Return to Transcripts main page
House Prepares First Impeachment Vote as Evidence Mounts Against Trump; Midweek Polls Show Biden Slipping in Key Primary State; New Book Looks Inside Trump's Pentagon Under Defense Secretary Mattis. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired October 30, 2019 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- describe a meeting one week before President Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president where she learned that an informal hold was put on Ukrainian security assistance. This is money. This is the money everyone's been talking about. And she says she was told that the order came at the direction of President Trump.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: We are also learning more about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman's testimony which lasted for ten hours on Tuesday. "The New York Times" reporting Vindman tried to correct certain details in the White House's rough transcript of the Ukraine call, noting two key changes, though, were never made.
One of the edits was an ellipses where Vindman says President Trump was discussing Biden. His account actually contradicts the White House account of the ellipses, which you may recall, the White House said any ellipses in there just indicated that there were pauses. They did not indicate missing words or phrases.
All of this, of course, comes just ahead of the first vote on impeachment in the House. That is tomorrow.
BERMAN: So joining us now CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash; and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
And Jeffrey, I want to start with you with the mystery of the ellipses. The president says that the phone call was perfect. We were told that this was really the best transcript you can get from this call, an exact copy.
Well, Colonel Vindman says no. Colonel Vindman says he saw things that were missing and that he wanted filled in. This is what "The New York Times" reports.
"Vindman said the rough transcript contained ellipses at three points where Mr. Trump is speaking. Colonel Vindman said the White House transcript of that call had left out Mr. Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, saying the word 'Burisma'" -- Burisma is the company that Hunter Biden was on the board of -- "as well as Mr. Trump saying there were recordings of Mr. Biden."
Now, substantively, we're told it doesn't change the thrust of what the White House call was, but the White House said they gave a complete transcript of this. These are real things and real words that somehow were omitted, according to Colonel Vindman.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right. We knew from the beginning that this was not a transcript the way, like, a court reporter does in a courtroom. But any -- any removals, we were told, were incidental and not substantive.
Well, what makes Vindman's testimony in this area explosive suggests -- is that there was an effort to censor politically explosive things. That people involved in the preparation of this transcript had, in effect, a consciousness of guilt. They knew that this was politically explosive, damaging material, and they schemed to keep it out. Who did that and at whose direction is, of course, a mystery.
BERMAN: Can you talk a little bit more about that? Consciousness of guilt and why someone might want, you know, a record of the president speaking in much greater specificity about what he wanted and what he was directing the Ukrainian president to do.
TOOBIN: Well, if you were a White House official who knew that it was inappropriate, an abuse of power to say to a foreign government, help my political campaign or you're not getting your money that the taxpayers paid for, if you knew that was wrong, you might try to sculpt the official record to downplay the quid pro quo elements.
And Vindman seems to suggest, based on "The Times" account, that someone there at the White House was doing that. Who it was and at whose direction, as I say, is unknown, but the fact that it was done could be important.
HILL: It may be interesting because, again, he gave those changes to Tim Morrison, who is set to testify tomorrow, who's mentioned 15 times in Bill Taylor's open statement. Maybe we'll learn more.
Dana, you know, you mentioned the word "sculpting." It's interesting, is we look at the narrative that -- that the White House and that supporters of the president continually try to sculpt here, they never go after -- or rarely, I should say, go after the substance of what someone is saying, perfect example, being Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. Instead, they attack the person.
Those attacks on him, on his record of military service, they were met with backlash pretty quickly. Do you have a sense in Washington of -- of who is trying to get that message through to Republicans that this is not coming off well and perhaps attacking a patriot is not the best form, is it working?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, having Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican, whose name is Cheney, stand in front of the press corps and rip the White House, rip the supporters of the president who did that, who demeaned and questioned the patriotism of somebody who walked into the Capitol with shrapnel in his body still, because when he was serving America in Iraq, he was hurt by a roadside bomb. That sent a message louder and clearer than any other sort of backchannel communication.
There's no question. But you know, if I may, on this "New York Times" report about the ellipses, there's so many names and so many, you know, testimonies, and you see this flurry of what's going on every day on Capitol Hill.
But it brings us back to the original point, the reason why so many moderate Democrats who had political peril to go ahead and say we should do an impeachment inquiry, why they did it, because of this call. This is really the focus, and many Democrats who I talk to say they hope remains the focus. That it was inappropriate, that it should not have happened. And all we're seeing in all of these bits of testimony are, they hope, proof and evidence that that is the case, so much so that, real time, people thought so and tried to cover it up.
BERMAN: Kaitlan, hang on one second. We're going to come to you in just a second. But I want to play the sound from Liz Cheney that Dana was just talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation, who have put their lives on the line. And it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You know, Jeffrey, from a testimony standpoint, if Colonel Vindman is part of the public testimony, you have now a character witness for Colonel Vindman, who will show up in uniform to testify in public, the No. 3 Republican in the House. It does feel like this backfired.
TOOBIN: It's backfired terrifically, at least so far. And you know, it would be absolute political legal malpractice not to call Vindman as a public witness when the Intelligence Committee holds hearings in the next few weeks.
Vindman and Bill Taylor, both of whom are nonpolitical people who have served the country dramatically and bravely for many years, the two of them as witnesses strike me as an absolute given when we start to see these people in public.
BERMAN: And Kaitlan, I'm sorry. You've waited patiently here. In terms of the ellipses in the rough transcript of the phone call, you've been reporting for some time there's this internal White House review of what happened. What happened to this transcript? How did it end up in this top-secret safe? Certainly, more questions now after hearing from Colonel Vindman about all of that. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And just how much
that played a factor in all of this. And maybe that was the reason for why those reviews that he edited, that he submitted and wanted put in there, that he said were omitted yesterday, he testified that under oath, could have been the reason.
Because we know that our reporting showed that that moved pretty quickly where they moved it from another system. Now, it didn't move that quickly, because it took a matter of days before they put it in that highly-secure system. So that's going to be the question.
Because based on our reporting so far, Vindman didn't really testify to the motive of why those things were left out. But the White House has some explaining to do here, because it directly contradicts what a senior official was telling reporters back in September when they released this call. And they said that the dot dot dots were not a reference to words but simply a pause in the conversation or the president trailing off in conversation.
That is directly not what someone testified, someone who was on the call, we should note, just yesterday. So we're still waiting to see what the White House explanation for this is going to be. We've asked, but we haven't gotten one yet.
HILL: It will be interesting to see if we do get one, to your point, Kaitlan. You know, the fact that you've asked and you haven't gotten one yet, you know, we've seen that before.
TOOBIN: And what will be even more interesting is if what the White House says is true this time.
BERMAN: This time. Right.
TOOBIN: Right. I mean, they can say everything they want, but, I mean, their record on telling the truth on this matter is less than excellent, I would say.
HILL: That is a fair point. Today we're actually gearing up to hear from two other people connected. What's interesting to see is Christopher Anderson, who we're going to hear from, and then Catherine Croft, who took over for him, Anderson really makes the point, from what we've seen in his opening statement that CNN obtained, is that he says he pushed this high-level delegation to Ukraine, because he wanted to counter the messaging from Rudy Giuliani; also, that he summarized in a June meeting John Bolton warning them about Rudy Giuliani. It keeps coming back.
TOOBIN: One of the remarkable things about this whole story is how all the pieces, as complex as they are, fit together. That there is this core of professional diplomats, professional people, who are bothered, to say the least, that there is this shadow foreign policy going on that they don't -- they can't control, they don't know about, but is seemingly directed by the president of the United States.
And this -- Anderson's testimony is part of the effort of the professionals, the people who are trying to do their jobs correctly, fighting back against the Giuliani faction.
BASH: But there's -- but there's somebody else -- there was another name on that screen that you put up there, and that's John Bolton, who is certainly not a foreign service, you know -- he's a professional, but he wasn't in the foreign service. He's not part of the deep state. He was the president's political pick for national security adviser.
And he is -- was already an incredibly important witness. With each of his subordinates who come forward and talk about the fact that he was bothered, it makes him even more interesting and necessary.
And we have to remember he left on really bad terms. I mean, he was scorned plus plus, to use the president's term. And the fact that he -- all of these sort of arrows point to him as somebody who could really give the real deal about how bothered people were in the White House and the real deal about what happened, as Kaitlan was saying, with this transcript, why it was moved so quickly, why people said no to changing the specifics of the transcript.
And the Hill is in negotiations trying to get him and that is one of the outstanding question marks that could really be a game changer.
TOOBIN: Huge. Huge.
COLLINS: And that's why they want to hear from officials like this, because so far they've spoken with people like Vindman, who didn't have direct interactions with the president. They were on the phone. They heard what he said to the Ukrainian leader, but someone like John Bolton is someone who obviously interacted with the president on a daily basis multiple times a day who would be able to provide more information on this.
And that's another interesting aspect is, as you're seeing Democrats say that they're eventually going to take these hearings public, so far we're still seeing them line people up behind the scenes, including Mick Mulvaney's national security adviser, Rob Blair, who was also on that July call.
BERMAN: And we do have to run. We're out of time, Kaitlan, but is he going to show up? Is Mick Mulvaney's aide going to show up, or is he going to try to defy this?
COLLINS: That's still a big question that we're waiting to see. We're not exactly sure yet. We're still determining who his legal team representation is. That's something that the White House is grappling with internally.
BERMAN: All right. Every day there's something new and new characters. And every day, the White House and its allies sometimes make these people even bigger, I think, in the public eye than where it all started.
HILL: Yes. I think you're right. BERMAN: All right. Thank you, everybody.
HILL: Warning signs for Joe Biden in the first-in-the-nation primary state. CNN's new poll numbers in New Hampshire are next with Chris Cillizza's "Midweek Grades."
BERMAN: A new CNN poll in New Hampshire shows Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren battling it out for the top spot, while former Vice President Joe Biden has slipped to third place. And significantly, he's dropped nine points since July.
We want to get the "Midweek Grades" with Chris Cillizza, CNN Politics reporter and editor at large, who I'm sure barely slept last night, like everyone else in the city of Washington.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Woo!
BERMAN: That aside, Chris, who gets the "A" this week?
CILLIZZA: John, I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning. OK, here we go. With the, "A," Bernie Sanders. And this is the second week in a row we've given him top grades.
And the reason is simple. Our poll's got him at 21 percent in New Hampshire. Yes, he'd probably rather be at 31 percent, but he's at 21 percent in the front in a state he must win. There is no path to the nomination for Bernie Sanders without a win in New Hampshire.
And guess what we're not talking about? The fact that he's a 78-year- old man who had a heart attack not two months ago. "A" in my book.
BERMAN: To me, he's turned that into a little bit of a plus to the extent --
BERMAN: -- that there's talk about that seems vigorous and maybe has created some -- some positive sentiment there.
CILLIZZA: Yes. It's a remarkable turnaround. Again, you would think that his age, coupled with what is a serious medical condition would have maybe -- we're talking about him not staying in the race three weeks ago.
Now all of a sudden, he's leading in New Hampshire. I think that's a worthy thing.
And I'll go, by the way, to my next one, Elizabeth Warren. Again, in reference to our poll, I gave her a "B plus," and here's why. She's right where she wants to be, effectively, in the first two states. She is ahead in all average polling in Iowa, she is right behind Sanders in our poll. And I think in the mix, generally speaking, for that top slot.
You win Iowa and you win New Hampshire, you've got a very good chance at being the nominee. Why only a "B plus" given that? Well, because I think Sanders' resurgence complicates it a little bit for her, because she has to win those liberal voters. Hard for me to see how Sanders and Warren can coexist forever. And still has to explain Medicare for all and how she's going to pay for it.
And I think that is going to be a big moment for her campaign. She still hasn't done it.
HILL: Still waiting on those details and that plan.
We're seeing a "B" this week, Amy Klobuchar.
CILLIZZA: Yes, Erica, and I'll tell you why. The coin of the realm at this point in the race, particularly if you're not Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden, the top four, he's making the debates, because if you don't make the debate stage every month, it's just hard to justify how, to donors, to activists, to the media, how you have a chance.
She, in the last week, has qualified, the Minnesota senator has qualified for the November debates. She's the ninth candidate in.
I think what that does, Erica, is preserve the chance that -- that she, Amy Klobuchar, catches some lightning in a bottle in Iowa. Her whole plan has to be Iowa: I'm from the Midwest; I know how to swing states. That has to be where she moves, she hasn't yet, but at least she's preserving the possibility.
BERMAN: All right. The former vice president, where does he stand this week?
CILLIZZA: OK. So I gave him a "C," John. Look, you noted in our poll down nine points. That's obviously not the direction you want to go, and it's not as though his numbers in Iowa look any better. In fact, I would say his numbers in Iowa are worse right now than his numbers in New Hampshire.
There are people who say doesn't matter, he's still way ahead in South Carolina. He still has the black vote behind him. That's all that matters. Maybe.
But I will tell you momentum matters in these campaigns, and if you lose -- if you're the perceived frontrunner and you lose Iowa, New Hampshire, I don't know if you -- that support sticks around all the way to South Carolina.
BERMAN: Chris Cillizza, Professor, a pleasure to have you on.
CILLIZZA: Hey, John --
BERMAN: You have one more? I'm told -- I'm told reliably -- CILLIZZA: How dare you?
BERMAN: -- you're not done yet. I tried to shut you up, but there's more.
CILLIZZA: How dare you? I have one more. "A plus," my Washington Nationals. Game seven tonight, and "F minus minus minus minus minus" for the umpires.
There's only one person more thin-skinned in this world than Major League baseball umpires, and he resides in the White House. But that was a terrible call.
CILLIZZA: Yes, it's a judgment call. It was a bad judgment call. Trai Turner should have been safe. Doesn't matter, because Anthony Rendon is great and hit a home run, but it doesn't change the fact robot umpires now. It is on this that I will be elected president.
BERMAN: Look, it's a great thing that that not decide the game --
BERMAN: -- because that would have been --
CILLIZZA: Totally agree.
BERMAN: All right. Chris Cillizza, good luck.
CILLIZZA: Go Nats!
BERMAN: Good luck tonight.
So there is a book out that is causing all kinds of waves, written by someone who worked inside the Pentagon, side-by-side with Defense Secretary James Mattis. We will go inside this book and talk about some of the most controversial issues, next.
BERMAN: A new book paints a candid and often chaotic scene in the higher ranks of the Pentagon that eventually led to the resignation of Defense Secretary General James Mattis.
Joining me now is Guy Snodgrass. He was a former speechwriter for Mattis and the communications director there. And his book, "Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis," is out now. And this has been causing all kinds of waves, Guys, from months before it was even released, so we're glad you're here to talk about it.
Before we talk about the book specifically, I want to read something you wrote in an op-ed yesterday, because it's relevant to the news today. You were talking about the pressure that's been put on you since you
started writing this book. You said, "It seems that military members are all honorable when we close our mouths and hold our tongues, but when we give ourselves a voice, when we dare speak truth to power, well, then our honor is questioned."
So that op-ed was published yesterday --
GUY SNODGRASS, AUTHOR, "HOLDING THE LINE": Right.
BERMAN: -- talking about the pressure on your book, but it was also happening as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman was testifying in uniform on Capitol Hill about what he was troubled by seeing, and he was being attacked by the president and his allies. I just wonder how that felt to you, watching those attacks.
SNODGRASS: You know, I think it's a difficult period of time for America right now. Obviously, it's highly polarized. There's a lot of opinions. And I think any time you go after someone's characterization of their service, based on the fact you don't like what they're saying, is pretty dangerous.
And if you think about your reference to the op-ed, you know, for me the way I was raised and the experience I had in the military, your honor, your courage, your integrity was always about doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences, not when it's simply politically palatable to do so.
BERMAN: So again, your book getting a ton of buzz. Let me just read a little bit of this.
"Many times during Secretary Tillerson's tenure" -- you write a lot about the relationship between Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson -- "reporters would claim that he thought his boss was an idiot, and each time, Tillerson would deny it publicly. But there was no doubt among most observers in the room that day that Tillerson was thinking exactly that. Both men, Mattis and Tillerson, was despondent. We had just witnessed a meeting with Trump up close and personal. Now we knew why access was controlled so tightly. For the remainder of the meeting, President Trump veered from topic to topic like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another. The issues were complicated, yet all of the president's answers were simplistic and ad hoc. He was shooting from the hip on issues of global importance."
That's describing the first meeting at the Pentagon that President Trump attended through your eyes and also, I think, explaining to us what you think Secretary Mattis was seeing.
There are questions now about why doesn't, or if, Secretary Mattis will go public with his true feelings about President Trump. Will he, do you think? And what would he say?
SNODGRASS: I think -- I think he said all he has to say at this point in time. Obviously, this is up to Secretary Mattis, and he and I have not talked about whether he decides to come out and say any more than he already has.
That's why I think the book is so important, because it brings your readers, it brings the viewers behind the scenes for those major moments of national security and things that have worldwide implication. I mean, there's no doubt that we live in a very tumultuous period of time. Right now, our international alliances and our partnerships are at stake. We have seen that erosion of trust that has occurred. We've seen the sporadic, hasty withdrawal from Syria and, suddenly, we're putting forces back in. And that has long- reaching and lasting implications.
And so to be able to bring the reader inside the book, to bring them into that moment when the president walks in, and he's scowling and he does not want to accept this information we're providing him, I think it's important for people to have an opportunity to read it for themselves and understand from someone who was there with firsthand experience just how important this is. Not because it's apolitical in the way I wrote it, but more because of the just importance of the subject matter.
BERMAN: Did it make you feel more safe when you were witnessing that?
SNODGRASS: I thought it was surprising to me that, again, when you are thinking about the type of information we're talking about, the disposition of forces around the globe, not just within America but around the globe, the way that we interact with our allies and partners, and to spend ten minutes talking about a leak that had been reported on in "The Washington Post" and how the president wanted to go after that individual and wanted to sue them and started, as you mentioned earlier, darting from topic to topic that had nothing to do with national security, that was the part that I found to be very alarming.
BERMAN: Well, what do you want -- Very alarming. What do you want readers to take from that?
SNODGRASS: Again, national security is everyone's --