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Soon: Televised Trump Impeachment Hearing Begins; How Today's Impeachment Hearing Will Work. Aired 5-5:30a ET
Aired November 13, 2019 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In just hours, public impeachment hearings set to begin against President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For those of us who have read the transcript, it is not, as some of these people have made it out to be. I think it's a mistake.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty clear this phone call wasn't just a one-off, it was an entire pressure campaign to get Ukrainians to influence our election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is a threat to the presidency, it's un- American, it denies the basics of due process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not just one phone call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The facts here are so powerful. Let people just hear what happened.
ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of "NEW DAY," as CNN's coverage of the public impeachment hearings begins.
It is Wednesday, November 13th, 5:00 here in New York. Extra early.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I mean, this is only, what, the fourth time in American history we have had impeachment hearings. Just the third time they've been televised. It's a big deal.
CAMEROTA: It is hard to overstate the significance of this day.
So we're hours away from the start of these televised hearings.
With the fate of Donald Trump's presidency at stake, veteran diplomats, George Kent and Bill Taylor will take the stand at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And for the first time, the American people will see and hear for themselves how these diplomats believed that president Trump pressured Ukraine's government to investigate political rivals in exchanger for military aid.
BERMAN: CNN has learned that Democrats and Republicans have been preparing for this critical day by holding closed-door practice sessions. Democrats will seek to lay out the evidence that President Trump tried to bribe or extort Ukraine to investigate his rivals and the Democrats will try to lay it out in stark and simple terms. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to distance president Trump from the allegations he's now facing. We know the president will watch this morning before trying to pull focus with a news conference alongside the Turkish president this afternoon.
And today is really just the beginning. The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine will testify on Friday. And we learned overnight that eight additional witnesses have been scheduled to appear next week. History is unfolding this morning.
And CNN has it covered, starting with Jessica Schneider, live in Washington -- Jessica.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this first set of televised hearings signals high stakes for both Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats will finally be showcasing all that they've been doing behind closed doors, while the Republicans are preparing to hit back. They circulated that 18-page memo of talking points to really hit back and get their points across, as we enter this new phase of the impeachment inquiry.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In just hours, the impeachment inquiry into President Trump goes public, starting at 10:00 a.m., top diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and deputy assistant secretary of state, George Kent, will testify, sitting side by side.
The nationally televised hearings helping House Democrats to bring their case against Trump to life, arguing he abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to begin investigations for his own political gain.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): The facts here are so powerful, let people just hear what happened.
SCHNEIDER: Taylor, a star witness for House Democrats, after testifying it was his clear understanding security assistance money would not come until the president of Ukraine committed to pursue the investigation. Kent also denouncing the Trump administration's efforts, calling it injurious to the rule of law.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and Republican ranking member Devin Nunes will lead the hearings. They'll each have 45 minutes to question witnesses.
And both sides will have some help. Their staff lawyers likely taking charge in questioning. Former federal prosecutor, Daniel Goldman for the Democrats, and Steve Castor, an attorney for House Overnight, will assist the Republicans.
After that 90-minute block, all other committee members will get five minutes each for questions.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): We're trying to do our best in the majority to have a fair process.
SCHNEIDER: The president downplaying the upcoming hearings.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democrats in Washington would rather pursue outrageous hoaxes and delusional witch hunts, which are going absolutely nowhere. Don't worry about it.
SCHNEIDER: But for Trump's GOP allies, it's a serious matter.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): What's happening in the House is basically un-American.
SCHNEIDER: House Republicans shaping their counterargument against Democrats' claims, providing this 18-page memo to party members, outlining how to defend the president, including the Ukrainian leader and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): President Trump and President Zelensky both said it was a perfectly fine call. There was no pressure applied. There was no quid pro quo.
SCHNEIDER: House Democrats' plan, relying heavily on key elements, such as the rough transcript of Trump's July 25th phone call, the president's own statements, and testimony from star witnesses, like Taylor, to help tell the story of Trump's Ukraine scandal.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): The facts are not really in dispute here. The president, in his own words, asked the Ukrainians to investigate his political opponent. We're going to be prepared for the seriousness of these proceedings.
SCHNEIDER: And we've learned that President Trump will be keeping a close eye on these hearings that are expected to stretch throughout the day.
The White House communications team will also be hunkering down and watching this. They'll be providing messaging and clips in real time. And we could also hear from the president and his reaction. He's expected to hold a news conference at 3:00 p.m. with the Turkish President Erdogan, who is visiting the White House -- John.
BERMAN: Yes, no doubt, the president will be watching. The White House will be watching. But more importantly, the American people will be watching, because in many ways, this will be their first chance to digest the evidence that will be laid out before them today.
So what do we know about what today's witnesses will tell lawmakers and why these witnesses are going first? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: We are just a few hours away from the first public impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill. First up to testify, the top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, and career State Department official, George Kent. Both men have already testified behind closed doors, so what do we know about what they will say?
Joining us now is Abby Phillip, CNN political correspondent, and John Avlon, CNN senior political analyst.
OK, it's a big day. Bill Baylor, people are -- people in the know are waiting with bated breath to hear him, because he was a pivotal person behind closed doors.
To remind everybody, here's what he said in his closed-door testimony. He said about the quid pro quo, that was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until the president of Ukraine committed to pursue the investigations, meaning of Biden and the DNC.
So how do you think today is going to go? What are you looking for, John?
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Taylor is really the witness the Democrats have most hopes in and Republicans have been most afraid of, because he comes with such deep credibility in the State Department, in the military, both sides of the aisle. People he's worked with say that this is a guy who's been honorable, forthright, and tells the truth no matter what the partisan interests are.
And if that kind of integrity reads on camera as Democrats expect, then Republicans are going to have a real problem. Because at the end of the day, it's about the credibility of the testimony. And this is a man who has an enormous amount of credibility and a lifetime of service to the country.
BERMAN: And he also comes with receipts in the form of the text messages and electronic record. And just to read a couple of these which I know you've been fascinated with for months.
Bill Taylor wrote to Gordon Sondland, are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? Sondland responded, "call me," and Taylor in a different text message said, as I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance in exchange for help with a political campaign.
So he has the receipts, Abby. And we've seen this, but it's different when he's sitting in front of congress and the 1,100 room with Longworth House Office Building when it's televised to the national people. Why is he important? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that he
pieces together a couple of different parts of this. First of all, as the top diplomat in Ukraine, he had conversations on both sides of this issue. He had a lot of conversations with Ukrainians and he had a lot of conversations with American officials.
He was in this group chat with Gordon Sondland and others about the quid pro quo, as it was unfolding. And clearly, he also memorialized his concerns. Not only in those text messages, but also in one of those confidential cables to secretary of state Mike Pompeo, basically saying, I am worried about this. I do not like what I am seeing here.
So it's really pivotal to sort of establish the way in which this rogue foreign policy undermined American interests. What exactly the Ukrainians knew about the quid pro quo and when. And also, he establishes a degree of secrecy around all of this. Around Gordon Sondland in some cases trying to restrict who was involved in certain conversations.
And all of this is going to go towards several elements of what the Democrats are trying to put together, which is that everyone involved in seemed to know that something nefarious was going on. Many of them lodged those concerns at the time. And Bill Taylor can talk exactly about how this affects American foreign policy and why it wasn't just the president going after corruption. It was about the president seeking his own personal interests.
AVLON: And that's the heart of the inquiry, the president's personal interests overriding national interests. And Taylor is the guy that Pompeo brings former ambassador to Ukraine, now acting ambassador to Ukraine again to create some continuity. And going in, he knew he was concerned about the political land mines being laid out between Ambassador Yovanovitch and Rudy Giuliani and his interest.
CAMEROTA: OK. Let's move on to George Lent, the other person that will be testifying. He's a career foreign service officer. Let me read to you the testimony highlights. This is P108 from his closed- door testimony.
He said that investigating Biden was not about anti-corruption. It, in fact, resembled a selective prosecution of a political rival. He said that Hunter Biden's role had already been scrutinized in 2015. He said that Vindman set up this Trump/Zelensky that gave he, George Kent, an uncomfortable feeling, he got an uncomfortable readout.
Then the former prosecutor, if you'll remember, Shokin, he was ousted over corruption.
BERMAN: His own corruption!
CAMEROTA: This is what so many world leaders -- he was not investigating corruption, he was not doing anything. He was corrupt. This was not about Burisma. George Kent speaks to that and he was concerned that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated prosecutions. So, you know, John, this is all interesting, but on TV, you also have
to sell it in a compelling way. And we just don't know if these career diplomats, will people hang on their words or is part of this -- some part of this performance?
AVLON: We don't nope and that's obviously part of the "X" factor of today. Democrats have been burned by high expectations in hearings in the past that have not fallen through. That said, politics is history, on a normal day, let alone an objectably historic day like today.
This is something that's going to transcend the show of all. The fact it's testified will get more people's attention, but their credibility will come from how serious they are and their history of service to the country. And Kent's a guy who says, look, I was concerned about the appearance of Joe Biden's son, I wrote a memo about it, but what we're talking about here is a lot more than the appearance.
PHILLIP: And I don't think this has to be all about the drama. This really actually has to be about how meticulous these people are, because they are career civil servants, they know how to memorialize events and how to remember them and how to recall them.
That's going to be really important as the questioning unfolds, are they able to answer questions, know exactly what they're talking about, and lay it out in a very clear way? And I think a lot of these folks are able to do that. They have a long history of doing that in the civil service, and I think that's what's going to make them compelling, not some kind of show or drama about this whole thing.
BERMAN: I think that's exactly right. I think that, today, there will be plenty of time to talk about the politics and what did sell or didn't sell later on. But today is about the evidence.
And I think these witnesses are chosen because they are deadly serious human beings. And they will lay out the facts as they saw them, and then people can decide once they watch.
Got a lot more time to talk about this, Abby and John, thank you very much.
CAMEROTA: OK. So today's hearing will look different than congressional hearings that you have seen before. So, we'll break down what to expect and just how this will be distinct.
CAMEROTA: Seven weeks after House Democrats launched the formal impeachment investigation, the probe becomes public today. So what will we see?
Joining us now to break it down is Eli Honig, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.
And you know something a little about this and certainly about the players.
ELI HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do.
CAMEROTA: So, take us -- take us through it. So, let's start with the witnesses.
HONIG: All right, Alisyn. These will be the stars of the day. The two witnesses who the House Democrats on the Intel Committee have specifically selected to lead this off. Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state.
Now, one important thing, these two witnesses will be testifying physically side by side. They will be at the same table --
CAMEROTA: At the same time?
HONIG: -- at the same time, which you would never see in a trial. So, if people are thinking of this along the lines of a trial, that is going to be a major difference.
CAMEROTA: And why are they doing that out of curiosity?
HONIG: I think that's the way congressional hearings normally work and it will make for a more efficient, quicker hearing. Now, a couple of important factors.
The witnesses can have lawyers present. They will not be sitting at the table with them. They will probably be behind them. They may need to turn and confer with them like this behind the table from time to time.
Importantly, no Trump or White House attorneys will be present at the table. The White House objected to this and said it's unfair that we're not represented, but you're going to have a smoother hearing with less objections. Think about Corey Lewandowski, when he testified, and every other answer was, the White House has instructed me, the White House has directed me. We're not going to see that today.
CAMEROTA: And, of course, they will have their Republican representatives who can channel the way the president feels.
HONIG: Yes, absolutely. They're not going to be defenseless, by any means.
Now, the witnesses will be sworn in, you'll have that sort of flashbulb moment when they take the oath and then they'll give opening statements and we'll be on to the questioning.
CAMEROTA: OK, this is very interesting to me, because as you have pointed out, you worked with and know Daniel Goldman who is one of the attorneys who will be doing this, and Steve Castor is on the other side representing the Republicans.
And these guys are described as no-nonsense, just the facts, ma'am, tell us what you know about --
HONIG: Yes. So, Adam Schiff, who is the committee chairman, is going to cede his time, his 45-minute opening questions to Daniel Goldman and Devin Nunes will do the same with Steve Castor. They're both extremely impressive, accomplished attorneys.
Daniel Goldman, I worked with him hand in hand at the Southern District of New York. We tried a mafia murder case against the boss and two others together. It was a five-murder case against three defendants.
He knows what he's doing. He's up for the moment. He will not be intimidated.
Steven Castor also a very impressive individual. He is a longtime congressional aide and attorney. He's been through hearings like this. So, I think we're going to have a very substantive hearing.
CAMEROTA: So these two guys each get, what, 45 minutes to begin of the questioning of the witnesses?
HONIG: Exactly. Each side starts with 45 minutes, that I expect those two attorneys to be doing the question. Now, both witnesses, keep in mind, gave lengthy depositions. They testified for hours each. So what we're going to really be seeing here is a best of, a greatest hits, where the attorneys are going to boil down the most important things.
And watch for this stylistic difference. Direct examination. When the Democrats are examining, it's going to be open-ended questions, what did you do next? Why did you do that?
But when the Republicans are questioning, we'll see cross-examine, which is closed-ended questions. Next, you did this. And you said that. Didn't you? That's a big difference that I think we'll see as this goes along.
CAMEROTA: And then will there also be a moment where, as we have seen in other hearings, lawmakers get to sort of state their piece, they can grandstand if they want, they can ask questions? Will we have that moment?
HONIG: Yes, we can't take the grandstanding out of politics. Altogether, we will have then the committee members, 13 Democrats and nine Republicans. They will each get their five minutes, which is sort of what we're you'd to from the Mueller testimony and the Lewandowski testimony.
Now, a couple of key committee members to focus on.
Val Demings, Democrat from Florida. She's a former police chief. She's been a very strong pro-impeachment member of congress.
CAMEROTA: And we're going to have her on NEW DAY coming up in a couple of hours, yes.
HONIG: Indeed, indeed, stay tuned.
Eric Swalwell, former prosecutor on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, Jim Jordan was just recently moved into this committee for this purpose. We know he's a firebrand. We know he's a strong voice for the Republicans.
And then Will Hurd who is on his way out, he's retiring, he's not running for re-election, so it will be interesting to see if he shows a bit of an independent streak as we go through this.
CAMEROTA: Some of the reporters who have been watching outside of the rooms where they've been briefing and have been prepping describe Jim Jordan and his aides coming out with binders full of information as they prep. And I'm sure that all of them are. It's going to be a really interesting day.
HONIG: Everyone's ready to go. It's going to be fascinating. We're going to learn a lot today.
CAMEROTA: Eli, thanks so much for explaining all of that to us.
HONIG: Thanks, Alisyn.
BERMAN: And one possibility is during those five-minute segments, Republicans could cede time to Jim Jordan.
So, we might see a lot of Jim Jordan in the final stages of the questioning today.
So, there's this brand-new report this morning raising questions about President Trump's effort to undermine the impeachment investigation ahead of today's crucial public hearings. Those details, next.