Sen. Chris Coons: Can't Say Yet If Trump Committed Impeachable Offenses


In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said he can't yet say if President Trump committed any impeachable offenses, but campaign finance violations committed by Michael Cohen may lead to criminal charges.

"Whether or not that's an impeachable offense is something where I, as a member of the Senate, would ultimately be sitting as literally a member of the jury. So I think that's a question we don't need to reach yet," he said about a possible Trump impeachment.

BLITZER: Joining us now, Senator Chris Coons. He's a Democrat. He serves on both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's get right to a key question. Do you believe President Trump has committed impeachable offenses?

COONS: Well, Wolf, I can't reach that conclusion yet, but certainly the most recent filings by Robert Mueller and other recent court filings strongly suggest that there were campaign finance violations committed by Michael Cohen, at President Trump's direction, and that those are violations that may well lead to criminal charges.

Whether or not that's an impeachable offense is something where I, as a member of the Senate, would ultimately be sitting as literally a member of the jury. So I think that's a question we don't need to reach yet.

But this certainly puts the president at much more focused legal jeopardy. And the recent filings by Mueller's team, both against Paul Manafort and against Michael Cohen, and some other things you teased at the top of the hour here about Maria Butina, strongly suggests that the legal risks for President Trump and his inner circle have escalated in recent days.

BLITZER: The incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, says the political calculation on impeachment is a different question, as opposed to criminal charges.

How do you think Democrats should proceed, first of all, in the House of Representatives, which would have to take up impeachment first?

COONS: I think that the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives in January ought to be focusing and dedicating their time to proposing legislation that would actually solve the problems facing average Americans, rising health care costs, an opioid crisis, a need for stronger skills and better jobs through an infrastructure package.

Take up and pass those bills, send them over to us in the Senate, and challenge President Trump and the Senate Republican majority to work across the aisle and to address the problems facing working families.

I do think, however, that, on the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Nadler and his members will have a fair amount of work to do to improve the transparency of this administration and to make sure that the issues that are being raised by the Mueller investigation are pursued all the way to their logical conclusion, and to protect that investigation from undue interference, either by President Trump directly or by the leadership of the Justice Department.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Congressman Adam Schiff, who's going to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that President Trump could be indicted and possibly face jail time after he leaves office?


BLITZER: Talk a little bit about that. Why?

COONS: Well, the charges, the issues outlined against both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, I think, continue to sharpen the ways in which it's clear that the Mueller investigation has produced a whole series of actions not previously exposed to the public.

Michael Cohen -- the evidence that's been presented in the Michael Cohen case, that the president directed him to engage in payments that were intended to influence the outcome of the election, really sharpens the president's legal risk here. And I agree with Congressman Schiff that that might well form the basis for an indictment after the president leaves office.

BLITZER: The Mueller filings that were revealed -- that were released on Friday also revealed that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, was in direct touch with the Trump White House this year and lied about it.

What concerns does that raise your mind?

COONS: Well, I have got concerns about witness tampering and about interference in the ongoing Mueller investigation, both directly and indirectly, by the president and some of the folks in his senior leadership team.

And the Manafort filings lend some credence to those concerns.

BLITZER: William Barr, the president's nominee to be the next attorney general, he certainly, if confirmed, would be overseeing this entire Mueller investigation.

You have expressed some concern about his views on executive power and the Mueller investigation. What will you be looking for during his confirmation hearings?

COONS: Well, this is exactly why confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee are critical.

It gives us an opportunity to get the nominee on the record in terms of whether he will protect the Mueller investigation and whether he has views about executive power that are outside the mainstream.

As you know, Wolf, that's something I really focused on in now Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. And I think it's important that the American people understand the risk to our constitutional order posed by extreme views of executive power that would give this president and future presidents the ability to fire at will all sorts of significant administration figures.

BLITZER: You serve on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.

Do you have any timeline for this confirmation process, when it will begin, when the hearings will begin before your committee?

COONS: Not yet. We haven't heard exactly when the president intends to submit the nomination to the committee and the Senate and when we would take it up, but I would hope as soon as possible.

Acting Attorney General Whitaker should not be in the position he's in. It didn't follow the succession statute. It didn't follow DOJ procedures. And I do think, now that there is a nominee, we should move as expeditiously as possible to take up the nomination of William Barr to serve as the next attorney general.

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