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Testimony Transcripts Reveal Giuliani's Central Role in Ukraine Scandal; Giuliani Hires Legal Team Amid Impeachment Inquiry; U.S. Futures Higher After Beijing Says U.S. and China May Start to Roll Back Tariffs. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 7, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


The second witness to actually show up this week in the impeachment probe arrived on the Hill just moments ago. There she is. That is Jennifer Williams. She's an aide to the vice president. And notably, she was on that July 25th call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. We are told she was concerned by what she heard. Was the vice president?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yet one more person on that call with firsthand knowledge saying the same thing. We are now less than one week from the first public hearings in this investigation. That is when the top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, presidential Trump appointee will answer questions in public view. His testimony transcripts are already giving us a stunning preview of what he will say. Detailed notes on the quid pro quo conversations and how -- and particularly Giuliani's role in the Ukraine dealings could have led to, in his words, quote, "a nightmare scenario."

HARLOW: There's also some new pretty startling reporting this morning that President Trump discussed wanting backup from his attorney general. A source tells CNN that Trump brought up the idea of Bill Barr holding a news conference to say publicly that the president did nothing wrong on the Ukraine phone call. The president is pushing back against that this morning.

But let's begin with the latest on the impeachment probe from Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is here.

So we just saw Jennifer Williams walk in. Not a name a lot of people know but I think becoming more and more central to all of this. What we are expecting to hear from her?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. When -- Poppy, when you talk to House investigators, sources familiar with what the House investigation is looking for here, they underscore that there's a lot of import to Jennifer Williams' testimony. There's a reason why she's in and there's a reason why people on the Democratic side are happy she's decided to testify under subpoena which her lawyer said she would do last night. She's obviously shown up.

Here's why she matters. As you guys noted, she is a close aide to Vice President Mike Pence. She's a career State Department official who was detailed over to the vice president's office as a special adviser on European and Russian affairs. Why investigators have been very interested in her perspective on things is, as you noted, she was on that July 25th call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky. Sources say she had concerns about the content of that call. Now what's unclear is how far up the line she raised those concerns internally. But there is an understanding she had concerns.

There's also another element here that's key with Jennifer Williams. She was with the vice president in the September 1st meeting in Warsaw between Vice President Pence and Ukrainian President Zelensky. It was after that meeting when E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland said he explicitly told a top aide to President Zelensky that U.S. aid to Ukraine, nearly $400 million, was contingent on the Ukrainians releasing a statement regarding investigations into political rivals of President Trump.

So that's among the things the Democratic investigators want to get a read on. They also want a read on where the vice president was generally on this thing in that office. Again, connecting all the dots as we head towards that public hearing phase -- guys.

SCIUTTO: And one thing that's been clear from Bill Taylor's testimony yesterday was there were a number of people who had real concerns about that call and the exchange being made there, to the point where Taylor in his case, he wrote a limited distribution cable to Secretary Pompeo beginning with the words, "I am concerned." I mean, that's part of the consistent story that's coming together here, is it not?

MATTINGLY: Yes. In a first person cable, Jim. The State Department, you know that that is a very rare thing when a diplomat will put something in a first person context. And I think that's the point the Democrats have been making about the public hearings next week is they believe that for the most part the facts are not in dispute about how the administration was running to some degree a rogue foreign policy as it pertained to Ukraine. That's a picture they want to paint. The role of Rudy Giuliani, who's often in the periphery to some degree but was clearly operating central to the president's understanding of what was happening, what the president wanted related to Ukraine.

But you also have Bill Taylor in that testimony yesterday making clear that it was his firm impression that the U.S. assistance to Ukraine was, in fact, contingent on Ukraine ordering special investigations or ordering investigations into the president's political rivals.

Now Republicans have made very clear, and they point to specific parts of Taylor's deposition where he says he never spoke to the president personally. He never heard this directly from the president. His impression came from Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U. So I think the issue right now is, can Democrats connect this directly to the president? [09:05:03]

Republicans say they can't. Democrats say the entire picture makes it almost impossible for it not to have come from the president. That's what we're going to see play out in those public hearings next week -- guys.

SCIUTTO: Well, the alternative is believing that Gordon Sondland and others were doing this freelance against the president's wishes or without his direction and folks have to decide whether they find it credible.

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

This morning, President Trump vehemently denying reporting that he wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to hold a news conference to publicly clear him any wrongdoing in connection with that phone call, the conversation with the Ukrainian president.

HARLOW: Our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is with us this morning.

I mean, if that happened, it's sort of par for the course, right?


HARLOW: But the president says it didn't happen.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Exactly, Poppy. Look. It does exactly sound like the thing that Donald Trump would do. Of course, he's denying it, and it's important to remind people of what exactly happened when the White House released the transcript of the Ukraine call.

The Justice Department did go out publicly and said that the president had not committed any crime at least with regard to campaign finance laws. So what the president wanted, he sort of got from the Justice Department. What he didn't get was a press conference. And that's what we're told -- our Kevin Liptack at the White House was told that the president has been talking about that he wanted Bill Barr to do this press conference.

Bill Barr didn't end up doing it, but again the Justice Department did pretty much give him what he wanted with regard to a public statement saying that the president didn't do anything wrong. Now it's been important to note in the last few weeks, you've seen some distance brought between the Justice Department and the president and the White House with regard to Ukraine. They push back on Mick Mulvaney sort of tying the Justice Department to some of the quid pro quo aspects of this.

So you've seen a little bit of distance growing between the White House and the Justice Department, which is traditional, but just not in these times in the Trump presidency, obviously.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, covering the Justice Department, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political analyst Astead Herndon, he's national political reporter for the "New York Times," and Michael Kohn, he's an attorney specializing in whistleblowers.

Michael, this attention and, in fact, amplifying attacks on the whistleblower are noticeable. You have a sitting president calling for his outing. You have the sitting president's son outing a suspected or alleged name and you have a U.S. senator calling for the outing.

Now given that these witnesses have now testified under oath corroborating the whistleblower's complaint, in fact, going beyond it, why these continued attacks? Is it to muddy the waters or is it to intimidate other whistleblowers or both?

MICHAEL KOHN, ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN WHISTLEBLOWERS: Well, it's got to be both. It's a public lynching. It's an unlawful conduct. There's a statute that makes interference with a national security whistleblower's employment a crime. And the Fifth Circuit recently issued a decision saying in another law that protects anonymity of whistleblowers, it says if the employer releases the name of that employee, that's a violation of law. And so it's an adverse employment action.

And in this case, if the Justice Department doesn't go on record and tell the entire federal workforce that releasing the name or threatening to release the name or calling for the release of the name of the whistleblower is a violation of federal law, then they are derelict in their duty. That's what we need to be doing in this nation. We need to be protecting our whistleblowers.

And most importantly, this particular law for national security whistleblowers places the ultimate responsibility on the president of the United States to protect the whistleblower. So there should be mass callings to ensure that the president of the United States issue a firm statement that the identity of the whistleblower should never be released because it's unlawful.


HARLOW: Astead, what's interesting, and to build on Michael's point, is that the law when it was written in the late '90s never considered the president discussing or contemplating outing a whistleblower. Right? So you've got that wrinkle. And if nothing changes, right, if that code is not enforced, as Michael explained, it may not be illegal for the president or others to out, if you will, the whistleblower but I wonder if you think it could be what essentially adds another Article of Impeachment against the president.

KOHN: I think that once the facts are laid out and verified that if, in fact, the president engaged in conduct that was aimed at unmasking the identity of the whistleblower, then, yes, that is a fundamental -- and the identity of the whistleblower is unmasked, that would be a fundamental violation of criminal statute that would constitute an impeachable offense. [09:10:16]

Basically when they talk about high crimes and misdemeanors, the high basically refers to the level of the individual within the government raising the allegation. Here you have the highest person within our federal system engaging in what would amount to a criminal act.

HARLOW: So sorry, I --

KOHN: And so I think that --

HARLOW: I meant that for Astead so let's let him jump in here a little bit.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can't speak to the criminal -- the statute question. I'll leave that to the lawyers. What I can say is that politically, the Democrats have not necessarily treaded into that territory yet. What they are hoping for is a level of shame from the public that will push the president and his allies into not kind of crossing into that new territory. But we have not seen that be successful with this president.

His guiding philosophy has been to kind of -- to do whatever to insulate himself from further criticism. Now if that means his son is going to tweet out a suspected name, if that means that senators are going to go into the territory of outing the whistleblower, we have not seen the Republican base put pressure on their lawmakers to say that that's a step too far and until we see that politically, I doubt that that's going to be something that scares them away.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, they're eating it up. I mean, this is the thing. The bubble mentality continues.

Astead, let me -- so that's the law. Let's talk about the politics here because in addition to attacking the whistleblower, you have half a dozen different sometimes contradictory defenses being thrown out there. The latest one, and we saw Lindsey Graham articulate this, is that the Trump administration, the White House too incompetent basically to carry out an effective quid pro quo, and that's the defense. Is that one you're hearing from sitting lawmakers more right now as the evidence mounts?

HERNDON: There has not been a centralized defense that we've necessarily seen from Republicans, but we have seen a unified call to do whatever you can to defend the president. We know that this is a president that looks out on television, on social media and the rest and looks for his Republican lawmakers to come out in support of him demonstrably and that's what their base is looking for.

Also, whether it's Lindsey Graham with the kind of incompetent defense, whether it's Senator Kennedy last night, Senator Rand Paul previously. These are Republican senators who know that their fate politically is tied to this president. And so they're going to go above and beyond to prove to him and the base that they are standing with them. What we don't see importantly is a dispute of the facts. We don't see

necessarily a contradiction of the testimony. What we're basically seeing is a political excuse to say that even if these alleged events did happen they don't amount to an impeachable offense.


HARLOW: Michael, what do you think of the -- of House Democrats pulling back their call for Charles Kupperman, who has the same lawyer as John Bolton, to testify and, you know, saying -- essentially saying we're not going to wait the months it's going to take for the courts to -- you know, to figure this out. We think that Kupperman should comply with whatever the courts rule in the McGahn case which is much further along.

KOHN: Well, I think Congress should take every conceivable step to get the witnesses in front of them that they're entitled to hear. And the legal process can be too long. There's a lot of appeals. So I think it's the appropriate action to take every affirmative step you can along the way. And hopefully you get cooperation eventually because --

HARLOW: Right.

KOHN: If you're intentionally avoiding these subpoenas and you do it knowing that you were supposed to show up, well, maybe you're engaging in obstruction of justice and you should show up whether or not your employer tells you not to.

SCIUTTO: Yes. There are legal risks there to keep into account.

Astead Herndon, Michael Kohn, thanks to both of you.

Still to come this hour, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, will join us live on this broadcast. What he makes of the report that President Trump wanted the attorney general to hold a press conference saying the president broke no law during the Ukraine call?

HARLOW: Plus, from America's mayor to the central figure in this impeachment inquiry or one of them, we're learning about Rudy Giuliani's key role in the Ukraine scandal.

And former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia. How foreign governments are exploiting U.S. social media platforms, ahead.



SCIUTTO: New details from key impeachment testimony transcripts giving us a clearer picture of just how central Rudy Giuliani; the president's personal lawyer is in the Ukraine scandal. Top U.S. Diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, a Trump appointee, telling investigators that Giuliani pressured Ukraine to intervene in U.S. politics.

HARLOW: In the meantime, the president's personal attorney is lawyering up himself. Let's talk about this with people who know all of this very well. John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst, he's here with us, used to be Giuliani's speechwriter, by the way.

Nayyera Haq; former State Department spokesperson during the Obama administration. Good morning to you, both. Avlon, let me just -- let me just begin with you.


HARLOW: I find it very interesting that Rudy Giuliani, like him or not, is a good lawyer. Has been a good lawyer --

AVLON: Yes --

HARLOW: A very good lawyer.

AVLON: Yes --


HARLOW: In fact, the fact that he feels the need to lawyer up here while at the same time, at least, the president has not distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani.

AVLON: Two I think important parts of this story. First of all, Donald Trump loyalty is a one-way street.

HARLOW: Yes --

AVLON: And it's notable that he hasn't thrown Rudy under the bus yet. He stood by him. I think it's because there's genuine respect, which is something he doesn't often extend due to his time as mayor. And also perhaps, you know, a connection based on the amount of information and experience they've shared to date.

That said, you can see the State Department turning on Rudy Giuliani. He is a very convenient scapegoat for this whole problem. But it's not going to make it go away. A few weeks ago, they really sincerely believed he was defending his client, rooting out corruption, all that stuff. But the bad facts keep accumulating, and they put Rudy at the center of this Ukraine negotiation, acting on behalf for the president.

And the Rudy I knew would never have shown the bad judgment, for example, getting involved in guys like -- with Lev and Igor, his two Ukrainian emissaries. He's somebody who would have just been able to sniff out that this was dodgy business. He's gotten more partisan with time, I think he sincerely believed he was doing was right, but I think the information that's coming out now shows he was acting on the president's behalf.

And as Taylor testified yesterday, if he's trying to get testimony -- get them to sign statements -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

AVLON: Interfering in U.S. elections, that's far outside the brief that he imagined himself to have.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you worked in the State Department, you know how State Department is meant to operate, and how the policy process from the White House to the State Department is meant to operate. Tell us just how disruptive, unusual it is to have the president's personal lawyer in effect running a separate -- entirely separate channel outside of that supervision and process.

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Well, it goes well beyond frustrating, and it actually turns out to have been undermining national security policy. I mean, look, Congress had actually mandated that the U.S. government provide military aid to the Ukraine. Rudy Giuliani shows up on the scene at the behest of the president and the United States to effectively find a way to not make that happen so that the president can get dirt on a political opponent.

Like that's ultimately what's happening here. The fact that in the testimony we've seen so far, Rudy Giuliani's name comes up 480 times, more than any other official, shows just how people were trying to wrestle with dealing with this outside figure when at the end of the day, you have people in government who are supposed to be executing foreign policy.

It goes to just Donald Trump as president has such a disdain for diplomats and people who have given their lives to public service, and he would rather trust someone like Rudy Giuliani to take care of him.

HARLOW: You guys, to your point, Nayyera, listen to what James Baker; the former FBI General Counsel said yesterday on this network about Giuliani and the work he did at the behest of the president, and if he makes sort of the argument that he wasn't working for the president. Listen to this.


JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: Applying your common sense to this type of situation, you would think that, of course, the president was acting through Rudy Giuliani. If the use of Giuliani was intended to create some type of plausible deniability like in Iran-Contra, I don't think it works because it's just -- it doesn't make sense.


HARLOW: What do you think, Avlon?

AVLON: Look, I mean, it's very clear from the testimony we've seen the president was referring a lot of contentious Ukraine questions brought to him by his State Department to Rudy Giuliani saying he understood his mind, he understood the work he wanted to be done. So, you know, there are a lot of bad actors here with their own agendas. But at the end of the day, it's the president apparently giving

directives to Rudy Giuliani and having him interfere in the foreign policy of another nation directly connected with his personal, political interests in upcoming elections.

SCIUTTO: You know, Nayyera, as you hear -- as you hear these arguments coming from the White House or the president's supporters, they're often in the dismissive tone about Giuliani, almost shaking their heads as a sort of there he goes again, seeming to allege this was Giuliani freelancing, which is difficult to believe, given that this was in line with the president's wishes here. Is that a credible defense here?

HAQ: Well, I think that's potentially maybe the only defense that the White House may have at this point is to distance themselves from a variety of actors in this. Listen, you have -- in Sondland's testimony, and Sondland was the Trump loyalist in all of this, right? He was the political appointee who was executing the president's agenda in the Ukraine.

You have him in this testimony saying everything, all roads led to Rudy, everything had to go through Rudy, and if it didn't, then the president wasn't going to change his mind. You have Rudy yesterday in his tweets talking about how he's lawyered up, but you know, this is all about vindicating the president in the end.

Rudy is tying himself to the president at this point, and it really is only to the president's advantage to distance himself from this person who really is at the center of this Ukraine scandal, who, frankly, has associates who were now charged with having given campaign donations for foreign interference.


I mean, this is just undermining everything that --


HAQ: The White House wants to say about not having been involved in impeachable offenses.

SCIUTTO: John Avlon, Nayyera Haq, thanks to you both. Well, Democrats will be taking their case for impeachment to the public. Open hearings, they begin next week, we're going to speak to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler about what the public can expect from those hearings.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Dow futures are up this morning along with Asian and European markets, all of this after Beijing says China and the U.S. have discussed lifting existing tariffs between both countries in phases. That is a big development in this trade war if it actually happens.

The president imposed tariffs during this month-long trade war, China's Commerce Ministry says they have held constructive talks in the past two weeks, still no timetable has been given for the easing of the tariffs. Stay right here.