Return to Transcripts main page
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) On California School Shooting; Ousted U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Testifies Today; Diplomat Who Heard Bombshell Call Between Trump And Sondland To Testify Today. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired November 15, 2019 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): In place and requires that everyone who buys a gun be subject to it.
I was at an event last night celebrating 25 years since the Brady background check bill passed. All we want to do is make sure that everyone is subject to it.
It wasn't helplessness; it was -- it was action with the leadership of new members like Lucy McBath, whose entire life is devoted to really stepping up and honoring the memory of her son, Jordan, who was taken from us, from her, from our world far too soon. There's real leadership that led to significant action.
The only helplessness is the helplessness that Mitch McConnell says he feels because the president won't allow him to bring up a bill. The Senate needs to act on this. And there's so much more we can do.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
DEUTCH: We can fund programs in communities to help address gun violence.
DEUTCH: We can have extreme risk protection orders. There are things just -- they're not partisan -- they're not partisan and we need to just get them done.
CAMEROTA: You're so right. I mean, you're so right. Helplessness is the wrong word. Impediment and obstructionist, I guess, is -- are better words.
I do want to ask you about what's happening today behind closed doors. Obviously, you sit on the committees where this is relevant.
David Holmes -- he is the diplomat who heard the phone call in Kiev -- at a restaurant in Kiev -- between President Trump and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. What are you and others wanting to know from him today behind closed doors? DEUTCH: Right. Well, obviously, we want to know -- we want to know more about the call. It's incredibly troubling on so many levels to think that this call took place, the president made it, that there was a cell phone involved, the risk to our national security -- all of those things.
And, Alisyn, I -- we're defending the Constitution and it's really important.
But I just -- again, given what's just happened in Santa Clarita, I want to -- I'm desperately trying to avoid a situation where we feel like we're just checking the box again. I appreciate your commitment to the gun violence issue. And I know there's a lot going on in Washington and I'm in the middle of all of this and I'm grateful for the opportunity to help defend our Constitution.
But there was a chorus teacher --a choir teacher -- 26-year-old choir teacher in Santa Clarita yesterday who had to console 40 sobbing kids while taking care of one who was shot. That kind of scene plays out over and over across America.
And, yes, we're going to focus. We're going to keep going forward with the impeachment inquiry and it's really important, but I just -- it feels like these acts of gun violence and the focus on gun violence becomes shorter and shorter before we just move on to the next thing. And I just want to make sure that that -- that we don't allow that to happen.
That's what the people who are trying to prevent action want and that's what I'm fighting so hard to prevent.
CAMEROTA: Congressman Ted Deutch, we really appreciate your voice on this topic and others. Thank you very much for being with us.
DEUTCH: Thanks, Alisyn.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right.
We have a little bit of dictionary definition session for you this morning having to do with the impeachment hearings. This is part of our weeklong series "Fractured State of America." John Avlon here with a reality check -- John.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, guys.
So look, all this week we've been looking at the fractured state of America. How polarization is hurting our country and our ability to reason together.
Well, the kickoff of the fourth impeachment inquiry in our history offers a portrait of polarization in action and it ain't pretty because after the first day's public testimony it was clear that Democrats and Republicans were not just speaking from different scripts, but unable to agree on basic facts. But don't get discouraged by these attempts to distract you. Facts still matter. What you need is a guide to cut through the spin. So here's some of the signature moves that we saw that will likely to get trotted out again.
First, the deflect and project, courtesy of Devin Nunes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): The Democrats have a long habit accusing Republicans of offenses they, themselves, are committing. For years, they accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia when they, themselves, were colluding with Russia. And now, they accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they, themselves, are culpable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: This is classic Trump stuff, deflect and project, and it's doubling down on discredited conspiracy theories that the president apparently still believes, while also decrying a cult-like atmosphere among Democrats -- deflect and project.
But then, we've heard very little Republican response to the actual allegations. Witness the revival of the hearsay defense.
Despite the consistent accounts we've seen to date, Republican Jim Jordan and others hammered this home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You never met the president.
WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: That's correct.
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): You have not had any contact with the President of the United States, is that correct?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Now, here's the tell on that one. The White House is currently blocking testimony of folks who do have direct knowledge, like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, so it's a pretty thin read to hang an argument on.
And this is closely related to the nothing to see here defense that says the nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was ultimately released, so whatever happened before doesn't really matter. The problem is that the money was released after the White House became aware of the whistleblower complaint. In other words, the president's defenders are trying to take credit for getting -- the plan getting foiled.
Attacking the credibility of witnesses is also a classic tactic. We saw this Fox graphic during Taylor's testimony that recounted President Trump calling the career diplomat a never Trumper, which was almost subtle compared to Rush Limbaugh and others calling the nonpartisan public servants nerds, seriously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": We have here a bunch of professional nerds who wear their bow ties and they have their proper diplospeak.
CHRISTIAN WHITON, FORMER DIPLOMAT, GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION: And they look like people who sat by themselves at recess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Stay classy, but it certainly fits the sandbox politics we've been seeing. And, of course, it was only a matter of time before someone blamed the whole thing on George Soros.
But all of these are preferable to the move we'll call the indignant ostrich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): So why am I not going to watch this hearing tomorrow? Because I think it is a threat to the presidency and I don't want to legitimize it, and it's un-American.
I'm not going to read these transcripts. The whole process is a joke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Hiding your head in the sand and refusing to read sworn testimony or watch the hearings or calling the constitutional process or un-American doesn't make the facts go away. It just shows how much these hearings have become about teamism rather than a search for the truth.
And that's your reality check.
CAMEROTA: Indignant ostrich.
CAMEROTA: That is well-played.
BERMAN: I am not listening. I am not listening. I am not listening.
AVLON: One of the many services we provide.
CAMEROTA: Thank you, John.
BERMAN: So, the next impeachment hearing will begin in less than 90 minutes. What will former U.S. ambassador -- the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine say about President Trump's conduct? We'll discuss, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BERMAN: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings. This is a live look inside the hearing room where the testimony begins this morning in just over an hour.
The witness today will be the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. What can we expect to hear from her?
Joining us now is Abby Phillip, CNN political correspondent; Bianna Golodryga, CNN senior global affairs analyst; and, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor.
I think Alisyn and I came in this morning with a question a little bit about Ambassador Yovanovitch. What role does she play in this hearing given that she was gone by the time that President Trump called President Zelensky? And I think we have the answer or it's been provided to us over the course of the show.
Sean Patrick Maloney, the Democrat who is on the Intelligence Committee, made clear to us that she is going to describe what she sees and what clearly, the Democrats see as the corruption that existed inside this Rudy Giuliani-led operation.
Why is painting that picture of corruption, Jeffrey, important here?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Because there's sort of two ways you can view this whole scandal.
One is that it's all about the phone call. It's all about the phone call between the president and President Zelensky on July 25th. And if you believe that the phone call was ambiguous or proper, then Trump is in the clear. That's one way of viewing this.
The other way is that the phone call is a symptom of a larger corruption that Donald Trump set in motion -- that he created this parallel foreign policy that was designed entirely to help him politically. And part of that was firing the American ambassador who he and Giuliani and Giuliani's allies felt like was an obstacle.
And today is going to be about trying to show the larger corruption that was going on in American foreign policy with the ambassador as a victim.
CAMEROTA: And I think you also need to just follow the money. I think that that would really help. You need to follow the money because there was a lot of money being -- flowing from Ukraine to some Americans.
And obviously, on the Republican side, they point to Hunter Biden. On the Democratic side, they don't point to, as much, the money that Rudy Giuliani was making. The money that Joe diGenova was being bankrolled by an oligarch who's been charged in the U.S. with crimes. And so, there was this whole, it seems like, conspiracy theory around -- well, around Marie Yovanovitch because she was an anti-corruption crusader. So would want to get her out of the way?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, this is where Americans should be alarmed, right? There's no denying that repeatedly, in a country like Ukraine which has a history of corruption, U.S. ambassadors were prone to being attacked in smear campaigns from that country's own prosecutors. From people there who did not want her or any other American diplomat to be there working to get rid of corruption, right -- on an anti-corruption crusade.
The difference here is that it's not only some Ukrainians who were corrupt who wanted her out of that job, there were Americans.
And when she was told -- in her testimony, which she'll repeat again today -- that she was warned by some who were not in the corruption camp in Ukraine -- some of her allies there -- Ukrainians telling her watch your back -- there are some Americans who are out to get you. That should alarm every single American that it's her own country -- people inside and close to the President of the United States that wanted her out.
She is the highest-ranked U.S. ambassador in the State Department prior to being ousted, so Republicans really need to approach her with a level of respect that she's warranted after 30 years of being a career diplomat. And we have yet to see one iota of evidence or proof that any of the smear campaign was warranted.
BERMAN: I can just tell you, it wasn't people just close to the president threatening Ambassador Yovanovitch. Ambassador Yovanovitch took the president's own words as a threat after --
BERMAN: -- she was removed.
That phone call with President Zelensky -- and she was asked about this behind closed doors. I'll just read the transcript from the deposition. A Democrat is asking her about that phone call.
At the bottom of that same page, President Trump says, "Well, she's going to go through some things." What did you understand that to mean?
She answers, "I didn't know what it meant. I was very concerned. I still am."
She was asked did you feel threatened and she says yes.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's the kind of language that I think makes this more dramatic. And it's not all about the drama but it's important because she is a human being and from our understanding, according to Suzanne's reporting, she was very emotional in her deposition.
And I think she felt -- genuinely felt threatened because of the vagueness of the kind of language in the president's transcripts and because of the vagueness of the language that was being used to describe what she was going to be facing. It wasn't just like the rumors, it was a question of was she -- was she safe.
When she was told -- she was told to leave the country immediately, as soon as possible. The question is why?
And I also think that the Democrats are not just trying to help Yovanovitch build a case for their side. They're also trying to undermine the Republican case because they -- the Republicans have been using the word corruption to describe broadly what President Trump was interested in. And the only person who hasn't used the word corruption is President Trump. In that transcript, it's not mentioned a single time.
And one thing that Yovanovitch is going to do today, it seems, is talk about how there's no way that if you were interested in corruption that you would be dealing with some of the people that Rudy Giuliani was dealing with. They were known to be corrupt figures by people in the State Department.
And that is -- she's maybe the ideal person. There are very few people who know more about the ins and outs of Ukrainian politics and corrupt figures than Marie Yovanovitch.
BERMAN: All right, stand by, friends, for one second. We have much more to talk about in just a moment.
But first, I want to do -- get to this. Many studies show that too much screen time can be unhealthy for young people. But this week's top 10 CNN hero is teaming up with hospitals to make screen time healing time.
As a high school student working out of his parent's basement, Zach Wigal set out to prove that gamers can also be do-gooders. Today, he's making video games a part of recovery for sick kids all across the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZACH WIGAL, CNN HERO: Sometimes people believe that video games are corrupting the minds of America's youth, but video games are an incredible tool for helping kids from a source of fun and relief during those stressful and difficult times.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To people who think the games are just games, they are so much more than that.
WIGAL: Yes, I got to tell you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have to talk about me being sick. We can play the game because that's way more cool than having to talk about me being sick. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Zach provides sick children with gaming in 200 hospitals nationwide and in Canada. You can go to cnnheroes.com to vote for him for CNN Hero of the Year or any of your favorite top 10 heroes.
CAMEROTA: Oh, how will you ever decide? It is so --
BERMAN: They're all heroes.
CAMEROTA: They're all so impressive.
OK, so the man behind the biggest revelation yet from the public impeachment hearings speaks to lawmakers in a matter of hours behind closed doors. But what will he tell them about the cell phone call that he overheard loudly in a restaurant in Kiev?
CAMEROTA: CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continues this morning. Later today, the U.S. diplomat who says he overheard President Trump ask a U.S. ambassador about investigations during a cell phone conversation in a Kiev restaurant will testify behind closed doors.
Back with us now, Abby Phillip, Bianna Golodryga, and Jeffrey Toobin.
I think that will be fascinating to hear David Holmes and what he has to say, Jeffrey, about what he overheard on this phone call. That's not hearsay. That's hearing it directly with your own ears.
But, of course, there will be questions about why didn't we know about this until Monday? He only told Bill Taylor, his colleague, about it allegedly on Friday. So what happened from July 26th to Friday where David Holmes suddenly decided to reveal the importance of this conversation?
TOOBIN: Look, a couple of things there.
First of all, I think it's very important that the Democrats, to the extent they can, put the focus on the president. The Republicans have raised over and over again the issue that a lot of the information coming forward from the first two witnesses, and including today from the ambassador, will not have been directly from or about President Trump.
This is different. This is a phone call that the president made. Now, it does seem to be sort of bizarre circumstances -- this restaurant in Kiev. The -- you know, a loud cell phone conversation.
But you know what? If the President of the United States is on his cell phone with a person that you're sitting with, I bet you'd pay attention to that. I mean, I know I would. And so, the idea that he remembers it is not shocking.
CAMEROTA: Oh, no. I'm saying why didn't he tell us before?
TOOBIN: That's a good question. And, you know, he's --
PHILLIP: Why didn't he tell anybody before?
TOOBIN: He's a Foreign Service officer. They have a tradition of discretion and maybe that's --
GOLODRYGA: Why didn't Sondland tell us before?
TOOBIN: Well, Sondland is a whole different story. There you have the question of was he lying to protect the president and that will certainly come up if -- when he testifies next week. He is shaping up to be, I think, the most dramatic witness of the whole extravaganza.
GOLODRYGA: And I think we get an answer to the question of whether or not Russia knew that money was being withheld. Imagine how many phone calls Russia has intercepted at this point because Sondland, Giuliani -- we know about all their phone conversations, all of their text exchanges.
The Russians, clearly at some point, would have intercepted. We know that they're notorious, especially with neighboring Ukraine, to be able to intercept on secure phone calls like this.
And it's not only the Russians that knew. You could also argue that Ukrainian security services may have intercepted the call, too. So the question going back to did Ukraine know -- did Zelensky know that money was being withheld, you could have it from your intelligence officials who intercept phone calls like this.
And the reason why it's important is because it puts Ukraine in a position of weakness. Throughout all of this time, Vladimir Putin, Zelensky, and especially President Trump were pushing for all sides to come together and negotiate.
That's a very good thing to negotiate and try to work out your problems. But when you're negotiating from a place of weakness, when the other side knows -- when the adversary knows that the U.S. doesn't have your back, that puts Ukraine in a terrible line.
BERMAN: You say Russia knew, Ukrainian officials knew. The busboy and bartender probably knew because it was overheard on this cell phone in a restaurant --
PHILLIP: Right, right.
BERMAN: -- which is crazy when you think about it.
Abby, we talk about David Holmes.
BERMAN: He will testify behind closed doors. We don't know if we're going to hear from him in the public -- maybe. I mean, that will be interesting, too. We may not need to because we hear from Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who was on the cell phone in the Kiev restaurant, next week.
Jeffrey just said he'll be a very dramatic witness -- dramatic because at this point, who on earth knows what he's going to say? He's already changed his story once.
BERMAN: And there's a serious question about -- I'm not sure this about sides, this is about finding facts, but what does Gordon Sondland want to do?
PHILLIP: What is he up to? And it does seem that in the beginning, he believed that he could thread this line. He could be cooperative but not give the whole story away -- not tell everything. Not incriminate the president potentially as much as he could.
And then he got caught in a lie, essentially. He did not talk about a conversation that was really critically important to all of this. And then he had to backtrack and correct his testimony. And now, there's a second occasion in which he'll have to correct his testimony.
And so at this point, I think in Trump world a lot of people are already speculating openly that they believe that Sondland has turned or that perhaps he's flipped on the president and in some ways, this is a lot of -- a lot of this is baseless. And maybe he's in some ways cooperating with the Democrats behind closed doors.
But ultimately, what Sondland might be doing is just deciding that he has to tell the truth because unlike the president, he's not immune from some kind of prosecution for perjury. And this is a really serious thing and if you are his lawyer you're probably advising him now is the time to try to recall all of the things that maybe you couldn't recall the last time you were in that room and put it down on paper.
And with this testimony today from that aide who overheard that telephone conversation, he clearly would have had a lot of other interactions with Gordon Sondland on the issue of Ukraine policy. What more does he know about what Sondland told him that President Trump wanted from this relationship?
So he's really in a little bit of a box -- a box here before he goes before Congress again.
TOOBIN: Lawyers sometimes tell their clients tell the truth. It's easier to remember.
And I think that's maybe some good advice for Sondland instead of, as you say, trying to thread various needles and deciding what side you're on. Just tell the truth. It would -- you know, it's --
TOOBIN: -- a good idea.
BERMAN: Very quickly, tomorrow -- they're working on Saturday -- these committees behind closed doors are going to hear from Mark Sandy, who is an OMB official. And this is interesting because the White House has tried to block all these people from coming to testify. He's going to go once he receives a subpoena and that matters because OMB had their hands on the money that was being withheld.
TOOBIN: Exactly. I mean, that's another big part of this story, which is why was this money, which was designed to save Ukrainian military soldiers' lives and protect against Russia -- why was it withheld and at whose direction? And that part of the story involves OMB and we'll see how much Mark Sandy knows about it.
PHILLIP: And also, why was it released? That's critically important, too. Was it because the whistleblower report had been sent to Congress?
CAMEROTA: Really good. Great analysis, guys. Thank you very much for helping us preview it all today.
BERMAN: All right, just one hour to go until this public hearing begins. CNN's special live coverage of the impeachment inquiry continues with our friend, Wolf Blitzer, right now.