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Bill Taylor to Testify in Impeachment Probe on Capitol Hill; President Trump Attacks Part of U.S. Constitution Meant to Prevent Presidents from Profiting While in Office; Mark Zuckerberg Defends Facebook's Policy on Political Ads. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired October 22, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Tuesday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has the day off. And moments away on Capitol Hill, testimony set to begin from the man who could be the most important impeachment witness so far.
His name, Bill Taylor. He is currently the top official at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. Of course, you'll remember him as the one who questioned the White House's pressure on Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens sending this text message to a fellow diplomat. Quote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Now as lawmakers asked Taylor today why he sent that text, they are working to protect the person who sparked the Ukraine investigation, of course the anonymous whistleblower. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer demanding officials explain how they are protecting this person's identity as the president questions whether the whistleblower even needs to be protected.
All of this is happening as we have a brand-new CNN poll on impeachment. And it shows growing support for the impeachment inquiry. 50 percent of Americans asked think they believe that the president should not only be impeached but also removed from office.
It is alarming to see the tweet from the president this morning. Now comparing impeachment proceedings against him to a lynching. Comparing a lawful process to the way thousands of black people were murdered in one of the darkest periods in this country's history.
So, let's begin this hour on Capitol Hill with our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.
Good morning to you, Manu. So Bill Taylor about to walk in or is he there?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We expect him to come sometime soon. This will be -- is a highly anticipated moment in this investigation because of text messages that have already been released showing that Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, had raised concerns about why that military aid that had been approved by Congress had not been turned over to Ukraine and concerned that potentially this could have to do with the president's push to investigate his political rivals.
As you noted in there, he referred to that as a crazy, if that were true. So the questions for the members here is exactly what he knew about why that military aid was withheld. What conversations he had with the president, with the administration, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the like.
What Democrats have been able to glean so far in this investigation is the role that the president and Rudy Giuliani played in pushing for those investigations last week when the president's top ambassador to the European Union testified. He said that Rudy Giuliani was essentially the person who is dispatched to take care of Ukrainian policy, putting on ice efforts to hold a meeting with Ukrainian officials and strengthen that key alliance until they dealt with Rudy Giuliani.
But when Gordon Sondland testified, he was not aware of efforts why exactly that military aid had been withheld, only saying that he spoke to the president briefly who insisted there was no, quote, "quid pro quo," and that's why he told Bill Taylor separately that there was no quid pro quo.
So today, Poppy, the Democrats and Republicans will get a better sense of exactly why he was concerned, whether he believed what Gordon Sondland was saying, what other information he had to determine why that military aid and other efforts to build relations with Ukrainians were put on ice -- Poppy.
HARLOW: OK. Manu, thank you very much. Let us know where he does get there.
This morning, the president is choosing to characterize the impeachment inquiry, using a word that is just completely inappropriate and offensive to do so. Of course, the inquiry, a process laid out in the Constitution. The president is calling it a lynching. A term that evokes a time in American history when thousands of African-Americans were targeted by white mobs.
Let's go to Joe Johns, he is our senior Washington correspondent. He is at the White House.
Why did the president use that term?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty clear the president is trying to discredit this investigation. And he's done that before. And this is also an example, as you said, of the president using intemperate language on Twitter as he has before because lynching clearly associated with racial terrorism in the United States, although it hasn't always been.
But I think the other point you made there in the lead-in is probably the most important point and that is that the president is essentially taking up his beef with the United States' Constitution and the way it lays out impeachment as a process. If you look at that tweet, he talks about, if someday a Democrat becomes president, Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, he says, they can impeach the president without due process, fairness and legal rights. Well, by the way, just about 20 years ago, a Democratic president was impeached by Republicans in the House of Representatives. So that's not exactly new.
But the larger point is the president going after essentially the constitutional process. And by the way, just about 24 hours ago in his cabinet meeting, the president referred to the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution as phony.
JOHNS: So this is the president going after the founders of the U.S. Constitution. Back to you.
HARLOW: Look, when the Constitution doesn't work for you, you don't just tear it up and throw it out the window. That's just not how it works no matter who you are.
Joe Johns, thank you very much at the White House.
Joining me now CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser, staff writer for the "New Yorker," and Elie Honig, our legal analyst and a former federal and state prosecutor.
OK, Susan, let's begin with Bill Taylor. He's about to come on the Hill, he's going to be behind closed doors. And he is highly respected. Not only does he hold the highest diplomatic post in Ukraine right now, they had to drag him out of retirement, convince him, Pompeo and others, to take this job. And he saw the importance of it. The importance of protecting Ukraine from Russia. The importance of this strategic alliance.
A dozen State Department officials, former State Department officials, tell CNN that based on his character, they expect his testimony today will be forthright and informative. How damaging could it be for this administration?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, he's a key witness. Remember the reason he was there in the first place is because President Trump chose to listen to his private attorney and actually unilaterally fired the previous U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and ordered that she be removed immediately from her position. And so that's why there was an opening in the first place. You know, he is there in an acting capacity because U.S. diplomats were alarmed at the idea that there was this campaign that they didn't even fully understand by the president and his private attorney.
So he's a key witness because he saw both the actions of the so-called three amigos. You know, this is Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker and the Energy secretary Rick Perry who Trump essentially designated as part of his shadow foreign policy team to go around our real foreign policy. He can testify to I think the enormous pressure that was being brought to bear on Ukraine to investigate at the president's political behest.
Remember, it wasn't just holding up the aid. It was also withholding a meeting between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine.
HARLOW: Yes. Canceling one. Cancelling one, and then threatening not to have another one with the vice president.
One of those, Elie, former officials that I just mentioned from State noted that what we saw in the text messages is something that could be a deliberate effort to create a paper trail. Right? When Taylor's text to Sondland, quote, "As I told you on the phone," what does that inform you as to what he may say today?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It tells me Bill Taylor was aware when this was happening, A, that it was dead wrong. He's the one in the text who calls it out most clearly and that, B, that he needed to make a record. He's a career, nonpartisan public official and he see that's going on and I think he wants to put down a marker and say, I'm not OK with this. And what you see is the other people in those text chains sort of panicking the other way. Right?
HONIG: Let's take this offline. Call me. And so I think for those reasons, I think Taylor is going to be a very important witness.
HARLOW: What do you think, Susan, the significance is of the reporting that we've learned from "The Washington Post?" That, you know, at the same time that -- and following Rudy Giuliani's urging of the president to look at Ukraine, et cetera, and the Bidens, that we had Russian president Vladimir Putin joining with Hungary's prime minister to push a disparaging, shall I say, view of Ukraine on the White House and on the president.
They did not, according to this reporting, mention the 2016 election or the Bidens, but they reinforced, at the minimum the president's view of Ukraine. What does it tell you?
GLASSER: Well, look, I think it's been clear and alarming for quite some time that the president is more supportive of Vladimir Putin's view of Ukraine than of his own administration's view of Ukraine. So, you know, on paper, there's the State Department policy and the Pentagon policy to support Ukraine and its military conflict with Russia by sending these weapons.
Well, Donald Trump says not only am I going to hold the aid up but he seems to adopt the world view. Remember, these officials in his own government were very worried about Donald Trump's view of Ukraine because they had a meeting with Trump himself in the Oval Office on May 23rd, when they returned from President Zelensky's inauguration at which Trump himself was saying essentially the Ukrainians hate me.
They are -- you know, they're not somebody I want to work with. They are totally corrupt. And, you know, it's a world view, I think, that is Putin's. But it's also Trump's because it goes back to his grievance about the 2016 election. And this idea that somehow they were conspiring against him.
HARLOW: Susan Glasser, Elie Honig, thank you very, very much.
We have a lot to get to this morning including some really revealing new numbers. New CNN polling this morning shows how Americans feel about impeaching the president.
Now 50 percent of those polled believe the president should not only be impeached but also removed from office. That is up from 40 -- that is up and it's also compared to 43 percent who say no.
CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza is with us.
All right, so some interesting things in here. That's an important headline number. I think also important in there is that just 6 percent of Republicans feel this way.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, 87 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents, 6 percent of Republicans. What does that tell you, Poppy? Well, it doesn't take a political analyst, of note, I would not suggest --
HARLOW: And you.
CILLIZZA: To make the point that this is perceived as a very partisan endeavor at the moment.
CILLIZZA: Which is interesting in that. Remember that Nancy Pelosi, for months and months, the speaker of the House, said we can't do this if it -- and this being impeachment, if it's perceived to be just a partisan endeavor. Her hand was forced by the Ukraine stuff so she had really no choice. But, you know, it speaks to the fact that the public has changed -- you've just seen independents get more willing to support impeachment. Not really Republicans.
HARLOW: Cillizza, what else stands out to you in this poll in terms of why Democrats and Republicans think that the other is pushing for this?
CILLIZZA: It's -- yes, it's all motives. And this is all based on partisan and polarization. So if you look into the poll, you'll see that Democrats overwhelmingly believe that this investigation is being conducted by congressional Democrats because Trump has potentially done impeachable offenses, 86 percent of Democrats. Only 8 percent of Republicans, as you see, believe that. Basically, an exact reverse when you ask Republicans. That this is -- Republicans view this as simply an attempt to get Trump.
Now why do congressional Republicans oppose this? Well, OK. Out to protect Trump at all cost. Democrats, 79 percent. Believe Trump did not commit --
CILLIZZA: I mean, it's just -- basically, Poppy, at this stage, almost every question can be answered. If you tell me, are you a Democrat or a Republican? I can tell you exactly what you think on impeachment.
CILLIZZA: Medicare --
HARLOW: Unless. Unless you're not running again and you're like Francis Rooney, right?
CILLIZZA: Well --
HARLOW: And you come on the air and you say exactly what you think.
CILLIZZA: Or John Kasich. I mean, this is the problem.
CILLIZZA: So Mitt Romney, AKA Pierre Delecto, is the bravest Republican right now, and he's a guy who is the presidential nominee in 2012 and had to start a secret Twitter handle to offer defenses of himself in criticisms, albeit them right criticisms of the president.
CILLIZZA: And that's the reality. And these numbers tell you why.
HARLOW: There you go.
CILLIZZA: Republican voters still believe this is, in Donald Trump's words, unfortunately, a witch hunt.
HARLOW: Cillizza, before you go, you had a great column last night.
HARLOW: I'm not only interested in it because it's about my home state Minnesota.
HARLOW: I'm interested in it because it's a state that the president says he is sure he can win and flip.
HARLOW: And because it could be indicative of the -- you know, more of the Midwest and the rust belt that is so critical to this president's re-election. What do the numbers tell us?
CILLIZZA: OK. Quickly, so the "Minneapolis Star Tribune," the big paper out there did a poll in which they found that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren leading Donald Trump by double-digits in hypothetical general election matchups. Bernie Sanders up 49-40 over Trump. Why does that matter? A couple of things. One, Trump only lost Minnesota by 44,000 votes out of 2.6 million cast in 2016. As you note, Poppy, his campaign has talked about making that state competitive. And he doesn't need Minnesota to get re-elected, but Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, the upper industrial Midwest. You have seen an erosion of Trump support there. That's where he won the election in 2016. It's what he needs to win it in 2020. If Minnesota is broadly indicative of those other states, and polling out there suggests it is, that's a big concern for him.
HARLOW: Cillizza, thanks so much.
CILLIZZA: Thanks, Poppy.
HARLOW: Still to come, President Trump going after what he calls a phony part of the U.S. Constitution. But it's not. It's a very real, real part. The Emoluments Clause intended to prevent presidents from legally profiting from office.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joins me next on that.
Plus, U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria are now finding out they don't have permission to stay in Iraq. So where will they go?
HARLOW: At any moment, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor will arrive on Capitol Hill, he is to face lawmakers behind doors for extensive questioning. The focus will be heavily on his text messages where he raised significant concerns about the administration's policy in Ukraine and quid pro quos.
In one text, Taylor said quote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Joining me now on this and a lot more, Senator Richard Blumenthal; Democrat of Connecticut is with me. Good morning to you, senator, thank you for being here.
We already know the concerns he raised in these text messages with Ambassador Sondland. My question to you is, if you were in these hearings today, if you were on one of those house committees, what would you ask Bill Taylor?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I would very much want to know what he thought the consequences would be of that quid pro quo on Ukraine as a partner in resisting Russian aggression. Remember, Ukraine is under attack. That aid, the military aid going to Ukraine was supposed to help them resist the Russians.
And the quid pro quo was for interference in our election, which is blatantly an abuse of power by the president. But it also undermined our national security interest in Ukraine's resistance to the Russian attack and the professional diplomat. And he's a real professional. I want to know from him what he thought the consequences would be of continuing that extortion against the Ukrainian president.
HARLOW: The -- you call -- you believe that it is extortion, sir?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, Mick Mulvaney said there was a quid pro quo. Donald Trump was in effect pressuring the Ukrainian president to do his bidding, to interfere in our elections to get dirt on one of his political opponents in return for $391 million --
HARLOW: So --
BLUMENTHAL: In assistance.
HARLOW: So, you know, the White House response to that is Mulvaney reiterated it on "Fox" on Sunday, the money still flowed, we do this all the time with foreign policy. I'll let Americans read the transcript, look at the reporting, look at what the White House is saying and make up their mind on that.
One thing you said on this network to my colleague Anderson Cooper, not long ago, on October 8th, quote, "the silence of my Republican colleagues is absolutely unsustainable." But sir, just this morning, our polling at CNN shows only 6 percent of Republicans back impeaching the president and removing him from office.
What tells you -- what are we not hearing or seeing then that informs you that you believe that this silence from most of your Republican counterparts is in your mind, "unsustainable".
BLUMENTHAL: Great question. I think that what we see in history looking to Watergate is a trend as evidence mounts and becomes public of Republicans seeing the handwriting on the wall. Here, what's really significant is not only those numbers, but also the trends and the trend among independents which is moving at a pretty good velocity toward a feeling that the president should be removed.
So, Republicans have to not only survive a primary. They're fearful about the president coming against them in a primary, but they also have to win general elections which involve independent votes. And, I think ultimately, their lockstep-stance with a president that has been proven to have abused his power is unsustainable.
HARLOW: The president doesn't think the Emoluments Clause exists, I guess, in the constitution. It does very much so. But he is attacking it, listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think you people with this phony Emoluments Clause -- and by the way, I would say that it's cost me anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion to be president.
(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Yes, that's just not what it's about. And you are filing a
brief today as I understand it from your team in just a few hours in federal court. Again, this is part of the 2017 case, you versus the president. So, this is about emoluments. And this brief as I understand it, is you are making the argument that just the White House and Mulvaney putting out to the public discourse that the G7 was going to be held at Doral, the president's property.
You think even though that was pulled back and no money was exchanged, you contend that that's a violation of the Emoluments Clause. Is that right?
BLUMENTHAL: What that Doral deal shows is the use of the presidency for a private profit. What he did there was promote his own property. He would have had the G7 Summit there, but for the public outcry and uproar that it precipitated, but make no mistake, Poppy.
There's nothing phony about the United States constitution. When the president says you people with the phony Emoluments Clause, those people are we, the American people, that's our constitution. That clause in the constitution says he cannot receive any payment, any benefit from a foreign leader without consent of Congress.
That's why we have sued the president of the United States. It's called Blumenthal versus Trump, 200 members of Congress. And I'm asking the courts now to expedite our lawsuit because --
HARLOW: OK --
BLUMENTHAL: Clearly, the president is moving forward.
HARLOW: Senator, just for a moment, let's listen -- we're seeing Bill Taylor as he enters. And often times we don't see this long walk that they make into the Capitol. Reporters are asking him questions, he is not answering them. If he does, we will let everyone listen to what he has to say. But again, on the importance you believe of this witness in the impeachment inquiry from the president, how large is it, do you believe, senator? How important is it to get straight answers from Bill Taylor?
BLUMENTHAL: Bill Taylor had the guts and spine to stand up to the president, and say it would be crazy for the president to do what in fact he said he was doing in that July 25th phone call. Bill Taylor showed what our moral as well as our strategic interests is here in standing by a partner that resisted Russia.
That's very important for the American people to see and hear because it not only shows the president's abuse of his office, but also how he compromised our national interest and --
HARLOW: But --
BLUMENTHAL: Invited a foreign power to interfere. HARLOW: But let me ask you this as we wrap up, senator, because so
much of this boils down to protecting our democracy especially from election interference from any foreign power. And that brings up the important issue of Facebook and election security. Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg yesterday told "NBC News" that Russia, Iran and China are using more sophisticated tactics than in 2016 to interfere in our election.
Senator Elizabeth Warren yesterday said Facebook has too much political power. Is she right?
BLUMENTHAL: She is absolutely right because Facebook has too much economic power. That's why Mark Warner, Senator Warner and I have introduced a bill with other colleagues that would enable consumers to transfer their data from Facebook to its competitors. Portability is very important, it's called the access. But Facebook yesterday also took down a Russian fake site as well as three Iranian fake accounts.
And what we are seeing is, in effect, mounting Russian interference, but also other interference and a repeat of its systematic and sweeping attempt to spread disinformation and discord. And we should be very weary of falsehoods and deception on Facebook, but also elsewhere on the internet and take action to stop them before they interfere again -- 2016, very likely, was just a dress rehearsal. We're going to see more of it --
HARLOW: Wow --
BLUMENTHAL: And Mitch McConnell should permit election security measures to reach the floor and get a vote.
HARLOW: Senator Richard Blumenthal, I appreciate your time on such a busy morning on all of those fronts, thank you very much for being with me.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
HARLOW: All right, you just saw Bill Taylor head into the elevator, he will be behind closed doors answering important questions as we keep an eye on Wall Street this morning. Futures higher this morning, but the trading day looking like a positive start. The trade war between the U.S. and China still top of mind for investors, some optimism following the president's cabinet meeting yesterday.
The president said the two sides are making progress on a trade deal. No word on when the final agreement could come or what it will entail.