president's personnel chief to get him on fringe social media platforms. Ones like gab, which is where you see extremists often, go when they've been blocked from major social media platforms.
They tried to get the president on there so he could have some kind of voice online. But I'm told that Jared Kushner has blocked that. So far he's been successful. And it's not clear whether or not that's going to remain the case. But Wolf, it is striking that we are not hearing from the president at all given the last time he was impeached he held a campaign rally in Michigan.
He said it didn't feel like he was being impeached and he talked about that unity in the Republican Party. And of course as Manu just lay out, we are seeing none of that unity in the Republican Party today as members of the president's own party is preparing to impeach him and potentially convict him in the senate.
BLITZER: Yes, so many of these Republicans are running away from President Trump as quickly as they possibly can. We'll get back to you Kaitlan, John King is here with me right now. This resolution specifically states John that the President of the United States has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the constitution if allowed to remain in office.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And so, it's important to just pause and consider the awesome and in some ways troubling history of this day, but important history of this day. The Democrats feel when Republicans stand up and say this is being rushed, they are right. When they say it's a different process, they are right. The Democrats feel they have no choice because a week ago the President of the United States told his supporters go to that Capitol, find the weak congressmen, be strong, and do this.
And so the Democrats say they have every right and every reason. And the history of this day is unmistakable. We covered the Clinton White House when Bill Clinton was impeached and we never thought we would never see another one. Now we have seen two for Donald Trump. This is an indelible stain on his legacy. There's nothing he can do to erase this. He will twice be impeached and this impeachment today for what?
For inciting his supporters to attack his government, to attack his government because the American people voted for somebody else you cannot say that enough of what this is about, whether you agree with it, whether you disagree with it, what it is about, the president's own words. He sent his supporters up there. He said he would go with them. Of course he didn't to go up to that Capitol.
So at that part the historic stain on Trump is critical. But as so many others have said, I also think as this as we're writing the final chapter of the Trump term, we're also writing a beginning chapter of the future of the Republican Party. And this is a day of choosing. This is a day of choosing for Jim Jordan and Paul Gosar to say Liz Cheney must go because she says the president should be impeached.
So two men who helped the president, two men among 140 in the house, 138 or so who voted even after the riots to support the president's lie, they say she should go. The Republicans have to choose today Wolf, they have to choose about their future. No one man can perpetuate a fraud and can perpetuate a lie, not even the President of the United States, not even this president with his previous bellicose platform on social media.
He needed help. He needed an echo chamber. They gave him the echo chamber for two months after the election. That day last week would not have happened if Republicans had stood up to the president after the election, after he had a chance, go to court, ask for re-counts, exhaust all your legal and legitimate options.
Once that was over, the Republican Party had an obligation to stand up to him and it didn't. That's why we are here today. So it's not just about the president. It's about the future of the party and the future of our political discourse. In some ways truth is winning. In some ways facts is winning. But there are a lot of open raw wounds. And today will be part of that process, but I have giant questions for the Republicans.
And as the house votes first, I do think Mitch McConnell has leaked out word that he's unhappy, that he believes this helps hold the president accountable. For those in the house who finally have the courage to stand up and vote yes, the question is how much cover they will get in the senate.
[12:15:00] BLITZER: It's a dramatic moment because not only did he and his campaign go to various courts, local courts. They went to the Supreme Court where the president himself had appointed three of the nine justices and they said the arguments that they were putting forward did not have standing.
KING: And, again, think about what has happened in this town the last four years. People, elected Republicans, organizations in town, interest groups in town who, if you read their admission statements they stay they are constitutional conservatives. They say they are law and order Republicans, are based on law and order.
They said it was critical to name all these Trump judges to the courts bigger to get around Democrats in the legislatures. Well, it is the courts who told them go away. They appealed. More than 60 decisions go away. There's a process we have to have rules and order in a process to litigate your grievances. The president did that. He was told no.
He was laughed at by judges including judges he appointed because his people came into court with nothing. They didn't prove anything because there was no widespread fraud. So the responsibility of leadership then is not to lie to your supporters. It's to tell them we lost and let's organize for the next election, not to lie to them.
And, again, the president lied to his supporters repeatedly, repeatedly. And he had a lot of help. And I think that's what today's about. It is the president who is the subject of this one article of impeachment, but those who supported him in these lies, there's history here too. The Republican Party has invited the QAnon conspiracy theory now into its membership in the house. Will they continue that? That's another question.
BLITZER: This rules resolution, a procedural moment clearly has passed. 217, that's what they need right now because of a couple house vacancies and the debate momentarily, the actual impeachment debate is about to begin within the next few minutes. Jamie Gangel is watching all of this. The huge difference this time as opposed to the first time the President, Jamie, was impeached is that Republicans will now at least some join with the Democrats.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. We've heard from I think it's five now, but Manu had mentioned someone else. I was told by a Republican source they are expecting ten to 20 to vote for impeachment. That is completely different. There were no Republicans a year ago. But I just want to, you know; follow up with John King just said about courage.
Liz Cheney, these Republicans who have announced, they are showing courage at the same time as I have been told by republican sources that members, republican members have said they are not going to vote for impeachment because they are still scared of Donald Trump. I just want to read you a quote. I was told that the White House is continuing to pressure these members that Trump has not stopped and those members "fear for their lives and for their families' lives".
After what we saw January 6th a week later, that says a lot that the White House is still pressuring people. And just to follow up on Mitch McConnell, he is deliberately being quiet. He is leaking out this information that he favors impeachment. Let's see what he does at the end of the day. But the fact that he leaked out to reporters that he wants to move in this direction shows a split with Donald Trump, a split in the Republican Party.
I was told that unlike Kevin McCarthy who thinks Trump may just fade away, that Mitch McConnell thinks that the Republican Party needs a clean break to move ahead, Wolf.
BLITZER: And the fact that we're hearing that Mitch McConnell actually - this is what we're hearing from sources, hates the President of the United States and probably never wants to speak with him again, that is extraordinary, extraordinary indeed. Lauren Fox is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this history unfold. What are you learning Lauren?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, I think this is really a moment for the Republican Party to reckon with how they move forward. And I am told from multiple aides and members that I'm talking with that essentially what they view as this first step is in the House of Representatives, this is an opportunity for some members to really set the course for where they think the party should go.
I think that's what you're seeing with Liz Cheney who came out last night with that forceful statement saying that she thought that President Trump not only deserved to be impeached, but that he had really been the entire reason why we saw that siege on the Capitol last week.
Wolf, now look, I think we're going to see up to maybe a dozen members is what I'm hearing from both Republican and Democratic aides. Republican members voting to impeach Trump in the House of Representatives but that's far from a majority of the conference. Remember, President Trump has always had a stronghold on Republicans in the house. They were some of the first members to support him, to back his campaign.
FOX: Now, I think what we're going to start to see in the senate is there is some room for Republican members to make up their own minds. That's what McConnell is doing here. He's not sending any message that he's going to rush the senate back for a trial right now. What he's doing is making it clear to his members that it is up to them to make a decision.
He is not standing by Trump. It is not going to be a front to him if members decide that they think President Trump needs to be convicted when this comes up for a trial in the senate, a reminder of course that takes two-thirds, which means you need 17 Republican Senators. We just haven't seen that kind of number yet, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be a 50/50 matchup in the senate with the Democrats taking the White House, the Vice President Kamala Harris will be the President of the Senate and she'll break ties so the Democrats are the majority after January 20th. Manu Raju, you're back. You're getting some more information on the senate majority still technically the senate majority leader until January 20th, on his thinking. What are you hearing?
RAJU: Yes. He's actually not saying when the trial will actually begin. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader has not informed his members. Whether there's been a change in his approach, change in his thinking since he sent a memo a few days ago suggesting that the trial would start in the new Biden administration probably on the 20th, January 20th, January 21st that day.
Now, since then, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic Leader who will be the majority leader come January 20th, has demanded that the two McConnell and Schumer agree to have - agree to actually bring the senate back early to have the senate trial. McConnell is not saying one way or the other if they will actually agree to an early senate trial, Wolf.
That is raising the possibility of potentially we'll see, if he decides to bring all the members back because they have not formerly taken that off the table. There is speculation that presumably a trial could begin in the next few days. We don't know if that's the case. They're not saying, they're not telling their members.
But as McConnell has made it clear privately that he believes the president has committed impeachable offenses and as the House Democrats plan to send over an article of impeachment immediately potentially tonight, presumably the trial could move quickly if McConnell agrees.
So the big question Wolf in the hours to come, will Mitch McConnell agree to bring the senate back early, have a trial potentially convict Donald Trump before he leaves office, which would be such an unprecedented and dramatic moment. We could get there, we'll see. At the moment McConnell's keeping quiet, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. These are really; really amazing moments that we're watching unfold on this historic day. Pamela Brown is watching the security situation here in the nation's Capitol. Pamela, I was around DC just before coming here to our studio. And I saw armed U.S. military personnel on regular street corners, not just outside the Capitol Hill as we're seeing right there.
But on regular street corners, something that I would often see when I would be in Baghdad or Mosul or - that not necessarily here in Washington D.C. what are you learning about these 15,000 U.S. troops armed who are heading to Washington?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are told Wolf this is coming from the D.C. Police Chief that there could be more than 20,000 U.S. national guard on the inauguration, for the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden.
That right now is part of the planning that they're working on. So this scene that we're seeing right now on Capitol Hill outside of the building and even you saw those national guards sleeping on the floor inside the Capitol building.
We are expecting them to be a large portion of them to be here around inauguration, again, more than 20,000. And this is an extraordinary number. The D.C. Police Chief said, for context, he has never seen a level like this before. But clearly Wolf, they don't want to take any chances after the insurrection we saw last Wednesday and the threats that are coming into law enforcement.
This is what the D.C. Police Chief said. He said they are doing this amid a major security threat. There is a lot of concern in law enforcement about extremists planning more protests through the inauguration. And that is why we are seeing security beefed up today and through the inauguration.
BLITZER: Seven days left. Then Trump becomes the former President, Biden becomes the President of the United States. Jake, as I keep saying, these are amazing, amazing moments we're watching.
TAPPER: Yes, amazing and hideous, just stunning what we're seeing tens of thousands of National Guard troops coming to the Washington. Let's listen in.
SUSAN COLE, HOUSE READING CLERK: --United States of America in the name of itself and of the people of the United States of America against Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America and maintenance and support of this impeachment against him for high crimes and misdemeanors. Article I, incitement of insurrection.
COLE: The constitution provides that the House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment and that the president shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other crimes and misdemeanors.
Further, Section III of the 14th amendment to the constitution prohibits any person who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding any office under the United States in his conduct while President of the United States.
And in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of the President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, Donald John Trump engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors by inciting violence against the government of the United States.
And that on January 6th, 2021, pursuant to the 12th amendment to the constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a joint session of congress to count the votes of the Electoral College.
And the much preceding the joint session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by state or federal officials.
Shortly before the joint session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd at the elapse in Washington D.C. There he reiterated false claims that we won this election and we won it by a landslide. He also willfully made statements that in context encouraged and foreseeable resulted in lawless action at the Capitol, such as if you don't fight like hell, we're not going to have a country anymore.
Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed in an attempt to, among other objectives interfere with the joint sessions solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, - members of congress, the vice president and congressional personnel and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.
President Trump's conduct on January 6th, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2nd 2021 during which President Trump urged the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger to find enough votes to overturn the Georgia presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.
In all of this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power and imperiled a co-equal branch of government. He thereby betrayed his trust of president to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Wherefore Donald John Trump by such conduct has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the national security democracy and the constitution if allowed to remain in office and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.
The resolution shall be debatable for two hours. Equally divided and controlled by the Chair and the ranking minority member of the committee on the judiciary. The gentleman from New York Mr. Nadler and the gentleman from Ohio Mr. Jordan will each control one hour. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all members may have five legislative days in which to advise and extend their remarks and extraneous material on - 224.
COLE: Without objection.
NADLER: Madam Speaker, I yield one minute to the distinguished speaker of the house, the gentle lady from California, Ms. Pelosi.
COLE: The gentlewoman from California is yielded one minute.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Thank you, madam speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his leadership. Madam speaker and his annual address to our predecessors in congress in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the duty of the patriot in an hour of decisive crisis for the American people. Fellow citizens he said, we cannot escape history. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves.