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House Releases Text of Impeachment Rules; U.S. Colonel Delivers Damaging Testimony Against President Trump; Interview With Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired October 29, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Kushner also weighed in on impeachment, Brooke.
And he did slam impeachment as silly games that the Democrats are playing, and insisted that the Trump administration is going to continue to stay focused on the work that it's doing.
Of course, we should refer Mr. Kushner to the president's Twitter feed for that, where he is very much focused on this impeachment matter -- Brooke.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Jeremy, thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BALDWIN: You are watching CNN on this Tuesday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being here.
This impeachment inquiry has now come to this. An active-duty decorated Army officer is compelled to testify against his own commander in chief.
This is what is expected from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman as he goes before three House committees today, arriving there 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 reported it not once, but twice, both on July 10 and July 25, up to National Security Council lawyers.
July 25, of course, was also the date of that critical phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart. Vindman was also on that call. He was listening in.
And this is what he said this morning in his opening statement. I will read it for you.
He said: "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."
And as Vindman's words deal possibly the biggest blow to the president's defense, the president and his allies are punching back with accusations, without a grain of proof.
Trump has called him a never-Trumper. Others questioned if this colonel is a spy.
We will talk much more about the just shameful attacks on this man.
But, first, let's go to Capitol Hill and CNN's Lauren Fox.
Lauren, in addition to this back and forth, this testimony, it's my understanding there was some tense moments, maybe even some shouting behind closed doors regarding Republicans?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Brooke.
Behind closed doors, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had to stop a line of questioning from Republicans who Democrats said were trying to get the bottom of who this whistle-blower was. They were trying to use both front-door and backdoor means, according to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat who was behind closed doors in this deposition, to try to figure out who the whistle-blower was.
And Republicans are saying they have a right to know who this person is, even as some of them, including Meadows said, that was not his intention.
But things got pretty tense, with Mark Meadows getting into a shouting match with one of the Democrats behind closed doors. And I think that just shows the tension that is existing at this moment.
As you know, Republicans have been arguing for some time now that this process is unfair, and the fact that it's all happening behind closed doors isn't fair, the fact that there hasn't been that formal vote on the floor to open an impeachment inquiry is unfair, but all of that spilling over today, as Democrats coming out very concerned about the fact that Republicans were trying to get to the bottom of understanding who Vindman had talked to and whether or not he had given any information to someone like the whistle-blower -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: We will talk to a congresswoman who was in the room for much of this.
Lauren, thank you.
Before he spoke of raising the alarm, ringing the alarm regarding the president, Army Colonel -- Lieutenant Colonel Vindman talked about his beginnings as an immigrant to the United States when he was really young.
Let me read a little bit more from his opening statement. He said this: "The privilege of serving my country is not only rooted in my military service, but also in my personal history. I sit here as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, an immigrant. My family fled the Soviet Union when I was three-and-a-half years old. Upon arriving in New York City in 1979, my father worked multiple jobs to support us, all the while learning English at night. And he stressed to us importance of fully integrating into our adopted country.
"For many years, life was quite difficult. In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American dream."
And Sheryl Gay Stolberg is the White House correspondent for "The New York Times," who wrote this incredible profile piece on him revealing that he has a twin, whose brother is a lawyer for the National Security Council and works across from him at the White House.
So, Sheryl, thank you so much for joining me.
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I'm happy to be here.
Quick correction. I'm actually the congressional correspondent, a former White House correspondent.
BALDWIN: Forgive me. You have worn all these hats. So I'm giving you a lot of credit for that.
BALDWIN: We know that he goes on to talk about how life was difficult. And he has quite the backstory.
So, will you just tell us a little bit more about the lieutenant colonel's childhood?
GAY STOLBERG: So, it really is an amazing story, a uniquely American story, I would say.
Alexander Vindman and his twin brother, Yevgeny, fled Kiev with their father and their grandmother and their older brother in 1979. They had almost nothing. They left with their suitcases and $750.
And the reason their mother wasn't there was that their mother had died in Ukraine. And they came to New York really looking for a better life. As you read from the testimony, the elder Vindman took multiple jobs. He struggled to learn English. And he really instilled in his sons, all of them, a love of this country.
And they all grew up to pursue military paths. And both Alexander and his brother, Yevgeny, entered the Army. And both are lieutenant colonels.
And I should say that Alexander won a Purple Heart. He was wounded in Iraq. He's a combat veteran, not only that, with a Harvard degree, a graduate degree in Russian and Eurasian studies from Harvard.
BALDWIN: Wow. His parents did something right, obviously, with both of the -- with both of the boys.
I know you quote this photographer, Sheryl, who chronicled Vindman and his twin. And she said this to you. I will just quote from your piece.
"'They say nothing,' Ms. Kitman said, when asked if the two had revealed their views about Mr. Trump. They're very smart, and they're very discreet."
Why did -- why is that important in this broader conversation?
GAY STOLBERG: Well, I think it's very important, because, as you said, President Trump and some of his allies are trying to discredit Alexander Vindman.
The president tweeted this morning, calling him a never-Trumper. We really don't have any evidence of that. As Carol Kitman told me, they are very discreet. They never revealed to her their views about President Trump.
And so I think it goes to his integrity as a witness and as somebody who is nonpartisan in this situation.
Sheryl, thank you very much, Sheryl Stolberg, on Capitol Hill.
Let's broaden the conversation.
Jamie Gangel is a CNN special correspondent. And Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst.
And so, really, Sheryl outlined his past, his childhood, the difficulty in the younger years, being in the U.S. how he's such a patriot, went, fought in Iraq, had the -- has the Purple Heart, the IED blast and everything else.
So here he is testifying, doing his duty, right? And when you hear the likes of former Congressman Sean Duffy on our own network, who I know is walking it back a bit on Twitter, criticizing him saying, well, look at where he's from, and he speaks Ukrainian, or a certain host on another network criticizing him...
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sean, used the word -- I have known Sean a long time.
GANGEL: And he knows better. What he said this morning, he said that he had an affinity for Ukraine. And the implication was there. And I'm glad to see he's walking it back, because, as you said, it's shameful.
And you have seen Republicans now come out, Liz Cheney, congresswoman from Wyoming.
BALDWIN: We have a sound bite, actually.
BALDWIN: Let's listen to her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (D-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)
GANGEL: And, shortly after, Senator John Thune came out and said something. Senator Mitt Romney came out and said something.
And the GOP leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who doesn't often come forward, said -- quote -- "I'm not going to question the patriotism of any of the people coming forward."
I think that this is critical. It is not surprising. When Donald Trump is under attack, he attacks. So he did this tweet about never- Trump, but it is simply not appropriate.
BALDWIN: Thank you for saying that.
And over to you, sir, just on the legal bit. His testimony is so significant, because he is the first person to have testified he was actually on that July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, and the fact that was actually the second time after that call that he rang the NSC lawyers, because he deemed the conversation inappropriate.
So how damning is that testimony?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's very substantial testimony. And it's very damning.
And you have to remember that testifying or -- under oath before Congress is a crime. It's a crime of perjury, and, as a matter of fact, even not being under oath, you can be convicted of lying to Congress.
So this is -- this is critical testimony. And you now have at least two witnesses who seemed to say that Ambassador Sondland...
BALDWIN: Bill Taylor.
CALLAN: ... might have misspoke, to say the least, when he testified about this.
BALDWIN: I mean, I don't have to read the transcript for you. Bottom line, we have examples.
And if we want to throw them up on the screen, we can, of what Colonel Vindman is saying vs. E.U. Ambassador Sondland is saying. It's a direct contradiction.
And so we know that some members of Congress want to haul Sondland back up to the Hill to re-question him. How much trouble could he be in?
CALLAN: Well, it's a five-year felony that he would face if he were found guilty of lying to Congress or lying under oath to Congress.
It rarely happens. In modern times, I think about six people have been charged with lying to Congress. Some of the more famous ones have been Michael Cohen, Caspar Weinberger, who was secretary of defense. He was pardoned, ultimately, for that crime.
And there also have -- the other person was also H.R. Haldeman, who, of course, was in the Nixon administration. He went to prison as a result of having lied to Congress.
BALDWIN: So he just brought up Bill Taylor.
BALDWIN: And I just wanted to ask you, because I know you're constantly on the phone with various members of Congress at all times.
And it's also Bill Taylor's testimony that's really reverberated along the halls on Capitol Hill, right? Like, what are you hearing?
And I think Colonel Vindman has added to that in a geometric way. I happened to be on the phone last night with a Republican source when the story broke about his testimony, and I started reading part of it to the source. And the person gasped on the other end of the phone.
GANGEL: The Republicans have been complaining about process. And they have been complaining about process because the substance doesn't look too good.
And Colonel Vindman is the first White House official to testify, and he is a firsthand witness. He was on that call. This is not good for Donald Trump, and the Republicans know it.
BALDWIN: Jamie and Paul, thank you very much.
Coming up next, I will be joined live by Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus, who was in the room for today's testimony. We will have her weigh in on whether Republicans were trying to out to this whistle- blower.
Plus, fascinating new details today about how the U.S. and its Kurdish allies actually managed to track down the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, even getting a DNA sample of his. So we will talk to a retired soldier who spent years trying to hunt down Baghdadi.
And, later, the Biden campaign fires back at this "New Yorker" piece describing his political operation as the zombie campaign. We will have the author of that piece, Olivia Nuzzi, joining me to explain what she meant by that.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.
BALDWIN: President Trump has tried to undermine the whistle-blower at the center of this House impeachment inquiry, saying that he only has -- quote, unquote -- "secondhand information."
But, today, lawmakers are hearing from a man with firsthand knowledge of the call with Ukraine's president, because he was on the call. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is a current national security official, active-duty military man also, who raised concerns to his supervisors after that conversation.
And one of the lawmakers who has been questioning or listening to Vindman's testimony today is Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus. She is on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
And so, Congresswoman Titus, thank you so much for being with me.
REP. DINA TITUS (D-NV): Thank you.
BALDWIN: If you could please, just stand by.
We're getting some news that I have a feeling you know all about ahead of the big vote on Tuesday. So, forgive me.
Let's go to Lauren Fox, our congressional reporter, with some news.
Lauren, what do you have?
FOX: Well, what we're learning is now this text of the resolution that the House of Representatives are going to vote on Thursday related to how they are going to move forward with this impeachment inquiry has been released by the Rules Committee.
And a few takeaways. We're still reading through exactly what's inside of this. But one of the key takeaways is, this expands minority rights. It allows Republicans to request testimony and documents, with consultation from the chairman. If the chairman objects, then it would go to a full vote of the committee.
As you know, this is a Democratic House of Representatives, meaning Democrats are in control. They have the votes to win those tie- breakers. But that's just one piece of this.
It also makes it very clear that the Intelligence Committee is going to produce a report out of their investigation into this allegation that the president was using his office to advance his own political means. Then there's also some guidance that this will set up the ability for the committees to release the transcripts of these depositions. And, of course, that was the plan all along, but just puts into writing the plans moving forward for how exactly they're going to go into the next steps of this impeachment inquiry -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: OK, Lauren, thank you.
Congresswoman Titus, back over to you.
I was actually just handed, as I have been on television, this eight- page resolution.
Why don't you fill us in? Can you just tell us a little bit more about what I have here?
TITUS: Well, I haven't studied it either, because it just came out.
But I think it sets up the rules for the next stage of the investigation, just when it will -- it will become public. It will go to the Judiciary Committee eventually, when the report comes out of Intelligence.
It's pretty much the same procedure that has been followed in previous impeachment proceedings.
BALDWIN: OK. And I will come back to the big vote on Thursday in a second.
But the reason why we have you on, you were in the room, right?
So what did Colonel Vindman say about why he was so concerned when he was listening into that July 25 phone call? What stood out to you?
TITUS: Well, I can't talk about what actually went on in the room.
But you can tell from the public testimony that he was upset enough to twice notify his chain of command. And he is a decorated military officer. So, he respects that chain of command.
He was uncomfortable with what he was hearing on the telephone conversation, that, "We need a favor, though," from the president's own words, that he reported it at the time.
BALDWIN: And you point out his background, military man, highly decorated, Purple Heart recipient.
Do you find him -- and I ask you this because some of his testimony directly contradicts what you all heard from the E.U. ambassador, Gordon Sondland. Do you find Colonel Vindman credible?
He is a man who is loyal to this country, not to any particular administration. And that's what led him to this point. The president has tried to surround himself with all these yes-men and people who do his bidding, his chief of staff and maybe the -- Sondland.
But this is a military man who cares about the country. And he was brave enough to step forward, despite the White House saying, don't go and testify.
BALDWIN: So, then, Congresswoman Titus, are you concerned that the E.U. ambassador might have perjured himself?
TITUS: He might have. And it might be up to Chairman Schiff to call him back. We will see if that's necessary.
But, right now, this is just additional information.
TITUS: We got the president saying it himself, the charge d'affaires saying it, the chief of staff saying it. He undermined our elections. He threatened our national security.
Even by Republican standards, this is a whole lot worse than a blue dress.
BALDWIN: Hmm. Hmm.
Congresswoman, we're also hearing, just from our own reporting on the Hill, that there was some shouting behind closed doors between a certain Republican and a Democrat over questions to the colonel.
The concern, apparently, from your party, was that these Republicans were trying to out the whistle-blower.
Can you characterize that back and forth for me?
TITUS: Well, it gets a little testy in there.
And the chairman has said that, above all else, we will protect the identity of the whistle-blower, for that person's own safety. And that's the way it should be.
So, if the Republicans are trying to narrow down the list, so they can figure out who it is, we're just not going to let that happen.
BALDWIN: That is -- so, your takeaway was that they were trying to out the whistle-blower; is that correct?
TITUS: It is correct.
We have heard a number of Republicans, most recently, the Senate majority leader, coming out, not questioning the colonel's patriotism, and, before him, other Republicans, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney.
But, that said, certain conservatives have said this. TITUS: Well, you can question anybody who is an immigrant, I guess.
BALDWIN: Just one moment, Congresswoman. I just want to -- in case people haven't seen this, let's play the clip.
TITUS: Oh, sorry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: 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?
JOHN YOO, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I find that astounding. And some people might call that espionage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: What -- Congresswoman, what would you like to say to those critics?
TITUS: Well, I just think it's awful.
And you say that -- I guess it's a reflection of their anti-immigrant position. This is someone who came when he was 2 years old, decorated war hero. His twin brother is the head of the Ethics Division in the NSC. Nobody's more vetted than they are.
This is just like -- once again, they have no defense of the president, so they just want to blame the messenger.
BALDWIN: Let's just turn to Thursday's big vote. We know that Republicans have been attacking your party, specifically on process, that this impeachment inquiry and all the testimony has been hush-hush behind closed doors.
But by opening it up, do you think Republicans will lose ground with that argument? And why do you think it's beneficial for the American public to see this for themselves?
TITUS: Well, they're never going to be satisfied, no matter what we do, because they are in the room, they have equal time, they're able to answer questions.
And this is no different from how it's been done in the past. You have the secret testimony, but that's just so that the witnesses can't trade off on each other's -- what they say and get their stories straight, so to speak.
It will go to the public. The transcript will go to the public. And, also, it's a chance to keep it from turning into a circus. And we think that's what the Republicans will do. We're trying to get at the truth. They're trying to have a political sideshow.
BALDWIN: But what about the American people? Why is it important for them to see this play out themselves?
TITUS: I think they will see it play out. They will see all the evidence presented.
We're trying to make the best case possible. That's why it's taken so long and we're being so deliberative, not just for the American people, but also to present to the Senate.
BALDWIN: Congresswoman Titus, thank you.
TITUS: Thank you.
BALDWIN: More on this breaking news this afternoon, Democrats posting the text of this resolution on the next steps forward in this impeachment inquiry.