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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump; The Last Day of Opening Arguments. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 24, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] MORRISON: -- MORRISON: Well, I was concerned about what I saw as essentially an
additional hurdle to accomplishing what I'd been directed to help accomplish, which was giving the President the information he needed to determine that the sector assistance could go forward.
GOLDMAN: So now there's a whole other wrinkle to it, right?
MORRISON: There was the appearance of one based on what Ambassador Sondland represented.
GOLDMAN: And you told Ambassador Taylor about this conversation, as well, is that right?
MORRISON: I prompted reached out to Ambassador Taylor to schedule a secure phone call.
GOLDMAN: And in your deposition you testified that this testimony other than one small distinction between President Zelensky and the Prosecutor General was accurate as to what you told him, is that correct?
MORRISON: About that conversation, yes.
GOLDMAN: And generally speaking you've confirmed everything that Ambassador Taylor told you, except for that one thing and a small other ministerial matter relating to the location of a meeting, is that correct?
GOLDMAN: Now, did you tell Ambassador Bolton about this conversation as well?
MORRISON: I've reached out to him as well and requested his availability for a secure phone call.
GOLDMAN: And what was his response when you explained to him what Ambassador Sondland had said.
MORRISON: Tell the lawyers.
GOLDMAN: Did you do tell the lawyers?
MORRISON: When I returned to the States, yes. GOLDMAN: And did he explain to you why he wanted you to tell the lawyers?
MORRISON: He did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROW: Now this wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last that Ambassador Bolton instructed other Government Officials to report details of the President's scheme to White House Lawyers. Let's be clear , when Government Employees have concerns about whether something is legal they often go to their agency's lawyers. And it was happening an awful lot around this time. Recall that Bolton also instructed Dr. Hill to report to the lawyers Sondland's statements about requiring an announcement of the investigations as a condition for a White House meeting.
What Bolton called Sondland's quote "drug deal" with the President's top aid Mick Mulvaney. Ambassador Bolton's testimony would obviously shine further light on these concerns and what or who if anyone at the White House for the Cabinet did to try to stop the President at this time. After the President's hold on Military Aid became public in late August there was increasing pressure on the President to lift the hold. On September 3rd a bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter to Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. An excerpt from that letter is in front of you.
The Senators expressed quote "deep concerns" that quote "the Administration is considering not obligating the Ukraine's Security Initiative Funds for 2019". The Senators letter also urged that the vital funds be obligated immediately. On September 5th the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a joint a letter to Mulvaney and OMB Directed Russell Vought. That letter also expressed deep concern about the continuing hold on the Military Aid.
The same day, Senators Murphy and Johnson visited Kiev and met with President Zelensky along with Ambassador Taylor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAYLOR: On September 5th I accompanied Senator Johnson and Murphy during their visit to Kiev. When we met with President Zelensky his first question to the Senators was about the withheld Security Assistance. My recollection of the meeting is that both Senators stressed that bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington was Ukraine most important strategic asset. And that President Zelensky should not jeopardize that bipartisan support by getting drawn in to U.S. domestic politics. I have (ph) been making and continue to make this point to all of my official Ukrainian contacts, but the odd (ph) push to make President Zelensky publicly commit to investigations of Burisma and alleged interference in the 2016 election showed how the official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CROW: The senators sought to reassure President Zelensky that there was bipartisan support in Congress for providing the military aid. Also on September 5 "The Washington Post," editorial board reported concerns that President Trump was withholding the aid, and a meeting to force President Zelensky to announce investigations to benefit his personal political campaign.
The editors wrote, "we're reliably told that the president has a second and more venal (ph) agenda, he is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine's help with his presidential campaign, he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs, in an attempt to extort it."
Despite these efforts to get the president to lift the hold in the now public discussion about the president's abuse of power, the scheme continued. Two days later on September 7, Morrison went back to White House lawyers to report additional details he had learned from Ambassador Sondland about the president's scheme. Again, at the direction of Ambassador Bolton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Now a few days later on September 7, you spoke again to Ambassador Sondland who told you that he had just gotten off the phone with President Trump, isn't that right?
MORRISON: That sounds correct, yes.
(UNKNOWN): What did Ambassador Sondland tell you that President Trump said to him?
MORRISON: If I recall this conversation correctly, this was where Ambassador Sondland related that there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelensky had to make the statement and that he had to want to do it.
(UNKNOWN): And by that point did you understand that the statement related to the Biden and 2016 investigations?
MORRISON: I think I did, yes.
(UNKNOWN): And that that was a -- essentially a condition for the security assistance to be released?
MORRISON: I understood that that's what Ambassador Sondland believed.
(UNKNOWN): After speaking with President Trump.
MORRISON: That's what he represented (ph).
(UNKNOWN): Now, you testified that hearing this information gave you a sinking feeling, why was that? MORRISON: Well, I believe if we're all on the September 7, end of the fiscal year is September 30. These are one year dollars (ph) of the DoD and the Department of State funds, so we only had so much time and in fact because Congress imposed a 15 day notification requirement on the State Department funds, September 7 -- September 20, that really means September 15 in order to secure a decision from the president to allow the funds to go forward.
(UNKNOWN): Did you tell Ambassador Bolton about this conversation as well?
MORRISON: I did -- I did, yes.
(UNKNOWN): And what did he say to you?
MORRISON: He said to tell the lawyers.
(UNKNOWN): And why did he say to tell the lawyers?
MORRISON: He did not explain his direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROW: Again, tell the lawyers. Ambassador Sondland's call with President Trump on September 7 also prompted deep concern by Ambassador Taylor which you've already heard about.
On September 8 and 9, Ambassador Taylor exchanged WhatsApp messages with Ambassadors Sondland Volker describing his "nightmare scenario," that "they give the interview and don't get the security assistance." As he then goes on to say, "the Russians love it, and I quit.)
After the hold on the military aid became public the White House took two actions in early September -- first the White House and the Justice Department ensured that the acting DNI continued to withhold the whistleblower complaint from Congress in clear violation of the law.
And second the White House attempted to create a cover story for the president's withholding of the assistance, approximately two months after President Trump had ordered the freeze.
Mark Sandy received an e-mail from his boss Michael Duffy that, for the first time gave a reason for the hold. Sandy testified that in early September he received an e-mail from Duffy, "that attributed the hold of the president's concern about other countries not contributing more to Ukraine."
Again after months of scrambling this was the first time any reason had been provided for the hold. And according to Sandy it was also only in early September, again after the White House learned of the whistleblower complaint and the hold became public, that the White House requested data from OMB on other countries assistance to Ukraine.
So let's recap why we know the concern about burden sharing was bogus. First, for months no reason was given to the very people executing the military aid who had been actively searching for answers about why the aid was being held.
Second, remember the supposed interagency process performed by OMB? Well it was fake. And third, after the hold went public and the White House became aware of the whistleblower they started scrambling to develop another excuse. Public reports confirm this.
A November 24 news report for instance, revealed that in September Mr. Cipollone's lawyers conducting (ph) an internal records review. The review reportedly, "turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision in a debate over whether the delay was legal."
The president's top aids were trying to convince the president to lift the hold in late August and early September, and White House officials were actively working to develop an excuse for the president's scheme and devise a cover story in the event (ph) that it was exposed -- and soon it would be.
On September 9 the chairs of the House Intelligence Committee, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Oversight and Reform publicly announced the joint investigation of President Trump and Mr. Giuliani's scheme.
And this is when the music stops and everyone starts running to find a chair. Word of the Committee's investigation spread quickly through the White House to the NSC. Morrison recalled seeing and discussing the letter with NSC staff. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman also recalled discussion among NSC staff members, including Morrison's Deputy John Erath about the investigation.
The same day there were efforts at OMB to create a paper trail to try to shift the blame for the president's hold on security assistance away from the White House. Duffy sent an e-mail to Elaine McCusker that contradicted months of e-mail exchanges. It stated falsely that OMB had in fact authorized DoD to proceed with all process necessary to obligate funds.
Duffy was attempting to shift all the responsibility on to the Pentagon. McCusker replied, and I quote, "you can't be serious, I am speechless." Now all of this, including OBM's efforts to shift blame to the Pentagon, the White House's effort to create a cover story for the hold on security assistance we're a continuation of the cover up.
It stated with the White House's lawyers' failure to stop the scheme after the July 10 meeting was reported to them continued with attempts to hide the July 25 call summary and escalated with the White House's illegal concealment of the whistleblower complaint from Congress.
On September 10, the House Intelligence Committee requested that the DNI provide a copy of the whistleblower complaint as the law requires, but DNI continued to withhold the complaint for weeks. The same day it was announced the Ambassador Bolton was resigning, or had been fired, it is unclear whether Ambassador Bolton's departure from the White House had anything to do with his opposition to the hold on military aid, but of course Ambassador Bolton could shed light on that himself if he were to testify.
The next day on September 11, President Trump met with Vice President Pence, Mulvaney, and Senator Portman to discuss the hold. Later that day, the president relented and lifted the hold after his scheme had been exposed. The president's decision to release the aid, just like his decision to impose the hold, was never explained.
Cooper testified that President Trump's lifting of the hold, quote, "really came out of the blue. It was quite abrupt." The only logical conclusion based on all of this evidence is that the president lifted the hold on September 11 because he got caught. The president's decision to lift the hold without any explanation is also very telling. If the hold was put in place for legitimate policy reasons, why lift it arbitrarily with no explanation?
By lifting the hold only after Congress had launched an investigation when as Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified, none of the facts on the ground had changed since the hold had been put into place. The president was conceding that there was never a legitimate purpose.
Since the hold was lifted, the president had paid - has paid lip service (ph) to purported concerns about corruption and burden sharing, but the administration has taken no concrete steps before or since those statements were made to show that it really cares. The record is clear. Before he got caught, the president had no interest in anticorruption reforms in Ukraine, and as you've already learned, those people who really were concerned about these issues, like Congress, this Senate, the DOD, and the State Department, had already gone through the process to address them.
As Ambassador Sondland testified, at no point did the president ask him to discuss additional contributions to Ukraine from the E.U. countries nor did President Trump push Ukraine to undertake any specific anticorruption reforms.
Now, the president's counsel will likely say that his lifting of the hold shows his good faith. They will say that because Ukraine ultimately received the aid without President Zelensky having to announce the sham investigations that there was no abuse of power. As a legal matter, the fact that the president's corrupt scheme was not fully successful makes no difference. Trump's abuse occurred at the moment he used the power of the presidency to assist his reelection camping, undermining our free and fair elections and our national security.
But importantly, President Trump almost did get away with it. As discussed earlier, President Zelensky agreed during his September phone call with Ambassador Sondland to do a CNN interview, during which he'd announce the investigations.
On September 12, Ambassador Taylor personally informed President Zelensky and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that President Trump's hold on military assistance had been lifted. And on September 13, Ambassador Taylor and David Holmes met with President Zelensky and his advisors and urged them not to go forward with the CNN interview.
It was not until September 18 and 19 around the time that President Zelensky spoke with Vice President Pence that the Ukrainians finally canceled the CNN interview. The president has also repeatedly pointed to President Zelensky's public statements that he did not feel pressured by Trump. Not only unsurprising, it's also irrelevant.
The question is whether President Trump used the power of the presidency to course President Zelensky into helping him win a political campaign, but we know that President Zelensky was pressured. He kept delaying and delaying because he did not want to be a pawn in U.S. domestic politics. In fact, President Zelensky remains under pressure to this day.
As Holmes testified, there are still things the Ukrainians want and need from the United States, including a meeting with the president in the Oval Office, which has still not been scheduled. And yes, Ukraine remains at war and needs U.S. military aid, including aid that is still delayed from last year.
For these reasons, Mr. Holmes explained, quote, "I think the Ukrainians are being very careful. They still need us now going forward. In fact, right now President Zelensky is trying to arrange a summit meeting with President Putin in the coming weeks, his first face-to-face meeting with him to try to advance the peace process. He needs our support. He needs President Putin to understand that America supports Zelensky at the highest levels. So this doesn't end with the lifting of the security assistance hold. Ukraine still needs us and, as I said, still fighting this war this very day."
When President Trump for his own personal political gain asked for a favor from President Zelensky, he did exactly what the framers feared most. He invited the influence of a foreign power into our elections. He used the power of his office to secure that advantage and jeopardize our national security yet President Trump maintains that he was always in the right and that his July 25 call with President Zelensky was perfect.
President Trump has made it clear that he believes he is free to use the powers the same way to the same ends whenever and wherever he pleases. And even more troubling, he's even doubling down on his abuse, inviting other countries to interfere in our elections.
What does all of this tell you? It tells you that Ambassador Sondland was correct when he told Holmes after hanging up with President Trump on July 26 that the president doesn't care about Ukraine. He only cares about the, quote, "big stuff. He means stuff that helps him personally."
The bottom line is that the president used the powers of his office for personal political gain. He did so knowingly, deliberately, and repeatedly. And his misconduct continues to this day.
SCHIFF: Senators just for your orientation this will be the last presentation on Article One. And Mr. Leader I think at the conclusion of this presentation would be a logical point to take a break. This last section on Article One deals with the injury to our National Interest and our National Security. When President Trump used Ukraine's leader for a political favor and withheld critical Military Aid to an ally in exchange for that favor, he did exactly what our framers feared most. He invited foreign interference in our elections and sold out our Country's Security for his personal benefit. And betrayed the Nations trust to a foreign power.
The President's scheme to pressure Ukraine to do his political dirty work harmed our National Security, undermined our free and fair elections and even today, even today threatens the very foundation of our Democracy. When the President argues that his call was perfect that he did nothing wrong, what he's really saying is that there's nothing wrong with the President asking a foreign government to do a personal favor. That there's nothing wrong with the President pressuring that foreign country to interfere in our elections for his personal benefit.
That there's nothing wrong with withholding Congressional Appropriated Tax Payer Funded Military Assistance to that foreign country to extort that country to help the President cheat to win an election. But that are a great many things wrong with that. Most significant the purposes that bring us here today, the Constitution does not permit it. And the Constitution does not permit it because that conduct is the quintessential abuse of power. The use of official power for person gain putting personal interest over the national interest and placing personal benefits over our nation's security.
The President's conduct that we outlined yesterday harmed our National Security that is without a doubt. It endangered out elections and it sent our country on a dangerous path that if left unchecked will cause irrevocable damage to the balance of power contemplated in our Constitution. If someone sacrifices the national interest in favor of his own and is not removed from office our Democracy is in jeopardy. It's just that simple.
The grave consequences of President Trump's misconduct demand our attention. Let me take these issues in turn beginning with this harm to National Security. First the President's abuse of power had immediate consequences to our security. Ukraine is a burgeoning Democracy entangled in a hot war with Russia. By withholding Military Aid, President Trump not only denied Ukraine must needed Military equipment but also weakened Ukraine's position in negotiations over the end of the war with Russia. Because of President Trump's corrupt actions, Vladimir Putin was emboldened at a pivotal moment ahead of those sensitive negotiations to attempt to end the war.
And emboldened Russia is a threat to the United States and Global Security around the world. The President's willingness to put himself over country undercut our European Allies confidence in America's commitment to deterring Russian aggression. And it signaled to adversaries and friends a like that the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, our Commander in Chief, could be influenced by manipulating his perception of what was best for his personal interest.
Now I have no doubt that the Russians and probably every other nation that has the capacity does a psychological profile of the President of the United States. As we profile other leaders. If a President can be so easily manipulated to disbelieve his own Intelligence Agencies, to accept the propaganda of the Kremlin. That is a threat to our National Security. And that is just what has happened here. But that's not all, President Trump's willingness to entangle our foreign allies in a corrupt political errand also undermined the creditability of Americans to promote to the rule of law and fight corruption abroad.
This is Trump first, not American first, no American ideas first and the result has and will continue to be grave harm to our nation if this Chamber does not stand up and say it is wrong. If you do not stand up and say this is not only wrong, not only unacceptable but conduct incompatible with the Office of the Presidency. And if it really is incompatible with the Office of the Presidency, if you can not faithfully execute that responsibility, if you can not bring yourself to put your Nation's interest ahead of your own it must be Impeachable. Or the Nation remains at risk.
Let's consider the big picture here. And probably a question many people around the country are asking. Why does Ukraine matter to the United States? Why does Ukraine matter to the United States? Because we're talking about a small country that many people know very little about. Well this small country, this ally of ours is a country hungry for reform. And eager for a stronger relation with its most empowerful, important ally the United States. And we're talking about ourselves and what it means to the strength of our own Democracy and Democracies around the world (inaudible) countries like Ukraine are fighting our fight against authoritarianism.
At least that used to be our fight and god help us if it's not our fight still. Russian President Putin declared that collapse of the Soviet Union to be the greatest Geo Political catastrophe of the 20th Century. Ukraine's vote for independence in December 1991 was the final nail in the Soviet Union's coffin. That made Ukraine's greatest moment, Putin's greatest tragedy. When it declared independence from Soviet Domination, Ukraine inherited roughly 1900 Soviet Nuclear Warheads. Enough fire power to level every Major American City several times over, 1900 Soviet Nuclear Warheads. In exchange for Ukraine surrendering this arsenal, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom reached an understanding called the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. They continued - they committed in this memorandum to respecting the borders of an independent Ukraine and also to refrain from using the threat or use of force against Ukraine. This was an early success of the post Cold War period.
Despite its commitment to respect Ukraine's independence, of course Russia continued to meddle in Ukraine's affairs. Ambassador Taylor recounted how events took an even more sinister turn in 2013.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAYLOR: the west, but in 2013, Vladimir Putin was so threatened by the prospect of Ukraine joining the European Union, they tried to bribe the Ukrainian president. This triggered mass protests in the winter of 2013 that drove that president to flee to Russia in February 2014 but not before his forces killed 100 Ukrainian protesters in central Kiev.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Angered by the fall of the Kremlin-backed leader in Kiev, President Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, specifically a region known as Crimea. Russia's aggression was met with global condemnation.
We lack the sound there, but you can see the images of that conflict on the screens before you. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Laura Cooper, testified as to the stakes for U.S. national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Russia violated the sovereignty of Ukraine's territory. Russia illegally annexed territory that belonged to Ukraine. They also denied Ukraine access to its naval fleet at the time, and to this day Russia is -