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Poll: Tight Race Between Trump, Top 3 Democrats in Battleground States; Democrats Gear Up for Public Phase as White House Defies Subpoenas; Four White House Officials Refuse to Testify on Capitol Hill; Four White House Officials Refusing to Testify Today; Trump and House GOP Rejects Written Answers from Whistleblower. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 4, 2019 - 09:00   ET



BERMAN: Time for "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And Jim Sciutto. This is the headline this Monday.

Four key witnesses from the White House, four no shows on Capitol Hill this morning. The first of those testimonies was set to begin this hour, kicking off a critical week as Democrats gear up for the public phase of their impeachment probe. Today's no shows, a strong signal that major players such as former National Security adviser John Bolton and Energy Secretary Rick Perry will not be testifying this week either.

At the same time, President Trump and allies continuing to call for the public outing of the Ukraine call whistleblower. Lawyers for the whistleblower say their client is willing to answer written questions from Republicans. Of course the laws are designed to protect the identity of whistleblowers.

HARLOW: Exactly. But just last hour, the president said written answers is not enough, even though he submitted written answers in the Mueller probe.


HARLOW: So I guess it was good enough then. At the same time, the "Washington Post" reports some Republicans in the Senate are on the brink of publicly admitting that there was a Ukraine quid pro quo. And that directly contradicts what the president has been saying. But here's the thing, those Republicans are also ready to argue they don't view that as illegal or impeachable.

And joining us now, Suzanne Malveaux. She's on Capitol Hill.

So let's begin there. What White House officials are expected to show up today? Anyone?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Nobody. Nobody is expected to show up at this point, Poppy and Jim. It was supposed to be a full day, a full docket. That's no longer happening. These four White House officials, all of them defying subpoenas, some of them saying it was executive privilege, others say that they want their White House attorneys present.

We'll go through that list. Robert Blair, he's a senior adviser to acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, John Eisenberg, he is NSC top legal adviser, Michael Ellis, he's NCS deputy legal adviser, and Brian McCormack, he's with the Office of Management and Budget, the director of Natural Resources, Energy and Science.

The two individuals that are more significant, of course, is John Eisenberg. He is really the top lawyer at the National Security Council. His name comes up time and time again, with testimony. Testimony from Fiona Hill, Trump's top Russia adviser, as well as that of Colonel Vindman. They both approached him saying they were quite concerned about the president's phone call with the Ukrainian president.

He also comes in testimony as somebody who discouraged Vindman from moving forward, even discussing this call, and also he comes up as somebody who potentially moved that transcript of the phone call to that classified server. What was behind that, what was he trying to hide.

The second individual, Robert Blair, because of his very close connection, top adviser to the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, also a former OMB official. He was actually on the call between the president and the Ukrainian president, and he also might have some details about how that money was held up or even transferred -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

The attorney for the Ukraine whistleblower says that his client is willing to answer questions from Republican lawmakers but in written form. This comes after the president, you may have known, has repeatedly demanded the whistleblower's identity be revealed saying he deserves to, quote, "meet his accuser." Again, we should note, whistleblower laws are designed explicitly to protect their identity.

HARLOW: Yes. And this whistleblower has gotten death threats.


HARLOW: All right. Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly has reaction now from the Hill.

I mean, it's interesting, Phil, to hear, you know, Jim Jordan, et cetera, saying it's not good enough. But it -- there were no complaints when the president wrote his answers to Mueller.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think the irony is not really lost on many people up here right now. But look, Republicans, guys, have really vacillated back and forth in terms of what their actual strategy is to defend the president on this. But one thing they have been kind of secure on throughout this process is that they want to attack the whistleblower. They want to try and unmask the whistleblower.

You've seen it, sources have told us, in the closed-door depositions up to this point, Republicans have been repeatedly dropping names that they believe kind of meets the profile of who this whistleblower may be. And you saw this morning, already, the president coming out on Twitter again, as he's done repeatedly over the course of the last couple of weeks calling out the whistleblower directly and saying that the offer made by the whistleblower's lawyer to answer written questions not through Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the committee, but through Devin Nunes, the top Republican, straight directly with Republicans, is not good enough.

And that actually matches up with what we've heard from Jim Jordan who's essentially become the de facto spokesman for House Republicans throughout this process who said in a statement, "Responding to the offer from the whistleblower's attorney, written answers will not provide a sufficient opportunity to probe all the relevant facts and cross examine the so-called whistleblower. You don't get to ignite an impeachment effort and never account for your actions and role orchestrating it. We have serious questions about this individual's political bias and partisan motivations."

And guys, when you look at that statement and when you look at what the president has been tweeting about the whistleblower you understand here kind of the strategy.


And there is this belief by some Republicans, either in a gamesmanship manner or because it's a genuine belief, that this is a partisan act here. That this is somebody who ignited this entire thing to try and get the president out of office.

Now the whistleblower's attorneys have made clear that's not the case. They said in a response to Jim Jordan's comment, "Congressman Jordan's statement highlights his misunderstanding of federal whistleblower laws and protections. Notwithstanding the whistleblower's offer to rise above partisanship, he responds with deliberate deflection and disinformation."

I think this is something that's concerned Democrats on these committees up to this point, as they've watched what transpired behind closed doors. But make no mistake about it. Republicans, his House -- the president's House allies and obviously the president specifically believe that attacking explicitly the whistleblower and calling into question his motivations is one of their biggest elements of defense at least strategically at this point in time -- guys.

HARLOW: All right. Despite the fact that about a dozen witnesses.

SCIUTTO: Yes. HARLOW: Some who currently still work with the administration have

corroborated what the whistleblower said.

Phil, thanks. Great reporting.

Michael Gerhardt is with us, law professor at the University of North Carolina, and Shawn Turner, former director of communications for U.S. National Intelligence.

Good morning to you both. How significant is it to you, Michael, that all four of these officials are not going to show up to testify today, namely John Eisenberg, right, National Security Council's top legal adviser and the person that apparently Vindman and Fiona Hill went to with their concerns about the president's call with Ukraine?

MICHAEL GERHARDT, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: It's not surprising, but it is disappointing. It suggests to me just more stonewalling. There's no legal basis to refuse to show up to answer questions. There's no privilege to protect anybody from revealing information about criminal activity or abuse of power. So the fact that we have a number of people not showing up, a number of people defying subpoenas which are lawful orders, is I think a pattern that's quite disturbing.

SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, you of course served in intelligence agencies for a number of years here. The explicit strategy of this president and his allies is to out the whistleblower and before that to question the whistleblower's, you know, fairness in effect here. You know the way this whistleblower law is written so that folks inside the intelligence community like this one can come forward but with an assumption of protection of their identity.

How chilling would it be for people who see wrongdoing to see a whistleblower like this outed and face public consequences?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Jim, you know it's not even a question of how chilling it would be, it's a question of how chilling it already has been. Look, you know, there are people in the intelligence community who on a daily basis are seeing things that raise questions or things they might like to bring to the fore, and as a -- when we're operating normally they do that.

But what's happened over the past several weeks and months with regard to this whistleblower and the relentless efforts on the part of the administration to out this individual certainly has had an effect on people and impact on people who would bring those things to the fore. You know, it's also the case that with regard to this whistleblower, you know, this is someone who did the right thing. This is someone who understood what he saw and someone who made a conscious decision to bring this forward.

And the reason that I think that Republicans don't want this whistleblower to answer these questions via a written format is because it takes away their opportunity to dress this witness down publicly. It takes away their opportunity to grandstand. Look, this has very little to do with getting the facts. If we really want the facts and I think there are a lot of people who do want the facts with regard to this case, then the opportunity to at least answer questions very directly from Republicans is an opportunity to get more information. But again, because it takes away that public specter Republicans are not interested in having that.

HARLOW: Michael, do we know what explicit protections this whistleblower has? Because as I understand it, the ways the whistleblower protection was written, the code or the law if you will, did not ever consider a president trying to out a whistleblower.

GERHARDT: Right. The fact that the president would not follow the law is not something people expect. But the law is very clear, the whistleblower is protected from being outed, protected from being intimidated, certainly protected from having death threats or worse, attempts to kill or anything else like that.

The attempt to kill the messenger is a very common pattern here in the president's defense. But keep in mind what the whistleblower revealed has been corroborated by virtually all the other testimony. It's like a bank robbery, we show up and you -- police find it in progress, they don't sit there and wonder, OK, what about that whistleblower, the person who called us with the tip?

HARLOW: Right.

GERHARDT: Now there's --

HARLOW: Right.

GERHARDT: There's a problem. And that -- and the whistleblower, to his or her credit, brought this to the attention of authorities.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly, Michael, would the president be breaking a law here by trying to force out the whistleblower's identity?

GERHARDT: He certainly -- it could be argued he broke a law, but keep in mind impeachable offenses do not have to be actual violations of a statute or criminal statute.


And so it's -- the fact that the president is refusing to enforce the law he took an oath to defend and execute, he's actually trying to entice people, encourage people to break the law. This is another pattern. The constant pattern of ignoring the law is also, as I've said from the beginning, very disturbing.

HARLOW: Shawn, I want you to listen to the -- to this exchange. Dana Bash had an important interview yesterday with senior counsel to the president, Kellyanne Conway. It's hard to get a lot of direct answers but here is one of them. Listen.


DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Was there a time when military aid was held up because the president wanted Ukraine to look into the Bidens?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. But I know they've got their aid.


HARLOW: What do you make, Shawn Turner, of that non-denial there from her on was it held up explicitly for an investigation into the Bidens? That's the word Dana used.

TURNER: Yes. I mean, it's almost as if Kellyanne Conway has been under a rock for the past six months. Look, you know, that was a classic sidestep and, you know, for people who are still struggling with whether or not this happened, I think there's really one -- a key way to understand whether or not this really happened or whether or not this was really about politics.

You know, I went back and looked, Poppy, and I saw that prior to April 25th of 2019, President Trump had nearly a dozen interactions directly with the former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. And, you know, I think if the White House really wants to make this claim that the president was simply interested in corruption and corruption concerning Joe Biden, then what ought to do is they ought to look back at all of those calls, all of those transcripts, and find any single instance in which the president raised Joe Biden with the former president prior to April 25th of 2019.

The only time we have the president saying, if you investigate Joe Biden, we will give you the military aid, is after Joe Biden ran for president. So I think that really kind of squashes this argument that this was about the broader issue of corruption and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with this because the president had been following or pursuing this line of justice for quite some time.

SCIUTTO: Just -- and help us, Shawn, put a point on it. We have a reporter, Clarissa Ward, on the ground in Ukraine right now with Ukrainian forces on the front lines who were telling her exactly how much those forces depend on that military aid as they fight, to remind folks, Russia, a powerful -- certainly a powerful adversary there. In a word, how important is this assistance to Ukraine in this war going on right now?

TURNER: It's absolutely critical. This assistance to Ukraine is the difference between life and death for a lot of individuals. It is critical to Ukraine's security.

Look, we understand, we just need to look at recent history to understand how aggressive Russia has been with regard to taking territory with regard to putting troops on the ground, with regard to moving into areas that don't belong to Russia, and so this assistance, this security assistance, is absolutely critical to making sure that the Ukrainians can feel safe on their borders and for the United States to hold this up and say that you're not going to get it unless you investigate a political rival of the president of the United States is absolutely abhorrent.

SCIUTTO: That's what happened. Michael Gerhardt, Shawn Turner, thanks very much.

Less than one year ago or out, rather, from the 2020 election and a new poll shows the battle for battle ground states can be summed up in one word -- tight. Just razor thin.

I mean these numbers were remarkable. President Trump neck and neck with the top three Democratic candidates beating everyone it looks like except Joe Biden. We are all over those new numbers.


SCIUTTO: Plus, we got the memo. CNN obtained Special Counsel Mueller's interview notes and finds that top 2016 campaign officials repeatedly spoke about how to get access to Democratic e-mails stolen by Russia.

HARLOW: And the Washington Nationals are headed to the White House to celebrate their World Series win, but not all of them. We'll tell you why.



JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Well, election day is a year away, but a new show -- poll out this morning shows a tight race between President Trump and all three top Democratic candidates and in particular, in key battleground states. This is what really matters. Despite the Democrat's impeachment inquiry, low national approval ratings, high disapproval ratings, the president remains highly competitive.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Here with us to talk about it all, our senior political analyst and writer Harry Enten. Good morning.


HARLOW: They say, some say --

ENTEN: Some --

HARLOW: If you will, that state polls, especially battleground state polls are much more telling than national polls. So, what do they tell us?

ENTEN: Yes, I think this is rather important, right? You know, we've had all these nationwide polls, right? That essentially, you have Biden, Sanders, Warren, all leading Trump. But of course, you might remember in 2016, those key battleground polls in the electoral college that put Trump over the top.

So, the "New York Times"-Siena College poll, the six key battleground polls, the six closest states Trump won in 2016, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and what do we see? We see a much closer race there. Biden is up by only one within the margin of error. But another key point here is that Warren is running the farthest

behind the president, she's down by three, versus nationally 5 points, she's ahead. So, we're seeing this big sort of gap between national polls and the six closest states. Trump's much more competitive in the electoral college.


SCIUTTO: All right, go state-by-state as we look at those differences there, and note that Biden edge over the other Democratic frontrunners --

ENTEN: Right, so let's break it down by the sort of individual states, right? I think this is rather important. So, Michigan, a key battleground state, very difficult to poll, what do we see there? We see that Biden is up by one, Sanders is up by three, but Warren is down by four.

Look at Pennsylvania, Biden up one, Sanders down one, Warren also down two there, Wisconsin -- look at this, this was the key state right in 2016. Biden is up by two, Warren is down by two, Sanders is a tie. We can also go to the southern battleground states, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, we see Biden doing the best across the board, leading in Arizona.

We see Warren tied there, Sanders down by far -- four. Look at Florida, a very key battleground state, of course, you remember 2000, what do we see there? Biden is up by two, the two other Democrats trail, and in North Carolina all the Democrats trail, but Biden again doing the best of any of the Democrats.

HARLOW: Let's talk about Iowa --

ENTEN: Yes --

HARLOW: For so many reasons, I was talking in the break about how I was interested in what the sort of primary -- Democratic primary polling was telling us about Iowa and where Joe Biden is. You think that's important? But something else is maybe more important in Iowa right now.

ENTEN: Right, so look, they -- the "New York Times"-Siena College polled Iowa and they looked at how the different Democrats were doing against Donald Trump. And I think this is rather important. You were pointing out, in the Democratic primary, Biden is doing actually the worst in the "New York Times"-Siena College poll. It's really a really close race.

But in the general election again here, Biden is running the strongest of any of the Democrats. I think this difference here between Buttigieg and Warren is rather key because Elizabeth Warren is very well known in Iowa. She's actually leading in that "New York Times"- Siena College poll, although it's within the margin of error.

But here, she is running the weakest of any of the Democrats. She's even running weaker than Buttigieg, and the reason that's important is because Elizabeth Warrens has a much higher name recognition right now than Buttigieg does. So, these numbers in Iowa, particularly indicate to me that it's not just about name recognition that Elizabeth Warren has a real problem reaching out to those key voters in the middle of the electorate.

And that's why Biden right now is running the strongest of any of the Democrats in the key --

SCIUTTO: I mean, listen, you have to think with the impeachment inquiry, with the somewhat slowing economy, high disapproval rating, low approval rating, this tight a race must be good news for Donald Trump, at least, looking a year out and a lot could change.

ENTEN: Right, the key battlegrounds --


ENTEN: That's where the election is being fought and the president is much stronger there right now than he is nationally.

HARLOW: That's fascinating --

SCIUTTO: Harry Enten, thanks very much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right, we have a lot ahead. One year as we said until election day. Are Democrats worried about what we just showed you and the impeachment probe? Could that backfire at the ballot box? We'll talk to a Democratic Congressman who was in all of those hearings last week.



HARLOW: All right, we saw a blue wave in the 2018 mid-terms, but if Democrats expect 2020 to be the same, the latest "New York Times" poll tells a really different story.

SCIUTTO: A very different story, and again, it's a year out. But it says that nearly two-thirds of the Trump voters who said that they voted for Democratic congressional candidates in 2018, say that they'll back President Trump even against Joe Biden.

But also Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat of New York, he sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. First, before we get to the poll, since you sit on one of the committees that is doing these interviews on the Ukraine question, the president, the White House is stonewalling strategy is back.

You have four witnesses meant to appear this week, they're not. I'm curious, can you make your case without additional witnesses? Can you get the evidence you need to move towards an article of impeachment if that's where you move towards without these witnesses, or has the White House now successfully blown up your timeline?

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D-NY): Well, I think that we've got lots of evidence so far, but I think that the testimony of Perry and Bolton is critical. And so this massive cover-up, this is becoming now a massive stonewall, a massive cover-up that may in and of itself constitute another article of impeachment which is, you know, obstructing government.

So, their testimony, because they were in the room, they're part of that cahoots of people that were directly involved in whatever happened, is critical and important. But so far, we've gotten some excellent testimony from Taylor, from the lieutenant colonel and others that I believe have corroborated a lot of the issues that we're discussing here.

HARLOW: So, you're saying two things here. That it's critical to have the testimony from John Bolton and Rick Perry, but at the same time you think you've gotten enough evidence for at least an article of impeachment on obstruction. But if it's critical, the way I see it now from what we've seen, you're not going to hear it, you're not going to get testimony, unless things really change from Bolton and Rick Perry.

So, what does that mean? Meaning, can you have a successful impeachment and removal of the president with just an obstruction charge?

ESPAILLAT: Well, look, I think that if all of them don't show up this week, it's very telling of what's happening, and it's very telling that perhaps the White House feels that the testimony is damming against them, and that, in fact, they are instructing perhaps all these witnesses not to show up.

That in and of itself, I think is very telling. But I think that we have sufficient evidence on the table right now to move forward. Obviously, a Bolton testimony, a Perry testimony, is also very important. But I don't think that it will dramatically impact the result in any way --


ESPAILLAT: Shape or form.

SCIUTTO: I want us to talk about the politics of this because if you look at national polling now and should Trump be impeached and removed from office. It is solidified around -- we have a couple of polls, there's a "Fox News" poll, 49-45, there's an "NBC"-"Wall Street Journal" poll, 49 yes, 46 oppose there.