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New Ukraine Scandal Evidence; President Trump Names Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz to Impeachment Defense Team; Interview With Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Trump Adds Three Big Names To Defense Team, Including Former Clinton Prosecutor Ken Starr; House Dems Release New Evidence from Giuliani Associate Lev Parnas. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 17, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're getting new information just in to CNN.
House Democrats are planning to release new evidence from Rudy Giuliani's indicted associate Lev Parnas tonight, this as they're bracing for a showdown in President Trump's impeachment trial, after opening arguments on Tuesday.
We're told the trial could be forced into closed session for a heated debate, as Democrats press Republicans to allow witness testimony and new evidence, this as the president is adding three high-profile members to his legal defense team, former independent counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray and constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
I'll talk with one of the senators sitting in judgment of the president, Democrat Richard Blumenthal.
And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to Capitol Hill right now.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us.
Manu, I understand we're expecting House Democrats to release more evidence tonight from Lev Parnas.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
House Democratic aides just told us that they do plan to release more evidence tonight from that Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, an indicted associate who has been cooperating with House Democrats as part of their impeachment push.
He has already provided a lot of information. A huge array of documents have already been provided to the committee. They have already released some of it. We're expecting more to be released tonight.
It's uncertain exactly what that will say, but, already, what we have seen from both is evidence and both public comments that the associate has detailed provide more insight into the efforts to oust that Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, someone who Giuliani went after in what has been described as a smear campaign, amid efforts by the president and the president's allies to push for an investigation that Ukraine would launch into the former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as -- an investigation that could help the president politically.
We will see if this new evidence at all provides any more information into that effort. But Democrats are releasing this tonight because tomorrow their first big deadline ahead of the arguments next week in the Senate, the deadline to provide a brief to the Senate that will detail their arguments.
So, Wolf, we will see this evidence, what it is tonight, and we will see how it's reflected in their opening arguments, as Democrats try to make the pitch to the Senate, try to convince Republicans to consider new evidence to consider witnesses and, of course, in their view, hope to get some votes to convict the president.
At this point unlikely that will happen, but Democrats, they are moving tonight to release this evidence, in hopes -- they hope to change some Republican minds -- Wolf.
BLITZER: When the impeachment trial reconvenes next week, Manu, senators, they are getting ready for what is expected to be a rather contentious debate over witnesses.
Will Democrats get what they want?
RAJU: Well, at this point, probably not. Perhaps down the line, maybe. We will see.
But we do expect a fight to happen right off the bat on Tuesday. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, will unveil his resolution that will detail the parameters of the trial. But what will not be included in that resolution is a guarantee that witnesses will testify and a guarantee that documents will be produced.
Democrats have demanded that up front, but, because that's not going to included in the resolution, expect Chuck Schumer, the minority leader of the Senate, to offer an amendment to try to put that language in there, try to require witnesses to come and testify, require documents to be produced.
And that amendment -- every amendment is expected to have at least two hours of debate. We will see how many amendments Democrats could offer. But that's going to -- could take a quite a bit of time. And, Wolf, we're told that this could go into closed session on Tuesday, because in a Senate trial senators are not allowed to speak.
They can only speak if they go into closed session. If they were to have an open session of debate, that debate would have to occur between the House impeachment managers and the president's defense team. But at the moment, we're told -- I'm told by a source who is directly involved with the matter to expect at least one closed session on Tuesday, as Democrats and Republicans square off on what could be a heated fight over witnesses and documents, perhaps in private. Perhaps we won't see any of it, but we will ultimately when they
conclude that. And that's when the opening arguments will begin, Wolf. And there is still a fight ongoing about how long those arguments could occur.
Word tonight that those arguments could be condensed to two days, 12 hours apiece on each side, will make opening arguments. In the Clinton time, there was all -- there were 24 hours of debate. But that was spread out over four days.
Tonight. Democrats are urging Republicans to keep that four days of arguments in place. But there's -- we're hearing from our sources, Wolf, that could be condensed to two 12-hour days next week.
So a lot is still developing in the days ahead, but expect a lot of fighting on both sides as they prepare for this historic trial -- Wolf.
BLITZER: OK, Manu, thanks very much, Manu Raju reporting from Capitol Hill.
Now to the president and his expanding trial defense team.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, what are you learning about the president's new legal defense team? Who's in and who's out?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, while President Trump beefs up his defense team with more high-profile lawyers, we're learning that, as of now, the team will not include the president's fiercest House GOP allies who he had wanted to represent him on the Senate floor, though sources caution the situation is still very fluid, just a few days before the Senate trial starts.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, with the Senate impeachment trial looming, President Trump is taking no chances, beefing up his legal team and adding a few familiar names to help on defense.
QUESTION: What do you think of Ken Starr, Mr. President?
BROWN: Among them, Kenneth Starr, the prosecutor whose work led to President Clinton's impeachment and who Trump has publicly railed against.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ken Starr is a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is disaster.
BROWN: And Robert Ray, who followed Starr as independent counsel during the Clinton administration, and constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who gained fame as a member of O.J. Simpson's defense team and was an attorney for Jeffrey Epstein.
The president's defense team preparing for a number of unsettled issues, including the possibility that damaging witnesses could be called to testify.
LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: I should be their number one witness.
BROWN: Among them, Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani's Ukraine fixer who is under indictment for campaign finance violations.
PARNAS: Because I'm the one that got all the dirt, supposedly. Why aren't they calling me to testify if -- why do they need Biden? Call me. Ask me what Biden did wrong.
BROWN: Parnas telling CNN he witnessed Trump telling a top aide that former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch should be fired.
PARNAS: To my knowledge, he -- the president fired her at least four times, maybe even five times, once in my presence.
BROWN: But Trump is sticking to his claim that he doesn't know Parnas.
TRUMP: I don't know Parnas, other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people.
BROWN: In the face of the stunning allegations brought by Parnas, today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broke his silence.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I have not met this guy Lev Parnas, to the best of my knowledge. I have never encountered, never communicated with him.
BROWN: And announcing the State Department plans to investigate whether the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was ever under illegal surveillance.
POMPEO: I suspect that much of what's been reported will ultimately prove wrong. But our obligation, my obligation as secretary of state is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate any time there's someone who posits that there may have been a risk to one of our officers. We will obviously do that.
BROWN: And despite the brief distraction today with the LSU Tigers championship team visiting the White House, for President Trump, there was no avoiding the elephant in the room.
TRUMP: We will take pictures behind the Resolute Desk. It's been there a long time, a lot of presidents, some good, some not so good.
TRUMP: But you got a good one now, even though they're trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that?
(LAUGHTER) (END VIDEOTAPE)
BROWN: And shortly after the announcement that Ken Starr would be joining the president's defense team, Monica Lewinsky appeared to weigh in, tweeting: "This is definitely and are you F'ing kidding me kind of day"
Now, we have also learned, as you know, Wolf, that Starr's investigation brought to light Lewinsky's involvement with Clinton.
I'm also told tonight by a source familiar that one of the reasons that president is beefing up his defense team is to break up the monotony on the floor over the 24 hours they're expected to make their case, in hopes that these typically dry legal arguments will be made more interesting by mixing up who is delivering them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thank you, Pamela Brown reporting from the White House.
Joining us now to talk about the impeachment trial and his role in it, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
What does the president's said newly selected defense team tell you about his legal strategy?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): It could tell anyone who's paying attention a number of facts about his strategy.
First, they are celebrity lawyers who are well known to his base, and perhaps designed to appeal to the base, both within the Senate and more, probably creatively, outside, and then may say something about what he thinks is the strength of his case.
He needs big personalities and well-known celebrities because he sees some weaknesses in the facts and the law. And some of those lawyers, by the way, interestingly, are mentioned in the documents that have just been revealed, and others involving some of the scheme that may be in evidence.
But most important, Wolf, for me, and I hope for my colleagues in the Senate, is paying attention to the facts and the law, not the personalities of the lawyers.
And the case is so overwhelming here, despite the president's blocking every single document -- let me repeat -- every single document from every single agency, and despite his stopping any of the witnesses from the administration -- nine of them are key witnesses -- from coming forward.
He must be worried about what those facts and the law could show if we get those witnesses and document.
[18:10:05] BLITZER: Senator, which lawyers on the president's defense team are you referring to that they have been mentioned in those documents?
BLUMENTHAL: Jay Sekulow and Pam Bondi are mentioned in the Parnas documents, not to draw any inferences about their potential involvement, but they are mentioned in those documents.
Again, what's really important is the facts and the law. And that's why we're seeking those witnesses who have firsthand, direct knowledge. They were in the room. They were eyes and ears on the president, Michael Duffey and Robert Blair, who executed the scheme, John Bolton, who tried to talk him out of it, and Mick Mulvaney, who, in fact, took that order from the president to withhold money from Ukraine in return for personal benefits to the president in the investigation of the Bidens.
And most important is the focus on those witnesses and documents, firsthand and direct knowledge. And that is what I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will focus on, because the gravity of this moment certainly struck us yesterday as we took that oath, as we raised our right hand, as we watched the chief justice of the Supreme Court come into the chamber, never before seen by most of us.
BLITZER: Let me ask you what I asked Senator Markey in the last hour.
If, in order to get those four witnesses that the Democrats, that you want, you also have to include, let's say, Hunter Biden, would you vote for that kind of resolution?
BLUMENTHAL: Interestingly, Wolf, my answer depends on what Senator McConnell comes to us to propose.
BLITZER: What if he says, you can have the four, but you're also going to have to have witnesses that the president wants?
The president repeatedly refers to Hunter Biden, the whistle-blower, Adam Schiff. He mentions those potential witnesses all the time.
BLUMENTHAL: Hunter Biden has no relevant knowledge, number one.
But, number two, I'm not going to negotiate against myself by talking about hypotheticals here. We have made a proposal to Senator McConnell. He has given us no response, none.
And he has proposed no rules as yet, none. Even his Republican colleagues are in the dark.
That is unprecedented. In the Clinton impeachment trial, rules were discussed on a bipartisan basis. He is literally, as he said, taking his cues from the White House. He's allowing Donald Trump to be in charge of his own trial.
And my Republican colleagues who join Senator McConnell will be complicit in that cover-up. They will be aiding and abetting it. There is a smoking gun here. We know about it already, that July 25 transcript.
And all of these witnesses documents that we want are designed to be firsthand direct evidence, knowledge of what the president said and did directly.
And Hunter Biden has no such knowledge, even, arguably, no such knowledge, let alone Adam Schiff, who is the advocate here, not a witness,
BLITZER: President Trump's defense team will face off, as you know, with these seven House Democrats, handpicked by the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, will present the case against the president.
You're a former prosecutor. What advice do you have for these House impeachment managers?
BLUMENTHAL: My advice, first of all, is secondary to their expertise. They are highly skilled. They know the case. They have prepared exhaustively.
But I would say rely on the facts and the law. There's an old saying as a prosecutor, and I know it well. If you have the facts, argue the facts. If you have the law, argue the law. If you don't have the facts or the law, pound on the table.
They don't need any table-pounding. They have the law and the facts on their side. This gross and corrupt abuse of the power of the office for personal benefit is so stark and so powerful.
The American people get it. And that's why, frankly, my Republican colleagues are saying, in their hometowns, as Susan Collins did in Bangor, Maine, that she's open to hearing witnesses and seeing documents.
But we need more than talk. I hope they will respond to the deep and steep gravity of the moment.
But I have been disappointed before. And what really counts is their votes. I will believe it when I see it.
BLITZER: You heard Manu Raju, our congressional correspondent, report that House Democrats tonight are planning to release more evidence involving the Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, as they prepare to file their formal brief tomorrow.
What do you expect? And do you think any new explosive claims revealed by Lev Parnas, for example, will be enough to pressure the Senate Republicans to calling witnesses?
BLUMENTHAL: There's growing momentum in favor of calling those witnesses and providing for the documents that, again, Donald Trump has blocked.
He has gagged the witnesses and silenced them. He has prevented the documents from coming in response to subpoenas and requests. And I think, more than the evidence coming to the fore now, what my colleagues will hear most persuasively is in their hometowns.
The American people, 70 percent want witnesses and documents, because they know that a trial without witnesses and documents, when they are blocked, is a cover-up.
And, as a former prosecutor, I'm very much aware of the jury instruction that judges give that a witness who prevents evidence from coming forward can be addressed with an adverse inference. You can assume that evidence would not have been helpful, that it might well have been incriminating, not helpful to the defendant.
So, what Donald Trump is blocking here and what my Republican colleagues have to hear and see, they will regret if they block it. And we are going to force them to go on record.
What we do in the Senate is, we vote. And they will be haunted by those votes, because history will judge them. This one is literally for the history books.
BLITZER: Well, do you want Lev Parnas to be a witness, Senator?
As you know, he's been criminally indicted right now in New York. You think he would be a good witness for the Democrats?
BLUMENTHAL: Great question.
I want to see all of those other documents that are now coming out, because they're going to be needed to corroborate Lev Parnas, if he ever is a witness, because he is under indictment. He could be challenged in terms of his credibility.
And I want to see those documents that are now coming out. There will be more of them, I understand.
But my focus -- and, again, just at the risk of repeating -- is on those four individuals. Mick Mulvaney was in the room with the president, taking his order to withhold this aid illegally, corruptly.
The two men who executed this scheme, Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, I want to hear from them, and of course, John Bolton, who called it a drug deal, who tried to dissuade the president from going forward with it.
The American people deserve the truth. I want to hear from them.
BLITZER: We will see if we do hear from them.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead, President Trump beefs up his impeachment legal team with some very well-known attorneys, very famous, for some of the country's most high-profile trials. Plus, details of a newly revealed face-to-face meeting between two of President Trump's top defenders, the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, and Rudy Giuliani.
BLITZER: Tonight, President Trump is turning into a trio of very well- known legal minds to help defend him in his upcoming Senate trial.
CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with more on this.
Tom, these new additions represent a blast from the past, including the era of President Bill Clinton's impeachment.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Trump is absolutely loading up on big-name legal talent, even as he insists the case against him is incredibly weak and anyone can see it is a hoax.
KEN STARR, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Indeed, the evidence suggests that the president repeatedly trying to thwart the legal process.
FOREMAN (voice-over): When Ken Starr was building the impeachment case against Bill Clinton, saying the president had sexual relations with an intern and lied about it under oath, Donald Trump called the special prosecutor a freak and more.
TRUMP: I think Ken Starr is a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is disaster.
FOREMAN: But now Starr is on Trump's impeachment defense team, joining Robert Ray and Alan Dershowitz as the president's latest ready-for-TV legal heavyweights.
ROBERT RAY, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: We shall do our best to be thorough and fair.
FOREMAN: Ray took over the Whitewater probe when Starr stepped down and seems ready to stand by him again.
RAY: Although there may not be at this point the votes to actually dismiss this outright, I think you can look for summary proceedings in the United States -- in the United States Senate without witnesses.
FOREMAN: Dershowitz was part of the so-called dream team that defended O.J. Simpson.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: If Your Honor didn't see, everybody else in the country saw.
FOREMAN: He represented Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst, and for a time the late accuse sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. He told "The New Yorker" he regrets that one.
But he's also said a lot of other things.
DERSHOWITZ: Black Lives Matter is endangering the fairness of our legal system.
FOREMAN: His flair for grabbing headlines may be why a defense team spokesperson says Dershowitz will present the oral arguments against the impeachment charges.
DERSHOWITZ: They're the kinds of broad, general, vague, open-ended criteria that can be weaponized against virtually any president.
FOREMAN: The defense team also includes former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, longtime Trump lawyer Jane Raskin, and leading the effort, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and outside attorney Jay Sekulow.
Yet, even with all that legal firepower, a question remains.
STARR: One of the issues is, will the president follow legal advice?
FOREMAN: Yes, that could be one of the issues.
Interestingly, Dershowitz is standing with the president, while simultaneously trying to distance himself, saying, look, I'm not really here about that. I'm going to be here to argue the constitutional case -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting.
Tom Foreman, thanks for that report.
We're going to talk more about the colorful and controversial members of the president's legal defense team. Our analysts, they're here. They're all ready to weigh in.
We will do that right after this.
BLITZER: All right. We're standing by for House Democrats to release a new evidence tonight from Rudy Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas. Lawmakers from both parties and the White House, they are now gearing up for the president's impeachment trial to begin in earnest next week, the president adding three new high profile members to his defense team.
Let's bring in our analysts to discuss. Jeffrey Toobin, you are very familiar with this legal team that the president has put together. I believe you were once a student at Harvard Law School Criminal Defense. You took a course with Professor Dershowitz. Tell us what you think the strategy now for the president now, how it's emerging?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let's just be clear about one thing. These are superb, superb lawyers, not just, Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, but Jay Sekulow, a very accomplished Supreme Court advocate, Jane Raskin, a very successful criminal defense lawyer, and Robert Ray, who was, you know, the independent counsel after Kenneth Starr. I mean, these people are really good.
And the other thing about them is they're famous. And one thing we know about Donald Trump is he likes famous people. So I don't think you can draw any particular conclusions about what kind of defense it's going to be, but these people are good at their work. I don't always agree with them. I often disagree with all of them. But in terms of just sheer quality, it's very, very high.
BLITZER: I didn't hear you mention the lead attorney for the president, the White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone.
TOOBIN: Well, he is someone who is much lower profile than the others and I have never seen him in court. I have never seen him interviewed. That's not how he conducts himself. So you're right that I should have mentioned because he is apparently the lead attorney.
But just in terms of his public profile and in terms of the cases he has argued, he is not someone who I've known since before we worked in the White House.
Remember, also about Cipollone, he is the one who got the president into all this trouble by putting up a complete stonewall to any sort of cooperation. So, I mean, that's something he's going to have to deal with and address.
BLITZER: And you know Dershowitz for a long time, including during the O.J. Simpson trial. I think you wrote a book about that.
TOOBIN: Which I -- yes, and I wrote about a book about Ken Starr too.
BLITZER: Everyone who were very, very vividly.
What do you think, Susan? What do you think of this legal defense team?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Look, it's obviously in keeping with the president's sort of reality show instincts, the big dramatic reveal, bringing back characters from last season, the last impeachment. This has all the theatrical elements that the president loves. That said, I do think that this is something that potentially is going to backfire on the president.
So let's think about Ken Starr. There are hours and hours and hour of footage of Ken Starr making an impassioned case for the importance of holding the president of the United States accountable, the importance of the United States Congress doing its constitutional duty in impeaching a president. He wrote a memoir in which he described his frustration with the idea that the Clinton administration would dare to stonewall. Everything that Kenneth Starr says in defense of the president, there are going to be clips to contrast with that.
And I think what he's going to end up doing is just underscoring the hypocrisy here and the hypocrisy of the Republicans, more generally.
Think about Alan Dershowitz, again, a television lawyer, somebody that President Trump obviously really likes, also somebody who has been implicated in a number of personal scandals, somebody who has a professional reputation closely tied to people like Jeffrey Epstein, putting this as the person to represent Donald Trump at a moment in which the Senate is trying to decide questions of his character, of his fitness for office.
The idea that these are the people that are going to make those four or five moderate Republican senators comfortable, four or five moderate senators who might actually join with Democrats to call witnesses, that it's going to make them comfortable and feel like they have cover to hold tight with Republicans defend the president. I don't see that this is necessarily the easiest strategy for the president.
TOOBIN: Can I just say one thing?
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: After listening to Susan, I take back everything I said. I'm just so blown away. Anyway, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.
BLITZER: No, you can always interrupt. That's fine.
What do you think, Jim Baker? Because missing from this legal defense, any of the House Republicans who were so vociferous in defending the president during the course of the House impeachment procedures.
JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That was a brilliant move to leave them off the team, I think. We've seen these hearings. We've all watched these hearings on national T.V. I was deposed for I think it was eight hours by members of Congress behind closed doors, asking me all kinds of questions. And let's just say they are not the best questioners in the legal profession or in this medium. And so I think it was quite an astute move to leave them off. It will be a distraction.
It's hard to ask good questions in a legal proceeding, right, to actually establish the facts that you think you want to try to establish. That takes time and effort. You can't just waltz in and do that. And I think, just frankly, I don't think the members generally have the discipline to be able to do that unless they've been former prosecutors -- unless they are former prosecutors, they're not as good at it.
So it was, I think, a smart move.
BLITZER: I think these House Republicans' role will be to go on television every night and talk about what is going on and totally, of course, defend the president.
April, you and I were White House Correspondents back in '99 when Ken Starr was the independent counsel leading the impeachment process against then-President Bill Clinton. Listen to what Donald Trump, then a private citizen, then, this was 21 years ago, had
to say about Ken Starr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think Ken Starr is a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster. I hated the way the president handled it. It was a long and terrible process. I really think that Ken Starr was terrible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was then. And, obviously, he's got a different opinion right now.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is now -- I know I love Jeffrey's laugh.
TOOBIN: It's funny, right?
RYAN: It's interesting because this is a redemption moment for Ken Starr. Because he needs to prove the president wrong, and not only that, he was the loser in that impeachment trial. The winner was the defense, Cheryl Mills, who was then President Bill Clinton's defense attorney. She was in the White House Counsel, a young, African- American woman.
And you were right. This week, just a couple days ago, I celebrated 23 years at the White House. And one of the most poignant moments of my time was watching Ken Starr come in that government car, being chauffeured through the southeast gate at a time when tourists were allowed to go through that area. There were throngs of people there watching Ken Starr come through those gates and go up the south driveway. And I watched him through the gates go through the diplomatic room entrance, and he deposed Bill Clinton that day in the map room. There was an eerie silence then.
And then that night we found out that Bill Clinton had inappropriate relations with Monica Lewinsky. But the person that I'm looking at through all of this, it's not Dershowitz, it's Ken Starr. And Ken Starr is trying to play public opinion to his advantage.
BLITZER: Well, let me get Jeffrey Toobin to react. Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I just think Susan made such a good point. I mean, the whole argument that Starr made when he was independent counsel was about accountability and cooperation and telling the truth.
RYAN: And now look what he's doing.
TOOBIN: And there is going to be a feast of the House managers, the Democrats, you know, finding clips where he is going to be saying the opposite of what he is saying now in defense of Donald Trump. I think they are really leading with their chin by putting Starr up there.
The other point to make is that it's not just Alan Dershowitz who represented he Jeffrey Epstein, so did Ken Starr. So, you know, that's going to be part of the story too.
BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by. Our team up on Capitol Hill are getting some -- they're getting new information.
House Democrats have just released new documents, lots of new documents involving Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate. We're going through that, we're going to update you. Stand by.
BLITZER: Some dramatic developments unfolding right now. House Democrats have just released new documents and recordings involving Rudy Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas.
Let's go back to CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. I know you and our team are going through -- you're going through all the documents. What are you learning.
RAJU: Yes. They're actually text messages that had been provided by the Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas, to the House Democrats. And now, this is being released as part of the impeachment inquiry as part of the efforts of Democrats while they draft their brief against the president in their impeachment trial in the Senate.
And what these documents show is more information, more about this effort to go after the ousted Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. She is someone that had, of course, the president recalled and some who had been dubbed as part of a -- there was a smear campaign of sorts being led by Rudy Giuliani against her. And what we have learned in the past document dump from Lev Parnas is that there may have been an effort to surveil her as she was working as a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. So we're learning a little bit more about that effort to track her.
Now, according to these documents, there were text messages that were exchanged between a congressional candidate from Connecticut named Robert Hyde, who's a Trump donor, and an unknown Belgian number. And these documents appear to be have turned over to Lev Parnas, who then provided it to House Democrats.
And I want to read you a little bit about the text messages between this gentleman, Mr. Hyde, and this unknown number. It said, according to this then, they're talking about -- this is from March of 2019, there was a discussion about Marie Yovanovitch, this unknown Belgian number says she had been there since Thursday, never left the embassy. The response this person continues, saying, nothing has changed, she is still not moving, they checked today again, it's confirmed we have a person inside.
And then he says, hey Broski (ph), tell me what we are doing, what's the next step? And then he continues, hi, good morning, buddy. She had visitors. And then the question from this individual, the Belgian number, hey, brother, do we stand down or you still need intel be safe?
And the question respond was, asked from Hyde.
So, it provides new information here. It shines a new light about this effort to track the ousted Ukrainian ambassador. Of course, she's someone who testified before the House impeachment probe and said she was unfairly targeted by Rudy Giuliani, by his associates, and recalled by the president without really any explanation. The president himself bad-mouthed her in his phone call with President Zelensky of Ukraine.
But these text messages show that part of this effort to track her apparently with some individual with a Belgian phone number. Now, also in these documents, it shows communication that Lev Parnas had extensive exchanges over WhatsApp with a senior aide to Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee's ranking member.
That senior aide, his name is Derek Harvey. They were talking back and forth about what appears to be an apparent investigation that Nunes had been launching into the various things that the president himself had been looking into -- potential into the Bidens, into the Clintons, potentially into this theory that the president has pushed, that has not been substantiated, that Ukraine was the one that interfered in the 2016 elections.
This is -- according to these text messages, it appeared they were discussing setting up some meetings of sorts with Ukrainian officials to try to get more information. So, it shines light on the efforts apparently by Devin Nunes. And we just reached out to his office. In fact, it's just been released. We have but not gotten a response back yet about exactly what Mr. Harvey, Nunes' senior aide, was doing in contact with Lev Parnas.
But the information -- probably the most significant information here is about this effort to track the ousted Ukrainian ambassador. That had something that had gotten a lot of attention with the most recent document dump. But this one here shows just how extensive it appeared to have been, or at least involving more individuals monitoring the movements of the ambassador and later her ewer came last year amid concerns among a number of diplomats that she was unfairly ousted from that position, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm looking through some of these documents. Also, there's a picture that was released Manu, I don't know if you saw it, that seems to suggest that the president did in fact know Lev Parnas. He repeatedly says, I didn't know the guy, I may have taken a picture with him. I didn't know the guy.
Have you seen that picture?
RAJU: Yes, I have. We looked into this. There's one set of documents that includes a photo. Yes, it does include a photo of the president.
Lev Parnas has already released a number of photos with the president. This is just another one. It also shows a picture of Lev Parnas with Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son. There's another -- more photos of him and Rudy Giuliani -- Giuliani, they're smoking cigars. There's a picture of Giuliani playing golf and other Republicans as well.
So, Lev Parnas is trying to show that he was in that inner circle of sorts, certainly very close to Rudy Giuliani. He had access to President Trump, access to the eldest son. Even the president has said he didn't know the guy, he doesn't know really anything, he's taking pictures with so many individuals. Lev Parnas is trying to make the point he did know President Trump, he did know him pretty well. He was very close to the president's top attorney and had insight.
So, we'll see how the president and the White House react to this information, but just more -- shining more of a light about Lev Parnas' role amid this push to oust the Ukrainian ambassador and launch those investigations from that will be pushed by Ukraine that could help the president politically -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Manu. Excellent reporting as usual.
Jeffrey Toobin, I see this picture here of a table where the president -- it says -- there's a nametag, and right next to the president, an empty seat right there is Lev Parnas.
Clearly, they did have some sort of relationship.
TOOBIN: Right. The president is clearly correct that he takes a lot of photographs with a lot of different people, but there's also a lot of photographs of him with Parnas. At some point when there are enough photographs and they're apparently eating meals together, the president's denial that he has no idea who this person is becomes a lot more hard to credit.
And so, the over-arching question about Parnas, though, is why was he such a central figure in trying to get rid of an American ambassador and trying to get the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of Biden? Why was he there? On whose authority? And who knew what he was doing?
Clearly, he was with Rudolph Giuliani, and, you know, that appears to be on step removed from the president. But, you know, if you were doing a serious investigation, you would certainly want to unpack all the details about what Parnas knew and who he was involved with.
BLITZER: This is very significant new information, Susan, that Manu just reported on.
HENNESSEY: It is significant, and it shows the difference at how unprecedented and unusual this particular impeachment is. In the Clinton impeachment is, we had the full record in advance. We already knew what was going to happen because Ken Starr had completed his investigation and submitted his report. In this case, we're actually finding out new evidence in essentially real time. Now, all of the evidence we've seen, every single piece of evidence that have come out from dozens and dozens of sources all points in the same direction. It all tells the same story.
And so, this new information we're seeing from Lev Parnas is adding additional texture and detail, but it isn't changing what we already fundamentally knew and that's that there was a concerted effort to oust a U.S. ambassador by individuals who believe she stood in the way of their corrupt seems, corrupt schemes for their personal financial gains and corrupt schemes on behalf of the president of the United States.
And remember, that the senators -- Senate Republicans are talking about how the military aid was ultimately released. Well, the plan against Yovanovitch, it worked. The president of the United States did dismiss her. And that undercuts the central defense here which is that the president really, really cared about corruption. This is the opposite of that.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on, Manu's getting more information up on Capitol Hill.
What else are you learning, Manu?
RAJU: You know, we're still going through it, Wolf. But one document that our colleague, Jeremy Herb, just came across, he noticed that this Belgium number whose identity is not known, my contacts are checking about, you know, I should back up.
What he writes here is the Belgium country code numbers sent Parnas a screen shot of an official photo of Marie Yovanovitch. The Belgian number whose identity is not known writes, quote, my contacts are checking, adding, quote, I will give you the address next week. And Parnas replies awesome. So, it shows a little bit more about the back and forth.
And the question too for Democrats now going forward, Wolf, is how do they address this in their impeachment trial? The Democrats are filing their first brief tomorrow evening. They're going through all this new evidence, how do they reference this, do they bring this up as part of evidentiary record that they plan to submit to the Senate as part of that trial.
And is there push to bring in Lev Parnas to testify? At the moment, Democratic leaders are signaling that is not their intention. They want to focus on Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, and Robert Blair, top Mulvaney aide, Michael Duffey, a top White House budget official, they want them to come first. Then they'll worry about Lev Parnas later. But there will be some elements of the Democratic Party who want to
bring him forward. But there's question about his credibility given he's indicted, someone who's looking for leniency from the prosecution as well. But nevertheless, these documents do show this effort that Parnas was involved in to get rid of the Ukrainian ambassador and ways of concerns of tracking her movements as well. That's what these new documents indicate, too, Wolf.
BLITZER: She testified she was concerned about her own security when she was before Congress.
Jim Baker, we know that the Ukrainian government have launched an investigation into these allegations of surveillance of the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Now the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says State Department is going to have an investigation as well.
You're, you know, former FBI lead counsel. What do you think?
BAKER: Absolutely, the U.S. government needs to investigate what was going on here. It's not exactly clear what this surveillance was all about, what were they intending to do, and their intent will matter with respect to whether there are any criminal violations at the end of the day.
But it is very suspicious and there's certainly an ample basis to conduct the investigation. The president, secretary of state, and the diplomatic security service have obligation to protect diplomats around the world. They go into very dangerous places. There are a set of U.S. laws to protect them and the country has -- executive branch has an obligation to protect these people who are serving our country.
BLITZER: And I want to show our viewers some of the photos just released by the House Democrats. Let's put up on the screen the first one. There you see Lev Parnas and the president. We've seen a lot of these pictures of these two guys together.
They seem to be coming more and more often.
HENNESSEY: Yes, look, Lev Parnas has established he did have access to the president, access to the president and his family.
And remember, we do have reason to be a little bit skeptical about Parnas' story. He has his own angle working here, his own motivations. But this is somebody putting documentary evidence on the record. He's showing not just evidence of his relationship with the president, his relationship with Rudy Giuliani but these text messages, but these additional photos.
One question to ask from Jim's point is this information has been in possession of the U.S. government for months now.
So, even though it was only just passed on to the House, this executive branch had it for a long time. Why are we only seeing investigations of real threats against a U.S. ambassador at this point? Why weren't they begun months ago?
RYAN: Well, what I will say is there is major concern. People are very disturbed by this information. They are disturbed by these pictures. They are disturbed primarily by what could be perceived as unsavory, this following, this tracking of Yovanovitch.
I talked to House manager Hakeem Jeffries this week right after he was named, publicly announced, and after they walked the article of impeachment to the Senate. Hakeem Jeffries said that these stories, this investigation, this could possibly be part of this impeachment trial. He said that this week.
There is a concern. The American public is showing that they're even concerned by this by watching all of these interviews with Parnas and those around him.
This is a major issue. This is a historic moment for the impeachment trial. And House managers may bring this end to this whole -- the scope of this.
BLITZER: Let me get Jeffrey to weigh in as well.
I assume you've seen these interviews with Lev Parnas with Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow. How credible do you think he is?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, he is like a lot of cooperators in criminal prosecutions. You know, the prosecution always calls collaborators of people who were involved in bad things. And they tend to be involved in bad things too.
You know, Anderson told me last night, you know, I haven't interviewed many people who were wearing ankle bracelets. You know, he's wearing an ankle bracelet because he's out on bail. That is something that everyone should consider in evaluating his credibility.
But again, I think as Susan said earlier, the point about Parnas' testimony is that it meshes completely with everything else we know about this story. It is completely consistent with a conspiracy to try to push Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of President Trump's rival and withholding government benefits, U.S. government benefits to get him to do that.
HENNESSEY: Let's keep in mind, if Lev Parnas produced one photo of him and Donald Trump, you could say, well, the president takes lots of pictures with lots of people. That doesn't mean anything. This is somebody who is producing dozens of photos, lots and lots of evidence of meeting the president over and over and over again.
RYAN: And with his top staff, Kellyanne Conway.
HENNESSEY: Exactly, it just doesn't make the story plausible.
BAKER: When you have a witness like Parnas who has credibility issues, one of the things you do is to look for other information that corroborates his story. And so, you look at the testimony of other witnesses, but you look at photographs, documents, electronic records, all that.
RYAN: He has receipts.
BAKER: He has a lot of this information which is coming out which supports him and the stories that he's telling and makes him more credible even though he has baggage.
BLITZER: We know he has a close relationship with Rudy Giuliani, why do you think the president keeps saying, I don't know the guy, I never met the guy, maybe I have a picture with him, why do you think the president says that?
APRIL: He said that about Michael Cohen.
BAKER: That just seems to be his standard operating procedure, his sort of reflective, reactive sort of statement about these folks. I think he's getting bad advice from lawyers or whoever's advising him to keep going on --
APRIL: Deny, deny, deny.
BAKER: Every time the president says that, his lawyer says we're going to release more pictures.
TOOBIN: The other question to ask, if Lev Parnas is such a terrible person and such a liar and such a corrupt individual, why was Rudy Giuliani with him all the time? Did he just become corrupt now?
I mean, you know, the fact is this guy was a shady operator. He ran a company which was called Fraud Guarantee, which, you know, you can't make up. And you know, so this is the -- these are the people who were executing American foreign policy in Ukraine. That's worth pondering for a bit.
BLITZER: Jim Baker, how do you think the new White House legal team is taking a look at all this new information coming out?
BAKER: They're beating their heads against the wall in the White House I'm sure. They're going to have to figure out how to deal with this. They'll probably go to a high level and try to just attack his credibility and say that it doesn't really prove anything about the president.
This is one weakness in the interviews of the Parnas. It's not quite clear that Parnas is talking to the president how he know that is the president knows, how he knows that Bolton knows.
HENNESSEY: One question weighing on the minds of all Republicans is what else is out there? What is coming next and how is public going to view their choices today in light of what we learn tomorrow or next week or months from now.
BLITZER: We're learning a lot right now. Thanks to our team up on Capitol Hill. These new documents released by House Democrats and I understand there's a whole lot more that we're going to be getting over the next few hours. To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE
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