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INSIDE POLITICS

Donald Trump Attacks Impeachment Witnesses' Credibility; Public Hearings In Impeachment Inquiry Kick Off Tomorrow; Former Secretary Rice: Donald Trump's Ukraine Request Was "Out Of Bounds"; House GOP Pushes For Ukraine Special Envoy To Testify; State Department Officials Testify In Open Impeachment Hearings. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then after that, he might need rehabilitation for sometimes. When you have a blood collection like this, pushing on the brain, it can also cause some weakness on the opposite side of the body as well, so that may be some of the reason for the rehabilitation. But you know it is still very much in the early stages after the operation. I think we'll have more information in the next few hours or so.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: It's so good to have you here on anything like this and we also send our best wishes to the President and his family. Thank you so much Sanjay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining me today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate. And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Final preparations for dramatic public impeachment hearings. President Trump attacks the lead witnesses saying they have second or third hand information. Democrats say those witnesses will prove the President's abuse of power.

Plus, the DREAMers and the Supreme Court the justice is hearing arguments about whether to embrace or reject President Trump's decision to end those Obama era protections for younger undocumented immigrants.

And Joe Biden listens to a 2020 rival and here is a - just don't try to connect the dots to Elizabeth Warren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She attacked me. She went out and said Biden shouldn't use my name. It's not about her. I about the attitude that exists right now and it is her and I wasn't talk about her, it's about the attitude. It's not about her it's about the attitude that's out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to that and 2020 politics a bit later, but we begin this hour with a remarkable impeachment 180 from the President's Acting Chief of Staff. Mick Mulvaney changing plans entirely, now saying he no longer plans to sue in federal court over whether he must honor a House subpoena to testify.

Instead Mulvaney says, he will just refuse to testify or as his lawyer put it "He will rely on the direction of the President, as supported by an opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Justice Department in not appearing for the relevant deposition". That shift from Mulvaney less than 24 hours before public impeachment hearings commence up on Capitol Hill.

President Trump taking to Twitter to attack the process and to question the knowledge of the lead witnesses, this as both Republicans and Democrats work right up to the last minute fine-tuning their plans for these televised hearings.

Beginning impeachment proceedings seven weeks before the calendar turned to election year, well, that's high stakes business and both parties holding meetings tonight with leadership and their full caucus. CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us now live from Capitol Hill. Phil, a big day take us inside what we know about the strategies.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think there is just an unusual recognition across party lines of the gravity of the moment. We've seen hearings over the course of the last couple years spin into partisan circuses turn into YouTube-made moments for campaigns. This is not that. There is recognition from both Democrats and Republicans, whether it's closed door meetings, whether it's lengthy memos, whether it's walking through how this process is actually going to work that they recognize the stakes here and there is high as they get.

I want to start with the Democrats. First and foremost, the Democrats' have been talking to both staff and members have made clear that what they've heard behind closed doors they believe is enough to present an impeachable offense and they want the witnesses the two starting tomorrow, the one on Friday, the several we'll see next week to really just paint that picture, to walk through what they've said behind closed doors and walk through it in an - fashion not being repeatedly interrupted not being broken into bits and pieces but actually walk through why they thought there was significant problems with the U.S./Ukraine policy?

Why there were real concerns about what Rudy Giuliani was doing? And why all of these various individuals thought there were significant problems with the policies that President Trump was pursuing. That's the goal. Paint that picture from what we've seen behind closed doors.

On Republicans it's different but it's also starting to unify gel and coalesce which we haven't seen up to this point in terms of what they actually want. They wanted to do two things, when it comes to the witnesses they've been poring through the transcripts trying to find out places where they poke holes in the witnesses' testimony. One of the things they're going to be focused on is how few of the witnesses particularly the career officials actually had any direct indication or talks or interactions with the President at all.

Saying that they can't assume or presume what the President was thinking or directing if they never talked to him. Keep an eye on that but you also this morning had an 18-page memo from Republican staff, from the three committees that investigating impeachment, that they gave to members that really laid out I think probably the most robust defense of the President that you've seen up to this point.

There were many holes in it and I think in a lot of areas Democrats would quibble with, but in that defense are a couple key points, and they really focus on that July 25th call between President Zelensky and President Trump, saying in that call there was no evidence of any pressure, there was no evidence of any conditionality with what President Trump was saying.

And that was backed up by the fact that both President Trump and Zelensky has said in the wake of that call, that there was pressure coming from it. Also the idea the Ukrainian government was not aware during that call that the U.S. security aid had been held or had been suspended up to that point.

And finally that the security aid, the hold on it was eventually lifted, on September 11, now the background is to why that occurred, that's not really addressed in the memo. But you're seeing right now the idea of one can prove during that call, for which a transcript was there, that the President had any ulterior motive.

Again, the Democrats say they've got plenty of evidence to push back on that, but the biggest point here going into such a huge event as tomorrow and the rest of this week, both parties are coalescing behind the idea of what they want. Will they actually get there?

That's an open question. We've seen hearings spin out of control in the past but that's the plan going in and as you noted several meetings throughout the course of the day today, more tomorrow morning before that hearing. This is a unified effort on both sides. Both sides John recognize the stakes at play here.

[12:05:00]

KING: Pressure on both sides. Phil Mattingly a big day in advance on Capitol Hill. I appreciate the live reporting. With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press" CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post" and Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times".

I want to get to some of the specifics in a moment. Let's just start with the moment in the sense that the Democrats are pressing the case here so let's start with them. Back - Nixon blinked there was an impeachment, there was a threat of impeachment then the bipartisan group of number of Republicans came forward and he walked. The Republicans in the Clinton day said Bill Clinton on video tape raising his hand in a deposition admitting he had lied. It was about personal conduct, some people said that shouldn't have been impeachable, but you had the President on the video tape saying, I lied, essentially. The Democrats don't have that. Here they have three meticulous, trusted, honorable, decent career public servants. Can those lead witnesses make the case on day one to the American people pay attention?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think Democrats have a challenge before them. One of the challenges they have I think is simply to make the American people really pay attention to this. If you think about where we are right now, we have lived through some really chaotic years in the Trump Presidency, and we have also had big moments on Capitol Hill.

We've had Bob Mueller go up to Capitol Hill we've had the Kavanaugh hearings. How did the democrats convince voters, Americans, that this is different, that they should tune in and pay attention and that this is not a partisan exercise when everything leading up to this so far has shown Democrats and Republicans completely split? How do they try to bring over some people from the other side?

I do think without sort of that smoking gun or that really one compelling moment that directly points to the President that is going to be a tough challenge for them.

KING: And if you look, Phil mentioned the Republican memo. You can find it at cnn.com, you can find it at other news organizations and their websites, read it. They are just in there and it's easy. You can fact check this yourself, you don't have to trust me. However, it is a strategy to make it just about the July 25 call.

There were things weeks before and things weeks and months after too, that are relevant to this but you get it from a strategy, but you can poke holes in that strategy pretty quickly. One thing, Ukraine didn't know. The aid was withheld therefore, how can you have a quid pro quo if Ukraine didn't know?

This testimony not a lead witness but this is Laura Cooper, her transcript was released yesterday, Deputy Defense Secretary. I knew from my Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this. In other words, some of what we're going to see from Republicans is not true but their goal here is to keep the Republicans.

Impeachment is political. The Democrats feel they can impeach the President in the House and not suffer from in the electorate. The Republican goal is have no Republicans defect make sure the Senate has not direct line to the President so they don't convict.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, I mean, the Republicans want to muddy the waters here and make the facts more difficult to understand. This is a complicated issue, right? Very few Americans know much about Ukraine. People didn't know about this aid package that we've all been talking about now for weeks, but this is not a big sort of topic of awareness on the part of the American people, how foreign aid works, and Congress's role and why it would might have been a problem at the White House is holding this back?

For some reason they didn't have to do with foreign policy. So I agree with Julie that they do have sort of a street challenge there to make it understandable and also to keep the facts front and center, given that the Republicans' whole play here is going to be to sort of muddy up the waters and make it seem like this was.

Yes, the President did this, is basically what that memo lays out, but there was nothing wrong with it. This was him exercising his prerogatives as President. He was concerned about corruption and you can't prove otherwise. That they're going to continue to hammer at that message and it's going to be difficult for Democrats to break through, even though they will have people now testifying in public which matters, you know. It's going to be the first opportunity for people to hear in the voices of these diplomats and administration officials.

Yes, I thought there was something really wrong with this. This is not the way things are supposed to work and we understood in various degrees of certainty that it came from President Trump.

KING: And so to the point, the President says the call was perfect. Republicans want you to focus just on the July 25th call, which was not perfect. Here's something that hurts the Republican case. She's not a witness, but Condoleezza Rice, the Former Bush National Security Adviser, someone who with the first Bush Administration was a Russian hand made her ways up working on these very issues that were referred today.

She knows Bill Taylor, knows George Kent, knows Ambassador Yovanovitch well. She told CNN this day to conference oversees, the call is murky. It's really murky. I don't like for the President of the United States to mention an American citizen for investigation to a foreign leader. I think that is out of bounds. And several Republicans have echoed that saying the call is not appropriate, it wasn't right but they - you know are starting to - they won't go there because the President has told them not to.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And so that is the question here. This does sound very similar, but it is not similar. This is not about the 2016 election at all. This is about a conversation that the president had and a policy about Ukraine.

So it is the challenge of Democrats, no question, to separate this and rise a little bit higher above this moment and not let this devolve into a screaming match which we've seen many in that storied ways and means committee chamber on the House side.

[12:10:00]

ZELENY: But I think that's probably what will happen. It probably will be a screaming match, except the lawyers at the beginning will be presenting their case. This is not going to be like any other hearing, this is going to be different.

But I do think that the President, in trying to discredit all of this, they are also worried at the White House. A, how he's going to react to this and how he's going to react to the fact, you know, watching these three government officials testify? And sort of what devolves from there?

So I don't think there that many minds made up I guess in the Senate, if you will but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's watch the hearing tomorrow and see.

KING: Not getting ahead of yourself is important having lived through the Clinton impeachment, things change from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour and minute to minute. What's up with Mick Mulvaney?

He's the President's Acting Chief of Staff; he is also still the Director of Office, Management and Budget. He's central to the getting the firsthand knowledge the President says doesn't exists about who exactly ordered the Ukraine aid held up? How was it done?

We know from Laura Cooper, that Deputy Assistance Defense Secretary's testimony there were questions about whether it was even legal whether it was legal to hold it up. Congress had bipartisan passed that aid. Catherine Croft, a State Department Special Advisor for Ukraine, testified this in her deposition released yesterday.

What was the concern about the Russian reaction? That Russia would react negatively to the provision of javelins to Ukraine. She said Mr. Mulvaney brought this up to her. So Mulvaney is central to this number one. Number two, he went to court saying let me join this lawsuit because Congress has issued a subpoena so I want a judge to tell me whether or not to go. Now he pulls it back and says, never mind I refuse to testify.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it's a very bizarre legal strategy and his role in this has been bizarre almost since the beginning. You remember he had this press conference a few weeks ago where he admitted to the quid pro quo. That set off alarm bells within the White House. People saying why would you do this? Why would you undercut the strategy and the message we've been putting forward?

Now it sounds like he's concerned about whether or not he should be complying with this subpoena, even though he and the White House Counsel have said this whole process is illegitimate and that there is no reason that White House officials should be participating and some of his underlings have not been participating. So it is a legal strategy that leaving a lot of people scratching their heads and there is a lot of question about his standing within the White House and with the President at this moment because of that.

KING: He's certainly listening to the President here after may be hesitating or at least having some doubt about doing that. He's listening to the President now. We'll see when we come back more on this story. Including, the three key diplomats will be introduced to the public in open impeachment hearings. But they're all quite familiar with each other.

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BILL TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: George, in my view, is one of the best diplomats that the State Department has. We've worked together on several occasions and I've learned incredible amounts. You're about to learn an incredible amount from him as well.

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[12:15:00]

KING: Republican source revealing to CNN today how the GOP hopes to undercut the quid pro quo narrative and discredit witnesses as the impeachment inquiry goes public? The first two witnesses, Bill Taylor, the former top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State both testify tomorrow. Then on Friday it's the Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Republicans will try to show Taylor never had a clear understanding of what the President wanted and that Kent had no direct knowledge of the President's motivations. But Democrats say that's ludicrous and that these veteran diplomats can detail conversations with their colleagues and superiors that trace all the way back to the west wing. That fight about facts is one big part of the impeachment drama. The presentation of the case, though, is also critical. And the three lead witnesses are hardly household names or voices.

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TAYLOR: I think we should support Ukraine very strongly financially. I think we should support Ukraine very strongly militarily.

GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, EUROPEAN & EURASIAN AFFAIRS: Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming elections, our commitment to Ukraine and its people will remain unwavering.

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Ukraine must continue to pursue economic reforms in line with European standards and fully empower all of its anti-corruption institutions. I say this as a friend and as a Representative of a country that I believe is Ukraine's best partner.

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KING: I wanted to show that, to add it, because I assume most Americans - I don't mean this at all disrespectfully. Unless you watch c-span hearings in the middle of the night, you don't know these people. They are the people who are doing the great government work all the time. They are viewed, by the way, by all of their colleagues over several administrations. It's very meticulous, very credible, very honorable public servants.

But the American people don't know them and the Democrats are counting on them out of the box to make the case that aid was abuse of power. Or at least that if you watch from day one, you should stay with us till the end here.

ZELENY: And President Trump has already long started to discredit anyone who speaks against his line here never-Trumpers, what not to be clear. The three people we are going to see this week are not never- Trumpers. They are government officials serving a Republican Administration at the moment and they server other administrations as well. These are what the government is made up not deep staters, these are people who have served honorably, no different than people in the Bush Administration or Obama Administration, et cetera.

So I think that the President has been successful defining this. I think when we see the witnesses tomorrow I believe it will be hard to view them as, you know, having a dog in this fight other than to tell the truth.

[12:20:00]

KING: So Republicans will try to make the case that it's a misunderstanding or they heard it from Ambassador X, not from President Trump, and maybe Rudy Giuliani or Ambassador Sondland were free lancing. I think we're going to hear some of that. I just want to look, the question is can they deliver in a compelling way the damaging testimony that they delivered in private?

This is from Bill Taylor, again currently the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistant that announcement meaning an investigation into the Bidens. George Kent, I had concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law both in Ukraine and in the United States. Ambassador Yovanovitch one of the senior Ukrainian officials was very concerned and told me I really needed to watch by back. Now that at a time Rudi Giuliani was launching a smear campaign against fire her.

PACE: And one of the holes in the Republican argument here is yes, they can say that some of this was coming to these diplomats not directly from the President himself. Fair. But that discounts the fact that in this call that the President did have with Zelensky, he raised the same investigations that he was interested in, Burisma, which is the company that Hunter Biden served on the board of. He raised the DNC and this discredited notion that the server was hiding in Ukraine. So Trump used those words himself in a transcript that is out there. So there is a direct link between--

KING: And he said Rudy is the guy.

PACE: And he said Rudy is the guy. Work with Rudy Giuliani. Those three pieces of evidence came out of the President's mouth and are also the same things that these officials were hearing from people in very close proximity to the President. There is a linkage there for sure.

OLORUNNIPA: And there are no Republican witnesses that can say they spoke directly to President Trump and that he did not hold up the aid because of these investigations. There is no credible explanation as to why the aid was held up. Mick Mulvaney is not testifying, no one is saying we held up the aid for X, Y and Z reasons that are not connected to these politically motivated reasons.

And no one in the State Department, no one in the Defense Department as what we've seen from these witnesses knew why the aid was being held up. So the secrecy around this and the fact that there are any sort of alibi witnesses for the President. It will make it harder for the Republicans to make their case that all these people just came up with this lack of direct connection with the President and came up with this explanation for why this aid was being held up and they are all wrong?

KING: But they can't disprove what these diplomats said in private. The problem for the Democrats is can they prove without Mick Mulvaney or the OMB, or the Mulvaney deputies, the half a dozen are so people the White House has blocked from testifying. Can they connect the dots back? One witness who was not on the Democratic list, the Republicans want on their list is Kurt Volker, who was the President's special envoy.

Who did have some conversation with at least with Ambassador Sondland and other people back in Washington? Devin Nunes, the top Republican in the Intelligence Committee wants to call him as a Republican witness and says, why didn't the Democrats put him on theirs?

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REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R-CA): Why on earth would Volker not be there? He was the Special Envoy to Ukraine. We're having the top people at the State Department who handled Ukraine and now the Acting Ambassador. Why would you not have Volker on the same panel?

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KING: Does he not have a point in the sense - you know, Democrats should have known Republicans were going to call him. If you read Volker's transcript, and it is voluminous, there are times when he said he was not personally aware of any quid pro quo. So the Republicans say, there you go, he's a Special Envoy.

There are other things that Volker says that are damning. He's incredibly critical of Giuliani. He says the policy was off the rails. He says there were also some mixed signals. But aren't the Democrats being defensive by not putting him on their list because he said a couple things that at least if you're trying to make the case for the President were helpful?

DAVIS: Well, listen they had to know that he was going to be called by the Republicans, because the one things that's clear from the accounts that we've heard, aside from Volker's account himself, is that he responded very differently to Giuliani's involvement than some of the others.

His basic approach was, yes, Giuliani should not be in this mix, this is not appropriate necessarily, but what would be the harm in asking for these investigations. We know Giuliani is pushing on this, we know he has the blessing of the President. So what would be the harm in asking for them?

Other people like George Kent and Bill Taylor were highly alarmed and said even just raising these issues is completely inappropriate. He had a different approach and that Republicans may feel that's useful to them and of course Democrats want to lead with people they think will be their best witnesses.

But I do think that Republicans recognize on some level the inconsistency in their argument about some of these Democratic witnesses, because another thing that's in that memo is a call some of these diplomats and administration officials unelected bureaucrats and essentially say they were trying to substitute their own judgment for the President.

And the President is the one who was elected and they have no business disagreeing with him openly. What I think you're going to hear in these initial hearings is that they're not voicing their own opinions, they're voicing sort of decades of American foreign policy and what the sort of approach was and should have been in a situation like this. It will be for the American people to decide whether that is discredited or not.

[12:25:00]

KING: And that Russian aggression was happening inside Ukraine and they needed the military assistance if you cared about that.

DAVIS: If you cared about that.

KING: All right, we'll come back to this conversation, but before we got to break a little breaking 2020 news. The Former South Carolina Governor and Congressman, Mark Sanford, is now ending his 2020 Republican Primary challenge against President Trump. In a press conference the post and currier quotes Sanford was saying, you got to be realist and what I didn't anticipate is an impeachment. He says, he will continue to focus on the issue of deficit spending. We'll be right back.

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