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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Yovanovitch Transcript Released; Four White House Officials Refuse to Appear for Testimony Today. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired November 4, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine said she felt threatened by President Trump.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking today: transcripts from key testimony released in the impeachment probe detailing the way President Trump allegedly abused his power, with Rudy Giuliani as his pit bull in Ukraine.
Deny and delay. Four White House officials snub their scheduled testimony today, as Democrats on the Hill say the stonewall strategy is actually helping their case.
Plus, red alert for Democrats. New polls suggest President Trump still might have an edge in battleground states, depending on who they nominate. What voters in critical counties are saying, if anything at all, about impeachment.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead. The House Intelligence Committee today earlier today released the depositions of two key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, and it provided much more detail about the shadow Ukraine policy that is leading to the president's likely impeachment.
For his part, President Trump continues to attempt to defend himself, mainly by attacking his accusers and lying about them, for instance, claiming that the whistle-blower complaint has been proven false, even though it has not.
Multiple former and current Trump administration officials who have testified have backed up the whistle-blower's allegations that American foreign policy and taxpayer dollars were being used to force Ukrainian government officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
In addition to his attempt to change how foreign policy is acceptably conducted in the United States, the president is not just challenging the testimony of those who are bringing these facts to the public; he's personally going after them, pushing false information about them, calling for journalists to expose the identity of the whistle- blower, echoing deranged calls for the whistle-blower to be criminally investigated, and even threatening to reveal what he suggests will be damaging information about one official, a lieutenant colonel, Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, who fought and bled for the U.S. overseas and also testified.
Despite all this, the steady stream of damaging information about the president and his dealings with Ukraine continues to flow. We learned new details today from former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. She was removed from her position after a Rudy Giuliani-led disinformation campaign.
And Ambassador Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who resigned earlier this year in disgust, as CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The impeachment inquiry today reaching new heights, as transcripts of closed-door testimony were released to the public for the first time.
Explosive comments made under oath by former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a former top aide to the secretary of state who resigned in protest.
Yovanovitch telling lawmakers that the rogue Ukraine policy, led by President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was "not good policy," kind of a partisan game that cut the ground from underneath the U.S. Embassy."
"Ukrainians were wondering whether I was going to be leaving," Yovanovitch said, "whether we really represented the president."
Yovanovitch said that, late last year, she learned from Ukrainian officials about a concerted campaign that Giuliani and a former prosecutor had plans and that they were going to, "you know, do things, including to me."
A senior Ukrainian official warning her to watch her back.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): That smear campaign orchestrated by this irregular channel was successful in removing a U.S. ambassador and tarring her reputation.
MARQUARDT: After repeated attacks from Trump allies, like his son Don Jr. and Giuliani, Yovanovitch, who is a 33-year veteran of the Foreign Service, went to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, a point man for the president on Ukraine, for advice.
His response? "You need to go big or go home. Tweet out there that you support the president and that all these are lies and everything else." McKinley, for his part, said he was "disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents and what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives."
He went to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo three times for a show of support for Yovanovitch, but Pompeo didn't respond, which is directly at odds with what Pompeo told ABC News.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I never heard him say a single thing about his concerns with respect to the decision that was made.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: So, you were never asked to put out a...
POMPEO: Not once, not once, George, did Ambassador McKinley say something to me during that entire time period.
MARQUARDT: Officials at the State Department were reluctant to show support, Yovanovitch said she was told, in case the rug would be pulled out from under them by Trump.
Finally, Trump pulled Yovanovitch out of Ukraine in May. She said she was called at 1:00 in the morning and told to get on the next flight to Washington.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time. Not good.
MARQUARDT: This is just the beginning of the transcripts being released, Jake. There is much more to come. There have been 13 hearings behind closed doors so far.
Tomorrow, we're expecting to see two more transcripts, those of the E.U. ambassador, Gordon Sondland, and the former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.
Let's dive into all of this with our experts here.
And, Jackie, let me start with you.
So, Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified that the Ukrainian interior minister told her around February, "I really needed to watch my back," Yovanovitch says, in part because Giuliani and his associates were trashing her and pushing Ukraine for dirt on Biden.
Quote: "To start kind of getting into U.S. politics and to U.S. domestic politics, including looking forward to the 2020 election campaign and whether this would somehow hurt former Vice President Biden. I think he felt that that was just very dangerous terrain for another country to be in" -- unquote.
So, already, in February, according to Yovanovitch, the Ukrainian interior minister is feeling the pressure of this investigation into the Bidens, as well as other investigations.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and you also have meetings in the background.
You have Rudy Giuliani meeting with some of these officials. So, yes, this pressure campaign has been going on for a while, but it took a while. And the president had been listening to his -- some of these -- the kind of other parallel track, the non-official advisers, when it came to Ukraine and sort of poisoning the well.
And that fell back on this ambassador, despite any kind of internal push, like you saw with McKinley, to bolster her and to back her up.
TAPPER: And, Ana, asked about the shadow Giuliani-Trump policy, Yovanovitch says -- quote -- "It was distracting in many ways" and -- quote -- "Ukrainians were wondering whether I was going to be leaving, whether we really represented as the president, U.S. policy, et cetera. It really kind of cut the ground out from underneath us"
So not an easy position to be in, if you're the ambassador.
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I found the transcript of that testimony today so upsetting and troubling, because, look, people need to understand that career service officers work for decades, oftentimes in lowly positions in dangerous countries, in countries where there are hardships, separated from their families, making less money than they would in the private sector.
That's what it takes to become an ambassador. It takes decades of Foreign Service career work. And for them to be treated this way, I can only imagine what the morale can be today at the State Department, if they're reading this and listening to this.
And shame on Pompeo for not having stood up for her. Shame on Donald Trump for speaking about a U.S. diplomat this way to a foreign government.
And to Ambassador Yovanovitch, thank you. Thank you, ma'am, for your service. Thank you for your patriotism, and your willingness to speak...
TAPPER: And, Chairman Rogers, so Yovanovitch is at -- she's at Georgetown now. I think she's still teaching there. She's still being paid by the State Department. But she's no longer ambassador.
She says, when she read that rough transcript, and it mentioned President Trump as in there saying to the Ukrainian president that she's going to go through some things, Yovanovitch. The question: "What did you understand that to mean?"
Answer from Yovanovitch: "I didn't know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am."
Question: "Did you feel threatened?"
And she says that she still doesn't know what that was about. She doesn't fear for her safety, but she has friends who fear for her safety.
I mean, it must be jarring to read that.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I mean, it's awful.
And this is the craziest thing about this. If the president of the United States wanted to remove an ambassador, who is the president's representative in that particular country, he just picks up the phone and said, I want to remove that ambassador, I want someone else in there.
ROGERS: None of that has to happen. There doesn't have to be any dual track -- or diplomacy that they put -- that put this grand conspiracy together. That's what's so shocking about this.
I mean, this is the president's style of getting people to do other things for the president, including not being able to fire people that he wants to fire from his administration, having someone else do it. This is all of that wrapped up into that very conversation, that something bad is going to happen to this career deployment.
It's OK to disagree with a career diplomat. That's OK. There's processes for that. To go through all of this mess just makes it look worse and worse and worse. And all -- and again, it's tragic, the way they handled this with a distinguished career diplomat, who was doing what she believed was in the best interests of the United States.
TAPPER: And she goes through the list of conspiracy theories about things that she was accused of having done or thought or -- and she says none of them are true.
And there's another person whose testimony was released, Ambassador McKinley, who was an adviser to Pompeo. He was asked about his decision to resign.
The question: "Part of the reason why you decided to resign was that you couldn't be blind to what was happening. What was happening was efforts to use the State Department to dig up dirt on a political opponent. Is that fair as well?"
And McKinley responds: "That is fair. And if I can underscore, in 37 years in the Foreign Service, I had never seen that." [16:10:07]
You used to work at the State Department. People are not -- I think there is a segment of public who thinks, well, this is just politics. This is not normally what's done.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, absolutely not.
I was a political appointee at the State Department, and you are told to check your politics at the door. And people remind you of that frequently, and they are very skeptical of people who come in there and are political, because the Foreign Service, the civil service is who really runs that building and keeps it functioning from decade -- year to year and decades to decade.
And I think anyone reading what Ambassador McKinley -- they don't have to read the whole thing, but read exactly what you highlighted there. It's a reminder that this is not normal.
And what Masha Yovanovitch, what Ambassador Yovanovitch did was exactly what her job was, which was to push back on corruption in Ukraine, something people across party lines agreed on, that people within the government and several agencies agreed was a problem.
That's exactly what she did. Pompeo, there was bad blood about him for long before this, because he was the one who led the Benghazi investigations and brought many of these people, many career Foreign Service officers up to the Hill under political auspices.
So there already was skepticism about this. When he didn't stand up for any of them, it just poured more flames on it, made the flames go crazier.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.
President Trump and some Republicans are attacking the whistle-blower for doing the exact same thing President Trump refused to do.
Then, we asked voters about impeachment in one of the states that could decide the 2020 election. Democrats will definitely want to hear what they have to say.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.
President Trump claims he has nothing to hide when it comes to the Ukraine scandal, except, of course, that's arguably what he instructed four White House aides to do today, to hide, to defy congressional subpoenas and invitations to testify. Two lawyers on the National Security Council, one assistant to the acting White House chief of staff and one official with the Budget Office, all four set to give depositions today on Capitol Hill, not one of them showed up.
CNN's Pamela Brown now reports on the Trump administration stonewalling.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As President Donald Trump rolls out the red carpet for the World Series champion Washington Nationals --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America fell in love with the Nats baseball. They just fell in love with Nats baseball. That's all they wanted to talk about. That and impeachment.
BROWN: -- it's clear he is still seeing red when it comes to the impeachment inquiry, continuing his attacks on the Democratic-led investigation and again spreading falsehoods about the whistle-blower who started it all.
TRUMP: Well, I don't know if that's true or not. But what they said is he's an Obama person. It was involved with Brennan, Susan Rice which means Obama. But he was like a big -- a big anti-Trump person.
BROWN: The president again demanding the whistle-blower be unmasked, despite his or her identity being protected by law. Trump erroneously tweeting: The whistle-blower got it so wrong that he must come forward. Reveal the whistle-blower and end the impeachment hoax.
The whistle-blower's attorney Mark Zaid firing back, telling CNN the fixation on the whistle-blower is simply because the president and others are at a loss on how to address the investigations the underlying disclosure prompted. That come as the whistle-blower attorneys offered Republican lawmakers the chance to submit written questions directly without having to go through the committee's Democratic majority.
Trump's response -- not good enough, tweeting: He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable.
Even though written answers were exactly what the president gave special counsel Robert Mueller.
TRUMP: My phone call was perfecto. It was totally appropriate.
BROWN: And now the president may also be changing his story with regards to his July phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky and that the president has repeatedly claimed was perfect.
TRUMP: When this came out, it was quid pro quo. Well, there was none.
There was no quid pro quo.
There was a perfect call. There was no quid pro quo.
BROWN: But then noting on twitter that even if there was quid pro quo, quote, it doesn't matter. There was nothing wrong with that. It is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so. But read the transcript. There is no quid pro quo.
BROWN: And the president appearing to change his tune as more Republican lawmakers are saying that the phone call did raise concerns for them. It's not something they would have done but that is it is not impeachable, Jake.
We'll wait and see what the president has to say at the matter here at this rally tonight, whether he continues to change his tune on that matter -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Pamela, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Let's chew over all of this.
Mike Rogers, let me ask you as the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, do you think that the Republicans should take the whistle-blower's attorney Mark Zaid up on his offer and if they have questions for the whistle-blower, who it looks like he might not actually testify, submit them to him and they don't have to go through the Democratic chairman and he'll do his best to get them answered? What do you think?
ROGERS: They should take advantage of it.
I will say in the sense of fairness, everything they do in this process that doesn't have this appearance of fairness is going to haunt them, right? It is further divides the country. I don't like any of it.
I do think if you're going to do an investigation which is an impeachment inquiry, having those discussions -- you don't have to have with everybody, but you have to have somebody in the room because there are going to be details in that whistle-blower complaint that they're going to want to flesh out a little bit.
I would definitely take up the written answers. A, candidly, I don't think it is the president's purview to say what is and is not in the purview of a congressional investigation.
ROGERS: That's not his business.
And so, I would take it up, but I would continue to say, hey, listen, if there is something in here that we need to flesh out in investigation -- especially if they're going through an impeachment inquiry, then they should have the right to sit in the room and do it.
Now that said, disclosing a whistle-blower is a crime. And the people that put in the room need to know that. TAPPER: And the president has been -- the president has called for
this crime to be committed. He's told the media to disclose the name of the whistle-blower.
PSAKI: Right. And he's kind of taunted and called on members of his own party to expose or to look for the whistle-blower and the whistle- blower's name.
Look, the piece I would disagree with here is that the whistle-blower complaint is not the totality of what we know and what we're looking at. Every person who has testified, every person who has done a deposition has confirmed and added additional details. A number of them will be part of the public testimony process.
The whistle-blower, we know President Trump wants to have a foil, to have an enemy that he could lift up for his supporters. That's where it gets dangerous. Certainly, we know it's illegal, but lots of things have happened in the last couple of years that have been below the --
NAVARRO: And frankly, how could you blame this whistle-blower and his legal counsel for not wanting to come forward when you've seen the personal attacks that Ambassador Yovanovitch is dealing with that a decorated --
TAPPER: Lieutenant Colonel Vindman.
NAVARRO: Vindman is having to deal with. So, you know, why would somebody put themselves up to that kind of threat and that kind of attack.
KUCINICH: Who has firsthand -- and has firsthand knowledge of this call.
TAPPER: Right, and he's being attacked too.
KUCINICH: And he's being attacked, too, of course, and not only by President Trump and by President Trump's minions for lack of a better word.
NAVARRO: Minions works just fine.
KUCINICH: Thank you. But --
TAPPER: Jackie, let me ask you a question because the Washington report is reporting there is are a growing number of senators that are considering acknowledging there was a quid pro quo but that it is not impeachable. President Trump responded to that over the weekend, saying, quote, false stories are being reported that a few Republican senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn't matter there is nothing wrong with that. It's not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript. There is no quid pro quo.
But if Republicans started acknowledging that, that would be a shift, at least in strategy? KUCINICH: Sure, but the president hasn't been happy with the Senate Republicans have done in terms of defending him. He said when they were -- when they were trying to say that it was a secondhand person or they were arguing about the process, they -- he wasn't happy about that.
And so now, they're trying to explain away the quid pro quo as it gets harder and harder to explain this away, he's not happy with that either. Absolutely it is a shift. It is also a risk. That's a big political risk to just sort of dismiss that as, oh, who cares?
TAPPER: And Chairman Rogers, both Bill Taylor, who was the top or still is the top American diplomat in Ukraine and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who is the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, both of them have testified according to the excerpts we've seen that they thought there was a quid pro quo.
So, even if President Trump in his brain there wasn't one, these are people who work for the president who thought there was one.
ROGERS: Yes, and clearly reading the transcript, it certainly sounds like it. Certainly, people around the phone call felt there was, and including witnesses who went up to Capitol Hill and said that is why I raised the flag, something didn't seem right.
The one issue they have is the president of the country said there was no quid pro quo. And certainly, the president who did the asking, the president of the United States is saying there is no quid pro quo. So, you have to prove it through all of this evidence. By the way, that's why you need to get at the whistle-blower because you're doing material fact to remove a president of the United States. You're going through an impeachment.
ROGERS: And we should not take this as a political event, because I hate him, I love him, or anything in between. You need to do this right, exactly right.
NAVARRO: But the president of Ukraine, Zelensky, is a new president of a small country that desperately needs foreign aid who has absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose from confronting the president of the United States.
ROGERS: I hear. But remember, it is an investigation. You have to go through the investigation. And when you're doing an investigation like this against American citizens, and you have the victim and the perpetrator both saying the same thing that is different, it just mean -- it doesn't mean you can't get there, it just means you have a lot more work to do to get there. That's my point on that.
PSAKI: I'm not sure this is a change in strategy as in like their substantively going to devote differently or just them aligning on a messaging strategy and pain that is what you were and others were --
(CROSSTALK) KUCINICH: If there's any kind of a strategy.
TAPPER: A messaging strategy, yes.
PSAKI: And, you know, you can see by them backing it up in this "Washington Post" story and other reporting by saying this is totally normal. You know, what the United States has done for decades is to say, listen, Venezuela, if you're better at human rights we'll give you assistance.
It is not the same thing.
PSAKI: And I think we should stop call it quid pro quo. We should start calling it, looking for political dirt on my opponent and holding back military assistance. That's a little bit longer, but if we call it what it is, it's a lot more jarring.
NAVARRO: Illegal, illegal --
ROGERS: And is there a Latin for that.
PSAKI: It is, but you know, people are making up their own definition.
TAPPER: Other people have called it extortion. I mean, alleged extortion.
But, everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about.
The new documents that CNN went to court to get access to, what they show about the Ukraine conspiracy theories that President Trump is pushing.
Stay with us.