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THE SITUATION ROOM
Taylor: Sondland Said Trump Cared More About Investigations Of Biden Than About Ukraine; Impeachment Witness Reveals New Information About Trump's Involvement In "Alarming" Ukraine Scheme; Key Witness: Diplomat Said "Everything" Was Dependent On Ukraine President Announcing Investigations; Trump: Didn't Watch "One Minute" Of Hearings, Can't Remember Newly Revealed Phone Call; Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) Is Interviewed About Impeachment Hearings; Key Witness: Aide Heard Trump Ask Sondland About "Investigations" A Day After Call with Ukraine President; Interview With Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX). Aired 5- 6p ET
Aired November 13, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." and we're following breaking news.
Day one of the first public televised hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. For only the fourth time in American history, Americans are now seeing opposition lawmakers trying to make a case that the President of the United States has committed acts that warrant removing him from office, in this case by seeking political advantage from a foreign government, Ukraine.
The House Intelligence Committee questioning career diplomats George Kent and Bill Taylor, both with extensive records of service in Ukraine. And Taylor, delivering bombshell testimony in his opening statement saying that he was told President Trump cared more about investigations of his political rival, Joe Biden, than he cared about Ukraine.
We begin with the details of today's testimony. Our Political Correspondent Sara Murray is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Sara, the witnesses' revealed new information.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. We got new details about exactly what President Trump cared about when it came to Ukraine. And for the American public it was the first look behind the curtain at these impeachment proceedings and all of the partisan posturing that comes along with it.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: -- the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States. MURRAY (voice-over): In the first public impeachment hearing, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine delivered a bombshell. New details about President Trump's added push for Ukraine to open investigations that could boost his reelection effort. Bill Taylor recounted a conversation between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on July 26th, a day after Trump spoke by phone to Ukrainian President Zelensky and pressed the Ukrainians to investigate the Biden family and the 2016 election.
WILLIAM TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Mr. Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.
Following the call with President Trump the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.
MURRAY: At the time Trump had already frozen military aid to Ukraine. Diplomats were panicking about the national security ramifications of with holding the funds. And Ukrainian soldiers were dying on the front lines in their battles with Russia. But according to today's testimony, Trump was primarily concerned about his own political prospects. In his testimony Taylor recalled first learning in July that money for Ukraine had been frozen.
TAYLOR: I and others sat in astonishment.
MURRAY: And later realizing not only a White House meeting but the military aid was contingent on Ukraine carrying out the political investigations Trump was demanding.
TAYLOR: Ambassador Sondland said everything was dependent on such an announcement including security assistance. He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky in a public box by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.
MURRAY: He expressed alarm that Ukraine might publicly announce those investigations and the U.S. still might not come through with the funds.
TAYLOR: My nightmare is they, the Ukrainians, give the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it. And I quit. And I was serious.
MURRAY: As the funding freeze continued, Taylor raised concerns again early September.
TAYLOR: Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a business man. When a business man is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the business man asked that person to pay up before signing the check.
Ukrainians did not owe President Trump anything and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was crazy -- MURRAY: The hearing featuring Taylor and top State Department
official George Kent was led by questions from lawmakers but also by the chief counsel for the Democratic majority and the Republican minority. It was also peppered with partisan squabbling.
SCHIFF: I'll allow the question but are you asking --
STEVE CASTOR, REPUBLICAN COUNSELOR: Parliamentary inquiry, are you seriously interrupting our time here?
SCHIFF: I'll allow this question, I won't dock this from the time.
MURRAY: While Democrats focus on the President's allegedly corrupt motives for withholding aid to Ukraine and the role Rudy Giuliani played as a shadow diplomat.
REP. TERRI SEWELL, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Was it normal to have a person who is a private citizen take an active role in foreign diplomacy?
GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN: I didn't find his particular engagement normal. No.
MURRAY: The GOP focus less on the President's conduct and more on the conduct of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden who served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
KENT: The vice president's role was critically important. It was top cover to help us pursue our policy agenda.
CASTOR: OK. But given Hunter Biden's role in Burisma's board of directors at some point you testified in your deposition that you expressed some concern to the vice president's office. Is that correct?
KENT: That is correct.
MURRAY: Kent testified that he was concerned about a perceived conflict of interest but he never saw any evidence of wrongdoing. Kent also rejected the GOP theory that Joe Biden had a Ukrainian prosecutor ousted to protect his son and Burisma from being investigated.
REP. CRAIG GOLDMAND, (R) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Mr. Kent, are you familiar as you indicated in your opening statement about these allegations related to Vice President Biden?
KENT: I am.
GOLDMAN: And to your knowledge, is there any factual basis to support those allegations?
KENT: None whatsoever. MURRAY: With the witnesses unwilling to take the bait on the GOP's conspiracy theories, lawmakers cast the witnesses as unreliable narrators with secondhand information.
REP. JIM JORDAN, (R) OHIO: The President -- you didn't listen in on President Trump's call and Zelensky's call?
TAYLOR: I did not.
JORDAN: You never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?
TAYLOR: I never did.
JORDAN: You never met the President?
TAYLOR: That's correct.
JORDAN: He had three meetings again with Zelensky and it didn't come up.
TAYLOR: And two of those they never heard about as far as I know. There was no reason --
JORDAN: And President Zelensky never made an announcement. This is what I can't believe. And you're their star witness. You're their first witness.
TAYLOR: Let me just say that I don't consider myself a star witness for anything.
JORDAN: They do. You don't. But they do.
TAYLOR: I don't. I'm just responding to -- I'm responding to your questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, please don't interrupt the witness.
TAYLOR: I think I was clear about I'm not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcome. So let me just restate that.
MURRAY: Now another player is emerging from the proceedings today and that is that aide to Bill Taylor, Wolf. The one who overheard the phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland. His name is David Holmes. He's going to be testifying on Friday behind closed doors.
BLITZER: Yes. Deposition behind closed doors. Let's see if he shows up publicly a few days later.
MURRAY: We'll see.
BLITZER: All right. We definitely will. Good report, Sara Murray. Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, of course, is on the scene for us. You've been talking, Manu, to House Democrats about how they think things went today. What are they saying?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they believe that these two witnesses effectively laid out the full timeline of events as they had learned about efforts to put on ice both that meeting that President Zelensky of Ukraine sought with President Trump as well as that nearly $400 million in military aid that came as a result from what Bill Taylor was told that had been withheld until the Ukrainians had announced those investigations into his political rivals, Joe Biden and as well as 2016 election interference.
Now on top of that, the new information that Taylor provided today that one of his aides had overheard a conversation between Gordon Sondland, the European Union Ambassador and President Trump in which Trump was pushing for those investigations into the Bidens prompted Adam Schiff to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: This is very obviously very important because there is an effort apparently to -- by the President's allies, to throw Sondland under the bus, throw Mulvaney under the bus, throw anybody under the bus in an effort to protect the President. But what this call indicates as other testimony has likewise indicated, is that the instructions are coming from the President on down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now I also asked Adam Schiff whether or not he believes that Gordon Sondland himself told the truth in his testimony where he said he could not recall exactly who told him that Ukrainian aid was likely tied to this public declaration of investigations and it would not be released until the Ukrainians made that very clear that they were announcing these investigations into the Bidens. But Adam Schiff would not say whether or not he believed Gordon Sondland told the truth. Sondland, of course, will be testifying next week. He said he will let the American public judge this.
And Republicans, Wolf, for their part, believe that they were effective in making clear that neither Bill Taylor or George Kent had direct conversations with the President but nevertheless Democrats believe further witnesses will help corroborate their testimony today and also point the finger squarely at the President. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, these public hearings only just beginning. They'll continue on Friday. And then next week a lot more witnesses will show up.
Manu, standby, we're going to get back to you. I want to dig deeper right now into all of the historic developments unfolding. Our correspondents and analysts are with us.
You know, Dana, House Democrats think the testimony today bolstered their case for impeachment. What do you think?
DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, unfortunately for Americans who are genuinely looking for answers and for questions from both sides that go down the middle and that are not political, they didn't get it from the Republicans today. They just didn't.
Republicans went in and they were extremely transparent in what they were going to do. They were going in to chip away at the credibility, not of the witnesses but of the witnesses' argument, which is that they believe that the President of the United States was undermining U.S. policy by trying to further his own political agenda. And the way that Republicans tried to do that was to say, you didn't talk to any, you didn't talk to the President. You've only heard this secondhand, thirdhand.
The problem with the Republican argument and what they tried to do all day long is that these are credible witnesses and they aren't people who, you know, have a political agenda and they work for presidents of both parties. They have, like, almost three quarters of a century of foreign policy experience between the two of them.
And the thing we also have to remember, Wolf, is that this is just day one. And maybe they didn't talk directly to the President, but the person who did, Gordon Sondland, is going to testify soon. The only quick thing I will add is that there was a bombshell in the hearing today. And Sara, you know, reported that in her piece which is for the first time Bill Taylor, who did not know about this, he said when he testified in the deposition, was told by a staffer that he overheard the President of the United States talking about the political extortion basically that he was trying to get on behalf --
BLITZER: Bill Taylor the top U.S. diplomat --
BLITZER: -- in Ukraine. Gloria listen to precisely what this ambassador said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAYLOR: In the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kiev. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.
Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That's the headline of the day right there. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. Absolutely, because what it does, Wolf, is it draws a direct line between Donald Trump as President of the United States, and this irregular policy as Mr. Taylor referred to it and shows you, if this is true and we'll see what Sondland testifies to, but if this is true that the President was, in fact, directing what was occurring and was conducting this outside the lines foreign policy for his own benefit.
Now, clearly Taylor was asked today, well why didn't you say this before and he said, well he just learned it. And so the committee will be interviewing people who are germane to this conversation, presumably the person who was with Sondland after that phone conversation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is on Friday.
BORGER: And that is on Friday. And so what we see here is that suddenly Gordon Sondland becomes so huge in all of this because he is the person in between Trump and everybody else. And so he's the Trump whisperer, the Trump interpreter. And he is the one who is telling everyone, this is what the President wants, this is what the President says. Not only is he telling people at that dinner table, but he is telling Ambassador Taylor and he is telling the Ukrainians this is what the President wants.
BLITZER: And Gordon Sondland, Pamela, he's the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and Ukraine is not a member of the European Union but clearly he's a big player and he's certainly a major political appointee, gave a million dollars to the Trump inauguration, avery wealthy business man and he's playing this key role.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And we heard Bill Taylor say today that it was unusual for a U.N. ambassador to play such a critical role on Ukraine.
And his testimony has actually proven pivotal when he revised it just recently saying that, yes, actually he did tell the Ukrainians that in order for them to get the aid they would need to announce these investigation, which is interesting in light of the White House argument is, look, these witnesses today, they're contradicting this whole idea of quid pro quo because they say the Ukrainians didn't know about the aid being withheld during the time that that push was happening for the public investigations. And so Sondland's testimony is going to be key on that.
BLITZER: What would jump out at you, Susan?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that this obviously this new bombshell revelation is incredibly significant but overall Democrats really were successful in establishing two key points. One, that there was a quid pro quo. That the President was holding up White House meetings and potentially U.S. military aid because he wanted these politically-motivated investigations to happen. And two, that none of this was being done in the interest of the United States. And so, both of these witnesses made a point of saying, we are apolitical, career appointees. We are not here to tell you whether or not this is wrong or right or impeachable or not, but we are willing to testify as experts, as longtime experts in the region that what Donald Trump was doing was in his own personal political interest and was contrary to the interest of United States of America.
BLITZER: We're only just getting started on this important historic day. There's a lot more on all the breaking news that we're covering including today's testimony further tieing President Trump to pressuring Ukraine for investigations to help him politically. I'll be joined by Representative Val Demings who's on the Intelligence Committee questioned both witnesses earlier today.
Plus, the responses to today's hearings from President Trump and the White House. Much more on all of the breaking news, our special coverage continues.
BLITZER: We have more on the breaking news coming into "The Situation Room" right now. Over at the White House, President Trump just moments ago was asked for his response to today's first public hearing in the House impeachment investigation. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta.
So, Jim, what are the President and his team saying?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the President retreated back to his talking points with the press conference with Turkey's President, Erdogan. The President claim at one point during this news conference that he didn't watch a single minute of any of the testimony today from Bill Taylor and George Kent. That, of course, is belied by the fact that the President was commenting on the appearance of one of the attorneys appearing at that hearing earlier today.
But the President was also asked about what was undoubtedly the day's bombshell piece of testimony that Bill Taylor says one of his aides overheard the President asking about investigations, Democratic investigations of his E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland. That aide may be testifying in short order in this impeachment proceeding. But the President was asked about both of those items and here is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hear it's a joke. I haven't watched. I haven't watched for one minute because I've been with the President which is much more important as far as I'm concerned. I know nothing about that. First time I've heard it. The one thing I've seen that Sondland said was that he did speak to me for a brief moment and I said no quid pro quo under any circumstances. And that's true. And the other, I've never heard this. In any event it is more secondhand information. But I've never heard it,
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recall any conversation --
TRUMP: I don't recall. No, not all. Not even a little bit.
The only thing -- and I guess Sondland stayed with his testimony that there was no quid pro quo. Pure and simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now the President is setting up a very critical moment in these public hearings if that aid to Bill Taylor ends up testifying up on Capitol Hill and reiterates what Bill Taylor told those lawmakers that he did hear the President ask about Democratic investigations in a phone call with the E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
One other thing we want to point out, Wolf, as the President was talking about secondhand and firsthand information in these impeachment proceedings and what's being talked about up on Capitol Hill, we could show a tweet from the Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham who try to make this point earlier in the day saying that in this impeachment hearing "the Dems witnesses have never even spoken with President Trump. This country deserves so much better."
Wolf, the press secretary who hasn't held a press hearing since she's been in that position was dunked (ph) on repeatedly after posting that tweet because as we all know the administration has blocked key potential witnesses like the Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, like the former National Security Adviser John Bolton from testifying. They would obviously be firsthand witnesses who would be able to provide more than hearsay testimony.
And one final quick thing, Wolf. I talked to a Trump legal source who said at this point they view this day as somewhat of a success because they feel that neither of these witnesses did any serious damage to the President in these impeachment hearings, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House thanks very much.
Joining us now, one of the Intelligence Committee members who questioned the two witnesses today, Democratic Representative Val Demings of Florida. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
I want to get to all of these developments, but you were there and you questioned the two witnesses today. What was your overall impression of their testimony?
REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Well, I tell you what, it was a good day really in this impeachment inquiry because we were able to hear from two long-serving career Foreign Service officers who have dedicated their lives to this country for decades. They've served in Republican and Democratic administrations. They've served well. They stayed under the radar.
And this impeachment inquiry has brought them out to give their testimony. And you know, they told about their knowledge of the President using the power of his office to try to coerce a foreign power, Ukraine President Zelensky, into helping in the 2020 election.
BLITZER: Based on what you heard today, have you already seen enough, heard enough to vote in favor of articles of impeachment?
DEMINGS: Well, I tell you what, Wolf, the evidence since the whistleblower came forward, since the release of the President's, the readout of the call, and witness after witness after witness giving corroborating testimony, that the President abused his power. He betrayed his oath of office. That he thinks it's OK for other countries to decide or have a decision about American elections and jeopardize our security.
I think the only question that is left out there is these things occurred. The evidence is overwhelming but the question is, what do we want to do about it. As you as you know I serve on the Judiciary Committee, Intelligence will wrap up their work in the next few weeks and the information will come back to Intelligence to begin -- I mean, I'm sorry, to Judiciary to begin those articles of impeachment.
BLITZER: Ambassador Bill Taylor's aide, David Holmes, he has agreed to testify behind closed doors before your committee on Friday. What do you plan to ask Mr. Holmes?
DEMINGS: Well, you know, that was really kind a bombshell today for the committee and for the American people and all who were listening and watching. For an aide to -- Ambassador Taylor to say that he was with Ambassador Sondland and overheard a conversation directly with the President and overheard the President say or ask the question about investigations when the call was over my understanding is that this aide asked Ambassador Sondland what did the President think about Ukraine and Ambassador Sondland said something to the effect the President's more concerned about investigations of the Bidens. So, we look forward to hearing directly from this witness on Friday.
BLITZER: The President and the White House and their allies up on Capitol Hill keep hammering these two witnesses who appeared today for their lack of firsthand knowledge or direct conversations with the President. Both of them agreed they had never spoken to the President directly about any of this. Is that a serious obstacle to the case for impeachment?
DEMINGS: Wolf, that's not an obstacle at all. As a former law enforcement officer many of the best cases that we have start with people who sound the alarms, who may not have firsthand knowledge. But put in a decent case and investigation together is all about following the evidence where it leads.
If we look at the President's own words and the call-out, if you look at Chief of Staff Mulvaney statements during the press conference and then we look at the statements from every witness, those who have had direct conversation with the President and those who have not, all of them corroborate the information that we now know is that the President abused his authority for political purposes.
BLITZER: What was your reaction, you just heard the clip from the President a few moments ago, insisting he doesn't remember any phone call along those lines with Ambassador Sondland in which he said he's more interested in finding dirt on the Bidens than he is about Ukraine. Now this is what David Holmes, the aide to Ambassador Taylor, told Ambassador Taylor. What was your reaction to the -- the reaction from the President?
DEMINGS: Well, look, I also know the President said that today's hearing or the inquiry is a joke. I can tell you, Wolf, there is nothing funny about our country finding ourselves directly involved in an impeachment inquiry due to the inappropriate, really disgraceful behavior of the President. And we have to ask ourselves, is this the kind of country that we want where not just this President but any future President can abuse their authority or their power for political purposes? I say that is not the kind of country that the American people want.
BLITZER: Representative Val Demings, thanks so much for joining us.
DEMINGS: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right coming up, we're going to have more on the newly revealed phone call that President Trump says he simply doesn't remember. A witness says it ties the President directly to asking about pressuring Ukraine for political investigations.
BLITZER: Breaking news. At today's first public televised hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine revealed a previously unknown phone conversation directly tying President Trump to the push for Ukraine to open political investigations. Investigations that would help the President presumably politically.
We're back with our correspondents and our analysts. And, David Swerdlick, the Republicans, they kept insisting, you know what, this aid, nearly $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine, was ultimately released, so what's the big deal? Here's how the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, replied to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: Some have argued in the President's defense that the aid was ultimately released. And that is true. But only after Congress began an investigation. Only after the President's lawyers learned of a whistleblower complaint and only after members of Congress began asking uncomfortable questions about quid pro quos. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, David, you're analysis.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I'm surprised that Republicans leaned so heavily on the Ukraine aid issue itself, both -- because Chairman Schiff said right there that it was only released after there was agitation both in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill about what was going on with the aid.
The other thing, I think, that was interesting -- and I was surprised at both sides -- is that Republicans seemed at some points to want to make the case, Wolf, that because President Trump had supposedly done more than President Obama for Ukraine, providing military aid instead of other forms of aid, that that mitigated the entire situation in terms of withholding the aid that Congress had approved.
And I was surprised that they did this because, number one, President Obama made a policy decision --
SWERDLICK: -- not to give military aid. It had nothing to do with trying to extract a favor, though, out of Ukraine. He just simply thought that wasn't the way to go. He wanted to sanction Russia, not put more weapons into the Ukrainian theater.
But I was also surprised the Democrats didn't make that argument.
SWERDLICK: They had three or four opportunities to just say President Obama didn't want to give missiles. He wanted to give other forms of aid --
BASH: Maybe --
SWERDLICK: -- and sanctions. No Democrats said that.
BASH: Maybe it's because of all the straws that Republicans were grasping at, that was the shortest and the weakest. I mean, come on, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
BASH: It -- it was pretty obvious that what Republicans are trying to do is make it the -- to quote Mick -- Mick Mulvaney, the so-what defense. This is what the President's prerogative is. This is what the President wanted to do.
And at the end of the day, if he didn't get this quid pro quo or this extortion, then -- then it -- why would it be impeachable? So that is obviously what the Republicans are trying to make the case for to the very few people out there who might be undecided, particularly Senate Republicans.
It was very interesting to see how the Democrats, I just -- sort of big picture, we knew that Adam Schiff made this process quite different than the hearings that we're -- that we are used to seeing. And from the Democratic point of view, it worked.
I mean, you were able to take a breath and listen to his line of questioning and, more importantly, his counsel's line of questioning. And they really laid out the narrative that are -- that is going to explain and -- and kind of pivot from off of what the -- the entire rest of the public hearings.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, how do you think those two lawyers -- the staff lawyers, the Democratic lawyer, the Republican lawyer -- that 45 minutes, uninterrupted, basically to go through whatever they wanted. Normally these members, they have five minutes each, which is nothing really. How do you think that 45-minute format worked?
BORGER: Well, I think it worked very well for the Democrats. I -- I think that the Democratic attorney tried to tell the story, had Taylor read aloud his text messages -- you recall they once tried to have Bob Mueller read his text messages aloud. That didn't go so well.
He did and -- and tried to sort of give a context to this about how unusual it was and asked the question, have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on personal or the political interests of the President? And the answer was, of course, no, I have not.
On the Republican side, I think there were a lot of detours that were taken and a lot of direct questions that should have been asked that weren't asked. And I think that, in many ways, the members may have done themselves more good than -- than the -- than the attorney. Jordan was particularly forceful. I'm not sure where he got.
But, you know, I think that the -- the Democratic attorney did a good job. One big thing to me that I think we heard today that -- that we needed to hear was that this was not just a political decision made in some ivory tower.
This was war and is war. And people are dying --
BASH: Yes, that's right.
BORGER: -- at the hands of the Russians. Without this equipment, more will die. And Ambassador Taylor made that point very, very clear.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There is a lot more we need to discuss. We're following all the breaking news on this historic day. We'll speak with another member of Congress who was inside, asked questions. Much more right after this.
[17:39:10] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: It's been a day of some surprising revelations at the first public televised hearing in the Trump impeachment investigation. Joining us now, a key member of the Intelligence Committee -- Committee who questioned those two witnesses, Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas.
Congressman, what -- what was your reaction to what you heard today?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), MAJORITY MEMBER, HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think that, most of all, it gave the American people a chance to hear for themselves the evidence about the President's abuse of power.
And I thought that both witnesses came across as very earnest, with integrity, and they spoke the truth to the American people. And I -- I think what you'll see is that of the evidence will continue to build against the President.
BLITZER: You heard Ambassador Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, reveal a new conversation that one of his senior aides overheard where the President asked for an update on the investigations.
Why didn't that aide raise the alarm about that conversation earlier? In other words, why are we hearing it -- hearing about it only now?
CASTRO: No, I mean, that's a question that will certainly be asked when he comes to testify. Of course, the Committee just found out about it recently, and so he'll be sworn in and have to answer those questions under oath.
But it certainly makes a direct connection between President Trump, Ambassador Sondland, and what seems to be a direct order by the President, or at least a direct inquiry, about the investigations into Vice President Biden and his son and the company, Burisma.
BLITZER: You -- you rebutted a key Republican talking point that the quid pro quo actually never happened because the Ukrainians never investigated that. Let me play that moment for our viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CASTRO: The other side has claimed or has defended the President saying that the aid went through, that there was never any investigation. But the President attempted to get those things done and it looks like there was an initial agreement by the President of Ukraine to actually do those things.
So, Ambassadors, is attempted murder a crime? Is attempted murder a crime?
BILL TAYLOR, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Attempted murder is a crime.
CASTRO: Is attempted robbery a crime?
TAYLOR: Neither of us is a lawyer, but I'd say --
CASTRO: I -- I think anybody in this room could answer that question.
TAYLOR: I think that's right. I'll be -- I'll go out on a limb and say, yes, it is.
CASTRO: Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?
TAYLOR: I don't know, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, so explain what you meant by this specific line of questioning?
CASTRO: Well, as I said at the hearing, based on the evidence that I've seen, the President did one of two things. Either he committed extortion and bribery of a foreign official, or he committed attempted extortion and bribery of a -- of a foreign official.
And if that's the case, if the Republicans' defense is that the aid still went through, there were never investigations that happened, from the transcript and from all of the affirming witness testimony we have, the President was actually trying to get the Ukrainian President to investigate the Bidens, which would benefit President Trump politically, and he was threatening to withhold military aid.
So that's an attempted extortion and bribery, and that's still a crime. Even if you're not successful, even if you fail in what you're trying to do, it's still a crime.
BLITZER: So basically, what you're saying is the President of the United States committed a crime. And -- and have you already concluded that he must be impeached and eventually removed from office?
CASTRO: I believe, based on everything that I've seen -- and I think the American people will come to this conclusion -- that the President has committed impeachable offenses. So I think that, eventually, the Congress will likely move forward with articles of impeachment.
BLITZER: We're going to be hearing publicly from the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, on Friday. How do you hope to build on the testimony you heard today?
CASTRO: Well, again, you know, we're trying to make sure that we get as much testimony as possible from as many witnesses as we can who know the situation in Ukraine and what the President may have asked for or people that he gave commandments to or directives, like Rudy Giuliani. And she'll be another important witness in this fact- finding mission.
BLITZER: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues next with more on today's historic impeachment hearing and how today's testimony is shaking up the timeline of the Ukraine scandal.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight. Bombshell testimony in the first public impeachment hearing giving new details of President Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with a closer look at how the scandal got to this point. Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We're going to boil down key dates that got us to this moment, the key moments including the new testimony today where we learned of another key moment.
One quick thing to mention, first off, one key date is July 10th of this year. This was when a meeting occurred at the White House between U.S. and Ukrainian officials. According to people who have testified in the impeachment probe, at that meeting, Gordon Sondland requested that Ukraine launch specific investigations in exchange for a meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to an aide to then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, Bolton immediately shut down that meeting. At some point in this general timeframe before July 25th, nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine was held up.
The next key date we want to tell our voters about that led us to this point, July 25th. That's the call, of course, between President Trump and President Zelensky. According to the rough transcript of that call, after discussing U.S. aid to Ukraine, Trump repeatedly brought up the idea of the Ukrainian government investigating the 2016 election, investigating the Ukrainian company that Joe Biden's son was on the board of.
Then the important date we just learned about in today's testimony, July 26th, the very next day after that Trump-Zelensky call. According to Bill Taylor, his testimony today, Gordon Sondland had a phone call with President Trump after Sondland had met with an aide to the Ukrainian President.
Taylor says one of his aides who was with Sondland when Sondland had that call with Trump heard Trump on the other end asking about investigations. And he heard Sondland tell Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward with investigations.
Taylor says his aide was also told by Sondland President Trump cared more about investigations than about Ukraine. Trump, we have to note, just said a short time ago, he didn't remember that call with Gordon Sondland.
Another important date which got us here, September 1st. On that day, according to impeachment witness testimony, Gordon Sondland told Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukraine's President, that there would be no U.S. aid to Ukraine unless Ukraine's government pursued investigations of the company that Biden's son was on the board of.
And one of the last key dates that we want to tell you about, September 11th. That's when the hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine was finally lifted. Twelve days later, Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment probe in the House after the public began to learn about the whistleblower's complaints -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we -- and as a result, we are where we are right now. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
The breaking news continues. Next, how a key witness detailed the President's role in pressuring Ukraine. And moments ago, we got President Trump's reaction. Stand by, much more of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.