Return to Transcripts main page
Eight Witnesses to Testify in Public This week; Republicans Shift Trump Defense Ahead of Critical Testimony. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired November 18, 2019 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Alisyn, over the weekend, there were four brothers arrested inside Turkey plotting some kind of alleged bomb attack there. So the Turks are moving as hard and fast as they can to deal with this problem, also expelling known ISIS individuals back to their home countries. Quite controversial there. But the solution to this prison and the camp problem, nobody's anywhere close to it -- John, Alisyn.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sam Kiley, such an important report as that region seems to be doing everything but getting better and more peaceful.
Sam, we appreciate that report.
In the meantime, we're entering a crucial week in the impeachment investigation. NEW DAY continues right now.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY.
High drama ahead in the House impeachment hearings. Eight current and former officials are set to testify this week. But the most anticipated appearance comes Wednesday when Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., is scheduled to appear. Newly released transcripts revealed that Sondland had direct conversations with President Trump about efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden and his family.
Sondland has already revised his private testimony. And new this morning, "The Wall Street Journal" reports that there's a trail of e- mails revealing how Sondland kept several key officials in the administration updated about his efforts.
BERMAN: Meanwhile, President Trump can't seem to stop attacking impeachment witnesses. He is now lashing out at Jennifer Williams, an aid to Vice President Mike Pence. She testifies tomorrow about listening to that July 25th phone call between President Trump and Zelensky. In newly revealed testimony she describes their conversation as unusual and inappropriate.
And it all comes amid new questions about the president's health. This after an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Hospital over the weekend that CNN has learned did not follow protocol of a routine presidential medical exam.
Joining us now, CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, and CNN senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga.
David, I want to start with you if I can because I watched you watch the testimony on Friday with Marie Yovanovitch in real time. And you who I find to be normally unflappable seemed shocked by what you were hearing Friday morning. And that was before Roger Stone was found guilty on seven counts.
That was before David Holmes testified behind closed doors about this private phone call between Gordon Sondland and the president. That was before the president's trip to Walter Reed that broke protocol, and that was before the defeat of the Republican candidate of Louisiana whom the president had gone to campaign for three times.
The point I'm making here is that this has been an extraordinarily precarious few days for the president. What do you make of it all? Where are we this morning?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, you know, where we are is that the firewall politically on impeachment seems to be holding for the president. But I think what's so disturbed and shocked me about his reaction to Ambassador Yovanovitch and -- in real time. Let alone if she was testifying about as a foreign service officer, 30-plus years' experience and dedication to the country was really shocking. Even by Trump standards.
To go out on a limb to be so critical of those officers who are thinking about America first. And who are defending America's national security interests and trying to advance them. And the fact that Republicans would not come to her aid on that principle alone. Again is what I saw as shocking.
What I think undermined the president in all of that is separate from what the outcome is in impeachment. I think a lot of this information ultimately undermines the president's political standing. His judgement. His handling of foreign affairs. Let alone whether he stands up for his people or not. All of these things I think have an impact when voters go to the polls next year.
CAMEROTA: So, Bianna, as we said this week, eight, that we know of, witnesses in public, Jennifer Williams is interesting tomorrow because she was a top aid from the NSC to Vice President Pence's office but they are now saying, well, she's actually with the NSC. I mean, they're distancing themselves after the president's attack on her.
But all eyes on Gordon Sondland. And Gordon Sondland is so interesting because he first, behind closed doors, tried to say that he didn't know anything about these investigations. So here's a little portion, just to remind people from October 17th. The question to him, to Gordon Sondland was, when the Biden element was introduced, what was your understanding of what exactly did people want Ukraine to investigate the Bidens for? Gordon Sondland says, I don't know. They say, OK. He says again, I
honestly don't know. They say -- and I say the Bidens but were they referring mostly to Hunter Biden or don't you know? He says I didn't even know who Hunter Biden was until I started reading about him in the media.
That was not true it turns out because now we know from the -- I mean, from his public testimony, from his amended testimony, from "The Wall Street Journal" this weekend getting e-mails, Gordon Sondland was pivotal.
He was keeping -- he was talking to President Trump more than we knew and he was keeping others, Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney, apprised of what was happening with this quid pro quo.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Which is why when you heard Bill Taylor talk about the two channels of communication and foreign policy vis-a-vis Ukraine, he was not so alarmed early on that Gordon Sondland was leading it because he thought of his close ties to the president that it could actually be productive. You're one again seeing how close those ties were to the president. And the fact that he had the president's ears, not only the president's ears, but Mick Mulvaney as well, and Rick Perry.
You have an e-mail chain now and you go back to his closed-door testimony where he said on the record that he barely communicated with Mulvaney. That he had seen him a couple of times at the White House. They waved at each other. And that was it. There was no communication regarding Ukraine. In fact, we know that there was a lot of communication regarding Ukraine.
And then go back to his testimony that he didn't know that the Bidens were involved in all of this investigation that the president was asking for. Well, now we know from Bill Taylor's aide in that conversation that was so loud that others around them including wait staff at this restaurant in Ukraine heard the president talk specifically about this investigation and then afterwards when the aide asked Sondland what does the president think about Ukraine, he said all he cares about is this Biden investigation.
So there's a lot to answer for for him. And I'm sure the president will be just as focused as we all are on Wednesday. Like this all whole weekend long.
BERMAN: Let me just read new "The Wall Street Journal" reporting because it was revealing according to "The Wall Street Journal." they have seen e-mails between Gordon Sondland and top officials. Mr. Sondland kept several top officials including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry apprised of the push to investigate the Bidens.
According to the e-mails reviewed by "The Journal," in the weeks leading up to Mr. Trump's July 25th phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart that spurred the whistleblower campaign and ultimately the impeachment probe."
Again, Gordon Sondland is important because he talked -- apparently had the president on speed dial. He could call the president anytime from anywhere. What's the White House's view of this guy and his testimony on Wednesday?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting who you talk to about him. Some people -- at lot of the National Security officials were annoyed by him because they didn't know why he was involved in this because he was the ambassador to the European Union which Ukraine is not in. But his main thing was, the president told me to do this. And they saw that he was having conversations with people not only like the president but also Mick Mulvaney and obviously the Energy secretary.
And so people essentially listened to Gordon Sondland, people who typically would have said this is actually not how this is supposed to work. And that is why you can see, you know, that direct line of communication.
The other thing this is going to raise questions about is Rick Perry's role on all of this, because remember when Vice President Pence was supposed to go to the Zelensky inauguration and then was told, hey, actually you're not going even though Trump had promised Zelensky he would send someone very high level. Rick Perry went instead.
But he's insisted all their conversations had nothing to do with these conversations with the Bidens. But now there are e-mails saying, hey, actually what we talked about, here's a follow-up on that. It's only going to raise more questions for him.
CAMEROTA: David, as you point out for Republicans, there haven't been any -- you know, we've heard all weekend of Republicans coming out and saying the talking points that we've been hearing which is basically either nothing wrong with the call or none of this is impeachable, or we have to hear from the whistleblower. None of this counts unless we hear from the whistleblower. All that stuff. And they seem to be still pretty tightly bound together.
But then what happened in Louisiana with John Bel Edwards. I mean, if there's anything that I think gets Republicans' attention, where the Democrats can attempt to hang their hat on, is that if a place that the president went and campaigned, if that candidate doesn't win, that might get Republicans' attention that, you know, they think at the moment that he is politically infallible.
GREGORY: Yes. I mean, I think it shows more vulnerability and especially when the president is putting his name and his credibility on the line as he's done now a couple of times in this election season. Having done it in Kentucky and now Louisiana. And it's not working. I'm not sure that's translating yet to Republicans who were in the impeachment fight, who were on the Hill who recognize that in their view, there's still a lot to be gained politically from seeking the president's vindication through the impeachment process, whatever the other political fallout is. And I think that's why they're still very tightly focused on the idea
of, well, the aid still went through. There was no such investigation even though the president was pushing for it. And the president of Ukraine who was certainly tightly bounded and dependent on the American president said that there was no pressure. So it's hard to put much stock in that.
But I think Sondland is important because, as we've said, the direct tie to the president, unlike other members of the diplomatic corps who Republicans have pointed out aren't decision=makers and aren't that close to power, in this case Sondland actually was. The difference is it's unclear to me how much of a cooperative witness he will actually be. He has some damning information that he's, you know, reluctantly sharing. But we'll see how Republicans try to use him as well to their benefit.
GOLODRYGA: And this will go on beyond just this week. This is going to have long lasting ramifications. Gordon Sondland is still the ambassador to the E.U. He is on an island on his own. No one reportedly wants to reach out to him right now because they believe that he's toxic. Many E.U. ambassadors believe the same. And the same goes with Ukraine. Ukraine seems to be a topic nobody wants to discuss. We saw -- we haven't seen a meeting between the president of the United States and President Zelensky. So it's a lose-lose situation across the board.
BERMAN: Gordon Sondland needs to listen to this lawyer on top of everyone else right now. His lawyer is the only person he should be listening to because telling the truth is going to matter here.
CAMEROTA: All right. It's going to be a fascinating week. Thank you all very much for the analysis.
So this week investigators expect to hear from at least one witness who talked with President Trump directly about Ukraine. So how is this affecting the Republican Party's defense? We discuss that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The Ukrainians did nothing to -- as far as investigations goes to get the aid released. So there was never this quid pro quo that the Democrats all promised existed.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): Well, the president's defense is that those things didn't happen. The real bottom line is he got the money. Ukraine got the money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: That's key Republicans shifting their defense of President Trump ahead of testimony this week from eight current and former officials. The GOP there was focusing less on witnesses' secondhand information and stressing instead -- stressing instead that President Trump did nothing wrong because ultimately the investigations into the Bidens never happened.
Joining us now, CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH." So I don't quite understand that reasoning, Michael. So explain. They -- Ukraine was poised to begin the investigations. They were poised to announce the beginning of an investigation and then the whistleblower happened and Republicans in Congress began pressing President Trump directly to release the aid and he released the aid. So I -- do you understand the Republicans' argument right now that they're making?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": No. But I think I'll understand it by the time that Gordon Sondland testifies later this week because it's in a state of flux their explanation. Right? It began as attacking the witnesses, impeaching the witnesses, and attacking the process. This will be the week that it will have to move into a substantive realm. There's going to have to be some kind of a substantive defense to what Sondland will say.
Alisyn, this declaration that he filed after the opening statement of Taylor and Morrison is a trial lawyer's treasure map. One sentence, if I may. "I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak where I said that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided public anti-corruption statement."
So forget all this hearsay business. Forget all this. These people are three times removed, they've never even met the president. Here comes testimony from the guy who said to Zelensky's aide, you're not getting the money until there's an announcement of the investigation.
So to come back to your question, there will have to be some type of a substantive response to that. I think it will be, as I've long predicted, that they'll try to own it and say, well, yes, that's exactly what we were doing because we were so worried about corruption. And we didn't want to waste taxpayer dollars.
BERMAN: What's happening is the facts, these hearings, the testimony, the evidence is necessitating a change in defense, which is why these hearings are important because we keep on learning things, Michael. And you've always said that perhaps the ultimate Republican defense will be something that we keep seeing maybe more of.
And this came from Mike Turner, a congressman from Ohio, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, and he's been asking tough questions of the witnesses. He's no patsy. I mean, he's all in on defending the president sometimes but not about the phone call itself. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): All of that is alarming. And as I've said from the beginning, I think this is not OK. The president of the United States shouldn't even in the original phone call. Be on the phone with the president of another country and raise his political opponent. So no, this is -- it's not OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: It's not OK. The call is alarming. And you've noted, Michael, that might be the last line of defense Republicans have here. It happened, it was bad, I think it's bad, I'm just not going to say it's impeachable.
SMERCONISH. It doesn't rise to the level of impeachment might be where they're going. Witness, John, how far removed we are now from allegations about the whistleblower. Oh, the whistleblower is biased, the whistleblower worked for Joe Biden, had his picture taken with Chuck Schumer. All that business is now forgotten because now, now we're approaching really where the rubber meets the road on the substantive charges.
And, you know, if I'm Gordon Sondland or his lawyer, and if I were unaware of that "Wall Street Journal" report today, I'm really nervous because now it suggests that there's a paper trail that will provide yet other pieces of the puzzle.
And you know what's interesting, in the final statement, the final averment of Sondland's declaration, he has a caveat. And he says, I've not seen all the records of the White House. I'm not aware of the documents, the phone calls, so on and so forth. If I were questioning him, one of my first lines of inquiry would be, you told us you haven't seen anything as of the time you signed the declaration. What have you seen since you've signed the declaration? For example, was he aware of whatever these e-mails are that are reported in the "Journal"?
There's a lot of data out there and it's all telling the same story. So, again, by the end of this, I think the defense will be one of, yes, that's what happened. So what? It doesn't rise to the level of impeachment or the president's motive was one of protecting tax dollars, not going after Joe Biden.
CAMEROTA: We shall see. It's going to be a pivotal and very interesting week.
Michael, thank you very much.
SMERCONISH. It is. Yes.
CAMEROTA: For all of your thoughts on this.
BERMAN: This new poll out of Iowa this weekend shows a big new leader in that first to caucus state. Pete Buttigieg now with a statistically significant lead. What's behind this major shift? Next.
[07:25:46] BERMAN: At least eight witnesses are scheduled to testify this week at a critical time in the House impeachment hearings. The U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland appears on Wednesday and really he is the one so many people are watching this week.
Erica Hill hear to explain why -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. Ahead of Gordon Sondland, there's a clear plan to set the stage with testimony from officials who were on that July 25th call including some who expressed concern over the ambassador's role in negotiations with Ukraine.
HILL (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 its final act.
HILL: On 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 whistleblower's complaint.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made a perfect call. Not a good call, a perfect call.
HILL: Ambassador Sondland told President Trump Ukrainian President Zelensky would do anything Trump asked including launch 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 has already amended 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 Sondland was acting at Trump's direction when he encouraged Ukraine to announce the investigations and described the E.U. ambassador as a problem, according to newly released transcripts.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 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 on, not that we know of right now. But I think Vindman is sort of another brick in the wall that House Democrats are trying to build.
HILL: Former special representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, defended the president's actions in closed-door testimony telling lawmakers there was, quote, "no leverage implied."
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): There was no linkage. And I think further testimony and depositions will confirm that multiple times.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): We've got text messages from Volker and Sondland.
HILL: Volker's private text message the morning of the July 25th call revealed Ukrainian officials pushing for a White House meeting. Volker, writing to an aide for Zelensky, "Assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate, get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, we will nail down a date for the visit to Washington. Good luck."
On August 9th, Sondland messages Volker. "I think POTUS really wants the deliverable." Going on to suggest Volker should ask for the Ukrainian president's aid in crafting a, quote, "draft a statement so that we can see exactly what they propose to cover." Volker will also appear on Tuesday.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Kurt Volker, let's remember, is a former career foreign service officer. Kurt Volker knew what normal foreign policy looks like.
HILL: The week's final witness, Fiona Hill, is expected to describe what she saw as a nightmare scenario. Private interests driving U.S. policy.
(On camera): Where do you think everybody needs to be at the end of next week? HONIG: I think Democrats need to be in a position where they can say,
we are confident in this case. And I think the Republicans just need to be at a place of either there's doubt about this case, there's doubt about whether it's true, or maybe it happened, but it's not serious enough to merit impeachment.
HILL (voice-over): High stakes heading into a --