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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump; House Dems In Final Day of Opening Arguments. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired January 24, 2020 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] JEFFRIES: -- Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to schedule the White House Meeting President Zelensky wanted if the new Ukrainian Leader committed to the phony investigations that President Trump sought.
As you've seen in testimony shown during this trial, following that meeting, National Security Council Officials, Dr. Fiona Hill, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman immediately reported this information to John Eisenberg, the Legal Advisor for the National Security Council and a Deputy Counsel to the President. According to Dr. Hill, Mr. Eisenberg told her that he was also concerned about that July 10th meeting. On the screen is Dr. Hill's deposition testimony where she explains Mr. Eisenberg's reaction. Saying, I mean he wasn't aware that Sondland, Ambassador Sondland, was kind of running around doing a lot of these meetings and independently. We talked about the fact that Ambassador Sondland said he's been meeting with Giuliani and he was very concerned about that. And he said that he would follow-up on this. So Eisenberg was very concerned about that and said that he would follow-up on this.
Dr. Hill further testified that Mr. Eisenberg told her that he followed up with his boss, the distinguished White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. However, because the president blocked Mr. Eisenberg from testifying in the House we do not know what, if anything, he or Mr. Cipollone did in response to this deeply troubling information.
What we do know is that President Trump's effort to cheat continued with reckless abandon by failing to put the breaks on the wrongdoing after that July 10 meeting. Even after were note -- after they were notified by concerned national security officials, the White House attorneys allowed it to continue unchecked.
Right around the same time that the July 10 meetings at the White House took place, the Office of Management and Budget began executing President Trump's illegal order to withhold all security assistance from Ukraine.
Only July 12, Robert Blair, and Assistant to the President, communicated the hold to the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought. On July 18, an Office of Management and Budget official communicated the hold to other Executive Branch agencies, including the Department of State and the Department of Defense. And a week later on July 25, President Trump had his imperfect telephone call with President Zelensky and directly pressured the Ukrainian leader to commence phony political investigations as part of his effort to cheat and solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election.
The July 25 call marked an important turning point. If there was any question among senior White House officials and attorneys about whether President Trump was directly involved in the Ukraine scheme as opposed to just a rouge operation being led by Rudolph Giuliani or some other underlings after July 25, there can be no mistake the President of the United States was undoubtedly calling the shots.
Thereafter, the complicity of White House officials with respect to the cover up of the president's misconduct intensified. Immediately after the July 25 call, both Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and his direct supervisor, Tim Morrison, reported their concerns about the call to Mr. Eisenberg and his deputy, Michael Ellis. In fact, within an hour after the July 25 call, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman returned again a second time to Mr. Eisenberg and reported his concerns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VINDMAN: I was concerned by the call. What I heard was inappropriate, and I reported my concerns to Mr. Eisenberg. It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and a political opponent. I was also clear that if Ukraine pursued in the investigation -- it was also clear that if Ukraine pursued in investigation into the 2016 elections, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play (ph). This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan support, undermining U.S. national security, and advancing Russia's strategic objectives in the region.
I wanted to emphasize to the committee that when I recorded my concerns on July 10 relating to Ambassador Sondland and then July 25 relating to the president I did so out of a sense of duty. I privately reported my concerns in official channels to the property authority and the chain of command. My intent was to raise these concerns because they had significant national security implications for our country. I never thought that I'd be sitting here testifying in front of this committee and the American public about my actions. When I reported my concerns, my only thought was to act properly and to carry out my duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: Timothy Morrison, the National Security Council Senior Director of Europe and Russia, also reported the call to Mr. Eisenberg and asked him to review the call, which he feared would be damaging if leaked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOLDMAN: Now, Mr. Morrison, shortly after you heard the July 25 call, you testified that you alerted the NSC Legal Advisor, John Eisenberg, pretty much right away. Is that right?
GOLDMAN: And you indicated in your opening statement, at least from your deposition, that you went to Mr. Eisenberg out of concern over the potential political fall out if the call record became public and not because you thought it was illegal. Is that right?
GOLDMAN: But you would agree, right, that asking a foreign government to investigate a domestic, political rival is inappropriate, would you not?
MORRISON: It's not what -- it's not what we recommended the president discuss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: The July 25 call was at least the second time that National Security Council officials had reported concerns about President Trump's pressure campaign to White House lawyers the second time who now clearly understood the gravity of the ongoing misconduct.
But because the president blocked Mr. Eisenberg from testifying without any justification, the record is silent as to what, if any, actions he or the White House Counsel took to address President Trump's brazen misconduct and abuse of power.
We do know, however, that instead of trying to halt the scheme, White House lawyers facilitated it by taking affirmative steps to conceal evidence of President Trump's misconduct. For example, after Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Mr. Morrison reported their concerns related to the July 25 call to the National Security Council lawyers, they tried to bury the call summary. They tried to bury it.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified that the National Security Council lawyers believed it was, quote, "appropriate to restrict access to the call summary for the purpose of the leaks and to preserve the integrity of the transcript."
According to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, Mr. Eisenberg gave the go ahead to restrict access to the call summary. Mr. Morrison testified that he learned I late August after he raised concerns that the call record might leak and politically damage the president that the call summary had been placed on a highly classified national security counsel server, the call record was placed on a server that is reserved for Americas most sensitive national security secrets and covert operations. Not routine calls with foreign leaders.
Apparently Mr. Eisenberg claimed at the time that burying the call transcript on a highly classified server was a mistake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLDMAN: Now in a second meeting with Mr. Eisenberg, what did you recommend that he do to prevent the call record from leaking?
MORRISON: I recommended we restrict access to the package.
GOLDMAN: Had you ever asked the NSC legal advisor to restrict access before?
GOLDMAN: Did you speak to your supervisor, Dr Kupperman before you went to speak to John Eisenberg?
GOLDMAN: Did you subsequently learn that the call record had been put in a highly classified system?
MORRISON: I did.
GOLDMAN: And what reason did Mr. Eisenberg give you for why the call record was put in the highly classified system?
MORRISON: It was a mistake.
GOLDMAN: He said it was just a mistake?
MORRISON: It was an administrative error.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: In Mr. Morrison's view, the July 25th call record did not meet the requirements to be placed on a highly classified server. In his deposition, Mr. Morrison testified that the call record was placed on a server by mistake. However even after this alleged mistake was uncovered the July 25th call summary was not removed from the classified system because someone was trying to hide it. It was not until the launch of the House Impeachment Inquiry in late September, and after intense public pressure, that the rough transcript of the July 25th call was released.
Again, because Mr. Eisenberg and Mr. Ellis refused to testify in the house. We do not know exactly how the July 25th call record ended up on this highly classified National Security Counsel server. What we do know is that Mr. Eisenberg ordered access restricted after multiple officials like Dr. Fiona Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman advised him of the scheme to condition a White House meeting on phony political investigations. This strong suggests that there was an active attempt to conceal the clear evidence of the presidents wrongdoing.
Instead of addressing the President's misconduct, Mr. Eisenberg seemingly tried to cover it up. Why did Mr. Eisenberg place the July 25th call summary on a server for highly classified material? Did anyone senior to Mr. Eisenberg direct him to hide the call record? Why did the call record remain on the classified server even after the so called error was discovered? Who ordered the cover up of the call record? Who ordered the cover up of the call record; the American people deserve to know.
Following the July 25th call the President's scheme to pressure Ukraine for political purposes intensify. Apparently unchecked by any effort to stop it from the White House Counsel's office. After the July 25th call, ambassador Sondland and Volker worked with the President's personal lawyer, Rudolf Giuliani to procure a public statement from President Zelensky to announce phony investigations into Joe Biden in the CrowdStike conspiracy theory being peddled by President Trump. At the same time, President Trump continued to withhold the White House meeting and security assistance from Ukraine in a manner that broke the law.
As these efforts were ongoing, White House attorneys reportedly received yet another warning sign that the President was abusing his power. According to a published report in the New York Times, the week after July 25th call, an anonymous whistle blower reported concerns that the President was abusing his office for personal gain. The whistleblower complaint landed in the CIA general counsels office. Although the concerns related directly to the President's own misconduct, the CIA's general counsel, Courtney Elwood alerted Mr. Eisenberg. Over the next week, Ms. Elwood, Mr. Eisenberg and their deputies reportedly discussed the whistleblower's concerns.
And they determined as required by law that the allegations had a reasonable basis. So, by early August, White House lawyers began working along with attorneys' at the Department of Justice to cover up the President's wrongdoing. They were determined to prevent congress and the American people from learning anything about the President's corrupt behavior. Although senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, were reportedly made aware of the concerns about corrupt activity, no investigation into President Trump's wrongdoing was even open by the Department of Justice.
As White House and Justice Department lawyers were discussing how to deal with the whistle blowers concerns, on August 12th, another important date, the whistleblower filed a formal complaint with the Inspector General for the intelligence community. In accordance with federal law, on August 26th, the Inspector General transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, along with the Inspector General's preliminary conclusion that the complaint was both credible and related to a matter of urgent concern. Urgent concern. But instead of transmitting the whistleblower complaint to the House and to this Senate's distinguished intelligence committee as required by law, the acting director of National Intelligence notified the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: Well, Director, I'm just -- I'm still trying to understand the chronology -- so you first went to the office of legal counsel and then you went to White House counsel?
MAGUIRE: We went -- excuse me -- and then to the -- repeat that please sir?
SCHIFF: I'm just trying to understand the chronology, you first went to the office of legal counsel, and then you went to the White House counsel?
MAGUIRE: No, no -- no, sir -- no, sir. No. We went to the White House first to determine, to ask the (ph) question.
SCHIFF: OK, that's all I want to know is chronology. So you went to the White House first. So you went to the subject of the complaint for advice first about whether you should provide the complaint to Congress?
MAGUIRE: There were issues within this -- a couple of things, one it did appear that it has executive privilege. If it does have executive privilege it is the White House that determines that. I cannot determine that as the Director of National Intelligence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: Under federal law, the Acting Director of National Intelligence was required to share the whistleblower complaint with Congress -- period, full stop. If that had occurred, the president's scheme to withhold security assistance and White House meeting being sought by the new Ukrainian leader to pressure Ukraine for his own personal political gain would have been exposed.
To prevent that from happening the president's lawyers and top level advisors adopted a two-prong cover-up strategy. First block Congress and the American people from learning about the whistleblower complaint. Second, try to convince President Trump to lift the hold on the security assistance before anyone can find out about it -- and use that evidence against him.
As to the first prong, sometime after the Acting Director of National Intelligence told the White House Council's Office about the complaint on August 26, Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Eisenberg reportedly briefed the president. They likely discussed with President Trump whether they were legally required to give the complaint to Congress.
They stated that they were consulting with the Office of Legal Council at the Department of Justice. The Acting Director of National Intelligence testified that he and the Inspector General consulted with the Office of Legal Council, who opined without any reasonable basis that he did not have to turn over the complaint to Congress.
On September 3, the day after the statutory deadline for the Director of National Intelligence to provide the complaint to this body and to the House -- the Office of Legal Council issued a secret opinion concluding that contrary to the plain language of the statute the Acting Director of National Intelligence was not required to turn over the complaint.
The cover-up was in full swing. The Office of Legal Council opined that the whistleblower complaint did not qualify as an urgent concern, and therefore did not have to be turned over.
What can be more urgent than a sitting president trying to cheat in an American election by soliciting foreign interference? What can be more urgent than that? That's a Constitutional crime in progress, but they concluded it wasn't an urgent matter.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire testified that the Office of Legal Council opinion did not actually prevent him from turning over the complaint to Congress, instead based upon his testimony it is clear that he withheld it on the basis that the complaint might deal with information that he believed could be covered by executive privilege.
But President Trump never actually invoked executive privilege, he never actually invoked executive privilege. Nor did he inform Congress that he was doing so with respect to this complaint.
Instead the White House secretly instructed the Acting Director of National Intelligence to withhold the complaint based on the mere possibility that executive privilege could be invoked. By doing so the White House was able to keep the explosive complaint from Congress, and the American public without ever having to disclose the reason why it was withholding this information.
But truth crushed (ph) to the ground will rise again. There's a toxic mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and I humbly suggest that it's our collective job on behalf of the American people to try to clean it up.
President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught -- and then he worked hard to cover it up. There've (ph) been many great presidents throughout the history of this republic -- great Republican presidents, and great Democratic presidents.
Perhaps one of the greatest presidents was Abraham Lincoln, he once said that any man can handle adversity, but if you want to test a man's character give him some power. America is a great nation, we can handle adversity better than any other country in the world.
Whenever America has found itself in a tough spot, we always make it to the other side. We were in a tough spot during the Civil War, when America was at risk of tearing itself apart, but we made it to the other side.
A tough spot in October of 1929 when the stock market collapsed, plunging us in to the Great Depression but we made it to the other side. We were in a tough spot in December of 1941 when a foreign power struck plunging us in to a great conflict with the evil empire of Nazi Germany, but America made it to the other side.
We were in a tough spot in the 1960s dealing with the inherent contradictions of Jim Crow, but we made it to the other side. We were in a tough spot on September 11 when the towers were struck, and young men and women like Jason Crow were sent to Afghanistan to fight the terrorists there so we didn't have to fight the terrorists here and we made it to the other side. America is a great country, we can handle adversary better than any other nation in the world. But are we going to do about our character? President Trump tried to cheat and solicit foreign interference in an American Election, that is an attack on our character. President Trump abused his power and corrupted the highest office in the land. That is an attack on our character. President Trump tried to cover it all up and hide it from the American people and obstruct Congress. That's an extraordinary attack on our character.
America's a great nation, we can handle adversity better than any other country in the world. But what are we going to do about our character?
CROW: Crisis surround the President's hold deepened throughout our Government. The President's own top advisors redoubled their efforts to lift the hold on Military Aid and stem the fallout in case it went public. And it did go public. On August 28th, Politico publicly reported that the President was withholding the Military Aid. And as you've heard the public disclosure of the President's hold in late August caused deep alarm among Ukrainian Officials. It also caused US Officials to double their efforts once again. At the end of August, Secretary of State Pompeo, Defense Secretary Esper and Ambassador Bolton reportedly tried to convince President Trump to release the aid, but they failed.
The President wanted the hold to remain. That prompted Duffy, the political appointee charged with implementing the hold to send an email on August 30th to the DOD stating and I quote "Clear direction from POTUS to hold". Now this is consistent with Laura Cooper's disposition testimony when she said that they were quote "hopeful this whole time that Secretary Esper and Secretary Pompeo would be able to meet with the President and just explain to him why this was so important and get the funds released". But instead the President held firm. And even as the President's own Cabinet Officials were trying to convince him to lift the hold, White House Lawyers were receiving new reports about their President's abuse.
On September 1st, Vice President Pence met with President Zelensky in Warsaw and immediately after Sondland had a side conversation with the top Ukrainian Presidential Aid. Morrison was privy to these conversations and when he returned from Warsaw he reported to Eisenberg the details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOLDMAN: What did Ambassador Sondland say, tell you that he told Mr. Yermack?
MORRISON: That the Ukrainians would have to have the Prosecutor General make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted.
GOLDMAN: You testified that you were not comfortable with what Ambassador Sondland told you, why not?
MORRISON: Well, I was concerned about what I saw as essentially an additional hurdle to accomplishing what I'd been directed to help accomplish, which was giving the President the information he needed to determine that the sector assistance could go forward.
GOLDMAN: So now there's a whole other wrinkle to it --