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U.S. Deploys Additional 1,500 Troops to Saudi Arabia; Trump Administration Faces Legal Setbacks; Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Testifies. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired October 11, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN on this Friday afternoon, a very busy Friday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.
Right now, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is behind closed doors on Capitol Hill telling lawmakers about her time in President Trump's State Department, including her stunning claim that President Trump and -- quote -- "people with clearly questionable motives forced her out."
And if it had been up to the White House, she never would have appeared. Moments ago, the chairman of the House Intel, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees announced that Yovanovitch was issued a subpoena after the State Department, on direction of the White House, told her not to show up.
She served this nation as a diplomat for over three decades, appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents.
And in her opening statement this morning, which was obtained by "The New York Times," this former ambassador takes us inside the moment she learned she would no longer be needed at the State Department.
This is what she said -- quote -- "I met with the deputy secretary of state, who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause."
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is Capitol Hill for us.
And just perspective, this is the second person just this week that the Trump administration had tried to block from speaking to Congress. The other was E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland. So this is pretty stunning.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Brooke.
And it's certainly a significant development. There was so much speculation leading into this morning whether Marie Yovanovitch would show up or not, whether she would be allowed to show up or not, essentially leading into the moment that eyes were seen on her on Capitol Hill, and she entered the room here, where she's meeting with lawmakers.
So this dramatic backstory that we're now learning about what went on behind the scenes is stunning. And you have, according to the three House committees here speaking with her, those chairs saying that it came to their attention that the State Department, at the direction, they say, of the White House, directed her not to show up today, not to speak to lawmakers.
And that pushed them to very quickly issue a subpoena this morning to compel her to come in. Of course, those committee chairs not pleased overall, saying that this will, of course, play into their larger impeachment inquiry.
They say in a statement -- quote -- "Any efforts by the Trump administration officials to prevent witnesses' cooperation with the committee will be deemed obstruction of a co-equal branch of government, and adverse interference may be drawn against the president on the underlying allegations of corruption and cover-up."
So all this behind-the-scenes maneuvering underscores the significance of the moment, that she has now been in that room speaking with lawmakers for now going on five hours now.
And we are learning a bit of what she's telling lawmakers, according to the excerpts obtained by "The Washington Post" of her opening statement, during which she talks about her abrupt removal from her post in Ukraine, how she describes how she believes it was somewhat of a smear campaign, pressure from the president and a smear campaign going on behind the scenes, she says, of unfounded and false claims, she says, by people with questionable motives, clearly a reference there, Brooke, to the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: You laid it out perfectly. And it was my bad. It's Friday. That's my excuse. Yovanovitch, Yovanovitch, Yovanovitch.
Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.
Tom Countryman is chairman of the Arms Control Association and a former senior State Department official who was pushed out by Trump while en route to a meeting on nuclear weapons overseas. A little context there about Tom. Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst. And Kel McClanahan is executive director of National Security Counselors.
So, gentlemen, welcome to all of you.
And just, Paul, first, just on this news from these chairmen of these various House committees mean, how extraordinary is it that the White House, State Department basically tried to tell her, you can't honor a congressional request?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's extraordinary on so many levels.
First, you never hear of the State Department, on orders of the president, blocking somebody from the State Department coming in to testify about a matter of foreign affairs. That's highly, highly unusual.
CALLAN: But the second thing, to order her and to try to get her to ultimately defy a subpoena really raises it to another level.
And I think it's going to set a precedent over the long run, because, remember, each thing that happens now while impeachment is being investigated will set a precedent for what comes in the future in terms of bringing more witnesses in to testify.
So you now have a precedent that a witness who has been subpoenaed has the right to come in and speak to Congress, unless, of course, some court rules otherwise.
BALDWIN: And, again, just quick follow-up, because you Yovanovitch, as we have pointed out, been this public servant for 30 years, had been appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents. And she is on the State Department payroll still.
So does she -- should she be worried about her job?
CALLAN: I think she will be OK, because, as a career diplomat, she has certain due process rights. And they would have to show that she acted in bad faith.
And, certainly, honoring a congressional subpoena -- and congressional subpoenas have been upheld by the courts throughout history -- would seem to be a good faith act. So I think it would be hard to fire her.
BALDWIN: OK, Tom Countryman, I -- boy, oh, boy, I would love to hear from you here, because I can't imagine how your former colleagues over at the State Department are feeling today, because you have Yovanovitch's deposition.
And on top of that, the other piece of news is that this top adviser to Secretary Pompeo quit because, apparently, he didn't feel that Pompeo expressed enough public support for Yovanovitch and others who've been caught up in the Ukraine investigations.
I mean, you tell me what you can share from any conversations you may be having from folks over at the State Department. What are -- what might they be saying or feeling today?
TOM COUNTRYMAN, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, thanks, Brooke.
A couple of points I would emphasize. First of all, Masha Yovanovitch is among the most gifted and honorable of American diplomats. Whatever she's saying today is not motivated by anger or at her mistreatment or by partisanship, but by a desire for truth.
And I would love everyone to read the statement she submitted, not just for the facts of the case, but because it contains an inspiring statement about the love of country that motivates America's public servants.
COUNTRYMAN: Second, those officials, like my friend Mike McKinley who has just left, those who have left the State Department are patriotic Americans.
And those Foreign Service and Civil Service officers who remain and are doing their best in difficult times are also patriotic Americans. They did not swear an oath to the president or to his bank account, but to the Constitution. And, every day, they work for America's national security.
And just one quick point. When Congressman Pompeo zealously pursued an investigation into the tragedy at Benghazi, it never occurred to Secretary Clinton or to anyone in the State Department that they could simply refuse to cooperate with a legitimate congressional investigation.
But that is the blatantly unconstitutional position that the White House takes and that Secretary Pompeo seems to defend.
BALDWIN: Point made. Point made.
Kel, just reminding everyone, also, Yovanovitch was brought up in that July 25 phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart. We know that Yovanovitch was ousted at a time that, number one, she said she had just been asked to extend her tour. And, two, you have this newly elected Ukraine president.
So you would think that they would want continuity of tenure, right, of keeping an ambassador in that same post. But the Trump White House apparently did not. So why would they want her out?
KEL MCCLANAHAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNSELORS: Well, you can think of a few obvious reasons. I mean, even in her testimony, she talked about -- or -- sorry -- her written testimony, she talked about how there was this campaign that people on the outside can draw or can link back to Rudy Giuliani to whisper in the president's ear that she was basically undermining the interests that Giuliani and maybe the president had in the region because of her anti-corruption efforts.
And this sort of shadow diplomacy that she was in the middle of, that she was caught in, where she was trying to be the official voice of the United States government in Ukraine, as is her job, and assist them in their anti-corruption efforts and foster anti-corruption efforts.
And ever since September 2018, there was this campaign that she described that the deputy secretary of state had told her about to get her removed...
MCCLANAHAN: ... based on these allegations that she was somehow disloyal.
BALDWIN: She does mention that in her opening statement.
And, Tom, back over to you, as you are urging everyone to read it. I read every word.
And I wanted to highlight this one graph toward the end. She had said this morning: "Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution."
And she says: "I fear that not doing so will harm our nation's interest, perhaps irreparably."
And, Tom, what would that harm look like long-term?
COUNTRYMAN: Well, it is definitely long-term harm that has already been inflicted. It is not irrecoverable.
A serious leadership at the State Department can withstand -- restore the credibility of America's diplomacy overseas. But the situation we have now is that those individuals who have devoted a career to this, who understand foreign policy, are not seen by foreign leaders as reliably speaking for the United States government.
Rather, the -- this White House seems to be embracing the kind of diplomacy with which countries that are corrupt, that are authoritarian are more comfortable with, such as Turkey or Hungary or Russia.
And so what we are seeing is the inability of the United States to speak credibly in favor of democracy, in favor of human rights, and against corruption. That can be fixed. But the damage done in the last two-and-a-half years is substantial.
BALDWIN: I'm going to let those words just hang.
I appreciate every single one of you. Thank you, Paul Callan. Don't go too far. We're going to chat on something else coming up. We're also following -- gentlemen, thank you.
We are following the breaking news on three other fronts. The markets are up more than 400 points after the Trump administration announced it has reached this preliminary trade deal with China. We are waiting to hear from President Trump on this, as he meets with the Chinese vice premier in the Oval Office.
Plus, 100,000 people have now been displaced, as Turkey is bombarding U.S. allies in Northern Syria for a third day.
And a big blow to the president in the fight over his tax returns. A judge just ruled that Trump's accounting firm must turn over eight years of documents to House lawmakers. So we will talk about where this legal battle goes from here.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being here.
A Friday full of legal setbacks for the Trump administration. Just in this past hour, a federal judge in New York has blocked a ruling that made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they were seeking public assistance for things like food stamps.
Meantime, another judge in Texas just ruled that the president's use of emergency funds to build his border wall is unlawful. And this is specifically about reallocating those military construction dollars.
And then, finally, in D.C., an appeals court ruled that the president's accounting firm must now comply with House Democrats' demands for eight years of his tax documents. His legal team just lost an appeal to stop a congressional subpoena.
So let's begin with Jessica Schneider, our CNN justice correspondent, just to fill us in on the myriad setbacks, I guess, facing this administration. Talk to me about what you know.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
So the one that happened this morning, Brooke, was just about the president's financial documents, the fact that he will have to hand over eight years' worth to the House Oversight Committee.
But, really, despite their win this morning, House Democrats likely really won't see these financial documents anytime soon. That's because the president's personal attorney Jay Sekulow has vowed to fight this, saying that they will be exploring all appellate options.
And they have about seven days to decide whether or not they're going to appeal this to the full D.C. Circuit. That's because the D.C. Circuit decision this morning was only from three judges. They have the option to appeal to the entire circuit. So that's one option.
Or they could appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court and get a final ruling that way. However, the Supreme Court throughout its history has often given broad powers to Congress to investigate. So the rulings from the Supreme Court aren't really on the Trump
team's side. This all stems back to February, when we heard from Michael Cohen in that House Oversight Committee. He gave testimony saying that the president had sort of fudged or falsified some of his financial records.
SCHNEIDER: And that led the House Oversight Committee to then say, look, we need to look at the president's financial records to really do a broad investigation, broad oversight over government ethics rules.
So the Democrats have been fighting for this for several months. This is the second time they have won. And they won in the district court and the appellate court just this morning. So we will see how this moves forward.
But, again, Brooke, it doesn't look like Democrats are actually going to see anything in terms of tax returns, tax documents, financial records anytime soon, because this fight will continue to play out in the courts here -- Brooke.
Jessica, thank you.
BALDWIN: Speaking of the fights playing out in the courts, Paul Callan is back with me.
And so, just first, on the point of the tax returns, what does the White House counsel do? Do they just roll straight to the Supreme Court? What do you think?
CALLAN: They have got two choices. They can roll directly to the Supreme Court. They might want to do that because they have a 5-4 majority there.
But if they really want to stall things, normally, they would go for what's called an en banc hearing before the D.C. Circuit. All of the judges in the circuit get together in a room and make a decision.
But there's one thing that might cause them to hesitate a little bit. Guess who the presiding judge of the D.C. circuit is?
CALLAN: Merrick Garland.
BALDWIN: Merrick Garland?
CALLAN: That's right, the person that was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Obama, but Congress wouldn't give him a hearing, and Justice Gorsuch ultimately got the seat.
So I'm not -- I'm wondering how friendly the ruling would be with Merrick Garland presiding over the court.
BALDWIN: What is it, Paul, they say about karma?
CALLAN: Well, yes. What goes around comes around, I guess.
BALDWIN: Let's move to border wall funding, the ruling on border wall funding.
The judge appears poised to block the use of those funds. So where does this go next?
CALLAN: Well, once again, same thing. It could go -- it will go up to the circuit court, and then it would go eventually to the Supreme Court.
Now, I will say, in this area, the Supreme Court has issued a stay allowing the president to divert these funds. So there's kind of a hint that, at least preliminarily, the Supreme Court is favorable to the president on this issue. But it's a long way before it gets to the Supreme Court.
BALDWIN: Lastly, on the immigration ruling -- this is the immigration ruling that made it more difficult for someone to gain legal status if they apply for things like welfare or food stamps -- the judge in that case said -- quote -- "No reasonable basis to apply one public charge framework to one set of individuals and a different public charge framework to a second set of individuals."
What does that mean? And then do you expect this ruling to stick?
CALLAN: Well, this is what he's talking about.
The lawsuit, by the way, is about a section in the immigration code that says, if you're a public charge, you're not supposed to be able to get American citizenship or get into the country. However, that really has not been enforced for many, many years.
And as a result, there are a lot of people with green cards who maybe fell on hard times after they came into the country and took food stamps or other sorts of things. And the Trump administration is saying now that disqualifies them from becoming citizens.
The judge here is talking about another concept, though, and that is he only rules over the Southern District of New York, which is a limited geographical area. But this judge is saying, you know something? This rule applies to potential immigrants all over the United States.
So if I issue a ruling, my ruling is going to bind all of the United States. And district court judges can do that in rare circumstances. So that's what the judge is talking about. He's saying, we can't have a rule in New York that, if you're on welfare, you can't become a citizen, but, in California, you can.
It's got to be a uniform rule for the whole country.
BALDWIN: Got it.
All right, Paul, thank you very much for all of that.
CALLAN: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Still to come here, the Pentagon announces it's sending an additional 1,500 troops, U.S. troops, to the Middle East, just as the U.S. pulls out of Northern Syria.
Also, we're learning today that more than 100,000 people have been displaced as the attacks against American Kurdish allies go into a third straight day.
We will be right back.
BALDWIN: CNN following multiple events unfolding right now in the Middle East.
Another Iranian oil tanker may have come under attack. And after abandoning Kurdish forces currently under attack by Turkey, the United States just announced it's sending an additional 1,500 troops into Saudi Arabia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: In response to continue threats in the region, I have ordered the deployment to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia of two additional fighter squadrons and supporting personnel, along with additional Patriot and THAAD air and missile defense batteries.
Taken together with other deployments I have extended or authorized within the last month, this involves about 3,000 United States forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Nic Robertson is our CNN international diplomatic editor. And he has more on the reasoning behind the move.
Nic, why is this happening now?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it appears in part because the sort of normal transition between two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Gulf is hitting a hiccup.
The incoming carrier group, the main battle carrier, has an electrical issue on board the ship, so it can't make it in on time. So the only obvious backup is put in aircraft based on land, plus the forces to go with them to man them.
So this is quite a significant ratcheting up, but one of the reasons -- one of the reasons, clearly, because most of the forces the U.S. has sent, in addition to Saudi Arabia, over the last few months or so have been defensive. They have been to -- Patriot missile batteries and the troops that man those. This is clearly an offensive capacity.
And, of course, just we know today reports of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Saudi Arabia...
ROBERTSON: ... supposedly hit by missiles, although we have seen no evidence of it so far.
BALDWIN: Can you tell me more about that?
ROBERTSON: Yes, sure.
I mean, what -- what we heard