Return to Transcripts main page


Senators Ask Questions To House Managers And Trump's Lawyers. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 29, 2020 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:00] PHILBIN: Ambassador Volker explained that America's policy towards Ukraine has been strengthened under President Trump.

And at each step along the way in the decisions that got to the javelin missiles being provided was made by President Trump. It is something that has substantially strengthened our relationship with Ukraine and strengthened their ability to resist Russian aggression.

Ambassador Yovanovitch said that President Trump's decision to provide lethal weapons meant that our policy actually got stronger over the last three years and she called it very significant.

And another point to make in relation to this is again at the pause -- the temporary pause that took place over the summer is something that the Ukrainian deputy defense administer described as being so short that they didn't even notice it.

So President Trump's policies across the board have been stronger than the prior administrations in providing defensive capability -- lethal defensive capability to the Ukrainians. And I think that that's significant.

The specific part of the question, Senators, whether it was contrary to the advice of the president's defense secretary and others, I believe that that is accurate. It was against the advice of the secretary of defense. It was President Trump's decision to provide this lethal assistance and that has been made public in -- in the past. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, counsel. Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. I send a question to the desk on behalf of Senator Carper, Coons, Hirono, Leahy, Tester, Udall, to the House managers and on behalf of myself. Thank you.

ROBERTS: ... Feinstein and the other senators is to the House managers -- "the President has taken the position that there should be no witnesses and no documents provided by the Executive Branch in response to these impeachment proceedings. Is there any precedent for this blanket refusal to cooperate and what are the consequences if the Senate accepts this position here?"

LOFGREN: Mr. Chief Justice and senators, President Trump has taken really an extreme measure to hide this evidence from Congress. No president has ever issued an order to direct a witness to refuse to cooperate in an impeachment inquiry before this.

Despite his famous attempts to conceal the most damaging evidence against him, even President Nixon allowed senior officials to testify under oath. Not only did he allow them, he told them to go to Congress voluntarily and answer all relevant questions truthfully.

But President Trump issued a blanket order directing the entire Executive Branch to withhold all documents and testimony from the House of Representatives. It was -- this order was categorical, it was indiscriminate, unprecedented, its purpose was clear to prevent Congress from doing its duty under the Constitution, to hold the President accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Telling every person who works in the White House and every person who works in every department, agency and office of the Executive Branch is just not precedented. It wasn't about specific, narrowly defined privileges, he never asserted privileges, and the President's counsel has mentioned over and over that he had some reason because of the subpoenas.

Well I'll tell you, we adopt rules about subpoenas in the House -- the Senate is a continuing body but the House isn't -- and in January, we adopted our rules and it allows the Committee Chairman to issue subpoenas and that's what they did.

He refused to comply with those subpoenas, not because he exerted executive privilege, because he didn't like what we were doing. He tried to say it was invalid but it was valid and actually he doesn't have the authority to be the arbiter of the rules of the House, the House is the sole arbiter of its rules when it comes to impeachment.


Now, this refusal to give testimony, documents, it's still going on. We still have former or current administration officials who are refusing to testify. He wouldn't -- you know, we would not allow this in any other context. You know, if -- if a mayor said "I'm -- I'm not going to answer your subpoenas," they'd be dealt with harshly, if it was to -- to cover up misdeeds and crimes, as we have here. So mayors -- mayors have actually gone to jail for doing that.

If we allow the President to avoid accountability by simply refusing to provide any documents, any witnesses, unlike every single president who preceded him, we're opening the door not just to eliminating the impeachment clause in the Constitution, try doing oversight -- try doing oversight, senators, and we're thinking about that in the House, if the President can just say "we're not sending any witnesses, we're not sending any documents, we don't have to, we don't like your processes, we have a wholesale rejection of what you are doing," that's not the way our Constitution was created, where each body has a responsibility, there is a sharing of power.

I and I know you cherish the responsibility that we have. That will be eviscerated if the President's complete stonewalling is allowed to persist and be accepted by this body. You have to act now in this moment of history. I yield back. ROBERTS: Thank you.

CAPITO: Mr. Chief Justice?

ROBERTS: Senator from West Virginia?

CAPITO: Thank you. I send a question to the desk for the President's counsel.

ROBERTS: The Senator's question is for counsel for the President -- "You said that Ukrainian officials didn't know about the pause on aid until August 28, 2019, when it was reported in Politico, but didn't Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, say that members of her staff received queries about the aid from the Ukrainian embassy on July 25? Does that mean that Ukrainian officials knew about the hold on aid earlier than the Politico article?"

PURPURA: Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Senate, Senator, thank you for your question. It does not mean that. As we explained on Saturday, the overwhelming body of evidence indicates that the Ukrainians at the very highest levels -- President Zelensky and his top advisors -- only became aware of the pause in the security assistance through the August 28 Politico article.

I addressed on Saturday -- and so those comments will stand -- the e- mails from the -- the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper testified about previously. What she had said was that she -- her staff had gotten e-mails from someone at the State Department who had had some sort of conversation with Ukrainian officials here that somehow related to the aid at a time prior to August 28.

She did not know the substance of the e-mails nor whether they mentioned hold, pause, review, anything of that nature, and she even said herself that she "didn't want to speculate as to what the e-mails mean and cannot say for certain what they were about." I presented on Saturday the evidence, which again, referencing the commonsense that would be in play here -- this was something that, on August 28, caused a flurry of activity among the highest ranking Ukrainian officials.

Never before did they raise any questions at any of the meetings they had with the high ranking U.S. officials through July and August. There were meetings on July 9, July 10, July 25 call, July 26, and August 27 -- at none of those meetings was the pause on aid revealed, or inquired about.


However, as soon as the "Politico" article came out on August 28, within hours of that "Politico," article coming out Mr. Yermak texted the article to Ambassador Volker and asked to speak with him.

That's consistent with someone finding out about it for the first time. They've -- the Ukrainians have also made statements that they learned about it for the first time, and then Mr. Philbin just referenced an article that came out yesterday in "The Daily Beast," which was an interview with Mr. Danylyuk who was, at the time a very high ranking defense official with the Ukrainians. And this is interesting, and I'm going to read this article because I think it's important -- and I suggest to the Senate if they wish to have something to consider further on this.

Danylyuk said he first found out that the U.S. was withholding aid to Ukraine by reading "Politico's" article published August 28. U.S. officials and Ukrainian diplomats, including the country's foreign minister Olena Zerkal have said publicly that Kiev was aware that there were problems as early as July, and that's the article that they've mentioned in the statement that the House members have mentioned.

Here's Mr. Danylyuk, I was really surprised and shocked, because just a couple of days prior to that I actually had a meeting with John Bolton -- actually, I had several meetings with him and we had extensive discussions. The last thing I had expected to read was an article about military aid being frozen, Danylyuk said.

After that, I was trying to get the truth -- was it true, or not true? Danylyuk said that it was a panic inside the Zelensky administration after the initial news broke, saying Zelensky was convinced there had been some sort of mistake, that's President Zelensky.

Danylyuk put in calls to the National Security Council -- National Security Counsel and asked other officials in Washington what to make of the news -- again, on August 28, or right after August 28.

The next time we met in September it was in Poland for the commemoration of the beginning of the Second World War. The Warsaw meeting we've discussed previously. Danylyuk said, adding that he met with Bolton on the sidelines of the commemoration. I had my suspicions, there was a special situation with one of our defense companies that were acquired by the Chinese, and the U.S. was concerned about this.

Bolton actually made the public comments about this as well, so somehow I linked this to things and tried to understand -- OK, maybe this could be related to this. So not only did they not know until August 28 -- when they did find out they didn't link it to any investigations.

Where's the quid pro quo? If this is such the forefront of their minds, such pressure on them that the Ukrainians have to do these investigations to get the aid -- when the aid was held up, they didn't think it was connected to the investigations.

J. ROBERTS: Thank you, counsel.

PURPURA: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

J. ROBERTS: The senator from Maryland.

(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chief Justice, I have a question on behalf of Senator Baldwin and myself I sent to the desk. J. ROBERTS: The question is addressed to the house managers. Is the White House correct in its trial memorandum and in presentations of its case that, "President Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials did not even know that the security assistance had been paused," before seeing press reports on August 28, 2019, which was more than a month after the July 25 phone call between Presidents Zelensky and Trump?

CROW: Thank you, Chief Justice and Senators for the question -- the answer is no. The evidence does not show that. We know that Defense Department Official Laura Cooper testified that her staff received two e-mails from the State Department on July 25 revealing that the Ukraine embassy was, "asking about security assistance," and in fact council for the president brought up these e-mails just now.


So I would propose that the Senate subpoena those e-mails so we can all see for ourselves what exactly was happening. We also know that career diplomat Catherine Croft stated that she was, "very surprised at the effectiveness of my Ukrainian counterpart's diplomatic trade craft, as in to say they found out very early on, or much earlier than I expected them to."

And then Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman testified that by mid-August he was getting questions from Ukrainians about the status of security assistance. So the evidence shows over and over again from the House inquiry that there was a lot of discussion -- and there should be.

Because we also know that delays matter, they matter a lot. And you don't have to take my word for it, you know, this is not just about a 48 day delay. The Ukrainians were consistently asking about it because it was urgent, they needed it. They needed it, and you know who else was asking for it was American businesses -- the contractors who were going to be providing this were also making inquiries about it because it was a pipeline.

And as my esteemed Senate Armed Services colleagues know very well, that providing aid is not like turning on and off a light switch. You have to hire employees, you have to get equipment, you've got to ship it -- it takes a long time for that pipeline to go, and in fact, we had to come together as a Congress to pass a law to extend that timeline because we were at risk of losing it.

And to this day, $18 million of that aid has still not been spent. But let's just assume for a minute, you know, also broadly speaking that the president's counsel's argument that support for Ukraine has never been better than it is today -- that under the Trump administration they are the strongest ally the Ukraine has seen in years.

So just assuming, for a minute, that argument to be true -- it kind of makes our own argument. It kind of makes our argument, then why hold the aid? Why hold the aid? Because nothing had changed in '16, nothing had changed '17, nothing had changed in '18. One thing had changed in '19 and that was Vice President Biden was running for president. Lastly, the question before, by my Senate Armed Services colleagues framed this in terms of the military impact -- and they asked what was greater in terms of military impact -- not providing lethal aid, or a 48-day delay.

Let's not forget the reason for the delay. Because there's a lot of discussion today about, you know, the technicalities of the delay and that the president's mentality, his mindset doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what he intended to do.

But I would posit that's exactly why we're here. That it does matter what the president intended to do because the American people in matters of national security deserve to go to bed every night knowing that the president, the commander-in-chief, the person who is ultimately responsible for the safety and security of our nation every night has the best interests of them, and their families, and this country in mind, not the best interests of his political campaign. And that is why we are here.

ROBERTS: Mr. Manager?

COLLINS: Mr. Chief Justice?

ROBERTS: Senator?

COLLINS: I sent a question to the desk on behalf of myself and Senator Murkowski.

ROBERTS: The question is to counsel for the president, "Witnesses testified before the House that President Trump consistently expressed the view that Ukraine was a corrupt country. Before Vice President Biden formally entered the 2020 presidential race in April 2019, did President Trump ever mention Joe or Hunter Biden in connection with corruption in Ukraine to former Ukrainian Poroshenko or other Ukrainian officials, President Trump's cabinet members or top aides, or others? If so, what did the president say to whom and when?"


PHILBIN: Mr. Chief Justice, Senators, thank you for that question. Of course, I think it's important at the outset to frame the answer by bearing in mind I'm limited to what's in the record, and what's in the record is determined by what the House of Representatives saw. It was their proceeding. They were the ones who ran it. They were the ones who called the witnesses.

So part of the conversations refers to conversations between President Trump and other cabinet members and others like that, that's -- there's not something in the record on that. It wasn't thoroughly pursued in the record. So I can't point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning something specifically mentioning Joe or Hunter Biden.

It is in the record that he spoke to President Poroshenko twice about corruption in the Ukraine, both in June of 2017 and again in September of 2017. But there are other -- there is other information publicly available and in the record that I think is important for understanding the timeline and understanding why it was that the information related to the Bidens and the Burisma affair came up when it did.

So one important piece of information to bear in mind is President Poroshenko was the person that Joe Biden himself, on the tapes we've seen, went to to have the prosecutor fired. So as long as President Poroshenko was still in charge in Ukraine, he was the person that Joe Biden had spoken to to get the prosecutor Shokin fired when Shokin was looking into -- according to public reports, looking into Burisma.

As long as he was still the president in Ukraine, question the utility of raising an incident in which he was the one who was taking the direction from Vice President Biden to fire the prosecutor.

So when you have an election in April of 2019 and you have a new president, President Zelensky who has run on an anti-corruption platform and there is a question is he really going to change things, is there going to be something new in Ukraine, it opens up an opportunity to start looking really at anti-corruption issues and raising questions.

Now, the other important thing to understand in the timeline is that we've heard a lot about Rudy Giuliani, the president's private lawyer, and what was he interested in in Ukraine and what was his role?

Well, as we know, it's been made public, Mr. Giuliani, as the president's private lawyer, had been asking a lot of questions in the Ukraine dating back to the fall of 2018. And in November 2018, he said publicly he was given some tips about things to look into.

He gave a dossier to the State Department in March of this year. Remember Vice President Biden announces his candidacy in April, April 25th. In March, Rudy Giuliani gave documents to the State Department, including interview notes from interviews he conducted both with Shokin and with Yuriy Lutsenko who was also a prosecutor in the Ukraine.

And those interview notes are from January. January 23rd and January 25, 2019. So months before Vice President Biden announced any candidacy. And it goes through in these interview notes, Shokin explaining that he was removed at the request of Mr. Joseph Biden, the Vice President.

And it explains that he had been investigating Burisma. And that Hunter was on the board. And it raises all of the questions about that. So it was Mr. Giuliani who had been as Jane Raskin explained the other day as counsel for -- for the president here, Mr. Giuliani's counsel for the president is looking into what went on in Ukraine.

Is there anything related to 2016. Are there other things related there. And he's given this information, tips about this, and starts pursuing that as well. And he's digging into that in January of 2019.

We know that Mr. Giuliani is the president's private counsel. I -- I can't represent specific conversations they had. They would be privileged. But we do know from testimony that the president said in a May 23rd Oval Office meeting, with respect to Ukraine, talk to Rudy. Rudy knows about Ukraine.

So the president, it seems from that, gets information from Mr. Giuliani. Months before Vice President Biden announced his candidacy, Mr. Giuliani is looking into this issue, interviewing people and getting information about it.

In addition, in March of 2019, articles began to be published. Then three articles were published by ABC, by The New Yorker, and by The Washington Post before the July 25th call. Washington Post on July 22nd, three days before the call, has an article specifically about the Bidens and Burisma.

That's what makes it suddenly current, relevant, probably to be in someone's mind. So that's the timeline.

HARRIS: Mr. Chief Justice.

J. ROBERTS: Senator from California.


HARRIS: Thank you. I sent a question to the desk on behalf of Senator Patty Murray and myself.

J. ROBERTS: Senator Harris and Murray ask the House Managers, the House of Representatives is now in possession of a tape of President Trump saying of Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch, quote, get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK, do it. End quote.

President Trump gave this order to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two men who carried out Trump's pressure campaign in Ukraine at the direction of Rudy Giuliani. Does the discovery of this tape suggest that if the Senate does not pursue all relevant evidence, including witnesses and document that new evidence will continue to come to light after the Senate renders a verdict?

SCHIFF: The answer is yes. What we have seen really over the last several weeks since the passage of the Articles in the House of Representatives is every week, indeed, sometimes everyday there is new information coming to light.

We know there's going to be new information coming to light on March 17th when the Bolton book comes out that is if the NSC isn't successful in redacting it or preventing much of its publication.

And on that issue I do want to mention one other thing in response to the question about the Bolton manuscript and what did the White House lawyers know because I listened very carefully to the answer of that question and maybe you listened more carefully than I did.

What I thought I heard them say in the answer to that question, what did they know about the manuscript and when did they know it, their statement was very precisely worded. The NSC unit reviewing the book did not share the manuscript.

Well that's a different question than whether the White House lawyers found out what's in it because you don't have to circulate the manuscript to have someone walk over to the White House and say you do not want John Bolton to testify.

Let me tell you, you do not want John Bolton to testify. You don't need to read his manuscript because I can tell you what's in it. So I -- the dialogue (ph) was a very carefully worded one.

I don't know what the White House lawyers knew and when they knew it but they did represent to you repeatedly that the president never told a witness that he was freezing the aid to get Ukraine to do these investigations.

And we know that's not true. You know that from the witnesses we've already heard from but we also know, at least if the reporting is correct and you should find out if it is that John Bolton tells a very different story.

So there are going to continue to be revelations and members of this body on both sides of the aisle are going to have to answer a question each time it does, why didn't you want to know that when it would have helped inform your decision.

In every other trial in the land, you call witnesses to find out what you can. Again, we're not a Court of Appeals here. We are the trial court. We're not confined to the record below. There is no below.

Counsel says in answer to the senator's question about whether Donald Trump ever brought up the Hunter Biden problem with President Poroshenko in the past and says; well we're confined to the record before us.

You're not confined to the record in the House. Nor is the president. The president could call witnesses if they existed. There's nothing to prevent them from saying, as a matter of fact, tomorrow we're going to call such and such and they're going to testify that indeed Donald Trump brought up Hunter Biden to president Poroshenko. There's nothing prohibiting them from doing that. But the end of the day, we are going to continue to see new evidence come out all the time. But among the most significant evidence, we know what that's going to be.

And, you know, the effort to suggest that, well, because this president was stronger in Javelins than his predecessor, when we know from the July 25th call, the moment that Zelensky brings up the Javelins, what's the very next thing the president says? He wants a favor.