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NYT: Trump Knew About Whistleblower Complaint When He Released Ukraine Aid; Judiciary Committee Impeachment Hearings Start Next Week; Trump Denies Giuliani Was Acting on His Behalf in Ukraine; CNN Poll Shows Biden With Double-Digit Lead Over Democratic Rivals; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) Discusses House Judiciary Inviting Trump, His Counsel to 1st Impeachment Hearing. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Erica Hill, live from Washington, in for Kate Baldwin today. Thanks for joining us this hour.

The big question this morning, what did President Trump know about the now infamous whistleblower complaint and when. New reporting from the "New York Times" offering an answer in revelations which completely undermine the president's own timeline of events around the Ukraine scandal.

According to "The Times," Mr. Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint before he released the military aid he had been withholding.

We're also learning two White House budget officials resigned, at least in part, over their concerns about that hold on the military aid.

That is coming to us from newly released transcripts from the Houses that filed a final deposition.

So what is the real timeline and who knew what when?

Let's get right to that. CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now with the latest there -- Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Erica. The timeline is very much being filled in. And what we know is that the president and the White House knew that the walls were closing in and the chorus was growing in September for that money to be released.

What we learned in the past two hours completely undercuts how the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill have defended this administration's actions toward Ukraine.

Now we've heard time and time again this wasn't a quid pro quo because Ukraine eventually got that military aid but there were no investigations. Now we know, according to "New York Times," that aid money was

released after the president had been briefed on the whistleblower complaint filed against him.

Let's look at how this timeline has been filled in with these details.

August 12th, that was the day the whistleblower filed their complaint. At its core was that infamous call two-and-a-half weeks prior on July 25th when the president's asked President Zelensky of Ukraine for a favor and for investigations into the Bidens in the 2016 election.

Later in August, "The Times" now reports the president was briefed by White House lawyers about the complaint. The lawyers told him they were trying to figure out whether legally they needed to give it to Congress, where we now know it did end up.

Then, Erica, there's the other argument from Republicans, that the president was just concerned that other countries, except for the United States, weren't contributing enough, that the U.S. was giving too much to Ukraine.

But according to just released testimony from Mark Sandy, who is the official in the Office of Management and Budget, who first signed off on freezing that aid back in July, it wasn't until early September that the question of contributions from other countries came up.

We know on September 9th, the president spoke with one of his point men on Ukraine, Gordon Sondland, one of the famous three amigos. He's the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

And in that early morning call on the 9th, the president insisted to Sondland there was no quid pro quo, but he said he wanted President Zelensky to do the right thing according to Sondland's testimony.

Sondland had already told the Zelensky administration that the aid was tied to those investigations.

Finally, two days later, on September 11th, the aid money was released, some $400 million of it. But this was only after pressure from lawmakers in both parties, after an investigation had been opened by congressional Democrats, and after we now know the president knew about the whistleblower complaint -- Erica?

HILL: Alex Marquardt with that all-important timeline for us. Alex, thank you.

With that new timeline, of course, as Alex pointed out, this makes the Republicans' defense of the president, well, it makes it more difficult, just as the House Judiciary is gearing up for public hearings now scheduled for next week.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us from Capitol Hill with more on that.

What will this next phase of hearings look like, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is an interesting and a very important piece of all of this right now, is that they are moving forward, right?

Even though there are new revelations, seemingly, even though there are details that House Democrats want, the fact that they are moving from the House Intelligence Committee to the Judiciary Committee makes clear they are on a firm timeline, a timeline to impeach President Trump by Christmas. And the reality is articles of impeachment are coming very soon.

Here's what will happen. These first couple hearings -- we know one for sure is scheduled -- are nuts and bolts, the historical precedent of impeachment, how things worked in the past. Kind of the whole process. They will have constitutional experts coming up and testifying.

The interesting element in this, and all the Judiciary hearings going forward, the president and his lawyer are invited to attend. Not only to attend, they're invited to participate as well. They can ask questions, give a closing presentation based on the impeachment resolution House Democrats passed two months ago.

The big question right now is, will they. And nobody knows the answer.

Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the president yesterday inviting him to the hearing, telling him what was going to happen in this process, and making clear the White House has a role here if they want it. But they don't know yet whether or not the White House is going to agree.


To kind of bring things back out a little bit, Erica, we know after the Thanksgiving holiday, at some point, the House Intelligence Committee is going to transmit their report on what they found during their investigation over to the Judiciary Committee.

Obviously, the first hearing in the Judiciary Committee is next week. They will begin to draft articles of impeachment. Lawmakers have already been working through what they want to see on that front.

After that is done, it should move quickly into a full House floor vote to impeach the president of the United States. Democrats feel comfortable that when that happens, they will have the vets to do just that.

The big question becomes, what happens in the United States Senate. There will be a trial. And how that breaks down, I think, will be very interesting to see in the weeks and months ahead.

HILL: Indeed, it will.

Phil Mattingly with the latest for us. Phil, thank you.

Joining me now, Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and a staff writer at "The New Yorker," and Brendan Buck, former top aide to Republican House speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner. As we look at all of this, as Phil pointed out, yes, there's a lot of nuts and bolts happening last week. The fact we have this new "New York Times" reporting and we have more than insight into the timeline here, Brendan, how do you think learning about what the president knew and when will impact next week's hearings?

BRENDAN BUCK, PARTNER, SEVEN LETTER: I don't know. Most astonishing is a significant new fact. Every fact we had along the way has been remarkably consistent with the story we first heard from the whistleblower.

At this point, I don't know the facts are really in question. Every person that came and testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee the last two weeks told a very consistent story. And those facts line up to what we have known all along. There's no ambiguity of what took place here.

The issue is that it has not persuaded the American people in a way to move any Republicans. And it certainly doesn't look like it's persuaded any House Republicans to cross over the line and vote with Democrats at this point.

HILL: As we look at all of this, to your point, we have the facts. The facts are what they are.

What is interesting in this development, even with the president in the last few hours. So we're getting this new radio interview that he did and a new line from the president about Rudy Giuliani.

Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Well, you have to ask that to Rudy. But Rudy -- I don't even know -- I know he was going to go to Ukraine. I think he cancelled the trip. But you know Rudy has other clients other than me.


TRUMP: No, I didn't direct him. But he's a warrior. Rudy is a warrior. Rudy went -- he possibly saw something. But you have to understand, Rudy has other people that he represents.


HILL: So there's a familiar line we also heard about 18 months ago when it comes to Michael Cohen. Here's that.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You'll have ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don't know.


HILL: Right, Susan, so the now familiar you'll have to ask -- insert name here. The fact that we are now hearing this about Rudy Giuliani from the president, this is the first he's, A, backing away from Rudy Giuliani but he could ultimately throw him under the bus?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, he may try to do that before this is over. You saw that interesting kind of threatening comment from Giuliani the other day when he implied that he had so much information on Trump that, you know, Trump wouldn't abandon him. Who knows what the true nature of that relationship is?

I would say, from the beginning, there's the frustrating aspect of this, that you have the story of the investigation itself, and the facts, as Brendan pointed out, they have all tended to confirm in one direction.

We've had 17 witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee, 12 of them public. No one has debunked any significant element of this. In fact, we have learned more and more information.

So we can talk about the investigation but the political dynamics are this parallel and, in some ways, this non-intersecting story.

I have a lot of questions about the nature of Rudy Giuliani's activities in Ukraine that have not been answered so far in this investigation.

There's also a parallel criminal investigation of Giuliani in New York. We've seen interesting reporting in the "Wall Street Journal."

I would like to know how that intersects with the allegations of official U.S. government --


GLASSER: But there has been this political decision on Capitol Hill for Democrats to proceed with impeachment, knowing what we already know right now.

So I do agree with Brendan that, in the end, it doesn't seem that the facts are going to be at the heart of the issue here. Republicans, if they hold the line, are basically going to say the facts don't matter and, even if he did do what he is accused of, it's not impeachable.

HILL: That's what we are hearing.

GLASSER: That's what we're hearing.

HILL: Yes, I prefer that the president did not behave this way, but it's not impeachable conduct.

When we look to where the president is at today and what we're hearing from the president, not only is there this familiar line about, well, you have to ask him, but that really plays into, Brendan, the way the president does business. That's what we heard in terms of the testimony. It came from the president on down. Part of that is the way things work, right?


If you are the ambassador, you are not calling the president every day for your marching orders. However, what's interesting is that it once again allows the president to say, but I wasn't -- I didn't give the direct order. I told my people to do it. So I'm clean.

BUCK: That is the one thing that is obviously missing from the story the Democrats are trying to tell. The direct line from the president to one of these people. You know, the irony, though, they tried to get the president's people to testify. They've declined to do so.

The question for Nancy Pelosi at this point is, how long do you wait, how long do you go through the courts or whatever process to try to compel those people to come.

I think she is very concerned, rightly, the longer this tracks out, the more her vulnerable House Democrats are. She charges that they are so obsessed with this process that they are ignoring the -- I think that's part of the urgency she wants to get it done by the end of this year.

HILL: Do you think there's a chance -- Republicans are in lock step, right, as we've all seen. Do you think there's a, though, more Democrats could break rank?

BUCK: I think this is a harder vote for House Democrats right now than it is for House Republicans. The president has swallowed up the GOP. There's no place for people to go. You are either with the president or you're retiring. That's basically what we've seen so far this year.

For Democrats, there are people in swing districts that were Republican districts that voted -- there are 31 districts that voted for Trump that are now held by House Democrats. In a lot of those places, this is a difficult vote.

And we actually saw that when we saw the vote on the process where Democrats actually broke and every Republican was together.

HILL: Susan, the fact that this is just coming out now, this is happening, this is all moving very quickly.


HILL: We get these new details. This timeline, we're just learning about, in not even the last 24 hours, less than 24 hours. Do you think they're moving too quickly, given that we keep finding these new threats?

GLASSER: Well, look, I think it's an important point. As a journalist, it feels like we're in the middle of the story. And after two weeks of public hearings, to move forward and to end the investigation when there's so much we know we don't know seems very significant.

Although, the point about the president's very successful stonewall and ordering his advisers not to testify, which, again, is a break with the past. And, obviously, it's the subject of potential litigation and he may end up -- we don't know -- you know, there could end up being court decisions that actually tie the hands of future executives, because the president has chosen to go this route.

I want to make the point, though, about President Trump and he actually did take action. We do have live evidence. I recognize the political part of this conversation has not really intercepted as much as we might expect with the investigations part.

But let's be clear, the president, according to reliable testimony, is the one who personally ordered the freezing of the aid. It wasn't some subordinate. And, in fact, there's reliable testimony that that is what the officials in the U.S. government, who were responsible for dispersion of this aid, that's what they were --


HILL: The stay order came from him.

GLASSER: The order came directly from the president, number one.

Number two, the president himself, in his own words, in his phone call, told Zelensky that he wanted him to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, who has no official government role, and the attorney general of the United States.

He didn't say anything about corruption. He never used the word. He said he wanted him to investigate the Bidens and this 2016 debunked conspiracy theory. That's what the president, himself said, in his own words.

Number three, we have the phone call to Gordon Sondland in which, the day after, he's speaking with Zelensky and pressuring him. He's also talking about the investigation.

It was the president also who personally ordered the removal of his ambassador in Ukraine. That wasn't coming from subordinates.

So again, this is evidence we know. To your point, what don't we know, I personally feel there's a lot we don't know that I would like to know.

HILL: Based on what keeps coming out?

GLASSER: Exactly.

HILL: You may be right.

Susan, Brendan, appreciate it. Thank you both.

Coming up, the numbers are in. A new CNN poll shows Joe Biden holding onto that top spot. And another candidate hitting double digits for the first time. We will break those numbers down next.


Plus, two massive storms wreaking havoc on your Thanksgiving travel. Millions of Americans affected. We will tell you where and when the snow wind and the rain will hit.


HILL: We are getting a fresh look today at the state of the 2020 race. A new CNN national poll shows Joe Biden maintaining his double- digit lead over his Democratic challengers with 28 percent. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are next, 17 percent and 14 percent respectively. And Mayor Pete Buttigieg showing double-digit supporting for the first time, clocking in there at 11 percent. No other candidate, you can see, reaches 4 percent.

Joining me now, CNN political reporter, Arlette Saenz, and CNN political analyst and national political correspondent at "Time," Molly Ball.

Molly, as we look at this, the headline, Joe Biden is the solid front runner. The only candidate to make a more significant move, Pete Buttigieg. What else should we take from that?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the Sanders-Warren drama is interesting. We've seen Bernie Sanders rise in the polls as Elizabeth Warren has fallen. If you consider them to be in the same lefty lane, it seems Bernie is getting the better of her, as least slightly. It's functionally a tie, right?


And, yes, Biden maintains this robust lead nationally. He is still really in trouble in the early states. I have to think what happens in those early states is going to make a big difference.

But as we've seen in a lot of other polls, this race somehow is both incredibly static, with Biden maintaining this robust lead in pretty much every poll and, at the same time, it's very fluid with so much churn in all of those slots underneath Joe Biden. In particular, Mayor Pete, who we've seen make this big rise, especially in Iowa. But in the national polling, he is definitely a part of that top tier now.

HILL: We'll see where that goes.

As we look at Joe Biden comfortably with that lead in this poll, there are legitimate questions about what is in the coiffeurs of the Biden campaign. How much of that is a real concern for the campaign?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's been a big question, is Joe Biden going to have the money for a potentially long primary fight. Last quarter, he was far outpaced by his rivals, raising under $10 million.

Biden says he's confident that the resources are going to be there. He is still spending time doing these fundraisers. They've ramped up their online e-mail outreach last month, raising around $5 million.

But it's no surprise to anyone that it takes a lot of money to run these campaigns, to pay the field organizers, to run the TV ads. Right now, with what's on air, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are spending a lot more than Joe Biden. There's still some time to catch up there.

But certainly this is going to be a focus for the Biden campaign, as all the others if they want to have money throughout this campaign.

HILL: One of the things that really stood out to me in this poll is what voters are looking for in a candidate, and that is electability, which we talk about a lot, and can you beat President Trump.

But more than half of Democratic voters say, if they had a choice, they would take someone who has a good chance -- something that's being proposed -- that has a good chance of becoming law, even if it means, Molly, smaller change.

This is really the debate we've seen play out among candidates but to hear 56 percent of respondents say I just want something actionable, that's a message.

BALL: It really is. I think that's a big part of what we seen drive the surge Mayor Pete, is that is what he is selling is this sort of pragmatism. To say, let's get something done.

The response, quite literally, on the debate stages has been, particularly from Elizabeth Warren, saying, no, we have to dream big. We have to aspire for big change. And the voters seem to be saying, dreams are great but we want things to actually happen.

And I think that is a powerful message coming from Joe Biden as well, to be able to say to the Democratic primary electorate, we've got to actually make policies that move the country forward not just make a statement.

HILL: To that point, too, impeachment is low on the list of what's most important when looking at everything else.

How is all of this playing? You spend so much time out there on the campaign trail talking to voters, listening to the message the candidates are giving voters. What is actually breaking through?

SAENZ: I think that's the dynamic we're going to see play out in these next 68 days.


HILL: Right.


SAENZ: Exactly.

But one thing, Joe Biden, in Iowa, while he tends to have smaller more intimate events, a lot of people I talked to at his events, their number-one certain is finding a candidate who can beat President Trump.

Often time, the people who are at the Biden events are either strongly leaning toward him or they're undecided, still thinking about Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg, are the two names I hear the most.

But I've also spent a lot of time with Biden outside of Iowa, going to, in the past two weeks, South Carolina and Nevada and California. Those events have a different look, a different feel than his events in Iowa and New Hampshire do. But there's a little bit more enthusiasm and energy. You also have a little bit more of a diverse crowd.

That's something the Biden campaign points to when you get to states beyond Iowa and New Hampshire. They think they have a broad and diverse coalition that they often discuss.

But certainly Biden, if he is going want to be successful and carry on these high numbers that he has in the national polls, he's going to have to work harder with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. And also try to prevent another candidate from get the momentum they could get by winning those states as they head for --


HILL: Sixty-eight days, just 68 days.

Thank you both. Happy Thanksgiving.


HILL: Thanks for being here today.


Coming up, we know now when the next phase in the Trump impeachment inquiry will move to the Judiciary Committee. But what are lawmakers actually expecting to happen then? I will speak with Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell about that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HILL: It's fairly quiet on Capitol Hill today, of course, because of the Thanksgiving holiday. That will certainly change next week. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first impeachment hearing one week from today.

The House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler sending a letter to President Trump, inviting him and his attorneys to participate.

This comes as the Intelligence Committee plans to release its impeachment report. And that could happen next week as well.

Joining me now, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan.


Good to have you with us.

I'm curious, do you expect either the president or his counsel to show up?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I'd never make the mistake of speaking for the president or his counsel.