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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Top U.S. Diplomat Testifies President Trump Wanted Probe of Bidens and 2016, In Return for Ukraine Aid; Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) is Interviewed About William Taylor's Testimony. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired October 22, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
It is entirely possible that this day may turn out to be one of the most sequential days in the impeachment inquiry as well as possibly this presidency. Testimony on Capitol Hill behind closed doors is being called that significant by some who heard it.
The country's top diplomat in Ukraine told Congress -- told Congress -- and, by the way, he's a West Point graduate, a Vietnam vet, who served this country for 50 years. He revealed in great detail and no uncertain teams that President Trump himself directed his people to push for a quid pro quo with the president of Ukraine. Military aid and a White House visit in exchange for investigating the firm tied to Joe Biden's son Hunter and investigating conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.
Charges d'affaires William Taylor described an effort operating outside diplomatic channels by which the president through this TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani, European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland, a Trump supporter, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and others sought such an arrangement with the Ukraine's President Zelensky. In short, Taylor's testimony which just wrapped up describes the very thing the president and his supporters have been denying for weeks now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOANLD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no quid pro quo.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: This turned in to a full blown threat, a full blown quid pro quo and I just don't see it.
TRUMP: There was never any quid pro quo.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: There's no quid pro quo.
TRUMP: No quid pro quo.
No quid pro quo.
No quid pro quo.
There is no pro quo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, keeping them honest, the White House's own transcript of that July 25th conversation which is a rough transcript not word for word between the president and Ukrainian president, also already makes a mockery out of those denials.
Today, Ambassador Taylor's account makes it even plainer. Everything Taylor says he was told, everything depended on Zelensky committing to his end of that quid pro quo and doing so publicly. By his account, there was nothing subtle about it.
In a statement, Ambassador Taylor describes the September 1st phone call with National Security Council aide Tim Morrison, quoting now: During this same phone call I had with Mr. Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation that Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak meeting in Warsaw. Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation.
Burisma is the Ukrainian company that Hunter Biden once served on the board of. Yermak is a close aid to President Zelensky of Ukraine.
Ambassador Taylor continues. Quote: I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation. This was the first time I heard the security assistance, not just the White House meeting, was conditioned on the investigations.
That same day, he texted his concern to Sondland, the two then spoke by phone. Quoting again from Taylor's statement: During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Quote: Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a public box by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.
Again, Ambassador Taylor wrapped up his testimony shortly before air time.
Joining us right now is New York Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks for being with us.
How much more were you able to learn from Ambassador Taylor today beyond what he said in his opening statement which was long and detailed?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Well, you know, what we learned was that he is a patriot, that he comes with no political agenda. That he has -- his only concern is about the significance and importance of the Ukraine relationship with the United States of America, and the fact that Russia is actively engaged in military conflict with Ukraine, where Ukrainians are dying on a daily basis as a result of that attack.
And his whole focus that he was not -- we would not have taken the job but for him wanting to do the best for his country, standing by his country to show the Ukrainians that they can have an opportunity to be a free and Democratic society and not subject to the dictates of the dictator from Russia.
COOPER: Your Republican colleague, Congressman Mark Meadows, said after hearing the Ambassador Taylor testify tor ten hours and I'm quoting, he said, I can assure you there is no quid pro quo.
How important is it to have some of these hearings public, because isn't it important -- I mean, would it be important for the public to actually hear what is being said behind closed doors?
MEEKS: Look, at some point, we're going to get the public hearings. But remember that this is an impeachment inquiry. There is no special prosecutor as it had been previously. And so, we are conducting an inquiry and the same manner that a special prosecutor had in the past.
And in fact, this is more open because in the special prosecutor case, there was no member of Congress or anyone there. In this case, there is Democrats and Republicans and their respective attorneys that are in the room. So --
COOPER: So, when you hear Congressman Meadows say after hearing, you know, Ambassador Taylor today that, you know, he can assure people there's no quid pro quo, what do you make of the comment? Hearing -- apparently you guys both heard the same things.
MEEKS: Well, all I say to the American people, it's out there now, so read the transcript, read the text of his statement. Basically what he said when one side to me, it would almost seem as though it was a "Godfather" movie said you're a businessman and don't get paid anything until you deliver what we want. Then he said, the president didn't say no quid pro quo as if that meant there was no quid pro quo. But then he said don't release the money unless question we get what we want. That's a quid pro quo.
If you expect someone to say when he they know that they're breaking the law and apparently he did, that's why he said no quid pro quo, trying to protect himself, knowing that he was breaking the law and trying to hold up the president of the Ukraine to get some political dirt so that he could benefit and in his political campaign in 2020.
COOPER: Given that there are several consistencies between Ambassador Taylor told you today and what Ambassador Sondland who, by the way, is not a career foreign service officer. He is a business person who a Trump supporter and was made the ambassador to the European Union based on that, there is inconsistencies with what Taylor said and Ambassador Sondland told you last we can, do you think Sondland needs to be called back to explain those differences? MEEKS: I think there is going to be further questions. That's why
we're still in the inquiry. This is a serious process that we are engaged in. It's not something that's a joke or we take lightly. And so, we are looking at and listening to all of the witnesses that testified, because this is a drive for the truth.
The American people deserve to know the truth. And that's what we are trying to do here. So, we're going to take further testimony. There will be more testimony all of next woke.
We'll combine. Transcripts will be open for people to read. At some point, there will be opening hearings.
And so, look, we are doing a meticulous job that is fair and open to the president.
COOPER: Just lastly, the president today tweeted -- you want I want to read something he tweeted. He quoted -- he tweeted and I'm quoting: So, some day if a Democrat becomes president, the Republicans win the House even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the president without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what we are witnessing here, a lynching, but we will win.
You know, he came under a lot of criticism from many quarters today. I know that back in 1998, I think it was, you called the President Clinton's impeachment a political lynching.
I'm wondering what you make of the president's use of that term.
MEEKS: Yes, so, look, I said those words. But you cannot put it in the same context. President Trump with me, an individual in the context whose people and whose family had been subject to lynching. And so, when you also think about who Donald Trump is and what he said, he is the president of the birther movement. He is the one that said those in Charlotte -- Charlottesville are fair people or people that's good people on both sides, those are the same individuals that lynched my ancestors when you think about what he has done, you talk about the Central Park Five, when you talk about all of the whistle -- our conversation that he's had in regards to race relations and the discriminatory practices that he's had in his businesses, no, Donald Trump does not have the liberty to say and use that word.
COOPER: Congressman Meeks, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
In addition to that tweet, the White House has just added this. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham putting out a statement.
Here it is in full: President Trump has done nothing wrong. This is a coordinated smear campaign from far left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo.
The statement continues: Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats politically motivated closed door secretive hearings. Every day this nonsense continues, more taxpayer time and money is wasted. President Trump is leading the way for the American people by delivering a safer, stronger and more secure country. The do-nothing Democrats should consider doing the same.
Much to talk about. Joining us is CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, who's like -- who like Ambassador Taylor served both Republican and Democrat presidents.
Also CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Joining us as well is former senior adviser to President Obama, host of "THE AXE FILES" and CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod. As well as CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.
David Axelrod, it's pretty rich to hear Stephanie Grisham -- first of all, it's nice to hear from her bus we rarely do. But there haven't been any briefings in so long. To hear her, A, talk about misuse of taxpayer money, the allegation against President Trump is that he is holding hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money --
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
COOPER: -- over the head of the Ukrainian president in order to get dirt on his own domestic political opponent.
So, the idea, that they're suddenly concerned about the misuse of taxpayer money is pretty rich and also, Ambassador Taylor -- I mean, whether you believe him or not, if you look at his service to the country, you know, West Point graduate, served in Vietnam, this is no -- no slouch.
AXELROD: No. And in fact he has devoted himself to service of the country. Clearly not a political.
COOPER: Right, 50 years of service.
AXELROD: And deeply offended by what he saw, you know, appalled by what he saw, as he should have been.
You know, about the president's tweet this morning, leaving aside the use of the word lynching, which is a story in and of itself. I hope that if another president were to do this of either party that the Congress would -- would do what they're doing now, because basically this isn't a story about the corruption of the Ukraine -- Ukrainian government, this is corruption at the highest levels of the United States government.
And Taylor's account today was painstakingly detailed. He had obviously taken copious notes. It read like a detective novel. And his own exercise and discovery that his worst fears had -- had been true all along and the fact is the president of the United States, through his agents, were shaking down the Ukrainian government. I mean, it is an appalling thing.
And last point on this because I know others have thoughts on this. The other thing that was appalling about in was the notion that there were two missions going on at once. One was the official U.S. policy to work with Ukraine, to ward off the attack, the ongoing attack from the Russians.
And the other was running completely in a parallel direction. And that only compounds the seriousness of this I think.
COOPER: Right, and --
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And it was contrary to U.S. foreign policy.
COOPER: It had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy. It had everything to do with Donald Trump re-election policy.
And what's so ominous about it is they had the inside track to President Trump, because of TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and where is the -- whereas the -- the career diplomats did not. The ambassador gets fired.
PHILLIP: And Taylor describes on several occasions career officials, policymakers boxed out of the decision making process. It wasn't just that President Trump decided to delegate Ukraine to an outside adviser in Giuliani and that Giuliani was working within a normal process. Giuliani was working outside of the normal process against U.S. foreign policy and leaving out career officials from the process.
COOPER: Right, and by the way, at the same time doing business in Ukraine with a bunch of characters.
PHILLIP: Yes, business, exactly.
COOPER: We're going to pick this up after the break. I want to hear from David and Gloria when we come back, as we learned more about what exactly Ambassador Taylor told lawmakers behind closed doors after his opening statement, which is public.
Later, a split among Republicans, with one top ally of the president embracing even his most controversial statements, and another who happens to be Senate majority leader hanging the president out to dry. Details ahead.
COOPER: Even before Ambassador William Taylor spoke to Congress today, the president was speaking out.
Listen to what he said yesterday and asked -- ask yourself, did he perhaps know how damaging today's testimony might be?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They're interviewing ambassadors who I never heard of. I don't know those people. I never heard of them. I don't know most of the people. If I do I met them quickly or know
them little, but ambassadors and some others. I don't know -- most of them I never heard of their names.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Back now with David Gergen, Gloria Borger, David Axelrod and Abby Phillip.
Gloria, I want to read something -- I don't know this person is a common trope from President Trump, Michael Cohen and others come to mind. I want to read something else from Taylor's opening statement about how aid to Ukraine was handled.
Quote: Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check, unquote.
I mean, I'm not sure what that means. Sondland is himself, by they way, is a businessman. So, I guess he knows of what he speaks in terms of that. But it seems perfectly aligned with how President Trump sees the world. Although in business, he was known for stiffing people or undercutting, you know, how much he paid to suppliers.
And the difference here is this is not his money. This is American taxpayers' money.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That's the whole point. This money had been appropriated by Congress, period. It was supposed to go to Ukraine, whereas Mr. Taylor pointed out today, 13,000 Ukrainians had died at the hands of the Russian. And this was an existential issue as far as he was concerned.
And instead, the president was playing politics and said, I'm not letting you have the money that legally you are entitled to unless you do me a political favor and dig up dirt on my political opponent. And I think that's why in testimony today was so devastating.
You know, as you pointed out, Anderson, Taylor is somebody with great deal of credibility. He has been a public servant over 50 years. He's seasoned in terms of diplomacy and foreign policy.
And he found himself trying to figure out like a wilderness of mirrors, trying to figure out what was going on in the policy he was trying to oversee, and he couldn't figure out until one day somebody told him, well, guess what, the president doesn't want Ukraine to get the that money unless Ukraine does exactly what he wants. And it was -- it was stunning. And I don't see how anybody sitting in that room -- I know there are Republicans coming out saying differently. I don't know how anybody sitting in that room could say that was OK.
COOPER: David Gergen, I mean, and yet the White House from the president saying I don't know this person, never heard of this person, you know, goes after the -- the service of this person. You know, they'll write them off as deep state, as professional bureaucrats. You know, 50 years of service from West Point to Vietnam War to, you know, high positions, that means something.
It's not -- you know, the president may be familiar with bottle service. But actual service to the country, you know, that used to mean something in Washington to the president. To a president.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It did, it did, Anderson. And I do think you're right to talk about the respect in which Mr. Taylor is held widely. It is also worth pointing out that he was first sent to Ukraine as an ambassador by George W. Bush, a Republican of course.
He was then called out of retirement to go back to Ukraine recently by Secretary Pompeo. You know, if Pompeo said we need to have you there. We're talking about a guy who commands respects on both sides, his service, his schooling, went to the Kennedy School and West Point, who I think has earned a lot of credibility.
From my perspective, historians are going to look back and say this was another John Dean moment, when someone went and opened the curtain to what we could see of a president of the United States, the mendacity we have seen here, the line we have seen, opening that curtain is important. And not since Nixon had we had -- I can't remember a time since Nixon when any president of the United States has been accused in this way with the evidence being what it is.
Now, it's conclusive. We're going to need to see the notes and State Department is likely to withhold them. But we have to see the notes to see if they're consistent with the statement he made. Sondland is going to have to come become and others have to come back. There's a fellow named Marcin (ph) should come forward. There is a lot more investigation to pin this down.
COOPER: But, David, I mean, you know, Congressman Mark Meadows comes out of the Taylor hearing said, you know, I can tell you there is no quid pro quo. So, you know, I'm not sure --
AXELROD: Let me -- let me give you a clue here. This isn't on the legit, OK? They know he is in deep trouble. And they're going to full partisan warfare here to try and hold the Republican base and make it difficult for Republicans to stray. They're going tribal on this because the facts are against them.
I slightly disagree with David on the John Dean point only to this degree, that John Dean testified to first person conversations that he had with the president. President Trump has been very careful to work through intermediaries and we haven't flushed out those conversations yet. But -- but this was incredibly -- incredibly damning testimony.
And I think the worse it gets, the more his supporters are going to argue process because any can't argue on the substance of the case.
COOPER: Abby, I want to play something else the president said -- or yesterday I should point out. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is all about a letter that was perfect. You never hear the letter anymore.
It was about whistle-blowers. You never hear what happened to the whistle-blower? They're gone because they've been discredited.
What happened to the informant? And where is the I.G.? The whistle- blower gave a false account.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I mean, this is just -- he is making -- he literally just makes stuff up. I mean.
PHILLIP: First of all, it's a call, not a letter, but --
COOPER: Well, first of all, the idea no one is talking about the perfect letter anymore. The letter which the White House released thinking -- clearly, the president thinking is perfect is incredibly damning at the center of this. And the idea that nobody talks about the whistle-blower anymore, it's moved beyond the person with great bravery brought to the fore.
AXELROD: Yes, it's been affirmed by everything we heard.
COOPER: Right, because it's no longer about the whistle-blower because everything the whistle-blower, Abby, has been confirmed just about.
PHILLIP: It reads like -- it sounds like what President Trump is saying is that he is running out of people to -- to scapegoat and attack for this.
And he really is. The issue is becoming defused among people that as the president himself said he does not know. He doesn't know the people very well and they are coming out and they are detailing a lot of the things that corroborating a lot of the things that were in the whistle-blower report.
And it's frustrating to him. President Trump works well when he has adversaries, when he has foils. He's finding it difficult to make some of these people, especially someone like Bill Taylor as you talked about his reputation, into a foil.
COOPER: I think he will find a way.
PHILLIP: Well, the White House --
COOPER: Don't, don't, don't -- I give him credit. He -- you know, he makes John McCain into not a warrior.
PHILLIP: Mike Pompeo was the one who hand-picked Bill Taylor. He's not --
AXELROD: Another West Point graduate --
COOPER: We've got to go. David Gergen, Gloria Borger, David Axelrod, Abby Phillip, thank you.
David mentioned a John Dean moment -- or -- yes, David Gergen. We -- we have one with the one and only John Dean. We'll have a John Dean moment when we joins us next.
We'll be right back.
[20:30:23] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: House Democrats are zeroing in on what they believe are inconsistencies in today's testimony by William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and that of Gordon Sondland, a presidential donor and businessman and who was named ambassador to the European Union.
For instance, one, concerns a July meeting at the White House between U.S. and Ukrainian officials. Sondland testifies that he and other members of the administration wanted to schedule a call and meeting between the two presidents, but members of the NSC, including John Bolton, his aides, Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman, did not.
Nevertheless, all was above board he said. "But if Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later."
Now, nine days later, Taylor says he spoke with Bolton to a -- Bolton's two aids. He says they painted a far different picture of that meeting. "Specifically, they told me that Ambassador Sondland had connected investigations with an Oval Office meeting for President Zelensky, which so irritated Ambassador Bolton that he abruptly ended the meeting, telling Dr. Hill and Mr. Vindman that they should have nothing to do with domestic politics."
In another instance, Taylor adds a lot of context to a much talked about group text discussion between the two men in which Taylor said it was "crazy" to link aide to political aims.
This is how Sondland described it. "On September 9th, 2019, William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President's 2020 reelection campaign. I called President Trump directly. The President repeated no quid pro quo multiple times. I tried hard to address Ambassadors Taylor's concerns."
Taylor says this conversation over text actually began the day before over the phone. This was how he says Sondland described the President's position then. "On September 8th, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check."
Joining us, CNN Contributor, whistleblower and former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, CNN Chief Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffery Toobin.
So, Jeff, I mean, Democrats have already indicated they want Ambassador Sondland to come back and explain some of these differences. If he sticks to his story, does it then become a he said, he said, though it seems like Taylor has actually very careful notes?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It seems that way, and there are also other people present, including John Bolton who is, you know, very much in part of Taylor's story. And Bolton is one of the people who is saying stop this nonsense with Giuliani. He's saying, you know, that this should not be -- a relationship with Ukraine should not be tide to domestic politics.
COOPER: So, Bolton is subpoenaed. Does he have to come and testify?
TOOBIN: Well, he is no longer a government employee and he's no longer in good odor at the White House, nor is he very fond to the President now, apparently, so it's up to John Bolton. I mean, you know, what -- the official policy of the White House outlined in that incredible 8-page letter from the White House counsel was no one can talk ever on -- to Congress about this.
But we've seen in people like Taylor's testimony that a lot of people are ignoring that instruction and we'll have to see whether Bolton will. One of the many fascinating aspects of today's testimony was that it raised the possibility of so many more people testifying, including Bolton, including Mike Pence, including William Barr, the attorney general. I mean, lots of people were implicated by this testimony.
COOPER: John, I want to read part what Ambassador Sondland said during his testimony last week. He said, "Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. 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." Now, according to Taylor's testimony today, I mean that's exactly what he did at the behest to President Trump.
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly sounds that way, Anderson. What we have here to me is most striking about Taylor's testimony. He is describing a conspiracy that's in operation. And they -- he gets a little bit of information about what is actually going on, but he certainly doesn't become a co-conspirator and he certainly doesn't like what he learns about that conspiracy.
So, I think that, you know, it's also striking that the Justice Department is ignoring this whole conspiracy, which in a sense is still ongoing. If it's not ended soon, we'll know, but I suspect that it's winding up at this point.
[20:35:02] Anyway, it's a very-- it's devastating testimony. Sondland has got some problems. He's going to have to come in and either recant or he may be prosecuted.
COOPER: Do you think the Justice Department, what, should investigate or -- I mean, in what way?
DEAN: Well, they -- when they -- when this case was referred to them initially, they took a pass on it. They said they don't see anything amiss here. Well, that's just -- it's absurd. They're not investigating is almost aiding and abetting this conspiracy.
The fact that Barr certainly knows they're not investigating this and they turned it down, it got turned down apparently at the assistant attorney general level in the criminal division and they did it obviously because they knew the center of this conspiracy is the President of the United States, just like the Watergate cover-up.
TOOBIN: That's what's so extraordinary about this story, is that at the core is not what I see as a crime. You know, in the sense of a violation of federal law, it's an abuse of presidential power.
This seems like classic impeachment case, because everything flows from the President's apparent decision to condition aid to the Ukrainians and a White House meeting with their agreement to provide dirt on Joe Biden and Democrats. That's an abuse of presidential power.
I'm not sure it's a crime and I'm not sure anyone else who participates in that is a crime. It's just an abuse of power and a high crime and misdemeanor under the constitution.
COOPER: Yes. We got to leave it there, unfortunately. Jeff Toobin, thank you, John Dean as well.
Coming up next, what our sources at the White House are telling us. We have a live report in that, as well as what Mitch McConnell had to say, which might surprise you and perhaps might annoy the President as well.
[20:40:33] COOPER: As you saw earlier, the White House is now pushing back aggressively on the testimony from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine calling him and others who have so far testified "radical unelected bureaucrats."
Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House. Jim, so what is the latest on this? We just, you know, heard from Stephanie Grisham that statement.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and we really didn't hear from her. We don't hear from Stephanie Grisham because the White House press secretary doesn't hold briefings, Anderson. But I can tell you that a source close to some of the discussions going on inside the White House is telling me tonight that there are some advisers to the President who would like to see some additional communications staffers brought on to help with the messaging of coming out of this White House with respect to this impeachment effort.
It has been seen as lacking so far according to some of the President's advisers, some of this predates what happened last week with Mick Mulvaney's performance in the briefing room.
There's been a feeling among some of the President's advisers that he needs to beef up this communications team and that he can't just do it through these tweets comparing the impeachment to a lynching or Stephanie Grisham putting out a statement -- a faceless statement going after some of this, you know, career professionals who are inside the State Department, inside the federal government who have been working for this country for years, sometimes decades, telling what they know up on Capitol Hill.
And so, I think there is a recognition while some of the folks on the President's legal team and in his communications team, they have not wanted a so-called war room because they see that as sort of going back to the Clinton era of the late 1990s. But there is a sense that they do need to beef things up over here because what's happening right now, what's working right now or not working right now for the White House is not helping the President.
COOPER: Well, I don't understand the idea of them beefing up. You know, Stephanie Grisham doesn't do briefing, nor does anyone else apparently, you know, in the White House public relations machine. You don't see Hogan Gidley holding briefings or Kellyanne Conway. I don't understand why add more people? Is it just to like be on Fox more during the day and like more ad -- more hours of the day they can be on Fox News?
ACOSTA: Anderson, I think they really -- there is a sense among some of the President's advisers that they need to have a much more professional operation in terms of talking about the strategy.
I talked to a source on the President's legal team earlier today who was talking about this need saying that, listen, the President does have a case to make in terms of these impeachment proceedings that there isn't a fair due process going on for the President, that they can't have administration lawyers for example during some of these proceedings.
And so they -- there are people inside the President's impeachment team, his legal team, people who advise him who say that they do have a case to make with respect to protecting the President and the presidency, but that message is not getting across.
ACOSTA: Take for example what happened with Hogan Gidley today where he said the President wasn't comparing the impeachment to a lynching, when in fact that's exactly what he was doing.
COOPER: Right, yes. Maybe Giuliani will come back on T.V. That would, you know, be --
ACOSTA: I don't bet on that. I wouldn't bet on that.
COOPER: Well, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today appeared to back away from the President's defense on Ukraine. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President has said that you told him that his phone call with the Ukrainian president was perfect and innocent. Do you believe that the President has handled this Ukrainian situation perfectly?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We've not had any conversations on that subject.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he was lying about that?
MCCONNELL: You'll have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the President about that phone call.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, getting the story straight is not the only problem the President has made for himself, of course, in the Ukraine controversy today. As Jim Acosta mentioned, as we report at the top, he tweeted this, "All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here, a lynching."
If you chose to defend the President's comparison to lynching, the one who did created a trouble of his own with that defense, here's Senator Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Yes, this is a lynching in every sense. What does lynching means? When a mob grabs you, they don't give you a chance to defend yourself, they don't tell you what happened to you, they just destroy you. That's exactly what's going on in the United States House of Representatives right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. Joining me, our CNN Global Affairs Analyst and "Washington Post" columnist, Max Boot, and CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers, who is previously a state legislator in Senator Graham's state of South Carolina. Bakari, Lindsey Graham, President Trump, what do you make of this?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, exhaustion, pure and utter exhaustion just having to deal with the expectations that some of use have for Lindsey Graham only to be let down again and again and again.
[20:45:05] You know, hearkens back to Nina Simone and Billie Holiday when they sing "Strange Fruit," they weren't talking about peach trees or apples trees, they were talking about black bodies that were hanging from trees throughout the south. Lindsey Graham knows that.
My father is part of what's called the Emmett Till Generation, 1955. He was lynched. He was brutally slain. I challenge all your viewers to go and pull up the images of his face. He was beaten beyond recognition. It was flat like pancake, because he was lynched. There were 165 plus people, those are the ones we know about who were lynched in South Carolina between 1877 and 1950. Lindsey Graham knows this history.
The problem that we have here is that the Republicans don't have any fortitude, courage or backbone to stand in any type of truth, to say that I am disappointed in Lindsey Graham and I know your viewers are going to be like, this is Lindsey Graham. We know him to be like this. He's always been like this.
But some of us have known Lindsey Graham for a very, very long period of time. And this is not the man that we know, unfortunately, or we would hope it's not. And this is just disappointing to say the least.
COOPER: There are -- you know, Max, there are some Republicans who certainly are not happy they're being put in a position to, you know, defend an indefensible comment. When you see people like Senator Cruz, Senator Graham strongly defend him, I'm wondering why. Why are they -- why plant a flag on this on this defense?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: They've just gotten used to defending the indefensible, Anderson, and so it just comes naturally.
COOPER: I mean, is Lindsey Graham so desperate about getting primaried? Is that --
BOOT: I guess. I mean, you know, I really can't explain it. I mean, what we're seeing develop in Washington and today with the testimony of Ambassador Bill Taylor, especially, is a open and shut case that the President betrayed his oath of office, that he betrayed the people of the United States, that he subverted American foreign policy to blackmail a foreign country into interfering in the U.S. election.
That's what we are seeing, incontrovertible evidence of and Republicans are trying to distract from that. They're advancing lame arguments, stupid analogies. You know, they really should stop worrying about saving their seats. They ought to start worrying about saving their souls. They should stop worrying about what President Trump is going to say about them. They should start worrying about what their grandchildren will say about them as they are accomplices to this assault on the constitution.
COOPER: And, you know -- I mean, look, many of the Republicans even who, you know, did contradict what the President said or used terms like I wouldn't have used that term or called it unfortunate, which is not exactly a, you know, full throated rejection and an explanation of why it's inappropriate.
BOOT: They fall back on to other defenses saying, oh, well, it's inappropriate, but it wasn't a quid pro quo. And I mean, what you heard today from Bill Taylor was not just a smoking gun, this was a smoking howitzer. He blew away that lame excuse no quid pro quo. This is the latest evidence yet, and we had evidence from Trump's own mouth that there was in fact a quid pro quo.
So how can Republicans continue to defend this? I am just waiting and maybe I'll wait forever and it will never happen for that moment when somebody like Barry Goldwater or Howard Baker, Hugh Scott or one of those Republicans finally said there are too many lies, we cannot handle another lie, it's time for Trump to go.
COOPER: Right. It's interesting, Bakari, because, I mean, you know, Senator Graham was very upset about the betrayal of the Kurds hasn't really -- you know, the idea that American taxpayer dollars would be held over the head of the president of the Ukraine while they're fighting against Russia in order to benefit President's domestic election chances, I mean, that would be a betrayal of the American people. It's interesting that, you know, Graham says he wouldn't rule out the possibility of impeachment if new evidence emerges. I'm not sure -- do you believe him?
SELLERS: No, I don't think anybody believes him. The fact is that not only is Donald Trump betraying his oath of office or violating it. For many of us, we've told you who Donald Trump was from the very beginning. There has been no doubt in our mind who Donald Trump was. He's someone who traffics in racism and utilizes it as political currency.
And what we're starting to see is that he's bending -- he has bent the Republican Party to his will. So people like Lindsey Graham who once stood as independent vessels with people like John McCain are that person no more. And it's fascinating to watch because now Lindsey Graham firmly puts politics -- or politics in the Republican Party over American values.
We know he is deathly afraid of Ambassador Haley running against him. He's also Jamie Harrison. The only thing he is afraid of more than both of those is that Donald Trump tweet. And it's the most fascinating thing to watch. Men have no courage when it comes to the President of the United States and that's a sad comment there.
COOPER: Yes. Bakari Sellers, Max Boot, thank you.
Just ahead, another crisis for the President, the latest on Syria, what the American special envoy to Syria had to say before Senate committee.
[20:54:02] COOPER: A lot going on in Capitol Hill today and Washington. Let's check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris? CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Biggest day we've had because any question of doubt is gone, Anderson. There's no question people are portraying this as a dark day for the President. I decided not to look at it like that because it perspective.
In the light of truth showing brightly today and it came from team Trump, the man who was the top diplomat in Ukraine, Taylor, told us what happened, when, in meticulous detail, he cannot be dismissed as some radical, unelected, you know, diplomat. He was asked to do this job by the Secretary of State.
COOPER: Well, that's what Stephanie Grisham put out today -- tonight.
CUOMO: Well, and that's why she has to be questioned as many in that administration have to. We know what happened. We'll lay it all out.
COOPER: All right, we'll see you about six and a half minutes from now.
Coming up next, revealing testimony before Senate committee today by the U.S. special envoy for Syria, ahead.
[20:58:54] COOPER: It's been the kind of news day that we're just now finding time to report another remarkable development in the ongoing Syria story. The U.S. special envoy for Syria telling a Senate committee that he was not consulted or advised in advance to President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from Northern Syria.
Jim Jeffrey telling senators that the subsequent Turkish military incursion there was in his words really tragic. Hard to overstate the speed with which this has taken place. It was only days ago that the Turkish leader called President Trump and said the small banned of U.S. troops stationed in Northern Syria should be withdrawing.
They knew full well that any withdrawal would place America's long- time ally, the Kurds, in mortal danger. The U.S. troops did leave, of course, and a five-day ceasefire by the Turkish military in Northern Syria imposed after days of hard fighting is now over.
Now, Russia and Turkey have announced an agreement that would establish joint patrols in a buffer zone along portions of the Syrian- Turkish border. President Trump says it is all to the good.
He tweeted late today, "Good news seems to be happening with respect to Turkey, Syria and the Middle East. Further reports to come later." Not especially good news, of course, for the Kurds, but very good news for Russia and Iran and the regime of Bashar-al Assad.
The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?