Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

A Witness Right Now Is Being Questioned By Three Committees Leading The Impeachment Investigation; President Trump's Personal Lawyer May Now Need A Lawyer Himself; Pompeo Downplays & Dodges Ukraine Questions; Republicans Cry Foul Over Closed-Door Depositions; Source: White House Official Expected To Corroborate Diplomat's Testimony That Trump Pressured Ukraine To Investigate Bidens; Actress Felicity Huffman Released From Prison. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 26, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:00:15]

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you so much for staying with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

It's Saturday, so most of Capitol Hill is quiet with one important exception. A witness right now is being questioned by three committees leading the impeachment investigation. Acting assistant secretary of state Phil Reeker isn't expected to know much about the efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden or the DNC, but he is expected to color in some of the details about the efforts to oust the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

This hearing comes as former chief of staff John Kelly claims that before he left the White House, he warned President Trump that he would be impeached. Kelly telling "the Washington Examiner" quote "someone has got to be a guide that tells the President that you either have the authority or you don't, or Mr. President, don't do it. Don't hire someone that will just nod and say, that's a great idea, Mr. President, because you will be impeached. I feel bad, he adds, that I left.

CNN White House Reporter Sarah Westwood is live at the White House for us.

Kelly says he warned President Trump months ago that he would be impeached. We now have this impeachment inquiry in overdrive, even conducting hearings on the weekend.

Sarah, does the White House have a strategy yet?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Ana, President Trump remains defiant about the seriousness of the impeachment inquiry, even telling reporters yesterday that he is his own impeachment team. And this as Republicans on Capitol Hill and allies have been complaining about the seeming lack of strategy coming out of the White House, that perhaps aides and the President himself are not taking seriously enough the political threat now facing the President.

Now some Republican lawmakers have taken matters into their own hands. We have seen, for example, minority leader Kevin McCarthy start to take the lead in distributing talking points daily to Republican members.

CNN has also reported that some conservative allies on Capitol Hill have started holding phone calls with White House officials, but there is this view among those in the President's circle that there just has been insufficient coordination, and that those who want to defend the President are more or less left to do so on their own.

Now the President has been resisting the idea of setting up any kind of war room in the White House to handle the defense against the impeachment inquiry, even though he has been encouraged by some of his allies to adopt a structure similar to the one that former President Bill Clinton used during his own impeachment.

Trump again resisting that, saying that he can handle all of his own impeachment messaging. Of course, there has been concerns within the White House that there's not an adequate number of communication staffers to handle this crisis. That is, of course, a need that predated the impeachment inquiry, but the problems that the President has had on Capitol Hill have thrown that into sharp relief.

CNN has reported that Tony Sayegh, the former spokesman for the treasury department is being eyed by the White House to come in and lead the communications push against the impeachment inquiry. But still, Ana, there's this frustration that the White House has been too slow to recognize the danger that President Trump is in and even now is not quickly enough coming up with a strategy to combat that.

CABRERA: OK. Sarah Westwood at the White House, thank you for that report.

Now to Capitol Hill and that rare Saturday session going on right now. A serving stop state department official under oath, behind closed doors with committee members involve in the impeachment inquiry.

Our National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood is there.

Kylie, any bombshells expected out of the ambassador's appearance today?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, we really haven't learned much yet from lawmakers who are still behind closed doors. But what we do know is that he was expected to tell lawmakers today that he did not even know that the Trump administration was pushing Ukraine to publicly announce that it was investigating the Bidens until the whistleblower complaint was made public. So he does not really know the details of that push, which is really the heart of this impeachment inquiry.

One thing he is expected to give a little more detail on, however, is the abrupt ouster of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Now, Yovanovitch was ousted at the direction of President Trump. And Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary for European affair at the state department, he really knew the details in terms of how that all went down, dating back to when he took over the job in March.

And he was one of the people at the state department who wanted top state department officials to come out and support Yovanovitch, but that never came to fruition. There was never a state of support that he push for. That effort was declined. So we are expected to hear some more details about what went down on that front.

But another major thing that we are focused on today is a ruling by federal -- sorry, a federal judge ruling that came out and really provided a legal justification for the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry here. And essentially what it said is the redacted elements of the Mueller investigation should be released. Let's listen to how congressman Raskin described this ruling today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:05:28] REP. JAMES RASKIN (D), HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Essentially, the chief judge wiped out all of the arguments that the Republicans have been making this week. And we know that all of it has been a distraction from what America is learning. President Donald Trump has conducted an effort to shakedown a besieged foreign ally, resisting Russian aggression, in order to get dirt on a political opponent. It's unprecedented in American history. It's an outrage. It's a scandal. And our Republican colleagues want to talk about anything except for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ATWOOD: Now, the Trump administration has called this inquiry illegitimate. But today this is a major victory for house Democrats who want to keep carrying on and are not giving up. They have a long list of folks they still want to talk to as part of this impeachment inquiry. And we will wait for details out of today's testimony. Back to you.

CABRERA: OK. Kylie Atwood, thank you for that report.

Let's bring in CNN's Political Commentator and "Daily Beast" Senior Columnist, Matt Lewis and Sabrina Siddiqui, CNN political analyst and national politics reporter for the "Wall Street Journal."

Sabrina, I want to go back to those new comments from John Kelly. Is this President facing possible impeachment merely because of who is in his inner circle? It wasn't Mick Mulvaney, after all, who asked Ukraine's President for a favor.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, let's just take a step back and analyze the sequence of events here. Because I think what makes this inquiry distinctive, for example, from the Russia investigation, which dealt with activities in the campaign and was a little more complex for the public to understand, a lot of this has been very much transparent for the public to see. It began with this whistleblower complaint and reports that the President had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden and his son and to also try and discredit the origins of the Russia investigation.

The President then himself confirmed to reporters that he did, in fact, bring up Biden on this call with President Zelensky. The White House put out that summary showing the President repeatedly pressing his Ukrainian counterpart, even offering the services of his own justice department.

Since then, since the launch of this inquiry, you have had several current and former government officials, many of whom are career diplomats, essentially corroborate the essence of the whistleblower complaint. And that's why it's been so difficult for this White House to defend the President's action. Because it's pretty clear he did seek foreign assistance to try and undermine someone who could end up being his opponent in the general election. That's also why Republicans have been focusing a lot more on the process and not the substance of the allegations.

CABRERA: I'm going to come back to that in just a second. But quickly, Matt, because we just had that report from Kylie Atwood on Philip Reeker's testimony. He is a stated department official, obviously. But he is an acting assistant secretary. If his job isn't secure, how do you see that potentially impacting his testimony?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think one of the reasons that Donald Trump likes these acting people, whether it's an acting chief of staff or whatever, is because they are beholden more to Trump than they would be. You are not going to have the independence. You are not going to build your own fiefdom. You are not going to sort of speak out. If you are waiting for the President to officially nominate you, you want something from them.

And I think that's kind of part and parcel of the problem, right? Early on Donald Trump, for all of his faults, he kind of had to surround himself with people who had external power, people like, for example, John Kelly, who had a career and a life and an image and reputation that preceded Donald Trump. He did not need Donald Trump to make his career. Neither did general Mattis, for example.

And now I think we are in the phase of the presidency where more and more people that are surrounding the President are more or less dependent on him and more likely to be yes men. And so that ends up being this perverse cycle where Trump surrounds himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear and therefore doesn't get the advice he actually needs.

CABRERA: Sabrina, I want to turn to that district court ruling that the DOJ has to hand over redacted Mueller grand jury info. That's one piece of it. But at the same time, this same judge early validated the impeachment inquiry, saying because there's an impeachment inquiry going on, Congress deserves access to these secret documents. How big of a victory is this for Democrats?

[16:10:16]

SIDDIQUI: Well, this is a very significant victory for Democrats because one of the lines we heard increasingly from the White House and the President's allies in recent days was that the impeachment inquiry was invalid because there had not been a formal vote in the House of Representatives to authorize the inquiry. And this judge essentially overruled that argument and said that it's in the public interest for this redacted material from the Mueller report pertaining to grand jury information to be handed over to House Democrats because they need all of the evidence available in order for the public to have faith in an impeachment inquiry.

So this material could, in fact, in some ways be related to some of the allegations that Democrats are looking into. I know one thing Democrats are interested in that was redacted in terms of that grand jury material was former campaign chairman Paul Manafort's ties to Ukraine, his dealings there, which were also well known, in addition to some of the information about WikiLeaks and the dissemination of political opposition material on Hillary Clinton and her campaign.

But I think Democrats are certainly celebrating this victory because it very much does take away what had been up until now one of the White House's major talking points that this impeachment inquiry within itself was not justified.

CABRERA: Right. And the GOP has been fighting back after President Trump demanded the members toughen up. We had that wild scene on Wednesday when House Republicans stormed into the secure hearing room known as the skiff (ph). Then-Senator Lindsey Graham introducing his resolution, condemning how Democrats are handling the inquiry.

But, Matt, as Sabrina pointed out earlier, Republicans still are only really attacking the process, not the substance. So I wonder when Republicans are actually forced to vote on the substance, will they stay as loyal to the President as they are now?

LEWIS: That's the real question. Look, when you don't have the law argue the law, when you don't have the facts argue the law, when you don't have either upset the table or pound your fist, whatever the expression is, that's what Republicans have been doing. They really can't argue substance, so they have been attacking the process.

And they want to talk about transparency and inclusion. And will they, though, when confronted with the fact that it's pretty clearly bad things happened, there's a quid pro quo, all of that, will they actually have to make a vote on the substance? And that's why I think I've been one of the few people who believes that there's at least a chance you will get 20 Republicans in the Senate who will vote to remove.

You know, I don't think I'd bet on it, but I think it's within the realm of possibility. And the fact is, every day there's more evidence that comes out that proves that something untoward happened. Not only evidence, but Donald Trump saying or doing things. In some cases not even related, right?

But the thing that happened in Syria, the abandonment of the Kurds, Mick Mulvaney's press conference where he talked about holding the G-7 at a Trump resort. I think all of those things factor in, and Republicans are starting to feel like, man, every day I have to defend this guy. At some point it gets old.

CABRERA: All right. Thanks to both, Matt Lewis and Sabrina Siddiqui. Good to see you.

LEWIS: Thank you.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

CABRERA: The President's lawyer is now looking for a lawyer himself. Why Rudy Giuliani's connection to two businessmen facing charges could spell trouble for the White House.

Plus, what Giuliani is heard saying after pocket dialing a reporter.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:32]

CABRERA: President Trump's personal lawyer may now need a lawyer himself. Sources tell CNN Rudy Giuliani is shopping around for a defense attorney. And this comes as he faces questions about his association with two businessmen charged with campaign finance violations. Soviets-born Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman made a living by touting their connections to Giuliani and the Trump administration. So who exactly are these men?

CNN's Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All you need to know about Rudy Giuliani's now indicted clients is that a long list of people who did business with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman from a home rental, a property lease, money loans, even basketball tickets, have sued them.

BRUCE MARKS, ATTORNEY: There's a saying in Russian, don't go in the forest if you are afraid of wolves. And these guys, they just weren't wolves. They were radioactive wolves. There were warning signals, unfortunately, that I don't think that mayor Giuliani picked up.

GRIFFIN: According to prosecutors, Parnas and Fruman were illegally dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign contributions to Republican campaigns. They were also dropping something else, Rudy Giuliani's name. The two men used their political connections, photos of themselves with Giuliani, even attending George Bush's funeral with the former mayor.

There they are hugging Florida governor Ronn Desantis, and of course reams of photos with Donald Trump and his f to use as currency in their scheme.

MARKS: In parts of the world like Russia and Ukraine, if you have photos like that and though those to people, these are countries where connections mean a lot.

GRIFFIN: Giuliani needed Parnas and Fruman's connections in Ukraine to carry out his private mission from President Trump, to investigate Joe Biden. They used Giuliani's name to hustle business. Florida attorney Bob Stok says it's how the two men swindled his client out of $100,000.

ROBERT STOK, ATTORNEY: If someone tells you they are dealing with the President of the United States' attorney and he's also your attorney and you have very, very good relationship with him, most people would believe that you must be a credible person.

GRIFFIN: Stock says his client, a wealthy south Florida businessman, loaned Parnas and Fruman the money last year. According to this lawsuit, the two men boasted about their close relationships to Giuliani and other Republican power players who they said would help Parnas and Fruman new business, global energy producers, a gas export company that the two claimed would be the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the U.S. Stok says the two men suddenly paid back the loan just days after news broke about Giuliani pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

[16:20:28] STOK: We went through these guys' personal histories, and they seemed to have a series of business failures and personal failures, and they seemed, in our opinion, not to be credible.

GRIFFIN: That didn't take long to find out, did it?

STOK: No, it took maybe half an hour just searching the public records. We didn't have to hire investigators. We didn't have to do any deep vetting. It was evident from the public records.

GRIFFIN: Giuliani has failed to answer CNN's questions about his involvement with Parnas and Fruman. CNN's own records search found a decade of red flags, lawsuits, and judgments and a list of questionable businesses, global energy producers, the liquefied natural gas company powerhouse they bragged about, had no significant income or significant assets. Even Parnas' company, Fraud Guarantee, that paid Rudy Giuliani $500,000 fee doesn't appear to be a company at all. Its registration has expired.

According to Philadelphia attorney Bruce Marks, they approached his client, a Ukrainian billionaire, earlier this year. They wanted a six-figure payment. In exchange, they told the billionaire they could set up a meeting between the new Ukrainian President and a delegation of American officials. Marks says his client threw them out.

MARKS: Let's be clear. He really, in my opinion, should have been more diligent. They are fraudsters. And he has a security consulting company. So if there's anybody who might do a little bit of due diligence, it would be mayor Giuliani.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: That was CNN's Drew Griffin reporting, I should point out. Sources tell CNN on the very day these two men were arrested, they

were scheduled to fly to Vienna and meet with Giuliani there to help set up an interview between the Ukrainian prosecutor who was ousted and Sean Hannity of FOX News, an interview that would presumably help support President Trump's call for an investigation of the Bidens. Attorneys for both men declined to comment.

Let's talk it over with Gene Rossi. He is former federal prosecutor and a former assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.

Gene, CNN reported this week that these guys raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars jetting around the world, touting their connections to President Trump and Giuliani. And now we have learned today that in raids connected to their case, the feds blew the door off a safe. What does all that tell you?

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it tells me that the southern district of New York, if not the criminal division of main justice, is trying to determine one thing. This afternoon, Ana, I got a flu shot. They're trying to determine if Rudy Giuliani has the Paul Manafort virus. And that is you are so attracted to Russian money, to Ukrainian money, to power and prestige that your moral compass takes a sabbatical.

And I can tell to you this, Ana. Based on reading this indictment and all the things you just played, if Rudy Giuliani is not a target of an investigation, based on my 30 years with DOJ, I would be sharked.

CABRERA: When they were in court this week, the lawyer dragged President Trump into his defense by suggesting executive privilege might apply because Giuliani was an attorney for both he and the President. What do you make of that argument?

ROSSI: First off, if I were representing them, I would make that argument because Rudy Giuliani is the personal attorney for the President. And Rudy Giuliani has this symbiotic relationship with Lev and Igor. I will just call them by their first names. And you could make the argument, not a strong one, that Lev had some arrangements where he was helping the attorney for the President.

Here's the problem with that argument, although you could make it. He doesn't work for the government, Lev doesn't. It's a personal attorney. And here's the other thing. Just because you are an attorney for a human being does not mean that every conversation is protected by the attorney/client privilege.

A real estate agent could be a lawyer, but his client's information and their communications, that's not privileged because it's a real estate transaction. And Rudy Giuliani was acting as basically a renegade going around the world like Austin Powers for the President, trying to negotiate I don't know what. The same thing with Bill Barr. It's crazy. The only thing they are doing is they're getting a lot of frequent flyer miles. That's the only thing they're doing.

[16:25:20] CABRERA: You said all signs earlier point to Giuliani being under

investigation himself. There's some reporting that is, in fact, the case. He, we know, is now looking for a defense attorney. And I bring that up because he just had a very unfortunate incident involving a pocket dial to an NBC reporter. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Tomorrow, I got to get you on Bahrain. You got to call. Got to call Robert again tomorrow. Is Robert around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob? He is in Turkey.

GIULIANI: The problem is we need some money. We need a few hundred thousand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Now, Giuliani says that had nothing to do with Ukraine. Everything was perfectly legal. But when you hear about something like that, about, you know, this ability for him to have a pocket dial, and there are a lot of other reporters chiming in saying, oh, that's happened to me too. He is apparently notorious for this. Who is going to want the job of being his lawyer?

ROSSI: I'm a private attorney, a criminal defense attorney. I'm very proud of it after I have been a prosecutor. You have to be very discreet. You have to cross your t and dot your I.

Ana, I was on your program end of September. And I, in jest, said that Rudy Giuliani should put duct tape on his mouth. After 30 days of listening to this garbage coming from Giuliani and the butt dial, I think I was right. He really should just shut up, get an attorney, and let things play it out.

And I got to tell you this. I can't imagine that the President of the United States is happy with his personal attorney as I speak to you.

CABRERA: Gene Rossi, thank you so much for joining me. Good to have you with us.

ROSSI: My pleasure.

CABRERA: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the defensive over the Ukraine controversy. Will it impact other ambitions he might have, like, say, running for Senate in Kansas? How the controversy may be following him back home, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:13]

CABRERA: Downplay and dodge, those seem to be the key strategies for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when it comes to the impeachment inquiry. This week, when Pompeo made a trip to his home state of Kansas, there

was no escaping reporters' questions about the Ukraine scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think about that stuff. I work hard. I do the right things best I can tell every day.

You all talk about this noise an awful lot. You all are fixated on this. The State Department, you should know, is not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: With me now, Garrett Graff, the author of the book "The Threat Matrix, Inside Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror." He also wrote an article this week for "Wired," headlines, "Pompeo Was Riding High Until the Ukraine Mess Exploded."

Garrett, you write in your article about how Mike Pompeo has stayed in President Trump's good graces. Now we're seeing how Pompeo and his department are so directly embroiled in this Ukraine scandal, I wonder if the Trump/Pompeo bond can survive it.

GARRET GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and Mike Pompeo has been spending this year trying to set up his political future, apparently, trying to run for the Senate in Kansas next year with an eye toward setting himself up for a presidential run in 2024 after Trump.

That run has caused a little bit of tension with Donald Trump because Trump sort of doesn't want him going anywhere. In fact, Pompeo's public statements are that he hopes to remain as secretary of state, even if Donald Trump is re-elected next year.

But Pompeo has been clearly trying to buy this exit ramp off into Kansas. That trip that you played that clip from, his fourth trip back to Kansas so far this year, including a major speech last month, also in Kansas.

This is sort of something that seemed to be very much in the cards right up until about six weeks ago when Mike Pompeo and the State Department became the center of the whole Ukraine scandal.

CABRERA: How do you think he's handling questions? What did you make of what you heard there in that little clip that we just played in terms of, you know, these reporters asking him specifically about Ukraine and he's trying to deflect?

GRAFF: Yes, and he has been really deflecting hard over these last couple of weeks. He's been trying to do these local TV interviews when he's been traveling domestically, rather than dealing with national reporters.

And even the local TV reporters are actually grilling him, and he's getting combative. He got combative with the, you know, Kansas University newspaper when he was speaking to them the other day. And this is not going over particularly well in Kansas, it appears.

The Kansas City Star" did a blistering editorial yesterday, telling him he either needs to come home and run for Senate and quit his day job, or he needs to answer these questions as secretary of state, that he can't continue to have it both ways.

CABRERA: Let's push past Pompeo, because you literally wrote the book on Benghazi. I bring that up because of how we're seeing Republicans respond to this impeachment inquiry, crying foul over these behind- closed-doors depositions happening in the impeachment inquiry.

Give us just a bit of a history lesson on how it worked during Benghazi.

GRAFF: Yes, and this is sort of one of the really fascinating bits about watching the evolution of Mike Pompeo.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the behavior he's done over the last six months, would not have stood for Congressman Mike Pompeo, who was one of the architects of the Benghazi investigation.

And grilled Hillary Clinton and her State Department and sort of raked them over the coals for years when he was in Congress with precisely the types of demands he's now stonewalling as secretary of state on behalf of the State Department.

[16:35:20]

And what's really notable right now -- and I think that the bravery of these people cannot be overstated or emphasized enough -- is the number of these State Department employees who are cooperating with the impeachment inquiry over Mike Pompeo's objections, over the objections of the State Department and the Trump administration.

These are career public servants who are stepping out from behind the curtain because they think something is terribly wrong here that they want to speak up about.

CABRERA: We are seeing the support of impeachment rise as well as support of just the inquiry but also removal of the president. In fact, it's up to 50 percent supporting being impeached and removed from office, according to the latest CNN poll.

Do you think it's the simplicity of the Ukraine scandal as compared to the complexity of the Russia probe that maybe makes this more politically dangerous for Trump?

GRAFF: It's a much more simple story to tell. It's also about behavior in the White House, criminality in the White House, as president, by the president himself, with the president clearly implicated, the president implicating himself.

And this is, remember, about an upcoming election. So this is sort of still an ongoing matter as we see this alleged criminality and apparent criminality unfold. I think that's why you're seeing the impeachment numbers solidify in

the way that they are because people understand this story, and they understand how troublesome this behavior is by a president.

CABRERA: Garrett Graff, thank you very much for being here.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:02]

CABRERA: This week could bring more damning testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Thursday, Tim Morrison, a top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, is scheduled to testify. Sources say he will corroborate key elements in Diplomat Bill Taylor's bombshell testimony.

The testimony by Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, laid out a clear quid pro quo, something many Republicans had said would be a red line when it came to their loyalty and defense of the president.

CNN's Jake Tapper has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his 15-page opening statement to congressional investigators, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, laid out perhaps the strongest evidence yet of an apparent quid pro quo.

President Trump withholding congressionally mandated military aid until the Ukrainian president announced an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Taylor testified he had been concerned about, quote, "an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policymaking with respect to Ukraine." That included then-special envoy, Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, the out-going energy secretary, Rick Perry, and the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Taylor says that by August of this year, the official and unofficial channels, quote, "had diverged in their objectives."

The official objectives for the U.S. included supporting Ukrainian President Zelensky and providing Ukraine with military aid to beat back pro-Russian separatists.

And little by little, Taylor realized what the unofficial objectives were, pushing the Ukrainians to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

In June, Volker and Sondland told Taylor that, quote, "The president wanted to hear from Zelensky before scheduling the meeting in the Oval Office."

Specifically, Sondland told Taylor, quote, "Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that he, President Zelensky, was not standing in the way of investigations."

Investigations of what? By mid-July, it became clear to Taylor the meeting, quote, "was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma," unquote, the company where Joe Biden's son sat on the board of directors. Quote, "And alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections." A push, quote, "guided by Mr. Giuliani."

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): To hear what was taking place, this separate group that was going on talking about U.S. policy, where 2020 elections, political elections interests was taking place, led by Mr. Giuliani, it was absolutely stunning.

TAPPER: But the Oval Office meeting was not the only thing being withheld. Taylor testified, quote, "On July 18th, I heard a staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine," a, quote, "directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to OMB."

That security assistance, a $400 million military aid package, overwhelmingly approved by Congress to help protect Ukraine from Russian aggression.

Taylor said, quote, "I and others sat in astonishment. The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted not only on the training and weapons but also the assurance of U.S. support."

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): It was the most detailed and specific testimony we have heard in these many depositions about the holding up of military aid.

TAPPER: Taylor was the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine but testified he was kept in the dark about that July 25th phone call between President Trump and Zelensky.

In that call, after Zelensky talked about javelin missiles, Trump brought up a, quote, "favor" he wanted, an investigation into the 2016 election and the DNC server, what a former top Trump aide has called a debunked conspiracy theory. Then the president raised, quote, "The other thing, investigating the Bidens."

Just last month, Taylor testified a National Security Council official told him that Sondland told one of Zelensky's top aides, quote, "The security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation."

[16:45:08]

And that is the alleged quid pro quo. And it's what led Taylor to text Sondland, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?" Sondland responded, quote, "Call me."

Taylor says, in that phone call, quote, "Sondland said everything was dependent on Zelensky publicly announcing investigations, including security assistance."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: That was Jake Tapper reporting.

Up next, a short sentence cut even shorter. Actress Felicity Huffman is out of prison after serving just 11 days for her role in the college admissions scandal.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Actress Felicity Huffman is out of prison after serving 11 days of a two-week sentence she received in this college admissions scandal.

CNN's Alexandra Field has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actress Felicity Huffman is now a free woman, released from federal prison on Friday, no longer an inmate. She was serving time in a northern California prison, sentenced to 14 days behind bars. In the end, she served just 11 days.

[16:50:04]

The Bureau of Prisons explains she was given a one-day credit for the day she was processed. And they say it's normal to release inmates on Friday when they are scheduled to be released on a weekend day. Huffman would have otherwise been released on a Sunday.

Huffman is one of the 52 people who have been charged in relation to the nation's largest college admissions scandal. And 29 of them, including Huffman, have now pleaded guilty. She says she paid some $15,000 to have her child's SAT score inflated.

Huffman expressed remorse, when she was sentenced, in a letter to the judge and also a statement to the public, saying she apologizes not just to her family, not just to her own children, but also to all the other hard-working parents and students out there.

In New York, Alexandra Field, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: I want to show you a scene in Syria this weekend that appears to directly contradict President Trump's vow just a day ago. Take a look at this. These are American troops going into northeastern Syria this morning, heading for the country's interior. A convoy of 18 U.S. armored vehicles and trucks came into Syria from northern Iraq.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said U.S. forces are taking action to prevent ISIS from seizing control of oil facilities in eastern Syria.

Yet, only yesterday, the president claimed U.S. troops are leaving Syria for other places then coming home. And he declared ISIS secured.

But even if the president is changing his position to satisfy perhaps GOP critics, military officials say privately there's nothing in place to deal with the possibility of Syrian or Russian forces approaching those oil fields.

[16:55:04]

On tomorrow's episode of the CNN original series "DECLASSIFIED," mysterious radio frequencies leading to a shocking discovery that Russian spies have bugged the State Department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The information was directed from the conference room into the car, which had some kind of reel-to-reel tape recorder. And there was a funny Kleenex box that never seemed to move in the back of the car. That's where the antenna was. And my office was located on Virginia Avenue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could see the street below and the prime parking area that Gusev would ultimately want to be at clearly visible from Robert Booth's windows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were times when I would hear on the radio, Gusev is off the park, meaning he's left the Russian embassy. I just kind of get a cup of coffee, and I'd wait and there they come up the street. He finds a parking spot, pull in and park, get out, reach into his pocket, pull out all these quarters, start feeding the meter, and then go for a walk.

I'm sitting up there saying, I am watching, from the warmth and niceness of my office, an espionage operation. Unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Check out that episode of "DECLASSIFIED," tomorrow night at 11:00, right here on CNN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)