Return to Transcripts main page


Key Witness Testifying On Evidence In Impeachment Probe; Trump Compares Impeachment Inquiry To A Lynching; Ceasefire Expires In Syria As Trump Defends Withdrawal. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Do you think that Clinton thing (ph) might have something to do with Bernie with 2016 there? I don't know about that.


KING: The idle speculation.

Thanks for joining us on Inside Politics. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

And underway right now, he's considered the most important witness to testify so far in the impeachment scandal, and at this point moment, a career diplomat is revealing why he called the president's Ukraine policy crazy.

And as half the Americans want the president impeached, a new high, Democrats say the timeline to do so is getting longer. Why that poses a risk for both parties?

Plus, the president under fire for comparing the impeachment effort to a lynching.

And just a couple of hours from now, the ceasefire in Syria expires and the U.S. defense secretary joins CNN. What does he have to say to U.S. troops angry over what they see as an abandonment of an ally?

But first, right now on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are hearing from arguably the most important witness to testify so far in the Ukraine scandal, and that is acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor who is expected to shed more light on what he knows about the president's efforts to hold up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of Joe Biden and his son.

Taylor sounded the alarm in text messages with two other diplomats saying it was, quote, crazy to withhold aid to Ukraine in exchange for help with Trump's political campaign.

Kylie Atwood is joining us now to talk about this. So, Kylie, what do we know about Taylor and what are we expecting to learn from the testimony today?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. Well, he is behind closed doors right now and we expect him to give an extensive chronology of events. So he landed on the ground in Ukraine as the U.S. ambassador in June. He is still there as the U.S. ambassador. He's just back in Washington for this testimony. But there are a number of months there that are the key months.

So let's take a step back and look at who Bill Taylor really is. So he is the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. He's been there, as I said, since June of this year. He was pulled out of retirement to take this job. And he's considered to be a professional in this region. He was the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. He is widely respected in the ranks at the State Department.

And then we turn to what are the key elements that lawmakers are going to be asking him about during his testimony today. So this was back in September. Bill Taylor sent a text to the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, and he said, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? The ambassador, Gordon Sondland, then sent back to him, call me.

Now, we know that during that time, Gordon Sondland made a phone call to President Trump. But what we don't know is what he told Ambassador Taylor in that phone conversation. It will be a key element, the details of that in terms of what we learn out of today.

And then there's another text that came just a week later from Ambassador Taylor saying, as I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. And then we had Ambassador Sondland at the time replying, Bill, I believe you're incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind. The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency in reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.

But, clearly, there is a reason, Brianna, that Ambassador Taylor thought there was reason for concern about a potential quid pro quo, and that will be what lawmakers try to get to the bottom of during this long testimony today.

KEILAR: Kylie, thank you so much.

And joining me now to discuss this is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. Congressman, thank you for joining us. And you were just in the room with Ambassador Taylor. You serve on both the House Intel and the Judiciary Committee. What did you want to find out from Taylor going into this, and are those questions being answered?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Good afternoon, Brianna. We are on a brief lunch break. So, first, just the fact that the ambassador is here, we are grateful for. They have all been ordered not to show up by the State Department and the White House. You have an ambassador who has served the United States for 50 years. He went to West Point, he served in the 101st Airborne Division, went

to Vietnam, worked in the State Department, worked in the Senate, worked at NATO. And this is a career public servant. He is cooperating right now and providing useful information.

But just going to those text messages, they are corroborated by what Mick Mulvaney said, which is that, indeed, there is a quid pro quo going on. So we are just seeking to see if there are any arrows that point in any other direction beyond the fact that this was a shakedown scheme ordered by the president, carried out by Rudy Giuliani in this shadow diplomacy track.


KEILAR: What has he told you?

SWALWELL: I can't go into that yet and we typically respect the witnesses and we'll let them testify all day and the chairman will give us guidance as to what we can put out.

But we also, right now, in this phase of the hearings, because very few witnesses know some of the very important details, we want to conduct it in a way that other witnesses don't know what witnesses are going to say, because, otherwise, they could work together and cook up alibis and tailor their testimony. And the fact we've been able to keep it so close has protected in some respect against that.

KEILAR: Is what he's telling reflected in those texts or is there a lot of context that he's providing?

SWALWELL: Well, I'm not going to go into that. But I think you can imagine that we have him before us because of his involvement in what came out through the Volker texts. What I can tell you is that, again, the arrows continue to point in just one direction. And we have not seen a contradicting piece of evidence that contradicts the president's confession, the co-signing of that confession by Mick Mulvaney and what the whistleblower complaint originally put forward.

KEILAR: We've heard from previous diplomats' testimony indicating they weren't aware that an investigation of Burisma, the company that Hunter Biden was on the board of, was essentially the same as an investigation of the Bidens, which, I mean, very clearly, it is. Does hearing from Taylor cause any doubt on that assertion of others?

SWALWELL: Brianna, Biden is Burisma, Burisma is Biden. Donald trump is Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani is Donald Trump. That needs to be made clear all the way through. And Donald Trump, in fact, actually, we don't really need to hear from the witnesses as to whether Burisma is Biden or not because Donald Trump never even brought up Burisma in that call transcript. He mentioned the Bidens.

KEILAR: What I'm talking about is the witnesses, because some of them or at least one of them have indicated that they didn't know that was really at the heart of it, which is difficult, maybe, to believe considering what Rudy Giuliani was doing publicly in the spring. Have you learned anything about that? SWALWELL: We have. I'm not going to go into it. But I would just -- I think you have hit it on the head here, it's very hard to believe considering the amount of public reporting and the fact that these are individuals who immerse themselves in what's going on in the countries that they're involved with. To miss that Rudy Giuliani was admissible when it came to connecting Burisma with the Bidens. And so it's really hard to believe that.

KEILAR: How did lawmakers react in the room when Taylor laid out the chronology of how this all unfolded?

SWALWELL: So I counted about 75 people in the room at one point. This is a very small room, a long table with the witness at the end of the table, a stenographer taking down what was said. But it was -- you could hear a pin drop, literally, as the ambassador laid out his opening statement. But, again, I'm going to leave it to our chairman to characterize the testimony when the hearing concludes.

KEILAR: Do you get the sense from these diplomats that they wish they had raised concerns before this came to a whistleblower bringing this all to light? Have they indicated whether they felt even that they had the ability to do that?

SWALWELL: Well, again, I don't want to go into that, but we wish that they would have raised their concerns. And you can't help but read (ph) and listen to these witnesses and --

KEILAR: Have you asked them about that, why some of them didn't come forward sooner, considering we look at the text messages and we see that there was a lot of alarm?

SWALWELL: I'll just stick to, Brianna, what my concerns are without going into the testimony. It is very concerning the number of people who did see lawlessness and wrongdoing from the president to Rudy Giuliani, and it took this whistleblower to blow the roof off of this scheme. It just makes you wonder what other schemes are going on with other countries, like perhaps Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, North Korea.

And, you know, we're focused on this, but the president certainly has priors with Russia and there's certainly a reason to wonder what's going on with these other countries in relation.

KEILAR: House leadership was hoping to have maybe a vote on impeachment by Thanksgiving. Now, we're learning that timeline could slip. This could go closer to the end of the year, maybe more, who knows, as we wait to see what happens. How concerned are you about this timing (ph)?

SWALWELL: Well, we want to make sure the president gets a fair hearing, and even suspects who confess to crimes in America are entitled to a fair hearing. So he's going to get a fair process.

He actually could make this go faster if they would cooperate and send people rather than refuse to have them come in. But we're going to give him a fair hearing and move expeditiously. And, honestly, Brianna, I'm on House Leadership team, I'm on the Judiciary Committee, I'm on Intelligence Committee, I have never heard and expressed that timeline just that we want to get it done fairly and we want to get it done right.

KEILAR: That is what our very good reporting by Manu Raju is showing, I do want to say that.


SWALWELL: Yes, Manu is a very good reporter, yes.

KEILAR: He is very good.

So, lastly, who else do you want to hear from?

SWALWELL: Yes, I'll leave that to our chairman.

Again, we've heard from the president. And, Brianna, in many cases, the most important facts come out at the end of an investigation. Here, this investigation starts with this call record where the president, in his own words, asks the Ukrainians to investigate his political opponent. So that may be the bombshell here, but we're going to, again, give him a fair trial.

KEILAR: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you, sir.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: The president getting severe backlash after calling the impeachment inquiry to a lynching. And one of his Republican Senate allies is echoing him, defending him.

Plus, just a short time from now, the ceasefire in Syria will expire, and CNN confronts the defense secretary on America abandoning the Kurds.



KEILAR: We have new details about the testimony of a key witness in the impeachment inquiry, the diplomat who called the president's Ukraine policy crazy in text messages. And our Manu Raju is there on Capitol Hill following this breaking news. Tell us what you're hearing, Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're now learning a little bit more what Bill Taylor has testified to this morning and throughout the morning. This is the first, the top diplomat in Ukraine testifying about why Ukraine aid had been withheld and whether it had anything to do with the president's push for investigations into his political rivals.

Now, we are told from multiple sources from both parties that he actually testified today that the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told him in a phone call that, in part, that is the reason why the aid was delayed, was because of those investigations, politically-tinged investigations that the president and that Giuliani were seeking.

Now, those investigations, of course, have to do with looking into the company, Burisma, which is what Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, had been sitting on as well as looking into the Democratic National Committee as part of what the Republicans were pushing, what the president has been pushing, looking into the Russians, the origins of the Russia investigation, and this theory that perhaps Ukraine could have been involved in that.

Now, what we're told from sources familiar with Gordon Sondland testified last week, that it is not inconsistent with what he said. And according to the source, he says that Sondland had testified last week that there were multiple reasons why the aid could have been delayed, it could have been the investigation, it could also have been what the president had been concerns about.

It was about Europe not contributing enough, as well as corruption, more generally. But he said that, according to Gordon Sondland's testimony, that he was just speculating that the reason why the aid had been delayed was perhaps one reason why was because of these investigations.

But we're told today Bill Taylor laid out a very detailed case about what happened about the -- led to the delay of the aid and getting a first glance about those conversations that occurred between Taylor and Sondland, Taylor revealing that perhaps one reason why was because of these investigations, according to what Gordon Sondland told him.

So we're still getting more in this investigation. This hearing is still ongoing, it's behind closed doors, but sources from both parties making it very clear to us that this is consistent with what they had been hearing from other witnesses as well, the one reason why this aid could have been delayed is because of this ask for Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that could help the president politically. Brianna?

KEILAR: And how long, Manu? Was it 15 pages was his opening statement, right? Take us inside the room as it's been described to you about what it's like. Eric Swalwell told us there were about 75 people inside the room. Tell us what it was like.

RAJU: Yes. Three committees are questioning this witness, and that includes members and staff are leading the questioning. They're rotating hour by hour, Republican and Democrat, and they're trying to glean more information.

Now, what this -- the statement, very detailed, it was about an hour long it took him to deliver. I'm told that he was someone who has a meticulous memory, provided a lot of information, what members believe was essentially corroborating information of what previous witnesses testified about.

But the fact that he did reveal that, in a phone call conversation with the president's ambassador to the European Union that the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, suggested that perhaps this ask for investigations was a reason why this aid was delayed is a significant thing that has people talking up here on Capitol Hill. Democrats not referring to this specifically, but publicly, he said that what they heard today was absolutely alarming, in their view, something they believe could be a game changer, in their view.

Republicans, however, dismissing this and saying, look, this is all similar to what we've heard before. Nothing is really that much different. They say there is no explicit quid pro quo, which was, of course, has been the defense of the White House. So it may not change many Republican minds here on Capitol Hill, but Democrats say that what they've heard so far has been revealing about he reason why that military aid that had been approved by Congress had been delayed. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Manu Raju, excellent reporting from Capitol Hill, thank you.


And we'll have more on this key testimony in these impeachment inquiry hearings in just a moment.

But first, President Trump is taking his rhetoric about this impeachment inquiry to a whole other level. Instead of phrase, witch hunt, which, this time, he used a much more incendiary word talking about the investigation.

Here is what he tweeted. He said, all Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here, a lynching. This is a word associated with a period of horrific racial violence in the United States from the 1880s to almost 1970. The NAACP says there were 4,743 lynchings in the United States, and roughly three-quarters of those victims were African-American.

I want to talk now with Michael Eric Dyson about this. He's the author of What Truth Sounds Like. He is also a professor of sociology at Georgetown University.

What's your reaction to hearing the president tweet this?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's astonishing. Not only does it indicate his lack of familiarity with black history. We've seen that he thought Jackie Robinson basically was a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, that he's Frederick Douglass.

And he has events no serious engagement with that history now to take one of the most extraordinary and horrific periods in African-American life, the incident of lynching, castrating murder, tossing black bodies into rivers because of white supremacy means that this president has not only reinforced the vulnerability of African- American people by his policies, he's gotten on the wrong side that he's on. He is a man who has reinforced neo-Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism. And now he extracts from his history this particular example of racial tyranny and terror to his defense. And using lynching, people who had no appeal to law, people who had no recourse, lynching, by its definition, was avoiding the legal remedy for an ostensible crime and taking a vigilante approach to justice in one's own hands. So President Trump is wrong on so many counts.

KEILAR: You seem to be saying that he is ignorant of this history. Do you think he is ignorant of what a nerve he touches when uses this word? He hasn't used it before. This is the first time.

DYSON: Yes. He is ignorant of history but he's not ignorant of the fact that black people were lynched and murdered in this country. He is deliberately --

KEILAR: So do you think he's deliberately using that word?

DYSON: Of course. I mean, he understands that using the word lynching appealing to a very fashion of racial justice that was meted out in this country that was wholly unjustified and unwarranted. And so for him to identify with the powerless, when he is, by virtue of his office, the most powerful man in the world, he's not only misunderstanding the power dynamics, he is appropriating a bit of black history that he has conveniently left aside for the most part and the seized upon our own suffering and aggrievement for his own political purposes.

KEILAR: Let's look at how Republicans are responding to this. On one hand, you have South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who defended the president's tweet.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I can only imagine if this were a Democratic president, what you would be saying to me right now. So it shows a lot of things about our national media when it's about Trump, who cares about the process as long as you get it. So, yes, this is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American.


KEILAR: The South Carolina senator. Then you have, in contrast, though maybe not as vociferous as you might hear from some people, Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy didn't defend Trump. He said, I don't agree with that language. It's pretty simple. What do you make of these reactions?

DYSON: Well, Senator Graham is a feckless, spineless moralize, who, at his own convenience, will evoke a strong history of identification with the Constitution and democracy and holding forth against presidents who wield their power out of order. And then at this point, he is spinelessly complicit with white supremacy.

Here is a man who is amplifying what Trump has said by excusing him. At least McCarthy had the conscience and presence of mind to say, I don't agree with that language. That's weak on its face. Disagree with it? How about it's wrong? How about it's extraordinarily manipulative of a president who is identified with white supremacists now the pretend that he is a victim of what white supremacists did.

Lindsey Graham is especially horrendous here because his fecklessness and spinelessness not only makes him complicit in white supremacy, it really undercuts any moral authority he might have. He is now a caricature of his former self and has refused to take up the bully pulpit of the Senate in a way that would benefit the people of his state.

And in South Carolina, there were many African-American people who were victims of this heinous crime and now especially egregious for him to not even understand or acknowledge that.

KEILAR: Michael Eric Dyson, thank so much.


We always appreciate your perspective.

And we have more on our breaking news which is explosive testimony from a key diplomat in the Ukraine scandal saying that politics was suspected in the hold-up of aid to Ukraine.


KEILAR: The U.S.-brokered ceasefire in Northern Syria is set to expire in just over an hour from now. Syrian Kurds have until then to vacate a buffer zone along the border with Turkey.

Turkey launched a military offensive to force the Kurds out of the area after President Trump withdrew U.S. forces and began moving them to Western Iraq. And as a backdrop to all of that, Turkey's President Erdogan is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin today to discuss what to do about the Kurds and also Russia's role in Syria now that the U.S. is out.

Following President Trump's claims that U.S. soldiers are headed home, Defense Secretary Mark Esper now says those U.S. troops currently leaving Syria and headed to Western Iraq will only be there temporarily before returning back to the U.S.

CNN Chief International Anchor, Christiane Amanpour just spoke with Esper about the escalating crisis in Syria.



MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you, Christiane. Good to be here.

AMANPOUR: Can you tell us, first and foremost, there seems to be some confusion that maybe you can clear up, where are the U.S. forces in Syria are going? The president has said perhaps they could stay in Syria. You said that they were going to be redeployed to Western Iraq. But the latest news is that the Iraqi command says, welcome across the border but only on the route out. He doesn't anticipate your troops staying there. So where will they be?

ESPER: Well, as you know, we're conducting phased withdrawal, deliberate, phased withdrawal from Northeast Syria. It began with the, what we call, phase one, which was an immediate zone of attack. Now, we're under phase two, which is from the northeast corridor, if you will. And then, eventually, we'll have other phases that will withdraw all of the forces out. We will temporarily reposition in Iraq pursuant to bringing the troops home.

And so it's just one part of a continuing phase but, eventually, those troops are going to come home.

AMANPOUR: So they are coming home?

ESPER: They will come home.

AMANPOUR: None will stay in Syria?

ESPER: Well, right now, the president has authorized that some would stay in the southern part of Syria now, in Al-Tanf, and we're looking maybe keeping some additional forces to ensure that we deny ISIS and others' access to these key oil fields also in the middle part of the country, if you will.

But that needs to be worked out in time. The president hasn't approved that yet. I need to an option sometime here soon. But the bulk of the force would reposition in the Iraq and then eventually go home.

AMANPOUR: So none of this is clear, first and foremost, and those who might stay might be away from that border, away from the bulk of the ISIS trouble and securing oil fields, from who?