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Donald Trump Now Says He Discussed Biden With Ukrainian President; Treasury Secretary: Releasing Ukraine Call Transcript "Would Be A Trouble Precedent"; CNN Reporting: White House Considering Whether To Release Transcript Of Trump's Call With Ukrainian President; Chairman Adam Schiff: Impeachment May Be The "Only Remedy" After Whistleblower Complaint; Senator Romney: "Troubling In The Extreme" If Whistleblower Claim Is True. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

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DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today. President Trump is at the U.N. this hour where he was greeted by questions about his controversial summer call with the leader of Ukraine. In a United Nations meeting between the U.S. and Iran is off for now. President Trump won't completely close the door on that and House Democrats say they're reaching a tipping point on impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How seriously are you taking this impeachment?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not at all seriously. It's just a Democrat witch hunt, here we go again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: At the United Nations this hour the President is chairing a session on religious freedom. The U.N. General Assembly Meeting will be marked by big issues like how to navigate tensions with Iran and important debates on the climate.

The President just made a last-minute appearance, actually, in the audience of a major U.N. Climate Summit. But we begin this hour with the ugly Washington fight over a whistleblower complaint that followed the President to New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I had a phone call with the President of Ukraine. 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 one problem. I didn't do it. What Biden did is a disgrace. What his son did is a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: So the President is continuing to say the quiet part out loud, that yes, he did talk about investigating the Bidens with Ukraine's leader. A growing number of Democrats hear at admission, one that adds another reason to impeach, more on that dynamic in a few minutes.

The President first is going to meet with the Ukrainian leader on Wednesday. So between now and then, the White House is trying to convince Americans that an extraordinary asks of a foreign leader is just a normal part of being President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's very important to talk about corruption. If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt? One of the reasons the new President got elected is he was going to stop corruption. So it's very important that on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption, very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Let's get straight to New York and CNN's Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, our White House team has some new reporting right now about the transcript of this phone call. What can you tell us?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, we're told right now there are conversations happening inside the White House about whether or not they should release this transcript because some people are arguing that, yes, it could just help dispel some of the drama around it as they are maintaining.

The President didn't say anything inappropriate during that late July phone call with the President of Ukraine. But others are pushing back, saying they released one transcript of his call with the world leader that then it's going to lead to a flurry of other requests from lawmakers, some Democratic lawmakers wanting to know what he says when he's on the phone with Vladimir Putin and other world leaders that they have questions about.

So that is the conversation happening right now about the transcript. There are also conversations about whether or not they're going to release this whistleblower's complaint. You heard the Treasury Secretary say on CNN yesterday that they don't want to release that because he believes it would set a bad precedent.

But of course the statute about a whistleblower, especially one in the Intelligence Community, is that that complaint, if deemed urgent, should go to the Intelligence Communities on Capitol Hill, which so far this complaint has been blocked from doing.

We're still waiting to see what they're going to do about not only the complaint but of course the transcript as well. All of this is going on as the President himself has confirmed that, yes, he did bring up Joe Biden and his family during that last known phone call with the President of Ukraine as you saw the President just there defending it as he bounces between meetings here at the United Nations where he's going to be spending this week but not only is the President confirming he did speak with him about it, he's defending it.

He's also now on Twitter questioning the identity of this whistleblower, asking if it's someone who is on the country's side. We should note, the last time we heard, Trump said he didn't know the identity of that whistleblower.

BASH: Kaitlan, thank you so much for that reporting. We'll get back to you if you get any news from up there here with there.

Here with me at the table to share their reporting and their insights is CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post" and CNN's Diplomatic and Military Analyst Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

And let me start with you, Admiral Kirby, and all of you - I want you all to look at the tweet that Kaitlan was just referring to there at the end of her report by the President, which he sent between going in the front door to the U.N. and stopping by that Climate Summit, I should add.

The very thing that they are accusing President Trump of doing, which I didn't do, was actually done by Joe Biden continues to be a double standard. So that he is quoting Devin Nunez. Here is the important thing. Also this President speaking, "Who is this so-called whistleblower who doesn't know the correct facts? Is he on our country's side? Where does he come from?"

[12:05:00]

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Very troubling. I mean, look, whistleblower complaints should be treated seriously all of them regardless of who submits. And the whole idea is it should be anonymous and that individual's identity should be protected.

I'm very troubled by this, because aside from the incident here that we're talking about, it could have a very chilling effect on whistleblowers going forward. People are going to be perhaps afraid of lodging complaints or expressing concerns about this President and this administration if they think they're going to get called out by the President of the United States.

BASH: But which is 100 percent his goal. There is no - it's completely clear, it's completely transparent that he's trying to scare this whistleblower, future whistleblowers, but also maybe more importantly now just completely, you know, rip up the credibility of this person before the Congress gets the report if they do, and if they actually release the transcript of this call.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Look we've seen this play out before, right? This shouldn't be a surprise to us how the President and his aides handle this. They did this throughout the Mueller investigation where their strategy was to undermine the credibility of the people making the allegations.

It was to deflect the kinds of criticisms that he was receiving and essentially make the claim that, in fact, others in the case of others - in the Mueller investigation he tried to deflect to Hillary Clinton and her activities with the emails and the like instead of maintaining the focus on him. This is the strategy.

It's the same playbook that he's used for a long time, and the question will be, you know, is the Congress in a mood to give him the time to kind of continue to run that playbook, or does this all reach a point very quickly that they move into a phase that doesn't allow him to do that?

BASH: Absolutely, we're going to talk about that in the next segment. I want to just zero in on one other thing that Kaitlan was talking about. CNN is reporting that there are active conversations going on inside the White House Counsel's Office and more broadly inside the Administration about releasing the transcript of that phone call. You heard Steve Mnuchin, the President's Treasury Secretary, say right here on the air to Jake Tapper yesterday, bad idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MUNCHIN, THE PRESIDENT'S TREASURY SECRETARY: I think that would be a terrible precedent. Conversations between world leaders are meant to be confidential. And if every time someone, for political reasons, raised a question and all of a sudden those conversations were disclosed publicly, and when you disclose them to Congress, lots of times they leak into the press, then why would world leaders want to have conversations together?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: John Kerry, who was Secretary of State, is familiar with the process here. On the other side of the aisle was on another network this morning saying the opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. President, show America what that beautiful conversation was. Let us see how beautiful it really was. Let us know whether eight times you turned around and tried to extort from the President your campaign opposition research.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and the thing is, the President on one hand has called this a beautiful conversation, right? He's also essentially admitted to what everybody is reporting, the idea that he talked to the leader of Ukraine about the Bidens, about corruption, and he keeps advancing this story, a false story, about Biden and his son Hunter Biden and their engagement with folks in the Ukraine.

So, yes, if his argument is that there is nothing wrong with it, and then you would imagine, listen, let the public see what this conversation was all about. Let the whistleblower complaint be seen by folks in Congress, but we'll see.

I think these next couple of days will be a tipping point, and you can talk to this certainly better than I can in terms of congress and what they do. What republicans do as well? That's the big question. So far they've been willing to run cover and interference for this President have they reach a typical?

BASH: I think we should be careful not to conflate two very different things here. The question whether the White House is going to release this transcript of the phone call, and whether Congress is going to get the actual complaint from the whistleblower.

You can see a scenario where the White House releases the transcript and says, see, there is nothing clear here, nothing to see, whereas they could think that would be their way out of giving this complaint to Congress.

And before we talk a little bit more about the politics, I just to want ask you because you're the one at the table who has experience with foreign leader calls. What's your take given your work at the State Department, at the White House, the Pentagon and the military about releasing this transcript?

KIRBY: I think Secretary Mnuchin does make a good point. You don't want every transcript or every call released. It would inhibit the confidentiality of these talks. That said this is an exceptional case.

[12:10:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Release the transcript.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: You never know when he's going to stop and talk.

KIRBY: He did exactly the right thing. This is an exceptional case. Even if they don't want to release them to the public, at least sharing them with the Intelligence Committees so that you can see for sure exactly what was said, as well as the whistleblower complaint.

What I'm struggling with is if this was such a beautiful conversation, why not at least let the Intelligence Committees take a look at the whistleblower complaint and the transcript, and then you can make a follow-on decision about public release later on. So this is a very unique situation.

SHEAR: Can I also just add real quickly, the irony of this administration relying - you know, making an argument based on precedence that they don't want that shattered, and this administration has shattered just about every norm.

MALIKA: Including this phone call, right?

(CROSSTALK)

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: We just have to remember, the Inspector General, it wasn't just the whistleblower complaining about saying something happened here on this call. The Inspector General looked at this complaint and said that it was an urgent concern. So I mean, Democrats of course would say, yes, President's conversations with a foreign leader should absolutely be private, but again this is a different situation.

SHEAR: We're on the brink of them talking about impeachment. I don't know how much more unique you can get with more justification for giving as much transparency as you can, even again if it's just with members of Congress.

BASH: And that we're going to talk in the next segment about the impeachment and the growing calls. And as we do, I just want to show you and our viewer's part of the Wall Street Journal Editorial this morning. Reminding us that as you talk about shattering precedents, nothing is as it seems in terms of how it's going to play out with the Trump world.

Bleating this to Russia, there is the failure of Mr. Trump's critics to appreciate that to millions of Americans this all looks like Russia redux. That melodrama started with Intelligence acquisition and dubious unmasking of Americans that we later learned came from the Obama Administration officials. That doesn't justify Mr. Trump's request, but it does explain why Republicans aren't joining the rush to judgment.

It's probably what you're hearing when you talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, that concern as I am from - even from the Trump campaign - maybe not concern but a sigh of relief right now that the voters just see this as more noise.

BADE: Yes. I mean Democrats have been trying for multiple months, weeks to try to move the public sentiment on impeachment and they haven't been able to do that. So, yes, I think Republicans are hopeful that this will not move the needle per se on that. This just speaks to how invincible Trump feels right now.

I mean, the Mueller Report came out, 10 areas of potential obstruction of justice that the Special Counsel laid out I mean, prosecutors all but named him as a top person in the campaign finance violations that sent his former lawyer to jail. You have him now coming about openly allowing foreign leaders to stay at his Trump hotels where he is going to benefit financially. It just shows that he feels invincible right now and a lot of that are has to do with what we're not seeing in Congress right now.

BASH: Exactly. Okay, we're going to talk more about that. Thank you so much, it's always great to see you. If you have a question on today's political stories for anyone here at the table, you can tweet us using the hash tag Inside Politics. We might answer your question at the end of the show or on our podcast.

Up next, new CNN reporting, Democrats say they have reached a tipping point on impeachment. What that means for the immediate future and for the 2020 election. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:15:00]

BASH: Welcome back. Brand new reporting from my colleague, Manu Raju, who says House Democrats are nearing a tipping point on impeachment. The key here is that he's hearing this is not just from progressives but also moderate Democrats who have been reluctant to go there.

This is all about the Trump Administration blocking Congress from seeing a whistleblower complaint about a Presidential phone call with the Ukrainian leader. Again, a call in which the President now acknowledges he discussed his political rival Joe Biden.

Now Manu is reporting about potential change in the Democratic caucus comes as the House Speaker is likely not surprised. In fact, I was told over the weekend that she was closely coordinating with the House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

After those discussions, Pelosi issued her most stern warning yet to the administration saying in a dear colleague letter just yesterday, if the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious positive breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a new grave chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation. And Chairman Schiff told Jake Tapper, he's getting much closer to supporting an impeachment inquiry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): We cannot afford to play rope a dope in the courts for weeks and months on end. We need an answer. If there is a fire burning, it needs to be put out, and that's why we're going to have to look at every remedy, and if these two issues are, in fact, one issue and relates to deplorable conduct, a violation of the President's oath of office and a cover-up in terms of this whistleblower complaint, then we're going to have to consider impeachment as well a remedy here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Back with the panel. And Alex Thompson with POLITICO joins our conversation.

[12:20:00]

BASH: Welcome. So much happened over the weekend I know you all were reporting on it, especially you, Rachael. Let's just look at a couple of key dynamics here, maybe part of the possible game changer. AOC, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, tweeted, at this point the bigger national scandal isn't the President's law-making behavior, it's the Democratic Party's refusal to impeach him for it.

So the pressure not on just the Democrats for to push but also really, you knows having some tough language. Then you have - she's always somebody who has been for impeaching.

Then you have the other side of the Democratic spectrum, James Carville, someone who looks at this with a much more practical point of view, not an ideological point of view I think it's fair to say. He told the New York Times that, the House should move quickly and clean after obtaining a transcript of Mr. Trump's phone call let the Senate Republicans stew.

BADE: I mean this could clearly be a game changer. At the very least we're seeing an escalation right now. Yes, people like AOC, these folks have always supported impeachment. But the difference now is that they're going out there on record and saying we look weak, we look feckless, and by not doing anything, we're emboldening the President.

There's definitely been a shift. I mean, Pelosi's statement about this quote whole new stage of investigation, I'm not convinced that she's there yet. She's close with Adam Schiff and we just saw the clip of Schiff saying going to the courts is not enough right now and the courts has been Pelosi's strategy.

As you mentioned, they talked over the weekend. Apparently they coordinated talking points on this. Clearly they're looking at doing something else additional especially if they can't get this whistleblower complaint by this Thursday deadline that they have set up. I'm not convinced it's impeachment yet. I've also heard they're talking about inherent contempt and fines right now. Pelosi has dismissed that before, but clearly she's feeling pressure right now and she's going to have to do something different.

BASH: So I totally agree with you what I'm hearing. Pelosi is not there yet. She notably did not use the "I" word in her statement as strong as it was. She didn't go even as far as Adam Schiff. Really interesting interview this morning with Jim Himes who is on the Intelligence Committee, talking very sort of astutely about where Pelosi is and the fact that she is, "Super finely attuned to public sentiment. The speaker doesn't want to do something that would assist in the President's reelection". Listen to how he described that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HIMES, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY: And the Presidential election is the single and only way that Donald Trump will leave office. It comes down to a couple of states. It comes down to Michigan, it comes down to Pennsylvania, it comes down to Wisconsin and a couple other states.

And if you do something that in those states, not in Connecticut or New York or California, but that in those states significantly reduces your chances of beating Donald Trump, you increase the chances of a second term. It is not fear of Donald Trump it is fear of a second Trump term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And I think you should really watch what Joe Biden is going to do in this situation, because he's also joined Pelosi in not calling for impeachment. His campaign just sent a memo yesterday equating to this as potentially bigger than Watergate.

But I think they're also joining the fact that they're going to see what's going on, despite the fact that other 2020 Democrats have called for impeachment. It's also interesting that no other 2020 Democrat is trying to pile on or trying to inseminate that may be anything and proper went on. All the 2020 Democrats are rallying around Joe Biden and against Trump on this issue.

BASH: Yes, there is 2020 and then there is on the Presidential level and those 2020 on the House level, right? A fascinating thing about Manu's new reporting this morning is that he's talking to the so- called front liners. People who have just not wanted to go there because that's not where their district is, they're - some of them are in former Trump district and he is feeling that, that is changing. That could be huge.

HENDERSON: That is who Nancy Pelosi has been looking at, right? Think of folks in Texas, think of folks in South Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania those 40 or so Democrats who made the difference in terms of the Democrats taking over the House. Those are the folks she's been looking at. They're going back home.

They're getting a feel for what folks in those districts want them to do, and so far it has been not impeachment. Do at some point they start to feel differently, feel a little more like AOC, and you heard Himes there. That sort of talking point is kind of an old talking point, right this idea of Michigan, this idea that impeachment could basically juice the President's chances to get reelected does this change the calculus?

It is different. It's the President of the United States getting on the phone talking to another leader to insert themselves into a Democratic election, right? That's a big deal.

[12:25:00]

BASH: It is, but the other dynamic here is where are the Republicans? So far it's been crickets. Mitt Romney send out a tweet yesterday saying, "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".

SHEAR: Right. And so far he is largely alone on that. There are not been a lot of Republicans kind of go quite that far. I think the Pelosi question is interesting because she is more careful than anybody else in her caucus. We all know that, right? She's very careful.

And what we have here, as we've all said, might be explosive. Nobody has seen the transcript. But it's one phone call. And the Democrats have, over the last several years of the Mueller report, latched onto lots of stuff that ultimately even a hundreds-long-page report, the result of a massive government investigation, didn't provide enough energy. I think in Pelosi's mind it's hard to imagine until you actually see something - she doesn't want to put all her eggs in this one basket of this one phone call.

BASH: It's a rare day where Nancy Pelosi and "The Wall Street Journal" Editorial page agree. Now it sounds like they do. Before we go to break, as a proud jersey girl, I would like to note that today is Bruce Springsteen's 70th birthday.

And given all the 2020 campaign talk about what is and is not too old, I wanted to share a tweet from "Inside Politics" regular and die hard Bruce fan Paul Cane. He tweeted Bruce Springsteen just turn 70 after midnight. I'm really struggling with the fact that he's in the same age decade as Mitch McConnell, Pelosi, Biden, Bernie, Warren, Mitt Romney, well may they all have the stamina to takes for a three hour concert leaving it all on the stage Springsteen style. Happy 70th birthday to the boss and we'll be right back.

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