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Yovanovitch Public Hearings Today. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired November 15, 2019 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Another historic day here in Washington, D.C. Moments from now, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, goes public with her stunning testimony. We're standing by for her arrival. Yovanovitch says she lost her job because of what she described as unfounded and false claims and that she felt threatened by the president of the United States.
Plus, there will be key testimony behind closed doors later this afternoon. The U.S. diplomat who says he overheard President Trump ask Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU, about Ukraine's investigation into the Bidens will answer lawmakers' questions.
And another major development unfolding. A White House budget official, Mark Sandy, set to break ranks and testify tomorrow on what he knows about the president's decision to hold up that nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine.
Our reporters are spread out all over Washington.
Manu Raju is inside. Suzanne Malveaux is outside.
Suzanne, I know that Marie Yovanovitch should be arriving momentarily. You're there for us. Set the scene.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're actually -- we're right off of Independence Avenue outside of the Longworth Building where the hearings are taking place. There are about 30 of us gathered here, photographers, reporters, from around the world as our camera is trained on the street behind the Capitol Police car that you see, the cruiser there. We expect either a cab or a suburban to pull up as they -- as the witnesses typically do, be escorted from their car into the building.
As you can imagine, there is pretty tight security in terms of getting to her, but we'll try to shout a question -- we'll try to shout a question to her if we can. It -- there's a lot of anticipation about her testimony, Wolf.
Had an opportunity this morning to talk to one of her good friends who's in the diplomatic corps and she says that, really, for Yovanovitch, this is round three for her. She said the first round she saw was the bullying that she experienced inside of Ukraine. The second round she said was the smear campaign that she says was conducted by the president and Rudy Giuliani and his associates. And she sees today as round three.
And that is preparing for a potential attacks from the Republicans who will be also asking her questions today, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we'll have coverage as soon as she arrives, Suzanne, we'll get back to you.
Manu Raju, you're inside for us. Set the scene there.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Democrats are expecting today, Marie Yovanovitch, to detail what they call a, quote, corrupt shakedown scheme. What they -- what Yovanovitch is going to testify to is about these efforts by Rudy Giuliani that was -- who's enlisted by President Trump and Giuliani's personal attorney to push forward on these investigations that could help the president politically.
Something, according to Yovanovitch's closed door testimony, that the Ukrainian officials learned about late last year, later told her about these efforts by Giuliani, including these efforts to go after her and target her. Ukrainians were so alarmed that they were potentially being pulled into domestic American political affairs that they themselves pushed back about Giuliani's role. This is according to her testimony.
What she's going to say also is that she raised concerns internally in the United States State Department, but officials did not respond to her concerns. Now, she was later ousted after this Giuliani smear campaign, in May brought back to the United States. Something that she objected to.
And she also objected to what she saw in that rough transcript released by the White House of that call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine in -- from July in which the president said that, quote, she's going to go through some things and that she's bad news. She's going to say she felt threatened by those remarks.
BLITZER: All right, Manu -- hold on for a moment, Manu, there she is. She's going to be arriving, we're told, right now. She and her aides coming in. They just parked that car over there.
Suzanne Malveaux is outside. She's watching all of this unfold as well.
We're going to see her walking in to this House office building for this testimony.
It's a sensitive moment indeed and she has been -- she's there with her attorneys, she's there with her friends, she's there with others clearly. This is -- this is a moment we've been watching. Let's just watch her walk in and see if she stops and answers
QUESTION: Ambassador, do you feel -- do you still feel threatened by President Trump? Do you still feel threatened by the administration for your safety?
QUESTION: Did you feel threatened by the president, Ms. Yovanovitch?
BLITZER: All right, she's now walking inside. She'll go through security, like everybody else who goes through security.
I'm going to just listen in as this happens.
All right, Suzanne, you tried. You shouted a question. Good question. Fair question. But, clearly, this career U.S. diplomat, 33 years in the U.S. foreign service, she's going to be answering a lot of questions, but she's not ready to do it informally like this.
Suzanne, any other sense you're getting based on what you saw?
MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, I mean one of the things that everybody is curious about is, clearly, during the deposition and from the transcript, that closed door deposition, she became emotional. And that she really did feel after learning that the president said that she was bad news, she said she was shocked. She also felt that her safety was in jeopardy and that she has not been safe to do her job and to go about her life.
And this is one of the things, I think, that is going to potentially resonate with the American people. If you hear and see from her, her demeanor, I mean she is very calm. She is not one to enjoy or even seek the spotlight. But she has been put in the hot seat now.
And she has testified previously that she does feel that it was the president and the president's attorney and many of those associates, the hard work she had done in Ukraine, that her safety was at risk and that -- this is something, I think, that people are really going to want to see and hear for themselves when they hear her testify later today, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, she will be sworn in and make an opening statement before she starts answering a lot, a lot of questions.
Everybody stand by.
Our special coverage will continue in a moment.
BLITZER: All right, this hearing set to begin right at the top of the hour. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, will call this session in order. He'll make a statement. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican, the top Republican on the committee, will make a statement. They'll swear in Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
She, we understand, will have an opening statement, and then this 45 minutes on the Democratic side, 45 minutes on the Republican side.
John, we're going to hear from Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes, but also from the staff attorneys who will do most of the initial questioning.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's what made the other day when you had Ambassador Taylor and Ambassador Kent in there. Interesting in the sense that we have moved to a new phase, right, and Democrats learned lessons, both from the Mueller hearings and from other oversight hearings they have had, to let's let seasoned prosecutors, let's let courtroom attorneys present the tough questions and do the Q&A.
Both sides now doing that, which does change the dynamic of these hearings. So if you're the Democrats, after you hear from Ambassador Yovanovitch, and the chairman will have a few questions, you want Mr. Goldman, your attorney, to bring out that this wasn't just unusual, that this crossed lines. That's what they're trying.
They think they have a very sympathetic witness in the ambassador, that she was there trying to do her job, and then all of a sudden up pops this rogue foreign policy operation that was count -- the case they're trying to make was not only unusual but counter to U.S. national interests, that you're trying to have this new administration, you're trying to help them against Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression and up pops Rudy Giuliani working with people that she viewed as crooks trying to undermine the policy. That's the point she wants to make.
The Republicans will say, you never spoke to the president, right? The president has every right to fire you, right? And try to make the case that this is -- she's aggrieved because she was fired, not that she has a case to make about a crime or corruption.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And even more than that, that she's part of this highly politicized bureaucracy --
GREGORY: That was out to get President Trump. That somehow the bureaucracy was trying to undermine him.
And I think Democrats have the challenge of making it very clear that she was a victim of this shadow diplomacy and not at all politicized. She has a lot of backers, Republicans and Democrats. She served for decades as a foreign service officer.
But the specter of people you don't recognize is somehow trying to undermine the president overseas when he, by the way, Republicans will argue, is the guy who did what Obama wouldn't do, which is really provide lethal aid to the Ukrainians.
GREGORY: This is the narrative that will be compelling to a lot of people around the defense of Trump. So -- but they're going to also have to be very careful given some of the things -- I want to go back. Trump saying, you know, there's some things that she's going to face or that are going to happen to her. I mean the --
BLITZER: She's going to go through some things.
GREGORY: I mean, think about that, a president of the United States saying that. That kind of threatening language toward someone who served this country. That is something you're going to hear a lot of, I think, this morning.
BLITZER: You know, John Dean is with us as well. He's got a lot of experience in this area.
The Constitution says some -- a president potentially could be impeached for bribery, treason, high crimes and misdemeanors. All of a sudden we're hearing a bunch of Democrats speak about bribery, including the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery. Bribery. Bribery. And that is in the Constitution.
The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a -- of a fake investigation into the elections. That's a -- that's bribery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, before she said that, she actually addressed this use of Latin, quid pro quo, and how not many people understood what she was talking about or others were talking about with quid pro quo. They did understand bribery. It is in the Constitution. It is one of the standards.
I think it's -- it's smart branding. It might be late, but it's not too late. These are the beginning of the public hearings.
Now, bribery raises a whole different set of issues as to what is the bribery involved? Is it historic bribery? Is it contemporary bribery? Does it involve technical things like the new McDonald's standard when governor of -- the governor of Virginia was found not to bribe because he was just doing unofficial acts, or is this clearly an official act that they're looking so that the McDonald's standard doesn't confuse all this and this won't create a lot of technicalities for the Senate or the House to (INAUDIBLE).
GREGORY: Isn't it also hard, though, historically in foreign policy, there is some trading going on. Look, we expect you to do this and keep the relationship in a certain standing and we'll deliver on that?
DEAN: There -- there is but bribery is bribery and this is pretty clear what's going on.
BLITZER: And, you know, Nia, bribery is for the public at large, easier to understand than quid pro quo.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, who the hell knows what that means, right? I mean it's like an SAT word. Bribery is something that you understand. Most people understand. It sounds bad.
What will be interesting to see is if it makes its way into this hearing. And you've seen some of the members use that word. Adam Schiff, I think, in most of his questioning and certainly in his opening statement he was still using the quid pro quo word.
GREGORY: Also extortion made an -- made an appearance.
HENDERSON: Extortion. Yes. And some people feel like maybe extortion is actually the more accurate sort of legal term here.
BLITZER: It's not mentioned in the Constitution, extortion.
HENDERSON: It's not. Exactly. Exactly.
BLITZER: Bribery, treason --
HENDERSON: Is in the Constitution.
BLITZER: High crimes and misdemeanors.
HENDERSON: So, yes, I think they've learned, for instance, from the president, who has been a master at branding all sorts of things, whether it was sort of no collusion or read the transcript in this instance. They want to keep this thing simple to make it stick in Americans' heads about what they think this president did.
ROSS GARBER, TEACHES IMPEACHMENT LAW AT TULANE LAW SCHOOL: Right. And, you know, in many impeachment proceedings, the argument is about what is a high crime and misdemeanor?
Bribery, it's actually in the Constitution. It's there.
One of the challenges about bribery is satisfying the elements of it. One of which is a corrupt intent. And I think that's going to be where a lot of this winds up is was the president's intent corrupt or was he looking out for American interests and American foreign policy?
And bribery cases, having worked on a lot of them, they're not that easy to prove sometimes. I mean, as we know, Senator Menendez was charged with bribery offenses. He was -- a lot of those charges were dismissed.
BLITZER: But that -- those are legal things. This is, Carrie, political that we're talking about.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right, so there's not actually something in the Constitution that says the definition of bribery has to fit the statutory definition of bribery and all the elements that are in the criminal code. Bribery in the Constitution is whatever the Congress determines are facts that satisfy that requirement. So they have a lot of flexibility in evaluating the facts that are in front of them.
And I do think, though, another key in these public hearings is going to be the ability to distinguish between legitimate foreign policy activities and illegitimate abuse of power. And so your -- we may hear a lot about the fact that the president has very broad foreign policy authorities, but what was going on here with Rudy Giuliani and some of the other individuals that were working on the president's behalf is they were working in his personal interest and that's not a legitimate exercise of foreign policy authority.
KING: But this is the critical test in the environment we're in because it's not a legal case, as the attorneys so well put. But the question is, the Democrats feel very comfortable with their early witnesses, that they're building a fact case that they would feel comfortable, in the House, going forward with impeaching the president. If they did that today, it would be only with Democratic votes. We'll see if one or two Republicans break.
The question is, can you make the case that the bribe -- can you make bribery, right, can you make bribery that you -- do you get -- can you change the political dynamics, either in the House of Representatives or in the country where you start to move Republicans? Republicans will not move right now, in part because they understand this connects to their own hold on power.
In part because the president has an 85 or 90 percent approval rating among Republicans and they think if they break with him, they pay a price back home in the court of public opinion and political opinion back where they live and have to run. Can they change the dynamic, that is the question? Can you make bribery -- can you make it stick?
BLITZER: Members will be arriving shortly. Saw Chris Stewart, the Republican from Utah, member of the Intelligence Committee, he's already in his chair. Others are momentarily going to be walking in as well.
Much more of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: All right, we can see the members walking in. Pretty soon the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, the ranking Republican, Devin Nunes, they will be there as well. They will have opening statements and then the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, will be sworn in. She'll have a statement.
Manu, are you inside the hearing room right now?
RAJU: Yes, Wolf, I'm inside here watching members sort of file in and take their seats, both on the Republican and Democratic side of the aisle. And there are hordes of reporters and cameramen waiting for Marie Yovanovitch's arrival into the hearing room. We already saw her arrive into the Longworth House Office Building. She is now in a holding room where witnesses tend to stay before they come out and make their appearance.
She will come in. She will take a seat. Then the two -- the chairman and the -- Adam Schiff and the ranking member, Devin Nunes, will each give their own opening statement followed by her taking the oath and then her own opening statement followed by staff counsel questioning, which will be 45 minutes apiece on each side. The staff counsel, Dan Goldman, on the Democratic side also has just arrived as he waits to take his seat.
Now also in the crowd, too, Wolf, there are a number of Republican members who do not serve on the House Intelligence Committee, but people who have supported the president, people who have backed up his calls. So expect to hear a lot of these Republicans who have backed up the president and believe he's done nothing wrong to come out afterwards to try to defend the president's handling of this situation.
But, Wolf, just like on Wednesday, lots of anticipation in this room for this testimony on day two of public hearings in which Marie Yovanovitch is expected to detail this effort by Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, to push forward on investigations that could help the president politically.
Something that she believed undercuts foreign policy, the interests of the United States. And something that she also noting will be -- was essentially amounted to a smear campaign that Rudy Giuliani launched against her, that the president had listened to and the president ultimately came down, pulled her out from that position. Something that she believed was unfounded, unfair and we'll hear all of that in a matter of moments here in this room where there's a lot of anticipation for this key witness coming in, in just a matter of moments, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and on the left you see the -- Steve Castor. He's going to be the Republican staff attorney who's going to be asking the questions. We saw Devin Nunes, the chairman -- the ranking member of the committee. He's there as well. Jim Jordan is there. You seem him with usually, you know, Nia, what, he never has a sport coat on.
HENDERSON: Never has a sport coat. Doesn't like the sport coat. He says, you know, he can't get into it, you know, with the sport coat on. It makes him feel, I guess, too constricted and that's not his style, as well know.
BLITZER: And he --
HENDERSON: And also that. And also that.
GREGORY: To look like he's working really hard.
HENDERSON: He's a working man.
BLITZER: He's not really a member of the Intelligence Committee, but has been detailed --
BLITZER: Over in order to participate.
And there you see Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.
KING: Because Jim Joran is known as one of the president's most aggressive defenders. Also somebody who's aggressive in these hearings, questioning witnesses, often interrupting witnesses. The White House wanted him there and the House Republican leadership agreed to put him in there because, as we've seen the president, we've watched the president, one of the private arguments among Republicans is that this doesn't look good, this doesn't feel right. Rudy Giuliani had no right to be doing this.
And eventually a lot of Republicans think they're going to get to the point that this should not have happened but it is not impeachable. The president won't let them go there. He keeps tweeting, no, no, defend this as good, and that's why he wants Jim Jordan on the committee because Jim Jordan will continue to say the president did nothing wrong.
BLITZER: You know, Carrie, how do you think these staff attorneys have been doing, Daniel Goldman, he's a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. He's got a lot of experience in prosecution, and Steve Castor, the Republican staff attorney, how do you think they've been doing?
CORDERO: Well, I think the first Mr. Goldman, he is a career prosecutor and so he came to this with those prosecutorial skills and I think that showed in terms of his skill of questioning. He also has a lot better facts to work with.
Mr. Castor is really a congressional lawyer. He's spent a lot of time on the Oversight Committee.
BLITZER: The chairman is now there. He's going to be seated. But, go ahead.
CORDERO: Sure. So he's been on the Oversight Committee. I don't think that he has the same prosecutorial experience. And so I think his presentation was not as polished as the other attorney. Definitely, though, having staff attorneys is more effective in my judgment than having members ask their questions themselves where then they are performing for the cameras, they are performing for their constituents.
So, I think, in general, it's a more effective way