Return to Transcripts main page
White House Budget Official Testifies Now Behind Closed Doors; E.U. Ambassador Sondland to Testify Next Week; Police Use Forensic Genealogy to Make Arrest in "Potomac River Rapist" Case; Texas Appeals Court Blocks Execution after Millions Sign Petition; Prince Andrew Opens Up on Jeffrey Epstein & Alleged Victim Virginia Roberts Guffrie. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 16, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Holmes' testimony directly countering the argument that perhaps, Trump himself wasn't personally involved in a pressure campaign.
Let's start with CNN's Kristen Holmes on Capitol Hill. So, Kristen, let's start with the testimony that's underway right now that of Mark Sandy of the OMB office.
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN WHITE HOUSE PRODUCER: Well, that's right, Fred. So, here's what we know about Sandy. He is a career official at the Office of Management and Budget, the OMB. And here's why that division of the White House is so important.
Let's take a look at what this impeachment inquiry is all about from the very beginning. The question is whether or not, President Crump and his allies withheld funding from Ukraine in order to get dirt on his political rivals.
The organization, the part of the White House that would either withhold that fund or release that fund, that comes from the OMB, the Office of Management and Budget. So, there is really not a lot of knowledge as to what was going on within that unit of the White House at the time that the aid was being withheld.
And that's not for lack of trying. We know that investigators have tried to talk to people but most of them are presidential appointees, they have defied subpoenas, they have refused to release any documents, but Sandy, he is here, he is testifying, he responded to a subpoena.
And again, this goes to the fact that he is a career official, he has worked for both the Democrats and Republicans, and right now, this testimony is behind closed doors. But you can likely expect questions on whether or not there were any red flags when all of this was happening.
Were there any internal conversations about why this aid was being withheld? What exactly does he know? And this is just the second now, behind closed doors testimony that we had in the last two days that Democrats really view as critical.
You mentioned that David Holmes testimony that happened last night, this was the first person with direct knowledge of President Trump talking to somebody about those investigations in Ukraine. This comes after he overheard a conversation with the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland at a lunch.
Essentially, they sat down to lunch with two other staffers, and Sondland picked up the phone and called President Trump.
And according to Holmes, Trump was so loud, it wasn't on speakerphone but he could hear his voice distinctly, and he could hear exactly what he was saying. And this is what he says he heard.
He says, "Then, I heard President Trump ask, 'So, he's going to do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied, 'he's going to do it,' adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to."
Now, according to the testimony that phone call between Sondland and Trump ended there, but the conversation with Holmes did not. Holmes following up after that phone call, asking Sondland, if it was true that President Trump didn't care about Ukraine?
Now, according to Holmes, this is what Sondland said back. He said, President Trump only cares about the, "Big stuff that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing."
So, a lot here. Why is this so incredibly important? Well, again, this is the first person saying, they directly heard President Trump talking about it. And also, this raises a lot of questions about Ambassador Sondland.
Remember, he testified behind closed doors and never mentioned this phone call. So, likely, when he testifies next week out in a public hearing, this will be something that lawmakers bring up.
WHITFIELD: All right, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.
All right, with me now, let's talk further on all this. Sophia Nelson, a former House GOP counsel, a USA Today opinion contributor and a columnist for The Daily Beast. She's also the author of the book, E Pluribus One.
Also joining me is Guy Smith, who served as a special advisor to President Clinton during his impeachment. Good to see you both.
SOPHIA NELSON, AUTHOR, E PLURIBUS ONE: Thanks, Fred.
GUY SMITH, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: It's good to be with you.
WHITFIELD: All right, and Sophia, it's been way too long. Oh, my gosh, goes back like year. So, welcome back.
NELSON: It has been forever. WHITFIELD: All right. So, Guy, let me begin with you in this new testimony from an aide who says he over her President Trump on the phone with the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sunland, asking Sondland about investigations -- you know, into the Bidens.
What is the potential impact in your view if indeed Sondland confirms, because he is to testify publicly this week, if he confirms that account?
SMITH: It is -- it is devastating. And it is a significant movement in collecting, damaging evidence against the president. What happened is, we now -- we've been hearing from the Republicans for quite some time, it's all hearsay, it's all hearsay. And all of a sudden, it's not hearsay. It's direct and there was somebody else besides Holmes that also heard it.
So, Sondland has got a big problem. He's already had to revise his testimony once. He's now going to have to clearly have to revise it again. And the -- it just shows that there's amateur hour all around sadly.
And then the tweet yesterday from the president and Yovanovitch's testimony upset what --
WHITFIELD: Saying everywhere she goes, you know, it's bad.
SMITH: Right, sorry.
WHITFIELD: Hopefully you can hear me. You can hear me OK, right now?
SMITH: Yes, yes, sorry.
WHITFIELD: Yes, so, the president tweeted, you know, while she was testifying, you know, they're essentially everywhere she goes -- you know, it's bad. It's a bad outcome. And there have been some you heard from the Intel chairman, you know, Adam Schiff, who says, you know, this is tantamount to harassing a witness. They're looking into it, taking it very seriously, Guy. So, what do you think is the path forward on that?
SMITH: I think it -- I think it, it is one more in a pattern that go back to Cohen when he was a witness and then testifying the next more thing. So, it could very likely be an article of impeachment. But in addition to the bribery thing, and the important thing about bribery, bribery is -- so, the way the founders saw bribery was using public office for personal gain. Back when they wrote it, there was no criminal statute about bribery. And today, we're applying criminal statutes. It's much broader than there.
WHITFIELD: Yes. So, Sofia that's a lot to respond to. Everywhere -- you know, from the alleged harassment -- you know of a key witness -- you know, the former ambassador, Yovanovitch. And then, you know, you also have now this use of the word bribery that many Democrats are using.
I mean, let's underscore that the moment of -- you know, Yovanovitch, how potentially pivotal her testimony was, and how, you know, she had described -- how devastating it was to hear about this smear campaign. And then, this would happen in the middle of her testimony. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL GOLDMAN, DIIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE INVESTIGATIONS: 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?
MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: 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: The next excerpt when the president references you was a short one. But he said, "Well, she's going to go through some things." 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. It sounded like a threat.
GOLDMAN: Did you feel threatened?
YOVANOVITCH: I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Sofia, you, you know, you and everybody was watching that. It was a riveting moment. At the same time, you -- I guess were inspired enough to write a piece in The Daily Beast you know with this headline, "With Marie Yovanovitch, Trump Goes Nuclear In His War On Women."
So you're taking this more broadly beyond this moment. You see this as symbolic of a pattern of the president -- you know, going after women or the use of his words, whether it's -- you know, nasty, you know, maybe you'll get physical and describing people. Why do you think this was a telling moment?
NELSON: Well, Fred, there's a lot you said and that I need to respond to number one, one of the biggest takeaways from yesterday in this whole process for me as a former committee counsel as a lifelong -- as you know, moderate Republican woman is that the president of the United States of America has no personal discipline whatsoever.
Leadership 101 requires you to be disciplined and to have good judgment. He has none. The fact is during yesterday's testimony, it was very consistent with him to start tweeting and attacking people that he doesn't agree with, right?
But for him to continue to use the phrase, the woman, and to describe that them with adjectives of being bad or wherever she goes it's bad, he's very similar to what he did to The Squad, to what he's done to Omarosa, he called her a dog. To what he's done to other women, Rosie O'Donnell, Mika Brzezinski. We could go on and on.
This president does not like strong, smart, women -- the end. I don't think anybody can really argue that.
And what was really disappointing to me yesterday that while the president is attacking her in live testimony, as a lawyer, I concur with guy that, that is a possible article of impeachment. That is classic witness intimidation. You're the most powerful human being on earth, and you are threatening people.
WHITFIELD: So, when Schiff -- when Schiff says, you know, we're taking it seriously, what are the options if least by this committee --
NELSON: It's an article. It's an article, Fredricka. I mean, there's not much -- the Justice Department is not going to prosecute. This Justice Department, you know, turn General Barr gave a speech yesterday that's got everybody very upset. And he's not going to prosecute, so that's off the table.
So, I think that it is article of impeachment, it's an obstruction, it's witness intimidation, and he did it in live time which didn't help his side. The Republicans who had to try to argue for him and it really handicapped them in my opinion.
WHITFIELD: And then -- and then guy, you have -- you know, Yovanovitch, you know, who testified about, you know, what the consequences of raising your hand and saying something's wrong with this. Never getting an explanation, you know, about why she was being let go.
But then, ahead of that now you've got David Holmes with the State Department testifying last night, you know, about overhearing the conversation. And then, you'll have Mark Sandy today with the Office of Management and Budget who was subpoenaed and appear today.
But there have been others with OMB and inside the White House who have been subpoenaed, who have defied it. And Mark Sandy is expected to be asked, you know, about what he knows about this military aid. How do you see this process is building of a case unfolding? Do you believe the case is getting stronger?
SMITH: It is very much getting stronger. If you just think about the timelines, go back to August -- late August when the whistleblower complaint, we've learned about -- think about where we were on day one of the testimony, and suddenly there's this new news, then there's Holmes yesterday. Sandy is not going to report that it's all wonderful and everything was just lovely. That in going to be what's going to come out.
Next week, we've got the colonel back who was very involved, heard the call, knows the call, record was not edited the way he wanted it edited. And their -- think about this also, there's a whole week, right? More witnesses that are coming next week.
Sondland who's going to get some real serious questions. It will be very entertaining to watch the Republicans try to defend him. That will make an NFL stretch coach proud to watch that.
WHITFIELD: And since, you know, (INAUDIBLE) was a counsel for the GOP, you know, House in the late-1990s, what do you see might be the approach for the Republicans? You know, how much of a stretch sort of big as Guy makes reference to.
Are they going to have to make how difficult is this going to be?
NELSON: Fred, what the approach needs to be is to honor their oath of office. This isn't about protecting the president. There should be about protecting the Republic. Every one of us, Republicans, Democrats, independent, should be concerned that the president of the United States is calling on his cell phone, talking to one of his boys who's an ambassador just like that, like their boys talking about God knows what.
And he's so irresponsible that people can overhear, that means the Russians were listening to this call. Let's all be clear that if other people heard it in a restaurant, the Russians were listening through the devices, and this again is irresponsible. He has no impulse control.
And the next week is going to be difficult for Republicans. So, I want to encourage Republicans to begin to act like members of Congress who care about the Constitution and kind of leave Donald Trump where he's at and begin to focus on their duties, and their oath, and listen to their constituents about how they want them to vote on this.
I think that's their best course going forward.
WHITFIELD: And then, quickly, Guy, do you think that's the turning point?
SMITH: That will be a tipping point. We'll see if it comes. But we're -- it possible that it will tip.
(CROSSTALK) WHITFIELD: This will be -- tipping. Yes.
SMITH: But even if it doesn't, if it goes to the Senate and there is a trial and he has acquitted, what will happen and we're see it happening already if you had analyzed the polls in depth, his base is being chipped away at. The people want more people are in favor of impeachment and removal. That will continue and even if he's acquitted, he will be damaged fatally, politically.
WHITFIELD: All right. Guys Smith, Sofia Nelson. Good to see both of you. Thank you so much.
All right. Coming up, President Trump goes against the wishes of the Pentagon, pardoning two officers who were facing war crimes. Allegation's details next.
WHITFIELD: All right. Dismissing the advice of top Pentagon officials, President Trump has issued pardons to two service members and restored the rank for a third. All of whom were facing war crime allegations. The move raising concerns in the Defense Department. CNN's Ryan Browne is following the details. So Ryan, even the President's own defense secretary warned of the potential repercussions of a decision like this. So why was this president so insistent?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN REPORTER: Well, that's right, Freddie. We're being told that senior defense officials had advised the president against this course of action saying that it would potentially damage the credibility of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military justice system, as well as potentially undermine good order and discipline amongst the ranks. Something that it was very concerning to senior military officials.
But you know, there has been an active lobbying campaign on behalf of these individuals, some members of -- Republican members of Congress and even some Fox News personalities and one of the individuals, Major Matt Golsteyn, who was pardoned by President Trump on Friday appeared on Fox to talk about his conversation with the President when he gave him the news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)