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CNN RIGHT NOW
White House Official Testifies He Raised Concerns About Trump's Ukraine Call; Fox And Some GOP Question Patriotism Of Purple Heart Recipient. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired October 29, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, he is the first current White House official and the first person actually on the Ukraine call to testify in the impeachment inquiry, and this decorated army officer tells Congress why the president's actions alarmed him.
Plus, the president's Republican defenders questioning that officer's patriotism because he wasn't born in the USA, even though he was awarded a purple heart fighting for America.
And while maintaining the secrecy of the identity of the dog that helped take down one of the world's most wanted terrorists is an issue of national security.
And after Facebook says it will allow false political ads, one California man says he will now run for office purposely spreading lies to force the tech giant to reverse course. He will join us live.
We begin with what could very well be the most damning testimony yet in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Right now, House investigators are hearing from a current White House official, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
Vindman was on the July 25th call between President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky. And according to his opening statement obtained by CNN, he was so alarmed by what he heard, he alerted his superiors twice.
He writes, quote, I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine.
I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained. This would all undermine U.S. national security.
Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. And, Manu, tell us what more we're learning about this testimony today.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're actually hearing about some tense moments that just occurred behind closed doors with Alexander Vindman. We're told that Democrats, namely the chairman, Adam Schiff, objected to a line of questioning from Republicans that the Democrats contended was an effort to out the whistleblower, the whistleblower, of course, who made that initial complaint about the president's actions that have now led to this impeachment inquiry.
And according to multiple sources from both parties, Schiff objected as Republicans were asking questions about who Mr. Vindman spoke with and raising names of certain individuals. They contend it potentially could be an effort to out the whistleblower.
Now, Republicans pushed backed, we're told. They said they were simply just asking questions about who he spoke with as part of their own line of questioning. Mark Meadows, one of the Republicans who was in the room just emerged moments ago, and I asked him if this is part of an effort to out the whistleblower, he denied that. He said the Democratic claims are, quote, not accurate, he's simply just asking questions. He said he's not -- they said the Republicans are not on any sort of fishing expedition.
But this shows -- underscores the level of tension right now in the room between Democrats and Republicans over this testimony, which is rather revealing, that reveals new concerns being raised by a member of the White House staff, someone who listened in on the president's July phone call, someone who had reported concerns that the president was seeking investigations into his political rivals, worried that that could undermine national security and bipartisan support from Ukraine.
But this moment just now just happened right before they adjourned for lunch as the Republicans said they were asking questions, Democrats said it's all part of a larger effort to out the whistleblower as the president himself has said that he deserves to question the whistleblower himself or herself. And we are also hearing that the whistleblower is unlikely to come testify before this committee. And this comes amid what's expected to be a full day of rather contentious testimony. Brianna?
KEILAR: A very important day on Capitol Hill. Manu Raju, thank you.
And joining me now to discuss is former Chief Democratic Council for the House Judiciary Committee, Julian Epstein. We have impeachment attorney Ross Garber and former Senior National Security Adviser under President Obama Samantha Vinograd.
And, first, Sam, if we could just -- I mean, you were a director on the NSC before you were a senior adviser, a director for Iraq. And so tell us sort of what Vindman's role would have been in this phone call? What is the normal role?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the bottom line at front, Brianna, as much as President Trump is trying to smear on Vindman is Vindman is a man out of all of the Americans that were qualified for this job that the president's team entrusted to advance U.S. national security vis-a-vis Ukraine.
And according to his testimony, Vindman assessed that President Trump was undermining it. Vindman's role was not just to listen to phone calls.
Vindman's role was to liaise with people at the State Department, at the Pentagon, in the vice president's office, the OMB, to talk about the full range of instruments that could be used to achieve U.S. national security objectives vis-a-vis Ukraine, and, Brianna, to engage with Ukrainian officials.
In just a written testimony that we have, he's laid out more potential witnesses and more potential documents. He's talked about engagements with the Ukrainians. He talked about a memorandum for the record that he filed because of his concerns.
And at this point, I think investigators are going to want to follow up on that, again, keeping in mind that this is someone who is still in the White House. He is still privy to whatever the White House is doing to try to potentially obstruct this investigation.
KEILAR: Ross, put into context how important this testimony is today.
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So I think one of the most significant things in addition to what Sam just outlined is that he raised alarm bells. He told people that he thought what was going on was wrong. So two key things, one is he thought what was going on was wrong, and two, he told people.
Now, the question I have now is where did these concerns sort of wind up? Did anybody wind up telling the president, hey, look, this is a big problem, it's a big for these reasons, how high up did it get? But this testimony is important because it shows that everything wasn't totally -- people weren't totally blase about it, people didn't just think this was totally fine.
KEILAR: How did this affect the overall impeachment inquiry, Julian?
JULIAN EPSTEIN, FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL FOR HOUSE DEMOCRATS DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT : Well, I think to Ross' point and Sam's point, the reason why it was so important is because these were contemporaneous accounts, these were accounts that occurred while the phone call or right after the phone call occurred, which lends credibility to it.
I think what Adam Schiff is doing is what any good prosecutor does, which works from -- you work from the outside-in. So they've started with the diplomatic corps, then the State Department, now going inside the White House.
All of the testimony confirms the basic thesis, that the president was exchanging a national security favor -- a national security decision for a personal favor. And that -- another word for that is called bribery. And I think any lying prosecutor could get, based on the evidence we have right now, could get an indictment on a bribery charge.
And so I think what they're doing is building a very, very methodical case. Now, we go to the next phase soon, which I think will be a public phase, in which the minority in the Republicans and the White House will get certain procedural rights (ph) probably more than we had in 1998. But I think we'll move to that phase.
The question always on impeachment is can you persuade the middle third of the country. So in 1998, the Republicans lost the debate with the middle third of the country. Right now, the middle third is kind of on the fence, right about 50-50. The question is can Adam Schiff and the Democrats and those who believe the president should be impeached because of impeachable conduct here, the question is can they make the case publicly to get more closely to the 60 percent mark.
KEILAR: How important is hearing John Bolton, the former national security adviser to the president, how important is that testimony to convincing Americans?
VINOGRAD: I think Bolton's testimony is key. Like Vindman, like Senior Director Tim Morrison, who is scheduled to testify on Thursday, Bolton had a bird's eye view of everything that was going on at the White House. And unlike Vindman, who says he didn't have direct contact with the president, Bolton should have been in regular talk with the president and with the vice president about all of these issues.
One other key thing about Bolton is he should have been the person that followed up on those concerns that were raised for NSC lawyers. So Bolton would probably know if Chief of Staff Mulvaney stopped those concerns from going forward and would also not know why, reportedly, Bill Barr was left in the dark on all of this.
And that's, I think, going to be a big question for investigators because, again, Bolton had that bird's eye view of the instruments of U.S. power, quid pro quos that were established and any other efforts to extort or blackmail the Ukrainians.
KEILAR: What are your questions there, Ross?
GARBER: I've got tons of questions there, but the overarching one is will we actually hear from Mr. Bolton. I think there is a good chance we won't hear from him, and I don't think that's going to slow anything down. I think this process is going to keep moving on one way or the other, but I do think his testimony is going to be very important for all the reasons Sam just outlined. We want to know.
He reportedly thought there were problems here. Did he express those concerns to the president?
EPSTEIN: But John Bolton, to Sam's point, is somebody who is philosophically deep in the Trump camp. He is a true believer. VINOGRAD: And in charge of NSC staff. And so --
EPSTEIN: And in charge of it. And he referred to this as a, quote, unquote, drug deal.
KEILAR: I mean, he had differences, to be clear, on foreign policy with President Trump.
EPSTEIN: He had differences but he was in Trump's camp philosophically. He's a hardliner. He did have some differences but he did, overall, like the direction of Trump's hard line foreign policy and his isolationism. But he, again, is the person who referred to this as a drug deal.
So, again, I think as a factual matter, as a legal matter, the case is really overwhelming at this point.
I think, again, any line prosecutor could probably get an indictment on a bribery charge.
The question is, when they take this to the public process here in the Intelligence Committee or the Judiciary Committee, can they persuade that middle third? That's always the question with impeachment.
KEILAR: Julian, Ross, Sam, thank you so much to all of you for the discussion.
A Fox News anchor and some Republicans are questioning the patriotism of the Army lieutenant colonel testifying in the impeachment inquiry today, one calling the Purple Heart recipient's appointment to the National Security Council by the Trump White House a double agent.
Plus, since Facebook will allow false political ads, one man says he will run for office for the sole purpose of spreading lies to prove the Facebook policy is wrong. He's going to join me live.
And why that identity of the military dog at the center of the operation that killed the leader of ISIS will remain secret.
KEILAR: Right now on Capitol Hill, Republicans are facing one of their biggest tests of the impeachment inquiry. They're hearing from the first current White House official and the first person who was actually on the July 25th Ukraine call. That's Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who serves as a director on the National Security Council where his specialty was Ukraine.
He is testifying, according to his opening statement, that he was so troubled by President Trump pressuring Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter, that Vindman reported it to his superiors twice. Some GOP lawmakers, including the president himself have resorted to insulting Vindman by questioning his politics. Trump called him a never-Trumper, which is there is no basis for doing. And then other supporters of the president have resorted to insulting Col. Vindman in a much more vile way. Their questioning is patriotism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Here we ever 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've spoken English. Isn't that kind of an interesting angle on this story?
JOHN YOO, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: I find that astounding, and some people might call that espionage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Some who? No one who knows what they're talking about would call that espionage. It is literally Vindman's job to talk to Ukrainians. And the prevailing view on U.S. foreign policy is that money going to Ukraine is a counterbalance to Russia, a U.S. foe. It's pretty simple stuff, but not for former Republican Congressman and CNN Contributor Sean Duffy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN DUFFY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He is a former Ukrainian. He wants to make sure the taxpayer money goes to military aid to the Ukraine --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, why does it matter where he was born? I'm sorry, Congressman Duffy. Why does it matter where he was born? That came out in Fox News. He's an active duty military member, an American who was awarded the Purple Heart.
DUFFY: I'm of Irish descent. I still love the Irish. And he has an affinity probably for his homeland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So that is some anti-immigrant bigotry and it's an odd questioning of patriotism coming from Sean Duffy, the guy who spent part of his 20s on MTV's The Real World and Real World/Road Rules Challenge, while Alexander Vindman spent his on foreign deployments, including one to Iraq, where he was earned a Purple Heart after he was injured by a roadside bomb.
And it's a sign of how desperate some of the president's backers are as they try to defend him against what Vindman, perhaps the most credible and knowledgeable witness so far has to tell Congress.
Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who is often at odds with President Trump's anti-interventionist policies, defended Vindman today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Their patriotism, their love of country, 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)
KEILAR: So let's just review what patriotism is since some are trying to redefine it. The quality of being patriotic, devotion to and vigorous support for one's country, not one's party, not one's president, so let's not be confused.
Here with me to discuss is Republican Congressman from New York, Tom Reed. He sits on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Sir, as you see this criticism of Vindman, I wonder if you think he's a partisan.
REP. TOM REED (R-NY): No, I don't question Vindman and his military service and his commitment, obviously, given his long tenure in the military and service to the country. I do question his testimony. I question his interpretation. I disagree with what I'm reading as to how he sees this from his perspective.
I think the call is clear in and of itself. And I don't think he's really shedding new list on anything other than offering an opinion.
KEILAR: He was on the call and you were not on the call. Why do you question his assessment?
REED: Well, because, obviously I read the transcript. He's on the call. I think the transcript is consistent with what he heard on the call.
I don't hear any other evidence coming out of his mouth saying that somehow transcript was erroneous. I don't see any testimony that in the written releases that had been out there that indicate that, but maybe he's saying something behind closed doors, because we don't have access to that, Brianna, as you know, in regard to information that if something is changed in the transcript that he's offering, that's how (INAUDIBLE) evidence.
KEILAR: You don't have access but dozens of Republicans, of your colleagues, have access to it because they're on the three committees that are part of this.
REED: And, obviously, they're prevented from talking about it and sharing that information. That's one of the fundamental flaw (ph) from this process.
KEILAR: You have his opening statement, which is the crux of what he's saying. So why do you think his assessment is wrong? Do you think he's a partisan?
REED: No. I just think he's interpreting or offering his opinion on the call, just like many other people are offering their opinion on whether or not this call was something that's impeachable.
But at the end of the day, I think the American people are the ones who are going to decide this. And as I listened to your prior segment, I think a lot of folks in middle America are saying, why are you wasting all this time, all this resource to this effort?
KEILAR: His point was that it was a threat to national security.
REED: And I understand his point from the written testimony that was released in that statement. But I don't see the connection of those dots. I disagree with that assessment. What I see is a president raising questions of corruption, and that's a legitimate question to be raised in that call.
KEILAR: So if President Obama had held up aid to a foreign power to investigate Mitt Romney, that would have been proper to you?
REED: Well, I think President Obama did hold up aid on numerous occasions, is my understanding of foreign aid during his tenure as president and used it for different purposes --
KEILAR: To a country asking a country to investigate Mitt Romney?
REED: I don't know what happened between Joe Biden and Obama in regards to the investigation of Hunter Biden and his corrupt activity in the Ukraine, in my opinion, so I think there is evidence on its surface that demonstrates that something was going on there between Biden-Obama with regards to aid to Ukraine, and that's what the removal of the attorney general in Ukraine was all about when they were investigating Hunter Biden. I think those are legitimate questions of corruption that need to be asked. Not only that but --
KEILAR: That's actually not true. That's not -- I mean, that's not what it was all about. I want to ask you about -- that is just -- factually, that's not what it was about.
REED: Well, I disagree with that, Brianna, because we've never investigated -- The Washington Post are not investigators. They're journalists. They're not investigators. This is something that needs to be reviewed just as there is a special oversight in Congress in regards to investigation. That has never been investigated by any investigators here or in Ukraine.
KEILAR: Reporters discover a lot of information, to be clear.
REED: Reporters are not investigators. Reporters do not have the ability to subpoena evidence. The reporters are not the conclusive determination of fact. Investigations are and investigators are.
KEILAR: No, but reporters find out facts, and you can't dispel that. You can't say that that's not true just because of that.
REED: You can't say that's conclusive evidence of that they're investigators and therefore they are the truth finders.
KEILAR: I'm not saying they're investigators. That doesn't -- they are truth finders. That's what reporters are, literally.
REED: I would hope they are. I would hope they are but they're adjudicators of investigations is what I'm talking. Investigators are different. And corruption should be investigated. Both sides of the aisle should be investigating corruption.
KEILAR: All right. I think your point about what happened with the attorney general is incorrect. That's been proven.
The Washington Post reports that Republican lawmakers are --
REED: I don't think it's been proven, Brianna. I disagree that that's been proven. Proven by who, journalists that are investigators? I just -- I don't see how you can raise that conclusion.
KEILAR: It's not just about journalists. But I want to ask you about some of The Washington Post's --
REED: What investigators -- that's interesting because what investigators came to that conclusion, are you aware of, Brianna?
KEILAR: What investigator came to the conclusion that the attorney general was fired for seeking that out? It's not investigators, sir. It's everyone who is in the sphere who has knowledge of what that prosecutor general, to be clear, was doing.
REED: Yes, so just reporters.
KEILAR: No, I didn't say reporters. I said subject matter experts, is what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about reporters.
REED: But not investigators.
KEILAR: What is your point?
REED: The point is there was no investigation of this corruption. There was nobody empowered with subpoenas, there was nobody empowered with the ability to get to evidence. What you have are reporters coming to a conclusion and reporting what our, quote, unquote, facts as you determine, but there is no conclusive investigators that where you see evidence.
KEILAR: Which one are you -- what are you talking about? Burisma? Are you talking about Burisma?
REED: Yes. I'm talking about Burisma. I'm talking about investigating Joe Biden for the corruption that was being engaged in, in my opinion, between Joe Biden on behalf of his son, Hunter Biden, in Ukraine.
KEILAR: And you support military aid to Ukraine, taxpayer money being held up so that that conspiracy theory can be investigated? REED: I believe that if there is corruption in a country, such as even Ukraine, that that's a legitimate question for the president to ask and make sure that corruption is not being rewarded with taxpayer funds.
KEILAR: Corruption is one thing, but Ukraine had actually, as you are well aware, been making strides on this, on corruption, in general.
REED: And that is good and that should be rewarded. But if there's still question, that is a legitimate question.
KEILAR: The prosecutor general who was ousted that you're talking about was ousted because they were not really investigating corruption in any sort of full-throated way.
REED: Well, that's not what the investigator said. That's not what the solicitor general said. That's not what the prosecutor general said. He was investigating corruption, and therefore, he was taken off, from his own words, given what I've seen reported on his own words as to why he was removed from office.
KEILAR: I'm so glad you're taking his word for it, sir, but I want to ask you about Speaker Pelosi because she's holding a vote on Thursday to formalize the impeachment inquiry, and Republicans said that they wanted a vote. Is this something you welcome?
REED: Well, we'll see. Right now, my understanding is she doesn't have the votes for that impeachment inquiry on Thursday because the text hasn't been released. The information --
KEILAR: She's holding the vote. Do you welcome -- you've been -- Republicans have been calling for a vote?
REED: No, I don't think she is. I really don't think she is, because I don't think she has the votes to move forward, else we would have seen the text. The text is supposed to be public. It's supposed to be released. We haven't seen it. So I don't think there's going to be a vote on Thursday.
KEILAR: would you welcome a vote?
REED: Sure. We want to look at that text and we can throw out everything that's occurred up to this point in time and redo this, just like we did with rules of impeachment investigation that they did with Nixon and that they did with Clinton, then I could us starting over from square one. But I don't that's the language that they're debating whether or not they're going to proceed with.
KEILAR: This would be a vote, as you know, that would put Democrats and Republicans on the record about whether they support moving forward with this inquiry. What's the matter with that, in your opinion? Why doesn't that hit the mark?
REED: Well, if we're talking about -- is this the impeachment vote, or you're talking about the impeachment inquiry of how they're going to proceed with the investigation? And we haven't seen the text on that so I don't know exactly what this vote on Thursday is all about because there has been no text release as to what this is going to occur. That's why I don't think there's going to be a vote this Thursday.
KEILAR: So you think she's bluffing?
REED: I think she's either bluffing or she thought she had the votes and now she doesn't have the votes, and that this thing has been a cluster from the beginning, and she's just got herself all wrapped around the axle and not having a way to get out of this course that she's ignited.
KEILAR: When is the last time Nancy Pelosi didn't have the votes?
REED: The last time Nancy Pelosi didn't have the votes, I can tell you, she had a hard time getting the speaker votes. Even I offered a vote for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker because she was short on votes.
KEILAR: Who is the speaker, Congressman?
REED: I appreciate that. And she has been on the record as a very good vote counter, but as to why she doesn't have the text, maybe there's a first here that's occurring as we speak.
KEILAR: Why does the text matter though if this is something that puts Democrats on the record as Republicans have said they want it?
REED: Well, I defer to her as to what that text problem is and why she's not going to have a vote on Thursday.
KEILAR: But I'm asking you.
REED: Well, I think she's got a problem. I think she's got a problem. I think she's got a problem that she's halfway through this game call and now they're changing the game plan in the middle of it. That's usually not a good style of operating in regards to a legislative body.
KEILAR: Republicans have wanted a vote. Now it sounds like you're moving the goalpost about what you wanted. I mean, no matter what the language is, this will be a vote that puts Democrats and Republicans on the record.
REED: So, I mean, I appreciate that question, Brianna, because if it's a question of impeachment and impeachment inquiry, I don't see any smoking gun evidence going forward, and so therefore I don't support this effort in regards to impeachment so I can clearly vote against that if that's the legislative text that's coming up on impeachment or impeachment inquiry.
KEILAR: Well, what would the opposite be? Like what do you think it would be besides that?
REED: I'll defer to Nancy Pelosi in this mystical language that they're trying to work and put up for a vote on Thursday, that we haven't seen yet. That's why, again, I don't see a vote coming on Thursday.
But if it's an impeachment record, Democrats or Republicans supporting impeachment, obviously, I've been against impeachment and I can go on record supporting that if that's the vote on Thursday.
KEILAR: All right. I guess we will stay tuned. I think we know what to expect on Thursday. But Congressman Tom Reed, I do appreciate you coming on.
REED: Yes, I'll look forward to it. Whose crystal ball will be right? We'll have to see.
KEILAR: All right, we'll check in.
REED: All right, thanks, Brianna.
KEILAR: Of course, thank you.
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