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Ukraine President Zelensky Says Ukraine Is Tired Of Impeachment Questions; Trump Supporters In Florida Weigh In On Impeachment; Ambassador Gordon Sondland To Testify Today. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 20, 2019 - 05:30   ET

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


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[05:33:16]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Ambassador Gordon Sondland takes center stage in this morning's impeachment hearings. So what is he expected to say and why is he so important?

Joining us now is CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. Elie, you have a great magic wall experience for us, but just remind people why is Gordon Sondland so important today?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Gordon Sondland is so important for three main reasons.

So, first of all -- look, let's go back to Gordon Sondland, himself. He made a fortune in the hotel industry. He donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural. And then, he was nominated by the -- by Donald Trump as ambassador to the E.U. in 2018. Footnote, Ukraine is not part of the E.U.

Three big reasons why all eyes are on Gordon Sondland today.

Number one, he had direct contact with Donald Trump about Ukraine. Number two, Sondland's testimony already is especially damaging to Donald Trump. And number three, he has a real credibility problem, so there could be some real fireworks today while he is testifying.

Now, to take the first one. Sondland had direct contact with Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Multiple times. That's going to be --

HONIG: Multiple times, exactly. But listen to what Donald Trump had to say about his relationship with Sondland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me just say I hardly know the gentleman.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HONIG: Hardly know the gentlemen.

CAMEROTA: He hardly knew you.

HONIG: Hardly knew the gentleman. Yet, photo -- there they are. Here they are another time, here they are another time.

CAMEROTA: Well, I don't find the photos so damning; it's the phone call.

HONIG: Sure, exactly. So, there's the photos. They have phone calls together. Various witnesses say they talked. Sondland said he was doing Donald Trump's bidding here.

So I think that idea of I hardly know the gentleman has really been contradicted by the evidence we've seen.

So what will Sondland say that is of such interest and importance?

Here's what he said earlier in his deposition. First of all, he described this continuum that the demand sort of developed along. Sondland testified, "First of all, it started as an unconditional phone call and an unconditional invitation to the White House." Unconditional meaning no strings attached.

[05:35:08]

But then, Sondland said, "The next part of the continuum was some kind of a commitment to investigate corruption generally."

Then, "The next part of the continuum was talking about Burisma and the 2016 election." And as Sondland said, "It kept getting more insidious as the timeline went on." I think that's really telling us how this developed and how we got to this sort of specific quid pro quo.

Another important detail from Sondland. He said, "Whatever the Ukrainians were going to promise in any context, he [meaning Rudy Giuliani] wanted it public."

That's so telling to me. The fact that they wanted a public announcement, that tells you that all they really wanted was the campaign fodder because, by the way, Alisyn, if you're doing a real investigation, the last thing you would ever do is get behind a microphone and announce hey, everybody, we're investigating. It's just for show.

CAMEROTA: That's so interesting Elie because it tells us that they could have made the announcement and never done the investigation, and Rudy Giuliani --

HONIG: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- would probably have been happy.

HONIG: There's even evidence that's all they really wanted. So, of course, we have the infamous text exchange between Bill Taylor and Gordon Sondland, and this is also really telling as to the relationship with Trump.

Taylor texted, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." That's at 12:47 a.m. -- after midnight.

Five hours later -- almost five hours later, Sondland responds, "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind. The president is" --

CAMEROTA: Right. This one is the one that seems so scripted. I mean, this one seems as though they just went to the script department.

HONIG: Exactly. Well, what Sondland did, we now know, is he called Donald Trump in that time between 12:47 and 5:00 a.m. And, Sondland has testified he said Trump said, "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing."

Now, talk about a statement that can be interpreted either way. Republicans will say there it is. Trump said no quid pro quo. Democrats will say yes, but then he says I want him to do the right thing, which is essentially code for quid pro quo.

Look, Sondland has real credibility problems. He had to go back and amend his testimony. He had to say I now recall -- after seeing the other witness, "I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, where I said the presumption the presumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."

He suddenly recalls oh, guess what? It was a quid pro quo. I proposed it.

CAMEROTA: And then we haven't even gotten to the July 26th phone call --

HONIG: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- which is so pivotal.

HONIG: Well, this is going to be key -- the July 26th phone call that we just learned about from David Holmes.

He made -- Sondland never mentioned it during his deposition. And, in fact, he even tended to deny it. He said, "I recall no discussions with any White House official about former Vice President Biden or his son." He's going to be cross-examined heavily about that.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I bet that will come up.

Elie, thank you very much --

HONIG: Watch that. Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- for walking us through all of this -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So what does the president of Ukraine think about the impeachment investigation? We're going to bring in new comments he made only to CNN, next.

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[05:42:10]

BERMAN: This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings.

President Trump's phone call with Ukraine's new president at the heart of this investigation. Now, Ukraine President Zelensky is making his first public comments since the start of the public inquiry, all in response to a question from CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Fred joins us now live from Kiev. Fred, what did the president have to say?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.

Well, you can tell that the president is clearly in a very uncomfortable position after that phone call with President Trump. It put him in a very difficult spot. Right now, what the Ukrainians are trying to do is they're trying to lay low and not become part of all the political battles that are going on around all this.

Essentially, what happened was that President Zelensky had just delivered a press address and was on his way out. He didn't want to answer any questions when I asked him whether or not it was true that the Ukrainians, at some point in time, were willing to move forward with an investigation into Burisma. That's when President Zelensky actually walked back into the room and said the following. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOLODYMRY ZELENSKY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma. We have our country. We have our independence, we have our problems and questions. That's it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: So you hear President Zelensky obviously in a very difficult spot there.

And it's also quite interesting John because later that day I was at an event with the Ukrainian foreign minister and he sort of gave even more credence, too. He said, look, for them, right now, the most important thing for Ukraine is to have bipartisan support in Washington, D.C.

One of the things that we always have to keep in mind is that Ukrainians are fighting a Russian-led insurgency in the east of this country and they need all the help that they can get.

Now, one thing the Foreign Ministry -- foreign minister flat-out said, he said the last thing that we want to do is risk that bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. So they're trying to stay out of this to any extent that they can. They were obviously put in an extremely difficult position by President Trump with that phone call and apparently before that by Gordon Sondland as well -- John, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Fred. Very interesting to hear from President Zelensky, himself. Thank you very much for bringing us that.

Back here, millions of people will be tuning in for today's impeachment hearings. But, President Trump's supporters in Florida's deep red Panhandle tell CNN they will not be watching and they are not interested in what investigators find out.

Martin Savidge explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Critics of President Trump may see the public impeachment hearings as damning and devastating for the president.

SAVIDGE (on camera): But Trump supporters, not so much. This is the deeply red Panhandle in the key battleground state of Florida.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Trump voters we talked to say either they don't care or they aren't watching.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Have you been following the proceedings at all?

LAURA DUKES, REPUBLICAN VOTER: No, sir, I have not.

SAVIDGE (on camera): By choice?

DUKES: By choice.

ANDREW MCKAY, NEWSRADIO 92.3: Good morning, 7:18 here on NewsRadio 92.3 and AM 1620.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): You won't find conservatives angrily vetting on local talk radio, not even a Trump firebrand, Congressman Matt Gaetz.

[05:45:06]

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The training helicopter issue is one of the --

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He takes calls for half an hour and only gets two on impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE CALLER: I want to see Congress get back to work on the people's business.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): In Pensacola, pro- and anti-Trump protests draw fewer than 30 people, total.

What is history to others elsewhere is political ho-hum here.

JANE WILKINSON, REPUBLICAN VOTER: I did watch it the first day, a little bit.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She wasn't impressed. Instead, Jane Wilkinson was frustrated, calling the process biased and unfair.

WILKINSON: It's hard to watch it. In fact, I'm not watching it anymore.

DUKES: And I just think they're not going to change my mind how I feel about him.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Whether it's an accusation of quid pro quo or bribery, no amount of witnesses or testimony, they say, will change their support for the president.

MADISON CURRIN, REPUBLICAN VOTER: It's just a political show. He hasn't done anything wrong. We've read all the information and we've looked at all the things that have occurred.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): But, Democrat Bill Caplinger has been following the hearings closely. He's confident Trump voters will come around to what he sees as the president's crimes.

BILL CAPLINGER (ph), FLORIDA VOTER: Not all of them, but some of them.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Jane Wilkinson says Democrats shouldn't hold their breath.

WILKINSON: Well, for me, it's not going to change my opinion. But I feel like that is what they're thinking.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Stephen Ennis puts it in a nutshell why Trump supporters are so casual about impeachment. It's because they believe for all the political sound and fury, in the end, none of it matters.

STEPHEN ENNIS, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Democrats are obviously hell-bent to impeach the president and it's probably going to happen. It'll never go through in the Senate. The Senate will never vote that way. So it's just -- it's just a waste of time.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Instead of being angry at impeachment hearings, Trump voters we talked to here are more or less resigned to them. Like the Mueller investigation, they see impeachment as something to be endured simply because they elected a president others don't agree with.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Pensacola, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Interesting -- perhaps not surprising that Trump supporters continue to support him on this issue.

So, could Ambassador Gordon Sondland ultimately choose to assert this Fifth Amendment rights today and not answer questions? What kind of legal jeopardy is that man under when he walks into that hearing room in just a few hours?

We're going to speak with America's top lawyer -- a man I consider to be America's top lawyer, next.

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[05:51:57]

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, two U.S. service members have been killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Preliminary reports do not indicate it was caused by enemy fire.

The names of the fallen service members have not been released. Nineteen Americans have been killed in combat in Afghanistan this year.

CAMEROTA: Developing overnight, China condemning the U.S. Senate for its unanimous passage of a bill aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong. For months, Beijing has been cracking down on the pro- democracy protests in Hong Kong. This measure here in the U.S. House now goes -- now goes from the Senate to the House.

And it is worth noting that President Trump has been hesitant to criticize China over Hong Kong in the midst of trade talks.

BERMAN: In just hours, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, will testify before Congress. This is, in some ways, the most anticipated and clearly the most mysterious and uncertain moment yet of the impeachment hearings.

What will he do? How will he answer the questions? Will he answer the questions?

Joining me now is CNN legal analyst Jim Baker. He's the former general counsel for the FBI.

Jim, what kind of legal jeopardy or what are the legal considerations that Ambassador Gordon Sondland needs to consider about himself today?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AND CYBERSECURITY, R STREET INSTITUTE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL FOR FBI: Yes, he needs to worry about whether he has made false statements to Congress in his prior deposition. Hopefully, that he's not going to make false statements today, but he's got to worry about the truthfulness of what he's going to come up with. And relatedly, he's got to worry about potential allegations that he obstructed Congress.

So he does have some exposure here. It's driven in part by his prior testimony that he had to fix later after other witnesses contradicted him, especially with respect to whether there was a link between the military aid and the investigations. He's sort of gone back and forth on that.

He left out major details with respect to this phone call that we've now heard about from Mr. Holmes that was placed at the restaurant with the president, sort of with a loud voice speaking on one end of the phone.

And then he's also said things about whether he understood that there was a link between Burisma and the Bidens. That doesn't seem completely plausible.

And so he's got a bit of a mess to come in and try to clean up. You know, he's really got to just be straight, say what he remembers, and be very clear in his testimony because otherwise, he could end up in some legal jeopardy here.

BERMAN: He --

BAKER: I am surprised that he's being -- that he's testifying at all, quite frankly.

BERMAN: All right. Well, let's get to that. You are surprised he's testifying at all.

He could assert his Fifth Amendment rights. How would that work and why do you think, perhaps, he should do that?

BAKER: Well, because of these -- you know, the statements going back and forth and the risk that he doesn't -- it's not quite clear what his calculus is inside his head. Is he trying to protect himself, is he trying to protect the president, is he trying to shade the truth?

Is he not remembering things? Does he just have a bad memory and he was just too busy and couldn't remember all this stuff?

[05:55:00]

But all of that opens the door to potential risks.

So, likely, if he was going to assert his Fifth Amendment right he would have told -- through counsel, he would have told the committee already. I doubt that he would just spring it on them at the hearing. That's theoretically possible.

And that could lead to then Congress debating and thinking about whether to immunize him or not, which is a process that you go to court and you get an order and you get -- you get immunity and then you get compelled to testify. That poses -- it creates a bunch of issues with respect to subsequent prosecutions but nevertheless it's a possible route here.

BERMAN: As far as we know that has not happened yet. We will see if he tries to --

BAKER: As far as we know that's not happened -- yes.

BERMAN: -- when he takes the stand shortly. So he revised or you might say reversed some of his earlier testimony in terms of what he personally knew or talked about in terms of pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in return for military aid.

Does that reversal -- does that public amendment to his written testimony -- is he totally clean now? Is he in the clear for being charged with being dishonest or perjury?

BAKER: Probably, probably. I mean, he cleaned it up in a sufficient time to allow the committee to carry on its business. You know, sometimes people are investigated under these kinds of circumstances. I think -- you know, an investigation is one thing; actually being charged is another. I think he's probably OK with respect to that given the fact that he did clean it up.

But, you know, he didn't talk about the famous phone call that we all know about now, as I said. And, like, why did he leave that out? Did he know about it at the time? Were his answers to other questions misleading or incomplete?

I think he's going to not enjoy the questioning from the counsel for the majority today who is an AUSA, Mr. Goldman and -- assistant United States attorney -- a prosecutor. And so I think he's going to go after Mr. Sondland. I'd be surprised if he didn't, actually, with respect --

BERMAN: Very quickly --

BAKER: -- to some of these things.

BERMAN: -- there's been a lot of testimony the last few days about people going and talking to government lawyers -- NSC lawyers -- because they were concerned about how things were going.

What does that tell you?

BAKER: It tells me that they were trying to get help. That policymakers who didn't know what to do in this very uncertain and strange environment where the president, by the testimony of some of the witnesses, was asking for improper things to be done. And they were trying to get help.

And I think -- you know, as a lawyer in the government in a variety of different positions, you have an obligation to try to help your client and steer them in the right way. And it's just not at all clear what assistance, if any, the lawyers stepped up and gave in this situation.

BERMAN: Jim Baker, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Like you, we're going to be watching in two hours to see how this all plays out.

BAKER: Yes, thank you.

CAMEROTA: And like you, John, if our viewers enjoy comedy that combines politics -- BERMAN: I feel like you're smearing me somehow.

CAMEROTA: I'm about to.

BERMAN: I have no connection to this.

CAMEROTA: I'm about to.

BERMAN: No connection.

CAMEROTA: If you like comedy and bodily functions combined, you'll love these "Late-Night Laughs."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CORDEN, CBS HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": Today was day three of the live televised testimony in the impeachment investigation against President Trump. I watched it and honestly, I really hope this doesn't get picked up for another season.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Mr. Vindman, you testified in your deposition that you did not know the whistleblower.

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Ranking member, it's Lt. Col. Vindman, please.

NUNES: Lt. Col. Vindman --

CORDEN: I mean, we need an army medic as Nunes just got severely burned.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Swalwell went on Hard Chris with Matthew Ball last night to lay out some of the evidence against Donald Trump. But there was what many are claiming was an embarrassing moment. See if you can spot it.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Chris, so far, the evidence is uncontradicted that the president used taxpayer dollars to ask the Ukrainians to help him cheat (noise) an election.

COLBERT: Now, I don't know exactly what happened there but if it's what you think it is, it came through loud and clear.

Congressman, you claim you didn't even hear it -- now we know it was you. That was established as admissible evidence in the landmark decision of Denied It V. Supplied It.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That moment gave my family many, many minutes of pleasure at the dinner table last night.

BERMAN: This says more about you than anything else. Look, the amount of time and brainpower that's been spent talking, we could have cured cancer and gone to Mars at the same time.

CAMEROTA: If we had put that much investment into figuring out who that -- made that sound --

BERMAN: What's your conclusion?

CAMEROTA: It's not Eric Swalwell -- come on. I'm on team Eric Swalwell with this, which the Internet is also.

BERMAN: Only losers here; no winners.

We're going to get a sense of what Ambassador Gordon Sondland will say when he testifies in just under three hours. NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sondland has changed his testimony already. He is the connection directly to President Trump.

KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS: Ambassador Sondland has a big personality.

END