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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Impeachment Manager Presents Case Against Donald Trump in Impeachment Trial. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 22, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] SCHIFF: of foreign help in the 2020 election. The request likely sounded familiar to President Zelensky who had been swept into office in a landslide victory on a campaign of rooting out just the type of corruption he was being asked to undertake on this call with our president.
Zelensky campaigned as a reformer, as someone outside of politics who would come up and clean up corruption, who would end the political prosecutions, end the political investigations and what is his most in power -- important and powerful patron asking him to do? To do exactly what he campaigned against. No wonder he resisted this pressure campaign.
Now President Trump had been provided talking points for discussion by the National Security Council staff beforehand including recommendations to encourage President Zelensky to continue to promote anti corruption reforms in Ukraine so the national security staff understood what was in the U.S. National Security interest and that was rooting out corruption and they encouraged the president to talk about it. But as you see from the record of the call, and I join the president in saying read the call, that topic was never addressed.
The word corruption never escapes his lips. Instead, President Trump openly pressed President Zelensky to pursue the two investigations that would benefit him personally. In response to President Zelensky's gratitude for the significant military support, the United States has provided to Ukraine President Trump said I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. They say CrowdStrike. I guess you have one of your wealthy people, the server, they say Ukraine has it.
That's that crazy conspiracy theory I talked about earlier that there's this server somewhere in Ukraine that shows that in fact it was Ukraine that hacked the DNC not the Russians. That's a Russian propaganda conspiracy theory and here it is being promulgated by the President of the United States and more than promulgated, he's pressuring an ally to further this Russian propaganda because he's referring to this extensively discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine was the one who really hacked the DNC, the Democratic National Committee servers in 2016 and that reference to CrowdStrike, well that's an American cyber security firm and the theory -- this kooky conspiracy theory is that CrowdStrike moved the DNC servers to Ukraine to prevent U.S. law enforcement from getting them. If Ukraine announced an investigation into this fabrication, President Trump would remove what he perceived to be a cloud over his legitimacy -- the legitimacy of his last election, Russia's assistance with his campaign and suggest it was the Democratic Party that was the real beneficiary of help.
On the call, President Trump told Zelensky, "Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible." President Zelensky agreed that he would do the investigation saying, "Yes, it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier."
President Trump then turned to his second request asking President Zelensky to look into the sham allegation into former Vice President Biden. President Trump said to President Zelensky, "The other thing is a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it -- it sounds horrible to me."
There's no question that President Trump intended pressing the Ukraine leader to look into his political rival. Even after the impeachment inquiry began, he confirmed his desire on the South Lawn of the White House, declaring not only that Ukraine should investigate Biden but that China should do the same. Let's see what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly (ph).
TRUMP: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens because how does a company that's newly formed and all these companies if you're -- and by the way, likewise China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened to China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Now, the day after that July 25 phone call, President Trump sought confirmation that President Zelensky understood his request to announce the politically motive (ph) investigations and that he would follow through. After meeting with Ukrainian officials, President Zelensky and his top aid, the president's handpicked Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, called President Trump from an outdoor restaurant in Kiev to report back.
This was the second conversation between the two about Ukraine in his many days. David Holmes, an American diplomat, dining with Sondland overhead the call, including the president's voice through the cell phone. I described part of that call last night. Holmes testified that President Trump asked Sondland, "So he's going to do the investigation?" Sondland replied that he's going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to.
After the phone call, Holmes took the opportunity to ask Ambassador Sondland for his candid impression of the president's views on Ukraine. According to Holmes...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: In particular, I asked Ambassador Sondland if it was true that the president did not give an expletive about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland agreed the president did not give an expletive about Ukraine. I asked why not. Ambassador Sondland stated that the president only cares about big stuff. I noted there was big stuff going on in Ukraine like a war with Russia. Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant big stuff that benefits the president, like the Biden investigation that Mr. Giuliani was pushing. The conversation then moved onto other topics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Those three days in July -- the 24th, 25th, and 26th -- reveal a lot about President Trump's effort to solicit help from a foreign country in assisting his own reelection. On the 24th, Special Counsel Mueller testifies that Russia interfered in our 2016 election to assist the Trump campaign, which knew about the interference, welcomed it, and utilized it. That's the 24th.
25th is the day of the call when President Trump believe he'd escaped accountability for Russia meddling in the first election and is welcoming of it asked the Ukrainian President to help him undermine the special counsel's conclusion and help him smear a political opponent, former Vice President Biden.
And then the third day in a row in July, President Trump sought to ensure that Ukraine had received his request and understood it and would take the necessary steps to announce the investigations that we wanted. Three days in July.
In many ways, those three days in July tell so much of this story. This course of conduct alone should astound all of us who value the sanctity of our elections and who understand that the vast powers of the presidency are reserved only for actions which benefit the country as a whole rather than the political fortunes of any one individual.
President Trump's effort to use an official head of state phone call to solicit the announcement of investigations helpful to his reelection is not only conduct unbecoming a president, but is conduct of one who believes that the powers of his high office are political tools to be wielded against his opponents, including by asking a foreign government to investigate a United States citizen and for a corrupt purpose. That alone is grounds for removal from Office of the 45th President.
But these three days in July were neither the beginning nor the end of this scheme. President Trump, acting through agents inside and outside of the U.S. government, including his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, sought to compel Ukraine to announce the investigations by withhold the head of state meeting in the Oval Office until the President of Ukraine complied.
Hosting an Oval Office meeting for a foreign leader is an official act available only to one person, the President of the United States. And it is an official act that President Trump had already offered to President Zelensky during their first phone call on April 21 and in a subsequent letter to the Ukrainian leader.
Multiple witnesses testified about the importance of a White House meeting for Ukraine. For example, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent explained that a White House meeting was very important for Ukrainians to demonstrate the strength of their relationship with Ukraine's strongest supporter.
Dr. Fiona Hill of the National Security Council explained a White House meeting would supply the new Ukrainian government with, quote, "the legitimacy it needed, especially vis-a-vis the Russians," and that the Ukrainians viewed a White House meeting as a recognition of their legitimacy of a sovereign state.
This White House meeting would also prove to be important for three handpicked agents whom President Trump placed in charge of U.S.- Ukraine issues -- Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Volker, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry -- the so-called three amigos. They hoped to convince President Trump to hold an Oval Office meeting with Zelensky.
During a meeting of the three amigos on May 23, President Trump told them that Ukraine had tried to take him down in 2016. He then directed them, talk to Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine. It was immediately clear that Giuliani, who was pursuing the discredited investigations in Ukraine on the president's behalf, was the key to unlocking an Oval Office meeting for President Zelensky. Giuliani by then had said publicly that he was actively pursuing investigations President Trump corruptly desired and planning a trip to Ukraine.
Giuliani admitted, quote, "we're not meddling in an election, we're meddling in an investigation." On May 10th, however, Giuliani canceled the trip to Ukraine to dig up dirt on former Vice President Biden and the 2016 conspiracy theory just as President Zelensky won elections for the presidency and parliament.
Faced with a choice between working with Giuliani to pursue an Oval Office meeting, understanding it meant taking part in a corrupt effort to pursue political investigations or abandoning efforts to support our Ukrainian ally, the president's agents fell into line. They would pursue the White House meeting and explained to Ukraine that announcements of the investigations was the price of admission, as Ambassador Sondland made clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SONDLAND: I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question. Was there a quid pro quo ? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes. (END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: This quid pro quo was negotiated between the president's agents, Rudy Giuliani, and Ukrainian officials throughout the summer of 2019 in numerous telephone calls, text messages, and meetings including during a meeting hosted by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton on July 10th.
Near the end of that July 10th meeting, after the Ukrainians again raised the issue of a White House visit, Ambassador Sondland blurted out that there would be agreement for a White House meeting once the investigations began. At that point, Bolton immediately stiffened and abruptly ended the meeting.
During a subsequent discussion that day, Sondland was even more explicit. Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, a director for Europe and Ukraine on the National Security Council, testified that Sondland began to discuss the "deliverable" required to get the White House meeting. What Sondland specifically mentioned was investigation of the Bidens.
This is, again, in that meeting in the White House with a Ukrainian delegation and an American delegation. Sondland explained in that meeting he had an agreement with acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney whereby President Zelensky would be granted the Oval Office meeting if he went forward with the investigations.
After the meeting, Vindman's supervisor, Dr. Hill, reported back to Bolton, who told her to tell John Eisenberg, the National Security Council legal adviser, that he was not part of whatever "drug deal" Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this. She reported her concerns, as did Vindman.
It remains unclear what action, if any, Bolton or Eisenberg took once they were made aware of Mulvaney and Sondland's "drug deal." Both refused to testify in our inquiry. However, Dr. Hill testified that she understood that Mr. Eisenberg informed Mr. Cipollone of her concerns about the "drug deal."
If this body is serious about a fair trial, one that is fair to the president and to the American people, we again urge you to allow the House to call both Eisenberg and Bolton as well as other key witnesses with firsthand knowledge who refused to testify before the House on the orders of the president.
Additional testimony and documents are particularly important because, according to Sondland, everyone was in the loop when it came to the president's self-serving effort. In part, relying on email excerpts, Sondland explained the senior aides and cabinet officials knew that the White House meeting was predicated on Ukraine's announcement of the investigations beneficial to the president's political campaign.
Hill characterized the quid pro quo succinctly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: But it struck me yesterday when you put up on the screen Ambassador Sondland's emails and who was on these emails, and he said, these are the people who need to know that he was absolutely right, because he was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: In effect, President Zelensky was being drawn into this domestic political errand. He grew wary of becoming involved in another country's election and domestic affairs. Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time, described a conversation he had with a senior aide to the Ukrainian leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAYLOR: Also on July 20th, I had a phone conversation with Oleksandr Danylyuk, President Zelensky's national security adviser, who emphasized that President Zelensky did not want to be used as an instrument in a U.S. re-election campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Remember that conversation when you hear counsel say that the Ukrainians felt no pressure to be involved in a U.S. re-election campaign. But that concern did not deter President Trump. In his conversation with Sondland shortly before the 25th of July call, the president made clear that he not only wanted Ukraine to do the investigations or announce them but also a White House meeting would only be scheduled if President Zelensky confirmed these investigations.
As Volker communicated to President Zelensky's top aid by text less than 30 minutes before the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, and again, we are talking about July 25th, in a text 30 minutes before the Trump-Zelensky phone call, here is what is said.
With Volker texting Andriy Yermak, a top aide to President Zelensky: "Good lunch, thanks. Heard from White House. Assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate, "get to the bottom of what happened" in 2016, we will nail down date for a visit to Washington. Good luck! See you tomorrow. Kurt."
Well, those words couldn't be much clearer. "Assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate, "get to the bottom of what happened" in 2016, we will nail down the visit to Washington." And that's a text 30 minutes before that call.
Counsel for the president would like you to think this is just about that call. You don't get to look outside the four corners of that call. They don't want you to look at the months that went into preparing for that call, or the months of pressure that followed it. But you can just look at, right now, what happened 30 minutes before that call in this text message. "Heard from White House, assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate, "get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016." If you were wondering how it seemed that President Zelensky was aware of what he was going to be asked on that call, this is how you can tell. He was prepped. Of course he was prepped. And in fact the missing reference in the call record to Burisma was a signal Colonel Vindman recognized that clearly he had been prepped for that call. Why else would the name of this particular energy company come up in that conversation?
Well, President Zelensky clearly got the message. Toward the end of the call with President Trump, President Zelensky said, I also want to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also want to assure you -- wanted to assure you that we will be very serious about the case and we will work on the investigation.
Thank you for the invitation, on the other hand, I want to assure you that we will be very serious about the case and we will work on the investigation. President Zelensky clearly understood the quid pro quo for the White House meeting on July 25th. But his reticence to be used a political pawn kept President Trump from moving forward with a promise to schedule the meeting. And so, the President and his agents pressed on. In August Giuliani met with a top Ukrainian aide and made it clear that Ukraine must issue a public statement announcing the investigations in order to get the White House meeting.
Fearful of getting involved in U.S. domestic politics and having entered office with a promise to clean up government and corruption, President Zelensky and his aides preferred a generic statement about investigations. But Giuliani insisted, no the statement must include two specific investigations that would benefit President Trump. Let's look at the comparison between the statement the Ukrainians preferred, and the one that Giuliani required.
So on the left, and I will read it in case you can't see the screens, the draft -- the Yermak draft, the Ukrainian draft says "we intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future." That's pretty generic. But here's the Giuliani-Volker-Sondland response. This is what had to be included "We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes" up to that point it's exactly the same, until you get to "including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections." And then it goes back to the Ukrainian draft, "which in turn will prevent the recurrence of this problem in the future."
You can see in this such graphic evidence Ukrainians did not want to do this. They didn't even want to mention this. Giuliani had to insist; no, no, no, we're not going to be satisfied with some generic statement, after all, I think we can see this isn't about corruption; no this is about announcing investigations to damage Biden and to promote this fiction about the last election. So here in these texts you see that Giuliani, Volker, and Sondland have added these references to Burisma, a thinly veiled reference to former Vice President Biden in the 2016 election. They wish to ensure the Ukrainians mentioned the sham investigations President Trump required.
Now the Ukrainians recoiled at the new statement, recognizing that releasing it would run directly counter to the anti-corruption platform that Zelensky campaigned on, and would embroil them in U.S. election politics. As a result Zelensky didn't get his White House meeting, he still hasn't gotten his White House meeting.
Senators -- witness testimony, text messages, e-mails and the call record itself confirm a corrupt quid pro quo for the White House meeting -- an official act available only to the president of the United States, in exchange for the announcement of political investigations. The president and his allies have offered no explanation for this effort.
Except, the president can abuse his office all he likes and there's nothing you can do about it -- can't indict him, can't impeach him. That is because they cannot seriously dispute that President Trump corruptly used an official White House visit for a foreign leader, to compel the Ukrainian president in to helping him cheat in the next election.
The White House meeting, of course, was not the only official act that President Trump conditioned on the announcement investigations into Biden and the conspiracy theory meant to exonerate President Trump from Russians interference on his behalf in the last election, in a far more draconian step, as we have discussed the president withheld $391 million of military aid.
Several weeks before this phone call with President Zelensky, but after Giuliani was already pressing Ukrainian officials to conduct the investigations his client sought. President Trump ordered the hold on Ukraine's military aid.
Significantly this was after Congress had already been (ph) notified that most of it was prepared to be spent. Ukraine had met all of the critical conditions for anti-corruption and defense reforms in order to receive the funds. We conditioned the funds, they met the conditions -- the funds were ready to go.
At the time, and even today witnesses uniformly testified that the order to hold the funding came without explanation to the foreign policy and national security officials responsible for Ukraine. The only message from the Office of Management and Budget was that the hold was implemented at the direction of the president.
Since Russia's illegal incursion in to Ukraine in 2014, the U.S. has maintained a bipartisan policy of delivering hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine each year, which several senators here have personally invested significant time and effort to ensure.
And it was President Trump himself who originally authorized additional financial support for military assistance to Ukraine in 2017 and 2018, without reservation. Making his abrupt decision to withhold assistance in 2019 without explanation, all the more surprising to those responsible for Ukraine policy.
That confusion however, would soon disappear. The president used the hold on military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine to announce these investigations that he hoped would help his reelection campaign.
The only difference between the prior years when the president approved the aid without question and the inexplicable aid on-hold in 2019 was the emergence of Joe Biden as a potentially formidable obstacle to the president's reelection.
These funds that the president withheld -- these funds, they don't just benefit Ukraine, they benefit the security of the United States. By ensuring that Ukraine is equipped to defend its own borders against Russian aggression.
As Ambassador Taylor noted in his deposition, the United States provides Ukraine with radar and weapons, and sniper rifles, communications that save lives -- it makes Ukrainians more effective. It might even shorten the war -- that's what our hope is, to show the Ukrainians can defend themselves, and the Russians in the end will say, OK we're going to stop.
That's in our interest -- this isn't just about Ukraine or its national security, it's about our national security. This isn't charity, it's about our defense as much as Ukraine's. Ambassador Taylor also said that the American aid was a concrete demonstration of the United States commitment to resist aggression and to do defend freedom.
It's what this country is supposed to be about, right? Resisting aggression, defending freedom -- not exporting corrupt ideas. That's what we're supposed to be outright. It was against this backdrop that American officials responsible for Ukraine policy sat in astonishment, according to Ambassador Taylor, when they learned about the hold.
Officials immediately expressed concerns about the legality of President Trump's hold on assistance to Ukraine. Their concerns were well warranted as the Government Accountability Office , which was just last night (inaudible) as -- by the president's council, well that's just some institution of Congress, like they're going to be just inherently biased, right?
Well they're a nonpartisan organization that both parties have come to rely upon. But I'm not surprised they don't the collusion of the GAO, because the Defense Department warned them that this was going to be the conclusion, and that conclusion was the hold on aid was not only wrong, it was not only immoral -- it was also illegal, it violated the law. A law that we passed so that presidents could not refuse to spend funding that we allocated for the defense of others and for ourselves.