Return to Transcripts main page


Senators Ask Questions to House Impeachment Managers, Trump Lawyers. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 29, 2020 - 16:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Mike Rogers is here, too.

What did you think of that argument?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It didn't carry a lot of weight with me.

I -- it doesn't really make sense to me to go back to the Civil War. And I think that what he was talking about is Lincoln used troops to move into certain areas because they would vote for Lincoln in the election.

I just do not see a comparison here whatsoever. What was I thought was interesting, though, is, they are trying to introduce this notion, is there any public good that happens in any of the conversations that he had?

To me, that was a big change for them, small, but a big change, where they are going, all right, we might not win this witness fight, we are going to have a witness. Could we argue that there is some public good and, therefore, it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment?

I thought that was an interesting turn.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: One thing I want to get is some historical perspective.

Alan Frumin, former Senate parliamentarian during the last impeachment of Bill Clinton 21 years ago, I believe, during that one, that -- during the question-and-answer period, we didn't hear senators' voices at all.

This time, we're hearing a little bit of them.

ALAN FRUMIN, FORMER SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN: Right out of the box, the sound of this trial was different this morning.

I don't remember hearing any senators, other than possibly the two leaders, Lott and Daschle, speaking to the chief justice. I expected to hear no senators' voices today.

If somebody had said, despite that fact, you might hear somebody's voice, you get one guess as to who it might be, and I might have got -- I might have gotten that one correct. I think it was very clever to have Susan Collins stand up, seek recognition, and speak , and basically speak on behalf of herself, Senators Murkowski and Romney.

This was a deviation from everything I expected. And they have now let that go, with various senators seeking recognition in their own right. So this is a departure. And I think it's a rather clever departure on the part of probably Mitch McConnell.

TAPPER: And one of the -- one of the unspoken narratives of today really is whether or not, on Friday, when they vote to have new evidence or new witnesses, how they will vote, because nobody thinks that there are 67 votes in favor of removing President Trump from office.

But the question is, will there be four Republicans and 47 Democrats who vote to have new witnesses, such as John Bolton? And we learned today that the White House National Security Council office has sent a letter to John Bolton's lawyer, saying that his book, as of right now, cannot be published, because it contains too much classified information.

There's a copy of the letter -- too much classified information that would put even national security of this country at risk. They do offer to work with him to take out those provisions.

But this very likely could end up in a legal fight. And that might mean that we don't see the Bolton book in March, when it is expected to be published.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and that would be just fine with the White House, because you do have senators who are going to vote and say, well, we don't need to have Bolton as a witness.

And one of the things they might be afraid of is that there might be more things in the book that would embarrass the president or would make the case for impeachment, whatever. So this delay, if there is a delay, would help them.

I heard from an attorney, actually, two attorneys today, who are -- and, again, we have an attorney sitting here, so good for us -- said to me, wouldn't this be obstruction? Couldn't this be a White House trying to obstruct this trial?

TAPPER: Or even witness intimidation.

BORGER: Or witness intimidation, but they asked about obstruction. But I agree with that.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, I can understand how someone might make that argument. But there actually is a real pre-publication process that is a legitimate process.


TAPPER: Sure, of course. CORDERO: And so he's going through that process. He submitted his book. It hasn't been that much time. So you -- there's a timeline that goes to the review of the pre-publication process.

And there might be...

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.


BLITZER: Looks like this trial is about to resume.

Oh, it's not about to resume.

All right, go ahead.


So, there might be actually some legitimate classified information in his draft document. That does not at all mean that he can't testify that -- because, from my position, the information that is the subject of what his testimony would be on the issue of his conversations on Ukraine, there has been so much unclassified e-mail, public statements by executive branch officials, public statements by White House officials on that issue, that it shouldn't in any way be used as an intimidation tactic to get him to not be able to testify.


CORDERO: It might legitimately affect the publication of his book.

BLITZER: Let's go up the Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Phil, what are you hearing up there?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think one of the big issues that we have picked up on appears, obviously, related to John Bolton, and, obviously, the president attacking John Bolton today, saying repeatedly that he has made whatever is in his book up.

And there was an interesting development earlier today, when Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement saying that, shortly after John Bolton had been fired or resigned, depending on who you're talking to, he reached out, Engel, the chairman, reached out to Bolton, who he had known for a long time, and asked if he wanted to have a conversation.


A few days later, Bolton called him back. And in that call, Engel says in a statement: "Ambassador Bolton suggested to me unprompted that the committee looked into the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He strongly implied something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kiev."

Now, Engel had kept that conversation private up to this point. He said the reason for releasing the statement, guys, was because of what the president has said about Bolton since then, and the idea that perhaps this had been made up to sell books or anything in that regard.

What it underscores is something I think a lot of Democrats have been thinking and known for a while, that Bolton's not making anything up, at least according to them. And this has been a part of a series of concerns that Bolton has had related to Ukraine, as we have seen through witness testimony, as we have seen through some of the depositions, as we have seen particularly from Fiona Hill, the former NSC official who worked under Bolton.

And now a Democrat from the House is making clear that, in a private phone call, John Bolton essentially flagged this for them months before it got to this point, making clear that Bolton did have these concerns long before he was drafting a book, long before the book went into manuscript, and long before, as Jake reported earlier today, the White House sought to halt that book, or at least the public release of that book, guys.

TAPPER: It is certainly -- Phil Mattingly, it is certainly interesting to watch Democrats embrace John Bolton, who has been a conservative icon for several decades.

And now it's almost as if he's going to be caucusing in Iowa next week.

Let's go to Dana Bash with more on this letter from the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel.

I guess one of the questions that a lot of people have, Dana, is, if -- if Ambassador Bolton told Chairman Engel last September about this, you know, you better check into what happened to Ambassador Yovanovitch, why we and the public are only learning about it now.


TAPPER: Oh, I'm sorry.

The case -- the case -- the Senate trial is restarting. Let's listen in.

Dana, I will come back to you for the answer later.

BASH: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chief Justice, I have a question for the president's counsel.

And it's co-sponsored by Senators Rounds, Wicker, Ernst, Blackburn, Tillis, Cramer, Cotton, Sullivan, and McSally, all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

ROBERTS: The Senator from South Dakota - Oklahoma, excuse me. The senators ask the following question of the counsel for the President - "Mr. Cipollone, as members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we listened intently when Manager Crow was defending one of Senator Schumer's amendments to the organizing resolution last week, as he explained how he had firsthand experience being denied military aid when he needed it during his service. As you know, David Hale, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, confirmed that the lethal aid provided to Ukraine last year was future aid. Which would you say had the greater military impact, President Trump's temporary pause of 48 days on future aid that will now be delivered to Ukraine or President Obama's steadfast refusal to provide lethal aid to Ukraine for three years, more than 1,000 days, while Ukraine attempted to hold back Russia's invasion and preserve its sovereignty?"

CIPOLLONE: Mr. Chief Justice, thank you senators for that question. I think it - it was far more serious and far more jeopardy for the Ukrainians, the decision of the Obama administration to not use the authority that was given by Congress, that many of you all, many members of the House of Representatives voted for, giving the U.S. government the authority to provide lethal aid to the Ukrainians and the Obama administration decided not to provide that aid.

And multiple witnesses who were called in the House by the House Democrats testified that the United States policy towards Ukraine got stronger under the Trump administration, in part largely because of that lethal aid.

Ambassador Yovanovitch, Ambassador Volker, others also testified that U.S. policy in providing that aid was greater support for Ukraine than was provided in the Obama administration, particularly the provision of Javelin anti-tank missiles, which they explained were lethal and would kill Russian tanks and change the calculus for aggression for the Russians in the Donbass region in the eastern portion of Ukraine, where that conflict is still ongoing.


In terms of the pause - the temporary pause on aid here, the testimony in the record - put aside what the House managers have said about their speculation and they know what it's like to be denied aid - the testimony in the record is that this temporary pause was not significant.

Ambassador - Ambassador Volker testified that the brief pause on releasing the aid was quote-unquote "not significant" and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale explained that quote "this was future assistance, not to keep the Army going now."

So in other words, this isn't money that had to flow every month in order to fund current purchases or something like that, it was money - it's five year money. Once it's obligated, it's there for five years, and it usually takes quite a bit of time to spend all of it.

So the idea somehow that during the couple of months in July, August and up until September 11th, 55 to 48 days, depending on how you count it, that this was somehow denying critical assistance to the Ukrainians on the front lines right then, it's simply not true.

Now, the House managers have tried to pivot away from that because they know it's not true, and to say "no, it was the signal to the Russians, it was the signal of lack of support that the Russians would pick up on," but here again it's critical - even the Ukrainians didn't know that the aid had been paused and part of the reason was it - they never brought it up in any conversations with representatives of the U.S. government, and as Ambassador Volker testified, representatives of the U.S. government didn't bring it up to them cause they didn't want anyone to know, they didn't want to put out any signal that might be perceived by the Russians or by the Ukrainians as any sign of lack of support. It was kept internal to the U.S. government.

They've pointed to the - some e-mails that someone at the Department of - of Defense or Department of State, Laura Cooper, received from unnamed embassy staffers suggesting that there was a question about the aid, but her testimony was she couldn't even remember what the question really was and she didn't want to speculate.

There's not evidence that any decision makers in the Ukraine government knew about the pause. And just the other day, another article came out - I believe it was from the - at the time, the Foreign Minister Danylyuk explaining that when the Politico article was published on August 28th, there was panic in Kiev because it was the first time they realized there was any pause on the aid.

So that was not something that was providing any signal, either to the Ukrainians or the Russians, because it wasn't known. It was two weeks later after it became public that the aid was released. The testimony in the record is that the pause was not significant, it was future money, not for current purchases, and it was released before the Fiscal Year. They point out that some of it wasn't out the door by the end of the Fiscal Year. That happens every year, there's some percentage that doesn't make it out the door by the end of the year.

And again, it's five year money. It's not like it's all going to be spent in the next 30, 60, 90 days anyway. So the fact there was a - a little fix, Congress passed a fix to allow that $35 million to be spent, something similar happens for some amount almost every year, and it was not affecting current purchases, it wasn't jeopardizing anything at the front lines. There's no evidence about that in the record, the evidence is to the contrary. Thank you.

J. ROBERTS: Thank you, counsel.

KING: Mr. Chief Justice?

J. ROBERTS: Senator from Maine?

KING: Mr. Chief Justice, I have a question for both sets of counsel, which I am sending to the desk.

J. ROBERTS: The question from Senator King is for both counsel to the President and the House managers - "President Trump's former Chief of Staff General John Kelly has reportedly said quote 'I believe John Bolton,' end quote, and suggests Bolton should testify, saying quote 'If there are people that could contribute to this either innocence or guilt, I think they should be heard,' end quote. Do you agree with General Kelly that they should be heard?"

I think counsel for the President, it's your turn to go first.

SEKULOW: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Senate. This was a - a bit of a topic that I discussed yesterday and that was the information that came out in the New York Times piece about what is purportedly in a book by Ambassador Bolton.


Now, as I said, the idea that a manuscript that's not in the book - there's not a quote from the manuscript in the book, this is a perception of what the statement might be - there have been very forceful statements, not just from the President but from the Attorney General, the Department of Justice stated that while the Department of Justice has not reviewed Mr. Bolton's manuscript, the New York Times account of this conversation grossly mischaracterizes what Attorney General Barr and Mr. Bolton discussed. There was no discussion of -- and this again (ph), personal favors or undue influence on investigations, nor did Attorney General Barr state that the president's conversations with foreign leaders were improper. So again, that goes to (ph) some of the allegations that were -- that were in the article.

The vice president said that same thing, he said in every conversation with the president and vice president in preparation for our trip to Poland, the president consistently expressed his frustration that the United States was bearing the lion's share of responsibility, but there's also an interview that Ambassador Bolton had given, I think in August about the conversation where he said it was a perfectly appropriate conversation, I think that information's publicly available now.

So again, to move that in to a change in proceeding, so to speak, I think is not correct. The evidence that has already been presented, a accusation that if you get in to witnesses -- I'll do this very briefly -- we get down the road of the witness issues, let's be clear, it will -- it should not be -- I certainly can't dictate to this body.

It should certainly not be though, that the House managers get John Bolton and the president's lawyers get no witnesses. We would expect if they're going to get witnesses, we will get witnesses and those witnesses would then -- but all that, just to be clear, changes the nature and scope of the proceedings, they didn't ask for it before.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you, Counsel.

SCHIFF: Senator -- Justice, what's the significance of the president's former Chief of Staff saying that he believes John Bolton, and implicitly does not believe the president? That Bolton should testify. It's really, at the end of the day, not whether I believe John Bolton, or whether General Kelly believes John Bolton -- but whether you believe John Bolton, whether you'll have an opportunity to hear directly from John Bolton, whether you'll have an opportunity to evaluate his credibility for yourself.

Now there are a few arguments made against this, some are rather extraordinary. It would be unprecedented, the suggestion, I think is, to have witnesses in the trial. What an extraordinary idea. But as my colleagues have said, it would be extraordinary not to.

This will (ph) be the first impeachment trial in history that involves no witnesses, if you decide you don't want to hear from any -- that you simply want to rely on what was investigated in the House. That would be unprecedented. Yes, we should be able to call witnesses, and yes, so should the president -- relevant witnesses.

Now the president says that you can't believe John Bolton, and Mick Mulvaney says you can't believe John Bolton -- well let the president call Mick Mulvaney, another relevant witness with first-hand information, if he's willing to say publicly, not under oath that Bolton is wrong, let him come and say that under oath.

Yes, we're not saying that just one side gets to call witnesses -- both sides get to call relevant witnesses. Now, they also make the argument implicitly well you're just going to take -- this is going to take long, Senators got to warn you -- if you run (ph) real trial, it's going to require witnesses, that's going to take time.

And I think the underlying threat, and I don't mean this in a harsh way, but is we're going to make this really time consuming. The deposition took place very quickly in the House, we have a perfectly good Chief Justice behind me that can rule on evidentiary issues.

What's more, the president has waived, and waived, and waived any claim about national security here by talking about it himself, by declassifying the call record. We're not interested in asking John Bolton about Venezuela or other places, or other countries -- just Ukraine.

If there's any question about it the Chief Justice can resolve these irrelevant questions to the matter at hand. What you cannot do is use privilege to hind wrongdoing of an impeachable kind and character.

J. ROBERTS: Thank you, Mr. Manager. The Senator from Utah.

(UNKNOWN): I send a question to the desk on behalf of myself and Senators Cruz and Hawley.


J. ROBERTS: The question is directed to counsel for the president. Is it true that Shawn Misko, Abigail Grace and the alleged whistleblower were employed by or detailed to the National Security Counsel during the same time period between January 20, 2017 and the present?

Do you have reason to believe that they knew each other? Do you have any reason to believe that the alleged whistleblower and Misko coordinated to fulfill their reported commitments to, "do everything they can to take down -- take out the president,"? PHILBIN: Mr. Chief Justice, Senators -- the only knowledge that we have, that I have of this comes from public reports. I gather that there is a news report in some publication that suggests a name for the whistleblower, suggests where he worked, that he worked at that time -- detailed the (ph) NSC staff for then-Vice President Biden and that there were others who worked there.

I -- we have no knowledge of that other than what's in those public reports, and I don't want to get in to speculating about that. It is something that, to an unknown extent may have been addressed in the testimony of the inspector general of the intelligence community before Chairman Schiff's committees.

But that testimony context with the whistleblower, context between member's of Manager Schiff's staff, and the whistleblower are shrouded in secrecy to this day. We don't know what the testimony of the ICIG was, that remains secret, it has not been forwarded.

We don't know what Manager Schiff staff's contact with the whistleblower have been and what connections there are there. It's something that would seem to be relevant since the whistleblower started this entire inquiry.

But I can't make any representations that we have particular knowledge of the facts suggested in the question. We know that there was a public report suggesting connections, and prior working relationships between certain people -- not something that I can comment on other than to say that there's a report there. We don't know what the ICIG discussed, we don't know what the ICIG was told by the whistleblower.

Other public reports about inaccuracies and the whistleblower's report to the ICIG, we don't know the testimony on that. We don't know the situation of the contact's coordination advice provided by Manager Schiff's staff to the whistleblower -- that all remains unknown. It's something that obviously to get to the bottom of motivations, bias, how this was all -- this inquiry was all created, could potentially be relevant. Thank you.

J. ROBERTS: Thank you, Counsel. The senator from New Mexico.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chief Justice, I sent a question to the desk for the president's counsel.

J. ROBERTS: When did the president's counsel first learn that the Bolton manuscript had been submitted to the White House for review and has the president's counsel or anyone else in the White House attempted in any way to prohibit, block, disapprove or discourage John Bolton or his publisher from publishing his book?

PHILBIN: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. And thank you, Senator, for the question. At -- at some point -- I don't -- I don't know off the top of my head the exact date. The manuscript had been submitted to the NSC for review. It is with career NSC staff for review. The White House Counsel's office was notified that it was there.

[16:25:00] The NSC has released a statement explaining that it has not be reviewed by anyone outside NSC staff. In terms of the second part of the question, has there been any attempt to prevent its publication or to block its publication, I think that there was some misinformation put out into the public realm earlier today.

And I can read for you a relatively short letter that was sent from NSC staff to Charles Cooper who is the attorney for Mr. Bolton, on January 23, which was last week. Which says; dear Mr. Cooper, thank you for speaking yesterday by telephone. As we discussed, the National Security Council acts as management directorate has been provided the manuscript submitted by your client, former assistant to president, John Bolton, for pre-publication review.

Based on our preliminary review, the manuscript appears to contain significant amounts of classified information. It also appears that some of this classified information is at the top secret level, which is defined by Executive Order 13526 as information that quote, reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security of the United States if disclosed without authorization.

Under federal law and the non-disclosure agreements your client signed as a condition for gaining access to classified information, the manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information.

The manuscript remains under review in order for us to do our best to assist your client by identifying the classified information within the manuscript while at the same time insuring the publication does not harm the national security of the United States.

We will do our best to work with you to ensure your clients ability to tell his story in a manner that protects U.S. national security. We will be in touch with you shortly with additional more detailed guidance regarding next steps that should enable you to revise the manuscript and move forward as expeditiously as possible. Sincerely and then the signature of the career official.

So it is with the NSC, doing their pre-publication review. Through his lawyer, Ambassador Bolton was notified that the manuscript he submitted contains a significant amount of classified information, including at the top secret level so that in its current form it can't be published but that they will be working with him as expeditiously as possible to provide guidance so it can be revised and so that he can tell his story. And that was the letter from the NSC that went out. Thank you.

J. ROBERTS: Thank you, Counsel.

ERNST: Mr. Chief Justice.

J. ROBERTS: The senator from Iowa.

ERNST: Mr. Chief Justice, I send a question to the desk on behalf of myself and Senators Burr, McSally, Daines, Moran, Young, and Sasse. J. ROBERTS: The senator's question is directed to counsel for the president. Is it true the Trump administration approves supply javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine? Is it also true this decision came on the heels of a nearly three year debate in Washington over whether the United States should provide lethal defense weapons to counter further Russian aggression in Europe.

By comparison, did President Obama refuse to send weapons or other lethal military gear to Ukraine? Was this decision against the advice of his defense secretary and other key military leaders in his administration?

PHILBIN: Mr. Chief Justice -- thank you, Senators, for the question. Yes, the Trump administration made the decision to provide javelin anti-tank missiles. And there was a significant debate about that for some time.

Authorization had been granted by Congress and many of you voted for that statutory authorization during the Obama administration to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine. But the Obama administration decided not to provide that.

It was only the Trump administration that made that lethal assistance available. And there was a significant amount of testimony in the House proceedings that President Trump's policy towards Ukraine was actually stronger. Ambassador Volker explained that America's policy towards Ukraine has been strengthened under President Trump.