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America's Top Diplomat In Ukraine, Bill Taylor Testifying In Impeachment Inquiry; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) Reacts To Trump Calling Constitutional Impeachment Probe a Lynching; The President Yesterday Admitted He Expects The House To Vote To Impeach. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The most important witness of all is appearing today.

America's top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor is still testifying right at this moment. One Democrat calls Taylor's testimony quote, "a sea change." Another democrat calls today his most quote, "disturbing day so far in his 10 months in Congress." And previously released text messages foreshadow Taylor's testimony would be critical.

In them, Taylor explicitly raises concerns to another diplomat Gordon Sondland, about what he sees as improper demands on Ukrainian officials -- a holdup of military aid from the U.S. in exchange for the Ukrainians conducting political investigations of one of President Trump's rivals, Joe Biden.

Here's the exchange. Bill Taylor, who is testifying today texts, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the E.U. after a call with the President says, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind."

I'm going to begin now with CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju who has breaking details on Taylor's testimony. Manu, tell us what lawmakers are learning from Bill Taylor, and also how this might inform how they see those text messages that they already had.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has been talking a lot about why that military aid that was approved by Congress, why that was not turned over to Ukraine. There have been a lot of questions about that, whether that was tied to what the President had been asking for, what Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal attorney have been asking for, which is investigations into the Biden's, his political rival, as well as the Democratic National Committee and the origins of the Russia investigation.

And what we are learning from multiple sources both parties were familiar with what he testified was that, Bill Taylor said that Gordon Sondland, the E.U. Ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union had told him that a reason why the aid could have been delayed, perhaps would be because of this -- the demand, the ask for Ukraine to publicly announce these investigations that could help the President politically.

Now, that was part of this conversation that had been occurring. Now. The context here is this, Gordon Sondland and Taylor had exchanged text messages, and Taylor had raised concerns that a potential quid pro quo raised concerns that this aid should not have been withheld because of this demand for a political investigation that the President had been seeking.

The President raised himself in the phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, but what Taylor made very clear was that that Sondland had said to him that one of the reasons why the aid could have been withheld was because of his investigations.

Now Sondland had testified last week, Brianna, and he was asked about this as well, and according to a source familiar with his testimony, they're saying it's actually consistent with what Taylor had testified to, in that he raised also the possibility that the investigations could be tied to the delay in the aid, but also other matters as well, including corruption more generally, including demand for European countries to pay more into dealing with matters involving Ukraine.

So perhaps one reason why according to the source is that Sondland suggested that to Taylor is because he is simply speculating.

Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans are gleaning new details. This has been a very detailed statement, I'm told with some corroborating evidence that corroborates what other witnesses have testified to.

But at the moment, what people are learning here is that Gordon Sondland told him that the investigations of the President's political rivals could be a reason why this military aid was held up -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much. Let's discuss all of this now. We have Mary McCord who once served as Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security. She led the early stages of the Trump-Russia probe before a Special Counsel was appointed, and she's now at Georgetown Law.

Also here with us, CNN Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown, and CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger. Gloria, why is this so significant? What we're hearing about this testimony from Bill Taylor?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Bill Taylor comes to Congress as a very credible witness, first of all, I'd have to say. He is somebody who is in the government, but is not going to remain there, did this out of the goodness of his heart because he cared about what was going on in Ukraine. He has another job to go back to. So he has nothing to lose here and he has absolutely no one to please.

And what he is saying effectively corroborates in a way what Sondland was saying, which is that there was some concern about the politics of all of this and that the money could be being held up because of the President's political concerns. Now, Sondland says, well, there were other reasons. You know, maybe

it was corruption. Maybe other countries in the E.U. weren't giving Ukraine enough money, but this was part of their conversation and as you were pointing out, when Taylor finally texts Sondland, and says, oh, my God, we can't do this. This is ridiculous. It's about politics.


BORGER: There's this hour's gap, and Sondland calls the President says, what's going on? Is there some kind of quid pro quo? The President denies it. And then Sondland responds to Taylor, with that very lawyerly text saying the President, you know, there's no quid pro quo here.

So, you know, what Taylor is doing is effectively echoing Sondland's story, putting more meat on the bones here.

KEILAR: Is it a strong enough connect -- this is this is what you've heard the President and his allies say, there was no quid pro quo. This is why this is so important.

I mean, if you read the transcript between President Trump and the Ukrainian President, as the President asked the Ukrainian President to investigate Joe Biden and you know the military aid is being held up at that point in time. It's not too big of a cognitive leap. And yet this is an important set of dots that need to be connected.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And you know, the White House is paying attention to Bill Taylor's testimony today, for good reason.

As Gloria pointed out, he really has nothing to lose. He doesn't need President Trump's favor here. He is also very respected as a career diplomat.

At the same time, White House officials I've been speaking to are quick to point out he wasn't close to the President. He didn't have a lot of conversations with him. Anything he is saying during today's testimony, you know, there's a big gap between it coming from the President and going to Bill Taylor.

So that is something that they're really focused on. But what Bill Taylor is doing, and what Manu is doing with his reporting, is filling in the gaps. And one of the key exchanges, as you alluded to Gloria, was this text exchange, where Taylor said, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting our conditioned on investigations? Sondland says, call me.

And now we know -- and we don't know if it was this call or other calls in that time period. But now we know, according to Bill Taylor's testimony that Sondland said to him, I believe it has to do with these political investigations and aid that your source, Gloria, says that is speculation, something else the White House is quick to point out,

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: What is your assessment of what we're seeing come out of the Hill today?

MARY MCCORD, FORMER ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: Well, I think that, you know, as a former prosecutor, I would look at Bill Taylor as a very good witness, right? He contemporaneously made sure he had written documentations of what he was hearing. This wasn't the first time that Sondland said call me and get he continued to put things into text messages, creating a record. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't memorialize this some other way.

And if I were on in Congress right now, listening to his testimony, I would be certainly asking if there's some other memorialization. This doesn't necessarily get at the problem of he wasn't speaking directly to the President.

But remember, we know that by the time he is having the conversations with Sondland about these -- about this entire withholding of aid, there's already been a couple of months' worth of conversations that Sondland has already been having.

So there's a history that reveals itself in these conversations that show up in the texts, and that apparently are now being discussed on Capitol Hill.

KEILAR: Is it squishy enough that this sort of degrees of removal to give the President cover? I mean, we've heard from Lindsey Graham, who has said, you know, he would -- he is open to hearing new information about whether there was quid pro quo. But this sort of -- the degrees of removal, is that something that say, Lindsey Graham, or really any Republican who is tempted to support? I mean, do you feel like this is sort of foggy?

MCCORD: I mean, this is exactly where, you know, in a criminal case, this is where the defense attorney would really pounce and try to make it clear that this is just hearsay.

But that's why I think it's important to look at the other e-mails and text messages that built up to this that already support that this is coming -- where this is coming from.

And then of course, as Gloria mentioned, that long gap where it appear that there's a call made to the President and then this lawyerly like statement. Can I just add one more thing?


MCCORD: There's so much focus on quid pro quo, which I think is a bit of a red herring and that it helps those who want to say there's no quid pro quo, although I think, as you indicated that the that the President's own call itself and the transcript, the quasi-transcript of the call establishes a quid pro quo.

But first of all, there's also gratuities under criminal law that don't require quid pro quo. There's also the fact that in an impeachment, you don't even have to make out the elements of an actual crime. And there are other potential crimes at issue here.

So I think that the focus on quid pro quo sometimes I think, diverts attention from the wrongfulness of this.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani, because, I mean, he is one, we haven't heard from him and if you've seen him in the few days, he's sort of gone under the radar. But he is connected, Gloria, to all of these diplomats.


KEILAR: We know that President Trump was saying go through Rudy Giuliani, even though he is his, I guess, pro bono personal lawyer. He is not a diplomat.

BORGER: Right. And I'm sure we're not hearing from him because he's probably got a lawyer who is telling him, you need to stop talking to everybody. And yes, Rudy Giuliani is everywhere in all of this and in fact, you know that that meeting, I believe it was on May 23rd that they had in the White House with Volker, Sondland and Rick Perry, with the President.

They were talking about Ukraine and how the President needed to meet with the new Ukrainian President. They had just been to the inauguration. They were all excited. And what did the President say? Talk to Rudy. Talk to Rudy when it comes to this policy.


BORGER: So that's another part of all this because the last I can recall, Rudy doesn't -- I don't know if he's got clearance. Was he on the payroll? Was he -- does he work for the United States government?

BROWN: Yes, typically, if an outsider is involved in something like this, there is a level, you know, a number of steps you would go through, such as a clearance and ethics review and so forth beforehand.

And that is also an important part of this testimony, for people like Bill Taylor today is sort of making that point that at the President's direction, Rudy Giuliani, this outsider of the White House was basically spearheading U.S.-Ukraine foreign policy.

And it is interesting to note, too, you're right, Brianna, he has been laying low. I'm told even though he is the President's personal attorney, still he has been sidelined on Ukraine issues.

BORGER: I wonder why.

BROWN: Not surprisingly.

KEILAR: And the end to be clear, he is not paid by President Trump. I just want to be -- he is the personal attorney, but he is working unpaid. He is paid by, in part, a Ukrainian-American who has received money through a Russian businessmen. I just want to make that very clear.

Pamela, thank you so much. Mary, thank you. Gloria, thank you so much.

And also breaking right now, CNN is learning that allies of the President are pushing him to accept that the House is likely to impeach him. He has been saying as much as that. We will discuss that.

Also, today, Trump calls the constitutionally protected Impeachment Inquiry, a lynching. It's not. We're going to discuss with the former Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Plus in minutes, the fragile ceasefire in Syria will expire as we learned Russia will now help Turkey patrol a region once held by the Kurds, who were allied with the U.S. before U.S. troops left them in the Mideast.



KEILAR: In defending himself from impeachment, Democrats say Trump reached a new low today with this tweet, quote, "So someday if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here - a lynching."

I want to bring in Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. She is the former Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Congresswoman, what is your reaction to the President using this language?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): First of all, it is indefensible, and it's a disgusting message coming from the President of the United States who clearly either does not understand the very painful history of African-Americans in this country or doesn't really care.

I mean, come on, I grew up in Texas -- Jim Crow, Texas, and there were many, many lynches in Texas and they're still family members who are living who had family members who were lynched.

There were over 4,400 African-Americans and that's only recorded, mind you, who were lynched. I wish that the museum, the Legacy Museum, the National Museum for Peace and Justice, that this President would really understand the power of that museum and understand that the names of those, the counties, cities of those who were lynched are very clear before the public.

This is a very tragic day. This President needs to apologize. Lynchings were brutal. They killed black people because they were black. He is unfit for this office. He is unfit to serve as the President of the United States.

KEILAR: You say you should apologize. Do you think he will? LEE: He should apologize. But you know, looking at his history, what

does he do? Whenever he is under fire for doing something that really make him appear that he is above the law in many respects, he moves to try to solidify his base, those who really align themselves with their hatred and bitterness towards the people of color and African- Americans.

So in many ways, he uses these attacks to divert from the real issues that are before him and to say that lynching and to compare that with a legitimate process of impeachment, which is a constitutional process.

Lynching was a horrific act. These were terrible things that happened in our own country, not so long ago. And so for him to equate this and for Senator Graham to come up and cosign with this President has said is beyond the pale and they both, quite frankly should apologize and they should do it right now.

KEILAR: This is happening on a day where we're seeing a key witness testifying in the Impeachment Inquiry, Bill Taylor, the former top Ambassador in Ukraine.

When you understand what is coming out of this hearing as our reporting indicates that he has testified. He was told by another diplomat, the Ambassador of the European Union, Gordon Sondland that security aid, this military aid from the U.S. that was to go to Ukraine, but was being held up by the President, that it could have been held up in part because of a push for Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into Joe Biden and his son.


KEILAR: So that is the backdrop of what is -- of this language. So how significant do you think this day is on the Hill with this information coming out?

LEE: It's very significant, and I do believe that he knew what he was saying. He didn't care what he said. And he knows what's coming forward with regard to these investigations and these inquiries that could lead to impeachment and so it was planned. It was part of his strategy, and he could care less about who he hurts and about the brutal torture that African-Americans have had to deal with.

And then when you look at his policies today and what he is doing in terms of communities of color and African-Americans, come on, you know, he knows exactly what's going on.

And some say that well, he just doesn't know the history. But if he doesn't know the history, he should at least understand the sensitivity and the trauma that has been perpetrated by lynchings. And it's really quite, you know, sinister of him to do this.

And again, this this wag the dog agenda of his is consistent with the past behavior of this man in the White House.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you so much for joining us. President Trump admits it is likely, now we know why. How Trump's

allies convinced him to accept that the House will probably impeach him.

Also, the guardrails were shaky at best; now, they are coming off. In minutes the ceasefire keeping Turkish troops from attacking Kurds in Northern Syria is set to expire as Russia reaches a deal with Turkey to patrol the area. Who will protect the Kurds after President Trump's troop pullout?



KEILAR: Despite President Trump's ongoing efforts to paint the Democrats' Impeachment Inquiry as a witch hunt, politically motivated and now today, he says it's a quote "lynching." It seems his words may not be having the desired effect on voters.

That is according to a new CNN poll, which shows 50 percent of Americans now think the President should not only be impeached, but also removed from office. And that is a number that has only increased since March when just a third of Americans felt that way. And the President yesterday admitted he expects the House to vote to impeach.


QUESTION: Do you believe it is a foregone conclusion that the House will impeach?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think they want to. Any Democrat wants to because they're not going to beat me in the election. So of course, they want to impeach. Why would they want to impeach me? It's so illegitimate. It cannot be the way the founders, our great founders meant this to be.


KEILAR: With me now, CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash and Dana, you actually have some new reporting about what brought President Trump to this moment where he now seems to be confronting the fact, yes, he is going to be impeached very likely.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is so interesting. I am told that some of the President's allies are encouraging the President to accept what they see as a foregone conclusion as he finally just said, as a reality that the House is almost surely going to impeach.

And until recently what the President had been saying privately is he thought maybe he can change the minds of some of the Democrats in Trump districts, in moderate districts that maybe he could pull them back from voting for impeachment and ultimately changing his own fate in the House, but he has been told you know what, that's not going to happen. Change your strategy, focus on the process. Try to diminish the process. Make the process trippy look trivial.

And also -- and this is something I've been told he has been encouraged to do for some time, focus on other issues. USMCA, the House not voting on that. The economy.

KEILAR: It seems obvious --

BASH: Which is, this is the top -- you know, Greatest Hits List of the Trump presidency. People are telling him focus on the issues, not on other things, but this is up against the backdrop of impeachment, which is a different dynamic.

KEILAR: And the timeline appears to be changing a little bit. Right? This seems to be, you know, there's all of this testimony coming out. So you have leads, I guess for Democrats to chase which takes time.

BASH: It takes time. Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb have been reporting that as they pull the threads in these hours' long depositions, including one that's going on right now, they have to follow others.

And the hope was that the Impeachment Inquiry in the House could be wrapped up by Thanksgiving. Well, that's about a month away now, a little more than a month away now. So they're realistically saying it's probably not going to happen until the end of the year.

The goal just on the raw politics of it was clearly for the House Democrats to try to finish up before people started going to the polls to vote for which Democratic candidate they want to go up against Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

But if they keep getting more information that they think really buttress their argument for impeachment, they're going to keep following it.

KEILAR: All right, Dana Bash, thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Bri.