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Impeachment Witnesses Further The Trump To Ukraine Pressure. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're covering extraordinary breaking news from the first televised testimony that may lead to the impeachment of President Trump, two veteran government officials offering detailed accounts of an alarming scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate Mr. Trump's political opponents, using security aid and a White House meeting as leverage.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine revealing new information about the president's involvement, Bill Taylor testifying his aide was told by a Trump ally that the president cared more about getting an investigation of Joe Biden than he cared about Ukraine.

Democrats seizing on all of this, as they argue Mr. Trump abused his power, Republicans dismissing much of the testimony because the witnesses never spoke directly with the president.

First, let's bring in our political correspondent, Sara Murray. She's covering all of these hearings today.

Lasted, what, almost six hours, maybe more than six hours, and it was very dramatic.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was very dramatic, Wolf, including these new details about what President Trump actually cared about when it came to Ukraine, this as the American public gets its first real look at these impeachment proceedings and, of course, all of the partisan posturing that comes along with it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): In 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 avid 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 26, 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, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: A member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump 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 withholding 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 set in astonishment.

MURRAY: And later realizing, not only a White House meeting, but also 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 to alarm that Ukraine might publicly announce those investigations, and the U.S. still might not come through with the funds.

TAYLOR: My nightmare is that 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 in early September.

TAYLOR: Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks 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: We will not permit the outing of the whistle-blower. And questions along those lines, counsel will inform their clients not to respond to.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Now, there is one witness, one witness that they won't bring in front of us, they won't bring in front of the American people. And that's the guy who started it all, the whistle- blower. No.

MURRAY: While Democrats focused 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-AL): Was it normal to have a person who is a private citizen take an active role in foreign diplomacy?

GEORGE KENT, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS: I did not find his particular engagement normal, no.

MURRAY: The GOP focused 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.

[18:05:03]

STEVE CASTOR, REPUBLICAN COUNSEL: OK, but given Hunter Biden's role on 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 interests, 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.

DANIEL GOLDMAN, DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL: Mr. Kent, are you familiar, as you indicate 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.

JORDAN: The president -- you didn't listen in on President Trump's call and President 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: You had three meetings again with Zelensky, and it didn't come up.

TAYLOR: And two of those, they had never heard about, as far as I know. There was no reason for it to come up.

JORDAN: And President -- and President Zelensky never made an announcement?

This is -- this 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.

TAYLOR: No, I don't. They do. I'm just -- I'm responding to your questions.

SCHIFF: Please don't interrupt the witness.

TAYLOR: As I think I was clear about, I'm not here to take one side or the other or to advocate any particular outcomes. Let me just restate that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now another player has also emerged in all of this.

And that is the aide to Bill Taylor who overheard the call between President Trump and Gordon Sondland. Wolf, his name is David Holmes, and he is set to testify behind closed doors on Friday.

BLITZER: We will watch that very closely as well. We will see if he shows up in public a few days later. Sara Murray, good reporting, as usual. Thank you very much.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is watching all of this unfold.

This was the Democrats', Phil, first chance to make the impeachment case directly to the American people with these televised hearings. Did today's testimony make an impact?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I have been talking to Democrats and Republicans for the better part of the last hour who were in the hearing.

I'm going to shock you when I tell you both are declaring victory, think it was a great day for them. But let me cut through all that and give you the bottom line.

For Democrats, their purpose today, when you talk to them and their advisers, was to lay the groundwork, to paint the scale and scope of what they believe was an unsettling development in how the U.S. operated its Ukraine policy. And they utilized these two diplomats, these two State Department officials to do just that.

In that sense, they believe they accomplish what they went out to do. There's also a key point here that multiple Democrats have made to me. This was the first of many. This was the start of the process. This wasn't the big show. This wasn't the biggest hearing.

This was the start of the process. They wanted to lay the groundwork for the hearings to come. And it's those hearings to come that Democrats are keen on paying very close attention to.

First, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., his name came up several times today. He is an individual that, counter to what Republicans were saying today about the two witnesses, has firsthand knowledge, firsthand conversations with the president of the United States.

He's somebody who's had to amend his testimony. He's somebody who has been involved in many of the dates and meetings that have occurred. He will testify alone next Wednesday. Democrats are very keen on that testimony.

And Sara hit on another key point, obviously, the bombshell that was dropped by Ambassador William Taylor today about a conversation he heard after his initial deposition with a staffer with Gordon Sondland who overheard a phone call with the president.

That individual, David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, is now scheduled to come in behind closed doors on Friday for a deposition, could possibly also testify publicly.

The main point being there are several more elements to come in the weeks ahead, several more witnesses, several more hearings throughout the course of this process. Democrats believe today did what they wanted it to do. But there's more to come.

Now, Republicans have made very clear they went into this hearing with the goal of poking holes in the stories of these two diplomats. And in that sense, they believe, because they repeatedly showed there was no firsthand knowledge of President Trump's intentions, neither the individuals had met President Trump, they accomplished that goal, but with the same thing in mind, that this is a long process.

Those firsthand witnesses are coming. They're aware of that. One Republican staffer I talked to earlier said, look, we're trying to get through each day.

They know what else is coming. For today, they were happy. Democrats were as well. But there are many more hearings throughout this process. Much more to come with -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed.

Phil, thanks very much, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring in our team of correspondents and our analysts.

David Chalian, was this a big day for House Democrats?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, it was a big day for the country, right?

I mean, this is no small thing, the impeachment of a president. And I was I was quite impressed with the format. Those 45-minute chunks, I think, allowed this hearing today to match the moment. And we had a little less circus sideshow atmosphere than we normally get in these hearings.

I think that was good, because I think it matches the moment. But your point about the Democrats into what Phil just said. Laying the groundwork in a minute-by-minute news cycle presents a challenge, because what -- if indeed that is the Democrats' goal, to lay some groundwork here, the first of many to come, just trying to build the case, that means that you don't get to score the hourly news cycle victory necessarily if you're trying to build something bigger.

[18:10:15]

And I think that's what Republicans were looking to do today. I think that they very much were playing the hourly news cycle thing and trying to undermine here.

Here's the problem that Phil also identified. I don't understand the Republican messaging as of today about all of this talk that these people didn't have direct knowledge, because, next week, all the witnesses that are coming had direct knowledge and are going to be able to refute that.

So the messaging the Republicans had today has a shelf life of like a day.

BLITZER: That's an important point.

Gordon Sondland spoke directly with the president on several occasions, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Susan, what was your takeaway?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: One of the big takeaways today was both of these witnesses testifying to how incredibly damaging this was to U.S. security interests in the region, how incredibly important getting this aid to Ukraine, supporting Ukrainians in their fight against Russia matters for the United States.

And so, whenever we're thinking about how to put together a big picture here about what happened, it wasn't just the president of the United States pursuing his own personal political interests. It was him pursuing his own political interests at the expense of the United States, abusing his office of public trust essentially to sell out the interest of the American people, in order to get sort of damaging information in order to win an election.

And so I think that the sort of the gravity of the breach of the public trust and how upset and concerned these two apolitical career diplomats really were.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Sara, because one of the two witnesses today, Ambassador Bill Taylor, the U.S. -- the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, he learned some new and very significant bombshell information after his closed-door sworn deposition, and he spoke about that today.

Listen to this.

(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 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: That was a pretty significant statement.

MURRAY: It was really significant, because, one, it's something that gets to the heart of what the president himself was saying to the people around him about what he cared about, what he was interested in Ukraine, and also because we had heard -- we would hear later from Bill Taylor talk about how, in this same time frame, he was the one who was going to the front lines, who was watching these Ukrainian soldiers risk their life and sometimes die, and that that is not what the president cared about.

He wasn't thinking about the ramifications of withholding this aid. He wasn't thinking about the fact that there were actual lives on the line. He was thinking about his own political future and whether he could use his position as president of the United States to get a leg up when it came to his reelection, according to this testimony that we heard today.

And I think that is the kind of thing that should be jarring to any American, whatever party you're in, because you don't want any president, whatever party they come from, to be using the Oval Office in that kind of way.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Kylie, because you have been doing some reporting on this.

He only learned about this bombshell, Ambassador Taylor, after his closed-door testimony. And tell us how we learned about it.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes.

So there's someone that works for him at the embassy in Kiev. His name is David Holmes. He's the political counselor there. He works closely with Bill Taylor. He came and told him about this discussion that he overheard.

And we should note that it was in a restaurant in Kiev. It was not in a private office where Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the president of the United States. It was on Ambassador Sondland's cell phone during a meeting that he was having with some of his colleagues at this restaurant.

And the important thing to note is that this opens another can of worms, because there are a whole host of follow-up questions here. Who else could have overheard that conversation happening? Ukrainians were in the restaurant. Were there other officials from the U.S. Embassy that were there that heard it?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Were the Russians listening?

(LAUGHTER)

ATWOOD: Right.

And, also, President Trump was asked about it, and he said he had no recollection.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: A sensitive -- a sensitive conversation like that, you would think the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and the president of United States would have a secure line to have a conversation like that, not at a restaurant...

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: ... where all sorts of people can hear what they're saying.

PEREZ: It's unbelievable, actually.

I mean, what you're describing is exactly the nightmare for the U.S. national security officials, right, which is the idea that sensitive discussions like this, essentially compromising information, right, on -- potentially compromising information for the president United States is essentially listenable by the Russians, who we know listen to every diplomatic conversation that happens in Kiev, because we know that -- we know that they have done so because they have released it in the past.

[18:15:07]

So, I think it's an extraordinary thing for us to learn today.

ATWOOD: And Ambassador Sondland is going to have to answer some more questions, of course, about this, because he did reference this conversation that he had with President Trump when he spoke behind closed doors to lawmakers.

But he said it was short and not very substantial. So there are some series of events here that are unclear.

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: ... more cleanup work.

BLITZER: And the president today basically said, I don't remember that conversation at all.

We will hear what Ambassador Sondland has to say next Wednesday. He will be testifying in a televised session, open session on Wednesday. Lots of questions for him.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He was at the hearing, took part in the questioning, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want to get to all these specific issues.

But, first of all, do you think today's testimony swayed any, any of your Republican colleagues?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I'm not sure.

I think this is chapter one in a process. I do think that it went really well, from the standpoint of some very compelling witness testimony. I thought that the decorum was very, very good, and it was handled in a dignified manner. Credit goes to Chairman Schiff. And then I thought that we learned some new information, which you

probably already talked about, namely that the president may have been even more deeply involved in this pressure scheme with regard to the Ukraine investigating his political rivals.

BLITZER: Well, what about that conversation that was overheard at that restaurant in Kiev by one of Ambassador Taylor's aides, in which the president seemed to be more interested in getting information about the Bidens from Ukraine than he cared about Ukraine itself?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, that was very enlightening.

We're planning to depose this individual this week, later this week. So we're hoping to learn more.

But, yes, if it's true that he actually said that he wanted to learn most about the investigations and whether the Ukrainians agree to that, and he's not really involved -- he's not really interested in the welfare of Ukraine or our relationship with regards to the Ukraine, I think that's very, very troubling.

BLITZER: You questioned Ambassador Taylor about whether there were wider implications of this whole Ukraine scandal.

Let me play the exchange you had. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Can you rule out the possibility that these irregular channels of diplomacy are being used in other countries where we conduct foreign policy?

TAYLOR: I can't -- I have not heard of any other -- a separate channel that has this kind of influence, that is, the Giuliani kind of guidance.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But you can't rule it out, right?

TAYLOR: No, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Your question, that exchange really jumped out at me.

What are your concerns specifically, Congressman?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Sure.

BLITZER: Do you have evidence of inappropriate pressure on other countries?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I don't specifically have evidence.

But when you look at our relationship with Turkey, when you look at our relationship with Russia or even Saudi Arabia, you just scratch your head, wondering, why the heck did we do X, X being the latest policy move?

For instance, in Turkey, there's no good reason why we should have left Northern Syria and left our allies on the battlefield to be slaughtered by the Turkish forces, and, in the process, jeopardize our national security, by the way, because all those ISIS fighters who we had bottled up, thanks to our Kurdish allies, are now scurrying about the Middle East.

BLITZER: The White House says all the evidence that you heard today was simply hearsay.

What do you say to those Americans who are skeptical about impeaching the president without hearing from any witness, at least so far, who spoke directly to the president? Americans are skeptical about testimony, certainly some of them, from an aide who overheard this phone conversation.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, of course there's a number of witnesses who are going to be coming to testify before us this week and next week, many of whom spoke with the president.

But on top of that, we have, like, Mick Mulvaney, who basically blurted out a very candid admission the other day, which is that they're -- in his opinion, it's normal practice to have these types of quid pro quos, in this case, conditioning military to the Ukraine based on a political investigation happening by the Ukrainians on Americans.

So this type of stuff, I think, will be scrutinized, as it should be. But there are a lot of data points now that are kind of piling up, pointing in the same direction, which is, the allegations, the underlying allegations, of a pressure scheme against the Ukrainians to investigate Donald Trump's political rival appears to be possibly true.

[18:20:04]

BLITZER: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thanks so much for joining us on this very important, historic day.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, new Democratic reaction to the first televised impeachment testimony.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she is standing by live. We will discuss with her.

Much more on this special breaking news coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:12]

BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news from the first televised impeachment hearing and new information tying the president of the United States to the Ukraine scandal.

We're joined now by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She's a member of the House Oversight Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it very much on a busy, busy, historic day.

Are you satisfied with how the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, conducted this hearing today?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Absolutely.

I think Chairman Schiff did a phenomenal job, especially considering how contentious parts of the hearing were between parties. There was a lot of different ways that this could have gone off the rails. And I think he did an excellent job keeping these hearings fair, but focused, and really centered on the facts and the witnesses that were testifying today.

BLITZER: House Republicans, as you know, they're clearly unanimously standing by the president, at least so far.

Will it hurt Democrats if you can't successfully persuade any Republicans that this all rises to impeachable conduct?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I'm actually not overly concerned about this, because I think the whole point of our public hearings is to present these facts to the public and to let the general public really see the facts for themselves and to understand why we have chosen to move forward with the impeachment inquiry.

I think what we heard today was just astounding and devastating news for the president, for anyone that was in the administration that was really partaking. And, frankly, this is devastating to the country. Our national security has been compromised. Our elections are potentially compromised.

And so I think, right now, what Republicans have to do is decide what their role is going to be in the scope of history, because we will look back at this time, and really, truly examine the moral decisions that each member of Congress has decided to make.

BLITZER: So what jumped out at you, Congresswoman, about the most devastating new information that emerged?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, it's been discussed, but this call with Ambassador Sondland and President Trump.

It's a personal call that our witnesses testified an aide as overhearing, where Trump was personally invested in these investigations. I think it has added a layer of proximity. One of the ways that the president could have potentially tried to get

out of the situation is saying -- put several degrees of separation between him and some of this illicit activity.

But what we heard today was that he himself was making and partaking in some of these phone calls, not just Giuliani, not just anyone else in the administration, but him.

And that really adds a much more disturbing degree of the involvement that he had in using the powers of government to create politically motivated investigations.

BLITZER: At that news conference with the Turkish president, the president said he doesn't remember any such call, pooh-poohing the whole thing.

What do you say to the president?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, if he doesn't remember making a call like that, I would -- I would be quite concerned.

But I -- that doesn't mean that it didn't happen. I think a lot of what the president's reactions tend to be, deflecting. But I think it is quite telling that he is not being defensive about this.

This is an extraordinarily serious allegation that is being made by a person who works in his administration. And so if he were to defend about -- defend this, he should do so quite forcefully.

The allegation that's coming from someone within his own administration is extraordinarily serious. That's not something that you remember or not remembering whether you did or didn't do.

BLITZER: A lot of the initial messaging in all of this uproar involved the words quid pro quo.

Do Democrats, Congresswoman, need to fine-tune their language on all of this? How do you think Democrats should be making their case to the American people?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I'd like to remind everyone that one of the initial folks who brought this conversation of quid pro quo into this conversation was the president.

It was when these allegations first came out about Ukraine, he started tweeting, and, frankly, raising the bar, saying, no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo.

It wasn't Democrats that were even trying to set that bar, because you don't even need quid pro quo. But he met it, aside from that -- all of this aside, what we're centrally focused on is really him using the power of the United States government to engage in extortion of a foreign government in order to intervene in our elections.

And so I think that that's our message, the fact that he undermined national security, that he -- that he is trying to undermine our elections, that he has engaged in flagrant abuse of power should be a concern to all Americans who believe in rule of law in the United States of America.

BLITZER: You have supported impeachment since before you were elected to Congress.

[18:30:00]

And you made the case that the president could be impeached for profiting off the presidency for his conduct in the Russia investigation. What message, Congresswoman, will it send if Democrats don't incorporate, for example, those issues into the upcoming articles of impeachment?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Well, I think many of those considerations will be taken up by the Judiciary Committee when all of this evidence is brought forth. So we'll see.

I personally do believe that the president has engaged in flagrant violations of the emoluments clause. I'm concerned that we would allow this corruption to continue. But at the end of the day, we have to be able to come together as a caucus. And if it is this Ukrainian allegation that is what brings the caucus together, then I think we have to run with however we unify the House.

And so while I believe personally that we should be pursuing and investigating quite flagrant abuses of the emoluments clause, even reporting as recently as the suspicious stops at Trump properties even in congressional delegations or rather in foreign trips, I think that all of this is game for investigation. But we also need to move quite quickly because we're talking about the potential compromise of the 2020 elections.

And so this is not just about something that has occurred, this is about preventing a potentially disastrous outcome from occurring next year.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, thanks so much for joining us.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: A very busy day. We appreciate the time.

President Trump is slamming the impeachment hearing even though he claims he didn't watch it, even for a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: Covering all the testimony and the reaction to the first televised hearings laying out the Democrats' impeachment case against President Trump, one of two key witnesses revealing new information about the president's fixation on getting Ukraine to investigate of Joe Biden. Let's bring back our analysts. And, Kylie, I want to play a little exchange, a little mash-up of Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, dealing with the tough questions he was getting from some of the Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: I don't consider myself a star witness for anything.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): They do.

TAYLOR: No, I don't. I'm responding to your questions.

I am here to tell you what I know. I'm not going to tell you anything I don't know. I'm going to tell you everything that I do know.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): But since you learned it from others, they could be wrong, right?

TAYLOR: That's exactly why I'm here.

TURNER: But since you learned it from others, you could be wrong, correct?

TAYLOR: I am telling you what I heard them tell me.

TURNER: And they could be wrong or they could be mistaken or they could have heard it incorrectly, right, Ambassador Taylor?

TAYLOR: People make mistakes.

STEVE CASTOR, MINORITY COUNSEL: In fairness, this irregular channel of diplomacy, it's not as outlandish as it could be, is that correct?

TAYLOR: It's not as outlandish as it could be, yes, I agree.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: With a little smile on his face. What do you think?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. I mean, Bill Taylor was doing one thing very clearly throughout this testimony, which was putting on display his experience here. He has been a diplomat for decades. And so one other thing that he was able to do when he was not responding to these inquiries that were clearly politically motivated from the Republicans was lay out the fact that he is a policy wonk. Both he and George Kent remembered dates really well. They reflected on history really particularly, and so I think they did display themselves as not folks who wanted to be star witnesses for the Democrats but folks who were there to tell the facts.

BLITZER: And both of them, Kent and Taylor, they weighed in on the role of Rudy Giuliani in all this diplomacy. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Was Mr. Giuliani promoting U.S. national interests or policy in Ukraine, Ambassador?

TAYLOR: I don't think so, ma'am.

DEMINGS: Mr. Kent?

GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY IN THE EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN BUREAU, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: No, he was not.

DEMINGS: What interests do you believe he was promoting, Mr. Kent?

KENT: I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle.

DEMINGS: Ambassador Taylor, what interests do you believe he was promoting?

TAYLOR: I agree with Mr. Kent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think that's the key part of this testimony. That's, I think, the center of all of this controversy and why I think we want to hear more from some of the other witnesses, including Ambassador Yovanovitch and certainly from Gordon Sondland, because this is part of the story, Right? This is the story that the Democrats are laying out for the impeachment inquiry.

But there's also another part of this, Wolf, that I think the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York who are watching this testimony today, no doubt, and trying to see whether it fits into the criminal investigation that is still ongoing in which Giuliani is the center of.

And so I think today, hearing from these two very credible witnesses talk about what they heard and what they knew, and it's not -- I think it's incorrect, frankly, even the Democrats have kind of fallen into this thinking that these two witnesses were hearsay witnesses, right? That's not true. These people were saying directly what they heard firsthand from other people.

[18:40:01]

And so there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, people get convicted on hearsay evidence all the time, everyday in U.S. courts.

So I think it's very important for people to remember that this is only part of that story and the rest of it is going to come from some of the other witnesses.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think this was incredibly significant exchange in part because Giuliani's name did come up in that phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky. Zelensky is saying that his staff had met with Rudy Giuliani. This is a career diplomat saying, this Is what Rudy Giuliani was up to. So this is not Rudy Giuliani purely freelancing, this is a situation in which the president of the United States is actively, explicitly and openly pressuring foreign leaders to meet with Giuliani.

Now, we have career officials explaining what they thought Giuliani was up to was digging up dirt on political opponent.

PEREZ: And it's important, Wolf, I mean, think about this, right? In the 1970s, when the United States wanted to open up to China and there were some backchannel discussions happening with the Chinese about how to do that, it was part of a larger U.S. policy goal. That's not what happened here.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, that backchannel was in concert with what the U.S. policy was. This was completely antithetical to what U.S. policy was.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. There's a lot more we're following. Much more on breaking news on today's impeachment testimony and a newly revealed phone call tying the president more closely to the Ukraine scandal

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:00]

[18:46:13]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A truly historic day in Washington as the impeachment investigation of President Trump went public with witnesses testifying on live television.

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

Jim, the president spoke about the hearing a little while ago and predictably dismissed it all as a hoax.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president retreated back to his talking points on the impeachment inquiry and he tried to claim during this press conference with Turkey's President Erdogan that he did not watch a single minute of the testimony up on Capitol Hill.

There was one big moment coming out of the press conference, and that was when the president was asked about this revelation coming from Bill Taylor, the diplomat in Ukraine, who said that one of his aides heard over the president saying over the phone to E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland he wanted to know what the status of the investigations is. And that was something very damaging a lot of Democrats thought to the president today.

The president talked about this at a press conference a short while ago. Here's 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 much more important as far as I'm concerned.

I know nothing about that, the 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. I've never heard this.

In any event, it's more second-hand information but I've never heard it.

REPORTER: Do you recall a conversation?

TRUMP: I don't recall, no, not at 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, of course, we are going to be hearing from David Holmes, the aide to Bill Taylor who is going to be testifying later this week about all of this, and David Holmes contradicts that president. That is going to be another administration official contradicting the president on this matter of a quid pro quo.

One other thing we should point out, the president was complaining about, second-hand witnesses, witnesses with second-hand knowledge of what went on. We should point out Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, was also putting out this talking point earlier today. She put it in the form of a tweet complaining about all of this, saying that the Dem witnesses have never even spoke within President Trump.

But, Wolf, we should point out the Trump administration is blocking people who would have first-hand knowledge of this alleged quid pro quo, people like the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who essentially conceded to a quid pro quo in a press briefing to reporters as well as the former national security advisor, John Bolton.

One final thing, Wolf, I talked to a legal source -- legal team source who said at this point, they don't feel the testimony we saw play out today up on Capitol Hill was all that damaging to the president's prospects in terms of impeachment. This legal team source described this as more legal -- political theater up on Capitol Hill than really an impeachment inquiry. But, Wolf, we're at act one of this political theater, not the final act -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's going to continue, as we know. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

I want to bring in Preet Bharara, our CNN senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Preet, I want you to stand by for a moment. We've got lots to

discuss. Got to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: OK.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, House Democrats are looking ahead to the next round of impeachment testimony in assessing how well they made their case on this, the first day of televised hearings.

We are joined now by our senior legal analyst, the former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara.

Preet, the Intelligence Committee's Democratic counsel, Daniel Goldman, he played a central role in this hearing, asking questions for 45 minutes non-stop. He actually worked for you when you were the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

What do you think? Did he accomplish what he attempted to achieve?

BHARARA: Yes, I think so. I mean, obviously, I'm biased in favor of someone who is a close colleague. I'm very proud of how he did today and I think it shows the contrast between someone who is a seasoned, prepared trial lawyer and what you see among members of Congress.

He was calm. He was measured. He got the point out that he wants to get out, he did it well both substantively and also rhetorically. At one point, he said, I think, I want to spend time reading the transcript as we've been encouraged to do, which is clearly a message to everyone, in response to what the president has been saying, read the transcript, and when he got the witnesses to repeat what was in the readout of the call between President Trump and President Zelensky. That was powerful as well.

I think he focused folks in the -- 45 minutes seems like a long time in a congressional hearing. It's a small amount of time if you're a trial lawyer, and I think he did a good job.

BLITZER: What about the Republican counsel, Steve Castor? How effective was he?

BHARARA: He was less effective, and as I said, I was a colleague of Dan and I know him well. This other lawyer, Mr. Castor, I don't know. It may be, but he's not as experienced and not as seasoned.

He seemed to be casting about a little bit and it may be the case that a lot of people don't have a lot to work with, and he can't sort of bluster in the same way a member of Congress can and give speeches and yell and holler about stuff.

[18:55:00]

And so, the weakness of the argument was maybe more powerful with him as a lawyer, he didn't have much to work with. BLITZER: Republicans, Preet, they point out the fact that money for

Ukraine was eventually released without the Ukrainians giving in and investigating on behalf of President Trump.

In your view, does that change the calculation on whether this rises to impeachable conduct?

BHARARA: I mean, if you use the analogy for criminal law and this is not a criminal trial, but if you use the analogy in case after case after case, people who made an attempt to the crime, or form an agreement to commit a crime, otherwise known as conspiracy gets charged with a crime.

Someone I think listed on social media and I add to the list, terrorist after terrorist who failed or who decide to rob a bank, but were caught or changed their mind at the last minute because the getaway driver wasn't available or something like that, those cases matter, those cases count. And it's not an excuse to say that at the end of the day after they were caught and after the whistle-blower made a complaint and Congress was asking hard question -- oh, well, no harm, no foul. It doesn't work that way.

BLITZER: What about the argument that the Ukrainians didn't know that military aid was suspended until after that July phone call with the president?

BHARARA: So I think there is a factual dispute there and I think you will hear from other witnesses that are people in the Ukrainian government who did know. But I would say with faint praise that's a little bit less stupid an argument than others that have been made over time.

But, again, this is not a criminal trial, it's an impeachment proceeding. And so, what matters most, I think, is whether or not the president intended to abuse his power and not whether or not every single technical element of an extortion was made out, and if there's some jurisdiction to make it clear that the other party had to have known from the beginning of time that they were being extorted and that money was being withheld and that's one thing and maybe a technical argument you might be able to make in the court of law, and the facts support it.

But it's kind of a shabby defense overall to say, well, the president was withholding the money, his intent was to make sure that this other thing happened. But if Ukrainians at the highest level didn't know about it from the beginning of time, then I should get off scot-free. I don't think that ultimately is very compelling.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, as usual, thanks very much.

BHARARA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll have more breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Tonight, Americans digesting the first round of impeachment testimony, making up their own minds about what they heard. This is only the fourth time in U.S. history that a president has faced an impeachment investigation that speaks to the gravity of this moment and what it could mean potentially for President Trump, the future for the presidency and for the nation.

As this historic process continues in the days and weeks ahead, we'll be there every step of the way.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

END