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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) Discusses Today's Impeachment Hearings; New Polls Show Joe Biden Leading In South Carolina; Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) On Col. Alexander Vindman's Testimony Today. Aired 7:30- 8a ET

Aired November 19, 2019 - 07:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are 90 minutes away from the next round of public impeachment hearings to begin on Capitol Hill. That is the room where it will happen. You can see everyone doing mic checks, getting into position -- media crews getting set. So what should we expect to see today?

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is holding today's hearings. He will be doing some of the questioning. Congressman, great to see you.

So tell us what viewers should expect. What will they learn today?

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Well, these are key witnesses. They're witnesses who were on the phone call with the president whose job it was to set Ukrainian policy.

Witnesses like Lt. Col. Vindman who earned the Purple Heart in Iraq and who when he heard what the president said knew it was wrong and went immediately to the NSC lawyers and reported it. Witnesses like Mr. Morrison who confirms many of the important events; and, Mr. Volker.

So these are the key players at the staff level who are executing these policies and who, in most cases, saw what it was and knew right from wrong.

CAMEROTA: And, Congressman, what is your plan if some of your Republican colleagues decide to go after Col. Vindman -- either his character or his mindset -- because we got a bit of a preview of this?

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, sent a letter yesterday to his Republican colleagues in the House about his understanding -- his interactions with Col. Vindman, in which he sort of suggests that it's possible -- though he doesn't present any evidence -- that perhaps Col. Vindman was somebody who didn't accept President Trump as legitimate and was sort of working to undermine him.

What happens if he says -- if that comes up today?

MALONEY: Yes, here's a pro tip. If you find yourself lying about a war hero you should probably question your choices in life. My advice to Ron Johnson is to walk around the block and think about it.

I don't know what he was doing when Lt. Col. Vindman earned the Purple Heart in Iraq in an IED attack, but to question Lt. Col. Vindman's patriotism is disgusting.

CAMEROTA: But what if they say just because he's a patriot and a hero doesn't mean that he wasn't a never-Trumper?

MALONEY: It doesn't mean we need to take everything at face value, of course. But it means you don't start out by accusing the guy of disloyalty to his country on the basis of no evidence because you don't like his testimony.

Remember, he's given sworn testimony -- hours of it. We know very clearly what Lt. Col. Vindman is going to say and so do they. And they can't deal with the facts so they're lying about a war hero. Just let that marinate in your brain for a minute.

You're talking about lies about a hero who was injured in Iraq serving his country, and who is so talented that he was selected to serve on the National Security Council. That is a prestigious honor for any member of the military. And they're going after him because they can't handle the truth. That's where we've come.

And so we're going to let Lt. Col. Vindman tell his story and I'll let the Republican debase themselves any way they want.


CAMEROTA: OK. What about a different line of logic that they might use, and I think you got a preview of this on Sunday.

You were on ABC News and you were basically in a debate with one of your Republican colleagues, Chris Stewart, who seemed to be suggesting that the president -- any U.S. president is allowed -- it's his prerogative to investigate corruption wherever he sees it.

And, Chris Stewart was basically saying this was about corruption; it wasn't about a political motive or a political rival. That's what I hear many Republicans saying.

What's your plan if they say that today?

MALONEY: Yes. Look, I mean, I think they're trying to generalize this because they can't handle what the facts are.

But, of course, the White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney came out and said what this was about. He told us all what it was about -- an investigation of the Bidens and holding up military aid until they got it.

The President of the United States has said it in his own words, both on the call memorandum and since. And by the way, he said it with China -- they should investigate the Bidens. There's no hiding that the president wants investigations of his political rivals.

And in this case, where the president is using taxpayer-funded military assistance to get help in his reelection, that is soliciting a bribe. That is -- that is an impeachable offense listed in the Constitution.

And so the question is do we care about it? The Republicans are engaging in a form of 'so what' defense and I think 'so what' is where democracy goes to die. I do not think you can act like this is no big deal.

CAMEROTA: OK, one more line of attack that you may have to encounter today and this comes from a fellow Democrat. This is Congressman Van Drew of New Jersey, who basically said on Sunday that voters and viewers just find this to be kind of a snoozefest. So, watch this moment.


REP. JEFF VAN DREW (D-NJ): There is some discussion among some of them, quietly, privately of concern -- of concern, certainly. I mean, what I'm hearing out in the street is --


VAN DREW: -- with most people is they're kind of tired, they're kind of worn out, they're kind of bored --


VAN DREW: -- most folks -- and they really want to move on unless there's something new and amazing. We know the end game here.



CAMEROTA: What's your response to that?

MALONEY: My response is everybody has to make up their own mind.

You know, like Congressman Van Drew, I'm in a district that voted for the president. It gives me no pleasure to tell you that he abused his office by soliciting foreign help in his reelection campaign. That's not convenient. It's not maybe going to poll well in every district like mine that believe the best about this president -- that wanted to give him a chance -- but it's the truth.

And when you look at the facts and the evidence and you take your responsibilities seriously -- when you walk into this dome and you swear an oath to protect the Constitution, I think the course of conduct is pretty clear. So I'll let my colleagues speak for themselves. But to me, there's

right and there's wrong and we know what the president did and it's wrong.

CAMEROTA: Sean Patrick Maloney, we really appreciate you taking time coming on NEW DAY. We know it's a very busy morning for you. Obviously, we will be watching closely, Congressman. Thank you.

MALONEY: Thank you, Alisyn.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. New polling showing a real shakeup in the Democratic race in some states. But what about South Carolina, one of the earliest voting states where the African-American vote will be key? Some just eye-popping numbers from that state, next.



BERMAN: All right, some news on the Democratic primary right now -- South Carolina, obviously, a key early-voting state. And we have two news polls which tell the same story there, which is Joe Biden out in front by a lot, particularly among African-American voters. A very different story for Pete Buttigieg who is doing well in some other states.

Joining us now is CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip; and, CNN senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten.

First, Harry, just gives us the top-line numbers in South Carolina in the new polling.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes. So, I mean, what you essentially see if you look at Quinnipiac University's polling, you see that Joe Biden's at 33 percent. You see him followed by Elizabeth Warren, 13 percent; Bernie Sanders, 11 percent. No one else even reaching the double-digits.

Pete Buttigieg, who is obviously up in our Iowa polls, only at six percent in the great state of South Carolina.

So, a very, very different picture in this early state that votes fourth than the earliest state that votes the Iowa caucuses.

BERMAN: And before I think we get to the weakness of one of the candidates there that's glaring, this shows consistent strength for Joe Biden. Joe Biden has done well in South Carolina and while he's slipped in other states where there may be movement, really none there. He is consistently way out in front.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that's because of his support with black voters. I mean, there's no question about the fact that black voters are sticking by him. They're not phased right now by his slipping in Iowa or in New Hampshire.

And Joe Biden is going to benefit from that for the foreseeable future unless some of these other candidates start to break into that. And so far, none of them really have shown evidence that they're able to do that.

CAMEROTA: Including Pete Buttigieg.

So here are the numbers for Pete Buttigieg. Biden is at 44 percent among black voters; Sanders, 20; Warren, eight; Harris, six; and Booker, two. Pete Buttigieg, zero.

What is the problem, Abby?

PHILLIP: A lot of problems, frankly. I mean, but really, at the top of the list is that he is truly unknown to black voters. This same poll showed that his -- that about 60 percent of black voters said that they didn't know who he was.

And when I was in South Carolina, I went to a church -- a black church with Pete Buttigieg. And afterwards, I talked to one of the people in the pews and she was like, you know, his name kind of rang a bell to me. But she was like, I don't really know who this guy is. And, I mean, this is a real problem for him and it starts there.

But I think secondly, he has been very slow to organize in the state of South Carolina. They are working to fix that and just in the last week they announced about $2 million in radio ads, so they know that there's a problem. But the question is, is it too late?


I mean, South Carolina is coming up very quickly and he is behind the eight ball compared to a lot of these other candidates in terms of organization.

ENTEN: I believe 60 percent of black voters in that Quinnipiac University poll said they hadn't heard enough to form an opinion of him.

But I will point that among the candidates who are at his certain level, his unfavorable rating, I think was 15 percent, which is actually rather -- or 16 percent -- actually rather high among African-Americans given how few people actually know who he is.

I will point out perhaps one bit of decent news. He was at one percent in the University of North Florida poll, so that's better than the zero percent. But when you're differences are one and zero percent --


ENTEN: -- you're not really in a good position now.

BERMAN: What's so glaring is that he's leading in Iowa.


BERMAN: He is the frontrunner, now by a statistically significant margin in Iowa. To be leading in Iowa and be zero among black voters in South Carolina, it's eye-popping.

And, Harry, just to remind us -- both of you -- can you win the Democratic nomination without getting support from black voters?

ENTEN: The last one to do it was really Michael Dukakis back in 1988, and that was when Jesse Jackson was dominating among African-American voters.

If you look at the last few Democratic nominees dating back to Bill Clinton since 1992, all of them won the black vote in the Democratic primary and black voters have tended to vote in blocs in Democratic primaries. Remember, Hillary Clinton won about 75 to 80 percent of the African-American vote.

And when they make up 20 to 25 percent of the electorate and if they're behind Joe Biden, that's a massive bloc and very difficult to defeat going down the road.

PHILLIP: Here is a Buttigieg argument. They're saying if you win in Iowa, it massively increases your name recognition in states like South Carolina. It also shows those voters that you can win.

But, the problem is that when you are at zero -- that is a long way to go from zero to a number that is higher than what Joe Biden has. And I think that that's what makes the argument a lot more difficult.

This is not Barack Obama. He is not well-known to black voters and black voters don't automatically -- you know, they wanted to support Obama, they just weren't sure that he was the one who could win it.

I'm not sure that any of the candidates in the race right now will have that kind of character, even though they're hoping that maybe they can pull off a big win in Iowa or New Hampshire and have voters in South Carolina change how they view them in this race.

CAMEROTA: Black students like him. You know how I know? This photo. Watch the photo that Buttigieg took with these -- this is, I think, yesterday at Morehouse College and they're happy to be taking selfies with him.

And so, I mean, this is just going to be -- I mean, guess, a foot race of him trying to get out there and meet as many people and take selfies --


CAMEROTA: -- and do what he did.

PHILLIP: You have to put in the work. There is absolutely -- there is absolutely no shortcut to it. And with black voters, it's critical to understand culturally where they're coming from and what they need from politicians in order to feel like their needs are being represented.

ENTEN: Black women over the age of 45, they powered Doug Jones' win in Alabama. They are the big bloc in the south in Democratic land and those are the voters who are powering Joe Biden right now. If I'm keeping my eye on one group of black voters it's black women over the age of 45. And right now, Biden dominated Buttigieg -- nowhere to be seen.

BERMAN: I was going to say, how is Buttigieg with black women over 45?

ENTEN: Zero.


ENTEN: Zero. Two zeroes.

BERMAN: All right. Abby, Harry, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: Just a little bit more than an hour away from the public impeachment hearings. Four witnesses today. We're going to speak to a lawmaker who will be doing the questioning, next.



BERMAN: We are an hour away from the next round in the public impeachment inquiry. Four witnesses take the stand today. The busiest day we've seen yet and very possibly, the most contentious day we've seen yet.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee who will be doing some of the questioning today. Congressman, thank you for being with us.

What part of the story -- let's start with this morning -- Col. Vindman and Jennifer Williams. What part of the story do you think they tell?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, so like last week, both of these people -- Col. Vindman and Ms. Williams are lifelong servants of the American public -- one in the military, the other one in the State Department -- who will build on last week.

Col. Vindman, in particular, will tell the story not just about what he heard secondhand, but what he heard when he listened in on the phone call that the president had with President Zelensky on July 25th. And most importantly, he will tell you his reaction, which was profound concern like so many other people around the president.

Not Democrats, right? This is not Democrats. This is people in the White House around the president -- professionals who had grave concerns. Col. Vindman so concerned that he actually went to a lawyer about what he had heard.

BERMAN: You say his reaction and I think that's notable that you brought them up because it's not in question what was said on the phone call anymore, for the most part. We've all seen the rough notes on it. We can see the president lean on the president of Ukraine.

So why does Col. Vindman's reaction to that matter?

HIMES: Well, it really matters because, of course, the president is still maintaining that not only did he not do anything wrong in demanding an investigation of the Bidens, in the transcript he's saying it was perfect. So the question is, is it perfect?

And, of course, everyone around the president -- and I reiterate what I just said. These are not Democrats. These are professionals including, by the way, people that are political appointees of Donald Trump -- to a person, had very, very negative reactions. They were very concerned by what they saw.


And, of course, as the week develops we will ultimately hear from Ambassador Sondland, who will -- and there's a guy who gave $1 million to President Trump's inauguration and is very much a political person -- a Republican who will actually tell us what the president said.

And that, of course, is the essential moment, right, because up-to- date, we've had a lot of context, we've had a lot of circumstantial evidence and none of it good for the president. But we haven't actually heard somebody say here's what the president told me to do.

BERMAN: And we will hear from Ambassador Sondland tomorrow. We'll hear from David Holmes on Thursday, who heard the president speaking to Gordon Sondland, and that testimony is certainly of great interest.

But back to today. You were talking about Col. Vindman's reaction -- his view of the call.

And one of the things we're going to hear from Republicans today is why does Col. Vindman's view of the call matter? Why does his view of American policy matter? It's the president, they say, that is of primal importance.

Let me read you a statement from Sen. Ron Johnson, who wrote this letter to the Republicans on your committee, and I'm sure this will be entered into the record today.

Sen. Johnson said, "Vindman's testimony, together with other witnesses' use of similar terms such as 'our policy,' 'stated policy,' and 'long-standing policy' lend further credence to the point that I'm making. Whether you agree with President Trump or not, it should be acknowledged that the Constitution vests the power of conducting foreign policy with the duly elected president."

Republicans are going to say that Col. Vindman had a problem with the president's policy but that shouldn't matter. HIMES: John, that's just -- I mean, of all the baloney I have seen floated by the Republicans -- of all the shabby, flimsy defenses they have mounted, that may take the cake in absurdity.

Look, of course, it is the president's prerogative to make foreign policy. Nobody's going to argue to the contrary. It is not the president's prerogative to extort a vulnerable foreign leader. This is not about policy.

Look, nobody disagrees that the policy around Ukraine is to try to root out corruption. And, you know, if you don't have your head so far into Donald Trump's imaginary world, asking a foreign leader to investigate your political opponent is the opposite of encouraging a country away from corruption.

So there's two things that are problematic John with Sen. Johnson's letter. Number one, it's absurd on the face of it for the reason that I just explained.

Number two -- and this is where you can see the emotion sort of welling up here. The Republicans and Sen. Johnson are about sliming Col. Vindman. If you read elsewhere in that letter, Sen. Johnson says it's possible that Col. Vindman never really liked or never supported the president. That is the sliming of a patriot.

And you're going to see that today and it's going to -- it's going to be profoundly hurtful to this country. It's going to make it hard for me to sort of to continue to be as judicious as I'm supposed to be given the circumstances because just as making the argument that the president somehow has a right to make foreign policy and therefore, he's allowed to act like a gangster is specious.

The worst form of defense is this defense that you're going to see today, which is that maybe Col. Vindman wasn't on the team. Guess what? This is not about being on the president's political team. This is about professionals serving the national interest of the United States of America while the president does not do that and instead, serves his own narrow political interests.

BERMAN: I'm glad you are being (INAUDIBLE) with your language this morning, talking about President Trump's imaginary world. I was concerned you were going to head toward another part of the anatomy there.

Very quickly, in closing, if and when Republicans do go after Alexander Vindman, what's your plan to handle that today in the hearing?

HIMES: Well, look, all we can do is tell his story and allow him to tell his story. The American people need to know that while they're saying well, you might have done this and maybe you're a never-Trumper and you're a never-Trumper.

Look, this is continuing the tradition of the President of the United States sliming Ambassador Yovanovitch, who nobody disputes. There's not a Republican in this building that disputes that Ambassador Yovanovitch had a 33-year exemplary history of serving this country. So it's all a piece of sliming people who do not deserve to be slimed, and all we can do is tell his story.

And you know what? The way I'm going to keep my sort of equanimity today is just knowing how history will regard -- even a year from now how history will regard the sliming of a -- of a soldier who was awarded the Purple Heart because he was wounded in combat on behalf of his country. And in this moment, we're going to watch Republicans and the president slime that guy.

BERMAN: Congressman Himes, thank you very much for being with us. We'll let you get into that hearing room. It begins in less than an hour. Appreciate it.

HIMES: Thank you, John.

CAMEROTA: All right, John. Believe it or not, there's something else to watch today. Here's what to watch today.



TEXT: 9:00 a.m. ET, Williams and Vindman testify.

11:30 a.m. ET, Trump cabinet meeting.

2:30 p.m. ET, Volker and Morrison testify.