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Interview With Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI); President Trump Impeached For Second Time. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 13, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NORMAN EISEN, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's like the president's phony legal and factual arguments that were thrown out by over 60 courts across the country that the election was stolen.
These are not serious legal arguments.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right.
All right, Norm, stand by.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're standing by for statements by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the House impeachment managers, after the House delivered an unprecedented bipartisan rebuke of President Donald Trump. He now stands impeached for a second time, a double stain on his legacy that no other U.S. president has ever faced. That will stay with him forever.
John King, once again, we're standing by for this formal ceremony. It's called an engrossment ceremony. The speaker will actually sign the article of impeachment. We will hear from her, presumably others, and then they will go forward.
She will have to make the decision when to actually submit the article of impeachment to the Senate, where they will go ahead with the trial.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And this is essentially the last act of Speaker Pelosi of the Trump presidency, in the sense that he has one week left. The Senate will try him after he's gone.
And Speaker Pelosi going to send this over. She's going to make the case for House Democrats that they had no choice but to do this, even though the president is in his final days, that he asked for this, he deserved it, and this is the only way to have closure and justice, is to hold him accountable for what he said at that rally one week ago before the rioters hit the Capitol.
So, her words are very important here. So too are the next words from the president of the United States, because now the big question is, how many Republicans will vote to convict him in the Senate? This is a very different climate here and very different times than the first impeachment trial, when only Mitt Romney, the only Republican to vote yes on one count.
We're in a different world. The numbers will be higher. That is guaranteed. How high? Do they get to 17, the two-thirds necessary, if all the Democrats vote yes, to convict? We don't know that.
But what Speaker Pelosi says today is very important and how the Democrats handle this transfer from the House to the Senate is very important, and then what the president says, because, yesterday, he hurt himself.
When he came out and said, my remarks were totally appropriate, he hurt himself. He tends to do that. He is his own worst enemy. So we watch the speaker, very important moment. It's a ritual in some ways, but it's very important what she says. She and the president have been protagonists at each other for the entire Trump presidency.
She views this as a very important moment, not just because of what the president said, because of the attack on that building. She takes it very personally. She is -- she runs that building. She's the speaker of the House, the most important, highest elected official in that building, and they are still shocked.
They were terrorized, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. So it will be fascinating to see how she frames this as she sends it over. But, again, what I'm waiting for next is, what does the president say?
Because if he keeps saying what he said yesterday, he will guarantee more Republican votes in the Senate.
BLITZER: He almost certainly will. There will be this formal signing ceremony, certification of the article of impeachment by the speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
We're standing by for live coverage of that.
I want to bring in CNN presidential historian Doug Brinkley, who's looking at all of this very, very closely right now.
We just watched, as you know, as all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world know, the first president in American history impeached for a second time.
Explain, Doug, just how truly significant this moment is.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh, it's a stunning moment.
Donald Trump is there -- well, he's in disarray right now. The country is disgusted at him. He's going to be carrying the double I for impeachment, which is almost unthinkable. When we were younger, Wolf, the idea of just Andrew Johnson's impeachment was such a big deal.
And now you have a president with two. He's no longer, in my mind, going to be even seen as part of a presidents club. He becomes sort of an outlaw kind of figure. He's Benedict Arnold or Jefferson Davis, Joe McCarthy, Lyndon LaRouche, because of his lack of civility and the fact that he did the one thing you can't do, and that's incite an insurrection, allow our democracy to be attacked.
But it's scary to have seven days left with him still in the White House.
BLITZER: Hold on for a moment.
These are the House impeachment managers who are walking through Statuary Hall right now to the Rayburn Room in the U.S. Capitol. There's the speaker, Nancy Pelosi. And there's Representative Steny Hoyer, who's the number two, James Clyburn, the number three.
They're walking through Statuary Hall right now. They're going to be going into this historic room -- It's called the Rayburn Room right off Statuary Hall over there -- to engage in this engrossment ceremony, which is the formal signing and certification of the bill, and then the eventual delivery of the documents to the U.S. Senate, where there will be a formal trial.
They're walking in right now. You see Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, the congressman from Maryland, walking in first.
I don't know how many speakers we will have, but I think Nancy Pelosi will be going first. She's walking over to the lectern right now.
So, let's get ready to listen in. I guess she's going to begin momentarily. Let's just wait for a moment.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Good evening, everyone.
It is my honor to be here with members of the House leadership, Leader Hoyer, Whip Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, also with our managers for the impeachment, our lead manager, Jamie Raskin, Diana DeGette, David Cicilline, Joaquin Castro, Eric Swalwell, Madeleine Dean, and Joe Neguse. I think Ted Lieu and Stacey Plaskett are in here telec -- electronically, one way or another.
But we're very proud that they have accepted the responsibility, a responsibility we did not think one week ago we would have.
Today, in a bipartisan way, the House demonstrated that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States, that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to our country, and that, once again, we honor that oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help us God.
And now I, sadly, and with a heart broken over what this means to our country, of a president who would incite insurrection, will sign the engrossment of the article of impeachment.
BLITZER: So, signing and certifying the bill to make it official, the article of impeachment entitled "Incitement of Insurrection." There you see it right there. So, it's a done deal as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. That document now will be formally submitted to the U.S. Senate, where there will be a trial. It's unclear when the document will be sent to the House, and it's unclear when the Senate will then begin a trial.
QUESTION: Speaker Pelosi, are you disappointed that Leader McConnell said that he will not a trial until the 19th?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Speaker Pelosi, how long do you think this trial will last?
QUESTION: When do you plan to send the paperwork to the Senate?
RAJU: Response for McConnell tonight, Speaker Pelosi?
BLITZER: All right, so you heard our Manu Raju try to get a question, how long this trial might last. Couldn't hear her answer.
But, Dana, you covered Capitol Hill for a long time. It's a pretty dramatic moment, a signing ceremony like that, especially when it involves something that has never happened in American history before, a president impeached for the second time.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is, and the speed with which the House did this. I mean, obviously the clock was working against them. The calendar was working against them when it comes to President Trump actually being current president.
He's only one week away from being replaced by the man who defeated him. But, absolutely, as you said, this is history. This is a sad stain on the history of this country, that a U.S. president is impeached not once, but twice.
And the fact that the vote that took place today had 10 people in the president's own party voting to impeach him, our Adam Levy, who was doing some research, confirmed that this is the most members of the president's own party who have done that.
So, the president made history in that way too. He's certainly busting norms in many, many ways. Most of the things that we have been talking about over the past few months, at least, even more, are norm-busting that he will be remembered for in very, very negative ways.
And he will be infamous in many ways in the history books. And, you know, that's not what Donald Trump wanted, but that's what he made for himself, Wolf.
BLITZER: Abby, I want to get your thoughts as well as we watch what's going on.
It's, as we all have been saying, one of those moments that we will always remember. And it happens exactly one week -- as John King pointed out, one week ago Wednesday, there was this insurrection led by this pro-Trump mob that stormed Capitol Hill.
And one week from today, next Wednesday, the next president, the next vice president of the United States will be sworn in, and there will be a new administration.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Two weeks in American history that I think will live on forever.
And, in so many ways, just watching Nancy Pelosi sign that document today, you're reminded that this is happening because one branch of government, the executive branch, incited a mob of people to attack another branch of government.
That's a really extraordinary thing, and one that really doesn't have a precedent. And I think it's sobering in so many ways to see members of Congress. This is not just about ethical conduct or political conduct that they find inappropriate.
These were people who lived through an attack on their lives, who were running for their lives and fleeing people who were chanting "Hang Mike Pence" and seeking to kill Nancy Pelosi in the congressional chambers.
It cannot be forgotten that that is just a shocking -- that was a shocking act that we all witnessed here a week ago, and it's resulted, in record time, in the impeachment of a president for a second time.
And by this time next week, after Joe Biden is inaugurated, we will be talking about what happens in the Senate and what this means for President Trump.
I mean, in addition to the president being impeached a second time, the Senate has already said they're going to be deliberating whether to bar him from ever holding federal office again. So, we're not done with the history here, Wolf.
I think there's so much more to come in terms of the ways in which President Trump has forged a really unprecedented path and cemented his place in American history, but not in a good way.
BLITZER: You know, and, Dana, what's pretty amazing and very sad is that, yes, there were 10 Republican House members who voted in favor of impeaching the president.
But there were others who really wanted to do so, but they were scared. They were scared of threats that they were receiving to themselves and to their family. They worried about that. And, as a result, they decided not to vote in favor of impeachment. That's a pretty frightening thing to think about.
BASH: There were some. There were some who voted that way, at least they're saying so, because of threats to their security.
But let's be clear, Wolf. Most people who voted against impeachment did so because their fear was of losing their power. Their fear was of the people who are in their base, in their communities, in their constituencies who are absolute supporters of President Trump and believe all of the things that he has been telling them for the past two months that are lies about this election, and the conservative media that has bolstered all of those lies.
And they were scared of voting in the way that would elicit a primary from the right and then losing their seat. And that's why we saw in the speeches that were made, in some of them, quite courageously, saying that they understand the politics I just described, and they voted yes because they felt it was the right thing to do.
BLITZER: And they believe, John, that Trump is still going to have a lot of influence within the Republican Party after he leaves the White House.
KING: And I think that is one of the big debates still to come.
How will the Biden presidency get out of the gates in this polarized, partisan climate, where the new president will be asking for the Senate to confirm his Cabinet at the very moment they will be starting to organize an impeachment trial for Donald Trump, who will have left town?
What will the Republican Party do? You can be certain, you can be certain -- we have watched it play out for four years, so don't doubt it for a second -- that the former -- soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump will try to exact revenge on those 10 who voted against him today and on any who vote against him in the Senate.
That is what he has done for four years. There is every reason to expect -- his son said it. His son said it at that rally -- or around -- right around that rally a week ago -- that we will come for you. We will come for you if you defy us. So, we're going to watch this play out.
There's another question, too. Will those, like Liz Cheney, her father the former vice president, the more establishment, traditional conservative Republicans who have decided to plant the flag here, will they try to raise money to mount an effort to have primary challenges against some of those who stood with the president, not just today, but for the last two months?
I know there are a lot of Democrats who will say for the last four years. I like to focus on the last two months, when the president lost an election, the will of the people, the most cherished thing the United States does.
And they supported his lies, including in the hours after those riots one week ago. So, the Republican Party is just beginning a new chapter, even as we are getting to the final pages of the Trump first term, with the biggest question in that chapter is, does the Senate convict?
But Donald Trump is not going to go quietly into the night, and his party has a -- it's a boiling cauldron right now. And we don't know how it is going to turn out. A big piece of that is trying to find out, how big is the -- and 10 Republicans stood up to the president today. How much support do they get when it gets to the Senate?
I think that is a defining moment for the Republican Party and its future. The names will be recorded in history. And I do think what the president says and does between now and then will go a long way in determining, what does Mitch McConnell do, what does he say publicly, how many people come over to that side?
We know there will be at least a few. Will there be more? We don't know that.
BLITZER: And let's not forget, since November 3, the day he lost the election, since then, he's been lying that it was rigged, there was widespread fraud, he won, he had a majority, and all of that kind of stuff.
He's raised, as a result of that, $200 million, maybe $300 million dollars in various campaign funds, political contributions, which he can use in the immediate and the years to come.
KING: And even that money, Wolf, was raised in a lie to his supporters. The president lied to his supporters about the election repeatedly, saying he won in a landslide, saying it was being stolen.
It was not stolen. He had every opportunity and exercised every opportunity in the forum in which we do these things. You ask for recounts. You go to court. You bring forward evidence. He failed, because it didn't happen. Was there some fraud across the United States of America? Of course there is. There's always some fraud, small fraud, small fraud.
And those people will be held accountable. Was there widespread, massive fraud on a scale that would, if they went back and found it all, would flip Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona? That's ludicrous. And it was ludicrous from day one.
The president lied to his supporters about that, and he lied to him -- in all those e-mails saying the money would be used to fight to overturn the election, to fight to uncover the fraud. He put most of it in a pot that he can take with him when he leaves office. And now, yes, that's a big test. What will he do with that money?
BLITZER: And even his former Attorney General Bill Barr said there was no evidence of widespread fraud that could have overturned the results of the election.
BLITZER: I want to bring in Congressman Peter Meijer, one of the Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump.
Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
You were, what, one of these 10 Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment. Tell us why you felt it was so important to do so. REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): Thank you for having me on, Wolf.
I was in the House chamber when it was being attacked a week ago today. That was a moment that called for leadership. I was hoping to see the president rapidly try to de-escalate, try to denounce, try to stop the violence from occurring, and then he abandoned his post.
To me, that was disqualifying. My heart broke in that time, seeing folks ransacking the Capitol. And since then, the president has not accepted responsibility.
I hold the seat that was held by Gerald Ford for 25 years before he was elevated to the White House. He pardoned Richard Nixon, but that was after Richard Nixon resigned and was held accountable for his actions. And, here, there must be accountability.
BLITZER: Are you disappointed, Congressman, that more of your fellow Republicans in the House didn't vote yes in favor of impeachment?
MEIJER: You know, I respect the way that a lot of my colleagues came to their decision.
I think many of them thought that there was impeachable conduct, but shared concerns that I have about the process, about the timeline that's been offered, about whether or not this would stoke further division.
At the end of the day, this was a vote of conscience, and this is where my conscience led me.
BLITZER: I know some of your Republican colleagues agreed with you, but they thought that impeaching the president would only create yet more divisions in our country. It's already so divided, as we know.
What did you make of that argument?
MEIJER: I respect that argument, but that's not where I come down.
I think, unless we address this and tackle it head on, unless we make sure to send a resounding message that this is not acceptable, then we risk just papering over some of these divisions. And the wounds will never truly heal unless we air them out, unless we fully understand what happened, and unless we send that signal that this is not something that can ever be acceptable from an American leader.
BLITZER: The number three Republican in the House, Liz Cheney, she agreed with you. She voted in favor of impeachment.
And now there are some calls from some Republicans out there for her to step down from her leadership position. Do you worry about what this impeachment vote is going to do for the future of the Republican Party?
MEIJER: I think it will be clarifying.
I support Liz Cheney's decision. She has exhibited tremendous leadership in this moment. I'm proud to have her in the caucus. I have her back on some of those tough calls. We may disagree on policy, but, again, she stood up for what she believes in. And you can't help but respect that.
I'm worried about the recriminations. I think it's important that we, as a party, again, have accountability, but realize that there's more that unites us than divides us.
But we have to make sure that those who played a role in this are held responsible.
BLITZER: We heard from the Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, on the floor today, finally saying something others in your party are clearly unwilling to say, that Joe Biden won the election.
Is it too late for that, though?
MEIJER: I think it's never too late to have folks tell their supporters, people who trusted them, tell them the truth.
You know, we need to get past this big lie that this was a stolen election. I have sincere concerns about voter integrity, about election integrity. Those are issues. But this wasn't a landslide reelection for Donald Trump. This wasn't a stolen election. None of those claims played out in court.
And it's time we settle that once and for all, because, unless we come to that shared reality, then we're not going to be able to fully heal from this moment.
BLITZER: The Republican leader in the Senate, the majority leader right now, soon to be minority leader, Mitch McConnell, is making it clear there will be no impeachment trial before Joe Biden is sworn in as president next Wednesday.
Do you think that's the right decision?
MEIJER: I trust that Senator McConnell will do what he thinks is best for the country. He's shown that he cares about the institution, that he cares about the nation.
And I'm sure whatever timeline he proposes will be appropriate.
BLITZER: Have you spoken, Congressman, to any of your Senate colleagues, Republican Senate colleagues, about whether they would vote yes in favor of convicting the president?
You guys have impeached him, but now it's up to the Senate to decide. You need a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict.
MEIJER: I have not yet. But, again, that's where the trial comes into play. That's where we will have an opportunity to see what evidence is presented. Now, remember, it's been a week, and this has been an unprecedented,
fast impeachment. At the same time, the assault on our Capitol was likewise unprecedented.
What we know now is damning and disqualifying. And I'm sure there is more information that will come out, and it will not be exculpatory.
BLITZER: One final question, Congressman, before I let you go.
Are you worried about any threats that might be coming toward your way because you voted in favor of impeaching the president?
MEIJER: I am.
But I'm not going to let that sway my decision. I think, if we give the assassins veto, if we give the insurrectionists veto, we lose something in this country. And I won't let that happen.
BLITZER: Well, you're a courageous man. And we're grateful to you for joining us.
Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan, thanks so much for joining us. We will continue this conversation, for sure, down the road.
MEIJER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Stay safe out there.
On this historic day, when President Trump was impeached for a second time, he remains holed up over at the White House, unable to vent his reaction on Twitter or so many of the other social media outposts.
But he has released a video, in which he calls for calm, but does not mention his impeachment. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, I want to speak to you tonight about the troubling events of the past week.
As I have said, the incursion of the U.S. Capitol struck at the very heart of our Republic. It angered and appalled millions of Americans across the political spectrum.
I want to be very clear, I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week. Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement.
Making America great again has always been about, defending the rule of law, supporting the men and women of law enforcement and upholding our nation's most sacred traditions and values. Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for.
No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag. No true supporter of mine could ever threaten or harass their fellow Americans.
If you do any of these things, you are not supporting our movement. You are attacking it, and you are attacking our country. We can not tolerate it.
Tragically, over the course of the past year made so difficult because of COVID-19, we have seen political violence spiral out of control. We have seen too many riots, too many mobs, too many acts of intimidation and destruction. It must stop.
Whether you are on the right or on the left, a Democrat or a Republican, there is never a justification for violence, no excuses, no exceptions. America is a nation of laws. Those who engaged in the attacks last week will be brought to justice.
Now I am asking everyone who has ever believed in our agenda to be thinking of ways to ease tensions, calm tempers, and help to promote peace in our country.
There has been reporting that additional demonstrations are being planned in the coming days, both here in Washington and across the country.
I have been briefed by the U.S. Secret Service on the potential threats. Every American deserves to have their voice heard in a respectful and peaceful way. That is your First Amendment right. But I cannot emphasize that there must be no violence, no lawbreaking and no vandalism of any kind.
Everyone must follow our laws and obey the instructions of law enforcement. I have directed federal agencies to use all necessary resources to maintain order. In Washington, D.C., we are bringing in thousands of National Guard members to secure the city and ensure that a transition can occur safely and without incident.
Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week. I want to thank the hundreds of millions of incredible American citizens who have responded to this moment with calm, moderation and grace.
We will get through this challenge, just like we always do.
I also want to say a few words about the unprecedented assault on free speech we have seen in recent days. These are tense and difficult times. The efforts to censor, cancel and blacklist our fellow citizens are wrong and they are dangerous.
What is needed now is for us to listen to one another, not to silence one another. All of us can choose by our actions to rise above the rancor and find common ground and shared purpose.
We must focus on advancing the interests of the whole nation, delivering the miracle vaccines, defeating the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, protecting our national security, and upholding the rule of law.
Today, I am calling on all Americans to overcome the passions of the moment and join together as one American people. Let us choose to move forward united, for the good of our families, our communities, and our country.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Very carefully scripted statement that the president read there from a teleprompter.
John King, this is the kind of words he should have been saying weeks ago, after he lost the election. I still didn't hear him congratulate the president-elect of the United States.
I still didn't hear him say anything about the fact that he becomes the first president in American history to be impeached twice.
Amen and thank you, Mr. President, strong words, saying: Violence has no place. Stand down. If you support me, you are not representing me. You're attacking me. Stop it. Don't do it. Stand down.
Where was that one week ago today? Where was that one week ago today, when thousands of his supporters, acting on his words, went to the United States Capitol, and the leader of the House Republicans, Kevin McCarthy, others were calling him, saying, Mr. President, deliver a statement, go public, go on camera, tell your people to back down, tell your people to stand down, tell your people to go home?
So, this is a fabulous statement from the president of the United States. There are things in here some may quibble with. But where was this one week ago? Where was this after Charlottesville, when he said that there were good people on both sides? Where was a strongly worded statement like this, leaving no ambiguity?
He says in this statement: "Like all of you I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week."
No, he said nothing about it at the moment, when people were begging him to stand down. Then, he called them patriots, and he said he loved them. That's -- he's on the record. That's on camera in his statements. Those are his own words.
So, this is a very responsible statement by the president of the United States. It would have been nice to get it a week ago. It would have been nice to get it after Charlottesville. It would have been nice to get it at other moments where the president has encouraged his supporters. For this president to say it's time to rise above the rancor and find
common ground, he has often caused the rancor and -- and disrupted any efforts at common ground.
KING: Again, it is a very welcome statement in a vacuum. At this moment, we need everybody, everybody, to say, please, no more violence. Please air your grievances peacefully.
But this is, again, a welcome statement, as I said earlier. Everything the president says now will impact the votes in the Senate. He did not mention impeachment but he's well aware of what happened today, obviously. And this will help him. This will help him in the moment with Senate Republicans that he did something responsible. I think if you look at the context of the Trump presidency, a lot of people who watch that video will say, where was that man? Who was that man?
BLITZER: Yes. Because when we saw that video, you know, we saw all the pictures of the storming of the U.S. Capitol, the insurrection that he inspired take place, they were waiting to hear from him. They didn't hear this last week. They heard the opposite, I love you, you're patriots, and you know what, you've got to do what you've got to do.
KING: And we do know from our great White House team that after the one video he did record where he did criticize violence, not as strongly as this, where he did acknowledge Joe Biden won the election and there would be a transfer of power, that he then, within hours, was telling people he regretted making it.
And so this is a dramatic shift from the president. So people will question, especially his critics, he was just impeached again. So the country is in its corners. People will question whether he means it and the credibility of it.
Again, for the president of the United States at this moment to deliver a statement that if you read it, it's incredibly strong, If you listen to it, his words were strong and the good part about it, Wolf, is they were directed directly at his supporters. But this was missing a week ago when the country needed it most.
BLITZER: This is what it looked like exactly one week ago at the U.S. Capitol and the president did not say anything even close to what he just said.
Dana, you know, it's really sad when you think about what happened and potentially what might not have happened if he had spoken out on that one day and said everybody, please, no violence, you've got to leave, don't break the law. Do you believe, Dana, that the president actually believes what he just said?
BASH: No. I listened to him and I'm looking at it because we have the text of it here. I mean, give me a break. Give me a large break here. He did this under duress. And, yes, he's talking about violence in the future because we're not out of the woods yet. We know that the FBI has sent a bulletin about potential riots in all 50 capitols, never mind what we're going to see here in Washington potentially one week from today with the inauguration.
But there is something very glaringly missing from what we just heard from the president, and that's any contrition. Any I'm sorry about any role that I had in what we're seeing right now on the screen. Or, I don't know, how about, you know, the election was free and fair, I was lying to you, America, I was trying to bully the secretary of state in Georgia into breaking the law, likely to try to find votes that didn't exist. And I could just go on and on and on about the way that he was at the core of the anger that erupted here in Washington and at the Capitol last week.
And so what we just saw was a presidential attempt at damage control because, yes, he was impeached for the second time, but it's not over and he is trying to keep Republicans in the United States Senate, enough of them, 17 of them, from voting yes so that he will actually be convicted. That's what that's about. Because my understanding is that, from Mitch McConnell on down, when they heard the president speak yesterday and said, oh, what I said at that rally was fine, it was the lack of contrition there that got them angry. It still wasn't in this speech.
BLITZER: Yes. And, Abby, what really jumped out at me also, he said all the right things but he couldn't resist condemning the social media posts that have blacklisted him right now, Twitter permanently suspending him. At one point, he said these are tense and difficult times, the efforts to censor, cancel and blacklist our fellow citizens are wrong. And they are the -- he couldn't resist. You know how angry he is that he can no longer tweet to his followers, his millions of followers on Twitter.
PHILLIP: No question about it. And I wouldn't be surprised if that part of the statement was a condition for him to even deliver this message in the first place. But it's such a good point, Wolf, because you have to remember why the president was blacklisted from these social media companies and it's because he was inciting violence on his platform.
Last week, a week ago today, in fact, almost to the minute, tweeting to his supporters this is what happens when you steal an election. I mean, this is what President Trump was doing a week ago now.
And so for this statement to come out and try to whitewash that whole experience that we all had as a country, to try to wipe it away and have a do-over is really incredible, if Republicans in the Senate take this as what they need to absolve President Trump, that would be truly amazing because it is not appropriate for a president to just simply say, oh, well, what I did last week doesn't count.
You know, when Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency, he did so because people in his party came to him and said you must step down, we will no longer support you. Now, it seems like many Republicans want to give President Trump an out.
You know, in another world, that statement from the Oval Office would have been a resignation video, Wolf. It would have been the president saying I take responsibility for what happened, it can never happen again, I am stepping down. He didn't do that. There was no contrition. And, in fact, there was no even acknowledgment of the incoming president, the transition of power, the fact that he lost this election fair and square. It's just simply too little too late.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. You know, and, Gloria, it's important how fast things are changing right now. The president was just impeached by the House of Representatives. And in the language they say, he betrayed his trust as president to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. It almost sounds like treason.
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It does. When you listen to Donald Trump now, I mean, what's so stunning about this ridiculous statement is that he said he was shocked by the calamity at the Capitol. How can he be shocked by it? He instigated it. And the arsonist does not get to be the firefighter here. He was the one who spoke to that crowd and said go do what you have to do, you've got to be strong, you've got to be tough.
And also, in this statement he did not come out and say that Joe Biden is the duly elected next president of the United States and we should try and unite behind this new president and help him get off to a good start. I mean, maybe that's too much for Donald Trump but at least he can recognize the fact that Joe Biden was elected freely and fairly because that is the big lie that he has been talking about since before the election when he told us that if he lost, it was going to be rigged.
So all he could do then -- when he made his turn to talk about himself, which, of course, all Trump's statements end up talking about Donald Trump, when he ended up talking about himself, it was very clear that he misses his Twitter platform and he wants to change the subject. He's going to now talk about how he has been muzzled by big media. Well, honestly, that's not the point now.
The point now is that this country is on edge. We're listening to what the FBI is telling us. People in Congress could have been massacred. The United States Capitol was attacked by domestic terrorists, and the president comes out saying, I'm shocked by this. How can he be shocked? He is the one who told the lie and then his followers believed him and they believed this election was stolen from them and he needed to come out there and say this election was not stolen.
BLITZER: And for months, even before the election, even before we had any results from any state, he was saying there's no way I could lose.
BLITZER: If I lose, it was fraud, it was stolen and you will know it because --
BORGER: And now he feels badly about it. Now he feels badly about it. Having been impeached by the House and looking at the Senate, talking to Mitch McConnell probably now, you know, trying to show that he can be some kind of a leader at this point, you know, his words, some of the words are great. Sure, as John was saying. But you have to take a look at everything in context. And what he needed to say, he did not say.
KING: It is important for the president to speak to his supporters because they won't listen to anyone else.
KING: So that part is important. But Gloria is right. And, again, as I said earlier, where was this president a week ago? Where was he after Charlottesville and on so many other occasions he could mention?
There's another calculation here though. Prosecutors are looking at what happened last week. People are likely to file civil litigation against the president of the United States, saying he instigated that. So this is also lawyered up.
BLITZER: Yes, the District of Columbia attorney general yesterday said they're looking at the president, they're looking at his son, Donald Trump Jr., they're looking at Rudy Giuliani, they're looking at Congressman Mo Brooks for what the words they uttered leading these individuals to storm Capitol Hill.
Jim Acosta, who convinced the president, who told the president at the White House -- clearly, he didn't want to have to read this statement.
But there were folks, I'm sure, who said to him, Mr. President, you've got to do this for your own protection, legal protection down the road.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, I mean, these are more lies from the lord of the lies, the liar in chief. And, you know, when the president says in this video at one point, no true supporters of mine could ever endorse political violence, those were his supporters down at the Capitol. They were at his rally, on the National Mall. He told them to march to the Capitol. He said he was marching with them to the Capitol. They flew his flag all over the Capitol in addition to carrying the confederate flag and so on through the halls of the Capitol. These were his supporters.
And so the president is trying to gaslight the country again. He is lying to the country again, trying to rewrite history, trying to re- imagine reality so his base and, I supposed, some Senate Republicans like Mitch McConnell might give him a pass during this impeachment trial.
But no question about it, Wolf, his advisers and his lawyers have been pleading with him, have been begging him to turn down the rhetoric, to tone down his language and to come out and condemn violence. He does that in this video but, of course, this is like the arsonist in chief saying only you can prevent forest fires. This is a president who will light the match whenever he gets the chance.
And I think, you know, the other thing, and you just put your finger on this, Wolf, towards the end of this video, he is throwing out red meat to his base, talking about being canceled on social media and so on. So even when he's given the opportunity to temp things down, to say the right things, as John King was just mentioning, he still can't resist the opportunity to throw out the red meat to the base.
And he doesn't really say in this video that his supporters should not come to Washington for the inauguration of Joe Biden. He does not take responsibility for the violence that occurred on January 6th. This is once again the president, like a rat trapped in a cage, desperately trying to do anything to bang his way out of the mess that he's gotten himself into and he can't do it this time. It's over. He has betrayed this country and he's being held responsible for it, Wolf.
BLITZER: He certainly is. I want to bring in Pamela Brown and Jamie Gangel. They both have been doing a lot of reporting behind the scenes on what's going on.
Pamela, let me start with you. What are you learning right now about these dramatic developments that we're witnessing, eye-witnessing that they're exploding right now?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Today, the president became the only president in United States history to be impeached twice. And I'm told from sources close to the White House that the president is in self-pity mode, that he is increasingly isolated inside the White House, that if everybody is angry at everybody inside, for those that are remaining there, because there is a feeling that there is lasting damage.
And the president, for his part, believes -- is upset that no one is defending him. But here is the thing, Wolf. Even those who have defended the president fiercely all these years are saying privately that no one else got him here but himself. The reason why he was impeached twice was his fault and no one else's.
Now, there's a whole debate about whether these people also enabled the president but the bottom line is he has few remaining that are in his circle that he is able to talk to. He has been alone in the residence. As one source put it, that is never a good thing.
And just to kind of put a button on just how alone he is in this fight, Wolf, the last impeachment fight, I remember I was at the White House, I was getting talking point after talk point from White House officials defending the president, defending the phone call with the Ukrainian president. Today, they have been mum. We have not been hearing from White House officials except for the president himself left to fend for himself, releasing that statement initially and then that video condemning the violence you were just talking about, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, a year later, what a difference indeed.
You know, Jamie, I know you're working your sources as well. What are you hearing specifically about the president's state of mind right now?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, one of the things we've been told is we've been hearing a lot about pardons, Wolf. They may be coming very shortly. One source said to me he's going to want to change the subject and he loves the pardons because that is something he feels gives him power.
So I think we could see the pardons are supposed to come in batches. I think we could see those very shortly. And remember, Wolf, tomorrow was the day he was going to give the Medal of Freedom, is it, to Bill Belichick, who said no, he didn't want it. So I think tomorrow, we could see, maybe sooner, some pardons coming.
I just want to say one thing about that video.
As Abby said, it was too little way too late. Not just for what he did a week ago, inciting people to storm the Capitol, but from the last two months denying the election to storm the Capitol, but from the last two months denying the election and frankly for four years of lying I have to wonder, we have seen statements like this before where someone wrote it and he read it off a prompter. I just have to wonder if 24 hours from now, we're going to be hearing that he regretted saying it.
BLITZER: I suspect we will.
Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more unfolding on this truly historic day here in Washington, D.C. Much more of our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, coming up.
BLITZER: Just to recap, today, President Trump becomes the first president in American history to be impeached for the second time. The vote in the House of Representatives 232 in favor, 197 opposed. Ten, 10 Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach the president.
The presidential historian Douglas Brinkley is still with us.
We watched this president in action in the aftermath of this impeachment vote. What did you think from a historic perspective of the statement that he just read from a teleprompter?
BRINKLEY: Well, it was a weak tea statement by President Trump and it was a week late. You know, the fact that he couldn't address the nation in primetime when the U.S. Capitol was under siege.
Mike Pence still hasn't really surfaced to talk to the American public.
Donald Trump has been worrying about himself and the truth of the matter is, on January 6, 2021, is going to be one of these days that does lives in infamy, but so will today, January 13th, 2021, when a president of the United States gets impeached for a second time, the National Guard having to be called in.
He's been jerking the American public around calling this a fraudulent election when the truth in the matter of the history will show 2020 was a nearly flawless election, something we should be proud of, a free and fair election, Wolf, and said, Donald Trump is diminished. He is shrinking and, in fact, nobody wants to be in the White House near him. He's become a little man, not a big leader.
BLITZER: The Senate majority leader, soon to be minority leader, Mitch McConnell, he may be livid at President Trump, may hate him and may never want to speak to him again, as we've been hearing. But it looks increasingly unlikely that he'll begin a Senate trial before President-elect Biden's inauguration next Wednesday. What does that say to you?
BRINKLEY: That Mitch McConnell is trying to read the tea leaves, himself. I mean, he's not sure what his next move is going to be. But what may have been under played today is that the 80 million people have voted for Joe Biden, that we have a new president that people are very excited about it. That we have Kamala Harris coming in, the first woman ever to be vice president of the United States.
And instead, it's a lot of Trump, Trump, Trump, because we're all frightened over what could happen this week. But Mitch McConnell probably will work with Joe Biden and try to get a covid-19 vaccine distribution like a Marshall Plan to try to get the vaccines distributed and probably a big stimulus package to help us.
But the trial will probably come while we just don't know when it will be. And with Democrats in control of the Senate, because of the Georgia election on January, you know, 6th, they now control the Senate and that means the Democrats can kind of decide how they want to play this coming up, Wolf.
BLITZER: I studied American history, majored in American history, in college. I know every American president gives a farewell address. Was this, do you believe President Trump's farewell address?
BRINKLEY: Boy, that was a farewell address, it was the worst statement in U.S. history by an outgoing president. That was very tepid. It was sad that at the end of it, he talked about his being banned from Twitter and you know not be having a platform and he's trying to make that the new right-wing talking issue.
He should have showed us the heart of the and a mourner in chief. He still yet to properly talk about the five killed at the Capitol and only the press goading him to put the flag at half-mast at the White House occurred on you know days after, only because people are bugging him. So I'm afraid, Wolf, we have a president here with blood on his hands who will now be seen that perhaps as somebody who did more damage to the United States than any other major political figure in our history.
BLITZER: Not a single house Republican voted to impeach him. A year ago, when he was impeached the first time, how significant is it that ten Republicans, you can see them, right there on the screen, the ten Republicans voted to impeach this time?
BRINKLEY: It's really important that this was bipartisan and I think if it was done in private, that ten would have been 20 or 30. That's a good sign. There is no doubt that Liz Cheney has become the sort of courageous figure like Margaret Chase Smith, the former senator of Maine was during the McCarthy era. She really did speak truth to power. She put the country ahead of party.
And so, Liz Cheney really gets a gold star for reminding us what real patriotism is about along with those other nine Republicans.
BLITZER: We're about to see an inauguration a week from today. Next Wednesday, like no other with the nation's Capitol, it's built up with, what, already 20,000 National Guard troops have been deployed right here in Washington, D.C. probably more are on the way. A lot more than currently are deployed to U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, combined maybe three times as many troops have been activated and deployed in Washington as opposed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
What does that say about our country right now?
BRINKLEY: It's sad, Wolf. But Washington, D.C. is sort of a Washington state. It's people are afraid perhaps to come to the inaugural. It's got to be, you know, take the risk to come to Washington. That's sad.
You know, during World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt used to go up to Shangri-la, which is now Camp David, to avoid an attack from a Nazi saboteur. Here we are, Joe Biden having to be careful about a Trumpian or a Proud Boy aiming to do harm to him or at least to disrupt his inaugural ceremony.
But I think President-elect Biden is doing the right thing by saying the show will go on. I will be on the Capitol steps. And the security is just going to be off the charts. The Secret Service now will be largely in charge. But the National Guard is going to make sure that not too many people get near the platform when Biden and Harris get sworn in.
BLITZER: Yeah, if you walk around Washington, D.C. and drive around as I did earlier today. You see armed National Guard troops on regular street corners, which is highly, highly unusual.
All right, Douglas Brinkley, as usual, thank you very much.
I want to bring in our legal analysts, Laura Coates and Elie Honig.
First, Laura, first to you. Walk us through what we are about to see in the Senate.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We are about to see once it's actually convened an actual trial again. This time without having to go through the rigmarole of whether to call witnesses, what were the first hand observations cold be entered. We know that the people who are the decision makers are the ones who actually are those first-hand eyewitnesses here. But, of course, it's questionable whether or not Mitch McConnell will
try to delay that trial until after the inauguration or do what Chuck Schumer is asking them to do, which is to convene ahead of the inauguration. Of course, if he delays past the inauguration, they're going to have the benefit, the Democratic side, with two new members of the Senate join in as Democrats.
But, also, we're going to have that information that we have today, which is after the president spoke, as a prosecutor, and I love to hear Elie, as well, I love what role at looking at what potential witnesses would want to say, because the second the person who was the ring leader denies even knowing or having any hand in those who followed his directive, you start to have a lot of people willing to cooperate and volunteer with information. And I bet it will become a part of the trial as well.
BLITZER: Yeah, certainly, I think you're right. You know, Elie, what -- a week from today, the president is going to be a private citizen again. What kind of legal liabilities, potentially legal dangers could he be facing?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, the president right now is looking at the triple crown of liability. He could be impeached and convicted. He's been impeached. He could be convicted.
He could be looking at civil liability. Meaning he could be sued for property damage or bodily damage done as a result of the riot, if it can be proved that he, in fact, incited it and he could be looking at criminal liability as well if it is determined that he incited those rioters, that he sort of inspired them to go down to the Capitol and do what they did.
And to me, the most important piece of evidence -- and this is exactly what Laura was talking about -- is the tweet that Donald Trump says at about 6:00 p.m. on January 6th, after those people had gone into the Capitol and ransacked it. What did the president say? He said, remember this day, and he called them great patriots.
That is so incriminating. I don't know how you respond to that -- and by the way, completely contradicted by the teleprompter statement that he just gave us.
BLITZER: We are hearing, Laura, the president is considering pardoning his family, some of his friend, who a whole bunch of others, and maybe even including themselves. What do you think?
COATES: Well, as far as the self-pardon, it's been untested. But it certainly runs counter to what the Department of Justice directive is, it says you should not stand in judgment against yourself. And, of course, the people that he has appointed and nominated at the Supreme Court are originalists who I think would take issue with the notion of a president of the United States being able to self-pardon. But it still hasn't been tested.
As far as his family members, he certainly could in terms of federal pardon. But it would extend to state court violations, state criminal charges or civil liability. But we are looking right now based on the president's statements about what true supporters of his would or would not do, he plans to issue a pardon about all the people who were insurrectionists, who were involved in any way in that rally. That would be the most telling of how the president truly feels about those people who acted as insurrectionists.
BLITZER: You know what, John King, I want you to button this up for us. We don't have a lot of time. Give us your final thoughts.
KING: The president of the United States is in deep trouble. The United States House, ten Republicans sided with the Democrats to impeach him for a second time, a permanent stain. Now, it goes to the Senate. He was trying here to clean it up some, trying to protect himself.
Again at a time when the FBI has put every state capitol on alert, it is good that the president of the United States condemned violence and has no part in it. That is welcome.
Where was this president last week? Where was this president for four years? And again, some of the things he said, we need them right now. Even for his critics, we need to tell his supporters, no more violence.
However, all the things he didn't say, including that Joe Biden will raise his hand and take the oath as president a week from now and that it is a legitimate fair, free and good. That's how we do things in America. That was missing.
BLITZER: It's an important historic day here in Washington. You and I, and I think a lot of our viewers will never forget what we saw on this day.
There is much, much more ahead on the second impeachment of the president of the United States.
Erin Burnett picks up our special coverage right now.