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Impeachment Witnesses Tie Trump to Ukraine Pressure. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired November 14, 2019 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world, it's Thursday, November 14th. It's 5:00 here in New York.

This is a special edition of NEW DAY. CNN's coverage of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

And already this morning, we do have a major new development. New information revealed in the first public hearing describes a much more concerted effort by the president himself himself to get a foreign country to investigate his political rivals.


The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified that the day after President Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Bidens, an embassy staffer overheard a cell phone call where the president was asking about the investigation. Now, leave aside what appears to be a security breach where the staffer allegedly could hear the president's voice from Ambassador Gordon Sondland's phone in a restaurant in the middle of Ukraine, but this shows a level of follow- up from the president himself that has not been depicted before.

Now, sources tell me that members of the committee did not know about all of this, until they saw the statement from Taylor yesterday morning. CNN has learned that the White House was caught off-guard as well. President Trump later claimed that he had no recollection of this call.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So, this aide who allegedly heard that call will testify behind closed doors tomorrow, and Ambassador Sondland will undoubtedly be asked about this during his public testimony next week. Sondland is one of four witnesses to testify next week with firsthand knowledge of President Trump's involvement in the Ukraine controversy. Republicans were critical yesterday of the secondhand information, as they call it, provided by Taylor and Kent.

So, tomorrow, former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will testify about the alleged smear campaign her she say engineered by Rudy Giuliani.

So, there's a lot do get to. Let's start with Jessica Schneider. She is live in Washington for us -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. It was a dramatic day of new disclosures in the impeachment inquiry.

Bill Taylor's revelation that the president could be overheard talking about Ukrainian investigations and that Taylor was told the president cared more about an investigation into Joe Biden than he did about Ukraine himself. Well, that all rocked the hearing room with the chairman, Democrat Adam Schiff eventually asking, if this isn't impeachable conduct, what is?

Meanwhile Republicans continued their line of attack that this is all hearsay and nothing directly connected to the president.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The meeting will come to order.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The first day of impeachment hearings beginning with a startling revelation for House investigators. Top diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor describing a phone call between President Trump and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. Overheard by his aide one day after Trump's July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president.

BILL TAYLOR, TOP DIPLOMAT TO UKRAINE: Ambassador Sondland told president Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, a member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Mr. Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden which Giuliani was pressing for.

SCHNEIDER: Trump denying that call.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know nothing about that. First time I've heard it.

SCHNEIDER: But House Democrats say Taylor's latest information helps make their case that Trump abused his oath of office even stronger.

SCHIFF: But what this call indicates as other testimony likewise has indicated is that the instructions are coming from the president on down.

SCHNEIDER: Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent describing what they encountered as the Trump administration used military aid and a meeting at the White House as leverage for Ukraine for communications with the president's political campaign.

TAYLOR: To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with the political campaign made no sense. It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.

SCHNEIDER: Kent expressing his concerns about Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's involvement, in U.S. relations with Ukraine, including helping lead a smear campaign against then-U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I became alarmed as those efforts bore fruit. It led to the ouster of Ambassador Yovanovitch and hampered U.S. efforts to establish rapport with the new Zelensky administration in Ukraine.

SCHNEIDER: House Democrats asking about Giuliani's intent.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): What interest 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.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, Republicans defending Trump, arguing the two witnesses lacked firsthand knowledge and casting the hearing as a partisan show.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): But the main performance, a Russia hoax has ended. And you've been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): No pressure. No demands. No threats. No blackmail, nothing corrupt.

SCHNEIDER: But House Democrats standing firm.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Is this what we want a president to do? To leverage their power? I think for most Americans, that's sinking in.


SCHNEIDER: And both Bill Taylor and George Kent also spent time during yesterday's hearing defending ousted ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch will testify publicly tomorrow, in what will be that round two of public hearings that will ramp up even more next week, with eight witnesses testifying.


And also tomorrow, sources tell us that aide who Taylor said told him about the president's phone call to Sondland asking about Ukrainian investigations, well, that aide will testify behind closed doors -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Jessica, thank you very much for all of that.

So, how will this newly disclosed phone call with President Trump change the course of impeachment inquiry? More of what we learned from day one and what happens tomorrow. That's next.



BERMAN: Welcome back. This is CNN's special coverage of the public impeachment hearings into President Trump.

And there's a new revelation that's drawing the president closer to the center of the alleged Ukraine scheme, closer even than the fact he's on the phone call asking the president of Ukraine --

CAMEROTA: I'd say that is the center.

BERMAN: That is pretty much the center.

But this shows a level we've not seen before, the top diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, testified one day after the president's call with Ukraine's president, Taylor's aide overheard a phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.

And during that call, the president allegedly asked about the investigations into the Bidens in the 2016 election.

That aide, David Holmes, will testify behind closed doors tomorrow. We sort of heard the president gave a mealy-mouthed denial that he didn't know anything about that call. I'm sure he'll be pressed on that in the next few days as well.

Let's bring in Abby Phillip, CNN's political correspondent, and Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

And, Jennifer, I'm trying to figure out the significance, or explain to me why this is important. A member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations and then Sondland said, President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden than Ukraine.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's two things, right? It's once again putting Trump in the middle of the scheme. Republicans, one of the big talking points yesterday was, oh, everybody was talking a lot about this stuff that no one was in the room with Trump, none of you spoke with him personally, so this puts him once again front and center.

And then this notion that he cares about the investigation more than he cared about the war-torn country of Ukraine that's on the front lines of Russian aggression, he doesn't care what's going on over there. He doesn't care about U.S. policy and our national security that relates to all of this. He just wants this public announcement about the investigation. So, those two points are very damaging to the president.

CAMEROTA: The conventional wisdom, Abby, was that there would be no surprises at these public hearings because they've been vetted. So, behind closed doors, they have spent hours with every one of these witnesses, we've seen their testimony how can there be any surprises? Well, there actually was a surprise because Ambassador Bill Taylor said he didn't know from his aide until Friday about this phone call that he had heard. And so, that seemed to surprise everybody in the room.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it surprised a lot of people in the room. It surprised a lot of people in the White House who were also not prepared to hear about a new call between the president and Gordon Sondland.

I think it creates new challenges base I think if you're a Democrat on that committee, you're going to be saying to Gordon Sondland, so what else haven't you told us? What else did you perhaps omit from your testimony?

It's going to put a lot of pressure on him to really disclose more of his contacts with the president, which seemed to be -- we know of two contacts so far, two calls between him and the president on this issue of Ukraine. Were there any more?

CAMEROTA: He already had to amend his --

PHILLIP: He's already had to amend his testimony to disclose -- to disclose another conversation that he had, in which he basically executed the quid pro quo. But, you know, for Democrats, this is probably as good a sign as any, if they continue to dig, they might unveil some more information that some of these witnesses might have forgotten. Or new witnesses that they didn't know of might have more contacts. And all of this adding more pressure to the people who haven't testified who did have conversations with Mr. Trump.

I mean, obviously, if Mick Mulvaney wanted to say something that would be exculpatory to President Trump, now is the time. Now is the time.

BERMAN: You know, you mentioned that this was a genuine surprise. Sources familiar with the inquiry tell me that the members in the committee did not know about this until they read the Ambassador Taylor's opening statement yesterday morning. That's how much of a surprise it was to all of them.

And you could see them trying to process this information in real time. This gets to another issue, Jennifer, you alluded to this, is that the Republicans as they're making their case, they keep on setting bars -- well, this is all secondhand information, none you actually talked to the president. But there will be people who have firsthand information who did talk to the president who are on the schedule to testify.

RODGERS: That's right. Listen, I think they're counting on the short news cycle, right? And the fact that people turn their channels so quickly these days. If they can contest something in the moment, that's good enough for them. They don't have a lot to go on here.

So, I think they're hoping that just by attacking whoever is in front of them on whatever basis they possibly can will get them a win in the moment, then they'll worry about the next guy next week when he comes up next week. But you're right. There are a lot of people coming with firsthand information, firsthand contact with the president that are going to have to deal with those witnesses before the committee.

CAMEROTA: By the way, what a security breach. I mean, the fact that this was on a cell phone at a restaurant so loudly that a -- someone sitting at the table could hear. And we already know, Abby -- this is inside, of course, but President Trump -- there's evidence of him being careless with national security all the time.



CAMEROTA: And here's another example of it.

PHILLIP: Yes. His cell phone use has always been a potential problem. He's an avid caller. He likes to call people on his cell phone, having personal conversations with his friends, who he has known for a long time.

But this is different. He's having a policy conversation with his E.U. ambassador who is sitting in the capital of Ukraine, discussing basically critical foreign policy issues. I mean, these are conversations that you would typically have over a secure channel, in a secure space. And, certainly, you would not be having it out in the public with the president talking so loudly that someone sitting next to Gordon Sondland could hear the words that were coming out of his mouth.

You know, I remember the time when Republicans were losing their mind over the possibility that Hillary Clinton might have sent -- accidently or intentionally classified information on say public server. This is exactly the same thing except that the president himself is having a conversation over an insecure channel in a place that is definitely, definitely being intercepted by foreign governments.

CAMEROTA: Bingo. I mean, that's what national security experts say that it is almost 100 percent concern that the Russians were listening.

BERMAN: Exactly. You know who eavesdrops in Kiev, in Ukraine a lot?


BERMAN: Russia. Russia!

CAMEROTA: I should have known that.

BERMAN: All right. Stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.

Witnesses say that she was the target of a smear campaign by Rudy Giuliani. So, what will Marie Yovanovitch say during her public testimony tomorrow?



CAMEROTA: Democrats and Republicans went into the public impeachment hearings with very different strategies. One side was trying to tell a story about abuse of power, the other side is saying there's nothing wrong with how that unfolded.

So, back with us, we have Abby Phillip and Jennifer Rodgers.

So, there's a moment that captures, Jen, I think the Republicans' strategy, and that was to basically put a lot of distance between these witnesses and President Trump. So, listen to how Congressman Turner interrogated George Kent. Listen to this moment.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Mr. Taylor, Mr. Kent, have you had any contact with the president of the United States?

KENT: I have not.

TURNER: So, not only no conversation with the president of the United States about Ukraine, you've not had any contact with the president of the United States, correct?

TAYLOR: That's correct.

TURNER: So, you both know that this impeachment inquiry is about the president of the United States, don't you?


CAMEROTA: Have you ever heard of the president of the United States?

But basically what they were saying -- in other words, this is all hearsay. Does hearsay weaken the argument for the Democrats?

RODGERS: Well, it does a little bit, because he's right, at the end of the day, it's not a conspiracy case in court where you're charging a bunch of people. It's the impeachment proceeding about the president. So, it's a good argument as far as it goes.

Now, of course, those other witnesses are coming but they're also making a secondary point with this which is if these are the witnesses the Democrats have chosen to start with they must be their strongest witnesses. And yet we're not hearing about, you know, from someone who says, oh, I heard the president say this, this came from his mouth. So, you know, if this is the best they've got, this isn't much of the case.

So, they're making that broader point in there as well. The question is, those witnesses are coming, right? And we're going to hear from them. If those witnesses are even a portion of compelling as Taylor and Kent were yesterday, then the Republicans are in a lot trouble. BERMAN: This is the American people's first chance to see Ambassador

William Taylor and Secretary George Kent. What image did they portray? And when you hear them tell the story about why they were so deeply concerned, what message did that convey?

PHILLIP: Yes, it's clear these are two people who are career foreign servants. And their job was to really execute American foreign policy regardless of who the president was. And it really struck me when Mr. Taylor was asked, have you ever in your 50 years of service, in all levels of government, seen a scenario like this, aid being withheld for a reason like this. He said, no, never. I've never seen this before.

And he said, there's no justification in his view for aid to be withheld for political purposes that serve just the president of the United States. And so, it was clear that they were there to not only lay out the facts as they remembered them and had memorized them in writing in various memos that are still being withheld by the State Department. But they were also there to put it all in a bigger context.

Why were they concerned? Because as career foreign servants who were charged with executing the president's own foreign policy, they were observing a scenario that went against that very same policy. It wasn't that President Trump changed the policy, he did it. He decided to go with kind of a background path using Rudy Giuliani to pursue something that's in his political interests and in Giuliani's potentially personal financial interest.

CAMEROTA: Well, that seems to be one of the lines of logic that the Democrats are following.


And that was what the heck was Rudy Giuliani doing?

So, here's a moment where they're asking the witnesses about that.


REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): What interest 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 interest do you believe he was promoting?

TAYLOR: I agree with Mr. Kent.


CAMEROTA: Well, there you have it. They couldn't put a finer point on that one.

RODGERS: Well, they certainly were doing that.

The other kind of unanswered question and I'm hoping some of what Marie Yovanovitch will have to say will shed a bit of light on this, is there's probably a bigger picture here with Rudy Giuliani, which is financial interest that he and his associates were trying to pursue in Ukraine. And Yovanovitch talks a little bit about what they were doing over there, some energy deals that they were pursuing. And that's an area where we don't have a lot of information, because, of course, we don't have access to Rudy Giuliani's finances.

He's not a government employee. He's a private citizen but there may have been other reasons and motives for Giuliani and what he and his associates were running around doing over there, in addition to the rogue extortion operation he was conducting for the president.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) made clear to point out that the people that Giuliani was dealing with were corrupt people, he flat out said that unambiguously.

Abby, we do hear from Marie Yovanovitch tomorrow, the ambassador who was pushed out. Where do you think she brings the story?

PHILLIP: Well, she is an expert in Ukraine. She can talk a lot about what her understanding of who Giuliani was working on behalf of, and also where this derogatory information about Ukraine and about Joe Biden seemed to be coming from.

I mean, I think this is really -- it becomes increasingly important as the Republicans are kind of driving into a cul-de-sac of conspiracies of Joe Biden, is that where did this actually come from and does it have any merit? The person who would know about that is Marie Yovanovitch because she's an expert in the ins and outs of Ukrainian politics.

And I also think the cloak and dagger story about how she came to learn about the rumors spread around about her is going to be really, really interesting. It's going to explain a kind of irregular and very unusual pattern of activity around trying to oust a sitting U.S. ambassador. I think that's going to be from kind of a television perspective, I think it's going to be a fascinating retelling.

BERMAN: We're going to hear from impeachment lawyers later in the broadcast to suggest that the issue of Rudy Giuliani in general is this untapped resource for Democrats, they didn't really lean into how sketchy everything he was doing. Maybe that will come out tomorrow.

Jennifer, Abby, thank you very much for being here.

We're going to talk much more about the first day of testimony. The cases made by the two counsels. What were the two takeaways? That's next.