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Decorated Army Officer Is Compelled To Testify Against His Commander-in-Chief; Why Identity Of Military Dog In ISIS Operation Remains Secret. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired October 29, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. This Impeachment Inquiry has now come to this. This active duty incredibly decorated Army officer is compelled to testify against his Commander-in-Chief today. This is what's expected from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman as he goes before three House committees today, arriving there on Capitol Hill in full uniform.
A copy of his opening statement reveals Vindman was so disturbed by the pressure President Trump was putting on Ukraine to conduct those political investigations that Vindman himself reported it not just once, but twice, first on July 10, and then that now infamous phone call on July 25. And as Vindman's words, possibly the biggest blow to the President's defense, the President and his allies are counterpunching with accusations not supported by a grain of evidence.
Trump has referred to this man as a never Trumper. Others question if Vindman is a spy. But the 44-year-old man's life story shows how much Vindman has put America first earning a Purple Heart while serving in Iraq after fleeing the Soviet Union as a toddler to the United States.
Now, he is the White House's top expert on Ukraine, and his statement today clarifies that he has had no direct communication with President Trump, that he is not the whistleblower who exposed this whole Ukraine scandal. But what adds to his credibility here is that Vindman was actually listening in to that critical July 25 phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.
And the Colonel's opening statement is as follows. Let me read it for you. 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 that if Ukraine pursued investigation into the Biden's and into 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."
So let's start with Manu Raju, our senior congressional correspondent up on Capitol Hill. And so tell me more about his testimony and apparently some tense moments in questioning with Republicans.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we even heard that there was a shouting match between some of the members behind closed doors during this testimony as Republicans were questioning Vindman. Democrats objected. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee objected and told the witness that he did not have to answer questions. Why? Because Democrats contended that the Republicans were trying to out the whistleblower.
They said the line of questioning that Republicans were buying down was an effort to ultimately identify the whistleblower by going through essentially a process of elimination of people that he may have spoken with during his time where he was raising concerns about the call the President had with the President of Ukraine.
Of course, the whistleblower's complaint is central to this investigation and actually was what drove this investigation in the first place and the President and his allies have long criticized the whistleblower, have asked for the whistleblower to come forward, have asked this person to testify.
Now, Republicans are pushing back. They are saying that they were not trying to identify the whistleblower and Jim Jordan just moments ago contended that Adam Schiff should not have intervened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Democrats are -- Democrats are saying that you're trying to -- Republicans are trying to out the whistleblower in this.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): No. We're trying to get information out and Adam Schiff won't let the witness answer questions, even though his attorney is right there. His attorney can object. The idea that we want to know who this individual may have communicated with, that's important information and the idea that -- during hour, our counsels asking questions, and Adam Schiff tells the witness not to answer our questions is completely ridiculous and it's why this should be in public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So the back and forth led to a heated exchange we're told between Mark Meadows, the Republican sits on the committee as well as the Democrat, Eric Swalwell about all of this, but this came right before they went to break.
So you've seen how this has gone behind closed doors, a glimpse of how this has gone behind closed doors as Vindman provided some significant testimony that Democrats believe or feel that their impeachment is pushed by another person, raising concerns about the President's actions in pushing the Ukrainian government to investigate his rivals at the same time as aid was being withheld to that country -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: All right, Manu, thank you so much. Let us know when you hear more from behind those closed doors. Colonel Vindman's testimony isn't just damning by the way to the President. It also directly contradicts the words of EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor turned Ambassador who was directly called out by Vindman for quote unquote, "inappropriate statements" regarding Ukraine and political investigations.
So for that piece of this, Alexander Marquardt is with me just to -- show us, Alexander how these testimonies clash?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, really the main reason that we think Vindman is going to be so credible and effective at dismantling what Gordon Sondland has said is that this is not just a case of two conflicting accounts. He said, he said if you will.
Vindman is really the latest in a string of longtime apolitical -- and that's important -- career officials who have testified that Sondland made clear in a July 10 meeting in Washington, that in order for President Zelensky of Ukraine, the recently inaugurated President to meet with President Trump, Ukraine would have to, ad Vindman, put it today deliver the investigations.
Vindman says in his opening statement that quote, "Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Biden's and Burisma," Brooke, that of course is the energy company that Hunter Biden was on the board.
In Sondland's version, he says, "I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage investigation into the Biden's." But as I was saying, Vindman's statement echoes what others have said including Dr. Fiona Hill in what she told the committee.
Now, she is a former top Russia expert in the White House. She stepped down in July. She was also in that July 10th meeting, and she testified that Ambassador Sondland brought up the investigations as well. And then there's Ambassador Bill Taylor. He is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine still now, and he said that he was told the same thing about the meeting.
Now, in Vindman's statement, he goes on to say Ambassador Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, at which time Ambassador Bolton -- that's the former National Security adviser, John Bolton -- he cut the meeting short. Dr. Fiona Hill, then enter the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.
Again, Sondland's version is, "If Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later." Now, Brooke, not only does what Gordon Sondland say run counter to the testimonies of Vindman and Hill who were in that meeting, but they felt it was so outrageous what he did, that they went to the National Security Council lawyers to report it -- Brooke. BALDWIN: That's right. The lead counsel in the N.S.C., not just that
July 10th moment, but then of course later after the phone call July 25th. Alex, thank you very much. Let's analyze all of this. Dana Bash is CNN's chief political correspondent and Kelly Magsamen served on the National Security Council for Bush 43 and Obama administrations. She is now with the Center for American Progress.
So ladies, let's dig right in. Dana, just starting with you, we hit this a bit off the top, but I really want you to underscore -- Vindman's character maybe unparalleled so far in this whole inquiry. So talk to me more about his background and how that speaks to who he is.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, he is a military officer, and he not only is that, he was an infantryman. He was in the Army and was serving in the Iraq War when he was injured because of a roadside bomb and he got the Purple Heart after that incident.
He, after that worked and started to work in the National Security space and policy. He worked for the Joint Chiefs. And then, of course, most recently at the White House in the National Security Council. He is not unusual in that way. A lot of people who work in the National Security Council are members of the military, and he was coming at this and is coming at this from that perspective, which is why he talked about his patriotism.
He talked about the fact that he didn't have to say it like this, but the implication what he was saying is, I'm not a partisan. I'm not a deep stater. I'm somebody who is a military lifer through and through, and that is how I'm coming at this. And those were the ears with which I was listening to this conversation.
BALDWIN: Yes. So that is the perspective from which he comes, Kelly. So given his character and the fact that Vindman is the first person now to testify who was actually on that July 25th phone call. He's saying he was -- his word from this opening statement -- concerned that this would all undermine U.S. National Security, and then he reported it to the N.S.C.'s lead Council. How damning is that?
KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER N.S.C. STAFF MEMBER: I think it's very damning. And actually, to add on to Dana's very good points. You know, he is an active duty Army officer and he therefore is actually obliged to report wrongdoing through his chain of command if he sees it. So he didn't really even have an option. So I think that's an important thing for folks to understand that the military code of ethics is very important here.
So he is going to be a very credible witness as it relates to the contents of the call, the contents of the discussions with Ambassador Sondland.
The other piece of this too is that I think the fact that he felt compelled enough to go to the N.S.C. lawyers to report this wrongdoing is really important. And actually, it could potentially lead to some sort of paper trail, because usually if an N.S.C. lawyer received some sort of ethics complaint like that, they're going to have to document it in some way. So I'll be interested to see whether or not the N.S.C. legal advisor actually took action on the reports of Vindman.
BALDWIN: Not just once, but twice going to those lawyers, twice in the month of July, and then Kelly just staying with you because as Alex Marquardt was pointing out, you know, Vindman directly contradicts what members of Congress heard from Ambassador Sondland.
So here's one case. Vindman says in his opening statement, that quote, "Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Biden's and Burisma." And yet, this is what Sondland testified. Quote, "I recall no discussions with any state department or White House official about former Vice President Biden or son nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Biden's."
The -- I don't recall -- we've heard that different movie same phrase before. I mean, how much trouble Kelly, could Sondland be in legally speaking?
MAGSAMEN: Yes, I think you know, it's really important. Because, you know, Ambassador Sondland is going to have to come back, I think, to Congress, and again, once again, clarify his testimony. And I think that Vindman is going to be proved to be very credible actor. He cannot lie in front of Congress. There's a separate military code of justice that goes along with that.
So I think Ambassador Sondland is in real trouble. I think this does point to a quid pro quo, and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is going to prove a credible witness.
BALDWIN: So Dana, as far as Republican reaction to all of this today, you know, to hear from former Republican congressman, Sean Duffy, go after him this morning, for you know where he was from, that he speaks Ukrainian or a host over on, you know where -- over on Fox -- you know, accusing him last night of espionage. Like, how low can they go?
BASH: Well, I think you just maybe answered your own question. Right? And maybe the other way to answer that is to see and hear how some of the few Republicans who dare to speak out are doing so.
Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney this morning, the number three Republican in the House and the number two Republican in the Senate who has been more out there in, you know, in his concerns about how all of this is going down, John Thune, our Ted Barrett talked to him and he said, I don't question his patriotism. And he said, he has got a Purple Heart, and I think it would be a mistake to attack his patriotism.
And one other note, I noticed that Sean Duffy, since his appearance this morning on this network looks like he is trying to clean it up on Twitter said -- said this morning, "I salute Mr. Vindman's service. My point is that he is an unelected adviser. He gives advice." So maybe other their networks where they're running those conspiracy theories, they don't have anybody to push back on them. You know, that's kind of going into the Zeitgeist, but not always.
BALDWIN: Got you, Dana, Kelly, thank you both very much on all of that, as we were just discussing, as some Republicans and Fox News questioned this man's patriotism, I'll talk live with a veteran and someone who knows Vindman to respond.
Plus a former Navy SEAL who trained these military dogs joins me to discuss the operation over the weekend that killed the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and why the dog's identity needs to remain classified.
And the family of a British teen killed in that crash involving an American diplomat's wife will now sue the Trump administration for this alleged cover up. Stay here. You're watching CNN I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. Today's witness in the House Impeachment Inquiry Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman showed up to his testimony wearing his full Army uniform. Despite his 20 years of service in the military, including earning a Purple Heart, conservative TV analysts are questioning his character and even his patriotism for raising concerns about President Trump's behavior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: Here we have a U.S. National Security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House, apparently against the President's interest, and usually they spoke in English. Isn't that kind of an interesting angle on this story?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I find that astounding and, you know, some people might call that espionage.
SEAN DUFFY, CNN COMMENTATOR: He is a former Ukrainian, he wants to make sure that taxpayer money goes to military aid to Ukraine. He is entitled to that decision.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: I'm sorry, sir. Why does it matter -- I'm sorry, Congressman Duffy, why does it matter where -- because that came out on Fox News.
DUFFY: I am going to explain that to you.
BERMAN: He's an active duty military member, an American. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
DUFFY: You know, I'm of Irish descent. I still love the Irish, and he has an affinity probably for his homeland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: But today, Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney called those comments shameful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line and it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation and we should not be involved in that process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: My next guest knows Colonel Vindman and his twin brother, Joseph Moreno is with me. He is former National Security prosecutor. He's a decorated combat veteran and has served on active duty as a military prosecutor in Europe, in the Middle East and Africa.
So Joe is always a pleasure to have you. Welcome back. I just first want to start with Colonel Vindman. You know the man. Tell me about him. Tell me about his character and his patriotism.
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: Brooke, it's beyond reproach. And I've got to tell you, I mean, normally I come on your show as an outside analysts looking into an issue. This was personal for me.
BALDWIN: Right. It is personal.
MORENO: It is personal. I mean, Colonel Vindman has had an incredible life story and amazing military career. And the two attacks that really jumped out at me as especially egregious, one was from the President himself, calling him a never Trumper because that implies that he is political, and that he cannot separate his military service from his politics. And that is so contrary to the core of military service.
The second are these attacks from Fox News and others that implied that because he's of Ukrainian descent, he cannot distinguish loyalty to the Ukraine and loyalty to the United States. That is also so offensive, and it's so contrary to military service in general, and so offensive to Colonel Vindman personally.
BALDWIN: But tell me about the man himself.
MORENO: I mean, amazing story. He grew up in New York, Brooklyn. I mean, he climbed into the highest ranks of the military, super well- respected, a master of his craft. He is put in that place because he knows his job, his language skills, his cultural skills, his military bearing. The fact that he has had a wide variety of military assignments.
I mean, he is exactly what we tout as the best and brightest in our Army and our military in general. To attack him is so, so disappointing.
BALDWIN: And there's been a lot of side conversations about the fact that he showed up this morning on Capitol Hill in full Army dress, why do you think he did that?
MORENO: I mean, it's appropriate. He is appearing in his capacity as a military officer. If he was appearing as a civilian, he'd be in a business suit like I'm in. But the fact is that that's the capacity in which he is testifying. And it's absolutely appropriate. That is our business uniform when we are conducting military business. So it's exactly, exactly the bearing you would want to see from a military officer who is free from politics.
BALDWIN: I just wanted you to point that out. And just the fact, Joe, that he is this highly decorated Army veteran having to speak out against his own Commander-in-Chief who, as you point out, has called him a never Trumper. What must that be like for him?
MORENO: I mean, Brooke, I mean, as a Judge Advocate in the military, we counsel, every soldier, every service member that if you see something wrong, you speak up about it, right? You don't just keep your head down and follow orders.
And what Colonel Vindman has done is exactly what he is supposed to do. He used his chain of command. He raised concerns and when he was subpoenaed, he appeared for his testimony. He didn't leak. He didn't write something anonymous in "The New York Times," right? He did what he was supposed to do. And I think he deserves immense credit.
And one more thing, he can't publicly defend himself. He has to go back to work tonight. He has an army career ahead of him, and he cannot go on Twitter. And he cannot go on television and defend himself against these attacks, which makes it even more egregious.
BALDWIN: Right. But he has friends like you who can. Joseph Moreno, thank you very much.
MORENO: Thanks, Brooke. Any time.
BALDWIN: Appreciate it. Some emotional moments on Capitol Hill today, family members of those killed in at 737, those MAX crashes confront Boeing's CEO. You hear his apology for yourself.
And new details about that hero dog injured in the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, how do you train a canine to take a risk like that, a military canine trainer will join me live, next.
BALDWIN: In the aftermath of the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an unexpected hero has emerged, the canine who is a member of the Army Delta Force which executed this mission. It is believed who have been sent into the tunnel where Baghdadi was hiding after it was feared that he was wearing a suicide vest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We're not releasing the name of the dog right now. The dog is still in theater. The dog, the K-9, military working dog performed a tremendous services as they all do in a variety of situations, slightly wounded and fully recovering. But the dog is still in theater returning to duty with its handler.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: While we may not have a name, we do have the photo, this one which was tweeted out by the President himself and the K9 who Trump described as beautiful and talented now officially has an invitation to the White House.
Mike Ritland is a former Navy SEAL who served as a warfare multipurpose K9 trainer. He is also the founder of the Warrior Dog Foundation, which provides a place for the retirement and rehabilitation of Special Ops and Law Enforcement K9.
So Mike, awesome work you are doing. It is a pleasure to have you on and thank you so much for your service to this great country.
MIKE RITLAND, FORMER NAVY SEAL: It's an honor, Brooke. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
BALDWIN: So the Pentagon isn't giving up a ton of details, but experts say that this is a Belgian Malinois, the very same breed that was used in the bin Laden raid? So you tell me like what specific traits that makes this breed so well-suited for military duty and how do they find these dogs?
RITLAND: Sure. So the first question that's really about genetics, frankly.