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White House & DOJ Advised Intel Director to Withhold Whistleblower Complaint from Congress; More Images Emerge of Canada's Trudeau in Racist Dark Makeup; New Rankings: Who's Up, Who's Down as Democrats Battle; GOP Presidential Candidate Bill Weld Discusses White House & DOJ Involved in Withholding Whistleblower Complaint, Iran Threatening Out-All War, Rep. Kennedy Challenging Sen. Markey in Massachusetts Primary. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We have more on our breaking news. A major development in the mysterious case of a whistleblower who sounded the alarm over the president's communications with a foreign leader. And we're now learning the Justice Department along with the White House are both involved withholding this complaint from Congress.

Pamela Brown is CNN's senior White House correspondent. Mike Rogers and Alex Marquardt also back with me.

Pamela, what do we know here?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned that the White House has been involved in this whistleblower complaint and that the White House counsel's office and the Justice Department's OLC Office have been involved in advising ODNI that the controversial whistleblower complaint is outside of intelligence activities covered by law.

So we now know that the White House has been actively involved with this as well as DOJ. And we know that ODNI has so far not handed over the information involved in this complaint that sources familiar says involves the president and his communications with the foreign leader.

In a letter from the ODNI's general counsel, it did seem to indicate that it believes it's protected under privilege in its confidential communications.

This is the first time we're learning that it's not just ODNI and DOJ involved but also the White House counsel's office, because it does pertain to the president, and so far, that information hasn't handed over.

KEILAR: It's a question that needs to be answered, right, when it comes to whether this is something that fits the definition of something that should be given to Congress. But is it objective to have the White House counsel's office talking to OLC to have these parties being the ones determining is that an objective process for them to determine that answer?

BROWN: That's a good question, because this is very unique. There have been situations where Congress has asked the White House for transcripts of communications between the president and foreign leaders. The White House has denied that request saying those conversations with confidential, that the president is the sole organ of all foreign communications.

But this is different because this is a whistleblower complaint. It's a specific law applying to this. And so I really don't know the full answer in terms of whether it's --


MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: If it's a matter of privilege, the White House counsel is going to be involved in that conversation.

KEILAR: As they should be, but I guess the reason this is so extraordinary -- you're the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. You dealt with a lot of these complaints.

ROGERS: I did.

KEILAR: How often did you deal with a complaint that had to do with the president of the United States?


ROGERS: Exactly none.


ROGERS: This is so unprecedented. Normally, the complaints that would come in are about misdeeds inside of the intelligence -- or at least alleged misdeeds inside the Intelligence Committee. It could be everything from financial misdeeds to handling of information misdeeds to sometimes bigger policy issues, personnel complaints.

A lot of that found its way from whistleblowers to the committee because they just wanted to have an adjudication process for those matters. And again, the committee is responsible to take each one of those very, very seriously and then run it to ground.

I will say a lot of those we found had no merit. And that's why we have to be careful here --


ROGERS: -- to say there's a good chance that what that person thought was bad behavior may be something they didn't like the president said. But the president has a lot of latitude about what they talked to --


KEILAR: It makes sense that OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice is talking to the White House counsel because there could be this issue of privilege. But the tricky part of this is, is the White House an independent arbiter? Is the Department of Justice an independent arbiter in deciding this extremely unusual question?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we also have to come back to -- let's assume the promise was made. Was it something to do with intelligence? Was it something to do with something more political? And that's really at the heart of this discussion.

What we do know for a fact is this whistleblower is part of the Intelligence Community. The "Washington Post" was reporting that this person was detailed to the NSC. And we now know from the whistleblower complaint that this had to do, by the own admission of the ODNI, with the executive office.

So that is why acting DNI Maguire did not immediately go to Congress. That's why he went to DOJ to consult. And this is why we're seeing acting DNI Joseph Maguire trying to walk this line of fulfilling his duties to the Intelligence Community but also dealing with what we now understand has to do with presidential communications.

So he has not been in this job for a very long time, but he is no Trump lackey. He has a long and illustrious career in the Navy. And he came from the National Counterterrorism Center. So this is a guy dealing with a complaint from someone in his own community about his own boss. And so he's walking this fine line.

And so when he rejected the subpoena on Tuesday, he didn't come out saying, I reject the premise of the subpoena. He said, we didn't have enough time. He's also saying -- he didn't say, I'm not ever going to testify. He is now agreeing to testify next week. So he's in a very tough position.

KEILAR: Alex, thank you so much.

Chairman, Pamela, thank you.

We'll have more of this ahead.

Also, just in, a new video has surfaced showing a third incident of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in racist makeup. He will address this controversy any moment.

A chilling warning from Iran. If the U.S. or the Saudis launch a strike, expect a, quote, "all-out war."



KEILAR: Just in, Nike has cut ties with Antonio Brown, the NFL star accused of rape by his former trainer. Brown, who just played his first game with the New England Patriots, is still active to play, despite his accuser meeting with the NFL in what was described as, quote, "an emotional 10-hour interview." Brown has denied the allegations, calling the relationship consensual.

In the midst of a crucial election campaign, the Canadian prime minister is engulfed in a major scandal. Pictures of Justin Trudeau in racist makeup has emerged.

The first, tweeted by "Time" magazine showing Trudeau at an "Arabian Nights"-theme party at a school where he taught in 2001. The other is a picture of Trudeau in a high school talent show supposedly singing the "Banana Boat" song. And now this video, obtained by Canada's Global News from a Conservative Party Canada source. We're told this was shot in the early '90s.

The Canadian prime minister apologized after the first picture was published saying he didn't think of it as racist at the time, but now he knows better.

I want to bring in CNN digital producer, Kendall Trammell. She published a piece today on why these kinds of acts are so offensive.

Kendall, this is the latest episode of a politician answering for wearing racist makeup. You have this column out that gives context as to why this is such a historically painful offense. Tell us about that.

KENDALL TRAMMELL, CNN DIGITAL PRODUCER: It's a historically painful offense because it comes from a painful history, and it dates back to the mid-19th century when minstrel shows were really popular, Brianna.

In blackface, for example, there were white performers who would go on stage in front of their peers and try to appear as black people and wear dark makeup. It was offensive. They were making fun of black people, making them look lazy, uneducated, and really generalizing a group. That is what makes it so offensive.


KEILAR: And that goes to your point where you say, look, at the root of this is in this act of doing this, there were perpetuating dehumanizing stereotypes.

TRAMMELL: Yes, exactly. And the reason is because it's generalizing groups of people. People are different. They have their own personalities. They have their own style, what they like to eat, what they talk about. It's unfair to really portray them in a light that isn't their own.

KEILAR: In Trudeau's case, we see this, too, right, this excuse of ignorance comes up a lot. I didn't know, now I know, I'm sorry. What do you think about that?

TRAMMELL: I think it's about a lack of education. And we need to have more conversations with our children and grandchildren at the younger age about different cultures and exposing them to different people on what the world looks like. When we're able to have those communications, we're better able to move together as one.

KEILAR: Kendall Trammell, thank you very much.

TRAMMELL: Thank you.

KEILAR: In the 2020 race, Bernie Sanders letting go of aides in charge of key states. What is happening behind the scenes there?

Plus, after a wild week on the campaign trail, which candidates are up, which are down? Chris Cillizza's new rankings, next.



KEILAR: We are less than one month away now from the next Democratic debate and the candidates are looking for ways to stand out among this still crowded field.

CNN's Chris Cillizza has been following all the candidates, their social media posts, the polls to come up with a ranking of who was on top.

What did you find?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Here we go, Brianna. Harry Enten and I, a colleague of mine, do this together. Where we landed.

Top 10. We'll start on 10 through six.

Julian Castro, in the next debate. All in the next debate in October. That matters. The ones I point to, people who moved up.

Andrew Yang. Didn't have him on the list a few months ago. Now at 3 percent and 4 percent in polls. Not a lot.

But better than these folks.

Beto O'Rourke is -- started way -- doing these rankings 20 weeks. He started at third and dropped down to ninth and now have him sixth. Found some energy on the gun control issue. It's unclear if it will translate, but at least an issue he feels passionate and seems to be catching on.

The important stuff. Our top five.

Pete Buttigieg, I think has the most potential out of anyone in this race maybe short of Elizabeth Warren. Got money, got Iowa organization, a dark horse in Iowa.

Kamala Harris, could flip-flop. Honestly. Struggling. Other polls show her really losing support.

Bernie Sanders, two or three the entire race. May stay that way. A pretty high floor and low ceiling on support. It's unclear if he can grow.

The big story. Number two but she is starting to challenge up here against Joe Biden.

Biden is still front-runner, has been in the number-one spot since the day he entered the race. This gap is closer than it's been before. And I would say also this gap, the top two versus the next three is bigger than before.

We do this every two weeks. We'll try to bring it to you every time we do it. That's the story at the moment.

Back to you.

KEILAR: Chris Cillizza, your number one.

And thank you very much.


KEILAR: More of our breaking news now. The White House and Justice Department actively involved in withholding a whistle-blower complaint involving the president. We';; have more information.



KEILAR: We're turning to our top story. The intelligence storm swirling in Washington over what President Trump said to a foreign leader that prompted the independent inspector general to raise a red flag after a whistleblower reported it.

We have Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, here with us.

We just had this news, just a moment ago. We found out the White House as well as the Department of Justice is involved in withholding this information from Congress. What's your reaction to that?

BILL WELD, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I haven't heard enough yet to be excited about the merits, but certain it is that this White House thinks that executive privilege covers just about everything.

And they've got a willing co-adjutant in the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, who thinks that handing over documents and information should be a last resort. You know, and it should be a first resort.

KEILAR: So you believe Congress should be getting this complaint?

WELD: Oh, yes. I don't see why that's such a big deal.

But the president sues to block his tax returns. Threatened to sue the University of Pennsylvania if his grades or aptitude scores became public. He sues about everything. Nothing new from this White House.

KEILAR: We heard from Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, saying he thinks it's a problem of the law. He thinks the law is written well about how this information should come to Congress.

That said, if the law is not respected and Congress has to go to court to get this information and they have to do this at every turn, is there a problem with the law?

WELD: Yes, well, there may about preview of times to come if Jerry Nadler's committee continues with the impeachment inquiry and they have to fight for every single document they subpoena. That's essentially what happened with President Nixon in that impeachment and he wound up having to resign. When the tapes became public, they showed he should have turned over that stuff. So the stakes can get high in a standoff of this sort.

So far, the president has a lot of flexibility in conducting conversations with foreign leaders. If he said I promise we'll never hang you out to dry on this one, that's not actionable at all.

KEILAR: He has shared classified information with the --

WELD: Oh, we know that.

KEILAR: -- Russian leaders in the Oval Office.

He basically said in a tweet today it would be -- anyone would be dumb, basically that believed he would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially heavily populated call, as he put it.

Do you think the president poses a national security risk?

WELD: Well, you know, anybody would have to be crazy to suppose the president of the United States would ever meet in the Oval Office with a Russian ambassador and TASS, the official origin's publications, with no American press allowed. No one would have believed that, but it happened. That gives some support to what you say.

KEILAR: I want to ask about this attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, took out 5 percent of the world's oil supply. Iran is threatening all-out war if the U.S. mounts a military response to this. If you were president, what would you do?

WELD: The background is that the president dug himself into an impossible hole with Saudi Arabia and Iran early on by ripping up the 2015 agreement Iran had with the U.S. and our European allies. And he's scrambling to get back to where he was before he ripped up that agreement and I think that's in the background.

KEILAR: I want to ask you, as the former Massachusetts governor, watching an interesting primary race develop in Massachusetts. Senator Ed Markey there in Congress for decades. You know him so well, of course. He has a primary challenger in Congressman Joe Kennedy. Tell us what you're thinking as you watch this?

WELD: I've known Ed Markey for decades and he's been a hero on telecommunications in the House and I suppose on a hero on climate in the Senate, although I don't buy every jot and tittle of the Green New Deal.

But I kind of like Kennedy's timing here. You know, he bided his time a while. You could see him gradually increasing in confidence. And just as there's no law saying Ed can't fight for his seat, there's no law saying Joe Kennedy can't give him a run for his money.

I was president of U.S. term limits when I was in office. People should get to Washington, serve a term or two, and get the hell out of town before they become calcified, like so many of the people, too many of the people, down in Washington right now.


So, you know, sympathetically, I'm kind of inclined towards Kennedy's side here, not for generational reasons, just to give somebody else a chance. It's more, I think turnover is not a bad thing in Congress.