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Donald Trump: House Committees Are A "Compromised Kangaroo Court"; Adam Schiff: Sondland Has More Texts, E-mails He Must Provide To Us; House Democrats To Subpoena Sondland For Testimony, Documents; Americans' Support For Impeachment Up Significantly Since July; Flashback 1998: House Votes To Begin Clinton Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. The White House at the last minute blocks testimony from a key impeachment witness. House Democrats say it's more evidence of obstruction. The President calls the inquiry a "Kangaroo Court".

Plus the President invites the Turkish leader for a White House visit. It's another poke at his fellow Republicans who are furious with the President for pulling U.S. troops from Syria. And it is the President who is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, but it's the State Department where Democrats believe most of the best evidence can be found.

And we begin the hour with the dramatic impeachment standoff. House Democrats now say they'll issue a subpoena for testimony and documents of the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland; this after the White House today at the last minute blocked his testimony. Sondland is key to the Democrats case that the President abused his power and help up military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to pursue his political vendetta against Joe Biden.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says blocking today's deposition in his view just strengthens the argument that the White House is obstructing Congress from doing its job and hiding critical evidence.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're also aware that the Ambassador has text messages or emails 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: In a statement, Sondland's Attorney says the Ambassador is, "Profoundly disappointed but that he had no choice. Ambassador Sondland believes strongly that he acted all time in the best interest of the United States and he stands ready to answer the Committee's questions fully and truthfully whenever he is permitted to appear.

The President adding his dual sense on Twitter of course, he would love to let Sondland testify, but, this is from the President "Unfortunately, he would be testifying before a totally compromised "Kangaroo Court". The President adding that Sondland's text messages and the President's few only prove he did nothing wrong.

Let's get - joining us to start us off CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill, Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. Kaitlan to you first, this is a dramatic escalation of the confrontation what happened behind the scenes at the White House to get them to decide no testimony from the Ambassador?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially John the White House played an instrumental role in deciding this, and I'm told by sources that administration officials were in talks until late last night discussing just how much they should be cooperating with this, whether or not they should send the Ambassador up to Capitol Hill if there hasn't been this formal impeachment inquiry vote yet.

That's what we're hearing behind the scenes for the last few days over here, because they say essentially that because it's not a legitimate probe in their eyes, because Democrats haven't voted to launch a formal impeachment inquiry that they shouldn't have to be cooperating in this way by sending people like the Ambassador up to Capitol Hill.

We're told the White House Counsel's Office consulted with the State Department before they did tell the Ambassador this morning that he would not be sitting down for that scheduled deposition, and essentially what you're going to hear from Manu is that they're saying that it's worth the risk of angering these Democrats by not letting Ambassador Sondland go up to Capitol Hill.

It's worth that over letting him go and sit down and talk about what he knows. Because of course though he has been the Ambassador to the European Union, Ukraine is not in the European Union, he is someone who the President instructed to really take the lead on all of this so he is really at the center of a lot of this controversy.

KING: At the center of it, Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Let's go to Manu on the Hill now. Manu, you just heard Kaitlan the White House argues this is a process argument. You don't have a formal impeachment inquiry, therefore we won't cooperate. The Democrats think it's a substance argument, right, that they're trying to hide something?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And they say that there was nothing that requires them to have a vote actually authorize an impeachment inquiry, that are political and practical reasons for them not having them vote but the moment they say there is no reason to do it and they're just ultimately deciding the big question whether to actually impeach the President something they want to make a decision on in the coming weeks.

Now with the Democrats believes that this effort of their view obstruct these witnesses from coming forward will essentially add to that evidence of obstruction of the Congress that we cited in an article of impeachment.

Now, expect a subpoena to come. That was just announced moments ago by Adam Schiff and the two other Chairmen who are part of this effort saying that Sondland will be subpoenaed both with testimony and those documents that apparently he has text messages and other documents that he has not yet turned over to Capitol Hill. They want that information what will happen if he does not comply with that?


KING: They'll probably added to that article of impeachment but there are also other witnesses State Department officials who they do want to speak with, including the Former Ambassador to Ukraine who is supposed to come this week but she is also now, she is still a State Department employee so a big question John, whether she comes, whether others come. If they don't, what will Democrats do? Probably cite it as an article of impeachment but they may not get evidence that they've been clamoring for, John.

KING: All right, the White House withholding what the Democrats believe to be fact witnesses. Manu, a quick follow-up question to you, the House General Counsels in Federal Court today, and he's telling a judge that he believes Congress can impeach the President for lying to the American public. Also says they want access to Mueller documents to go back as part of their impeachment case.

Are they building a case that would be broader than what the Speaker has suggested in public, or is this a legal argument to try to get access to documents?

RAJU: Well, this court case started before this current impeachment inquiry, looking into the Ukraine matter. What the Democrats are arguing in court is to get the underlying evidence to the Mueller probe, but the General Counsel Doug Letter did say that - he said, "I can't emphasize enough, it's not just Ukraine, that this impeachment could be much broader than Ukraine" and saying unequivocally - he was asked whether or not the President could be impeached for lying, and Letter responded to the judge, I believe so, yes.

He doesn't have to just commit a crime, according to the House General Counsel, but it appears that the Justice Department will turn over some redacted memos to Capitol Hill. The judge was not happy about that, so perhaps we'll get more information in court, but that fight is still ongoing in court, John.

KING: A lot of different pieces of this to keep track of Manu Raju on Capitol Hill appreciate it, Kaitlan at the White House as well. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights Laura Barron- Lopez with "POLITICO", CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal" and POLITICO's Heather Caygle. I want to start with the White House Correspondent at the table. This

is a major escalation, the Ambassador was at home. All indications were he was going to show up, and then the White House Counsel in conjunction with the President of the United States then deciding no.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes I think we have two things here. One is that it's definitely a shift in strategy here. What we saw from the White House at the start of this was to push out the unprecedented decision here to push out the transcript of the Ukraine call which the President described at the time as him leaning him into transparency here nothing to hide they want to see that.

Now they are blocking a key witness in this probe, which raises additional questions about how much the White House really wants to participate here and really kind of sheds a different light on that decision to put out the transcript which we know now is - was a decision more of the President to kind of take hold of the narrative. He felt he had lost the narrative, less so about transparency.

Then I think the next thing to watch here is that the White House is really kind of struggling with the strategy, right? The President has been asked a couple times if he was going to be - over the last few days if he was going to participate in this impeachment strategy, and he keeps saying, I don't know, I don't know, it's up to the lawyers, punting it to the lawyers.

Then at the late decision last night around 12:30 to block Sondland is an indication that this is sort of a - they're piece melting as they go here.

KING: Unless they're much more transparent, you could be led to believe they saw Ambassador Volker's opening statement, one would assume that they saw what Ambassador Sondland was about to say to Congress and may be they didn't some of it.

And why is that key in the sense that if you look at the text messages we do have available to us, a veteran diplomat Bill Taylor getting worried about what's happening. He believes the President is holding up vital military aid to Ukraine because he wants Ukraine to announce it will investigate Joe Biden.

So you have a text this is back in September. Bill Taylor, "Are we now saying the security assistance in White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? Gordon Sondland, call me. Then, the call takes place, a few days later Bill Taylor, "As I said on the phone I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with the political campaign" Then Solomon responds after four and half hours and he says Bill I believe you're incorrect about President Trump's intentions.

The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo as of any kind. And he goes on to say, it's time to start texting about this. So if you're - if you take a suspicious view you want to know what happened in those four and half hours? Was there consultation with the White House? Or was there consultation at the State Department or both? And why did Gordon Sondland's tone suddenly changed to sound much more lawyerly in a casual conversation? If you're suspicious that's what you want to ask and now they don't have their witness.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. Another exchange in those text messages was when Sondland was talking about a, "Deliverable from Ukraine", and that's a question that a lot of Democrats have, which is what is that deliverable that you were hoping to get in these conversations?

And also with the broader picture that we have now, the conversations that Sondland had with Senator Ron Johnson where - Ron Johnson walked away with that conversation as though there was a quid pro quo and that's why he went to Trump directly. There is a lot of mixed messaging there, and then today the big news coming out of Schiff was additional text messages from Sondland on a personal device that they consider to be - that are relevant and that the State Department is deciding to withhold.


KING: And so let's hear Schiff on that point because here's the challenge for the Democrats. You have a pretty evenly divided public. You need these fact witnesses if we're going to change mind out there you need fact witnesses to put your case forward. Here's exactly what happened to try to change minds. The White House doesn't give them. Schiff says we'll do it this way.


SCHIFF: 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.


KING: They mean what they say and there is a constitution, there are co-equal branches of government, but impeaching someone for obstructing Congress as opposed to having a count of impeachment that lays out dramatic fact evidence if you're trying to convince the skeptical public are two very different things.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It's much more complicated. The President was pretty transparent this morning when he said, of course he wants to testify, we want him to testify. How many times did we hear that during the Mueller probe? He was always going to testify, always going to sit down and talk to Bob Mueller.

So the reality here is the President is driving this train. He has made a complete shift with the help of his lawyers to essentially try and slow this down. The Trump campaign is now in charge of the response to this. He is driving this.

It's going to be tough for the Chairman and for Democrats to make their argument to the public if there are no more facts that come out, I think. Text messages in the first week were pretty explosive, but if that's it, who knows. There is also supposed to be a key hearing on Friday. That also may be blocked here. So we are at the obstruction point, the collision point of this. We'll see where it goes.

BENDER: Yes, and the President knows the bet he's making here is on messaging, right? Pleading the fifth is not an admission of guilt, right, but we've seen the President use that as, in fact, an admission of guilt, and blocking witnesses can be used against this President politically. He's making a bet that he can turn this against Congress, this "Kangaroo Court" kind of language, to make himself seem more sympathetic.

KING: Language that's being echoed by his Republican allies on Capitol Hill. You could see Chairman Schiff come out and gave a statement and then the President's allies, several of them, were waiting after this side. They wanted to make their statement and they used the "Kangaroo Court" as well. It's important in the sense that the White House we'll get to some of the polling number later in the program, but the White House is trying to shape the environment right now.

As we wait to see number one, will these witnesses ever testify, and if so what will they say? There is a talk that a second whistleblower about to come forward. The White House is well aware of that, the President says he is not worried but of course he is. So they're trying to shape public opinion before Democrats can build a fact case.

HEATHER CAYGLE, REPORTER, POLITICO: And I think the court case that you and Manu were talked about earlier is essential to what's happening now in the sense that the White House is saying, we don't have to cooperate with you because you're not voting to have a formal impeachment inquiry.

And Speaker Pelosi says, well, I don't have to do that. I can do what I want. We're in an impeachment inquiry if I say so. And in the court case right now DOJ and House Counsel are arguing over what constitutes an impeachment inquiry, and last they checked the judge seems to be leaning to giving the House deference to define what their impeachment is.

KING: Let's see how that's plays out in court, it's playing out in Congress, it's playing out in public opinion. But as you mentioned the Speaker of the House is out on an event, she is going to speak momentarily. Supposed to be about prescription drugs, we'll see if she talks about this as well.

And if you have a question for anybody here on today's political stories, you can tweet us. Use the #insidepolitics; we might answer your questions at the end of the show or on our podcast. Up next so those new poll numbers I was just talking about. They do show some problem spots for the President.


[12:15:00] KING: An impeachment inquiry heading into an election year puts both parties in uncharted waters. We've never done this before. At the moment the Democrats believe the numbers are on their side, meaning public opinion. Majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry, focus on the word "Inquiry" not impeachment yet.

And look how the numbers have changed. Way back in August 2018 49 percent of Americans said they supported an impeachment inquiry that number dipped to 37 percent in July but now on this Washington Post- Schar School poll up 20 points from in July 58, nearly 6 out of 10 Americans say they support at least an impeachment inquiry into the President's conduct.

Let's break it down a little bit. This is a little bit troubling to the President only 7 percent of Republicans supported the inquiry back in July. That's up 28 percent now. Not a danger sign but certainly something for the President to keep an eye on if support an inquiry grows his own party.

Among independents, key as both parties have their partisan reflexes you're fighting for the middle. Support for independents up 20 points from July. Democrats take heart in that. They believe the middle of the country supports at least proceeding with the inquiry.

Let's take another look at the numbers. The Democrats, how are they handling this? 50 percent of Democrats approve of how the Democrats are handling the inquiry, 46 percent disapprove, there is the divided America the partisan America pretty evenly divided. But only 33 percent Americans support that's the Trump base essentially support how the Republicans are handling this 60 percent. 58 percent disapprove of how the Republicans are handling this.

We're early in the inquiry both parties understand where we are heading into an election year which is why when they come out these meetings, when they talk about the developments they're trying to convince you. The Democrats are trying to say this is the right thing to do. Republicans say it's a joke.



SCHIFF: The American people have the right to know if the President is acting in their interests, in the nation's interests, with an eye toward our national security and not in his narrow, personal, political interests.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R): What we see in this impeachment is a "Kangaroo court", and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious captain kangaroo.


KING: Quite hard to put that way before, but the political debate here is in some ways as important as the substance, at least early on, as they're trying to convince the American people heading into an election year. The Democrats say stick with us, Republicans say enough. The Democrats have been out to get this President from day one.

ZELENY: Virtually no Republican is doing is talking about the substance in a positive way of that initial phone call. We have learned a lot over the last couple weeks or so, but the original facts remain in the rough transcript of that call. There are a handful of Republican Senators who have spoken out against this and said it was wrong, it doesn't necessarily hit impeachment but it was wrong.

The vast majority are being quiet. The House Republicans there are repeating the President's talking points as he's orchestrating this in real time. But the independents in the middle that poll, that is something that the White House, the reelection campaign, is worried about.

That's why they're doing a scorched earth campaign to make this political, to make it seem like every old debate. You never wanted Trump in here. But what's not being focus on is the new information we receive. The Republicans don't want to hear about that.

KING: And as it plays out, we just showed the national poll numbers. I'm going to have the same conservation have every presidential election year. National poll numbers are helpful, but don't overinvest in them because you fight for the House just like you fight for the presidency state-by-state. The House is district by district, so Republicans are focusing more on the swing districts, like Elissa Slotkin.

She won just outside of Detroit, took a district that had been a Trump district before. So the Republicans say the national numbers tell you one thing, but they believe with ads like this they can change the political climate that she represents.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Instead of fixing health care and lowering drug prices, Slotkin votes with the radicals for endless investigations of President Trump wasting tax dollars instead of working to create more jobs. Slotkin wants more hearings.


KING: This is what Republican pollsters and strategists are telling their candidates and the Republican elected officials. Go home and say this is all political. It's keeping us from dealing with the issues that are relevant to you, like health care, like the economy, like the prescription drugs.

LOPEZ: Yes. And I mean, Pelosi and other House Democrats know that impeachment is not just about the constitution, it's also about a political process. That's why Pelosi was so slow to even reach the inquiry stage and the CCC the House campaign on for Democrats has been advising them to say what they need to say, to talk about this way they need to, even if means not fully embracing it. There are only a handful left of front line those very vulnerable Democrats that have not fully embraced the inquiry. Slotkin has. But they are encouraged to handle each of these situations as they see fit in their districts.

KING: And I want to just go back to the post poll for a second just to show you this - America is a divided country. The House should go the additional step vote to remove the President from office, meaning actually pass article of impeachment. Among all registered voters, 49 percent say that. That's a pretty high number.

Among independents, 49 percent says that. Only 18 percent of Republicans say that. So the challenge for Democrats if you want to sell this in the entire country is to try to get Republicans to change their mind. Challenge for the President is to keep Republicans in your camp by calling it hyper partisan.

The President is spending a lot of money on Facebook ads, here is one of them here as a member of the official impeachment defense task force, you will be a leader in defending the President against these baseless and disgusting attacks.

I guess it's just where we are. Anyway, but especially heading into an election year, yes, we need to learn what did Ambassador Sondland say? Was there a quid pro quo? The substance matters but the politics is very loud right now.

CAYGLE: Yes, I think for Democrats, they're still trying to figure out how do we continue to build this case and convince independents and maybe even Republicans to join us if the White House continues to stonewall and the interviews that we do get are all done behind the scenes. How do we create those made-for-TV moments and bring people to our side? They don't actually have an answer to it. They're still trying to figure it out.

BENDER: And this is - this impeachment probe is tailor-made for their Republican base here. That was in two sprees yesterday with the President to meeting with the President at the White House yesterday. One he was surrounded by every major general in the United States, and he brought up impeachment and pointed to fundraising numbers that he's had, pretty impressive fundraising numbers with Republicans off this impeachment inquiry as a sign of his support.

Before that in another White House meeting, this one was supposed to be on trade, he again brought up impeachment, and what he wanted to point to there was a poll saying that he was up 17 points with independents which must be a sign of the reaction to this impeachment inquiry which, in fact, that poll was an Investor Business Daily Poll that was a matchup between he and Biden taken before the impeachment inquiry started.


BENDER: And I think much more reflective of the ups and downs for Biden right now than how Trump is handling impeachment probes. KING: The President took a poll out of context? I'm shocked that could happen. All right, we'll continue the conversation in minutes. We go to break, a little flashback. It was on this day back in 1998 the House of Representatives voted to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Clinton.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many Democrats coming to the floor today to condemn the conduct of this President. Most just don't believe it warrants impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The "Yays" are 258 and the "Nays" are 176. The resolution is agreed to.