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GOP & Democrats Reveal Strategies as they Clash at First Hearing; GOP Tries to Discredit Career Diplomats in First Public Hearing; Top Diplomat in Ukraine Testifies His Aide Heard Trump on Phone Asking for Update on Bidens' Investigations. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired November 14, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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RANDY BURL, WISCONSIN VOTER: -- impeach for that. I just don't see it having a dramatic effect. And it's kind of like what Mike said, you know, most working people are never going to see these hearings. They're going turn on their noon show that supports whatever party that they like, and read their spin on it.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That report from Evan McMorris-Santoro. Thanks very much, Evan, for that.
Good morning. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
The stakes are extremely high for the second impeachment hearing which is less than 24 hours away. This time tomorrow, we will hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She was reportedly pushed out from her role there after she pushed back on anti-corruption efforts.
Also tomorrow, behind closed doors, the political affairs counselor at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, David Holmes who said he heard, overheard the conversation that the president had with the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland about investigations into the Bidens. He will be testifying as well behind closed doors once again. If true, that would connect the president even more directly with the alleged Ukraine pressure campaign.
President Trump says he doesn't remember that phone conversation. Also said it was secondhand information. But it all raises the stakes even higher for Sondland's public testimony next Wednesday.
Our team is covering all of the angles in this impeachment process. Let's begin on Capitol Hill. CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is watching all of this unfold.
Manu, what's the latest? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.
There's a lot of expectation for that Gordon Sondland testimony next week in the aftermath of this revelation by Bill Taylor yesterday that one of his aides overheard that conversation between President Trump and Sondland in the aftermath of the president's own conversation with the president of Ukraine and in that phone call that he had with his E.U. ambassador discussing investigations into the Bidens. And afterwards, yesterday Taylor testified that that's what the president was most concerned about when it came to Ukraine. Pushing for these investigations.
Democrats say this essentially shows the extent of the president's pressure campaign to push the Ukrainians to move forward with these investigations that could help him politically. Yesterday Bill Taylor made very clear his aide reminded him of this conversation after he had testified behind closed doors.
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BILL TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: In the presence of my staff, at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. 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.
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RAJU: Now I asked Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, afterwards about that revelation. He said that it shows that the president was directly involved in all of these matters, and the efforts by Republicans to go after some of his underlings, some of his deputies and his aides simply does not -- this contradicts that Republican push. And I also asked him whether or not he believes Sondland was truthful to his committee.
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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): This is very, obviously, very important because there is an effort to -- apparently to, by the president's allies, to throw Sondland under the bus, throw Mulvaney under the bus, throw anybody under the bus in efforts to protect the president. But what this call indicates as other testimony has likewise indicated is that instructions are coming from the president on down.
One of the reasons why we want to do these hearings now in public having done the deposition in closed session is we want the American people to be able to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses for themselves.
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RAJU: So that last answer was in response to that question about whether or not Sondland was truthful. He did not exactly say. He said that he'll let the American public judge that. Now recall that of course Sondland did revise his testimony saying that he recalled later that he had a conversation with a top Ukrainian official saying that this aid, military aid to the country was likely tied to this public announcement of investigations but he could not recall how he remembered, how he knew of that and whether the president was tied to that at all. So expect that to be a significant line of questioning when he goes before the public next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Lots going on. Manu, thank you very much.
Tomorrow the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, expected to give key details about a so-called smear campaign led by the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is here with me right now watching all of this unfold. Her testimony tomorrow could be rather significant.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It will be, Wolf. And it will be likely that she will expand upon this narrative about Rudy Giuliani's shadow campaign. She talked extensively in the closed-door testimony about his efforts, his associates' efforts to oust her from her post which, of course, eventually happened in May. So Yovanovitch will take center stage tomorrow.
She'll talk in detail about her duties as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine since 2016 where she really led the call on the Ukrainian government to do more to fight corruption. But in May, of course, she was unexpectedly recalled from her post, despite the fact that she was a diplomat, has been a diplomat since 1986 serving under numerous presidents. Her tough treatment is something that both George Kent and Bill Taylor touched upon in their testimony yesterday.
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GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I became increasingly aware of an effort by Rudy Giuliani and others, including his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, to run a campaign to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch.
TAYLOR: But when Secretary Pompeo asked me to go back to Kyiv, I wanted to say yes, but it was not an easy decision. The former ambassador, Masha Yovanovitch, has been treated poorly. Caught in a web of political machinations both in Kyiv and in Washington. I feared that those problems were still present.
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SCHNEIDER: And Marie Yovanovitch expanded upon this and was actually quite blunt in the closed-door testimony. Her transcript revealing that she felt threatened by the president's associates as they worked to undermine her and have her removed. She, in fact, recounted how a Ukrainian official even told her to, quote, "watch my back." She also said that she was encouraged by E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland to praise Trump, even suggesting that she tweet praise at the president to save her job. And then she talked about when the attacks against her ramped up
within the right-wing media, particularly from FOX News host Sean Hannity, that's when Yovanovitch said she was told that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or someone else at the State Department planned to call Hannity and ask about the basis of those attacks, but, Wolf, Hannity has since said that he never talked to Secretary Pompeo.
So Marie Yovanovitch will continue this narrative, expand upon the shadow foreign policy by Rudy Giuliani and his associates but likely will not touch so much if at all on the withholding of military aid since she did talk in closed door testimony about the fact that she was gone before a lot of that unfolded.
BLITZER: Interesting. Jessica, thank you very much. Jessica Schneider reporting.
Let's get some more on how Republicans are tackling this inquiry. I'm joined now by Representative Mark Green, he's a member of the House Oversight Committee. Also the House Homeland Security Committee.
Thanks, Congressman, so much for joining us.
REP. MARK GREEN (R-TN): Thanks, Wolf, for having me on the show. Thank you.
BLITZER: So what's your initial reaction to what we heard yesterday from these two established U.S. diplomats?
GREEN: You know, I was -- if this is their shock and awe, I'm yawning. So a staffer overheard a phone call in a restaurant. I think it's absurd that we're even having that conversation. That would not even be admissible in any kind of court proceeding in the land. It's just ridiculous that this is what -- this is the best they got. Yesterday was the best they got and it was an overheard phone conversation at a restaurant. That's just crazy.
BLITZER: This -- yes, I was going to say, this was the political counselor, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. He was with Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Gordon Sondland had a phone conversation on his cell phone with the president and the political counselor overheard the conversation.
BLITZER: Here is what Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said yesterday. I'll play the clip.
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TAYLOR: In the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. 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.
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BLITZER: So what questions will you have for David Holmes, the counselor of foreign affairs, when he appears before the committees tomorrow and offers this closed-door deposition, sworn deposition?
GREEN: Well, first off, you know if you go into the substance of what this is all about, whether or not the president should be concerned about corruption in the 2016 election process, worried about corruption as we give millions of taxpayer dollars to a foreign country, the third most -- as Ernst & Young has said, the third most corrupt nation in the world.
Absolutely, we want to look into this. We want this investigated. We want to determine what kind of corruption is going on before we commit U.S. taxpayer dollars. I think that's appropriate. I don't have a problem with the substance of that.
BLITZER: Should the White House allow people who had direct personal conversations with the president on these sensitive issues to appear before Congress which has now launched this -- as you know, this formal impeachment inquiry?
We're talking about the White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, the former national security adviser John Bolton, for example.
GREEN: That's a great question, Wolf. But the truth of the matter is, every president since the founding of the nation has had executive privilege. And the president has the right to claim that. So I think if he says, look, I don't want this individual testifying because it might lead to the, you know, release of classified information or, you know, the president's right to actually have a conversation with his or her advisers.
I mean, that's just -- that's just -- that's been in our governmental system, our executive powers for a very long time. And, you know, Democrats and Republicans have both claimed that. So I don't think that the Congress can step into that.
BLITZER: Well, if you're worried about sensitive, classified information, they could certainly do a conversation behind closed doors in that so-called secured SCIF that they have.
GREEN: Yes, that was --
BLITZER: And they could do it like that. I guess the bottom-line question is this, Congressman. GREEN: Sure.
BLITZER: If the president did nothing wrong, has nothing to hide, if the conversation with President Zelensky was perfect in every way, what's the big deal? Why not let his top aides come up to Capitol Hill, come before your committees, and explain what happened?
GREEN: Well, I think it's about the future of the presidency. And Lindsey Graham made a great point about this just the other day. If you -- what you sort of acquiesce to today becomes the standard for tomorrow. And the president has executive privilege. He should claim it, and, you know, again, it's about the future of the presidency.
BLITZER: Congressman Mark Green, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
GREEN: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be on your show.
BLITZER: OK, there's a lot -- appreciate it very much.
Coming up, you just heard from a Republican voice. Democrats certainly have a very different strategy. What is their game plan going forward? That's coming up next.
Also, GOP House members attempted to downplay the credentials of two top diplomats who testified yesterday. Does it make it harder for current State Department officials to do their jobs? We have new information.
And the White House kicking its response team into high gear saying the first day of impeachment hearings was a big win for the Trump administration. We'll have more on that. Lots of news. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Two very different strategies were clearly at play in the first public hearing. On one side, Democrats are going for the long game, having the witnesses lay out a timeline of inappropriate conduct that links back to President Trump. On the other side, Republicans focusing more on the day at hand, discrediting the witnesses, sticking to the talking points about the lack of any firsthand knowledge. As we saw in this line of questioning from Republican Jim Jordan.
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REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Ambassador, you weren't on the call, were you? The president -- you didn't listen in on President Trump's call and President Zelensky's call?
BILL TAYLOR, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: 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 never heard about it as far as I know.
JORDAN: And President --
TAYLOR: And there's no reason for it to come up --
JORDAN: And President Zelensky never made an announcement? This is -- this is what I can't believe, and you're their star witness. You're their first witness.
TAYLOR: Mr. Jordan --
JORDAN: You're the guy -- you're the guy based on this. Based on -- I mean, I've seen -- I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.
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BLITZER: So when Marie Yovanovitch; the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine takes the stand tomorrow during these televised hearings, can she expect Republicans to take the same approach? Let's bring in our panel of experts to discuss. Nia-Malika Henderson, what do you think about this strategy that the Democrats have versus the strategy that the Republicans have, there should be hearing tomorrow and then most of next week as well.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, I think they'll stick to it. This is what we've seen from Republicans already. This idea that there's no, you know, first or third or fourth-hand knowledge of whatever it is. Where is the whistleblower? You heard Devin Nunes in his closing arguments essentially make all those points.
Questions about Hunter Biden, questions about the DNC server. So, some of those conspiracy theories they're trying to put those into the hearings as well. And, listen, Democrats so far have gone about this in a very methodical way. They've got about a dozen witnesses or so.
We'll hear from them day-by-day and they want to lay out a case, much like the case that Bill Taylor I think laid out in his 20-page opening statement, going back from June when he assumed that post at Mike Pompeo's suggestion. And up until September, and everything he saw unfolding there, that suggested that the president felt very comfortable trading a $400 million in assistance to Ukraine for dirt on his opponent.
So, listen, we've got a long way to go on this. Anybody who was expecting sort of a ha-ha big moment may have gone away not happy. But, listen, it's day one.
BLITZER: Carrie, what do you think?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's not a TV show.
HENDERSON: Right --
CORDERO: I mean, I understand that the hearings are on television, and that, therefore, that's giving America an insight into these fact witnesses. But there doesn't have to be, as Nia-Malika says, this moment that is going to change everybody's mind. Each fact witness is there to present their perspective of the optic that they had on what was transpiring.
And what Bill Taylor was really effective at doing yesterday is he explained how when he was inside government, he was so confused and confounded by why the policy objectives he was trying to obtain were being undermined, and he didn't know why?
And the reason why through other evidence that we're going to -- that has come out, and that will be confirmed by witnesses next week is that there was this other effort to obtain political information from the government of Ukraine. And the issue that Republicans are going to end up defending -- and this is a matter of conscience and their constitutional responsibility is, are they at the end of the day going to defend that it's OK for a president to use his office to seek political information.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: See, I think that they won't get to that question because there's nobody who is actually defending this call or this conduct towards Ukraine as being appropriate in and of itself. What Republicans are doing strategically, which I think has some resonance is focusing on outcomes.
Well, they got the aid in the end, didn't they? And there's a question about why they did and whether the whistleblower coming forward is what forced the president's hand. But they'll say, look, they got the aid any way, it was a much more robust kind of aid than Barack Obama ever provided. And this is Trump being Trump.
He's inexperienced. He's brash. He's going to stand up to the bureaucracy. That's not what you impeach over. And I think that's what's interesting, is that we have a process where nobody is going to defend what he did. They're going to focus more on how did you know it? And in the ultimate case, is it really worth impeachment?
And that's where different than the kind of work you've done so often where impeaching a judge -- this is where the movement, if it happens, of public opinion, it does matter.
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And I think you actually though may see, and I think you will see people defending the actual conduct. I don't think it's going to be defined the way Carrie defined it -- GREGORY: Yes --
GARBER: As some sort of trade for political favor. The question is going to be, did the president have a legitimate purpose here? And I think what we're going to hear is that in his mind, he actually was addressing corruption. We've started to hear that. He was addressing past corruption. He was addressing potential Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election. I think we're going to hear it.
HENDERSON: And that's where a Republican lawyer I think was trying to go. A lot of people --
GREGORY: Right --
HENDERSON: Panned him, but you could see, he was trying to build this case --
GREGORY: Right --
HENDERSON: And listen, it's completely legitimate for an American president to look into these issues, even though it happened to be about --
GREGORY: And testing the matter of a new president --
CORDERO: But I just want to add to Ross' point about doing a favor is that in the president's July 25th phone call with President Zelensky, he actually said, can you do me a favor?
GARBER: Yes --
CORDERO: I mean, that is what he said.
GARBER: No -- but the question is, the question will be why? Was the point to address corruption? It was the point to address, at least in his mind, you know, potentially Ukrainian influence in 2016? That is going to be the question. It's not going to be from the Republican point of view, do me a favor for my political benefit.
BLITZER: The Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and I'm going to get Carrie to react to this. Adam Schiff, he made this point yesterday. Let me play the clip.
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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA): I don't think we can allow that to be the new normal, acceptable in any way shape or form or it will not only permit this president to seek other ways to bring about interference in our election. But it will invite future presidents to do the same. So, we have some very difficult questions to answer at the end of the day about what these facts require us to do.
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BLITZER: What do you think?
CORDERO: I think this is why we saw yesterday in the hearing a Chairman Schiff that presented the hearing in a very sober and somber way at the outset. Which is because this is an issue that he and his committee members are trying to convince and appeal to members on the other side of the aisle and eventually in the Senate to take their constitutional responsibility seriously, and to be thinking about it in a historical way.
That if the facts as they are fully explored through these witness testimonies indicate that the president's motivations were politically, personally motivated. And I think in my own view is there's a lot of evidence out there already that supports that view, then members are going to have to rise above party and look at this from the precedent that they are setting for a future president of either party.
GREGORY: But as a --
HENDERSON: And this president right now, right? I mean, because he seems to think it's OK to get on the phone and ask a foreign leader to interfere in his own re-election for his benefit. So is this something that if he get off, and he is acquitted by Republicans, is this something that he would continue to do? So I think that's a line in the sand --
GREGORY: But you know, as the "Wall Street Journal" says today in --
HENDERSON: Democrats want to draw --
GREGORY: Impeachment is a political bazooka. And they can't -- there's a constitutional duty here in terms of our elections as well. And I think the argument that we're keeping made very strongly is, yes, it shouldn't be the new normal. It's inappropriate for a president to conduct this way or for a candidate.
Back in 2016, you say, sure, I'll take opposition research under my opponent from wherever it comes. That should not be the new normal either. And I think that would be an argument, some would say, to make sure the president doesn't get a second term by voting him out of office. And that's -- again, why I think a lot of Republicans will end up coming down.
I think the problem with this proceeding is the notion of really moving people when you have such a polarized environment where people have made up their minds in advance. There was enough to muddy the water yesterday. I'm not sure how much --
GARBER: Yes --
GREGORY: Has moved.
GARBER: Yes, and it's not just Republicans. Keep an eye on the swing Democrats because, remember, you know, two Democrats -- all the Republicans voted against even starting this process. Two Democrats voted against even starting this process.
I think unless something changes, you know, Speaker Pelosi may have trouble holding on to all of those Democrats who even voted to start this process to vote in favor of --
BLITZER: We'll see how these hearings continue tomorrow and throughout next week. Everybody, stick around, Nia-Malika, Carrie, John and Ross, David, too -- pardon me, talking about John, who is John?
Coming up, two diplomats with decades of foreign service between them testifying on the first day of the open impeachment hearings. Up next, I'll talk to Ambassador Nicholas Burns about being the face of America overseas while keeping politics out of it. Our special live coverage continues.