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A Source Says, Key Witness Willing To Testify Publicly On Quid Pro Quo; White House Official Testifies About Missing Words In Trump Call Transcript; Whistleblower's Legal Team Sees Sharp Rise In Death Threats. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired October 30, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and end up having whether it's beer or food, it really is one of the things that's wonderful about.
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Senators can come here and serve us all. We'll appreciate it.
Brianna Keilar is up next. Have a great day. See you tomorrow.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, more witnesses come forward as more evidence mounts that the president made very specific requests as he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
The mystery edits, key parts of President Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president do not appear in the transcript of the call. Who cut them and why?
Plus, the nightmare reality of the wildfires in California grabbing everything you can in a matter of seconds before the flames hit.
And as Congresswoman Katie Hill resigns after the release of nude photos of her and the revelation she had a relationship with the campaign staffer, a former Trump aid wants to go from serving time in prison to serving in her congressional seat.
We start with breaking news on the ongoing impeachment investigation in the House. We have CNN National Security Reporter Kylie Atwood here to discuss this. Our Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, we are headed right now towards public testimony very soon. You are learning about an important witness who seems ready to take part.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are hearing a lot with my colleagues, Kylie Atwood and Jeremy Herb, hearing that Bill Taylor, the top diplomat for Ukraine, is willing to testify publicly before the House impeachment committees.
Now, this comes after Taylor went behind closed doors and had some of the most revealing testimony to date, someone who had raised concerns for some time about why security aid had been withheld for trying to lobby for the release of the security aid to Ukraine, later learning through ambassador to the European Union that the president of the United States wanted a public declaration by the Ukrainian government that there was an investigation into the president's political rivals, something that concerned him at the time. Those are key parts of his testimony that he revealed behind closed doors.
But Democrats are pushing to perhaps bring him in in an open session because they believe he is someone who is unimpeachable in his background, someone who's a detailed note taker, has a meticulous memory and someone who could help shine a light to the American public about exactly what happened in this holdup of this Ukraine aid and as part of the president's conduct in pushing for the investigations by the Ukrainian government, something that could help the president politically.
Now, we are told that this invitation for his testimony has not gone out yet, but he is willing to do so publicly. That, of course, is significant, Brianna, because we are getting towards the end of that closed-door depositions that are happening today, the rest of this week likely into next week. And then we will go into that first public phase. And a lot of people expect that Taylor could be the first witness. And Democrats are pushing for that prospect. Brianna?
KEILAR: And, Kylie, you have also learned more about what was said in Taylor's deposition. We haven't heard much about those nearly ten hours other than the opening statement. Tell us what you've learned.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So we're learning some new details regarding what Ambassador, the top diplomat, Bill Taylor told lawmakers behind closed doors. They are trying to pin him on quid pro quo. That is at the heart of this impeachment inquiry.
And so he was asked by Chairman Schiff essentially was the deal that Zelensky is going to announce these investigations into Biden and 2016, and in return, he is going to get that security assistance and he's going to get that White House meeting. And Taylor said, yes, that is the deal that was on the table.
And then Chairman Schiff followed up and said, isn't that the very definition of quid pro quo. And that's when we had Bill Taylor say quite, with a little bit of wit, that I don't speak the Latin. He wouldn't answer if that was the definition of quid pro quo because he said he was there to tell the facts. He wasn't there to tell folks that this was the legal definition of quid pro quo because he wanted to leave that up to the lawmakers.
And that is what lawmakers are going to be facing. They want to get these folks who are coming with testimony, coming with the facts to also make some declarative statements here. But Bill Taylor was one of the folks who was not willing to go that far.
KEILAR: It's very interesting, Kylie.
And, Manu, there are two State Department officials who are testifying today. What are you reporting on their testimony?
RAJU: Yes. Right now, Catherine Croft, who is the State Department official testifying behind closed doors, and we've seen her opening statement in which she raised concerns or talked about the fact that security aid for Ukraine had been withheld.
And she notes in that opening statement that the reason that was given was that the order came at the direction of the president, because Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, placed an informal hold on that Ukrainian aid.
And she also revealed that there was a push to oust the former Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, someone who has been under this campaign by Rudy Giuliani and his associates, as well as the president himself to get her out of that post.
And according to her testimony, the lobbyist, Robert Livingston, had lobbied her to get rid, to push for the ouster of Yovanovitch, calling Yovanovitch an Obama holdover.
Now, it's unclear exactly why he did that, if it had anything to do with contact that his firm had with Giuliani, but that's been a big question for lawmakers emerging from this one Democratic lawmaker. Gerry Connolly said they want to speak. He wants to speak with Livingston as part of this, to understand why he got involved as well.
But, overall, the larger concern being raised here backs up what other people have been saying. There was this outside effort to push Ukrainian policy outside of normal diplomatic efforts. Brianna?
KEILAR: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much.
I want to bring in Carrie Cordero now. She's a former counsel to the assistant U.S. -- pardon me. My prompter went out.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Attorney General for National Security.
KEILAR: That's right, thank you. And then it went past that part. Laura Coates is a former federal prosecutor. You ladies know what you do. Thanks for helping me out.
So as we're looking at this opening up now to soon, it seems, like what will be a public event where everyone, not just these Democrats and Republicans on these three committees will get to see this happen. Why is that so important? What do you expect the effect of that to be? And why is it significant that you have people like Bill Taylor who are saying, yes, I'm going to go ahead be a part of this?
CORDERO: Yes. Well, I think it's really important what the House has done this week in terms of starting laying out the rules, this vote that they're going to have, laying out the rules for how they're going to take the investigation that Chairman Schiff and his colleagues have been doing behind closed doors and how they're going to communicate that to the House Judiciary Committee, which really is the rightful place to be launching and having the impeachment investigation.
So they're going to identify which of the witnesses that they've been interviewing behind closed doors, which of those would be appropriate to have in public. And I really hope that they narrow it down to a small few, Bill Taylor probably being one of those, who have key information to be able to provide to the public.
I don't think it matters that he isn't willing to say there is not a quid pro quo. That really isn't his position to do. He's there to lay out the facts and it's going to be up to the lawmakers to assess the facts.
KEILAR: If they don't redo -- I mean, we heard yesterday, we had a Republican on the show and he basically said he wants the House to start from scratch and they want to do all of this in public. I mean, it sounds like if that's not what's going to happen, of course there's going to be some arguments that this isn't fully transparent.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look back at the Nixon era when you had things happening behind closed doors, as you would in a grand jury proceeding, and you have things that come out into the light. And if you have repetitive testimony, which you had with Alexander Butterfield at the time was the one who (INAUDIBLE) to say, excuse me. there was an actual recording device in the president's Oval Office, did that in public. It had been, did it in public again. The fact that it's redundant does not mean that it takes any steam of out their actual engines.
You have this idea of figuring out before you even go to the Senate, which is actually going to ultimately decide if there are articles of impeachment to convict on and maybe removed. It has to go before in a public way for the American people to come on board as well and decide what they would like to do.
So there's nothing lost by having it both public and private other than the fact that national security interests, which is what this is all about, in many respects, is behind closed doors. And having to have that initial first draft to say what's classified, what's sensitive, we do not want to have any of these key figures who are involved in diplomacy blurting out information for the cameras to hear for not have the genie out of the bottle and then try to retract that statement. It was prudent to do so and now they're doing it again.
KEILAR: In the meantime, these public hearings could actually include Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who is on the National Security Council still and testified yesterday that he tried to correct the transcript of that July phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky because it was missing some key information.
This is the passage first reported by The New York Times. President Zelensky says, quote, he or she will look into this situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. And Vindman says, the company was mentioned actually by name, Burisma, in the actual call. This is significant because this is the company where Hunter Biden was on the board. And then also omitted from the transcript, President Trump mentioning tapes of Joe Biden.
I mean, Kylie, as you watch this or not watch this, but as you watched this information come out, I mean, what did you think about how significant this is?
ATWOOD: Yes. So our reporting is that this information was excluded from the transcript. So when Vindman went to review it, which is his role as director for Ukrainian on the NSC and suggested that these additions be made, they weren't made.
So then the question is who is the person that said to him, no, we're not going to add that, because, traditionally, the way the process works at the NSC is the folks who are on the call and have their own notes, their notes are taken into consideration when they're looking over the transcript of the call that is being compiled and then again stored. And we know that this one specifically was put on a separate storage that was a little bit more secretive.
So the question is who told him that he couldn't make those additions, and exactly is there anyone else that heard these things that he says were said on that call. Because we know there are a lot of other national security folks that were on the call, and one of them is Tim Morrison, who is going to be up before the committees tomorrow for testimony.
KEILAR: Laura, how significant is this and what does this do to the president's argument that this was a perfect call?
COATES: Well, there is that phrase of guilt by omission, right. And so what's important is what you do based on what you tell me you did not do and what you leave out. The notion of perfect, I think, has been blown out of the water at this point in time.
But what was imperfect was the attempt to try to make this go away, the attempt to try put it on separate servers, have ellipses, somehow replaced key information, and all it did was an invite for further scrutiny, which, again, is what Congress is trying to do in the House, trying to say, we'd like to illuminate these issue and have people decide about this notion.
But it's very damaging to have a concerted effort to try to shield the public from information. When Burisma is not included, it means they don't want you to know. They had a singular focus, and that was on the Bidens, not America.
KEILAR: Carrie, later this afternoon, the House Rules Committee is expected to pass their rules for these public hearings. And among these rules is a plan to designate 45 minutes at least for the chairman and for the ranking member, the top Republican on the committee or for their counsel. So what we're expecting is that this is going to happen before the questions. We could be, and it seems very likely that we will see committee lawyers doing questions at the beginning, which were, for instance, in the Lewandowski hearing, was one of the more effective ways, maybe arguably the only effective part of that hearing. What do you think of this?
CORDERO: I think there's pretty wide understanding when you watch these hearings that the five-minute increments by members is not the most effective way to gather information. And so, certainly, Barry Berke, one of the lawyers on the Judiciary Committee who did part of the interviewing of Corey Lewandowski in his hearing, that was a more effective part than when the members were interviewing him. I would imagine staff and members are doing this behind these scenes, depositions that the Intelligence Committee has been doing. And so those seem to be very productive.
So I think this will be more substantive. And the important part is that the Republicans are now on notice that that's the way it's going to happen. Bbecause in one of the Judiciary Committee hearings, the vice chairman, Collins, he said that he didn't know and they weren't prepared to be able to have staff do interviewing.
So now it's all out there. The way this is going to happen is out there. Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to prepare for these hearings.
KEILAR: Thank you so much, Carrie, Laura and Kylie, I appreciate it.
And next, I'll be speaking live with a congressman who got into a shouting match with his colleague as a key witness testified in these impeachment inquiry hearings.
Plus, a stark moment as the president's pick for ambassador to Moscow condemns President Trump for asking foreign powers to investigate his rivals.
And breaking in California, wind gusts have not hit hurricane force as the wildfires get closer to the Reagan Library.
KEILAR: Impeachment opponents are now taking aim at the legal team representing the whistleblower whose red flag prompted the impeachment inquiry. At least one death threat against the attorneys has been formally investigated.
Joining me now from Capitol Hill is California Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is a Democrat on both the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. Sir, thanks for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Of course. Thanks, Brianna, for having me back. KEILAR: I want to read a tweet that we saw that you put out on the whistleblower. You said, quote, the whistleblower pulled a fire alarm. First responders showed up and saw smoke, flames and Donald Trump holding a gas can with matches. Does it matter who pulled the fire alarm?
I want to ask you about this because, I mean, I see the point you're making. But in fairness, if a suspected crime had occurred in the course of a fire, wouldn't investigators absolutely want to interview the person who pulled the fire alarm and obviously saw something that prompted them to do that?
SWALWELL: Well, Brianna, the point is the whistleblower has a right to anonymity. That is a law that Republicans and Democrats have respected. And unless the whistleblower can additional relevant evidence, we don't believe there's a reason to pierce that anonymity that the whistleblower is entitled to. We believe the only effort underway is to be punitive and put the whistleblower's life at risk or to chill future whistleblowers from coming forward.
KEILAR: Are you sure they can't add something additional?
SWALWELL: You know, I have seen the whistleblower complaint and the other witnesses interviewed. I know my Republican colleagues have as well. And I would challenge them to tell me beyond pulling that fire alarm, what has not been corroborated by the witnesses we have interviewed?
And if that's the case, isn't it more important to protect somebody's life, especially knowing the way the president has characterized the whistleblower as a spy and suggesting that we should go back to the days where perhaps spies should be executed. We should take the whistleblower and his or her life and their family's life very seriously.
KEILAR: I mean, clearly, the life of the whistleblower is very important. I don't think anyone or really no one should disagree with that.
But at the same point, I mean, isn't the complaint sort of tantamount to, say, reading the opening statement of another witness but not being able to question them?
SWALWELL: Again, because we have corroborated everything the whistleblower has alleged, having the whistleblower testify would put the whistleblower's life in serious jeopardy. And so the question is, is that person's life worth more than -- is that person's life worth less than being redundant, and our position right now is that it's not.
KEILAR: Okay. I understand what you're saying. I am curious because there are a number --
SWALWELL: That person's life is worth more than being redundant. KEILAR: Yes. But there are a number of people who also have come forward and are being public and are being named. But I do want to move on and ask you about whether you think the White House knows who the whistleblower is. Are you worried?
SWALWELL: Of course, I'm worried about what it would mean for the whistleblower, but I don't want to speculate because I just don't know.
KEILAR: So one of the things we reportedly heard from the lieutenant colonel yesterday, Alexander Vindman testified that there were omissions in the summary of this phone call with the president and the president of Ukraine. The president's mention of the Biden tapes was taken out. The company, as it was called, instead of Burisma, which Vindman said it was said by name, this company that Hunter Biden was on the board of.
If the White House omitted parts of the call from the transcript, is that significant to you?
SWALWELL: What is significant to us is the president's conduct. So if any omissions occurred at the direction of the president or his agents, like Mick Mulvaney or Ambassador Sondland or Rudy Giuliani, of course, that would be more relevant.
What is also important, of course, is what was the state of mind of President Zelensky. What knowledge did he have ahead of time about what the deliverables were for President Trump? But we believe that the confession in this call record is a gross abuse of power.
And that if all the president did was ask President Zelensky to investigate his political opponents, that would be an abuse of power, but that's not what we did. He did that by also leveraging $391 million in your taxpayer dollars as well as a White House visit, which was critically important to the Ukrainians.
KEILAR: Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, says he's willing to come back and appear in a public hearing. How important would his public testimony be for Democrats making their case to the American people?
SWALWELL: Well, he was an excellent witness, a military veteran, served in Vietnam honorably. And it is people like him and a willingness like that that is heartening, frankly, for me as you've seen others defy congressional subpoenas. For him to be willing to come and put himself under oath before the cameras, take the questioning by both sides, I think that shows how much is at stake and how much respect he still has for a coequal branch of government and its investigation. And I hope it's a signal for others who will also participate.
KEILAR: The House is voting tomorrow on an impeachment rules resolution. I spoke to one of your Republican colleagues, Tom Reed. And he thinks that Speaker Pelosi will not have the votes in time for tomorrow. What do you think?
SWALWELL: We'll have the votes for tomorrow. And this reflects that we're moving to a public phase.
And, Brianna, I want to address some of the criticism that's out there about this. And then some of it, I think, are fair questions to raise. But any investigation has to start with a closed investigation so that you can keep the facts close. If we had done this publicly, I think it would have been fair to say, aren't you jumping to conclusions that you're already having public hearings before you even know if something impeachable occurred.
This signals that we believe that there has been at least a reason to move forward publicly because of what we have seen in the closed-door depositions. Those depositions will become public. The Republicans will have a right, publicly, to answer -- to bring questions to the witnesses, to ask for witnesses to be brought forward that can be voted on, and also for our staffers to conduct the hearings not in the typical five minutes on each side time blocks, but in a longer manner so that it's more informative for the public.
KEILAR: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for joining us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: Just in, the president's pick to the ambassador to Moscow has condemned the act of asking foreign powers to investigate political rivals, something the president has done. Here the sound.
Plus, breaking in California, a wildfire is getting dangerously close to the Reagan Library. CNN is there live next.