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CNN NEWSROOM

Congressman Elijah Cummings Dies at 68; Gordon Sondland to Testify in Congress for Impeachment Inquiry; Interview with Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) on Cumming's Passing and the Impeachment Inquiry; Rudy Giuliani Faces Counterintelligence Probe; Pence and Pompeo Meet with Turkish President Erdogan. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:45]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. We begin with a devastating, heartbreaking loss for Congress and for the people of Maryland.

CNN has learned that Congressman Elijah Cummings died early this morning. This after a battle with longstanding health issues. The son of former share croppers, Cummings rose to become the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year. A very powerful committee where he became a key figure in the ongoing investigations of President Trump.

HARLOW: The 68-year-old Baltimore native committed himself to a life of public service fighting poverty in his largely African-American district. He spent more than 37 years in politics, including 23 years in Congress.

Let's go to our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

And of all the things he said, Dana, one thing that I was reading this morning that I love the most is he talked so much about the children that we are leaving behind and what we are leaving them for a future that we will never see.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that is something that, according to his own account, he said to the president of the United States in the one private meeting that the two of them had at the White House at the beginning of the president's term. And speaking of the president, he just tweeted about Elijah Cummings. And I'll read it for you.

President Trump said, "My warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see firsthand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader. His work and voice on so many fronts will be very hard, if not impossible to replace." Very nice words for the president, especially given the fact that the

last time we saw a tweet from the president about Elijah Cummings, it was very different. And it was not that long ago where he was going after the congressman and his city which he represented, Baltimore as being, you know, rat infested and worse. So that is the president. A very nice tweet from the president about Elijah Cummings.

And Elijah Cummings' wife also put out a statement this morning. This is from Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who is the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party. She said, "He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation's diversity was our promise, not our problem."

And we have all come to know and to watch Elijah Cummings in the past two years because he is -- has been the chair of the Oversight Committee. Literally the person in charge of the committee constitutionally that is supposed to make sure that the executive branch, the president, is on the straight and narrow, has been a very tough job in the Trump presidency. And probably one of the most telling moments when he was doing this job was when Michael Cohen came and testified publicly before the committee. Listen to what Cummings said at that time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So he looked at it from big perspective. He tried not to get -- obviously, he had to do the nitty-gritty of oversight and subpoenaing records and asking for witnesses as chairman of this important committee, but he also tried to look at the big picture about what it all means.

SCIUTTO: Right. I mean, listen, he was in a role the president bristled at and attacked him very personally over the course of days and weeks. That said, Cummings had deep friendships across the aisle during hearing in February. Cummings actually jumped to the defense of North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, this after Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib accused Meadows of trying to carry out a racist stunt. Listen to this moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS: Mr. Meadows, you know, of all the people on this committee, I have said it and got in trouble for it, that you are one of my best friends.

[09:05:09]

I know that shocks a lot of people.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): And likewise, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That is a rare -- that kind of comedy across the aisle is rare. It's rare in this Washington -- in today's Washington. What are you hearing from Congressman Meadows this morning?

BASH: No question, very rare. Here's what Congressman Meadows said about the passing of his best friend, to quote them both. "I am heartbroken. Truly heartbroken. I have no other words to express the loss."

Again, this is one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress. Staunch supporter of the president. But personally, a very close friend with one of the most liberal Democrats in the United States Congress.

HARLOW: Shows you there are those ties beyond politics even today.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: Which is nice that that does still exist.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: It does. It used to be more common as you know and you often hear Republicans and Democrats talk about a different time when they did know and spent time together. Let's hope that there are repeats of that kind of relationship going forward.

HARLOW: Dana, thank you very much.

All right. At any moment this morning, a key player in the impeachment inquiry, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is expected to arrive on Capitol Hill. A go-between for the Trump administration and the Ukrainian government, he's the central figure in the president's pressure campaign to dig up dirt on political rivals.

Congress will want to know about multiple exchanges, text message exchanges between Sondland and another top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. That's Bill Taylor. Taylor concerned about withholding military aid to Ukraine saying, you know, is this just a political campaign, followed with a reply from Sondland about five hours later explicitly denying any quid pro quo. Sondland is expected to tell lawmakers today that President Trump told him to write back to Taylor that there was no quid pro quo.

With us now, Lauren Fox is on the Hill. We're going to hear from him in an hour. Hopefully get that, you know, prepared testimony, those opening remarks, shortly. What are the key questions lawmakers want Sondland to answer this morning? LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well,

Sondland coming in just a little bit, Poppy, and I will tell you that Democrats are really looking for two lines of questioning. One of them is what he knew about Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.N. ambassador to Ukraine who was let go from her post in the spring. They also want to know about those text messages that you mentioned. And those are really key because there are multiple instances in where Sondland responds over questioning about what the motivation is for withholding this money to have individuals call him. Basically to take it offline. That's going to be a key point of questioning for Democrats who want to know, well, what did you talk about when that person called you?

They also are going to want to know about what his conversation was with the president when he responded in that key text message that you noted at the beginning of this where he basically says there's no quid pro quo. You are misunderstanding the president's motivations for withholding that money.

But of course that's a big question still on Capitol Hill, Poppy. Why was that money withheld? Why, after congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed to send it, why wasn't it appropriated? A key question for Sondland this morning.

HARLOW: Right.

FOX: Poppy.

HARLOW: And why -- why did he have to go to the president? Why was there that five-hour gap in those text messages? Why did he have to go to the president for direction on how to respond to Taylor?

Lauren, thank you. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Democratic congressman from Maryland, Jamie Raskin. He served alongside Cummings on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He also from the state of Maryland.

Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. And let me just begin with your thoughts on the passing of Congressman Cummings. It strikes me that he was a personification of the American dream. The son of share croppers who rose to be chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Washington.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It's hard to measure the enormity of our loss, Jim. You know, Elijah was the favorite son of Maryland. He's been the moral center of the Democratic caucus, and he is someone who always calls us back to thinking about the next generations, about future generations and the kids who are around us. I think about how in our oversight committee, almost every day he would break up a partisan food fight and say, now listen up. Here's what we're going to do. Listen up. Here's what we're going to do.

And he would refocus everyone on the task at hand. And that always had a moral premise and a moral core to it. So the reason why he made every possible effort to reach across the aisle and always to be bringing people in is that he understood that politics in government have got to be about service to the people.

[09:10:04]

Not about gamesmanship and trickery and strategic mischief and game playing. It's got to be about serving the people.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, let's hope that drive doesn't die with him.

Let me ask you about the impact. He sparred with this president. He chaired a committee with enormous influence over the investigations of this president. He's now gone. What does his passing, what impact does his passing have on these ongoing investigations? Including the impeachment inquiry?

RASKIN: Well, you know, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Intelligence Committee and our Oversight Committee are also working with the Judiciary Committee. So the good news is that we have a very strong collection of chairs and subcommittee chairs and members working together. But what Elijah gave us was this moral resonance and texture to everything that we did. You know, it's easy to get seduced into the idea that it's just about point scoring and game playing and so on.

And Elijah always wanted us to keep our eyes on the prize. This is about the government of the United States. What will the government be doing? Will it be serving young people? Will it be trying to lower prescription drug prices, which was a cause so close to his heart? It was the very first hearing that we did in the Oversight Committee with Elijah Cummings that he brought in people who use insulin every day and couldn't afford it and were rationing their own insulin.

So he always tried to view things from the perspective of the vulnerable and the outsider. You know, I see two kinds of politicians in Washington. One are power politicians and another type is justice politicians. And Elijah Cummings was the quintessential justice politician. It was all about justice and serving the people.

SCIUTTO: I am sure that he would be honored by those words.

I want to ask you now about events on Capitol Hill today. It's our understanding that Gordon Sondland, the current ambassador to the E.U. has arrived on Capitol Hill for his testimony. Of course, key question to him is what was the substance of the administration's interactions with Ukraine? Specifically, was pressure applied, leverage to get them to investigate the Bidens.

As you know, when he was asked that very question by Bill Carter, a senior U.S. diplomat there who had that very concern, he had a pause. Went to the president. The president told him there was no quid pro quo and he went back and delivered that message. Is that a satisfying answer to you?

RASKIN: Well, it obviously raises a number of profound questions that I think the ambassador will be asked. What we're doing right now is we're putting together a lot of different details that are giving us a composite portrait of what happened. But right now, pretty much everything that the whistleblower put in the complaint has been corroborated by objective evidence.

The contemporaneous memorandum that was written about the telephone call gives us a lot of detail. The fact that the military assistance that we voted for Ukraine, our besieged ally, resisting Russian aggression, was held up in the process of trying to extract this promise that there would be investigators unleashed on the Bidens.

SCIUTTO: Well, to be clear, it's shown that that aid was held up. It has not, at least -- and granted, we weren't in the room for these depositions, for this testimony, but it has not proven, it seems yet, that there was an explicit quid pro quo. I wonder from your perspective, do you have enough or close to enough for an Article of Impeachment on abuse of power by this president?

RASKIN: Well, of course, we don't need to have an explicit quid pro quo. This is not a bribery trial we're involved in. It seems clear enough, overwhelmingly clear, that the president used the military national security machinery of the United States government along with the private shadow foreign policy conducted by Rudy Giuliani to try to extract from a foreign government, a promise to go after a political rival.

That's simply unprecedented in U.S. history. And it's a kind of shakedown we've never seen before in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. It's a sellout of our basic principles, and they proceeded to try to cover the whole thing up. Having said that, there is a lot of interest in exactly how explicit this arrangement was and I think that those are the kinds of details being filled in by the parade of witnesses that have come in.

SCIUTTO: OK.

RASKIN: And I got to tell you, over the last several days we've had some very honorable public servants and foreign service professionals come in to talk about what they've seen.

SCIUTTO: To be noted. And notably in defiance of what was a White House attempt to keep them from testifying, I should note that -- we just showed pictures as you were speaking there of Gordon Sondland arriving. He is now there on the hill to begin his testimony.

[09:15:00]

Just quickly, before we go, because as you know, yes, these witnesses are testifying but many of the documents, communications, text messages, et cetera, e-mails that you've demanded have been blocked. Can you build the case, credibly, if the White House continues to stonewall on those materials?

RASKIN: Well, at this point, all of the evidence points towards the culpability of the president. So, there, it is true that they are blocking -- they are trying to block the witnesses unsuccessfully. They're trying to block our -- that the release of the documents to the committees.

But ask yourself this, and this is what America is asking. What are they hiding? Why would they be trying to stop us from getting all this information if it was a perfect phone call and a perfect operation, and they had nothing to hide? It doesn't make any sense.

So, Congress is on the side of getting the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. Whatever evidence they've got, they should bring forward to us, and they should stop fighting our efforts to obtain this, because it is our power and it is our right to receive all of these documents that we're asking for. And we are being confirmed by the courts in this effort. The courts are saying --

SCIUTTO: Right --

RASKIN: It is Congress' right to get these discovery materials.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Jamie Raskin, we appreciate you joining the show this morning.

RASKIN: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: All right, still to come, as we mentioned, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, he just arrived on the Hill. He is a key player in this impeachment inquiry. What is he going to tell lawmakers? We're on that. Also, CNN has learned that the investigation into Rudy Giuliani includes a counter-intelligence probe. What does that mean for him and for potential legal jeopardy?

SCIUTTO: That is a significant development. Also at this time, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meet with Turkey's president to push for a cease-fire in northern Syria. But critics say, recent comments by President Trump undercut the mission even before they landed.

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[09:20:00]

SCIUTTO: As we speak, Vice President Mike Pence meeting with Turkey's president in what might arguably be his most significant mission yet. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will join them soon. They're pushing President Erdogan for a cease-fire in northern Syria.

HARLOW: Turkey's offensive there began shortly after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region. You have seen what has happened subsequently. Erdogan has already dismissed the Trump administration's call to end the incursion, essentially saying sanctions will not move our hand. We will not stop.

Mike Rogers is with us to talk about this and a lot more. He is, of course, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and now a CNN national security commentator. So, you have unique perspective on this, not only given your role on -- formerly on that committee. But you met with Erdogan, this was back in 2004, this is after he was elected, before he was seated. So, you know the man and the mind and the motive here.

What do you make of the plea that clearly Pence and Pompeo are making at this moment, and what's at stake here?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, so part of the rationale -- and I was there with Robert Wexler; the Democrat member from Florida, and our effort was to take up a last attempt to get Turkey, including Erdogan, to allow the 4th infantry to go through Turkey to -- in the start of the Iraq invasion.

And so, he was there, he was with us. He seemed like a -- you could tell he had a different direction in mind for Turkey, but he did agree with it. By the time we left, the advisors around him, and I say that because this is going to be important in the negotiations that are getting ready to happen there.

The advisors around him talked him out of it after he had given his word that he would go back to his parliament and get another vote. And that was significant to me, and what we did, we -- you can just track and watch how he steered away from U.S. and western interests over the course of his leadership there.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

ROGERS: And he's got something on the line now. He's publicly stated that he isn't going to let -- he's not going to be pushed around by the United States. I think that makes it very difficult for him to unwind that, if he wants to unwind it --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

ROGERS: I'm not sure he does.

SCIUTTO: Yes, fine, I remember I was in Turkey then, too, Chairman Rogers, when that vote happened. And I remember the surprise when Turkey blocked the 4th ID.

ROGERS: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Question for you. So, the president dispatches his vice president and his Secretary of State extensively on a diplomatic mission to push the Turkish leader. But as he sends them, he undermines them by saying, hey, it's not really our fight. If you're Erdogan, who are you going to listen to?

Are you going to listen to the sincere entreaties of Pompeo and Pence, or say, hey, Trump just said something different.

ROGERS: Yes, here's the -- this is what's so complicated about Turkey. And I do think that they're going to have a challenge here. You know, Turkey lost about 40,000 people to terrorist attacks from Kurdish PKK and PUK-type activities, not related to the Kurds that are working with the United States and Syria today.

But they don't see the difference. And so, if you don't go in and understand the history, why Turkey is so aggressive on this -- on armed Kurds on their border, then to me, you're never going to get to a good negotiation. You have to understand all of their pressure points. And you know, we've never even talked about that.

So, there was that one time that there was talk in the United States about allowing Turkey to go across the border into Iraq to clean out these separatist, aggressive Kurdish movements. That was years and years ago. And so, Turkey hasn't taken their eye off of that ball. Unfortunately, I think the president just kind of caved in to one conversation with Erdogan about Kurds not understanding the full picture and who the Kurds are that the United States is supporting in Syria.

[09:25:00]

HARLOW: Right --

ROGERS: If they don't go and get that mess kind of sorted out and --

HARLOW: Right --

ROGERS: Say, hey, we understand these terrorist actions in your country, we'd like to help you with that, these are not those problems, and we've got --

HARLOW: Right --

ROGERS: To stand up for these folks. If we don't get there, they're not going to get a -- they're not going to get a good conclusion today.

HARLOW: Which it seems like the president didn't understand or was dismissing yesterday with his comments when he said in the Oval Office, the Kurds are quote, "not angels".

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: That he wasn't even understanding the fundamental differentiation there.

ROGERS: Exactly, and that worries me. And the letter to the leader, I mean, that was like that, you know, eighth grade letter, do you like me? Check the box --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

ROGERS: If you don't, check this box kind of thing. It worked with my wife, by the way, I just wanted you to know that. But it's not going to work in --

HARLOW: Oh, man --

ROGERS: International relations --

SCIUTTO: Yes, I don't know -- I don't know that exclamation points drive international affairs. We'll see though, Chairman Rogers, thanks very much for joining us this morning -- ROGERS: Yes, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Key testimony expected in just minutes from the ambassador at the center of the impeachment inquiry. We're going to be live on Capitol Hill with an update from there.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures pointing higher this morning across the board. This comes on the heels of an announcement that a Brexit deal was struck between the European Union and the U.K. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted simultaneously about this agreement.

Johnson will face an extremely tough job, though, getting a deal through the U.K. parliament especially with the two main opposition parties rejecting the deal that he's already announced today. We'll update you on this story.

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