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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dems Accuse Trump of "Witness Intimidation" for Attacking Ex- Ambassador as She Testified; Now: Aide Said to have Overheard Call where Trump Asked Diplomat about "Investigations" Testifies; Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) Is Interviewed About Trump's Tweet About Marie Yovanovitch; Trump Defends Stone, Says Conviction Shows Double Standard Like Never Seen Before; Aide Who Overheard Trump Phone Call Testifying Now in Closed-Door Deposition. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 15, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we're following breaking news, a second day of historic televised testimony in the impeachment inquiry closing out a very troubling week for President Trump. The most dramatic development, the president tweeting an attack on the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as she was testifying prompting Democratic allegations of witness intimidation.
Right now, the testimony continuing with a closed-door deposition by an American embassy official who overheard the president talking with the U.S. Ambassador to the EU about investigations Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine.
And amid all of the impeachment drama, the president's long-time associate and friend, Roger Stone, has now been found guilty on all seven counts, include telling lies to Congress that protected Mr. Trump.
We'll get to all of that, but first, some details of today's dramatic testimony by the ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is working the story for us. It was very, very powerful.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf, and Marie Yovanovitch recounted and she says that she was vilified by Rudy Giuliani and his associates and even after her ouster as ambassador to Ukraine. She said she felt threatened when she learned the details of the president's July 25th phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky. And then today, she was forced to react in real-time as the president tweeted about her testimony in the midst of the hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the president is facing accusations he crossed the line, sending a tweet Democrats allege amounts to witness intimidation against career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch as she testified on Capitol Hill.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Miss Yovanovitch, as we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: I mean I can't speak to what the president is trying to do but I think the effect is to be intimidating.
SCHNEIDER: Despite the White House saying the president would not watch the proceedings beyond Congressman Nunes' opening statement. The president sent this tweet an hour into the hearing.
"Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. Shae she started off in Somalia, how did that go?"
"It is a U.S. president's absolute right to appoint ambassadors."
Chairman Schiff read that tweet to Yovanovitch and Democrats warned that the president's online rant could prompt repercussions, including a new article of impeachment.
SCHIFF: Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.
SCHNEIDER: Yovanovitch recounted how she's felt threatened by the president and his associates before.
YOVANOVITCH: A person who saw me actually reading the transcript said that the color drained from my face. I think I even had a physical reaction.
SCHNEIDER: Especially after the release of the July 25th phone call transcript between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.
DANIEL GOLDMAN, MAJORITY COUNSEL: President Trump says the former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news. And the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news. So I just want to let you know.
What was your reaction when you heard the president of the United States refer to you as bad news?
YOVANOVITCH: I couldn't believe it. I mean, again, shocked, appalled, devastated, that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state. And it was me. I mean I couldn't believe it.
GOLDMAN: What did you think when President Trump told President Zelensky and you read that you were going to go through some things.
YOVANOVITCH: I didn't know what to think but I was very concerned.
GOLDMAN: What were you concerned about?
YOVANOVITCH: She's going to go through some things. It didn't sound good. Sounded like a threat.
GOLDMAN: Did you feel threatened?
YOVANOVITCH: I did.
SCHNEIDER: Yovanovitch was ousted from her post as ambassador to Ukraine in May after a campaign to remove her that she says was led by Rudy Giuliani and his circulation of rumors that she was undermining the president.
YOVANOVITCH: I do not understand Mr. Giuliani's motives for attacking me nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believed the allegations he spread about me.
SCHNEIDER: Yovanovitch then went point by point to rebut the allegations against her.
YOVANOVITCH: I want to reiterate first that the allegation that I disseminated a do not prosecute list was a fabrication. I did not tell Mr. Lutsenko or other Ukrainian official who they should or should not prosecute.
Also untrue are unsourced allegations that I told unidentified embassy employees or Ukrainian officials that President Trump's orders should be ignored because he was going to be impeached or for any other reason. I did not and I would not say such a thing.
The Obama administration did not ask me to help the Clinton campaign or harm the Trump campaign.
GOLDMAN: Was the allegation that you were bad mouthing President Trump true?
What I can say is that Mr. Giuliani should have known those claims were suspect. Coming as they reportedly did from individuals with questionable motives and with reason to believe that their political and financial ambitions would be stymied by our anticorruption policy in Ukraine.
SCHNEIDER: The former ambassador warning, it sends the wrong message to countries like Russia.
YOVANOVITCH: Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray and shady interests the world over -- have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.
SCHNEIDER: And as Yovanovitch is approximately six hours of testimony ended, people in the hearing room applauded the former ambassador, who has spent 33 years in the Foreign Service.
SCHNEIDER: And Marie Yovanovitch isn't the only key voice testifying on Capitol Hill today. In fact, David Holmes is right now talking behind closed doors. We've learned that he's the aide Bill Taylor referenced in his testimony Wednesday who overheard the phone call that EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland took at a Kiev restaurant on July 26th where President Trump - where the president allegedly asked about investigations.
And Wolf, it is just the latest in the rapid succession of closed door and public testimony. There's more closed door testimony tomorrow, then of course next week. There are those eight witnesses testifying in public.
BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be a very, very significant, indeed, perhaps totally critical. Thanks very much Jessica Schneider for that report.
President Trump meanwhile is citing freedom of speech. As Democrats accuse him of witness intimidation with his Twitter attack on the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine while she was testifying.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, some of the president's allies, I understand, may think he made a very significant mistake.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A clearly frustrated President Trump defended his tweet aimed at former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch arguing he has the right to free speech as much as anybody else. The president got very testy when pressed on whether his tweet posted as Yovanovitch was testifying, amounted to witness intimidation or tampering.
But Wolf, I would tell you, two Trump campaign sources I talked to earlier today sharply criticized the president's tweet about Yovanovitch. One of those sources said it was quote, "idiotic." That was the word used. Idiotic, of President Trump to go after Yovanovitch as she was testifying, admitting that made her more sympathetic to people watching the hearing at home. The president complained the reporters about the process a short while ago talking about these hearings and he defended his tweet aimed at the ambassador. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tampering is when a guy like shifty Schiff doesn't let us have lawyers. Tampering is Schiff doesn't let us have witnesses, doesn't let us speak.
When we have great Republican representatives, people elected by the people and they're not allowed to even ask a question, they're not allowed to make a statement, we're not allowed to have witnesses, we're not allowed to have legal counsel, White House counsel.
I think it's considered a joke all over Washington and all over the world. The Republicans are given no due process whatsoever.
I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just as other people do but they've taken away the Republicans rights.
QUESTION: Sir, do you believe your tweets or words can be intimidating?
TRUMP: I don't think so at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now the president admitted today he was watching today's proceedings, contradicting his own press secretary, Stephanie Grisham who told reporters earlier in the day that Mr. Trump was only watching the opening statement from Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee.
Now the White House says one other mess on its hands this evening just as the Yovanovitch hearing was getting underway, the White House released a summary transcript of the president's first phone call with the leader of Ukraine back in April. During that phone call, the president makes no mention, according to this transcript, of fighting corruption. Contrast that with an official White House read out of the Trump Zelensky phone call released to the press back in April. That readout states the call between the two leaders touched on the subject of corruption.
Now the White House released a statement just a short while ago that appears to blame the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council here at the White House, Alexander Vindman, who testifies at a public hearing next week. In theory, Wolf, he'll have a chance to respond to what the White House is saying if he's asked. Wolf?
BLITZER: I'm sure he will be. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on the testimony underway right now. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill for us.
How significant, Manu, is this closed door testimony that's underway right now with David Holmes, who is the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very significant because he apparently was named as the individual who overheard that conversation between President Trump and Gordon Sondland in which the president was urging for him calling for investigations into the Bidens, that and the immediate aftermath of the call between Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine in July.
And we are told there are other witnesses, too, who have heard that phone call. According to one congressman who just came out here and spoke to reporters saying that there are at least two other witnesses, Wolf, who did hear that phone call. So, this - deposition is still ongoing. It started at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We're just now in the second hour. So, we'll see what more information we learn as this witness goes behind closed doors and testifies.
And of course, this all comes, Wolf, at a key day in this impeachment hearing. Not today, earlier in the aftermath of the president going after Marie Yovanovitch and attacking her via Twitter. There are concerns from Democrats and witness intimidation and warnings too, that this could be rolled into an article of impeachment.
Democratic leaders, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told me earlier today that it could very well be rolled into an article of impeachment. And also, more questions today, Wolf, in the aftermath of her testimony about the role of Rudy Giuliani. How he was playing that role in launching this smear campaign that she testified about as he was pushing matters that she believed undercut the national interest.
Now Republicans are having a hard time defending the role of Giuliani. Some saying that the president is well within his rights to name someone for that post, but others making it -- making it clear that they would not necessarily say whether it was right for him to smear this ambassador.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Why is it appropriate for the president to tap his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to mount what she testified to was a smear campaign against her? Why is that OK?
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): As I said, the president is going to have whom he desires doing diplomatic work for the country.
RAJU: Do you think it was a smear -- she said it was a smear campaign, under oath. She testified that it was a smear campaign of false attacks against her. Do you believe her?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So, we'll wait to see what else we learn from today, Wolf, a busy day. David Holmes still testifying that official who overheard this conversation, but again, Wolf, he is saying according to a congressman, at least two other people heard the president saying that there should be these investigations into the Bidens in a conversation with the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.
BLITZER: Yes. We don't know who else was listening. There's a lot of suspicious the Russians may be eves dropping as well. All right, Manu, thank you very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly, he is a member of both the Oversight and the Foreign Affairs Committees. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let me get your immediate reaction to the president of the United States tweeting this disparaging message about this witness, a distinguished U.S. diplomat right in the middle of her public hearing.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): It's really reprehensible and unprecedented and it smacks Al Capone in witness intimidation and it can't be called anything but that. And sadly, it's a pattern, Wolf, with the Republicans led by Donald Trump. So we thought in the Michael Cohen hearings when Matt Gaetz actually tweeted clear threats about personal information that were being revealed against Michael Cohen. He had to retract that and withdraw those tweets but the damage was done. The impact was there. Right up until today, the president himself clearly issuing intimidating tweets to try to suppress or silence this you know courageous ambassador.
BLITZER: And maybe future witnesses as well in process.
BLITZER: So, will Democrats include the president's tweets, the tweet today specifically in potential articles of impeachment?
CONNOLLY: I certainly think it will be a subject of discussion. And there will been an examination of what ought to be included should there be articles of impeachment. Clearly, the president's behavior with respect to the law, obstruction of justice, intimidation of witnesses, noncooperation with legal issued subpoenas by the legislative branch are all right for consideration in article or articles of impeachment.
BLITZER: And have you already seen enough evidence, Congressman, to vote in favor of impeaching the president?
CONNOLLY: Well, Wolf, as you know, I actually felt we had plenty to work on back in early August after Robert Mueller had completed his public testimony.
I believe that his report is a damning and devastating report of illegal behavior and especially obstruction of justice, clearly a crime. But plenty of abuse of office which is an impeachable offense and of course defiance on the legislative branch across the board in terms of legally issued subpoenas for us to do our work. All of those are grounds for impeachment and I supported impeachment before the Ukrainian revelations.
BLITZER: Right now, your committee is hearing private, closed door testimony from David Holmes, the senior U.S. embassy official in Ukraine who allegedly overheard a phone call between President Trump and the U.S. ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland at a restaurant in Kiev. Can you tell us whether Mr. Holmes confirmed that phone call and whether it's true, that the president said he cared more about investigating the Bidens than he cared about Ukraine?
CONNOLLY: I'm going to be careful about discussing what I just heard in closed session. But I would say that the word the -- allegedly is not accurate. It's not alleged. It happened and it's a matter of public record that Mr. Holmes heard this conversation and recognized the president's voice loud and clear because he was so loud on the phone and so loud that in fact the recipient of the phone call, Ambassador Sondland, had to kind of keep the phone a little bit away from his ears which of course allowed others to hear it. BLITZER: So I just want to be precise, Congressman. You took away the word allegedly. You're saying this is a fact. It happened. And you specifically heard, confirm that it happened.
CONNOLLY: First of all, we heard Ambassador Taylor assert that it happened and that he had an aide who heard it. We are now hearing deposition from that aide, David Holmes. And it was I don't think in dispute that the phone conversation occurred. So it's not here say and it's not alleged.
BLITZER: So you're hearing it directly from a person who overheard that conversation, the embassy official, David Holmes.
CONNOLLY: That's the whole purpose of today's deposition.
BLITZER: I know it's the whole purpose but I just want to make sure that we're not pinning it on Ambassador Bill Taylor any longer. We have somebody who was actually there as opposed to someone who heard it from another person.
CONNOLLY: I'm trying to thread a needle here so I'm not directly referring to testimony in closed session.
BLITZER: I understand completely what you're saying. And you've been very generous with your words and your time as usual. Representative Gerry Connolly thanks so much for joining us.
CONNOLLY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump goes on the attack as his former ambassador to Ukraine testified before Congress. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is now calling that witness intimidation in real time. Could that lead to another article of impeachment?
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now including Democrats accusing President Trump of real-time witness intimidation because of his tweets today attacking the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine as she was testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.
Let's bring in our correspondents and our analysts. And John King, we just heard Congressman Gerry Connolly emerge from that closed door meeting with David Holmes, the U.S. embassy official who overheard that conversation between U.S. ambassador to the EU and the president talking about investigations, what was going on in Ukraine. He basically confirmed what Bill Taylor said and David Holmes was right there. It wasn't hearsay.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And so the question is number one, what do they get? What's the full explanation? What's the full recollection of Mr. Holmes to what he heard on that conversation? Did the word Bidens come up? Did the word investigations come up? How do you put it into context? And then, if and when Mr. Holmes becomes a public witness. Other Republicans are complaining, you know, we're going back into the basement as they say.
This is the process of any investigation. It was the process of their Benghazi investigation. This is how committees do their work. You start it private then you bring it public. The question is how quickly can you get Mr. Holmes in public because one of the Republican defenses - if that's what you want to call it - and these hearings has been you didn't speak to the president. Did you Ambassador Yovanovitch? You didn't speak to the president. Did you Ambassador Taylor? You can't connect this to the president. Can you Mr. Kent?
If you have a Mr. Holmes who comes up and says I heard the president's voice. And there's another witness, I heard the president's voice. And then Ambassador Sondland has to follow. An ambassador who's already amended his testimony once. It was Ambassador Sondland holding that phone in a conversation with the president of the United States. There's your connection to the president. The question is, what exactly can you get on the record about what was said.
BLITZER: And we heard the Congressman Connolly, you know, Gloria, say that Ambassador Sondland was holding the phone away from his ear so that others at the table at that restaurant in Kiev could hear the president directly.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Apparently because the president was speaking so loudly and I think that Sondland has some questions to answer here, he becomes more and more of a key witness as this week progressed and this next week, we'll see. But I think Sondland has to say well did you not recall this conversation with the president.
He did say that there may have been other conversations that he did not recall. This would seem to me to be kind of an important one and did you also tell the people sitting at the table that the president cared more about investigating the Bidens than he did about anything else regarding Ukraine. And I think those are key questions.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER: And this is happening on the backdrop of Roger Stone being convicted of not being truthful to Congress, of obstructing justice. I mean, seven counts. And so Gordon Sondland is somebody who is a wealthy man, who had a very comfortable life before he decided that he was going to give a million dollars to the Trump inaugural and then an ambassadorship to the EU. Does he want to be the next Roger Stone? Does he want to be the person who is going to potentially get prosecuted for not being truthful? That's another question which puts the stakes even higher for him when he testifies.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He had been trying to thread that line initially it seems in his testimony by giving just enough information to seem cooperative but not enough to implicate the president. Now he's gotten caught in at the very at least misleading about some of these conversations and unlike Roger Stone, Gordon Sondland, yes, he gave a million dollars to the president's inaugural committee, but he's not a sort of longtime Trumper. He is relatively new to this world. And so the depth of his allegiance to the president is not what it would be for a Roger Stone. So it raises a lot of questions about whether or not he's going to stick with the line and trying to keep the president largely out of this whole narrative.
BLITZER: I want to get Jim Baker involved in this conversation. Jim, you're hearing all the breaking news. What do you think?
JIM BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: It just gets worse and worse for the president. It's been a terrible week for him on a number of fronts. He made it worse for himself today with his tweets about the ambassador during the middle of the hearing. That was clearly dumb. It's my legal analysis. It was a dumb thing to do.
And it was -- in addition, quite seriously, it was abusive. It was clearly intended to intimidate the witness. I've been on the receiving end of presidential tweets about me and they do have an impact on you. They are intimidating and they do have an effect in the real world on your life.
And so you know that's my assessment of that, but with respect to the, you know, the Republicans defense as others were saying has been that nobody spoke directly to the president about what happened and so this, the statement apparently under oath by Mr. Holmes is a significant development and it does not help the president whatsoever.
BLITZER: Certainly does not. And we're going to be sure getting remarks - a transcript of that deposition at some point as well. We'll be hearing from Gordon Sondland, the ambassador, he'll be testifying publicly on Wednesday. We're going to -- everybody stand by. We're going to have a lot more on the dramatic developments today in the hearings.
We're also following another really major breaking story here in Washington. President Trump's associate and friend, Roger Stone, now found guilty on all seven counts including telling lies that helped protect the president.
BLITZER: We'll have much more ahead on today's dramatic impeachment hearings, but there's another very important story we're watching here in Washington.
The trial of President Trump's associate and friend, Roger Stone, ended this afternoon with a federal jury concluding that Stone told lies to protect the President. Stone was convicted on all seven counts he faced.
Our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz was there and covered the -- the trial for us. So, ultimately, he was convicted. He's facing years in prison potentially.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes.
BLITZER: But he is 67 years old.
PROKUPECZ: He is potentially facing a significant amount of prison time. The worst thing that he got convicted of was tampering with a witness. That potentially carries the most prison time for him.
BLITZER: Twenty years potentially.
BLITZER: Twenty years potentially. You know having covered this case for two weeks -- nearly two weeks now, Donald Trump was the central figure of this trial. The prosecutors, right out of the gate, said that this -- this trial was about Roger Stone trying to protect the President.
And can you have a more fitting day, when you think about what's going on in Congress today? Roger Stone was convicted of lying to members of Congress who were investigating the President.
And so, this jury, you know, they sat through a lot of the evidence, and it was overwhelming. Overwhelming evidence against Roger Stone. And really, everything came down to the end when the prosecutors started arguing their case to the jurors and why they should convict Roger Stone.
And honestly, Wolf, you've -- there was a lot of passion and emotion from these prosecutors. Some of them from the Mueller team coming in, sitting there, talking about their evidence, arguing how truth matters, how we need to -- that this is a case about protecting institution and protecting the truth.
And ultimately, the jury believed them, and they found him guilty on all seven counts.
BLITZER: Within minutes of the conviction on all seven counts, the President of the United States tweets -- so they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come.
And then he goes on to talk about all the -- the others who have not been charged with crimes. I mean, it's -- it's a double -- he says it's a double standard like never seen before in the history of our country.
BLITZER: Which raises the possibility of a presidential pardon.
PROKUPECZ: And it absolutely does. And -- and it's still something that everyone thinks probably will happen in this case. It certainly still with Paul Manafort as well. I feel a lot of people feel that he is going to be pardoned eventually. But, you know, and the President wasted no time, as you said. Just a
short time after the jury gives their verdict, he's out there tweeting about this.
Roger Stone, for the most part, has had to be -- has had to be quiet during this trial. You know, it's something he's not used to. He is under a gag order, but he did -- you know, we did catch up with him outside his apartment, and here's that video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: Mr. Stone, what's your reaction to the verdict?
ROGER STONE, FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO DONALD TRUMP: No comment.
PROKUPECZ: Are you receiving a pardon from President Trump?
STONE: No comment.
No, don't do that. These people like it. No comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: And so, you see Roger there as he was throughout this entire trial. And he didn't talk to any of the reporters. He was pretty good about sticking to the gag order.
But there, you know, he doesn't seem that distressed. He doesn't seem that upset by what happened. I think his -- his team certainly has, just from folks -- talking to folks at the courtroom, expected this outcome.
They were optimistic this morning. Yesterday, were not so optimistic, but today they came in a little more enthusiastic. But then, obviously, the jury came back. And so, we'll see. He's -- he gets sentenced on February 6th, so he has some time to get things together.
But like you said, Wolf, there is a potential that he could face some significant prison time here. Most importantly, it's that witness tampering case.
PROKUPECZ: The witness tampering charge, that could really land him in prison.
BLITZER: There several -- you know, perjury is a very serious crime.
PROKUPECZ: It's a very serious --
BLITZER: These -- these are felonies.
PROKUPECZ: They are felonies. They are federal felonies. They are significant because of what he did here.
BLITZER: Yes. PROKUPECZ: And that is lie to members of Congress.
BLITZER: By the way, Rick Gates, who was the -- what, deputy chairman?
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
BLITZER: -- of the -- of the Trump campaign, we now hear he's going to be sentenced on December 17th.
PROKUPECZ: Right. He testified in this case, one of the last things that he had to do as part of his cooperation. And this is the end for the Mueller investigation. This was the last piece of the Mueller investigation. That's now over. This is it.
BLITZER: He's pleaded guilty and he's been cooperating. We'll see what kind of sentence he gets.
All right, important news. We've got lots to discuss. We're going to be back with our correspondents and our analysts. We're following all the breaking news. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts, and we're following the breaking news. It's interesting, you know, John, that as we're speaking right now, David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, he is doing a deposition. He's testifying under oath before these committees in a secure room.
And he's discussing this conversation that he apparently overheard between the President of the United States and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in which the President was speaking about how important it was to do these investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election as -- as opposed to how important Ukraine might be.
And we're anticipating getting some information from that deposition fairly soon.
KING: It's a critical piece of the building block especially when Republicans say nobody talked to the President. If you have a career foreign service person, a person of credibility who says he heard the President's voice and the President was speaking in a conversation with the Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, and I heard the President say this, so the question is what.
What did he hear? If he heard the President say as Ambassador Taylor testified, that he believed it was -- the conversation was that what's most important to me are the investigations about the Bidens, or is it in the context? The -- was the word Biden used? Was it just investigations? What was the context of that? It's absolutely critical to connect it to the West Wing and the
President of the United States directly. Now, for -- now, you have Mr. Holmes, which gets you that testimony. It backs up Ambassador Taylor's credibility. He also said other things, but it backs up his credibility more broadly.
And then it also puts enormous pressure on Gordon Sondland, who's due back before the testimony next week. And as we discussed a bit earlier, he's already amended his testimony quite significantly. He did a 180 on the question of was there a quid pro quo in Ukraine?
So what is his attorney telling him today when what happened last time was Sondland testified, then other witnesses came in, then Sondland saw their testimony and amended his?
This time, the Committee is getting the testimony first of the others. So when Mr. Sondland comes in, they are going to have Mr. Holmes on the record, perhaps a second witness they say that they have there. And then the question is, what does Gordon Sondland say, the guy who we do know -- we do know -- was is in frequent contact directly with the President?
PHILLIP: And -- and we should keep in mind the timing of all of this. This call that Sondland made to the President happened right after President Trump had a conversation with President Zelensky, in which --
BASH: The day after.
PHILLIP: The day -- the -- the day after, in which he specified that he was interested in investigating Hunter Biden. He was interested in Joe Biden. He was interested in this conspiracy theory around CrowdStrike and the 2016 election.
So the context is critical here because the President was following up on something that he had asked for in that phone call.
PHILLIP: And -- and this is the -- this is the "are they doing it?" conversation. And so, the context around that is really critically important.
BORGER: Well, he also called it --
BLITZER: All right, hold -- hold on one second.
Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill. Manu, I understand you have new information on what this U.S. embassy official has been saying under oath to these committee members.
RAJU: Yes, and I actually have obtained the opening statement from this aide of -- of Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine. The aide, David Holmes, delivering this statement, a 10-page, very detailed opening statement discussing exactly what has come out this week. [17:45:06]
He overheard a phone call between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union, in which the President was calling for investigations into his political rival, Joe Biden, and wanting Ukraine specifically to launch the investigation.
So I'm going to read for you a portion of this opening statement that details the lunch that Gordon Sondland had with President Trump in which the President was calling for these investigations.
So it says -- says this, during the lunch, Ambassador Sondland said that he was going to call President Trump to give him an update. Ambassador Sondland placed a call on his mobile phone and I heard him announce -- announce himself several times along the lines of Gordon Sondland, holding for the President.
It appeared that he was being transferred through several layers, a switchboard's in assistance. I noticed that Ambassador Sondland's demeanor changed and understood that he had been connected to President Trump.
While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on the speakerphone, I could hear the President's voice through the earpiece of the phone. The President's voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time presumably because of the loud volume.
So that explains, Wolf, how these people were able to overhear what the President was saying.
Now, he goes on to say this -- I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain that he was calling from Kiev. I heard President Trump then clarify Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine.
He went on to state that President Zelensky, quote, loves your ass. I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do, quote, anything you ask him to.
Even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection that these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew that Ambassador Sondland was speaking with the President.
So before I go on, I just want to reiterate what he says here, Wolf. He says that I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigations, referring, of course, to the investigations that the President had asked for the day before with President Zelensky, the investigations of his political rival.
Ambassador Sondland said he's going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to.
So I'll read a little bit more from this statement that discusses more about the conversation that the European Union Ambassador had with President Trump.
The conversation then shifted to Ambassador Sondland's efforts on behalf of the President to assist a rapper who was jailed in Sweden, and I could only hear Ambassador Sondland's side of that part of the conversation.
Ambassador Sondland told the President that the rapper was kind of F- ed here and should have pled guilty. This is probably referring to another episode. Of course, he recommended the President would wait until after the sentencing, or it will make it worse, adding that the President should let him get sentenced, play the racism card, get him a ticker tape when he comes home.
Ambassador Sondland further told the President that Sweden should have released him on your word, but that you can call -- you can tell the Kardashians you tried. So then these two -- he starts talking about towards the end of this phone call.
He says, after the phone call -- after the call ended, Ambassador Sondland remarked that the President was in a bad mood as, Ambassador Sondland stated, was often the case early in the morning.
And then he says I then took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the President's views on Ukraine. In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the President did not give an S about Ukraine.
Ambassador Sondland agreed that the President did not give an S about Ukraine. I asked why not. And Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about the, quote, big stuff.
I noted that there was big stuff going on in Ukraine like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that the, quote, big stuff that benefits the President like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation moved on to other topics.
Very significant there, Wolf, he is saying that the President only cared about the quote, big stuff, the investigations into the Bidens and did not care about Ukraine. This corroborates what Bill Taylor testified to early this week when he said his aide had overheard that phone call. He is making it clear, he heard Gordon Sondland make clear that the President only cared about Ukraine investigating his political rival, Joe Biden.
So then he -- he closes with this on this section. He says, upon returning to the embassy, I immediately told the Deputy Chief of Mission and others at the embassy about the call with the President and my conversation with Ambassador Sondland. I also e-mailed an embassy official in Sweden regarding the issue with the U.S. rapper that was discussed on the call.
So July 26th was the last day in the office ahead of a planned vacation, and he talks about how he told Ambassador Sondland about -- Ambassador Taylor about the July 26th call. And he repeatedly referred to the conversation with Sondland in meetings and conversations that he had thereafter. [17:49:59]
So then he says -- he says, at that -- at that time, Ambassador Sondland's statement of the President's lack of interest in Ukraine was a particular focus. We understand that in order to secure a meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky, we would have to work very -- we have to -- we would have to work hard to find a way to explain Ukraine's importance to President Trump in terms that he found compelling.
So here you go, Wolf, this is a person who heard the President of the United States say to the European Union Ambassador that Ukraine needed to investigate his main political rival, and that's what he cared about, the, quote, big stuff. He didn't care about Ukraine, he cared about the big stuff, according to what Gordon Sondland told him in the aftermath of this phone call.
So very revealing testimony being delivered behind closed-doors. In this opening statement, we obtained the details, exactly, what David Holmes, this official, is testifying about right now and corroborating this key detail that came out as the Democrats pushed to learn more about the efforts by the President to pursue this investigation into his political rival.
BLITZER: Yes, this is very, very significant, very dramatic, very important information you're sharing with us, Manu. Thanks very much.
Did -- did he say -- does he say in that opening statement there were others at that table -- around the table of that restaurant in Ukraine that may have overheard the conversation on Ambassador Sondland's cell phone?
RAJU: So we are told from -- from sources, including a Congressman who came out of the room and told -- talked to reporters that there were two -- at least two other people who were aware of this phone call between the President and President Zelensky.
Now, it's unclear whether or not the committees will try to pursue to get those interviews with those other individuals. But he also makes clear here, which is interesting, Wolf, that he said that he talked to various people about this in subsequent meetings after that July 26th phone call.
He said he repeatedly referred to the call in conversation with Ambassadors Sondland, in meetings, in conversations where the issue of the President's lack of interest in Ukraine was -- was potentially relevant. So this came out continually. It was discussed in Kiev among key officials about the President's interest or lack thereof in Ukraine and his real interest was just pushing for these investigations.
So clearly, a significant moment here in this investigation as this testimony is ongoing, Wolf.
BLITZER: What I want you to do, Manu, go back to that key passage in that opening statement by David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, who's now testifying under oath before these committees behind closed-doors -- but we got a copy of his opening statement.
I want you to reread, for our viewers here in the United States and around the world, precisely what he overheard the President of the United States saying to the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U.
RAJU: So this is what the -- this is what he said exactly, Wolf. He said, I heard Ambassador Sondland greet the President and explain that he was calling from Kiev. I heard President Trump then clarify that Ambassador Sondland was in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine. And he went on to state that President Zelensky, quote, loves your ass.
I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him. That's, quote, anything you ask him to.
He -- even though I did not take notes of these statements, I have a clear recollection these statements were made. I believe that my colleagues who were sitting at the table also knew Ambassador Sondland was speaking to the President.
And then this other passage about -- about the President's ask to investigate Ukraine. I'll read it again.
Sondland agreed that the President did not give an S about Ukraine. I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the President only cares about, quote, big stuff. I noted that there was big stuff going on in Ukraine like a war in Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant, quote, big stuff that benefits the President, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.
Then they talked about other topics. So it's very clear here what the President's interest is, what he was trying to convey to the Ambassador to the European Union, that Ukraine needed to launch these investigations into his political rivals at the same time that they were seeking this meeting between the Ukrainian administration and President Trump at the White House. And at the same time as there was discussion about this aid that was later withheld for 55 days, nearly $400 million or so.
But it's clear here what the President's interest was. According to this phone call, investigate the Bidens -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu, stand by. We're going to get much more reaction. This is really a bombshell piece of information we're getting about the President of the United States, what he thinks about a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens, what he thinks about Ukraine. We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following major breaking news. Right now, a very, very dramatic development in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.