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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Lawyer Arguing Presidents Are Above The Law?; Republicans Forcibly Crash Impeachment Testimony; Trump Lawyer Argues President Couldn't Be Investigated Even For A Shooting On Fifth Avenue While In Office; Testimony Underway After GOP Lawmakers Storm Hearing, Delaying Witness And Disrupting Impeachment Probe; Indicated Giuliani Associates Who Helped Investigate Biden Plead Not Guilty, One Suggests Case Tied To Trump; Warren Demands Answers From The Trump Admin After CNN Reveals U.S. Weapons Are Being Used Against Allies In Yemen. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 23, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Rudy's allies in court. We're learning more tonight about the indicted businessmen who helped Giuliani's efforts to investigate Joe Biden. Why is one of the defendants suggesting a new link to the president?
And Fifth Avenue defense. Mr. Trump's lawyers put a new twist on one of his most stunning remarks, arguing he's immune from any criminal investigations while in office, even if he shot people in the middle of Manhattan. Did an appeals court buy it?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on House Republicans going to war against the impeachment investigation, apparently with the knowledge of the president.
About two dozen conservative lawmakers storming into a closed-door session where a top Pentagon official was about to testify. The witness finally is being questioned tonight. A source tells CNN that President Trump knew in advance of the GOP plan to protest the impeachment process.
This new offensive comes a day after a top diplomat's bombshell testimony directly tying Mr. Trump to a quid pro quo on Ukraine.
I will talk with a Democratic congressman who was in the room as the chaos played out up on Capitol Hill. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we cover this breaking story.
First, let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.
Sunlen, it's been a wild day in the impeachment inquiry. What's happening now? SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure has been a
very chaotic and wild day up here on Capitol Hill, Wolf.
The testimony of Pentagon official Laura Cooper has started. It started late this afternoon. And it is still going on at this moment. But that is after a group of House Republicans not on these relevant investigatory committees were able to push a five-hour delay of her testing, breaching House rules.
They staged something of a protest, storming into the secure classified setting where she was to start her testimony, a show of political theatrics that Democrats tonight are calling a stunt.
SERFATY (voice-over): As President Trump is ordering Republicans to get tougher and fight impeachment, tonight, House Republicans lashing out and chaos erupting on Capitol Hill.
REP. MARK WALKER (R-NC): It is a sham, and it's time for it to end.
REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): It's a total political hit job on the president of the United States!
SERFATY: With tensions high, Laura Cooper, a top Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine and Russia policy, testifying behind closed doors in front of the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry, but that testimony coming to an immediate and dramatic halt.
REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): Don't hide it from the American people! Show your face where we can all see the travesty that you are trying to foist on America and the degradation of our republic that you are engaged in!
SERFATY: Nearly two dozen Republicans not on the relevant committees forcing their way into the secure room where the testimony was taking place.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): We're going to go and see if we can get inside. So let's see if we can get in.
SERFATY: Flooding in through three different doors, refusing to leave.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): There's a number of members, congressional members that are not part of the three committees that are actually in their, plan to stay there until we have a more open and transparent and fair process.
SERFATY: Attacking the process and protesting the deposition being held behind closed doors.
REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): I know the Republicans are under a lot of stress. And I guess, when -- desperate people do desperate things.
SERFATY: A source in the room calling it "the closest thing I have seen around here to mass civil unrest as a member of Congress."
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.
SERFATY: That explosive testimony of Bill Taylor, the president's top diplomat in Ukraine, completely undercutting the administration's defense that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Taylor telling lawmakers Tuesday that President Trump would withhold military aid to Ukraine until it publicly announced an investigation that could help his reelection chances, including looking into former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter.
SERFATY: Meantime, as Democrats up here on Capitol Hill continue their push for more witnesses, more information in their probe, off Capitol Hill, a federal judge today granted an emergency motion from a federal watchdog group, ordering the State Department to release Ukraine-related records, including communications between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
And, Wolf, the State Department has 30 days to hand over those documents.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.
Let's go to the White House right now, where President Trump apparently was aware of the GOP impeachment protest before it happened.
Our White House Correspondent, Boris Sanchez, is joining us.
Boris, what are you learning about any advanced coordination?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one source telling CNN that President Trump was at the very least aware that Republicans might stage this protest today.
Not surprising, perhaps, because, for days, the president has been calling on his party to be more aggressive in defending him during this impeachment inquiry.
Meantime, the president is still trying to spin his confounding strategy in Syria. All his top officials are contradicting the president when it comes to the status of conditions on the ground there.
GAETZ: Let's see if we can get in. SANCHEZ (voice-over): Tonight, as chaos was unfolding on Capitol Hill, with Republican members interrupting testimony from the latest impeachment witness, a source tells CNN that not only was the stunt preplanned, but President Trump was aware it would happen, a source revealing that some of the Republican members who stormed Laura Cooper's deposition appeared at the White House Tuesday night.
President Trump also shooting a warning to Republicans who aren't standing by him through the fight -- quote -- "The never-Trumper Republicans, though on respirators, with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our country than the do-nothing Democrats. Watch out for them. They are human scum."
The tweet coming on the heels of the number two Republican in the Senate lamenting testimony from the president's top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, Senator John Thune telling reporters off camera -- quote -- "The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we have seen, I would say, is not a good one."
Behind closed doors, the president's attorneys are scrambling. Sources say Trump's legal team is recalibrating their impeachment strategy, keeping the focus on the Democrats' command of legal proceedings, instead of trying to answer for this absence of Trump's alleged actions on Ukraine, arguing the president is being denied due process.
Meantime, Trump attempting to spin another crisis of his own making in Northern Syria.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand.
SANCHEZ: Even as administration officials paint a very different picture of what's happening on the ground, today, Trump defiantly declaring victory.
TRUMP: Today's announcement validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago was scorned. And now people are saying, wow, what a great outcome. Congratulations. It's too early, to me, to be congratulated, but we have done a good job. We have saved a lot of lives.
Most importantly, we have avoided another costly military intervention that could have led to disastrous, far-reaching consequences.
SANCHEZ: Trump also announcing the imminent lifting of sanctions on Turkey, though, just yesterday, his top envoy to Syria admitted Turkish forces likely committed war crimes against the Kurds.
JAMES JEFFREY, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR SYRIA ENGAGEMENT: We have seen several incidents which we consider war crimes.
SANCHEZ: The president also trying to downplay the escape of more than 100 ISIS detainees.
TRUMP: There were a few that got out, a small number, relatively speaking. And they have been largely recaptured.
SANCHEZ: Though, hours earlier, Jeffrey contradicted Trump, saying the U.S. does not know where those ISIS fighters are. He later told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the mission against ISIS is incomplete.
JEFFREY: We obviously had troops there for a mission. The mission was defeating ISIS. So, if you remove those troops before that mission is complete, then you have a problem. And we do have a problem right now.
SANCHEZ: Wolf, the ambassador added that the U.S. is trying to work through this problem, looking at options to try to coordinate with the SDF, the Syrian Defense Forces, that are charged with keeping those ISIS prisoners locked up.
Now, the president is expected to return to the White House shortly from an event that he held in Pittsburgh. He's going to be facing many questions. We will keep you posted on whether he actually takes our questions or not -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Boris Sanchez, thanks very much for that report.
Let's bring in our analysts.
And, Gloria, the president, as we have just been reporting, he did have advanced knowledge of this effort by a couple dozen Republican members of the House to storm the SCIF. That's the secure room, the suite, where highly classified information is shared, secure, compartmented information facility.
And, all of a sudden, it's a big issue right now. The president apparently knew about it in advance.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a stunt. It's theatrical. The president is an entertainer, and if he knew about it and approved of it, it doesn't really surprise me.
What does surprise me, quite honestly, is that members of Congress wouldn't know that you cannot take your cell phones into a SCIF, that you could damage the integrity of the secure location by doing that, and that that is against the rules of the House.
You want to demonstrate, you want to hold a press conference, you want to say they're not handling this properly? And, by the way, process is the main argument. It doesn't seem to be much of an argument about what the president did.
Then there are other ways to do it. But doing it this way was just clearly a stunt.
BLITZER: And you think -- you would think these members, Bianna, would know about the serious national security implications of bringing a cell phone into the SCIF.
Our law enforcement analysts, Josh Campbell, who used to work at the FBI, he wrote this.
He said: "If an employee of the intelligence community brought their personal device into a secure facility, and live-tweeted a meeting, it would probably be their last day employed by the U.S. government."
There are serious implications of this.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There are.
And anybody that had a security clearance, if they hadn't been fired, that security clearance would be removed as well. There's a reason for process. There's a reason for rules.
And while it may be a surprise for many of those Republicans, who, I agree with Gloria, were there more for show, there will be a time when President Trump will not be president. There will be a time when there is going to be a Democratic president.
And I don't know how they would react if Democrats did the same. That's why you have process. You don't want to change that. And you see that this comes just two days after the president said that he wanted Republicans to act tougher.
Well, this could possibly be one of the ways that they were acting tougher. But it also came after a day of very damaging testimony from Bill Taylor yesterday.
BLITZER: They're not -- these members who stormed the SCIF, Evan, not members of the Intelligence Committee. So maybe they simply did not know the rules, even though there were guards telling them, don't bring any electronic equipment in there.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, look, I think there's very little doubt that anyone has that these guys know what the rules are.
And what this was simply to disrupt what is going on in here. And, look, their complaint is simply that the Democrats are running a process without due process, right, that this whole impeachment thing is being done without due process.
Well, this is how it is. This is Congress' prerogative. They have the right to gather evidence, to do these depositions behind closed doors. A lot of us obviously would love to see it in public.
BORGER: And we might.
PEREZ: Right, because I do think that it provides context, and it is better that way for the public to see it.
I mean, we -- I think we all agree with that. But this is the prerogative of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to do it this way. And no one else really has the right to tell them otherwise.
BLITZER: Because elections, David, clearly matter. They have consequences. The Democrats are the majority in the House of Representatives. The Republicans are the minority.
The Democrats come up with the rules.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Democrats come up with the rules. They control the committees on the House side, and they are, as Evan said, running this the way they want, Wolf.
I will say that this -- as Gloria said, this is all about process. I didn't think that the Democrats should call the president's bluff on having a full House vote to start these hearings.
I do think Democrats, just as a matter of tactics, should call Republicans' bluff here and say, sure, you want to have these hearings on national TV, in Madison Square Garden, let's do it, because most of the damning facts are already out there, including the transcript of the July 25 call that the White House itself released.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's an interesting and important point, because one thing that Republicans on these committees are actually capable of doing is questioning the witnesses themselves.
And so I think they're really focusing their efforts on the process, because, when it comes to the substance of allegations, there's not much there by which they can defend the president and his actions.
If you look at the sequence of events, we first had reports of the president's attempts to have his Ukrainian counterpart investigate Joe Biden and his son. The president then acknowledged to reporters that, yes, I did, in fact, ask him to investigate Joe Biden and his son, and I would do it again.
He has repeatedly called on not just Ukraine, but also China, to investigate the Bidens. The White House released a summary of the call confirming as much, in which the president also offered the services of the Justice Department, as well as his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
And now you have had this slew of witnesses who have come forward on Capitol Hill and really, I think, substantiated a lot of the allegations at hand.
And so, for Republicans, what they're really left in the position -- what they're really in a position to now is trivialize the process, because they don't really have much else. And they're facing a lot of pressure from the president to fall in line.
BORGER: And let's just say, if it were up to the White House, nobody would be testifying.
BORGER: There wouldn't be anybody there.
And so they have -- now they're...
PEREZ: The people that are testifying are doing so in defiance, essentially, of the White House and the Republicans.
BORGER: well, they're asking to be subpoenaed, so that they can effectively say, well, I'm under subpoena, so I have to -- I have no choice.
But the White House didn't want any of these people to testify. And maybe some of them will return and testify in public. We still don't know how that's going to...
BLITZER: And, Bianna, the president is clearly frustrated. He's clearly very angry. And he's reeling from Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony yesterday before these committees behind closed doors, although we did get his 15-page single-spaced opening statement released.
In a tweet, he called Ambassador Taylor, who is a Vietnam War veteran, a graduate of West Point, 45 years as a career Foreign Service officer, a top diplomat, he called Taylor a never-Trumper.
And then he said, never-Trumper Republicans are human scum.
What do you make of that language?
GOLODRYGA: That's not even worthy to be addressed, Wolf, except for the fact that we have heard crickets from Mike Pompeo, right?
So Mike Pompeo, who just a couple of weeks ago, when Congress said that they were wanting to hear from these individuals, Mike Pompeo, in all his pride for those that work for him and Defense, said that, I will not allow this because I'm going to be defending my people.
Well, Mr. Secretary of State, where's your defense of what the president just said about the ambassador to Ukraine?
I do have to also say, along the lines of what the panel's been talking about, if Republicans really want this out there, I don't know that there's anything that we have heard over the past week-and-a-half that benefits their storyline, everything we have heard, even from Gordon Sondland, who was an ally of the president's.
What we heard from Bill Taylor yesterday was thus far the most damning that we have heard from any testimony. And it's been a week-and-a- half of damning testimony. In addition to that, one could argue whether this should be public or not, but it's not as if there aren't Republicans among these three committees that are in the room. You heard from Representative Meadows there, right? So there are
Republicans that are part of this process. And what we saw today was just an effort to deflect from what we saw and heard yesterday from the ambassador, which was devastating.
BLITZER: It was interesting that, today, the president had a couple opportunities to answer reporters' questions. Some questions were shouted.
The president did not want to answer any questions in connection with Ambassador Taylor's testimony yesterday. We will see if that continues.
Much more on all the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with our analysts.
We're following the breaking news on a chaotic GOP protest of the impeachment investigation up on Capitol Hill today. And it comes a day after a top U.S. diplomat directly tied President Trump to a quid pro quo in the Ukraine scandal.
Bianna, talk a little bit about that, because one of the defenses that the president and his supporters are making is, it couldn't be a quid pro quo, because the Ukrainians supposedly didn't know that aid to Ukraine was being suspended at all.
But does that argument hold up?
GOLODRYGA: Well, according to two reports that came out just today, is that doesn't hold up.
"The New York Times" reported that the administration and Ukraine, President Zelensky and those around him were aware of what the president here was asking of him and were really caught in the middle between needing to defend themselves regarding Russia invading and some 13,000 of their troops already having been killed and following through with the U.S., not wanting to interfere with U.S. elections.
And that's, of course, what many of our diplomats were telling them to do. Don't interfere with the U.S. election system. And, again, the AP reported that, May 7, right after Zelensky was elected and a few weeks before his inauguration, he had a staff meeting with some of his top aides.
And he was made aware even then that there was concern about Joe Biden and investigating his son and the 2016 election coming from the Trump administration. So that argument fell flat today. And I'm sure we're going to be getting more reporting as the weeks and days span out.
BLITZER: Because Bianna is absolutely right. "The New York Times" reports that the Ukrainians learned in early August that aid was frozen, and they were told to reach up to the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to fix it.
SWERDLICK: Right. That can easily be established by all the documentation and evidence that's already out there.
But it's ridiculous that the administration and their backers are trying to feed people this line. President Zelensky reads "The Washington Post." He reads "The New York Times." He knew that Congress approved the $391 billion. He knew that the president signed it.
So then they're sitting around wondering, where's the money? We need it. We're fighting the Russians.
PEREZ: And more than that, I mean, they already -- certainly, by the summer, the Ukrainians are aware of stories showing Rudy Giuliani trying to put this storyline of what he wants investigated by the Ukrainians.
So, I mean, it's all abundantly clear to everyone how the two things are connected, right? I mean, it's not a huge guess by anybody.
BORGER: No, and you -- can we just say you don't even need a quid pro quo?
I mean, this is a phrase that the president has adopted. He's saying it over and over and over again, like he says witch-hunt and all the rest during the Mueller investigation or collusion and whatever -- that you don't need it.
The Constitution doesn't say quid pro quo. It says this could be -- Congress has to decide -- an abuse of power, period, because the ask, I'd like you to do me a favor, comma, though, that's the ask.
BORGER: That's all you need. You don't need Zelensky on the other end to say, oh, OK, I will do you that favor.
We don't care about Zelensky. We care about what the president did.
SIDDIQUI: And there are others who might suggest that this is a form of extortion or blackmail.
BORGER: Exactly. Yes.
SIDDIQUI: It is still something that many would characterize as an abuse of power.
But the president and his allies are trying to establish this threshold for a very explicit quid pro quo, so that they can distract from everything that has come forth in the past month by way of the testimony from career diplomats who are intimately involved in some of these discussions and saw firsthand this pressure campaign against Ukraine to investigate the president's political opponent. In fact, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, he told CNN's Manu
Raju today that, well, it wasn't a quid pro quo, because, in the end, Ukraine did not actually investigate the Bidens.
So they're just trying to move the goalposts, because it goes back to this idea that they can't really defend the president against the substance of the allegations.
To your point, though, the most remarkable thing that emerges from Bill Taylor's testimony is the amount of resistance that the Ukrainians have to try to actually be drawn into the U.S. election.
That's a remarkable thing to see from this diplomat, who is -- who could hear from them that, no, we want to get an official request from the Justice Department. We want to do this through the proper channels, because I think they know what was going on. They knew exactly what was happening.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Bianna. You want to make a point?
GOLODRYGA: Well, I was just going to say we can go into the weeds of quid pro quo.
I mean, the bigger story here is what Bill Taylor laid out, what all of the diplomats really laid out, and that is that what was coming out of the White House was against standard U.S. policy, and it was hurting U.S. national security. And it was withholding money that had been allocated by Congress, that had been appropriated by Congress for Ukraine.
And then the irony that this president and this administration was all the sudden focused on corruption in Ukraine, where the only bright spot that came out of Gordon's -- of Taylor's -- I'm sorry -- testimony yesterday was that Zelensky was someone that they were very hopeful and optimistic about, about actually tackling corruption.
So none of this makes sense.
BLITZER: The new president of Ukraine.
Gloria, on a different area, one of the president's lawyers was in court today on a very different case arguing that the president can't even be investigated, can't even be investigated for a crime while he's in office.
The judge raised that famous quote from the then candidate Donald Trump.
Let me play that clip. Let me remind our viewers what the president said during the campaign. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The people, my people are so smart.
And you know what else they say about my people, the polls? They say, I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so watch how this came up in court earlier today.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUDGE DENNY CHIN, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT: What's your view on the Fifth Avenue example? Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?
WILLIAM CONSOVOY, Attorney: I think, once the -- a president is removed from office, they will -- any local authority -- this is not a permanent immunity.
CHIN: Well, I'm talking about while in office.
CHIN: That is the hypo.
CHIN: Nothing could be done? That's your position?
CONSOVOY: That is correct. That is correct.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: How incredible is that...
BLITZER: ... if the president of the United States, God forbid, were to shoot somebody in the middle of Manhattan while in office, he couldn't even be investigated for that?
BORGER: Well, what his attorney is saying is that the president is above the law.
I mean, sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. But that is what his attorney said. And I'm not a lawyer. I don't play one on television. But it's
absurd. It's absolutely absurd.
SWERDLICK: It's also fiction.
SWERDLICK: I mean, there is absolutely nothing to -- nowhere is it written that the president cannot be investigated, nowhere.
BORGER: He can't be indicted.
BLITZER: A sitting president, the Justice Department guideline, is can't be indicted, but investigated is different.
PEREZ: But, again, those are Justice Department interpretations or guidelines, right? There is no law.
PEREZ: And so, by the way, it's never been tested in court. Someone should.
And you can see I think some judges are raising questions as to whether or not this actually should stand. And I think, look, we have never had a situation like this where a president is essentially inviting, right, someone to test this.
And so I think that's the big question right now is that you can't let a Justice Department rule essentially become law just like that.
SWERDLICK: I agree with Evan's analysis, but I will just add that if you're talking about a federal crime, yes, the OLC memo says no indictment of a sitting president.
But the Constitution when it comes to impeachment just says, Congress determines whether bribery, treason or high crimes or misdemeanors have been established. You don't need a breaching of a federal crime to reach that.
BORGER: Would you have to impeach? Would you have to impeach then if the president...
SWERDLICK: Well, certainly not to investigate.
BORGER: Well, right.
I mean, but is the notion that, if the president, God forbid, shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, you would then have to wait for Congress to do something about that? I mean, that's crazy too.
SWERDLICK: Well, to Evan's point, that's not been tested all the way to the end of the line.
BORGER: Of course. But that's crazy.
SIDDIQUI: What it really reflects is this view by the president, and not everyone around him, but many of the people he has surrounded himself with, that the presidency holds this all-encompassing power.
And they have tried to essentially argue that the president is immune not just from an indictment but from any kinds of investigations. Oftentimes, when they've withheld documents or try to block witnesses from appearing on Capitol Hill, they have cited executive privilege as if it somehow covers any of the conversations that the president has ever been a part of.
And so this really just reinforces, I think, over the past two and a half years the way in which the president sees as absolute in his interpretation of the office that he holds.
BLITZER: Bianna, let me get back to the actual exchange that the president's lawyer had with this judge who was pressing the lawyer if the president were to shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, could he be investigated, and the lawyer says no while in office. And the judge says, that's the hypothetical, nothing can be done, that's your position? And the lawyer for the president says, that is correct, that is correct. That's a pretty amazing statement from a lawyer.
GOLODRYGA: And it could have been something that came out of a debate over case law and an authoritarian regime, not in the United States. We only heard the audio. I can only imagine the judge's facial expression or the lawyer's for that matter. But it also gets back to the bigger picture of can you believe we're even having this discussion. Who would have thought that this is where things would be.
And for the president, I hate to say this, but yet it's another deflection, something to focus away from his, quote, unquote, victory laps there in Syria and what happened earlier today declaring victory and then something that nobody else had been able to achieve even though this is victory for Russia and Turkey. I'm not sure how anyone could really qualify this for victory for the United States, but between what's happened in the testimony that we heard from Bill Taylor and what's happening in Syria, the fact that we're even having this conversation -- I know this really took place. But it does boggle the mind that here we are.
BLITZER: I wonder how long it will be before that presidential mission accomplished speech today is proven to be maybe not so much accomplished after all.
Everybody stand by. A lot more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Chaotic few hours up on Capitol Hill today as Republican members of the House of Representatives stormed a classified area, a so-called skiff where classified information is conducted and they delayed testimony from a key Pentagon witness in the impeachment inquiry process. The testimony, by the way, is still going on right now.
Gloria, when was the last time we saw something like this up on Capitol Hill, five hours disrupting testimony not by protestors from the outside but from members of Congress who know the rules and they were violating the rules?
BORGER: I honestly can't remember, but they are disrupting on behalf of the ultimate disrupter, who is the president, who is looking at this and probably applauding. And what they're trying to do is deflect from the real story, which we've been talking about, which is the testimony of Mr. Taylor yesterday that was quite damning to the president.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by for a moment. I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. So you were there. You were in the room today when those Republicans interrupted your committee's deposition of this Pentagon witness. Set the scene for us. How did this unfold?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Well, we were getting ready for the deposition to start and we had had a Democratic Caucus meeting just before that of the intelligence members. When we came into the room, everybody was seated. And just as the witness sat down, you had -- of course, you had Democratic members already seated, Republicans that were seated.
There are about 25 or 30 of the Republican members. It looked to me like it was all the guys. There may have been a few women but I didn't see them. There are three entrances in that room and they all came kind of storming in. Most of them were not members of the committees, I think, of jurisdiction. They came storming in the room and started disrupting the proceeding.
And shortly after that, I didn't see when the witness left but she left at some point. I think her lawyers escorted her out of the room, but it was a very tense several minutes while everybody was in that room. And quite honestly, it looked like a mob scene. It looked like kind of a mob party coming into that room.
BLITZER: Was it a risk to national security? CASTRO: it absolutely is. The reason that that's the case, this is a secured facility where a lot of classified information is kept. And so whenever you've got a cell phone, particularly a member of Congress who's often targeted by foreign governments, a foreign government with the right software or malware can basically take over your phone. So they can use your phone. They can listen in to what you're saying. They can basically hijack the microphone in your phone. They can hijack the camera in your phone.
So if you've got 15 or 20 cell phones in there because the members of Congress have taken those cell phones in, then, potentially, if any of those phones have been hijacked, the person who's hijacked them can see whatever is in this facility.
So that's why I think for an hour or an hour-and-a-half afterwards, the security had to go and do a sweep of that secured facility. I don't know that anybody's ever brought 15 or 20 cell phones into that secured facility because there is all this classified information there.
BLITZER: Weren't they told as they were trying to barge into the skiff, the secure compartmented information facility, that you can't bring your cell phones, you've got to leave your cell phones outside, in a closet or a drawer as you're a member, the Intelligence Committee, as you're used to doing?
CASTRO: Yes. I think all members of Congress know that when you're going to a classified area that you're supposed to leave your cell phone behind, for example, when we have member briefings on Iran or Afghanistan or some other intelligence issue, we all have to leave our phones behind. Then we go into the auditorium and get the briefing. Instead, for whatever reason, these folks ignored that protocol and went right in with their cell phones.
If this was somebody else, if it was somebody else that purposely walked in there with their cell phone, there would be severe consequences for that.
BLITZER: So the Republicans, they prevented the deposition from taking place with this Pentagon official for about five hours, but it's going forward right now. It's continuing, I understand, right now. Is that right?
CASTRO: Yes, that's right. The deposition is continuing. Obviously, it's very late. The witness had to come back. But this was -- I've heard folks say that this was kind of the most tense situation in Congress in a long time, particularly with that many people. Folks were yelling at each other. It just got very unruly for sometime there.
And it's amazing for me to think that the president of the United States yesterday or last night may have helped hatch the plan for these guys to go down there and do that.
BLITZER: Apparently the president, we've been reporting, did have advanced word that this was about to happen.
The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified yesterday that after aid to Ukraine, military aid to Ukraine was Suspended, the Pentagon official is testifying on this military aid, the Pentagon was asked to weigh in on whether that aid should go forward. Within a day, the Pentagon determined the aid should resume. So to what extent was the Pentagon, Congressman, aware of the pressure on Ukraine?
CASTRO: Well, you know, it looks like the Pentagon understood. At least my impression is that the Pentagon understood that there was an urgent issue here, that it was unusual that this aid was being held up. Congress had basically legislated that the aid be appropriated and sent over.
So, yes, I think you have a situation, Wolf, where Donald Trump is even blindsiding his own cabinet members and executive agencies and so forth. And you see some of them in their own way trying to buck him and in some ways challenge him. But ultimately the president of the United States has awesome power to affect what happens with appropriated money or just about anything else in government.
BLITZER: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're digging into the checkered past of two Rudy Giuliani associates who are under indictment and they were in court today as one of them pointing a finger at the president.
BLITZER: Tonight, two indicted associates of Rudy Giuliani have pleaded not guilty to federal campaign finance charges. The businessmen helped Giuliani's efforts to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. A lawyer for one of the defendants suggesting in court that executive privilege could apply to this case, implying -- suggesting that there's a link to President Trump.
Let's bring in our Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin.
Drew, you've been digging into the background of these Giuliani associates. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That just about anyone who ever dealt with these two men probably are asking the same question tonight, Wolf. Why did Rudy Giuliani have anything to do with them?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It's a complicated indictment involving two Soviet born, now American businessmen, accused of conspiring to circumvent the federal election laws by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars of foreign money to candidates for federal and state office, all Republican. But all you really need to know about Rudy Giuliani's now indicted clients is that a long list of people who did business with Lev Parnas or Igor Fruman from a home rental, a property lease, money loans, even basketball tickets, have sued them.
BRUCE MARKS, ATTORNEY: There's a sayings in Russian, don't go in the forest if you're afraid of wolves.
And these guys, they just weren't wolves. I mean, they were radioactive wolves. There were warning signals, unfortunately, that I don't think that Mayor Giuliani picked up.
GRIFFIN: According to prosecutors, Parnas and Fruman were illegally dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign contributions to Republican campaigns.
They were also dropping something else -- Rudy Giuliani's name.
The two men used their political connections, photos of themselves with Giuliani, hugging Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, attending President Bush's funeral with Giuliani, and, of course, those photos with Donald Trump and his family as currency in their scheme.
MARKS: In parts of the world like Russia and Ukraine, if you have photos like that and you show those to people, these are countries where connections mean a lot.
GRIFFIN: Giuliani needed Parnas and Fruman's connections in Ukraine to carry out his private mission from President Trump to investigate Joe Biden. Parnas and Fruman used Giuliani's name to hustle business.
Florida attorney Bob Stock says it's how the two men swindled his client out of a $100,000.
ROBERT STOCK, ATTORNEY: If someone tells you they're dealing with the president of the United States' attorney and he's also your attorney and you have very, very good relationship with -- with him, most people would believe that you must be a credible person.
GRIFFIN: Stock says his client, a wealthy, south Florida businessman loaned Parnas and Fruman the money last year. According to this lawsuit, the two men boasted about their close relationships to Giuliani and other Republican power players who they said would help Parnas and Fruman in their new business, Global Energy Producers, a gas export company that the two claimed would be the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the U.S.
Stock says the two men suddenly paid back the loan just days after news broke about Giuliani pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
STOCK: We went through these guys' personal histories and they seemed to have a series of business failures and personal failures and they seemed, in our opinion, not to be credible.
GRIFFIN (on camera): That didn't take long to find out, did it? STOCK: No. It took maybe half an hour researching the public
records. We didn't have to hire investigators. We didn't have to do any deep vetting. We -- it was evident from the public records.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Giuliani has failed to answer CNN's questions about his involvement with Parnas and Fruman. CNN's own record search found a decade of red flags, lawsuits and judgments and a list of questionable businesses, Global Energy Producers, the liquefied natural gas powerhouse the men bragged about had no income or significant assets and even Parnas' company, Fraud Guarantee, that paid Giuliani's $500,000 fee doesn't appear to be a company at all. Its registration is expired.
According to Philadelphia attorney Bruce Marks, Parnas and Fruman approached his client, a Ukrainian billionaire, earlier this year. They wanted a six-figure payment. In exchange, they told the billionaire they could set up a meeting between the new Ukrainian president and a delegation of American officials. Mark says his client threw them out.
MARKS: Let's be real, he should have been more diligent. They're fraudsters and he has a security consulting company. So if there's anybody who might do a little bit of due diligence, it would be Mayor Giuliani.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, sources tell CNN on the very day these two men were arrested, they were scheduled to fly to Vienna, meet with Giuliani there to help a former prosecutor to do an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News that would support the president's call for an investigation of the Bidens. Attorneys for both men have declined comment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a story. You would think that Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, would have done some background work and checked out these two guys but not necessarily the case.
By the way, the last several days, Giuliani has gone dark and hasn't said anything, no statement, no tweets, no interviews and no nothing. I assume his lawyers have told him to shut up.
We'll have a lot more news right after this.
BLITZER: Tonight, Senator Elizabeth Warren is demanding answers from the Trump administration after a CNN investigation inside Yemen.
Let's go to CNN's Nima Elbagir. She broke the story for us.
What are you learning, Nima?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is our second investigation into the United Arab Emirates -- illegal distribution of U.S. weaponry in Yemen and the second time that Senator Warren has addressed the Department of Defense. This time, Wolf, her questions are even more probing.
She's demanding to know whether the Pentagon has any idea where U.S. weaponry is ending up in Yemen, whether it has any way of getting it back, and she says, and I quote, the latest report raises legitimate questions about whether it is in America's interest to continue selling arms and other military hardware to the Saudi and UAE governments.
Now, you remember, Wolf, this was a key issue when President Trump used his veto to overturn U.S. lawmakers' ban against weaponry and now. Senator Warren has given the Department of Defense an ultimatum. They must respond to her questions by November 15th.
We also hear from the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be following up with a letter of their own. It's clear that this headache for the Trump administration isn't going away, Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent by reporting by you, Nima. Thank you very much. Nima Elbagir reporting from London.
ELBAGIR: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.