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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA); More Impeachment Testimony Revelations Emerge. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired November 8, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Vindman was on that July 25 phone call and testified that it was clear that President Trump was demanding that the president of Ukraine investigate the Bidens.
Question: "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."
Vindman added -- 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 was a demand for him to fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting."
Both Vindman and Hill testified that Trump Ambassador Gordon Sondland Sondland -- quote -- "in front of the Ukrainians 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," investigations into the Bidens, among other matters.
Upon hearing about that from Fiona Hill, this idea that a White House meeting would only come if there were investigations into the Bidens, John Bolton, then the national security adviser, told Fiona Hill -- quote -- "You go and tell National Security Council lawyer Eisenberg that I am not part of whatever drug deal Gordon Sondland and Mick Mulvaney are cooking up on this."
Today, President Trump insisted that he's not worried about any of the damning testimony from current and former administration officials, arguing once again that he had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine, when, by any standard, it was not perfect.
As CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us now, Mr. Trump, after calling for Democrats to stop holding hearings behind closed doors, today decried Democrats for making next week's hearings public.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Two of the most central players in the relationship with Ukraine putting the president's chief of staff at the center of the scandal and delivering the harshest blow to the president's claim there was no quid pro quo.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a hoax. This is just like the Russian witch-hunt.
MARQUARDT: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on National Security Council, telling lawmakers there was no ambiguity, that, in order for Ukraine's president to get a meeting at the White House, they had to investigate the Bidens.
Vindman was on the call between the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents on July 25, which he said left no doubt that this is what was required in order to get the meeting that the Ukrainians had been aggressively pushing for.
Vindman also heard that message from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who was relaying a message from acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney admitted to the quid pro quo last month.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.
MARQUARDT: The decorated colonel testified he responded that it was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, I want to thank Colonel Vindman for his courage in coming forward, his willingness to follow the law, to do his duty.
MARQUARDT: Vindman wasn't alone. His then boss, Dr. Fiona Hill, read the transcript of the call and said she was shocked.
"I sat in an awful lot of calls," she said, "and I have not seen anything like this."
Hill had also been told by Sondland that Mulvaney stated that the Ukrainians would get a presidential meeting if the Ukrainians started up these investigations again. Hill testified that Sondland told this directly to the Ukrainians in the July 10 meeting.
John Bolton, who was national security adviser at the time, suddenly ended the meeting. Bolton then told Hill to report it to the top NSC lawyer, saying: "I'm not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up."
Vindman, who was also disturbed by the meeting, reported it as well. Hill and Vindman had both known about the role that Rudy Giuliani was playing in Ukraine, pushing the conspiracy theories and working to get the U.S. ambassador removed.
After he was successful, Bolton told Hill that Giuliani was a "hand grenade that's going to blow everybody up."
MARQUARDT: Hill left the White House in August and said that, during her time there and since then, she has gotten all kinds of threats, including death threats, calls with obscenity to her house, people hammering on her front door.
She was called a mole for George Soros, which is a common anti-Semitic slander. And, Jake, she was accused of colluding with enemies of the president -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.
Let's chew over all this.
Mary Katharine Ham, let me start with you.
Vindman also testified that Sondland, who is this ambassador to the E.U. that was, I guess, running some sort of point for President Trump in the White House on Ukraine, that Sondland told him that he was coordinating with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on the necessity for Ukraine to launch investigations in order to secure a White House meeting with Zelensky and Trump.
Answer -- this is Vindman -- "So I heard him say" -- Sondland -- "that this had been coordinated with White House Chief of Staff Mr. Mick Mulvaney."
Question: "What did he say about that?"
Vindman: "He just said that he had had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney, and this is what was required in order to get a White House meeting."
Question: "Did he explain what the investigations were that were needed?"
Vindman: "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" -- so he is talking about the 2016 elections -- "and an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma."
Both Fiona Hill and Vindman testified to basically the same thing, that Sondland said Mulvaney has -- is running point on this.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
Look, I think from the time that the rough transcript came out, it's been to me fairly obvious that this was obvious and obviously wrong, what was going on here. Now, whether it rises to impeachment and removal is the question.
We have, obviously, backup on that here. And I think, to me, what's compelling and should be compelling to those who argue this might be some sort of just politically motivated attack is that Vindman was reporting this in the regular channels as soon as it happened.
And when you have contemporaneous concern like that, that it was reported in a responsible way, that means there might have been actually something up here, guys. And so I think that cuts very hard against the argument against this.
TAPPER: Yes. An hour after that, he went to the National Security Council lawyer, Eisenberg.
And yet a lot of the president's allies, and including President Trump, his number one ally, attacking Lieutenant Colonel Vindman.
ALEXANDRA ROJAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JUSTICE DEMOCRATS: Yes, I mean, I think that they're afraid right now.
I don't think that they're on the best footing in the Republican Party, and, obviously, the president himself. And so you see -- you can see the impact, I think, of impeachment, where they have said that this is going to be political suicide, not actually playing out right now.
And I think you can see that from the most recent elections as well. So I think that the president and the administration right now is scared, and they're showing it.
BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: To pick up on one thing Mary Katharine said, which I think is a very good point, about the contemporaneous character of what Colonel Vindman did -- we were laughing about sort of the John Bolton quote where he says, after the meeting, what is it, tell...
TAPPER: Tell Eisenberg I don't be part of that drug deal.
KRISTOL: You go to the White House Counsel's Office. I don't want to part of that Mulvaney-Sondland drug deal.
John Bolton -- I have known John Bolton for 30 years. I worked with him some ages ago in government. And he's a friendly acquaintance, I guess I would characterize it as.
John Bolton is a tough guy. John Bolton is not the type of bureaucrat or government official who something is a little close to the line or a little controversial and he backs off. John Bolton has pushed the edge, not in a illegal way, but in a policy way and an aggressive way, for years in government. That's why people didn't like him.
The idea the Bolton heard this, national security adviser to the president, 30 years of government experience, here's the thing going on, and says, I'm out of here and you go talk to the White House counsel, that does not happen.
I worked in a White House for four years. You worked in the White House. How many of meetings where at the end of it an extremely senior person said to his deputy or her deputy, you go better -- you better go talk to the White House counsel?
That is really contemporaneous evidence of how rotten the thing was. TAPPER: And we were today by Bolton's attorney, I mean, the -- we
weren't told -- we learned today that Bolton's attorney told Congress that he knows even more stuff that we don't even know about.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can't wait to learn it when he testifies.
TAPPER: If he testifies.
PSAKI: If he testifies.
Look, I think Democrats would obviously love to hear from him. There's no question about that. As we saw from the news yesterday, they don't want to go through a court battle that could delay this by months.
There are a bunch of interesting things, though, we learned in here about how close this circle is getting to President Trump. Mulvaney, you mentioned. He's the chief of staff. You can hardly say, I don't even know that guy.
Also, the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, knew about this. It was reported up through Eisenberg. He sat on it and didn't do -- well, we don't know what he did. Maybe he talked to Trump, maybe he didn't.
But there are -- it's becoming closer and closer and closer to Trump, in addition to, of course, the transcript of the call that we already know about, as well as the meetings.
But there's a lot of players here he can't claim to not know.
TAPPER: Sure, although, as Mary Katharine pointed out, you can't get closer to Trump than Trump, in that...
HAM: True. Like, I did the thing. Here's the transcript.
TAPPER: Here's the rough transcript of it. It's a perfect phone call.
I mean, at the end of the day, he keeps saying this is a perfect phone call. And I guess that's just designed to serve as some sort of gaslighting talking points, because obviously it's not perfect, because if were perfect, he wouldn't be in the middle of being impeached.
But I think it would be the more politically effective argument to say, look, this was -- the way he was handling this was clearly wrong. My bad. Apologies. The money eventually flowed. I was talked out of this bad thing that I was doing.
That's happened with a lot of things. I have tried to do a lot of bad things and I have been talked out of them. But eventually the money went. There was no deliverable. Let's move forward and work for the American people.
But he won't allow that argument to be made, because he will continue to say it was perfect. And that doesn't allow Republicans to do that.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about, with all these transcripts and two key witnesses scheduled to testify in front of the world.
What is the Democrats' strategy, if any, for next week's public hearings? We're going to talk to a member of one of the key House committees next.
Plus, good for Democrats or better for Trump? We will break down what former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg's possible entrance into the 2020 presidential race might mean.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
More breaking news: Two more impeachment transcripts were released this afternoon, one from Dr. Fiona Hill and then another from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, both testifying about their concerns over Rudy Giuliani and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Ambassador Gordon Sondland pushing for investigations into the Bidens, pushing that Ukraine open those investigations, in exchange for a White House meeting between President Trump and Ukraine's President Zelensky.
Joining me now to talk about this and much more is Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, who serves on the House Judiciary and House Foreign Affairs committees.
Congressman Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.
So, this is Colonel Vindman testifying about a conversation he had with Ambassador Sondland regarding the, quote/unquote, deliverables, what Ukraine needed to do in order to get this meeting.
Question: Do you understand how he came to believe this deliverable was necessary?
REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Right.
TAPPER: Answer: So I heard him say, this is Sondland, I heard Sondland say that this had been coordinated with White House chief of staff, Mr. Mick Mulvaney. Question: What did Sondland say about that? Answer, Vindman: Sondland
just said that he had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney and this is what was required in order for the Ukrainians to get a meeting.
Question: Did he explain what the investigations were that were needed? Vindman: He talked about the investigations, about the 2016 election and the investigation into the Bidens and Burisma.
Now, Mulvaney today defied the subpoena from the three committees including the one you're on.
TAPPER: For -- subpoena to come in and talk to the impeachment inquiry. Your committee is not challenging his defiance to the subpoena and not taking it to court. Why not? Isn't Mulvaney's testimony essential?
LIEU: Thank you, Jake, for that question. All of these witnesses that we have seen corroborate the exact same narrative which is that Donald Trump solicited foreign interference in our elections. He did it for his personal political gain, at the expense of U.S. national security.
We would love to have Mick Mulvaney but we don't need him because we have Colonel Vindman saying what happened, with Fiona Hill saying what happened, we had George Kent, we had Ambassador Taylor, enough people have all corroborated the exact same story that we have enough witnesses to go forward.
TAPPER: So the three people publicly testifying next week are Bill Taylor, the top ambassador -- the top diplomat in Ukraine for the U.S., George Kent, who's a State Department official, and the former Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch. None of them talked to President Trump about this Ukraine scandal. Wouldn't it be good to have somebody whether Ambassador Sondland or Rudy Giuliani or Mick Mulvaney, somebody who had talked to Trump about this?
LIEU: This is just a first week of public hearings. We're going to have more. If you look at the witness depositions, Sondland talked directly to the president a number of times. But beyond that, we have actual call record of July 25th between Donald Trump and Zelensky right after the Ukraine talked about military aid, Donald Trump immediately asked for a favor though, and when you read through the rest of the transcript it is investigations into the DNC, as well as the Bidens.
So we already know there is no daylight between any of these policies that were being executed by Giuliani and Mulvaney and Donald Trump. They're saying the exact same thing.
TAPPER: Is Sondland -- you said that next week is just the first week of hearings. Are you going to call Sondland to testify publicly?
LIEU: That remains to be seen. But with his new addendum to his testimony, it is pretty compelling because with his new addendum, he basically explicitly said there was a quid pro quo between the Trump administration and the Ukrainians. You can call this extortion, you can call it bribery, it's all the same thing when the president used his powers to freeze military aid, to dangle a critical meeting between the White House and the Ukrainian leader in exchange for launching two bogus investigations.
TAPPER: Sondland does admit in his addendum that the meeting would only come in exchange for investigations, although he doesn't use the term extortion or bribery or quid pro quo. John Bolton's lawyer said today that his clients, that Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, has significant insights into matters involved in the impeachment inquiry but that Bolton will not testify until a court resolves whether or not he has to comply with the subpoena.
Should you, Democrats leading the inquiry wait until you can have Bolton testify? It sounds like he knows a lot.
LIEU: Right. Right.
So, I'm a former prosecutor and I would love to track down every single lead, every single witness. But in this case, all of the damning evidence really came out pretty early. We have the summarized call transcript, we have Ambassador Volker's text messages that were released that show U.S. diplomats understood about this quid pro quo. We know that Donald Trump froze critical security aid to Ukraine.
Essentially, this is a lot of undisputed facts. So, we would love to have John Bolton come in. If he is going to wait for a court order, that might take months and months, and we're not going to wait months and months.
TAPPER: Is it your belief, sir, that the rough transcript that has -- of the conversation between Trump and Zelensky, that that is all you need in terms of firsthand quid pro quo evidence, that that speaks for itself.
LIEU: That is not all that we need. It's certainly part of the evidence. This is a months-long pressure campaign by Donald Trump to try to get the Ukrainians to launch these two investigations into the Bidens and the DNC.
So, we have the transcript where he mentioned these two investigations. Those are the president's own words, and then we have all of this testimony from State Department officials, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and others who corroborate that exact same story that the Trump administration was trying to get the Ukraine to launch these two investigations and they did it by withholding military aid and dangling this important meeting with Zelensky.
TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California, thank you so much for your time, sir. We appreciate it.
Coming up, a damning portrait of the president in chaos and what would have been an incredible show of strength. Senior administration officials resigning en mass to raise public alarm about the president's behavior. That was the plan, according to excerpts from a new book by the anonymous author.
As CNN's Boris Sanchez reports for us now, that distressing description comes as President Trump dismisses upcoming impeachment hearings and claims he's not worried at all.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump projecting confidence on impeachment but contradicting members of his own party. While Republicans have called for more transparency from impeachment investigators for weeks, Trump now demanding next week's public hearings be scrapped.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they shouldn't be having public hearings. This is a hoax. This is just like the Russian witch hunt. This is just a continuation.
SANCHEZ: To protect the president, House Republicans are narrowing focus on distancing him from three key aides. "The Washington Post" reports they want to shift blame to his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who was directly implicated in testimony released today, and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
Despite Sondland donating a million dollars to his inauguration, Trump today claimed he barely knows an ambassador that he nominated.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman.
SANCHEZ: While sources say Trump still regularly talks to Giuliani, allies like Congressman Mark Meadows are sowing doubts about Trump's personal attorney going rogue on Ukraine.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): There is a whole lot of things that he does that doesn't surprise anybody.
SANCHEZ: Meantime, damaging details from "A Warning", the new book by an anonymous senior Trump administration official describing a West Wing in chaos. Excerpts provided to "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" revealing, senior officials considered mass resignation, a midnight self-massacre in protest of Trump. But they ultimately didn't follow through fearing more instability.
The unnamed author searing Trump, writing he is, quote, like a 12- year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport.
Though initially supportive of the president, anonymous says Trump's behavior after Senator John McCain's death and first refusing to lower flags to half-staff at the White House was the final straw leading them to speak out, writing, quote: President Trump in unprecedented fashion was determined to use his office to limit the nation's recognition of John McCain's legacy.
SANCHEZ: Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham put out a statement responding to the some of the details in this book. She calls it a farce and she writes, quote: The coward who wrote this book didn't put their name on it because it is nothing but lies. Real authors reach out to their subjects to get things fact-checked, but this person is in hiding, making that basic part of being a real writer impossible.
Jake, a White House that emphasizes alternative facts demanding fact- checking, she urged reporters to treat this book like as piece of fiction, Jake.
TAPPER: Yes. That's a good point. Acts suddenly important. Thank you so much, Boris.
Michael Bloomberg could be the next billionaire in the 2020 race. How he's already taking attacks from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and potentially hurting the campaign of Vice President Joe Biden.
That's next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, after knocking down rumors that he would enter the presidential race, all signs point to Michael Bloomberg running for president. The former New York City mayor is expected to file paperwork to get on the primary ballot for Alabama's primary and as CNN's Arlette Saenz now reports, Bloomberg's late entry into the race could mean trouble for front-runner Joe Biden.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Where do I sign?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Joe Biden filing papers, placing his name on the New Hampshire's primary ballot as he faces the threat of a new challenger.
Michael Bloomberg taking steps to make a late entry into the 2020 race but Biden saying he's not worried.
BIDEN: Welcome into the race. Michael is a solid guy and let's see where it goes. I have no problem with him getting in the race.
SAENZ: Bloomberg seen in New York City, not answering questions as his team was set to file the primary paperwork in Alabama, whose deadline is today.
The former New York City mayor ruled out a 2020 bid in March as he saw a narrow path to victory with Biden in the race.
As recently as September, Bloomberg said he was comfortable with his decision.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: When you look at the layout of who's going to vote and where the country is, I would be very unlikely to get re-elected.
SAENZ: In fact, Bloomberg was among the lower polling candidates in early surveys.