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Trump Admits Talking To Foreign Power About Investigating Biden; House Democrats Nearing A Tipping Point On Impeachment; Is Trump Feeling More Empowered As He Goes Unchecked?; U.S. Army Solder Charged With Sending Bomb-Making Instructions. Trump To Send Troops To Saudi Arabia After Attacks On Oil Fields. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: So there he is trying to take advantage of this moment and bust out of the pack.

DANA BASH, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: All right, everybody, thank you so much. Thank you for joining us on Inside Politics.

Brianna Keilar starts Right Now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters.

Underway right now, the president admits to talking to Ukraine about investigating his political rival, Joe Biden, effectively requesting that a foreign country meddle in the 2020 election. So now the question is, what are Democrats going to do about it?

And did the Moscow Mitch talks spark the Senate Majority Leader to change his mind and give states more money for election security?

After an attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, President Trump moves military reinforcements into the region, but should American troops put their lives on the line for Saudi Arabia?

Plus, the vice president uses an eight-car motorcade on a historic Michigan island that does not allow cars.

And the underwater marriage proposal that went tragically wrong.

We start with President Trump in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, still dogged by questions about a phone call with the Ukrainian president that's at the heart of a whistleblower complaint the Trump administration is refusing to share with Congress. The president admits he made the call and he admits he brought investigating a political rival, but he and the administration say there's nothing wrong with that.

Kaitlan Collins is in New York following the president there at the U.N. General Assembly. What are you hearing, Kaitlan? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, this has followed the president here to New York. It's kind of overshadowing a lot of the meetings. And right off the bat as the president arrived here at the United Nations headquarters, that is something he was talking about immediately. And he was asked if he's worried about what you're hearing from Capitol Hill, which is the question about whether or not this is going to be something that's going to change some of those Democrats, those Democrats who have been hesitant to call for his impeachment so far, whether or not it's going to change their mind. Because some of them are arguing that this on its own is incriminating.

The president was asked about that earlier today, Brianna, and this is how he responded.


REPORTER: How seriously are you taking the (INAUDIBLE)?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Not at all, seriously. I had a personal phone call with the president of Ukraine. Everybody knows it. It's just a Democratic witch hunt. Here we go again. They failed with Russia, they failed with the recession, they failed with everything. And now, they're bringing this up.

REPORTER: Are you willing to clear this up by releasing the whistleblower report, sir?

TRUMP: Quiet.


COLLINS: So you see right at the end, Trump was asked, will you release this whistleblower's complaint. As mandated by the law if it's deemed urgent by the inspector general, which it has been, the president only said, quiet, he didn't answer that. And that comes as the president on Twitter, as he's bouncing between meetings with world leaders here today, is going after this whistleblower, questioning whether or not they are on the side of the country, saying, who is this so-called whistleblower who doesn't know the correct facts? He said, is he on our country's side and where does he come from?

Now, we do not know the identity of this whistleblower. We don't know if it's a he. On Friday, the president said he also didn't know the identity. Whether or not he's learned it in the days since is still another a question, because he said some of his staffers had read it.

But, of course, the question going forward is not just only are we going to do the transcript of this call, are we going to see this whistleblower's complaint, but also whether or not the president was threatening to withhold that aid money from Ukraine over, pushing them to investigate someone who is his political rival. Those are the questions that are going to be overshadowing the president's here. At least, so far, they have been, Brianna.

KEILAR: Ukraine certainly had the perception that those two things were linked. Kaitlan Collins at the U.N., thank you.

As Democrats fight amongst themselves about whether to impeach the president, Speaker Pelosi has been working to hold off her caucus. But she now says, if the Trump administration's refusal here to turn over this whistleblower complaint, quote, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.

Congressman Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this about the president's call with Ukraine and the prospect of impeachment.


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 be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that conduct represents.


KEILAR: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this, quote, at this point, the bigger national scandal isn't the president's lawbreaking behavior, it is the Democratic Party's refusal to impeach him for it.

Our Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.

Are Democrats here nearing the breaking point for impeachment?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're hearing from a lot of Democrats who believe they absolutely are, some who have been skeptical about impeachment, like Adam Schiff, signaling that that may be the direction that the caucus is moving.


Of course, a majority of the caucus does support it at the moment formal impeachment proceedings.

And I am told from Democratic sources that moderate Democrats, ones who represent districts and Republican-leaning districts that the president carried, including freshman Democrats, are starting to rethink their opposition to impeachment, some saying that they may come out and support of impeachment in the coming days if the controversy continues to grow, particularly if there is evidence showing that the president sought to withhold military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating the Bidens. That is a bridge too far for some of those Democrats who believe it is time, who have thrown cold water on the idea of going forward.

Now, other Democrats are raising concerns that they are not going far enough fast enough. Gerry Connolly, who is a Democrat, who sits on two key committees, told me this morning, I think this weekend, all I hear at home is when are Democrats going to get tough? We are looking weak. The fear, Brianna, for some of these Democrats, they believe that they're not doing enough, in their view, to hold the president accountable and impeachment may be the only remedy, which is one reason you're hearing an uptick in the language from the speaker herself.

A lot of folks here on Capitol Hill believe she is starting to keep that door increasingly open towards impeachment, even though she has yet to embrace it. We'll see how she ultimately responds depending on what happens on Thursday, when the acting Director of National Intelligence testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. And he doesn't provide information by the whistleblower complaint, expect those calls only to grow. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you so much for that live report.

We have former chair of the D.C. Democratic Party, A. Scott Bolden with us here, along with CNN Global Affairs Analyst and Staff Writer for The New Yorker, Susan Glasser.

So, Scott, when you look at this and you hear Manu reporting there that the speaker is now increasingly keeping the door open, is that rhetoric or is that, to you, a signal that this really had been maybe moving from the speaker in the direction of impeachment?

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, D.C. DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It's just ongoing frustration for Democrats. It's just like Manu said, across the country, and I travel too quite a bit, what do you need to impeach a president?

Nancy Pelosi is trying to protect the moderates because we got the majority in the House, but between this incident, between the obstruction of justice of the Mueller report, between the refusal to allow people to testify and just suppress the subpoenas, Democrats are just generally frustrated. And if the door is open, it's about time, and something needs to be done.

Do your constitutional duty. Stop worrying about the Senate, stop worrying about the public. We've got an election in 2020. It's not going to make that much difference, because in the eyes of the voters, he's only up for 40 percent approval. And if you lay out the case not through investigations but by impeachment, no matter what the Senate does, at least you will have done your constitutional duty and look stronger versus weaker, which is how we're looking right now.

KEILAR: Is there something different about this set of facts here, Susan, with the president admitting that he had this phone call and that he brought up investigating, essentially digging for dirt on Joe Biden with Ukraine?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, it is astonishing in a way facts that we're looking at here. First of all, what we already know, there is a lot we don't know, not just in what was exactly recorded by note takers in the phone call but obviously what this whistleblower complaint is, but even what we already know by the president's own admission, that of his lawyer and what was already public. He sent his private attorney acting in what capacity is not clear, anyways.

The president of the United States is a formidable figure in Ukraine. He sent a man acting at his behest to pressure the government to investigate Joe Biden. We already know that, and his son. So the question is how explicitly, perhaps, did he link this millions and millions of dollars in U.S. aid.

This is something that really is without precedence. You could say he's openly solicited the campaign interference of a foreign government in the 2020 election. You can already say that.

KEILAR: How explicitly did he link this much needed military aid that Ukraine in order to fend off Russia to this investigation? Certainly, Scott, the Ukrainian president believed that there was a link. That is what we are hearing from people who have spoken with him.

BOLDEN: And while holding up this $250 million to fight the Russians, which we know that Donald Trump wants to be friends with.

Listen, I do white collar criminal defense work, right?

KEILAR: That's right. But how explicit does it have to be? That's exactly what --

BOLDEN: Right, it doesn't have to be. Tell me a conversation, if you can imagine, where you're holding up $250 million, that you are -- you bring up Biden and his son and the company that they want investigated, and they talk about corruption all in one conversation.


It doesn't have to be explicit. You don't need to have a written agreement to have a conspiracy under criminal law in the U.S. All you have to say is, I got this 250 million. We really want to fight corruption. We want to be better. And that little thing with Biden and his son, that didn't really go well and there is a lot we still don't know about. I'm going to do my best to get you the 250 million, but I really need you to do a lot about corruption and Biden.

KEILAR: We don't know that the transcript says, right? That's very important.

GLASSER: We don't even know that there is an exact transcript. And this is an important thing. I think that people had been focusing on this as if this is a debate about to transcript or not to transcript. A, there were note takers in the conversation. They didn't necessarily record the phone call. We don't know to what extent it exists, number one.

Number two, there is this issue of we're defining any wrongdoing here as only the president of the United States directly saying, Brianna, give me the money or give me the investigation, that's a very unlikely way.

What we already know, I think, is pretty extraordinary here, and in any other presidency. Simply, Rudy Giuliani's public efforts acting as an agent of the president of the United States to pressure the Ukrainian government, that would be an enormous scandal under any presidency of my lifetime.

KEILAR: Is he in trouble, Rudy Giuliani?

BOLDEN: I think they're certainly looking at him. They have to be looking at him. The Democrats are looking at him. The Republicans aren't.

But think about it. Who is his client? His client is the president of the United States. He's not over in Madrid and he's not over in Ukraine doing his own personal bidding for some corporate client. And has he registered as a lobbyist for the president of the United States, which would be required to do, because he's making public statements to the press.

I think Rudolph Giuliani, while he may think he's in safe space, I think he's got a lot to be concerned about.

KEILAR: The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who you've extensive reporting this weekend, said, if there was election interference that took place by Biden, I think the American people deserve to know. This conspiracy theory has been debunked about what happened. So what do you make of Pompeo's support for Giuliani's action?

GLASSER: Well, I was pretty surprised to see the secretary of state as well as the treasury secretary appearing to justify what seems to be a very straightforward, in a way, given the president's words, a very straightforward situation of demanding that a foreign government essentially take part in our political elections. That's something that no other secretary of state I've ever heard of would have said, first of all.

Second of all, he appeared to conflate two different issues. Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani actually were demanding two things from the Ukrainians. Number one, they wanted Ukraine to go back into its own previous government actions in the run-up to the 2016 campaign, because they're still seeking to discredit the Mueller investigation and Paul Manafort's criminal conviction, right? Paul Manafort, we should remind people, got millions and millions of dollars from the previous corrupt government of Ukraine driven out of office, the pro- Russia government, number one.

So it seemed like Pompeo was referring to the effort to reopen the 2016 investigation as well as demanding a new 2020-related investigation of Biden and his son.

KEILAR: Susan, Scott thank you so much to both of you for your insights.

BOLDEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Does the president feel that he's invincible right now? We'll take a look at that.

Plus, serious questions today as the president sends American troops to Saudi Arabia after the attacks on oil facilities there.



KEILAR: Donald Trump's presidency certainly is not typical, it is vastly different from other administrations. But if you compare it to the structure of the Trump organization, there are multiple similarities. The president is at the top with no one to answer to but Himself.

CNN Politics Reporter and Editor at Large Chris Cillizza is here with us. And, Chris, in the past, members of the administration seemed to keep the president in check. These days though, it really feels like the president has free rein.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes, that's right, Brianna. Look, this is a president who views himself as the only replaceable person and maybe members of his family. But let's just go through a few of the amount of turn over this guy has had. Four national security advisers. I'll remind you, Donald Trump became president in January 2017. Four national security advisers, three chiefs of staff, three directors of oval office operations and five communications directors, five, including the current one, Stephanie Grisham, who, by the way, still hasn't done a press briefing.

Okay. Now, Donald Trump has said, I like acting. What's he talking about? No, not acting in the theater, acting cabinet officials and administrators because he can appoint them, they don't need to be confirmed by the Senate, they can only serve for a certain period of time.

Look at all these people, including his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is still acting, the head of the OMB is acting, the head of ICE, right, is acting, Ken Cuccinelli. There are so many, and, again, it's because all these people do not have to go through the Senate confirmation process, which would be problematic. You would simply not see this in a past administration, Republican or Democratic.



KEILAR: Yes. And it seems also, am I wrong, that we're just getting more of Trump lately?

CILLIZZA: I think Donald Trump operates under the if some of Trump is good, more of Trump is better, because -- yes, you're exactly right.

Okay. We know Donald Trump is an active -- let's just call it that, an active president on Twitter. But, look, 2017, so light blue is re- tweets, blue is his tweets. Look at these numbers. You're seeing a massive increase. I mean, up in here, his number of re-tweets, did you follow his feed, he re-tweets literally 50 or 75 things a day, maybe even within an hour. But there's more than that. Let's keep going here.

Okay. He is talking more at his rallies. Yes, pedestrian rally, January to July 2017 was only 50 minutes long. That feels great. It's like watching a T.V. show, an hour-long T.V. show. Now, it's almost 90 minutes long, as he goes on and on. He adds to his speech, adds -- and breaking news, Donald Trump likes to hear his own voice.

Now, one last one, he is also spending more time on camera. Look at this, two and a half plus hours compared to an hour and 45 minutes. So what does this all tell us, that Donald Trump believes, number one, he's irreplaceable, he is the only irreplaceable person, and number two, he thinks he is his best messenger on television and on Twitter.

My guess, Brianna, is these numbers will go up. We do this in a year's time. We're going to see even more of this. As the closer we get to the election, the more Donald Trump will rely only on himself as his messenger.

KEILAR: All right. Chris Cillizza, thank you.

And as President Trump is deploying more troops to Saudi Arabia after the strike on its oil fields, The Washington Post editorial board asked a provocative question. Should Americans put their lives on the line for Saudi Arabia?

Plus, we have some breaking news, disturbing accusations involving a U.S. Army soldier and bomb-making advice. Stand by for more on that.



KEILAR: A soldier in the U.S. Army is now under arrest in part for allegedly discussing plans of target an American news network and a Democratic presidential candidate.

I want to bring in CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz in New York for us.

What can you tell us about this and about his alleged plans?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Brianna. So this is out of Kansas. And what we're told and according to court documents that were just unsealed, the 24-year-old, his name is Jared William Smith, he is based out in Fort Riley out in the base there in Kansas. And he's charged with one count of distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction.

And now, what this 24-year-old is accused by the FBI of doing, their investigators, they say that on Facebook, he was putting posts on Facebook, saying that he was interested in traveling to the Ukraine to fight with a paramilitary group out there. And then he was also offering to help people build bombs. He put postings on their telling folks how to build cell phone bombs.

He also, according to the FBI, in these court documents, he said that he wanted to potentially maybe attack a major American news network, the headquarters of a major American news network. He also referenced possibly some kind of attack against the presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke.

The FBI here saying that they were very much involved in this. They had an informant, someone who was cooperating with them, who was communicating with this man, and obviously they've been following him. And they were alerted to his Facebook postings of quite some time ago. So they were very much involved in this. They were monitoring this. And then finally, from everything we can tell, they decided to arrest him, the court documents being unsealed today. And that is all we know at this point.

But obviously very troubling, the FBI moving n arresting him. He faces about 20 years in prison and a about $250,000 fine. So very much still developing, Brianna, still a lot to learn here. But nonetheless, he is a current soldier stationed in Fort Riley in Kansas, now in custody of the FBI and awaiting to see a judge in Kansas.

KEILAR: That is incredibly serious. We know you'll continue to follow this. Shimon, thank you so much.

President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to deploy U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia to act as defensive forces in the wake of a suspected Iranian attack on Saudi oil infrastructure.

Christian Caryl is a Global Opinions Editor for The Washington Post. Sir, thanks so much for joining us.


KEILAR: So The Post editorial board has come out against this deployment, and this is what the article is titled. Should U.S. troops put their lives on the line for Saudi Arabia? No. That is what the ed board says. Tell us why.

CARYL: Well, it's very simple, really. What the paper is arguing is that President Trump really has no option here but to deescalate. His maximum pressure strategy against Iran, which basically consisted of piling on more and more sanctions was designed to push Iran back to the negotiating table.


But, in fact, it's just pushed Iran into a corner where they really have no other options.