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Public Impeachment Hearings Begin. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired November 14, 2019 - 00:00   ET

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


[00:00:00]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The news continues CNN special coverage, the impeachment hearings live with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto starts now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello, and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It has been a big day, and this is special live coverage of the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. For, just the fourth time in U.S. history, lawmakers are trying to determine whether a U.S. president has abused his power in such a way that warrants his removal from office.

And today it began with two American diplomats testifying about their enduring, urgent concerns when the White House withheld crucial military aid from the Ukrainian government. They said that the president cared more about investigating Joe Biden, his possible political rival than America's commitment to Ukraine.

HARLOW: Democrats seized on a revelation from the top U.S. Diplomat in Ukraine, that's Bill Taylor, about a previously unknown phone call involving President Trump. Today the president said he did not remember that call that would be quite consequential, but the details surrounding it will certainly be the subject of many more hearings to come.

SCIUTTO: Republicans dismissed much of today's testimony arguing that the aid to Ukraine was eventually released, and that investigation in to Biden and his son never happened. But, after nearly six hours of allegations and revelations a foundation has now been established for how the impeachment mob fight will move forward.

Here is a look at today's most remarkable moments, and there were several of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I now recognize myself to give an opening statement in the impeachment inquiry in to Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States. Our answer to these questions will effect not only the future of this presidency, but the future of the presidency itself. REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): It seems you agreed wittingly, 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 (ph) Ukrainian sequel.

SCHIFF: Do you swear, or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?

GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: It was unexpected, and most unfortunate however to watch some Americans, including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas, launch attacks on dedicated public servants, advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine.

In my opinion those attacks undermined U.S. and Ukrainian national interests and damage our critical biolateral (ph) relationship.

SCHIFF: Your staff member could overhear Mr. Sondland on the phone -- or could overhear the president on the phone with Mr. Sondland, is that right?

TAYLOR: That is correct.

SCHIFF: And what your staff member could overhear was President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about "the investigations," is that right?

TAYLOR: That's correct.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Ambassador, you weren't on the call were you? You didn't (ph) listen in on President Trump's call, and President Zelensky's call?

TAYLOR: I did not.

JORDAN: You've never talked with Chief of Staff Mulvaney?

TAYLOR: I never did.

JORDAN: You never met the president?

TAYLOR: That's correct.

JORDAN: You had three meetings again, with Zelensky that didn't come up -- this is what I can't believe, and you're their star witness. You're their first witness.

TAYLOR: I don't consider myself a star witness for anything --

JORDAN: They do -- you might not --

TAYLOR: I don't.

SWALWELL: Mr. Kent, are you a never Trumper?

GEORGE KENT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I am a career non- professional who serves whatever president is duly elected and carries out the foreign policies of that president and the United States, and I've done that for 27 years for three Republican presidents and two Democrat presidents.

SWALWELL: Ambassador Taylor, are you a never Trumper?

TAYLOR: No, sir.

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): When was the first time a Ukraine official contacted you concerned about potential withholding of U.S. aid?

KENT: It was after the article in Politico came out, that first intense week of September.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (R-FL): Was Mr. Giuliani promoting U.S. national interest, or policy in Ukraine, Ambassador?

TAYLOR: I don't think so, Ma'am.

DEMINGS: Mr. Kent?

KENT: No, he was not.

DEMINGS: What interest do you believe he was promoting, Mr. Kent?

KENT: I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle.

JORDAN: There is one witness -- one witness that they won't bring in front of us. They won't bring in front of the American people, that's the guy who started it all, the whistleblower.

REP. PETER WELCH, (D-VT): Thank you. I say to my colleague I'd be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify, President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.

SCHIFF: With that, this concludes this portion of the hearing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: As you can see quite a day and it is just the beginning. With us now is Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee. Thank you Congressman Kildee for being here, for staying up late -- clearly you guys have a lot to do right now, we appreciate you being here.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's just start with your biggest takeaway from the day, what is it?

[00:05:00]

KILDEE: Well, it was a sad day to watch, as I did in the room for about an hour and then to see the rest of it after my workday ended.

To watch these two professionals -- these two career public servants who have dedicated their lives to defending this country both here and abroad, describe the acts of an administration -- traceable directly to the president that intended to undermine the rule of law, to use American national security as a tool to gain help in a political campaign was a chilling and honestly very frightening thing to see.

More frightening in some ways, however, was the extent to which Republican members of Congress seem to have advocated the responsibility to find the truth, and simply saw their role to be a law firm collectively defending Donald Trump regardless of his guilt or innocence, it was a pathetic performance on their part.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this about traceability to the president here, and we should acknowledge that the White House has blocked all White House witnesses from testifying here, and State Department witnesses at the White House attempted to block it, caught ahead (ph) despite White House objections.

That said, we don't yet have a witness who can say the president said, "X," and I witnessed that happen about this. And I just want to play an exchange on Representative Michael Turner pressing this line questioning, get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL TURNER, (R) OHIO: You have not had any contact with the president of the United States, is that correct?

TAYLOR: That's correct, sir.

TURNER: Mr. Taylor, Mr. Kent have you had any contact with the president of the United States?

KENT: I have not.

TURNER: Now, Kurt Volker did have contact with the president, and contact with president on Ukraine. Do either of you have any evidence that Kurt Volker perjured himself, or lied to this Committee in his testimony? Ambassador Taylor, any evidence?

TAYLOR: Mr. Turner, I have no evidence.

TURNER: Mr. Kent?

KENT: I believe Ambassador Volker's deposition was over 400 pages, and I don't have it in front of me, so I can't --

TURNER: But you have no evidence that he lied or perjured himself, correct, Mr. Kent?

KENT: I have no basis to make that judgment, no sir.

TURNER: Great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: (Inaudible) congressman acknowledging that the White House has blocked witnesses who could speak to that, to this point Democrats don't have that eyewitness testimony, as it were, how much does that weaken your case?

KILDEE: I don't think it does. I mean, first of all we start with the evidence that was supplied by the White House itself. With the summary of the call notes that he had with the president of Ukraine, that's the basis, I think for much of what we are now examining.

But you know, let's be clear -- if Republicans are seriously doubting whether or not the policies in a coordinated fashion that were being carried out by multiple sources inside and outside the White House were not at the direction of the president -- they're describing a president that's different than the one that they've described for the last three years, a man who is completely in charge of every aspect of this White House.

But it's also just preposterous for them to promote the notion that amazingly, simultaneously these various actors were all pursuing precisely the same policy, and the only one person that they have in common is Donald J. Trump.

So I don't -- I just don't accept it even as a premise. They could, however -- Mike Mulvaney, or Mr. Bolton, or Rudy Giuliani for that matter -- or the president himself, if they had the courage, the same courage that these two witnesses have shown.

If they want to come forward and answer questions, that they think would be exculpatory -- bring it on. But until they do so, we have to base our decision on the evidence that we have -- and the evidence that we have is compelling.

HARLOW: So the question of the timeline, because as you know, some of your counterparts in Congress, and I wonder if you're among them, want to get this thing wrapped up before the holidays. That -- you're not going to hear from John Bolton if you do that, and his lawyer, former National Security Advisor -- his lawyer says he has a lot to say about this issue that hasn't already been testified to in the closed door depositions.

So would it be prudent for your party -- for Democrats to wait it out, even if it is one, two, three months? To hear what John Bolton has to say, or is the timeline more important?

KILDEE: I don't think any particular timeline is important, but I think it is important that we get a full picture but we not be drawn in to a situation where every time we get close to coming to the point of making a decision some other potential witness is dangled in front of us just for the purpose of trying to delay us.

We're going to have to make a judgment that at some point in time we will move forward based on the information that we have. We -- we're all going to arrive at our own conclusions on our own timeline.

[00:10:00]

And I think it would really be up to the members of the House to determine whether that point has come. For me, it's getting very close. I think for others they may want to see and hear more testimony.

We should be able to get testimony for example from Ambassador Sondland. That could be very important given what was revealed today by Ambassador Taylor.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point because that would be someone who has firsthand knowledge. He's mentioned in these calls and he is scheduled to come next week.

HARLOW: In a week.

SCIUTTO: On Wednesday.

HARLOW: Yes. And Bolton could come. I should note. I mean, in my question I should've noted of course Bolton could've just shown up.

SCIUTTO: True. I mean he's basically said court, give me a free pass to go.

HARLOW: 100 percent.

SCIUTTO: I do want to ask you because there was news outside of the impeachment hearings today for the president in the Court of Appeals denying yet another Trump appeal in effect to block his tax returns being turned over to federal prosecutors here in New York.

The significance of that and do you believe that we, you, the American public will see the president's tax returns before the next election?

KILDEE: Well, I think if we have courts who are willing to uphold the law, ultimately we will. We have more than one case that deals with the president's tax returns. This particular case emanates out of a subpoena from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

I serve on the Ways and Means Committee where we're seeking the tax returns in order to evaluate whether the president is being properly having the laws of the IRS properly applied to him. That's a separate case. It ultimately likely goes to the Supreme Court. And I leave it to others to judge how this court might act on a matter such as this.

But I hope that they don't think transactionally. I hope they think about the implications for the future. This is really an important moment. When we have a president who is so involved and what I think is a case of bribery.

Also now trying to hide his personal interest from the American people by sheltering himself from disclosure that most presidents -- originally all presidents and candidates have adhered to since the Nixon era. This is a frightening moment. This president is breaking all the norms and there are consequences for that.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Dave Kildee, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

KILDEE: My pleasure. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, this hour, Republicans try to hammer home that none of what was heard today was firsthand information directly from the president. Will that prove to be an effective strategy particularly if it changes with other witnesses?

HARLOW: Plus, the president says he did nothing wrong when it comes to aide to Ukraine. Staffers say they were shocked at what they perceived as a direct order from the president.

TAYLOR: An irregular NSC secure video conference call on July 18th, I heard a staff person from the office of management and budgets say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine, but could not say why. The person was off-screen.

Said that she was from OMB and her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional sending on security assistance for Ukraine until further notice. I and others sat in astonishment. All the OMB staff person said was that the directive had come from the president and the Chief of Staff to OMB.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:15:00]

HARLOW: All right, welcome back, a surprise for the White House today when Bill Taylor showed up on Capitol Hill for the first public impeachment hearing. Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine provided new details in his testimony about a previously unknown phone call about the president's personal involvement in pushing Ukraine to open investigations that could help him politically.

A White House official tells CNN this was quote "news to everyone." The information was also pretty new to Taylor as well. He says a staffer approached him after his initial deposition which was just a few weeks ago and told him this.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

TAYLOR: Last Friday, a member of my staff told me of events that occurred on July 26th. While Ambassador Volker and I visited the front, member of my staff accompanies Ambassador Sondland. Ambassador Sondland met with Mr. (inaudible).

Following that meeting, in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden which Giuliani was pressing for. SCHIFF: And I think you said that after the call when your staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought of Ukraine, his response was that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden? Is that right?

TAYLOR: And (inaudible). Yes, sir.

SCHIFF: And I take the import of that is he cares more about that than he does about Ukraine.

TAYLOR: Yes, sir.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

SCIUTTO: That's right, Ukraine at war with Russia. Taylor says that he reported this information through the proper channels both at the State Department and the House Intelligence Committee. That aide who overheard the phone call, David Homes, he's going to provide his own closed door testimony on Friday.

Joining our conversation now with their insights, Samantha Vinograd, a former senior advisor to the National Security Council during President Obama's administration, Elaina Plott, White House correspondent for The Atlantic and journalist and author Carl Bernstein.

[00:20:00]

Carl, tell us the significance of this new information about this new call with Sondland, directly to the president. We did not expect new information today; and this one, material to the broader investigation. How significant?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is very significant and once again it gives us a picture of the president of the United States attempting to bribe the head of a foreign government for the purpose of undermining our own free elections in the United States, and going to these extraordinary lengths, if indeed this testimony turns out to be accurate and confirmed by Sondland, it's very, very damning in terms of the president of the United States and it's also consistent with what we have known all along, that the president of the United States is not concerned that his policies are undermining the United States and the advantage of Putin and Russia. And that's the undercurrent of all of what we heard today, that it is so extraordinary.

And once again, we have to ask ourselves, and I know that Republican senators who of course are expected to acquit the president in a trial in the Senate, but nonetheless, Republican senators are very concerned about why is it that the president of the United States continues over and over and over to serve the interests of Russia and Putin, and here today, we have seen it in one bit of testimony after another, here is Ukraine, this bowl work (ph)that has had part of his heart overcome in Crimea by Russian tanks, by Russian forces, and this president of the United States is perfectly content to see this happen and concerned himself instead with what looks very much like his own directed conspiracy to undermine free elections in his own country with the aid of this foreign power.

HARLOW: Sam, you are watching, and live tweeting all of this today, and I was following some of what you are saying tonight, and you mentioned what I had forgotten until now, which is that in Sondland's revised testimony that his lawyer gave to his committee, those three pages, he brings up the possibility of a second phone call with the president. He is set to testify publicly on Wednesday, in a week. How much more critical this is testimony now become?

VINOGRAD: Well Sondland leave himself some wiggle room. When he had refreshed memory, he left open the possibility of more than one call with President Trump, so that is something that we've heard about directly today, but something that struck me, Poppy, is Ambassador Sondland is a gold mine for foreign intelligence services. The fact that he was speaking with the president of the United States about something as important as Ukraine and, quote, unquote "investigations," in the middle of a restaurant in a situation where others could hear, really just makes foreign intelligence service's jobs that much easier, and President Trump is aware of security protocols. He was speaking with Sondland; let's hope not on his personal cell phone, in this way.

But as Carl was just, saying let's just take a step back and talk about the import of Sondland telling a staffer that President Trump cared more about investigations than he did about Ukraine. That's really saying that President Trump is putting his own personal interests against the vital interest of the United States. He's helping Russia's interests, by really showing Ukraine that support for Ukraine is not a sure bet anymore. These witnesses both testified that just the notion, the public notion that security assistance was being considered as being withheld will help Russia, that is point number one.

Point number two, and a little bit separately, we did hear today that President Trump solicited Ukrainian election interference in at least two ways, one he asked for help investigating his rivals, as part of these investigations that Sondland reference. And to, be asked Ukrainians to make a public statement about these investigations, which is really information warfare against Americans for political gain, so this second phone call, perhaps there are others is directly important for all those reasons, because Sondland will be a direct witness, a firsthand witness. The Republicans can't claim this is just hearsay.

SCIUTTO: (inaudible) perhaps in preparation for how important testimony will be, the president is changing his tune in very mark terms, on Sondland, have a listen to that, and just I want you to assess the credibility of this, just have a listen to the tap here for a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who is highly respected, was, there is no quid pro quo. He said that.

Let me just tell, you I hardly know the gentlemen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Yes, so when text messages early on the investigation, Sondland communicated there was no quid pro quo, now he has changed his testimony. He's going to be speaking public next Wednesday. All of a sudden, he is another coffee boy to the president.

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, it is not at all surprising, Jim, I think that trump is preemptively attempting to create distance between himself and Sondland because with Sondland's testimony, we really do have the first instance within this debacle, if you were to call it, that so far, where firsthand information will be on full display. Of course, the White House so far has done everything in its power to make sure that has not happened, throughout the course of House Democrats' investigation.

But where I think that Sondland's testimony could be particularly damning to Trump, is that Republicans so far have relied on the argument that all of this is too esoteric for the American public to fully grasp and understand, but if Sondland can say and can confirm what Bill Taylor heard from his aid, that Trump feels far more interested in Biden, in Joe Biden and the investigations, as opposed to American interests in Ukraine, geopolitics more broadly, that is a way in which I think the American people could be able to see how the alleged quid pro quo affected American interests in real-time. It is no longer a hypothetical, and that sort of concreteness, I think, could really elevate the Democratic argument against this president.

HARLOW: And Carl Bernstein, to you (ph), politics completely, side to the point to Jim and Sam were making earlier about national security implications here, Larry Pfeiffer, the former director of the White House situation room told the Washington Post about this now revealed September 26 call in an open restaurant. Quote, "the security ramifications are insane, using an open cell phone to communicate with the president of United States in a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on that call," Carl.

BERNSTEIN: Well, we raised that on earlier broadcast with Anderson tonight. It's extraordinary, the recklessness that appears to be predominant in these situations. It' a little bit like what happened in the oval office where a president of United States, I believe it was in December, a year ago, I might be wrong on the date, himself revealed classified information in the presence of Russian diplomats. But I think we better keep our eyes really on the most important aspects of what's going on here.

We don't know where the story is going. We don't know how the Senate is really, sure, the conventional wisdom is that he will be acquitted in the senate, the president, but we really don't know quite how offended many Republican senators, certainly ones I talked to are in this president of the United States. An awful lot of them don't like Donald Trump. They regard him as a hopeless liar. They doubt his stability. Yes, they'll support him up to a point, and we also don't know what information we haven't heard yet, we're just in the first day of this thing. There is a good ways to go, and there is a different dynamic now that this is underway. We don't know it is going to happen through the rest of the Trump presidency into the election.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point, a month and a half ago or so.

HARLOW: We don't know but.

SCIUTTO: We didn't know what this, and (inaudible) impeachment the time.

BERNSTEIN: And this is the first Day. This is day one and we have had a huge surprise on day one, and we've got a lot of witnesses love to hear from.

SCIUTTO: Take it t the bank, keep an open mind, we'll do the same. Carl Bernstein thanks so much for joining us tonight. Sam and Elaina, stay with us, we've got lots more to discuss.

HARLOW: We do. With Democrats call a clear case of wrongdoing by the Trump administration, Republicans liken to a confusing game of telephone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: I've seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told him -- and again, this is, I hereby swear and affirm from Gordon Sondland. Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on September 21st...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Will -- the hearsay argument defense, will it work for Republicans? Will it last?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Republicans today repeatedly aired their grievances over the process of the impeachment hearings. One of their top complaints, the unknown identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the Democratic impeachment inquiry. Of course, identity protected by law.

[00:34:20]

Here's Congressman Jim Jordan, and the Democratic rebuttal from Congressman Peter Welch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): No matter what they do, no matter how many witnesses they bring in here, four facts will not change, have not changed, will never change.

The call shows no linkage between dollars and the investigation into Burisma or the Bidens.

President Trump and President Zelensky have both said on the call there was no linkage, there was no pressure, there was no pushing.

Ukrainians didn't even know the aid was withheld at the time of the phone call.

And, most importantly, as it had been pointed out, Ukrainians didn't take any specific action relative to investigations to get the money released.

Now, there is one witness, one witness that they won't bring in front of us, they won't bring in front of the American people. That's the guy who started it all, the whistleblower. No. Four hundred and thirty-five members of Congress. Only one gets to know who that person is. Only one member of Congress has a staff that gets to talk to that person. The rest of us don't. Only Chairman Schiff knows who the whistleblower is. We don't.

[00:35:22]

We will never get the chance. We will never get the chance to see the whistleblower raise his right hand, swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. We'll never get that chance. More importantly, the American people won't get that chance.

REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): Thank you. I say to my colleague, I'd be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: We should note that the House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff has been adamant, repeatedly saying that he does not know the identity of the whistleblower.

Rather, point of fact, one of Schiff's aides was contacted by the whistleblower before the complaint was filed in July and referred to the I.D. in the process for filing the whistleblower complaint.

SCIUTTO: Facts matter. A lot of charges getting thrown around unchallenged.

HARLOW: A hundred percent.

SCIUTTO: Often turn out not to be true.

HARLOW: Right. OK, so let's keep this conversation going. Sam Vinograd is back with us. Also, Elaina Plott.

You guys, I want to see this exchange again, because it's another press on the lack of firsthand, direct orders, if you will, from the president to launch an investigation. And that is the point the Republicans are sticking on, and they do have a point that that has not been testified to, at least as of yet. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL GOLDMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MAJORITY COUNSEL: Regardless of what you call it, whether it's a quid pro quo, bribery, extortion, abuse of power, of the office of the presidency, the fact of the matter, as you understood it, is that security assistance and the White House meeting were not going to be provided unless Ukraine initiated these two investigations that would benefit Donald Trump's reelection. Is that what you understood the facts to be?

BILL TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: Mr. Godman, what I can do here for you today is tell you what I heard from people, and in this, case it was what I heard from Ambassador Sondland. He described the conditions for the security assistance and the White House meeting in those terms, that is, that were dependent upon, conditioned on pursuing these investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Elaina, what does it mean for Democrats that, at least as of yet -- and it's only the first day of hearings -- they do not have someone testifying, I heard this directly from the president?

PLOTT: Well, it means, Poppy, that Republicans in both the House and Senate feel quite confidently in their chances moving forward that this will all be for naught.

I can report that earlier this evening, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner held a book party for Donald Trump Jr. at the Hay-Adams, where several Republican senators, including Kevin Kramer and Tim Scott, were present. I have sources who spoke with both of them who felt great about how the day went.

It was all linked to the fact that what Ambassador Taylor laid out today about what his aide revealed to him is all based on second- and third-head knowledge.

And like you said, Poppy, it's a good point. As a reporter I cannot run with a single-source story in that way, but I think it does mean that Gordon Sondland's testimony next week could really change the dynamics of this. It could be the very first instance in which we have a firsthand account that President Trump himself, not Rudy Giuliani, not anyone else, encouraged and, in many ways, hoped for others to pursue these investigations into Biden. And once we get that, Republicans no longer have the ability to deal in process claims.

HARLOW: If that's what comes. Right. If that's what comes.

PLOTT: If that happens.

SCIUTTO: True. Let's also note the dripping irony here, right, that the White House is preventing firsthand witnesses from testifying.

PLOTT: Absolutely. Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Which is -- it get to the point that obstruction works, right? I mean, at least to this point.

Let me note a tweet from Justin Amash, who until recently was a Republican member of Congress, now independent. He tweeted the following: "This is simple. Keep it simple. The White House released security assistance to Ukraine only after Congress started asking questions. Why? Considering that Bolton, Giuliani, Mulvaney and others may have pertinent first-hand testimony, why won't President Trump let him testify?"

Sam Vinograd, you can't answer the question why.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I can guess, though.

SCIUTTO: You can -- you can help us with the question as to what is the Democrat response to this in the end, because we know that that refusal may be part of a separate article of impeachment on obstruction of justice.

VINOGRAD: Well, exactly, and Chairman Schiff actually said that in his testimony today, but the reason that Trump probably won't let Mulvaney testify is because Mulvaney is the missing link on so many of these activities as chief of staff. Security assistance, ambassadorships, White House visits, those all pass through his office.

[00:40:11]

But I do want to just remind us that we do have public statements by Mulvaney. Let's all remember that he give a press conference --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

VINOGRAD: -- where he said that we do this all the time.

SCIUTTO: Get over it.

VINOGRAD: Get over it. He said, we do this all the time. And importantly, Jim, Ambassador Taylor today fully discounted that claim. He said never in his, I think, three decades of experience had he seen foreign assistance conditioned on a politically motivated or personal need by the president.

SCIUTTO: And that is the difference.

VINOGRAD: Yes.

SCIUTTO: You can say that, of course, there are exchanges between countries, foreign aid, et cetera. But the specificity of this one, investigating a political rival, is a different animal.

HARLOW: And for the well-being of your nation, not the well-being of -- or the advancement of your personal political cause, but I would just note, Alaina, to Sam's point, Mulvaney's boss won't let him testify.

Mulvaney has agency like every other American, and he could just choose to -- to go, and so let's not forget that point.

Thank you, ladies, very, very much.

PLOTT: Thank you.

HARLOW: Up next, we will preview what is ahead in the next set of live testimony.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:45:21]

HARLOW: This is day one, if you can believe it, of the public portion of the impeachment hearings. Of course, this all continues on Friday with the testimony of ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

SCIUTTO: Additionally, there are two closed-door depositions scheduled for Friday and Saturday. One of them speaks to this new information about this new phone call involving the president.

Samantha and Alaina are back with us. Samantha, you look at the coming days and next week, most important moments going forward.

VINOGRAD: I think Ambassador Sondland is going to be key. Let's remember this walking, talking, texting counter intelligence risk is still representing the U.S. government, and he is going to be a critical link in establishing what President Trump's direct engagements on a series of issues.

I'm also going to be highly tuned to Ambassador Yovanovitch's testimony. We learned today that officials believe that President Trump really was gullible enough to fall for a corrupt Ukrainian official's revenge campaign. They were upset about Marie Yovanovitch's work in Ukraine to establish the rule of law and, for that reason, wanted to smear -- smear her, and Rudy and Trump fell for it.

SCIUTTO: The source of that sort of whisper campaign against her, being with motivation.

VINOGRAD: Exactly.

HARLOW: Elaina, what are your thoughts in terms of what we have ahead on Friday?

PLOTT: I absolutely agree with Sam that still, even with Friday coming up, Ambassador Sondland's testimony next week will be, I think, the most meaningful thing that could come, given what we know about Ambassador Taylor thus far.

A lot about Trump's argument against impeachment rides on what Ambassador Sondland says. So I'll be looking forward to see if the arguments about this being a process woe and whatnot suddenly crumble if and when Sondland confirms the veracity of Taylor's testimony.

HARLOW: Yes, we'll see. Sam, appreciate it.

Alaina, so nice to have you.

PLOTT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, today's hearing was easily the biggest show on television. For lawmakers trying to sway public opinion. That show may have been just as important as the substance. Did it live up to that hype?

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SCIUTTO: For more than a month now, Democrats have investigated whether the president abused his power to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival in return for releasing military aid they depend on to fight an invasion by Russia.

HARLOW: Well, today, lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee had their chance to bring their case to the American public with live public proceedings.

Our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, watched it all, has analyzed it. He is here with us tonight.

We just got your newsletter. You go through a lot of it, but you're an expert at this. What did you see?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think this is an event on two levels. On one level, really importantly, it's a test for democracy.

On another level, you have to be honest, it's also a television show, and the Democrats tried to premier strong with episode one. I don't want to spend a lot of time analyzing it like a TV critic, but what I think is happening here is Republicans are calling this boring, trying to say this is boring bureaucracy.

What I saw was really serious, something about a civics lesson, almost like going back to world history class, and that's really valuable. And I think what we're going to see in the days to come and in the weeks to come, as there are more hearings, we're going to see the ratings build overtime. Instead of this theory from Republicans this is going to fizzle out, that people are going to get bored, I actually think there's going to be more interest as more -- as witnesses that were closer to the action start to speak.

SCIUTTO: That's key, right? Because a tension factors into the politics here, right, because the lawmakers will be moved by political pressure from their constituents, et cetera. And if they are paying attention or not paying attention, that factors into the end result, does it not?

STELTER: Yes, it's a big factor. You know, we'll have some early ratings tomorrow. I don't know if that's going to tell us a lot, because people in this digital age consume hearings differently than they did during the Nixon or even the Clinton years.

People soak up these stories like a sponge now, right? On radio and streaming and everywhere else.

But I think it is striking how the president's defenders on FOX are so strongly supporting him after day one. In fact, I would argue his FOX defenders, the GOP stars on FOX, are actually more effective than the lawmakers that we saw earlier today.

There is no -- there is no daylight between Sean Hannity and President Trump right now. Stephanie Grisham, for example, on FOX tonight, saying this is all a joke. Tucker Carlson calling it a scheme. These are mostly just buzzwords and talking points.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

STELTER: But they are very powerful among the president's base. And to me, that's a sign that, you know, on day one, they believe they can just -- they can avoid the embarrassing facts that came out and just claim that it's all about bitter Democrats.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Do you have a sense, Brian, of how much of the American public is consuming this? I mean, I know it's early days. It's the end of day one. But, you know, I was speaking with someone on the phone today, not related to this at all, who said, I keep getting refresh on, you know, CNN.com, to see the latest.

STELTER: Yes.

HARLOW: It reminds you that not everyone is glued to the television. They're getting it so many different ways.

STELTER: Yes, look, I had to take my 2-year-old -- my 3-month-old in for a doctor's appointment today.

HARLOW: Right.

STELTER: We were listening on the radio in the cab, and then reading headlines on Twitter. And then I went, and I watched the whole thing later, because I'm a geek, and I'm obsessed.

But most people are not going to do that, right? With the Cohen hearings, with the Mueller hearings, 10 to 20 million people watched these things live, wall-to-wall. Most Americans soak it up a little bit later.

I thought it was great that our sister network, HLN, re-aired the entire thing tonight.

HARLOW: Yes.

STELTER: Those kinds of ways to have access to this on demand, that's also new. This is the first Internet impeachment. And I don't think anybody, even media analysts who claim to know how this world works, really know how people are going to soak up these hearings.

[00:55:05]

SCIUTTO: No question, and listen, you -- you know, everything viewed through a partisan lens today. We should be used to -- we should be used to that phenomena now. But some facts shined through, right?

And the fact is that something that was dismissed as just a whistle- blower from nowhere, you know, now the essential core of that complain has been corroborated over time by witnesses. And the facts can breakthrough over time, and we've seen that just in the last six weeks.

STELTER: With most viewers, most readers.

SCIUTTO: Right. Not the whole world.

STELTER: I would have to caveat that I watched FOX for more than three hours tonight, and I barely heard a word about today's new bombshell, involving that July 26 phone call that a Sondland staffer overheard. Barely came up at all.

Look how the president defended his perfect phone call today. He said, all the analysts agree with me. Gregg Jarrett, Mark Levin. He's naming FOX News analysts, saying that they have agreed with him that his phone calls are perfect.

You know, this is not -- it's not just an echo chamber any more.

SCIUTTO: Right.

STELTER: It's an echo prison that the president is in. He is hearing these messages reinforced every hour of every day by his friends on FOX. And we can't underestimate, I think, the impact of that.

HARLOW: Brian.

SCIUTTO: Watch, say, Neil Cavuto on FOX, and you hear a different view.

STELTER: There are some dissenters, though. That's true.

SCIUTTO: In the midst of that. But yes, the bigger picture, no question. Brian Stelter, great to have you on.

HARLOW: Thanks for staying up late with us.

STELTER: Or early. Yes.

HARLOW: Or early. However you want to see it.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, Democrats, taking lessons from the Robert Mueller hearing, changed the format for today's impeachment hearing, hoping to make it easier for the public to follow. As we were just discussing, that's important. Did it work?

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