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Funeral Services For Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) Underway; Trump Continues To Defend Zelensky Call Ahead Of Key Testimony; DOJ Review Of 2016 Election Probe Now A Criminal Matter; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) Is Interviewed About President Trump's Call with the Ukrainian President. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 13:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the choice lifted the great hymn (ph) of the church, it is well that next voice we shall hear is that of Congressman Elijah Cummings' pastor, Bishop Walter Scott Thomas Sr., the senior pastor of the New Psalmist Baptist Church and the presiding (INAUDIBLE) of the Kingdom Association of Covenant Pastors. I asked that as he that is he mounts (ph) the pulpit desk, we might stand in honor and reverence to the office he holds as bishop in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. We are watching the celebration of Elijah Cummings, and we just heard from former President Barack Obama eulogizing him, following former President Bill Clinton eulogizing Elijah Cummings, and really just some amazing words that we have heard about a tremendous statesman in Congress.

We heard from President Obama saying -- he was telling a story about Elijah Cummings' father who was a sharecropper, and he said that this was a story Cummings had told him. He said that they would go to the airport not to board planes but to watch others do it. Robert would say, I have not flied, I may not fly, but you will fly one day. We can't afford it right now, but you will fly.

I want to bring in Abby Phillip to talk about what we've been watching here in Elijah Cummings' hometown of Baltimore.

It been has amazing what we've seen today and what we've been seeing over the last days of friends of Elijah Cummings, some who you might be surprised to even learn that he was friends with them, right, some stalwart Republicans, for instance, who have had amazing things to say about Elijah Cummings.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the statesmanship that he represents that seems to be on the sort of downward slope here. It seems like he got a fewer and fewer of these types of people here in Washington.

And the sense that you get from this memorial service today and some of the other recent memorial services that we've witnessed in the last several years is the feeling of profound contrast. That's very hard to ignore. You heard that a lot in President Obama's speech today. He talked about how Elijah Cummings was honorable before he had that title. And that is something that we should remember. You don't just become honorable because someone gives you a position of political power but because you act that way.

And I think that's what he represented to people on both sides of the aisle. You heard his friend, Mark Meadows, eulogizing him as well and you're hearing the same things from Republicans or from Democrats. People respected the strength of his conviction but also noted that he was not a disagreeable person. He might have disagreed on politics with a lot of people, but he was able to maintain the integrity of his character.

And when people talk about that, when it comes to Elijah Cummings, they're not speaking in a vacuum. They're talking to what seems to be a decline of that sense in this moment, and I think it's important to recognize that.

KEILAR: It is this moment where I think people are yearning to hear about someone who has those values. One of the moments that stood out so much to me was congressional staff member. We pay a lot of attention to, obviously, these high-profile folks who are eulogizing him, President Clinton, Hillary Clinton and President Obama. But one of his staff members who had worked for him for 15 years, which says a lot, as you know, Abby, when we're talking about members of Congress.

PHILLIP: Especially in the House of Representatives.

KEILAR: That's right, there's a lot of turnover.

Harry Spikes said that he took the time to teach me in the staff valuable life lessons, however, the last two and a half years were different. And Spikes went on to list those lessons. He said compassion and kindness, building bridges, value your friendships, pass the ball and work through your pain. It's really -- I mean, especially that last one, sort of work through your pain.

PHILLIP: Which he did quite literally. His wife said when he passed, he worked until his last breath. He's been ill for some time and has worked through that pain, literally, in Congress and gave one of the most, I think, powerful moments of his tenure at the helm of oversight, really calling for the American people to wake up to this political moment when it comes to what they were seeing out of the White House, which he vehemently disagreed with. He also vehemently disagreed with the Trump administration's policy on the border.


He made that very clear. He never backed off of that.

But, you know, to the point that his staffer was making, Cummings was known on the Hill as being someone who tried to be a mentor to literally everyone, including reporters who were just walking through the hallways. That's the kind of person that he was.

KEILAR: Abby, thank you so much. And in the meantime, President Trump is continuing to defend his call with Ukrainian President Zelensky as House Democrats say they are now considering articles of impeachment against him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a perfect conversation with the President of Ukraine, perfect. And they see that conversation and then they made up stories. They made up the stories at that time. Had they seen it, we wouldn't even be talking about it right now. The conversation was just perfect. And for that reason, I have --


KEILAR: The conversation has been been perfect.

Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House. Tell us what else the president had to say there on the south lawn, Jeremy.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as you know, the president has repeatedly denied this quid pro quo involving withholding the security aid to Ukraine because the president wanted Ukraine to announce these investigations into the company on which Joe Biden's son sat on the board of and into the 2016 election. That is the quid pro quo that was described in testimony before the House by the top diplomat in Ukraine, Ambassador Bill Taylor.

And so I asked the president today whether he was therefore accusing Taylor of lying. And here is how the president responded.


TRUMP: Well, the problem is -- here's the problem. He's a never Trumper, and his lawyers are never Trumper, and the other problem is -- hey, everybody makes mistakes. Mike Pompeo, everybody makes mistakes.


DIAMOND: So very telling there, Brianna, that the president declines to answer the substance of the question whether Bill Taylor is indeed lying if he is alleging this quid pro quo. Instead the president choosing to attack Bill Taylor without evidence, we should say, as a never Trumper. And he also points out there that Mike Pompeo made a mistake, apparently, in hiring Bill Taylor for that top job of Ukraine.

What we do know, Brianna, is that we are expecting National Security Official Tim Morrison who was actually on the president's call with the Ukraine president to actually corroborate some of the key details that were alleged by Bill Taylor and by others, including that very notion of a quid pro quo. Brianna?

KEILAR: Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you. And we are getting closer to a first in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry of President Trump. Next week, they're expected to hear from the first witness who was actually on the July 25th phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. His name is Tim Morrison. He was mentioned repeatedly in that bombshell testimony this week from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He is the senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council. He replaced Fiona Hill at the NSC. She testified last week.

And Congressman Ro Khanna is joining us now to discuss this. He's a Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Thank you so much for joining us.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: So Tim Morrison is the person that you'll hear from who is actually on that call and he's a currently serving White House official. He is currently on the National Security Council. How important is this testimony?

KHANNA: Brianna, first, if I could just say a word about Elijah Cummings.

KEILAR: Please.

KHANNA: I'm so glad he's a modest human being, but the tribute you saw today from President Obama, from Secretary Clinton, from Mark Meadows shows the extraordinary character he had.

And I still remember when I got to Congress, he said, any time anyone asks you for a picture to stop, you tell them, it's your absolute honor. He just was such a good human being and I'm so glad the country can reflect on his life.

KEILAR: I liked one of the moments that President Obama said about him, was that he said the cost of doing nothing is not nothing.

KHANNA: Exactly. And he lived his whole life understanding that and he understood that history was going to judge him and he was aware of that every day about not just what he was going to do on the news cycle but what his legacy was going to be for the country. And it's good the nation got to hear what type of human being he was and how he's inspired us as to what we can be.

But to your question, the testimony is going to be absolutely critical. His testimony, and possibly John Bolton's testimony, we have to understand, what did the White House know in terms of Rudy Giuliani's policy towards Ukraine? How many of the president's advisers were concerned about this? Did they go to the president and did the president overrule them?

KEILAR: And do you think Tim Morrison is going to know that?

KHANNA: I think he would. It seems to me that both Tim Morrison and John Bolton have information. I mean, we have public reports that John Bolton thought that this was crazy, like a drug deal, and Tim Morrison worked directly for John Bolton.


So I believe both of them would have information about the concerns that career officials were expressing about this quid pro quo.

KEILAR: And when it comes to Bolton, his attorneys have actually been talking with House Democrats. Where does an appearance by him stand at this point?

KHANNA: I'm hopeful. I believe that John Bolton wants to testify to clear his own name. I mean, from all the public reports, we see that John Bolton was sounding the alarm about this and was very uncomfortable with what was going on. I have disagreed with John Bolton very publicly on many foreign policy issues, but I have never questioned his integrity in following the rules. And he is a lawyer. He was a Yale-educated lawyer. You could see why John Bolton wouldn't want to be part of some kind of conspiracy. And so my hope is that he will want to vindicate his own name.

KEILAR: Are we going to see public hearings in November, by the middle of November, do you think?

KHANNA: Well, we will see public hearings. I mean, the argument that the House isn't doing public hearings is just such a distraction. Right now, we're collecting evidence. It's the same thing by the way, the Republicans did on Benghazi. Once we collect the evidence, there will be public hearings and people will get to question and hear from these witnesses this public.

KEILAR: These are depositions. We do keep pointing out there are Republicans and Democrats in the room. The entirety of these committees are permitted in the room and Republicans are there participating in this process.

KHANNA: Absolutely.

KEILAR: But when do you think we will see, the public, when do you think we'll see the public hearings?

KHANNA: I'm hopeful maybe in November after Thanksgiving, certainly before any articles of impeachment are drawn, the public will get to hear directly, the public will get to see people questioned publicly.

But it's not helpful right now to have folks come in in front of the entire nation, and some of these people may not want to be testifying in front of everyone, and we have to respect some of their privacy and their ability to offer evidence without having, you know, a hundred cameras on them.

KEILAR: So it sounds like you're saying late November, early December for public hearings?

KHANNA: I think once the investigation phase is finished, then we'll move on to that. I mean, I can't commit to a timeline because ultimately it's Chairman Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi who get to make the call.

KEILAR: Yes, but with the pace, and you said after Thanksgiving.

KHANNA: Yes, I'm hopeful after Thanksgiving, we're going to start getting into the frays with the Judiciary Committee and start having some of these folks to testify publicly.

KEILAR: Where are you on the actual articles of impeachment?

KHANNA: Well, it's hard to see what the president's defense would be. I mean, Renato Mariotti, a very fair prosecutor, has an article in Politico, where he says there is no defense. I mean, how can you defend what took place where the president, according to public testimony, is asking Zelensky to basically have a public press conference calling -- saying he's going to investigate Joe Biden?

KEILAR: But Democrats, are they brainstorming, are they writing? What point in the process are they at?

KHANNA: To be honest with you, what we're trying to do is make sure the case is so strong that we get some senators willing to consider the evidence.

Right now, what you have, in my view, is the public supports impeachment, you've had Democrats and independents support impeachment, even some Republicans, according to the polling, but you don't have any senator right now willing to support the impeachment inquiry.

So we're trying to build such an airtight case that the Senate can't just say, we're not going to do our constitutional duty.

KEILAR: Congressman Khanna, thank you for coming to the studio.

KHANNA: Thank you.

KEILAR: The DOJ launching a criminal probe into the origins of the 2016 Trump-Russia investigation, the so-called investigation of the investigators coming amid a crush of negative impeachment headlines.

Plus, the White House is struggling to come up with a cohesive anti- impeachment message, now turning to someone from the outside for help.



KEILAR: The Trump hotel in Washington could soon be sporting a different name. We have learned that the Trump organization is looking into possibly selling the rights of the lucrative property. Complaints and scrutiny about the amount of money the Trumps make off the hotel are partly to blame for them considering the sale. That is some of what we're hearing.

Cristina Alesci, talk to us about this. What more do we know about this? CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've been reporting on this property for years and this is going to spark a lot of questions as to whether or not the Trump organization maybe needs to do this, maybe they feel that the property is more trouble than it's worth at this point.

Of course, when the Trump organization took this property on and licensed and basically is paying rent to the government to operate this property, they put a lot of money into it. So they made a large investment in this historic building to really bring it up to the modern age and actually renovate a lot of it.

So the Trump organization put a lot of money into it, and they may be thinking, look, it's more trouble than it's worth to operate.

And let me give you a little window into that. One of the biggest books of business for hotels in Washington, D.C. is actually companies.


Well, companies that come into do conferences and meetings in Washington, D.C. may want to avoid the hotel, because they don't want to be questioned about it. They know that it is subject to various lawsuits, various investigations on the Hill. So, for example, this week I was up on the Hill listening to Mark Zuckerberg testify in front of Congress, and the hearing was on something completely unrelated to Trump properties, and one of the congress people asked him if his company books hotel rooms there.

So probably companies want to avoid that. They're probably losing that business to other competitors in the area.

KEILAR: And what about -- I mean, ethics experts look at this and they say, especially because President Trump didn't put his assets into a blind trust and he's clearly still involved in the business and his kids are running it, they say it's unethical that he's being enriched by this hotel. Does that have anything to do with this?

ALESCI: I think that the ethics question around this is what makes it so difficult and such a headache for the Trump organization to operate this property.

Also, separately, there are real legal questions about certain payments that this hotel gets and whether or not it violates the anti- bribery clause in the Constitution that prohibits the president from receiving profits from foreign and domestic governments.

So I think there are a lot of headaches from the Trump organization. We'll see if a potential buyer is going to meet the price that the Trump organization wants here, but certainly an interesting development that will spark more questions at this point about the president's business. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Cristina Alesci, thank you.

ALESCI: Of Course.

KEILAR: And President Trump wanted it, now he has it. After two years of calling the Russia investigation a hoax, a criminal investigation of how it began is now underway. Let's bring in CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz from Chicago.

And, Shimon, I mean, to be clear, this isn't a hoax. The findings of both volume 1 and 2 of the Mueller report, which you spent so much time covering, showed a systemic effort by Russia to interfere in the election and that there were many actions by the Trump campaign and by President Trump to interfere in that investigation.

So why is DOJ now making this a criminal probe?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. We don't know exactly what created this escalation, what caused this escalation. But one of the things that it does is that it allows the federal prosecutor, John Durham out of Connecticut, who really is working hand in hand with the Attorney General Bill Barr.

What's really unusual here is just also the role that the attorney general is playing in this. He's directly involved in the day-to-day parts of this investigation. He's traveled to Italy, other parts, and working with international partners to try and figure out exactly what information they provided to the U.S. government and how that information was used.

By making this a criminal probe, they're now able to subpoena witnesses, people that they want to talk to. We've been told that some of the folks that they've been wanting to talk to have not been willing to come in voluntarily. And so as a result, they've been issuing subpoenas. And in order to do that, they've had to make this a criminal probe. That's just one aspect of it.

But, ultimately, we really don't know if there is something that has come along that has caused the Department of Justice now to say, you know what, this is going to become a criminal probe.

The other thing, obviously, this is looking at a lot of different characters. Joseph Mifsud, an interesting professor who had contact with George Papadopoulos, they are looking at that contact, of course, James Comey, John Brennan's role and Jim Clapper, all of that.

And also keep in mind, Brianna. This is coming as they're getting ready to release the inspector general's report that was looking at the FISA and other issues into the FBI investigation.

So all of this happening, and obviously coming on the heels of this impeachment inquiry going on in the Hill.

KEILAR: Shimon, thank you for that report.

I want to bring in now CNN Legal Analyst and University of North Carolina Law Professor Michael Gerhardt.

Michael, why does shifting this to a criminal probe matter aside from the fact that it does give investigators the ability to talk to people who have been resisting talking to them?

MICHAEL GERHARDT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there is a lot of political value that comes with this announcement from the Department of Justice. So the announcement that now the probe will be criminal in a sense kind of raises its credibility, but it also raises the stakes involved.

And so the other thing about it, of course, is timing. It came out at a time when there was a lot of bad news for the president from a number of witnesses that have been called so far for the House Intelligence Committee, and this is maybe an effort to take back the narrative for the Trump administration.

KEILAR: How does the Department of Justice actually conduct something like this?


How do they conduct an internal investigation on, really, themselves?

GERHARDT: It's a terrific question. Well, it's not that -- it doesn't happen that often, but there are going to be people inside the department whose job it is, to some extent, to investigate ethical questions and related questions like that within the department. You're likely to have those kinds of people help Mr. Durham on this.

And beyond that, I think you're going to find a number of people in the Justice Department getting their own lawyers, so there's going to be some tension, obviously, within the department as the investigation proceeds.

KEILAR: I wonder what the wider effect of this is. Do you think that having an investigation of investigators will have the effect of telling some law enforcement officials that they don't want to investigate anything that won't be welcomed by the Trump administration or by the White House in particular?

GERHARDT: I think that's a really good point. There is no question this is maybe intended and certainly has the effect of intimidating possible other whistleblowers. Clearly, this administration has hassled by whistleblowers, even though our laws protect whistleblowers, even from federal authorities. And this just may be an attempt to be a little more intimidating, no question they could do that.

At the same time, it's very consistent with the tendency of the administration to respond to impeachment troubles by killing the messenger. So this too may be an attempt to sort of go after the source, so to speak, rather than the merits of what's going on.

KEILAR: Michael Gerhardt thanks for your perspective.

GERHARDT: Thank you.

KEILAR: The White House is struggling to find a disciplined message on impeachment. And Republicans being asked to defend the president are getting frustrated.