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CNN TONIGHT

Top Diplomats To Sit In The First Public Impeachment Hearing; High-Caliber Attorneys To Question Key Witnesses; Public Impeachment Inquiry Testimonies Against President Trump; Right-Wing Media's Involvement In Ukraine Scandal; State Of Presidential Race. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

We're now just hours away from a key moment in American history. The opening of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry. The proceedings will be gaveled to order at 10 a.m. Eastern and you can see every moment live right here on CNN.

The first witnesses Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who has already given bombshell testimony behind closed doors, and George Kent. George Kent is the top State Department official who oversees all U.S. policy in Ukraine. He called Rudy Giuliani's attacks on the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine a campaign of lies.

We're going to look at the background and experience of the two key questioners of the witnesses and what each brings to the table for both Democrats and Republicans. And I'm going to ask the ambassador, Nicholas Burns what he is expecting to learn in the public testimony.

The names of prominent figures and conservative media all vocal supporters of the president are peppered throughout the transcript of the closed-door testimony. We're going to look at their influence on Trump's foreign policy.

Plus, the state of play in the Democratic race for the nomination. What a new poll is telling us tonight about the race in Iowa.

But we're going to begin with the breaking news. And the breaking news comes from the Washington Post. They are reporting that Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas who President Trump claims not to know says he discussed Ukraine with the president at a dinner in April of 2018.

So, joining me now is Matt Zapotosky, a national security reporter for the Post. Matt, thank you so much. Let's talk about Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. They are Giuliani associates that were recently indicted on criminal charges for allegedly funneling foreign money into U.S. elections. What exactly about Ukraine did they discuss with the president? MATT ZAPOTOSKY, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:

Well, they discussed essentially firing Ambassador Yovanovitch at this dinner as far back as April 2018. They are at this sort of super-PAC function this Trump super-PAC function at the Trump hotel here in Washington.

And they bring up, this is Parnas and Fruman bring up that they have heard that the ambassador is disloyal to Trump. And Trump by the account we're told which seems to Parnas' account just explodes and says we should fire her which kind of takes them aback.

Of course, sometime later she is ultimately removed from her post. And that whole thing is a key focus of the impeachment inquiry. We'll probably hear some about it tomorrow. But our reporting takes it back to April of 2018 when Parnas and Fruman maybe plant one of the early seeds about Yovanovitch and disloyalty to Trump.

LEMON: So, Matt, I just want to be clear here. The president thought Yovanovitch, a career diplomat with a stellar reputation should be fired just because on what he was hearing from someone who likely has an agenda that isn't in line with U.S. interest?

ZAPOTOSKY: Well, right. This is maybe one of the reasons he thought that. That these guys were in his ear and I should clarify kind of right away there's no sort of tangible evidence that she was actually disloyal to Trump in the way that was apparently being suggested at this dinner.

But the mere suggestion of it at least in this instance sent the president over the edge and these guys would ultimately end up working for the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and pressing this thing further.

They were kind of surprised that she wasn't fired right away after the president said that. But eventually she's, you know, removed from her post. And we all sort of know what happens next.

LEMON: So. Matt, President Trump has been trying to say that he barely knows these guys. We have photos of Giuliani's associates over the years with President Trump. Does that seem to be the case?

ZAPOTOSKY: Yes. You guys had great reporting today going over like 10 episodes where these guys are photographed together or social media puts them together. And this is one of those key moments. Right?

So. President Trump is saying I don't know these guys. OK, sure maybe they came to a campaign event or a PAC event and I took a picture with them but that can apply to hundreds of people.

But here you have them as far back as April of 2018 discussing Ukrainian foreign policy. And that same story we also quote a former senior Trump administration official essentially saying that's not clue -- that's just not true. Excuse me. He knew these guys very well. Lev Parnas, in particular very well.

And then your guy is reporting today just showing, you know, photographic evidence of the president's claim on that is just not true.

LEMON: Matt, thank you so much. I appreciate that.

ZAPOTOSKY: Thank you.

LEMON: Public hearings in the impeachment investigation get underway in just hours. How did we get to this point?

CNN's Jeff Zeleny explains.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The road to impeachment started with a summertime phone call. On the morning of July 25, just after 9 a.m., President Trump spoke to the newly elected leader of Ukraine.

[23:05:02]

Only minutes into their conversation, U.S. officials on the line grew alarmed. It's that 30-minute call from the residence of the White House that sits at heart of this week's first public congressional hearings that could lead to the president's impeachment.

For months, Trump has repeatedly used one word to describe that call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The call was perfect.

Well, I made a perfect call.

As I said, perfect. It was perfect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Insisting nothing out of the ordinary. Even as he told President Zelensky "I would like you to do us a favor, though" by investigating a conspiracy theory to undermine the original Russia probe. He also asked to investigate the Bidens.

The timing of that call is important. It came one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill. The Russians interfered in the 2016 election trying to help Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But on that call Trump was looking ahead. Seeking Zelensky's help in the 2020 election by asking him to investigate unfounded accusations against one of Trump's top reelection rivals.

It's been exactly seven weeks Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Since then several diplomats and government officials have come to Capitol Hill and testified behind closed doors. A process that the president's loyal defenders have blasted as unfair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We've had look, three days of testimony all behind closed doors. Three unique perspectives that the American people didn't get to see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But starting Wednesday morning the American people will see and hear from key government witnesses who say the controversy over Trump's Ukraine policy was actually brewing inside the administration for months before that July phone call.

More than 2,600 pages of transcript from those sessions reviewed by CNN reveal how the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was sidestepping the State Department to deal directly with Ukrainian officials.

The president signed off on Giuliani's work according to Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor who became ambassador to the European Union who testified about an Oval Office meeting on Ukraine with the president. He just kept saying talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy.

At the center of it was freezing $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine. One-tenth of it defense budget for its ongoing war with Russian backed forces.

Fiona Hill, a top Russia adviser inside the Trump White House testified "It actually came as a direction from the chief of staff's office."

Now as the impeachment battle deepens both sides harken back to that July morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's a witch hunt. it's based on a single phone call of congratulations to the president of Ukraine which they fraudulently mischaracterized to sound absolutely horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: But it's become clear the investigation is far deeper than that single phone call. But for Hill who resigned her post this summer that call still stands out. "I sat in an awful lot of calls and I have not seen anything like this" she testified. "And I was there for two and a half years, so I was just shocked."

Now in the coming days you will also hear criticism about the whistleblower with the president and his Republican railing against these public hearings saying Trump should be allowed to confront his accuser.

But important to point out this moved far beyond the whistleblower. It is now a series of officials from inside Trump's team and the government who are amplifying the whistleblower's original complaint from that July phone call. Don?

LEMON: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.

With the clock ticking to the opening of public hearings, House intel chairman Adam Schiff says members will have to evaluate whether the facts show evidence of bribery, treason, high crimes, and misdemeanors.

I want to bring in now Ryan Lizza, as well as Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian. I appreciate both of you coming on. Thank you so much.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Don.

LEMON: Ryan, you first. Hours away from the televised impeachment hearings. What started with a whistleblower whose complaint was being quashed, squashed, either way you want to put it, has brought us to this point. It's been shockingly quick in a way, don't you think?

LIZZA: It has. I mean, the complaint was I think it speaks to the strength of the complaint. And how much detail was in that complaint that it provided a road map, right, to the three House committees that investigated this. And they were able to very quickly identify senior government officials who could speak to what the whistleblower was concerned about.

So, in a sense, the whistleblower is not really important in this investigation. Because he or she is basically, you know, the person who called 911. Right? You don't really need that person anymore. But the -- just as a reporter, if you read that whistleblower complaint and you look at the testimony, the pages, hundreds and hundreds of pages of testimony that's been released, they're almost all of it has now been corroborated.

[23:10:05]

So that original account of went -- what went inside -- what went on inside the administration which was after all based on, you now, the secondhand sources was incredibly accurate. And really was a sort of road map to this investigation.

LEMON: I want to talk about the Washington Post reporting that we got tonight. Just now that aides are counselling President Trump not to fire Mick Mulvaney. He's apparently furious over that October 17th news conference. I'm sure you remember it. What would firing Mulvaney mean for this impeachment inquiry? LIZZA: Is that for me, Don?

LEMON: Yes, it is.

LIZZA: Well, you know, it would suggest -- that the fact that he's angry about that press conference now quite a bit after the fact, is unusual. Right? Because if you think that Mulvaney did something wrong why not -- why not get rid of him right away.

What it could do is if Mulvaney is outside the administration he's slightly less protected in terms of his defense about whether he can now testify. So, it could -- and it could create bad blood between him and the president. Maybe he wants to go up there and tell up to the Hill and tell his side of the story.

But there has been an argument that, you know, Trump could insulate himself from all of this by distancing himself from Mulvaney and Giuliani and all the rest. But if you have them in your circle, if Giuliani you're still saying is your lawyer and Mulvaney is still your chief of staff, that argument doesn't really hold water. Because if you were really shocked by this whole conspiracy that was happening around you, you would have gotten rid of all these people already.

LEMON: Got it. Jeffrey, thank you for sitting by patiently. I want to bring you in now.

JEFFREY ENGEL, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Sure.

LEMON: Because tomorrow will be historic. I'm sure you'll agree with that. Speak to that. This will be one of the most consequential days in Trump's presidency?

ENGEL: There's no doubt about it. I mean, everything that happens from this point on will look back and say that this is where the story changed in one way or another.

In fact, I think what's really fascinating is to see how the story is actually changing from the White House and from Republicans supporters at this point who really have moved their discussion in many ways from a question of whether or not the president did something to, essentially conceding that something was done and asking us to consider what it means.

And the reason that's significant is that each of the previous three impeachment cases we had. Andrew Johnson in 1868. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. There was no discussion in each of those over whether or not the president did it. There was more than enough evidence over whether if he did what he was accused of.

The discussion became whether or not that met the criteria of high crime or misdemeanors. Essentially, that's going to force the Senate not only to adjudicate whether or not there's -- if there's an impeachment -- whether or not there is in fact evidence.

But more importantly, whether they should use that evidence one way or the other for what they considered to be the good of the country. It's really an incredible change at this point.

LEMON: Jeffrey, what do you think about Adam Schiff, Chairman Schiff saying tonight that one of President Trump's potential impeachable offenses is bribery?

ENGEL: You know, that's actually really interesting. Because if you want to go back to the founding fathers, the people who wrote the Constitution, they had a -- they used the word bribery in a different sense than we did. And one that's actually more applicable to today in this circumstance.

We usually think in our era of bribery as being essentially, you know, someone who is receiving money in order to change what they might do in office. The founders thought of it completely the opposite. They were concerned about somebody who had office, had power, using money from the office to get something that they wanted.

So, in a sense, the sense that Donald Trump is perhaps guilty of bribery as Representative Schiff said actually harkens back to the original definition of bribery as understood back in the 1770s. Really fascinating.

LEMON: Jeffrey, Ryan, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

LIZZA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: On the eve of the first public testimony in the impeachment inquiry we're learning about the attorneys who will be asking the questions and how they'll shape what happens tomorrow.

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LEMON: So, Democrats and Republicans will turn to attorneys to ask questions in the first public hearings in the impeachment inquiry just hours away.

Republicans calling on the services of career congressional staffer Steve Castor. Democrats using Daniel Goldman. Daniel Goldman is a trial lawyer who spent years prosecuting mobsters in New York City.

Joining me now is Elie Honig who used to work with Goldman, Doug Heye who worked with Castor. Gentlemen, good evening.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good evening.

LEMON: Goldman was on this program for some time.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes.

LEMON: He come on CNN and then he worked at MSNBC for a while.

HONIG: Help introduced me to this world as well.

LEMON: Yes. He's questioning, yes. But let me start with Steve Castor, Doug. Because you know, he's going to be asking questions for the Republicans. Right?

HEYE: Yes.

LEMON: How do you know him and what is he like?

HEYE: Well, when I worked in the House majority leader's office, he was at the oversight committee. He's been working in oversight roles for more than 15 years and I can't list all the big things that he's done because he's done -- he's worked on so many big issues. Whether its performance enhancing drugs and fast and furious, IRS targeting of conservatives, and certainly, Benghazi.

And in those meetings especially on Benghazi when I worked with him, he was somebody who smart and focused, detail oriented. And the greatest thing you can be when you're a congressional staffer low key, not wanting to be part of the story.

He's going to be a big part of the story obviously over the next week or two, which would be a new role for him. But if anybody I can think of and as I've talked to folks who've worked in and around these investigations over the past few weeks there's no one better that the Republicans could go to as Steve.

And I would say, as you know, Don, I've been pretty critical of a lot of the Republican members and some of the questioning that they have been doing as they have been in these hearings. Some Democratic members as well. It's a new role with staff in this place. But Steve is the best pick that they could do. Republicans have gone to the best of their bench that they've got right now.

[23:19:58]

LEMON: Elie, let's talk about Daniel Goldman. Because you prosecuted a number of cases with him at SDNY. What do you know about him?

HONIG: So, Dan has been in highly pressurized situations before. He and I together tried a Genovese family boss and two hitmen, two murderers on a quintuple murder case that killed two guys and tried to kill three others.

So, he's been in it. He's been in the mix. He knows what it's like to have all eyes on you and be in a pressurize situation. He will not shrink from the situation tomorrow.

And it sounds like, I don't know Mr. Castor, but based on Doug's description it sounds like we'll have an interesting study in contrast. Both of them sound enormously qualified. But Castor sound sort of like a by the book straight shooter. Not that Dan is not a straight shooter. But Dan has been in more high-profile sort of media sensitive situations I think than Mr. Castor. So, it will be interesting to see how that plays.

LEMON: Interesting. Some of the things that you mentioned about Castor, Doug, just moments ago. He's attorney for the Republican investigations into Benghazi. Right? You said that. The fast and furious gun program. The IRS targeting scandal. You say using someone like him may help -- and this is your word -- limit some jack-assery by members. What do you mean by that? How so?

HEYE: Well, I alluded to it a little bit and I debated whether or not I would use that word on TV, but since it's been used. Look, I've been critical of a lot of the performances that we've seen from Republican members over the past couple of years.

Unfortunately, when the lights go on members like to perform to the camera and more and more they like to perform to their base. And more and more they like to perform to one person more than anybody else. That's obviously Donald Trump.

And so, it's why we see some of the histrionics in these kinds of hearings, it's why we see some of the name calling and whether it's on the dais or whether it's in the press conference afterwards. These are things that not constructive. Tomorrow and this week and if this goes on to a second week are very, very serious things.

And I think Steve is somebody who realizes that and he also doesn't have to play to a political base or to an electoral base or do anything but do his job. And that's one of the reasons I'm excited he's there.

LEMON: Elie, you said that Goldman, you believe Goldman had more experience with high profile cases and issues, right? Especially with cases involving the media.

HONIG: Yes.

LEMON: Both of them have been interviewing people behind closed doors for hours and hours and hours now. What's different now that the cameras will be rolling?

HONIG: So, this is going to be greatest hits. You have 45 minutes. But remember, both witnesses that testified tomorrow have already testified behind closed doors for hours and hours, day long testimony.

So, what you have to do is you have to make an impression. It has been to be strong; it has to be right off the bat. Forty-five minutes is not that much time. So, you have to treat it like a jury address. You have to grab the attention right away. Explain what happened in an understandable way and why it matters. So, I would look for both of them to come out strong and set the tone.

LEMON: Listen, Doug, someone who sat through a number of congressional hearings, what are some of the mistakes you've seen made?

HEYE: Yes. I would start with trying too hard and over performance. And this is - one of the things as Democrats began this process, I worried for their own sake that they would try too hard that they would overextend themselves, that they would want to find Trump guilty before anything began.

And at the same time, Republicans, you know, often resemble maybe more of a referee at the Harlem Globetrotters where -- or professional wrestling match where they don't see anything wrong despite a lot of troubling evidence to that case.

And this is where having staff do it is a very unique thing. It's not something I've dealt with. And I would say, I read Elie -- Elie wrote a great piece today for CNN opinion that I recommend everybody to read on Daniel, but there's a difference between being in courtrooms and being in the congressional arena.

You have multiple bosses who are watching you, you know, on that dais in the cloak room behind it. It's a very different environment than a courtroom. You are doing things very similar that you would do in a courtroom but this is a hearing not yet a grand jury meeting.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

Three career diplomats testifying on Capitol Hill this week. And my next guest knows all of them. The former Ambassador Nicholas Burns tells us what to expect.

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LEMON: In matter of hours a top diplomat in Ukraine will testify on live TV in what will be a historic day watched by millions of Americans. It has been a dizzying few months for Bill Taylor. Bill Taylor came out of retirement in June to lead the U.S. embassy in Kiev. Now he'll publicly testify alongside State Department official George Kent in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

So, let's discuss now with a former ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns. Ambassador, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Three -- three career diplomats were testifying this week. You know all of them. But let's start with Bill Taylor. You've worked with him for three decades. What do you expect to hear from him tomorrow?

BURNS: You know, Bill is a real veteran. Nearly 50 years in the U.S. Government. He's an expert on Russia and Ukraine. he's had just about every job in the State Department pertaining to those two countries. He's very self-assured but he's also very modest in a very nice sort of way.

I think Bill is going to be forthright, he's going to be honest. As you saw in the written testimony. He took copious notes and so he has total recall of a lot of these very complicated events.

And Bill is a patriot. He's a patriotic American. He's a Vietnam War vet. Nearly 50 years in the U.S. government. I think people are going to be impressed by him. And Don, he's not going to look like a politician. He's going to look like someone who's devoted his whole career in a non-partisan basis to the United States government.

I think he served in the Johnson -- Nixon and Ford administration. So, think about the bipartisanship there over half a century. LEMON: All right. Let's talk about someone else. The top State

Department official George Kent also testifying tomorrow.

[23:30:02]

In his closed door hearing he said, POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton." Taylor and Kent backed up each other's testimony there, two nonpartisan career diplomats up first. What does that tell you the investigators are trying to show?

BURNS: Well, frankly, Don, that there is an extortion plan by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. Extort the Ukrainian government, convince the Ukrainians to go after former Vice President Joe Biden for the president's personal gain. That's the story, that as I read Bill Taylor and George Kent testimony, they observed, they were pushed to the sidelines.

But they were in the key positions. George Kent, senior person in the State Department following Ukraine. Bill Taylor, our ambassador in Ukraine, in Kyiv. Watching all this unfolds -- and it takes them, if you read their testimonies, a couple of months to put together what happened because there was a lot of slide of hand, a lot of secrecy.

But the facts are compelling here. And I think Kent and Taylor testimonies -- it's obvious why they should lead. They know the most, they chronicled the most, and they spoke very forthrightly in their private hearings.

LEMON: Well, you say that Taylor and Kent are the two -- you are saying that they're two strongest Russian experts in the U.S. government and they won't be easily intimidated.

BURNS: That's right. They and Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch have spent really their entire careers focussed on these two countries, the former Soviet Union. There are a lot of hard-bitten cynical people especially in the Russian government. And so Bill Taylor, George Kent, Masha Yovanovitch have dealt with these type of people.

I think we can expect diversionary tactics, some pyrotechnics maybe from some of the Republican members. I would just encourage people watching this to let the story unfold. Let these two individuals and Ambassador Yovanovitch on Friday tell us what they learned, what they saw, what they heard. And most importantly, as nonpartisan Americans, what do they conclude?

And I think the facts are going to be irrefutable here, very difficult for President Trump to refute the basic story of what happened, and that's why we're going to see questions about process and diversionary tactics to take our attention off this main story that will unfold tomorrow.

LEMON: Well, the president is -- he's accusing many of these witnesses of being Never Trumpers. But you say career diplomats are the heroes of the impeachment drama. Why do you say that?

BURNS: I say that because they put the country first. None of them have a political axe to grind. Don, you know us, the Foreign Service. I am a former member of the Foreign Service. We take an oath to the Constitution. We are accustomed to serving both parties. We give 100 percent effort for whichever president the American people elect. But we don't play politics.

And these people have not. You have seen their testimonies. Everyone has read them. They are straight down the middle of the fairway here. They're telling the truth as I see it.

And I think, frankly, for the American people after having witnessed the sorted acts, these dishonest acts, in my view, of the Trump administration to see three people who are upstanding, I think, is the silver lining on this very dark cloud of the impeachment scandal.

LEMON: I want to talk about Rudy Giuliani, ambassador. His rogue foreign policy is really going to be a big topic this week. How do you think that will sound to the public when they hear the president's personal attorney, what he was up to?

BURNS: I think it's going to sound offensive. You know, the American people expect that the people who take the oath of office, who are confirmed by the Senate, the secretary of state, the ambassador to Ukraine, the principal deputy assistant secretary, they are going to be the people in charge. Instead, you got the president's lawyer.

In a major contradiction, he says -- Rudy Giuliani -- he says, I'm acting as the president's private attorney. And yet he takes over the public business of the United States government towards Ukraine, and he distorts it for the president's personal political advantage.

Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump must fear Joe Biden to go to these lengths to concoct this incredible strategy over six months. I'm one of 133 people who came out today in support of Vice President Biden for the presidency. I think he can defeat Donald Trump one-on-one.

You see the laser focus that Trump and Giuliani have had on Vice President Biden from the get go. It comes forward in the phone call. It comes forward in all the contacts that Giuliani had with the Ukrainian officials.

LEMON: Ambassador Burns, thank you.

BURNS: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: We all know the president watches a lot of TV, specifically a lot of Fox News.

[23:35:00]

LEMON: Maybe that's why Fox News and other conservative media outlets are all over these transcripts. So, what is going to happen tomorrow when hearings for his impeachment are happening on live TV?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: So, when you read the transcripts from the closed-door testimony in the impeachment inquiry, you notice they are filled with some of the most prominent names in right-wing media.

[23:40:00]

LEMON: Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity. They seem to have been telling the president just what he wants to hear. Listen to this. This is from Hannity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Breaking tonight, according to The Hill John Solomon, we now have major evidence of election collusion in 2016, real evidence to back it up. That's not all.

According to this report by John Solomon, Ukraine's top prosecutor accused the U.S. Embassy of interfering in corruption prosecution inside the country, including one probe into the alleged misuse of an American aide, and a letter serviced (ph) from a senior member of Congress to Secretary Pompeo, accusing the current U.S. ambassador in Kyiv of bad-mouthing the Trump administration.

JOE DIGENOVA, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The current United States ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, has bad-mouthed the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Let me --

DIGENOVA: This woman needs to be called home to the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Oh, immediately.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Wow! Wow! Wow! That sounds like a major scoop for The Hill's John Solomon, right? Except none of it is true. None of it. Here is what George Kent, a top State Department official, said about it in his testimony in October. Ken was asked, that original John Solomon article, was that based on accurate information? Kent replies, it was based on an interview with Yuriy Lutsenko, the followup. And was the information that Mr. Lutsenko provided accurate, to your knowledge? Kent responds, no, it was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.

Let's discuss now. Brian Stelter is here, and Matt Lewis. This is crazy. Good evening. Brian --

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Good evening.

TODD: -- you have been doing a lot of research on this and into this. How closely woven is Fox News into this Ukraine scandal?

STELTER: I think right-wing media's fingerprints are all over this. This is where the seeds were laid in the ground back in March and April of this year, before most of us heard about these crazy conspiracy theories and about this prospect of interfering in Ukraine.

I think that Sean Hannity and to a lesser extent Tucker Carlson are certainly involved here. Hannity though first and foremost among Fox stars. And John Solomon who did work for The Hill no longer does. He is now a paid Fox contributor. He is all over this as well.

Solomon worked with Rudy Giuliani to get this stuff out into the media and the result is what we are seeing now. The president has bought in to a phony line of thinking about Ukraine and that may well end up ruining his presidency.

LEMON: You know, we have the monitors in our office with different --

STELTER: Yeah.

LEMON: -- cable stations, whatever station we want to put on, looking at this like a big scoop. They said, this is going to happen, this is going to happen, they're investigating this, you just wait and see. And then --

STELTER: It never comes.

(LAUGHTER)

STELTER: They're always telling you to tune in tomorrow. It's part of the alternative universe of information, Don. But it is very powerful.

LEMON: Yeah.

STELTER: Millions of people do buy into it. That is why I think we have to analyze it the way we do to understand why people buy into these phony theories.

LEMON: Just put a big opinion thing over the top --

STELTER: Oh, that would help a little bit.

LEMON: Matt, when you see the completely baseless claims on Fox News from their opinion hosts and other conservative media cited (ph) by members of Congress, they are fully mobilized to respond tomorrow and the days to come, aren't they?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, SENIOR COLUMNIST FOR DAILY BEAST: Yeah. It's so interesting, right? You might expect Fox News to be able to push a counter narrative with the impeachment happening. But as Brian was saying, this actually goes back a long time. They were talking about Ukraine when nobody else was talking about Ukraine.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: And it's entirely possible that this happened, that Donald Trump got the misinformation and that Donald Trump started asking the president of Ukraine to like look into the 2016 election because of misinformation he was provided.

So you basically have, you know, they are feeding the president information, they are feeding the public information. There's really this -- there's no separation between campaigns, governing, and journalism or even opinion journalism. There is no firewall. It's really one beast. It is quite interesting.

LEMON: Here's another example, Matt, of Fox's influence from Marie Yovanovitch's testimony. Democratic Congressman Sean Maloney asked, there was a story in The Hill newspaper, Sean Hannity got involved, Pete Sessions wrote a letter, and there are apparently illegal campaign contributions, all related to you, isn't that right, and the desire to get you fired?

Yovanovitch responds, that appears to be the case. Maloney, well, it worked. Ambassador Yovanovitch says, yes. So, listen, it's not just that Fox was broadcasting these conspiracy theories for their audience. We see in that exchange, it was actually making an impact on our foreign policy, right, Matt?

LEWIS: Yeah. Part of the operation here is that you got John Solomon who is or was a respected journalist. This is a guy who was at the Associated Press for years.

[23:45:02]

LEWIS: He did a stint at The Washington Post. He was writing until recently at The Hill, which has become kind of clickbait (ph) of late but they had a pretty good reputation for a long time, too. So, that was giving them the veneer of credibility and of this being a mainstream news story.

Now, I suspect that he wasn't even operating independently, that he was working with Giuliani and crafting the story and then pushing it out and then Fox News can say, hey, this isn't us saying it, it's John Solomon saying it.

LEMON: Right.

STELTER: That's why this is about abuse of power. Starting tomorrow, it's about fitness for office. But it is also about fact versus fiction.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

STELTER: You know, there are so many fictions out there, spread by the president and his allies. They have not been held accountable for the past almost three years. Impeachment is a way to hold people accountable for lying to the public. And I wonder how much the Democrats are going to talk about that tomorrow. We will see.

LEMON: We will be watching. Thank you, Brian. Thank you, Matt. I appreciate it.

LEWIS: Thank you.

LEMON: A new poll shows that Mayor Pete Buttigieg is surging ahead in Iowa. He is up 14 points in just months. What's behind the numbers, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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LEMON: Good news for the youngest candidate in the presidential race. A new poll out of Iowa has Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 22 percent, a 14- point jump from August. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are at 19 percent and 18 percent, both within the margin of error for the top spot.

Joining me now -- let's discuss this. Ryan Nobles is here as well as Joe Lockhart. Wow! Good evening, gentlemen. Ryan, you first. It is important to note that there is no clear winner in this poll. Buttigieg is definitely surging compared to the summer. What does that say about the state of this race?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, no doubt. I mean, a poll is just a snapshot in time. But we're certainly seeing a trend line here. Pete Buttigieg is on the rise. You see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren basically holding stable. And Joe Biden is starting to drop.

When you take this poll and a couple of other polls, you do see one thing for sure. This race is extraordinarily close, especially with those top four candidates. And you do see a lot of Iowa voters that have yet to make up their mind.

Even if she say that they like one of these four candidates, they still say that their minds aren't completely made up and they could change your minds before they finally cast their votes in February, essentially telling us that this is still pretty much a wide open race.

LEMON: Joe Lockhart, as I sit here with you and others night after night after night, here's the criticism or the assessment. That Iowa is predominantly white and Buttigieg does not poll well with African Americans. Can Buttigieg translate this momentum nationwide, do you think?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's doing well in Iowa. He's also doing well in New Hampshire although it's kind of a cyclical or speed dating thing with these voters. They keep changing their mind. I think the real question, Don, is what you just put your finger on, which is the most influential part of the democratic base are African Americans, and he is not on the radar screen at all. If you look at South Carolina and Nevada, he's in low single digits there.

Now, winning Iowa and New Hampshire will give him a boost and will get him a look from everyone in the democratic base, including African Americans. But right now that's really the Achilles heel for him and also for, you know, Elizabeth Warren, who is, I think, facing the same dynamic.

LEMON: Ryan, Biden is in a statistical tie with Buttigieg and Warren in this poll, but he's leading the pack in New Hampshire, you know, as Joe just said in that poll, in the most recent national polling. He also had a very strong performance in our CNN town hall last night. So, are reports of his demise greatly exaggerated, do you think?

NOBLES: Don, there's about 15 other candidates in this race that would love to be in Joe Biden's position right now, right? Even a few candidates that may be are thinking about getting in this race. To Joe's point, he still has very strong support with African Americans voters.

He's still polling very strong in South Carolina. So he doesn't necessarily even have to win Iowa and New Hampshire because he has the ability to stay in this race for some time.

Yes, Joe Biden is still a formidable force in this race. His name recognition is as good as any other Democrat in the field. Certainly the trend lines as we talked about before are not in a positive direction, but the idea that we should write off Joe Biden at this point in the race, I think, is a fantasy.

LEMON: Joe, you know, listen, he does remain resilient and steady. So, why are we told that Democratic donors are worried about it?

LOCKHART: Well, I think Democratic donors are genetically programmed to be worried.

(LAUGHTER)

LOCKHART: We go through this process, this cycle all of the time. You know, I think it's just a lot of rich people with too much time on their hands. This will sort itself out. I think one other thing about Pete Buttigieg is he seems to have captured the votes of a lot of the 17 or 18 others that people are now sort of rallying around him as an alternative to the top three.

But what we've seen, you know, throughout this process is everybody takes a turn at the top and then gets knocked off. So, we will see how he does, you know, with his newfound, you know, lead in Iowa and strong showing in New Hampshire.

LEMON: All right. Gentlemen, thank you. Appreciate your time. Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.

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