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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Sources Say Trump and Giuliani Remain in Touch; Witnesses Said Quid Pro Quo Connected to Mulvaney; White House Blasts Anonymous Book as a Work of Fiction. Anonymous Author Said Trump Officials Considered Resigning En Masse; Former NYC Mayor and Billionaire Expected to Enter 2020 Democratic Race; Steve Bannon: I Viewed Stone as Access Point to Wikileaks. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 8, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

TAPPER: -- Bolton described him as ---

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Bolton did and Vindman also called him a live hand grenade.

TAPPER: So there's consensus.

MURRAY: So there's consensus. Exactly. So they both did. And so it's fascinating though because as Giuliani continues to be at the center of this engulfed in the impeachment probe, the President appears to be undeterred by that. Continuing to talk to him, continuing to view him as a member of his legal team. And I think this all just goes back to according to sources of the sense of loyalty to Giuliani. They go way back. Back to the '80s. Going up the ranks in New York together and the President still very much appreciates Giuliani standing by his side after that "Access Hollywood" tape, and so far, they're sticking by each other.

TAPPER: That's right. Giuliani was the only one that would go out there and defend him.

MURRAY: Yes. His attack dog.

TAPPER: But Kaitlan, today was a really bad day for Mick Mulvaney the Acting White House Chief of Staff. Both Alexander Vindman, the lieutenant colonel who works on the national security staff and Dr. Fiona Hill who used to work in the White House, both of them identified Mulvaney as somebody that Sondland's said to the Ukrainians in the ward room, in the basement of the White House, telling the Ukrainians basically you have to investigate the Bidens and Burisma if you want a White House meeting. This is something that I've worked out with Mick Mulvaney, and the White House has not yet commented on this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And you can see why these officials listened to Sondland. Because they thought he's operating on orders from not only the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani but also speaking with the White House Chief of Staff. That's about as high up as it gets to most people if you're viewing the West Wing. And there were already questions about Mick Mulvaney's role in all this. Of course, Democrats wanted to talk to him, had him -- requested for him to come to Capitol Hill something he declined to do. And so now this is only going to fuel further questions about his role in all of this.

Also given that briefing he gave where he made pretty clear he did not think that this was a problem and he essentially admitted this quid pro quo agreement, and now they're going to be other questions about exactly the role he had navigating this policy.

TAPPER: What was your reaction? You're a former White House official in the Bush-Quayle administration?

BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: As a Vice Presidential Chief of Staff, I think if the Chief of Staff says something, you assume he's speaking for the principal, for the President, or in my case the Vice President, unless it's

something so trivial that of course he could resolve it on his own, which is not the case here.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: If Mick Mulvaney tells a foreign government that, oh, you better do, or tells someone to telephone our government, you better to do this. It has to be the President of United States. Mulvaney has no authority to intervene in decisions in whether to send hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, unless the President told him to stop it. So I think it's really -- it is very striking.

TAPPER: And Jen, I want to change the subject to a different problem for the White House -- a lesser one. But there's this new book coming out by the former or current, we don't know, senior administration official for the Trump administration. It's called "A Warning."

We don't know who it is and according to an excerpt obtained by the "Washington Post", senior administration officials plan to resign en mass last year to sound the alarm about President Trump. The White House has responded to these book excerpts saying in part, quote, the coward who wrote this book didn't put their name on it because it's nothing but lies. Real author reaches out to subjects to get facts checked. But this person is in hiding making that very basic part of being a real writer impossible. They have a point, I would say -- the White House.

JEN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look I will say when this op-ed came out it was so shocking and everybody was talking about it and trying to figure who this person was, and who they were close to and how close to the President. Now we're hear these excerpts at a time when there are national security officials who are very high level in the administration speaking on the record about what they're seeing. I would say the shock and awe of anonymous has diminished. I'm getting a little over it. I'm ready to know who the person is. I'd like to know the context of their comments are. And even this notion in this report -- which is certainly interesting, I will buy and read the book of course like everybody else. But -- TAPPER: I think we all will.

PSAKI: We all will. But this notion that there was going a walkout en masse, that's a little bit like saying my friends and I were walking by a building was burning, we almost saved a woman and we didn't. Like they expect to get credit for that. At a certain point you're complicit in what's going on. So, that's my question.

COLLINS: That's what I think is so interesting too. I mean you have this book written by an anonymous or current senior administration official but you also have this on the record testimony from current and former officials describing pure chaos essentially in the administration as it pertains to Ukraine policy in particular.

I mean this description by Fiona Hill of having to run home and the watch news for Rudy Giuliani to see what he what he was going to say, you know. And the fact that she got into it with Gordon Sondland about Ukraine, when he said, no, I'm in charge of Ukraine policy. She said, well, no, I am. He said, well, this is coming from the President and it totally caught her off guard. I mean that just paints a picture right there on the record from these --

PSAKI: Exactly. And I think it just shows the courage of people. You know you had Fiona Hill talking about how she felt threatened, there were conspiracy theories around her. We heard it from Ambassador Yovanovitch. Those are the type of people who are being courageous. I'm not sure hiding behind anonymous is still courageous.

[15:35:00]

KRISTOL: The House Republicans are going to say, if you read the transcripts. They really are buffoonish in their questioning and silly which makes I think Hill and Vindman and the others, Taylor, look even more impressive. But you know what, if they think that Giuliani, what you're saying, Giuliani and Mulvaney are the two who could testify to their direct contacts with Donald Trump. If House Republicans are convinced that those contacts were innocent, you know who they could call as witnesses? Giuliani and Mulvaney.

TAPPER: Giuliani and Mulvaney. And they could agree to do it also.

KRISTOL: And they could agree to do it.

TAPPER: If they had an interest. We have to take a quick break. Stick around. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is many things including someone who swears by data but he might be ignoring some critically important information. That's next.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our 2020 LEAD today, a November surprise. Michael Bloomberg may be running for President. The former New York City Mayor and eighth richest person in America is laying the groundwork for a presidential bid planning to file paperwork by end of business today for the Alabama primary just in case he decides to run.

CNN's Cristina Alesci joins me now. So Cristina, Bloomberg has not officially announced he's running, all signs seem to be pointing in that direction.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And this is an about-face even from two months ago when he told us that he felt completely comfortable sitting this one out. So the big question today is, what changed?

Well, Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson put out this statement yesterday. We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated but Mike is increasingly concerned about the current field of candidates is not well positioned to do that.

But the reality is, the one major thing that has happened is that Biden has really struggled and Bloomberg is watching him struggle and thinks that perhaps he has an opportunity there. The reality, however, for Bloomberg is that the path isn't clear for him either. We don't have a ton of national data for Bloomberg but if you look at a national poll conducted in the spring -- he was at 2 percent. If you look at a more current one from Fox he was at 6 percent. So those aren't great numbers for Bloomberg.

In fairness, Bloomberg hasn't officially launched a campaign or never had one going. So he didn't put a lot of time and effort into it. So his people are saying, just give it time. If he does plan to run, you know, there could be a lot of room for improvement.

TAPPER: Cristina, there's a history here of Bloomberg doing this kind of strip tease. What are the odds that he actually runs?

ALESCI: Yes, he's teasing all of us for sure. The odds that he actually runs at this point I got to say based on my reporting is more than 50 percent for sure. Otherwise he wouldn't have filed in Alabama. But there's still a big question mark on whether he's going to pull that trigger. But one thing is for sure, if he decides to run, Mike Bloomberg is the kind of guy that's going to leave nothing on the battlefield. He's going to put a tremendous amount of resources into this. He's worth 52 billion dollars. He's going to look to put that to work.

And earlier in the year when I was talking to his people about what the budget would be for a campaign, they essentially said there is no budget. So the money is both a blessing and a curse. Of course, it's going to open him up to criticism that he's a billionaire buying the election and it's going to draw fire from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who say billionaires can't deal with income inequality. So he's got a tough road ahead -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank so much. CNN political director David Chalian joins me now. So first of all, David, when you hear the Bloomberg team say that he looks out and he sees the Democratic candidates and he doesn't think any of them are positioned to defeat Trump. That's a very different criticism than saying, that he thinks that he would be a better President than any of them. He's saying, translate that for us.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I mean, this is why it's so important to separate out. There's nothing between yesterday and today, Jake, that made getting the Democratic nomination or getting 270 electoral votes easier for Mike Bloomberg today than it was last week or six months ago when he looked at the data and said this is not for me.

What is different, though, the one thing that is different now is his political assessment of the Democratic nomination race. He -- according to his aides -- does not see Biden as strong of a character as he thought he might have been and somehow, he thinks that provides an opening to him. I just would say, there's nothing that suggests an easier path to the nomination for Mike Bloomberg here than was ever the case, which is why he's ruled this out in the past.

TAPPER: So Biden's strength, right, comes from essentially white working-class voters, non-college educated voters, and then also minority voters, African American voters. So that's where Biden as a candidate in the Democratic field is strong. Does Bloomberg have appeal to those voters? I mean, he seems to me like he would be -- I couldn't see an argument for maybe moderates he's somebody that would have some appeal. But I mean can he go to South Carolina and win over African American voters?

CHALIAN: There's no evidence that he can yet. Now, obviously he had at times support among African Americans as New York City Mayor and at times he had a tough relationship with African Americans, but there's no indication nationally which you are right. Non-white voters, that is the bedrock of the Democratic Party. That's how you win a Democratic party nomination, it is part of what Joe Biden's resiliency has been about in this race. Why he's remained at the top of the heap even if had lackluster debate performances or what have you.

[15:45:00]

And there's no indication that Michael Bloomberg has some path to take slice out of that. The other you mentioned -- you mentioned working class, you mentioned non-white. Older voters have been drawn and you mentioned the moderate conservatives. Yes, that's a potential opportunity for Mike Bloomberg, former Republican, independent, maybe he can make an appeal there. But, again, coming in at this stage of the game is nothing about trying to put together a campaign that's going have momentum and catapult you into a Democratic Party nomination.

That's already happening without Mike Bloomberg. This I their hope, their plan is to come in with a massive amount of money, try to amass enough delegates on super Tuesday and beyond, just on a national campaign. Not building a state-by-state operation, that they just don't have a place yet. I think it is such a steep climb for Mike Bloomberg. But that doesn't mean that he's not using his huge megaphone and microphone right now to -- I think it's a shot across the bow to Joe Biden. I mean this is somebody with a lot of power and a lot of clout who's saying, everyone, including Joe Biden, doesn't seem up to the job here to me. TAPPER: Yes. I mean, but Bloomberg is also, I mean, he was a

Republican when he was first elected Mayor of New York City. He has a lot of strong connections with Republicans. I mean, he's a Democrat now, but he has endorsed Republicans in the past. I mean, what ties does he have to the Democratic roots, the Democratic base?

CHALIAN: Well, right now there are two issues he's done a ton of work on and poured a lot of money into. Guns and climate change that are very important to the Democratic base.

TAPPER: OK, sure.

CHALIAN: So there will be some appeal that he can make there. But I think you're right. I think some of his past support, past endorsements, past work with Republicans will come back no doubt in the context of the Democratic nomination race and be a complication for him. There's little doubt of that.

TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, thanks so much. Appreciate your expertise as always.

He's back. Former senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon in the spotlight today and on the witness stand. We'll explain, next.

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TAPPER: In our national lead some breaking news. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon just moments ago wrapped up his testimony in the Roger Stone trial saying that he was forced to testify.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Yes, I was compelled to testify. Like I was compelled to testify I was under subpoena by Mueller and under subpoena but the House. I got a hand- written subpoena in my House testimony. I was forced to go to the grand jury and I'm forced and compelled to come here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Stone is accused of lying to Congress about his contact with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election as well as witness tampering and other charges. Joining me now is Shimon Prokupecz live outside of the courthouse and Shimon, Bannon painted Stone as the key communicators to WikiLeaks.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly right, Jake. At least in the campaign's mind and Steve Bannon's mind. That during the campaign when Roger Stone approached them and said he had access to WikiLeaks they believed he would be the guy that was going to get them information about WikiLeaks.

It is extremely significant for the government to have him on the stand. He is the first witness and the first and just the beginning of this part of the case where the government is trying to show that Roger Stone was in communication with the campaign, with senior-level people inside of the campaign about what he was trying to do. That is get access to the WikiLeaks information claiming he could tell them what he knew. And Steve Bannon made it clear on the witness stand that the whole point of this was to help the campaign, to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

His testimony was brief. It was about 45 minutes or so. And as you said, it was very important. The first question out of the gate to Roger Stone -- to I should say to Steve Bannon, they asked him if he was here voluntarily, and he said he would not have come to testify had they not subpoenaed him.

TAPPER: And Shimon, how important was Bannon's testimony for the prosecution?

PROKUPECZ: It's extremely important. And that is why they subpoenaed him. He tried to battle them and not appear. The whole purpose of this is to show there was communication with the campaign. That Roger Stone was, in fact, telling people on the campaign, senior level people, that he was trying to get information, that he was going to be able to get information about WikiLeaks. And it is the first time really in this trial that we're hearing from someone close to Donald Trump that was close to the campaign about their wanting to use the WikiLeaks information to their advantage.

TAPPER: Shimon Prokupecz covering the Roger Stone trial for us. Thank you so much.

Remember all those nonstop Trump insults aimed at his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Coming up, the bizarre video that Sessions is using in hopes that Trump's biggest supporters ignore them.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD, WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. I'm Jake Tapper. We begin with breaking news in the politics lead today.

Explosive testimony was released this afternoon in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and the Ukraine scandal. Two White House officials expressed extreme alarm at what became clear to them was a White House campaign involving Rudy Giuliani and others to push the government of Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden if Ukraine wanted anything from the U.S. government.

Depositions released today were from Dr. Fiona Hill, a former top adviser on Russia to President Trump, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert. Vindman was on that July 25th phone call and testified that it was clear that President Trump was demanding that the President of Ukraine investigate the Bidens. Question, was --

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