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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Revelation About Trump Phone Call Was A Surprise to White House. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired November 14, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The latest on the victims and the stories of terror and confusion from classmates.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
President Trump today, after claiming he did not watch a single minute of the impeachment hearings, is now attacking the first witnesses, tweeting -- quote -- "Congressman Ratcliffe asked the two star witnesses, where is the impeachable event in that call? Both stared straight ahead with a blank look on their face, remained silent and were unable to answer the question. That would be the end of a case run by normal people, but not Shifty," a reference to the chairman of the committee, Democrat Adam Schiff.
And it's true that both witnesses initially remained silent before giving an answer to Congressman Ratcliffe's question. But it's something of a nonsensical argument, because neither witness was there to advocate for impeachment or even to provide legal analysis.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call? Shout it out. Anyone?
WILLIAM TAYLOR, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Mr. Ratcliffe, I would just like to say that I'm not here to do anything having to do with -- to decide about impeachment. That is not what either of us are here to do. This is your job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That is your job, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, tells Congressman Ratcliffe, Ratcliffe, who at one point had been nominated to be director of national intelligence, though that offer was withdrawn by President Trump once it became clear that Ratcliffe would have a very difficult time getting through the Republican-controlled Senate.
And I think, from that question the witnesses were obviously not going to answer, we see potentially why. Taylor and Kent were at that hearing as fact witnesses to describe
what they knew or what they don't know. By not answering the question, whether or not the conduct was impeachable, Bill Taylor and George Kent were doing their job.
But that was just one of the many distractions Trump allies tried to throw out, from the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, using his time to try to hammer home what the former Trump homeland security adviser Tom Bossert calls a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, to various Republicans asking the witnesses whether they thought Hunter Biden was qualified to serve on the board of that Ukrainian company, which, again, they're not there to discuss.
All the way back to Republicans storming the secure hearing room during the closed-door phase of this process, complaining of a secret process, even though, of course, Republican members on the three relevant committees, more than 40 of them, were fully able to participate in the questioning.
This is all part of a very obvious effort to shift the conversation away from the essential question being debated: Did President Trump abuse his office when he and his aides attempted to ask the Ukrainian government to publicly announce investigations into the Bidens and Burisma and the 2016 election?
And while the president's allies on the Hill are attempting to do anything other than find out the facts surrounding that essential question, as CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports, this will inevitably be a long couple of weeks for the Trump White House.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It was the bombshell revelation that deepens the president's role in the Ukraine saga, which is now threatening to get him impeached.
TAYLOR: 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.
MARQUARDT: Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, saying he just learned that a staff member witnessed a call in a restaurant between the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and President Trump.
Trump, according to that aide, had asked about investigations.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): And I take it the import of that is that he cares more about that than he does about Ukraine?
TAYLOR: Yes, sir.
MARQUARDT: Sondland, who donated $1 million to the president's inauguration, was the one who insisted to Taylor there was no quid pro quo.
But after Sondland's sworn testimony to the impeachment committees, he went back and reversed his position, admitting he told a top Ukrainian official, "Resumption of U.S. aide would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."
Sondland is now scheduled to testify in the open next week, Democrats saying he has a lot to answer for.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Gordon Sondland was not truthful to the committee. It's pretty obvious.
MARQUARDT: Senior aide to the president Kellyanne Conway arguing to Wolf Blitzer that what the staffer says he heard shouldn't matter.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: You're telling us what somebody else said, what somebody else overheard. But he will be asked, how close were you to the phone? Have you ever heard the president's voice on the phone before? Were you in a restaurant? How noisy was it?
MARQUARDT: Republicans have picked up that argument, that the many officials who have testified that the Trump administration demanded investigations in return for military aid and a White House meeting have only heard it second- or third-hand, which Democrats scoff at.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): That is such a fraudulent proposition. And the -- and they know it, and that's why they're talking about process, rather than the substance of what we have heard.
MARQUARDT: Some of those who have heard directly from the president on Ukraine are refusing to answer questions.
Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who admitted to a quid pro quo, before walking it back, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton have both rejected the Democrats' requests.
And there will likely be more questions for them after Friday, when former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies in an open hearing. She has said that she was told by a senior Ukrainian official to watch her back after it became clear that Rudy Giuliani and his associates were targeting her in what she called a concerted campaign.
MARQUARDT: Also, on Capitol Hill, testifying tomorrow is that aide to Ambassador Bill Taylor who overheard the call with the president. His name is David Holmes.
He will be testifying, but behind closed doors. He does still work at the embassy in Kiev. And the big question is, why is this only being revealed now, when this call allegedly happened back on July 26? Another major question, Jake, how secure was that call, which was on a
cell phone in a restaurant in that city, which the Russians watch extremely closely? One expert telling CNN, "It's crazy" -- Jake.
TAPPER: Yes, I think I know the answer to the question. It wasn't secure.
TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Let me start with you, Jeffrey Toobin. Gordon Sondland set to testify publicly next week. Democrats are questioning whether or not he's capable of telling the truth, given that he testified once behind closed doors and had to amend his statement after Bill Taylor and others did, basically saying, oh, there was a quid pro quo, even though he didn't use the term quid pro quo.
Take a listen to Jackie Speier, who is on the House Intelligence Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPEIER: No, Gordon Sondland was not truthful to the committee. It's pretty obvious. I think he shaves a lot of truth from his answers. And I think he's going to have to pay for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I think he's going to have to really be careful next week.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely.
And I think just the way -- you know, hearings take on lives of their own. And I think he's only gotten more important, because, obviously, one of the big Republican talking points has been, no one -- the first two witnesses, neither one of them had any interactions with the president.
Well, Sondland did. And his testimony, therefore, I think, is even more important, if, you know, we can get the truth of what those interactions really were like.
You know, demeanor matters. Contradiction to other witnesses matter. Cross-examination skills matter. I mean, let's see him testify in public. I think it's going to be really important.
TAPPER: Do you think it is important -- Jeffrey and I were discussing this yesterday -- that Democrats and Republicans get the firsthand witnesses in there, whether it's Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, or Rudy Giuliani, or Gordon Sondland, or others?
I mean, it does seem like there's a bit of a distance, a secondhand- ness to a lot of this.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It would be really important and critical if they were able to get Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton.
It seems like the Democrats have made the decision that it's not worth going through a court and sort of tying things up in there.
TAPPER: Because it would take months.
HENDERSON: It would take months, and they want to kind of get this thing wrapped up quickly.
Sondland, of course, does have this firsthand knowledge, but it's sort of complicated, because he has this history of -- as Jackie Speier said, of shaving truth. And so how reliable a witness is he going to be?
TAPPER: Congressman Rogers, you're the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Let me just ask you. You can't -- not you, but Republicans can't have it both ways, it seems. I think it's a perfectly legitimate argument, Bill Taylor heard this, George Kent heard this, but this is all secondhand information, or most of it's secondhand information, but then prevent Democrats and the country hearing from the people who have firsthand information, the Gordon Sondlands, but also the Mick Mulvaneys and the Rudy Giulianis.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Well, I mean, that's the president. It's not the Republicans in Congress that are -- he -- the president, the White House...
TAPPER: But they're not clamoring for it.
ROGERS: No, and they should -- and I'll tell you, Bolton has been laying out some clues that, A, he wants to come and testify, and he may be able to juice up their story.
If I were the Democrats, I would do everything in my power to get him to come before Congress, if they really want to do this correctly. He has firsthand knowledge of whatever deal that led him to call it a drug deal.
As an investigator, I want to know everything around that conversation. Why did you say it? What did it mean?
And the craziest thing to me is this notion that they're just going to attack these witnesses. Nobody disputed the facts yesterday.
ROGERS: Nothing. They did not dispute the facts. What they said is, well, you just don't know. You just don't know. So, I think Sondland's testimony next week is really, really
important. Now he has to talk about it. He can't not talk about it. He can't claim the Fifth. He's going to have to talk about it. He may try to claim some presidential -- you know, he may call some executive privilege into this. I doubt it.
I don't think he's going to have the right to do it. But that's going to be very, very key.
TOOBIN: But how about John Bolton giving speeches for pay around the country on this subject, but he won't talk to the Congress?
TAPPER: He's waiting for a judge to sort that out.
ROGERS: Can I just defend him for a minute?
ROGERS: He is an institutionalist, right or wrong, whatever he did.
So he's believing that the White House has to make the determination. And he does that so that he can have a future role in some future government job.
TOOBIN: He's not waiting to give speeches, though.
ROGERS: That's what I'm saying. He's leaving clues that are pretty hefty.
ROGERS: But this is -- if the Democrats were smart about this, they would go and try to push this along. And just say, we're too busy to do it, I think that's a mistake.
TAPPER: So, Jen, you know who was not super impressed with the hearings yesterday. And I'm not talking about the Republicans.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump? Kellyanne Conway?
TAPPER: No, no, no.
Former Republican, now independent Congressman Justin Amash, who is theoretically a vote in favor of impeachment, I would presume. And he tweeted -- quote -- "This is simple, keep it simple. The White House released security assistance to Ukraine only after Congress started asking questions. Why? Considering that Bolton, Giuliani, Mulvaney and others may have pertinent firsthand testimony, why won't President Trump let them testify?" And I believe what he's suggesting is that Democrats got too bogged down in the actual policy differences about whether security assistance should go to Ukraine and this and that, as opposed to just the message of, this was corrupt, he held it up, and let's bring in the people who know the answer.
PSAKI: I agree with him that it should be kept simple. And I think some members did a better job of that than others.
I think Adam Schiff tried at the beginning and at the end to bring it back to the main point here, which is whether the president of the United States should be bribing other countries and holding back military assistance.
He tried to bring it back there at the beginning and the end. Others got in the weeds.
I do think there is an education of the American public component here that Justin Amash may not be factoring in, which is, why does it matter that we're giving assistance to Ukraine or not? It has to do with Russia. What about what the president of Ukraine says? Is it credible or not? And why not?
And some of those questions, I think, should be answered at this stage in the process. So I agree him, it should be kept simple, but there is a storytelling component of this.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have more to talk about.
Amid the impeachment probe, what President Trump showed Republican lawmakers during a lunch this afternoon.
Plus, it's the middle of November, but former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick just joined the 2020 race. We are going to talk to him live.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead. Tomorrow, a key new witness is going to testify behind closed doors of Congress. David Holmes, the official who overheard President Trump talking on the phone. The president allegedly asking, how those investigations he wanted from Ukraine were coming along.
That new revelation, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports for us, was not just a surprise to the public, it was also a stunner to White House officials. But they're still pushing ahead with their defense.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven't watched for one minute.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After maintaining President Trump didn't watch the nationally televised impeachment hearing closely, the White House's primary defense today has been that there was nothing new presented.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: There was nothing new yesterday. You're calling that evidence, respectfully.
COLLINS: But that defense is undermined by the new revelation from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who tied the president directly to the pressure campaign.
WILLIAM TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: A member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone.
COLLINS: Bill Taylor's aide heard Trump press his ambassador about the status of the investigations he wanted into the Bidens. And that aide is expected to testify behind closed doors tomorrow.
Yet, Republicans are holding firm in their defense, as the former attorney general tries to get his old Senate seat back in Alabama.
JEFF SESSIONS (R), FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: He's a strong-willed person.
COLLINS: Jeff Sessions is also trying to get back in his former boss' good graces.
SESSIONS: It looks like before the evidence comes in, the votes are supposedly lined up and are going to be driven through to produce an impeachment.
COLLINS: During the hearing, Trump was hosting Turkish President Erdogan at the White House. Erdogan says during the visit, he returned Trump's letter warning him not to be a tough guy, which he sent during the Turkish offensive into Syria last month.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): This letter was represented to Mr. President this afternoon.
COLLINS: Erdogan also brought an iPad with him. And at one point, with Republican senators who have criticized him in the room, played a video casting the Kurds in a negative light. A source calling it surreal and straight propaganda.
COLLINS: Now, Jake, today, the president showed Republican senators over lunch the transcript of his first call with the Ukrainian president. A transcript the White House said he was going to release today, but they have not done so so far.
And one senator in the room telling CNN that it was about one page and did not make any mention of military aid. Though, Jake, that's what we were expecting based on the testimony of the national security's Ukraine expert, who said it was a happy call where people were high fiving after because it was so positive.
COLLINS: And that's why it stood in such stark contrast to the one that's at the center of this impeachment inquiry.
TAPPER: Yes, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.
First of all, Mike Rogers, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
When you hear that Gordon Sondland, sitting at a table in a restaurant in Kiev and Ukraine, Russia, obviously, very interested in Ukraine, just picks up his cell phone and calls President Trump and talks to him and they have a conversation where people can overhear President Trump talking, what does that -- do you have any concerns about that on an operational security kind of level?
ROGERS: I have lots of concerns about this. The very fact that he would have it in an open restaurant on something as sensitive as a conversation with another head of state, which is what they were talking about, in any open setting, is worrisome, number one.
I hope the phone was secure. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that it was a secure phone. However, that still doesn't protect both sides of that conversation, or the ambient conversation that can get picked up in a whole bunch of different ways.
And guess what if you -- that place, by the way, Ukraine is crawling with Russian intelligence officers. You don't have to -- Ukraine is probably -- you know, in the business, they say, there's no such thing as a friendly intelligence agency. So, even your friends watch you. I can't imagine what the Russians were trying to do in these conversations.
And they have such freedom of movement in Ukraine. Having any open conversation in a restaurant, bad. Having a conversation with the president of the United States in a restaurant, really bad. Having a conversation about the head of state of the country of which you're in with the president of the United States, really, really --
TAPPER: Jen Psaki, as a former communications director for the Obama White House, what do you think? Could people -- did people, were they able to just call President Obama on his BlackBerry, on his cell phone? Did his buddies -- were they able to give him a ring?
PSAKI: No. First of all, there was a small number of people who even had his email address in the White House, very senior people in the White House. But you would call through the Sit Room, or you would have a scheduled call. Those things certainly happened in any White House. You know, I think it's important to remember that Gordon Sondland is
also not just a normal ambassador. He gave a million dollars to the inaugural committee.
TAPPER: Right, and he has no diplomatic background.
PSAKI: He has no diplomatic background. He's also someone reportedly who wanted Trump to name him to a bigger position, like secretary of state. Who knows what they've been talking about, about 2020.
TAPPER: I didn't know if that's true.
PSAKI: I don't know, but it's been reported. So, look, I think there are other components about what would have motivated Gordon Sondland to be so irresponsible here, including his lack of knowledge of how this actually works.
TAPPER: I want -- earlier today, I spoke with former President Bill Clinton about the shooting in California, because one of the things I wanted to ask him about is, what would his message be to President Trump, because President Trump says that he can't work with people on Capitol Hill, on the matter of guns, because they're in the middle of impeaching him.
Here's what Bill Clinton had to say.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Look, you got hired to do a job. You don't get the days back you blow off. Every day is an opportunity to make something good happen. And I would say I've got lawyers and staff people handling this impeachment inquiry and they should just have at it. Meanwhile, I'm going to work for the American people.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, listen, I don't think Donald Trump has the ability to compartmentalize in the way that bill Clinton obviously had an ability to do that. And you heard early on from this president, there was a line in one of his State of the Union speeches where he said something like, as long as there are investigations, there'll be no legislation.
HENDERSON: It sort of rhymed awkwardly. And so, yes, I mean, that's that what they want to paint the Democrats as do-nothing Democrats. You hear that from this president all the time.
But listen, he is obsessed with this impeachment in the way that he was with the Mueller probe, as well. So I don't think he's going to be able to compartmentalize.
TOOBIN: I covered the impeachment in 1998. And what was so striking is that you had a small group of people in the White House, like Paul Begala, Joe Lockhart, who was the press secretary, who dealt with impeachment like 24 hours a day. And the rest of the people had nothing to do with it.
And they were just going about their business. And if you remember, even in the president's famous -- when he fingered -- he said, I don't, I didn't know that Ms. Lewinsky, he said, I need to go back to work for the American people.
TAPPER: Yes, it sounded very similar, right.
TOOBIN: And that was a phrase he used when he was talking to you. And he was 73 percent in the polls during impeachment, in part because he was working on other things.
TAPPER: Even though privately, I'm sure, he was really obsessed with it, he did as much as he could to not be.
TAPPER: All right.
He just entered the 2020 race this morning. Why does he think he has a better chance than the other candidates to become the Democratic nominee? I'll talk to former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick live. You see him there.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, there's a new Democratic contender running for president. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick made it official today, filing the paperwork to get on the ballot in New Hampshire in a last-minute bid for the White House.
And Governor Patrick joins me now.
Thanks so much for joining us, Governor Patrick.
DEVAL PATRICK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jake Tapper, last minute? My goodness gracious. We don't vote for --
TAPPER: Last minute-ish. Ish.
TAPPER: Well, let me ask you this, in 2018, you said, there wasn't room for you in the race, because you're not shrill, you're not sensational, you're not a celebrity, but now you're running. So what changed?
PATRICK: Well, first of all, the same things that attracted me to think hard about -- and in fact, plan for a run in 2018 are present today. Meaning, an appetite for solutions equal to the size and difficulty of our challenges is just in the most incredible occasion right now that I can think of in much of my life -- in much of my life.