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Donald Trump Attacks Impeachment Witness, Decorated Soldier, As "Never Trumper"; Fox News Personalities Question Vindman's Allegiance To U.S.; National Security Council Official Testifies In Impeachment Inquiry; Rep. Jordan: Every Republican Will Vote Against Resolution; House To Vote Thursday On Formalizing Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 12- 12:30p ET
Aired October 29, 2019 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Blockbuster testimony in the impeachment inquiry a top White House aide who was on the President's call with Ukraine's leader says he viewed it as so damaging to American interests, he reported it to his superior and a White House lawyer.
Plus, the President's response. He's now attacking the character of Lieutenant Colonel Attorney Alexander Vindman who won a purple heart for Iraq war heroism just as the President attacked the character of a Vietnam veteran who testified the President demand that the Ukraine investigate the Bidens was both out of bounds and dangerous.
And a brand new CNN New Hampshire poll releasing this hour Bernie Sanders is up, Joe Biden is struggling as voters in lead off primary stage say health care is a bigger factor in their vote than beating Donald Trump.
We begin the hour at an impeachment crossroads with Democrats now laying the ground work to take their inquiry public this as a critical White House insider in private as damning testimony to the impeachment record. Alexander Vindman a National Security Council official is the first impeachment witness to testify who was on that infamous July 25th call between President Trump and Ukraine's President.
Vindman says the call concerned him and that he heard "A demand from the President, "That a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, that being 2020 Trump rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Vindman's opening statement attained by CNN aligns closely with that original whistleblower complaint.
Yes, Vindman says there were "Outside influences trying to co-opt Ukraine policy in ways he found wrong, and contrary to U.S. National Security interests. Yes, says he reported his concerns to National Security Counsil lawyers twice once after July 10th meeting with a senior Ukrainian official and then again after that July 25th President-to-President phone call. Vindman still works at the White House. He is also a decorated army officer, earning a purple heart in Iraq after taking shrapnel from an IED. Despite that service, the President today questioning Colonel Vindman's character, casting him as a "Never Trumper" who shouldn't be allowed to testimony it's the same label of course the President tries to paste on a decorated Vietnam veteran who also gave damning testimony.
CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill live for us. Manu a very big day when it comes to testimony.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it because this is someone as you mentioned has a career and service. Someone who does currently serves in the White House, and as being described to me people who have emerged in this room it was pretty dramatic breaking with the Commander in Chief as someone who is currently serving and raising some serious concerns about what the President did?
About what the Commander in Chief did, pushing for these investigations into the Bidens, pushing for Ukraine to invest launch these investigations, and what Vindman is describing in his opening statement is something that would undermine national security.
Also raising concerns about what happened in this July meeting in which the President, there were discussions about what could happen in order for the Ukrainians to have a meeting in Washington at the White House. Something the Ukrainians really wanted, but what Vindman said was that the Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, raised the specter of those investigations taking place into the company Burisma that had Hunter Biden former Vice President's son on the board, and that's something that Vindman said he and others raised concerns about.
Now that also John, contradict Sondland's sworn testimony before these very committees something that the he said that he was not aware of any concerns, he also said he also was not even aware about that Burisma referred to the Bidens until much later. So those questions are lingering for Sondland, and there is a question about whether he'll be asked to clarify his testimony, he has no comments today.
But nevertheless, John, this is a significant moment that could lead to, of course, the impeachment of this President. It could be part of articles of impeachment. Democrats today are signaling that they want this investigation to move into that public hearing phase before Thanksgiving and potentially move into those votes before Christmas. John?
KING: Fascinating to see Vindman obviously likely to be one of the public witnesses when we get to that point. Manu Raju live on a big day in Capitol Hill appreciate it. Here with me in studio to share the reporting and their insights, Vivian Salama with "The Wall Street Journal", Alex Thompson with "POLITICO" Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post" and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.
Again this is an Iraq war veteran a hero who serves in the White House right now in the national security job as top Ukraine official on the National Security Council. He said, "I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen.
I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government 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.
KING: This would all undermine U.S. National Security. This is a military veteran a hero colonel telling the Congress that in his view the President crossed the line, that the President abused his power and undermine U.S. National Security in doing so.
VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And not only that he was won purple heart he was injured in Iraq and so a lot of people really viewing him as a war hero. Alex Vindman is the first person to testify who has firsthand knowledge of this phone call. And obviously we've seen the transcript. He even notes in his opening statement, that we've seen the transcript, so we know what's in there.
But it was someone who was really in the immediate circle of a lot of these policy decisions. While his statement is brief, it doesn't get into a lot of details. We don't hear, for example, anything about Rudy Giuliani and his role in influencing the policy or a number of other issues that's come up in previous testimonies. It's almost certain that in the Q & A portion we're going to get a lot of those answers coming out.
ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: The framing of it was so interesting, because normally it's just been about Trump directing an investigation into a political opponent. While he mentions the Bidens he frames it as investigating a U.S. citizen is not just about the Bidens it's about having a foreign government investigate a citizen.
KING: It's a great point, and again it's a man who wears the uniform and it's been really interesting to watch today. Last night when Vindman's opening statement became public knowledge and this conversation started, I want to take you to a little snip at this was last night on Fox News. Again this is an Iraq war hero, took shrapnel from an IED was wounded still serves his government now. This is how he was characterized last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS 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 interests and usually they've spoken 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)
KING: Other people might call that a reckless smear. He was the top Ukraine official in the White House. It was his job to take phone calls from Ukraine. What should we do? What is next? What is the process? Who should we call? Everything we know, and from John Bolton, his former boss, from Fiona Hill, his former colleague, a very well- respected person on the National Security Council staff and you see that going on. Today I find this interesting Liz Cheney a conservative member of the House leadership saying, watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R) WYOMING: I also want to say a word about something else has been going on over the course of the last several hours and last night, which I think is also shame able. That is questioning the patriotism, questioning the dedication to the country of people like Mr. Vindman - Lieutenant Colonel Vindman who will be coming today and others who have testified.
I think that we need to show that we're better than that as a nation. It's shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation and we should not be involved in that process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: When you're at a crossroads, you have to make a choice. This is a crossroads day, when you get testimony from an insider who has firsthand knowledge of what happened. You can question him if you want, you can question his recollection if you want. You can raise the argument is it an impeachable offense if you want, but that is interesting to me because this will come down to whether the Republicans stay or break from the President of the United States?
Liz Cheney giving no indication if she's breaking there, but she is putting up a warning light to her colleagues because this is going to come public, you're going to have public hearings and you're going to have Bill Taylor in the chair, you're going to have Lieutenant Colonel Vindman in the chair, and she is right there laying down a marker, be careful.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, I mean look, you can question the content of what he's saying in his testimony and his recollection of events. But when you start to question the character of a person who came to this country as a child as a Soviet refugee, just because they speak another language, does not necessarily mean that you're a spy it's actually considered an asset if you can be multi-lingual in these cases.
And frankly the U.S. government had a dearth of Russian speakers for a long time. So it is very important that you actually be able to like actually investigating language the people are when they're doing things overseas. It's very interesting to see Cheney put the line in the sand and say don't cross this, because that gets to the point where you're basically making potentially racist smears against somebody because you want to throw out their case. You have to be able to create a dividing line, otherwise, are we just going to start pointing to everybody who came to this country as immigrant or descended from somebody that speaks the language is not English--
KING: Or anybody - we used to call that the American dream now if you're critical of the President of the United States, apparently you're a spy. You're committing espionage.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's an attempt to discredit them to distance the White House from these people who are going up there giving potentially damaging information. Yes, he does speak another language. A lot of people on the National Security Council speak another language.
It's part of their job when they're in the room with a foreign leader and the President is in there as well and they're the ones listening on the calls alongside a translator. This is not surprising. This is in intent by the White House to distance themselves and the President's allies from people like Alex Vindman, even though this is someone who was on the call.
COLLINS: So it's kind of hard to distance himself. Even though the President is says he doesn't know who this is, he believes there are Republicans a never Trumper someone who doesn't fully embrace him, it just also goes to show when the President says he doesn't know who is someone like this? How much he was relying on other people like Rudy Giuliani to conduct affairs with Ukraine?
DEMIRJIAN: There is distancing and there is smearing. There is a line of integrity that Liz Cheney is laying out right here which is the - you can distance yourself from what somebody is saying, you can question their integrity. Probably she is even okay with - the questioning whether he's for or against the President? But to go deeper than that into what you're hearing on Fox last night - is just - that's where we start to get integrity--
KING: Well, he is a hero from the Iraq war. Bill Taylor served back on the Bush Administration when her dad was Vice President he does it very well. Fiona Hill, John Bolton's Deputy serving the Bush Administration, Liz Cheney knows her very well. John Bolton President Trump's National Security Adviser, former now served in the Bush Administration. Liz Cheney knows him very well.
They are all likely now as Republicans get what they want. They wanted the Democrats to take this public. They wanted the Democrats to go forward. So you're going to get witnesses and you're going to have to clear up things like this. Alex Vindman today talks about Ambassador Gordon Sondland and he says he started to speak about Ukraine, delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President, right quid pro quo.
You need to investigate you get the meeting with the President. Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short. Doctor Hill then entered the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland his statements were inappropriate. So the Foreign Policy team, the veteran saying oh, we don't do that in America.
Ambassador Sondland testified if Ambassador Bolton, Doctor Hill or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me, then or later. So there is a contradiction that needs to be cleared up either Sondland can come back in private or this can be part of the public testimony.
SALAMA: It's really interesting to see a number of people now pointing a finger at Sondland in particular. This is going to be an interesting point moving forward, whether or not Sondland was acting as a lone wolf. A lot of people are going to push back and may be say these words haven't come out of the President's mouth, and maybe it's Sondland that has to be examined closely, and that is going to be an issue that we find closer and closer.
But Sondland definitely has some clarifications that need to come out at this point because a lot of pushback on his testimony in what he have said so far.
KING: Right and the two words that haven't come up enough in this conversation, Rudy Giuliani. You brought them up earlier. Everybody, even Sondland, talks about Giuliani's role and how unusual it was and even he the President's political appointee at times raised questions about it. One more before we broke in a break, we'll continue with the conversation.
This is from Alex Vindman today, Ambassador Sondland emphasize the importance, let me bring this up together and that we go. Emphasize the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma a pretty crystal clear statement.
Gordon Sondland, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor did I recall taking part in any efforts to encourage an investigation into the Bidens. Again these are factual discrepancies that need to be cleared up.
DEMIRJIAN: And look, it's a big distinction between what people like Vindman and Taylor saying and Sondland is saying and the fact you have Vindman versus Sondland now, they were both in the room earlier and they talked directly to each other that's going to be a big problem that has to be cleared up yes.
As to how much of penalty that Sondland might pay for misrepresenting potentially what happened? That's kind of up in there Democrats are very eyes on the price right now of they're impeaching a President. Sometimes it's difficult to prove malicious intent when somebody says they don't recall versus outright lying about something.
So whether this results in criminal citation for Sondland, that I feel like many steps down the line, but certainly to - to hold them up against each other, there is a clear difference here, and I think people emerge from Sondland's testimony saying that he seems to be protecting himself more than giving the full accounting of all the details that he could have.
KING: And again, he will have a chance to correct the record or come back and stand by what he said. If he wants to defend what he said, if he's telling truth, he'll come back and say that. It's important to note, Alex Vindman, Bill Taylor, Fiona Hill, Kurt Volker among the officials who have said something was wrong here. We raised objections to various degree, varying degrees we objections about Giuliani's involvement we raised objections when we thought we were crossing the line. We'll see as this go forward.
If you woke up this morning not sure the House was going to impeach the President of United States, this testimony today almost guarantees it, that's one step. Then it would move to the Senate as we go to break John Thune the number two in the Senate Republican leadership just echoing Liz Cheney and saying don't attack the patriotism of the witness today. When we come back Nancy Pelosi gives the Republicans just what they have been asking for a vote.
KING: The impeachment process is about to change and that's the subject of a fierce debate here in Washington today. After weeks of operating in private, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Democrats will now ask the full House to vote on how to conduct the next phase.
Speaker Pelosi says that resolution will lay out the ground rules for public hearings. She says it will authorize disclosure of the private deposition transcripts, something Republicans have been demanding. And the Speaker says it will outline due process rights for the Republicans and for the White House.
The Speaker says this resolution will also outline the transfer of evidence to the Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over formal impeachment proceedings. Now, Democrats call this the next logical step. Republicans call it a capitulation, and say they will oppose it even though it many of the things they have demanded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDON, (R-OH): They realize this process is completely unfair, completely partisan and they're going to try to spruce it up a little bit and still not give rights to the President, to the minority, and still do these things in secret so the American people cannot see what's going on.
JORDON: And I think every single Republican will be voting against - I'm hopeful and I think this is going to happen - every single Republican will be voting against the resolution on Thursday.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Just for the record there for the Congressman, we don't know exactly what's in this resolution. So we don't know just yet, we haven't seen the formal text, we don't know the rights. And Republicans may have every right reason to complain down the road, but we don't know yet specifically what it will be.
How big of a step is this? We can have the debate. Washington will be consumed by is Pelosi taking what she says is the next logical step, is it a capitulation to the editorial boards and the Republicans screaming why do this in private? Just to shove that over here.
What it means is they're prepared to take it to the next steps which means House Democrats including moderates who might feel fancy about this are going to have to vote. Then you're going to have public hearings. Then you're going to transfer it to the Judiciary Committee which handles impeachment, which means again if you're trying to think big picture, it is more likely today than yesterday that the President of the United States will be impeached by the House.
THOMPSON: I mean, terms of the capitulation debate I imagine Republicans will find something in this to complain about, to be frustrated about. So no matter what Pelosi does, they are going to need a talking point about why they feel this process is unfair to the President.
And then also I think it's just really important because everyone is going to have to go on record. Despite what Rep. Jordan said in that video, I think there is possibility that at least one or two Republicans might end up voting for this. And that will be serving interesting, it will allow Democrats to claim that's bipartisan.
KING: That been an interesting point to watch even if this one or two you're right, they'll complain it's not bipartisan. It is, like we show you up on the screen here. There are seven, I think, Democrats left who have not endorsed a formal impeachment inquiry. This is tough for them, they come from tough districts back home, but now they're going to have to make a choice now.
Now they'll see that they have the testimony before them so they can say, this is not impeachment this is not articles of impeachment, we're just voting to more formalize the process. Hakeem Jeffries is a key Deputy in the House leadership was asked today, aren't you at risk of putting members at risk? He says no.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D) DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Every member will have to make a decision based on their conscience and how they decide to most effectively represent the districts they are privileged to serve. The overwhelming majority of the House Democratic Caucus are publicly on record supporting the impeachment inquiry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That's the important point. The Speaker knows going in she has the votes. She also knows it's tough for several of her members. But for the overwhelming majority, they have to have to put the language down on paper. We'll see if there are complaints about that objections about that, but this going to happen which takes it to a different stage.
DEMIRJIAN: Right, there is also a preliminary stuff. It's a process stuff that is saying this is how we're going to do it. It effectively communicates we're going impeach the President, but it doesn't say we're going to impeach the President. So that's not the actual vote they're taking. She has a good point.
If there are that many Democrats that are on record is being pro- impeachment, why shy away from the preliminary step like this? I think it is just going to be really important to remember in the midst of all this debate, is that the House doesn't do the trial. When they're talking about things like due process rights for the President, do not expect that this is going to be the courtroom scene from the TV drama because that's what happens in the Senate.
What happens in the House is all the setup to get to the point where you're actually making an indictment, which is effectively what the impeachment vote would be to bring those charges to the trial that would be on the Senate. It's going to be unsatisfying for a lot of Republicans because it's not supposed to be the complete picture.
And I feel like that - generally speaking, when we talk about impeachment, it can get muddled in this debate on what is the process even due at each point because it is so rare and that's going to be just the background to keep in mind even as we see these clashes come.
KING: It's a giant test for the Trump White House, which has said we won't give you witnesses, we won't give you document, we won't give anything. Now a lot of people have testified that infuriate the President and his team, a lot of administrative officials including today have testified because of subpoenas but they have not said.
Rick Perry for example, the Energy Secretary is on his way out. All the documents they've asked for, they said only if the full House votes are we willing to cooperate. Secretary Perry saying to the AP over the weekend, the United States Congress is not following both their own rules and precedent with this and until they do that, I don't intend to be a participant in what I consider to be not only illegal but improper.
They need to have a vote. Well, they're going to have a vote, is the President going to then say, oh, everybody should fully cooperate. Let me give you the documents or is his bluff going to be called and they're going to stay in the no way.
COLLINS: And that's what interesting to see what's happening inside the White House because a few weeks ago you saw officials saying, until they vote, we're not considering this legitimate. Now they're just saying it's a sham process, it's not real, this isn't actually happening in an appropriate manner.
They're not pushing for a vote as much because our reporting shows that officials are actually torn over this. There is some good that can come out of the White House, they can actually see the evidence that they get, they can have access to the transcripts, they can have counsel in the room and be able to cross-examine these witnesses, but then they lose their argument that there is no legislative purpose that Democrats have here if they are taking votes on this.
They may have to cooperate more. They may not be able to refuse documents and cite executive privilege as much as they're doing. It's not completely clear to them. So they aren't pushing for the vote as much as you saw them do so previously.
KING: And soon to be, if not already the most important Republican sound is going to be the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who watches this out. As you know the trial plays out there. There are a lot of Republicans privately murmuring about the testimony saying, what should we do? His advice to everyone is been just hold your powder. Let's watch how this plays out in the House. Everybody lay back. We'll get there when we get there.
SALAMA: There is an element of collateral damage to that both the House and the Senate have to consider, because if this drags into 2020, then we're talking elections now and all these Senators Congressmen and women who are in swing districts are really looking at this and wondering if this is going to impact them. It's something that they're thinking about looking forward depending on how long this goes.
THOMPSON: I mean the other 2020 angle is that, when this goes to the Senate, the timeline is very important here because several Senators are running for President. You could end up having five of the Senators, including Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have to spend a majority of their time a month before Iowa in Washington presiding over this trial.
KING: It will be an interesting surprise there speaking of Senators running for President. Coming up on October surprise for Bernie Sanders new polling in New Hampshire gives him a reason to smile.