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Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) is Interviewed About Trump Admitting Discussing Biden in Call with Ukraine's President; Israel's President to Meet with Netanyahu & Gantz Tonight; Trump to Send Troops, Military Equipment to Saudi Arabia & UAE; Voters Clash in Search of Common Ground. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 23, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, does this phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president or what you know, at least thus far, about the facts of this phone call, including that the president this weekend confirmed that he did talk to the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden and his son, does that ramp up the impeachment inquiry in your mind?

[07:00:24]

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Yes, of course it does. I mean, extorting a foreign leader for the purposes of getting that leader to do your political work, to try to find dirt on your opponent is extortion. It is using the assets of the United States of America and the public trust for your own corrupt, if you will, end. Certainly, political end.

So of course, it's an impeachable offense. And of course, Alisyn, the administration is, as we speak, violating the law in terms of producing the whistleblower report. As you know, the law has no ambiguity in it. It says the inspector general or the DNI shall convey to Congress whistleblower reports.

Now, the president is offering to send, you know, some version of a transcript. Right? I mean, this is all starting to sound a little Nixonian. We don't need some version of the transcript. We need to see the whistleblower report, and then we need to talk to the people who were on not just one, if "The Washington Post" story, I think, is to be believed, it may be as many as eight episodes of trying to convince the Ukrainian government to do -- to research dirt on -- on Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: OK. So if, as you say, this is lawlessness as you see it, is Congress now fast-tracking impeachment?

HIMES: Well, as you know, Alisyn, I've been in favor of impeachment now for a couple of months. The obstruction of justice counts in the Mueller report were enough for me, along with the president's general behavior.

So yes, I do think -- I can't tell you that the House will move into impeachment mode right away, but this -- this really ups the ante. I think you saw Speaker Pelosi express that fact when she said that, if the White House failed to produce the whistleblower report, this would elevate this to a whole new level of investigation. It's sort of hard not to read between the lines there about what -- about what she means.

CAMEROTA: Neil Katyal and George Conway, you know them. Conservative attorneys have an op-ed in "The Washington Post," and they say that what they've been saying is congressional procrastination on impeachment. I mean, they're calling for impeachment. They say that they'd seen the evidence.

Do you think that there's been congressional procrastination on this?

HIMES: Well, let me -- let me be blunt about this, Alisyn. There's all this stuff out there that somehow the Democrats in the House lack courage or that they're procrastinating. That's not right.

I can tell you exactly what is going on here, which is that the speaker of the House is super finely attuned to public sentiment. And public sentiment means do the American people generally support the impeachment of this president?

To date before these revelations, that's been unclear. Now, it is also true, I think, that this speaker does not want to do something that would result or assist in this president's re-election.

Now, I'm not sure she would put it that way. She would put it in terms of public sentiment.

But look, let's remember, Alisyn. This presidential election and the presidential election is the single and only way that Donald Trump will leave office, comes down to a couple of states. It comes down to Michigan, comes down to Pennsylvania. It comes down to Wisconsin and a couple of other states.

And if you do something that, in those states -- not in Connecticut or in 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.

Now, I'm not sure that the speaker of the House is thinking in precisely those political terms. She focuses on public sentiment. But it's not procrastination. It is not fear of Donald Trump. It is fear of a second Trump term.

Now, I happen to believe that an impeachment inquiry would actually probably, at worst, be neutral in those states. But that's what's going on here.

CAMEROTA: The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who's the nation's intel chief, is coming before your committee in an open-door session this Thursday. Can you get the whistleblower complaint from him?

HIMES: Well, we better. You know, this administration has shown such a daily willingness to be in violation of the law that it wouldn't surprise me if the acting director of national intelligence stays with this lawless stance that they are not required to produce the whistleblower report.

Again, there's no ambiguity in the law here. You know, a first-year law student reads the law and knows that they need to produce this. But of course, this administration -- and this is one of the many reasons why this administration and this president in particular deserves impeachment, is it may not follow the law.

[07:05:03]

But no. We are hoping that on Thursday, the whistleblower report is produced. And that if this story -- remember, none of us in the Congress have been briefed on the substance of the whistleblower complaint, but if it is what it appears to be, we're going to need to bring in a whole lot of other people to find out exactly what the president said when he threatened to withhold -- if the threatened to withhold aid or even implicitly threaten to withhold American aid unless the Ukrainians coughed up dirt on -- on Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: And if DNI Maguire does not release the whistleblower complaint, is -- is that against the law?

HIMES: It is unambiguously against the law. Again, you can read the law. It's not hard. You don't even need to be a law student. The law says that, after a seven-day period, after the recommendation of the inspector general, who we talked to last week, and after the inspector general finds that the whistleblower complaint is both credible and urgent, that in seven days, the DNI shall -- that's the word -- shall convey that report to the Congress.

In this instance, he has not done so. So he is in violation of the law and should expect Congress to sanction him for being in violation of the law.

CAMEROTA: I know that you also would like to see a transcript of the phone call or phone calls between President Trump and Ukrainian president. Here's what Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said this weekend about phone calls like that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If there really is nothing there, why not just -- why shouldn't the White House let Congress, let the Gang of Eight, the intelligence leaders and the leaders of the House and Senate look at this whistleblower complaint? If it's as innocent as you say, then that will clear it all up.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Are you entitled to see the transcript of that conversation as someone on the House Intel Committee? HIMES: You know, Alisyn, it's -- it's remarkable seeing these

intelligent people like Steve Mnuchin and Mike Pompeo not just come up with statements like that one. But as they both did, to actually smear Joe Biden without any evidence whatsoever, to actually propagate this notion that there might have been corruption.

You know, these are people who are debasing themselves in front of a fabulously corrupt president. But no, of course that argument makes absolutely no sense.

Yes, the president is entitled to a certain amount of confidentiality in his conversations with foreign leaders. That is not true if there is an allegation that that conversation was corrupt.

If the president calls up a foreign leader and says, we're going to withhold your aid. And again, let me restate that this is not something that the Congress has been briefed on. It's the story that is out there in the media.

But if the president calls up a foreign leader and says, we're going to withhold your aid, or even alludes to the possibility that they may withhold foreign aid in exchange for something political. That is extortion. That is corruption. And nobody is entitled to any form of privilege or confidentiality when you're talking about something that might be corrupt.

And look, the bottom line, the president himself said that this is -- I think the word he used was perfect. It was a perfect conversation. Well, Mr. President, if it was a perfect conversation, let's see and debunk the whistleblower -- the whistleblower complaint. Because if it was perfect, you have nothing to fear, and we have nothing more to talk about.

Let's see the whistleblower complaint. Let's talk to people who were on the call and listening to the call. And this all goes away in 24 hours. Something tells me that's not what's going to happen here.

CAMEROTA: We look forward to seeing what happens on Thursday in front of your committee. Congressman Jim Himes, thank you very much.

HIMES: Thank you, Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right. We've got some breaking news just in. Israel's president announced moments ago that he will meet with current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz tonight, in hopes of ending the impasse from last week's election.

CNN's Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem with the details. Where is this headed, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Reuven Rivlin, whose residence is right here, where they just wrapped up meetings with all of the political parties, is doing what he can, as he promised to try to break what is now months of political deadlock in Israel. So he's invited Benjamin Netanyahu. He's invited Benny Gantz here for a meeting tonight. A closed-door private meeting to try to find some way out of this mess.

But it's not quite clear what he can do, since none of the sides in Israeli politics, at least at this point, seem willing to give ground.

Meanwhile, other processes are continuing. Benny Gantz will meet for the first time with the Trump administration's peace team. In fact, that meeting started just a short time ago, perhaps signaling that Washington is getting ready for the possibility that maybe it's not Netanyahu they'll be working with.

There was another major announcement coming out of these meetings with the president. The joint list, made up of the Arab parties, decided they would recommend Benny Gantz as the next prime minister. Only once in the history of the country have the Arab parties made a recommendation for prime minister, and that was 27 years ago.

Back in 1992, they recommended Yizhak Rabin, who campaigned on a platform of peace with the Palestinians.

Fast forward to today. It is a major milestone that they've decided to do so, especially because it is a pro-Israel Zionist party led by Benny Gantz. Their explanation: they're looking to oust Netanyahu. And it signals that the Arab parties are looking to play a bigger part in Israeli politics and the processes here.

[07:10:16]

Alisyn, at this point, though, it still remains unclear what the president or anyone else can do to get Israel out of this mess.

CAMEROTA: Oren, this is a big development. Thank you very much for explaining all of that to us.

Another tropical storm is taking aim at Puerto Rico. Chad Myers is tracking all of this. Looks like there's a lot of activity there, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: There really is. Thirteen, Jerry and Karen. Well, we're going to watch for Karen for Puerto Rico, because Jerry is moving away. Thirteen is just a long way out there.

This is a 40-miles-per-hour storm really in the middle of just the ocean and the Caribbean Sea. So nothing, really, to worry about for the next couple of days. But then all of a sudden, it decides to move on up by late afternoon toward Puerto Rico as a 40 mile-per-hour storm.

Now, this isn't going to be a hurricane that we know of right now. None of the computer models really build this to anything more than a tropical storm. So tropical storm warnings are now posted for Puerto Rico. We're going to see 3 to 4 more inches of rainfall there. And it's just going to be a slight wind maker.

But then after that, the computer models turn it left again, and even the European model takes this into the Gulf of Mexico. We will watch that as it continues -- John. BERMAN: All right, Chad. Thank you very much.

President Trump has announced a new deployment of U.S. troops and fire power to the Middle East after the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities. Does this put more Americans in harm's way? We will discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:16:04]

BERMAN: President Trump says he has no intention of meeting with Iran's president this week at the United Nations. This comes as the U.S. plans to deploy additional troops and enhanced missile defense systems to the Middle East in response to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities. The United States and now the United Kingdom are squarely blaming Iran.

Joining me now is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Barbara, I want to start with you. What troops, where, and how will they be used?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't have specifics on that yet. But you'll recall, late Friday night there was a press conference here. They said there would be a deployment of air and missile defense assets and the U.S. troops to man them to Saudi Arabia and, possibly, the United Arab Emirates. But Saudi Arabia, of course, is the big one.

The Saudis have now requested international support to protect their critical infrastructure. U.S. troops will go do that. That will be a very interesting mission for U.S. troops. Because essentially, not a direct threat to U.S. forces, not a direct threat to the United States. But a threat to Saudi critical infrastructure. Read that to mean U.S. troops protecting Saudi oil fields.

BERMAN: And how does that change the equation, General Hertling, on the ground there ?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I'll push back a little bit on Barbara. She's a great reporter. But some of those facilities in both the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE are dual facilities of both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Like the Arab American Oil Company. In the UAE, there is a huge Air Force base there.

So part of the defensive requirement is to protect U.S. military, as well as expats who are living over there, working in the oil facilities.

Having said that, though, this is a very dangerous approach, because you can't protect all critical infrastructure in any nation. It's very challenging. Saudi Arabia has six air defense battalions within their military. The United States is limited in the number of air defense units we

have in our military, and they are spread all over the world, places like North Korea, Europe where there is a missile threat against some of our foes.

So this is -- this is very -- this is, in my view, John, this is a very dangerous approach to reinforce Saudi Arabia's military with U.S. forces.

BERMAN: And it puts more Americans in harm's way. And I understand that that raises or increases the possibility for something to go wrong. But Barbara, should this be read -- and I -- your reporting on this has been the United States is leaning against a direct military strike in reaction to an attack on the Saudi oil fields. But should this be read as something in lieu of that type of military response?

STARR: Well, I don't think entirely in lieu of. You're right. The president has been very clear. He is not looking, at this point, for some kind of military air strike, if you will, or missile strike against Iran.

But there's another option out there, and that, of course, is a cyberattack. All indications are at this time the Pentagon, the U.S. also looking very strongly at what it could do in this cyber arena.

It's done it before. They have a capability, very classified, to try and interrupt Iranian communications. So that commanders can't talk to their troops in the field; could make it harder for another attack to happen.

General Hertling's a great general. I want to push back against him just for a second. You know, Defense Secretary Esper said the Saudis had requested protection for their critical infrastructure. The U.S. has sold the Saudis billions of dollars in weapons.

So it's a really interesting question, how the Iranians were able to get around all that and prosecute a successful attack.

BERMAN: Let me read how Nancy Pelosi weighed in here. But it gets to this tension point between the two of you, which is fascinating and juicy, to say the least.

[07:20:01]

But let me read what Nancy Pelosi writes this morning. She says, "Americans are weary of war and have no interest in entering another Middle East conflict, particularly on behalf of Saudi Arabia. They will not stand by while the president undermines our security and jeopardizes the the lives of our brave service members. Congress will do our job to uphold the Constitution, defend our national security and protect the American people."

There are people in the United States on both sides of the aisle at this point, General, who don't want U.S. servicemen and women going to fight a Saudi Arabian war, which is how some are depicting this. HERTLING: Yes, John. And I'm one of those, truthfully. Because --

because part of the issue, having been in the Middle East for a significantly long period of time.

What I'll share with you is one of the first things the military will look for. It is what is the strategy? What are we trying to do. What's the end state. If it is get Iran back to a negotiating table, that's interesting, but we had them at a negotiating table. It could have been to the point where a lot more things could have been discussed, but they weren't.

So to negate a deal that was at least pushing them toward negotiation seems foolish to me. But, you know, truthfully, protecting Saudi Arabia, when they have the ability to protect themselves. And we don't have a defensive alliance with them. Without a military strategy of what are we trying to achieve is a recipe for disaster?

BERMAN: Barbara, any sign at all that the administration will go to Congress for direct specific authorization for any of this?

STARR: For this mission, I don't think at this point there's an indication. They're going to have to notify them officially that they're doing this. And they will have to have a legal justification for it. Every military mission has to have that legal justification.

And what General Hertling, very quickly, said is so important. You have to have a strategy. You have to have an end state. Very easy to get into these sorts of missions, but how do you get out of them?

HERTLING: Yes. And if I may, John, one more thing. That AUMF that's different from the ones we've been negotiating under does more than provide money. It shows support from the American people and from the Congress of the United States.

And military personnel want that kind of support before they go in some place and fight. We haven't had an AUMF which shows we can't get people together on supporting the troops like they all say they do.

BERMAN: AUMF, a congressional authorization of the use of military force, hasn't happened, really in decades. General, Barbara Starr, thank you very much for being with us this morning -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. Is there a new frontrunner in the Democratic race? We will bring you a new CNN poll out of Iowa. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:27:10]

CAMEROTA: In this highly-partisan political climate, an interesting experiment has just concluded. Hundreds of voters representing all all ideologies in nearly every state coming together to cut through the noise.

BERMAN: It's sort of a four-day political marriage with all the bumps that come with it. CNN's Kyung Lah live in Grape Line -- Grape Vine, Texas, I should say, with what went on here.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, yes. What could happen? You put a Trump voter from the Midwest or the south in the same room, a small room with a liberal from the northeast or the West Coast.

Well, what the people who conducted this experiment decided to do is they just don't start the conversation talking about the president. You talk about it what is it you're concerned about. Read some materials about it. And that's where the conversation starts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (voice-over): In the heart of Texas --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last table on your left, they will check you in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Little bit more serious. That's beautiful.

Yes, there. That's great.

LAH: Five hundred twenty-six Americans gathering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love this. Great. Thank you so much.

LAH: Upset about the partisan divide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's be real.

LAH: This is an experiment. A scientific sample. Democrat, Republican, and independent representing 47 states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are going to listen to other people whom you never ordinary would encounter.

LAH: Reflecting who votes on election day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how are you?

LAH: It's a four-day in-person poll called "America in One Room." Before arriving, this group took one poll on the major issues in the 2020 election. Here --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great question.

LAH: -- they listen to candidates, to experts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is really your time to have your voice heard.

LAH: And break into randomly-selected small groups to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When's the last time you talked to a 70-year-old white Republican?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think I've ever talked to a 70-year-old white Republican. Until now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we're being stormed at the southern

border, and that's a problem that needs to be dealt with.

GARY DEUVALL, WALLS, MISSISSIPPI: The illegal immigrants that we have today, you can see it all of the time. Waving their country's flags, burning the American flag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure, on TV, you see the ones that do all this crazy stuff, but most of them work.

LAH: Like the country, this group is deeply divided about immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like you should have a wall, a border wall.

WILL CLOUSE, BRUNSWICK, OH: And along comes ICE, deports them. How can we continue to do that in America?

DEUVALL: We don't want to learn your language. We don't want to follow your customs. We follow our own customs. And to me it looks like they don't want to become Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, Gary, your family were illegal immigrants.