Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Day 3 of Impeachment Hearings Begins; Ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Set to Testify Today Publicly. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired November 15, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: And then having members ask their questions themselves where then they're performing for the cameras, they're performing for the constituents. So I think in general it's a more effective way for the committee to conduct its business.
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Any allocation of time, you know, previously.
GARBER: They were limited by those five-minute increments. That didn't work at all. It's very, very helpful to have that 45 minutes to be able to get a line of questioning going and to allow the witnesses to answer.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But it's interesting that, like a trial, what's difficult here is that for the general public, seeing this as a fact-finding mission is that you have two political interests at odds here with two competing narratives which gets very difficult for anyone who is supposed to be paying attention to really learn what the facts of the case are. And of course, the jury in this case are senators who may or may not be paying attention but who probably in many cases made up their minds anyway.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is it. What we're about to see, you know, Nia, and I just want to alert our viewers, she's going to walk in, the former U.S. ambassador from Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and then all of those photographers, they will have an opportunity. There'll be a photo-op right at the beginning. She'll be seated and they're going to start taking a lot of pictures. That probably usually goes on, and you've covered a lot of these hearings, for at least about a minute or so. At one point, they will be told to leave and then the chairman will open up.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And imagine how she must feel. And John Dean will speak to this.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I was going to say, you don't even see them. It's amazing. I have been in that --
BLITZER: So you remember what happened? So tell us about that. DEAN: And more recently before the House Judiciary Committee on the
Mueller report. Same thing. And you just don't see them. They are there. They are very low. They stay below the dais so they're inconspicuous and many of them have silent cameras now.
HENDERSON: And John, I wonder, if you can talk about how you felt in that chair in that moment. And I imagine it's similar to the way she's feeling.
DEAN: You're on -- by the time you get there, you're on automatic pilot.
GARBER: And John, when you testified, though, it was in private session back during Watergate or was it --
DEAN: It was both. I -- during the Senate Watergate Committee it was very public. About 80 million Americans tuned in. A fair number.
GREGORY: And then all that cable coverage, too.
BLITZER: And the Internet was going crazy.
GREGORY: Going crazy, yes.
DEAN: No. And then more recently, very different situation with the House Judiciary Committee. But, you know, the testimony -- you've prepared your testimony, you know what you're going to say, and you are just looking at that and these other things are distractions that don't even come up in your mind. At least not in mine.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're laughing about it but this is -- it is the key point about the Internet and cable television in a sense that you're trying to work the jury. In the Nixon days, people got their news from the evening news. They had time to think about it. They picked up their morning paper. There were not things going off on their phone or alerts or notifications or text messages from campaigns or incoming, you know, from political organizations that there are now.
Both sides here are trying to work the jury, whether it's the House members and the Senate members or the American people. As this is happening. In real live time. It happened during the Clinton --
DEAN: And John, it speeds up the process. The process is much faster.
KING: Yes, the process is much faster. But it's also -- they're trying to work people before they can actually reflect and think. Talk to a friend they respect about it. Maybe they have a friend who is an attorney. Is this really bribery? You don't have time for that. I mean, you can do that if you wish but you're also the inundation is amazing in the sense that the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Democrats on the flip side know who they're trying to target here. And -- HENDERSON: And know who they're trying to keep.
KING: Keep. Right.
HENDERSON: In their camp.
GREGORY: And it's interesting, I thought the "New York Times" did an interesting job this morning of going into some of the swing states and talking to folks and by their description of who they are and where they live, you think, oh, maybe they had a set view in this. And often cases it was not the case. They were trying to process information that was coming very fast and a lot of it with names that are hard to keep track of. And I think the truth is beyond what we're doing, what we pay such close attention to it, a lot of people are trying to let this wash over them and think about what it adds up to. And they are taking their time doing it.
BLITZER: You know, the president, he's got some executive time as they call it over at the White House this morning. I see he's already busy tweeting about what he calls this impeachment witch hunt. I assume he's going to be watching a lot of this. And a lot of the members probably are going to remember what the president of the United States, I just want to remind our viewers what the president told President Zelensky in that July 25th phone conversation about the witness, Marie Yovanovitch.
"The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that." And then he later said to President Zelensky, "Well, she's going to go through some things."
HENDERSON: Which a chilling thing if you are Marie Yovanovitch to read this in this transcript and know that the president of the United States said this about you and was kind of part of, obviously, ousting you, part of this smear campaign.
She will say just the opposite was happening, right? She wasn't in cahoots with the bad guys as the president is alleging on this call. She was trying to rid Ukraine of corruption and in some ways, it seems like that's why they wanted to --
BLITZER: All right. Here she comes right now. Marie Yovanovitch, 33 years in the State Department, a career diplomat having served Democratic presidents, Republican presidents. Ousted prematurely from her position as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under a lot of smear attacks from Rudy Giuliani and his associates who were now indicted, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman.
And as a result, John King, she was removed unceremoniously and this will be a focus of this conversation that's coming up.
KING: And again, you just hit on a key point. So two of the people who helped Rudy Giuliani undermine her are under federal indictment by the Trump Justice Department. Not by the deep state, not by angry Democrats. Under indictment by the Trump Justice Department. Rudy Giuliani, who helped undermine her, under investigation by the Trump Justice Department. Making money off clients in Ukraine as he says he was defending the president and undermining the U.S. ambassador.
She is someone who has served in the foreign service for a long time. Loved and admired by both Condi Rice and Susan Rice. That's hard to do. If you understand politics here in Washington, D.C. One of the people behind the scenes who implements American policy and has to shift when the presidents change. Yes, you have to shift. You had a Democratic president on January 20th. You have a Republican president on January 21st. They have a different foreign policy. You have to change.
That has been her job. She's been admired for doing it in other administrations. The question now, as a witness, is she sympathetic, can she make the case, I was trying to do my job and this thing that I did not understand that I came to believe was corrupt was undermining me. That is the challenge for the Democrats.
BLITZER: All right. The photographers are now being told that's enough and the chairman, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is about to begin this hearing. It will go on for quite a while. Lots of questions. There she is, Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador -- former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. A career U.S. diplomat who was ousted in April prematurely from her position. Let's listen in.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Good morning, everyone. This is the second 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 recess of the committee at any time. There's a quorum present. We will proceed today in the same fashion as our first hearing. I will make an opening statement and then Ranking Member Nunes will have the opportunity to make a statement. Then we will turn to our witness for an opening statement and then to questions.
For audience members, we welcome you and respect your interest in being here. In turn, we ask for your respect as we proceed with today's hearing. It is the intention of the committee to proceed without disruptions. As chairman, I will take all necessary and appropriate steps to maintain order to ensure that 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 April of 2019, United States Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was in Kyiv when she was called by a senior State Department official and told to get on the next plane back to Washington. Upon her return to D.C., she was informed by her superiors that, although she had done nothing wrong, she could no longer serve as ambassador to Ukraine because she did not have the confidence of the president. It was a stunning turn of events for this highly regarded career diplomat who had done such a remarkable job fighting corruption in Ukraine that a short time earlier she had been asked by the State Department to extend her tour.
Ambassador Yovanovitch has been in the Foreign Service for 33 years and served much of that time in the former Soviet Union. Her parents had fled Stalin, and later Hitler, before settling in the United States.
She is an exemplary officer who was widely praised and respected by her colleagues. She is known as an anticorruption champion whose tour in Kyiv was viewed as very successful.
Ambassador Michael McKinley, who had served with her in the Foreign Service for several decades, stated that, "From the earliest days of her career in the Foreign Service, she was excellent, serious, committed. I certainly remember her being one of those people who seemed to be destined for greater things."
Her successor as acting chief of mission in Ukraine, Ambassador Bill Taylor, described her as, "very frank. She was very direct. She made points very clearly, and she was, indeed, tough on corruption. And she named names, and that sometimes is controversial out but -- out there, but she's a strong person and made those charges."
In her time in Kyiv, Ambassador Yovanovitch was tough on corruption, too tough on corruption for some, and a principled stance made her enemies. As George Kent told this committee on Wednesday, "You can't promote principled anticorruption action without pissing off corrupt people."
And Ambassador Yovanovitch did not just piss off corrupt Ukrainians, like the corrupt former prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, but also certain Americans like Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's personal attorney, and two individuals now indicted who worked with him, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.
Lutsenko, Giuliani, Fruman, Parnas and others, who would come to include the president's own son Don Jr., promoted a smear campaign against her based on false allegations. At the State Department, there was an effort to push back, to obtain a statement of support from Secretary Pompeo, but those efforts failed when it became clear that President Trump wanted her gone.
Some have argued that a president has the ability to nominate or remove any ambassador he wants, that they serve at the pleasure of the president; and that is true. The question before us is not whether Donald Trump could recall an American ambassador with a stellar reputation for fighting corruption in Ukraine, but why would he want to. Why did Rudy Giuliani want her gone, and why did Donald Trump? And why would Donald Trump instruct the new team he put in place, the three amigos, Gordon Sondland, Rick Perry and Kurt Voelker, to work with this same man, Rudy Giuliani, who played such a central role in the smear campaign against her? SCHIFF: Rudy Giuliani has made no secret of his desire to get Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens, as well as a conspiracy theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. As he said in one interview in May, 2019, "We're not meddling in an election. We're meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do." More recently, he told CNN's Chris Cuomo, "Of course I did," when asked if he had pressed Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. And he has never been shy about who he is doing this work for: his client, the president.
One powerful ally Giuliani had in Ukraine to promote these political investigations was Lutsenko, the corrupt former prosecutor general. And one powerful adversary Lutsenko had was a certain United States ambassador named Marie Yovanovitch.
It is no coincidence that in the now-infamous July 25th call with Zelensky, Donald Trump brings up a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor and praises him. Against all evidence, Trump claims that this former prosecutor general was, "very good, and he was shut down and that's really unfair."
But the woman known for fighting corruption, his own former ambassador, the woman ruthlessly smeared and driven from her post, the president does nothing but disparage. Or worse, threaten.
"Well, she's going to go through some things," the president declares. That tells you a lot about the president's priorities and intentions.
Getting rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch helped to set the stage for an irregular channel that could pursue the two investigations that mattered so much to the president: the 2016 conspiracy theory and, most important, an investigation into the 2020 political opponent he apparently feared most, Joe Biden.
And the president's scheme might have worked, but for the fact that the man who would succeed Ambassador Yovanovitch, whom we heard from on Wednesday, Acting Ambassador Taylor, would eventually discover the effort to press Ukraine into conducting these investigations and would push back; but for the fact, also, that someone blew the whistle.
Ambassador Yovanovitch was serving our nation's interest in fighting corruption in Ukraine. But she was considered an obstacle to the furtherance of the president's personal and political agenda. For that, she was smeared and cast aside.
The powers of the presidency are immense, but they are not absolute and they cannot be used for corrupt purpose. The American people expect their president to use the authority they grant him in the service of the nation, not to destroy others to advance his personal or political interests.
I now recognize Ranking Member Nunes for his remarks.
NUNES: I thank the gentleman.
It's unfortunate that today and for most of next week, we will continue engaging in the Democrats' day-long TV spectacles instead of solving the problems we were all sent to Washington to address.
We now have a major trade agreement with Canada and Mexico ready for approval. A deal that would create jobs and boost our economy. Meanwhile, we have not yet approved funding for the government which expires next week, along with funding for our men and women in uniform.
Instead, the Democrats have convened us once again to advance their operation to topple a duly-elected president -- I'll note that five -- five Democrats on this committee had already voted to impeach this president before the Trump-Zelensky phone call occurred.
In fact, Democrats have been vowing to oust President Trump since the day he was elected. So Americans can rightly suspect that his phone call with President Zelensky was used as an excuse for the Democrats to fulfill their Watergate fantasies.
But I'm glad that on Wednesday, after the Democrats staged six weeks of secret depositions in the basement of the Capitol, like some kind of strange cult, the American people finally got to see this farce for themselves. They saw us sit through hours of hearsay testimony about conversations that two diplomats who had never spoken to the president heard second-hand, third-hand and fourth-hand from other people. In other words, rumors.
The problem of trying to overthrow a president based on this type of evidence is obvious. But that's what their whole case relies on, beginning with second-hand and third-hand information cited by the whistleblower. That's why on Wednesday, the Democrats were forced to make the absurd argument that hearsay can be much better evidence than direct evidence.
And just when you thought the spectacle couldn't get more bizarre, committee Republicans received a memo from the Democrats threatening ethics referrals if we out the whistleblower. As the Democrats are well aware, no Republicans here know the whistleblower's identity because the whistleblower only met with Democrats, not with Republicans.
Chairman Schiff claim not to know who it is. Yet, he also vowed to block us from asking questions that could reveal his or her identity. Republicans on this committee are left wondering how it's even possible for the chairman to block questions about a person whose identity he claims not to know. The American people may be seeing these absurdities for the first time.
But Republicans on this diace are used to them. Until they secretly met with the whistleblower, Democrats showed little interest for the last three years and any topic aside from the ridiculous conspiracy theories that President Trump is a Russian agent.
When you find yourself on the phone, like the Democrats did with the Russian pranksters offering you nude pictures of Trump, and afterwards you order your staff to follow up and get the photos, as the Democrats also did, then it might be time to ask yourself if you've gone out too far on a limb. Even as they were accusing Republicans of colluding with Russians, the Democrats themselves were colluding with the Russians by funding the Steele dossier which was based on Russian and Ukrainian sources.
Meanwhile, they turned a blind eye to Ukrainians meddling in our elections because the Democrats were cooperating with that operation. This was the subject of a July 20th, 2017, letter sent by Senator Grassley to then-deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The letter raised concerns about the activities of Alexandra Chalupa; a contractor for the Democratic National Committee who worked with Ukrainian embassy officials to spread dirt on the Trump campaign.
As Senator Grassley wrote, Chalupa's actions -- quote, "Chalupa's actions appear to show that she was simultaneously working on behalf of a foreign government, Ukraine, and on behalf of the DNC and the Clinton campaign in an effort to influence not only the U.S. voting population, but U.S. government officials", unquote.
After touting the Steele dossier and defending the FBI's Russia investigation, which are now being investigated by Inspector General Horowitz and Attorney General Barr, Democrats on this committee ignore Ukrainian election meddling, even though Chalupa publicly admitted to the Democrats' scheme.
Likewise, they're blind to the blaring signs of corruption surrounding Hunter Biden's well-paid position on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian company while his father served as Vice President and point man for Ukraine issues in the Obama administration.
But the Democrats media hacks only cared about that issue briefly when they were trying to stop Joe Biden from running against Hillary Clinton in 2015. As I previously stated, these hearings should not be occurring at all until we get the answers to three crucial questions the Democrats refuse to ask. 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, what did he do for them, and did his position affect any government actions under the Obama administration? I'll note that House Democrats vowed, they would not put the American people through a wrenching impeachment process without bipartisan support.
And they have none. Add that to their ever-growing list of broken promises and destructive deceptions. In closing, Mr. Chair, the president of the United States released his transcript right before the hearing began. I think it's important that I read this into the record so that there's no confusion over this first phone call that occurred on April 21st with President-elect Zelensky. And I'd like to read it.
The President: I'd like to congratulate you on a job well done and congratulations on a fantastic election.
Zelensky: Good to hear from you. Thank you so very much. It's nice to hear from you and I appreciate the congratulations.
The President: That was an incredible election.
Zelensky: Again, thank you so very much. As you can see, we tried very hard to do our best. We had you as a great example.
The President: I think you will do a great job. I have many friends in Ukraine who know you and like you. I have many friends from Ukraine and, frankly, expected you to win. And it's really an amazing thing that you've done. I guess in a way I did something similar. We're making tremendous progress in the U.S. We have the most tremendous economy ever.
I just wanted to congratulate you, I have no doubt you will be a fantastic president.
Zelensky: First of all, thank you so very much, again, for the congratulations. We in Ukraine are an independent country, an independent Ukraine. We're going to do everything for the people. You are, as I said, a great example. We are hoping we can expand on our jobs as you did.
You will also be a great example for many. You're a great example for our new managers. I'd also like to invite you, if possible, to the inauguration. I know how busy you are, but if it's possible for you to come to the inauguration ceremony, that would be great. Great for you to do -- to be with us on that day.
The President: That's very nice. I'll look into that and give us a date, at the very minimum, we'll have a great representative or more from the United States will be with you on that great day. So we will have somebody at a minimum, a very high level and will be with you. Really, an incredible day for an incredible achievement.
Zelensky: Again, thank you. We're looking forward to your visit, to the visit of a high-level delegation, but there's no words that can describe our wonderful country, how nice, warm and friendly our people are. How tasty and delicious our food is, and how wonderful Ukraine is. Words cannot describe our country, so it would be best for you to see it yourself. So, if you can come, that would be great. So again, I invite you to come.
The President: Well, I agree with you about your country and I look forward to it. When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine always very well represented. It was always very well represented. When you're settled in and ready, I'd like to invite you to the White House. We'll have a lot of things to talk about. But we're with you all the way.
Zelensky: Thank you for the invitation. We accept the invitation and look forward to the visit. Thank you again. The whole team and I are looking forward to the visit. Thank you for the congratulations and I think it would still be great if you could come and be with us on this -- be with us on this important day.
The results are incredible. They're very impressive for us, so, it will be absolutely fantastic if you could come on that day.
The President: Very good. We'll let you know very soon. And we will see you very soon regardless. Congratulations and please say hello to the Ukrainian people and your family. Let them know I send my best regards.
Zelensky: Well, thank you. You have a safe flight and see you soon.
The President: Take care of yourself and give a great speech today. You take care of yourself and I'll see you soon.
Zelensky: Thank you very much. It's difficult for me, but I will practice English and I will meet in English. Thank you very much.
The President laughing, oh, that's beautiful to hear, that's really good. I could not do it in your language. I am very impressed. Thank you so much.
Zelensky: Thank you so much.
The President: Good day. Good luck.
I'm glad I was able to read that into the records, so now the American people know the very first call that President Trump had with President Zelensky. And with that, I yield back the balance of my time.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): Mr. Chairman, I have a parliamentary inquiry.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The genial woman is not recognized. I do want to comment and allow --
STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order under HRES 660.
SCHIFF: The genial lady would state the point of order.
STEFANIK: The point of order is, will the Chairman continue to prohibit witnesses from answering Republican questions as you've done in closed hearings, and as you did --
SCHIFF: The genial woman will suspend --
STEFANIK: This week when you interrupted our questions --
SCHIFF: That is not a proper -- that is not a proper point of order. The genial woman will suspend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, I do -- Mr. Chairman, I've a --
SCHIFF: The gentleman is not recognized. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.
SCHIFF: The gentleman is not recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a point of order though --
SCHIFF: The gentleman is not recognized. I do want to respond. I allowed the ranking member to --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a point of order --
SCHIFF: The gentleman is not recognized --
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Mr. Chairman, there are 4 transcripts --
SCHIFF: Gentleman --
JORDAN: That have --
SCHIFF: Gentleman --
JORDAN: Not been released --
SCHIFF: Gentleman is not recognized.
JORDAN: Holy cow.
SCHIFF: The ranking member was allowed to exceed the opening statement, and I was happy to allow him to do so. I do want to respond to the call record. First of all, I'm grateful the president has released the call record. I would now ask the president to release the thousands of other records that he has instructed the State Department not to release, including Ambassador Taylor's notes, including Ambassador Taylor's cable, including George Kent's memo, including documents from the Office of Management and Budget about why the military aid was withheld.
JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, I want you to release the four transcripts of depositions --
SCHIFF: The gentleman is not recognized, gentleman will suspend --
JORDAN: That's my point of order.
SCHIFF: The gentleman will suspend --
JORDAN: Gee --
SCHIFF: We would ask the president to stop obstructing the impeachment inquiry, and while we're grateful he has released a single document, he has nonetheless obstructed witnesses and their testimony, and the production of thousands and thousands of other records. And finally, I would say this, Mr. President, I hope you'll explain to the country today why it was after this call and while the vice president was making plans to attend the inauguration that you instructed the vice president not to attend Zelensky's inauguration. STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.
SCHIFF: Today --
STEFANIK: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order --
SCHIFF: The genial woman is not -- the genial woman is not recognized.
STEFANIK: So, we know clearly you're going to interrupt us throughout in this hearing --
SCHIFF: The genial woman is not recognized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I have a --
SCHIFF: Today --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have to rescind the question --
SCHIFF: Today -- no --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I have unanimous --
SCHIFF: The gentleman is not recognized. Today, we are joined by Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, she was born in Canada to parents who fled the Soviet Union and the Nazis. Ambassador Yovanovitch emigrated to Connecticut at 3, became a naturalized American at 18, and entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1986. She has served as U.S. ambassador three times and been nominated by presidents of both parties.
George W. Bush nominated her to be ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic where she served from 2005 to 2008. President Obama nominated her to be U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, where she served from 2008 until 2011. And U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine where she served from 2016 until she was recalled to Washington by President Trump this May.
Beyond these ambassadorial posts, she has held numerous other senior positions at the State Department, including in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. She served as a dean at the Foreign Service Institute and taught national security strategy at the Defense University. She also previously served at U.S. Embassies in Kiev, Ottawa, Moscow, London and Mogadishu.
Ambassador Yovanovitch has received multiple honors from the department for her diplomatic work including the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Secretaries Diplomacy and Human Rights Award. Two final points before our witness is sworn. First witness depositions as part of this inquiry were unclassified in nature and all open hearings will also be held at the unclassified level.
Any information that may touch on classified information will be addressed separately. Second, Congress will not tolerate any reprisal, threat of reprisal or attempt to retaliate against any U.S. government official for testifying before Congress, including you or any of your colleagues.