Return to Transcripts main page


Four White House, State Department Aides to Testify. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired November 19, 2019 - 06:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We're three hours away from the next round of public hearings. NEW DAY's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continue now.



CAMEROTA: Four key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry will testify in just hours.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): These witnesses have served their country both as military leaders, as leaders in the foreign service. They're incredible patriots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are civil servants who saw corruption happening, who saw a president engage in illegal behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be so important on Thursday when David Holmes testifies publicly. He has a very clear understanding of what the president was explicitly saying.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): I thought he was an excellent witness. Frankly, his revelation was jaw-dropping.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We'll have him under oath in front of the committee, and we'll see how his story holds up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lots of names, lots of facts. This week has been fascinating.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is a special edition of NEW DAY, the public impeachment hearings. It is Tuesday, November 19. It's 6 a.m. here in New York. It really is a jam-packed day, with four key witnesses set to testify, and a day that could bring some of the most contentious moments yet.

This morning we'll hear from two top national security officials who heard the July 25 phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, and they both say they were troubled by it. Also, both witnesses have been attacked already by President Trump and his allies. Will the president resist hate-tweeting them this morning while they're on the stand?

Now Republicans are expected to mount an aggressive line of questioning with one of them in particular, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

And later this afternoon, former NSC official Tim Morrison and former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, they will both testify.

CAMEROTA: Overnight, House lawmakers released new transcripts of two other key witnesses who will testify later this week. David Holmes, he's the U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He's the person who overheard President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigation into Joe Biden during that loud cell phone call in a Kyiv restaurant. He told lawmakers he was stunned by that call. He'd never seen anything like it, he said.

A source tells CNN several Republicans were shaken by what Holmes had to say.

All of this as CNN learns that Mr. Trump has considered dismissing aides who testify against him.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live on Capitol Hill with our top story -- Suzanne.


Well, at this very moment Capitol Hill police are huddled inside of that hearing room as they get ready for a security sweep the K-9 units will make around inside of that room.

We are three hours away from those four witnesses testifying, key witnesses, all of this following late last night when new transcripts release damning testimony, new testimony that poke major holes in Trump and his allies' arguments.

We are just three hours away from those four witnesses testifying, key witnesses, all of this following late last night, when new transcripts released damning testimony, new testimony, that poked major holes in Trump and his allies' arguments.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Four key witnesses will take the stand today, starting with Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, who both listened in on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. Vindman testified last month that he raised concerns to the top National Security Council lawyer within hours of the call.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): As a former Air Force pilot, Air Force officer, I know that just because you're in the military doesn't mean you're beyond report, reproach or question. You have to be held accountable and responsible for the comments you've made; and we think we'll be able to do that.

MALVEAUX: Williams, a State Department employee detailed to Vice President Mike Pence's office, told impeachment investigators Trump's request for specific investigations struck her as "unusual and inappropriate."

Former special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, will testify this afternoon with Tim Morrison, the former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council. Volker told investigators he was unaware of a quid pro quo, but he said he was troubled by the rough transcript of the call. Morrison, who was on the July 25 call, has said Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland said the military aid was conditioned on publicly opening certain investigations.

CICILLINE: This is shocking behavior of the president. These witnesses have served their country both as military leaders, as leaders in the foreign service. They are incredible patriots.

MALVEAUX: According to new transcripts released by House investigators, David Holmes, a U.S. embassy diplomat in Ukraine, testified behind closed doors last week that he overheard a phone call between Trump and Sondland, where the president asked the ambassador about whether Ukraine was going to agree to carry out the investigations he wanted.

Holmes says the conversation was so loud that he could hear it. Holmes told investigators, "I've never seen anything like this."

Holmes reveals that he reported the phone call to his superior at the embassy and even mentioned it briefly to friends soon after.

HECK: I thought he was an excellent witness. Frankly, his revelation was jaw-dropping.

MALVEAUX: Holmes also testified that it was clear to him that Ukrainian officials, quote, "gradually came to understand that they were being asked to do something in exchange for the meeting and the security assistance hold being lifted."

A Republican source tells CNN that several members of the GOP were privately shaken by his closed-door testimony.

David Hale, the highest-ranking State Department employee to testify so far, saying after hearing that the aid to Ukraine was halted, Hale said he wanted clarity on who ordered the freezing. He testified it took him two days to get an answer before OMB stated on the record that "it was the president through Chief of Staff Mulvaney."


MALVEAUX: First round will be Vindman and Williams to testify. That will be at 9 a.m. They'll be side by side, a Democratic aide telling me that the format is the same as last week, because they felt it was very effective. That it maximizes on momentum, allows the process to go as quickly as possible. It also allows them to tell a story that complements one another,

putting together a piece of the puzzle that forwards the case for impeachment -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: It promises to be a very interesting day, Suzanne.


CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for the preview.

So the public will hear from two witnesses today with direct knowledge of President Trump's involvement in the Ukraine controversy. So we'll break down what they are expected to say, next.



BERMAN: This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment inquiry. Four witnesses will take the stand today in the House hearing room, including Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who has said he was alarmed by President Trump's request for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Both of the witnesses this morning, Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, they say they listened to the call, and they were troubled by it, that it was inappropriate.

I want to bring in CNN senior global affairs analyst, Bianna Golodryga and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart. He was President Clinton's White House press secretary.

And again, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, they are the two testifying first this morning. Both were on the phone call, listening, between President Trump and President Zelensky; and both have testified they thought it was inappropriate.

I'll just read you sections. Vindman says, "I do not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine."

Jennifer Williams: "I will say it struck me as unusual and inappropriate."

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And Vindman, from initially hearing that phone call, was alarmed; and remember, he went to the lawyer at the NSC to express his alarm about that. He told his brother about that, as well.

He has a background. And he's from Ukraine as a Ukraine expert, Ukraine-Russia expert. And remember, he had been there for the meeting at the White House with Sondland and others from Ukraine, where Sondland said that he was talking about investigations, and Bolton said, I don't want to be part of this drug deal. So Fiona Hill, whatever Republicans are going to say about Vindman

today, I guarantee what we're going to hear from Fiona Hill on Thursday, to back up the credibility of Vindman, will make this an aberration, because she stands up for Vindman, says that Vindman agreed with her, that she was alarmed and he was alarmed by what they heard from this phone call, and that they brought this up to the lawyer. The lawyer, of course, we know, said that nobody else should know about this.

CAMEROTA: Vindman is also the person who heard other things in the call than was reflected, ultimately, in that transcript. He heard Burisma, and then that wasn't reflected in the transcript. So I mean, he's -- he's vital. I mean, he -- this will be a fascinating moment of television, to see how they both -- reach that approach --

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think he'll also sit there in his uniform as a military man, and -- and I think that gives him a sense of nonpartisanship, that he's not out to get anyone. He's just telling people it's -- you know, the interesting thing is, you know, I think people listening might say, oh, they were troubled by it. That doesn't seem like such a big deal.

But now that both of these witnesses have seen the scope of everyone else's testimony and are clued in on this, you know, pretty massive effort, using back channels, to get these investigations started in Ukraine, I think that could be -- I think their testimony could be even more interesting than their depositions.

GOLODRYGA: And the one commonality that you're going to see from all of these witnesses is what we saw last week, as well, laying out the significance of having a strong U.S. support for Ukraine right now and what that means for Russia if we don't support Ukraine. And we saw that from Yovanovitch, we saw that from Taylor, we saw that from Kent last week.

And that's what you're going to see from all of these witnesses when they are going to be asked, why is it so important that Ukraine receive that aid? Why was it so important that Zelensky have a meeting with President Trump?

And it lays out the narrative for the American people as to why U.S. foreign policy, U.S. national security, was on the line, because it countered -- the president's actions countered what our traditional national security policy was when it -- when it comes to Ukraine.

LOCKHART: Yes, I mean, Rudy Giuliani tweeted late last week, you know, where's the crime? Where's the victim? There doesn't have to be a crime. And the victim was Ukraine.


LOCKHART: And our policy, and the -- you know, our efforts to stem Russian influence in Ukraine and around the world.

BERMAN: So we've seen some aggressive moments from Republicans on the committee leading up to today. But I think it will all pale in comparison to what you will see in a couple of hours.

Because Republicans are gearing up for a fight. They are gearing up to go after Colonel Vindman. They did it on this show weeks ago. They did it last night. They're starting to question whether or not his foreign policy goals were different than President Trump's.


And then Ron Johnson, the senator who's been involved with Ukraine policy and involved with this whole situation since the beginning of the summer, wrote a letter to the House, where he said, "I believe a significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style." And he goes on to say, "It's entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile."

GOLODRYGA: Look, Americans did not elect President Trump knowing that he's an expert on Ukraine foreign policy, right, or Russian foreign policy, as well. You have advisers there to help guide you. This happens in every single administration.

And what doesn't make sense from Johnson's letter is, listen, if the president has a different view of foreign policy on Ukraine, if he doesn't care about Ukraine, as we heard from some of this testimony, let him come out and say that to the American public. Let him say, listen, I don't think we should give them that aid. I think that it would actually benefit us if we had closer ties to Russia, which he has said. But let him come out to the public and say that.

It makes zero sense that Ron Johnson is casting aspersions on Vindman, saying that he's part of some sort of deep state, because he's saying some irregularities were taking place in terms of U.S. foreign policy and traditional foreign policy and what the president was proposing. And then a few paragraphs down, Ron Johnson says that he, too, was trying to convince the president what was in the U.S.'s national best interests, and that went against where the president was taking this investigation.

CAMEROTA: You know, I think it's actually a little bit more pernicious that -- what Ron Johnson is doing, because he's throwing this out there. He may be -- maybe he's a "never Trumper," is basically the subtext of this is what he's saying about Colonel Vindman. He's saying that's possible. It's entirely possible. He's not presenting any evidence of that. So he's just throwing it out there to besmirch Vindman.

LOCKHART: Well, the whole argument that the president gets to set foreign policy is a straw man. The president does get to set foreign policy. The Democrats aren't arguing there. The Democrats are arguing you're not allowed to use the foreign policy to promote your own political interests.

BERMAN: All right. That's the public testimony that's coming up in a few hours. Overnight, there was some of the closed-door testimony, the transcripts released that were incredibly revealing, and CNN has learned that Republicans are shaken by the testimony of the man you're looking at right there. We'll tell you why next.



CAMEROTA: Breaking overnight, House investigators releasing new transcripts from two witnesses who will testify later this week.

One is David Holmes. He's that senior diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine who overheard President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations into the Bidens on that loud cell-phone call. He told lawmakers, quote, "I've never seen anything like this. Someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There's just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly."

Back with us, Bianna Golodryga and Joe Lockhart. Yes, I guess you'd remember something like that, Bianna, if you were in an outdoor cafe and overhearing the president of the United States loudly issuing instructions about the investigations are going to happen, right?

GOLODRYGA: You know, when you work in the foreign service and you're a diplomat, I'm sure you're prepared for many instances and circumstances, this not being one of them.

I'm sure the Russians were surprised, too, when they intercepting this phone call and listening to what the president was saying to Sondland.

But the takeaway from this, aside from the colorful language, is that the president clearly -- this was the day after that phone call -- the president clearly wanted an investigation into the Bidens, and the president could care less about Ukraine.

So that defeats the Republicans' narrative that he was just so interested in corruption overall in general, and he was skeptical about Ukraine's past history with corruption. And he wanted to make sure that they did away with it before this money went through.

You hear it loud and clear, as many others did at this restaurant, that the president cared about one thing and one thing only.

BERMAN: You know, and CNN's reporting, Joe, is that Republicans were shaken by this closed-door testimony. So it's no surprise that Democrats scheduled David Holmes to go public --


BERMAN: -- on Thursday, but why do you think Republicans were shaken by this?

LOCKHART: Because one of their major arguments was no one could tie this directly to the president. Nobody who was going to testify ever heard the president say anything beyond the transcript or the rough transcript of that phone call, and this is, you know -- the simple fact that the president took the call early in the morning, it's -- it's not easy for a diplomat to get through to the president.

BERMAN: Except for Gordon Sondland.

LOCKHART: Except for Gordon Sondland.

BERMAN: He's calling him all the time. Hey, girl, I'm in a restaurant in Ukraine.

LOCKHART: Yes. Yes, yes. Hey, girl.

But the point is that shows the president's state of mind. He was fixated with this. He wanted to know, OK, I've had this call. What are they doing? What are they doing?

And that is what has Republicans shaken, because it just destroys all their arguments about how he wasn't really part of this.

CAMEROTA: It also shows how close Gordon Sondland -- what access Gordon Sondland had to the president, and of course, he is going to be a star witness this week. And the president has tried to distance himself from Gordon Sondland and pretend that they -- he barely knows him.

LOCKHART: Yes, and you know, my guess is they're probably not very close. And what this tells us is that Trump was very interested in this subject, that this was very important to him.

And the fact that, again, you -- getting a call through the president is not a very easy thing, and the fact that Trump early in the morning wanted to pick up the phone and talk to him tells you about Trump.

GOLODRYGA: And two things that Republicans should be worried about from this new information is that, A, the president did have a closer relationship with Sondland than we knew, regardless of the president -- even if you go back to Ron Johnson's letter, I don't know how helpful that is.


Because he himself describes a phone call that he had with the president in September, where he asked them if there was some sort of quid pro quo. The president got very defensive and said, no, who told you this? He ended up saying Sondland. The president said, I don't even know the guy; I barely know him.

Well, Ron Johnson, early on in the letter, says that in a May 23 meeting that he was in with the president following the Zelensky inauguration, Sondland was in that meeting. Sondland arranged that meeting, and Sondland was the last one. Sondland stayed behind when everyone left.

So there was a closer tie. Sondland wasn't truthful about it, and as we know, the president constantly says he doesn't know somebody when they question his credibility.

BERMAN: Sondland testifies tomorrow alone, so wait for that. That's going to be a doozy.

I just want to play some sound from yesterday. Rex Tillerson, who was secretary of state, the president's first secretary of state, was being interviewed by Judy Woodruff and was asked about everything that has come to light over the last month or so. And I want you to listen to what the secretary of state said.


REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Clearly, asking for personal favors and using United States assets as collateral is -- is wrong. There's just no two ways about it. So if you're seeking some kind of personal gain, and you're using, whether it's American foreign aid or American weapons or American influence, that's wrong, and I think everyone understands that.


BERMAN: "Everyone understands that." "That's wrong." "There are no two ways about it." That's Rex Tillerson, who at one point, we believe, called the president a moron behind closed doors, among other things, but does this mean maybe General Mattis will come out? Does this mean maybe more people who have left the administration on not- so-great terms will start speaking out about this?

GOLODRYGA: I wouldn't hold your breath in anticipation. And you know, Tillerson has said other colorful things in interviews with reporters. I believe last time, he said that he, many times, had told the president, you know, he shouldn't do something if he thought it was illegal.

But look, I don't think we're going to see Tillerson and Pompeo go hunting together at any time soon, but it's a clear slight, not only against the president, but also against Pompeo for not speaking up.

CAMEROTA: It's also just interesting to hear him say it's crystal- clear. It's not crystal-clear to the Republicans surrounding the president.

LOCKHART: Well, I think the Republicans know that it was wrong, and I think they're mounting the effort they are as political, you know, triage or damage control, and they're going to continue to do that. But in an honest moment, they'll tell you that this was wrong.

BERMAN: All right, how will the president behave this morning?

Bianna, Joe, thank you very much.

Will he be live tweeting today's hearings? Will he go after the witnesses as they testify, and what has the effect been of his attacks on Jennifer Williams you're looking at right there, Marie Yovanovitch who testified last week. We'll discuss, next.