Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Giuliani Hires Lawyers; Interview With Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY); More Impeachment Inquiry Transcripts Released; Televised Impeachment Hearings To Begin Next Week As New Details Emerge About Star Witness Testimony; Steve Bannon To Testify Against Roger Stone; Jeff Sessions To Announce Run For Senate In Alabama; Manhunt Intensified After Ambush Massacre Of American Family. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired November 6, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The top diplomat in Ukraine has given lawmakers a detailed account of an obvious and brazen quid pro quo. We're going to tell you what we're learning from the transcript of his closed-door testimony.

Trump team's heartburn. We're told White House officials are more anxious about some impeachment witnesses than others, as public hearings are about to begin. Who do they fear most?

And Stone on trial. As a longtime Trump ally faces criminal charges, prosecutors accuse Roger Stone of lying to protect the president. We will have the latest on the trial, including plans for former Trump strategist Steve Bannon to testify.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the case for impeaching President Trump is about to become a live TV blockbuster.

House Democrats announcing that public hearings will begin in one week, with star witness Bill Taylor among the first to testify. We're getting new insights into what the top diplomat in Ukraine will reveal to a nation about a quid pro quo from the just-released transcript of his closed-door deposition.

Taylor spelled out -- and I'm quoting now -- a clear understanding that President Trump wanted Ukraine to announce investigations of his political opponents in exchange for U.S. aid.

Tonight, CNN has learned there's a heightened level of concern within the White House about the potential impact of Taylor's public testimony.

I will talk with a U.S. congressman who questioned Taylor, House Intelligence Committee member Sean Patrick Maloney. And our correspondents of analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, House Democrats, they set the date now for the biggest moments yet in the impeachment investigation.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's exactly right.

There's been months of speculation, weeks of closed-door depositions. Now everything is about to spill into the public sphere. And the stakes couldn't be higher. This is as big as it gets, the Democrats scheduling two public hearings, more to come after that, according to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

Those two hearings next week with three career diplomats, including, as you noted, Ambassador William Taylor, whose closed-door deposition became public today, with explosive testimony related to his understanding of a quid pro quo related to U.S. funding to Ukraine that was held up in exchange for potential investigations into political rivals of Donald Trump.

Also, George Kent scheduled to testify, and, on Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador the Ukraine, who multiple officials have testified was deliberately undercut by people outside the Trump administration who believed she was not working for President Trump in the proper manner.

In all, when you look at the big picture of what we're going to see next week, Democrats are going to attempt to paint a picture of a U.S. foreign policy that was essentially operated through rogue channels, outside the traditional way foreign policy is run, with a heavy emphasis on Rudolph Giuliani, the personal attorney for the president, and an acknowledgment that, based on what they are seeing, they believe they already have enough evidence for an impeachable offense.

You're also going to see Republicans make very clear some of the defenses we have seen over the last couple of days, that they don't believe any of the witnesses, no matter how damning their testimony, have a direct link to President Trump.

There will be a lot of that as we look forward, but bigger than anything else, Wolf, this is spilling into the public sphere, which means, more than anything, while impeachment is obviously part of what Congress has in its set of duties, it is also very much a public sentiment type of exercise.

You talk to Republicans and Democrats, they acknowledge that fact, the public hearings a real opportunity to start to sway public opinion, which has largely broken down on partisan lines, into their favor as they move forward in this process.

And also worth noting, the public hearings making clear this is moving forward, and it's moving forward quickly. After those public hearings, likely a full report. Then it gets kicked over the Judiciary Committee. Those articles of impeachment will come, and then a House vote before it moves to the Senate, Wolf.

Very clear Democrats are moving forward and moving forward fast.

BLITZER: Very fast, indeed.

Phil, we also have new information about another witness, a top aide to Vice President Pence.

MATTINGLY: That's exactly right.

There will be one more, at least, closed-door deposition where somebody actually shows up. Look, there have been a series of depositions where top career officials have come, even some top White House officials have come to testify.

But over the course of the last week, official after official, as the closer they get to the White House, as -- closer they get to the president, they have declined to show up.

That will change tomorrow. Jennifer Williams, a top national security aide to Vice President Mike Pence, an individual who was on that July 25 call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine, is expected to testify, if she is subpoenaed, according to a source. And she will likely be subpoenaed, as everybody has been up to this point.

One of the big questions lawmakers have is, sources say she was concerned or did express concerns about the content of that call. It's unclear how high up the food chain she took those concerns to. But she is now scheduled to testify behind closed doors underscoring there's a little bit of a dual track here.

[18:05:00]

While they're scheduling public hearings, while Democrats are ready to move forward, they're still trying to pull threads and make sure their case is as solid as they can make it before they reach that public sphere -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they want to get as many facts as possible.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Let's break down the testimony of one of the most important impeachment witnesses, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine offering a very detailed and damning account of a quid pro quo.

Our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is joining us right now.

Alex, the transcript of Bill Taylor's closed-door deposition is now out.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And it is very long, hundreds of pages' long.

And, Wolf, in page after page of this transcript, Taylor makes it clear that he did feel that there was a quid pro quo. Now, Taylor told lawmakers in his testimony that he hesitated to take this job as the U.S. senior diplomat in Kiev because he had heard about what Rudy Giuliani was up to in Ukraine.

He says that, during his time there, he took meticulous notes and repeatedly described what he called an irregular channel with Ukrainians that was led by Giuliani that -- in the end to get Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 presidential elections.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (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, an idea that former National Security Adviser John Bolton described at the time as a drug deal.

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUARDT: Ambassador Taylor's testimony is full of references to Rudy Giuliani. And Taylor says that Ukrainian officials listened to Giuliani because they knew that he was working at the president's direction.

Tonight, we have learned that Giuliani has hired himself a team of lawyers, tweeting out the names of three of them, Giuliani certainly feeling the heat, Wolf, as this inquiry ramps up.

BLITZER: Yes, he's under investigation, as we know as well.

Alex, thanks very much for that report.

Over at the White House, we're told there's heightened concern right now about Bill Taylor's public testimony next week.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's joining us from Louisiana right now, where the president will be holding another political rally later tonight.

Jim, even as Mr. Trump hits the campaign trail, he's clearly beefing up his so-called impeachment defense team.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly is, Wolf.

The president is on his way to Louisiana right now to campaign for the Republican candidate for governor in this state. But you're right. The White House is very much focused on impeachment right now, bringing on some new staffers, announcing those staffers today to message -- countermessage the impeachment inquiry that's playing out up on Capitol Hill.

But there is a lot of jitters. There are plenty of jitters inside the Republican Party right now about some of these elections that are playing out, not just here in Louisiana, but in Kentucky and other states.

As one source close to the White House put it to me, Wolf, they're calling these elections that have played out this week a bad omen for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is escaping to the campaign trail with the cloud of impeachment hanging over his every move.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the hearings next week?

ACOSTA: The White House is bracing for the upcoming public hearings and the inquiry, and getting more nervous about the newly released testimony from senior officials, like the top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who revised his recollections to say there was a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian president.

[18:10:03]

But aides to the president say they still don't see a quid pro quo.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: That is the White House's position, and I don't think that his latest revisions change that.

ACOSTA: The White House is bringing on new staffers to beef up the counterimpeachment message, despite Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham's claim last week that Mr. Trump can handle all that.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is the war room. The difference between Clinton and Nixon, which is what people constantly compare us to, is that those two did something wrong. The president has done nothing wrong. So, at this time, he feels confident with the people that he has in place.

ACOSTA: The president's loyalists are changing their tune on the inquiry, now claiming the administration was too incoherent to engage in a quid pro quo.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent. It depends on who you talk to. They seemed to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.

So, no, I find the whole process to be a sham, and I'm not going to legitimize it.

ACOSTA: Contrast that with the excuse that the whistle-blower's account was all hearsay.

GRAHAM: This seems to me like a political setup. It's all hearsay.

ACOSTA: Other Trump loyalists are saying they no longer believe what Sondland says, preferring the account of former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You all want to make a big deal out of Mr. Sondland's presumption that he had in his statement yesterday, but Mr. Volker is the one who has, in my mind, the definitive account.

ACOSTA: But hold on. The president once said Sondland could be trusted.

TRUMP: The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who's highly respected, was, there's no quid pro quo. He said that.

ACOSTA: The president is licking his wounds after campaigning for Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who lost a close battle for reelection.

TRUMP: If you lose, they're going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. This was the greatest.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: You can't let that happen to me. (LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: One of a slew of contests to swing to the Democrats from Kentucky to Pennsylvania to Virginia.

A source close to the White House told CNN the results were: "Totally bad. Kentucky and Virginia signaled to the GOP they are underestimating voter intensity against Trump, and it could be terrible for them next year. Bad omen for impeachment."

The president is spinning it all as a big win, tweeting: "Our big Kentucky rally on Monday night had a massive impact on all of the races. The increase in governor's race was at least 15 points and maybe 20. Will be in Louisiana."

The president is betting his most vocal supporters will remain loyal, no matter what he does.

QUESTION: If he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, would you vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would have to know why he shot him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, why did he shoot him?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, one very important thing to note, the president did not talk to reporters as he left the White House for this rally in Louisiana later on this evening.

That is notable because, as the president heads out of the White House for these rallies, he typically talks to reporters. That may mean he's saving up his energy and what he has to say for later on tonight.

But, Wolf, I talked to a campaign official -- senior official with this campaign, who did not rule out the president may be talking about not only the whistle-blower, but other officials who have been testifying in this impeachment inquiry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will monitor that, together with you.

Jim Acosta, thank you.

But joining us now, Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. He is on the Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead in the impeachment investigation right now.

Thanks so much, Congressman, for joining us.

So let's get right to Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He laid out a quid pro quo in his closed-door testimony. What sort of follow-up questions do you think you're going to have for him?

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Well, it's very important that the American public see for itself Ambassador Taylor's testimony. I'm glad the transcript is out. I'm glad he will be in public session soon.

This is an infantry officer who served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam. This is a graduate of West Point. This is a guy who spent 40 years serving in the military and in the Foreign Service in some real hot spots, some hardship posts around the world.

And he knows right from wrong. And when he saw what was happening -- and, remember, he replaced Yovanovitch and came to the party a little bit late. And he, at first, tried to read the best intentions into what he was seeing.

But then it became unmistakably clear that an improper political objective was being pushed on the Ukrainians, a quid pro quo. He lays it out very clearly. He's a key witness to what happened.

BLITZER: In the transcript that was just released, the ambassador, Ambassador Taylor, answered one of your questions by saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "The reason for investigating Burisma was to cast Vice President Biden in a bad light."

Is it plausible that key players didn't make the connection to the Bidens?

MALONEY: No, it was their purpose.

The reason I asked that question is because it detonates this Republican talking point that this was a generic concern about corruption or a request for investigations generically of some type of wrongdoing in Ukraine.

This was always and explicitly about the Bidens and about the 2016 campaign. And the only other thing it was about were the shabby financial interests of Rudy Giuliani's now indicted clients.

[18:15:04]

But that toxic mix of financial shenanigans and political gain was at the heart of this. And guys like Bill Taylor, thank God for them, don't pull their punches. And when he saw it, he did everything to bring it to his superiors to do the right thing, to try to stop it within the system.

And he came and responded to a subpoena and told the truth. And I'm glad the public's going to hear it for themselves. And the State Department should release his notes and the other documents that he kept.

This is a copious notetaker. And the State Department has refused to release those documents, which is -- which is wrong.

BLITZER: After hearing Ambassador Taylor's closed-door testimony -- and you heard it -- you asked questions as well -- how certain are you that President Trump was actually directing this quid pro quo?

MALONEY: Oh, 100 percent. I mean, this is -- this starts and stops with the president. This is

not some rogue project being done by others. There's no question that the president was personally, with Rudy Giuliani, directing this quid pro quo.

And I want to say, Wolf, it's heartbreaking to realize that. I represent a district that voted for the president. I don't take any pleasure in reading or hearing about the president's explicit wrongdoing in linking foreign assistance to helping him in a political campaign.

It's heartbreaking that any American president would engage in this type of activity. But it is unmistakable. And we must not shrink from it. We must hold him accountable.

BLITZER: Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

MALONEY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues next.

And we're going to have much more on the White House. And Rudy Giuliani, he is now lawyering up, as the impeachment probe picks up steam.

We're going to talk about that, the upcoming public testimony, and a lot more with the former U.S. attorney -- there, you see him -- Preet Bharara.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:41]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the lead-up to televised impeachment hearings now set to begin in one week.

Tonight, Rudy Giuliani says he's hired three lawyers to represent him as he faces scrutiny by Congress and by federal prosecutors in New York.

We're joined now by the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. He is a CNN senior legal analyst.

Preet, Rudy Giuliani was once the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York as well. He's just announced a full-scale criminal defense legal team, as more and more witnesses are describing his interference in U.S. policy towards Ukraine.

We know Giuliani at one point was paid at least $500,000 by one of his Ukrainian associates. So, how do you see this unfolding?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I presume there will be an investigation that will be ongoing.

I know that the House committee -- one of the House committees has asked for his testimony and asked for documents as well. So, even someone like Rudy Giuliani, who at one point was a pretty significantly good lawyer, realizes that you need outside counsel.

I think he's had some trouble finding counsel, based on conversations I have had with a number of people. He settled on these few folks, among others possibly. I don't know that he's in true criminal jeopardy. But at a minimum, when people are beginning to investigate you, and the investigation is overt, meaning everyone knows that it's happening, and there have been requests for documents, you want to have able counsel at your side to sift through it.

In the same way that the president needs counsel, Rudy Giuliani does now as well. But I don't know where necessarily it will lead.

BLITZER: When you say he has had trouble finding lawyers, why do you say that?

BHARARA: I have some acquaintances in the legal community in New York. And I know that he's been asking around, trying to see if various people would represent him.

And for a number of reasons, legitimate, I think some people have found it difficult to decide to represent Rudy Giuliani, even though it'd be a high-profile investigation and a high-profile case. It comes with some downsides, including, among other things, not knowing if your client is going to listen to -- listen to you, and not knowing whether or not you're going to have to become involved in some tangential way or direct way with the defense of the president.

Not knowing whether or not Rudy Giuliani is going to bring in other lawyers that you might not be able to get along with properly, whether the defense is going to be straight up or not. There are a lot of reasons why people will even forego high-profile representations. And Rudy Giuliani presents a particular and especially thorny one.

BLITZER: As you know, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine is set to testify publicly next week.

And we have now seen his closed-door testimony, where he clearly lays out a quid pro quo. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, has also revised his testimony to acknowledge that kind of leverage over the Ukrainians.

So what does that tell you?

BHARARA: It tells me that Gordon Sondland probably has talked to a lawyer also. And he gave particular testimony that he realized wasn't going to sit well and wasn't going to age well.

And it's a significant thing when a witness comes before Congress, because, the first time around, you want to make sure you get all the facts right, you want to make sure that your recollection is fully and completely refreshed with documents and other material that you may have in your possession or that the people who are looking at you will give you. And to testify a great length for a long time, and then have to come back and revise, given the strength of other people's testimony, including Bill Taylor's, tells you that the narrative is developing in a pretty solid way that there was a this for that, which is English for the Latin quid pro quo.

[18:25:07]

And he felt the need, to avoid his own jeopardy, to correct his testimony. So I think that's very significant.

BLITZER: I think so too.

Preet Bharara, thanks very much.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: The Trump White House is bracing for televised impeachment hearings to begin next week.

So, how damaging will the first testimony be?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We have new details on very damaging testimony by a key impeachment witness, as House Democrats are now ready to begin televised hearings next week. Let's dig deeper into all of what we're learning right now about the testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. He repeatedly described the quid pro quo to lawmakers behind closed doors and he's now scheduled to publicly testify one week from today.

We're joined by our correspondents and our analysts.

And, Kylie, you've been doing a lot of reporting on all of this. But what are the most fascinating elements, what you're learning about the attitude towards the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, over at the State Department?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So we've talked to a lot of foreign service officers, career foreign service officers. And the general sentiment at the State Department is that they have lost confidence in Secretary Pompeo.

And the reality here is that he was urged time and time again to support Ambassador Yovanovitch, who was ousted at the order of President Trump because he had lost confidence in her, and Secretary Pompeo failed to ever provide that support.

And so our report is that there has really been this sea change at the department. And it's important to note, however, that Pompeo, when he came in, he really did a number of good things for folks at the department who felt that they were threatened during the Tillerson era. And he was bringing back -- he was letting of some hiring freezes. He was doing good things. And we heard about that during the testimony from one of his former top advisers, Michael McKinley. He spoke to the things that Pompeo did that were good.

But the problem now is that folks are really just devastated with what's happening and the lack of support that they are getting from Pompeo. And I also think it's important to note that they are fearful of retaliation and because Pompeo is so close with President Trump.

I talked to a number of career foreign service officers who were fearful that those who have worked with those on the Hill, looking into this impeachment inquiry, could face retaliation if Secretary Pompeo remains the secretary of state. And that's one of the reasons they hope that he moves on. And that's obviously a possibility with this open Kansas seat.

BLITZER: He might run for the Senate from Kansas.

Pamela, You've been doing a lot of reporting on how the White House is gearing up for all of this.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The White House is bringing on two new comms professionals, including a former treasury secretary official and a former attorney general in Florida, Pam Bondi. So it's a tacit acknowledgement of the White House needing help with this messaging, especially as we enter phase two of this impeachment inquiry with these public hearings starting with Bill Taylor next week.

And we're told by sources that White House officials have been most concerned about Bill Taylor's testimony. They view his testimony so far as being the most damning for the president. And now, it's going to be brought to life in a public hearing next week. Of course, allies point to the fact that he was removed from the president and he didn't speak directly to him. But the White House is gearing up, they're going to be monitoring it in real-time, talking points, developments. This is definitely entering a new phase.

BLITZER: Tell us about this cable this -- Samantha Vinograd used to work in the National Security Council during the Obama administration -- that the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine sent to Secretary Pompeo is, described as a first-person cable. Tell us about that.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I've actually written cables. I've read more than I can count. Typically, they're written in the first person. They're written in the third-person. So Bolton telling Bill Taylor to do this in the first-person, I think, is really a cry for an official documentation of how important this was to Bill Taylor as a career foreign service officer.

And, normally, when you do these cables, there's a specific distribution list, they are used to normally communicate information from overseas to what we a mainstay or headquarters about something going on in a foreign country. In other cases, they are used to officially document concerns.

And while Bolton telling Bill Taylor to write a cable to Pompeo is somewhat of a cop-out, you have to wonder why Bolton did not raise this directly with Pompeo. I think it's an effort to establish an official paper trail for eternity of Bill Taylor's concerns.

The question, of course, is what Pompeo did with this cable. We know that he took it to the White House. But I think it is an important move to make this an official part of the record.

BLITZER: I assume, Sabrina, that Gordon Sonderland, the current U.S. ambassador to the European Union, a political appointee, someone who gave a million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee, it was rewarded with this ambassadorship, the White House must have assumed he'd be a very ,very positive, good witness for the president's cause. But when he revised his testimony and refreshed his memory, it didn't turn out necessarily the way the White House wanted.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And when you look at the way in which the president has sought to undermine the credibility of some of these other witnesses, he's tried to brand them as never-Trumpers, well, now you have someone who is essentially a Trump loyalist revising his testimony to say, yes, in fact, there was a quid pro quo.

And when you read Bill Taylor's testimony, the transcript of what he told investigators, he lays out in great detail conversations he had with Gordon Sondland in which Sondland told him that Trump was adamant that the Ukrainian president launched an investigation into the Bidens and to the 2016 election and only if he did so with that military assistance to Ukraine be provided by the U.S. government.

[18:35:18]

So I think that when it comes to Republicans and the way that they have reacted though to is Sondland revising testimony, that's telling. Because as we think about how this will all be received on Capitol Hill, you have a lot of Republicans who initially said there was no quid pro quo, now moving the goalpost and saying, okay, there may have been a quid pro quo but it's not an impeachable offense. And so I think that's what to watch for when it comes to Republicans and the impending trial in the Senate if and when House Democrats pass --

BLITZER: It's one thing to read hundreds of pages of transcripts. It's another thing to see these individuals testify before a live television audience, millions of people watching. Nobody appreciates that more than President Trump himself who is like me and I assume like you, an avid cable news watcher.

VINOGRAD: He probably watches more.

BROWN: Yes.

BLITZER: I watch a lot too, but I'm sure you watch a lot as well. This potentially could be rather explosive starting a week from today.

BEOWN: The White House is no stranger to high profile public hearings. You had Robert Mueller. You had James Comey. But what makes this different is the consequences, not just the political costs. I mean, it's the fact that this is about impeachment, that this is helping the Democrats build their impeachment case for a vote.

And so, certainly, the White House is concerned looking ahead to that. Because what they've been banking on so far is that when the selective leaks that have actually been born out now with transcripts being released, that it's too much for the average person to really take in, understand what it all means, digest it.

One source I spoke said, if you go to someone outside of the bubble and you ask them what this is all about, they'd say some call with Ukraine. They wouldn't really know. But now, this is going to be brought to life, all of this. The written testimony, the private statements and so forth, all of this will be brought to life in these public hearings, again, starting with Bill Taylor, who the White House views as particularly the most damaging -- who could provide the most damaging testimony for the president on the quid pro quo aspect.

BLITZER: I'll be curious to see if the president's former national security officer, John Bolton, testifies, because that could be pretty explosive as well.

Everybody stick around. There's more breaking news we're following.

Roger Stone's criminal trial here in Washington begins as key figures from the Trump world and the Russia probe will be testifying against him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, Roger Stone's criminal trial is under way here in Washington and prosecutors are revealing some high profile witnesses will testify against the long-time Trump ally, including the president's former strategist, Steve Bannon.

Our Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is here. Shimon, you were there in the courtroom all day. So what else did we learn from today's testimony?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: One of the big things that I've noticed here is that while Donald Trump is not a witness and he's not in this courtroom, but his name came up many, many times, prosecutors right out of the gate in their opening statement, and giving a motive as to why Roger Stone, would, what they say, lie to members of Congress. They say, basically, it's because the truth looked bad for Trump, the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump. So Donald Trump is looming large over this trial.

And then we heard prosecutors put on their first witness, who was a former FBI agent, who actually worked for Mueller, she was in charge of the Roger Stone case. And just a number of contacts that Roger Stone had with Donald Trump during the height of the WikiLeaks saga, as WikiLeaks was claiming to have these emails, as reports were coming in at the DNC had been hacked, prosecutors had this FBI agent talk about the number of times Roger Stone was in communication with then candidate Trump.

They don't know what was said but they certainly were able to pull records to show how many times, and it was several times.

And then, obviously, as you mentioned, Wolf, Steve Bannon, he's going to be a big player in this trial. They came out right out of the gate talking about how Roger Stone and Steve Bannon were talking a lot during this. He even went to Steve Bannon, Roger stone did and said, I know how we can win this campaign. And then he said, it ain't pretty. And then Steve Bannon said to him, call me ASAP.

So Steve Bannon is going to be a big figure. And then other person, Rick Gates, another person who worked very closely on the campaign, he was deputy chairman on the campaign, he is going to be testifying as well about what he knew and in terms of what Roger Stone was saying about his contacts with this middle man, this intermediary into WikiLeaks and how much information was he sharing.

BLITZER: And because accusation among the charges against him is that he lied under oath before Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks, with Russians and his communications with the White House with the campaign.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, with the campaign, and mostly with WikiLeaks, The fact that he was hiding this when they were asking him, were you talking to people? Were you going to intermediaries? Were you talking to people in the Trump campaign? And so they're trying to show that, actually, he lied about this.

[18:45:02]

He was having a lot more contact with people, and not just regular people in the campaign. I mean, the prosecutors called Steve Bannon, the CEO of the campaign, high level people inside the campaign that Roger Stone was keeping them informed about what he was trying to do to ultimately help Donald Trump, help the campaign by trying to reach out to WikiLeaks and get information from Julian Assange.

BLITZER: The U.S. intelligence community says the Russians provided all that information to WikiLeaks to distribute. It's a serious -- serious case. We will watch it closely, Shimon, together with you. Thank you very much.

There's more breaking news just ahead. Jeff Session is getting ready to jump back into politics a year after President Trump forced him out as attorney general.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:50:25]

BLITZER: We have breaking news on the next big move by the president's ousted attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

Our political reporter Rebecca Buck is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Rebecca, we're learning Sessions, what -- is about to announce a run for the U.S. Senate again?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.

Sources telling CNN that sessions will announce tomorrow that he is jumping into what is already a crowded Republican race for Senate in Alabama, the Republican primary, but of course, Sessions who served as a senator in Alabama is expected to become almost an instant front- runner in this race.

One complicating factor, though, his strained relationship with President Trump. This is setting up potentially a major clash between the president and his former attorney general. Of course, President Trump has made no secret of his negative feelings for Jeff Sessions.

We have something of a retrospective to show you here of his comments about Sessions. He said he's very weak. He's disgraceful, recently today he said he never took control of the Justice Department.

So, he has not been shy to criticize Sessions in the past. The question is how soon will he begin to criticize him in this race and how intense will his attacks on Sessions be? We are expecting him, of course, to weigh in.

Another interesting dynamic, though, is that Sessions will not be backed up by the GOP establishment with this decision. Mitch McConnell did not urge him to run in this race. The Republican Party felt very strong about the field that they had in Alabama, so Sessions going it alone, relying on his longstanding relationships with Alabama voters to carry him in this race is a big risk and it to be very dramatic.

BLITZER: Well, he does get -- he's got to get through a tough primary in order to be the Republican nominee and face the incumbent Democrat. We'll see what's happening over there. Thanks very much, Rebecca, for that update.

Just ahead, we are getting new details of the horrific massacre on the nine women and children in Mexico. Are authorities any closer to figuring out who attacked them and why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:58]

BLITZER: We are following the investigation of the brutal ambush massacre of a family in Mexico. The manhunt for suspects is intensifying tonight, along with the mystery surrounding the attack.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman is near the border in Arizona for us.

Gary, what are you learning about this case?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, eight people survived this horrifying massacre. All of them are children. Two of them are babies. Not even old enough to walk or talk. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Tonight authorities still trying to determine who was behind Monday's ambush that left nine people dead, three women and six children. Mexico's secretary of security telling reporters today a man who was arrested in the investigation is not involved in the case.

WILLIE JESSOP, FAMILY MEMBER OF MEXICO ATTACK VICTIMS: It's a miracle any of them are alive.

TUCHMAN: This as new details are emerging from the eight survivors of the massacre. All children, two of them babies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up.

TUCHMAN: The attack targeted a caravan of mothers and children, all people who lived in a fundamentalist Mormon community in northern Mexico where the family has been for generations.

LAFE LANGFORD, FAMILY MEMBER OF MEXICO ATTACK VICTIMS: We don't have the capacity just to imagine what she's children went through.

TUCHMAN: Family members say they can't fathom how this happened.

JESSOP: Nobody should see their little brothers or sisters in this situation or father, and see their mother slaughtered, children slaughtered and massacred in the most heinous ways possible.

TUCHMAN: Relatives say one of the survivors, 13-year-old Devin Langford, watched his mother and two brothers die.

LANGFORD: What Devin has told us is that one of the three vehicles was shot up and then set ablaze and then the two vehicles that went further on ahead, Christina was driving in front and when our Aunt Donna and her nine children came up to Christina's vehicle, she was already lying on the ground lifeless and these children witnessed this.

TUCHMAN: The children telling relatives as soon as Donna saw Christina dead, she started yelling at them to duck down, putting the babies under the dashboard to hide them. Moments later, Donna was dead.

When it was over, Donna hid his bleeding siblings in bushes and covering them with branches before walking 14 miles for help. The family says all five children hospitalized are Donna Langford's kids. Relatives say they're all expected to survive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: As we speak, family members who visited the children here have driven across the border, are in Mexico and are driving in a convoy. They will drive very close by where this massacre happened. They are driving there because they will be attending funerals that will take place tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, heartbreaking, heartbreaking story. Awful.

Gary Tuchman, thanks very much for that update.

And to our viewers, thank very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.