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House Democrats Get Ready To Push Their Impeachment Resolution Forward Against President Trump; Federal Reserve Is Cutting Interest Rates For The Third Time This Year; Flames Threaten To Reach The Reagan Presidential Library In California. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 30, 2019 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:02]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. We are live here today from the nation's capital as House Democrats get ready next hour to push their impeachment resolution forward against President Trump.

We're getting a big indication as to who may be one of those early witnesses in the public hearings which could begin by the way before Thanksgiving. Bill Taylor, America's top diplomat in Ukraine. His testimony last week of a quid pro quo between President Trump and his counterpart in Ukraine certainly reverberated among Republican lawmakers according to sources, and we'll learn much more about Taylor here in just a second.

Let me bring you up to speed on what happened today. The testimony from witnesses Christopher Anderson and Catherine Croft, they did the same job - that was special adviser to Ukraine negotiations. Croft took over the job from Anderson, but they offer different details to this impeachment story according to their opening statements.

Anderson whose deposition is set to begin right now says the then National Security adviser, John Bolton said this quote, " ... cautioned that Mr. Giuliani," that's the President's personal attorney, " ... was a key voice with the President on Ukraine, which could be an obstacle to increase White House engagement ..." with Ukraine.

As for Croft, she offered details this morning about the millions of dollars in military aid being withheld from Ukraine. She said a representative from the White House Budget Office quote, " ... reported that the White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney had placed an informal hold on security assistance to Ukraine, and the only reason given was that the order came at the direction of the President."

So let's get you to the breaking news right now on Bill Taylor, and for that we turn to CNN national security reporter, Kylie Atwood. Kylie, you're breaking the details this afternoon. Is he willing to testify publicly? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So we are

learning from a source close with Bill Taylor that he is willing to go up to the Hill again, this time for an open hearing.

Now, he has not gotten a formal request from the committees for this. Tomorrow, they're going to vote on some of the rules for what this will actually look like. But he is willing to and that is key here because he is the person who told lawmakers that he was told by the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, that everything with regard to Ukraine was dependent on Zelensky publicly stating that he would investigate 2016 and the Biden's. Therefore laying out the most compelling argument that there was a quid pro quo at play.

But the thing here is that Bill Taylor is not at all a political character. He served under both Trump -- the Trump administration, former Democratic administrations, Republican administrations, and he is viewed by Democrats as rock solid. That's because he is a note taker and he was someone who has provided the most compelling details to date with regard to the Trump administration policy in Ukraine.

BALDWIN: He has the receipts so to speak. And as part of your reporting, you also have some new material as far as what Taylor testified regarding quid pro quo.

ATWOOD: Yes, so the Democrats are trying to pin down these folks who are going up to the Hill on if there was a quid pro quo based on what they saw. And so Bill Taylor was asked specifically, if there was a quid pro quo, because the person who asked the question said, Listen, what you're saying here is that the deal was that the Zelensky would announce these investigations related to the Biden and 2016.

And in return, he would be getting a meeting at the White House and the lift on the security assistance to Ukraine and Taylor said, yes, that is exactly what I'm laying out here.

The person then followed up and said, isn't that the definition of quid pro quo, but Bill Taylor was not willing to go there. He said to the lawmakers, I don't speak Latin. He said he was a person who was there to provide the facts, and it is lawmakers who are in the role that are supposed to be the ones who are determining the legal definitions here and if there was a quid pro quo at play -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Okay, Kylie standby. I may want to bring you into my next bigger conversation. Francesca Chambers is with me here in Washington. She is a White House correspondent from McClatchy DC. Kim Wehle was associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation of President Clinton. She is also the author of "How to Read the Constitution and Why." And also here, CNN legal analyst, Michael Zeldin, he is a former Federal prosecutor.

And so Michael, starting with you. Kylie ran through it of it. Just remind everyone you know, when this thing becomes public, and when Bill Taylor testifies, what is the most damning piece of information he may say that the whole world can see.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That the President of the United States corruptly used the powers of his office for personal gain. That's the narrative that the Democrats need to say for America to be convinced that this was an impeachable offence.

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ZELDIN: Quid pro quo is lovely. If there is something for something that makes it criminal-like, fine; but even if there was no quid pro quo, if the President of the United States is corruptly using the powers of his office for personal political gain, dirt on the Biden's.

BALDWIN: Yes.

ZELDIN: That in and of itself is the type of abuse of office that the Founding Fathers had in mind when the Constitution was enacted.

BALDWIN: Okay, so on the one hand, yes, potentially damning. On the other hand, we're getting reporting also from Kylie that the Republicans are going to change up their counterpunch. Right?

So instead of saying, not really liking the process, this isn't transparent. Democrats basically are like, well, okay, we're opening the doors. Now, the Republicans are going to say, well, you know, a number of these diplomats are sort of secondary separation, third degree separation, four degrees separation from the President.

Bill Taylor himself in testimony, you know, never had a one-on-one with President Trump. So, Francesca to you? How effective will that counterpunch strategy from Republicans do you think?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY DC: Well, the President is also taking that strategy. He is tweeting and saying, I don't know these never Trumpers, these people potentially in the deep state who aren't for me. And that's a problematic strategy because Mike Pompeo, his Secretary of State is very close to the President is the one who brought some of these people in. So he's undermining his own Secretary of State as he continues to make some of these arguments.

But the concern that seems to be happening around the White House now is who else they're going to call as witnesses. Now, Mick Mulvaney, the White House Chief of Staff has not been subpoenaed yet, but he is someone that Democrats seem to be looking to talk to you, all signs point in that direction. So will he be subpoenaed soon? And will the White House allow him to even go up there and testify to make this case on behalf of the President?

BALDWIN: Right. No, and you bring up a great point, and we'll come back to that. Who may be first time, you know, witnesses giving testimony or who may also be repeat, you know, repeat depositions so that everyone can see.

Kim, you heard what the counterstrategy is now from Democrats about discrediting a number of these career diplomats. What's the Democrats' strategy back?

KIM WEHLE, ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL IN THE WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION OF PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, it doesn't pass the logical sort of common sense test that all of these people would be taking an action, which we heard is basically a separate foreign policy towards Ukraine with absolutely no input from the President of the United States.

The other big narrative here, in addition to abuse of power, is the idea that Ukraine has been a burgeoning democracy since 1991. It has gone presidency after presidency after presidency to gain independence from Russia and these diplomats all signed on presuming that was the objective, and that objective was set aside, and we have to ask ourselves as Americans, what is best for the American people?

Is it best to encourage Ukraine to stave off Russian aggression? Or is it best for a President to use the power of the office, military aid, et cetera to essentially get himself potentially reelected?

I just don't think people are -- people watch people all the time, make a determination as to who is telling you, all of these people are making this up. It's getting harder and harder for the Republicans to have an answer on what we say as lawyers on the merits here. It's all these sideshows and I don't think it's going to fly.

BALDWIN: Sure. So just fast forwarding to when they open this up, and this is public testimony and everyone and their mother is going to be presumably tuned into this -- just to the two of you. If you're the Democrats and you're thinking, okay, who would be best for us? Who would be the top three, either repeat folks who've already been up behind closed doors, who are you putting your money on?

WEHLE: Well, certainly, Bill Taylor, as you mentioned. I think the other three key witnesses would be Mulvaney, if that -- if they can get Mulvaney, John Bolton and of course Rudy Giuliani is the number one, although he might have Fifth Amendment issues.

And the thing that's interesting about the process is that have proposed to have essentially lawyers do the questioning, not just Members of Congress.

And I think that's a smart strategy because lawyers are highly skilled, to get to the nitty-gritty, get around the politics, get around the sound bites and really get to the heart of what needs to be drawn out to establish the issues here.

BALDWIN: Okay, let me hit pause on this conversation. Hang with me. More to talk about ahead. But first, this just in -- the Federal Reserve just announcing it is cutting interest rates for the third time this year. This is just coming in hours after the Commerce Department announced that the U.S. economy is showing signs of slowing down, posting a modest growth of 1.9 percent during the third quarter.

Let's go to Cristina Alesci. She is our CNN business and politics correspondent. And so it's another quarter of a percentage point cut in interest rates. I mean, if the economy is solid, why is the Fed doing this again and so soon?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question. And the Federal Reserve has been framing this as essentially an insurance policy just in case we get to an economic slowdown. But to your point, I think at this juncture, people are going to start questioning, do we need other cuts? And if so, why? To your point.

So what people are going to be paying attention to especially hiring managers, investors on Wall Street is what the Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says later on this afternoon, if he hints at any future cuts, But to your point, what we got this morning was a read on the U.S. economy. And it does look like it's slowed just a little bit and it's decelerating.

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ALESCI: And at this point, the 1.9 percent read that we got really makes it unclear to me how we get to the four percent growth that Donald Trump promised the American people. I don't see how he delivers that this year with the reads that we've got on the GDP numbers, Brooke.

And I think that, look, it could be a political risk to him. He is lucky that the U.S. consumer keeps spending. He is lucky that the government keeps spending that's helping boost GDP, but business investment and confidence is down and that is a risk and so is manufacturing -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Cristina, thank you.

ALESCI: Of course.

BALDWIN: Back here in Washington as the House prepares to mark a milestone in this Impeachment Inquiry, we will talk about the new testimony on the transcript, the actual transcript of Trump's Ukraine call. How a key witness explains those dot, dot, dots -- the ellipses.

Plus breaking news out of California, just look at these pictures. Wind gust reaching hurricane force strength, wildfires now threaten the Reagan library there in Simi Valley, California. We will take you there.

Also ahead, President Trump's acting immigration Chief Ken Cuccinelli says he is not a racist. The grilling he just got over controversial immigration rules.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We're live in Washington, D.C. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:16:26]

BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. President Trump has said repeatedly that his July 25th phone call with Ukraine President Zelensky was perfect, and that there was no pressure to investigate Joe Biden and his son in exchange for military aid. A rough transcript provided afterward by the White House proved

otherwise. But he also said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an exact word for word transcript of the conversation, right? Taken by very talented stenographers.

You had stenographers, you had people that took it down exactly.

It was an exact transcription of the conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The President said that the White House transcript was exact, used that word exact, a total of 16 times and once again, the transcript which incidentally has a disclaimer at the bottom, saying it is, and I quote, "not a verbatim transcript" of a discussion is proving otherwise. That's according to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the decorated war veteran and member of Trump's National Security Council, who testified for 10 hours before Congress Tuesday.

He also says that he tried to make changes to that transcript after the White House admitted several things, including the President's claim that there were tapes of Joe Biden.

I've got these three wonderful people sitting next to me here in Washington. So Francesca, let me just start with you. Because, you know, just making the point how the President kept saying it was perfect, it was exact. And now you have Vindman saying what he did yesterday, how is the White House responding to all of this?

CHAMBERS: Well, the President is the one who is saying that it was exact. I don't think that everyone else in the White House is necessarily saying that. What I had heard prior and after to him saying that was that it is just a rough transcript.

But I was also told that they believe that it's mostly accurate. I had asked about whether or not there could be words that were missing, important words, and that the stenographers generally get everything down pretty correctly. So there hadn't been as much of a need to correct the President when he says that, but you're absolutely right, it is not -- it's not exact, and other people the White House are saying that it is.

BALDWIN: So Colonel Vindman -- Kim, this is for you -- says most of the transcript was accurate. Are there any more potential issues as far as how the White House handled it?

WEHLE: Well, my understanding is he said that the word Burisma that is the entity that Hunter Biden worked for and then also that the President referenced some sort of tape on Joe Biden, but as you mentioned, you know, an ellipses, a dot, dot, dot means something is taken out of there. And it was interesting, the White House put this out on its own early

on to get ahead of the story, and if they want to correct it, if there's some kind of a tape of it, I think the American public should hear it.

BALDWIN: Now, Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said that this White House is engaged in a cover up, right? So put on your prosecutor cap, right? Do you see these omissions in this transcript combined with the President's insistence that this was accurate, do you think that that is an issue?

ZELDIN: It is. I think that you have a linear thing here, which is first is the narrative that we started the show with, which was the President corruptly using the powers of his office, quid pro quo or not for personal gain.

Then there is this rough summary. It is not a transcript. That's not even an accurate word he uses. This is as a summary of the call, where important matters were left out.

Then, once that was realized, the tape or the summary is locked down in the nice computer, the more secure computer which speaks to some sort of cover up of what was in there.

So if you have corrupt office, then you have deletions, then you have lock down. It creates a narrative of some type of abuse of office and that's what the Democrats need to convince the American people of if they're going to prevail.

BALDWIN: Thank you all. Thank you very much for the conversation. Breaking news now out of California, where yet another fire is moving so ferociously. Flames threaten to reach the Reagan Presidential Library and hurricane force winds add yet another layer to the danger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:25:11]

BALDWIN: California is a tinderbox right now. As soon as it appears one wildfire is simmering down, another ignites. The latest is happening in Southern California, it is called the Easy Fire. It broke out this morning precariously closely to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. It joins a long list of fires currently scorching this destructive path on both ends of the state. Let me show you some pictures.

This was the scene in Simi Valley shortly after this Easy Fire broke out around 6:00 a.m. local time. President Reagan and Mrs. Reagan are buried there on site. Many of their personal belongings are housed there, and just adding fuel to this fire, nearby hurricane force Santa Ana winds are out in full force.

Bill Weir is outside the Reagan library, and Bill, I mean, you have had the most extraordinary pictures all day and that is one of the most beautiful places in California.

We were all there a couple years ago for the presidential debate. Tell me tell me how close that fire is to you guys.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, thankfully it has passed. This building, this is -- the Reagan Library was built to be earthquake proof and fireproof, but it got its most severe test today.

We can look through the window. They won't let us inside because there's so much smoke getting through every crack that they're using tape to try to keep out all the soot, but there is the iconic Air Force One, the Ronald Reagan, the Marine One chopper, the President used -- and earlier today it was so eerie, you could see the flames on those hillsides.

It started about 6:00 a.m. this morning and just within the last few hours, has burned this entire valley. We're going to walk you over here and show you and this is such -- one of the iconic symbols of California, right? The Reagan Library much like the Getty Museum, highly fortified against events like this.

They bring in goats to clear the brush around the seasons, and it helps CAL FIRE and the local Ventura County authorities defend this area. But it's worth noting that in the history of CAL FIRE, they have never been able to put out a blaze fueled by Santa Ana winds. The best they can do is contain them.

This fire right now is about 1,300 acres, zero percent contained. They have eight or nine helicopters in the air. A couple of fixed wing tankers dropping retardant and water as well and now as this -- as the fire line has sort of crossed this entire valley, turned it into a moonscape, the real battle is happening beyond that ridge line. There are communities there as well.

Ventura County schools were closed today. Evacuation orders in place. But just a little sample of what's happening here, Brooke where, when they have power outages, this isn't the PG&E's area. This is Southern California Edison, which also can shut down power out of an abundance of caution because there's so many vulnerable power lines in these winds.

But when they do that, that means more people use generators, which sometimes are enough to snuff when it comes to wiring. Some people are camping out. There are some reports that maybe this fire was started by a homeless camp. It's too early to tell. Investigations are underway.

But on Easy Street, which is thus the name, the Easy Fire, that's where it started. So they're trying to figure it out. But it could literally start with a cigarette. It could start with a spark from a flat tire rim. And in these conditions, as long as these hurricane force winds are blowing, again, there's no stopping it. You can only hope to contain it.

BALDWIN: I was wondering how it started and potentially and why it was called the Easy Fire when it's anything but, you've answered those two questions.

Bill when we saw the pictures of you are earlier and I mean, it was near whiteout conditions because of the smoke and how close that fire was. What were people in the area doing? What were they saying? Were they just hunkered down?

WEIR: Yes, it was -- I mean, it is a little bit misleading in that we're in a real Oasis up here. This place was built for days like this. In fact, when they dedicated it, they invited fire teams as a dedication to people who had helped the Reagan's when their Malibu ranch burned years before.

But here's the thing, I think the big picture that a lot of Californians are dealing with right now. Since Ronald Reagan was governor, the fire season in the American West has increased by two and a half months.

Really the words fire season are an oxymoron these days. It is now a year round event. Fifty years ago, maybe 100,000 acres a year would burn; last year, it was two million acres. Like the 10 of the last 20 most deadliest, costly and biggest fires have happened in recent years.

So as the climate heats up and these dry canyons --

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