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Whistleblower Complains about Trump Communications with Foreign Leader; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) is Interviewed About Whistleblower; Benny Gantz Says He Should be Prime Minister in Unity Government. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[07:00:04]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY, and we do begin with breaking news. Fascinating, important story out of "The Washington Post" this morning, which draws President Trump's communication with a foreign leader into question.

This has to do with a whistleblower complaint that has led to a major stand-off between America's intelligence chief and Congress. "The Washington Post" reports that it was a promise that President Trump made to a world leader. President Trump promised something to a world leader that alarmed a U.S. intelligence official.

This official filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community's inspector general, someone who by the way, is a Trump appointee. One former official tells "The Post" it happened in a phone call.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has not independently confirmed those details, but the complaint was filed August 12. White House records show the president had spoken to or interacted with five separate foreign leaders over the previous five weeks, including Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.

Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has so far refused to provide information about the complaint that was deemed credible and urgent.

Now he's supposed to provide it to Congress, to the House and Senate Intel Committees as required by law. Maguire has agreed to testify in open session next week. But in just a couple of hours, that inspector general will brief the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on how they handled the whistleblower complaint.

BERMAN: All right. Joining me now Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you very much. This story out of "The Washington Post" this morning that the president made a promise. He made a promise to a foreign leader of such concern the whistleblower reported it to the inspector general, and the inspector general thought it was of urgent concern.

Do you have any idea the nature of this promise to a foreign leader?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): I really can't comment on the specific complaint. I haven't even seen it. But we are having the inspector general into our committee this morning just to kind of level set what's going on for your viewers.

This is unprecedented. This particular member of the intelligence community filed this whistleblower complaint with the inspector general. The inspector general then spent two weeks investigating it and determined it to be one, urgent, and determined that it was credible.

At that point, as is called by statute and the law, he was supposed to turn it over to the director of national intelligence, who was supposed to give it to the House intelligence and the Senate Intelligence Committees.

Instead, the acting director of national intelligence, Mr. Maguire, is concealing that complaint from Congress, which is unprecedented. It's -- and it's also, I believe, illegal.

BERMAN: What does it tell you that someone inside the intelligence community was alarmed by a promise --

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes.

BERMAN: -- the president made to a foreign leader?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Again, I can't comment on the specific complaint. However, we know three things that is based on public sources, including the acting director.

First, that the person about whom the complaint is made is outside the intelligence community. Second, he did not feel that he had unilateral authority with regard to that person. And third, that person is claiming some kind of privilege with regard to these communications.

I should just reiterate there is no privilege with regard to shielding misconduct or information about misconduct. And that's why this is so important. We have to protect the whistleblower system. These are rank-and-file people who make complaints about wrongdoing. And we have to learn in Congress, and the American people need to learn what they're about.

And then secondly, this is about national security. It's not a partisan issue. We have to learn how to protect our national security based on these whistleblower complaints.

BERMAN: And congressman, I should be clear. The intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson is a Trump appointee, correct?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, sir. That's exactly right. So I think this person, you know, I'm glad he doesn't display any partisan bias with regard to the whistleblower system. He was doing his job. Now the director of national intelligence needs to do his.

BERMAN: And again, I'm not asking for you to divulge what you know about this promise. I'm not even sure you do know anything. We don't know anything about the nature of the promise. "The Washington Post" reporter couldn't tell us what promise was made.

But again, the notion that a Trump appointee thinks that the details of this promise are of urgent concern, what does that tell you?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, again, I don't know exactly what's in that complaint. I can't comment on that specifically. However, what we can say, that the fact that a member of the intelligence community would be so troubled by the conduct of this person outside the intelligence community, that he would then give it to the inspector general, and that person would then say, yes, this is urgent and credible is very alarming.

[07:05:11]

BERMAN: And what does it tell you that the acting director of national intelligence has tried to keep that information from Congress?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I'm just concerned that, yet again, there's a potentially kind of improper influence that outsiders are having within the intelligence community, such as potentially even the White House.

And that is why I think that the chairman, Chairman Schiff has called today's classified hearing, as well as the open hearing next week with Mr. Maguire, we can't have the White House politicizing the intelligence community.

You know, the intelligence community is meant to protect our national security and, you know, they do that job day in and day out. They serve in silence. And we have to make sure we protect them as they protect us.

BERMAN: Now, as we understand it, reading this article from CNN's own reporting, this isn't about the leaking of classified information or the passing on of classified information. It's about a promise that was made. And that's important, because obviously, the president has the power to declassify anything he wants.

So what are the limits, then, placed around what a president can promise or say to a foreign leader? What oversight does Congress have over that?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Again, I don't know the specific contents of this complaint, so I can't comment specifically on that. Hopefully, we'll learn more.

BERMAN: My question really has to do with privilege. Like, are what communications that a president does have with foreign leaders are privileged? And what communications that a president have -- has with foreign leaders are not privileged?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I'm not aware of a privilege that applies to communications with anyone other than within a certain small circle within the White House and certainly not communications with a foreign leader.

BERMAN: Right. No, that gets to my question there, which is why the distinction, by the way, between a promise and divulging classified information is important here. Because the privilege may apply to one and not the other. Or the legal protections might apply to one and not the other.

Are you confident that the inspector general, when he testifies before Congress today, will be allowed to give you the information you want?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I'm waiting. I'm hoping that the intelligence -- intelligence community's inspector general, it's a mouthful, will be able to be fulsome in his answers to us. It's going to be in closed session or in a classified setting.

So I'm hopeful that he can be candid with us. And that we can do our jobs in making sure that we protect our national security.

BERMAN: And again, I'm going to end this part of the conversation. Just put up on the screen the leaders that we know the president did speak with in the time frame around when this complaint was filed. It does include Vladimir Putin by phone. There was an exchange of letters with Kim Jong-un there. Also some other leaders there.

But you can see why it does raise some eyebrows, if in fact, a promise was made to someone up on that screen.

And Congressman, I want to ask you about another issue that I find very important. I say this as a parent to middle schoolers.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, sure.

BERMAN: I know you have a child in middle school and one in high school. And it has to do with vaping. The new numbers on vaping are simply alarming. There's explosive growth among vaping in kids and teens. There just is.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, sir.

BERMAN: You are part of, now, the vape -- bipartisan vaping caucus inside Congress concerned about this. The White House and the administration says it wants to crack down on flavored e-cigarettes. What more do you want to see?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, first of all, thank you for the attention to this issue. It is alarming. Almost 28 percent of high schoolers are vaping. And what's more astonishing is that five percent of middle schoolers are vaping.

And as you mentioned, my wife and I are parents of both high school and middle schoolers. So this is personally very distressing. We opened an investigation this summer into this particular issue, the

first congressional investigation. And two action steps came out of that.

First, we basically told the FDA that we thought that Juul and others were not marketing their products in accordance with the law. Fortunately, the FDA and the Trump administration agreed, and they issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Juul corporation to tell them to stop doing what they're doing.

And secondly, they proposed to ban flavored e-cigarettes. That's very important, because that's what hooks young people onto e-cigarettes.

The second action step is that we basically issued document requests or requests for information to Juul to provide us more information about some troubling facts that we learned in the hearing.

One of the most troubling is that Juul paid school districts to go into those districts and talk to teens about, quote unquote, "anti- vaping seminars." And in those anti-vaping seminars, apparently, they claimed that these Juul e-cigarettes are, quote unquote, "totally safe." And this is really disturbing.

[07:10:05]

And so now we've issued a letter to them saying that, if you don't produce more information to us about what you're doing in marketing to youth, we will issue a subpoena for this information. We hope that they will comply. More needs to be done, obviously, on this issue.

Because now we're seeing mystery respiratory illnesses across the country and deaths. So we've called an emergency hearing next Tuesday for the Centers of Disease Control to come in and talk about that, as well.

BERMAN: We look forward to hearing that hearing. I just want to ask what sensitivities there needs to be when we're talking about vaping around the fact that there are some adults who have moved away from combustible cigarettes, which are obviously very dangerous, to vaping. When you're talking about menthol or regular tobacco flavoring. How much does that need to be taken into account?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, the Trump administration Secretary Azar, I thought, said it properly the other day, which is that they are willing to allow for tobacco flavored e-cigarettes for those adults who need flavors to use e-cigarettes.

But those other flavors, like mint or cucumber, creme or mango, which are inherently appealing to young people, should not be out there, because the costs of youth addiction to these e-cigarettes drastically outweighs the benefits.

And that's why, you know, for instance, mint is in our children's toothpaste. It's so appealing to young people. And we've got to take that flavor off the market, along with the others for e-cigarettes right now. BERMAN: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you for being with us

today.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: I know you're limited as to what you can say as a member of the Intelligence committee. But you can understand our curiosity.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Really, why did the president make a promise to a foreign leader, and what was that promise? Hopefully, we'll find out over the next few days. Congressman, thank you very much.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: We're going to have much more on this really important story. The whistleblower, the intelligence community firestorm. What promise did he make to a foreign leader that caused such alarm? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:16:41]

CAMEROTA: Breaking news. The intelligence community's inspector general is heading to Capitol Hill this morning to brief lawmakers about the whistleblower report that we have been telling you about all morning. What promise could President Trump have made to a foreign leader that was of such great concern?

Joining us now is CNN chief legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin.

So Jeffrey, there was this phone call -- I mean, this is according to the reporting in "The Washington Post." CNN has matched some of it. That was of such grave concern to this whistleblower, because President Trump made a promise of some kind that was clearly secret to some world leader. And he felt so strongly about it, this whistleblower, that he filed a complaint. He did all of the right things by law.

And yet the acting director of national intelligence has not and will not at the moment transmit this to Congress. Where are we?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the law seems very clear on this, that the -- the whistleblower did everything right. You know, this law is designed so that whistleblowers don't act like Edward Snowden, don't take matters into their own hands. That there is a channel they can go through where, if their complaint is serious, it will definitely go to the bipartisan leadership of Congress.

That's what the whistleblower did. The idea that the director of national intelligence, on his own authority, can contradict that statute just seems wrong to me. And I can't believe that Congress will stand for it.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's not exactly his own authority. So listen to this. This is what "The Washington Post" is reporting. "After fielding the complaint on August 12, Atkinson" -- who is the DNI -- "submitted it to" -- sorry. Atkinson is the inspector general. He submitted it to the DNI, Maguire, two weeks later. "By law, Maguire is required to transmit such complaints to Congress within seven days. But in this case, he refrained from doing so after turning for legal guidance to officials at the Justice Department."

And of course, that's interesting, because we know that sometimes the Justice Department has seemed lately to be protective of President Trump.

TOOBIN: Right. To be the president's lawyer instead of the people's lawyer. You know, obviously, we are, to a great extent, dealing in the dark here. We don't know what the whistleblower was complaining about.

One thing I think it's important to point out is that virtually all presidential phone calls with foreign leaders are tape recorded. Presumably, this whistleblower wasn't sitting there listening on the phone while this exchange went on. So the whistleblower probably listened to an audiotape, which means this audiotape exists. That seems to me to be, obviously, the critical piece of evidence, if it exists, to see if the president did anything improper. It would seem to be a fairly simply matter to listen to this phone call.

Now, these are highly confidential, highly classified dealings. The, you know, dealings between a president and a foreign head of state. But the leadership of the Congress, the Gang of Eight, the top national security legislators, all have the clearances to hear anything. So the idea that it's too classified is, again, an argument I don't think would hold water.

[07:20:07]

CAMEROTA: So if this law is explicit, are you saying that the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is breaking the law?

TOOBIN: Well, it seems that way. But, you know, I do want to -- it certainly seems that way. But, you know, the Justice Department, even though it does seem like they've been overprotective of the president, they obviously have made some sort of argument here which none of us have seen. Certainly, I haven't seen it.

It would be important to see why the Justice Department is saying that this -- this whistleblower complaint should not be turned over to the -- to the Congress.

It could be that they would claim that this interferes with the president's constitutional obligation to operate foreign policy, that that's the privilege involved, though that's not a recognized legal privilege that I'm aware of.

Certainly, on the facts that are available, based on the letters that have been exchanged between Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the intelligence officials. It seems like the obligation is to turn this over.

If I can just add one more thing, late yesterday, Ted Barrett, our colleague who covers Congress, he spoke to Mark Warner, who's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And Warner said he thought there was going to be resolution here where Congress would be able to see this material. So, you know, figure that in.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's great. I mean, that --

TOOBIN: I haven't seen it yet.

CAMEROTA: Well, we might today. Because the inspector general is going to Capitol Hill. And he's meeting behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. And maybe they will have a resolution. And it doesn't necessarily mean that the public will know, but it does mean that the oversight committees in Congress would know, which I think would help people heave a sigh of relief.

TOOBIN: Well, of course. And that's what this law is designed for. Is for classified -- people who have access to classified information to go through the appropriate channels where their protests can be heard but classified information can be protected. And if it goes to the Intelligence Committees, then the classified information will be protected, because that's what these committees do.

CAMEROTA: And you know, here's where it gets a little confusing, Jeffrey, is that we don't know if it's classified information. We know it was a -- the way it's been described is a promise was made. So we don't know if that's protected or not protected.

And by the way, what does that even mean? Clearly, the White House doesn't want this information out, OK? This is secret or they would have mentioned this themselves.

So does the president have the final say over what promises he can make and whether or not those are ever revealed to Congress and the public?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, again, I don't think so. I mean, I think ultimately, those sorts of issues would have to go to a -- would have to go to court. Congress could ultimately subpoena this -- this inspector general's report, and then the courts would decide whether the president has the right to protect it.

Remember, 1974, Richard Nixon claimed that the White House tapes were privileged and should not be turned over in the Watergate investigation. The Supreme Court ruled nine to nothing that Nixon did have to turn over the tapes.

Ultimately, these cases are always resolved in the courts, if -- if there can be no, you know, compromise resolution. The thing that's always important to remember about the courts is it takes a long time.

And all of these fights now between Congress and the administration, they are on slow boats. They are, you know, weeks or months away from being resolved. Whether it's the president's tax returns or the testimony of the attorney general, the secretary of commerce. All these fights are now in the courts.

But the great advantage the Trump administration has is delay. And they could -- they could tie this one up in the courts, too. And who knows when it would be resolved?

CAMEROTA: I feel like you've sang that song before. The courts are really working overtime, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Well, maybe that's the -- maybe they're not working overtime. Maybe they're working nine to five and not getting these things resolved.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.

TOOBIN: All right.

CAMEROTA: All right. We have breaking news on the Israeli election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fighting to maintain power, makes an offer of unity to his chief rival. We have a live report from Jerusalem, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:28:48]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: We have breaking news out of Israel, where the current prime minister, Benjamin -- Benjamin Netanyahu, is now calling for a unity government, in part to avoid going to elections for a third time, he says. Netanyahu's chief rival, Benny Gantz just responded to this offer.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Lieberman, live in Jerusalem with all the breaking details.

Oren, what's going on?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz also said he wants unity government but not under Benjamin Netanyahu. He says he should be in charge of that unity government because, according to all the projections now, he has the biggest party.

He basically just declared victory in these elections. The only problem, he doesn't have a government yet. And neither does Netanyahu. Both of these calling for the same outcome without any clear path to get there.

Why is that? Because Gantz has said from the very beginning that he refuses to sit with Netanyahu, because he's under criminal investigation. Meanwhile, Netanyahu spent the entire campaign painting Gantz as a leftist and his enemy, only now to call for a unity government.

We are two days past the last Israeli elections and already, speculation and talking about a third election within just a few months is already on the table.

In fact, Israel's president said form a government as soon as possible, or third elections are really a possibility. Even though he'll --

[07:30:00]