Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Diplomat Directly Ties Trump to Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; Poll: Biden Widens Lead Over 2020 Rivals. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is corruption at the highest levels. Taylor's account was painstakingly detailed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been in there for ten hours. I can assure you there was no quid pro quo.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): You can't just say that something is not happening when all of the evidence is right there in front of you.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We didn't sign up to fight a war to defend the Kurds against a longstanding NATO ally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan have carved up the area amongst themselves.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I hope the administration is trying to mitigate the damage done by the decision to withdraw from eastern Syria.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, October 23. It's 6 a.m. here in New York, and the other shoe just dropped. These are the headlines we want to show you that President Trump is waking up to this morning.

This is "The New York Times." "Trump Tied Aid to Inquiries, Envoy Says." "Washington Post," "Envoy: Trump Tied Aid to Biden Probe."

You want to hold "The Wall Street Journal"?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. "Wall Street Journal," "Diplomat Says President Tied Ukraine Aid to Biden Probe." It's really consistent.

BERMAN: There's another way to say that. You know what it is?

CAMEROTA: That he tied the aid to the probe?

BERMAN: It's quid pro quo. The other way to say that is quid pro quo.

Explosive testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine has delivered the single most consequential development in the impeachment investigation. Ambassador Bill 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 he agreed to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election. Quid pro quo.

His testimony directly refutes President Trump and his loyalists. It includes intricate detail, and we are told it is based on meticulous notes.

Dan Balz, the dean of political reporters, the anti-hyperbole man, writes this morning, "It is no longer a question of whether this happened. It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers, especially Republicans, choose to respond to it.

CAMEROTA: Well, we're already hearing some of that, and we'll get into that in the program.

We also have breaking news in the 2020 race. A new CNN national poll just out shows former Vice President Joe Biden widening his lead among his rivals. Thirty-four percent of Democratic voters now say they -- that he is their top choice. That is Biden's best showing in CNN polling since April, just after he formally announced his campaign. So we will break down where Biden is gaining support and how the other candidates are faring in just a moment.

But we begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She is live on Capitol Hill with our top story -- Suzanne.


Well, Bill Taylor is still the acting ambassador to Ukraine, so what is he doing today? This morning, he's actually heading back to Ukraine to do his job. He says it's a job that is important to him.

But in the meantime, here in Washington, he leaves behind a potential big blow for the president's defense in the impeachment inquiry. He's testifying about a regular U.S. policy network making in Ukraine that benefits politically the president.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Bill Taylor sending shock waves through Capitol Hill, telling Congress multiple administration officials informed him that President Trump personally blocked military aid unless Ukraine agreed to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 U.S. election.

Sources say those inside audibly gasped and sighed just from the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine's opening statement. REP. ANDY LEVIN (D-MI): In my ten short months in Congress, this is

the -- my most disturbing day in Congress so far.

MALVEAUX: Taylor providing a clear timeline of events, based on copious notes he kept of his communications, saying he shared those notes with the State Department, which is refusing to give them to congressional investigators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's filling in some gaps. He's sharing with us in a pretty candid way his experience.

MALVEAUX: The 50-year career diplomat detailing a conversation with U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who he says told him everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance, adding, "He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky 'in a public box' by making a public statement about ordering such investigations."

Taylor telling Congress he disagreed with the tactic, but Sondland repeatedly tried to explain the president's intent. According to Taylor, Sondland told him, "When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check."

The next day the diplomat raised concern in a text message exchange with Sondland, writing, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

After speaking with President Trump, Sondland stressed that was not the case, texting, "I believe you're incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear. No quid pro quos of any kind."

The White House quickly attempting to discredit Taylor and the impeachment inquiry, saying, "This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats, waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo."

Trump's Republican allies doing the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been in there for ten hours. I can assure you there was no quid pro quo.

MALVEAUX: But House Democrats are adamant Taylor's testimony directly links the president to a quid pro quo.

BASS: You can't just commit a crime and say that you didn't and then expect it to go away.

MALVEAUX: And applauding him for testifying against the Trump administration's wishes.


REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): He came forward, again at risk of his career, at expense to himself. He had no incentive but to tell the truth. And I believe that's what he did today.


MALVEAUX: Two more witnesses will be questioned this morning: one from the Office of Management and Budget, the other from the Pentagon. It is expected they're going to face tough questions about the president's order to freeze that military aid in exchange for political favors -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Suzanne, thank you for breaking all of that down for us.

So it does not appear the Ukraine story has hurt Joe Biden. CNN has a brand-new national poll that shows Biden's lead growing. We'll bring you those numbers next.



CAMEROTA: We do have breaking political news. CNN has a new national poll that shows former Vice President Joe Biden increasing his lead over his Democratic rivals.

CNN political director David Chalian joins us now to break down all the numbers. Give us the headlines on the numbers, David.


That is right. It's a 15-point lead in this poll for Joe Biden up against Elizabeth Warren. He's at 34 percent. Elizabeth Warren is at 19 percent. You see Bernie Sanders bunched up there at 16.

And then Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris round out the top five, each at 6 percent, followed by former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Senator Amy Klobuchar, who each score 3 percent, which is an important number, because it's the number you need to hit to get yet another step towards qualifying for the debate stage, which both of those candidates want to do.

Take a look, compared to our national poll last month, and you will see that all the growth here is really in Biden's camp. He's up ten points here. Every other candidate, if you look at where they were in September and where they are now, it's just within two points of movement. So well within the margin of error. The real movement here is Joe Biden.

So what's behind that? Well, we looked at some of his key demographic groups. And I think it shows where he has some very core key constituencies inside this Democratic electorate.

First up, if you look at the non-white vote in the primary versus the white vote, overwhelming advantage among non-white Democratic primary voters for Joe Biden. A 30-point advantage, basically, 42 percent to 13 to 16; whereas among the white voters, he's all bunched up there with Warren and Sanders. If you look at the older voters, 45 and above, big advantage for Joe

Biden. Again, nearly a 30-point advantage. Younger voters, he's bunched up with Warren and Sanders.

And take a look at those that identify as moderate and conservative Democrats. Yet another near 30-point advantage for Joe Biden, compared to liberal Democrats, where again, he's not really losing that vote, but he's splitting it with Warren and Sanders.

So in some categories, he's bunched up with Warren and Sanders. But then in these other very important demographic groups, he has an overwhelming advantage.

We also asked, Alisyn, this sort of question about vision overall for 2020 Democrats. Are you looking for somebody who's going to propose big change, even if it has a smaller chance of becoming law? Or are you looking for a candidate who may propose change that is a bit smaller but that it has a better chance of becoming law.

And the majority of Democrats prefer the latter. Fifty-three percent say they'd be OK with smaller change for somebody who has a better chance of actually enacting that change than the 42 percent who want big change, even if it has a smaller chance of becoming law. This is a big Joe Biden advantage, as well.

And if you look at the issue areas, I think you see why Joe Biden is also consolidating support here in this poll. On foreign policy, he's got a 43-point edge: 56 percent to Sanders at 13 to Warren at 11. And foreign policy has been dominant of late. Syria, Ukraine obviously has a piece of that.

Then you take a look at the issue of the economy, which Joe Biden is going to be talking about today in his home town of Scranton. He's at a 20-point advantage: 38 percent to 19 for Sanders, 16 for Warren.

Even on health care, look here. He's basically tied with Bernie Sanders, though he's doing better than Elizabeth Warren on health care. But that 31 percent for Biden on health care is a big increase, a 13-point increase on that issue for him. So his arguments against Sanders and Warren vis-a-vis these issues are clearly working, as well.

And then if you look, we did that 2020 general election outlook. Now remember, this is not predictive. This is just a snapshot of where the electorate is now. But we tested the top four Democrats, and you see that each one of them gets 50 percent or above; and President Trump doesn't crack 45 percent -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Very interesting numbers. As you note, this is not predictive. It's just one poll. But for Joe Biden, a much better showing than one month ago in the CNN measurement.

David Chalian, excellent to have you. Stick around.

This 15 pages, this was Bill Taylor's opening statement to Congress yesterday. CAMEROTA: That was just his opener.

BERMAN: Exactly. Explosive testimony. How this has changed the impeachment inquiry overnight, next.



CAMEROTA: Big developments in the impeachment inquiry. The top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, directly implicating President Trump in trying to withhold military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine's president publicly announced investigations into Mr. Trump's political rivals.

Back with us, David Chalian. Also joining us, CNN political commentator Jen Psaki. She was the White House communications director under President Obama.

So Jen, Democrats emerged from this hearing room or whatever, meeting room gobsmacked. I mean, they said that he went further than any other witness. He gave the most detailed, most troubling account, they said, of what happened.

Here's the gist of it. This was in his opening statement that we -- that CNN received. Here it is. "In August and September of this year, I became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy-making and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons."

And Jen, what I think is so interesting is this isn't just Bill Taylor's hunch. This wasn't just his feeling. He then went on to provide all sorts of evidence about how the two were linked.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exactly, Alisyn. I mean, if diplomacy doesn't work out for him, he'd probably be an excellent investigative reporter. He knew when he started this job, which of course was -- he was selected by Donald Trump and Secretary Pompeo, that there was something amiss here. His predecessor had been pushed out of the country. His wife didn't even want him to take the job, as he said in his testimony.

And he took meticulous and detailed notes along the way. So reading this testimony, as I did and you did and I would encourage anyone to do, really kind of brings to life what exactly happened here.

You know, we knew about the text messages. We certainly had seen obviously the reports of the whistle-blower report. We'd heard, you know, reports of other testimony.

But he laid it out day by day and week by week in a way that really pulled the story together. And I think that was what was so shocking to so many people in the room. Because that's not normal. We don't see that in Washington often. People putting, you know, their own -- the country and kind of details, honest details of what happened ahead of their own personal ambition. And that's what I think we saw yesterday.

BERMAN: And just to remind people, he is a current government official. He is the current senior diplomat in Ukraine who came back to offer this testimony. And as Jen just noted, he kept receipts.

And David Chalian, I want to note. There are people who say you don't need to prove a quid pro quo. Some Democrats have made this case to suggest that what the president did was impeachable. Pressuring the leader of Ukraine for political dirt.

But when you read Bill Taylor's testimony, what you see is this evidence that he lays out of just that, of the quid pro quo. And this is just one of many times he says it explicitly. He's talking about a phone call with Ambassador Sondland. "During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election."

That's just one of several times, David, that Taylor lays that out.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. He portrays the quid pro quo that the White House chief of staff admitted to last Thursday at the White House from the podium. I mean, he's backing -- the facts here aren't in dispute.

I understand that President Trump may not want to call it quid pro quo, but that doesn't mean that the facts here are in dispute. Because we heard from Mick Mulvaney directly that getting an investigation into the 2016 election was part of a three-pronged reason why the money was being held up.

And here you have Ambassador Taylor, as you said, meticulously going through, and I think what is so important for people, because this all started, obviously, with the whistle-blower complaint and we immediately then saw the transcript of that July 25 phone call.

But that was sort of the culmination of what we, you know, see in detail here of weeks of something being askew in the way U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine was being conducted.

And the phone call where this whole thing started was the culmination of that so many of these things were already moving in a direction that obviously made Bill Taylor sort of send up his antenna and feel that something was wrong here. And all of that was happening at the direction of the president and the chief of staff.

CAMEROTA: Case in point, here is one of his examples that he gives, where he realized and saw clearly the direct link between President Trump's directive and the military aid. Here is this portion. This is P-105.

"Toward the end of an otherwise normal meeting on July 18, a voice on this phone call -- the person was off screen" -- meaning it was, I guess, a teleconference -- "said she was from the Office of Management and Budget and that her boss instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice. All that the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to OMB."

And that is when Bill Taylor realized that his worst fears, Jen, had come to pass. And that this other channel of foreign policy led by Giuliani was, in fact, happening and tying up aid that he felt was so instrumental to Ukraine, obviously, defending its own sovereignty.

PSAKI: Exactly. And, you know, I think it will be so interesting to hear today, Alisyn, what we hear from DOD officials. Because they know the timeline, the chronology, the details of when the aid was supposed to move forward, when it was stopped. I expect Democrats and others will dig into that today.


But Bill Taylor was clearly putting together his own story here, based on conversations and phone calls. And his feeling as a diplomat of many decades that something wasn't right here. And him laying out this -- this story of these -- this other channel that included some political ambassadors, that included Giuliani, and some officials who were not career officials really kind of tells us what happened here and how Donald Trump had this direct connection to trying to push the Ukrainians to get dirt on Joe Biden and conduct an information.

BERMAN: David, very quickly, as we're out of time here, the Dan Balz question is what now. It's no longer a question of if. It's a question of what now. What now?

CHALIAN: Yes. Yes, well, you know, we don't see Republicans answering that question. You're right. We sort of know what happened here. What are you going to do about it?

And, you know, we had our poll looking at Republican opposition to impeachment across the country. And overwhelming support for the country right now.

Right now, John, I don't see a ton of cracks in the Republican Party. Even as the fact pattern becomes so mounting here, the evidence is so clear. Clearly, there will be pressure on some of them, but I don't think we should jump to the conclusion that this somehow is going to lead them to abandon the president in droves.

BERMAN: Two more witnesses today. We'll be watching that very closely. Every time someone speaks, we learn something new here. Jen Psaki, David Chalian, thank you very much.

This morning prosecutors are intensifying pressure on the defendants in the college admissions scandal. Lori Loughlin now faces up to 45 years behind bars. Details next.