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White House Budget Official Breaks Ranks, Testifies Behind Closed Doors; Trump Associate Roger Stone Found Guilty Of Lies That Protected Trump; Paris Police Fire Tear Gas On Anti-Government Protests; Obama Issues Warning To Dem Candidates: Don't Go Too Far Left; "High Probability" That Other Countries Were Listening To Alleged Trump-Sondland Call. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 16, 2019 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:21]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's 11:00 on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Right now the White House Office of Management and Budget official, Mark Sandy, is testifying behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Arriving about an hour ago for a rare Saturday deposition, Sandy is expected to detail what he knows about the President's decision to hold up aid to Ukraine. His testimony comes after another witness gave a firsthand account of overhearing President Trump demanding Ukraine investigate the Bidens.

In a closed deposition -- closed-door deposition late yesterday, David Holmes, an aide to the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, told lawmakers that he overheard Trump make that request while the President was on a phone call with the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland. This according to a copy of Holmes' opening statement obtained by CNN.

This follows a day of dramatic and unflappable testimony from the ousted ambassador of Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. The career diplomat told lawmakers that she was, I'm quoting now, "shocked and devastated", end quote, after learning the President disparaged her in his July phone call with the Ukrainian president.

And Yovanovitch talked about how isolated and hurt she was after being removed from her post by what she calls a campaign of disinformation from the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: In the face of this smear campaign, did colleagues at the State Department try to get a statement of support for you from Secretary Pompeo?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Yes.

SCHIFF: Were they successful?

YOVANOVITCH: No.

SCHIEFF: Did you come to learn that they couldn't issue such a statement because they feared it would be undercut by the President?

YOVANOVITCH: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's start with CNN's Kristen Holmes on Capitol Hill. Kristen, let's begin with the testimony under way right now. Tell us more about what likely is being asked.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred -- this is Mark Sandy. As you mentioned, he is a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget. And I kind of want to take a step back here as to why this department within the White House is so important right now.

When we think about the impeachment inquiry as a whole, we have to remember that all of this stemmed from one thing. Did President Trump and his allies withhold aid from Ukraine in an effort to get dirt on a political rival of President Trump's?

Now, when you think about the Office of Management and Budget that is exactly what they do. They would either be the ones who released the aid to Ukraine or the ones who withheld it. And that's why Sandy is so important.

And again, a career official, this is not somebody who was appointed by the President as we've seen before in the Office of Management and Budget. This is somebody who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans.

And despite the fact that these investigators have tried to get information as to what this process looked like when the aid was being withheld, they really haven't gotten any traction here. Anyone that they have reached out to has defied subpoenas. They have defied releasing documents. And that's where Sandy comes in.

He was subpoenaed today, he showed up and they're hoping to get some answers on whether or not there were any red flags in the OMB during this time. Were there any conversations around the release of this budget? Was it common knowledge the reasoning that President Trump had for withholding this aid from Ukraine? That's likely what we're going to end up hearing or seeing in that transcript when we do, if we do get it.

And I want to mention you talked about David Holmes. This is closed- door testimony from yesterday. Holmes is a staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. We are hearing from many Democrats who really are pointing to this as a critical testimony. They believe it advances them in the impeachment inquiry, and here's why.

Holmes had direct knowledge. He heard a conversation between the ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and President Trump talking about those investigations. We read that testimony, Holmes saying that he sat down at a meal with Sondland and two other staffers when Sondland placed a call to President Trump and that the President was talking so loudly that although he wasn't on speakerphone, Holmes could hear his voice, he could hear what he was saying distinctly.

And this is what he said. He said that he then heard President Trump ask so he's going to do the investigation to Sondland. Ambassador Sondland replied he's going to do it adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to. Now the phone conversation then between Sondland and the President ended but the conversation between Holmes and Sondland did not. Holmes following up saying is it true that the President doesn't care about Ukraine?

[11:04:59]

HOLMES: According to Holmes' testimony, this is what Sondland said. He said -- Sondland said the President only cares about, quote, "big stuff that benefits the President", like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.

Again, this is incredibly important testimony here because it places President Trump much closer to that Ukrainian pressure campaign. It's firsthand information. And it raises a lot of questions about Gordon Sondland who testified behind closed doors and never mentioned this call.

He's going to testify again this coming week in public this time. And I'm sure that lawmakers are going to have quite a few questions about this.

WHITFIELD: Just a few. All right, Kristen Holmes -- thank you so much. We'll check back with you.

All right. Let's talk further about what we know thus far.

With me now is Bill McCollum, a former Republican congressman from Florida. He is a former Florida attorney general and was one of 14 House Impeachment managers who presented the case against President Bill Clinton to the senate. We're kind of going down back memory lane but all of it is applicable to today.

Also joining me now is John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon whose testimony before the U.S. Senate Watergate committee in 1973 would hasten the President's demise. Today Dean is a CNN contributor.

Good to see both of you.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Bill -- let me begin with you. You know, this late testimony by David Holmes who says he overheard President Trump on the phone with the U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland asking Sondland about investigations into the Bidens that places the President at the center of this alleged effort to extort and influence Ukraine. So if Sondland confirms in his testimony this Wednesday when he publicly testifies, Bill -- in your view does this corroborate that the President had firsthand knowledge, that there is testimony from someone who has firsthand knowledge, perhaps even two people with firsthand knowledge, would this spell out an impeachable offense to you?

BILL MCCOLLUM, FORMER FLORIDA REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: I don't -- I don't think so. I've never thought there was one here from anything I've heard so far.

And the fact that he asked for --

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: Well, last weekend you said you didn't think so because it was secondhand information.

MCCOLLUM: Well, that's part of it.

WHITFIELD: But now we've got testimony from one who has firsthand and potentially second testimony. Would that change your view?

MCCOLLUM: Right. No.

WHITFIELD: Why not?

MCCOLLUM: At this point not. Because, look, to be impeachable you've got to have a high crime and misdemeanor. This is not bribery. This is something which has, despite what Schiff has been saying lately --

(CROSSTALKING)

WHITFIELD: And I would just say Democrats are using the terminology bribery. Why do you think they're wrong that this is not bribery -- asking for something in exchange for another?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think they're using it for political reason. There's no quid pro quo here. You couldn't convict anybody for this in court. It's not historically there. The investigation never took place. There was never -- the aid eventually went. So there's no bribery here.

WHITFIELD: But the aid only went because a whistleblower had filed a complaint.

MCCOLLUM: Look, I don't know about that but I can tell you this much. That may be something that comes out in these hearings that are going on right now. But the fact of the matter is that even if all of this were true, I still can't see where there's a reason to impeach this president.

This is political. It's going to the 2020 election. It doesn't arise to the same nature that John Dean experienced with President Nixon. It doesn't arise to the same level that we had in the Clinton case where he had these clear crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice and we had independent counsel that showed the path to real crimes. So I just don't see this as an impeachable offense based upon what I'm hearing so far in all of this right now.

WHITFIELD: So Bill, there are --

MCCOLLUM: And listen -- there's one other thing. There's one other thing.

WHITFIELD: -- different circumstances when you're talking about Watergate versus right now.

MCCOLLUM: Yes, let me --

WHITFIELD: We're talking about the allegation of the U.S. government from the direction perhaps of the President of the United States asking a foreign government to investigate an American, perhaps even two Americans, one who happens to be the former vice president. Nothing is wrong with that in your view? Because that is the bottom line issue, isn't it?

MCCOLLUM: The bottom line issue is also what was his motive? What was he looking for? What is the President looking for? He clearly wanted an investigation. And the fact is there was plenty of stuff that's in the record that so far hasn't been brought forward in these hearings because I think the Republicans have been denied the opportunity to bring all of their witnesses about the issue of Paul Manafort, about the efforts of the Democrat operatives to try to, back in the 2016 elections, go through the Ukraine and get dirt on the President and on Manafort.

And there is also evidence apparently from Rudy Giuliani's op-ed piece in the "Wall Street Journal" this week that there's a Ukrainian parliament member who has said in public that he saw where $900,000 was transferred from Burisma to a lobby group that was owned or run by Hunter Biden.

WHITFIELD: Well, we don't have any confirmation of that.

MCCOLLUM: So we have all these coming out. And those would be reasons --

WHITFIELD: Ok.

MCCOLLUM: -- those would be reasons for the President to ask for an investigation, perfectly legitimate.

[11:09:56]

WHITFIELD: Ok. Except you also heard lawmakers bring up the point of like how would you ask a corrupt government or an even corrupt prosecutor to look into or lead an investigation? Why would you not, either the White House go to DOJ, ask to spearhead an investigation but why would you ask a corrupt government or one that has history of such to launch an investigation against an American? And all of these things will be tackled during this inquiry, right? MCCOLLUM: Well, to some extent that's true. And I hope that they

are. I just hope all of this comes forward. I'm not happy with the process right now still, because I don't think that the Republicans are being given or the President the opportunity to bring forward the witnesses they want to bring forward.

And Chairman Schiff is silencing people when they're trying to ask questions, falling back on an interpretation of the resolution and so on.

WHITFIELD: Ok. All right.

MCCOLLUM: Yes, I'm still open-minded about this, but I think there is a good deal of effort right now to make this look a certain way and spin it instead of actually producing the cold hard facts.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about what we have heard, you know, thus far. So, John -- you know, how potentially damaging do you believe the testimony of David Holmes that we heard late last night who said he overheard the President in this discussion? Do you believe this rises to high crimes, misdemeanors, bribery, impeachable offenses?

DEAN: Fred, I think that what it did is knock down a Republican talking point. I come from a little different place than the former congressman. I think this president probably should have been impeached the day he walked in. He's incompetent. He has a terrible attitude. He doesn't understand government. He is in there trying to build his own brand, and he's taking advantage of the office from day one.

It's just kind of caught up with him with this incident and what has -- the Ukrainian incident forcing the Congress to take action. He is still looking at about 10 instances of obstruction of justice from the Mueller report.

So I come at this from a very different point of view than the Congressman.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So John -- I also want to ask you about -- I mean there was dramatic testimony coming from the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, yesterday. And while the intel chair, Adam Schiff, was asking her questions and asking her about how she was feeling, learning that the President, you know, may be instigating this smear campaign against her, this is what happened at that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: And now the President in real-time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, it's very intimidating.

SCHIFF: It's designed to intimidate, is it not?

YOVANOVITCH: I mean I can't speak to what the President is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.

SCHIFF: Well, I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And in the midst of her testimony, the intel chairman, you know, read a tweet of the President who essentially said, you know, in real-time to her testimony that everywhere she's gone, you know, bad things happened after she, you know, and talked about her service in hardship places, starting with Mogadishu.

So in your view is this witness intimidation? Is it something that is rolled into an article of impeachment?

DEAN: It's very possible. I was monitoring here on a panel at CNN. I take notes as these things proceed. It was about an hour and a half into her testimony when Chairman Schiff read this to her. And I looked at my notes and I wrote down, "attempted harassment".

I immediately then during a commercial break went to my iPhone and looked up 18 USC 1512, which is the harassment statute. It fits the statute. It could be a crime. I think Adam Schiff very carefully worded his analysis of it because she was not the direct -- she was testifying at the time, didn't harass her. She didn't even know about it. But he asked her could this influence other witnesses, and the answer is yes.

This president can indeed influence by trying to harass, embarrass, cause problems for with his millions of followers on social media. So it was -- it was just a dumb thing for the President to do. But he does those kind of things regularly.

[11:15:07]

WHITFIELD: And so, Bill -- quickly on that, you know. Do you defend that choice by the President?

MCCOLLUM: It was a dumb thing for the President to do. John Dean is right about that. Is it a crime? Is it impeachable? I don't think so. But nonetheless, you know, John and I come from a different perspective because I certainly think the President does make mistakes. You can argue that he's done from the very beginning things with his temperament that maybe most presidents wouldn't do.

But 63 million Americans kind of like that and they still like that. Not all of them, but most of them do. And I think that this is the thing that should be decided in the elections. I just don't think we have anything here that rises to the level of what I would call impeachable.

What I went through with the Clinton team and we spent a lot of time on that -- what is a high crime and misdemeanor. And the fact we have all this history, John -- with all due respect of things that probably some of which we share. WHITFIELD: And you know, we just lost John's signal. He might be

able to hear you but we did lose his signal and that's why he's suddenly gone from the screen.

MCCOLLUM: Ok.

WHITFIELD: So Bill, you know, the fact, though, that you said it was a dumb thing to do. Others, you know, agree the President shouldn't be harassing the witness. But if the President is also stopping witnesses, others who have been subpoenaed, if the President is encouraging a stonewalling, how is that not the same as interrupting or intimidating a witness versus sending out an edict that they should not comply with the subpoenas? And you had just mentioned a moment ago Republicans can't even get their witnesses in, but then people have been subpoenaed but the President isn't allowing them to testify.

MCCOLLUM: It goes to the motive of the President -- something we've been talking about all along. You have to have a motive in this. And in this case he has done such a history of these tweets and insulting people and doing things that you and I wouldn't do as behavior in that regard, something most of us don't like, that it's hard to say that he even thought about the fact that he might be intimidating somebody doing this.

I think he just was blowing out steam. That's what he does with his tweets. So we go into the context of this and say it's dumb, he shouldn't be doing it. But at the same time it's hard for me to see how you could conclude that his motive was to intimidate or to harass in the sense of trying to keep somebody from testifying. I don't think he thought about that. That's not his nature.

WHITFIELD: And John Dean is back -- we got your signal back. Do you want anything to add to that, John -- before I take a break?

DEAN: I'll certainly agree he didn't think about it. He shoots from the lip or from the fingertip.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, John Dean, Bill McCollum -- thank you so much. Of course, you're always welcome. Appreciate it.

DEAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, another Trump associate convicted of numerous crimes. A jury finding Roger Stone guilty of lying to protect the President.

[11:17:57]

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WHITFIELD: Another one of the President's associates is now a convicted criminal. Trump's long-time political advisor, Roger Stone, has been found guilty of witness tampering and lying to and obstructing Congress. He potentially faces decades behind bars.

Since President Trump took office, Roger Stone makes one now of six people convicted or pleading guilty in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Here now is CNN's Sara Murray.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A jury in Washington agreed with prosecutors that truth still matters and found Roger Stone guilty on Friday of seven criminal counts, including lying to Congress.

Stone, a long-time friend and political advisor to President Trump, was convicted of five counts of lying to Congress, one of witness tampering and one of obstructing a congressional committee proceeding.

Prosecutors argue that Stone lied about his contact with Trump and other campaign officials about WikiLeaks 2016 release of hacked Democratic emails because it would look really bad for his long-time associate, Donald Trump. They told the jury truth still matters. After two days of deliberations, the jury agreed.

Stone, a veteran Republican political operative, known for his flamboyant style, offered no audible reaction as the verdict was delivered. His wife let out a sigh of relief when the judge announced Stone could await his February sentencing from home rather than behind bars. The verdict marks the conclusion of one of Robert Mueller's highest profile prosecutions.

Stone was arrested in a predawn raid at his Florida home in January as Mueller's team was winding down its investigation. The trial revealed new details that had been redacted from the Mueller report, like how eager the Trump campaign was to get dirt from WikiLeaks in 2016.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.

MURRAY: and a number of phone calls between Stone and Trump at a time when Stone was claiming he had direct contact with WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISOR: I actually have communicated with Assange.

MURRAY: A claim Stone now denies. On one call in July, 2016, Trump and Stone apparently spoke about the upcoming release of hacked Democratic emails according to testimony from former Trump campaign official Rick Gates earlier this week. Trump, though, told Mueller's team "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him."

President Trump, who has weighed whether to pardon Stone in recent months, slammed the verdict, tweeting, "So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come." He called Stone's conviction a double standard, claiming Hillary Clinton, Adam Schiff and even Robert Mueller had lied.

Stone declined to comment on a possible pardon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Stone, what's your reaction to the verdict? STONE: No comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you be seeking a pardon from President Trump?

STONE: No comment.

MURRAY: Sara Murray, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And tear gas filling the streets of Paris as police clash with Yellow Vest protesters gathering on the now one-year anniversary of the start of that demonstration. We go live to France, next.

[11:24:48]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Breaking news out of Paris. Police are firing tear gas and water cannons to scatter protesters who have taken to the streets on the one-year anniversary of what are called the Yellow Vest demonstrations. The protests started over rising fuel taxes and economic inequality in November of 2018.

CNN correspondent Melissa Bell joins us now from Paris. So describe the scene.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were remarkably violent. Just a short time ago, especially here at the Place d'Italie (ph) in the south of Paris, one of the two main flash points of today's protests.

And this was an important test because what we've really seen over the course of the last few weeks and months is that Yellow Vest Movement lose some of its momentum. The numbers have dwindled. And you really had just a few hard-core protesters out on the street week after week.

Were they able to get the numbers up today for that first anniversary, that was one of the big questions. We reckon several thousand on the streets of Paris today. There were also protesters elsewhere in France but nothing like the figures that we saw at the beginning of this movement.

What was remarkable, though, was the determination of those who did turn up in places like this today in Paris to take on the police and seek confrontation with them.

[11:29:56]

BELL: And so we saw some pretty violent scenes. Water cannons were used, tear gas were used by the police to try and disperse the crowds. Projectiles were used. They were turning (ph) out slabs from the street to try and hurl at the police.

And we saw those fairly violent scenes for many hours over the course of the day. And you know, perhaps the most remarkable thing, Fredricka, is that one year on and despite all the disruption and the cost to the French economy and the regular violence that we've seen at these weekly protests, a majority of French people continue to support the Yellow Vest Movement -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Melissa Bell -- thank you so much from Paris.

All right. Straight ahead, back to the Capitol Hill where rare Saturday testimony is under way right now. Why one Trump administration official is breaking ranks and meeting with investigators even after others have refused subpoenas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:34:55]

WHITFIELD: After a week filled with shocking testimonies from career foreign service officials, House Democrats are not slowing down. Right now lawmakers are questioning Office of Management and Budget official Mark Sandy behind closed doors.

A source tells CNN that while Sandy did not know why military aid was being withheld, he does know that political officials came to make the decision, taking the authority away from career officials.

CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh joining me now with more on this testimony. What's expected?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning -- Fred.

So just to bring people up to speed, the Office of Management and Budget, just so you know, doles out money Congress approves. And they make sure that agencies don't overspend but they also make sure that the money that is approved is spent.

And that's why this agency is coming into focus, because it's the agency where this aid for Ukraine was frozen. So Mark Sandy, as you mentioned, he's the first OMB employee to testify behind closed doors. And I want to show that graphic that we have here of all the other high-level Trump appointees at OMB who have ignored House Democrats' request to testify.

So that is why Sandy's testimony today is so significant for that reason. Now, he is a long-time career employee. He's worked under administrations of both parties. And so far we have very little visibility on the inner workings for how all of this played out.

And of course Democratic investigators are hoping that Sandy will shed some light on the internal conversations when the administration took this really unusual step of freezing that $400 million in aid, which by the way, was already approved by Congress.

He will likely be asked whether the freeze raised alarm for him? Whether he expressed those concerns? Was he told why it was happening? How involved was he in the process? Was he cut out of the process at some point.

We spoke with former OMB officials who told us that freezing funds -- that's usually a task for career officials. But in this case we know political appointees signed at least some of the documents ordering the freeze. So that in itself we've been told is very unusual.

Now, Sandy may provide some insight on how that came to be, but ultimately, Fred -- Democrats are trying to pin down who knew why the President ordered this freeze, because Democrats believe it was to essentially force Ukraine to dig up dirt on political rivals, specifically the Bidens.

It goes without saying the full context here is that Ukraine is a vulnerable country. It needed this military aid as they were fighting this Russian invasion. So this was literally life and death for the people of Ukraine.

And so the question is did the President try to take advantage of that for his own political gain -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Rene -- this you know, Mark Sandy, he was subpoenaed. So he is --

MARSH: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- you know, testifying after a subpoena but there have been many before him who have refused. Do we know why he did honor the subpoena?

MARSH: Well, you know, we spoke to his attorney yesterday and in the previous days when we heard that his name reappeared on the list, because we should pointed out he was once on the list, on the schedule for deposition. He didn't show up and then his name appeared again on the schedule for deposition.

His attorney said that he would testify if subpoenaed. In speaking with people who have formerly worked with Mark Sandy, and I just had a conversation with someone yesterday who worked with him. He said, look, he is apolitical if you look at his resume in the sense that he just wants to do his job. This is a budget office, it's not really seen as a political office.

So we expect that the reason why he showed up here is because he wants to be able to say what he knows and what sort of information or what he saw or witnessed during these internal conversations, unlike the political appointees who have been on the record saying that they're not showing up. They're following the orders of the White House attorneys because in OMB's word this is all a political sham.

WHITFIELD: Right. And you said Sandy was apolitical -- that's been his approach.

MARSH: Correct.

WHITFIELD: All right. Rene Marsh -- thank you so much. Appreciate it. MARSH: Sure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, why -- well, we've got a lot straight ahead. We'll be right back.

[11:39:12]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A stern warning coming from former President Barack Obama. In a room full of top Democratic donors, he cautioned 2020 candidates about the long-term risk of swinging too far to the left on key issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality and the fact that voters, including Democratic voters and certainly persuadable Independents or even moderate Republicans, are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain, you know, left-leaning Twitter feeds, or the activist wing of our party.

This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement. They like seeing things improved, but the average American doesn't think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it's important for us not to lose sight of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now to talk about all this: CNN political commentator David Swerdlick and White House correspondent for Reuters Jeff Mason. Good to see you.

[11:45:00]

WHITFIELD: All right. So Jeff -- this is an interesting, I guess, you know, bit of advice, you know, to the 2020 candidates. Is he right that you just can't, you know, lose sight of how people are feeling, thinking, living right now before you propose too much?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, I think the message behind that message Fred -- is that he wants whoever becomes the Democratic nominee to be able to win. And he's suggesting in pretty direct terms that he's concerned that some of the more progressive candidates who are running right now are putting proposals out there that will not necessarily stand up in a general election.

He doesn't name any names. But you have to assume particularly when he's mentioning health care that he has Elizabeth Warren in mind, Bernie Sanders in mind.

It's interesting. And it's coming from somebody who has so far really not weighed in very much on the primaries and has obviously said that he's going to work very hard for whoever becomes the nominee. But he, like many Democrats, wants to make sure that whoever that nominee is, is able to beat Donald Trump.

WHITFIELD: So, David, you know -- how should progressive candidates, you know, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, you know, respond to that message from Barack Obama?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, good morning -- Fred.

Yes, look, President Obama is still the most popular figure in the Democratic Party. So it does none of the candidates any good to keep him at arm's length or to crack back at him. But at the same time I do think some of these candidates have to at least sort of absorb this advice he's giving them because, number one, as Jeff says, he's trying to tell them how to maybe win a race against Trump in the general election.

But also that Obama was always like this. He was always a no-drama Obama, go-slow guy. And it's that it took people a long time to get their arms around it, but this is his nature.

You know, he has Warren's sort of galaxy brain. He has, you know, Pete Buttigieg's style. But I think his heart and soul is with that Joe Biden kind of let's take things easy and one at a time approach.

WHITFIELD: So, you know, good friend of the former president, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick who filed for the New Hampshire primary this week is making his first official campaign speech today and that's on the heels of Bloomberg's, you know, expected entry into the race.

So Jeff -- you know, what is the message that's being sent by way of Deval Patrick who says he might be announcing today officially, you know, he's in?

MASON: Yes. Well, I think the message, number one, is that he thinks he's got an avenue -- a lane to get through despite the fact that it's still a pretty crowded Democratic field. Him jumping in at this point and Bloomberg flirting with jumping in suggests that neither of them thinks that the more moderate front-runner, Joe Biden, is going to make it all the way. And so they're offering themselves up as alternatives.

And you know, some Democrats are concerned about how big the field is. Others say, you know, let's see what happens next with these two.

WHITFIELD: So, David -- tonight, you know, a brand new CNN/Des Moines Register poll will be released that gives a fresh look at how Iowa voters feel about the field. What are your thoughts on what people should expect?

Well, Fred, I'm sad to say I haven't seen that poll yet. But the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll has this really at a three, maybe four- person race with Biden, Sanders, Warren in the teens and Buttigieg right behind at 6 percent. Everybody else kind of far back of the field and I expect to see a three or four-person race in the new poll that CNN has coming out tonight even though the numbers change a little bit when you're talking about a national poll versus some of the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

You know, some of these other candidates, especially the moderates like Jeff was saying, you know, your Bennets and your Klobuchars and your Bullocks (ph), just didn't catch on and I think that's why you see moderates like Governor Patrick and Mayor Bloomberg thinking about getting in. But it's really, really late to get in at this point.

WHITFIELD: All right. David Swerdlick, Jeff Mason -- we'll leave it there. Thanks so much.

SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fred.

MASON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. So join Chris Cuomo for a CNN special, "THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS: THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY". That's tomorrow night starting at 8:00 Eastern time.

[11:49:20]

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WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Right now, major security concerns about the alleged cell phone call between E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Trump. We first learned about the call Wednesday during the testimony from Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL TAYLOR, U.S. DIPLOMAT TO THE UKRAINE: In the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kiev. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So that member of his staff was this man -- David Holmes. The aid who allegedly overheard the call at a Ukrainian restaurant confirmed Taylor's account behind closed doors on Friday. Several former officials tell CNN there is a high probability that intelligence agencies from numerous foreign countries including Russia were likely listening on that conversation.

Let's bring in former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. Bob -- good to see you.

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Fred -- good morning.

WHITFIELD: So, if Russia or any other, you know, foreign nation was listening to that call, what might be the potential fallout for that? The use of this cell phone?

BAER: Well, Fred -- first of all, for any government employee to have a classified conversation in the clear like this, is a security violation, for the Central Intelligence Agency for one, in a lot of places it's a firing offense.

I have no doubt in my mind that Russian intelligence has his cell phone number, has targeted it and was listening in. I think it's 99 percent that happened. Presidents are not supposed to talk in the clear to anybody in a restaurant. There is all sorts of facilities in embassies to talk to a president.

[11:54:53]

BAER: This is just a huge transgression. Like I said it's a violation. And look, this guy has been going on about Hillary's e- mails and the rest of it. He's just making it all the worst. I mean it's quite incredible.

WHITFIELD: So Ambassador Sondland, you know, will be testifying, you know, this week. Typically would he have like a secure line -- I mean in an instance like that -- abroad, wanting to update the President right away. I mean what generally would be I guess the protocol? How would he convey a message?

BAER: There's all sorts of phones that are made by Motorola that are encrypted that you could call the President on. There's Cypronet (ph) and all sort of them. He could have done that but this President, look, doesn't trust the government. He thinks the deep state runs it so he says I'll talk on my private phone.

Putin gets to listen, but not the National Security Agency, which by the way, monitors all classified conversations and keeps records. And he doesn't want those records or those conversations stored anywhere in the government and that is why he's using a private phone that every intelligence service, hostile ones, listen into. I have no doubt about it.

WHITFIELD: All right. Bob Baer -- we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much for being with us today.

BAER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.

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[12:00:00]

WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.