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Gordon Sondland Testified He Could Not Locate Record Of Phone Call With President Donald Trump On September 9th; Ambassador Bill Taylor: Tim Morrison Described Sondland-Trump Phone Call Where Trump Insisted That President Zelensky Announce Investigations; GOP Lawyer Questioned Gordon Sondland On Rudy Giuliani's Financial Interests In Ukraine; Ousted Navy Secretary Criticizes Donald Trump In Scathing Op- Ed; Donald Trump Slams "Deep State" Within Military Leadership; Powerful Storms Bring Blackouts, Whiteouts And High Winds. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired November 28, 2019 - 12:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Happy Thanksgiving. "INSIDE POLITICS" with Nia-Malika Henderson starts right now.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special Thanksgiving edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson in for John King. Two key features in the impeachment inquiry including the President's lawyer now facing new credibility questions another figure after being ousted from Trump Administration is now calling out the Commander-in- Chief.

And we hope you can take a moment away from politics to be thankful on this holiday and enjoy the clowns, even though they're little scary. People dressed up like butter. That's what people do apparently on Thanksgiving and giant balloons.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you eat Turkey today you don't have to go to school tomorrow.




HENDERSON: We begin the hour with new scrutiny for two key players in the impeachment probe. One is the President's Personal Lawyer Rudy Giuliani and new reporting that shows overlap between Giuliani's business and his pursuit of Biden dirt in Ukraine. The other is Gordon Sondland a star Democratic impeachment witness who said the President directed a pressure campaign in the Ukraine.

Sondland testified he called the President on September 9th and the President told to him he wanted nothing from Ukraine's President Zelensky. The call is a key part of the White House impeachment defense. In testimony, Sondland said his recollection was clear.


GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: I still cannot find a record of the call because the State Department and the White House cannot locate it. I'm pretty sure I had the call that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether it was the 9th or the 8th, you had this call and it was extremely memorable, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The call with President Trump on September 9th or the 8th, you recall it vividly right?

SONDLAND: I recall it vividly because it was keyed by the sort of frantic e-mails from Ambassador Taylor. So I made the call and asked the open-ended question, what do you want from Ukraine? That's when I got the answer.


HENDERSON: But new reporting from "The Washington Post" highlights discrepancy in Sondland's account and Sondland's timeline raising questions about whether the call happened when Sondland said it did, and as he described it. Here with me to share their reporting and their insights we have got Josh Dawsey with the "The Washington Post's", Catherine Lucey with "The Wall Street Journal" Melanie Zanona with "POLITICO" and Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post".

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful that you guys are taking time out to be with us here today. Josh, I'm going to start with you on this call. It is part of your reporting the story in "The Washington Post" really digging into this call Sondland says happened on September 9th. Some things aren't checking out in terms of records of the call and the timeline of when he said it happened, also a little off.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: The record of the call cannot be located they can't be procured by Sondland's or by the State Department by the White House. Now the President uses various cell phones and various ways to connect with others that don't always go through the White House situation room.

It's possible it did happen. There is no written record of it. For the call to happen the way he said it happened, it would have been a way before dawn at 4:00, 5:00 in the morning. We know the President gets up early.

HENDERSON: Yes, he does. He like to tweets early.

DAWSEY: This would have been even far earlier than he's known to wake up. The fact that no record can be procured of it and that Sondland's memory as you saw him hedging a little bit there in the clip raises questions about if it really happened when and how they say it did?

HENDERSON: And GOP folks as well as the President very much are latching onto the call. Some of the Republican folks who were asking him questions wondered why he didn't put it in the opening testimony. You saw the President there basically write out the transcript of his call and read it on the White House lawn. There was another call and I want to play this here. This is what Bill Taylor said of a call that happened before the September 9th call.


BILL TAYLOR, U.S. TOP DIPLOMAT TO UKRAINE: September 7th, I had a conversation with Mr. Morrison which he described a phone conversation earlier that day between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland he was not asking for a quid pro quo.

President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference and that President Zelensky should want to do this himself.


HENDERSON: This call, of course, not as favorable to the President and much different from the one that Sondland describes.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes and we've seen Sondland change his testimony multiple already times over the last few weeks. It shows that he has some issues with his memory, deciding whether or not he needs to update his testimony. He's changed it multiple times. So there are questions about whether this September 7th call is actually what he remembers where the President didn't say I don't want quid pro quo but I do want was essentially a quid pro quo which is that Zelensky should go to the mikes and announce his investigations into Biden.


OLORUNNIPA: So Republicans haven't really focused much on that call they have said it was hearsay, they've said this is various State Department officials and diplomats saying that they heard this - or they heard secondhand about this call. Not necessarily focusing on the call as much because it's not as favorable to the President.

But if it turns out this is a call that Sondland remembers where the President says no quid pro quo but he also says I want these investigations to be announced then it makes it much harder for Republicans to say to the President just didn't want anything that was untoward from the Ukrainians.

HENDERSON: Right, we all obviously know Catherine from the call he was directly heard on this call. It was transcribed at least in part where he says I want you to do me a favor though, and lists the things he wants. Also, what do you think about Sondland's credibility? He says he's not a note taker. Sometimes he said yes maybe his memory isn't the best and needed to be refreshed.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, they were just rush him on like aspects to some of this testimony now right everyone remembering different pieces of it in different ways, and sometimes coming back and with Sondland coming back and sort of editing or adding bits and pieces to the testimony that makes it hard to unpack the order of events.

But Sondland himself quite candidly says he doesn't have notes. He's not a note taker guy. He said that openly and didn't have access to e- mails and records that might help him recreate some of these memories. And so he essentially is acknowledging this as he comes before Congress.

DAWSEY: I have talked to world leaders all the time this is what I do, according to Sondland. I may not remember the details about all of these calls.

HENDERSON: Because there are so many calls.

DAWSEY: If you watch him any Republicans and Democrats have - it's hard to latch onto what he say and even you saw at the end Sean Maloney in New York said to him essentially we have tried to get you to testify truthfully three times now. He wasn't amused by it. If you look at Gordon Sondland, it's not necessarily the most credible testimony for either side.

HENDERSON: Right. But you can see them wanting to grab on Catherine as you said the parts that are favorable. Move on a little bit here to Rudy Giuliani, the other person who was getting scrutiny, obviously got scrutiny in some of these hearings. New reports out from "The Washington Post" for instance, about business dealings.

This is what this report says. President Trump's Personal Attorney Rudy Giuliani negotiated this year to represent Ukraine's top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on Former Vice President Joe Biden according to people familiar with the discussions.

Melanie, we know that lots of Republicans are like, throw Rudy Giuliani under a bus and throw him under another bus, right?


HENDERSON: That's what they want to do. What is the new reporting mean for the President's relationship with Giuliani? We saw before that he hasn't necessarily wanted to distance himself?

ZANONA: Well, the Republicans wanted to throw him under the bus since he boarded the bus, that's absolutely true. And look I think this gives more ammo to at least put distance between the President and Rudy Giuliani. Now they can say he was in Ukraine for his own financial interest for his personal reasons, he wasn't there doing the President's bidding for Ukraine when he came to Ukraine.

I mean, I do think that's a tough argument to make given that we know Rudy Giuliani was the point man on Ukraine, given that the President himself said goes through Rudy. He knows what's going on there. But I do think that you know Republicans are very eager to take the heat off the President and this makes someone easy escape though.

HENDERSON: And I'll read Rudy Giuliani's denial. This is what he said. I thought that would be too complicated. Mr. Giuliani said I never received a penny. But as you said, continuing scrutiny on Rudy Giuliani. This came up in the hearing as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know granted Mr. Giuliani had business interests in Ukraine, correct?

SONDLAND: Now I understand he did. I didn't know that it at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With Parnas and Fruman correct?

SONDLAND: A lot of new names I have learned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right and you had never met with those folks?



HENDERSON: Hard for this President to separate himself from Rudy Giuliani even though we have seen him does this before. You think about Michael Cohen. Who's Michael Cohen? Essentially the President has said, you mentioned the call, hard for him to do this.

There was a call I think he gave recently where he was like Rudy Giuliani has lots of clients. The President said that he wasn't Rudy Giuliani's only client and that he might be going to Ukraine for all sorts of things. What do you think the President's move on this is, Josh?

DAWSEY: Well, the problem for the President is that Rudy Giuliani has briefed him repeatedly on work in Ukraine. The President knew what Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine. In fact, Rudy Giuliani said to me this summer I told the President what I'm up to. He stays apprised of what I'm doing. The President is actually friends with Rudy Giuliani.

HENDERSON: They knew each other for years.

DAWSEY: In his orbit he actually he's considered him a peer for years. You can distance yourself from may be some of his work, may be his Ukrainian work, maybe from Venezuela, may be work from whole litany of countries that Rudy Giuliani is going. But at the end of the day he's been to the White House a considerable amount.


DAWSEY: He talks to the President all the time. He was the President's main defender during the Mueller probe. He was the main kind of attack dog on television. So it's hard for the President to say, who's Rudy Giuliani? I don't think he can do that.

LUCEY: The other thing to watch tool I think is that Rudy Giuliani also so far has been very loyal to the President.

DAWSEY: Right.

LUCEY: And one thing we saw with Michael Cohen was the President did distance himself that happened over a period of time. But also at some point Cohen said, I have to look out for my family, I had to protect myself and when that turn happened that was significant. Thus far we haven't seen a lot of daylight between the two.

HENDERSON: We'll have to watch this. Also today, disturbing accusations leveled against Ambassador Sondland. Three women tell - on the record that Sondland engages in sexual misconduct and professionally then punished the women when they rejected his unwanted advances. Family, friends and colleagues of each alleged victims all recall being told about the incidents at time. Sondland's personal spokesman responded to the accusations last night.


JIM MCCARTHY, SPOKESPERSON FOR AMBASSADOR GORDON SONDLAND: It's a sad climate in America when these kinds of underhanded stories are trying to affect political outcome. And I think most people leaders and public officials too are going to be able to see right through it. It is underhanded and it's garbage.


HENDERSON: And we'll be right back.



HENDERSON: President Trump is in Florida today spending the holiday with his family at Mar-a-Lago. He'll also talk to members of the military as he does each Thanksgiving, but this he is also facing very public criticism from his recently ousted Navy Secretary. We have CNN's Jeremy Diamond joining us live from West Palm Beach. Jeremy, talk about the dynamic that the President on this Thanksgiving about to talk to troops, what's the dynamic that he's facing with the military right now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nia look senior military and Pentagon officials have long expressed concerns about the President's impulsive decision making, most recently with regards to the Syria withdrawal. But they're now also expressing concerns privately about the President's recent actions to intervene in the cases of three service members who were accused of war crimes.

Those concerns are leading to plummeting morale at the Pentagon according to our colleague Barbara Starr. And those concerns were really elucidated by Richard Spencer, the recently ousted Navy Secretary. Here is what he wrote in an Op-ed as it relates to President Trump's recent decision to intervene in the case of Eddie Gallagher. He writes this was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low- level review. It was also a reminder that the President has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices. So that's fairly scathing criticism there from the recently ousted Navy Secretary.

But again, the important part here is that it really brings to light many of the concerns that we are hearing privately from senior defense officials, senior military officials. And now the President has this call later today with military personnel. Last year we know that he already chose to go in a political direction with that call speaking with the general serving in Afghanistan.

The President compared the fight against terrorists there to his efforts to combat illegal immigration in the United States. So that is also a concern. The President politicization of the military and we may very well see the President do the same later today. Nia?

HENDERSON: Yes, that's happening later this afternoon. Jeremy thanks for that report and happy Thanksgiving to you down in Florida. We'll bring into the room here - a scathing op-ed as Jeremy talked about there. And one of the things that came to light Josh, in this Op-ed is that the President intervened early and multiple times on this case. Why is he doing this?

DAWSEY: The President as seen Eddie Gallagher on Fox News a number of times. He has some high profile defenders speak to Hegseth a Fox News defender. And the President has been inclined to intervene in the cases for months. If you remember he tried to do it earlier this year and it was kind of fierce backlash here.

You have the Pentagon who went over to the White House Mark Miles, Mark Esper, Chairman of Joint Chiefs Secretary of Defense and tried to convince the President in explicit terms please don't do this, let the process play out, showed him pictures of a crime, showed him more than an hour of details because they thought he was getting bad info from others.

And the President said, I'll think about it, and then he did it. And then the most remarkable part was after he did it, the Navy tried not to implement at first what the President wanted. So then the President tweeted again to say, you will do what I want.


DAWSEY: It was a remarkable rebuke of the military and the President, vice versa. They both were basically playing chicken or the other.

HENDERSON: Right, and now the President making this a part of his stump speech. Who knows if it will be a permanent part but it certainly was recently down in Florida.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state. So many people said, sir, I don't think you should do that. I will always stick up for our great fighters. People can sit there in air conditioned offices and complain, but you know what doesn't matter to me whatsoever.



HENDERSON: And Catherine, you see the President extending the language of the deep state to the military, particularly military leaders, some of whom he put in these positions.

LUCEY: This is an extension of sort of a broader point he makes a lot but Washington is working against him that he's fighting for real people, he is fighting for real Americans, he is fighting for these warriors.

HENDERSON: So it is the folks on the ground.

LUCEY: The machine of Washington is stacked against him. You're going to hear more of this theme both with this and other cases. We have seen him again and again use a really expansive view of executive powers with military, with DOJ and with agencies. When he wants his way on these things he's very bold about going through whatever the advice is that he get.

HENDERSON: And he's run up against some military leadership on any number of issues Toluse. You, think about the withdrawal from Syria, Afghanistan troop levels, the ban on transgender service members which I believe he announced via tweet. Participation in NATO, ending war games with South Korea pardons for alleged war crimes which is what we are talking about now?

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, the President has said multiple times I know more than the general. I know more than the general and we have seen it with his long list of situations where he basically contradicts his own experts, his own military leaders and says I'm the military Commander in Chief. I was elected and without being briefed or without following the briefing that he gets from his leaders saying I'm going with my gut on everything from whether we should pull troops out of Syria to whether or not we should keep troops in Afghanistan.

So Josh and I were at Mar-a-Lago last year when the President had these phone calls with the military leaders. He spent a lot of time saying, I know what we should be doing when it comes to buying ships for the military. I do think you can expect that again today where the President will be politicizing this phone call and saying that he knows the better.

DAWSEY: If you were this shattered and gold for your last year Toluse and I and the President was on the phone with these military leaders and he was saying, you know, trade is very important to me. We have a lot of problems with trade and the military leader at the other end we don't see any issues with trade here and he would move on. It was just a remarkable-- HENDERSON: And this will be later today. We have got some reporting from Barbara Starr about what this means for the actual military and division. The military is divided, one official said. There are two camps half are Ardent Trump supporters that believe the President is watching out for the troops. But the other half many of whom are high ranking, believe the military must remain independent of partisan political influence and they don't see the President adhering to that Melanie?

ZANONA: Well, it sounds like tensions have been bubbling up for a while and things are really coming to the head, especially with the Syria decision and pulling our troops, abandoning our Kurdish allies. But what's really striking to me is the disconnect between Trump's love of the military and his understanding of the military.

This is a President who ran on supporting the troops, supporting the military, supporting the veterans. At the same time he makes these decisions as Toluse was saying that goes against his own national security advisers, goes against these generals. And so it just doesn't seem to be like he's actually connecting with what the military wants and what their guiding ethical principles are?

HENDERSON: But there is also this dynamic where he likes the generals. He often talks about my generals. He had generals in jobs that don't normally go to former military folks like John Kelly. When he wants to go against the generals as well Toluse he just said.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, he likes them sort of as a pro. He likes to see them dressed up with all of their military.

HENDERSON: Or the dog this week that he--

ZANONA: --that came out.

OLORUNNIPPA: Yes, trying to figure that out. But yes, the President likes the trapping--

ZANONA: Let's not re-open the dog.

HENDERSON: And as we go to break, Republican Senators posts this video to express their appreciation for members of the U.S. military on Thanksgiving.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most grateful for our men and women in uniform who keep us safe and free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On behalf of my family, we say thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FMELAE: And I hope that even if you are not able to spend today with your loved ones that you will be home very soon.



HENDERSON: So if you don't want to discuss politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table there's plenty of weather to talk about. Right now, two winter storms have millions of travelers dealing with downpours, high winds and heavy snow. More than 20 million people are under a some sort of watch, warning or advisory.

And some areas are dealing with widespread power outages. We've got CNN Meteorologists who is tracking the forecast for us. Chad, these storms which have caused some power outages and probably delaying some travel for people, they could move into the weekend.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. We have been standing here for two weeks with really nothing on the weather map. You put a holiday in the way and we have one storm on one side of the country and another coming here from the west. So the storm that made all the delays yesterday, 5,000 airport delays yesterday.

Only 130 were cancelled but 5,000 planes delayed at some point yesterday that storm is moving away. A small storm through the middle of the country about we is watching right now, snow in Palmdale. What are the odds that the kids in Palmdale, California, have a chance to get one snow day a decade and they are already off because it's Thanksgiving.

It's raining hard in Oceanside so the entire area down here in Los Angeles is just under a deluge. Orange County you are under a flash flood warning for the couple of hours and by the time you get above about 2,000 feet it is all snow. So where does it go?