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Two State Department Officials Testify On Ukraine Pressure; Capitol Hill Showdown, Impeachment Resolution Vote On Thursday. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired October 30, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: -- requesting an emergency order to protect coal plants from being closed.
The Trump administration rejected that request. The future of 7,000 employees across the country is now uncertain.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good and busy morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.
HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.
Testifying right now on Capitol Hill, the latest impeachment witness. Special Adviser for Ukraine Catherine Croft is a State Department official, and he is planning to tell House investigators about a meeting or staffers were told Ukraine aid was put on hold at the direction of the president.
Then later today, more evidence from yet another official showing that there was the official foreign policy position toward Ukraine and then there was whatever Rudy Giuliani was doing.
SCIUTTO: Keep track of this, because sworn testimony is now repeatedly backed up. It was the core of the whistleblower's complaint which started this. It came the day after Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a White House official, as well as a serving member of the U.S. military, told House investigators that he raised a red flag immediately after hearing president's July 25th call with Ukraine's president.
He also said the White House edited parts of that transcript of that call. Remember, the White House has said repeatedly that transcript perfectly described everything that happened to that conversation.
Meanwhile, Congress is preparing for tomorrow's impeachment vote in the House. This will set up plans, rules for carrying out the inquiry and to do so in full view of the public.
We begin with today's testimony with CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. He is live on Capitol Hill.
So two more witnesses here were not in the room, but we do have some indications as to what they are going to say in this testimony.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because we've obtained their opening statements. And they made very clear that there were concerns that were raised in the White House about the role that Rudy Giuliani played.
That's been a consistent theme throughout this testimony that we've heard from these witnesses behind closed doors, basically, that the president's personal attorney had been operating outside of official channels and had been pursuing what the president had been pushing for, investigations into his political rivals.
Now, there are also discussions about why that Ukraine money that had been approved by Congress, security assistance that was vital to push back against Russian aggression, why that was withheld for some time.
Now, according to the testimony from Catherine Croft behind closed doors, her opening statement says this. On July 18th, I participated in a sub-policy coordination committee video conference where an OMB representative reported that the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had placed an informal hold on security assistance to Ukraine. The only reason was that the order came at the direction of the president. And we've heard from separate testimony, of course, concerns that this was withheld because the president had been pushing from -- for public declaration of investigations, that came out in the Bill Taylor testimony.
But we're also going to hear from Christopher Anderson as well today. He is a career foreign service officer. And he is going to testify about concerns of the then National Security Adviser John Bolton had. He says this, John Bolton cautioned that Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the president on Ukraine, which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement. And, of course, guys, John Bolton has been a consistent player throughout this testimony. Witness after witness has described his role in raising alarms internally about the push of Rudy Giuliani, about the push by the president and the push to release that aid.
The question is, will he be one of those witnesses who come here. Democrats want to talk to him. It's uncertain if he will come. Guys?
HARLOW: Also, Manu, before you go, talk to us about the most important things you have learned from Vindman's testimony yesterday.
RAJU: Well, I would say the top thing was what came out in his opening statement that he was raising red flags that the president of the United States had been pushing for this investigation into his political rivals, into the Bidens, raised that on the phone call because he was concerned that this could undermine national security.
This is his sworn testimony from someone who has served in the military, someone who currently serves in the White House, raising concerns that the president of the United States, the commander-in- chief could undermine national security because of the way that he had been pushing the Ukrainian government on that phone call to investigate the Bidens. That clearly was something that the members of both committee and committees had been asking about all day yesterday. He noted that he reported this information to top lawyers at the National Security Council, even we are told talked to his twin brother, who works in the ethics office of the National Security Council.
So this is something that, of course, is significant. The first person who has testified who served, who was listening in on that phone call into when he raised concerns about it. Guys?
HARLOW: Okay. Manu, thank you on both of those fronts.
Let's talk about all of this. Our Legal Analyst Elliot Williams is with us this morning, also Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today. Good morning, guys.
Susan, you say unequivocally the testimony yesterday from Col. Vindman is the most important in the inquiry so far. Make the case.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Because he was on the phone call, his account isn't secondhand, because he immediately felt that there were problems with what the president did in this conversation with the Ukrainian president. Because he raised this concern with his superior, registering them and because he provides firsthand evidence of not only the president pressuring a foreign leader to get involved in our election process, our political process, but also of the quid pro quo that was involved.
So, yes, I think that we're on that. Before yesterday, I've never heard of Alexander Vindman. Now, I think he turns out to be the central figure. And I am pretty sure he will be a central figure in the public hearings that we're likely to see next month.
SCIUTTO: And you can imagine the power of that sitting member of the military in his uniform recounting in honest terms what he saw and witnessed.
Elliot Williams, I want to get at what has been the series of presidential defenses, hear responses. I mean, it started with this idea of hearsay, whistleblower, Democrat, et cetera, only hearsay. The hearsay point is gone because now you have someone who is on the call. Second phase, you can call it character assassination. They've gone after Bill Taylor. They've gone after even Vindman. I imagine that will continue. But you haven't heard articulated, if I can call it, something of a legal defense of what happened here.
But I have started to hear from some Republicans, some pundits, raising this idea that, listen, okay, this happened, but the aid eventually went to Ukraine. You know, if there was abuse of power, it was only an attempt at abuse of power. It didn't really happen. From a legal perspective, from an impeachment perspective, is that potentially an effective defense?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. And, look, Senator Ron Johnson -- there's The Washington Post piece where he is quoted saying this too, saying, I think this was improper behavior, however, I don't believe it's impeachable. And the simple fact the president's defenders have lost the process argument.
What they have tried to say is that the process is flawed, that the Democrats have proceeded by -- in a manner that violates the Constitution, whatever, which is nonsense and foolish, and we know that. And now that they're losing that argument and we are going to see public hearings. What they're saying is, even assuming the president committed this conduct or even assuming it happened, it's simply not impeachable. That's just not accurate.
But what we know, and as Manu's reporting laid out, and as Susan has said, what we know and based on what Vindman said yesterday, is that the president intended -- pardon me, they haven't spoken to his intent, but they have supported the findings of the call memorandum, right? And it's just pretty clear that the president intended to extract concessions from Ukraine and to upend the normal process of funding of giving foreign aid.
And so it's just hard to see how based on the intent of the actions of the president, but this is not impeachable?
HARLOW: Susan, today, right now, Catherine Croft, State Department special adviser on Ukraine answering questions, she is likely done with her opening statement at this point in time, what is the most important, a hole you think she can fill?
PAGE: Well, I think one of the things that the Democratic investigators would like to know more about is exactly how the aid, the military aid to Ukraine was held back. Whose orders was it on? Was that directly from the president or from someone else? Did Ukraine understand that it was being withheld and that they had to do these other favors if they wanted to get that military aid released?
I think that is an explosive allegation. There is some evidence that it's true. They have more direct evidence from people involved in that I think would be helpful for the Democrats.
SCIUTTO: All right. Susan Page, Elliot Williams, stay with us. There is much more to cover.
First, we should go to the Hill. The House will begin building a formal political process designed to impeach the president, and the vote on that, of course, tomorrow.
CNN Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.
You have a markup today. Republicans, I imagine, will raise objections. I mean, is it possible to see those objections satisfied in that process today?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I don't really want to break any news today when I say no. Republicans are pretty dead set against this resolution, are pretty dead set against the entire process, period. Obviously, they've raised the objections about the depositions that have been taking place behind closed doors.
Now, Democrats are going to set forth the process for public hearings, an official process for things to move over to the Judiciary Committee for impeachment consideration, and Republicans are still kind of a hard no on this. We have Republican leadership yesterday working, whipping votes on the floor, making sure that they can keep their conference in line on this.
And, basically, what I'm being told right now, There is distinct possibility not a single Republican votes for this, maybe one or two.
What I'm hearing is they're pretty much keeping everybody in line here.
But for those who maybe aren't as fascinated by Congressional procedure, as I am, we explain why this all matters. This is the road map for what Democrats have put forth and what they will be voting on the House floor is the step-by-step process that's going to take place. You have the public hearings, which will take place in a couple of weeks, led by the House Intelligence Committee.
And in those hearings, there's going to be a unique twist here where the chairman and the ranking member alone will be able to split 45 minutes each. We're obviously used to watching hearings, where everybody gets five minutes each can be unruly, can have members that are just digging for that YouTube moment they can post on their campaign website. This will be kind of a more stream line process.
Also the chairman and ranking member can give their time and it won't just be a five-minute cap, it can be as much as they want so long as it's split evenly, to councils. So it won't necessarily be the members asking questions. Councils will have the opportunity to ask questions as well. So that will be an interesting issue here.
Also, Republicans do have rights based on this resolution. They can ask for specific witnesses. They can request specific things during the process of those public hearings. However, Democrats do have the ability to essentially stop that, to mix that through a full committee vote. Obviously, Democrats control the committees.
The other issue here is obviously this will eventually move to the Judiciary Committee. There will be a transmittal of evidence from the House Intelligence Committee. And in that committee, the White House will have rights. The president's legal team will be able to show up. They will be able to cross-exame witnesses.
But one caveat here that I think is important before I let this go, if the White House does not comply with subpoenas, with document requests, the House Democrats in this resolution reserve the right to essentially take the White House's rights away, so trying to use a little carrot and stick here. We'll see how it actually works out.
The White House has made it pretty clear, they don't plan on cooperating anytime soon. We will all have to see what's ahead. Guys?
HARLOW: I noticed that at the end of reading this, and it is interesting.
SCIUTTO: That's hardball, yes.
HARLOW: Oh, yes, that is hardball. Phil, thank you.
Elliot Williams, Susan Page, they are back with us.
So, Elliot, the Republicans think it's not fair that they think that the counsel of the President should be able to cross-examine witnesses right now in the Intel, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committee. Do they have a point?
WILLIAMS: No. Again, they have had every opportunity -- they will have every opportunity to confront witnesses. This was, I think, a master class in gamesmanship by the Democrats in the House. Because the big concern that the Republicans have been raising, we talked about this in the first break, the big concern is that the process was flawed and what the Democrats needed to do was cast a vote or hold a vote on the procedures that would dictate or, you know, that would govern the impeachment proceedings. They've now done that and they've given ample opportunity to confront witnesses, to question witnesses, for the president to have his counsel there and so on.
I think the most interesting aspect of this, and Phil touched on this pretty clearly, is allowing staff to question witnesses. And Phil used the term YouTube moment. That takes away sort of the circus element of Congressional hearings that we're so used to when have you 40 minutes of frankly a trained professional questioner or interrogator lead at 45 minutes, leading off this proceeding. And you're not going to have the shoes being banged on the table that we are used to seeing here in congressional hearings. That will happen, but eight hours into the hearing or whatever.
SCIUTTO: Susan Page, you make the point. We have talk about how this will put some Democrats in swing districts in difficult positions, but, in fact, you could say, put some Republicans in the swing districts in difficult position as well. Do you see any Republicans voting yes for this resolution?
PAGE: I think we will see a few Republicans voting yes for this resolution, as we saw with the Clinton impeachment. We had 31 Democratic members of the House vote in favor of the impeachment inquiry into President Clinton, although only five of them actually voted to impeach him.
There are some Republicans who probably that this inquiry ought to go forward and they come from districts where that's expected.
And, you know, the White House is on some thin ground here. We have a new USA Today/Suffolk poll that came out yesterday that showed two- thirds of Americans say the White House has an obligation to comply with congressional subpoenas, and that included 35 percent of Republicans. So I think he White House will have a hard time making a case to Americans generally that it's okay for them not to allow witnesses to come forward or to provide documents that the House has subpoenaed.
SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a notable result too, because that Republican support is not just for the president for president's position has been pretty remarkably solid in the high 80s, 90s, depending on what you're asking.
Elliot Williams, Susan Page, great to have you both on. I think we'll probably going to continue this conversation in the coming weeks and months.
SCIUTTO: Breaking news right now, a new brush fire confirmed in Southern California, very close, this one, to the Reagan Library. We will bring you there live.
HARLOW: Also, troubling signs for former Vice President Joe Biden in New Hampshire, specifically. Of course, New Hampshire holds the nation's first first primary. What does this mean?
And round two today from Boeing's CEO, he is on Capitol Hill for a second day of questioning after being confronted by families whose loved ones died in a 737 Max crash.
SCIUTTO: Today, two more State Department officials testifying behind closed doors as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
First up, Catherine Croft, she once served as the adviser to the former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. She is in the room speaking right now.
Croft is expected to testify that the only reason she was given for withholding that crucial military assistance from Ukraine was that the order came from the president, directly.
Meanwhile, the man who preceded Croft is Volker's adviser, Christopher Anderson. He's scheduled (ph) to testify, again, under oath later this afternoon.
I am joined by the chairman of the House Armed Services, Washington Congressman Adam Smith. Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, thanks for giving me the chance.
SCIUTTO: Here is what we know of Croft and Anderson's testimony at this point based on their opening statement. So, Christopher Anderson, he's going to say that he cautioned that Mr. Giuliani was a key voice with the president on Ukraine, which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagements. Again, this is one of the core complaints of that original whistleblower complaint, undue influence from the president's personal attorney.
Catherine Croft, she's going to say in her testimony that the only reason given for withholding that crucial military assistance was that the order came at the direction of the president. You couple that with Vindman's testimony yesterday, again, saying that he raised this idea of a quid pro quo here, undue pressure, et cetera.
Based on what you have seen and heard from this testimony, do you believe there is enough evidence here to impeach President Trump?
SMITH: Well, I think there is clearly enough evidence that it is obvious that the president orchestrated a very long-term pressure campaign on Ukraine to open investigations into both Hillary Clinton, the email scandal, the whole DNC thing, this CrowdStrike conspiracy theory, long debunked, by the way, and also to open investigations into Hunter Biden and Joe Biden. I don't think it's debatable at this point that the president --
SCIUTTO: If it's not debatable, is it impeachable? Does it reach the level of high crimes and misdemeanors?
SMITTH: That I have not reached a conclusion on yet, but it certainly needs to be pursued.
Now, I tell you, the thing that is most concerning about it is not only just that the president did it but he doesn't think there is anything wrong with having done it and he'll do it again. He thinks this is just what the power of the presidency means and that's where you really have to look very closely at impeachment to make it clear that, no, this is not how presidents are supposed to act.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. I'm curious if you think this makes any difference. Because I started to see this punitive defense bubble up from some of the president's surrogates to say, okay, this is not 100 percent kosher here. But in the end, the military aid went through, there was no definitive promise to investigate the Bidens. So, in effect, it was attempted but failed abuse of power.
SCIUTTO: If it didn't happen, is that, in your view, exculpatory?
SMITH: Well, a couple things. I mean, first of all, I mean a black mail scheme that fails through no fault of the person who is trying to do the black mail is in no way exculpatory in a criminal setting. So I don't think that argument carries over. I mean, if you try to rob a bank but you fail, you are no less guilty. So I don't really think that argument goes anywhere.
But I do think it would be helpful if the Republicans could start making those sorts of arguments instead of being dishonest about the process. We hear all these arguments about how they are blocked out of it. And even on the subpoena issue, the minority has never had the right to unilaterally subpoena witnesses. All they've ever had is the right to ask for a subpoena. If the chair says no, there is a vote and, typically, they lose. Now, that was what was true with Clinton and Nixon.
So they continue to be dishonest about the process to try to set up a smokescreen to avoid the very facts that you layout quite clearly that are incredibly damaging to the president.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this just quickly. There was some explosive exchanges in the hearing yesterday where Democrats accused Republican members of attempting to out, in effect, the identity of the whistleblower here. Do you believe that Republicans are trying to do so they can target and undermine the whistleblower?
SMITH: I haven't seen direct evidence of that. Obviously, I'm worried about the comments the president has made, you know, saying that it's treason, and also there has been a pattern of the White House and the president specifically attempting to intimidate witnesses and then just savaging their credibility at the drop of a hat. But I have not seen any direct evidence of Republicans trying to out the whistleblower, but I think it's something we do need to make sure it doesn't happen.
SCIUTTO: Okay. You are chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I do want to ask you about Syria.
As you know, after the president summarily withdraw U.S. forces, so surprising his own commanders on the ground a couple of weeks ago, U.S. forces are, in fact, back on the ground in Syria but not fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS, as their original mission was, that now they are protecting oil fields. Is that, in your view, an acceptable risk to American service members' lives?
SMITH: Well, a part of what they are doing in protecting those oil fields is trying to make sure that they don't fall into the hands of ISIS. Because when ISIS controlled this territory, one of the things that they did was they took that oil and they sold it on the black market to make money and finance their terrorist ambitions.
So, yes, I do think it's an acceptable mission, but it is an incoherent policy. Because if you are willing to show up and protect the oil fields from ISIS, why were you not willing to protect the Kurds, who are the single most important group in fighting ISIS? That's the inconsistency and the policy that's deeply troubling.
SCIUTTO: And the Kurds who lost thousands of lives in that fight.
Congressman Adam Smith, nice to have you on the program this morning.
SMITH: Thanks, Jim, I appreciate the chance.
HARLOW: All right. Still ahead, a new brush fire this morning in Southern California very close to the Reagan Library.