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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

First Public Impeachment Hearing Begins; Rep. Adam Schiff (D- CA) Begins Opening Statements. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 13, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: -- Never Trumpers who wanted to move American foreign policy in a different direction.

[10:00:03]

These are State Department officials who wanted to comply with American foreign policy vis-a-vis Ukraine and against the Russians, and it was Rudy Giuliani who describes the phone call in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today as innocent, the president's phone call. It was Rudy Giuliani, et cetera, who wanted to shift American foreign policy in a different way.

And so the American public has to watch this and say, well, what is their motive, what were they trying to do here, these diplomats. Enact American foreign policy. That's what they were trying to do.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But they're very willing witness. They want to be there. They want to explain what went wrong, what went so very, very astray from normal procedure, because this is just really not the way it's supposed to be and they want to make that point.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Nia, Adam Schiff, the chairman, will make a statement. Devin Nunes, the top Republican, the ranking Republican will make a statement. The two witnesses, Bill Taylor and George Kent, they'll be sworn in, I think they'll have opening statements as well, then the questioning will begin.

And we are told that Daniel Goldman, one of the staff attorneys for the House Intelligence Committee, a former U.S. attorney -- assistant U.S. attorney of Southern District of New York, he'll do the questioning for maybe as long as 45 minutes uninterrupted on behalf of the Democrats, and Steve Castor will do the same, a staff lawyer for the House Oversight Committee, who has been detailed by the Intelligence Committee, he will do the questioning for 45 minutes on the Republican side.

We don't know these two individuals all that well. But pretty soon --

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: We will.

BLITZER: -- the entire country will know these two individuals.

HENDERSON: Yes, this is their television debut. And listen, a lot of folks watch Law and Order and all sorts of televised legal drama shows, and this is going to be their debut. How do thigh appear on television? They obviously have some experience behind the scenes interviewing these witnesses. They were part of some of the depositions, so they likely know where they want to go. They have some practice. They certainly know the case.

And I think their goal will be, obviously, to lay this out in a clear and concise way, get some sound bite moments from these witnesses based on what they already know. I mean that's, the thing. There have been hours and hours of transcripts released so far. But how can they distill this in a way that is television-friendly. So that will be, I think, their goal here.

BLITZER: Ross, Daniel Goldman, who will do the initial questioning on behalf of the Democrats, the House Intelligence Committee Director of Investigations, but he's a lawyer, spent a decade as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Southern of New York.

His boss at the time, Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. attorney in the Southern District, now a CNN Legal Analyst, he recently this, Preet Bharara of Daniel Goldman, he was one of the go-to trial guys, and there is no case that's too complex for him. He's a great prosecutor. He's got a very powerful presence. To the extent the public will be watching and looking for a credible questioner, I think they will be very impressed with Dan Goldman.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. But I think they're going to be looking for something else too. I've done criminal cases and I've also done impeachments.

Impeachments are different. It's not a courtroom. The courtroom is very different. The jury has to sit there and has to pay attention. The American people don't have to sit there and they don't have to pay attention. There is a limited amount of time, a limited amount of attention.

And I think what both lawyers are going to face is the challenge of not just asking good questions but getting really good answers, getting sound bites, that's going to be important.

BLITZER: I think we only got a minute-and-a-half or so away, as soon as they start on schedule for the opening of this hearing. And it's interesting, Carrie, because the pressure on both of these lawyers will be intense. But they have a great advantage. They have read the hundreds of pages. They were there when these two diplomats already offered their testimony under oath in these sworn depositions. So they basically know everything that these two career diplomats are about to say.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think one of the reasons that we're seeing this particular format with staff counsel asking the questions and the length of time are some of the lessons learned from the Judiciary Committee's hearings during the Mueller report period, where there were some of the hearings where it was the members doing their normal five-minute questioning. That was not effective. They also called witnesses and open testimony before having then --

BLITZER: Here they come, Ambassador Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant George Kent. They are now walking in, they'll go to the table. They'll sit down. They'll eventually stand up and be sworn in under oath for this testimony. And, of course, if, whatever they say, if it isn't truthful, potentially, Carrie, that could be perjury.

CORDERO: I don't know any reason why they wouldn't be truthful. They've already testified under oath in the closed hearings that they have, so the counsel has a good preview in terms of these transcripts that have been available for what they're going to will say today.

[10:05:04]

There always can be unscripted moments. This is not a scripted testimony. There are questionings. And so they may have more information that will come out because this is a live proceeding that's going to take place. But these are extremely credible, non- partisan individuals who are communicators and used to appearing in a diplomatic way. And so I expect them to be extraordinarily credible and professional.

GREGORY: Wolf, can I just wedge in here as we're waiting? I think it's important also to understand who these folks are as career diplomats, as we look at George Kent and then Ambassador Taylor. These are people who are so dedicated to the craft of diplomacy, for Republicans and Democrats. And having covered the White house as you have, we have interacted with those folks who work in the White House and in the State Department who take this so very, very seriously, the operation of government and diplomacy.

BLITZER: The photo op is over. The photographers are moving away. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, is about to begin this historic moment.

This is true history unfolding. Years from now, we'll all be reading about this, but here is Adam Schiff.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Good morning, everyone. This is the first in a series of public hearings the committee will be holding as part of the House's impeachment inquiry. Without objection, the chair is authorized to declare a recess at the committee at any time there is a quorum present.

Here's how the committee will proceed for this hearing. I will make an opening statement, and then Ranking Member Nunes will have the opportunity to make a statement. Then we will go to witness statements, and then to questions.

For audience members, we welcome you and we respect your interest in being here. In turn, we ask for your respect as we proceed with today's hearing.

RATCLIFFE: Mr. Chairman?

SCHIFF: It is the intention of the committee to proceed without disruption.

RATCLIFFE: Mr. Chairman? Before...

SCHIFF: What purpose?

RATCLIFFE: May I make a parliamentary inquiry?

SCHIFF: Gentleman will state the inquiry.

RATCLIFFE: Mr. Chairman, this is our first hearing under these new set of rules. House Resolution 660 gives you the discretion to allow yourself and the ranking member periods of extended questions of up to 45 minutes each before other members are allowed to ask questions.

If possible, we'd like to know the rules of engagement before we get started. Have you made a decision yet as to how many 45-minute rounds you will allow yourself and the ranking member?

SCHIFF: I have not.

As we informed the minority yesterday, we will see how the first period goes and how much material we're able to get through. At that point, the chair will announce the period -- if there is a period of the second round, which may be up to 45 minutes, or we'll go straight to five-minute questions by members.

[10:10:00]

For audience members, again, we welcome you and your interest. In turn, we expect and will insist on decorum in the committee. As chairman, I will take all necessary and appropriate steps to maintain order and ensure the committee is run in accordance with House rules and House Resolution 660.

With that, I now recognize myself to give an opening statement in the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States.

In 2014, Russia invaded the United States' ally Ukraine to reverse that nation's embrace of the West and to fulfill Vladimir Putin's desire to rebuild a Russian empire. In the following years, 14,000 Ukrainians died as they battled superior Russian forces.

Earlier this year, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of the Ukraine on a platform of ending the conflict and tackling corruption. He was a newcomer to politics and immediately sought to establish a relationship with Ukraine's most powerful patron, the United States.

The questions presented by this impeachment inquiry are whether President Trump sought to exploit that ally's vulnerability and invite Ukraine's interference in our elections; whether President Trump sought to condition official acts, such as a White House meeting or U.S. military assistance, on Ukraine's willingness to assist with two political investigations that would help his reelection campaign; and if President Trump did either, whether such an abuse of his power is compatible with the office of the presidency. The matter is as simple and as terrible as that.

Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.

There are few actions as consequential as the impeachment of a president. While the founders did not intend that impeachment be employed for mere differences over policy, they also made impeachment a constitutional process that the Congress must utilize as necessary.

The facts in the present inquiry are not seriously contested.

Beginning in January of this year, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pressed Ukrainian authorities to investigate Burisma, the country's largest national (sic) gas producer, and the Bidens, since Vice President Joe Biden was seen as a strong potential challenger to Trump.

Giuliani also promoted a debunked conspiracy that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the 2016 U.S. election. The nation's intelligence agencies have stated unequivocally that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that interfered in our election. But Giuliani believed this conspiracy theory, referred to as CrowdStrike, shorthand for the company that discovered the Russian hack, would aid his client's reelection.

Giuliani also conducted a smear campaign against the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. On April 29, a senior State Department official told her that, although she had done nothing wrong, President Trump had lost confidence in her.

With the sidelining of Yovanovitch, the stage was set for the establishment of an irregular channel in which Giuliani, and later others, including Gordon Sondland, an influential donor to the president's inauguration now serving as ambassador to the European Union, could advance the president's personal and political interests.

Yovanovitch's replacement in Kyiv, Ambassador Bill Taylor, is a West Point graduate and a Vietnam veteran. As he began to better understand the scheme through the summer of 26 -- 2019 he pushed back, informing Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent and others about a plan to condition U.S. government actions and funding on the performance of political favors by the Ukrainian government, favors intended for President Trump that would undermine our security and our elections.

[10:15:00]

Several key events in the scheme took place in the month of July.

On July 10th, Ambassador Sondland informed a group of U.S. and Ukrainian officials meeting at the White House that according to Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, a White House meeting desperately sought by the Ukrainian president with Trump would happen only if Ukraine undertook an investigation into the energy sector, which was understood to mean Burisma, and specifically the Bidens. National Security Advisor Bolton abruptly ended the meeting and said afterwards that he would not be, quote, "part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this," end quote.

A week later, on July 18th, a representative of the Office of Management and Budget, the White House agency that oversees federal spending, announced on a video conference that Mulvaney, at the direction of the president, was freezing nearly $400 million in security assistance authorized and appropriated by Congress, and which the entirety of the U.S. national security establishment supported.

One week after that Donald Trump would have the now-infamous July 25th, phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.

During that call Trump complained that the U.S. relationship with Ukraine had not been reciprocal. Later, Zelensky thanks Trump for his support in the area of defense and says that Ukraine is ready to purchase more Javelins, an anti-tank weapon that was among the most important deterrents of further Russian military action.

Trump's immediate response, "I would like you to do us a favor though." Trump then requested that Zelensky investigate the discredited 2016 CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and, even more ominousy -- ominously, look into the Bidens.

Neither of these investigations was in the U.S. national interest. And neither was part of the official preparatory material for the call. Both, however, were in Donald Trump's personal interest and in the interest of his 2020 reelection campaign.

And the Ukrainian president knew about both in advance, because Sondland and others had been pressing Ukraine for weeks about investigations into the 2016 election, Burisma and the Bidens.

After the call multiple individuals were concerned enough to report it to the National Security Council's top lawyer. The White House would then take the extraordinary step of moving the call record to a highly classified server exclusively reserved for the most sensitive intelligence matters.

In the weeks that followed, Ambassador Taylor learned new facts about a scheme that Sondland -- even Sondland would describe as becoming more insidious. Taylor texted Sondland, quote, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"

As summer turned to fall, it kept getting more insidious, Mr. Sondland testified. Mr. Taylor, who took notes of his conversations, said the ambassador told him in a September 1st phone call that everything was dependent on the public announcement of investigations, including security assistance. President Trump wanted Mr. Zelensky in a public box.

President Trump is a business man, Sondland said later. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.

[10:20:00]

In a sworn declaration after Taylor's testimony, Sondland would admit to telling Ukrainians at a September 1st meeting in Warsaw, quote, "The resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we have been discussing for many weeks."

The president's chief of staff confirmed Trump's efforts to coerce Ukraine by withholding aid. When Mick Mulvaney was asked publicly about it, his answer was breathtaking. "We do that all the time with foreign policy," he said. "I have news for everybody: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy. That is going to happen." The video of that confession is plain for all to see.

Some have argued in the president's defense that the aid was ultimately released, and that is true. But only after Congress began an investigation, only after the president's lawyers learned of a whistleblower complaint, and only after members of Congress began asking uncomfortable questions about quid pro quos.

A scheme to condition official acts or taxpayer funding to obtain a personal political benefit does not become less odious because it is discovered before it is fully consummated.

In fact, the security assistance had been delayed so long it would take another act of Congress to ensure that it could still go out.

And that Oval Office meeting that Zelensky desperately sought? It still hasn't happened.

Although we have learned a great deal about these events in the last several weeks, there are still missing pieces.

The president has instructed the State Department and other agencies to ignore congressional subpoenas for documents. He has instructed witnesses to defy subpoenas and refuse to appear. And he has suggested that those who do expose wrongdoing should be treated like traitors and spies. These actions will force Congress to consider, as it did with President Nixon, whether Trump's obstruction of the constitutional duties of Congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment.

If the president can simply refuse all oversight, particularly in the context of an impeachment preceding, the balance of power between our two branches of government will be irrevocably altered. That is not what the founders intended, and the prospects for further corruption and abuse of power in this administration or any other will be exponentially increased.

This is what we believe the testimony will show, both as to the president's conduct and as to his obstruction of Congress. The issue that we confront is the one posed by the president's acting chief of staff when he challenged Americans to get over it. If we find that the president of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections, or if he sought to condition, coerce, extort or bribe an ally into conducting investigations to aid his reelection campaign and did so by withholding official acts, White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars of needed military aid, must we simply get over it?

Is this what Americans should now expect from their president? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is? Does the oath of office itself, requiring that our laws be faithfully executed, that our president defend the Constitution that balances the powers of its branches, setting ambition against ambition so we become no monarchy, still have meaning?

These are the questions we must ask and answer, without rancor if we can, without delay regardless, and without party favor and without prejudice if we are true to our responsibilities.

[10:25:00]

Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of country America was to become. "A republic," he answered, "if you can keep it." The fundamental issue raised by the impeachment inquiry into Donald J. Trump is: Can we keep it?

Now recognize Ranking Member Nunes for any remarks he may wish to make.

NUNES: Thank the gentleman.

In a July open hearing of this committee following publication of the Mueller report, the Democrats engaged in a last-ditch effort to convince the American people that President Trump is a Russian agent. That hearing was the pitiful finale of a three-year-long operation by the Democrats, the corrupt media, and partisan bureaucrats to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

After the spectacular implosion of their Russia hoax on July 24th, in which they spent years denouncing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian, on July 25th, they turned on a dime and now claimed the real malfeasance is Republicans dealing with Ukraine.

In the blink of an eye, we're asked to simply forget about Democrats on this committee falsely claiming they had more than circumstantial evidence of collusion between President Trump and Russians. We should forget about them reading fabrications of Trump-Russia collusion from the Steele dossier into the Congressional Record. We should also forget them trying to obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials. We should forget about them leaking a false story to CNN, while he was still testifying to our committee, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. was colluding with WikiLeaks. And forget about countless other deceptions, large and small, that make them the last people on Earth with the credibility to hurl more preposterous accusations at their political opponents. And yet now, here we are. We're supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out a new bath of allegations, but anyone familiar with the Democrats' scorched-earth war against President Trump would not be surprised to see all the typical signs that this is a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.

For example, after vowing publicly that impeachment requires bipartisan supports, Democrats are pushing impeachment forward without the backing of a single Republican.

The witnesses deemed suitable for television by the Democrats were put through a closed-door audition process in a cult-like atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol, where Democrats conducted secret depositions, released a flood of misleading and one sided leaks, and later selectively released transcripts in a highly staged manner.

Violating their own guidelines, Democrats repeatedly redacted from the transcripts the name of Alexandra Chalupa, a contractor for the Democratic National Committee who worked with Ukrainian officials to collect dirt on the Trump campaign, which she provided to the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The Democrats rejected most of the Republicans' witnesses -- witness requests, resulting in a horrifically one-sided process where the crucial witnesses are denied a platform if their testimony does not support the Democrats' absurd accusations.

Notably, they are trying to impeach the president for inquiring about Hunter Biden's activities, yet they refuse our request to hear from Biden himself.

The whistleblower was acknowledged to have a bias against President Trump, and his attorney touted a coup against the president and called for his impeachment just weeks after the election.

At a prior hearing, Democrats on this committee read out a purely fictitious rendition of the president's phone call with President Zelensky. They clearly found the real conversation to be insufficient for their impeachment narrative, so they just made up a new one.

And most egregiously, the staff of the Democrats on this committee had direct discussions with the whistleblower before his or her complaint was submitted to the inspector general.

Republicans can't get a full account of these contacts because Democrats broke their promise to have the whistleblower testify to this committee. Democrat members hid these contacts from Republicans, and then lied about them to the American people on national television.

I have noted before, the Democrats have a long habit of accusing Republicans of offenses they themselves are committing. Let's recall, for years, they accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia when they themselves were colluding with Russia by funding and spreading the Steele dossier, which relied on Russian sources. And now, they accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they themselves are culpable. The Democrats cooperated in Ukrainian election meddling and they defend Hunter Biden's securing of a lavishly paid position with a corrupt Ukrainian company, all while his father served as vice president. Despite this hypocrisy, the Democrats are advancing their impeachment sham.

But we should not hold any hearings at all until we get answers to three crucial questions the Democrats are determined to avoid asking. First, what is the full extent of the Democrats' prior coordination with the whistleblower? And who else did the whistleblower coordinate this effort with?

Second, what is the full extent of Ukraine's election meddling against the Trump campaign? And third, why did Burisma hire Hunter Biden and what did he do for them? And did his position affect any U.S. government actions under the Obama administration?

These questions will remain outstanding because Republicans were denied the right to call witnesses that know these answers.

What we will witness today is a televised theatrical performance, staged by the Democrats.

Ambassador Taylor and Mr. Kent, I'd like to welcome you here. I'd like to congratulate you for passing the Democrats' Star Chamber auditions, held for the last weeks in the basement of the Capitol. It seems you agreed, witting or unwittingly, to participate in a drama. But the main performance, the Russia hoax, has ended and you've been cast in the low-rent Ukrainian sequel.

I'll conclude by noting the immense damage the politicized bureaucracy has done to Americans' faith in government. Though executive branch employees are charged with implementing the policies set by our president, who is elected and responsible to the American people. Elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the president, are really in charge.

Thus, as we'll learn in these hearings, after expressing skepticism of foreign aid and concern about foreign corruption on the campaign trail, President Trump outraged the bureaucracy by acting skeptically about foreign aid, and expressing concerns about foreign corruption.

Officials' alarm at the president's actions was typically based on secondhand, thirdhand and even fourthhand rumors and innuendo. They believed it was an outrage for the president to fire an ambassador, even though the president has full authority to retain or remove diplomats for any reason at any time.

Officials showed a surprising lack of interest in the indications of Ukrainian election meddling that deeply concern the president, at whose pleasure they serve.

Despite all their dissatisfaction with President Trump's Ukraine policy, the president approved the supply of weapons to Ukraine. Unlike the previous administration, which provided blankets as defense against invading Russians.

By undermining the president who they are supposed to be serving, the elements of the FBI, the Department of Justice and now the State Department have lost the confidence of millions of Americans who believe that their vote should count for something. It will take years, if not decades, to restore faith in these institutions.

This spectacle is doing great damage to our country. It's nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.

With that, I yield back.

SCHIFF: Today, we are joined by Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, both of whom are appearing under subpoena.

Ambassador William Taylor has served our country for over half a century. He attended U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in the top 1 percent of his class before serving as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army for six years, including with the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War.

Ambassador Taylor led a rifle platoon in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star of Medal and the Air Medal for Valor.

[10:30:03]

Following his military service, he worked at the department of energy as a staffer in the U.S. Senate --