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White House Official Tim Morrison Expected to Testify Before Congress; Report: 'Anonymous' Agrees to an Interview on New Book; Justice Department: Investigation of Russia Probe Now a Criminal One; Mitch Landrieu Makes Push to United the South. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- scheduled to testify next week who actually were on that controversial July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president.


"The New York Times" is reporting this morning that ousted national security adviser John Bolton is in negotiations to testify before House investigators.

Bolton has been described as being alarmed by the alleged quid pro quo, Likening it to a, quote, "drug deal." CNN has also learned that Democrats are already discussing the scope and scale of potential articles of impeachment. They're even debating how broadly to go after President Trump.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: With the impeachment inquiry heating up, Attorney General Bill Barr's investigation of the origins of the 2016 Trump-Russia probe, that investigation is escalating. CNN learned overnight it is now designated as a criminal matter. And this would allow federal prosecutors to subpoena witnesses, empanel a grand jury, and ultimately, perhaps, file criminal charges.

Democratic Chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler say that Barr's activities have been concerned that the DOJ is being used by President Trump for political revenge.

Let's discuss all of this.

Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; CNN political commentator Ana Navarro; and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

And I want to start with this development in the impeachment inquiry. CNN's reporting from Manu Raju and a team of people suggesting that Tim Morrison, who works in the White House on the National Security Council staff, Jeffrey, will apparently corroborate key elements of Ambassador Taylor's testimony, which accuses the president of being involved in this quid pro quo with Ukraine. Why will Tim Morrison's testimony be important?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it's important because it exists at all. Remember, the White House counsel has said we don't want anyone cooperating with the impeachment investigation.

So far, State Department and Defense Department officials have cooperated, but Morrison would be the first White House official to break ranks and agree to testify.

But on the substantive level, what makes him important is that Morrison offered the most direct testimony yet that there was widespread understanding within the executive branch that the aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the provision of dirt on Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: Bill Taylor.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry. Bill Taylor.

CAMEROTA: Bill Taylor testified to that. And Tim Morrison is part of what he heard and how he knows that.

TOOBIN: Correct. And Ambassador Sondland was much more vague about what went on. And there is some conflict, not total conflict, between Sondland and Taylor. And it would be significant if Morrison corroborated Taylor that this quid pro quo was wide widely known and acted upon in the executive branch.

CAMEROTA: So just to bring everybody up to speed, let's just read that portion from Bill Taylor's opening remarks where Tim Morrison played a role. Here it is.

During the same phone call I had with Tim Morrison, he went on to describe a conversation that Ambassador Sondland had with Mr. Yermak at Warsaw. No, Mr. Yermak is an aide to President Zelensky of Ukraine.

"Ambassador Sondland told Mr. Yermak that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation. I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about that Sondland-Yermak conversation. This was the first time that I had heard that the security assistance -- not just the White House meeting -- was conditioned on the investigation."

So Ana, you can see why Tim Morrison is someone they would like to speak to.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And you know, there's also the -- the aspect that this is a completely different cast of characters. And type of characters -- actually people with character -- than what we had during the Robert Mueller investigation. Right?

If you'll remember the folks that came in for Congressional hearings back then were folks like Michael Cohen, Corey Lewandowski --

CAMEROTA: Paul Manafort.

NAVARRO: -- Paul Manafort, Roger Stone. Eww. You know, whereas now there's -- right. TOOBIN: Is that a legal category? Eww?

NAVARRO: You've got professionals, consummate professionals, nonpolitical people, people who have been through one administration after the other.

You've also got a John Bolton, who is the Republican foreign policy Grand Poobah, saying, you know, Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade and, reportedly, this thing about, you know, comparing it to a drug deal.

So it's a -- it's a host of troubles. They have not been able to paint these folks with the same brush of partisan hacks. Even though they've tried with tried with folks like Taylor that they did with those on the Mueller report.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That was a TV first, putting John Bolton and a "Happy Days" reference in the same sentence. But anyway...

BERMAN: Well, Potsie.


BERMAN: People called him Potsie for years. That was a totally different issue.

CAMEROTA: I've now jumped the shark.

BASH: Nice.

CAMEROTA: Jumped the shark.

BERMAN: One last point on Morrison. CNN's reporting, which is meticulous on this and very careful, points out that Morrison apparently will also testify that he doesn't necessarily believe the administration did anything wrong.

BASH: That's key.

BERMAN: But as you point out, Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: It doesn't matter what he thinks. If he thinks he did anything wrong, it matters what the Constitution says --

BASH: Totally.

CAMEROTA: -- and what the Congressional investigators says.

BASH: Totally agree with that. Except the reason why it seems to be key is because what are they doing now? They're building a case that -- where they can basically write up what is effectively an indictment, right? That they will take as part of the -- the public hearings to bring articles of impeachment. And that they will send over to the Senate.

[07:05:22] But what they need more than anything is to continue momentum in the support impeachment direction from the public -- from public opinion. And so, if you have somebody, the one guy -- you know, maybe John Bolton is going to testify and he'll blow this thing up, and we don't know.

But let's just say so far, the one guy who's in the White House who gives information but says, so what, there was nothing was wrong with it, that actually backs President Trump's point of view.

BERMAN: So you brought up John Bolton. And I want to ask you this, Dana, because "The New York Times" did a report this morning that Bolton's team is negotiating with the House impeachment investigators for his testimony.

What does John Bolton want? Do you have any idea?

BASH: I don't know what he wants, but I can assume what he could want, which is retribution. I mean, he -- remember, he went out of the White House in a typical Trump administration fashion, which was it was not pretty; it was not amicable. They were, you know, fighting over Twitter. And -- and John Bolton was not happy. And was not happy on a policy level. Was also not happy on a personal level. He was not getting along with some key people in the White House. And he felt that he was right.

So if he wants to grind that ax, there is no bigger platform and no more important stage for him to do it than on this one.

CAMEROTA: But to be clear, there's also reporting that he was frustrated before he was ousted from the White House. He was frustrated about this Ukraine stuff.

BASH: That's what I mean.

CAMEROTA: He might not just have an ax to grind. He might have an actual policy principle he wants to get across.

NAVARRO: Listen, I'm far from a John Bolton fan. That being said, this guy is a true conservative when it comes to foreign policy. He is an ideologue.

And he has been working. You know, we've got a, you know, purported Republican president in the White House who coddles Putin, who coddles Kim in North Korea, who coddles Erdogan. And if you are a real conservative, as John Bolton is, this has got to really bother you on a conviction and principle and ideology front.

TOOBIN: Another point why Bolton is so important is he had daily regular contact with President Trump.

If you look at Morrison and even Taylor, their knowledge of the president is hearsay. They did not deal, at least based on what we know so far, and certainly in Taylor's opening statement, he doesn't talk about conversations with the president. He talks about people who talked to people who talked to the president. And his testimony has been and presumably will still be discredited as hearsay. With some reason.

Bolton would be a different story, because he had so much direct contact with Trump.

BERMAN: On the subject of conversations with the president, Axios is reporting this morning much more on Anonymous and this new book --


BERMAN: -- called "A Warning" that is coming out. Apparently, Anonymous will say that he or she was in many meetings with the president, is going to talk about it.

This is from the back panel of the book that was just released: "You will hear a great deal from Donald Trump directly, for there is no better witness to his character than his own words and no better evidence of the danger he poses than his own conduct."

And Dana, we also learned that apparently, Anonymous is going to do some kind of an interview. I don't know.

CAMEROTA: Sit down with one journalist. We'll give one interview. Sit down with one journalist.

Anonymous, call me.

TOOBIN: We're now basically now just a commercial for this book, right?

CAMEROTA: Yes, I know. It's working. Whatever Anonymous wanted to do in terms of book sales, it's working.

TOOBIN: Yes, yes.

NAVARRO: Well, I ain't going to read it. I frankly have no patience for somebody who sees the level of chaos that we're in and that doesn't have the courage to come out and put a name and a face to their story.

BASH: That's what I was going to ask. Right now it's anonymous. But when we see and hear the book and we see and hear the author, are they going to be in shadow?

CAMEROTA: Well, maybe in shadow, or maybe it will just be a print interview.

TOOBIN: Well, and just to reflect --

BASH: Then there's not going to be -- not that there's not credibility in this, but if they -- if he or she wants to affect the process --


CAMEROTA: They have to go on with us. I see where you're going.

BASH: Or anybody. Go to Congress. Right?

TOOBIN: But how about, I mean, honest point that, you know what? We have seen these distinguished public servants like William Taylor, at considerable risk, going public, that's a lot more honorable than what --

NAVARRO: And I think -- and for me, it's a -- it's a distraction right now from -- from the very powerful testimonies of the Fiona Hills and of the ambassador, Yovanovitch, and of, you know, Sondland and of Taylor and of Bolton.

I mean, you know, let's focus on the people who are putting their names out there, their careers out there, their reputations out there. Not somebody that's too afraid to give their names and their true identity. Come out, man. Or woman.


BERMAN: You've always -- you've always given your name. And to that point, you have declared yourself as a Never Trumper. This week, the president called you a name. Human scum. And we haven't seen you since then. I just wanted to know if you had a response to that?

NAVARRO: Well, good morning to you, fake news. Look --

CAMEROTA: This is the name-calling segment.


NAVARRO: I wonder -- I wonder if Donald Trump has any idea of what a badge of honor it is to be insulted by him. I hope he does it more and more, because really, I would like to hang it in big frames on my wall.

It is going to be a badge of honor for, I think, all of our lives. Everybody that he insults, whether he's calling Don Lemon the dumbest man on TV, or whether he's calling me this or he's calling anybody else that, it is a badge of honor. Because to be called a name, to be insulted by a person who has no fitness to serve, who has no morals, who has no values, who has no character is, frankly, a great honor. Keep doing it. I love it.

TOOBIN: Other than that, she thinks Trump is good.

CAMEROTA: You may get your wish, Ana.

Thank you, all, very much. Great talking to you guys.

BERMAN: All right. Another big development overnight. CNN has learned that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the origins of its own Russia probe. We're going to break down what we know about it, next.


[07:15:55] CAMEROTA: Breaking news overnight. CNN has learned that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. Attorney General Bill Barr has already expressed his suspicions of the counterintelligence investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign.

Joining us now to talk about this and more, we have Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Michael, great to see you. So the idea that Bill Barr has now turned this into a criminal inquiry, what does that tell us?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My gut reaction was that maybe he needs subpoena power in order to get some of the people that he wants to testify to cooperate in this probe. Because up until now, John Durham, who's the U.S. attorney from Connecticut, hasn't had that ability.

This is a very confusing story, but it goes something like this. The conventional narrative as to how the Russian probe was begun is that George Papadopoulos has that night of drinking in London, tells an Australian diplomat that there's dirt out there about Hillary Clinton. The Australian diplomat does nothing with it until the WikiLeaks dump. All of a sudden, then they call the United States and say, hey, there's this guy affiliated with the Trump campaign. Here's what he told us, and the probe commences.

The counternarrative that Barr is investigating is one of this shady professor named Joseph Mifsud, who apparently was the source for Papadopoulos.

Here's the bottom line. Maybe both can be true. You know, none of this mitigates against the Russians having meddled in the election. I think that that narrative stands. Whether the way in which we investigated it is not what we've been told is what this is all about.

BERMAN: So this is when we get to have you give us the 30,000-foot- view of what's transpired over the last week. And so much has transpired over the last week. I think it's also the part of the show Michael, where you get to say, "I told you" show.

You know, we heard from William Taylor, the ambassador. We've heard that Tim Morrison next week is going to corroborate what the ambassador says about the details of what appears to be a quid pro quo. What's important here?

SMERCONISH: What's important here is that there's no factual dispute. And I think that's what you're giving me props for. Because I've been been saying that for a while.

It seems like the underlying allegations here, whether it's from the whistle-blower complaint, whether it's from the transcript of the July 25 telephone conversation with Ukraine president, the testimony, because we've read that 15-page statement from Ambassador Taylor. They all tell the same story. That's why a week ago, when Mick Mulvaney said, well, and he didn't

use the words "quid pro quo," but essentially said, "There was. Get over it."

I thought, aha, the defense will be that they're going to own it. And that the president will say, yes, I was holding up a meeting with Zelensky. Yes, I was holding up the aid to Ukraine to protect American tax dollars.

And then they quickly did an about face, and that's not the path they're taking. Instead, it's a process defense. It's what you saw when those Republicans stormed that congressional hearing this week. It is to try to completely delegitimatize what's taking place.

Now, if it thwarts the impeachment probe, then it will have been successful. But if, in the end, the Houses passes impeachment and there's a trial in the Senate, not going to be about process. They will have to defend on the underlying charges. And so far, we still don't see any defense.

CAMEROTA: You don't see any defense from the White House of the substance. So they're trying to --


CAMEROTA: -- as we see, they're all talking about process; and they're trying to interfere in the process. But you're waiting to hear some sort of defense on the substance.

SMERCONISH: That's exactly right. And you know, maybe that ship has sailed. Because so often, the president and representatives of the White House have said no quid pro quo. It would be awfully difficult for them to turn and embrace that concept if they could find a less nefarious-sounding verbiage.

But frankly, that's -- that's what I've expected them to do.

I also don't see, you know, someone from a legal standpoint, and it's not Rudy. I mean, someone with some chops in a matter like this, providing counsel for the president. Of course, that -- that demands the question would he follow the advice?


But it just seems so scattershot on the merit of the underlying charge. I get the politics. I get the optics. I get complaining about how you can't cross-examine and it's behind closed doors, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But -- but on the underlying core facts of this case, what's at issue?

BERMAN: Michael Smerconish, no limit to the props you deserve. Thank you for coming on this morning and helping us understand.

SMERCONISH: See you, guys.

BERMAN: Be sure to watch "SMERCONISH" on CNN tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Eastern.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Republicans on Capitol Hill worry behind the scenes that the White House is not prepared to respond to the likelihood that President Trump will be impeached in the House. So how some of his biggest supporters are trying to now take the reins.



BERMAN: A new initiative is launching today to unite the south promoting social and racial justice. It's called the E Pluribus Unum Fund. And joining me now is CNN political commentator Mitch Landrieu. He is the former mayor of New Orleans, who has been driving this initiative.

And you spent the last year, going city to city in the south and talking to dozens, if not hundreds, of people, Mayor. And I think it's so important to take a break from a lot of the noise and the chaos we're dealing with to talk about something that's so fundamental to the country in this report you're putting out. Top-line level, what did you find?

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we found that not only are we a nation divided against each other, but we're essentially still a nation divided against ourself.

And race has been one of the incredible fault lines that has been with us, really, since the beginning of our nation. Really, a nation that's born in contradiction. You know, because the Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal, but it was written at the time when we had slavery.

The consequences of that are still with us today. And you're right: We wanted to take some time away from all of the noise. For the last 10 months, I've been traveling around the south with a team of people. We've been to 28 different communities. We've been to 13 different states. We've interviewed over 800 people in private settings. We've had some public meetings, but most of them have been individual interviews to try to see if we could find common ground, find things that people agree on. Or try to find out where the fault lines are so that we could have thoughtful conversations and create a pathway to us realizing that we have more together than we do apart.

BERMAN: And I think a big part of that is understanding. Understanding what makes us similar is admitting how we see things differently. And I think that's what your organization has really shining incredible light on.

And I did a poll, and I just want to put up one of these poll results here on the impact of slavery here. And broken down by race, you ask people of different races about the legacy of slavery and if it makes it harder for black people in the United States to get ahead.

And the respondents who were black or African-American overwhelmingly said yes. Overwhelmingly believe, yes, that the legacy of slavery makes it harder for them to get ahead. And whites overwhelmingly say no. That's glaring.

LANDRIEU: Well, there's no question about that. And that's obviously something that we have to work on. When you talk to whites who were responding to our survey, their sense of racism is an individual act of meanness to another person that looks differently from them.

Most African-Americans, though, view it as institutional racism. And the institutions that are designed in a way that are not fair to them. So there's a divide there.

The one thing that is just really heartening is that almost everybody that we talk to believes that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. They like living in communities that have other people that don't look like them in it.

And that, generally, almost everybody wants a fair opportunity to do well, and they want a better life for their kids. So there is a vision for us to move towards, but I don't think there's any question that we've got to tackle this on the ground. It's got to be person to person, community to community, church to church, city to city so that we can knit the south together across race and class.

If we do that, if we get to the other side of this, this great nation has an opportunity to do great things. If we do not, we could continue to stay in this agony that we've been in for quite a long time. And E Pluribus Unum seeks to try to find a way to do that.

BERMAN: A couple other things that you are putting out this morning. And again, this report is just out this morning. I think everyone should go look at it.

You talk about leadership and also the media here in the noise and the words that are being spoken. You say, "Political leadership and media have the power to set a permissive tone for racist behavior and reinforce stereotypes." And also, "Communities of color, low-income individuals and those living in the margins have seldom been in control of telling their own stories."

I think both those things are so important. Explain them.

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, they're both true. One of the things that we talk about is changing the narrative in the country and starting to tell the right stories and starting to tell them fully and comprehensively.

How a person tells a story, so-and-so was involved in a riot, as opposed to what else might have happened. The kinds of stories that are depicted. You saw just the recent controversy about the Central Park Five and how that whole thing was depicted. Those things are important. The language that we use. So that's one.

The second is political leadership. Because what political leaders talk about, what community leaders talk about, and how we talk is a matter of whether we seek common ground or we seek division. Those are really choices. And then thirdly, really understanding our history, understanding the

policies, understanding how negative legislation can either keep people down or lift them up.

The heartening thing I said about this, again, is that everybody wants a fair opportunity. Everybody wants to live in a diverse community. And everybody wants their kids' lives to be better. That is a good starting point.

But it's sobering to understand that we see the world so differently. And that's the work that we have to do. It's going to take a commitment.