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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Week Two of Impeachment Hearings Set to Begin; Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) is Interviewed About House Investigating Whether Trump Lied to Mueller. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 18, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Trump says he's seriously considering testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.

Imagine the ratings, Mr. President.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Eight witnesses, three days, another phone call and a changing story -- the damning testimony and presidential anger that could surely dominate the week ahead.

It's the other call in the impeachment investigation, the one where a diplomat overheard President Trump asking about the investigations. And CNN went to the restaurant in Ukraine where this allegedly all went down.

Plus, in the span of a couple of days, Mayor Pete goes from Iowa hero to polling at zero among a critical group of voters in a critical state -- the troubling lack of support for him in a brand-new poll.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the politics lead today.

It could be the most important week of the impeachment inquiry. Eight current and former Trump administration officials will testify publicly this week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, testimony which could point directly to evidence that President Trump not only wanted Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens and 2016, but that he did so under the clear threat of withholding a White House visit and hundreds of million dollars in U.S. aid that Ukraine desperately wanted.

Potentially, the most significant witness in this all will be Trump donor and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. In testimony released over the weekend, former Tim Morrison said that Sondland told him that he had told a top Ukrainian official that -- quote -- "What could help them move the aid was if the Ukrainian prosecutor general would go to the microphone and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation," also known as the Biden investigation, and that -- quote -- "Ambassador Sondland believed and at least related to me that the president was giving him instruction."

Now, Sondland has already had to amend his testimony. And no one knows how truthful he's going to be when he testifies, especially given the fact that, as CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports for us, President Trump has been attacking multiple other witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This week poised to be the most blockbuster few days so far in the impeachment inquiry, after more revelations from two key players over the weekend place Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, at this center of the Ukraine scandal because of his direct access to President Trump.

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R-OH): We will all have to wait for Sondland's testimony, which is direct testimony, not testimony of somebody who says they heard from somebody else that somebody else said something.

MARQUARDT: Sondland is set to testify in an open hearing on Wednesday. Former top National Security Council official Tim Morrison testified that Sondland was following the president's orders in demanding Ukraine launch investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election, in exchange for a White House meeting and military aid.

"He was discussing these matters with the president," Morrison told lawmakers, according to a new transcript of his closed-door testimony released on Saturday.

According to Morrison, Sondland was told by the president that Ukrainian President Zelensky must announce the opening of the investigations.

Morrison also testified that Sondland spoke to Trump before the July 25 call between the two presidents, in which Trump asked for a favor.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): We will be asking him a lot about the events leading up to the July 25 call, as well as the day of the call and events subsequent to that. He will be a very, very important witness.

MARQUARDT: Also on that July 25 call was a senior aide in the vice president's office, Jennifer Williams. In the just-released transcript of her testimony, she told investigators that parts of the call felt more political than diplomatic.

"I would say that it struck me as unusual and inappropriate," Williams said. "It shed some light on possible other motivations behind the security assistance hold."

Williams testifies in public tomorrow. President Trump not waiting, instead attacking her on Twitter as a never-Trumper, without any proof, while also reacting to this comment by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants.

MARQUARDT: Trump tweeting this morning: "I like the idea and will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: The president testifying in Congress, of course, almost certainly will not happen.

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is rallying her troops as both sides dig in. She has written a letter to Democrats today, saying that none of them came to Congress to impeach a president, but President Trump, she says, has abused his office for political gain, at the expense of national security.

Pelosi goes on to say that the verdict on the president cannot wait until the next election, Jake, because Trump has already jeopardized that election.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let me chew over this with you guys.

Let's just dispatch with this first item quickly. Raise your hand if you think that the chance that President Trump will testify publicly is zero.

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TAPPER: Oh. Oh, interesting. You think...

(CROSSTALK)

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Zero is hard.

(CROSSTALK)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: We don't operate in certainties here, Jake. Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Can we add a qualifier?

In person, under oath.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You think that there's actually a chance that he might do it? And you do.

KIM: I mean, like a 0.5 percent chance.

TAPPER: A 0.5 percent chance.

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: Just hedging your bets.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: Let me ask, and that he might apologize someday to somebody. Yes? No?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: This is not your show.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

DIAMOND: Only the moderator can do the moderating.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I'm really surprised. OK.

So, Jeremy, let's start with Jennifer Williams. She is the Vice President Pence aide. Yes, she is assigned from the State Department, but vice President Pence and his team picked her to be on the team.

DIAMOND: Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: He says that she's a never-Trumper.

And what did the vice president have to say in response when asked about the president attacking his staff?

DIAMOND: Yes, look at this point, we have come to expect the president would go on to attack members of his own administration who are testifying about his activities in this impeachment inquiry.

What we had not seen so far was this response from the vice president's office. I reached out for comment to say, hey, does the vice president have any response to the president attacking one of his advisers?

And the response that I got from Katie Waldman, the vice president's press secretary, was, Jennifer is a State Department employee.

Now, while that may technically be true, she is a State Department employee, she is detailed to the vice president's office, and her current title is special adviser to the vice president on Europe and Russia.

So the vice president's office clearly trying to put some distance here. I did speak with a couple folks in Pence world today who were disappointed that, you know, Jennifer Williams was kind of put aside in this way, but also not surprised, necessarily.

It's not like the vice president is going to suddenly get crosswise with the president over one of his advisers testifying on the Hill. TAPPER: And what's interesting about this is, I understand the

president calling people never-Trumpers. That's his thing.

But these are people who actually probably voted for him, definitely risked some things to go work for his administration. I'm talking about Ambassador Bill Taylor, who came out of retirement to work for President Trump, obviously Jennifer Williams.

You don't do this without some sort of personal risk. I mean, we have no idea what it's going to look like in 10 years to have Trump White House on your resume. Maybe it will be the greatest thing ever, but maybe not.

KIM: I mean, these are people, particularly the ones who've been testifying in open hearings for the last several days, are people who have been in public service for decades.

They have served other presidents of both parties. Democrats do make it a point of asking them when they're under oath, are you never- Trumpers. And they respond, no.

But we have seen the president go hard after the witnesses, and this is something that has made particularly Republicans -- I mean, all members of Congress pretty uncomfortable. Republicans have tried to rationalize it by saying the president has free speech rights to say whatever he wants about the witnesses, but a lot of Republicans, particularly after his tweets going after Ambassador Yovanovitch on Friday, have distanced themselves from that kind of rhetoric.

They want to be able to fight -- be able to defend the president, but this is something that they really don't want to touch at this point.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Democrats this afternoon responding to some of the Republican criticism, saying: "There are also some who say no serious wrongdoing was committed because the military assistance to Ukraine was eventually released. The fact is, the aid was only released after the whistle-blower exposed the truth of the president's extortion and bribery and the House launched a formal investigation."

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, the timeline matters, and the fact that the aid went matters. Those two things both matter, and I think you have a stronger case if the aid does not go and plans are not changed.

As to Williams, I think this is an issue with the Trump administration you have seen throughout this, like, shifting, extremely transactional loyalties. There is no limb you go out on he ain't going to saw off, whether you're a supporter or somebody in the administration.

But I don't think it matters so much in this particular instance, as it does in a broader sense of the sort of drip, drip of him reacting in this sort of bombastic way to everything as the impeachment goes on. He only makes things worse for himself with tweets.

FINNEY: But this other side of it, having been someone who was called in to testify in the Whitewater in front of Ken Starr.

It's terrifying. It's personally terrifying. They're questioning your integrity. They're questioning -- I mean, that's how it feels, like -- kind of in front of Congress, even worse. You're paying your own legal bills.

So to your point, Jake, these are people who at their own -- at some risk to themselves, decide to -- I'm going to serve my country in this way. And now they're paying legal bills. They're being attacked by -- I mean, I can imagine if Bill Clinton would have attacked people who had to go in and testify.

I mean, there was none of that. And so it just completely just -- for these people to then have to deal with that, and then go back to work. And let's be honest. Secretary Pompeo is not that supportive of his people.

TAPPER: Speaking of Pompeo, take a listen to Secretary of State Pompeo.

Asked today if he agreed with President Trump's tweets attacking the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, here's Pompeo's answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I will defer to the White House about particular statements and the like. I don't have anything else to say about the Democrats' impeachment proceedings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:10:00]

TAPPER: So, not exactly standing up for his own people.

DIAMOND: No.

And that's why what we saw from the vice president's office was kind of part of a pattern here. And, as Karen is pointing out, you know, Democrats are going to raise this question of witness intimidation with how the president has treated not just Jennifer Williams, but other witnesses.

We saw Adam Schiff do that kind of in live motion during Marie Yovanovitch's testimony. So, look, there are no Republicans, there are no White House officials who I think are happy with the president doing this, but that doesn't mean that they're publicly condemning it either.

TAPPER: No, they're demonstrating fealty, as we're used to now.

CNN gets an inside look at the Ukrainian restaurant where that phone call between E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Trump was overheard.

Plus, House lawmakers investigating whether President Trump lied in a separate investigation. About what? That's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: In our politics lead, the House is now investigating whether President Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump told Mueller in written statements that he did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Roger Stone, but during Stone's trial last week in which he was found guilty, former Trump campaign deputy chair Rick Gates testified that in the middle of the 2016 campaign, Trump and Stone talked about information coming soon that could help Trump's campaign.

At the same time, Stone was trying to get details about what was coming from WikiLeaks.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's on the House Intelligence Committee, which is, of course, leading the impeachment investigation.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Have you seen any conclusive proof that President Trump lied to special counsel Robert Mueller about this? I mean, he said he didn't recall, which is kind of a lawyer trick for not answering a question.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Yes. Well as you remember, Jake, the president refused to go in front of and give live testimony to special counsel Bob Mueller and instead submitted written answers to certain questions in the questions oftentimes he would say that he didn't recall. So, you know, of course, my mind has been wrapped up in this latest impeachment inquiry but I have to go back and check his responses to see whether he was truthful or not about that.

TAPPER: The White House has cited a Department of Justice policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. So if Democrats conclude that President Trump did lie to Mueller, I guess that would be added to the impeachment inquiry, or the articles of impeachment but not necessarily any legal action would be taken. You wouldn't ask DOJ to intervene.

CASTRO: Yes, I mean, that's a great issue we'll have to take up and figure out whether, in fact, we believe the president did lie. And certainly, if he did, there should be consequences for that. And, you know, we'll have to consider it in the articles.

TAPPER: So you get to question all of the witnesses this week, eight of them in three days. Much of the focus, obviously on Ambassador Gordon Sondland who other witnesses say claimed to be taking direction from the president directly and that he told the Ukrainians directly, Sondland, to announce the Biden investigation if they wanted the aid to go through.

What are you planning to ask Sondland about this week?

CASTRO: Yes, that's right. And now, each of the witnesses, the ones that we've heard in the SCIF and then the ones that the American people have been able to hear from have a firmness idea that there was something wrong with the president asking for a political favor in trying to trade government resources for that favor.

But ambassador Sondland is a key witness. He had obviously direct contact with the president of the United States about this. And so, in terms of what we want to know, we want to know what orders President Trump gave him to ask for the investigation of the Bidens and why it looked like they were trading government resources for a political favor to take out a primary rival in the 2020 elections.

TAPPER: Are all eight witnesses, including Gordon Sondland, expected to show up and testify as opposed to blowing off the hearings or pleading the Fifth?

CASTRO: Yes. So far as I know, that's the case. We certainly hope that everybody will step forward and cooperate and, again, I think you see each is one piece of the puzzle here. The president has tried to block other people from testifying. People like John Bolton have refused to come forward. Rick Perry has refused to come forward, Mick Mulvaney.

But even with the evidence that we have, as you can see from the polling and the surveys, the American people are convinced that the president has done something wrong and the poll I saw today said that 51 percent of Americans believe that the president should not only be impeached but that he should be removed from office. And there is more evidence to come.

TAPPER: One of the witnesses set to testify this week is Jennifer Williams. She's a State Department employee and an aide and adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. President Trump tweeted, quote: Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read both transcripts of the presidential calls and see the just released statement from Ukraine and then she should meet with the other Never-Trumpers who I don't know and mostly never even heard of and work out a better presidential attack, unquote.

Well, first of all, obviously, Jennifer Williams listened to the call. She doesn't need to read the transcript, but she listened to it directly. But she said she found it inappropriate. I guess that bigger picture, though, do you see that as witness intimidation?

CASTRO: Yes, absolutely. I mean, this is the president trying to bully people, trying to scare them. And he's got a huge megaphone as you know. And so, when he tweets something out, you're talking about tens of millions of people mostly supporters who follow him who then jump all over that person on social media.

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Some people who make threats. So this could turn into a dangerous situation for a witness. So I absolutely believe that it's witness intimidation.

TAPPER: Is that a possible count of impeachment?

CASTRO: If it was up to me, it certainly would be.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, thank you so much. Good to see you, sir.

CASTRO: Good to see you.

TAPPER: It is the sight of the overheard call between President Trump and the ambassador to the E.U. CNN is going to go inside the Ukrainian restaurant where it all happened, next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: We're back with the world lead now and a look inside of the restaurant in Ukraine where an ambassador official overheard President Trump on a phone call asking about the investigations he wanted from Ukraine. President Trump was talking to Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

And CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins me live outside that restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine.

And, Fred, we're not just showing off that we have reporters all over the world, what is interesting is that the setup doesn't seem ideal for a sensitive call with an American president.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Jake. It is a beautiful restaurant but for a sensitive call it might not be the best place. It is basically, I was inside earlier today, it's basically two levels of very open spaces and when we walked in there earlier today, you could hear the chatter at certain tables. There is no separation walls so everybody could hear you if you are inside of the restaurant having a loud phone call in English.

But I want to show you something else if you could come with me. One of the places that apparently Gordon Sondland was as he was inside of the restaurant was right here, this is the terrace area where he was sitting with three of his associates from the embassy and that terrace area is closed right now because it's winter. And that terrace area is also right next to a road that you could see right here. So, if you're sitting on that terrace, that means people from the sidewalk could hear you and people from inside of the restaurant can hear you as well.

The other thing that we found interesting when we were inside is that there is a huge amount of staff members walking around there. They all wear traditional Ukrainian clothes and a restaurant that prides itself on great service, but you're surrounded by people that could potentially be listening in as well. But the most interesting thing, Jake, is the staff told us, is they said, look, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., he would be a very important guest here, but certainly not the most important one that they would have had. In fact, the country's President Zelensky, he comes here all of the time.

And so, if you are having a phone call that's very sensitive in English, in a very loud way, there is a pretty good chance that potentially Ukrainian officials and potentially staff members of Zelensky might be hearing you as well. It's a beautiful restaurant, not necessarily a great place for a sensitive call, Jake.

TAPPER: Some real questions about operational security. Fred Pleitgen in Kiev, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

CNN has just learned that David Holmes, the person, the official in the embassy who was inside that restaurant and overheard the call with President Trump, is now going to publicly testify on Thursday. And on Wednesday, we're going to hear from Ambassador Sondland himself. He will testify and he could reveal if and how President Trump was calling the shots as CNN's Erica Hill reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three days, eight witnesses.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This has been an intense period for the House intelligence committee and this coming week could be the final act.

HILL: And an increasing focus on one man -- Gordon Sondland.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He's the one who seemed to have an awful lot of access to the president.

HILL: Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and a million dollar Trump donor is scheduled to testify on Wednesday, amid new questions about his role.

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

HILL: On that call just one day after the now infamous July 25th exchange that led to the whistle-blower's complaint.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made a perfect call, not a good call, perfect call.

HILL: Ambassador Sondland told President Trump Ukrainian President Zelensky would do anything Trump asked, including launching an investigation into the Bidens.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Manu, I understand you have new information.

HILL: A bombshell confirmed late Friday in closed-door testimony by a staffer who overheard it. RAJU: The Gordon Sondland testimony is going to be highly significant

because he's already admitted his testimony to now say that he told a top Ukrainian official that security assistance from the United States, roughly $400 million was likely tied to the ask for investigations. According to multiple witnesses, the reason why he knows that is because of a conversation he had with President Trump.

HILL: Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council official set to testify on Tuesday told lawmakers last month that Sondland was acting at Trump's direction when he encouraged Ukraine to announce the investigations and described the ambassador as a problem, according to newly-released transcripts.

TAPPER: New details are piling up quickly in the impeachment inquiry--

HILL: Morrison listened in on the July 25th call as did Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Pence who will also appear on Tuesday and said the call struck her as unusual.

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman immediately raised concerns after listening to the July 25th call. He, too, is slated to appear on Tuesday.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There is no one star witness that this whole case will rise or fall --

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