ROBERT COSTA: Impeachment testimony goes public and a blue wave sweeps the suburbs.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): (From video.) We will begin our open hearings in the impeachment inquiry next week.
MR. COSTA: Ahead of public testimony transcripts reveal new details about the president and his advisors, and Democrats make their case.
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): (From video.) We have not heard a single witness yet come in and provide testimony that would suggest this was anything other than defense dollars for dirt.
MR. COSTA: But Republicans balk at the process, dismissing suggestions of a quid pro quo as they call out the whistleblower.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) This is a hoax. Everything he wrote in that report almost was a lie. My phone call was perfect. The whistleblower, because of that, should be revealed.
MR. COSTA: Plus, election results show suburban challenges for the GOP, all as the Democratic race is roiled by a late entry, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening. This week transcripts of closed-door testimony detailed how the president and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, along with the support of administration officials, pressured the government of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election. Witnesses testified that those efforts were linked to critical security assistance needed by Ukraine to combat Russian aggression – essentially, a quid pro quo, which the president has repeatedly denied.
Joining us tonight, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, congressional correspondent for The New York Times; Jeff Zeleny, senior Washington correspondent for CNN; Anita Kumar, White House correspondent and associate editor for POLITICO; and Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for The Washington Post.
In transcript after transcript, Giuliani’s role was pivotal. As Josh reports, quote, “top officials needed to cater to him.” And Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, said in his testimony, quote, “Rudy had some bad issues with Ukraine, and until Rudy was satisfied the president wasn’t going to change his mind.” Josh, when you open your notebook, what does your reporting show?
JOSH DAWSEY: Well, time after time this week – Giuliani’s name came up more than 500 times in various witness testimony, and what essentially was a nexus as the president’s frustrated with Ukraine and these various officials of his State Department – ambassadors, top folks in Pompeo’s orbit – all understand if we don’t pacify Rudy Giuliani the president’s not going to be happy. And they’re all reluctant; they’re reticent to do this. They’re not necessarily thrilled about working with an outside personal lawyer who has the portfolio of Ukraine, but they all wanted to mollify them. They all wanted to convince him, to appease him, because as he said without Rudy being happy the president’s not going to meet with the Ukrainian president, the president’s not going to have a phone call. The president’s not moving forward until Rudy convinces him that these concerns have been alleviated. So what we saw with every witness this weekend, they said you have to talk to Rudy, Rudy needs to approve this, what does Rudy think, we’ve got to set up meetings for Rudy. So Rudy serves as the president’s outside lawyer, but when it came to Ukraine Rudy was the key player in all of this.
MR. COSTA: Inside the White House, was anyone countering Rudy Giuliani in this alleged rogue foreign policy?
ANITA KUMAR: Well, you have heard a lot of people now saying, hey, that the president should get rid of Rudy Giuliani, and at the time I don’t think people understood the extent of his role. I mean, that’s one of the things that we’re hearing from this testimony, is that people didn’t really get it. It was a small circle of people – a lot of them career people, not political people – didn’t feel like they could come up and say anything about it. But now, since it's been coming out, you’ve been seeing a lot of people saying to the president, please, it’s time to cut ties with him, he is not doing anything good for you, and the president has resisted.
MR. COSTA: Why has he resisted?
MS. KUMAR: Well, they’ve had this long history together, the two of them – both from New York, they’ve known each other forever. I do think that at this point, though, with people like Mick Mulvaney, his chief of staff, and Rudy Giuliani, they know so much about this they are sort of it in together.
MR. COSTA: Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, Sheryl, you had Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, his testimony released, along with Fiona Hill, two top staffers on the National Security Council implicating Mulvaney in all of this with Giuliani in this attempted quid pro quo.
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG: Right, so and that gets things very, very close to the president, right? There’s nobody closer in the White House to the president than the chief of staff, in this case the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. And so I think Democrats are really trying to narrow in, if you will. They’re trying to get closer and closer and closer and closer to the president to show that he was really behind this, and that’s going to be their main challenge. They are going to have the burden of proving that it was the president directing this operation, and Republicans feel that they haven’t proven that yet, and we’re going to hear a lot from Republicans about that.
MR. COSTA: Josh?
MR. DAWSEY: But Mulvaney declined to testify today. He was subpoenaed; he didn’t show up. Mulvaney’s ally, the OMB director, hasn’t shown up. Everyone in Mulvaney’s orbit is stonewalling and basically challenging the Democrats: we’re not showing up, we think this is a sham process, we’re not going to testify, we’re not giving you documents, see what you can do. And that’s a test for the Democrats as well. If you say we’re not coming, the president puts out a letter and some of these top officials just don’t show up, are the Democrats willing to challenge us?
MS. STOLBERG: They’re going to – they’re going to pursue a – you know, obstruction. They’re going to use that as evidence of obstruction.
MR. COSTA: But even if Mulvaney doesn’t show up, there’s still a lot of evidence on the table.
JEFF ZELENY: Right, there is a lot of evidence. And I think when you step back from all this, this can be very confusing. As I travel around the country talking to voters, even listening to the developments, it can be confusing. But the point is still this: the transcript – the rough transcript of the call from that July conversation with President Trump and the Ukrainian president, as well as the whistleblower’s report, that is still the guiding principle in all of this here, so the facts haven’t changed at all. They’ve been amplified by every bit of testimony from Capitol Hill. And next week, when it goes public, when there are these public hearings, that is what is going to come out. But the reality is most people I believe have made up their minds about this. If you like the president, you know, you do not believe that this is a worthy process. If you don’t, you know, you do. But the – you know, don’t get lost in the weeds here. The reality is the president did ask him for that. The question is, is it impeachable or not?
MR. COSTA: Your point about voters is so important. Is this breaking through across the country? And so far it’s been closed-door testimony and then transcripts being released to the public. Next week the House will begin public impeachment hearings. At the center of the proceedings is California Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Sheryl profiled him this week in the Times, writing, quote, “Adored by the left, reviled by the right, Schiff has become a Rorschach test for American politics. Depending on one’s point of view, he’s either going to save the republic or destroy it.” She added, quote, “there is little room for error from Mr. Schiff.”
MS. STOLBERG: That’s absolutely right. You know, Adam Schiff is, in effect, the anti-Trump. That is how he is casting himself. He is calm, he’s measured, he’s unflappable, he’s a former federal prosecutor, and he knows that he has to approach these hearings in a very solemn way. He wants to keep things calm and even keel. He wants the Democrats to look like they are engaging in a very serious endeavor.
MR. COSTA: Who is his key witness?
MS. STOLBERG: Well, his key witness will be Bill Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine who is also in a way kind of the public servant mirror image of Adam Schiff. Taylor is a military veteran, a Vietnam veteran. He is a respected career diplomat. He has served in every administration, Republican and Democratic, since 1985, and he is the one who has laid out in the clearest terms this quid pro quo charge that the president was withholding military aid from Ukraine and also withholding a meeting with the – a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president in exchange for the Ukrainian president’s announcement that he was going to investigate the Bidens.
MR. COSTA: What about beyond Taylor? We also had Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, retract some of his previous testimony from last month and now lean into this attempted quid pro quo. Inside the White House, how are they prepared to counter what happens next week in this public phase if you have Ambassador Taylor and also this new testimony from Sondland?
MS. KUMAR: That is a great question, and they have had at the White House six or eight different strategies right now, six or either different messages –
MR. COSTA: Well, what’s the strategy right now?
MS. KUMAR: It’s all over the place. It’s President Trump thinking and just kind of saying what he sees, right, when he’s watching TV, when he’s reading something. That’s why you’ve seen it’s no quid pro quo, it’s Russia 2.0. The message changes every day, and that’s what’s one of the things that’s so frustrating to Republicans who support this president, allies that want him to survive this and survive the campaign. They want him to have one message, which, as you know with this president, is a very tough thing for him to do. But they want him to have a message and they want him to – the White House to tell others, surrogates, what that message is. And they have not done that.
MR. ZELENY: Well, I think the central message is also to discredit the process and to lean into the call. Look at the shirts on Trump supporters at rallies: Read the transcript. They are not backing away from what he did. They’re saying, yes, he did make that phone call, but –
MS. KUMAR: Well, he’s not backing away from it.
MR. ZELENY: He’s not. But the reality is when the president watches those hearings on Wednesday, on Thursday, how he reacts, we don’t know the answer to that. So, I mean, this has consumed this White House without question. They’re acting like, you know, there’s nothing to see here, but of course there is. And it’s getting under his skin.
MR. DAWSEY: What’s interesting, though, is the president even in private does not believe that call was wrong. And he’s argued repeatedly to other Republican senators, you can’t say I did anything wrong because that call was great. He wanted the transcript –
MR. ZELENY: Or perfect.
MR. DAWSEY: Perfect, as he would say. He wanted that transcript put out because he thought the American people would read it and it would somewhat inoculate him. So did Bill Barr at the Justice Department.
MR. COSTA: Let’s dig into this. Let’s dig into this. Let’s go –
MS. KUMAR: One of the oddest things about this is that everybody agrees on the facts. That’s the oddest thing about this. It’s just that they disagree on whether it was right or wrong.
MR. COSTA: If the Republicans are not really engaging on the substance or the facts here, let’s go inside what their actual strategy is. I was at the Senate this week talking to lawmakers and forceful defenses of the president’s conduct, that what we’ve been talking about, were few and far between. The emerging argument, as Anita was saying, seems to be that the president’s intent and actions were erratic and inappropriate, but not impeachable offenses.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From video.) What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent. They seemed to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.
MR. COSTA: But will this party’s fragile coalition hold together? As Anita’s colleague, Tim Alberta, our friend, writes in this week’s POLITICO magazine, quote, “Who will betray Trump? Donald Trump knows there are potential traitors in his midst. His presidency could depend on keeping them at bay.”
MS. STOLBERG: Well, that’s exactly right. I actually spent much of this week in Texas in the district of Will Hurd. He’s a Republican who is a rare critic of President Trump. And he and these other Republican critics of Trump – people like Fred Upton in Michigan and Adam Kinzinger in Illinois, all have voted with the House Republicans in rejecting the plan for these impeachment – these impeachment hearings to go forward. So the question is, will they hang with the president? If they stick with the president going forward, then Republicans can just write this whole exercise off as a partisan, you know, impeachment – a Soviet-style impeachment inquiry, as they like to call it. But if those Republican critics of the president break, then we could see one of two things: Americans could actually view this as more of a legitimate process, legitimate congressional exercise of oversight over the presidency. And other Republicans could follow suit.
MR. COSTA: Jim Jordan, the member of the House Judiciary Committee and Oversight, he’s now being shifted over by Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader, to the Intelligence Committee. Why is that significant?
MR. DAWSEY: Well, Jim Jordan, in the president’s eyes, is one of his most vociferous warriors. He thinks of Jim Jordan as great on TV, he thinks Jim Jordan is one to defend basically whatever accusations he’s being charged with. And the president wanted Jim Jordan over on the Intelligence Committee. He and Mark Meadows, also part of the Freedom Caucus, are in the president’s mind his most effective defenders and this most pugilistic defenders, who are willing to go out and really take on his critics. And the president has had now – has one more defender on the Intelligence Committee to ask questions, to interrogate witnesses, to really do the president’s bidding.
MR. COSTA: What about John Bolton, the former national security adviser? His lawyers say he has a lot to share, but he’s waiting to see if the courts decide that he can break from executive privilege and actually appear on Capitol Hill. Do Democrats need Bolton to make the most compelling case possible?
MS. KUMAR: I think that – I think a lot of people want to hear from John Bolton. But I think the Democrats feel like they have a solid case, a good case. That’s why they’re moving forward with the public testimony. And as Sheryl mentioned, they’re going to say every person who don’t come, it’s just obstruction. That could be an article of impeachment. They don’t need those other people, and they’re not going to wait for them.
MR. ZELENY: I think the Bolton story would, though, help Democrats one with one thing they still have not done, is sold this story to the American people, explained the issue here. I thought it was fascinating today that John Bolton’s lawyer said he has relevant information that lawmakers do not know. He didn’t have to say that. He could have said Mr. Bolton is going to wait until we hear from the lawyers. So John Bolton is –
MR. COSTA: Why is he saying that? What’s your reporting tell you?
MR. ZELENY: I think that Mr. Bolton, as we know, is a great communicator. He’s one of the most effective conservative communicators in this town. He wanted to, I think, add his, you know, information to the top of all of this as we go into those public hearing next week, that there is more out there. So I think it’s giving an entree, as Sheryl was talking about some of those Republicans, I remain pretty skeptical of a big Republican break here because it has not happened until this point.
MS. STOLBERG: I do too.
MR. ZELENY: And I would be stunned if anything like that happened.
MS. KUMAR: It’s not going to happen. The one thing, though, that the president has been saying – of course, you know this president. Even one person turning is going to set him off. One Republican going against him. The thing that he wants right now, that he’s been so upset about this week – in these last couple weeks is he wants more Republicans out there speaking about him, defending him, supporting him. And he hasn’t had that. And I think that’s where Jim Jordan is –
MR. COSTA: But it could be hard to predict where Republicans go. We haven’t seen Bolton testify. We haven’t seen Ambassador Taylor put his hand in the air under oath.
MR. DAWSEY: And the president doesn’t have the warmest relationships with Senate Republicans. There are a lot of them that are constrained by the idea that the president’s popular in their states. The president remains incredibly popular with the Republican Party. But he doesn’t have those institutional ties with Senate Republicans. And, Bob, you go to the Hill far more than I do. You talk to these people. You know, in private they are very skeptical of this president, his tactics, his measures. There’s not a lot of love lost there with some of these folks. Now, will they be willing to publicly break? That’s a totally different question.
MR. COSTA: Sheryl?
MS. STOLBERG: Well, they’re going to need a lot of Republicans to break in order to convict the president in the Senate, if he does indeed get impeached in the House, which looks likely. They’d need about 20. And let’s also talk about some of these Democrats. Do you think Doug Jones, a Democrat who’s up for reelection in Alabama, is going to break with the president?
MR. COSTA: Could be facing Jeff Sessions, just jumped into the Senate race.
MS. STOLBERG: Exactly. Or, you know, Joe Manchin. Do you think – you know, he just won reelection, so maybe he’s OK.
MR. COSTA: Well, you tell me, senators and their allies, are they willing to break at all, based on your reporting?
MS. STOLBERG: You know, what? They don’t want to talk about it right now. Especially, like, the moderate Republicans, like the Susan Collinses of the world and Cory Gardners, both in tough races. They don’t want to talk about it. They’ll say, well, you know, I might be a juror in this case, so I better not address this.
MR. COSTA: Every time I go up to Senator Alexander of Tennessee he just goes: I’m a juror. I have nothing to say.
MS. STOLBERG: Yeah. (Laughs.) But he’s free. But he’s free because he’s retiring.
MR. COSTA: He’s free, as you said, just like Will Hurd, you mentioned. Retiring in Texas.
MS. STOLBERG: He has the – that’s right.
MR. COSTA: Let’s finish tonight talking about all this, the politics, the campaign trail. Kentucky Democrat Andy Beshear has claimed victory over Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who was boosted by President Trump in that red state on the eve of the election.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) If you lose they’re going to say: Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me. (Laughter.)
KENTUCKY GOVERNOR-ELECT ANDY BESHEAR (D): (From video.) Last night the election ended. It ended and it’s time to move forward with a smooth transition that we are here to do so that we can do the people’s business.
MR. COSTA: From Kentucky to my hometown in the Philadelphia suburbs, to Virginia, Democrats did have a big night, winning control of the Virginia state legislature. They ran against the president, but also against GOP efforts to block the expansion of Medicaid. Jeff, you were talking to voters all week on the campaign trail. What did Tuesday tell us about 2020?
MR. ZELENY: Tuesday tells us basically the same story from the 2018 midterms, is that there is trouble in the Republican brand and among the president’s supporters in the suburbs of America. Look at the suburbs of Cincinnati, of Memphis, as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, as you were saying. Certainly the suburbs here in Washington of Virginia. There is a Republican erosion. I think the Kentucky governor’s race – yes, the president went down there at the end. He probably actually helped him a little bit, not enough of course.
Governor Bevin had a variety of issues. He lost because he picked a fight with the teachers’ unions and a variety of other things, over state pensions. But I think, you know, off-year elections, we tend to read too much into them. But one thing we can read into is the fact of what is happening in the suburbs of America. The Trump campaign realizes this. That’s why they are motivating their own supporters. But I think the president in and of himself, he knows that there are certain places he will not be able to go as much in 2020. But the suburbs are going to be the story, gun control and other issues, as a central issue.
MS. STOLBERG: One place the president is not really going to be able to go is Virginia. Virginia came out of these elections as a solidly Democratic state. It was a Democratic sweep. It completed the transition of Virginia from red to purple to blue. And as for Bevin, you know, I covered Bevin’s race in 2015. Bevin was Trump before Trump. He came in as an outsider. He was brash. He said he was beholden to no party. And he made Republicans, in fact, very nervous. And I do have to wonder if part of the backlash against Bevin was against his personal style. As Jeff said, he picked a fight with the teachers. I think he called them thugs, or something.
MR. COSTA: He was very critical.
MS. STOLBERG: Exactly. And so you do wonder, will voters get turned off to Trump’s personal style? Will they turn against him the way Kentuckians –
MR. COSTA: Let me ask you, Josh, about that, because Sheryl brings up a good point. Inside the White House, when they look at Kentucky, do they see Bevin as just a case that’s an island in and of itself, or do they see some potential problems – maybe losing some political capital with Republicans? As Republicans look at impeachment, they also look at Kentucky, losing in a red state in a gubernatorial race.
MR. DAWSEY: They’d see Bevin as more of an isolated incident. I did talk to folks from the White House who said the results in Virginia and how that was trending do not look good for the president. Now, the points they make on the other side I think are worth hearing. They say that there are a lot of Trump voters who don’t come out in off-year elections, who don’t come out in special elections; they only care about Trump, and they think they can get a lot of those people out. They also say the president doesn’t have an opponent yet, and one of the things that he was effective in 2016 is defining his opponent, demonizing his opponent. He went into Election Day with an approval rating below 40 percent and still won. Now, whether he can recreate all of that I don’t know, but those are points worth considering.
MR. COSTA: But those points get muddled up by a lot of this impeachment discussion. Let me read you a quote from Scott Reed, the political strategist for the Chamber of Commerce: “There is a lot of positive news around President Trump’s governing on the economy, on regulations and judges…it seems to be overwhelmed by the drama.” That was in the Post earlier this week. You think about the stock market hitting a record high this week, progress on the China trade talks, yet real problems in the suburbs. What is the White House doing to address the suburban slide?
MS. KUMAR: Yeah, I mean, there are people telling President Trump if he could just stick to the economy, stick to those good points right now, he could do very well. His problem is that he, as you know, goes off and talks about other things. There is the impeachment; he’s getting mad at people. If he could stick to the economy – he’s going to probably announce something on China in the coming weeks – they feel like that he – they could, you know, have some – that could get them somewhere. You’ve also seen them talk a little bit about issues like gun control, thinking maybe they could use that, and then in the end he didn’t go there.
MS. STOLBERG: But he hasn’t done anything on it.
MS. KUMAR: Yeah.
MR. COSTA: Well, let’s pause on gun control. When you think about who was one of the biggest advocates for gun control in ’18, Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor. Now he sees his party moving too far to the left. He’s jumping in the race, Jeff. What does it mean for the Democratic contest?
MR. ZELENY: It is a big unknown. I mean, there’s no question he’s surprised a lot of people. Of course, he has said repeatedly he was not going to run. He filed his paperwork in Alabama late Friday – the reason Alabama, of course, they have the early filing deadline. Look for him to do the same in New Hampshire a week from today. We still don’t know if he is running, but he’s planning to do so. He’s also, though, going to skip the first four early-voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina. So I do not hear a lot of clamoring among Democratic primary voters for Mike Bloomberg. There are a lot of people on his payroll who look at the math of this and say he’s exactly the person who could beat President Trump, but they have a lot of data because of the gun control efforts that he funded in the Virginia suburbs and other things. So we can’t count him out, but we do not know if, you know, he’ll be the right messenger in a Democratic primary. It is really – his candidacy is hinging on Joe Biden completely collapsing, and that hasn’t happened yet in the eyes of voters. It has for some strategists, but he’s been amazingly resilient here. It helped Elizabeth Warren this week as well.
MR. DAWSEY: And Mike Bloomberg’s not necessarily a natural campaigner. I mean, I covered New York City politics and watched him on the trail. He’s not someone who lights up a crowd. He’s not necessarily a, you know, exciting, enthusiastic speaker.
MR. COSTA: But he must see a path. He must see a path.
MR. DAWSEY: But he’s a – he’s a technocrat, and I think he sees a path as I’m 77 years old, I think my party is not heading in the right direction, I think these issues deserve more attention; if not now, when? You talk to people around him, they don’t necessarily see the path that he does. But Bloomberg, it seems like this is a last chance, give it a go effort.
MS. STOLBERG: So two thoughts on that. First of all, do Democrats really want an old white man as their nominee? I mean, we’re seeing those questions raised with Bernie Sanders, who had a heart attack and questions about his health; with Joe Biden, questions about his acuity, whether he’s lost a step. And the Democratic Party is moving toward a younger base, people of color, women –
MR. COSTA: And more liberal.
MS. STOLBERG: And more liberal, exactly that. So that’s one thought. And my other thought was if Bloomberg became the nominee, we’d have a subway series, right? (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: I mean, who’s not a New Yorker, in some ways, in American politics anymore?
MS. STOLBERG: Right. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: Does the White House sit back and go – they’re maybe thinking about Senator Warren or Senator Sanders as the nominee, and now it could be Bloomberg, and what does that mean?
MS. KUMAR: I don’t think they think it’s Bernie Sanders. All attention has been to Elizabeth Warren lately. I mean, they thought it was Joe Biden, as a lot of people did, and they felt like this whole situation with Ukraine and his fundraising has really pushed him out, and the person to look at is Elizabeth Warren. And they are really happy about that, obviously, because she’s, you know, so progressive, on the left, they feel like they can fight her and push back against her.
MR. ZELENY: One thing that it says above all, this race is much more unsettled than we think here in Washington. When you talk to voters, they want someone who can win. They don’t know the answer to that question. So that’s what Bloomberg does to this mix, he mixes all that up. So the next three months before the Iowa caucuses – two and a half months – are fascinating because of the unsettled nature of this. Two-thirds of people are willing to change their minds.
MR. DAWSEY: I think that’s right, and I think you have a president who’s also willing to, you know, get in the mix and get his hands dirty early. That’s one of the things I’m watching as a White House correspondent over the next few months, is how does he try to shape these primaries? You have people around him who are saying, you know, stay out, let the Democrats beat themselves up, let them have their internal warfare, but this is not a president who does that, and that’s going to be the X factor.
MR. COSTA: OK. It was wild news: Bloomberg may be getting in, impeachment. What a week.
Next week, PBS NewsHour will begin special live coverage of the House impeachment hearings on Wednesday, November 13th at 10 a.m. Eastern. Check your local listings.
And make sure to check out our Washington Week Extra on social media and on our website.
I’m Robert Costa. Good night.