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"The New York Times:" Donald Trump Briefed On Whistleblower Complaint Weeks Before Ukraine Military Aid Hold Lift; New Testimony Reveals Details About Ukraine Aid Hold Timeline; Donald Trump: "Never" A "Direct Link Between Investigations And Security Assistance"; Democrat House Lawyers: McGahn Testimony Could Weigh On Impeachment Inquiry, Senate Trial; CNN Poll: Joe Biden On Top By Double-Digits As Elizabeth Warren Loses Ground. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 12:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Thanks all of you for joining us this hour. I'm Erica Hill in today for Kate Bolduan. Stay tuned "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you Erica and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks you for sharing your day with us. New evidence backs the Democrats' impeachment case. The President released aid to Ukraine only after being told a whistleblower had filed a complaint.

Plus, new details of turmoil because some administration staffers warned withholding that money was illegal plus new CNN polling on the 2020 Democrats resilience is a word that fits Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren is struggling as some democratic voters take a more moderate view of the contenders and of the issues. Two candidates with recent hospital visits on their calendars want you to know all is well.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I didn't feel great, I wouldn't be ranting and raving to 22,000 people with lots of people outside, I can tell you.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm feeling strong, energetic and more ready than ever to fight for the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what you're saying is - I do any my hair, check my mails, Bernie how you feeling?

SANDERS: Feeling good as hell.


KING: Back to 2020 a bit later and some humor a bit later but we begin the hour with important new details in the Ukraine and impeachment timeline details that contradict the President's account and details that come as House Democrats prepare to open the next phase of this inquiry. Some of what we now know, "The New York Times" reporting the President

was briefed on the details of the whistleblower complaint and the likelihood Congress would get it in late August, weeks before he released that hold on Ukrainian military aid and weeks before he told his Ambassador to the European Union there was no quid pro quo.

Plus new testimony transcripts detail a big internal debate as the President's order to hold up the Ukraine aid was documented, including concerns inside the Office of Management and Budget that that hold was illegal. The details add to the pressure on the President as the impeachment hearings move to a new venue, the House Judiciary Committee next week.


TRUMP: Crooked politicians not giving us due process, not giving us lawyers, not giving us the right to speak.


KING: The facts are otherwise. Republicans have had equal time so far every step of the way. Starting next week, the President's lawyers are welcome to participate in the hearings as well. Let's get straight to the White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins who was in Florida where the President is Kaitlan, that's the big question for the President. Will he send his lawyers to participate in next week's hearings?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And their complaint in these other hearings that you've seen playing out for the past few weeks is that they couldn't have an attorney in the room. That was a big point of frustration for the President, something he's made clear publicly.

But now that they've been invited to have an attorney in the room as they're moving into these next phase of these hearings in front of the Judiciary Committee instead of House Intelligence, right now we're told that the thinking inside the White House is that they are likely not going to send an attorney right now, though the two people we spoke with about this and what the decision is going to be cautioned that this is still fluid.

They have not made any kind of final decision yet. And they have until Sunday to answer whether or not they are going to send someone to be in the room representing the White House in a legal sense. And essentially these decisions and the debate the deliberations that are happening inside the White House right now and inside the President's inner circle are not only about whether or not they're going to send an attorney John, but also what witnesses they're going to suggest if they do, since that is also something they have been afforded as part of this.

Now, of course the Democrats have said they're reserving the right to change that if the White House continues to block people like Secretary of State Pompeo, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, all these others from coming to testify. So essentially what you're seeing is they are still mapping out what it is they're going to be doing over the next few weeks?

What their strategy is going to be and whether or not there's an attorney in there comes down to a big part of this. Yes, they want someone in the room but their question is essentially going to be is it worth it for us to send an attorney to be in there that's a decision that right now they're still trying to make John.

KING: That's a big decision especially we're going to keep arguing the process is unfair the President has an opportunity. We shall see Kaitlan Collins, appreciate the reporting from Florida. We'll keep an eye on what the President ultimately decides.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights Vivian Salama with "The Wall Street Journal" CNN's Phil Mattingly, Paul Kane with "The Washington Post" and "POLITICO's" Laura-Barron Lopez. I want to show a timeline as we get new reporting and new transcripts. It's a timeline I just want to punch through this.

Remember, first number one, the President pushed aside his Ambassador in Ukraine and the career professionals to put in political people when he didn't like the resistance to his policy. Now look and you can track it here, if you have suspicious mind. A career official Sandy Mark Sandy raises concerns with a Senior OMB official that's in the middle of July about is this legal? Can we do this?

Right, on the 25th he signs official document to withhold the funding for Ukraine that on July 30th, about 12 days after Sandy has raised some concerns, a political aide Michael Duffey takes over the process.


KING: Duffey then signs documents holding up the aid. The White House will say nothing wrong here. Nothing to see, we just decided to have Michael Duffey take over. But if you track what happened with Ambassador Yovanovitch and the career people being shoved aside in the earlier dispute, here's another case where somebody raises his hand, says I think this is wrong and a political person comes in and does what the President wants.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And this new revelation by "The New York Times" that the President actually was aware of the whistleblower complaint, which begs the question would they have released the aid had the President not known? Was this something that made them concerned and prompted them to move faster on the aid or release it at all? This is something that's very important to answer.

KING: That fits the Democrats' argument that they got caught. Now the President has a chance to counter that. That's why will he send in lawyers next week. He won't let any of these people testify, so if he has fact witnesses who could say that's not how it played out, they haven't testified, which suggests they can't say that.

PHILL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right and I think one of the most look, the idea that a transcript from a career OMB official is something that's really fascinating to everybody is probably a bit of a twist and turn in normal Washington. Say it for some of us who really like covering budgets up.

Why it was so important is one we haven't gotten any insight or window into what was happening at OMB because of the top officials Russell Vought and Michael Duffey and the Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney refusing to come in and testify. What Sandy laid out is the fact of, one, the internal kind of tumult inside the agency amongst career people about how this is all happening, not just the potential legality of it but why they weren't filled in on anything?

But it also undercuts the administration's timeline as for their rationale. The rationale being the President was concerned that other European countries were not contributing. That's the reason why he was doing this the entire time. Mark Sandy, who was the top career official on this specific issue, says throughout the course of June when he first showed about it, all of July and all of August he asked repeatedly for the rationale and was never given that rationale.

When that rationale came, it came in the form of an e-mail in early September. Oh by the way, this is why we're doing this because we're concerned about other countries. So the idea particularly when you view it through the lens of "The New York Times" reporting and some of the other things that have asserted to come up painting a fuller picture of things.

It feels like this was kind of an after the fact rationale that was put together by the administration and that leads into kind of the questions listed. Now you can see on the ground at these agencies and other things that are happening right now, there are a lot of real concerns that it raised.

KING: And so the career people are questioning it. Again, that is a pattern throughout here. The experts the people do this for living, wondering questioning the legality and from the Ukraine perspective the Ambassador questioning the ethics of it. You mentioned Mark Sandy again a career official this is part of his testimony.

So on that day I emphasized that that would raise a number of questions that we'd need to address. And so I advised that we would want to consult with our Office of General Counsel on these questions first. Essentially Congress said gives Ukraine this money. There's other legislation it's called the Empowerment Act that says a President can't just wily nily decide to I don't care what Congress did; I'm not sending the money. Again, Fiona Hill goes to John Bolton, he says go see the lawyers. Here's Mark Sandy saying I want to go see the lawyers.

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: You mapped it out. They keep going to the lawyers. To Phil's point, they keep trying to come up with a rationale and a reason. Ultimately the best Republican talking point has always been the aid got released.

There was no extortion, there was no bribery, there was no quo of quid and pro because the aid got released. That's what they keep coming back to. Why did the aid get released? If this cuts under that argument that they didn't even have a real rationale for this other than they just wanted some investigations and that ultimately the aid got released because they got caught, as Adam Schiff says then Republicans are in a box and they really don't have any other foundation for their excuses as to what happened.

KING: And the more we learn facts, the more they undercut and sometimes just obliterate things the President has said or arguments his team has made for him which again is a key question. Will he send a professional legal team in next week or will he just keep saying things like this?


TRUMP: I have never had a direct link between investigations and security assistance. Okay. What that means, it means we did zero. We did nothing wrong. You see what's happening in the polls? Everybody said that's really bullshit.


KING: Number one, the facts are contrary to what the President said at the beginning, the testimony is anyway. He has a chance to rebut it if he wants to send people up but he's refused to let the people closest to him to tell their side of the story which normally tells you something. To the second part, the polls are divided but half the country thinks the President should be impeached and removed.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I mean, the transcript itself also refute what Trump said last night at that rally. And to Paul's point it's not just one person, one official who's come forward to say, look, I threw up warning signs, there appears to be a quid pro quo.


LOPEZ: Its multiple career officials that have laid this out and what we found from the Sandy testimony was that two even went so far as to resign because they had issues with the holdup of the Ukraine aid.

SALAMA: Multiple branches of government too. It's multiple officials from multiple branches of government, and there are multiple departments at least. And that was what was so striking is that there were red flags coming from DOD from the State Department, from NSC and now OMB and yet the White House still did not take action and in fact placed a political appointee in the place of a normally career official for an oversight matter like the aid issue and so this is definitely like now we're starting to connect a lot of dots.

KING: And it's important to note a lot of the objections were raised by career people but not our career people. Most of those career people were either kept in their job or put in their jobs by the Trump Administration. Number one, they weren't just holding around for the last 20 years popping up to object to this President. And then you get to John Bolton and Fiona Hill as they're political appointees too inside the White House.

And so a lot of people across the government are a great point. More on this as we come. But before we go the break, a bit of a flashback to 1998 in the last impeachment battle it was on this day 21 years ago November 27th that President Clinton released his responses to 81 questions that had been posed by the House Judiciary Committee. That set up a holiday season timeline in that well may be history does repeat itself?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These answers now will be used by the House Judiciary Committee as it draws up proposed articles of impeachment against the President. That a process now entering a critical two-week period, by mid December the Committee to decide whether to vote articles of impeachment whether then to send that to full House of Representatives.



KING: A big decision just minutes ago from a D.C. judge, a pause on ruling forces the Former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify before Congress. Whether to wait on McGahn's testimony as that case makes its way through the courts is one of many big questions as this impeachment process moves to the next stage here or two with shifting committees and Chairman have any impact on the Democrats' presentation of the case and can they move public opinion more in favor of impeachment?

Our latest brand new CNN poll shows a divided country, 50 percent yes support impeaching and removing the President from office. But 43 percent say he should not be impeached. So yes, Democrats have the edge there but even they acknowledge that public support at the moment likely not strong enough to sway Republican Senators to break from their President. This is Congressman Stephen Lynch this morning on CNN.


SEN. STEPHEN LYNCH, (D-MA): Ironically and paradoxically this is the only type of trial situation where we actually ask the public to weigh in to persuade the jurists, the Senators. For us and the House and I think for most Democrats, we really don't have a choice. If this isn't impeachable conduct, then nothing is.


KING: The great custom house tower in the greatest city in the world behind Congressman Lynch there. Always nice that somebody talks--

MATTINGLY: --while seeing--

KING: Nice try Mattingly. Let's start with that. The Democrats think the evidence, we have to do this, makes the point, yes, we probably need to boost the polling numbers, which are strong but not great for the Democrats if you're going to sway the Senate. As they move from Intelligence to Judiciary, most Democrats are pretty happy with the performance of Adam Schiff, with how they made the case in that committee. Are there jitters among the Democrats as they move to a new committee, a new Chairman, a new chapter?

LOPEZ: I think there are given the fact that they still haven't decided if they want to keep the articles focused on just the Ukraine investigation or if they want to include other Trump misdeeds. Sources have told "POLITICO" that there are three big ones, that the articles will be shaped on which is abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. If they do include the obstruction of justice, it becomes easier to make that case if you include parts of the Mueller investigation.

KING: And loosing on this first step at least getting a pause on Don McGahn I would assume works in the favor of those who say keep it tight and keep it focused in the sense that now that's going to go to the circuit court of appeals the losing party will take it to the Supreme Court that could go on for months.

The House lawyers the House democratic lawyers had gone to court saying a stay pending appeal, if it was granted, the Committee would most likely lose the opportunity to consider evidence before a House vote on impeachment. It goes on and on but the House Democratic lawyers went to the court saying please do not status, we want to get Don McGahn in the Chair they are now lost at least for now which I assume gives impetus to those who say keep it tightly focused on Ukraine, may be some foot notes on Mueller but move.

MATTINGLY: I think from the leadership to the probably I would say majority of the Caucus would like to keep it tightly focused at this point in time particularly the group of people who were reluctant endorsers of impeachment to begin with, the same people who were getting doused with millions of dollars in ads from Republican outside groups right now.

They would like to keep it tight, keep it fast and keep it moving. I think there's also another thing here. That was there's a reason Adam Schiff was chosen to lead the investigation piece of this and not Jerry Nadler. That was a concern not just amongst the leadership of Democratic Caucus but also amongst so they can file that the committee and what they had done throughout Mueller - and this isn't necessarily a Nadler specific thing but the committee had kind of gone off the rails at certain points.

I think to as Laura was saying about the jitters I think there's concern right now amongst rank and file Democrats that this stays on track and keeping it narrow, keeping the articles narrow, keeping the debate narrow inside the Caucus is helpful to this process I think is supposed to bullying all out and brining in much further things.


KANE: Those swing state Democrats who are the most jittery about moving forward with impeachment on the Mueller Russia stuff, when it came to Ukraine and they made the pivot and they said okay, let's go, they wanted to focus on Ukraine and they wanted it in Schiff's Intel Committee. The number of people who referenced Steve Cohen and the bucket of fried chicken were astonishing. He showed up to a Judiciary Committee with a bucket of fried chicken because it was going to be such a show to watch. They are very concerned about Judiciary and they need it to be a serious, sober, what does Pelosi say, all those words, somber and prayerful moment. They don't want it to turn into a circus.

KING: Right, it's not helpful in either party when people from safe seats show up thinking they can turn it into a circus because they're safe back home. To that point listen to Madeleine Dean here, she is on CNN today. So the Democrats 50 percent of the country says remove the President, impeach him and remove him. 43 percent now don't go that far. She says that's actually pretty good.


REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): 50 percent of people believe the President has done culpable things that warrant his removal? To me, that's a very strong poll. Remember we haven't seen the entire report. We haven't put forward drafted even articles of impeachment. We have a long way to go.


KING: This is a debate in town right now, it is sort of a half empty half full in the sense that it is half the country, Democrats do have an advantage. It's clearly safe for most House Democrats if 50 percent of the country thinks that. That means in a safe Democratic district the number is likely higher than that probably considerably higher than that. The question is you're not going to sway Republican Senators if this is a 50-50 or even a 50-43?

SALAMA: And they realize that. Adam Schiff realizes it I think more than most. He was here on CNN on Sunday and not outwardly saying that he intends to impeach the President he was very cautious about his rhetoric saying I want to talk to my colleagues in Congress, I want to talk to constituents to see how they're feeling? And so they realize that there is some reluctance from Democrats, but definitely Republicans are going to be pushing back as well.

Yes, they'll probably get the majority at the end of the day but they want everybody to feel strongly about this moving forward so that when it gets to the Senate phase at least there are some momentum and so he realizes that a lot and his rhetoric shows it even if at the end of the day most people believe he will.

KING: And so we assume the report from Schiff and the Intelligence Committee comes early next week. Then you have the Public Judiciary Committee hearing and then the drafting starts pretty quickly. Welcome to your holiday season. Up next, to look the latest CNN 2020 polls, some very good news for Joe Biden and some warning signs for Elizabeth Warren.


[12:25:00] KING: New CNN polling released today shows a resilient Joe Biden atop the Democratic pack nationally and suggests as the first votes get closer, the party is in a more moderate mood. Let's look at the numbers. First just the top choice of Democrats is again this is a national poll here.

Vice President Biden is at 28 percent, Bernie Sanders 17 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren 14 percent. You see Mayor Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang appear 28, 17, 14 pretty good healthy lead for Joe Biden nationally.

Now some people have say that what if some of these other candidates - the lower candidates drop out, what is the impact on the race there? Biden holds up if you just take the top four and we asked Democratic voters what if the top four are still in the race. Joe Biden is still with a double digit lead over Senator Sanders, Senator Warren and Mayor Buttigieg.

So again, nationally we'll see what Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond say but nationally Joe Biden in good shape. One reason for that, the party is looking more closely at the moderates, moving maybe more toward the center. If you add up top choice support for Biden and Buttigieg, that's 39 percent of Democrats, 31 percent for the two progressive candidates there so that's not a huge gap but the party does seem to be thinking maybe we need to move toward the middle.

Here's more evidence of that in our new poll. Here's the question, which policy approach do you prefer? Again these are likely Democratic voters. Big change even if a lower chance of that big change becoming law 36 percent of Democrats say that's where they are in their mind but look at this.

Fifty-six percent of Democrats say good chance of becoming law even if smaller change. That's Joe Biden's argument or Mayor Buttigieg's argument on say Obamacare for example just fix it doesn't go to Medicare for all. Now here's some hope for the other candidates. Only 42 percent of Democrats nationally say they've already made up their mind. 47 percent nearly half say they might change their mind and 11 percent still say they have no first choice.

So if you're a Cory Booker and you're even below those at 3 percent, you're thinking I still have a chance.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a comfort with people like Joe Biden thinking that, hey, here's a guy that was Vice President. But I really do believe that their support is soft. Most voters have not made up their mind. Let's see in about 60, 70 days when the actual voting starts. It always has shifted dramatically who's in the lead that's not? And we believe that we have what it takes on the ground to win.


KING: They're often not always they are often are late shifts. Maybe Iowa votes for somebody and then the race gets all jumbled up. But if you look at this, the predicate of the Bloomberg campaign, the predicate of Deval Patrick's late entry into the race is that Joe Biden is going to collapse? If you look at these national numbers, there's a lot of chatter in Washington and among Democratic strategists does Joe Biden have what it takes? Can he hold up? The numbers keep saying that voters around the country, they're fine.

LOPEZ: That's right I mean, so far that has been the prevailing theme which is that a lot of Democrats within the party feel as if they're holding their breath waiting for him to collapse and it hasn't materialized in any of the polling.