Return to Transcripts main page


Giuliani Denies Asking Ukraine to Investigate Biden, Then Admits It; Deadly Flooding Grips Texas, Hundreds Rescued; Schiff Threatens to Sue Over Whistleblower Complaint. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, September 20. It's 6 a.m. here in New York. And we have new developments breaking all over the place. We're going to run through all the new details, and there are many.

But this morning, the basic question is this: Did the president of the United States use American power and American money to try to get a foreign country to go after a political opponent?

"The Washington Post" this morning is reporting that a whistleblower filed a complaint about President Trump's contact with a foreign leader. The substance of that contact, they say, involved Ukraine and a, quote, "alarming promise."

The intelligence community inspector general, a Trump appointee, found the complaint credible and a matter of urgent concern. And now, House Democrats want to know whether the president and his private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pressed the Ukrainians to basically go after Democratic front runner, Joe Biden which Giuliani admitted to doing last night seconds after denying it to Chris Cuomo.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?

RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: No, actually, I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations --

CUOMO: What was wrong with the prosecutor?

GIULIANI: The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed --

CUOMO: Right.

GIULIANI: -- dismissed the case against and --

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

GIULIANI: Of course I did.

CUOMO: You just said you didn't.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And here's where things get really interesting. A month after Giuliani and President Trump spoke with the Ukrainians, the president threatened to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. Weeks later, three House committees launched investigations were launched into whether the president and Giuliani were pressuring the Ukrainians to help Mr. Trump's re-election campaign.

A few days after that, the Trump administration abandoned the effort to withhold military aid. And now, CNN has learned the White House and Justice Department advised the intelligence chief to withhold the whistleblower's complaint from Congress.

President Trump and Giuliani deny wrongdoing.

So joining us now is "Washington Post" congressional reporter and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian.

Karoun, thank you so much. We want to get into your reporting for -- along with your colleagues -- for "The Washington Post." Tell us what you know about the Ukrainian connection.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we know that this -- we had initially reported that the whistleblower complaint was due to President Trump making a promise, some sort of promise to a foreign leader. Now it appears clear that the connection is to Ukraine.

There are -- and from there we have to kind of piece the dots together. So if we know that it's about Ukraine, we know that it's about a promise, that brings into focus all of these interactions that Trump was having with the Ukrainian president at the same time as Giuliani is talking about pushing for the -- trying to get the Ukrainians to investigate the Biden connection due to the former vice president, current -- current potential challenger to President Trump's son's connection to a company there. And phone calls that were made between the two leaders and contention between the Hill and the White House also about Ukraine aid money that was putting out there.

All that we can say for certain is that there appears to be a Ukraine connection to the case of the whistleblower who was concerned about the promise the president was making to the foreign leader. But we know that that was happening around the same time as all of these other elements were at play between what the Trump administration and the -- Trump's close advisors were trying to get the Ukrainians to do at the same time that this financial aid was in the balance.

CAMEROTA: OK. In case it's hard for people to piece all of this together, here's the timeline. Let's put a timeline -- DEMIRJIAN: It's good to put a visual, yes.

CAMEROTA: -- up on the screen of how this all worked. On July 25, President Trump and Ukraine's president spoke on the phone. Late July, Giuliani met with the Ukraine president's top representative.


CAMEROTA: August 12, the whistleblower files the complaint. By the end of August, President Trump moves to block Ukrainian aid.

September 9, three House committees launch an investigation of this Ukrainian outreach. This is before the whistleblower.


CAMEROTA: And then September 12, a hold on Ukraine aid lifted.

So it just does feel as though there was a lot of activity after the time that the president -- President Trump and the Ukrainian president spoke on the phone.

DEMIRJIAN: There was a lot of activity before it appears during and after that whistleblower did file that complaint. It took two weeks of the I.G. for the intelligence community investigating it before it got past the director of national intelligence. The director of national intelligence was then supposed to have a seven-day window to pass it to Congress.

And that's where we are at an impasse right now, because the House Intelligence Committee, the whistleblower and the I.G. want Congress to have this information. But the acting director of national intelligence, the Justice Department, and it appears the White House, too, do not.

CAMEROTA: OK. Just to put a finer point on all of that --


CAMEROTA: -- here is your reporting, along with your colleagues, in "The Post" that also explains just more context. So here it is: "Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May. That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump's re-election campaign." This next line is important. "Lawmakers have demanded a full transcript and a list of the participants on the call."


Aren't they entitled to that, Karoun? I mean, a full transcript. Don't -- do full transcripts of all of these phone calls with the president and foreign leaders exist? And are congressional oversight committees entitled to those?

DEMIRJIAN: The Congress is entitled to ask for any of these sorts of communications, and especially when it pertains to potential intelligence matters.

But yes, the president does not get on the phone with foreign leaders and just have that be a random call nobody is aware of or nobody is paying attention to. They want to know who else was in the room with the president, who else may have been on the call from the U.S. side and the Ukrainian side, because this involves so many --potentially involves so many other actors, with Giuliani pushing for it with the various -- the various Ukrainians that have been brought into the mix.

But as we have seen before, when the -- Capitol Hill, when investigators in Congress ask for this information, they have been traditionally, in this presidency, met with resistance.

And we see that happening again. We see that we -- the Justice Department, the director -- the acting director of national intelligence and, it appears, the White House are resisting this -- the request for the whistleblower's complaint. That comes on top of the investigators looking for the substance of the president's call with the Ukrainian president and multiple other things pertaining to the president's interactions with foreign leaders, things that pertain to the Russia investigation and so on and so on.

The thing that potentially makes this denial of information, though unique -- and I'm talking at this point about the denial of the whistleblower's complaint, is that it's not just a basic oversight thing. You have a law about whistleblowers that actually says this information needs to be turned over to Congress.


DEMIRJIAN: And so it is potentially flouting of that very specific law that's designed to protect the ability of whistleblowers to come forward.


DEMIRJIAN: And because it's of the nature of -- the substance of this, many of the Democrats feel that this is so egregious, so urgent, that if there were ever a case to use Congress's inherent contempt powers to potentially levy fines and some things like that, this is it.


DEMIRJIAN: Because those court processes take a very long time, as we've seen.


DEMIRJIAN: And it's never quite clear how they -- how they're going to turn out.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Lawmakers somehow foresaw this scenario and created a law for it. And we'll see if that now stands.

Karoun Demirjian, thank you very much for sharing all of your paper's reporting with us.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa; and CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell. Josh is the author of a brand-new book, "Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump's war on the FBI."

Alisyn, I'm so glad you went into the details with Karoun, because the details are important here, and the questions about who has authority and jurisdiction over what is important, too.

But when you go even higher, to me there are still three basic questions, new this morning. No. 1, did the president pressure Ukraine to go after a political rival, Joe Biden?

No. 2, why did the inspector general a Trump appointee, find this to be of urgent concern? And No. 3, why is the White House and why are the Justice Department trying to cover this up or keep this from Congress?

And I ask this, Asha, based on what Rudy Giuliani said to Chris last night, to Chris Cuomo last night, because he half answered some of these questions, which is did you order the code red? He said, you're damn right I did. Listen to this.


CUOMO: Did the president talk to the Ukrainian president about what he wanted done with Joe Biden and what he wanted done with Paul Manafort?

GIULIANI: I have no idea. I never asked him that. I don't know if he did, and I wouldn't care if he did. He had every right to do it as the president of the United States.


CUOMO: So Rudy also said that he did; he pressured Ukraine. And he says if the president did it, that's OK.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. This was like O.J. describing how he did it.

You know, he is wrong on that front. It is not OK for the president to use his presidential authority as leverage in order to get an action by a foreign government that will benefit him politically, especially in an election. We literally went through a two-and-a- half-year investigation about these very topics. You know, it's like we need to -- I don't know, like, have a "Schoolhouse Rock" or something, you know, that --

CAMEROTA: No foreign interference.

RANGAPPA: No foreign interference. You cannot accept, you know, assistance. And this time -- you know, with Russia, they claimed that it just dropped in their lap. They are seeking it out here. And you know, I think they're now trying to normalize it, but it is not. It is illegal, and it is clearly outside of the balance of the president's Article II presidential authority.

CAMEROTA: So where does that leave us, given what Rudy Giuliani said last night?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it seems like, you know, they're a moth to this flame of collusion. They keep coming back and back and back. And obviously, in Russia, they said no, there was no collusion, no crime. You look at the Mueller report, they talk about these questionable instances, trying to at least receive information at Trump Tower, you know, to get dirt.

But now, you know, that's behind us and it's like, we need another investigation. And so let's go do something else.


RANGAPPA: Maybe he misses Mueller.

CAMPBELL: Maybe he misses Mueller. Maybe we need to bring him back.

But he's -- it's interesting. Because there are two aspects here that I think we have to focus on at the same time. There is the act itself, what Rudy is talking about. And then, as you mentioned, this inspector general report, someone inside the government who is so concerned about what he or she saw, that they wanted to bring that to the attention of investigators.

We always hear that the coverup is worse than the crime. I don't know if that's the case here. It seems like the crime, if this pans out, is pretty serious, when you talk about going to a foreign government yet again, you know, this redux, trying to get assistance in a foreign -- a foreign government helping us in our election.

BERMAN: I will say, if Rudy's claim that, if the president did it, it's OK, if he really feels that way, then come clean. Tell us exactly what the nature of the conversation was.

RANGAPPA: Exactly. Exactly. So this doesn't make any sense. In other words, if he's saying this is completely fine, then there's no reason for this to be privileged. So why are they blocking the contents of this?

Why -- to go to your second question, John, you know, and why the inspector general though this to be such an urgent concern, because this goes to what we have been talking about, again, for the last two and a half years: our election security. Protecting our infrastructure, protecting the integrity of the process.

And that is what the intelligence community has been looking into for the last two and a half years. And it goes to the heart of what they are worried about moving forward. And so that is why I think he believed that it fell directly within their jurisdiction. I suspect that the DNI was trying to maybe categorize it as a

diplomatic communication that wasn't intelligence activity. So I think we're getting kind of these semantic definitional differences, probably, behind the scenes.

CAMEROTA: Here's the thing that is so mind-blowing. There are laws against this. They're explicit. There are laws against this. There are laws that dictate how a whistleblower comes forward.

This whistleblower did exactly that process, went by the letter of the law, and still they're not acknowledging it or whatever. They're not allowing it to go forward to Congress.

I mean, and there are laws against foreign interference. This is spelled out. And somehow, I guess, because everyone understands the legal process takes a long time, somehow Democrats or Congress feel stymied to work with this. Work against this.

CAMPBELL: Well, it such a good point when you mention the law itself. Because we've seen, you know, the destruction of norms. We've talked about where, you know, obviously the president came on the scene. He's a very unconventional person. He came in to disrupt Washington. And we've seen this kind of blasting of norms even throughout the Mueller investigation. This influence on the Justice Department, which you couldn't look and actually find a law.

As you mention, this is a law that's on the books. It's important to point that out. Because that also means that there is yet another branch of government who might have a role to play here. And that's the courts. And I think Adam Schiff had actually alluded to that yesterday in his press conference, said look, we may have to litigate this. Because as you mention, it's clear. This isn't just this nebulous, well, the president has powers to control the government as he wishes.

The other thing that's interesting when you talk about the legal aspect of this, is I wonder right now, my former colleagues in the FBI, you know, where Asha and I used to work, I wonder what they're doing. Public corruption is one of those cases where I've seen it time again, where an FBI agent picks up the newspaper or turns on television to CNN and sees something that they think might be, you know, information and allegation of some type of crime. They can open an investigation.


CAMPBELL: So I wonder what they're doing right now.

BERMAN: Rudy Giuliani makes the case that the president is within his right to ask any government to ferret out corruption in any place that he wants to, right? What is the shortcoming of that argument?

RANGAPPA: What makes it different in this case? Yes. Certainly, the United States and the president -- representing the United States can exhort countries and encourage them to weed out corruption. The problem here is he is doing it against a particular individual who

is going -- who may be his political opponent. In other words, he gets a benefit from it. So that is -- there's a conflict there.

He's also, from what we understand, using something as leverage to, you know, his kind of authority for that personal benefit. And that is also potentially criminal behavior, whether it's bribery or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. You know, this isn't an official position of the United States towards another country. This is a private benefit that he would be getting.

BERMAN: Just one distinction here. We know from the reporting from "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times," that the conversation that is of such concern to the whistleblower and the inspector general was about Ukraine or concerns Ukraine.

We also know that House Democrats are investigating the president and Rudy Giuliani, or want to, about what they were leaning on Ukraine to go after Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: Before this. Before this.

BERMAN: Before this. What we don't have yet, because the reporting -- the reporting doesn't go as far as to say that that is exactly and definitively what the inspector general is concerned about yet. We don't know that based on this reporting.

RANGAPPA: Did it really --

BERMAN: We know all these things are happening at the same time.

RANGAPPA: -- say as much?

BERMAN: Rudy said --

RANGAPPA: Admit as much?

BERMAN: -- that I've pressured the Ukraine. Rudy said that it's OK if the president pressured the Ukraine, but no one has definitively said --

RANGAPPA: Made the link between the communication.

BERMAN: -- that's what the inspector general is looking into.

CAMEROTA: And one more thing, I think, we know this morning that we didn't know yesterday is that complaint -- the whistleblower complaint isn't based on just one conversation.



CAMEROTA: Not based on just one phone call. There were, I guess, a series of connections that so alarmed this person. RANGAPPA: Well, we've seen, you know, a pattern of trips by Giuliani,

Mike Pence. I mean, you know, this is -- even on other fronts and quite overt, actually, there have been many contacts and communication. So it makes sense that it may not just be a single conversation.

CAMPBELL: You know, it's interesting, because this connection, as you mentioned you can't quite yet piece them together. One thing we can't lose sight of is that out there right now in the intelligence community is someone who did the right thing, that went through the proper channels. There was something that concerned them. And so that person is still there and is a potential witness.

So if, you know, the House Democrats can actually do something about this or if the courts step in, that person is going to be -- obviously, be a key person that they want to talk to.

CAMEROTA: Josh, Asha, thank you both very much.

All right. So breaking overnight, emergency responders rescuing nearly 150 people in southeast Texas from deadly floods that are gripping that state.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in hard-hit Beaumont, Texas, with more. What are you seeing, Ed?


Well, here in southeast Texas today, it will be about cleanup. Hundreds of cars stranded along roadways. This is Interstate 10, where truckers are still trying to figure out how far they can go along this interstate. And one local reporter here in Beaumont described this storm as delivering a sucker punch.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Southeast Texas under water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been a lot of water that has fallen on this city.

LAVANDERA: Still reeling after a tropical depression hammered the area. Residents were frantically trying to escape the rising waters. In Beaumont, airboats surveying flooded streets for those stranded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you coming with us?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We might not be able to come back, folks.

LAVANDERA: Houston's police chief was going door to door to help residents secure their homes and evacuate. Local officials scrambling to help everyone they could.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in the car and was -- the water was rising pretty fast. So I got out and saw the police standing on the bridge and I started screaming, and they start screaming back. And they came all the way down to the car and walked us back up here.

LAVANDERA: In Harris County, hundreds of high-water rescues. But tragically, one man lost his life after driving into nearly eight feet of floodwaters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vehicle continued to go forward. It did come to a pause. And according to witnesses, for some unknown reason, he just punched it and tried to drive through it some more.

LAVANDERA: Roads turned to rivers, cars stranded on Houston highways, drivers forced to abandon their vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel all right. I was on my way to the dentist. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is pretty bad. It's just so much in so fast a time.

LAVANDERA: People struggling in neck-deep water.

This man was spotted floating down this street. One couple in Jefferson County received this huge scare, spotting an alligator in the floodwaters near their home.

That county has received more than 40 inches of rain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most wild thing I have ever seen. Like, this is so much worse than Harvey.


LAVANDERA: And John and Alisyn, this is exactly the theme that we've heard over and over here in southeast Texas. Just two years after Hurricane Harvey, the flashbacks caused by this storm are real -- John.

BERMAN: Very same images that we saw two years ago, seeing again this morning. Ed, thank you so much for your reporting on that. Please keep us posted.

Question this morning. Did the president lean on a foreign country to go after a political opponent? We have new reporting this morning of what Congress will do about it. That's next.



CAMEROTA: Houses Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff threatening to sue the Trump administration over its refusal to turn over that whistleblower complaint. The inspector general for the intelligence community met with members of that committee behind closed doors yesterday and revealed that the whistleblower had concerns about multiple actions, not just one phone call, as we had previously thought.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst Rachael Bade. She's the congressional reporter for "The Washington Post."

So here we are again, Rachael. In terms of Adam Schiff and the -- these oversight committees trying to figure out what to do about something like this that feels like a bombshell. He's threatening legal action. We've heard that before.

But this one is different, it feels like, because there are actual explicit laws that define how this whistleblower can come forward with important information. So why don't they pull the trigger today on legal action?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think they're probably going to do that, right? But Democrats, we've seen, over the past few months, you know, they came into power saying that they were going to be a check on the president. And you know, the president has been able to stonewall them, stonewall them, stonewall them.

And you know, this is a new situation that you have the intelligence community very concerned about national security issues. And it's still not making a difference.

We are seeing that the Democrats right now, you know, they are really struggling to figure out how to check this administration. You have Adam Schiff saying yesterday, yes, they're looking at legal action. They're arguing that they would probably go to the courts and say, look, this inspector general said this is a, quote, "urgent concern" for national security. That typically triggers a legal basis to come to Congress and share this information so that lawmakers can look at what's going on.


Now, obviously, somebody is blocking that. The director of national intelligence won't say who, but Schiff suspects it is the president and the White House that is keeping this information from Congress. But there's not a lot they can do besides go to the court right now.

And this is what we've seen the Trump administration do over and over again. They just will not cooperate, and it's really causing a lot of problems for Democrats right now.

BERMAN: I am curious about how long this fight can last from the administration if Rudy Giuliani and others are out there saying, if the president did this, there's nothing wrong. Nothing to see here.

If there's nothing to see here, then release it. Then come clean with what's going on.

Rachael, I don't know if it's connected or not. But with all this smoke the last few days, all of a sudden, Mitch McConnell, who had resisted funding for election security measures, all of a sudden turned around and said, you know what? I'm for it now. I'm going to say we need this extra $250 million for election security. What changed?

BADE: I mean, he's been getting a lot of pressure on that. I mean, Republicans, they're sort of counter to the whole Russia, Mueller report has been, let's look to the future. We can secure elections. Obama didn't do enough in 2016.

But if they're really serious about that, the No. 1 Republican in Congress, Mitch McConnell, you would think he would actually move on election security.

And I think right now, you have to sort of put this in context. What we're seeing with Trump right now and with Giuliani and this whole thing about potentially pressuring Ukraine to do something with Biden, you're seeing a White House that if feeling extremely emboldened right now. We have heard from White House officials that they feel like they can ignore Congress. They feel like they don't need to cooperate, because they're not going to be punished for it.

We were hearing that just a couple days ago when it came to Lewandowski and him coming to the Hill and saying he was not going to answer questions and being extremely defiant.

You know, Trump is not just talking -- Giuliani is not just talking about Ukraine a couple of weeks ago. We're also seeing the president talk about hosting the G-7 at his resort in Florida. I mean, this is against the Emoluments Clause.

And so after the Mueller report, it almost feels like we're in a new chapter right now, where the White House is feeling that it has no check.

And so you mentioned a system breakdown. These whistleblower protections are there for a reason. And yet, we're not seeing anything come to light, because the White House is blocking it. And they're blocking Congress. No checks and balances right now. And it's really emboldening the White House.

CAMEROTA: Well, there is a third branch of government that may have to take this up and fast track it.

But let's move on to something that concerns so many Americans. And that, of course, is gun violence. And so Mitch McConnell came out yesterday. We know that there's been this strange sort of paralysis, this catch-22, where he's waiting for the president to say what sorts of gun measures he'll sign. And the president says he's waiting for Mitch McConnell to propose some sort of gun measures.

So here's how Mitch McConnell explained it yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We need some guidance from the president about what kind of proposal that would make a difference he would actually sign into law.

I think, given the multiple horrendous shootings in August, we owe it to the American people to act.


CAMEROTA: Well, that sounds good, Rachael, but I guess we'll believe it when we see action.

BADE: Yes. It's a game of chicken right now between Trump and McConnell. Who's going to blink first? Because the person that blinks first is obviously afraid that they're going to feel the brunt of the heat from the base.

It's pretty clear that, you know, regardless of what the president said after these mass shootings we saw in August, he said he wants to do something. He talked about background checks.

But this whole process has been completely set up to fail for multiple reasons. I mean, this whole gun proposal we saw yesterday that was leaked. Washington 101 when it comes to lessons on how to get things done is not to leak a proposal like that that is super controversial and super contentious.

Also, you have Barr, who is leading the gun discussions right now instead of Trump. Trump's got to be the one that leads these talks.

And the last thing, the White House leaked the statement saying that they have -- they are totally distancing themselves from this proposal that they put out a couple of days ago, which really killed it in the crib. I mean, clearly, there's not a serious interest in getting something done, even as you hear this rhetoric, we're going to do something.

CAMEROTA: Rachael Bade, thank you --

BADE: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- very much for coming on with all of your reporting.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau making a stunning admission as the controversy over images of him in blackface grows. That story next.