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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump and Giuliani Staying in Touch?; More Impeachment Testimony Revelations Emerge. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 8, 2019 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Good to have you with us, Barnard Whitman.

And that does it for us on this Friday. Thanks for being here.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis." I'm Jake Tapper live in Washington.

And we start today with this breaking news.

Deposition testimony released this afternoon by the House of Representatives suggests that Ukrainian government officials were directly told by the White House that they needed to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden if they wanted a White House meeting with President Trump, and that that agreement was directed by the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

Lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukrainian expert in the White House, described a July 10 meeting with Ukrainian government officials in the basement of the White House, when Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union -- quote -- "said that he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney and this" -- meaning investigations -- "is what was required in order to get a meeting."

Vindman was then asked: "Did he explain what the investigations were that were needed?"

Vindman replied: "He was talking about the 2016 elections and an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma."

This was in the lead-up to the infamous July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, when Trump continued to press that case.

Questioner: "Was there any doubt in your mind as to what the president, our president, was asking for as a deliverable?"

Vindman: "There was no doubt." President Trump's former Russia adviser, Dr. Fiona Hill, says her boss, then National Security Adviser John Bolton, told her to stay away from President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was running something of a shadow campaign in Ukraine.

CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood joins me now.

And, Kylie, let's start with the testimony from Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. He says he saw this from the president and from Sondland as a very clear demand, a meeting in exchange for investigations of the Bidens.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right.

So, Alex Vindman was on this July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky. And in his opening remarks before lawmakers, he told them that he was fearful about that call. He raised it with the lawyers at the White House, because he saw that it was not proper for this demand that President Trump was making that the Ukrainians investigate a U.S. citizen, obviously, that citizen being the Bidens.

And so then lawmakers, during their testimony with him, asked him exactly what he meant by a demand, because, in the transcript, President Trump says he wants this favor.

And this is how Vindman describes that. He says -- quote -- "The power disparity between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine is vast. And, you know in the president asking for something, it became there was in return for White House meeting, because that's what this was about. This was about getting a White House meeting. It was a demand for him to fulfill his -- fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting," essentially saying there that President Trump was perhaps making a request, but it was, in essence, a demand, because President Zelensky would have no choice but to comply with an ask like this from the president of the United States.

TAPPER: Right.

And, Kylie, Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill, the former Russia adviser to President Trump, in her testimony, they both connect acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney directly to this quid pro quo.

ATWOOD: Yes, that's right.

So there was this July 10 meeting at the White House, when there were a bunch of Ukrainian officials there. Fiona Hill, who's the former senior Russia adviser to President Trump, was there throughout the day. And she describes Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who is the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., basically throwing off what was supposed to be the trajectory of the meeting with the Ukrainians.

And she talks about Gordon Sondland referencing Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff, in regard to an agreement that they had had about what the Ukrainians had to do for a meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky.

So I want to read to you how she described that to lawmakers.

"Ambassador Sondland blurted out: 'Well, we have an agreement with the chief of staff for a meeting, if these investigations in the energy sector start. And Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened and ended the meeting."

So that is the first meeting that took place in the White House. And then the same day, there's a follow-up series of meetings. And Fiona Hill, who's speaking to lawmakers about her experience in being part of those meetings, walked in again when Ambassador Sondland was once again referencing investigations and his conversations with Mick Mulvaney with the Ukrainians.

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And this is how she described a follow-up meeting later that day: "Ambassador Sondland in front of the Ukrainians as I came in was talking about how he had an agreement with Chief of Staff Mulvaney for a meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations. And my director for Ukraine was looking completely alarmed."

Now, of course, noteworthy, Jake, because, today, Mick Mulvaney was supposed to show up. He was subpoenaed. And he didn't. And he is the one who actually laid out the elements of a quid pro quo, but told reporters this happens all the time.

TAPPER: All right.

And Fiona Hill, we should also point out, when she says an investigation into the energy sector, she also said that's code for an investigation into Burisma and the Bidens.

Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

Let's bring in John Dean, the former White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, who knows something about impeachments.

Mr. Dean, thank you, as always for joining us.

Both of these witnesses, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill, they both directly tie the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to this, I don't know if you want to call it extortion, quid pro quo, this deal, whatever you want to call it.

Mulvaney was subpoenaed, but he defied and skipped his deposition today. How much does today's testimony put Mulvaney at risk?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It puts him directly at risk. He's right in the middle of this whole scheme.

We don't know -- we don't have enough of the detail to know which side of the quid pro quo we're talking about, whether it's bribery or extortion or possibly both. But it is -- that is one of the crimes that is defined in the Constitution as being impeachable.

And it looks like a conspiracy to undertake this activity involved the president, involved Mulvaney, involved Sondland, who has been very light on his testimony in this area, and very fuzzy with his memory, where others have very clear memory of what happened.

TAPPER: Do you think that the White House is preparing to use Giuliani, Sondland, Mulvaney, any of them, all of them, as a potential fall guy?

DEAN: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN: That would be his standard procedure, to find a scapegoat and lay it off.

But, you know, Trump is just in the middle of this, and driving it, before the call and after the call. And he's the one who has -- the only one who could put the hold on the aid.

From the Fiona testimony and the Vindman testimony, it's not quite clear when the issue of holding up military assistance came into play. Initially, it was clearly a White House meeting that the president of Ukraine wanted, and, at some point, they added into that withholding the funds that were coming down from Congress.

And that's a big deal, because that threatened lives. That threatened national security. This is wrong, Jake, on so many levels. It's stunning.

TAPPER: Vindman describes a meeting he was in with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

Vindman asked -- quote -- "What did you hear Sondland say?"

Vindman says -- quote -- "That the Ukrainian would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens."

He's then asked -- quote -- "Into the Bidens? So, in the Ward Room" -- that's the basement room in the White House -- "In the Ward Room, he mentioned the word Bidens?"

Vindman replies -- quote -- "To the best of my recollection, yes."

Fiona Hill says she remembered Sondland used the term Burisma. That's the energy firm where Hunter Biden served on the board.

What is your reaction to that?

DEAN: Well, Sondland did come around and refresh his recollection on the fact that he had delivered that message. That's his amended testimony, where he says right flat out that he, in essence, did pass that message on to the Ukrainians.

So I think he was more worried about perjury there. He really hasn't -- or his lawyers probably have talked to him about whether or not this is a general conspiracy he's a part of.

So, he has got great jeopardy in this as to what happens next, and we don't know what's going to happen next.

TAPPER: Indeed, we don't.

John Dean, thank you, as always, for your time today. Appreciate it.

President Trump today with lots to say on the impeachment inquiry, including not wanting one thing members of his own party have been asking for, for weeks.

Plus, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg possibly ignoring something very important as he considers joining the 2020 presidential race. What is it?

Stay with us.

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TAPPER: And we're back with our special coverage of THE LEAD: "The White House in Crisis."

This afternoon, House Democrats released transcripts from two key impeachment witnesses, who both testified that they raised red flags about the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.

But President Trump said this morning he's not concerned about any of the testimony that he has seen so far and insisted there should not be public impeachment hearings next week at all.

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CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins me now live.

And, Kaitlan, earlier this week, the president complained about secret meetings, but now he's upset that they are going to be public?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And the reason he says he's upset is because he says he's worried about the precedent that it's going to set. He says the concern is not because of what these officials are going to potentially say. He just doesn't want what they have to being aired potentially live on television.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not concerned about anything. The testimony has all been fine. I mean, for the most part, I never even heard of these people. I have no idea who they are. They shouldn't be having public hearings. This is a hoax. This is just like the Russian witch-hunt. This is just a continuation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now, despite those comments, the White House has -- of course, for weeks has been criticizing Democrats for holding these hearings behind closed doors.

But, really, what they're bracing for, Jake, with these public hearings, what we have been told by officials, is that they're learning a lot of what these officials are saying about the president's conduct behind closed doors largely along with the rest of the country, because they don't have an attorney in the room for these hearings that are happening so far.

So, essentially, they don't know what it is they're going to say.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, one of the key players in the Ukraine scandal is U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

What did President Trump have to say about him today?

COLLINS: Yes, the president was asked about him. And he distanced himself from him. He said he didn't hardly know the gentleman, though, of course, we should note that Gordon Sondland is not only the president's ambassador to the European Union. He donated a million dollars to his inauguration.

He's been seen on Air Force One, even briefing reporters at one point earlier this year. And, of course, if you read through these transcripts, you see the influence that Sondland had on other officials who didn't like necessarily what he was doing, but they listened to him or dealt with him because they knew he had close proximity with the president.

And he's one of the very few officials involved in all of this who had direct conversations on the phone with the president.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney skipped his deposition on Capitol Hill today, refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena in the impeachment investigation. Mulvaney's lawyers telling investigators that the White House is now claiming -- quote -- "absolute immunity" to keep Mulvaney from testifying.

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is live for us on Capitol Hill.

Phil, a second Trump administration official also refused to show up today. How does this shape the public testimony that we're going to hear and see next week?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, all systems go was the message I got from a Democratic lawmaker working on these committees investigating this a short while ago.

In other words, the public hearings will go forward, the process will go forward. And the next time, according to this lawmaker, you're probably going to see Mick Mulvaney's name, at least from Democrats, is in an article of impeachment drafted specifically to deal with obstruction.

Pretty much everybody who's declined to come in because the White House has directed them to will end up in that sphere. But this all does also create a hole. You mentioned the two hearings next week, three witnesses expected to testify, and those witnesses have at times pointed directly to Mick Mulvaney's role.

You were just having the discussion about the role Mick Mulvaney played, as laid out by Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman today, related to a specific deliverable for a White House meeting, that deliverable being investigations, according to E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, also Mick Mulvaney's direct role in the decision to suspend U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.

Those are answers or specific windows into what occurred that Democratic lawmakers want and in some cases say they need. That said, they have made clear they're moving forward no matter what. And any time the White House decides not to send anybody up here or any time, in their words, the White House decides to obstruct, all that becomes is more evidence for that single article of impeachment they're considering, along with several others related to obstruction -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

I want to discuss these transcripts with two former federal prosecutors, Shan Wu and Elie Honig. Elie is also the former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Shan, let me start with you.

John Bolton is all over these transcripts...

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes.

TAPPER: ... expressing dismay, being upset about what's going on.

And he has yet to comply with a House request that he come and testify. His lawyer wrote a letter to congressional leaders that we just learned about minutes ago saying the Bolton has a lot more information that we don't even know about that hasn't been disclosed.

What role is he going to play in this?

WU: Well, I think he could play a very dangerous role for the White House in this.

I mean, clearly, he was not happy with what was going on. And he actually terminates a meeting when Sondland talks about the deliverables there. And also, of course, he wasn't happy with the way that he was treated.

So the White House is probably very worried about what he may say. Legally, smart for him to want to sort out what's going to happen, if his subpoena is enforceable. Even though he may have a grudge against the White House and Trump at this point, he's still not going to be wild to get up there and testify.

So he wants to delay it some.

TAPPER: And take a look at this exchange over White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's role in all this.

Lieutenant Colonel Vindman says: "So I heard him" -- meaning Sondland -- "say that this had been coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney."

[15:20:03]

Question: "What did he say about that?"

Answer: "He just said that he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney."

This is Sondland talking.

"And this is what was required in order to get a meeting."

Question: "Did he explain what the investigations were that were needed?"

Answer: "He talked about the investigations, which I guess I will refer to my statement. So, I mean, it was the 2016. These things tend to be conflated at some point" -- he was talking about the 2016 elections -- "and an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma."

And, in addition, we have Fiona Hill basically having the same account of that same meeting, going back to John Bolton, telling him about it. And he says, tell the NSC lawyer. I don't want to have any part of the drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland are cooking up.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Jake, the biggest takeaway I take from today's transcripts is this takes the scheme right into the West Wing, right into the doorway of the Oval Office.

And one of the defenses that we're starting to see materialize on Trump's behalf is, well, maybe this was the work of some people around me, some people within the diplomatic channels or other sort of second-tier people.

TAPPER: Giuliani, Sondland, right.

HONIG: Right. But it doesn't impact me. It didn't involve me, President Donald Trump.

Now, put aside the pretty clear things Donald Trump himself says on the July 25 transcript. Today's testimony gets not only the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, but Fiona Hill also brings in Pat Cipollone, White House counsel.

She says, I reported this up the chain to Eisenberg, the NSC counsel, and then he told me that he had talked to Cipollone. So now we have the chief of staff and the White House counsel directly

involved in this. It's getting harder and harder for Trump to run from that.

TAPPER: And there's also a lot of questions about Rudy Giuliani, Fiona Hill testifying that Bolton, then the national security adviser, told her he was a hand grenade, and that Bolton told the staff no one should be meeting with Rudy Giuliani and then -- quote -- "I was extremely concerned that whatever it was that Mr. Giuliani was doing might not be legal, especially after, you know, people had raised with me these two gentlemen Parnas and Fruman."

Those are the individuals that were indicted several weeks ago for campaign election allegations that they broke the law.

WU: Another example of how dangerous Bolton is to the White House, because the Democrats are going to be dying to know why he described him as a hand grenade. What's he doing wrong? Let's hear about what those concerns are.

So that's just another sign of how dangerous he is for them.

TAPPER: But I guess one of the questions I have is, Bolton obviously knows so much. Mick Mulvaney obviously knows so much. We haven't heard from either of them in these depositions. And they're both refusing to comply with subpoenas.

They're both saying that they're not going to testify. Are we ever going to hear from them?

HONIG: It's such an interesting strategic dilemma that the House Democrats have. They really only have one -- as a practical matter, one remedy, which is go into court and try to compel them.

The problem is, that takes an eternity, I think more time than the Democrats realistically have. They tried to force Kupperman into court and the judge last week said, come back in December, December 10. They don't have that kind of time.

But the downside, as you said, Jake, is, we're missing critical parts of this. We're missing testimony from key people like Bolton and Mulvaney. And the question is, look, if they really are here in the interest of truth and fact-finding, they should come forward and do their job.

The fact that they're hiding, I think, is telling.

WU: And I don't think we will ever see Mulvaney in that chair, because, frankly, I think he has a Fifth Amendment problem.

HONIG: Yes.

WU: By the time you strip away absolute immunity, strip away get executive privilege, he's still going to take the Fifth Amendment.

TAPPER: Right. But, OK, so Mulvaney is a current acting White House chief of staff.

Arguably, he can claim executive privilege. I mean, I understand that's debatable, but you can make that argument.

But John Bolton doesn't work for the president anymore.

WU: Absolutely. Right.

TAPPER: So, I mean, why -- I mean, he obviously holds a lot of cards here. His lawyer is out there saying he knows even more things that we don't know about.

WU: Right.

TAPPER: We're never going to hear from him on this?

WU: Well, Bolton, I think, we may hear from.

And I were his lawyer, I'd be putting out a feeler out there looking for an immunity from Congress. And that's what he's hinting at. He's got more for you. Give him a pass, he will be there.

TAPPER: Ah, interesting.

All right, Shan Wu and Elie Honig, thank you so much.

As if the impeachment inquiry were not enough, new details of a possible midnight self-massacre at the White House.

We will explain next.

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TAPPER: And we're back with our special coverage of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis."

Sources telling CNN that President Trump is still very much in touch with his attorney Rudy Giuliani, despite the impeachment inquiry engulfing Mr. Giuliani. The two apparently remain close, as Giuliani's name comes up again and again and again in these witness transcripts of their depositions.

Let's dig into this.

And, Pamela, let me start with you.

Giuliani has, as far as the media is concerned, gone off the grid, but is he still talking to the President Trump?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's still very much on the grid for President Trump, according to our reporting with my colleague Michael Warren.

In fact, as recently as late October, a source familiar said that President Trump was reaching out to Giuliani at least once a day to talk to him.

This is, of course, happening as all of these revelations come to light in the impeachment probe, with more recently the transcript release today, where we're learning more about the view of Giuliani and the administration, viewing him as a live hand grenade, as Alex Vindman, the NSC official, put it.

He is continuing...

TAPPER: I think that was actually Bolton described him as a...

BROWN: He -- he -- Bolton did. And then -- and Vindman also-called him a live...

TAPPER: Oh.

BROWN: ... a live hand grenade.

TAPPER: So, there's consensus.

BROWN: So, there's consensus.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: OK.

BROWN: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: So, they both did.

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