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AT THIS HOUR
Funeral Service Underway for Rep. Elijah Cummings; Source: John Bolton & Tim Morrison Expected to Testify in Impeachment Inquiry; White House Struggling to Form Cohesive Messaging Strategy; Actress Felicity Huffman Released from Prison; A.G. Barr Announces Investigation into Origins of Russia Probe Turns into Criminal Probe. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired October 25, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. Nancy Pelosi referred to him as "our darling Elijah." And you heard it from Secretary Hillary Clinton as well, talking about the fact that he is named after Elijah, a prophet, from the Bible, from the Old Testament, talking about his faith, the way he lived with his soul, right, and the idea that the American dream should be offered up to everybody.
She also talked about this idea of, you know, Elijah Cummings often talked about this notion that we're only here for a small amount of time, right? And what do we choose to do in our time? You heard him and Secretary Clinton echoing those sentiments.
But the love in that church today for Elijah Cummings. I have to admit, I haven't been to church in a long time. But watching this service here, I feel like I've been ministered to in the way that they are talking about Elijah Cummings, the life that he led and the example he set for the folks in that room. It's a bipartisan gathering, as we saw yesterday with him lying in state there on the Hill.
But a beautiful, beautiful service here. And we'll, of course, hear later. President Obama is there. President Clinton is there as well, Vice President Joe Biden.
And a man here they are referring to as the master of the House, somebody who cut such a large swath in the House there, somebody who had moral courage, a moral leader, grew up not rich, right, but came to great heights and to serve great heights and to serve his constituents there in Baltimore.
And really, I think, approached public service as a servant, right? We often don't think about it that way. We cover these folks who work as lawmakers and leaders in the Senate, in the House, but a humble man who really wanted to put a good works, working on behalf of people at the center of his life.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. Said so well, Nia.
And we will continue to follow the service. As you point out, a number of speakers still to come. And we will turn back to that in just a moment, so don't go too far.
We do want to turn, though, to what is happening in Washington at this hour.
For those folks who did not make it to Baltimore, Washington on edge today, frankly, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And there are a lot of signs that it is coming this morning.
Two important witnesses in the impeachment inquiry with firsthand information about the Ukraine scandal.
CNN has just confirmed former national security adviser, John Bolton, is in talks to testify. Now, you'll remember, according to other witness testimony, when Bolton worked in the White House, he reportedly raised concerns about the shadow foreign policy operations being run by Rudy Giuliani, even referring to Giuliani as a "hand grenade" who was going to blow everybody up.
Well, as those talks are under way, another key player and a current White House official already on the schedule for next week. Tim Morrison will be the first person who is actually on that July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelensky, to face questions by lawmakers.
He is expected to corroborate a critical piece of Ambassador Bill Taylor's account. He, of course, told lawmakers this week that President Trump was pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
There's a lot to get to this morning. CNN's Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.
So, Manu, what more do we know and what are you hearing from Congress as they prepare for what could be yet another blockbuster week of testimony?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we expect several key officials who played roles in how this aid was distributed, why it was the aid to Ukraine was withheld, and may have more knowledge about the president's desire to investigate his political rivals in exchange for this aid being released.
Something that Bill Taylor, the top diplomat to Ukraine, testified to earlier this week, saying that he had been told that was the reason why the president withheld this aid, because he was pushing for an investigation into the Bidens, also wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation to the Democratic National Committee.
Now, we have learned from multiple sources that Tim Morrison, who was a senior official at the National Security Council in the White House, plans to corroborate key elements of Bill Taylor's account.
Morrison was mentioned about 15 times throughout Taylor's opening statement that we and other news organizations obtained.
Because Morrison had conveyed to him a number of conversations that he was aware of, including a conversation between President Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland of the European Union in which Trump said that he wanted the Ukrainian President Zelensky to go to the microphones and announce these investigations.
This coming as the aid was being desperately sought by the Ukrainians as a way to push back against Russian aggression.
Now, we are not expecting, according to our sources, that Morrison will say that he believes the administration did anything wrong per se, but we are also told that he's going to have some nuance in exactly what he says, and he will appear, assuming that he gets a subpoena, which the Democrats have been doing for most of these witnesses.
But, Erica, this comes at a time where this committee, these committees who are pushing for this impeachment probe are looking to hopefully, in their view, wrap this up in the next couple of weeks behind closed doors. Then the public hearings begin. Then the public report will be released. And then we will see potential votes on articles of impeachment.
So, we are at the beginning phase of a rapidly moving investigation. We'll see how rapidly they decide to wrap it up -- Erica?
HILL: Beginning phase, but as you point out, it is moving very quickly.
And I know CNN has learned the Democrats are, in fact, already considering with the scope and the scale could be for potential articles of impeachment. What more do we know about that?
RAJU: Yes, this is an early part of the discussions right now. A lot of discussion among the rank and file members, as particularly about having exactly what the articles could look like, how many could there be. Could it be just abuse of power, obstruction of Congress, obstruction of justice, to name a few?
Politically, they have more, it could help some members who may want to vote for one article but vote against another article. Those are the kind of early discussions they're having about the scope of the articles of impeachment.
But the leadership and the key leadership of the Judiciary Committee and the House leadership, including Nancy Pelosi, have been circumspect about exactly detailing what they're thinking about that because they realize they don't want to put, in their view, the cart before the horse. They want the investigation to take place now, and then they can worry about the drafting of the articles.
But when they make that decision, it's time to impeach, expect that to happen rather rapidly -- Erica? HILL: Manu Raju with the latest for us. Manu, thank you.
Over at the White House now. One month into this impeachment inquiry and there still doesn't seem to be a cohesive message strategy. Efforts to form one becoming more difficult with internal feuds and disagreements.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House.
Jeremy, are there any strategy plans being laid out here at this point?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you pointed out, Erica, there certainly is a lot of disagreement inside the White House as to how to respond to this rapidly advancing impeachment inquiry. But there's a growing recognition from all sides inside the White House that more certainly needs to be done.
White House officials don't necessarily feel like they are winning the messaging battle here as Democrats bring witness after witness to corroborate damning information about the president's involvement in these Ukraine matters.
What we are learning, though, is that there's an effort by some White House officials to hire somebody to essentially run the messaging operation as it relates to impeachment. So, essentially, take off some of the load from the White House press shop.
Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, I am told according to three sources, is one of those officials who is pushing for this external hire.
And right now, the leading candidate to take over that position is Tony Sayegh, who is the Treasury Department's former spokesman. At one point rumored to be in the running for White House communications director.
To be clear, the president has not yet signed off on this, but it is a sign at least that the White House is moving closer and closer towards developing a more aggressive, a more robust impeachment messaging strategy. That's not to say that every official at the White House agrees with the need for that.
But what is clear is as we are learning more damning information from some of these witnesses coming before House Democrats, there's this recognition at the White House that something more needs to be done in the face of this impeachment inquiry -- Erica?
HILL: Jeremy Diamond, with the latest for us there. Jeremy, thank you.
Also with us, CNN global affairs analyst and columnist for the "Washington Post," Max Boot, and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye.
Max, as we talk about this, Tim Morrison, he was on that July 25th call as we know. The fact that he's mentioned 15 times in Taylor's opening statement, just put into context for us, how important could he potentially be here?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, assuming that he backs up what Ambassador Bill Taylor said, which I would expect that he would do because he will be testifying under oath, I think this will be another vital piece of evidence to nail down the quid pro quo.
I mean, I think the evidence is already pretty overwhelming that there was a quid pro quo, that Donald Trump conditioned U.S. aid to Ukraine on Ukraine providing political help to him and digging up dirt on Joe Biden and trying to exonerate him in the 2016 election collusion.
Bill Taylor's statement very, very strong. He's somebody who has tremendous credibility, somebody who served in Vietnam, served this country for 50 years, gave a very detailed statement.
But it also, as you said, cited Tim Morrison 15 times. And I think, you know, assuming that Tim Morrison gets on the stand and corroborates what Ambassador Taylor said, Republicans are going to be running out of excuses, because previously they had been saying, well, this was improper but no quid pro quo.
Now you've got the quid pro quo, so let's hear the next excuse from the Republicans as to why they refuse to hold the president accountable for his high crimes and misdemeanors.
HILL: So, we're also learning, sources telling CNN that he will say he didn't see a problem in the call between the president and Zelensky, but we heard from Manu, that there will be some nuance as to what Morrison has to say.
In terms of nuance, Doug, it's not really about, as we know going into this, looking at the testimony, it's not how somebody felt about it, it's the facts of the situation.
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, absolutely. This is where the White House finds itself in real trouble is whatever the president says seems to be contradicted not only by testimony but by witness after witness.
And it's why there's been a lot of consternation on Capitol Hill that, as was referenced earlier by Jerry Diamond, that there hasn't been a real cohesive strategy for the White House moving forward.
I know Tony Sayegh. I think he is one of the best people this administration has ever had. And I hope, for his sake, he'll be a little too busy to help in this case because it seems there are not a lot of good answers.
And ultimately, the lack of good answers is what should trouble the folks in the White House the most.
HILL: How important, too, Doug, just while we're on this point for a moment, is it that this is something who was on the call, right, when we're talking about Tim Morrison, someone with firsthand knowledge. And so, out the window, potentially, goes this charge of, well, this is hearsay, it doesn't really matter.
HEYE: Yes, that's exactly it, absolutely. We've seen so often, and this is what Max kind of referenced earlier, is you know, shifting excuses for explaining away why the president did this or didn't do that or whatever might have been wrong, might not have been wrong, there's always a shifting excuse.
If you have somebody directly saying, I was on the call, this is what happened, that's direct evidence that really causes problems politically, and, obviously, legally as this process moves forward.
HILL: And, Max, what about John Bolton? I'm just curious, what would your first question be for him?
BOOT: Well, I think the obvious question is, was there a quid pro quo. Did President Trump condition aid to Ukraine on Ukraine providing political help for him? I mean, Bolton had a front row seat to all that. He would know the answer.
HILL: A front row seat. And it's also, right, been reported, been alleged that he had this front row seat, that he was uncomfortable, that he encouraged Fiona Hill to go say something, but yet, we don't have any indication that John Bolton, as far as we know, himself said everything.
BOOT: Right. I think it will be fascinating to get John Bolton under oath. I think it will be important.
And I would expect he would come clean, because you know, although he is somebody who's a hard-core conservative, he had major differences with Donald Trump, and ultimately, irreconcilable differences.
And one of those big differences was that Bolton thought we needed to stand up to Russia and help Ukraine, and Donald Trump obviously could not care less about standing up to Russia and helping Ukraine. All he cared about in this instance was about helping his own political campaign.
And we have not heard Bolton comment on that publicly, but I think it will be very devastating if he does condemn what Trump did in the way that Bill Taylor did.
Because you know, there's no way that Donald Trump can say John Bolton is some kind of radical socialist deep state guy. Everybody knows he's the hero of the right.
So if the hero of the right is speaking out against Donald Trump, that's yet another excuse that Republicans will no longer have to defend Donald Trump.
HILL: Before we go, Lindsey Graham, of course, introducing this resolution which condemns the House process yesterday. But it's important to point out, as the chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, Doug, if Lindsey Graham really wanted to, I mean, he could start hearings of his own. He could have public hearings. He could start an investigation into anyone he wants. And yet, he's offering up a resolution to condemn what's happening in the House. What do you make of this?
HEYE: Well, I make that this is completely political and, obviously, is designed to draw favor not just from Donald Trump but from conservative media.
I would point out, I used to work for Senator Richard Burr, who is the chair of the Senate Intel Committee. As we look at what happens on the House side, whether it's under Adam Schiff as chairman or under Devin Nunes as chairman, it's really been a clown show and a partisan fight since day one.
The Senate has a much more orderly process. They're working together. They're using facts first and trying to see not where they're going to end up but where the facts take them. It's a very different way of doing things.
I would tell people, if you don't like what's happening on the House side -- and I certainly understand why -- look at what the Senate is doing. They're doing good, smart work under Senator Burr and Senator Warner, who's the ranking member. That's a better path forward.
HILL: Max and Doug, good to have you both with us. Thank you.
HEYE: Thank you.
HILL: Just ahead, the Russia probe is back, sort of. CNN learning the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation to investigate the investigators. So, what's behind this shift and just what does it mean? That's ahead.
Plus, a final good-bye in Baltimore. The funeral for Congressman Elijah Cummings now under way. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama among those set to give eulogies ahead.
Stay with us.
HILL: Just into CNN, actress, Felicity Huffman, released from prison early. She was one of, of course, several high-profile actors in the college admissions scam.
Alexandra Field joins me now.
So she's out, Alex, after 11 days.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She is, Erica. She had been sentenced to 14 days in prison, time set to serve at Dublin, northern California, a low-security federal prison. In the end, with this 14-day sentence, she was given one day credit, which would have been a 13-day sentence.
We are learning from the Bureau of Prisons it is policy to release somebody on the last weekday preceding the weekend if the scheduled release date would fall on the weekend. So she does get these additional two days off.
She's out. That's a picture of her from inside the prison. So, she has served her time.
And, Erica, you'll remember, this is somebody who pleaded guilty, unlike some of the other parents in this case.
HILL: And early on.
FIELD: Prosecutors -- early on. She expressed her remorse. She wrote a letter to the judge, wrote a letter to the public expressing that she had done the wrong thing here.
Prosecutors still felt that she should be given more time. But in the end, the judge said 14 days, you will have paid your dues and you can rebuild your life afterward.
HILL: And here we go. I know you've reached out to representatives. We haven't heard back yet.
FIELD: That's right.
HILL: But it will be interesting to see if and when we do hear more from her.
HILL: Alexandra, thank you very much. Alexandra Field with the latest there.
Meantime, a major shift in Washington. The Justice Department investigating what triggered the start of the 2016 Russia investigation. And sources telling CNN Attorney General William Barr's probe has now entered into a criminal phase, a criminal investigation. That move would allow investigators to begin issuing subpoenas.
The probe has been driven by suspicions that some officials overseeing counterintelligence investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign may have acted improperly. Democrats arguing that the move simply shows the Justice Department is being exploited for political purposes.
Here with more is CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, give us a sense, what are they expecting out of this criminal investigation? What's the purpose here?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, first, we should note that this has been kind of an unusual probe, right? You have the current attorney general who is investigating the investigators. These are the people who were leading the Russia investigation.
And now, because the attorney general feels that there may have been some suspicious activity, something unusual here, he went ahead and launched this investigation into the investigators.
And it's people like John Brennan and James Clapper, folks who were leading the Intelligence Community at the time, and James Comey, of course, the former FBI director.
This escalation, by making this now a criminal probe, it allows John Durham, who has been appointed as kind of the special prosecutor in this -- he's a U.S. attorney out of Connecticut overseeing this investigation, working hand in hand with the attorney general.
Remember, they traveled to Italy together to talk to some of the folks there about this investigation. So it is unusual. And what they're looking for is to see if anything improper was done during the Russia investigation.
This escalation, by making it a criminal probe now, it allows them to subpoena witnesses, to gain certain information, to get at certain information that they otherwise wouldn't be able to.
We know as we've reported that some folks, some of the people they've been wanting to interview for this investigation have not been willing to voluntarily submit to interviews.
So now what's been happening is by escalating it like this, they're now allowed to subpoena some of the folks, and that's generally what's happening now.
We don't know, really, if there's something else that has occurred here, but it is an escalation.
And certainly, we should note, it comes at a time when, obviously, the president is under intense pressure, a lot of attention surrounding the impeachment of the president.
So you know, some folks wondering whether this is just a coincidence that this is coming out at this time or if this somehow gives some points to the president with this announcement.
HILL: And we can imagine that folks in those two very different areas will be spinning it as they want to.
HILL: Shimon, appreciate it as always. Thank you.
Let's dive into this deeper. Joining me, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, is with us.
Elie, first of all, set it up here. As we learned from Shimon, when you move to this criminal investigation, you have the subpoenas, now you're compelling people to talk, so they have to give you information. What would you need, though, in the DOJ to move into the criminal phase? What do you have to show?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so, this is a major escalation, as Shimon said. And what you need in order to open a criminal investigation is what we can predication. That means you need some core of criminality, a basis or fact to say, we believe if we follow this investigation, we could end up finding that there was a crime.
And my big question here is, well, what is the predication. What crime are they looking at and how strong is it?
HILL: Is that laid out somewhere? Is there like a form that says here are the reasons why? And is that something people can attain?
HONIG: No, there's no standard form where you can say, and the predication is thus.
That said, the federal prosecutor -- and I'm sure a lot of people were in this decision -- has to sit down in good faith in doing your job right and say, what is our predication here, on what basis are we moving forward, or are we just making this criminal so people will talk? If that's the case, it's totally inappropriate.
HILL: What's your gut on this?
HONIG: My gut is it's political. I think --
HILL: So you think it's the latter, it could just be we just want to make people talk.
HONIG: Or they stretch predication to get this benefit.
I've been suspicious of the original investigation from the start, given the things Bill Barr has said publicly about it. He has said I believe there was spying. He has said some of the answers I've been seeing have been inadequate.
Understand how inappropriate that is and unusual for an attorney general, A, to comment on a pending investigation and, B, to do it in a subjective or of conclusory way. I've been very suspicious of this from the start. The timing is significant, too.
HILL: What is does it mean for sort of the worker bees under Attorney General Barr? I mean, you're taking your orders, but this is your job.
HILL: You are likely not there for political purposes.
HONIG: Almost certainly not, the people who are running this. Although as we've seen, Bill Barr for some reason is flying all around the globe coordinating with leaders of other country. He seems to be more interested in this case than any actual pending criminal matter.
It is a tough position for the rank-and-file the Department of Justice. They have to make a decision whether they think it's legitimate or not. If it's not, they step off or resign.
HILL: But if they say, it's happening regardless.
HILL: So quickly, what's your sense, what's your confidence level that this will be done in a fair and impartial, non-political manner?
HONIG: My confidence level is low. And that's all a function of Bill Barr. I think the timing here -- I think what's happening is they're looking for some sort of talking point, some sort of diversionary tactic with what's going on.
And the key things to keep in mind -- undisputable -- number one, no matter what the investigation concludes, there was massive interference in the 2016 election by Russia. No question about it.
And number two, this has nothing to do with Ukraine.
So, whatever comes out of this investigation cannot and should not be used as an excuse or diversion from the impending impeachment inquiry.
HILL: Elie, always appreciate it. Thank you.
HONIG: Thanks, Erica.
HILL: A federal judge is holding education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her department in civil contempt. The ruling comes after a court order earlier this year to stop collecting student loans for a now- shuttered for-profit college.
Last month, officials with the Department of Education admitted more than 16,000 borrowers were mistakenly informed they still owed a payment. On top of the civil contempt ruling, DeVos and her department must pay back $100,000 to some of those borrowers.
Coming up, Joe Biden's campaign reversing course, opening the doors to big money, despite repeated promises from the candidate he wasn't interested. So, what changed?