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David Holmes Describes Overheard Call Between Trump, Sondland. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 22, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: At the end of these monumental two weeks, what do Democrats do now? NEW DAY continues right now.

[05:59:48]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FIONA HILL, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AND RUSSIAN AFFAIRS FOR NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I did say to him, "Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up."

DAVID HOLMES, POLITICAL COUNSELOR, U.S. EMBASSY IN KYIV: Ambassador Sondland said the president only cares about big stuff. Big stuff like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): The American people understand that this has been a partisan process from the start.

HILL: We're here to relate to you what we heard, what we saw, and what we did.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Like any good show trial, the verdict was decided before the trial ever began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump has waged a war on the truth in this country as no leader, including Nixon, has.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president. We are better than that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, November 22, 6 a.m. here in New York. It's been quite a week.

BERMAN: Yes. Absolutely. I mean --

CAMEROTA: I think that's safe to say.

BERMAN: Think of everything that we've heard and learned. For two weeks, technically. CAMEROTA: It has been two weeks, technically, but it feels like it's

been eons. I mean, we've learned -- we've packed so much into these historic two weeks.

Twelve witnesses, a mountain of evidence. These witnesses have testified that President Trump used U.S. military aid earmarked for Ukraine for his own political gain. One of the final witnesses, Fiona Hill, called it, quote, "a domestic political errand."

So what now for the Democrats? They appear to be trying to avoid a drawn-out fight to force testimony from some of the key Ukraine players who have refused to appear.

All signs indicate they are moving forward with articles of impeachment. They will focus on abuse of power, obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress, and bribery. A vote to impeach the president will likely happen by Christmas.

BERMAN: So looking ahead to this more-than-likely impeachment trial in the Senate, President Trump met with Republican senators at the White House to talk strategy. What would the trial by Senate look like?

According to "The Washington Post," President Trump is pushing Republican allies to dismiss the case immediately. Mitch McConnell's office says that is not going to happen, period, full stop, even if the president wants it.

And now this morning, the question is after all the evidence and testimony we've heard over the last couple of weeks, will any Republicans take those facts or think those facts matter enough to take action?

Let's begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, live on Capitol Hill this morning -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Well, it is eerily quiet here on Capitol Hill as most lawmakers have gone for the Thanksgiving recess. But House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, as well as their staff, will be working through the holiday drafting this report, making their case that they have enough evidence to impeach the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): House Democrats moving one step closer to impeaching President Trump, building their case that he orchestrated a plan to withhold military aid and dangled a White House meeting in exchange for Ukraine announcing investigations into his political rivals.

Multiple Democratic sources telling CNN they're hoping to wrap up by Christmas, including holding proceedings before the House Judiciary Committee, drawing up articles of impeachment against Trump and holding a vote on them. REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): We'll regroup next week and -- and talk

about the steps moving forward.

MALVEAUX: But their investigation has hit some road blocks, with the White House and State Department both stonewalling Democrats from accessing important documents and having access to top administration officials allegedly involved in the scheme.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): What I would like to see happen next is that Ambassador Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo do exactly what the very brave and courageous people who work for them did, which is to step forward and put patriotism for their country ahead of their own personal interests.

MALVEAUX: Still, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says they have enough evidence to press forward.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, we're not going to wait till the courts decide. We can't wait for that, because again, it's a technique. It's obstruction of justice. Obstruction of Congress.

MALVEAUX: House Republicans disagree.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think we've had enough. I think it's time to shut it down.

SCHIFF: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.

MALVEAUX: In the last hearing of the week, former White House national security official Fiona Hill described Ambassador Gordon Sondland's role in Trump's actions towards Ukraine.

HILL: He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy. And those two things had just diverged.

MALVEAUX: The White House's former top Russia adviser also dismantling Trump's debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 elections.

HILL: I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative. These fictions are harmful even if they're deployed for purely domestic political purposes.

MALVEAUX: David Holmes, an aide at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, detailing the phone conversation he overheard between Sondland and President Trump, just one day after the president's now-famous call with Ukraine's leader.

HOLMES: The president's voice was loud and recognizable. I then heard President Trump ask, so he's going to do the investigation? Ambassador Sondland replied that he's going to do it.

MALVEAUX: Holmes quoting Sondland as saying the president did not care about Ukraine. Instead, he only cared about -- [06:05:05]

HOLMES: Big stuff that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: The White House is now preparing for the inevitable. It was yesterday that Senate Republicans, several of them, met with a top White House attorney to map out their defense strategy for the Senate trial, which is likely to happen as early as next month, John.

BERMAN: Yes. January seems to be the time frame of that if the House votes on impeachment before Christmas. It's all playing out before us. It's history, Suzanne. Thank you very much.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

BERMAN: So question now is what happens. Not just the mechanics as the House moves towards impeachment, but what now for the Democrats? What are the political risks that they're taking? What are the risks that the Republicans are taking by turning away from the facts? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:10:32]

CAMEROTA: This morning House Democrats are pushing forward towards drawing up a report on their findings from this impeachment investigation.

Meanwhile, Republicans are standing behind the president despite the evidence presented by a dozen witnesses.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.

John, this morning we know so much more than we did two weeks ago when this began. We know how this scheme was orchestrated. We know who directed it. We know who was aware of it.

BERMAN: Everyone.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Everybody, yes.

CAMEROTA: OK, OK. So we didn't used to know that. So where are we, big picture?

AVLON: Bit picture, the Democrats have a very strong case to make that the president deserves impeachment. Articles that somewhat parallel, as Elie was running through, Nixon's impeachment orders of abuse, in a different order. Abuse of power, possibly obstruction, contempt of Congress. Focus on abuse of power. We have a very clear picture of what occurred through the testimonies of Trump appointees, White House aides and State Department employees. Republican strategy is, basically, to follow the White House's lead of denial.

Barring that, they'll say maybe he did it. We'll admit that, but it's not an impeachable offense.

House is -- everyone's on recess now. The House is writing up their report. Looks like they'll vote before Christmas easily. And then the Senate will take up the impeachment of the president for the third time in our history, probably sometime in January.

BERMAN: Let's play Will Hurd. He is a Republican from Texas who's leaving Congress --

AVLON: Yes.

BERMAN: -- because I think he got tired of answering questions about the president. Not a supporter of the border policy, et cetera, et cetera. People thought maybe he would be a Republican vote for impeachment. He made clear yesterday that, no, he's not. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): The use of the phrase, do us a favor, though, in reference of the 2016 presidential election and the mention of the word "Biden."

I believe both statements were inappropriate, misguided foreign policy. And it's certainly not how the executive current or in the future should handle such a call.

An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear, and unambiguous; and it's not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I've not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: There you have it.

BERMAN: "I've not heard evidence." He's basically saying, if the vote were today, I'm a no vote on impeachment. But it was inappropriate, Abby.

So again, the question -- and I think this cuts both ways. What does it say that Democrats could not get, so far, a single Republican vote for impeachment with these two weeks? What does it say about the Democrats' case, but also what are the risks for Republicans here? What are the risks, long -- maybe short-term and long-term for Republicans saying, you know what? I just don't care. Everything you've heard for the last two weeks, not enough.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really speaks to the strength of the hold that the president has on his party, that not even one of his staunchest critics in the House is willing to go so far as to say this is impeachable.

And interestingly, I was -- I was looking at some comments from "Politico" reporter Tim Alberta, who happened to be talking to Mark Sanford, who you'll remember, was actually planning to primary President Trump.

And Alberta said that Sanford told him that he wasn't convinced that -- that after seeing all the evidence, that he would vote for impeachment if he were still in the House. Mark Sanford lost his seat because -- because he opposed Trump, essentially.

So I think it's a real problem that -- that so far, the evidence seems to not have risen to the occasion for Republicans. And I think that it has -- it has to do, in large part, because the White House, basically, was -- was successful in keeping some of the more important witnesses, the people who had direct contact with the president like Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, and others from actually going forward and testifying.

And they were able to withhold thousands and thousands of documents that could have shed more light on what was going on here. And ultimately, I think that strategy has made it more difficult to get Republicans to cross that line and -- and defy the president.

And I think it's going to get so much harder in the Senate. I mean, the White House has spent weeks, really, wooing some of these Republican senators as recently as yesterday, bringing them over for a lunch now with the president. Mitt Romney was over there. Susan Collins, another moderate, was over at the White House. So they've been working on this.

And I think it's going to be, really an uphill battle. And it's all because the president is the most important and powerful and popular person in the Republican Party, and virtually no one wants to defy him on this.

[06:15:07]

AVLON: OK. Let's break it down a little bit. One of the stunning things, of course, is that Will Hurd has been a critic. Senate vote aside, two-thirds is a very high bar. We've never removed a president, despite the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, impeachment of Bill Clinton. That's -- that's a very, very high bar. It seems fairly clear we're not going to hit that.

But for Mark Sanford, who enthusiastically was part of the impeachment process against Bill Clinton for lying about an affair, to not rise to this level, that's mystifying.

For Will Hurd and for many other folks, it seems to be about two dynamics in the Republican Party: fear and greed. Fear of the president, fear of bear, and desire for future office. Whether it's running for governor or something else in the future, a fear that voting his conscience on this would basically invalidate any future in his political party. And that's a real problem, because remember what this vote is

ultimately going to be about, his vote's not going to be about the specifics of this case it contributes to. It's going to be about whether future presidents should be able to use foreign policy to ask foreign powers to investigate their domestic political rivals. That's -- that's the standard we're going to be voting on.

And it is a little stunning to me that you've seen no Republicans to date, despite overwhelming evidence, have the spine to say, this is wrong. This is clearly wrong. And we wouldn't want a Democratic president to do it.

When I think we should all acknowledge that, if a Democratic president had done this, they'd all be singing from the other script. And you'd probably be picking up a significant number of Democratic votes, as well.

PHILLIP: And in fact, most of these people voted for impeachment when it was President Bill Clinton.

AVLON: Yes.

PHILLIP: So I mean, the hypocrisy is not really that far in -- in the past, but it's just that Trump has really changed the bar on -- on presidential conduct.

But for Democrats, I think politically, this is going to be incredibly important for them as they make their case. I mean, they have to run an election next year. And I think that, regardless of what happens in the Senate, this impeachment process is going to be a big part of that.

CAMEROTA: All right. John Avlon, Abby Phillip, thank you very much.

Former national security official Fiona Hill reinforced the Democrats' case against the president and debunked many Republican conspiracy theories and/or talking points. So what did she say and how did she do it? That's next.

(begin video clip)

HILL: I'm appearing today as a fact witness, as I did during my deposition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:22:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: He was being involved in a domestic political errand. And I did say to him, "Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up." And here we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "Here we are."

CAMEROTA: Prescient.

BERMAN: Yes. Exactly.

Former White House national security official Fiona Hill condemning the administration's rogue foreign policy operation in Ukraine and warning the conspiracy theories that Republicans are pushing are hurting national security.

Back with us, Abby Phillip and John Avlon.

And what was remarkable about this is that Fiona Hill, in many ways, represented the voice of reason.

AVLON: Yes.

BERMAN: This voice saying, you need to pay attention to what happened and what is happening, Abby. She said at the beginning, "I'm an American by choice."

And then she seemed to be saying -- and I said this last hour to Congress and America, you are blowing this right now. You are blowing the American experiment by what you're doing and what you're focusing on and what you're saying.

PHILLIP: Yes.

BERMAN: Go ahead.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, taking basically, essentially, I'm sorry, Russian talking points and repurposing them as the main defense of the president.

That's what -- she seemed to come yesterday prepared for that to be the one clear message that she delivered in that chamber. That this is not a legitimate set of -- of theories that Ukraine somehow was -- was equally involved in election meddling as Russia was.

That is -- She came prepared to say that that is a fictional narrative, and it should be abandoned. And -- and I think that she was saying that, because she was warning not only about what happened in 2016, but she was saying this is still ongoing right now. This -- this whole endeavor by, you know, Giuliani and his associates to drag Ukraine into domestic U.S. politics was to the benefit of Russia.

And I think what was interesting about Fiona Hill's testimony and also David Holmes's testimony yesterday, was that it really drew a distinction between the people in this administration like those two individuals like Colonel Vindman who were very clear-eyed about what was right and what was wrong.

It was obvious to them that this idea of investigating 2016 and investigating Burisma and the Bidens was out of bounds. And then there were other people who were involved in this, who -- who apparently testified that they didn't realize that until much later. Maybe they had become inured to the kind of things that go on in -- in the Trump administration.

But it really just draws this bright line between people who knew from the beginning that this was -- was too far. And then other people who were willing to make a lot of excuses up until the very end, up until it was right in their faces that what was happening was that the aid was being withheld until Zelensky went in front of a camera and announced an investigation into the president's political rival.

CAMEROTA: Yes. John, what I thought was important is that we -- we here in the U.S. so often see things through a political lens. The president wanted a political favor. It was against his political rival.

What she drove home was that it was a national security threat. That at one point, she was asked, what does Vladimir Putin get out of this? And she said, the goal is to disrupt democracy. And it's working. It's working. That what Vladimir Putin wanted is happening. And she, I thought, put a fine point on that.

AVLON: She absolutely did. She was a stunning witness because of her credibility, her moral authority. But again, that core message that she offered was that the conspiracy theory the president has put forward that has been embraced in advance by members of Congress regarding the Ukraine is a -- a Russian talking point propagated and promoted by Russian secret services to the benefit of Vladimir Putin.

If that's not sinking in, record scratch that, folks, because the president of the United States and Republicans are advancing a Russian-propagated talking point and making it the cornerstone of their defense in the arguments for why the president was pushing the president of Ukraine.

BERMAN: Can I ask you --

AVLON: That's crazy. That's a conspiracy theory.

BERMAN: As we talk about elections in 2020, you know, the suburbs we see as this swing region. What are the risks for Democrats in the impeachment inquiry in these suburbs, and what are the risks for Republicans?

AVLON: So here's what we know about the polling around impeachment so far. And I want to bracket it by saying that some things are beyond polling. This is about a constitutional process set out by the Founding Fathers. It's about principles, not polling. It's political, so obviously, those calculations would be included. But there should be a higher bar for the conversation.

That said, what we know and our friend Harry Enten has detailed for us many times is that impeachment is less popular in the swing states. That's a calculation Democrats are going to need to deal with, because this will likely be over just before the Iowa caucuses. It may not affect their primaries, but it will have an impact, ripple effect throughout the election.

For Republicans, one of the stunning things about their embrace of a denial strategy by the president, saying basically, we're going to just pretend like none of these facts happened, like none of these facts matter, is that they have been getting their butts kicked in the suburbs since 2018. The suburbs of the south, the suburbs of the Midwest. They just lost Louisiana and Kentucky.

So there's only so much comfort you can take from grabbing one poll out of a swing state and saying that's going to determine your strategy. There's a cost to this.

CAMEROTA: All right. John Avlon, Abby Phillip, thank you very much.

BERMAN: I will say, suburban women voters have told us they don't like the president's behavior. And Republicans also run the risk of unrestrained behavior going forward. That is something to keep your eye on.

All right. Tesla unveiled a cyber truck.

CAMEROTA: What does that mean?

BERMAN: I'm going to tell you. Or show you? Really? Is that it? The company's new electric pickup?

CAMEROTA: I mean, does it just flash lights?

BERMAN: No. OK. The debut wasn't all smooth sailing. We'll show you what happened, next.

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END