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Two Witnesses in Ukraine Pressure Campaign to Testify Today; Sondland: We Followed Trump's Orders to Pressure Ukraine. Aired 6- 6:30a ET
Aired November 21, 2019 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to talk much more about the fallout from Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony. CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings continues right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wheels have now come off the cover-up.
GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO E.U.: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.
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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As every day goes by, Adam Schiff and the Democrats' wishful thinking for impeachment crumbles.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Anyone who wants to give me a big donation, don't ask to be an ambassador.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Black voters are worried. We don't want to see people miss this opportunity.
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not have the experience of having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is a special edition of NEW DAY, CNN's special coverage of the impeachment hearings. It is -- what is it? Thursday?
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Six o'clock now, in case you're wondering.
BERMAN: Did I say 6?
CAMEROTA: No, I'm just telling you. Not like you need to know.
BERMAN: I don't know what day it is. I don't know what time it is. I don't know anything other than we're in the middle of the impeachment hearings, and there's so much to discuss.
In just a few hours, investigators will hear the final two witnesses this week in the televised impeachment hearings. We don't know if there are more to come.
Both of the witnesses will say they were alarmed at how the president's foreign policy was being conducted in regards to Ukraine.
Fiona Hill is a former presidential adviser and an expert on Russian and European issues. She says the former national security advisor, John Bolton, told her he didn't want to be involved in any drug deal over Ukraine.
Also testifying is David Holmes. He is a top adviser in the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. He is the one who overheard the phone call between President Trump and the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, during which the president asked about the status of an investigation. Holmes, in addition to saying that President Zelensky "loves your ass" to the president, also said that the president was referring to investigations into the Bidens.
CAMEROTA: You had to squeeze that in.
BERMAN: I was introducing it into evidence.
CAMEROTA: I could see that.
Ambassador Sondland gave stunning testimony yesterday directly implicating President Trump in an abuse of power scheme. He told lawmakers there was a quid pro quo, and it came at the expressed direction of the president.
He also said everyone was in the loop, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Vice President Mike Pence.
The impeachment drama also figured prominently at last night's debate. Senator Cory Booker, one of the ten candidates on the stage in Atlanta, will join us later this hour.
But let's begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She is live on Capitol Hill with our top story -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
Well, eyes were raised. You saw gasps. You could see and clearly hear gasps from Sondland's testimony, by far, the most highly anticipated testimony.
I've spoken to several Democratic lawmakers who said that he, in fact, delivered, that it was bombshell testimony that directly linked President Trump to a quid pro quo. At the same time, Trump and his allies parsing Sondland's testimony,
taking bits and pieces which they believe clear the president.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Gordon Sondland started with a very blunt admission.
SONDLAND: 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 of 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.
SCHIFF: It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.
MALVEAUX: Republicans maintained the president's innocence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one on this planet told you that President Trump was tying aid to investigations. Yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 25, 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 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 notecard.
DONALD TRUMP (R), 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.
REP. 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 three hours away to testify, Dr. Fiona Hill, the former top Russian adviser to Trump, who will actually reject the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2006 [SIC] presidential election.
And also, David Holmes. He is the one who overheard that Trump phone call with Sondland in which he said he did not care about Ukraine but rather so-called "big stuff" like investigating the Bidens -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Suzanne. Thank you very much for setting all of that up for us.
Explosive testimony from the Gordon -- from Gordon Sondland, telling lawmakers that the quid pro quo with Ukraine was at the direction of President Trump. What does this mean for the next stage of the impeachment investigation?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SONDLAND: I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That is the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testifying that everyone knew about the quid pro quo with Ukraine and that he was following orders from President Trump in all of this.
Joining us now is CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She's a White House correspondent for "The New York Times." And CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart. He was President Clinton's former press secretary.
I want to paraphrase to you something that just came out from "Politico," which suggests how Gordon Sondland upended so many of the Republican arguments yesterday.
Politico says, "First, Republicans said there wasn't a quid pro quo. Now Sondland says, of course there was a quid pro quo. Second, Republicans said that Trump didn't ask for an investigation into the Bidens but, rather, cared about corruption. Well, after the Gordon Sondland testimony and other evidence, there's no evidence he ever brought up corruption, and a lot of evidence, including the Trump phone call, that he talked about just the Bidens. And lastly, Republicans have been saying for months that it was not -- it couldn't be a quid pro quo, since Ukraine didn't know the aid was being frozen. But Laura Cooper testified yesterday that on July 25, Ukrainians were asking about the frozen aid."
"Politico" goes on to say, Joe, that Democrats are getting everything they want out of these hearings. Are they? Is this what Democrats want, and what more do they need?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think if -- if they had a magic wand, they'd bring John Bolton in, and they'd bring in Pompeo. But they're not going to get that.
So I kind of agree with the assessment they've gotten all of the pieces. And, you know, the biggest argument the Republicans are now using, after everything's been destroyed, is there's no direct evidence from the president.
But they forget to mention that we started with a confession, the Zelensky call, where out of Trump's mouth, he said, "We need you to do you [SIC] a favor, though."
So I think Democrats have done this as well as they can, given the limitations. I don't know that they're sitting, you know, in the House Democratic caucus now thinking they've swayed Republican senators, but they have put this squarely on Trump, who in just a few months, has to face the voters.
CAMEROTA: Hey, Maggie, yesterday we talked about how Ambassador Gordon Sondland was a wild card, and nobody knew exactly what he would say. And his testimony was a bit of a mixed bag yesterday. So how did it go over in the White House?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So look, Alisyn, as you know well, this White House is pretty equipped at taking a loss and saying it was a win.
They had tried unsuccessfully to try to find out what Gordon Sondland was going to say ahead of time. His opening statement, which was -- was pretty damning and, frankly, more damning than many other points of his testimony, his opening statement did shatter a lot of the arguments that Republicans have been making about why the president's conduct is not impeachable or not problematic or not, you know, irregular in any way. But the White House was able to take, just as you saw, Donald Trump
take a couple of words from the Mueller report, which said that there was not a finding of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in 2016, and use that to say total exoneration.
The president took a phrase that Gordon Sondland had yesterday in describing a conversation that he had with the president where he president said he didn't want a quid pro quo and then went on to say, "I just want them to do the right thing." And "I want nothing" was a piece of that. And he used that to say, See, this is what Sondland said I said, and that was all totally fine. And you're going to hear that a lot.
BERMAN: You are going to hear it a lot, no doubt. One thing you will hear Democrats say in response to that is the date on which the president said that.
CAMEROTA: I mean, you don't have to be a Democrat to say that. You just need a calendar.
HABERMAN: Right, right. But I guess my point is it doesn't matter.
BERMAN: Oh, no.
HABERMAN: We have been doing -- we've been doing a version of this for three years.
BERMAN: And that is the most important phrase this morning, I think. "And it doesn't matter." Of course, and it doesn't matter to whom is the --
HABERMAN: Well, so far it doesn't matter to voters, and it doesn't matter to Republican members.
To Joe's point, I mean, if these -- if these Democrats could wave a magic wand, they would absolutely get the additional witnesses that would push this over the edge and, I think, make it impossible to say that up is down and black is white. But they're not going to get that any time soon, it doesn't look like, unless a court rules they can.
You saw Will Hurd yesterday. I know you talked about this before. That was really striking. Will Hurd, who is hardly a Republican in lock step with this administration, someone who is retiring from Congress. And he still was not doing anything to suggest that he thought there was a massive problem in his line of questioning. He was essentially cauterizing a wound for the president. And as long as the Republicans see that, I don't think they're worried.
BERMAN: Right. Because it's not about the evidence to them --
BERMAN: -- at this point, Joe. It just doesn't seem that it matters what happened or how much you prove what happened. They just don't care. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, they have a strategy here. And their
strategy is that this is a threat to them. And the way to get through this is to make sure you lock down your base. And then it'll be over eventually, and then they'll go and try to get the difference.
But, you know, let me modify what Maggie said on voters don't care. Trump voters don't care, and I think that's what she meant.
HABERMAN: Yes, that is what I meant. That is what I meant.
LOCKHART: That the people in the middle -- Democrat, you know, they've made up their mind.
LOCKHART: There's nothing that can happen in these hearings that they're going to say, Aha, maybe he didn't do this.
It's that 10 or 15 percent in between that are going to decide the next election who are watching this; they do care. And this is incredibly damaging to the president.
CAMEROTA: Well, I think --
HABERMAN: We don't know how much they care is the only thing that I would say. And to be -- I'm not -- I'm not offering -- I'm not offering a "but on the other hand." I think it remains to be seen how much they care and whether it's going to be decisive in how they vote when there is a binary.
BERMAN: And I would just submit this final piece into the evidence here.
CAMEROTA: Please, Counselor.
BERMAN: Which is that we are finding out more. If a goal in an impeachment inquiry and if a goal in journalism is to find out as much as you can --
BERMAN: -- we are finding out more. A lot more.
HABERMAN: No question.
BERMAN: About what happened here. And that is important in and of itself.
HABERMAN: Easily so.
BERMAN: If Republican House members don't want to care about it, that's up to them. If swing voters in certain states want to care about it, that's up to them. But we're finding out more and more every day. And it all points to the same conclusion. CAMEROTA: Well, as a journalist, I appreciate that. But was Nancy
Pelosi's goal to peel off some Republicans, to think that some Republicans -- or even in the Senate; that by presenting all of this that some Republicans would come around? Wasn't that Democrats' goal? Or was that never the goal, Joe?
LOCKHART: Well, I think she -- she said she didn't want to do this if it wasn't bipartisan. I think she wanted to do this to expose. So her primary goal was to make sure that this case was presented to the American public. They will decide if they care or not. I agree with Maggie. I think she knew in her heart she was not going to get a lot of Republicans. I think -- I think she's disappointed that the party opposite has just blown off all of this evidence and doesn't care.
BERMAN: Well, say hypothetically, just because you could hypothetically abuse power and get away with it doesn't mean that the abuse of power should be exposed as fulsomely as it should be. I think there is that argument to be made.
We have much more to discuss. And I do think the witnesses today get to the points that we've just been talking about. Trying to learn more about what actually happened and the impact of the actions. Stay with us.
CAMEROTA: All right. We're hours away from the final witnesses to testify this week in the impeachment hearings. At least we think they're the final witnesses.
BERMAN: Well, the final ones this week, I think is pretty safe to say.
CAMEROTA: Well, I want to know if they're the final ones at all. So back with us, Maggie Haberman and Joe Lockhart.
Is this it, Maggie? After we hear from Fiona Hill and David Holmes, is the impeachment inquiry wrapping up?
HABERMAN: I don't think we know yet, Alisyn. You know, we didn't expect a lot of the witnesses who are here this week last week, right? So I think that we just don't know who else might emerge. We don't know whether the court cases are going to be expedited that could have an impact on people like John Bolton, who has made clear through others that he is willing to testify and has things to say if the court says that he can.
So I think we don't quite know yet where this goes as we head into the holiday.
BERMAN: Yes. And I do have to say, after listening to Gordon Sondland yesterday shine a spotlight on these other individuals, it's still curious to me that Democrats don't fight to get John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney or the documents that are being withheld from them. It seems to me it might be worth it, given what the testimony has been.
LOCKHART: Well, I think there's one small chance that -- that Bolton may come, because we're expecting a ruling on Monday in the Don McGahn case. And they're making the same basic argument about, you know, whether congressional subpoenas are valid.
So if the judge rules in favor of the Democrats there, and McGahn is compelled to testify, you know, that -- it'll be appealed. But Bolton might use that as an opening to say, listen, a judge said I should testify and I want to testify.
I think he's going to want to watch Fiona Hill and see, because she, in some ways, is his proxy. She's going to talk about where John Bolton was. And if he feels he needs to get in there, there is a small chance they'll see him.
CAMEROTA: Maggie, is the president consumed by these hearings? Is he watching them gavel to gavel?
HABERMAN: You know, he -- I don't know about gavel to gavel, but he's certainly watching them extensively. He did not watch the first day's hearings last week that aggressively.
But since then, you know, he watched Marie Yovanovitch pretty closely, as we know both from people around him and also from his own tweet. And that tweet alarmed a number of his advisers, because it was just -- it was literally carrying out the very thing that she was -- she was saying she felt when she learned that he had mentioned her on a call with the Ukrainian president, which was threatened.
And yesterday, he watched really closely with Sondland. And he's been very involved in directing how he thinks that the White House should be responding to this. I think that he will be watching at least part of today's testimony, and how he reacts to Fiona Hill is a -- is a real open question.
BERMAN: Is Gordon Sondland going to continue to be the ambassador to the European Union? He said he's got no intention of going anywhere. Does the White House and the president have the same intention of letting him stay?
HABERMAN: I think at the moment, they're not going to look to dismiss any witness in the impeachment inquiry. I think that they're concerned that's going to be added to potential, you know, evidence against him in the inquiry or potential articles of impeachment.
So I think that Sondland, like Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, whose job has been in jeopardy for a long time, I think both of them are safe until this process is over. And we don't know how long this process will stretch into the new year.
The president certainly felt like he had something from Sondland that he could cherry-pick and claim helped him yesterday. The totality of Sondland's testimony was in no way a help to the president. I mean, he very closely tied all of the president's top aides more directly to being aware of things.
But he also had a bunch of "I don't recalls" and "I don't know" that were of concern to Democrats and which pleased Republicans.
So I think that the White House is feeling as if they have been able to take things and twist them to their advantage. And I expect that's going to continue after today.
But Fiona Hill in the closed-door testimony brought some of the most damaging statements about the White House's actions here. So we'll see where it goes today.
CAMEROTA: Joe, as we often point out, you've seen this movie before. In fact, you've lived it before. So what strikes you now at this point, watching this inquiry unfold?
LOCKHART: Well, one is just how involved the president is. You know, President Clinton didn't even have a TV in the Oval Office. If he wanted to watch something, he had to walk out into the outer office, which was always crowded with people. So he just relied on people coming in and telling him, you know, what's going on. So --
CAMEROTA: And did you cherry-pick what information you gave him? Or you --
LOCKHART: No, we gave it to him straight and then ducked.
But you know, the -- the impeachment hearings for Clinton, all of the information was gathered during the Starr report. It was just sort of saying, Then Starr said this, then Starr said that.
This, as John was pointing out in the last segment, we're learning something every day. And every day, the case gets stronger against Trump. And that is much more dramatic than, I think, what you saw in 1998.
CAMEROTA: Maggie, Joe, thank you both very much.
All right. Ten Democratic candidates squared off last night as the impeachment hearings were consuming Washington. So who stood out? Who won? Who lost? We'll speak with voters who'll have their say.