Return to Transcripts main page


Former Bolton Deputy Who Was On Ukraine Call Defies Subpoena, Fails To Appear At Hill Hearing; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Speaks As Key Trump Adviser Challenges Subpoena; New Details Of U.S. Raid that Killed Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2019 - 10:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: -- on that controversial call with President Trump and the president of Ukraine.


But Kupperman's lawyer says lawmakers are going to have to keep waiting, waiting until a federal judge sets in and settles the standoff between Congress and the White House.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: The Trump administration sent the witness a letter telling him not to testify. The Congress had threatened Kupperman with a subpoena if he followed that order from the White House.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now with the latest from Capitol Hill.

So he didn't show, this after a series of other Trump administration witnesses did show and testified under oath. It now goes to the courts.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, at least that's the expectation, that's what he actually did by filing on Friday, basically saying he was caught in between two branches and he wanted a third party to be able adjudicate what he was supposed to do.

In a letter that was sent by Kupperman's lawyer last night to the House Committees, it said, quote, it is not Dr. Kupperman who can test your client's constitutional claim. That is is President Trump and every president before him for at least half century who have asserted testimony immunity for their closest confidential advisers.

So now, the real questions becomes that as the former deputy national security adviser defies a subpoena, a subpoena that, as you noted, a number of administration officials and various agencies have complied with, what actually happens next.

Lawmakers in a response to Chuck Cooper, the lawyer for Mr. Kupperman earlier in the week, said that they might hold him in contempt. That's an option. They could try and maybe file and make things move faster in the courts. That's an option as well. But all this needs to be viewed in the context on two key things, guys. First and foremost, the fact that the courts will take time, even an emergency filing. And the Democrats are continuing to move forward. Just over the course of this week, they will have several more administration officials from the State Department, from the Pentagon and also inside the White House itself, people that still, at least this point, we're told, plan on coming. So maybe they don't have the time.

The other is Chuck Cooper, the lawyer for Mr. Kupperman, is also the lawyer for John Bolton, a person at the center of what Democrats are investigating right now, somebody they very much want to talk to, somebody other witnesses have said had objections to what was going on with Ukraine.

And so this implies that he will take a similar path as Kupperman and there are some real questions now as to what that will mean going forward as Democrats continue this effort on impeachment. Guys?

HARLOW: Okay. Phil, let's see how this plays out. Thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss this, former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle. She worked on the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons.

So first here, the White House tried to block other administration officials from testifying. They were subpoenaed, they went ahead, some were very consequential, Gordon Sondland among them, the E.U. ambassador here.

So now, you have a new tactic in effect. It goes to a federal judge. Does this attempt at stonewalling work in your view?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, they'll get an order from the judge. And my guess is given this witness's relationship with Mr. Bolton and as well as sharing counsel that this is potentially a shot across the bow for Mr. Bolton to give them the green light to go forward.

I've read the complaint and there are arguments on both sides. Primarily, the position is, well, White Houses over the years have taken the position that there's absolute immunity for presidential advisers.

But there is a lower court decision under John Bates, who I worked with in Whitewater, who also in the Justice Department, that said that there is no absolute immunity for close advisers to the president, and obviously this witness is no longer in the White House.

So my guess is we will see a court order that does not give the president complete immunity to stop all of his advisers from testifying before Congress. And, frankly, that should move things along for all witnesses going forward.

SCIUTTO: Legally though, this concept of immunity, isn't it -- and you know better this (ph) as a lawyer, but is it an immunity to appoint? In other words, if wrongdoing is involved, does that not negate that principle or is it not clear?

WEHLE: Yes. So, as you know, I have a book out called How to Read the Constitution, one, I talk about this. There's a difference between immunity and privilege. So immunity is I am not going to comply at all. So the president, for example, judges, legislators cannot be sued personally for doing their job. That's different from privilege.

And as you indicate in a Supreme Court case involving President Nixon, the Supreme Court of the United States said that Nixon cannot basically assert absolute immunity from a trial subpoena for purposes of protecting the White House tapes. The court said there's a public interest in criminal investigations, there's a public interest that counteracts that concept.

And I think there, a court would probably say there's a public interest in having these impeachment inquiries going forward.

The only potential wrinkle that I see is that there is some case law suggesting that it would be stronger -- Congress would be on stronger footing if they actually held a vote authorizing impeachment. In a prior case out of this particular circuit, they said, you have to comply with congressional subpoenas, Trump, with respect to a legislative inquiry.


Impeachment is slightly different, but I think that that's a kind of little hump that Nancy Pelosi could get over if that is one of the caveats that the court comes up with.

SCIUTTO: Okay. So the first word would be a federal judge in the D.C. district. If that judge rules either way, is there a possibility of appeal by either side?

WEHLE: Yes, so this action by this witness against various members of the government, including in Congress. So if say that this witness gets the green light to go forward and testify, it's unclear. Certainly, Congress would not want to appeal that. It's unclear if this witness would want to appeal that. So it could just stop at that point and that would be out of this circuit, the leading authority going forward. I don't know that this would go to an appeal or go to the Supreme Court.

Presumably, the administration could jump in and ask as a third party, but that would be unusual. There isn't really a procedural mechanism for that.

SCIUTTO: Although unusual has not (INAUDIBLE) steps in this process. Yes, listen, it's always great to have with us as we go through each marker here. Kim Wehle, thanks very much.

WEHLE: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: All right. Kupperman was the deputy of former National Security Adviser John Bolton. They share the same lawyer. So the court ruling here could have broad impact beyond just his potential testimony.

Let's go to the White House again. Boris Sanchez joins us this morning. Is the White House saying anything about how they think this is going to play out?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim and Poppy. Not specifically. President Trump was shouted questions from reporters as he boarded Air Force One this morning on his way to an event in Chicago. He didn't answer questions about the testimony, though he did answer a question about strategy. I'll get to that in a second.

But we can look at this adjudication potentially as a bellwether for whether John Bolton, the former national security adviser, will testifies or not. And House investigators certainly want to hear from him in part because of what they've heard from other administration officials, like Fiona Hill, who told them that Bolton lamented Rudy Giuliani's actions on Ukraine, specifically that he was running a shadow State Department, that he was a hand grenade and that Bolton joked about Giuliani making these drug deals on the side.

The questions about the strategy come down to President Trump. Today, he effectively told reporters that he wanted Republicans and his legal team to focus on the substance of his call with President Zelensky of Ukraine. Keep in mind, that goes against what we've heard from officials behind the scenes, his legal team, his aides, Republicans who have said they want to focus their response to this impeachment inquiry on what Democrats are doing, on the process and not the substance of the president's call with Zelensky. Poppy and Jim?

SCIUTTO: Boris Sanchez at the White House, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. Let's talk more about this and some of the other major headlines. Lisa Lerer is here, National Political Reporter for The New York Times.

So do you agree with what we just heard from Kim saying this is essentially a test case for Bolton? And if so, what is this -- how much bigger does this make the judge's ruling?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely, this is a test case for Bolton. Democrats on the Hill are eager to have John Bolton testify. But they have to make a decision whether having him come or pushing for him to come and taking it through the courts, depending how this ruling goes, is worth the time it will cost.

Courts are not known for moving pretty quickly. And so this could really draw out the process of pronged (ph) court fight far beyond the timeline that Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in the House have said. They said that they want to -- initially, they said they want to get this wrapped up by Thanksgiving. Now, it seems Christmas is more likely, and there are political reasons for that. The longer this goes, the more it runs into that 2020 election and the harder it is to make the case that this isn't a matter that should just be decided by the voters in November of 2020. HARLOW: Let me get your take on this. At the Nationals game, the Nationals Astros World Series game last night, we saw the president come out and he was booed by a number of people, people were chanting, there you hear it, lock him up, lock him up.

But listen to this reaction this morning from Democratic Senator Chris Coons, who has not hesitated to criticize the president's policies and actions, but when asked about this, I found his answer very interesting.

Hold that thought. I think -- are going to go Schiff? All right, let's go to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It's deeply regrettable. He was compelled to appear by a lawful Congressional subpoena.

Just within the last few days, of course, the district court has ruled that the impeachment inquiry is perfectly valid. Witnesses like Dr. Kupperman need to do their duty and show up.

I want to compliment the nine other witnesses who met similar opposition from the White House, who were instructed by the White House not to appear, but honored their lawful obligations and came forward, did their lawful duty.


We greatly appreciate the courage that they have shown and other witnesses will show who are scheduled to appear.

The lawsuit that Dr. Kupperman filed in district court has no basis in law. A private citizen cannot sue the Congress to try to avoid coming in when they're served with a lawful subpoena. We expect that the court will make short shrift of that argument, but nonetheless, we move forward.

Dr. Kupperman had testimony we believe would corroborate the allegations of misconduct that other witnesses have made, but we move forward and we will obviously consider as we inform the Dr. Kupperman's counsel his failure to appear as evidence that may warrant a contempt proceeding against him.

In terms of where we are, we have had a full schedule up until this point. We've got a full schedule from this point. I think we can infer from the White House opposition to Dr. Kupperman's testimony that they believe that his testimony would be incriminating of the president.

He is also, I think, very plain, additional and powerful evidence of obstruction of Congress and its lawful function by the president that, yet again, and even after a court decision affirming the right of Congress to proceed with this impeachment inquiry, the White House has obstructed the work of a co-equal branch of government.

If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to White House, they would want him to come and testify. They plainly don't. After hearing the testimony or reviewing the written opening statement of Ambassador Taylor, one can easily see why the White House does not want further evidence to come before the Congress.

I found it remarkable, I have to say, that the Republican members of our three committees, including ranking members on Oversight Committees, took a position effectively of endorsing the White House obstruction, that the president in an impeachment inquiry or in any oversight inquiry into misconduct can simply instruct senior people not to testify. That is deeply damaging to this institution and any Congress' ability to do oversight, let alone in the important context of an impeachment proceeding.

Nonetheless, we go forward, now armed with additional evidence of obstruction, as well as additional inferences that can be drawn that this witness' testimony would further incriminate the president of the United States. And I'm happy to respond to a couple of questions.

REPORTER: Mr. Chairman, still the court adjudicates this, other witnesses will say they're going to do the same thing, wait for some guidance from the courts before they come testify?

SCHIFF: I have more confidence in the witnesses that we've invited to appear and will subpoena to appear that they will perform as the nine witnesses that have gone before have that they will do their duty, that they will honor their lawful obligations and they will show the kind of courage that these other witnesses have shown.

REPORTER: Mr. Chairman, when you say, we're going to move forward, does that mean you're not going to spend resources on pursuing an advanced third (ph) process, and also that this is a sign of getting somebody who's high in this government, does that mean the inner circle, the people that you subpoenaed, like cabinet members, et cetera, people like that, you're not hopeful for anymore because (INAUDIBLE)?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, it's hard to say what other senior officials will do. I'm sure they'll get like instructions from the White House. And if they do and they fail to appear, they will be building a very powerful case against the president for obstruction, an article of impeachment based on obstruction.

So each time the White House steps in to obstruct Congress from getting documents, and, of course, we know now that there are any number of very important, relevant documents the State Department is withholding from Congress, but anytime they also withhold witnesses and force them to refuse to appear or attempt to ignore lawful process, they will merely build the obstruction case against the president.

In terms of how we will use litigation, not use litigation, we are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope-a-dope in the courts. So we press forward.

REPORTER: Last question.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) specifically for Ambassador Bolton.

SCHIFF: Go ahead, sir.

REPORTER: Will this delay to do this, I think, or say this is (INAUDIBLE) add weeks and months on how (INAUDIBLE)?

SCHIFF: No, we will not allow the White House to delay our investigation. Any acts of obstruction like this, any effort to prevent the Congress and therefore the American people from learning about the president's misconduct will merely build a public case for obstruction of Congress by this president.


And let's keep in mind what we have learned in two short weeks thanks to the courageous testimony of many State Department, Defense Department and other national security officials. We have learned that a president of the United States abused his power to coerce an ally that is fending off Russian occupation of its territory in order to get political dirt on an opponent, conditioned a White House meeting, and as Mick Mulvaney acknowledged, conditioned military support to fight off an adversary of the United States, conditioned those things on getting political help in the form of an investigation into one of his opponents.

I can understand why the president doesn't want these witnesses to come forward. What I find harder to understand is why the Republican members of this body and this House don't want these witnesses to come forward. Where is their duty to this institution? Where is their duty to the Constitution? Where is their respect for the rule of law? This will not be our last president.

And as I underscored today, they ought to understand the imperative of a Congress to get information of an executive. Without it, we cannot do your jobs. Thank you.

HARLOW: There you have Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, not only taking the White House to task over blocking the testimony of former deputy of John Bolton, Charles Kupperman, but also taking his fellow Republicans to task, saying where is their duty to this institution and to the constitution.

Lisa Lerer is back with me.

A lot struck from that, but namely that Adam Schiff said essentially we're not going to wait for the courts, we're going to press forward, and every witness that doesn't show up is going to build our obstruction case against the president. The question that leaves in the balance though, are they going to push forward with just an article of impeachment on obstruction against the president and is that enough?

LERER: That's something that the Democrats in the House and in Congress are debating right now, whether to keep it on obstruction or build out a broader case. Of course, building out a broader case takes more time. We've already talked about the dangers, potentially political dangers of running into the 2020 elections.

I thought it was notable that Congressman Schiff basically acknowledged that this was kind of a clever move by the administration, that, you know, this allows these witnesses to say, look, it's not that I don't want to testify, I just think it's a matter for the courts to adjudicate. And by that, it really puts it in sort of indefinite delay and pushes out the timeline.

HARLOW: Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate you being here. Thanks for sticking around for that.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, these are live pictures. Imagine that being your morning commute. A growing, fast-moving wildfire sparked overnight in Los Angeles just a few hours ago is now threatening neighborhoods. It's spread very quickly. Major freeways, you could see there, are threatened as well. People are being told, you need to get out now. We're going to bring you the latest, coming up.



HARLOW: All right, welcome back. The future of ISIS is in question one day after the terror group's leader is killed.

SCIUTTO: CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground in Iraq.

ISIS still has not commented on al-Baghdadi's death. They often do but not immediately. What should we read into that?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think possibly some degree of shock and consternation maybe. We also do know that according to the main ally of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS, fractured relationship over the last month or so, they say they're still going after key ISIS leaders, not confirmed by the United States.

But Syrian Kurds are saying Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, who was a very close aide to Baghdadi, a kind spokesman for the group and possibly in line of his successor, well, it said that he was, in fact, killed in Jarabulus on Sunday night, possibly after they acted on the intelligence that president Donald Trump said was swept up from that compound utterly obliterated in the early hours of Sunday.

We also are beginning to get more of a picture too about exactly how it was maybe the United States got to Baghdadi. Lots of people are trying to claim credit as having a key bit of an intelligence, but an Iraqi senior intelligence official is saying actually a man known as Muhammad Ali Sajid (ph), an aide to Baghdadi, again, was arrested on the outskirts of Baghdad a couple months ago. He, in turn, had information that led the Iraqis to a courier who was killed in a raid with the courier's wife had documents that pointed to where Baghdadi was.

Now, the U.S. haven't commented on that and the Syrian Kurds too have also said they played a role from March in assisting with intelligence. There seems to be a mixed picture here but, clearly, more we're learning slowly about how it was the U.S. found the world's most wanted man. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: That's interesting. That's a courier that led to Zarqawi previously where Al Qaeda and Iraq predecessor rises.


Those couriers -- exactly, they could lead you right where you need to go. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Joining us now to talk about the significant developments here, Ambassador Richard Haass, of course, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Good morning to you and thanks for being here on such an important day and such an important news.


HARLOW: Good morning. What is your reaction to the administration, the Special Forces that carried this out and then also how the president talked about it?

HAASS: Look, it's hard not to be impressed by the professionalism of the forces that carried out this operation. Obviously, as you were just discussing, they had all sorts of intelligence support both from within the U.S. government as well as from various regional partners. That's all good. It probably disrupts ISIS for some time.

On the other hand, there's no permanent victories against ISIS or against terrorists in general. It's decentralized. It's as much a network or a movement, as it is an organization. So, obviously, it will reconstitute itself in many parts and it will try to strike again. And, unfortunately, it will probably succeed on occasion.

And the president's talk, I thought, it was, to some extent, counterproductive. I thought some of the gloating was un-American. It lacked a certain dignity to it. I also thought it might be something of an inspiration or a recruiting tool for young radicals around the world.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The elements that went into this operation, an operation like this, U.S. troop presence on the ground by our own reporting made a difference. The work of close U.S. allies on the ground, particularly the Syrian Kurds, made a difference, but also, of course, the CIA, intelligence gathering. Those are three pillars that this president has attacked or you might say pulled the rug out from under. Does that hinder U.S. operations like this going forward?

HAASS: That's exactly right. So I think we're in better shape today than we were two days ago. The question whether we'll be in better shape in three months or six month, a year for all those reasons. The president has yet to establish a sustained working relationship with the Intelligence Community. We don't have forces on the ground who are going to be collecting intelligence on a daily basis. We don't have the Kurds as partners in anything, like the way we did. I would simply say the Turks cannot be counted on to be partners here, much less Syria or Russia.

So, again, I thought it was a good day, the operation was impressive. My concern is going forward that we've weakened ourselves.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about something that came from the communications director essentially for Erdogan, for the Turkish government. They're asking this morning for, quote, a thorough investigation about the movement of Baghdadi into Syria essentially asking for U.S. intel on this front. Obviously, it's a NATO ally, at the same time, we've seen Turkish action and the incursion into Northern Syria over the last three weeks and the U.S.' response. Should the U.S. share that intel with Turkey and what do you make of that request?

HAASS: Well, I wouldn't share any intelligence with Turkey that I didn't expect to be compromised one way or another, particularly with Russia, or used for purposes we haven't intended. Turkey's biggest concern is taking on Kurds, wherever they find them, not in taking on ISIS. So I think we need to have an arm's length skeptical relationship with Turkey and not take for granted that they are somehow a real ally.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can. It's a remarkable statement to make considering Turkey is ostensibly a member of NATO, at least by agreement.

The president thanked Russia. Russia treated us great. They opened up. We had to fly over certain areas, certain Russian -- Russia was great. What do you make of the president being so effusive, as he often is, of Russia in the wake of this more so than he was with our allies on the ground?

HAASS: Well, it's not the first time as you both know. I can't explain this president's approach to Russia.

What I will say though that bothered me was what he said about the Kurds. They were at the end of the list. But more important, he seemed to suggest the Kurdish cooperation was only forthcoming after they were being hammered by Turkish forces for three days. And, again, I thought that was wildly unfair to them and it doesn't speak well of future cooperation between this real ally, this real partner and the United States.

SCIUTTO: Why would you given that kind of public criticism and withdrawal of U.S. forces?

HARLOW: Ambassador Haass, always good to have you, especially on a day like this. Thank you very much.

HAASS: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got it.

SCIUTTO: Well, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, says that a key witness' failure to appear in the impeachment inquiry this morning is just more evidence, in his view, of obstruction of justice by the White House. We're going to speak to a Republican lawmaker about this next and other news, next.