Return to Transcripts main page


More Impeachment Inquiry Transcripts Released; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed About the Ongoing Impeachment Inquiry; Sources: White House Particularly Concerned About Taylor Testimony. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 6, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. We will see you tomorrow.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We have breaking news in the House impeachment inquiry.

This afternoon, the House of Representatives released more than 300 pages of testimony in which the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, consistently and in detail describes the Trump White House pushing the Ukrainians in what Taylor clearly sees as a quid pro quo, a White House meeting and hundreds of million of dollars in aid for Ukraine only if the Ukrainian government announced investigations that Trump clearly saw as helpful to him.

Taylor testified that President Trump's point man in the administration on Ukraine, Ambassador Gordon Sondland -- quote -- "told me that President Trump had told him that he wants Ukraine President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election."

Burisma, of course, is the Ukrainian company on which Joe Biden's son Hunter served on the board.

Taylor testifying -- quote -- "That was my clear understanding. Security assistance money would not come until the president of Ukraine committed to pursue the investigation."

Question: "So if they don't do this, they are not going to get that was your understanding?"

Taylor: "Yes, sir."

Question: "Are you aware that quid pro quo literally means this for that?"

Taylor: "I am." Taylor also describes an odd situation where the president seems to believe that by stating explicitly that something is not a quid pro quo, this for that, that that somehow negates it being one.

Sondland telling Taylor: "President Trump was adamant that President Zelensky himself had to clear things up and do it in public. President Trump said it was not a quid pro quo."

Sondland then tells the Ukrainians -- quote -- "Although this was not a quid pro quo, if President Zelensky did not clear things up in public, we would be at a stalemate."

Taylor says -- quote -- "I understood a stalemate to mean that Ukraine would not receive the much-needed military assistance."

To state the obvious, declaring something to not to be what it clearly is does not change what it clearly is.

The House announced today that Bill Taylor will be among the first to testify publicly next week. So, starting Wednesday, key witnesses will be under oath in public.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has the story.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It's among the most explosive testimonies yet in the impeachment inquiry. Now the transcript of the deposition of Ambassador Bill Taylor, the most senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, gives a damning on-the-ground perspective.

Taylor told lawmakers it was his clear understanding security assistance money would not come until Ukrainian President Zelensky committed to pursue the investigation, meaning into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

Taylor added: "It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Rudy Giuliani."

It was also Giuliani, according to Taylor, who came up with the idea of demanding that President Zelensky publicly declare he would investigate the Ukrainian company Burisma that Joe Biden's son Hunter had been on the board of.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think you will see in the transcript what a dedicated public servant Ambassador Taylor is, someone who graduated from West Point, someone who served in Vietnam, someone who is, I think, performing another vital service for the country in relating the facts that came to his attention.

MARQUARDT: Taylor testified that he was told about a meeting on September 1 between the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and a top aide to President Zelensky, in which Sondland told the aide: "The security assistance money would not come until President Zelensky committed to pursue the Burisma investigation. Everything was dependent on such an announcement."

Days prior, Taylor had written a rare so-called first-person cable to his boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "describing the folly I saw in withholding military aid to Ukraine at a time when hostilities were still active in the east and when Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government."

Taylor was embarrassed he couldn't tell the Ukrainians why the aid was being held up, and he prepared to resign. Despite these concerns, Taylor admitted he had never talked to the president.


MARQUARDT: Even though Ambassador Taylor didn't speak with the president, he was dealing directly with the people the president was giving orders to, and all the while taking meticulous notes.

Jake, Ambassador Taylor provided extremely detailed testimony, often referring to those notes. And he told lawmakers that he's always been a careful notetaker, writing in a little notebook after conversations or phone calls, which is, why when you read this, this testimony often reads like a diary -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.


Let's chew over all this.

Laura, let me start with you. I want to start with one section from the testimony that I found really interesting.

Question: "Is your testimony that, hey, you don't make these public statements about these two political investigations we want, you're not getting this meeting, you make these statements, you will get the meeting, you don't make these statements, you won't? Was that your understanding of the state of affairs in July 2019?"

And Ambassador Taylor's response is, "Yes."

I mean, that's pretty directly a quid pro quo. That is, we will give you this that your country needs in exchange for this, which the president wants for political reasons here at home.


And we heard about Taylor outlining multiple examples of quid pro quos when he first testified, before the full transcript was released. Now, Americans get to read it with their own eyes. And then again, in a week's time, Taylor is going to publicly testify, we're told.

So that could potentially result in a shift in the American public's view of whether or not Trump should be impeached.

TAPPER: Yes, they haven't even seen him speak. If they see him speak, they will be able to take the measure of the man. Karen, why don't respond to this? Because Republican Congressman Lee

Zeldin, Republican of New York, one of the president's strongest defenders, is in the testimony as well, asking questions, as Republicans got to participate in this process.

And he drills down to the fact that Taylor himself never spoke directly with President Trump. Zeldin asks whether Taylor had firsthand knowledge of Trump conditioning the White House meeting on Ukraine announcing these investigations.

Zeldin asks: "Where was this condition coming from if you're not sure it was coming from the president?"

Taylor: "I think it was coming from Mr. Giuliani."

Zeldin: "But not from the president?"

Taylor: "I don't know."

Republicans are pointing to this and saying, look, he doesn't have any firsthand information. It's all coming from Sondland and Volker and others, intermediaries, but nothing directly from Trump.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And this is why all these pieces starting to come together, which I hope they will do a good job of laying out next week, are so important, because we have plenty of instances where Taylor says that they were told, you deal with Giuliani. He's the guy. He's the one. He's the channel.

So you can't have it both ways. You can't say, well, since you didn't talk directly to the president, you -- how do you know, when he can say, but I was told to deal with Giuliani, and this is what I was told we were supposed to do.

I mean, and he participated in enough calls and meetings to know what was going on.

TAPPER: And the president's spokeswoman described this -- or maybe it was Kellyanne Conway, I forget -- but one of the president spokespeople said something, that this is a grownup mail version of telephone, there isn't any actual firsthand accounts from people who talked to President Trump.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What they're trying to do is just disqualify characters in the story.

And let's be honest. For the public to keep track of this, there's a lot of names, a lot of people you don't know, envoy to here, ambassador here. And I am concerned that the Democrats aren't telling a good story for the public.

It's like Adam Schiff is just saying, well, let's let the American people decide. We're going to have these people testify and hope you can watch the 10 hours of testimony we're going to film, without ever explaining what was going on here. We're fighting about quid pro quo, extortion. The bottom line here is

that Donald Trump was trying to cheat to win another election. That's the storyline I don't think the Democrats have zoned in on, but they keep thinking, oh, we will just have another person testify and they will make the case for us.

That's never going to happen. And the Republicans have always told a more compelling, if dishonest, story that this is a deep state coup so you can overturn the election.

FINNEY: But I think the point that the Democrats were trying to make actually is, again, to put out so much evidence in terms of -- and it's not even just about a quid pro quo, right?

I mean, the standard for impeachment is conduct unbecoming, right?


CARPENTER: The Republicans just have to disqualify one of those people.


FINNEY: But here's the thing.


CARPENTER: ... before the public, and that's what they're trying to seek to do.

FINNEY: And this is why I think Schiff has always built this case towards the idea that there, of course, there will be public hearings.

Each of the individuals that we know who are testifying in public next week, these are serious, thoughtful, rational human beings who are not going to...


CARPENTER: ... going public, the big six, Pence, Pompeo, Bolton, Perry, Mulvaney, Giuliani, are not saying a word.

TAPPER: So, Toluse, the bigger picture here is, I think it is probably a foregone conclusion that the House is going vote to impeach President Trump. I mean, we don't know that for a fact. We won't know until the vote happens. But I think, in all likelihood, that's what's going to happen.

The question is, is the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, going to do anything other than not vote to convict? And is the release of all this testimony this week -- and it's certainly been damning, and it certainly suggests a quid pro quo. Has it changed the mind of one Republican senator?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it's changed the strategy of the Republican senators. They have moved from saying the president did nothing wrong, the president is innocent, to basically, yes, he did it, but it's not impeachable. We're going to have an election in a year. So let's let the voters just decide.

So, they have changed their strategy, but in terms of actually breaking from Trump, they're breaking from him in the fact that they're not saying that this was a perfect call, as the president has said. They have said that they have been uncomfortable with the way the president conducted himself on the call, the fact that there was this quid pro quo.

They're not comfortable with the fact that military aid that they had voted on and approved was being held up by the president for apparent political ends. But they are willing to back the president in terms of saying, we're going to vote to not impeach you, not have you removed from office because we don't think it's as big of a problem as the Democrats think it is.


So, that's where we are.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, Taylor also detailed what he learned secondhand about President Trump's conversations from Sondland.

"On September 8, Sondland said he had talked to President Trump, that President Trump was adamant that President Zelensky himself had to clear things up" -- that means announce the investigations -- "And do it in public. President Trump said it was not a quid pro quo.

This is one of the most interesting things about this case. President Trump seems to think that by saying this is not a mug, this is not a mug, that that somehow magically makes this not a mug.

CARPENTER: I think we need to not pay attention to exactly the moving pieces here and, again, go back to what Donald Trump was trying to do. He wanted a sham investigation.

He was calling on a country to manufacture some kind of smear against Biden. We keep talking about these investigations like they're actually seeking something legitimate.

I remember the Republican campaign, when "The National Enquirer" published a picture of Ted Cruz's dad saying that he killed JFK. They're looking for a grainy photo.

TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: They're not looking for anything real.

And next week the public is going to get to hear from Bill Taylor himself. There is also George Kent, who is a State Department official, Marie Yovanovitch, who was the former ambassador who was kicked out of her job because of misinformation coming from various Ukrainians and Rudy Giuliani. Tomorrow could be -- or next week, rather, could be much more problematic for the White House than these hundreds of pages that only the likes of us are reading.

BARRON-LOPEZ: They could be.

And to what Amanda said, I mean, Democrats, to this point, have been conducting everything behind closed doors, because that's the stage of the investigation that they have been at. And so there's a big question about how they proceed from next week moving forward, and how they carry out that very public case of trying to lay this out to the American people and connect all the dots in a way that they haven't so far, because, again, all this information is pretty much overload.

And when you're on the trail, you don't really hear about it at all.

FINNEY: But here's the thing, right? So if you think about it, right, and we started -- we heard about what people supposedly said in their testimony. Right?

Then the testimony -- so we heard it again now that the testimony has been released. Then we're going to hear it again next week, when they actually get to say it. So there has been some amount of repetition. And that's part of what Donald Trump is living on, right?

Social psychology says you say a lie over and over enough times, people will start to believe it. That is clearly how he has made his millions, how he has made -- run his fortune.

So that's what he's trying to do. I think Democrats are trying to put -- plant those seeds for people, so that, again, we all hope, I hope, next week, it actually lays out to a story that is easy for people to follow.

TAPPER: We should also note that with all the complaints from House Republicans about selective leaks, the media coverage has pretty much borne scrutiny when it comes to what actually was said in these depositions.

The media stories about it a week or two ago were completely accurate.

Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

Republicans seizing on part of Bill Taylor's testimony they claim clears the president of wrongdoing. What is that? How credible is it?

Then, it's the name almost every impeachment witness keeps referencing, Rudy, Rudy, Rudy -- why the president's personal lawyer keeps coming up.

Stay with us.


[16:17:45] TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news.

Perhaps the most damning testimony today released today by the House of Representatives released in its impeachment inquiry. Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, testified that he understood that aid to Ukraine would not be released by President Trump unless investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election were launched by Ukraine.

Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She serves on the Senate Judiciary and Senate Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks for joining me.


TAPPER: I want to read this one section of the Taylor testimony. Quote, that was my clear understanding, Taylor says. Security assistance money would not come until the president of Ukraine committed to pursue the investigation. Question, so if they don't do this, they are not going to get that, was your understanding? Taylor, yes, sir. Question, are you aware quid pro quo literally means this for that. Taylor, I am.

Now, Republicans are noting that Taylor never spoke to President Trump about -- or even Rudy Giuliani about this.

How do you respond?

HIRONO: The whistleblower's complaint which first brought to light that the president engaged in this kind of -- what it turns out to be quid pro quo has been collaborated by Taylor, by others. And so, here is the Republicans -- they just can't deal with the substance of what the president did. So they're doing all kinds of things to muddy the waters.

TAPPER: Senator, Republicans continue to argue that no one has testified that president Trump explicitly said they knew to do this in order to get that. And so what is the response?

Actually, take a listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say just yesterday.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): But the president of Ukraine says, and he keeps saying, no, I did not feel that I had to do anything to get the aid. How you could have a quid pro quo when the person who is the subject of the pro said it didn't happen?


TAPPER: So, I mean, what is your response to Senator Graham. He said how do you have a quid pro quo when the person who the subject of the quo said it didn't happen? HIRONO: Do you really expect the new president of Ukraine, which is

so dependent on, in the case of this particular situation, $400 million of U.S. money to fight Russia, do you really expect the president to jeopardize his relationship with the United States by saying, oh, yeah, your president is a crook? I don't think so.

So we look to other credible testimony. That's what we have -- other credible testimony that says that the president shook down the president of another country to get dirt on his political opponents.

TAPPER: You, in the first answer, talked about the whistleblower who is -- whose complaint has largely proven to be accurate according to all the other witnesses. Today, you introduced a resolution to protect the identity of the whistleblower. As you know, there are a number of prominent conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., trying to out the whistleblower. Republicans are demanding that he or she come forward publicly.

Take a listen to Senator Graham once again.


GRAHAM: I think it is impossible to go forward without knowing who the whistleblower is. The reason that you have whistleblower statutes is to protect people from reprisal, from being fired. Not give them anonymity in legal proceedings.


TAPPER: So, what's your response to that?

HIRONO: We have whistleblower protection statues not just so that they don't get fired, but to be retaliated against, to be threatened -- by the way, the president himself has threatened the whistleblower.

So it is to prevent these kind of actions against the whistleblower. And the whole point of the whistleblower statute is to protect the whistleblower through anonymity.

And I'll tell you, what the Republicans are doing and their minions of the president, in going after the whistleblower is just another massive diversion, which, by the way, undercuts the whistleblower statute which required federal employees to come forward to report wrongdoing in federal government, in government since, what, 1789.

And there is a reason that we want our federal employees who are in the best position to see wrongdoing in our federal government, to come forward without being threatened or retaliated against or god knows what all.

So they are undermining the whistleblower statute. And they don't have to because, one, they don't want to acknowledge we don't need this particular whistleblower because his or her complaint has been corroborated. They don't want to go there.

And I'll tell you, I don't know what's next because there's the yap about how this is all secret. Well, guess what, next week it is public and starting with Taylor and some of the other people who already have testified.

The depositions have already been released. It is all out in the open and the House is going to enable the president to participate in their proceedings.

So, they -- that's gone from there, so now they off the whistleblower, and what's next? Are they going to say the president did it, so what?

I call this a so-what defense. It is like the Twinkie defense, it is ridiculous.

TAPPER: Do you --

HIRONO: So I think they're running out of steam to tell you the truth. But to attack the whistleblower, that cannot be. That is why I put in a resolution today to have us acknowledge that just as we require federal employees to come forward to report, we have a responsibility to protect them when they do. And this report, by the way, was deemed credible, and it was deemed urgent.

TAPPER: Senator Rand Paul has called on the media to report the name of the whistleblowers, and I think there are Republicans in the building who are standing in who said they might come forward and name the whistleblower. Is that against the law?

HIRONO: It may not be specifically. I wish there was a law, that is on point, but to me if you're going to require people to come forward, there are several protections and maybe it doesn't protect the whistleblower against irresponsible members of Congress who want to out the whistleblower. Then maybe we need that kind of very specific law.

But one would hope that you don't need such a law to remind us of our responsibility that when someone comes forward, as we expect them to do, and it is credible and it is urgent, that we will look to the substance.

And we have looked to the substance, at least the House has, and the substance has been corroborated.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii -- thank you so much. We always appreciate it.

HIRONO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Next week, the impeachment inquiry will go public and President Trump's team is especially concerned about one specific witness. We'll tell you who.

Stay with us.


[16:29:20] TAPPER: So one week from today, the House of Representatives will begin public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry. Big witness on day one, Bill Taylor, who serves as the top diplomat in Ukraine right now and in testimony released today said he was told that President Trump was the one pushing the quid pro quo -- aid to Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine investigating the Bidens.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, the White House is particularly concerned about the impact of Taylor's testimony.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We will begin our opening hearings in the impeachment inquiry next week.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a date set for the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry, the White House is bracing itself.

SCHIFF: Beginning with testimony of Ambassador Taylor and Ambassador Kent on Wednesday.

COLLINS: All three witnesses on schedule have already testified behind closed doors.