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In Testimony, U.S. Diplomat Ties Trump to Ukrainian Quid Pro Quo; Democratic Candidates Evaluated for Mid-Week Grades as Biden Widens Lead Over Rivals; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is Interviewed about Impeachment Investigation Developments. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. And it is being described as the most pivotal and dramatic day of testimony thus far in the impeachment inquiry.

[07:00:10]

Here are the headlines President Trump is waking up to. "The Washington Post," "New Testimony Undercuts Trump's Claim of No Quid Pro Quo on Ukraine." "The New York Times," "Ukraine Envoy Testifies Trump Linked Military Aid to Investigations." And "The Wall Street Journal," "Diplomat Says Aid Tied to Probes into Biden."

Translation? Yes, there was a quid pro quo.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, telling House investigators he was told the release of U.S. military aid to Ukraine was tied to a promise to investigate President Trump's political rivals. Taylor's deposition directly refutes the president's claim that there was no quid pro quo.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And despite being dragged into the Ukraine scandal by the president, Joe Biden enjoying what looks like a surge in support. This brand-new CNN poll released just a few minutes ago shows the former vice president far ahead of the Democratic field with 34 percent of Democratic voters saying that he is their top choice. That's a big jump from last month. And also, his biggest lead since April in the CNN poll. You can see the distance between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They're bunched up in second place there.

Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN global affairs -- senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga.

So much in Bill Taylor's testimony. So much.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's our job to summarize the news, but we would be doing our viewers a favor to tell them to read the whole 15-page single-space document.

CAMEROTA: It's an easy read. It goes down easy.

TOOBIN: It's like a movie. I mean, it is really like a movie, because --

BERMAN: Spoken by someone who's written a few.

TOOBIN: Well, yes, that's right. And seen many movies.

The -- here's this guy. This, you know, honorable public servant, military, Vietnam vet, many years in the foreign service. And he comes to Ukraine with the assignment, get the military aid to our allies in Ukraine. And they're like, all these shadowy figures there. The military aid is not coming through. And he can't figure out what's going on. And he starts asking questions.

And it's like he's wandering through this wilderness of mirrors. And then the pieces start to come into play. You know, Ambassador Sondland, Rudy Giuliani are running this separate foreign policy from the one he, as the ambassador, is supposed to know. And the detail and the drama of his story is really extraordinary.

CAMEROTA: It's a quick and easy read.

TOOBIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: People can find it on CNN.com.

But for the Cliff Notes, here are some. Here is a little portion, Bianna, that he wrote about. He says, "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."

So that was his conclusion by August and September. But what is so interesting about these 15 pages is this isn't just his hunch. He's not just surmising. He lays out in explicit detail the phone calls, the meetings, the weirdness that allowed him to finally figure out, oh, in fact, this is happening.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: He has 30 years of experience in this arena, right? Serving Republicans and Democrats. And he lays out -- I agree with you, this is a brilliant read. Because for the American public at home who says, why should I care about Ukraine? Even if there's corruption, how does it impact my life?

When he talks about that irregular channel of communications, here's what he says. "The irregular policy channel which was run by the three amigos" -- he ran the regular side.

CAMEROTA: Meaning Giuliani --

BERMAN: Sondland.

GOLODRYGA: Sondland and Volker.

CAMEROTA: Volker. GOLODRYGA: He says the irregular policy channel "was running contrary to the goals of long-standing U.S. policy" and that Ukraine is important for our security.

And that's why this matters for America going forward. He also says that he raised red flags early on. He sent a memo to Secretary of State Pompeo. He had told Pompeo early on, I'm concerned about what happened with Masha Yovanovitch. I saw that she was treated improperly.

Pompeo says go in. Where is this memo? Pompeo to this day says there was nothing wrong with this call.

BERMAN: He gave the State Department the notes. We know that. That's been reported. The State Department has the notes, has the memos. What happens to them, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: We'll see. Because the White House has said, we are not cooperating with the -- any of these investigations. So the State Department institutionally, which has these physical notes, may never turn them over. But these individuals who work at the State Department are making the individual decision to testify, as Taylor did.

BERMAN: To the issue of the quid pro quo, again, just to put more meat on the bones of the Cliff Notes version. This is P-104. This is what Taylor said yesterday. "By mid-July, it was becoming increasingly clear to me the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. It was also clear that this condition was driven by" -- and this is what you were talking about before -- "the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani."

[07:05:15]

TOOBIN: Now, this is one aspect of the testimony that, if you are a defender of the president, you are going to -- you are going to at least raise questions about. Because he uses phrases like, "It was clear to me. I became aware." But he doesn't always say exactly how he learned that.

CAMEROTA: But sometimes he does.

TOOBIN: Sometimes he does. But -- but keep in mind that's a potential vulnerability that he has.

The other thing is, he has no direct contact with President Trump.

BERMAN: Can I just say --

TOOBIN: Unlike Sondland.

GOLODRYGA: Unlike Sondland.

BERMAN: To Alisyn's point, in defense of Alisyn Camerota here -- CAMEROTA: Fantastic.

BERMAN: This is P-106. "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."

CAMEROTA: It doesn't get much closer than that.

TOOBIN: Well, that's true.

CAMEROTA: That's the instruction.

TOOBIN: That's, you know, one removed.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TOOBIN: But by the way, Sondland has a lot of problems.

CAMEROTA: Right. There's some discrepancies in their testimonies.

TOOBIN: Yes. And Sondland had mysterious lapses of memory and peculiar aspects to his testimony. We need to see the full transcript.

GOLODRYGA: He seemed to understand what was going on earlier than he's indicated. Because in this testimony from Taylor in July, there was a phone call between the three amigos -- I'm just going to call them instead of taking time to name them all -- and -- and President Zelensky.

And Sondland made a point of saying, we are not going to have this telephone conversation transcribed.

CAMEROTA: Right.

GOLODRYGA: Nobody record it. And Taylor, in all of his years of experience -- remember, Sondland's a novice in this role. Taylor thought that was very unusual.

CAMEROTA: Yes. He took note of it. It was June 28.

GOLODRYGA: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And he took note of it because it was unusual. So all the notes that we're hoping will be released, there aren't notes of some of these calls.

GOLODRYGA: He's a diplomat. That's what they do. Experienced diplomats are well-known note takers.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And I just mean the transcript that we all are hungry for of the moment --

GOLODRYGA: Yes. CAMEROTA: -- there might not be, because they -- Ambassador Sondland, at least, was smart enough to say, let's not have any transcribers on this call.

GOLODRYGA: But the president was adamant about getting Zelensky -- not just telling advisers that, yes, he will investigate but going forward. Going to the podium. Going on record saying that we will investigate Burisma; we will investigate the origins of the 2016 election.

And it's quite telling that Zelensky, also a political neophyte, with all of this pressure, chose not to.

And if there's one thing I can add, in addition to Taylor's very captivating testimony, is that he really put it in the perspective of human lives being -- at line. He said 13,000 Ukrainians have been killed thus far. And by the U.S. withholding that aid, he surmised that more lives would be lost. And that, to him, was just incomprehensible.

BERMAN: The Dan Balz question this morning, "The Washington Post," is he says it's no longer a question of if this happened. Bill Taylor lays out the evidence that it happened. The question is how will the White House explain it and what will Republicans do about it?

And I thought we saw -- boy, did we see a moment overnight. Matt Whitaker, who was the acting attorney general of the United States, who you would think cares about the Constitution and the history of it, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What evidence of a crime do you have? I mean, the Constitution, you know, sort of abuse of power is not a crime. Let's fundamentally boil it down. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So Matt Whitaker, who had the job of attorney general, just said abuse of power is not a crime. Now, he knows that's not the issue here. Dealing with impeachment is bribery, treason, or high crimes and misdemeanors. And Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the freaking thing --

TOOBIN: Yes.

BERMAN: -- along with James Madison, made crystal clear --

CAMEROTA: Wrap it.

BERMAN: -- that when you're talking about it, that you're talking about the violation of public trust. The abuse or violation of some public trust. TOOBIN: Right. It has been clear since the framing of the

Constitution that impeachable offenses do not have to be crimes under federal law.

It is an interesting question about whether this whole interaction with the -- is, in fact, a crime. The issue of extortion, of what's called the Hobbs Act. Extortion under color of official right. Whether that's what was going on here.

But certainly, the idea it's not impeachable if it's not a violation of Title 18, which is the United States criminal code. That's just a fake argument that hasn't been true since, you know, the 18th Century.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I think -- OK. I think that that's interesting, an interesting academic argument.

The other argument is just would Republicans have been comfortable with these conversations if any Democrat in the history of the world had ever been in office?

I mean, the idea that they're willing to overlook, now that it's all spelled out here. We know about these conversations. We know about the -- the -- I mean, Bill Taylor talks about the -- hearing the OMB person come into the room and say, Stop the aid. We have to tie it up. This is from the president. The president has just called the Office of Management and Budget, because we can't send any aid right now to Ukraine, because of we hadn't extracted yet the promise of an investigation.

GOLODRYGA: Congressionally appropriated aid. Right? You have members of Congress -- Mark Meadows being one of them -- coming out and saying, I heard no reference to quid pro quo. Nothing to see here, folks.

[07:10:24]

I have to say what really is disturbing -- and I think a lot of Americans should point this out -- is that career diplomats, public servants, Bill Taylor, who served this country for 50 years in multiple capacities, right; Masha Yovanovitch was treated terribly. And yet she told Bill Taylor before he took this job, do it. Do it for the morale of the State Department. Do it for your country.

And for the White House to say that they're leftists who are out to get them, it is a shame to describe public servants and to treat them that way. By the way, he's still in that job right now.

TOOBIN: One more brief point. The testimony raises the possibility of other very important witnesses, including John Bolton --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TOOBIN: -- who -- the former national security adviser --

CAMEROTA: He's got to be on speed dial.

TOOBIN: -- who is furious about what's going here.

CAMEROTA: Yes. He's in a lot of scenarios.

TOOBIN: I mean, he is certainly someone that Congress is going to want to hear from.

BERMAN: Bolton, Tim Morrison. The list goes on and on.

TOOBIN: Right.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, Bianna Golodryga, thank you very much.

Other breaking news this morning. This new CNN poll that shows Joe Biden widening his lead over his Democratic rivals. But there is one red flag for his supporters that is giving his opponents a boost. Chris Cillizza has the mid-week grades, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:15:55]

BERMAN: All right. The breaking news this morning, this brand-new CNN poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden has expanded his lead over his 2020 Democratic rivals. Thirty-four percent of likely Democratic voters now say Biden is their top choice. That's up ten points from September and firmly ahead of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have seen their support hold steady.

Let us get our mid-week grades now with CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

We see Biden expanding his lead to 34 percent, the widest lead since April. Yet somehow, Professor Cillizza, he doesn't earn the top grade in your weekly grades.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: You know, John, they said the Nats could never beat Gerrit Cole in game one. So sometimes you have to go against the grain.

OK, here -- and yes, that was a totally gratuitous Nationals reference.

Here we go to the grades. I'm going to start at the top. Bernie Sanders, you're right. I'll get to Biden, though. Bernie Sanders, "A." Why?

Look, three weeks ago, we were talking about Bernie Sanders, the fact that he had a heart attack. Was he going to continue in the race? What would that look like? He had said he was going to scale back his campaign.

Suddenly, he's the momentum guy in some ways. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez endorsement, Rashid Tlaib endorsement, Ilhan Omar endorsement. All those things say he's the real liberal here. And in order for him to stay in this race, he has to be the real liberal. So "A."

Now let's go to another unapologetic liberal in the race, Elizabeth Warren. I gave her a "B-plus." Why?

She by rights, in terms of where she is in the race, she should get an "A." And I've given her an "A" before. The reason for it is because she's the frontrunner in Iowa. She's got 20-plus million dollars in the bank. I think she's got a good chance in New Hampshire. So she's got the path.

Why does she get a "B-plus"? Medicare for all. That is a clear weakness. She said she's going to explain it. Well, you've got to explain it, and it's got to be convincing.

Should I go on?

CAMEROTA: Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

CILLIZZA: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: You're welcome.

CILLIZZA: "B-plus," as well. I'm feeling very grade-friendly this week. Pete Buttigieg, "B-plus."

He is, I think, the candidate to watch in Iowa other than Warren. I know that Biden is kind of going to be there maybe top three. I think Buttigieg is something to look at. 20$20 million-plus in the bank. He had a great debate last week. I think he's getting there. Though I will note, in our poll, still not showing nationally that kind of growth.

BERMAN: We still have two more candidates to get to, or at least another one to get to the guy who's actually leading in the new CNN poll. Who's next on your list?

CILLIZZA: OK. Next on my list, Amy Klobuchar. "B-minus." She's had the best week of her campaign. Good in the debate. I thought quite good in the debate. She's raised $2 million-plus for her campaign since that debate.

And in our poll this morning, you'll note -- this is important -- down there, she's at 3 percent. Why is that important? She's now only one poll away from qualifying for the November debate. Why does she get a "B-minus"? Because she's still one poll away from qualifying from the next debate.

And then, John, last but not least, Joe Biden, "C-plus." I struggled with this. I erased it, I mean, electronically speaking erased it. I didn't actually take an eraser, though I've got plenty of erasers at the house. Thanks, kids. I went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Here's where I wound up. The best news for him in weeks is the numbers you just showed, 34 percent. Clearly in the lead nationally. I would have graded him far lower than this because he has some real issues. One is the fact he has less than $9 million in the bank. He had to apologize for a past comment about public lynching. He did so last night. It was unearthed by our own Andrew Kaczynski. His past record, his poor fund raising. These are things that are going to make it hard for him to sustain. But he is sustaining. "C- plus."

BERMAN: How do you explain the sustaining, in ten seconds or less? Given all the weaknesses you just laid out.

CILLIZZA: Yes, thanks, John, for ten seconds or less. He continues to consolidate non-white vote. Forty-two -- he's at 42 percent among non-white voters. That's the key, particularly in South Carolina.

Look, if Biden's numbers among black voters, particularly in South Carolina, if he's still a double-digit favorite, he can still be the nominee even if he loses to Iowa and New Hampshire.

[07:20:06]

CAMEROTA: OK. Chris Cillizza bringing the grades and the energy.

CILLIZZA: Go, Nats!

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Go, Jared [SIC] Cole.

CILLIZZA: Not funny.

CAMEROTA: Gerrit.

BERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: It's Gerrit. Must I always correct you?

BERMAN: You're right, you're right. Sorry.

CAMEROTA: Wow. All right.

Russia criticizing President Trump's decision to pull out of northern Syria, calling it a betrayal to our Kurdish allies. Back in the U.S., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an unexpected response. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: America's top diplomat in Ukraine, Ambassador Bill Taylor, testified before House committees on Tuesday for nearly ten hours. In his explosive testimony, Ambassador Taylor explained, quote, "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."

Joining us now to talk about this and more is Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He's a member of the Appropriations, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Good morning, Alisyn. Always good to be on with you.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

So I know that all this happened on the House side. You're on the Senate side. But now that his opening statement, his 15-page opening statement, has been made public, do you think that all of the pretty jaw-dropping revelations that Ambassador Taylor made will change anything on the Senate side? Particularly among your Republican colleagues?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, that's hard to know. But anyone who paid attention to Ambassador Taylor's testimony yesterday has got to sit up and pay attention.

Bill Taylor is well-regarded as a career diplomat, not someone who is known to have any publicly-identified political leanings. And that he came forward, in spite of the open opposition of the leadership of the State Department, to testify forcefully and clearly for hours that there was a politically-motivated, inappropriate quid pro quo behind the holding back of badly-needed military assistance to Ukraine, an ally of the United States that faces years of persistent, aggressive undermining of their security by Russian-backed separatist militia in the Donbass. That really is shocking.

This is as strong a piece of evidence as I've heard so far in the House inquiry. And I think it lends further support to the idea that the House inquiry is appropriate and should be proceeding.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of Russia, I want to ask you about this Vladimir Putin/President Erdogan of Turkey meeting yesterday, where they basically awarded themselves control of the area in Syria that U.S. troops had formerly been patrolling last week or two weeks ago.

What is the upshot of all of this to you?

COONS: Well, Alisyn, yesterday in the Foreign Relations Committee, we had Ambassador Jeffrey in front of us, who is the special envoy for Syria, and the former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. He tried valiantly to do his job and to defend this abrupt reversal of America's position.

But in his written testimony, he said our core national security interests in Syria are preventing Iran from maintaining or expanding its foothold; securing the defeat of ISIS; and making sure there's a resolution to the Syria civil war that reflects America's priorities and values.

On all three fronts, this tragic, ill-informed mistake by our president weakens the United States' position. We've lost our seat at the table for any future negotiations. We've lost the trust of the Kurds and any other fighting force that might stand alongside us in difficult conflicts in the future. And most critically, we've emboldened ISIS. At least a hundred

hardened ISIS fighters have escaped. And having control over the roughly 10,000 who are still in detention is an uncertain prospect going forward.

So I frankly think this very large area, frankly, almost the size of Delaware, that is -- has been lost to Kurdish control and is now being jointly patrolled by Russians and Turks, is an area that has millions of people in it and could very soon be the scene of ethnic cleansing. I'm gravely concerned, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Did you find it surprising what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did yesterday? He introduced this joint resolution condemning this act. And as you know, he's been reluctant to condemn things in the past about President Trump. And saying that President Trump should rescind the invitation to Erdogan to come to the White House, which I think was planned for November. Did that surprise you?

COONS: That's right. Alisyn, it does surprise me, because Majority Leader McConnell has been so reticent to ever criticize President Trump's action.

And I think both the editorial that Majority Leader McConnell published this past weekend that was very forceful, and this resolution on the floor suggests that there is broad bipartisan opposition.

I'll remind you, back in January of this year, 70 senators, myself included, joined a resolution of the Senate that was led by Majority Leader McConnell that expressed our strong opposition to a precipitous withdrawal from Syria.

And former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a widely-respected, decorated, four-star Marine Corps general, resigned in protest when President Trump tried to pull the same maneuver last December.

He was well-informed in advance of how strongly senators, both Republican and Democrat, feel about this. And yet our president went ahead and did it anyway while we were on recess. I'm encouraged that Majority Leader McConnell is stepping forward with this resolution.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the 2020 race. Of course, you support your fellow Delawarean, Joe Biden. I want to ask you about his fundraising, though, which has been lackluster. compared to some of his rivals.

So here's for the third quarter. He raised --

[07:30:00]