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Questions for Sondland; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) is Interviewed about Impeachment; White House on Trump's Medical Exam; Sondland Testifies on Capitol Hill. Aired 6:30-7a ET
Aired November 20, 2019 - 06:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are hours away from the most anticipated witness yet in the impeachment hearings. Ambassador Gordon Sondland will be asked about his interactions with President Trump. What, if anything, was he directed to do?
So, what will the key questions he must answer today be? And, yes, I understand that was grammatically confusing.
Joining us now, CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."
Michael, your thoughts on these moments right before Gordon Sondland speaks publicly?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Up until now we've had a lot of spokes, we've had a lot of disparate information, but not the ability through any one witness to tie the whole narrative together. This guy is potentially an axel. If I'm Gordon Sondland, if I'm Ambassador Sondland or his attorney waking up this morning, I am saying to myself, how do I thread the needle without getting charged with perjury because the statement that he initially offered, the initial testimony where he said that it would be wrong to precondition aid for a political purpose is seemingly at odds with his addendum where he says that did take place and, guess what, I'm the guy who delivered the message, as John was just reading, September 1 to Yermak, who's the assistant to the Ukraine president.
The only way that I see that he can get out of that is to say, well, yes, aid was conditioned, but it had nothing to do with the Bidens. It was about Ukraine investigating corruption generally.
Where I now go back to what I've been saying here consistently, the biggest problem for the president is his repeated saying no quid pro quo, no quid pro quo, because all of this evidence together paints a picture of a quid pro quo. And he should have been owning it from the get-go and saying, yes, I was holding up American tax dollars because I didn't want it squandered by Ukraine. But it's very hard at this juncture to now go back and put that together in a narrative that makes sense and is consistent. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you know, Sondland didn't say it in that
revised statement, but the implementation there is that there was a quid pro quo. He lays out that he told the Ukrainians that they weren't going to get the aid unless they investigated the Bidens. That, in fact, is pressure. That is, in fact, leaning on somebody, a shakedown, or what you would call a quid pro quo.
So -- so you're talking about threading the needle by suggesting it wasn't the Bidens. How else do you think that Sondland could navigate this without ending up in legal jeopardy? I talked to Jim Baker a little while ago and Baker told me he thought that he was crazy, Sondland's crazy to go testify. He thinks it's -- there's too much risk for him.
SMERCONISH: Hey, listen, there's the potential that he takes the Fifth.
I don't know how, as a preliminary matter, having reread his testimony, having looked at that addendum, and having taken hundreds if not a few thousand depositions in my time as a trial lawyer, I don't know how this gets done this morning because if I were doing the questioning solo, this is a full day at least proposition.
I want to know all about July 10. I want to know about that meeting at the White House and his specific role at that time in a way that apparently offended John Bolton. I mean that -- that is one whole area of inquiry.
This telephone conversation one day after the president spoke to Zelensky. You know, the phone at the ear scenario, that's worthy of a whole host of questioning.
And then, most importantly, is what took place in Warsaw on September 1.
So, you know, the whole thing can come out today in a big picture sense. The challenge, by the way, for Adam Schiff and the Democrats, and I've been saying this as well is, they've got to somehow simplify. They need a timeline behind them on an easel that they can continually go back to and show the American people, you know, when all is said and done, there are really just like five sequential events here. So -- so don't get too caught up in the weeds.
CAMEROTA: I mean is it just as simple, Michael, as today? Would the key sound bite be if Gordon Sondland says, I was directed by President Trump to make this deal?
SMERCONISH: And for what purpose, right? The line of questioning that I think -- because Sondland is so entrenched in his initial testimony in saying that it would be wrong to do so with a domestic, political objective. I think that will be a bridge too far for him to then link it to Burisma and the Bidens. I mean maybe, you know, he's going to pull a Volker today and say, oh, it never occurred to me that Burisma meant Hunter Biden. At some point that's strange credulity. BERMAN: Every lawyer we've spoken to today has problems with what's going to happen because it's hard to imagine how Gordon Sondland gets out of this without contradicting himself repeatedly.
SMERCONISH: I don't think --
CAMEROTA: Well, but, no, he has contradicted -- what if he just tells the truth? I mean then he's not in any danger of perjury.
SMERCONISH: I don't think that the Republicans know what they have on their hands. You know, I mean part -- in thinking through, well, how do they defend against what's about to unfold. They first need to know which -- here's the question of the day, which Gordon Sondland are we going to get, the initial testifier or the addendum Sondland? That's the issue of the day.
CAMEROTA: That is.
Michael, thank you very much.
So what do lawmakers outside of these hearings think of the impeachment inquiry? Are they able to get anything else done or are they glued to their TV sets like we are? A member of the House Democratic leadership tells us, next.
CAMEROTA: In a couple of hours, all eyes will be on Capitol Hill when Ambassador Gordon Sondland will speak publicly before impeachment investigators. What are other lawmakers doing while all of this is going on?
Joining us now is Democratic Deputy Chief Whip Congressman Dan Kildee.
Good morning, congressman.
REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Good morning.
CAMEROTA: How much are you watching versus working?
KILDEE: Well, yesterday was the first hearing that I wasn't able to be in the room at all. Each of the other hearings I was able to spend between 45 minutes and an hour.
But for those of us who are not on the Intelligence Committee, you know, the business of Congress goes on. We have busy days and we continue to work on those other issues that are, you know, really central to our daily work. Yesterday was full of lots of work on other issues, on trade, on chemical contaminants, this PFOS issue that I've been working on, which is one that's just becoming more -- more focused.
CAMEROTA: I think that that's interesting, congressman, because I think the impression outside of the beltway is that everything has ground to a halt. In fact, the RNC put out a press release yesterday with this big headline saying basically, baseless impeachment inquiry is a waste of time, keeping Dems from passing vital legislation.
So is that true or false?
KILDEE: Well, it's patently not true. You can just look at the public record. We're passing legislation every week. Last week we passed the extension or the re-authorization of the export/import bank. There's a lot of stuff going on that still continues.
And the other thing that I think is often missed is that the impression that the place is all partisan, and it's us against them, red versus blue, that's not true either. I've been working, as I said, on this issue of chemical contaminants, PFOS. I worked very closely with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania, a Republican. He and I co-chair this task force on this terrible chemical contamination issue. We get along real well.
CAMEROTA: OK, that is a shocker. This might be the headline of the day because that is a shocker, Congressman, because, obviously, what we see, you know, on Capitol Hill, what gets a lot of attention is the partisan divide and all of the nasty rhetoric that is exchanged back and forth. And we saw it on display yesterday.
So when you watched -- for the portions that you watched yesterday in terms of these hearings, what was your big takeaway?
KILDEE: Well, I mean, I've been really impressed with Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his approach to all of this. He's a real patriot. He's a guy who really understands what it means to be an American maybe in a way that often we don't because his family comes from a place where their rights really didn't exist the way they do now. So I think he cherishes what it means to be able to speak up and criticize your superiors. As he said, where his family came from, you couldn't do that. You'd basically lose your life if you did. So, to me, that was a real compelling moment.
I was disappointed that some on the committee, on the Republican side, made an attempt, which clearly fell flat, to assail his character or to assail his loyalties. That was a disappointing thing.
CAMEROTA: How do you know it fell flat? I mean that -- that -- they kept hitting that home, that maybe there were some dual loyalties. I mean how do you know that that didn't resonate with people watching?
KILDEE: Because the American people don't accept that kind of rhetoric. They really don't.
Now, there may be some in the so-called base that are looking for any shred to hang onto, to try to defend some of the actions of the president, but it's a big mistake to attack Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. A guy who has made the kind of sacrifices for this country that very few Americans are ever put in a position to have to make. And I think he really came through as a very credible person who has his own views and has his own interpretation of the facts. But I don't think his credibility or his loyalty should be questioned. He's an American and he represents the best of what this country offers.
CAMEROTA: How about Ambassador Gordon Sondland? What are you looking for today?
KILDEE: Well, you know, the hope is he just decides that he's going to tell, as the oath will require him to do, the truth, the whole truth, not to try to thread a needle, not to try to sort of find a middle path so that he can sort of defend the president but still not perjure himself. Set all that aside. This is too important a moment.
And this -- this has got to be the case for Democrats and Republicans, to not try to force the Sondland testimony to be something that it isn't. But only Gordon Sondland can ensure that that's the case. He just simply has to walk into that room, answer every question fully and honestly. That's -- that's the purpose of these hearings and I hope that's what he decides he's going to do. Whatever that means for the underlying case, we need the truth.
CAMEROTA: Congressman Dan Kildee, thank you very much. We appreciate talking to you on NEW DAY.
KILDEE: Thank you.
BERMAN: So, for the first time, President Trump is addressing his weekend visit to the hospital. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us next with new questions about the president's health.
CAMEROTA: OK, that was President Trump speaking about his unannounced visit to Walter Reed Medical Center over the weekend. The White House is now shifting its description of the president's medical exam.
CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been following this.
So, Sanjay, at first they said it was his -- part of his annual physical and then they changed it to an interim checkup.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.
CAMEROTA: Is that significant?
GUPTA: Well, you know, I mean, first of all, let me say I'm glad to see the president is doing well. I mean you saw him there. We hadn't seen him in a couple of days. And the visit itself to the hospital was just around two hours, which we have said all along probably meant that whatever it was didn't end up being that serious or intensive.
So those are obviously good points. There's still -- the interim checkup part of this, you know, that's usually done if there's some concern or something that you're monitoring that needs to be followed more frequently than every year. And there's nothing that they've ever said requires that with the president. So it's still an open -- open sort of question.
Also, the tests that he had done, the tests that Dr. Sean Conley said the president had done at the hospital all could have been done at the White House. That's -- that's one of the big ones. It's a big deal to take the president to the hospital. And if they could have been done at the White House, why did he go to the hospital, again, unannounced, on a Saturday afternoon, when lots of the staff didn't even know he was coming?
And, Alisyn, look, you and I have spoken a lot about just, you know, when you're getting information from the White House doctors or Trump's doctors in the past, it can be tough. Dr. Harold Bornstein, you'll remember this letter, this was, you know, from when President Trump was still a candidate, and it basically said his physical strength and stamina are extraordinary. If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.
It's kind of funny to read, right, but, if you think about it, this is what we're getting from the doctor to Trump, the candidate Trump at the time, and we found that letter was dictated completely by President Trump to the doctor. That's what the doctor alleges.
That was obvious, but it can sometimes be more nuanced as well in terms of hearing from the president's doctors. Dr. Ronny Jackson, listen to this -- just listen carefully to this back and forth I had with him in 2018.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: He does have heart disease, is that what you said?
DR. RONNY JACKSON, PHYSICIAN TO THE PRESIDENT: He does not have heart disease.
GUPTA: No? Because he had a CT scan before that showed calcium in his -- in his coronary blood vessels.
JACKSON: He does. He -- he had -- he had a -- so, I think -- so technically he has nonclinical atherosclerotic coronary -- coronary atherosclerosis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: So, again, Alisyn, you can see how it's more nuanced there with Ronny Jackson. It can be tough to get information.
Dr. Conley says the president did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurological testing. But the question still is, so what did he have? We know -- you're telling us what he didn't, but what did he have? CAMEROTA: What I mostly see, Sanjay, is how uncomfortable Dr. Ronny Jackson looks trying to answer your great question.
Sanjay, thank you. We know you're staying on this. We will talk to you soon.
GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.
BERMAN: All right, we have some live pictures to show you from inside the hearing room on Capitol Hill, where we are waiting to hear from Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Yes, the most anticipated witness yet and in some ways the most mysterious. We just don't know what he's going to say. He spoke to the president repeatedly. What did the president tell him to do regarding Ukraine? Republican sources tell CNN they are most worried about this testimony and the possibility he will turn on the president.
Joining us now, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, both from Pennsylvania and both CNN political commentators.
Charlie, I want to start with you since you're here with me.
Why do you think Republicans are most nervous about this testimony?
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, because Gordon Sondland seemed to be the man who was executing the president's policy on Ukraine, you know, holding up the aid in exchange -- in exchange for the opposition research on -- on the Bidens. That's -- that's -- it's that simple. This is -- you know, he -- these other witnesses were on the call or they heard about the call, but this is the guy implementing the policy. That's why this is serious.
This guy also has a mess to clean up. He's had to revise his testimony. Apparently he omitted to talk about -- he neglected to talk about this phone call where he was overheard talking to the president. So this is, I think, this is game day. This is a big one.
He spoke to the president repeatedly about Ukraine, Senator. What would make you nervous about this testimony?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean certainly just the uncertainty around it and the fact of what Charlie just said, that the testimony's been changed a couple of times. That's -- that's never a good thing. If -- you want certainty going into these proceedings. And there is an element of uncertainty as to, you know, what -- what -- what tact Gordon Sondland's going to take.
And I think part of it is that the Republicans have sort of, you know, put their stake in the (INAUDIBLE) no quid pro quo. The reality is, as we know when it comes to almost everything in politics and certainly everything in dealing with foreign governments, there's always quid pro quos. You know, there's always, you know, well, we'll do this if you do this. I mean that's just the normal way you do things. And the question is, you know, how much of that was -- was related to Burisma, how much of that was related to the Bidens, how much of that was related to other sources of corruption in Ukraine. You know, there are all sorts of reasons why they could have held up aid. The question is, you know, what -- what is Gordon Sondland going to say was the -- as the reason or reasons for doing that?
DENT: The quid pro quo is -- can I just say something on that, John? Look, certain quid pro quos are illegal. I'm from the city of Allentown. The former mayor is in jail for exchanging government contracts in exchange for political contributions.
This, again, if a -- I said this last week, if a member of Congress had used his or her position to withhold federal support in exchange for an investigation of a political opponent, I suspect the Department of Justice, you know, would be crawling up that member's backside. And this person would have an enormous legal problem. So of course foreign assistance is conditioned in many cases, but to serve some national goal or end, that's not what's happened here. And so that's why this type of a -- you know, this for that or a quid pro quo or a shakedown is certainly at the very least improper and potentially criminal.
SANTORUM: Yes. I --
BERMAN: Senator, you've said the phone call -- you've said you didn't like the phone call --
BERMAN: And it was wrong. What was wrong --
SANTORUM: Well, I said -- yes, I mean I actually --
BERMAN: What's wrong? No, tell me, explain to me what's wrong with the phone call.
SANTORUM: Well, look, I think bringing in the Bidens is -- was not a wise thing to do.
SANTORUM: It was -- well, it's inappropriate to bring in that whole political patina and --
SANTORUM: Well, because there -- there should be, you know, broader foreign policy, you know, ramifications to what you're -- what you're requesting.
I disagree with Charlie, I don't think it's illegal for him to have done so. I -- I've never said that what the president did was illicit or illegal. I just think it was not a wise thing to do. It was an inappropriate thing to do. And I disagree with the president, it was not a perfect call. But --
BERMAN: But, again, I guess what I'm getting at, Senator, is when you say it's inappropriate, why? What are the implications if presidents talk to other leaders to do domestic political investigations?
SANTORUM: Again, what --
BERMAN: Why is that wrong?
SANTORUM: What a -- well, what is appropriate is for them to ask for investigations about things that -- that pertain to Ukraine, like Burisma, and -- and I think it was absolutely appropriate to say, was Burisma attempting to use Hunter Biden as a way to influence American foreign policy? That's a legitimate, you know, thing for them to investigate as to whether Burisma was doing things wrong.
The question is whether Joe Biden was doing something wrong is a completely separate question. And I think that's what Ambassador Volker was saying yesterday.
But, again, I want to disagree with Charlie that I don't think just for the fact that the president mentioned it in a call or, you know, happened to mention Joe Biden, I think that was wrong. He shouldn't have mentioned Joe Biden's name. But investigating Burisma is completely legitimate.
DENT: I didn't say -- I didn't say what the president did was illegal. I said it was potentially illegal. And there's -- there's a difference.
SANTORUM: I disagree.
DENT: I'm just saying I know -- like I said, my mayor, my former mayor, is sitting in jail for 15 years for exchanging contracts for political contributions. And this --
SANTORUM: Well, that's not -- but that's not what he's doing, Charlie. I mean he's not exchanging it for political contributions.
DENT: Well, but -- he's saying, I'm holding up 400 -- he's using -- this is an official government act that withholding $400 million worth of aid to your country, but this is conditioned upon you investigating my political opponent.
DENT: That does not serve a national interest, Rick. You know that. I mean you cannot do that. It's not like -- I've been on the Appropriations Committee. I know what it's like to put a hold on foreign assistance to Egypt, for example, because they were hold -- because they were not allowing American NGO workers to exit the country. That's -- that's completely proper. This is not proper. I'm not saying it's criminal, but I -- at the very least, if a member of Congress did it, you'd be investigated. BERMAN: And, Senator, what if Gordon Sondland testifies today that
there was a quid pro quo? What if Gordon Sondland testifies today out loud what he has largely said in writing now, which is that I now recall speaking individually with Mr. Yermak, a Ukrainian, where I said the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks. In other words, I remember saying, you won't get the aid unless you investigate the Bidens.
SANTORUM: Yes, again, I think you have to look at the broader issue of anti-corruption. I mean there's a lot --
BERMAN: No, no, no, no, no. No, I don't think you do because the president said the Bidens on the phone call there.
SANTORUM: Yes, again, if you saw anything --
BERMAN: And -- and I think we will hear -- we will -- we heard testimony from Volker and others yesterday, they came to understand that all of this meant the Bidens and they wish they had -- they had recognized that earlier.
SANTORUM: Yes, if you -- if you learned anything from yesterday, that U.S. foreign policy was actually very consistent. The people the president put in place were all very much on the same page and very much on a page that -- that Congress supported, which is to support Ukraine and to try to get -- with actually military weapons, which the Obama administration wouldn't do, and -- and to investigate corruption on a broad scale. And -- and I think there was still concern about that. Was -- was Biden part of it? Yes. Was it -- was it appropriate to have him included in that? No, I don't think it was appropriate.
BERMAN: I'll just remind you that the president did not bring up corruption and bribery.
SANTORUM: I agree, he did not. But -- but this is --
BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) President Zelensky and not a single witness yesterday --
SANTORUM: This is to -- this is --
BERMAN: Testified that corruption was brought up.
Rick, I have to -- I have to let you go.
BERMAN: Sorry -- sadly, I'm about to get big footed by the wolf in a moment here.
Senator Santorum, Congressman Charlie Dent, thank you very much for being with us this morning.
And CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continues right now.