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House Managers to Finish Presenting Their Case Today; Sources Say, Trump's Defense Team Expects to Finish Their Arguments by Friday Night. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired February 11, 2021 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Mischaracterized.
You did not have Senator Ben Sasse and have to say that what he had conveyed already was untruthful. I want to see the corroboration of what he did in that moment.
However, he did a methodical case yesterday, Anderson, breaking down into two categories what the president's actions did and what his inaction did. They showed over the course of months how the president's campaign of the big lie led people to be summoned to assemble and then to attack.
Now we have to see even more information about how his inaction led to this occurring. And, of course, they did a great job in the afternoon yesterday on that point, addressing that they left him there at the Capitol to die, did not to get anyone to get reinforcement, did not come, even if he had not said a word, to watch a co-equal branch of government under attack, for the president of the United States not to act expeditiously and comprehensibly, that enough is a high crime and misdemeanor.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Norm, what do you think they need to do?
NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Anderson, I think that they have made their fundamental case now, that the president incited this insurrection for months, that he used fighting words to point that angry, dangerous mob at the Capitol and the incredible devastation that reasonably and knowingly resulted from that.
What we hear to now, they left us last night at a dramatic point, amid riot. We need to hear the rest of the story. We need to hear additional proof that all of us want and that the Republican senators want of the import of the president's actions. that can come from hearing, for example, the insurrectionists say.
There was breaking news this morning that they felt they were waiting for his instruction. Let's hear them say what the plain meaning of his fighting words were. And then, of course, we've had a mountain of evidence, this is a constitutional procedure, we are proudly at our most basic level as Americans, a rule of law nation, let's apply the evidence under the law to get to the conclusion, there was a high crime and misdemeanor here, the worst in American history.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I would also like to hear from Ben Sasse, for example, but you have this strange situation where he is a juror. And so could you call someone up to testify for you if you're also a juror?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The Senate rules actually provide for --
BORGER: But it is weird. It's different.
COOPER: So the Senate rules do provide --
GARBER: Yes, Senate rules contemplated they provide for it. They say if a senator, who is a witness, that senator can testify from their normal place in the Senate. So the rules --
COOPER: Do they have to make some sort of an agreement that witnesses can be called?
GARBER: Yes. Well, under the rules, that is going to be the issue. After these presentations, that is the next question, is, did the House managers asked for witnesses, did the Trump lawyers asked for witnesses and does the Senate agree that witnesses can or cannot --
COOPER: Do you think they will ask for witnesses?
GARBER: I think it depends on how this all ends up. Today, we're going to see the end of the House managers' presentation. Are there remaining questions? Have they actually tied it all up? And then we're going to see the Trump presentation, the Trump lawyer's presentation and do they poke holes in the House managers' case? And then the question is, do those holes get filled with witnesses.
COATES: And that is why it is interesting what Senator Mike Lee did. He actually stood up, remember, yesterday, I'm a witness. He actually pointed himself, I'm a witness here. You also had the idea -- that very statement, I thought, you just done the, here ducky, ducky moment, come right here. You said that you're a witness. You put an issue of fact into contention now. And now, Senator Ben Sasse could equally be somebody to say, well, actually, let me tell you what I knew.
BORGER: But Sasse's is really important in what Lee was talking about yesterday was effectively beside the point. If Sasse heard from someone inside the White House that the president was delighted that all of this was occurring, I think that would be very important to understand that the president's frame of mind when the mob was threatening people's lives.
COOPER: Although it does seem that the president's attorneys can use the Mike Lee thing and say, look, they're basing a lot of -- the House managers are basing a lot of their evidence on media reports and, look, Mike Lee, said that media report in The Washington Post was inaccurate. GARBER: So they say that in their memo. They say all of the House managers' proof is actually press reports and it is fake news and it is all unreliable. In a way, that kind of logic baits the Trump folks into saying -- into almost requiring witnesses, which they don't want. They want this over. They think they've got the votes locked up. The last thing they want is for this to drag out with witnesses.
COOPER: A lot to watch for. Let's go back to Jake. Jake?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Anderson. coming up, a Republican senator speaks with then-President Trump as the insurrection was going on. What he just revealed about his chat with Trump as a mob was closing in on the Senate floor.
Plus a preview of former President Trump's defense strategy and the challenges ahead for his legal team. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to our special coverage, day three of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump. Dana and Abby are back with me.
I want to talk about this moment yesterday where we learned that well after the siege was underway, around 2:00, the former president made his first phone call that we know of. It wasn't to former Vice President Mike Pence, it was to Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville. And Senator Tuberville told Trump that Pence was being evacuated. And asked to clarify the circumstances of the phone call, Tuberville later told reporters this, quote, you know, President Trump, you don't get many words in but he didn't get a chance to say a whole lot because I said they just took the vice president out, I've got to go, unquote.
And this video presented yesterday shows the former vice president being evacuated at roughly 2:25 P.M. But what does President Trump do? He tweeted one minute prior, quote, Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution, unquote.
And, Abby, that seems like incredibly significant, the idea that Trump was told before Pence was -- before he wrote that tweet, calling Pence a coward, that Pence was being evacuated.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, there are so many levels to how really damning this is for Trump. First of all, the fact that the vice president would be evacuated, he had been evacuated from the chamber a little bit before that. So it seems virtually impossible for me to contemplate that the president would not know.
First of all, he knew that the Capitol was under siege. He knew that his vice president was present. And he was more concerned about calling the senator from Alabama than dealing with that situation. I think that, in and of itself, no matter what he said to Tommy Tuberville, would have been pretty damning.
But the fact that that phone call happened and it was followed by a phone call in which Tuberville, said, hey, the vice president was being rushed out of here and then minutes later Trump tweets an attack on Pence, it tells you everything you need to know about where he was in his own state of mind going into that afternoon.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the content of that call that he made the call, he ignored the fact that his own vice president was being evacuated and the content of the call was to continue to check in on how he and other co-conspirators were perpetuating the lie that he had continued to tell that instigated the insurrection to begin with.
TAPPER: And delaying the count.
BASH: And delaying the count.
I checked in with a former senior administration official, a top official in the Trump administration, asking, can you see any scenario in which the vice president of the United States is evacuated with the Secret Service there by his side and the president of the United States isn't notified immediately that that happened? And the answer was, no.
So even -- he didn't need Tommy Tuberville to tell him, even though that is evidence that we know of in public. As dysfunctional as the Trump administration was, and we know that it was, that is a pretty basic bit of information that any president would get.
PHILLIP: And the Capitol had been well under siege by that point. One of the things that the impeachment managers laid out was just how much had happened prior to Pence being evacuated. There were rioters in the building. They were all over the building by that point, by the 2:00 hour.
TAPPER: Destroying things.
PHILLIP: Destroying things, beating police officers outside who were guarding the building.
So, again, the commander-in-chief of the United States, the president, his responsibility is to protect this country. He didn't -- he was -- it was obvious that did not happen for a period of an hour or longer while the Capitol of the United States was being ransacked by his supporters.
BASH: That, in and of itself, separate from the conversation that we had earlier in the hour about whether or not he was involved or knew about what was happening on the message boards, if you kind of fast forward to the moment, the moment that that happened, or the moments that this was happening, the fact that he didn't put in all caps stop, stop, stop, is damning in and of itself.
TAPPER: Yes. It would be great to hear from Senator Tuberville as a witness of sorts but I guess that is not how this trial is playing out, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, there is a lot more we're watching for, really, we're only about 15 minutes away from the start of this wrapping up by the House impeachment managers of the impeachment case against the former president.
We'll have a closer look ahead at the former president's legal strategy as his team takes the Senate floor tomorrow.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We have brand-new details right now on how former President Trump's legal defense team is preparing for their impeachment trial arguments after their first presentation was so widely panned and after the powerful and chilling opening arguments from the House impeachment managers.
Let's bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, so what are your sources telling you?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is going to be difficult for them to follow that grim footage that you saw yesterday, but that is what former President Trump's legal team is going to have to do tomorrow. That is when they're expected to start making their arguments on the Senate floor.
And they get 16 hours for each side to present their case. You're seeing Democrats use it yesterday and today. But I am told that President Trump's legal team is not going to be using all of that time when they go out to speak. And they're likely to finish their arguments by tomorrow.
And so on the former president's legal defense team, you've got these four attorneys, we saw two of them speak on Tuesday and, of course, Bruce Castor was that one that you were just referring to, who was widely panned, even by Republicans, for his performance.
And I'm actually told by several sources that multiple allies of the Donald Trump were calling him and encouraging him to get rid of Bruce Castor, not have him on the team any more, certainly not have him present tomorrow when they start to make their arguments. And the president briefly considered it, but we should note, he is still on the team. He was seen on Capitol Hill yesterday and was defending that opening speech that really didn't seem to have a point to it. He said he wasn't expecting to speak.
And the other thing that irritated President Trump is that he came out there and was praising the performance by the prosecutors, saying that they made a good opening argument.
And so we are going to see them come out tomorrow, try to defend Donald Trump's conduct, talk about this -- talk about his First Amendment rights, which they are going to claim were being undermined by these arguments.
But, of course, Wolf, the ultimate question is going to be whether or not this actually changes any of the minds of any of the Republican senators who, so far, have seemed headed for acquittal, and that is what they have been telling former President Trump when he erupted over his attorney's performance. So, of course, that remains to be seen.
But we should note, there is a lot of apprehension in Trump world about what tomorrow is going to look like. And they will frankly admit this team is unorganized, they are chaotic. And so they're not really sure what they're going to hear tomorrow. And the only thing really reassuring them is that they do feel like this is a homerun and you can't really mess it up and that former President Trump is headed for acquittal.
BLITZER: All right. Kaitlan, stand by.
John, they have got a tough legal. Politically, I understand what everybody is saying that the votes are not going to be there for conviction, but in terms of the legal response, they have got a tough battle.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the House managers, the prosecutors, if you will, have made a very strong, compelling case. There will be an effort by the Trump legal team to say the president was not intimately involved with the day-to-day inner workings of the Proud Boys or at least other groups, that he could not have known they were coming armed, coming with shields, coming with the flex cuffs and things like that.
That is what they will say.
The manager is trying to make the case that the president should be well aware that these groups are loyal to him and that if he was doing his job, either just as a consumer of news or he was president of United States. He's supposed to be a consumer of intelligence, that people would have brought this to his attention.
So, yes, there are some arguments where we'll watch to see if the Trump team can poke it, connecting the dots, can you get this into the president.
But, again, the managers have done a very powerful job. The president picked this day. The president played up (ph) this rally. The president knew what was happening that day. The president is the one and only, after the White House got involved in the event planning, did they add the march on the Capitol, was originally supposed to be a protest down on the mall and the Ellipse. And so the manager made a compelling case.
The Trump team now has to dispute that. And the people who are hoping they do it the most are those Republican senators who are still sitting there after the dramatic, compelling, riveting case made by the managers yesterday saying, we still want to vote no, we still want to vote not to convict.
Because -- and the thing that frustrates me, Wolf, as someone who has been in town a long time like me is the low bar they keep setting for the president of the United States. While he was not on the Proud Boys website, he doesn't go on Parler every day, how did he know? Well, that's excusing the total dysfunction of the Trump government.
His attorney general, Bill Barr, resigned right around the same time because the president of the United States kept saying, make a fraud case, when Bill Barr knew there was no fraud. The president, around the same time, was waging yet another attack on his FBI director. So they didn't want to bring him the intelligence. They don't want to be anywhere near him.
So, the president, maybe he was never briefed even though we knew law enforcement agencies knew the huge threat of violence, the huge specific threat of an attack on the Capitol on this day. Maybe the president of the United States was never directly briefed. What does that tell you about the dysfunction of the Trump presidency, and the Republicans want you to excuse that? Well, this is the way it is with Trump, therefore, he didn't know.
Constantly throughout the pandemic, he refutes science, he refutes common sense, they say, well, it's just Trump. How many times can Republicans say, it's just Trump, especially when you saw the consequences of it yesterday?
BLITZER: We do know that the former president watches a lot of television. He was watching what was going on on Capitol Hill, the violence that was emerging, the insurrection that was developing, he did nothing to stop it. And that's a serious, serious --
KING: And you make a very key point. I don't mean to interrupt you. You make a very key point, that, again, stop the steal, stop the fraud, stop the count, never stop the attack.
BLITZER: He never said that. Anderson, over to you.
COOPER: The legal team is back, Laura Coates, NormEisen, Ross Garber and Gloria Borger.
Ross Garber, just in terms of let's continue that discussion. We don't know a lot about what the president was actually doing in the White House during those hours. We've heard Ben Sasse saying -- based on the conversations he's had about the president's enthusiasm from what was happening, is that a weakness in the managers' case? And what do you expect to hear from the president's attorneys?
GARBER: So what we've seen from the managers are press reports about what the president was doing and not doing, but we still like don't know a ton about it.
In their brief, the president's lawyers disputed that. They said the president, you know, was not delighted with what was going on, the president was taking this seriously, and resources were being scrambled. Let's see if the president's lawyers actually have anything to back that up. Because if it ends, and there is this dispute of fact, where we are is kind of inviting witnesses, which, again, I don't think the president's lawyers want.
I don't think they want witnesses testifying about this, but it may be something that would be helpful and telling, as Gloria pointed out, there is a senator who is a witness. Ben Sasse is a witness. He says he talked to somebody in the White House, a senior official, who told him what the president was doing and feeling that day.
BORGER: It would be great if Mike Pence were a witness, but, of course, I doubt he wants to be one. But I think that Mike Pence, that tweet is so important to give you some information about the president's state of mind and whether he was feeling any remorse --
COOPER: The president's tweet attacking Mike Pence, even though he knew Mike Pence wasn't there.
BORGER: Tweet attacking Mike Pence, any remorse or concern about what was going on in the Capitol. There, you had Tommy Tuberville saying to him, I've got to hang up on you because they're dragging the vice president out of the chamber. The Secret Service, as we've said, clearly had to have told the president.
What did he think was going on, and did he do anything to stop it? And, to me as a layman here with all these wonderful lawyers, my question is, would any of this have happened without Donald Trump in the White House? And you tell me, Ross, that's called but for causation, okay?
BORGER: And I believe that's the important question here --
COOPER: But for President Trump would this have occurred?
BORGER: But for President Trump, would any of this have happened?
EISEN: And you had the footage the managers put on yesterday so powerfully that tweet being read through a bullhorn to those protesters and the communications, irrespective of what we learn about what went on in the white House, the communications, the message the president is sending, once he knows the danger to Mike Pence.
And I think we'll hear more today from the protesters of their understanding. That will close another link. And then a very tough burden when the president's lawyers come back, they're going to try to do the opposite. They're going to set a very, very high standard for the managers to meet. I don't think those criminal law standards apply under the Constitution. They'll try to set a high standard and say this evidence isn't enough.
COATES: But even though the criminal standard will not be what dictates how you handle a political impeachment trial, they can still satisfy that burden.
And I'm glad you mentioned burdens here, because, of course, the House impeachment managers, the ones that actually brought this case, have the overwhelming burden of proving that but for President Trump's conduct, this would not have happened, and but for his inaction, it would have stopped.
But they also now realize that the trial briefs of the defense team actually raised some things into issue. The trial briefs of Trump's lawyers say, you're making it seem like he did nothing. There was a, quote, flurry of activity going on. Well, now you can use that against the defense lawyers to say now the burden is on them to prove that what we have said is wrong.
You're telling me there was a flurry of activity, so as a juror, I'd look at it and say, well, I've been told I'm going to hear about a flurry of activity. If I hear crickets, that is not going to bode well for anyone.
EISEN: And the senators are going to have the opportunity in the next phase of the trial after the defense makes its case to quote those briefs and to put those questions directly to Trump's lawyers. That will be interesting too.
COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
As we wait for day three of this trial to begin within the next few minutes, I want to bring in Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju.
I understand, Manu, you just had a chance to speak to Senator Mitt Romney. What did he say?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He said he didn't know how much danger he was in until seeing that video from yesterday, rather riveting footage of him leaving the Senate chamber when he was approached by Officer Eugene Goodwin of the Capitol police who told him to turn around because he was approaching the mob.
I asked him what his family said to him last night after they had seen that video that came out yesterday, he said, nobody realized, not even myself, the danger that I was in. And he didn't want to speculate about how bad it could have been but said he was walking into some real trouble there.
Now, Romney is, of course, one of six Republican senators who seem likely, who is considering voting to convict Donald Trump. I asked him if he is leaning in that direction. He refused to tip his hand. He is expected to ultimately say that Donald Trump is guilty. He, of course, was the only Republican to do so last year during Donald Trump's first impeachment trial.
But Republican and Democratic senators are expecting this trial to move rather quickly. Today is expected to be a shorter day than tomorrow -- than yesterday's proceedings, and we expect things to wrap up potentially as soon as Saturday evening to get to that final ultimate acquittal vote. One of the big questions, Wolf, that Democrats and Republicans have is will the impeachment managers on the House side seek witnesses to help their case? The expectation is that is not going to happen. I talked to one top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, who is a member of the Democratic leadership. She told me she does not see any need for the democratic managers to call witnesses. She says they believe they have made their case. Everyone, of course, here in this building experienced what happened on January 6th.
So that could mean that things could move rather quickly as the House impeachment managers finish up their arguments today, which is expected to focus largely on Donald Trump's role in the run-up to January 6 and his lack of remorse after what happened on January 6th, as well as the trauma that people experienced in this building on that horrific day.
So, some riveting presentations expected later today, but will it change any minds on Capitol Hill on the Republican side at the moment seems unlikely, as both sides expect this to be done in just a matter of a couple days here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I think you're absolutely right. Manu, stand by. John King is with.
In about a minute or so, two minutes, the chaplain, Barry Black, is going to have the opening prayer. We'll, of course, have live coverage. Now, this could go on for a few hours. They still have eight hours to go, the House impeachment managers, but the expectation is they don't need that much time.
KING: They don't think they need that time. All that reporting suggest they could use less time today. But you have to understand the moment for them, especially if they are going to decide in the end to not to push for witnesses. So this is it. This is the close of the prosecution's case. I think, by all accounts, even the Republicans conceding, these House prosecutors, House managers, have done a compelling, riveting job of connecting the facts, the history and the emotions and the power, the danger of the moment.
This is -- they know now, because they do get, after the president's defense presentation, they get a rebuttal.