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Key Witness Arrives For Testimony Amid Ukraine Scandal; Hunter Biden Speaks Out Ahead Of Tonight's Democratic Debate; Trump Imposes Sanctions On Turkey Over Syria Offensive. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


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POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right, top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Right now, another key witness is testifying on Capitol Hill in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump, George Kent, who oversees U.S. policy towards Ukraine. He will likely be asked about what his fellow diplomat, Fiona Hill, already told lawmakers.

This is President Trump's former top Russia adviser. Hill said she was, quote, alarmed by what she called wrongdoing in the White House's dealings with Ukraine and that she tried to report that wrongdoing.

HARLOW: A CNN source says that Hill testified that former National Security Adviser John Bolton shared her concerns and not only that, and I quote, Hill testified that Bolton referred to Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, as a hand grenade who was going to blow everybody up, close quote.

The White House is calling this entire inquiry invalid. That's their response this morning.

SCIUTTO: We're also hearing this morning from Joe Biden's son, Hunter. He's telling ABC News he did nothing wrong by being on the board of a Ukrainian oil company, but he acknowledges it may have been poor judgment, because others could use it to hurt his father.

That interview will likely to come up in tonight's CNN Democratic debate.

Let's begin on Capitol with CNN Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. So you have a flurry of officials who are right in the middle of U.S. dealings with Ukraine at the time that Giuliani was out there doing the president's work. And it seems that they're corroborating the whistleblower's story.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And they're talking and describing what is can only be viewed as a power struggle of sorts in the run up to that July phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky about everything that was going on with Rudy Giuliani's efforts to try to urge the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens as well as people who -- including Fiona Hill, who testified yesterday, that she and John Bolton, the president's National Security Adviser at the time, had concerns about exactly what they were hearing.

And Bolton urged her to go to the White House attorney and make her concerns known about what they were hearing, which is, in one meeting, that the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland and Mick Mulvaney, and others were discussing the efforts (INAUDIBLE) have concerns. Sondland, according to what Hill testified yesterday, had raised the specter of investigations in a closed-door meeting before that July phone call. And that had been interpreted as a call to investigate the Bidens.

Now, some Democrats who emerged from that hearing yesterday raised serious concerns of what their viewing as a clear shadow foreign policy carried out by the president's personal attorney.

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REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Rudy Giuliani has clearly been a leading force for the administration in defining a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. There was an official foreign policy which was attempting to counter corruption in Ukraine. And then there was Rudy Giuliani and, you know, the gang that couldn't shoot straight who worked for him who were involved precisely in connecting with corruption in Ukraine and promoting corruption in Ukraine. So you had two foreign policies that were working completely against each other.

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RAJU: Now, one thing that the Democrats are going to ask George Kent, who's a senior State Department official today is about what happened in the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, who is the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, someone who have been targeted by Giuliani, someone who testified -- she testified last week. The President pressured the State Department to remove her from the position. He apparently was trying to protect her from getting removed. So there will be a lot of questions about that.

But Just moments ago, guys, Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, told us that he believes that Kent was subpoenaed to appear today, just as a number of officials have been. So we'll see what he ultimately answers as a current employee testifying despite the resistance and opposition from the State Department itself.

SCIUTTO: It's notable because there was initially stonewalling. They didn't want any witnesses testifying. And lo behold, here they are. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss all this, and there's a lot, former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, now a lecturer at Columbia University Law School, and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein, Senior Editor at The Atlantic. Jennifer, if I could start with you. You're a lawyer. Look at the evidence as you've seen it here. I mean, this started with a whistleblower complaint. But you have witnesses who -- I mean, Fiona Hill said that she saw wrong doing and tried to report it as well. I mean, the Democrats are trying to build a case here, in effect.

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JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's exactly right.

SCIUTTO: What do you see of the evidence so far?

RODGERS: Well, it just keeps getting bigger, right? We start with a phone call and what happens on this phone call and now we're filling in the back-story. It wasn't just a phone call. It was a whole process, a whole shadow or rogue diplomacy going on, to do things that are totally different from what we are officially suppose to be doing in Ukraine.

So this is what they're doing. They're gathering evidence. Obviously, they're still getting stonewalled in some places.

SCIUTTO: Legally? Are they gathering credible evidence, convincing evidence?

RODGERS: They seem to be. I mean, of course, we haven't seen what the witnesses are saying. We're just hearing reporting. But they're hearing from the right people, people who were in on all this or were on the outs with all of it but expressed concerns about it, right, and were telling us how things should be happening.

So that's what they're doing. And then obviously they're the ones who lay out the charges in the form of the articles of impeachment, if they get there.

HARLOW: Ron, on the politics of impeachment, you have a really interesting new CNN column in your series this morning making a case based on the history of impeachment. Lay out the two critical points tha you outlined in the piece.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the first thing is the -- I think the evidence, as Jennifer is saying, the evidence is clearly leading us toward the probability that the House will vote to impeach President Trump. I mean, I think the rough transcript of the phone call was probably enough for most House Democrats. But now, they are filling in that that was not an isolated incident but rather the culmination of a series of events designed to push Ukraine in this direction.

And if the House does vote to impeach President Trump and the Senate does not convict, which at the moment there does not seem to be enough chance of getting enough Republican votes to do that, we would have an unprecedented situation in 2020. We would have a president impeached who will be impeached by the House who will then be seeking re- election in the next general election. That's never happened before. Nixon left public office. Clinton had the two-term limit. Way back, Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's vice president, after he was impeached in 1868, did seek the presidential nomination of the other party, the Democrats, but he didn't get it.

So we may have someone on the ballot who has been impeached. And I think that raises questions a couple of big questions. One is whether it changes Trump's strategy, because I think this -- impeachment may not be increasing the share of voters who view him unfavorably, but it does appears to be hardening the unfavorable views of those who are skeptical of him and it may push him further towards a strategy of trying to mobilize his core supporters rather than trying to persuade swing voters.

On the Democratic side, they've got to consider the precedent of Jimmy Carter after impeachment in '76 and George W. Bush in 2000 after an impeachment. Both ran as, in Bush's phrase, a uniter, not a divider. There may be more desire than Democrats now expect in the country for a conciliatory figure if, in fact, we go through this highly partisan impeachment fight at the end of this year.

SCIUTTO: Ron, to your point there, and to be clear, because there is something of a conventional wisdom that an impeachment process damages the party that carries out the impeachment, and there's the example of Bill Clinton, when, in fact, of course, Republicans won in 2000. But you're saying that experience shows the party that impeaches more likely to win the White House?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. The party that did the impeachment won in 1868, 1976 and in 2000. The kind of the -- and, by the way, Jim, in 1998, there were 91 House Republicans in districts that voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, a much larger number than the, quote, Trump district Democrats today. Only seven of them were beating in the next two elections, seven of the 91. One of them, by the way, was a guy named Jim Rogan, who was beaten by someone named Adam Schiff in 1998 in Pasadena. But, in fact, the party that did the impeachment won in each case.

And one thing about yesterday's testimony from Fiona Hill is that it underscored how many concerns career national security professionals had about this conduct inside the administration going to White House lawyers and raising those concerns. I think as that testimony comes out, it becomes more untenable for so many of these congressional Republicans to kind of sweep this aside and, say nothing to see here, if, in fact, the career professionals are raising concerns, is it really plausible for House Republicans to say, no problem.

HARLOW: Talking about what a big week this is in the impeachment inquiry, to Ron's point, Jennifer, you had Fiona Hill yesterday, really significant testimony. You have George Kent. You've got Sondland later this week. You've got four big witnesses. You've got a flurry of subpoenas and subpoena deadlines, for the vice president, Mike Pence. How much could change by the end of the week in this inquiry?

RODGERS: We could be in a whole different place. I mean --

HARLOW: It's only Tuesday. RODGERS: You'll never know, right? Each day brings more and more revelations about what's going on.

I mean, one thing though that we're not getting are the documents. So, that's -- the witnesses are coming in but they're not bringing their documents, which have also been subpoenaed. Which is why I do not think Mike Pence will be turning over documents, I don't think Rudy Giuliani will be turning over documents. So people are not complying with those parts of the subpoenas.

There's no legal basis not to comply but they're just not. So that's one area in which it seems like the administration stonewalling is still working, and that's a problem, because we really do need those documents.

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Think of what we learned from the Volker texts.

SCIUTTO: Well, there's that private phone, right. We know that the State Department is holding that with text messages and emails. Remember the private emails, private device?

HARLOW: So what will the courts do? We'll see. Jennifer Rodgers, Ron Brownstein, thank you, as always.

This morning, former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, is pushing back on unfounded allegations of corruption by President Trump and the president's allies.

SCIUTTO: He tells ABC's Good Morning America he's done nothing wrong by being on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, that he never spoke to his father about the work that he did overseas.

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HUNTER BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S SON: I think there was poor judgment on my part. I think there was poor judgment because I don't believe now when I look back on it -- I know I did nothing wrong at all.

However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is a swamp in many ways? Yes. And so, I take -- I take full responsibility for that.

Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way, not in any way, whatsoever.

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SCIUTTO: Joining us now is CNN's Arlette Saenz live from Westerville, Ohio. That is the site of tonight's big CNN/New York Times Democratic Presidential Debate. And I wonder, Arlette, how -- does the campaign think that Hunter Biden helped his father today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Jim, no official response from the Biden campaign just yet. But as Joe Biden is preparing for this debate, as his son, Hunter Biden, who is in the spotlight giving his most in-depth comments so far on his business dealings in Ukraine and China.

You heard him say that while he exercised poor judgment in sitting on that board, insisting that there was nothing improper, that there were no ethical lapses in doing so.

And take a listen to a little more of what he had to say in that ABC interview this morning.

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AMY ROBACH, ABC NEWS HOST: Do you regret being on the board to begin with?

BIDEN: No, I don't regret being on the board. What I regret is not taking into account that there would be a Rudy Giuliani and a president of United States that would be listening to this ridiculous conspiracy idea, which has, again, been completely debunked by everyone. And we are where we are.

ROBACH: I think people at home are thinking how could that not have crossed your mind. You wouldn't have felt just a little bit in your gut, like maybe this isn't a good idea to go and sit on the board of this Ukrainian company.

BIDEN: Well, I just said to you -- I said to, you in retrospect, I wish that my judgment --

ROBACH: Right. But at the time, you never thought this might not look right?

BIDEN: You know what? I'm a human.

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SAENZ: Now, this all comes at a critical juncture for Joe Biden as he's been stepping up his pushback of President Trump's attacks, calling him a lying president. And tonight, he will be taking that debate stage here in Ohio in front of a national audience. We will see if he answers any further questions about his son's business dealings and the president. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Arlette Saenz there in Ohio, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, President Trump threatening to destroy Turkey's economy as Turkish forces push deeper into Syria. But so far, his new sanctions, they're not stopping, strong criticism from Democrats, even some members of his own party. And we're going to hear from a U.S. military personnel.

HARLOW: Also the 2020 Democratic hopefuls will fight to win over voters during tonight's debate in the key state of Ohio.

Coming up, why some Democrats say they really think they can win back Ohio in the next election. SCIUTTO: And a police officer, now a former police officer, who shot and killed a woman in her own home has been charged with murder. Her family says this is just the beginning of their fight for justice.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter was 28 years old. He had her whole life in front of her.

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HARLOW: All right. This morning Republican lawmakers face a crucial choice as the crisis in Syria grows by the minute. Do they trust that the president's new round of sanctions on Turkey will do anything to curb the bloodshed or do they work with Democrats to put forth veto- proof, much stronger sanctions on Turkey?

Let's talk about that and a lot more with Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. He sits in the House Oversight and Intelligence Committee. Thank you so much for being here on specially on such a busy morning for you.

Let's start there. So these sanctions from the White House includes raising steel tariffs. They include some sanctions on high level government officials. They include stopping trade negotiations with Turkey. Is it enough? Because when you look at steel imports, for example, they're down 76 percent in Turkey since a year ago, meaning are these real sanctions with teeth or just a show?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): They don't look that significant to me. I think that Mr. Erdogan is coming to the White House in November still. I think that should be canceled. I don't think that we should be hosting this authoritarian Leader who's now attacking our allies. I think this is -- this all just rings so hollow after that October 6th phone call where he talked to the Turkish leader and basically gave him a green light to attack our allies.

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HARLOW: So to that point, here is what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. could do in terms of sanctions. He said this just on Sunday.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We could shut down all U.S. dollar transactions with the entire environment government of Turkey.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS HOST: Is that something you may do?

MNUCHIN: That is something we may do, absolutely.

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HARLOW: Would that be, Congressman, a more appropriate response at this point in time?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think something like that would be more appropriate. I think right now these sanctions that the president announced or his administration announced sound hollow to me. You know, what he did was basically endanger national security. There are thousands of ISIS fighters who are now scurrying about in Syria because those Kurdish guards went to the front to fight against the Turkish forces.

And so we're endangering national security and we're sending a horrible message to anybody anywhere in the world who would want to help work with us ever again on anything.

HARLOW: I want you to talk a moment to listen to something from Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney. She has been very critical last week of the president's decision to pull back in Northern Syria, leading to what we see now from Turkey. But then she said this yesterday that was striking. Here it is.

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REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): What the Democrats are doing themselves to try to weaken this president is part of this. It was not an accident that the Turks chose this moment to roll across the border. And I think the Democrats have got to pay very careful attention to the damage that they're doing with the impeachment proceedings.

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HARLOW: She is tying the two together, Congressman, and blaming you guys. What's your response?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I strongly disagree with that. I think that, if anything, this phone call that happened on October 6 between Mr. Trump and the Turkish leader needs to potentially be examined. Like what the heck was going on? Why did he reverse course so suddenly?

Charitably, his decision to abandon our allies was reckless and rash, but what was really discussed during that phone call? I don't know.

HARLOW: Let me ask you one thing before we move on to the impeachment inquiry, which I want to get to. We just had Congressman Eric Swalwell on, your Democratic colleague in the House, and he just told Jim that he does not think that Turkey is an ally today to the United States. Their behavior could change and that could change. But given their actions and position now, they're not an ally. Do you still consider Turkey to be a U.S. ally at this point?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, they're not acting like an ally right now, Poppy. They're still part of the NATO alliance. But given their recent actions, they're not acting like our NATO allies.

And so we have to act accordingly, and I think that measures to show our strong disapproval of what happened are appropriate and I hope are done on a bipartisan basis this week alone.

HARLOW: All right. Let's get to the impeachment inquiry. It's a big week. I understand you were not in the testimony from Fiona Hill yesterday. But right after this interview, you are going to question George Kent, the deputy assistant of European and Eurasian affairs. He has been a defender of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and defended her in multiple accounts. What is the most important thing you hope to learn from George Kent this morning?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I hope to learn -- I'm about to go there, and I'm hoping to learn what is his knowledge with regard to the central allegations in the whistleblower complaint, including those allegations Regarded to Yovanovitch. As you alluded earlier, basically, she was

forced out of her position by Trump officials. We don't know exactly why. But if she was somehow an obstacle to their pressure campaign on the Ukrainian leaders to meddle in our 2020 election, and he has knowledge of that, we would like to know.

But in addition to that, he also has knowledge about Mr. Lutsenko and others in the Ukraine who were just these fake prosecutors, I would say. And, you know, this is a man that the Trump folks like to elude to as somehow the paragon of prosecutors.

HARLOW: His time as the deputy chief of the mission Kiev overlap with Lutsenko. So that will be an interesting line of inquiry.

Finally, on Thursday you're going to now -- because of the subpoena, you're going to have the E.U. ambassador, Gordon Sondland testify. You said a week ago on this network that you believe that Sondland is at the heart of the president's pressure campaign on Ukraine. What is the number one question that you have for him?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, in a Wall Street Journal report, apparently he talked to Senator Ron Johnson. And he said that, basically, the reason why Ukrainian aid was being held up was because the Ukrainians had not yet agreed to an investigation of the Bidens, In other words, meddling in our 2020 elections.

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We would probably like to ask him more about as well as all the other text exchanges he had with others about the allegations of the whistleblower complaint.

He knows a lot and we're hoping to learn more from him about the substance and voracity of those allegations in the whistleblower complaint.

HARLOW: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you for your time. I'll let you get into that questioning now. We appreciate it.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you.

HARLOW: You got it.

SCIUTTO: He'll be a fly on the wall in that room.

HARLOW: Yes. I wonder if we're going to get the transcripts.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And listen, there are even some Republicans, of course, calling for that to be released.

A buck eye battleground. When the Democratic president candidates face off tonight, the will be fighting to turn Ohio blue again in 2020.

Coming up, we will hear from Ohio voters about which way they are leaning now.

HARLOW: Also there's new sanctions on Turkey, new trouble for U.S. allies in Syria, the U.S. is scrambling to remove troops from a very serious situation. We'll have a live report from the ground, next.

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