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Ambassador Taylor To Fill In Gaps Of Text Exchanges With Fellow Diplomats Over Ukraine; Trump Compares Impeachment Probe To A Lynching; Facebook Shuts Down Russian-Backed Accounts Aimed At Biden. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW: Top of the hour, 10:00 A.M. Eastern, 7:00 A.M. Pacific. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto has the morning off.

And after weeks of key witnesses delivering critical testimony, this could be the most consequential witness yet in the impeachment inquiry, Bill Taylor behind closed doors on Capitol Hill right now. He is the man who runs the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, and he questioned the White House's pressure on the country to carry out a politically motivated investigation.

Of course, he told a fellow diplomat in a text message, quote, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.

Now, as Taylor tells lawmakers why he sent that text, Democrats are working to protect the identity of the person who sparked the Ukraine investigation, the anonymous whistleblower. President Trump says he's not sure that whistleblower should be protected and all of this happens as a new CNN poll this morning shows growing support for the impeachment inquiry. 50 percent of those asked say they think the president should be impeached and removed from office.

And then in a disturbing tweet this morning, the president is now comparing the lawful impeachment probe to a lynching, a word that, of course, invokes racial terror, recalling the way thousands of black people were murdered, one of the darkest periods in American history.

Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol. Also our National Security Reporter Kylie Atwood joins us from Washington.

So, Kylie, let me begin with you. You have an understanding of what it is that Sondland -- excuse me. Sondland was about a week ago. Bill Taylor is telling lawmakers behind closed doors in particular about his text messages with Ambassador Sondland.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So Ambassador Volker is -- sorry, wow. HARLOW: There's a lot going on.

ATWOOD: We're both confused here. There're lots players. Ambassador Bill Taylor, who is the current U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, as you said, one of the key witnesses, is going to lie out the chronology of events here when he speaks with lawmakers today. That's going to be part of his opening statement. He got there on the ground at the U.S. embassy in June. And it wasn't until September that he sent that text message to the U.S. embassy to the E.U., Ambassador Sondland, saying that it would be crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. So he is going to explain what transpired to make it so that he sent that text message.

Now, one thing that's interesting about Ambassador Taylor here is that he is currently still serving as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. A source familiar with his testimony tells me that he wants to keep that job. He's headed back to Ukraine tomorrow. So he's not looking to really get into a place where he becomes a celebrity of this whole impeachment inquiry. He wants to go back to the job. But the question is that he could be one of the key people here because he was one of the folks who picked up on the fact that there may be a quid pro quo. He was told that he was wrong, that there was not a quid pro quo. But what we're going to learn today is why he even thought that in the first place.

HARLOW: Yes, okay. Kylie, thank you so much. It's very much important to hear some of what he's going to say.

Manu, talk about the process. He's behind closed doors. As I understand it, he is not coming with those State Department documents that at least State has blocked many of the other impeachment witnesses from bringing with them.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is expected to go all day long. Members of three committees, along with staff, will interview this witness, will go back and forth first. Democrats will have a chance, an hour to question, then Republicans will have an hour to question, then they'll go 45 minutes, 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 30 minutes, until they exhaust all their questioning.

We've seen through all these witnesses that it lasts all day long as they exhaust their lines of questioning. But a key point that they're going to have to -- they're zeroing in on, of course, is exactly why that military aid was withheld. And we heard from Gordon Sondland last week when he testified before these committees, he indicated that -- he wasn't clear why the White House had withheld that that money. He said he did not hear a specific reason why.

And when he talked to the president about that, all the president would say in a brief conversation was there was no quid pro quo. Well, he wasn't able to verify that in any way but he revealed that to Bill Taylor, saying that there was no quid pro quo.

So the question is what did Bill Taylor know about why that military aid was then withheld. So that's why Kylie's reporting is important there because it will detail the reasoning behind those text messages and what he may know or not know about why, ultimately, the White House when would that money.


RAJU: Poppy?

HARLOW: Manu, thank you very much for that reporting. I appreciate it.

Joining me now to discuss all of this, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California.


Of course, he sits on the Oversight Committee and will be attending Bill Taylor's hearing this morning. I suppose you're running there after this, so let's begin quickly with the key question. What are you going to ask him?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Poppy, we have to understand why he thought that there was a quid pro quo and why did he believe that the president, the administration was going to withhold aid to Ukraine, and did he believe this was for the president's benefit to investigate Joe Biden.

HARLOW: He's not coming with documents and we don't have clarity on whether that's -- did the State Department block him from bringing these documents that have been requested or is he just not bringing them. Do you believe that you will be able to fill those holes, Congressman, without documents?

KHANNA: I do. His text is so powerful that you led with, where he says that it's crazy to even think about withholding this aid. I think he's going to be forthcoming. He is the current acting ambassador to Ukraine and really can help to shed light on whether this policy towards Ukraine has been driven by American national interests or whether the president has hijacked it for his own re- election in 2020 and outsourced it to Rudy Giuliani.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about the whistleblower that brought all of this to the attention of the world. The president questioned the veracity of if there even is a asked if there was whistleblower, tried to blame Adam Schiff, pointing to potentially the congressman being the whistleblower with no basis, in fact.

But the thing I want to ask you about is the president questioning whether a whistleblower needs protection, something that is laid out in U.S. code. And it prompted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to send a letter to the acting DNI and the ICIG to ask how are we protecting the whistleblower. Do you have concerns about the safety of the whistleblower, of the whistleblower's identity being outed?

KHANNA: Poppy, I do. And I have concern for anyone who is testifying in sharing facts against the president or the administration.

The president's behavior is exactly why we have a whistleblower protection statute. He is the most powerful person in the world. If someone is going to come and share information, they shouldn't fear retaliation from someone that powerful.

And it's just sad. Whatever you think about the investigation, whatever party you're from, we should respect people's ability to come and share information without fear of retribution from people in power, whether that's a president of the United States, a senator or a congressman. That's the essence of our democracy.

HARLOW: Well, I want to get you to explain something you said on a really interesting interview you did earlier this month on ABC News. This was on a podcast. And you said this about the Democrats and this impeachment inquiry.

Quote, I do think that the way we conduct ourselves is going to matter. What did you mean?

KHANNA: I think we have to be deliberate, fact-based. We need to make sure that we're methodical. We shouldn't just be throwing out character assassination. And we should make this about not the president's personality. We should make this about protecting our Constitution and making sure no person can ask a foreign leader to investigate their rival.

HARLOW: It sounds like you say -- you think that at least some of your fellow Democrats are not doing that. Are they jumping the gun?

KHANNA: No, I'm not -- I don't think that. I'm just saying the approach we should take.

And I actually believe Chairman Schiff has been taking that approach. He's methodical, he's fact-based, he doesn't personalize it, he doesn't have any agenda. He's not running for president or trying to run for Senate. He's really doing his job. And I think that is the approach that's going to serve us well.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about election security, because this all boils down to, frankly, protecting our democracy from foreign interference in our elections, right, and part of that is big technology companies.

You represent Silicon Valley. Your district is in the heart -- Silicon Valley is in the heart of your district. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last night on another network said that Russia, Iran and China are using, quote, more sophisticated tactics to try to interfere in U.S. elections.

Senator Elizabeth Warren said, following that yesterday, quote, Facebook has too much political power. Is she right?

KHANNA: She is right that we need to have stronger anti-trust laws but they're two different issues. One is how are we going to --

HARLOW: But, sir, I just want your response to exactly what she said. And, again, I'll quote, Facebook has too much political power. Is Elizabeth Warren right?

KHANNA: Yes. The question is how do you address that. What I would say is the way to address that is to have laws that strengthen our protection against election interference. Kevin McCarthy and I actually are working on that, where tech companies would be able to work with law enforcement agencies to help remove bots and how do we strengthen anti-trust law to make sure that companies like Facebook or other tech companies can give an unfair preference to their platform.


So I agree they have too much power. But I think you need nuanced regulation to address that.

HARLOW: Okay. Finally, as you head into this questioning of Bill Taylor, as you have read these text messages, as we all have, between Taylor and Sondland and the call that they had, when Sondland said call me, to clarify whether there was this quid pro quo that Taylor was so concerned about, what questions do you have for Taylor about that phone call?

KHANNA: Well, one, I want to know why there was a need to have this on phone call. Usually, when you say to someone don't put something in writing, it's because you have something to hide. And was the administration trying to hide something? Were they concerned that the administration wanted to link the aid to getting information on Joe Biden and did he, in honesty, believe that that's what was going on, that our foreign policy to Ukraine was being dictated by the president who wanted to get a leg up on Joe Biden for the 2020 campaign.

HARLOW: Congressman Ro Khanna, we'll let you get in there. It's an important deposition. Thank you very much for your time.

KHANNA: Thank you, Poppy. Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Of course.

Still to come, a new CNN poll shows a growing number of American support, not only the president's impeachment but his removal from office.

Plus, you can't stay here, that is what Iraq is telling to U.S. troops this morning who just left Syria. Where will these U.S. forces go?

And Facebook says Russian trolls are back trying to interfere in the 2020 election, and says it's taking action. Critics say it's not nearly enough.



HARLOW: All right. This morning, President Trump chose to compare the impeachment inquiry a process clearly laid out in the U.S. Constitution to a lynching, a term that invokes at a time in American history when thousands of black people were targeted by white mobs. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois responding to the president's tweet this morning with his own asking, quote, what the hell is wrong with you, telling the president to delete that tweet. With me at the White House this morning, our Boris Sanchez. Boris, why use that term?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy. Yes, remarkable choice of words from President Trump, someon who has had so many issues in the past with race, with diversity, with tolerance. And now he's spinning this myth of persecution in the most extreme and offensive way you can go.

I want you to listen to Representative Karen Bass. She's, of course, she's the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and she spoke to Manu Raju in just the past few minutes. Listen to what she said.


REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Whenever his back is against the wall, a racial bomb is what we know of him to throw.

RAJU: You think this is racist?

BASS: I mean, I think it's consistent. Why would he use the term lynching? Why would you say that?

RAJU: Why do you think?

BASS: Well, I think because he throws out race, because he knows it's red meat and he has done that consistently.


SANCHEZ: Yes. She's making the point that President Trump feels like he is in a corner and he is essentially launching these bombs to try to distract or try to create conflict, as he often does.

On the other side, some Republicans are defending the president, including Jim Jordan of Ohio. He effectively said that the president is frustrated because of the way that Democrats are moving forward in this impeachment inquiry process.

Still, to use the word lynching is remarkable, to say the least, Poppy.

HARLOW: And before you go, Boris, he seems to be taking his frustration out on his fellow Republicans, right? In that cabinet meeting and with others, talking about Republicans, he thinks not sufficiently having his back in all of this.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it's coming at a very delicate time for the president. Because keep in mind, the last few weeks have been rife with controversy and he's hearing Republicans criticize him on his call with the Ukrainian president, on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, on his decision to host the G7 at Doral, which he abandoned this weekend. So the president is hearing all these Republicans criticize him for these things as he needs to lean on them to make sure that this impeachment inquiry doesn't end his presidency early. Poppy? HARLOW: Boris Sanchez, I appreciate very much. Thanks for the reporting.

Joining me now to talk about all of it, Ron Brownstein, Ross Garber and our own Kylie Atwood. Good morning to all of you.

Ron, let me begin with you because you look at Bill Taylor, so highly respected career diplomat, someone who frankly had to be dragged out of retirement to take this critical post and be convinced by Pompeo and others that it was worth it, right, worth the risk. A dozen former State Department officials tell us that he is going to be forthright and informative. Three reasons you lay out why you think this testimony is so imperative.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, first, I mean, look at who we're talking about. We're talking about a career diplomat who does not come in kind of encumbered by particular debts to Trump. This is someone who is also there at the critical point. Unlike Ambassador Yovanovitch, who was removed early in this process, Ambassador Taylor was there throughout the kind of the height of what appears to this sustained pressure campaign on the Ukrainian government. And then third, we have his text message.


I mean, he has clearly expressed concern that there was a quid pro quo going on, and now I think he can explain why.

By the way, this is someone who has been in Vietnam, in Kabul and served in Iraq. It is also unlikely that he is going to feel particularly intimidated by a congressional hearing room.

HARLOW: That's a great point. I mean, his resume speaks for itself, Kylie Atwood. What is your reporting in terms of what he's going to say today?

ATWOOD: Yes. What we know because, as Ron says, he's a very serious person, he is someone who is described as taking hard jobs. He's not looking to make a splash. But if anyone is going to actually make a splash, it may indeed be Ambassador Taylor.

So what we've learned is that today, he is going to lay out a chronology of events. He got there on the ground at the Ukrainian -- the U.S. embassy to Ukraine in June. He has been there through today, through October. And it was in early September when he started sending those text messages to the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., questioning the U.S. security assistance and why it was being withheld.

And there are a number of text messages. And so what he is going to do is detail why he was sending those questions to Ambassador Sondland and also fill in some of the gaps, the conversations that he was having in between sending those text messages.

But we also know, Poppy, that he's headed back to Ukraine tomorrow. He wants to carry on. He wants to keep this hard work going because U.S./Ukraine policy really needs a career professional behind them, and he wants to remain that person. But it will be interesting to see the political implications after his testimony today.

HARLOW: Ross, you are the impeachment expert. You have represented four different governors going through impeachment inquiries and actual impeachment.

So our new poll, CNN's new poll this morning says 6 percent of Republicans, that's it, of American voters think that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office. But Chris Wallace, on Sunday, sourced a very highly respected Republican in Washington, and he is not someone to throw out liberal talking points, right, and he said, that person tells me that if impeached by the House, there is a 20 percent chance of conviction in the Senate. Are just not hearing from Republicans who may feel that way in the Senate?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. And my take is that number is really, really high.

HARLOW: The 20 percent?

GARBER: Yes. I think it stayed the same the way they are now. It's seems removal by the Senate is very, very unlikely. And I think there are things that the president could take from this poll that are actually sort of encouraging.

HARLOW: Like what?

GARBER: Republicans, for example, are sticking. And Trump has done a great job of playing to his base and engaging his base and making sure they stick, and so far, they have.

If I were him though, I would be concerned about sort of the undecided, middle of the road voters. Those folks are key. Because it is true that Republican senators are going to be worried about primaries in their race and they're going to be worried about getting their base out to vote. And for that reason, they're going to want to stick with the president.

They're also going to be concerned though about winning re-election. And for that, they're going to need those middle of the road voters.

The other point I'd make is, in impeachments, I'm always concerned about the wild card, the thing that we don't know now that could come up, and there is plenty of potential for wild card here.

HARLOW: What about -- we just had Senator Blumenthal on and he is filing this brief again today in federal court in his ongoing lawsuit with the president over the emoluments clause. And their argument is essentially by even temporarily announcing publicly that you were going to host the G7 at your own hotel, Mr. President, you are profiting from the presidency. Their argument is from publicity, from advertising, et cetera, not even an exchange of money. What do you make of that argument? And also do you think that that ties into the broader impeachment inquiry in a way that hurts the president or that could hurt the Democrats by looking as though they're going after sort of a kitchen sink approach?

GARBER: And I think that's the big danger. I think that argument is a bit of a stretch. And I think that's the Democrats' -- House Democrats' big danger here, is it looks -- if it looks like they're pursuing a kitchen sink. Their best strategy is to stay focused and focus on the most serious things at issue, focus on the Ukraine issue.

And one of the reasons I think Bill Taylor's testimony is so important today is not just the sort of quid pro quo discussion. They specifically mention the quid pro quo for campaign help.


GARBER: That makes it much more serious.

HARLOW: Ron, help me understand why the president is attacking the U.S. Constitution on multiple fronts in the last 24 hours. I know why he's doing it. He doesn't like what it says and certainly it doesn't play well for him. But does it actually play among voters? If you actually stand there and you say the emoluments clause is phony when it's not, does it win him political points with his base?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, with his base, his argument is that the system is rigged against you, that you are under threat from elites who distain you and minorities are coming to take your jobs or threaten your life and I am the one force (ph) who can protect you.


What's that? Yes. His argument is that I alone can fix it. I am the human wall who can protect you against all these forces that are conspiring to kind of marginalize you in society.

You look at the polling, Poppy, the CNN poll today, 50 percent supporting impeachment and removal, that is significantly higher than Gallup ever reached during the Clinton fight. It is as high as Gallup reached at any point during Nixon, except the very final poll before he resigned. And it probably could go even a few points higher. In the poll, only 83 percent of the people who disapprove of the president say they support his removal, that could probably move up a little bit, probably as this debate goes on, particularly among college whites.

But this is -- what we're seeing is that the support for removal or not is basically converging with his approval rating. And what that means is that those Democrats in the marginal districts are going to have to take a vote. You know, that's going to be tight in their district. And as we say, Republicans are going to face a tough choice in the Senate.

But this is hardening if you think about even if he survives this, you're talking about 90 percent or more potentially by the end that people say they disapprove of him, saying that they believe he committed acts so egregious, he should be removed from office. And so it's awfully hard for him to go talk to them in 2020 and win them back. HARLOW: Or he can run around and say I was acquitted by the Senate. So there's also that.

Thank you, guys. Great reporting, Kylie. Thank you for getting all that for us on Taylor. We appreciate it.

The ceasefire in Syria is set to end in just a few hours. This comes as U.S. troops leaving there are told they cannot stay in neighboring Iraq, which is where they are going. We'll take you to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon next to explain.