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Top Diplomat Directly Ties Trump to Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; CNN Poll: Biden Widens Lead Over 2020 Democratic Rivals; Zuckerberg to Testify on Capitol Hill. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Wednesday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


From no quid pro quo to, yes, quid pro quo, and I took notes. The top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, meticulously connecting the dots, laying out for all to see the Trump administration's shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. Taylor's explosive, extremely detailed testimony on Capitol Hill directly tying President Trump to a quid pro quo. An exchange with Ukraine.

Ambassador Taylor telling Congress that multiple senior administration officials informed him that the president personally blocked military aid to Ukraine and refused to meet with that country's new president unless Ukraine agreed to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election.

HARLOW: That is big. We will lay it all out for you this morning. Meantime, CNN has learned that members of the president's inner circle are urging him to accept the fact that they believe impeachment is coming and that it's now time they say to focus on attacking Democrats and on the whole impeachment process itself.

All of this as two more top U.S. officials are expected to testify this morning on Capitol Hill. So let's begin there. Let's go to our Manu Raju who joins us on the Hill.

Let's talk about Bill Taylor's testimony because your reporting this morning, Manu, is that there were audible sighs and gasps as Taylor read that opening statement.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and in one specific passage, in particular, one in which the -- for the first time he revealed that he was told -- Bill Taylor was told that the reason why the delay had been withheld was because President Trump wanted this public declaration by the Ukrainian government to investigate Burisma, which is the company that Hunter Biden had been employed by and as well as the 2016 elections.

This is the first time really tying those two elements together undercutting that White House defense that there was no quid pro quo, I'm told, by a source in the room that there were gasps at that particular moment. But in addition to that, what he detailed that throughout his tenure as the top diplomat in Ukraine, he had grown increasingly concerned about why aid had not been withheld, why they couldn't get a meeting between the new Ukrainian administration and President Trump and they begin to learn more and more that this has been -- was conditioned on the fact that the president was demanding these investigations which could help him in his re-election campaign and raising some serious concerns with security assistance being withheld from Ukraine could cost lives as the country is engaged in conflict with Russia.

Now what he said was this. Ambassador Sondland, referring to the ambassador to the European Union, also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations. In fact, Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.

He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a public box by making a public statement about ordering such investigations. Now today, this committee will hear testimony in just about an hour from a senior Defense Department official, Laura Cooper, who is involved in the Ukraine aid matter and perhaps could shed more light about why this aid was withheld. The directions are to be given from the White House by holding back this key military aid.

So this is the key focus for this investigation this week. But as you see, Bill Taylor, providing riveting testimony that Democrats believe is only going to fuel the impeachment push -- guys.

HARLOW: There's a lot going on and I do think it's notable that those two people we'll hear from today, Michael Duffy and Laura Cooper, you know, are going against sort of -- you know, what the directive was and they're voluntarily apparently showing up to testify.

Thanks, Manu.

SCIUTTO: The Ukraine story is moving quickly. What is clear is that in little more than a month, sworn testimonies now corroborated the core of that whistleblower's complaint.

Let's take a moment to take stock. On August 12th, a whistleblower filed a complaint with the intelligence community arguing that President Trump abused his power by demanding that Ukraine investigate his political rival while withholding military aid. And that the president's personal lawyer was in effect taking over U.S. policy towards Ukraine.

After that complaint was released, text messages came out revealing conversations between top Ukraine diplomat Bill Taylor and E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland in which Taylor raises red flags about the apparent quid pro quo, a claim Sondland denied only after asking the president.


Then on October 11th, the ambassador who preceded Taylor, Marie Yovanovitch, testified before Congress that Giuliani and his associates had orchestrated to remove her as ambassador, citing, she said, their, quote, "clearly questionable motives."

Now last Thursday, Sondland broke with the president testifying that he was directed by Trump to work with Giuliani on Ukraine, noting his own opposition. Quote, "Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president's personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. policy toward Ukraine."

And now there's Bill Taylor. Under oath, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and decorated military veteran testified that he was told that the military aid to Kiev dependent on a pledge to investigate the 2016 election -- conspiracy theory about it, frankly -- and the Bidens, directly refuting the president's claim that there was no quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine.

HARLOW: Wow. And it's only Wednesday.

All right. Joining us now to talk about the big picture here that you laid out so well, Mike Rogers, former House Intelligence chairman, CNN national security commentator.

All right, so, Chairman Rogers, Bill Taylor goes behind closed doors and says everything. Everything including security assistance to Ukraine was conditional on having this investigation and the president tweets this morning, well, there's no quo because Ukraine didn't know we were withholding military aid. That's where we are this morning. What does it mean for the president?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, obviously, this is -- this is a bad day for the president. If his team knows that or not, we don't know yet. But this is a bad day. I mean, he corroborates what the whistleblower was saying in their complaint, number one, and number two, he outlines what -- somewhat kind of bolsters Sondland's testimony that, yes, there were discussions. It was sent out on this alternative track which is, you know, as an old FBI guy, reminds me of a second set of books, right?

None of that has ever turns out to be a good thing. And that's exactly what was happening here. They were farming it out. Clearly, it's starting to appear for political purposes. And again, this doesn't look right. Does it rise to the level of impeachment? I'm still going to hold that but this really looks bad. And it's not helpful to a whole host of other issues surrounding this.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because the White House attack line has now gone after Bill Taylor and others. And I'm going to quote from the White House statement, from Stephanie Grisham yesterday, "President Trump has done nothing wrong. This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution."

You know, as well as me, who Bill Taylor is. He served Republican and Democratic administrations. He's a veteran of the 82nd Air Born, 101st Air Born, he served in Vietnam. He took on diplomatic postings in Iraq, Afghanistan, to NATO, Israel and beyond.

Is Bill Taylor a radical, unelected bureaucrat, and does that line of attack work for the White House?

ROGERS: No, no, first of all, Bill Taylor is a well-respected diplomat over his decades of service to the United States. So what it tells me is, when you go on this kind of extreme shouting, hair-on- fire criticism that you're running out of a game plan. That's exactly what that tells me. To attack a guy like Bill Taylor, you may disagree with him, you may think his testimony doesn't exactly line up with where you think the -- that's all fair game. You can -- you know, you can question all of that.

But to attack him personally like this, you know, in my mind, is -- well, it's just -- it's dangerous for this whole notion of what we have going on. Think about what just happened. We picked up and ran from Syria at the drop of a hat against all the advice from both military and diplomatic advisers. We got into this kerfuffle here where we've just told the world, don't worry about the State Department. We've got this other channel and that other channel and by the way, headed by my personal lawyer.

I mean, none of this looks good for the United States going forward. And it puts, really, hurdles and challenges in front of our diplomats around the world in a way that is hard to unwind here in the short term.

HARLOW: Yes. That's such an important point. Big picture, right? What this means again for the U.S. on the world stage and the work that these diplomats are trying to do each and every day.

There are two key discrepancies between what -- you know, what Ambassador Sondland said under oath and what Bill Taylor said under oath about two key things. Right? About the July meeting at the White House between, you know, White House officials and a -- and Ukraine. And about a key phone call on September 9th.

So, you know, even Republican Congressman Will Hurd wants Sondland to come back. How significant is it that you have those key differences and someone is not telling the truth, right? And they were both under oath. So --


ROGERS: Well, to be fair, some -- you know, some people's recollection can, you know, not accurately reflect maybe how the conversation went. So, I would hesitate up front to say that somebody was being blatantly dishonest. That may be their world view of exactly how it happened.

What is going to give Taylor more credibility is that he took notes through this whole thing and then referred to his --

HARLOW: Yes. ROGERS: Referred to those notes through his testimony. That's a

powerful thing. He kept kind of a running log of what was going on at the time. That means that he's probably closer to where the facts are than Sondland, unless Sondland has done the same. And so, I do think that this is going to be an important part of this investigation is just trying to determine -- now if it's just a he said-she said kind of event.


ROGERS: You know, that takes on a whole different light. But if it's stronger than that, then I -- again, I think they're going to have some problems with this, with the differences in that testimony.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's looking increasingly like a "they said" event, right? Because a lot of the witnesses' testimony seems to line up.

I do want to get to something that Ambassador Sondland said. He tried to -- rather, Bill Taylor said about what Sondland said to him.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: This is from Taylor's opening statement. "Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said the businessman asked that person to pay up before signing the check."

Tell us what that says to you about how the president in this case appeared to be running U.S. foreign policy in, by the way, an area of key national security concern. Ukraine is at war with Russia. That's what this aid is about.


SCIUTTO: And here was the president, Sondland saying, behaving like a businessman here. What's your reaction?

ROGERS: Listen, I think we have seen a pattern where there's a little bit more New York businessman, real estate guy in some of these decisions than I think most of us would care to see. And I think this is candidly an example of that. And what I hope doesn't get lost in this, right, so he's making these kinds of decisions. He does it pretty flippantly. Syria, to me, is a -- you know, one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes of this presidency and maybe others as well, where real people got killed and are still getting killed.

And to tell the military that's under siege by the Russians today, some 13,000 Ukrainians have given their lives in this fight for freedom, that we're going to play this silly game about making sure, maybe ammunition shows up or maybe it doesn't, it tells me that you're not connected to the real world events and the consequences of decisions that happen in these particular cases.

SCIUTTO: Yes. ROGERS: That's what worries me more than anything about this. And --

you know, and a team that would surround him to allow that to happen is shocking to me.

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's sobering to hear. You know these issues well, Mike Rogers.


SCIUTTO: Great to have you on.

HARLOW: Thank you.

ROGERS: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, this morning, CNN has learned that some Trump aides are urging the White House to beef up its response to the impeachment inquiry.

Joe Johns joins us now live.

HARLOW: Good morning, Joe. What are you hearing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty obvious, at least one thing is true, is that there's been a lot of concern about the messaging effort here at the White House and there have been a lot of questions about whether the White House needs to beef up its communications team or even tweak the message.

What we do know is that they have settled on the idea of attacking the House inquiry on the area of due process as well as fundamental fairness. This, of course, is because the White House wants to point out the fact that the process that's going on on Capitol Hill right now is very different from the process that involved Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. The Democrats, of course, say that's because there is no special prosecutor in the situation, and they do also say that the hearings will not always be secret. At some point they'll actually have public hearings.

Now we're also getting some other information from CNN's Dana Bash essentially indicating that the president has been told to accept the inevitability of impeachment and focus on a Senate trial. Of course, we know that is what the president has been doing and pushing the Republicans.

As far as news today, we need to also report that around 11:00 Eastern Time, the president has tweeted out that he plans to make a statement on the Syria and Turkey situation with the Kurds being abandoned as the United States military forces have withdrawn. The president apparently trying to get out ahead of that resolution introduced just yesterday by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell warning the administration on the implications of the decision the president made.

Back to you.

HARLOW: It's significant. Joe Johns, thank you very, very much. This morning we also have a fascinating new CNN poll. It shows that

Joe Biden is widening his lead over his Democratic rivals in the 2020 race. We'll dig into that ahead.

SCIUTTO: And the anonymous senior Trump administration official who wrote that famous "New York Times" op-ed that called the president treasonous has now written a book, though, again, anonymously.

What will the president say when that comes up?


HARLOW: All right, that is Laurie Cooper -- or Laura Cooper rather arriving just a moment ago, the deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. A big, staunch defender of Ukraine and who has on multiple trips there promised U.S. military aid and protection to Ukraine from the Russians.


She's about to testify on Capitol Hill voluntarily against the direction of the White House and others. She is going with a private lawyer to testify, following that explosive testimony from Bill Taylor; the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

More now on that. Bill Taylor undercutting the president's insistence that there was no quid pro quo and testifying that he was told unless Ukrainian President Zelensky publicly announced a political investigation, the U.S. would not release millions of dollars in aid.

SCIUTTO: Now, sources telling CNN that the White House aides there pushing President Trump to accept the fact that the house will impeach him, get ready for it --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss all this, Molly Ball; national political correspondent for "Time" and CNN political analyst, and Michael Gerhardt; he's UNC law professor and CNN legal analyst. Good morning to both of you. You know, Bill Taylor's testimony remarkable for a whole host of reasons. One, of course because it seems to corroborate this idea of quid pro quo.

But let's look at what the quo was. What the "this" for "that" was here because not only was it to investigate Burisma, and by the way, this is more pictures of Laura Cooper; the Defense Department official who was in charge of Ukraine policy. She'll be speaking on the Hill shortly. Of course, her testimony key to this.

But Trump pressuring Ukraine, not only to investigate Burisma because of Joe Biden's son's involvement on the board there, but also Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election which is a conspiracy theory. There's nothing to support this, Molly Ball, and yet, the president won't let it go. Intel community found with high confidence it was Russia. They have loads of data, but he's still chasing down this idea that somehow the DNC server is being secretly held in Ukraine.

That is a remarkable thing to hear a little more than a year before the next election when Russia will try again to interfere.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Absolutely. And I think as you alluded to, it's also remarkable that the quo being alleged wasn't the investigation per se, but this public statement that what --

HARLOW: Right --

BALL: The president was really seeking was not for an investigation to be done in private because he had some sincere concern about corruption as the administration's been saying. It wasn't that. It was to come out and say it so that he could use it --

HARLOW: Yes --

BALL: In the campaign, so that he could use it to try to smear --

HARLOW: Right --

BALL: Joe Biden in the campaign --

HARLOW: That's so --

BALL: With this conspiracy theory --


BALL: So it would become political ammunition. I think it would have been a different thing although still problematic if it was just a -- we'd like to know you're looking into this.

HARLOW: Right --

BALL: That wasn't what it was, it was we need you --

HARLOW: Well --

BALL: To come forward --

SCIUTTO: You know, as Molly made that point, both we were probably -- our heads were --

HARLOW: We were --

SCIUTTO: Our heads were --

HARLOW: Good point --

SCIUTTO: Nodding because that is -- it was going to be political ammunition.

HARLOW: And that Sondland, according to Bill Taylor recommended the language. Recommended that Zelensky use the words no stone -- leave no stone unturned. Molly, you make a great point. Michael, to you. In your mind, Taylor's testimony finished the destruction of one of the president's defenses.

But he has a new one this morning, and his new one on Twitter is, well, Ukraine didn't know we were withholding any aid, so there's no quo. What do you think?

MICHAEL GERHARDT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: That's completely irrelevant. This testimony was explosive. It really strengthened the connection between President Trump and all the activity that was going on in the Ukraine that was driving toward one thing. That is to get the Ukrainian leaders to agree to make a public statement that we just described.

To at least say they're starting an investigation all tied to the president's re-election. This actually strengthens the case as does prior testimony that the president may well have committed an impeachable offense.

SCIUTTO: It's a remarkable statement. And you know, Molly, we did this earlier in the broadcast here. Just to track -- it's not an evolution because it's moving heck a lot quicker than evolution, of what we learned here that you now have sworn testimony that corroborates what the whistle-blower said.

But also a constantly-changing explanation or defense from the White House. I mean, first, the president and the supporters said there was no pressure applied. Then they said, yes, pressure applied but it was not a quid pro quo. Now, the president seems to be saying, well, you know, yes, it was tied to investigating Biden and they've kind of granted that, hard to deny it when others are saying that it happened.

But that the Ukrainians didn't know. It's -- you know, are Republicans on board with this constantly-changing story from the White House?

BALL: I would say that Republicans -- my Republican sources on Capitol Hill are really nervous about this because they do fear and it's been a pattern with this president that he asks you to go way out on a limb for him, and then he saws off the limb because he doesn't necessarily reciprocate the loyalty that people have for him.

And because his story tends to -- it seems to be constantly changing.

HARLOW: Right --


BALL: And a lot of people suspect that's because it isn't true and they're just making up whatever they can in the moment to try to throw something at the wall to try to forestall this very damaging story. So you do have a lot of Republicans still trying to lie low, trying not to answer questions about this because they do fear that they are being asked to defend the indefensible, and they do fear that whatever they say today might be undercut tomorrow or they'll have to reverse themselves and they're tired of it. They don't feel like they've gotten a lot in return for how far --

HARLOW: Sure --

BALL: They have defended the administration to this point.

HARLOW: Michael, what do you think it means, how significant do you think it is that the most damaging testimony for the president in this inquiry has come from his people? People that he chose, people that he appointed, people that he -- you know, pulled out --


HARLOW: Of retirement like Taylor to take the jobs?

GERHARDT: That's absolutely right. There's no left wing conspiracy here. What we're seeing is life-long servants of the American public, people that are truly dedicated to the American interests are basically refusing to comply with the request not to show up. Instead, they're coming forward and telling what we presume and apparently is the truth.

And that truth really again connects the president to this activity which clearly is problematic. You don't need a quid pro quo for an impeachable offense, but you've got one here supported by the evidence.

HARLOW: Molly Ball, Michael Gerhardt, thank you both, we'll see what the rest of Wednesday brings. Still ahead, a brand-new CNN poll this morning, it shows Joe Biden with the big lead, his biggest lead since April in the 2020 Democratic field. We'll break down all the numbers.

SCIUTTO: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. So far, futures indicating a flat start, corporate earnings news from Boeing coming in. Investors will also be watching Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony on Capitol Hill in the next hour. He's testifying to the House Financial Services Committee to defend Facebook's cryptocurrency project, it's called Libra.

But he'll no doubt have to answer questions about Facebook's handling of political ads and content ahead of the 2020 election. How will they be doing? We'll learn more.