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New Revelations Deepen Scandal Over Trump Whistleblower Alarm; U.S. Sanctions Iranian National Bank After Oil Attack; Protests In Major Cities Around The World As Crowds Call Attention To The Climate Crisis. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 14:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks for joining us this hour. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Brooke Baldwin and we begin with this explosive whistleblower scandal. The reports of a promise made to a foreign government, the President's defined attempts to discredit them, because the Director of National Intelligence refuses to give Congress the, quote, "urgent and credible concern" which was filed by an Intel official. Lawmakers are now pledging that they will find out what is in that complaint.

And according to several reports, today, the communication at issue involves Ukraine. All of this, as we're hearing from the President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who tells CNN he actually asked the government to investigate Joe Biden, one of the President's potential 2020 challengers

Answering questions for the first time since this scandal broke, here is what the President had to say.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know the identity of the whistleblower. I just hear it's a partisan person, meaning it comes out from another party. But I don't have --

Which conversation?

QUESTION: Well, we're trying to figure out which conversation.

TRUMP: Well, figure it out. You're supposed to be the media. Figure it out. It was -- which conversation?

QUESTION: July 25th with the President of Ukraine?

TRUMP: I really don't know. I don't know what --


HILL: The President says he really doesn't know the man who is by law that would have allowed access to whistleblower filings, House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff says, this is a cover up in his view, and he is not going to stand for it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The Inspector General found these allegations credible, but he had only 14 days to investigate them. So they deserve a thorough investigation. That's what we're intent on doing and come hell or high water, that's what we're going to do.


HILL: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Kaitlan, there are so many questions we're all trying to answer and dots that we are trying to connect. What else did we get out of that moment with the President earlier?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're seeing the President's second State Visit be overshadowed by this whistleblower's complaint as the President is defending himself against it. And while he's saying he believes it's a political hit job against him, he is admitting that while he is saying this whistleblower is partisan, he doesn't know who the whistleblower is.

He also says he hasn't read this complaint, though, he says his staff has seen it and that it made them laugh, though he didn't detail what it was in the complaint that made them react that way. And the President also doesn't recall which conversation it is that he had, if it is a conversation he had with the Ukrainian President that led to this whistleblower's complaint that led them to believe that whatever commitment the President made was so alarming that they needed to file a complaint against it.

What the President did not do also was deny the fact that he brought up Joe Biden during his last conversation with the Ukrainian President while he was in the Oval Office today.


TRUMP: 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 where he talked about billions of dollars that he is not giving to a certain country unless a certain prosecutor is taken off the case.


COLLINS: And that statement there comes from after last night, Rudy Giuliani on CNN said that if the President did discuss that with Ukrainian President, did tell them that they needed to essentially -- straighten up -- were the words that Rudy Giuliani used in order to get military aid money from the United States. Rudy Giuliani maintain that would be appropriate.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it. Thank you. Well, if Ukraine is at the center of this whistleblower complaint, the notion that the administration wanted the country to investigate the former Vice President is far from secret, because keep in mind this goes back to May of this year, when Rudy Giuliani considered traveling to Ukraine to look into the debunked theory about Joe Biden, but then ended up canceling that trip following major criticism.

It was then two months later in July, when Giuliani instead met with a Ukrainian official in Madrid. That same month, President Trump calls the new Ukrainian President elect. So is that the conversation at the center of the whistleblower's complaint, we still don't know. It was filed 18 days after the call. We do have more on that just ahead.

But if we keep with the timeline here, a few days later, the President considers blocking $250 million in military aid to Ukraine freezing the funds, which brings us now to this month. Congress on September 9th launched three investigations into the President and Giuliani's efforts with Ukraine.

Three days later, the administration lifts the freeze on Ukrainian funding. "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" believe that July 25th phone call may be at the center of a complaint and the ways the two governments reported those calls to the media were actually very different.

So the White House readout of the call was brief, it said they quote, " ... discussed ways to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Ukraine including energy and economic cooperation."

Ukraine's version of that call a bit lengthier. It made no mention of the aid money or Biden. It did, however, include this, quote, "Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A."


HILL: Juliette Kayyem is a CNN National Security analyst, Lisa Monaco is CNN's Senior National Security analyst, both served under President Obama. Good to have both of you with us. So Juliette, as we look at this, President Trump doesn't deny that he may have spoken about Biden with Ukraine, but says it doesn't matter what was discussed. Is he right? Is there anything in a conversation about the former Vice President that would cross a line?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it crossed the line, at least the IG of the intelligence agencies felt it crossed the line in that it raises a grave concern. So what does that mean? Or an immediate concern? It means that what we don't know is the extent to which Donald Trump would use the intelligence and law enforcement apparatus to go after his political enemies.

And so just taking a step back, everyone, the President of the United States and his lawyer have confessed to doing this. Now, we can debate the or politically, whether that's illegal or it's impeachable, but they have confessed. Trump said that he did speak about it. Giuliani basically said, you know, yes -- or he did say, we spoke about it.

And what was also important to remember is, it wasn't that Donald Trump tried to stop getting funds to the Ukraine, he stopped them. For some period of time, he would not allow that military spending to go to Ukraine until essentially he folded.

So he wasn't playing around or joking or just making recommendations to the Ukraine. So to me, this is like one of those things where again, it's like a scandal right in front of you. It's all there. And yet we have trouble sort of naming it because it seems somewhat shocking how public it is.

HILL: And then there's also -- there's still points that we need to confirm, right? Was that call actually part of the complaint? That we're still trying to suss out in many ways. There's also the issue of what we heard from the President today.

So he was asked about this whistleblower, he said the whistleblower was partisan, but then in the next breath says, well, I don't actually know the identity of this person. But I hear that it's a partisan person.

Lisa, just -- I mean, nuts and bolts here. If there was a complaint from a whistleblower, isn't that something that would be vetted as part of the complaint to make sure that this wasn't just sour grapes from someone?

LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely, Erica. What we have here is, it seems -- now, again, we don't know what's in the complaint, and this process needs to work its way through. But what we do know is that the Inspector General, a Trump appointee, I might add, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community followed a process in which he found that this complaint -- the subject of it -- was a matter of urgent concern. That's the standard in the statute, and that it was indeed credible.

We also know that this whistleblower made this complaint, utilizing a process that was designed to protect this person from retaliation and to enable this person to provide their concerns through an appropriate process. So this person didn't go leak national security secrets, that's a good thing.

And so this process needs to be able to work its way through and everyone should be following the process, so that we don't dissuade people from making a whistleblower complaint, having the IG find it credible, and then providing that information to the Congress.

So this whistleblower should be protected because they followed the process. The IG found it credible, found it a matter of urgent concern, and now provided it to the D.N.I. who is mandated. The statute says he shall provide it to the Congress.

We also have to remember, Erica, this whole system was set up so that people can provide their concerns through a process where it isn't put on the front pages of the paper if it's a national security issue, and the Congress, the Intel committees who are supposed to receive this information, and then balance the question of protecting national security secrets, and addressing any abuse that might be going on in the national security community.

So we really should be seeing this process play out. I personally don't understand why the Intelligence Committee chairs haven't already received the classified briefing. That's what in my experience would be happening.

HILL: But let me just follow up on that really quickly, Lisa, with one point. Because this isn't happening, right, is there anything that would prohibit the whistleblower from going directly to Congress? And the reason I asked that is Mike Rogers saying on CNN earlier today that that had happened.


HILL: So could the whistleblower go directly and still maintain protection? I mean, what's the big concern there about just going directly to Congress?

MONACO: So the whistleblower could potentially go to Congress. Many times, those types of disclosures to Congress are protected for whistleblowers. But I think what's important is this whistleblower by all the information we have thus far tried to follow the process that was set up to raise his or her concerns to the IG.

You've had a credible determination and by the way, the IG in their second letter to Congress has said that the matter involved here is one directly in the D.N.I.'s wheelhouse and directly related to the most important responsibilities the D.N.I. has in his job to protect the country.


HILL: So on that point, Juliette, as we look at this, I mean, just remind us, what would actually rise to the level, what kinds of things could a whistleblower bring for that would be -- I mean, incredible is one thing, but that would be of urgent concern?

KAYYEM: Right. So -- and I think that's important to say. So first credible is taken care of by the IG. They're assessing the witness of his or her sort of, you know, situational awareness, where they in the room? What kind of information they had then?

You have to think about this sort of you know, urgent concern in three different buckets. So one would be, did the person -- remember, it's normally not the President -- disclose sources and methods? The second is, did the person that the whistleblower is concerned about essentially yield or give intelligence oversight to another country? In other words, withdrew and let someone else come in.

And then the third, which may be the one that's most relevant now is, of course, did the whistleblower see evidence that someone was using intelligence for personal gain, in this case, personal political gain for Donald Trump?

So those are the three buckets and we have to know the specifics. But just getting to the process issue, exactly what Lisa said, this is the challenge and this is why people are also maybe a little bit, sort of a little bit more anxious about what's going on is that there are processes as Lisa describes that this should be working. What we have now is a political overlay, stopping the process from

working. Either the O.D.N.I. refusing to go forward or the Department of Justice saying that it has nothing to do with intelligence - with the intelligence apparatus. So that the system was not built for the President in mind, for his political people to come in.

The Whistleblower Statutes were intended that you would almost have no political interaction between what was happening with the whistleblower and disclosure to Congress. But now we have it because the President has barred D.O.J. and an acting O.D.N.I.

So I think that explains why we're seeing these extremely ordinary leaks like nothing I've ever seen before because the process is not working. It's being stopped by Trump's people. There's also this, you know, we've alluded to it and I just -- I do want to play this startling admission from Rudy Giuliani telling CNN about this conversation. Take a listen.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden, you never asked anything about Joe Biden in his role with the prosecutor.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko who was appointed ...

CUOMO: Right.

GIULIANI: ... dismiss the case against and that --

CUOMO: So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

GIULIANI: Of course I did.


HILL: Lisa, anything wrong with that?

MONACO: Look, again, we don't know what's in this complaint here. But if there is, if these reports are true, and this is a manner of trying to use the foreign policy apparatus for individual political gain, that ought to be investigated, that's very serious matter. Our foreign policy should be conducted with the best interest of the United States in mind, not personal political interest.

Again, we don't know what's in the complaint. But just speaking quite generally, the foreign policy needs to be conducted as a result of what's in the U.S. national security interest, not personal interest.

The other thing I would say, Erica to the point that Juliette was previously making, the other impact of this process not being followed is real distrust, growing distrust and distraction within the Intelligence Community at an incredibly volatile time for our national security, and we can't lose sight of that. HILL: Lisa Monaco and Juliette Kayyem, I really appreciate your

insight. As always, thank you both.

The President says Iran is going to hell and has now taken action after the attack on Saudi oil facilities.

Plus young people fanning out across the globe, many of them skipping school to participate in climate protests. We will take you there, live.



HILL: President Trump announcing today he is applying new sanctions at the highest levels to Iran's Central Bank. The move comes just two days after a devastating attack on Saudi oil facilities. The U.S. blames Tehran for the drone strike which affected five percent of the world's global oil supply. Iran continues to deny responsibility.

Today the President defending his use of sanctions over military action while still leaving options on the table.


TRUMP: We are by far the strongest military in the world, going into Iran would be a very easy decision, as I said before. It would be very easy -- the easiest thing.

Most people thought I would go in within two seconds, but plenty of time, plenty of time. I think I'm showing great restraint.


HILL: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Iran's capital. So Nick, how is Tehran now responding to these latest sanctions in this tough talk from President Trump?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We haven't heard a direct response to that, and they don't tend to normally respond in real time. But I have to tell you, talking to a lot of analysts about how potent these sanctions are, not really to be honest.

Now the Central Bank are one of the things that have been targeted. It is true that goes to the central heart of the Iranian government here, but the Central Bank is already sanctioned after the sanctions imposed when Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal.


PATON WALSH: The Sovereign Wealth Fund that he also sanctioned today called the NDF, well, that's relatively new, but nobody knows how much money is in it, or if that money is held abroad and therefore vulnerable. So the nature of the sanctions is important, too, because in the past,

there have been sanctioned under the nuclear deal. These are prescribing these particular things as connected to terrorism, because they say they helped the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, which the U.S. has described as a terror group.

But all in all, nearly all the analysts I spoke to said, this isn't massively going to make life that much harder here because the rest of the world has already understood that these institutions, these Iranian banks, the things you can't really touch without risking potential prosecution or problems with doing business with the United States.

So although Donald Trump is incredibly strong there in his rhetoric, it does seem that the actual bones and teeth of the sanction maybe a little bit less than we previously had been led to believe. That certainly that particular move, not the worst thing anyone has done, period.

So maybe Iranians I think, were looking at the details here and beginning to assess that slowly. His comments about military action, too, well, there are also, I think, some who've seen his vacillation over that suggesting he might do it and then say he wouldn't and then there sounding as tough as he could possibly about the capacity to do military action that very minute, but choosing to be stronger and restrained.

Well, that also, I think plays possibly into the broader regional calculations here about the lessons learned from this. Iran says it had nothing to do with the Saudi oil fields, but I think there are some Iranian officials looking at the nature of the Saudi and American response, how there has been nothing military about it at all at this point. There's been diplomacy, and wondering quite what that means in the future. How invested the U.S. is in defending its allies here?

A lot of questions to be asked potentially around the United Nations General Assembly that we will see in New York to which the Iranian President and Foreign Minister are going. Back to you.

HILL: Nick Paton Walsh with latest for us from Tehran. Nick, thank you. Among the other headlines from the President's news conference earlier, he threatened to release ISIS fighters into Europe. He says the U.S. nuclear arsenal is in quote "tippy top shape."

Plus, underway at this moment, protests in major cities around the world as crowds call attention to the climate crisis. CNN is there.



HILL: Across the globe, young people are skipping school, leaving work today to take part in what is expected to be the biggest climate protest to date.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CROWD: (Chanting "We want climate justice. People want Climate



CROWD: Climate justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we want it?



CROWD: Climate justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we want it?



HILL: People in Australia, in Pakistan as you just saw demanding action not just on climate, but also their future.

The first of the global climate strikes kicking off in Australia, but millions around the world joining in. These are just some of them you see, Seoul to Paris, Hong Kong to Berlin and also right here across the country in the U.S.

We begin our coverage this hour in New York with CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent, Bill Weir and Bill, what's the turnout then here?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It is so much bigger, Erica than then we imagined, so much bigger than the last one in March. It drew about 1.4 million around the world.

Here in New York City, the NYPD had to shut down all the streets in lower Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge as well. Estimate crowd -- estimate numbers are going to be in the hundreds of thousands.

We've now made it down to the southern tip the Battery Park where a rally will be held. Speakers including Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish teen who started this whole movement, really about a year ago, plopping down in front of Parliament in Stockholm and demanding some action from grownups.

She says her Asperger gives her the focus actually to read the scientific reports which sunk her into a deep depression for the last few years, but she turned it into action, and today's action has company as well.

It'll be interesting to see politically how they muster all of this, you know, crowd sourced energy into actual political and economic will to shift the economy, unlike any other shift in modern history as well. Some of them have talked about maybe moving towards the way the

extinction rebellion, deliberately shuts down communities as they did in London earlier this summer. But for right now, it's a sense of serious excitement, if that makes sense from young people. I've seen toddlers to teens, signs from Florida to Alaska, Erica, out here to represent for Mother Earth.

HILL: Bill Weir there in New York for us. Bill, thank you. In Washington, Rene Marsh, also on the scene there. What has it been like in the nation's capital?

RENE MARSH, AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So you know, this all started here around 11 o'clock this morning, and we did a March that was just under a mile and all landed here outside the Capitol.

And right now, you know, you have folks who were part of that march here in front of the Capitol. Protesters, with their signs in front of the Capitol, essentially hoping that people on the inside are hearing what they're chanting out here.

We know that they have been planning this protest since this summer. But when you look in the crowd, yes, there are adults but the majority of people here that we spoke to, students, anywhere from elementary school all the way up until high school.

I spoke with one 12-year-old just a while ago who said he desperately needs lawmakers to listen because he lives --