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Wash Post: Whistleblower Complaint About Trump Involves Ukraine; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is Interviewed about Whistleblower Complaint; Deadly Flooding Hits Texas, Rescuers Save Hundreds. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- that so alarmed this whistleblower, a member of the intel community, that the whistleblower filed a report with the inspector general, as is prescribed by law.


CNN has also learned that the inspector general revealed to lawmakers that it wasn't just one phone call. Multiple actions raised concern.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And this morning, the basic question seems to be, as it pertains to Ukraine, is did the president of the United States use American power, American money to get a foreign country to go after a political opponent? In this case we're talking about Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden.

Last night the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was on with Chris Cuomo and he had this to say about his role in all of it.


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

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: 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 --

CUOMO: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden?

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! (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You're damn right I did, as they say. I did order the Code Red.

Joining me now is CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She is White House correspondent for "The New York Times." Maggie, when "The Times" broke its version of this story, suggesting that this matter the inspector general is so concerned about, pertains to Ukraine, you wrote, huge. Why do you think this is so important?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think it's important to note that this inspector general issue, with the inspector general is being prevented from talking to Congress about, our understanding is this was a lower complaint. It's not just about this Ukraine issue.

But we also know that there have been a number of red flags raised around Giuliani's discussions with Ukraine. We know that the White House had been holding up aid to Ukraine the Congress had approved, and that was only released last week amid pressure. There are a lot of concerns that seem to center around this one area.

And we know that there was a conversation between President Trump and the leader of Ukraine where the Ukrainian readout was that they were discussing corruption in Ukraine.

I think that if we are now getting to the area -- and it will depend on what the president said, but if we are now getting to the area where the president is possibly pressuring another government to do something that could be politically advantageous to him, regarding one of his opponents and potential opponents in the 2020 re-election fight, that is a big deal.

I think it also raises questions about the timing of this. This phone call between President Trump and the leader of Ukraine was right after -- not right after but a couple of months after the Mueller report had been released and discussed. And we know from a lot of people close to the president that he was feeling, you know, emboldened. He believed that he had been investigated and it was clear that he was, in his mind, within his powers.

And so again, I think there's a lot that we don't know, but this is potentially explosive.

BERMAN: There's a lot that we don't know. Again, just to put a final point on it, you say it's a big deal if the president was pressuring a foreign leader to go after a political opponent. Why is that a big deal?

HABERMAN: It is a big deal because, again, depending on what he said that is not just the confines, as the president's lawyer said, of just routine asking a foreign government to do it. Again, if I think what the request was. As we know, John, we've talked about this many times, this is a president who often doesn't speak that directly when he asks for something. It's often written off by aides defending him as that's just how he

talks. It tends to be, you know, in the words of Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who testified before Congress, a way that Trump would let it be known what he wanted without asking directly.

If there was an effort to apply that kind of pressure, and if there was some quid pro quo that the Trump administration was engaged in related to that aid. Again, I'm saying if.

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: We do not know. That would take this to a different level and the behavior of the president to a different level.

BERMAN: Look, we know that House Democrats were already investigating this, already interested in asking questions about this. Even before we knew that the inspector general felt there was a matter of urgent concern involving questions about communications the president had with a foreign leader that we now know at least partially involves Ukraine.

Rudy Giuliani, as you note this morning, and as you noted last night, because I know you were watching this.

HABERMAN: I was watching. I think a lot of people were.

BERMAN: He had an extensive conversation with Chris Cuomo about this. I want you to listen to what Chris and Rudy had to say about whether or not the president ever spoke to the Ukrainian leader about all this. Listen.


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. He had every right to say to the Ukrainian president, we have two outstanding allegations of massive corruption --


CUOMO: Did he ask you to do what you were doing?

GIULIANI: No. I did what I did on my own.

CUOMO: Really?

GIULIANI: And then I told him about it afterwards. Because I'm his lawyer.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Last part first. I did what I did on my own. Is that suggesting the president has no knowledge or awareness that Rudy Giuliani is flying around the world to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?

HABERMAN: That's what Giuliani is saying, and since I'm not privy to conversations between them, I'm not in a position to say whether it did or didn't happen, but certainly, he said he told him about it afterwards. So it's not as if the president didn't know. And as far as we know, there's no suggestion that the president had admonished him for doing that.

I think there are other people around the president who were concerned about what Giuliani was doing. There was a lot of pressure on Giuliani to cancel one of these trips.

BERMAN: And Giuliani's not concerned, though. He's freely admitting to Chris, after denying it, that he pressured Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden.

And one other thing you heard in that answer to Chris, and I'll play another version of it right now, is Giuliani suggesting that, even if the president had the conversations that we're now wondering whether or not he had, it doesn't matter. So listen to this.


GIULIANI: All I can tell you is, if what is reported is true, it doesn't make a damn. It doesn't make any difference. If the president of the United States said to the president of Ukraine, investigate the corruption in your country that has a bearing on our 2016 election, isn't that what he's supposed to do?


BERMAN: So what if he did, is what Giuliani is saying now. Which seems to me to be a precursor, frankly, to something the president may ultimately say in the next few hours. You know, I don't know that Giuliano would say this in a vacuum. What did you hear there?

HABERMAN: I heard, frankly, something that we've heard them say around the Mueller report. Them meaning Rudy, particularly, and sometimes President Trump. But some version of, I didn't do it and even if I did do it, who cares? It's within my powers and in my purview. And that is clearly Giuliani's position.

I think that if that is true, that that is Giuliani's stance and, therefore, his client's stance, then it would behoove the administration to release the inspector general to talk and to even make public what they're talking about.

BERMAN: Exactly.

HABERMAN: If this really is not a big deal, then make it public.

And I think this is where, John -- and I know we've talked about this a lot. And there's obviously a big debate about how to describe when the president says things that aren't true or when his aide says things that aren't true.

They repeatedly demand benefit of the doubt and wonder why people don't immediately give it to them, when they have said so many things that are contradictory, false, that undermine them. There are times when you actually want to have credibility. This is one of them. And if this really is no big deal, then just make it public.

BERMAN: There's a Stormy Daniels parallel here, too. Where Rudy Giuliani ultimately said that, yes, the president did it, and there's nothing illegal about it. Of course, he didn't say the president had this conversation. But he did say there's nothing illegal about it.

And then you just raised the point which I think is also crucial here. If there's nothing wrong in Rudy's mind about these conversations, if the president had them and there's nothing wrong with it, then why is the director of national intelligence, in conjunction with the Justice Department and we've learned the White House, blocking the release of the details?

HABERMAN: Right. And I think -- I guess I'm not really sure what the former mayor was attempting to accomplish with that appearance at all. He obviously has a long relationship with Chris Cuomo, and Chris has continued to invite him on to speak and to defend his client. But I'm not sure what Giuliani thought he was accomplishing for his client with that interview.

BERMAN: Do you have any reporting, by the way, on why the White House and Justice -- well, why the White House specifically doesn't want this out there?

HABERMAN: Other than the fact that this is their default position, which is try to deny and stonewall Congress on all manner of inquiries since the House Democrats took over. That may be part of it. But without knowing more specifics about the complaints, I'm not sure.

BERMAN: Maggie, thank you very much for coming on and helping us --

HABERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: -- understand the context surrounding around of this. I suspect we are going to learn much more, maybe even from the president himself over the next few hours.

HABERMAN: We should bear in mind that he has a press conference at 11:45 that, as of now, is still on.

BERMAN: There you go. Thanks, Maggie.

CAMEROTA: Good to know. Thank you very much.

OK. Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here. Let's just start with that whistleblower complaint. What are you all in Democratic leadership in Congress going to do about this whistleblower's complaint?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, we need to get to the bottom of it on behalf of the American people. It's a very troubling allegation. There's the possibility that the president may have used or threatened to use taxpayer dollars in order to accomplish a political objective.

And from the very beginning of this presidency, we've seen chaos. We've seen crisis. We've seen confusion. Increasingly, we've seen corruption and criminality. It's taking away from our ability to get things done on behalf of everyday Americans.


But it also is undermining the rule of law. In this country, no one is above the law, not the president of the United States. So we need to get to the bottom of what may have happened.

CAMEROTA: When you say he may have used taxpayer dollars, are you referring to the $250 million that he may have promised Ukraine in military aid?

JEFFRIES: Well, that's a possibility. We also know that Ukraine is in crisis, immediately adjacent to Russia. Russia attacked illegally and annexed Crimea. We don't know what that dynamic is, but Ukraine is in a very vulnerable situation.

And the president, potentially, could have exploited that vulnerability in order to try to extract an investigation that could be politically damaging to an opponent that he is clearly concerned about, by the name of Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: So how are you going to get to the bottom of all of this? I mean, how are you going to figure out what really happened?

JEFFRIES: Well, the Intelligence Committee under the leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff, who is one of the most capable members of the United States Congress on either side of the aisle, in either House of Congress, will certainly be leading the charge. We all have great confidence in him.

But ultimately, what we're likely to see is the presidential administration continuing to lie, continuing to delay, and continuing to stonewall.

And the constitutional prescription, when you have an administration that's out of control in this fashion and a dispute between the Article I Congress and the Article II executive branch, is that the federal courts are going to have to settle this. We are already in court in a variety of manners -- variety of matters to try to get documents, to try to get fact witnesses as part of our investigation into potential wrongdoing. This may be another area where we ultimately are going to have to take the administration to court.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about an issue directly in front of your committee, and that's the House Judiciary.

On Tuesday, you all called Corey Lewandowski in to interview him about discrepancies about what he has said in the Mueller report and what he has said publicly. He was, I think it's fair to say, a reluctant witness. You tried pressing him. He didn't always want to answer.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi, watched that entire hearing and said she would have held Corey Lewandowski in contempt there and then. Why didn't you all do that?

JEFFRIES: Well, the Judiciary Committee is going to have a meeting later on today called by the chair, Jerry Nadler, and we'll see what the decision is made in terms of how to move forward.

Lewandowski was clearly a reluctant witness. He behaved like a thug. No one should be surprised by that.

But the central reason for his presence was, essentially, to confirm one of the more troubling allegations within the Mueller report, which is that President Trump told Lewandowski to deliver a message to Jeff Sessions in order to try to curtail the special counsel's criminal investigation into the Trump campaign and limit it to future instances of interference. That is textbook obstruction of justice and, try as he might, Lewandowski did not run away from that troubling allegation. He confirmed that allegation. And that was the most important thing that came out of the hearing.

CAMEROTA: OK. So today you're having a meeting about what to do. Might you fine him? Might you hold him in contempt?

JEFFRIES: Well, there's a range of possibilities. But clearly, there is some interest in making sure that we both send the right message to Lewandowski, that he cannot treat the institution of Congress and the people's House and the Judiciary Committee with such contempt. We also need to make sure that we continue to send a message to the administration that this conduct will not be tolerated.

CAMEROTA: Well, Lewandowski was on our program, and he said that he answered your questions. He said that those that he didn't answer were under executive privilege.

JEFFRIES: Well, the executive privilege claim that he made is a phony claim. He can't point to any Supreme Court jurisprudence. He can't point to any provision in the Constitution. He can't point to any case law within the federal common law. He can't point to any federal statute.

This is all about the continued coverup that the henchmen for Donald Trump continue to perpetrate against the American people. It's a big problem.

And you know, Alisyn, we've got to ask the question: is Donald Trump running a presidential administration or an organized crime family? When he sends these individuals up to testify, and they behave in such fashion, it's kind of difficult to conclude that he's conducting himself like any other president would or should for the American people.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you very much for telling us what is planned today, as well as all the context. Nice to talk to you.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Alisyn.


BERMAN: All right. We do have breaking news. Hundreds of people rescued from rising floodwaters in Texas. The Houston area dealing with historic levels of rain. And we're learning this morning the floods have turned deadly.


CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Beaumont, Texas, this morning. Ed, what are you seeing?


Well, this entire storm system has been a flashback to Hurricane Harvey two years ago and that devastating storm that brought some 50 inches of rain.

This storm not quite to those levels, but considerably high. Nearly 40 inches of rain in some parts of southeast Texas.

We are in Beaumont. This is Interstate 10, where you can see much of the roadways and people -- parts of the interstate have been shut down at times over the last 24 hours. So people trying to figure out what they can do at this point, waiting for the sun to come up.

And this is a scene you're going to see all over southeast Texas. Hundreds of cars stranded in intersections in low-lying areas that were flooded out over the last 24 to 36 hours. So that cleanup process will have to continue throughout the day today, as hundreds of cars stranded all over the place in intersections and trapped in floodwaters.

So the good news is, is that for much of the night there has not been significant rainfall. And that has given floodwaters, in many areas, a chance to quickly dissipate. And that will be welcome news as people wake up here to that kind of news here on this -- this morning.

So we'll see how the rest of the day plays out. But the good news is, no rain overnight. And that has really been helpful -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: It's really good news, Ed. Thank you very much.

So if President Trump threatened to withhold millions in aid from Ukraine for political gain, is that a crime? A former top official at the FBI gives us the answer next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: The explosive whistleblower complaint about President Trump's

communication with a foreign leader, according to several reports, involves Ukraine.

This as the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, admitted that he asked Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and he claims the president has every right to, as well.

Joining me now is former FBI director -- deputy director Andrew McCabe, who is now a CNN contributor.

Andy, I want you to listen to what Rudy Giuliani once again told Chris last night. He basically said, even if the president did ask Ukraine to do this, there's nothing wrong with it.


GIULIANI: All I can tell you is if what is reported is true, it doesn't make a damn -- it doesn't make any difference. If the president of the United States said to the president of Ukraine, investigate the corruption in your country that has a bearing on our 2016 election, isn't that what he's supposed to do?


BERMAN: So Rudy Giuliani says, nothing to see here, even if it did happen. The intelligence community inspector general feels that whatever did happen is a matter of urgent concern. How do you explain the discrepancy there?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, John, it would be great to have some of the facts of the underlying complaint. That would shed a lot of light on -- on the discrepancy here.

But again, to go back to Mr. Giuliani's comments, which were admittedly hard to follow during the interview. But the blanket claim that anything the president did or said in those conversations is -- is completely above board, it feels like a bit of a stretch to me.

It is true that the president has unfettered authority to conduct foreign policy, and that takes place often in conversations with other world leaders. It is also true that it has always been a policy initiative of this government and former administrations to try to encourage other countries to address issues of corruption.

But here's the rub. The way that we typically do that is through our institutions. So we send DOJ lawyers over to work with other countries to change their laws and to develop more kind of rule of law democratic processes around that govern corruption. We send FBI agents or DEA agents overseas to help train police officers. That's the way we deal with encouraging other countries to address corruption issues.

We don't typically hold them hostage for foreign aid. And I am not familiar with a single other instance where a president, certainly any president that I worked for, got on the phone and requested that a foreign government initiate an investigation into a United States citizen. That is -- that is strange and deeply concerning.

BERMAN: You say strange, and the words you just used were "deeply concerning." Is it the type of thing that you believe an inspector general might find of urgent concern and worthy -- the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, very much wants Congress to see the facts here. Would it rise to that level?

MCCABE: It certain -- I mean, in my opinion, it certainly could. I can't say exactly what the I.G. was reacting to here. Because again, we don't have the substance of the complaint.

But again, this is -- if these facts actually have -- took place in terms of the scenario that we've been talking through this morning, it is unprecedented for an American president to contact a foreign government for the purpose of initiating an investigation of a political rival.

You know, I am not an expert on this area of law by any stretch of the imagination, but we are pretty far afield from anything that you would consider to be normal foreign policy.

BERMAN: Right.

MCCABE: And drifting pretty heavily into re-election politics. This is the exact reason why presidents and administrations don't have members of their campaign off conducting foreign policy.

BERMAN: But they did in this case. But they did in this case. Because Rudy Giuliani has got no connection to the United States government. He is the president's personal attorney here.

So what about his role here? Might there be some campaign finance jurisdiction over what he did? If he's over there pressuring Ukraine to do something for political gain, isn't that a campaign finance issue?

MCCABE: It certainly could be. And once again, it gets back to Mr. Giuliani's comments last night. It's kind of -- you know, you can't have it both ways. You can't cloak yourself in the protection of presidential foreign policy authority and then travel -- travel overseas without any formal authority, without representing the U.S. government or any of its institutions in any official way. And according to Mr. Giuliani, without even telling the president what he was doing before he went.

So those two things don't go together. And if, in fact, he was traveling simply on his own volition or at the direction of the president for his personal issues or for the campaign and soliciting the assistance in the form of information or investigative activity from a foreign government to benefit the campaign, that would certainly cause me great concern about a potential violation of our campaign laws.

BERMAN: Very quickly -- very quickly, this whistleblower and the inspector general at this point, who we know believes this matter to be of urgent concern, what's to keep either of them from going public or going to Congress and saying, hey, look, this is what we know?

MCCABE: Not very much is the answer to your question. So the statute very clearly puts the onus upon the I.G., to determine its credibility and whether or not it's urgent. The statute, of course, defines urgent. And in the statute, by my reading, very clearly gives the DNI simply the authority and the responsibility to pass that complaint along.

The statute also has provisions in it that address when that handing off of the complaint to Congress does not take place. Under some circumstances, the complainant themselves has the ability then to go direct to Congress. So that is something we could see in this case.

BERMAN: Yes. My understanding is their job may not be protected, but they may not be committing any action which provides legal liability there.

Andy McCabe, great to have you on and help us understand all of this this morning.


MCCABE: Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. Up next we're going to speak with a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who was there for that closed-door briefing from the inspector general. What did she hear?

BERMAN: Also ahead, thousands of people, maybe some aliens, too, descending on Area 51.

CAMEROTA: Are those aliens right there, or are those people?

BERMAN: The stern warning from the military to anyone thinking about going. This sounds scandalous.


CAMEROTA: So what did the inspector general tell --