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DNI Refuses to Hand Over Documents on Whistleblower to House Intel Committee; WAPO: Trump's "Promise" to Foreign Leader So Troubling It Sparked Whistleblower Complaint; House Intel Committee Meets with I.G. over Whistleblower Complaint; CNN Exclusive Interview, Iranian Foreign Minister Threatens All-Out War; Trudeau Apologizes for Wearing Racist Makeup in 2001. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Two burning questions in Washington right now. What foreign leader was President Trump talking to? And what, if any, promise did the president make?

This has to do with the whistleblower complaint that Congress wants to see but the director of National Intelligence is refusing to hand over right now.

The chair of the House Intelligence Committee revealed just days ago, you'll remember, that this complaint was being held in limbo. Listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The director has said essentially that he is answering to a higher authority and refusing to turn over the whistleblower complaint. This is deeply troubling.


BOLDUAN: Then overnight, the "Washington Post" is reporting that the complaint is about the president, the president of the United States and communications that he had with a foreign leader.

The "Washington Post" cites former officials saying that Trump's interaction included a, quote, unquote, "promise" that so troubling this official felt compelled to report to the inspector general.

Right now, that inspector general is behind closed doors with Chairman Schiff and the rest of the Intelligence Committee, presumably answering questions about why the whistleblower complaint still hasn't been turned over still.

The one thing we do know is that decision was made by the acting director of National Intelligence. In a letter to Chairman Schiff, the DNI office explained the stonewalling this way: "This complaint, however, concerned conduct by someone outside the Intelligence Committee and -- community, rather -- and did not relate to any intelligence activity under the DNI supervision."

The letter goes on to explain it this way: "It involves confidential and potentially privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the executive branch."

Does that include a promise, though? And will the Congress ever get the details of this complaint? More burning questions in Washington at this very moment.

Let's get to it. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House.

Sarah, first to you.

Right now, the reporting points the figure, puts it on President Trump, what this whistleblower complaint is about. What are you hearing from the White House this morning?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we're hearing from President Trump for the first time this morning reacting to the story. Moments ago, he tweeted his first response, writing, "Another fake news story out there. It never ends. Virtually any time I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there will be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention from the other country itself. No problem."

He says, "Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially heavily populated call. I would only do good for the USA."

There was suspicion the White House was involved in the handling of this whistleblower complaint after House Intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff, said there was a higher authority above the Office of Director of National Intelligence that was slow walking information getting to Congress.

And we have seen contradictions between two Trump appointees. The Intelligence Community inspector general, who is a Trump appointee, described this complaint is credible and urgent.

The acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, also a Trump appointee, he saying he doesn't think the complaint meets the definition of urgent concerns. Those contradictions have to be ironed out with lawmakers.

We have no idea who the foreign leader is that President Trump was speaking to when this alleged promise arose. We do know in the weeks leading up to the complaint, the president spoke with a handful of leaders, including Vladimir Putin, North Korea's Kim Jong-Un, the prime minister of Pakistan, the Dutch prime minister, and the emir of Qatar. Remember, it was filed on August 12th, so more than a month ago.

At this point, Kate, this entire episode could only deepen President Trump's suspicion of intelligence agencies. As we know since the start of his presidency, there's been a lot of mistrust, a lot of bad blood between the president and U.S. intelligence agencies -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right. Sarah, stick with me for one second.

Let me get to Manu.

Manu, the House Intelligence Committee has been behind closed doors for hours now with the inspector general. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not expecting them to learn about the nature and the substance of the complaint as well as exactly who that foreign leader was, what alleged promise the president made.

We're expecting them to talk about the process of actually how that complaint was handled. And there have been, of course, ample questions about that process and why the complaint has not been turned over to Capitol Hill. Something that Chairman Schiff says is a clear violation of federal law.


That process is, how that's being handled is what this major focus is going to be on today. So it appears that after this hearing, that probably will take place, probably will continue on for maybe another couple of hours.

Potentially, there will be a lot more questions about who the president was speaking to, what exactly the whistleblower was alarmed about. And next week, when the acting director of National Intelligence, Joe Maguire, testifies in open session, there will be more questions for him there.

It's clear today just the beginning of the process for this committee to learn exactly what happened. But they'll probably emerge saying they need to dig further to learn exactly what happened here -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It will be fascinating if anyone from the committee, Chairman Schiff on down, comes to microphones and speaks and they leave the session.

Thank you, Manu.

Thank you, Sarah.

I really appreciate it.

As Manu pointed out, there are a lot of questions here. Joining me is attorney, Bradley Moss. He specializes in national security issues and represented whistleblowers. And CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, a former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama. Thank you guys so much for being here.

Brad, you've represented whistleblowers. What do you think of this situation where the DNI now is facing off with the House Intelligence Committee and disagreeing with the inspector general?

BRADLEY MOSS, ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES: Look, I mean, we're in uncharted territory here. As far as I'm concerned and aware, there has never been a whistleblower complaint brought to the inspector general of the I.C. that was verified as credible and urgent concern that the DNI refused to forward on to the relevant Intelligence Committees.

And certainly, this is news to me. This is the first time it's involved the president.

I want people to be aware of how this works. The urgent concern is not a simple matter of, you know, a difference of opinion about policy matters. That's excluded by statute. This is something related to a serious flagrant violation of law concerning an operation of an intelligence activity.

This whistleblower did everything right. They went through the process properly. I've heard people, including Phil Mudd, last night, call this person a snitch. No, this person did it properly.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, Brad, the fact that there's a disagreement at the least between the DNI and the I.G. about this very issue of urgent, does that surprise you? Because is that something that you're laying out that really there isn't a lot of gray area for?

MOSS: So the DNI's dispute, as much as I don't like it, I understand their concern. There's wasn't a dispute on substance. It was on jurisdiction. This is an uncharted and unprecedented situation.

They're saying we don't have any jurisdiction over this because the president doesn't fall under the DNI supervision. The president is the ultimate Article II authority here. This was a problem of statutory concepts not envisioning this scenario ever existing in reality.

BOLDUAN: Sam, now, the "Washington Post" reporting is that the issue is a, quote, unquote, "promise" that the president made to a foreign leader on possibly a phone call. You would have to -- I guess, assuming that this person, the whistleblower knows that a president can de-classify any information he wants whenever he would like to, then that wasn't a problem of passing along classified information or overly sensitive information.

With that assumption in mind, is there any way to define the universe of possibility of what that leaves?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Kate, for a president who the special counsel couldn't clear of conspiracy, it's not a stretch to imagine why this is concerning to so many of us from a counterintelligence perspective. Declassification is the president's authority. But the president

can't declassify something expecting something, let's say, illegal from a foreign power in return. The de-classification authority is his but not if he's committing an illegal act. We don't know if the whistleblower complaint is related to de-classification. We don't know if it's related to a quid pro quo.

What we do know is that this whistleblower, as brad discussed, that this promise represented some kind of threat to national security, a violation of law or some kind of harm to the public good. And the issue now is, who else may have been on that call.

The White House Situation Room, comprised of a variety of people, implements a call to a foreign leader, monitors the call, writes a transcript of the call, the National Security Council files a transcript of that call for the record.

BOLDUAN: Could the president say, everybody off?

VINOGRAD: It would be highly unlikely for that to happen. There's a legal reason for that. There's a Presidential Records Act. Communications have to be documented for the record.

The president could have implemented a call from his cell phone. But if this was a head of state call, let's say, to Vladimir Putin, which the White House gave a readout of, it's more than likely the White House Situation Room would be involved in setting up the call and monitoring it.


BOLDUAN: Brad, are there -- let's see how to put this. Are there perfectly legal reasons, good reasons for a spy chief to decide against the I.G. and not turn over a whistleblower report because the Whistleblower Protection Act seems to be pretty clear?

MOSS: It's never been done. As far as I'm concerned, no, the DNI has no legitimate authority not to turn it over. They're relying on this jurisdictional hitch, this unprecedented, you know, bit of nuance in order to say we don't believe we're required to transmit it.

They added some language in their letter to Congressman Schiff saying, we haven't stopped the I.G. from transmitting it. As far as I'm concerned, the whistleblower can now go through his counsel and coordinate with the inspector general to make sure it's transmitted to the Intelligence Committee. So --


BOLDUAN: Do you think it's going to get to the Intelligence Committee?

MOSS: In the end, I believe it will get to the committee in some form. What is unsure is how long it's going to take. That's up to, ultimately, the DNI if he continues to get in the way.

BOLDUAN: OK. Fascinating. Complicated and important.

Brad, Sam, thank you guys very much.

MOSS: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, a CNN exclusive. Iran threatens all-out war if the U.S. strikes following the Saudi oil attack. Nick Paton Walsh spoke one-on-one with the Iranian minister and he had a lot to say. We'll take you live to Tehran, next.

Plus, the Canadian prime minister is in a lot of hot water after photos of him in racist makeup come to light. The prime minister is apologizing. How is he explaining it? What is he saying? That's ahead.



BOLDUAN: All-out war, that is what is coming according to Iran foreign minister if the United States or Saudi Arabia retaliate with military strikes over the attack on Saudi Arabia oil facilities.

This came in an exclusive interview with CNN's Nick Payton Walsh. Just listen.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What would be the consequence of an American or Saudi military strike on Iran now?


WALSH: You make a serious statement, Prime Minister.

ZARIF: Well, I make a serious statement about defending our country.


BOLDUAN: President Trump just yesterday announced new sanctions against Iran in response to those same attacks on Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo isn't mincing words calling the attack an act of war. While Iran denies it, Pompeo once again today says Iran is responsible.

For more on this extraordinary interview with Iran's foreign minister, let me bring in Nick Paton Walsh.

Nick, no surprise, I guess, that Zarif denied Iran had any involvement in these attacks. But he had a lot more to tell you.

WALSH: Yes, he did. One key thing from the interview was we asked whether the people who says were behind this, the Houthi rebels of Yemen, if he had actually seen proof that they were behind it. He said, no, he just heard the statements to that effect and know they put out evidence, which slightly weakens the vigor in which Iran holds that particular idea.

That's been their explanation that the Houthis and Yemen have been so battered by Saudi Arabian airstrikes in the long civil war there that this attack on the oil field was their revenge for that.

But he also addressed the issue of sanctions and negotiation with the United States, saying simply there will be no talks at all until the United States or unless the United States rejoins the nuclear deal and takes off the sanctions that Trump re-imposed when he pulled out of that nuclear deal.

We also talked about his impressions about the possibility of a military response. Here's what he said.


WALSH: The things that the United States has accused Iran of so far, frankly, called an act of war, said you fired missiles from a sovereign territory and the sovereign territory of another state.

ZARIF: That's a lie.

WALSH: I understand. I'm saying these would normally result in some kind of military retaliation. Do you believe Donald Trump is gun shy?

ZARIF: No. I believe that he has been the subject of an attempt many times to drag the United States into a war and he has refused. And in spite of the fact that I disagree with many of his policies, I think this is a prudent decision. But it doesn't mean that somebody is gun shy in order to avoid starting a war based on a lie.


WALSH: This is sort of his appeal here. I think what he's been trying to say in this interview, Donald Trump, essentially appealing directly to him, don't start a war with us, you won't like it if you do. But at the same time, I don't think Donald Trump that that's actually what you want to do. That's what your advisers are pushing you towards.

The trouble, though, doesn't seem to be room for negotiation. He was hoping to get to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in the days ahead. He said in the interview he was still waiting for visas and time was getting short. He's still waiting. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, has hinted quite strongly they're not coming -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. So important how he -- the nuance in what he was saying and that appeal it sure seemed like to President Trump in that interview.

Great stuff, Nick. Thank you so much.


Coming up for us, a world leader with his political career on the line. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is apologizing after photos surfaced of him wearing racist makeup. His apology and what this all means for his re-election bid. That's next.



BOLDUAN: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's reputation and his political future is on the line. In the midst of a tough re-election battle, his campaign is being rocked after two photos surfaced of him wearing racist makeup.

Yesterday, Trudeau apologized and alluded to this photo. This is the second photo really obtained CTV News that was taken when he was in high school. Trudeau saying that he put the makeup on for a high school talent show.

The other photo, the first one to come out, the prime minister is apologizing for the photo from 2001.

CNN's Paula Newton has much more.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau asking for forgiveness --

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I'm pissed off at myself. Obviously, I'm disappointed in myself, and I'm apologizing to Canadians.

NEWTON: -- after "Time" magazine tweeted this photo showing him wearing brown face to an Arabian Knights-themed party at a private school where he taught in 2001.

TRUDEAU: I dressed up in an Aladdin costume and put makeup on. I shouldn't have done that. I should have known better, but I didn't. And I'm really sorry.

NEWTON: The image surfacing just one week after Trudeau launched his bid for re-election.

TRUDEAU: I stand here before Canadians, as I will throughout this campaign, and talk about the work we have to do to make a better country together. And I'm going to continue to stay focused on that and continue to work to fight for intolerance and discrimination.

NEWTON: Some other Canadian lawmakers immediately slamming the prime minister.

ANDREW SCHEER, CANADIAN FEDERAL CONSERVATIVE LEADER: Wearing brown face is an act of mockery and racism. It was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019.

JAGMEET SINGH, CANADIAN NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER: It's going to be hard for a lot of people and it's going to bring up a lot of pain. It's going to bring up a lot of hurt.

NEWTON: In the past, Trudeau has been accused of cultural appropriation. During a visit to India last year with the prime minister and his family dressed in traditional clothing. The move criticized and even mocked by many Canadians.

TRUDEAU: Whether I'm wearing traditional clothing or a suit and tie has been extremely encouraging in the Indo/Canadian friendship.

NEWTON: Trudeau is now being compared to two U.S. politicians who had similar issues surface earlier this year.

Last month, Alabama Governor Kay Ivy expressed, quote, "genuine remorse" for wearing black face in a skit as a college student in the 1960s.

KAY IVY, (R), ALABAMA GOVERNOR: I offer my heartfelt apologies for my participation in something from 52 years ago that I find deeply regrettable.

NEWTON: And in February, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam apologized, admitting, then denied being in this photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook showing a person in black face and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

RALPH NORTHAM, (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: It's definitely not me. I can tell by looking at it.

NEWTON: Northam refused to step down despite public pressure.

Trudeau is facing those calls. But when pressed on whether that could happen, the prime minister offering yet another apology.

TRUDEAU: I didn't think it was racist at the time but now I recognize it was something racist to do. And I'm deeply sorry.


NEWTON: We're expecting more acts of contrition from the prime minister who will speak in three hours from now.

I have to say there's at least one other incident of this that has now emerged. I say at least -- I think the issue here is that the apologies were blunt, they were swift. It will remain to be seen if his constituency, his own base forgives him. At this point in time, he's staked a political brand on being the inclusive prime minister.

BOLDUAN: Paula, it's great to have you here. You know everything about Canadian politics. He's so close to -- really right up against it.

NEWTON: About a month away. The poll's neck and neck. Yet, in the last few weeks of the campaign, you can kind of see him pulling away. I think the issue here, again, is what can Canadians tolerate from the prime minister.

BOLDUAN: I think you need to get back there really quick.

Thank you, Paul. Really appreciate it. Great to have you here.


Coming up for us, there's more on the explosive new report about a promise that President Trump made to a foreign leader sparking a whistleblower complaint. Will Congress get any answers? A top Democrat joins me next.