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AT THIS HOUR
Key Testimony Underway from Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; Trump Loses Appeal to Stop House Subpoena of Tax Documents; Trump Tries to Distance Himself from 2 Giuliani Associates Arrested; WAPO: Officials Raised Alarm on Trump's Ukraine Policy; At Least 1 Dead, Thousands Order to Leave Ahead of California Fire. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired October 11, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Baldwin. Thank you so much for joining me.
Right now, a key witness in the impeachment inquiry is behind closed doors with House investigators. Former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, facing question about her time in that post, and the pressure that President Trump placed on Ukraine to investigate his political rival. And also facing questions about the circumstances surrounding her abrupt departure from the post earlier this year.
Earlier this year, the president did unexpectedly remove Yovanovitch from her position. It followed complaints from the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
And we now know he had the help of two associates with ties to Ukraine. Two associates arrested and in court yesterday for campaign finance violations.
Let's get to all of this. Let us start on Capitol Hill where the center of the universe is at the moment. Manu Raju is there.
So, Manu, the former ambassador is behind closed doors right now. What are you hearing? What is expected today?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are going to be a lot of questions about the circumstances of her dismissal from her post earlier this spring.
We do know that the president had bad mouthed her to the president of Ukraine, Zelensky, in that rough transcript that was released by the White House criticizing her there. And we know also Rudy Giuliani was targeting, criticizing her, going after her.
And we also know those two Rudy Giuliani associates, who were arrested yesterday, according to the indictment, also had taken aim with her, even enlisted a U.S. congressman at the time, Pete Sessions, of Texas, to go after her. And Sessions had criticized her for alleged remarks she made against the president, something bound to come up today behind closed doors.
She'll be asked about all those matters. She'll be asked about what she knew about the president's ask of the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens, what she knew about the aid money that had been withheld for the Ukrainians, and what she had told the administration and what she had told the Ukraine officials.
Now the question is, how much does she ultimately reveal. We don't know that yet, or what documents, if any, she's provided to this committee.
And we also don't know the exact circumstances of why she decided to testify today. I've heard she had wanted to tell her story. But she's still a current State Department employee, Kate. And that had been the big question because, all along, the administration had made clear they view this impeachment inquiry as invalid and illegitimate, and the White House suggested this week they would not cooperate.
She is still a state employee but has decided to cooperate, even coming through a public entrance at the capitol, so we saw her arrival. But the question is what she'll ultimately reveal -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: And remember, Kurt Volker was there when he testified. Are you getting any clue on how long she expected to face questions? And also, please remind everyone who else is supposed to be expected to testify in the coming week because a lot's changed.
RAJU: We expect a full day of testimony behind closed doors. We'll try to get information as the day emerges. We do expect a lot of closed-door interviews in the week ahead, especially next week when the House returns to session.
It's going to begin on Monday with the president's former top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, about what she knew about the Ukraine matters. But also a mix of current and former officials.
And one person in particular to look out for is who's coming at the moment on Thursday. That's Gordon Sondland. He's the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Someone who did not appear voluntarily earlier this week after the White House directed the State Department to prevent his testimony. But he's since been subpoenaed and, according to his lawyer this morning, he does intend to come next week.
The question is what the White House will do to block that testimony. Whether they'll allow the current top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, to come. We're hearing House Democrats have requested his testimony as well.
There's still questions but we expect a very busy next couple of weeks as Democrats decide whether to impeach this president -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Bill Taylor's take on his end of those text messages that have been revealed that have been fascinating and intriguing and raise so many more questions for them. And this is just the beginning today.
Manu will be on it.
Thank you so much, Manu.
There's also some more breaking news involving Capitol Hill this morning that we do want to get to. President Trump just lost a key court decision over his tax returns. An appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled against the president's efforts. He was trying to block House Democrats from getting his financial records.
This has been going on for quite some time, and this is key ruling to date. What does this all mean?
Let's get the very latest from CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.
Jessica, what does this mean?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is significant because this is the first case for an appeals court. The powerful D.C. circuit, nonetheless, has weighed in on this ongoing standoff being the president and Congress.
And in just the past few minutes, the D.C. appeals court has ruled in favor of the House Oversight Committee here, saying the president and the accounting firm, Mazars, must turn over eight years of accounting records, and that includes tax documents.
It's important to note, that doesn't necessarily mean the House Oversight Committee will now automatically get those records because this will likely be appealed by Trump's team to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It's important to remember this has also been a battle raging in the courts, this particular issue, since April. This is after House Oversight heard from Michael Cohen in his testimony that the president had changed the values on financial statements prepared by his accounting firm. And that's when the committee said, look, we need these financial statements to further our investigation into government ethics laws.
The president has long said that rationale was a rouse, there was no legitimate legislative purpose here. But the court today clearly saying otherwise.
And here's how they put it in dismissing Trump's lawyers arguments. They said, "Just as a congressional committee could not subpoena the president's high school transcripts and service in service of investigation into K through 12 education, nor subpoena his medical records as part of the investigation into public health, it may not subpoena his financial information, except" -- and that's crucial - "to facilitate an investigation into presidential finances."
It continues on to say that, "We conclude that, in issuing the challenged subpoena, the committee was engaged in a legitimate legislative investigation rather than an impermissible law enforcement inquiry."
So that really slams the president's attorneys' arguments here.
And, Kate, you know, the Supreme Court, it could go to them, and they have repeatedly upheld the broad powers of Congress to investigate. So it'll be curious to see if the high court takes this case, how it will all play out, especially with that 5-4 conservative majority at the court, two justices who have been appointed by President Trump -- Kate?
And, Jessica, thanks for laying it out. I really appreciate it.
A lot to get to now. Joining me is former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig. As well as "New York Times" reporters and CNN political analysts, Michael Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis. They are the co-authors of a brand-new fabulous book out about the Trump administration. It's called "Border Wars, Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration."
First of all, congratulations, guys. You do something I always hoped and wished, to as well as run a marathon, which is write a book, and you did it, and I'm very impressed.
First, Elie, to this breaking news about the financial records. How significant is it because the way the court -- one other line from the court's decision, which is, "Having considered the weighty interest and stake in this case, we conclude that the subpoena issued by the committee is valid and enforceable."
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is an important ruling and helps restore some balance to the balance of powers between the executive and legislative branch.
Here the court made a clear statement. They say the Congress has very broad, not quite unlimited, but very broad authority to issue subpoenas. And they said also this is legitimate inquiry this Congress is engaged in. And now we're a half-inch away from Congress getting the president's tax records.
As Jessica said, there's potentially a last stop at the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court does not have to take any case they don't want to take. They only take a very small fraction, usually under 5 percent of the cases that come to them. And if they decline to take this, then it's over and the tax returns go over to Congress.
BOLDUAN: And that would be the final say. So much more to come on that.
Julie, let me ask you about the other very big thing happening on Capitol Hill at this moment, which is the former Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, her testifying. It's fascinating. The president has said the White House has said they're not going to cooperate with any investigation. That letter from White House counsel was clear in what they thought. Yet, you have a State Department employee on the Hill talking right
now. You have more current administration employees like the E.U. ambassador planning to come back next week, even though he was blocked from testifying this week.
I'm just curious, what gives here? Is this a strategy? I don't know. What do you think?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's a bunch of different things going on here. I mean, it is fascinating that the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, is up there testifying. She obviously still works at the State Department.
But the State Department last week stopped -- or earlier this week stopped an ambassador, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, from going and testifying.
And as you said the letter said full halt. It didn't say some people can go and some people can't. They said they weren't going to cooperate with what they consider to be an illegitimate investigation.
I think what's going on with Ambassador Sondland is that he's an ally of President Trump and there must be some sort of agreement or at least understanding. He said he wanted to testify earlier this week and they believe that testimony will be in the president's favor.
I think it's a very different situation with, for instance, Kurt Volker, who resigned and testified last week, and potentially the recalled ambassador and other people who are expecting to see people testify next week, which is that they're private citizens, some of them, and they may say things that are not particularly advantageous to the president.
But how far does the State Department want to go in forcing them not to comply? So far, it looks like they haven't done anything. And we'll have to see what happens, what Marie Yovanovitch says, and how the State Department responds afterwards.
But I think there are two different things going on here.
BOLDUAN: That is actually going to be an interesting wrinkle, what the reporting going out on what she is allowed to or comfortable or does say and how the State Department then responds.
Michael, let me ask you about Rudy Giuliani. President Trump, yesterday, he was not exactly, when asked kind of about this latest with the two associates of Giuliani being arrested in court, he was not exactly coming to Giuliani's defense. The way it was said was, you're going to have to ask Rudy about it, I don't know these guys.
I know we have heard similar wording from the president in the past when he's trying to distance himself. Michael Cohen comes to mind.
Do you think this is showing cracks here between the Trump-Giuliani kind of alliance? Do you see the president separating himself from Giuliani in the midst of this?
MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think it's impossible to really do in the end. There's no doubt in anybody's mind how close Giuliani and the president had been not only dating back decades but certainly in the last year and a half as the president has leaned on Giuliani as kind of the public face of his legal problems.
But that's not to say the lack of logic notwithstanding, that's not to say the president won't try to do just that, because that's been the pattern that he's gone through all the time.
And I think in some ways, he believes that if he can simply over and over again state that he doesn't really know this person or he isn't close to this person, that he somehow can kind of create a reality that doesn't exist.
And in some ways, that may work with his base, with the people he cares about the most, the folks that live in a kind of news bubble where they believe what the president -- anything that the president says.
And I think if he does that -- and he believes if he does that enough he can kind of create that reality. But the challenge is, in this case, not only do you have history running against that, but you're going to have a series of facts that are going to come out because of the investigation and because of news reporting that are going to challenge that reality.
BOLDUAN: Really quickly, Elie, how much legal exposure does Giuliani have at this moment?
HONIG: Yes, Rudy is in real legal jeopardy. The essence of this indictment we saw yesterday is these two guys were funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally from foreign nationals into American politics.
Rudy was closely intertwined with these guys. They were his contacts in Ukraine. They paid him through this strange shell company, Fraud Guarantee -- might want to rethink that name.
But Rudy needs to be concerned. Especially if one of these guys flips. If one of them flips, then look out.
BOLDUAN: Elie, thank you so much.
Julie, Michael, thanks so much. Congratulations on the book.
Thanks for coming on, guys.
SHEAR: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, sounding the alarm. A new report reveals it wasn't just the whistleblower that raised concerns about the president's dealings with Ukraine. Why other national security officials were troubled as well and what they did about it. [11:13:46]
Plus, thousands of residents are being ordered to evacuate right now as firefighters are struggling to contain a really fast-moving wildfire in southern California. We're going to take you there for the very latest.
BOLDUAN: Red flags were raised earlier than previously known by more officials than just the whistleblower and about more than just one phone call with Ukraine. That is the latest reporting coming out of the "Washington Post."
According to "The Post," at least four national security officials went to a top White House attorney to raise concerns, alarmed by President Trump's attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. Much more to this.
Here with me now is one of the "Washington Post" reporters who broke this story, who's been on this from the very beginning, Greg Miller.
Thanks for coming on, Greg.
GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Sure.
BOLDUAN: Your reporting that at least four national security officials raised concerns about the reporting here. And this is before the July 25th phone call at the center of the whistleblower report. What were they so concerned about and do you know what the response was when they raised it?
MILLER: I think that's an important question because a lot of people think this whistleblower report just lands after this troubling call, and that call Trump had with the leader of Ukraine was perhaps a sort of isolated thing. But in fact it fits into a broader sequence or chain of events that was increasingly concerning to people inside the White House.
Those things that happen in the months leading up to that include the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine without really any legitimate explanation. She's testifying on the Hill even as we speak, I think.
The activities of the president's lawyer, Rudolf Giuliani, who starts showing up on cable television talking about his plans to go to Ukraine and his efforts to promote kind of conspiracy theories based in Kiev.
And then you have these two diplomats, including Ambassador Sondland to the E.U., who now assert they're in charge of this relationship and they've been designated by the president to try to work with Ukraine. And we describe in our story a really disturbing meeting at the White
House involving that Ambassador Sondland in July. And that was one of the most important moments when White House officials really, really got concerned that this relationship was being abused.
BOLDUAN: I want to read one quote from the piece, and there's a lot in there but just one of course sticks out, is, "When people were listening to this in real time" -- the call -- "there were significant concerns what was going on, alarm bells were sort of ringing, said one person familiar with the sequence of events inside the White House. People were trying to figure out what to do, how to get a grasp of the situation."
I found that striking because it goes directly against what the president has been saying, that the call was perfect and that this was, as you mentioned, was just one whistleblower with an axe to grind. By the way, there's no evidence that this person has a political axe to grind. But I just find that a very illuminating and important quotation.
MILLER: Exactly. Even before the call is over, you know, people are starting to almost panic. I'm not sure that's too strong a word in this case. And as we say in our story today, that those who are listening to the call come out of it and they immediately start looking for higher ranking officials in the White House to notify.
I mean, that speaks to the level of discomfort with what had transpired on that call.
And inside the White House, there really isn't the equivalent of an inspector general, like a safe kind of whistleblower outlet, so some of them end up going to a lawyer who is the top lawyer for the national Security Council.
To your second question, one of the big questions. All of these alarms being brought to the attention of these lawyers inside the White House, what did they do about it with any of that information?
BOLDUAN: Right. And that's why, after reading your piece, Greg, I was actually wondering, does it now put a spotlight on John Eisenberg, the attorney for the National Security Council, the legal adviser, because these concerns were brought to him?
MILLER: Exactly. And, you know, there are people who defend Eisenberg, say he's a straight shooter, he does the right thing under these circumstances.
But if you look at the sequence of events, when the whistleblower complaint finally surfaces, it's weeks after Eisenberg is notified. He doesn't appear to have taken any substantial steps.
He's one of the lawyers who then argues with the Intelligence Community to try to prevent that whistleblower complaint from being shared with Congress.
So I mean, it looks like, you know, he's also involved in the effort to move the transcript of that call into a highly classified computer system.
So it looks like what we know now suggests they were more concerned about bottling this up than in addressing it and confronting it.
BOLDUAN: From your piece, I have even more questions, especially for John Isenberg, there were more questions he could be answering.
Great stuff, Greg. Thanks for coming on.
MILLER: Absolutely. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, wildfires exploding overnight in southern California. We're going to take you to the front lines of the firefight, next, as thousands of residents are being ordered to evacuate.
BOLDUAN: Dangerous wildfires exploded overnight in southern California, and the situation is only getting worse as we speak. The fires burning over 4,600 acres in a matter of hours in a northern Los Angeles neighborhood. At least one person has died as a result.
Fire crews say the flames have already damaged a number of homes and jumped two freeways, which, of course, means it's putting even more residents at risk.
CNN's Nick Watt in the thick of it. He's joining us now.
Nick, it looks horrific around you. What are you seeing?
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's more what I'm feeling. It's that wind, Kate, that is the issue. The Santa Ana winds, these warm offshore winds, that wind has been whipping these flames all night, carrying embers, igniting hot-spot fires all over the place. That has been the problem.
We were here much earlier this morning and watched this house burn. And this is something I always find cruel about a wildfire. This house burned down. The house next door totally fine. The house next door totally fine. Just wherever an ember lands, that house can go up.
Now 25 or more homes we know have been destroyed. And it could have been a lot worse. Driving around, the topography of this area seemed to have helped.
Now, the fire burned down through these deep caverns, these deep ravines, and you can see sometimes hundreds of houses around that are completely untouched. [11:30:00]