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Top NSC Official To Testify Tomorrow; President Trump Compares Two Sadist Terrorists; Interview With Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). Aired 10-11p ET
Aired October 28, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Sharing that can put in jeopardy what this brave animal work to do, disclosing a military dog's name can reveal the handler. With the handler, you know, what unit. So, it gets complicated.
But bravo to the dog and of course to the handler and all the good people that kept us safe.
Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts right now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: There -- so I know you've been on the air. I'm not sure how much you've had a chance to read. You read a lot of this on the air.
This new witness coming, if he indeed testifies, I know his opening statement is out. We have to see what he actually says tomorrow, when or if he goes in. Chances are he's going to go.
CUOMO: But it would be interesting for him to deviate from the statement that came out from the lawyer. So, we should anticipate that that's what it's going to be.
LEMON: Yes, it's his opening statement.
LEMON: That's what they say.
CUOMO: So, I'm saying that's what they say it's going to be. We'll see. We don't get to see how he's crossed, but of course if he's anywhere near what he is sold as, he'll certainly be in any future hearings that the House will have.
Quick plus-minus for me. He heard the call. Forget about hearsay.
CUOMO: He's got ridiculous credentials. Forget about him being a nobody.
LEMON: Can I just -- can I just read this when you say that, OK? Because you've been reading a lot of what he is going to say. This is where he starts.
He says, "I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America for more than two decades," Chris, he says, "it has been my honor to serve as an officer in the United States Army. As an infantry officer I served multiple overseas tours including South Korea and Germany and a deployment to Iraq for combat operations. In Iraq, I was wounded in an IED and was awarded with a Purple Heart."
And then he goes on to talk about all the embassies around the world he's worked in. He's worked in embassies in Kiev, Ukraine, Moscow, Russia and in Washington, D.C.
CUOMO: He's the real deal.
LEMON: He is the real deal.
LEMON: So, I don't understand the disconnect from people who are saying, well, it's not going to be some star witness. Who knows if he's going to be a star witness? Whatever. But this, to impugn this guy's reputation to --
CUOMO: Yes, I don't think they'll go that heavy on that.
LEMON: I don't know.
CUOMO: That will be just like --
LEMON: I don't know.
CUOMO: Well, I mean it didn't get him anywhere with Taylor, you know. It's hard to do that. They never said anything about Volker. That's probably why. Instead, they'll attack the process that way, and they'll say this. Here's the argument that you have to deal with.
What the president did, yes, yes, OK. He asked about the Bidens. Fine, fine, we're not going to fight that anymore.
CUOMO: It was OK to ask about the Bidens because there was a legitimate public interest in finding out what was done there. And that's why he did it. He didn't do it to help himself politically, so it's OK.
LEMON: Yes. Well, he says he's doing it because he feels that it's his duty as a military professional.
LEMON: So, he's going to be there.
CUOMO: He's going to be -- (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: He's going to show up.
CUOMO: And he'll ask, and what the Republicans will say in that hearing and after will be, OK, yes, we get what happened. It's OK for the president to ask to investigate Biden because it's a matter of public concern.
LEMON: I was reading the New York Times article about this at first, and then all of a sudden, it came across the Wire, his opening statement, and I just sat there, and I had to read the whole thing. I was a little bit late getting here. But, I mean, his -- again, he's got impeccable credentials, and what he says is riveting just like that the read out of the phone call.
CUOMO: He will cement the obvious. The president asked the head of Ukraine to go after the Bidens --
LEMON: And we have that.
CUOMO: -- and if he didn't do that, he wouldn't get the meeting and maybe the aid. And you can argue that's abuse of power, and now the kind of argument is clear. They're going to say it's OK to do it because it was a matter of public interest.
CUOMO: So, he didn't abuse his power. He exercised it and did it on your behalf, Don Lemon.
LEMON: Well, I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine.
I realized that if Ukraine pursue an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it thus far maintained.
CUOMO: They'll say, yes, that didn't happen, though. I get his concern. Good for him. We respect his sense of duty. Ukraine is OK, everybody still loves him. But when he says Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the president. Now that will set up like a quid pro quo if, if you believe that the investigations he asked for. Were asked for to benefit the president politically. And they're going to argue no. LEMON: Yes.
CUOMO: So, he will not move the needle on that, Mr. Vindman, nor should he be expected to. The lieutenant colonel is about establishing the facts, what they mean, what is the consequence. I just had one of the best minds in the party on.
This guy, Dan Crenshaw, if he wants to, is going to be a big party player for the Republicans for a long time. He questions the premise of whether asking to investigate the Bidens is wrong. How is it abusive when it's in the public interest? That's the argument they have to deal with.
LEMON: Listen, I'm sure he's a nice guy. I didn't interview him. Smart? I don't know if -- there's some disconnect there because there's no question about it.
CUOMO: He's smart. He's making an argument.
CUOMO: Don't dismiss it. It's going to be among the Democrats --
LEMON: No, I'm not dismissing it. But I'm just saying how can you -- how can anyone read that -- read this statement, read the readout of the phone call, and say that there was nothing inappropriate to happen? They'll question the inappropriateness.
CUOMO: They'll say it happened. It wasn't inappropriate because it's a matter of public concern. I'm not compelled by the argument.
CUOMO: But he has to be.
CUOMO: It's whether Crenshaw and people like him and their constituents are OK with his position.
LEMON: I can buy that if there was public concern about other things besides a Biden.
CUOMO: Or if there were real public concern about Biden when it came out.
CUOMO: The Republicans were in power when we found out about this, and they did nothing.
LEMON: Yes. I got a lot of the things we're going to talk about, what you and I just talked about. Chris -
CUOMO: Big news.
LEMON: -- breaking news. We got to go. Thank you very much.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
Again, we've got breaking news on this impeachment inquiry, and this is big.
CNN has obtained the opening statement from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert. He is expected to testify at the House impeachment investigators tomorrow, that he actually listened in on the July 25th call, heard President Trump lean on Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden.
He was so disturbed by what he heard, OK, and so concerned that it was damaging to U.S. interests that he reported not once but twice.
And here's a quote. He says, "I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine. I realized if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support that it has thus far maintained." OK?
He also says this, and I quote here. He said, "In the spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency. This narrative was harmful to U.S. government -- U.S. government policy while my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine's prospects, this alternative narrative undermined U.S. government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine."
The colonel, who received, as I said, a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq also saying this.
"I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics."
Colonel Vindman will be the first White House official to testify who was himself on the call, a decorated military veteran. He has some credentials that will be very hard to deny here and to impugn.
And we've got a lot more to come on this story, so make sure you stay tuned. A lot more explosive breaking news here.
This is happening as CNN has learned that Democrats are looking at public hearings before Thanksgiving with the possibility that the judiciary committee could vote on articles of impeachment by Christmas. That is according to chairman Jerry Nadler. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the full House will vote this
Thursday on a resolution laying out the next steps in the impeachment inquiry, including procedures for those public hearings.
And a vote is exactly what the White House and the president's allies have been demanding, right? That's what they've been wanting. We've heard the Republican talking point over and over, claiming the impeachment inquiry was illegitimate because there wasn't a full House vote.
So now that a full House vote is set for Thursday, you think they'd be happy, right? Nope. The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying his party won't, quote, "legitimize the Schiff-Pelosi sham impeachment."
That as CNN has learned that aides inside the White House are still trying to figure out what their strategy should be.
And in the midst of all this, there is the president's biggest obsession on full display, his Obama obsession. Trying to downplay his predecessor taking out Osama bin Laden and suggesting that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a bigger terrorist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country, a caliphate, and was trying to do it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, the fact is both bin Laden and al-Baghdadi were murderer --murderous terrorists, full stop. The president also claiming that he warned the world bin Laden would be big trouble and called for Al- Qaeda's leader's -- the Al-Qaeda -- Al-Qaeda's leader's death in a book that he wrote before the 9/11 attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm writing a book. The World Trade Center had not come down. I think it was about -- if you check, it was about a year before the World Trade Center came down.
And I'm saying to people, take out Osama bin Laden, that nobody ever heard of. Nobody ever heard of. I mean al-Baghdadi everybody hears because he's built this monster for a long time.
But nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden until really the World Trade Center.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: That is not true. Here's the fact. The fact is that Trump's January 2000 book "The America We Deserve -- Deserved" mentioned bin Laden once but never called for him to be killed. But this president is determined to get credit for killing al-Baghdadi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I've been looking for him for three years. I've been looking for him -- I started getting some very positive feedback about a month ago, and we had some incredible intelligence officials that did a great job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Even though he has tweeted again and again, claiming that former President Barack Obama didn't deserve credit for the raid that killed bin Laden.
And with all that as a backdrop, there's the president at game five of the World Series. We know how he loves to get in front of a guaranteed friendly crowd, right? But this was a crowd he couldn't control, and it showed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Listen, it's not up to me to tell you how you should feel about people booing and saying that. Do what you want. Protesting is part of what we do as Americans. Whether you think it's appropriate or not, that's on you.
But as your mom always tells you, right, you set an example, right? That's what happens when you do this. That is what happens when you unleash something ugly like the lock her up chants lobbed to Hillary Clinton by the president's supporters. It's out there now. You can't call it back even when it's turned against you.
A lot more to come on our breaking news tonight. More from the opening statement of the NBC's top Ukraine expert, who will testify tomorrow that he listened in on the president's infamous July 25th call and heard him pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
Former director of national intelligence James Clapper, he will be here live next.
LEMON: We're back now with our breaking news. The National Security Council's top Ukraine expert planning to testify tomorrow that he was so troubled by the president's call with Ukraine's president that he reported his concerns to the top NSC lawyer. Joining me now is the former Director of National Intelligence, Mr.
James Clapper. Director, I appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much. Vindman was on -- his name is Alexander S. Vindman. He was on this phone call on July 25th with the Ukrainian president.
In his opening statement here's what he says. He says, "On July 25th, 2019, the call occurred. I listened in on the call in the situation room with colleagues from the NSC and the Office of the Vice President and -- I mean, excuse me.
As the transcript is in public record, we are all aware of what was said. I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for U.S. governments -- for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine.
I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to the NCC's lead counsel."
How bad does this look?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it looks very bad. It's, to me, very much reminiscent of Ambassador Taylor's -- his testimony, which I found to be credible, compelling, and quite damning. And in one sense -- or a couple senses, this is even worse from the standpoint of the White House.
One, distinguished military record to include a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat, and he's very, very credible from the standpoint of, apparently, he listened in on the phone call, which is quite logical given his position on the National Security Council.
So, all the narratives criticizing the whistleblower as having reported hearsay, well, that's not the case here. And the other point, of course, is once again this story has been further reinforced and, in my view in an unassailable way.
LEMON: Yes. Does this comport with what the president says was a perfect call when you -- perfect call when you hear about, when you hear this testimony?
CLAPPER: Well, obviously not. I mean that's a narrative that the president would like people to believe, that it was a harmless -- a perfect call, but obviously it didn't strike a lot of other people that way.
LEMON: Yes. Like other witnesses, Vindman talks about a shadow foreign policy. This is more of his statement right now.
He said, "When I joined the NCC in July of 2018, I begin implementing the administration's policy on Ukraine. In the spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency.
This narrative was harmful to U.S. government policy. While my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine's prospects, this alternative narrative undermined U.S. government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine."
So many officials were concerned about this alternative narrative, it shows how deep the concerns went, right?
CLAPPER: Exactly, Don. And the fact that this has been borne out by, in my view, credible, very credible people, most notably for me Ambassador Taylor, now Colonel Vindman, and I think as well as what was reflected in the whistleblower complaint. And I think they were reflecting probably -- almost certainly the views of many others who had Ukraine as part of their portfolio. It was very disturbing to them.
CLAPPER: And rightfully so.
LEMON: So Vindman also writes about the July 10th meeting between top administerial and Ukrainian officials, OK? And here's what he says.
He says, "On July 10th, 2019, the Oleksandr Danylyuk, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council for Ukraine, visited Washington, D.C. for a meeting with National Security Adviser Bolton. Ambassadors Volker and Sondland also attended along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The meeting proceeded well until the Ukrainians broached the subject of a meeting between the two presidents. The Ukrainians saw this meeting as critically important in order to solidify the support of their most important international partner.
Ambassador Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the president, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.
Following this meeting, there was a scheduled debriefing during which Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma.
I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push.
Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate. Following the debriefing meeting, I reported my concerns to the NSC's lead counsel, Dr. Hill, as reported the incident to the NSC's lead counsel."
I mean this was reported to the NSC's top lawyer multiple times, director.
CLAPPER: Exactly. And this army officer did as he's trained and what I'm sure now for him is instinctive, which was to report his concerns to the proper authority up the command chain.
And of course, further reinforcement came from Fiona Hill as she testified, I would gather. So, the -- what strikes me about this is the remarkable congruence among all these witnesses, no matter what their position was or their vantage.
LEMON: Director, I want you to listen to how President Trump described the killing of al-Baghdadi versus Osama bin Laden. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is the biggest there is. This is the worst ever. Osama bin Laden was very big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country, a caliphate, and was trying to do it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Director, the White House also took a photo of the President Trump following developments of the raid, OK, just as a photo shows President Barack Obama watching Osama bin Laden's raid, a photo that you're in. What's your reaction to the killing of al-Baghdadi and to the president's handling of it?
CLAPPER: Well, first, I mean, it is a good thing. It's a great accomplishment, and it's another testament to the professionalism of our special operations forces, and I'm proud to say the absolutely crucial contributions I'm sure intelligence made to this.
So, from that standpoint, great accomplishment. I really sort of loathe to get into the chest-beating about, you know, what -- who was -- which terrorist we took down was the bigger.
CLAPPER: But I would have to argue that I believe Osama bin Laden had much more impact simply because ISIS was not responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in this country, which Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden was.
So, I think from that standpoint, the takedown of Osama bin Laden had more impact, particularly given the relative weakness of ISIS, not completely destroyed certainly, but much less than when it was a caliphate.
CLAPPER: I would also like to point out that President Obama had a lot less solid intelligence than apparently President Trump had, so I think it was actually a much easier decision to OK the raid because thanks apparently to our allies, erstwhile allies, the Iraqis and especially the Kurds is what kind of put the finger on Baghdadi.
And in the case of Osama bin Laden, we didn't have the certitude or the currency about UBL's location. And so, in my view, President Obama made a very courageous decision to go ahead with that raid, particularly where we're violating the sovereignty of another country.
And sovereignty is kind of a loose-goosey thing in the northern parts of Syria. So, again, I don't like to get into these chest-beating comparisons, but once again President Obama - President Trump seems never to want to miss an opportunity to kind of minimize things that President Obama did.
LEMON: Director Clapper, thank you so much.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: We've got much more on tonight's breaking news. Congressman Gerry Connolly will be at a hearing with Colonel Vindman tomorrow. I'm going to speak with him next.
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. An army officer who is a top national security official at the White House, plans to tell Congress tomorrow that he heard President Trump pressure Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden. And according to his opening statement obtained by CNN, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman twice reported his concerns out of his sense of duty.
So let's discuss now. Congressman Gerry Connolly is here. He's a Virginia Democrat who will be hearing the colonel's testimony tomorrow. So we're happy to have you here. Thank you so much.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Great to be with you, Don.
LEMON: So, CNN obtained a copy of the lieutenant Colonel Vindman's opening statement. He was on this phone call with Trump and Zelensky. When you hear that he twice reported concerns about Trump's pressure on Ukraine, and what did you think about that? He said he did it out of a sense of duty. How damning is that -- is this?
CONNOLLY: You know, this is a lieutenant colonel in the army, seconded to the National Security Council. He has no political ax to grind. He's not out to get Trump. He's not part of some, you know, deep-state conspiracy. This is a patriotic member of the military who heard something wrong, really wrong, and felt that he was compelled to report it to the legal counsel of the NSC. Correct action and further corroboration of the underlying facts.
LEMON: I want to read some of Vindman's opening statement. He is recounting a conversation that he had with Ambassador Sondland following that July 10th meeting with Ukrainian officials that included Bolton, Sondland and Rick Perry. Here's what he said, Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance of the Ukraine delivered the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma.
I stated to ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push. Few things -- this happening before the call, we're seeing an extended pressure campaign, it sounds like.
CONNOLLY: Yes. I think we got to call it what it is, Don. It's extortion. What they were seeking was to extort the president of Ukraine in exchange for the resumption of military aid and a promised visit with the president of the United States in exchange for digging up political dirt on a prospective political opponent. That's extortion.
And obviously a number of officials who were aware of that or witnessed it were bothered enough to come forward and give testimony or report it to legal authorities like this lieutenant colonel.
LEMON: Are you going to have Sondland come back to clarify his testimony, and how about getting Rick Perry in?
CONNOLLY: I would say yes to both. I don't speak for the committee of inquiry. I am a member of two of the three committees. And speaking for myself, I think that would be -- I think Sondland has to come back and explain himself, and I think Rick Perry turns out to be one of the three amigos, played a much more pivotal role than we knew previously, and I think definitely we have to hear from him.
LEMON: Thank you, Representative Connelly. I really appreciate your time.
CONNOLLY: My great pleasure, Don. Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you. Listen, we've got a very important guest coming up, the perfect guest to have on this night, who can offer us some information and knowledge and insight on all of this. President Obama's former national security adviser weighs in on our breaking news. Ambassador Susan Rice is here live, next.
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. The National Security Council's top Ukraine expert expected to testify to House impeachment investigators tomorrow that he listened in on the July 25th call and heard President Trump lean on Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden. He was so disturbed by what he heard and so concerned that it was damaging to U.S. interests that he reported it twice.
So let's discuss now. The perfect guest, I'm so happy to have a former ambassador to the U.N. here, National Security Adviser to President Barack Obama, Susan Rice. She is the author of Tough love, my story of the things worth fighting for. We're going to talk about all of that, talk about your book. I'm so happy to have you here. I really am. I appreciate it.
SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's great to be with you, Don. It's been too long.
LEMON: You can offer great perspective. Absolutely. So, I want to get your reaction to the opening statement of Colonel Vindman tonight here. I'm sure you've been hearing about it on the news. He says he heard Trump ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. How damaging is this to the president?
RICE: Well, this is one in a series of corroborating testimony that, taken together, is quite damning. The interesting insight about Colonel Vindman is that he was on the phone call and that he is essentially reinforcing the testimony that indicates that there was clearly a quid pro quo with respect to both the White House visit and the military aid.
LEMON: It's no different than the readout of the call.
RICE: Yeah. I mean the most damning evidence is the president's own words. But now we have everybody else validating that.
LEMON: In Vindman's testimony, the colonel says, he twice alerted the lead counsel of the National Security Council. What should have happened at that point?
RICE: At that point the counsel for the National Security Council, who I had a similar person reporting to me, should have taken it straight up the chain to the White House counsel, and the White House counsel should have looked into this very serious matter.
And when it was referred to the Justice Department rather than try to quash it and suggest that there was nothing there, there should have been a thorough investigation.
LEMON: I want to switch gears now. Can we talk about the takedown of Al Baghdadi? What do you think of how this went down?
RICE: Well, obviously it's a great triumph for our special forces, for our intelligence community, and we all as Americans ought to recognize that his passing makes us marginally safer, and it was a milestone in the fight against ISIS.
But the notion that this means it's all over, that one can declare mission accomplished, is completely false as we've learned the hard way in this part of the world time and again. We can't take the pressure off. And that's why President Trump's decision to unilaterally and prematurely withdraw remaining American forces from northern Syria is so detrimental to the fight against ISIS, but also to, you know, to our other ability keep Russia and Iran and Assad in check, as well as Turkey's ambition. LEMON: Well, talk about the book, because you write about that in
your book. And you say Trump's announcement back in 2018 to withdraw troops from Syria created a risk for ISIS to revive and reinvent itself. Is there still a risk now even though Al Baghdadi is dead?
RICE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Baghdadi is important symbolically. He's a leader. But we've seen time and again whether with new leadership, new names, whatever, these terrorist groups easily reconstitute. And this one was not down and out. It was just down. So we have every reason to be concerned.
The Secretary of Defense has already announced that 100 ISIS captives, terrorists who had been in prison have escaped. You know, somehow President Trump thinks it's more important to guard dormant oil fields than to protect the Kurds and protect our gains against ISIS. So everything is upside down here, and it's quite dangerous for our security.
LEMON: And would we have been able to do this without our allies, without the Kurds?
RICE: No. It would be very, very difficult to have the kind of actionable intelligence we needed without the Kurds.
LEMON: You and many in the Obama administration and journalists have been on the wrong side of the president's tweets, right? He tweets about you a lot. But, listen, you along with folks on both sides of the aisle have been critical of President Trump's handling of Syria.
He tweeted this, calling you a disaster for Obama and Syria. In that same tweet he proclaimed that millions were killed. You responded by saying that back in 2015, Trump gave you a totally gross hug and said that you were unfairly treated over Benghazi.
RICE: And I was doing a great job for the country. So I responded to his tweet saying, well, if that's what you thought, why did you say to me two years later I was doing a great job for the country? And why if I never met you before did you come up and give me a hug and whisper in my ear, which as I said was gross.
LEMON: Why did you think he did it? He hasn't answered.
RICE: He did not respond to my tweet.
LEMON: I've got to ask you about this, and I know it's going to make you cringe. But I want to ask you about when you were talking about Benghazi with pod save America last week, you said this about Senator Lindsey Graham and then a warning. There is some strong language here. Let's watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Lindsey graham isn't just a piece of shit now. RICE: He's been a piece of shit. I said it. I said it, damn it,
finally. He's a piece of piece of shit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, I want to ask you, I mean, again, strong language.
RICE: My mother would not approve.
RICE: No, she really would tell me -- no she would not approve.
LEMON: Listen, your book ends with a call to find common cause with people you may or may not agree with, and you say that we should step back, cool off, and try again. So then what did you think that was --
RICE: No, that was an intemperate comment, but it came from a place of experience.
LEMON: Yeah? That's all you want to say about that.
On impeachment, there's set to be a House vote this week to establish some open hearings here, because, you know, Republicans have been complaining and saying, you know, it's done behind closed doors. Do you think Republicans will seriously consider the witness testimony about the president's actions?
You think they going to -- they'll stick with him or they'll continue to try to impugn all of the witness testimony even with the incredible background and service that this gentleman and others have given to this country?
RICE: It's not just the colonel, though. We certainly are grateful for his service. It's a series of career foreign service officers and ambassadors who have done nothing for 20, 30, 40 years but serve their country on an apolitical basis with integrity. The evidence is increasingly overwhelming. Whether that will cause Republicans in Congress to finally wake up and put country over party, I'm unwilling to predict. But it certainly should.
LEMON: Yes. What did you learned? Because you've been in the fight, right? You were there. What did you learned from writing this book, not from being there, because we know that you have a lot of experience in that? But from writing this book, what did you learn?
RICE: Well, I learned a lot of things. But the message I want to convey through this book is twofold. One, we're living in dangerous times, and there is a way that national security decision-making is supposed to work. There's a way that we deal with difficult issues, with a rigorous process. That's broken down. It needs to come back whether we have another Democratic president or a Republican president. That's really important.
And the second critical message, Don, is that we're at a point of real peril with respect to our domestic political divisions, which I actually think are our most proximate national security threat. We've had periods of division before from the civil war through McCarthyism to Vietnam and we've overcome them. This is a moment where we really have to decide that that's what we're about.
And, you know, we have the wherewithal to do it. I lay out some very fundamental steps that we can take as individuals and as a nation, including things like mandatory national service that can bring us together. But this is a time of reckoning, and if our security is to be secured, if our democracy is to be preserved -- and I think it can and it must be -- then we have to recognize the urgency of the moment and come together.
LEMON: Thank you. I love your candor, and I appreciate you coming on. It was a perfect night to have you on to talk about all these issues. Ambassador Rice, thank you so much.
RICE: Thank you so much, Don.
LEMON: The book again is called Tough love, my story of the things worth fighting for.
More on tonight's breaking news coming up. Will Colonel Vindman's damning testimony change the minds of House Republicans? We'll talk about that.
LEMON: Here's the bombshell breaking news, a top national security official at the White House, who is an army officer and an expert on Ukraine plans to tell Congress tomorrow that he heard President Trump pressure Ukraine president to investigate Joe Biden. According to his opening statement obtained by CNN, Lieutenant Colonel, Alexander Vindman twice reported his concerns out of his sense of duty.
I want to bring in two more perfect guests to talk about this. David Axelrod and Mark McKinnon, I'm so glad to have both of you on. Mark, you first, when you hear that Vindman brought registered objections -- internal objections out of quote sense of duty, that's significant certainly a message Republicans on Capitol Hill maybe concerned about.
MARK MCKINNON, CO-HOST, SHOWTIME'S "THE CIRCUS": Well, very significant for a couple reasons, Don. One, he's an active military officer who chosen to go testify. That's a big deal. And maybe even a bigger deal is the fact that this is not secondhand information. He was on the call.
So, now we know firsthand the information that we all guessed for a while and that Trump has admitted out loud as did the chief of staff. But now we have somebody who is on the call testifying about it. And this going to be a very difficult witness to try to impeach. They may try, they may try call him a partisan or elected Democrats, or a radical. Like they did with Bill Taylor, but Steve Bannon said, that dog ain't going to hunt.
LEMON: You think, as you've told me, they run out of gas on this one, maybe. David, listen. President Trump continues to say that his call was perfect. Now he says that he wants Republicans to focus on that not just the process argument. But with more testimony like this Republicans -- they don't want to touch the substance here, do they?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, they don't. I don't share your guy's view on this that somehow the dam is going to break. I don't think the dams is going to break. I think the arguments are going to shift as they have to shift.
The Republicans are going to stand with Donald Trump. Why? Not because of the evidence, but because he has a 90 percent approval rating among Republicans. And that's what's driving this. And unless that number starts eroding, they will continue to push back in whatever way they have to. And yes, it was the process now Pelosi is going to have a vote. Now, they're mad about the vote. And you know, I think they're in a sort of -- they are in a box. But they are going to fight and fight and fight, because they are afraid not to.
LEMON: You're smarter than me on that. So I will let you have that argument. Listen, I'm saying that that is, I'm just saying, I think that it's going to be really tough for them to impugn the reputation of this particular witness.
AXELROD: Well, there's no doubt.
LEMON: President Trump remarks on the Al-Baghdadi killing he made the comparison to Osama Bin Laden's capture. He just can't quit Barack Obama, can he? I mean, everything has to be bigger or better than anything Obama did.
AXELROD: Yeah. It's really peculiar. And you know the sad thing from Trump's standpoint is, he actually this was a good moment for him. A very, very bad guy was taken out on his order and had he just colored within the lines, it would have been a much bigger moment for him. But he could not. He could not help but beat his chest. He couldn't help by making this silly comparisons. And he diminishes himself in all these instances.
Even when it's a big moment. I watched that on Sunday. I watch his comments which were a little odd. But nonetheless, if he had just stopped with his prepared remarks. But then an hour long press conference that was basically a bunch of self-puffery and craziness. You know, that it's just -- he's his own worst enemy in many ways.
LEMON: Mark, can we talk about John Kelly's warning to the president. Let's play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I said whatever you do, we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place. I said whatever you do, don't hire a yes man. Someone that's going to tell you it won't tell you the truth. Don't do that, because if you do, I believe you'll be impeached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Pretty remarkable thing to say, Mark.
MCKINNON: Well it is. And I think, probably a lot of truth to it. I think what's happened over the course of the presidency in years almost three now, Donald Trump has basically peeled away all the no men. Like John Kelly and he's surrounded by yes-man.
And by the way, it's interesting the timing about John Bolton and when he left. Because he's never been a yes guy. And pretty clearly given the testimony we are going to hear tomorrow, it's clear that he's the one, you know, that cut the meeting short, because he had concerns about it. And I think ultimately, we'll certainly going to hear from him. So, that's why Bolton clearly -- a big part of the reason I would imagine that he's not in the White House. Telling people that they can't do stuff like this because it will get you impeached and maybe this will?
LEMON: Yes. Gentlemen, thank you. I appreciate your time. We'll be right back.