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Trump Says He's Not Concerned about Testimony So Far; Trump: "I Hardly Know" Sondland Who He Previously Called a "Really Good and Great American"; Mick Mulvaney to Defy Subpoena, Not Appear for Testimony; George Kent Testified He Was Cut Out of Ukraine Policy Decisions after Meetings Organized By Mulvaney; Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Discusses Impeachment Testimony, GAO Investigating Withholding Aid to Ukraine; Trump Says He Won't Campaign Against Sessions in Senate Run; Mike Bloomberg Gears Up for Potential Presidential Race. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 8, 2019 - 11:00   ET



JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The president continued his attacks on the Intelligence Community whistleblower, calling him or her a disgrace, saying that person ought to be revealed. And said his layer ought to be sued. Interesting.

His lawyer, Andrew Bakaj, did put a letter yesterday indicating that the president ought to cease and desist in his attacks on the whistleblower because he was creating an atmosphere of intimidation -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joe, thank you so much.

I'll say, while there is talk of another call with Ukraine, I think there's a strong argument to be made that where things are at this point is beyond one phone call and, really, not even in a place of talking about another call.

I think this always gets into a dangerous place of kind of losing the forest for the trees, which I always screw up that metaphor in terms of everything that has come out since the transcript of that call on the 25th has come out.

Joe, thank you so much. Stick with me.

I want to bring in CNN reporter, Daniel Dale.

Daniel, you have your work cut out for you because there's a lot to fact-check.

Joe was talking about the whistleblower and the things the president was says about the whistleblower. Let's start there.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: The president has said over and over, I counted 34 separate times through Sunday that the whistleblower was highly inaccurate. And we know the whistleblower was highly accurate. We know this because of the transcript released by Trump himself. It

shows the whistleblower's three main allegations about that phone call with Zelensky were correct. So this is up is down dishonesty. Trump is entirely incorrect here.

BOLDUAN: And one thing that stuck out to me, and it's par for the course when the president is concerned about something someone says when the president now wants to distance himself from anybody, is now the person he's trying to distance himself from is the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, declaring here that he barely even knows the guy.

DALE: Yes. We've seen him do this over and on every with various people who were once in his orbit. As soon as they get in trouble or turn on him in some way, he's never met them or doesn't know them. They were just the coffee boy.

With Sondland, this was a sharp reversal from what he said in early October when he thought Sondland would be good for him. He said Sondland was a great American, was highly respected. So now that Sondland has provided this addendum to his testimony that is damaging to Trump, Trump said he, quote, "hardly knows the gentleman."

BOLDUAN: Something very interesting, on Capitol Hill, where Republicans are landing right now, there's no linkage between a quid pro quo directly to the president getting past the reasons that they were asking Ukraine to investigate. I'm not hearing so much on Capitol Hill any more about the conspiracy theories regarding Ukraine and the 2016 election as well as Joe Biden.

The president going directly back to this concept that he has been pushing with regard to Joe Biden and corruption.

DALE: He did. We know Trump likes to reverse allegations being made about him, if he's accused of some kind of corruption. So he accuses Joe Biden of corruption. And he is claiming that Biden's efforts to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired in 2016 was corrupt, that that was the real quid pro quo.

We know that effort was sanctioned by the entire U.S. government. That was the official policy from the Obama administration and its allies and the International Monetary Fund.

This prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was considered unwilling or ineffective in prosecution corruption and the U.S. wanted someone who was more willing to fight corruption.

So this Biden case is not at all like the case we're dealing with now with President Trump.

BOLDUAN: And I believe it was Kurt Volker who essentially backed that up in testimony saying that what Joe Biden was doing was the position/desire of all of -- all Western governments to get this prosecutor out. This was the plan back then. It wasn't some corrupt, small game that Joe Biden was playing that wasn't sanctioned a pushed by the entire U.S. government as well as governments beyond. Regardless, Daniel, stick with me.

Let me bring in Abby Phillip as well.

Abby, I always ask you and I'll ask you again, when it comes to the president and the way he's acting towards the investigation today, it felt very a la, circa, a few months ago, with regard to the Russia investigation, he's clearly lashing out. You can take the words Ukraine out and insert Russia and Mueller and he's got entirely the same lines.

What does that say kind of about the level of concern about what's coming from the White House about what's happening on Capitol Hill?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think you're exactly right about that. The president's behavior right now is basically what he was doing at the height of the Mueller investigation. Down to calling for various people to be tried for treason as he did today with the whistleblower's lawyer.

So the president, when he faces pressure like this, clearly lashes out, and as Daniel pointed out, takes the accusations against him and accuses other people of the same thing.


And the president is trying to control the narrative by repeating over and over again that his call was perfect, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that all the people who are testifying against him are Never-Trumpers.

And now he's accusing Gordon Sondland, who he had a phone call conversation with him in the wee hours of the morning about this Ukraine situation, and he's saying he doesn't even know the man. That's exactly what he did at various points --


BOLDUAN: I think that's super telling and noteworthy and something to remember, right?

PHILLIP: Yes. Yes. It's what he does when people start to turn on him in these kinds of investigations, like he did with Michael Cohen, like he did at one point with Paul Manafort, and just trying to create some distance.

But, Kate, as always, the facts just do not line up with the vast majority of the statements being made in this situation. And I think it just highlights that the people around the president are flailing, to figure out how to deal with all of this.

And President Trump continues to want to manage the situation himself by repeating things that are not true.

Of course, it's all about how long is this going to last? How tenable is this, especially as we get into the part of these hearings that are going to become public in the coming days.

BOLDUAN: And I've said this every day this week, so I am a broken record, but it's far beyond the whistleblower complaint and transcript of one phone call. It is now sworn testimony upon sworn testimony behind closed doors that are corroborating what the whistleblower says and going beyond what we know of the call.

And it is not a full transcript. We have learned that. That has been acknowledge. It's a rough accounting of what that call was.

One White House official, Alexander Vindman, attempted to make changes to the transcript to offer more clarity and he was stopped from doing that.

I am now going to get off my soap box.

Abby, thank you so much.

Daniel Dale, thank you. I really appreciate it.

Let us move to Capitol Hill. This is one of the focuses at the moment, where another demand for testimony was met with a no show. This time it was from -- President Trump was talking about it right there -- the highest-ranking White House official to be subpoenaed in the impeachment inquiry yet.

Late last night, acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was issued a subpoena for testimony today. Despite that, he's not showing up. Lawmakers are determined to hear his account when it comes to the Ukraine scandal.

But this -- and why it is no wonder that they would, especially after this memorable moment from the White House briefing room last month when Mick Mulvaney started taking questions and acknowledged, admitted and doubled down on the fact that what took place was a quid pro quo.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This is a corrupt place. I don't want to send them a bunch of money and have them waste it, have them use it to line their own pockets.

Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. That's why we held up the money.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What you just described is a quid pro quo. It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens, as well.

MULVANEY: We do that all the time with foreign policy.


BOLDUAN: Shortly after that, of course, facing a ton of backlash, Mick Mulvaney tried to walk that back, essentially saying he did not say what he said.

This comes on the heels of some of the most explosive information to come out from a current State Department official. His name is George Kent. His transcript from his deposition was released yesterday. That's the latest from House Democrats.

And Kent, in that testimony, says that Rudy Giuliani was running a campaign of lies in Ukraine and that he was cut on you out of Ukraine policy decisions after White House meetings organized by none other than Mick Mulvaney. There's more to that.

So let's get over to Capitol Hill for this part of it. CNN's Phil Mattingly is there.

Phil, what kind of impact is Mulvaney not showing up having? And we had one thing answered from the president. Asked why he's not allowing officials like Mick Mulvaney to go to Capitol Hill, he says, I don't want to give credibility to the investigation.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And when you heard those comments, frankly, you've watched the White House posture on this throughout the last couple of weeks, nobody expected Mick Mulvaney to show up this morning.

Yet still, Mick Mulvaney's outside council, a minute before he was scheduled to testify, informed Democratic investigators that he would not be showing up because the White House believes, as is stated with other top officials, that he has absolute immunity.

Let me explain why Mulvaney not being here is important. First and foremost, his not showing up doesn't mean he's out of the game on this one. His name will likely appear in an article of impeachment relating to obstruction. Anybody who doesn't show up will be in an article of impeachment.


The other piece is there's a hole in the investigation in the sense that nobody has been able to tie the president to the alleged quid pro quo. And the reason why is there's such a small number of people around the president delivering these orders. Mick Mulvaney was one of them.

The reason U.S. aid to Ukraine was suspended, according to several people informed by OMB, because the president directed Mick Mulvaney to do so. Why did that happen? How did that happen? It's still unclear. That is why Mulvaney's testimony, if it ever comes, and that seems unlikely right now, is important.

The other piece is George Kent's testimony yesterday, a career diplomate, a top State Department official overseeing Ukraine, largely lining up with what we've heard from a lot of other career diplomates, as well. Talking about a U.S. foreign policy essential gone rogue as it pertained to Ukraine.

Rogue elements and actors, led by Rudy Giuliani, helping to undercut through a, quote, "campaign of lies," the standing U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

You also heard his discomfort. So much so that he wrote a memo in August with the idea that political investigations were almost becoming par for the course of what the administration wanted, making clear that that is not the U.S. policy, it never has been. And, in fact, according to him, that is what the U.S. is traditionally castigating other countries for doing.

So you're going to see that probably come out in a couple of transcripts in the next day or two. But you're going to see that in public hearings next week, Kate.

I think what we've seen this week, through William Taylor's transcript, through George Kent's transcript, Yovanovitch's testimony and transcript, is a continued thread that lines up with one another and that's going to blow into the public sphere next week.

Wednesday, Taylor and Kent testify. Friday, Yovanovitch testifies. And all of this is going to move to camera, live and in living color. And the public is going to watch everything we've been reading in these transcripts.

BOLDUAN: And that's exactly right. And it reinforces an important point to reiterate following hearing from the president from the White House, Phil, which is that when he harps on the whistleblower and wanting to know the whistleblower's identity, it's past the whistleblower's identity because the officials you're laying out have confirmed and gone beyond what the whistle blower laid out in the complaint.

MATTINGLY: Yes. That is absolutely the case. You hear that from a lot of Democrats.

I think Republicans stick to the fact that they believe nobody has directly connected to the president and they're not incorrect on that. But to believe that, you would have to believe other people were operating on their own as rogue actors.

So I think those are the two dynamics we're going to see next week. Throughout, the story seems to largely line up as the same, and Republicans saying, fine, fair, whatever. It doesn't directly connect to the president. So how this all plays out will be interesting to see.

One thing is clear, there's a thread through multiple officials about what was happening with U.S. policy to Ukraine, what was happening with the effort to push a political statement from the Ukrainians. And how that ties together is going to become very, very public next week.

BOLDUAN: And how if inappropriate is going to lead to impeachable. That's going to be the final question for the House and Senate.

It's good to see you. Thank you so much.

So House impeachment inquiry kicks into gear next week with those first public hearings. How is it going to change things?

Joining me now, Democratic Senator from Maryland, Chris Van Hollen.

Senator, thank you for coming in.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): It's good to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

First and foremost, the fact that Mick Mulvaney is not showing up, the president says he doesn't want to give credibility to the investigation. But what message does it send to you that he's not showing up?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Kate, it sends the message to me, and I think most to the American public, that they have something to hide. If they had a good story to tell, they would want to tell it.

The difference is when Mick Mulvaney was at the White House and blurted out the truth in that segment you just played, he had to retract the statement under pressure.

But when it comes to Congress, it will be very a different situation. He will have to raise his right hand, be sworn in, and testify under the penalty of perjury. These White House folks do not want to testify under penalty of perjury.

We have patriotic Americans, like Ambassador Taylor, testifying under penalty of perjury. If they make stuff up, they can go to jail. No one in the White House wants to put themselves in that situation.

As we know, even President Trump refused to testify under penalty of perjury through a deposition in Mueller because the stakes are much higher.

So that is the big difference here. They don't have a good story to tell and they don't want to tell the bad story because it will come out under penalty of perjury.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this --

VAN HOLLEN: They don't want to testify because it will come out.

BOLDUAN: The "Washington Post" is reporting now that the Republicans are trying to protect the president by making, Mick Mulvaney, Ambassador Sondland, and Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the fall guys. And we've started to see some of the way they're talking about this. President Trump now saying he doesn't even know the guy in terms of Gordon Sondland.


If that is the plan now to make them the fall guys, what does it -- what do you do with that, then?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Kate, that just tells me that the walls are closing in on this president. If he's going to throw all the people that we know he knows well, have been big supporters of his during the campaign, and throw them overboard, that is a desperate strategy. And it won't work.

Look, we have the transcript, not the exact transcript, the memo. The president keeps calling it perfect. But we all know, if you actually look at that memo, the president does change the conversation with the Ukrainian leader from providing U.S. military assistance to favors that he's going to ask of the Ukrainian government.

And all these other witnesses under oath are going to be filling in the blanks.

I think the American public is not going to be fooled this time around and they're not going to be sort of following the president's efforts to distract about the whistleblower.

All the president is trying to do on the whistleblower is scare other potential whistleblowers in government from coming forward. That's why we have a law to protect the identity of whistleblowers because we don't want them to be retaliated against.

What the president is saying is anyone who comes forward, we're going to disclose your identity and come after you full bore.

BOLDUAN: Following questions you raised with the Government Accountability Office, which is Congress' nonpartisan investigation arm, the office, the GAO, as we lovingly call it, is now reviewing whether the hold that the White House put on military aid money for Ukraine, if it violated the law. If they come back to you and say that it did violate appropriations law, Senator, what do you do?

VAN HOLLEN: So, Kate, that is a good question. And let me just say before that these are two distinct issues. And I want to emphasize that because the focus of the House impeachment inquiry goes to the abuse of power where the president said to the Ukrainian leader, we're not going the give you this taxpayer-funded military assistance.

There's a separate law on the books to prevent presidents from impounding money Congress has appropriated through the regular process, withholding money. And the GAO, in 2018, issued a legal opinion saying presidents could not sort of run out the clock at the end of the fiscal year by submitting rescission requests to take back money and not giving Congress enough time to act on that.

So what we've asked GAO to do is look into whether the president and this administration was attempting to impound money illegally.

The answer to your question is, unfortunately, there's no legal recourse currently. I did offer an amendment in the Budget Committee just this week that was accepted that, going forward in the future, would apply penalties to folks in the administration who try to illegally impound money.

But right now, there's no real legal recourse and that's part of the weakness of this system. We'll look forward to what GAO has to say. BOLDUAN: So if articles of impeachment would pass by year's end in

the House, that means a trial in the Senate come January. Are you concerned that that could then force -- because this is some of the conversation I'm seeing in reporting now, Senator -- that this could force the six Senators running in the presidential primary, force them off the trail and back in Washington?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, this is an important and very solemn moment for the country and that is going to be one of the -- you know, that's going to be something they're just going to have to do to do their job as Senators.

It's important that members of the Senate be there to listen to the testimony and make their decisions. And so that is an issue, obviously, they're going to have to deal with.

But my --


BOLDUAN: In summary, tough cookies.

VAN HOLLEN: -- to make sure -- well, I mean, my main concern is that we get the facts, that the country gets the facts, and that we all deliberate and issue a judgment in a fair way. And I think that is everybody's responsibility.

BOLDUAN: Senator, thanks for coming in. I'm interested to hear what you hear back from DOJ on this. Thanks for coming in.

VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely. Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Coming up, it is a move that has the potential of rocking the Democratic presidential race. Billionaire businessman, former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, now actively taking steps closer to jumping into the race. Does he pose a viable threat to President Trump? What is his path? What has changed his mind to get him to a place of almost yes after he was definitely a no just a short few weeks ago? That is next.



BOLDUAN: Moments ago, President Trump said he will not be campaigning against his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the man the president called his biggest mistake not long ago.

Sessions announced he's running for his old Senate seat and he went to great lengths to show Trump a lot of love in his new ad.

Joining me right now, CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, is there surprise that Trump made that declaration that he won't get involved?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was surprising that he spared some of the heat for Jeff Sessions. He was signaling that he was not going be so nice when Sessions announced his candidacy, which he did last night.

But the way he did might have helped the president's reaction. Listen to how Jeff Sessions told the people of Alabama he was going to get back in this race.


JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: When I left President Trump's cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope. Have I said a cross word about our president? Not one time.

And I'll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine.


COLLINS: So you see there, Kate, he is confronting the tension with the president head on. And that might have been a factor with how the president responded a few moments ago when he was asked what he thought about his former attorney general getting in the race.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will you endorse Jeff Sessions in the Alabama Senate run?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I haven't gotten involved. I saw he said very nice things about my last night. We'll have to see.


TRUMP: I haven't made a determination.


TRUMP: Yes, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you forgiven him for the - (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: I don't even think about it.



COLLINS: So you see there at the end, he says he doesn't even think about the Russia investigation anymore when a reporter asked if he had forgiven Sessions for recusing himself. At was at the center of their feud.

And while you're seeing them being nice to each other in front of the cameras, Kate, we know recently Jeff Sessions had been signalling for quite a few weeks that he was going to get into this race. That message was making its way to the president who was telling people he was going to attack Sessions if he got into this race, that he wasn't going to be someone who was on his side.

And he hinted that when he talked about the tough competition Jeff was going on be up against when talking about whether or not he was going to get the nomination.

That is what Republicans are worried about, there is going to be a distraction, this feud between the president and Jeff Sessions and that is going to end up keeping someone like Doug Jones, a Democrat, in a seat that is typically Republican.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, good to see you. Thank you.

So a major potential shake-up in the 2020 race. Billionaire businessman former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, now actively preparing to enter the Democratic presidential primary. He's expected to file the necessary paperwork to get on the ballot in Alabama.

Yes, it has flirted with a presidential run in the past, but he announced in March he was not getting in. And this is what he told me in just late September.


BOLDUAN: Would you like to make an announcement today?


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Yes, I'll make an announcement that I'm comfortable with my decision.


Look, I was educated as an engineer. Engineers try to solve problems. I was lucky enough to be mayor of New York City for 12 years. We solved a lot of problems. Not all of them, not perfectly, but we made a difference.

And the truth of the matter is, when you look at the layout of who is going to vote and where the country is, I would be unlikely to get elected. But in the private sector, I can make a difference.


BOLDUAN: So what changed? Sources close to Bloomberg tells me, at least in part, it's the fact that he's watched the primary play out in recent weeks with growing levels of concern.

What impact will Bloomberg's move have on the race? And what more is going into his decision of whether to jump in with both feet this late in the game?

Joining me right now is Dennis Walcott. He was deputy mayor for education in Bloomberg's administration.

Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: I appreciate it.

So you spoke to Mike Bloomberg just yesterday. What did he tell you? Did he clue you in to what happened?

WALCOTT: He gave us an overview that he plans to file in Alabama and, really, we're very happy about that.

I want to talk about Mike Bloomberg, the mayor. As he said in the piece with you, he's an engineer by training. And with that training, he's been able to make a decision and stick to it. And his decision, I think, is to file at this point.

BOLDUAN: Did he explain his thinking more to you at all? How did he explain to you why he's taking this step?

I was just surprises. That was late September and he was I'm comfortable where I am and I can do a lot from the private sector to have an impact on policy and the change in the direction in the country. Now he's in a different place. Did he give you more in his thinking?


WALCOTT: I think he's a man who really wants to make a difference in life and a difference in or world and in our country.