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Four White House Officials Refusing To Testify Today; Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) Says, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-SOUTH BEND, IN) Sexuality Is An Issue For Older Black Voters. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 4, 2019 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

This morning, the news is what is not happening on Capitol Hill. Four White House officials were set to testify in the impeachment probe today and four White House officials are officially skipping out. It is a crucial week as Democrats inch closer to the public phase of this impeachment inquiry, but today's no shows don't exactly signal high level players, like former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Energy Secretary Rick Perry will testify either. They are, at least for now, scheduled to testify later this week.

SCIUTTO: And you think if they had a positive story to tell, they might be testifying.

At the same time, Republicans and president are ramping up pressure to hear, to identify, to out the Ukraine call whistleblower. The whistleblower's lawyer say their client will answer written questions for Republicans. This morning, President Trump said that isn't enough, in his view. Of course, remember, it was enough when the president himself submitted written answers to questions in the Mueller investigation, not to mention laws designed to protect the identity of whistleblowers.

Joining us now, CNN's Manu Raju from Capitol Hill.

What White House officials were expected to testify today and what does this mean for later in the week?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are four that are expected to testify today. We're expecting none of them to show. Two were scheduled to come at 9:00 A.M. Eastern this morning and did not appear. That's John Eisenberg, who's National Security Council attorney, someone who is involved in that effort to -- we're waiting actually for an official to come by through, Fiona Hill who is here on Capitol Hill reading her transcripts. We'll see if we get a shot of her. We'll try to shout out a question to her, guys. But this morning, we expected John Eisenberg, the National Security Council attorney.

Ms. Hill, are you here to review your transcript?

So she just walked right by there. A lot of these witnesses are coming in to review their transcripts. Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser for President Trump. She came in and she raised serious concerns about the efforts, the so-called shadow foreign policy that was being carried out by Rudy Giuliani and the like to pursue these investigations into the president's rivals. She had testified. She's the transcripts of hers and other witnesses who have gone behind closed doors will soon be released. And she is here to review that, the accuracy of those statements despite the president himself calling into question the accuracy.

But today, we don't expect any -- these four witnesses to testify, as I mentioned, John Eisenberg, the National Security Council attorney, someone who is involved in that effort to apparently hide that transcript and prevent it from coming out into the public light, someone who heard those complaints about those efforts to pursue those investigations, as well as Rob Blair, who's the deputy, the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, he also did not appear this morning.

This afternoon, we do expect two other officials to defy subpoenas as well. Mike Ellis is Eisenberg's deputy and Brian McCormack was a former chief of staff in the Energy Department, and Rick Perry, the Energy Secretary, of course, has been involved in all these Ukraine talks as well.

So none of these officials coming by, they're sticking with the White House despite being faced with subpoenas. And now, the Democrats are warning that those individuals could be held in contempt, guys?

HARLOW: Yes. It's just what are they actually going to do about it, right? They have powers that they have not exercised yet when they hold individuals in contempt.

Manu, thanks very much.

Let's talk about all that Manu just laid out. Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor and our legal analyst, is here with us this morning.

Let's talk about John Eisenberg. Do you think he is the most critical one who's not showing up today? We just saw Fiona Hill, who was the administration's top adviser on all things Russia walk in the door. Apparently, he was approached by her and by Col. Vindman to say how concerned they were about that July 25th call between the president and the president of Ukraine. So him not showing up today, how significant?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think what the House wants is to fill in some of these gaps. We know that Eisenberg is the one who put the read-out into the code word server. Why did he do that? Based on whose concerns? What did he think about this? What was his justification for putting it in the code word server given that it's clearly not classifiable at that level?

So I think he's an important witness to kind of put some color and put some details into all of this. But, obviously, we already have the main outlines of what happened here because we're talking about them.

So it's just really more a matter of filling in the gaps. He's an important witness. Is he critical? Can they not proceed without him? I don't think so.

SCIUTTO: So let's talk about the powers. In years past, Congress, many years past, might have sent a sergeant at arms to arrest someone. That's pretty much off the table. Possibility of criminal charges, but, of course, you have the Justice Department under the executive branch, so they would be in effect policing the executive branch, I suppose. So that leaves the courts, does it not, as the only recourse for Democrats to try to force these witnesses to testify?

RODGERS: That's right. The sergeant at arms isn't around anymore. The D.C. U.S. attorney is unlikely to pursue these matters.


So they're really left with going to the courts and saying, help us enforce our subpoenas. Problem there is it just takes time. Even judge moving very quickly is going to take at least a couple of weeks before ruling on this and then you might have an appeal.

HARLOW: Can I just press you on that? Listen to what a Democratic member of Congress told us a few weeks ago. This is Congressman Garamendi of California, when yet another witness didn't show up. Here is what he said should happen.


REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): I think that when the witnesses come and they simply refuse to answer questions, I think it's time to call in the sergeant at arms, march them off to a little jail, which we do happen to have in one of the rooms of the Capitol, and let them sit there and cool off for a while.


HARLOW: You're saying never going to happen can happen?

RODGERS: You know, listen, maybe he knows more than I know. I was told that that that jail is defunct, that the sergeant at arms isn't around anymore to do that sort of thing, that that was an old vestige that's no longer there. And I haven't heard anyone else say that that's actually a legitimate possibility. So if it is, let's hear about it. Maybe that's something they can try.

SCIUTTO: Why aren't judges accelerating decisions on something as one of the nation's most sacred processes is under way, an impeachment inquiry --

HARLOW: That's a great question. SCIUTTO: -- come out of the ivory tower and say, we've got to accelerate this decision?

RODGERS: So some judges are. But you have to remember, when they get it in front of them, they have to get the parties to brief it. The judge has to consider, you have to bring them into argue, then the judge has to make a decision. It's very hard to do that in less than at least a few business days. And then you have the appeal.

So even the judges who were trying really hard to make these decisions quickly for the reasons that you raised, it's just hard to get it done in the time that you would want it to get done.

SCIUTTO: And I suppose you can say it's something of an artificial timeline, right, because Democrats want to get it done by the holidays, which was pretty ambitious from the start.

Jennifer Rodgers, thanks very much.

President Trump continues to call for the public outing of the Ukraine whistleblower despite laws that are specifically designed to protect that person's identity. There're reasons for that, so people feel -- they don't feel fear when they're exposing wrongdoing, alleged wrongdoing.

HARLOW: They can come forward.

For weeks, the president has been insisting that he deserves to, quote, meet his accuser.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: It's a phony scam. It's a hoax. And the whistleblower should be revealed because the whistleblower gave false information.


HARLOW: Meantime, the attorney for the Ukraine call whistleblower says his client is willing to answer written questions that come to them, by the way, directly from the Republican members of these three committees. Republicans, like Jim Jordan, are saying that's not sufficient. It's ironic, of course, because the president submitted written answers in the Mueller probe.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, Dana Bash, CNN Chief Political Correspondent, and Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor for Politico.

Listen, there're so many things, Dana, I mean, we can't list that normally what upset both parties, right? I mean, these are laws, part of our legal code and institutions for a reason. But fact is it's not just the president. It's many of his allies, Jim Jordan, saying this guy, this man or woman, should be brought out in public.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's important to say exactly what this is. This is a strategy to distract. It is a strategy to deflect because -- and that's just a fact. Because let's just take what they're saying, that he deserves to meet his accuser. We're beyond that now. We're in a situation where there have been a series of depositions where people have come to Congress to at least, based on the opening statements that we have been able to see, to corroborate what the whistleblower said. And so they're trying to focus on a nameless, faceless person because that's easier than dealing with the reality of what's happening behind closed doors.

The second thing about the whistleblower strategy is that, you know, if they keep this up, it will be hard to imagine people like Chuck Grassley, who was the ultimate champion for whistleblowers in the Congress, not saying, okay, guys, enough, and number two, for the House Democrats, when they write the articles of impeachment, not to perhaps include this because it is illegal to out a whistleblower.

HARLOW: That is a really good point. And, Anita, to Dana's point there, Chuck Grassley did speak up at first when the president was maligning the whistleblower and when other members of Congress were. He did speak up. The question is sort of to what end? Where does this go? I mean, now, you have Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, saying Adam Schiff should be brought before them to say everything that he knows about the whistleblower.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, POLITICO: Yes. Senator Grassley did speak up, but you didn't hear a lot of other Republican lawmakers speak up. In fact, as you mentioned, you heard some of them now saying, mimicking what the president is saying, that the whistleblower should come forward.


So I think what this is is a larger problem with what's going on at the White House. The president sort of is changing his strategy all the time, everyday. There's been a number of strategies he's tried that haven't really resonated. This wasn't exactly like the Russian investigation. It's completely different. You know, the quid pro quo, did it happen? Did it not happen? There have been conflicting information.

So he is trying to say it's partisan and that this whistleblower is just doing this because he supports Democrats. None of those strategies is really fully resonating. And the other problem is he's not telling Republicans on Capitol Hill and his surrogates and allies exactly what -- here's the message. We need one cohesive message and they're just not doing that. They haven't done it for the last couple months.

BASH: Can I just add to that --

SCIUTTO: Sorry. Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: No, just real quick, to add to what Anita is saying. We're seeing real-time spaghetti thrown against the wall to see what sticks, and that is incredibly frustrating. It sounds like Anita is hearing what I'm hearing from Republican sources on Capitol Hill, particularly in the leadership, because they're used to the president doing his own thing. But the frustration, it's important to say it's not new but it continues, which is news, the frustration with the fact that there is no messaging coming from the White House team about just how to go forward, which is why they're trying to figure out, real-time, what they can possibly do.

SCIUTTO: But as you say, it's not new. It's been this way throughout his political career.

BASH: But the fact that it hasn't been fixed.

SCIUTTO: I know. But does it need to be fixed, because it has kept the Republican caucus in lock step? There are no -- and when you do have folks who stick their head above the ramparts, Francis Rooney to my colleague, Poppy --

HARLOW: They leave.

SCIUTTO: He gets dumped on and announces his retirement 24 hours later. We haven't heard from Chuck Grassley, who made something of a stand there. I mean, the thing is, yes, there is no cohesive strategy, but it's working and keeping his caucus together, is it not?

KUMAR: Well, I would just jump in here and say that there's a difference between the president talking or tweeting and the White House having a strategy. So while everybody expects the president to talk as much as he wants with reporters, tweet us whatever he wants, what they are missing is a White House strategy, a policy strategy, a messaging. I've talked to people in the White House who don't actually know what's going on with the impeachment inquiry. They're a little confused.

So it could be staff at the White House that's coming up with a message and putting it out to surrogates, getting surrogates on television, having people saying things. Yes, we know that the president is going to do whatever he wants, but what about everybody else.

HARLOW: Dana, I want to take a moment here for anyone who did not see your interview with Kellyanne Conway yesterday. Bravo to you because you just were trying to get direct answers over and over and over again. Can you just lay out -- I mean, what was your biggest takeaway from that 20 minutes of back and forth over just direct questions?

BASH: My takeaway was that she did not want to end up in the Mick Mulvaney position of going out there and saying something that, A, turned out that was not part of the messaging that would work, but much more importantly, let's get to -- what I was trying to do and we were trying to do as a team at State of the Union is focus on the core issue. Did the president -- was it appropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader for assistance with helping investigate an American citizen who happens to be his political opponent, and, two, was there a quid pro quo for military assistance?

On that latter point, the fact that she said she did not know was a very honest moment, and it's because she didn't want to get out too far to say, no, there wasn't, as the president says time and time again, because she doesn't know what she doesn't know. She doesn't know what -- this is my takeaway from her, what Rudy Giuliani was doing or what other members of the administration were doing because of the chaotic nature of this administration.


SCIUTTO: And it's a great point because it struck me that she was protecting herself there, not the president, right? Because if she's defends something that ends up being confirmed later, then she's in a tough spot.

HARLOW: It was a great interview, Dana.

BASH: Thanks.

HARLOW: You got it. Thanks, guys. We appreciate it. Anita, come back soon.

KUMAR: Sure.

HARLOW: Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg is responding to Congressman James Clyburn talking about whether him being gay will be an issue for him in the South Carolina primary, especially among older African-American voters. It's important. We're going to talk about that.

And CNN goes there, Clarissa Ward on the frontlines of Ukraine's war with Russia, where the need for military aid is dire.

SCIUTTO: You see exactly why this is so important.

Plus, a historic day in Oklahoma as hundreds of inmates will go free after having their sentences commuted.



SCIUTTO: This morning, Pete Buttigieg is responding to House majority whip Jim Clyburn's assertion, and we're quoting here that there's no question the mayor being gay is an issue for older black voters, particularly in South Carolina. This is what Clyburn said.


BASH: Is mayor Buttigieg's struggle with black voters in your State of South Carolina because he's gay?


REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, that's a generational issue. I know of a lot of people my age who feel that way. But I will say this, dana, my own grandson, who is 28-- I think he's 25 years old, that guy is a big Buttigieg guy and, of course, he does it because he believes in the guy, not because he's gay.

BASH: Are you saying for older African-Americans it is an issue?

CLYBURN: Yes, it is. There's no question about that. I'm not going to sit here and tell you otherwise because I think everybody knows that's an issue. But I'm saying, it's an issue not the way it used to be.


HARLOW: All right. Here is how Mayor Buttigieg reacted this morning on CNN when he was asked about that. Watch this.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the reason why people in my community move past that and re- elected me and the reason why we're going to be able to earn votes in every part of the country is that elections are about this. They're about voters asking the question, how will my life be different if you get elected president versus somebody else?

It is remarkable how Americans are capable of moving past old habits, moving past old prejudices.


HARLOW: All right. Let's talk about this.

CNN Political Commentator, host of You Decide podcast, Errol Louis is with us and CNN Political Correspondent Abby Phillip joins us.

So, Abby, let me just begin with you. I thought it was interesting when you went on to say this morning, he's like, look, the people in South Bend, Indiana, many of the Democrats are conservative Democrats on social issues, right, but they elected me by a wide margin. And he thinks the same will apply, for example, with older African-American voters in South Carolina. What do you think this all means?

ABBY PHILLIP CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly how he's been answering this question for a long time. He's referencing his own experience in a pretty conservative State of Indiana, coming out -- actually he talked about this just yesterday, coming out just before an election as openly gay and that not actually hindering him in that election ultimately. But, clearly, this issue has dogged him, not just in South Carolina, where I was with him about a week ago in South Carolina, as he tried to get in front of some of these African- American audiences.

But Here in Iowa yesterday at a town hall, he got two questions about the issue of how he can get more support from African-American voters and also how he can convince conservative voters, moderate voters and conservative Democrats to vote for him because he is openly gay. It is becoming a key issue for some Democrats who are very much interested in voting for Pete Buttigieg about his electability, about whether other people might be willing to vote for him. So that's one of the reasons why you've seen him trying to get ahead of this conversation, but talking about it in a different way, not saying that he can't get the support of African-American voters, but that he has to get it the way that he gets everybody else. More than half of South Carolina voters, as he points out, doesn't -- don't know who he is at all. And so he's got quite a bit of work to do, and he's been acknowledging that repeatedly over the last several days.

SCIUTTO: Errol LOUIS, but as we often say, we always say, elections are about choices. Is this less of an issue when you're in a general when the choice -- again, this is being distant possibility that it's Buttigieg or Trump. What would that be -- would you see older African-American voters go for Trump or is it a stay at home issue? I wonder because Buttigieg is fundraising well. And in some of these state polls, you see indications that he's sort of a second moderate choice, second choice for moderates.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, sure. On the other hand, moderates aren't necessarily going to determine who the nominee is or who the next president of the United States is.

Pete Buttigieg, I mean, something he said, which I would take a little bit of issue with, he says, yes, people want to know that the president, whoever he or she is, is going to make their life better, but they want more than that. They want to know that you can relate to them, that you care about them, that you lead a lifestyle.

I mean, the whole reason that people put on funny hats and go to the state fair and pretend to go bowling and bother people at the diner and all of this kind of stuff is that they're trying to make some kind of a connection. Pete Buttigieg is not connecting. It may be because he's gay, it may be because he's young, it may be because he's new. There could be a lot of different things.

He's got to work on all of that. It's not going to cut it to say, I've got a really great plan. You should read my marshal plan.

HARLOW: So let's -- right. Let's talk about what cuts it. Because in that sense, he is Elizabeth Warren alike in terms of I have a plan for that. He talked about it this morning on CNN. He said it has go far beyond criminal justice, reform for African-Americans or structural issues in terms of funding businesses for entrepreneurs, et cetera. Is that going to cut through?

LOUIS: Well, the Douglas plan, obviously, you read through it. It's interesting. It's got some possibilities. It goes down the path that voters say that they want the federal government to go. You've got to make that real though. You've got to say, I'm all about this. I've committed -- I've passionately committed a serious portion of my life to this.


I don't know if he's got that kind of a resume the way that Elizabeth Warren, for instance, does or that Bernie Sanders does for that matter. And that's why I think he's going to have a hard time making that particular argument.

He's got -- look, every candidate has got their challenges, this happens to be his.

SCIUTTO: And to make a sort of extrapolation from a town of 220,000 to a country of 330 million, a little bit thin perhaps.

Abby Phillip, you're covering this campaign. We heard the public argument from Buttigieg there saying, hey, look what I do and what I could bring you. I wonder if, privately, Buttigieg supporters and campaign staffers have more worry here because it's not just with older African-Americans that Buttigieg has struggled. If you look African-American support, it's close to asterisk in most of these polls.

PHILLIP: Yes, it's with African-Americans pretty much across the board. But we should also note that pretty much every candidate in this race right now, if they are not named Joe Biden, is having trouble getting African-American voters to say that they support that as their top choice in this Democratic primary. So he is not alone in this issue.

But this is a campaign that -- the Buttigieg campaign that is keenly aware of this. I mean, this is a question he gets almost on a daily basis at this point. And in South Carolina, his campaign is not nearly as robust as it is in a state like Iowa here. But here is what they will say to the question of what happens later after Iowa, after New Hampshire.

They, like a lot of the other campaigns, are looking back at 2008, looking to Iowa as being the place that becomes a validater for voters later on in the election cycle. They're betting that if they do well here, if they can convince voters to give him top spot in this race, later on, those voters are going to say, well, he can win and then they might start paying attention.

So that's really the key to their strategy right now even as they recognize that they have a problem with connecting. And they have a problem with a narrative right now that he cannot connect with African-American voters. Whether that's true or not, I don't think that we know that quite yet.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, one early state win or overperformance can change the whole direction of a campaign.

HARLOW: Totally.

SCIUTTO: Think of Barack Obama in Iowa in 2008. Abby Phillip, Errol Louis, thanks to both of you. We'll probably talking to you about this again at some point.

Still ahead, Ukraine's war with Russia, it's a battle made even harder by a political fight some 5,000 miles away in Washington. CNN on the ground, on the frontlines in Ukraine. Why does that $400 million in U.S. military aid matter? What difference did it make? We'll take you there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)