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Judiciary Committee Announces First Impeachment Hearing; Trump Administration Officially Put Hold On Ukraine Aid On Same Day As Call With Ukrainian President; Source: Proposal For Trump To Participate In Impeachment Hearing Is "Under Consideration"; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) Is Interviewed About Impeachment Inquiry And President Trump; New Impeachment Transcripts Released; Kim Jong-un Sends Message With New Military Drill. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 26, 2019 - 17:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for all of you for joining us today. You can follow me on Twitter @ERICARHILL. Tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage continues on CNN right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. December 4th, Democrats move another step closer to impeaching President Trump as the House Judiciary Committee schedules its first hearing and invites the President to participate or "stop complaining about the inquiry."

Aid holdup. President Trump acknowledged he ordered the hold on military aid to Ukraine. And tonight we're learning new information about the timing of the decision that sparked the impeachment probe.

Buttigieg gains. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg now locked in a battle for second place in a new poll on the 2020 Democratic Presidential race. So what is behind his rising numbers?

And Kim's trench coat. Kim Jong-un supervised the test firing of short-range artillery drawing a rebuke from South Korea and warning from experts that there may be more to the North Korean dictator's photo up than just flexing his military muscle.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking news. The House Judiciary Committee has just announced that crucial next step in the impeachment inquiry. The Chairman, Jerry Nadler says the committee's first hearing will take place on Wednesday, December 4th, that's just one week from tomorrow.

Nadler also invited President Trump to participate in the process or in his words stop complaining. I'll discuss that with Congressman Jamie Raskin of the Judiciary and Oversight committees. And our correspondents and analyst will have full coverage of today's top stories.

First, let's go to Capitol Hill. Our Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly is watching all these developments. Phil, the impeachment inquiry is about to enter a critically important new phase. Will the President participate in this new round of hearings?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORREPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if past is any precedent, that seems unlikely but that doesn't mean a representative from the President won't come in and testify. Look, this is an interesting element because, as you know, this is a new phase. They're moving away from the House Intelligence Committee's investigations into the now nuts and bolts of actual impeachment starting in the Judiciary Committee.

This first hearing will be about precedence, about the history of impeachment, have a number of constitutional scholars come in and testify, but also invited the President or his counsel. Now this was long expected to be the case. Based on a resolution House Democrats passed that the President or a representative could not only attend the hearing, they could participate in the hearing. They can ask questions. They can also give a concluding statement or presentation at the end of the hearing.

One thing we know for a fact at this point in time there will likely be multiple hearings in the Judiciary Committee as they move through this part of the process. The one question that's unanswered, will the President or someone from his team participate? In the past they have. Will they this time, at least based on what we've seen up to this point, the answer would seem like no. However this is a different phase as you noted.

And there is upside for the White House actually playing a role in this. Also keep in mind, if the White House declines to participate, declines to help out with this part of the process, the Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, has the option based on that resolution that this is all characterized and constructed by to essentially shut the White House out. So there's incentive to participate. The question remains, though, will they, Wolf?

BLITZER: I understand, Phil, that more deposition transcripts have just been released. What are you learning?

MATTINGLY: That's exactly right. The last two transcripts we've been waiting for, Philip Reeker, a State Department official, and Mark Sandy, a career Office of Management and Budget official, were just released. And it's the latter that I think everybody is paying attention to.

Just today, Wolf, the House Budget Committee released a two-page summary document laying out a more explicit detailed timeline of the hold the Office of Management and Budget put on the Ukraine aid. Specifically the idea that the hold letter was released on July 25th. What else happened on July 25th? Well the phone call between President Trump and Zelensky.

Also on July 25th, according to the testimony, public testimony of the Pentagon official, sometime in the afternoon, two different e-mails were sent from Ukrainian officials to the State Department inquiring about the state of the aid. It was just a couple of hours later that that hold was officially placed.

Now going through the transcripts, we're just starting to get a look at the 181-page transcript from Mark Sandy, the career OMB official. And one thing is made clear. One, the concerns that career officials had at OMB about the potential illegality of holding this aid, this idea of going against the impoundment control act by holding aid that had been allocated and appropriated by Congress for longer than they were supposed to. That was a concern that they had.

But also the idea that Mark Sandy, this career official, signed off on the initial letter holding the aid. But he did not sign off on future letters holding the aid. His portfolio was essentially taken over by a political appointee. That was a concern from a lot of lawmakers.

One thing Democrats who released the summary document today said is there was basically an egregious abuse of power by the OMB to implement this hold. It's one of the open questions we've had throughout the course of this process, Wolf. How much and who knew about what actually was going on at the OMB related to this hold, we're starting to get some fleshing out of that because of this career official.


But I would note, the political officials who were deeply involved in this, from the Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Russ Vought, the Acting OMB Director, Michael Duffey, the political appointee at OMB who signed off on the other hold documents, all declined to come in, declined to comply with subpoenas.

So there are still unanswered questions out there. But as we pour through this latest transcript of the deposition we're starting to get more answers on what was actually happening inside of the agency and what was actually happening on the ground as this hold was being implemented and carried out over the course of weeks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you correctly point out, Mark Sandy, this career official at the Office of Management and Budget, he's the only one basically who agree to go before the committee and answer questions on, you know, under oath as part of this deposition.

MATTINGLY: That's exactly right, Wolf. And this was something that he initially did not come in when he was initially invited and then chose to come in on a Saturday morning. And we're told from sources who are familiar with that testimony before we got the transcript that he raised the concerns that several career officials had inside OMB about the process that was taking place, how it was playing out.

Now Republicans also made the point, he made clear he was not given any detail as to why this hold was taking place. He was not told that this had anything to do with investigations. He was not looped in on the President's thinking.

But one thing he makes clear in my at least initial read of the transcript is he was told this order came down specifically from the President to the acting chief of staff and why that matters is much like we seen over the last couple of weeks, witness after witness after witness have testified to the same type of timeline, the same type of actions and the same people being involved in the orders.

One thing they haven't testified to is what exactly the President was thinking. Democrats obviously think that the hearings that they've had have shown what he was thinking. Republicans have made clear they believe everything they did was above board and nothing has directly tied the President to this. Obviously we're going to see that argument to continue to play out as the Judiciary Committee gets its turn at hearings next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're going to go through these documents, the transcripts, hundreds of pages of transcripts that have just been released from Mark Sandy from the Office of Management and Budget and Philip Reeker, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. We're going to get back to you shortly, Phil.

I want to go to the White House. The President is weighing in on the late breaking impeachment news as well as other development. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us right now. So Jim, what are you hearing?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're being told a senior administration official said Chairman Nadler's proposal to allow White House attorneys to participate in up coming hearings up on Capitol Hill is under consideration and likely to come up for discussion during the President's trip to Florida over the next several days.

As for allowing top officials to testify, that is another matter. The President is trying to have it both ways insisting he would like to see some of his top officials appear before lawmakers but adding that he doesn't want to tie the hands of future presidents. The message there is coming from the White House, don't bet on it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any response to Jerry Nadler?

ACOSTA (voice-over): Living the White House to spend Thanksgiving in Florida, President Trump ignored questions about what's waiting for him after his holiday break, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler's plans for new hearing in the impeachment inquiry.

While acknowledging in a tweet that he stalled military aid to Ukraine as part of that alleged deal to get dirt on Joe Biden, the President indicated he is not ready to allow top officials to testify in front of House Democrats tweeting that his former National Security Adviser "John Bolton is a patriot and may know that I held back the money from Ukraine because it is considered a corrupt country.

Likewise I would like to have Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and many others testify about the phony impeachment hoax." But the President said he doesn't want future presidents to be compromised. Pompeo refused to be pinned down on whether he would testify. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President tweeted just a short while ago that he encouraged you essentially to testify in the impeachment investigation. Is that something that you're considering?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: When the time is right, all good things happen.

ACOSTA: Bolton who has also been dodging the issue tweeted, "It probably goes without saying that our country's commitment to our national security priorities is under attack from within. America is distracted. Our enemies are not. We need to make U.S. national security a priority."

One big reason that they're all skirting the issue is that they would be asked about European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony that the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was orchestrating a quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainians.

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky. Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server, and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the President of the United States and we knew these investigations were important to the President.


ACOSTA: A new CNN poll finds public support for removing Mr. Trump from office remain steady at 50 percent and that more than half believe the President used his office to gain political advantage. Add to that, a key Republican who initially said he believed the President's bogus conspiracy theory about Ukrain meddling is now changing course.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUISIANA: I was wrong. The only evidence I have and I think it's overwhelming is that it was Russia who tried to hack the DNC computer.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: That's what the consensus is.

KENNEDY: I've seen no -- yes, I've seen no indication that Ukraine tried to do it.

ACOSTA: The President is trying to find some humor in his foul predicament.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff's basement on Thursday. It's true. Hundreds of people have. It seems the Democrats are accusing me of being too soft on Turkey. But bread and butter, I should note that unlike previous witnesses, you and I have actually met.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now as for John Bolton's tweet, the U.S. national security priorities are become attacked from within a senior official here, over here at the White House replied "Bolton is going to Bolton but the White House is not likely to change its posture when it comes to giving the green light to top officials testifying up on Capitol Hill." All of that likely means more presidential stonewalling in the days to come. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you. Let's discuss all the breaking news with Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin. He's a member of both the Judiciary and the Oversight committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. And as you just heard, we literally only a few minutes ago got the transcripts of OMB official Mark Sandy, State Department Philip Reeker. You were there when they were testifying under oath. Now their testimony, their depositions have been released in these transcripts. What stood out to you from their testimony?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, Mark Sandy was a fascinating witness because he blew the whistle in his own way about the budgetary process because he knew that things were happening in an extremely unusual, indeed unique way. Congress had appropriated this money. The President had signed into law the appropriation going to Ukraine. Basically all of the I's have been dotted and the T's have been crossed by everybody and then it was held up.

And he immediately raised the question of whether or not this was a violation of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 which was adopted in the wake of Watergate precisely to crack down on executives deciding to treat money appropriated by Congress as their own for their own political purposes.

And that of course is precisely what Donald Trump did. He decided to use this money as a leverage to put Zelensky in a box as he told Ambassador Sondland. He wanted to put Zelensky in a box in order to extract from him the political dirt on Joe Biden that he was looking for. And this OMB official said this looks very strange essentially and asked questions about the lawfulness of what was taking place.

BLITZER: Yes, we see that. We're just beginning to go through these transcripts, the Deputy Associate Director for National Security at OMB Mark Sandy and the Acting Assistant Secretary for European Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker. Do you know why these two individuals were not called before the House Intelligence Committee to testify publicly?

RASKIN: Well, I mean, all of the witnesses are stand-up, noble and in some ways heroic citizens for basically dodging the President's efforts to obstruct their testimony. But what we tried to go over with the witnesses who could speak in the most comprehensive and wholistic ways and these are witnesses who dealt with specific issues but corroborated the general testimony of others.

And I think Mr. Reeker spoke very eloquently and passionately about the attack on Ambassador Yovanovitch which he thought was outrageous. And he thought that the smear campaign full of lies and propaganda against Ambassador Yovanovitch was something that should have been denounced by the State Department and is not something that should have countenanced to either by the State Department or presumably by the President.

BLITZER: Yes, no, I'm just beginning my self to look through these transcripts just from a personal perspective. It would have been good to hear them publicly saying what they told you guys in private as well. I think the American public would have learned something additionally from their testimony.

As you probably know, the President tweeted earlier today and I'm quoting the President right now, that "John Bolton is a patriot." He said, and "may know that I held back the money from Ukraine because it is considered a corrupt country" and I wanted to know why nearby European countries weren't putting up money also. So even if the President ordered this, how do you get to his motive?


RASKIN: Well, one thing we do is we try to put it into the context of his whole foreign policy. President Trump has never made corruption a priority. He has never taken on any country for being corrupt. On the contrary, a lot of his best friends are extremely corrupt like Vladimir Putin in Russia, Orban in Hungary, the homicidal and corrupt Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. These are people where he certainly could have raised corruption if that was something that concerned him. But it never did.

And he never used the word "corruption" in the July 5th telephone call. And he never raised any episode of alleged corruption other than Joe Biden. Look, everybody knows the truth. He was looking for a dynamite political announcement by Zelensky that the Bidens were being investigated and that was all for political purposes.

This President, if he cared about corruption, he would care about the foreign and domestic emolument clause of the United States Constitution which prevent him from accepting money from foreign princes and kings and states. And yet we know that he has been in dereliction of respect for the foreign emolument clause and he's been collecting also hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars from federal departments that spend money at the Mar-a-Lago hotel and at other Trump properties in the country.

So, corruption is very, very low down the list. In fact, this President is crossed over the line on corruption. And so that is not going to work as a functional alibi for him.

BLITZER: Your committee, the Judiciary Committee, has now scheduled its first hearing for next Wednesday. But a new CNN poll shows that public hearings in the Intelligence Committee over the past couple of weeks have not shifted Americans' opinions on impeachment at all. Do you think that the Judiciary Committee will be more successful from your perspective in getting more Americans to support impeaching and eventually removing the President from office? RASKIN: The first thing we got to say, Wolf, is that the fact hearings were a tremendous success that were conducted by the Intelligence Committee and Oversight and Foreign Affairs because they got the truth out and they got these remarkable witnesses to come forward to speak honestly under oath about what happened. Everybody who is throwing stones at them from the White House are people who refuse to testify and are not under oath and refuse to go under oath.

Look, when the impeachment hearings began against Richard Nixon, only 19 percent of the people favored impeachment. Today 50 percent of the country favors impeachment of Donald Trump. And the world is just getting out, people are just assimilating and digesting this basic tidal wave of facts and disclosures that are coming in about the President's Ukraine shakedown and all of the surrounding corruption around it. So people are just learning about it now.

And there is a momentum in this process. We are going to be turning, as Chairman Nadler from the Judiciary Committee announced earlier today, we're going to be turning to the question of the constitution and the law. We know all of the essential fact-findings coming from the last few weeks. But now we're going to look at the question of high crimes and misdemeanors.

What did the Founders mean when they said treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors and Article II of the Constitution and what they meant is betrayal of the national security, that's what treason is about, betrayal of the government and the public interest, that's what bribery is about, and then other high crimes and misdemeanors are other offenses against the character of our government.

And I think that there may not be another case in U.S. presidential history of a series of events which came more within the contemplation of the Founders. And what James Madison talked about precisely was selling out the country to foreign powers. And that was his principle concern in why he wanted to make sure that impeachment remained an instrument within the Constitution for the people and the Congress.

BLITZER: Your committee chairman, the Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler in this letter that was released couple hours ago to the President, said he could participate in your hearings next Wednesday. But I don't know if Chairman Nadler, if you knew that the President has long been scheduled to be in London next Wednesday at the 70th anniversary of NATO.

There is a summit going on. People are celebrating NATO's 70th anniversary. Were you aware that the President was going to be in London next week when the chairman sent him in letter asking him to show up next Wednesday before the hearing?


RASKIN: No. That's the first that I'm hearing of it. I'm cheered to know that the President would celebrate anything having to do with NATO because he hasn't been a very big champion of it. So he might decide to stay back anyway for our hearing on the Constitution and impeachment.

Of course he hasn't been a very big champion of the Constitution either. He thinks that under Article II of the Constitution he can do whatever he wants which of course is in complete violation of the spirit in the letter of the Constitution.

The Founders of our country wanted the President to be a salaried employee who accepted a salary and no other emoluments from the government and faithfully executed the laws of people. That's the core job of the president, to be commander-in-chief in times of actual conflict. But then to faithfully execute the laws, not to defy the laws, not to violate the laws, but to execute them.

In the minute that a President decides he is not going to faithfully execute the laws but run off and commit high crimes and misdemeanors against the people, that's the moment in which the impeachment provisions are triggered. And this is very much part of our constitutional design.

BLITZER: Congressman Jamie Raskin of the Judiciary Committee, you guys are going to be busy next week and the weeks to follow. Thank you so much for joining us.

RASKIN: Wolf, happy Thanksgiving to you.

BLITZER: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

All right, we're going through the transcripts, two depositions that have just been released. Our correspondents and our analysts, they're here, they're going through them as well. We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: And we're getting more on the breaking news. Just coming into "The Situation Room," new impeachment transcript that have just been released. Our Phil Mattingly is up on Capitol Hill, his combing through them right now. What else are you learning, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Yes, Wolf, I'm mostly focused on the transcript from Mark Sandy, the career OMB official, it has been one of the main things that we haven't had full visibility into in terms of what was actually happening inside the office of Management and Budget when this hold on the Ukraine security assistance was put in place. And part of the reason why is several top political officials from the OMB have declined to come in, have declined to respond to subpoenas. But Mark Sandy, a career official, a high-ranking career official at the agency did come in.

And one of the things he underscores throughout the course of his testimony is just the confusion about what was actually going on when this hold was put into place. Now the agency was informed of the hold in early July. It was talked about among several agencies in mid-July and by July 25th they officially put the hold on the security assistance with Sandy signing off on that hold.

However, even though he signed off on the initial hold, he couldn't get any answers. At one point he talks about how he asked his boss, the political official Michael Duffey what the actual rationale was for being held and I'm going to read for you here the question from the Democratic counsel.

It says, "Mr. Sandy, how many times do you follow up with Mr. Duffey to ask for rationale on why the security was being held?" And Sandy replies, "It was open question over the course of late July and pretty much all of August, as I recall." So there were months going by, certainly weeks going by where the career officials that are generally or usually responsible for what happens with this aid had no idea, no insight into what was actually happening.

Interesting note as well, Sandy testifies that early in the first or second week of August, several OMB officials signed off on a memo asking the administration or recommending to the administration they release the hold, saying it lined up with the national security strategy, it lined up with U.S. policies and prerogatives related to trying to push back against Russia and every reason to release the hold. So not just OMB and we've heard testimony, people from state, people from the Department of Defense, across the U.S. government saying the hold needed to be released. However the hold was held on.

And that caused a lot of consternation inside of the OMB amongst career officials primarily because there were concerned that if the money did not go out the door, they might actually be running afoul of the law. And that is one of the other issues that pops up, Wolf. He is asked explicitly by Democratic counsel whether or not he is aware of anybody inside of the OMB male or female who resigned over this issue. Now he's very careful with his words here. But he says he knows of somebody who did resign during this time period and that person was frustrated and upset about how this process had played out.

Now, he doesn't explicitly say this person resigned because of the hold being put in place, but said this person was one of the individuals who was frustrated about the process that was occurring and had raised concerns on the career level to what the politicals were doing as being problematic.

So a number of different elements here, but really more than anything else providing a picture, really the first picture, the first window into what was happening inside of OMB, particularly among the career officials who generally hold this portfolio are generally responsible for this portfolio and the confusion in terms of how this all happened, why this all happened and how kind of discombobulated it was as this whole process played out, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because as you point out there is a question of the law. The nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine was authorized and appropriated by the House and the Senate. It was actually signed into law by the President.

[17:29:46] Now the President can hold that up but he has to give an explanation to Congress for doing so. And these career OMB officials were worried, where is the explanation.

MATTINGLY: Yes. They were worried about the explanation.

Look, the President has every right, as you know, to put a hold on money that has been allocated. But what the career officials were worried about and this gets kind of into the weeds on budgetary law and the Empowerment Act of 1974. What they're worried about is if this money didn't go out the door before the end of the fiscal year -- and that didn't mean by the end of September.

That meant it had to start going out before then and that was based on an analysis from the Department of Defense that they would start to run afoul of that law -- a law specifically put into place so the President could not withhold money that Congress had allocated. Remember Congress has the power of the purse.

So what the career officials were most concerned about at least based on this testimony that we read up to this point is two fold.

One, they had no explanation as to what was going on even though they had recommended releasing the hold, even though they thought it lined up with national security policy with what their agency partners were telling them. They did not have an explanation until fairly late in the game as to why this was actually happening.

The second is there was very real concern inside the agency that this is illegal. Now the Office of Management and Budget has made clear throughout the process they believe everything they did was legal, everything they did was above-board and they were doing this to protect American taxpayers as this review was going through but this is what is happening inside of the OMB at the time based on career officials. And Wolf -- I would note, career officials that have between them decades of work on issues like this.

BLITZER: Yes, absolutely.

All right. I know you're going continue, Phil -- to go through these documents. Our analysts and our correspondents here in THE SITUATION ROOM, they're going through the documents right now as well.

We're going to have much more right after this.



BLITZER: Breaking news. Lawmakers have just released new transcripts from the closed-door sworn impeachment testimony statements.

Our experts are here. We've been going through -- Susan Hennessey, these documents that have just been released. What jumps out at you?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. There are certainly a lot of significant information in these documents. Just looking at Mark Sandy -- this is the OMB official -- his deposition.

There's a couple of significant things. One is that he's also testifying that his understanding and the understanding at OMB was this military hold was being driven by the President personally. That the President was asking questions about this hold.

Also he's really painting a clear picture that as the White House and the chief of staff were putting pressure to have this hold on Ukrainian military aid, people in the OMB were concerned about the legality. They were concerned that this was breaking the law.

Sandy actually raised those concerns and then he was removed, as the career official, removed from the approval process -- and a political figure highly unusual move -- a political figure was then put in to actually make those approvals.

Sandy also testified that his understanding is that one of the lawyers at OMB resigned at least in part related to this issue. So this really shows that there were deep concerns at OMB about the legality and that the White House was pushing for them to do it -- to do it anyway. And you know -- and really does tie a pretty direct picture to both Mick Mulvaney and President Trump's personal involvement in this process and it's being driven by their interest in Ukraine specifically.

BLITZER: You've been going through Mark Sandy's testimony, his deposition. This is under oath. He's the deputy associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He's got the portfolio of this big package of Ukraine aid and I think the first thing is it adds some details to the timeline, right.

So on June 19th, Trump was on Fox News talking about Ukraine. What happened the day before is that the Department of Defense announced the $250 million in military aid. And what this transcript suggests is that Trump saw a news report about the DOD announcement, hey that's $250 million going out the door.

And suddenly it piqued his interest. He sends a note saying hey I would like some information about this money we're sending to Ukraine on the same day he's talking about Ukraine and the bogus server thing on Fox News.

So what is documented here by Sandy is this campaign starts in mid- June. They ask for the hold and then everyone at OMB is trying to figure out why the hold happened. By the end of it, they're trying to find reasons, the White House is, to explain the holds that don't really line up with what we know publicly. After the fact reasons.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Kylie -- what stood out to you?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. So we are also getting the transcripts here from a senior State Department official, The acting assistant secretary for Europe. And he also raises questions about what on earth was happening with regard to Ukraine policy writ large.

And so one of the characters obviously that we have focused a lot on is Ambassador Sondland. And he specifically asked other State Department officials why he was involved and it was explained to him that that was an irregular arrangement. It wasn't normal but that --

BLITZER: Because Ambassador Sondland was the ambassador to the European Union --

ATWOOD: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- and Ukraine is not even a member of the European Union.

ATWOOD: That is right. But it was a -- it was a reality that they had to deal with because he also says that at one point Ambassador Sondland made it known to him that he had to deal with him because the President had put him in charge.

The other thing that Reeker points out here is that he was told that Ambassador Sondland said that he had a script for the Ukrainians. And Reeker isn't sure what exactly he meant by a script. That that was a script for President Zelensky's phone calls with President Trump? Or if that was a script for some sort of announcement publicly that President Zelensky was going to make with regard to committing to investigations?


ATWOOD: But that word "script" is new and really important here.

BLITZER: We're going to continue to go through the transcripts that have just been released. Everybody stand by. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.

Two more sworn depositions, the transcript have just been released for Mark Sandy, the deputy associate director for national security at the Office of Management Budget, and Phil Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.


BLITZER: Shawn Turner -- you have been going through these documents as well. And what jumps out at you?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf -- you know, I found this revelation about Ambassador Sondland having a script particularly interesting, you know. We now know based on some of Manu's reporting that it was July 25th, right after the phone call with President Zelensky that President Trump made the decision to officially withhold the military aid.

Now that tells us a couple of things. One, we know from the transcript of that phone call that in that call, that President Zelensky did not kind of officially announced in a very kind of open and direct term that he was going to open an investigation into Joe Biden.

My instinct here is that the President probably came out of that call not completely reassured that he was going to get what he wanted. So he made the decision at that point to go ahead and officially withhold that aid.

We also know from that call that President Zelensky was kind of desperate for attention and for the need for the President to talk about the engagement, the strength of the relationship between our two countries.

And so I think that was when the President made his decision to officially double down on this issue of getting the President of Ukraine to open this investigation. He just wasn't reassured and so he made the decision to go ahead and make this a big issue.

BLITZER: Now what jumps out at me, you know, Susan -- was that these officials at the Office of Management and Budget were told we're suspending -- the U.S. was suspending the aid for the time being and given no reason at all. There was deep concern that it potentially could be a violation of the law.

HENNESSEY: Exactly. There were clearly concerns -- clearly concerns about the irregularity of that process there. (INAUDIBLE) that the White House is kind of claiming that there was some ordinary motivation. Remember their first justification was sort of it was part of an ordinary foreign policy review of all foreign aid. What this deposition makes clear is that is a lie.

This is a specific interest just in Ukraine. That is what the President was focused on. And so it really does knock down some of the core talking points.

Even if we look, you know, speaking of sort of talking points that get knocked down in these -- if we look at Phil Reeker's testimony as well, he also is making really, really clear that they all understood that the Burisma investigation was tantamount to the Bidens.

So Rudy Giuliani was on television talking about the Bidens. He's expressly asked why they didn't actually mention the term Bidens. And he basically says it was one of those things. It was always out there. Because of course Giuliani was talking about it and the press was writing about it all the time.

That is him saying we all knew exactly what was going on. Giuliani apparently at the direction of the President, was seeking investigation into the Bidens. And to the extent that Kurt Volker or Gordon Sondland was suggesting that they somehow didn't make that connection that makes that -- this testimony makes that very difficult to believe.

BLITZER: It is interesting, Giuliani sort of hovers over all of this. LIZZA: He hovers over all of this. There's a lot of people trying to

figure out this irregular channel. I have to say one thing that the Sandy testimony gets at is like, Mulvaney went on TV and said we held up the aid because they didn't pursue the investigation. He publicly said that.

So it is sort of strange that the Democrats in the House have to go document with great detail what he has already admitted to. But this testimony by Mark Sandy goes a long way in doing that.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more on the breaking news that's coming up.

Also Kim Jong-un is staging a show of force near the contentious border with South Korea. Is the North Korean dictator sending a message to President Trump?



BLITZER: New tonight: experts say North Korea's Kim Jong-un could be sending a rather ominous message to President Trump with a new round of military drills.

Brian Todd is on the story for us. Brian -- what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf -- by every indication, Kim Jong- un is growing more frustrated by the day over the stalled nuclear weapons talks. And frustration on the part of the dictator often translates to some very aggressive moves.

Kim has just pulled off another provocative move and he's mixed in some bizarre imagery in the process.


TODD: From North Korea's young supreme commander, a menacing show of force. Kim Jong-un in a white trench coat, supervises the test-firing of short-range artillery from an near his country's disputed maritime border with South Korea. It draws a protest from Seoul for violating an agreement between the two countries' military.

Experts believe this is more than muscle flexing from the dictator. It could well be a reflection of the growing pressure they say he's under to stand up to the U.S.

COL. DAVID MAXWELL (RET.), FOUNDATION OF DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Because of his failure to get concessions and sanctions relief, he is under extreme internal pressure. And so he must demonstrate his military strength and resolve to his own military and to his own elite.

TODD: North Korea's state-run news agency says the military unit which conducted this drill was quote "boiling with glory, joy and ecstasy" from receiving the great historic leader. A volleyball exhibition was staged. An all-female military band performed. And in one of several class photos, Kim is in the middle of dozens of female soldiers, many of whom are openly crying.

MAXWELL: We've seen many pictures like this. And women crying, even men crying. And we should remember that Koreans only get ahead in the north by demonstrating personal loyalty to Kim Jong-un. These tears whether they are real or fake are an attempt to demonstrate that personal loyalty.

LINDSEY FORD, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He's almost this mythical, untouchable kind of god-like leader. And so that's why you want to see this kind of hysteria around him when people have the opportunity to see him and meet him.

TODD: Analysts say the bizarre photo op and the artillery drill are part of a pattern of recent smaller scale provocations from North Korea which include several short range missile tests, and hostile and threatening statements directed at the U.S., all reflecting a much larger frustration felt by Kim Jong-un.

Kim's regime has given President Trump and his team until the end of this year to make more progress on a nuclear weapons deal. Experts say if that doesn't happen, North Korea could go back to testing nuclear warheads and long range missiles.

FORD: If this all goes south in a couple of months, and we blow past this self-imposed deadline the North Koreans have offered, we have to assume that we're facing a far more capable, more angry and dangerous North Korea than we were looking at two years ago.


TODD: And analysts believe another provocation from North Korea to tweak the U.S. and South Korea is imminent. In the next few days they say the North Korean military is going to begin its so-called winter training cycle. More than a million troops conducting a massive series of drills that will last for months.

The U.S. and South Korea meanwhile have been scaling back their joint military exercises to appease North Korea and get back to the negotiating table, but experts say Kim Jong-un is not about to scale back his military drills -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very significant indeed.

Brian Todd -- thank you.

Coming up, the house judiciary committee sets a date for a crucial new step in the impeachment inquiry. Will the President participate in the hearings?



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. New transcripts released. Impeachment investigators have just put out the final closed-door depositions of key officials from the State Department and the Budget Office. What did they reveal about the freezing of U.S. military aid to Ukraine?


BLITZER: Setting the date -- House Democrats pass the impeachment torch to the Judiciary Committee which has announced it will hold its first hearing next week.