Return to Transcripts main page


Hunter Biden Regrets Not Foreseeing Political Fallout From Foreign Work; Twelve Democrats Face Off Tonight In Crucial Ohio Debate; Hunter Biden: I Used "Poor Judgment" Serving On Ukrainian Company; Source: Ex-Adviser Says John Bolton Called Giuliani A "Hand Grenade"; Source: House Democrats Meet Tonight On Impeachment Probe. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this busy day with us. Blockbuster testimony from a trusted Republican policy hand and yet, again near silence from the GOP leadership.

The Former Trump White House aide Fiona Hill describes corruption in the President's Ukraine policy. She said her boss John Bolton called Rudy Giuliani "Hand grenade and says Bolton told her to inform White House lawyers".

Plus it is debate night for the 2020 Democrats in battleground in Ohio a record 12 candidates on stage, health care and guns among the certain flashpoints. Hunter Biden defends his foreign business dealings but acknowledges his last name is what opens doors.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you say to people who believe this is exactly why people hate Washington? A Vice President's son can make money in countries where your father was doing official government business.

HUNTER BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S SON: Well, I don't know what to tell you. I made a mistake in retrospect as it related to creating any perception that was wrong. And so, therefore, I'm taking it off the table. I'm making that commitment. I will see if anybody else makes that commitment, but that's the commitment that I'm making.


KING: We begin with a very important night and event in the2020 Democratic Presidential Race. The debate featuring 12 candidates, a record right there in that hall in Westerville, Ohio near Columbus. It is the first gathering of the democratic contenders since Speaker Nancy Pelosi labeled House officials of President Trump an impeachment inquiry. Also the first gathering since the order of the top tier change debate. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren deserves first mention now because of her rise to the top of many national and early state polls. Ohio is the perfect setting now for Democrats to debate whether Warren's liberal agenda is too left to win back the heartland and to win back the White House.

Senator Bernie Sanders is with Warren is in the top three. And in making the case the party should go bold. Tonight his first step back on the campaign since suffering a heart attack. In the middle of the stage with them will be Joe Biden, he has been debating President Trump more than his fellow Democrats off late.

And Hunter Biden's debate day interview on ABC part of an effort to revert the President's attacks, but also to convince Democrats there is nothing there that would hurt the Former Vice President's general election chances.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 there would be a Rudy Giuliani and a President of the United States that would be listening to this ridiculous conspiracy idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never thought this might not look right?

BIDEN: You know what, I'm a human. You know what? Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yes. But did I make a mistake based on some unethical lapse, absolutely not?


KING: To Westerville first and CNN's M.J. Lee and Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times." Lisa to you first, Warren's first debate - I don't know if there is a frontrunner in this race, but certainly a leading candidate Biden after the Hunter interview, Bernie Sanders' first debate back after the heart issues. What's the biggest dynamics tonight?

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think one of the major dynamics will be with Senator Warren. I think that her surge in the polls is at the point where it's become problematic for Biden and Bernie Sanders. So the question is whether people start attacking her with more force than they have in the past and whether she really has answers to some of the key questions surrounding her healthcare plan.

Namely will it raise taxes on middle class Americans? What happens with union plans? What happens with private insurance? I think she's preparing to have those answers down, because there is a sense that that will be, as it has been in the past, a major topic and those attacks may come for more forcefully given her position in the race. KING: And, M.J., to that point you've spent a lot of time covering Senator Warren. She put out a statement today saying the other candidates should just close their big money donors. She wants to know the roles they have in the campaign. She is trying to essentially tee up a line of questioning, a line of conversation for tonight, but she has to know, to Lisa's point, will it raise middle class taxes meaning Medicare for all plan?

When will you be more clear about that? She has to know, especially given what's happened in the polls. It might be polite but she's going to be a focus.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and I think we've seen plenty of signs over the last couple of weeks that for everybody else on the debate stage, they are sort of eager to start going after Senator Warren a little more forcefully, as Lisa was saying.


LEE: I think because she has been rising in the polls and because the political momentum has been on her side. What happens when you become a frontrunner in a race like this is you get a lot more scrutiny? And I think what's interesting about tonight, particularly if you look at the three candidates that are going to be standing center stage, we ever Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

For all three of them, it's sort of a new debate stage, right? For Joe Biden, it's the first time that he's taking the stage since all these questions and accusations about his son really were brought to the forefront. For Bernie Sanders, it obviously is the first time he's taken the national stage since his heart attack.

And then for Elizabeth Warren, she's taking the stage for the first time as a real frontrunner, a position that she is now sharing with Joe Biden. If you look at the past couple of debates, if you look at the questions that she is getting out of the campaign trail, if you look at the criticism that she has gotten from some of her fellow Democrats, I think it is very clear that probably more than anybody else on that stage, we can expect that she is going to be under fire, particularly on Medicare for all.

KING: And it's 111 days until Iowa votes. For others on the stage, we've had the same top three for months. It has moved some. Elizabeth Warren now nominally - the polls are very close, but nominally on top. Joe Biden with her in most of these early state polls and national polls Biden has the lead when you get to South Carolina.

But Sanders has dipped a little bit into a more distance third. But still that same top three for months. If here everybody else Lisa, what are you trying to do tonight?

LERER: You're trying to get someone to pay attention to you. That's what you're trying to do, right? I think people do sense some vulnerability with Bernie Sanders. He was in the hospital, he had that heart attack. It's important to remember that being on a debate is intellectually grueling, but it's also physically grueling. You have to stand up there for three hours, and this is a 78-year-old man who just came out of major surgery. So I think some of the candidates lower down in the rankings and the polls smell a little blood in the water with him, and they're probably going to use this as an opportunity to sort of move up.

The question is whether anyone with a dozen candidates on the stage can really get the time to make an impression and if they do, will that balance be enduring? Because we've seen in these past debates is that when candidates have had what we all like to call a moment, it really hasn't stuck with them.

And the race is sort of as you pointed out John, stayed in this framework that we've seen for months. I think the people who are most under pressure of course are those four candidates who have not yet made the November debate stage this is really a do or die moment for them tonight.

KING: Lisa and M.J. outside the debate hall. I appreciate it. With me here in studio to share their reporting's and their insights Molly Ball, with the "TIME" CNN's Michael Warren, Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post" and Margaret Talev with AXIOS.

You just saw the Former Vice President Joe Biden heading into the hall candidates get to do what's called a walkthrough go up see their podium on the stage get comfortable with the stage get comfortable with the lighting in the hall. We're going to have several of those in the hours ahead.

We'll show them to you including when Vice President Biden gets up there and takes his walk up on the debate stage. Because we're waiting for Vice President Biden to walk in, let's talk start there. His son in a nationally televised interview this morning acknowledging he probably shouldn't have served on a foreign board, especially in Ukraine when his father as Vice President had the Ukraine portfolio in the Obama Administration.

He says he didn't do anything wrong, but he understands how somebody like a Giuliani or a Trump or anybody in politics could raise questions about at least the optics of that. Here's a little more from him saying - where he acknowledges his name has opened the doors, and he said if his dad is President, he'll be more careful.


BIDEN: I don't think that there is a lot of things that would have happened in my life that if my last name were not Biden?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you leave the board in April?

BIDEN: It's a five-year term.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you chose not to continue?



BIDEN: I think it's obvious why.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is your opportunity to say why.

BIDEN: Well, because this is what becomes a distraction, because I have to sit here and answer these questions, so that's why I've committed that I won't serve on any boards or I won't work directly for any foreign entities when my dad becomes President.


KING: Most of what the President and Rudy Giuliani and others have said about Hunter Biden and Joe Biden inaccurate, wrong, restless, exaggerated. But he acknowledges there, my name was Biden. I got opportunities other people didn't get, acknowledges in hindsight probably bad judgment.

Does this help Joe Biden, or is that a clip if Joe Biden is successful in the Republican primaries, it's going to show up in a Trump campaign ad? In the Democratic primaries, I'm sorry.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: It's been very interesting actually to see how little effect this whole scandal seems to have had on the Democratic Primary Race. They seem pretty much thoroughly soloed from one another. I think there were a few things that could have happened and didn't.

I think the Biden campaign was divided internally over whether they thought that this would hurt them because voters would look at what the President is saying.


BALL: And say, let's just avoid this whole mess or may be he's not as electable as we think, or conversely, it could have caused a groundswell of Democrats rallying around Uncle Joe, who they have such affection for, seeing him as unfairly targeted. What has happened either those two effects of cancel each other out or just nothing has happened. Biden's standing in the poll has been very static.

KING: You see Biden just getting a walkthrough on the stage here. He's done this many times but he's still taking a look as he goes. I think you make an interesting point when you use Uncle Joe, which is how a lot of Democrats do think about him. I think what's protected him so far on among Democrats, is that they just don't buy this.

They might think that his son probably shouldn't have been on that board but Joe Biden is not in any way corrupt. The question is what happens when you get past that, that's part of it. No one expects - does anyone at the table expect the other Democrats to make a big deal about this tonight?

Will one of the longer shots decide this is my play, or has it been proven in past debates going after Joe Biden is not the way to make your name? MICHAEL WARREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's an open question actually whether or not, particularly that lower tier. I don't think Elizabeth Warren is going to make a direct case about Hunter Biden. It will be interesting to see if these lower tier candidates try to get attention by going where Democrats nationally have not wanted to go at all.

They have sort of, certainly on Capitol Hill, sort of circled the wagons around Joe Biden on this. It will also be interesting to see what kind of attack. Will they make the argument, if this person does make the argument, that it hurts Democrats in the general election? Or will they make an actual sort of substantive argument that no, what Hunter Biden was doing - actually was really bad or just wasn't the optics of it. It is of itself bad. If they take almost the Rudy Giuliani Donald Trump route in arguing that what Hunter Biden did should disqualify.

KING: Because it started with president that's one of the reasons that hasn't happened I think.

WARREN: I think you're right.

KING: Because it started with President Trump and it is viewed now as dangerous in the Democratic Party to essentially be siding with Trump. I just want to put the latest national polls from Quinoa up here.

Again very, very close, but Warren on top at 30 percent, Biden next at 27 percent. It is Sanders who has to be worried about this even before the health scare in the sense that he is third and he has a great network around the country. He has a lot of money in the bank. A path to sustaining a candidacy is there for him. A path to victory has seemed hard to find so far.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, Sanders absolutely another one of the top tier that has something to prove tonight. I mean, like the polls increasingly showing that Elizabeth Warren is taking a lot of people who once considered themselves in the Bernie camp and converting them to her own supporters.

He sort of highlighted what he's going to do at the debate over the weekend on the Sunday shows. You know, he was out there playing baseball, I think, with ABC's John Carl. I had a heart attack, but look, I'm out here swinging a baseball, I'm going to be fine. He said it will take a few days, but he quickly made a sales pitch for Medicare for all saying that, I was in the hospital.

I realized again how important health care is and try to turn it into a selling point. I just don't know if voters will buy that because clearly there is a concern about his age right now.

MARGARET TALEV, POLITICAL AND WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, AXIOS: But I think when it comes to messaging, there is no reason for Hunter Biden to have done that interview if not for the fact that it was a problem that the Biden campaign is either trying to preempt or trying to stench before it becomes a big deal. It seems obvious to me that the purpose of the way that interview was done was for Hunter Biden to say, it's on me. If you're not comfortable with this, blame me. I made a bad decision, don't blame my dad. I don't know if it would work or not, but I don't think it would have happened to begin with if Vice President Biden hadn't slowed in his rise, hadn't had difficulty with small dollar donors.

If Elizabeth Warren wasn't taking advantage of her anti-corruption platform to kind of rise up in the polls. There are two trends in progress here, and the Biden campaign is trying to take back the narrative.

KING: The test of such things often is this one interview enough? If you have to have another one, there could be a problem. If the one makes it go away. We shall see, and much more to talk about the debate as we go through the hour ahead including the issues we expect to come up in, shall we say, a contested way on the stage.

Reminder, the Fourth Democratic Presidential Debate is live tonight it is right here on CNN from the battle ground state of Ohio. CNN and "The New York Times" are sponsors tonight and it all starts 8:00 pm eastern. And if you have a question about the debate or anything else for anyone here at the table today, tweet us using the hash tag #insidepolitics. We might answer your question at the end of the broadcast or on our podcast.

Up next the Democratic impeachment inquiry and why it's getting harder and harder for Republicans to write it off as partisan or deep state revenge plot.



KING: Democrats today continuing to build their impeachment case one they believe is considerably stronger now because of a new account from the White House insider. More testimony on Capitol Hill including this hour today it's George Kent, behind closed doors he is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Euro-Asian Affairs.

Tomorrow Michael McKinley a Former right hand man to Secretary Mike Pompeo at the State Department. Thursday it is Ambassador Gordon Sondland's turn. Yesterday the President's Former Russia Adviser Fiona Hill had day in the witness chair Hill universally respected and Republican Foreign Policy circle.

So discrediting what she says will be a hard task, and Hill, according to a source, provided lots of fresh strength for Democratic investigators. Hill we're told testified to what a source says she called wrongdoing in the back and forth over the administration Ukraine policy. A rogue operation ran out of the White House that prompted her to run and tell White House lawyers.


KING: The most head-turning quote from her testimony Hill attributes to her former boss, the Fired National Security Adviser John Bolton. Bolton according to Hill's testimony referenced Rudy Giuliani the President's Personal Attorney as "A hand grenade" who was going to, "Blow everybody up".

Step back just a second. These are not Democrats. These are not deep stators. These are Trump aides working in the west wing, Fiona Hill very well regarded among Republicans for being so tough on Russia a Russia hawk, a skeptic of Putin, who is now testifying that she saw this operation.

Rudy Giuliani essentially running a shadow foreign policy got concerned about it. According to sources testified asked Ambassador Sondland, who put you in charge of this? Ambassador Sondland said, the President. You can tie to the President and Rudy Giuliani and then John Bolton.

Again when John Bolton left, look at all the statements from Republicans on Capitol Hill saying how wonderful he was? Saying Rudy Giuliani is on a hanger and he is going to blow us all up. Go make - go talk to the White House lawyers to make sure they have documented. According to "The New York Times" this is John Bolton, I'm not part of any drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.

Mr. Bolton a Trump lawyer told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers according to two people at the deposition. Where are the leading Republicans saying - impeachment might be too far, Democrats might be out over their skis, but we need to get some answers here. Where are they?

BADE: Crooked stocking and covering right now. I mean, lawmakers are back in town this week from a two-week recess, so we will get a chance to actually talk to Republicans face to face and really press them on responding to some of these allegations.

But I think the big thing from Fiona Hill's testimony, is what she did was she was able to connect this sort of concern that we've seen at the State Department level from these officials that a lot of people have never heard of and connect it to Trump's inner circle by saying John Bolton himself was concerned about this and told me - told her - to go to a lawyer and say, look, we think there are legal problems with what's going on.

What that does is it that it shows it's not just Democrats who are worried about this, but Trump's right-hand folks were involved, knew about it and were concerned. I'm talking to Democrats right now on the Hill who is saying they're going to need to hear from John Bolton. Obviously we haven't heard if they're going to subpoena him yet, but I think that we will in the coming days.

Also but not only John Bolton, but Mick Mulvaney she testified was also a key figure in all these talks about Ukraine and digging up dirt on the Bidens. We're really seeing Trump's inner circle being connected beyond just Giuliani right now.

KING: And to your point, before you jump in. To your point, I keep asking the question, I get any Republican who wants to say the Democrats decided to impeach the President before they gathered these fact witnesses. That's a perfectly smart political argument to make.

It would be a stronger argument if they said, however, some very legitimate questions have been raised here and we want to get the answers in a fair, open setting. So Jim Jordan, one of the Ranking Republicans on one of the committees here asked by CNN's Manu Raju this morning, don't you think it's time to hear from Mr. Bolton?


REP. JIM JORDON (R-OH): We're getting ready - we've had 30 hours of testimony. We're heading into our fourth interview. I assume this will be another 8- to 10-hour day. Each individual offers their own unique and distinct perspective. If Chairman Schiff - if Adam Schiff decides to bring Mr. Bolton in then we'll have questions for him.


KING: Complaining about the process, which maybe they have some legitimate complaints about the process but what about the substance? They just won't get to the substance of that's accurate, it's very disturbing, I was in the room and I don't see it that way, they don't answer the substance. They make a process argument.

TALEV: I'm not sure that the House Republicans or the Republicans who are going to be decisive here on this front. The Democrats in the House have enough of a majority if they decide to move forward in the way that we all think they're going to, this goes to the Senate.

Fiona Hill's testimony is important because it took ten hours yesterday. Do you know how much information can get unpacked in ten hours? The drug dealer quote is very sexy we're all going to talk about it. There is enormous amount of other information that got unpacked behind closed doors that we have not begun to find out about yet.

That goes to a timeline. It goes to the fact that at the heart of the National Security Council, they didn't know what Ukraine policy was being transferred through a parallel channel? They didn't know they were worrying about it. They couldn't get answers. They were upset. That's a problem.

As for whether John Bolton is going to testify or not, I don't know how he'll respond to that question, but the idea that John Bolton during the Bush years was the one who everybody was worried about was going to go do something like a hand grenade. That John Bolton is the voice of reason who is trying to pull everything back and saying, no, you can't do that in Syria and no you definitely can't do that with Ukraine is another major consideration.


TALEV: As for Sondland, when we hear from him later this week, Ukraine is not typically part of the EU's portfolio that was like a curve out created to give him this responsibility--

KING: To give a guy in the hotel business who was a major Trump donor. Who was viewed as loyal politically to take it away from career diplomats, withdraw the Ambassador who was a career diplomat and give it to the political guy?

TALEV: And the AXIOS, my team is reporting last night, is that besides that list of figures that we just showed up on the screen that the next sort of trench goes into the Pentagon, goes into the office of management and budget that the people who the committees are going to bring in for questions have knowledge about military assistance that was supposed to move forward and got stalled, and have knowledge about money and financing and how it was affected by the parallel track?

WARREN: I think it's important to watch this and think about this from sort of a drip, drip, drip perspective as well. Let's zoom out a little bit and remember what started this all. It was this whistleblower, this anonymous person from inside the Intelligence Community, probably career, and this was easy for Republicans to sort of dismiss as a part of the deep state.

Once you start getting, again, these Trump officials appointed to this office within the executive office of the President saying these things, people like John Bolton, somebody who is familiar to, say, Fox News viewers who was on that network for several years, it becomes harder.

So I'm wondering if sort of Republicans on Capitol Hill are sort of following to see sort of where the public opinion is going, which public opinion seems to be moving in a direction that tracks a lot with sort of the President's approval/disapproval.

That's not good for Republicans who want to still stay on the sidelines. I agree with Margaret that the Senate Republicans are the ones to watch as we get more this drip--

KING: I do think it's a challenge for House Democrats is when they get to that wherever you believe the pivot point is they'll also take it to the public. Because otherwise you're going to have the Republicans - to take it to the public and approve it or else people - the Republicans will complain about the process. We shall see. Coming up 12 Democrats duke it out in the battle for a breakthrough?