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U.S. Diplomat, David Holmes To Testify In Public Impeachment Hearing; Trump Considering Submitting Testimony; V.P. Pence's Aide Gets Criticized By Trump; New Health Questions On Trump Emerges; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) Is Interviewed About The Impeachment Inquiry Of Trump; Pompeo Declines To Support Top Ukraine Diplomats Publicly; How Trump's Policies Seem To Repeatedly Benefit Putin; North Korea "No Longer Interested" In Talks With Trump. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 18, 2019 - 17:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But McHugh disputes that saying that she was basically just a stenographer for Miller, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sara Sidner, thanks. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Pivotal week -- House lawmakers prepare for live impeachment testimony from nine key witnesses -- just added to the roster, a diplomatic aide who overheard a key call from President Trump. And in a letter to Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now accuses the president of the United States of extortion and bribery.

Willing to testify? President Trump tweets that he would strongly consider offering written testimony in the impeachment inquiry as he did in the Mueller investigation. At the same time House attorneys are now looking at whether the president lied to the special counsel.

Trump's health. The president sparks a medical mystery with a sudden trip to Walter Reed hospital that he insists was part of his annual physical, but sources say his visit was far from normal.

And Kim's cold shoulder. North Korea vents its frustration saying Kim Jong-un is, "no longer interested in denuclearization talks with President Trump." Is the dictator really prepared to walk away? I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news. A ninth person just added to the list of witnesses slated to give live televised testimony this week in the impeachment inquiry.

Diplomatic aide David Holmes testified behind closed doors on Friday that he overheard a call between E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Trump in which the president pressed for an update on whether Ukraine would investigate his political rivals.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just sent a letter to her Democratic colleagues saying, and I'm quoting now, "the facts are uncontested that the president abused his power for his own personal political benefit."

At same time House lawyers are investigating whether President Trump lied to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller in written answers he provided in the Russia investigation following public revelations at Roger Stone's trial.

We'll talk about the breaking news and more with Congressman Ro Khanna of the Oversight and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go straight to Capitol Hill. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on the scene for us. Manu, the State Department aide that overheard a conversation between President Trump and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union will now be testifying in public this week. How problematic, potentially, is his testimony to Republicans who are strongly defending the president?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he could certainly undercut the testimony in the defense of the president that the president was only concerned about corruption in Ukraine because according to what we have seen from David Holmes' testimony that he gave behind closed doors on Friday.

That he made it very clear from what his conversations were, that the president was only concerned about one thing as it came to Ukraine, that that country should announce an investigation into the president's political rival Joe Biden.

Now, he did testify that he heard this July phone call, overheard it between Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union and the president, which the president was asking about the investigations, an investigation into the Bidens.

That came a day after the president himself had a conversation with the Ukrainian president, in which the president of the United States also raised the notion of that investigation into the Bidens.

And then according to the opening statement that we obtained, it says that the president -- that the Ukrainian president would do "anything you ask him to" and that Sondland had confirmed that the Ukrainians would "do the investigation."

And Sondland later told David Holmes that the president only cared about the, "big stuff." Big stuff, meaning the investigations into the Bidens. Now, this all comes in a pivotal week of testimony.

Now, nine witnesses are coming before the House Intelligence Committee starting tomorrow and then on Wednesday Gordon Sondland comes as well where there will be a number of questions from Democrats in particular who want to push Gordon Sondland to revise or at least provide more information that he did not provide behind closed doors about those interactions with the president.

And already some Democrats are contending that Gordon Sondland misled the committee when he talked to them behind closed doors.


REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): Sketchy, I mean, this is a guy who had no diplomatic experience. He had a lot of money and he did what donors do, he bought his way into an ambassadorship. And by all accounts, what he wanted to do was please the president.


RAJU: And there'll be more questions for Gordon Sondland after tomorrow's testimony including on the two different panels and testimony tomorrow where there'll be four witnesses.

Two witnesses in particular say they raised concerns directly with Gordon Sondland about some of the things that were going on.


And Tim Morrison who served on the National Security Council in the White House made clear in his testimony that Gordon Sondland approached the Ukrainian official and discussed the notion of tying those investigations to this announcement of -- to the security assistance that the Ukrainians had been seeking.

And he said in his testimony, Morrison did, that was released over the weekend, at least Morrison relayed that at least -- that the president was giving him instruction on how to move forward. So we'll hear that testimony in public tomorrow from Tim Morrison.

And as we hear from a number of witnesses who will talk about the president's actions, talk about Gordon Sondland's actions and we'll have to answer questions about whether that security aid of nearly $400 million was tied to this ask that could help the president politically, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. We'll get back to you. Let's go to the White House right now. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is monitoring developments. Jim, the president is taking a somewhat different tone right now on the impeachment inquiry. What is the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is floating the idea that he will somehow cooperate in the impeachment inquiry saying he's considering the idea of providing written testimony.

Now, Democratic aides say they're not taking that idea seriously, but the president is also back to attacking the witnesses in the inquiry, this time taking aim at an official working under Vice President Mike Pence. It's a tactic that has already triggered some anger in the president's own party.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Tossing out a shiny new bright object, President Trump is dangling the possibility he might provide written testimony in the impeachment inquiry tweeting, "Even though I did nothing wrong I like the idea and will in order to get Congress focused again strongly consider it." That was in reaction to what appeared to be an offer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If he wants to take the oath of office or he could do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But here is the problem. The president has dangled this possibility before during the Russia investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESDIENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would love to speak. I would love to go. Nothing I want to do more because we did nothing wrong.

ACOSTA (voice-over): After months of haggling, the president ended up submitting answers to questions in writing. And Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated in his report, Mr. Trump stated on more than 30 occasions that he does not recall or remember or have an independent recollection of information called for by the questions.

Add to that, attorneys for the House of Representatives now say they are investigating whether the president lied to Mueller about not remembering aspects of the Russia probe.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D)-MDI: It is a crime to lie to federal prosecutors in the course of a federal proceeding. That is perjury.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is also back to attacking witnesses in the inquiry taking aim at Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence who told lawmakers Mr. Trump's phone call with the leader of Ukraine was inappropriate.

The president didn't like that and tweeted, "Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read both transcripts of the presidential calls then she should meet with the over never-Trumpers who I don't know and mostly never heard of and work out a better presidential attack."

The president's swipe at Williams came on the heels of his tweet directed at former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?


ACOSTA (voice-over): The big question is what if anything Republicans will do about it? The one House GOP member said he was alarmed by the administration's attempt to link military aid to political dirt.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): The president the United States shouldn't even in the original phone call be on the phone with a president of another country and raise his political opponent so, no, this is -- it's not okay.

ACOSTA (voice-over): House Republicans are considering asking Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson the detail what he knows about the president's actions. Johnson, who had discussed the matter with the president, says the entire issue should not have been exposed.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Having this all come out into public has weakened that relationship, has exposed things that didn't need to be exposed.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Also hanging over the president is something of a medical mystery as White House officials are still not offering many details about Mr. Trump's sudden trip to Walter Reed hospital over the weekend.

The White House said it was just a routine checkup as part of his annual physical, but sources told CNN the trip did not follow the usual protocol calling Mr. Trump's visit abnormal.


ACOSTA (on camera): Now, the president will be back to keeping an eye on the impeachment inquiry as the public hearings get underway tomorrow. Mr. Trump's fellow Republicans are hopeful he will cease his targeting of administration officials who are testifying.

As one Trump campaign source told me over the weekend, about the president's attacks late last week. It was not a "good day" for the GOP, Wolf. There are a lot of Republicans who feel like that backfired, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Indeed. All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much. Let's get more on all of this. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He is a member of both the Oversight and Armed Services Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And as you know, tomorrow kicks off a very busy week of public impeachment hearings. What are Democrats hoping to accomplish as the House interviews the next round of nine witnesses tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday?


REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): We hope to get further corroboration for a story that is very simple. This president has pressured Zelensky to announce investigations into Joe Biden and he withheld aid if Zelensky didn't do that.

And now we're seeing corroboration. We're even seeing that the president admitted this in a phone call with Sondland. All of that evidence needs to come out. BLITZER: They've just told us, the committees, that David Holmes, the

counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine who overheard that phone conversation with the president and Ambassador Sondland, he will now testify before the cameras on Thursday. What do you hope to achieve then?

KHANNA: Wolf, I think that's going to be explosive. He's going to recount based on the public reporting the president's phone call that he overheard where the president basically is admitting that he wanted to focus on the Biden investigations.

The Republican arguments that this is hearsay don't hold water because anyone who has been in law 101 knows that a defendant's admission is admissible evidence.

That does not constitute hearsay and Holmes is going to testify to that. And by the way, Taylor has verified that Holmes told him about the conversation when it happened.

BLITZER: As you know, Ambassador Sondland who is also on the other end of that phone conversation, he will appear before the committees on Wednesday.

He's had to revise his testimony earlier deposition at least once. Should Sondland, if necessary, if he decides to plead Fifth or whatever, refuses to answer questions, should Congress offer him immunity in exchange for his full testimony?

KHANNA: Yes, we should. And I'd be surprised if he doesn't plead the Fifth given how much he has to revise. But what we really need to know from Sondland is what did he speak to Donald Trump about. He can provide further verification for the phone call that Holmes overheard. He can talk to what Trump ordered him to do. But I do think he is at significant criminal liability risk and we should provide him immunity.

BLITZER: In light of the conclusion of the Roger Stone trial last week, the House is now investigating whether or not the president lied -- lied in his answers to Robert Mueller. Do you believe the president lied to Mueller and, if so, will Democrats include that in the articles of impeachment?

KHANNA: Yes, I do believe he lied and so did Bob Mueller. I mean, Bob Mueller in his testimony to one of the members of Congress said that the president generally was not truthful.

Now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the president had knowledge about these WikiLeaks. There is evidence suggesting that he actually engaged in conversations about the timing of those WikiLeaks.

So, this is something that should be included in the articles of impeachment. I mean, the president misleading the Congress and not being honest is an impeachable offense.

BLITZER: Let me read to you a statement that Speaker Nancy Pelosi released today in a letter to Democratic colleagues. She said among other things, she said this, "The facts are uncontested that the president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security interest." Do you agree with her?

KHANNA: I do. And what is surprising to me is that you don't have more Republicans agreeing with this. I mean, Larry Tribe had a great op-ed calling this president the anti-president. He's exactly the opposite of what the founders envisioned.

Someone who is abusing his office, who is using his office for personal political gain, compromising our national security -- the facts are so obvious and yet it seems that there remains Republican resistance to considering those facts.

BLITZER: So is it a good thing if the president provides written answers to your questions?

KHANNA: It would be a good thing if he were actually forthcoming. I unfortunately think this is a distraction. You know, he said he was going to sit down with Mueller then he never did. Then he provided selective written answers to selective questions.

So, I think he's just trying to grasp at straws, distract from the news cycle. Obviously, we would welcome his testimony, but I'm dubious about his intentions.

BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks for joining us.

KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the breaking news. Democrats add another name to the list of witnesses who will testify on camera during this week's historic impeachment hearings. We'll take a closer look ahead at what is shaping up to be a really critical week.



BLITZER: We have breaking news as we countdown to a key week in the House impeachment inquiry. House Democrats just announced a ninth witness to testify this week. That would be David Holmes who overheard the European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland's phone conversation with President Trump at a Ukrainian restaurant.

Holmes will testify Thursday. Let's ask our experts and our analysts about what they're expecting this week. And Gloria, what are we going to learn?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well you talked about Mr. Sondland. We're going to hopefully learn who was directing him on Ukraine policy. Clearly, he was the Trump whisperer in this group of people.

He was in the meeting on May 23rd in which the president said from the Oval Office, talk to ruddy. And we're going to have to hear why Mr. Sondland did what he did. And the question everyone is asking, of course, is he going to throw the president under the bus or what explanation will he give, will he say.


For example, that we were all just trying to figure out a way to get around Rudy Giuliani who was the person standing in the way of getting that important aid to Ukraine.

We're also going to hear from a few people who were on the original -- listening in on the president's July 25th phone call. So they will be able to tell everyone in the country what it was that they heard and whether or not they thought it was a beautiful and perfect call like the president.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Or was he trying to please the president? This was a donor, paid a million dollars to become ambassador. He really wanted to be doing this. And so you please the boss.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: And I just think with Sondland, I agree with everything Gloria and Jamie said. My thing is we now have two people who have said they -- well, Taylor and then Holmes, who heard it directly and Holmes who told Taylor, two people who said Gordon Sondland called Donald Trump on July 26th or a call was placed --

BLITZER: The day after the other phone call --

CILLIZZA: And that they heard it and the gist of it was Gordon Sondland saying the Ukrainians are ready to play ball. Simple question for Gordon Sondland, what was the nature of that phone call? Did you tell the president that the Ukrainians -- what did you mean by play ball?

I mean, we know that Sondland has already in the past changed his testimony or revised and extended his testimony over what he told the top Ukrainian official about military aid and it's ties to the investigation.

But that call is new. We forget everything -- but that call was new as of last week. We didn't know about it. So now they don't get to ask Sondland in closed door testimony about that call, and now they will.

BLITZER: You heard Congressman Ro Khanna say that if -- we don't know if he will, but let's say he does, hypothetically, plead the Fifth, refuse to testify. Congressman Ro Khanna, a member of the Oversight Committee says Congress should grant him immunity in exchange for his full and truthful testimony to get to the bottom of this.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, and this is one of the big questions. There is certainly a gap between what we understand is the current record in Gordon Sondland's revised testimony.

Any time your client has created that kind of potential legal exposure for themselves often times lawyers will counsel somebody to invoke the Fifth Amendment in order to protect themselves.

Now, in that case, Congress has a choice. Ordinarily, Congress can choose to immunize. Ordinarily, Congress does not want to immunize in cases in which they think that might hinder an eventual prosecution.

There is some precedent for that. That essentially Congress can't immunize just for its own purposes. But in this case, there is no chance that Gordon Sondland is actually going to be prosecuted, certainly not by a Department of Justice controlled by Attorney General Bill Barr.

And so really the risk to now offering this immunity, you know, is going to undermine an eventual future prosecution just isn't there and so Congress would certainly be wise to give him immunity and ensure that they get that full testimony.

GANGEL: I just want to say, four words, Southern District of New York. We don't know what they're doing with Rudy Giuliani and his friends, Lev and iIor. If Sondland was involved in that, there may be some legal jeopardy.

BLITZER: Let me get Shawn Turner to weigh in. Go ahead, Shawn.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, I think for -- Susan Hennessey lays it out perfectly. For Gordon Sondland, he's got a couple of options. I think that there are three key words that we are likely to hear from him, you know, I don't recall.

You know, he is someone who -- he's someone who certainly is going to be absolutely key to this. And you know, another thing about this phone call here, you know, for the people who around him who supposedly heard this phone call made this point earlier.

You know, he has to consider the fact that it is very likely that there are other foreign intelligence agencies that would have collected this phone call. So, as he considers whether or not he's going to plead the Fifth or whether, you know, he's going to say I don't recall or whether or not he's going to be completely forthcoming.

In the back of his mind, he has to be thinking to himself, you know, it is possible that even if I say I don't recall that this still might come out at some point.

BLITZER: Wellm, that's an important point, Gloria, because hanging over this is what happened to Roger Stone only a few days ago when he was convicted on all seven counts including lying to Congress.

BORGER: That's right. Lying to Congress, not a good thing. And I think that Sondland has said there may have been other conversations with the president but he wasn't clear and now we know why.

GANGEL: But he said nothing of substance.

BORGER: Right, well.

GANGEL: Nothing of substance. There is no substance.

BORGER: So -- and this may --

BLITZER: How could you not remember that phone conversation at the restaurant?

BORGER: Well, but here is the thing. He may talk to -- I don't know how he couldn't remember it, to answer your question, but he may say, look, I talk to the president all of the time. I can't remember any conversation that sort of was important that popped into my head. This was, yes, we're getting the job done, blah, blah, blah. I'm at dinner.

GANGEL: The dog ate my homework. It is not credible. It is not credible.

CILLIZZA: I totally agree. One other thing they could press him on more is, again, in his closed door testimony he initially said no, not aware of any connection of military aid to investigations.


In the three-page revised testimony he filed, he said, actually on September 1st I did tell a top aide to President Zelensky that it was my belief that these two things were tied.

Again, he hasn't really been -- a written addendum to your testimony is not being questioned in public court. So, I'm with Gloria. I think it is likely he tries to finesse it but there are pieces of things that he has acknowledged that he has not been questioned on including that September 1st conversation.

What prompted it? What led you to believe that military aid was tied? You know, there are ways to not answer almost any question, but it gets harder when there are specific details.

BORGER: The thing about Sondland is that he was regarded as an interloper by the State Department, by people who were experienced in foreign policy and in national security because as Shawn knows, anyone experienced in national security would not have taken the phone call at a table in a crowded restaurant.

There is not a lot of good will toward Sondland. There is the sense that he was just carrying the president's order without thinking about it.


BLITZER: Hold that thought for a moment. I got to -- hold that, Shawn for a moment. We have to take a quick break. We'll have much more on all of the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts. We're following all the breaking news.

You know, Gloria, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a news conference at the State Department today. He was asked specifically whether he agrees with the President's tweet disparaging the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Listen to his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't have anything to say. I'll

-- I'll defer to the White House about particular statements and the like. I -- I don't have anything else to say about the Democrats' impeachment proceedings.

If somebody else has a -- a substantive question about something that the -- that the world cares deeply about, I'm -- I'm happy to take it.


BLITZER: He clearly doesn't defend Maria Yovanovitch.


BLITZER: He clearly doesn't say anything nice about the -- the -- the really esteemed U.S. diplomat.

BORGER: That's right. And you have had a lot of State Department officials testifying, and he hasn't defended them either. And he didn't defend Yovanovitch when she was under attack publicly by Rudy Giuliani or after she was attacked by the President on this phone call after the -- after the readout, and he's certainly not -- he's certainly not defending her now.

And Jamie knows more about this than I do, but if you're sitting at the State Department right now and you are hearing the Secretary of State just go on a political tear, saying, oh, the -- I'm not going to talk about the Democrat impeachment but refusing to defend someone with 30 years of service, of good service and hardship posts, I don't think you have to --

BLITZER: And -- and his aides at the State Department, the Deputy Secretary, other -- Assistant Secretary, they pleaded with him to say something nice about her as she was being fired.

GANGEL: Michael McKinley, one of his top advisers, resigned because he said he went to Pompeo three times and asked him to and that he didn't.

We should say that Pompeo went on ABC and said that it never happened. But, look, we have seen whether it's Yovanovitch, Taylor, Williams, on and on, he hasn't spoken up. And --


GANGEL: And that's because of Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn't want these people defended. They are attacking him. End of story.

HENNESSEY: Look, and let's call this for what it is. It is a complete and total lack of leadership on the pike -- part of Mike Pompeo. These are State Department employees who are complying with the law, that are discharging their legal obligation to give full and honest testimony to the United States Congress.

The most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, personally attacking those people. Not just the ambassador but individual State Department employees detailed to work for the Vice President. You know, people who -- who are -- who are civil servants, who are merely doing what they are required to do under the law.

And the fact that Mike Pompeo has absolutely nothing to say in defense of those people, you know, it really is difficult to understand --

BLITZER: You know, and --

HENNESSEY: -- how he goes to the office every day and looks his staff in the eye.

BLITZER: You know, Shawn, the President attacks these career diplomats, and he -- and he goes after them, but then he insists I barely know them. I don't think I ever met them. I don't even know who they are.

TURNER: Yes, as if that matters. Look, Wolf, you know, I -- I don't think people understand the immense amount of responsibility and pressure that career civil servants feel to carry out our foreign policy and national security objectives and to protect this country.

And then you -- you need look no further than -- than watching Masha Yovanovitch sit there and have to defend herself after an -- the majority of her life has been devoted to serving this country and to do that while the President is -- is attacking her.

Look, you know, across the board in government for civil servants, people are struggling with this idea that, you know, they -- they engage in a selfless service to their country and -- and all that we believe in at the same time that you have people like the President and his supporters who refuse to stand up for anyone.

Look, you know, when something bad happens in this country, if you're in the intelligence community or the national security space, the first thing that people say is, you know, was it an intelligence failure, or did the national security professionals fail? Did, somehow, our civil servants fail?

That's the pressure they live under every day, and it would do -- you know, the President and his supporters would do well to realize that and to at least offer a little bit, a modicum, of support of all these people who -- who give their lives to -- to protect this country.


CILLIZZA: Just to add to Shawn's point, all you got to say -- he won't do it because -- he won't do it because of Trump as Jamie said, but all you have to say is these people are good, dedicated career public servants. These are people who have long records, nonpartisan records.

These are not never -- he's never going to say these are not Never- Trumpers, but Donald Trump calls anybody who says anything he doesn't like, to Susan's point, and who are doing their job Never-Trumpers. There's no evidence that any of the -- William -- Yovanovitch,

Williams, any of the people, Taylor, he has called -- all these people are not Never-Trumpers. They're just saying stuff Donald Trump doesn't like.

BLITZER: Stick around, guys. There's a lot more news we're following. Why the Ukraine controversy may be just what Vladimir Putin wanted and how it isn't the first time he has benefited from President Trump's policies and his actions and his tweets.



BLITZER: As details come out about President Trump's withholding nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine, raising questions about the U.S. commitment there, one clear winner appears to be Russia's Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto has a closer look at how Trump's policies seem to benefit Putin.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a dark mystery at the heart of Donald Trump's presidency.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin?

DAVID REMNICK, EDITOR, THE NEW YORKER: He is creating a hero out of Vladimir Putin. What the hell is going on?

SCIUTTO: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi summed it up this way.


BLITZER: Donald Trump wins the presidency --

SCIUTTO (voice-over): In November 2016, Trump's victory was a political earthquake in the U.S., but in Moscow it sparked joyous celebration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the champions of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the champions of the world.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): In Washington, President Trump was meeting outgoing President Obama.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): And Obama gave his successor a piece of advice: do not hire Michael Flynn. Trump did it anyway.

The new national security adviser lasted just 24 days. Flynn had lied about Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flynn! You're back.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Specifically, about a conversation with then- Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. They had discussed what Putin hate the most -- U.S. sanctions on Russia.

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They want the sanctions lifted. They made no secret of it.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): And soon, Donald Trump started talking down those sanctions. He told the "Wall Street Journal," if we get along, why would anybody need them.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Congress, however, was having none of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 89, the noes are two. The bill is passed.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): In August of 2017, a tough sanctions bill passed overwhelmingly.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, wouldn't it be a great thing if we could actually get along with Russia.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Throughout the Trump presidency, the biggest conflict at the heart of the U.S./Russia relationship has been Russia's attack on the 2016 election.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: What this represented was an attack on the fundamental underpinning of our democratic system.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): An attack which U.S. intelligence assessed was done to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. But repeatedly, Trump denied that it was real.

TRUMP: I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don't -- maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China.

It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Trump would soon discuss the attack with Vladimir Putin himself. At a private face-to-face meeting in Helsinki.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: There was nobody else in the meeting, so we have no knowledge of -- of what went on. I can tell you one thing; the Russians know what went on in that meeting.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): After the meeting, Trump did not condemn Putin's attack on the election. In fact, he sided with Putin against America's own intelligence agencies.

TRUMP: President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today, and he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Perhaps one of the most disgraceful moments by an American president on the world stage in front of a Russian or a Soviet leader certainly in my lifetime.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER OF THE SENATE: The only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Trump also began going after NATO, an alliance the U.S. and its allies depend on, respected by the world, except, of course, by Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: They kill us with NATO. They kill us.

We're paying from anywhere from 70 to 90 percent to protect Europe.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Putin craved membership in another international institution. The G-7 group of world leaders.

TRUMP: It should be the G-8 because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Throughout, Putin has taken an increasingly prominent place on the world stage. Particularly in Syria.

Last month, when Donald Trump announced that U.S. forces would leave the country, many saw it as Trump giving Russia a free hand there.


STEVEN HALL, FORMER RUSSIA CHIEF, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: For Russian armored vehicles to, you know, drive into these places with the Russian flag flying high and the American flag, you know, headed out of town, those are all just huge, huge propaganda games for a guy like Putin.

TRUMP: -- an absolutely perfect phone call.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Now, it is Trump's action in another country that is threatening his presidency. And there is again a connection to Russia. His alleged attempt to extort the President of Ukraine has sparked impeachment hearings, and it may also be yet one more gift to Vladimir Putin.

HALL: Donald Trump has wittingly or unwittingly, you know, walked straight into the warm embrace of Vladimir Putin with how he has dealt with Ukraine. SCIUTTO (voice-over): Trump temporarily withheld desperately needed

aid from Ukraine, aid that Ukraine depends on to defend itself against an ongoing Russian invasion.

TRUMP: I have been far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Trump has now made that claim repeatedly.

TRUMP: I would certainly think about it. President Putin --

SCIUTTO (voice-over): And still he says he may accept an invitation to join Putin in Moscow next May. For a parade showcasing Russia's military might.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And coming up, North Korea says, no, thanks, to President Trump's latest Twitter diplomacy.



BLITZER: Tonight, North Korea is voicing frustration at the stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, the Kim regime says it wants to see results from these talks, and they want to see results soon.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And if it doesn't see results, Wolf, we could see a return to the days of fire and fury. Or are the North Koreans simply bluffing the President?

Tonight, a worrisome statement from Pyongyang gives new indications that Kim Jong-un's regime could be playing a dangerous game of chicken.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, North Korea's dictator is giving President Trump the cold shoulder.

Kim Jong-un's Foreign Ministry issuing a statement saying the regime is no longer interested in nuclear talks between the two nations which, quote, bring nothing to us. That North Korea will no longer gift the U.S. President with something he can boast of. A direct reply to Trump's tweet over the weekend telling Kim, you should act quickly, get the deal done. See you soon!

JOSEPH YUN, FORMER UNITED STATES SPECIAL ENVOY FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: I think they're prepared to walk away if they get nothing, say, for example, over the next few months. And they are prepared to walk away. I believe they have calculated that Trump is not prepared to walk away.

TODD (voice-over): North Korea has been very frustrated that after three face-to-face meetings over a year and a half, talks over North Korea's nuclear program have completely stalled.

Kim has given President Trump and his team an ultimatum, that more progress has to be made on a nuclear deal by year's ends. If that doesn't happen, analysts say we could see more provocations from the Supreme Leader including some ominous ones.

BRUCE KLINGER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW FOR NORTHEAST ASIA, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: If they do an ICBM missile test or a nuclear test, that's going to cross Trump's red line, and then and we're in very dangerous territory.

TODD (voice-over): In that same tweet over the weekend, Trump responded to a North Korean statement issued a few days ago, calling Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden a rabid dog who, quote, must be beaten to death with a stick.

Trump responded saying, Mr. Chairman, he is not a rabid dog, but I am the only one who can get you where you have to be. Biden says he wears the North Korean insult as a badge of honor.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, one of the ways you measure who you are is by -- by the folks who don't like you.

TODD (voice-over): For months, Biden has pounded on Trump for being too conciliatory to a brutal dictator just to score a nuclear deal.

BIDEN: He embraces Kim Jong-un in North Korea. This is a guy who had his uncle's brains blown out sitting across the table. This is a guy who is a thug, and he's writing love letters to him. No, I'm serious.

TODD (voice-over): Biden has said he'd be much tougher on North Korea than Trump has been.

Analysts say the North Koreans believe if Biden is elected, the U.S. could go back to the so-called strategic patience policy of the Obama years. With sanctions imposed then waiting for North Korea to come around.

YUN: North Koreans would be much more worried about a Biden presidency than the reelection of Donald Trump.


TODD: Now, just hours before North Korea's cold shoulder statement on no longer being interested in talks, the U.S. and South Korea bent over backwards yet again to accommodate Kim's regime, announcing they're going to postpone their joint military exercises set to begin later this month in order to give diplomacy another shot.

Now, some experts believe that's a smart move, to give the negotiations every possible shot to succeed, but others say this shows weakness, especially in the face of all of those threats that North Korea has been making recently -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the North Koreans hate those exercises.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.


Coming up, more on the breaking news. Democrats add a ninth name to the list of witnesses who will testify on camera during this week's impeachment hearings.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Uncontested abuse --