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California Wildfires; Kamala Harris Cutting 2020 Campaign Staff; Public Impeachment Hearings to Begin Before Thanksgiving. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 30, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Two witnesses today are adding to this impeachment story, based upon what they're learning from their opening statements, what we're learning.

Christopher Anderson and Catherine Croft did the same job as special adviser to Ukraine negotiations. Anderson just arrived moments ago on Capitol Hill. He says then National Security Adviser John Bolton -- quote -- "cautioned that Mr. Giuliani," the president's personal attorney, "was a key voice with the president on Ukraine, which could be an obstacle to increased White House engagement with Ukraine.

And Croft had details 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. The only reason given that was that the order came at the direction of the president."

So we start on Capitol Hill with Manu Raju.

And so, Manu, what's latest on the depositions?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she -- Croft is done testifying.

She did talk about why the decision to withhold that military aid that was approved by Congress that Ukraine desperately sought that came just as the president was pushing for those investigations into his political rivals. She did say that there was this informal hold that was placed on the release of that aid by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.

And she said that it came at the direction of the president. Now, she also indicated, we are told, that Rudy Giuliani -- she tried to stay away from the role that Rudy Giuliani played in moving outside of normal diplomatic channels.

And, according to one Democratic lawmakers, she said that she wanted to stay away from -- quote -- "that mess," referring to the push by Giuliani to investigate the Bidens and as well as the 2016 elections. But coming out of this closed-door deposition, some Democrats said

there needs to be more explanation about some key players' role, including Mick Mulvaney's.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Mr. Mulvaney's role gets deeper as we get into this. And it is puzzling that somebody from OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, would suddenly play a foreign policy role in making a decision about suspending aid to an allied country that is fighting active Russian aggression on its territory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Christopher Anderson, that career Foreign Service officer, is behind closed doors right now.

According to his opening statement, he is saying that John Bolton, then national security adviser, also had concerns with the role that Rudy Giuliani played.

And there's still a question, Brooke, about whether John Bolton himself comes and testifies. There have been discussions about bringing him in. Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, who is involved in these impeachment proceedings, just -- I just asked him moments ago if they would subpoena him, and if he prefers to subpoena Bolton.

He said, that's something that we would consider. He said they have not issued a subpoena yet. But they are getting to the end of these closed-door depositions. Wait until the public hearings take place.

And we are hearing the key witness could come forward in a public setting, Bill Taylor, the former top diplomat -- or the current top diplomat in Ukraine for the United States who has testified behind closed doors.

BALDWIN: Right.

RAJU: He's willing to testify publicly, we're told -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right, willing to testify publicly. Certain other repeat testimonies could happen again as they open the doors.

Manu, thank you very much for the headlines as far as depositions go today.

Amid all these impeachment developments, a key State Department official was in the hot seat on the Senate side today. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan is the president's nominee for ambassador to Russia. He was also the person who had to tell former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch that she was being fired.

And in his Senate confirmation hearing today, he was asked about what he knew about Rudy Giuliani's involvement in that decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): You were aware that there were individuals and forces outside of the State Department seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch; is that correct?

JOHN SULLIVAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA NOMINEE: I was.

MENENDEZ: And seeking to remove her. Is that correct?

SULLIVAN: I was.

MENENDEZ: And did you know Mr. Giuliani was one of those people?

SULLIVAN: I believed he was, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood is with me.

And so why, Kylie, did Sullivan believe Giuliani was the one behind the ambassador's firing?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, I want to take a step back and look at Sullivan and the fact that you said, Brooke, he was the one who had to meet with Ambassador Yovanovitch when she was recalled abruptly from her post as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

And we have heard now from Ambassador Yovanovitch, who told lawmakers that Sullivan told her she had done nothing wrong, and this wasn't like other situations where ambassadors were recalled for wrongdoing. This was a situation where President Trump had lost confidence in her.

And that was probably a very tough situation for Sullivan to be put in. He is at the time the deputy secretary of state. It wasn't even Pompeo who had that discussion with Yovanovitch.

[15:05:00]

But, soon thereafter, she was pulled from the post. And there were discussions. Giuliani had been smearing Yovanovitch publicly. But the other fact to consider here is that the State Department did receive a whole packet of disinformation about Ambassador Yovanovitch.

That packet came from Giuliani, went to the White House, and then landed on the desk of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And that is one of the things that is thought of as a potential trigger for why Yovanovitch left, though we don't necessarily know that that's the case.

And Sullivan was asked specifically about that packet of information and he you knew it came from Giuliani. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MENENDEZ: You were given a packet of disinformation attempting to Smear Ambassador Sullivan. Did you know it was Mr. Giuliani who created that package?

SULLIVAN: I don't know that. And to this day, I don't know that.

MENENDEZ: You don't know that. You didn't ask, where did it come from?

SULLIVAN: I did, but I don't -- but -- yes, I did ask, but I don't know.

MENENDEZ: And no one told you where it came from?

SULLIVAN: No.

MENENDEZ: So it happened by immaculate conception?

SULLIVAN: Hence my referral of the package.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ATWOOD: Menendez also asked Sullivan if he was implying that everything that Giuliani was doing was kosher, and Sullivan replied, saying he didn't know exactly what Giuliani was up to, there a senior State Department official not aware of the contours of what Rudy Giuliani was doing on behalf of President Trump.

BALDWIN: Kylie, thank you.

The public hearings in this impeachment inquiry could begin before Thanksgiving. And one of the first witnesses could be Ambassador Bill Taylor. A source tells CNN that he is willing to testify publicly. He is a career diplomat. He meticulously documented how he believed the White House tied releasing military aid to Ukraine, with Ukraine conducting investigations that could help Trump politically.

So, with me now, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. He's a former federal prosecutor. And CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd, she served as a senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama.

So, here we all are in Washington. Let me just begin with Bill Taylor, because, as I mentioned, he took these meticulous notes. He had the proverbial receipts.

So just remind everyone why this -- when he testifies publicly, why it would be so damning.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Bill Taylor is sort of the perfect leadoff witness.

When you're putting together your presentation for a trial as a prosecutor or for perhaps impeachment as an investigator, you want your first witness to be someone who, A, is credible. This guy has an unimpeachable resume, and he's backed up by the texts, right, the contemporaneous texts that he sent, saying, are we withholding aid in exchange for political favors? Paraphrasing.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HONIG: And his testimony goes right to the heart of the case that Democrats are going to want to make. He says, we were pushed -- we, the real diplomats here, were pushed aside in favor of this shadow group with Rudy and Perry and Sondland, and the only objective was to get those political investigations.

So, look, this is going to happen. We could see Bill Taylor in public on camera within a few weeks.

BALDWIN: Why would he want to do this again?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, he believes in our system of checks and balances, thank goodness.

But from a security perspective, Brooke, these public hearings aren't cost-free. There's a reason that this information is classified and typically isn't put in front of the public.

If we had Bill Taylor testify, the whole world is going to know even more about the dysfunction within our own government, as well as potentially the innermost workings of the National Security Council, the White House, the State Department, and other key officials.

We don't have that same benefit with respect to other foreign governments. And so that gives them a leg up in many ways.

BALDWIN: What about -- Manu was just mentioning John Bolton, the former national security adviser, and how a member of Congress told him maybe they're considering a subpoena, right? He's a key witness in all of this too.

We know that the news out today is that he saw Giuliani, I think the word was, as an obstacle to the U.S. improving relations to Ukraine.

You're nodding.

HONIG: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HONIG: But sure.

BALDWIN: We know that his deputy defied the subpoena this week and went to the Hill to testify.

So, back over to you. Why -- how significant could his testimony be, assuming he doesn't cite executive privilege?

VINOGRAD: Well, first of all, the national security adviser is entrusted to have more than a feeling.

He referred staff to NSC lawyers, who, by the way, report to him. So it appears that John Bolton was off-loading concerns, rather than dealing with them, which is his taxpayer-funded duty. As national security adviser, Bolton did not just cover Ukraine. His

mandate was the world. He would know if the president, for example, asked other countries to investigate political rivals. And he would also have had a bird's-eye view of the full range of resources, carrots and sticks that the president or Mick Mulvaney or others could have used to try to blackmail or intimidate other countries.

So I think the scope of questions that are asked of John Bolton will be really important to keep an eye on.

HONIG: I don't know when this whole idea of getting a subpoena became optional, right?

It's like, will he or won't he? Will he feel like it? That's not what a subpoena is. The whole point is, that's what makes it a subpoena. You have to comply.

[15:10:01]

And so maybe they will be able to negotiate it, but one way or another, Bolton needs to come forward. And I wish that more of these career -- dedicated career public officials would follow the example we have seen from Vindman yesterday, from Bill Taylor, from Dr. Fiona Hill, from Ambassador Yovanovitch.

These are all people who defied the White House's stonewall, came forward, told -- presumably told the truth, testified, and did their jobs.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who was on the Hill, I think, it was a total of 10 hours testifying yesterday.

There he was in full Army dress. He told the committees he tried to make changes to that July 25 phone call transcript, tried unsuccessfully. The changes weren't made. This contradicts the White House saying that the ellipses in the transcript did not represent missing words or phrases.

His testimony doesn't change the substance of the call, but, Sam, how much does this really matter, big picture?

VINOGRAD: Well, by the way, I never saw ellipses when I saw draft readouts. We would use an inaudible. We would even document a sneeze for accuracy.

BALDWIN: Wow.

VINOGRAD: There are multiple layers of eyes and ears on these calls to ensure that they're accurate.

So, Vindman would have seen the draft read out from the Situation Room. He would have made changes. It would have then gone to his boss, a senior director, again to proofread for accuracy, and likely then to the national security adviser's office to review any changes, and to document the readout for the record. At this point, what we don't know is, who decided not to accept those changes, Brooke? And there is a reason why these readouts are supposed to be accurate. There's a counterintelligence issue here. Whomever is on the other end of the call, they know exactly what happened. They know what the president said verbatim.

You never want a foreign government to know more than your own, especially if it has to do with something potentially illegal or embarrassing. That becomes a manipulation point.

BALDWIN: It sounds like what was excluded, according to Vindman, was a reference to Biden, a tape of Biden and Burisma, but wouldn't have drastically altered the substance of call. So why does it matter?

HONIG: I agree.

The things that were allegedly left out were fairly minor, but the question to me is, why were they left out? Why was that changed?

BALDWIN: Exactly.

HONIG: And if they were because somebody was trying to protect the president or tidy up the record a little bit, you have a problem here. You have what lawyers call consciousness of guilt, meaning they're doing it for a reason. It's human nature.

Third-graders understand it. If you're trying to hide something, it's because you have something to hide. The other thing that I found so interesting is, the president is doing a little strategic sleight of hand with this call, where he's saying that transcript that you have all seen, it's exactly the words that were said.

BALDWIN: Beautiful, perfect and exact.

HONIG: That transcript -- no, no. That transcript is not good for him. That transcript is incredibly damning.

So even if it was word for word, that is exhibit one in the impeachment case against Donald Trump. Don't let him flip it around.

BALDWIN: OK, Elie and Sam.

VINOGRAD: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let's do this again, shall we?

HONIG: Good to see you.

BALDWIN: Still ahead here on CNN, a look at the impeachment calendar, how it could be on a collision course, by the way, with another government shutdown, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Plus, stunning pictures out of California today, as these hurricane- force winds fuel raging wildfires. We will take you live to Simi Valley to the Reagan Presidential Library, as the flames are dangerously close. Later, we will talk 2020 and why the four front-runners on the

Democratic side are all white, despite having the most diverse field of presidential candidates ever.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:06]

BALDWIN: We're back. We're here in Washington, D.C., today.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says he and his fellow Democrats will take all the time they need for their impeachment inquiry. But the longer the timeline is drawn out, the closer and closer it gets to a critical date on the Capitol Hill calendar. And that is November 21, the funding deadline to keep the government open for business.

And that has the top Democrat in the Senate sounding the alarm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I'm increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment, an impeachment inquiry.

He always likes to create diversions. I hope and pray he won't want to cause another government shutdown because it might be a diversion away from impeachment. It's very worrisome to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Kaitlan Collins covers the White House for us today.

And so, hey, friend.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi.

BALDWIN: All right, so, obviously, the White House staffers, they want to avoid a government shutdown. Are they thinking impeachment vs. this, and do they feel like they have leverage?

COLLINS: There are a few staffers inside the White House that are focusing on this.

A lot of people who say that impeachment is not on their mind really can't escape it, because, of course, it's 24/7.

BALDWIN: Everywhere.

COLLINS: They're watching these current and former officials go up and testify on Capitol Hill.

But you're hearing from people like Chuck Schumer say that they fear that the president is going to welcome a shutdown, because it'll be some kind of a distraction.

Now, it's not going to stop impeachment if there is a shutdown, if they are still moving forward with impeachment, because, of course, these members of Congress still get paid.

I think what they're worried about is the narrative that could emerge if they are facing a government shutdown at a time when they're trying to move forward with this impeachment. How does it affect the process? How does the White House respond?

But, so far, the legislative affairs director has been up on Capitol Hill. He said that they are trying to actively avoid a shutdown. But, of course, it's kind of a stay-tuned situation.

BALDWIN: OK. November 21 is what I said, right?

COLLINS: Yes.

BALDWIN: That's the deadline.

We also have other breaking news regarding 2020 Senator Kamala Harris slashing staff and spending in a -- quote, unquote -- "realignment" of her campaign.

Abby Phillip is with me here on all things Kamala Harris.

[15:20:02]

And, so, what is happening?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is all in on Iowa.

BALDWIN: Yes.

PHILLIP: They have been saying this for quite some time, but it's gotten pretty real in the last couple of days, it seems.

They're announcing a major change in their staffing and how they're structured. They're essentially pulling back from other early states, like New Hampshire, Nevada, even California, her home state, to redeploy in Iowa, where they're saying they want a top three finish for Kamala Harris.

She has really struggled to gain traction, but this is a clear sign they're having some money issues. They're trying to do everything that they can, so that she can start doing well in Iowa.

And if she doesn't, I think it could pose a real challenge for her campaign. Back when they announced this all-in strategy, they said they thought that they had enough money to do it, they didn't think that they would need to redeploy staff. That has clearly changed.

And one other thing that the campaign manager said, in addition to the fact that he's going to be taking a pay cut, as well as other top consultants, he also said they want to do a major spending buy on air in Iowa in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

So they're trying to hold on to enough money to be able to do that, but, clearly, a challenging situation for Senator Kamala Harris, who at one point was near the very top of this race and is struggling to hang on.

BALDWIN: Iowa or bust, it sounds like.

Ladies, good to see you both. Thank you.

To California, we go. We are live at one of at least 10 wildfires raging in California, this one threatening priceless pieces of American history at the Reagan Presidential Library.

Also ahead, a tense exchange on Capitol Hill. The president's immigration chief defends himself against accusations that he is a white supremacist.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:45]

BALDWIN: The worst winds of the California fire season are officially here. Both Northern and Southern California are being ravaged by multiple wildfires.

This latest is in Simi Valley, home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It's actually called the Easy Fire, name after Easy Street in the area. It erupted just before dawn and quickly spread across 1,300 acres.

But what's more, already overwhelmed firefighters are struggling against these hurricane-force winds that are making their jobs even more difficult. And forecasters say this fire danger will last across the state until at least Sunday night.

CNN's Bill Weir is watching the flames hover around the Reagan Library. He is there in Simi Valley.

And, I mean, my gosh, hats off to these -- you know, Cal Fire for their bravery. Tell me what's happening where you are.

BILL WEIR, CNN CLIMATE CHANGE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, actually, to give you some perspective, Brooke, the Reagan Library is on the other side of that ridgeline.

The fire basically came through that bowl beneath our last live position, jumped that hilltop, and now scorched this entire hillside. And now they're trying to keep it from jumping over Madera Lane. We're right on the border between Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

And an interesting sort of sub-story that's going on, you see all the firefighters in orange? Those are California inmates. The state has been using prisoners to fight fires since World War II. And depending on their training, they earn between $2 and $5 a day. If they're actually putting out active flames, they get a $1-a-day bonus, which is one reason this program is highly controversial these days.

The ACLU and other social justice folks say it's akin to slave labor, but they volunteer for these positions. Certain convictions would not apply. Arsonists, sexual criminals, convicted sexual criminals wouldn't qualify for this program.

But those who do, well, they get outside, and they get little better accommodations and sometimes a shorter -- a shorter sentence.

It's so interesting. I'm taking off my goggles and mass, depending on how the wind is shifting, and that changes literally every 20 seconds. But you can see now -- let's work our way down this way -- how they try to set up these perimeters to at least stop it and contain it, because right around this corner and right on the other side of this ridgeline are really nice subdivisions.

They have all been evacuated. But last report I heard was that, as you said, I think 1,300 acres, 1,200 acres, zero percent containment, because it's just impossible in these winds. And the way these numbers are being cast, who knows how long something from over there starts over there, and then the whole line has to move?

But it's such an eerie scene here. Welcome to Thousand Oaks, such a grim, grim day for so many folks who have been living on edge when fire season started, but that seems to be year-round these days, Brooke.

And so we're going to follow this fire line down into the valley and see what kind of proof life we can find. We know there's a lot of ranches and farms in this area. So, the Ventura County Fairgrounds, which were taking horses and other livestock, is full already this morning.

So, this is all very fluid, as my scarf blows away.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: No, it's fluid

[15:30:00]