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According To Hill and Vindman, Quid Pro Quo Effort Connected To Mulvaney; The Possibility That Michael Bloomberg May Soon Join The 2020 Race. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 8, 2019 - 14:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The desire by the Ukrainians to have a meeting in the White House with President Trump because of the new incoming Ukrainian administration, President Zelensky of Ukraine wanted to have this meeting.

But the President was not keen on that. And one reason why, according to this transcript that was released today was because they wanted first the Ukrainians to announce this investigation into Joe Biden, into his son, Hunter Biden, and into what happened in the 2016 elections, all investigations that could help the President politically and what he makes very clear here in his testimony, that Mick Mulvaney, the Acting Chief of Staff was involved in this effort.

Now, he says this, he says, "Do you understand how he came to believe that this deliverable was necessary?" Now, he, referring to Gordon Sondland, they are asking, how did Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union know that this deliverable, meaning the investigations became necessary?

The answer, "So I heard him say that this had been coordinated with the White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney."

And then, "What did he say about that?" Is the question. "He just said that he had a conversation with Mr. Mulvaney and this is what was required in order to get a meeting.

And their question was, "Did he explain what the investigations were that were needed?" "He talked about the investigations, which I guess I'll refer to my statement. So I mean, it was the 2016. These things tend to be conflated at some point."

So he was talking about the 2016 elections and investigation into the Biden's and Burisma. So it makes very clear what Mick Mulvaney wanted from what he had heard in the White House was to ensure that the Ukrainians announced these investigations that could help the President politically before this actual meeting would take place between the Ukrainian officials and the White House.

Now, as this moved on, he said that he heard Ambassador Sondland of the European Union make that clear, with no ambiguity to the Ukrainians that they needed to move forward with an investigation into the Biden's. He also says that he provided talking points to the President for that July phone call and nowhere in those talking points did he include and asked to investigate the Biden's, which of course the President did.

Now as the summer wore on, he learned more about this effort to withhold vital military aid to the Ukrainians, roughly $400 million that had been approved by Congress that was necessary for the Ukrainians to push back against the Russians.

He says in his testimony that he drafted a memo along with the National Security adviser at the time, John Bolton to bring to the President to sign off on that memo in order to release the money for the Ukrainians. That money was not -- so that was not approved in August by the President. He did not act on that recommendation, and critical concerns about the impact that it could have on the Ukrainians.

And he goes on to say in this testimony, how concerned he is that this relationship, this key relationship could be damaged amid the push by the President to investigate his political rivals and by Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney to carry out these efforts outside diplomatic channels.

So pretty damning testimony from a key figure, a war veteran, someone who now serves in the White House, and we'll see if he's asked to testify publicly -- Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: So much there, Manu Raju. Great job recapping all of that. And before we move on, I just want to remind people about Vindman and his opening statement in that he was concerned enough to report it up the chain of command when he said that he was concerned about the call, " ... so we reported it internally to the National Security officials in accordance with my decades of experience and training, sense of duty and obligation to operate within the chain of command."

So ponder that as we now move on to Fiona Hill, because we just got her transcript as well this afternoon. She is President Trump's former top Russia adviser, and is well-respected in Washington. She told lawmakers the effort to pressure Ukraine so alarmed then National Security adviser, John Bolton, he wanted lawyers notified.

Hill said Bolton told her that "he was not part of whatever drug deal, Ambassador Gordon Sondland and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney we're cooking up," that's a quote and Hill also said Bolton referred to Rudy Giuliani as a hand grenade.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has been looking at Hill's transcript for us. Kylie, there's another key section here that involves Mulvaney?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, so what we are learning from Fiona Hill, the former top Russia adviser to President Trump, the testimony that she gave lawmakers is that she really keys in on this role of Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney when it came to Ukraine policy, and that is noteworthy here because he was supposed to show up before lawmakers today in a closed door hearing he refused to do so.

And he also came out extremely aggressively when he gave a press conference on this topic just a few weeks ago saying that this happens all the time with regard to political influence in foreign policy, but she describes one conversation, you know, around July 10th at the White House and the Ukrainians were visiting and she went down and she saw a conversation that Ambassador Gordon Sondland was having with the Ukrainians.


ATWOOD: And I want to read how she describes that conversation to you. She said, quote, "And 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 meeting with the Ukrainians if they were going to go forward with investigations. And my Director for Ukraine was looking completely alarmed, and I came in as this discussion was underway."

So she then describes a little bit later she said, quote, "And I said, look, I don't know what's going on here, but Ambassador Bolton wants to make very clear that we have to talk about, you know, how we are going to set up this meeting. It has to go through proper procedures, and he started to basically talk about discussions that he had had with the Chief of Staff."

Obviously, they're referencing Mick Mulvaney again. "He mentioned Mr. Giuliani, but then I cut him off I didn't want to get further into this discussion at all."

So Fiona Hill describing there that she was extremely alarmed when Ambassador Gordon Sondland was talking about the elements of what would be a quid pro quo. They would not have a meeting with Zelensky until they announced the investigations into 2016 and Biden, and she did not want that discussion to be happening at the White House because it was her understanding that her boss, then National Security adviser, John Bolton, didn't want that to ever be a part of Ukraine policy.

The problem, of course, is that Rudy Giuliani had been in discussions with other officials who were working for the Trump administration on Ukraine policy, one of them being Gordon Sondland, and he was pushing for those investigation.

So it's very confusing here. There's a lot of dynamics, but at the end of the day, Fiona Hill is demonstrating that Mick Mulvaney, the person who had discussions with President Trump about this security assistance with regard to Ukraine is at the center of all of this.

CABRERA: And that reporting you just had, giving us a peek inside behind the scenes of a meeting that happened on July 10th. Reminding our viewers, that July 10 meeting was two weeks before the President's phone call with the Ukrainian President, which we've now seen what was, you know, transpiring in that conversation from the memorandum released by the White House. Kylie Atwood, thank you for that reporting. Let's discuss further

with Paul Rosenzweig, who served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Homeland Security Department. He is now a Senior Fellow at the R Street Institute, a think tank, and also here is CNN senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Paul, there's now much more testimony linking Mick Mulvaney to pushing a quid pro quo with Ukraine. What do you make of that?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, SENIOR FELLOW, R STREET INSTITUTE: Well, I think that that makes it clear that to the extent there was an attempt to solicit information that was beneficial to President Trump that solicitation goes all the way to the White House.

There had been some suggestion in the last few days that perhaps Ambassador Sondland was acting on his own or that Rudy Giuliani was acting on his own without any -- without any impetus from the President.

But now that it's become clearer that the Chief of Staff was acting in his official capacity as the manager of this effort to secure Ukrainian assistance for the President's campaign -- reelection campaign -- it is becoming much clearer that all of this activity goes all the way back at least as high as the Chief of Staff.

And then it becomes pretty incredible to think that it doesn't involve the man behind all three of these other fellows, the President of the United States.

CABRERA: Pamela, Mulvaney was supposed to testify today behind closed doors, but he didn't. What happened?


CABRERA: And is there any chance he may talk during the public hearings that start next week?

BROWN: That is unlikely as of now, Ana. What we're told is that last night, House investigators issued a subpoena for him to -- to compel him to testify. And then, according to the Democrats, a minute before his deposition was supposed to start this morning, they were informed that the White House asserted absolute immunity to prevent him from complying with that subpoena.

Now, as we know some of this, Charles Kupperman, an N.S.C. official, he has got a court case ongoing over a similar issue with a subpoena for him to testify, and the White House's assertion of absolute immunity, but it's unlikely that that's going to be settled in the courts by the time the Democrats want to wrap this up, which is, according to our latest reporting, just before Christmas.

There is an ongoing court case involving Don McGahn that could have an impact here. But in that case, the judge would have to say that the White House doesn't have any standing on absolute immunity.

So at this point, it appears unlikely that he is going to be testifying, Ana, but as was pointed out, he is a critical figure in all of this and he could be the direct link to the President in all of this.

CABRERA: Paul, how can Mick Mulvaney just straight up ignores a subpoena?


ROSENZWEIG: Well, it's an unfortunate circumstance that Congress's powers to enforce its own subpoena authority have atrophied over the last 40 or 50 years, frankly. And so this is the President in effect asserting an absolute immunity from scrutiny that is very reminiscent of why we had a revolution to get away from Kings who asserted a kingly prerogative.

It's absolutely wrong of the President to do so, but there's a very limited way of compelling people to abide by the subpoena authority, especially when the House Democratic Caucus cannot enlist the Senate Republicans in enforcing congressional prerogatives through other mechanisms like budgets or appointment authority.

CABRERA: There's also I guess, the obvious question, why not let your people testify if you're in the White House, if there's nothing to hide?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, I mean, the answer -- the question sort of answers itself, doesn't it? There are sometimes valid reasons for asserting an executive privilege to keep advice to a President confidential.

But as we learned in the Clinton investigation and in the Nixon investigation, that confidentiality requirement evaporates when what's under investigation is quite literally criminal or impeachable conduct.

CABRERA: Pamela, one person who did testify was Gordon Sondland. His name comes up a lot in all of the testimony we've seen so far. He had to go revise his testimony that he earlier gave to Congress. What's the President saying about Sondland now?

BROWN: You know, he is changing his tune, Ana, not surprisingly, from what he has said before when he viewed Sondland's testimony more favorable to him and then after the revision where Sondland told House investigators that he actually suddenly recalled pulling aside a Ukrainian official in September and saying, if you want the aid, the military aid, then you're going to have to announce these investigations publicly.

So today, the President was asked about this as he was leaving the White House, and he clearly tried to distance himself from Gordon Sondland, his E.U. Ambassador. Here is what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me just say, I hardly know that gentlemen. But this is the man who said there was no quid pro quo and he still says that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So this is a similar tactic we've seen from the President in the past when suddenly if someone says something that's unfavorable to him, he tries to distance himself.

But what's interesting to note here, Ana is that previously, when the testimony from Sondland was more favorable, the no quid pro quo, the President praised Sondland saying that he was, you know, a great American. So clearly changing his tune here.

And in this testimony coming out today from Fiona Hill and Alex Vindman, under oath, this testimony that they gave, they made clear that the understanding was the President put Sondland in charge of Ukraine policy, and now you have the President saying he hardly knew the gentleman.

CABRERA: All right, Pam Brown and Paul Rosenzweig, great to have both of you here to help us through all of this. Thank you.

Much more on our breaking news including new excerpts regarding the President and Rudy Giuliani.

Plus, just in, Joe Biden now reacting to the possibility that Michael Bloomberg may soon join the 2020 race. Hear Biden today; and also, let's talk more about Bloomberg and whether he has a path to the nomination.



CABRERA: Will he run or won't he? That is still very much the question with just a few hours to go before a key deadline. After months of back and forth about a potential run, a spokesman now says former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will file paperwork to ensure he is on the Democratic primary ballot in Alabama.

But whether he fully jumps into this race and joins what's already a very crowded Democratic field is still up for debate.

And just a short time ago, an e-mail sent to employees at Bloomberg Media said this, "As you have likely heard, Mike has decided to explore a campaign for President of the United States. No final decisions have been made, but of course, this is nothing new to the company."

CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod is a former senior adviser to President Obama, and of course host to CNN's "Axe Files," which has a new episode this week, and thanks for being here.


CABRERA: So let me put up a poll real fast as we discuss Bloomberg's potential path forward here. This was a poll of Democratic voters and they were asked if they would vote for Bloomberg. Only six percent say they definitely would; 32 percent say they never would. Do you see a path for him?

AXELROD: I think it's hard. I think that's the big question. Mike Bloomberg is a formidable person. He was a -- he was a distinguished mayor. He's a great philanthropist. He's had enormous impact on some issues, climate change and guns and gun control.

But it's not clear to me where his constituency is in this Democratic primary battle. You know, people say, well, he is running because he feels like Joe Biden is faltering and there needs to be a strong moderate alternative to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But Joe Biden's constituency is very much among African-American voters, among non-college educated white voters, it's not clear that Bloomberg is going to reach into those constituencies.


AXELROD: So putting this together is a lot more complicated than it might seem from the outside.

CABRERA: That perhaps it's something Joe Biden's campaign doesn't want to hear. Because it's also again, raising more questions and the conversation.

AXELROD: No doubt, I don't think this was very good for Biden. It was a vote of no confidence and Biden is right now, hoping that this Super PAC that's been created will raise money among, you know, wealthy donors for his candidacy.

They may be frozen by the prospect of a Bloomberg candidacy, so this comes at an inconvenient time for the Biden campaign.

CABRERA: Let's listen to Biden today because he was asked about this just within the last hour.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regard to Michael Bloomberg, welcome in the race. Michael is a solid guy, and let's see where it goes. I have no problem with him getting in the race.

And in terms of he is running because to me, last polls I looked at I'm pretty far ahead. And also in all of those states that are states -- the early states that we have to win back, if I'm not mistaken, I'm doing pretty well, both relative to Trump and relative to all the people running in the Democratic primary.


CABRERA: How did Biden do with that answer?

AXELROD: Well, the last part wasn't exactly true. He's not doing that well in the early states. He is in a three or four-way tie -- he is in a three-way tie for second place in Iowa. He is near the top, but not at the top of New Hampshire.

That's one of the concerns that people have is that there's a real prospect that he could finish back in the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire.

CABRERA: I think he is in fourth currently in Iowa in the latest polling although because of the margin of error.

AXELROD: Yes, they are budged within the margin of error.

CABRERA: Yes, it's there all basically together.

AXELROD: But there are concerns about that. What's interesting is he is quite right that he has had solid leads in national polling for quite some time, and yet there are these doubts about him and there are more related to his performance than the poll numbers.

There is concern about how he has performed in debates, and whether he is up to the long haul of this thing, and that's one of the reasons why you hear some people calling for an alternative.

CABRERA: What about Warren and Senator Sanders? Because both of them, you mentioned earlier seems to be sort of the antithesis of what Bloomberg represents. At least that's how they're painting their campaign railing against people who are billionaires.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes, they're not the pro billionaire candidates.

CABRERA: Does this help him in some way?

AXELROD: They leap right up. Well, I'm sure that they welcome Bloomberg into the race because they don't feel like he is going to take votes from them. He is more likely to take votes from Biden, perhaps from Mayor Buttigieg and others who are vying for the center left and more moderate voters.

So right now, this is something that they probably welcome. Whether that's the case down the line, we'll see.

CABRERA: And I happen to wonder if, you know, if there is a constituency in some of those never Trump Republicans who, you know, are seeking another candidate and when I think about those never Trump Republicans, so often I think of John McCain and what he represented and people who kind of cling to his memory.

And I know you had a chance to sit down with his widow, Cindy McCain for this weekend's "Axe Files."


CABRERA: Let's listen to a quick preview.


AXELROD: So you have two Presidents speaking, there was one President who wasn't there, obviously, and that was President Trump. Why?

CINDY MCCAIN, WIDOW OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I had to -- I had to worry about my family, and the family was somewhat bitter about things that have been said about their dad. And so it would have been very disruptive to my children.

And, and so I took their lead on this whole thing. It was resultantly, my choice and my decision. But it just -- I just didn't want any disruption. I didn't want anything to overshadow John McCain that day because that's why we were there.

AXELROD: Yes, words matter.

MCCAIN: Words matter. Words matter. Especially to a dying man.


CABRERA: Words matter.

AXELROD: Yes. You know, there's still deep wounds associated with -- you know, and of course, President Trump continues to go after John McCain even in death. And while she was very, very polite about it, clearly these things have seared her and her family and they have not forgotten.

CABRERA: Well, I know there's so much more to your interview, and I look forward to seeing it. I am sure viewers do as well.

AXELROD: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you, David Axelrod.

AXELROD: Good to be with you.

CABRERA: Good to have you here. Be sure to watch David's interview with Cindy McCain. That's tomorrow night at seven right here on CNN on "The Axe Files."

Meantime, more drama in a D.C. courtroom at the Roger Stone trial today. More talk about "Godfather" movies and a big name witness just showed up to testify. Stand by.



CABRERA: A dramatic day of testimony now unfolding in the trial of President Trump's longtime confidant, self-proclaimed dirty trickster Roger Stone. Former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon just arrived to take the stand.

Stone is accused of lying to Congress and witness tampering and Bannon is a central witness.

CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz is joining us now from outside the courthouse. Shimon, what can we expect to hear from Bannon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: We are now in the second phase of this trial, Ana, where prosecutors will outline very important and probably the most crucial point of this trial and really the most crucial point of why Roger Stone was charged and arrested.