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White House Blocks Sondland's Testimony; Adam Schiff Speaks to Reporters; Jim Jordan Speaks to Reporters. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 09:30   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Evidence of obstruction of Congress in an article of impeachment. So while we've seen for months Democrats engage in a long fight, drawn out fight that has led to court battles, such as when Don McGahn, the former White House council, was directed by the White House not to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, they went to court to fight that out. That's still tied up in court. There are indications that Democrats don't have the appetite to do that right now if these witnesses are not going to be allowed to come forward. Instead, they will turn that into what they view as obstruction of Congress. They will say that this is similar to what happened during the Nixon impeachment proceedings, citing an impeachment -- citing obstruction of Congress as part of one of the articles. So that is going to be what you probably will hear from Adam Schiff when he talks downstairs momentarily.

Now, the other question too is that there are other State Department officials who this committee -- these committees are investigating this impeachment probe who they want to speak with. And it's a question about whether or not these former and the current State Department officials will come, including the former ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch, who is scheduled to testify later this week. Now, she is now still a State Department employee. So will she come this week --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Manu -- Manu -- Manu, sorry to interrupt. This is the chairman of the Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, speaking now.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): By the attorney for Ambassador Sondland that the State Department would refuse to allow him to testify today.

This was after conversations well into yesterday afternoon and evening with the State Department legal adviser in which there was no indication that the ambassador would be a no show.

Not only is the Congress being deprived of his testimony, the American people are being deprived of his testimony today. But we are also aware that the ambassador has text messages or e-mails on a personal device which have been provided to the State Department, although we have requested those from the ambassador, and the State Department is withholding those messages as well. Those messages are also deeply relevant to this investigation and the impeachment inquiry.

And I want to just explain for the public the significance of this witness and the significance of the decision evidently by the secretary of state and president or president or both to withhold this key witness' testimony today.

We know from the text messages that Ambassador Sondland was in discussion with Ukrainian counterparts, with fellow diplomatic personnel and the president, as well as at least one U.S. senator, about the course of events that we're investigating.

We know from those text messages that diplomatic personnel raised the concern with him that military assistance was being withheld to secure help from Ukraine in the president's re-election campaign.

We know that Ambassador Sondland had at least one discussion with a fellow diplomat on that very subject of why military assistance was being withheld.

We know Ambassador Sondland was a key player in efforts to obtain a commitment from Ukraine to investigate a bogus conspiracy theory about the 2016 election, as well as Joe Biden and his son.

And we know that the ambassador has relevant evidence on whether the meeting with the president that the Ukrainians desperately sought with President Trump was being conditioned on these investigations that the president believed would help his re-election campaign.

It is hard to oversight the significance of not just Ambassador Sondland's testimony and the documents, but the testimony of others as well.

The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a co-equal branch of government.

There are four issues that we are looking at, at least four issues that we are looking at, all that go to the heart of our national security. And by preventing us from hearing from this witness and obtaining these documents, the president and secretary of state are taking actions that prevent us from getting the facts needed to protect the nation's security.

We are looking into whether the president solicited foreign help in a U.S. presidential election, again. We are looking into the issue of whether a meeting that Ukraine desperately sought with the president at the White House was being conditioned on the willingness of Ukraine to investigate this bogus conspiracy theory about 2016 and investigate the Bidens. We're looking at whether Ukraine was given reason to believe that military assistance it desperately needed to fight off the Russians was being withheld until it made commitments to do these political investigations for the president.

[09:35:13] And we are looking into the question of whether there has been an effort by the president, the secretary of state and others to cover up this misconduct. Ambassador Sondland is an important witness on each of these subjects, but he is not the only important witness. And we will consider this act today and we've had members fly in from around the country to hear the ambassador's testimony, as well as the withholding of the ambassador's documents. as well as efforts that may be made to discourage or having the effect of discouraging other State Department witnesses from coming forward and testifying as they have agreed to, to be further acts of obstruction of a co-equal branch of government.

This is one of the few impeachment inquiries in the history of our country. It goes to the core of whether the president abused his office to seek political help in his re-election campaign and did so to the detriment of our nation's security. Did so by effectively coercing a country that has been invaded by Russia to investigate a rival and condition the relationship between this country and that country on whether they were willing to play ball.

That is the gravamen (ph) of the issues that we are investigating that this impeachment inquiry is looking into. It is hard to imagine a set of facts more damaging to our national security and our standing in the world, but also more of a fundamental breach of the president's oath of office. The American people have the right to know if the president is acting in their interests, in the nation's interests, with an eye towards our national security, and not in his narrow, personal, political interests. They have a right to know. Indeed, the American people have a need to know. And through this impeachment inquiry, we are determined to find the answers.

Thank you.


QUESTION: Congressman, that was your office's first contact --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So they're -- go ahead.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Just seeing if he's going to take the question there.

HARLOW: Yes, take some questions.

SCIUTTO: Looks like he ran out without questions.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Oh, actually, here come Republican members of that committee. Let's listen in.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We understand the reason why the State Department decided not to have Ambassador Sondland appear today. I mean you -- it's based on the unfair and partisan process that Mr. Schiff has been running.

You think about what the Democrats are trying to do, impeach the president of the United States. 13 months prior to an election, based on an anonymous whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge who has a bias against the president. And the guy running the process, Chairman Schiff, didn't even tell us that he had met with the whistleblower prior to the whistleblower filing the complaint. Adam Schiff didn't tell us that the way he treated Ambassador Sondland last week in this -- excuse me, Ambassador Volker in this interview last week, that's -- that treatment is the reason why the administration, the State Department said, we're not going to subject Ambassador Sondland to the same treatment.

And, look, we were actually looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland. We thought he was going to reinforce exactly what Ambassador Volker told us last week. But, again, unfortunately, when you have a speaker of the House who says, we need to strike while the iron is hot, when you have a chairman of the committee who is so biased against this president that he wouldn't even tell us that he had met with -- his staff had met with the whistleblower prior to the whistleblower filing the complaint.

And, frankly, this is a pattern with Mr. Schiff. He did the same thing, if you remember, the first big hearing the Democrats did this Congress, Michael Cohen. He didn't tell us that his staff had met with Mr. Cohen for hours prior to Mr. Cohen testifying. He didn't tell us last summer he had met with Mr. Simpson out in Colorado, palling around with the guy from Fusion GPS. So this is a pattern.

Like I said, we were hoping to hear from the ambassador today, but we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, look, if it's going to be this kind of process, if you're going to selectively leak text messages, 67 pages of text messages we had, and they take a handful and release to all of you, and not give the full context and not release the transcript, we understand why they made this -- this decision at this -- at this moment.

QUESTION: Will you take some questions?

JORDAN: Well, I'm going to let some of my -- go ahead.

QUESTION: Ambassador Sondland says he's disappointed --

SCIUTTO: All right, that Republican view of the world and the Democratic view of the world.


SCIUTTO: Interesting there to hear Jim Jordan, a staunch defender of the president, saying that he and Republican members of the committee were looking forward to hearing from Sondland as well.


SCIUTTO: But defending the decision to block his testimony, calling the impeachment inquiry an unfair and partisan operation.

[09:40:01] Of course, Schiff there -- I think the news from Schiff, the chairman, is saying that there were text messages and e-mails on a personal device of Ambassador Sondland that the State Department has and is withholding from the House. That is new and pertinent to the investigation.

HARLOW: They -- I don't know if Schiff and the Intelligence Committee have seen them, but he did say that they are, quote, deeply relevant to the probe.


HARLOW: So it would indicate that perhaps they have.

It also struck me, I don't know if it struck you, that we just heard Jim Jordan defending Sondland not testifying and the State Department blocking that testimony, saying that it's because it is, in his view, a partisan investigation. Since when is it up to the State Department to determine if they like the investigation or not to a co-equal branch of government?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, that's -- that's been a fundamental position of this administration, right? They're blocking all requests for documents, subpoenas, et cetera, going back through into the Mueller investigation.

Listen, we have lots to talk about here with Jennifer Rodgers, Susan Glasser and Seung Min Kim.

Jennifer, help us understand, from a legal perspective here -- actually before I do that, just one quick fact check, because Jim Jordan said that Adam Schiff met with the whistleblower prior, that's not true. He didn't meet with him. The whistleblower apparently reached out to the office and then was guided to issue the whistleblower complaint via the process. So we should just briefly fact check that.

But what is the law here? Is the State Department, is the White House breaking the law by not letting him testify?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as I understand it, this was actually a voluntary request.


RODGERS: And Sondland agreed to appear voluntarily. So so far they're not breaking the law or anything because there's no actual subpoena that's been issued.

If they issue a subpoena and he does not appear pursuant to the subpoena, then, yes, that is a problem.


RODGERS: The problem with that is, though, how is that going to be enforced? You know, the -- in normal course, it would go to the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., to enforce the contempt on the subpoena and that's a Trump appointee and the Trump Justice Department. So they don't have a lot of recourse here, but at minimum they should go ahead and issue the subpoena because he then actually is doing something.

HARLOW: Why do you -- it struck me that we didn't hear Adam Schiff say that, unless I missed it. That he didn't say we will subpoena, you know, if not, you know, that they will hold them in contempt. Why do you think that is?

RODGERS: I'm not sure. And I think it's a mistake. It doesn't take them any time at all to go ahead and throw that subpoena out there and then I think they're on stronger ground to say, you know, listen, we've done what we can here. We're trying to move forward with our legal process and they're, you know, thwarting that at every turn.

SCIUTTO: OK, so news in there, Seung Min Kim, you've been following this story closely. Schiff saying that there are text message and e- mails on a personal device of the EU Ambassador Sondland that the state Department has and is withholding. Of course these text messages relevant, Adam Schiff says, but you can see why, to the investigation, because there were communications about this idea that military aid was being tied to this investigation of the Bidens.

How significant is that, that those -- those e-mails and text messages are being held back?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very significant because we discussed earlier that there was definitely going to be a challenge -- much more of a challenge for these House committees, for these House Democrats, to be able to obtain these documents, these text messages, from Sondland because he had -- he is still a current State Department employee. He had turned them over to the State Department and was really up to the administration. It was up to Secretary Pompeo and up to President Trump to kind of determine how much he would comply.

But the fact that everything seemed to be going along, that he was going to testify this morning, that he was going to -- that this came at the 11th hour was really kind of -- was really kind of stunning.

And I also want to point out, the president did tweet about the decision from -- the decision to not let Ambassador Sondland testify about maybe about 20 minutes or so ago when he said, I would love to have him testify but he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court. So I do think it's also significant and noteworthy here and Democrats will point out that President Trump himself is taking ownership of not letting Ambassador Sondland testify before the House today.

HARLOW: Guys, let's listen to, I suppose non-answers, from the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is meeting in Washington with the -- Estonian's foreign minister, I believe, this morning. Obviously a lot of the questions were surrounding Ukraine and this.

Here's that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, why did you (INAUDIBLE) Ambassador Sondland (INAUDIBLE) --

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you all. Good morning.



HARLOW: Susan, I mean, is that just what it's going to be? This is -- this is the face of the United States in terms of foreign policy on the world stage. Is he just going to walk away every time reporters ask questions about this because this inquiry is not going away?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, that's right. Secretary Pompeo has taken a course of, at times, refusing to answer. At times echoing and amplifying President Trump's own message. The other day, on a trip to Europe, he said that not only was it appropriate in his view for President Trump to ask China and Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden, but that the United States had a duty to pursue such investigations because it was really all about corruption.


So, you know, he has staked out a position to be President Trump's sort of most loyal foot soldier as I found in reporting a big profile on him.

But, remember, this is the Congress -- the former congressman from the Benghazi investigation. You saw Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows there, and their wing man was Mike Pompeo, you know, who demanded documents from the State Department, who sat there and grilled Hillary Clinton for, I believe, it was 13 hours. So to have any witnesses refuse to testify from the same group that produced the Benghazi investigation is an historical irony to say the least. I think it's really one of those moments, right?

SCIUTTO: Well, that's another endangered species in Washington, principle, right? So we'll drive ourselves crazy looking for it, I imagine.

Listen, Jennifer Rodgers, Susan Glasser, Seung Min Kim, so much to talk about. We know we're going to have you back and, of course, this morning we continue to follow all the breaking news.

HARLOW: Another story that we're watching very closely this morning, the NBA commissioner in China speaking out in the middle of this international crisis for the league. He has really changed his position on this. What he says about the league placing principles and values now above all else.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Events moving quickly this morning. There was supposed to be a star witness on Capitol Hill this morning, Gordon Sondland. That was blocked last minute. And then we just heard from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee saying that that might end up as another act of obstruction of justice in a potential article of impeachment against this president.

We're joined by Jennifer Rodgers now, wealth of legal history here.

Tell us what, to this point, an obstruction of justice article of impeachment might look like. What would be in there?

RODGERS: So I think it will be an overreaching article that covers all of what's been going on for really months and months now, which is the White House and other components of the Trump government, time after time, blocking the House from doing the inquiry that they've been involved in for months now. So you have things like happened today, where they just block a witness with really no explanation at all, and going back to say Hope Hicks or Don McGahn where they're asserting assertions of executive privilege that have no basis in law to say this witness can't come before you even though they don't work for the government anymore.

So I would expect one big article and then they'll just kind of list all of these different examples of --


RODGERS: How the House investigation has been obstructed and then they'll vote on that.

HARLOW: Because Congressman Mike Quigley, who we just had on, who, of course, sits on the Intelligence Committee, said to us, quote, at this point in time, I believe there are multiple obstruction articles that this president would have to answer to.

So, when you're looking at that, how long does a process like that play out? Because, first, you would want Sondland to be subpoenaed. That would be the process, right? And we haven't yet heard if he will be. You would assume.

RODGERS: I think they will. I mean we heard today -- I was surprised to hear how blatant it was that they're just saying, we're not coming because we think this is all bogus, right? They don't even have a reason. I mean when Mike Pompeo first came out and said state employees are not going to come on the schedule that you have issued because we need time to prepare, et cetera, they're not even saying that anymore.


RODGERS: So I think they should go ahead and issue the subpoena today. And then when he doesn't comply, say, tomorrow, then we have our reason why already, and they can move forward with putting that together into an article. SCIUTTO: Here's another piece of news in Chairman Schiff's comments

just moments ago. Have a listen and I want to get Jennifer's reaction.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We know from the text messages that Ambassador Sondland was in discussion with Ukrainian counterparts, with fellow diplomatic personnel and the president, as well as at least one U.S. senator, about the course of events that we are investigating. We know from those text messages that diplomatic personnel raised a concern with him that military assistance was being withheld to secure help from Ukraine in the president's re-election campaign. We know that Ambassador Sondland had at least one discussion with a fellow diplomat on that very subject of why military assistance was being withheld.


SCIUTTO: Schiff went on to say that there are text messages and e- mailings on a personal device that are being withheld from the State Department.

I find that very interesting. I find it, first of all, interesting that they were moving conversations like this to personal devices.

HARLOW: To personal devices.

SCIUTTO: And, by the way, WhatsApp as opposed to State Department e- mail. That's interesting to me.


SCIUTTO: But tell us, legally, who has access now to these?

RODGERS: Well, it sounds like the ambassador gave them to the State Department. So the State Department and you better believe the White House and other components of the Trump administration have them.

SCIUTTO: But does the House Intel Committee, as an oversight body, have legal access?

RODGERS: Well, they have the right to get them, of course.


RODGERS: But they don't' have them. They'll have to issue a subpoena for them.

HARLOW: Are we sure they don't have them, because it's -- I mean Schiff said that they were deeply relevant.

RODGERS: Well, I think what he means is the connection that Jim was talking about. You have them saying, on the official lines of communication, hey, let's not talk about this, let's move this online, let's talk about it in a call, and then you have --

HARLOW: Fair enough.

RODGERS: So I think he's making some inferences there.

But they have the right to subpoena them, for sure. It's very relevant to their inquiry.

HARLOW: Right. just to move phones doesn't mean people aren't going to see what you're talking about.

RODGERS: And I think we can bet that the fact that this was all called off in the 11th hour has a lot to do what --



RODGERS: What the White House and others were learning about what might be on those texts and what the testimony was going to reveal about what happened.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And I'll tell you, in my experience, speaking to sources in government, when they move a conversation to private e-mail or private devices, there's a reason for that.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: They don't want a government record of that conversation.

RODGERS: True enough.

HARLOW: So now the question becomes, Jennifer, thank you, what will House Democrats do now that the White House has stepped in the 11th hour and blocked the deposition of the EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland? We're following all of the breaking news.

Stay right here.