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Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) Discuss Today's Impeachment Hearings; The New York Times Reports Sondland Kept Pompeo Informed On Ukraine Pressure Campaign. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired November 20, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


[07:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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 with Wolf Blitzer and Chris Cuomo.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Chris Cuomo is joining us live from Capitol Hill. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Just two hours from now what could be the most consequential moment so far in this impeachment investigation involving the president of the United States. Crucial testimony from the man right at the center of this Ukraine scandal, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.

Chris, this is turning out to be an historic day, a very important day.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. You know, it's a chilly morning here on Capitol Hill but it's going to be an icebox in this hearing, especially for EU ambassador Gordon Sondland.

Why? Well, the steady stream of testimony so far raises the stakes, especially for him. His name is the one that came out of people's mouths most often about who was on the inside of delivering this message to Ukraine that no Bidens, no investigations, no money. So what the ambassador chooses to say today is going to give us a very definite direction about where responsibility is going to lie in this matter. It could shatter the GOP defense of a White House that says absolutely nothing done was wrong, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be very, very powerful by all accounts. Was the president of the United States directly involved in pressuring the new government in Ukraine for investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 presidential election here in the United States? Did they talk about that on an unsecured phone call the day after the president's infamous July 25th phone conversation with Ukraine's new leader, President Zelensky. We could get -- Chris, we could get plenty of answers this morning.

CUOMO: Yes, and also, you know, this umbrella defense that, you know, corruption was always so important to this president and it was always on the agenda. Was it? Sondland is going to be literally the bullseye on that this morning. And what they've been calling the Gordon problem, you know, now this is going to fall on congressional Republicans.

So let's begin on Capitol Hill with CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

You know, Manu, look, they talk a lot about what's coming their way, what it could mean. What's the word on today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I -- Democrats and Republicans who I've spoken with both agree on this, that today could be the most pivotal day of the proceedings so far because of exactly what you were just saying, Gordon Sondland is the one person who has testified so far who has had the most interactions with the president as it came to Ukraine.

Someone who, according to other witness testimony, made very clear that other -- that everything was contingent on the declaration by Ukraine that they were announcing an investigation into the president's political rivals, Joe Biden, as well as this theory that the president pushed about whether or not Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 elections. Gordon Sondland made clear, according to other witness testimony, that this came at the president's direction, that that needed to happen first before anything happened with aid, including roughly $400 million worth of military aid.

But Gordon Sondland, behind closed doors, has not gone as far as other witnesses have. So the question today is, will Gordon Sondland provide more details and confirm other witness testimony?

Now, a little bit about Gordon Sondland himself. You know, he's a Trump donor turned diplomat and that he has actually already tried to amend that testimony that happened behind closed doors when he did acknowledge that the aid was likely linked to this declaration of announcements of investigations into the president's political rivals. But he said he couldn't precisely remember how he knew that.

Now, since then, also we have learned about a separate phone call that occurred in July 26th in which the president made clear to Gordon Sondland that Joe Biden needed to be investigated by the Ukrainian government and, according to another witness testimony, that was all the president cared about. So how will Gordon Sondland reveal that conversation as well?

Now, a little bit about the hearing today. It will be much like the hearings that have happened over the last several days, right behind me in this hearing room. The chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff, will gavel in this hearing. That will be followed by an opening statement by Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican. Each of the staff council will get to question Gordon Sondland for roughly 45 minutes each after Sondland himself delivers an opening statement. And then later today is act two of today's hearings. That will include

testimony from Laura Cooper, who's a senior Defense Department official, someone who could shed more light about that military aid, why it was withheld. The unusual process, as she's testified to behind closed doors. As well as David Hale, who's a senior State Department official, some of the Republicans actually requested, and someone who was involved in some of those discussions involving the ouster of that -- the ambassador to Ukraine who testified last week.

[07:05:04]

But all eyes in just a matter of minutes here when we see Gordon Sondland testify at the top of the 9:00 a.m. hour in the east. This is going to be a key moment in these proceedings, guys.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

Manu, thank you very much. We'll be talking to you all day long. Doing great work.

All right, joining me now here to discuss the implications, which way it's likely to go and what that will mean for the overall analysis, CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, also a former FBI special agent, and CNN political analyst David Gregory.

Great to have you both.

So, Sondland, Cooper, Hale. Cooper is about the money. And what we know about how the aid was held up and what was abnormal there and what was the explanation given. On the outsides, Sondland and then Hale are going to be the beginning and the end of what was really the corruption interest about. Sondland has to make a choice, Asha.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. He is going to have to make a choice on whether he wants to save the president or save himself because he has already modified his deposition testimony once. And I don't think he's going to get easy questioning from either side.

From the Democrats, they're going to want to know why he had to amend his testimony. Why he first said there was no quid pro quo and then there was. And then, of course, why he omitted any mention at all of this July 26th phone call. And, of course, for Republicans, Sondland has the most damaging testimony against the president, directly linking him and then also this more direct evidence of a quid pro quo.

CUOMO: Now, as somebody who worked these kinds of cases -- David and I are used to asking people hard questions about them as a journalist -- but when it comes across the desk, wait a minute, so he went from saying, I don't know anything about any quid pro quo or any direct exchange for the -- to being the guy who asked for them? How do you process that?

RANGAPPA: Well, his --

CUOMO: That's a big change in testimony. RANGAPPA: I --

CUOMO: That's not, it wasn't Wednesday, it was Tuesday.

RANGAPPA: Well, you know, to -- to have a criminal violation of lying to Congress, you have to knowingly lie about a material fact. And so his initial attempt to amend his testimony kind of goes to some good faith effort to -- to fix it.

I think he is in much more hot water in omitting the July 26th phone call and I'll be interested to see whether he takes the Fifth on that -- on questions on that.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and also why did he want to amend it? You know, one time maybe makes sense. Twice, it's more suspect. If you're the Republicans, you have to say, look, are you trying to push blame elsewhere besides taking it yourself?

But let's remember the sense of the overall. The big point here is that Sondland is the guy who can provide information on what the president was thinking about.

RANGAPPA: That's right.

GREGORY: Well, Republicans say the primary defense is, the president cared about corruption. He wanted to stamp out corruption in Ukraine and that's why he was pushing the president so hard. But Sondland says, no, he didn't care about corruption, he just wanted to have Biden investigated. That's all he really cared about.

I think it's important that we underline two facts. Number one, if a president of the United States thinks that there is someone, like a former vice president, who is corrupt, all he has to do is go down the street to the Justice Department and say, Mr. Attorney General, I think you should investigate Joe Biden because I think he's corrupt. And then they could decide whether to investigate or not. Instead he asks a foreign leader to -- in a corrupt country to do that investigation. That's number one.

Number two, he's still based on a debunked conspiracy theory basing this thing on debunked conspiracy theory about whether Ukraine plotted with the Democrats to hurt him in 2016. His advisers told him there was nothing to that. That's what he's pursuing.

Sondland is key to understanding all of that, to understanding, well, what was the president's actual intent? That's direct. It's not hearsay, as the Republicans would argue, even though those others witnesses weren't hearsay either. It's a direct connect. That's what Republicans have to deal with today.

And what's interesting, Chris, as we sit in front of the Rotunda, there's the case, the substance, and the politics. The politics, in this building at least, don't appear to be moving very much on the Republican side.

CUOMO: No, because they're in a box. They have to make a very specific choice here that this was always about a legitimate interest in corruption, therefore there was no corrupt intent in wanting it this way.

GREGORY: Right.

CUOMO: Their problem is, nobody mentions this larger interest. And the only corruption it seems the president saw at play in Ukraine reflected the 2016 election and the Bidens.

GREGORY: Right.

CUOMO: That's going to be a tough sell. But it's all on Sondland's back this morning, at least to start the day.

Thank you very much, David, Asha. I'll be back with you in just a little bit.

You know, Wolf, sometimes people say, oh, you know, there's a lot of hype going. No hype. You cannot exaggerate the significance of what Ambassador Sondland means in understanding what was going on with Ukraine and the United States government.

BLITZER: Yes, it may be chilly outside where you are, it's going to be hot inside that House Intelligence Committee hearing room.

Ambassador Sondland, Chris, he will appear up on Capitol Hill later this morning. One day after witnesses invoked his name repeatedly during their testimony.

[07:10:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL TOP UKRAINE EXPERT: Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance of Ukraine delivering the investigations into the 2016 elections, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Ambassador Sondland that this was inappropriate and had nothing to do with national security.

KURT VOLKER, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY TO UKRAINE: Ambassador Sondland made a general comment about investigations. I think all of us thought it was inappropriate.

TIM MORRISON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL TOP RUSSIA EXPERT: 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)

BLITZER: Joining us now, CNN's Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, how did Ambassador Sondland go from being a hotelier, a mega donor, a Republican, all of a sudden a political appointee to becoming the focus right now of this impeachment inquiry? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Because he had a direct

line to President Trump. So he was a donor, as you said, He is a political appointee. He is not a career diplomat like the other folks that we have heard from. He donated over a million to President Trump's inauguration. And then he stayed in touch with the president.

And it's interesting because we now hear President Trump saying that he hardly knew Ambassador Sondland. But the reality is that he's one of the few people who was able to pick up the phone and call President Trump.

So let's look at what he told lawmakers behind closed doors in that initial testimony. He spoke about the fact that President Trump directed him to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine. And he said that that disappointed him, actually, and he would have never recommended that Giuliani, a private citizen, be involved with foreign policy. Nonetheless, he had to work with Giuliani.

And one of the things that he claimed in that initial testimony is that he did not know that the things that Giuliani were pushing for were related to Biden. He tries to draw this difference between Burisma and Biden. We now know that the two are basically the same thing.

The other thing that he told lawmakers is that he was disappointed by the fact that President Trump wasn't going to take a meeting with Zelensky. But he also said that everything that he did, even if it was questionable, had the blessing of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At the same time, the important thing to consider here is that he was really ruffling the feathers of other White House officials. National Security Adviser John Bolton blew up a meeting with Ukrainians after Gordon Sondland brought up investigations. And we heard a lot yesterday, as we listened to before, about the Gordon problem. Sondland essentially doing what he wanted to do and claiming that he had the blessing of President Trump.

BLITZER: Gordon problem. Gordon Sondland. That's -- that was a problem for a lot of these people.

We're also going to be hearing about that sort of mysterious phone conversation that he had the day after that major phone conversation that the president had with President Zelensky of Ukraine. And David Holmes, who's going to be testifying tomorrow, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, overheard Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, on his phone, on his cell phone, outside at a restaurant in Kiev talking -- talking to the president of the United States.

ATWOOD: Yes, so this was a detail that was revealed by a U.S. diplomat at the embassy in Ukraine after Gordon Sondland spoke with lawmakers. And David Holmes came forth with this new detail saying that, I was out to lunch with Ambassador Gordon Sondland when he picked up the phone, the cell phone, in this public setting and made a phone call to President Trump. And so I want to read to you exactly how David Holmes describes that in his closed door testimony. He said, quote, I heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the

investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do, quote, anything you ask him to. I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the president did not give a shit about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed that the president did not give a about Ukraine. I asked, why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the president only cares about big stuff. I noted that there was big stuff going on in Ukraine, like the war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant big stuff that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.

So, one of the key questions that lawmakers are going to be asking Gordon Sondland is, how did he know that President Trump only cared about the big stuff, about these investigations, versus the formal U.S. policy in terms of supporting Ukraine as it has been at war with Russia.

BLITZER: He's going to be asked a lot of questions during this upcoming testimony. All, of course, under oath.

ATWOOD: Right.

BLITZER: Kylie, thanks very much. She's going to be with us all day as well.

Joining us now to discuss, Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and our chief legal analyst, and Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney and our senior legal analyst.

Why is he chief and you're -- oh, that's another --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know what --

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We'll talk about that off -- offline.

TOOBIN: Can I -- I'm tough but fair with Preet. That's my rule.

[07:15:02]

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Gordon Sondland. He's already revised this testimony under oath once.

BHARARA: Yes.

BLITZER: What does he need to do today to come clean?

BHARARA: Probably needs to revise it again. I mean I think probably what's been going on over the last number of days is that Gordon Sondland has been sitting with his lawyer trying to figure out in whatever opening remarks he's going to make and maybe we'll get wind of that before he actually starts to testify at 9:00 a.m., to figure out how to thread the needle.

You know, there's this call that you've been talking about all morning, and we've been talking about all week, that David Holmes recalls on July 26th oddly Gordon Sondland omitted that from his testimony. It's hard to understand and believe how you don't remember that particular call with a sitting president of the United States, from a restaurant, et cetera, et cetera. And so -- so that he is out of the soup a little bit.

My guess is that he's going to say, you know, recent events and other testimonies refreshed my recollection, oh, there was this call. And given what we know about him so far and how he seems to want to sort of straddle both sides of an issue, and perhaps also protect the president, simultaneously protecting himself, I don't know that he is going to say he remembers these characterizations. In other words, President Zelensky loves your ask (ph), as he said, and that the president of the United States doesn't give a blank about Ukraine. That's very, very damaging. And often in circumstances like this witnesses simply claim they can't quite remember the details. I don't know how credible that is given the circumstances.

BLITZER: We've got David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Ukraine, he testified this, and he's going to be testifying in open session tomorrow. While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the president's voice through the earpiece of the phone. The president's voice was very loud and recognizable and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time presumably because of the loud volume. I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to do.

I mean, that's a pretty specific statement.

TOOBIN: Well, and also, I don't know how colorful a life you have led or Gordon Sondland has led, but my sense is, if you're in a restaurant in Ukraine in the middle of the day and the president of the United States is on a cell phone blasting out to a table about his interactions with the president of Ukraine, you might remember it. You know, I -- that strikes me as a kind of memorable event. Most people don't have that many conversations with the president of the United States, much less at a restaurant in Kiev in a cell phone blasting out presumably to anyone who's nearby.

BHARARA: There was wine. They were drinking wine.

TOOBIN: They were drinking win. I don't care --

BHARARA: That's a part of the story.

TOOBIN: I don't care how much wine you've drunk, I think you would remember that.

I mean the -- you know, one of the advices -- one of the pieces of advice you sometimes give witnesses when you're a prosecutor is, tell the truth, it's easier to remember. Maybe Sondland should just tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may at this point finally.

I have to say, he has a very good lawyer, Robert Luskin (ph). There are some lawyers who, given these circumstances, would tell them to just take the Fifth now because he has made himself so much trouble by changing his story. Presumably he's not going to do that. But it's a mess that he has made of his testimony already and we'll see if he can sort it out.

BLITZER: Yes, he's going to be making that opening statement. He's going to be answering questions all under oath. We'll, of course, have live coverage of all of that.

Guys, you're going to be with us all day as well.

We've got a lot that's going on.

A critical day as we await the most highly anticipated witness so far. The impeachment inquiry. We're on top of all of the late breaking developments this morning. Chris is up on Capitol Hill.

CUOMO: And, of course, Wolf, you know, that great conversation you're having about how Sondland is going to handle it. Now there's going to be a reciprocal interest in, what's the strategy for Republicans today? How do they play what Sondland says? What does it mean? This is the day that will really shape this story for America.

So, a lot hinges on what happens.

Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:23:26]

CUOMO: All right. Today has to be the day, especially for the Democrats. When you see EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland come in just a couple of hours down here, he is the person that every witness, really, who wants to put the words quid pro quo or we knew it was about the investigations or any kind of implication that this was a very explicit understanding that Ukraine must do things to get aid, Sondland comes up.

So the question becomes, how does the ambassador deal with testimony today? Does he shoulder the responsibility for advancing an agenda? Or was he working at the direction of someone? If so, who?

So, let's discuss what this means Republicans. We're joined now by a Republican Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson. Also serves on the House Judiciary Committee. Remember why that matters. When it's done in Intel, anything that want to argue out as an article of impeachment will be in his shop.

Congressman, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

This is embarrassing how good you look in the cold and I am dressed like Nanook of the North.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Yes.

CUOMO: All right, so, Ambassador Sondland, first of all, do you agree with what I lay out as the potentials stakes of today?

JOHNSON: I think there are high stakes. I think he is a key. Remember, he's the only witness involved so far that actually spoke directly with the president. Everyone else has given their opinions, their conjecture about a transcript that every single American can read for themselves. So I do think his testimony is important.

[07:25:04]

What I think is the most important, and I think the most important testimony that's come out yet, is what he testified to previously. He said he asked the president directly, what do you want from Ukraine? And the president said, I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Ukraine to do the right thing.

CUOMO: But now we have this other testimony, right, from the staffer for Mr. Holmes, who will testify the day after. That's tough for Sondland also. What I think precipitated the last change in testimony from Mr. Sondland, if you'll remember, he went from saying, I don't know anything about any exchange of any meaning, quid pro quo, whatever, to saying, oh, yes, there was one and I'm the one who delivered it. It's a big change. He has to explain that.

But he had the benefit of people going before him. Mr. Holmes, who worked for Mr. Taylor, heard the phone call in Kiev with the president and Sondland. He comes tomorrow. He says something different than you're saying, councilor. He's saying the president's on the phone, I want the investigations. It's about the investigations. He gets off the phone, says to Holmes and others, all he cares about is the investigation. How do you deal with that?

JOHNSON: Well, this is a gentleman that says he overheard two parts of a conversation across a table on a cell phone. I don't know.

What I do know is --

CUOMO: And a direct conversation with the ambassador about the phone call after it.

JOHNSON: I can tell you what the president believes is a really important piece of information regarding that, and that is what the Ukraine foreign minister came out with on Thursday. I was with the president. We were on our way to a rally in Louisiana when the letter came out. He went public and said, there was no exchange. There was no quid pro quo. This is the foreign minister of Ukraine who says he didn't know anything about it either. So the people directly involved, the people who had the direct evidence are saying there's no smoking gun there.

And I -- you know, I think it was "The Washington Post" this morning, there's an op-ed in there that says that the -- the Democrats' bombs are not going off. This is a dud. I think people are tuning out from the hearings because they recognize that this is something that seems to be a predetermined political outcome from the Democrats that they started way back in 2017. The narrative's changed.

CUOMO: Right.

JOHNSON: The theory has changed. But they're trying to go after Donald Trump.

CUOMO: Well -- but, look, you know, as we heard from Congressman Welles (ph) yesterday, and as you know well as a litigator, you don't want to get investigated, don't' do or say anything provocative and wrong.

So you got here for a reason. In terms of what's working, what isn't, it's so hard for the American people to digest because you've got a million names and labels and you have two sides who don't seem like they are even in the same universe. But we must discuss this. The idea that there was no quid pro quo, never liked the expression. I'm a lawyer, like you.

JOHNSON: Yes.

CUOMO: Latin is abstruse. It -- you know. There had to be a quid pro quo. Everything in trading for policy is, I'm going to give you this, you're going to give me something back. The question is, was there corrupt intent involved?

JOHNSON: Thank you.

CUOMO: Did you do it for the wrong reason? So, what would that be here? The reason they're moving to the idea of this being an alleged bribe is, if what Sondland says is true, which is, when I would talk to the president, he made it very clear, you want this aid, you want to meet with me, I want the announcement about the Bidens. That's not only a this for that, a quid pro quo, it's an attempted bribe. That's a problem, is it not?

JOHNSON: I don't know. I don't know, Chris. Let me throw out another Latin term --

CUOMO: Please.

JOHNSON: That's mensrea, right? What is the intent behind it?

CUOMO: Mental intent.

JOHNSON: And I think as --

CUOMO: But you definitely have the actus reus. You definitely have the --

JOHNSON: Well, wait a minute now, we're getting very obtuse now.

Look, Congressman Nunes said yesterday in the hearing very effectively, he said, if you look at these things in a vacuum, you might be able to interpret it one way or another. But if you look at the full context, and that's what the president has, he has the whole lay of the land, what was his intent? He wanted to root out corruption in Ukraine, which everybody agrees is one of the top most corrupt nations in the world. It's in the top five on everybody's list, right? He --

CUOMO: But he never mentioned any of the corruption that is germane to Ukraine.

JOHNSON: Well --

CUOMO: He only cared about his own political interests.

JOHNSON: I don't know -- I don't know if that's right, Chris.

I think that what --

CUOMO: Well, what else -- what else did he want them to look at?

JOHNSON: The president has a fiduciary obligation to make sure that the precious treasure of American taxpayers is not misspent overseas.

CUOMO: Yes, he does. He does.

JOHNSON: He knows Ukraine is a -- is a corrupt nation. He wants to root out corruption.

Zelensky told him, I want to drain the swamp here too.

CUOMO: Yes, right, but the problem with Ukraine corruption is not a conspiracy theory about 2016 or the Bidens.

JOHNSON: Well, is it? I don't know. That's the whole thing.

CUOMO: You do know.

JOHNSON: Hunter Biden's name comes up over and --

CUOMO: You know that 2016 conspiracy theory about who interfered in our elections has nothing to do with Ukraine. You've never heard that from the intelligence community.

JOHNSON: Well, no, but, again -- but, again, what is in the mine of the supposed offender here? What is the mensrea of Donald Trump, the president? He's deeply concerned about 2016. Of course he talks about it all the time. He's deeply concerned about the appearance of impropriety that was admitted in the hearing yesterday about Hunter Biden.

CUOMO: So if you (INAUDIBLE) about tax money because you have a good faith belief in a nonsense conspiracy theory and you have a good faith belief that Ukraine has an interest in going after your political opponent, because let's be fair here, timelines matter in prosecutions. I know this is political. He never gave a damn about the Bidens or Burisma before the guy announced that he was running for president.

JOHNSON: I don't think that's true.

CUOMO: The timelines -- did you ever hear any statement that's come up of any interest in Burisma from this administration before Biden got in the race?

JOHNSON: We probably can find it in the one million tweets that the president has --

CUOMO: You -- you -- you may be able to get the president to say it, but I don't know that you'll find it.

JOHNSON: I think that he has always been concerned about 2016, the alleged corruption or whatever happened there and he wants to get down to the bottom of it.

[07:30:04]

Ukraine has been involved in that. When all the news about Hunter Biden came up, that's why the Republicans keep saying that over and over. Look, if you're going to investigate -- you guys really want to follow the truth where it leads -- you have to look into the Biden deal.

CUOMO: And investigate Biden.

The president should have picked up the phone and called the DOJ and said I want you to look into Biden. You don't ask Ukraine because not only does it not make sense to ask a place you don't trust to do something that you think is so important, and then all you say you want back is an announcement.

Now we hear from "The New York Times" that Gordon Sondland is expected to say today everything I did, I went to the Secretary of State and he was always apprised.

So, if Gordon Sondland was always pushing an agenda that you had to give us the Bidens in order to get anything back from America and he was already going to the -- always going to the Secretary of State and being told that's OK, doesn't that mean that the policy was if you want this aid and this meeting, you have to give the Bidens to the president?

JOHNSON: I don't think that's what it means. I don't know that that's what Sondland is going to testify to. None of us knows yet.

CUOMO: If he does. It's according to "The New York Times."

JOHNSON: Well, the narrative about quid pro quo now going to bribery, now going to extortion -- you know, all the witnesses --

CUOMO: All bribes are a quid pro quo; not all quid pro quos are a bribe.

JOHNSON: The only problem the Democrats have is that all their star witnesses have said, each one of them, there was none of that. They never used the term bribery or extortion. They never even thought of it that way.

CUOMO: Except for Sondland. And they all were concerned about what he didn't remember. They don't get star witnesses because their stars -- Pompeo, Mulvaney --

JOHNSON: Yes.

CUOMO: -- Bolton -- they're not being allowed to come here.

So you guys complain about not getting firsthand knowledge. The guys you have it, you don't complain about not having them.

JOHNSON: We don't get our witness list either and that's part of the problem. We don't want to harp on process today but that is a big issue and I think that's what the American people are concerned about. It's what my constituents are concerned about. They talk to me about it every time I'm at home.

Why does Adam Schiff get to drive the whole thing? Why don't Republicans get an equal say?

CUOMO: Because he's the majority.

JOHNSON: Well --

CUOMO: It's just like it was in Clinton. And when you get to your --

JOHNSON: But it still has to be fair.

CUOMO: -- committee -- but it is fair. In fact, we never had Clinton having half the room fight his case from start to finish, you know, so we'll see.

But, hey, Congressman Johnson, I appreciate --

JOHNSON: Thanks a lot.

CUOMO: -- so much having you argue the case. Let's see how today goes. We'll continue the conversation.

JOHNSON: We'll see.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

All right, Congressman Mike Johnson, Louisiana. How will they handle it in the room today? He's a talented lawyer.

You're going to get -- hear more of that. We'll see how it goes in light of what Ambassador Gordon Sondland says. His words will change the direction of the case.

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[07:36:55]

BLITZER: A really critical day in the House impeachment hearings. Ambassador Gordon Sondland will give his testimony in about 90 minutes. And we're just learning from a "The New York Times" report that Ambassador Sondland kept the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed on the campaign to put pressure on Ukraine. I quickly want to go to our congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

Expect Gordon Sondland to probably make very clear later today that various people -- high-level people in the United States government, including Mike Pompeo, were aware of what was happening in this push to get Ukraine to announce investigations into the president's political rivals at the same time as the Ukrainians were seeking this key meeting between President Zelensky, who had just won an election in May, and President Trump -- something that the Zelensky administration believed could bolster their legitimacy as a government in pushing back against the Russians, in particular, as well as pushing for -- in this, of course, roughly $400 million in military aid that had been withheld by the U.S. government.

Now, according to this report, Mike Pompeo was aware of what Gordon Sondland was up to all along in working with others, including Rudy Giuliani, in pushing for the Ukrainians to announce those investigations.

So we'll see when he testifies in just a little bit over an hour exactly how high up this goes in the U.S. government because what we know so far is that Gordon Sondland made clear that he had multiple interactions with the president -- continued to discuss with the president.

And had previously testified that the president informed him and told him to work with Rudy Giuliani, something that he disagreed with but something that he said that Rudy Giuliani was pushing for those investigations at a time when they were seeking those efforts to bolster this alliance with Ukraine.

So ultimately, the question is how high up does this go and does this land in the Oval Office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we should be finding out very, very soon when he opens up the testimony with that statement.

You know, Chris, I suspect a lot of officials, including Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani -- he's not an official; he's the president's private attorney -- and the president, himself, are getting nervous about what they are likely to hear from Sondland.

CUOMO: There's no question about it because look, the most convenient thing is for Sondland to shoulder as much of this burden as possible.

So this new headline that the Secretary of State knew -- Wolf, it plays right into what you must expect today, which is Gordon Sondland is not going to take one for the team. But we'll have to see what happens when he actually testifies.

That takes us to our latest round of reporting about what we can expect in terms of mood and tone. Kaitlan Collins, let's deal with the mood. What are we hearing about how big a day and how they see this playing up where you are by the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, it's a big day. It's kind of hard to overstate just how critical the president's inner circle is viewing this testimony today because they know that Gordon Sondland is going to be asked about the president's role in this pressure campaign and they don't know what it is that he's going to say.

Now, he is someone whose credibility has been questioned because he left out some critical conversations when he testified behind closed doors to these lawmakers.

[07:40:02]

But they also know that he's the one who had the direct line to the president and they had several informal conversations. And he's the one who told people it was President Trump who put him in charge in Ukraine.

Now, we know this is a president who values loyalty above all else. So the question is today, does Gordon Sondland throw people like the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo under the bus, as Manu was just hinting at there based on that "The New York Times" report or what does he say about the president when he's going to be in the hot seat?

Now, the question also is going to be what does the president respond and what does he say about his relationship with Gordon Sondland. Listen, Chris, to what he's said in the past when he was questioned about just how close the two of them were.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who is highly respected, was there's no quid pro quo. He said that.

Let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So you see the change in just a month there from what the president was saying about someone who he put in charge of Ukraine even though Ukraine is not in the European Union, which is technically his purview there.

But if the president does try to distance himself -- remember, Chris, this is also someone who gave $1 million -- not a small --

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: -- chunk of change -- to the president's inauguration. And he was on Air Force One earlier this year briefing reporters, just to give you a sense of how unusual his role really was. CUOMO: Right. And look, let's be honest. We always hear that the president is so involved with loyalty. They really mean fealty, Kaitlan.

When people are doing right by him, everything's good. As soon as that stops -- Michael Cohen, he's not my lawyer. Rudy Giuliani, I don't know if he's my lawyer. You're going to have to talk to Rudy.

And now, Gordon Sondland, I hardly know him. Well, that's not the impression that Gordon Sondland had and that's not the impression that people around Sondland had either, so let's see how it plays out in the hearing room today.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

Still ahead, a Democrat set to question Sondland. What are the questions on his mind, next?

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[07:46:14]

BLITZER: In just over an hour, perhaps the most highly anticipated witness in the impeachment hearings will publicly testify -- the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. Sondland is the witness who potentially could directly tie President Trump to an effort to pressure Ukraine for political favors here in the United States.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He serves on the Intelligence Committee. He'll be among those asking questions. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

And as you know, a lot of depositions and hearings have happened since you last questioned Ambassador Sondland behind closed doors. Now the "The New York Times" is suggesting he could directly tie Pompeo -- the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to all of this.

What are you hearing?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, yes, that has sort of opened a new line of questions for today on at least two topics.

One of the messages out of all these witnesses that we've talked to in public over the course of the last two keeps has been how much -- regardless of what their role was, how much they were concerned by what the president was doing.

The president saying I need you to investigate Joe Biden. The president calling off the congressionally-mandated military aid. Everybody that we've talked to so far has characterized that as wrong, a bad idea, inappropriate.

Well, Gordon Sondland is the guy who's running around making that happen. So the question is why is he making that happen? What did the president tell him? Why, by the way, in that now-famous phone call did the president ask

about investigations and then why did Gordon Sondland say the president doesn't give a fig -- not the word he used -- but doesn't give a fig about Ukraine? He cares about his own big stuff.

That's a lot of questions right there. And then, of course, the question of what Mike Pompeo knew.

You know, the Secretary of State has managed to stay above this fray but he's got some answering to do with respect to the dismissal of Ambassador Yovanovitch from Ukraine. Exemplary ambassador, 33 years of service, widely respected, she gets terminated. The Secretary of State would have been part of that and we need to know what he thought and why he did it, and why he didn't stand up for his people.

BLITZER: Ambassador Sondland already amended his original deposition, all under oath, once. What do you expect him to answer when you ask him about that today?

HIMES: Well, you know, we'll see. It's not completely unusual.

Of course, Ambassador Volker did the same thing yesterday in his opening statement. He said now that I've sort of seen a lot more information, here's what I think.

You know, all I can tell you is that we expect truthful testimony.

If there's anybody -- any doubt in anybody's mind about whether they should try to shade the truth or whether when they're sitting in front of Congress they should tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they just need to think of Michael Cohen and Roger Stone who are or will be spending significant time in prison for lying to this group of people.

So we're anticipating truthful testimony and I think this is going to be important because, again, it is Ambassador Sondland who has had the most direct and constant contact with the President of the United States.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to be hearing the name Rudy Giuliani a lot this morning during this testimony. The president's personal attorney -- someone who has no security clearances but who was clearly a key player in U.S.-Ukrainian relations and getting the Ukrainians to come up with so-called political dirt on the Bidens.

Is this -- you're on the Intelligence Committee. Is it appropriate for someone with no security clearances to be so actively engaged in this kind of effort?

HIMES: No, of course, not. I mean, you know, you're now sort of talking about the second tier of issues that, by the way, I believe would have led to Barack Obama's impeachment 10 times over.

[07:50:04]

But they all -- all of these sort of, you know -- let's call them misdemeanors. You know, Rudy Giuliani running around running his own corrupt foreign policy, the firing of an ambassador.

You know, everybody horrified by the phone call the president had with Zelensky. Many people making an effort to conceal it by putting on -- putting it on a classified server.

All of these things are serious. And again, and the last president would have led to impeachment.

But in the context of what we're talking about here, which is the president's corrupt use of military aid, of a meeting in the White House to get -- to advance his desire to get an investigation on the Bidens and to get the Ukrainians to interfere in the 2020 election, all of the rest of this stuff sort of fades to the background even though it's profoundly serious stuff.

BLITZER: Yes. The president keeps saying no quid pro quo but Ambassador Sondland, in his revised testimony, made it clear there was, in fact, a quid pro quo.

Congressman Jim Himes, I know you're going to asking questions later today. Thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so we're about to hear from the man directly at the center of this Ukraine scandal, and we'll hear more about that unsecured call he took from the president while he was in a restaurant in Ukraine. The potential security issues and a lot more when we come back.

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[07:55:57]

CUOMO: All right, the July 26th phone call. That's something you're going to hear a lot about starting in less than two hours.

Lawmakers are going to have the chance to ask U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland about this now-notorious conversation that day with President Trump, himself, on a mobile phone in a restaurant in the middle of the Ukrainian capital on an unsecured line. The city crawling with Russian Intel agents.

That's a problem called a "Gordon problem" in quotes. Now, is it going to stay that way?

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. So, Jimmy, help us understand just from a straight security protocol perspective what was unusual about this.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: From a strict security perspective, you don't have that call with the president on an unsecured mobile phone line. It is wide open to the world for the world to hear.

During my brief time in government, if you had any sensitive conversation -- I'm talking small "s" sensitive, not big "S" sensitive classified -- but any sensitive conversation with senior officials, you went to the SCIF to a secured room and had a conversation on a secured line.

So to have it on an open mobile phone line, it just -- it breaks every rule in the book.

Add to that that you are in hostile territory, right? I mean, as you said, this is an area crawling with Russian agents.

In my experience, you go to Russia or China, government officials -- they would leave their phone on the plane. They wouldn't even bring their cell phone into that country knowing that it would be compromised.

So for the president and for his ambassador to the E.U., it was not a smart thing to do and it, frankly, was a dangerous thing to do given the nature of the conversation they were having.

CUOMO: And just from a straight infrastructure perspective it's believed that the Russians have control or ownership of two of three available mobile networks. Obviously, that gives them some leverage as well.

So look, the ambassador is going to have some problems explaining his behavior but really, it's going to be about the substance of this call and why the people who were there were able to hear it --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CUOMO: -- and what it means overall in terms of shaping the security of this story.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Listen, Russia was hearing that call. But beyond the fact that it was on an open line, it was a very loud conversation in a restaurant that anybody walking by could apparently hear as well.

Russia would presumably sense weakness there -- weakness in the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine. Weakness in U.S. support for its ally, Ukraine, which it would then seek to take advantage of.

Now, I've spoken to Ukrainian officials about this time when the aid was being delayed during the time of this phone conversation -- all these questions about U.S. support -- to say did you notice a change in Russia's position with regard to Ukraine? Now you can't draw a direct line but they have said to me during this time Russia became less interested and took a harder position in the ongoing peace talks they've had.

They said that on the front lines some of the Ukrainian forces there noticed an increase in Russian shelling. Now, we don't know that there's a direct line there but they were worried at least, Ukrainians, that Russians were taking advantage of what they perceived to be a weakening in U.S. support for Ukraine.

That's why this is key. We always remind -- you and I talk about this all the time -- remind our viewers these are two countries at war.

Ukraine is our ally. They depended on the U.S. aid. If Russia would have perceived that that support was weakening they would certainly seek to take advantage.

CUOMO: And we know who loves that story that it was Ukraine, not Russia --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CUOMO: -- who was meddling in the 2016 election -- Russian intelligence.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CUOMO: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for your expertise --

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- as always.

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Chris Cuomo is joining us live from Capitol Hill. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

The momentum for the entire impeachment inquiry may rest on what happens next hour here in Washington when one of the central players in the Ukraine scandal, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

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