Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
First Public Impeachment Hearings Begin Next Week; Pompeo Has Lost Confidence At State Department Amid Impeachment Probe. Aired 1- 1:30p ET
Aired November 6, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I've got to end it there, but we'll continue.
Brianna Keilar is up right now. Have a great afternoon.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Right now, we are waiting for more testimony transcripts to be released in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, this time from one of the top U.S. diplomats still serving in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. And it's our understanding that during his closed-door testimony, Taylor explicitly tied President Trump to a quid pro quo, explaining how he was told, quote, everything depended on Ukraine publicly announcing investigations.
This transcript which is about to be released should confirm and expand on this reporting. But we're also learning we'll soon no longer have to rely on these transcripts because the very first public hearings in the impeachment into President Trump begin exactly one week from today. And up first is Bill Taylor, followed by State Department official George Kent and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Until then, these confidential hearings continue.
David Hale, you see in there, a top State Department official, is testifying on Capitol Hill right now. We have our Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
Kaitlan, what are you hearing about these public hearings from the White House?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a heightened level of concern about them, of course. They've seen these people go behind closed doors for several weeks now. And now, with the announcement from Adam Schiff that they are going to be taking these public and they've already got some on the schedule, there certainly is a lot of talk inside the White House about this.
The most is about Bill Taylor, this diplomat who the White House viewed as his testimony behind closed doors as one of the most damaging because he was one of the people who laid out that explicit quid pro quo, essentially was the first one to do so, one of the current administration officials going behind closed doors to really lay that out.
And so that is why the White House is surprised he is going to be the first one that Democrats are calling to testify. They thought because what he said behind closed doors was so damaging that Democrats would save him for last. So there's a certain sense of surprise inside the west wing right now that he is going to be the first one testifying a week from today if he does show up, even though we are still waiting to hear from his attorney on that front.
But what the question is going to be for the White House after that, Brianna, is how they're going to respond to this. Because they know, and this is something that's been discussed behind closed doors, it's going to be a lot harder to discredit Bill Taylor because he's a West Point graduate, a Vietnam veteran who was personally recruited by the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to take this job, a job that clearly, judging from texts that were released yesterday, he did not even want to take this job given, he believes, the challenges he was going to face with Rudy Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine.
Now, ever since he testified behind closed doors, the president has been complaining about him privately, especially singling out Secretary Pompeo, because he is blaming Pompeo for hiring him. And he even made that clear publicly when he said everybody makes mistakes.
So all eyes are certainly going to be watching Bill Taylor to see what he says and to see if what he says similar to what he said behind closed doors publicly is going to move the needle on any of this.
KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan, great reporting from the White House. Thank you.
AND CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is live for us on Capitol Hill.
And, Manu, I want to start with this breaking news. Public testimony is going to start this time next week. Tell us what we can expect.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Next Wednesday, we are expecting the two witnesses to come forward, who have already testified in this -- behind closed doors, Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine for the United States, as well as George Kent, who's a current State Department official, a senior official at the State Department, and then on Friday, the ousted ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testifying also after her closed-door testimony.
Now, this is significant because Bill Taylor has raised some significant concerns in his closed-door testimony from the opening statement that we have seen from our reporting. What he alleged, he said is that he had experienced and raised concerns through the course of the months while serving as the top diplomat in Ukraine over why this aid, nearly $400 million in aid, had been withheld for Ukraine.
And then, ultimately, he was told that President Trump wanted that aid and everything else withheld until there was that public declaration of announcements that could help the president politically, including announcements of investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as the 2016 election interference.
Marie Yovanovitch also raised some -- she was targeted by Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani's associates. The president himself pushed her out of that position in the aftermath of concerns that she was raising about the efforts by Rudy Giuliani to pursue Ukraine policy outside of normal diplomatic channels by pushing for those investigations.
So you'll hear themes throughout from the public hearings about the concerns of the president enlisting his personal attorney, the president withholding that aid, why that aid was withheld, what they believe. Republicans already, Brianna, pushing back, saying that none of them had direct conversations with the president that linked the withholding of the aid to the public declaration of announcements.
Nevertheless, until next week will especially be the first time we're hearing from any of these witnesses after weeks of seeing these closed statements, now transcripts, we expect the transcript of Bill Taylor to come out today, but the first time in their voice laying out what they've seen and laying out their significant concerns about the president's handling of Ukraine policy. Brianna?
KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you so much.
I want to talk to some folks about this now. Let's bring in McClatchy D.C. White House Correspondent Francesca Chambers, we have former federal prosecutor Laura Coates and CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger with us.
Okay. So let's talk about what we heard from Kaitlan Collins' reporting, which is that Bill Taylor is really the witness that the White House is worried about. Is this, Laura, the witness that they should be most worried about?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. This is the person who really revealed to the American public that he had skepticism all along from taking on the actual role, skeptical about the treatment of Masha Yovanovitch in the very first instance, and then we came on to the role, he said, there is only the shadow diplomacy aspect of it.
But it seems as though there is this quid pro quo brewing, had enough sense to say, let memorialize me the conversation and then Sondland taking it offline to say, no, no, there's no quid pro quo here. That skepticism is what should alert the American people about somebody in that position knowing about the leverage of America over Ukraine and in that position of power to say, I saw something here, I tried to get information about it very early on.
And mind you, this is not an instance of way back in the past. He had concerns in August, in September of this year. Talk about contemporaneousness. KEILAR: And he, Gloria, raised a very key point, which was the quid pro quo. I mean, he laid that out in his testimony. And then Sondland's revised testimony, which came out yesterday, also did. The White House, we should mention, is still denying the existence of a quid pro quo. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: In the wake of Ambassador Sondland's revised statement, is the White House position still that there was no quid pro quo?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: That is the White House's position. And I don't think his latest revisions change that.
You cannot impeach a president and remove him from office in a constitutional democracy, extension (ph) on the rule of law based on somebody saying they presumed and someone else saying they interpreted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: All right. Gloria, I mean, first off, address that, but also we should just note, Mick Mulvaney was -- yes, there was a quid pro quo, get over it. There's no really unified message. What do you think about what Kellyanne Conway was saying there?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, some people on the Hill were saying there's a quid pro quo but it's not impeachable. It's inappropriate but not impeachable. And others are saying you don't need a quid pro quo. Some are calling it bribery.
KEILAR: Even asking a favor, even asking a foreign government basically to interfere in a domestic election that's upcoming should be enough is what many experts were saying.
BORGER: And saying, by the way, if you don't do that, you're not going to get your money. I mean, it's pretty clear that the conversation was about the Javelins and it goes to Trump who says, I would like you to do me a favor though. These are the discussions that we're going to hear on the Senate floor about what's impeachable, what's not impeachable.
But Adam Schiff said this morning that through all of these interviews, we've been either seeing the opening statements of and now we will see on television, there seems to be a case that has been built, you know, the facts are not that much in disagreement from the original whistleblower that this is what occurred.
And the reason Taylor is so damaging, to get back to what Kaitlan is saying, is that he is there still and he said, I believed there was a quid pro quo and I still believe it. Let's see what we see in the transcript.
KEILAR: Do you think the White House has a strategy here that they're all reading from the same page, Francesca? And do you think that this might change as we see these public hearings starting next week? FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY D.C.: Not always reading from the same page. And one thing that Kellyanne Conway did this morning, I question whether this is a White House strategy or just something Kellyanne Conway was doing, is she tried to cast doubt on Sondland and said, is it the testimony from before or is it the revised testimony you're referring to in your question that happened in that exchange that you just played. I was standing there.
And I thought that was a very interesting strategy, because you can't say that Gordon Sondland is a never-Trumper, okay? He's a Trump donor, he's an ally of the president. So when he says something in private of public testimony, you cannot use that same strategy, which is what she seemed to be applying now.
And so is that going to be something they try and continue to do is make these witnesses not look credible based on that, that's going to be quite hard to do with Sondland.
BORGER: And if you're going to question motive, Taylor? How are you going to look at Taylor, West Point graduate --
KEILAR: That's right.
BORGER: -- you know, veteran. I mean, it's very difficult for the president.
KEILAR: handpicked by Pompeo to come back in, right? It's pretty tough.
Okay. I guess my question is when we're seeing now the transcripts as they've come out and we see Sondland saying that he was told basically when dealing with Ukraine policy, talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy, where's the direct line? I mean, it's not a huge cognitive leap on me.
That's what's clear, because Giuliani is the access point for President Trump. And to President Trump, if there's no exact proof of him saying, do this because I want this and it's all kind of coming through Rudy, even though we essentially see it in the transcript, is that problematic in convincing people, do you think, Laura?
COATES: Well, I mean, circumstantial evidence was in direct chains is not undermining to a criminal case. You can still prove a case in that way with that circumstantial evidence. This is, again, prerogative of Congress. Impeachable conduct is what they say it will be. It's not the same standard.
But even having said that, what the American people would have to be, and you alluded this is what the cognitive leap is, that all of this was freelance, that they just said, you know what, I feel like Influencing Ukrainian policy. I think that Sondland, the E.U. ambassador, to which Ukraine is not a member of, I think he is the right person to do this in the whole three amigos.
And where have we seen this before, this idea of freelancing? There's a man right now in a state penitentiary by the name of Michael Cohen, who says that he was also offered, a guy to do something, but then he was -- it was all freelance.
And so at some point in time, this idea of connecting the person who gives the order and the person who carries it out, there would have to be a huge leap of faith and benefit of a doubt to say that everyone conspired to act on the president's behalf completely unbeknownst to him.
CHAMBERS: But this is exactly where the White House wants to cast doubt at. You don't have the president saying that it was a a quid pro quo and this is these people's interpretation of what he asking them to do, he never asked to do that. So, therefore, he didn't do anything wrong here. And finding that evidence in between there, if there is any, is going to be --
KEILAR: Okay. But, Gloria, this is so important what we're looking ahead to this public testimony. I mean, what are you expecting in this? What are you expecting this to play out like?
BORGER: I think Schiff is a prosecutor. And what they're trying to do is tell a story and tell a simple story and build the story for the American public. And the American public is not only going to be watching the people who are testifying and make their own judgments about whether they're credible or not credible, but they're also going to be looking at the way the committees behave and how the committees ask questions, because that's really important too.
So the Republicans have put the Schiff antagonist, Jim Jordan, there to be really tough and ask questions. And you're going to have Adam Schiff, who is a seasoned prosecutor, as we all know, who has prosecuted corruption in the past. And then you're going to have to see these witnesses who are public servants and have served in the government for a very long time and had one goal, which was to get the money to Ukraine because they felt Ukraine was facing an existential threat from Russia.
So I think they're going to try and keep it simple and they're going to try and keep it direct.
KEILAR: Thank you, guys, so much. If you can stand by for me, the Republicans demanded that these transcripts be released. And now Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says he won't even read them.
Plus, just in, new CNN reporting that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lost confidence at the State Department and already flagging morale there has now been destroyed.
And what type of Democrat can win in 2020? We may have gotten a glimpse as the party wins big in Kentucky and Virginia.
KEILAR: Morale at the State Department has been flagging for some time, but it's hit an all-time low now in the middle of the Ukraine call scandal. Confidence in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been greatly decreased because of his failure to stand up for career diplomats as House Democrats conducting the impeachment probe slowly release the full testimony of senior State Department officials.
We have CNN's Kylie Atwood with us. She has some new reporting. Tell us what you're learning, Kylie.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So what we're learning is that, really, the morale at the State Department has been devastated and especially over the last few weeks as this House impeachment inquiry on Ukraine has escalated. And Secretary Pompeo, the State Department, they are really facing allegations from these folks on the Hill that are not flattering of Secretary Pompeo.
And we have heard publicly from a lot of folks outside of the State Department and inside the State Department that they really wanted to see Secretary Pompeo come out and defend Yovanovitch, but he has not done that.
It's important to note, however, that the morale at the State Department hasn't always been awful. And Michael McKinley, who is one of Pompeo's senior aides, who has announced that he was going to be resigning and told lawmakers one of the reasons was because Pompeo did not defend Ambassador Yovanovitch. He expressed the sentiment to lawmakers that Pompeo does deserve some credit for rebuilding the institutions the State Department after Secretary Tillerson had been there.
But in the last few weeks, as we have seen these testimonies, the specific transcripts come out from Michael McKinley, from Ambassador Yovanovitch, there are a number of things in these transcripts that are not great for Pompeo.
The first of which is that McKinley said he raised specifically three times with Pompeo that he wanted him to show some support for Yovanovitch. Pompeo said in an ABC News interview that there was not one time that he remembers that happening. And we asked the State Department if they want to clarify anything that Secretary Pompeo said on that. They declined to comment. They also declined to comment on our reporting, in general.
But the other thing from Ambassador Yovanovitch is that she said she felt threatened when President Trump said negative things about her during that phone call, and still we've heard nothing from Secretary Pompeo.
KEILAR: Kylie, thank you for your reporting. We really appreciate it.
And joining us now to discuss is Democratic congressman on the House Judiciary Committee, Steve Cohen. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Nice to be with you. KEILAR: So even before this Ukraine call scandal, there were foreign service officers who were leaving government in droves. You just heard Kylie's reporting. What concerns do you have about what you just heard?
COHEN: Well, I hear it all the time. And our foreign service officers are outstanding individuals. When you look at the people in the foreign service, they have impeccable records of honesty and scholarship. They've gone to the best schools. They've received honors from the colleges and master's degrees and PhDs and then in work. And they stand up for the United States everywhere and they don't take partisan positions. They are to be commended.
The State Department is one of our best agencies in standing up for human rights around the globe and for American interests, both commercial and personal. And for them to be attacked by our president and not supported by our secretary of state is just wrong. The secretary is supposed to look out for the State Department and for the United States as well, not simply for the president but stand up for the State Department and its employees.
I had a State Department employee and I think I discussed it on this show come up to me during the summer and expressed alarm at what had gone on with Ambassador Yovanovitch and the fact that she was put out because of this Giuliani situation. And she approached me in a different capital than Ukraine that she had been posted and was just alarmed at what had happened. And so many people tell me that the morale in the State Department has just sunk.
KEILAR: In a significant reversal, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, actually changed his testimony that he had given Congress and he admitted there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. He was initially the witness that Republicans were leaning on.
But now, let's listen to what Trump defender and Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, your colleague, is saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN (D-OH): Sondland's opening statement, and he says exactly what President Zelensky said, exactly what President Trump said, no quid pro quo, whatsoever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is Sondland's opinion. These are all folks' opinions.
JORDAN: Well, he says that in his statement. He says it was his presumption.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
JORDAN: So it's not based on the facts. It was just a presumption.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: What's your reaction to that?
COHEN: Jim's an attack bull and he's a good one for the administration. He's effective at what he does, but he's wrong. Ambassador Sondland came true, came clean and said there was a consideration and that the military aid was not going to be released without a statement about the company that Hunter Biden worked for, an investigation and something about Joe Biden. This was wrong. It's just petty corruption on a large scale.
If a mayor running against city councilman told a neighborhood, I will give you that street you want, but you have to go and spy on your neighbor and give me some dirt on them, it would be the same situation. This is simply gutter, illegal politics and government. You're not supposed to take anything from a foreign source, a foreign government to help you politically.
And that's what Sondland said the president did. He conditioned the foreign aid on getting some dirt on Joe Biden and Joe Biden's son. That is strictly forbidden by law. It's an abuse of power and it is a corruption of his oath of office and a betrayal.
KEILAR: It sounds like there are White House officials who are saying that the president didn't order a quid pro quo. And as long as you have witnesses who were saying they presumed, even if it seems very reasonably so, their understanding was that this was what President Trump wanted, information and investigation specifically of his political rival or he was holding up this aid, but that he wanted this, not that he ordered it, just that he had said to them talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy, as Sondland says.
Does that keep Trump's hands clean?
COHEN: Not at all. You can put the dots together. And, obviously, Trump would have had to be the one to tell the Defense Department to hold up the aid. He might not have told Zelensky I'm going to hold up the aid.
He might have said, I'd like a favor, I'd like something for you to do and blah, blah, blah, but he let Zelensky know in the way he speaks, which Michael Cohen described. Michael Cohen said he never says exactly what he wants, he speaks in code. That was the Michael Cohen Trump code language. But then he did put into effect the order to hold up the military aid, which Zelensky knew was not coming as it was supposed to and Sondland knew that he knew that.
So he put all the parts into motion, just like he did with Stormy Daniels. He told Michael Cohen to make the payoffs. He told him what to do and Michael Cohen did it and Michael Cohen is in jail and Donald Trump is just as guilty as Michael Cohen and should be in jail with him. He is individual one.
And as far as his foreign policy goes, go back to the beginnings of this administration. First thing that the son-in-law did was ask if we can have a back channel connection to Russia so that we can talk to Putin and not have anybody hear it.
Well, they still are talking to Putin and put their discussions in this lock box, this super secret stashed away area where they put these Ukraine calls to Zelensky, which are not about sources and methods, which is what you'd be protecting and not the subject per se of the conversation but sources of methods.
They are still operating a rogue state department, a rogue foreign policy for the benefit of Donald Trump's politics and for repaying the favors that put Donald Trump into the White House. This is the most corrupt administration in the history of our country and the American people should bring them to a reckoning in 2020 if he's not removed by the Senate, which I doubt he will, because the Senate does not operate based on their oath of office but their operating based on their allegiance to Donald Trump and their political continuance.
KEILAR: Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you so much for coming on.
COHEN: You're welcome, Brianna.
KEILAR: Democrats making big gains in last night's elections, flipping the balance of power for an entire state legislature and likely unseating a Republican governor. Are warning signs flashing for the president heading into 2020?
Plus, new details in the horrific killing of an American family in Northern Mexico. Were these women and children specifically targeted?