Subject: Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Impeachment

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
January 15, 2020


Via Teleconference


1:04 P.M. EST

MR. GIDLEY: Thank you very much. We appreciate everyone for joining the call today. This is a background briefing regarding impeachment.


The call has several ground rules. And here they are, as follows: Number one, this can be attributable to senior administration officials. And number two, the contents of the call are embargoed until the end -- the conclusion of this phone call.

Now, with that being said, I'm going to introduce two of the participants today, [senior administration official] and [senior administration official].

And with that and one reminder that this is attributable to senior administration officials, I'll turn it back over to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Hogan. So the House is finally voting today on House managers, and my reaction is: It's about time. It's been four weeks since the House voted on the articles of impeachment. Before, they were saying this was an urgent matter and that's why they had to rush through the fastest presidential impeachment process in history and that they had overwhelming evidence, and then they changed their minds and decided it wasn't that urgent to move that fast and that they didn't really have a case that was overwhelming because they needed more witnesses for evidence. And now we're going to actually finally get things moving.


These are the weakest articles of impeachment that have ever been passed in any presidential impeachment. They state no violation of a crime, no violation of any law. And the idea that it is obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress for the President to assert constitutionally grounded privileges that protect the separation of powers is absurd. We think that these articles fail on their face.

We're prepared. We have been ready and are ready to get things moving in the Senate because the facts overwhelmingly show that the President did nothing wrong. And we're happy now that we're going to have a chance to vindicate the President and get this process behind the country so that the American people can move on and stop having time wasted by House Democrats with their obsession to try and attack the President.


And with that, I'll open for questions.

Q This is Kaitlan Collins from CNN. Our question is: Are you guys going to be adding any House Republican members to the impeachment defense team?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll be making an announcement about the team at the appropriate time, but I don't have an announcement for that right now.

Q Can you say when you're going to make that announcement or give a little bit more guidance on that for us, please?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It will be soon, but I can't give you a definitive time.

Q Hi. This is Shannon Pettypiece with NBC. A couple things. First, I wanted to know, do you have any response that has come out in the recent days from Lev Parnas that seems to show that Rudy Giuliani was directly working on behalf of the President?


And I also wanted to, two, get your response to John Bolton and whether the President would be asserting executive privilege on that if Bolton was subpoenaed to testify?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me take those in reverse order.

On John Bolton and executive privilege: Certainly, we're not going to get out ahead of the President. It would only be the President who asserts executive privilege. I think it's fair to say, though, that it would be extraordinary to have the national security advisor testifying about his communications directly with the President about foreign policy and national security matters. So that's a bridge that we would cross if we have to, when we get to it, but that would be an extraordinary situation.


On the Giuliani -- we don't have any comments on those documents at this point. We're -- that's something that's not clear that it's even going to be a part of this process and we're not going to get out ahead, reacting on that, right now.

Q Hi. This is Tierney Sneed from Talking Points Memo. Thanks for having the call. I'd ask you a similar question about executive privilege, but slightly different. You know, it's my understanding that a question like that could be decided by a Senate vote -- you know, if you did try to invoke privilege. Would you ever consider bringing a formal lawsuit -- you know, with the D.C. federal court -- to exert those privileges if it came to that? Or are you going to let the Senate have the final call on these legal questions?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that is getting way out ahead of things. You know, whether or not -- we don't think that there's going to be any need for witnesses in this trial. I think that if the Senate decides to adopt similar procedures to the Clinton trial, which seems to be a possibility and seems to be logical; all 100 senators agreed on it, at that point. It allows the senators to hear presentations and then decide whether they need to hear anything else. And we think, at that point, they wouldn't need to hear anything else because this is an extraordinarily weak case for the House managers.

So, I'm not going to get out ahead of anticipating not only whether there are witnesses, but then what happens if there are potential witnesses with potential lawsuits related to that. I think that's pretty far down the road.


Q Hey, guys. This is Katherine Faulders with ABC News. Thanks for doing this. Can you just talk a little bit about this motion to dismiss that may come up -- when you guys will get there? You know, why insist on the right to call this vote, for example, if Senate Republicans don't want that?

And then, just separately, related to that, why this motion to dismiss is favored perhaps over acquittal? And then, in addition to that, how soon do you think you guys will be making motions? Have you discussed whether this is something that could come before opening arguments? Thank you.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me -- let me frame that in this way, because there are several questions there. And I think one is, why would there be a motion to dismiss? Why consider that? And that's because these articles of impeachment are so weak that, on their face, if this were a court proceeding, they'd be subject to dismissal. And so, for lawyers going into court, if you have a complaint or an indictment against someone that, on its face, doesn’t state something that is actually a violation of the law, that is actually a crime of something, that's what you do: you make a motion to dismiss. And you don't take up everyone's time with a trial or anything; you get it thrown out right at the threshold.

These articles of impeachment would be worthy of being dismissed right at the threshold. Now, in terms of -- the Senate isn't exactly like an ordinary court; it isn't like exactly going into federal district courts. So exactly what's going to happen and what motions will be made, I'm not going to get into, sort of, telegraphing exactly what we'd be doing.


But that's why it would be an appropriate thing to do -- because it demonstrates and allows someone to make a decision right at the threshold that this is so insubstantial, we shouldn't spend more time on it. It doesn't meet the standard and we should just get rid of it. And that would be an appropriate thing to do, in this case.

Q Hi, guys. Greg Walters from VICE News. Thanks for doing the call. A couple of questions here. I realize that you're saying there's going to be an announcement about who will represent the President coming soon, but I wanted to ask whether, at this point, Rudy Giuliani is being seriously considered or if he ever was seriously considered to represent the President.


And I'm wondering if you can comment on the question of Robert Hyde, who appeared in the recent files that were released about -- in conversations, Lev Parnas about Marie Yovanovitch. And I'm wondering if the President had any communications with Robert Hyde over this time, and if you have any comment on that. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the team, we'll make an announcement at an appropriate point. I don't have anything more to say on that at this point. And I don't have any comment on the other question either. That's not something we're going to get into on this call.


Q Hi. Yes. This is Alex Swoyer with the Washington Times. And I was wondering: If the trial goes beyond two weeks, is the President still planning to give the State of the Union, as scheduled, or would the White House request a delay?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you can consult with the Press Office about that, but I would say I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that we'd be going beyond two weeks. We think that this case is overwhelming for the President, and the Senate is not going to have any need to be taking that amount of time on this.


Q Hi, guys. Thanks for doing this. This is Morgan Chalfant with The Hill. I wanted to know if the President is still -- he's been reportedly going to Davos next week. Is he still planning to do that if the impeachment trials begins, as expected, early next week?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think -- I'll refer you to the Press Office for the President's travel plans and that sort of thing, and they'll be able to provide an answer.


Q Hey, guys. This is Toluse, with the Washington Post. Thanks for doing the call. A couple of quick questions. It sounds, as you were saying, that you believe this case is very weak and it won't even take two weeks. That, one, you're abandoning the idea of having witnesses like Hunter Biden and the whistleblower testify -- something the President talked about before. And also, during the Clinton impeachment trial, the White House Counsel and White House lawyers spent several days mounting a defense of the President. They used a good chunk of their time. It sounds like you're planning to not have a multi-day, hours-long defense on the President’s conduct. Can you, sort of, confirm how you def- -- you plan to defend the President, and summarize why you think it's a weak case and why you think you'll be able to convince the Senate to dismiss the charges after just a couple of days?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me -- there are a number of things built in there. One, at one point, you said that we had now abandoned any idea of having witnesses. And let me just clarify that, you know, we don't think the Senate needs to hear from any witnesses. And the way this works is, the House is supposed to prepare a case, the House is supposed to be able to come into the chamber, and say, "We have a case that we think stands up with what we have, and we can succeed on what we have." What the House is now saying is, "No, sorry, we don't have a case that stands up on what we have. We think we need additional witnesses or something to make your case -- make their case.”


(Inaudible) sort of do a do-over for them. They're supposed to do their preparation and come ready to present a case. If they're not able to do that, then what should happen is, the President should be acquitted. And we think that's what's going to happen and we think it's going to happen readily.

If, for some reason, there were a move to have witnesses in the Senate, then other witnesses, for our side, are not at all on the table, because the purpose of a trial, usually -- in procedures and in trial -- is to protect the rights of the accused. The President hasn't had any rights in this process so far. So if we go on to a longer process with witnesses or something, the President will have a right to have witnesses as well.


In terms of the presentation, I'm not going to give you the details about how we think we're going to present the case. What we will present is a very strong case for the President. And the reason it doesn't take a long time -- and I'm not getting into how many days it is; I think you should not assume your characterization of it was correct -- but the reason it doesn't take a very long time is the facts are simple, and the facts are on the President's side. And the House Democrats don't have any credible evidence to show any wrongdoing. When you have any easy case, you don't need a long time to present it.

MR. GIDLEY: Thanks. We have time for one more question.

Q Hi. This is Jon Decker from Fox. Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it. Like you, I'm also a lawyer. I'm a member of the D.C. Bar, and I just came back from teaching a class on impeachment at UCLA Law School. And I have a process question for you. Your understanding -- what's your view if there is a tie on a particular matter that comes up in a Senate trial? In the impeachment of President Johnson, the Chief Justice at the time, Salmon Chase, actually broke a tie on one particular matter. Is it your view that the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, could break a tie?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to get into answering a hypothetical about trial procedure now. You know, it's something -- if it comes up, we'll face it when it comes up in midst of the trial. But I'm not going to, sort of, pre-commit or telegraph our view on that.

Q Shouldn't you prepare for that possibility right now? Or are you already preparing for that possibility?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're prepared for all possibilities.

MR. GIDLEY: Thank you, everybody, for your time and for the questions. Remember, this is attributable to a senior administration official. If you have any more questions -- the ones that actually dealt with the President's schedule and other matters that the Press Office can deal with -- please come by and see me and we'll take care of it.


Thank you very much.

END 1:24 P.M. EST



Public Pool is an automated feed of White House press pool reports. For live updates, follow @WHPublicPool on Twitter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter