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Public Impeachment Testimony Begins Today; Republicans And Democrats Hold Mock Hearings Ahead Of Public Testimony; New Testimony Raises Questions About Whether President Trump Misled Robert Mueller. Aired 5:30-6a ET
Aired November 13, 2019 - 05:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. This is CNN's special live coverage of today's public impeachment hearing. We're just hours away from the first public testimony.
And breaking overnight, the House Intelligence Committee unveiled this full slate of testimony for next week. Eight witnesses scheduled to testify, including the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who has initially denied there was this extortion attempt on Ukraine before amending his testimony. He did a complete 180 or a reversal.
And there's also a slew of other people, including Lt. Col. Vindman who, of course, showed up in uniform and testified. It will be very interesting to see what he does.
Back with us, John Avlon and Abby Phillip.
And, Abby, before we even get to next week there's Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, who testifies on Friday. There's a lot. I mean, it's interesting to see the pacing with which the Democrats have done this.
You have two witnesses today and then there's a day of rest, right? Seriously, tomorrow is a day of rest to let it sink in and then it's off to the races.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's really going to be kind of like official after official. I do think that sort of the density of these, like, long-serving foreign -- these civil servants -- people who have been in this business for so long who have basically -- effectively, kind of photographic memories or lots of notes.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
PHILLIP: Yes, either-or. Either you have lots of notes or you remember things very clearly and can really just lay the case out day- by-day, month-by-month, really outlining what everybody was up to. What Giuliani was up to. The kind of machinations that were going on behind the scenes.
And they're trying to kind of set the baseline, I think, this week. And then you're going to see some of the other officials whose roles in this are a little bit more complex testifying next week.
But the folks that we're seeing this week, I think have the clearest picture on both sides of the pond of what was going on, both in Washington and in Ukraine.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And one of the things that makes really compelling T.V. or always has in the past, from the O.J. trial to the Watergate hearing, is the serialized nature of it where people come back every day to watch what the next person is going to say.
And, I'm -- I mean, they're doing this because they have that many people --
CAMEROTA: -- that need to testify, but my point is that it's just starting this morning and then it's going to go for many days.
AVLON: Look, this is going to preoccupy the nation. What we already know from their testimonies is there a very consistent picture that has emerged from all this.
And then there's Donald Trump's account, which is totally opposite -- perfect call, nothing wrong -- and Republicans are going to try to walk that line supporting the president. Well, he's not dealing with any of the facts in his statements today.
BERMAN: Again, correct, but what we will see in this testimony are the facts or the evidence --
BERMAN: -- and that is what I think people need to take in more than anything over the next two weeks and then decide.
BERMAN: Listen for yourself and then decide.
Abby, there is some new reporting overnight about how the president is reacting to how this is how unfolding.
"The New York Times" is reporting that the president mused or wondered about firing the Intelligence Community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who was the one received the whistleblower report, felt it was an urgent matter, and more or less turned it over.
Let me read you a quote.
"The president has said he does not understand why Mr. Atkinson shared the complaint, which outlined how Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr. Trump's political rivals at the same time he was withholding military aid from the country. He has said he believes Mr. Atkinson, whom he appointed in 2017, has been disloyal, one of the people said."
And he, of course, discussed dismissing him. Where have we seen this movie before? Well --
PHILLIP: Literally everywhere.
BERMAN: Literally everywhere. He fired Jim Comey, he talked about firing Robert Mueller. He hasn't done it but the fact he's talking about it tells you something about his mental --
PHILLIP: Yes. I think the president believes that the people who work in the government, whether they were appointed by him or not, are serving to be loyal to him, which is -- sure, they are serving at his -- at the -- at his pleasure. He could fire Atkinson if he wanted to, based on our reporting. But the fact that he believes Atkinson was disloyal to him is the part here that I think is disturbing but not unusual.
The president wants everybody in their positions to be protecting him as an -- as an individual; not protecting the institutions that they're in a position to preserve.
CAMEROTA: But this is a prescribed process. This is how whistleblowers report.
CAMEROTA: I mean, you go to the inspector general. He -- in other words, the whistleblower did everything right -- this is spelled out of how to do it right -- and the president still wants to intervene in the prescribed process of how to do this.
AVLON: The president doesn't care about the rule of law or constitutional norms in the way that most people do. Everything is through a self-interested prism.
And his aides, of course, are treating this -- as Maggie's reporting says -- as sort of a maybe he'll forget about it. Maybe this is just an outburst. They're accustomed to ignoring irrational requests because this would be almost a form of self-impeachment. Shooting the messenger in public, saying you should have been loyal to me and this never should have come forward.
It's called cuckoo land, people.
BERMAN: You know what's interesting is my understanding is that if he wanted to fire the inspector general there would be a 30-day waiting period. It's built into the code there. So if he did it there would be this 30-day outrage period. I'm not even sure -- even based on what he did with Comey, I'm not sure the president would put himself through that.
PHILLIP: Yes, it wouldn't really be a cooling down period.
PHILLIP: It would be like a heating up period for the president.
But, I mean, I do think that this is also -- like we -- often, as you said, the president's aides take these kinds of things that he says or muses about and they just -- they just sort of put it to the side until they have to deal with it.
And we also know that this happened because according to Nikki Haley, the president's former chief of staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeatedly did this and tried to enlist her in the effort.
So this is -- you know, based on our reporting, that it's all out in the public now, the president's aides continuing to just ignore these kinds of outbursts.
AVLON: And this is apparently one of the irritants surrounding the Ukrainian ambassador because president, according to Rudy Giuliani, said look, he thought she had been fired. And the institution -- the State Department just saying -- kept saying let's slow roll this because that's kind of shady. You seem unilaterally fixated on firing this particular ambassador.
And "The Washington Post" new reporting today saying that the president was approached by Lev Parnas, one of Giuliani's associates, directly about this -- and a private donor -- and reacted in a very animated, focused manner. This was something that was on his mind, according to "The Washington Post" reporting, going back to April.
CAMEROTA: It's really interesting.
AVLON: It's fascinating.
CAMEROTA: John, Abby, thank you both very much.
So, Republicans have been very public about the ways they plan to defend the president today. But, Democrats have kept much of their strategy closer to the vest. Why? We have that, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Impeachment is so divisive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So in just a matter of hours now, the first public impeachment hearings will begin. This is CNN's special live coverage. We will take you through the day and the stakes really could not be higher. Behind the scenes, Republicans and Democrats, they've been holding these mock sessions to sharpen their lines of questioning. And a source tells CNN that the Republicans are expected to focus on trying to distance the president from the allegations against him.
Joining me now is Charlie Dent, former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and a CNN political commentator.
First off, let me say today is really about laying out the evidence so the American people can see it in public. But in doing so, the Republicans will try to make an argument and they told us what that argument is.
And three of the four main points they'll make -- and we can put these up on the screen for you, Congressman -- that there were no conditions and no pressure in that phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky.
The second thing is that the Ukrainians weren't aware, Republicans will say, that military assistance was being withheld at the time of the phone call.
And the third thing is is that the hold on military aid was ultimately lifted on September 11th.
Why, in your mind, is this or is this not an effective line of questioning?
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSMAN: Well, I don't think it's a very effective line of questioning, John, for a few reasons.
One, there's no question that President Trump did press Zelensky. He pressed to investigate the Bidens.
And we can have a debate whether it's pressure or not, but I thought there was clearly pressure. Zelensky understood the stakes here with javelin missiles. So that's clear.
So I don't think there's any way they can -- I don't think that's a very effective argument.
The fact that this aid was withheld I don't think is a very powerful argument either. It was withheld after this whole -- this whole drug deal, as Bolton said, was revealed publicly.
Frankly, I think the Republicans would be much better served by just simply acknowledging the impropriety of the call and how that it was wrong -- acknowledge that. And then if you want to defend the president, say but this does not rise to the level of impeachment and overturning the 2016 election. I think they're much better off doing that than trying to defend on the substance.
I think these three points -- three or four points that have been laid out are not particularly powerful. BERMAN: You know, it is interesting but we know the president, himself, wants the Republicans to defend him on the substance and then you get into these conundrums.
As you said, the point here the Republicans are making that the aid -- the hold on the aid was lifted on September 11th. Well, that was after the whistleblower complaint was made public and was at the White House. So they knew they had been caught withholding the aid by the time they released it.
DENT: Yes, there's no question about it.
I mean, look, I know the president doesn't want the Republicans to talk about process, and the only reason Republicans are talking about process is because the substance and the facts are so bad. I mean, the president keeps saying that the call was perfect. Well, yes, it was perfect -- perfectly appalling and it was perfectly wrong.
And so I think most Republicans recognize that there is just simply no good defense on the facts. And that's why I think today you'll probably see a fair amount of -- a fair amount of theater today.
I'm sure Jim Jordan and the gang will be raising procedural objections and some shoe pounding on the table, distracting and perhaps delaying the hearing a bit before they get into the substance. So I think that's their only real tactic because the facts aren't on their side.
And by the way, the other issue, too, that the Ukrainians weren't aware that the aid was withheld. Well, that's debatable. I mean, I thought there -- based on some of the testimony of the other witnesses, it seemed that the Ukrainians were, in fact, aware of the withholding of the aid.
BERMAN: Their testimony is they certainly knew about it by the middle of August and certainly, during that period when it was being discussed.
You talked about the theatrics of it. What are the risks for Republicans if they try to gum up the works here?
If Matt Gaetz storms the hearing room and tries -- he's not on the committee. The reason I'm bringing up Matt Gaetz is he's run into some hearings before.
What if they try the theatrics? What are -- what are the risks there?
DENT: Well, I think what Republicans should do is take this whole proceeding very seriously. They should behave very businesslike because I suspect this hearing today is going to get incredible viewership among the American people and all the networks and stations. They're all going to be watching this and to the extent that they are seen as dilatory, I think won't reflect well on the party. I think this has to be so businesslike and they can do without the
drama and the theatrics. But this is Congress and maybe they think the American people want to see this theater.
BERMAN: If you look back at the Watergate hearings you had members of both parties just trying to get the facts out -- just asking questions to find out what happened. And that, in theory, should be what these next two weeks are about. Have the witnesses testify in public so the American people can hear them and so it's a matter of record.
And you would think that Republican members of the House and of the Senate who might have to vote on this ultimately would want to watch this testimony. You might think that but you'd be wrong.
Listen to Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): So why am I not going to watch this hearing tomorrow because I think it is a threat to the presidency. I don't want to legitimize it. It's un-American and it denies the basics of due process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: He's not even going to watch, Congressman. What does that tell you?
DENT: Well, look, I think these senators should try to watch as much of this proceeding as they can. I realize they have schedules -- they're all scheduled out today, as they should be, but they should be watching this because they're going to have to sit in judgment.
And to your point, John, about asking questions and getting the facts, I have found when I sat on congressional panels like this there are some members who like to grandstand and they want to hear themselves speak. But the effective ones were asking very pointed questions. They were -- they were well-scripted and they were thoughtfully laid out with follow-up questions.
The idea was to draw out facts. That's the best thing that I Republicans could do to help the president is try to get information and facts that up to this point have not yet been revealed and see if that helps them in their case.
BERMAN: All right, Congressman Charlie Dent, stand by. Much more to talk to you about as this morning goes on. Appreciate you being with us.
DENT: Thanks, John.
CAMEROTA: Also this story, John.
Did President Trump mislead special counsel Robert Mueller? That is the key question this morning after stunning new testimony in the Roger Stone trial. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: This morning, closing arguments begin against President Trump's longtime friend, Roger Stone. Stone is accused of lying to Congress but it is the president that is facing renewed scrutiny today.
President Trump's former deputy campaign chair, Rick Gates, testified yesterday that the president spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016. But in his written responses to special counsel Robert Mueller, Mr. Trump said he could not recall any conversations, raising questions about whether Mr. Trump misled Robert Mueller.
Joining us now, CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell.
Before I read that part of the transcript, Josh -- I know you've been following this whole Roger Stone trial closely. What has been the most head-slapping revelation to you?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, FORMER SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT, FBI, AUTHOR, "CROSSFIRE HURRICANE": Well, it's just what you just mentioned there. I mean, the fact -- the question we always had was what did the president know and when did he know it.
And you have two narratives here that are now at odds.
You have the former -- the president's former campaign aide, Rick Gates, saying that he was a witness to the president being informed about what was going on as it related to WikiLeaks and the stolen Democratic e-mails. And you have the president submitting questions to federal prosecutors saying that he couldn't recall any of that, so that is stunning.
It also stuns me -- you know, I talk to a lot of people in law enforcement who look at the way that Robert Mueller handled this investigation and in law enforcement they say you follow the facts wherever they lead. It appears now that Robert Mueller was essentially treating the president with kid gloves because rather than compelling him before a grand jury or sending him a subpoena, he accepted these written questions and now, I think we know why.
Had the president been faced -- had been forced to sit before a grand jury and an FBI agent, he almost certainly would have been caught up in other potential falsehoods and possibly lies because it appears as though -- at least if Gates is to be believed -- what he initially told Mueller was not true.
CAMEROTA: And before we get to why Robert Mueller did that, let me just read this portion that has gotten so many people's attention.
So the written question to President Trump went like this.
Are you aware of any communications during the campaign, directly or indirectly, between Roger Stone, Don, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates and (a) WikiLeaks, (b) Julian Assange, (c) other representatives of WikiLeaks, (d) Guccifer, (e) representatives of Guccifer, or (f) representative of D.C. leaks?
Here's the president's written response.
I recall that in the months leading up to the election there were considerable media -- there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information. But at this point in time, more than two years later, I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.
And as it came out yesterday, Josh, in court, Rick Gates remembers the conversation well between --
CAMPBELL: He does.
CAMEROTA: -- himself and the president.
CAMPBELL: No, absolutely. And this is why prosecutors and FBI agents typically don't accept written answers to the question. You want to sit before the person as an FBI agent, question them, ask follow-up questions.
If that were me sitting before the president and he said I don't recall, then I would start pulling out other evidence that I have that may be corroborating -- phone calls, for example. I may ask the question well, what would you say if I told you we had a witness who was party to your conversation?
You ask the follow-up to get someone to open up to determine whether or not they really can't remember -- you want to refresh their memory -- or whether they're just lying to you. And it's that line of question that allows you to really dig in.
That's what has been -- a lot of people I've talked to in law enforcement -- so disappointing about the Mueller investigation is that they didn't have that one-on-one. You didn't have the president actually being asked questions. Mueller opted instead to accept these written questions and that's a criticism I think that he'll continue to face.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but so help us understand that. You know how these interrogations and investigations and all of this goes, and how Robert Mueller operates. Why did he let the president off the hook that way?
CAMPBELL: Well, there's some who believe that Robert Mueller thought that had he litigated this in the courts and tried to force a subpoena this may be going on for years. And, Mueller may have determined that his calculus was look, I've gathered all that I need to do in order to compile this report.
Again, a lot of us believe that his ultimate audience was Congress, not a court or not a jury. Now we know that his -- the president's attorney general intercepted that pass, so to speak, and got in front of that.
But again, I think the criticism that I continue to hear about Robert Mueller -- and again, I worked for him -- I highly respect him -- is that he treated this investigation like a prosecutor rather than an investigator.
We know that he essentially handcuffed himself by this longstanding DOJ policy that you cannot indict a sitting president and I think that actually had an effect on what he actually gathered. Where he went as far as gathering facts.
If you're an FBI agent or an investigator you gather the facts regardless of what policy it is. You're going to find out what is the truth and then leave it to others -- leave it to prosecutors and possibly Congress to determine what to do about it.
What is so ironic about this entire thing as you and I sit here talking on this historic day as we face an impeachment, I think that Robert Mueller's lack of due diligence as it relates to following all the leads exhaustively leads us to where we are today because we know that when Robert Mueller sat before Congress and closed the books on his investigation, the very next day, I think the president felt emboldened by that investigation not going anywhere and picked up the phone called the leader of Ukraine and again, according to this rough transcript, asked a foreign government to interfere in a foreign election.
So without Robert Mueller's lack of due diligence, I don't know that the president would have felt that emboldened to go so far as to at least conduct the act -- the alleged act here of foreign interference that now he's facing in front of Congress.
CAMEROTA: Josh Campbell, what a tangled web. Thank you for explaining --
CAMEROTA: -- all of that context to us.
CAMPBELL: Thanks, Alisyn.
BERMAN: One of the most stunning things in this whole story is just the calendar.
BERMAN: Just the calendar. Look at the calendar. And that, in and of itself, will blow your mind.
CAMEROTA: Is a head-slapper -- I agree. But all of this testimony coming out of the Roger Stone thing also is.
BERMAN: All right, a special good morning to one of our viewers. That would be Stephen Colbert.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, Stephen. BERMAN: How do we know he's watching? Well, we clearly inspired his show overnight. See for yourself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST, "CNN NEWSROOM": On the eve of these historic public impeachment hearings --
BERMAN: Impeachment hearing eve.
(It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year)
It's the most wonderful time of the year With Republicans screaming and Democrats dreaming impeachment is near It's the most wonderful time of the year
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": Republicans have a memo that outlines their four strategies to defend Trump. I actually got a copy and it just says pull the fire alarm, then repeat three times.
Meanwhile, on account (ph) of what people see on T.V., I heard that Rudy Giuliani might launch his own podcast that will provide analysis of the impeachment hearings. The podcast doesn't have a name yet although prosecutors are already calling it exhibit A.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You know, the Stephen Colbert song -- I feel as if it's a hit already.
CAMEROTA: It should be.
CAMEROTA: And, I mean -- and your cameo just launches the whole thing. It's fantastic.
BERMAN: It was good.
CAMEROTA: It was really excellent.
BERMAN: All right.
CAMEROTA: Yes, well done.
All right, it is a historic day on Capitol Hill and NEW DAY continues right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": In just hours, public impeachment hearings set to begin against President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump and President Zelensky both said it was a perfectly fine call. There was no pressure, no quid pro quo. REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): You can't actually know what was really said when you're relying on third and fourth-hand information.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have to have second or third persons talking to the president. The president released the transcript. There is ample evidence there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The facts are not really in dispute. The question we have to ask our self is this what we want our president to do -- to cheat an election on the inside and ask a foreign government to participate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, November 13th, 6:00 here in New York. And you're watching CNN's special live coverage of this first day of the impeachment hearings.
CAMEROTA: Look, as journalists, we always have a front-row seat on history, but this morning, all of Americans do and all the world. Whoever tunes into this, you have a front-row seat as history unfolds.
BERMAN: And it really is history.