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THE SITUATION ROOM

Sondland Amends Testimony, Describes Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; WH Chief Of Staff Mulvaney Asked To Testify In Impeachment Probe, Sources Say Senior Pence Adviser Likely To Testify Thursday; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Sondland's Revised Testimony; Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) Is Interviewed About Sondland's Involvement Over Ukraine; Gordon Sondland Changes Testimony, Confirms Ukraine Quid Pro Quo; Key State Elections in Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia; Nine Americans Murdered in Mexico Ambush. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 5, 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, Matthew Rivers in Mexico City thank you for that horrible story, appreciate it.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show with the lead CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thank you so much for watching. We'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Testimony reversal, a key U.S. diplomat changes his testimony in the impeachment inquiry and admits there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine linking military aid to political gain for President Trump.

Impeachment sham, the White House dismisses the newly released testimony insisting that the president has done nothing wrong even as the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. said the push for a Ukrainian Biden investigation was probably illegal.

First hand knowledge, House Democrats -- Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to testify behind closed doors in the impeachment inquiry as a senior adviser to Vice President Pence appears ready to testify this week.

And ambush, nine women and children all American, shot and burned to death in a horrific attack near their ranch in Mexico. Was this mass murder a case of mistaken identity?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. House Democrats releasing transcripts of the impeachment inquiry testimony by two more key witnesses including President Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. He has amended his testimony to describe a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Sondland now said that he was told a Ukrainian official his country was unlikely told to the Ukrainian official his country was unlikely to get hundreds, hundreds of million dollars of U.S. military aid until it publicly announced an investigation of President Trump's political rival, Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

We'll talk about the breaking news with democratic congressman, John Garamendi of Armed Services Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, some very, very significant changes to Ambassador Sondland's testimony.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: All right, hold on for a moment. We're going to get to your report right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Gordon Sondland is trying to walk back some of his congressional testimony. The ambassador to the European Union releasing a three-page addendum to the nearly 400-page transcript of his 10 hours long interview with House impeachment investigators in mid-October, saying, I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, an aide to Ukraine's president, where I said resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we have been discussing for many weeks.

Sondland now confirming his involvement in laying out a quid pro quo scenario to Ukrainian officials, something he did not previously acknowledge during his testimony on October 17th when he told investigators he did not know why military aid was being held up, saying, I could never get a straight answer out of anyone.

The transcript released today reveals Sondland told lawmakers that Rudy Giuliani's efforts to get Ukraine to launch an investigation into the Bidens kept getting more insidious, and then suggested Giuliani's scheme may have even been illegal. I'm not a lawyer, but I assume so, and added, I don't know the law exactly, it doesn't sound good.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): That's illegal. You cannot solicit a foreign power to investigate American political parties or your American political opponent.

(voice-over): Sondland also testified that Giuliani's interference was well known around the State Department and that officials were fully aware. Disclosing he discussed Giuliani with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Sondland said, Pompeo rolled his eyes and said, yes, it's something we have to deal with it.

Former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker's testimony is also now public, with the transcript relaying more detail about a May 23rd White House meeting where the President directed his aides to talk to Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine. The President dismissed recommendations he meet with the Ukrainian president, saying, they are all correct, they are all terrible people, Volker recalled. I don't want to spend any time with that.

Volker also said he became aware of the hold on military aid July 18th, one week before the Trump-Zelensky call, but nobody ever gave a reason why.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And now, with this new testimony from Gordon Sondland, it only adds to Democrats evidence that the President would only release military aid for Ukraine if Ukraine announced investigations into the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden.

And any existence of a quid pro quo and whether it was legal and of course, Wolf, that is all at the heart of this impeachment inquiry.

[17:05:00] BLITZER: Very significant testimony, revised testimony from Gordon Sondland, a political appointee, a big contributor to the Trump campaign and the inauguration.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju is on the scene for us. Manu, Sondland amended his testimony, what, just one day ago. Is this a major win for Democrats?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Behind closed doors he had testified that there was another issue that was tied to the push for this public declaration of investigations. That was the declaration that to have an actual meeting between President Zelensky of Ukraine and President Trump. That had been what Sondland had testified to in his closed-door testimony.

But when he amended the testimony and directly linked it to the aid, now his testimony is in line with others who have testified including the ambassador -- the top diplomat from Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who has already testified behind closed doors telling this Committee the Ukraine aid and everything was contingent on this public declaration of -- for the investigations which is Democrats saying today yet, a more evidence of a quid pro quo.

Now, Republicans are still trying to push back saying that the President did not in their view order Sondland or make any direct linkage to Ambassador Sondland himself to hold up the aid this coming from Mark Meadows, a top Republican on the Oversight Committee who said this in the aftermath of the transcript release.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Any linkage that has been alleged obviously is based on many times second or thirdhand information, either Rudy Giuliani or people believing that they understood what Rudy Giuliani might have wanted. But I could tell you, each and every time that the conversations were conducted with the president of the United States or the vice president of the United States, there was no linkage. And I think further testimony and depositions will confirm that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Well, just to be clear, what Gordon Sondland did testify to was the fact that the President had asked Sondland and other top U.S. Officials to work with Rudy Giuliani before they moved to try to strengthen aid to Ukraine, try to build relationships with the Ukraine government and what Rudy Giuliani told Gordon Sondland was that he was pursuing these investigations with Sondland testified he learned throughout the time that had to do with exactly what those investigations in Joe Biden and as well as the 2016 elections investigations that could help the President politically. So Republicans still contending there is no quid pro quo despite mounting evidence that there was.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. All right, Manu, thank you.

House Democrats are also hoping to hear soon from more current and former top White House officials. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's got the latest for us. Jim, the White House, what is dismissing these new testimony transcripts?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. And the White House has been mostly dead silent today as the President stayed away from the cameras with more damaging testimony surfacing in the impeachment inquiry.

But the President's allies have been hard at work trying to convince the public that it's time to reveal the identity of the whistle-blower who prompted the probe. The President may be more worried about a different witness who's been called to testify and that's his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump has much more to worry about than just the newly-released transcripts of administration officials describing a quid pro quo with Ukraine. There are more top aides who may be descending on Capitol Hill to testify.

From former national security adviser, John Bolton to Jennifer Williams, a senior adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, to acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney who is now been called to appear.

Democrats say in their letter to Mulvaney, they believe he has substantial firsthand knowledge of what happened. The big lingering question is whether any of the officials would defy White House stonewalling and show up.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): It doesn't improve the President's legal standing to keep several people from testifying. It just digs a different hole in terms of obstruction of justice.

(voice-over): Sources say it was Bolton who described Mulvaney and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland as cooking up a quote, drug deal, linking Ukraine military aid to investigating the President's domestic rivals. Last month, Mulvaney essentially conceded to reporters, it was a quid pro quo.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And I have news for everybody, get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.

(voice-over): The White House issued a statement on the latest released transcript saying, both transcripts released today show there is less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought.

Still the President is fixated on the whistle-blower, hinting damaging information is about to surfaced about the mysterious government official.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You haven't heard about the whistle-blower after that have you? Because the whistle-blower said a lot of things that weren't so good, folks, you're going to find out.

(voice-over): The President's defenders are going further with GOP Senator Rand Paul demanding that the media reveal the whistle-blower's identity.

[17:10:00] SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name.

(voice-over): While Senator Mitt Romney is one of the lone Republicans saying that is going too far.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): My own view is that whistle-blowers, particularly those are blowing whistles on action within the government should be allowed to remain confidential. So going after the whistle-blower I think is misdirected.

(voice-over): Trump supporters showed up at a rally in Kentucky wearing read the transcript t-shirts. It was during that call last July when the President said to the leader of Ukraine, I would like you to do us a favor though. But it should be noted that document released by the White House was a memorandum of a telephone conversation, not a verbatim transcript of a discussion.

Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is doubtful the case against the President will result in Mr. Trump's removal from office.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I will say, I'm pretty sure how it is likely to end. If it were today, I don't think there is any question it would not lead to a removal.

(voice-over): Which may explain why the President keeps on joking he may never give up the job.

TRUMP: What they don't know is that when we hang it up in five years or nine years or 13 years or maybe 17 years or maybe if I still have the strength, 21 years.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: One document the public may not get to see any time soon, the transcript of Vice President Mike Pence's phone call with the leader of Ukraine. Sources tell CNN the administration is not likely to release that transcript even though aides to the vice president are adamant, there is nothing to hide. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta at the White House.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, how significant is Ambassador Sondland's revised testimony today confirming his role in a quid pro quo with Ukraine?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): It's extremely important. It's one more confirmation that the whistle-blower was correct in the allegations that he brought forward. And that had been reviewed by the inspector general.

All of this is getting deeper and deeper and much more difficult for the president. We keep using the word quid pro quo. But the accurate word here is bribery and extortion. Those are criminal charges. Quid pro quo, OK, no, bribery and extortion. Extorting from Ukraine in exchange for money, $391 million of necessary medical -- military equipment in exchange for dirt to be used in a campaign, two illegal actions put together.

BLITZER: Gordon Sondland is a wealthy hotelier from Oregon. He gave $1 million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee, very active supporting President Trump during the campaign. He clearly can't be described as a never Trumper. Why do you think Sondland felt compelled to update his testimony?

GARAMENDI: Perjury, very simple, perjury. He was headed toward a perjury charge and probable conviction ending his career in jail. Clearly he should have taken an ethics and a legal course somehow somewhere during the early days even before he became ambassador.

He broke the law. He was perjured. He had perjured himself before the committee. And this is why the depositions are extremely important. All of the depositions provide information. You can't find yourself caught up in a lie because somebody else is also testifying and you're going to get caught. And that is what happened to Sondland. It may very well happen to others.

And by the way, when are we going to get the actual words? The President's words, they're hidden in a secret server not in Ukraine, not in Russia, but in the White House, let's have that. We had the Nixon tapes. Let's get the words out of that server and get all of the reductions that were in the transcript.

BLITZER: The rough transcript that was released by the White House.

GARAMENDI: Right.

BLITZER: Some Republicans have started to acknowledge that the President's conduct toward Ukraine was inappropriate. But they insist, it doesn't necessarily rise to the level of impeachment, impeachment removal from office. In light of what we learned today, how do you respond to that defense of the President?

GARAMENDI: Read the constitution. Read the constitution, the clause on impeachment. It said bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors. The President was engaged in a bribe. He was offering money in exchange for dirt in a political campaign.

Now it also happens to be illegal to accept help, financial and otherwise, from a foreign government. So that is a crime also. In this, in here, we clearly have extortion and bribery, it's all there. It's clear. That's where these depositions are going. They're going to lay all of that out. And then in the open public testimony, we'll have it.

[17:15:06] And from my good Republican friends and colleagues, I don't know how you're going to get away from the fact that there was a crime called extortion, bribery, and campaign finance.

BLITZER: The President and his allies have stepped up the pressure to reveal the identity of the whistle-blower who prompted this entire Ukraine-related investigation. Is there anything more you'd like to see Congress do to protect the identity of the whistle-blower?

GARAMENDI: Yes. I would like to have Congress point out to the President that is his job, specifically, in the whistle-blower statutes as they relate to the intelligence community. It is the President's responsibility to protect the whistle-blower.

Now, maybe the President is going to head down another criminal activity here and that is instead of protecting the whistle-blower, harming the whistle-blower.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, there will today's bombshell revelation in the House impeachment inquiry change any minds in the U.S. Senate. And later, a brutal attack just south of the U.S. border leaves nine members of the U.S. family dead with victims burned alive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:06] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. In a newly released transcript from House impeachment investigators, U.S. Ambassador, Gordon Sondland revised his testimony to say U.S. aid to Ukraine was linked to its announcing an investigation of the company that worked with Joe Biden's son.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, the top Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Senator thanks so much for joining us.

What's your reaction to Ambassador Sondland's updated corrected version? He says in his statement just released, his revised statement based on what he heard from other U.S. officials, they have refreshed my recollection about certain conversations in early September 2019.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, Wolf, not only for Ambassador Sondland but for others. I'm reminded of the saying what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

And we're going to see a lot of people's recollections refreshed by testimony as it comes forward. What is alarming here, first of all, Ambassador Sondland is our ambassador to the European Union. Ukraine is not even part of the European Union. So why he is engaged in this is clearly another dimension of the whole Giuliani, Volker, and Sondland effort on Ukraine directed by the President, you know.

At the end of the day, he shouldn't have even been involved with Ukraine. It's not in his portfolio. Secondly, that there seems to be, you know, memory here that is selective at the end of the day. And to the extent into which people in this administration including in the State Department are willing to lie for the President is astounding.

And that's why you have to give credit to those like our former ambassador in Ukraine, both former ambassadors in Ukraine that have spoken the truth and have upheld the dignity and reputation of their positions and the State Department and the Foreign Service.

BLITZER: Do you think this revision of the testimony by Ambassador Sondland moves the impeachment investigation forward in a significant way?

MENENDEZ: Look, between that and if you read some of the Volker transcript as well, that basically said that it was not believable what Giuliani was pushing about the Biden corruption question that, in fact, it was a problem in the relationship with Ukraine that even Ambassador Taylor thought twice before taking the job because of the whole Giuliani effort to discredit both our former ambassador and as well as creating this false narrative that Ukraine was trying to, you know, hurt the president.

You know, the bottom line is that all of this continues to create a very clear image that the President abused his power and was willing to extort the Ukrainian president to the tune of nearly $400 million which was the aid of the United States had voted for in Congress in a bipartisan way to give Ukraine to do what, to defend itself against Russia.

So it's all a web here that is becoming clearer and clearer in terms of what was the purpose and what was wrong with what was done. And, Wolf, let me take a moment, I keep hearing, you know, we do not condition aid for political purposes. The only time we condition aid as a country is to promote human rights, to promote democracy, to end human trafficking. But we don't use it for political purposes. That nonsense should stop being said by my colleagues that know far better than that. BLITZER: You know, I guess the question now is all of these individuals who have testified behind closed doors and now we have their written testimony, the transcripts, they all report to the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. What does it say about what he's been up to because he's been totally, totally supporting what the president says.

[17:25:11] MENENDEZ: Well, you know, the secretary of state has undermined the State Department. He has abandoned the career foreign service people. It is a stain on his mark on that department. And he has been an enabler and a facilitator of policies thaet he knows is fundamentally wrong.

Look, Mike Pompeo is trying to walk the line that he wants to run for Senate in Kansas, wants the president's support. And at the same time, he's willing to look the other way when, you know, McKinley -- Ambassador McKinley, went to him and said, we should put out a statement in support of Ambassador Yovanovitch. He says, he doesn't ever recall that. He doesn't recall anything about Giuliani saying that he in actuality allowed Giuliani to act in shadow foreign policy even though he was not authorized and no clear position from the state department.

There were at least a hundred times in which the secretary of state could have interceded and should have interceded not only on behalf of our career foreign service people but making sure that the national interest and security the United States was preserved against those who were trying to bastardize it for political purposes. He did not. He failed.

BLITZER: Yes, yes. And Giuliani was running a lot of this Ukraine policy without any security clearances from the U.S. government. That is another point. Senator Menendez, thanks so much for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, stay with us for more on the breaking news. Today's bombshell revelation that a U.S. ambassador's revised testimony to House impeachment investigators.

And later, why were members of a US family brutally ambushed near the Mexico's border with the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:52]

BLITZER: There's breaking news in the House impeachment investigation. In newly released transcripts the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland revised his testimony to describe a quid pro quo saying U.S. aid to Ukraine was linked to its investigating a company Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, had worked with.

Let's bring in our experts to discuss this revelation.

John Kirby, what's your big takeaway from Ambassador Sondland's testimony?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, obviously it's the -- it's the flip now that he acknowledges that a quid pro quo actually happened, even suggesting that it could be potentially illegal. The White House narrative I don't think is going to change about this inquiry as a result of that, but it's going to make it extremely difficult for them to find any purchase with that argument now that this guy who's a political appointee, not a member of the deep state, saying that there was in fact a quid pro quo to hold up aid.

The other thing that struck me, Wolf, was just the degree to which Rudy Giuliani had a grip on the president and this entire foreign policy initiative. Here is a man with no security clearance, as you rightly pointed out, not accountable to the American people, not a part of the State Department, and Sondland describes Mike Pompeo was just simply throwing his hands up, rolling his eyes, well, there's nothing I can do about it. That's astounding to me.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, it's interesting because this letter from Sondland's lawyer was only written yesterday, a few weeks after his testimony. A letter written to Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, in which he says my memory has been refreshed, basically. What do you think?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Senator Menendez just said, it's all about perjury. He's trying not to get caught in a lie to Congress which is a very serious offense, and it was clear -- it's been clear for a long time that he was on the cusp of being caught in the lie because everybody else's testimony didn't line up with his, so he had to either correct it or stand his ground and I think he clearly is -- has proven that he's not willing to go that far to protect the president.

And on top of that, as you pointed, Admiral, he points out in his testimony that he repeatedly believed that what was going on, this quid pro quo, was improper and borderline illegal. He said he couldn't say if it was illegal or not because he's not a lawyer but he thought it might be and that it probably was. So clearly Sondland knew that there was something wrong here and he is trying to clear it up as much as he can really to protect himself at this point.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, it's interesting because some Republicans have actually started to shift their messaging saying, well, maybe the president's conduct wasn't right but certainly it was not impeachable. To today's developments, the revised testimony specifically from Ambassador Sondland make that message that we're hearing from some of these Republicans more difficult?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, some Republicans like Lindsey Graham who said that he wanted everything out in the open now once these transcripts are released said that he is not even going to read them. So there are some Republicans who clearly aren't going to change their opinions and their views. But another issue is changing how the president views all of this because if there are Republicans who are willing to come out and say, listen, this may not have been good but it's not impeachable, well, convince the president of that because the president continues to say that this was a perfect or perfecto call, however he describes it, and he is not walking away from that.

And another thing that we're seeing from Sondland and from these testimonies is how many people knew and understood early on that what was transpiring was wrong.

[17:35:07]

And if the president -- if anybody thought that this was something that was OK and worthy of doing and pursuing, why do it through an regular channel as Bill Taylor had described it? Why not have Yovanovitch do this? Why not have your secretary of State publicly state out? Why not go to Congress before they appropriate that money and say, listen, we're only going to give them that money if they comply with our requests to investigate Joe Biden? Why not do that?

They clearly knew that this was something they couldn't do out in the public. So to walk back now and say that this was OK, maybe not so great, but it's not impeachable, just seems as if they're trying to grasp at straws at this point.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, here is part of the official White House response to these transcripts that were released today including Ambassador Sondland's revised addendum. "Both transcripts," the White House says. "Both transcripts released today show there is even less evidence for this illegitimate impeachment sham than previously thought."

How difficult is it now for the White House spin machine operation to be engaged fully?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, like much of the messaging from the White House, that is not a serious argument meant to influence anyone approaching this with an open mind, any kind of persuadable voter. It's basically just chum in the water to provide something for the kind of conservative media kind of transmission belt to have something to run with. And when you consider the magnitude of what Sondland's new testimony says that the U.S. explicitly held up military aid to an ally that was resisting a Russian encroachment, an important point, it explicitly until they agreed to authorize this investigation, that is just like a -- you know, this is like -- that's like ping pong ball against a battleship, their response.

And the fact that Lindsey Graham today, as Bianna was saying, you know, came out with this remarkable statement, saying, I won't even read what is coming out, is I think an indication of how difficult it is for them engage on the substance.

I would just say real quickly, that is not without risk because while the American public in polling is divided, you know, pretty closely, 50-50 almost on whether Trump should be removed from office, consistently, 60 percent or more say it is wrong to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political rival here in the U.S. and if the Republicans looked to be just kind of dismissing that as unimportant, I think that carries some risk with voters.

BLITZER: Bianna, you wanted to say something?

GOLODRYGA: Well, I was just going to say it's becoming harder and harder for people like the vice president, for the secretary of State, to either not say anything or deny knowing about any of this, specifically given what we heard from Gordon Sondland today when he happened to recall all of a sudden on September 1st telling an aide, an adviser to Zelensky, that he did believe that there was a quid pro quo attached because we know that that was the same day that the vice president met with Zelensky as well.

Zelensky had been aware of this and had been worried about needing to do an investigation and dig further into Joe Biden for months going back. So we know that the vice president has said all we talked about was corruption, was corruption. How much can you just use the word corruption without getting into specific details? What exactly do you mean by the word corruption? So that that wasn't discussed becomes harder and harder to believe.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There is a lot more we need to cover. We're also standing by for the first results from today's elections. What will the numbers reveal about President Trump's standing with voters?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:59]

BLITZER: Breaking news. We're standing by for the first results from several key elections today. Voters in Kentucky and Mississippi are choosing governors. In addition, Virginia's closely divided state legislature is up for grabs.

Let's bring in our CNN political director David Chalian.

David, some polls in Kentucky, they're about to close right at the top of the hour. We'll start seeing the results very soon. Why is this gubernatorial contest important?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, because we're looking at Donald Trump's political power. Right? A year before he is on the ballot and his reelection, in a place -- in Trump country which, by the way, Kentucky is. He won it by 30 points roughly in 2016, Wolf. Does he have the power to go in like he did last night and hold that rally for Matt Bevin, the Republican incumbent governor there, who by the way had been trailing in this race, has closed the gap because he's been advertising on his relationship with Donald Trump.

So does Donald Trump still have the juice to go in and just turbo charge the turnout among the Republican base, his supporters? That is going to be a key question tonight. There is a popular Democrat there in Andy Beshear, the son of the former Democratic governor, the immediate predecessor to Governor Bevin. He's been trying to focus on local issues, health care, jobs, education. He's not nationalizing it. But you can see what Matt Bevin thinks his

path to success is and that is as a Republican in Kentucky, to embrace Donald Trump as closely as possible.

BLITZER: What other key races are you watching tonight?

CHALIAN: So there's the gubernatorial race in Mississippi, again a trend to watch. The lieutenant governor there, the Republican Tate Reeves also has embraced Donald Trump. The sort of moderate to conservative Democrat there, the Attorney General Hood, is popular in the state. But it is unclear if he'll be able to overcome the Mississippi Republican weight in that state.

And then you mentioned at the top, Wolf, the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate. Democrats feel very hopeful that they're going to be able to flip control of the Virginia legislature. They need two House seats. One state Senate seat. They would then control all the levers of government in Virginia which of course would have a huge impact on drawing congressional districts after the next (INAUDIBLE).

[17:45:03]

BLITZER: Yes. Stakes are clearly enormous in these contests.

CHALIAN: Yes.

BLITZER: We'll start getting results in Kentucky at the top of the hour. We'll check back.

Thanks very much, David Chalian, for that.

CHALIAN: Sure.

BLITZER: Coming up, a horrific, awful story. Nine American women and children brutally murdered in Mexico in a horrifying ambush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:16]

BLITZER: There's new information tonight about a horrific in Mexico that left nine members of an American family dead, all women and children.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, this was an ambush.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf, and the details we picked up on this attack are jarring. These victims, part of a large extended family, were traveling in a caravan through one of the most dangerous areas in the world. A key question tonight, did the suspected organized crime gang which fired on them know who it was targeting?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A shell-shocked family patriarch the burnt-out vehicle where his daughter-in-law and grandchildren were murdered.

KENNETH MILLER, RELATIVE OF VICTIMS: This is for the record. Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt, and shot up. Right on the road out of La Mora.

TODD: Tonight the indescribably brutal attack is resonating throughout Mexico and the U.S. Nine members of an extended family, three women and six children, two of them less than a year old, were shot and burned to death in their vehicles.

MILLER: None of my grandchildren made it out. It burnt to a crisp. And my daughter-in-law is about as innocent as they come. And I'm not saying it because she's gone.

TODD: At least seven children survived the assault which occurred Monday afternoon as the family was traveling in a caravan of three vehicles near their home in La Mora, south of the Arizona and New Mexico borders. Criminal groups are suspected of carrying out the attack, but it's not clear tonight if the family was targeted or if they were mistaken for rival drug traffickers.

Analysts say several cartels are battling over drug routes in that region of Mexico and it's getting increasingly lawless.

DUNCAN WOOD, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: It seems as though the organized crime groups feel as though they are highly empowered at this point in time. They feel as though they have the upper hand in that area of Mexico against federal forces.

TODD: And the victims were at the center of that chaos. They're all part of a Mormon community in norther Mexico, many of them with dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship. They're not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The extended LeBaron Family which moved to Mexico in 1924 after splitting off from the Mormon Church is no stranger to cartel violence. In 2009, when teenager Eric LeBaron was kidnapped by suspected members of a drug cartel and held for $1 million, his brother Benjamin led protests. Eric was released but Benjamin and a relative were dragged from their home and killed for standing up to the cartels. Tonight the family is hinting it might be on the verge of taking a stand again.

KENDRA LEE MILLER, RELATIVE OF VICTIMS: We're not just going to stand by and watch this happen anymore. The cartels have taken too many of our family members.

TODD: But with so many powerful cartels surrounding them, what recourse does the family have?

WOOD: I think that what we're going to see, what we've seen in the past in many parts of Mexico and actually in that part of the northwest of Mexico, we've seen society arming itself, protecting itself. At the moment they feel as though they are not being protected by the federal government so they're going to find ways in which they can protect their loved ones, their families, their communities.

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TODD: In a tweet President Trump said it's time for Mexico to wage war on the cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth and Trump offered more American help to do that. Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador politely declined, saying it's Mexico's responsibility. But analysts say don't expect Obrador's government to get a handle on this anytime soon. Last year Mexico saw a record 33,000 homicides and 2019 is on pace to eclipse that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation.

Brian, you picked up dramatic new details of the attack and the aftermath just a short time ago.

TODD: Right. Family --

BLITZER: What did you learn?

TODD: Right. I'm sorry. Family members, Wolf, say one of the adult victims, a young mother, got out of the vehicle at one point during the gunfire and waved her arms at the attackers to signal there were women and children there. They say she was gunned down right then. Relatives also say one of the children who survived, a 13-year-old boy, hid six of his bleeding siblings in the bushes, covered them with branches, then walked about 14 miles to get help.

BLITZER: What a horrendous, horrendous story.

Brian Todd, thank you very much for reporting the latest.

There's more breaking news coming up next. A top U.S. diplomat admits there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine, tying millions of dollars of U.S. military aid to President Trump's demands for an investigation of Joe Biden. Stand by for details, as well as the reaction from the White House.

[17:54:56]

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Admitting a quid pro quo. A key diplomat changes his sworn testimony to acknowledge a link between U.S. aid to Ukraine and the president's push for political investigations. Is it an impeachment game changer?

Potentially illegal.

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