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AT THIS HOUR

Congressman Elijah Cummings Dies at 68; Sondland Testifies Trump Directed Diplomats to Work Through Giuliani on Ukraine; Presidential Candidate & Montana Governor Steve Bullock Discusses Impeachment, Trump's Asking of Ukraine President, Rudy Giuliani, Impeachment Inquiry, Syria Crisis, Maternal Mortality Rates. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00]

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And you saw him, as chairman of the Oversight Committee there. During the Cohen hearings, I think probably that's where people will remember him most recently, really, again, being a voice of clarity, moral authority and real insight in terms of where he thought the country should be, the kinds of questions that the Oversight Committee should have about this administration.

He took his role very seriously, as you heard Nancy Pelosi speak there, very somberly. And folks very sad today on the Hill and, of course, in Maryland as well where he served, going back to 1996 in the House, a member of the CBC as well.

So a big, big loss for that state and for the country as well.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And as we were talking, as Nancy Pelosi was speaking, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, they just issued a statement about Elijah Cummings' passing. It's worth reading.

At one point, they write, "As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he showed us all not only the importance of checks and balances within our democracy but also the necessity of good people stewarding it. Steely, compassionate, principled, yet open to new perspectives. Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice and reconciliation."

Guys, thank you for being here. So much more to come still this hour. Thank you so much.

Coming up still for us, back to Capitol Hill. Because in the hot seat right now is the E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He's behind closed doors testifying before House committees.

And what he's testifying, he is saying that President Trump explicitly directed him and other diplomats to work through Rudy Giuliani with regard to the foreign policy of the United States. What could it mean for President Trump?

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:36:40]

BOLDUAN: I've said many times that we have a lot to news to get to and a lot happening this hour. Today may set a new standard.

Two crises unfolding, the escalating conflict in Syria and explosive testimony from a new witness in the impeachment inquiry.

On Capitol Hill, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland is telling lawmakers that President Trump directed him to work through Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, rather than through government channels when it came to Ukraine.

In part of Sondland's opening statement, he's telling lawmakers this: "Based on the president's direction, we were faced with a choice. We could abandon a White House meeting for Ukraine President Zelensky, which we all believe was crucial to strengthening U.S./Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. policy goals in the region, or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the president's concerns."

Let's go to the Hill. Manu Raju is there for us.

Manu, Ambassador Sondland is still behind closed doors with these committees. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is significant break from this president who contended there was nothing wrong in his action. But when Ambassador Sondland, a Trump appointee, was testifying that he was, quote, "disappointed" in the president's actions and directions he must work through Rudy Giuliani before they would strengthen this key strategic alliance.

Now, what Sondland is telling this committee that he was not aware of what Rudy Giuliani was up to. He said they did not learn until much later that Giuliani's efforts may be part of a push, a political agenda to help the president's re-election campaign.

Specifically, Rudy Giuliani asked Gordon Sondland to do is that he wanted the Ukrainian government to issue a statement in saying that they were investigating corruption, namely the 2016 elections, including the DNC server, as well as the Burisma. And that is code for the Bidens because Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son, sits on the board of that energy company in Ukraine.

And Giuliani was pushing for those investigation to be acknowledged before they agreed to move forward on efforts to strengthen the ties between the U.S. and Ukraine, namely through this meeting.

There were also a lot of questions about why military aid was held up, military aid approved by Congress to be sent to Ukraine, why that was held up and whether that was part of any quid pro quo.

What Sondland is testifying, he is saying that he talked to the president after concerns were raised this could be a quid pro quo. The president, he said, was in a, quote, "bad mood," and a very short phone call, and said multiple times there was no quid pro quo.

And then he says this in this testimony: "Let me state clearly, inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming election would be wrong. Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason."

So he lays all of this blame essentially at the feet of the president, who made this direction to withhold, and certainly hold this meeting with President Zelensky. Raising concerns about the president's actions and making it clear what Rudy Giuliani was up to could have been an effort to help President Trump's re-election campaign.

[11:40:15]

Which goes to the core of what Democrats are investigating and really the core of that whistleblower complaint that the president was using his office allegedly to help his own political interests Kate?

BOLDUAN: This is just the opening statement, we need to remind folks. What is going to be coming out, we might glean from what we learn from what's going on inside the room will be equally fascinating if not more.

Manu, thanks so much.

He'll be bringing us updates if he gets more inside the room.

Let me bring back in Gloria Borger right now.

Gloria, an important bit of this is this a Trump ally now saying he was directed to go through Giuliani. I mean, what does this mean for forget Giuliani for a second. What does this mean for President Trump?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it means that President Trump was going outside the normal circles, outside his national security circles, and potentially outside the State Department. We have to hear where Pompeo was in all of this.

But imagine if you're these three guys, Ambassador Volker, Secretary of Energy Perry and Sondland, you come back from the inauguration, you're all pumped, as one of my sources said to me. They think they can get this meeting between Zelensky and the president set up.

They go to the White House, on May 23rd, they sit down with the president, tell him things are going great over there, you need to meet with Zelensky. And he goes, talk to Rudy. And they're asking themselves, what, talk to Rudy. And the president says, I don't think things are going so well over there, they're corrupt over there. And so these people had a decision to make, which was do they talk to

Rudy or do they just drop everything. And they decided, well, they had to work around it. And so Sondland said, OK, we'll talk to Rudy. And Perry reached out to Rudy. And, eventually, I guess, all of them spoke to Giuliani as well. It's crazy.

BOLDUAN: That's definitely what I'm going to say.

BORGER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned Pompeo. He says Pompeo -- he puts this at the feet -- this opening statement, he puts this at the feet of the president.

BORGER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: But he also seems to throw Pompeo under the bus because he says Pompeo was involved and supportive on what he was doing in Ukraine. Not clear. He talked about "our Ukraine strategy."

What's not clear is if that meant Pompeo knew they were directed to go through Giuliani.

BORGER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And I think that is a -- I think that almost puts the spotlight on Mike Pompeo once again.

BORGER: Right, it does. And I'm assuming Pompeo knew a lot. I mean, we knew that a senior State Department official, who testified and quit, went to Pompeo and said you've got to stop all this bad mouthing of the ambassador to Ukraine, she's a true public servant. And according to the testimony, Pompeo apparently just sat there and smiled.

So what does that mean? What did Pompeo know? And when did he know it? And was he involved in any way with Rudy Giuliani? I believe we know that he had had a conversation with him. But I believe that has to be confirmed.

You know, but the point is, at some point -- and you can see the committee kind of working up to it -- at some point, they're going to want to hear from the secretary of state about what he knew.

BOLDUAN: And then at the end of his opening statement, that couple of sentences that Manu just read -- and we can put it back up on the screen -- where he says -- it seems to me he's condemning what the president has done publicly, even short of an explicit quid pro quo.

There it is. "Let me state clearly, inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming election would be wrong."

You don't need a whistleblower report for that. You have the president who went to the South Lawn of the White House who asked China and Ukraine to do that already. And the statement went onto talk about a quid pro quo.

What do you think about from those folks?

BORGER: Look, he's a political appointee. He was a fundraiser for Donald Trump. And he is saying, in his opening statement, that he did not know about that phone call between the president and Zelensky, what was talked about and discussed in that phone call. He says in his testimony he --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I did find that fascinating too, Gloria --

BORGER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- that none of the post-call summaries he got, with Joe Biden or Burisma no mentioned at all.

BORGER: Right. That's right. And he does say, look, Burisma was mentioned to me but I didn't know Burisma equaled Biden. So you have to say he was unwitting in this case, if you believe his testimony. I'm sure they'll be asking him questions about it.

But what he's doing is saying, well, I found about this, I read the transcript or summary along with everyone else, and I had no idea until I read that, and that is wrong.

[11:45:09]

That's important, I believe, coming from someone who's an ally of President Trump, who was appointed by President Trump, raised money for President Trump, and was trying to deal with Ukraine and trying to get that meeting between Zelensky and the president. And someone who also believes that the military aid, the aid was existentially important for the survival of Ukraine.

So I think it's a very important statement that he made.

BOLDUAN: And also, on the larger point, the guy who's put in charge of Ukraine essentially saying that he did not get a clear read out of a call with Ukraine's new president. That is a broader statement about what folks thought about that call and how things are being handled, regardless.

BORGER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And much more to come with that testimony.

Thanks, Gloria.

BORGER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, heating up. Tensions rise as Joe Biden is slamming President Trump's foreign policy, calling him the most incompetent commander-in-chief ever. Coming up next. Democratic presidential candidate, Steve Bullock,

he's going to weigh in on all these headlines. He joins me, live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking news. A Trump ally and ambassador testifying on Capitol Hill right now that President Trump directed him to conduct U.S. foreign policy with regard to Ukraine through Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, first.

This is just after Democrats leave a meeting at the White House yesterday, saying the president had a meltdown over the devolving situation in Syria. Two of the major unfolding situations we're looking at.

Let me bring in Democratic presidential candidate, governor of Montana, Steve Bullock.

Governor, thank you for being here.

(CROSSTALK)

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, choose your adventure on where you want to begin because I have a lot of questions.

First, I guess, what we're hearing on Capitol Hill, Ambassador Sondland testifying that essentially -- saying that the president explicitly conducted from Rudy Giuliani. What this is painting a further picture of is a shadow foreign policy operation going on for the president. What is your reaction today?

[11:50:20]

BULLOCK: This is not Trump's private company. This is the United States of America.

The idea, first of all, that you would even tell a president of another country that I'd like you to look into investigating a potential political opponent, but then completely take it out of all the confines of the State Department and all of our federal government and say, talk to my private attorney? I mean, this isn't the way that anybody should be running the presidency or the United States of America.

And I think, look, I wasn't an impeachment guy.

BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to say. I looked back. The last time we talked was just after the whistleblower report was revealed in the end of September. And at that point, you were in a place of supporting the impeachment investigation, the inquiry. And you were in a place of wanting more information.

Where are you today? Have you seen enough?

BULLOCK: I think that all of America has seen enough. From my perspective --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You're saying what you have seen has risen to the level the president should be impeached or removed?

BULLOCK: I think we have to go forward. I think we have to go forward beyond an inquiry, that the House has to take action. Now it has to go to the Senate.

At the end of the day, I don't know how the politics of this all sorted out, but this is bigger than politics. This is so much larger than politics.

BOLDUAN: This is important, though, Governor. You have a unique perspective. I say this all the time. You are the one person in this race who has won in a state that Trump also won.

BULLOCK: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And you're saying Trump should be removed from office because of what you've seen come out from this whistleblower.

BULLOCK: I think we have to completely daylight it. Whether the Senate will take the action and remove him, I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BULLOCK: I would much rather remove him at the ballot box. That would be my preference.

BOLDUAN: Do you support that move? But would you -- do you think what you have seen rises to the level of him being removed from office?

BULLOCK: I do.

BOLDUAN: You do?

BULLOCK: I do. But I also recognize that there's probably 30 percent of this country that thinks this is all a scam, just trying to beat up on Donald Trump. There are great divides we have in this nation.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BULLOCK: So whether he's removed at the ballot box or through an impeachment proceeding, we have to recognize that the next person coming in has to be able to deal with those great divides to get this country back.

BOLDUAN: One area there isn't a great divide on now but is a major crisis unfolding is what is happening in Syria. Joe Biden says this decision the president made makes him the most incompetent commander- in-chief ever. What do you say when you see this?

BULLOCK: I think the notion that, at the same time the president says we want to move out of Middle East, he's sending 2,000 troops to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, just based on a phone call and another one of his love letters, he's completely pulling away from the Kurds.

This is not how we conduct this country. And even bigger than Syria, how will anybody count on America's word going forward?

BOLDUAN: In this moment, what do you propose is the fix here, or at least the next move? It's very unclear to basically everyone.

BULLOCK: No. A, we never should have gotten into this position, but now that we are, I think we have to work. We can't just unilaterally put pressure on Turkey to slow down. We have to actually talk to allies, everyone around there, and say that what's happening now doesn't work.

We've also pushed the Kurds right to Assad. I mean, this is -- you should have been able to see all of the dominoes that could fall as a result of this. But I don't think this president thinks that way by any measure.

So we are in a much more dangerous place today than we were even a week ago. Unfortunately, how many times have we said that?

BOLDUAN: You can count them. But do you think this one is more significant than others?

BULLOCK: First, it's so good to finally see that this isn't just Democrats alone.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Yes. Two-thirds of House Republicans support it.

BULLOCK: Yes, are universally condemning this. I think it's dangerous for both what is happening in Syria, what happens with ISIS. But it's also that much more, I think, compounding, how does anybody trust America's word at this point.

BOLDUAN: Do you think anyone can?

BULLOCK: With this president, it becomes very, very challenging. And even -- because it all ties back together. If you're not even going to use the institutions of the State Department, if you're going to go around as he did as well, and didn't consult with anyone, as far as I could tell, when he said we're going to remove the troops --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I haven't heard anyone say they've advised the president to do that, that's for sure.

With the time I have left, there's one issue that has not been discussed enough and definitely not on any debate stage I've seen, and it's something I want to ask the candidates. It's about maternal mortality rates. It is reaching a crisis in this country.

[11:55:01]

The United States is the only industrialization nation that is actually slipping backward and seeing rising mortality rates. And black women are at least three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications than white women.

The majority of these deaths are preventable, which is why there's so much outrage over it. We're not talking about a third-world country. We're talking about the United States of America in 2019. What do you want to see done about that?

BULLOCK: Step one is access to affordable care and preventative care. We still have about 22 states that haven't passed Medicaid expansion. When we did that in Montana, we know you're getting addressed some of the challenges early on.

BOLDUAN: So many women, that's where they get their care when it comes to pregnancy-related things.

BULLOCK: Completely. And we've even taken, in the state of Montana, we're actually doing prenatal care, really getting women in before they even have the baby, to both start talking about health needs and the prevention side of it.

If the emergency room is the only place people can go for health care, we're never going to address either maternal mortalities or the racial and economic disparities in this.

Unfortunately, those states that also haven't passed Medicaid expansion, where you don't have base health care to often a large portion of the African-American population. So this base level of health care has to be a requirement all across this country. And we can get there.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for paying attention to it.

Thank you for coming in. See you on the trail.

BULLOCK: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Governor. I really appreciate it.

Coming up next, we'll be right back. We have much more to come, much more of the breaking news. We're also awaiting a press conference from Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence in Turkey. We'll be following that.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:00]