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Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) is Interviewed About U.S. Diplomat Directly Ties Trump to Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; U.S. Diplomat to Ukraine Testifies to House Committees about Attempted Quid Pro Quo between President Trump and Ukrainian President; Two Men with Ties to Rudy Giuliani Arrested for Campaign Finance Violations to Appear in Court. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2019 - 08:00   ET



CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Again, 36 hours later, calm, professional, kind, and only then the Astros said, hey, we don't want to go into this, and then got into this complete P.R. fiasco at a time when, of course, they should be focusing on game one. But wonderful to see the outpouring for these women who were just doing their job.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. Christine Brennan, thank you very much. Great to talk to you.

And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom with Max Foster is next. For our U.S. viewers, explosive testimony with major implications for the impeachment inquiry. NEW DAY continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, October 23rd. It is 8:00 now in the east. And this explosive testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, giving congressional investigators really what is the most consequential testimony to date in the impeachment inquiry. Here are the headlines President Trump woke up to this morning. "The Washington Post" says "New testimony undercuts the president's claim of no quid pro quo on Ukraine." "The New York Times" says "Ukraine envoy testifies Trump linked military aid to investigations." And this from Rupert Murdoch owned "Wall Street Journal," "Diplomat says Trump tied Ukraine aid to probes into Biden and alleged election interference." In other words, there was a quid pro quo.

Ambassador Bill Taylor told 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 in the 2016 U.S. election, quid pro quo. Taylor's testimony refutes President Trump and his loyalists and includes intricate detail, and we're told it's based on meticulous notes.

CAMEROTA: And we also have breaking news in the 2020 race. A new CNN national poll out this morning shows former Vice President Joe Biden widening his lead among his rivals, with 34 percent of Democratic voters now saying he is their top choice. That is Biden's best showing in CNN polling since April. So we'll break down where Biden is getting support and how the other candidates are faring in a moment.

But first, let's get back to our top story. Let's bring in Jeffrey Toobin, he's a former federal prosecutor and CNN chief legal analyst, and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama and host of the "The Axe Files" on CNN. Gentlemen, great to have you hear in studio. So Bill Taylor's opening statement, 15 pages. It was a really gripping, compelling read. And he just talks about, again, this wasn't his feeling. This wasn't his hunch that the aid was tied to investigations. He had evidence of it.

And so here's just the top line, headline of it. He writes, "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. policymaking and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons." Jeffrey, as you say, in these 15 pages he spells out why he has that belief, the things he overheard on phone calls, the things that he witnessed. And when he says informal channel, he means Giuliani.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Giuliani. It's also worth remembering, August or September of this year, it's only October now. So it's not like he has like dim memories of what was unfolding. This is practically happening in real time. And part of it seems to be that the administration and the president were emboldened by the failure of the Mueller Report to mobilize a realistic chance for impeachment. So he went further in terms of --

CAMEROTA: Right after the Mueller Report.

TOOBIN: The infamous phone call to the president of Ukraine was the day after Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress. And the fact that they are going after this dirt on Biden and using taxpayer dollars as leverage to try to get that dirt just shows how they were -- that they didn't fear investigations because it appeared they had survived Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: Really interesting, David. Our friend Dan Balz sums it up. He basically says this closes one chapter and opens another. He says there's no longer a question ff this happened, if there was a quid pro quo. It's now a question of how the White House will explain it and what Republicans will do about it.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You got a hint of it. Sean Duffy's appearance here in the past half hour. If you can't argue the facts, argue process, and that's what they're trying to do. Now it's not a fair process. We're not getting -- the president's representatives aren't there and so on. It's not in public.

I'm not sure how much water that -- how much that will pass muster, but with Republicans it may. And I think the real strategy for the White House is to partisan-ize this as much as possible and try and galvanize their base so as to hold Republicans in place.


You saw your poll yesterday, 90 percent of Republicans still approve of the president. As long as these Republican representatives and senators feel that the base is in the thrall of the president, I think the feel they can dodge this process.

CAMEROTA: I think it's very interesting to hear the talking points from the Republican side, because when you hear them repeated over and over again, as we just heard with former Congressman Sean Duffy, then it means that there's some coordinated effort. And so it seems today the coordinated effort is he deserves -- the president deserves due process. This is supposed to happen out in the open. That's what happens to Americans. Why is this happening behind closed doors? Can you just quickly give us a reminder, was all Ken Starr's investigation done out in the open for Bill Clinton?

TOOBIN: No, it wasn't. But I think Sean Duffy and company are right about some of these process issues. I don't understand why these are behind closed doors.

CAMEROTA: One of the arguments is that --

TOOBIN: They say they're going to line up their testimony with each other.

CAMEROTA: It's less of a show behind closed doors. They're actually trying to get the information without people grandstanding. That's one of the --

TOOBIN: I think this testimony should be in public.

Now, remember, the impeachment, if it goes forward, will have to be before the Judiciary Committee and there will be witnesses, and presumably Taylor and others who have testified behind closed doors before the Intelligence Committee will do it in public in front of the Judiciary Committee. I certainly hope that's the case.

But I do think this is an unusual process, where -- the good news about yesterday is --

CAMEROTA: It shouldn't happen this way, you're saying?

CAMEROTA: What was different about the other -- about Starr was that it was a grand jury investigation, a criminal investigation, not a congressional investigation. Customarily congressional investigations are in public. The Watergate Committee was in public, chaired by Sam Ervin in the mid-70s. So I think the Democrats can clean this up by holding public hearings. But I do think this is a somewhat bizarre process that the only thing we know about these hearings, except for when people release their own statements, is the partisans who have axes to grind describing what went on behind closed doors.

AXELROD: I know historians out there may correct me, but my recollection is that even during Watergate that the Judiciary Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, held depositions like this, private sessions, before they got to public hearings. So there is some precedent for doing some of this in private before you get to public hearings.

TOOBIN: There is some precedent, but given the magnitude of what's going on here and the fact that these are witnesses who have never been heard from before, the other thing -- the Senate Watergate committee came before the House Judiciary Watergate committee. So a lot of those witnesses had been heard from before. I just think there is something weird.

AXELROD: You've got a point. So the thing that's interesting to me is that there is this argument about what a quid pro quo is. That's what it's come down to. Does this really constitute a quid pro quo? The fact that the president of the United States was enlisting a foreign leader to dig up dirt is in and of itself a matter of grave concern. Now Taylor has added meat to it relative to the pressure that was being brought. But I honestly, whether it's done in public or private, the case is pretty tough for the president here.

TOOBIN: I think it's very tough. And it's weird that quid pro quo, in addition to being somewhat difficult to pronounce, has become the focus of this when, in fact, the very act of asking a foreign leader to get dirt on a political opponent, even though -- even without holding the aid and --

AXELROD: Collusion is so yesterday.

BERMAN: But the quid pro quo was a bar that the Republicans set, not thinking it would be met, and now Bill Taylor has more than met it, most people look at when they see his testimony there.

CAMEROTA: It's not actually a real bar, but John Avlon said it should be a restaurant in Washington called Squid Pro Quo.


AXELROD: He'll probably open one.

CAMEROTA: Speaking of Washington parlor games, let's go to our favorite this morning, and that is that the op-ed, the writer of the anonymous op-ed from, I think, September of 2018, has now come forward with a book that will be published called "The Warning," I think.

BERMAN: Yes, "A Warning."

CAMEROTA: "A Warning"? And it is anonymous. And so there's all sorts of speculation about who the top official is that wrote this.

AXELROD: Setting that aside, here we have an example of Taylor coming forward at risk of his career to report because he thought it was his duty on what he saw. And we have someone who continues to refuse to identify themselves. It kind of makes anonymous look bad, I think.

CAMEROTA: But it sells more books.

AXELROD: Maybe. Maybe.


TOOBIN: Getting us to talk about it on TV.

CAMEROTA: So you don't like this whole idea, either of you?

TOOBIN: I think it's fine. I think, look, I'm a journalist. I offer sources anonymity all the time, but I don't think there's anything especially honorable about speaking anonymously. As David points out, look at Ambassador Taylor, who is a really remarkable public figure. I had the privilege of working in the federal government for a few years. You see how many people in the federal government are sensational, highly skilled, dedicated people, and whose names we don't know. And Taylor is a classic example of this. Vietnam veteran, served -- and then went from the military to the foreign service. It's an extraordinary story. And that's a lot more admirable than some clown writing a book.

BERMAN: Still, Bill Taylor is still working for the U.S. government.

AXELROD: So far as we know.


BERMAN: As far as we know. It is interesting, right, that he chose to do this.

AXELROD: As of this morning.

BERMAN: That would be something.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

So two men with business ties to President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani will be arraigned in just hours in New York. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested, you'll remember, earlier this month for campaign finance violations. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is live outside the court in New York. What do we expect, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, so these men are out on bail. So we will see them. We'll see them walking in to court. This is an arraignment. It will be the first time they are before this judge here in Manhattan.

But the key thing in all of this is just that there is so much yet, Alisyn, to be revealed about these two men and exactly what they were up to. Working closely, hand in hand with Rudy Giuliani, that's one thing that we know for sure, that they were working with Rudy Giuliani to dig up this dirt, dig up damaging information on the Bidens, on Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

And ultimately, that information, a key part of this investigation, winding up with the president, which is now a critical part of this investigation, specifically, the firing, the removal of the ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and what role Giuliani and these two men split had in it. And the other thing, certainly, their relationship with Rudy Giuliani, Alisyn and John, that now a critical part as well of this investigation. Exactly what was their relationship, their financial dealings, and what other kind of dealings and relationship did Rudy Giuliani have with these two men? That is now part of this investigation.

BERMAN: It is all a subplot to the impeachment investigation, or it might actually be part of the plot, the main plot. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for your reporting here. Please keep us posted.

This dramatic deposition from the top diplomat in Ukraine, it really does shoot down the president's claim that there was no quid pro quo. What else did he say behind closed doors? We will speak with a member of Congress who was there, next.

CAMEROTA: Also coming up, actor John Lithgow joins us live with his poetic take on the Trump presidency.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Disturbing, damning, a sea change, just a few of the descriptions from House Democrats who heard the testimony from the top diplomat in Ukraine, Ambassador William Taylor. Taylor said military aid to Ukraine in a White House meet with their new leader was withheld at President Trump's direction until Ukraine committed to investigating the Bidens in the 2016 election.

Joining me is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes who is on the intelligence committee and heard Ambassador Taylor's testimony.

You were asked yesterday, Congressman, if your jaw was still on the floor after hearing that and you responded, still there. What do you mean?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, John, it was pretty startling testimony. When the ambassador got done with his opening statement, which is now public so we can talk about it under the rules, you could hear a pin drop in the room. It was some of the most detailed, specific testimony.

It wasn't some of the most. It was the most detailed and specific testimony we have heard in these many depositions about the holding up of military aid, and not just military aid but a meeting in the White House. That line still resonates with me. It's in the opening statement where the ambassador says that Ambassador Sondland says that everything -- everything is contingent.

I know we're having this long conversation about what the definition of a quid pro quo is, but there's no question from his testimony that everything in the words of ambassador Sondland are contingent on the Ukrainians agreeing to go after Burisma, agreeing to go after Biden and all the other sordid things that they've asked for.

BERMA: It's interesting because just over the last 20 minutes or so, there's been a yet a new defense from the president and his allies. We had former Congressman Sean Duffy on and he said if Ukrainians didn't know that the military aid was being withhold, it can't be a quid pro quo, and the president himself just tweeted out the same notion.

So they're no longer saying all these asks and demands and threats weren't there. Just that somehow the Ukrainians didn't know about it. What do you make of that defense?

HIMES: Well, first of all, like so much of this stuff, it's just plain factually wrong, right? Ambassador Taylor yesterday testifies that the -- in his opening statement again public for people to review, testifies that the Ukrainians figured out largely because of a "Politico" article at the end of august that it was being withheld -- that the military aid was being withheld. OK. The military aid is restored, I think, on September 10th, September 11th.

So there's a nearly two-week period in which they've read in "Politico" that it's being withheld.


Ambassador Taylor and others are embarrassed as all get out because they can't explain this but the Ukrainians know. So that defense is just plain factually wrong.

Secondly, it doesn't really matter, right? I mean, you just need to read the transcript to know what the Ukrainians are receiving, even if they're not getting a contract, you know, sign at the dotted line, do the investigation of Joe Biden and we'll send you your aid, just read the transcript of what the president said on the July 26th phone call. Do us a favor, though. You know, we've helped you out a lot and it hasn't been a symmetrical relationship.

Again, you know, I understand what the Republicans are doing. They're trying to defend the indefensible. And one of the remarkable things here, John, is this is not stuff that Democrats are coming by. This is very senior level people in the administration, in the State Department, coming forward and publicly speaking about what happened.

So, look, the Republicans are trying to defend the indefensible, which, of course, is why we're hearing so much about process as well.

BERMAN: You heard all of the testimony from William Taylor. All we have seen is this 15-page opening statement.

Did the rest of it go into deeper detail? Were there questions that somehow called into question some of the things they were saying? Did it come off as better or worse do you think as you heard more?

HIMES: Yes. John, I can't get into the specifics of what happened behind closed doors, but I can tell you that that opening statement really, really was what dominated the rest of the day. The rest of, did this happen here or on that date, or, you know, a lot of sort of filling in the details.

But that opening statement really was what determined the course of the day.

BERMAN: When do you think that the American people will see the transcript of the full testimony?

HIMES: Well, this, of course, is a cause of some controversy here in the capital. So, the process here is, they need -- we need to make sure there's no classified information in any of the transcripts. The witnesses have the right to review the transcripts and they're coming in and they're doing that. At that point, there is nothing blocking their release.

Chairman Schiff said they will be made public. I believe they will be. Chairman Schiff said there will be open hearings starting relatively soon.

Again, you need to remember, John, that we're doing an investigation here. It's equivalent to what special prosecutor Starr did. Special prosecutor Starr convened a grand jury. He did all kinds of investigations behind closed doors. That's important. Investigations happen behind closed doors.

And he presented a report to Congress. That's the equivalent of where we are today. You can expect open hearings. You can expect to see those transcripts relatively soon.

BERMAN: Do we need to hear from Ambassador Taylor in public? Do the American people deserve to hear from him out loud?

HIMES: I think it's important the American people hear from people like Taylor, from people like Anita Hill, others who are actually room in when these things --

BERMAN: Fiona Hill.

HIMES: Sorry, Fiona. Early in the morning.

Yes, I believe they need to hear that. Now, I don't want to get out in front of the committee but I think that's -- Americans need to understand exactly what happened. We learned in the Mueller report, reading page 197 doesn't convey the same sort of attention that actually live testimony can.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Jim Himes, we do appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you very much.

HIMES: Thank you very much.


President Trump's new defense secretary is not holding back about the decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and let Turkey and Russia move in.


MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're not going to go to war against a NATO ally and certainly not over across -- with regard to a border that we didn't sign up to defend in the first place.


CAMEROTA: Well, more of Christiane Amanpour's interview with Secretary Esper, next.



CAMEROTA: New this morning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials. He's there discussing the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria and the attempt to redeploy them in Iraq.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke with Secretary Esper about the situation along the Syria/Turkish border and a possible ISIS resurgence. Here's part of her interview.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: We see an army captain who has talked to "The New York Times" and basically said, I joined the army to prevent genocide, not to pave the way for it.

We've even seen the head of the Senate Republicans, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell write a very, very pointed op-ed in which he said the combination of a U.S. pullback and escalating Turkish/Kurdish hostilities is creating a strategic nightmare for our country. Even if the five-day ceasefire announced Thursday holds, events of the past week have set back the United States campaign against the Islamic State and other terrorists.

Unless halted, our retreat, he calls it a retreat, will invite the brutal Assad regime in Syria and its Iran backers to expand their influence. And we're ignoring Russia's efforts to leverage its increasing dominant position in Syria to amass power and influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.

As secretary of defense of the United States, how do you respond to that?

ESPER: Look, I understand the sentiments of the soldiers on the ground who have fought side by side with the Kurds. The Kurds have been our good partners. There is a certain bond that happens in combat when you're with fellow soldiers any of country. As you said, I experienced it during my time here in the Gulf War. I understand that.

But at the end of the day, when you get back up to the 30,000-foot level, the strategic level, you've got to ask ourselves, at the time that President Erdogan decided to cross that border, very clearly, that he was going to make that move, I had a responsibility to make sure that our soldiers weren't put in harm's way trapped between a 15,000-man plus army and SDF forces from the south, and eventually Russians and Syrians. So, I took what the recommendation of the chairman and Joint Chiefs of

Staff. We recommended those troops be withdrawn. And the rest of the forces eventually be withdrawn.