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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Key Witnesses Tie Trump's Personal Agenda to Ukraine Pressure. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 21, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): And of course we all remember that debacle in Helsinki when the president stood next to Vladimir Putin and questioned his own intelligence agencies. I wish I had heard just some of the righteous indignation we heard in the committee today when the president questioned that fundamental conclusion of our intelligence agencies, but of course they were silent when the president said that. They'll show indignation today, but they will cower when they hear the president questioning the very conclusions that our intelligence community has reached.

But we saw something interesting also today, my colleagues sought to use your Dr. Hill to besmirch the character of Colonel Vindman, and I thought this was very interesting. It certainly wasn't unexpected. It was very interesting for this reason. They didn't really question anything Colonel Vindman said. After all, what Colonel Vindman said is what you said you said. He was in a July 10th meeting. He heard the same quid pro quo, the same comments by Sondland. If you want this meeting, Ukrainians, we have agreement about this, you've got announce you're going to do these investigations. He heard the same quid pro quo that you did. So why are they smearing him?

Mr. Holmes, you testified just as Vindman said, Colonel Vindman said that he warned Zelensky about getting involved in U.S. politics. You don't question that, they didn't take issue with that. So why smear this Purple Heart recipient just like the smear of them ambassador Yovanovitch, it's just gratuitous. You don't question the facts, it's just gratuitous. The attack on Mr. Holmes and you were indiscreet in mentioning this conversation to others, well I think you're quite right. The indiscretion is when an ambassador, you (ph), calls the president on an insecure line in the country known for Russian telecommunications and eavesdropping, that's more than indiscretion, that's a security risk.

But why attack you, Mr. Holmes? They didn't question anything you said in question, they didn't question what conversation you overheard, Ambassador Sondland indeed didn't question what you said. He acknowledged that the one thing the president wanted to know the day after that conversation with Zelensky was, is he going to do the investigations? And Sondland said yes he'll do anything you ask. They don't question that, so why attack you? They didn't question your testimony when you said and I think you and you asked Ambassador Sondland, does Donald trump give a blank, and I would like to use the word here, about Ukraine?

He said he doesn't give a blank about Ukraine, he only cares about the big stuff. And you said well, there's some big stuff here. Ukraine's at war with Russia, that's kind of big stuff, and his answer was no, no, no, no, no, he cares about the big stuff that matters to him, his personal interest like the Biden investigation that Giuliani wants. I mean, one question posed by your testimony, Mr. Holmes, is what do we care about? Do we care about the big stuff like the Constitution, like an oath of office, or do we only care now the party? What do we care about? Let's -- let's go beyond your testimony today. Let's look at the bigger picture. What do we know now after these depositions, these secret depositions? Now, people watching at home might now know that in the secret depositions which apparently no one else is allowed to hear -- no members are allowed to participate, it's just secret apparently. Sounds like it's just me and the witness. Only over 100 members of Congress are able to participate in those secret depositions, and the minority was just so unable to participate they got the same time they got in these open hearings, it was the same format.

That was the secret star chamber that you've been hearing so much about. So what have we learned through these depositions and through the testimony? Because so much of this is really undisputed.

We learned that a dedicated public servant Marie Yovanovitch, known for fighting corruption, widely respected throughout the diplomatic core was ruthlessly smeared by Rudy Giuliani, by the president's own son, by their friends on Fox primetime and a whole host of other characters. Her reputation was sullied, so they could get her out of the way, which they did.

[16:05:00] And you're right, it was gratuitous, the president could have gotten rid of her any time he wanted -- but that's not enough for this president. No, he has to smear and destroy those that get in his way and someone fighting corruption in Ukraine was getting in his way, so she's gone. She's gone.

And this makes way -- almost immediately thereafter she leaves the three amigos come in. The three amigos -- two of whom never made the connection that Burisma means Biden.

It took Tim Morrison all of 30 seconds on Google to figure that out, but we're to believe, I guess that in all the companies in all the world that Rudy Giuliani just happens to be interested in this one? That's absurd.

The interest, of course was in an investigation of Donald Trump's rival, the one that he apparently feared the most and they were willing to do whatever was necessary to get Ukraine to do that dirty work, to do that political investigation.

And so it began, we're not going to set up a phone call until you make certain commitments, that was Ambassador Sondland's testimony, the first quid pro quo was actually just getting on the phone with President Trump. And then there was the quid pro quo involving the White House meeting. And witness after witness -- and none of my colleagues contested this, talked about just how important that meeting was to the president of Ukraine and why they're at war with Russia, and their most important ally is the United States -- and the most important person in the United States for that relationship is the president of the United States.

And if President Zelensky can show that he has a good relationship with the president of the United States -- it means to his people that this new president has the support of their most important patron, and it means to the Russians that we have their back.

This president -- this new president who is negotiating with a far superior power that has invaded his country is going in to negotiation with Putin over how to resolve this conflict whether he has good leverage or lousy leverage depends on whether the Russians think he has a relationship with the president.

And the president wouldn't give him that, not without getting something in return -- wouldn't give him that official act that White House meeting without getting something in return, and that return was investigations of his rival that would help his reelection. An official act for something of clear value, and something very important -- the big stuff, as Sondland explained to you, Mr. Holmes, to help his campaign.

Now we also heard abundant testimony about the other quid pro quo, the withholding of security assistance which no one can explain. There's no debate among my colleagues, everyone in the NSC, in the State Department, the Defense Department -- everyone supported this, everyone.

All the reviews that needed to be done to make sure that Ukraine was meeting its anti-corruption standards hadn't been done, and they had found to meet the criteria the aid should have been released but was withheld and no one could understand or get a clear explanation for why.

Until it became clear to everyone, it's all about the investigations -- it's all about the leverage. And if there was any doubt about it, the man closest to the president, who meets with him every day, Mick Mulvaney erased all doubt.

You're darn right -- yes, we talked about the 2016 election investigation. And yes, this was in the context of holding up the military aid and you know, "just get used to it," or "just get over it," or whatever it was he said -- because that's how we roll, those are my words, not his. But that's the import. Yeah there's going to be politics and just get over it.

Well if we care about the big stuff we can't just get over it. Now my colleagues have had a lot of defenses to all of this evidence which has piled up day, after day, after day and it's amazing. They hear you testify, Mr. Holmes and it was clear that the security assistance was being withheld. It was clear to all of the Americans, it was clear to the Ukrainians. You testified Ukrainians felt pressure, they still feel pressure to this day. And one of my colleagues saying the same hearing, I mean, I guess they're not listening. The Ukrainians felt no pressure, there's no evidence they felt pressure.

Which gets in to their next defense which it's all hearsay -- it's all hearsay. Now, most of my colleagues I guess are not lawyers. Lawyers out there understand just how wrong they are about what hearsay is, but let's just discuss this in terms that all people can understand.

[16:10:00] The impression they would have you take from it's all hearsay is, because we in this committee were not in that ward room (ph) with you, Dr. Hill, we were not in that meeting earlier with Dr. Bolton that -- because we're not in the room, it's all hearsay.

After all, you're relating what you heard and you were saying it -- so it must be hearsay, and therefore we don't really have to think about it, do we? We don't have to consider that you have direct evidence that this meeting in the White House was being withheld because the president wanted these meetings -- these investigations, we can't accept that.

Well if that were true, you could never present any evidence in court unless the jury was also in the ward room (ph), that's absurd. They don't accept the documentary evidence, all the text messages about quid pro quos -- and are we really saying, and that's crazy. And my worst nightmare is the Russians will get it and I'll quit (ph).

They don't accept the documents, the few documents that we have from the State Department that weren't produced, by the way, by the State Department where Sondland communicates directly with the Secretary of State about this investigative interest of the president.

And they don't accept the documents either, I guess the documents are also hearsay. Now, it might be a little more convincing if they were joining us in demanding that the documents would be produced, but of course they're not.

And we know why not, because the documents are like that one we saw on the screen -- they implicate others including Secretary Pompeo. So of course Donald Trump and Secretary Pompeo don't want us to see those documents. But apparently it's all hearsay.

Even when you actually hear the President, Mr. Holmes, that's hearsay. We can't rely on people saying what the President said, apparently we can only rely on what the President says and there we shouldn't even rely on that, either.

We shouldn't really rely on what the President said in the call record, we should imagine he said something else, we should imagine he said something about actually fighting corruption instead of what he actually said, which was I want you to do us a favor, though, I want you to look into this 2016 Crowdstrike conspiracy theory and I want you to look into the Bidens. I guess we're not even supposed to rely on that because that's hearsay. Well that's absurd. That would be like saying you can't rely on the testimony of the burglars during Watergate because it's only hearsay or you can't consider the fact that they tried to break in because they got caught -- they actually didn't get what they came for so, you know, kind of no harm, no foul. That's absurd -- that's absurd.

But the other -- the other defense besides it failed, the scheme failed, they got caught, the other defense is the President denies it. Well I guess that's case closed, right? The President says really, quite spontaneously -- it's not as if he was asked in this way -- no quid pro quo. What do you want from Ukraine? No -- no quid pro quo. This is the I'm not a crook defense. You say it and I guess that's the end of it.

Well the only thing we can say is that it's not so much that the situation is different in turn of -- terms of Nixon's conduct and Trump's conduct, what we've seen here is far more serious than a third rate burglary of the Democratic headquarters. What we're talking about here is the withholding of recognition in that White House meeting, the withholding of military aid to an ally at war. That is beyond anything Nixon did.

The difference between then and now is not the difference between Nixon and Trump, it's the difference between that Congress and this one. And so we -- we are asking where is Howard Baker -- where is Howard Baker? Where are the people who are willing to go beyond their party, to look to their duty?

[16:15:00] I -- I was struck by Colonel Vindman's testimony because he said that he acted out of duty. What is our duty here? That's what we need to be asking, not using metaphors about balls and strikes or our team and your team -- I've heard my colleagues use those metaphors. This should be about duty, what is our duty?

We are -- and this gets to Mr. Heck's point -- we -- we are the indispensable nation, we still are. People look to us from all over the world -- journalists from their jail cells in Turkey, victims of mass extrajudicial (ph) killing in the Philippines, people who gathered in Tahrir Square wanting a representative government, people in China who are Uyghurs, people in Ukraine who want a better future, they look to us.

They're not going to look to the Russians, they're not going to look to the Chinese, they can't look to Europe with all of its problems. They still look to us and increasingly they don't recognize what they see because what they see is Americans saying don't engage in political prosecutions and what they say back is oh, you mean like the Bidens and the Clintons that you want us to investigate? What they see, they don't recognize.

And that is a -- a terrible tragedy for us but it's a greater tragedy for the rest of the world. Now I -- I happen to think that when the founders provided a mechanism in the Constitution for impeachment, they were worried about what might happen if someone unethical took the highest office in the land and used it for their personal gain and not because of deep care about the big things that should matter, like our national security and our defense and our allies and what the country stands for. I happen to think that's why they put that remedy in the Constitution and I think we need to consult our conscience and our constituents and decide whether that remedy is appropriate here, whether that remedy is necessary here.

And as you know, notwithstanding what my colleagues said, I resisted going down this path for a long time but I will tell you why I could resist no more and it came down to this, it came down to -- actually came down to timing. It came down to the fact that the day after Bob Mueller testified -- the day after Bob Mueller testified that Donald Trump invited Russian interference -- hey Russia, if you're listening, come get Hillary's e-mails and later that day, they tried to hack her server, the day after he testified that not only did Trump invite that interference but that he welcomed the help in the campaign, they made full use of it, they lied about it, they obstructed the investigation into it and all of this is in his testimony and his report, the day after that, Donald Trump is back on the phone asking another nation to involve itself in another U.S. election.

That says to me this President believes he is above the law, beyond accountability, and in my view, there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical President who believes they are -- are above the law. And I would just say to people watching here at home and around the world, in the words of my great colleague, we are better than that. Adjourned.

(APPLAUSE)

[16:19:19]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN's special coverage of the public hearings in the impeachment investigation. I'm Jake Tapper live in Washington, D.C., where two witnesses testified today that it was clear to them that President Trump was pressuring Ukraine to open investigations into Burisma, the company, and the Bidens, if Ukraine wanted a White House meeting.

David Holmes, a political adviser at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, says that he heard President Trump on the phone with the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, directly asking if Ukrainian President Zelensky was going to do the investigation.

And Dr. Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, testified that it became apparent to her that President Trump's push to investigate Burisma meant investigating the Bidens.

[16:20:10]

Let's discuss.

What do you think was the most important thing that you heard from Fiona Hill today, Dana Bash?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If I may, I want to answer that on the substance and then quickly on the style. Cancer on the presidency is what our now colleague coined during the

Nixon administration.

TAPPER: John Dean, during Watergate, yes.

BASH: Domestic political errand is going to be the three words that we remember I think from this round of impeachment hearings from all of these witnesses. She took this whole big story about names and about dates and about meetings and she distilled it to what the Democrats are trying to get at. And she did it from the perspective not as a Democrat, but from the perspective of somebody who went into a Republican administration, a controversial one for people in the foreign policy community, Fiona Hill, decided to do it because she wanted to use her Russia expertise to help the president and his administration.

So that is the way that she described what she -- her a-ha moment when she realized in the course of one of these meetings was going on by all of these players that we have seen for the past week around her and the regular lines of the National Security Council.

TAPPER: Now, tell us about her style. What do you think was important about that?

BASH: And if I may just really quickly.

TAPPER: Yes.

BASH: The other important thing is John Bolton. The man we didn't hear from, the man she worked for, the way she described such detail in a very clearly prepared way, the way he reacted, stiffening his spine, coming into the office, telling her to write the notes, going to the national security council lawyer, the way that she described that it is as if she was bringing him in, even though he refused to testify.

And then on her style, look, these hearings --

TAPPER: Hold on one second, the Republicans, we're going to listen in.

BASH: Yes.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Look, this is -- I think it's been clear from the start, this is not about the facts. We saw that yesterday, the facts are very clear. The witness yesterday, Ambassador Sondland, said unless there was an announcement of an investigation, there would be no call, no meeting, no money.

And, of course, the Ukrainians got the call, they got the meeting and they got the security assistance dollars and there never was an announcement of an investigation. So this is not about the facts. This is about I think what Nancy Pelosi said, the speaker of the House, said Sunday when she said she called the president of the United States an impostor. Democrats never got over the fact that this new guy has never been in

this town, never been in politics, this new guy came in here and has shaken this place up and that drives them crazy. They never accepted the will of 63 million Americans. They never accepted the fact that Donald Trump won an Electoral College landslide and they're trying to do everything they can, and it was first FBI investigation, then it was the Mueller investigation, now it is this.

They're trying to do everything they can to -- as Mr. Green, Democrat Representative Al Green said impeach him because they know he's going to win re-election. So, that's -- that's the unfortunate position they put our country in.

I thought Dr. Hill's statement where she said, we got to quit this kind of stuff that is tearing our country apart, that is so true. What is happening is not good for our culture, not good for our nation, and yet the Democrats do not care, they are bound and determined to do whatever it takes to get out after this president and I think the American people see through it, they see that the facts are on the president's side and they know this process has been entirely unfair and frankly I don't know where it goes next, I don't know what they got planned, we'll just have to wait and see and we'll take some questions.

REPORTER: Mr. Jordan, all of these allegations, you say, they haven't gotten past the election, trying to create this narrative --

(CROSSTALK)

JORDAN: I'm not creating a narrative. That's a fact, Chad. Did she say it? Did Nancy Pelosi call the president of the United States an impostor? How is helpful to our country? How is that not tearing our country apart as Dr. Hill just said?

REPORTER: He said equally bad things about her.

JORDAN: He didn't call her an impostor. She got elected speaker of the house. He got elected the president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: But the point is, you guys have to establish a narrative. Every time --

(CROSSTALK)

JORDAN: We don't have to establish any narrative, Chad. The facts are on our side. The facts are -- the facts are on the president's side. The truth is on the president's side.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) everything alleged in there didn't happen, not true, how do you get past -- even if you disagree with what the Democrats found, how do you get past that and pitch what your argument is?

JORDAN: Did you watch the hearing yesterday? REPORTER: I didn't hear --

JORDAN: I asked Senator Sondland, when did it happen? And, of course, he said, when did what happen?

The announcement had to happen before you got the call and meeting and the money. He said there was no announcement. That says it all, right? That says it all.

How can -- remember when this call came out they said there is go to be a quid pro quo, haven't seen it.

[16:25:02]

Not there.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Jordan, today, Fiona Hill testified and rejected very strongly the notion that Ukraine may have meddled in the 2016 election. She said this is a fictional narrative that's been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.

Are you willing to accept her testimony?

JORDAN: Well, look, we all know that Russia meddled in the election. But that's not to say Ukraine didn't try to influence the election. That's the words we have used all along with the -- the member of parliament. Mr. Lutsenko said the vast majority of Ukrainian politicians want Hillary Clinton to win, and they took actions to help her win, in statements and op-eds and things they did.

Now, is that on the same level as what Russia did? We never alleged that. It's not. But it still happened and for them to just dismiss it out of hand makes no sense. It still happened --

(CROSSTALK)

RAJU: -- actually helping Russia by trying to pin the blame on Ukraine.

JORDAN: You know what she said today, when I asked her, I said, was the Steele dossier a rabbit hole in the deposition? She says, yes, it was a rabbit hole. Christopher Steele got played and we know that was the biggest, biggest example of what you just brought up, Manu. That was the biggest example of how Russians try to impact the election because that document that he put together where he got played, running down a rabbit hole, the FBI used it to spy on American citizen.

Why are you concerned about that? That's the biggest -- the fact that happened in this country is so darn wrong, but it did and our FBI did it and when they couldn't find anything, Bob Mueller spent 2 1/2 years doing the same darn thing, he didn't find anything either.

So now they come to this? That's what's happened.

RAJU: You're not accepting the explanation.

JORDAN: The answer I just gave you.

REPORTER: Mr. Jordan, Dr. Hill testified also today that she did not find credible -- Ambassador Sondland didn't make a link between Burisma and the Bidens. Do you agree with this?

JORDAN: Doesn't change the facts. Whether she is right or he's right, doesn't change the facts. There was no quid pro quo. You can't just have we presume, this was the case, it didn't happen.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): And then spent four or five hours refuting the fact that the quid pro quo that he talked about in his opening statement, in fact was all based on guesses and presumptions and no facts.

REPORTER: Rudy Giuliani was acting on the express direction of the president of the United States. That was his presumption.

MEADOWS: That was his perception, that's correct.

REPORTER: Mr. Jordan, it certainly seems despite all the work you've done, that the Democrats are going to impeach the president in the House. Do you view this -- I mean, is this going to be a failure on your part to protect the president from having that happen?

JORDAN: Well, I think that was probably determined a week and a half ago on the vote. But I thought the telling sign from that vote that day was two Democrats voted with Republicans. Every single Republican understands what this is for, how wrong this is, and so did two Democrats.

So, we'll see what -- if they ever vote here in the next few weeks, we'll see. If they go to Judiciary, what happens to that committee, then when it goes to the floor, we don't know what the articles are going to be, but when that all plays out, we'll see what the final vote is.

But the real vote -- the real vote is the one that's going to happen in 11-1/2 months. That's the vote that matters.

We got to go, thank you.

MEADOWS: Thanks, guys.

TAPPER: All right. That was Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio and Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina giving their best spin on the testimony we heard today, as well as the larger narrative that Republicans are presenting to the public.

Dana Bash, let's go back to where we were talking about and Fiona Hill's testimony, you wanted to make a point about the style and I want to ask John King about the other gentleman who testified.

BASH: Well, what I was going to say is that it doesn't happen in Washington to watch a witness please both parties simultaneously as well as she did. And that wasn't her goal to please. That's her walking out.

TAPPER: Yes, that's Dr. Fiona Hill and David Holmes walking out of the Capitol after the hearing.

John King, what was the most important part of David Holmes' testimony, do you think in.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For the Democrats, as someone who heard the voice of the president of the United States saying, is he going to do the investigations the day after the Trump- Zelensky call at the restaurant in Kiev, where Ambassador Sondland apparently holding the phone out, David Holmes said he could hear clearly the president of the United States asking. is he going to do the investigations?

There have been throughout the Republican rebuttals of this or trying, dismissals of it, you can't tie this to the president. So, having a fact witness and experienced diplomat, I heard the president, and then in this follow-up conversation, he says Sondland told him president doesn't care about Ukraine, using a more colorful language, he cares about the investigation of the Bidens. That is the Democrats billed their case is critical to get firsthand from the president that this was important to him.

I think the bigger dynamic of the day and you can tell by Chairman Schiff's summary at the end, this is decision time for the Democrats. There are no more public hearings scheduled and there is great -- pressure might not be the right word, impetus from the speaker's office to move this along. So, now, they have to go, the intelligence community writes a report on what they've heard, unless they decide suddenly to add new witnesses, sends it to the Judiciary Committee and we'll be around this table relatively soon talking about articles of impeachment.

TAPPER: Michael Gerhardt, as an expert of impeachment, what have the Democrats and the witnesses presented conclusively in your view and is any of that a crime?