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Ambassador Philip Reeker Subpoenaed To Testify In Impeachment Inquiry; Judge: House Democrats Can See Mueller Grand Jury Evidence; Trump On Impeachment: "Where's The Whistleblower?"; Attorneys For Whistleblower: Our Client Doesn't Need To Testify; Sources: Portman Called Trump To Lift Hold Hours Before Ukraine Aid Release; Sources: Bolton Lawyers In Talks About Impeachment Deposition; Thousands Evacuated As Fires Destroy 25,000-Plus Acres In California; Senate Confirms Fifth Trump Judicial Pick Labeled "Not Qualified". Aired 12- 1p ET

Aired October 26, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right. This is just in to the newsroom.

We have now learned that Ambassador Philip Reeker was issued a subpoena to testify before he appeared on Capitol Hill this morning. This rare Saturday hearing is happening right now as part of the House's impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Reeker is one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's deputies. He has been testifying now for about an hour. And this hearing comes amid a major legal victory for Democrats.

A federal judge ruling the Justice Department must release redacted documents from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The decision undercuts a key Republican argument that the impeachment inquiry is invalid.

Meanwhile, President Trump is dismissing calls from Republicans to bolster his team as the inquiry unfolds and, again, demanding to learn the identity of the whistleblower who actually triggered the start of this inquiry. The President tweeting this morning, "Where is the whistleblower?"

CNN's Jeremy Herb is on Capitol Hill this morning. So, Jeremy - lots of Jeremys. I almost called you Diamond. But anyway, Jeremy Herb now on Capitol Hill.

Let's begin with what's happening there. Philip Reeker testifying in front of the three House committees. Are we learning anything more about this subpoena, the circumstances? Was he originally just invited, refused, or sent a signal that he might not come and they had to then subpoena? Explain the sequence of events.

JEREMY HERB, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. So Philip Reeker received a subpoena as part of his deposition today. This is the same procedure that we have seen for all of the current administration officials who have testified so far.

The committees are interested in talking to Reeker because he could potentially help corroborate some of the previous testimony they've had. Reeker worked with George Kent and Kurt Volker, two of the witnesses that have already testified on Ukraine policy.

And he was part of the effort to try to shield former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, in terms of how and who was fired back in April. He was trying to stop her from the campaign that was being led by Rudy Giuliani to smear her.

And so he's part of their emails that he was sending to Kent and Volker trying to protect her from that. And so I think that is one of the key things today that we're going to learn from Reeker's testimony, which is happening behind closed doors.

WHITFIELD: And then Former Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman has filed a lawsuit on Friday asking a federal judge to decide whether he should testify as part of this impeachment inquiry. What more are you learning about that? And a very unusual approach?

HERB: It's certainly interesting. And this - it throws into doubt whether Charles Kupperman will appear on Monday when he's scheduled to testify. He's asking a federal judge to say whether he needs to comply with the House subpoena for him to testify, saying that the White House has declared that this impeachment inquiry is invalid and he is caught between the executive and the legislative branches.

His subpoena, whether the court rules on this and how fast it does is potentially significant when it comes to the testimony of others who may be less - more reluctant to testify. And it's also worth noting that Kupperman, who was a deputy to John Bolton, has the same attorney as Mr. Bolton. So if the committees try to bring in Bolton, it's possible that we could see a similar legal strategy there.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. So, Jeremy, does the filing of that lawsuit come after the federal judge's ruling, federal House ruling that this process is valid?

HERB: It will be interesting to see how that ruling that says the House has and should have access to Mr. Mueller's grand jury material, whether that plays into the court process for Mr. Kupperman. I think the biggest problem for the House is going to be time. They are trying to do this impeachment inquiry as quick as they can. That's why we're here on a Saturday. And these lawsuits take time. And so it's not clear whether they would be able to get a ruling compelling Kupperman to come in before they want to move forward on potential articles and public hearings and all of that.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Herb, thank you so much. I'll check back with you. Appreciate it.

All right. Meanwhile, a defiant President Trump ignoring Republican calls for the administration to build a team to handle impeachment. The President says he is his own best messenger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Here's the thing. I don't have teams. Everyone is talking about teams. I'm the team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:05:00]

WHITFIELD: CNN's Kristen Holmes is at the White House.

So, Kristen, Republicans want the President to have a team, something similar to the format of Former President Bill Clinton when he was being impeached. The President saying no. Is he going to maintain that position?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to have to wait and see, Fred, but here's where we stand right now. We know what Bill Clinton had was what was called a war room. This was a team of people who were not involved with the White House. They were separate, just to deal with the impeachment probe.

President Trump, for the reason that he himself just said in that clip, doesn't want a war room because he believes he is his own messenger. I mean, look at those words, saying "I am the team," and his Twitter feed would certainly show that that is how he feels. He's been out ranting on Twitter last night as well as today. I'm just going to read you one of the tweets just so you get a gist of what he's saying.

"The Ukraine investigation is just as corrupt and fake as all of the other garbage that went on before it. Even shifty Schiff got caught cheating when he made up what I said on the call." Again, this is just one of many tweets. He attacked Nancy Pelosi, the media. He said "Where's the whistleblower?" as I heard you repeat earlier.

So this is not the messaging that Republicans want to send. And in fact, they're hoping that he would take an approach where he would just press on the system to talk about the procedure here, to really stress that what Democrats were doing in the process was wrong. But what we're seeing here is what Trump believes is best for Trump. It is attacking. It is on the offensive here. And it is whatever he wants to do.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kristen Holmes at the White House, thank you so much.

All right. Let's talk more on all of this now. Joining me right now, Michael Bender, a White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and a CNN Political Analyst. Good to see you. And Karoun Demirjian, a Congressional reporter for "The Washington Post" and CNN Political Analyst. Good to see you as well.

OK, Karoun. You're first. How significant is this judge's ruling, Judge Howell's ruling, that the redacted grand jury information from the Mueller report be released to lawmakers who want it?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, we'll see how significant it is in terms of the substance because they do seem to be focused more on Ukraine right now than the findings in the Mueller report as the epicenter of the impeachment investigation is moving forward. But the fact that this ruling came and treated, it effectively says this impeachment inquiry is legitimate and that's why they need to be provided access to that grand jury information.

That's very significant right now, given that you've got this full court press from the Republicans saying it's not legitimate, but pressure from the Congressional Republicans to cast a vote on the floor and the fact that they are now - that there are potential witnesses that are questioning whether they have to comply with these subpoenas, having that ruling that says no, this is an impeachment inquiry and thus we have to treat it as if it is meriting the information that would be given to any impeachment inquiry, could open up doors for these lawmakers who are investigating going forward into these next several critical weeks.

WHITFIELD: So, Michael, that ruling twofold, release the documents and that the impeachment inquiry is legitimate. So - the President has been calling this a hoax. He continues to call it a witch hunt, but you have to wonder whether that ruling now - yes, it will further bolster the Democrats, but it - you have to wonder where - how influential it could be now for Republicans who have been trying to defend the President by saying there's something wrong with this process, but then now you've got the judge ruling here.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, definitely. I mean, this is the first time that the judiciary has weighed in on the legality of this impeachment probe. So that's very significant.

But if you take a step back and understand that, this has always been more of a political argument for the White House and Trump's allies on the Hill than really a major legal strategy. They've been arguing against this impeachment probe mostly on process grounds. They've just been saying that usually in the past, these impeachments have started with a full vote in the House and wanted one this time. A judge obviously has said that that's not the case.

Now, that decision can still be appealed, but - but you're right. This takes away a major plank from the argument that Republicans and the President have been making for the better part of a month now on the argument against this probe.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Karoun, let's talk about the activity happening on Capitol Hill, where you are right now. Ambassador Philip Reeker, the latest member of the State Department to testify in this inquiry, and today your reporter colleagues at "The Washington Post" have an article discussing how outside advisers are frustrated that the White House has not filed an injunction to stop the depositions.

Former 2016 Trump Campaign Spokesperson Jason Miller is quoted in the piece as saying, "Many Trump allies are concerned and don't understand the strategy of not filing an injunction. It's a head-scratcher. President Trump and the administration have clearly said they don't want folks participating in this sham process and stepping all over Presidential privilege."

But you've got this judge's ruling now, saying the process is legit.

[12:10:00]

Congress has this oversight authority. People can be deposed. So, isn't it too late to try to file any kind of injunction? And is that idea even moot, period, anyway?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I mean, there's the question open right now that if they file the injunction at this point after you've had several witnesses come forward under subpoena to give this testimony, if that would actually convince a judge that that injunction should be met with any sort of a stop on this process.

I mean, look, this - but this is the - the push-and-pull between the executive and the legislative branches that we're seeing play out with every single witness. You saw the White House earlier put out that statement of we don't want to cooperate with this at all. There have been individual orders that have come down for the current administration officials from the State Department saying don't go. The committees hear that.

They issue these friendly subpoenas in order to enable the witnesses to have a legal defense basically to say, no, I'm not going to flout a subpoena and maybe risk going into a court process for myself. And under that subpoena, they come to testify. And that has been the case for witness after witness after witness, including Mr. Reeker today. He's operating under the same protection of that friendly subpoena.

And so I think that this is going to be the grounds upon which the White House has to make these arguments of, well, we don't want to be doing this, basically boil down to executive privilege. And it's difficult for the President. You can't just claim executive privilege over the entire executive branch.

And because these are career employees for the most part who are giving this testimony, he will be hard-pressed to make that argument and that may be what's limiting or stopping people from before going to court and trying to make that argument right now.

WHITFIELD: Right. And Michael, we're talking about the White House at all angles then, publicly now plotting about concealing. And how is it then the White House doesn't see that that is near tantamount to saying, "cover up?" I mean, if there's nothing there, then just let it all out as opposed to now angling for how do you conceal and make sure that this process does not continue with transparency.

BENDER: Yes. It's a really good question and one that the White House - one of many that the White House has to answer. They're really at an inflection point here. I mean, the quote you put up there from Jason Miller, viewers should understand that Jason Miller has been one of the stout Trump defenders for several years here. To hear him on the record questioning the White House strategy is significant.

We reported at "The Wall Street Journal" a few days ago that it was the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers who are the staunchest Trump supporters in Congress, had to go to the White House and say, hey, we're not hearing enough from you, we're not having enough messaging, we don't understand the strategy, and that led to a daily phone call between lawmakers and key lawmakers on the Hill and some senior White House aides.

So - the White House is really stuck here between trying to say that they did nothing wrong, that they don't want to participate, and their allies saying you have to do more, you have to participate, you have to help us help you.

WHITFIELD: Michael Bender, Karoun Demirjian, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

BENDER: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, the White House is pushing for the whistleblower in this Ukraine scandal to come forward, but is that likely to happen?

And John Bolton could be the star witness in the impeachment probe against the President. Will he give damaging information on Trump to House lawmakers?

[12:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. It's looking more unlikely that House Democrats will get the chance to interview the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Lawyers for the anonymous whistleblower argue that there is no need for their client to testify because they say the public now knows more than what was originally filed in the complaint. However, that's not stopping President Trump from putting his own spin on things. Today, he tweeted the Democrats don't want the whistleblower to testify because, he says, the claims in the complaint were unfounded.

Joining me right now to discuss, Michael Zeldin, CNN Legal Analyst and former Justice Department official.

Good to see you, Michael.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, how important do you think it is for Congress and the American people to hear directly the story from the whistleblower at this point in the investigation?

ZELDIN: So, Fred, I think what is important is distinguishing the whistleblower, a human being, from the whistleblower, the content of the allegations. And it's the latter that matters most. Who said it is far less important than what was said?

The irony here, of course, is that when the whistleblower first came forward, the whistleblower was attacked as having only secondhand knowledge and therefore of no utility. Now they've put forth all of the witnesses with firsthand knowledge, and all of a sudden, the same people who ridiculed this whistleblower as having secondhand knowledge are demanding that that whistleblower come forward. So the politics of it is pretty transparent. I think we need to focus on the content and not the communicator.

WHITFIELD: So, do you agree with that person's attorney that says the information that has been brought by the various depositions and testimonies really kind of obviates the need for the whistleblower, their identity or even their complaint to be made public?

ZELDIN: Well, the complaint has been made public. So that's good. And their identity--

WHITFIELD: But it's really the reports of the complaint.

ZELDIN: Their identity is less important than the substance of what they have to say. And the lawyers for the whistleblower have said, if there are important issues that you need us to answer for you, we will do so under oath and in writing. So there is a mechanism in place for them to obtain the additional information that may not be forthcoming while making sure that the whistleblower's identity is fully protected, which is paramount.

WHITFIELD: Yes. OK. So CNN is now learning more about this forthcoming book--

ZELDIN: I have no volume.

WHITFIELD: Uh-oh, you can't hear me anymore, Michael? No volume? And I'm not going to make you read my lips here. So we're going to try and re-establish that and then bring him back if it works out. But thank you, Michael, for the part that you did give us.

We're going to take a short break for now. We'll be right back.

[12:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. We have tried to re-establish communication. So we believe our Michael Zeldin is back. He can hear us. I can hear him.

How about if I see you just to make sure? OK, there you are. Very good. All right.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Let me ask you about this upcoming book called "A Warning," written by the anonymous senior Trump administration official. Here's what the back of the book apparently looks like, and it reads, "In these pages, you will not just hear from me, you will hear a great deal from Donald Trump directly, for there are no better witness to his character than his own words and no better evidence of the danger he poses than his own conduct."

So, Michael, what about the timing of the release of this kind of potential tell-all book while the President is in the midst of this impeachment inquiry? Could it add any fuel to the fire?

ZELDIN: Well, depending on what's in it, sure. And I have to say, Fred, as a rule, I don't like books like this. I think that the President, whether you like this President or don't like this President, is beside the point of the fact that the President is entitled to confidential communications with his senior advisers.

[12:25:00]

And if the author or anonymous is a senior adviser, then he's denying the prerogatives of the President to protect those confidential communications. So I just don't like this as a rule.

If the individual is still in the government or has recently left the government, that person can come forward and say here's what I think is a threat to America if we were to re-elect this person. And then we could debate the merits of it with him or her.

WHITFIELD: So, could it be the potential fallout for that individual, whether it's the same kind of concerns of, say, the whistleblower might have about the identity being revealed? And after making that kind of information public, what life would be like for that individual. Is that protection enough and motivation enough to take this kind of approach for that person, maybe even potentially protect them from any potential legal ramifications, had they made themselves public?

ZELDIN: Yes. Maybe. But your question gets right to the heart of what we were talking about before the technical difficulties, which is - the Whistleblower Protection Act is designed to protect the whistleblower from recrimination. And the whistleblower went forward through the official channels to ensure his or her protection.

This individual here has not gone through the official channels. They are not necessarily a whistleblower. They are more in the category of a leaker. I prefer to protect whistleblowers. And I'm not as worried about leakers though. I understand the value that they present to news-gathering organizations and - for the truth.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

ZELDIN: But in this case, I'm on the side of the whistleblower--

WHITFIELD: Yes.

ZELDIN: --and less so on the side of the--

WHITFIELD: I got you. Yes.

ZELDIN: --anonymous author.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So - yes, because we did see that multi-page letter/complaint from the whistleblower, and that's one of the references that you make.

All right. Michael Zeldin, thank you so much. Good to see you--

ZELDIN: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: --and hear you--

ZELDIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: --and be heard by you.

ZELDIN: Yes. Yes. Yes--

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

WHITFIELD: All right. Take care.

ZELDIN: --everyone at home was waiting for you.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you.

All right. Attorneys for a freshman congresswoman, Katie Hill of California, have sent a cease-and-desist letter to the "Daily Mail," which posted nude photos purported to be of her. The freshman Democrat admitted to having a relationship with a campaign staffer and is facing a House ethics investigation into separate allegations that she had an inappropriate relationship with a Congressional staffer.

Here now is CNN's Kyung Lah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTHA JONES, KATIE HILL VOLUNTEER: Disappointment. Big disappointment.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been a long week for Linda Skvarna and Martha Jones, volunteers for Katie Hill's 2018 Congressional campaign.

JONES: I'm disappointed because it puts her seat at risk, I think, which is to me the most important thing.

LAH (voice-over): They're talking about the crisis unfolding around Representative Hill. The House Ethics Committee announced an investigation into claims that Hill had an improper relationship with a member of her Congressional staff, a violation of House rules.

Hill calls the charge absolutely false and said she would cooperate with the inquiry. But explicit, personal photos of the Congresswoman and a campaign staffer were leaked and published online. In response, Hill admitted to that relationship. However, that relationship would not violate Congressional ethics rules.

CHORUS: Katie. Katie.

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): Every single vote will matter.

LAH (voice-over): A turn for a rising Democratic star. Hill was a first-time candidate last year, a millennial--

HILL: Hi, it's Katie Hill.

LAH (voice-over): --and outraised the Republican incumbent by millions, promising change.

HILL: Wow!

LAH (voice-over): She flipped California's 25th Congressional District, a Los Angeles suburb dotted by quaint streets and planned communities, Republican-held since the early '90s. Hill was among the record-setting 127 women elected in the 2018 midterms, part of the response to the election of Donald Trump.

JONES: Would we lose the seat to the Republicans again? I don't know. I'm not saying we would. Hopefully not. But it just doesn't help.

LAH (voice-over): Some Democrats in Hill's district say personal issues no longer matter in the Trump era.

RYAN MCANANY, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: As long as she is doing what we put her in office to do, that's all I care about. I'd rather have someone F something than rather F our country. And I feel that's what's going on now.

LAH (voice-over): But the problem for swing voters, Hill is a moderate who promised normalcy.

DIANE CORLETT, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: She looks like this all-American girl, and people like her. She has this appeal about her.

LAH (on-camera): Do you think this district flips back to the Republicans?

CORLETT: I hope so. Yes. I think so.

LAH (voice-over): Not so fast, say Hill's volunteers who may be disappointed, but not out.

[12:30:00]

LINDA SKVARNA, KATIE HILL VOLUNTEER: For myself personally, I think that I could get past that. Yes. Yes.

LAH (on-camera): Would you volunteer for her again?

SKVARNA: I think I would, yes. Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: You just heard from the voters who know about it. We should mention there were plenty of voters who didn't know anything about what was happening. And another point, November 2020 is more than a year away.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Stevenson Ranch, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Next, John Bolton negotiating possible testimony in the impeachment probe against President Trump. Could he end up being President Trump's John Dean?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, we're starting to get a clearer picture of the pressure President Trump was under to release that $400 million in critical U.S. aid money to Ukraine. President Trump had withheld the funds for months, but hours after a call with Ohio Senator Rob Portman on September 11th, the president changed his mind.

[12:35:04] All of this happening as the White House was being told that accusations of a quid pro quo were mounting.

Here is CNN's Alex Marquardt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Multiple sources telling CNN that after the funds for Ukraine had been frozen all summer long, it was suddenly on September 11th that the president finally relented. The abrupt move triggered by a phone call with Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman who pressured the president to release the aid because a fiscal deadline was looming.

This was a day after National Security Adviser John Bolton was pushed out, and two days after U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told the president that concerns were being raised that his actions amount to a quid pro quo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no quid pro quo at all.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Bolton has so far remained mysteriously silent. That may soon change. Lawyers for Bolton according to sources involved, are in talks with the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry about Bolton being deposed.

TRUMP: He made some very big mistakes.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Sources tell CNN that a former top deputy of Bolton's testified that Bolton called the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani a hand grenade who's going to blow everybody up. REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): It corroborates a lot of the other information that we had previously about Mayor Giuliani freelancing.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): The inquiry is also expected to be ratcheted up next week with the testimony of Tim Morrison, the White House's senior official for Ukraine, who was on the infamous July 25th call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky in which Trump asked for a favor. Morrison, who is the first person on that call to testify, is expected to confirm key elements of the testimony of the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who said on Tuesday that Morrison told him that President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: 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.

MARQUARDT: (on camera) The pressure to release the money to Ukraine wasn't only from Senator Rob Portman. There was also a deadline. By the end of September, the funds had to be given to Ukraine or they would get nothing at all. So, lawmakers from both parties were urging the president to send the aid as was Vice President Mike Pence.

So finally on that call, the president agreed but not before grumbling that the U.S. was getting a bad deal.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk further now. I want to bring in former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. Bill, good to see you.

So, a recently fired national security adviser, John Bolton, apparently he's in talks, you know, to possibly take part in this impeachment deposition. How significant might his testimony be?

BILL MCCOLLUM, FORMER FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Hello?

WHITFIELD: Hi. Bill, can you hear me OK?

MCCOLLUM: I can hear you now. I couldn't hear you before. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: OK, well, let me re-ask that question. So, if the national security adviser, former, John Bolton, who apparently is in talks with -- or his attorneys were in talks with lawmakers about his potential testimony, if he does indeed testify, how potentially significant do you believe that might be?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think it's important for him to testify if he wants to and can do that, but I don't know how significant it would be. He certainly knows a good deal about the situation, the background of the particular matter involving the Ukraine and that phone call and his opinions, he stated them publicly. Listen, my view of this, Fred, is that even if this is all true what Taylor said the other day, what Mr. Taylor said, what maybe John Bolton is saying, it's all speculation now. I mean, a lot of it is because we only know what's been leaked or the statements. But if it's all true --

WHITFIELD: Well -- I mean, if you go on their opening statements, I mean, they -- that is what they are testifying to including Bill Taylor.

MCCOLLUM: Right. But let's just assume --

WHITFIELD: But when you say if it's true meaning he would potentially doubt the diplomat?

MCCOLLUM: I still don't think it's impeachable, at least it shouldn't be. And the reason why I say that is because what we're looking at is a corruption investigation request by the president of the Ukrainian president related to the 2016 presidential election. And I think that what people think is abnormal and a lot of these people do in the State Department, particularly in that world where John Bolton and Mr. Taylor are, is not abnormal for this president. Sixty-three million Americans voted for him to be abnormal if you will.

WHITFIELD: Except that it wasn't just about 2016. You saw the transcript in conversations between diplomats and, you know, State Department and White House and it was also in reference to the 2020 elections. So, given that, does that change your opinion or alter your opinion at all about the importance?

[12:40:00]

MCCOLLUM: I don't believe that it's all about the 2020 election but I will have to wait and see. Look, that's the problem with why we shouldn't be jumping to conclusions. I tell people and I've told you, I'm very open-minded about this. I want to see the facts come out. I'm disappointed so much behind the scenes right now. I realize they're taking depositions. There are procedures that can be whatever they want them to be in the impeachment inquiry.

But from the standpoint of the public and openness and fairness and being able to see where things are, I think it's a mistake and I think that they have to -- the Democrats have to come forward and be much more open about this. And we need to know a lot more facts before we jump to conclusions that the president's done something wrong even if -- what I said, even if you accept Mr. Taylor's comments that have been released so far is factual, and I don't. They're not verified yet, but assume you did.

WHITFIELD: So how satisfying is it, quickly, you know, is that that the, you know, federal judge Beryl Howell says that this is a legitimate process and that documents from the special grand jury during the Mueller probe should be provided to lawmakers?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I'm not surprised at the ruling that the process is constitutional legal because it can be whatever Congress wants it to be on impeachment. With regard to the grand jury materials, I am not certain about that. That may be appealed because grand juries historically are secret and there are real valid reasons why that process is maintained. But again, this is something unusual. It is an impeachment inquiry and I wouldn't be surprised if the courts upheld the request for these even on appeal.

So I'm not too worried about the legal part of this. I know the administration is. I just want to get to the facts. I want to know what the facts are and then I want us to judge -- I hope the American people and the Congress will judge this on the basis of is this something we really want to say take away from the electors or is this political and it ought to be decided in the next election? That's the ultimate question. There's going to be -- unless there are real crimes committed and so far we haven't seen that any actual crimes are committed.

WHITFIELD: Bill McCollum, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

All right, still ahead, the state of California on fire. Northern California and Southern California parts flames are tearing through multiple communities as millions of people prepare to be without power as well. CNN is live on the scene.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:21] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

Millions of people across Northern California will find out today if they will have to spend days without power as fires continue to rage in that state. Right now, firefighters are beating back two major fires in Southern California where more than 4,500 acres have been destroyed. In Northern California, another 25,000 acres are nothing but ash. And things could get worse as winds are supposed to pick up through tomorrow. Today, utility company PG&E will alert customers to whether power will be cut to prevent more fires from breaking out.

CNN Correspondent Lucy Kafanov is live for us in Northern California. So what is the correlation, Lucy, between the PG&E and these fires?

LUCY KAFANOC, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been some speculation that a faulty transmission tower by PG&E might have sparked the fire but this is just a preliminary thought. The company is investigating this. But it has been a busy morning here in the heart of Wine Country. We've seen truck after truck zoomed by. Fire crews racing to try to build containment lines, they're trying to save structures. The one behind me, it's been too late for that one but there are other buildings in this area that they're trying to protect.

In fact, nearly 24,000 structures here in Sonoma County are threatened. More than 25,000 acres have bee scorched. Now, the worst, as you point out, is yet to come. We are expecting dire predictions of winds for this weekend, gusts up to 80 miles-per-hour. That could send the fire flaming out in almost any direction.

One of the firefighters we spoke to told me they don't know which way that wind is going to blow and that means the firefighters here have to be prepared to go anywhere and everywhere. They have to be ready for anything.

Now, PG&E's role in this fire has been to largely do shutdowns to prevent the power lines from being active in order to prevent the fire from spreading, but the governor has been quite angry with the way the company has acted. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement, particularly with the largest investor on utility in the state of California, PG&E. That greed has precipitated in a lack of intentionality and focus on hardening their grid, undergrounding their transmission lines. They simply did not do their job. It took us decades to get here but we will get out of this mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAFANOV: There will be a lot of questions about what started this fire, Fredricka, but right now the focus is on saving lives, saving buildings, making sure that no one gets hurt as these fires continue to spread.

Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much.

We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM but first, a good news update for you from someone we met last year whose life has been changed by a top 10 CNN hero, Amanda Boxtel. Here is CNN's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Three years ago, Nate White injured his spine in a kayaking accident and was told he'd never walk again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to try to stack it?

COOPER: But his hard work and determination along with Amanda's incredible help has paid off.

NATE WHITE: I'm a robot.

COOPER: A year ago he did this. And now just three years after his accident, he's doing this.

WHITE: Amanda always believed that I was going to be walking again.

AMANDA BOXTEL, 2018 TOP 10 CNN HERO: He's living the miracle of what we all aspire for. This is the power of technology that everybody should have access to. That's my goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Wow.

[12:50:00] The 2019 top 10, CNN Heroes will be revealed next Wednesday. For more information go to cnnheroes.com.

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WHITFIELD: All right, whether President Trump wins a second term has yet to be seen of course. But his impact on the courts will last for years. A number of judicial nominees are headed to the bench despite being labeled not qualified by the American Bar Association.

Here now is Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): A federal judge who, imagine this, will uphold the laws and the constitution as they're actually written.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another judicial confirmation, another controversy.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Very few are called not qualified but he's one of them.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Justin Walker, 37-years-old, an assistant professor of law. He's the fifth Trump judicial nominee the American Bar Association has labeled not qualified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nomination is confirmed.

FOREMAN (voice-over): But who this week was confirmed anyway on a party-line vote backing the president's earlier proclamation that the court system is changing at a record pace.

TRUMP: And we are going to be putting in a lot more.

FOREMAN (voice-over): It's true.

[12:55:00] George W. Bush sat 152 judges, Bill Clinton, 154, Barack Obama, 94, but they were two-term presidents. Trump has already put in 157.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Have you worked on any other criminal case?

FOREMAN (voice-over): Democrats were howling over this sheer number and the idea that some nominees appeared distinctly unprepared. Indeed, eight have earned that bar association label not qualified. But many Democrats were even concerned that Trump is picking judges principally because they're favorable to conservative views on everything from immigration to gun control, to gay rights, to abortion laws.

CHRISTOPHER KANG, CHIEF COUNSEL DEMAND JUSTICE: Conservative for decades have understood that our courts are a political body.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The president's supporters deny a political agenda. But they crow about how many of his picks are in their 30s and 40s. LEONARD LEO, TRUMP JUDICIAL ADVISER: The president has said on quite a number of occasions he looks for people who are not extraordinarily well qualified, but who are young because judges serve for life. And it's good to have someone on the bench who's going to be there for a long time.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And that is already settled. Impeachment or not, re-elected or sent away, Trump's judicial legacy will remain.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We'll be talking about judges appointed by President Trump, you know, well into the 2050s and even the early 2060s.

FOREMAN (on camera): And don't expect this march of judges to end anytime soon. In the coming weeks, we should see more of them, some whose qualifications or lack off the same will have Democratic alarm bells ringing.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, a rare Saturday deposition as Democrats press forward with their impeachment inquiry. We'll take you live to Capitol Hill, next.

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