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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
New Revelations In Ukraine Probe; Impeachment Rules Debate; John Bolton Invited To Testify In Impeachment Inquiry; Two State Department Officials Testifying Today On Hill; July 10th White House Meeting With Ukraine Is First Report Of Possible Quid Pro Quo. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired October 30, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Astead Herndon, thank you for writing about it. We'll continue this controversy as we watch the field.
Thanks for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER": starts right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
And we indeed begin with breaking news.
Two sources present at the Tuesday deposition of White House National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman tell me that Vindman told congressional investigators that he became convinced that President Trump personally was ordering the withholding of $400 million in aid for Ukraine as a way of forcing Ukrainian President Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens.
Vindman said the existence of a quid pro quo had been clear to him by July 10. That's when U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, something of a point man on the Ukraine situation, told Ukrainian officials in a meeting at the White House that they would need to deliver -- quote -- "specific investigations" in order to secure the White House meeting they so desired with President Trump.
Now, that is according to Vindman's opening statement that was reported yesterday. But the fact that the $400 million in aid, including that desperately needed military assistance to beat back the Russians, that was also being used by the president, that didn't become clear until the next month, Vindman testified yesterday, and after then National Security Adviser John Bolton told Vindman to prepare a decision memo by August 15 for Bolton and other senior administration officials to present as a Trump administration-wide interagency argument to President Trump to release the assistant funds to Ukraine as soon as possible.
Vindman wrote that memo, wrote that argument. And a day later, Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and other national security officials met with President Trump at his resort in Bedminster.
After they met in Bedminster, Vindman learned that President Trump was still refusing to allow those funds to go to Ukraine. And that convinced Lieutenant Colonel Vindman that President Trump was still waiting for the -- quote -- "deliverable," as Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, referred to it in his deposition, the deliverable, the announcement of an investigation into the Bidens that Ukrainian officials needed to deliver in order to get the money they so desperately needed.
Our team of reporters is on the story.
And we have some even more breaking news right now. John Bolton has been officially asked to testify for the impeachment inquiry.
Kaitlan Collins, tell us about that.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's been asked to testify next week, on November the 7th.
House impeachment investigators have invited the former national security adviser, who has been famously silent as all of this has ramped up, so the issues surrounding, of course, this call, a call John Bolton was not on, but that his deputy instead was on, someone who is in kind of a bind of his own, deciding whether or not he's going to appear.
So, right now, we don't know if John Bolton is going to appear. They have not issued a subpoena for him to appear yet. But, right now, that is an invitation that has been made. And the question is, is he going to take them up on it? And if he does, what does he say?
That would be incredibly significant for all of this, because, of course, we have seen all of these people going and testifying on Capitol Hill. Not a lot of them have had interactions directly with President Trump.
John Bolton, of course, is someone who was in the Oval Office almost every day. And while he and the president soured in their relationship at the end, he knows a lot, because he was at the center of this fight over this military aid with Mick Mulvaney.
He's not the only one, though. There have been two other big invitations. That's for John Eisenberg, who is the lawyer for the National Security Council, who has also found himself in the middle of this, because he was someone who several staffers who had issues with the president's July phone call went and spoke with him about.
He's also another person that he and the National Security Council legal team the White House has pinned to the blame on for moving that transcript of the president's call to that highly secure system.
TAPPER: Rough transcript.
COLLINS: Yes, rough transcript, not exact, as we have since learned from that testimony yesterday.
And there's one more, Michael Ellis. That is his deputy there, who, of course, has come under the spotlight of his own at times because he used to work for the House Intelligence Committee when Nunes was in charge of it. He was facing accusations about letting the White House review classified information.
So those are three big asks. We are waiting to see what it is they say.
And Bolton has a lot to contribute. I suspect he's not going to testify unless he's subpoenaed.
But let's talk about what Vindman said, because Vindman said yesterday in his deposition -- CNN has just broken this news -- that he became convinced that this aid, $400 million, much of it was military aid for Ukraine, that President Trump was withholding it until the Ukrainians publicly announced that the Bidens were going to be investigated.
And a lot of this is wrapped up in this August memo. You have more reporting on that August memo, which was basically making the argument to President Trump, we need to release these funds.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think one of the issues here is that the administration has sort of said there were all these legitimate reasons for why the president was not releasing this money.
And, as you are reporting -- and Kylie has done a lot of great reporting on this -- there actually was a push to get the president to sign on the dotted line and release the money in August. And it came from some of the top administration officials that, since then, the White House has pinged the blame on for holding back this money.
So we have seen, as witness after witness goes before the impeachment investigators, this narrative that the White House and the Office of Management and Budget tried to create around this freeze has really begun to crumble.
And it seems more and more like this decision to freeze the money and then to release the money rested solely on the whims of President Trump.
TAPPER: And, Kylie, you cover the State Department for us. You're reporting that the president's decision in June to freeze these funds unnerved a lot of senior administration officials.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, so we're hearing today from one of the State Department officials who was involved in U.S.-Ukraine policy quite directly.
She was one of the assistants to Kurt Volker. And she is telling lawmakers today, according to her prepared testimony, her opening remarks that we obtained, that she was on that July 18 interagency discussion in which the announcement was made that there was going to be this hold on this security assistance.
And during that phone call, they said that it was at the direction of President Trump. This gets back to the heart of what Sara was just saying, is that OMB was announcing that there was the hold. We're told that it was OMB who was doing the review, that the Pentagon was also doing a review.
But, ultimately, day one, they were told that it was President Trump who was directing the hold. And Catherine Croft is someone who knows Ukraine well. She knew that Rudy Giuliani was intimately involved in this smear campaign against Ambassador Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador there.
So, U.S. State Department officials were very concerned when they first heard about this hold and really had questions about the legitimacy of it.
TAPPER: And, Sara, you have previously reported about six sources telling CNN that Republican Senator Rob Portman, a Republican of Ohio, made one last pitch to President Trump in this September 11 phone call, urging him to release these phones.
MURRAY: That's right.
This is a point where basically everyone else in the administration is saying, OK, it's time to release this money. And the president still won't budge. Rob Portman decides he's going to take one more go at it. He calls the president and essentially says, if you don't get this money out the door, essentially now, it's going to go away, because the fiscal year is ending, and then you're going to have a potentially even bigger problem on your hands.
And they hung up the call, and the president really surprised everyone around him, everyone in Washington and even everyone in Ukraine, because he decided after that call that he was going to release the money.
Now, we don't know, ultimately, if Rob Portman's pitch was the one that put the president over the edge, or if it was this mounting pressure that he was getting from lawmakers and even within his own administration, but we do know that he released the money after that, and this is something impeachment investigators very much want the answer to.
TAPPER: It's also possible that the president -- correct me if I'm wrong, Kaitlan -- had heard about this whistle-blower, and the fact that he was -- he or she had lodged a complaint, was expressing concerns about this rogue Ukraine policy and the fact that military aid and other aid was being held up to force this investigation of the Bidens.
TAPPER: We don't know when President Trump learned about this.
COLLINS: No, we don't know.
There's still a lot of mystery surrounding the timeline exactly when it comes to that. But we do know that this person, before going and filing this complaint, went to an attorney beforehand and talked about this, talked about their concern, the concern that they had heard from people, before they went and filed this complaint.
So there is a chance that the White House was more aware than we have initially believed. Whether the president was aware, that's really the question. But also this has really been something that has kind of consumed the president so far. He talks about it constantly all the time, wanting to know the identity of this whistle-blower, because he believes it's just someone who has essentially a bone to pick with him.
And those are really his questions that have focused on the identity of the whistle-blower.
TAPPER: And let me just ask you, briefly, there is this huge campaign to smear Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who fought for the United States, is an American citizen, has shrapnel because he was -- still in his body because he was hit by an IED when he was in combat operations for the U.S. in Iraq, going after him as a dual citizen, going after him as like some sort of covert agent for Ukraine, et cetera, et cetera.
Is there -- is there anybody in the White House who's concerned, like, boy, this really looks bad? Even Liz Cheney is saying that this is shameful.
COLLINS: That was something everyone was paying attention to in the White House.
We talked to several people about it yesterday, because it wasn't just Liz Cheney. She was the first. And a lot of people were surprised that she came out so forcefully about that, but also John Thune and Mitch McConnell later on talking about these criticisms of someone who was just simply, they believe, telling what happened in his position in that role.
Of course, he is incredibly sensitive for the White House, because he is the first person to testify that was actually on that call. That's why you saw people trying to discredit him, even though he is someone who has served in the military, was wounded.
And essentially people in the White House have said they didn't think that was a great idea.
TAPPER: My sources say that he reported to work today at the National Security Council, even after all of this.
All right, thanks, one and all, for being here and reporting on all this. There's a ton going on today. Right now, another Foreign Service
officer is testifying before House investigators, this as lawmakers are right now debating impeachment inquiry rules ahead of a full House vote tomorrow. Lots of debate about that.
And then, on the other side of the country, winds more than 70 miles per hour fueling multiple fires across California. We're going to go live there as well.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with the "POLITICS LEAD."
Right now, the House Rules Committee is debating the House Resolution the Democrats introduced that will be voted on tomorrow which will outline the process of the impeachment inquiry going forward.
This comes as a source tells CNN that a star witness for House Democrats is willing to return to Capitol Hill and testify in public. That's Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He delivered some of the most damning testimony yet, as did Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman yesterday.
And today, two more witnesses are giving their accounts behind closed doors.
As CNN's Sunlen Serfaty reports, their testimony could back up damaging depositions already on the record.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two new witnesses testifying on Capitol Hill today, in the House Democrats' intensifying impeachment probe.
Christopher Anderson, aide to former special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker speaking to lawmakers behind closed doors, telling lawmakers about the concerns voiced by former national security adviser John Bolton over Rudy Giuliani's shadow Ukraine operation.
Anderson, according to his opening statement, obtained by CNN saying Bolton cautioned Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the president on Ukraine which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement.
Catherine Croft, a State Department special adviser for Ukraine, also appearing today, corroborating the testimony the committees have heard from other witnesses about the push to oust the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Meantime, the fallout continues from the explosive testimony on
Capitol Hill Tuesday of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, National Security Council's top Ukraine expert. Vindman was on now the famous July 25th call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, the same call President Trump refers to as perfect.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You take a look at that call, it was perfect.
SERFATY: But Vindman's testimony directly contradicting the public description of the transcript released by the White House.
TRUMP: They had a transcript done by very, very talented people, word-for-word, comma for comma, done by people that do it for a living. We had an exact transcript.
SERFATY: President Trump touting over and over again that it was an exact transcript of the phone call. The White House in September saying ellipses that showed up did not represent missing words or phrases, but not so says Vindman, who told lawmakers what the White House released was not exact and had at least two parts omitted, a reference to a Joe Biden tape and a specific mention of Burisma, the company where Biden son Hunter was on the board.
Burisma, according to Vindman, appearing in the transcript as just the company.
SERFATY: Meantime, back on Bill Taylor being willing to publicly testify up here on Capitol Hill, sources say that an official request has not yet been made by the committees but certainly, Jake, many Democrats up there on Capitol Hill will think he would make an ideal first witness as this inquiry enters into its next more public phase -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
Let's chew over this with our experts.
Democrats believe that Bill Taylor is going to be an unassailable witness. Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who's on the House Intelligence Committee said, quote, he's rock solid, detailed note taker, unimpeachable, 50 years given to his country, and doesn't get much more top gun than that.
But, Mary Katharine, you and I might think it's unassailable, but the White House and the president has been assailing him. President Trump called him a never Trumper. No evidence that he is, and said that never Trumpers are human scum. I mean, they've been going after him.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, yes, they will attempt to assail him. The Democrats have the advantage at the moment of the fact that both Taylor and Vindman as far as I could tell, A, seem to have solid background and reputation. But B, Trump has anybody who steps up against them act as insane and erratic as he does, these two have yet to shift and act openly partisan and mess up in public. And so, that is giving them credibility. If they continue to do that, it will be a problem for Trump.
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think -- so, my theory on this and I've talked to folks on the Hill and they verified that the whole strategy here is Schiff as a former forward prosecutor is building this case brick by brick and as we've gotten more damning and more evidence and more -- and the goal was when we get to the public part, that -- it is intentionally going to see like this is the worst of the worst for the president. So they can keep trying to assail but the point is the evidence is building and building.
And even though we haven't heard from the Republicans sitting in the same hearings, they know what the people have said in private. They know the damage that could be done when they get a chance to talk in public. And so, at some point, I would suspect they'll have to figure out are they really going to take this public? I mean, the Republicans, or will they try to do a deal with Trump?
TAPPER: One of the things that Vindman testified to yesterday was there were parts of the conversation that were not included in the rough transcript. Take a listen to President Trump earlier this month talking about the rough transcript and how it exonerates him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is an exact word-for-word transcript of the conversation, right, taken by very talented stenographers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, that's not true. We knew it at the time it was not true and now we know that parts were left out and parts that Vindman said were not left out nefariously, but he tried to put back in but was not able to do.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, he tried to make key corrections and on multiple times they were -- some got inserted and then some didn't. But, you know, one of the big key pieces of moving forward for Democrats and back to the whole element of public testimony and Taylor is that they feel as though they don't necessarily need everyone to testify publicly.
So, being able to land someone like Taylor in a public testimony, they will be pretty happy with that. And then maybe one or two others, because they don't want this to drag out longer than it needs to and they do want to start getting to those as well as having private depositions at the same time.
TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, a source says Vindman testified, it was this portion where President Trump mentions the tapes of Biden where stuff was left out about Burisma and investigations, Biden went around -- this is Trump in the part of the rough transcript released, Biden went around bragging he stopped the prosecution so if you could look into it, dot, dot, dot. You see the ellipses highlighted there. It sounds horrible to me.
The White House originally said that was just because the conversation had trailed off but that's apparently not true.
COLLINS: And this is the contradiction that needs to be explained, because when this transcript came out you saw the dot dot dots and people asked was something there or what happened, they said no there was a pause in the conversation. Someone trailed off. If there were words left out, there would have been brackets in place.
That was the White House who put that out and in the transcript said this is not a verbatim transcript, it did say that, and while our reporting so far showed that Vindman did not testify there was a sinister motive behind why it's left out --
TAPPER: That he didn't know of one, yes.
COLLINS: -- there had been of questions about why, exactly. And some people have speculated that potentially, it's because this was that transcript that was moved so quickly to that secure system and it took about a matter of days based on what sources have told us. So, those are the questions for the White House to explain why did they say that if there were actual words --
FINNEY: But that is not how the process works.
HAM: But also speak to the idea that there is no nefarious motive, the rough transcript as it existed was damning.
HAM: So --
TAPPER: The president didn't think so.
HAM: But like the cover-up did not succeed.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have more to talk about. We have to sneak in a quick break.
The powder keg before the call. New details today about the explosive Ukraine meeting at White House and why it could be the key moment to the impeachment probe.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: The politics lead now.
While much of the impeachment inquiry so far has been focused on President Trump's now infamous July 25th phone call with Ukraine's President Zelensky, we're now getting a much clearer picture about the fight within the Trump administration about Ukraine policy. CNN's Sara Murray explains, it all stems from a July 10th meeting
where top national security advisers to President Trump confronted one another about their disagreements in front of Ukrainian officials visiting the White House.
MURRAY (voice-over): Weeks ahead of President Trump's controversial July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president that sparked the impeachment inquiry, the rift over Ukraine spilled out in a series of White House meetings.
On July 10th, Ukraine secretary of national security and defense counsel travelled to Washington to meet with then national security adviser John Bolton, then special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
U.S. career national security officials who are experts on Ukraine and Russia, Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman were also there.
In public, it was all smiles. Perry tweeted a picture of the delegation. The Americans heap praise on their Ukrainian counterparts, tweeting, great discussion. Good team work. We stand with Ukraine.
Privately, though, things were going sour. The Ukrainians were angling for an in-person meeting between President Zelensky and President Trump, an important sign of solidarity between the U.S. and Ukraine as the country continued to face threats from Russia.
Ambassador Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the president, at which time Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short. Vindman, the White House expert on Ukraine, testified Tuesday.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I want to thank Colonel Vindman for his courage in coming forward.
MURRAY: After Bolton cut off the meeting, there was another meeting where Sondland talked with the Ukrainians and pressed once again for the political investigations Trump was demanding.
Vindman testified: Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma. Then Vindman and Hill confronted Sondland.