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INSIDE POLITICS

Bill Taylor To Fill Gaps Of Crucial Ukraine Text Messages; Key Impeachment Witness Testifies On Capitol Hill; Bill Taylor To Give Chronology Of His Time As Ukraine Ambassador; Trump's Impeachment Defense Creates Challenges For Republicans; Poll: 50 Percent Support Impeachment And Removing Trump From Office. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Trump calls the House impeachment inquiry a lynching and the timing is no coincidence. Critical witnesses on Capitol Hill, a veteran diplomat who complaint it was crazy to hold aid to Ukraine until it agreed to pursue the President's political vendettas.

Plus an important first in new CNN polling's, support for impeaching the President and removing him from office hits 50 percent. But there are clear partisan divides, only six percent of Republicans, for example, back impeachment and the backlash, instant. African-American lawmakers said the President's use of the word lynching is deeply offensive, yet not surprising given the source.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was just an egregious statement.

REP. KAREN BASS, (D-CA): It's beneath the dignity of the office of the President of the United States.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D-NY): The President should not compare a constitutionally mandated impeachment inquiry to such a dangerous and dark chapter of American history. It's irresponsible for him to do so, and I hope that he will apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to that a bit later. But we begin the hour with a very big day in the Trump impeachment inquiry. A critical witness on Capitol Hill, he is a veteran diplomat who complained that the President was putting his personal politics ahead of smart Ukraine policy.

This testing on a day new CNN poling shows support for impeaching the President and removing him from office is on the rise, now at 50 percent for the first time. It is trademark Trump to turn up the volume when he wants to distract you from something important, like today's witness or today's numbers. So this morning the President deploying a word with historic meaning, calling the Democratic investigation, you see it right there in the tweet, "A lynching". Bill Taylor is the crucial witness behind closed doors this hour. Taylor is a career foreign policy hand who the Trump Administration pulled out of retirement to take the top diplomatic job in Ukraine.

He's the one who told another Trump diplomatic appointee that freezing military aid until Ukraine green lit an investigation into the President's political opponents was, "Crazy". Today a source telling CNN that Taylor plans to walk through with investigators those text messages and to provide them a clear timeline of what happened in his five months as Acting Ambassador to Ukraine.

Expect those questions to cover interactions with Ambassador Gordon Sondland who called the President in the middle of a text exchange with Taylor and his texting with Trump's Personal Attorney Rudy Giuliani. Taylor was among the many career diplomats who complained Giuliani was running rouge Ukraine policy way outside the lines.

Let's get straight up to Capitol Hill and CNN's Manu Raju is with us.

Manu, what else do we know?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What Democrats are coming out here raising alarms. One Democrat Andy Levin of Michigan emerged on the CNN and talked to reporters said that, all I have to say is that in my ten short months of Congress, it's my most disturbing day in Congress so far.

Of course, what Democrats are trying to drill down on is exactly why that military aid was withheld to Ukraine, the aid that was approved by Congress and whether it had anything to do with the President's push by Rudy Giuliani's push to investigate the President's political rival Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, as well as to push for an investigation to the Democratic National Committee.

What happened in 2016, things that of course will reference in that rough White House transcript between the phone call between the President of United States and the President of Ukraine Zelensky. Now this comes after Gordon Sondland testified last week. He didn't say why that military aid was withheld. He said that he talked to the President in a brief phone call and the President insisted there was no quid pro quo but didn't say that he was able to verify that in any way.

That's what he later told the top diplomat Bill Taylor, saying there was no quid pro quo, so we're told that he did deliver a detailed chronology of events, what happened from the time he assumed the post in June, up until now laying out exactly what happened, laying out the rationale behind those text messages where he raised some serious concerns that there could be a quid pro quo, calling it crazy and the like.

So we're getting some more details, John, but of course this is expected to go all day, and it could be one of the most critical days as part of the Democratic push to impeach this President. John?

KING: Critical to say the least. Manu Raju, we appreciate the live reporting and fresh reporting up on Capitol Hill. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times" Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post" Olivier Knox with "SiriusXM" and CNN's Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, I want to start with you for the importance of Bill Taylor. A veteran, policy hand worked in Democratic and Republican administrations.

[12:05:00]

KING: The Trump Administration brought him back in, trusted by the White House and he is the person who started to raise serious alarms about what the President was asking and what Rudy Giuliani was doing?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, he was yanked out of retirement for this job and now he is in the spotlight. I spoke with a source familiar with his testimony today who said he's not looking to make a splash. There's a reason that we haven't seen the full text of his opening remarks released today by sources close to him.

He really wanted to go there lay out the chronology of events. He got there on the ground as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine in June, and he's still been there. He's still the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. He's going back tomorrow. So he wanted to lay out this timeline and then go back to his job.

But the reality is that he's the person who has been there from the beginning, from when this assistance was delayed and reviewed until the time they eventually decided to let it go. So even though he doesn't want to make a splash, I think that these details, and clearly what we're hearing from lawmakers coming out of the room, could be the most damning to date on this impeachment inquiry.

KING: And sometimes somewhat reluctant witness is a more powerful witness, if you will. This is perhaps the biggest day thus far I would argue it is the biggest day thus far in impeachment inquiry in a sense that they have gathered evidence from other players. This is a key player and among the texts here again. Some Democrats say it's a quid pro quo. Others just say put that term aside. It's an abuse of power and it's corruption in foreign policy.

Bill Taylor texting Gordon Sondland, Gordon Sondland is the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. The President has put him in charge of the policy. Bill Taylor texted him back in September. Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meetings are conditioned on investigations? It looks like a quid pro quo, but it's certainly official business a White House meeting or the aide hung up on doing what the President wants. Gordon Sondland, call me. Which shows a sensitivity to let's not text about this.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, I mean, clearly Ambassador Taylor is one of those in the administration who was alarmed early on at what he saw developing in this relationship. That he is an experienced diplomat, he understands how these give and takes work, and contrary to what we've heard some people at the White House and some Republicans on Capitol Hill saying in recent days, this is not the normal channel and this is not the normal sort of back and forth between a new President of a country and the United States President.

He seemed to raise these alarms pretty frequently and pretty consistently with Sondland and the Special Envoy Kurt Volker in this text chain, and that's going to be something that congressional investigators really want to drill down on, not only to know what was the full context of that exchange, but what was prompting you to ask those questions, right?

What else had you seen, what other conversations or memos had you been privy to that led you to actually lay it out like that? Is this really - is this what we're saying, that the one is contingent on the other.

KING: Right. And to that point, we showed you the "call me." that's September 1st, so we glad on Monday September 9th, Taylor again to Sondland. As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance to help with a political campaign. Just think of that sentence, if that sentence is proven to be true and if the facts behind it are proven to be true. I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for the help of political campaign.

That is the abuse of power, the corruption the Democrats are building their impeachment case on. Here's what Ambassador Sondland said back after four and a half hours. I believe you're incorrect about the President's intentions. The President is very clear no quid pro quo of any kind. Ambassador Sondland testified he called the President. And the President - that's essentially what the President told him to say.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I thought one of the important clauses in that text is, as I said on the phone, and I think that's part of what he's going to be describing, those conversations as Julie said, that were happening outside this text chain.

The text chain enough is according to Democrats enough to prosecute the President. There was enough evidence of quid pro quo of people that were appointed by the President, appointed by the administration concerned that they were withholding aid at the same time the President was trying to pressuring Ukraine government to investigate 2016, investigate Democrats, investigate Joe Biden.

And the fact that there were phone calls and conversations that were happening as well that we haven't heard about yet or we haven't seen in these text messages, that's what the Democrats are going to want to get to the bottom of during these closed door hearings to find out what kinds of conversations were happening.

You saw all of those different instances where Sondland was saying, call me, let's not put this in writing. Let's not put this in texts. So there was more conversation about this, and if these hearings are happening in a way that allows Taylor to explain what was happening on the phone, it could be very damaging for the White House and very damaging for the administration.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: That text exchange was also the most obvious one which both parties are clearly putting their stuff on not on paper but putting their conversations - their verbal conversations on the record here. It feels like they're both aware that this is going to come out, these conversations are going to come out and so they're each sort of trying to document their position.

I do agree, though, the question is what triggered Taylor's concerns? How did the administration respond? And then ultimately did he find Sondland's last text credible and why?

[12:10:00]

KNOX: Was he serious when he said, if x happens, I will quit. These are all questions that I suspect they're trying to get at behind closed doors.

KING: And as they get at them, we've heard Manu Raju and others on CNN's Capitol Hill team reporting the last 24 hours that the Democrats might need a little bit more time. They never set a firm deadline, but initially they were saying, whispering, anyway, we hope to get this done by Thanksgiving.

And Mitch McConnell already told Senators if that happens, we'll have a trial on the Senate before Christmas. Now it's possible this goes on a little bit longer as the Democrats try to put the building blocks together. One of the members of the Democratic leadership saying, that's okay, as long as we get it right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM CLYBURN, (D-SC): I think about those old adages, haste makes waste is one of them. Let's not be hasty here. Let's check out terms, let's do what's necessary to lay the foundation, and I really believe we ought to have the American people satisfied with the product once it's produced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that mean before Christmas, Congressman?

CLYBURN: I would hope it's before Christmas, but it might be after Thanksgiving as well. I'm not going to put a timeline on it, but that's kind of where I feel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On the one hand, whatever you're doing, if it's something so important, and there's little more important than impeachment if you read the constitution, you want to take your time and get it right. It's also a political process and we're about to bookend in a presidential campaign year. How do they figure this out?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, I think Democrats did want to move as quickly as they could and strike while the iron is hot and while they could have a simple narrative that the public seemed able to understand. But I do think that is more and more of these witnesses come up, Taylor today we've had several others that are still scheduled to go.

It's a pretty complicated story that's emerging here and they're going to need to hold public hearings in order to really get this to the point where they are ready to have articles of impeachment. That is going to take a while, and I think there is an acknowledgment now with another recess coming up in a couple weeks they probably can't get there by Thanksgiving. They don't want to do sort of a botched job. They really want to make this as strong a case as they can.

KING: All right, we'll keep watch this one. Up next up for us to continue the conversation, President Trump says Republicans need to be loyal. Sometimes, though, he makes that very difficult.

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[12:15:00]

KING: House Republicans tonight are doing just as the President asked, giving a series of floor speeches bashing the Democrat led impeachment inquiry. But as the President urges Republican unity, his own words and his own actions are exacerbating GOP jitters. Most of those worries are kept private for now but they are very real.

GOP lawmakers watching the White House see the President calls impeachment a lynching as he did in that tweet today for example, but they don't see factual rebuttal of the abuse of power case the Democrats are building. Instead they hear an angry and often rambling President saying things they know aren't true.

CNN's fact team for example tallied at least 20 false statements from the President at yesterday's cabinet meeting, including this piece of fiction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: North Korea, I like him, he likes me. We get along. I respect him, he respects me. You could end up in a war. President Obama told me that. He said, the biggest problem, I don't know how to solve that. I said did you ever call him? Actually, he tried 11 times but the gentleman on the other side did not take his call, okay? Lack of respect but he takes my call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Obama Administration officials say they never tried to place any such call and then on the impeachment inquiry, also fiction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What happened to the whistleblowers? They're gone because they've been discredited. The whistleblower gave a false account. The whistleblower's account of my conversation was totally wrong.

The whistleblower had second and third hand information. You remember that. It was a big problem. They released the conversation and that threw shifty Schiff off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Catherine Lucey of "The Wall Street Journal" joins our conversation. Just to close that up, the whistleblower's account has been largely confirmed. The parts we've been able to corroborate including by the transcript that the President talks about and the President's own actions. This is a fascinating moment in the sense that the House is a different piece smaller districts conservative districts, most of them say for Republican districts.

They are going to the floor today. It will be interesting to hear how many of them actually defend what the President has done as opposed to bashing the Democratic process. But quietly, some publicly, but mostly quietly, a lot of Republicans looking to the White House and saying, if he keeps acting like that and they don't seem to have a defense team together, it makes the party nervous.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, this is something I've been hearing from a lot of Republicans outside the White House is that they keep looking to the President and his advisers to come up with some sort of coherent strategy.

And we talked before how they not set up any kind of war room internally, they haven't added sort of legal counsel outside, there is not a clear message they've landed on, and the President is really sort of driving this as a lone wolf in a lot of ways day to day, and that makes these members nervous.

They don't know exactly where they're going to be landing, and you don't want to go in one direction and the President goes somewhere else.

KING: And so they're get asked about, number one, they're going to get asked about what does Bill Taylor say? What about the texts? What about the witnesses last week? Maybe this isn't impeachable, sir, but isn't this wrong? That's the question a lot Republicans get then today they have to answer for this.

[12:20:00]

KING: Someday if the Democrat becomes President, 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 but we will win that from the President of United States the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MCCARTHY, REPUBLICAN MINORITY LEADER: That is not the language I would use. It's very clear that what the Democrats are doing here doesn't have due process. It's not fair in the process. It's not something that this House has done ever in the past. I don't agree with that language. It's pretty simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He just constantly puts them on the spot.

OLORUNNIPA: It's reprehensible language that the President used, and it's hard for these Republicans to defend it. You did see a couple of them try to defend it, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and now he's in hot water over his defense of the word lynching, and he is tried to kind of walk it back and try to explain what he was trying to say.

But Republicans are much rather be trying to defend the President with a coherent message about these impeachment hearings, or about the process, or about feeling like the President is not getting due process. Instead every day it's something new that they have to defend either the Doral G-7 location decision or Syria or the President's charges that the Ukraine call was perfect, he's not making it easy for his defenders try to defend him.

Instead he's throwing out new accusations that they have to defend on a daily basis, and we've heard from a number of Republicans that they're just getting exhausted with trying to defend the President on so many fronts with the lack of strategy, lack of coherence coming out of the White House, and it seems like every day the President is adding to that, and the fact that there it is no war room with making it easier for the President to lead the charge.

KING: And so today at point jump in, this is Justin Amash who left the Republican Party, he's now an independent, he's more of a tea party guy a libertarian guy from Michigan, he's feuded with the President many times, but he's pretty well liked actually among Republican House members. He says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JUSTIN AMASH, (I-MI): I think Mick was telling the truth there, that there was a quid pro quo, and then he went back and realized, well, that's not what the President wants to hear. They wish they weren't trapped in this position, and I hear that from my colleagues on the House floor. Frankly, I think a lot of the retirements that we hear about or people who are just trying to ride out this President and they might think of coming back into public office later on once this President is gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's right at least coherent my reporting about this sense of Trump's exhaustion and Trump fatigue. Some members leaving say I can't do it anymore, but the ones who stay who are going to get votes on this and have to be part of this where are they?

KNOX: That's all true, but I want underline Julie's point that this President backs down on the Doral question and he has appears to have modified may be back down certainly had a bunch of different back foots on the Turkey stuff and that gives you a sense of how unsettled behind scenes Republicans are - on the Turkey thing publicly, but some of them actually are by defending the White House. KING: And how unsettled he is to a degree too at the blowback. He is not used to blowback.

DAVIS: Well right, and the fact is that you know that Republicans tried this argument there was no quid pro quo, and then Mick Mulvaney went out and said, get over it, there was. Now he's obviously walked that back, but it's hard as you mentioned earlier for the President whose instinct is to get louder and more sort of extreme, the more under attack he feels. That makes Republicans who are willing to step up and try to defend him it makes their job even more difficult.

KING: Hard to keep your footing if the ground keeps shifting. Up next for us, more Americans than ever now say they support impeaching the President. But he says it's actually a good thing.

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[12:25:00]

KING: Brand new CNN poll released today shows support for impeachment continuing to grow. This poll marking the first time support for impeachment and removal from office has significantly outpaced the opposition to that.

Let's take a look at the numbers. Here we go 50 percent of Americans now say the President should be impeached and removed from office. 36 percent said yes back in March 2019. See the trajectory. That's not good for the President.

It's a short breakdown among demographic groups along partisan lines here it is pretty typical of the Trump presidency. Women tend to favor impeachment men only 44 percent favor it. Non-white off the charts nearly 7 in 10 non-white Americans favors impeachment, only 40 percent of whites do.

Among Democrats, almost 9 in 10 87 percent of Democrats say impeach this President, remove him from office. Only 6 percent, a tiny percentage of Republicans say that, the independent number worth watching given the politics of impeachment now 50 percent. That has moved up in recent months so the partisan breakdown pretty obvious.

Here's another example of that. Is what the President saying about Ukraine, is it false or true? Mostly false half of the country, mostly true, 44 percent of the country. But again look, 86 percent of Republicans say what the President says is mostly true, 83 percent of Democrats say what the President says is mostly false a partisan sharp divide there.

One of the interesting things is even though support for impeachment is going up this is a trend line that has continued pretty much throughout the Trump presidency, his approval rating essentially a flat line. It was 42 percent back in March, it is 41 percent now. Keep an eye on that as the impeachment inquiry continues. Does it hover there? Does it go up and down? That will have a heavyweight on the lawmakers who have to make the big decisions.

No President wants to be impeached. But as this President talks about it, he sees a political opportunity for himself and his party.