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President Trump Reportedly Asked Attorney General Barr to Clear Him of Wrongdoing in Phone Call with Ukrainian President in Press Conference; House Democrats to Hold Public Hearings on Impeachment; Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) is Interviewed About the Televised Impeachment Hearings That Will Begin Next Week. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired November 7, 2019 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- reportedly answer questions. A source tells CNN that Jennifer Williams, who Mike Pence's senior adviser, will testify this morning if she's subpoenaed. Williams was on that July 25th call between President Trump and the Ukraine's new leader. CNN is told that she was concerned by what she heard between those two presidents.
A big question remains, will former National Security Advisor John Bolton appear today as scheduled? Now next week, the country will hear from witnesses publicly. Televised impeachment hearings will begin next week with Ambassador William Taylor, that's the top diplomat in the Ukraine. He will be the first to testify.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So why is Taylor first? A transcript of his private testimony connects the dots on the House Democrats' case of President Trump's alleged abuse of power for political gain. Taylor said he had a clear understanding that the military aid was tied to Ukraine publicly announcing investigation into the president's rivals. And this morning "The Washington Post" reports that President Trump asked Attorney General William Barr to publicly clear him of breaking any law on that call with Ukraine. "The Post" says the attorney general refused. The president is denying this report. He put it out in a new tweet just moments ago.
CAMEROTA: OK, so joining us now on the phone is Josh Dawsey. He's the White House reporter for "The Washington Post," part of the team that broke the story this morning. Josh, good morning. Let me just read for our viewers what your reporting found. Here it is, "President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said. The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr's demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held that news conference."
So, Josh, do we know why Attorney General Barr declined to do this when he has provided the president political cover in the past?
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Alisyn. We don't precisely know why. We know that the president wanted Barr and the Justice Department to publicly say he'd done nothing wrong. And if you remember right when the transcript of the call with Ukraine's Zelensky was released, there was a statement that the Justice Department put out saying we've looked into this and thought that no laws were broken. But what the president wanted was a full-throated public press conference. He really liked Bill Barr's press conference before the Mueller report. He thought it helped the public perception of it. He thought it helped him politically, and he wanted Barr to do it again. This time I think Bill Barr did not feel comfortable doing it and relayed it back to the White House saying that he thought it would be inappropriate.
CAMEROTA: And we know that the president did bring up Bill Barr's name in that July 25th phone call, as he did Rudy Giuliani's. And so do we know if Bill Barr was not involved in the Ukraine controversy, or wishes he were not involved in the Ukraine controversy?
DAWSEY: Well, Bill Barr's aides say he was never involved in that. He had never spoken to any Ukrainian officials. Had no idea that the president was going to bring him up on that call, that he was surprised to see his own name in the transcript. Bill Barr and his allies have also been frustrated by Rudy Giuliani's public comments and some of Mick Mulvaney's comments in recent weeks. There seems to be a clear effort by the Justice Department to distance itself from some of the more controversial elements of his story while also the A.G. continues to try to have a good relationship with the president. But there's been a number of occasions recently, against, where the Justice Department and Bill Barr have said we're standing back from this. We don't agree with that.
CAMEROTA: The president has been tweeting about your story a couple of times this morning, including just a half-an-hour ago. His tweets are so filled with false information and insults that I can't air them. So I will try to paraphrase the president's position, which is basically the Justice Department already ruled that the call was good. Is that true?
DAWSEY: Well, the Justice Department did not rule that the call was good. The Justice Department ruled that he did not make any campaign finance violations. They did not say whether the call was good, and who will ultimately rule whether the call is good appears to be House members and senators in the impeachment hearing.
CAMEROTA: Great point. Josh Dawsey, thank you very much for joining us with your new reporting in "The Washington Post." Thanks a lot.
BERMAN: And joining us now, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillips, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and, CNN senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodyrga. And Jeffrey, if we can, I just want to put a point on Alisyn discussion with Josh Dawsey there and this new reporting that the attorney general was asked to make this public statement. There does seem to be an effort to place distance between the Justice Department and the whole Ukraine controversy here, not just this press conference that didn't happen but also we don't want to hear about Rudy Giuliani and anything he's doing. Keep that away from us.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And the contrast between Barr's response to the Mueller report is dramatic. Barr several times publicly really not only said that the Mueller report exonerated the president, but went beyond the Mueller report, really put his own spin on it in a much more favorable way to the president than Mueller himself did.
Here, Barr seems to be joining the witness protection program as far as the Ukraine issue is involved. He does not want to be associated with the president's behavior in any way beyond what the official statements of the department have been. And it is true, as the president said, that the Justice Department said there was no basis for a criminal investigation of him based on this. That's different from saying it was good. But it is true that there was a judgment on the part of the Justice Department that no criminal inquiry was justified.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And, remember, the reporting suggesting that Barr was actually upset from the phone call, a transcript suggesting the president telling Zelensky, I'm going to put Barr in touch with your folks. You can get in touch and reach out and talk to each other about this. Barr suggesting that was the first time that he had even heard of the situation and what the president had been wanting to do with Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine and that he wasn't, in fact, involved with any of it.
CAMEROTA: It is uncharacteristic of Bill Barr, as we've been pointing out, because Bill Barr has publicly come out and defended the president a number of times. And so this just does beg the question, in the absence of any other information from Bill Barr, if he just thinks this call stinks.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's also a little uncharacteristic because of Bill Barr's ideology around presidential power. He seems to think that the president can do a lot of things before he crosses some kind of line. But in this particular case, he's not really going there. And it's not just distancing himself from the president and what was said on the call, but also what Giuliani has been up to. Giuliani is the person that everybody in this administration seems to be trying to distance themselves from in one way or another.
And it could also be partly because Bill Barr understands that Giuliani is involved in a lot of things that some of which are under investigation right now in the Southern District of New York. It's kind of a black hole for some of these Trump officials to be dabbling in areas where Giuliani is also dabbling. And maybe also today, Bill Barr has decided that this is the point at which he needs to start defending the independence of the Justice Department and maybe talking about the fact that the Justice Department is not just an arm of the president's legal defense team. BERMAN: We'll see. We'll see. Look, within a few weeks they're
going to come out perhaps with the inspector general report on the whole Russia investigation. We'll see if he defends that independence then.
Big picture now. We are days away from public impeachment hearings. That's no small thing. And these are the first witnesses we'll see -- Ambassador William Taylor, George Kent, and Marie Yovanovitch. Public impeachment hearings televised are something this country has barely ever seen.
TOOBIN: This will be a defining memory of the Trump administration. The idea that Congress is holding these public hearings and the images that come out next week, starting Wednesday with Taylor and Kent and then Friday with Yovanovitch, will be -- when we do the year in review, you know that those will be part of it. Whether that means Donald Trump will be impeached or removed from office, that's a different question. But I don't think you can overestimate the importance symbolically and in real terms of what's going on here.
CAMEROTA: The first person we'll hear from is Ambassador Bill Taylor. He says he had a clear understanding that this was a quid pro quo. The money will not be given, the $400 million will not be given to Ukraine unless they publicly announce investigations into the Bidens and the conspiracy theory of CrowdStrike. And he was in the mix. He got this information from Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He got this information from being on different phone calls, from observing. This is what he's paid to do, to sus all this out. So Republicans, I think, are trying to suggest it won't carry any credibility, but for lots of people in the State Department, it will.
GOLODRYGA: Look, these are credible witnesses, all of them, that we're going to be hearing from next week. And a lot of their testimony is damning. Everything that we've read so far suggests that they walked into this with a lot of experience on how to handle U.S. diplomacy towards Ukraine, and that nothing that they saw with regards to Rudy Giuliani's role was normal. You talk about Bill Taylor. He even gave this administration the benefit of the doubt. That really stood out to me in this transcript yesterday when he talked about the two channels of communication. One was the regular channel. One was the irregular channel.
And he initially said, you know what, I was OK with that because if Sondland had a good relationship and had direct access to the president, all the better, all the better for pursuing our diplomacy and our improvement of relations with Zelensky. It was only when he saw that there were diverging objectives with these two channels that he raised a red flag.
Also, when it comes to quid pro quo, now we know the argument. The president says there was no quid pro quo. Now you have Republicans saying there's some appropriate quid pro quo and some inappropriate quid pro quo. What we saw from Taylor, he specifically laid out that in terms of corruption in Ukraine, it didn't have to do with the country overall. It didn't have to do with major industries within the country. It had to do with two specific cases. The two cases involved the Bidens and the 2016 election. So now try to explain to the American public how that is appropriate quid pro quo.
BERMAN: I think that's what makes Taylor a powerful witness. He's not just going to say that he saw a shakedown. Taylor, we see in his deposition testimony says he thinks it is wrong. And those are two arguments that the Democrats want to make to the American people.
PHILLIP: Yes, he thinks it's wrong on two separate fronts. One is on national security, foreign policy front, that Giuliani track he came to believe was contrary to U.S. interests in the region. It emboldened Russia for various reasons. And then on the second front, he was very clear that he believed the whole Burisma/Biden issue was political. It was Ukraine -- it was the U.S. government trying to drag Ukraine into a domestic political dispute. That flies in the face of the key argument that a lot of Republicans are trying to make, which is that the president was just concerned about corruption. The president just wanted the Europeans to pay more. He didn't want to give money to a corrupt country if other countries weren't doing that. Bill Taylor really contradicts that. He says that it's clear that the Biden thing was just about politics, and that that in and of itself would also be damaging to the U.S.'s relationship with Ukraine.
TOOBIN: But something you're certainly going to hear a lot from Republicans, as Taylor himself acknowledges, he never had direct conversations with the president about that.
CAMEROTA: Gordon Sondland did.
TOOBIN: Gordon Sondland did. And you have to ask if Rudy Giuliani is making policy, on whose behalf is he doing that? And so --
PHILLIP: But according to Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani has been saying repeatedly he was doing it on behalf of Donald Trump. So that's the other bit of this is Giuliani is not showing away from the fact that his client, the way that he's putting it, is the president of the United States.
GOLODRYGA: And then what we heard from Taylor as well, we knew that on September 1st or at the end of August, he had sent a direct cable to Secretary of State Pompeo alerting him that he was concerned about withholding of money, right, to Ukraine in exchange for information in this investigation. What we heard was the type of cable that he sent, which was very rare. It was a direct first person cable to the secretary of state. The first headline that Pompeo would have read is, I am concerned. We know that he took that cable with him into the White House, into the Oval Office. What he did with that, we don't know.
CAMEROTA: I fastened on that also, but what is a third person cable? Bill Taylor is concerned from Bill Taylor.
GOLODRYGA: This is the first I'm hearing of all of these types of cables, and he made it clear this is not a normal cable.
CAMEROTA: Alisyn Camerota wants this. Alisyn Camerota hungry.
PHILLIP: A little too real there, Alisyn.
TOOBIN: All these sports stars usually talk about themselves in the third person.
CAMEROTA: I don't know. We'll do more reporting about that. Thank you all very much.
Should Democrats give up the phrase "quid pro quo" since none of us can say it?
CAMEROTA: Well, that is one of the things they are debating as they approach these public impeachment hearings next week. We ask a Democratic congressman next.
BERMAN: Or as you like to say, Alisyn Camerota will ask.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The White House and allies of the president are bracing for impeachment hearings when they go public next week. The first witness will be Ambassador Bill Taylor. He will testify on Wednesday.
So, how is all of this going to go? And how are Democrats feeling about it?
Well, joining us now is Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch. He serves on the House Oversight Committee which is one of the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry.
Congressman, thanks so much for being here with us.
I have so many questions for you about next week.
But, first, I want to ask you about something you said yesterday in an interview. You said, I do think if we handled this poorly, it could backfire.
How do you think this can backfire on Democrats next week?
REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): Well, I think that we have to make the case to the American people, you know, fact by fact, and lay it out in a coherent way so that people actually understand what the articles of impeachment might pursue. So we've got to make that case to the American people.
And I think that if we did it poorly, if we did not persuade them, if there were some obfuscation on the part of the Republicans to take down the hearing, then -- and people saw it as a partisan adventure rather than a legitimate proceeding, it might help the president. Remember, this eventually is going to go to the United States Senate. And so, Mitch McConnell gets to render the verdict at the end of the day.
CAMEROTA: Yes, yes.
LYNCH: And so, if the president is exonerated, OK, by the U.S. Senate, then I'm sure he will spike the football, and I'm sure that with the leeway that Mitch McConnell has, if we don't get a solid vote for impeachment at that point, that it could help the president as we go into the next election. That -- that is my fear.
CAMEROTA: But don't you think that's what's going to happen? I mean, at the moment, there don't appear to be senators in -- Republican senators who are going to vote along with Democrats in the House.
So, don't you -- that very scenario that you are afraid of, isn't that what you see playing out?
LYNCH: No. I think that the facts of this case are so compelling. Remember, the Senate vote will follow public opinion. It always has.
And I think, you know, same thing with Nixon. There were a phalanx of Republican senators defending the president until the facts became so compelling they couldn't defend their position. And so, then the support for President Nixon collapsed.
I believe that with the compelling evidence that we have going forward, that we can make that case to the American people, that this president actually worked to undermine the democratic process here. Just like -- just like Nixon did. Remember, he sought to -- through his burglary and investigations, illegal investigations, sought to undermine the integrity of that election.
That's what President Trump has done here by going to a foreign power to undermine our democratic election.
CAMEROTA: So --
LYNCH: And if the people of the United States, you know, understand that, the gravity of that, I think they will support our case.
CAMEROTA: In helping the American people understand that, is there some talk behind the scenes among Democrats of doing way with the term "quid pro quo"? Number one, it's hard to say. Number two, it's a Latin phrase.
Is that what Democrats think the winning slogan of these hearings should be?
LYNCH: Well, Alisyn, that's a great point. It's not the first time I've heard it. My own wife says to me, what's with this quid pro quo? Just call it bribery. That's what it looks like. It does have a very important implication here. And that is how we
describe the offenses in the articles of impeachment is critical. It's critical. And it has -- it was the undoing of the case against Andrew Johnson in the 1800s. It was the undoing of the articles against President Clinton more recently.
So, it's very, very important --
CAMEROTA: Yes. So, are you all going to start calling it bribery?
LYNCH: I think that's -- that's a good option. And I know there are some constitutional scholars out there that are suggesting that we do that very thing.
So, yes, this could be more appropriately and more accurately described as bribery. If you agree to do a political hit, President Zelensky, on Joe Biden, President Trump's lead opponent at the time, we will give you military aid that's already, by the way, been approved by Congress.
So, there's that -- this for that quid pro quo or bribery element that is captured within that deal.
CAMEROTA: Yes. So, Congressman, I want to ask you very quickly.
There is -- "The Washington Post's" Rachael Bade is reporting that there's something else that could change next week in these public hearings, and that is that there could be different Republicans involved.
She reports: According to three Republicans familiar with the talks but not authorized to comment publicly, McCarthy is considering placing Jim Jordan on the panel, as well as others like Congressman Mark Meadows and Lee Zeldin who had been involved in the depositions but who do not sit on the Intelligence Committee.
Would you be comfortable with those changes?
LYNCH: Well, I do have to admit that Mr. Jordan and Mr. Meadows have been at the -- as I have been, at all the hearings. So they are intimately familiar with the facts and the testimony.
I wouldn't hazard a guess of why they should do that. I'm not -- I'm not sure they are good messengers for the Republican side, sort of on the extremes.
But I would say we, on the Democratic side, have to make sure that our message is delivered. That's the more -- we have to make our case, right? And I think we have the people in place to do that.
CAMEROTA: OK. Congressman Stephen Lynch, we really appreciate you coming on NEW DAY and giving us your perspective on all of this. Thanks so much.
LYNCH: Thank you, Alisyn.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, there was huge movement among a certain group of voters in the elections this week. We'll tell you what group that is and what means for 2020, next.
BERMAN: So, this morning there's this one blinking light, sirens ringing, giant political trend.
CAMEROTA: Do you have any other metaphors?
BERMAN: None, zero, that come out of the elections this week. So what is it and what does it mean for 2020?
Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and senior political writer and analyst Harry Enten.
And, Ron, I want to start with you with a quote from Ron Brownstein. Amid all the various local factors that shape GOP losses for Kentucky, Virginia, from suburban Philadelphia to Wichita, Kansas, the clearest pattern was a continuing erosion of the party's position in the largest metropolitan areas which, of course, include the suburbs. Explain.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, one of the basic lines of politics in the Trump era is that he is trading improved performance in places that are shrinking for bigger resistance in places that are growing. I mean, 2016, he lost 87 of the 100 largest counties in America. He lost them by a combined 15 million votes but he won 2,600 of the other 3,000, more than any other candidate in any party since Ronald Reagan.