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CNN Special Reports
Fight for the White House: Donald Trump's Presidency. Aired 2- 3a ET
Aired November 01, 2020 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): What was seen as an unqualified failure: the Trump administration's family separation policy.
JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we're going to prosecute you. If you're smuggling a child, then we're going to prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law.
TAPPER (voice-over): A zero tolerance policy enforcing a law that had long been on the books but had never been enforced in a widespread manner.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Children were being held behind chain link fencing apart from their parents on the border with Mexico.
TAPPER (voice-over): The policy led to thousands of children being separated from their families. Nonstop horror stories of children, crying for their parents, alone and scared.
PROTESTERS: Immigrants are welcome here.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: When Trump first started to hear the stories, he didn't want to be seen as the monster who would take children away from their parents.
TAPPER (voice-over): Almost two months after it began, Trump ended his own policy, one that his own White House pushed, with an executive order.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ivanka feels very strongly, my wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it.
TAPPER: A lot of Trump supporters think that was one of the lower moments of his presidency.
DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: Well, look, I think as a nation we can do far better. We owe people as human beings a better shake than they got.
TAPPER (voice-over): In the wake of this crisis, Trump was looking for a way to turn the page and rally his base as he headed into the midterm elections. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They marched for miles.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thousands of migrants in a massive caravan.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was the summer of 2018 and the president's hardline policies alone had failed to prevent undocumented immigrants from coming to the southern border.
TRUMP: Well, we're getting prepared for the caravan, folks, you're not to worry about that. And they got a lot of rough people in those caravans.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump threaten to yank aid from Central American countries and he lashed out at administration officials for not stemming the tide.
TAPPER: How frustrated was he?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He saw this as potentially fatal politically for him.
TRUMP: They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back.
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The president went out and barnburned for Republicans on caravans and immigration. And the results would show that it maybe backfired. Republicans lost the House overwhelmingly.
TAPPER (voice-over): The hype and lies about the caravan also fed into a deranged anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic conspiracy about Jews bringing migrants in to the U.S.
The man who posted online about that theory has been charged with the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue where 11 lives were lost. It also brought violence to a Walmart in El Paso, where 20 people were killed and more than 2 dozen injured by a man whose racist hatred was aimed at immigrants and Latinos.
TRUMP stands on another immigration issue, ending DACA that would threaten the livelihoods of young undocumented immigrants called the DREAMers.
TRUMP: I will immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration.
TRUMP (voice-over): But after the inauguration, he seemed to soften.
DAVIS: He was getting a lot of private counsel that ending DACA would be a total disaster.
TRUMP: DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.
TAPPER (voice-over): As early as January 9th, 2018, President Trump had an opening during a bipartisan White House meeting on immigration. TRUMP: We're here today to advance bipartisan immigration reform.
TAPPER (voice-over): Democratic senator Dick Durbin was seated right next to the president.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: He was saying things that did not fit into the Republican platform when it came to immigration.
DAVIS: Republicans were not going to vote for a bill that simply gave legal status to the DREAMers without something in exchange for it.
DURBIN: I'll take the heat, he says. I'll sign it, send me a bipartisan bill.
TAPPER (voice-over): And that's exactly what Senator Durbin and Senator Lindsey Graham did. But when they presented it to Trump two days later at the White House, everything changed.
DAVIS: They get to the point where it comes to talking about Haiti and parts of Africa.
And Trump stops the conversation and said, "Well, why do we want all these people here from shithole countries?"
DURBIN: That was the end of the meaningful conversation when it came to solving this immigration problem.
TAPPER (voice-over): Ultimately when it came to the president and immigration, the hardline views would win out. And while the DREAMers' future is uncertain, so is the zero tolerance policy that many thought was done.
According to lifelong Republican turned Biden supporter Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, the president has wanted to reinstate the zero tolerance policy.
MILES TAYLOR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He said he wanted to go further and have a deliberate policy of ripping children away from their parents to show those parents that they shouldn't come to the border in the first place.
TAPPER (voice-over): Something the acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf denies.
CHAD WOLF, ACTING U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think most reasonable Americans understand what that is. It's politics and nothing more.
TAPPER (voice-over): There's no debate that, as he approaches the 2020 election, President Trump still prioritizes hardline policies on both illegal and legal immigration. He's still selling the wall that he once said Mexicans would pay for. TRUMP: We're up to 122 miles.
TAPPER (voice-over): Only five miles of new wall has been built where no wall existed before. The rest is mostly replacement wall. And no, Mexico is not paying for it. It has been paid for, in part, by Congress and, in part, by reallocating military funds.
Ken Cuccinelli is acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
TAPPER: Looking back on it how has President Trump delivered on this important pledge of his to his voters?
KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: He has delivered on that promise, whether it's building hundreds of miles of the wall system that has proven effective where it's been built. That continues at a ever accelerating pace, or whether it is applying our laws across the border to the degree of consistency and with a strength that just really hasn't happened in the past.
TAPPER (voice-over): If any president could achieve a real comprehensive immigration solution combining border security and a way to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., it would be President Trump. But he has chosen to focus on the divisions and not the solution.
DURBIN: He's on the way to dividing America, to appeal to fear and hate and to create images that people who come in this country which were totally untrue and unfair.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump the divider goes international when we come back.
TRUMP: From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first.
TAPPER (voice-over): November 10th, 2016, days after the election, president elect Donald Trump traveled 230 miles south to the White House.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Momentarily the president elect, Donald Trump, will be arriving at the White House.
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It's assumed the president and his team will help give their successors a good start.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Try to facilitate a transition that ensures our president elect is successful.
NAFTALI: From the get-go, president elect Trump was warned by the outgoing president that North Korea was going to be a major headache for him.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he was agitated about how to handle that. And so you would see him lashing out because of that anxiety.
HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Breaking news this hour, just hours ago North Korea launched another missile.
LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR: North Korea's nuclear ambitions are becoming more dangerous by the day.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president is at his New Jersey club. Typically when we'd go with the president to his golf club on the weekends, we don't ever see him. They don't hold events unless something big has happened.
So they invite reporters in to see the president. He is asked about North Korea.
TRUMP: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.
COLLINS: These were not preplanned remarks and you can kind of see the looks on the faces of people next to him, not just Melania Trump but also Kellyanne Conway and the other officials are kind of like -- and I'm not sure even his own staff knew what to say.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I thought initially it was pursuant to a strategy and that. unlike the Obama administration, which, after eight years of strategic patience, had left North Korea much closer to achieving its objective of deliverable nuclear weapons.
What I found when I arrived at the White House was, it wasn't part of any strategy at all. It was just the way he felt on the days he made those remarks.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump soon upped the ante in his first speech at the United Nations.
TRUMP: If it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ), FORMER SENATOR: Well, there is something to, what was referred to during the Nixon era as the madman theory about North Korea. You can gain strategic advantage by being seen as kind of a madman and for them not to know what you're going to do next.
URBAN: The folks at Foggy Bottom who were there for eons, I think, prefer to go very, very slowly and steadily. TAPPER: The idea that President Trump has been unpredictable, a lot
of long-time diplomats obviously are not a fan of it.
URBAN: They take him much more seriously because he does things that others talked about but never do.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: There's no comparing how Trump operates to any other president. It is completely disruptive and different than anything you've ever seen before.
TAPPER (voice-over): Such as in Israel, first moving the embassy to Jerusalem and thus recognizing it as the capital of Israel.
URBAN: Administration after administration after administration had pledged to do that. We had a president that was able to do that because he was not constrained and bound by the more traditional norms of, oh, if you do that, our adversaries are going to be upset.
This president said so what. We're going to do it because it's the right thing to do.
TAPPER (voice-over): That's not all he was able to accomplish with Israel.
TRUMP: We finalized a historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Nobody thought this was something that could happen for a long time.
TAPPER: How important do you think this is?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The Israeli-UAE agreement is the first agreement of its kind in 26 years. Due to the president's leadership and his patience and vigilance in changing the dynamic instead of talking about age-old conflicts, what he's trying to do is do things other presidents haven't done.
TAPPER (voice-over): So the theory goes, might disrupting the status quo work with the unstable North Korean dictator?
DAWSEY: What he wanted to do repeatedly was get in a room with Kim Jong-un and negotiate with him.
BOLTON: I thought it was a bad idea.
The meeting was a gift to Kim Jong-un. It provided him visibility, legitimacy.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump and Kim not only met three times but also exchanged letters.
TRUMP: He wrote me beautiful letters and they're great letters. We fell in love.
BOLTON: They got straight into Donald Trump's brain and he's convinced Kim Jong-un is his friend.
TAPPER: There were people in the nationality security apparatus, commentators and former officials, who thought, everything else has been tried; let's give this a shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There he is on North Korean soil.
BOLTON: We gave North Korea 2.5 more years to achieve progress in its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
TRUMP: We're going to invite him right now.
RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The president yanked the rug out, in part, under our South Korean ally by, among other things, unilaterally agreeing to the suspension of large U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
TAPPER: By some estimates, North Korea may have doubled its arsenal during the Trump presidency.
HAASS: All in all, North Korea looks at these four years and they go, not bad at all.
TAPPER (voice-over): Particularly with the damaged relationship with U.S. allies.
BOLTON: It upset our allies in the region.
I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that the president gets it upside down or backwards in how he treats allies and how he treats adversaries.
TRUMP: Justin Trudeau, nice guy. But they've taken advantage of us for so many years.
The European Union sounds so nice. Right?
They are brutal.
TAPPER (voice-over): Whether it's bullying or badgering allies or pulling out of strategic partnerships in long-standing trade agreements...
TRUMP: We just officially terminated TPP.
I withdrew the United States from the horrible, one-sided, disgusting Iran nuclear deal.
We will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even hinting that one day he might pull the U.S. out of NATO if allies do not pay their fair share.
HAASS: What this misses more than anything else, Jake, is the great strategic and structural advantage of American foreign policy. Because we get up every day and what we have are dozens and dozens of allies and partners in Europe, Asia and around the world.
TAPPER (voice-over): Allies President Trump has neglected and, in some cases, abandoned.
TRUMP: We are going to be leaving and we're going to be bringing our soldiers back home.
TAPPER (voice-over): Such as U.S. troops in northern Syria.
TRUMP: We're policing. We're not fighting, we're policing. We're not a police force.
TAPPER: In the face of widespread criticism that he abandoned a reliable U.S. ally, the Kurds.
URBAN: America first. The president looks out for what's in the best interests of our country. It doesn't mean America alone. It means the president is thinking of what's in the best interests of our country.
HAASS: The president took office in early 2017 and the situation he inherited was daunting. American foreign policy had made mistakes. All of that is true. But before you tear things up, before you disrupt them, you've got to be sure that you have something better.
TAPPER (voice-over): And in some cases, Trump did get something better, such as replacing NAFTA with a new trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
TRUMP: The USMCA is the largest, fairest, most balanced and modern trade agreement ever achieved.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA.
TAPPER (voice-over): And when it comes to NATO --
TRUMP: We are also getting our allies, finally, to help pay their fair share.
CONWAY: Why did all these presidents, you ask, promise to make the NATO countries pay more for the common defense and he's the one, President Trump is the one that has $130 billion more from those countries to provide for the common defense?
SPICER: So it might not have been pretty, it may not have made us any friends but it benefited our country and our workers, so I think there's a balance.
TAPPER (voice-over): But it's a balance that some worry might swing in the wrong direction.
HAASS: President Trump, if re-elected, will be one of the most consequential presidents in American history. And he will have done more than most of his predecessors to have changed the world and, as a result, to have changed the United States. And my fear is that it will be for -- largely for the worse.
TAPPER (voice-over): Time will tell Trump's legacy and the U.S.' new standing in the world. One issue which continues to leave that in question is Russia. Trump and Putin -- when we come back.
TRUMP: After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead.
TAPPER (voice-over): But the Russia story has never really died.
TRUMP: The collusion delusion is over.
TAPPER (voice-over): We know now that was not what the Mueller report had concluded. The special counsel was not able to find any prosecutable evidence proving conspiracy. But the White House has continued to misrepresent the finding to the public.
TRUMP: It was an illegal witch hunt. I call it the Russian hoax.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was not a hoax. Before Election Day 2016 --
TAPPER: This just in to CNN, Russian hackers managed to --
TAPPER (voice-over): Russia infiltrated the Democratic National Committee's computer systems and the email account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Back then on the campaign trail, Trump cheered on the hackers.
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
TAPPER (voice-over): His former campaign advisor and longtime friend, Roger Stone, hinted that he had had advance knowledge of the email releases, raising questions for the first time of possible cooperation between Trump associates and Russia.
ROGER STONE, LONG-TIME TRUMP ALLY: There's no telling what the October surprise may be.
TAPPER (voice-over): Indeed, on October 7th, 2016, the same day another story broke.
TRUMP: Hello, how are you, hi.
TAPPER (voice-over): The infamous "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump in 2005, caught on a hot mike, making crude, vile comments about women, had surfaced. Minutes after that news --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Steady drip of stolen emails being released.
TAPPER (voice-over): -- reports of another bombshell. WikiLeaks published the emails stolen by Russian agents.
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: This is the first time we'd ever seen anything quite like that.
TAPPER (voice-over): There was plenty evidence linking Trump allies and Moscow.
TAPPER: The release of an email chain from last June between Donald Trump Jr. and this man.
TAPPER (voice-over): During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and others on the Trump team met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.
HABERMAN: The Russian lawyer was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton and Don Jr. very famously responded, "If it's what you say it is, I love it. If it's not, I don't want to know this."
TAPPER (voice-over): In addition, the Republican-chaired Senate Intelligence Committee says that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was a, quote, "grave counter intelligence threat to the United States," and had shared inside information with a Russian agent.
DAWSEY: During the transition, the president began discussing his first meeting with Vladimir Putin.
DAWSEY: And some of his officials around him were concerned. They just interfered in the election. You don't just go and meet with the Russians early in the presidency.
TAPPER (voice-over): We wanted to ask President Trump about his relationship with President Putin but he turned down repeated requests for an interview.
FLAKE: And then what happened with General Flynn was troubling as well.
TAPPER (voice-over): Just three weeks after entering office, talk of Russia intensified, when the president fired national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his contacts with Russia but later claimed he had been pressured into a plea deal by prosecutors. In May 2017, FBI director James Comey, who was leading the investigation into Moscow meddling --
TRUMP: Oh, and there's Jim. TAPPER (voice-over): -- was fired by President Trump.
TRUMP: He's become more famous than me.
TAPPER (voice-over): Comey had not seen it coming.
SPICER: Well, welcome to Donald Trump. You know, he changes his mind.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president had blindsided his own press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer.
SPICER: Let's just relax, enjoy the night.
We rushed it out. We had no one to back it up. We didn't have a strategy to do it in a way that was effective. And it showed.
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All of a sudden, then, bang. Now we're wide awake. That made inevitable some kind of an independent inquiry.
TAPPER (voice-over): An inquiry to consider whether President Trump's behavior constituted a possible threat to national security and whether the president might be secretly working on behalf of Moscow and President Putin. That sparked the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
MCCABE: He said, I've heard you were part of the resistance.
TAPPER (voice-over): Andrew McCabe replaced James Comey. McCabe says he met with the president the very day Comey was fired.
MCCABE: I said to him, "I'm not sure what you were referring to, sir."
"I heard that you were one of the people who didn't agree with Jim Comey."
And I said, "No, sir, that's not true."
He was looking for me to adopt his false narrative.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president's false narrative that Comey was fired for mishandling the Hillary Clinton email probe.
MCCABE: We had to consider, was he truly fired because the president didn't want us to continue investigating this idea of Russian collusion?
TAPPER (voice-over): Investigators felt confident of that after President Trump said this on prime time TV.
TRUMP: And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.
It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous with the probe. TAPPER (voice-over): A ridiculous probe the president attempted to
discredit in an extraordinary moment.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Mr. President, I will give this ball to you and now the ball is in your court.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was July 16th, 2018.
COLLINS: Being in Helsinki for President Trump's press conference with Vladimir Putin is one thing I will never forget for the rest of my life. When he says that he talked to Vladimir Putin, that he believed him.
TRUMP: He just said it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be.
COLLINS: Vladimir Putin, this former KGB agent, for the president to take his word like that, was so stunning.
TAPPER: Why does he seem to like Putin despite the fact Putin is perhaps the primary enemy of the United States?
BOLTON: I think the president repeatedly confuses having good personal relationships with foreign leaders with having good, overall bilateral relationships between the two countries.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump's public allegiance to President Putin, according to former national security advisor John Bolton, has led the president to resist intelligence warnings about Russia.
TAPPER: What it was it like briefing him?
BOLTON: It was clear he wasn't reading much of the material he was being sent. So I tried to be opportunistic in finding circumstances, where I could convey information I felt that he needed. But I don't think that proved very successful.
CONWAY: I've been in briefings many times when the president is being briefed on everything from domestic issues to national security issues to foreign policy issues. He's a listener. People miss how patient he is. I think that comes from being a dealmaker.
TAPPER (voice-over): Bolton left the White House last September. But the topic of Trump's aversion to negative news about Russia caused an uproar this year, after reports surfaced that the president had ignored intelligence that Russia may have paid bounties to Taliban terrorists to kill American and British service members in Afghanistan.
TRUMP: It never reached my desk.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump has denied that over and over and when pressed about it again in July, he said he did not raise the topic during a recent call with President Putin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you bring up this issue?
TRUMP: No, that was a phone call to discuss other things and, frankly, that's an issue that many people said was fake news.
TAPPER (voice-over): Although there continues to be disagreement within the intelligence community on this matter, some experts say it is likely very real.
HAASS: What's not plausible is that the president was not briefed on this or that of his senior lieutenants, the national security advisor and others. They were clearly briefed on this and that they wouldn't have talked about this with the president. So I think what this does is, once again, highlight a pattern of unwillingness to confront Russia.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump supporters say critics are ignoring the president's military effort to deter Russian aggression.
URBAN: Seven hundred fifty Marines that are now on permanent rotation in Norway for the first time since World War II, the expanded military operations in the Arctic, challenging the Russians there, the projection of force into Poland.
HAASS: The fact that in certain areas, administration policy is more robust, I applaud. But let's not overlook the bottom line that, in many areas, this administration has essentially given Mr. Putin way too much of a free hand.
Here you have a Russia that is violating American sovereignty, not with bombs, not with missiles but through the digital space.
TAPPER (voice-over): In January 2019, Roger Stone was indicted for his dealings with the hacked emails, charged with lying to Congress and witness tampering. Stone was months later convicted by a federal jury on seven counts.
After a nearly two-year investigation, the Mueller report was released in April 2019, netting dozens more criminal charges and indictments.
COLLINS: One of the biggest takeaways was just how many of the president's allies got swept up in these probes.
TAPPER (voice-over): Including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, who was convicted on eight counts of financial fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations. Look where you're going.
TAPPER (voice-over): And campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
And the Mueller team found evidence of at least 10 potential instances of President Trump himself obstructing justice. Yet the special counsel could not find prosecutable evidence of conspiracy with Russia. TRUMP: There's no obstruction, there's no collusion, there's no
TAPPER (voice-over): A false Trump mantra.
Coming up, another White House crisis.
TRUMP: I'm the first person to ever get impeached and there's no crime.
TAPPER (voice-over): And the ripple effects of Russia.
TRUMP: I'm the first person to ever get impeached and there's no crime. How do you like that? I feel guilty. You know what they call it? Impeachment light.
TAPPER (voice-over): The impeachment of President Trump is now a matter of history, but it was anything but light.
NAFTALI: Oh, was it ever a big deal.
TAPPER (voice-over): Yet this was no Watergate.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was appalled.
NAFTALI: Richard Nixon tried to make his defense, "I didn't participate in a coverup." That's what got him.
There's no question about the illegal activity. Donald Trump tried to make this an issue of collusion.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president and attorney general Bill Barr hammered that in an attempt to unravel the Mueller report, even though that is not what the special counsel concluded.
But then came Ukraine and the now infamous phone call President Trump made on July 25th, 2019.
TRUMP: My phone call was perfecto. It was totally appropriate.
TAPPER (voice-over): That call ultimately led to his impeachment.
BLITZER: Tonight a White House whistleblower --
TAPPER (voice-over): A whistleblower's report alleged that, in a phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, President Trump pressured the foreign to announce an investigation into his likely Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It really seems to lay
out a quid pro quo.
TRUMP: The whistleblower got it all wrong.
TAPPER (voice-over): Also in that report, President Trump pressuring Zelensky to look into a bogus conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
TRUMP: It's an honor to be with you.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president's request was seen as so plainly an abuse of presidential power by Democrats that a month later the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, launched an impeachment inquiry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The House will be in order.
TAPPER (voice-over): In December 2019, House leaders began impeachment hearings, focused on Ukraine, unveiling two charges against President Trump, abuse of power and the obstruction of Congress.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Speaker Pelosi knew that there was no way that Donald Trump was going to be convicted. No president has ever been convicted because the bar in the Senate is so high.
TAPPER (voice-over): A string of witnesses testified, many of them foreign service officials and diplomats, who corroborated the whistleblower complaint.
GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE E.U.: Was there a quid pro quo?
TAPPER (voice-over): They included Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
SONDLAND: The answer is yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear or affirm that the --
TAPPER (voice-over): Fiona Hill was the top White House Russia expert with the National Security Council before she stepped down.
PHILLIP: She really laid out how the president was being driven by conspiracy theories.
FIONA HILL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIAL: These fictions are harmful, even if they're deployed for purely domestic political purposes.
TAPPER (voice-over): Democrats had many solid witnesses but they failed to land the testimony on the pivotal quid pro quo questions from Fiona Hill's boss, former national security adviser John Bolton.
COLLINS: And that was a big thing because the question was, are there enough firsthand witnesses to the president's behavior? REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The yeas are 230.
TAPPER (voice-over): A week before Christmas, the House impeached President Trump on both articles.
PELOSI: Article I is adopted.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was a historic step. Donald Trump became the third U.S. president to suffer the same fate after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The Senate's fair process will draw a sharp contrast with the unfair inquiry that was carried on.
BISKUPIC: The Senate majority went into this ready to end it almost as soon as it began.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.
TAPPER (voice-over): The Senate impeachment trial began on January 16th, 2020, lasting two weeks.
BISKUPIC: Donald Trump's legal team was very effective.
JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY: You are being asked to remove a duly elected President of the United States and you're being asked to do it in an election year, in an election year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 49. The nays are 51.
TAPPER (voice-over): All but two Senate Republicans blocked a dramatic vote at the beginning of the trial to call witnesses. It helped pave the way for an acquittal.
Former national security advisor John Bolton, who had been criticized by Democrats for not testifying willingly in the House impeachment hearings, spoke out months later in a scathing tell-all that confirmed the basics of the Democrats' impeachment case.
BOLTON: Most of us understood for quite some time that there was a quid pro quo at work when Gordon Sondland testified.
SONDLAND: Everyone was in the loop.
BOLTON: I think that's right.
BOLTON: Some of us were in the loop trying to stop it, however, and Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary; Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, and I were all trying to get Trump to release the security assistance to Ukraine.
We probably tried eight or 10 different meetings with the president to do that. And one such conversation I had with him, and that was the point where he made the clearest statement that I heard that describes a quid pro quo.
TAPPER: And you've said if you were a Republican senator, you would have voted to convict?
BOLTON: On that basis, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Scott of Florida?
TAPPER (voice-over): On February 5th, senators voted 48-52 on the abuse of power charge and 47-53 on obstruction of Congress, far below the necessary threshold for removing the president.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): My faith is at the heart of who I am.
TAPPER (voice-over): Senator Mitt Romney was the only Republican to break ranks and vote to convict on abuse of power. Still, the president was acquitted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
TAPPER (voice-over): The day after the president's acquittal --
TRUMP: This is what the end result is.
BISKUPIC: He acted like someone who was further emboldened in everything we have seen of him since.
TRUMP: You take that home, honey, maybe we'll frame it.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president began escalating his attacks against investigators.
TRUMP: It was dirty cops, it was leakers and liars. And this should never, ever happen to another president, ever.
TAPPER (voice-over): No, it was not. It was his own behavior that got him in trouble.
He ramped up dismissals, firing Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a national security staffer, and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., both of whom testified against the president in the House impeachment hearing.
Then President Trump began challenging the rule of law to help his convicted friends.
TRUMP: I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.
TAPPER (voice-over): Five days after his acquittal, the president publicly criticized in a barrage of tweets the federal judge who presided over the sentencing of his former adviser, Roger Stone.
HABERMAN: This is unheard of to have a sitting president talking about such matters in such a disparaging light.
TAPPER (voice-over): Stone had been convicted of seven felony crimes during the Russia probe. His sentencing played out amid a massive blowup at the Justice Department.
Attorney general William Barr, accused of doing Trump's bidding when he overruled his own Justice Department prosecutors, pushing a lighter sentence for Roger Stone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's what you did.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No.
TRUMP: Roger Stone was treated horribly.
TAPPER (voice-over): Then President Trump, using the power of his office, commuted Roger Stone's sentence altogether.
COLLINS: The attorney general, just weeks before, said he believed the prosecution was righteous and the sentencing was fair.
TAPPER (voice-over): Stone had just been days away from beginning a 40-month prison term.
STONE: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for saving my life.
TAPPER (voice-over): It wasn't the first time the president had intervened in the justice system to help a convicted ally. Early in his term, President Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying about his contacts with Russia.
COLLINS: He had not only lied to the FBI agents but he also lied to the vice president, Mike Pence. And then, of course, he pleads guilty to precisely that.
TAPPER (voice-over): Yet months after the president was acquitted by the Senate, he reversed course, accusing the FBI of framing Flynn.
TRUMP: They treated him very unfairly, as they have many people on this side.
COLLINS: The fact that Flynn could be welcomed back into the president's good graces is so striking, given that Mike Flynn lied to Mike Pence's face.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even more striking, the Justice Department, under the direction of attorney general Barr, filed a motion to drop the criminal charges against Flynn.
HABERMAN: You had this sort of outside pressure campaign.
TAPPER (voice-over): Flynn's appeals case is now in the hands of the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals. John Bolton says President Trump made a habit of shoving the law aside for political gain.
TAPPER: In your book, you talk about it as obstruction of justice as a way of life.
BOLTON: Right. That's why I discussed what I knew.
TAPPER (voice-over): Such as, Bolton alleges, another shocking instance of a quid pro quo, this time with China.
TAPPER: You say that he also asked President Xi for help in getting re-elected.
BOLTON: Right, to purchase agricultural products from the farm states, whose electoral votes that we needed. That happened on a couple of occasions, all of which troubled me greatly.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump denied it all, firing off a tweet, Bolton is, quote, "just trying to get even for me firing him like the sick puppy he is."
Bolton insists he left on his own accord after trying to work for a president he ultimately deemed unfit for office.
BOLTON: Every president takes politics into account in their decision-making. The difference is, with Trump, is it crosses a line that I thought was -- was never going to happen in American history.
TAPPER (voice-over): Coming up --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, come on.
TAPPER (voice-over): How will history judge this president?
TRUMP: No. No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.
ALICE MARIE JOHNSON, PAROLEE: Good evening. I'm Alice Marie Johnson. I was once told that the only way I would ever be reunited with my family would be as a corpse.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was an emotional and memorable moment at the Republican National Convention.
TRUMP: I'm going to sign it right now.
TAPPER (voice-over): Johnson was pardoned by President Trump, after serving 21 years of a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug trafficking charge.
JOHNSON: Six months after President Trump granted me a second chance, he signed the First Step Act into law. It was real justice reform. TAPPER (voice-over): That moment was an opportunity to showcase an
important accomplishment but also an effort to get people to forget the many things that President Trump has said and done that have stoked divisions, including racial divisions, in the U.S.
Such as on the first Monday in June, 2020.
DAWSEY: In some ways, that afternoon shaped up to be one of the more iconic images of the presidency.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump had spent the weekend watching nonstop news coverage of the protests, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): When the protests really got under way here in D.C., two nights ago, the president was taken to an underground bunker in the White House.
COLLINS: The president was so irritated by that reporting because he feared it made him look weak.
DAWSEY: The streets of Washington were becoming, in his mind, increasingly embarrassing for him.
TAPPER (voice-over): So Monday morning, President Trump crashed Vice President Pence's weekly coronavirus call with the governors.
TRUMP: You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run all over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks.
HABERMAN: It was a stunning moment. He used this as some kind of call to action.
TAPPER (voice-over): And if they were not going to dominate, Trump would.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His advisers hatch an idea. There was a fire that started in the basement of St. John's Church. It was right across the street from the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: St. John's Church is on fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They decide they will have the president go to this church.
COLLINS: He came up to the Rose Garden and gave this fiery speech.
TRUMP: In recent days, our nation has been gripped by arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa and others.
PROTESTERS: Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter.
TAPPER (voice-over): In the background, mostly peaceful protesters. [02:50:00]
TAPPER (voice-over): They were being forcibly, sometimes violently, removed from nearby Lafayette Park.
COLLINS: Our initial thinking was that they had moved the protesters from out in front so you could not hear them in the Rose Garden.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you see him leave the White House, surrounded by his aides and military leaders.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump now walks across the street.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gets in front of a church and he holds up his Bible. Doesn't pray. Doesn't tour the church. It was such a mesmerizing political moment.
DAVIS: Saying like, I am on God's side and God is on my side, I am in the right here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am outraged.
TAPPER (voice-over): Few agreed.
MARIANNE BUDDE, DIOCESAN BISHOP, EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF WASHINGTON: This was a charade.
BLITZER: This is James Mattis, just a little while ago.
"Donald Trump is the first president, in my lifetime, who does not try to unite the American people."
GEN. MARK MILLEY, USJC CHAIRMAN: I should not have been there.
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody for keeping it nice and safe.
TAPPER: Was it worth the blowback, do you think, ultimately?
CONWAY: I want to go back to what the original intent was. He wanted to go there and take a stand.
TAPPER (voice-over): A stand that would become more and more disconnected from the pain and furor that had grown since Floyd's murder.
TRUMP: Well, thank you very much, it's a very big day for our country.
TAPPER (voice-over): June 5th in the Rose Garden, announcing the economic comeback and also mentioning the need for equal treatment by law enforcement for every American.
TRUMP: Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country.
TAPPER (voice-over): And then, just hours later, retweeting a post, quoting a conservative commentator, saying that, "The fact that Floyd has been held up as a martyr sickens me."
PHILLIP: Instead of trying to lean into wanting to unify the country or bring in a more diverse constituency to his base, he leaned in, in the other direction.
TAPPER (voice-over): And despite polls that showed more and more people believe racial discrimination remains a big problem in the U.S., Donald Trump went on offense in a way many found offensive, reminiscent of five years prior, when he said many Mexicans were rapists and criminals.
TRUMP: They're rapists.
It's 1 o'clock in the morning and a very tough hombre is breaking into the window of a young woman.
TAPPER (voice-over): Not unlike when he refused to condemn all of those marching at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in 2017.
PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us.
TRUMP: Very fine people, on both sides.
TAPPER (voice-over): Prompting his top economic adviser at the White House, Gary Cohn, to say, quote, "This administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups."
And now also attacking a movement to remove Confederate statues.
TRUMP: They want to demolish our heritage.
TAPPER (voice-over): Also this, at a time when Asian Americans are being unfairly attacked because of the coronavirus pandemic.
TRUMP: Kung flu.
PHILLIP: It's hard to believe that there's an American president who pushes the envelope, at every opportunity, in his use of racist, incendiary, divisive language. He's scaring Americans about other Americans.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even retweeting a white nationalist's video of a Black man violently shoving a white woman. Former Trump homeland security official, Elizabeth Newman.
ELIZABETH NEWMAN, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: White supremacy, white nationalism, anti-government, extremist ideas have been growing for quite some time in this country. And his divisive rhetoric is fuel on that fire and it makes us less safe.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump would declare himself the chief law enforcement officer of the country.
TRUMP: I am your president of law and order. TAPPER (voice-over): He deployed federal officers around the nation,
often in conflict with local law enforcement, especially in states run by Democratic governors.
TAPPER: This is obviously a move that has prompted criticism, not just from the Nancy Pelosis and Chuck Schumers of the world but from former DHS secretaries.
Why do this?
CUCCINELLI: The president has never objected to protesters or demonstrators. The objection is to those who riot, loot and commit violence.
HABERMAN: In reality, the president thinks that there is an advantage to him highlighting conflicts, showing a force of strength, by law enforcement, against protesters. He believes this is going to help him.
TAPPER (voice-over): Help him win.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump has survived and even thrived, by spreading distrust and inciting division, even racism. He has gone largely unchecked by his party.
TRUMP: I love you all. God bless you.
TAPPER (voice-over): Republicans, happy with so many of the policies and afraid of his wrath, seem to almost accept and expect this from President Trump.
HABERMAN: The president is not responsible for systemic racism. But he has thrown accelerant on all of the factors in society that have had the potential to explode for a long time.
TAPPER (voice-over): This is something he and his close advisers dispute, on the record.
CONWAY: I have never, ever heard that man say anything untoward based on race, in my experience.
TAPPER (voice-over): Yet it seems in stark contrast to a well- established pattern we have all witnessed, throughout his presidency.
TAPPER: I've known you for a long time. He says things and tweets things that you would never even think about. Four congresswomen of color, three of whom are born in the United States, telling them to go back where they came from and fix those countries, even though they're all American citizens and three are born here.
I could go on and on but I won't.
He hurts himself when he does things, doesn't he? CONWAY: I understand why people feel that way, completely. And I always tease the president, I say, oh, you need to tweet like we need to eat. It's just about better choices. Sometimes I have the kale salad. Sometimes I finish the brownies the kids made. It all balances out.
TAPPER (voice-over): But does it?
Racism is not brownies. White supremacy is not dessert. Donald Trump is not a private business man or a reality television star anymore. He is President of the United States of America.
Every move he makes, watched and analyzed; every tweet, every speech, every comment matters because words do matter. His words matter. And it will be those words and those deeds that will, ultimately, be the true legacy of president Donald J. Trump.