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House Holds First Public Impeachment Hearing; Impeachment Witnesses Further Tie Trump to Ukraine Pressure; CNN Was Set to Interview Ukrainian President Until Scandal Broke; Republicans Speak After First Public Impeachment Hearing. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired November 13, 2019 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NUNES: -- the full extent of Ukraine's election meddling against the Trump campaign, and third, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden and what did he do for them and did his position affect any government actions - U.S. government actions under the Obama Administration?
You are not allowing those witnesses to appear before the committee which I think is a problem. So we'll expect, hopefully you will allow us to bring in the whistle-blower, the folks that he spoke to and also numerous democratic operatives who worked with Ukraine to meddle in the election and with that, I'll yield back.
SCHIFF: I thank the gentleman. I want to thank the witnesses for their testimony today, for your decades of service to the country. I think you exemplify so many courageous men and women who serve in the diplomatic corps, who serve in our military who represent the United States so well around the world. I appreciate how you endeavor to stay out of the fray, to relate what you heard, what you saw without additional commentary. That is as it should be. You were both compelled to appear and we are grateful that you answered the lawful subpoenas that you received.
The story that you have shared with us today and your experiences I think is a very deeply troubling one. It is the story of a dedicated ambassador, someone who served with great distinction, Ambassador Yovanovitch who was the subject of a vicious smear campaign at the beginning of the year. It is the story of once this ambassador was pushed out of the way, the creation of a irregular channel which Ambassador Taylor you described went all the way from the president through Mick Mulvaney through Ambassador Sondland, through Ambassador Volker to Rudy Giuliani.
That over time became apparent, was not serving the U.S. interest but running deeply contrary to the U.S. interest was in fact conditioning a White House meeting that the President of Ukraine desperately sought to establish himself of the new President of Ukraine and to demonstrate to friend and foe alike that he had a relationship with his most power patron, the United States of America, and conditioned $400 million of bipartisan taxpayer-funded military support for a nation at war, on the front lines of Russian expansionism. A suspension of which was not in the U.S. interest, not in Ukraine's interest, not in our national security interest in no way, shape or form. You've described a situation in which those in the service of the president make it clear to the Ukrainians, they need to publicly announce these investigations or they weren't going to get that meeting and they sure weren't going to get that military assistance.
Now I would point out and this may not have come to your attention but it certainly came to our attention, on September 9th, Inspector General informed our committee that the Director of National Intelligence was withholding a whistle-blower complaint in violation of the statute. By that point on September 9th, that complaint had made its way to the White House. On September 9th when the Inspector General informed Congress that that complaint had been withheld, the White House also learned that Congress now inevitably would learn about the complaint.
It was less than 48 hours later that the military aid would be released. Over the weeks to come or over the days to come rather, we will hear from other dedicated public servants about other aspects of this effort to invite foreign interference on our election, to condition a White House meeting and military aid for the performance of political favors for the president's reelection campaign. We will hear from other witnesses.
I appreciate members on both sides of the aisle who I think participated today in a serious way and in a civil way. This is as it should be. There is no shortage of strong feelings about what this means to the country. At the end of the day, we're going to have to decide based on the evidence that you and others provide whether we're prepared to accept in the presence of the United States, a situation where the president for their own personal or political benefit can condition military aid, diplomatic meetings or any other performance of an official act in order to get help in their reelection, whether we will need to accept in this president or any future president the idea that the President of the United States invites a foreign country to intervene in our affairs.
These are the decisions we will have to make when we have to decide whether this president should be impeached but I want to thank you again and just conclude by saying because I can't let it go unanswered. Some of my colleagues made this statement repeatedly that I've met with the whistle-blower, that I know who the whistle-blower is. It was false the first time they said it. It was false the second through 40th time they said it. It will be false the last time they say it.
With that, this concludes this portion of the hearing. I want to thank you gentlemen. I ask everyone to remain in their seats. The witnesses are excused. Please allow them to leave the committee room. We will, once they leave the committee room, take a brief recess and then we will resume to take up Mr. Conaway's motion.
And once again, I thank you gentlemen.
[10:36:27] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The first public impeachment hearing now on a short break. Welcome to our special coverage, I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
The first two witnesses, Bill Taylor and George Kent have now concluded. Top officials describing their knowledge of an alarming quid pro quo that everything a White House meeting and badly needed security systems to the Ukraine, everything was conditioned on Ukraine publicly announcing investigations that would benefit President Trump politically including one into the Bidens.
Let's get our big picture response from our panel. Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you. What did you think? What was important?
JEFFERY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The story of how this chapter has unfolded has been largely known for some time, but there was one important new development today. Which was, Ambassador Taylor testified that one of his aides was present when Ambassador Sondland who was a key figure in all of this had a conversation with the President on July 26th, the day after his now infamous phone call with the President of Ukraine.
Where he said, and this person who will testify next week, or Friday, who will give a deposition on Friday, said he overheard the President talking about investigations. And then Sondland said to this group, this dinner table in Kiev, that the President cares more about investigations of Biden of the 2016 campaign than he does about anything else relating to Ukraine.
That's important, because the one criticism of these two witnesses -- which I think is very much legitimate, it's not really a criticism, it's just a factual statement -- is that neither of them had direct contact with the President.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Ever. Ever.
TOOBIN: And you know, that's a problem if you're going to impeach the President.
TAPPER: Although we should point out that people that have had firsthand contact with the President, the White House has prevented them from testifying including Mick Mulvaney.
TOOBIN: True enough. But Sondland, who emerging as an absolutely key witness who will testify in public next week. He did have contact with the President. And so one more disclosure of one more statement by the President that he didn't care about Ukraine, except as a source of campaign dirt. That's significant and I think that's the news of the day.
TAPPER: David Urban, what was your response, you saw Republicans, a lot of Republicans talking about the aid went through, so none of this is, it matters, neither of you spoke with Trump. To the two witnesses, so none of this matters. Nunes, obviously, the ranking Republican on the committee saying, we need to talk to the whistleblower. That's the most important. What did you think? URBAN: Listen, I think it was very important that Ambassador Taylor
emphasized over and over again that the Ukrainians had no knowledge at the time of the call that the aid was being withheld. That they didn't know until after the "Politico" story had run that aid was being withheld.
I think also, very important, this is political theatre. Let's not forget that, right. This is all about politics. This isn't a court of law. This is about politics. And did today move the needle in anybody's opinion? Did anybody sitting at home in their living rooms, kitchens, whenever they're watching this, now have a different opinion than before this? I think the answer is no.
I think is unfortunately it's going to fall flat for Democrats just as the Mueller hearing did. The big problem is just wait for the next hearing. Now we're going to hear from Holmes. Today was going to be good but we're going to hear from this gentleman who heard the call.
TAPPER: Dave Holmes. The aide to Taylor who overheard him.
URBAN: Dave Holmes, so that's the next guy. Today wasn't good enough, we've got to go to the next one. And so I think that if you're looking to remove a sitting President, you got to do way, way better than this.
TAPPER: Just one thing to point out. You accurately described Bill Taylor's testimony. That he didn't believe Ukrainians knew about this until after it was disclosed publicly in late August. But two other witnesses that haven't gotten that much attention, Laura Cooper, who's Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Catherine Croft, who works for the State Department, both of them have testified in depositions that the Ukrainians knew earlier than that. Very early on.
URBAN: Right, so Ambassador Taylor said the defense minister said to him, only -- in September, he called him and said, what going on?
URBAN: You'd have to think that if defense minister knew sooner, he would have called Taylor sooner.
TAPPER: I'm just saying there's contradictory evidence. But Jen --
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think if that's what you're hanging it on, you have a problem. Look I think what Democrats are trying to do today, and you saw Adam Schiff lead this, is to begin to tell a story. They want to tell a story of the timeline of exactly what transpired here. That's why he led opening statement as he did. That's why Daniel Goldman did the questioning as he did, which was repeating information that we are very familiar with. Those of us have been paying close attention to it.
But I though him t they did some interesting things to debunk some of the Republican claims. One was to ask Bill Taylor whether in his experience, 50 years as a public servant, had he seen anything like this? Had he seen anything like this of a President of the United States holding assistance out for personal gain? The answer is, no.
You know that's something that debunks a big Republican claim. We have several additional days of testimony. I don't know that we know that people's minds haven't been changed but this is the first day, and I think we have to see how it builds from here.
URBAN: But as Jeff correctly points out, opinion, it's everybody's opinion, personal opinions. Not I heard, I witnessed, I saw, was a part of. It's my opinion. It's my opinion. You're not go remove a President based on opinion.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And that's because as you said, I mean, the folks who have firsthand knowledge are being blocked out by this White House from appearing, Mick Mulvaney, and John Bolton.
Listen, I thought Bill Taylor's 20-page statement that he read in his narrator-style, a beautiful voice, was sort of the groundwork here, and as you said, there was new information on here, in here about a phone call he overheard, just last Friday.
And I think sort of the closing arguments that you heard from Nunes and the closing arguments you heard from Schiff, kind of speak to the two different worlds, that Republicans are in and Democrats are in. Schiff's closing statement was essentially whether or not Republicans and Democrats and the country are going to accept whether a United States President can condition foreign aid on whether or not a foreign country is going to collect dirt on an opponent.
And that's I think the critical question that you're a Democrat you want to keep coming back to in these hearings and Nunes is kind of all over the map. Wondering where is the whistleblower? What about Hunter Biden and Burisma and what about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election? He is sort of in conspiracy-ville. And some folks obviously on the Republican side want to stay there.
But listen, I think if you're a Democrat, keep hammering that point home about what this President did on that phone call and throughout, in -- I thought in Taylor's testimony, he really laid out what he saw essentially from about mid-June when takes this post at Mike Pompeo's recommendation and suggestion up until about mid-September. All of the things that happened in terms of him coming to find out about these two different tracks of foreign policy. One regular and one highly irregular and unprecedented. Right, I mean, he testified that this is something he'd never seen before.
TAPPER: And under questioning from Val Demings, I think a former police chief from Florida, the Democratic Congresswoman, basically, George Kent and then Bill Taylor agreed with the sentiment, what was Rudy Giuliani doing? Was he carrying out the interests of the United States? And George Kent said, no, he was trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens. And Bill Taylor agreed with that.
Michael Gerhardt, you're an impeachment attorney. An interesting specialty. Let me ask you. How did this go in terms of the case the Democrats are clearly trying to build in favor of impeachment? Was it a devastating day? Or was it mixed? What did you think?
MICHAEL GERHARDT, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: The first thing that strikes me in hearing the proceeding today is that the framers vested the House and the Senate with authority over impeachment because they thought that the members of Congress would be more sophisticated than the typical jurors. So it doesn't really matter whether evidence is hearsay or anything else. The framer's assumption was, members of Congress should be sophisticated enough to be able to put the evidence together.
And second thing that strikes me is a lot of what we didn't hear is really significant. As already has been pointed out. But it probably can't be stressed enough. There are a lot of people there are not being allowed to testify. A lot of people, there have been numerous subpoenas, that have been not complied at direction of the President.
Why does he not want those people to speak? It may well be that they can inform us even more about the apparent strategy that was happening on the ground. And as far as Rudy Giuliani is concerned, we also have to remember, and this relates to the impeachment process, what's he doing there? He's not there on a vacation. He's there to carry out the President's order. Which is, to find dirt or perhaps even invent dirt against the Bidens. And that's an abuse of power.
URBAN: Is he? Is he?
TOOBIN: What is Rudy Giuliani doing there? Because he has tweeted even, just a couple days ago. Everything I was doing was for the benefit of my client. I was acting as a defense attorney.
TAPPER: But he has also said the opposite to Laura Ingraham I believe one time. He said he was operating on orders from the State Department. So he has given different answers as to whether he was doing this for the President as his client or on behalf of the U.S. for foreign policy.
TOOBIN: And he had other clients including the two gentlemen who are now under indictment. Was he working for them as well? I mean it is a -- he is, of course, yet another person who could provide a great deal of information to the committee, if he were to choose to testify.
TAPPER: I want to bring in Fareed Zakaria right now, he's host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" here on CNN. And, Fareed, today Bill Taylor described two channels of U.S. policy making toward Ukraine. One regular and one, quote, highly irregular. He said the latter included the former Special Envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, Acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney and the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
You have covered international politics for years. Obviously, there are back channels in foreign relations, things are not always done through the ambassador. Does this remind you of anything that you've ever heard of before?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: No. It's really quite unusual, and I think Ambassador Taylor was very clear and intelligent and articulate on that issue. He said the problem is not having a separate channel. And that was not his problem with it, though he found it somewhere irregular. The problem was having a separate channel that is trying to achieve the President's personal political goals, not national security. So when Henry Kissinger back channeled to do the opening to China, that was a back channel. But it was in support of a national interest of the United States decided upon by the President, which was to try and have an operation over China.
Here what you have is an irregular back channel where you have seconded some appointed political appointees and some State Department career officials. But what you are using it for -- this is the key -- you are using it for a personal political payoff. That is why all of the people down this chain have been so alarmed. It was State Department professionals know, that the President is the boss. He has political advisors. Those people may come in from time to time. That's not a problem. They've lived with that.
What is a problem is when the President is trying to pursue his personal political efforts and use American foreign policy and the apparatus of American foreign policy to do that.
TAPPER: So, Fareed, you actually in your show are actually relevant, they're part of this whole story, because you were the CNN person set to interview President Zelensky, the President of Ukraine. Taylor testified, Ambassador Bill Taylor said he did not want Zelensky to do that interview where Zelensky was supposed to announce these investigations that he was going to do. Take a listen to this excerpt from the testimony today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: I know that the Ukrainians are very concerned about the security assistance, and I know that they were prepared, or preparing, to make a public statement, that is with a CNN interview that that was being planned. Those are the two pieces that I know.
DANIEL GOLDMAN, MAJORITY COUNSEL: And that CNN interview was to announce these investigations as you understood it. Right?
TAYLOR: That was the implication. That was certainly the implication.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So Fareed -- and a reminder, of course, to everybody watching in the United States that your show airs all over the world including in Ukraine. So there's a reason why CNN or CNNI would be chosen for this. But what did you know about this interview when you and your team where trying to negotiate a sit-down with the new President of Ukraine who regardless of this investigation stuff and Ukraine scandal was a legitimate story and compelling player in his own right? ZAKARIA: This is a great question. First let me be clear. Of
course, we had no knowledge that the President, that President Zelensky was going to announce this investigation into the Bidens and into 2016 on the -- during the interview. My guess is that the way they were thinking about it as politicians often do if they're planning an interview, is that they were going to reveal certain things at a certain point.
Presumably I would have asked him a question, what are you doing about rooting out corruption in Ukraine? And he would say, well, here's what I'm doing. But the back story is this, we had been trying to get an interview with President Zelensky pretty much since once he got elected, a very interesting character.
Ukraine, as you just heard all of this today, is in the front lines of this great struggle between the West and Russia. And they had been encouraging and we had been negotiating back and forth. Things picked up around August and September. I went to Kiev to meet with him. It seemed it was confirmed and then it fell apart right about the time just after the news of the whistleblower came out. So it is possible to conclude that they realized the story was now public and the aid had been released, they didn't need to do the interview.
TAPPER: OK, Fareed, I'm sorry to interrupt. They're doing the votes right now. They're doing a roll call in the House inquiry in the House Intelligence Committee. Let's go back to that. What's going out right now, they're doing a roll call and they're voting on whether or not I believe they will call the whistleblower in to testify. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Stewart. Ms. Stefanik. Mr. Hurd. Mr. Ratcliffe. Mr. Jordan.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): No.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Is there any member wishing to vote or wishing to change his or her vote? The clerk shall report the vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman there are 13 ayes and nine noes.
SCHIFF: On this vote there were 13 ayes and nine noes, the motion to table is carried. We are adjourned.
TAPPER: So I believe that was a motion from a House Republican George Conaway -- no, no, not George Conaway, Mike Conaway, on the House Intelligence Committee who was trying to get, I believe the whistleblower to come before the Committee.
TOOBIN: But the vote I think --
TAPPER: No, I'll get to the vote in a second. But that's what the larger issue was. And the Democrats said we want to table this motion that would force the
intelligence community whistleblower to come and testify before the Committee. And Republicans voted, no, and Democrats voted, yes, because the votes wanted to table this vote. So there were 13 ayes, Democrats voting to table the motion and nine noes, Republicans voting because they wanted to vote and they wanted to bring the whistleblower forward. That is just what happened and then we've adjourned for the rest of the day.
Let's go back to what we're talking about because something that was interesting I thought is the degree to which Republicans are talking about the whistleblower and focusing on, we need to bring the whistleblower forward because this is all -- I think the general argument from Nunes -- which is contradicted by many, many witnesses -- but the general argument is this is all just made up.
PSAKI: And Peter Welch had the line of the day perhaps when he said, no, this all started when -- with Donald Trump so we can bring him in to testify which was a light moment needed. You know I think the whistleblower has become the recent focus of Republicans on the Committee as they're searching for a strategy in this situation. As we all know and you've been reporting on, there are countless people who have testified who are closer to this than the whistleblower who have confirmed the details.
The whistleblower is irrelevant at this point. Because people have testified on the record from the National Security team, from the State Department to the specific details. And they'll continue to do that in public over the next two weeks. But this is the hook that many Republicans have their teeth clenched into.
TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin, let me ask you a question. We were told by Democrats and also by the actual whistleblower complaint that we saw that was unclassified, that the whistleblower did have firsthand information, it was not just second and thirdhand information. It was no just hearsay. Do Republicans not have a point that they should be able to at least in private and protecting the whistleblower's identity be able to ask what this whistleblower, he or she --
PSAKI: They could have submitted questions. Right.
TAPPER: Right. They were given an opportunity from his attorneys, Mark Zaid and others to submit written questions. But in any case, do they not have a point?
TOOBIN: If you were conducting a Congressional investigation which does not have rules of evidence the way a trial does, more evidence is always better. So I can't blame the Republicans for wanting to get more evidence. They have a very selective interest in what evidence they want. They don't care about John Bolton. They don't care about Mick Mulvaney. They want this apparently mid-level figure who doesn't have a lot of information but may have some. So it is not an illegitimate thing to get all of the information that's relevant. However, if they are using it simply to vilify him and to endanger his life as this person who started it, that's not a legitimate concern.
And you know I'm not a mind reader. I can't tell what the true motivations are of the Republicans. Whether it's you know a political motive to just demonize this guy or to get more evidence. That's a question that people can decide for themselves.
TAPPER: And David Urban, let me ask you, because I thought it was really interesting, there were two Republicans that made arguments with the witnesses that
basically were you know solid Republican arguments but also bolstered the credibility of the witnesses. One was Congresswoman Stefanik who basically pointed out that George Kent had raised objections, appearance of a conflict of interest and impropriety with Hunter Biden being on the board, and she got that on the record. And then Congressman Wenstrup who got Bill Taylor to point out, hey, isn't it great that Trump is the one that actually got lethal military aid to the Ukrainians and President Obama never did. Meanwhile, other House Republicans and the White House and the GOP are attacking these two witnesses.
URBAN: Look, I don't think you can attack the veracity of Bill Taylor, right. Clearly, you know, combat veteran, and West Point graduate and patriot, same with George Kent. They are both doing I think what they believe is their duty. But the problem is, it is their opinion. They're giving their opinion to them. They're not giving -- feelings aren't fact, they're telling you their feelings on these items not the facts. We want to hear from David Holmes. I'm surprised he wasn't one of the first witness called. You want to open big, here's a guy who has alleged firsthand knowledge and firsthand witnessing of the call. But yet --
TAPPER: The call between Trump and --
URBAN: July 26th, the call occurs, we don't hear about the guy until last week. Why didn't he complain to somebody if he thought it was egregious?
TOOBIN: I don't think it is fair to say they just testified about their feelings. They testified about what happened with the story of American aid to Ukraine and why --
URBAN: And they heard it told to them.
TOOBIN: Well, but they were key players in that story.
URBAN: But they'll still, -- as they reacted to the parts that were told to them by others.
URBAN: They weren't a participant in any of this. They were being told this what I heard.
TOOBIN: But they were participants.
URBAN: No, but, Jeffrey, they weren't firsthand participants. They were reacting to things that were told to them by others.
PSAKI: I think, David, though what you're discounting here is that they combined have about 80 years of experience in public service, and much of that time is working on issues like Ukraine and Europe. They know when something smells funny. They track and they wrote detailed notes of events that happened, calls that happened, conversations that happened. That's hardly feelings. They're reporting out the details as they are happening which is an important part of the story.
URBAN: They never met the President, never talked to the President about Ukraine policy. It is hard to get into -- they're saying I think the President wanted this or wanted that. They never talked to him.
HENDERSON: So David, do you think that the Republicans should call John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney because they had conversations with the President. I mean do you think that would change what --
URBAN: Listen --
TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. I give you the answer to your question. We've got -- I'm going to bring in Jim Jordan, House Republican from Ohio, let's listen in to what he had to say --
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): -- this whole thing is a sad, sad episode for the country but like we said in the hearing today, four facts will never change. The transcript speaks for itself. There was no conditionality, no quid pro quo in the transcript. The two guys on the call have been very clear, no pressure, no pushing, no linkage to investigations in both President Zelensky and President Trump have said. And of course, President Zelensky didn't pledge to do any investigations prior to the aid being released and the Ukrainians didn't know the aid was even on hold at the time of the call.
Their first two witnesses, neither one of them has ever talked to the President, talked to Chief of Staff Mulvaney or talked with Mayor Giuliani. And as I said with Ambassador Taylor, he had three meetings with President Zelensky and all three of those meetings never once did this idea of linking security assistance dollars to an investigation ever come up.
And of course we know what President Zelensky said. No pledge, no promise, no starting of any investigations prior to the aid being released. So again, I think it is a sad chapter for the country but frankly a good day for the facts and a good day for the President of the United States. I want to turn over to Ms. Stefanik.
REP. ELSIE STEFANIK (R-NY): Thank you, Mr. Jordan. This is Adam Schiff's first opportunity in front of the public. These hearings have been conducted in a basement bunker, part of his regime of secrecy and this is an abject failure for the Democrats and for Adam Schiff.
Number one, he still refuses to hear from the whistleblower. Which started off this whole process. Number two, in less than 20 minutes, Adam Schiff interrupted Republicans questions so we want to make sure that all members are able to ask questions that includes Republican members. This is a continuation of his conduct in closed-door meetings and as Jim Jordan mentioned the key facts here are as follows, one, Ukraine got the aid. Two, there was no investigation into the Bidens. Those facts speak for themselves and I'm proud of our members for making sure those facts were clear for the American public. I'll turn it back over to --
JORDAN: We'll take a couple of questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Jordan, what about the idea though and this is something Mr. Castro got into, the idea that you know there is attempted crimes, attempted murder, attempted --