Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Special Reports
Some Polls Close In Historic Transfer Of Power; No End In Sight As U.S. Partial Govt. Shutdown Hits Day 9; 2-Year-Old Son Of Mother Granted U.S. Visa Dies; Presidents Under Fire: The History of Impeachment. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired December 30, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:21] NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Nick Watt, live from Atlanta.
Polls have just closed in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo in an election delayed for more than two years. It's a historic day for the country for the first time. In almost 60 years, voters are casting their ballots in what is expected to be a democratic transfer of power.
Vote counting has begun in the eastern part of the country. Polls will close in the West in an hour. But it's not quite that simple. More than a million people will have to wait until March to cast their ballots because of the Ebola crisis and terrorism fears.
CNN's Leone Lakhani is following the story from London. Leone, the outgoing President Joseph Kabila said that this will definitely be a free and fair election. Do others agree with him?
LEONE LAKHANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's likely to be contested, in fact, Nick. You know, as you mentioned this could it potentially be a historic day because in the country's entire history since independence in 1960, they've never had a democratic transfer of power. But this process has had a lot of contention, a lot of drama.
It was delayed by two years, as you mentioned. The government said it was for all kinds of logistical reasons. But the opposition has always said it's because current President Joseph Kabila was just clinging onto power.
Regardless, the vote is half finally happening. All polls would be closed in about an hour. But there are no independent outside observers. The E.U. and U.N. have both offered but they were rejected by the government. The government's very suspicious about outside foreign interference.
But more -- and more importantly, this whole campaign period has been marred by violence, lots and lots of protests. And today, there's a very heavy police presence on the ground. There have been some reports of delays in voting because of machines not working or because of the rain.
But it is ongoing without too much incident. It just seems that people are taking it very seriously and they want to make sure they get to the vote.
WATT: But people in those areas affected by Ebola are not going to get to vote until March. But we're going to get a result of the election on January the 15th, how does that work?
LAKHANI: Yes, that's confusing. So, the results will be announced on January 15th. There are three cities in the East that were determined last week by the government not to be able to vote because, A, they've got an Ebola outbreak that they're dealing with. B, their concerns about rebel violence.
Now, those are opposition stronghold -- those three cities. So, there are questions about the reasons the president -- the government has given for delaying that vote until March.
And additionally, some of the people in one of those cities decided to show that they would come out and vote regardless. They had a mock vote today to show that regardless of those kinds of theories, they were willing to come out and vote. So, essentially, their votes won't even count. About a million or so votes, from 40 million votes -- voters.
So, what's going to be important on January 15th is whether how the voters see the results. Whether they will be satisfied with the results. And if not, if people feel like they've been robbed of their votes at the ballot box, we can expect many more protests and many more people coming out on the streets to protest the results in January 15th.
So we'll wait -- we'll have to wait and see what happens then. But yes, there is March votes won't be counting towards the final results.
WATT: Leone Lakhani, joining us from London. Thank you very much for your time.
Ballots are being counted now in Bangladesh after Sunday's national election turned violent. Police tell CNN that at least 15 people have been killed in clashes related to the vote.
Human rights groups and opposition leaders had warned that the election could be rigged despite the government's promises of transparency. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to win a third term in office. Our Nikhil Kumar has the latest.
NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN INTERNATIONAL NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: Bangladesh voted Sunday on whether to give Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a record third consecutive term in office, in an election marred by allegations of human rights abuses by her government.
At least 15 people were killed around the country in poll-related violence during the day, despite a heavy security presence to ensure peace.
Now, Hasina's Bangladesh Awami League political party has been in power since 2009. During that time, Bangladesh has seen strong economic growth. But Hasina has also faced accusations of becoming increasingly authoritarian.
Harassing media and opposition figures. The opposition has been under pressure throughout the campaign. Hasina's main rival, in fact, is in prison and barred from running on corruption charges.
Meanwhile, human rights groups have been warning about the credibility of Sunday's ballot. A recent Human Rights Watch report cited a "repressive political environment in Bangladesh". That it said was undermining the whole process.
The International rights group said that authorities in the country had tried to stifle dissent and criticism in newspapers on T.V. and on social media. Which is why as Bangladesh awaits results of the poll, there's already a shadow over the ballot.
The outcome of which is widely expected to show another victory for Hasina. Nikhil Kumar, CNN, New Delhi.
[10:05:50] WATT: Meanwhile, Sudan's president is defending the behavior of police during protests this past week or so. Omar al- Bashir says he is completely satisfied with police and he hailed their actions as "model behavior".
The government says, at least, 19 people have been killed in clashes since the protests began sparked by fuel shortages and hikes in food prices. But, Amnesty International puts that number higher. Estimating, at least, 37 people have been killed.
Unions of doctors, teachers, lawyers, and students are calling for a massive march in the capitol on Monday demanding that the president resign.
And still, to come, U.S. President Donald Trump is shifting the blame and lashing out. We'll take you to Washington for the latest as the partial government shutdown drags off.
WATT: You're watching CNN and this is CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Nick Watt. Welcome back. It is day nine of the U.S. partial government shutdown. President Donald Trump is hunkered down in the White House as the standoff drags on with no end in sight.
His original New Year's plans nixed, wife Melania and son Barron are gone for the holiday, and he's now alone and tweeting. Slamming Democrats, blaming them for the shutdown. But also, for the deaths of two immigrant children along the border with Mexico.
Jessica Dean joins me now from Washington. Now, Jessica, in this tweet about those two kids Jakelin Caal Mcquin, aged seven from Guatemala, who died at the border. Felipe Gomez Alonso, eight years old who died from border. Trump says, "Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of Democrats." What is the reaction being to that tweet?
[10:09:50] JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you can imagine, Nick, there has been outcry from Democrats over that tweet. In fact, one congressman, Ted Lieu of California, he's a Democrat and outspoken Trump critic also tweeted back. Essentially saying that come January 3rd, when the Democrats take over the House, they're going to have investigations into exactly what happened at the border with these two children.
And he said that President Trump is making things up. So, there has certainly been a fierce reaction to that tweet. You showed a number of them. He has been tweeting many times over the past several days as he has remained here in Washington.
And that's really been his primary mode of communication as we continue through this government shutdown. He -- they -- he and the White House continue to pin the blame on the Democrats despite him saying he would take ownership of a shutdown earlier this month. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will shut down the government, absolutely.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: OK. Fair enough. We disagree.
THE PRESIDENT: And I am proud -- and I'll tell you what --
SENATE MINORITY LEADER SCHUMER: We disagree.
THE PRESIDENT: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: So there he is saying, I'm not going to blame you for it, Nick, but all we have heard throughout this is how they have pinned this on the Democrats. President Trump specifically blaming it on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Democrats for not being willing to get a deal done, when he himself said he would take blame for it.
And also, that he has put this hard line in the sand with this $5 billion number for this border wall, and he says that, that is where he is going to stay on this.
WATT: And do you have any idea how the talks are progressing? Are there even talks right now between the two sides?
DEAN: Right. Well, right now there is no major breakthrough. We've been waiting for this for days. You know, we are depending on what side you talk to. You kind of get, you know, differing answers.
Republicans and President Trump saying that they have offered counter offers that there was a $2-1/2 billion figure that was offered to Democrats that they wouldn't take. Democrats saying -- Nancy Pelosi saying through a spokesperson earlier this week, we have offered three different solutions to reopen the government with like around $1.3 billion for border security.
But in that statement, she's saying we're not going to pay for a wall. So, there really is this stalemate at this point. And now, all eyes turn to January 3rd that's when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take control of the House.
WATT: Jessica Dean in Washington, thank you very much for joining us.
Now, caught in the middle of this government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers, either furloughed or right now working without paying.
I'm sure when the deadlock in D.C. will be broken and when their next paycheck might arrive. Our Kaylee Hartung has more on the personal stories behind the political deadlock.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is no end in sight to the government shutdown. Forcing thousands of federal workers and their families to make tough sacrifices.
ANGELA KABANA, WIFE OF FEDERAL WORKER: It's pretty scary not knowing when you're going to get paid.
Angela Kabana's husband is an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.
KABANA: He's a considered essentially employees he may has to go to work. And I can't go to work because I just had a baby.
HARTUNG: With no income, they're slashing expenses. Focusing on the mortgage and feeding their family. 420,000 federal workers, like Angela's husband, are entering a second week of work without pay. Another 380,000 federal employees are on furlough, effectively put on a leave of absence without pay.
That's why the trash is piling up at some national parks around the country. Where they're unstaffed with no one to supervise the land and facilities.
At Joshua Tree National Park, volunteers from the local community like these rock-climbing guides are stepping in to do the dirty work during the parks busiest days of the year.
SETH ZAHARIAS, ROCK CLIMBING GUIDE: I'm guiding every day. And then in my free hour, 2:00 in the evening, I'm running to the park and clean toilet. Not to mention we're about $400 out on cash buying toilet paper.
HARTUNG: The impact of the partial government shutdown spans the country. Americans are talking about the tough financial challenges they face on Twitter. Using the hashtag shutdown stories.
In Wyoming, Ernie Johnson says, thankfully, his auto loan deferred his truck payment in January. But if he doesn't receive back pay, he'll likely be evicted February 1st.
Lauren in Pennsylvania tweets that she depends on child support from a federal corrections officer paycheck. Without it, she says she won't have the funds for after-school care or school lunch.
And Sarah Watterson who describes herself as a Marine Corps veteran on Twitter puts her family struggle into perspective. Saying, "My children don't care about walls. They do care about having a warm house to live in, a car to ride in, clothes to wear, and food in their bellies. None of which is possible if their mom can't go to work."
Candid thoughts from Americans about the toll of policymakers bickering. And the longer the shutdown drags on, the more widely the effects will be felt. Kaylee Hartung, CNN.
[10:14:46] WATT: The year is ending in both sorts of political chaos for the U.S. So, what does 2019 have in store? Well, our political analyst Julian Zelizer tackles exactly that in a piece for cnn.com. He outlined six big political questions for the New Year. One of the biggest wildcards, how Democrats will wield their newfound power in the House? Head over to cnn.com for that.
And coming up, the 2-year-old son of a Yemeni mother who fought for a visa to come to California to say goodbye, he has passed away. Why Abdullah's father says the U.S. government failed his family. That's next.
WATT: You're watching CNN, and this is CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Nick Watt. Welcome back. A humanitarian corridor was set to open Saturday in Yemen but didn't, and still hasn't. Houthi rebels were supposed to hand over control of the port city of Hodeidah to allow convoys to bring supplies to the capital, Sanaa.
But, there are reports from the region that the rebels did not comply. The port is the point of entry for aid for millions of Yemeni civilians who the U.N. says are on the brink of famine.
The story of one family that fled the crisis in Yemen has come to a heartbreaking end. The 2-year-old boy whose Yemeni mother was eventually granted a U.S. visa to say goodbye has died. Kristi Gross with our CNN affiliate, KTXL, reports.
KRISTI GROSS, REPORTER, KTXL: A father standing strong in the face of unimaginable grief. Laying his 2-year-old son to rest.
SAAD SWEILEM, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Abdullah was a guiding light that shined bright to show the world that Muslims love, hurt, grief, and mourn, just like everybody else. GROSS: Ali Hassan was front and center honoring his son, 2-year-old, Abdullah Hassan. The toddler died last night at an Oakland hospital after losing his battle with a genetic brain disorder.
ALI HASSAN, FATHER OF ABDULLAH HASSAN: We are here today because my government failed our family. It forced me to choose between my son's health and keeping our family together.
GROSS: Hassan and his son, both U.S. citizens, came back to the U.S. so the toddler could receive medical treatment more than a year ago. Leaving his Yemeni wife behind in Egypt as she tried to get a waiver.
But it was his family's fight and lawsuit against the U.S. government to bring the child's mother to the U.S. that gained national attention. Shaima Swileh was desperate to hug and kiss her baby in the days before he died. A wish CAIR civil rights attorney, Saad Sweilem, says almost didn't come true.
SWEILEM: All of us are thinking if this Muslim ban wasn't in place, to begin with, Abdullah and his mother would have probably been hear over a year ago.
GROSS: Swileh sent 28 requests at the U.S. embassy asking for a travel waiver. But was rejected each time because of Trump's travel ban from several Muslim majority countries including Yemen. She arrived in just 10 days ago, it was to hold her child once again.
SWEILEM: They're going through an unimaginable time. It was cruel to keep them apart as long as they did.
GROSS: During the funeral, Hassan says despite his son's death and the government keeping his family apart for so long, they aren't angry, just hopeful Abdullah didn't die in vain.
HASSAN: We hope through Abdullah's struggle and passing, that people who are affected by the Muslim ban from Yemen, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Syria. That we hope through his life, policy will be changed and families will be reunited.
[10:20:09] GROSS: CAIR, says Abdullah's case highlights what they believe is an unjust policy.
I think this was an embarrassment to the Trump administration and it should be, they should be embarrassed. So, hopefully, they'll look at this case and realize the consequences of their policies. And it will change things for other families going forward.
WATT: That was Kristi Gross, reporting. Now, Yemen has the story we cover a lot here on CONNECT THE WORLD. And for more on that and from across the Middle East, you can always follow the news the teams working on throughout the day by going to our Facebook page, facebook.com/cnnconnect.
Now, after 10 years of being shuttered. Abu Dhabi has finally reopened its oldest building as a Heritage Site. It's part of the UAE's effort to high light culture from the region and become a leading tourist destination. Becky Anderson has more.
MOHAMED AL MUBARAK, CHAIRMAN, DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE AND TOURISM, ABU DHABI: Now, you're entering the doors of Qasr Al Hosn.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: An oasis of calm, (INAUDIBLE).
AL MUBARAK: Yes, what's amazing is that these walls not only mask noise. But even when you're sitting here for all of the sudden, you know, these tall towers disappear. You look at the watchtower itself, it almost looks taller than any building. It looks taller than Burj Khalifa as far as I'm concerned.
We're here in the heart of the city Qasr al-Hosn has turned into a museum. A museum that tells the history of the UAE.
ANDERSON: What does it mean to you that this place is finally open after a decade of renovations?
Al MUBARAK: Really means everything. This place was built for the people. And now it's back to life for the people. We spent an enormous tight of time conserving and restoring this building to take it back to its original form.
And it's really become a place where it's just bringing people together. What I love about it is that you're surrounded with this new city. Yet, in this place, you're in a very serene space that will allow people just to come here and contemplate.
ANDERSON: Take me back if I had approached back in the day from the sea, what would I have seen?
AL MUBARAK: Obviously, it starts with the 1760s watchtower. Right now, it could be masked, but some of these buildings that surround it. But you can imagine in 1760, it was a colossal building that stood to protect this land.
People on both sort of basically come up and down this Beach and they would have seen this fort, they do seen this watchtower, they'd have understood that there's a place here that's worth protecting, a place that's worth trading with, a place that we could basically they can interact with different cultures, with different people. And this is where it really all started.
The Al Nahyan family moved from Liwa from the deserts of Liwa, moved to Abu Dhabi. Moved to a place which was surrounded by water. A place that they felt is the rightful place for them to basically set shop and govern.
ANDERSON: Why? Why here? What was important about here?
AL MUBARAK: We have several reasons. I think a strategic location being high ground. Being surrounded by water.
If these walls can speak, then they'll be shouting stories of our past. Shouting stories of our leaders and shouting stories that make us who we are.
This is one of my favorite rooms, and this is the room Sheikha Salma bint Butti, who is the mother Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan. This is just a beautiful picture of Sheikh Zayed side-by-side with his mother.
She asked them to bring a canister of oil to show Sheikh Zayed for him to understand what --
ANDERSON: As a little boy.
AL MUBARAK: -- as a little boy what oil is all about, what oil is, what does it look like, so she knew she wanted to teach and educate at early age. This is her (INAUDIBLE). Like you see here, it's an always an open door policy. People were coming and they would sit on the floor, side by side. They would be given coffee -- Arabic coffee and dates. And they will discuss everything from home issues to issues of the community, to politics, to music, to whatever the case may be.
And it is -- it was everyday reoccurring event. And like I said, it happens today, it brings people together.
ANDERSON: Explain to our audience just how important these characters are.
AL MUBARAK: You have Sheikh Shakhbut, the explorer. The man who always want to find things. He always wanted to learn things, and he found oil. And because of the riches of oil, we formed modern UAE. We have (INAUDIBLE) divisionary, the man of the people, the man who wanted to give the people everything. Everything from health care, to education, to free homes, to really -- if it wasn't for his vision, the modern day UAE will not be with us today.
You will not have these schools, and these hospitals, and this greater infrastructure and airports. And you wouldn't be where we are today. So it all starts from here. And it's something very impressive to share this with people.
[10:25:02] ANDERSON: We have just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Louvre, and this is a newly opened opportunity now for both Emiratis themselves and tourists alike. How do these two significant opportunities complement themselves?
AL MUBARAK: Everything we do connects. So, when you look at Saadiyat Island, obviously you have the Louvre right now that's open. You have this Sheikh Zayed National Museum to tell the history of the UAE, which will be coming very soon. And, of course, you have the Guggenheim. All have a separate story, but they all connect in some way or form.
ANDERSON: You have an ambitious target for annalistic tourism strategy. How are you going to do it? AL MUBARAK: We want to give the opportunity for our visitor to get the full 360. Where you can be at Qasr al-Hosn, seeing this fantastic site, learning about our history, and less than10 minutes later, you can't be at -- you can be in Warner Brothers Studios Abu Dhabi.
Two minutes from here, you can be in the World Trade Center shopping mall. Five minutes, you could be at the Emirates Palace.
ANDERSON: To you, how does this symbolize how far Abu Dhabi has come?
AL MUBARAK: It symbolizes quite a lot. I mean, it's all about how I imagine things. I can literally imagine while I'm in this space at this moment when I'm walking through the corridors of this -- of the homes, and the rooms of some of the people who ruled the UAE and Abu Dhabi.
I can really see through these windows where they probably sat down and had a vision of a future. It's amazing what Abu Dhabi and the UAE has had accomplished in a very short period of time.
WATT: Finally, something we've seen a lot of this past year. Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah grabbing a goal. He scored a penalty in Saturday's 5-1 route of Arsenal that resulted solidified Liverpool's hold on the English Premier League top spot.
Liverpool meet third-placed Man City January 3rd in a potentially season-defining clash. And we are going to see much more of Mo Salah in just a few minutes in a "CONNECT THE WORLD SPECIAL" focused on the man himself. I'm Nick Watt, and that was CONNECT THE WORLD from the team here in Atlanta, and in Abu Dhabi, and in London, thanks very much for watching.
Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.
(UNKNOWN): If they came to the White House, like the Republicans did with Nixon in 1974 and say, "Your time's up," that would have been it.
ZAKARIA: But Clinton, the ultimate "comeback kid"...
W. CLINTON: I never should have misled the country...
ZAKARIA: ... was able to rally the party and the country back to his side.
W. CLINTON: I will continue to do all I can to reclaim the trust of the American people and to serve them well.
ZAKARIA: His behavior may have been reprehensible, his allies said, but he was hardly the threat to the republic that impeachment was designed for.
The American public agreed. The Democrats scored a shocking upset in the midterm elections, gaining seats in the House.
WOODWARD: The Lewinsky issue didn't carry any weight.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I say Republicans got stomped.
ZAKARIA: Newt Gingrich, who had predicted a big Republican victory...
FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA.: We have a chance to win some very startling victories all over the country.
ZAKARIA: ... lost his job as speaker.
(UNKNOWN): ... shouldering the blame for a disappointing election.
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, HISTORIAN: Impeachment is a two-edged sword. You may intend to use it against your executive enemy, but it could very well hurt you even more politically.
ZAKARIA: President Clinton was thrilled, thinking he was in the clear.
(UNKNOWN): On Capitol Hill, Tom DeLay is known as "the hammer."
ZAKARIA: But hard-core conservatives, led by House majority whip Tom DeLay, were hell-bent on impeaching him anyway.
FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DELAY, R-TEXAS: The House has no choice but to proceed with an impeachment inquiry.
ZAKARIA: Some Republicans preferred a lesser punishment for Clinton, censure rather than impeachment. But DeLay's political maneuvering took that option off the table.
PETER BAKER, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Republicans were given a choice. You can either impeach him or you can let him off. Which is it going to be?
(UNKNOWN): Article I is adopted.
(UNKNOWN): We have witnessed history.
ZAKARIA: The House impeached Bill Clinton almost entirely along party lines.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... the president resigned that his legacy will be forever scarred today.
(UNKNOWN): On this article of impeachment...
ZAKARIA: In the Senate, he was easily acquitted.
(UNKNOWN): William Jefferson Clinton is not guilty...
(UNKNOWN): In retrospect, the 1998/99 effort to impeach and remove Clinton is viewed as a partisan endeavor. Because the American people spoke in the midterms of 1998 and said, "We don't really want to impeach this president."
ZAKARIA: After the Senate trial, Congress took the law that created Ken Starr's job and let it die...
FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL KENNETH STARR: No, I'm not going to comment.
ZAKARIA: ... a bipartisan acknowledgement --
REPORTER: What's next, sir?
ZAKARIA: ... that things had gone too far.
(UNKNOWN): Women will be silent no more!
ZAKARIA: But today, in the "MeToo" era, Clinton's impeachment is being seriously reconsidered, his affair with a young intern seen by many as an abuse of power.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: My greatest mentor, Hillary Clinton.
ZAKARIA: Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who holds Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat...
GILLIBRAND: Women's voices matter.
ZAKARIA: ... said last year that Bill Clinton should have resigned.
GILLIBRAND: The kind of behavior that was tolerated a long time ago would never be tolerated today, and we can't allow it to be tolerated today.
FMR. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear...
ZAKARIA: When George Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States...
BUSH: So help me God.
(UNKNOWN): Congratulations, Mr. President.
ZAKARIA: ... the cloud of Bill Clinton's impeachment still hung over the country.
(UNKNOWN): The president of the United States, George W. Bush!
ZAKARIA: What no one knew then was that a new kind of partisan warfare had been unleashed.
PROTESTERS: Impeach George Bush! Impeach George Bush!
ZAKARIA: Every president that came after Clinton has had to contend with impeachment fever.
PROTESTERS: Impeach Bush! Impeach Bush!
BAKER: It no longer seemed unthinkable to impeach a president, because we'd just done it.
PROTESTER: He lied to us. He should be impeached.
(UNKNOWN): Impeachment went from being something that you use only in moments of constitutional crisis...
PROTESTER: Impeach King Obama!
(UNKNOWN): ... to something you use for everyday partisan battles. That is a horrible development for the American people.
(UNKNOWN): It is a grotesque sight to look at.
ZAKARIA: After one of the most traumatic moments in American history, the country came together.
BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people...
... and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
(UNKNOWN): USA! USA! USA!
ZAKARIA: The country supported President Bush as he took the United States into battle to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
But there were none, and the occupation of Iraq was a tragic mess.
PROTESTER: Bush can't have my son!
ZAKARIA: An anti-war movement grew quickly. And it used impeachment as a weapon.
PROTESTER: Bring down these war criminals like Bush! He needs to be impeached! ZAKARIA: Impeachment talk got louder.
(UNKNOWN): Will the House come to order?
ZAKARIA: And Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced dozens of articles of impeachment. But the leader of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, wanted none of it.
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI: Impeachment is off the table.
NAFTALI: Disagreements over policy were not intended by the founders to be the basis for a serious attempt at impeachment.
NOAH FELDMAN, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: It's not a crime or a misdemeanor under the Constitution to make a mistake.
ZAKARIA: After Bush's mistake, the country was totally polarized in its view of the president, and the partisan gap was the widest ever recorded.
(UNKNOWN): Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States and the vice president of the United States...
ZAKARIA: Impeachment fever would only get worse under the next president.
FMR. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Change has come to America.
ZAKARIA: In 2008, Barack Obama was elected on a promise to help heal the country's extreme partisan divide.
CROWD: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
ZAKARIA: But the candidate who had campaigned on "Yes, we can" ran into a wall of Republican opposition.
FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER, R-OHIO: Hell, no, you can't!
ZAKARIA: The Tea Party formed around an almost fanatical opposition to Barack Obama. In 2010, it propelled a wave of new Republicans to Congress.
REPORTER: What does it feel like?
OBAMA: It feels bad.
ZAKARIA: This new, hyper-partisan Congress presided over a growing impeachment movement.
JOSHUA MATZ, AUTHOR: When you promise that you're out to impeach the president, you can make a name for yourself; you can raise money; you can rally the base. OBAMA: Impeach him! Really?
NAFTALI: Impeachment is not supposed to be used as a rallying cry to get people to vote for you. Both sides played around with it.
ZAKARIA: Impeachment campaigns against Presidents Bush and Obama never gained legitimacy or real legislative support, so one could argue, who cares? It's only talk.
NAFTALI: If you play around with impeachment that way, over time, the American people are going to misunderstand it's a constitutional power and it's a necessity.
ZAKARIA: When Barack Obama left office, he was more popular than George Bush, but the gap between the people who loved him and the people who hated him was even larger than it had been with President Bush.
The stark polarization of the last few years is the worst in American history, with one exception, the period around the Civil War.
On April 15th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The country was still deeply divided over the Civil War. Enter Andrew Johnson, the vice president who succeeded Lincoln. Johnson was a Southern Democrat, whom Lincoln had picked to create a national unity ticket. There are few things historians agree upon, but this is one. Andrew Johnson was one of America's worst presidents.
(UNKNOWN): He was essentially an incredibly racist neoconfederate who was dead-set against Congress's program of reconstructing the South.
ZAKARIA: Republicans in Congress despised Andrew Johnson.
FELDMAN: He stood for the repression of African-Americans, whom a war had just been fought to liberate.
ZAKARIA: President Johnson vetoed almost all the measures to give civil liberties and representation to blacks. The Republican- controlled Congress decided to wage a political war.
FELDMAN: They set an impeachment trap for him.
ZAKARIA: That trap was called the Tenure of Office Act.
FELDMAN: Congress passed a law, over Johnson's veto, that said he could not fire his own Cabinet members.
ZAKARIA: When President Johnson fired his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, the House approved 11 articles of impeachment against him, one of which accused the president of "bringing Congress into ridicule and disgrace."
NAFTALI: Their entire approach to impeachment was partisan and ideological. However bad a president Andrew Johnson was, there were no grounds to remove him. ZAKARIA: The country was one vote away from removing President Andrew
Johnson from office, essentially because Congress did not like him or his policies.
MATZ: Johnson basically agreed to cease all of the behavior that had been so problematic, to go along with the congressional reconstruction program.
ZAKARIA: Historians today regard the impeachment trap as unconstitutional.
MATZ: Impeachment fell into disrepute.
ZAKARIA: Johnson's impeachment would serve as a warning about the consequences of a partisan impeachment in a sharply divided country.
MATZ: It raises blood pressures, and in some perverse ways, it actually makes impeachment harder to use when you might really need it.
ZAKARIA: At the end of each of my specials, I've always stood before you and given you my views on the topic at hand. I'm going to do that now, but in a slightly different way.
Impeachment is such a combustible issue, with political, legal and historical dimensions, that I thought it best to ask the basic questions we all wonder about and then listen to what some of our experts had to say.
ZAKARIA (voice over): It's important to understand that impeachment is a political process. An impeachable offense is, at the end of the day, whatever Congress defines as such. But we live in a constitutional republic shaped by law and history. So what can we say about the mandate given to Congress under which it can impeach a president?
In other words, what are "high crimes and misdemeanors?"
FELDMAN: High crimes and misdemeanors, which is the phrase used in the Constitution, has a very concrete, specific meaning. "High" means pertaining to high office. So if your crime or misdemeanor has nothing to do with your office, you're not really covered by the framers' idea of impeachment.
NAFTALI: If you look carefully at the reasoning of Republicans and Democrats who have voted for impeachment over the course of our history, you'll notice that they always come back to the idea that some action or some pattern of conduct by the chief executive represents a threat to our democracy and to our Constitution. ZAKARIA: One of questions we must all wonder about is, why is it that
we hear so much talk about impeachment these days, Bush, Obama, and now Trump? When did this all start?
MATZ: It really has been about 20 years from the Clinton impeachment that impeachment talk has so overtaken our political discourse. President Trump came to office with about one-third of the American public already supporting his impeachment. That's extraordinary.
ZAKARIA: And that gets us to the elephant in the room. Has Donald Trump committed offenses that could be considered impeachable, like money laundering, which some suspect in his real estate deals; or fraud, involving Trump University; or tax evasion, which is why some theorize he won't show us his tax returns?
FELDMAN: Crimes that Trump may allegedly have committed before he had anything to do with the office of the presidency do not count as high crimes and misdemeanors, and they would not be impeachable offenses, in my view.
ZAKARIA: What about the issue of obstruction of justice?
FELDMAN: Obstruction of justice is a charge that was used both against Richard Nixon and against Bill Clinton. And if it's real, it's a very strong ground for impeachment.
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: Oh, and there's James.
ZAKARIA: Harvard law professor Noah Feldman says that, when the president fired James Comey, he may have committed obstruction of justice.
FELDMAN: My own view is that he could have done so, if he did it with corrupt intent. It's true that the director of the FBI works for the president, and the president has the right to remove him, on any whim that he might have. But the fact that the president can remove Comey doesn't mean that it's permissible for him to do it if he did it for gain.
ZAKARIA: To prove that, you'd need a smoking gun.
FELDMAN: It's very hard to prove corrupt intent.
ZAKARIA: Feldman does see possible charges in another case, Michael Cohen's sworn testimony that the president directed him to make an illegal payment to Stormy Daniels. Cohen says it was made to influence the election.
FELDMAN: A president who distorts the electoral process and breaks the law in doing so is someone who is potentially impeachable.
(UNKNOWN): The president thinks it's a witch hunt.
ZAKARIA: And what about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation?
FELDMAN: If there were evidence that Donald Trump further colluded with Russians in a way that undercut the legitimacy of the election, that would be an even deeper parallel to the Richard Nixon case.
NIXON: ... necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion.
ZAKARIA: Of course, we don't yet know what Mueller may have found in his investigation, but there was one area where I was surprised to find considerable agreement among our experts. All spoke with wariness about wielding the sword of impeachment.
NAFTALI: Impeachment is capital punishment for a presidency. It's something that Congress should not consider unless all other avenues are no longer open.
ZAKARIA: And what would an impeachment process look like in the deeply divided America that we live in today?
MATZ: A lot of folks think that impeachment just falls out of the sky, like some kind of Sword of Damocles, and I'm here to tell you that it doesn't. Congress has to decide whether impeachment is the right move.
ZAKARIA: Unless there is overwhelming proof that the majority of the country accepts, impeachment will not bring this country together.
MATZ: It creates a crisis of domestic governance; it activates the worst kinds of partisan tribalism on all sides of the aisle.
FELDMAN: The only circumstances where I would actively support impeachment would be where there was evidence so glaring that failure to impeach would essentially show the hypocrisy of the whole system.
ZAKARIA: In other words, America might be too polarized today to be able to deal with an impeachment honestly and responsibly. That's a dark verdict on the state of our politics, but it rings true and it has a worrying consequence.
MATZ: When you live in a world of broken politics, and when you live in a world of extraordinary partisan polarization, it just may not be possible to generate the consensus necessary to use the impeachment power. That's a scary thought. There may be circumstances where we just can't wait for the next election. And I don't have a reassuring answer to that.
ZAKARIA: Throughout this special report, I have tried not to tell you what to think about this explosive issue but to give you the facts and context to help you think. I hope I've succeeded. And that is our program tonight. I'm Fareed Zakaria. Thank you for joining us.