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The Trump administration quickly pushed back on the claims of Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, were aware of Sondland’s efforts to get Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.
As we have been discussing, the Trump administration was quick today to push back on Ambassador Sondland's claim that Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, were all aware of the ambassador's efforts to get Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens, an inquiry Sondland acknowledged would ultimately benefit President Trump.
Kellyanne Conway is the counselor to the president. And she joins us now from the White House.
Kellyanne Conway, so many questions to ask you about today, but my first question is this. We heard the president say this afternoon he was asking nothing of Ukraine.
If that's the case, why was the aid held up for several months? Why was a meeting with the president held up?
Well, the one thing that the president was asking was for President Zelensky to deliver on what he had run on successfully, which is to root out corruption.
And we have all read the July 25 call transcript, Judy, where both presidents are discussing — discussing draining the swamp in their respective countries. They're discussing rooting out corruption. They're discussing how that's been a problem in Ukraine.
And remember that President Zelensky ran successfully in Ukraine on an anti-corruption platform.
But my question was…
So, President Trump agrees with the Ukrainian voters that this is the problem in Ukraine.
So, the aid — they got the aid without a meeting. They got — they got the meeting without a statement. They got the aid without a condition.
And a couple of things Ambassador Sondland today said were critically important. He said he doesn't — he never heard that there — the aid was conditioned on anything, that when he called President Trump, the president said many times, no quid pro quo. I just want President Zelensky to say what he said he was going to do.
Let me ask you about something else, though, that Ambassador Sondland said.
He said he didn't want to work with Rudy Giuliani, but he said President Trump expressly directed him to do that.
Why did the president want him to work with his personal attorney?
I don't know what conversation the president had with Ambassador Sondland.
But I will tell you that — that Ambassador Sondland very said — very clearly said today — and I quote him — President Trump never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Giuliani was that Burisma and 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting.
"The aid was my — my own personal, you know, guess."
And so, to the extent the president ever asked Ambassador Sondland to work with Rudy Giuliani — and I can't confirm or deny that, because I'm not sure — it was never to get them to condition the aid on anything.
And, in fact, if people care about Ukraine, then they should be thrilled that President Trump has given them nearly $400 million in military assistance, including…
… including cyber-rifles, including Javelins, and other aid to help them fight against Russia and other threats.
But, as we know, that aid came later than others in the administration were — were saying that it should be.
But just to be clear, Kellyanne Conway, we did hear from Ambassador Sondland that there was a clear quid quo pro from Rudy Giuliani, reflecting the president's wishes, that there not be a White House meeting until there was an investigation of the Bidens, 2016, the DNC server and so on.
But the — I'm sorry, but the meeting — other people are in my ear, Judy. I apologize.
But the meeting happened without a statement. The meeting happened for the whole world to see up at the United Nations General Assembly in September, in that same month.
And I think what's incredibly important for your viewers to know is that both the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine and their top diplomats have said there was no pressure applied. The aid was delivered. They didn't know the aid was being held up.
I mean, all this is critically important. I think this is why you see the polling going in the wrong direction for the Democrats, who insist on this impeachment inquiry. The poll released yesterday by Morning Consult clearly said that independents have a — have gone down 10 percent in terms of approving of the impeachment.
There's a reason for that. They're tuning in, and they can't understand what's happening. Why all these hours of testimony? What are we trying to prove?
Let me ask you about a couple of other things. And I will try to do this quickly.
Is the president still seeking an investigation by Ukraine into Hunter Biden and his role in Burisma, into what happened in Ukraine in that regard?
Remember, the president is — is seeking investigations into corruption.
So, if anybody was corrupt, or if their company was corrupt, then they may have something to worry about. But he's seeking investigations into corruption.
Ambassador Sondland testified today — quote — he has no recollection of discussing Biden, Vice President Biden, or his son on that famous July 26 call that Ambassador Sondland also said did not discuss any classified information and did not strike him as significant at the time.
Why is that important tonight? Because the State Department aide who says he overheard such call on July 26 is testifying tomorrow.
But, today, the man who was on the call with the president said that the president never mentioned Vice President Biden or his son during that call — quote — "or after the call ended."
I'm sorry to interrupt.
But you're saying the president is still interested in knowing anything about Hunter Biden and Burisma? Is that right?
He is still — he is still interested in knowing about corruption.
And if Burisma is part of that corruption, then whoever the board members are or were need to be held to account.
We can't inoculate Joe Biden and his son because Joe Biden's running for president now. That's beside the point.
This happened when Vice President Biden had Ukraine in his portfolio as vice president. This all occurred in 2015 or '16.
Can you say today what future military aid for Ukraine will be conditioned on?
Well, it will be — I could say that the future military aid while President Trump is in office will be robust and much more than they got from the previous administration.
And, Judy, I think that's incredibly important, because you heard especially yesterday and last week people who are Ukrainian experts or people who want to make sure Ukraine policy vis-a-vis the U.S. is well-resourced, is well-respected.
They should be thrilled that President Trump is in office, then, because the aid not only got there, but it's far more and far more important to the Ukraine than the aid they got in the previous administration.
So I can tell you that, that the aid will continue. But we're watching.
And — and…
We think it's very important that this aid, that President Zelensky made good on his promise to be an anti-corruption fighter.
The White House put out statements yesterday that were critical of Alexander Vindman, who, of course, the colonel who is detailed to the National Security Council.
Is his job secure? And is the job of Ambassador Sondland secure? We know there were critical statements made about what he said today by the administration.
Well, those are both — they're both people who still work for the administration.
And I will say that Ambassador O'Brien, the new head of the National Security Council here, has stated publicly that he will try to shrink what he sees to be a bloated staff here at the National Security Council.
I will leave that up to him and his boss, the president of the United States, the commander in chief.
So, you — so, you…
But I will — but I will tell that I have not — I have never and I would never question the patriotism of Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. I don't know him, but I would not question his patriotism.
What I do question overall in these hearings is why we have people testifying for hours and hours and hours, Judy, who have never met the president, who have never had a conversation about his policies in Ukraine, because their view of Ukrainian policy is only important insofar as they are executing on the president's agenda.
He sets the policy, our foreign policy, our national security interests.
And people's assumptions, inferences, interpretations, conjecture, insinuations, those are not important.
The facts matter.
The fact is, Ukraine got its aid.
So very, very quickly, so you're — you're not saying that his job is secure, that he may be part of this downsizing you mentioned at the NSC?
No, I don't know. I don't know.
You don't know. I understand.
But I don't know who — I don't know who will stay and who will — and who will go, but it certainly will have nothing to do with his testimony.
He was here at work today. He and his twin brother were taking selfies.
… news reporter tweeted out a picture of them.
And, finally, very quickly, still the posture of the White House that individuals like the White House acting chief of staff, the secretary of state should not cooperate, should not testify?
Our White House counsel said in an October 8 letter, Judy, that this is an unconstitutional, an illegal proceeding, and that we don't feel we should comply with it.
And the other reason is that, in this country, even in — even in a circus-like hearing that you're seeing in front of you, which is not rooted in the rule of law, you don't have to testify to prove that you're innocent. That's not the way this works.
Look, I think, if it ever gets to the Senate, you will see a real trial, and it will be more familiar to the American people, who are accustomed to trials, who can look at that and say, OK, now I get it, witnesses, evidence.
The president of the United States can't even have his own attorney in these hearings. That strikes a lot of Americans as unfair. And I think that's why you're seeing the polls go against approval of this impeachment inquiry.
It would be different in the Senate.
Kellyanne Conway at the White House, we thank you.
Thank you, Judy.
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