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At Least 1 Dead, Thousands Order to Leave Ahead of California Fire; Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Testifies on Capitol Hill; Senior Pompeo Adviser Resigns over Concerns Top State Department Officials Were Not Defending Yovanovitch; GOP Senator Dodges Question: If Appropriate for Trump to Ask Ukraine, China to Investigate Political Rival; Iran State Media: 2 Missiles "Possibly" Hit Iranian Oil Tanker. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 11, 2019 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00]

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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.

But, Kate, this wind is going to continue throughout the day, into this afternoon and that is what firefighters are concerned about.

As you mentioned, one fatality so far, a cardiac arrest. One firefighter slightly injured. And 100,000 people though evacuated from 23,000 homes.

Back to you.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Nick, thank you so much. We'll see what today brings. But that wind, as you said, does not look like it's going to be helping anytime soon.

Coming up for us, a key witness on the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, President Trump's former ambassador to Ukraine, answering questions before congressional committees behind closed doors. Up next, someone who knows her and knows that job very well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:46]

BOLDUAN: Right now, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, is testifying before House investigators behind closed doors. Her testimony has been highly anticipated as she's become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry of the president.

She was unexpectedly pushed out of her post in May following complaints from President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. She was also talked about on that July 25th call between Trump and Ukraine's new president that's at the center of the whistleblower complaint.

President Trump saying this about Yovanovitch: "The former ambassador from the United States, the woman was bad news. And the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news. So I just want to let you know that," said the president.

Yet, numerous former State Department officials say she was actually an outspoken -- outspoken in trying to root out corruption there. Or putting it another way, trying to do her job. So what could she say today?

Joining me right now is another former ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst. Yovanovitch was his deputy during part of the time he was ambassador there.

Ambassador, thank you so much.

You know Ambassador Yovanovitch. Is she as President Trump said, bad news?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: No, she was a top- notch diplomat, is a top-notch diplomat. This is her third embassy. She is always defending American interests, and she was doing a great job in difficult circumstances in Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And the reason the president gives for his focus broadly on Ukraine now is that he says he wants to root out corruption. And obviously suggesting then, in saying that, that she is -- she was not doing that because then he pushed her out of the post. What do you say to that?

HERBST: Well, she was doing a great job dealing with corruption in Ukraine. The problem was that she criticized the top leadership and the Prosecutor General Lutsenko for not going after corruption as hard as they should have. And they weren't happy about that which is why he bad mouthed her, Lutsenko bad mouthed her, in fact, making things up.

BOLDUAN: What do you think she's going to be able to lay out today behind closed doors with House investigators?

HERBST: Well, I hesitate to speak for her. She'll speak for herself.

But the key point is this, that when President Trump was elected, I think the leaders of Ukraine were hoping the U.S. focus by the administration, the U.S. government was on corruption, but our policy remained the same.

And Ambassador Yovanovitch was pushing them to make the right sorts of choices. As was the IMF, the European Union. And they wanted to get credit for reform when they weren't doing everything necessary so they resented her efforts.

And the irony here is that the people who are being quoted by, for example, Mayor Giuliani, former Prosecutor General Shokin and former Prosecutor General Lutsenko, were not reporting, on the contrary. And so their criticism of her was their desire to go after someone who criticized their inability to deal with corruption.

BOLDUAN: You have a unique perspective. At the center of all this is the president's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, if Biden had tried to push out a prosecutor in Ukraine to protect his son. There's no evidence, I will say once again, of any wrongdoing on their part. But this is the president's focus.

You testified before Congress in 2016 about this same prosecutor and Joe Biden's role. Can you clear this up for folks?

HERBST: It's very simple. To put it diplomatically, Prosecutor General Shokin was not going after corruption. And, in fact, he was not going after the firm where Vice President Biden's son was on the board. And he was being criticized for that by the ambassador at the time.

And Biden had a very strong interest in reform in Ukraine. And he used the influence he had to help remove Shokin. But it wasn't just Biden who wanted Shokin out. The IMF wanted him out. The E.U. wanted him out. All the reformers in Ukraine wanted him out.

So what Biden did was commendable. He was pursuing our policy going after corruption in Ukraine and seeking the removal of the prosecutor general who was not going after corruption.

[11:40:09]

BOLDUAN: To put it -- obviously, I'm going to put it undiplomatically. What the president is saying is wrong, is completely counter to what you know and lived.

HERBST: That's correct. And let me give you a little bit of color on this. They've been quoting the prosecutor general who Vice President Biden helped remove shortly. And Mayor Giuliani was waving around this affidavit that Shokin had produced which he criticized Vice President Biden.

But the odd thing is, which undermines Shokin, he produces that affidavit in support of one of Ukraine's most notorious oligarchs who's under indictment in the United States.

BOLDUAN: I want to make sure everyone realizes this is not the ambassador saying this today. You said this in 2016 testimony before Congress.

HERBST: Yes.

BOLDUAN: I'm looking back at your testimony that was brought forth by "KFILE" reminding us of this great reporting. And you talk about this, that the "U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke publicly about this before and during his December visit to Kiev but Mr. Shokin remained in place."

You added, "Vice President Joe Biden has been a great advocate for reform for Ukraine." With all of this, we also have CNN's Kylie Atwood, she's reporting,

this morning, a top adviser to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo resigned, Michael McKinley.

And he resigned because of the silence coming from the top ranks of the State Department, not defending Marie Yovanovitch in what she's experienced and the tarnish to her reputation that was attempted by those around President Trump.

What do you think of that, the fact this top advisor to Mike Pompeo is resigning over this?

HERBST: Well, I have a slightly different take. Certainly, Ambassador Yovanovitch was smeared, a great diplomat who should not have gone through this. And hopefully, her reputation will return among those who have been subject to these smear efforts.

But Pompeo I believe was trying to defend her. And I think had he not spoken up internally on her behalf, she may well have been fired summarily and kicked out of the State Department. The fact she remains in the State Department reflected his efforts.

And I think it's important there be people in the government who are able to push, one way or the other, President Trump in the right direction.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Ambassador, thank you so much for coming on. It was really important to have your perspective today. Thank you so much.

HERBST: Pleasure. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, still, it is the question in the impeachment investigation. Why will so many Republicans not answer it? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:45:52]

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: The reality of living in isolation is out there, and it's real. And that's really one of the driving forces for us to keep going, for us to take those people out of isolation and make an example of them. Hey, we're moving.

I looked at it much more than a hot air balloon ride. There's a sense of accomplishment, a story that they get to take back to their community. It lifts their spirits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: To find out much more, go to CNNheroes.com.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Here is the singular question that needs answering right now: Should a president ask a foreign government to investigate their political rival? It is a singular question the vast majority of Republicans are having a lot of trouble answering right now.

Example, Republican Senator Cory gardener, who's in a tough re- election battle in Colorado, he's seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in this cycle, actually. He was given ample opportunity to answer that question. Here's what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But the question is, is it appropriate for a president --

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO): Look, we are going to have an investigation and it's a non-partisan investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: It's an answer you get from a very serious investigation.

MCLEAN: Would you be OK if it was a Democrat asking a foreign government --

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: -- a jump to a very partisan, partisan serious use of a tool in the Constitution. This is about an investigation taking place in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Where it should be.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:50:12]

MCLEAN: But you're not answering the question. We want to hear from you.

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: You're a smart guy. You know --

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: This is about politics in the moment and that's why they're trying to do this now. The American people will have a choice --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: CNN national correspondent, Scott McLean, joins us from Denver.

Scott, you were right there trying to get the Senator to answer the question. It was clear he did not want to answer it. Anyone on his team or around him clueing you into why not?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know what often happens in these gaggles is reporters will jump around to different topics, different angles, which allows every politician to avoid having to give a direct answer to a direct question.

In this case, though, it became quite clear from the get-go that all four of the reporters who were there were there to ask the same question, is it OK for a U.S. president to ask a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

To Gardner's credit, he stood there taking questions for more than seven minutes. He never answered that one directly. By my count, he was asked some variation of it seven different times.

I also asked what he made about the president's suggestion on the lawn of the White House, no just Ukraine but that China should investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCLEAN: What did you make of the president's comments that China should be perhaps investigating the Bidens.

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: There's going to be a conversation -- we have an investigation taking place in the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's a nonpartisan investigation and it should be that way. But all that I have seen so far is a partisan exercise of a constitutional tool and that's very frustrating.

MCLEAN: Did you take him seriously, though, on his suggestion of --

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: There's an investigation. This is an investigation. I'm not going to start talking before I have all the facts, all the information.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MCLEAN: So Gardner went on to say that Democrats have been dead-set on impeaching this president for years, and it is part of their campaign plan -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's so awkward to watch that play out over and over again.

Gardner is in one of the toughest reelection races in the country. What are the dynamics on the ground right now, so folks understand, other than that he is one of the most vulnerable Republicans out there?

MCLEAN: Yes, so you can imagine the calculation that perhaps Gardner's campaign is doing. If he goes out and condemns the president's actions on Ukraine too forcefully, he risks the ire of the White House and alienating his own supporters.

If he brushes the president's actions as no big deal, he risks losing moderate voters. And in Colorado, there are a heck of a lot of them. This is a purple state, one that seems to be getting bluer and bluer by the day.

Gardner's likely Democrat opponent in the Senate race next year is former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who dropped out of the presidential race to try to flip Gardner's seat. Hickenlooper sent out a fundraising e-mail to capitalize on Gardener's non-answer -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Putting politics aside, when he says that he's waiting for all the facts to come out, I don't know what more facts that you need other than the president saying to the camera multiple times, I think Ukraine and China should investigate Joe Biden.

These things continue to be ignored by any Republican, not every, but most Republicans who are asked by reporters like yourself.

Great to see you, Scott. Thank you.

MCLEAN: Thanks.

Coming up for us, reports of an Iranian oil tanker hit by a missile attack. Who is to blame? What is the fall out and impact going to be to global oil prices?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:58:33]

BOLDUAN: Oil prices are rising this morning as tension is also rising once again in the Middle East. Iran state media says an oil tanker was possibly hit by two missiles near the Saudi port of Jeddah. They claim the explosions caused oil to start leaking into the Red Sea. What is going on and what is the fallout going to be.

CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is joining me now with more on this.

Nic, what are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Kate, I think there were several headlines here. One of those headlines is we haven't yet seen pictures of the damage, what the Iranians claim the national oil company running the tanker say in the early hours of the day, two missiles hit or two rockets hit the ship, that it punched holes about a meter and a half in diameter. We haven't seen evidence of that so far.

They do say that there was an oil spill. We haven't seen evidence of that. There was talk of fire. We haven't seen evidence of that. Although now they say there's no fire. None of the crew were injured.

Saudi officials have not said anything about this.

Of course, it comes at a very, very tense time. The incident took place about 60 miles, we're told, off the Saudi port city of Jeddah in the Red Sea.

The ship, however, has continued to move during this period, which gives you a clear understanding that it is not heavily damaged.

But of course, this comes so soon after the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities the Saudis were blaming essentially on Iran.

Tensions rising and, with it, again today, the price of oil -- Kate?

[12:00:08] BOLDUAN: Nic, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Thank you all so much for joining me.