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THE SITUATION ROOM

House Votes To Formalize And Advance Trump Impeachment Probe; Top W.H. Russia Adviser Testifies In Impeachment Inquiry; Judges Weighing Whether Former W.H. Officials Have To Testify; Kupperman Testimony Won't Be Resolved Until At Least December 10; W.H. Russia Adviser Backs Up Taylor Testimony, Differs On Details; New Blaze Erupts as Crews Battle Wildfires Near Los Angeles; Behind the Scenes Of White House Calls With Foreign Leaders. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 31, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much. Stay safe, my friend.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're following historic breaking news. The House of Representatives in a near party line vote, approving a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and setting the stage for it to go public.

Also the top Russia adviser on the National Security Council has just finished testifying in the impeachment probe. CNN has obtained portions of his opening statement in which he backs up testimony for the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who told lawmakers he believed military aid was tied to an investigation of Joe Biden by Ukraine.

We're also following not one, but two federal court hearings under way right now on whether witnesses close to the President can be forced to testify in the impeachment probe, including former White House Council Don McGahn.

Let's begin with details on this, the first full House vote on impeachment. Our Congressional Reporter Lauren Fox is up on Capitol Hill for us. Lauren, truly historic milestone in this investigation of President Trump.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right, Wolf. And Republicans and Democrats are on the record now when it comes to the next phase of the impeachment inquiry. The vote today setting out the rules for what will happen once these testimonies go public.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOX (voice-over): A historic vote on the House floor, setting the stage for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is a solemn occasion. Nobody, I doubt anybody in this place or anybody that you know comes to Congress to take the oath of office, comes to Congress to impeach the President of the United States. And today, the House takes the next step forward.

FOX: The House voting mostly along party lines.

PELOSI: The yeas are 232. The nays are 196. The resolution is adopted.

FOX: With two Democrats, Representative Jeff Andrew and Colin Peterson, voting against the resolution. Those two Democrats from areas Trump handedly won in the 2016 election. Republicans sticking with Trump and blasting the process as unfair.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): This is the United States of America. Don't run a sham process, a tainted process like this resolution ensures. It ought to be rejected.

FOX: Democrats pushing back.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): Well, their insistence that the process is somehow flawed betrayed their decision not to deal with the substance that makes this process necessary.

FOX: And vowing to move forward.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We take no joy in having to move down this road and proceed with the impeachment inquiry. But neither do we shrink from it.

FOX: The resolution, outlying the rules, including a measure allowing Republicans to subpoena their own witnesses, as long as the Democratic committee chairmen agree. It also allows Trump and his lawyers to cross examine witnesses and object to lines of questioning once the probe moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): The President has had no rights inside these hearings. They cannot go back and fix what is a fundamentally tainted and unfair record.

FOX: Also in the capital today, Tim Morrison, the President's top Russia adviser, appearing under subpoena, where sources tell CNN Morrison told investigators he was concerned the details of Trump's July 25th phone call would leak and that he was involved in discussions about how to handle the call transcript.

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): He's a critical player. He was in many of the critical meetings.

FOX: The testimony largely corroborating another key witness, Bill Taylor, a career diplomat who confirmed the whistleblower's allegations that he was told Trump delayed nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine until that country launched an investigation into the Bidens. Taylor also told lawmakers that Morrison talked to him after the call and told him, "It could have been better."

Taylor testified last week that Morrison relayed Trump had suggested Ukraine's president and his staff meet with Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr. Morrison testified he was told to stay away from Giuliani's efforts in Ukraine.

CNN previous reporting Morrison believed the administration was legally within their rights in dealing with Ukraine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOX: And a key fact there, of course, Wolf, that Morrison arguing that the President didn't do anything illegal when it came to Ukraine, but the underlying facts between Morrison and Taylor's testimonies, undisputable. Wolf?

[17:05:02]

BLITZER: And that's significant. Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's get to more right now on two key federal court hearings that could set the tone for the impeachment inquiry as it moves forward. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is outside the courthouse here in Washington. Evan, the issue of executive privilege is at the center of the Don McGahn case, the judge just made some very, very interesting comments on that.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she did, Wolf. She's really not buying the arguments that the Justice Department is making here it court. She showed a lot of -- she certainly show that she has a lot of skepticism about the argument that this entire fight doesn't belong in court, that the courts have no role in deciding whether Don McGahn has to show up to honor the subpoena issued by the House.

I'll read you a couple of parts of what she said. She said, "We don't live in a world where your status as a former executive branch official somehow shields you or prevents you from giving information." And she also said the following. "I see almost every day on people -- I see almost every day people who are former executive branch officials giving information to the media. People are out there talking, people are out there saying things."

She's referring to the fact, Wolf, that a lot of former administration officials freely speak their mind on television, making T.V. appearances, and the administration, the Trump White House does not try to stop those appearances. So she essentially is saying that the same should apply to the House subpoena.

BLITZER: That's an important point, indeed. Evan, there's also another key legal fight that just wrapped up tonight, this one involving John Bolton's former deputy, Charles Kupperman, who Democrats have subpoenaed.

PEREZ: Right, exactly, Wolf. And one of the things that -- is an issue there is the judge, Richard Leon, said that he wanted to make sure that these -- that the hearings and that the briefs and everything are prepared very quickly because of the urgency of the matter.

This is a very important issue, he said, for the country that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. So he's setting up a very aggressive schedule, perhaps hearing -- setting a hearing in December, in early December for the two sides to battle this out.

This is a case, Wolf, that was brought by Mr. Kupperman's attorney. But the House of Representatives and the Justice Department are also in court because they're going to have to argue which side has pulled sway, essentially, which one essentially wins the day, whether or not the House has the right to subpoena Mr. Kupperman and anybody else, or whether the President's absolute immunity order is what holds the day.

By the way, Wolf, also brought up in court today was the fact that John Bolton could be receiving -- could be part of this case as well if he receives a subpoena. The lawyer representing Mr. Kupperman is also representing John Bolton. So we'll see whether or not John Bolton becomes part of this case in the coming weeks.

BLITZER: Very busy day in the federal court system today in Washington. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's go over to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is on the scene for us. Jim, the White House argument against cooperating with the impeachment inquiry was that there hadn't been a vote, a full House vote on it. But now there has been a full House vote.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They're still attacking the process even though they've gotten what they want here. The White House is portraying the impeachment vote in the House as a partisan attack on the President, taking pride today in the fact that no Republican straight from Mr. Trump.

President invited GOP lawmakers to the White House earlier today for a discussion. That included talk about the impeachment process. And the Trump campaign released some talking points on impeachment that attempted to poke holes in the Democrats' case but ended up trampling on some of the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With Democrats voting to move forward with impeachment in the House, President Trump is tweeting as he is pleading, "Read the transcript," insisting he's the victim of the great greatest witch hunt in American history. The President shows an ally in the British media, Brexit activist Nigel Farage to make his case.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats are desperate. They're desperate. And they have nothing. They've got nothing going. And it's the only way they're going to try to win the election this way because they can't win it the fair way. No the transcript of the call that I had with the Ukrainian president is a perfect and totally appropriate document. And they're using that to try to impeach the President of the United States who won one of the greatest elections in history."

ACOSTA: White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham who is yet to hold a briefing with reporters appeared on Fox News, and indicated Mr. Trump's team is still formulating its counter impeachment strategy.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Now that we're in phase two of the impeachment inquiry, I don't think I want to get into strategy of what the legal strategy will be going forward until we learn kind of what the ground rules are. The Dems have been really good at continuously moving the goal posts on that, so I don't want to get into any of our strategy just yet.

ACOSTA: The President's family is stepping up with Ivanka Trump quoting Thomas Jefferson who once lamented he was "surrounded by enemies and spies catching and preventing every word that falls from my lips or flows from my pen, and inventing where facts fail them."

[17:10:11] Ivanka added, "Some things never change, dad." Donald Trump Jr. defended his father's quest for dirt on Joe Biden, complaining children shouldn't be able to make a buck off of their family name.

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I wish my name was Hunter Biden. I could go abroad, make millions off of my father's presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere.

TRUMP JR.: I'd be a really rich guy. It would be incredible.

ACOSTA: CNN has obtained Trump campaign talking points that mischaracterize the testimony of National Security Official Alexander Vindman. The talking points said, Vindman's testimony supports President Trump's message and that Vindman stated that the released transcript of President Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was accurate and there was no quid pro quo on the call.

But here's the reality, Vindman told lawmakers the transcript was incomplete and added there was a quid pro quo. With his presidency on the line, Mr. Trump is being urged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to avoid attacking fellow Republicans who may end up deciding his fate. GOP lawmakers are remaining loyal to the President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President is now asking all of you to defend him against the substance of these allegations. Will you do that? Will you all go on the record and say that the President did nothing inappropriate?

(CROSSTALK)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): And I think you heard members up here being very clear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, one other thing the President said today during his interview with Nigel Farage is that there is no way he would ever say anything inappropriate during a phone call with so many officials listening in.

The problem for the President, and this began with the whistleblower, is that a growing number of administration officials have stepped forward to testify Mr. Trump was wrong when he sought Ukraine's help to investigate Joe Biden and there are more officials, as we know, Wolf, who are going to testify on this in the coming days. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, when he asked President Zelensky for a favor, according to that rough transcript. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get to more on this historic House vote today and all the breaking impeachment news. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And what's your reaction? How important was this vote on the House floor today? What's it mean for your inquiry going forward?

REP. TOM MALINOWSKI, (D-NY): It's first of all a very somber day, Wolf. It's not anything any of us are celebrating. We came here to work on issues important to the American people and health care and infrastructure and other issues that we have been passing legislation on. But we also swore an oath to defend the constitution and today we kept that oath.

We passed a resolution that sets the rules for the public stage of this impeachment process. Very soon the American people will be able to see and judge all of the evidence that I have seen in these depositions.

And they'll be able to ask themselves the question that every single one of us will have to answer eventually. Is it OK that the President traded support for Ukraine, support that Republicans and Democrats agree is in our vital national security interest, trading that support for a personal, political favor?

BLITZER: If Democrats, however, Congressman, could get any Republicans to vote in favor of this resolution today, how do you expect to convince Republicans to vote in favor of impeachment if there are articles of impeachment that come up for a vote on the floor of the House or certainly conviction where you need two-thirds vote in the Senate?

MALINOWSKI: We're not at that stage yet. We are right now about to begin public hearings, the public stage of this process. And I'll tell you, Wolf, I think this was a vote that every Republican decided that they're just going to vote with the party. But I've heard from my Republicans -- my Republican colleagues privately, from some of them, that I should not interpret their vote in favor of this or opposed to this procedural resolution as indication that they will vote against impeachment.

Do not underestimate how much the substance is troubling some of my Republican colleagues who care about the national security of our country.

BLITZER: Why don't they say that publicly?

MALINOWSKI: Well, it's a very -- this is the hardest vote that any member of Congress can take. And it's particularly difficult if it's the president of your own party. And I'm not predicting what they're going to do, don't get me wrong. I just know that one reason they are talking so much about the process is because many of them are deeply troubled about the substance and they're not quite ready to talk about that yet.

BLITZER: The National Republican Congressional Committee says the impeachment inquiry is distracting you and your colleagues from delivering on other issues like health care, jobs, infrastructure. Isn't it a reality, Congressman, that this inquiry is going to hinder your efforts and other issues that's going to take up so much of your time?

MALINOWSKI: No, that's has not been the case and it's not going to be the case. I spent all day yesterday in the hearing with the CEO of Boeing, talking about the crashes of the 737 MAX aircraft and what we need to do to fix that problem.

[17:15:18] We have passed, as you well know, about 200 pieces of legislation on health care, on prescription drug prices, on infrastructure, on protecting the environment, on fighting gun violence, most of which, you know what the problem is, they're being blocked by Mitch McConnell in the United States Senate.

So, we've demonstrated we can do our job. We will do our job in the House of Representatives. The reason why things aren't getting done is nothing to do with impeachment and everything to do with Mitch McConnell and the Senate.

BLITZER: Let's discuss Tim Morrison's deposition today, the top Russia adviser on the National Security Council. Republican Congressman Mark Meadow says his testimony was, in his words, very damaging to the Democrats' narrative. Did Morrison contradict some of the other witnesses?

MALINOWSKI: Absolutely not. And I can't get into the precise details of what he said. I think you may now have what may be a transcript of -- or a copy of his opening statement.

I can tell you every single administration witness we have heard from has corroborated the central facts of this case, that the President pressured the government of Ukraine to give him dirt on Joe Biden, to help him in the 2020 election in exchange for, number one, a meeting and, number two, for this vitally needed military assistance to the government of Ukraine. Everybody has corroborated that central narrative.

BLITZER: But Morrison did testify that he personally -- and he was one of -- he was the second White House official to actually listen in on that July 25th phone conversation between the President and President Zelensky of Ukraine. He says he didn't hear anything illegal during the course of that phone conversation. He did have concerns about the transcript leaking at some point. How do you square all of that?

MALINOWSKI: Well, it's hard for me to really get into it without talking about what he actually said. I can say that some of the Republican spin is absolutely not what I heard in the room. You will all see the transcript very soon and you will be able to judge for yourself and, more important, the American people will be able to judge. It is not --

BLITZER: When you say -- let me interrupt for a second.

MALINOWSKI: Sure.

BLITZER: When you say very soon, what does that mean?

MALINOWSKI: Very soon. I'm hoping within a matter of days. And, again, it's not up to Mr. Morrison to make this judgment, or any other White House staffer. They all have their opinions.

I can say everybody working on Ukraine and Russia in the Trump administration that we have spoken to was deeply concerned about this parallel shadow foreign policy that the President was running through Rudy Giuliani to undermine what I would say as a Democrat was an exemplary official Trump administration policy towards Ukraine.

Everyone we've spoken to has confirmed that happened, there was a shadow foreign policy. They were deeply concerned about it. It was undermining U.S. interests. They wanted it to end. And ultimately, it will be up to us to judge whether it's impeachable.

BLITZER: Well, very quickly because we're out of time. All of the transcripts of all the depositions, nearly 100 hours of questions and answers, you say all of those transcripts will be released within a few days?

MALINOWSKI: Not necessarily all of them, because we give the witnesses an opportunity to come in and review the transcript. And we have to make sure there's nothing classified in the transcripts. But we should begin that process very, very shortly, releasing the earlier transcripts that are ready.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be anxious to read those transcripts. Congressman Malinowski, thank you so much for joining us.

MALINOWSKI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more in today's historic vote formalizing the Trump impeachment inquiry and setting up the rules for public testimony.

Plus, what we're learning from today's impeachment testimony from a key White House Russia adviser.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:24:01] BLITZER: There's major breaking news here in Washington, where the House of Representatives in a near party line vote approved a resolution formalizing the Trump impeachment investigation and setting ground rules for public, televised hearings. Let's discuss all of this with our experts.

And Nia, truly historic moment in -- when the House passed this resolution today by voted 232 to 196. How significant was it?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Hugely, hugely significant for this President, for this country. We know that this is only happened three times in the nation's history. This is, of course, is the fourth time and the President joining a not-so-elite club of presidents who are staring down a barrel of impeachment.

This will change his presidency, it will certainly change Speaker Pelosi's speakership as well. It's not a moment she didn't necessarily want to get to, right? She was reluctant to get to this place where the country would hear these accusations against the President.

She knows it's going to pull to the country into a very divisive period as we hear from these witnesses, some of whom we've heard from already coming out of these depositions.

[17:25:05]

But my goodness, the President, I think, himself didn't necessarily think he would get here either, but here he is. And, you know, if you're the White House, you're obviously in sort of a war footing, not necessarily officially, right? They don't have a war room but certainly going forward, they've got to figure out what the best strategy is.

Is this sort of a Clinton strategy, which is to say, you know, that the Democrats are kind of obsessed with this and he's doing the nation's business? We know that's what Clinton did, but it's sort of a harder footing for this President to be on because we know he's also obsessed with impeachment as well.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I agree with literally everything Nia said. I'll just add one thing that I think Donald Trump can take some -- will take some solace from and maybe it should. Zero House Republicans voted, now this isn't too -- this isn't articles of impeachment, let's be clear. This is to make formal rules for how the rest of this investigation will go.

You could theoretically, if you're a House Republican, see this as a vote you could get away with, potentially politically, because then you vote to oppose the articles of impeachment and you say, well, I opposed the big one, but I wanted the investigation to go forward.

I was a little surprised. Maybe I shouldn't be, given the filthy they have paid to Trump time and time again. But if you're Donald Trump, I think you feel good that you worked to keep that number at zero and you kept that number at zero, because remember, Wolf, what will end Donald Trump's presidency, pre-election, is not the House Democratic majority, it's the Republican Senate majority.

And if those Republican senators see cracks that grow bigger in the House and see an opening, worry about their own political future, that's the danger for him, not what was a party line vote today.

BLITZER: Phil, how significant is it that this process now is going to move from these closed door secret testimony and depositions to open hearings that will be fully testified for the entire American public to see?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it's hugely significant, but maybe not for the reasons we think. Hugely significant obviously, the easy one is for the Democrats. They get people on the record not leaked saying, yes, I saw stuff that I thought was inappropriate. Some of these people like the officer speaking yesterday are going to be in uniform, people respect that.

The risk I think, and I think it's more significant that we know for the Democrats is we had a partisan vote. The President told us during the World Series game last night with the national ad, the deep state is after me again, just like during the Russia investigation.

If the Democrats are scattered, which I suspect they'll be, it gives him an open opportunity in front of the cameras to say this isn't about Ukraine, this is about people who hate me. And unless you stick with me, this deep state is going to come after us again. I think it's an opportunity for Republicans, we don't know.

CILLIZZA: And that's why, just to add Phil's point, that's why I don't think today. I think the obvious reasons, well, this is a bad day Donald Trump. It's not a great day for him.

HENDERSON: Right.

CILLIZZA: I don't think it's as bad a day for him because of exactly Phil's said.

BLITZER: Although I'm sure he hates the fact that he's in -- being considered --

CILLIZZA: It's going forward. Absolutely, yes.

BLITZER: I mean, he's obviously upset about that detail by his tweets. Jamie, he did invite Senate Republicans to come over at the White House right after the historic vote in the House of Representatives. Tell us about the dynamics at play here.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were wondering whether he was going to reassure them about impeachment and come up with strategy. But I want to tell you, Wolf, just as I was sitting here a second ago, a source familiar said that there has been, "little or no guidance from the White House to the GOP."

The Republicans -- I want to push back on what Phil and Chris just said. The Republicans that I'm talking to are worried. They are exhausted and they don't know what is coming next. We've talked about how they've been fighting about process it's because they can't, they tell me, fight about substance.

And so, even though this was a party line vote and disciplined, I would say very much let us wait and see because the Republicans I'm talking to are really concerned about the evidence that has become public thus far. They do not want to defend it and they don't know what else is coming.

BLITZER: And presumably, you know, Phil, a lot more is coming. Hundred hours of close door secret depositions, the transcripts, Phil, are about to be released.

MUDD: Yes. But, again, let's be careful. There's a difference between stuff that's coming that says at the core of it. Somebody tried that, as the President of the United States tried to trade our taxpayer money for political opposition research, that's a scrapple.

Then you get into a bigger question, and that is whether people say, I don't like Rudy Giuliani. He was involved in shadow diplomacy. That's not only not illegal, I don't that's not impeachable. This stuff is going to come out whether the Democrats can do a pinata or precession, I think that's the case (ph).

[17:30:00]

HENDERSON: And so far, I mean, I think the Democrats have surprised a lot of people in terms of their discipline, in terms of the methodical way they've gone about this and the evidence of it has come out so far. And there has been this discussion about whether they will limit it to Ukraine, if whether or not they'd go broader. It looks like they're going to limit it to Ukraine.

But to your point, do they limit it even more --

MUDD: Yes, yes.

HENDERSON: -- take a scalpel and say, the real issue is this quid pro quo?

Something else that came out today was out of the House. You heard Kevin McCarthy essentially saying, listen, what the President did was a legitimate duty that this President can do. In the -- in the press conference as well, they -- he said the same thing. He had a chorus of Republicans who basically argued that this --

CILLIZZA: Yes. And that --

HENDERSON: -- this is something the President can do. CILLIZZA: And that has been, to -- to Jamie's point, the thing that

we have seen, I think, consistently, as it relates to the Republican Party and Donald Trump is this. Private griping verging on panic at times, without question. The Charlottesville incident. I mean, I talked to Republicans who said I -- I can't believe this is happening but, as Nia noted, publicly still in line.

Remember, the most important thing that these House members do is vote on stuff. So when they vote and they stand in line with the President, I just take that to be a victory no matter what the private grumbling may be.

BLITZER: We're going to talk about all of this and a lot more. There's a lot more happening and all the breaking news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:36:11]

BLITZER: We're back with our experts.

And, Chris Cillizza, they heard behind closed doors today from Tim Morrison, the President's top Russia adviser who've also just announced he's about to leave the White House. But he made it clear that he basically agreed with what the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, had -- had testified about and disagreed with the strategy of Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. who's a political appointee.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, first of all, I think Phil mentioned this. I think public hearings will do everyone a world of good, to the extent you can get a decent chunk of these people who appeared behind closed doors, simply because it won't be a series of leaks designed to frame it in the best possible light. If you choose to, you can watch the whole thing.

What I will say, based on what we know of these various conversations with people they've brought in from Bill Taylor to Vindman to today, there is a consistency with the exception of Gordon Sondland. There is a consistency of story, of a sequence of events that also is consistent with the whistleblower complaint that, if I was the President or one of his allies, would give me some level of pause.

Is it possible all of these people could have just settled on a made- up story? They -- you know, Donald Trump, you know, this is a made-up witch hunt? I mean, I guess there's a chance of that, but it seems very unlikely.

The consistency of this is -- whether it's in regard to what the role Giuliani was instructed to play or the concerns about that phone call, going immediately to the lawyers and saying, I don't think this is -- is the right thing, all of that stuff suggests that reasonable people don't actually disagree about the nature of this relationship and why it was not proper. BLITZER: What's pretty clear right now, Nia, is that all of the

career officials -- State Department officials, diplomats, military -- they all basically are in agreement that this notion of linking U.S. military assistance to Ukraine or a meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky to dirt on the Bidens, that that was totally inappropriate and should never have happened.

HENDERSON: That's right. And this is what -- and Chris alluded to this. This is what has consistently come first out of the phone call, right, that the President released the -- the memo of and then the -- the -- the text messages of -- of Volker's testimony. And so that is the picture that you get.

I think you do get some shades of difference in terms of how much it mattered, right? For instance, you -- you -- you have, for instance, today, Morrison came out and said, you know, nothing illegal happened on the call. He also seemed to suggest that a lot of this was maybe Sondland and not necessarily driven by the White House.

I think it's going to come down to they might all agree on what happened on these meetings that happened -- Bolton was in some of these meetings and -- and concerned about it -- but not necessarily the degree to which it was terrible, right? That seems to be where the division lies.

And -- and that will be where Republicans have to come down, too, right?

CILLIZZA: Yes.

HENDERSON: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? Sure, it might be wrong.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

HENDERSON: But does it rise to the level of impeachment?

BLITZER: And Morrison also says that he was advised by a White House official at the time to stay as far away from Rudy Giuliani as possible, the President's personal lawyer, who was basically in charge of what's being described as this shadow policy towards Ukraine.

MUDD: Yes, but this -- you heard it from a congressman just a few minutes ago on this show. This is a risk for the Democrats. Rudy Giuliani went from America's mayor to America's mockery. That is not impeachable.

If the conversation shifts to we don't -- from the Democrats, we don't like Rudy Giuliani because, practitioners like me, it's the revenge of the nerds. Practitioners say we don't like these people from the White House who are not into the foreign policy scene participating in Ukraine policy.

[17:39:58]

The Dems can't win if the conversation is focused on, if he ever testifies, Mr. Giuliani, was there a deal for American taxpayer money related to the Bidens? It's a different question. I think this shadow diplomacy thing people are talking about is a nonstarter.

BLITZER: And how significant, Jamie, would John Bolton's testimony be? Assuming he comes forward and tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

GANGEL: Let me put this simply, no one in the White House wants John Bolton to -- to testify. I -- I really think he is the -- their worst nightmare. He was in the middle of all of this. He was telling people to report things to counsel. He was having Bill Taylor send memos to Pompeo. He knows what was going on.

The other thing I think we have to remember is there's an interesting footnote to all of this, the money gets turned on. On September 11th, Ukraine gets the money. What happened the day before that? John Bolton resigned, was fired, whichever version you want to go with. You have to wonder whether someone in the White House said, you know what, Mr. President, you better release that money, John Bolton is out there.

BLITZER: And John Bolton, when he left, was clearly not happy. He's still not happy about all of that.

GANGEL: Correct. Correct.

BLITZER: All -- everyone, stick around. There's more news we're following including some breaking news in California right now. Stay with us, we're going to have a live update from the scene of a new fire that just broke out today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news. California firefighters are battling a new rapidly spreading blaze. It's in Riverside County east of Los Angeles and already has destroyed homes and forced hurried evacuations.

CNN's Bill Weir is nearby in San Bernardino. Bill, so what are conditions like where you are?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the winds have died blessedly for the moment, Wolf, but the red flag warnings for most of L.A. don't expire until tomorrow. And you get a little sense of the fickle nature of these winds as they swirl.

As the fire came scorching down this hillside, it brushes right up against houses like this, which survive. But then literally right across the street, all it takes is one errant ember to suck up into those eaves and ruin an entire life in a matter of hours.

These folks probably got the evacuation knock before dawn this morning. And by lunchtime, you can see everything they have is gone. About six homes in this community of Riverside destroyed so far that they know of, but about 50 percent contained right now.

[17:45:01] But -- but big picture, it's important to look at these because we've

become so adapted to disasters like these. It's -- it's sort of the price of living in paradise, right, but in that, you lose the trend lines, which are that seven of the 10 most destructive fires in state history have been in just the last four years.

Cal Fire used to prepare for wind events that would last only four days. Now, they have to brace for 14 days at a time, Wolf, so this is a little break in the action. But big picture, life in paradise out here just seems to get riskier and riskier by the year.

BLITZER: And -- and I take it folks out there are citing what, the climate crisis, for a lot of this problem?

WEIR: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, just look at the acreage burned as these things get hotter. It used to be they'd measure that -- that a fire would get about 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit at the max. Now, they're measuring fires at 2,100 degrees, which is enough to turn sand into glass and destroy every manmade thing. And more and more homes in these wild spaces mean more fuel for these fires.

BLITZER: Awful situation. Bill Weir, be careful over there. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Thank you.

Coming up, Democrats push through a historic resolution formalizing the Trump impeachment investigation and opening the way to public televised hearings. Plus, a closer look at one of the events at the center of the investigation. What goes into presidential calls to world leaders and how many people listen in?

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[17:51:24]

BLITZER: President Trump's call with Ukraine's leader is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry and the subject of the latest key testimony. CNN's Brian Todd has details. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We have new information tonight on what top NSC aides are saying about that controversial call between the President and Ukraine's President back in July. And we have new details from people at the White House who have handled those very sensitive and important calls about how they're set up, who is on them, and why the final record of a given call is not always complete.

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TODD (voice-over): The NSC's top official on Russia, Tim Morrison, is, tonight, the second person who was on that fateful July call between President Trump and Ukraine's President to testify before House investigators. Adding more intense scrutiny to every word that was said on that call.

One of Morrison's deputies, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, testified Tuesday that there were at least two places that he tried to make corrections to the rough transcript of the call, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN. But the changes to the transcript were never made. The President has depicted the transcript as a verbatim record.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Word for word, comma for comma.

TODD (voice-over): But Vindman testified there are two omissions from controversial parts of the call. There's just an ellipsis where Vindman said Trump actually told the Ukrainian President there were tapes of Joe Biden, according to "The New York Times."

TODD (on camera): Why would there be an ellipsis there instead of, apparently, that crucial part of a conversation?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM: I -- I find that very surprising. Ellipses are not a notation that would have been in a normal situation room raw transcript. So my initial thinking when I saw these ellipses was that somebody on the NSC staff, rather than having some clunky looking notation, just put ellipses where perhaps the President's voice trailed off.

TODD (voice-over): Larry Pfeiffer ran the White House situation room for two years under President Obama. He says he oversaw more than a hundred calls between Obama and foreign leaders and says, during those calls, some aides are huddled around another phone in the same room as the President while others are connected on phones in other offices like the situation room.

He says an account of the conversation is produced by two or three notetakers helped by voice recognition software. The account then revised and corrected by policy aides and experts who are also listening.

PFEIFFER: Brian, I can't think of a time that anybody's recommended changes from -- from a person like Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, any time when they would have been blocked, they would have been accepted.

TODD (voice-over): According to "The Times," there's no tape recording of the Trump call by the American side.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: That's something I understand that hasn't been done since the Nixon era.

PFEIFFER: I think it affords a president a certain level of deniability.

TODD (voice-over): For the Trump call, the transcript at one point has the Ukrainian President saying just the company. Vindman says it should name Burisma, the company Biden's son worked for, because he claims that's what the Ukrainian President actually said.

The White House says the ellipses in the transcript don't cover for missing words or phrases, and the Trump team denies Vindman's claims that he tried to add words there. Former White House officials who've listened in on these calls say there is enormous pressure to be accurate and make sure nothing is omitted.

VINOGRAD: If things are left out, that again means that a foreign government knows what happened and you're hamstringing your home team.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, can a White House aide, a situation room duty officer, or anyone else who is on that call between the President and a foreign leader make their own recording of the call through their own desktop phone, their cell phone, or anything else just to make sure the contents are captured correctly?

Larry Pfeiffer says anyone at the White House who tried to do that would be fired. And in the situation room itself, he says outside cell phones aren't even allowed -- Wolf.

[17:55:06]

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Good report, Brian. Thank you.

There's breaking news next. The impeachment inquiry moves into a critical new phase as the House of Representatives votes to formalize it and to begin public hearings.

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