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Interview With Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL); Republicans Forcibly Crash Impeachment Testimony; Court Orders State Department to Release Ukraine Records. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

We just reported that a federal judge has now ordered the State Department to release records in this Ukraine scandal including, communications involving the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and that they have 30 days to do so.

Harry Litman is back with us.

And so, Harry, can officials of the State Department put a stop to it? Can they say, no, we're just not giving you the records?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: No, they certainly can't, although that hasn't stopped the Department of Justice from stonewalling in the past.

There's now a pending order. It'll be appealed. There's 30 days. This is in district court in Massachusetts. It'll be appealed above. And even if they comply, it may be riddled with certain exceptions. It's under the Freedom of Information Act brought by a nonpartisan watchdog.

But -- but it's just another way -- they really zero in on Giuliani here and Trump's use of his personal lawyers, two others, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova. It's another way in which this Giuliani feature is an Achilles; heel for the administration, that there's going to be many weak links for them in trying to assert executive privilege and the like, since they have in charge of the whole foreign policy a guy who's never worked in the government.

So, for now, it's another reversal, another fire they can try to put out, but some of these fires, they're not going to be able to put out. We won't know the ultimate resolution of this for more than 30 days, because they will appeal.

BALDWIN: OK, got it. Harry, thank you. Stand by.

Let me get everyone now to the chaos on Capitol Hill today, where this group of House Republicans loyal to President Trump decided to disrupt this latest closed-door hearing in the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

And this stunning move comes just one day after damning testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. More on that testimony here in just a second.

But, first, these Republican lawmakers here, led by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, walked into this secure room in the House basement just as the deputy assistant defense secretary sat down for her deposition.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): We're going to try to go in there. And we're going to try to figure out what's going on behalf of 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.


BALDWIN: Once they got inside, a shouting match erupted between committee members and their colleagues.

One Democrat says this is all an effort to prevent even more damaging information from going public.


REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): You may wonder, why is it happening now? Because Bill Taylor gave a devastating opening statement yesterday. They're freaked out.

They're trying to stop this investigation. They don't want to hear from witness Cooper today. They know more facts are going to be delivered that are absolutely damning to press United States. So they're just trying to disrupt the process. And it's going to fail. You just can't crash committees.

I can't just go to any random committee and sit in. I can't walk into Republican Caucus and sit in. So they're just trying to be disruptive because the facts are not on their side.


BALDWIN: CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill.

And can you just -- how did this begin? How aware was the president of this plan by these Republicans? What do you know?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a meeting at the White House yesterday with some of these Republican members and the president, where they talked about their impeachment strategy.

Now, some of the Republicans are insisting that this effort to crash these proceedings today did not come up. We will see as we learn more.

But, nevertheless, this has been delayed for about five hours now. And some members that I just spoke to believe that it will actually begin sometime soon, this closed-door hearing with Laura Cooper, a top Defense Department official, because it's not clear -- it doesn't appear at the moment that these Republicans who are not part of this committee will come back and try to disrupt the proceedings.

This all started earlier today, where these members who are not part of these committees demanded to be part of the proceedings. They went, entered the secure spaces. They even brought in their electronics, which are not allowed under the rules. Those were confiscated.

Then one Republican member, Bradley Byrne, got in the face of Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman. Then I'm told that Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, yelled about the process.

One Democratic member of the committee, Val Demings, responded in kind, saying to Republicans if -- asking them if it's OK to teach their children that it's OK to lie, steal and cheat, so as long as you don't get caught, according to a source in the room.

And Republicans who emerged here were defiant, demanding that the process needed to be changed, even as they didn't want to engage -- some of them didn't want to engage about the substance that was revealed yesterday of Bill Taylor, the top diplomat, raising concerns that the president sought to withhold some of this military aid in exchange for investigations that could help him politically.


When I asked one Republican congressman about that, he pushed back.


RAJU: Mr. Brooks, Mr. Brooks, the opening statement says very clearly -- this is not -- this is what Bill...


REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): The opening statement doesn't make any difference.

RAJU: Hold on. Let me finish what I'm saying. Let me finish my question.

BROOKS: You should not be relying on it!

RAJU: Why should I not be relying on a public testimony?

BROOKS: If you were in a court of law -- if you were in a court of law, would you rely just on the opening statement of an attorney or the first witness called, or would you have cross-examination?


BROOKS: Would you allow rebuttal witnesses to determine, to explore whether the first witness' testimony was...


RAJU: I'm asking you about the substance of what he said.


BROOKS: That didn't make any difference.

We don't know whether what he said is true or not because of the sham process that is being used.



You were asking the right questions.

RAJU: So, Democrats have emerged, calling this a pathetic -- indeed, to try to get a response today about the substance of the allegations, Democrats are calling this all a stunt just to create a distraction from what Bill Taylor testified to yesterday.

I did ask the Republican leader just moments ago, Kevin McCarthy, about the allegations that were laid out by Bill Taylor. He said that this is not a firsthand conversation, this revelation from Bill Taylor, instead insisting there's no quid pro quo.

So you're still hearing that defense mount among Republicans in the House for the president, and, today, this being led by this effort to disrupt these proceedings, which have been delayed for several hours here -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Speaking of Bill Taylor -- Manu Raju, thank you very much.

Let's get over to the White House now, because we're hearing that some of the Republicans who are engaging in this protest were at a White House meeting yesterday, just as Manu had reported.

Francesca Chambers is White House correspondent for McClatchy D.C.

And, Francesca, do we know if President Trump had any hand in coordinating this?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, MCCLATCHY D.C.: So I actually just spoke to the White House about this.

They said that, to their knowledge, the president did not, that there was no involvement from the White House in this event. And, of course, beyond that, they had no comment on the situation that was developing on Capitol Hill.

BALDWIN: What about also -- Manu was just talking about Bill Taylor's testimony from yesterday. And just in, we're hearing for the first time President Trump has responded via tweet. This is what he's tweeted.

"Never-Trumper Republican John Bellinger represents never-Trumper diplomat Bill Taylor (who I don't know) in testimony before Congress. Do-nothing Democrats allow Republicans zero representation, zero due process, and zero transparency."

He goes on: "Does anybody think this is fair? Even though there was no quid pro quo, I'm sure they would like to try."

And the testimony shows, Francesca, quid pro quo, without a doubt.

CHAMBERS: Well, and he also says they need to stop hiring these -- quote -- "never-Trumpers," so it sounds like he might need to put in a call to his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, because the reason that Bill Taylor was even back in Ukraine in the first place -- he was the previous ambassador to Ukraine in a previous administration.

He came to back because he was asked to, after Marie Yovanovitch was fired -- or not fired, but was reassigned from that role, so to speak. So the president might want to call his secretary of state and get on the same page with him about what's happening here.

As far as Bill Taylor himself is considered, it is true that, unlike some of the other people who are serving as charge d'affaires or an ambassador, he's not someone who had been a heavy donor to the president. He is someone who had, again, previously served in a position. And he's also someone who had been a Romney supporter and a Jeb Bush supporter.

BALDWIN: Francesca Chambers at the White House, Francesca, good to see you. Thank you very much.

Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois is a member of the House Oversight and Intelligence committees. He was inside that room when that protest broke out today.

Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thank you so much for joining me.


BALDWIN: And, my goodness, I have a lot of questions for you.

But, first, let me just get your reaction to CNN's reporting today that the action by all these House Republicans storming in that that SCIF was actually set up a week ago and that the president knew about it beforehand.

So, Congressman, we have heard a source describe the scene as a mob. How would you describe it?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think it was an appalling display.

It was -- it looked like an act of desperation to me, Brooke, because, quite frankly, none of the people who came wanted to talk about the substance of the allegations. Instead, they made the allegation that the process was unfair, despite the fact that more than 40 Republicans are participating in these proceedings, despite the fact that they have equal time to question the witnesses as the Democrats, and despite the fact that they can question the witnesses about any area that they would like.

So I think that this was really a pathetic display this morning. And it doesn't reflect well on them.

BALDWIN: And the fact that -- according to our reporting, that the president had a heads-up and presumably, since they carried on, didn't tell them no? Your response is what?


KRISHNAMOORTHI: I hope that wasn't the case. I hope it was not orchestrated by the president.

But, at the same time, I know that his comments are very inflammatory. And the way that he tweeted about this process is blatantly inaccurate. And I think that it would only encourage more such antics going forward.

Hopefully not, but that type of tweeting can incite people.

BALDWIN: One -- Congressman, one committee official tells CNN that the House parliamentarian has ruled that those Republicans violated House deposition rules, and that official also says that bringing electronic devices, bringing cell phones in was a major security breach.


BALDWIN: Do you agree?


So, just for your viewers' benefit, we are not allowed to enter this SCIF, this secured, compartmentalized information area, with any personal devices of any kind, whether it's an Apple Watch, or whether it's your cell phone.

And the reason is that there's very sensitive information about our intelligence community stored within that area. And so, if some adversary, some foreign government, were able to tap into our cell phones, and potentially listen in on the deliberations, or, worse yet, get images of what we see, that would be a security breach.

And that would be very serious.

BALDWIN: As you point out, Republicans sit on these committees. If there's an issue with the process, they're in the room.

But, at the same time, Congressman Krishnamoorthi, at what point do you need to start holding these hearings in public, do you think, for voters and also for some of your colleagues so that they can start drawing their own conclusions?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, Chairman Schiff has said that he wants to hold public hearings.

Right now, we're in the process where basically we're trying to elicit witness testimony. And we want to make sure that it doesn't somehow get aligned with each other from different witnesses.

That being said, I believe that Chairman Schiff wants to try to publish these transcripts in short order, and then hold public hearings. And I think that that's what -- exactly what he's going to do.

BALDWIN: I mean, Congressman, when you have a scene like this, right, when you have these members of Congress, these Republican members of Congress, live-tweeting in this secured area, I'm sure a lot of people were wondering, well, how do you protect the whistle-blower, when lawmakers are doing this blatantly just disregarding the rules?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, I think that this was a security breach this morning. And I think that it has to be handled appropriately. And I think there should be some sanctions for it.

That being said, going forward, I hope that we can focus back on the substance of the allegations, because, at the end of the day, these allegations are very serious. That is that the president actually invited foreign assistance with his domestic reelection campaign, and that there might have been a quid pro quo, as well as the fact that there might have been a cover-up.

So these are very serious allegations that we have to get to the bottom of.

BALDWIN: And that Bill Taylor testimony yesterday, at least one Democrat says that his testimony was a -- quote, unquote -- "sea change," and that it could accelerate things.

How do you see it?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can't comment on the specific testimony.

However, the statement which Bill Taylor did acknowledge was accurate, the one that was shared with the public, is corroborating evidence for the whistle-blower's claims, as well as Mick Mulvaney's admission last week, or his statement last week, that there indeed was a quid pro quo, that military aid was conditioned on political investigations by the Ukrainians into the president's domestic rivals.

And so that's very serious. And I think Mr. Taylor's testimony is -- at least his opening statement definitely corroborated that.

BALDWIN: Congressman Krishnamoorthi, you have a lot on your plate, as do the rest of the members of Congress. Thank you so much.


BALDWIN: I appreciate -- I appreciate the time.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Brooke. Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: Amid all of this chaos on Capitol Hill, President Trump is trying to claim victory in Syria, despite the fact that the cease-fire agreement there really hands a victory to Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

He's also today lashing out at Republicans critical of him, in a tweet calling them -- listen to this -- human scum. We will talk about all of that.

We will also break down the key points from Bill Taylor's testimony and why one top Republican admits it doesn't paint a good picture of President Trump's actions.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: We're back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The president who campaigned on draining the swamp is now accused of extending it beyond U.S. borders.

The most damning testimony yet in this whole impeachment inquiry undercuts his defense that there was no quid pro quo in his actions with Ukraine.


And it 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 millions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. to Ukraine to be released.

Let's go back to Taylor's opening statement from yesterday morning.

And he said this -- quote -- "Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma" -- that's the company whose board Hunter Biden was on -- "and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election."

That refers to a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the Democrats' server.

Taylor also said this -- quote -- "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 an investigation."

Nina Jankowicz is a disinformation fellow at the Wilson International Center for Scholars. And Harry Litman is back with me. He's a former deputy assistant attorney general and U.S. attorney.

So, Harry, starting with you here.

Here's what Trump's former acting attorney general said about all the mounting evidence against the president:



I mean, the Constitution -- sort of -- abuse of power is not a crime. Let's fundamentally boil that down to the -- the Constitution is very clear that this has to be some pretty egregious behavior.

And they cannot tell the American people what this case is even about.


BALDWIN: OK, stop right there.

Abuse of power is not a crime. And to that, you say?

LITMAN: For starters, quite a source.

But, for second, it's elementary. Everybody on all sides agree, you do not need a crime for an impeachable offense. Actually, it's a clear evidence of a crime. The crime is both bribery and extortion.

But it's more serious. If Trump had taken a straight-out bribe, you know, 10,000 bucks, and lined his pocket, that would be very bad, impeachable. What he did here, allegedly, was so much worse, because it was such a more fundamental abuse of public trust on both sides.

He takes U.S. money there to secure U.S. interests and holds it for his own personal use to get another country to interfere in our elections, and by doing something false, to boot.

That is the kind of broad abuse of power -- yes, thank you, Matthew Whitaker -- that the framers exactly had in mind in giving us the political remedy of impeachment.

BALDWIN: And when you read Bill Taylor's opening statement, Nina, you get just how much those millions of dollars in aid being withheld would mean to Ukrainians, who were showing progress in reforming corruption in the face of a war with Russia.

Just talk to me a little bit more about that and what you made of that.


Well, I think it's important to underline how much not only U.S. financial support means to Ukraine. In 2017, it was upwards of $500 million dollars in aid, both support militarily and also for democratic reforms in the country, but also our rhetorical support, which has now been undercut by all of these activities.

When the United States comes out and says, we support you, Ukraine, our ally, in your fight against Russian aggression, which has been going on for the past five years and cost Ukraine 13,000 lives, and suddenly we're holding up that aid, which has meant -- has been meant to send a signal to Russia, that sends a signal to Russia that their interference is OK, and we're OK with them doing whatever they want in that backyard.

And that has not been U.S. foreign policy for the past 30 years.


And we also can tell from Bill Taylor's opening statement and his testimony that he took, Harry, copious notes, much of which contradicted that of Gordon Sondland from the week before.

Do you think the Democrats will be successful if they want to bring him back to answer more questions, Sondland?

LITMAN: Yes. Yes.

Well, so, first of all, on Taylor, remember, yes, it's a very explosive opening statement. It was followed by 10 hours of testimony by skillful lawyers. There's going to be all kinds of embellishments.

Sondland and Volker are now in hot water. And, in fact, they're somewhat opposed to each other, wanting to point the finger. It may be Fifth Amendment time for Sondland. I think they will try. But he's in the soup.

And, of course, they both have information to provide about whom? Rudy Giuliani, who's going to be the star of this show at some point, and it's not going to be favorable to the administration.

BALDWIN: Interesting how we haven't heard from him for a minute, have you noticed, Rudy Giuliani.

Nina, Taylor's opening statement, this was interesting also, is just revealing how Ukrainian President Zelensky was not at all happy when the White House up and released that transcript of his July 25 phone call with Trump, and that, clearly, Zelensky, who's this political novice, he knew what was happening was wrong.

Did you note that?


JANKOWICZ: Yes, absolutely.

I think the Ukrainians knew what was happening was wrong from very early on in this process. All of these conspiracy theories started to coagulate as early as March.

I was in Ukraine for the presidential election. Ten days before the first-round vote is when all of these conspiracy theories about Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador, started to bubble up, of course amplified by Mr. Giuliani.

And I think it was clear then the kind of situation that the White House and those around it were trying to set up with regards to the new administration. They viewed Zelensky as this novice that they could control.

And I think Ukrainians and Zelensky really took offense to that. That being said, he's not Trump's stooge. He was using these flattering phrases in order to try to broker a relationship that would be useful to him and his country as he tries to end this war with Russia, which is a -- one of the points that he ran on.

And then that transcript was released, and that really undercuts the trust between these two nations.

BALDWIN: Nina Jankowicz and Harry Litman, thank you both so much. Great to have your insight.

JANKOWICZ: Thank you.

LITMAN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Breaking news on the crisis in Syria: President Trump lifting all sanctions on Turkey today and claims that the Kurds are safe now.

I will talk to a former Special Forces soldier who fought with the Kurds, and we will see if he agrees.