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Buttigieg, Klobuchar Take Aim at Elizabeth Warren During Democratic Debate; Warren Dodges Questions on Raising Taxes to Pay for Health Plan; Biden Forcefully Defends Son Over Ukraine Dealings on Debate Stage. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


In just days he has gone from the halls of the State Department to the corridors of Congress testifying for the impeachment probe. Now, in just a few minutes, after resigning as an adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former State Department official Michael McKinley will be on Capitol Hill where he appears to have volunteered to testify.

His testimony comes after yet another bruising day for the White House. As a different former State Department official reportedly testified that he was told to, quote, "lay low" after he complained about Rudy Giuliani's efforts to undermine U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: And we're now learning it was not just Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, the official also said that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney laid out who would oversee the Ukrainian relationship.

As the White House struggles to push back on these damaging headlines, a new Gallup poll this morning shows the results of that struggle. 52 percent of Americans surveyed now support both the impeachment of President Trump and his removal from office.

HARLOW: It's all happening as the race to replace the president is heating up. At the CNN Democratic debate last night, it was Senator Elizabeth Warren's turn to be in the batter's box as she moves closer and closer to frontrunner status and faces challenges from the more moderate candidates.

Joining us now to begin our coverage from Capitol Hill, our congressional reporter, Lauren Fox.

So, Lauren, let's begin with Michael McKinley. 37 years at State, walks out because he doesn't like how things are being handled with Ukraine and now volunteers to testify. How big is this? LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think

it's potentially a very explosive day on Capitol Hill, Poppy. And I will tell you that Michael McKinley is expected in just a few minutes behind closed doors with those three committees as part of their impeachment inquiry. But this comes as they have another busy week ahead. They have more in their schedule. Gordon Sondland coming tomorrow and then on Friday, another official, Laura Cooper, coming before those same committees.

So I will tell you the one thing that is becoming very clear is that every day, Democrats are getting a clearer picture of what precisely Rudy Giuliani's role was abroad, what this shadow foreign policy was, and we expect to hear more from Michael McKinley today about exactly what the morale was like within the State Department over the last several months -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So yesterday there was a lot of expectation, anticipation, as you had this meeting. Nancy Pelosi, other House leaders, and then a press conference talk of a possible broad House vote on impeachment but didn't go there.

FOX: That's right. They're going to hold off for now, Jim. And I think that part of the reason for that is there have been some internal deliberations about whether or not they needed to have that impeachment inquiry vote. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, has been very clear. She said over and over again, this is not in the House rules. It's not in the Constitution. If Republicans want to cry about this process, that's on them.

If they don't want to turn over documents, if they don't want witnesses coming up to Capitol Hill, then this is their opportunity to defend themselves in this probe. If they don't want to cooperate, that's on them. So again, a lot coming forward in the next couple of days to watch out for -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: What -- And, Lauren, before you go, what about this testimony yesterday from George Kent and talk of the three amigos. The takeaway?

FOX: Well, basically, George Kent argued that he expressed concern about Rudy Giuliani's foreign policy abroad, specifically that there were these three officials that had basically tasked themselves with being in charge of foreign policy in Ukraine. He basically said that they dubbed themselves the three amigos. And that was very concerning. But when he raised those concerns, he was basically told to lie low -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Lauren, thank you very much. We appreciate all that reporting. We'll see what today has to bring.

This morning CNN has also learned that a grand jury has subpoenaed former Republican Congressman Pete Sessions. This of course is related to matters connected to President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as two of Giuliani's associates, including their dealings with Ukraine and efforts to remove the U.S. ambassador there.

SCIUTTO: It gets to a fundamental issue of foreign interference because the talk here is about foreign money being directed to Sessions' campaign.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: That is no small allegation.

Joining us now is CNN's Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, so tell us what we know at this point about Sessions' alleged role here but also in getting Marie Yovanovitch, who of course was the ambassador to the Ukraine, pulled from her post.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So this was a whole alleged scheme and it was outlined in this indictment that we saw last week of those two Rudy Giuliani associates. They were arrested last week, of course, at Dulles Airport. Now prosecutors, they say that these two Soviet-born men, they asked then Republican Texas Congressman Pete Sessions to help get Marie Yovanovitch fired.

And this request was actually made at the same time that the men were allegedly handing over tens of thousands of dollars to the congressman's re-election campaign.


And on top of that, the allegations are that this was all being orchestrated at the behest of one or more Ukrainian government officials. Now last week, after this indictment came out, the former Congressman Sessions, he released a statement saying that he knew nothing about this alleged scheme. But now we've learned that prosecutors really want to know more.

The sources are saying a grand jury subpoena has been issued to the former Republican congressman, and that the subpoena does, in fact, pertain to these matters connected to Rudy Giuliani, these two associates who were arrested and indicted last week, and all of their dealings with Ukraine and those efforts to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

So we also asked, you know, is Sessions the target of any investigation? And a source actually refused to rule that out, saying, instead, that the investigation has not reached any definitive conclusions. Now we talked to a spokesman for the former congressman Pete Sessions. He says that he is cooperating with the U.S. attorney in New York who's handling this investigation will be providing these documents.

But, Jim and Poppy, it really is clear this investigation is moving full steam ahead especially as it pertains to Rudy Giuliani because we reported last week that his financial dealings with these two men who were arrested last week are also under scrutiny. So a lot happening in the Southern District of New York right now -- guys.

HARLOW: For sure. Jess, thank you very much for the reporting.

Lots to talk about. All of these headlines. Our legal analyst Elie Honig is there, former federal and state prosecutor, and CNN political analyst Molly Ball, national political correspondent for "TIME."

Elie, let me just begin with you on, you know, where Democrats are trying to get this information and what happens because we heard from the White House last night, not only Giuliani is not going to comply but the vice president, Mike Pence, isn't going to comply with these document requests. You argue there are a couple of paths here. Bee line to the Supreme Court or move on without key witnesses and key documents. What would you do?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I would take path number two. The courts are too slow for this. Right?


HONIG: There's just not enough time. We saw it with Jerry Nadler. He got bogged down in courts and there's motion to expedite. But even if courts move as fast as they possibly can, this is going to take months and months. Time that the Democrats simply do not have with the election right around the corner. What I would do is just say, fine. Those of you who are going to have legal temper tantrums like Rudy Giuliani had yesterday and said, I don't recognize you, fine.

You go -- you go clam up in the corner. I'm going to build my case on the phone call. I'm going to build my case on the State Department texts, and I'm going to build my case on the career diplomats Yovanovitch and Hill and the other people we've seen testifying this week. And we also, by the way, will be considering an Article of Impeachment for Obstruction.


HONIG: That's the approach (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: You know, and it is notable, Molly Ball, that, you know, the White House attempted a little more than a week ago, I mean, things move so fast, to block all these witnesses from testifying. Lo and behold, a lot of them just defying it and going ahead and walking in there.


SCIUTTO: Based on that, can the Democrats keep to what is an ambitious timeline which is to have this -- the inquiry wrapped up and possibly even a vote by the holidays, whether that's Thanksgiving, which is what, a month and a week away, or Christmas. Does that look realistic?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not to me, but what do I know? I mean, I -- far be it from me to question the strategy laid out by the House Democrats who seem to have a game plan. But this is -- it does seem like, as a fact-finding mission so far, this has been quite successful. And I think more successful than a lot of House Democrats expected given all the obstruction, given all the stonewalling from the administration.

The fact that despite that, there have been so many witnesses who are willing to testify and so much information that is driving this probe into new directions. And other developments, you know, like the Giuliani associates arrested last week. So I think this investigation is going into a lot of new places. I think when they started out and they thought it was a single phone call essentially at issue, it was much more possible to imagine this being a very narrow probe, but it keeps spiraling.

SCIUTTO: We're just two, three weeks ago it was a -- you know, whispers of a whistleblower complaint. Now that's well out there. And several witnesses seem to corroborate what's in that complaint.

HARLOW: One hundred percent.

SCIUTTO: Under oath.

HARLOW: I mean, no one was uttering the word Ukraine, what, a month -- a month ago?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

HARLOW: On this front. Molly, just a follow-up for you on that, on the politics of all this. Jim and I we're struck by the new Gallup poll this morning that shows that not only do a majority of Americans, 52 percent, agree with the impeachment proceedings, 52 percent think the president should be impeached and removed from office. And if you dig into that, Congress has something, I suppose, to smile about. Americans' job approval rating for Congress has actually gone up in the last month.

SCIUTTO: That's --

BALL: There's something I never thought I'd see. I thought that that was just a fact of life that everybody hated Congress.

HARLOW: Right.

BALL: But, look, this is all about Trump. I think this is all about people's opinions about Trump. People who dislike Trump have come to hold his antagonists in higher regard, whether you're talking about Congress, talking about the media, even talking about the Democrats to some extent.


And that's what we see with these impeachment polls as well is they're basically moving toward the sort of gravitational pull of Trump's approval rating. So at this point, pretty much everyone who doesn't like Trump has come around to favor impeachment. But we haven't seen this impeachment probe start to drive Trump's approval rating down. That still remains steady around 40 percent.

SCIUTTO: Yes. BALL: So, I think when we'll really know if this impeachment is doing

political damage to the president is if his impeach -- if his approval rating actually starts to drop rather than just everybody who doesn't like him supports impeachment and it kind of stays there.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Right. Although among independents it has been trending towards support.

HARLOW: Moving.

SCIUTTO: And that of course key in the election.

Elie, question, you're a lawyer. You teach the law. You know a thing or two about the law. Impeachment process is not entirely a legal process but it's sort of a political legal process. Based on the evidence gathered so far, what you've seen of it, because I know you're not reading the transcripts, none of us are.


SCIUTTO: A number of witnesses, their access to some documents, text messages, et cetera, do you think they have enough at this point or will soon have enough for an Article of Impeachment on abuse of power?

HONIG: I do. I think either they have enough or they're pretty close. It's one of the hardest decisions you have to make as a prosecutor or an investigator. When is enough enough? You're never going to be able to know every single last detail. You want to but it's just the nature of this. And so you have to make the decision. When do I have enough that I feel comfortable going forward?

And that phone call. Let's remember. There's been a lot of support for that phone call. But that phone call is the linchpin of your case. And I would feel comfortable going ahead with that call, with those texts. There's nothing they can do about that. Plus you add in the testimony from the real career State Department officials. I think you have a compelling case there.

SCIUTTO: We're getting some news now from our Kylie Atwood that Michael McKinley, of course, is the next witness testifying today, in his opening statement.


SCIUTTO: He's going to focus on the reasons for his resignation, specifically his concern that the department's leadership was not supporting the career foreign service here.

HARLOW: Right. And Yovanovitch.

SCIUTTO: Which is something we've heard -- you know, because you heard something about that when he resigned. This was his concern.

HARLOW: Exactly. And also, our reporting has been, Molly, that his concern was namely about the silence in the top ranks at not defending Marie Yovanovitch when she was pulled from her post at ambassador to Ukraine early. And the fact that Kylie Atwood is now reporting the first words out of his mouth under oath are going to be why he quit after 37 years. That's big.


BALL: Yes, I mean, but these are frustrations that we've been hearing from people in the foreign service specifically. A lot of grumbling in the State Department since the very beginning of the Trump administration. If you remember, there was a review ordered by Secretary Tillerson that upset a lot of people that, you know, went against the way the department had been organized and there was disgruntlement with his leadership. So. a lot of this stuff does go all the way back.

The question for me at least is going to be, does his more general discontent with the way the administration was treating the State Department bureaucracy, does it also have a nexus with what was going on in Ukraine? Was it specific to --

HARLOW: Right.

BALL: -- this scandal that we're so focused on? Or was it about a more general discontent among the bureaucracy which I think is legit but which also the administration could paint as, well, this is just, you know, the deep state that didn't like what we were doing to modernize the bureaucratic ranks or whatever.



BALL: So I think that this is an ongoing concern how the administration has managed the State Department. But the question for me is, what is he going to say that's specific to the Ukraine scandal?


SCIUTTO: Listen. I served a couple of years in the State Department. For someone who is a career foreign service officer of 37 years to step down out of frustration, concern, that is no small thing.


SCIUTTO: They spent a lifetime -- they spent a lifetime going around the world, to posts overseas at enormous sacrifice. Folks think hard before they make a move like that.

HARLOW: It's a good point.

SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, Molly Ball, thanks to both of you.

Still to come this hour, Senator Elizabeth Warren takes heat from several candidates especially when it came to questions about her Medicare for All plan. So how did she fare? What questions did she not answer? We'll discuss.

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they're headed to Turkey and attempt to broker a deal to end the fighting in Syria as the Turkish president says he will never agree to a ceasefire. Interesting.

HARLOW: Yes. Plus the city of Ft. Worth this morning outraged after that police officer fatally shot a woman over the weekend in her own home. Anger spilling over at a city council meeting. Residents telling leaders there, we do not feel safe.



HARLOW: Former Vice President Joe Biden has been at the center of attacks from his 2020 colleagues, competitors during the first --


HARLOW: Three debates. Last night, it was Elizabeth Warren's turn to take the heat.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's the problem with being at the top or near it. Warren got the front-runner treatment facing attacks from several candidates including Mayor Pete Buttigieg who somewhat uncharacteristically slammed Warren on her so-called plan to pay for Medicare for all.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me be clear on this. Costs will go up for the wealthy. They will go up for big corporations and for middle class families, they will go down --

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: Yes or no question that didn't get a yes or no answer. Look, this is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular. Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): At least, Bernie is being honest here and saying how he's going to pay for this and that taxes are going to go up. And I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that. And I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we're going to send the invoice.


SCIUTTO: That was a line. Plenty to dissect here. Let's bring in CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza and David Swerdlick; assistant editor at the "Washington Post". Chris, in fairness, Elizabeth Warren did not have a straight answer to that question. The question was, will you need to raise taxes on the middle class -- HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: To pay for Medicare --


SCIUTTO: For all. When you look at the study, it says, you probably kind of got to, but you wouldn't -- she wouldn't answer that question --

HARLOW: And Sanders has said yes before --

SCIUTTO: And Sanders has said yes.

CILLIZZA: Yes, that's the problem. And I do think that Buttigieg went into the debate trying to make that point, believing that, that is Warren's weak spot. Her Achilles heel. He did it. Now, people -- I think some people said he was too mean, but the point is, he drove that contrast. And I do think that is her weakest point because the truth of the matter is, as you guys note, Bernie Sanders said soon after Warren didn't answer the question, look, we're going to raise people's taxes and that's going to include some people in the middle class.

What Warren is trying to do, which is really hard is to say, well, overall, you --what is going out will be less because of this public insurance. That's a harder argument to make because if the question is, are you going to raise taxes or not? Almost certainly, unless she's got some numbers that none of us have seen, the answer to that is going to have to be yes.


HARLOW: David, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has not yet qualified for the November debate. But do you think that she made those chances a lot better last night when she said things like her answer to Elizabeth Warren basically, and I'm paraphrasing here, your idea isn't the only idea. And if we just go with those plans, we're going to alienate voters that we could win in a state like this, in a state like Ohio.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, good morning, Poppy. I do think that Senator Klobuchar got herself noticed in a way that she didn't in the previous debates. And I think she clearly sees that she's got to stick up and make a case for the moderate lane of the Democratic Party.

But I do think that actually, Mayor Buttigieg made a stronger case for that lane last night. He sort of did a 7-10 split between Vice President Biden and Senator Warren at one point, saying to Vice President Biden, look, we don't want the same old, same old and then somehow turned right around to Senator Warren and said, hey, but, you know, we can't be divisive and come up with policies that all Americans can't get behind.

SCIUTTO: Yes -- SWERDLICK: He really stood out to me among the second-tier candidates

more than anybody else.

SCIUTTO: OK, Chris Cillizza, Joe Biden, by many accounts, I'm not going to say all accounts because people have different ways of looking at this stuff. We're going to have Bob Barnett head-on later, who says that he thought Biden had a strong night --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: But he was not in the foreground for most of the debate. Do you --


SCIUTTO: See dangers there for Joe Biden?

CILLIZZA: Yes, you know, Jim, it's funny, I've -- we've had four of these, now, actually more than four. I think there have been six total because there have been two several two-night --


CILLIZZA: Debates. But Biden has been, for me -- you know, I do a winners and losers column after each of these debates. And Biden has been for me consistently the hardest one to figure out. I thought he was the best he's been, at the same time, he wasn't as good as Buttigieg. I didn't think --


CILLIZZA: He was as good as Klobuchar. I didn't think he was as good as Bernie Sanders. He was about as good as Elizabeth Warren, but Elizabeth Warren had a lot more incoming. So --

SCIUTTO: Right --

CILLIZZA: What's tough here is, he's no longer a 20-point favorite in this race.


CILLIZZA: He doesn't have a lot of ground to give up.

HARLOW: Yes --

CILLIZZA: It needs to be not just good for Biden by Biden's standards, it needs to be good, period, and I don't think it was good enough.


HARLOW: OK, so David, Cillizza wrote about -- and his -- he grades them, so people should read that on But Andrew Yang; first of all, the math pin was everything. That's just aside from that -- SWERDLICK: Right --

HARLOW: Aside from that in all seriousness, how do you think he did, doing things like deflecting the argument on a wealth tax with actual facts about nations where it has not worked?

SWERDLICK: Yes, I thought that was a novel argument. For people that want to hear what Andrew Yang has to say, I think he's resonating. I don't expect him to jump up into that top-tier at any time, but he has money and he's already qualified, I believe for the November --


SWERDLICK: Debate. What Yang is doing is basically, he's taking the lane of saying, look, Trump had the right diagnosis, he just had the wrong prescription for what ails America. It's a tough needle to thread, but there's an audience for that message. And I think at a minimum, what he's done is mainstreamed the idea of universal basic income.


SWERDLICK: I don't know if that's going to win the day --

HARLOW: Yes --

SWERDLICK: I see it as a long road for that, but now it's not a foreign idea to people --

HARLOW: Right --

SWERDLICK: Who have been watching these debates --

HARLOW: Right, who is seeing UBI before?


SCIUTTO: Candidates to talk about it, and take positions on it --

HARLOW: Yes, totally --

SCIUTTO: Which is a win -- sorry, Chris, you were going to say something.

CILLIZZA: No, Jim, I was just going to echo your point which is, if you told me three months ago that we would have an --



CILLIZZA: Extended conversation in any --

SCIUTTO: Right --

CILLIZZA: Debate here on planet earth about universal basic income -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

CILLIZZA: And that Andrew Yang would be driving it, look, no one knew who this guy was at the start of the year. Absolutely no one. Now, as David points out, he's qualified for the fifth debate. He raised $10 million in the third quarter.

Again, I am with David. I don't think Andrew Yang is going to be the nominee. But I will tell you, outside of Buttigieg, and you could argue this, but outside of Buttigieg, has anyone's trajectory in this race been better from where they started, absolute zero, to where they are now, than Andrew Yang?


Warren, Buttigieg and Yang are those three.

SCIUTTO: And if the idea is based on something that is a real and genuine problem challenge --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: And that is that --


SCIUTTO: Many jobs are going to be replaced --

HARLOW: Well --

SCIUTTO: By automation in the coming years. And you know, that's the thing.

HARLOW: Can I also say I like that he pointed out his wife who stays at home with their two children, one of whom is autistic. And the point being that we as a society do not value stay-at-home parents for the work they do --


HARLOW: And a UBI would do that.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

HARLOW: All right, we'll be back soon, thanks, gents --

SWERDLICK: Thanks --

CILLIZZA: Thanks --

HARLOW: We appreciate it. Coming up for us, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heading to Turkey today, pushing for a ceasefire in Syria. But the Turkish president says that is completely off the table. So, what is the point of this trip? What can we expect? We'll have a live report from the border of Turkey and Syria, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)