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Three Key State Department Witnesses to Testify Publicly This Week; Ukraine Scandal's Impact on State Department; Republicans Demand Testimony from Whistleblower and Hunter Biden; Joe Biden Gets Ready to Take Questions from Iowa Voters in CNN Town Hall Tonight. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired November 11, 2019 - 09:00   ET



BERMAN: Keep on dating, get that education diploma even 70 years later. Corporal Shaw is the grand marshal in the local Veterans Day. Congratulations to him and thank you for everything he's done.

CAMEROTA: That is a beautiful story. All right. It's also the beginning of a historic week in Washington. "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto picks our coverage right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

Jim SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. It is a critical week in the impeachment investigation. Closed-doors hearings are now going to go public and the American people get their first chance to hear the testimony live from several of these witnesses. Three key State Department officials are answering questions today. Democrats looking forward to building their case that President Trump abused his power by trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens.

HARLOW: And Republicans are making their own demands, arguing that the whistleblower and Hunter Biden must testify, despite weeks of testimony backing up that original whistleblower complaint and no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

There's a lot to get to on this important Monday morning. Let's begin on Capitol Hill, our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is there.

Good morning, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. It's rather quiet here as the House and Senate are in recess for this Veterans Day, but it is about to get dramatically different as they open up for public testimony. Here is the schedule and it is a busy one starting on Wednesday, two witnesses will go before the TV cameras and public, top diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, he provided the most damming explosive, significant testimony corroborating much of the whistleblower's story about the president's conditions to Ukraine for that military aid. Also top State Department official George Kent, he testified about

Rudy Giuliani's role in this campaign to smear the former U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, and Friday, Marie Yovanovitch herself, who defied White House orders to go forward and testify, saying that she felt intimidated and afraid as she was warned by Ukrainian officials to get out of the country, that there was a campaign by the president, Rudy Giuliani and others to actually get her out of that position.

SCIUTTO: Suzanne, as you look at this GOP wish list, some of them to be expected, Hunter Biden, others kind of from a hall of fame of GOP targets, Nellie Ohr among them. Are any of these witnesses likely to see the light of day?

MALVEAUX: Well, we certainly know that the Intelligence chair Adam Schiff says that Hunter Biden nor the anonymous whistleblower will go forward, that that is just providing more support for what Schiff calls a sham investigation that has since been debunked. But what it does show you, Jim, is that there is an effort to relitigate, if you will, the fact that there was a theory that Ukraine was involved in interfering with 2016 presidential election and not Russia. Schiff says that they are just not going down that rabbit hole.

HARLOW: Suzanne, it's pretty amazing that Mick Mulvaney, the president's acting chief of staff, has joined this lawsuit asking for a court to essentially decide if he needs to testify just like they're asking about Bolton and a few others. This is a guy whose office is 50 feet from the president's and is essentially Mulvaney versus Trump now. What do we know?

MALVEAUX: It's pretty clear that he doesn't want to testify and so he has put it in the hands of a federal judge. That federal judge asking Mulvaney as well as the attorneys for Bolton and his deputy to go before a conference call this afternoon, sort it all out, how this is going to play out, but the important thing to know is Democrats feel like they may not need this testimony after all because they feel that it's going to be too late if the ruling comes in December. They're already making some efforts to move forward without it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And clearly they want to stick to their ambitious timeline as well to have this whole wrapped up by the holidays.

Suzanne Malveaux, on the Hill, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Let's talk about all that we've learned. CNN legal analyst Jim Baker is here, of course, former FBI general counsel.

Jim, so nice to have you. Let's begin where we just left off with Suzanne, and that is Mick Mulvaney, Mulvaney versus Trump, acting chief of staff, feet away from the Oval Office, but now he is asking a court to decide if he can essentially defy the orders of his boss or defy Congress. How significant is this and what does it mean in the broader inquiry?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's pretty significant. I think it's actually from his view, narrowly from his perspective, it's probably an astute legal move honestly because he potentially has exposure with respect to obstructing Congress or interfering with the operations of Congress basically, and so his lawyer wants to go to court to get an order to protect his perspective, protect his legal position, and it's probably an astute legal move. Now again, that's when you view it narrowly from his own personal perspective.


In terms of what's good for the country and what is appropriate with respect to his oath of office, well, he has to consider, you know, what he knows, we don't know what he knows, but what does he know, what did he say to the president, what did the president say to him. That potentially is critical information with respect to the lawful action that --

HARLOW: And what --

BAKER: That Congress is engaged in. Yes.

HARLOW: Sure. And what they're asking him -- what his lawyers are asking him to join is essentially the legal argument that John Bolton and Charles Kupperman's lawyer is making and I do want to note something that struck me from the letter that Bolton's lawyer sent to the House on Friday saying that he was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, conversations, to which many of these witnesses have testified.

But at the end of the letter, because he says there are things that are relevant that have not yet been testified about, and this is what writes at the end of that letter to the House, quote, "If the House chooses not to pursue through subpoena the testimony of Dr. Kupperman and Ambassador Bolton, let the record be clear, that is the House's decision."

Is he making it more difficult for Democrats to argue, Jim, that their timeline to expedite this, get it done by the holidays, is more important than fulsome testimony that appears, at least from his lawyer, Bolton's lawyer, to be very relevant?

BAKER: It's very tantalizing that whole letter, right? And so it makes it seem as though Mr. Bolton wants to talk, that he has things that he thinks are relevant, he's sort of egging them on to subpoena him. I think implying that if he is subpoenaed he might show up, but that's not clear because he's now got this matter in front of the court. So it's not quite clear to me exactly what he's doing.

I think he's trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Lay out that there's something there that they should probably dig into, but he doesn't want to overreach and alienate the president and his supporters, and so if you get the cover from an order from a federal judge then he could say, well, look, the judge ordered me so I'm doing this and I have to expose these conversations.

There is something legitimate to protect the communications of the president with his key advisers. There is a core of a privilege there that does need to be respected. The question is whether it should be breached in this instance given what they were talking about.

HARLOW: Yes. Let see what the courts do on that. Let me ask you about pretty stunning reporting as you saw over the weekend from "The New York Times" that a lawyer for Rudy Giuliani's associate who's been indicted, Lev Parnas, says that Giuliani directed Parnas back in May right before Zelensky's inauguration to go to an associate of President Zelensky of Ukraine and essentially say unless you investigate the Bidens, you know, the Vice President Mike Pence is not going to come to the inauguration and that's not going to be a good look.

This is far before, months before the July 25th call. So the timeline here is important. But what's also important is that Giuliani is vehemently denying this. The other person, the third person in that conversation, doesn't recall it happening either. Do you read it as significant for the probe and a flip against Giuliani and the president?

BAKER: It seems like it's an effort to flip against the president and Mr. Giuliani, yes, I definitely interpret it that way. Look, the prospect of a long jail term tends to focus the mind on your priorities and your own interests, and so Mr. Parnas has obviously assessed or it seems as though he's assessed, we're going on reporting so we don't know exactly what has happened.


BAKER: But he seems to have assessed that look, I -- it's in my personal interest to cooperate with the government, provide them with the information that they want, in order to not spend, you know, a significant number of years in jail, potentially, of course, it's only -- he's only alleged of committing crimes, he's not convicted. But still that does focus the mind. And now is the time to decide whether to cooperate or not. You can't wait forever. Now is the time. So it makes sense to me that he would be doing this at this juncture.

HARLOW: OK. A lot to get to. Jim Baker, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BAKER: You're welcome.

HARLOW: As top career diplomats prepare to testify this week, our next guest worries whether trust in the foreign service and the State Department can be restored after all of this is over, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Molly Montgomery spent 14 years in the foreign service and she worked as special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence for Europe and Asia for just over a year, leaving in March of last year.

Molly, thanks so much for your time. You have noted that the foreign service officers are as deeply patriotic as their colleagues in the military. That's certainly my experience. I spent two years in the State Department. They do posts all around the world, et cetera. I wonder where Vice President Mike pence is on this. I mean, he served in government. He's certainly aware of the service and the dedication of State Department officials. Why hasn't he spoken out publicly in defense of them?

MOLLY MONTGOMERY, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE FOR EUROPE AND EURASIA: Well, I certainly can't speak for the vice president. In my experience he was respectful of the expertise of career personnel, including myself, but I certainly would have hoped that the vice president, the secretary of State, and others in this administration, would have spoken up more, particularly are for Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch who as you know was forced out last spring.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Understood. There's a lot of frustration with the silence on her in particular, Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, Molly, can you just speak to what -- I mean, obviously you worked with the vice president, you worked there until March of last year. Can you speak to your view of what the leadership under Rex Tillerson and then Mike Pompeo at State, what that has meant overall for morale?

MONTGOMERY: Absolutely. Well, morale is at a historic low at the State department and this is because Secretary Tillerson and now Secretary Pompeo have championed budget cuts. Their staff have engaged in politically motivated harassment and retaliation and abusive behavior and they failed to fill key positions. And so the State Department really, far from having swagger, is limping along at the moment.

SCIUTTO: Tell us about the effects on policy, too, because one essential thread of the Ukraine story here, right, is a -- called a shadow foreign policy but clearly a foreign policy separate from the chain of command, NSC through the State Department, the president's personal lawyer shuttling back and forth and pursuing things that are not the position of the U.S. government, for instance the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

How out of bounds is that? Just based on the way in your experience policy runs in this government.

MONTGOMERY: Absolutely. Well, I think what you've seen is that career foreign service officers like Ambassador Yovanovitch and others have come forward to raise the red flag, to say this is not how our foreign policy is supposed to run and it's not being done in the best interest of the United States. I'd also say that the -- this policy, you know, when you don't have trust in your career people who have experience and professional judgment, you're bound to get into trouble and I think that's what we've seen.

SCIUTTO: And you guys spend years training for those positions, those countries' specialties.

MONTGOMERY: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Molly, just one final question because the president himself has pointed to the vice president saying well, you should ask the vice president about, for example, his September 18th call with President Zelensky and the White House said they would release that transcript. It's been weeks now and they have not.

Do you think that that transcript -- having worked for the vice president, do you think that call is material to questions surrounding Ukraine and aid right now? Do you think it would be helpful to the American public and to the impeachment inquiry for that to be released by the White House?

MONTGOMERY: I can't speak to the contents of that phone call, but certainly transparency can only be helpful in this matter as investigators seek to get to the bottom of what really happened.

HARLOW: We'll see if they put it out.

Molly Montgomery, thank you for your service and thank you for coming on with us.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you.

HARLOW: Hours from now Joe Biden will take questions in Iowa from voters. He is participating in CNN's town hall there tonight. A recent poll in the state has him in fourth place. Our Dana Bash caught up with the former vice president on the campaign trail.

SCIUTTO: Plus, President Trump's former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley says that Rex Tillerson, then secretary of State, and John Kelly, then chief of staff, the president's appointees, tried to recruit her to, quote, "save the country from the president himself." Just remarkable to hear from inside the Trump administration. We're going to have more on be that coming up.



JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: The country is just two days away from the start of public impeachment hearings. Republican lawmakers are working hard to distant the president from the Ukraine scandal as much as they can. One of the strategies trying to shift the focus from the allegations against the president and focus attention on the whistleblower and the Bidens.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I consider any impeachment in the house that doesn't allow us to know who the whistleblower is to be invalid because without the whistleblower complaint, we wouldn't be talking about any of this. And I also see the need for Hunter Biden to be called to adequately defend the president, and if you don't do those two things, it's a complete joke.


SCIUTTO: We should note that Senator Graham earlier in this process said that if there was evidence of a quid pro quo, he would consider that inappropriate. Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan, he's a Democratic Chief Deputy Whip and sits on the Ways and Means Committee. Congressman, always good to have you.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Thank you.

SCIUTTO: You listen to words like that from Lindsey Graham, of course, that's not isolated because the president, president's son, whole host of conservative commentators have either called for his outing or have actually -- his or her outing and actually outed them. By deliberately undermining the whistleblower's privacy protections, are Republicans endangering him or her?

KILDEE: I think they very well could be. And this is -- this is sort of fundamental to what the Whistleblower Protection Act was intended to address. I mean, we have to remember, it's the Whistleblower Protection Act. The whole idea is to give people who work in the government the ability to raise issues, to speak truth to power without fear of retribution.

So, my fear is that this is not so much about this whistleblower, as these individuals -- and Lindsey Graham has to put himself right in this basket, they're trying to send a chill into this administration to prevent anybody else who sees wrongdoing from coming forward and submitting a whistleblower report because they -- they're just afraid that there will be more of this.


I think it's a really dangerous path that they're going down just to protect a president --

SCIUTTO: A president --

KILDEE: Which frankly --

SCIUTTO: This whistleblower I believe works for the CIA. Are you disappointed that you haven't heard calls to protect the person, calls of support for this person in the process from say the CIA Director Gina Haspel?

KILDEE: Absolutely. They have an obligation to protect people down the chain of command. And again, the act is an act of Congress. It was intended to encourage people to come forward and the idea that not only are members of Congress trying to out this individual, but the individual's superiors -- this individual doing his or her patriotic duty is not being protected by his superiors or her superiors.

SCIUTTO: There are multiple narratives of defense for the president now. The attack on the whistleblower and others is one of them. But the other is emerging now the idea that perhaps the president's advisors were freelancing on Ukraine. That they were pursuing this policy without his explicit OK. Do you find that plausible?

KILDEE: It would be an incredible coincidence if from various sources within the administration, they just all simultaneously, accidentally fell upon the same idea that they could somehow persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. It's such a Trumpian sort of approach that it's almost -- it's actually quite impossible to imagine that.

And you know, in fact, if they wanted to dispute that, simply allow the president's Chief of Staff to come and tell the truth. I mean, they want to bring in Hunter Biden, but they don't want to bring in a person who is central to the question that is being investigated.

So, I think it's pretty duplicitous the approach that the Republicans are taking. They want to divert attention, they don't want to talk about the president's behavior. I said the other day, I'm surprised they haven't asked for Barack Obama's birth certificate. They are pursuing every conspiracy theory that they can think of in order to not talk about this president.

SCIUTTO: Well, one of your colleagues from the Republican side of the aisle in the house, Congressman Thornberry said something this weekend that opened the door at least to questions about the appropriateness of the president's behavior with regards to Ukraine. I want to play that sound bite and get your reaction.


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 is 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 that it was impeachable.


SCIUTTO: I imagine you have a lot of private conversations with your Republican colleagues. Do you hear that more in private than we've heard in public?

KILDEE: We are hearing that, and I think they're sort of trying out this defense now. I mean, the first defense was, the call --


KILDEE: Didn't happen. Then well, I didn't ask for anything, and then I didn't ask for anything in exchange for it. And as this whole house of cards is falling apart, they're now defaulting to the idea that the president can seek help from a foreign government to interfere in the U.S. election. While it may be bad form, I guess that's what they're saying, it's not a violation of law or the constitution, and it doesn't somehow rise to the level of impeachment.

The constitution gives us one tool to deal with the president who is going beyond his authority of abusing his power, breaking the law, and that's impeachment. So, I don't know what they want to do, send him a sternly-worded letter? That's not going to -- that's not going to do the job.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, you have and the Democratic leadership of which you're a part have a big test with these public hearings because public support for impeachment and removal has stabilized over the last month. Just above 50 percent, but certainly not -- you don't have a giant groundswell of support for this which presumably will be necessary to take the extraordinary step of removing a president from office.

Do you believe that you have the evidence with the witness testimony you have, and those who are refusing to testify, do you believe you have enough to justify a vote to remove this president from office?

KILDEE: Personally, I do believe we do have enough evidence, even by the president's own admission. But I do think we have a responsibility to pursue all the evidence that we can find that either corroborates or somehow contradicts what we think took place.

So far, I've seen nothing that contradicts it. I also think it's important to keep in mind though, that while we have the evidence and while popular opinion may ebb and flow, we all swore an oath to uphold the constitution, even when it's difficult, even when it's unpopular.

So, it's important that we try to make sure that the American public fully understand what's happening. But I don't think we should put our finger into the wind and determine whether or not we're going to uphold the oath that we swore to the constitution.


SCIUTTO: Congressman Dan Kildee, always a pleasure to have you on the show.

KILDEE: Thanks, Jim.


POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes, great interview. All right, so we're going to head to Iowa next. Vice President Joe Biden is there. Will the third run be the charm for him? And what's different about his run this time around?

Our Dana Bash goes one-on-one on the campaign trail with Joe Biden ahead of his CNN town hall tonight.


SCIUTTO: Joe Biden is going to face Democratic voters tonight in a CNN town hall in Iowa. In most national polls, Biden leads the Democratic pack.

HARLOW: Right.