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Critical Week as House Gears Up for First Public Hearings; Democrats Deny Republican Request for Whistleblower, Hunter Biden to Give Testimony; Court Hearing Today over Mulvaney's Request to Join Lawsuit Fighting House Subpoena Power; Nikki Haley Claims Tillerson & Kelly Tried to Recruit Her to "Save the Country"; GOP Struggles with Defense of Trump Ahead of Public Hearings. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 11, 2019 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

We are now entering the most consequential week so far in the impeachment battle. Televised hearings start in just two days. And you will finally see and hear for yourself the testimonies about President Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

And the big question going into this is, did the president abuse his power by pressuring a foreign government to investigate top political rivals? And is it an impeachable offense?

These are the three key -- these are the three key officials who will be testifying this week. You're looking at them right there. The current top diplomat for the United States in Ukraine, another top State Department official, and the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, most recently recalled by President Trump, kind of out of thin air, it appeared at first. And her firing, if you will, is, in large part, at the center of this entire Ukraine affair.

Meantime, Republicans are demanding that the whistleblower and Hunter Biden be called to have in these public hearings.

But make no mistake, this week and the public hearings after this week will, in large part, determine the outcome of this impeachment inquiry. And by that, I mean, does it convince the public, does it convince the politicians that are watching it play out?

Let's get to it. CNN congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, is on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, let's start with the Democrats on this. What are you hearing about their approach, their strategy, all of the plans, how they're preparing for these hearings this week?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Kate, it's a blockbuster week on Capitol Hill and Democrats are preparing in a big way. I've been told from a senior Democratic aid that the preparations have been even more exhaustive than they were when Robert Mueller came to Capitol Hill this summer.

And that's, in part, because they feel like momentum is on their side. They've had this, you know, transcript released day by day, and that has really given some life to their probe.

It's also part of the fact that this is the first time that Americans at home are going to be able to see these career diplomats on their television screens. That's a big deal. These are characters who many Americans may not have heard of a month and a half ago, who are now at the center of an impeachment probe into the president of the United States.

Of course, Bill Taylor and George Kent are expected to tell the whole story about what has transpired over the past few months and it's intentional they're coming first because Democrats want to set the stage for the American public.

On Friday, we'll hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was recalled from her post. And that Democratic aide told me she's seen as the first victim of Rudy Giuliani's shadow foreign policy and they want to be able to tell that story, Kate, as well.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the Republicans. Are you getting any sense of their strategy going into this week?

FOX: I think the fact that we saw their witness list gives a good indication of where they're moving. They want to hear from the whistleblower, they want to hear from Hunter Biden.

And of course, Kate, those are no witnesses that Democrats are not going to allow to come forward. That gives Republicans an opportunity to sort of decry the process further.

We heard from Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said, any hearing that doesn't include the whistleblower, any process that doesn't include the whistleblower is a sham. And when it moves over to the Senate, it won't be taken seriously. He said, it will be dead on arrival -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Lauren, thanks so much.

It's going to be an amazing week to watch no matter where you land on this impeachment inquiry. I'll have to say that.

Another key angle that we are watching in the impeachment inquiry is a judge is going to be hearing arguments today on a last-minute effort from White House acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to determine whether he has to comply with a subpoena from Congress to testify. Mulvaney was a no-show on Friday on Capitol Hill.

Joining me is Josh Dawsey, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for the "Washington Post," and Kim Wehle, a former federal prosecutor. She served as an associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigations.

Good to see you guys. Thank you so much for being here.

Josh, you have this great reporting about Mulvaney's move on Friday to join this lawsuit that's been kind of lingering out there, asking a judge to decide who he should follow, White House guidance to not testify or a congressional subpoena. How surprised were folks about this move and why were they?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, John Bolton and his deputy have been going through the legal process to figure out if they could testify or not and they have been asking a judge to rule whether they should listen to the executive branch's demands or the legislative branch. And suddenly, Mick Mulvaney joined this lawsuit.

John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney were not exactly simpatico in the White House, had a number of disagreements, were barely on speaking terms when they left. And certainly, Mick Mulvaney, late on Friday, joined the lawsuit.

The president has essentially told aids to essentially stonewall. Do not testify, do not do anything, do not cooperate with what he considers to be a sham process.


But Mulvaney said, I don't want to be held in contempt by the House. I want to know what my legal rights are. And so he joined this lawsuit. It was a move that surprised Bolton's team and surprised many in the White House.

BOLDUAN: One of the words that's not often used, but definitely seems to apply here, flabbergasted, as you described it, folks were with this move.

Kim, so Mulvaney is now sitting in the same place, as Josh was talking about, as John Bolton and his former deputy, saying, essentially, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Are they stuck between a rock and a hard place in the legal sense?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE LAW SCHOOL: Legally, this claim of absolute immunity from testifying by virtue of a relationship with the president, there's no basis for that.

The president himself does have absolute immunity in that he cannot be sued civilly for money damages for actions that he takes as president.

Beyond that, there's something called privilege. So communications between him and high-level officials can be basically protected on an issue-by-issue basis.

But this notion that there's kind of this massive umbrella that loops in anyone that has a relationship with Donald Trump that basically protects them from any participation inform Congressional oversight, there's no basis for that legal at all. But I think it's probably not good news for Mr. Trump that Mick Mulvaney is interested in joining this lawsuit. Because Congress had withdrawn the claim with respect to the original parties. They said, listen, we're going to move on without this court ruling. We're just going to withdraw our subpoenas.

So Mulvaney was not under -- he could have just said, listen, I'm going to stonewall, like everyone else, make Congress come forward and invoke the courts. And it looks like Mulvaney and his lawyers are saying, we want to have some cover, potentially, in responding to this subpoena.

So a court order in addition to a congressional subpoena gets the courts to say, yes, by the way, this is meaningful. And to defy a court order is much more treacherous for a witness than defying a congressional order.

So I think this doesn't bode well for keeping Mulvaney from testifying before Congress, which will be quite devastating potentially for the president.

BOLDUAN: And one element that -- a lot is unknown in terms of the timing and how this fits in with the calendar the Democrats are laying out. We don't know what's really going to come from this conference call that's going to happen later today, because the original kind of date for the judge to see it was in early December, as it was originally set.

So there's a lot of lack of clarity in terms of what the next step is going to be, no decides or makes any moves today.

But, Josh, you're talking about John Bolton. And something that Bolton's attorney has said is getting a lot of attention or maybe creating a lot of heartburn, I guess, maybe amongst White House folks. Saying, kind of teasing up that his client has some real stuff to tell Congress outside of what the previous witnesses that we have had to date have told Congress.

In this letter to White House counsel, that Bolton can speak to this, this is how it's put. Quote, "Many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed."

What are you hearing about that one line?

DAWSEY: Well, it was tucked away, as you said, and that's -- it took many people by surprise. John Bolton was certainly in a number of Oval Office and White House meetings on Ukraine. There's allegedly another meeting where top officials tried to convince the president to restore aid and John Bolton was supposedly there for that.

What Bolton is saying there is, listen, you may want to move on without having us testify. That's what the House was saying, but I have relevant information that has not been put out yet.

And it certainly is likely to make folks in the House reconsider their strategy to know if there are additional meetings, additional phone conversations, additional things that have happened that have not heretofore been discussed that John Bolton purports to know.

He was the national security adviser. You can imagine he was in on almost any conversation that involved Ukraine in the White House.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. This fits in the category of standby to standby.

But thank you so much.

I really appreciate it, Josh.

Thanks, Kim. Good to see you.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley writing in her new book, that is coming out tomorrow, that two top Trump officials tried to recruit her to undermine the president. How did she respond and why is she telling this story now? I'll talk to "USA Today" Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, who also just interviewed Haley about this book.


Also, coming up later today, the nation honors all of those who have served in the armed forces. Vice President Pence -- looking right there -- he will soon be participating in events at Arlington National Cemetery. President Trump just spoke at the annual veterans parade in New York. We'll talk to one veteran about what today means and about why he's boycotting the event where the president is attending.



BOLDUAN: Undermining the president or saving the republic? That was a real debate taking place inside the White House among some of the president's senior-most advisers. Then-secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and then-chief of staff, John Kelly, confiding to then- ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

This is according to the new book out tomorrow by Nikki Haley. She takes those two men to task. According to the "Washington Post," the debate was sparked over whether to cut off U.S. funding to a U.N. agency that served Palestinian refugees.

Haley claims Tillerson and Kelly tried to recruit her to, quote/unquote, "save the country." And she explained further in an interview with CBS yesterday. Listen.


NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: And instead of saying that to me, they should have been saying that to the president. Not asking me to join them on their sidebar plan. It should have been, go tell the president what your differences are

and quit if you don't like what he's doing. But to undermine a president is really a very dangerous thing. And it goes against the Constitution. And it goes against what the American people want. And it was -- it was offensive.


BOLDUAN: And though you apparently will not find it in the book, Haley has been able to walk a fine line where others have not, which is publicly breaking from the president on certain issues and also being able to remain in his good graces then and now. He's even promoting her book on his Twitter feed.

For more on how -- on what Haley is revealing and also what this says about her future aspirations, joining me is the Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Susan Page.

It's great to see you, Susan.



BOLDUAN: Thank you.

You also had early access to the book and you just wrapped an interview with Haley. What was your overall impression, Susan, after reading the book and sitting to interview her? Why is she speaking out? Why now?

PAGE: I think she had something she wanted to say. About a year ago, she left the U.N. Job. You know, she's clearly someone with ambition. She writes about how ambition can be a -- be seen as a dirty word when it's applied to women, but she is an ambitious person. I think it is pretty clear she is positioning herself to run for president when the Trump era is over.

And she comes to this with some credentials. She's been elected and re-elected governor of South Carolina. She has some national security experience with her two years at the United Nations. And she might help the Republicans deal with some of their current problems with attracting women voters, for instance, or dealing with people of color.

So I think she is someone who intends to stay on the national scene.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. That definitely comes through in your interview.

Let's talk about some of these details, that episode between Tillerson and Kelly and Haley. Tillerson hasn't responded to questions after the fact as far as we can see.

John Kelly's reaction seems to be pretty telling, declining comment -- to comment directly on the details to the "Washington Post."

But also saying this: "If providing the president," quote, "with the best and most open legal and ethical staffing advice for -- from across the government so he could make an informed decision is," quote/unquote, "working against Trump, then guilty as charged."

Not denying it, I guess we could say. What was Haley trying to convey in picking these moments to detail, do you think?

PAGE: This was an extraordinary moment that the White House chief of staff and secretary of state are trying to enlist the U.N. ambassador to defy the president? This is really something that's pretty remarkable.

And it very much fits with that explosive op-ed that the "New York Times" ran on September 8th of last year by Anonymous.

You know, you go back and look at the language in that op-ed and the language that Nikki Haley uses in describing this exchange, they are very similar. And this conversation she had in the chief of staff's office took place a week or two before the column ran in the "New York Times".

It made me ask her, does she think that Anonymous is either John Kelly or Rex Tillerson, and she declined to speculate.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

So if you add -- this is really -- I think actually, a really important point.

When you take the episode that you're describing, that she describes in the book that you interviewed her about and the anonymous op-ed that you just talked about -- because the whole point of that op-ed, right, is that there are people within the administration who were working to thwart some of the president's -- I feel like they put it -- misguided impulses, is kind of how it was written.

And if you could add one more thing on top of that, this Ukraine episode and all that is coming out in these testimonies of career professionals and -- that have been working for Trump and for the government for quite some time. What is the bigger picture that's coming into focus then about this White House?

PAGE: Well, we see a White House that is dysfunctional. You can't have a functional White House when the chief of staff and the secretary of state are trying to manipulate and defy what the president wants to do. It is a chaotic situation.

It's one in which Nikki Haley says almost no one would speak truth to power. Almost no one was telling the president when he was wrong.


She says after his disastrous news conference with Vladimir Putin, where he seems to believe Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, she went to him and said, that was a mistake, you should have done that, and he told her that no one had told him it was a bad news conference.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

One thing that this kind of gets to, kind of Nikki Haley reemerging, if you will, is something I've wondered for a while. She seems to be -- and tell me if there's another -- the singular figure in the Trump presidency that's been able to speak out publicly, break from the president on certain issues, but also leave the administration with his fall endorsement. And still today, having it, still.

How do -- have you landed on why -- why that is?

PAGE: You know, I don't think -- I can't come up with another example of either, of someone who has been able to resign, got an Oval Office sendoff. She wasn't dismissed in a derisive tweet. And yet managed to also declare her independence, at least on some issues.


PAGE: Not on a lot of issues. She supports him on a lot of issues, but she's maintained a certain air of independence. And that is a tough thing to do.

And I wonder if, as a woman who has been kind of an outsider, coming up in the South Carolina Republican Party, where she was not part of the old-boys network, I wonder if that's good training for handling a situation like this.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Can't wait to see your piece, Susan. Thank you so much.

PAGE: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

That will be posting very shortly, her interview with Nikki Haley at "USA Today." Great stuff.

Still ahead for us, just days before public hearings begin, Republicans are trying out another new strategy to defend the president of the United States against impeachment. Why is the president then telling them to back off?



BOLDUAN: This is the week when the impeachment inquiry goes public. The first public hearings on Capitol Hill starting in just two days now.

And while the witness list is set for the big first appearances this weekend, over the weekend, Republicans in the minority submitted a require to the committee the list of witnesses they would like to hear from, and that includes the whistleblower and Hunter Biden, two witnesses House Democrats at the very least aren't likely to go along with.

On top of that, Republicans are testing out yet another defense of President Trump in the face of impeachment.

Republican Congressmen Mac Thornberry summed it up on Sunday.


REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R-TX): I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

Now, it leads to a question, if there's a political rival with a family member who's involved in questionable activity, what do you do? Just let them alone?

But set that aside. I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.


BOLDUAN: So that may be the safest place for Republicans to land. Except when you look to the president's Twitter feed this weekend where he once again contradicts that defense as soon as they started using it.

With this. "The call to the Ukrainian president was perfect," the president says on Twitter. "Republicans, don't be led into the fool's trap of saying that it was not perfect, but it is not impeachable. No, it was much stronger than that. Nothing was done wrong."

So what does this mean? What does this week mean for Republicans in Congress?

Here with me now, is former Republican congressman, now a CNN political commentator, Charlie Dent.

Good to see you, Congressman.


BOLDUAN: I heard Mac Thornberry, and I said, this is interesting. This is the place where you and I have had discussions before. You thought Republicans should have landed a long time ago in terms of where they should be in terms of the ongoing inquiry.

What does it mean if they're just getting there now and, just as quickly, the president is undermining the argument?

DENT: Yes, I mean, I saw the president's tweet. To me, it's -- the president's call was not perfect, but it was -- it was perfectly appalling and perfectly inappropriate and wrong.

I mean, you look at -- you know, the president is trying to suggest the facts are not it have facts. The facts are horrible. And I think Mac Thornberry was correct to acknowledge that the behavior was at the very least inappropriate. And there's no point in trying to defend this.

And the whole question becomes, does this -- does this matter rise to the level of impeachment. And I think that's probably a better place for the Republicans to land, as we discuss previously.


BOLDUAN: But Congressman --


BOLDUAN: -- can they be there if the president is saying, don't be there, guys, it's not what I want?

DENT: Well, you know, the president doesn't have a vote on impeachment. But the members of Congress do.

And these members of Congress, like Mac Thornberry and others who are retiring, you know, they have to think about their legacies. They're not thinking -- many of them are not thinking about the next election, because they're retiring. You know, others are thinking about the next election. But they all have to be concerned about their election.

And if I were the president of the United States, I would be very concerned.

Since he was elected, I think there are over a hundred members of the House who have decided not to run again. That ought to send a real signal to the president that a lot of these members simply don't like serving in Washington with him. He's made it very difficult.


BOLDUAN: I want to -- and add another one to the list just this morning, Peter King. I want to ask you about that in just a second.

But in general, I want to get your take on, what does this week mean for Republicans.