Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

House GOP Lays Out Strategy Ahead of Public Hearings Tomorrow; Transcripts Released Shows White House Held Up Missiles to Ukraine Over Concerns of Russia Reaction; Public Hearings in Impeachment Inquiry Kick Off Tomorrow; House Democrat Elaine Luria Focuses on Impeachment in New Campaign Ad. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- plan of defense. An 18-page memo lays out the party strategy and hours from now Republican lawmakers and aides will meet to solidify their next move.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Also, today we are connecting the dots. Newly released testimony revealing crucial new details on Ukraine aid and the deep -- the concerns among the administration about Russia's reaction. Concerns that Russia might react negatively.

Let's go to Capitol Hill with CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

Listen, there's a lot coming this week and we're beginning to see how the GOP is going to try to defend the president here.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. I'm told from a Republican source involved in the planning that they're trying to make the case that Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, did not have a clear understanding of what President Trump was up to. And even when Taylor testified that he was told that everything was conditioned on the -- on Ukraine announcing the public investigations that could help the president politically, everything meaning security assistance as well as an aid that nearly $400 million in aid package as well as this meeting between President Zelensky and President Trump in Washington.

They're saying well, he did not know anything other than what was told to him through a game of telephone. Now this is also detailed in this 18-page staff memo released today that details essentially what they are planning to do. Move from their arguments over the process into the substance. And the substance that they are trying to point out to is that there was no pressure that was exerted by President Trump on President Zelensky during that July phone call. Eventually they say the aid was released and provided to Ukraine.

But that does conflict with what a number of witnesses have testified to, was that there was serious concern that this aid had been withheld as President Trump and as Rudy Giuliani, under President Trump's orders, was pursuing these investigations. Pursuing Ukraine to announce investigations that could help the president politically. And Bill Taylor was someone who raised serious concerns about that as did George Kent, the top State Department official involved in Ukraine policy.

So you're going to hear two competing story lines play out. Democrats trying to make clear, have Kent and Taylor detail their serious concerns about how -- what Rudy Giuliani was doing was undercutting national security, undercutting relations with a key ally that would push back against Russian aggression, and Republicans trying to essentially make the case that the president didn't do anything wrong. That these witnesses didn't have direct knowledge about exactly what the president was up to so ultimately we'll see how the public perceives this. But that's how we're expecting this, the moment -- tomorrow's high-profile hearing to play out, guys.

HARLOW: OK. And it is. Manu, thank you. We appreciate it.

Again, the hearing that begins tomorrow morning will look a lot different than what we have been used to seeing on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring in Rene Marsh. She joins us with what we should expect.

It's a really interesting process. So what is ahead tomorrow morning?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. And look, it goes without saying. The stakes couldn't be higher for both Democrats and Republicans. I mean, there is just one goal of these public hearings. And it's to convince the American people either to impeach or in the case of Republicans, not to impeach.

So let's talk about the witnesses. First up, Bill Taylor. He is a top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine. We also have George Kent. He is a former State Department official, a senior official. Now the first witnesses will certainly set the tone for these public hearings.

Let's talk about their testimony and what we're expecting. We're expecting some of the most damning testimony from Taylor who will say that he had a clear understanding that military aid would not be released unless Ukrainians launched investigations into Trump's political rivals. Then there is Kent who will testify that he understood a White House meeting between the new Ukrainian president and Trump had to happen in order for that meeting to happen. Meaning there needed to be investigations in order for that meeting to happen.

Now this will all take place in this room. I want to show you this is the largest room in the House. There are some 150 leather seats just in the audience there. It has this feel of a small theater and perhaps it will be just that. Lots of theatrics tomorrow both witnesses will sit on the panel, on one panel, so this will be their viewpoint looking towards the lawmakers there who will be seated there.

We will have the chairman of the committee as well as the ranking member, as well as the committee's lawyers. Now let's talk about the questions because that is going to be the key for tomorrow. This hearing, as you mentioned, will look very different from the others that you've seen.

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, and the ranking member Devin Nunes, they will get the largest chunk of time. They each get 45 minutes for questioning. But we do know that the Democrats will be trying to prevent this from becoming this sort of partisan circus, making it so that there is a flow, an uninterrupted flow of questions.

[09:05:03]

So, again, that's why they're getting this 45-minute chunk each. However, we do expect that these two men will cede most of their time to the committee staff lawyers. On the left you have Daniel Goldman, he is the Democratic counsel. He's a former federal prosecutor with the Southern District of New York who prosecuted New York City mob crime family. We also have on the right the Republican counsel. He is counsel for the Oversight Committee but he's been brought over specifically for this hearing.

Democrats will ask questions to essentially establish the facts. They want to weave together a narrative, and Republicans will certainly be trying to defend the president as you heard Manu said. And then this is the rest of the House Intelligence Committee. On the left-hand side you see 12 Democrats. They will each get five minutes and then on the right-hand side, these are all the members, the eight Republicans. They will also get five minutes each.

You see Jim Jordan there. He wasn't a member of this committee until Friday. He was brought over specifically.

HARLOW: Right.

MARSH: A fierce defender of the president, to be able to lodge some questions.

HARLOW: Well, it shows you how effective his Republican colleagues think Jim Jordan can be, facts or not sometimes.

Rene Marsh, thank you.

Let's talk about this. Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst, former federal and state prosecutor, is here. Frank Bowman, professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and author of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump." Pretty apropos for today.

Thank you both for being here.

Elie, let me just begin with you. You worked with Dan Goldman in the Southern District of New York. You know him well. What can you tell us about what we can expect from him? And if you can weigh in on Steve Castor doing the questioning on the Republican side.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so I expect Dan Goldman to take a prosecutorial approach tomorrow. What I mean by that is he only has 45 minutes. Now that's way longer than we're used to seeing in this kind of hearing. It gets longer than the five-minute snippets we saw with Corey Lewandowski, for example. But it's still really not much time. These depositions, remember, ran eight, 10 hours each. So he's going to have to go right for the jugular. Get the best stuff up right up front.

The other thing is a good prosecutor knows when you have a good witness, and these witnesses, Taylor and Yovanovitch and the other witnesses we're going to see over the next few days, they're generally going to be friendly to House Democrats. They're going to tell a story House Democrats like. And so the focus should be on the witness, not the questioner.

The other individual I don't know but from all impressions that I've heard, he's an experienced and capable questioner as well. So it should be capable people both ways.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's interesting that they are handing this over to lawyers because they do want to focus the questions as best they can.

Frank Bowman, if I could go to you, if you listen to Manu Raju's reporting there about a key part of the GOP strategy here, for instance, on Bill Taylor is to say, well, he didn't know what the president really wanted to happen here. That seems to reveal a broader attack here which is separating the president from this because a lot of the witnesses have testified beyond Bill Taylor that this aid was being tied to this investigation, et cetera.

Republicans can't fight that. But I suppose they feel they can fight. That there's direct proof of the president ordering this. What's your review of that line of attack?

FRANK BOWMAN, FORMER FEDERAL AND STATE PROSECUTOR: Well, there's a certain irony here, of course, right? Because to the extent there's any difficulty on the part of the Democrats tying what happened with respect to Ukrainian aid directly to the president, it's because the president has refused to allow the witnesses who will provide that proof.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BOWMAN: He's refused to allow them to testify. So the answers to all the questions that many Republicans may want to raise could be provided quite simply by guys like Mulvaney. And so long as the Republicans are claiming that there's no -- that there's no direct proof, I think that increases the pressure on the president, or at least it certainly should, not to bring forward the witnesses who can provide that proof.

SCIUTTO: Yes. John Bolton, for instance, seems to have telegraphed that he has a lot to say on this and it was even clear from other testimony here that he was not comfortable with this connection being made.

HARLOW: A hundred percent.

SCIUTTO: Yes. HARLOW: Elie, to you, so we have this memo from Republican lawmakers

outlining their strategy in this and it includes some issues that are factually challenged, to say the least. Some of the points, like saying, well, Ukraine wasn't aware that there was a hold on aid. That has been challenged by multiple different depositions under oath. Other points like, well, the aid for Ukraine, you know, withheld by the U.S. was lifted. That completely ignores the timeline. It was lifted and delivered starting on September 11th. The House investigation into these efforts began on September 9th. But do those points of fact matter to the American public?

HONIG: I think what they are looking for is some sort of coherent defense to make. And look, yes, it's factually challenged. I think it's logically challenged as well, the idea that there was no conditionality. Look at the call. That said, they have to have something. And this document while it's filled with things that I think are not true or readily rebuttable, it's better than just launching personal attacks like we've seen.

SCIUTTO: Right.

HONIG: It's better than tweet storms. It at least is a coherent, maybe it won't hold up factually, but it's a coherent strategy that we're seeing I think for the first time this morning.

[09:10:03]

SCIUTTO: Yes. So, Frank Bowman, before we let you go, given your experience on the impeachment process here, rate that strategy from the Republicans.

BOWMAN: Well, I think it presents a sort of sad contrast to what we saw, for example, two impeachments ago, in Nixon where the Republicans, although they certainly weren't happy about impeaching a president of their own party, proceeded I think in precisely the way that you would expect honorable public servants to proceed which is to say they pursued the facts honestly. They pursued them to a logical conclusion and at the end of the day, once the facts became clear they sadly decided that their own president had to go.

Whether or not this current Republican Party will meet the test that history posed for the party of Nixon's era I think remains to be seen.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, you did in that time, in a different time, you had moderate Republicans and Democrats who were willing to vote against their own party on a whole host of things. It's a different landscape today.

HARLOW: For sure.

SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, Frank Bowman, thanks to both of you.

The president says that he is tough on Russia, but new transcripts in the impeachment probe tell a very different story.

HARLOW: Also Elizabeth Warren likes to have a plan for that. But it's her Medicare for All plan that Joe Biden has a major problem with. Why he says it is elitist not to let Americans make up their own mind.

And Dreamers on edge today as the president's fight to end DACA heads for a showdown at the Supreme Court. The fate of hundreds of thousands of those Dreamers on the line. We'll take you there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right, so the president has claimed over and over again that he is tough on Russia, the toughest on Russia. This morning, former Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley backed him up. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: He has been stronger on Russia than any previous president. And there's way -- you can look at numerous results of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Does that claim stand up? The heart of the Ukraine story is Trump holding up crucial military aid that Ukraine is using to defend itself from, yes, Russia, in return for an investigation into the president's political rival.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: But we've learned even more in recent days, Catherine Croft; the current special adviser for Ukraine negotiations told lawmakers that the president's acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had the Office of Management and Budget put a hold on delivering javelin missiles to Ukraine because Mulvaney was concerned, quote, "that Russia would react negatively to the provision of javelins to Ukraine."

Why is this important? Because the javelins are weapons that Ukraine depends on, again, to defend itself from Russia. And like the Ukraine military aid, the javelins were often cited by the president and his defenders as proof that he is tough on Russia. See GOP Congressman Michael Waltz to me just last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): This administration, Jim, unlike the Obama administration has sold lethal aid to the Ukrainians --

SCIUTTO: Yes, but they withheld the aid --

WALTZ: With javelin sales last year --

SCIUTTO: They withheld it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: And there's more. We also learned that the president called

his then National Security adviser John Bolton earlier this year to complain that a U.S. Naval operation in the Black Sea looked like the U.S. was pushing back on Russia, and so that Naval operation was canceled. Trump tough on Russia?

Let's ask the experts. Joining us now to discuss Steven Pifer; he's former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, currently the William Perry Research Fellow at Stanford University, and Shawn Turner; former director of communications for U.S. National Intelligence. Shawn, you served a lot in the Intelligence community through the years but certainly through Russia's interference in the election as well.

You've heard that claim from the president, Nikki Haley this morning and others, do the facts, back up the claim, Trump tougher on Russia than anybody, particularly when we look at this Ukraine story and how they pulled back efforts to stand up to Russia?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, this is very black and white, Jim. This comes down to the facts. Look, ever since the Intelligence community first made the announcement that Russia had interfered in our election, the president repeatedly has shown that he is, you know, afraid to stand up to Vladimir Putin.

Look, we have to remember, a lot of people forget this when we talk about Ukraine. A lot of people forget that Ukraine is an ally of the United States that's been embroiled in a conflict with Russia for several years now. And that conflict not only resulted in the invasion, but also in the annexation of Crimea. And it's been a consistent theme for Ukraine that they've been threatened and constantly under pressure by Russia.

So, these javelin missiles were critical to Ukraine's ability to send a message to Russia that the united base -- with the United States and the United States stood with Ukraine. And so you know, the real question here is what's different with regards to this administration and its relationship with Russia and the previous administration.

More than $600 million in military aid flowed to Ukraine and there was no concern over how Russia would see that. And this administration not only have we seen the javelins held up, but we've also seen, you know, restrictions and contingencies over investigating a political rival put on aid to Ukraine.

So, there's something very different here when it comes to Russia and the concern that this administration has with Russia. And it's really -- you know, it's really startling that Russia is kind of dictating what our foreign policy is.

HARLOW: Ambassador Pifer, help us understand the difference here because you just heard that congressman to Jim last month saying, yes, but the Obama administration didn't give those lethal weapons to -- didn't sell them to Ukraine, javelins, et cetera. I believe the line from the Obama administration on that was that they were concerned about retaliation from Russia to Ukraine should they have sold those weapons.

[09:20:00]

Is that markedly an importantly different than Mick Mulvaney's here -- Catherine Croft saying that Mick Mulvaney's concern was Russia would react negatively, not see the U.S. favorably.

STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: No, I think -- I think there's a big difference here. But there's a broader question which is you have this policy that's been conducted by the last two and a half years by the Trump administration, which I think has been clearly supportive of Ukraine and has a taken a tough stands towards Russia.

Other question is, it seems pretty clear that the president doesn't actually agree with that policy. So, on the issue of the javelins, the concern back in the Obama administration -- and I was part of a group that argued nearly 20, 15 for a provision of man portable anti- missiles such as the javelin.

The concern on the part of the U.S. and on part of the president was this could lead to an escalation that would --

HARLOW: Right --

PIFER: Work against you. But when you have now Mick Mulvaney saying we don't want to upset the Russians -- I mean, the point of providing these missiles to Ukrainians is in part to upset the Russians, to make clear, one, that the Ukrainians have a better capability to defend themselves against a Russian attack.

And then two, also to signal strong American support for Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: Yes, hey, listen, Shawn, I was going to say you've got to look at the big picture here and connect the dots here. And look at a consistent response from this president to the ambassador's point. For instance with Congress that passed the military aid, it was the president who tried to hold it back, it was Congress that passed further economic sanctions on Russia.

And the president as you'll remember delayed those sanctions until kind of, you know, dragged tooth and nail to fulfilling them. How does Russia view that when they see that kind of conflict internally in the U.S.? The U.S. president trying to soften what the U.S. Congress has been trying to do here.

TURNER: Look, it sends a very strong message to Russia that this president, while he is willing to certainly impose sanctions and to talk about how tough he is on Russia, it sends a strong message that there's a division here. Look, you know, as the ambassador pointed out, there has been a split here with regards to the president's rhetoric, with regards to Russia and what's actually happened behind the scenes.

And while I do think that the president has taken some actions, he's really had his hands forced to take some actions with regards to sanctions. There had been a lot of other measures that the president could have taken, a lot of other measures that he could have talked about that would have sent a clear message that he was strong on Russia and that he was standing up against Russia, that he's not done.

So, what's the message to Russia? Oh, it's really very clear, it's the same message that we've sent with regards to Russia's interference in our election. It's that we would only go to a certain point in order to avoid upsetting Russia, in order to avoid upsetting Vladimir Putin.

And that's a message that as we get -- as we -- you know, get into the 2020 presidential election, that the Russians are certainly going to take advantage of. We're already seeing it, we saw it with the 2018 mid-term election, and unfortunately, the president is not doing anything at this point to send a strong or a more clear message --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TURNER: That the United States is not going to stand for this.

HARLOW: Ambassador Pifer, you say there's a pretty clear consistent picture painted here by the testimony, the transcript we've received --

PIFER: Yes --

HARLOW: Or Taylor, can ambassador, Yovanovitch, Fiona Hill, Colonel Vindman, what is that picture that you believe has been painted?

PIFER: Well, I think I make two points. First of all, for most of 2019, United States was conducting two foreign policies towards Ukraine. What was being conducted by people such as Ambassador Yovanovitch and Ambassador --

HARLOW: Sure --

PIFER: Taylor, and that was the traditional American foreign policy that was just buying and to advance American interest. Things like promoting reforming Ukraine, things like bolstering Ukraine's ability to resist Russian aggression. And on the side, you have a second policy totally uncoordinated with the State Department or the National Security Council being led by Rudy Giuliani and involving Ambassador Sondland.

And his design not to advance American national interest, but the personal political interest of the president. And those two are working in very different directions. And the second point I think I would make is it is very clear now that there was a quid pro quo. That in July, the demand for the Ukrainians was launch investigations in return, we're getting a meeting with the president.

And then by the end of August, early September, the demand had escalated, and it was not just to get the meeting with the president, but also to get the U.S. military assistance. Ukraine had to drive -- launch this investigations in Mr. Giuliani and Ambassador Sondland you were asking about.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

PIFER: I think that's wrong, that's not in the U.S. interest.

HARLOW: Thank you both, gentlemen, we'll find out a lot more starting in the testimony tomorrow morning. We appreciate it. So, polls show that voters are pretty split on impeaching and removing the president from office. One Democratic lawmaker is making it a key campaign issue, and she'll join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

SCIUTTO: As tomorrow's public hearings get started, Democrats aim to show the American people the full scope of what they say is evidence that Trump abused power and ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. But on the campaign trail, many congressional Democrats mainly shied away from focusing on impeachment.

But now, in a newly released campaign ad, Virginia Congresswoman, a 20-year Navy veteran Elaine Luria has put impeachment front and center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA): I didn't come to Washington to impeach the president, but I also didn't spend 20 years in the Navy.

END