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Did Trump Consider Firing Intel Watchdog?; Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); Public Impeachment Hearings Set For Tomorrow; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Says Bribery Among Potential Impeachable Offenses As Televised Hearings Set To Begin Tomorrow; Defense Rests Without Stone Testifying In His Trial; Ex-Aide Reveals New Details On Trump And 2016 WikiLeaks Connections In Stone Trial Testimony; Schiff At Center Of Storm On Eve Of Impeachment Hearings; Former President Carter Recovering After Brain Operation. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 12, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's new reporting tonight that the president discussed ousting the intelligence community's watchdog who reported the whistle-blower complaint to Congress. Could that be used as impeachment evidence?

Center of the storm. The House Intelligence Committee chairman is bracing for new attacks from Mr. Trump and his allies, as he's about to preside over impeachment hearings.

What prepared Adam Schiff for this truly historic moment?

And what Trump knew. Bombshell testimony, as Roger Stone's criminal trial winds down. A former Trump campaign aide suggesting the future president knew more about the publication of stolen Democratic e-mails than he's claiming.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on urgent impeachment strategy meetings.

Tonight, both parties are bracing for impact, as high-stakes televised hearings begin just hours from now. House Democratic aides say Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff will use his opening statement to lay out the scope of the impeachment investigation and the stakes for the American people.

We're also learning that Republicans have been holding a mock impeachment hearing, as they work to sharpen their defense for President Trump.

Also breaking, Mr. Trump reportedly has considered firing the intelligence community's inspector general because he told Congress about the Ukraine whistle-blower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.

I will talk to a Democratic congressman who will be part of the impeachment hearings tomorrow morning, the Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He is up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, what are you learning, first of all, about these last-minute preparations for tomorrow's impeachment hearings?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been a day that underscores that members in both parties, though very divergent on how they feel about impeachment, all understand one thing, the gravity of this moment.

There have been hours of closed-door meetings, House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and leadership holding a mock hearing where they went through potential questions, lines of questioning, areas they want to get into at tomorrow's hearing in preparation.

As I stand right now, House Republicans meeting just off to my left in a full conference meeting, walking through what the impeachment process will be like, what their lines of defense for President Trump will be.

Democrats largely doing the same thing, House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee meeting behind closed doors for hours to walk through their strategy. Later tonight, House Democratic leadership will also hold a meeting to walk through this process.

All of this, Wolf, making clear that each member knows what they're in for tomorrow, that this moment, both the hearings on Wednesday, on Friday and likely next week as well, will be the public's first full view into an impeachment inquiry that will almost certainly lead to articles of impeachment, and certainly lead to President Trump be the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

All members are trying to get their strategies together right now. And one thing I can tell you, when you talk to Democrats, they make clear what they want to do is paint the picture, lay out what they have heard in the closed-door depositions that in their minds believe is evidence enough for impeachment.

Republicans making clear they think they can poke holes in the witnesses, both the two tomorrow and one on Friday and the witnesses next week, saying they don't have any direct knowledge of what President Trump was asking or ordering. None of them had direct conversations with the president.

You're going to see these two divergent strategies live and in living color tomorrow on TV. That's what the preparation has been for today. It will all play out tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, these are historic days indeed.

So when will future hearings be announced and additional transcripts released?

MATTINGLY: The expectation is soon on both.

We don't have firm guidance on when exactly they will come, but Democrats have made clear there will be more hearings, there will be more witnesses. And one thing members of both parties are keeping a keen eye on, when will Gordon Sondland be called, if he will be called at all?

He's the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. He has been a central player in several transcripts that have been released publicly. He had to go back and actually amend his testimony. That amended testimony making it look like he, in fact, was aware of a potential quid pro quo related to U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.

That is one individual everybody's looking for. There are also the transcripts. There are several more that will still come out, one of whom that Republicans are certainly keen on, Tim Morrison, former member of the National Security Council. They believe that certain elements of his testimony, bolster their case.

When that comes out, and also who will be called in the hearings ahead, an open question right now. Democratic aides say the answers will be coming soon. We're still waiting for those right now, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

We're also getting a new window into Republicans' plans to try to protect the president by discrediting impeachment witnesses and disputing the Democrats' storyline.

Let's go to our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, we know the Republicans are meeting tonight. And they held a mock impeachment hearing earlier in the day. What else are you learning?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats and Republicans are gearing up, well aware of the significance of tomorrow's televised testimony.

[18:05:07]

Now, we're told the Republicans did indeed hold a mock hearing today. Both sides have been previewing their strategies, with Democrats planning on pushing that extortion and bribery line, while Republicans have laid out their arguments, which have largely been contradicted by many of the witnesses who have testified already in this inquiry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those arguments will be on full display on Wednesday, when the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Ambassador Bill Taylor, and his boss, George Kent, testify in front of the cameras alongside each other.

To prepare, Republicans held a mock hearing on Tuesday, with Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin playing the part of Chairman Adam Schiff, who will start the questioning.

Taylor and Kent have both said already that, even as Rudy Giuliani conducted a shadow policy on behalf of the president in Ukraine, they were told it was the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who was directing Trump's envoys to tell the Ukrainians everything depended on the investigations.

"So, if they don't do this," Taylor was asked, "they're not going to get that was your understanding?"

Taylor responded: "Yes, sir."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And tomorrow's open hearing will be gaveled into session at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time.

Ambassador Bill Taylor, who is the most senior diplomat in Ukraine, it bears repeating, and his boss, George Kent, are going together, because Democrats are saying that the two men were witnesses to the full scope, as they say, of the president's misconduct.

Then next, on Friday, will be Marie Yovanovitch. She, of course, is the former ambassador to Ukraine. She was recalled by Trump in May after what she called a concerted campaign against her. Democrats saying she is the first victim of the president's scheme -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alex, as you know, there's new reporting tonight that President Trump discussed firing the intelligence community's watchdog, the inspector general who found the whistle-blower complaint credible.

What's the latest?

MARQUARDT: Yes, the inspector general's name is Michael Atkinson, Wolf. And he was actually appointed by Donald Trump.

And "The New York Times" is reporting that, over the course of the past few weeks, the president has weighed firing Atkinson. Atkinson, of course, forwarded the whistle-blower's complaint to Congress in September, saying it was of urgent concern.

According to "The New York Times," the president doesn't understand why the whistle-blower for that complaint -- he has accused reportedly the inspector general of being disloyal. And going forward, he says that he does not understand why the whistle-blower -- the inspector general has not yet testified. He has questioned his integrity.

Wolf, we have also seen a response from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. Just moments ago, he tweeted: "The inspector general for the intelligence community did what the law demands of him. In a democracy, public servants owe their loyalty to the Constitution and the rule of law, not to the president's personal political interests."

Now, as an appointee of the president, the inspector general, Atkinson, can be fired, Wolf. But, of course, it would be deeply controversial -- Wolf.

[18:10:05]

BLITZER: Certainly would be.

Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He will be taking part in the impeachment hearings as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me immediately get your reaction to this "New York Times" reporting that the president considered firing the intelligence community's inspector general who alerted Congress to the whistle- blower complaint.

So, what's your reaction to that?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Innocent people who are accused of a crime do not fire those investigating them or even threaten to fire those investigating them.

We have a lot of evidence of consciousness-of-guilt-like behavior from President Trump, in the way that he intimidates witnesses, the way that he refuses to cooperate with Congress and -- if these allegations are true, and the way that he is trying to target someone who launched this investigation.

Mr. Atkinson does not work for Donald Trump. He works for the United States of America. He's not Donald Trump's lawyer. Getting rid of Mr. Atkinson -- yes, the president has the right to do that -- would signal to us more consciousness of guilt evidence.

And, I would say, not speaking for anyone other than myself, that that, in and of itself, could be considered as an article of impeachment.

But, Wolf, it's very important that whistle-blowers feel free to come forward if they see wrongdoing. This is an effort to stop future whistle-blowers from doing that.

BLITZER: Will your committee,Congressman, the Intelligence Committee, try to call in witnesses who might have knowledge of those conversations about the president possibly wanting to fire the inspector general?

SWALWELL: Well, we're focused right now on this Ukrainian shakedown, this abuse of power by President Trump.

Of course, that doesn't mean we're going to neglect other investigations. But we have powerful evidence from witnesses like Bill Taylor and George Kent, who will testify tomorrow, but also the president's own words in the call transcript he released, and the co- signing of that admission from Mick Mulvaney at his press conference.

So there's not just one single witness to prove any fact here. We have multiple witnesses that prove this presidential shakedown scheme.

BLITZER: Your committee met this afternoon to discuss strategy going into this, the first public televised hearing of the impeachment inquiry.

Take us inside that meeting, as much as you can.

SWALWELL: Sure, Wolf.

We're going to be prepared. And there's going to be a focus on the witnesses. This is really about the witnesses, what they witnessed, what's at stake, and what is right or wrong.

And it's really a question, I believe, that will have to be answered at the end of this hearing. Is this who we are? Because the facts are not really in dispute here. The president, in his own words, asked the Ukrainians to investigate his political opponent.

The question we have to ask ourself as a country, is this what we want our president to do, to cheat an election on the inside and ask a foreign government on the outside to participate in it? And we're going to be prepared for the seriousness of these proceedings.

And we invite our Republican colleagues to see this as a reset, to put the prior stunts away that they engaged in during the depositions, and bring the focus, sobriety and the solemn nature of these proceedings tomorrow.

BLITZER: Your chairman, Adam Schiff, did an interview with NPR, just said that the president committed bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors.

Do you agree with him?

SWALWELL: I do.

And what I also believe is, this is a time to test the evidence out there. And I know Mr. Schiff -- none of us have reached an ultimate conclusion here, but all of the arrows point in that direction.

Now, if the president has evidence of his innocence, evidence that would exonerate him, now is the time to stop blocking witnesses from coming forward. And I can guarantee you, Wolf, if he had those witnesses, he would allow them to come forward.

And the only reason he tells Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton and others to not go to Congress is because there's nothing they could say that would make the president look better or more innocent.

BLITZER: CNN obtained an internal Republican memo, Congressman. And in it, they point out that the Ukrainians got their money, they didn't investigate the Bidens.

Can you convince the American people there was a quid pro quo that was actually never physically or formally carried out?

SWALWELL: First, if all the president did was ask the Ukrainians to investigate a political opponent, that would be an abuse of power.

He did more than that. He leveraged a White House meeting, which, to the Ukrainians and most countries, is one of the most important things you can get from the United States. He also leveraged security assistance.

Mind you, Wolf, the second that Congress voted for this assistance, and it was signed by the president, we had leverage over the Ukrainians because they were expecting $391 million from us. So every second that went by that they didn't get it, we had leverage.

And any ask we made in that intervening period from when it was authorized to when they received it, that's leverage. And at the exact time they learned about it or not is not relevant to what the president's intent here was, from witnesses we have heard from and his own words, which was, he wanted them to investigate, and that was the only way they would get the aid.

[18:15:03]

BLITZER: In his closed a deposition, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who will be testifying openly before television cameras tomorrow morning, was asked if the demand to have Ukraine investigate came directly from President Trump.

Taylor testified -- and I'm quoting him now -- he said, "I don't know."

So, how much does Taylor actually know about President Trump's direct involvement in all of this?

SWALWELL: He knows what his higher-ups were saying with respect to President Trump's involvement.

And he knows what he was tasked with and not tasked with in Ukraine. And, Wolf, if this was entirely reliant upon Bill Taylor's testimony, I would agree that that's probably not enough to go forward with impeachment.

But you have the president's own words asking the president of Ukraine to do this investigation. You have Mick Mulvaney saying that he talked to the president, and the president wanted Mick Mulvaney to hold the money for Ukraine unless they investigated the DNC server.

You have Gordon Sondland, who tells Bill Taylor, the president said that the Ukrainians must investigate and exonerate Russia for its role in 2016 to get the money.

So you have multiple witnesses here. Also, Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland said they were told by President Trump that Rudy Giuliani is his point person on Ukraine.

So you have multiple people who tie this directly to the top. BLITZER: We will be watching, together with you, tomorrow morning.

Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, there's more breaking news just ahead on House Democrats and Republicans holding dueling meetings tonight that, with only hours to go before televised and historic impeachment hearings begin in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:25]

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.

On this, the eve of televised impeachment hearings, a new report suggests the president has considered punishing an official who played a key role in triggering the investigation.

"The New York Times" reports that Mr. Trump has discussed firing the intelligence community's inspector general. He reported the Ukraine whistle-blower complaint to Congress, as he's required to do under law.

We're joined now by the former top lawyer over at the FBI, Jim Baker. He's a CNN legal analyst.

Jim, what do you think of this "New York Times" report? What's your reaction?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's depressingly familiar. I mean, if anything, the president is consistent.

It reminds me of sitting there talking to Jim Comey back, I think it was February 2017, when the president asked for his loyalty. And it was shocking at the time. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how he should respond to that. He responded to it in the moment.

But it was very distressing and disturbing. And the president, I guess he's consistent about how he thinks about loyalty. He thinks about loyalty to the country as loyalty to him. And that is not what this country is about. But the president seems to think so.

BLITZER: What sort of strategy do you expect to hear from the Democrats tomorrow in their first public hearing of this inquiry? And how will the Republicans try to counter?

BAKER: Yes, so there's kind of what I expect and then what I hope for, I guess.

So what I expect is them to try to tell a story with the witnesses, to use the witnesses to explain to the American people what happened, to get the facts out, right, to tell a story through the witnesses and get the facts out. I hope, though, that they find a way to tell people what it all means,

what the facts mean. It's not just enough to put these facts out there and have -- expect the American people to watch hours and hours of testimony and understand why it's significant for the country that the president chose this route to try to get a foreign government to investigate an American citizen and a political rival in order to maintain himself in office, to stay in power.

The president abused his power to stay in power. And the Democrats, I think, need to explain why that's significant and why we don't want to have that kind of behavior in this country and why it's unacceptable for a president, any president, to try to do something like that.

BLITZER: How significant of a role do you think the committee lawyers will be playing in this public hearing tomorrow? Because the first 45 minutes, the Democrats, the chairman and the staff lawyer, they can ask questions uninterrupted.

And then the second 45 minutes, the Republican -- top Republican and their staff lawyer, they can ask questions.

BAKER: I was so happy when I heard that staff lawyers were going to start doing the questioning, because I think that's a much, much better way to try to get the story out to the American people and explain what it all means.

Members of Congress, usually, quite frankly, are terrible at this kind of thing. They speechify too much. They just get off on distractions. And it's just not -- it's not the best type of format for them.

And so they will have their chance. They will get their five minutes after the staff lawyers. But I think the key thing that I will be looking at is how the staff lawyers are able to develop the narrative they -- that the Democrats want, as well as the narrative that the -- that the Republicans want to get out there to counter what the Democrats are saying.

So I'm really focused on that.

BLITZER: Jim Baker, as usual, thanks very much for that analysis.

And, of course, we will continue to watch all of this unfold tomorrow.

Just ahead, we're going to go over to the White House for more on the president's impeachment defense and his mind-set on the eve of these public hearings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:29:32]

BLITZER: There's more breaking news this hour.

On the eve of impeachment hearings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is now raising the possibility that bribery could be among the impeachable offenses as the Democrats make their case against the president.

Well, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, Chairman Schiff giving the president more reason to lash out tonight.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And Democrats have been previewing this, saying they would like to get away from language like quid pro quo and talk about actual high crimes and misdemeanors that they may charge the president with.

[18:30:03]

But President Trump and his defenders over here at the White House, they are gearing up for war this week as the public hearings get underway in the impeachment inquiry. The Trump campaign, we were told, will be running a rapid response operation to react to these fast-moving developments up on Capitol Hill. And the war room in chief, namely the president, is already preparing for battle.

But some Trump advisers are questioning how the president is handling this inquiry. As one source close to the White House quoted to me, nobody believes the president's phone call with the leader of Ukraine was perfect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Tearing into the impeachment inquiry, President Trump is demonizing his Democratic accusers, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Nervous Nancy.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Democrats in Washington would rather pursue outrageous hoaxes and delusional witch hunts which are going absolutely nowhere. Don't worry about it.

ACOSTA: Hitting GOP talking points that question the main witnesses scheduled to testify public hearings this week, the president tweeted, why is such a focus put on second and third-hand witnesses, many of whom are Never Trumpers or whose layers are Never Trumpers when all you have to do is read the phone call, transcript with Ukrainian president and see firsthand.

Even though Mr. Trump has repeatedly described the July 25th phone call with the leader of Ukraine as perfect, the president is vowing to detail another conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, tweeting, I will be releasing the transcript of the first and therefore more important phone call with the Ukrainian president before week's end.

In an early morning tweet storm, the president complained that both Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, targets of Mr. Trump's July 25th call should be forced to testify. Even some top Republicans aren't exactly following the president's lead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think this was a perfect call?

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSDOR TO U.N.: If, in his mind, he thinks it was a perfect call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think?

ACOSTA: Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is taking issue with Trump's actions while saying he shouldn't be impeached.

HALEY: Well, I think it's never a good practice for us to ask a foreign country to investigate an American. It's just not a good practice.

Having said that, there was no insistence on that call, there were no demands on that call. It is a conversation between two presidents that's casual in nature.

ACOSTA: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went further, telling CNN the call is murky. It is really murky. I don't like for the president of United States to mention an American citizen for investigation to a foreign leader. I think that is out of bounds.

There appears to be a scramble inside the White House over whether to testify as acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney tried to join a lawsuit in federal court on Friday to seek guidance on whether he should appear before Congress, then announcing his own legal challenge on Monday before dropping the idea all together. Democrats see some self-preservation.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): I think those individuals have looked in the past. They looked at the Nixon impeachment and saw that everyone but Nixon went to jail.

ACOSTA: The president is trying to convince the public he's focused on issues that matter, like the economy, that Mr. Trump isn't sticking to the facts, praising his daughter, Ivanka's record of creating jobs in her roles at the White House.

TRUMP: She's now created 14 million jobs and they're being trained by these great companies, the greatest companies in the world because the government can't train them. It's a great thing.

ACOSTA: But that's not true. That number refers to training opportunities. There haven't been 14 million jobs created as that would double the actual number.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, As for Mulvaney's legal maneuvering over the last few days as to whether he can testify up on Capitol Hill, we are told by our sources that has caused some head-scratching inside the White House. And one source close to the White House told me, Wolf, that there is resurrected talk inside the west wing as to whether or not Mulvaney should stay in that acting role as chief of staff. Wolf?

BLITZER: He's been on thin ice for a while. All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta at the White House.

Let's bring in our analysts to discuss. Jeffrey Toobin, how revealing is it that according to The New York Times, President Trump has considered firing the inspector general who informed Congress about the whistleblower complaint?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly consistent with his belief that everyone who works for the federal government doesn't work for the government or the taxpayers, that they work for him personally. So any disloyalty to him is perceived as a firing offense.

Now, in fairness, you can't impeach a president for considering to do something. I mean, he has not fired the inspector general. But it is indicative of how he views the entire federal government.

BLITZER: You Know Susan, I want to play a clip. This is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. He spoke to NPR just a little while ago, discussing possible crimes committed by the president. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I don't think any decision has been made on the ultimate question about whether articles of impeachment should be brought. But on the basis of what the witnesses have had to say so far, there are any number of potentially impeachable offenses, including bribery, including high crimes and misdemeanors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors, that's a reference of what's in the Constitution.

[18:35:01]

What do you think, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So I think Chairman Schiff is trying really, really hard not to get ahead of the facts, to really proceed in a very, very disciplined manner.

Now, one of the core questions here is not just what the articles of impeachment related to this conduct with Ukrainian President Zelensky might be but also whether or not the House is going to move include additional articles of impeachment for things like obstruction of justice uncovered during the Mueller investigation. Schiff really does have a difficult decision, a difficult political decision and a difficult legal decision about how exactly he wants to proceed here.

What is clear is that Adam Schiff really is in the driver's seat. Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leadership really are looking to the intelligence chairman to take their cues, what should they be saying to the public.

Of course, tomorrow will be a critical day not in terms of unearthing new information that might demonstrate these high crimes and misdemeanors but really clearly making the case to the American public, making the case that this is an abuse of power, this an impeachable offense and this is something that is fundamentally not tolerable in the behavior of a U.S. president.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, will this hearing give Republicans potentially some opportunities to find cracks in the Democrats' case?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, if Democrats handle these hearings like they handled the last hearing with Corey Lewandowski or if they handled like that last hearing where Robert Mueller testified, then, yes, Republicans will have opportunities because Democrats tactically did not do a good job of laying out a story that was easy for the viewer at home to follow.

That being, on the substance, I think it will be tough for Republicans to poke holes in the Democrats' case because the central piece of evidence that Democrats will be putting forward is that partial transcript that the White House itself released of the July 25th call between President Trump and President Zelensky. And the rest of the witnesses are sort of corroborating the basic narrative that Democrats want.

TOOBIN: I actually think the Republicans have more to work with than that. I mean, the argument that Taylor didn't have any direct contact with the president, that's a legitimate argument. I don't see why that's a bad argument. Now, there are responses to that and the role of Rudy Giuliani is very important, but I don't think the Republicans have no facts to work with here. I think they have some.

BLITZER: Kylie, let's talk about the two first witnesses coming in tomorrow, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, George Kent who oversees Ukraine policy as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. Give us a sense of what we are expecting to hear from them tomorrow morning.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. Well, Democratic aides have said that they picked these two to come forward for this first open, public hearing because they are the ones that are going to be able to display the full story line of the president's misconduct.

And so Bill Taylor is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine and he is the first one who kind of laid out the elements of the potential quid pro quo, saying that he was told by other U.S. officials, Trump administration officials, that everything with regard to Ukraine, in terms of the security assistance and a potential meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky was dependent on the Ukrainians saying that they were going to publicly endorse the fact they would investigate the Bidens in 2016.

So we have him saying that. He has been on the ground in Ukraine. He matters because he was trying to figure out what the policy has been over the past few months.

And then we have a counterpart of his, George Kent, and he is a top diplomat at the State Department. And so he and Taylor will be able to kind of play off of one another because they had been in touch with one another over the past few months.

And Kent also told lawmakers that he was told that everything that the president wanted was for President Zelensky to go to the mic to publicly say that they would be investigating Biden, Clinton and say the word investigations there. And so that is key. That's what we'll be hearing from these folks.

But it's also important, Wolf, that they are both current administration officials. They are both career officials but they are still in the U.S. government. They are still delivering on behalf of the U.S. government and the Trump administration. And so they can't cast them as folks who are on the outside and who have quit because of all of this.

BLITZER: Yes. They have worked for Democratic presidents and Republican presidents as career foreign service officers.

Everybody stick around. There's a lot more news we're following, including some really bombshell testimony today by a former Trump campaign official about a 2016 so-called gift courtesy of WikiLeaks. We're going to have the latest on the Roger Stone trial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, the defense has rested its case in Roger Stone's criminal trial without calling the long-time Trump ally to testify. But a former Trump campaign official did take the stand revealing new details about Stone's WikiLeaks connections and what the future president knew about it.

Our Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, has been covering the trial here in Washington.

[18:45:01]

Shimon, so what did we learn from Rick Gate's testimony?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Rick Gates had a front row seat to the campaign. And he came in and testified about information that he knew, that he had firsthand knowledge concerning contacts between Roger Stone and the campaign.

Then even Donald Trump himself, think about this, he is in an SUV, he describes driving with then-candidate Donald Trump as they are on their way during the height of the campaign. It's the end of July. They are in an SUV when Roger Stone calls Donald Trump and there's a conversation.

And Rick Gates describes that he knows that it is Roger Stone because he could see that on Donald Trump's phone, the color ID comes up as Stone's number and that Roger Stone and Donald Trump have a conversation about WikiLeaks. And at the end of the conversation after Donald Trump hangs up with Roger Stone, Donald Trump describes how there's more information coming, more leaks, more information coming from WikiLeaks.

It was an ending to the testimony today. That part coming at the end of Rick Gates testimony. It was really the first time that we had firsthand acknowledge, someone inside the campaign who said, who testified that Donald Trump had this knowledge, firsthand knowledge from Roger Stone, and also described how happy the campaign was, believing that Roger Stone had direct access to information that had not been yet public that had to do with WikiLeaks and how Roger Stone was claiming that he was getting inside information.

So, the big key points here was that A, you have a campaign that's really happy, that Roger Stone is getting this information and the other thing is that you have now Donald Trump who was talking to Roger Stone and keep in mind, this is something that the Mueller team had asked in written questions to the president. They asked did you have any of these conversations with Roger Stone.

And if you remember, Donald Trump said I don't recall.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz, covering this trial for us, thank you.

Also tonight, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is speaking out about tomorrow's impeachment hearings and possibility that Democrats will accuse the president of bribery.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is looking at all of what has led up to this historic moment right now and Schiff finds himself center stage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, it feels at times like being in the eye of the hurricane. You can never tell when you're going to step out of the eye and to gale-force winds.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): But it's a sure bet that this week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff will be at the center of the storm, leading a historic public inquiry on impeachment.

SCHIFF: There's, of course, much more intense now than ever before.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shifty Schiff.

BORGER: Anyone not living under a rock knows that Schiff is one of President Trump's favorite targets.

TRUMP: Little pencil neck.

BORGER: And he's not subtle about it. On camera.

TRUMP: He should resign from office in disgrace and frankly they should look at him for treason.

BORGER: And on Twitter.

SCHIFF: I can't keep up with the president's Twitter attacks on me. My staff have stopped sending them to me, they're too numerous.

BORGER (on camera): You don't follow him on Twitter?

SCHIFF: I don't follow him, no, no. I have more important things to do.

BORGER (voice-over): Just months ago, Schiff was in a campaign that believe impeachment was not a good idea.

STEVE ISRAEL (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: We've talked in depth about this.

BORGER: Steve Israel is a close Schiff friend and former Democratic colleague.

ISRAEL: Impeachment might have some consequences that would be harmful to the country, to the Democratic Party, to members of Congress. But when the president engaged in this phone call with President Zelensky, that was a bridge too far for him.

SCHIFF: What made this a necessity for me and so many of my colleagues is that if the president believes that he can abuse his office, the power of that office, he can fail to defend our national security and there's no accountability even if the accountability is only in the House, that's too dangerous a prospect to persist.

BORGER: Schiff came to Congress from his Los Angeles County District almost 20 years ago.

SCHIFF: Ready to win an election?

BORGER: A moderate Democrat who beat the Republican incumbent, a leader of the impeachment fight against Bill Clinton. How's that for irony?

SCHIFF: Mr. Rogan's priority has always been in engaging in this national partisan ideological crusades and ignoring the business at home in our district. And I don't think people value that.

BORGER: Schiff's Harvard Law classmate Karl Thurmond remembers a friend who knew where he wanted to go and how to get there.

KARL THURMOND, LAW SCHOOL CLASSMATE: I played quarterback. Adam played on the line for his team. In one play, Adam literally ripped the jersey off my back. That's Adam.

So, yes, he is a very ambitious.

[18:50:01]

He is very competitive but not in a cutthroat or back stabbing way. He knew back then he wanted to get involved in politics.

BORGER: Schiff served in state Senate but his greatest impact came as an assistant U.S. attorney when he prosecuted and FBI agent for selling secrets to the Russians.

SCHIFF: Well, it does feel at times like my life has come full circle.

BORGER: From a major role in the Republican-led 2014 Benghazi investigation, to becoming chairman of the Intelligence Committee this year.

ISRAEL: What people don't understand about Adam is that he wanted to go on the Intelligence Committee for two principal reasons. Number one, it was bipartisan and number two, it was quiet. So, I often say to him, how did that work out for you, buddy?

BORGER: Not as expected. Just weeks ago, House Republicans tried to censure him.

(on camera): How did that feel? You have Republican friends? Or you used to?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think my Republican colleagues, finding they lacked the courage to stand up to this unethical president have consoled themselves by attacking those who do. And that's a sad reality and but it is where the House GOP is. Kevin McCarthy will do whatever President Trump asks him to do. He merely asks how high he wants McCarthy to jump and McCarthy will jump.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Behind closed doors with the chairman who has lied three times the American public looking them in the eye. And somehow we're supposed to trust what comes out of that?

BORGER (voice-over): It's ugly and very personal. Illegitimate hearings, Republicans say, run by a partisan.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): It is a Soviet-style impeachment process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chairman Schiff is unfit to chair the Intelligence Committee.

BORGER: The chairman is having none of it.

SCHIFF: For this president, they're going to destroy what America stands for in the world. They're going to countenance holding up aid or meetings or whatever to get help in the next election campaign. They're going to normalize that, rationalize that, and they're going to hunker down and put their heads in the sand about it. Where is people's sense of duty?

BORGER: If that sounds like a line out of a screenplay, it could be. Schiff has written a few of his own, and took some dramatic and controversial liberties in describing the president's phone call with the Ukrainian president.

SCHIFF: And I'm going to say this only seven times so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it.

BORGER: The performance turned into a political opening for Republicans. One in particular.

TRUMP: Shifty Schiff is a double corrupt politician. He took my words on the phone call and they were so good he totally changed them.

BORGER (on camera): But do you regret doing it that way?

SCHIFF: No. I made it clear I was being mocking the president, and just as clearly the president doesn't like being mocked, but it was a mafia kind of organized crime shakedown. But I'm not surprised if the president was attacking me about this, he'd be attacking me about something else.

BORGER: What's his mood like these days? How would you describe it?

ISRAEL: He's got overwhelming responsibilities and they're on his shoulders, but he is excellent at relieving that burden with his humor. Look, he's got a goofy sense of humor that people don't --

BORGER: Goofy is not a word people would use about --

ISRAEL: Well, he loves funny movies. Everybody knows that. He can take you from the first word from the Big Lebowski, to the final scene of the Big Lebowski.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the dude, so that's what you call me, you know?

BORGER: Are there any words from the dude that you would apply to your life?

SCHIFF: I've been asked in the past. I'm not sure whether you can air this, and that is my only question. What line of the Big Lebowski comes up most in political life, and I have to say it's the line, "No, you're not wrong, you're just an (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hole."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: That was our chief political analyst Gloria Borger reporting.

This important note for our viewers, CNN will have special live coverage of the hearing, I'll be back tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern when it all begins.

Just ahead, an update on Jimmy Carter's health after the former president had emergency brain surgery today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:45]

BLITZER: Tonight, Jimmy Carter is recovering after undergoing an operation to relieve pressure on his brain caused by two recent falls. The spokesperson for the 95-year-old former president says there were no complications from the surgery, but that he remains in the hospital for observation.

Recently, I traveled to Plains, Georgia, where I spoke with President Carter about his health struggles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I have to ask you, how are you feeling? How is the first lady feeling? How is the family doing?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: I'm feeling fine. I broke my hip a few months ago, and I'm learning how to walk again. I have to walk with a cane sometimes, but I'm feeling very good and my overall health is excellent. You know, and brain and so forth is very good.

I had a bad impact of cancer three or four years in my brain and in my liver, but I've overcome that with very high, organized treatment. So, we get good medical care at Emory University Hospital, and we have a good hospital here nearby. So, Rosalynn and I are in good physical shape and I hope mental shape.

BLITZER: We just had dinner and both of you were -- didn't miss a beat. You were both very, very impressive and made me fell so good to see that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We, of course, wish the president a full and speedy recovery.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.