Return to Transcripts main page


Pence Aide Who Was On Ukraine Call Testifying On Capitol Hill; Biden Ramps Up Attacks On Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Presidential Candidate, Slams Elitist Attitude. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 7, 2019 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, 10:00 A.M. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Now, on the Hill facing questions from House impeachment investigators, Jennifer Williams, that is her there arriving, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence. We know she listened to the July 25th call between President Trump and Ukraine's leader. We know she was concerned by what she heard, as many officials have testified. What we don't know and could find out, did the vice president share those concerns?

HARLOW: Also this morning, days before the first public impeachment hearings begin, we're getting a preview of what the first witness could say publicly.

So now we have the transcripts of his private testimony, that is, of course, Bill Taylor the top diplomat in Ukraine, who said under oath he took detailed notes on what he calls a quid pro quo on those conversations and said Rudy Giuliani's role in the scheme could have led to a, quote, nightmare scenario.

SCIUTTO: At the same time, there is new reporting showing a White House on the defensive. A source tells CNN that President Trump brought up the idea of his attorney general, Bill Barr, holding a public news conference stating that Trump did nothing wrong on the Ukraine phone call. This morning, the president is pushing back on that reporting.

HARLOW: All right. There is a lot to unpack. So let's begin this morning with the latest in the impeachment. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is there.

And, Manu, I do think Jennifer Williams is important. A lot of people don't know her name. I couldn't find a picture of her before what we just saw on the screen today. What is she saying behind closed doors?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. She's expected to talk about that July phone call between which she listened in on, the phone call between Trump and Zelensky. And she is, of course, a person in Vice President Mike Pence's orbit. So the questions will be about exactly Pence's knowledge about this push for the investigation, what she may have been aware of, as well as any concerns she may have had with the phone call that the president had with President Zelensky of Ukraine, in which Trump asked Zelensky to open up those investigations into the Bidens.

Now, I just got a statement from the press secretary for the vice president, who's called Jennifer Williams a detailee from the State Department, saying that she reports to General Kellogg, Keith Kellogg, who is the national security adviser for the vice president, statements that she does not directly advise the vice president. They also say, we are not familiar with her expressing any displeasure to General Kellogg either. So we'll see what she says behind closed doors, any concerns she may have had.

And also, today, was John Bolton's scheduled deposition as well. He was supposed to come in at 9:00 A.M. The former national security adviser has been mentioned throughout the witness depositions, someone who has raised concerns about this push by Giuliani, by the president to open up these investigations into the Bidens. He has not shown up. At least we have not seen him. He was scheduled to come at 9:00 A.M. Eastern. It's 10:00 now. There are other ways into this facility that could be out of public eyes. But for the most, we weren't expecting him to comment. He doesn't appear that he has shown up.

So the Democrats still are signaling they plan to charge ahead with their inquiry, even if they don't get some of these key witnesses, John Bolton being one of them. And it doesn't appear that he is compliant with the request. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's one headline from Jerry Nadler just a short time ago, saying, listen, it feels they have a lot of evidence, called a damning evidence. And if they don't get these witnesses, they might well proceed.

Bill Taylor testimony was key in a number of respects partly because he's been consistent in describing what appeared to him to be a quid pro quo. But he documented these conversations in notes and writing an unusual first-person cable directly to the secretary of state.

RAJU: Yes. And he was told directly by officials that the president himself wanted to withhold this aid because he had been asking the Ukrainian government to open up the investigations.

Now, the Republicans are already contending that this is not credible, because they say he has not heard directly from the president, but he did speak to someone who talked to the president, and he made it very clear throughout some time that he had grown increasingly concerned about these efforts by Rudy Giuliani, and apparently by the president, to push for these investigations amid this demand to release nearly $400 million of vital military aid that would help Ukraine push back against the Russians.

But also significant in that testimony, he makes clear that Rudy Giuliani was essentially -- hurt (ph) their efforts to have a meeting between President Zelensky of Ukraine and President Trump. And he wanted to abandon that effort because Giuliani, in his view, wanted Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 elections here. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill, we know you're going to keep on top of things there.


President Trump issuing a strong denial this morning saying that he never asked Attorney General Bill Barr to hold a news conference to clear him of any wrongdoing in the phone call with the Ukrainian president, although that's a tactic the president, we know, has used in the past.

HARLOW: It's true. But a source tells CNN the president, at the very least, discussed the idea in recent weeks. Let's go to our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez. What's the word from the White House on it this morning, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, they are pushing back on the idea that the president never asked the attorney general to do this. But keep in mind, the reporting from The Washington Post and certainly from our Kevin Liptak is not that there was an ask directly from the president, is that the idea was being discussed. And that much is clear from multiple that are talking about this.

It is important to note that even if the president didn't get a press conference from his attorney general, he did get a lot from the Justice Department. You'll remember that at the time that the White House released the transcript of the July phone call, the Ukraine phone call, the Justice Department publicly announced that they had reviewed it, criminal prosecutor had reviewed the call and determined that the president did nothing wrong, at least when it came to campaign finance laws. So that much the president did get.

It is clear though that the president wanted more from his attorney general. He wanted a public statement from the attorney general, perhaps a press conference, and he did not get that. It's important to also note, Poppy and Jim, that even if the Justice Department sort of tried to say that this was a closed case, that there was nothing here, we now know that the prosecutors in New York, in the Southern District of New York, are still looking at Rudy Giuliani's activities in Ukraine, and this may not be a closed matter after all.

HARLOW: Evan, important reporting, Thank you very, very much.

PEREZ: Sure.

HARLOW: Let's talk about all of those developments. CNN Senior Political Analyst Ryan Lizza is with us, he's a Chief Washington Correspondent for Politico, and CNN Legal Analyst Renato Mariotti joins us, a former federal prosecutor.

Lizza, let me start with you and Taylor, because now we know what he said under oath in private, he's going to lead the public testimony beginning on Wednesday. And this is a guy whose resume just speaks for itself, West Point grad, infantry officer in the 101st Airborne, he served as a diplomat under every administration since Reagan, and you've got all of these things that he said, including that it was, quote, at the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff of OMB to hold up that aid to Ukraine.

Considering all of those things, Jim sent me a fascinating op-ed last night saying -- asking the question, could the Taylor memos be the Nixon tapes?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think there are three big things that came out of his -- first, the public statement, and now, the full testimony that's been revealed that he will finally get a chance to present to the public.

The first is that he points the finger at the president, right? That his understanding of this was that it does indeed come from President Trump through the sort of chain of command.

I think the second big thing that he brings to this argument ts to help the American people understand the stakes, why was it such a big deal that this aid was contingent on these political favors. And that is because this was a huge national security issue, right? This wasn't just some foreign policy things. This was a major strategic adversary, the Russians threatening an important ally, and the president throwing the politics of 2020 into the middle of this.

And I think Taylor has been very forceful and eloquent in the testimony and the transcript on that. I think that's probably one of the things that gets a little bit lost in this whole thing is the national security stakes.

And then the final thing is he's pointed a finger at Bolton and raised more questions about Bolton, who clearly was not on board with this issue. And there were some additional details in the transcript about the national security adviser, John Bolton. And, clearly, we need to hear from him.

SCIUTTO: Renato, Bolton, he didn't show up today. He's refusing. We don't know. The courts may decide eventually. But I asked Jerry Nadler a short time ago, what do Democrats do if they don't get these key administration officials to testify in time, because they want to complete this process by the holidays? He says the evidence in his view is damning already based on what they have. But from a legal -- apply your legal mind to this. What's missing in your view by missing that key testimony? For instance, is there not enough of a direct line to the president here?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think they're missing much. Right after I read Bill Taylor's opening statement, this was a couple weeks ago now, I wrote a column that was titled the president has no defense. And I really a believe at this point the evidence is pretty substantial that there was a quid pro quo. You're seeing a lot of Republicans, I think, moving to the defense that there was a quid pro quo, it was inappropriate but not impeachable.

[10:10:02] I think though that, look, the Democrats, if they're smart, they're going to focus on the evidence they do have, not the evidence they don't have. I think what Chairman Nadler told you, I think, is that is the right tact. They shouldn't get caught up in a multi-week or even multi-month legal proceedings to try to compel a testimony. They should note the absence of evidence. They should potentially consider an article of impeachment regarding obstruction of Congress, and move on, because they really don't have a lot of time. They need to capture of public's attention while they have it.

HARLOW: For anyone who hasn't read your piece on Politico outlining sort of your advice for Democrats, it's fascinating. They should.

Lizza, I think something not a lot of people are not talking about, but is important, is that after Pence met with Zelensky in Warsaw on September 1st, they had a phone call on September the 18th, the phone call that the president said, well, look at the transcripts of that call, you know?


HARLOW: But the White House hasn't put out the transcripts.

LIZZA: They haven't released that transcript. And I wonder if even though the talking point from the White House is read the transcript, read the transcript of the memorandum of the call between the two presidents, I wonder if they feel that maybe in hindsight that wasn't such a great thing to do because it really broke open this whole caper, and maybe they're not any longer in the business of releasing that kind of information ever since that, obviously.

I think what happened is the White House thought perhaps by releasing that, it would shut the impeachment investigation down, that the Democrats wouldn't go forward. That's what Trump said when he released it, and there was some talk with Pelosi and the White House over that. That obviously didn't happen. And I think now their view is release nothing and stonewall, don't bring out witnesses.

SCIUTTO: It's kind of non-argument because the transcript fits this broader picture, the president asking for the favor. And then when you add in the other testimony about what that favor, the exchange was.

We just have this in from our colleague, Jeremy Herb on the Hill, that Jim Jordan, a Republican who, of course, is going to be be transferred into the Intel Committee to take part in these impeachment proceedings, says that he will, Renato Mariotti, request that the whistleblower he testify as part of this impeachment inquiry.

You've been aware of the focus on the whistleblower here, the attacks on his or her credibility. Tell us about that significance there and can Democrats credibly block that given that protecting the whistleblower's identity is protected by law?

MARIOTTI: You know, I think what I would regard -- I disregard it as a diversion. It's a way of trying to change the story or deflect from the reality of the evidence that's already against the president.

You know, there's often the case that criminal investigations begin with tipsters. I mean, that is often the case. There will be people who provide information, whether it's on the mob or a drug cartel or someone else. They often aren't the ones at trial testifying.

There are other witnesses who have firsthand knowledge or more intimately involved who end up being the ones who testify a trial, really, the -- who this person is. I mean, there's just been this -- that I think the president's son tried to out who the person's identity, who he thought the whistleblower was, it's all really irresponsible. I think the Democrats should say that doesn't matter, they're not relying on the whistleblower. His or her testimony doesn't matter for this. And focus on the witnesses that do matter, Sondland, Taylor, Volker, some of the people who are going to be testifying in the weeks to come.

SCIUTTO: Renato Mariotti, Ryan Lizza, thanks to both of you.

LIZZA: Thanks, guys.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

HARLOW: So still ahead, former Vice President Joe Biden going after Senator Elizabeth Warren, didn't mention her by name, but you know who he was talking about. What do you make of that strategy? We'll talk about that ahead.

SCIUTTO: And first images into CNN of this seven-month-old survivor of that brutal massacre of a Mormon family in Mexico. Thank the Lord that little baby is okay, this as we get chilling audio of the moment the attack happened. It's chilling, and we're going to be live.

Plus, stocks higher this morning on news there may finally be something of a break in trade negotiations between U.S. and China. We'll have the details ahead.



HARLOW: Today, sources say former Attorney General Jeff Sessions will announce he is running for his old Senate seat in Alabama, one he held for two decades. The race is the Republican's best chance, people say, to add to the majority in the Senate. Sessions, of course, as I said, held that seat for two decades before the president tapped in the Justice Department for a while.

SCIUTTO: Yes, of course, he fired him. His relationship with the president went south after he recused himself from the Russia investigation. As a result, the president spent months publicly lambasting him.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: The attorney general made a terrible mistake.

Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself.

What kind of a man is this? The only reason I gave him the job, because I felt loyalty.

I told you before, I was very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens.

The attorney general says I'm going to recuse myself.



SCIUTTO: That, of course, is the president there imitating the Sessions' southern accent. GOP officials say Sessions and his aides don't know what the president's reaction will be, adding that Sessions has not spoken directly with the president about it. It was one year ago today that Sessions was fired.

At the same time, former Vice President Joe Biden is unleashing criticism against Medicare-for-all. His campaign released statements from Nevada leaders warning of the potential adverse impacts of the plan.

HARLOW: He is also ramping up his attack on Senator Elizabeth Warren, slamming what he thinks is her, quote, elitist attitude. Here is a what he said when asked about his recent criticism of her.


REPORTER: Why are you attacking Senator Warren now?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not. I'm responding to her comments.


HARLOW: USA Today Columnist, CNN Political Analyst Kirsten Powers is here prepping until the last minute. Good for you. Good for you.

Okay. So it's sort of interesting, like when you're in a fight with someone, it's like, well, I'm just responding to what you said. That's Joe Biden's claim here, I'm just responding to what she said. But, I mean, however you want to put it, he's going after her, and he is saying you're being elitist, and I'm sort of with the people. What do you make of it?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think there's a way to go after another candidate where it doesn't sound like name- calling, when you say something like elitist, that is kind of name- calling. And so I think he is trying to traffic in this idea that she's this professor that looks down on everybody, which I think is a very unfair characterization of her. I think she's quite connected with the people as much as you can be when you're at that level. But I think that he recognizes that she's a threat, right? I mean, why would he be attacking her if he didn't feel like she was a threat.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, the elitist label is one that the right often uses to attack --

POWERS: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- the left. We get it on Twitter all the time.

Let me ask you this though. The Medicare-for-all issue is of genuine disagreement within the Democratic primaries here. Warren is for it, Biden is against it. On the issue, it's not an unfair one to express your differences on, right?

POWERS: Absolutely not. And I think there's a good-faith disagreement about it. I think that there are a lot of Democrats who feel that this is just too risky in terms of scaring off voters because they will associate it with socialized healthcare, which is something that's really been demagogued in this country. And so a lot of people could be scared off by it. And so they see it as a political loser. Some other people have complaints about it from a substantive standpoint.

I happen to think it's a good idea and I think the healthcare system is extremely broken and that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are actually addressing the fundamental problem, they're not trying to just put a band-aid on it.

And if you look at pretty much every poll that comes out, healthcare is the top issue among the Democrats, and it really is a crisis. And it requires a stronger response than just sort of nibbling around the edges, which is what Joe Biden was offering.

HARLOW: Let's talk about another battle we saw in one of the previous debates, Julian Castro going after Joe Biden. That didn't play so well for him. Now, he's trying sort of that card, if you will, against Pete Buttigieg. Listen to this.


JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to need a nominee that can resonate in the African-American community.

I don't need to go see South Bend. I saw 100 different cities when I was HUD secretary and I was mayor of a city that's 14 times larger than South Bend. In fact, we could almost fit South Bend in our Alamo Dome.


HARLOW: Snap. I mean, okay, he's going after Buttigieg's inability so far to connect broadly with the African-American community. At the same time, he went out of his way, Kirsten, in that interview to praise Elizabeth Warren. What do you think the play is there?

POWERS: Well, I mean, he's trying to find somebody to knock out so that he can rise.

I have to say he's young, he has a very bright future ahead of him and I'm not sure that, you know, trying these various attacks on different people is necessarily something that's going to benefit him in the long run. They are kind of Hail Mary passes. That's the other thing. It's not like he's almost there and he just needs to kind of go after somebody to get into the next tier. I mean, he's really languishing at the bottom.

So I that think when you're going after somebody like Pete Buttigieg, I mean, he's doing much better in the polls obviously. He has a lot of room for growth in terms of connecting with African-American voters, but the same could be true about Elizabeth Warren. So I don't really -- the math doesn't really add up there in terms of the criticism.

SCIUTTO: We're putting up the poll up here, the latest Quinnipiac poll on Iowa, where you see Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders and Biden kind of fading there, although he's been weak there for some time.


I just wonder, when you look at that, Biden is also losing New Hampshire, ahead in South Carolina, more likely to win there, are we setting up for a long battle perhaps all the way to the conventions, or at least Super Tuesday on the Democratic side, in your view?

POWERS: At this point, that's what it looks like. I mean, we don't know what's going to happen as we get closer and people are playing closer attention and start making more decisions. I mean, about half of voters in Iowa haven't even made up their minds, right? So there's a lot.

So as we get closer to the time when people are going to vote, they're going to start -- I think we'll start seeing things tighten up a little bit. And as we start moving into the primaries, it will tighten up a little bit.

But I think there's a real debate going on. I mean, we have sort of two sets of candidates that are very different kinds of candidates. And so it's a question of whether people -- I thought it was interesting, like in the Quinnipiac poll, that for the people who want somebody who's going to win, they like Warren and they like Biden, But for people who want somebody who think they is a good leader, they like Buttigieg.

So people are trying to sort this through. And I think, ultimately, they're going to go with who they think can win.

SCIUTTO: Kirsten Powers, thank you very much.

POWERS: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. As the vice president's aide testifies right now behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, House Democrats are gearing up for public impeachment hearings next week. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)