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White House Official Testifies He Raised Concerns About Trump And Ukraine; House To Vote Thursday On Formalizing Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired October 29, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.
A member of the U.S. Army for more than two decades, wounded in combat, volunteered to serve in this White House, testifying now under oath on Capitol Hill. You see him here arriving in uniform.
But today, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is facing a very different kind of battle, this time against the narrative, the dirty accusations, frankly, coming from the White House, for which he works, volunteered for.
Vindman was on the call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. And this morning, he plans to tell House investigators, according to his opening statement, that he was so troubled by the administration's pressure on Ukraine and that July 25th call between the president of the U.S. and the president Of Ukraine that he twice reported those concerns to his boss, to lawyers, as well.
HARLOW: Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she's giving Republicans what they were asking for, a House vote on impeachment. But Republican leadership firing back saying, it isn't exactly that.
Joining us from Capitol Hill, CNN Correspondent Phil Mattingly.
Phil, let's start with what promises to be critical testimony from Colonel Vindman. What do we know?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. First, let me set the stage for who Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman actually is. As Jim noted, he's been in the U.S. military, U.S. Army Lt. Col. for more than two decades. He served in Iraq.
While in Iraq, he received a purple heart while he was wounded there. He has been the top official related to Ukraine on the National Security Council inside the White House for a number of months now.
And the significance here with this testimony is this. He's the first current White House official to testify in one of these closed-door depositions that Democrats have held inside their impeachment inquiry up to this point. He is also the first individual who was on that July 25th call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, the White House has released the transcript of.
In his six-page public testimony, which we have reported publicly now, he talks about two occasions where he actually raised concerns directly to National Security Council lawyers. One of them related to that phone call, for which the White House has said, there were no problems. Saying, quote, 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 pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play. That would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support that it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.
Following the call, I, again, reported my concerns to NSC's lead counsel. And he says he, again, because he also reported his concerns related to a July 10th meeting between administration officials and a top Ukrainian official when Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland brought up the idea of investigations in exchange for a meeting with the U.S. president.
What his testimony, at least based on the six-page opening statement, what we've seen so far, does is it lines up directly with reports that Ambassador Bill Taylor, who testified last week, had gotten about that July 10th meeting. And it also lines up directly with the testimony of former top White House official, Fiona Hill, who both relayed that there were concerns, concerns that were directly raised with Ambassador Gordon Sondland about the comments that he had made in that meeting with the Ukrainian official.
The rub here is this, Sondland, in his testimony from the House investigators, said he had no recollection of anyone raising any concerns. And that is an interesting element here, because sources I'm talking to have been working on this. One told me earlier today, Sondland, quote, has a lot of explaining to do and it may have to be in a public forum.
Now, you mentioned that they are moving on to the next stage in the weeks ahead that will involve public hearings. But it's worth noting, there are still going to be closed-door depositions. In fact, my colleague, Jeremy Diamond, over at the White House says that House investigators have reached out to another White House official, Robert Blair, an assistant to the president, senior adviser to acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, asking him to come in and testify as well.
He has not committed to that. They do not know if he's going to. But the significance here, he was another official who was on the July 25th call. This net is growing wider and they're now getting more testimony from people with direct knowledge of what occurred, guys.
SCIUTTO: And to be clear, Gordon Sondland was pretty direct and definitive in his testimony. He said, if Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, or others harbored any misgivings about the impropriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings. He said that definitively and under oath.
Well, now, we're hearing that Hill, Bolton and Vindman, in fact, did share those misgivings. That's a contradiction.
Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now giving Republicans what they've been asking for, an official vote in the full House on the impeachment inquiry set now for this Thursday. It will force lawmakers of both parties to go on the record with their support of or opposition to the inquiry going forward.
HARLOW: Now, Republicans have been saying the inquiry is illegitimate because there has not been this formal vote.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju.
Manu, I do think it's important to note though, Republicans like Mark Meadows are firing back this morning and saying, no, no, no, this is just a rules vote, this isn't exactly what we were asking for.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because it's not a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry.
Even Democrats are saying that. They're saying, this is actually setting the procedures for some of the next steps here, including changing some House rules, allowing, for instance, staff members to engage in some of the questioning during the public sessions.
We've seen, of course, what the rules are that allowing members of the committees to ask five questions and five minutes a piece. Now, this will allow staff members to engage in the questioning and allow in some evidence sharing between the House Intelligence Committee, which is now leading the investigation, to the House Judiciary Committee, which will take the first steps in voting on articles of impeachment.
Now, while it's not a resolution that would authorize the probe, it will give the Democrats that are at least pointing to this as an argument going forward, saying, there's no reason why the White House should point to not having a vote, to not comply with their request for information. Because as you know, the White House has said over and over again, that because there's been no vote to formally authorize the investigation, that it will not cooperate.
And that's something, of course, that has been rejected by a federal judge on Friday in this case, saying they don't necessarily need to have a vote. This is a legitimate, legal inquiry going forward. And Democrats agree with that notion. But nevertheless, they are having this key vote assigned and are rapidly moving to the next phase of this inquiry, guys. SCIUTTO: Rapidly moving. Can you give us details on that? Because there's talk having the inquiry wrapped up by Thanksgiving -- is that a month from now -- and then having a full vote by Christmas, a couple months from now. Is that realistic in the view of the members you speak to?
RAJU: Yes, at the moment, it is. It changes quite frequently. And I'm told, behind closed doors, Nancy Pelosi last night did not detail to her leadership team the exact timeframe. And she's ultimately the one who controls that, but the working assumption from top Democrats that I've spoken with is that having the public hearings before Thanksgiving and then they can be moved to votes in December, potentially a vote to impeach the president before December.
So while this may seem like it's taking a while, that is pretty quick in the eyes of Congress and moving an investigation like this and Democrats certainly want to wrap it up in the House before the end of the year. Guys?
HARLOW: Manu, thanks very much for the reporting. We appreciate it.
SCIUTTO: With us now, CNN Political Analyst Laura Barron-Lopez, National Political Reporter for Politico, and CNN Political Analyst, Toluse Olorunnipa, he's White House Reporter for The Washington Post. Great to have both of you on.
If I could begin with you, Laura, I want to get at this move by Democrats to go forward with this vote, because Pelosi resisted it, right? And she was concerned about swing state Democrats in particular here. Did Democrats hear from constituents, from voters, that this makes political sense, I mean, in effect, that the Republican argument about process here was working?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure that they were hearing that specifically from voters, although more and more do want to see this played out in public. And we heard from Democrats last week that they would like to get moving on the public aspect of this inquiry, of this investigation, because they feel that the sooner, the better, with their constituents.
But that is still a concern with this vote. A number of Democrats are still worried about their front line vulnerable members who are going to be facing really tough re-election battles from Republicans. And there were some questions raised by Democrats about whether or not they should have had a vote like this within the Intelligence Committee, because it could have shielded some of those members.
But, again, they feel as though leadership decided that this was the moment that they were going to move forward.
HARLOW: So, Toluse, the attack from the White House this morning on this, you know, decorated active army member, who, as Admiral Kirby was saying so well last hour, shed blood for this country, right, on Lt. Col. Vindman is that he's a never-Trumper, right? The president tweeting, how many more never-Trumpers will be able to come and testify about this perfect call? Is that it? I mean, is that the strategy at this point? Because, I mean, it's just so hard to argue that about someone like this.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That is the strategy. According to the White House, according to the president's closest allies, in order to defend the president, you have to attack veterans. You saw the attacks against Vietnam veteran Bill Taylor. President Trump said he was a never-Trumper. He said, last week, that never- Trumpers were human scum. And now an Iraq war veteran is being attacked by the president's closest allies.
HARLOW: But with no evidence for Taylor or for Vindman, zero.
OLORUNNIPA: Right, no evidence at all. Just because there is not a lot of substance to back up the claims that the president did nothing wrong or that the president is completely innocent and should be exonerated here, they are going for personal attacks. And a lot of times, those personal attacks have no evidence behind them.
But it's clear that Republicans are looking for something to grab hold on when it comes to defending the president, because it looks like the mounting evidence is stacking up against the president. Not only are Democrats saying that he did something wrong, but people close to the White House, people that worked for the president, career diplomats who were part of the government, who were a party to some of the things that the president were doing had firsthand knowledge about the president's conduct, are blowing the whistle and saying that the president was not in the right here, that he was pressuring another foreign government to try to interfere with the 2020 election.
SCIUTTO: A lot of folks saw that and expressed concerns about that very quid pro quo.
Laura, I want to ask you a question, because you might say that Gordon Sondland, the sitting E.U. ambassador is in a legal pickle here, and perhaps in danger of having lied under oath, because he testified, and maybe we can put this up on the screen, definitively that if Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill or others harbored any misgivings about the impropriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings, sworn testimony.
But now Vindman, sworn testimony, he says, in fact, not only did he express misgivings, but so did Fiona Hill, until recently, the top Russia expert, but others. What happens now with Gordon Sondland? Is he called back?
BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, that's a very real possibility. We heard Democrats even expressing that they would potential want Sondland to come back after Taylor's testimony given the fact that they said that it seemed as though Sondland had selective amnesia in his testimony.
SCIUTTO: It wouldn't be the first time that folks testifying on the Hill had selective amnesia.
HARLOW: And it wasn't even -- just, Toluse, to put a button on it, we have 30 seconds left, and Will Hurd too, a Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said after Taylor's testimony, Sondland has to come back.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes. That's part of the reason why these hearings have been done behind closed doors, because you don't want these witnesses to put their testimony together and use other people's language to defend what they were saying. So now they're going to have to defend what was said behind closed doors.
SCIUTTO: And that was an argument raised by Democrats for why they were doing this behind closed doors. And so they didn't want them to coordinate, a kind of prisoner's dilemma here, in effect.
Laura Barron-Lopez, Toluse Olorunnipa, thanks to both of you, always good to have you on.
Still to come this hour, some GOP lawmakers have been pushing forward now Democrats' plan, as we said, to take a full House vote to formalize their impeachment inquiry and the rules of it.
Plus, President Trump tweeting moments ago that ISIS leader's al- Baghdadi's replacement has now, quote, been terminated in his words. We're getting details on who exactly he's speaking about.
And lawmakers are grilling Boeing CEO of the deadly crashes involving the company's 737 Max jets. You want to hear this, because there are significant developments here.
HARLOW: All right. Welcome back.
He is the National Security Council's top expert on Ukraine. Right now, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman is testifying behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. He is the first person who was on that July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine to come before lawmakers.
Congressman Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with me. Good morning, sir. Thank you very much for being with me--
REP. TED YOHO (R-FL): Good morning, Poppy. It's an honor to be here.
HARLOW: Let's begin with what we know that Vindman is saying under oath right now from his opening statement quote, "I was concerned by that call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen." Do you share his concern?
YOHO: Well, that's his concern. He didn't think it was proper. There were other people on that call, have they expressed the same thing? Do I share his concern? No, because I haven't heard -- I haven't -- what we've heard from President Trump and President Zelensky was there was no quid pro quo asked. There was no pressure.
And President Zelensky didn't know about any funding. And so, no-- HARLOW: Well--
YOHO: -- I'm not concerned about it at all. But I am happy that it is coming out in the public.
HARLOW: Well, we do know actually everything that was said on that call according to the White House because of the transcript. You've read that transcript, right, congressman?
YOHO: Yes, I have.
HARLOW: OK. And nothing in it concerns you?
YOHO: No, it doesn't. I think what we need to do is make sure this is not a political fight. That it goes through the proper technique that we do find out--
YOHO: -- the facts and then make it a decision based on those facts.
HARLOW: So, I think one of the important things you would agree to making sure that it's not political is that of these three committees questioning these witnesses that you have Republicans and Democrats in the room, 48 Democrats on those three committees -- 48 Republicans rather on those committees.
You're one of them. You're a member of the House--
HARLOW: -- Foreign Affairs Committee. So, you could attend all of these depositions. Have you attended a single one?
YOHO: No, I haven't gone to those. We've had discussions in our Foreign Affairs Committee on other aspects of what President Trump is doing. So I've been involved in those, not in these. I see these as--
YOHO: -- kind of a sideshow and -- because it's not an official inquiry in impeachment. It is something that Nancy Pelosi started without a vote. And I know it's not constitutional that they have a vote.
YOHO: But it should follow the precedents that have been set in the last three impeachments.
HARLOW: So, there is going to be a formal vote on Thursday. But back to the original point, I mean this is consequential, right? This is about whether the U.S. president is impeached or not.
You're invited to be in the room for all of these depositions. Right now you could be in the room questioning Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. [10:20:00]
Why are you not--
YOHO: And I've got my questions for him.
HARLOW: Why are you not there? But why are you not there?
YOHO: Because I have other responsibilities in the House. And what -- I see this as a sideshow -- I'm going to make a prediction that in three weeks from now you're going to look back at the smoking gun and the things that everybody is so worked up today and it will be as inconsequential as Adam Schiff saying I've got irrefutable information, that there was collusion with Trump. And that's gone and that was proved to be a fallacy, and I think this will be too.
HARLOW: Then why is legitimate for you to slam an inquiry and slam testimony when you have the opportunity to be in the room for all of it. You are not taking that opportunity.
I understand you have other important responsibilities, but respectfully, Congressman, as glad as I am that you're on this show, you don't need to be on this show. You could be in there --
YOHO: Well, like I said --
HARLOW: -- you could be in there disposing --
YOHO: -- I've got my questions written down for him.
HARLOW: -- Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. Who is asking them? I ask who's asking them, because your staff told us 30 minutes ago, they didn't even know about the testimony.
YOHO: No, they know about the testimony. I mean, we've talked about it all week long. I plan to go in there, I've got my questions written for him. You know, why was he worried? Was anybody else on the call worried? Did they express the same thing?
When did he give his -- his concerns? When did he make that publically known? Was that written down in a record other than his testimony? When was that submitted? And so, those are the questions that I want to come out.
HARLOW: OK. So, you're -- so, you are going to this deposition after you're off the air with us, is that right?
YOHO: As soon as I'm off the air, yes ma'am.
HARLOW: OK, and this will be the first one that you attend in the inquiry?
YOHO: It will be the first one, but we've been very engaged in what's going on. And this whole vote that Miss Pelosi's bringing up, and I'm glad she's bringing it up, but it's not an official impeachment inquiry. It's a vote to OK the process that they're going through and the transparency.
And as long as we're talking about transparency, these are held in an intelligence briefing skiff, some of them. A lot of that information was leaked and that goes against USC (ph) code 386, that members or staff members are allowing information to be released from an intelligence briefing and that needs to be investigated, because they're going and leaking stuff that they shouldn't be leaking.
HARLOW: Have you -- all members of the committees, so you're one of them, are allowed to read the transcripts of these depositions as they have been happening.
HARLOW: Have you -- have you done that?
YOHO: We've read the summary of Volker's and there was one other we did.
HARLOW: The summary, or you've gone actually to read the full transcripts?
YOHO: No, just the summary of them. The summaries of them.
YOHO: And going back to -- again --
HARLOW: I get -- you're just -- you're an important member of an important committee and this is an important inquiry and I'm just confused as to why it seems like you don't think it's been worth the time until today to go or to read them.
YOHO: Well, I said, because it's not an official inquiry. It is something they have moved with. I've had members of the Democratic Party told me that after the whistleblower came out, they were moving ahead. And I said, I can't believe you guys are moving ahead. And he goes, Chuck Schumer said that he doesn't care if it true or false, they're moving ahead with this.
HARLOW: So -- all right. OK, so it's just -- it's not just Democrats here, right, who think this is legitimate and there are important questions to ask. It's also your fellow Republican member --
HARLOW: -- of Congress from -- from your same state, sir. From the state of Florida. Listen to what Congressman Francis Rooney said to us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Mick Mulvaney laid out a quid pro quo, what is your response.
REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): Well, yes. Whatever might have been gray and unclear before is certainly quite clear right now, that the actions were related to -- to getting some -- the Ukraine to do some of these things. I think that, as you just put on there, Senator Murkowski admits (ph), said it perfectly, we're not supposed to use government power and prestige for political gain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: We're not supposed to use government power and prestige for political gain, is he right?
YOHO: I don't know. I mean, I don't -- I don't see it as political gain. I see it as President Trump going back to the corruption that was at the base of all of our foreign aid. We're not going to get that, we do that in the Central America.
YOHO: And then also that, you know, this was to go back at the 2016 election. Was there corruption in there? Was there a suppression put on --
HARLOW: Then why did -- then why -- if it wasn't for political gain, Congressman, why did President Trump bring up the Bidens in the call with Zelensky on the 25th of July?
YOHO: Because you've got Joe Biden on the news, you know, several years ago saying how he a quid pro quo and he forced the Ukrainian prosecutor to get fired. And he was bragging about that --
HARLOW: I mean, if you really want to -- yes --
YOHO: -- and I think that's something that should be investigated under President Obama.
HARLOW: -- I mean, I have it here. He's -- you're talking about him addressing the Counsel and Foreign Relations in January of last year.
HARLOW: He talked about holding back a billion in loan guarantees to carry out what every leader in the western hemisphere wanted, including the IMF, Christine Lagarde saying this guy wasn't doing his job, he wasn't fighting corruption.
So I don't really want to go down that rabbit hole because it's unfounded.
YOHO: Of course not.
HARLOW: Let me just --
YOHO: Because it shows that Joe Biden was forcing a prosecutor to get fired--
HARLOW: OK. Just-- YOHO: -- who eventually got fired.
HARLOW: Yes. Because every leader in the west thought he wasn't doing his job and he wasn't doing his job period. That's the reason for it. Senator, let me -- Congressman, let me just ask you one final thing and then I'll let you go.
HARLOW: Because I'm glad you're going in there and you're welcomed back on the show--
YOHO: I am too.
HARLOW: -- tomorrow to talk to us about any of it. Let me ask you this, last week you voted against the Shield Act.
And you know what that is, that is legislation that would require American politicians -- American political campaigns to alert the FBI and the Federal Elections Commission of any elicit offers of election help from foreign nationals. Why did you vote to appose that?
YOHO: Because it didn't focus on the right things. It didn't focus on the thing that this was all brought out about was Russian collusion and interference. It didn't really focus on that. And we saw it as a political stunt on the Democratic side.
HARLOW: What do you mean--
YOHO: And I just--
HARLOW: What do you mean it didn't focus on that and it's a political stunt? What it would do is require campaigns to alert the FBI and the FEC if there was any attempt even of foreign election interference. How is that a political stunt?
YOHO: Because it didn't go after what was going on on the internet and that's where we really have to focus, is what's going on on the internet. All that stuff behind the scenes that swayed people to vote or not vote. And that'll be found out in the future in future elections.
This didn't really address that and I thought it was something that was a bill that looks good on the surface but when you get into it, it really didn't accomplish what it was designed to do and that is interference from foreign governments in the process.
HARLOW: So are you proposing legislation that does that instead?
YOHO: I am not at this point, no.
HARLOW: OK. Congressman Ted Yoho, you have a busy day. I'll let you get into that deposition--
YOHO: We do.
HARLOW: Thank you.
YOHO: We'll see you later.
SCIUTTO: You know, they have the opportunity.
HARLOW: Well, he's going. He's going.
SCIUTTO: He's going now. But lodge the complaints about an unfair process before taking advantage of the opportunity to ask hard questions. I'm glad you asked the question.
HARLOW: He can come back tomorrow. We would like to have him back.
SCIUTTO: Sure, absolutely a good point. Come back after you've had a chance to question.
Just days after death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the president says that another top ISIS terrorist by U.S. forces. We're going to have details on those news straight ahead.