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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Speaks to Reporters, Hosts Australian P.M. As Whistleblower Scandal Mounts; Giuliani Confirms He Asked Ukraine to Investigate Biden, Biden's Son; House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff Ready to Go to Court for Whistleblower Complaint; Rep. Jim Himes (D- CT) Discusses the Whistleblower Scandal, the Bidens and Ukraine. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[11:30:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And they thought that it was a sign of strength to kill 12 people, wound others, badly wound some others. And one of those 12 people was a young man, a young soldier from Puerto Rico, from our country.

And when I heard that, I said I don't want to deal with them anymore. We have hit -- in Afghanistan, we have hit the Taliban harder than they've ever been hit in the entire 19 years of war. They have been hit harder. It's come back to me through absolutely impeccable sources that they're saying, "Wow, we made a mistake with this guy; we made a big" -- they made a mistake. I was totally willing to have a meeting.

I'll meet with anybody. I think meetings are good. I think meetings are good. There's no such thing as, "Oh, gee, we shouldn't." I really believe meetings are good. Worst that happens, it doesn't work out. That's OK. Even then, you get to know your opposition.

Don't forget. I'm looking at them like they're looking at me. You get to know your opposition. You can see if they're real. Sometimes you develop a relationship, like we do. But sometimes you develop -- and many times you won't. But you get to know your opposition.

I think the best thing that's happened to this country is the fact that, at least for three years, the fact that I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un. I think that's a positive. His country has tremendous potential. He knows that.

But our country has been playing around for 50 years and getting nothing. And we have a relationship. There's never been a relationship with them. We'll see what happens. It might work out; it might not work out. I'm not saying it will. But in the meantime he hasn't been testing any nuclear. You've had no nuclear tests since -- since -- for a long time. And he has been doing some short-range missiles, but so does every other country do short-range missiles. Every country is doing them. They're pretty standard fare.

But, no, I -- I will tell you that we've never had a country so strong. We're just a couple of points away from a new stock market all-time high. And I think we've done it over 112 times. There's a certain number, whatever it may be. I don't want to be specific because, if I give you the wrong number, we'll have breaking news. It will be on every newspaper that I said -- I said 112 and it was actually 111, and it will be breaking news. They'll give me a Pinocchio.

QUESTION: Mr. President...

TRUMP: But let me just say -- let me just say the country has never been in this position. We have the strongest military we've ever had. And now we've rebuilt it. After the $738 billion we really have a built -- we have a rebuilt military. It's a great thing.

And some of our friends are doing the same thing. I can tell you Australia's military is unbelievable. I saw the order that they put in for some of our most sophisticated equipment. And I said that's really great what you're doing. They've really upped it. And I want to congratulate you. I mean, you have really done a job on your military.

MORRISON: We have, up to 2 percent of GDP next year.

(CROSSTALK)

MORRISON: So we're in the middle of a $200 billion upgrade.

TRUMP: Right.

MORRISON: ... the biggest increase in our defense as a share of GDP since the Second World War.

TRUMP: Yeah.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you (inaudible) continuously during the election campaign. Is it right that the United States is prosecuting its Australian founder Julian Assange?

TRUMP: Well, you know, that's a question I haven't heard in a long time. I'll leave that for you to determine.

QUESTION: Mr. President, your reaction...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... from you on your opinion on China? Is it just a trade issue for you or do you see China as a strategic threat to the United States?

TRUMP: Well, obviously China is a threat to the world in a sense because they're building a military faster than anybody. And frankly, they're using U.S. money. Presidents before me have allowed China to take out $500 billion a year. And it's really more than that. They've allowed China to steal our intellectual property and property rights. And I'm not doing that.

And we actually are very close to having a deal. You know, we were very close. We had intellectual property -- all of the tough things were negotiated. And then, at the last moment, Scott, they said "We cannot agree to this."

I said, "That's all right; we're charging you 25 percent tariffs, and then it's going up." And it will continue to go up. And frankly, we're -- we're making so many hundreds of -- the numbers that we're taking in to our Treasury. And you see it. Because sometimes you'll see -- look at the good reports. Look at the great reports that came out two days ago on retailing, on consumers, numbers that nobody believes.

Well, I think a lot of it, we're taking hundreds of millions, potentially, over a short period of time. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of money is coming in from China that never came in before. So China wants to make a deal. I think we want to make a deal. We'll see what happens.

But I view China in many different ways. But right now I'm thinking about trade. But, you know, trade equals military because, if we allow China to take $500 billion out of the hide of the United States, that money goes into military and other things.

QUESTION: Mr. President, your reaction to Justin Trudeau? Can he survive this controversy?

TRUMP: Well, I was hoping I wouldn't be asked that question. It had to be you that asks it. You had to ask me that question, right? Justin. I'm surprised. And I was more surprised when I saw the number of times. And, you know, I've always had a good relationship with Justin. I just don't know what to tell you. I was surprised by it, actually.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, the last Australian prime minister to receive an official state visit was described by the then-president as "a man of steel." How do you describe our prime minister?

TRUMP: I would say a man of titanium.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, titanium is much tougher than steel. He's a man of titanium. Believe me, I have to deal with this guy. He's not easy. You might think he is a nice guy, OK? He is a man of real, real strength and a great guy. And his wife is lovely. And I want to thank you and I want to thank Melania for the work.

And I hope you're going to be able to see it, because Melania has -- she has worked very hard for Australia.

MORRISON: Yes, she has.

TRUMP: And you've done a fantastic -- it's so beautiful and it will be so different. And we look up to the skies and we're just going to hope that it's not going rain. And if it is, that's OK, too, because that will work out also. It always works out.

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: There is nothing. It's nothing.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: There's nothing.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: What?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What does Mr. Morrison think of his first time in the White House?

MORRISON: It's a great honor to be here, a tremendous honor to be here.

[11:36:27]

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you mind finishing the question?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go! It's finished!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so the press conference with the president of the United States, before the press conference with the president of the United States is set to happen in a few minutes from now, if you can even believe it. President Trump hitting on Ukraine, Iran, space, and of course, the whistleblower report.

I want to bring in Kaitlan Collins on this.

As we were discussing, and I had to cut you off, Kaitlan, this is my, I guess, take. You could consider that a neither confirm nor deny situation, when asked about Ukraine and the whistleblower report. And did he actually the Ukrainian president about Biden, but I did not hear him say he did not ask about Joe Biden.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, there wasn't a denial in there. And the president made a few interesting comments. One, he alleged that this whistleblower was partisan before admitting he does not know the identity of this whistleblower.

He said that there are people in the White House who have read that complaint, but he personally has not read that complaint. He did not say exactly which staff it was that had been involved in that. But CNN reporting showed that the White House had been involved in that decision to block that complaint from going to Congress. The other thing the president said, Kate, is that he doesn't know what

this complaint stemmed from, what communication it was, whether it was a conversation he had with the Ukrainian president, that caused that, because he was asked specifically about that July 25th phone call that he had, the last time we know that they spoke. And he said, I really don't know if that's what it is that stemmed this.

Of course, that was a conversation that we revealed two different readouts from the Ukrainians and from the White House. The Ukrainian one referencing the president talking about corruption investigations with the government.

But the overall thing that you saw there from the president in the Oval Office was he defended his conversations with world leaders and he said his conversations are always appropriate, even though he said he doesn't know which one it is that this complaint stemmed from.

But, Kate, he also said that he believes Joe Biden is someone who should be looked into. He referred reporters to his statement, without clarifying which statement it is that he believed that reporters should look at, but the president was making that clear.

And that's really been the whole sentiment here, is did the president imply to the Ukrainians that they should investigate Joe Biden, open up an investigation into him in order to get that military funding, that aid funding that is supposed to protect Ukraine from Russia.

And the president made clear that he thinks an investigation into Joe Biden something that would be appropriate, without detailing if that's exactly what he said to the president.

And of course, the president is going to face more questions on this when he holds a press conference just in a matter of minutes.

BOLDUAN: It's almost funny, but yet extremely serious at the same time. I mean, the doublespeak and the non-speak that we just heard in that press conference. I mean, it's basically, I know nothing, yet, I know everything. And if you're having deja vu, you are not alone, because he directly said, somebody ought to look into that on Joe Biden. And all I could hear was, Russia, are you listening? Like, that's all I was hearing in that.

Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Again, we could be hearing from the president -- we will be hearing from the president as he is set to hold a press conference with the Australian prime minister in a few short minutes. What more will we learn? We will find out together.

So we do know one thing. That Rudy Giuliani did ask Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden. That is at least according to Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney. And President Trump did just say, I'll reiterate one more time, that someone should look into it.

But what exactly happened with the Bidens in Ukraine, are you asking? CNN's senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt, has more on that.

Alex, what are you learning?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it was really interesting to see the president there say someone should look into Joe Biden and not deny, that is the crucial point there, did not deny that he talked about Joe Biden with President Zelensky of Ukraine.

[11:40:14]

Now, Biden, for his part, does not deny his role in what has essentially been built up as a conspiracy by President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

And this all goes back to 2016, when the U.S. and Joe Biden, among many others, were calling for the firing of the then-prosecutor general. That prosecutor general had been looking into one of Ukraine's biggest oil companies. Hunter Biden, the then vice president's son sat on the board of that oil company. The prosecutor general was then fired.

But not because he was looking into that oil company, but because he was part -- he was a target of a widespread anti-corruption campaign. There were anti-corruption activists in Ukraine. There were anti- corruption activists outside of Ukraine. A number of countries, including the United States, that wanted to see this prosecutor general fired, because of his lack of action on corruption. For not looking into embezzlement.

So the Obama administration wanted to see this guy gone. Vice President Biden was the point man for the administration on Ukraine. And he has openly said we withheld $1 billion in loan guarantees in order to see this prosecutor general gone. He was then fired.

And we -- and one of his successors spoke out about this conspiracy, if you will, back in May. He said, "I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of U.S. presidential elections. Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws. At least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing."

Now, this allegation by the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is now being investigated by no fewer than three House committees.

And they -- the three chairman of these committees also put out a statement saying that, "For nearly two years, the president and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appeared to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activities."

So, Kate, this is a conspiracy that has now really taken on some very real-world consequences, and may, may lie, at least in part, at the heart of this whistleblower complaint -- Kate? BOLDUAN: May, may. The dots are not connected, and that's an

important thing to keep in mind. And still important is what you're doing, though, is laying out the facts as they are known. Complicated? Yes. But isn't every conspiracy? That's kind of how they begin and end.

Thank you so much, Alex. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now is the former communications chief for U.S. National Intelligence, Shawn Turner.

Thank you so much, Shawn.

I want to reiterate what I was just talking about with Alex for a second. One thing that is worth repeating is that the reporting at this moment is that this whistleblower complaint has to do with a promise from President Trump to a foreign leader and it involved Ukraine.

But there's no reporting connecting the dots to what the president is -- is saying here, that -- and what Alex was just kind of fact checking is that he wants Joe Biden investigated for his -- the Bidens investigated for things in Ukraine.

What do the president's comments, though, today, do to this investigation and the back and forth now between -- in between basically the director of National Intelligence and Congress over this whistleblower report in limbo?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, well, you know, in that interview or that press conference, I think that the president, he didn't help himself here.

Look, there are a couple of things that stood out to me. When the president was asked very directly whether or not he discussed Joe Biden or Joe Biden's son with the Ukrainian president, he did not deny that. What he said is, it doesn't matter what I said. And I think that's very telling. Because it does matter what he said. So we have a situation where the president is not denying this.

So let's assume for a second that the president did mention Joe Biden to the Ukrainian president and that he does believe, as he said, that Joe Biden should be investigated.

Well, that matters for two reasons. The first reason is that the Ukrainians understand that if the president is linking military aid to their efforts to investigate Joe Biden, they understand that they can't go out and do this investigation and then call the president up and say, Mr. President, we did the investigation, we didn't find anything.

They understand that they have to find something. He can't say there's nothing there, so now please put that check in the mail. That's the first thing. It would be kind of baked in in terms of what the outcome should be in order to make the president happy. The second reason is that for any foreign government to conduct an

investigation involving a U.S. person, that government necessarily has to reach into the United States.

[11:45:01]

So here you have a situation in which the president of the United States is telling a foreign government to do an investigation of a U.S. person and he knows that in order to do that, that foreign government has to engage in intelligence collection activities, because no one is going to sit down and participate in an investigation by Ukrainian officials.

So, in either case, this is particularly troubling and inappropriate and disturbing on the part of the president. But again, we don't know the facts here, but the president did not deny this. So that's very telling.

BOLDUAN: Like, I'm not going to confirm, I'm not going to deny. But one thing that does stick out in my head, though, at the minimum, we know that the president loves to fight three things, the, quote/unquote, "deep state," which includes the Intelligence Community, loves to fight with the media, and he loves to fight Democrats, especially a Democrat named House intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff.

So in some strange way, no matter what the facts are, damning or exonerating, this seems like a fight that the president is almost looking forward to having.

Shawn, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So what's the next move then for House Democrats who are trying to get this whistleblower report? The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee now is saying that he is ready to go to court to get this whistleblower's complaint if it doesn't show up. A member of that very important committee joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: President Trump is about to hold a press conference. Yes, another one. Any minute now, and we will bring that to you when it begins with the Israeli prime minister.

But he very clearly had a lot to say today about the story that is unfolding in front of him and now circling the White House. The whistleblower complaint that points the finger at the president reportedly involving a promise to a foreign leader, and, in part, at least involving Ukraine. That complaint is stuck in limbo.

The inspector general who first flagged it called it credible, called it urgent just met behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. Joining me now is one of the lawmakers who was in that closed-door

meeting with the inspector general, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, of Connecticut.

Congressman, thank you for joining me.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Hi, Kate.

[11:50:08]

BOLDUAN: A couple of things I need to ask you. I don't know if you had a chance to listen to the inspector general just now, but when asked if the president spoke to a foreign leader in Ukraine and what they spoke about, President Trump said it doesn't matter what they spoke about.

HIMES: The president has the right to negotiate with foreign leaders. The president is the declassifying authority. That means the president can say, I don't consider this classified anymore, I'm going to give it to you.

What the president cannot do is do something that is corrupt. We're speculating here because we don't know the facts.

But if the president somehow -- first of all, of course, it's inappropriate to discuss your potential foreign leader with him. What would be highly illegal is, hey, if you do this, then I'm going to make sure you get that. That is the textbook definition of corruption.

And this isn't Turnberry Resort in Scotland with Air Force guys saying there's corruption. This is corruption that has geo geostrategic implications.

If the president is mad at the Ukraine because they don't sufficiently a hatchet job on the Bidens and he holds military aid to the Ukraine, that is a gift to Russia and makes for a much less stable situation abroad.

BOLDUAN: Again, I will say the reporting does not connect -- the reporting does not connect the dots between anything with the Biden, any ask about the Bidens and the whistleblower complaint. But the president -- on complaint, the president also today called the whistleblower partisan and called the complaint a political hack job. But then also acknowledged that he doesn't know the person's identity.

Did you get any impression from the inspector general yesterday when you met that the whistleblower was motivated at all by politics?

HIMES: I don't want to get into the specifics of what happened in the meeting yesterday.

But let me characterize two things. Number one, the inspector general, his testimony to us yesterday was beyond careful. He absolutely refused to talk about the substance, as has been reported in the press, and he was beyond careful. Look, he's a smart individual. He knows that doing the right thing,

coming to the Congress and saying, I'm seeing an unprecedented effort to stop my ability to convey this whistleblower's complaint to the Congress, which is, at least in the memory of most people around here, unprecedented. He was clearly conscious of the fact that he could not say or do anything that would be outside the bounds of his authority.

And he characterized the whistleblower as having done everything by the book. So there was no implication that there was anything partisan here.

Now, of course, look, that doesn't matter to Donald Trump. Donald Trump lives in an alternate reality where anybody who opposes him is a Democrat, is a Socialist, has bad motives. So what the president says and the reality are radically, radically different.

BOLDUAN: Also worth noting, this inspector general was assigned by President Trump, and this inspector general, also you could say his credibility is on the line or that the president is questioning his credibility because he called it urgent and credible, this complaint, and the president calls it a political hack job.

Regardless, I know the inspector general didn't go into detail in the complaint, and you can't talk about it, but what is your reaction just on its face, the fresh reporting overnight -- and I feel like we're five steps in front of it already, though -- that the complaint involves a promise President Trump made to a foreign leader and has something to do with Ukraine?

HIMES: That, of course, points to your first question to me. What would make this corrupt would be -- as opposed to inappropriate. Donald Trump talking to a foreign leader about his political opponents is inappropriate.

What would make it corrupt and illegal would be if there had been some trade, some quid pro quo, some promise.

Let's hash it out here. This is all press reporting. The inspector general yesterday was studious about not getting into substance. So I don't know anymore --.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: That's what I want to ask you. You're not going to go into detail and I respect that very much.

But how does what we heard the president say today, the press reports that are out there, and your impressions from your meeting yesterday, what does that mean for the questions you then have for the acting director of National Intelligence next week?

HIMES: Well, he needs to come before us and do two things. Number one, explain why he's taken this unprecedented and illegal step. Let's be very clear, there's nothing in the statute, the whistleblower statute, that gives the director of National Intelligence the right to approve the conveyance of a complaint to Congress. It's not there. He does not have that authority. So he's broken the law. He needs to explain himself on that.

[11:55:02]

And then he needs to tell us the substance of the complaint. Because again, none of us know what's in there. It may be nothing. This press speculation may be nothing, but here's why this is important, Kate. Our entire structure of protecting whistleblowers is at stake.

Right now, there's a whistleblower out there who is thinking, oh, my god, this process got short-circuited, my career might suffer, I might be in danger.

And the problem with that is if whistleblowers think that way, misbehavior in a very, very dangerous world, the intelligence world, won't go reported, or it will get reported the way Edward Snowden took his case to the public, by blowing important secrets. That is not a good outcome.

BOLDUAN: That is a very interesting perspective in this.

Congressman, many more questions. Not for today, though.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

The press conference with President Trump should begin very shortly. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)