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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Key Impeachment Testimony; President Trump Compares Impeachment Inquiry to Lynching; Anonymous Administration Official Releasing Anti- Trump Book. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis."

We begin with breaking news.

Sources are telling me that the anonymous senior Trump administration official who penned that 2018 "New York Times" op-ed, warning about President Trump from the inside of his administration, well, that anonymous author has now written a new book about President Trump, one that will be released next month.

It is, distinctively, an attempt to convince the nation to not reelect President Trump in 2020. CNN has exclusively obtained a cover of the book.

It's titled -- quote -- "A warning." The book has been a closely guarded secret until this moment and will be released officially November 19. The anonymous senior administration official, you will recall, had warned in that "New York Times" op-ed of an amoral, erratic, petty, and ineffective President Trump.

The author said that officials inside the administration occasionally worked to thwart the president's worst inclinations. The president at the time called "The New York Times" op-ed treason and suggested that then Attorney General Jeff Sessions investigate and find out who wrote it.

A draft press released that I have obtained describes the book, "A Warning," as -- quote -- "explosive" with a -- quote -- "shocking firsthand account of President Trump."

The author will remain anonymous. Sources telling me that elaborate precautions have been taken to protect the author's identity and that the publisher and the literary agents have verified that the author is the same person who wrote "The New York Times"' piece.

Matt Latimer, the co-founder of the literary agency representing the author, Javelin, also told me -- quote -- "The author of 'A Warning' refused the chance at a seven-figure advance and intends to donate a substantial amount of any royalties to the White House Correspondents Association and other organizations that fight for a free press that seeks the truth. The book was not written by the author lightly or for the purpose of financial enrichment. It has been written as an act of conscience and of duty" unquote. --

Latimer refused to say whether or not the author remains part of the Trump administration. We have just reached out to the White House for comment. We will bring you their reaction when and if they respond.

But let us first discuss with our group right here.

And, Jeremy Diamond, as a White House correspondent, President Trump, responding to just an op-ed version of this, called it treasonous, said that the attorney general should investigate it.

I can't imagine that his response, especially as he's already besieged by other anonymous whistle-blowers, is going to be any more calm.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: No, I think it will probably be very similar.

And, in fact, I was surprised when you were just reading that the fact that this author is going to remain anonymous with this book. I think that's highly, highly unusual here.

And also it does feed into where the president is right now and the attacks that he has been launching against the whistle-blowers who have raised complaints against him, the other administration officials who are raising concerns about his dealings with the Ukraine.

This is going to help feed into the president's deep state narrative, I think, as he tries to make the case that somehow he's being undermined by this cabal of officials. That is not necessarily what this official is. But by releasing an entire book anonymously on that premise, it does kind of feed into that narrative from the president.

However, I must say, looking back at the op-ed, so much of what that author wrote at the time still remains true today, when you look at the president's decision Syria. You see here in the op-ed the author described the president's impetuous adversarial leadership style.

And we still do see that, where the president is reacting so on the fly and impulsively. And so very much -- a lot of this remains true. I'm sure the book will have a lot of subject matter to cover.

TAPPER: And, Laura, one of the big parlor games a year ago, September, September 5, the op-ed came out, was trying to figure out who it was, a guessing game, but then also a lot of people looking at what the charges were that this anonymous individual is making and saying it sounds pretty serious.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, POLITICO: Right.

And, again, as Jeremy pointed out, I mean, there are things in the op- ed that potentially will also be in the book that have come to -- that we have seen examples from the president, whether it's that some of his appointees tried to stop him from making certain impulsive decisions when it comes to foreign policy or other things.

But I think that Democrats would probably -- I would assume that they would maybe want to stay away from this, maybe stay away from the book and not include it, unless it has very specific details that then they want to start asking questions about, but pretty much keep it away from their impeachment inquiry that's ongoing right now.

TAPPER: All right, let me turn to the opinion side of the table.

Mehdi, I believe that you Mary Katharine are probably on the same page on this, not a fan of anonymous authors.

MEHDI HASAN, THE INTERCEPT: No.

And when this came out last year -- as you know, Jake, I rarely agree with Donald J. Trump, but when he called this person gutless, I kind of agreed, because I thought that if this person has all this information, is eyewitness to all of this kind of chaos and lawlessness, come out, say it in your name, testify in front of Congress, talk to the media.

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There's an impeachment inquiry going on right now. Rather than writing books and giving away the money to the White House Correspondents Association, why not be part of the impeachment inquiry? Why are you not in front of the House Oversight and Intelligence Committee?

It was gutless then. And, by the way, it was nonsense. The justification was that they're staying inside the administration to protect America from within, to be one of the adults in the room. They used that phrase, unsung heroes. The quiet resistance was the word used in that op-ed.

Look what's happened in the last year, from the Mueller report, the obstruction of justice, the abandonment of the Kurds, strolling into North Korea with nothing in return. Where has been the thwarting? Where has been the steady state of quiet resistance?

Even if I bought the excuse offered, it doesn't even hold water anymore.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, your take?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I just find it tiresome. Put your name on it. Put your name on it. It's a whole book.

And then it makes your account more credible if your name is on it. By the way, these are not hard criticisms to make. I understand that Donald J. Trump is a person who will go after people for making criticisms of him, but a lot of people make criticisms of him every single day.

If you have stuff to bring to the table, bring it with your name. It makes it more powerful. And, by the way, his argument that there's a cabal of sort of secretive folks inside the administration and in career positions acting to thwart him, well, this guy is anonymously writing a book, possibly in order to stay on in the administration to actively thwart him, he sort of has a point.

TAPPER: Well, we don't know if the person is in the administration or not. But I take your larger point.

DIAMOND: This has also been kind of the debate among some Republicans who don't necessarily like Trump's style, don't like the way that he governs, but wants to see his policies succeed and also have some concern for the country.

This is the same argument that we saw from John Kelly, for example, the president's former chief of staff, General James Mattis, who previously served as defense secretary. These were officials who were not only at times disobeying the president's orders or not carrying them out because they said, look, he will forget about it by tomorrow, let's just not do this because it's too crazy.

This is kind of the -- these two factions that we have seen, we have seen the people who say, look, I want no part of this and the others to say, look, I have a duty to the country to at least be some kind of solid advice-giver.

TAPPER: Some sort of guardrail.

(CROSSTALK)

DIAMOND: Some kind of guardrail, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Mehdi's eyes are going so far back in his head, I'm afraid he's going to strain his ocular muscles.

(CROSSTALK)

DIAMOND: I'm offering the perspectives here.

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HASAN: I know.

And you are mentioning names that drive me up the wall, John Kelly, Jim Mattis. I mean, Mattis came on your show, Jake, and he just wouldn't answer any questions about Trump.

TAPPER: Yes.

HASAN: These people are not adults in the room. I hate that phrase.

They are enablers. That is what they are. They have enabled Trump to be racist, to be reckless, to abandon people to ethnic cleansing. They have enabled that agenda. They could help stop it by coming out and speaking out against it. They choose not to.

HAM: I actually half-sympathize with that argument and hope for people who could be an adult in the room, although I'm with you that we don't see them that often.

But still just do the thing and don't parade around with op-eds and books with no name on them.

HASAN: Or make stupid jokes. Mattis comes out makes jokes about it, or refuses to talk to you about it.

TAPPER: We have some breaking news right now.

And breaking news in our politics lead, as the impeachment inquiry begins. We are getting our first look at the opening statement of Ambassador Bill Taylor. He is the key diplomat testifying in the impeachment investigation today.

Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, he raised concerns in text messages about whether or not the Trump administration was forcing a quid pro quo, demanding one.

Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju. He's live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, you're reading this opening statement. What does it say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have just obtained the 15-page very detailed opening statement that raises serious questions about the president's actions and the reasons why military aid was delayed to Ukraine, military aid that have been approved by Congress.

I'm going to read you a little bit of this 15-page testimony that was delivered this morning. He is referring to a text message that Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, had sent to the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.

In this text message that we have already seen publicly, he says: "We are now saying that security assistance and a White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

That was a question that Taylor asked. Sondland responds to call him. So he did.

Now, according to this testimony, he says: "During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Now, he goes on to talk more about his conversations with Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He says that Ambassadors Sondland told him that -- quote -- "Everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance." He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky of Ukraine in a -- quote -- "public box" by making a public statement about ordering the investigations.

Now, Jake, the Republicans have for some time, of course, said there has been no quid pro quo at all. This statement raises serious questions that there may have been a quid pro quid based on exactly what the top diplomat, the current top -- the president's top diplomat to Ukraine is testifying that the president had -- that he had been informed that the president wanted this public declaration of investigations that could help him politically in exchange for releasing stalled military aid.

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Now, he goes on to raise some serious concerns about the delayed -- the aid being delayed, also that a meeting that the Ukrainian -- incoming Ukrainian administration, the Zelensky administration, wanted to have a meeting in Washington.

That had also been put on ICE. And we have known separately that the president put that on ice until top U.S. officials had communicated with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who had been seeking those same investigations both into 2016 elections, as well as into the Bidens.

And it makes it very clear here the reason why the aid was withheld, according to what he had been told, what the top people that had been told, was because of his demand to issue this proclamation that those two investigations that could help the president politically were made in Ukraine -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju with explosive news there.

We have a lot to talk about, a lot of breaking news, what the White House is now saying about Bill Taylor's testimony.

We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We will be right back.

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TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news in our politics lead.

CNN has just obtained the opening statement of ambassador Bill Taylor, who is testifying right now behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in the impeachment inquiry.

In his testimony, Taylor, the current top diplomat in Ukraine from the United States, says he was informed that President Trump wanted a public commitment, a public declaration by the president of Ukraine that he and his administration would conduct investigations that would benefit President Trump politically, in exchange for the military aid from the United States for Ukraine.

Let's discuss.

And, Laura, let me start with you.

This definitely goes to the heart of what the impeachment investigation is about, in many people's views. Some Democrats say you don't need the quid pro quo. Just asking a foreign country to do these investigations into the crazy conspiracy theory about the DNC server and Ukraine in 2016, or the investigation into Burisma, the firm that Joe Biden's son Hunter worked for, that that's enough.

But if -- but it's even worse, they say, Democrats say, if military aid is a condition of doing these things for the president.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right.

And so far, what we heard not just from news reporting, but also from Democrats coming out of the testimony, is that Taylor did say that in instances when he was talking to Sondland and others that military aid is what was being withheld, and that there was -- and he backed up the texts that we have seen already and was saying that there was a quid pro quo.

And I spoke to Rep. Malinowski of New Jersey just moments ago, and he was telling us reporters in a gaggle that he pretty much hinted that Taylor has taken very copious notes, because he is a career official, as opposed to a political one, and they are known to take very good notes.

Also, Rep. Rouda of California described the atmosphere in the room there in a lot of detail. He said that members had audible gasps and sighs as Taylor was testifying. And he said that the body language of members hearing what Taylor was saying was -- quote -- "holy expletive."

TAPPER: Yes, holy exploitive.

So, Mary Katharine, I mean, the fact is, this is a widely respected diplomat, Bill Taylor, asked to come in after President Trump had gotten the previous ambassador, Yovanovitch, removed from the post, a Vietnam veteran.

This could be theoretically difficult for even the president's staunchest defenders to dismiss.

HAM: Yes, I think it is. And I'm glad we have the entire opening statement, which I know was quite extensive.

Part of what I don't like about these proceedings is things leaking selectively about this, so you don't get a full picture.

TAPPER: Sure.

HAM: In this case, I think you might get a more full picture.

And, by the way, I would also like to say, like, if I were in this administration, I would take notes about everything all the time. TAPPER: Yes.

HASAN: And maybe write a book about it.

HAM: Yes, with my name on it.

TAPPER: But you would put your name on it, right? OK.

HAM: But, yes, I do -- I will say I think there's a slight distinction between asking them to dig up dirt on Biden, and the part where you ask to investigate interference, which we do know there was some, not this weird theory about the servers.

There was actual interference with the 2016 election by Ukrainian officials on behalf of Hillary and against Trump. And I think that sort of thing having strings attached to it with U.S. foreign policy is not the end of the world and is actually what Biden was saying about the corrupt -- the corrupt prosecutor that he was going after.

When it's about the integrity of American elections, we can attach strings to what we're doing for other countries. When it's about attacking your domestic political adversaries, that's the real problem.

TAPPER: Right, but from all intents and purposes we that we can determine, Mehdi, it's about this crazy DNC conspiracy theory. I mean, that's Tom Bossert, the president's former homeland security adviser, said.

HASAN: Yes.

TAPPER: Like, I have -- I have tried to convince him there's nothing to this, it's not true, not about whether or not Ukraine was offering damaging information Paul Manafort, which clearly there were people in Ukraine doing that.

HASAN: Trump doesn't listen to intelligence officials. He listens to Infowars. So that leads to most of the problems we see.

HAM: And Rudy.

HASAN: And Rudy, who listens to Infowars and weird fringe blog sites where he brings printouts on TV to talk about them.

I think the big point, which is a point you mentioned at the start, which is, number one, do you even need a quid pro quo? The idea of investigating Joe Biden or his son is itself, many would argue, outrageous, illegal, unconstitutional, impeachable, et cetera.

And then there's this issue of quid pro quo. My favorite moment of the last few days was when Mick Mulvaney went on FOX on Sunday and said, but I never said the words quid pro quo.

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That's what they are reduced to now. If you don't say those three words, there's no quid pro quo. Of course, that's not what it is. It's the act.

And we knew from the moment the White House released its own transcript or summary of the transcript. This is why, as much as I enjoy all these hearings, and I think they're important, and they add stuff, and the -- you don't need any of that stuff.

There's literally the White House phone call summary, where the president of Ukraine says, can I have some anti-tank missiles? And Trump says, I would like to do us a favor, though. That's the quid pro quo. I'm done there.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And he brings up the...

HASAN: And then he brings up the two things.

TAPPER: Ukraine, and says, and, also...

HASAN: Yes, investigate the election and the crazy conspiracy theory. And what about Hunter Biden and Burisma?

TAPPER: And how's the White House dealing with these allegations and notes from this ambassador, who, by the way, the Trump administration put in his current post as acting -- running the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine right now?

DIAMOND: That's right.

And one of the major frustrations at the White House is that they haven't been able to get like a full read on what every single person is saying here, because they're concerned about what some of these administration officials, current and former, are saying.

And what these House Democratic investigators are doing is they're slowly piecing together a picture of exactly what happened when this aid -- from the moment that the aid was withheld until the moment that it was released and what all of the reasons were around that.

What we have seen so far is, it's been largely from the career folks on the State Department side and the embassy in Ukraine. What we still don't have exactly is the picture of what did the president tell his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, directly? What did the president tell Rudy Giuliani when they were meeting, as they frequently do, at the White House and the residence of the White House?

So I think those are the pictures that -- the elements of the picture that we don't yet have. The question is whether or not Democrats will need that or not to proceed. Certainly, this White House wants to have a better picture, though, of exactly what all of these current and former officials are saying.

TAPPER: And, Laura, I think there's an open question as to whether or not we will ever find out any of this information. Mick Mulvaney is not likely to ever testify before the House impeachment inquiry publicly or privately. They will assert executive privilege. They have only been able to -- the Trump administration has tried to

block some of these individuals, such as Bill Taylor and others, from testifying. But they have -- and the House Democrats have had to subpoena them.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And that's a big question, and one that some of the members are raising today, which is at what point do we stop with the behind-closed-doors testimony depositions and then move everything to being public, so that we proceed with the investigation, with the proceedings, with the impeachment proceedings?

Because, right now, it appears as though the timeline for whether or not they will have a vote to impeach the president is continually pushed back. And there is a fear among Democrats of how close are we going to get to next year, to really when voters are starting to head to the polls for the primary?

TAPPER: OK, we're going to squeeze in a quick break.

When we come back, more on the breaking news. Bill Taylor is sharing what could be explosive testimony on the Hill right now.

And President Trump has used the word lynching to attach the impeachment inquiry.

Stay with us.

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TAPPER: In our politics lead today: As a key witness testifies on Capitol Hill behind closed doors, President Trump is facing strong backlash from Democrats and some Republicans after comparing how he is being treated in the impeachment inquiry to a lynching.

Many pointing out the historical shame of lynching in the United States, with the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Karen Bass, accusing President Trump of throwing out racial bombs.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, what are you hearing from the White House or the president's supporters about why he used such an incendiary term with such historical weight today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, back here at the White House, aides are struggling to really defend that remark.

One saying publicly earlier that the president wasn't trying to compare what he's going through to one of the darkest moments in American history, though not really being able to expand any further than that.

But if you're listening to Republicans up on Capitol Hill, some of them are distancing themselves from what the president said, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, who are saying that's not language that they would use.

But there is one person who's defending the president's language, not only defending it. Earlier, Senator Lindsey Graham was asked multiple times about this. And not only did he not criticize the president over it; he endorsed his language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think that is pretty well accurate.

This is a sham. This is a joke. I'm going to let the whole world know that, if we were doing this to Democratic president, you would be all over me right now.

Yes, this is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, Lindsey Graham is obviously from South Carolina.

The other senator from South Carolina is Tim Scott. He's the only black Republican senator. And, earlier, he said that was not language he would use. But, essentially, he said he understood the president's frustrations, Jake, with this impeachment probe.

But, of course, there have also been questions about what a distraction this is from the pressure that is on the White House right now, as these people like Bill Taylor are going up to Capitol Hill and testifying.

A lot of that frustration coming from the White House is because they don't have a White House lawyer present for those testimonies that are happening, so they're not fully read in on what exactly is being said about the president's conduct here.

But, also, you have got look at that new CNN poll that came out today that shows 50 percent of Americans now endorse or now approve of impeaching and removing the president from office.

Those are numbers

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