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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

John Bolton, President Trump's Ex-National Security Advisor, Will Not Voluntarily Testify; Trump Campaign Previews 2020 Strategy With New Ad; Homes Engulfed In Flames As New Fires Spread In California. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 31, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now in the statement -- section that we obtained from the statement today, it says n the preparation for my appearance today, I reviewed the statement ambassador Taylor provided this inquiry on October 22nd, 2019. I can confirm that the substance of his statement as it relates to conversations he and I had is accurate.

Now he goes on to say there are some differences, two small differences, one of which is he says the he recalls a conversation he had with the EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland in which Sondland said it would be sufficient for President Trump to release security aid -- it's sufficient to the pursue investigations by Ukraine if that announcement for the investigations were made by the Ukrainian prosecutor, not president Zelensky as Taylor testified last week.

Now that's a pretty minor difference but confirms that Gordon Sondland, the EU ambassador, was raising the spector of this investigation pushing that. Now he also says in his testimony that he believes that that push for those investigations in exchange for the releasing for releasing the aide that have installed for Ukraine would done exclusively by Gordon Sondland. He does not necessarily seem to lay the blame on the President himself.

He does, though, as you mentioned, Jake, raise concerns of a prospect of a leak of that phone call, that transcript from that July phone call. Because we are told from multiple sources that he was concerned that it could undermine U.S./Ukrainian relations, could affect how the Ukrainians perceive what's happening in the U.S. and also come at a difficult time for a polarized environment here in Washington. So that was his concern, not necessarily the concern about the call, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So he was concerned that if the substance of the call got out that it would be damaging for the President politically and it would hurt Ukraine, but he does not think that President Trump did anything illegal. Is that the basic idea?

RAJU: That's absolutely right, according to his testimony. He said, very clearly, did not think that the President did anything illegal. He did not raise concerns to the national security council lawyer as a separate White House official Alexander Vindman did, who was also on that call, who was worried that it could undermine national security which is why he reported up the food chain. So you are seeing a discrepancy between two White House officials who both testified with this inquiry, one of which raised serious concerns with this call. Another one said he didn't have as many concerns.

TAPPER: Right. But it is a discrepancy about their opinions about it, not necessarily about the facts of the matter. They seem to all square on that.

Manu Raju, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Right now, a judge hearing arguments that could decide whether President Trump's former White House lawyer, Don McGahn, will be forced to testify. That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:05] TAPPER: Welcome back. A lawyer for John Bolton, President Trump's ex-national security advisor and key impeachment witness, tells CNN that Bolton will not voluntarily testify. Democrats have said they may slap Bolton with a subpoena to compel his cooperation in the impeachment inquiry.

This news comes as right now two courts are weighing whether close confidantes of the President can be forced to offer testimony. And those rulings could have an impact on what Bolton ultimately does.

CNN Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider joins me now live from outside court.

Jessica, the first case involves former White House counsel Don McGahn who was subpoenaed earlier this year, what happened today?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, a lengthy hearing to be sure. It's still happening, going on three hours now. This is showcasing a battle between House Democrats and the White House.

House Democrats have been trying to get Don McGahn in for testimony for several months now. He has been defying a subpoena. They are trying to get him in for testimony about whether the President potentially obstructed justice in trying to stop the Russia probe here. But the White House has said Don McGahn as a former official has absolute immunity.

Now the judge here has been listening to this argument over the past several hours, expressing actually great skepticism here basically saying I see former officials on TV, cable news, talking all the time. Why should it be any different for a former official going before a house committee? Why should Don McGahn be able to defy this subpoena?

So Jake, it's not clear when this hearing will wrap up or when this judge will rule. But obviously, the ruling could have some big effects and ripple effects for all those former officials who are currently refusing to testify. TAPPER: And Jessica, the other big court case is that of Charles

Kupperman. He is the former John Bolton deputy national security adviser. The two men share a lawyer. Kupperman refused to appear for a deposition in a House earlier this week.

SCHNEIDER: That is exactly right. And Kupperman's attorney filed a lawsuit on Friday, just days before Kupperman was supposed to appear. And his attorney basically wants clarification from the court, saying who should Kupperman listen to? Should he listen to these House Democrats and their subpoena or should he listen to the White House, who is claiming absolute immunity here?

And the judge here, Richard Leon, is putting this on a fast track because he knows that time is of the essence. And of course, it will be imperative on how he rules as to this witness, Charles Kupperman because of course, Chuck Cooper, the attorney here, also represents John Bolton. And with John Bolton's testimony being requested next week and Bolton subsequently saying he won't appear voluntarily, it's likely that his attorney, the same one representing Kupperman, will put forth these same arguments and refuse to appear as well -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica, outside the court, thank you so much.

Let's discuss with former federal prosecutor Shan Wu and Ross Garber, an impeachment attorney.

Ross, let start with you. If the judge rules that McGahn must testify, can he still refuse?

[16:40:03]

ROSS GARBER, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY: Yes. What's likely to happen is, this judge is a district judge, trial judge. If this orders McGahn to testify there is almost certainly going to be an appeal to the D.C. circuit and a stay in place and then whoever loses at that stage is likely to ask the Supreme Court to get involved. So while that's all playing out it's very unlikely that we are going top see any testimony from Don McGahn.

TAPPER: And ultimately, isn't there majority support on the U.S. Supreme Court, especially now with two Trump Supreme Court justices for a belief of very broad executive powers? Aren't they likely to lose, the people trying to force McGahn to testify?

GARBER: I think it's dangerous for folks to sort of game out the Supreme Court. This is an argument that is -- there is no binding authority on this argument about absolute immunity. It sort stems from the notion that Congress can't force the President of the United States to come and testify. And so he also can't then force his senior adviser to come testify. It is position taken by presidents and department of justices in both parties but it's untested. And so, we don't know what the Supreme Court will do with that.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you that. I think there's the belief out there that executive privilege means that Congress can't force anybody who works in the White House to testify, whether it's Don McGahn, the former White House counsel or Kupperman, former deputy national security adviser. Is that wrong?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL ATTORNEY: Well, it is wrong in one sense which is at the moment, they are trying to first assert something even broader than executive privilege which is absolute immunity.

I have to disagree with Ross a little bit. There is some precedent. Because in 2008 district court judge Bates really soundly rejected the idea of there being this absolute immunity, specifically citing to the Nixon case, saying that Nixon revised the authority for piercing that.

And also I think during the common sense conclusion that if you really go with this absolute immunity, in his words, eviscerates Congress' oversight ability.

TAPPER: And Ross, what about the argument from the White House that this entire impeachment is illegitimate, it is all bogus and they therefore don't have to cooperate. Will any court find that a reasonable argument?

GARBER: I think at some point down the line you may actually see that play out in court. You think about sot of the McGahn situation. That subpoena was issued early this year.

TAPPER: Yes, before Ukraine.

GARBER: Yes, before Ukraine and before, certainly, before today's house vote. So I think you are going to see an argument that even if under an extraordinary situation in impeachment, the President's advisers could be forced to come and testify. That's not the condition under which McGahn was subpoenaed. We may see that issue play out.

TAPPER: Because McGahn was subpoenaed under the Mueller report for potential obstruction of justice.

Thanks Shan and Ross. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, the new national Trump ad that even a former Obama campaign strategist is praising. Will it resonate with voters in key states? Stay with us.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "POLITICS LEAD," "we are on offense." That's how the Trump campaign is now describing its 2020 strategy after running this ad during game seven of the World Series last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

The Democrats would rather focus on impeachment and phony investigations ignoring the real issues. But that's not stopping Donald Trump. He's no Mr. Nice Guy, but sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And Jackie, this was a nationwide ad buy, very expensive, multi-million, I think. Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe praised the ad is quite strong and pointed out that it's unprecedented for a presidential campaign to be running ads in October the year before the election.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they have a massive war chest, and this is also a president who declared he was running for reelection on Inauguration Day, right? So they had -- they've had some planning, got some time to plan all of this.

But it was -- it was actually it was striking because we haven't really had a lot of political ads watching game seven. And to see that pop up -- and that message that David was talking about is very simple, we're strong, we're getting things done, and you know, and in addressing the fact that maybe sometimes you don't like my attitude but I'm getting stuff done.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is also a president with just a few nights before, a president with a very thin skin with just a few nights before had gotten loudly booed by so many in the National Stadium, right?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In Washington D.C. which he should also make into an ad because a stadium full of people booing you from Washington is like the whole reason of this canvas.

NAVARRO: Yes, but you have to not be a narcissist in order to put out an ad booing you. and it wasn't just booing them, it was serving him a piece of karma.

SHIELDS: I think his voters said, will you please go to Washington and fill up stadiums full of D.C. people that get mad at you, then you're doing my work for me.

NAVARRO: Including all the Republican congressmen who were there in the -- in the suites.

SHIELDS: Look, and by the way, I think that ad -- to a point of that ad, I go back to -- this is why it's so funny to talk to Paul about this because a lot of the things he was saying about President Clinton, that's what -- that ad could have been a President Clinton ad for his impeachment.

The economy is doing incredibly well. The President is focused on doing things like killing the leader of ISIS, and the Democrats are frittering away their majority. They have issued more subpoenas than they passed bills. And for the members of the House that have to carry this water, that is a really damning thing for them in Trump country.

TAPPER: I just want to ask you a question about the -- what you -- what you just described is not an elephant in the room, it's the idea of President Trump acknowledging or his campaign at least acknowledging maybe you don't like his style, the idea of he's no Mr. Nice Guy but sometimes it takes to Donald Trump to change Washington. What do you think of acknowledging that the President can be alienating in his own reelection?

[16:50:21]

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's very smart. I think it's a really good ad because it actually -- like I wouldn't make Mike sad about people booing him. That's about him. For just a few seconds, we actually were pretending like the voters matter, like the economy matter, like job matter. For just a few blessed seconds, we weren't talking about the orange narcissists.

Now they got to it quickly, but it's much stronger message for him honestly. Usually what he says is I hate the other guy and you hate them too. For a few seconds, for a whole lot of money, he said the president is doing a good job.

Now, I don't think he can sustain that, I don't think blah, blah, blah. But by the way, the Democrats need to answer what Mike was saying. The Democrats need to point out they have passed bills on gun safety, they passed bills on prescription drug costs, they've passed bills on gender equity --

TAPPER: More than 200 I think that the Senate hasn't picked up.

BEGALA: And no one knows that. And so the Democrats --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Excuse me, Mike. I didn't interrupt you. The Democrats need to do this -- well, the Democrats need to do this as well. If we get it back to ideas who's better on the economy, who's better on prescription drugs, who's better on gun safety, it would be a really nice thing if once in a while politics was about people's lives.

NAVARRO: You're so totally wrong. We absolutely need that. Mike adds a stadium full of people --

BEGALA: Booing our president?

NAVARRO: -- chanting "Lock him up. Lock him up."

SHIELDS: Elite media, lobbyists, deepstaters (ph), political consultants like me in Washington D.C. are all mad at the President of the United States. He must be doing what you want him to do out in the country because you also don't like watching.

TAPPER: OK, we don't need to talk -- let's not talk about the fictional ad that was dreamed up at this table. Let's --

SHIELDS: I'm trying to write a script here.

TAPPER: Do you think this is smart, the idea of like acknowledging he's not -- he's no Mr. Nice Guy?

SHIELDS: Yes. TAPPER: It's an acknowledgment we get that sometimes you don't like

what he does.

SHIELDS: Yes, I do -- I do think that's really smart. And I think that the other -- it's interesting we're talking about no process. A lot of what's in that ad comes from data. I mean there are swing voters in the swing states who are going to respond very well to that because that comes right out of focus groups and data that --

TAPPER: What specifically, just the economy, jobs?

SHIELDS: Yes. And that the Democrats are not focused on helping you, they're focused on just get him, and in the meantime, he's being strong in doing things that you want. That is a really good reelection message for him that you'll carry -- it's almost a table center for the whole election.

KUCINICH: But if he is able to keep that message going which is not guaranteed. During the last -- during 2018, he started talking about immigration the entire time and you've lost the suburbs.

TAPPER: All right, that's all the time we have.

NAVARRO: Isn't acknowledging that Donald Trump is not a nice guy like me acknowledging that I'm a woman and a Hispanic? I mean, it doesn't take a lot science.

TAPPER: Anyway, thanks one and all. Nothing left but just a pile of wreckage and ashes. We have these images of these new destructive fires that have just broken out in California. Some homeowners are getting their first look at just how bad the damage is. We're going to go live there. Stay with us.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD," new fires erupting in California this morning. Residents in San Bernardino waking up to evacuations orders as flames engulf several homes. The Hillside fire, one of two new destructive wildfires spreading in California today. High winds across the state are expected to stoke the flames even more and potentially cause more fires to break out.

CNN's Bill Weir joins me now live in California. And Bill, is there any sign that these fires are going to let up soon?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're getting a blessed break right now, Jake. The winds those fierce 40 miles an hour sustained have died down a bit. Bluebird skies are out again giving the firefighters a little bit of a break. But not too much because they want to knock them down while they can before the winds come back.

And it doesn't really take a forensic expert to see what happens here. We're in the Inland Empire in the hills above San Bernardino. Those are the scorch marks of last night's firestorm. And you know, you pick the price of paradise these days. If you live in Florida and a hurricane is coming, at least you get a few days' notice. But in Southern California, these tragedies, they come like a bump in the night, right?

So maybe this family got knocked out of bed just before dawn to evacuate. And by the end of the day, this is all that's left, one of six homes in this community destroyed. And given the strength of those winds, that's actually pretty blessedly low number. And this is what folks are worried about. Even if an ember from here were to cast a mile away, it could start this whole thing all over again.

TAPPER: And Bill, Californians I know say that it sure seems that fire seasons are getting much worse. Is there any proof of that?

WEIR: Absolutely. I'll date myself. I graduated from college in Southern California in 1990. And back then, an evacuation was maybe a once-in-a-lifetime event, now it's becoming more annual. And it's staggering to realize that that seven of the ten most destructive fires in the history of California have happened in the last four years.

CAL FIRE used to prepare for wind events to last four days, now it's fourteen days. Temperatures used to max out at 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, now it's 2,100 which is hot enough to turn sand into glass. And so much of this is because people are moving into these wildfire areas, this urban, wilderness interface is proving to be so risky as we enter this age of climate crisis, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much. Stay safe, my friend. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @theLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. See you tomorrow.