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Chief Justice, Senators Sworn in as Trump Impeachment Trial Begin; GOP Sen. McSally Lashes Out After Question About Impeachment Evidence, Calls Reporter "A Liberal Hack"; Trump Says "I Don't Know Him" After Indicted Giuliani Associate Implicates President in Ukraine Scandal; Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) Maryland is Interviewed About Impeachment Process, Government Accountability Office; Government Watchdog: Trump Admin. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 16, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:00:14]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." We're following historic developments here in Washington. For only the third time in U.S. history, the President of the United States is now on trial in the U.S. Senate for alleged high crimes and misdemeanors. President Donald Trump now facing two articles of impeachment accusing him of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress's constitutional obligation to investigate.

Just a short time ago, the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts was sworn in to preside over the President's trial. And he, in turn, swore in members of the U.S. Senate who will decide the President's fate while also setting the rules for the trial.

Let's go straight to Capitol Hill right now. Our senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us.

Manu, truly solemn proceedings there today marking the next phase of this historic episode. Walk us through these momentous moments.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, senators said they could feel the weight of the history of the moment as they sat in the room. They took their oaths of office. And the trial is about to begin in just a matter of days.

Now, it started, of course, when the House impeachment managers walked from the House side of the Capitol to the Senate side of the Capitol and read aloud the articles of impeachment. Later, the Chief Justice of Supreme Court took his own oath. He was sworn in. And then the senators took their oath and they bound to do impartial justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STENGER, SENATE SERGEANT OF ARMS: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States, articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, President of the United States.

The managers on the part of the House will now proceed.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Donald J. Trump, President of the United States is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

With the permission of the Senate, I will now read the articles of impeachment.

President Trump used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States' democratic process.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The presiding officer will administer the oath to John J. Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States.

JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: I'm now prepared to take the oath.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Will you place your left hand on the bible and raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that in all things that pertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the constitution and the laws, so help you God?

ROBERTS: I do.

GRASSLEY: God bless you.

ROBERTS: Will all senators now stand or remain standing and raise their right hand. Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws, so help you God?

MULTIPLE SPEAKERS: I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, the ceremonial aspects of the trial are essentially done. And we're about to get into the meat of the trial. The briefs will be submitted by the House impeachment managers over the next couple of days.

And then expect also that the White House's -- the President's defense team will submit their briefs as well. They'll go -- and then on Tuesday they will start to debate. First at organizing resolution that will set the terms of the trial. Democrats are expected to try to force some votes to try to push the Senate to consider witnesses at least up front as well as documents. Republicans say that issue is to be considered later. So that could flare up at the beginning of the trial.

Once that's done, that's when the opening arguments begin. The Democrats will make their case, the President's team will make their case and then the senators will have to decide what to do next, Wolf.

BLITZER: Whether or not there will be witnesses or more evidence that would be made available.

Manu, I want to ask you something that happened today with you up on Capitol Hill. When you attempted to air a very fair, serious, important question to Republican Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, a question about the upcoming trial in the Senate. Now, watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Senator McSally, should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): Manu, you're a liberal hack. I'm not talking to you.

RAJU: You're not going to comment, Senator, about this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Instead of answering a fair question, she simply called you a "liberal hack." It was disgusting, it was awful. She should know better. Certainly, you're one of the most respected congressional reporters up on Capitol Hill. Walk us through what was going through your mind at that time.

[17:05:00]

RAJU: Well, there is a key question at this moment because House Democrats are planning to present evidence in this trial, including evidence that is not been submitted yet through the course of the impeachment inquiry, things that have come out of Lev Parnas providing a number of documents. Lots of documents for the House Intelligence Committee. Of course that's the former Giuliani associate. And it's possible there's going to be more evidence that will come out while the trial is ongoing.

And at that point, senators like Martha McSally will have the choice to make about whether to vote to allow new evidence to be considered. So a key question that I have, and a lot of reporters up here have, about whether or not senators will agree and vote to actually allow that new evidence to come forward. And Martha McSally, as you can see Wolf, did want to talk about it. And also she's in the middle of a very difficult reelection race. And she's using that exchange to fundraise for her campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's awful. I take it she or her staff, no one has reached out to apologize to you. Have they?

RAJU: I have not heard from them at all, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, if they did the right thing, she would personally call you and say I'm sorry. It's an awful thing that she did.

All right, thanks very much Manu for that. The trial begins as an associate of the President's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is now directly implicating Mr. Trump in the Ukraine scandal. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us.

Jim, tonight, the President's team, they are responding.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And despite a growing number of photos and even video showing the two men together, President Trump kept repeating himself over and over that he doesn't know Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas.

The White House is attacking Parnas saying he cannot be trusted in the Oval Office. The President suggested Parnas who has been indicted is simply trying to cut a better deal for himself in response to the President's comments. An attorney for Parnas, just a short while ago, tweeted out a video of his client with Mr. Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: With the administration's alleged dirt for dollar scheme heading to trial in the Senate, the President is sounding angry and firing back at Lev Parnas. He was pointing the finger at Mr. Trump in the Ukraine scandal.

(On camera): Mr. President, what is your response to Lev Parnas who says that your efforts in Ukraine were all about 2020?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know him. I don't know Parnas other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people. I know nothing about him.

He's trying probably to make a deal for himself.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The President insisted he's only posed for photos with the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani and nothing more. Mr. Trump did not respond to Parnas' claim that multiple officials in the administration knew about the alleged pressure campaign for information on Joe Biden, telling CNN at one point to be quiet.

(On camera): So when he says Mulvaney he knew about this, that Bolton knew about this.

TRUMP: Quiet. You just have to take a look at the pictures, you just have to take a look at the polls. You see, I don't need anybody's help. I don't the help of a man that I never met before.

LEV PARNAS, RUDY GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: I welcome him to say that even more. Every time he says that I'll show him another picture.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: He's lying?

PARNAS: He's lying.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Parnas is offering to do more than just produce more photos standing with the President saying he's willing to testify on Capitol Hill. COOPER: How you personally viewed it, that this is about 2020 to help him get the next four years.

PARNAS: That's the way everybody viewed it. I mean there was -- that was the most important thing is for him to stay out for another four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it.

ACOSTA: The President also maintained he didn't know anything about a letter written by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to the leader of Ukraine requesting a meeting, a letter that claimed to have Mr. Trump's consent.

TRUMP: I didn't know about a specific letter. But if he wrote a letter it would have been a big deal.

ACOSTA: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Republicans who were resisting calls from Democrats to hear from witnesses like Parnas and former National Security Adviser John Bolton during Mr. Trump's trial in the Senate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): They are afraid of the truth. They don't want to see documents. They don't want to hear from our witnesses.

ACOSTA: The President's defender say Parnas doesn't deserve the attention he's getting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. This man lacks all credibility.

ACOSTA: One more piece of damaging information surfaced as the federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office found the White House broke the law in withholding aid to Ukraine saying in a statement, "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacting into law.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): I've been here since the time of President Ford. I have never, ever seen a report like this objecting so strongly to the actions of a president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, we also attempted to ask about former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and whether there was an effort to intimidate or conduct surveillance on her, but the President did not respond to those questions as aids shouted at us to leave the Oval Office.

At the moment, the President says he is still heading to the Global Economic Forum in Davos next week. A trip that would take him far away from the impeachment trial that will be unfolding next week in the Senate at least temporarily. The President guessed that the trial would go very quickly, but as the White House knows, the President knows all too well, there's no guarantee of that. Wolf

BLITZER: Yes, Davos Switzerland. All right, thanks very much Jim Acosta over at the White House.

[17:10:02]

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now is Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MA): Great to be with you Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to talk about the history of what happened today. What was it like when you were in the Senate? You were on the Senate floor. You were sworn in by the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts and then you signed that ledger.

HOLLEN: It was a solemn moment. I mean, the way that history was I think on the Senate chamber and on senators and when you signed the book and raise your hand and take the oath to do justice, that's an important moment. And now the question is whether the Senate will live up to that oath.

BLITZER: What was the mood among, not just your democratic colleagues, but your Republican colleagues as well when you were all sworn in and you all individually had to sign?

HOLLEN: Yes, I think people recognize the seriousness of the moment. You have the Chief Justice of the United States presiding the United States Senate. I've never seen that. Obviously, that occurred back -- during the last impeachment trial of a president.

BLITZER: That was 21 years ago.

HOLLEN: That was 21 years ago. And so the moment I do think sunk in for senators. The question is whether that moment and that feeling will stick and whether people will recognize the seriousness of the job, not just the moment.

BLITZER: So what are you anticipating? What are you expecting will happen starting at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday when the formal arguments will be made first from the Democrats, the House managers, they'll have a few days to make their case. Then the White House counsel will make their case. That will be a few days. What do you anticipating?

HOLLEN: Well, the first thing that will happen was Senator McConnell will seek approval of the motion he will put forward to govern the first part of this trial. And at that time, Senator Schumer will make motions seeking witnesses.

We just heard the conversation that you have been having with others about why we have to hear from key witnesses. It's not unusual for new evidence to come out during the trial. And for Republicans to take the position that they don't want to hear anything or see anything is a dereliction of their duty. So, you're going to be hearing motions for that coming up in that first base.

BLITZER: Well, assuming that there is 47 Democrats, 53 Republicans, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, doesn't want to have that fight right now. He says wait until after both sides make their respective cases, their arguments, then you can have a discussion about witnesses. And he says that's what happened during the Bill Clinton impeachment trial.

HOLLEN: Well, of course, the major distinction between the Clinton trial and this trial is in the Clinton trial, all the witnesses that they wanted to call for the trial in the Senate had previously testified under oath in related proceedings. Where as in it this case, the witnesses we're seeking are witnesses who did not testify in the House. Why? Because President Trump block them from doing so and block the documents.

But it may well be the case that Senator McConnell has the votes for the first phase to not have witnesses. But make no mistake, Republican senators will be facing that vote later in the trial.

BLITZER: That's where both sides make their arguments.

HOLLEN: Yes.

BLITZER: I want to talk to you about the Government Accountability Office bomb shell today --

HOLLEN: Yes.

BLITZER: -- in which they accused the Trump administration of actually breaking federal law by delaying the delivery of $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine. I know you've been involved in looking at that as well.

HOLLEN: Yes, I asked the GAO about this question back in October during a hearing. And then about a month ago asked them for a formal legal opinion. And today's decision was a bomb shell, right? This is a nonpartisan, independent organization that determined conclusively that the Trump administration violated the law when they illegally withheld funds from Ukraine.

BLITZER: I just want to point out, the money was appropriated nearly $400 million by the House and the Senate and signed into law by the President.

HOLLEN: And signed into law by the President. And so the President has a duty to faithfully execute the laws. That's what the GAO said. And by illegally withholding those moneys, he violated the Empowerment Control Act. And this of course was part of the President's overall scheme and abuse of power. And it's important to recognize that it.

We have other public evidence that the President directed the agencies to withhold the funds. So the President directed the agencies to commit an illegal act.

BLITZER: Do you want Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate is now under criminal indictment, to testify before the Senate trial?

HOLLEN: Well, the revelations he talked about really are block busters. The House managers will have to determine whether or not they want to seek his testimony. They already have a lot of the documents. And the documents they already have many of them will be part of the trial.

We're expecting they will get more information. And that should be included in the trial. As to whether or not the call him in person, really that's a question for the House managers to determine.

BLITZER: Adam Schiff the lead House manager and his colleagues--

HOLLEN: That's right.

BLITZER: -- they can make that decision --

HOLLEN: That's right. But it just under scores, Wolf.

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: -- to see if the majority 51 votes in the Senate won't allow that.

HOLLEN: Well, exactly. And that's the real test. I mean, we talked about the solemn nature of the moment. But the question is whether the Senate will live up to the constitutional requirement that we try this case and a trial requires getting to the truth. And that means getting the evidence.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland as usual, thanks so for coming in. Appreciated it very much.

HOLLEN: Good to be here, thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump predicts a quick trial and insist he'll carry on with business as usual including an overseas trip to Davos, Switzerland next week. Will the booming economy overshadow impeachment?

And despite the President's repeated claims, he doesn't know Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, there's new video tonight of Parnas and the President and has just been released by Parnas' attorney. We have that and much more, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:19]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Will all senators now stand or remain standing and raise their right hand. Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws, so help you God?

MULTIPLE SPEAKER: I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's truly a historic day here in Washington as the impeachment trial of President Trump formally began with the swearing in of the senators by Chief Justice John Roberts. Let's get the insight of our political and legal experts.

And Dana, you've covered Congress for awhile. Give us your thoughts as you saw that pomp and circumstance unfold very deliberately today on the floor of the Senate.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we were just talking to your guest from the last segment, Senator Van Hollen, and he said it felt the way it looked to us, which is heavy and real and solemn. And I know that's maybe already an overused word, but the visual of that, we're looking at it right now, of all 100 senators standing at their desks, putting their hands up and then having to go and sign the oath book, you know, is a reminder to all of them, Democrat and Republican, that they are jurors, they are individual judges, however you want to say it. But they are the ones who were supposed to decide whether or not this crime that the House indicted the President on he will be convicted for.

And of course, between now and then, so much rides on what 51, what a simple majority of these senators believe when it comes to witnesses and documents that will or should be, you know, admissible as part of that trial.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, this is only the third time in American history there has been a Senate trial, an impeachment trial of the sitting President of the United States. Was the weight of history today palpable?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, sure. Absolutely. I kept hearing the words impartial justice. And you think about that, you know, well, I hope they can do that. But there's no bombast in the Senate today, which we're used to. There were no speeches in the Senate, which we're used to.

And we know that going into this trial, not only will there be no speeches from senators, they will not be allowed to speak to each other. And they're going to be forced to listen to lawyers make their cases. And then they're going to have to decide whether they need more information and whether they want to have witnesses.

And we know that there are people on both sides who going into that chamber and have made up their minds, one way or another, the question is whether they will really be listening to -- for information they don't really know now. And what new we will learn during this trial.

And I have to think, and I don't know what you think, you're a lawyer, whether there is -- this is so unprecedented that there could be more information coming out as this trial continues.

BLITZER: What do you think, Susan?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: No, I mean, look, the contrast of all these sort of the partisan ranker that we're so used to, the standing (ph) with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court standing up there asking senators to swear that they will do impartial justice under the law, that oath still means something. Those senators are going to have to sit here now for a number of days and weeks and decide what does that mean for them.

We know that -- we shouldn't kid ourselves that 67 votes in the Senate, you know, will suddenly materialize to convict the President and remove him from office. But we do know that there are a lot of Republicans that are really uncomfortable with what the President did, believe that what he did is fundamentally indefensible and are resentful of having to defend it.

So one thing that might happen as we move forward in this more sort of solemn tone is that we might start to see sort of cracks forming in terms of whether or not Republicans are willing to defend the President and go along with party line. That kind of distance could be something that ends up being palpable to voters in how they understand these proceedings unfolding. Whether it's just a matter of partisanship or there really is something substantive on the table.

BLITZER: Abby, give us your thoughts on what you saw, how this day unfolded today.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But you know, what's striking to me is just how anachronistic this whole thing is and will be when it begins next week and how that's in such direct contrast with how the President operates on a daily basis. His use of tweets to control the narrative, his desire to have his defenders being vocal and, you know, in front of the cameras defending him.

[17:25:09]

The impeachment process that started today is going to be something that is not functioning on Donald Trump's terms. And I think it's going to be a real challenge for the President to deal with that, to deal with the fact they're all going to be sitting in this room with no electronic devices. They can't speak to each other. They can't really speak at all.

And he's going to have other people defending him in a incredibly sober way. That's one of the things I kept thinking about today. I don't know how he's going to cope with that.

He's already lashing out today when he spoke to the press at the White House this afternoon. But next week I think will be a bigger challenge for him in that respect. And I also think that these hearings because this is a little different from the way that the Clinton impeachment unfolded, we are not done with the fact finding in this process yet. There's still a lot that we don't know. And there is a sense of uncertainty as we go forward into the next week about what we might learn that we do not already know about what transpired when it comes to the issue of the President's conduct, Ukraine, and the defense spending that he held up according to the Democrats in order to get this investigation into his political rivals.

BLITZER: As we were speaking, we're getting a explosive new allegations from Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. We're going to have that, much more on all the important news, right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:30]

BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts. And, Dana, I want to talk to you about Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate. He's under criminal indictment right now. He's already turned over thousands of pages of documents to Congress.

He's doing public interviews, speaking to our own Anderson Cooper. That interview will air later tonight. Anderson pressed Parnas on which administration figures he alleges knew about the Ukraine scheme. I want you to watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You're saying Vice President Pence knew?

PARNAS: I don't know if Mike -- Vice President knew everything we were doing. I'm sure he was, but I don't --

COOPER: But he knew --

PARNAS: He was --

COOPER: -- it was quid pro quo?

PARNAS: Of course, he knew. Everybody knew the -- everybody that was close to Trump knew the -- that this was a thorn in the side, and this was a serious situation. As --

COOPER: Bolton?

PARNAS: Bolton.

COOPER: Mulvaney?

PARNAS: Mulvaney. Both of them I don't think agreed with it. I think -- there were certain people that agreed with it and didn't agree with it.

COOPER: He called it a drug deal, according to Fiona Hill.

PARNAS: I think Bolton is a very important witness because I think between me and Bolton, we could fill in all the dots. I think -- because I was on the ground there, and he was over here. I mean --

COOPER: And you'd be willing to testify?

PARNAS: I would be very willing to testify.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Any chance, do you think, he will actually testify before the Senate? BASH: I mean, it's one of the questions, right, that is unanswered.

Will there be any witnesses and, if so, who? And certainly, he made a compelling case on Anderson Cooper saying those things. That's one thing.

It's another thing to have to say it under oath, meaning, you know, you got to make -- you got to make sure -- the people who are judging his story have to make sure that it's true. And so, it's not just his testimony but it's also the documents that he claims back up what he is saying.

And, you know, the challenge for the Democrats trying to prosecute this case is a lot of those documents are in the White House, and the White House won't give it over.

So this does -- but this does play into the line that we've heard from Democrats in the House, and now the Senate, which is you're -- maybe you're not going to vote to convict, maybe you're going to vote acquit, but you, at least, need a fair trial. And you, senators, who are the jurors, last judges, you can change that and you can make that happen with just one vote.

BLITZER: You heard Chuck Schumer, Gloria, the Minority Leader, the Democratic leader in the Senate, say that the new Parnas evidence or allegations, whatever you want to call it, and the GAO report alleging that the Trump administration broke the law by not providing that assistance to Ukraine, that that will help them push for witnesses during the course of this trial. What do you think?

BORGER: I think so. I think it strengthens their case. Whether the Republicans are going to listen to it or not is another story.

But you have the General Accounting Office, which is a nonpartisan branch of government, saying the President can't do what he did. And how do you not pay attention to that if you're a sitting United States senator?

I think you have to pay attention to it. There are Republicans who are coming out. I think Congressman McCarthy said today, well, it was right to hold up the aid because, of course, he was concerned about corruption. According to Lev Parnas, as we heard today, he wasn't concerned about corruption; he was concerned about Joe Biden.

BASH: Also, the State Department, Trump's State Department, said that they -- he -- they gave the green light.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: They gave it.

BORGER: That's right. That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And, also, as they were gathering this GAO report, the State Department did not cooperate when they were -- when they were trying to gather their information.

[17:35:04]

BLITZER: The OMB didn't cooperate.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: Right. So I think that -- how do you just say, sorry, we're not paying any attention to this? It is up to Adam Schiff and the rest of the House Managers to weave this in to their legal case and make the case that we need to hear from them.

BLITZER: The President kept saying today, when he had that little exchange with reporters, he doesn't know Lev Parnas. He takes pictures with a lot of people; he doesn't know who they are.

Later this afternoon, Lev Parnas posted this video of his client -- Lev Parnas' attorney posted the video of his client with the President at Mar-a-Lago -- it looked like they're both having a good time over there -- and promised that they would be posting more pictures every time the President says I don't know this man.

HENNESSEY: Yes. So, look, there's a -- there's going to be a lot of questions about the credibility of Lev Parnas.

He's made a huge range of allegations. Some things, it's hard to imagine why exactly he would even know what the Vice President or Attorney General knew. Other things, he is clearly talking about things he did, conversations he had with Rudy Giuliani and Ukrainian officials. And most importantly, he has produced documents to back that up.

The single most significant thing is not what Lev Parnas is saying, although it certainly will become an important issue moving forward. But I think the single most important document is this letter that Rudy Giuliani sent to the President of Ukraine in which he says, in black and white, I represent the President of the United States, I am acting with his -- with his knowledge and consent.

Now, the White House is saying that the President has never met Lev Parnas. Is the White House claiming that that letter is inaccurate, that that letter is a forgery, or is -- or are they acknowledging that this is Rudy Giuliani holding himself out to foreign leaders as speaking for Trump?

BLITZER: Yes.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think Lev Parnas is the execution of this whole -- the execution part of this whole alleged scheme, and he has the documents to prove it.

But -- I know it seems like a million years ago, but John Bolton, the President's former national security adviser, is willing to testify. He has made that clear. And he has the other part of this, which is the inside the White House view of what was going on, what Rudy Giuliani was up to, how it was viewed by the professionals and by the people close to the President.

So I do think the combination of these two individuals, the actual physical documents that Parnas has to provide to this process, and Bolton's willingness to testify is really pretty compelling for Republicans who -- some of whom want to look fair in this process. It's very difficult to do that when they are leaving a lot of evidence potentially off the room.

BORGER: But what are they going to demand from the Democrats in return?

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: That's the question. Hunter Biden? I don't think so, nope.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to find out over the next two or three weeks what happens. A quick programming note to our viewers, you can see Anderson Cooper's interview with Rudy Giuliani's associate, Lev Parnas, later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Coming up, an astonishing request to Congress from the U.S. intelligence community, a request apparently made to avoid antagonizing President Trump.

[17:38:04]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning about an extraordinary request to Congress from the top U.S. intelligence agencies. A source now tells CNN they're asking Congress not to hold public hearings on their annual report about worldwide threats to the United States.

Let's bring in our senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt. Alex, are the intelligence agencies essentially scared of how the President will react to their public testimony?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly what it seems, Wolf. This is really stunning. These are the four most experts and analysts for subjects that cover the entire globe, and what they are saying now is we don't want to give our findings in public.

This is something that happens every year. Essentially, the intelligence community, the heads of the various agencies led by the Director of National Intelligence, are invited to Capitol Hill to give both classified behind closed door hearings as well as public hearings to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

And now, what we're hearing from a source telling our colleague, Zach Cohen, is that they don't want to do those public hearings. And the major reason why is you can point to exactly what happened last year.

You had the then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the CIA Director Gina Haspel, and others up there talking about some very hot button issues, the most pressing foreign policy issues that the U.S. is facing today -- Iran, North Korea, cybersecurity, ISIS, Russia. And in a number of those cases, if not all of them, what they were finding was counter to what the President was pushing in terms of policy.

On Iran, for example, the President was really playing up the threat from Iran. Whereas, the intelligence community found that, at that time, they were not working towards a nuclear weapon.

On North Korea, this was when the President was trying to forge ties with Kim Jong-un, play up the relationship we -- he had with them and expressing optimism that they would denuclearize. Whereas, the intelligence community found that they were not likely to give up their weapons' stockpile.

And immediately following the hearings, we heard, as we often do, from the President on Twitter blasting his own intelligence chiefs. And I want to read to you just part of two of his tweets.

He writes, the intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong.

Then he goes on to write, be careful of Iran. Perhaps intelligence should go back to school.

So, Wolf, it really does seem like the intelligence community does not want a repeat of last year.

[17:44:58]

BLITZER: I remember last year saying, at one point, to a senior intelligence official, you know there's an excellent graduate school here in Washington, the Johns Hopkins School of Advance International Studies where I went. You may want to go back to school. He laughed at me; it was that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But that's what the President said, maybe they should go back to school. Alex Marquardt, thanks --

MARQUARDT: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- very much for that report. Coming up, Ukraine launches an investigation as a new figure in the scandal suggests the U.S. ambassador was under surveillance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:23]

BLITZER: As President Trump's impeachment trial begins, Ukraine is now investigating whether former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance by people working to advance Mr. Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, specifically the Bidens. The surveillance concerns sparked by newly revealed communications

between an associate of Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani -- we're talking about Lev Parnas -- and a man named Robert Hyde.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with details. Brian, Robert Hyde is a new figure in all of this. What are you finding out about him?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have learned tonight that Robert Hyde is very controversial, a man with very erratic patterns of behavior who is now trying to explain texts of his suggesting he was tracking the former ambassador's movements and security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT HYDE (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: See you, guys, tonight.

TODD (voice-over): He is an obscure candidate for a congressional seat from Connecticut, a long shot at best. He calls himself an ardent Trump supporter, has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the President's campaign and inauguration committee, has enthusiastically posed for photos with Trump and his top allies, but it's not clear that he knows any of them.

Yet tonight, Robert Hyde finds himself in the middle of the Ukraine scandal. Today, FBI agents visited his home and office in Connecticut. U.S. federal prosecutors and Ukrainian police are investigating him. This comes after Hyde's texts came to light about tracking the moves of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.

According to House documents, Hyde sent those texts in March of last year to Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani's. Texts from Hyde, which House officials say refer to Yovanovitch say, wow, can't believe Trump hasn't fired this expletive. I'll get right in that. Is she under heavy protection outside Kiev?

Hyde sent Parnas a text saying, they are moving her tomorrow. One text says, they are willing to help if we, you, would like a price. Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money.

Tonight, Democrats and former diplomats are demanding an investigation. Was the ambassador being threatened?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): So I'm looking for a vigorous investigation of what went on here because Ambassador Yovanovitch, at the House Intelligence Committee, testified that she was -- felt intimidated.

TODD (voice-over): But Hyde tweeted he was just playing Parnas. And in an interview last night with CNN affiliate Sinclair's show, "America This Week," he denied he ever had eyes on Yovanovitch.

HYDE: Absolutely not, are you kidding me? I'm a little landscaper (INAUDIBLE) from Connecticut.

TODD (voice-over): And Lev Parnas told MSNBC he never thought the Ambassador was in danger.

PARNAS: I don't believe it's true. I think he was either drunk or he's -- was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn't take it seriously.

TODD (voice-over): Robert Hyde is a builder and landscaper with a complicated past.

EMILIE MUNSON, HEARST CONNECTICUT MEDIA: There are so many bodies of law enforcement and lawmakers who are examining his behavior closely because it does include some erratic and unusual patterns.

TODD (voice-over): Last May, before launching his campaign for the House, Hyde was at President Trump's Doral Resort in Florida when records show police were called because he'd indicated, quote, he was in fear for his life, was set up, and that a hit man was out to get him.

MUNSON: As a result of this, the police, you know, took him in and brought him to a medical facility for involuntary confinement.

TODD (voice-over): Less than a month later, records say, police in Connecticut confiscated several shotguns and rifles from Hyde, quote, due to a current protective order. Last July, court documents show a judge in Washington issued a protective order against Hyde for allegations that included stalking.

CNN has contacted Hyde to comment on these incidents, but he's offered no response. As for a possible threat to Yovanovitch, former CIA officers and diplomats tell CNN, ambassadors are constantly being tailed by foreign spies and terrorists, not by the likes of Robert Hyde.

JAMES MELVILLE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ESTONIA: You're vulnerable to being surveilled. To think that it would be American citizens who were threatening a facility or its personnel for political reasons is just outrageous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But, again, Robert Hyde is denying that he ever had eyes on Marie Yovanovitch, and he's denied any intent to harm the Ambassador. Nevertheless, the chairman of Connecticut's Republican Party is, tonight, calling for Hyde to drop out of that congressional race, which Hyde has indicated to reporters he will not do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks for that report.

Coming up, the historic impeachment trial of President Donald Trump begins with the swearing in of the Chief Justice and members of the Senate.

[17:54:59]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and

around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM with our coverage of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.

The historic proceeding's getting underway with a series of somber rituals that have played out only twice before in this nation's history. We saw the swearing in of the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts who will preside over the trial. Also taking their oaths, the senators who will sit in judgment of the President and decide if he should be removed from office.

[17:59:59]

Tonight, Mr. Trump is lashing out at the impeachment process and attacking a potential trial witness, Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas.