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Soon: Key U.S. Diplomat to Testify in Congress; Reports; Trump Listened to Putin & Hungary PM about Ukraine; Poll Shows Half of Americans Support Impeaching, Removing Trump; Can Klobuchar Turn Debate Spotlight into Campaign Momentum? Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- affect the future of this impeachment inquiry, because he may be able to connect the dots on a quid pro quo.

[07:00:08]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: There is also new reporting in "The Washington Post" and "New York Times." And those reports lay out that President Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine for information on political rivals came at the very same time he was being urged to adopt a hostile view of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the autocratic prime minister of Hungary.

The president will also be seeing these polls if his aides show them to him. This is a rising number of Americans who believe he should be impeached and removed from office. That number is now up to 50 percent. That's a new high in this brand-new CNN poll.

So joining us now to talk about all of this, we have CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She is the "New York Times" White House correspondent.

Let's start with Bill Taylor, because he's become so pivotal in terms of these text messages, because he called it crazy. What he saw was happening in terms of this favor. So -- and he's being described, as John said, as this, you know, straight shooter, this well-respected within diplomatic circles. He had been the Ukrainian ambassador for years before and was asked to come back in. So how is all of this playing in the White House, and what do we expect?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, what we expect is we're going to hear what Bill Taylor has to say, and then we assume we will hear something out of the committees, because this is closed-door testimony.

How this is playing overall in the White House is there is growing concern that the impeachment inquiry is going to turn something up that is going to to turn something up that will make it harder for Republicans to stand by the president. That doesn't mean that they expect that that is necessarily where it's going.

But I think as the president has sort of thrashed around, and you saw it last week when they announced the selection of the Doral to host the G-7, which the president walked back, where you saw Mick Mulvaney acknowledge a quid pro quo and then walk it back. The White House is aware that they are doing things that are making this harder on themselves.

So the more that there are witnesses who are coming forward to suggest sort of corrupt intent, which I think is what Democrats are hoping Bill Taylor will point to, the White House knows it has not made its own path easier.

BERMAN: He certainly wondered about corrupt intent on the text messages we've seen. Let me just read them again. Taylor says in a text message to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations. To which Sondland responded.

CAMEROTA: Call me.

BERMAN: And then he also wrote in a separate text message, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

So that's what Taylor has said on text messages this far.

The other thing that interests me about Taylor, is he's part of this parade of people who have gone in to testify, despite the fact that the White House tried to keep everyone from testifying.

HABERMAN: That's right. You've seen a real breach in this sort of wall of silence that the White House was trying to put together, and they had successfully, since the Mueller probe wrapped their posture towards Congress, the Democrat-held Congress as it changed hands, their posture has been we're not giving you anything. We cooperated for two years on the Mueller probe or your related -- and probes related to it in the House committees. We're done here. This is just a witch hunt. And they were able to keep people from doing so, from going forward and cooperating.

They have not had that success more recently. There are people who are not Trump loyalists. For the most part, that's who it is. It's either people who are career officers or people who have lengthy experience in Washington prior to serving this president, who have gone ahead and said, you know, it's my obligation to testify. And what they have painted is a picture that has at times been damning for this White House.

CAMEROTA: But some of them have been pressed by subpoena. I mean, Bill Taylor --

HABERMAN: Oh, I don't -- Nobody's really marching in without being forced to by a subpoena, but what they have said is, we're not going to violate the law.

Whereas you had people like, you know, Hope Hicks, for instance, the former White House communications director who essentially found some middle path to cooperate with a subpoena but didn't -- went with administration lawyers to her hearing, didn't answer a ton of questions. That's not what you're seeing with these people.

CAMEROTA: I guess my point is that Bill Taylor could still be blocked this morning by the State Department. He hasn't been subpoenaed.

HABERMAN: He could, although I think that it will go more likely the route of other diplomats who we have seen who have been subpoenaed and then have said we're going to go even when the State Department has said no.

BERMAN: They don't have a lot of options here. They'd have to physically block them from walking in, and so far all these official, current and former, have walked in on their own volition, once they received a subpoena.

Maggie, the other big news overnight, coming from both your paper and "Washington Post," puts the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, in the middle of the time line of the president's increasing or explosive ire towards Ukraine. He had meetings with Putin and Orban in the spring in the middle of him deciding not to hold meetings with Zelensky or to at least put pressure on Zelensky to investigate there.

That happened before the calls for investigation, but talk to me about this reporting and its significance.

HABERMAN: Sure, look, the timing is certainly noteworthy. We don't know the substance of what was said in these conversations, beyond the fact that there was criticism, as we understand it, of Zelensky made to the president.

[07:05:08]

We know the president has tended to be, at minimum, in his conversations with Putin, pretty receptive to what Putin has suggested about foreign policy or about whether Russia, you know, meddled in the U.S. election in 2016 and other topics.

You have heard the president of the United States recite Putin's talking points at a press conference in Helsinki. So it's worth noting that among the people in his ear at that point being critical of Zelensky was Putin. This is, you know, contrary to what U.S. policy would indicate. Putin is not somebody who, typically, a U.S. president's advisers want him seeking information from.

Again, we don't know that it played any role in terms of seeking the probe. There's no indication that Biden came up in those conversations, but could it have added to the weight in the president's mind against having a meeting that some aides wanted him to have, others -- others did not? Sure, certainly.

CAMEROTA: And by the way, part of why we don't know what happened in these meetings, at least the May one with Prime Minister Orban of Hungary is because there were no note takers.

HABERMAN: Right. I mean, this has, again, been an issue repeatedly with this White House where the president has tried to keep note takers out of certain meetings. And that is going to -- and they did it because of leaks early on about these foreign leader interactions, but it's going to limit the availability of the information.

BERMAN: And the other character involved in these meetings is John Bolton --

HABERMAN: Right.

BERMAN: -- the former national security adviser. Let me just read what "The Times" reports here. "Just ten days before a key meeting on Ukraine, President Trump met over the objections of his national security adviser" -- who at that time was John Bolton -- "with one of the former Soviet republic's most virulent critics" -- talking about Ukraine's most virulent critics -- "Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and heard a sharp assessment that bolstered his hostility toward that country."

Bolton and others wanted to keep Orban away from President Trump. Why?

HABERMAN: Well, I'm assuming -- I mean, I don't know, so I'm just -- I'm speculating here, which as you know, I'm generally loathe to do, but I do think that there is a reasonable assumption to be made that it is because John Bolton knows that the president can be receptive to certain streams of information.

As we know, this is a president who's very influenced by whoever he spoke to last, and I think that John Bolton may have had concerns about what Orban was going to say to this president in the midst of all of these other issues.

CAMEROTA: OK. That leads us to the impeachment inquiry. In terms of the time line, it's changing, it sounds like. So at one time, the time line, it sounded like a vote on articles of impeachment could happen this month, in October. That was the first thinking last month, because things were happening with such rapid speed.

Then we heard -- well, before the holidays, meaning sometime in November. Now we're hearing maybe the end of the year, maybe beyond. And it sounds like it's because they're getting such a deluge of information from all of the people that they've called in behind -- to these closed-door depositions that they're not ready to wrap it up yet. And that is, I think, concerning for Democrats, because they know that the public will only have so much patience.

HABERMAN: The public will only have so much patience if this drags into an election year. I think there is a risk for Democrats. I think Nancy Pelosi is keenly aware of that. And I think that she has been trying to keep this as succinct and tight as possible.

We certainly know that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who is sympathetic to President Trump, would like to have a trial very quickly after that. He has told his caucus to prepare for one.

But I don't think he wants this dragging into next year either for the same reasons. I think that Nancy Pelosi is going to be faced with a potentially unpalatable choice, which is wrap up when there are still other threads out there to follow, or follow those threads and risk what happened with the Mueller report, which is that you had a lot of Democrats very vocally, very frontally, putting all of their chips in that basket where Mueller's going to turn something up.

And what Mueller turned up was largely what the reporting in real time was revealing, and there was not some smoking gun. And I think that there were a lot of Democrats who wished they had not hyped it the way they did. So I think they're going to have to make a choice, and they're going to have to make it very soon.

BERMAN: They keep on learning new stuff, though. The challenge for Nancy Pelosi is, as more and more stuff comes out, it might be appealing to try to get more. We don't know yet.

I do want to ask you, Maggie, something the president said yesterday. I think this was the interview last night with Sean Hannity. He suggested he was going to terminate "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times."

HABERMAN: I mean, I assume he meant terminate subscriptions, because I don't think -- it's still not within a U.S. president's ability to terminate newspapers. So I'm assuming that this was about subscriptions going to the White House. And it's very hard for me to see a president who needs the media like -- like oxygen cutting off subscriptions to either paper.

BERMAN: And if he did cut off subscriptions, I'm not sure that would affect "The New York Times'" bottom line.

HABERMAN: I think it would be OK. Everybody has -- we love all subscribers, but I think the president obviously has to make his own decision about his reading material.

CAMEROTA: You don't seem to be panicking right now.

HABERMAN: I'm OK.

CAMEROTA: We're good.

Let's talk about something that I know is -- well, that we hear is close to the president's concerns, and that is these -- the campaign promise that he made to bring U.S. troops home. And that was what he said was the impulse and rationale for what he was doing in Syria, and now they're not coming home. They're going different places.

[07:10:06]

HABERMAN: They were never coming home. So just to be clear -- I mean, I think that part of the problem, in terms of describing what happened with his decision in Syria was that they were explaining a reaction that he had to Erdogan, the Turkish leader, which was basically based on Erdogan making an announcement which is ongoing across the border into Syria and the president, depending on who you talk to -- we have some administration officials telling us he didn't push back. We have some saying he did very strongly. And then he did that infamous letter right afterwards the next day. Or within a few days.

I think that they are struggling to explain something where this president invariably looks weak, because it looks as if he didn't stand up to Erdogan.

The decision that they made in northern Syria was about -- and this has been described to us by all sources -- was about protecting troops who were in harm's way, who were basically just sitting ducks, because the U.S. did not have tens of thousands of troops that they were going to send in to protect them.

But it got spun as this sort of -- part of an "America first" message when they were really just being deployed elsewhere in the region. They're still not coming home, and now there is a discussion, and it's an understandable one, about leaving troops in northeast Syria near the Iraq border to continue counterterrorism operations.

The president, I think -- well, I think he understands the necessity of that, in a lot of respects. He's struggling with it, because his public persona has been about bring them home. There's a really good piece by my colleagues today in "The Times" about how few troops have actually been brought home. We have more troops now than we did during Obama's era. But because this president repeatedly says "America first," that does not get as much focus.

BERMAN: Maggie, it's about 7:11 a.m. Where are we this morning on the Mick Mulvaney as chief of staff watch? And where does he fit into what you describe as an increasingly smaller and smaller circle of trust?

HABERMAN: Look, he's in that circle of trust, although I don't think he's quite as high as he had been. I think that the president, as we all have heard, was not particularly pleased with the last several days of his performance.

Mick Mulvaney is safe at least through the impeachment inquiry, according to everyone I talked to. I think they recognize that right now is not the time to make a change, and Frankly, even if they did make a change, they don't have a great candidate at the ready.

I mean, Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, is still seen as a possible future chief of staff. But that's not happening at this moment. Let's get through the impeachment inquiry, and then we can talk about it.

But I mean, it's worth remembering we talk about Mulvaney as on thin ice. I had one White House aide say to me yesterday, we're all always on thin ice. And I think that's important to bear in mind.

CAMEROTA: I agree. Everyone's days are numbered.

BERMAN: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: And I don't mean that as an existential profound philosophy.

HABERMAN: In general, it's true.

CAMEROTA: But I am right about that, as well.

Maggie, thank you very much.

HABERMAN: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: All right. We have this brand-new CNN poll about how Americans feel about impeaching and removing the president. A milestone in the CNN polling. We'll tell you what that is, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:17:18]

CAMEROTA: A new CNN poll shows the numbers of Americans who support impeaching and removing President Trump from office has gone up. Here to break down these numbers is CNN political director David Chalian. Hot off the presses, just out this morning, what are you seeing, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Good morning, Alisyn. That's right. Here's our exclusive CNN poll, conducted by SSRS.

Fifty percent say they are for impeaching and removing the president from office. This is a high-water mark in CNN polling. Take a look over time. You can see the growth over the year.

This is 50 percent now up here for impeach and remove. Just last month, it was at 47 percent.

And take a look at it by party. I think you'll see a huge divide here. Democrats, 87 percent say impeach and remove. Fifty percent of independents. That's where the country is overall. Only 6 percent of Republicans.

And I want you to look at this question to get a sense of how polarizing this issue is. We asked sort of what's the motivation? Why do most congressional Democrats back impeachment? Do you think it's because the president committed impeachable offenses or do you believe the Democrats are out to get Democrats at all costs?

Democrats, 86 percent say no, they're doing this because the president committed impeachable offenses. Take a look at Republicans. Only 8 percent say that. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans say the Democrats are doing this just to get Donald Trump at any cost whatsoever. Look at his approval rating, 41 percent; the president is holding steady. This is about where he's been throughout his presidency. Disapproval at 57 percent.

And look at this number by party. This, I think, may be the most important number in the entire poll. 90 percent of Republicans approve of the job the president's doing.

This is going to be a really critical number that a lot of Republicans in Congress are going to pay attention to, which is why we may not see as many cracks as we think we could.

And then I want you to look at where the president is historically at this point in his presidency, compared to his modern-day predecessors. He's down here near the bottom. Only Jimmy Carter was worse at this point in his presidency. But he has some company in the mid to upper 40s. The four gentlemen ahead of him, all in that 40 percent range, in the upper 40s, they were all reelected to second terms, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, 90 percent of Republicans as you point out still supporting President Trump. That tells you all you need to know. I mean, that tells you what Republicans in Congress are thinking, what voters are thinking.

BERMAN: What Republican voters are thinking.

CAMEROTA: Well, it tells you what Republican voters are thinking, but it's also, I think, good for all voters to hear that so that they have a good sense of what these primaries and elections are all about.

BERMAN: It is interesting that 50 percent of independents, though, now support removal from office.

CAMEROTA: That is also --

(CROSSTALK)

[07:20:03]

CHALIAN: As you know, John, if you're in a moderate district or a swing district, you're going to pay a lot of attention to that independent number. But if you're in a district where you are more concerned about a Republican primary, that Republican number is going to mean everything.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting, David. Thank you.

CHALIAN: Sure.

CAMEROTA: OK, so 19 Democratic candidates are apparently not enough for some people. Why some donors, big donors are thinking about alternative candidates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:24:57]

BERMAN: One hundred and four days until the Iowa caucuses, which Alisyn thinks is a long time.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I do.

BERMAN: I think it's basically tomorrow.

One candidate trying to make a big move there is Senator Amy Klobuchar, taking some swings at opponents and hoping to build on her momentum from last week.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny caught up with Klobuchar in Iowa and now joins us live with that -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, good morning.

I mean, Senator Amy Klobuchar knows she's an underdog in this race, and she's embracing it, reminding voters that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were far from frontrunners at this point of their own campaigns. And she told every audience that she can win in Trump country as she's done in Minnesota, and Democrats, she says, are making a mistake to pick a nominee who cannot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, guys, wow.

ZELENY (voice-over): Senator Amy Klobuchar is on the move.

KLOBUCHAR: Great to be here.

ZELENY: With no time to mince words or hold back. She's racing across Iowa, trying to turn her moment on last week's debate stage --

KLOBUCHAR: I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth.

ZELENY: -- into momentum on the campaign trail.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

ZELENY: It's clear she's tapping into something.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "How do you plan to address all the free stuff other candidates are promoting? Nothing in life is free."

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Well, there we go. Well, we're going to give you all a free chocolate chip cookie when you leave. No.

ZELENY: At a town hall meeting in Davenport, that question was submitted by Susan Strodtbeck, a retired teacher who likes what she hears from Klobuchar.

(on camera): And elaborate who you're talking about when you say free stuff.

SUSAN STRODTBECK, RETIRED TEACHER: I'm talking about Bernie. I'm talking about Elizabeth Warren and how -- how college is going to be free, how health care is going to be free. I'm sorry, we can't do that.

ZELENY (voice-over): A fresh sense of urgency is surrounding Klobuchar's candidacy as she scrambles to qualify for the November debate. Still an underdog, her confidence is rising.

KLOBUCHAR: And I have a bus. I mean, come on. ZELENY: We rode along to ask about her increasingly pointed message

toward her rivals.

KLOBUCHAR: That's why I get concerned when some of the other candidates are making promises that I don't think that they can keep.

ZELENY (on camera): You're saying that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are not being straight with people by how they would pay for all these programs?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes.

ZELENY: Have you made that case, do you think, to some of those progressive voters who say now is the time to think big?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes, but I'm thinking big, too.

ZELENY: Essentially Senator Warren said, though, that you're not thinking big enough, you're not thinking bold enough.

KLOBUCHAR: I guess big enough only means that everything's free? Is that what it means?

ZELENY (voice-over): There's little doubt that Warren and Sanders have stirred far louder enthusiasm, but Klobuchar is testing the appetite for a moderate message in a party moving unmistakably to the left. She's signing up voters one at a time, making the case Democrats must choose a candidate who can win in Trump country.

BETSY PILKINGTON, IOWA VOTER: For the first time I thought she came across as being a lot more forceful. She was a force to reckon with.

ZELENY: Becky Pilkington took notice of Klobuchar last week and contributed to her campaign. She's one of the new donors who helped Klobuchar raise more than a million dollars in the first 24 hours after the debate.

PILKINGTON: I liked what she had to say, that she was more centrist. She wasn't afraid to go up against Elizabeth Warren.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So in the six days after the Ohio debate, she has now raised $2 million. That's half as much as she raised in the last three months alone.

And among the many voters we talked to along the way, there clearly is a market for her moderate message. Now she must convince Democrats that she's the right candidate to deliver on that message.

But one thing is clear: questions from her and Pete Buttigieg have forced Elizabeth Warren to do something she hadn't done before. That's explaining how she'll pay for her biggest proposal of all, Medicare for all, which Senator Klobuchar does not support. She thinks it's unworkable -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Jeff, thank you very much for that profile.

So as Senator Klobuchar tries to make headway, "The New York Times" this morning reports that some people in the Democratic establishment may be looking for entirely new candidates to take on President Trump in the general election.

BERMAN: Because 20 whatever isn't enough.

CAMEROTA: Nineteen is not enough for some people.

Joining us now is Aisha Moodie-Mills, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist; and Frank Bruni, CNN contributor and "New York Times" op-ed columnist.

Has there ever been a more fickle bunch of voters than Democratic primary voters who don't like 19 -- may not like -- well, actually, these are donors that we're talking about.

Let me read a portion -- let me read a portion from "The New York Times" this morning. "With doubts rising about Joe Biden's ability to finance a multistate primary campaign, persistent questions about Senator Elizabeth Warren's viability in a general election, and skepticism that Mayor Pete Buttigieg can broaden his appeal beyond white voters, Democratic leaders are engaging in a familiar rite: fretting about who is in the race and longing for a white knight to enter the contest at the last minute."

Nineteen is not enough for them?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, thank you so much for clarifying the fact that these are a bunch of donors, who certainly aren't the voters who are actually on the ground.

I have been in Democratic politics for over 20 years, and I am so frustrated and annoyed constantly with the donor class trying to dictate what's going to happen on the ground, because they're the ones spending the dollars.

[07:30:00]