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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Roger Stone Declines to Testify; Public Impeachment Hearings Set For Tomorrow; NYT: Trump Has Considered Firing Intelligence Inspector General. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Sajak tweeted for the first time since his surgery, thanking everyone for the support, and says he will return soon.

Thanks for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This is not the reality show that President Trump wanted.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just hours away from a critical moment for the nation and for the future of a presidency, Republicans are revealing their playbook on how they want to try to defend the president, as two key witnesses prepare to publicly detail efforts to get Ukraine to do Trump's political dirty work.

The heads-up. A Trump campaign official under oath totally contradicting President Trump's written answer to Robert Mueller about what he knew about stolen Russian dirt.

And is it all just a joke to Russia? Today, Moscow saying, don't worry, we got this, when asked about Russia's plans for the U.S. election.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

Eighteen hours from now, the first public televised hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and the Ukraine scandal. Tomorrow, we will hear from two Trump administration officials, Bill Taylor, currently the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who repeatedly described in detail what he clearly saw as a quid pro quo, saying he was told -- quote -- "President Trump wants Ukraine President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma" -- that's the company that Hunter Biden once worked for -- "and alleged Ukraine interference in the 2016 U.S. election." Plus, State Department official George Kent, who testified -- quote -- "Trump wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton."

Democrats today laying out the process for the hearings that they hope will convince even more of the American people of the need to impeach President Trump.

And, as CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us now, Republicans are preparing their defense strategy, which relies in part on you believing a whole bunch of assertions that are contradicted by witnesses and evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): With historic impeachment hearings just hours away, Republicans are now outlining four broad arguments to defend the president.

They first argue that the transcript of the July 25 call between Presidents Trump and Zelensky showed no conditionality or pressure to announce investigations into the Bidens before getting anything in return.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We know there was nothing wrong in the call transcript. We got the two guys on the call who said there was no pressure, no pushing, no quid pro quo.

MARQUARDT: But on the call, when the Ukrainian president asks for military aid, Trump says, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

Trump makes it clear he wants Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and a conspiracy theory about Democrats and the 2016 election. Zelensky responds: "I guarantee, as the president of Ukraine, that all of the investigations will be done openly and candidly."

Second, the GOP argues both presidents have said there was no pressure.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Nobody push it, push me.

MARQUARDT: Before Zelensky took office, a source told CNN that he and his aides had a meeting in which they discussed the pressure they were already feeling to open investigations that the Trump administration wanted. And there was $400 million in aid on the line.

Third, when the president spoke on July 25, Republicans say the Ukrainian government was not aware the aid was being held up. But it wasn't just about aid. The Ukrainians wanted a White House meeting as well, and it was made clear to them in multiple conversations with the president's team before that call they would not get it unless they launched investigations.

Finally, they argue the aid was released and the Ukrainians got the meeting without Ukraine launching investigations.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): When the aid was released, was there anything that was ever given to this president or the American people on behalf of any connection to releasing that aid? And the answer is no.

MARQUARDT: The aid was released on September 11, only after the hold had been reported and there was pressure on the White House, including from Republican senators.

And it was just two days before President Zelensky had planned to announce the investigations that Trump wanted.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: All of those arguments will be on full display tomorrow, when the first open hearing is gaveled into session with Ambassador Taylor and George Kent.

They are going together because the Democrats say the two men were witnesses to what they call the full scope of the president's misconduct. Then, on Friday, there will be the next opening hearing with Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was recalled by Trump in May.

Democrats are calling her the first victim of the president's scheme. -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let's chew over this with our panel.

Congressman Dent, let me start with you. You're a former Republican House member.

I had heard that at one point Republicans were going toward the, look, the president shouldn't have done this, but it is not impeachable defense. But that's not what Republicans are offering here.

They are basically saying, this was all perfect.

[16:05:00]

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes, it was perfectly awful, the whole call.

It was a -- it is a fiasco. I think Republicans are going to be making a huge mistake if they do not acknowledge that the president's conduct was terrible. And then if they make the argument that, well, maybe this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment, well, that is another debate to have.

But I don't think there is anything to be gained by trying to pretend that everything is OK, abusing your power, using your office -- using your office to investigate your opponent, and not -- not even to mention a quid pro quo, it's bad. There is no defense here. TAPPER: So, Karen, I want you to take a listen.

Bill Taylor, who is the current top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, he's one of the star witnesses tomorrow. Here is Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York, one of the president's strongest defenders, talking to CNN's Manu Raju about Bill Taylor.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is he a credible witness?

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): No. He is not. Second, third, fourth-hand, no hand information in some cases. You can't actually know what was really said when you're relying on third, fourth-hand information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, Bill Taylor does rely on information that he was told by Gordon Sondland, who says he was told it by either President Trump or Rudy Giuliani.

So it is secondhand, not third, fourth, fifth-hand. But he does have a point that Bill Taylor doesn't have firsthand information because he never spoke with President Trump.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That is not unfair.

However, Bill Taylor is the person that our current secretary of state actually recruited to come and take the job and who has himself a very distinguished career as a Foreign Service officer. If I'm not mistaken, he served in Vietnam.

TAPPER: He did.

FINNEY: So, I think he's going to present as a very credible person.

And as we also know, he takes very good notes. Right? That's one of the things that was pointed out when he testified. So certainly he can give witness to the timeline, because, look, part of the problem with the memo from Republicans is they're clearly trying to zero in on specific points, rather than the whole picture. Right?

So we know on that on July 25, there had already been a meeting in the White House where Sondland made it clear to the Ukrainians earlier, a couple of weeks earlier, that if they wanted a meeting, they needed to get out there and talk about this investigation.

So talking about the 25th ignores kind of the bigger picture. That is clearly their strategy.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Taylor also had a front- row seat to some of the things that Sondland and Volker were trying to do in the name of the president, and Giuliani as well. He was hearing about it. So, yes, it is not firsthand knowledge, but

he does have firsthand knowledge of what they were up to. But the other thing they're doing, someone who does have firsthand knowledge, someone like Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, they have tried to cast it as opinion.

They said, oh, are you sure?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Go after his patriotism.

KUCINICH: Go after his patriotism. So there is always an answer, without addressing the root of what is happening here, the quid pro quo.

TAPPER: But the fact that they are not going to be able to, in all likelihood, get Mulvaney or Giuliani to testify does set up a real constitutional crisis here, when the White House is saying executive privilege, and Congress is saying these are witnesses that we need.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but I don't think Democrats are really betting on getting Mulvaney. I think that they are proceeding as though we have all the information that we need. And now it's all about selling this.

And so they are very confident about Taylor and Kent's testimony. And to the point about the attacks on Taylor's character, he's not an outlier. His testimony isn't some outlier. It's backed up by Vindman's. It's backed up by Kent's. It's backed up by multiple other career officials.

TAPPER: Fiona Hill.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Exactly.

TAPPER: And over and over.

The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Democrat Adam Schiff, Congressman, in a memo to committee members had a warning -- it sounded like a warning to Republicans specifically.

He wrote -- quote -- "The committee has a long, proud and bipartisan history of protecting whistle-blowers, including from efforts to threaten, intimidate, retaliate against or undermine the confidentiality of whistle-blowers."

He goes on to say any member violating the Whistleblower Protection Act will be referred to the Ethics Committee.

You were once the House Ethics Committee chairman. Would that be a serious complaint, this person violated the Whistleblower Protection Act?

DENT: That would be an issue that the Ethics Committee could consider. They're supposed to investigate any violations of House rules, or, in this case, the breaking of the law. They can't investigate you criminally.

But if they -- I think it would rise to the level that the Ethics Committee would have to take this up seriously. If they determine there was a violation of the law, they could refer this thing to the Department of Justice for further review or for prosecution, or they could sanction a member on their own, absolutely.

TAPPER: This has been one of the things, though, that House Republicans have been doing behind the scenes is like, in testimony, the House Republican counsel for the Oversight Committee has been naming the alleged whistle-blower and trying to see if people met with that person.

KUCINICH: I believe it was Vindman who was asked point blank -- or George Kent -- excuse me -- I read so many transcripts this week -- was asked point blank, is this person the whistle-blower?

So there has been this effort to get this person's name out there, knowing that these transcript would become public.

[16:10:01]

TAPPER: Interesting. Everyone, stick around.

We have some breaking news for you. On this eve of the public impeachment hearing, "The New York Times" just now reporting that President Trump has discussed whether or not he should fire the man who turned over the whistle-blower complaint to Congress, the inspector general for the intelligence community.

We're going to bring you that story next.

Then, while everyone's paying attention to the impeachment inquiry, a court case is revealing that President Trump may have lied under oath.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Breaking news just in, "The New York Times" reporting that President Trump has discussed with aides whether he should fire the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, according to four people familiar with the discussions, because Atkinson reported the whistle-blower complaint involving the Trump/Ukraine scandal to Congress.

[16:15:00]

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, "The Times" reporting that President Trump has said to aides that he believes Atkinson is disloyal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Jake, keep in mind, this is someone President Trump put in this job. But now, this is someone who had and read this whistle-blower complaint deemed that it was credible and then, of course, shared it with Congress which has led to where we are now.

The president has been venting publicly about Michael Atkinson, questioning his loyalty and hinting at times he believed he was working with Democrats to sabotage him. And now, "The New York Times" is reporting that the president has been in discussions about firing the inspector general for the intelligence community and, of course, this all comes as the president has also been frustrated privately about those public hearings that are starting tomorrow which, of course, this whistle-blower's complaint is at the center of at.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): With the public impeachment hearing said to begin, there was a head-spinning move by the chief of staff today. Mick Mulvaney is reversing course and now saying he'll no longer file a lawsuit asking a court to decide who to listen to when it comes to a subpoena from House Democrats.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.

COLLINS: Last night, his attorney said he would file his own lawsuit after the former deputy national security adviser said he didn't want him piggybacking off of his.

The move adding to the impeachment drama since it was Mulvaney who played a role in drafting a White House letter telling aides not to cooperate. It also comes amid a simmering feud between Mulvaney and the White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who Mulvaney believes is trying to take his job, though Cipollone believes Mulvaney has made impeachment matters worse.

MULVANEY: Did he mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely.

COLLINS: The White House is bracing for what they fear could be damaging public testimony. Though publicly the president said today he wasn't worried.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Outrageous hoaxes and delusional witch hunts which are going absolutely nowhere. Don't worry about it.

COLLINS: He complained from behind his keyboard that Democrats were relying on second and third-hand witnesses. All of this as new reporting from CNN's KFILE team shows that Trump interacted frequently with two men he claimed not to know.

TRUMP: Again, I don't know how he knows these people.

REPORTER: They're his clients.

TRUMP: OK. Well, then, they are clients. I mean, you know, he's got a lot of clients.

COLLINS: Prosecutors allege that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Rudy Giuliani's, illegally funded Republican politicians and campaigns with money from foreign nationals, in attempts to buy influence.

TRUMP: I don't know those gentlemen. That was possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody.

COLLINS: Not only does he have one picture with them, he has several. Ranging from VIP campaign events, high-dollar fundraisers and even an intimate dinner with the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, the in-fighting between Mick Mulvaney and Pat Cipollone is more than just that, because they are two key figures in this impeachment inquiry that is unfolding before us with these hearings getting underway, of course, because of Mick Mulvaney's role in a lot of this as the officials have testified and, of course, Pat Cipollone has been the one leading the impeachment defense strategy behind the scenes along with Jared Kushner. So, that is something to keep an eye on that as you're watching the president's reactions to these hearings as they start tomorrow, we should note, those are going to be going on as he's welcoming a foreign leader, the Turkish president, to the White House.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, traveling with the president, thank you so much.

So let's talk about this big news "The Times" is reporting that President Trump has discussed firing the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, for basically doing his job, and letting the Congress know this whistle-blower complaint existed and moving on it after he found it credible. It says that the aides -- the story says that one of the reasons it hasn't happened is aides think it would be a horrible idea for him and would erode the Republican support for him on Capitol Hill.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. The inspector general, a part of any agency is supposed to be a check on that agency. It is supposed to be nonpartisan and not political.

So for the president to retaliate against that because he fears this report said that the I.G. is working with Democrats to sabotage his presidency, even though there is no evidence to suggest that, it's a classic Trump move. So it's not that surprising that he would be considering this given that he has retaliated against former officials for -- like Sessions for recusing himself and then he's been fired.

TAPPER: So, what do you make of the fact that it fits in perfectly with the reporting that President Trump doesn't think that Michael Atkinson, the inspector general, is loyal to him.

[16:20:07]

We've heard President Trump say similar things about James Comey or about Jeff Sessions. And I don't doubt it. It doesn't sound like he's loyal to him. It sounds like he's loyal to what he's supposed to do for his job.

DENT: Yes, inspectors -- inspectors general guard their independence zealously and jealously, and they do not take loyalty oaths to the president but to the Constitution. And I've dealt with these guys and I'll tell you what, if the president thinks these guys are disloyal, an I.G.'s nose is not a heat-seeking missile to the president's back side, he should know that because this is serious stuff.

But these I.G.s are some of the most independent people, thoughtful people, and I think this is almost the equivalent of trying to fire Don -- Don McGahn being asked to fire Mueller.

TAPPER: Mueller, yes.

DENT: It's similar to that. Again, you know, some of these people have backbone.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But this is the way Donald Trump has operated all of his life, right? He -- even in government, he doesn't understand it is not about loyalty to him, it is about -- some people have jobs where they're supposed to be loyal to our foreign policy of the United States of America or to what they believe is the right thing to do.

I will tell you what the story does, though. This is going to be the problem for Republicans throughout this hearing. Every little -- this is clearly not on the GOP strategy. This was not part of the -- what they just put out, right, and every single thing --

KUCINICH: It looks like the president didn't read the memo.

FINNEY: I don't think he did. I don't think he knows.

So, right, the GOP on the Hill is trying to do one thing and they're going to be sabotaged by every little bad instinct that Donald Trump has and I suspect he'll get more whipped up the more the testimony goes on.

TAPPER: But that -- whatever you want to call it -- revenge, anger, whatever is motivating President Trump to fire Atkinson, although he has not done so, that wrath is something that House Republicans and Senate Republicans are more than aware of.

KUCINICH: But no less able to handle, because it changes, right? I mean, this week, the president was saying that Adam Schiff somehow altered the transcripts being relied.

TAPPER: Right, it's a lie. A lie.

KUCINICH: Which is a lie.

TAPPER: Yes.

KUCINICH: And so, they're not -- which is why they have these talking points so they can come to the table with something. But it is always changing. FINNEY: That is right.

KUCINICH: And how do you defend that?

FINNEY: Right.

TAPPER: He also said he signed the Whistle-blower Protection Act into law and it is like 30 years old.

But I mean, I guess here is the question, Congressman, do you think it would erode Republican support if he had fired Michael Atkinson? I have to say I'm skeptical that there is anything the president could do to erode Republican support in the White House.

DENT: At this point, why fire him now. The act has already been done. Because of the politics of this country are so tribal, I think many Republicans, you know, are -- tell me privately they're just disgusted with the behavior of the president but I think many of them are more worried about their elections than they are legacy --

KUCINICH: And that is why they do it. I mean, they would step away from the president if they could.

DENT: Watch the retiring members because they could be worried about their legacies.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about.

The damning information about president Trump unveiled today at his former adviser Roger Stone's trial which could prove President Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:12]

TAPPER: In our national lead now, President Donald Trump may have known much more about what is going on behind the scenes with WikiLeaks than he told special counsel Robert Mueller. At least that's according to his former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates who took the stand today in the prosecution of Roger Stone.

Gates connected a lot of dots -- from Roger Stone to President Trump to then information stolen from the Clinton campaign and the DNC by the Russians that WikiLeaks ended up sharing with the world -- as CNN's Sara Murray reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today for the first time, then candidate Donald Trump linked in open court to his former confidant and adviser Roger Stone's efforts to get intel from WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. Former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates testified he was riding with

Trump to New York's La Guardia Airport that summer when Trump took a phone call from Stone where the pair apparently discussed WikiLeaks plans to release Democratic emails which were hacked and stolen by Russians.

After Mr. Trump got off the phone with Mr. Stone, what did Mr. Trump say, the prosecutor asked Gates. He indicated more information would be coming, Gates responded today at stone's criminal trial.

Gates testified that prior to WikiLeaks first email dump, for months, information had been talked about. After the July release, gates said the campaign was in a state of happiness. Gates' testimony flies in the face of denial from both Stone and Trump that the two ever discussed WikiLeaks. In written responses to Robert Mueller's team, President Trump said, I did not recall any communication between Stone and WikiLeaks.

The phone call and Trump's reaction puts in sharper focus how much Trump allegedly knew about how the Russian hack and release of emails could boost his campaign.

TRUMP: This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.

MURRAY: But that revelation was not included in Mueller's public report. It was redacted because Stone's case was ongoing.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Stone bragged about his contact --

[16:30:00]