Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Lawyers Present Defense Amid Bolton Bombshell. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 27, 2020 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] TAYLOR: -- president about the security cooperation. The vice president did not respond substantively, but said that he would talk to President Trump that night. The vice president did say that President Trump wanted the Europeans to do more to support Ukraine, and that he wanted the Ukrainians to do more to fight corruption."


PURPURA: On September 11, based on the information collected and presented to President Trump, the president lifted the pause on the security assistance. As Mr. Morrison explained, "Our process gave the president the confidence he needed to approve the release of the security sector assistance."

The House managers say that the talk about corruption and burden sharing is a ruse. No one knew why the security assistance was paused, and no one was addressing the president's concerns with Ukrainian corruption and burden sharing. The House managers' own evidence, their own record tells a different story, however. They didn't tell you about this, not in 21 hours. Why not?

The president's concerns were addressed in the ordinary course. The president wasn't caught, as the House managers allege. The managers are wrong.

All of this, together with what we discussed on Saturday demonstrates that there was no connection between security assistance and investigations. When house managers realized that their quid pro quo theory on security assistance was falling apart they created a second alternative theory, according to the House Managers, President Zelensky desperately wanted a meeting a the White House with President Trump and President Trump conditioned that meeting on investigations.

So what about the managers back up accusations? Do they fair any better than their quid pro quo for security assistance? No. No they don't. A presidential level meeting happened without any preconditions at the first available opportunity in a widely televised meeting at the United Nations General assembly in New York on September 25, 2019. The White House was working to schedule the meeting earlier at the White House or in Warsaw, but those options fell through due to normal scheduling and a hurricane. The two presidents met at the earliest convenience without President Zelensky ever announcing or beginning any investigations. The first thing to know about the alleged quid pro quo for a meeting is that by the end of the July 25 call, the President had invited President Zelensky to the White House on three separate occasions, each time without any preconditions. President Trump invited President Zelensky to an in person meeting on their initial April 21 call. When you're settled in and ready, I'd like to invite you to the White House. On May 29, the week after President Zelensky's inauguration, President Trump sent a congratulatory letter, again invited President Zelensky to the White House.

As you prepare to address the many challenges facing Ukraine, please know that the American people are with you and are committed to helping Ukraine realize its vast potential. To help show that commitment I would like to invite you to meet with me at the White House in Washington D.C. as soon as we can find a mutually convenient time. Then on July 25th President Trump personally invited President Zelensky to participate in a meeting for a third time. Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call, give us a date, and we'll work that out. I look forward to seeing you.

That's three separate invitations for a meeting. All made without any pre-conditions. During this time, and behind the scenes, the White House was working diligently to schedule a meeting between the presidents at the earliest possible date. Tim Morrison whose responsibilities included helping arrange Head of State visits to the White House or other Head of State meetings, testified that he understood that arranging the White House visit with President Zelensky was a do out (ph) that came from the president.


The House managers didn't mention the work that the White House was doing to schedule the meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky, did they? Why not? Scheduling a presidential meeting takes time. Mr. Morrison testified that his director, which was just one of several had a dozen schedule requests in with the President for meetings with foreign leaders that we were looking to land and Ukraine was but one of those requests.

Due to both presidents' busy schedules, according to Mr. Morrison, it became clear that the earliest opportunity for two presidents to meet would be in Warsaw at the beginning of September.

The entire notion that a bilateral meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky was somehow conditioned on a statement about investigations is completely defeated by one straight forward fact.

A bilateral meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky was planned for September 1, in Warsaw. The same Warsaw meeting we were just discussing, without the Ukrainians saying a word about investigations.

As it turned out, President Trump was not able to attend the meeting in Warsaw because of Hurricane Dorian. President Trump asked Vice President Pence to attend his place. But even that scheduling glitch did not put off their meeting for long. President Trump and President Zelensky met at the next available date, September 25, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. As President Zelensky himself has said, there were no preconditions for his meeting with President Trump. Those are his words. No conditions.

So, you're probably wondering, how could the House Managers claim that there was a quid pro quo for a meeting with President Trump, when the two presidents actually did meet without President Zelensky announcing any investigations. Well, the House Managers moved the goal post again.

They claim that the meeting couldn't be just an in-person meeting with President Trump. What it had to be was a meeting at the Oval Office and in the White House. That's nonsense.

Putting to one side the absurdity of the House Managers trying to remove a duly elected President of the United States from office because he met a world leader in one location versus another. This theory has no basis. In fact, as Dr. Hill testified, what mattered was that there was a bilateral presidential meeting, not the location of the meeting.

She said, it wasn't always a White House meeting, per say, but definitely a presidential level, you know, meeting with Zelensky and the president. I mean, it could have taken place in Poland in Warsaw. It could have been, you know, a proper bilateral in some other context, but in other words, a White House level presidential meeting.

The House Managers didn't tell you about Dr. Hill's testimony. Why not? In fact, they said just last week that President Zelensky still hasn't gotten his White House meeting. Why didn't they tell you about Dr. Hill's testimony? So you would have the full context and information. They spoke for over 21 hours. They couldn't take a couple of minutes to give you that context?

How else do we know that Dr. Hill was right? Because President Zelensky said so on the July 25 call. Remember, when President Trump invited President Zelensky to Washington, on the July 25 call, President Zelensky said he would be happy to meet with you personally and offered to host President Trump in Ukraine, or on the other hand, meet with President Trump on September 1, in Poland.

That's exactly what the Administration planned to do. If it weren't for Hurricane Dorian, President Trump would have met with President Zelensky in Poland on September 1. Just as President Zelensky had requested, and without any preconditions.

As it happened, President Zelensky met with the Vice President instead, and just a few weeks later met with President Trump in New York, all without anyone making any statement about any investigations.


And, once again, not a single witness in the House record that they compiled and developed under their procedures that we've discussed and will continue to discuss, provided any first hand evidence that the president ever linked the presidential meeting to any investigations.

The House Managers have seized upon the Ambassador Sondland's claim that Mr. Giuliani's request were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.

But again, Ambassador Sondland was only guessing, based on incomplete information. He testified that the president never told him that there was any sort of a condition for a meeting with President Zelensky.

Why then did he think there was one? In his own words, Ambassador Sondland said, that he could only repeat what he heard through Ambassador Volker from Giuliani. So, he didn't even hear from Mr. Giuliani himself.

But Ambassador Volker, who is the supposed link between Mr. Giuliani and Ambassador Sondland thought no such think. Ambassador Volker testified unequivocally, that there was no linkage between the meeting with President Zelensky and Ukrainian investigations. I'm going to read the full questions and answers because this passage is key.

This is from Ambassador Volker's deposition testimony. Question, did President Trump ever withhold a meeting with President Zelensky or delay a meeting with President Zelensky until the Ukrainians committed to investigate the allegations that you just described concerning the 2016 presidential election?

Answer, the answer to the question is no, if you want a yes or no answer. But the reason the answer is no, is we did have difficulty scheduling a meeting, but there was no linkage like that.

Question, you said that you were not aware of any linkage between the delay in the Oval Office meeting between President Trump and President Zelensky, and the Ukrainian commitment to investigate the two allegations as you described them, correct?

Answer, correct.

On no fewer than 15 separate occasions over the past week, the House Managers played a video of Ambassador Sondland saying that the announcement of the investigations was prerequisite for a meeting or call with the president. Fifteen times. They never once read to you the testimony that I just did.

They never once read to you the testimony in which Ambassador Volker refuted what Ambassador Sondland claimed he heard from Ambassador Volker.

So, here's what we know. President Trump invited President Zelensky to meet three times without preconditions. The White House was working behind the scenes to schedule the meeting. The two presidents planned to meet in Warsaw, must as President Zelensky had asked. And ultimately met three weeks later without Ukraine announcing any investigations. No one testified in the House record that the president ever said there was a connect between a meeting and investigations. Those are the facts, plain and simple.

So much for a quid pro quo for a meeting with the president.

Before I move on, let me take a brief moment to address a side allegation that was raised in the original whistleblower complaint and that the House managers are still trying to push.

The managers claim that President Trump ordered Vice President Pence not to attend President Zelensky's inauguration in favor of a lower- ranking delegation in order, according to them, to signal a downgrading of the relationship between the United States and Ukraine. That's not true.

Numerous factors had to align, as I'm sure everyone in this room can greatly appreciate for the vice president to attend. First, dates of travel were limited. For national security reasons, the president and vice president generally avoid being out of the country at the same time for more than a few hours. The president had scheduled trips to Europe and Japan during the period when our embassy in Ukraine anticipated the Ukrainian inauguration would occur at the end of May or in early June.


Jennifer Williams testified that the Office of the Vice President advised the Ukrainians that if the vice president were to participate in the inauguration, the ideal dates would be around May 29, May 30, May 21, or June 1 when the president would be in the United States. She said, "If it wasn't one of those dates it would be very difficult or impossible for the vice president to attend."

Second, the House Managers act as if no other priorities in the world could compete for the administration's time. The vice president's office was simultaneously planning a competing trip for May 30 in Ottawa, Canada to participate in an event supporting passage of the United States, Mexico, Canada agreement. Ultimately, the vice president travelled to Ottawa on May 30 to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to promote the passage of the USMCA. This decision, as you know, advanced the top administration priority and an issue President Trump vigorously supported.

What you did not hear from the House Managers was that the Ukrainian inauguration dates did not go as planned. On May 16, the Ukrainians surprised everyone and scheduled the inauguration for just four days later on May 20 - Monday, May 20, so think about that. May 16, May 20. In (ph) everybody, security, advance (ph) everyone to Ukraine. Jennifer Williams testified that it was very short notice, so it would have been difficult of the vice president to attend, particularly since they hadn't sent out the advance team.

George Kent testified that the short-notice left almost no time for either proper preparations or foreign delegations to visit and that the State Department scrambled on Friday the 17 to try and figure out who was available. Mr. Kent suggested that Secretary of Energy Perry be the anchor for the delegation as someone who is a person of stature and whose job had relevance to our agenda.

Secretary Perry led the delegation, which also included Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Volker, and Senator Johnson. Ambassador Volker testified that it was the largest delegation from any country there and it was a high-level one. The House Managers didn't tell you this. Why not?

The claim that the president instructed the vice president not to attend President Zelensky's inauguration is based on House Manager assumptions with no evidence that the president did something wrong.

And finally, as I'm coming to the end, if the evidence doesn't show a quid pro quo, what does it show? Unfortunately for the House Managers, one of the few things that all of the witnesses agreed on was that President Trump has strengthened the relationship between U.S. and Ukraine, and he has been a more stalwart friend to Ukraine and a more fierce opponent of Russian aggression than President Obama.

The House Managers repeatedly claimed that President Trump doesn't care about Ukraine. They're attributing views to President Trump that are contrary to his actions. More importantly, they are contrary to the House Managers' own evidence, but don't take my word for it. Ambassador Yovanovitch, Taylor, and Volker all testified to the Trump administration's positive new policy toward Ukraine based especially on President Trump's decision to private lethal aid to Ukraine.

Ambassador Taylor testified that President Trump's policy toward Ukraine was a substantial improvement over President Obama's policy. Ambassador Volker agreed that America's policy towards Ukraine has been strengthened under President Trump, whom he credited with approving each of the decisions made along the way. Ambassador Yovanovitch testified that President Trump's decision to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine meant that our policy actually got stronger over the last three years. She called the policy shift that President Trump directed very significant. Let's hear from Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Volker, and Ambassador Yovanovitch.


STEFANIK: The Trump administration has, indeed, provided substantial aid to Ukraine in the form of defensive lethal aid, correct?


TAYLOR: That is correct.

STEFANIK: And that is more so than the Obama administration, correct?

TAYLOR: The Trump administration...

STEFANIK: Defensive lethal aid?


VOLKER: President Trump approved each of the decisions made along the way, providing lethal defensive equipment.

YOVANOVITCH: And the Trump administration strengthened our policy by approving the provision to Ukraine of antitank missiles, known as javelins. They are obviously tank busters. And so, if the war with Russian all of a sudden accelerated in some way and tanks come over their horizon, javelins are a very serious weapon to deal with that.


PURPURA: Ukraine is better positioned to fight Russia today than it was before President Trump took office. As a result, the United States is safer, too. The House Managers did not tell you about this testimony from Ambassadors Taylor, Volker, and Yovanovitch. Why not? These are the facts as drawn from the House Managers' own record on which they impeached the president. This is why the House Managers' first article of impeachment must fail for the six reasons I set forth when I began on Saturday.

There was no linkage between investigations and security assistance or a meeting on the July 25 call. The Ukrainians said there was no quid pro quo, and they felt no pressure. The top Ukrainians did not even know that security assistance was paused until more than a month after the July 25 call. The House Managers' record reflects that anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage. The security assistance flowed, and the presidential meeting took place all without any announcement of investigations. And President Trump has enhanced America's support for Ukraine in his three years in office.

These facts all require that the first Article of Impeachment fail. You have already heard and will continue to hear from my colleagues on why the second article must fail. Once again, this is the case that the House managers chose to bring.

This is the evidence they brought before the Senate. The very heavy burden of proof rest with them. They say their case is overwhelming and uncontested, it is not. They say they have proven each of the articles against President Trump, they have not.

The facts and evidence of the case the House managers have brought exonerate the president. Thank you for your attention and I think we're ready for a break.

J. ROBERTS: The majority leader is recognized.


MCCONNELL: The colleagues will take a 15-minute break.

ROBERTS: Without objection.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's the first break of the day, 15 minutes. And in the past, 15 minutes or 20 minutes or half an hour, usually something along those lines.

We certainly have a lot to discuss. We have heard from Ken Starr, the former independent counsel. He insisted no crimes were committed by the president of the United States. He suggested, at one point, let the people decide who should be president, referring to the upcoming November elections.

He said that 21 years ago, he was in charge of the whole Bill Clinton impeachment investigation, and he said very, very different right now. The two articles of impeachment right now, he said, against the current president are dripping with fundamental process violations.

We heard from Jay Sekulow, the private attorney representing the president. And he began with the video clip, Jake, of Nancy Pelosi handing out the pens after she signed the articles of impeachment against the president.

And finally, the deputy White House counsel, Mike Purpura, he said there was no quid pro quo. Totally defended the president. The president, he said, had a long record in wanting to make sure there was no waste in foreign aid.

The U.S. relationship with Ukraine is a lot better, he said, today than it was under the Obama administration, and there was absolutely, again, no quid pro quo.

And he said they, referring to the House managers, have not proved their case.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A lot to unpack in that. Let me just address a few of them.

First of all, on the pens, I think it's probably conventional wisdom that that was a mistake by Speaker Pelosi to hand out the pens at that ceremony.


It's also true, though not the same thing, that Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, during the Clinton impeachment, handed out commemorative pens as everyone signed in the book. So there are a bunch of Senators from 1989 that have commemorative pens. Again, not the same thing. And I think people acknowledge that Speaker Pelosi made a mistake doing that.

Ken Starr's testimony was interesting because the first part of it, before he got to the procedural questions, which I think are valid for people to discuss and debate, was almost him defending the Clinton impeachment.

And almost him defending something that he played a huge part of, or bemoaning something he played a large part of, which is being in the era of impeachment, which he seemed to blame on Jimmy Carter and the post-Watergate era.

But obviously, Ken Starr has played a tremendous role in this being a year of impeachment. So that was strange. I am not sure how affective that part of his argument was.

Like I said, the second part about the procedural objections that the Trump team has are more cogent to be discussed.

Larger point, Mike Purpura, the deputy White House counsel, had a difficult job to do because he was basically making an argument on a different planet that the rest of us are now living.

We are all now on a planet where the former national security advisor, John, Bolton, is out there with a book proposal in which, if you believe the "New York Times" and "Washington Post" accounts of this, he says President Trump directly referred to a quid pro quo in an August conversation with him.

The idea being that if Ukraine wanted this almost $400 million in security assistance, Ukraine needed to help him by engaging in these investigations into the Bidens. That is out there.

What Mike Purpura and the defense team decided to do was to say that because that was not part of the record, they are not going to discuss it or acknowledge it.

But this is not the traditional jury trial where you can only look at the evidence in front of you. This is, as we've talked about many times, a political impeachment trial. It is a political process.

And the idea that, of his six points that Purpura laid out and then walked through all of them, the idea that point number four, that anyone who spoke with President Trump knows that there was no linkage. We know that that's not true. We know it's not true.

And I don't think they did themselves any favors by pretending this giant boulder in the middle of the room didn't exist. We all know it exists.

And I almost feel -- and who knows what will happen. Maybe they are giving the Republicans another talking point. We can only look at the testimony that's been presented or look at the record that's been presented.

But we all live in this world with facts and they are denying the existence of one of the biggest, most shocking ones to happen in the case.

BLITZER: That's a very important point.

John King, absolutely no mention whatsoever, maybe, indirectly, of the John Bolton arguments contained in this draft, in the manuscript and the book out in March.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think Jake got the strategy there just dead right in saying, in their record, the White House is making the argument the case fails. We can have some fact- checks on that.

But essentially, especially what Mr. Purpura is asking you to do, asking the Senators to do, was put on a blinder and put in earplugs and do not read the newspaper or talk to your friends and please decide this case about impeaching the president without any information.

Because, to your point, he kept saying there's nobody that can tell you the president was part of a quid pro quo.

President Trump told his national security advisor, in August, he wanted to continue freezing $291 million in assistance to Ukraine until officials here helped with investigations into the Democrats, including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by his former advisor, John Bolton.

Right there in the lead paragraph of the "New York Times" story about this book, which has been given to the White House. So he's asking the country and Senators to put on blinders.

To another point, they keep saying -- and this in dispute -- they keep saying the president cared about corruption. I think there's no doubt people in the president's administration cared about corruption in Ukraine.

We've seen this happen on other issues as well. People in the president's administration that have been tough on Russia when the president himself has not been. He keeps saying this is about corruption. Well, read more.

I think the part of this article -- this manuscript that we are missing is John Bolton says, in the book, that both he and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, told the president, Rudy Giuliani is lying to you, Rudy Giuliani has clients in Ukraine, he's making money off this. That's corruption.

It's right here. How can the Senate just say, never mind, we are not going to pay any attention to it?

Maybe there's an answer to it. Maybe Mr. Bolton does have an agenda. But they have an opportunity to bring him in as a witness.

John Bolton said he called the attorney general of the United States and raised concerns that Rudy Giuliani was acting on behalf of clients in Ukraine and influencing the president of the United States. If that is true, that is corruption of the highest order and they want you to ignore it.



TAPPER: The Justice Department takes --


KING: Pushing back, you're right.