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Crowds March to Demand Climate Action; Trump Under Fire Over Whistle-Blower Complaint. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 15:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: We are following breaking news out of Utah, a crash involving a tour bus.

CNN's Sara Sidner joining us now with these breaking details.

Sara, what more do we know?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this happened near Bryce Canyon on State Road 12.

As we understand it now, there are at least four fatalities in this bus crash, and there are multiple injuries, critical injuries, according to the Highway Patrol. We understand that there are also multiple air ambulances that are on the way.

This sounds like a terrible crash near Bryce Canyon there. And just to give you some idea of where that is, it's about three-and-a-half to four hours from Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a beautiful place.

And Bryce Canyon has been a very popular place. Over the years, Utah has tried to get more people to come out to see the beautiful scenery, and people have responded. There are millions of people who visit Bryce Canyon. We don't know where this tour bus was actually going are coming from, but we do know that this is a horrible crash with at least four fatalities, according to the Highway Patrol, multiple, multiple injuries there, and lots of help on the way.

They are asking people to try to stay away from that section of highway, State Road 12, but a really horrible situation out there. We understand there are more crews on the way, rescue crews, to try and help out those people.

HILL: All right, Sara, thank you. We know you will bring us any updates as we learn more.

Also turning now, our top story at this hour, the conversations surrounding this explosive whistle-blower claim and the president's attempts to downplay what we learned so far.

Here's what we do know. The director of national intelligence is refusing to give Congress this -- quote -- "urgent, credible concern," a whistle-blower complaint that was filed by an intel official. Sources at "The New York" -- tell "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," though, that the communication at issue involves a phone call in which promises were made with the government of Ukraine.

Well, then the president's personal attorney comes on CNN and says he asked Ukrainian officials to investigate one of the president's 2020 challengers, Joe Biden.

Answering questions for the first time since this scandal broke, here's the president earlier today.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Joe Biden, his son or his family (OFF-MIKE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't matter what I discuss. But I will say this. Somebody ought to look into Joe Biden's statement, because it was disgraceful.

QUESTION: Did you mention Joe Biden during the conversation?

TRUMP: I don't want to talk about any conversation, other than to say -- other than just say, great conversation, totally appropriate conversation, couldn't have been better.


HILL: The president says there was nothing nefarious discussed on any call with any world leader.

House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff, however, who is by law allowed access to the whistle-blower's filing, says it's all a cover-up, in his view.


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: Come hell or high water.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

So, Kaitlan, what more did we hear from the president earlier about this whistle-blower?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president was defending himself and how he conducts himself in these conversations with world leaders, which has come under scrutiny in light of this whistle-blower's complaint. But what the president didn't offer was a lot of details. He defended

himself against it, disputing certain things, alleging that he believes this whistle-blower is partisan.

But when asked why he thinks that, the president didn't really provide an answer.


TRUMP: I don't know the identity of the whistle-blower. 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 25 with the president of Ukraine?

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


COLLINS: So you see there the president not denying, though, that he did -- that he may have discussed Joe Biden with the Ukrainian president.

When asked whenever, he just said it didn't matter what he discussed. But, of course, what's going to come into question here is, the White House is maintaining the president did nothing wrong, that all of his calls and communications with foreign leaders were above-board.

But that is prompting the question Capitol Hill that, if that is the case, why is the White House blocking that information from becoming public if there's nothing to hide there, if there's nothing nefarious about what it was the president said?

And, of course, this comes as those House Democrats are investigating Rudy Giuliani and his interactions with the Ukrainians, which you heard last night. He said that he feels, if the president did pressure the Ukrainians to, in his opinion, straighten up in order to receive military aid money, Rudy Giuliani said he thinks that would be appropriate.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins with the latest for us from the White House, thank you.

Whether or not Ukraine is at the center of this whistle-blower complaint, what we do know is that the administration has as recently as this summer wanted that country to investigate the former vice president.

So let me take you back here to May of this year, when Rudy Giuliani consider traveling to Ukraine to look into the debunked theory about Joe Biden. That trip was scrapped following criticism.


Two months later, in July, Giuliani instead met with a Ukrainian official in Madrid. And that same month, President Trump called the new Ukrainian president-elect.

So is that the conversation at the center of the whistle-blower's complaint? That is a major question.

The complaint itself was filed on August 12, 18 days after the call. And then, 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.

On September 9, Congress launched three investigations into the president and Giuliani's efforts with Ukraine. Three days later, the administration lifts the freeze on Ukrainian funding.

Let's take a closer look at what the official records show when it comes to this phone call July 25 between President Trump and the Ukrainian president. So the White House readout of the call was pretty brief. It says they -- quote -- "discussed ways to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, including energy and economic cooperation."

Ukraine's version, though, a bit lengthier, still, though, make no mention of the aid money, nor of Joe Biden. It reads -- 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 USA."

John Avlon is CNN senior political analyst who also served as chief speechwriter for Giuliani during his time as mayor, and Jennifer Rodgers a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

OK, so we look at all of this. Let's start with those two different accounts of the phone call. Ukraine says there were discussions about it's investigating corruption, that obviously noticeably absent from the U.S. version.

Jennifer, should that raise a red flag?


I mean, the thing is that we need to know a lot more, of course, about what happened there, which is maybe what the whistle-blower was trying to tell Congress. So we will have to learn more.

But if there was actually a promise by the president to release funds in exchange for help with his election by investigating a political rival, that, to me, looks a lot like a violation of various federal laws, bribery laws and also campaign finance laws.

HILL: And when we look at what we are learning from Rudy Giuliani, I'm going to call on you my friend, John Avlon, to translate your former boss.

But, first, I want to play a little bit more of what he said last night when he was on with Chris Cuomo. Take a look.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything 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...

CUOMO: Right.

GIULIANI: ... dismissed the case against AntAC.

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

GIULIANI: Of course I did.


HILL: "Of course I did."

I mean, look, we all know, this is not the first time Rudy Giuliani has contradicted himself. It's not the first time that maybe something has been thrown out, and we all sort of go, what is that, and then months later, we go, oh, it's this really big thing.

But what is your -- what is your gut and what we heard from him last night? Is this some sort of a strategy to be the fall guy? Is it a strategy to deflect? Is it a strategy at all?



AVLON: Look, I think it's generally, we have found with Donald Trump and with Rudy acting as sort of advocate in a court of public opinion, it's a mistake to read too much strategy into things.

Often, there is impulse. Sometimes, I believe there are probably messages the president would like Rudy to communicate out in the world. And, sometimes, Rudy is just doing his thing and trying to act as an attack dog for his client, again, in the court of public opinion.

But let's be honest. That was not a particularly good performance, nor was it particularly well-schooled. Things fell apart rather quickly, because he contradicted himself. In a private capacity, Rudy Giuliani can have these conversations. The problems is, you're dealing with the presidency, and the real issue on this isn't a bad interview late at night. The real issue is, is that you have got the inspector general saying there's a credible and urgent whistle-blower report that is being blocked, when it should be released to the Congress, at the request of someone higher up, presumably the president and the Justice Department.

That's a cover-up. And if, indeed, the president has got nothing to worry about, as he says, it's perfectly appropriate, then let's release it. If not, it means he's lying.

HILL: To that point, right, even -- so let's say -- if we follow what Rudy Giuliani said there, right, that he asked a foreign government to look into his client's potential political opponent.

Is Rudy Giuliani doing anything illegal? Because he's not the president doing it, right?

AVLON: Right.

HILL: And he's not -- as far as we know, he's not doing it on behalf of the campaign. This is just his private client. Anything illegal?

RODGERS: It could be. It depends. I mean, there could be a conspiracy there, right, between Rudy Giuliani, the president, other people involved with the campaign.

That's what I would want to look at. He is the president's lawyer. It's not as if he's just some random person who says, oh, I like Trump. If you did this, that would be fabulous for this guy I barely know.

I mean, he is a representative of Donald Trump.


RODGERS: So there definitely could be something there.

HILL: Right.

RODGERS: But, of course, if you're talking about criminal stuff, you need the proof.

AVLON: Yes, and there's no -- we will float the Logan Act. Let's just put that aside. That's never been prosecuted. So that's nonsense.

I think the real issue is that the president's actually withholding aid in exchange for a quid pro quo to have a foreign government go after a political opponent.


And, again, just ditch all the partisan blinders. The president said this was a partisan issue, but what he really is someone who is concerned about my actions and trying to hold me to account.

HILL: Right.

AVLON: That's the new partisan.

The real issue with this is that, if Republicans saw a Democratic president doing exactly this, would they have a problem with it? The answer is obviously yes.

HILL: You know, the other thing that sticks out to me that's really interesting in this timeline -- and, again, it's just a question. And I know we don't have the exact answer.

But if we go through the timeline, we know that, on September 2, that was the deadline for the DNI to hand this information over to Congress, right? We know that didn't happen. So fast-forward to a week later. On September 9 is when the intel I.G. says, hey, Adam Schiff, I think you need to know about this. There's this urgent concern that was overruled by the DNI.

It's interesting that, on that same day, you have three committees, Oversight, Foreign Affairs, and Intel, who launched this investigation of efforts by the president, Rudy Giuliani and others to pressure the Ukrainian government in terms of reelection efforts.

I mean, John, is it...

AVLON: Just a coincidence in the crazy world of ours?

HILL: Is it just a coincidence in the crazy world of Washington? What is your gut on that?



AVLON: I think my gut is that you should acknowledge the obvious and not try to ignore it. I mean, there's obviously some connection between these things.

But, again, until we see the report, we can't know for sure. The president says he's got nothing to worry about? Release the report. Why is the Department of Justice running cover for this president?

Why, rather than doing what is right, to get the information out, as the statute requires? It's the cover-up -- as much as the potential accusation of wrongdoing, which is deeply serious -- don't ignore that.

HILL: Well, and your point too, if there's really nothing to see here -- I know we say this about umpteen things, it seems like, over the last couple of years, if there's nothing to see here, then why are there so many roadblocks?

When we look at this particular complaint, though, Jen, is there anything that would preclude this person from handing the complaint directly to Congress, say -- so, in their mind, if this isn't happening, right, with the I.G. -- pardon me -- with the DNI, the I.G. still wants it to happen -- could the whistle-blower just go to Congress and say, here you go?


It's not entirely clear. This is likely classified information. So you have to worry about that aspect of it. Whistle-blower laws are very specific. There are very specific things that you have to do. It appears that the person so far has been following those.

But going around and just going straight to Congress is not part of that process. So the person could potentially be in trouble if they didn't follow exactly the letter of the whistle-blower protections. But the fact that we are where we are shows that, if he or she is playing fair, the White House is not playing fair, because those procedures are not leading to what needs to happen here, which is Congress needs to see it.

HILL: And we note, too, I'm just hearing in my ear, Kamala Harris apparently just saying she's actually urging the whistle-blower to, in fact, go directly to Congress.

So it will be interesting to see what happens on that.

Appreciate it, my friends. Nice to see you, as always.

AVLON: Thank you.

HILL: Across the country right now. Huge crowds of people marching to demand climate action, and you will hear from some of them. Some of them chose to walk out of school, to walk out of work today.

Plus, we're talking 2020, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren really taking some incoming fire from Democratic rivals.

Plus, what happened to Kamala Harris? The senator says she's basically moving to Iowa to jump-start her campaign.



HILL: You know the saying. Well, the best defense, it's a good office.

President Trump making use of that, taking aim at Joe Biden today when the president was asked about the whistle-blower accusations. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Somebody ought to look into Joe Biden's statement, because it was disgraceful, where he talked about millions of dollars that he's not giving to a certain country unless a certain prosecutor is taken off the case. So somebody's ought to look into that.


HILL: President Trump insisting somebody should dig into a conspiracy theory involving Biden, Ukraine and a Ukrainian prosecutor.

Joining me now, CNN reporter Daniel Dale.

So, Daniel, Democrats are accusing President Trump of wrongdoing. He points the finger back, bringing back this conspiracy theory with Joe Biden. So let's dig in on those claims.

You're the someone here that we need. What's the backstory?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: So Trump is talking about the time in 2016 when then Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukrainian leaders fire the country's senior prosecutor, who was widely seen as ineffective in fighting corruption.

Now, Biden does not think that he did anything wrong here. In fact, he has boasted about this effort to get the prosecutor fired. Listen to what he said at an event in 2018.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm desperately concerned about the backsliding on the part of Kiev in terms of corruption. They made -- I will give you one concrete example.

I went over, I guess, the 12th, 13th time to Kiev, and I was going -- supposed to announce that there is another billion-dollar loan guarantee. And I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn't.

So they said that -- they are walking out to the press conference. I said, no, I said I'm not going -- we're not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, you have no authority. You're not the president. The president said.


I said call him.


BIDEN: I said I'm telling you, you're not getting the billion dollars. I said, you're not getting the billion. I'm going to be leaving here.

And I think it was, what, six hours. I look at it. I said, we're leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you're not getting the money.

Well, son of a bitch. (LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.


DALE: So the reason that Biden's critics say that this anti- corruption effort was a problem was because, at the time, Biden's son Hunter sat on the board of directors of a company that was owned by a Ukrainian man who was supposedly under investigation by Ukrainian prosecutors.

Now, there are a few things to know about this. One is that the effort to get the prosecutor fired was not Biden's alone. It came from American diplomats in Ukraine. It came from international donors. It came from the International Monetary Fund.

So this was not a Joe Biden crusade to help his son.

A second important thing to note is that it's not at all clear how much investigating this prosecutor was actually doing. There have been some reports that he basically wasn't investigating anyone, which is why people weren't happy with him.

So it's not at all clear that getting the prosecutor fired would actually help Biden's son Hunter at all.

And so there are questions here. Conflict of interests experts have said, well, Biden's son put him in a difficult position being on the board of Ukrainian gas company at the same time as the vice president was dealing with geopolitical energy concerns.

But the complaint that Biden was somehow corrupt here is simply not at all corroborated by the evidence we have.

HILL: So, that has been debunked.

Daniel Dale, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.

DALE: Thank you.

HILL: Right now, tens of thousands of protesters are out on the streets walking out of school, maybe skipping for the day, often with permission, leaving their jobs to take part in a global call to action on the climate crisis.

We are live for you in New York and Seattle next.

Plus, more on the breaking news out of Utah, at least four people killed in a tour bus crash. We are told there are multiple injuries as well.

Stay with us.













HILL: The scene earlier today in Sydney, young people skipping school to take part in the global climate strike.

As the day unfolded, millions around the globe joining in from Seoul to Paris, Hong Kong, to Berlin, young people demanding action.










HILL: The climate crisis marches happening across the U.S. as well.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Seattle. And here in New York City, CNN's chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir.

And, Bill, let's begin with you.

Quite the day out there, a lot of folks making their way into the city.

BILL WEIR, CNN CLIMATE CHANGE CORRESPONDENT: Way more than NYPD anticipated. That's for sure, Erica.

They had to shut down all of Lower Manhattan. They're now estimating in the hundreds of thousands, which is pretty amazing, considering this thing started with such grassroots from a few teenagers here and there.

But I want to bring in one of the -- one of the voices behind this is Jamie Margolin.

Good to see you.

JAMIE MARGOLIN, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: Good to see you too. Thank you so much for having me.

WEIR: I saw you on Capitol Hill testifying in front of the Senate there...

MARGOLIN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

WEIR: ... and being frustrated in moments.


MARGOLIN: I was very frustrated.

WEIR: Tell me about that. What frustrates you the most about the way grownups in power think about this issue and what these kids are saying?

MARGOLIN: They think about it as a competition of whether we're going to have an economy or whether we're going to solve life on Earth.

And they talk about solving all life on Earth as something unsensible. A lot of the things that these politicians were talking about is, oh, it's not sensible. We have to have sensible solutions, as if -- as if it was sensible to destroy all life on Earth.

It is insanity. Einstein defined the definition of insanity as trying to solve an issue with the same thing that caused it. And I was sitting in that hearing room, and all of these politicians were talking about how they're going to buy and sell and use greed to get out of their way -- to get out of a problem caused by buying and selling and greed.

So it didn't make any sense. And it was just very frustrating, because it was -- there was -- you know, sitting behind me was a delegation of indigenous Amazon protectors. And they were being so -- they didn't -- they talked like they didn't actually care about the people affected.

They just wanted to see, how can I hold on to as much money as possible?

WEIR: And it only fired you up more. It feels like it fueled more of this.

MARGOLIN: It did. It did fuel a lot more of this.

And I saw -- like, after the testimony, I got so much amazing responses on social media. And, like, more people turned out to the strike because of it. They were telling me like, I saw your testimony, and now I'm going to come to strike.

So it's really amazing to be able to turn -- to be able to turn a situation of -- of frustration into one of hope and action.

WEIR: Of action.

Thank you, Jamie.

MARGOLIN: Thank you so much.

WEIR: Thanks for stopping.

MARGOLIN: Thank you.

WEIR: That's the thing, Erica.

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl who inspired so much, she said she was in a deep depression when she understood the warnings of science, but turned that depression into action. And you see the result here