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House Impeachment Managers Outline Their Case against Trump; Democrats' Impeachment Filing Says, Trump Threatened the Constitutional System; Senate Democrats Preparing to Pass Relief Without GOP Support. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:05]

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One last thing, Jim, we also asked the Kremlin about this, and they claim that Vladimir Putin is not paying any attention to this trial. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I doubt that. We were showing pictures of the protests and the rest of the protests that have erupted around the country in the wake of this. Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

Very Good Tuesday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

There is a lot happening today. House Democrats lay out their case against former President Trump in his second impeachment trial. That pretrial brief outlining their plan to show that the former president worked for months to subvert the will of voters, that will come this hour, and it says it continued. The president continued his lies and disinformation about a stolen election incited the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

CNN has obtained an excerpt, let me read this to you. President Trump's responsibility for the events of January 6th is unmistakable. President Trump's conduct must be declared unacceptable in the clearest and most unequivocal terms.

SCIUTTO: Trump's defense team has until noon today to respond. Sources tell CNN they will argue that trying a former president who is already out of office is unconstitutional, in effect, a process argument.

First, let's begin with Manu Raju on Capitol Hill on the legal brief by Democrats. And, Manu, it looks like what they're trying to do here is connect the events of January 6th to all that preceded it, right, the president claiming the election was stolen and kind of riling up this group that ended up attacking the Capitol.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're trying to make a drink link to the president -- former president's actions to inciting his supporters, suggesting there is no question that Donald Trump acted intentionally in riling up his supporters that led to the deadly riot on January 6th. They're calling this not a routine corruption charge. They're saying this is a charge of, quote, historic proportions and impeachable offense of historic proportions.

And they essentially break it down into four areas. One, what happened before the election, two, the so-called Stop the Steal, the efforts and disinformation that Donald Trump put out after the election and then January 6th, how he went to the Ellipse close to the White House, told his supporters to come to the Capitol and then we saw the deadly violence unfold. And the fourth part, arguing that this is constitutional and well within the rights of the Senate to try a former president.

Now, this is what they say in detailing the president's actions. They say President Trump fixated on January 6th, 2021, the date of the joint session of Congress as presenting his last best hope to reverse the election results and remain in power. Even as he continued improperly pressuring state officials, DOJ and members of Congress to overturn the electoral outcome, he sharply escalated his public statements, using more incendiary and violent language to urge supporters to, quote, Stop the Steal on January 6th.

He insisted that the election had been rigged and stolen that and his followers had to fight like hell and fight to the death against this act of war since they, quote, can't let it happen and won't take it anymore. These statements turned his wild rally on January 6th into a powder keg waiting to blow. Indeed it was obvious and entirely foreseeable that the furious crowd assembled before President Trump at the Save America Rally on January 6 was primed and prepared for violence that he lit a spark.

So they're trying to make that connection leading up to what happened later that day as Congress is counting the votes, certifying Joe Biden's electoral victory, saying this is all about Donald Trump. And then the other key point they just make here about this being, they're saying any process base objections to this impeachment are wrong assigned to Senate Republicans are saying this is not constitutional. They are making the case very extensively, in their view, it is.

SCIUTTO: And the president said in so many words, march to the Capitol and he was going to join them and, of course, he didn't. I mean, you don't have to make it up, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. I think what is interesting about what Manu just read, John, is that it is really a substantive argument, it's not a process argument, and yet, it seems like the president's only viable defense is the process argument. So, in two hours, when we hit the deadline for the president's defense team to release their first document of their strategy, is it even going to be in response to the substance and the merit or just a process one?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there will be a limited response, Poppy, on substance. We've heard some of it publicly from the president saying, well, yes, look at my exact words. I wasn't anticipating that that would turn violent. I said it was going to be peaceful, that sort of thing, he will try to make that case. We've also seen from the churn in his legal team over the weekend that he was trying to get his lawyers, the lawyers that he had recruited to, advance the lie that generated the insurrection in the first place. The idea that he had actually won the election and it was stolen from him.

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He can't let go of that idea himself, at least its public presentation. But because lawyers don't want to say things that obviously not believable, you can see that they're going to go back to the path of least resistance which 45 Republicans have already affirmed with their votes which is that it is unconstitutional to try a president in the Senate after he has been impeached but left office.

Here is what the lawyer said on Fox last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SCHOEN, TRUMP IMPEACHMENT LAWYER: This process is completely unconstitutional and that this is a very, very dangerous road to take with respect to the First Amendment, putting at risk any passionate political speaker, which is really against everything we believe in in this country.

The day he was elected, there were calls for his impeachment already. This is the weapon they've tried to use against him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARWOOD: Now, there is precedent for trials after officials left office. That, of course, happened after the civil war in the 19th century. But it hasn't happened for a president before. 45 Republican senators want to push this away. They voted that way and you could expect that that is going to be the principle leg that they have to stand on in this trial.

SCIUTTO: Although a couple of those senators, Portman among them, have said, well, that was about the debate, I'll still keep my mind open of trial. We'll see if that happens. John Harwood, Manu Raju, thanks very much to both of you.

Of course, the other battle on the Hill is COVID economic relief stimulus. CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

So, Lauren, a lot was made at this meeting between the Biden and Republicans. I mean, the Biden plan, $1.9 trillion, the Republicans came with something less than a third of that. I mean, evidence Republicans willing to move up on the price tag or the president willing to move down? Where do we stand?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, that meeting yesterday was a good start. And that is what you heard from Republican senators coming out of the meeting, that's what you heard from the White House. But, look, if you look at what Democrats are doing on Capitol Hill today, it sort of tells a little bit of a different story. Essentially, they are moving ahead, charging ahead with introducing that budget resolution today that essentially is very close to what President Biden initially laid out in his COVID relief plan.

Essentially, they are looking at a $1.9 trillion plan and they are giving committees instructions essentially to do many of the things that Biden had suggested in that blueprint. Essentially, what they want to do is give people $1,400 checks. They want to expand food assistance for Americans. They want to make sure that there is enough money for COVID vaccine, supplies, as well as testing and tracing.

So this bill that Democrats are going to be working on throughout of the next couple of weeks is going to track very closely to what Biden initially suggested.

Now, Biden has argued that these conversations with Republicans can and should continue. Republican senators that I've talked to this morning are very clear that they want those conversations to continue moving forward.

But, look, Democrats are charging ahead. They are ready to go. And if Republicans want to come on board, they're welcome. But that number that Republicans initially came out with, $618 billion, that is not going to cut it. And Biden is not going to come down that far. They're going to have to come up a lot higher to meet some middle ground and in the meantime Democrats have the votes that they would need at this point to advance this process.

HARLOW: They do if they want to do it without Republicans on board. Lauren, thank you very much.

A warning this morning from Dr. Fauci, even people previously infected with COVID may be at risk of re-infection. Why? Because of these new more contagious variants of COVID-19 that are now becoming dominant. January was the deadliest month in this pandemic so far. 95,000 people in the United States died from COVID last month alone.

SCIUTTO: But there are some glimmers of hope. Hospitalizations coming down across the country, also the number of new COVID-19 infections trending downward, but, unfortunately, the risk is that new variants could potentially send those numbers up again.

So to wade through it all, there are always good and bad signs, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

All right, Sanjay, you're great at sort of taking the good with the bad. Let's start perhaps with the good. A new study shows that people who were previously infected with coronavirus may only need one vaccine dose because they preserve some sort of immunity from that infection. What does this mean, what could this mean for getting vaccines out to all of the people who need them?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is one study and I think the CDC and others will sort of evaluate this in terms of vaccine distribution and how it might change. What this basically showed is that if you previously had COVID, and people would have to have evidence, antibody tests or something like that, if you previously had COVID and then you get a single shot of the vaccine, you start to get antibodies levels that are similar to as if you had gotten both shots of the vaccine.

The way that it is often described in the literature is that the first shot is sort of a prime -- sort of priming the immune system, like you the prime the pump, and the second shot is the boost.

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What this study is essentially making the case is that if you've had COVID in the past, you've already had your immune system sort of primed, so that single shot then can sort of boost the immune system and they're seeing antibody levels that are similar to people who have gotten two shots.

I don't know what it's going to mean, frankly, in terms of overall vaccine recommendations but this is important data to have. If we run into a situation where we just don't have enough vaccine and we need to get people vaccinated more quickly, which we do, and this is going to be important to know.

HARLOW: Sanjay, how will these new variants in this country in spreading rapidly, do we know totally how they're impacting vaccine efficacy especially like J&J that has not gotten emergency use approval yet?

GUPTA: Yes, we have a pretty good idea, and we could show you some of the numbers here. There are two vaccines that we sort of have been tracking, the Novavax and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And you see a drop-off in terms of overall efficacy or effectiveness between the coronavirus that's been circulating versus the variant, especially the one from South Africa.

But draw your attention to the bottom-right of the screen though, the 85 percent number. I think, in some ways, that's the most crucial. The Johnson & Johnson trial, part of the trial, took place in South Africa and the majority of people who were becoming infected over there and getting sick had this variant that we've been talking so much about. What they found was that it was 85 percent protective against severe disease, the kind that people get really sick or go to the hospital or even die from, it was very protective against that.

So for the biggest concern, I think, from people, could I get very sick from this, these vaccines do seem to be effective. They're going to have to keep getting trial to make sure that is the case. But that is the good news there, which is why we've got to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

SCIUTTO: Okay, the bad with good here, I mean, again, because there is a lot of information coming out, Dr. Fauci told Wolf Blitzer that there is concern of re-infection from the South African variant. I wonder if you could tell us what the significance of that is and does that hold if you're vaccinated? GUPTA: Right. So, we had some clues about this a while ago. What will happen is they'll take plasma from people have recovered from COVID and they will expose it to the variant virus and see what happened. And they found that people who had previously been exposed, their antibodies weren't working as well against the variant.

So we sort of already knew that for people out there who said, look, I had COVID, I'm good, understandably, in terms of antibodies, they say they're fine, they weren't getting as much protection against these variants. And now, we are seeing evidence of re-infections in South Africa and we also saw re-infections with another variant in Brazil. So that is the concern.

We don't know how big of a deal this is going to be but that is what Dr. Fauci is referring to. And, again, it makes the vaccines that much more important, 85 percent protection even if it is the variant.

HARLOW: Sanjay, great to have you on all of this, thanks so much.

Democrats are sending a message to Republicans as they look to fast track President Biden's stimulus plan, get on board or be left behind.

SCIUTTO: Plus, new insider details on what is being called the craziest meeting in the Trump presidency. Ahead, how a standoff between outright conspiracy theorist and White House officials in front of the president led to a potential flashpoint, perhaps an attempted military coup. It is a frightening story.

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SCIUTTO: Back to the breaking news on new revelations of Democrats plans to take on former Trump at his second impeachment trial. CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig is here.

Elie, looking at this, it is clear that the Democratic argument is going to be it is not just about January 6th, it's about all the weeks that led up to that, the president's lies about the election, riling up those rioters and then on the day saying, let's march to the Capitol, connecting, in effect, those dots there. From a legal perspective, as far as Senate trials go, tell us what you think of that case.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Jim, I think that is a very smart approach to take. I think it would have been a mistake to focus solely on what happened on January 6th. Obviously, that is the fulcrum of the case. That's when the most important events happen. But you always want to make sure you're giving your audience, in this case, the Senate and the American public, really the full view, and that includes the buildup (ph). That includes the perpetration of this big lie about election fraud over weeks leading up to January 6th.

And if you actually look at the articles of impeachment, they carved that out. They have a specific paragraph saying, not just about what happened on January 6th, but it is about the whole effort, the coordinated effort, to really spread this lie. That is what culminated on January 6th. That's what pushed these people into the Capitol building. So I think that is strategically really a wise tact to take.

HARLOW: What do you think about their intentionally argument that the Democrats aren't just saying the president incited this but he did it intentionally and he did it over a matter of weeks with election lies? Norm Eisen told us last hour he doesn't -- they don't need to meet the same legal bar as you would in a courtroom. But I find it interesting.

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I wonder what you think.

HONIG: Right. So, Norm is right, of course, this is not a criminal courtroom, this is an impeachment trial. I think it's an interesting, aggressive approach. It's sort of like the best defense is the best offense, right? In other words, what I read the Democrats are saying here is, we don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of the First Amendment and Brandenburg, which is this 50-year-old Supreme Court case about was it just on this side of the line or just that side of the line. The way I heard is the Democrats are saying, this is flat out unacceptable.

And it is not just that Donald Trump's words were taken a certain way but they're arguing -- the Democrats are arguing, this is exactly what he'd hope would happen, planned would happen, wanted to happen, and even after it was over, applauded, said they were great patriots and will remember this day.

So it shows me that the House managers here, Democratic House managers, are really taking, I think, appropriately an aggressive litigation-style approach to this.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly, before we go, the response it seems, and this could change, because the president keeps changing his lawyers, is going to be it is unconstitutional to try the president after he leaves office. Your response?

HONIG: Well, look, we don't have a definitive answer on that. I think, by far, the better weight of the argument is that it's not unconstitutional. I mean, if it was, presidents could just have a complete free for all in their last few days in office.

And there is an interesting argument made in these new papers that we've just seen that because Donald Trump was impeached while he was in office, there is no question that is a legitimate impeachment. If you look at the Constitution, it says the Senate shall try all impeachments. So you have to start from the inarguable point that the impeachment itself was constitutional. Well, the Constitution says, shall try all impeachments, that is an impeachment. So that's an interesting argument that the Democrats raise now.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and the Senate was shut down by McConnell after the impeachment leading right up to the inauguration. Elie Honig, thanks very much.

HONIG: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Thank you, Elie.

Well, to the other battle on Capitol Hill over COVID relief, the next stimulus package and how much Americans need and who need it most. I'm happy to be joined this morning by Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester. Good morning, good to see you.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): It is good to be with you, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: I wonder what is most important to you and people of Montana, that Biden's $1.9 trillion bill gets through reconciliation with no Republican support, or that a, albeit, smaller bill passes with bipartisan support.

TESTER: Well, think what is important to the people of Montana is get something, a bill that gets shots into people's arms and gets the economy back on track so that we can get this pandemic behind us. Whether it is done bipartisan or not, I think, the most important part is that it is a bill that's targeted and justified and gets the economy back on track.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, both will do that. I mean, both proposals will get more shots in arms. There is money for vaccine distribution in both. But doesn't it really matter how you do it when it is the first big legislative move of this administration?

TESTER: I will tell you, from my perspective, I think it would be great to have a bipartisan bill to get through. I think that would be the best of all worlds that we show that Congress can work on the other side of the coin. I think it is also very important that we get a bill that moves the economy forward. That's, if it could only be done with Democrats, so be it. But the bottom line is it has to be done.

And it has to be big enough that it fixes the economic problems in this country that we're not back here, six, eight, ten months from now saying what is the next package going to look like.

HARLOW: Yes, I hear you on the need to do something. I just wonder if you think this one is the right one. We just had Raj Chetty on, the Harvard economist, the leading expert on poverty in America, you know, last hour who said I don't have any issue with big, but what the economic show is that this isn't targeted enough. I mean, he just did the analysis of the data and it showed them that for anyone making over $78,000 a year, if you give them $1,400 more directly, they're only going to spend $105 of that and the rest is going to go into their savings.

So I just wonder if you really think the way it is now that's being pushed through reconciliation, starting today, the process at least, is what is going to pick the economy off its knees.

TESTER: I don't have a crystal ball so I don't know what this is going to look like in the end. But what I do know is this is the beginning of the process and I think there is going to be room negotiation here. And I think there is going to be ways to make this bill even more targeted and be able to justify it even better.

And I think that there are comments that the ten senators who met at the White House for a couple of hours, I applaud those efforts, because I think any good bill with good negotiations can end up to be a better bill, and I think that is point we're in right now.

HARLOW: I mean, it was nice to see, wasn't it, leaders from different parties together in the Oval Office. I mean, for sure, it was important to see and I think the litmus test is, well, then what happens from there.

I want to ask you about the $15 minimum wage that's included in the bill.

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It's been a real sticking point for a number of your Republican colleagues. You have even talked about it being perhaps too high. You support a $10.10 minimum wage. And, actually, the CBO supports where you are on that because their analysis shows if you go to $15, by 2025, you're going to lose 1.3 million jobs and you will raise wages for 17 million people, but at $10 an hour, the CBO, a non-partisan, says you're not going to lose any jobs.

Do you think it's a mistake for Democrats who insist on the $15 minimum wage in this bill, especially since it may not even stand up to scrutiny under the bird rule for reconciliation?

TESTER: Yes, that is another debate. But I will tell that I've been in favor of increasing the minimum wage. I think the level is where the devil is in the detail. And I think that, once again, we can talk about the challenges and places in New York City or Houston, Texas, versus the challenges in a place like Great Falls, Montana. And I think that's what we need to do. We need to have those conversations.

I don't think anybody wants to destroy jobs. We want to try to get people of poverty. And there is a sweet spot for doing both and we need to have those negotiations moving forward.

HARLOW: Do you believe it was finally a mistake for the Biden administration to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline on day one in office given the impacts, reporters say, on 11,000 American jobs, do you think it was a mistake? I know you think it was a mistake to do it in general but I wonder about right now in this moment given this economy on its knees.

TESTER: Well, look, I've been a supporter of the Keystone pipeline, and there has been two caveats and they have been basic caveats. You do it to the safest standards and you respect private property rights. I think Keystone pipeline folks could have done a better job of getting the Fort Peck tribe on board and they need to continue to working to do that. But in the end, I think it is a good project.

I believe in climate change. But I also think that this one pipeline isn't going to turn it around, isn't going to turn our climate around and it's not going to make it markedly worse situations. But so in the end, yes, I supported the keystone pipeline. I also support research and taking steps to stop the amount of CO2 that's going into the air. These might sound like two different philosophies that are butting heads. But I will tell you, in real life, I'm a farmer, and we're not where we need to be in this country for replacing diesel fuel for something else in a tractor, for example, or a semi that's going down the road. We will get there but it is going to take some good policies from Washington, D.C., and it is going to take some money invested in R&D. And so that is why I am more on that on the Keystone pipeline.

HARLOW: Senator Jon Tester, it is good to have you. Come back soon. Thanks so much.

TESTER: You bet. Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Jim?

SCIUTTO: Wild false conspiracies, name-calling, profanity-laced tirades, new details on one of the most alarming meetings of the Trump presidency, one that fueled the former president's obsession and attempts to overturn the results of the election. We'll have more.

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