Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Ambassador Bill Taylor Testifies in Impeachment Inquiry; Reports: Putin & Hungarian P.M. Helped Sour Trump on Ukraine; Trump Calls Impeachment Inquiry a "Lynching"; CNN Poll: Half of Americans Support Impeachment & Removing of Trump; Iraq: No Permission for U.S. Troops to Stay. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:29]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

Happening right now, what could be the most important day so far in the impeachment inquiry. Here's why. The man who found himself at the center of the House investigation is on the Hill and behind closed doors as we speak. He's Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

The same top diplomat who questioned in real time, in text messages, whether a quid pro quo directed by President Trump was happening with Ukraine. Text messages released by another top now former U.S. official, Kurt Volker. Text messages between Taylor and the ambassador to the E.U..

In one message, Taylor wrote this. Quote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." And in another, he asked, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

So now CNN has learned that Taylor is asked to fill in the gaps this morning. Why did he think that the United States was trading military aid for help with a political campaign? Why did he put any of his questions in writing at all? And what happened before, during and after those messages were exchanged?

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill where it's all happening as we speak.

Manu, what have you heard about Bill Taylor and what he's saying behind closed doors?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We learned a couple of minutes ago that Bill Taylor was served with a subpoena to come and testify today. He was served with that subpoena this morning. This comes in the aftermath of -- follows a similar pattern that other

witnesses have also -- who have declined or who have been unable to testify because of resistance from the State Department, concerns that they may not be able to testify, then being turned around and hit with a subpoena.

An official working on the impeachment inquiry says, because of efforts by the State Department to limit this testimony, that's why they issued this subpoena.

But the Democrats and Republicans are hoping to learn is about exactly why he sent those text messages, raising concerns about why the military aid was withheld, whether it was linked at all to the president's push to investigate his political rivals.

We do know from a source with knowledge of what Mr. Taylor is testifying about is that he will detail the chronology of events, exactly what happened when he started in the post early this summer up until now in October, detailing exactly the thinking behind some of those texts, the time lapse behind some of those text messages as well.

A source tells our colleague, Kylie Atwood, that he actually will return to Ukraine tomorrow. He doesn't want to make a splash, according to this source, but recognizes some of his testimony could very well do just that.

But he's in a bit of a difficult spot because he is the president's top diplomat to Ukraine, but also recognizes that there are a lot of key questions that are central to the impeachment inquiry being pushed forward by Democrats, mainly military aid, why was it withheld. Why did he have concerns and why did he threaten, according to one of those text messages, to quit in protest over this matter?

Those are questions not yet answered. We'll see what he's going to tell this committee -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Manu. Really appreciate it. It will be a long day for everybody behind closed doors with this one.

So while Ambassador Taylor is laying out his timeline of events behind closed doors, there's another important timeline that House investigators are looking at as well.

According to the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post," President Trump's conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungary's top leader, Viktor Orban, skewed and influenced Trump's view toward Ukraine and its new leader, all in the months leading up to President Trump's July 25th phone call with Ukraine that led to the whistleblower's complaint.

What did Putin, what did Orban tell Trump? Why did it have White House officials so concerned? And what can this timeline now tell you?

CNN correspondent, Tom Foreman, is taking a closer look at all of this. He's joining me now.

Tom, what are you picking up?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, in the month of May, did these two people really just manipulate Donald Trump and set him up to stumble into all the problems he is today because he wanted to believe?

For example, this conversation on the 3rd between Trump and Putin went on for about an hour, in which time Trump himself has acknowledged they talked about Ukraine.

Putin has never had any view of Ukraine other than that Ukraine is a thorn in his side, long seen as part of the Soviet Empire of old. He doesn't like all of this.

[11:05:05]

So, if you look at what happened on the 9th and the 10th, here is Giuliani. He has been the emissary, the private emissary looking into all of this. He's over there looking into the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine trying to help the Democrats in the 2016 election, not the Russians trying to help Donald Trump.

So he is look at that. He announces the trip over. Suddenly, he announces he's not going over, all of this laying the groundwork for the suspension of military aid to Ukraine, at least in the timeline.

Then here is Trump's meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, a meeting that some on the staff said he should absolutely not take, because they knew Orban is a staunch opponent of Ukraine, would try to poison the water.

All of which leads to a meeting near the end of the month where his top advisers come together with him. And there, Rick Perry, the energy secretary, for example, says by this time Trump has bought into this idea that Ukraine was trying to hurt him in 2016.

Look at all of that in the month of May, Kate, and you can see how Donald Trump very easily starts buying into this conspiracy theory, completely unproven.

But the real issue here was that Joe Biden was somehow doing something sneaky and somehow that's what needs to be investigated and that's where the real problem lies.

The month of May, new reporting. Tremendously important.

BOLDUAN: And despite the advice and thoughts coming from some of his closest advisers, as we're learning here.

FOREMAN: Saying absolutely you should not engage in this. You shouldn't believe this. Don't go down this road. At least on the face of it, that's what seems to have happened.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much, Tom. It's important to see the timeline when you really put it together like that.

Joining me now, former communications director for U.S. national intelligence, CNN national security analyst Sean Turner, and CNN political correspondent, Abby phillips.

Sean, let's start on Capitol Hill. I want to get to Orban and Putin in a second, but what's happening on the Hill with Ambassador Taylor, what are you most interested in hearing from, if you could, from Bill Taylor?

SEAN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. You know, there's been a lot of talk about the text messages. And these text messages are extremely important.

But I think there are a few other things that members of Congress will be looking at. In those text messages, there are phone calls that are referenced that are not immortalized anywhere. Ambassador Sondland has a phone call with Bill Taylor prior to Bill Taylor sending the text message that we've all been focused on.

Members of Congress certainly will want to know, what are the other conversations, what are the other communications, what's the other communication that's happened outside of those text messages, will be a key point.

I also think that with regards to things that they really want to know, you know, Bill Taylor showed up today without any documents. I think it will be really important for members of Congress to know whether or not that was a decision he made himself or whether there were pressures from the State Department to not bring any documents along with him that would support and kind of hold up his testimony.

And then, you know, Kate, the last thing, I think, will be key here, they'll want to get a sense for just how serious, how real Bill Taylor thought this issue of a quid pro quo was.

BOLDUAN: Right.

TURNER: He is the acting ambassador and, you know, he wants to keep that job. If he goes in and says, look, I had this concern, I raised it, it was addressed, and I moved on, that's going to be very different than Bill Taylor sitting down and saying I understood that this was serious, it was wrong and I was really concerned and I raised those concerns.

So what's his tone as he talks about this will be important.

BOLDUAN: That distinction is an important one as, you know, context around those text messages are completely lacking without hearing directly from the folks involved. And now you're going to -- they're going to be able to ask those very questions of Bill Taylor as we speak.

And, Abby, as Sean was alluding to, I think some of the most -- kind of like interesting color and reporting around Bill Taylor's testimony is that he does want to lay out his case. But the reporting is that he's not looking to be the center of attention here for at least very long.

I mean, he wants to lay out what he knows. He wants to lay out his timeline. But as Manu is reporting, he's ready to head back to Ukraine. He wants to keep his job.

I find -- I feel like potentially that puts him in a tough position, what he's doing today and what he would like to see tomorrow.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Of course. In some ways, it is possible that if he is candid with congressional lawmakers, he might anger President Trump and he will not be able to continue in his job.

He was asked to take on this position. He took it, based on what seems to be a sense of duty. He is a long-time public servant. And I think that seems to be why he wants to go back. He feels like there's work to be done there.

It's tough because with President Trump, a little goes a long way. You just have to say one thing that he thinks is unfavorable to him and he can turn on you.

[11:10:02]

Even Ambassador Yovanovitch, who was pushed out of the job, apparently was told she didn't do anything at all. Other people were whispering about her.

It's a difficult position to be in. He's right, he's probably not the center of this. He was clearly trying to push forward what he believed to be U.S. policy.

As Manu referenced in one of the text messages, he says it would be, essentially, disastrous if this aid continued to be held up because what would happen is that Russia would win and then he would quit.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: Yes. It would be a nightmare. Emboldening Russia would be damaging to U.S. foreign policy. And he was maybe joking about being willing to quit, but maybe he wasn't. I think that's one of the things that lawmakers will need to get at today.

BOLDUAN: Interesting point.

Sean, the timeline as reported by the" New York Times" and "Washington Post," they were concerned that Putin and Orban were influencing Trump's attitude toward Ukraine -- Tom Foreman laid out -- in all that was going on in the month of May.

Is it too much to say from what those conversations look like, the concern coming from the advisers around President Trump, that that looks like the makings of a foreign influence operation?

TURNER: Absolutely not. I mean, look, first of all, it's important that people understand who Viktor Orban is. He is one of the most divisive European leaders currently in office. You know, he is one of these authoritarian leaders who has engaged in really awful rhetoric. And he is completely opposed to Ukraine and everything about Ukraine.

So I do think that there's all the makings here of a massive sort of manipulation operation focused on President Trump. When you've got Viktor Orban, who clearly has a lot of animus toward Ukraine, and then you have Vladimir Putin seeing an opportunity to push President Trump toward -- against Ukraine.

One thing really disturbing about this, as this conspiracy theory of the 2016 election comes up, the president is engaging in this conspiracy theory despite the fact that he already knows the answer to the question of where the interference in the 2016 midterm election came from.

His Intelligence Community has already told him it was the Russians and there's absolutely no evidence to support the idea that it was the Ukrainians.

I think he is being influenced here and it's something that we ought to all be a bit concerned about.

BOLDUAN: And, again, add to that the fact that his Homeland Security adviser was out on television, saying that there's no foundation to that conspiracy theory and people need to -- it's been completely debunked and people need to forget about it. These things have been said out loud, not behind closed doors, not in private, but still despite all that, the president still pursues.

In the middle of -- I guess in the middle of all of this now, the president, we saw yesterday in the cabinet meeting and today, the president lashing out. It's kind of been, you know, day-to-day, some version of it.

Today's version, Abby, is calling the impeachment inquiry a lynching. It's the first time he has used the word to describe it.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: Potentially the first time he has used the word really ever on his Twitter feed.

And I want to play the reaction from members of Congress absolutely are reacting to it. I want to play the reaction from one member of Congress, Karen Bass. I thought her take on this was quite interesting. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well, I think that the president is very consistent. Whenever he has his back up against the wall, he throws a racial bomb. He knew exactly what he was saying. He knew exactly how it would come across. And I think it's important for us to not always take the bait, but I think it was just an egregious statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I mean, you covered the president from the White House on out. This does seem like almost fit a pattern.

PHILLIP: It is a pattern. I said as much, minutes after he tweeted it. The president often chooses the most divisive thing. And for him, he latches on to race in America because he understands how that gets everyone up in arms.

The president knows what lynching is. He knows what it means. He knows the context of it in this country. He is using it, because he knows that it's going to create a firestorm. And it is a distraction from the actual substance of this conversation around the impeachment inquiry.

He's doing it because this is his strategy for getting out of a tough situation and trying to change the subject to something more controversial.

BOLDUAN: Very important perspective.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

TURNER: I think it's important to note also that the president understands that there are a group of supporters out there who he kind of has a secret and sometimes not so subtle language with. And as there's all this talk about whether or not the president is fit for office, his mental state, his mental health, I think this is kind of the wink and the nod to those people that, hey, I'm OK, I'm still your guy, we're still together on this.

[11:15:09]

And he does that to kind of send that message to these folks out there who he knows may be inclined to step away from him.

I think this is very intentional way to say, I'm still here, don't worry, we've still got this.

BOLDUAN: At the very least, an attempt of a distraction. That's how to keep it in perspective and keep it all in context here.

Great to see you, Sean, Abby. Really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a new CNN poll shows a new high on the critical question when it comes to impeachment but also a new warning when it comes to the political winds in all of this. Details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:20:31] BOLDUAN: For the first time, a CNN poll shows 50 percent of Americans say the president should be impeached and removed from office. For the first time, a new CNN poll shows 50 percent of those polls say yes. But just as important, the partisan divide on that very question.

CNN political director, David Chalian, is here, with much more.

There's a lot in this poll, David. Walk us through us. What stands out most to you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: These are our brand-new poll numbers. That 50 percent, you're right to note, is a new high. This divide between those in favor and those opposed, this 43 percent, this seven-point gap is the most significant we've seen as well.

Take a look at the pro impeachment number. Remember, that's impeachment and removal over time this year. You see it has steadily been growing once the Ukraine conversation entered the conversation. Just at 47 percent last month, now at 50 percent.

Take a look by party. This is key. Democrats, 87 percent support impeachment and removal. Independents are at 50 percent. Kind of representing where the overall country is, Kate. Republicans, way down. Only 6 percent of Republicans support impeachment and removal.

I think this next question we ask really gets at the polarization on this. Why do you think congressional Democrats are backing impeachment? Is it because they really think that Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses or are they out to get President Trump at all costs?

Take a look by party, 86 percent of Democrats say no, they believe he committed impeachable offenses. Only 8 percent of Republicans believe that. Flip it around, 87 percent of Republicans are saying Democrats are just doing this to get Donald Trump out of office at all costs. This kind of polarization represents where we are.

Take a look at the president's approval rating, at 41 percent, holding pretty steady. This is where he has been throughout the bulk of his presidency. And 57 percent disapprove.

If you look at this number by party, I think this may be the most important number in the whole poll, Kate, 90 percent of Republicans approve of the job Donald Trump is doing. If you're looking for cracks on Capitol Hill among Republicans, I think that number is going to give them reason not to break from the president.

And if you look over time at this point in their presidencies, his modern-day predecessors, Donald Trump is near the low, just above Jimmy Carter. However, I would note a few points above him in the 40s, the four gentlemen above him in the upper 40s, all went on to get re-elected -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And, David, I honestly say that 90 percent approval, 6 percent among Republicans that said they thought President Trump did something wrong and that's why Democrats are investigating, what that tells me is that Senators are looking at that. And if it comes over to the Senate, the president of the United States is not removed from office. That's all that says to me.

CHALIAN: That's probably true and why you heard the president say get tougher and keep the party in line.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

Great to see you, David. Thank you so much.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: These poll numbers are always illustrative. Why they're also important, because no matter what any member of Congress says, they are tracking these to figure out where the temperature is and what they should do.

David, great to see you, man.

CHALIAN: Take care.

[11:23:42]

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, former U.N. ambassador tells me the real green light that President Trump gave by withdrawing troops from northern Syria was a green light for ethnic cleansing. My interview with Ambassador Samantha Power, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: The cease-fire scheduled to expire in just a few hours. And the Kurdish Red Crescent now reports 21 civilians were killed during this pause in the fighting between the Kurds and Turkey. How much of an actual cease-fire was it?

Also now, as the U.S. military moves out of Syria and convoys were seen heading into Iraq on the orders of President Donald Trump, the Iraqi government is saying they can't stay there. The Iraqi Joint Operation Command is saying no approvals have been issued for U.S. forces to remain in western Iraq.

Let's get a lay of the land, what's happening on the ground. Nick Paton Walsh and his team have left northern Syria and are now in Iraq.

Nick, what have you been seeing there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a tense calm as we left this morning inside of northern Syria. Eyes really on the clock, four and a half hours left, sorry, three and a half hours left until this cease-fire expires.

And we followed the route, really, of U.S. forces as they left, as we observed them leave over the past 48 hours or so into an Iraqi Kurdistan where we are now, where we heard a statement from the Iraqi government that those troops were not welcome to stay. They could pass through but weren't given permission to permanently exist.

[11:30:06] Bear in mind, there may be some issuing of a statement for domestic consumption, because of, of course, the U.S. history here with the Iraq war.