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Pence Aide Who Was on Ukraine Call Testifying Now; Bill Taylor: "Understood Ukraine Aid Would Be Held Until an Investigation Announced"; Trump Wanted Barr to Hold New Conference Clearing Him on Ukraine; Sessions Announces Run for Alabama Senate Seat. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired November 7, 2019 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

We start this morning with breaking news. New testimony is underway right now on Capitol Hill. And for the first time in the impeachment inquiry, this witness comes from Vice President Mike Pence's office.

Jennifer Williams is speaking to investigators behind closed doors. She is a senior adviser to the vice president on European and Russian affairs.

She also was on the now infamous July 25th call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. A source telling CNN that Williams was concerned by what she heard, but no indication that she raised those concerns to higher-ups.

We are also watching to see if President Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, will be appearing as requested by Congress today. Stand by to stand by there.

And of course, there's another chance that more transcripts from these closed-door interviews could be released as we learned during yesterday's show, all ahead of what's becoming the main event, the first public hearings to be held all starting next week.

Let's first get to Capitol Hill. Phil Mattingly is there.

Phil, first and foremost, what are you hearing? Jennifer Williams is behind closed doors. What are you hearing about her testimony and how he fits into this entire thing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I think it's the latter point it's important to point out. Jennifer Williams did show up. She was subpoenaed this morning, showed up at 9:30 a.m. to start her testimony.

And the reason she is there is the Democrat's effort to paint the whole picture of what was going on. Find as many people as they can who were involved in key elements of the investigation they're pursuing to fill in the picture or, frankly, tie up any loose ends.

Jennifer Williams, as you noted, is a national security aide to Vice President Pence, but she's a career State Department employee. She was detailed to the vice president's office, an expert in European and Russian affairs.

She was on the July 25th call where sources say she had concerns about that call. It's unclear if she raised any of those concerns internally, but the concerns existed.

Another key meeting she attended was September 1st, the meeting between Vice President Pence and Ukrainian President Zelensky.

After that meeting, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, testified that he informed a top Ukrainian adviser to Zelensky that U.S. aid was contingent on Ukrainians putting out a statement saying they would pursue investigations into political rivals of President Trump.

That was a new detail unveiled this week. Everybody is trying to piece together how everybody saw this in real time, and Jennifer Williams is a key player. That's why she's behind closed doors at this moment. We'll see what that testimony brings.

Another key point you raised. John Bolton was at least invited to attend this morning. He is not here. That's a pretty safe assumption that he's not going to be here. Still a question of whether Democrats will be able to hear from him in the future.

At this point, Jennifer Williams behind closed doors, likely to be one of the, if not the last, closed-door deposition where they get attendance, and then they'll move to public hearings, which obviously everyone is waited for with bated breath -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Phil, while waiting to see if more transcription will be released, folks there still seem to be absorbing and reacting to the testimony released from the current top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. What are you hearing?

MATTINGLY: That's exactly right. Look, when Bill Taylor testified, you have a number of Democrats come out and say, wow, this was serious stuff.

We see why that was the case. We read through the deposition. I think one of the key things that everybody is picking up on, on the Democratic side, is the idea that he said he had, quote, "a clear understanding that the U.S. aid to Ukraine was in fact contingent on that public statement."

Again, the heart of all of this is whether the Ukrainians were aware of aid was held up at all, and, B, whether or not there was any type of quid pro quo.

Republicans have countered, if you look at the transcript, it makes clear that Bill Taylor never spoke directly with President Trump, never interacted with President Trump, and never got orders from President Trump related to the money.

But he did talk to Ambassador Sondland, who was speaking to President Trump, and that's how he got that impression.

I think you'll see Bill Taylor testify next Wednesday, one of the first witnesses to testify. This will see what Democrats are really focusing on, how he knew about this, why he believed this, and obviously the overall statement of the department itself.

One last thing to keep in mind, I was speaking to one Democratic Senator yesterday, who knows Bill Taylor and has worked with him, and he said the guy is straight out of center casting.

Democrat are aware of that. They recognize it will be camera, will be for everyone to see, and they need to make their case to the public and they think he's a good witness to do just that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: While he's the first of what would be definitely more than one, the first will be the one to leave an impression and real mark on how this proceeds.

Good to see you, Phil. Thank you so much.

Also new this morning, a source is confirming to CNN, President Trump did ask the Attorney General Bill Barr to hold a news conference in an effort to clear him of any wrongdoing with regard the phone call with the Ukraine president.

The attorney general ultimately declining to go along with it. This effort was first reported by the "Washington Post", and President Trump this morning none too happy about it.


CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has the details.

Jessica, what more are you hearing about this ask from President Trump and what impact it has now?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, first of all, the president pushing back and attacking the media via three separate tweets in quick succession this morning saying he never asked the attorney general to hold a news conference here.

We have confirmed with the source familiar that the president did in fact raise this idea in conversations, and he said that he thought a press conference from Bill Barr would help project that message that the president did nothing wrong.

The "Washington Post," they reported that the attorney general in fact refused to hold that press conference to declare that the president did nothing wrong or illegal on that July 25th phone call.

It is notable what the Department of Justice did do. When the transcript of the Trump/Zelensky call was released at the end of September, that's when the DOJ announced in a statement that Criminal Division prosecutors had found no wrongdoing by the president, at least in the realm of campaign finance law.

In addition, the DOJ around that time also released a legal memo on why the Intel Community's inspector general was not required to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress.

The DOJ, in a sense, came to the defense of the president, Kate, even though it wasn't via the press conference by the attorney general.

On the flip side, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, we know, of course, operating under the realm of the DOJ, they are still leading that investigation into Rudy Giuliani about his business dealings in Ukraine. That also incorporates a counter-intelligence investigation.

So you have two sides of the coin here. They prosecutors in New York still going full steam ahead while the DOJ at the time that transcript was released not holding a press conference, but still putting out a public statement saying the president did nothing wrong here in terms of campaign finance -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thank you so much for that. Really appreciate it.

Joining me now for much more, David Sanger, CNN's political and national security analyst, and national security correspondent for the "New York Times," Michael Allen, who served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, and Kylie Atwood, CNN national security reporter.

And thank you all for being here.

David, just going off what Jessica was talking about, the Department of Justice, to this point, right, really has been several weeks, not several years, has largely escaped much of the scrutiny in terms of the department, as well as the attorney general, but now this does put them squarely in the spotlight, at least for a moment.

What do you think this means for the attorney general, for the Justice Department?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, for the attorney general, he has frequently been criticized for being overly political, for basically stepping out to clear the president.

He sort of over-explained what was in the Mueller report. It turned out when we read the Mueller report, it was a little more damning than the description of it.

He has declined at various moments to say there was an issue here. You saw that when the whistleblowers complaints first came up.

So it's interesting that the step he wouldn't take was to go out and defend the president.

The president is down to three major defenders inside the administration. It's Bill Barr, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Mike Pence, who perhaps -- we'll hear from soon in New Hampshire. Those are the last three, the inner core. All three of them, we have the question, particularly for Pompeo and Pence, what did they know of the quid pro quo and when.

BOLDUAN: What did they know and when. Great reporting, David, about what this has meant for Mike Pompeo, and what this has meant for the department.

Kylie, you also had great reporting for that as well on the State Department and what this moment means for the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, how he did not come to the defense the Marie Yovanovitch, and how they had pushed to get the money for Ukraine released.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. We have heard from sources over the last few months that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was an advocate for releasing the security assistance to Ukraine.

On the flip side of that, we do not have evidence that Secretary Pompeo was over at the White House repeatedly knocking on the door and urging for this assistance to be let go.

In fact, when we saw Bill Taylor's testimony, we heard that he specifically sent a first-person cable to Secretary Pompeo. He was urged to do so by the former national security adviser, John Bolton.

That cable documented his concern that this Ukraine assistance appeared to be held up for the political agenda of President Trump.


But Secretary Pompeo never responded to Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who is still on the job there.

He's one of the folks expected to come forward for a public testimony next week. He's probably going to highlight even more details about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's role, who has really tried to remove himself from the drama surrounding this inquiry.

BOLDUAN: We'll see how long that continues when Bill Taylor speaks publicly.

On that point, Michael, you worked with the Security Council previously, but also for the House Intelligence Committee previously.

Bill Taylor did offer some pretty explosive testimony behind closed doors. Here's one of the key lines of the testimony, the transcript that was released: "That was my understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president committed to pursue an investigation."

That was according to the transcript. It's one thing to see it in print, but what is the impact of hearing that in a public hearing?

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MEMBER, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I think Chairman Schiff will be walking a tightrope. He has a lot of things to keep in mind with regard to Democratic members who won in the last election in Trump districts.

So he has a first chance to make a great first impression by trying to paint the narrative that indeed inappropriately the president of the United States had conditioned a White House visit and security aid on domestic political benefit. So he's really got to be able to paint this.

I'm told from older, you know, staff members I used to work with up on the Hill that the Democrats are disappointed in the hearings they've had so far. Certainly, with Corey Lewandowski, also with Bob Mueller.

So they really know this is going to be a tough thing that they have to pull off, and they need to paint it very well in order to inform the American public of their case, and that's that the president should be impeached.

BOLDUAN: With this transcript that's released from Taylor, and also Sondland's revision, we have seen an evolution, if you will, in terms of the defense from allies of the president on Capitol Hill. Two of the latest come from Lindsey Graham yesterday. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.

Why did Sondland change his testimony? Was there a connection between Sondland and Democratic operatives on the committee? Did he talk to Schiff? Did he talk to Schiff staffers?

I've been a lawyer for a very long time. When somebody changes their testimony, they suddenly recall something they didn't know before, it makes me incredibly suspicious.

Why did Sondland change his mind? What prompted him to change his mind about maybe there was a quid pro quo when I said there wasn't.


BOLDUAN: So, now, the administration is too incompetent to pull off a quid pro quo, and Gordon Sondland, a booster of President Trump, is now in with Democrats. What do you do with that?

SANGER: It's clear to me why Ambassador Sondland had to change his account. Everybody else who was in that meeting with him had a different memory of the meeting than he did. He was hanging out there with a possible perjury charge, right?

I happened to run into him at Dulles Airport on Sunday as he was coming into town. We were getting off airplanes at the time. I talked to him. He didn't say much other than he wanted to get this all over and get back to work, which I'm sure is true.

But it's pretty clear that he recognized that he was offering the only testimony that was out of sync. That's what it's come down to at this point. We all have a pretty firm grasp of the facts here. The facts were as

Bill Taylor laid out. I think Bill Taylor will be a credible witness, former Vietnam vet, longtime foreign service officer.

The facts are, it seems, that the president said the aid will not be released until there were these two investigations. The question now is, is that improper? And is it impeachable?

The improper part is, yes, there are quid pro quos in foreign policy all the time, but it's usually a national interest traded for another. This is national interest for a narrow political purpose. That's different.

And whether it's impeachable, that's up to Congress. And whether it's worthy of conviction is up to the Senate.

BOLDUAN: And it heads into another chapter beginning next week. So many more things to discuss when that all comes.

Thank you, David. I really appreciate it.

SANGER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Michael, great to see you. Thank you.

Kylie, I appreciate it.


Coming up for us, one year to the day after being pushed out by President Trump, Jeff Sessions plots his political comeback. What does that look like? And what does the president think about it?

Plus, Steve Bannon back in the spotlight, set to take the stand in the Roger Stone trial. What he and Rick Gates could reveal about stolen Democratic e-mails in the 2016 campaign.



BOLDUAN: Don't call it a comeback, friends. Jeff Sessions, the longtime Republican Senator, short-time attorney general that President Trump fired one year ago to the day, is set to throw his hat back in the ring for his old Senate seat.

What could this mean for control of the Senate? Most immediately, what does President Trump have to say about it, considering what he's said about Jeff Sessions in the past.

Jeff Zeleny broke this story. He joins me now.

Jeff, what does the president think about Sessions running again?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we do know what President Trump thinking about Jeff Sessions. He's made that very clear.

I'm in Concord, New Hampshire, as Vice President Pence is inside the statehouse filing the official paperwork for the Trump/Pence 2020.

But, Kate, all eyes inside the White House and throughout the Republican establishment are on what the president is going to say about Jeff Sessions.

He is, of course -- it was just a year ago today that the president fired him.

Jeff Sessions was largely quiet during that taunting as the president belittled him all over not recusing himself in the Russia probe.

But Jeff Sessions is having a comeback. He's announcing later today he's going to run for the Republican primary race in Alabama.

Of course, President Trump has already pledged to campaign against Jeff Sessions. That would be a fascinating dynamic to watch play out over the next several months.

We'll get a first look at that on Saturday, perhaps, when President Trump travels to Alabama for a football game. Of course, Alabama is playing LSU in the biggest college football game of the week, politics also front and center there. So we'll see what Jeff Sessions says when he gets in.

Also, Vice President Pence is just about to sign that paperwork to make President Trump an official 2020 candidate here in New Hampshire -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: We'll see how the president navigates that possible political situation of 'Bama versus LSU. We'll see that on Saturday.


BOLDUAN: We'll also get back to Jeff if he --


ZELENY: He won't take sides in that race, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Definitely, smart about that one.

Good to see you, Jeff. Thank you.

ZELENY: All right.

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is Alabama-based political consultant, David Mowery, who has worked on Republican and Democratic campaigns.

Good to see you, David.

DAVID MOWERY, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Good to see you, too, Kate. How are you?

BOLDUAN: I'm good, thank you. Good to have you back on.

Are you surprised that Sessions is jumping back in?

MOWERY: A little bit, just because the race appeared to be set. And with the Trump factor, with Trump saying he's going to campaign against him. I think it's definitely a gamble on his part for a guy who historically doesn't like gambling.

BOLDUAN: All the reporting is that he did not give Trump a heads-up before this became known. It's impossible to know exactly what Trump will say in reaction to it, considering the roller coaster relationship they've had all throughout.

Does the Trump factor -- how much do you think President Trump matters in the Senate race? I would say a lot. But Jeff Sessions has held that seat for 20 years. Voters know him.

MOWERY: Jeff Sessions is a longtime Senator from Alabama, the attorney general before that. He was a nominee for U.S. attorney or federal judge before that. He's well known and well liked among the hardcore conservatives that were the base of the party forever.

He basically was the face of Alabama Republicans for almost 20 years. And he helped propel Trump to the nomination and, thus, to the presidency, so it's interesting to see how this will play out.

I don't know if it would be the deciding factor, but I know it would be a factor.

Sessions, as he jumps in, the polling I have seen, shows him as the frontrunner. The upends the political calculus. For everyone in the race, it's crazy what it does to the numbers and to everybody else's place on the ballot.

BOLDUAN: You say, with Sessions getting in, it turns into funhouse version of what happened in Kentucky. Please explain.

MOWERY: Well, because Trump came in, and he couldn't bring Bevin over the line, right? His unpopularity. So the question is, you have three pretty well -- they're sore of well known, but in donor and Republican circles, three or four candidates that are running.

Then you have Sessions come in, and, does the Trump -- A, does Trump try to help Sessions. But, B, does he endorse another candidate to try to try to raise that candidate up?

Then you have the Shelby factor. And what Shelby's endorsement is -- he's signal he would endorse Sessions over the weekend if he jumped in.


There's so many factors to say figure out. It will be a lot of fun, I think.

BOLDUAN: I know you're never in the predictions game. But it was a surprise when Doug Jones, as a Democrat, won that seat. What does this do for Doug Jones, better or worse chance he'll be reelected?

MOWERY: I think the happiest person in the world right now is probably Doug Jones. It makes a primary fight that much crazier. It makes them have to stake out further positions to the right. It makes a runoff more likely. It makes a contentious runoff more likely.

Jones can sit back, be above the fray, and be the guy saying, I'm working hard for regular Alabamians, while these guys fight over who loves Trump more or hates Trump less.

Once that's decided, in May, I think when the runoff will be decided, then we have four or five more months of -- whoever the nominee is, and is that nominee a weakened nominee? Do people resent the president getting involved? Do people resent who the nominee is? And how does that affect Jones in his ability to bring disaffected voters over the --



MOWERY: It's anybody's guess.

BOLDUAN: Not only do you have Sessions, you have a former auburn football coach running, a current member of Congress, A current secretary of state, and scandal-plagued Ray Moore who is also running in the primary.

Yet again, David, we'll be watching Alabama yet again.

Good to see you.

MOWERY: Good to see you, too. Thanks for having me on.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, he testified he was so alarmed by the president's call that he, who is a national security expert on Ukraine at the White House, he raised it to his superiors. He was disparaged as a Never-Trumper. Now we have reporting on Colonel Alexander Vindman and his future plans as he is still working every day at the White House. Details next.