Return to Transcripts main page
House Democrats Unveil Articles of Impeachment Against Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired December 10, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: For real in the White House this morning.
PAMELA BROWN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right. And the president does not want this to be a stain on his legacy, so it has bothered the president to say his comment, at the same time there's sort of this acceptance of this eventually of here we are. It is expected in many ways, but as one White House official put it this morning that I spoke with, said, look, this is a dramatic day. And White House officials are going to be watching at the same time things are locked in motion.
We -- there's a good understanding of how this is going to play out. And the president is already on Twitter this morning with his talking points ahead of the Democrats' press conference that it will be, quote, "political madness to impeach a president" who he claims has had so many accomplishments while in office.
Now the president will no doubt also be seizing on this announcement later today, we're expecting, about the trade deal with Canada and Mexico which is a big victory for this president. Now as you know, Democrats have countered there's overwhelming evidence that the president abused the power of his office and that nothing should overshadow that. So both sides have their arguments baked in as this impeachment process moves to the next phase.
And as I pointed out, even though this announcement was expected by White House officials they will be monitoring and paying close attention as they sketch out their next move. One official says there will be plenty of reaction between the president's tweets and his rally this evening. He has a very quiet schedule this morning so he is available to watch this press conference. Back to you.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Pamela Brown, thank you very much. Let us know what reporting you get as this happens. We are moments away. Let's bring in all of our experts.
And John King, let me begin with you if I could in Washington this morning. So it's going to be two. Steve Cohen on Judiciary says it's going to be two. But it sounds like there's going to be a reference to the Mueller report and the pattern of obstructive behavior from the president. You know, did Nancy Pelosi get this right to get the votes?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's evidence, Poppy and Jim, the gravity of the moment, which is enormous, is meeting the politics of the moment which is complicated.
KING: Speaker Pelosi understands what a day this is. And we get so caught up in this. We've viewed this as inevitable. We need to step back. They're about to announce Articles of Impeachment against the president of the United States. He will be impeached by the House of Representatives. That is a giant, historic moment in our nation's history. At the same time, why keep it narrow? Nancy Pelosi remembers the last impeachment.
The prosecuting party, the Republicans in that case against Bill Clinton was the party that suffered. Not the president who was impeached. The Republicans suffered that. Newt Gingrich lost his job. Bob Livingston was supposed to become the next speaker. He did not get the job. And so she's being very cautious here. She believes she has to do this. She believes the evidence is on the Democrats' side but she also wants to protect her majority in the next election so the 20 to 30 Democrats from vulnerable districts are why you have two, not three or four Articles of Impeachment. The politics of the moment cannot be separated from the gravity.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Let's get to the history of the moment. And look there, that is the Rayburn Room on Capitol Hill. Note the photo behind the podium there and those four American flags. That is President George Washington. Democrats throughout the last several days keep making references --
HARLOW: Great point.
SCIUTTO: -- to history, and to the Constitution, and to presidential duty and what those founders had in mind when they included in the Constitution the ability of Congress to remove a sitting president. Speaking of history, Tim Naftali, who spent his professional life on these questions.
Tim, place this moment into context for our viewers.
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, the founders wondered what might happen if the people chose someone who was not fit for office because of their actions. Not because their policies were wrong. And the founders first thought, well, you know, this will be settled at the polls. And then they realized, no, if someone challenges the nature of our constitutional system, they have to be removed before an election. Before a reelection.
So that is the -- that is the moment we're in right now which his that Congress has decided or is about to decide whether or not, whether or not the Constitution requires that a president be impeached and then perhaps removed because they represent a challenge to our constitutional system.
SCIUTTO: That is --
NAFTALI: This has only happened four times. SCIUTTO: You've talked about before is the founders were conscious,
fearful of another monarch or a leader who behaved like a monarch, and no one more conscious of that than George Washington in his role as first president.
HARLOW: Jeffrey Toobin, your thoughts on what we've learned in the last few moments before we hear it officially.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- just to repeat, it's a very big deal and it's also worth noting that, you know, we had 200 years with just one impeachment. Andrew Johnson right after the civil war. And in the last 45 years, we've had three. And I think that is indicative of the increasing polarization and anger that's reflected in our politics. You know, you had Richard Nixon who wasn't impeached, who resigned on the brink of impeachment, and then Clinton and Trump. And so it is indicative I think of the very volatile moment in which we live.
Also, you know, the Clinton impeachment was highly partisan. Virtually all Democrats voting with Clinton. Virtually all Republicans against. This one is going to be even more partisan. You will have even fewer defections which again I think is indicative of how polarized our political parties are at this moment. And this is both a symptom and a reflection of that.
SCIUTTO: No question.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Poppy and Jim, I think it's worth noting that another piece of the timing is look when the last two impeachments happened. Richard Nixon was already in his second term. Bill Clinton was already in his second term.
HARLOW: You're right. Yes.
GREGORY: This is literally at the doorstep of a reelection campaign for this president. It makes it particularly dicey for the Democrats. John King talked about the politics of the moment being complicated. They are risky for Democrats. Not just because there's not going to be any defections here. This is going to be so partisan, but because there is an argument that a lot of people are going to make which is what -- why? Why now? Why not let the voters decide? And Democrats were very pointed in saying -- yesterday as they presented the evidence, why? Because they allege a president is trying to corrupt the election.
SCIUTTO: Here's the moment. You see Nancy Pelosi, the speaker there, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, of course Jerry Nadler, other members of the Democratic leadership, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, certain to play a prominent role in this. This is a moment as Americans to listen.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Good morning, everyone. On this solemn day, I recall that the first order of business for members of Congress is the solemn act to take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It's with great respect and gratitude that I thank the chairs of the committees, the six committees who have been working to help us honor our oath of office. I also want to thank the staff of those committees and the committee members for all of their work over this period of time to help us protect and defend.
I want to thank the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Nadler, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Mr. Schiff, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, chairman -- all these chairmen. Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel of New York, the chair of the Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters of California, the chair of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
I also want to acknowledge the important work that was done by our dear and departed, may he rest in peace, Elijah Cummings, as chair of the Oversight Committee. Now pleased to yield to the distinguished chair of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Nadler.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Thank you, Madam Speaker.
Over the last several months, the investigative committees of the House have been engaged in an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's efforts to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 elections. Efforts that compromised our national security and threatened the integrity of our elections. Throughout this inquiry, he has attempted to conceal the evidence from Congress and from the American people.
Our president holds the ultimate public trust. When he betrays that trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy, and he endangers our national security. The framers of the Constitution prescribed a clear remedy for presidents who so violate their oath of office. That is the power of impeachment. Today, in service to our duty to the Constitution and to our country, the House Committee on the Judiciary is introducing two Articles of Impeachment charging the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.
The first article is for abuse of power. It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest.
That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election. Thus damaging our national security, undermining the integrity of the next election and violating his oath to the American people. These actions, moreover, are consistent with President Trump's previous invitations of foreign interference in our 2016 presidential election.
And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry. This gives rise to the second Article of Impeachment for obstruction of Congress. Here, too, we see a familiar pattern in President Trump's misconduct. A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people and above Congress' power of impeachment which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions is the president who sees himself as above the law.
We must be clear, no one, not even the president, is above the law.
I want to recognize the great contributions of the investigative chairs, particularly Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, Foreign Affairs chairman Eliot Engel, Committee and Oversight Reforms and Reforms, former chairman, the late Elijah Cummings, and its new chairwoman, Carolyn Maloney. Financial Services chairwoman Maxine Waters and Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal who helped lay the foundation for the articles we are introducing today.
I also want to thank my Judiciary Committee colleagues who are critical in our work to hold the president accountable and in the drafting of these articles. Later this week, the Judiciary Committee will meet to consider these Articles of Impeachment and to make a recommendation to the full House of Representatives.
We do not take this action lightly. But we have taken an oath to defend the Constitution. And unlike President Trump, we understand that our duty first and foremost is to protect the Constitution and to protect the interests of the American people. That is why we must take this solemn step today.
Elections are the cornerstone of democracy and are foundational to the rule of law. But the integrity of our next election is at risk from a president who has already sought foreign interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections, and who consistently puts himself above country. That is why we must act now.
I want to turn now to Chairman Schiff who will explain the evidence that supports these articles and the need for us to act with such urgency today.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Madam Speaker, and to my colleagues. Good morning.
The framers of the Constitution recognized that someday a president might come to office who would abuse that office, betray the public trust and undermine national security to secure foreign help in his re-election and who would seek to abrogate the power of Congress to hold him accountable. They recognize this danger and they prescribed a remedy and that remedy is impeachment.
It is an extraordinary remedy and one that I have been reluctant to recommend until the actions of President Trump gave Congress no alternative. We stand here today because the president's continuing abuse of his power has left us no choice. To do nothing would make ourselves complicit in the president's abuse of his high office, the public trust and our national security. The president's misconduct is as simple and as terrible as this.
President Trump solicited a foreign nation, Ukraine, to publicly announce investigations into his opponent and a baseless conspiracy theory promoted by Russia to help his re-election campaign. President Trump abused the power of his office by conditioning two official acts to get Ukraine to help his re-election. The release of hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid that nation desperately needed and a White House meeting with an ally trying to fend off Russian aggression.
In so doing, he undermined our national security and jeopardized the integrity of our next election. And he does so still.
The evidence of the president's misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested. And how could it not be when the president's own words on July 25th, I would like you to do us a favor, though, lay so bare his intentions, his willingness to sacrifice the national security for his own personal interests.
And when the president got caught, he committed his second impeachable act -- obstruction of Congress of the very ability to make sure that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States. The evidence is every bit as strong that President Trump has obstructed Congress fully without precedent and without basis in law.
If allowed to stand, it would decimate Congress' ability to conduct oversight of this president or any other in the future, leaving this president and those who follow to be free to be as corrupt, malfeasant or incompetent as they would like with no prospect of discovery or accountability.
Now, some would argue, why don't you just wait? Why don't you just wait until you get these witnesses the White House refuses to produce? Why don't you just wait until you get the documents the White House refuses to turn over? And people should understand what that argument really means. It has taken us eight months to get a lower court ruling that Don McGahn has no absolute right to defy Congress. Eight months. For one court decision.
If it takes us another eight months to get a second court or maybe a Supreme Court decision, people need to understand that is not the end of the process. It comes back to us and we ask questions because he no longer has absolute immunity, and then he claims something else, that his answers are privileged and we have to go back to court for another eight or 16 months.
The argument, why don't you just wait amounts to this -- why don't you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time? That is what that argument amounts to.
The president's misconduct goes to the heart of whether we can conduct a free and fair election in 2020. It is bad enough for a candidate to invite foreign interference in our political process, but it is far more corrosive for a president to do so, and to abuse his power to make it so.
Despite everything we have uncovered, the president's misconduct continues to this day, unapologetically and right now. As we saw when he stood on the White House lawn and then he was asked, what did you want in that July 25th call, and he said the answer was a simple one. And not just a simple one on July 25th, but a simple one today, and that is he still wants Ukraine to interfere in our election to help his campaign.
Even this week, the president's lawyer was back in Ukraine seeking to revive the same debunked conspiracy theory promoted at the president's behest. Which gets to the final and most pernicious of the arguments that we have heard in the president's defense. That the president can do whatever he wants under article 2, including get foreigners involved in our elections and we should just -- to quote the president's chief of staff, "get over it".
Ben Franklin said we have a republic if we can keep it. The president and his men say, you can't keep it and Americans should just get over it. Americans don't get to decide American elections anymore, not by themselves, not without foreign help. For the members of Congress, this is not a question of fact because the facts are not seriously contested.
It is rather a question of duty. The president's oath of office appears to mean very little to him, but the articles put forward today will give us a chance to show that we will defend the constitution and that our oath means something to us. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: History has been made for only the fourth time in the history of this Republic. The House of Representatives have moved to impeach the president of the United States starting with Speaker Pelosi.
They're not taking any questions at this time. But, Jim, as you noted at the top doing this, again, to mark the history and the gravity of this moment in front of the portrait of George Washington.
JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: The first words out of Speaker Pelosi's mouth --
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Were on this solemn day, making clear that --
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: In their view, they don't enjoy this. They didn't want to be here, but they view it as their obligation. Adam Schiff there, chairman of the House Intel went on to say no one is above the law, that's central to the case. But it also struck me that they are talking about the 2020 election --
HARLOW: Right now -- SCIUTTO: Saying they must --
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Act now to prevent, as Schiff said, the president from cheating in an election again. That is notable.
HARLOW: And what was also striking was the fact that they have not included an article based on the Mueller report. However, the repeated use of words like pattern --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
HARLOW: Of behavior by the president is them indicating that this is part of the consideration that they are all taking into this.
SCIUTTO: No question. Jeffrey Toobin, you were of course watching there. Your reaction to the case Democrats just made there to file articles of impeachment for only the fourth time in this country's history?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I thought it was, as you said, a solemn and serious occasion. And also, a persuasive one to people who are open to the evidence. You know, I think we are not in a political moment where there are a lot of persuadable minds, but there was a lot of evidence discussed there that was very serious and very indicative of the behavior that the president -- that Adam Schiff in particular was talking about.
I was struck by what Jerry Nadler said, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee about the 2016 election that what he said that there was pattern evidence. So, yes, it is true that there is not a separate article of impeachment for obstruction of justice in connection with --
SCIUTTO: Right --
TOOBIN: The Mueller investigation. But he did say very clearly that the evidence of what went on in the Trump campaign in 2016 when he welcomed Russian assistance, and when he instructed his aides like Don McGahn to fire -- to fire Robert Mueller. That is part of this story. And as this trial now almost certainly moves to the Senate --
HARLOW: Yes --
TOOBIN: You can be sure that the house managers, that is the members of the house who will be bringing the case will certainly mention what went on in 2016, even if it is -- even if it is not a formal article --
HARLOW: Yes --
TOOBIN: Of impeachment.
HARLOW: That's a great point, Toobin. Abby, to the point that David Gregory made just before we heard from house leadership, that this is made even more historic by the fact that this is just as we head into an election year. This is not in the second term --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
HARLOW: Of a presidency. This is heading into a year where Americans will decide also who they want their next president to be.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's one of the reasons why this has been so politically tricky for Democrats. They have to figure out, what is that balance between establishing the seriousness of this case and also acknowledging that we are on the verge of a presidential election, and that the people could decide in a year's time who they want to be their president.
But that's why I was struck by one of the things that Chairman Nadler said at the beginning when he described what the president did. He said that he was using his office for personal gain, but not just any personal gain. The personal gain that ignored or injured national security.
They're raising the stakes here, making it clear that this isn't something they can just kick off until after the next election. They have to address it today in part because it deals with that next election, and because it deals with national security issues as well.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But this is still about which team are you on? It's incredible. How would Republicans act if a President Hillary Clinton were trying to dig up dirt on her political opponent? That's the question. Even if you argue that this should not be a case for impeachment, that he should not be removed, what do you do if a president does this?
I thought it was so striking when Adam Schiff said you're being disenfranchised, voters of America.
HARLOW: Yes --
GREGORY: There's now foreign help in every election in the past two cycles. That is quite a damning thing --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
GREGORY: To say that and when the facts aren't in dispute. Are we really having two parties who look at this so completely differently? It can't be.
SCIUTTO: Let's put a finer point on that. In 2016, President Trump's team took a meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, lied about it. The president publicly called on Russia to hack in effect Hillary Clinton's e-mails. As we speak, the president's personal attorney is in contact with officials in Ukraine digging up dirt on a possible political opponent for the president in Joe Biden.
By the way, the people he's meeting with in Ukraine, very much pro- Russian lawmakers, one of them has a history in the KGB. When you speak about inviting foreign interference in the election, John King, it's happening before our eyes even as the president is being impeached for similar behavior.
What should that tell the American people about whether the president feels he faces consequences for this kind of solicitation of foreign help.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one would hope, Jim and Poppy, the American people make their own judgments, yes, through reliable news sources, yes, through watching the hearings, but make their own judgments. But we have seen throughout this process so far little evidence that anybody is willing to leave their tribal corner if you will.
And that's why what we heard today is so important as we move forward now. Just today, you wanted irony, just today, the Russian foreign minister is going to be in the Oval Office with the president --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
KING: Of the United States. I mean, the collision of these events --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
KING: Sometimes is numbing when you think about it. But where are we going now? So, this is -- the question now is, and David Gregory talked about this, does anybody lose anybody? The reason Speaker Pelosi wanted the cautious approach here is she knows no Republicans are coming her way. Based on the evidence today, she's not going to get any Republican votes in the House or in the Senate.
Therefore, she wants to maximize Democratic support. So, they go through the Judiciary Committee, they go to the full house, her goal is to keep Democratic defections on one hand, keep it to fewer than five --
HARLOW: Yes --
KING: She thinks she has a success in the party. Then the question is, does the president do anything to lose Republicans? And that is one of the -- if you talk privately to Republicans, privately --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
KING: Most Republicans condemn the president's conduct. Privately, most Republicans even more so condemn Rudy Giuliani as a private citizen, working with known corrupt bad actors going around and, A, hurting his client and, B, hurting the United States of America. Publicly --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
KING: They will not say it because never mind impeachment running parallel to the campaign. Impeachment now at this moment is merged with the campaign, and Republicans believe that if the president goes down, they go with him because his mood, his swings, his party -- it's his party now. And they have no -- they feel --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
KING: They have no choice even though under their breath, they detest what has happened --
SCIUTTO: Oh --
KING: Here --
SCIUTTO: The distance between public and private criticism, frankly, is political courage. That's the distance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes --
SCIUTTO: And that's what we've witnessed throughout. And I, like you, John, have spoken to Republicans who privately will be very explicit in their criticism, publicly, when there's a --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Political consequence --
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: We haven't seen it.
KING: One word -- power.
HARLOW: There you go. Jessica, to you. You're a former federal prosecutor. What did you make of the strength of Adam Schiff's argument there at the end when he laid out the eight months that it took the courts to decide on whether McGahn could even answer questions?
JESSICA ROTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I thought he made a really compelling argument for why it was important to proceed based on the evidentiary record that has been established so far. Because one of the Republican points that has been raised by Castor and including by Professor Turley last week was that, really, this is a thin evidentiary record and that Democrats should wait until they have more evidence and continue the process to get compliance with their subpoenas before they'd proceed.
And I thought Schiff just answered that beautifully by saying, we don't have time because we have this imminent threat to the upcoming election. And I can point to the eight months it took to get a district court ruling on one of the most important witnesses who would have witnessed about obstruction related to the Mueller --
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Yes --
ROTH: Investigation. That decision now has to go up on appeal, and it would go then further to the U.S. Supreme Court. So, I thought he answered that Republican argument about why not wait, beautifully.
GREGORY: And it is ridiculous that the court has taken that long. They have discretion to rule. These judges have discretion to rule on these matters. And this is a -- I think a relatively rare area that we've seen in the Trump era of the judiciary not moving with the speed that it should without impugning motives. There's no reason why it should take this long.
SCIUTTO: We have new reporting from the White House. Our Pamela Brown at the White House about what the president wants in the next step of this impeachment process and what he's likely to get. Tell us what you know.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. The president, White House officials are looking ahead to the looming Senate trial. And they've actually been pushing senators on Capitol Hill, Republican senators, to start the trial immediately after Democrats vote on these articles of impeachment.
The thinking here is that they would want this to happen over the holidays, over the Christmas holiday. What -- they want this to wrap up as quickly as possible. But as you know, it's not up to the White House, it's up to ultimately Mitch McConnell; the Senate Majority leader and Republicans have made it clear that it's unlikely they're going to acquiesce to this request from some White House aides.
They want the trial to start in January. But it's clear the White House officials have been sort of testing the waters, seeing how far they can go and influencing the process. These procedures that the Senate will ultimately adopt. And so, here at the White House, at the same time, there is this sense that, look, as they're looking ahead, today is a dramatic day. It's a historic day with that press conference that we just heard.
White House officials are paying close attention to it, and we do expect a statement to come out at some point in response to it. Back to you.
SCIUTTO: Yes --
HARLOW: Important reporting, Pam, stay right there, let us know when you get that statement. And Tim Naftali is a historian looking at all of this. And to Pam's reporting there -- Senate Republicans -- in her reporting, exceedingly unlikely to acquiesce to that expedited demand from the White House.