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Military Officer to Testify Against Trump; California Gripped by Raging Wildfires; The Lock-Them Up Election; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D- HI) Is Interviewed About Lt. Col. Vindman's Testimony. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 29, 2019 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- testify that he was so concerned about the Ukraine controversy that he twice reported President Trump's pressure tactics. Vindman, importantly, he was listening in on President Trump's call with Ukraine's new president and says he was so disturbed by the president's request to investigate his political rivals that he reported it to his superiors out of, quote, a sense of duty.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the first House vote will come this Thursday to formalize the impeachment inquiry. The vote will force lawmakers to go on the record supporting or opposing the investigation. And it will layout rules for the next public phase of this probe. Republicans had tried to claim the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate because there had not been a formal vote.

Sources tell CNN the Democrats are working on a timetable that would hold public impeachment hearings before Thanksgiving and would vote on whether to impeach the president by Christmas.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for the New York Times, and CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin who has parachuted in perfectly.

Well played. OK, what we are about to see today, Maggie, are two firsts. So this is the first White House official, and this is the first witness who was actually listening in on that phone call and who can tell us if the transcript reflects exactly what he heard. And what he heard that so bothered him during the course of this Ukraine controversy that he twice went to report it to legal counsel, to his superiors.

Is there reporting on how the White House is feeling about these developments?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the White House has tried for several weeks now to try to build a blockade so that witnesses would not go-ahead to the House. This is of concern to them. This is somebody who is not just on the call which means it's going to blunt one of President Trump's talking points that there was a transcript and it didn't properly reflect what I said, even though people have read the rough transcripts --

CAMEROTA: That he put it out.

HABERMAN: Right. And he put it out and it's not a full transcript but it's pretty close as understand it. And number two, this is somebody who was a -- you know, has impeccable credentials, he is an Iraq War veteran, decorated, a lieutenant colonel in the army, and somebody who -- it's going to be I think potentially harder. Look, we've seen Donald Trump redefine his opposition in all kinds of ways so I'm reluctant to say that he won't do that at all. But it is going to be harder for the White House and for the president's allies in Congress to try to attack this particular witness's credibility the way they have others and that is of concern to them.

BERMAN: This is exactly what Colonel Vindman is going to say about the call in his opening statement. He will say, 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 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. Following the call, I again reported my concerns to the NSC's lead counsel."

He reported it twice, Jeffrey, and again, this is an active duty member of the military testifying in many ways against the commander- in-chief.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I agree with Maggie that you can never underestimate the president's ability to find -- turn someone into an enemy. But good luck with this guy. I mean, he seems like an impeccably credentialed, qualified honorable person. And what I think is particularly interesting about his testimony, at least the prepared testimony, is that he's not upset about a quid pro quo. He's upset about the request at all, that even if there was no conditioning of aid, just the very act of asking the president of Ukraine to investigate your political rivals, he thought that was so inappropriate it was worth going to his superiors about.

It's worth remembering that as we've become so fixated on this quid pro quo issue, this was wrong, independent of whether aid was conditioned on the request to the president.

CAMEROTA: We're already hearing the talking points that the president may use. We heard them on Fox TV last night on Laura Ingraham's show. They're saying things like this guy because he was born in Ukraine and moved when he was three he's a spy? I mean, they're already saying things -

HABERMAN: He spent his whole life just preparing for Donald Trump's presidency.

CAMEROTA: I guess so.


CAMEROTA: I mean, honestly, it's jaw-dropping. He won the Purple Heart, you know? And the idea that -- I mean, in his statement, the opening statement that you'll hear today, he repeatedly talks about his honor, his duty, what he's driven by.

BERMAN: I had the best appreciation for American values and ideals and the power of freedom on the patriot. It's my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party politics.

CAMEROTA: And he walked that wall. He's not just saying that. Wait, there's more, go.

TOOBIN: As they say on TV, but wait, there's more. How about his twin brother?

[07:05:00] He has a twin brother who also works in the White House, who also, you know, is trying to help American interests.

CAMEROTA: I smell a rat, are they really twins, Jeffrey? Or is it one person wearing different outfits each day. I mean, these are the kind of things.

HABERMAN: But this is the point, right? I mean, Donald Trump turns everything into an up-down referendum on himself. There can't be any other interest than anybody would have be it loyalty to country, loyalty to -- of the service, it all has to be just plus or minus about him. And that is what you are seeing with those talking points.

I didn't see the segment in question. I did see some of the tweetings about it suggesting that somebody is a spy because they are -- I mean, we are -- we have reached the point where facts are getting twisted to a degree that has been pretty surprising.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it's through the looking glass.

BERMAN: It's gross calling an active duty member of the military a spy.

HABERMAN: There may be reasons -- there may be ways to question his credibility and we're not going to know that until after he testifies. What Republicans will argue is these are closed-door hearings and the pieces of information are being cherry-picked by Democrats. We don't know until we actually see more what takes place today. I'll be behind closed doors.

But the fact that even before he goes in that the best that seems to be coming up with is that he is -- he's some kind of fake and that he's there as a double agent to try to harm the president I think is pretty telling about where the White House is on their assessment of how damaging this person's testimony could be.

BERMAN: And Jeffrey, you know, what's surprising to me is we keep getting new witnesses who largely keep saying the same thing, but in some cases in even more damning detail or where they're coming from is more damning. It's just more, more, more.

TOOBIN: And all of it points in the same direction. I mean, you know, in complex white-collar investigations, you often have evidence that just sort of doesn't fit or is ambiguous. I mean, what is extraordinary about what has come out publicly so far is that it all points in the exact same direction that the president was trying to manipulate the United States' relationship with Ukraine not for the national interests, not for the benefit of the people of Ukraine, but entirely for his personal political benefit. Every witness has ratified that hypothesis and, you know, the question is really going to be it seems does anyone care. I mean, is it bad enough to get him impeached and convicted not did it happen?

HABERMAN: Well, the point -- you know, Jeffrey raises the phrase white-collar investigation. There has been this conflation -- and I don't mean by you, but in general in terms of people assessing the information -- this is not a criminal inquiry. We hadn't rolled from Mueller into this. Mueller was a criminal inquiry, this is a parliamentary inquiry. So what the White House's calculation is we just have to withstand all of this and hope it doesn't move public opinion to Jeffrey's point.

Public opinion has moved on impeachment. It has, there's no question. But it has not gotten to the level yet where the White House believes they are going to lose enough senators for the president to be removed, and those are the terms in which they're thinking. Whether people think that that's appropriate or fair or right is a totally different question. That is their approach to this and they figure if they can just keep this veneer and not crack and keep Republicans on their side that they will get through this and roll on to the next increment of time.

CAMEROTA: Something big is happening on the Democratic side as well. As you know, Jeffrey on -- Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote.

TOOBIN: Right.

CAMEROTA: So on Thursday, the House will vote on the next step, and that is the public portion of this impeachment inquiry, and what does that change? Does it allow them to circumvent some of the court process that they've had to rely on when you have reluctant witnesses or no?

TOOBIN: I don't think it's going to matter. To these -- these witnesses who are not going to cooperate are not going to cooperate regardless of this vote that's going to take place, Thursday. If in fact, these cases actually go to court, this may help the Democrats win, but it looks like the Democrats are moving so quickly at this point that these court cases are just going to become irrelevant. And I think the people who are fighting testimony know that, that the very act of going to court is going to delay things sufficiently that they will wind up not testifying because as we've been pointing out, the votes could be taking place next month.

BERMAN: It's interesting because Nancy Pelosi insists this is not a vote to launch the impeachment inquiry. She says she didn't need the vote but Maggie, it's a vote on the impeachment inquiry. People are going to have to go on the record on impeachment which is something Republicans have been insisting didn't happen and makes the whole thing illegitimate. I know there's an interesting dichotomy of use within the White House about whether or not this vote helps them or not.

HABERMAN: The White House actually have been trying to -- without openly saying they're trying to force a vote on this several weeks ago when Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel issued this sort of fire blazing letter to Congress that this was an illegitimate probe in their mind. There are benefits to House Democrats enforcing this vote and that they are taking away -- or attempting to take away a talking point by Republicans that there's no vote. This process is out of the bounds of the normal process.

[07:10:06] The fact that they're holding the vote tells me that that argument from Republicans actually was sinking in for some voters although I understand that House Democrats will say that's not true. There's a risk for Pelosi within her own caucus and having her own members who are in moderate districts, swing districts, there are a couple of dozen of them who did not want to take this vote. That's why she wasn't pushing the vote. And so here are equities on both sides of this. We're not going to know until we see how people actually cast their votes on how this plays out.

TOOBIN: I do think that it is going to be very interesting to see how moderates on both sides vote. I mean, you know, will Republicans who are potentially at risk in the 2020 election say I have to show at least that I'm interested in doing an investigation. And will Democrats, you know, the Congressman Rose in Staten Island who comes from a pretty Republican district, will he and people like him say, you know, let's go ahead and do an investigation.

HABERMAN: People in Max Rose's district are going to be very upset that you just called it a mostly Republican district. I'm just throwing that out there before we get angry.


HABERMAN: It has voted Republican historically until Max Rose. And the fact that Max Rose came in was seen as a big hurdle for Democrats.

TOOBIN: He's a Democrat in a Republican district.

HABERMAN: It's Republican-leaning.

TOOBIN: OK, fair enough.

HABERMAN: It's still mostly Democrats.

BERMAN: Come on, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: All right. Look, I don't mess with Maggie Haberman.

HABERMAN: No, it's good thinking.

BERMAN: Thank you very much both of you.

CAMEROTA: All right, also developing this morning, more than 25 million people across California are under a red flag warning as crews battle these huge wildfires that have destroyed dozens of homes and are now threatening thousands more. In Northern California, the state's largest wildfire has scorched more than 74,000 acres and 186,000 people are under evacuation orders as we speak.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live in Napa County. What are you seeing around you, Lucy?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alisyn. The past few hours have been critical in getting a handle on this massive blaze now 15 percent contained. And that's because fire crews have finally caught a break from those 80 mile-an-hour wind gusts that ripped through Wine Country destroying everything in their path. And I want to show you around the damage they leave behind.

We are on the Oak Ridge Angus Cattle Ranch, there's over 300 head of cattle here. If my cameraman can show you some of these areas, there's almost nothing left standing here, just the charred husks of farm equipment. The family that's been here has owned this land for over a hundred years. And even though this area was under a mandatory evacuation warning, they stayed back to try to fight the fire, they were using buckets, everything in their hands that they could get on to try to save the cattle. Too late for the actual structures but take a listen to how they described that experience.


ASHLEY LAFRANCHI, LOST HOME IN FIRE: There was a house all the way up on top of that hill, and it had these four big glass window panes, and the flames were just shooting out of each of them like these red hot glows.

KAFANOV: Were you scared for your life at that point?

LAFRANCHI: Yes, it was really scary, and it's just hard watching like your entire family's livelihood and legacy like go up in flames.


KAFANOV: A terrifying experience, and now we're in the clear until about 8 a.m. Local Time, 11:00 a.m. your time, and that is when the winds are expected to pick up again, and fire crews are terrified that we might see a repeat of the kind of blazes that ripped through this area this weekend. They're trying to do everything they can to prevent these kinds of scenes from spreading, John.

BERMAN: Lucy Kafanov, please keep us posted throughout the day. I know there's a tremendous amount of anxiety there.

All right, we do have breaking news coming out of London. Britain's parliament could be headed to a general election as lawmakers work out a deal to leave the European Union. Britain's main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn just announced that he would support Prime Minister Boris Johnson's call for a December election after the European Union agreed to delay Brexit until the end of January. The delay gives parliament and the E.U. time to work out an orderly deal. Instead of crashing out of the E.U. on Thursday, Parliament will begin debating the early election bill later this morning, and if there is this new election, no one knows who comes out on top.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for leaving us with that note.

BERMAN: It's a cliff hanger.

CAMEROTA: It is a cliff hanger. You'll also enjoy this, whatever you think about the polarization and partisanship in this country, it's actually way worse than you thought. John Avlon explains in an eye- opening reality check, next.


[07:19:02] BERMAN: The president's chants of "lock her up" just turned upside down. They just became chants of "lock him up". Maybe you think that's bad, maybe you don't. John Avlon with the Reality Check. John?


Look, the chant grew out of a chorus of boos when President Trump's face flashed on the big screen during the World Series in Washington.


CROWD: Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!


AVLON: Of course, Trump was being hit with the same rhetorical stick he basically invented for Hillary Clinton, and it's a riff that's persisted even after the election, despite the fact that an investigation by the Trump State Department found there was no persuasive evidence of widespread mishandling of classified information in Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.

The irony is that the real rap sheet over the course of the Trump presidency has been for his team. Five people sentenced to prison, seven guilty pleas, and one conviction from the Russia investigation alone. But Trump and his obedient attorney general Bill Barr have been busy pitching a counter-narrative with the full force of the federal government behind it. It's the upcoming Durham review also known by its Trump (INAUDIBLE) shorthand, "investigate the investigators".

[07:20:05] It says that the real interference wasn't by helping Russia helping the Trump campaign but between Ukraine and the Democrats. Trump has even hinted it might ensnare President Obama.

And, of course, the current impeachment inquiry got kicked off by Trump's request that the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens for corruption. It's all part of the same crazy quilt of confirmation bias conspiracy theories designed to project and deflect on Democrats for political benefit in the next election.

But take a step back, and it's easy to see that we're headed for something ugly in the United States. An election in which hard partisans on both sides want to see their opponents jailed.

This is Banana Republic stuff, and it's happening on our watch. And consider the kindling, over 70 percent of Democrats and Republicans consider members of the other party brainwashed, hateful, and racist. A new Pew survey found that majorities of both parties believe the other is more closed-minded and immoral than most Americans. And 42 percent of people in each party considers the opposition not simply wrong but downright evil.

President Trump's been throwing around words like evil to refer to his political opponents, at least 10 times according to Factbase singling out targets like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrats in general, the New York Times, and the squad, and, of course, that's just a variation on the theme. Human scum, enemy of the people, all part of a persistent attempt to demonize and dehumanize. And this creates a feedback loop.

That same study on lethal partisanship finds that 20 percent of people in both parties agreed their opponents, quote, lack the traits to be considered fully human, they behave like animals. Finally, get this, 20 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans admit to sometimes thinking that, quote, we'd be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party just died.

Against that backdrop, the president's promotion of right-wing tweets about the civil war or Trump supporters creation of a fake video showing the president shooting his critics in a church start to look a lot more sinister. The lock-them up election we're about to endure isn't just about imprisoning your political opponents, the opposite of democracy. It's about an impulse to get rid of them entirely. That's dangerous, and that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: That's really terrible, John.

BERMAN: I will tell you, Chris Coons was on our show yesterday and he was critical of the "lock him up" chant. Chris Coons is a Democrat from Delaware. The "lock him up" chants at the baseball game.

CAMEROTA: And you got an earful on (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: I did. There are many Democrats and liberals who feel like that's unilateral disarmament. They think if the president and his supporters are going to say that why can't we talk like that too and to back off they say is surrender. The passions are just so high.

AVLON: This is an unprecedented situation.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, John, very much for that. I'm not sure I feel better after that reality check but --

BERMAN: It's a -- reality is not always supposed to make you feel better. CAMEROTA: Reality hurts. All right, it bites. Thank you very much, John.

All right, Democrats in the House are preparing to make their impeachment inquiry public soon. So we'll speak with the Senate Democrat about that next phase of the investigation.


[07:27:25] CAMEROTA: In just two hours, the House impeachment committees will hear from an active duty military officer who will testify against his commander-in-chief. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was listening in on that July phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president, and he says has twice raised concerns with his superiors about the administration's pressure on Ukraine that he did not feel was right.

In just two hours, the House impeachment committees will hear from an active duty military officer who will testify against his commander- in-chief.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was listening in on that July phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. And he says has twice raised concerns with his superiors about the administration's pressure on Ukraine that he did not feel was right.

Joining us now is Senator Mazie Hirono. She serves on the Judiciary Committee. Senator, great to have you this morning.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good morning.

CAMEROTA: So let's just start with that news of this morning because Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is going to testify. He's already released his opening statement.

It just spells out how uncomfortable he was, not just with that phone call but all of the transactions that he was seeing beginning between this sort of parallel State Department led by Giuliani and Ukraine. Meanwhile, some right-wing Republicans have already begun to attempt to impugn his character.

How do you see today playing out?

HIRONO: The lieutenant colonel is a decorated soldier now with the National Security Council, and he was listening in. He was part of the group that listened in on that July phone call between the president and the Ukrainian president.

He was very uncomfortable. He reported his concerns because, of course, it was, you know, pushing the president's political agenda which he thought was totally inappropriate.

So, as expected, the right-wing will impugn someone's character. This is a decorated soldier, by the way. Hello, everybody, just back off, you know. So they have nothing to say except to continue to attack the people

who come forward to corroborate what the president did, and these are people who cannot apparently -- they do not find themselves justifying what the president did.

Although, maybe they'll go there that, oh, it's OK that the president leaned on a president of an ally, a foreign country to do his political dirty work for him. They haven't gone there yet, but maybe they will and say, well, but that's not impeachable. You know, you got a president who can do just about anything.

Not so.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, since people have read the transcripts for themselves, haven't you heard Republicans suggesting that they haven't heard anything untoward in there?

HIRONO: Yes. And I'm waiting for the moment when the Republicans get up and realize, you know what, somebody should say to them, have you no shame. They haven't gotten to that point yet apparently.

But meanwhile, the House is proceeding in an orderly fashion with their impeachment inquiry and their process.


CAMEROTA: I want to move on to Attorney General Bill Barr because you have not been shy --


CAMEROTA: -- about your feelings that he has conflicts in all of this. In fact, in May you called him no different than Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway who -- or any other people who once --