Trump defends Ukraine calls as Democrats ramp up impeachment efforts

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 24, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: I've had the Mueller witch hunt, the Russia witch hunt. I have witch hunts every week. I say, what's the witch hunt this week?

REP. DAN KILDEE, D-MICH.: It's the oldest saying in the book in law. If you can't argue the facts, argue the process, pound on the table, and, in this case, storm the room.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-VT: Breaking the House rules by bringing cellphones into a secure room, that is unheard of.

MATT GAETZ, R-FLA.: If we had rules, Nancy Pelosi would have put this issue to a vote and established rules.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: There's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And this is a dangerous way to do it.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: This is all about process as the impeachment inquiry moves forward behind closed doors. Meantime, as you look at the national polls, the Real Clear Politics average of polls on the impeachment question, the inquiry is one question, the impeach and remove from office another. And this is the average of recent polls nationally. As you see here, plus nine on the inquiry, plus 3.4 on the impeach and remove. Our friend Amy Walter says "In this uber polarized era," she tweets, "national polls have less value. National polls show impeachment with net positive, but Nate Cohn/Siena polls show impeachment underwater by 10 points in battleground states. New polls at Marquette has impeachment at minus seven."

And just to show you that, the battleground polls for Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona, and you see those are upside down, different than the national polls or the average of those. And the Marquette poll in Wisconsin, should the president be impeached and removed, yes, 44 percent, no, 51 percent.

We thought we'd give you a roundup of those as we bring in our panel, Charles Hurt, opinion editor for "The Washington Times," A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics, and Lanhee Chen, fellow at the Hoover Institution. All right, Charlie, what do you think as you look at these numbers and you look at what's happening on Capitol Hill?

CHARLES HURT, OPINION EDITOR, "WASHINGTON TIMES": I think that one of the big problems that the Democrats have right now is they have lost an enormous amount of credibility before now in doing what Donald Trump calls all of these witch hunts. It really has seemed like all along it's been an impeachment drive in search of a high crime. Now, they think they found something. They think it's going to be the silver bullet that gets the job done. But doing it the way they are doing it right now, behind closed doors, it seems very, very partisan. And as Newt Gingrich has pointed out, the more partisan these things are, the more damaging it is to the party that is trying to carry them out.

We are talking about doing the most serious thing that federal politicians can do, which is to undo an election and remove a president from office. If that's seen as being done in a partisan, unfair fashion, I don't think it's going to help Democrats in the 2020 election.

BAIER: A.B., Democrats today pointed back to other efforts that Republicans led where there were interviews behind closed doors. They point to the Benghazi hearings, the point to other events. Lindsey Graham saying that this is indifferent different when it's impeachment.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, a lot of legal experts have also weighed in and said the House process is like the indictment and the trial takes place in the Senate, and that's where you get your due process. And the depositions are taken behind closed doors for a reason. The open hearings will come, Democrats say, in a few weeks.

Republicans are buying a good amount of time with the process argument. I think Senator Graham's gives Senate Republicans something to coalesce around and talk about. Process will buy them some more time. But if Bill Taylor's testimony in open session is as damning as his very detailed 15- page statement was, that's going to be a problem for Republicans who behind closed doors and in private conversations continue to express concerns that this has only growing worse. There has been no exculpatory storylines or facts or anything that would immediately have been leaked out clearly by the president's allies from these depositions, and that the story continues to get more complicated and possibly expose and involve more people at high levels of the administration.

So they remain concerned for their own political hides, and they are trying to stay on process. They'd like to stay on it as long as they can. But again, if this substance continues to get worse in open sessions in a few weeks, that will be tougher for Republicans.

BAIER: And Leader Hoyer has said that there will be open hearings, obviously, when they get to that point. I guess the question is, Lanhee, if the Bill Taylor testimony holds up in cross-examination as well as Democrats point to that opening statement being so damning, and clearly he says things in that opening statement, if it is held up in the questioning, why not leak that out to?

LANHEE CHEN, FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Right. No, I think absolutely the challenge with the closed process is precisely this, that you are basically relying on each side to leak information that they see as favorable to their own case, rather than simply allowing for the text of a deposition, for example, to speak for itself.

I think Democrats have harmed themselves in two ways with this entire procedural nightmare. The first way is it shows sort of a lack of focus around needing to have a process that people will say it is fair or at least has granted the kind of process that people believe is due. And the second thing is just this whole argument about the Democrats not focusing on the issues that folks in those battleground polls you cited care about. A lack of attention on the economy, a lack of attention on the issues that at the end of the day I think are going to be more crucial to deciding the election.

So this is a little bit of a Catch 22 for Democrats, because on the one hand they want to build their case. They want to do it without interference. But on the other hand, I do think it's hurting them in the court of public opinion, particularly in some of these swing states.

BAIER: And it is a political process, Charlie. When you get to making that case to try to get the Senate trial to go your way, Democrats do, making that case, if they fall short, which the numbers don't look like they line up, then you are dealing with a political issue of how that plays out in the middle of the country.

HURT: And of course, it's going to play out deeper and deeper into the 2020 election. And Lanhee is exactly right about this. The Democrats in the House have issued more subpoenas than they have successfully passed pieces of legislation this year. That's a devastating indictment of what they are actually interested in. They are interested in pursuing this president. They are not interested in pursuing any sort of policy agenda.

And the other thing that I think is very difficult -- is going to be very difficult for Democrats, if at the end of the day the worst of the worst is proven true about the Ukraine phone call, and basically the worst that you can say is that President Trump colluded with the leader of Ukraine to hurt one of his political opponents, which is exactly what Democrats did to Donald Trump in 2016. And so when you break it down like that, it really becomes bizarre the way Democrats have become so obsessed with this issue in trying to pin it on Donald Trump.

BAIER: A.B., it's a fair point that this other investigation, the I.G. investigation of the FISA probe as well as John Durham's investigation of the early part of the Trump campaign is going to be a force at some point up on Capitol Hill and on the airways.

STODDARD: And I think that the Democrats will just have to deal with the findings of that and address the findings when they come. But I think that they've made the decision that they are going to do this as a separate and coequal branch of government. And under their duties mandated by the Constitution, they are going to be a check on this executive doing things that the founders clearly tried to protect against with foreign influence, whether they lose the election or not over it. They knew going into this there was not going to be 20 Republican senators in a trial to convict the president. I think that --

BAIER: Which means that it's going to be a political issue in the campaign.

STODDARD: That's right. I do agree with that. I don't think they did this because they thought it was going to be a political homerun.

HURT: But there's nothing principled about what they're doing. They're not standing on principle. They're standing on their hatred of Donald Trump.

STODDARD: That's not what they say, Charlie.

BAIER: All right, I'm going to move on. I want to point out next week the witnesses all seem to center around the National Security Council, somehow tied to John Bolton, and we'll see if he gets called up sometime soon.

Next up, the return of Bernie Sanders in Iowa, and the ascension of Elizabeth Warren.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you called President Trump despicable for comparing impeachment to lynching, did you know that there was a tape of you doing the same thing?

JOE BIDEN, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I did. Yes, and I apologized for it. And I wasn't using it as a dog whistle. He's using it as a dog whistle.

When has he ever said a negative thing about a white supremacist? Have you heard him say anything? I haven't it.

I noticed you're all talking about how I'm so far back in the polls. Name me won lately that I'm not winning overwhelmingly nationally. But they don't matter. They can change tomorrow.


BAIER: OK, here's one. Quinnipiac is out with a new poll, Elizabeth Warren is topping that poll, and you take a look at it and then you take a look at the national Iowa, New Hampshire polls. You can see Biden, he's right on the average he's leading. But Warren picking up steam in Iowa and New Hampshire. Buttigieg also in third in those two states, fourth in New Hampshire.

We are back with the panel. Lanhee, what you think as you look at the polls and what's happening on the race on the Democratic side?

CHEN: It's the ascendancy of the progressive left, Bret, and I think you are seeing that particularly with Elizabeth Warren's rise. I think there's always been this case that a progressive, a truly progressive candidate was going to be in the lead eventually. I think Warren is capturing that.

I think, by the way, her ascension in some of these polls is also what is driving Democrats to continue to want someone else. Will someone else please jump in this race? Some of that you get naturally at this stage of a primary, but some of that is real concern that she is not going to be able to beat Donald Trump. So I fully expected this to happen. The question is, what is the next shoe to drop, and who is the next candidate to see their rise?

BAIER: A.B., it is interesting to see that strain, the "New York Times" story, other people, Philippe Reines on our air saying maybe Hillary is going to look at it, not giving up that possibility. And Mike Bloomberg and others. There are 17 still in. Today Tim Ryan, the Ohio Congressman, dropped out, but 17 are still running here.

STODDARD: Right. I think that if you look at Biden's situation, it's much worse than his national polling margins, which continue to look durable would belie. He is in trouble in Iowa. He's like number four. He's run out of money. He's not raising enough. Friends are worried that all these attacks from the president have to be answered by a super PAC. He'll face a lot of criticism for that from the woke progressive left.

And at the same time, people are worried that if Warren takes Iowa and then takes New Hampshire, a very realistic scenario, and becomes the runaway momentum favorite and becomes the nominee, she will absolutely lose to Donald Trump. She wants to impeach Justice Kavanaugh. She wants to ban fracking. She wants to eliminate private insurance. I could go on, but we are running out of time. And this is a real concern across the party, that she is not suitable as a nominee.

BAIER: You are going to see, I think, Charlie, a lot of candidates, like Amy Klobuchar. Take a listen. She is talking about Medicare for all and Elizabeth Warren's plan.

HURT: Yes.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, D-MINN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would like to see how she's going to pay for it. I think it's really important that, given this president has added trillions and trillions of dollars of debt, that we be straightforward with the American people about how things are going to be paid for.


BAIER: On that line, Mayor Pete has been using it on the trail a lot now, too.

HURT: Yes. And I think that, quite frankly, that right there explains why Biden's numbers have been reasonably good despite a disastrous campaign, because I think there are, as A.B. was saying, there are a lot of Democrats out there who just don't think that the Warren brand is going to win the day in a general election.

And that interview, or that meeting with the reporters just there with Joe Biden, it reveals how deeply out of touch he is. When he talks about Donald Trump using a dog whistle for white supremacists, that's not an attack on Donald Trump. That's an attack on Donald Trump's voters. Who are all these white supremacists? But it's that fiercely partisan and out of tough stuff that I think is really hurting Biden.

BAIER: His basket of deplorables, maybe? Who knows? Panel, thank you very much.

When we come back, a big honor for a wheeler dealer.


BAIER: Finally tonight, a motorsports icon receives the Medal of Freedom.


TRUMP: You're a legend in business, and your name is revered everywhere, the checkered flag flies and beyond that.


BAIER: President Trump presenting the nation's highest civilian honor to auto racing great Roger Penske. Penske built a single car dealership into Penske Corporation. He began Roger Penske racing in 1966. Cars owned and prepared by team Penske have scored hundreds of racing victories over the years, including 18 Indianapolis 500 wins. Congratulations to Roger Penske.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That is it for the “Special Report,” fair, balanced, and still unafraid.

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