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THE SITUATION ROOM
Pentagon Official Testimony Transcript Released; Mulvaney Seeking Court Guidance Over Subpoenas; Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Trump's Impeachment Inquiry; Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) Is Interviewed About Trump's Impeachment Inquiry; More Transcripts Released Less Than 48 Hours Before Public Hearings Begin; Poll Shows Biden Leading Tight Race In New Hampshire Ahead Of Iowa Town Hall; New Book Reveals Trump White House Chaos, Backstabbing. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 11, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Be sure to tune in to CNN's town hall with the former Vice President Joe Biden live tonight. It's moderated by Erin Burnett at 9:00 p.m. eastern only on CNN. Our coverage continues on CNN right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news, just released testimony on a central allegation of the impeachment investigation that President Trump withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
The Pentagon official revealing what she knew about the decision to freeze the funding and efforts to get Mr. Trump to change his mind. More evidence made public less than 48 hours before historic televised impeachment hearings begin.
Let's immediately go to our congressional reporter Lauren Fox. Lauren, we now have the testimony of this Pentagon official, Laura Cooper. What are we learning from the transcript that has just been released?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we're learning that Laura Cooper was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and she really would have been personally involved in what was going on with this military aid.
But even she was very concerned, puzzled about why this money was being withheld -- nearly $400 million in U.S. military assistance, of course, between the State Department and the Department of Defense. And it is very clear that even she was grappling with congressional investigators behind closed doors to explain how this occurred.
It really underscores why individuals like Mick Mulvaney, people who actually had conversations with the president and would know what the motives were behind all of this, why Democrats want to talk to people like Mulvaney, because this was Laura Cooper's job.
She handled the Defense Department's portion of this military aid and even she was having a very hard time, Wolf, explain to a congressional investigators what was going on. She basically just said she became aware of it in July, but there was a lot of concern about whether or not this was even legal because Congress had already appropriated this money, Wolf.
BLITZER: What did she tell investigators about specific conversations that she had with Ambassador Volker for example?
FOX: Well, she was trying to get to the bottom of why the money was being withheld and she was told by Kurt Volker that, "An effort was being made that he was engaged in to see if there was statement that the government of Ukraine would make that would somehow disavow any interference in the U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individual involved in election interference. That was about as specific as it got."
Again, Wolf, it's very clear that behind closed doors, she was having a hard time explaining to Congressional investigators exactly what happened because even though this was her job, this clearly was being kept very tightly around the president of the United States and his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, clearly overseeing a lot of this. Thanks very much for that, Lauren Fox.
Let's go to our political correspondent Sara Murray right now. Sarah, we have this new testimony, the transcripts just released as Democrats and Republicans are clearly gearing up for public impeachment hearings on Wednesday.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. And obviously we're getting these new details while all of the, you know, their broader planning is playing out.
And I think when you look at this new testimony we get from Laura Cooper, it really does give us a little bit more sense of what was happening behind the scenes in terms of concerns about this money and whether it was possible to get this aid for Ukraine out the door.
You know, she talks in her testimony about the discussions that were going on at the Defense Department about whether it was even legal for OMB and for the president to be holding this money back when it already had been allocated by Congress.
You know, she even tells lawmakers at one point that she was -- they were concerns in the Defense Department that roughly $100 million in aid to Ukraine could be at risk and potentially that they wouldn't even be able get it out of the door in time.
And of course we know from other reporting that this is what members of Congress were telling the president privately. They were saying you need to allocate this money now. You need to get this money out the door otherwise it's not going to happen.
BLITZER: Let's step back for a moment, Sara. These public televised hearings that begin on Wednesday morning, how significant in the scheme of things are they? MURRAY: You know, they're extremely significant. I think when you
think back to Nancy Pelosi when she first talked about going down the impeachment path, she said she wanted this to be a bipartisan thing. She wanted the public to be with her.
Well, this is the chance for the Democrats to make the case to the American public that they should come along with where Democrats are in this process and they're going to do it with their first two witnesses on Wednesday, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine and George Kent.
And this is going to be the first time that we are going to hear, as the American public, from people who were directly at the heart of President Trump's push to have Ukraine investigate Joe Biden, Joe Biden's son, 2016, as essentially what these other witnesses have described as a quid pro quo. The president says it's not that.
But this is the first time for the American public to hear from these witnesses directly and it is a test of whether, you know, Democrats could be overplaying their hand or whether these witnesses will be convincing enough to lead the American public to believe that the president should, in fact, be impeached, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Sara, this testimony, this transcript just released from Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant Secretary of Defense who oversaw U.S. policy towards Ukraine from the Defense Department and from the Pentagon.
She was specifically told by Kurt Volker, the special U.S. envoy for Ukraine that the Ukrainians had to go ahead and deal with this so- called investigation of the Bidens and other interference in the 2016 election.
She was asked, did he indicate to you that if that channel he was working with was successful, it might lift this issue, meaning U.S. military assistance to Ukraine would go forward and she specifically said under oath, yes. So this is pretty significant stuff.
MURRAY: Absolutely. I think it is further corroboration. I mean, there were a couple of witnesses who hedged a little bit more on whether these things were directly connected.
But I think for the most part we have heard again and again from these career officials, this concern that military aid for Ukraine was being withheld in a way that they did not feel was appropriate. Perhaps it wasn't legal and it certainly wasn't being done in the way you normally conduct diplomacy.
It was not normal to withhold money for another nation that's been allotted by Congress, allocated by Congress in order to get political investigations out of another country. And I think you continue to see from these testimonies people raising red flags along the way, documenting their red flags along the way and expressing to lawmakers that they are concerned. Then we saw this at Laura Cooper's testimony concerned about their own jobs, concerned about whether they're doing the right thing but essentially saying you subpoenaed me, you called me up here to testify and I'm telling you what I saw in my position as sort of irregularities in this process.
BLITZER: And it's so interesting, Sara, because witness after witness after witness, current officials, former officials, for the most part they had a very consistent line about why this nearly $400 million in military assistance appropriated, authorized by the House and the Senate, signed into law by the president, was all of a sudden being held up.
MURRAY: Absolutely. And they keep coming back to, you know, it dawns on them at different times but it continues to dawn on these officials on whether they are at the State Department or whether they're on the Defense Department, whether they're diplomats.
It continues to dawn on these officials, wait, this money is being withheld because President Trump wants these investigations, and that's when they really began to realize that there is another kind of diplomacy that's playing out here, that this is not going through the regular, the proper channels.
There are other people with different agendas, Rudy Giuliani of course, being one of them who are working in this government and influencing the president and essentially just mucking up the process the way that it normally goes.
And they begin to get really alarmed especially because, Wolf, you remember, a lot of these people have worked on the Ukraine issue for a long time and they really felt that this military aid was so essential for Ukraine to protect itself from Russia and so I think that is another reason that we've seen this kind of alarm come through when you read through some of the testimonies.
BLITZER: Yes. And they were given no reason why the aid was being withheld, no official reason by all of that. All right, Sara Murray, thank you very much.
These newly released transcripts come as a key hearing is underway in the fight to compel testimony from White House officials in particular, the acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the impeachment hearings, the potential witnesses, clearly very much on the president's mind tonight.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. And there is a key hearing going on in federal court right now, Charles Kupperman who was a former National Security official over here at the White House.
He has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration essentially trying to figure out from a federal judge, get guidance from the federal judge as to whether or not he should be compelled to testify via subpoena in this House impeachment inquiry. And what is very interesting about that proceeding is that the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, in a sort of a mind-bending twist, has asked to join that lawsuit.
Essentially join a lawsuit against the Trump administration, against the president of the United States, against his boss to determine whether or not to have this federal judge say whether or not he should be compelled to testify in the House impeachment inquiry.
Wolf, you remember late last week Mick Mulvaney was served with a subpoena to testify in this impeachment. He did not show up on Friday for his scheduled testimony.
Now, I asked a White House official over here whether or not it is strange whether it is unusual for Mick Mulvaney to try to join a lawsuit against the president to determine whether or not he should testify on all of this.
And a White House official said no, this makes perfect sense. Mick Mulvaney has been working with the White House Counsel's Office in all of this and we have a statement from that White House official that we can put up on screen.
It says, Mulvaney's counsel is working closely with the White House Counsel's Office and the White House Counsel's Office was fully apprised of the filing before it took place. Having the president be on the lawsuit is, as the statement continues, a technicality given the competing instructions given to Mr. Mulvaney. The lawsuit is non- adversarial as to the president and in no way indicates any distance."
The statement goes on to say, "-- between the president and the acting chief." And so Mick Mulvaney is trying to say in court, Wolf, that he's basically caught between a rock and a hard place. He has been subpoenaed to testify up on Capitol Hill in this House impeachment inquiry but the White House Counsel's Office is saying that Mick Mulvaney should have immunity.
Now, one of the wrinkles in all of this, Charles Kupperman's attorneys have been arguing in court just today, Wolf, in a filing that Mick Mulvaney should not have the same protections that Charles Kupperman should have.
That essentially Mick Mulvaney and that infamous press briefing in the White House briefing room just a couple of weeks ago when he talked about a quid pro quo with Ukraine and said that people need to get over it, that this happens all of the time.
Kupperman's attorneys are essentially saying that Mick Mulvaney essentially waived his right to any kind of immunity in this case. And so it will be interesting to see how all of this shakes out and what the judge ultimately says, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, because there are so many reports you know, Jim, that Mulvaney was sort of on thin ice as a result of that infamous disastrous press briefing that he gave a couple of weeks ago, why does he need a private attorney? Why isn't he simply represented by the White House counsel?
ACOSTA: Well, Mick Mulvaney, is now very essentially I think involved in all of this and Democrats very much want to hear what Mick Mulvaney has to say. Remember what Fiona Hill testified, what others have testified throughout this impeachment inquiry.
That John Bolton, the National Security adviser and remember, much of this weighs on whether or not John Bolton will be ultimately compelled to testify in this impeachment inquiry.
But it was John Bolton according to Fiona Hill who said that Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the E.U. were cooking up a drug deal with respect to this dirt-for-dollar scheme that was going on inside the Trump administration with respect to the president's phone call with Ukraine.
And so there are some far-reaching implications in all of this and if Mick Mulvaney is implicated in any way in a potential impeachment inquiry, that is why Mick Mulvaney needs outside counsel in addition to the White House counsel weighing in on all of this. We saw a lot of this the same sort of thing playing out during the Russia investigation when White House officials needed outside counsel, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president keeps tweeting about all of this almost nonstop certainly over the weekend, today, and I understand he's just tweeted just a few minutes ago.
ACOSTA: That is right, Wolf. Even on this Veterans Day in addition to the president making comments on Veterans Day, he's also been making comments about the impeachment inquiry. We put this tweet up on screen. He says, "Where is the whistleblower who gave so much false information? Must testify along with Schiff -- talking about the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff -- and others."
The president is once again trying to make this about the whistleblower, Wolf, and he says, like other Republicans who support the president, defend the president up on Capitol Hill are saying that they want this whistleblower to testify.
Obviously, the whistleblower's attorneys want to keep that whistleblower's identity a secret because of the threats that have come into that whistleblower.
But, Wolf, one thing we should point out and it has been pointed out many times, is that the whistleblower's account of what happened on the president's phone call with the leader of Ukraine has been corroborated on multiple occasions by multiple administration officials no matter what the president has to say about the whistleblower in the tweets, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's absolutely correct. Jim Acosta, thank you vey much. Joining us now, Congressman Haley Rouda, a Democrat who serves on the House Oversight Committee. Congressman, thank so much for joining us. Let's get to the breaking news. This testimony just released from Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistance
Secretary of Defense. She says that by the end August, the then special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, former U.S. envoy, Kurt Volker, told her that money to Ukraine might flow if -- if the Ukrainians publicly committed to those political investigations involving the 2016 election and the Bidens. So what does that tell you?
REP. HARLEY ROUDA (D-CA): Well, what we clearly know is that the president of the United States held up $391 million in foreign military aid designed to help our allies and help defend our allies and our national interests against Russia who had invaded eastern Ukraine as well as taking over Crimea, all for the purpose of using it as extortion money to get dirt on a political opponent and that is the situation we're dealing with.
BLITZER: So does this raise questions about the accuracy of Ambassador Kurt Volker's sworn testimony?
ROUDA: Well, I think what we've seen witness after witness with the exception of Ambassador Sondland is clear proof that not just did the president ask for specific action by the president of Ukraine on the call that we have the transcript of -- not a transcript, but technically a memorandum.
But what we are finding with this testimony is that there is an extensive set-up and cover-up that took place before that call and after that call.
BLITZER: I want to point out in fairness to Ambassador Sondland, he did revise -- he did refresh his testimony under oath and he came around to the conclusion, yes, for all practical purposes, there was that so-called quid pro quo in that addendum that he filed.
ROUDA: Yes, he did have selective amnesia there for a while, but since he had the opportunity to see the other opening statements and testimony of the other witnesses, he did modify his testimony and did say just that.
BLITZER: The deputy assistant secretary Cooper also says all of the senior leaders in the national security area were unified that this money for Ukraine was absolutely essential. So, how do you find out why exactly that money was frozen?
ROUDA: We know exactly why the money was frozen. It was frozen by the president of the United States telling Mulvaney to hold it --
BLITZER: Let me -- hold on first. But do you have that specifically, that it went from the president to Mulvaney and then that order was given because Mulvaney, as you know, has not yet testified. How do you know the president directly ordered him to make that commitment?
ROUDA: Based on the testimony of the witnesses, they were told either directly or indirectly from Mulvaney that it was the decision made at the top. It was the president's decision. BLITZER: Because the White House acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney asked
the court to later weigh in on whether he needs to testify in your inquiry.
He could have simply refused to comply as the president wanted. So how do you interpret that? That he wants to join this other pending lawsuit?
ROUDA: Well, I think it is against the law that Mulvaney and any other member not testify, not honor a duly issued subpoena. So yes, we fully expect Mulvaney to testify. We would like to see Bolton testify as well, and any other individuals who have declined to testify even though a constitutionally protected subpoena has been submitted to them.
BLITZER: I think it is fair and I'm sure you'll agree that testimony from both Mulvaney and the former National Security adviser John Bolton could be incredibly valuable to this investigation. So why not wait for the lawsuit to play out in court?
ROUDA: I'm hopeful that the lawsuit will get settled quickly and that we could get them in either in a closed hearing with a deposition or a public hearing as determined by Chairman Schiff, but I do believe their testimony would be very, very helpful to the process we have undertaken.
BLITZER: Congressman Harley Rouda, thanks so much for joining us.
ROUDA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we've got more on the breaking news coming up. New testimony just released from a senior Pentagon official question- and-answer session with House impeachment investigators.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on this Veterans Day. House investigators just released moments ago another transcript of the testimony of the Trump impeachment investigation.
Joining us now is Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): Thanks Wolf.
BLITZER: You oversee the Department of Defense. As you've just heard, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense testified that she learned in late August that money to Ukraine appropriated by Congress would likely flow if -- if the Ukrainians committed to investigations that President Trump wanted, political investigations involving the Bidens. So how concerning is that?
REED: It is terribly concerning. The aid that we voted for on a bipartisan basis in the House and the Senate, it was signed by the president, it was designed to aid an ally who is in direct confrontation with Russia.
The Russians invaded Ukraine and the Donbas. They are fighting through proxies. They are trying to destabilize in many respects, the Ukrainian government.
This aid was actually essential and not just essential for the Ukrainians, it was essential to maintain the integrity of our position in Europe, along with our NATO allies.
So, to use this as an attempt to extort or to somehow shake down a foreign government is outrageous. If that is the case, we have to establish that.
BLITZER: She also testified that all of the National Security leaders were on the exact same page, that Ukraine needed this money, that it was essential. You also served on the Senate Appropriation Committee. How irregular was this hold-up, this last-minute holdup that was given to this -- the National Security officials, the aid is being suspended at least for the time being?
REED: It is very usual because, again, as you point out, Ukraine desperately needed this money. They are in a day to day contest with the Russians.
They need the support both in terms of not only their operational capacity but also the signal of political support by the United States and the government of the Ukraine. And to hold it up is just -- it mind-boggling.
And to hold it up without any sort of public discussion or communication with Congress that might be incident to another situation where there are questions that the money is not being spent well or we're going to have to restrict some type of funding because they're not ready to accept it yet. None of that was readily apparent during this time.
BLITZER: What evidence have you seen that so far, at least so far, that explains why that military aid to Ukraine was put on hold? What was the explanation you've seen and were given?
REED: I have no explanation that I was given. You know, we were making inquiries, several of my colleagues and then it became so widespread so you had so many people interested in getting this aid to the Ukrainian government that we were calling and weren't getting any real response.
It's just it's not happening, it's not happening. Again, this is a situation where the aid was critical for the defense of someone who is on the front line against Soviet expansion in middle Europe and also someone -- a country that needs our support because they're going through a very difficult political struggle as well as a military struggle. BLITZER: As you know, the public televised hearings in the
impeachment inquiry will begin Wednesday morning. What will you be watching for in these hearings, senator?
REED: Well, this is an opportunity on a bipartisan basis for questions to be asked of the witnesses. Ambassador Taylor is someone who has a remarkable reputation and a graduate of West Point, a combat leader in Vietnam and a dedicated public servant.
I think we'll all be looking not only for the facts but also the demeanor of the witnesses and I think with the ambassador you'll find someone who is committed his whole life to public service and that that will resonate.
The big judge will be the American people. They have to look at a process to see that it is fair, to see that both sides have their opportunities to question and also to measure the -- not just what is said but the veracity and the character of the witnesses. And I think, again, that will be critical this week as we begin these open hearings as the House begins them.
BLITZER: As these hearings will begin on Wednesday, the president will welcome President Erdogan of Turkey to the White House. Is that appropriate, senator? You've covered -- you've watched this very closely.
Considering the U.S. believes Turkish-backed forces may have committed war crimes in Syria and specifically I'm referring to what James Jeffrey, the special enjoy for Syria, testified before Congress on October 23rd when he said, "We have seen several incidents which we consider war crimes."
REED: No, I think it is completely inappropriate. I think President Trump should have informed President Erdogan when he crossed the border with at least a tacit approval of the president that a visit to Washington would be completely inappropriate.
We have many issues with the Turks, issues that have to be resolved, not only their situation in Syria but also their acquisition of the S- 400 anti-defense system from the Russians.
We have a host of issues. And to give a presidential visit, I think, just undercuts all of our real leverage in terms of talking seriously with Erdogan about the future of Turkey and the future of NATO and what he will do in Syria.
BLITZER: Could the --
REED: He has proposed for example --
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead. Finish your thought.
REED: No, he's proposed for example of relocating hundreds of thousands of Syrian Sunnis into Kurdish land. That could be an explosive, sort of the move on the part of igniting tensions between the Kurds and others. And that's the kind of behavior that can't be tolerated and he's talking about it very glibly.
BLITZER: Do you think that potentially could alienate some of your Republican Senate colleagues who are also as worried as you are about the president's Syria policy and the same senators, by the way, he'll need to stand by him if there is a full-scale trial, impeachment trial in the senate.
REED: Well just looking at the situation in Turkey, yes, I think it will. I think they're quite concerned, many of them, about what is happened.
We walked away from an ally that fought with us to destroy ISIS or at least to degrade it significantly if not destroyed it. That is one of the concerns we have, that it will reconstitute itself but they lost 10,000 fighters and we were able to operate
We tragically lost six or seven Special Forces operators. That is a great loss to their families and to the country, but compared to the suffering of the -- the Kurds, it -- it is quite a difference.
And we are also worried now about whether the Kurds can maintain those prisons in which ISIS -- hard-core ISIS, some international fighters -- are held. Whether they'll -- they will abandon those positions to defend their villages as the Turks move down.
I know sort of the Department of Defense is trying to back-fill after the President announced very dramatically, but I think also very foolishly, that we're pulling all of our forces out. They're now trying to back-fill with several hundred troops to go in there, but it's all without any plan.
It's impulsive. It doesn't recognize the sacrifice of our allies, and -- and it leaves us in the position throughout the entire Middle East of whether or not any country would trust our -- what we say we'll do.
BLITZER: Senator Reed, thanks much for joining us. We -- we appreciate it.
REED: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, we -- we're just getting in some more breaking news. In addition to the one transcript that was released about half an hour or so ago from the senior Defense Department officials, more transcripts just now are being released.
We're going through them. Stay with us. Much more on all the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Trump impeachment investigation. House committees just now releasing more transcripts of witness testimony.
Let's bring back our CNN Political Correspondent, Sara Murray. Two more transcripts from two senior State Department officials just released.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, these are from Catherine Croft and -- Croft and Christopher Anderson, both State Department officials. And they really lay out, you know, the extent to which Rudy Giuliani's shadow diplomacy effort was essentially making it very difficult for State Department employees to do their job, you know.
In Catherine Croft's testimony, she talks about how she actually thanked Ambassador Kurt Volker for keeping her out of this mess. And she recalls having a conversation with him where he sort of acknowledges, you know, yes, we need to get this Rudy G. effort in line and out of the way, essentially, so we can go back to policy- making as usual.
And in Christopher Anderson's testimony, he recounts similar concerns about the way that Rudy Giuliani's efforts were sort of messing up what they were essentially trying to do at the State Department and all of the ways Kurt Volker was trying to work either with Rudy Giuliani or around Rudy Giuliani to move forward with Ukraine policy.
So it -- it does sort of give you more context about the shadow diplomacy effort that Rudy Giuliani was carrying out and the concerns that it was causing, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it's really significant. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of sworn testimony, these transcripts being released, getting ready for Wednesday morning when the public televised hearings begin.
I know you're going through all these transcripts, Sara. We're going to get back to you. Right now, I want to bring in our experts, our analysts, to discuss what we're learning right now.
Susan Hennessey, Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense overseeing Russia, Ukraine, Euro-Asia policy, she testified under oath that the then-Special U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker, now the former ambassador, told her that aid to Ukraine might be released if Ukraine publicly acknowledged it would launch investigations that President Trump was seeking. So how -- how significant, do you believe, this revelation is?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's significant because it's yet another official acknowledging that there really was an explicit quid pro quo here. This was about exchanging military aid for political -- politically motivated investigations that the President wanted to happen.
Cooper is not the first person to testify about this, but she is yet another individual. There's lots of significant information in her transcripts including her understanding, based on conversations with people like Kurt Volker, like Mick Mulvaney, that this was being driven by the President himself. That -- that President Trump was the person who wanted these investigations, who was concerned about this aid in the first instance.
Now, Cooper says that, at the Department of Defense, they were concerned that the President might lack authorization for this. That's a little bit of a -- of a coded way of saying, they were worried that it wasn't consistent with the law. That the President was only allowed to -- to use these funds for limited purposes, only allowed to hold them up for limited purposes.
And she says they actually said they -- they told the White House, if you want to -- if you want to use these funds or delay these funds, you need to notify Congress, you need to notify them of a possible reprogramming action. And she said that didn't happen.
So it's more indication that nothing that was happening here was happening for legitimate purposes or within sort of the ordinary or regular order that we would expect. But instead, this really was about the President of the United States leveraging congressionally- appropriated military funds in order to turn a foreign government essentially into his opposition researchers for his presidential campaign.
BLITZER: Well, that's very significant, Chris Cillizza. Does Cooper's testimony strengthen the Democrats' case for impeachment?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, Wolf, I -- just to echo Susan for a minute, I think the details matter. And particularly, as it relates to Cooper, they matter in the timing of when the Ukrainians became aware that the -- that the aid, the military aid, might be tied in with the -- announcing the investigations. Because there has been a lot of debate about that and this would place it in early August, according to her testimony.
More broadly, I think when you see all -- the two State Department officials, Cooper, everything that we've seen, including what's coming in the open hearings, it adds to a very rich tapestry that, honestly, is pretty broadly consistent. If I was President Trump or his Republican allies, that -- that's what would worry me the most.
You have people from disparate bodies, you know, State Department, the -- the Pentagon, White House-related, you have all these people -- and ambassadors. You have all these people talking and saying, well, this is what I heard, this is what I knew, this is what I was told, this is what I would -- I assumed, but it's not contradictory.
It all kind of meshes together into a broader picture that I think shows relatively clearly there was both a before, during, and after -- it wasn't just this July 25th call -- and a concerted effort to pressure in exchange for these investigations for military aid.
There is not anything I've seen that suggests that there is credible evidence that doesn't make that case. And you have to ask yourself, are all these people lying? Are all these people Never Trumpers? Are all these people part of the deep state? It seems very unlikely. BLITZER: You know, that's an important point as well. You know,
Samantha Vinograd, you have experienced working on foreign assistance. How unusual is this conduct that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense describes?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this process that Deputy Assistant Secretary describes and that's been echoed in other depositions is a process that you'd expect to read about in a dictatorship where a leader rules by fiat and his national security team scrambles to find a legal justification and to sell a bill of goods to legislators and the American people about why the President has made a certain decision.
I was in NSC meetings for four years. Never have I ever heard of a room of deputies -- deputy cabinet officials struggling to find a legal just justification after a president makes a decision to freeze assistance.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary Cooper notes, there's a process if you're going to put a hold on security assistance. For example, if Ukraine had failed to meet anti-corruption benchmarks, there is an entire process that the Department of Defense would have gone through. They would have notified Congress.
This was the opposite of that. And what we saw is the national security team having to spend their time finding a legal justification for the President using foreign assistance as an extortion slush fund rather than doing their actual jobs, which is using this foreign assistance and allocating it to deter Russia, in Ukraine's case.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Mark Mazzetti, because Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense is the only Pentagon witness who has testified, at least so far. So you've gone through it. What stands out to you from her testimony?
MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, she puts the importance of the Ukraine aid in context. You know, why did the United States find the aid to Ukraine so important?
Well, it's because, she says, that Ukraine is on the front line to deter Russian aggression -- aggression. Ukraine and the Republic of Georgia. So it's in -- it was kind of a no-brainer for several years that, in the American policy-making world, that Ukraine should get this aid.
And of course, this is yet another example of someone who is working in the trenches on Ukraine policy puzzled about this decision that's coming from above. She has limited visibility in why this decision is being made, and she asks her superiors, she asks her colleagues about what's happening.
And so, the question, of course, is whether it will ultimately go back up to the top to President Trump and whether some of the witnesses can supply that information. I think to echo something Chris said, I mean, in a way, despite this
blizzard of names, blizzard of -- of different positions and thousands of pages of testimony, in a way, over the last week, the story has kind of simplified around the idea that there was aid held up for the specific reason of getting the -- something, a promise from the Ukraine government, that might help the President.
And can they -- can the Democrats translate that story into a narrative that is compelling and will resonate with the public?
BLITZER: Yes. And it's important, Sabrina Siddiqui, to remember this was almost $400 million that have been authorized, appropriated, by the House and Senate, signed into law by the President of the United States.
Now, there are provisions within that law for the President to withhold that aid. But these officials are basically saying they weren't given any explanation other than Mulvaney saying that the Office of Management and Budget had decided to suspend the aid for the time being. So what does that say to you?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, it reinforces that there was widespread concern among career officials as to why there was this hold on critical U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.
And what you see in Laura Cooper's testimony is someone actually laying out why that aid is so important. Not just with respect to peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia but also as a matter of national security for the United States.
And what she really is doing is, once again, confirming that the reason behind the freeze on that aid may, in fact, have been the -- for Ukraine to announce investigations that were sought by the President for political gain.
So it really is a fairly simple story for Democrats to paint in these public hearings this week on Capitol Hill. And I think this is yet another critical piece of evidence that bolsters the argument that they are trying to make before the American public.
BLITZER: Yes, three sets of transcripts just released within the past few moments. We're going to have a lot more on all the breaking news in the impeachment inquiry.
We're also counting down to tonight's CNN presidential town hall in Iowa with former Vice President Joe Biden. And a short time ago, a new poll was released showing Biden leading in another important early state, New Hampshire.
Our political director David Chalian is joining us from Iowa right now. David, this poll comes at a very crucial time for the former Vice President. What does his narrow lead in New Hampshire, according to this new poll, tell us about the race? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I'm sure it sounds as
though he's going to come on the stage tonight with a spring in his step. We haven't seen him hold a lead in a poll in New Hampshire, the first in the nation's primary state, since July.
And as you know, here in Iowa, Wolf, he is in a real tight four-way battle in the polls that we see now. And so, this is going to be very welcome news in -- in the Biden camp. He was just campaigning in New Hampshire at the end of last week, did that official filing in -- at the Secretary of State's office.
And he even told Dana Bash when she spent time with him that he thought he was going to perform better than people might expect him to in the first two states. And so, this poll is some evidence that he is -- is still very much being able to hold on to their lead in New Hampshire, which is critical for him.
Especially, Wolf, if he comes up short in Iowa, if he can rebound in New Hampshire where, next door, you have Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders from Vermont, that would be a big moment for Joe Biden to sort of regain control of this race should he indeed come up short in Iowa.
BLITZER: You know, there's also some new reporting just out the other day. We heard about Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, potentially throwing his hat into the Democratic presidential contest. And now there is word that Deval Patrick, the former Governor of Massachusetts, may be thinking of doing the same thing?
CHALIAN: Yes, "The New York Times" just reported that the former Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, is having conversations with some Democrats about toying with the idea of a late entrance into this race.
On the heels of the Bloomberg news, that he's considering getting in, it -- it sort of boggles the mind here a little bit, Wolf, that we're now 80 something days to the Iowa caucuses, and we're dealing with reports of people considering getting in instead of the field narrowing.
Obviously, broadly, it says that there are some folks who are consulting with Democrats who think that the current field of candidates, nobody has emerged as the certain sort of dragon slayer that can take down Donald Trump definitively. And that is leaving some conversation among some donors, among some Democratic establishment folks about looking for somebody else in this race.
Now, we don't know that Deval Patrick is going to get in. He once considered this race as did Michael Bloomberg and rejected the idea, chose not to get in the race. We'll see if this is a real reconsideration and that he actually takes the leap.
We've been reaching out to some sources, and we have not -- he has not yet sort of put in all of the traditional calls you'd put into leaders in Iowa and leaders in New Hampshire to start building something. So we'll await further word from Patrick's team. BLITZER: Let me read one sentence from "The New York Times" report
that was just posted.
Mr. Patrick has told party leaders that he doesn't think any of the candidates running have established political momentum and that he thinks there is an opening for somebody who can unite both liberals and moderate Democrats, according to Democrats who have spoken to him. That's pretty significant, David.
CHALIAN: It is. And, you know, when Michael Bloomberg's team made a similar pronouncement last week, that they're looking at this field and they don't see someone yet that's put it all together, that just looks like they are the fully unified candidate that the party believes wholeheartedly is the one that could defeat Trump.
As you know, Wolf, poll after poll tells us what Democrats want more than anything else is somebody that -- who can -- who can defeat the President. I think that what you just read there from "The Times" is -- is the clear divide here, looking for that candidate that can stitch together what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders clearly have on the left of the party and what Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg and others are building in the more moderate center of the party.
Somebody looking to stitch those together would be a formidable force if they can do it, but it's late.
BLITZER: All right, David, we're going to get back to you. An important note to our viewers, once again, be sure to watch as former Vice President Joe Biden takes questions from voters in the CNN Democratic presidential town hall later tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Also tonight, there's more dramatic evidence of the chaos within the Trump administration. It's in a new book by President Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
Let's bring in our own Brian Todd. Brian, there's a growing library of books now painting an alarming picture of what's going on inside the White House.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is that library, Wolf. In her book -- in her new book, Nikki Haley says two of the highest-profile members of the administration in its early days, Rex Tillerson and former Chief of Staff John Kelly, would brazenly try to subvert the President.
Now, her book is resonating tonight because it's the second new book which depicts an organized resistance to Trump within his own ranks.
TODD (voice-over): An explosive new account of top White House officials working against the President from within. In her new book, "With All Due Respect," former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley claims that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Chief of Staff John Kelly undermined and ignored President Trump and tried to recruit her to help them subvert the President.
That's according to excerpts of Haley's book published by "The Washington Post." Quote, Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the President, they weren't being insubordinate. They were trying to save the country. But Nikki Haley says she rejected their overtures.
NIKKI HALEY, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: 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. It was -- was offensive.
TODD (voice-over): But there are now two new books with jarring accounts of top White House officials who have resisted the President.
According to "The Post," the new book, "A Warning," by an anonymous Trump administration official says senior White House officials considered resigning en masse last year in a, quote, midnight self- massacre to warn the public about Trump's behavior. But Anonymous says those officials backed off the idea, fearing it would destabilize the government even further.
Trump biographers say the two books, collectively, paint a stark portrait of how those closest to him perceived the President.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": They see a president going out on the hustings and riling people up against each other, sowing nothing but division in domestic affairs and wonder how much the country can take. So the people who contemplated a sort of Saturday night massacre inflicted on themselves were desperate.
TODD (voice-over): Trump's biographers say the two books also illustrate how the President likes to project the image of someone who surrounds himself with those who can speak truth to power while the reality is very different.
MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY OF AMBITION, EGO, MONEY, AND POWER": He likes the idea of being perceived as someone who listens to all comers. But in fact, when people do push back hard, especially when they're at all public about it, he rebels against that and discards those people. He's done that for half a century in his business and now in politics as well.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, biographers are keeping a close eye on how Donald Trump responds, going forward, to the two new books. They believe the accounts of resistance to him within his own ranks will feed what they characterized as the President's paranoia.
FISHER: The more embarrassing it seems to the President, the more he will double down as he always does and insist that none of this is true and become more suspicious of those around him.
D'ANTONIO: I think that nobody is safe. So if Vice President Pence thinks that he is safe because he's been a yes-man all along, he should think again.
TRUMP: Trump and the White House responded to the anonymous book by calling it nothing but lies and calling the author a coward. Trump has responded to the Nikki Haley book by endorsing it and encouraging people to buy it.
Rex Tillerson has, so far, not responded at all to Nikki Haley's accounts. John Kelly declined to comment in detail. But Kelly told "The Washington Post" that if providing the President with the best staffing advice so he could make informed decisions was working against Trump, then, Kelly said, he is guilty as charged -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report. This coming Thursday, by the way, Nikki Haley will be our guest right here in the SITUATION ROOM. Looking forward to that.
There's more breaking news just ahead on the additional witness testimony that was just released and how it could figure into televised impeachment hearings that begin this week.