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White House Considering Whether to Release Transcript of Trump's Call with Ukrainian President; GOP Grapples with How to Handle Trump's Call to Ukraine. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 11:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The duchess and 5-month-old Archie are going to stay in South Africa.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you so much for joining us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

President Trump has just arrived at the United Nations headquarters here in New York. The annual gather, bringing together more than 90 heads of state to tackle the world's most immediate problems.

But right now President Trump has some problems of his own, namely the whistleblower complaint against him and the growing questions after -- that he is now facing after admitting yesterday that he did, in fact, talk to the president of Ukraine in a July phone call about the former Vice President Joe Biden.

And sources tell CNN that during the call the president pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival.

As he arrived to the U.N. just now, these were some of the questions he faced.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's just a Democrat witch hunt. Here we go again. They failed with Russia, they failed with recession, they failed with everything, and now they're bringing this up.

The one who has the problem is Biden. You look at what Biden did, Biden did what they would like to have me do, except for one problem, I didn't do it. What Biden did is a disgrace. What his son did was a disgrace. The

son took money from Ukraine, the son took money from China, a lot of money from China. China would love to see -- they could think of nothing they'd rather see than Biden get in.


BOLDUAN: What does all that mean for the whistleblower complaint that the Trump administration is currently keeping from Congress?

Let's go straight to Washington. Sarah Westwood is standing by in D.C.

Sarah, we just heard from the president his position what he thinks the focus should be. What do you hear is going on behind the scenes?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, amid all this controversy, the White House is seriously considering releasing the transcript of President Trump's phone call from July with the Ukrainian president.

This potentially releasing the transcript comes amid serious concern from senior administration officials about a couple of different consequences. One is the precedent it could set for President Trump's interactions with foreign leaders going forward.

We heard this from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who said this could have a chilling effect with Trump's conversation with foreign leaders because they might not have the expectation of privacy if he releases the call.

Back in March, White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent a letter was sent to Congress saying the White House wouldn't be releasing phone conversations between President Trump and any foreign leaders because of precedent.

That came in the context of the White House's efforts to keep the conversations Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin secret.

But if the Zelensky's call is released, that could undermine the Trump administration's efforts to keep those Putin conversations under wraps.

One thing the White House counsel's office is looking at in this review is potentially redacting Zelensky's portion of the conversation, that's the Ukrainian president's portions, to potentially protect his privacy.

And over the weekend White House officials were reaching out to outside advisers, actually soliciting their opinions on whether President Trump should release this transcript. And political advisers of the president, some of them, pressuring the White House to release the call, the thinking being perhaps it looks worse for President Trump the longer the administration stonewalls on this, that even if something embarrassing was said in this call, this controversy could die down more quickly if the call is just put out there.

It's something the White House is seriously looking at, Kate, but there are major concerns from top administration officials before that happens.

BOLDUAN: That seems very clear. And we'll find out if it too separate things, a transcript and what's actually in the whistleblower complaint.

Sarah, great reporting. Thank you so much for bringing that to us. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now is attorney, Brad Moss. He specializes in national security issues. He's represented whistleblowers. He's law partners with the attorney representing the actual whistleblower at the center of the story but he has no involvement in the case.

Brad, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: With that out of the way, I want to get your take as we're just learning this new information from Sarah Westwood, great reporting that the White House is seriously considering releasing the transcript of that phone call from July 25th. Just your reaction to that.

MOSS: I certainly have no issue with that particular information coming out. But I want to be clear, don't let anyone -- speaking to the general American public -- don't let anybody frame the narrative of how much information is at issue.

The whistleblower has not spoken to the public, has not told anyone the universe of events at issue. The legal team has not leaked any of those details.


All we have are a set of anonymous leaks from unidentified officials framing this as one particular phone call. It may have been one call. It may have been multiple events.

We've heard some leaks out of the closed-door section with the I.C. inspector general. Let all the information come out in a clear and concise manner before anybody renders any judgments.

BOLDUAN: And that is so, so important on this. We have no idea how much detail is correctly out there, what the full scope of the complaint includes. No one knows except the whistleblower and the DNI and I.G.

On this issue those seems to be maybe the most pressing question at this moment, does releasing a transcript of that call, which obviously we see is -- all the reporting says it is at least part or the center of the complaint to be sent to Congress. If you release the transcript of the call, does it make it then unnecessary for the complaint to be sent to Congress?

MOSS: No, I would say that's in no way an agreeable compromise. In the end, unless we know this is all that was at issue, this is how the statute was set up. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which is the relevant law at issue, allows for the transmission of the complaint, not just underlying information, the complaint to the relevant Intelligence Committees.

We set all this up in the aftermath of Nixon and Watergate, and in the '90s, we provided these mechanisms so a whistleblower, like this individual, can provided the classified information through the inspector general to Congress so that the classified information is protected.

The classified information that's been leaked out allegedly here that we've seen in these leaks in these stories has not come from the whistle blower. This person has protected the information. Someone else has been leaking out details.

BOLDUAN: Let's focus on that, brad. This may seem basic but this is at the crux of this fight at this moment, why the whistleblower complaint is being held in limbo.

What the whistleblower law actually says, here seems to be a very relevant part of it. It says, "The director of National Intelligence shall transmit to the congressional Intelligence Committees each report under subparagraph A within seven calendar days of receipt of such report together with such comments as the director considers appropriate."

Is there any gray area in this or is the acting DNI currently in violation of the law?

MOSS: We're in a bit of uncharted territory. In the entire history of this statute, which goes back to 1988, there's never been an incident in which the inspector general found a complaint to be credible, and that's a high burden for most whistleblowers to me, in which the I.G. found the complaint credible and the DNI did not transmit it on to the Intelligence Committees. This is the first time we've ever seen this.

But this is also the first time that, as far as we can tell, the complaint was against the president himself. We've never had that situation. And it's not clear that the statute contemplated that type of scenario. We're in an unprecedented situation.

I believe -- and this is just me, again, speaking because I'm walled off from this particular representation of this client. I believe this information needs to be provided to Congress within the proper channels, the way it was set up. Because this is the way the oversight mechanism is designed to work.

If it is provided, they're still bound to keep that classified information protected and secret. But this is how a functioning level of oversight between executive branches and legislative branches is supposed to work. BOLDUAN: Another part of the law that could matter her addresses what

should happens if the I.G. and the DNI can't resolve differences regarding the whistleblower complaint. In the event that -- and it goes on to say, "The inspector general shall immediately notify and submit a report to the congressional Intelligence Committees on such matter."

It looks like the I.G. did that here because that's how this started to come out. But could that also include handing over the actual complaint, going around the DNI?

MOSS: It could, but if the I.C. I.G. does that, that individual would arguably be violating directives from his boss, the DNI.


MOSS: It would be violating guidance received from the Justice Department.

I don't expect that to happen at this point. And I don't expect him to put his own job at jeopardy.

The question is -- this is now a political issue. The question here is, can the executive branch, the White House, and Congress find a compromise so that the information that's contemplated to be transmitted can be provided so House Intelligence and Senate intelligence can do their jobs.

BOLDUAN: Brad, let me ask you this. The fact that the president this weekend confirmed that he did talk about Biden in that call with the Ukrainian leader, what do that do to the situation?

MOSS: It only changes things from a political standpoint. From a legal standpoint, it doesn't absolve the whistleblower of any of the restrictions he or she might be under. They certainly can't leak classified details. They can't even go -- at least under the statute, they're not allowed to go straight to the congressional Intelligence Committees. They have to get guidance from the Intelligence Community inspector general on how to properly transmit it.


And this whistleblower has made clear they're going to adhere to the rules, even if other individuals, aka, the president here, are not necessarily doing that.

So the president is going to say what he's going to say, his media allies are going to smear this whistleblower the way they've been doing the last couple of days. This whistleblower is not going against the rules.

BOLDUAN: This is fascinating but, at its core, what you're getting at is the law and the procedures that are set in place by law, is, I think, critical to return to every time there's a new wrinkle in this.

Brad, thank you for bringing that. I really appreciate it. MOSS: Absolutely. Any time.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

So all of this puts the focus, once again, say it with me, back on Capitol Hill. And it appears to be pushing some top Democrats closer to supporting impeachment. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the committees that is supposed to receive that whistleblower complaint, said this weekend, quote, "We very well may have crossed the Rubicon."

Noteworthy because, to this point, he has not been one of the folks that has been pushing impeachment. Listen to this.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): If the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit, that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may then be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that that conduct represents.


BOLDUAN: So that's Adam Schiff speaking yesterday.

Let's get over to Capitol Hill. CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is there.

Manu, what are you hearing about this today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, House Democrats are telling me this morning that they believe that the caucus is nearing a tipping point on impeachment because of this growing controversy and because they believe that this will be such a triggering event that the public will get behind them and understand exactly what they are doing.

And that they'll move forward with impeachment proceedings if it turns out, in particular, the president sought to withhold military aid in exchange for a Ukraine investigation into the Bidens.

I'm told from Democratic sources, that there have been discussions, particularly, from Democrats who come from districts that represent the president, that the president won, Republican-leaning districts. Some are more willing to come out and support an impeachment proceeding if this controversy grows.

Others who have been cautious are starting to come forward, as you heard Adam Schiff signal that he might, as well.

Now, the speaker of the House, who has thrown cold water on this for months, Nancy Pelosi, has started to have an uptick in her language.

She said this in a letter to her colleagues yesterday: "If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, we will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness, which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.

I got off the phone just moments ago with one senior Democrat who is on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees, Gerry Connolly, who told me that he believes that they -- he said, "I think we're reaching a tipping point both within our base and within our caucus." And he told me he was home all weekend in his Virginia district and he said he keeps hearing this from his constituents, when are Democrats going to get tough, we are looking weak.

And I can tell you, a number of Democrats feel this way and they believe the calculus will shift if this controversy grows -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: The question -- Gerry Connolly's constituents are asking a good question, is the when. Is it Thursday when the acting DNI is scheduled to testify? What's that line? When is it past the deadline that Democrats will make that decision, is they do at all?

Manu will do that reporting for us.

Thank you, Manu. Great to see you, man.

RAJU: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, what are Republicans doing about this? What are Republicans saying about this? Some Republicans are speaking out. Have we seen this pattern before? Details ahead.


Plus, a new CNN poll now has Elizabeth Warren neck and neck with Joe Biden in Iowa, really the first poll that has her surpassing Joe Biden there. What's behind Warren's rise? We're going to dig into the numbers.


BOLDUAN: The president, the whistleblower, and what will Republicans do now? It has become something of a pattern, if you will. Donald Trump breaks presidential norms, crosses the line, Democrats argue he's violating the law, and the president's party is faced with this question, how to respond. Stand up to the president, stand with him or try to ignore the issue altogether? Can they do that this time?

Republican Senator Mitt Romney is dipping his toe into criticizing Trump, tweeting this: "If the president asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out."

But others like Senator Lindsey Graham say the focus shouldn't be on President Trump at all. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Can you imagine future presidents having a phone call with a foreign leader and it winds up going to Congress? If that's not an executive privilege moment, I don't know what would be.


So the foreign minister of the Ukraine said there's no pressure, they've got the money, nothing's happened.


BOLDUAN: So what will the Republicans do? Let's ask the former Republican governor of Ohio, and now CNN senior political commentator, John Kasich.

Governor, it's great to see you.

First and foremost, I just want to get your take, where are you on this?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Come on, I've been tweeting about it. This is a very serious matter, Kate. What are you kidding me?

You've got the president of the United States calling --

BOLDUAN: No, I want -- I just want your take.

KASICH: Wait a minute -- calling a foreign leader saying, you need to potentially investigate my political opponent? I mean, this is just ridiculous.

And for somebody to say, well, you know, we can't divulge these conversations between a president and foreign leader, you are certainly can turn it over to the Intelligence Committee if there's something that's inappropriate.

This was not made by somebody living in outer space. This was somebody who was very concerned about what they heard on a communication, turned it over to the inspector general, who declared it a major problem, and now the administration won't follow the law. That's what they need to do, follow the law. Have the Intelligence Committees take a look at it.

Now, one congressman said, well, you can't give it to the Intelligence Committee because they'll leak it to the "New York Times." Well, then straighten out the Intelligence Committee. Make it be serious, if you leak, you're in serious trouble.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point.

KASICH: But could you -- can you imagine this -- I was with a friend of mine yesterday and he said, well, look at what Obama and Clinton did and they were using FISA warrants and -- OK, first of all, it wrong's wrong. Secondly, let's say it was true. OK? That doesn't excuse this. This

needs to go to the committees.

Folks, look, this is the thing. This is the way we want our presidents to behave. This is the way our country is supposed to work. You have to make sure you're not putting your party and your own little hide ahead of what is correct in this case.

All you should be calling for is for all of this to be sent to the Intelligence Committee. That's what the law says. And that is what you should be advocating.

So we hear all these Democrats running around saying impeach, impeach, impeach, OK?


KASICH: It will have no credibility without Republicans. I am waiting for one or two Republicans to strongly say that this is wrong but let's investigate, maybe there's some excuse out here that we don't know. I'm fine with that.


KASICH: But we need to know what happened.

BOLDUAN: Two things there. Two things there. What you're saying -- you're not to a place just in what you've heard so far saying that you're in a place of supporting impeachment. You're not there?

KASICH: I'm saying that this information needs -- follow the law. The inspector general has raised an issue.

No, let's just slow down here.


BOLDUAN: I'm not speeding up. I'm just saying because Democrats are saying what they see now.


BOLDUAN: Adam Schiff not necessarily was at a place of, I want to impeach him now. They're at a place of if --


BOLDUAN: -- if what we hear now bears out --


KASICH: Do you remember --

BOLDUAN: -- it is getting closer to impeachment.

KASICH: Yes. Remember when Bill Clinton was in trouble and he got impeached? OK, he didn't get convicted? Where were the Democrats then? They were all rallying around the president. This is what happens.

Although, when we look back at Watergate, there was a moment when a handful of Republicans said, we've had enough.

This doesn't mean that Trump gets impeached. That's not what I'm saying. What it means is that this needs to be investigated.

If, in fact, the president of the United States pressured a leader of another country to investigate his political enemy, if in fact military aid was withheld, now we have to decide where we go from there.

But we have to gather all these facts and information. I don't want to get ahead of myself but I am very, very, very concerned about what is happening here. If we don't deal with this, we become like a banana republic.

Where are the Republicans? Are they hiding? If I were you at CNN, I'd be in the hallway asking all of them, what are you going to do, what are you going to say.


BOLDUAN: Governor, you know me


BOLDUAN: Governor, you know me well. You know how many Republicans we're inviting on the show all the time in order to have these conversations and you can probably guess on one hand how many want to come on and have these conversations right now.

But that is the pattern we have seen. What I'm hearing from you is you think this different from patterns like we've seen in the past. This seems different for you.

KASICH: The Mueller thing was -- I'm not even talking about Mueller.

BOLDUAN: Right, right, right.

KASICH: I'm talking here about the fact that the inspector general in the Intelligence Community said that this is a very serious matter and that it needs to be completely reviewed. And the law says that that is then to go to the Intelligence Committees.

And so over in the Senate, I'd like to know where, up to now, where -- you know, where the Senator from West Virginia and the Senator from North Carolina are. They ought to be calling from this.

And I don't know where the Republicans -- I guess the Republicans are dismissing it in the House. But you got to think about this from a precedent standpoint.

[11:25:06] Let me ask this question -- not ask you but ask our viewers. If Barack Obama had made calls like this, people would be going crazy.

Now, if the Democrats had done things in the past that were wrong, OK, fine, but that doesn't have anything to do with this. This has to do with where we are today. And things are slipping and sliding and I am worried about our country.

BOLDUAN: All I got to say is --


KASICH: And this isn't political. I mean this isn't --


KASICH: I've taken heat throughout my whole political career. I've done things, I've taken the heat. Sometimes you've got to take the heat. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

BOLDUAN: Republicans --

KASICH: Go do something else.

BOLDUAN: -- John Kasich has a message for you.

Governor, we got lots more to talk about. Thank you for coming on.

KASICH: See you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, sir.

Coming up -- it's always a ride when I have him on. I always never know where I'm going to end up but I'm always glad it happened.

Thank you, Governor.

Right now, world leaders are meeting in special session for U.N. week.

Also, on the climate crisis. President Trump stopped by the U.N. climate summit. Why did he leave? That's next.