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Ambassador Sondland Says, Trump Directed Diplomats To Work With Giuliani On Ukraine; Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) Dies At 68. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: He perceived possibly, help a political campaign.


Sondland replied almost five hours later denying any quid pro quo. Sondland is expected to tell lawmakers that President Trump told him to write back to Taylor that here was no quid pro quo. He took him at his word.

Joining me now is CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. This -- it's really remarkable, Manu. And I know you've been doing the same thing to read through this opening statement here. Because, for instance, on the text messages, et cetera, he says that by encouraging this conversation to take place off text messages, we was not trying to hide anything. But on the other hand, as you noted earlier, he does differ with the president on a key aspect of all this, and that is involving his personal lawyer, in fact, directing Ukraine policy through his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a significant break from the president over the president's handling of this matter. His top diplomat for the European Union makes very clear that he was disappointed, in his words, quote, disappointed that the president had directed him to talk to Rudy Giuliani and then learning later that Rudy had an agenda that could help President Trump's 2020 re-election campaign.

Now, essentially what this testimony shows is that the president put on hold this effort to strengthen this key alliance in exchange for them reaching out to Giuliani to do essentially -- get Giuliani to do what he was pursuing, which was this investigation into the Bidens as well as this investigation into the 2016 elections.

Now, given some of the specifics here is that earlier this year in May after president Zelensky of Ukraine was inaugurated, Gordon Sondland and other top U.S. officials briefed the president about the fact that Zelensky wanted to strengthen relations, have a meeting and a call with the President. The president said, no thanks. He said first talk to Mr. Giuliani. According to Gordon Sondland, it was apparent to all of us, the key to changing the president's mind was talking to Giuliani, which he said he was disappointed that the president made that direction. And then he says this, base on the president's direction, we were faced with a choice. We could abandoned the goal of a White House meeting from President Zelensky, which we all believe was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the president's concerns. He said they were left with no choice and they chose to address the president's concerns. He said he wasn't aware until, quote, much later that Giuliani's agenda might have included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians directly or indirectly to help the president's 2020 election.

Now, he said that he did talked to Rudy Giuliani only a handful of times. And when he spoke to Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani asked from a public statement from Zelensky and said this was at the direction from the president. But he wanted the public statement to say -- he wanted to commit Ukraine to look into anti-corruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election, including the DNC server and Burisma as two anti-corruption investigatory topics of importance for the president.

Now, he doesn't -- he says that Giuliani never explicitly said the Bidens but Burisma is essentially the code for BIdens because Hunter Biden is on the board of that energy company in Ukraine.

Now, he did say that after that text message came up about the same quid pro quo, whether there was a quid pro quo to withhold that military aid, he did talk to the president about it. The president, according to Sondland, was in a bad mood and just said repeatedly there was no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo, but it's unclear if he was able to verify that in any way.

But nevertheless a huge break with a key administration presidential ally, appointee saying to the president, directing him to do something that could help the president's re-election efforts.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's interesting. On the question of security assistance, he does say explicitly, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance. As you note, the one conversation he bases the denial on is calling the president that one time. The president, as you said, in a bad mood, says there's no quid pro quo multiple times.

He goes onto say, in my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interests and should not have been delayed for any reason. I mean, that still leads an open question, okay, if you're contending the aid was not delayed explicitly as part of a quid pro quo, then why was it delayed around the time that you were making these demands? I mean, that remains an open a question that we haven't heard an explanation for.

HARLOW: It does. Manu, let us know what else you hear. I know the questioning is underway. We'll get back to you in just a minute.

SCIUTTO: Now, it's heartbreaking news out of Baltimore for the country. Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings died early this morning following complications from longstanding health issues. Cummings defined, you could say, what it meant to overcome adversity, to achieve the American dream.

He was born the son of former sharecroppers. The 68-year-old committed his life to serving the Baltimore community where he was raised.


HARLOW: He spent 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates. He became the youngest chairman of the Legislature's Black Caucus. And in '96, he was elected to Congress. His ascension on Capitol Hill reached a new pinnacle earlier this year when he became chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Since then, he became a central commanding presence in the ongoing investigations into President Trump. Her is Cummings, in his own words, about the importance of those investigations.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): When we're dancing with the angles, 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?


HARLOW: Our CNN correspondent, our National Correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, joins us from Capitol Hill.

I mean, waking up to this news this morning, it's tragic, it is heartbreaking and he has meant so much to so many people regardless of political party.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was an absolute giant, Poppy. I mean, it is so stunning and it is so devastating to so many people here on Capitol Hill. I've spoken to many people this morning and especially the young people, the staffers who are really struggling with this news today. And covering the Oversight Committee, we're used to seeing, really, him at his emotional height, if you will, passionate, always reaching out and imploring people. He would always say come on, people, we can do better than this, we are better than this, when he felt like politics was too petty or that it was getting too personal in some way.

I went to his office this morning and the door was closed, it was locked and it was just newspapers there and two guards standing there. I mean, I've spoken to so many Republicans and Democrats alike who say that, you know, he was a fighter and he had such a presence here that it is almost hard to describe. Just take a listen.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): He always was there to lift up. And, you know, he may not have been a preacher, but he had the message of a preacher. And I will always remember his booming voice in committee when he would say, now, come on, we're better than this, and he truly meant it.

REP. SCOTTY PERRY (R-PA): We didn't always agree, but we had the utmost respect for him and we're just so saddened for his sudden -- the sudden loss to his family, to his community, to this institution.


MALVEAUX: And as you know, he had a very public battle with the president as the chair of oversight, very critical of President Trump early on in the administration. The two of them did sit down side by side. He wanted to get something down and he said perhaps they could lower the cost of prescription drugs.

And then it was later, as we know, that the president lashed out at Cummings, lashed out at his home city of Baltimore. And Cummings responded by saying, come visit, come see. These are hardworking good people. But today, Trump putting out this tweet saying 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 Poppy, you know he famously was able to get along with Republicans as well, that moment they had with Mark Meadows in that committee, that Oversight Committee, where he was accused, Mark Meadows, of being racist. And here's how Cummings took to his defense.


CUMMINGS: Mr. Meadows, you know and of all the people on this committee, I've said it and got in trouble for it, that you're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people.

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



MALVEAUX: Mark Meadows putting out this statement this morning saying, I'm heartbroken, truly heartbroken. I have no other words to express the loss, and, Poppy, indeed, a great loss here on Capitol Hill.

SCIUTTO: If only we could see moments like that repeated more often, I think there's enormous appetite for it here and around the country.

Suzanne, you've covered the Hill for a long time. You had personal interactions with Representative Cummings.

MALVEAUX: I know him as a reporter covering him, of course, but also personally. I mean, he is the kind of person -- he is my congressman. He represents, you know, our district. And my sister reached out to him when my mother was ill and flooded with medical bills and she picked up the phone and called him, and he helped us get through that difficult time to make sure my mother was cared for in her final years. He is somebody that we often see at Howard University at their homecomings and commencements, very close to my father, who's a former dean at the Howard Medical School.


So there's a real brotherhood there and there's a real sense of family there as well.

HARLOW: That's a beautiful memory to have, Suzanne. Thank you for sharing it with us so much this morning.

Let's continue remembering the remarkable life of Congressman Cummings. With us now is Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Good morning and I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you were close.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): It is a loss, and we were close. And it is our loss. I will not be selfish to say my loss. It is my loss, but it is our loss, it is Maya's loss, his beautiful wife and children and family and constituents.

You know, I want to emphasize the fact that Elijah, Chairman Cummings drew his strength from his spirituality. He would not mind me saying that he was a spiritual man, he was a praying man. And out of that, out of scriptures, he would draw on his high moral calling. And that's how he would challenge us to be better than that. That's how he used, when we're dancing with the angels. He could have said anything when we're no longer here. But he said, when we're dancing with the angels, what and how will we answer the question of how we protected democracy.

Buts his faith was his guidepost. And I will say his love for his wife, and she was no shrinking -- she is no shrinking violet. He supported her for everything she wanted to do and she supported him for everything he was and what he was doing. I love them both and, again, I am comforted by a man who was a man of faith and a man that was a patriot for this country.

HARLOW: Let's walk down memory lane for a moment, if we could. We found a picture of the two of you together. I believe it's from about 20 years ago, so I'm going to try to put that up on the screen if we could.

Yes, we have a bunch of them. One of them that I saw this morning was about 20 years ago. But there's something that he often said that I want everyone to just take a moment to listen to. Because just like when we are dancing with the angels, you know, what would we have done, it's about our children and what we leave behind. So listen to this.


CUMMINGS: Our children are the living messages we said to a future we will never see.


HARLOW: Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see. He said that repeatedly. He said that to the president fighting for prescription drug reform. So much of what he did was for our nation's children.

LEE: He loved young people, he loved children. Remember when Freddie Gray was killed, he wasn't in his office. He was out with the young people who were obviously and rightly upset and emotional and looking for an answer or answers. And he went to the streets.

Both of us have a love and affection for a program called the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Internship. And we have both spoken and was in the room just a few months ago when -- or maybe a month ago when he spoke to one of the classes. We both spoke. He spoke first, and we were all enamored, we were all moved, we were all lifted out of our shoes for the challenge that he gave to us.

So we have a task, and his challenge remains in our fabric of our soul.

HARLOW: if I could just ask one more question on him. We have this image of him with a bullhorn. Because there is -- in this moment, you were a member, 2014 committee, and he is silenced -- his microphone is silenced by a fellow member of Congress. So ever since then -- can we pull that up, you guys, the bullhorn photo? He -- whether it was in the streets after the death of Freddie Gray, right? You see him there with the bullhorn, or whether it was in the halls of Congress, right? And it really came to exemplify the power of his voice.

LEE: That was an episode when he was the ranking member and the then chairman decided to cut off the mics off the opposition. And the bullhorn, for me, indicates his voice would never be silenced. He would not allow his voice to be silenced because it was not Elijah Cummings speaking, he was speaking for, in essence, his people, his constituents, the voiceless. And that's what he's always done, speak for the voiceless.

HARLOW: Well, Congresswoman, thank you for those beautiful memories. Before you do go, I do want to ask you about the pressing matter happening now on Capitol Hill. You're on the Judiciary Committee, but it's members of the fellow committees that are questioning Ambassador Sondland right now.

And we have received his opening remarks where he will say that he was, and I'm paraphrasing here, disappointed that at the president's direction, he and his team were told to go around State Department officials, career officials and deal with the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani on all things Ukraine and specifically investigations, specifically into Burisma, which, of course, meaning Hunter Biden.


What do you think is the most important question now that we know this from Sondland that lawmakers need to get an answer from him on today? LEE: Well, isn't it interesting, an ambassador that was a political appointee, and I don't judge all political appointees who have ambassadorships, but was known to not have a lot of experience could at least understand that this was wrongheaded, upside-down even maybe illegal to sidestep professional sworn officers of the United States who have the responsibility of upholding the interests of the people of the United States and go to a paid, lacking in any moral judgment as it relates to this effort to be your face in Ukraine, a desperate country needing to be protected against Russia and desperately needing the military funds.

You know, Poppy, it joins into the most egregious foreign policy decision that I've seen in decades, maybe in the last hundred years, and that is the decision made on a Sunday night when various Americans were with their families and praying to unleash terror into Syria and to allow the Turkish forces to overrun the Kurds, but more importantly to literally enhance and create a national security threat for the United States of America. This is all combined.

So the question I would want to follow up with, ambassador, you indicated that you thought it was wrong to sidestep policy into Giuliani. Are you telling me you did not fully appreciate the fact that there was a quid pro quo? You called the president, you said he was angry and shouted out no quid pro quo. But in your honesty under oath, are you saying you had no inkling or no thought that this was a quid pro quo foreign policy?

HARLOW: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, we'll hear a lot more, you know, after this testimony of Sondland wraps up. I appreciate your time on both of those fronts this morning. And, again, we're so sorry for your loss of your dear friend, Congressman Cummings.

LEE: Thank you for having me. Thank you. God bless his family.

SCIUTTO: Well, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are in Turkey right now pushing the Turkish president to call a ceasefire in Northern Syria. But did something the president say, wreck their mission before it even started?

Also more problems for the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. The federal investigation into him now includes a counterintelligence probe.

And Senator Lindsey Graham has been one of the president's most loyal allies, but when it comes to Syria, the two men could not be on more opposite pages.



U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland is on Capitol Hill. He's behind closed doors right now giving his testimony to Congress. He is telling them that he was directed by President Trump to work with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, on all things Ukraine and was left with a choice, abandon efforts to bolster, as he says, a key strategic alliance or work to satisfy the demands of the president and his personal lawyer.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss, Jackie Kucinich, Washington Bureau Chief for The Daily Beast.

So let's put that language up on on the screen, if we can. Here is the president's political appointee to ambassador of the E.U., Gordon Sondland, saying explicitly, we were also disappointed, himself and other senior officials by the president's direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine.

And he goes on to say, as Poppy was saying here, that, in effect, they had a choice. They either give up on the security relationship and building or do the president's bidding here and go through Giuliani.

I mean, this was an essential claim, was it not, and the whistleblower complaint was that a key national security alliance was being routed through the president's personal lawyer with the impression at least of seeking political gain.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. With every passing day, the whistleblower complaint becomes more and more bolstered by the president's own appointees. You know, Sondland's testimony that we've seen really seems to match up with what Rick Perry, the energy secretary, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview recently.

But the question is why was this aid being held up, and why did they think that, you know, if it was so wrong and if they disagreed with it, did they think to ask why? Was it really the fact that the president thought the Ukrainians had been involved in the 2016 election, something that had been debunked? Or was it something else, as the whistleblower outlined that had to do with former Vice President Joe Biden?


HARLOW: Jackie, one thing that strikes Jim and I what has just crossed that, yes, he's giving this testimony in his opening statement, but he's not turned over a bunch of documents. We've just learned this from a letter from Sondland's lawyers to members of Congress.

One of those documents is, let me read this to you, a July 2019 email between Volker, Bill Taylor and Sondland agreeing that Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, should stay out of the 2020 U.S. campaign. And there are a number of things, emails briefing people on his assignment to Ukraine, et cetera. But those documents are not being turned over because, currently, the State Department has said that they can't be.

KUCINICH: I mean, this puts the onus again on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has also said that, as you noted, has stonewalled Congress on all of these documents. And it also makes Bill Taylor, the other diplomat, the Ukrainian diplomat, all the more interesting to Congress to see if they can get him to be more forthcoming with these documents. It doesn't look like it right now, but for sure.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: So to Poppy's point, I mean, the White House attempt to stonewall the testimony has failed because all these officials --

HARLOW: Which is significant.

SCIUTTO: And that is significant. But on documents, electronic communications, still no progress, and as Adam Schiff noted, it's an entire personal device of Sondland's with text messages, emails, et cetera, both State Department are holding. It could be material to the investigation.

Jackie Kucinich, thanks very much.

A one-on-one meeting between the vice president and Turkey's president wrapped up just moments ago. Was any progress made on a ceasefire in Northern Syria? We're going to have a live report coming up.