Return to Transcripts main page


Taylor Testifies Ukraine Aid Tied to 2016, Biden Investigations; CNN Poll: Biden Widens Lead Over 2020 Dem Rivals; Congressional Critics React to Trump Lifting Sanctions on Turkey. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:32:14] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Topping our political radar today, two men who helped Rudy Giuliani develop contacts in Ukraine just plead not guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges of funneling foreign money to U.S. political campaigns. Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas were arrested at Dulles airport just two weeks ago with one-way tickets to Europe. Giuliani and his Ukraine business dealings are apparently part of the investigation into their activities. Today, Parnas predicted vindication.


LEV PARNAS, INDICTED ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE CHARGES: Many false things have been said about me and my family in the press and media recently. I look forward to defending myself vigorously in court and I am certain in time the truth will be revealed and I will be vindicated. In the end, I put my faith in God. Thank you.


KING: Happening in another federal courtroom in Manhattan today, the latest showdown over President Trump's tax returns. A three-judge panel from the second circuit court of appeals hearing arguments over the New York DA's subpoena of the president's tax returns this summer. The president's lawyers are appealing to keep those returns private after a lower court ruled against them. That was earlier this month. This becomes a battle over the scope of presidential immunity which is likely headed for the Supreme Court.

And further insight today into the turmoil in the Trump cabinet, why it's been such a revolving door. Listen to this comment from the former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen who resigned back in April.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: What led me to resign is there were a lot of things that there were those in the administration who thought that we should do. And just as I spoke truth to power from the very beginning, it became clear that saying no and refusing to do it myself was not going to be enough. So it was time for me to offer my resignation. That's what I did.


KING: Up next, more details on the dramatic testimony of Bill Taylor and why it is so damaging to the president.


[12:37:41] KING: More now on Bill Taylor's testimony to the House impeachment inquiry and why it matters so much. Taylor repeatedly spelling out what he viewed as a clear quid pro quo. That clashes dramatically with the White House defense. Taylor's statement referenced over and over a connection between U.S. military aid for Ukraine and investigations the president was demanding. Taylor says another diplomat told Ukraine's president and his top adviser the, quote, the stalemate over aid wouldn't go away until Ukraine made a public commitment to investigate.

Taylor also confirmed the existence of a rogue foreign policy operation, what he called a, quote, irregular informal policy channel, end quote, led by the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

We'll go into some of the details in just a second. More details in just a second. But this was a methodical dissection of what happened. Bill Taylor was in the middle of it, and a methodical dissection of what the White House strategy and the White House answers have been so far.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: One of the things that has been striking is how the Democrats in this unfolding story have been one step ahead of the Republican answers at every stage. One of the things I head repeatedly yesterday as Taylor was inside that room from Republicans was, oh, well, the Ukrainians didn't know that there was -- that the aid had stopped, the military aid had stopped flowing. And so therefore, there couldn't be a quid pro quo because they didn't know to be participating in one.

And then today, we have a story on the front page of our paper and, you know, more evidence from Taylor's testimony that in fact, the Ukrainians did know much earlier than the White House and the Republicans admitted that the aid had stopped flowing. And so, you know, at every step the Republicans and the White House have tried to figure out an answer to the substance of this and they keep getting turned back.

KING: And that is a critical point as we go forward, because at every step the Trump defenders on Capitol Hill come out and say no quid pro quo, now you have clear evidence of a quid pro quo. The Ukrainians didn't know, now you have documents and reporting of the New York Times that they did know. So if you're a Republican, today your answer is Bill Taylor wasn't -- Bill Taylor says he was told by Ambassador Sondland and by others, so you can say he doesn't have direct knowledge, right? It's a safe place to be if you're in a court of law. Impeachment is a political proceeding, not a legal proceeding. But, here's the problem for Republicans given the history we just went through and there are more examples. Bill Taylor told them, you want some people who can back me up on this one? You should call Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff. You should call Rudy Giuliani, you should call the attorney general Bill Barr, you should call the secretary of state.

[12:40:03] You should bring back Ambassador Sondland. You should bring back Ambassador Volker.

Rick Perry, the secretary of energy knows about this. Republican Senator Ron Johnson was involved in some of this. John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser has key details on this. So if Republicans want to say prove it, are they willing to go through that?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And that goes back to what we discussed earlier which is that Taylor gave the most thorough accounting to date for Democrats for all of the members that were present. He filled in a lot of blank spaces and he also as we mentioned has notes and pretty much receipts to back it up.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And the other thing is everything corroborates everything else, right? I mean, if you think of everything that's come out, the whistleblower call, obviously the memo of the whistleblower report, then the memo of the call, the text messages from Volker, even Mulvaney's admission which some people say was an admission that he tried to walk back. And then, of course, Taylor's really detailed 15-page single-spaced recounting of what happened. And that's makes -- that's what makes it so hard for Republicans.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You asked if Republicans wanted to actually, you know, face that potential music with these other witnesses, I think some do and some don't. Like you see people like Will Hurd saying yes, bring back Sondland, bring in Giuliani, we should be talking to them and getting the full story here.

And then you see others that are, you know, doing the sit-in at the skiff and delaying proceedings today. And so -- and I think that that's the fundamental break in the GOP right now, who kind of says well, let's just let the wave come and if it's bad and it crashes everything over, we'll at least have a cleansing here and figure out what it is. You may or may not leave (INAUDIBLE) for impeachment. And then you have the GOP people who are very loyal to the president saying they are -- showing that they are afraid of this.

KING: Well, the Democrats are going to continue. The key is, do they change more Republican minds or at least open more Republican minds to listening?

Up next for us, Joe Biden rebounds. We dig deeper on a brand new CNN poll.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:46:37] KING: Brand new CNN national poll today on the 2020 Democratic race and it shows Joe Biden not only in the lead but that lead growing. Let's take a look at the numbers. Vice President Biden in our new poll at 34 percent, Elizabeth Warren next at 19 percent, Senator Sanders at 16 percent, then you see the other candidates down here in single digits. The top three have stayed the same for a long time, but Biden is up 10 points from our poll in September, benefiting in recent days from the news and from his campaigning. Senator Warren stayed about the same, Senator Sanders about the same. The lower tier actually stayed mostly about the same too but it is up plus 10 since September for Joe Biden.

It's a national poll, we pick presidents state by state but it's good news. And if you look across the party, the former vice president leads among women, leads by about the same numbers among men, broad support across the party by gender. Here, he holds his own with white voters. Elizabeth Warren in second place there. That's a close competition there.

And overwhelmingly for the former vice president among non-white Democratic voters, that is a big reason for his support in this poll, the opening lead in the poll. He also leads when you ask a philosophical question among Democrats, what are you looking for? Are you looking for big change even if it's a lower chance of that becoming law, things like free college, things like Medicare for All, things like Senator Sanders and Warren support, 42 percent of Democrats want that.

Joe Biden says let's work with Republicans, let's get things done, right? So do you support a good chance of things becoming law even if smaller change, 53 percent of Democrats favor that? That's where Joe Biden is ideologically. That's one of the reasons he's at the top of this poll.

He's in Pennsylvania today, that's where he was born saying that look at the economy, President Trump won a lot of blue-collar voters, I can get them back.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Too many middle-class and working-class folks can't look their kids in the eye any longer and say it's going to be okay and mean it. That's why I'm running. I'm running to rebuild the backbone of this country. The backbone of this country is middle-class.

Let's get something straight. Wall Street did not build America. Investment bankers did not build America. Hard-working middle-class people built America.


KING: It's a great poll for the former vice president. I, again, want to say it, it would be the broken record, we pick presidents state by state. And if you look at Iowa, if you look at New Hampshire, his position there is a bit more precarious. But, at a time where he's been in the news, the president has been attacking him. In a time when he's been on the debate stage looking at Senator Warren with help, Joe Biden gets help from Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, for example, saying this is unrealistic, you don't know how to pay for it. The race at the moment at least nationally seems to be moving his way.

HENDERSON: Yes, and it seems in some ways static, right? I mean, the folks who have been in the lead, the sort of top three, there's been some kind of, you know, a bit of a flip from Bernie Sanders to Warren and you see that surge. But listen, if you are Joe Biden, you feel good. Listen, his fundraising numbers aren't as good. He tends to get folks who are more likely to tithe to church than necessarily donate to a political campaign. So there's that.

But he's got a reason to feel good, this field being as big as it is, is actually helping him. They're splitting white voters, they're splitting liberal voters, surprisingly, he's sort of hanging in there with Warren among liberal voters. There's also a poll coming out in South Carolina that shows him with a pretty healthy lead there among, you know, African-American voters and can see that in that poll as well.

[12:50:00] KING: And as you're going to jump in, let me just show the point Nia just mad. If you look at the top points by where you are ideologically in the party, Biden holding his own among liberals. Warren is first at 26, Biden is 24, Sanders is 21. Joe Biden is very grateful for Bernie Sanders being in the race right now.

If you look at that (INAUDIBLE) among moderate to conservative Democrats, Biden 43, a giant lead there for the former vice president. So there's -- you know, across the wide swath of the Democratic Party, the national poll shows it is more -- the party is more moderate, centrist, pragmatic than maybe the coastal Democratic parties.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. And so the question there is as the field winnows, whose supporters go to whom. So -- and other polls have shown that Buttigieg, Harris supporters go to Warren, and oddly enough a lot of Sanders supporters would go to Biden. And part of that is because it's the, you know, white working class. They tend to have that overlap there.

But another key piece of the poll that I thought was interesting was that about 50-53 percent of Democrats or independent-leaning Democrats say that they could change their mind.

KING: Right.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And so that's what people like Warren and Sanders are holding onto which is, that yes, as we get to Iowa or as we get to other early states where we can change people's minds, they could potentially pull them from Biden.

KING: A hundred and three days, we get Iowa's (INAUDIBLE).

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. SHEAR: It's also true that the crush of other news between Syria and impeachment and everything else, I mean, I know Biden has sort of been part of the impeachment story a little bit because of the attacks on him, but it's really drowned out the presidential campaign. So to the extent that there is going to be a changing dynamic as these people compete back and forth with each other, it's not going to happen and take root until the American people are actually watching it in earnest and it breaks through. And that isn't happening yet. It will, it will happen eventually.

KING: I think that's true. I think that's absolutely right. I think the flip side of that, the other benefits Biden in the same way as you just described is that the focus has been on the impeachment inquiry. Democrats don't like this president. They want this president gone. If you can impeach him and remove him, they want to beat him next November, and they still think Biden, if you look at the poll which is most important in a Democratic presidential nominee, 54 percent say strong chance of beating Trump, 39 percent say share your position on the issues. Biden, for now, benefits and the Democrats still believe he is the strongest candidate against the president.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. And that is a very important motivating factor, but I think that depending -- it would be interesting to see a parallel poll too of, you know, the level of motivation of these voters to come out and vote just (INAUDIBLE) the end for an anti-Trump vote whoever is on the other side of that ticket. Because if their -- as Laura was saying the people who -- about the half of the electorate that's willing to change their mind if their primary motivation is anti-Trump, then at the end of the day it may be that they just cast an anti-Trump vote no matter who the Democrat is on the ticket.

KING: A snapshot in time but a good snapshot on this day. If you're the vice president, you're happy about it.

Up next, Capitol Hill reacts after the president -- Trump says victory in Syria and decides to lift sanctions on Turkey.


[12:57:26] KING: Let's close with some fresh congressional reaction to the president's announcement just last hour that he was lifting all sanctions against Turkey because he says the military operation is over in Syria and the president describing it as a great American success. From one of his big supporters on Capitol Hill, Senator Lindsey Graham, he says the president is right that the ceasefire is a good thing but then in a -- I'm calling it a pretzel-like statement, Lindsey Graham goes on to say a number of things that are not in sync with his president.

"It's imperative that we continue to partner with the Kurdish forces to prevent ISIS from coming back. I do not trust or believe that Turkey, Russia, or Assad have the capability or the desire to protect America from radical Islamic threats from ISIS." He goes on to say a number of things in the Graham statement here that he's trying at the top to say I agree with the president and then the rest of the statement clearly disagrees with the president. DEMIRJIAN: Which is the tactic I supposed when you're trying to make sure that you don't have an open fight with the president. Because remember, you're arguing about the prudence of the policy regarding Turkey and Syria and the Kurds in the middle of an impeachment fight. And people who are very tightly aligned with the president have to weed this -- thread this needle.

KING: Another Republican, Mitt Romney does not try like Senator Graham to put his feet in two camps. So what Senator Romney is this, "It's unthinkable that Turkey would not suffer consequences for malevolent behavior which is contrary to the interests of the United States and our friends." So Senator Romney saying sorry Mr. President I think we should still have sanctions.

Justin Amash is an independent now, a former Republican member of the House says, "President Trump continues to send more troops to the Middle East while publicly claiming he's bringing them home. There are more U.S. forces there today than when he took office."

SHEAR: I think that sentiment, the Romney-Amash sentiment is going to be more prevalent throughout the Republican Party in the hours ahead. I think it takes a little bit of time to digest this kind of thing, and I think you're going to hear a lot more of that in the Republican Party.

KING: Will they push hard to bring sanctions is my question? Or will they just -- will they back off? Will they risk a veto? If you look at the House numbers, they certainly had enough --

HENDERSON: Right, but do they have it in the Senate? That's the big question. Or will they actually push for this? Certainly, if you listen to Mitch McConnell, what he's been saying, what folks have been saying that we just read from, it seems like they will, but we'll see. We don't know.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I mean, I think that so far what we've heard is that they're going to be moving ahead. It doesn't seem like very many are pleased with the statement that Trump gave which isn't as we mentioned earlier that different than what -- from what we've heard from the White House so far. So, I would be surprised if they back off now.

KING: A major voice now so watch the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who, again, on the floor this week said he wanted something stronger than the House passed, what the House passed was pretty strong. We'll see if he's swayed by the president's comments today. Something to keep an eye on in the days ahead along with the other hundred bouncing balls here in Washington.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.