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Trump, Mnuchin and Pompeo Split on Releasing Details of Ukraine Call; Ukraine Drama Raises Pressure on House Democrats to Impeach Trump; Elizabeth Warren Surges in New Polls in Iowa; Trump Confirms He Discussed Biden with Ukrainian President; Ukrainian Drama Raises Pressure on House Dems to Impeach Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 09:00   ET



CAMEROTA: You could hear how choked up that fellow veteran was. That was so nice that they do that.

All right. That's it for us. "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It's Monday. I'm Jim Sciutto.

A stunning admission, even a reversal by President Trump. Will it be enough to make Democrats now act? The president now confirming that he spoke to the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden and his son. Trump's fast evolution on Ukraine reflects a familiar pattern, deny potential wrongdoing and then admit and justify it while declaring the discovery of the activity the real crime.

A reminder, just four days ago he started with what appeared to be a total denial via Twitter writing, quote, "It never ends. Virtually any time I speak on the phone to a foreign leader I understand that there may be many people listening." Of course he began there by calling this another fake news story out there.

Well, is that how it ended up?

HARLOW: Yes. By Friday morning the president delivered a series of contradictory talking points. He insisted that the conversations he had with Ukrainian officials that are now of course under scrutiny were, quote, " totally appropriate and beautiful." He then later said he couldn't remember them and said he had not read the whistleblower complaint. But then in the next breath claimed that, quote, "everybody had read it, they laughed at it." By the weekend, however, the president was largely confirming all of it. Even defending it. Here he is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a great conversation. The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don't want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.


HARLOW: OK. So there it is in his own words on camera and all of this while he attacked the whistleblower for what he called spying at the same time continuing to suggest with no evidence that Biden had acted inappropriately.

Joining us now at the White House with more is Joe Johns.

And Joe, I just want to reiterate again there is just no evidence at this point in time that Joe or Hunter Biden did anything inappropriate here.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. I think that's very important to underline because the president has been trying to shift the narrative, when this is really a question about what the president said and the timeline of all of this. The president, as you showed in that clip, said this conversation with the newly elected President Zelensky of Ukraine was largely congratulatory, but the president also said he talked about corruption and also said that he talked about Joe and Hunter Biden, while there's no evidence that they have anything to do with wrongdoing or corruption.

So, the best evidence of all of this obviously would be the release of a transcript of that conversation to at least attempt to clear the air or show people what the president did, in fact, say. However, there are some of the president's lieutenants who are opposed to releasing such a transcript, including the secretary of State and the secretary of the Treasury, both saying that conversations between world leaders ought to remain private.

So that is an internal debate that the administration has to continue working with, even as we move closer to that Thursday deadline when the speaker of the House wants to get the complaint from the whistleblower to try to detail what specifically it was that individual was concerned about. And we look forward to trying to get the White House to give us any clarifications they can, even as the president is up at the United Nations this week. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: The White House is going to make that claim on presidential conversations being private, but on the whistleblower complaint, the law is clear.

HARLOW: So clear.

SCIUTTO: That has to be reported to Congress.


SCIUTTO: Joe Johns, at the White House, thanks very much.

JOHNS: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Let's get the latest reaction from lawmakers on the Hill to this. CNN's Lauren Fox, she joins us now from Capitol Hill.

So, Lauren, the division on the Hill has been between 150 some Democratic lawmakers who now support impeachment, resists -- being resisted by the leadership, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and others, tell us, speaking to Democrats now, has this shifted the dial sufficiently for Democratic leadership on the question of impeachment?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, over the weekend, Jim, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a stark warning, basically arguing the administration needed to hand over that whistleblower complaint by the end of the week. In a letter, in a rare letter over the weekend, she wrote to her colleagues, quote, "If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress, a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation."


We also heard from the Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff who has so far been trying to keep things pretty even when he talks about impeachment over the weekend. He told our colleague Jake Tapper that impeachment may be the only remedy if they can't get something like this whistleblower complaint. Here's what he said.


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


FOX: And of course, this underscores a larger debate that the Democratic caucus has been having for several months now. You have liberals who say this is the time to do impeachment. You saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a very vocal freshman, tweeting, quote, "At this point the bigger national scandal isn't the president's law- breaking behavior, it's the Democratic Party's refusal to impeach him for it."

So expect, Poppy and Jim, that this week there is going to be more calls on Capitol Hill to move forward with impeachment. We'll be of course watching what Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to say about it -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Lauren Fox, great reporting. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about all of this. Seung Min Kim is here, White House reporter for the "Washington Post," and Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent, joins us.

Good morning, ladies. And Dana, let me begin with you, Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi both chose their words very, very carefully, but there is a shift, OK, I just wonder how significant you think it is. Is this a shift that will result in both of them finally saying, now is the time to move forward on impeachment?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So I have two different answers for two different parts of that question, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right.

BASH: It is -- first, the significance. Hugely significant that these two people, obviously especially Nancy Pelosi, but including Adam Schiff, have been very reluctant to even go there on impeachment.


BASH: Adam Schiff with Jake Tapper went much further. He actually used the I word. Nancy Pelosi for her, it was more a shot across the bow at the administration while also a message to her people, I hear you, which was important for her to do this weekend given everything that happened last week, which we can get to in a second, but whether or not this will get to that point is still to be determined because Pelosi and even Schiff and others who have been more cautious, still look at two things -- one, the broader is public opinion and is public opinion there yet and two, even sort of more micro on the public opinion, is that the case in places that are not Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez's district or the West Coast in, you know, urban areas in California, meaning in areas that will decide not just the House of Representatives if she continues to be speaker, but the presidential election, whether that is seen as a bridge too far and could actually help the president in 2020 as opposed to hurting him.

SCIUTTO: So, Seung Min, you have the politics of this. The central question, this is a political process, impeachment is a political process, but yet the substance, too. For two years the special counsel investigated whether as candidate President Trump was willing to accept foreign help in the election. The circumstances of this is the president asking for foreign help in effect, to attack a political opponent, and possibly, we don't know this yet.


SCIUTTO: But possibly demanding or pressuring and somehow tying military assistance? I mean, qualitatively, that's a step up, is it not?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And look at the timeline here. July 24th was the day of that big Mueller hearing where the special counsel testified on Capitol Hill and made all those details and made his pronouncements about that report. The phone call that's in question came July 25th. Of all the reporting bears out and we have no reason to believe that it's incorrect, in one day after essentially the close of the special counsel investigation, that has just created such a cloud over his presidency for the first two years, he goes and makes this -- exerts this pressure campaign against the Ukrainian president.

Now what you're hearing from a lot of Republicans so far with a couple of exceptions is that we're looking for more information, you know, there was no explicit quid pro quo, and that's -- you know, we'll, you know, we'll defer to what the president is saying at this point. But you can't lose sight of the fact here and Democrats are pointing out that the president was actively, you know, using the power of his office to try to dig up dirt on his political rivals and that can't be underestimated.

SCIUTTO: Well -- yes.

HARLOW: Eight times according to the "Wall Street Journal."

Dana, Mitt Romney, though, I don't know if -- he was kind of on an island now, I don't know if that island is going to get more populated but here's what he said over the weekend, "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 facts to come out." Does he remain lonely on that island?

BASH: Right now he is lonely.


But it's even significant that he is one person on that island for the Republican Party because he has been very critical historically of the president, but since he's been a senator he has chosen his public criticism carefully.


BASH: And the fact that he decided to come out, put this tweet out, saying, I want more information is telling. It's also, if you kind of marry that with the letter -- going back to the letter that Nancy Pelosi sent over the weekend, it was a dear colleague letter not just to fellow Democrats but to all House members including and especially Republicans, saying this is not -- this should not be a partisan issue.

Republicans, you should be asking the president of the United States for information. That is really important and just if you look at the -- kind of the numbers among House Republicans, you do have a significant number who are saying that they're not going to run for re-election, that they're retiring, so they don't have political -- they have political capital to spend if they want to -- if they see this as something that is necessary and I'm told that Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, they did have consultations over the weekend as they found the pressure mounting by their fellow Democrats, that they wanted to take a step not just to talk about Democrats but remind people that this should not be a partisan exercise.

SCIUTTO: Well, try that again after this. If we're speaking in terms of islands the --

BASH: Historically it hasn't been. We're in different territory now. But historically it hasn't been too partisan.

SCIUTTO: And if we're speaking in terms of islands, the far more populated islands now are the silent one and frankly the one getting bigger are --

BASH: Yes. You're right.

SCIUTTO: Republicans jumping on Trump's train here which is to say, the more serious thing to investigate is what Joe Biden's son was up to as opposed to what president was up to here.

BASH: You're right.

SCIUTTO: Seung Min Kim, Dana Bash, great to have you both on.

BASH: You too.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, President Trump says he hope a transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president will be released. Members of his inner circle say that would be a bad idea. What is the White House strategy here? Is there one? And what sort of precedent would it set if they did release that transcript?

HARLOW: Plus, Iowa, ever heard of it? Very important in this election and all it is neck and neck in the race there. We're going to break down our new CNN polling as Elizabeth Warren surges.

And CNN is in Tehran as the Iranians show off the mangled remains of the U.S. drone they shot down and the new missile system that did it.



POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right, the White House cannot agree on how to handle the fallout from the president's call with the Ukrainian president, we're talking about the July 25th call.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: The president said this weekend, he hopes details of the call will be released. That statement at odds though with what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin are saying.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: We don't release transcripts often, it's the rare case. Those are private conversations between world leaders and wouldn't be appropriate to do so except in the most extreme circumstances. There's no evidence that, that would be appropriate here at this point.

STEVE MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF TREASURY, UNITED STATES: I think that would be a terrible precedent. Conversations between world leaders are meant to be confidential.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN political analyst John Avlon and Elliot

Williams; he's a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst. Elliot, let me begin with you because I want to get a legal question here. Already, we know because the president has admitted it that he discussed Joe Biden, a potential rival for the -- in the general election with the foreign leader, bringing up investigating that person.

Legally, does that meet the standard for conspiring with a foreign entity to get something of value in a U.S. election, and then I guess the follow-up question is, if he also tied military assistance to that, what is the legal difference beyond that?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, we're -- I wouldn't focus too much on the legal question as to what the crime would be, the bigger -- because we know that the president, at least we believe that the president can't be charged criminally for conduct committed while in office.

SCIUTTO: He cannot, but Congress can pursue impeachment --

WILLIAMS: That's why --

SCIUTTO: Based on a perceived violation of the law.

WILLIAMS: That's exactly it, but it doesn't need to be a violation of the law, what it needs to be is a violation of the presidential oath of office. And if it is seen that the president is either acting to his own benefit or, you know, or engaging with a foreign government in a matter not in the United States' interest, and that's absolutely an impeachable offense.

But the problem here is that the definition of what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor, that's the --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WILLIAMS: Language in the constitution for what's impeachable. It's vague, and so it's really up to Congress to decide and if --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WILLIAMS: They decided today to file an article of impeachment, they'd absolutely have a basis for it.

HARLOW: Sure --


HARLOW: So, John, what do you think we learned from U.S. v. Nixon in all of this? Because there you had an article --


HARLOW: Articles of impeachment filed in order to obtain tapes and transcripts and documents. Could that be the avenue here for Democrats at this point to obtain the documents that they cannot yet get their hands on.

AVLON: That's certainly one avenue that's open to them, and that's one of the arguments that this should be about a deeper investigation into the outstanding questions that surround the Trump presidency, that for example, the Mueller investigation did not get to. The second article of impeachment against Nixon was about abuse of power --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Right --

AVLON: It was about using in part domestic agencies to get information on his political opponents. So, there is a precedent that people should be wide awake about.


I think the larger issue is, you know, one, in that high crimes and misdemeanors, the word before it is bribery. Questions around the withholding of the Ukrainian aid, could that be --


SCIUTTO: That's interesting --

AVLON: Right? Also this is all sort of festival of projection that the president of the United States accusing, you know, a political rival of corruption and dealing in trying to influence elections and outcomes with foreign powers. This occurs a day after the Mueller hearing. He's --


AVLON: Doubling down on the same sin. And there's an easy way out, folks. It's not about the transcripts, it's about releasing the whistleblower report as the DNI is required to --

SCIUTTO: Which is required by law because that's not -- I mean, you heard --

AVLON: Not so --

SCIUTTO: That argument being made by administration officials too, it'd be a bad precedent. Well, the law states --

AVLON: Yes, not a jump ball --

SCIUTTO: If it is. Elliott, I mean, ultimately though, the impeachment process is a political process, therefore it's a political question, do you have the political will in both parties to pursue. Obviously, to impeach the equivalent of indicting, you just need the majority of the house which you could have just based on Democrats.

But for it to go anywhere, you would need two-thirds in the Senate. So, has this moved the dial on that political question? WILLIAMS: Right, it's hard to know whether to move it down the

political question. So, look, you saw the tweet from Mitt Romney earlier this morning, I know you were covering it a little bit earlier. But you know, this has become a question of Democrats versus Donald Trump, when really it's the institutional interests of Congress versus the office of the presidency.


WILLIAMS: And I think the failing here is even highlighting Mitt Romney's tweet, sort of gives the Republicans a free pass because they are part of Congress as well. And what we're seeing here once again is a presidency or a presidential administration that just doesn't respect --

HARLOW: Yes --

WILLIAMS: Congress' authority. And this whole thing as you were just talking about with John about the release of the whistleblower report is about the administration versus Congress. And so again, maybe it's a question of political will, but I think this exposes the fact that Republicans in Congress are derelict in a basic duty, which is to look at this objectively and fairly.

HARLOW: John, do you think that because of what has preceded this in terms of what has been the basis of Democrats calls for impeachment, there have been a number of things, first, it was, you know, conduct with Russia, then emoluments and now, it would be this.

Does that actually hurt the Democrats' public case here, simply by those who would say to them, your method is kitchen sink? Those things didn't work and now you're using this?

AVLON: That may on the level of perception, but you could also say that there's an accumulation of data points that demands an escalation.

HARLOW: Sure, you can see it both ways --

AVLON: Right, and I do think that, you know, for Democrats part of the key question is the principle over the politics. Everybody knows, cut to the chase that the Senate as currently constituted is not going to convict --

SCIUTTO: Right --

AVLON: Donald Trump. But you've got a basic problem which is that it advise against Americans' sense of fairness and common sense. Republicans treating the basic idea that if a Republican president does it, it doesn't matter --

SCIUTTO: Right --

AVLON: On something they would scream bloody murder appropriately about if a Democratic president did it. This situational ethics.


AVLON: And that's the underlying issue we've got to pierce. We cannot divide into warring tribes on basic questions of right or wrong. And that's where we're -- not heading where we're at, right.

SCIUTTO: Situational ethics, the phrase of the day --

HARLOW: Good way to put it.

SCIUTTO: Elliot Williams, John Avlon, thanks very much. It is important to emphasize here again that despite what we're hearing from the president and, of course, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, there is no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son Hunter in Ukraine. Keep that in mind, a lot of these charges get --

HARLOW: People should take time to actually read the whole background here --

SCIUTTO: They should --

HARLOW: In all of this --

SCIUTTO: Again, in short, there was a prosecutor, U.S. pressured to fire there, the question from the Obama administration's point of view was that, that prosecutor was not effectively rooting out corruption in the country. The president --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Is now saying it was all about money --

HARLOW: And also the IMF pushed to have him --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: Pushed out, it lost interest --

SCIUTTO: They lost interest --

HARLOW: In that station. All right --

SCIUTTO: Listen, we're going to stay on top of this story. Still ahead, a new CNN poll shows Elizabeth Warren surging not only nationally but also in the key state of Iowa. Is Joe Biden's frontrunner status at risk? Harry Enten, he'll be here to crunch the numbers, that's coming up.



HARLOW: Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is surging in Iowa. A new CNN-"Des Moines Register" poll shows that she and the Vice -- former Vice President Joe Biden are really within the margin of error. Let's talk about this, dig into the numbers, Asma Khalid; political correspondent for "NPR", and our senior political writer Harry Enten now with me.

Good morning to you both. Harry, I mean, looking at this, what strikes me that is big, there's no clear leader, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren are within the margin of error here, and when you look at the favorability ratings, she has a lot to be happy about.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER & ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think look at the trend line in the polls, right? She's jumped from March when she was in the single digits up to 15 in June, and then up to 22 percent, now Joe Biden going the other direction. Bernie Sanders really falling off of it. But I think what you pointed out is key, right?

Take a look at the internals of this poll --

HARLOW: Yes --

ENTEN: If you look at those very favorable ratings, she's up to 44, Biden is back in 20s. If you look at the actively considering voting for, even if you're not -- she's not your first choice, she's way up there.

HARLOW: Right --

ENTEN: Overall, it's a very good poll for her. I guess my big question, honestly, is why isn't she doing better despite the fact that her very favorable ratings are so high?

HARLOW: Even better --

ENTEN: Even better --

HARLOW: OK, that's interesting --

ENTEN: That's my thing.

HARLOW: Asma, one number that also struck me from this poll is 48 percent of very liberal, likely caucus goers, and we know because they're the rules here, they have to go, they have to get up and go, say they prefer Warren versus 20 percent who prefer Bernie Sanders. If you are Bernie Sanders --