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Department of Justice Prevents Whistleblower Complaint from Reaching Congress; Accusations Surface that President Trump May have Asked Ukraine to Investigation Joe Biden's Family in Exchange for U.S. Military Aid; Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is Interviewed About New Revelations of Whistleblower Scandal. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Did you ask the Ukraine to investigation Joe Biden.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: No, actually, I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations. The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed, dismissed the case against --

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)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: There's more. 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 into whether the president and Giuliani were pressuring the Ukrainians to help Mr. Trump's reelection campaign. A few days after that, the Trump administration abandoned its attempts to withhold that military aid.

And CNN can now report the White House was directly involved in advising the intelligence department not to share the whistleblower's complaint with Congress.

Joining us now is CNN national security analyst Matthew Rosenberg, he's an investigative reporter at "The New York Times." Matthew, where are we today with this?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This one keeps getting deeper and deeper. I think you guys said it well. The key question here is, did the president use American power to gain personal advantage here, whether it's political career or something else? What we're hearing now is Ukraine that basically, if not directly but in so many words there was a quid pro quo offered, you investigate Biden, that helps me politically, you get American military aid.

If that's the case, that's incredibly troubling. The president has incredibly broad powers. The president calls up a foreign leader and says we're not going to spy on you anymore. I'm not going to send any spies after you. Even if that country is -- that's Kim Jong-un or Vladimir Putin, that is a president's prerogative. He can do that. He sets policy.

But if he says I'm not going to do it. You're going to give me something that helps me personally, it's beyond helping America. Then you have got a real issue.

And this whistleblower, he went to the I.G. of the intelligence community, who is not a firebrand. He's not a radical. And that I.G. said this is credible. This is legitimate and this is urgent, and he thinks Congress needs to see it. Now we find out the White House said, no, helped say no, and the DOJ said, no, no, you can't share this with Congress. And we have this standoff now where Congress is saying we have oversight. We want to know where this is. And the DNI is saying, the Director of National Intelligence, is saying we're not going to tell you.

And that leaves us in this weird spot where we know there's a complaint. We know people are taking it seriously, but we don't really know the contents of it. We have people telling us little bits of it. But we're seeing pieces of it, we're not seeing the whole picture.

CAMEROTA: You will at some point. Here's where investigative reporters come in, because when the government stonewalls and when the government tries to block whistleblowers from doing their job, doing what is spelled out in a law they can do, then it is up to reporters and the press to have to put all of these bread crumbs and all of these docs together. And that's what we're seeing today with CNN and the "Washington Post" and of course "The New York Times." And so what you say is the president has a lot of latitude, obviously, to make decisions and have phone calls with foreign leaders. But actually, there are laws against bribery and corruption.

ROSENBERG: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And some of these suggestions sound like it could be treading into that territory.

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. They absolutely do. It's important to keep that in mind, that the president really can do almost -- almost whatever he wants when it comes to ordering or saying don't do operations, intelligence operations. His powers are vast there. But if it is, I'm not going to do this because you're going to give me something I want that is good for me if not for America, well, then that's a problem.

We're not there yet because we still have to figure out what this was. And like you said, look, this is where the press comes in. We're the safety valve when the systems on the inside aren't working. And we're hoping more and more people are willing to talk about this. CAMEROTA: Well, the whistleblower, there's a law, as we said, with

the system the whistleblower is supposed to do. And the whistleblower did that, followed the letter of the law of who he or she was supposed to report to. And it's the DNI that is stopping it. The department, the DNI went to the Department of Justice and they are stopping it. There's been some suggestion that the DNI can't nullify this, that the DNI is breaking the law by getting in the way of this. What's the answer?

ROSENBERG: It's complicated. The DNI is in a really tough spot. Everything we know about the acting Director of National Intelligence, Maguire, he is not a radical. He is a career military and government servant, that he kind of wants to -- he's somebody who would be inclined to follow the law here. The problem is when DOJ says no, you can't do this, this is beyond your scope, this involves executive privilege, he also can't go and ignore them either. So he's stuck in a very difficult position here.

[08:05:06]

CAMEROTA: Matthew, what do you need to know next? What would help put these -- connect these dots?

ROSENBERG: There's a long list. The first thing that would help would be all of us are trying to find out exactly what is the content of this complaint. Who is the government foreign leader? We've also been told that it was not just one incident, that there were multiple incidents, it was kind of tapestry here, trying to figure out what these incidents were, what the timeframe was.

And also there is another issue here, which is this has to involve some sort of intelligence functions, spying function. What was that? If it's the president on the phone call with a foreign leader that's being monitored by U.S. officials, as everyone is, that doesn't sound like intelligence. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but was this an intercept picked up somewhere else between some other American and a foreign leader? These are questions we have to answer.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Matthew. Thanks for sharing your reporting and what you need to know next with us. We really appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod and CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers. You heard Matthew lay it out there. The basic question this morning is this -- did the president pressure a foreign leader, did the president hold money over a foreign government for the purposes of political gain, for going after a domestic political opponent? Mike Rogers, you've been in this business a long time. What concerns does that raise?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, a bunch. Again, we don't know that, but certainly the facts are dripping out. And I think the administration -- I hope the president comes out at noon and clarifies this thing, because it's only going to drip out, and it will get out, and we will have a full story. It's just a matter on what terms that we get that story.

But I think this is, if that fact pattern is exactly right, I mean, it's very, very significant. If, in fact, he held back aid for the purposes of getting some political advantage, that is about as serious a charge as you're going to get.

CAMEROTA: David Axelrod, what do you see here?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I absolutely agree. We don't know the facts. There is an ominous, you know, set of circumstances that point to a really disturbing finding, but I'm also concerned about why we don't know the facts and why Congress doesn't know the facts. I actually have a question for Mike who was chairman of the Intel Committee. How would you have reacted if, under these circumstances if you were denied a briefing on this complaint which is required by statute?

ROGERS: Candidly, I would not have gone to the microphones. I would have gone up and see Maguire. I would have called in the I.G. in a confidential setting to have discussions. I used to tell the I.C. often under Bush and Obama, no is just a long way to yes. So we're going to get to the bottom of this. I do think the big political fluff probably hasn't helped.

I will say, legitimately, I do think Maguire is in a terrible spot. I agree with that, because the president does have the right to assert executive privilege. It doesn't mean he'll win that particular argument, but he does have the right to exert it, and he could say, you got a slice of the story. You don't know all of the details, and all of the details involve a pretty elaborate plan to get x to do y. And you just don't know what you're talking about. That's why you shouldn't be out there talking about it. He has that right to do it. So I think Maguire is right to hold until DOJ makes a final determination.

I will say this. There are other avenues for that whistleblower to go. This is one. They don't have to do one. There are five different places this person could go.

CAMEROTA: Like what? What would the whistleblower do next?

ROGERS: They could go directly to the Committee of Jurisdiction and Oversight.

CAMEROTA: Even though the DNI has already shut it down? Even though DNI and Department of Justice have said they can't share what's in the whistleblower complaint, you're saying they could still go to Congress?

ROGERS: That's part of the reason I think that this whole thing got cooked up was to go through that particular process. But I as chairman received whistleblower complaints outside of that system. And we protected whistleblowers to the nth degree. We would open a file, open a case, investigate it. So I'm telling you they told Maguire he can't release the whistleblower complaint doesn't mean the whistleblower can't take other avenues to see if there is a way to get their complaint and concerns aired in a different arena.

AXELROD: Let me just say, my concern goes beyond this issue, which is a very serious issue. My concern goes to a pattern of behavior by the administration which is to deny Congress their right to oversight under the constitution. And the strategy appears to be deny, deny, deny, delay, delay, delay. Push it into the courts, try and get it past the election. And if necessary, get it to the Supreme Court and hope that a friendly court will uphold your decision to deny.

And I think that's really, really unhealthy for our country. So there is the issue itself, and then there's this pattern of behavior that we see every single day.

BERMAN: Especially now after what happened last night with Rudy Giuliani who confirmed that he has been pressuring the Ukrainians to go after Joe Biden. He said that. We just played that before. He admitted it to Chris Cuomo last night. And he also said that if the president did it, there's nothing wrong with that. So listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: 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 try 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 and --

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: Lawyer, not a government official, his personal, private lawyer going over. And David Axelrod, if Rudy Giuliani is going to go on TV and say, even if the president did that, there's nothing wrong with it, why then is the White House hiding the content of this complaint?

AXELROD: Yes, no, I agree with this. First of all y, why is the White House hiding it if nothing improper happened? I suppose they'll argue, as Mike Rogers suggested they might, that there were intelligence equities that they don't want to jeopardize.

But the reality is Rudy Giuliani was freelancing out there. He's a political agent of the president. He wanted to be secretary of state. I remember that from the beginning of the administration. He's not the secretary of state. He's a lawyer and a political agent for the president. And this is a fundamentally political mission he was sent on and that the president, if the reports are true, may have followed up on himself. And that's really serious. I guarantee you that the president of the United States, he's not calling Putin, and he's not calling some of these other countries and lecturing them on individual cases of corruption. He has a particular interest in this, and that interest is about his own political well-being, not about the national interest of the country, if these facts prove out.

CAMEROTA: John, let's get to what we both think is an important piece of this puzzle, OK? So Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, has come forward to, I think, fill in some of the blanks here. He has tweeted this. "A few weeks ago, in Ukraine, I met with President Zelensky and we discussed the surprise cut-off of aid and the inappropriate demands the Trump campaign was making of him. The obvious question everyone in Kiev was asking was, were the two things connected? Zelensky did not explicitly connect the two in our meeting, but he was very concerned about our cut-off of aid and very aware of the conversations that Rudy Giuliani was having with his team. I told him it was best to ignore requests from Trump's campaign operatives. He agreed. I don't know what is in the whistleblower complaint, but it was clear to me the Ukraine officials were worried about the consequences of ignoring Giuliani's demands. And of course, they were. That's why presidents shouldn't have their campaigns talking to foreign leaders." Mike, what do you make of that?

ROGERS: I mean, yes, if that's true. A, I have to tell you, this whole thing has been unseemly. I hate all of the investigation in the public through tweets. I think it doesn't speak well of politics today. That's a serious allegation, I would argue. And if investigators can connect the fact that there were political asks of someone who is close to the president on a particular thing with a foreign leader to do something that would be out of bounds normally, I think that's a huge problem. And I think they're going to have to answer for that.

But here's my biggest problem is it gets very hard to discern what is the truth, what is going on? And I'll give you a great example, a counterexample. What if the FBI has a corruption investigation on whatever this might be, and the president was saying you guys need to cooperate in that investigation? That's a different conversation. My point is we just don't know.

The facts are going to come out. We're going to find out what this was. If the fact pattern as it's presented and you're seeing in bits and pieces and witnesses coming out and saying here's what my little slice of it so you should think he's guilty already, none of that I think helps get to the real conclusion, because if the president did this, I think this is a very serious allegation. And so we better be right if we're going to say that he, in fact, did something that was to benefit him personally or the campaign.

BERMAN: We know that the inspector general of the intelligence community believes it's a matter of urgent concern. That much we do know. We know the president will be holding a news conference at 11:45 today. He'll have to answer questions about this. How far will he go?

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

[08:15:01]

Be sure to watch Mike Rogers' CNN original series "Declassified" returning to CNN, Sunday, September 29th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

CAMEROTA: OK, we also have breaking news. Hundreds of people in Texas have been rescued from these rising floodwaters which are turning deadly. We have some aerial shots to show you of Interstate 10 in Houston which is closed in both directions.

Is that the interstate right there? Oh, my gosh. That's -- that's incredible that that's an interstate right there. There are several barges that got free and struck a bridge which is what you're seeing on your screen. Those barges are now wedged underneath all of that.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Texas with more.

Ed, you said the good news was that it didn't rain last night but this looks really bad.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is part of the treacherous aspect of all of this. So, Interstate 10 in the last hour, we were reporting live from -- we're in Beaumont, about 90 miles east of that Houston area, and that section of the I-10 bridge that you're showing there is just east of Houston. We're about 80 miles or so down the interstate to the East.

And we've seen 18-wheelers stacked up along the interstate as they're trying to figure out how far they can go and what they can do. So, cleaning up the roadways is going to be the major part of the headaches that people here in southeast Texas see throughout the day.

This is one intersection, kind of a fascinating scene here in Beaumont, guys. That car there, that minivan has been stalled out here. We were here about 12 hours ago and the water reached just underneath this traffic light here.

And to give you a sense of how much water was in this underpass, look at the line from the flood lines there. I'd say about almost 20 feet of water in this massive highway underpass here in Beaumont, Texas. The good news here in the last 12 hours, all of the water that was here is gone. And that car completely submerged so you can see the kinds of things that people here have been dealing with over the last couple of hours -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: The pictures. The perfect, the after, Ed, simply stunning. Let's hope that water does get out and there is no more rain. Wow.

CAMEROTA: They've been struggling in Houston for a long time. I was there for Hurricane Harvey a year ago when there was -- was that two? No.

BERMAN: We're getting old.

CAMEROTA: No.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. That's incredible. And there was so much flooding then. They are just in the -- it feels like in the bull's- eye.

BERMAN: All right. Another American has died in the vaping epidemic. The latest on what's a criminal investigation. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: An eighth vaping-related death confirmed in the U.S. now.

[08:20:03]

The latest victim was a man in Missouri who had normal lung function until he started vaping just in May. Just a few months ago.

The Food and Drug Administration has now launched a criminal probe.

Let's bring in CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

A criminal probe? What is this, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FDA has this authority to start -- it's a division of the FDA, an arm of the FDA that can start looking into this from a criminal standpoint. The reason being that the numbers, as you know, Alisyn, going in the wrong direction.

Let me quickly show you on the map what we're talking about here. Some 39 states now affected. The Virgin Islands affected. You have 530 people who have gotten sick.

And by the way, when we say gotten sick, we mean seriously ill. They go in. They have breathing problems. They get a CAT scan. It shows abnormalities in their lungs. They prove that this is not an infection, that this is something else.

People are quite sick and as you mentioned now an eighth person has died. Started vaping in May, was hospitalized in August, transferred to another hospital in September and we know died shortly thereafter. These are all the states.

We know this eighth gentleman was someone in his mid-40s. Had started vaping for pain. That was something that an important clue because it also is quite likely that he was not vaping just nicotine. If you're doing it for pain, this concern about these black market THC cartridges is still out there. That's something people are looking into.

I do want to point out quickly, Alisyn, who is getting sick here? How young are we talking about here? Take a look. The vast majority, Alisyn, 18 to 34. You know, 16

percent are under the age of 18. So, it's primarily people who are young, healthy and then suddenly very ill.

CAMEROTA: Gosh, it's so mysterious and troubling.

So have they confirmed yet, Sanjay, that it's the additive that people -- it's the sort of black market additive that people are adding and that's what's causing the deaths?

GUPTA: They have not shown that yet. They've not proven that yet. That is a hypothesis and there's certainly a lot of people who are getting sick, some of them who have died who have been using these black market products.

But to put this together, they first know that vaping is the common denominator. They know there's a high level of these black market products, but they still haven't pointed to a single product or single substance within these products.

And, remember, we're talking about something that's still relatively new -- this idea of taking substances, superheating them with metal coils, breaking them down, inhaling them into your lungs. I point this all out to remind people that we simply don't know what that does to the human body. And we're not sure. And that's what investigators are trying to figure out.

CAMEROTA: All right. Sanjay, thank you for staying on this story. It seems like we talk to you more and more often about vaping. Thank you.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

BERMAN: So, did president Trump pressure a foreign leader for political gain to go after a political opponent? We're getting reaction from a Republican in Congress, next.

CAMEROTA: Plus, outer space alien enthusiasts -- listen up, John -- are promising to storm Area 51 after the U.S. Navy says this video is real of unidentified objects in the sky. A live report on the frenzy, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:27:19]

BERMAN: Did President Trump use American power and American money to try to get a foreign country to go after Joe Biden?

Both "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" report this morning that the whistleblower complaint about communications between the president and a foreign leader involves Ukraine.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He is an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force and serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Yes.

BERMAN: I want to play you what Rudy Giuliani said to Chris Cuomo last night which is basically that even if the president did lean on Ukraine to go after Joe Biden, there's no problem with that. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: All I can tell you is if what was 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 the Ukraine, investigate the corruption in your country that has a bearing on our 2016 election, isn't that what he's supposed to do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: What is your level of comfort, Congressman, with the president leaning on a foreign leader, perhaps even threatening to withhold military aid to go after a political opponent?

KINZINGER: OK. I want to caveat with saying this. There's a lot we don't know. So, I'm going to have to talk in generalities because a lot of the times, these stories end up changing a few days down the road.

I will say this, generally, I don't know what the law is on it, but no president should ever utilize or use American power in any way like to affect an election. So, if that happened, that'd be improper.

I'm not sure what law violations would happen or anything along that line, but it's very clear our relationship with Ukraine. It's one thing to go after corruption, and we should. That's a huge problem in Ukraine. But if you say go after it specifically for a political target, that affects somebody in office in the United States, that's a major problem.

But again, I'm saying this all to say, so many of these stories, every week, there's some new massive scandal and the vast majority of them end up to not be what we initially know. But generally speaking, yes, a president should not or could not do this. I don't know what the law is regarding this but it would be improper if something like this would happen.

BERMAN: Improper if it did happen. And again, there's a lot we don't know. You say it is improper. What then would you do about it?

KINZINGER: Well, I mean, look, I honestly, I don't know what the law is on that. I'm outspoken about, you know, if something like this would happen, it would be wrong. I'm saying that now. Depending on the details, there will be more to say or not.

BERMAN: Do you think -- KINZINGER: But again, we're in the problem where every week there's

some massive new thing that's going to bring President Trump down that doesn't end up being that. So it's hard to just jump on that.

BERMAN: What we're reporting is that the inspector general thinks it's a matter of urgent concern.

KINZINGER: Yes.

BERMAN: That's something. That's not the media making that up.

KINZINGER: I agree.

BERMAN: That's the inspector general of the intelligence community.

So if the inspector general thinks --

[08:30:00]