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Impeachment Fight Escalates As White House Blocks Diplomat Testimony; House Democrats May Be Considering Articles Of Impeachment Against The President That Go Beyond The Ukraine Issue. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me. Breaking news right now out of Washington where for days now, we have heard President Trump shrug and say, nothing to see here, when it comes to that July 25th call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That call was a great day, it was a perfect call. A perfect call.

That call was perfect. It couldn't have been nicer.

Impeachment for that? When you have a wonderful meeting, or you have a wonderful phone conversation.

Absolutely perfect phone call.

The conversation was perfect. It couldn't have been nicer.

If you look at that call. It's perfect call. It's congenial. There was no pressure.


BALDWIN: So it turns out that maybe that call wasn't so perfect, after all, at least not for some of the highest officials in the Trump administration. CNN has now learned that in the moments after the two leaders hung up the phone, the concerns set in and multiple people, National Security officials among them worried if the President had crossed a line and how to limit the fallout if he did.

One way they tried to do that, by moving the call's transcript to that highly classified server so that more people wouldn't see it. More on that in just a second.

All of this comes today as the White House blocks a key person in the U.S.-Ukraine firestorm, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying at a House Intelligence Committee hearing this morning, and now we're learning that Sondland who he claimed there was no quid pro quo involved may have gotten that talking point from the President himself.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. And Kaitlan, what can you tell us?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke. We're learning that after one of those officials testified on Capitol Hill last week, you saw those texts come out where there was concern raised among top U.S. diplomats about whether or not the President was withholding that military aid in exchange for those investigations.

One of those officials messaged another. The first one being Bill Taylor, who was essentially running the Ukraine policy out of White House since there was no -- or excuse me -- for the White House since they recalled the Ambassador.

He asked another official and expressed concern that there was going to be a quid pro quo situation happening here into which Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador who was supposed to testify today replied and said, I believe you're correct about the President's intentions. He said, quote, "The President ..." or, " ... You are incorrect." He said, "The President has been crystal clear, no quid pro quo's of any kind."

Brooke, we're learning that last text from someone came after Bill Taylor sent that initial message, Sondland did go over to the White House, spoke with President Trump and that was when President Trump told Sondland there was no agreement about the exchange for the military aid over that investigation. And that's when you saw him reply there.

So it's really interesting, because it's giving you insight into -- as the White House is trying to dismiss this whistleblower, you're seeing that their own top officials in Ukraine were raising concerns about their actions.

BALDWIN: Tell me about that scramble that after Zelensky and Trump said goodbye on the call.

COLLINS: Yes, we're learning a lot more, Brooke. And basically, it started the minute that President Trump hung up the phone with the Ukrainian President to where official started raising concerns about what he had said about Joe Biden on that call, including to one point where at least three sources are telling CNN that at least one National Security Council official reached out to the White House's National Security lawyers to tell them about the concerns about the call.

Those are the same lawyers who later ordered the transcript of the call moved to that highly secured server and we're also told that in the immediate aftermath - that officials are concerned about whether or not they should alert other senior officials about what exactly had transpired on the call, mainly whether or not they should call over to the Justice Department until senior officials there that the Attorney General Bill Barr had been invoked by the President multiple times in that call, something we read in the transcript where he essentially connected Rudy Giuliani with Bill Barr. And basically, Brooke, what we're learning from just the fallout of

this scramble and how the White House tried their best to contain it, but clearly were unsuccessful in that is a lot that backs up what's in that whistleblower's complaint.

BALDWIN: Yes. We're going to get to that in just a second. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Frank Bruni is an op-ed columnist of "The New York Times" and a CNN Contributor; Jamie Gangel is a CNN Special Correspondent and Carrie Cordero is a CNN National Security Analyst and former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

So, okay, so we'll get to the scramble around the White House thinking they contain this -- they could contain this within the White House walls in a second, but first Frank, to the first bit of reporting that Sondland didn't text back for those five hours. And now we've learned that what he did do was call up the President and say, what's going on? What do you make of that?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Well, he was concerned about what was going on, and that's one of the reasons why we're not going to hear him -- they're trying to block his testimony.

I mean, whatever he has to say, is not going to flatter the President. It is not going to look good and they don't want it -- they don't want it going before the House Committee.

I don't know how long they can succeed in this. They're going to draw it out as long as possible. And he is not the last person they're going to try to block.

I mean, everything Trump has said to the effect of, I have nothing here to hide. I'm -- you know, I'm so -- I'm so out in the open on this. I'm going to invite China to get in on the action. It's ridiculous. They want to hide it all because around him, and I think somewhere in him, he knows this is really, really damning stuff.


JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I spoke to a Republican source who said, yes, the White House is saying that they blocked Sondland's testimony because they want Pelosi to hold this vote on the Impeachment Inquiry, but they could have done that anytime.

The source said that they think there is potentially very damaging testimony, the text that came from Sondland, no question - that played a part in it.

BALDWIN: Right. It makes you wonder why the White House instructed the State Department to not allow him to speak up this morning. Carrie, the question to you is, just as a lawyer, when you look at these text messages, and we now know what Sondland did, what is your top takeaway?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the text messages themselves, certainly look incriminating. They look as if, particularly the delay between Ambassador Taylor's text message and then Ambassador Sondland's response. There's a delay of several hours, which looks as if you know he did, and now we're learning that he did go back and figure out exactly how to respond.

Sondland, also, throughout these texts was very aware that they were creating a record. So there are other references in the exchanges, where he says, oh, let's stop texting about this, we should get on the phone. And then there are other circumstances where Ambassador Taylor looks to me like he is deliberately or at least cognizant of the fact that he is creating a record because there are certain circumstances where there's a phone call. And then Taylor gets on text and says, as I said, on the call ...

And then he reiterated his objection to using security assistance as part of this exchange for political information.

BALDWIN: And Carrie, it is Congressman Adam Schiff, who says that Sondland has these text messages on a private phone. Right? And that there's more where this came from.

CORDERO: Sure. So the committee certainly has a lot of information about what the witnesses are in a position to provide. Sondland is still a U.S. government employee. So he is listening to the administration direct him not to comply with some of these requests, and obviously not to appear.

He could resign if we really thought that there was something that he felt that he needed to communicate to Congress and to the American public. That's an option for him.

I'm also very curious to eventually learn the testimony of Ambassador Taylor, because he seems to be the one from the text messages, who was most strongly expressing his disagreement with the way the process was unfolding.

BALDWIN: Okay, look, I want to pivot to the scramble after this White House call, because this reporting is really extraordinary. And so Frank, just to you first on this, despite what the President has said over and over in an effort to discredit this whistleblower, along with a ton of Republicans, does all of this not backup precisely what the whistleblower since then?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A thousand percent. In fact, as you read it, you realize the whistleblower's details are exactly, exactly the same as these and I think that's what we're seeing over time, everything that whistleblower said, is proving to be credible.

And it's hilarious because the President keeps saying, oh, the discredited whistleblower who is partisan, who only has secondhand information. That's not the way this is playing out.

The other fascinating thing here, it's true, what we were just talking about in terms of the text messages. It's true in terms of this, we're learning how many people ...

BALDWIN: Were involved. BRUNI: ... had eyes on or knowledge about this July 25 phone call,

or who were involved in this sort of stuff before and afterwards, and it's now October, and we're finally hearing about all of this.

It's all this time, one whistleblower, maybe a second one now. Where are the patriots in this administration? Where are the patriots in our government? Everyone was concerned about covering this up, not -- and who they were going to expose it when it needed so badly to be exposed and ran so counter to the principles of the United States of America.

GANGEL: Also the level of detail here, the fact that there was an immediate red flag and alarm that something was wrong here, and then they decided to move it to the special server with a higher level. And that so many people were involved.

The level of detail from this reporting is extraordinary. It backs up not only what we heard is coming from the whistleblower, but I think it also speaks to the fact that the Democrats, I think have a lot of information that is yet to come out that may prove to be potentially damaging, embarrassing and one thing about Sondland, he could resign and testify, but he is a political appointee. He was someone who gave ...

BALDWIN: A lot of money ...

GANGEL: ... a lot of money to the -- this is not a career Foreign Service officer. This is not someone like Kurt Volker, who did resign very quickly.


GANGEL: He is a political appointee.

BRUNI: Let me also say, it is surreal that this President among all Presidents is getting this level of protection and cover up from people having done nothing to deserve it and being someone who would never repay loyalty like this. I will never understand that.


BALDWIN: Where do you think that comes from?

BRUNI: I think that there is a mentality that has set in this administration that they are under siege, and they just see it that way. They don't ask the question, do we deserve to be under siege? Because they very much do, but it's just we're under siege; it is us against them. And this is part of the shirts and skins nature of tribal politics right now.

They're coming after us. We're going to fight back and no one pauses to say, wait a second, what's actually going on here? And should we be fighting for it?

GANGEL: It also speaks to the courage of the whistleblower, because -- and maybe the second person. It is not easy to do that. And there were a lot of people who have excused the President's behavior by saying, well, that's Trump being Trump, but -- and you see that. Everyone here was scrambling to cover up what they knew.

BALDWIN: And even perhaps put it in that vault so that others in the administration could not see the transcript.

GANGEL: Couldn't see --

BALDWIN: I have more for everyone, so stick around. We have more including Democrats in the House now reacting to Ambassador Sondland's no show with plans to issue a subpoena and warning their impeachment probe could go beyond Ukraine.

Plus House Democrats now considering extreme measures to hide the identity of this whistleblower including a move right out of a spy movie. We have those new details.

Also ahead Ellen's sharp response to critics who had a problem with her friendship -- friendship with President George W. Bush. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: We're back and we have more breaking news in this whole Impeachment Inquiry. Now, House Democrats may be considering Articles of Impeachment against the President that go beyond the Ukraine issue.

An attorney tells CNN they could consider obstruction of justice and interference with Federal elections. CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill and Manu, what have you learned?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the House General Counsel Doug Letter made an argument in Federal Court today as part of an effort to try to get the underlying Mueller evidence as part of that lawsuit, something the administration has resisted turning over to Capitol Hill.

And in his argument to the judge, he said that, I can't emphasize enough. It's not just Ukraine saying that. Nancy Pelosi made it absolutely clear that all the committees will continue their investigation and it could go beyond, far beyond what they are investigating right now is exactly how the President urged Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden and why the Ukrainian aid was withheld, why a meeting between the Ukrainian government President and President Trump was delayed in the White House despite the Ukrainians wanting that information.

Nevertheless, what the attorney argued today was that, essentially that he was asked by the judge whether or not the President had to have committed a crime to be impeached. And he said, quote, "No." He said that -- he said, I believe so, yes, lying could be enough to be an impeachable offense. Now at the same time, Brooke, the Justice Department agreed to turn

over memos related to the Mueller probe, 33 memos that are going to be redacted, but those will be turned over to Capitol Hill.

The judge seemed concerned about the fact that these will be redacted. But nevertheless, some movement on that front. At the same time Democrats signaling that other elements could be part of an Articles of Impeachment, one is obstruction of justice, abuse of power, obstruction of Congress -- those decisions yet have to be made -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: And what about Republicans? What are they saying in all of this?

RAJU: Well, the Republicans are pushing back at the notion that Congress is being obstructed by this administration. They are arguing that -- they believe Ambassador Sondland was well within his rights to not appear today because they are complaining about the process, they say, the Democrats are employing.

Now at the same time, there are a lot of questions about how Republicans are responding to what the President has said publicly - that he wanted the Ukrainian government and he also wants the Chinese government to investigate Joe Biden.

And I asked the Republicans today if any of them had concerns, and none of them said they did.


RAJU: Do you have any concerns about what we're talking about here? The President asking foreign government, one Ukraine, to investigate Joe Biden and also the President saying last week that China should investigate Joe Biden. Do any of you have concerns about that?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The President is doing his job. The President -- when you're talking about the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people going to a foreign government, the President' is going to make sure that there is no corruption there.

He is doing his job and his duty as the Commander-in-Chief, his duty as the President of the United States.


RAJU: Now, on the Senate side, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally has invited Rudy Giuliani to come testify about all of this and Giuliani signaling that he just may will do that. And there's some bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for that, Brooke. Democrats want Giuliani under oath as well -- Brooke.


BALDWIN: Bipartisan support? How about that? Manu Raju, thank you. I've got these -- my panel is back and Carrie Cordero, let me just come back to you. How much weight does this subpoena hold without an official House vote? Do they need to hold a vote?

CORDERO: Well, I think in terms of the subpoena -- enforcing the subpoenas, they need to first issue the subpoena. So a lot of what they're doing is they're first making a request, then the witness isn't appearing because the administration won't let them.

And so they might, going forward need to think about just issuing the subpoena to start with, to jumpstart the process, and they might need to go to court on it. And so that's why I think one of the most important things that the Democrats can do when they're trying to go forward here is they need to focus this investigation.

On one hand, they need to figure out who are the most important witnesses. Manu just reported that they're thinking about bringing Rudy Giuliani up, I think that's a complete waste of time. It's going to be a circus. He is going to obstruct. He is going to be flamboyant. He's going to be dismissive of their questions.

BALDWIN: So then why -- why do it? Why do it?

CORDERO: Why do it? It's not getting to the part. And if they want -- you asked a question about Republicans. If they want to appeal to Republicans, not just in the House, but those who are a step back in the Senate who are watching all of this transpire, they need to demonstrate that the proceeding they are conducting in the House is serious. That it's not a circus. That it's not partisan. That it's a serious inquiry into the President abusing his authority in foreign affairs and using that position to support his political objectives in a way that is an abuse of the office.

And then around that, they can add Articles of Impeachment that pertain to emoluments, that pertain to obstruction, that pertain to potential other violations of criminal law.

But the Ukraine story is so discreet, and the evidence is already so much out in the open, that it's the strongest factual and most obvious factual scenario demonstrating the abuse of office, which is why, as we were describing in the previous segment, which is why so many National Security officials in the White House even knew that it was wrong.

BALDWIN: And, Jamie, to Carrie's point about, you know, the House Democrats proceeding so carefully, your Republican source says it is all -- a lot of pressure is on Nancy Pelosi.

GANGEL: Absolutely. She wants this testimony from Sondland, from others. Meanwhile, the White House delay, delay, delay. They don't want it out there. They're going to drag their heels.

But to Carrie's point, a number of Republicans have said to me, it would really help us long term, big picture if this is bipartisan. If there is a select committee. If it has a weight of gravitas to it.

No question, the Republicans are watching the polls and we'll talk about that, but if they -- if some of them decide they are ready to vote for impeachment in the House or for removal, if it gets to the Senate, the more serious the process is, the less of a circus, the more it helps them.

BALDWIN: Let's get to the polls, Frank Bruni. Here's the deal. Today, from "Washington Post," a George Mason University polled, a majority of Americans, 58 percent say that they endorse the opening of the House Impeachment Inquiry. And on top of that, 49 percent say the House should take a more significant step to impeach the President and call for his removal.


BALDWIN: And you look at those numbers and you just also think, you know, we're about where Republicans are and do you think that that will start to sway them?

BRUNI: Well, I think we've seen movement in this direction for a solid two weeks now. This is the third or fourth poll to come out and since the Inquiry was announced, everything is moving in the direction of greater concern about Donald Trump and more openness to impeaching him.

That poll also showed that three in 10 Republicans supported the Impeachment Inquiry and close to two in 10 Republicans supported more, like a vote to impeach. Those are significant numbers. And when they broke out the independents, the independents were very much in favor of the Impeachment Inquiry and impeachment. All of that, incredibly relevant to November 2020.

GANGEL: I think this is the story of the day.


GANGEL: I think you you're seeing the ground shift if this trend continues. Be sure Republicans - the Republican leadership on the Hill is watching this very, very carefully.


GANGEL: And as Frank said, those independent votes are critical. They are asking themselves every day not just about the Republicans, but are we losing the independents?


GANGEL: Because that makes a difference in some of these --

BRUNI: And what's crucial here, I think Carrie said something hugely, hugely important. What's crucial is this remain tightly focused, right? What Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have to do is not let this grow so many tentacles in so many directions.


BRUNI: We have a transcript, a rough transcript. We have a transcript that shows the President leaning on a foreign government to do a political hit job. Just keep focused on that. The rest of this doesn't even need to be listened to. It's all right there. GANGEL: We have the President on the record saying that he --

BRUNI: China.

GANGEL: He wants to say there's nothing wrong with it.

BRUNI: Come join the fun.

GANGEL: But he is admitting it himself.

BRUNI: The more directions Democrats turn, the happier the White House is because the more confused voters get, and this one is really simple.

BALDWIN: Do they need to vote?

BRUNI: I think they're going to have to vote at some point, yes, and not too long from now.

BALDWIN: Okay. Frank, Jamie, and Carrie, thank you so much for the conversation here.

As President Trump attempts to find out who this whistleblower is, we have new details today on the links House Democrats are considering to protect this whistleblower. We will be right back.