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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL); Blockbuster Testimony in Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 20, 2019 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And she would constantly pick up her phone during every break.

And, finally, she told me what -- I said, "Why are you talking every break?"

And she said: "Well, we have an organization and we have somebody monitoring all the shows. We have key talking points that are being issued. I make sure I hit all my points during my next hit on air."

So they knew exactly what they were doing.

The Republican Party I'm seeing right now -- Amanda has no talking points, Scott Jennings had no talking points earlier -- is not organized like that. So these are -- they're just free-floating out there and not as well organized as either Watergate or the Clinton White House.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Amanda, here is the statement from White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham -- quote -- "Ambassador Sondland's testimony made clear that in the few brief phone calls he had with President Trump, the president clearly stated that he -- quote -- 'wanted nothing from Ukraine' and repeated no quid pro quo over and over again."

"In fact," Grisham says, "no quid pro quo ever occurred. The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed. No investigation was launched. And President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelensky. Democrats keep chasing ghosts."

Do you...

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Actually, we're chasing the press secretary, who doesn't talk to the press, except for FOX News.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And is a pathological liar.

TOOBIN: Yes.

TAPPER: Be that as it may, Amanda, what do you think of that claim?

Obviously, the response from Democrats led by Adam Schiff is, the reason that the U.S. aid to Ukraine ultimately flowed was they got caught.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who cares what she says?

(LAUGHTER)

CARPENTER: What I found interesting about the testimony from Sondland today is that he's trying to draw a big distinction between the quid pro quo regarding the White House visits and the aid.

He owns up to the fact, yes, we pretty much held up the White House visits for these investigations. He doesn't deny that.

But every time the discussion got to the money, neh, neh, neh, didn't want to hear anything about this.

So I think there's a strategy coming together at play, where they think they can scapegoat all the crazy meetings, all the conspiracy theories on Rudy Giuliani, but leave the discussion about aid somewhere else, because there's really only one person, I think, that can answer that question, and it's probably Mick Mulvaney.

TAPPER: Yes.

CARPENTER: They are setting him up, I believe. And then we will see where that goes.

TAPPER: But, Jen Psaki, the meeting with the White House was also extremely important.

David Holmes, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine official, said -- I believe it was him -- said that there were two reasons why they really needed a meeting. One was to really show U.S. support behind President Zelensky and his anti-corruption agenda, so send a signal to the Ukrainian people, and, two, to send a signal to Putin and the Kremlin, like, we are behind this, guys.

And that would help Zelensky in his efforts to broker some sort of peace deal with Russia.

PSAKI: Exactly, hugely important.

And, of course, military assistance is also important. And they also wanted that. They have been getting assistance over the past couple of years from the Trump administration, a different kind before that.

But for a new president in a country where he is a political newcomer, people are evaluating whether he's up to the task. He was a comedian six months before he got elected. It was very important to him that he -- it's very important to him still today -- that he is perceived as being powerful on the world stage.

And having a meeting with the president of the United States, who he can stand besides, maybe hopefully announce assistance or announce a package moving forward, is incredibly politically valuable to him.

TAPPER: John King, a new poll out of Wisconsin asked registered voters there about the impeachment inquiry. It's Marquette University Law School.

One question, do you favor impeaching and removing the president? Forty percent say yes, they favor; 53 percent, a majority of Wisconsin voters, a very important battleground state Trump won last time, 53 percent opposed.

This question also struck me, another question from the poll -- quote -- "Did President Trump asked Ukraine to investigate his political rivals?"

Fifty-two percent, yes; 29 percent say no.

That's just a fact. President Trump asked Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. That's not an opinion. That's just a fact. And yet you have 29 percent of the voters in Wisconsin saying, no, that didn't happen.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the president's hard-core, most solid basis is around 30 to 33 percent. So you see that.

That's -- welcome to tribal America, that if the president says gray on a red day, 29 percent will say it's gray. That is the world we live in, unfortunately, for better or worse.

Now, worse on the other side for Democratic arguments, too. We just live in a tribal world.

The 53 percent saying no is a bit of a warning to the Democrats that they are on -- this is precarious political ground.

TAPPER: They don't want President Trump removed from office.

KING: Yes, they have decided to do this.

And if you look nationally, the polls are divided. Usually, it's a -- support for impeachment is a little higher than no in a national poll.

TAPPER: But not in the battleground states.

KING: But we elect president state by state. And in these key states, the numbers have been pretty consistent with Wisconsin.

So this is risky. But there are a lot of Democrat -- a lot of people out there say Democrats are just doing this for political gain. This is risky for them what they're doing right now, which is why these witnesses are so important to build their case, because they still have a lot of selling to do outside of Washington, D.C., to the American people.

TOOBIN: But it's also why Nancy Pelosi wants this thing over with soon.

And they are making a sacrifice of going to court and getting John Bolton and that -- and other important testimony that they could perhaps get. [16:35:03]

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

We're going to talk to one of the lawmakers who questioned Ambassador Sondland today. What does he want to learn from the key Pentagon and State Department officials who are about to testify?

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Just seconds ago, after telling the world that there was indeed a quid pro quo, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland checked in for his flight back to Brussels at Dulles Airport.

He was asked by reporters at the airport how his testimony went. He simply replied, "I told the truth."

During that testimony, as I said, Sondland said the key figures across government understood what the president wanted, investigations announced into his political opponent, Joe Biden, in exchange for that White House meeting and possibly in exchange for the military aid.

[16:40:09]

Joining me now to discuss, Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee Congressman Mike Quigley.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

What's the biggest thing you learned today from Ambassador Sondland?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): Look, I think it's a package.

There was a quid pro quo led by the president. Everybody knew it, including the Ukrainians. And, after the fact, the White House and the State Department covered it up.

The ambassador detailed just how many of his own records he wasn't able to have access to. And we learned how important that was, because he was remembering things for the first time because of other people's texts.

And he said that he would have remembered much more if he had been able to see his own texts and information and notes that were passed back and forth.

So, the fact of the matter is, the president and the White House are covering this up. It makes the investigation more difficult. It makes writing an article of impeachment involving obstruction easier.

TAPPER: How exactly does that work, where a U.S. ambassador can't get access to his own texts, e-mails and files, given that he is still a U.S. ambassador? QUIGLEY: This is -- those working under this administration have to

live under this administration's alternative view of the universe, alternative view of reality.

And the fact is, they are breaking the law. I think, in one day, they're obstructing justice more than article three of the Nixon articles of impeachment. That details four. Last week or the week before, we had four people instructed not to appear, despite lawful subpoenas.

We're aware of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents which we're not allowed access to, despite lawful subpoenas. The president always talks in grandiose terms about being the greatest. Well, at this point, there's no greater obstructor of congressional investigations than Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Your Republican colleagues after the hearing came out, Congressman Jordan, Congresswoman Stefanik, and talked about how, on that September 9 phone call between Gordon Sondland and President Trump, President Trump said, when asked what he wants from Ukraine, he said: "Nothing. I want nothing. No quid pro quo."

What's your response to that? The White House and Republican say, that's exculpatory.

QUIGLEY: Yes, he said no quid pro quo, and then he went on to say exactly what was a quid pro quo and detail what he wanted.

We also have to remember the president's own words on the White House call record. That is quid pro quo.

So they can say whatever they want. I mean, I heard through the grapevine they thought this was a draw. Football coaches, when they lose a game by 50 points, don't say, we got our ass kicked. They talk about this in a diminishing fashion.

A team that says that it was a draw probably get their ass kicked. And that's what happened today.

TAPPER: Congressman Turner of Ohio in his questioning got Ambassador Sondland to admit that the president never directly told him to carry out these quid pro quo orders, that the president never explicitly said that the aid depended on the announcement of investigations.

Does that damage your case, given that this is your biggest witness?

QUIGLEY: I think you go back to the biggest witness being the president of the United States, again, on the calls detailing that.

I think that the president's chief of staff said, "Get over it," detailing that there was a quid pro quo. So let's not forget the obvious.

You take all the other witnesses, including Ambassador Sondland, and understand that they're building the case, they are corroborating all that we already know. So, again, I don't want to forget the obvious, the president's own

words, his chief of staff's own words, and all Ambassador Sondland did today, in fact, was build upon them.

TAPPER: Do you know of any Republicans in the House or the Senate, where obviously it's more important if you want President Trump removed from office -- you have the votes in the House -- that have been changed by today's testimony or by any of this testimony?

QUIGLEY: I'd like to think they have personally.

Facts are stubborn things. But what I have witnessed publicly is, the stronger the case, more facts are built up against the president of the United States, the more emboldened my Republican colleagues seem to be.

I think they feel like they have to stiffen to this, despite the fact of the reality.

Do they personally feel otherwise? What we've seen, sadly, is, as with Speaker Ryan, profiles in courage only seem to happen on their side of the aisle when someone is leaving Congress or is about to leave Congress, with the exception of people like Senator McCain.

We need people like Senator McCain today.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you one final question, sir.

And that is, a friend of mine just texted me and says -- and asked, "Do you think today's testimony will matter?"

What do you think?

QUIGLEY: I think it matters, because this is an incremental building of the case.

[16:45:03]

The fact of the matter, I don't see the jury as the Senate. I see the jury as the American people, which will hopefully drive the Senate to do the right thing.

And I see it moving the needle. Do I think we're ever going to change the president's base? Absolutely not. I think, as the president said in the campaign, he could shoot somebody, and they would stay with him. It's pretty clear we're seeing an example of that.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate your time, as always.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Key members of the Trump administration are now trying to distance themselves from impeachment witnesses, after being named by Gordon Sondland under oath and on live television today.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:20]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed.

The leadership of the State Department, the National Security Council and the White House were all informed about the Ukraine efforts from May 23, 2019, until the security aid was released on September 11, 2019.

We kept the leadership of the State Department and the NSC informed of our activities. Again, everyone was in the loop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifying today that he was not a rogue actor in his dealings with Ukraine or working as part of an irregular channel.

Sondland says he, as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was keeping officials across the Trump administration, from the president to the secretary of state, up to date on everything he was working on.

Now, speaking to reporters just moments ago, Sondland said he is -- quote -- "absolutely not" going to resign and is going back to work.

Let's discuss.

Jen Psaki, how tenable is it that he can just say, there was a quid pro quo, Rudy told me what to do, and that was from the president, everybody knew, now I'm going back to work?

How long can he really stay in that job?

PSAKI: I mean, I'm not sure he's getting a ticker tape parade when he arrives back in Brussels.

Clearly, this has been his dream. He paid a million dollars during the -- to the inaugural committee to get this job. He is not the first person to do that.

Maybe he's under some illusion it will all be fine. But I do think it was interesting, just to touch on what he was just saying. Pompeo has very -- Secretary Pompeo has very carefully navigated his role in this world. He's been very close to Trump. He's been a defender of the State Department employees, even though they don't see this that way.

That really blew this up. I mean, that was blown up today. He was -- it was clear that he knew about this all along, that he has been engaged in it, that he has been knowledgeable about this. It's hard for him now to navigate. He wants to leave, reportedly, to

run for Senate. How does he keep Trump in his good graces, while also being honest? This becomes very tricky for him.

TAPPER: Although we should point out, Amanda, that the spokesman for the vice -- for the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said that he knew nothing about any sort of -- a very specific quid pro quo involving the military aid in exchange for these investigations announced.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And Sondland seemed to be suggesting that this all started with a quid pro quo involving the White House visit.

CARPENTER: Yes, for some reason, they think they're on stronger ground if they deny any knowledge of the quid pro quo regarding the aid.

I don't know why. Maybe that's for the lawyers to answer.

But when we asked what changed today, things changed in a major way for two secretaries, Perry and Pompeo. That's a big deal. Not only do they have to answer for the aid question, but why on earth were Cabinet secretaries taking direction from Rudy Giuliani, never confirmed by the Senate, no security clearance?

What business did they have consulting with him on their official duties? I'd like to know.

TOOBIN: Because the president told them to.

CARPENTER: Yes.

TOOBIN: I mean, it's as simple as that.

CARPENTER: But that's the failure of leadership at their level that they need to answer for.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Which is why, of course, you heard Adam Schiff talk at the very end in that very kind of impassioned statement about, look, he's not going to buy it, that the president of the United States was led by the nose by people like Rudy Giuliani, by people who were essentially his underlings.

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: Why? Because he realizes that we're in an impeachment investigation, which means that it's his decisions, it's his actions, it's his inability perhaps to delegate appropriately, make decisions in the right way, that needs to be on essentially a trial here.

He pointed it out.

TAPPER: And, John King, Sondland testified that he asked President Trump on September 9, what do you want from Ukraine? He said: "Nothing. I want nothing, no quid pro quo." Now, Sondland does not keep notes. He does deal with people who keep notes. And one of them, Tim Morrison, who used to be at the National Security Council, he remembered that conversation that Sondland and the president had, as told to him by Sondland, very differently, just a few -- I guess it was yesterday?

Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL GOLDMAN, DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL: What did Ambassador Sondland tell you that President Trump said to him?

TIM MORRISON, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR RUSSIA AND EUROPE, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: If I recall this conversation correctly, this was where Ambassador Sondland related that there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky had to make the statement, and that he had to want to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He had to make the statement.

KING: So, there was no quid pro quo, but there was a quid pro quo, that I'm going to use that term, because I know people are now watching me very closely because the whistle-blower complaint is up with Congress, but he has to make the statement.

So -- and that's a very key point for Mr. Morrison, again, as you build the fact case.

TAPPER: And before we break, last word from you, John Dean.

How important was today?

[16:55:00]

DEAN: Very important.

And I think Quigley made a very important point on the comparison of the Nixon impeachment article on refusal to cooperate with Congress and what's happening today added on.

When you have a witness like...

TAPPER: Gordon Sondland?

DEAN: ... we had today...

TAPPER: Yes.

DEAN: ... just more evidence they're collecting for that article.

TAPPER: Yes.

The State Department wouldn't even hand over to him his own e-mails and text messages...

DEAN: No.

TAPPER: ... which seems weird. He's still a State Department employee.

We're just minutes away from the next round of hearings. Believe it or not, there are more witnesses, a key Pentagon aide and a State Department witness.

Don't go anywhere. We will be right back.