Stay Tuned: Impeachment Hearings (with Anne Milgram)

Stay Tuned: Impeachment Hearings (with Anne Milgram)

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Preet Bharara:  Hey folks, it’s been an extraordinary last few days. A lot has happened. The House Intelligence Committee has wrapped at the second week of public impeachment hearings. We’ve heard from nine new witnesses including moving testimony from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, and some explosive revelations from Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, Pentagon Official Laura Cooper, and State Department Foreign Service Officer David Holmes. We also heard from former top Russian expert on the national security council, Dr. Fiona Hill, who denounced the fictional narrative about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election that’s been pushed by Trump and some Republicans. Now normally, I’d be discussing the head spinning developments from this week with my friend and cohost Anne Milgram on Monday on the CAFE Insider podcast, but she joins me today for a special episode of Stay Tuned. We’ll have a lot more analysis for members of CAFE Insider on Monday. If you’d like to listen, sign up for a free two week trial at cafe.com/insider. That’s cafe.com/insider and we’ll break down everything in even more detail.

Preet BhararaAnne, hello.

Anne Milgram: Preet, Hey.

Preet Bharara:  I’m speaking with great urgency in my voice. You know what today is? You know what this is?

Anne Milgram: Impeachment day?

Preet Bharara:  Well, it’s an emergency podcast.

Anne Milgram: Yes.

Preet Bharara:  People have been asking for it.

Anne Milgram: I know. I love the tweet, Preet Bharara can you find Anne Milgram?

Preet Bharara:  We found you. We’re not in our usual studio. We had to find a spot. It’s beautiful here and we have a lot to get through. We’ll talk a lot more on Monday, but we felt that with nine witnesses, the ninth just wrapping up. Here we are at 4:00PM on Thursday, November 21st. We thought we couldn’t wait until Monday.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, there’s a lot to cover.

Preet Bharara:  And also, I wanted to see you.

Anne Milgram: Yeah. How are you doing?

Preet Bharara:  I’m good. Let’s do an overall week in review. How do you think Schiff is doing? Do you think the needle was moved? What’s your overall impression? Then we’ll break down some of the witnesses.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, it’s a great way to start. I think it’s been a remarkable week. And I think both you and I came into this with a lot of questions about Sondland and where he would be.

Anne Milgram: And I was very focused on that and probably not as focused on just the testimony that we would hear from Vindman, and Volker, and Cooper, Hale. And then today of course, Fiona Hill and David Holmes. Which has been really so illuminating and it’s brought together so much of this conversation we’ve been having about… we’ve been so focused on this July 25th letter and the July 10th meeting. But the conversation now has gotten so much deeper and the evidence has gotten so much stronger about-

Preet Bharara:  There’s a lot of stuff.

Anne Milgram: There’s a lot there. And so that’s my overwhelming reaction is one, there’s an incredible amount of evidence that the President corruptly used his influence to push Ukraine because they wanted a meeting in the White House. And then eventually they wanted access to the military aid that was being withheld. He did it for his personal political gain because he’s worried about the 2020 election with Biden. And he did so in a way that dramatically hurt the US government and our national security interests. And that second piece, I think also became really clear to me. What stood out for you?

Preet Bharara:  So, I want to take a step back and talk about how it’s really important that, that substance came out, and I think it did, and we’ll get into more of that in a second. But you can imagine a set of hearings in which that substance that comes out, but it’s not done in a compelling way.

Preet Bharara:  This is for television. This is to influence public sentiment. And so my overall impression, separate from the substance, which obviously these two things are intertwined, is how Adam Schiff, Chairman of the Committee, has done his job. Think about how quickly this has happened.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  People talked about the dragging on of investigations under Bob Mueller. To put on this many witnesses, I think, three plus nine is 12 witnesses. It’s only a few weeks ago that we got the whistleblower complaint released, in the first place. And to have moved so quickly in a orderly fashion with 45-90 minute questioning at the beginning. Schiff by the way, has so much patience.

Preet Bharara:  He just ignores in a zen-like way-

Anne Milgram: Yeah, I love it.

Preet Bharara:  The nonsense that gets spewed at him by Devin Nunes and the other folks.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  And then to top it off, what I think is incredibly significant that he does, is at the end of every hearing, he has a sharp, crisp… I think delivered without notes, it looks like, summary in clear English about why the day was important, and about what’s going on, and what the narrative is. And I think at the end of the day, if you stitch together each of these closing statements at the ends of the days, it’s a really compelling narrative and summation on the case for impeachment.

Anne Milgram: Yeah. I have been very impressed by him. I’ve been impressed also by his questioning of witnesses. He’s done a good job and we know he’s a former prosecutor, but I sometimes forget that as you remind me. I think of him as being more political, but he’s done a good job. He’s been very professional in the hearings.

Anne Milgram: Also, I’ve been impressed by the same thing you have. His opening statements are good, but it’s easy to prepare them the night before or the morning before you get there. But the closings, when you’re sitting there… and yes, he’s gotten access to the deposition transcript and he knows the questions, but still to be able to weave together the answers as effectively as he can into saying, “This is why this testimony matters.” It’s been deeply impressive.

Preet Bharara:  And well framed. The other thing he does, and then we’ll get to some of the actual testimony from the witnesses, is he does a lot of corrective work along the way. So it’ll be a line of questioning asked that’s misleading, or assumes facts not in evidence, or doesn’t go to firsthand. Now by the way, I’ve noticed a lot of Republican members asking a lot of non-firsthand knowledge questions of these witnesses after complaining about that a lot. And then he’ll come on, in between members asking questions, and he’ll ask some explanatory questions so that false narratives are not allowed to-

Anne Milgram: Yeah. To grow.

Preet Bharara:  To sink too far and to grow.

Anne Milgram: One example before we get onto the substance of the witnesses. One example of who has not been a good questioner, nor I think a good speaker, is the ranking member Nunes. Because there were times where… and you and I have both been watching all week, where the witnesses were really like, “What? Can you repeat that question?”

Preet Bharara:  He’s in a different hearing.

Anne Milgram: Yeah. Even I was sitting there, and you and I have been following this so closely. There were a couple of times that I was like, “What did he just ask?” I just, I couldn’t even understand what the question was going toward.

Preet Bharara:  You don’t find it illuminating for him to begin every set of questions and opening statements with a reference to nude pictures of the President.

Nunes:              They got caught trying to obtain nude photos of President Trump from Russian pranksters.

Preet Bharara:  So nine witnesses testified. On Monday, we’ll go through them I think, in more detail.

Nunes:              Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  To my mind, the most important three witnesses, but they were all important and I think in summary and in combination, they paint a very powerful picture. Pretty much everyone says there was a quid pro quo. There was something for something and there was a conditioning of aid, or meeting with the White House, and were meeting with the White House on whether or not they would do a public announcement of investigation, of Burisma and the Bidens. But the main witnesses, it seems to me, were Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Always call him Lieutenant Colonel.

Anne Milgram: Yep.

Speaker 4:        Mr. Vindman, you testified in your deposition that you did not know the whistleblower.

Vindman:          Ranking member, it’s Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, please.

Speaker 4:        Lieutenant Colonel Vindman.

Preet Bharara:  Which was a powerful moment. Gordon Sondland.

Anne Milgram: Absolutely.

Preet Bharara:  Big deal witness, the ambassador to the EU, who had that famous restaurant phone call with the President of the United States. And then most of today, Fiona Hill.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  Who is the top Russian expert and European expert at the embassy.

Anne Milgram: And a really impressive expert on these issues.

Preet Bharara:  So let’s hit on those three quickly. Let me make the non-substantive point first. These witnesses, most of whose names nobody ever heard of before, almost to a person… Sondland we can talk about in a moment… is a dedicated public servant. Many of them lifelong public servants, served Democrats and Republicans. Their general demeanor and I think, outlook and approach to answering questions, and defying the White House’s command that they not cooperate, to me that … right off the bat, as soon as they took the seat, they had immense credibility.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, they were serious. You get the feeling that none of them wants to be in the position they’re in, but that they’ve been called to testify before Congress and they came to tell the truth. And in many ways, I think you’re right about the three most important witnesses. But in many ways, it’s the little pieces of evidence that come from the other folks that corroborate those three main witnesses. That in some ways, I find to be the most compelling part of all of this, is that the depth of evidence that we’re seeing from all these different angles and all these different people who worked in different offices, I find really compelling. But I agree on demeanor completely.

Preet Bharara:  Let me ask you about Alex Vindman, Lieutenant Colonel, who shows up in uniform-

Anne Milgram: Which is what they always do, by the way.

Preet Bharara:  I think, someone said-

Anne Milgram: Always.

Preet Bharara:  That they’re required to do that when they make official appearances.

Anne Milgram: Always. I was annoyed that they were questioning that. I have never seen a senior-

Preet Bharara:  As if he’s showing off.

Anne Milgram: No, I’ve never seen a senior military officer or a senior police officer not come in uniform to something like that.

Preet Bharara:  To me what was compelling about Vindman’s testimony is, he was nervous.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  Military, has a purple heart. Sometimes appearing in front of cameras and on television in front of all the American people can be more nerve wracking than facing weaponry.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  And he stumbled over his opening statement a few times. He was not a smooth witness like some witnesses are, which sometimes gives you added credibility. And he had a number of moving moments.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, I agree.

Preet Bharara:  Talking about how much he cares about America and then talking about how he thought it was inappropriate for the President to do what he was doing. Now one cautionary note, not to be critical of anybody, but it is true that some of the Democratic members, when it comes to the question of whether or not the witness found the conduct to be problematic or unlawful or whatever, if they were going to get a good answer, they’d probe that a little bit more.

Preet Bharara:  And when they don’t get a good answer, they say, “Well, you’re a fact witness and it doesn’t matter what your ultimate conclusion is. That’s our job.” So just, when you’re watching that stuff, to be consistent, and we like to be consistent on the show.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, you have to watch for all that.

Preet Bharara:  Just watch for whether or not certain kinds of testimony you accept when it’s favorable to your position, or not favorable to your position. What else did you think about Vindman?

Anne Milgram: Yeah, I thought Vindman was very good. It was such a compelling part of his opening statement when he said to his dad…

Vindman:          Dad, I’m sitting here today in the US Capitol talking to our elected professionals. It’s proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union, come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.

Preet Bharara:  Firsthand witness too, right? Firsthand?

Anne Milgram: Firsthand witness. He’s on the call. Also, what’s… there’s a lot that’s really important about Vindman, including the fact that he’s the one that does the briefing, the talking points, for the first call. He’s the one that does the briefing and talking points for the second call and he’s in the loop on a lot of these conversations. And he really hears it and he immediately reacts. He goes to the lawyer. There were questions raised about whether he should have gone to his boss, Tim Morrison. But in my view, Vindman came across as unbelievably credible as someone who was put in this difficult position of, something happened that he was deeply concerned about and he came forward.

Anne Milgram: One of the other compelling moments is that when asked, how many times have you done this before? The answer is never, right? And so this is a very unusual and remarkable thing that he walked in to talk about. And I also thought he stood up very well on cross examination. He answered the questions. He was nervous, but I didn’t feel like he was intimidated or evasive in any way.

Preet Bharara:  No, I think he was nervous about being there. It was not his first choice and he took criticism I think, in stride. One substantive point on which there’s some back and forth, he listened to the call. He said that Zelensky, the July 25th call… speaking a little bit in English, made a valiant attempt to speak in English, but spoke mostly in Ukrainian, which Vindman speaks. And he, in his notes wrote that there was a reference to Burisma by name. And that doesn’t appear in the readout, the verbatim, beautiful, perfect transcript that Donald Trump keeps calling it. And I think there was another witness who testified also that they remember hearing Burisma. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but it does suggest that there was a particular reference to Burisma and that’s what also ties this whole request to the Bidens.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  Gordon Sondland.

Anne Milgram: Sondland.

Preet Bharara:  So I thought that was a big inflection point, not so much because he said things that corroborate the other witnesses. Not in every respect, but in many respects. But because it could’ve gone the other way.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  As recently as that morning when I was on set at CNN, Jeffrey Toobin and I were having a conversation about how a good lawyer might have told his client who gave testimony, then had to revise the testimony, and needed to revise it yet a third time. You know what? The best thing for you might be, to take the fifth.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  And not testify at all. Or you might imagine, since he’s not a career diplomat and he wants to continue to curry favor with the President of the United States like he did before, and had given a million dollars to the President’s inauguration, maybe he would come out swinging for the President. It wasn’t fully clear how he was going to go. And what he mostly did, was throw everyone under the bus.

Anne Milgram: Completely.

Preet Bharara:  The President, the Vice President-

Anne Milgram: Himself.

Preet Bharara:  Giuliani, himself.

Anne Milgram: Yup.

Preet Bharara:  But, himself a little less.

Anne Milgram: A little less.

Preet Bharara:  A little less.

Anne Milgram: But still, he essentially, he’s the narrator of a conspiracy of which he’s apart.

Preet Bharara:  Yeah.

Anne Milgram: Right?

Preet Bharara:  Did you find him, how’d you compare him in terms of credibility?

Anne Milgram: Well, first can we talk about his demeanor?

Preet Bharara:  Yes, please.

Anne Milgram: Everyone else sits there and they look a little like when they walk in, they’re there for… they walked into the dentist for a root canal, right?

Preet Bharara:  Right.

Anne Milgram: They’ve got that trepidation. And Sondland comes in and he’s there for a cocktail party. He’s like, “Hey.” He gives an opening statement, and this had gone public just minutes before he starts speaking. I heard people talking about, he was going to say there’s a quid pro quo. There’s a lot in his testimony we should talk about that’s incredibly damning to the President and to the senior leadership that was involved in this. But his demeanor when he first started talking, he’s the, “I don’t take notes” guy, right? It’s like, “It’s beneath me.”

Anne Milgram: So he comes across as this really, almost flippant…

Preet Bharara:  He’s a hospitality guy.

Anne Milgram: Yes. There’s something about him that… some of this stuff is beneath me.

Preet Bharara:  Right.

Anne Milgram: I’m the guy who talks to the President. I’m the deal maker.

Preet Bharara:  I’m not sure I would stay in one of his hotels. At least [inaudible 00:13:20] So there’s a lot of stuff that Sondland says and I think that one of the big questions was, what was he going to say about this July 26th phone call between him and the President United States, while they were drinking wine in a restaurant in Kiev the day after the call between Trump and Zelensky. And it’s very interesting what he did. He acknowledges that there was a call, even though he hadn’t mentioned it before. And he acknowledges that he was in the restaurant, and he remembers all the circumstances, and he fudges a little bit about whether he corroborates what another witness, David Holmes said about it. David Holmes claims that he could hear the President’s voice through the phone, and that Sondland said to the President about Zelensky, “Zelensky loves your ass.”

Preet Bharara:  And when Sondland … lets do one example, and we’ll do more detail on Monday. When Sondland gets asked about whether he said that, he says, “It sounds like something I would say.”

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  And then he says, “That’s how I spoke to the President and we had lots of conversations that had four letter words.” Which indicates that he has a closer relationship to the President than you might think. But he does not necessarily confirm that he said those particular words. But he does say, “Yeah, the President was interested in an announcement, a public announcement of the investigation.”

Anne Milgram: Yeah. I took a couple things from what he did with the call. The first is that, he basically admits all of it. He just doesn’t want to say Biden’s. Right? So-

Preet Bharara:  Yeah.

Anne Milgram: And this was consistent throughout his testimony. He was willing to say 2016 election investigation and Burisma, he doesn’t want to say, the Bidens. And he wants to, again I think he came a lot closer to the truth because he had to. Because all these other witnesses are saying he’s in the room, he’s part of this conversation. They’re giving testimony about what he’s a part of and what he’s doing. But he doesn’t want to give that ultimate piece about the political connection to the Bidens.

Anne Milgram: So I did not find that part credible. I thought he admitted 99% of the call with the 1% trying to say, I don’t know.

Preet Bharara:  He says didn’t get that Burisma was basically tantamount to the Bidens. Even though, every other witness who’s testified understood the connection.

Anne Milgram: Look, this is one of those moments where I think you and I probably both wish we had subpoena power, because I would just subpoena his Google searches. Where, I cannot imagine, you’re the ambassador to the EU. You’re tasked with this job in Ukraine. This is something you’re spending all your days meeting with and talking with people about, and you don’t look at why Burisma is the one place that’s mentioned. It just, it makes no sense.

Preet Bharara:  He said over and over and over again, clearly in anticipation of being attacked as a rogue actor. I think he said, “Everyone was in the loop”, multiple times.

Anne Milgram: Yup.

Preet Bharara:  He said, “I was directed by the President. This was what the President wanted. This is what the President directed.” He said the same thing about Michael Pompeo, who was totally in the loop. He brought some emails and text messages to show that other people were in the loop. So he’s thinking, if this was bad-

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  I’m not going down alone.

Anne Milgram: Yup.

Preet Bharara:  I thought that was incredibly significant.

Anne Milgram: The other thing I thought, is he does this whole thing of saying, it’s the signature of the Trump administration in some ways, which is… Bill Taylor says, “There’s a regular chAnne Milgraml of diplomacy and then there’s an irregular chAnne Milgraml.” And he does this thing of saying, “How can this have been irregular? It was the President, Rudy, me, Pompeo, Mulvaney, Perry.” It’s like-

Preet Bharara:  That’s the chAnne Milgraml.

Anne Milgram: The chAnne Milgraml, right?

Anne Milgram: And in some ways it’s… the argument is, if we’re the people, everything we do is legitimate. That becomes the regular chAnne Milgraml. And there’s something so deeply problematic about that.

Preet Bharara:  So you know what the hearings needed?

Anne Milgram: What?

Preet Bharara:  What I didn’t realize it needed? It needed a British accent, in the form of the very brilliant and disarming… I’ve never met her before, Dr. Fiona Hill.

Anne Milgram: Yeah. She was amazing.

Preet Bharara:  Let’s talk about her quickly. Then we’ll do more. Because her testimony was still going when I left to come to the studio. I think one of the best witnesses I’ve ever seen, in any format and in any forum.

Preet Bharara:  She’s smart. She maintained a good demeanor. She has lots and lots of information. She did what you can’t do in a regular trial which is, she clearly studied the testimony of all the other people.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  Not for purposes, I don’t think, of tailoring her own testimony-

Anne Milgram: But to know what-

Preet Bharara:  But being aware of the record.

Anne Milgram: Yeah. And to know what they were going to ask her about too.

Preet Bharara:  She knew more about all the topics than the people who were asking her the questions. And she has this phrase that has been making the rounds, when she talks about Sondland. And she’s very direct about how she was angry at Sondland, who she claims was involved in a domestic political errand.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  As opposed to caring about national security, which is what her concerns were.

Anne Milgram: She also did this amazing thing, other than the fact that she says partisan like partizan.

Preet Bharara:  I noticed the same thing.

Anne Milgram: The Z is amazing.

Preet Bharara:  It makes it sound so much less bad.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, I agree. Partizan.

Preet Bharara:  Partizan. Partizan. Meet me at Cafe Partizan.

Preet Bharara:  I think actually the, I think people of different parties would get along better if they just called each other partizans.

Fiona Hill:         I take great pride in the fact that I’m a nonpartisan foreign policy expert, who was served under three Republican and Democratic Presidents. I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction except to weld the truth.

Anne Milgram: So in addition to the way she says partisan, the other thing that I loved about her is, there were two things. The first is that she wasn’t afraid of them and it showed. And she was willing-

Preet Bharara:  I think some of them were afraid of her.

Anne Milgram: They were totally afraid of her.

Preet Bharara:  The look on Caster’s face is like, “Holy shit, I got to ask this lady questions?”

Anne Milgram: What’s coming next? Yeah, completely.

Preet Bharara:  But not that she was withering.

Anne Milgram: She just was, she just didn’t back down from strongly held beliefs.

Preet Bharara:  She didn’t back down and she corrected people’s misimpressions. There was one exchange that was so compelling to me where one of the members was talking about hatred and was talking about the fact that she was not a witness to some of the things she testified about. And she was so gracious in talking about how eloquent his comments were and then turned him around to discuss how it’s important that we focus on what’s right and what’s correct.

Preet Bharara:  And anyway, she was just, I thought she was remarkable.

Anne Milgram: I thought so too. And one of the things I want to just focus on for a second is, in the beginning of her opening statement where she directly takes on the 2016 conspiracy theory and basically says there are members of this committee… and it’s like she’s looking up at the members of the committee and saying, who have been asking questions and seem to believe this view that is completely discredited.

Preet Bharara:  Which is-

Anne Milgram: That it wasn’t the Russians. The conspiracy theories that it was the Ukrainians who hacked the Democratic servers and Hillary Clinton servers in 2016, not the Russians.

Anne Milgram: And she goes on to give this very compelling discussion of how the Russians have not only hacked the 2016 election but are trying to hack the 2020 election. And how all of what the committee is doing and people buying into that, is actually what the Russians want.

Anne Milgram: And the reason I think that’s really important, just to come back to that for a second, is that we think a lot about how the President did this for his own personal benefit. But it’s really important, and what she really brought home to me, is that it was also very much contrary to the interest of the United States.

Preet Bharara:  100%.

Anne Milgram: And it’s like, that was front and center for me with her testimony.

Preet Bharara:  So we have more to say about her on Monday. I thought we’d end with, is what the state of play is with respect to all these defenses that the Republicans have been mounting and that trump has been mounting, with respect to himself and whether or not this was bribery, extortion, impeachable offense. So it seems to me, we don’t spend any time on the second hand nonsense.

Anne Milgram: Yup. Agreed.

Preet Bharara:  The whistleblower doesn’t matter. You had all these witnesses this week, who were witnesses to the call, who heard Donald Trump talk, whether it was from a restaurant or somewhere else. So that seems silly.

Preet Bharara:  It seems to me that what Schiff and company were doing throughout the week was demolishing another broad defense and that is, the President cared about corruption generally. It was not about the Bidens and he said this a few times. And it’s nonsensical on its face. But they cared about corruption generally and that he’s allowed to do that. And it wasn’t about getting an investigation of any particular person, like a political rival.

Anne Milgram: And they defeated that this week many times.

Preet Bharara:  Witness after witness makes it clear. Among other things, I think people have not focused on enough, we’ve talked about it. And Sondland said this a thousand times, “What the President wanted was a public announcement.” And I think at one point he says. “He didn’t care whether there was going to be an investigation or not.” A public announcement. Because it’s the public announcement that’s going to cause a cloud to hang over Joe Biden, his potential rival.

Preet Bharara:  So it’s not a care about corruption generally, it’s a care about the Bidens, in particular.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, I agree with that very much and I think it was defeated in a number of different ways that we can go through on Monday. But no question in my mind that… it was also compelling today, I thought when Holmes basically, when David Holmes said, “Look, we do make efforts to fight corruption in other countries and we do it by strengthening the rule of law, by building those institutions that they can-”

Preet Bharara:  You know what else we do? We call it our justice department, and we do it through chAnne Milgramls.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  You don’t pick up the phone, President to President-

Anne Milgram: And pick a specific investigation.

Preet Bharara:  And pick a specific person.

Anne Milgram: Exactly.

Preet Bharara:  The other thing that’s interesting is, with respect to the two calls that the President had with President Zelensky, he talked to him once in April after he got elected. And his talking points that he was given, he was supposed to talk about corruption generally and he didn’t. And when they did the call read out later, at the time the White House got it wrong, and assumed the President would have talked about corruption and he didn’t.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  Even though he says that was what was on his mind. And then for the July 25th call, the talking points prepared for him didn’t say anything about Burisma or an investigation. He went off script because that was what was important to him.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  In his mind.

Anne Milgram: It’s both what he admitted and what he inserted. I agree.

Preet Bharara:  There’s a little bit of an interesting wrinkle to that, which we can talk about on Monday, but stay tuned for that.

Preet Bharara:  The other defense might’ve been, well the President didn’t really know what was going on, and it was this rogue bunch of people, the Three Amigos, who were going and doing what they were going to do.

Preet Bharara:  Sondland rips that apart, chapter and verse.

Anne Milgram: Agreed.

Preet Bharara:  Everyone was in the loop. Everyone knew what was going on.

Anne Milgram: The President told us to work with Rudy. Rudy told us what to do.

Preet Bharara:  Yeah. There’s another defense, which I’ve never liked as a particularly compelling one in any event, and that is, it can’t be extortion or bribery because the Ukrainians didn’t know that the aid was being delayed. And there is some testimony from some people who did not maybe know all the facts, suggesting that it wasn’t clear all the way at the beginning, that there was going to be some withholding of the military aid.

Preet Bharara:  But then you had one… it’s an example of one of those smaller witnesses you’re talking about. Laura Cooper, right? Who testified that on July 25th, the afternoon of July 25th, the call between Trump and Zelensky was in the morning of July 25th. But in the afternoon, there are emails that she brought to the hearing suggesting that members of the Ukrainian government were starting to wonder what’s happening with the aid. Why is the aid potentially problematic?

Preet Bharara:  And then the president and his cohorts keeps saying, “Well, the aid finally went.” And I think it was also compellingly developed at the hearings. Yeah. After they got caught.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  After the whistleblower complaint became known, that’s when that happened. And by the way, Sondland says more than once, the Ukrainians were aware of the linkage-

Anne Milgram: Yes.

Preet Bharara:  Between having a meeting at a minimum and making a public announcement of the investigation.

Anne Milgram: Yeah, they were aware.

Preet Bharara:  Because he told them.

Anne Milgram: Exactly.

Preet Bharara:  He told them.

Anne Milgram: Exactly. And in some ways, that’s the most important evidence. He was also aware of the hold on the military aid a week before the July 25th call.

Preet Bharara:  So the big talking point of the President, and I don’t know if people saw this, he made notes on a piece of paper.

Anne Milgram: I’ll never look at a black Sharpie the same way again.

Preet Bharara:  And at some point, late in the game, when people were already starting to wonder about things, and ask a lot of questions, and people, I think started to become aware that there was a whistleblower complaint. Sondland has a conversation with the President and the President says in full-on exculpatory, intentional-

Anne Milgram: Yes.

Preet Bharara:  Self-serving way, “I do not want a quid pro quo. I don’t want anything from the Ukrainians.”

Anne Milgram: When there has been public stories written about it.

Preet Bharara:  And he just mouths it and he says-

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  So that is, that now is what they keep relying on. They literally said after Sondland’s devastating testimony, they picked one line when Sondland says, “Yeah, the President told me he wasn’t looking for a quid pro quo.” As if that changes the nature of all the conduct that came before.

Anne Milgram: The one thing I wanted them to probe Sondland on harder, was what he said to the President when he called him. Because he gets that text message from Taylor saying, “This is crazy to hold back aid in exchange for investigations. Is this what we’re doing now?”

Anne Milgram: Sondland says… takes that six hour break or, it’s six or eight hours that go on before he gets back to Taylor, and in the interim, he speaks with the President. And so I personally do not believe, having investigated a lot of cases as a state, local, and federal prosecutor… that Sondland did not say to the president, “Hey, our guys are, some of the state department guys, are raising this issue as a quid pro quo or raising this issue as, there’s something going on.”

Preet Bharara:  That’s the other thing he says over and over again. Not only that everyone was in the loop, but it was a quid pro quo.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  It was something for something. He understood that and it was very, very clear. But he says though, that the President can hang his hat on a little bit, is that he never heard the President say to him directly in a conversation-

Anne Milgram: I totally get this. And I think that there is… you’re right, he can hang his hat on it. But I think that this was way too embraced yesterday. Because you and I have both done countless cases where a boss tells their deputy to go get something done, criminally. The deputy does it all and the boss is still accountable.

Anne Milgram: And so it’s a little bit like, you don’t actually have to hear it from Donald Trump.

Preet Bharara:  Yeah. It’s clearly what Donald Trump wanted. But look, they have to grasp it.

Anne Milgram: And we hear it on the July 25th call.

Preet Bharara:  Yeah, exactly. And also, what we tell juries in every case we ever brought was also, use your common sense.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  So, we’ll see how it goes. We’re coming up on Thanksgiving. I think folks want to get this done very quickly, but I think we’re getting to the point where more and more Republicans are going to take the only, I don’t think it’s a winning argument, but the only rational, normal approach you can take. Which is the conduct was not good. The call was not good. It was not beautiful and perfect. The President shouldn’t be doing something like that, but it’s not impeachable.

Preet Bharara:  And they keep using this language of undoing the election, which is not the right way of thinking about it. Better language than saying it’s a coup. And I think while you were coming to the studio, there was a Congressman who you have some connection with. A Republican Congressman who’s retiring in Texas, Will Hurd.

Anne Milgram: Yeah.

Preet Bharara:  And he gave what I thought was an interesting speech instead of asking a question. And he’s a moderate, and you would think that he has some liberty to speak out more, and has been critical of other things, and has served in the intelligence community before he became a member of Congress. And I think look to him for setting a little bit of a tone and he said some critical things. He’s like, “Look, we had this weird, bungling foreign policy approach with respect to Ukraine. The President shouldn’t have made that call. It was an inappropriate call.”

Will Hurd:         I believe both statements were inappropriate, misguided foreign policy and it’s certainly not how the executive, current or in the future, should handle such a call.

Preet Bharara:  But then he also offset that by saying, “Look, I don’t think impeachment is right. I don’t see bribery or extortion here. I don’t see an impeachable offense and I want to see Hunter Biden come to the committee.” So giving a little bit to both sides.

Will Hurd:         An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear and unambiguous, and it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly. I have not heard evidence proving the President committed bribery or extortion. I also reject the notion that holding this view means supporting all the foreign policy choices we have been hearing about over these last few weeks.

Preet Bharara:  I don’t agree with him and I think I would vote differently. But when I listened to him, he was the only person today on the Republican side that I heard, that didn’t sound like, banana town.

Anne Milgram: Yeah. Hurt is smart. I interviewed him for a TED border story event, where he is a Congressman in the United States that has the largest part of the United States border with Mexico. And so he has a lot of experience with border crossings and immigration issues. And we were focused on child detention and all these TED talks are public, including the interview with Hurd.

Anne Milgram: He’s a complicated and fascinating guy. He’s a former CIA officer. He represents a district in Texas that I think is probably leaning blue and will go blue in the next election. He is stepping down and he’s tried to thread the needle, as you say, a lot to keep his constituencies. And he clearly is conservative in many ways, but he’s also, he’s one of the few people that’s called the President out on racism. And he’s been… I think he’s the only African American Republican member of the House of Representatives right now.

Anne Milgram: He also, during the Mueller testimony, asked a lot of really good questions about Russian interference in the election. So I wasn’t sure where he’d be, but I agree with you on this. He’s a bellwether and I think that was a sign that if we were looking for Republicans to basically say, “I can’t believe this happened. This is awful and it means the President should be impeached.” That isn’t going to happen. He’s willing to say the first half and not the second.

Preet Bharara:  Look, and it might be the way that you’re going to hear more rational Republicans in the Senate talk about it. He didn’t sound like a insane person, like sometimes Devin Nunes sounds like. Jim Jordan, still not wearing a jacket yelling at… I think I tweeted today, “I never promoted an Assistant US Attorney in my office who just yelled at witnesses.” It’s not effective. It doesn’t work. John Ratcliffe, he was a US Attorney. I don’t know what he’s doing sometimes with his questioning. This is the best approach for the Republicans.

Anne Milgram: I think it is the best approach. But I still think that there’s a real question, because the 2020 election is coming, and it is clear that the Russians will try to interfere. It is clear that the President was afraid to lose an election and trying to get political dirt on his rival. And so I think it’s a much more relevant issue than when you think about 2016.

Preet Bharara:  So we’ve got to wrap up. I think we have a lot more to talk about with respect to the witnesses. How it went, some of these defenses. And look, my understanding is that Schiff wants to get all this stuff to the Judiciary Committee for the purpose of drawing up articles of impeachment quickly. And I think on Monday we should talk about what those articles might look like, and whether or not they should include information and evidence from the Mueller investigation. And I’ve been talking to some members of Congress because I was down there this week on something else, and there’s a real question about whether or not the articles of impeachment should be restricted to Ukraine, or also bring in that other stuff. So, let’s think about that over the weekend. And I will see you Monday.

Anne Milgram: I’ll see you very soon.

Preet Bharara:  All right, it’s time to wrap up for today, but we’ll have a lot more to say on Monday’s episode of the CAFE Insider podcast. If you’d like to listen, sign up for a free two week trial at cafe.com/insider. That’s cafe.com/insider.

Preet Bharara:  If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with the hashtag, ask Preet Bharara. Or you can call and leave me a message at (669) 247-7338. That’s (669) 24 – Preet. Or you can send an email to [email protected] Stay tuned is presented by CAFE. The Executive Producer is Tamara Sepper and the CAFE team is David Tatasciore, Julia Doyle, Carla Pierini, David Kurlander, Calvin Lord, and Jeff Eisenberg. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.

 

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