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CNN RIGHT NOW
Former Ambassador To Ukraine Says She was Removed Based On False Claims By People With Questionable Motives; Interview with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ; Feds Scrutinizing Giuliani's Financial Ties To Indicted Associates. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired October 11, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Boris Sanchez in for Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, we begin with breaking news this hour. The House moving ahead with their impeachment inquiry with an important witness offering testimony on the Trump administration's relationship with Ukraine, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch appearing today. She was ambassador there until the administration recalled her in May, two months before the faithful call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.
We have some of her opening statement and it is eye-opening. She says, quote, I met with the deputy secretary of state who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said the president had lost confidence in me and no longer wished for me to serve as his ambassador. He added 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.
Remember, in that call with President Zelensky, President Trump called her, quote, bad news. She had been targeted with Rudy Giuliani who considered her anti-Trump. Her name also came up as a target in the indictment of two Giuliani associates unsealed yesterday.
Here's what she said today, quote, I don't know Mr. Giuliani's motives for attacking me but individuals who have been named in the press, contacts of Mr. Giuliani, may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by her anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.
Our own Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, these are explosive comments just in her opening statement. What more can you tell us about her testimony?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and she said that she was incredulous that she had been dismissed by what she says were unfounded accusations by people with questionable motives.
In part of her testimony, her opening statement, she tries to push back at some of the allegations against her, what she calls a smear campaign launched by people, like Rudy Giuliani, who went after her that eventually led to her dismissal, after the president had raised concerns about her performance, had levied pressure on the State Department to remove her from her post, according to her sworn testimony.
Now, she tries to push back at some of the smears and attacks that she says were leveled against her. She says she was never asked by the Obama administration to help Hillary Clinton or harm the Trump campaign. She said that she -- there's no truth to the fact that she was disloyal to President Trump.
She also said she never met or spoke with Hunter Biden, and, of course and suggested also that she had never told the Ukrainian government not to launch any sort of prosecution or any sort of investigation into potential corruption. And she also said that Vice President Biden never raised the issue of Hunter Biden in her conversations with the vice president.
So all of these types of allegations had come up and all surrounds the question about the president's efforts to urge the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival, whether or not Ukraine aide was held up in any way as part of that as to the Ukrainian government, those are also the questions they plan to get into behind closed doors.
She has been there roughly about three hours now answering questions from members. We've heard -- we have not seen many members leave yet. We do hope to hear from more. But at the moment, this testimony is what a lot of lawmakers wanted to hear, exactly why she left, the reasons behind her departure, and what she knows about the president's efforts to urge the Ukrainians to move ahead with that Biden probe. Boris?
SANCHEZ: Manu, the fact that she is testifying is a bit of a surprise, because we had seen the State Department intervene when it came to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Now, he's saying that he's going to testify next week.
He was supposed to testify on Tuesday, the White House, the State Department blocking that appearance. Tell us about the decision for him to testify next week, and do you think he's going to turn over some of those documents that were subpoenaed?
RAJU: There is no word yet about whether he will turn over those documents. His attorney put out a statement this morning saying that that's going to be essentially up to the State Department. The State Department, of course, intervened and tried to prevent other documents from going forward. But he did say he would, and he does intend to appear next week because he has been served with a subpoena to appear next week, so perhaps that's one reason why.
Now, we were also told this morning that he had yet to get guidance from the State Department about whether he can appear despite having that subpoena. We've seen other administration officials, despite facing a subpoena, listen to the White House and not comply with the congressional subpoena. So we'll see if that changes in any way. The circumstances of today of Yovanovitch's testimony is still a bit unclear, because while she was a former ambassador, she's a current state employee.
And as of early this morning, she had not indicated yet whether or not the department tried to interfere with her testimony in any way. That's something we'll have to clarify in the coming hours, Boris.
SANCHEZ: Yes, Manu. We know you'll keep an eye on her testimony and bring us any details. Manu Raju reporting from Capitol Hill, thank you.
Plenty to digest and discuss. Fortunately, we have a great panel with us. We have CNN National Security Analyst Samantha Vinograd, who served as a senior adviser under President Obama. We also have former Counsel to the U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Carrie Cordero, and CNN's Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, let's start with you. This testimony, this opening statement is scathing. What do you think?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, and stunning and very sad, actually. I mean, you have a career diplomat talking about how the State Department is being attacked and hollowed out from within, and how this can harm our nation's interests, perhaps, irreparably.
And she tells a story as a career diplomat of being called on the carpet effectively by John Sullivan, who has now been nominated to be the ambassador to Russia, saying, look, this is -- the president no longer has faith in you and that, you know, he said this is not doing your job, and she was allowed to come back and still remain as part of the State Department. But it wasn't for cause but that the president had -- there had been a concerted campaign.
BORGER: And so he had to actually tell her that, and here she is now, and I'm not surprised she wanted to tell her story, but it's a story that's really going to reverberate around this country and around the world, I think, because she was removed for reasons regarding what Rudy Giuliani and his two friends who have now been indicted.
SANCHEZ: It's fascinating that Sullivan, at one point, says you didn't do anything wrong.
BORGER: Right, exactly. Now, the president won't like that because the president has trashed her repeatedly, and that's probably because she fought some things he didn't want to fight, want her to fight.
SANCHEZ: Carrie, Rudy Giuliani mentioned in this, she's specifically mentioned his associates, as we saw yesterday, were indicted. Should he start looking for legal representation? Could he be in trouble? CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think fact that the indictments came down yesterday in a way that was rushed, so it didn't look as if the government was really ready to indict. They had to quickly file their charges and unseal their charges because those individuals were going to depart the United States. So there certainly could be an ongoing investigation that might implicate Rudy Giuliani.
But I also think in addition to her references to him specifically, the point that's relevant, the bigger point I think she's making here in her statement today is that what is the motivation for U.S. diplomatic activities and national security decisions and how are those decisions being made, and are they being made based on the interests of people like Rudy Giuliani's associates or other private persons, business interests or personal interests or the president's political interests, versus things that are being done and decisions being made in U.S. national security interests. And I think that her grave concern as a career national security and diplomatic professional comes through.
SANCHEZ: Sam, this doesn't paint the greatest picture of Mike Pompeo, right, having the president's personal attorney dictate State Department personnel as an outsider, and somebody who's not really connected to the administration in any official role.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly right. And let's be clear, Ambassador Yovanovitch was likely recalled for actually doing her job. She was serving in Kiev, working on, guess what, anti-corruption. She details that in her testimony.
And from her testimony, it appears that part of why she was recalled was because she wouldn't get out of the way and look the other way. We had another career ambassador resign from the State Department last night, McKinley, and it looks like these political appointees were running a separate process and really serving as campaign surrogates for the president.
Secretary of State Pompeo has not come out in Yovanovitch's defense despite the president's personal attacks against her. And what we also don't know is what Ambassador Sondland's testimony next week will look like and whether he will actually be allowed to speak freely or not. And, Boris, it's interesting, this is not the first time that a U.S. ambassador has been the subject of a political smear campaign or conspiracy theories. That's actually something the Russians do quite often to try to discredit American ambassadors overseas.
This time, the conspiracy theories are being propagated by members of the U.S. administration. So what we have again is an ambassador who fought against corruption overseas now having to come and testify about corruption here at home.
BORGER: And we don't know. As Manu was pointing out, we don't know what the State Department said to her before she came to testify. Did they say you can't and she did it despite their instructions or did they say, we would rather you did not, or nothing at all?
And Sondland, as you were saying, who is a political appointee, has been subpoenaed to testify next week. We'll see. We're assuming he is planning, we're told, to testify. But what about other diplomats? What about Mr. Taylor, with whom he was texting and who raised all these questions about quid pro quos? Would he testify? Would he want to testify? Would he be allowed to testify? We don't know.
SANCHEZ: All good questions. Sam, the timing of this is fascinating with John Sullivan literally as this opening statement comes out, being named the ambassador to Russia. What do you make of that?
VINOGRAD: Well, I served under a Republican president and a Democrat, I served with career diplomats and political appointees. John Sullivan understood that there is a year-long hit job against Yovanovitch. He gave an order for her get on the next plane home, according to this testimony, despite there being no cause for calling her. That unto itself was a national security risk.
Normally, when you recall an ambassador, it's a month-long process, so that there is a transition and so the key interests don't fall by the wayside. John Sullivan apparently, like so many other senior officials, felt that something was wrong but did it anyway.
And it appears he is being rewarded for that behavior, and it brings us all back to the question, and, Gloria, we talk about this a lot, why did everybody feel concern, express concern but not do anything about it. It appears the machinery of the State Department and of the White House were to maybe have a feeling that something was amiss, but to implement the president's orders.
SANCHEZ: And, Carrie, to you, really -- taking a step back to what Gloria was talking about, it really stands out that she would put this opening statement out there with the State Department watching this. Do you think she may have needed their approval? How would they have weighed in on this opening statement?
CORDERO: Well, she's a current -- I mean, if this was a normal environment and you had a State Department official who was testifying on behalf of the State Department, then, yes, it would be reviewed by State Department personnel. There will be an interagency process even, potentially. None of those norms and ways that government usually behaves applies in this case.
She is in a very unusual position. She has been in the government over 33 years. I assume that she's potentially eligible to retire, and probably will have to make decisions about whether she's going to stay in government or whether she's going to leave government.
But this is a statement, this is somebody on the inside who is telling members of Congress in their oversight capacity and then also the public by being able to release her statement that she is sounding a warning that U.S. national security and diplomatic activities may not be being conducted in the United States' interest.
And that, I think, is her point. She is saying that there may be some sort of shadow diplomacy that's going on where you have the State Department supposing to be doing official things for the government and on the other hand you have this close cadre of political officials in the White House who may be acting in interests that are different.
BORGER: Can I also add that she confirms the whistleblower's account of what was going on from the whistleblower's point of view over in the White House? And this was also to me like a cri de coeur. I think it was this sort of, wake up, everyone, look at what is going on inside the State Department.
And maybe there is a war going on between the political appointees and the career diplomats. I don't know. You can speak to that better than I can. But it sure seems to me like she was standing up for the people who have spent their careers in Foreign Service.
SANCHEZ: Notably, the national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, recently announced he would be stripping the NSC staff by half and he would installing mostly political appointees. What do you make of that, Sam?
VINOGRAD: Well, it certainly looks like they're trying to get rid of witnesses to a crime. But, by the way, people are thinned out from the NSC. They can still file whistleblower complaints. And if they're fired, guess what, they can still testify before Congress. So it is a very poor legal strategy.
But the politicization of the NSC is something deeply jarring to me. I was what we called a career civil servant. I served regardless of who the president was. The reason the NSC is staffed with career for the most part is, one, they have actual expertise, and they have years of experience with departments and agencies regardless, again, of who's president.
There is a disconcerting trend which is that the political appointees run a shadow process driven by the president's personal interests and not national security ones. So, Boris, to me, this looks like the president is trying to make the NSC into his campaign surrogate and a campaign arm rather than using them to actually advance U.S. national security.
CORDERO: And some of the reporting on this, Boris, has focused on the numbers. It's not that -- from my perspective, it's not the numbers of the NSC staff --
VINOGRAD: Right, NSC was about a hundred.
CORDERO: -- over different administrations of both parties, the numbers have ballooned and the numbers have drawn down.
So it's not the numbers that matter. What matters is the quality of the people, whether there are, as Samantha is describing, national security professionals who are doing this work or whether there are people who are just beholden to the president politically.
And it's not, you know, inconsequential that on the same day this announcement comes out, we have the State Department tweeting that Ivanka Trump is speaking on peace and security.
So you have a position where there's people with no national security expertise or qualifications doing diplomatic and national security work, and that's really the problem.
VINOGRAD: I do think the numbers matter. I agree with you. Under Clinton, there was about a hundred people. Under Obama, we got really big. We're about quadruple that size.
But even if the president isn't using his NSC, Boris, they still play a critical function. They liaise with foreign counterparts and they communicate with the departments and agencies to actually make sure that policy is being implemented. So if you get too small, you lose that. But, again, to Carrie's point, it's about the quality.
BORGER: How many national security advisers does he have?
VINOGRAD: Quite few.
SANCHEZ: I think it's four in three years at this point.
VINOGRAD: Quite a few.
SANCHEZ: Thank you so much for that. All of that drama just from this opening statement, so I'm sure we're going to have time to discuss moving forward.
CORDERO: It's only 1:00, yes.
SANCHEZ: Samantha Vinograd, Carrie Cordero, Gloria Borger, I appreciate the conversation.
It's not the only big story we're following today. President Trump getting -- handed a big loss in Federal Appeals Court today as he fails to stop a House effort to obtain years of his tax returns. That story coming up.
Plus, part of Southern California are burning out of control today after a raging brush fire is whipped up by those Santa Ana winds. A live report coming up.
SANCHEZ: A push now for a Senate hearing on Ukraine. A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging him to call hearings on the issue. Focusing on the president's phone call to Ukraine's president and the military aid that the president held up.
Joining me now from New York to discuss is New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. He's one of those Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who wrote that letter.
First, Senator, we have to ask about this testimony from the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She says that she was removed because of unfounded and false claims made by people with questionable motives. What's your reaction to that?
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, Marie Yovanovitch is one of the most premier career Foreign Service officers we have, an extraordinary ambassador. I sat through some of her nomination hearings when when I was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's one of the best of the best.
And so she was straightforward from what I understand her testimony to be, and it is incredibly alarming that the secretary of state is not standing by our career people, incredibly alarming that she points out that private citizens, in this case, Mr. Giuliani and others, were having a shadow diplomacy into Ukraine, circumventing the U.S. embassy and the ambassador there, and doing the bidding, I guess, of the president at the end of the day.
And so this is a manifestation of what is going on in the State Department. And if you begin to connect the dots here, connect the dots to not only the ousting of the ambassador because she was insisting on the proper channels and fighting corruption into Ukraine. Evidently, others who had interest didn't think she was in their interest. You had the dots to these moneys that we found out today were being funneled from foreign sources into the election cycle of the president's election cycle and others. You add the conversations Putin has had with the president as it relates to Ukraine and other places.
And so you get the picture that what we have here is not the national security of the United States being pursued but the president's personal interests.
SANCHEZ: Yes. I'm glad you mentioned Rudy Giuliani. He is all over her opening statement. She says that she does not know why he had it out for her but that he did and that he wanted her to be removed. Do you need to hear from Rudy Giuliani? Do you think he needs to appear before the Senate on a hearing in this?
MENENDEZ: Absolutely. You know, there's a whole host of people we want to hear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, because these things, in addition to whatever the House is pursuing in terms of any potential articles of impeachment, these go to the very essence of our foreign policy.
How did Mr. Giuliani become a de facto ambassador, you know, for the United States in Ukraine? Who authorized him to do that? What did Secretary Pompeo know? Why was Ambassador Yovanovitch, a career ambassador, a distinguished one, ultimately moved out of her position? You know, why was moneys that the United States taxpayer and the Congress gave to Ukraine to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression that normally takes five days to price, take two months?
And then you have the calls of the president in between. And those who led up to the calls to ultimately lay the foundation that if you play ball with the president, then, you know, you're going to get what you need. This undermines the national security of the United States.
So, yes, I'd like to have Mr. Giuliani. I want to have the secretary. I want to have Ambassador Yovanovitch. I want to have Ambassador Sondland, and there's a whole host of others who should come before the committee. Because we have to understand whether this State Department is pursuing the national interests of the United States, the national security of the United States or the personal interests of the president.
SANCHEZ: Now, Senator, the former ambassador says that she was told by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan that she was being relieved of her duties. Less than an hour ago, President Trump announced that Sullivan is his pick to be the next ambassador to Russia. Does that raise any alarms for you?
MENENDEZ: Well, look, I appreciate Undersecretary Sullivan, but he's got a lot of questions to answer. I don't believe that you can use the Nuremberg defense, I was just following orders. You need to stand up. When you're in a position of authority within the State Department as secretary, as he is, you need to stand up for our career people. You need to push back against the politics of the White House, particularly when those politics are perverse. I need to understand what is it that he did in this regard, other than deliver the bad news to her that she was being recalled.
I want to know what his views would be as it relates to Russia because I have serious concerns that President Putin has greater influence on President Trump than anybody else in this administration. And if you're going to be the ambassador to Russia, you've got to stand up for U.S. interests. I don't know what his understandings are with the president on this assignment, whether this is a reward for having conformed with what the White House wanted as related to Ambassador Yovanovitch or others. There's a whole host of questions. This is going to be one tough nomination hearing as far as I'm concerned.
SANCHEZ: All right. Senator Bob Menendez, we look forward to that. Thank you so much for the time, sir.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: Meantime, federal investigators are attempting to follow the money, and what they're uncovering is an incredibly intricate and tangled web of political connections. Rudy Giuliani's financial dealings in Ukraine are now under investigation after two of his associates were indicted for allegedly violating campaign finance laws.
The two men are accused of illegally contributing money to a Trump- aligned Super PAC and setting up a scheme to push out the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
CNN's Evan Perez joins me now. Evan, what can you tell us about what we're learning in this investigation?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Boris, that Rudy Giuliani is at the center of all of this. Certainly some of his financial relationships with these men is now under scrutiny by the investigators who are doing this. And so, you know, of course, now, Rudy is going to probably going to be -- have to, you know, think about where does this end, right?
We know from the court documents that were released yesterday that, you know, obviously, there was money going from these two men, Fruman -- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. It was going to one congressman at the time, Pete Sessions, who was pushing this effort to get rid of Yovanovitch. And then, of course, there was $300,000 that was going to the pro-Trump Political Action Committee. And, of course, that was going towards the president's re-election efforts.
So all of this ties in very, very closely between these two men, Rudy Giuliani, and, of course, the president, and and we saw just in the last few days John Dowd, the president's former attorney, who has, you know, told the lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who were asking for information from these two men, that they were very closely tied to the president.
According to him, he says that --
SANCHEZ: He doesn't know who they are.
PEREZ: Right. The president says he doesn't know who they are, but, you know, John Dowd, helpfully, in the cause of the Democrats, is saying that these men were doing the work that Rudy was asking them to do to help the president. In other words, tying them so much closer to the president than I think the president or his legal team would like at this moment.
So, again, these two guys, it's not going to be about this them. You could see the way they were treated in court yesterday. The U.S. government, the prosecutors agreed to $1 million bond, let friends sign for it, you know, gave them the ability to communicate with each other afterwards, they are being treated very nicely, because it's clear they're not the end result here. They're not the goal here. It's someone else. And so who that is, I think Rudy has to be worried about that.
SANCHEZ: Yes. He may want to seek legal counsel soon. Evan Perez, thank you for walking with us through this tangled web.
SANCHEZ: We appreciate it very much.
We're following major news out of the Middle East as well, Turkish forces continue their artillery and air attack against the Kurds, concerns growing daily over what this is doing, the stability in the region. Our Diplomatic Analyst, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, weighs in, next.