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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republicans Continue to Attack Impeachment Inquiry Process. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 24, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The school board has offered some concessions, but says it cannot afford to give the union everything they want.

That is it for me today. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being here.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The impeachment inquiry is now 30 days' old. Boy, that was a busy year.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The pushback. President Trump's Republican allies rallying to condemn the impeachment inquiry, after the president calls Republicans who do not back him human scum.

It's a tongue-twister and President Trump's new attempt to reframe the debate. No quid pro quo, he says, but will the facts drown out his new catchphrase?

Plus, leave the U.S. allies, stay for the oil fields. New CNN reporting today on the president's plans to leave troops behind in Syria and what that says about his priorities.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our politics lead.

Today marks one month since House Democrats formally announced the impeachment inquiry. And, today, Republicans are slamming it, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution to condemn the impeachment inquiry process.

Republicans are, in part, attacking the fact that these depositions of witnesses conducted by both Democrats and Republicans are being done in private. This, of course, is a way for them to attack Democrats without having to address the president's conduct and the allegations being made about a quid pro quo, testimony that Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for $400 million in U.S. military aid and more. Now, as a journalist, I should say, I want everything out in the open,

depositions, hearings, everything. But Republicans attacking the notion of private depositions is a complete contradiction of how Republicans, when they were in the majority, conducted depositions.

But don't take my word for it. Here's then Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Trey Gowdy all the way back in 2018.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TREY GOWDY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Public hearings are a circus, Margaret. I mean, that's why I don't like to do them. I don't do many of them. I mean, they're -- it's a freak show.

I mean, the private interviews are much more constructive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In fact, in 2015, when Republican Congressman Darrell Issa went into a private deposition for the Benghazi committee, the committee Issa was not a member of, Gowdy escorted him out.

So why attack the private depositions that were such a key part of how Republicans conducted oversight? Well, perhaps because of what a Republican source tell CNN's Jamie Gangel, that, behind closed doors, the testimony earlier this week from the top diplomat in Ukraine was so damning, it's -- quote -- "reverberating throughout the halls of Congress."

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty kicks off our coverage today from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House Democrats are plotting their next moves in the rapidly growing impeachment inquiry.

QUESTION: Was there a quid pro quo?

SERFATY: After a slew of closed-door-only testimony for weeks, sources tell CNN Democrats are now aiming to move from the behind-the- scenes phase of the investigation into the public phase by mid- November.

But sources caution that timeline could still slip until after Thanksgiving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That will be the point where I think that we will try and figure out what the best combination of people to speak in a more transparent and public way would be.

SERFATY: That next new public phase would include releasing transcripts of the closed-door depositions, holding public hearings, and bringing back some of the witnesses they have already heard from, like former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, Trump's former top Russia adviser Fiona Hill, Trump's top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland.

Once that phase is done, the committees would then release a public report to draw up articles of impeachment and vote in the House Judiciary Committee. That would be followed by a full House vote on articles of impeachment, potentially by the end of the year.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): What we're doing right now is a first pass. We are interviewing the witnesses that we know may have been involved and actually paring down that information, so that you can pull out what's relevant for the public.

SERFATY: Meantime, some Republicans continue to cast doubt on Bill Taylor's testimony this week.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Did he talk to the president?

QUESTION: He talked to talk to Ambassador Sondland, who talked to the president.

GRAHAM: Oh, that's hearsay.

SERFATY: As GOP sources tell CNN Taylor's opening statement, which laid out the clearest evidence so far of an apparent quid pro quo, is -- quote -- "reverberating," calling it a game-changer.

Also today, responding to pressure from the president:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Republicans have to get tougher.

SERFATY: Senator Lindsey Graham introducing a resolution condemning the House's impeachment process.

GRAHAM: The process you're engaging in regarding the attempted impeachment of President Trump is out of bounds, is inconsistent with due process as we know it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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SERFATY: And Senator Graham, speaking just a few minutes ago, had just returned back from the White House, where he had lunch with President Trump, along with nine other Republican senators, including the second-most-ranking Senate Republican, Senator John Thune, who made news up here on Capitol Hill Wednesday, when he acknowledged that Bill Taylor's testimony was indeed troubling.

Thune on Wednesday saying it didn't paint a good picture. Well, he walked that statement back today, Jake, Thune now saying that Taylor's testimony was just secondhand information. Certainly shows the recalibration of that Republican strategy up here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, back on the program, John Thune.

Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much. And this just in. "The New York Times" has obtained a letter that one

witness testifying on Capitol Hill received from the Trump administration. The letter addressed to the counsel of Laura Cooper, a Pentagon official in charge of Russia and Ukraine policy, makes note of the -- quote -- "administration-wide direction that executive branch personnel cannot participate in the impeachment inquiry under the current circumstances."

The letter is signed by the deputy secretary of defense, David Norquist. It was sent on Tuesday. Cooper testified Wednesday under a subpoena.

Let's chew over all of this with our experts.

And, Bianna, let me start with you.

So it seems as though a lot of people in the administration that have been subpoenaed, even though they're being told by the Trump administration not to participate, are participating anyway.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They have a lot to say.

And, clearly, what we have been hearing over the past week-and-a-half all sounds somewhat along the same lines, right, that they lay out a chain of events that take place ever since President Zelensky was elected and after his inauguration, where you had U.S. officials attend, all of the sudden, you start to see concern internally about U.S. money, U.S. aid, especially military aid, along with a meeting with President Trump.

So I think the most damning that we're hearing out of all of this is that their stories are very similar, in fact, and they clearly want to go out there and tell their stories, and especially given what we heard from Bill Taylor.

And you hear about, obviously, he's got so many decades of experience. When you hear his state of concern and saying this goes against U.S. policy, this goes against why I'm doing this and why I have been doing this for so many decades, for both Democrats and Republicans, it's anti-American, and his threat of even resigning, I think you're seeing a lot of concerns out of Republicans, which is clearly why you saw them storm yesterday -- storm in yesterday.

TAPPER: Do you think ultimately the evidence could be just so overwhelming, or do you think the Republicans are going to pretty much stay with the veneer of solidarity, as they have had so far?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. That's the million-dollar question.

What we have known for the last couple years is that the bar has been astronomically high from Republicans to break with the president. You were mentioning the senator who even walked back those mild criticisms after the Bill Taylor testimony this week.

TAPPER: John Thune, yes. HERNDON: What we do know is that the facts keep leading in that -- leading in a damning direction.

If Democrats are able to build a case that gets the public to turn, that adds additional pressure on Republicans. But let's look at the senators who are up for reelection who need Trump's support.

You have the Lindsey Grahams. They are still walking that fine line to -- right in lockstep with the White House. I don't know if that's going to change soon because they have such -- they have learned from the 2018 election all the way up to now that crossing this president is a damning political move.

Now, that is not the calculation that the diplomats have made, of course, because they are looking on the legal side, not politically.

TAPPER: Go ahead.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and also just it's such a remarkable contrast to look at the numbers of career diplomats and officials, including whistle-blowers, who have come forward and are unafraid of Trump's intimidation and the administration's threats, even though they have been real hostile to these people.

You compare that to Republicans, who have been so afraid -- and I will say afraid -- to condemn the president or even just be open-minded enough to see where this all leads, it's a remarkable contrast in courage.

TAPPER: And to that point, I just want to play the sound, because, yesterday, John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate from South Dakota, said that the picture being painted by Bill Taylor was not a good one.

That was then. This is now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Right now, we're hearing one side of the story. And until we get the full picture, I think -- I said this yesterday -- I think it's hard to draw any conclusions.

QUESTION: You said that you didn't -- the picture that painted of the president wasn't great.

(CROSSTALK)

THUNE: Well, that was based on the reporting of what you guys were saying about it.

But I went back yesterday and actually read what was said. And there is. There's a lot of secondhand information, a lot of sort of hearsay, not hearsay, but in the sense that it was passed on. It wasn't a direct conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Now, it's true that Bill Taylor did not testify about conversations he had with President Trump, but he talked to the people in the administration, Volker and Sondland, who had had direct conversations with the president.

CUPP: Yes. Yes, it's not hearsay when Sondland tells Taylor that Trump wanted Zelensky to state publicly on the record that Ukraine will investigate Burisma, you wanted to -- quote, unquote -- "put him in a public box."

[16:10:05]

TAPPER: Burisma, the organization Hunter Biden worked for.

CUPP: Right.

I mean, he -- that's not hearsay. That would be admissible in court. No one would object and say, no, no, no, you can't say that. You heard that someone said that. No, he heard someone relevant say it to him.

TAPPER: Not to mention we have the rough transcript, Keith.

KEITH BOYKIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, we have plenty of evidence to back up what what's already been said before, so we don't necessarily have to have the direct conversation.

And I think what people are missing is that Republicans are saying, you have to have a conversation that shows that President Trump explicitly said to someone, there's a quid pro quo. And absent that, we're not willing to say the obvious facts of what's going on here.

But I think that the letter that we just came -- that just came out from "The New York Times" indicates a couple of things too. One, it shows the White House is scared. They're frightened about this thing. And they're trying to do everything they can to clamp down any sort of a discussion about this in Congress.

And, two, it shows that there are people who are courageous, who are willing to stand up and defy this White House.

TAPPER: All right, President Trump and his Republican allies have attempted to discredit and dismiss the impeachment probe pretty much at every turn.

But, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, despite the president's attempts to project confidence, there is mounting anxiety, as Keith was just talking about, inside the White House about what might lie ahead, given the damning testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But he was happy to see it happen.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, President Trump praised House Republicans who stormed a secure room to disrupt the closed-door testimony of another witness in the impeachment inquiry.

The damning testimony and relentless pace of the probe have sent the White House scrambling.

GRISHAM: It's about time that somebody made a very bold stand.

COLLINS: Today, the press secretary blamed a lack in White House strategy on the secrecy of the hearings.

GRISHAM: It's like you're fighting a ghost. You're fighting against the air. So we're doing the best we can. Honestly, messaging isn't that hard.

COLLINS: But one Republican ally of the president says it's the White House that needs to up its game.

GRAHAM: What's missing here I think is a coordinated effort to fight back with a message that will penetrate.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Let's see if we can get in.

COLLINS: Republicans have been frustrated by the growing scandal, as President Trump has grown concerned about a lack of public support.

TRUMP: Republicans have to get tougher and fight.

COLLINS: But after the testimony of Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, made it harder to argue Trump did nothing wrong, some Republicans are shifting from defending him full stop.

THUNE: I think we will get a chance to debate that in the weeks and months ahead.

COLLINS: Some members of the administration, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are dodging questions about impeachment altogether.

Today in Kansas, after repeatedly being asked about the probe, Pompeo told "The Wichita Eagle," "I'm not going to talk about the impeachment inquiry."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, Senator Lindsey Graham was lamenting the fact that the White House has not come up with a cohesive strategy yet for impeachment.

He was here at the White House today. He ran into the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who told him that they are working on getting some kind of messaging team together.

But, of course, we should note the timing here. It's been a full month today since Speaker Pelosi announced that impeachment inquiry was going to happen.

TAPPER: Yes, I'm not sure this is a communications problem.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

A look at why the Republicans' storming stunt on the Hill really is a big deal.

Stay with us.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with "The Politics Lead." It was a stunt meant to please President Trump but Republicans may have to face consequences for it.

Nearly two dozen House Republicans stormed the secured committee room on Capitol Hill where a witness in the impeachment inquiry was scheduled to be deposed. Every cell phone that you see lit up in this video here is a potential cyber security risk and not allowed in the room.

The GOP member claim to be shut out of the process even though, of course, more than 40 House Republicans are on the three relevant committees and are allowed into the room to listen and ask questions, including a number of those demonstrating outside the room as CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They swept down the staircase towards the secure room that the impeachment inquiry is being led from. They stormed down the stairs to the room where the impeachment inquiry is being led inside.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: We're going to go and see if we can get inside.

MARQUARDT: With that battle cry from Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, the band of around two dozen indignant GOP lawmakers barged for the door, cutting through the crowd, gathered outside.

The room that the recent parade of witnesses has been testifying is called a SCIF for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, where the House Intelligence Committee meets to deal with very sensitive, often highly classified information.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It should be a sanctuary where politics stops at the door.

MARQUARDT: There are strict protocols that govern the carefully designed space, which is secured to prevent foreign adversaries, and others learning the secrets revealed behind those closed doors. No electronics, like cell phones, are allowed inside unless carefully scanned, which that group of Republicans did not do. ALLEN: When it seems like the Congress doesn't care about proper procedures, I think it makes the Intelligence Committee them most likely to share information.

MARQUARDT: There are almost 50 Republican members of Congress who are already allowed access to the impeachment hearings held in the SCIF. At least one of them, Pennsylvania Congressman Fred Keller joined the group that barged in, even though he didn't have to.

[16:20:04]

For their part, Democrats dismissed the storming of the SCIF as a stunt.

REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY: It's a bunch of Freedom Caucus members having pizza around the conference table, pretending to be brave.

MARQUARDT: But back in 2016, when it was Democrats eating food and using their cell phones during a sit-in, Republicans called for an ethics investigation, an investigation which was eventually thrown out.

Experts who have worked in these SCIF say that after yesterday's intrusion, its security was compromised, so it would have to be swept to make sure that it's secure again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now, Jake, we should note that Congressman Matt Gaetz who has been loyal to President Trump and led that charge yesterday, he tried to pull something similar last week when he crashed an impeachment hearing and was kicked out because he isn't on the committees involved. Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

So, first of all, I'm just wondering if somebody could make a Venn diagram, with all the people walking in their, with their smart phones --

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: Yes.

TAPPER: -- compromising security, and all the people that were offended by Hillary Clinton --

CUPP: Sure.

TAPPER: -- in the way that her private email server did not comport with security process.

CUPP: Do the same Benghazi, I mean, do the say -- you could trace this back. You did it with Trey Gowdy just earlier, five minutes ago.

Listen, those are very serious security concerns that should be taken seriously, but just optically. Matt Gaetz is basically the Will Ferrell of the party, we're going streaking, who's with me?

TAPPER: He compared himself to the lead movie "300" I think, actually.

CUPP: Oh, that's adorable. But no, I mean, these are fraternity stunts. And as seriously as we should take the security of locations, these are not to be taken seriously as a matter of politics.

They look like fraternity brothers, you know, trying to crash a party. By the way, many of them were invited too. I mean, it's just lunacy. None of them look brave, none of them look cool. They look ridiculous.

TAPPER: And, Keith, President Trump was happy with it. He tweeted, "Thank you to House Republicans being tough, smart and understanding and in detail, the greatest witch-hunt in American history."

BOYKIN: This is a disgraceful stunt. I'll go further than S.E. would go. And I'll say, this looked like a Klan group that has assembled outside of a jail trying to get the sheriff to let them in, so they could deliver their own justice against somebody who was inside.

It's not a good look for our democracy. It's not a good look for the Republican Party. Forty-seven of them apparently are already -- Republicans are already on these committees, that are in this impeachment investigation. Out of 197 total House Republican, that's a quarter of the entire Republican Caucus already represented and they are creating these political stunts in order to throw off the attention.

They're not focused on the issue of why Trump is being impeached. They're focused on how they can complain about the process.

GOLODRYGA: And that is the important thing to point out. Because if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we're talking about national security implications. And a lot of Republicans are focused on a short-sighted issue of appeasing this president.

He said he wanted Republicans to be stronger and to show mire support. Here they are, right? Compare that to what you saw from these diplomats that were testifying. And only to have after everything that they went through, the President trash them on Twitter and not have Mike Pompeo come to their defense.

Think about the implications this has not just for Ukraine and foreign policy, but all of our diplomats around the world. You have so many secretaries of Defense, I don't care what party they belong to, tell you that the best deterrent for them having to step up and send troops in is diplomacy. And when you have President say he doesn't even know who Bill Taylor is, that really is an insult to our diplomatic --

TAPPER: Can I just say one thing to Keith respectfully, I think the Klan metaphor was a little strong. And I'm not -- I don't want to get in the whole thing. But earlier this week, we're talking about lynching and using that word lightly and, you know, I'm not going to debate the history with it. BOYKIN: No, I understand. I used it purposely, because I felt like it's a visual problem too, to have this group of almost all white men going in, in defense of the white man who already, I think, and by most accounts a racist, instead of dealing with the issue of how this person is abusing his power as president of the United States.

TAPPER: I just wanted to register and then we can move on, that I --

Boykin: I'm sure I'll get complaints on Twitter but I believe that.

TAPPER: OK. Anyway, moving on, I do want you to take a listen, Astead, to White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham who doesn't brief the press but does regularly appear on the President's favorite channel. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm glad they did it. You know, again, these Dems have been doing everything behind close doors and in secret. And so, it's about time that somebody made a very bold stand, which is, I guess, a sit-in, which is what they did, and it was great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HERNDON: Can I tell you the top thing I hear from Republican voters when you go to Trump rallies? The only mild criticism they'll give to their own party is that the Republicans in Congress are not standing up enough for President Trump. That is why they are doing these things.

[16:25:03]

It's not just for that audience of one, the President who we know they're looking to appease. They are doing that because this is a base that he controls and this is a base that is not leaving him. They will leave their Republican congressmen and women before they leave the President.

They understand that and they are looking -- they are making sure that they don't get the tweet of their nightmares, which is that he calls out some of them and says that they are not standing up for them. And that's something that they know the base is concerned about.

And so, like, while it might be a stunt, while it might, you know, actually infringe national security concerns, this is the party. This is politics of the party right now. And if you're not willing to do that, you won't be around.

TAPPER: So it's not just for an audience of one, it's for their district back home as well.

HERNDON: They read the same Republican approval ratings as everyone else does. They know that it is a legitimate fear that the voters will leave. TAPPER: All right. Astead, thanks so much. Everyone, stick around, we got more to talk about. It's the new "no collusion," we're going to take a look at the President's new phrase to defend himself in the impeachment inquiry. Stay with us.

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