Return to Transcripts main page


Schumer Wants Testimony in Senate; Republicans Won't be Impartial for Trial; Comey Admits to Sloppiness. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And obstruction of Congress and it lays out the evidence that the president asked a foreign government to investigate a political rival, basically jump into the 2020 election and then he blocked the investigation into that conduct. The full House is expected to vote to impeach the president on Wednesday. And once that happens, as we said, he will become just the third president in history to be impeached.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And, of course, after that, the spotlight then shifts to the Senate, although it's already shifting there at this point this morning. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reaching out to majority leader Mitch McConnell with a detailed proposal for the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. The New York Democrat wants four current or former White House officials to testify, including Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton. The president's Republican allies admit they're not impartial, saying once again they don't want a long trial or any witnesses. We're going to discuss all of this. Senator Schumer will be here in the next hour.

BERMAN: Joining us now, David Gregory, CNN political analyst, Rachael Bade, congressional correspondent for "The Washington Post," and Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor and a CNN legal analyst.

And, David Gregory, let's put those four faces back up on the screen that the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, says he wants to see in a Senate impeachment trial. This is the opening salvo from senator Schumer in the negotiations with Mitch McConnell, which will begin soon.

And to me what this looks like is Schumer trying to put pressure on Republicans now and say, you know what, if you don't want to hear from these fact witnesses, from these four people who have first-hand knowledge of what transpired, it's on you to explain why. What do you see?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting that both the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, rather, and the president seem to want more witnesses. They want more of a spectacle for this trial. It's the Republicans who want to minimize this. It's a -- it's a sign that Democrats know they have some pressure to try to apply here to say, look, the White House was blocking us on these particular witnesses. Let's keep the investigation going. Let's get closer to the truth with the people who actually know if -- if you're saying we're relying on people who are farther away from the action, give us these witnesses.

I think it's unlikely to happen. I think McConnell's unlikely to agree on that. I think the prevailing view is likely to be, no, let's get through this as quickly as possible, as the politics don't change. You can get an acquittal. I think that's the message that he'll -- McConnell will be sending to the president.

HILL: You know, and just to pick up on that, too, and, John, you brought this up last hour, what we saw in that letter, too, was very specific. Not just the names, but also we would, of course, be open to hearing the testimony of additional witnesses having direct knowledge of the administration's decisions regarding the delay in security assistance funds to the government of Ukraine and the requests for certain investigations to be announced by the government of Ukraine if the president's counsel or House managers identify such witnesses.

They're also throwing that out there, Jen, which is -- which is to say, as a reminder, OK, if you have these other people with, again, first-hand knowledge, that would be great to hear from them. And, oh, by the way, this is what we're actually talking about is the withholding of this aid.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right, they're trying to keep it focused on what's at issue here. But they've also asked, don't forget, for all of the documents that we already know have been collected and are highly relevant to this issue of what the president knew when this aid was being withheld, what he ordered.

And also the White House meeting, don't forget about that. That's another issue on which there was a bribery allegation here. So they want those documents, they want those witnesses, but they're keeping it very focused on what's at issue, which is really smart, I think.

BERMAN: Rachael, I think this is also designed to put some pressure on four Republicans in particular at least, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins and Corey Gardner, two of them up for re- election right now.

And, again, to force them to say, you know what, we don't want these fact witnesses. And Mitch McConnell, as he enters these negotiations with Chuck Schumer, he can make a deal with Schumer or he can try to cobble together 51 votes on every single proposal in a Senate trial. And that's tough. So how do you see McConnell coming back to Schumer on this?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I -- that's -- that's -- that's a great point right there. I mean I would say, you know, there are set -- there are 53 Senate Republicans and McConnell needs 51 to do anything, including sort of dismiss this push by the Democrats to bring in these first-hand account witnesses who could very much speak to what happened at the White House regarding Ukraine. And you have Republicans like Susan Collins, who sort of have this sort of moderate reputation running for re-election in a purple swing state in Maine. And she's got to show that she is taking this seriously. This is one of the reasons why, for instance, Collins has not said anything about the Ukraine allegations, saying, I've got to maintain impartiality. I can't weigh in on this because I'm going to be a juror. She's got to look like she's taking this seriously.

How does her -- how does that translate, though, if she votes against hearing from these key witnesses?


And so I think Schumer is clearly onto something and that he knows that there are potentially three or four Senate Republicans who, if they vote against hearing from these particular individuals, this could blow back on them at home. And he's going to use that to his own advantage.

GREGORY: And think about this. Go back to the Kavanaugh confirmation proceeding when the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to add additional hearing time to hear from Dr. Ford. It was a few of those senators, including Collins and Murkowski, who said, look, let's add a little bit more time here. Let's have some more process here before we reach a vote.

And you take somebody like a Senator Romney and you look at the state of Utah, where you've got kind of a Democratic center in Salt Lake City and then a much more conservative leaning rest of the state. It is certainly Trump country if you go out into -- outside the city, outside Salt Lake City in Utah. There's that balance.

But whether it's a Collins or a Romney or others who would say, in a more reasonable way, look, let's hear more evidence here. Let's have a real process. The test will be how much party unity there is in the Senate. We think it's there in terms of voting on ultimate removal, but will it be there when it comes to the actual rules of the trial.

HILL: Well, listen, then there's also what we're hearing from other Republicans, which is, we don't need any of this because we've already made up our minds. Forget the oath. Forget being impartial. This is where we stand. And it's just a -- just a reminder, here are some of those key comments.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I wasn't in any doubt at this point.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Senators are not required, like jurors in a criminal trial, to be sequestered, not to talk to anyone, not to coordinate. There's no prohibition.


HILL: I'm not pretending to be a fair juror here. There's no prohibition. As we know, we've heard multiple time from McConnell, he's coordinating everything with White House counsel.

But you add all of that up, that certainly has an effect and likely one that they are going for when it comes to how the American people are perceiving this.

RODGERS: Yes, I mean this is really, really outrageous. I mean there are differences between criminal trials and this impeachment trial. But in both cases, they take an oath to impartially look at the evidence, keep an open mind and judge accordingly. And they are not doing that here.

So this is really, really unbelievable. And so to it's a political process, it's not a legal process, any process where you're supposed to put the Constitution and the law into the mix and reach your judgment based on those things is a legal process. So that, to me, is completely wrong.

But I think you're right, they're just trying to get out ahead of it and say, look, we've already seen, you know, it's not like a regular jury where you walk in and don't know anything. We've already seen this evidence coming in through the House, so --

HILL: So it's fine that we say something.

RODGERS: It's fine that we say something now, but it is against their oath.

And, you know, listen, I hope someday the American people hold them responsible for that because that is not what they swear an oath to do when they're in that Senate trial.

GREGORY: Do you know that the danger in all of this, and I think Democrats know it, is that impeachment emerges in this modern, incredibly polarized, political era as merely a tool, a partisan tool to be used. That's why they're -- if they're unlikely to get removal, they hope to get a few Republicans who would step forward and vote for removal, maybe even get it over 51 votes. Even that may seem unlikely.

I think the test is still whether any Republican is going to say this was wrong, maybe not impeachable, but certainly wrong. We really haven't heard that either.

BERMAN: So, Rachael, all of this dovetails nicely into some new reporting you have, which is there are some House Democrats who want to see I guess now independent Congressman Justin Amash, former Republican, be one of the House impeachment managers. Put a guy who used to be a Republican, up until a few months ago, on the floor making the case for removing the president. That could have some weight, especially given that you have Jeff Van Drew, another Democrat from New Jersey, who look like he's switching to the Republican Party this week.

BADE: Yes, that's exactly right. There's been a group of about 30 freshman Democrats who have been asking Pelosi to put Amash up as an impeachment manager. They say, if we can be bipartisan here, show any bipartisanship in terms of impeaching Trump, we should do so and we should do so vocally. Making him a manager would put him front and center.

Remember, Justin Amash is one of the most conservative members of the House, long-time Republican, former attorney, has followed these issues closely, left the Republican Party in part because he believed the party was following Trump too much and not standing up for its own principles that he held dear, so he became independent.

But this is, of course, in -- I'm sorry, this is, of course, risky because, you know, Pelosi can't control him the way sort of she can do with other Democrats who are going to sort of be laying out this strategy in the Senate.

But, you know, moderate Democrats who are feeling pressure back home, especially after you have one of the Democrats -- their own colleagues now deciding to switch in the Republican Party because of impeachment in the next couple of days, they're really feeling the heat right now and they think that if they put someone like Justin Amash out there to make this case, that they will have greater appeal in independent voters in their own districts and that could help them.

BERMAN: Quickly, if we talk about Jeff Van Drew for a second, Rachael, from New Jersey. The polls have suggested that if he voted against impeaching the president, which he will do, that he was going to lose a ton of Democratic support, probably be primaried, unlikely to win the nomination even as a Democrat. So he indicated he's going to switch parties. He says most of his staff is fleeing.

And this is significant. Whenever anyone switches parties it's significant. But also this weekend it does seem like a lot of the shaky moderates, many of them have come forward and say they are going to support impeachment.

BADE: Yes, I think that this is kind of a lesson for a lot of the moderates. Look, I mean, they're getting heat back home. But if they come out and they vote against impeachment, or, you know, Jeff Van Drew had been on Fox News sort of blasting impeachment the entire time and sort of blasting his colleagues and what they were doing, he lost a lot of support from the base. The base deserted him. So that's sort of the conundrum that these moderates face.

Yes, they're hearing from independents and some Republicans who don't want them to focus on impeachment, would rather them focus on legislation. But they're also -- they have a base that is demanding the president's removal. And if they vote against that, they're going to face blowback. And so Van Drew found himself in that position where he chose to just go against impeachment. And so he actually had to seek refuge from the White House. He went and met with President Trump on -- last week. Trump encouraged him to switch parties. Said, listen, we got you if you're going to do this. We'll help you win re-election. And he ultimately decided to do that and will now become a Republican.

GREGORY: Just quickly, it's the clearest example that in this age there is no middle ground. There is no middle ground on the question of impeachment or the president's behavior. You're either for impeachment or against it. Politically, there's no place to stand in the middle.

BERMAN: Fifty percent for impeaching and removing the president according to the Fox News poll. Fifty-four percent in favor of just impeachment. Again, the high water mark for Bill Clinton was 38 percent.

HILL: Thirty-eight.

BERMAN: So the number hasn't moved. But it's a pretty high number right now.

HILL: Thank you all. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: We got a lot more coming up in this broadcast, including the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is in the middle of the news this morning. He has put a proposal out for the Senate trial. He will join us to explain what that proposal is. That's less than an hour from now.

HILL: Also senators taking an oath, as we've talked about, when they're sworn in. Some now being accused of breaking it with a reality check on that coming up for you next.



HILL: There is a special oath senators take promising to be impartial during impeachment proceedings. And as it turns out, there's a disturbing number, at this point, of senators who were actually talking about shrugging that responsibility off, perhaps not taking it quite as seriously.

CNN's John Avlon running down now who. But, first, just a reminder, take a listen to the oath.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So that's the special oath administered to senators in an impeachment trial. Impartial justice. What a concept. But leading Republican senators are already admitting they intend to violate that oath.

Here's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this.


AVLON: Now, by comparison, here's what Republican Leader Trent Lott said in 1998 as Bill Clinton's impeachment loomed.


TRENT LOTT, FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATOR (December 17, 1998): We're going to make every effort to make sure it is bipartisan and it is impartial and that everybody is consulted, including, you know, the White House, if this goes forward, as well as Democratic leadership Tom Daschle.


AVLON: Hear the difference? And as a junior senator, Mitch McConnell also had a very different take.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) (February 12, 1998): Will we pursue the search for truth or will we dodge, weave, and evade the truth? The president has engaged in a persistent pattern and practice of obstruction of justice.


AVLON: So, this time around, Republicans seem to have decided to dodge, weave, and evade the truth by embracing the White House line that the president did nothing wrong at all, which disregards testimony from Trump officials. Even if you think it's not impeachable.

But just as facts should matter, oaths should mean something as well. And when Republican elected officials ignore them for partisan purposes, they define deviancy down in our democracy.

Listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN's Becky Anderson over the weekend.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This thing will come to the Senate and it will die quickly. And I will do everything I can to make it die quickly.

I am trying to give a pretty clear signal, I have made up my mind.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN: Oh, I wasn't in any doubt. It's quite --

GRAHAM: I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here. (END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: You get that? I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror, is, of course, the opposite of an oath to ensure impartial justice. It's also the opposite of what Congressman Lindsey Graham had to say in 1998.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC) (November 20, 1998): Members of the Senate have said, I understand everything there is about this case and I won't vote to impeach the president. Please allow the facts to do the talking.

People have made up their mind, in a political fashion, that will hurt this country long term.


AVLON: Wise words. He should take his own advice.

The divides today are not simply partisan, though. They're along the lines of who wants to deal with the facts and don't buy the line that impeachment shouldn't be pursued because the country is divided with 50 percent supporting impeach and removal, because when Republicans pursued Bill Clinton's impeachment, only 35 percent of the country supported it. And one month before Nixon resigned, only 46 percent said he should be impeached and removed.

More than polls, principles and precedent do matter.


And the core question for Congress right now is this, should presidents ask foreign powers to investigate their domestic political rivals? And somehow I doubt that if a Democratic president did that to a Republican, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham would be cool with it. Now they'd be scheming bloody murder and they'd be right.

Here's Lindsey Graham again.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC) (December 11, 1998): Let me just say this, it would be a good test for us if a Republican president had done these things, would a Republican delegation have gone to tell him to get out of town? I hope so.

Only time will tell.


AVLON: Well, now we know the answer.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: So -- which is a phenomenal "Reality Check," John.

But just to follow up here. Again, a month before Nixon quit, it was less than 50 percent of Americans who were in favor of impeaching and removing?

AVLON: Correct.

BERMAN: And you will hear people running around saying the 50 percent mark right now is somehow low?

AVLON: That just doesn't pass the fact test. That's not the reality.

BERMAN: Reality.

John Avlon, thank you for that reality.

HILL: Reality and facts, they can be pesky things, can't they?

BERMAN: Yes, I know.

So, former FBI Director James Comey admitting to real sloppiness in the bureau's surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide, but the president says Comey should be in jail and he's telling lies about President Obama.

That's next.




CHRIS WALLACE, FOX ANCHOR: Significant errors in the FISA process and you say that it was handled in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, he's right. I was wrong. I was over confident in the procedures that the FBI and Justice had built over 20 years. I thought they were robust enough. It's incredibly hard to get a FISA. I was overconfident in those.


BERMAN: That's the former FBI director, James Comey, admitting that the inspector general's report revealed what Comey calls real sloppiness in the FBI's surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide in 2016.

Joining me now is Jim Baker, who served as the FBI general council when the Russia investigation began and is now a CNN legal analyst.

And we should also note, one of the world's, I think, foremost experts on the whole FISA process. You worked very, very seriously on just this subject for years before you were the FBI general counsel. So when you hear the FBI director, former, say he was right, I was wrong, the process here was flawed, your reaction is? JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I understand what he's saying and

that he and others, and myself included, were overconfident that the procedures were sufficient to make sure that the kind of errors and omissions that have been disclosed by the inspector general would not occur. And those errors and omissions are unacceptable, completely unacceptable. I'm not trying to defend them. But I think the people in the process at the higher levels believed that we had put into place the right kinds of policies and procedures and that we had the right people working on the matter and that -- that -- I think that's what Comey was saying was he was wrong about that.

BERMAN: What was his responsibility, and for that matter your responsibility, to catch these flaws, these errors along the way?

BAKER: So, obviously, he was the director of the FBI and responsible for everything that happens at the end of the day. I was the general council and responsible for what happened with respect to the legal matters within the FBI, but I was part of the leadership team. And so I'm not happy about this. I'm not happy about this.

I think, you know, I've -- I've said before, I take responsibility for what I should have done in terms of making sure this didn't happen. I have worked very closely over literally decades to make sure that the FISA process works correctly, that the FISA court has all of the information that it needs. I've gone to the mat before to make sure that that happens. And so, no, I'm not happy and I do take responsibility for my share in -- in what is clearly, you know, an unacceptable way to deal with the FISA court.

BERMAN: All right, there was a single, criminal referral from the inspector general report. It had to do with a line attorney who falsified a document. But that was the only criminal referral. There was no criminal referral for supervisors, certainly for you, certainly for Director Comey.

Nevertheless, the president of the United States, this weekend, wrote this. So now Comey's admitting he was wrong. Wow. But he's only doing so because he got caught red handed. He was actually caught a long time ago. So what are the consequences for his unlawful conduct?

I will note, the president's wrong by calling it unlawful based on the inspector general report.

Could it be years in jail, the president writes? Where are the apologies to me and others?

Is the president of the United States suggesting the former FBI director should go to jail? And that's not something I think we should ever let just slide. Oh, it was just a tweet. That's a very serious comment, Jim.

BAKER: Well, it's very serious. It's consistent with his pattern of behavior from -- from the past. And -- and he should just cease and desist with respect to making these kinds of statements. The inspector general looked at a -- I think he said a million documents, conducted something like 170 interviews and did a thorough deep dive on -- on the FBI. And he -- he -- he, the inspector general, concluded that this was a lawfully authorized and predicated investigation, meaning that that wasn't a hoax. There's -- it was not a coup. It was -- there were no sedition. There was no treason. And so the inspector general looked at this and decided there was nothing to prosecute. So I don't know what the president is talking about, and he should just stop saying those kind of things.

BERMAN: And what are the consequences of a president of the United States suggesting, not political rivals, because Jim Comey isn't a political rival per say, he's not running for anything, but someone for whom you have a political gripe should go to jail. What's the overall implication of that?

BAKER: Well, it's devastating and terrible for our system. It's terrible for individuals that have to live under this kind of cloud constantly, having the president -- and the president of the United States saying these kinds of things.


It's just inappropriate.

The attorney general and --