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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Crowds March to Demand Climate Action; Trump Under Fire Over Whistle-Blower Complaint; WSJ: Trump Urged Ukrainian President "Eight Times" to Work with Giuliani to Investigate Biden's Son. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 20, 2019 - 16:00 ET
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Thanks so much for joining us today. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, President Trump says he doesn't know what the mystery whistle-blower complaint is about or who it is, but he does know it's ridiculous and partisan and that the person is a hack.
"THE LEAD": starts right now.
Breaking news, brand-new reporting in "The Wall Street Journal" on the mystery, explaining that President Trump directly asked the Ukrainian president eight times to investigate Joe Biden and his son.
A close-up look at the destruction that impacted oil prices worldwide, as CNN's team on the ground in Saudi Arabia, as President Trump claims he's -- quote -- "showing great restraint" by not attacking Iran.
Plus, the global strike over the planet -- what could be the biggest day of climate demonstrations in world history. We will talk to the Trump administration official who resigned in protest over the crisis.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We start with breaking news in our politics lead.
President Trump urging the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden's son Hunter multiple times. That's according to "The Wall Street Journal" in a breaking news story just minutes ago.
Sources telling "The Journal" that President Trump made the request about eight times on a July phone call and told the president of Ukraine to work with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, who just last night admitted to asking the Ukrainians to investigate Biden.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins me now live from the White House with this breaking news.
Kaitlan, what are we learning?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the president today said he did -- he did not deny discussing Joe Biden during his last known phone call with the president of Ukraine. That was a phone call that came at the end of July.
But now "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that during that phone call about eight times the president pressured the Ukrainian president to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who you saw on our air last night, on a probe looking into Joe Biden, because, according to "The Journal," the president told the Ukrainian president that people in Washington wanted to know if those allegations were true or not.
That comes after just hours ago in the Oval Office the president said he didn't know if it that was phone call that prompted a whistle- blower to complain.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump's second state visit overshadowed today, as he faced questions about a whistle-blower's complaint he made an alarming commitment to a foreign leader.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is just another political hack job. That's all it is.
COLLINS: The president accused the whistle-blower of being political, but conceded he doesn't know who it is.
TRUMP: I don't know the identity of the whistle-blower. I just hear it is a partisan person.
COLLINS: He blasted the complaint as ridiculous, even though he hasn't seen it.
TRUMP: No, I haven't. Everybody has read it. They laugh at it.
COLLINS: And he maintained all his conversations have been above- board.
TRUMP: It was a totally appropriate conversation.
COLLINS: But he said he's not sure which one the whistle-blower is talking about.
TRUMP: Well, figure it out. You're supposed to be the media. Figure it out.
COLLINS: Asked if Congress will get to see the complaint, Trump waved away the question. TRUMP: There is nothing. It is nothing.
COLLINS: While he downplayed the matter, the president didn't deny discussing Joe Biden with the Ukrainian leader.
TRUMP: It doesn't matter what I discussed, but I will say this. Somebody ought to look into Joe Biden's statement.
COLLINS: That is what his attorney Rudy Giuliani was going to do before canceling a trip to Ukraine earlier this year after facing backlash.
Giuliani wanted to discuss Biden's potential role in the government's dismissal of a prosecutor investigating his son. And in a rambling appearance on CNN Thursday night, Giuliani denied, then admitted seconds later he asked the Ukrainian government to investigate the family.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No. Actually, I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians, for the benefit of Hillary Clinton, for which there already is a court finding...
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden...
GIULIANI: The only thing I asked about Joe Biden...
CUOMO: ... and his role with the prosecutor?
GIULIANI: ... is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko who was appointed...
GIULIANI: ... dismissed the case against AntAC.
CUOMO: So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?
GIULIANI: Of course I did.
CUOMO: You just said you didn't.
COLLINS: The conversations Rudy Giuliani did have with Ukrainian officials, including the president's representative, are now under investigation by three different House committees, who are demanding information, while some Republicans say it is overblown.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I think there are people in the intelligence community and other parts of our government who just have it out for the president.
COLLINS: Now, Jake, we should note that this report about President Trump pushing the Ukrainian president is published in "The Wall Street Journal."
That's a paper backed by Rupert Murdoch, who is a close ally of the president's. And all of this is coming just days before the president is scheduled to sit down with the Ukrainian president in New York next week, a meeting that the White House confirmed is still on today.
TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House with the breaking news, thanks so much.
CNN's Alex Marquardt has been digging into the president's communications with Ukraine.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It was a long list of foreign leaders that President Trump communicated with in the weeks before the whistle-blower spoke up.
But "The Washington Post" reports that the complaint, which the intelligence community inspector general says is of urgent concern, centers on Ukraine, which the president has had controversial dealings with.
Just two-and-a-half weeks before the complaint was filed on August 12, the president spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart. Trump today insisting it was all above-board.
TRUMP: I have had conversations with many leaders. They are always appropriate.
MARQUARDT: At the time, the White House said the two presidents discussed strengthening the relationship, without giving specifics. But Ukraine said they talked about the investigation of corruption cases which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.
In May, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he was going to Ukraine to push the new president to investigate Joe Biden and his son's links to a gas company. He canceled the trip, but then in July went to Madrid to meet with an aide to talk to President Zelensky to talk about Biden.
Then, the next month, $250 million in military aid for Ukraine was put on hold by the White House. On September 1, Vice President Mike Pence met with Zelensky. When asked about the efforts to get dirt on Joe Biden, the vice president danced around it.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption. And, fortunately, President Zelensky was elected decisively on an anti-corruption message.
MARQUARDT: Whatever the alleged promise that the whistle-blower says the president reportedly made, Democrats in Congress are vowing to get to the bottom of those claims.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): They deserve a thorough investigation. That is what we're intent on doing. And come hell or high water, that is what we're going to do.
MARQUARDT: Chairman Adam Schiff also saying today there is a real sense of urgency about this whistle-blower complaint that cannot wait.
He is also looking into legal options that he could take in court if they aren't given access to that complaint. Now, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is due to testify in front of Schiff's House Intelligence Committee next Thursday and will have to explain why the White House and the Department of Justice have told him not to hand that complaint over -- Jake.
TAPPER: Alex Marquardt.
And we should note that that money to Ukraine, the $250 million, has been approved.
Thanks so much, Alex.
Let's discuss with Steve Hall, the former CIA chief of Russian operations, and Elliot Williams, worked as a federal prosecutor in the Justice Department.
So, first, I want to take a step back.
"The Wall Street Journal" is saying that in that phone call, there was no offer of a quid pro quo. In other words, President Trump was saying to Ukraine $250 million -- he was not saying to Ukraine $250 million in foreign aid depends on you investigating the Bidens.
But he was talking about the Bidens, and that $250 million was obviously something that everybody knew was outstanding.
Take a listen to what Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, who is part of this whole Ukraine thing, said on CNN to Chris Cuomo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: The reality is that the president of the United States, whoever he is, has every right to tell the President of another country, you better straighten out the corruption in your country if you want me to give you a lot of money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, he wasn't saying that happened, Elliot, but he was providing kind of a defense, a potential preemptive defense, of the idea of, if President Trump did say root out corruption -- and we know that his definition of corruption is find out dirt on my political opponents -- that he's allowed to do that. And even if he wanted to tie the money, even though "The Wall Street
Journal" said that did not happen on the phone call, according to the source -- is this against the law, if he did -- if there was a direct quid pro quo?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The tiny sliver in which Rudy Giuliani has a point is that the president of the United States has broad latitude to conduct foreign affairs of the United States.
Now, if he's actually specifically exchanging something for a presidential action, if you do X, then I will give you foreign aid, that is a criminal offense. That is honest service -- what is called an honest services violation.
TAPPER: What if it is vague? What if it's like, we can have a better relationship if you root out corruption and let me tell you about corruption, the Bidens are corrupt, blah, blah, blah, blah, if it is kind of hinted at, but not expressly said?
WILLIAMS: Hey, Congress, are you listening?
TAPPER: Yes, like that.
WILLIAMS: To paraphrase the president. Honestly, then it becomes a question of, is this a violation of the president's oath of office? Is he using the power of the presidency to influence and frankly to go after his political rivals, which he's already demonstrated that he's willing to do and he did with the Clintons, Hillary Clinton post the election.
So, this is a question for Congress, both for oversight, and if it reaches that point, impeachment. That is the remedy here, Jake.
TAPPER: Steve, having worked in intelligence for so long, if somebody in the intelligence community -- because we do not know yet 100 percent what this whistle-blower was alarmed about.
But if a whistle-blower heard a president of the United States pressuring a foreign leader who desperately wanted hundreds of million dollars from the United States in foreign aid, pressuring that person to give him dirt on a potential political opponent, would that alarm the average intelligence analyst, to the point that they would try to file a whistle-blower complaint and go to Congress?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Yes, I would certainly see how it could.
There is a lot of conversations going on now that this is a partisan move on some intelligence officer. I don't know how many times -- the deep state thing is ridiculous. Career intelligence officers like myself, we're never political in our jobs.
And this whole idea this is somehow a partisan thing seems to be -- is just ridiculous. I have served for 30 years in the intelligence community. I never knew of a whistle-blower. It is a very dangerous thing to do, despite the legislation to protect them. But it can have real negative impacts on your career.
So that is -- that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. To top it all off, the inspector general seems to agree. Remember, one of the inspector general's roles is to weed out policy differences.
Intelligence officers are taught from day one, you provide intelligence to policy-makers. You cannot be what is called policy- prescriptive. You can't suggest policies. You can't really comment on policies.
So, it's just not something that is done. And if a whistle-blower saw something this like that, I can certainly see how he or she would be concerned enough to go ahead and file that whistle-blower complaint.
TAPPER: And, Steve, one of the arguments that the White House is making in order to try to shut down this whistle-blower and keep him or her from talking to Congress or congressional leaders or even having the complaint shared with them is, this is not an intelligence matter.
Is it an intelligence matter?
HALL: You know, I think we need to know more about the phone call and precisely what was said before we know specifically whether it was an intelligence matter or not.
But, again, the I.G. has said this is a valid complaint from inside of the intelligence community. When the White House comes back and says the Constitution gives broad powers to the president to run foreign policy, which is absolutely true, I think you still have to ask yourself, OK, does that mean the president can say absolutely anything he wants to a foreign government?
I don't think so. This president has a particularly bad record. Go back to the Oval Office comments where he shared sensitive information with Russian foreign minister -- has a terrible reputation for saying the wrong thing to foreign leaders.
That is what the real issue is. And I think that is what is going to be focused on here.
TAPPER: And also the idea that the inspector general for the intelligence community has deemed this threat to be -- or deemed this whistle-blower complaint to be urgent and credible, and also underlying this has to do with the overall definition of what the intelligence community is supposed to be doing, in other words, protecting the national security of the United States.
WILLIAMS: Just to piggyback on Steve's point, these are -- intelligence community officers and officials are the least partisan and political people. And this is an individual who devotes his entire career to answering these questions of, is something a credible threat? Is this a gross violation or whatever?
And so we should -- we ought to give that certainly far more credence than the political people, who have taken this over to some extent in the administration. So, absolutely, when he felt or sort of established that something seemed amiss, I think he's entitled to some to some deference there. And I think -- there we go.
TAPPER: The inspector general is almost something of a whistle-blower himself right now.
TAPPER: He's launched a complaint that the Trump administration is keeping him from doing his job.
Steve Hall, Elliot Williams, thank you so much for your expertise.
As the world wonders about the contents of this alleged call with a foreign leader, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, claims he's only heard some rumors about it. Really?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news in our politics lead: "The Wall Street Journal" reporting just moments ago that President Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden's son Hunter around eight times during a July phone call.
President Trump was asked twice today if he asked the Ukrainian government to investigation his political rivals the Bidens. Take a listen to his answers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Did you discuss Joe Biden, his son or his family with the leader of Ukraine?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't matter what I discussed. But I will say this: somebody ought to look into Joe Biden's statement because it was disgraceful.
REPORTER: Did you mention Joe Biden during the conversation.
TRUMP: I don't want to talk about any conversation other than to say -- other than to say great conversation, totally appropriate conversation. Couldn't have been better.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: We should point out this reporting about President Trump talking to Ukraine comes from a Rupert Murdoch-backed newspaper, "The Wall Street Journal". Murdoch obviously seen as a close ally of the president.
Let's chew over this with the panel.
Jane, let me start with you. The president said it doesn't matter what I discussed. It matters quite a bit.
JANE COASTON, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, VOX: It does matter. It is interesting, because there is what matters politically and what matters legally. Legally he's on slightly firmer ground. There has been some interesting writing in terms of what you can actually ask someone to do for you. If there is no evidence of quid pro quo, he's on firmer legal grounds with regard to this.
But politically, it looks really bad. And I think that you're going to hear a lot of people, specifically some folks on the right, talking about, well, this is actually good for Trump because it means we can focus in on Hunter Biden.
COASTON: But there is a sense of like, you know, Trump does this. Trump has called for an investigation into virtually everyone and everything with which -- with whom he finds objectionable. So, you heard the same thing when he was tweeting about Jeffrey Epstein and the Clintons, or something like that.
This is kind of more par for the course. But I can't see an argument how this is a winning argument for him to be asking eight times in one phone call -- which is -- that's a lot of times to be asking anyone for anything in one phone call.
TAPPER: That's a lot of times.
KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But we already know from early on when the president was asked by George Stephanopoulos in an interview, if you were going to get information from a foreign entity on, you know, an opponent, would that be okay and he said, yes, I would take that, that would be fine. So we know this man has no scruples.
And, you know, I was thinking about this, Jake, in the context of the previous 10 days that we went through on the dang map, right, about Alabama --
FINNEY: -- and the hurricane and -- you have to believe that a man who is willing to not only do that, but to then talk about it for eight days and actually force an agency to put out misinformation to correct to make sure that he looked OK, who knows what he did. I mean, it's very believable and it is believable not only given the pattern that we've seen with them, that just throw lots of stuff out there and let the rest of us try to -- to take it apart and figure out, OK, what is legal, what is not legal, what is political.
FINNEY: Of course he did it.
TAPPER: And, Kevin, "The Journal" reports that they do not think -- their sources do not think that President Trump brought up the $250 million in foreign aid that Ukraine wanted on that phone call where eight times he talked about Hunter Biden and how they should investigate him.
But that, obviously, is the context of the relationship. Ukraine wanted that money and Congress and the president had been holding it back. I guess maybe that makes him on legally firmer ground but it's still pretty damning, no?
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, but, you know, Jane said something, you were joking and saying Republicans see this as a good thing. I think that's probably right. Or that is not -- that is going too far, but I would say, they're not afraid of this. They wouldn't mind this fight, because if you think about it, first of all, I know it is the new Washington scandal but it is settling into all of the typical sequence that we see of all of the old Washington scandals with this president, which is it starts to divide along partisan lines, the White House quickly engages in combat with its opponents on the left and the media.
And then they point to the fact that -- and then they keep bringing up the fact that Biden has something here to disprove in a way that will ultimately tar their political opponent. So, you're going to see them do that over and over again. So, you know, I think the other thing is usually you would see something like this sort of send a panic through the allies up on Capitol Hill. They're perfectly willing to defend the president on this.
TAPPER: In fact, take a listen to Kevin McCarthy talking -- this is a question talking about what he -- his response to it all.
He said, quote: He, talking about the whistleblower, he could have come to Congress -- who is the whistleblower? Is he still working? Because I don't know anything about him. I heard rumors it is someone that left. Why he did he leave? And now this comes up, I'm concerned about the video I've seen with Joe Biden influencing someone who was fired in Ukraine.
So, I mean, that's the response of the Republican House leader. First of all, he could have come to congress. The White House is preventing the whistleblower from coming to Congress. Does he really not know that?
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He definitely knows that but this is the GOP playbook. You sort of muddy the waters. People at home aren't following the play-by-play on this. So you just sort of say there is something mysterious about Joe Biden,
I don't know why this whistleblower didn't come to Congress. Who is he? The president says he is partisan, you tar the whistleblower. You sort of put out negative messages about Joe Biden and you don't focus so much on the underlying charge, which is that the president said something.
And "The Wall Street Journal" reporting he basically called for an investigation of his political opponent by a foreign government and not only called for it once but eight times said this needed to happen, while also withholding millions of dollars of military aid from this same country.
So, that underlying charge, that original charge gets lost in the message while the Republicans sort of change the focus, change the narrative and the president sort of goes on offense and changes -- and makes this much more of a muddied water situation.
MADDEN: And just real quick, Giuliani's defense last night of the president was -- that is a perfect summary of it, which is it's not so much about arguing the facts or the details. It is showcase combat with the media, showcase combat with the president's critics and again bring up the allegations against Joe Biden over and over and over again.
TAPPER: Over and over and over again. And also like acting as if it is normal.
TAPPER: And the definition of normalizing is -- as a "Vice" reporter said on Twitter today, the definition of normalizing is like acting as if this is what president's do.
COASTON: But I think the role that the media plays in normalization is we could get out in front of it. I think that there is a sense that, I think there are people on the right who even if they are not Trump supporter, there is an idea that everything about Trump is baked in and everybody knows he's sketchy. Everyone knows about this.
There are many millions of people who don't know, who have no idea of the impact that some of this is taking -- you know, we're going to talk about border wall funding and people don't know how much that is pulling from needed military updates. And so, I think there is a sense where, yes, it is becoming normalized but normalization only happens when we let it.
TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about.
Former Vice President Joe Biden just responded to President Trump and the Ukraine news. That's next.
Stay with us.
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