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Four Aides Testify Today on Capitol Hill; Pompeo Announcement on Israeli Settlements; Russia Looms Large over Impeachment; Chiefs Hold off Chargers; Republican Politician Files Lawsuits. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired November 19, 2019 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, this morning, Trump campaign advisers are claiming that they hope President Trump shows some restraint as four White House and State Department aides testify today. The president has already attacked one of this morning's witnesses, Jennifer Williams, before she spoke to investigators. One campaign official tells CNN they have their fingers crossed that the president does not tweet specifically about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who is a Purple Heart recipient and an Iraq War veteran.

Joining us now is CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Michael, good morning to you.

We heard President Trump, or we saw, I should suppose say, President Trump tweeting about Marie Yovanovitch last week while she was testifying. We saw the president going after Jennifer Williams over the weekend. And we've heard the allegations from Democrats that this constitutes witness intimidation.

You don't see it quite like that. Why?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think that the president's intent, and it's hard to get into his head, but from the sidelines, I don't think that his intent is to deter or to influence these witnesses, to discourage them from coming forward.

I think, instead, it's to discredit them. I think that he views this as, he's got a First Amendment right and he needs to defend himself and that's what he's seeking to do.

And, John, he doesn't just treat his impeachment opponents that way. He treats every opponent that way. It's totally in character for him to constantly be on the attack. So I don't think that's where he's coming from. Of course it's impossible to know for sure.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What are you watching for today, Michael? SMERCONISH: Well, I want to get in on the David Holmes' conversation

that you've been having because what he offers in that newly released testimony is very significant, but I don't think that it's significant for its substance, you know, the telephone conversation that he overheard. No, no, no, the significance of Holmes testifying on Thursday is the message that it sends to Gordon Sondland on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. You know, mindful I'm sure of Roger Stone just having been convicted of lying to Congress. Here's Sondland, who already has amended his testimony one time, I think that Sondland, to me, is the most important witness we're going to hear from this week because, Alisyn, so far a number of the pieces of the puzzle have come together, but you really don't have a witness with firsthand information who can tell the whole story. And as a trial lawyer, I always like to have that one linchpin, the person who can lay it all out for the jury, and then have their testimony corroborated.

Taylor was an awfully impressive witness, but he was two degrees of separation removed.


Sondland is the guy who had a seat at the table. And so there's Holmes adding a piece. And here's Yovanovitch adding a piece. And here's Vindman adding a piece.

But I think that the whole case can be built around Gordon Sondland. And if I'm Gordon Sondland --

CAMEROTA: If Gordon Sondland is forthcoming.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think it's going to be very hard for him not to be forthcoming now because he knows what you've been reporting today about what David Holmes is going to come forward and testify on Thursday. So, you know, the whole love your ass conversation, what's he going to say, that never took place, I don't remember it? I found it incredible already that he had his recollection refreshed as to what he told Yurmac (ph). I mean some of this just doesn't pass the smell test.

BERMAN: Which is why David Holmes is there on Thursday basically saying, I see you, Gordon Sondland, and I'm going to speak here, so watch yourself.

Just to close this back where we started on the president tweeting, you know, it may not be witness intimidation, the question, Michael, is, is it counterproductive? Because we almost have seen the president doing the opposite of what he might want to do. He's elevating Jennifer Williams. He helped elevate Marie Yovanovitch.

SMERCONISH: Right. So now you're asking me a different question, which is, if you were his lawyer -- first of all, he'd never listen because he's his own attorney, but would you tell him not to do it because it's counterproductive? Yes, I would make that argument, although those tweets set the narrative for the whole spin machine that defends him. Hey, John, take a look at the cause and effect between his tweets and

what you'll hear on Fox at 9:00 p.m. You know, there's the -- there's the timeline between the two.


CAMEROTA: Michael Smerconish, thank you very much for giving us what you are watching for today and beyond.

Well, Nancy Pelosi said it directly to President Trump. She said, all roads lead to Putin. Coming up, we can go inside the last three years of the Trump administration to see how Russia looms large, so large over this impeachment investigation as well.



BERMAN: Developing this morning, the U.S. embassy in Israel is warning Americans about traveling in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. This after the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced that Jewish settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live in Jerusalem.

This is a reversal of decades of U.S. policy and an issue really that's been the linchpin of Middle East peace discussions for decades as well, Oren.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and it's certainly not the first time that we've seen the Trump administration simply reverse what has been decades of U.S. policy. In that sense, this is a major announcement, but one that's not too much of a surprise.

Over the course of the past couple of years, we've seen the Trump administration stop calling the occupied West Bank occupied. We've seen one of the leaders of the peace team say he doesn't want to call them settlements, he wants to refer to them as cities and towns. And this is an extension of that with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's announcement that the U.S. would no longer consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law.

It is a process of normalization of Israel's occupation of the West Bank that we're seeing from the administration. It was immediately hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in fact, just visited settlements in the West Bank a short time ago and said Israel has been working on this for years, and it was slammed by Palestinian leaders who say that no matter what the administration decides, the U.S. administration that is, the settlements are still a violation of international law and that the U.S. is replacing international law with the law of the jungle.

Why the timing and who benefits here? Well, there are two noteworthy elements of the timing. First, this seems a slap in the face to Europe, whose high court of justice just ruled that products produced in Israeli settlements have to be labeled as such. They can't simply say made in Israel. So this is a rejection of that from the U.S. Second, this is a major political gift to Netanyahu as he struggles with his political situation.

Alisyn, who's the real winner here? Well, that would be President Donald Trump. And this is very exciting to his evangelical and religious base. In fact, Alisyn, one evangelical leader here in Jerusalem said based on this decision, America has finally decided that the Bible is no longer illegal.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting.

Oren Liebermann, thank you very much for your reporting.

So Russia may not play a direct role in the impeachment inquiry, but ousted Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch suggested that President Trump's actions on that July 25th phone call played right into Vladimir Putin's hands.

This is just the latest example of Vladimir Putin reaping rewards from the Trump presidency.

CNN's Jim Sciutto explains.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians must have something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): All roads lead to Putin.

SCIUTTO: Questions about the two men started when Trump, as a candidate, began singing Putin's praises.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I respect Putin. He's a strong leader, I can tell you that.

So smart.

Run by a very smart cookie, much smarter, much more cunning than our president.

SCIUTTO: More importantly, there were Trump's actions. Why would he hire a Ukraine lobbyist as his campaign chairman?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The core question about Paul Manafort is whether he was working for Donald Trump and the American people or whether he was really working for Vladimir Putin.

SCIUTTO: Paul Manafort had worked in American politics years ago, but for more than a decade he had advised a Putin ally, then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign, and Putin and his regime?


SCIUTTO: Soon, the Manafort led campaign made a mystifying change to the Republican Party platform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The deadline for amendments --

SCIUTTO: Language that had promised weapons for Ukraine in its war against Russia was blocked.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Emails reveal that Donald Trump Junior went into a meeting with a Russian lawyer.

SCIUTTO: There was another strange Russian connection at Trump Tower. Donald Trump Junior, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner all attended the mysterious meeting

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amazing hospitality and support.

SCIUTTO: A Russian oligarch was behind it, offering campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

SCIUTTO: Then came WikiLeaks, once again courtesy of Russia. Thousands of e-mails stolen from the Democrats flooded the air waves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was designed to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

SCIUTTO: Donald Trump's response?

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails.

BLITZER: Donald Trump wins the presidency.

SCIUTTO: In November 2016, Trump's victory was a political earthquake in the U.S. But in Moscow, it sparked joyous celebrations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are the champions of the world.

SCIUTTO: In Washington, President Trump was meeting outgoing President Obama. BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Settle down, guys. You all right?


SCIUTTO: 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, specifically about a conversation with then Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. They had discussed what Putin hated the most, U.S. sanctions on Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want the sanctions lifted. They made no secret of it.

SCIUTTO: 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-AZ), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin.

SCIUTTO: Congress, however, was having none of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 98, the nays are two. The bill is passed.

SCIUTTO: In August of 2017, a tough sanctions bill passed overwhelmingly.

TRUMP: You know, wouldn't it be a great thing if we could actually get along with Russia.

SCIUTTO: Throughout the Trump presidency, the biggest conflict at the heart of the U.S./Russia's 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: 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: Trump would soon discuss the attack with Vladimir Putin himself at a private face-to-face meeting in Helsinki.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nobody else in the meeting, so we have no knowledge of what went on. I can tell you one thing, the Russians know what went on in that meeting.

SCIUTTO: 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 moment by an American president on the world stage in front of a Russian or Soviet leader certainly in my lifetime.

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

SCIUTTO: 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'd kill us with NATO. They'd kill us. We're paying for anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent to protect Europe.

SCIUTTO: 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: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 gains for a guy like Putin.

TRUMP: On an absolutely perfect phone call.

SCIUTTO: 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.


STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA RUSSIA CHIEF: 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: 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: Trump has now made that claim repeatedly.

TRUMP: I would certainly think about it. President Putin invited me.

SCIUTTO: 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.


BERMAN: What a look when you lay it all out there in one place.

This morning there is a Republican politician who seems to be suing a whole lot of people over ridiculous things for ridiculous amounts of money. And it's not Donald Trump. Find out who that politician is ahead in our "Reality Check."



BERMAN: Football. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs held off the Chargers for a win in Mexico City where neither team is actually from.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.


The field at Azteca Stadium, it was good enough to play this time around. You remember last year they actually had to relocate the Mexico City game because of poor field conditions.

Now, this was the fourth regular season game to be held in Mexico. And Patrick Mahomes, he was looking to get the Chiefs back on track after a loss to the Titans last week. And in the third quarter, he's going to find Travis Kelce for a 23-yard touchdown. That put the Chiefs up 23-9 at that point. The Chargers, though, would mount a comeback, down seven, under 30 seconds left. But Philip Rivers picked off. That was his fourth interception of the game, trying a career high. Chiefs win 24-17. Chargers have now lost seven games this season by just one score.

All right, the New England Patriots, meanwhile, the big win over the Eagles on Sunday in a rematch of Super Bowl LII. And check out how smiling Bill Belichick rewarded his team.


BILL BELICHICK, HEAD COACH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: It wasn't perfect, but it was better than what they had, and that's what really mattered, all right? You know what I think we're ready for?


BELICHICK: I think we're ready for victory Monday (ph).


SCHOLES: Belichick giving the team off on Monday.

And, John, I love the quote. My of my favorite coaching quotes now, it wasn't perfect, but it was better than what they had. Words to live by.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, I -- which happens to be the truth if you watched the game.

CAMEROTA: I've never seen John more riveted than that -- then playing that little bit of b-roll (ph) with Tom Brady there.

SCHOLES: I did it for him.

BERMAN: Well, Bill Belichick, when you saw the sides of the lips turn up like that, that was a smile. That's unusual. That's unusual.

SCHOLES: A rare sight, yes.

CAMEROTA: All right, Andy, thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

CAMEROTA: All right, there is a Republican politician out there filing lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit, and it is not Donald Trump, but there is a deadly serious side to this story.

John Avlon has our "Reality Check."

Tell us more, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Lemmings with suicide vests. That's what Congressman Devin Nunes called colleagues who were charging towards the government shutdown cliff in 2013. But Nunes has been singing a different tune in the trump era. His opening remarks during the impeachment inquiry was a Lemming-like litany of Trump talking points.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): For years they accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia when they themselves were colluding with Russia. And now they accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they themselves are culpable.


AVLON: It's an example of how tone comes from the top. And that's also what we've been seeing in an absurd string of lawsuits against journalists and social media accounts, first by Nunes, now trickling down to one of his former staffers working in the Trump White House. But you may be aware of Donald Trump's long history of suing

journalists, including an architecture critic for dissing one of his building designs, and journalist Tim O'Brien for saying that he was not, in fact, a billionaire.

More recently, the Trump family sued a Maryland blogger for comments about Melania and even threatened us at CNN with a suit that never materialized that a spokesman here called a desperate PR stunt.

Now, taking a page out of Trump's playbook, Nunes sued two parody Twitter accounts, including one claiming to be his cow. Yes, you heard that right. As well as Twitter itself and a renegade Republican operative for more than a quarter of a billion dollars. And if that seems ridiculous, that's because it is.

The suit claimed, among other things, that Devin Nunes cow published hundreds of false and defamatory statements against the congressman, along with dollops of barnyard humor.

Well, an account called Devin Nunes Mom falsely stated that the congressman was voted most likely to commit treason in high school. Talk about snowflakes.

As any viewer of "The People Versus Larry Flynn" can tell you, self- evidently absurd satire against public figures is protected by the First Amendment. This is also especially ironic because Nunes once sponsored the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act.

But there is a serious side to this absurdity because he is also suing two individuals personally, GOP operative Liz Mayer (ph) in the $200 million lawsuit and Twitter -- and reporter Ryan Lizza, who's also a CNN contributor, for $75 million. Now, Nunes brought the suits in Iowa and Virginia, rather than the state of California, because they don't have strong protections against frivolous lawsuits. And just yesterday Nunes' lawyer filed another odd lawsuit on behalf of a white House staffer Cash Patel (ph), who once worked for Nunes. At issue is a political article detailing Patel's influence on Ukraine with President Trump. Patel says he never supplied any Ukraine materials to the president, and for this he is suing for $25 million.

Now, a reasonable person might conclude that Patel's case may have been compromised by subsequent testimony that Trump did seem to believe Patel, with no evidence experience, was his principle Ukraine adviser. Or you could conclude that this, like the other lawsuits, is intended to have a chilling effect on journalism, tying up reporters, publishers and critics with potentially crippling legal costs.

After all, as Donald Trump told "The Washington Post," looking back on his suit against O'Brien, the guy who said he wasn't really a billionaire, I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees.


They spent a whole lot more. I did it to make O'Brien's life miserable, which I'm happy about.

And that's your "Reality Check."