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Chaos Erupts As GOP Lawmakers Storm Witness Deposition; Most Damning Testimony Yet In The Impeachment Inquiry Comes From Top Diplomat In Ukraine, Bill Taylor; Trump Calls Republican Critics "Human Scum." Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin, you're watching CNN. Thank you for being here. A shocking scene today on Capitol Hill, one that some Democrats say resembled a mob and the closest thing to quote "civil unrest" that they have ever seen since joining Congress.

Congressional Republicans outraged, is what they say is a sham Impeachment Inquiry launched by their colleagues across the aisle stormed this closed-door deposition in a secure room and disrupted the testimony of the Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary.

They claim that the process and not the actual testimony regarding President Trump and his behavior on Ukraine is the issue.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): It should be the people of this country who decide who is going to be the President, not Nancy Pelosi and not Adam Schiff in secret behind-closed doors.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The millions of Americans that we represent that want to see this Congress working for them and not obsessed with attacking a President who we believe has not done anything to deserve impeachment.

REP. MARK WALKER, (R-NC): It is a sham and it's time for it to end.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): What is happening here is not fair.

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): And it's a total political hit job on the President of the United States.


BALDWIN: And folks, it isn't over yet. Those Republicans are still in that secure room refusing to leave. One Democratic congressman tells CNN that snacks were brought in and they are now eating pizza.

So let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, you have been watching all of this unfold. This appears to just be a total political stunt. How are you assessing it? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it has

completely stalled the impeachment proceedings that are happening right now. This was supposed to be today where Laura Cooper, the top defense official was testifying about questions about why that military aid had been withheld.

And of course, it has come in the aftermath of that explosive testimony yesterday from the President's top diplomat in Ukraine who said that the reason why that this was held up that he was told was that the President wanted a public declaration and investigations into matters that could help his political campaign that's why that vital security aid had been held up.

Now, earlier this morning, roughly two dozen members stormed this Committee room demanded to take part in the process. I am told the Republican from Alabama, Bradley Byrne got in the face of Adam Schiff.

I'm told also that Louis Gohmert, another Republican screaming in the hearing room, one Democrat yelled back. Val Demings of Florida criticizing them saying, are you telling your children that it's okay to lie, steal and cheat so long as you don't get caught?

Now, this is still ongoing and one Republican member who did leave, Mo Brooks. I had a chance to ask him about the substance that was raised yesterday, but he wanted to rail on the process.


RAJU: You're okay with withholding military aid for that?

REP. MO BROOKS, (R-AL): I don't know that that was the case. I think --

RAJU: That's what Mr. Taylor testified to yesterday, so I just wanted to ask you --

BROOKS: And there are people who testified to the exact opposite, who have publicly stated to the exact opposite.

RAJU: Who said that --

BROOKS: Including the President of Ukraine. You all have a good day.


BALDWIN: You all have a good day.

RAJU: Yes. So he didn't clarify exactly who -- he didn't exactly clarify who he was referring to that testified to the opposite, because more witnesses who have come forward have corroborated some key elements of that whistleblower complaint.

But one other thing, Brooke, some of these members came in carrying electronic devices, which is not allowed in the secure hearing room. I'm told that they were eventually confiscated and given back. It's still -- this protest is still ongoing, an effort to disrupt these impeachment proceedings.

So there is a question about whether or not this hearing will take place with this witness, or whether they will continue to do this with several other witnesses who are scheduled to come forward -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, keep an eye on it. We'll talk about all of this in just a second. But let me also get to this today, the President who campaigned on draining the swamp is now being accused of extending it way beyond U.S. borders.

The most damning testimony yet in the Impeachment Inquiry undercuts the defense on the whole point of quid pro quo with Ukraine. This comes from his own top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. Taylor just testified that Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son in exchange for military aid to be released. And now the White House is going after the messenger.

The Press Secretary calls this quote, "a coordinated smear campaign from far left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats," end quote. But Taylor was sought out by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself in June of this year, and Taylor even writes in his testimony, how he consulted with a Republican mentor before even taking the job in Ukraine, and then once he did, Taylor said that he found the U.S. foreign policy divided in two, a regular way of doing things and another quote, "highly irregular channel" that involved Rudy Giuliani.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider breaks down Taylor's 15- page opening statement. Jessica, what did he say?


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, 15 pages of opening testimony and Bill Taylor spent nearly 10 hours behind closed doors on Capitol Hill and one Democrat who emerged called it his most disturbing day in Congress so far. And that's really because of the impassioned detail that Taylor laid out in part in these 15 pages of his opening statement.

Taylor says how he learned and how officials told him that President Trump held up that military aid to Ukraine and refused that meeting with Ukraine's new President Zelensky until Zelensky agreed to publicly pledge to investigate the President's political rivals.

Now Taylor, in particular recalled a conversation with E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who we remember testified last week. In that conversation, Taylor says 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.

Those investigations President Trump wanted included Burisma, that's the Ukrainian company that hired Joe Biden's son, Hunter, as well as investigations of Ukraine's alleged involvement in the 2016 election, which the President has been pushing really as an alternate explanation to the Russian interference. Now Taylor also testified that both Sondland and Special Envoy to

Ukraine Kurt Volker described the President's position in all of this as normal because of his business background saying this in testimony, " ... on September 8, 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."

Now Taylor testified that that rationale really made no sense to him. And of course, we saw that text from Taylor, calling it quote, "crazy" to hold up aid and assistance to Ukraine for political gain.

Of course, Democrats are pouncing on this and pointing to Taylor's testimony as the smoking gun here saying that he really confirmed Ukraine's pledge to investigate was required for that White House meeting with the President and military aid. And that Taylor also pinned Sondland as knowing all of this, although we talked to a source familiar with Sondland's testimony, they told us that Sondland really gave multiple reasons that the security aid was frozen, and was really only speculating when he referenced those political investigations.

But of course, Taylor and his testimony, also talked about his conversations with Ukrainian officials, including one who relayed that President Zelensky at one point did not want to be used as a pawn in the U.S. reelection campaign. But, Brooke, here, a lot of detail revealed by Taylor and these 15 pages of opening testimony and now because of that, Brooke, some lawmakers are saying that they want Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the E.U., possibly to be called back to testify to explain some of these discrepancies -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Jessica, thank you for the thorough look back at what was said yesterday on Capitol Hill. Let's discuss all of it. Gloria Borger is the CNN Chief Political Analyst. She's with us today. Nia- Malika Henderson is the CNN Senior Political Reporter and Jeffrey Engle co-authored a biography of George H.W. Bush with "The 41st President" and he is now a CNN Presidential Historian.

So welcome to all of you and Jeffrey, to you first. Is this just abuse of power on its face?

JEFFREY ENGLE, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It would seem to be exactly what the founders were concerned about during the Constitutional Convention when they were debating what exactly impeachment meant and what a high crime or misdemeanor might be.

They went through a series of different hypothetical, you know, what if a President did this or that, should they be impeached? And one of them was -- what if a President works with a foreign power to influence an American election, and everyone in the room noted immediately, well, of course, that person should be impeached and removed from office.

They also talked about Presidents who perhaps want to use their pardon power to get themselves out of problems, or Presidents who use money. Bribery was actually something that they were very concerned about.

And in each case, the types of concerns that the founders had really do seem to be playing out in real time today.

BALDWIN: Okay, so that's maybe what the Founding Fathers would be thinking of all of this today. Gloria, over to you, just you know, last week that extraordinary press briefing over at the White House, Mick Mulvaney, you know, standing up there at the podium, tying Trump with holding Ukraine aid to Ukraine investigating the 2016 election.

Then you have what Jessica laid out so perfectly, you know, a second ago, you had Bill Taylor testifying that Trump said Ukraine had to investigate the Biden's in order for him, in order for the U.S. to provide the aid. Why does that blow up Trump's entire impeachment defense?


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the President has said that the whistleblower was wrong on every single count. Of course, it turns out that the whistleblower now seems to be --

BALDWIN: Have been corroborated.

BORGER: Right. And the tip of the iceberg - that in fact, it seems to be worse than the whistleblower even knew because the people who were responsible for policy in Ukraine had no idea at a certain point what was going on or why the money was being held up.

And, you know, the White House has taken to name calling, which is, you know, Stephanie Grisham releasing this ridiculous statement, calling this public servant, a radical, unelected bureaucrat, and Taylor is anything but that.

You know, West Point graduate, served in Vietnam, served his country for more than 50 years under Democratic and Republican administrations, seems to have taken copious notes and as each person testifies, more and more doors are opened and the Republicans on Capitol Hill as you were just showing are demonstrating and screaming about process. But not a lot of that --

BALDWIN: Instead of the content.

BORGER: Exactly, not a lot of them are screaming about, well, you know, Donald Trump really in asking for this, do me a favor though to President Zelensky, oh, there is nothing wrong with that. Very few of them. Some are, but very, very few and this will continue to unravel. We'll see.

BALDWIN: Nia, per Bill Taylor's testimony in referencing the millions of dollars in military aid, Gordon Sondland referred to, you know, President Trump as oh, he is a businessman, right? He wants to get paid before he writes the check. I'm paraphrasing, which echoes what we heard from the Acting Chief of Staff last week, you know, defending Trump by saying he is in the hospitality business.

I mean, to me when you listen to this, the excuse sounds familiar, the whole, oh, he has not been a politician. He doesn't know any better. Is that going to fly, Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know unlikely to fly. I think you also heard a similar excuse from Kevin McCarthy essentially saying, oh, well, Bill Taylor just didn't really like the President's style. And so that was his main objection to this.

Listen, you know, the Republicans are really in a tough spot here. Because week by week, the Democrats who -- going into this I think people really are questioning whether the Democrats could go about this in a methodical way, on the one hand, reveal some information and also move the public. We see that they've been pretty good at doing that.

And in the meantime, Republicans don't really know what you do. They haven't been out there saying, listen, this is something that the President would never ever do. There's no way in a million years that President Trump would have a quid pro quo, hold up military assistance for a political favor.

And the reason they can't really do that is because of the information that's been released. Not only the memo of the call, the text messages as well; obviously, Taylor's testimony, that 15 pages; Mick Mulvaney coming out and essentially saying, yes, he was in the middle of it. And these are the three reasons among them these investigations, this is the why the money was held up.

So, you know, if you are a Republican, all you can do at this point is scream about process. You know, they're hooting and hollering, you know, on the Hill at this point, but in the meantime, the Democrats are laying out behind closed doors and in some ways, in private, a pretty methodical case and damning case against this President of just there was in fact, a quid pro quo.

At some point, this will all be public, where their process argument goes once this is public is hard to know.

BORGER: Can I just make one more point about being a businessman.


BORGER: When you're a businessman, it's usually your own money.


BALDWIN: Not congressionally allocated dollars.

BORGER: Right, exactly. This is congressionally approved money. This is taxpayer money. And so there is no -- you know, there is no way to say oh, he is just being a businessman because I think that is very different.

BALDWIN: That is such an important point. Yes, and then Jeffrey, back to you. You know, now you have the top two Republicans in the Senate, in roughly the last 12 hours suggesting that Trump lied, that, you know, all this testimony doesn't paint a good picture. From your perch, I guess just as a historian, are we beginning to see cracks among Republicans?

ENGEL: I think we're definitely beginning to see cracks. And one of the things that we recall from the Watergate example with President Nixon is that when the dam breaks on support, it breaks fast.

As they say, President Nixon had at the beginning of the week before the smoking gun tape came out about 40 senators who we expected would not vote for impeachment were -- guilty for impeachment. And by the end of the week, he wound up having about 14.

So this support can break very quickly, but I'd like to go back if I could to the process question.


ENGEL: Because again here, Watergate gives us some interesting insight. One of the things that made the Watergate investigation and then the hearings and then the impeachment process work was that the Democrats in charge of the Committees, the Judicial Committee in particular, Peter Rodino from New York, made a point of saying everything must be bipartisan, because he knew that the country would only go along with the impeachment if it was understood to be good for both sides and understood by both sides.


ENGEL: The way he did that was that every single time, the Republicans on that committee asked him for something, the answer was, yes. The Republicans said, can we subpoena our own witnesses? Yes. Can we have open hearings? Yes. Can we get more evidence? Yes every single time because he believed that the more evidence that came out and the more sunlight that was shined on the case, the more likely it was going to be that they'd find the truth and the truth ultimately led to Nixon's resignation.

BALDWIN: Now, you are the second historian I talked to who have made that point about making it be clean and bipartisan and it's a note to Democrats. It's a note to Nancy Pelosi and to Adam Schiff, as they lead this whole thing.

Gloria, Nia-Malika and Jeffrey, forgive me, I've been on vacation for a few days. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it, and I know exactly who you are.

Let's continue on with more breaking news ahead. Thank you. President Trump today patting himself on the back for an alleged solution to a problem that he himself created. He is now spinning the crisis in Syria now.

Plus, as Trump calls on Republicans to put up a bigger fight, Senator Mitch McConnell calls him out suggesting that the President lied.

And President Trump just lashed out on Twitter calling his Republican critics human scum.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. President Trump may be firing up a tweet storm bashing democrats over the Impeachment Inquiry, but he is also criticizing members of his own party accusing Republicans of not having his back. Check this tweet out.

This just in from the Twitter page of the President of the United States, "The never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them. They are human scum." From the President.

Republican lawmakers have publicly criticized Trump for recent moves involving Ukraine, the G7 Summit at Doral, likening the Impeachment Inquiry to a lynching.

But CNN has now learned that White House staffers are warning the President that it's time to refocus and accept the reality of what is likely coming, an impeachment, and that the time to prepare is now with an organized strategy.

Dana Bash is our CNN Chief Political Correspondent and Dana, human scum. Wow. Trump is calling on Republicans to fight tougher and you also have some intel on why this this gathering? Why this stunt on Capitol Hill? What do you know?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, I just think it might be worth taking a beat to talk about that human scum tweet.

This is such a direct and deliberate warning shot. We've seen the President do that before. But this is kind of a whole new level and obviously in a very different context because his back is against the wall and he is very worried about the comments, obviously, and I'm not saying this for any other reason, except that like he normally does, puts his heart on his sleeve and his emotions are on his fingers in his Twitter feed, which is what you see here.

Republican comments, saying more and more that they are concerned particularly with the explosive testimony that happened yesterday by somebody in his own State Department, not as his Press Secretary said, you know, some unnamed bureaucrat.

Yes, maybe he is a Foreign Service person, but he was tapped by the Trump appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So that tells me that he is getting nervous and he is lashing out in a way that he tends to do more and more when he feels like his back is against the wall.

BALDWIN: What about this mess that's been unfolding on Capitol Hill. These republicans led by Matt Gaetz, who by the way, it's just important to remind everyone of this conversation, this very group of Republicans, weren't they just over at the White House meeting with President Trump yesterday and now fast forward 24 hours and they're making a scene in this secure deposition?

BASH: Yes. It's so interesting. I just talked to a Republican lawmaker who is part of this protest. And this lawmaker said that an event of this ilk led by Matt Gaetz has been on his calendar for a week.

The subject line was that they were going to talk about the unfair process of the Impeachment Inquiry. Now this member thought that they were going to do a traditional press conference, it turned out to be not that. It turned out to be a protest to make a larger point.

But I think that is very telling another new bit of information. Our Kevin Liptak is told that the President got a heads up about this. So it all -- what does that tell you? It is all part of the same -- same thing that goes with the tweet you just read, which is what the Republicans are now doing led by the President and his close allies on Capitol Hill is attacking the process.


BASH: That is part and parcel of the way that they are trying to keep the base in the fold, Republicans in the fold. The biggest concern, when you look at public opinion by people in the President's world is that the Republicans start to slip more and more on the question of impeachment.

And by attacking the process with people who are recognizable to many in the Republican base, that is a direct attempt to keep those Republicans in the fold, not the members but public opinion and to keep them from breaking and that matters in the House, but even more so in the Senate.

And I also was told that is largely because the President has been told by his allies, you are almost surely going to get impeached by House Democrats. There is not much you can do, start to trivialize the process.

BALDWIN: Cut to part of the scene we're seeing today. Dana Bash, as always with the most excellent insight. Thank you very much, my friend.

BASH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's pivot off of that and head to the breaking news on the crisis in Syria. President Trump lifting all sanctions on Turkey today. He says the Kurds are safe now and thankful. Is that true?

Plus, during a court hearing today over the President's tax returns, his lawyer argued that if the President indeed shot someone on Fifth Avenue, he couldn't be charged as President.

Let's talk about that. Coming up.