Return to Transcripts main page


Key Impeachment Testimony; President Trump Compares Impeachment Inquiry to Lynching; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed About Key Diplomat Testifying. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: According to Taylor, those investigations included both the conspiracy theory that it that was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election and a probe of Burisma, the company that Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter worked for at the time.

As CNN's Sara Murray reports, Taylor testified President Trump wanted President Trump Zelensky -- quote -- "in a public box" by making a public statement and ordering the investigations.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A key impeachment witness telling investigators today he was told aid to Ukraine would not be released until Ukraine publicly announced the political investigations Trump was demanding into the Biden family and 2016.

The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, offered those details in his opening statement obtained by CNN. He explained why he suspected Trump of taking part in a quid pro quo, something the president has denied.

Taylor told investigators the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, talked to him by phone -- quote -- "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," Taylor said.

"Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations. In fact, Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance."

Ukraine's involvement in 2016 is a conspiracy that has been proven false. And Burisma is the Ukrainian energy company that hired former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): You could hear a pin drop, literally, as the ambassador laid out in his opening statement.

MURRAY: A source familiar with Sondland's testimony said Sondland was only speculating about the political investigations.

Sondland also told Taylor the aid may have been frozen because of corruption generally or because the Europeans weren't giving enough money to Ukraine.

Taylor's testimony fills in the gaps between his text messages with other diplomats over the summer in which Taylor raised alarm over the delay in money for Ukraine. As the new Ukrainian president was vying for an in-person meeting with President Trump, Taylor texted Sondland: "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

"Call me," Sondland replied. Taylor sounded the alarm again on September 9: "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Hours later, after speaking with Trump, Sondland replied: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind."

Taylor's appearance behind closed doors left some Democratic lawmakers rattled.

REP. ANDY LEVIN (D-MI): This is the -- my most disturbing day in Congress so far.

MURRAY: Meantime, Republicans said they're still waiting to hear from witnesses closer to the whistle-blower who set off the impeachment inquiry.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): These are the people with supposedly the firsthand knowledge who gave the whistle-blower the information that formed the basis of his complaint.


MURRAY: Now, this makes clear, this opening statement, how uncomfortable Taylor was about accepting the job originally and how concerned he was about these back-channel diplomatic efforts.

And in his opening statement, he continues to note that these back- channel, essentially, diplomatic channels through Rudy Giuliani were the ones that appeared to be taking over, rather than what the top diplomat in Ukraine was trying to do on behalf of the U.S. -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this.

And, Phil Mudd, let me start with you.

Is this testimony significant? If so, why?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, pretty -- for a couple reasons.

The big-ticket item here is we knew -- basically, if you look at what the president said in the phone call, we knew the president was squeezing Ukrainians inappropriate, unethically for basically opposition research.

The question about the financial linkage was a little fuzzy. This gets us more than one step closer. And I think Mr. Sondland has some more questions to answer, based on my quick read of this. That is direct linkage between our taxpayer dollars and the president's request for the Ukrainians to do opposition research.

Second thing and the last thing I'd say is, this names a lot of names. It gives the Democrats on the Hill a lot of potential to say, I want to talk to other people named in here who can corroborate this reporting.

This is pretty rough.

TAPPER: And, Laura, I want to read one part of this testimony from the top diplomat in the Ukrainian embassy -- the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

He describes a call with Ambassador Sondland, who was running kind of the point when it comes to the president's push for this.

And he says -- 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 someone to pay up before signing the check."

And then he goes on to say, Ambassador Kurt Volker, who was a special envoy to Ukraine, he used the same terms.

What do you make of that?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I make of it that there is -- he was not mistaken that he thought that was a quid pro quo at stake here, that he is not mistaken that this was not something that was a one- off, it was a calculated, concerted effort to have taxpayer dollars, not the check of a businessman writing from his own slush fund, writing from his own checking account, but from the powerful of Congress that is fueled by taxpayer dollars.


And so what you have here is, when we think the idea of the text, this is crazy, how can this be conditioned in this way, guess what? He had reason to believe that, based on a series of events.

And what is shocking to me, and then reading through it still, just notice the detail of this document. This is somebody who has receipts, several of them. It's hard to undermine his credibility or say, maybe he got some aspect wrong.

He kept notes. He relayed them. It was very, very clear that the reason he took this position in the first place was because he knew the importance of Ukraine and their vulnerability. And it's being exploited. He saw it, he reported it, and he called them on it.

TAPPER: And that's interesting, Mary Katharine, because one of the things that I think we lose sight of is this almost $400 million in military aid to the Ukrainians.

One, the Ukrainians desperately want that money so they can defend themselves against Russian separatists. And, two, it's not President Trump's money. It's our money. It's the American people's money. It's taxpayer dollars.


And that's the crux of the inappropriate nature of this that's been obvious from the second that they said, yes, this is the thing we did. Here's the transcript of us doing the thing.

Now, whether there was, like, an explicit quid pro quo or how far that went, the money did get released. Those are sort of open questions, which is why we're working on this.

But the Trump White House, as usual, is like, yes, we did the thing. Here's the transcript.

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: You sort of have the goods from the beginning...


MEHDI HASAN, THE INTERCEPT: Everyone does it. Get over it.


And although Mick Mulvaney attempted a...

HASAN: Walk-back.

TAPPER: You're goddamn right I ordered the code red. Wait, I didn't say I ordered the code red. He attempted that.


HASAN: Yes. And I didn't say the words quid pro quo, which is a crucial part of his defense.

I think this stuff has been damaging since we saw the texts last month between Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U., and this guy Bill Taylor in Ukraine where he said, I think this is crazy, and Sondland texts back, let's stop talking about it on text, because of all the notes, and because this guy keeps notes.


TAPPER: That's a paraphrase, but yes. HASAN: Yes. It has to be a paraphrase, although Trump will say I

made up words.

TAPPER: He said, "Call me," I think is what he said.

HASAN: No, no, no.

The exact words is he said, I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.


HASAN: But the interesting part is that now you have this 15-page testimony.

I think Laura's right that it makes it much harder for them to undermine a person like this. That doesn't mean they won't try. This is the Trump White House.

I would be interested to know how long he keeps his job once Trump has this digested into bullet points and colorful pictures so he can understand what's been said about him. He will be furious.

But it's clear. We talked about this before. The phone call summary establishes that there was a quid pro quo. What we're doing is just backfilling and just making clear how it all worked out, what amount of money was at stake, who said what where.

But it's been clear from the beginning that this is an impeachable offense, there was a quid pro quo. And even without a quid pro quo, asking someone to investigate your political rival is outrageous.

TAPPER: Well, I want to put this in context, because to the average American voter out there who's thinking OK, so, if this is not impeachable, or if this is accepted, let's put it that way, what does the United States look like in a future where it's OK for the president or the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee or the chairman of the Senate Relations Committee to use his power and taxpayer dollars to push foreign governments to do things like that?

What does that look like?

MUDD: Well, let me make this real simple.

In the past few days, you have had Silicon Valley come out saying, we're already seeing Iranian and Russian interference in American elections. If you're the Russians or the Iranians, you would say, of course we're interfering in elections. The Americans have invited people to participate.

The president said on a public podium, why don't the Russians get Hillary Clinton's e-mails?

I would say -- I mean, just a bit of irony here at 4:30 in the afternoon. The president squeezing the Ukrainians on corruption while he's holding up money so they can investigate a political rival is really precious.

I mean, let's push them to investigate corruption, except at the White House. I think I will leave that one aside.


HASAN: But, Phil, you know how much Donald Trump cares about finding corruption.

COATES: Well, one thing he did mention in this letter specifically is the idea that he said he did not realize -- he thought that maybe the withholding of the aid was about a meeting with the White House, which, in his mind, I think he thought, well, perhaps that's as far as you want to take it.

But he actually says: "It was the first time I realized that the security assistant, not just the White House meeting, was conditioned on the investigations into Burisma."

He's talking about Burisma. He's talking about Hunter Biden and his ties. This is actually very clearly what the whistle-blower complaint had to say, which again corroborates another aspect of it, of the White House's end as well.

And now this person, in this very credible document, does it again.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, I want to just raise the issue of Hunter Biden for one second, because -- and this is a point that The Intercept has made eloquently also, which is putting aside for one second, if we can, the president's lies about this and the president's behavior about this, and the prosecutors have said there's no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by Hunter Biden.

But, still, that's -- the whole situation with him being on that board, that stinks.

HAM: Yes, it stinks. It's swampy is one word for it.


HAM: And I think he's admitted to that and said he's stepping down because it's not a good story.

Biden doesn't want to talk about it because it's not a good story. There is something there. It's not the thing that Trump thinks is there. And it is, again, inappropriate to have a foreign government trying to investigate your domestic political adversaries.


TAPPER: Right.

HAM: We have people domestically who can do that, jobs Americans will take.


I just don't want to pretend that that component of it is OK, because, of course, it isn't.

HAM: No.

TAPPER: President Trump sparking a new racial controversy in the middle of all this, because why not? Why not throw some racial logs on the fire?

He called the impeachment probe a -- quote -- "lynching."

Then, is Bill Taylor's stunning new testimony enough evidence for the Senate to convict on impeachment? Well, we're going to talk to one of the potential jurors.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead today.

As a key witness testifies in the House impeachment inquiry, President Trump is lashing out, comparing how he's being treated in the investigation to a, quote, lynching. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeting, quote: No, Mr. Trump, lynching was a campaign of racial terror by white supremacists who murdered thousands of African-American men and women and children. If you are nervous about an impeachment process, then you should not have violated the Constitution, unquote.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, all the condemnation from Democrats was swift. Many Republicans are publicly backing the president's term "lynching".


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump has derided Democrats' impeachment probe as a witch hunt and a fraud. But today, he drew swift condemnation after he went even further and likened it to a lynching. Trump tweeting at the impeachment inquiry is without due process or fairness or any legal rights as he urged Republicans to remember this in the future.

But critics said he should remember the past. Democrats immediately rebuked the president for invoking the racist history of barbaric white mob murders of black people.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): You knew exactly what he was saying. You know exactly how it would come across. Why would you use the term lynching? Why would you say that?

COLLINS: Members of Trump's own party distanced themselves from his words, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Given the history in our country, I would not compare this to a lynching. That was an unfortunate choice of words.

COLLINS: Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican senator, had this to say.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): There's no question that the impeachment process is the closest thing of a political death row trial. So I get his absolute rejection of the process. I won't use the word "lynching".

COLLINS: The president did find a vocal defender in Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, who endorsed his choice of words.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): So, yes, this is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American.

COLLINS: At the White House, aides insisted Trump wasn't comparing himself to one of the darkest moments in American history.

HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's receiving zero due process from Democrats on the Hill. That's what he's talking about. Are we going to talk about this or are we going to continue with the tweet?


GIDLEY: Ask about Syria, please?

COLLINS: The president's tweet coming as pressure on the White House over the probe is intensifying.

REPORTER: Hogan, is this intended as a distraction?

COLLINS: A steady stream of current and former officials have continued to testify under oath on Capitol Hill, despite a White House vow not to cooperate.

Today, a new CNN poll revealed that 50 percent of Americans now support impeaching and removing the president from office, though his approval rating remains steady at 41 percent.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, when Jim Jordan, another one of the president's allies was asked about his comment today and whether or not it was appropriate, he said he thought the president was frustrated over this whole process with impeachment but that is something we've heard from Republicans today. They're frustrated with the president using this word because now they're having to defend that instead of attacking Democrats for what they say is an unfair impeachment inquiry and instead focusing only on the president's use of the word.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us -- thank you so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Hirono, what's your reaction to the testimony from Bill Taylor? He gave an opening statement we obtained and he says that he was told that President Trump wanted a public commitment from the president of Ukraine, that Ukraine would conduct these investigations into matters that the president wanted investigated, that would help him politically such as into the Bidens, et cetera, in exchange -- directly in exchange for military aid for Ukraine. What's your reaction?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Apparently, Mr. Taylor took really accurate and extensive notes. And his testimony from what I've read as to the context -- content of his testimony is that he corroborated and provided context what the president when he said to the Ukrainian president, I like a favor though.

TAPPER: One of your Democratic colleagues today called Taylor's testimony, a quote, sea change. Do you think that's true when it comes to Republicans?

HIRONO: I'm hold -- I'm not exactly holding my breath because they're still busy trying to defend the president -- the president's actions. And, you know, so I do think, though, this testimony is further corroboration that the president asked a foreign government to get dirt on a political opponent for his political and personal gain.

TAPPER: Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Democrat of Virginia, said it's more urgent now that Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton testifies.


But the White House has made it clear that they're not cooperating with the investigation. The people who have testified have done so because they were subpoenaed.

One of your colleagues, Congressman John Garamendi of Maryland, I believe, suggested that if witnesses won't cooperate, the sergeant of arms may need to take them off and haul them to the Capitol jail. Is that -- is that a serious option the Democrats are talking about?

HIRONO: I don't know if that's a serious option but the fact is that the White House and the president is stonewalling every effort on the part of the House to subpoena or to have witnesses testify. So that's stonewalling, that's what we should be focusing on, and I think that the House would consider adding that kind of behavior to their articles of impeachment.

TAPPER: I want to ask you also about the news that CNN broke at the top of 3:00 Eastern that the anonymous senior administration official from the Trump administration who wrote that "New York Times" op-ed in September of 2018, that individual is now writing a book. It's called "A Warning" and it basically is still anonymous. But it makes a case against re-electing President Trump.

How do you feel about senior administration officials or former senior administration officials do this kind of thing anonymously?

HIRONO: Well, I wish that they didn't feel as though they have to do these things anonymously, but regardless they are privy to how this president behaves and the kind of priorities that he puts forth. And so, it is what it is. And they think that the best way for them to get the points across is anonymously. And at some point, I hope that they'll come forward.

There's no question that the president continues engage in all kinds of behavior that we can totally disagree with from a policy standpoint. And then, of course, I mean, that includes his Muslim ban, that includes his precarious decision to remove our troops from northern Syria, the issue of the potential resurgence of ISIS as a result of that action. That's on the one hand.

There are a whole bunch of policy reasons why this president should not get reelected and then there's the constitutionally mandated impeachment process which is what the House is engaged in.

And, by the way, can I say when I heard the president use the word "lynching" with regard to what he's going through, you know, to liken a constitutional inquiry process to mass murder of blacks -- by murder of blacks by mass mobs in our country is just -- I was so appalled that I hardly had any words to say.

For those who are coming forward to defend the president's use of that word, I just want to say to them, do you not know anything about the history of our country and the racism in our country? These are -- I'm just appalled.

TAPPER: The only person I've heard defending the president's use of the term is your colleague Senator Lindsey Graham. So what would you say --

HIRONO: Well, maybe everybody else will just not go there. That would be good.

TAPPER: But what would you say to him if he were in front of you right now because he has used -- he said it is a lynching and -- he said, quote, it is a lynching in every sense of the word, unquote.

HIRONO: I would hardly have the words to say to Lindsey, you know, how -- because he has turned 360 on first criticizing the president when he was running for president himself and then turning around and being one of the prime defenders of the president. So, you know, Lindsey is -- he's going to say what he's going to say. I totally disagree with him. And I am just so saddened and appalled by Lindsey's continuing defense of the president.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii -- aloha and thank you so much.

HIRONO: Aloha. TAPPER: Support for impeaching President Trump and removing him from office hits a number that could rattle his White House. The new CNN poll numbers, next.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

More now on our politics lead. The Republican reflex is to defend President Trump no matter. But today, more cracks, this time over his likening of the impeachment inquiry to a lynching.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): That's not the language I would use. It's very clear that what the Democrats are doing here does not go across -- does not have due process. It's not fair in the process. It's not something that this House has done ever in the past.

REPORTER: Why wouldn't you use that word?

MCCARTHY: I don't agree with that language. It's pretty simple.


TAPPER: OK. Well, that's something.

Laura, let me go to you. What do you think? President Trump declared on Twitter today that the impeachment inquiry was unfair to him like a lynching? What was your response when you saw that word?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I was irate and disgusted and, frankly, dumbfounded because the president hasn't been castrated. He hasn't been dragged into a square and hung by a chain, a noose around his neck, possibly tortured, having somebody put oil all over his body and light him aflame and reduce him to as if he was a swine over a roast. Because that's what happened at lynchings in America, over 4,000 of them. And not just African-Americans but 3/4 to African- Americans and it was for things like unpopularity, let alone unfounded crimes and allegations.