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CNN Live Event/Special

Senators Ask Questions in Trump Impeachment Trial. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired February 12, 2021 - 16:00   ET


REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): In the days leading to the attack, report after report, social media post after social media post confirmed that these insurgents were planning armed violence, that they were planning it because he had been priming them, because he had been amping them up.


That's why they were planning it. These posts confirmed by reports from the FBI and Capitol Police made clear that these insurgents were planning to carry weapons, including guns, to target the Capitol itself.

And yet Donald Trump, from January 5 to the morning of his speech, tweeted 34 times urging his supporters to get ready to stop the steal. He even, on the eve of the attack, warned us that it was coming. He warned us that thousands were descending into D.C. and would not take it anymore.

And when they got here at the Save America March, he told them again in that speech exactly what to do. His lawyer opened with -- quote -- "Let's have trial by combat." That was Rudy Giuliani. And Donald Trump brought that message home.

In fact, he praised Rudy Giuliani as a fighter. And President Trump used the words fight or fighting 20 times in that speech. Remember, you have just told these people, these thousands of people, that somebody has stolen your election, your victory, you're not going to get the president that you love.

Senators, that is an incredibly combustible situation, when people are armed and they have been saying that they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. He looked out to a sea of thousands, some wearing body armor, helmets, holding sticks and flagpoles, some of which they would later use to beat Capitol Police, and told them that they could play by different rules, play by different rules.

He even at one point quite literally pointed to the Capitol as he told them to fight like hell. After the attack, we have shown clearly that, once the attack began, insurgent after insurgent made clear they were following the president's orders. You saw us present that evidence of the insurgents who were there that day who said: I came because the president asked me to come. I was here at his invitation.

You saw that of the folks that were in the Capitol that day.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Time has expired.

Are there further questions?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Mr. President?

LEAHY: Does the senator from South Carolina have a question?

GRAHAM: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

LEAHY: Submit it.

GRAHAM: I send a question to the desk on behalf of myself, Senator Cruz, Marshall and Cramer to counsel.

LEAHY: Senator Graham, for himself, Senator Cruz, Senator Marshall, Senator Cramer, submits a question for the counsel for Donald Trump.

Clerk will read it.

CLERK: "Does a politician raising bail for rioters encourage more rioting?"

LEAHY: Counsel has five minutes.


LEAHY: Does counsel yield back the rest of their time?

Counsel's time is yielded back.

Are there other questions?


LEAHY: The senator from Georgia.

WARNOCK: I have a question for the desk.

LEAHY: Send it to the desk.

The senator from Georgia, Senator Warnock, has a question for the House managers.

The clerk will read the question.

CLERK: "Is it true or false that, in the months leading up to January 6, dozens of courts, including state and federal courts in Georgia, rejected President Trump's campaign's efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden?"

LEAHY: House managers are recognized for five minutes.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Mr. President, Senators, that is true. That's true. [16:05:01]

I want to be clear, though, that we have absolutely no problem with President Trump having pursued his belief that the election was being stolen or that there was fraud or corruption or unconstitutionality. We have no problem at all with him going to court to do it.

And he did, and he lost in 61 straight cases in federal court and state court. In the lowest courts in the land, in the U.S. Supreme Court, he lost it. He lost in courts in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Wisconsin. All of them said the same thing. They couldn't find any corruption. They couldn't find any fraud, certainly nothing rising to a material level that would alter the outcome of any of the elections, and there was no unconstitutionality.

That's the American system. And so, I mean, it's hard to imagine him having gotten more due process than that in pursuing what has come to be known popularly as the big lie, the idea that somehow the election was being stolen from him.

And we have no problem with the fact that he went to court to do all those things. But notice, number one, the big lie was refuted, devastated and demolished in federal and state courts across the land, including by eight judges appointed by President Donald Trump himself.

We quoted earlier in the case what happened in Pennsylvania, where U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann said, in the United States, this can -- "The court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations. In the U.S., this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populous state. Our people, laws and institutions demand more."

Then it went up to Judge Stephanos Bibas, who is a Trump appointee, who is a part of the appeals court panel. He said: "The campaign's claims have no merit. The number of ballots it specifically challenges is far smaller than the 81,000-vote margin of victory, and it never claims fraud or that any votes were cast by illegal voters. Plus, tossing out millions of mail-in ballots would be drastic and unprecedented, disenfranchising a huge swathe of the electorate, and upsetting all of the down-ballot races too," which, incidentally, weren't being challenged, even though it was the exact same ballot that had been brought.

So, the problem was when the president went from his judicial combat, which was fine, to intimidating and bullying state election officials and state legislators, and then, finally, as Representative Cheney said, summoning a mob, assembling a mob, and then lighting the match for an insurrection against the union.

When he crossed over from nonviolent means, no matter how ridiculous or absurd -- that's fine -- he's exercising his rights -- to inciting violence, that's what this trial is about.

And we heard very little of that from the presentation of the president's lawyers. They really didn't address the facts of the case at all. There were a couple propaganda reels about Democratic politicians that would be excluded in any court in the land. They talked about the rules of evidence. All of that was totally irrelevant to the case before us.

Whatever you think about it, it's irrelevant. And we will be happy to, of course, to address the First Amendment arguments too.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): Mr. President.

LEAHY: The senator from Maine.

COLLINS: Mr. President, I send a question to the desk.

LEAHY: The question is from Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski. It is for the counsel for the former president.

The clerk will read.

CLERK: "Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol? What specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end? And when did he take them? Please be as detailed as possible."

LEAHY: Clerk, read that question again.

We're getting it back.


CLERK: "Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol? What specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end? And when did he take them? Please be as detailed as possible."

LEAHY: Mr. van der Veen?

MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The House managers have given us absolutely no evidence one way or the other onto that question.

We're able to piece together a timeline, and it goes all the way back to December 31, January 2. There is a lot of interaction between the authorities in getting folks to have security beforehand.

On the day, we have a tweet at 2:38. So, it was certainly sometime before then. With the rush to bring this impeachment, there's been absolutely no investigation into that. And that's the problem with this entire proceeding.

The House managers did zero investigation. And the American people deserve a lot better than coming in here with no evidence, hearsay on top of hearsay, on top of reports that are of hearsay. Due process is required here. And that was denied.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN (D-NV): Mr. President?

LEAHY: The senator from Nevada. ROSEN: Mr. President, I send a question to the desk question to the


LEAHY: The senator from Nevada, Senator Rosen, submits a question for the House managers.

And the clerk will read it.

CLERK: "On January 6, the anti-Semitic Proud Boys group that President Trump had told to stand by laid siege to the Capitol alongside other rioters, including one wearing a 'Camp Auschwitz' shirt. Is there evidence that President Trump knew or should have known that his tolerance of anti-Semitic speech, hate speech, combined with his own rhetoric, could incite the kind of violence we saw on January 6?"

DEL. STACEY PLASKETT (D-VI): Mr. President, Senators, Donald Trump has a long history of praising and encouraging violence, as you saw.

He has espoused hateful rhetoric himself. He has not just tolerated it, but he's encouraged hateful speech by others. He has refused, as you saw in the September debate, that interview, to condemn extremists and white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys.

And he has, at every opportunity, encouraged and cultivated actual violence by these groups. Yes, he has encouraged actual violence, not just the word fight.

He told groups like the Proud Boys, who had beaten people with baseball bats, to stand by. When his supporters in the 50-car caravan tried to drive a bus of Biden campaign workers off the road, he tweeted a video of that incident with fight music attached to it and wrote: "I love Texas."

When his supporters sent death threats to the Republican secretary of state, Raffensperger, in Georgia, he responded by calling Mr. Raffensperger an enemy of the state, after he knew of those death threats.

And on the morning of the second Million MAGA March, when it erupted in violence and burned churches, he began that day with the tweet: "We have just begun to fight."

I want to be clear that Donald Trump is not on trial for those prior statements, however that hateful and violent and inappropriate they may be, but his statements, the president's statements, make absolutely clear three important points for our case.


First, President Trump had a pattern and practice of praising and encouraging violence, never condemning it. It is not a coincidence that those very same people, Proud Boys, organizers of the Trump caravan, supporters and speakers of the second Million MAGA March, all showed up on January 6 to an event that he had organized with those same individuals who had organized that violent attack. Second, his behavior is different. It's not just that it was a comment

by an official to fight for a cause. This is months of cultivating a base of people who were violent, not potentially violent, but were violent, and that that prior conduct both helped him cultivate the very group of people that attacked us.

It also shows clearly that he had what -- that he had that group assembled, inflamed and all the public reports ready to attack. He deliberately encouraged them to engage in violence on January 6.

President Trump had spent months calling his supporters to a march on a specific day at a specific time for a specific purpose. What else were they going to do to stop the certification of the election on that day, but to stop you, but to stop you physically?

There was no other way, particularly after his vice president said that he would refuse to do what the president asked.

The point is this, that by the time you call the calvary -- cavalry, not calvary, but cavalry of his thousands of supporters on January 6, an event he had invited them to, he had every reason to know that they were armed, violent and ready to actually fight.

He knew who he was calling and the violence they were capable of. And he still gave his marching orders to go to the Capitol and -- quote -- "fight like hell to stop the steal."

How else was that going to happen? If they had stayed at the Ellipse, maybe it would have been to violently and -- fight in protest with their words. But to come to the Capitol? That is why this is different. And that is why he must be convicted and acquitted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And disqualified.

PLASKETT: And disqualified.


SEN. BILL HAGERTY (R-TN): Mr. President, on behalf of Senator Scott of South Carolina and myself, I would like to submit a question to the desk.

LEAHY: The senator from Tennessee shall submit it.

Thank you.

The question is for counsel for the former president from Senators Hagerty and Scott of South Carolina.

Clerk will read the question.

CLERK: "Given that more than 200 people have been charged for their conduct at the Capitol on January 6, that our justice system is working to hold the appropriate persons accountable, and that President Trump is no longer in office, isn't this simply a political show trial that is designed to discredit President Trump and his policies and shame the 74 million Americans who voted for him?"

CASTOR: Thank you, Senators, for those -- that question.


That's precisely what the 45th president believes this gathering is about. We believe in law and order, and trust that the federal authorities that are conducting investigations and prosecutions and -- against the criminals that invaded this building will continue their work and be as aggressive and thorough as we know them to always be, and that they will continue to identify those that entered the inner sanctum of our government and desecrated it.

The 45th president no longer holds office. There is no sanction available under the Constitution, in our view, for him to be removed from office that he no longer holds.

The only logical conclusion is that the purpose of this gathering is to embarrass the 45th president of the United States and in some way try to create an opportunity for senators to suggest that he should not be permitted to hold office in the future or, at the very least, publicize this throughout the land to try to damage his ability to run for office when and if he is acquitted, and, at the same time, tell the 40 -- 74 million people who voted for him that their choice was the wrong choice.

I believe that this is a divisive way of going about handling impeachment and it denigrates the great solemnity that should be attach to such proceedings.

I yield the remainder of my time, Mr. President.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): Mr. President?

The senator from Massachusetts.

MARKEY: Mr. President, I send a question to the House managers -- for the House managers to the desk, because the president's lawyers did not answer the question.


LEAHY: The senator will send the question. Debate is not allowed.

The question is from Senator Markey, with Senator Duckworth, to the managers on the part of the House of Representatives.

The clerk will read the question.

CLERK: "Exactly when did the president learn of the breach at the Capitol and what steps did he take to address the violence? Please be as detailed as possible."

LEAHY: Do you wish to respond?

PLASKETT: Mr. President, Senators, this attack was on live TV, on all major networks in real time.

The president, as president, has access to intelligence information, including reports inside the Capitol. He knew the violence that was under way. He knew the severity of the threats. And, most importantly, he knew that Capitol Police were overwhelmingly outnumbered and in a fight for their lives against thousands of insurgents with weapons.

We know he knew that. We know that he did not send any individuals. We did not hear any tweets. We did not hear him tell those individuals: Stop. this is wrong. You must go back.

We did not hear that.

So, what else did the president do? We are unclear, but we believe it was a dereliction of his duty. And that was because he was the one who had caused them to come to the Capitol, and they were doing what he asked them to do.


So, there was no need for him to stop them from what they were engaged in.

But one of the things I would like to ask is, we still have not heard and pose to you all the questions raised by Mr. Raskin, manager Raskin, in his closing argument. Why did the -- President Trump not tell the protesters to stop as soon as he learned about it? Why did President Trump do nothing to stop the attack for two hours after the attack began?

Why did President Trump do nothing to help protect the Capitol and law enforcement battling the insurgents? You saw the body-cam of a Capitol Police officer at 4:29 still fighting, 4:29, after since what time, 1:00, 2:00 in the afternoon.

Why did he not condemn the violent insurrection on January 6? Those are the questions that we have as well. And the reason this question keeps coming up is because the answer is nothing.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Mr. President?

LEAHY: The senator from Utah.

ROMNEY: I send a question to the desk.

LEAHY: The senator from Utah, Mr. Romney, on behalf of himself and Senator Collins. It's a question.

And the clerk will read it.

LEAHY: Oh, and I apologize. The question is for both sides. So, the time will be evenly divided.

CLERK: "When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24 p.m. regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that vice president had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?" LEAHY: The House manager?

And time will be evenly divided between...


LEAHY: Would the clerk read the question again?

CLERK: "When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24 p.m. regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that the vice president had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?"

LEAHY: The House of Representatives managers are recognized for two- and-a-half minutes.

CASTRO: Thank you.

Well, let me tell you what he said at 2:24 p.m. He said: "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution. USA demands the truth."

And you know by now what was all over the media. You couldn't turn on the television, couldn't turn on the radio, couldn't consume any media or probably take any phone calls or anything else without hearing about this, and also hearing about the vice president.

And here is what Donald Trump had to know at that time, because the whole world knew it. All of us knew it. Live television had by this point shown that the insurgents were already inside the building and that they had weapons and that the police were outnumbered.

And here are the facts that are not in dispute. Donald Trump had not taken any measures to send help to the overwhelmed Capitol Police. As president, at that point, when you see all this going on and the people around you are imploring you to do something, and your vice president is there, why wouldn't you do it?

Donald Trump had not publicly condemned the attack, the attackers or told them to stand down, despite multiple pleas to do so. And Donald Trump hadn't even acknowledged the attack.

And after Wednesday's trial portion concluded, Senator Tuberville spoke to reporters and confirmed the call that he had with the president and did not dispute manager Cicilline's description in any way that there was a call between he and the president around the time that Mike Pence was being ushered out of the chamber.