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Sondland: "Everyone" Knew of Quid Pro Quo with Ukraine; Pentagon Official: Ukraine Knew Military Aid Frozen in July. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired November 21, 2019 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings. It is Thursday, November 21st, 5:00 here in New York.

And in the next few hours, we will hear from the final two witnesses in the public impeachment hearings. At least we think those are the final witnesses, but anything can happen. Wednesday brought some major revelations, courtesy of the ambassador at the center of this controversy, Gordon Sondland. He explicitly tied Donald Trump and other top administration officials to the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate President Trump's rival.

Today, Fiona Hill, a former top official with the National Security Council, will testify. Along with State Department official David Holmes. Now, Holmes, you'll remember, overheard that phone call between Sondland and President Trump at a restaurant in Kiev. Hill says that former national security adviser John Bolton told her he did not want to be involved in Rudy Giuliani's drug deal over Ukraine.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's talk Gordon Sondland, shall we? Sources say his opening statement blindsided the White House and Republican lawmakers.

He unequivocally stated there was an explicit quid pro quo to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would help the president's campaign. He unequivocally stated that his actions were at the direction of the president. He unequivocally stated that everyone was in the loop -- everyone, the president, vice president, secretary of state. Everyone.

This morning, there's much of a question about what happened, and much more of a question about do Republicans care? The presidential candidates on the Democratic side do. This was a big subject during the debate overnight. Much more on that in just a moment.

We begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill.

It's hard to imagine anything more stunning than we saw yesterday, Suzanne. I imagine the building is still shaking this morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you know, you could actually hear and see some of the gasps inside of the hearing room when Sondland testified. I mean, clearly, it was the most highly anticipated testimony so far. He spoke with some of the Democratic lawmakers who said he in fact delivered. It was a home run, directly linking Trump to a quid pro quo.

At the same time, Trump and his allies parsing Sondland's testimony and finding phrases that they believe clear the president.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Gordon Sondland started with a very blunt admission.

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Was there a quid pro quo? The answer is yes.

MALVEAUX: And the U.S. ambassador to the European Union says many at the highest levels at President Trump's inner circle knew about it. Sondland implicates Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

SONDLAND: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.

MALVEAUX: Sondland telling House investigators that President Trump directed him to work with Rudy Giuliani, who orchestrated the deal. conditioning Ukraine's nearly $400 million in military aid and a possible meeting at the White House with announcing investigations into his political rivals.

SONDLAND: We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.

MALVEAUX: Democrats say the abuse of power is clear.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.

MALVEAUX: Republicans maintain the president's innocence.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations, yes or no?


TURNER: So, you really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations?

SONDLAND: Other than my own presumption.

TURNER: Which is nothing. MALVEAUX: In the second hearing of the day, top Pentagon official

Laura Cooper debunking a Republican defense of the president, testifying Ukrainian officials knew there were problems with their military aid on July 25th, the same day as Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president.

LAURA COOPER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE, AND EURASIA: I would say is that, specifically, the Ukrainian embassy staff asked what is going on with Ukrainian security assistance.

MALVEAUX: President Trump emerging from the White House fighting back, reading off a marker-filled note card.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So here's my answer. I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo.

MALVEAUX: But House Democrats feel their abuse of power case against the president is getting stronger.

JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Remember, the most damning words come from the president himself. So regardless of what he told Ambassador Sondland or really anybody else, the president's own words are damning to him.



MALVEAUX: So, just in four years, two key witnesses, Dr. Fiona Hill, she's the former top Russia adviser to the president, she will debunk the theory that it was Ukraine that Russia that interfered, meddled in the 2016 presidential election. She'll make the case that Trump and Giuliani's efforts to push that investigation are illegitimate. And then David Holmes, he is the U.S. official who overheard that Trump phone call with Sondland, in which he says that he heard Trump say he did not care about Ukraine, but rather the so-called big stuff like investigating the Bidens -- John.

BERMAN: And he specifically remembered that the Bidens were brought up in that discussion, which is interesting --


BERMAN: -- and contradicts something that Gordon Sondland says.

Suzanne, thank you very much.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, this morning, what's the impact of Gordon Sondland's testimony? And what does it mean for some of these other proposed witnesses who have refused to show up? We'll tell you about all the implications that are developing this morning, next.



CAMEROTA: Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony puts Republicans in a tough spot this morning as the cover of the "New York Daily News" puts it "What more do you need?" is their cover, after Sondland confirmed that military aid and a White House meeting were conditioned on promises of political investigations that could help President Trump's campaign. And that President Trump directed it.

Joining us now is CNN political correspondent Abby Philip, and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

So, Gordon Sondland basically said what everyone wanted to know, yes, there was a quid pro quo, Abby. He said it unequivocally. And yes, everyone knew. He said, everyone knew. Everyone was in the loop, and, yes, it was directed by President Trump. Those are really the last outstanding questions.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. And the fact that he threw basically everyone under the bus seemed to be the objective of his testimony yesterday which was to say, I was not going rogue. This was not something that I believe to be irregular, because everybody was in on it. I was talking to Rick Perry about it. I was talking to the secretary of state about it, I was talking to Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff about it, and he really brought everybody into this, you know, into the alleged conspiracy about what they were doing leading up to that phone call.

And -- but I think he did a lot of things to really kind of damage his own credibility in the process. I mean, it did seem that he was going out of his way to make it clear that he did not -- he could not even rely really on his own memory for a lot of this information which made him a really frustrating witness. But on the key points, he was pretty clear that this was something that he believed everybody agreed upon. And it wasn't until later on that he realized that it also included the Bidens which is when he realized that allegedly -- that he realized this would be something inappropriate.

BERMAN: Elie, you know, you're a former federal prosecutor, have you ever had someone on a witness admit to something in such a short period of time. Yes, it happened. Yes, I was ordered to do it. And yes, everyone knew about it. That seems like an awful lot. You can answer that question yes or no.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, not that much that quickly. That was incredibly condensed and concentrated.

BERMAN: Which is remarkable then, I'm leading the witness here --

CAMEROTA: I can see that.

BERMAN: -- there are Republicans this morning who said, yes, not enough. So, what didn't Dan Goldman get that he wanted? What didn't Democrats get who wanted to prove the case that there was an abuse of power here?

HONIG: So, the interesting thing about Gordon Sondland is, I think it's pretty clear, he fudged the truth in Donald Trump's favor, in his own favor, yet he was still devastating to Republicans to Donald Trump. So, two examples jump out at me. One that Abby just talked about.

This notion that he's clinging to it, I didn't connect Burisma and the Bidens until much later. It's completely implausible. It's contradicted by common sense and by virtually every other witness we've seen. And I think that's way for him to soften the blow on himself and Trump.

I mean, what's the likelihood he thought they were investigating an arbitrary company for no particular reason. The other thing is it's the important exchange where Trump says no quid pro quo, to Sondland himself. Sondland reports as Trump said no quid pro quo, I want nothing.

But Tim Morrison's notes, contemporaneous notes, is that the way Sondland recorded that conversation is Trump said, I want nothing, he just need excuse me -- no quid pro quo, Zelensky just needs to get to say mic and announce these investigations. Very different. The latter is way more damaging to Trump. But -- and I think way more plausible that it is the way Morrison said, not the way Sondland said.

CAMEROTA: By the way, I think President Trump's denial of no quid pro quo would be a lot more convincing if it had happened the day before Congress announced its investigations, which it is.

BERMAN: For a -- for a quid pro quo.

CAMEROTA: For a quid pro quo, rather than the day after Congress announced it. This -- you know, President Trump only said no quid pro quo like that as Elie told us, after he knew that Congress was investigating it.

PHILLIP: And, I mean, this idea that somehow Trump is going to say on the phone, yes, I want a quid pro quo and that is all that is required in order to know if there was one or not is -- it defies belief. I mean, the reality is, everything that was being described by Ambassador Sondland and by a lot of the other witnesses was essentially a quid pro quo.


Basically everyone agrees on the facts, which is that the White House or that the president and Giuliani wanted Zelensky to go publicly, somewhere publicly, either on camera, or in a public statement to say that he was investigating Burisma in 2016, and essentially investigating the Bidens. Everybody agrees on that, and that the aid was held up inexplicably until those things were given.

And so, the fact that the president didn't say it is completely irrelevant.

BERMAN: And I think this morning was happening, is to a large extent, the world is getting caught up in the smaller points, in the smaller moments, but the big picture is just crystal at this point, or the picture that has been painted in this testimony. And so, I think the big picture questions are, there's the political and we'll have plenty to talk about over the course of this morning, but where does the case go next, Elie? And I do think there are questions now about Mick Mulvaney, about Mike Pompeo, about John Bolden, and about the documentary evidence that impeachment investigators are trying to get.

Does it make the need to get these people greater, and perhaps increase the likelihood that Democrats what tonight try?

HONIG: Absolutely. To me, most important line of the day from Gordon Sondland was everyone was in the loop. And he had the documents to back it up. Those emails that he had for himself. Now, we know the State Department or administration is holding on to the bulk of those emails.

CAMEROTA: And denying him the right to see even his own correspondence.

HONIG: Exactly, which -- and I think Democrats did a really good job yesterday of drawing out just how important it is that the documents are being withhold, and the primary witnesses are being withheld. The people who could answer the key questions who had the conversation with Donald Trump before he was caught, before he was making a record, there are people who are hiding or being hidden, Mulvaney, Pompeo. So, you know, everyone is on the loop is to me the biggest takeaway.

PHILLIP: It's also very problematic that many of those individuals have put out statements in the last day refuting some of the witnesses who were testifying under oath. It's one thing to say I don't want to give credibility to this and then to also put out statements without being willing to testify.

CAMEROTA: Right, and those statements they're putting up are not under oath, we should say.

PHILLIP: They're not under oath.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Elie, thank you very much. So, in just hours, lawmakers will hear directly from the official who overheard President Trump talking about the investigations with Ambassador Sondland. How important is this testimony? And what else do we expect today?



BERMAN: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings.

The two final witnesses to testify, at least this week, that we know of, about to happen in a few hours. State Department official David Holmes, he is the person who overheard President Trump asking Ambassador Gordon Sondland about the investigations that he wanted from Ukraine's new leader. And former National Security Council official Fiona Hill was present when Gordon Sondland presented the idea of the quid pro quo to the Ukrainians. Back with us now, Abby Phillip and Elie Honig.

I know what these two witnesses say because we've read their depositions and I understand what they add to it. But why are they necessary at this point? Why are they necessary given everything that we've now heard?

HONIG: Yes. So, they're both supporting two separate critical points. Fiona Hill I think is central to the idea, first of all, of the centrality of the lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, and she drives home the point. Maybe it doesn't need to be further driven.

But what on earth was he doing there and what a problem he was for the real diplomats, the real foreign service people who were running this. And Pat Cipollone also I think is interesting. And that's -- her testimony is relevant to that.

She put in a complaint when she learned about what was going on. It went up to the NSC lawyer Eisenberg who is not testifying, hiding away. And said she brought it to Cipollone. Now, again, neither of these guys are going to testify but there's real questions about what did they do and what happened.

And then with Holmes, I mean, look, Holmes' testimony comes down to one word, investigations. He can put the word "investigations" in Donald Trump's mouth.

PHILLIP: And Bidens potentially.

HONIG: Right.

CAMEROTA: What about that?

PHILLIP: The thing that Holmes testifies to that Sondland denies that is that when Sondland got off the phone and explained what the president wanted, he basically -- he specified, he only cares about the big stuff. And the big stuff being investigations into Burisma and the Bidens. And Sondland denies that happened but we'll get the other side of that story tomorrow which I think is really going to be critically important.

And we don't know what else will come out. I mean, several of these witnesses have come to the table with new information that we have not had previously. So, you know, it's always a possibly that in the interim period between their depositions and now, they could have earned new information or recalled things or got information from their staff. That could be relevant.

BERMAN: And that struck you. I mean, Laura Cooper when she testified last night had this statement, and I learned this since my deposition. And that struck you as --

CAMEROTA: Well, on July 25th, the Ukrainians knew about the military aid being held up. She testified to that because people in her office were saying I'm getting call from the Ukrainian embassy saying where's the military aid? What's the deal with the military aid? That's July 25th.

And so, one of the things Republicans have hung their head of, if the Ukrainians didn't know there was a quid pro quo, no quid pro quo.


I'm not sure why that logic makes sense. But now, that logic makes less sense. Of course, the Ukrainians knew that the money wasn't there and she's the person that testified to that.

But let's talk about some of the things that the Ukrainians are holding -- sorry, that the Republicans are hanging their hat on. They said that Gordon Sondland testified there was no other diplomatic -- dubious diplomatic channel, second sort of back channel. He said, no, there wasn't.

He's the ambassador. What they mean is Rudy Giuliani. How else do you classify what Rudy Giuliani was doing around the globe?

HONIG: He doesn't think it was dubious because he's part of it. He thinks that he's on the good guys team.

But, I mean, common sense. Look at who got shut out. Yovanovitch got removed. Essentially got shut out, and instead, they gave this to Sondland, who's the E.U. ambassador. Ukraine is not part of the E.U., and Volker and Rudy.

Rudy -- you know, Rudy is the guy who I think is going to get squeezed as a result of yesterday, because there's no question there was a quid pro quo out there in the ethers. It's just a question who's it going to land on. And Trump is going to have to -- Republicans are going to have to, they're already starting to do this and say, Rudy went rogue. This was all Rudy is doing, Trump got left out of the loop.

BERMAN: The problem with that is Rudy Giuliani has made clear from the beginning that I was working on behalf of my client and only my client.


PHILLIP: has to do.

HONIG: And Trump has said -- Trump has said -- Trump has said Rudy very much knows what's happening. That's what Trump said to Zelensky.

BERMAN: But to your point, Elie, and this is interesting because I spoken to a number of Republicans and one of the questions I asked is, how far are you willing to stick your neck out for Rudy Giuliani? And the answer is zero.


BERMAN: Now, that's grammatically incorrect. But the answer is zero. We are willing to stick our necks out, zero for Rudy Giuliani.

And you heard yesterday, Steve Castor, the Republican counsel, ask a question during the hearings, were you aware that Rudy Giuliani had financial interests in Ukraine?


That was an -- that was a little bit of an eyebrow-raising moment because it was interesting that the Republican counsel decided to bring that up which seems to suggest as we've been talking about that there is a money trail that needs to be followed here. And then Rudy Giuliani responded on Twitter saying I can't believe that he brought this up. I've never dealt -- I've never had business dealings in Ukraine.

CAMEROTA: Yes, he has. Yes, he has.

PHILLIP: But he's denied -- this is a real concern for him, because even while all of this impeachment stuff is happening, there is an actual criminal investigation going on into his dealings with these two individuals who are already indicted. So, Republicans are more than happy to throw Rudy Giuliani under the bus for this.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Elie, thank you for all of the information.

So, what are the Democratic candidates thinking about impeachment? We bring you the highlights of the debate last night.