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Critical Week as 8 Witnesses Gear Up to Testify in Public; New Testimony on Phone Call Raises Stakes for Sondland Ahead of Hearing; E-mails Show Sondland Kept Mulvaney & Perry in Loop of Ukrainian Push; Trump Attacks Jennifer Williams Ahead of Public Testimony; Trump Says He'll "Strongly Consider" Testifying in Impeachment Probe; House Now Investigating Whether Trump Lied to Robert Mueller; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) Discusses House Investigating If Trump Lied to Mueller. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 18, 2019 - 11:00   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: "At this time, we are in an ongoing rule-making process."

So we'll see what happens.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR; Yes. That's not what the president promised, we should be clear, very publicly two months ago.

Sanjay Gupta, thank you.


Thanks to all of you for joining us. We'll see you back here -- big hearings start tomorrow morning I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Sit tight, my friends, because we are now entering the second week of public impeachment hearings and an incredibly busy one at that. Testimony is expected from eight witnesses over the next three days in front of the House Intelligence Committee. In front of cameras and in front of the American public.

And while they may not be household names who will be sitting before Congress, it is their relationship to the president, their contact with the president that everyone needs to pay close attention to.

One person who clearly is paying close attention is the president himself, as he ramps up his attacks on the witnesses. And with the start of a new week, comes what appears to be a new strategy for Republicans trying to defend the president. One star witness in all of this is E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

The man who changed his testimony after he met behind closed doors with House investigators weeks ago.

And the man now at the center of the surprise twist of last week. A new phone call. This time, between Gordon Sondland and the president. So loud, we're told, that it was overheard at a restaurant by other U.S. officials.

So, a call where the president asks about the investigations into his political rivals, and a call that Sondland did not disclose to investigators.

So what is going to happen on Capitol Hill this week?

Let's go there to begin. CNN's Manu Raju is covering it all.

Manu, what are you hearing from there right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a hugely sequential week. Tomorrow will have of high interest. Because three people who are testifying tomorrow were actually on that July phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, in which Trump urged the Ukrainian president to open up those investigations, including into the Bidens.

And each of those witnesses have different levels of concern. Some more serious than others. Alexander Vindman, for one, raising some significant concerns about the matter, even taking it up to National Security Council attorney. Also worried about the implications on national security.

But that's not the same level of concern that Tim Morrison had, for instance, who also served on the National Security Council. Also was on that phone call. He was more concerned about the perception if the transcript of that call were to leak and was engaged in discussions on how to ensure the transcript did not leak.

At the same time, tomorrow's testimony will put more pressure on Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, because Morrison had already testified that he was told by Gordon Sondland that the president was pushing for those investigations, at the same time as that aide, that military aide had been withheld. Something that Sondland did not reveal when he testified behind closed doors earlier.

Now, the transcript of Morrison's closed-door testimony was released over the weekend, and it says this, it says, a question from Adam Schiff, "Sondland understood his responsibilities to be doing what the president asked him to do." Morrison responded, "He related to me he was acting, he was discussing these matters with the president."

Schiff asked, "And in fact, every time you went to check whether he had in fact talked to the president, you found that he had talk to the president." The answer from Morrison, "Yes, Mr. Chairman."

So Morrison is testifying here that he went behind the scenes and made sure he was actually discussing these matters with the president.

Sondland is probably the one witness who has talked to the president more than virtually anybody. So how much he reveals on Wednesday remains to be seen.

And we also learned on Friday from an aide at State Department, official, David Holmes, that he overheard the president speaking with Gordon Sondland, in which they were talking about those investigations and the investigations specifically into the Bidens. And according to this testimony, Gordon Sondland said the president only cared about the investigations into the Bidens.

This is the transcript we obtained on Friday night. "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."

"I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the president did not give a "S" about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not give an "S" about Ukraine". And he goes on to testify that the president only cared about the, quote, "big stuff." Big stuff, meaning the investigation into Joe Biden, specifically.

So we'll see how much Ambassador Sondland reveals about that conversation, other conversations. If he changes his testimony in any way or if he does not recall a number of these conversations like he did earlier behind closed doors -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Big stuff, not meaning the assistance that was long promised and the support of Ukraine that has long been U.S. foreign policy. That, though, not the big stuff.

Good to see you, Manu. Thank you very much.

Joining me right now, CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor.


So we have an entire week. Let's distill it into five minutes.

Seriously, there's even more that Manu -- that Manu lays out some of it -- there's also the "Wall Street Journal," Sam, reporting that there are e-mails now from -- between Sondland and others that show Sondland kept officials, including Mick Mulvaney, apprised of their efforts, his efforts to get Ukraine to announce these investigations that we discussed.

So what new questions does all of this raise? What does this mean for this week?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the Mulvaney/Sondland email angle is quite interesting, Kate. The acting chief of staff or chief of staff, his job is to implement the president's guidance. So what we're looking for this week is any kind of direct link between what Ambassador Sondland was doing and the president.

The fact that acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney was aware of what Sondland was doing really indicates that the president was onboard. It's important to note, these e-mails predated an official White House phone call.

This may be the first quid pro quo or abuse of power linking an official public act, a phone call, with a private need of the president, an investigation. So it narrows the distance between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.

Ambassador Sondland was clearly not a rogue actor who came up with these presumptions about conditionalities on his own. He either had the direction or complicity of acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney and likely the president.

BOLDUAN: And on its face, the fact that there's now more, several, you could say, significant encounters and details that, in a best-case scenario, Gordon Sondland has forgotten to tell House investigators when he was -- when he was being interviewed and giving his deposition.

What does that mean? Do witnesses, when they come before you, forget?


BOLDUAN: Yes, people do forget.

HONIG: Yes, but not like this.


VINOGRAD: Not with the president! I don't know anybody -- I'm sorry -- but I don't know anybody who forgets speaking with the president of the United States. It's not a regular thing. They're not a frequent caller. So the fact that Gordon Sondland just happened to forget those conversations is highly unusual, Kate.

HONIG: "A," it's the president. "B," this is a couple of months ago. This isn't something that happened in the distant past. And --

BOLDUAN: That is a really good point. This isn't from even 2016 or 2017 or 2018. This was 2019.

HONIG: Yes. I've done cases where you're asking witnesses about things that happened three, four months ago. This is three, four months ago.

And notice the pattern with Sondland, who has now been caught in a pattern of inconsistencies. Every one of them seems to break the same way. Every time he's fudging the truth or leaving things out, only if they would hurt the president. He forgets about things that would hurt the president.

He omits this restaurant call that is really damaging to the president. He forgets initially that there was a quid pro quo, then he has to go back and supplement his testimony and say, actually, there was a quid pro quo. Itty bitty detail there. I proposed it directly. Even a little thing like, I didn't realize that Burisma was connected to the Bidens.

He's been contradicted on that by various other witnesses. So he's only fudging the truth away.

BOLDUAN: As you're laying it out, that adds to that there's talk that he could come before the committee and plead the Fifth. What are the chances of that happening?

HONIG: I don't think it's likely, but I think he needs to think hard about it. Because he's got potential exposure here.

"A," for perjury. If his testimony has been shown to be intentionally false. And like we said, one lie is one thing, but a whole string of them is something else. So he could take it -- if I was advising him, I would tell him, you should take the Fifth.

Now, there's optics issues here, right? It's going to look really bad for Gordon Sondland to have an ambassador --


BOLDUAN: That is not good.


HONIG: Yes, it's going to look terrible for him and for Trump. So I don't think he's going to take the Fifth.

But he's walking a narrow path here. And let's remember, Roger Stone just got convicted for lying to Congress.

BOLDUAN: And, Sam, a lot of what this week's testimony is about is the relationship between President Trump and the ambassador, the contact, the direct contact between President Trump and the ambassador.

The ambassador calling a president directly while sitting in this restaurant in Kiev and it was so loud that he had to pull the phone away from his ear and that's while others sitting around could hear the president, what he was saying.

How unusual is that? I'm not sitting around calling the president, but maybe you have the opportunity to. How unusual is this?

VINOGRAD: Ambassadors usually don't have a direct line to the president. And when they speak with the president, both the president and the official on the other end of the line use a secure phone or at least an embassy phone to ensure that foreign intelligence officials aren't listening, minor detail.

BOLDUAN: Clearly.

VINOGRAD: Which Gordon got counterintelligence briefings, as did the president, and they clearly didn't talk about. But ambassadors usually don't have a direct line to the president even when they know what they're doing, Kate.

Ambassadors' input is typically integrated into the National Security Council's work and preparation, packaged for the president on a variety of issues. Because ambassadors just represent one piece of the puzzle on an issue like Ukraine.

And by the way, Kate, Gordon Sondland was not confirmed by Congress to work on Ukraine. Fiona Hill said he didn't prep for his own meetings with European officials. And guess what, he wasn't an anti-corruption expert.


So the whole notion that President Trump is really focused on corruption in Ukraine and this is really about policy is discounted by the fact that the only expert that he regularly engaged with was Gordon Sondland.

BOLDUAN: Yes, this is all adding up to how, at if very least, fascinating that testimony is. And that is one of eight people who are set to testify. So prepare yourselves. They are, and they're going to help you understand it.

Thank you guys so much.


BOLDUAN: Coming up, President Trump attacking an aide to Vice President Mike Pence just before she is set to testify on Capitol Hill. The impact it could have on this witness and this week's impeachment hearings.

Plus, a new CNN poll shows Mayor Pete Buttigieg leapfrogging over Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in Iowa. What is behind this surge to the top?



BOLDUAN: Capitol Hill is bracing for a flurry of new testimony as week two begins of the public impeachment hearings. And one person who seems to be paying quite close attention is President Trump, spending yesterday and today attacking some of the witnesses.

Taking aim specifically at Jennifer Williams, a longtime State Department employee, currently detailed to vice president Pence's team. The president calling her a Never-Trumper on Twitter.

And an important note here. Williams' closed-door testimony was released over the weekend, during which she called the president's July 25th call with Ukraine, quote, "unusual and inappropriate."

And an even more important note, I guess we would argue, Donald Trump's attack comes as she is slated to testify publicly tomorrow.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me now.

Boris, this clearly is not the first time the president's attacked the witnesses in this inquiry. Many of them, though, still working for the government, like Jennifer Williams, some in the White House. What is the White House saying about this?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, effectively, the White House is saying that these tweets speak for themselves.

A spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence, who Jennifer Williams works for, put out a very short statement to CNN over the weekend, saying, simply, quote, "Jennifer Williams is a State Department employee." Obviously, trying to downplay her role as an adviser to the vice president.

President Trump, obviously, unhappy with her closed-door testimony, in which she said that his call with President Zelensky of Ukraine was unusual and inappropriate. The president yet again referring to her, as he has previously to others, a Never-Trumper without evidence.

And it's a good bet that President Trump will likely return to these attacks again later this week, given who is slated to testify publicly. Not only Jennifer Williams, but Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Gordon Sondland on Wednesday, Fiona Hill on Thursday. The president likely to be unhappy with their public testimony.

Notably, all of this is happening as President Trump, on Twitter, suggested that he may soon testify as well. The president responding to a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the weekend.

The president writing on Twitter that he likes the idea and will, "in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider testifying publicly."

This would be a shock if it actually happened, Kate. Let's not forget that President Trump repeatedly talked about sitting for an interview with Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation. It's something that he said he was looking forward to doing before ultimately showing that it was just bluster and declining to do so -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, ask Robert Mueller how well that worked out.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Boris. Thank you very much,

Joining me right now for much more, Josh Geltzer. He's a former top counterterrorism official who served on President Obama's National Security Council and briefly on President Trump's.


SECURITY COUNCIL: Thanks so much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You've worked inside a White House. What do you say to the fact that the vice president's office, when it comes to Jennifer Williams and the withering criticism she is facing from inside the White House, from the president, the fact that the vice president, his office, they're not coming to her defense? And at least, to this point, neither is the State Department.

GELTZER: It's just unfathomable to me. I remember very concretely going to interview to work at the National Security Council, at the White House. I was a Justice Department lawyer.

And I remember the National Security Council's legal adviser saying to me, if you come here, can you be of service to the president, to the White House. You're not here to voice positions for the Justice Department. You are here to serve. And I said, of course, that is the understanding we all bring to that office.

And yet here, you have the White House trying to distance itself from somebody who showed up to serve by trying to demean or diminish her as a State Department employee.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and you combine this attack of Jennifer Williams with what the president said about the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. What impact do these attacks -- what impact do you think these attacks have on these officials who are about to testify?

GELTZER: It has to be intimidating. As much as we all have, in some ways, gotten used to this type of rhetoric from the president, he's still the president.

And putting myself in their shoes, to think that the president of the United States, my boss, as it were, but also the most powerful man on earth, is personally attacking me, as I try to do really a citizen's duty, show up before the U.S. Congress, speak the truth. That has got to have some intimidating effect.


BOLDUAN: And broaden this out a step, Josh. This isn't about just these people who are being called to testify. This is about all of the federal employees, the officials, the aides who are watching this play out and also still tasked with carrying out the president's foreign policy agenda. I mean, what is the impact there?

GELTZER: This president is leaving a path of devastation through the federal workforce. That's, in part, the Ukraine story. Him taking foreign policy out of the normal channels, out of the hands of professionals and experts, and instead using it, abusing it for his own purposes.

But now, even as there's an inquiry into all of that, he's doing the same thing again. He is diminishing, demeaning, insulting those who are public servants who are trying to do their duty not just in testifying before Congress, but, for those of their careers, just going about their jobs as State Department or Intelligence Community or law enforcement officials.

And there will be so much rebuilding of moral and of bureaucracy and of culture to do in the wake of this.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and you wrote about this last week. "This is not normal, not normal behavior by public servants. Not normal disagreements within policy making process. Not normal at all."

It was a really good read.

Thanks for coming in. Always appreciate getting your expertise on this. Thanks, Josh.

GELTZER: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we are now in the second week, of course, of the House's public impeachment hearings of President Trump. And also, let's say, number -- I have lost count -- of the defenses of the president coming from House Republicans. Where they now land and what that means. That's next.



BOLDUAN: We're following some breaking news just coming in now from Capitol Hill. The House now investigating whether President Trump lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his written answers with regard to the Russia investigation.

Let me bring in Jessica Schneider. She's pulling together the details as this is coming in.

Jessica, what's going on?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is all coming out of arguments that happened earlier this morning at the D.C. circuit court. This is the appellate court here in Washington, D.C. And it really does point to the potentially broadening scope of this impeachment inquiry.

So the general counsel for the House of Representatives went before the court and they are arguing to get even more information from the Mueller investigation. They want specifically the information that was given to the grand jury.

But in making this argument to the judge, the House general counsel really making a significantly statement here, saying that the House of Representatives is now investigating whether President Trump lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, when they told Robert Mueller, in written answers that were submitted, I think, just about a year ago, about the extent of the president's knowledge about WikiLeaks.

So, the House of Representatives now investigating whether the president lied in those written answers to Robert Mueller.

Now, you'll remember that this is all coming out in the wake of Roger Stone --


SCHNEIDER: -- being found guilty last week on seven counts, including lying to Congress and witness tampering.

And in that trial, significant information came out from Rick Gates, the deputy campaign chairman at the time during the campaign, as well as Steve Bannon, about what the president and campaign aides knew at the time of these WikiLeaks releases.

And there was one specific conversation that was recounted by Rick Gates, that, in July 2016, the then-Candidate Trump took a phone call from Roger Stone. And when he got off the phone call, the president apparently said that he indicated more information would be coming from WikiLeaks.

So this is all something that the House of Representatives, Kate, now wants to know more about, so they can determine if, in fact, the president potentially lied on his written answers about what he knew about WikiLeaks to Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

So a lot of this unfolding in really rapid secession. And also seeing how things are playing against each other. We saw the Roger Stone trial, but it now turns out that that trial and what's come out from it could really factor into this potentially broadening impeachment inquiry here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fascinating, the paths, that kind of very recent path, could impact this very near future --


SCHNEIDER: It could. And it looks like it is.

BOLDUAN: Exactly right.

Jessica, thank you very much. A lot more to come out from that. I appreciate you bringing me the breaking news.

Let me bring in right now Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, of Maryland. He's on House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, of course.

Congressman, can I just get your reaction to what my colleague, Jessica, is reporting right there? That now you've got House -- the House's general counsel telling in a D.C. court that they're now investigating whether President Trump lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, Kate, of course, it's a crime to lie to federal prosecutors in the course of a federal proceeding. That's perjury. [11:29:59]

It was also the basis for the GOP-controlled House's impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying under oath, for committing perjury. So it's a very serious offense.