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CNN RIGHT NOW
House Now Investigating Whether Trump Lied To Mueller; Crucial Week As Eight Witnesses Gear Up To Testify In Public; Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Release Of Trump Taxes. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 18, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- starts Right now.
Have a great afternoon.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, did the president of the United States lie to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller? The House now investigating after a new revelation.
And will he plead the Fifth? Will he tell all? A key official at the center of the impeachment investigation is one of eight witnesses set to testify publicly this week.
And the president attacking another witness before she testifies, as her boss, the vice president, pretends she doesn't work for him.
Plus, the mystery deepens into the president's unannounced visit to the hospital. The White House is trying to spin it as a routine physical, but there are many signs it was not.
But we start with breaking news and a new investigation for President Trump. The House now wants to know if the president lied when he provided written testimony to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.
We have Pamela Brown with us. She's here with her reporting. And Elliott Williams has the legal angle on this.
So, Pamela, some people would say, what? Robert miller is so this summer. So what's going on, what's this about and why now?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a court filing from the Democrat's House lawyer telling the judge that basically, look, we really need to see this grand jury information that was given to Robert Mueller, because there is growing concern that the president lied in his written answers to Mueller's investigators.
And they point to information that has come out during the Roger Stone testimony, who we know is he was just recently convicted, he was an associate of Trump. As you recall, Rick Gates, who was part of that campaign, had testified that the president had just gotten off the phone with Roger Stone and told him that more information would be coming. He also said that Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, had been briefing the president about efforts to get the WikiLeaks emails.
What is interesting about that is in light of what the president said in his written answers to Mueller, as you'll recall, which is a key word in his written answers, he said that I think more than two dozen times. In this one, he said, I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign has discussions with any of the entities naming the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.
And so Democrats are now seizing on this and saying, look, we have reason to believe the president wasn't telling the truth here. And so what this does is add new urgency to the Democrats' argument that the president may have lied. It's an argument they have been making for a while and they're now filing it in court.
KEILAR: They want to see this grand jury testimony, obviously, that they aren't privy to at this point in time. Are they going to get this grand jury testimony from the Mueller investigation?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They should, and there is a big reason why. The lower court that first addressed this question was really looking at the question of whether an impeachment is a, quote, legitimate legal proceeding that would allow -- well, it is, under the eyes of the law -- that would allow the transfer of grand jury materials.
So, for instance, if they have grand jury material and you as a reporter ask for them, you're not allowed to see them, they're secret. They can only be shared with another active judicial legal proceeding. So the court found recently, about a couple weeks ago, that it was. And that's the question that they'll be able to build (ph).
KEILAR: That it's legitimate.
WILLIAMS: That is legitimate.
KEILAR: Which is obviously counter to the argument the White House makes.
WILLIAMS: Now, here's the thing. You don't have to agree that the president ought to be impeached, you don't have to agree legally that he should be removed. But the question is, is the proceeding itself a relatively legal one, and that is relatively straightforward in the eyes of the law.
And that was found for past impeachments too. So, for instance, the whole United States versus Nixon hinged President Richard Nixon on the question of whether the proceedings were legitimate.
BROWN: And I just want to say quickly, the president's outside attorney, Jay Sekulow, responded to this to me and said, read the answers to the questioned, they speak for themselves. And as you know, the president and his team have said he did not lie.
But it's interesting to this renewed scrutiny on his written answers to Mueller. It's interesting in the light of the president saying today that, yes, maybe I will take up Nancy Pelosi up on her offer to provide testimony and perhaps written answers to impeachment investigators.
KEILAR: It's hard to believe he will actually do that. We've been through this song and dance with him on the Mueller -- speaking to Mueller. So, all right, you guys, stand by for me.
Now, to the impeachment inquiry and a deep bench of witnesses ready to take the stand this week. There are eight in all. Tomorrow, you'll be seeing four testify.
Jennifer Williams, she is a senior adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, he's the top Ukraine expert at the White House, he's a director on the National Security Council, and then Kurt Volker is the former special envoy for Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the National Security Council's former top adviser on Russia and Europe.
And in a transcript released over the weekend, Morrison testified that he was told by Ambassador Gordon Sondland that the military aid from the U.S. to Ukraine was directly tied to Ukraine announcing an investigation into the Biden family.
Williams, Vindman and Morrison were all on that phone call that President Trump had with Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Wednesday, we'll be hearing from Sondland, from Ambassador Sondland. He has a whole lot to answer for. Because out of this group, he's the only one that had direct contact with President Trump on Ukraine, and also very importantly, those investigations that the president wanted.
Sondland previously indicated that there was indeed a quid pro quo after he revised his earlier deposition before House Democrats and Republicans.
Also on Wednesday, we'll be seeing Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense, and State Department official David Hale is going to testify Thursday, that's Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia adviser.
All right, we have some breaking news right now. The Supreme Court is blocking the release this week of the president's taxes to a House committee. The president's attorneys asked the court to step in ahead of a Wednesday deadline.
There is an accounting firm that was used by President Trump that had been ordered to turn over these financial records. I want to bring in Jessica Schneider to talk about this.
This is very fresh, this is just in. Tell us what this decision means. Tell us, did the House fight the temporary order?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So this is just in from the Supreme Court, and this is something we had been expecting, Brianna, because under the lower court's decision, they wanted these documents, these financial records, released by Wednesday. But, of course, President Trump's lawyer stepped in here saying, hey, Supreme Court, we're appealing to you to put a hold on these documents, these financial records, being released as of this Wednesday deadline.
So that's what the Supreme Court has done here. They've stepped in and said, no, you will not be getting these financial records by Wednesday. We're going to put that deadline essentially on hold while this sort of plays out and the Supreme Court decides whether or not to hear the broader issues in this case.
So we pretty much knew that that could potentially happen here, because President Trump's lawyers went to the Supreme Court asking the Supreme Court to step in. And what we've just learned is that the Supreme Court has, in fact, stepped in. These financial records will not be released.
The House does have to respond to this, this effort to block this subpoena. That will be to the Supreme Court and that needs to be submitted by Thursday at 3:00 P.M. So, really, this is an ongoing process here in this battle by House Democrats to get the president's financial records. They thought maybe there was a slim chance they might get them by Wednesday because of a lower court, an appellate court order.
But now the Supreme Court saying it will not happen by Wednesday, we need to continue to evaluate how this case will proceed and potentially eventually get to the merits of this case. So we won't see anything this week, Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that report.
I want to bring in Dana Bash with our folks here to discuss this.
I suppose this isn't particularly surprising, just in the fact, Dana, that once these records are out, you can't put them back in, right?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, you can't.
KEILAR: So there has to be a final decision. And until then, these tax returns aren't going to be out there.
BASH: That's right. I think the key is it's not a no, it's a not yet. And so the president, who has fought tooth and nail releasing these tax returns, that we should remind people the tradition is for presidential candidates to always release their tax returns since Richard Nixon. He might win at the Supreme Court, he might not win at the Supreme Court.
The fact that the court wants to take time, maybe as you said, is kind of pro forma. It's the president of the United States. This is unprecedented in every way. But the fact they're not saying, we're not even going to hear this, we're not going to deal with this, is also significant.
WILLIAMS: Even though there is a public interest in seeing the tax returns, again, regardless of where you are on the president, like you said, the president has an issue releasing presidential tax returns, he's still a party to litigation and parties have rights, and that's not to be irreparably harmed, as determine the law, by the release of a document that they're still trying to protect.
So I think, yes, it's not uncommon to stay the release of them, but not yet. Dana has a perfect way to put it that way.
KEILAR: Why are they fighting so hard for them not to be out there?
BROWN: And it's interesting, because this isn't the only case surrounding his tax returns, right? There is also the case at the New York State prosecutors who want to see several years of tax returns for their investigation. That is also something that has gone to the Supreme Court. We'll wait and see if they make a landmark decision on that.
But the president's attorneys has made these broad arguments that the president should not be compelled to turn over his tax returns, that he is immune from criminal prosecution.
And so if the Supreme Court does decide to take up either this case, both cases, it would be a significant landmark decision, potentially, on separation of powers.
WILLIAMS: And so remember, it's not just immune from criminal prosecution, it's immune from criminal process. So they're making the argument -- they made an argument that you can't even ask the president questions or bring him in to help you aiding a criminal inquiry even if you're not charging him with a crime.
KEILAR: All right. All of you stand by for me, if you would.
Could he plead the Fifth? Could he refuse to answer? A key witness at the center of the impeachment inquiry has some major explaining to do do after other witnesses contradict him.
After the president makes a surprise trip to the hospital, is the White House telling the truth about it? Why this visit is raising questions?
KEILAR: Ambassador Gordon Sondland will testify Wednesday as part of the House impeachment inquiry hearing. And now we're learning that he may have even more to answer for. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sondland was emailing members of the administration to keep them up to date on efforts to secure the public declaration of investigations by Ukraine into the 2016 election and into the Biden family.
The Journal reports that those went to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and also to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Let's bring in our Kylie Atwood.
So, I mean, Kylie, tell us about this. What more do we know about this information between Sondland and Perry and Mulvaney?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. Well, the key here is that Mulvaney and Perry, so Mulvaney being the president's acting chief of staff, and Secretary Perry, the secretary of energy, they aren't going to provide any testimony as part of this House impeachment inquiry. And so that's why it's so important that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., who has been involved in these discussions, is heading up before the House impeachment inquiry this week.
And so one of the things to consider, however, is that The Wall Street Journal reporting is very important. What is says, as you said earlier, is that that Gordon Sondland, this ambassador, was keeping Mulvaney and Perry a apprised of this effort to push for negotiations by the Ukrainians leading up to that July 25th phone call.
But during his testimony, his closed-door testimony, Ambassador Sondland tried to distance himself from the contents of that July 25th phone call. And I want to read you something that he said during his closed-door testimony.
He said, quote, none of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky. I heard afterwards that the July 25th call in 2019 went well in solidifying a relationship between the two leaders.
Therefore, he's really trying to say that he had nothing to do with any contents of that phone call. That is a disparity with what we are learning now from The Wall Street Journal.
So another quote from what he told lawmakers behind closed doors is he said, quote, let me state clearly, inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. So lawmakers are definitely going to want to ask Ambassador Sondland about that.
But the bottom line here is that we have heard from a number of other U.S. officials as part of this impeachment inquiry. And what they keep saying is that Ambassador Sondland had a direct line to President Trump.
And Tim Morrison, who is the senior Russia director at the National Security Council, he said this in his testimony before lawmakers. He said, he related to me, he, being Ambassador Gordon Sondland, that he was discussing these matters with the president. Therefore, he was told by Sondland that he was calling up President Trump to discuss these investigations.
We heard a similar thing from Fiona Hill. She was also a senior adviser to President Trump on Russia. She actually got into a little bit of a tiff with Gordon Sondland, because she said to him at one point, you're not in charge of Ukraine, him being the ambassador to the E.U. And the response that she got, quote, was he related to me he was -- I'm sorry, he said she -- Fiona Hill said to -- back to him, who has said you're in charge of Ukraine, Gordon? And he said, the president. Well, that shut me up because you can't really argue with that. A number of officials here, Brianna, repeatedly saying that Gordon Sondland told them he was in charge of this policy.
And it's really important to note that there have been discrepancies in what those folks have told lawmakers and what Gordon Sondland is. There are questions about the authenticity of what he has told. So there are going to be a number of questions, and, of course, he could plead the Fifth if he wants to. Brianna?
KEILAR: He could. All right, Kylie, thank you so much for breaking all of that down for us. Very instructive, as we bring in our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, back with us and Elliot Williams.
I just loved that being laid out, because you see witness, witness, witness, making it very clear, and it was known among all of them that Sondland was basically spearheading this request, or was such an integral part of asking Ukraine, we're laying this message that the president wants these investigations, and so his testimony is going to be incredibly significant.
BASH: Yes, we're going to see a lot of testimony, a lot of names that are going to be suddenly familiar to people who are glued to this impeachment process. But none is more important, as far as we know now, is as important as Gordon Sondland, because he is the lynchpin. He is the guy who talked to the president. He is the guy who, according to what Kylie was just reporting, reported back on the investigations he was trying to get allegedly in exchange for a White House meeting and, more importantly, the military aid from the United States. And the fact that he was reporting back, apparently, to Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff, to the almost former energy secretary, Rick Perry, it is so significant.
There is a very widely played parlor game right now in Washington though. The question is whether or not Sondland is actually going to show up, because he's literally going to be dancing on the head of a pin in that hearing room.
KEILAR: I mean, you can see why, right? Because since he was deposed behind closed doors, we have learned from other witnesses here that he had spoken on the phone with the president and that there were three State Department aides, or three aides who overheard that conversation, which was specifically about these investigations. So it's really hard for him to kind of plead the ignorance that we saw him pleading in his deposition. What does he do?
WILLIAMS: Right. But the thing is not testifying or pleading the Fifth is disastrous for him and disastrous for the administration, for the president. Because what it ultimately is is a concession that he's done something perhaps illegal.
So what he has to do is come and testify and say, look, I believed things slightly differently than people have previously testified. This is what I believe to have been --
KEILAR: Can he come in and say, I recall this differently and I don't necessarily take issue with what they're saying, and that's his way out?
WILLIAMS: It's, they're not wrong, but that's not quite how I remember it.
KEILAR: But what would that mean for the president?
BASH: Look, the president just already started distancing himself from Sondland, saying he barely knows the guy. This is a classic Trump move when people in his circle get in trouble.
KEILAR: Paul Manafort, barely know the guy.
BASH: Yes, exactly. But it's going to be hard for the president to keep that going when and if Sondland testifies about his conversations with the president, not just the one that he talked about in the deposition where the president said no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo, but more importantly, the one that we found out about last week. You mentioned the one in the restaurant. And maybe others that we just don't know about that could come out in this hearing.
KEILAR: Ennifer Williams, we're going to hear from. She's testifying tomorrow. The president actually had hacked her on Twitter, which is awkward because she's the vice president's aide even though his office seems to pretend she isn't. What does Congress want to know from her, Elliot?
WILLIAMS: I think it's how high up it goes in the White House. What was the vice president's -- notice, you haven't heard much from Vice President Pence about this, and you sort of look (ph). And, frankly, the very first day this all broke, the president said, you should talk to Mike Pence and get his answers. So, number one, what does the vice president know? What does the president of the United States know?
In calling Williams now, you see the brilliance of the House's strategy in putting the fact witnesses up first, the people who could say this happened, and now a number of witnesses that they're basically baiting the president into attacking, many of whom are sympathetic, like Williams who is a woman and a White House staffer. It's a very clever strategy and it's quite deliberate as to why she's going third or fourth.
BASH: And so, again, this is one of those moments which we have every day, multiple times a day, where we have to stop and take a step back and say, this is not normal.
BASH: For the president this weekend, to attack somebody who works for his vice president on Twitter, who is going to testify before an impeachment inquiry, there are no words.
WILLIAMS: And the standard isn't, did the president commit a crime or not. That's the question we're asking. And if the only question you're asking is, was it a crime or not, and if it's not a crime, it's okay, we've fallen completely as a government.
KEILAR: Elliot, Dana, thank you so much to both of you.
We have more on our breaking news, Supreme Court temporarily blocking the House from getting the president's tax returns
Plus, the president made an unannounced visit to the hospital that did not follow protocol. The White House says, nothing to see here, but there are many red flags.
KEILAR: The White House continues to downplay President Trump's unexpected and unscheduled doctor's visit, and now there are new questions surrounding that mysterious checkup on Saturday.
According to the White House, Trump underwent what they're calling a quick exam and labs at Walter Reed Medical Center as the first stage of his annual physical. But a source tells CNN the unannounced visit did not follow protocol for a routine visit like that one, and the president's last yearly checkup was only nine months ago.
Here with me now discuss is CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
And, you know, Sanjay, the White House Press Secretary is --