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AT THIS HOUR
Congressman Elijah Cummings Lies in State in the U.S. Capitol; As Evidence Against Trump Mounts, Trump Republicans Storm Impeachment Hearing Despite Some Already Having Access; Republicans Coalescing Around Strategy to Push Back Against Bill Taylor's Damaging Testimony; Source: Republicans on Hill Say this Was "Week from Hell"; Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) Discusses Ukraine Pressured to Investigate Biden, Bill Taylor's Testimony, the Syria Situation. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired October 24, 2019 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to head to Capitol Hill, Statuary Hall, a ceremony honoring the life and legacy of Elijah Cummings continues as he will be lie flooding state in the U.S. capitol.
The Congressman -- Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Let's listen.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): -- the righteous judge shall give me at that day and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the honorable Charles E. Schumer, Democratic leader of the United States Senate.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): In his first speech in Congress, Elijah famously quoted Maryland Congressman Mitchell, extolling the virtues and deficiencies of the one minute, the 60-second limit of speaking on the House floor.
This morning, I feel the deficiencies of having only one minute to honor our friend, Elijah Cummings, because he exuded such a rare quality.
He was strong, very strong when necessary, but also kind and caring and honorable. Universally respected and admired in a divided time.
His voice could shake mountains, stir the most cynical hearts, inspiring us all to be better.
His authority came not from the office he held, nor from the timbre of his voice, nor its sometimes thundering boom. It came from the moral force of his life.
A sharecropper's son born and raised in Baltimore, Elijah Cummings never forgot where he came from and never lost sight of where he wanted his country to go.
That's why, no matter your politics, if you knew Elijah, you went to him for guidance. I often did. I will miss those conversations dearly.
I pray for his family, for the city of Baltimore, and I pray for our nation when people like Elijah Cummings are no longer with us.
Those gathered here today have lost a dear friend, and our country has lost a giant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the honorable Mark Meadows, United States representative from the 11th district of North Carolina.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): We are called to give honor where honor is due, and so it is fitting that we're here today to honor a friend.
He's called a number of things, you know, father, husband, friend, chairman. For me, I was privileged enough to be able to call him a dear friend.
Some have classified it as an unexpected friendship. But for those of us that know Elijah, it's not unexpected or surprising.
Not only is he a quality man, we were able to share a number of personal stories and intimate secrets that Elijah never shared with anyone because he was a man of his word. He said he never would.
And yet, through the tears of the past few days, I'm reminded of one particular conversation. Because of who Elijah is, you know, he had a smile that would consume his whole face. You know that. But he also had eyes that would pierce through anybody that was standing in his way.
And he reminded him not too long ago of a quip that he made. He said that Darrell Issa was going to make him famous.
And I reminded him that he is not defined by other people. He's defined by the character of his heart, the honesty of his dialogue, and the man that -- the man that we will miss.
Scripture talks about let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
So Elijah has left his tent to go to a mansion, a better place. Perhaps this place and this country would be better served with a few more unexpected friendships. I know I've been blessed by one.
God bless you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the Morgan State University Choir.
BOLDUAN: Mark Meadows there with a truly moving tribute. Clearly emotional in paying tribute to his friend.
I really, really appreciated that final line that he had, "Maybe perhaps this place and this country could be better served by a few more unexpected friendships." That's for sure.
The tribute to Congressman Elijah Cummings will continue in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill. A beautiful moment, beautiful singing right now. We're going to keep watching this.
We've got to get in a quick break. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everyone. Sources are now telling CNN that public hearings in the impeachment inquiry could begin as early as next month. Just as a new round of witnesses are now scheduled to appear before the committees for depositions for interviews next week. And also just as some Republicans are plotting their next moves.
Yesterday on our show, we saw very clearly that some 30-plus House Republicans tried to and did storm into the secure room where the depositions were all taking place. A stunt, a show, whatever you call it. We now know that the protest was staged with full approval of President Trump, according to sources.
But other Republicans are taking a markedly different approach. Cautious or silent maybe is the best way to describe it.
A top Senate Republican, John Thune, saying this about the state of the inquiry after Bill Taylor's deposition, quote, "The picture coming out of it based on the reporting we've seen is, yes, I would say it's not a good one."
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with much more on this.
Manu, what are you hearing there this morning, kind of the state of things, if you will?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans are starting to coalesce around a strategy to push back against Ambassador Taylor's rather damaging testimony against the president, the testimony that said that the president -- he had been told that the president had wanted to withhold vital aid to Ukraine in exchange for the declaration that Ukraine was investigating matters that could help the president's re-election campaign.
And actually, you just mentioned John Thune. But John Thune just walked back that -- those comments to me just moments ago. In fact, saying that what Taylor was saying, in his view, was secondhand and thirdhand information.
And talking to other Republicans today, they're making very clear that they are also on the president's side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Are you OK with what was -- came out in the Bill Taylor testimony that the president, that the president apparently had directed the military aid to be withheld in exchange for a public declaration of investigations that could help him politically?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Did he talk to the president?
RAJU: He talked to --
RAJU: Ambassador Sondland had talked to the president.
GRAHAM: Oh. That's hearsay.
Here's what I can --
RAJU: You don't think he's trustworthy --
GRAHAM: Here's what I can't get over. If Rudy Giuliani had a 15-page statement saying he did nothing wrong, wouldn't you want to know more? Would you accept that statement?
I've got nothing against Bill Taylor. It's the process. You're asking me do I believe something based on a statement that hasn't been tested.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Until we get the full picture, I think -- I said this yesterday, I think it's hard to draw any conclusions.
And it seems to me at least that -- and I read the leaked testimony, which wasn't supposed to be out there yet. But from what I could tell, a lot of the interactions and statements that he made were based on secondhand information. And I think that's -- those are obviously points that can be disputed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So points that can be disputed. A much different comment today from John Thune.
I asked him about what was different from what he said yesterday. He said, well, he had a chance today and over the last day to read that statement that had been -- that had been obtained by us and other news organizations and looking at it more closely. So you're starting to hear pushback.
But clearly, in that testimony, sworn testimony by the president's top diplomat, who said that he had been told by the top ambassador, the ambassador to the European Union, that's why the president wanted the Ukrainian aid withheld was for those investigations.
But at the moment, Republicans are not sounding alarmed -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: That was -- I almost feel bad for John Thune. It's an awkward position he has to be in.
Manu, great stuff as always. Let's see who wants to walk back or try to walk back something else when you catch them in the halls.
I appreciate it, man.
Dozens of Republicans, they may have stormed the security room where part one of the investigation is taking place. Beyond the grand displays for the president, behind the scenes -- let's juxtapose everything here -- Republicans are sounding quite different and seem to be running out of ways to defend him.
Let's bring in CNN's special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, once more.
You have interesting reporting on what you're hearing behind the scenes because, look, we -- we see what we see in front of the cameras. What are you hearing from Republican sources behind the scenes?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I just want to say, what John Thune said yesterday on camera is what everyone is saying --
BOLDUAN: -- off camera, but he said it to all the reporters that were standing around. Ted Barrett, one of our best reporters on Capitol Hill, he said it right to him. And you're saying that is what they're saying.
GANGEL: That's what they're saying. Today, he got the memo, that's not what -- look, this has been the week from hell for Republicans on the Hill. And it's only Thursday.
And the reality is that, behind the scenes, Bill Taylor's testimony, I am told, is, quote, "reverberating." That it is a game changer. A wake-up call. Whatever term you want to use.
GANGEL: And I want to read you some of the quotes from Republican sources on the Hill. I was told, "The Taylor testimony was so detailed, so specific, and that he is so respected, that it is having an impact." According to one Republican source, "The reality is it does point to a quid pro quo."
So what do we know? They're arguing process because the substance -- it's like lawyers in the courtroom. When you don't have a case, what do you do? Pound the table. Arguing process is pounding the table.
BOLDUAN: And we might be seeing a little bit more of that later today. You heard Manu interview Lindsey Graham right there who basically says what Bill Taylor said was hearsay and needs to be tested.
He's also going to be moving ahead, holding a press conference later today to push a resolution that McConnell's name is on, as well, to condemn how Democrats have been running the inquiry so far, the fact that it's all been behind closed doors.
Again, we are learning that things could start being conducted in a public setting as early as next month.
But I do wonder if that's the place that Republicans want to be in this, is arguing about the process.
GANGEL: It's the only thing they have.
I think we have to always point out there are Republicans in those hearings.
GANGEL: It's not as if the Democrats are --
BOLDUAN: Let me pull out my notes. This is something that I know everyone's been noting and needs to be -- I'm going to say it one more time. So 103 members on the three committees, there are 103 members, 48 of them are Republican, which is almost half according to my third- grade math that I can do.
So 41 Republicans, something that 41 Republicans took part in crashing the gates yesterday. And 13 of them were on these committees. More than a quarter of them were on these committees.
GANGEL: Right. So they do know what's going on. And they are a part of the process.
The problem is that the president wants them to go out and defend him. And you have to wonder, after hearing Bill Taylor's testimony, just how much water do Republican members want to carry when they hear testimony like that and when they know more like that is likely to be -- to be coming up.
Right now, one member said to me the White House war room has one person in it -- Donald Trump.
I mean, we did see Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary, come out on FOX today. But I have to say, where is Kellyanne Conway?
BOLDUAN: That's a very great question, Jamie.
GANGEL: The person who always goes out and speaks -- BOLDUAN: Yes.
BOLDUAN: -- she has been silent for weeks.
So there's going to be this push and pull between the president saying to Republicans, you know, storm the Bastille, go in there, make a fuss, change the story, and how far they really want to go.
BOLDUAN: We'll see how this is testimony, this interview kind of sets in even more. Let us see.
Thanks, Jamie. Great reporting.
GANGEL: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: The newest defense coming from the president and some Republican supporters against the impeachment inquiry is the following: There could not have been a quid pro quo because Ukraine didn't know the military aid was being held up. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN DUFFY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Ukrainians have to know that Donald Trump is taking something away from them to have a quid pro quo.
A perfect example of a quid pro quo is Joe Biden, who said, if you don't fire this prosecutor, I'm going to take away a billion dollars. That's one thing for another thing.
Donald Trump doesn't have that because the Ukrainians never knew anything was taken away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So now the wonder is, what are they going to say to this. CNN is now reporting, even before Ukraine's president took office, President Zelensky and his team were already talking about the pressure they felt from President Trump and Rudy Giuliani to publicly launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Add to that, the "New York Times" reports, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week of August.
Joining us now, Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, Seth Moulton. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thank you for being here.
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): It's good to be here.
BOLDUAN: To you, what does it mean that Ukraine's president felt pressure to open an investigation even before he was inaugurated?
MOULTON: It sounds like he understands Donald Trump and how he and his team operate, which is to use every lever of power in the United States government, with the presidency, to meet his own political selfish goals.
That's the way Trump is. It's the way he operated from the very beginning. It's why he asked for foreign help very publicly during his campaign. It's why he's asking for help now from China in addition to Ukraine.
This is who this man is and is inconsistent with the oath that he took to protect and to defend the Constitution.
BOLDUAN: In terms of the defense that we're hearing, obviously, it's evolved over time.
Lindsey Graham is dismissing Bill Taylor's testimony right now, saying it needs to be tested, but also called it hearsay because Taylor only spoke to Gordon Sondland, the ambassador of the E.U., about Sondland's conversations from Trump, essentially that he only had secondhand information is what he's saying.
Do you think he has a point?
MOULTON: No. Ambassador Taylor is a lifelong public servant. He has served this country in the military. He was a West Point graduate. He is a Republican. He was appointed by the Bush administration.
Secretary Pompeo reached out and found this guy in retirement to put him in this position thinking he would be a Trump lackey or something like that. And here he is saying, nope, my duty to the Constitution rises above my duty to this president.
So Ambassador McKinley, much like Robert Mueller, has all the credibility in the world no matter how much someone like Senator Graham tries to take him down.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about another very important topic right now, what's happening in Syria.
CNN's Barbara Starr is reporting this morning that the U.S. may start moving tanks and troops into eastern Syria to protect U.S. troop positions near Kurdish oil fields. This is after, of course, the president claimed victory over a cease-fire that leaves the Kurds in no different a place right now and also has Turkey and Russia securing a foothold there.
Are you happy to see or hear that troops may be going in, even if it's only to protect oil fields?
MOULTON: No. The president has no plan. And it is not only leading to the genocide of our Kurdish allies. It is putting our own troops in danger, because it's utter chaos.
We feel the chaos even here sitting on the Armed Services Committee when the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs come and try to explain what the heck is going on, because they have no idea.
This is an administration in chaos --
BOLDUAN: What do you do know?
MOULTON: -- that's playing on the ground.
BOLDUAN: If you're here now, Congressman, what do you want to see now? More U.S. troops heading back in to keep war from happening?
MOULTON: I want to see -- I want to see the president recognize he's wrong and reverse course.
When I was a platoon leader on the ground, if I made a mistake and there were lives were at stake, then I reversed course, because my reputation was not as important as the lives of the Marines I was there to protect. And that's the attitude this president should take.
Obviously, that's not how he looks at things. This is a guy who claimed bone spurs to get out of serving in the draft and sending someone else in his place to Vietnam.
But what we need here is a long-term plan to win in Syria, to defeat ISIS, and then come home.
The irony of this is the great negotiator, Donald Trump, just gave up the one card that we had, which was our troop presence. If he wanted to get us out of there, the one card he had to play in the negotiation with the likes of Russia and Assad was the fact that we had troops on the ground. But he just gave up unilaterally our presence. Now we're really at a loss.
This is the worst negotiation possible, in addition to absolutely being an outright betrayal of our allies and our troops on the ground who, frankly, many of whom feel betrayed by our commander-in-chief.
BOLDUAN: Do you think sanctions -- clearly, they've been lifted from the administration, but sanctions coming from Congress, do you think sanctions coming from Congress could help reverse the course?
MOULTON: They could help. They've got to be targeted at Erdogan and his close inner circle. There's no question that Erdogan is a prudent protege essentially running Turkey right now as a dictatorship. So sanctions on Turkey or on some various ministers, that's not going to make any difference.
But if we really go after Erdogan and say, you are wrong here and you have no right doing this, then they might be affective. That's certainly what we might be trying to do. I'm working on an amendment to the sanctions bill coming up next week. But we're a long way from getting there at this point. BOLDUAN: We'll be looking at updates on that.
Congressman, thank you for coming in. A little birdie also told me, happy birthday.
MOULTON: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Have a good birthday.
Thank you all very much for joining me as well.
I hope the congressman has a great birthday.
"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.