rep. jeffries
Rep. Jeffries: Trump perceives acquittal as vindication
02:15 - Source: CNN

Watch Anderson Cooper’s exclusive interview with the House impeachment managers Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Washington CNN  — 

Democratic House impeachment managers believe President Donald Trump has not learned anything from his recently concluded impeachment trial and will likely continue the same behavior while in office, they told CNN in an exclusive interview.

“Of course he hasn’t learned a lesson,” Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Cooper sat down with all seven Democratic lawmakers who argued the case against Trump, in the managers’ first joint interview since the conclusion of the trial.

Trump’s impeachment trial ended Wednesday with the Republican-led Senate finding him not guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The President’s pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals while withholding nearly $400 million in US security aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting were at the center of the inquiry.

The next day, Trump took a victory lap in a vindictive White House speech in which he gave no indication that he considered his actions wrong or regrettable.

“And absent any consequences to the extent that he perceives the acquittal as an exoneration, it’s a fake exoneration,” Jeffries argued. “But to the extent that the President perceives it as vindication of his bad behavior, his constitutional crime, his wrongdoing, then there is reason to believe that he will endeavor to do it again.”

Rep. Val Demings of Florida called Trump a “habitual offender” and pointed to his behavior after the special counsel investigation.

“We have no reason to believe that this President has learned anything,” Demings said. “If he had, perhaps he would have began the State of the Union address the other night by apologizing to the American people. That what he did was wrong and he’s regretful for it. We haven’t heard that.”

Demings, who was previously chief of police in Orlando, cited her experience with law enforcement to measure Trump’s behavior.

“If a police recruit, a young police officer, new on the department, had done what the President did, he or she would have been fired,” she said.

The Republican-led Senate concluded its trial without allowing subpoenas for additional witnesses or documents. Democrats pushed to hear from Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, who alleges in a draft manuscript of his yet-to-be-published book that the President told him he wanted to continue holding military aid to Ukraine until the country helped with investigations into Democrats, according to The New York Times.

Lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff told CNN that Bolton’s counsel had refused to give a sworn affidavit in the Senate trial after senators voted down additional testimony.

“He will have to explain at some point why he is willing to put this in a book but not in an affidavit under oath,” Schiff said, calling it “fairly inexplicable.”

A Bolton aide did not respond to a request for comment when asked about Schiff’s assertion, which he also made earlier in the week.

In the interview, the managers discussed several key decision points they made both during the trial as well as the drafting of the two articles of impeachment, which the House passed in December.

The managers defended the decision not to charge Trump with bribery, which is cited in the Constitution’s impeachment clause, as opposed to abuse of power. Republicans criticized their case for not charging Trump with a statutory crime.

“It would not have made a difference,” Demings said.

“The reason not to cite it is that we’ve always cited abuse of power,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat. “That’s what ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ means, if you read the notes from the constitutional convention. And then you cite the facts. In this case, it was bribery.”

The managers dismissed the claims that the President’s legal team only raised allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and Hunter Biden because they first came up in the House presentation. “That’s ridiculous,” said Lofgren, arguing that the allegations the defense counsel raised were irrelevant to the case.

“We didn’t bring it up. The essence of the factual charge on the Ukraine was that the President tried to use the state power — he withheld military aid that had been voted by Congress to the Ukraine — in order to get the Ukrainian government to announce a bogus investigation of the Bidens because they were his political opponents,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.

“It was just another distraction, it was another distortion,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Texas Democrat. “Hunter Biden was not on trial. The President of the United States was on trial.”

It’s impossible to say whether the talk about the Bidens directly hurt the former vice president’s 2020 campaign in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, where he had a disappointing showing. Schiff said that the managers “never discussed this case in the context of how would affect the 2020 election … except that we wanted to protect the country against foreign interference.”

The managers differed on whether they thought there was ever a chance to win a conviction in the trial, given that Republicans had a 53-47 majority in the Senate and a two-thirds vote was required to remove the President from office.

“Given the nature of the Republican Party, they were never going to convict, no matter what. But we had to do it, because we had to set markers,” Nadler said. “You had to say that you can’t normalize this conduct. This kind of thing this President has done can’t be done by him or by future presidents. You had to vindicate the constitution.”

Lofgren, who has participated in the last three presidential impeachments, said she still held out hope they could change minds.

“I actually thought that it was possible to convict. Because our evidence was so strong and the activity he engaged in was so wrong,” she said. “I think the interesting thing is, so many of the Senators said they believe what he did was wrong. We made our case.”

This story has been updated with additional comments from the impeachment managers’ interview that aired Friday.