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AT THIS HOUR

Soon: Pelosi to Meet with Democratic Caucus on Impeachment; 7 Moderate Freshmen House Democrats Pen Op-Ed on Impeachment; Trump Claims He Delayed Aid Payment to Ukraine Because He Wanted Europe to Pay More, Says He'll Do It Again; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Discusses Democratic Caucus Meeting, Trump, Ukraine & Whistleblower, Impeachment. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane, great to have you on.

And Jason as well.

(CROSSTALK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you both very much.

Jim, great to have you there at the U.N.

We'll both be back here tomorrow morning for you. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan --

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Baldwin. Thanks so much for joining me.

A critical moment ahead on Capitol Hill. House Democrats are set to meet today, the first chance to take the temperature of the whole caucus, since the controversy erupted from the whistleblower complaint against the president. And since the administration has refused to hand that report to Congress. And since the president confirmed that he talked about his political rival, Joe Biden, with Ukraine's leader in a July phone call just after Trump decided to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine. A lot of new reporting this morning.

Also new this morning, seven House Democratic freshmen penning an op- ed together, to say the following: "If these allegations are true, these actions represent an impeachable offense."

This is significant. These are moderate Democrats from swing districts, the very Democrats that help win the majority in the House. They have resisted impeachment until now. But as one of these lawmakers told me today, the facts have changed. Putting it this way to me, "If not now, then when? What do you have to do to deserve impeachment?"

CNN congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, is following all of this closely. She is joining me from Capitol Hill.

Lauren, what are you hearing from there right now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Kate, there's been a seismic shift over the last 24 hours in how Democrats are treating these latest allegations against the president.

You heard from the Senate Democratic freshmen who are arguing in the "Washington Post" op-ed, they all have national security backgrounds, that this could be an impeachable offense.

Writing, quote, "If these allegations are true, we believe they reach an impeachable offense. We call on our authorities available to us, including the power of inherent contempt and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations to find the truth and protect our national security."

You've heard from members of the Judiciary Committee who have been calling for impeachment for quite some time, arguing that this could come to a head right now.

Here's what Jamie Raskin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told my colleague earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I think impeachment articles are inevitable. I think there's a growing clamor across the Democratic caucus, there's a growing clamor across the Democratic Party, and there's a growing clamor across the country, to deal with this most reckless and lawless president. So I think he's going to have his constitutional reckoning. I think it's coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: And of course, there are now 146 Democrats that support moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, Kate.

And today, Nancy Pelosi explained it to me with her caucus behind closed doors for a special members-only meeting to discuss the next steps -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: A critical moment what will be coming out of that meeting.

Lauren, thank you so much. I appreciate it, laying the groundwork for where this really stands at this moment.

Here in New York, President Trump just wrapped up his speech before world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. But before that speech, as he was walking into the U.N., his focus was back in Washington.

CNN chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, joins me outside the United Nations.

Jim, the president was asked about your reporting and others on his way in, that he ordered aid to Ukraine to be held up. He defended himself. What did he say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was remarkable. This was essentially an admission from the president as he was walking into the U.N. to give the speech, was his speech and the campaign rhetoric at his rallies going after pro-immigrant groups and saying the policies were cruel and evil, talking about Chinese trade practices, vowing that Socialism will never come to the U.S. That was right out of his campaign playbook.

But just as he was walking into the United Nations, Kate, he was asked about the revelations that the president instructed as acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold up hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine as they are dealing with Russian aggression problems in their country. And the president essentially admitted to it.

Another key moment came when he talked about -- and this was an admission to reporters -- there was pressure placed on the Ukrainian leader, President Zelensky, with respect to Vice President Joe Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Here's more of what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But my complaint has always been and I will without again, and I withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine, because they're not doing it. It's the United States. We're putting up the bulk of the money. And I'm asking why is that?

[11:05:03]

ACOSTA: What you heard there, in the president's comments there, to reporters, Kate, was essentially saying, yes, he held up the money but he didn't do it for the purposes of putting pressure on the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden. That's something the president has not admitted to.

But it's remarkable that over these last several days that these questions have come up, that, yes, he has admitted talking to the Ukrainian president about Vice President Joe Biden. He has now admitted to holding up this military aid to Ukraine in a direction that was given to his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, just days before he had that conversation with President Zelensky, of the Ukraine.

As the days go by, we're seeing more admissions from the president. But one thing we haven't at this point is any kind of decision on the part of the White House as to whether they will release that call transcript to Congress.

It's obviously something lawmakers in the House, especially the Democratic side, want to see desperately at this point -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And critically, another part of that is not just any notes about that phone call, but the actual whistleblower report, will that be sent to Congress? And will they hold it up?

ACOSTA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: These are the basic questions of where this began and where it remains still. There's so much more coming out.

Jim, thank you so much. Great reporting, man.

Joining me right now -- I got a lot more questions -- CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for the "New Yorker," Susan Glasser.

Dana, Democratic members I have talked to, have a meeting this afternoon. They say this meeting is critical. That's not an overstatement.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No.

BOLDUAN: What do you think the options are of what could be coming out of this meeting?

BASH: There's several options. And before the big, full House Democratic caucus meeting this afternoon, the speaker will meet with leadership throughout the day soon, with the chairs of key committees.

So, the discussions that will lead to an answer to your question will be kind of developing throughout the day, if knowing Nancy Pelosi, as you and I both do, covering her for years, the options are made up in her head, about where she could go.

One option we have been talking about is a potential select committee, to deal with all these questions. That would mean she would have to convince the committee chairman, who has been waiting for a long time to get the gavels, that they would have to give up power in order to do that.

I also think that there's going to be some way for Pelosi to -- and other Democratic leaders to have a big discussion, figure out options. But keep their powder dry until Thursday.

Thursday is a big day. That's when the acting director of National Intelligence is coming to Capitol Hill, talking to the House Intelligence Committee. He's been reluctant to give the claim of the whistleblower to Congress, which Congress believes is the law. They might buy a little bit of time to go forward with whatever they tentatively decide on today.

BOLDUAN: And importantly, they're in session this week. Then out of session for two weeks.

BASH: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: What could happen fast this week may hit -- move into slow- motion for a couple weeks.

Susan, the president today, he said the reason for singling out Ukraine in holding up foreign aid for the country is he wants other countries to contribute more, Germany, France. Is that confirming he purposely withheld aid? Confirming the "Washington Post" reporting? The president was defending himself and giving details at the same time.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: First, there's two different things. Number one, I don't think anyone is disputing that the aid was held up. And I think "The Post," "The Times" and others have made it known that it was at the request of the president.

One of the distracting details in that "Washington Post" story was they were instructed to lie to Congress and to claim that there was an interagency process that was putting the aid in review. But there was no such process. This was an order that came from the president to his still-acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

And number two, the president's excuse from this morning that you saw, just now, before he went to give the U.N. speech, this was another canard, all right? This was also not truthful argument that the Europeans are not contributing. The Europeans, as I understand it, are the largest donor to Ukraine.

In fact, the ongoing efforts to mediate the peace process has been taken to Europeans without even U.S. participation. This is in the ongoing dispute with Russia.

And again, the thing -- it's important for people to remember, that we need more detailed information about this story, is you have President Trump and Rudy Giuliani taking the side of the bad guys, in Ukraine, and far from demanding the investigation of corruption, they essentially took the side of people the U.S. government, for years, has been trying to get to clean up their act and to purge from the Ukrainian government.

[11:10:16]

It's an incredible story for those of us who watch this part of the world, as I do.

BOLDUAN: As one person said, it is playing out like a movie script.

Dana, what's the impact of all of this, the seven freshmen Democrats who penned this piece in the "Washington Post?" They're not there yet but, if true, they would support impeachment.

BASH: That's right. No, it's huge for so many reasons. First of all, on the policy level, and from their perspective -- and they basically write this from a morality level and doing what's right, based on their national security service, all seven of the freshmen Democrats, five women, seven -- two men, I should tell you. The five women call themselves the Badass Caucus, you'll be happy to know, Kate. They had come here very reluctantly for a policy reason. And also just the raw politics. They're all what we call front- liners. For the most part, they're Democrats who have turned red seats blue. They have a very mixed set of constituencies. It is not a slam-dunk at all.

You're seeing the Republican campaign arm, that elects Republicans in the House, putting out press releases after press release, on all of these Democrats saying, you see, they're in line with the liberals in Washington. It is politically dicey.

They also have Democratic bases in their districts saying, wait a minute, what did we elected for. Why did we make you the majority? You are the majority makers. You look weak if you're not standing up to this president on something like this.

They are in a bind. They didn't have a choice. They know full well this will dominate and drowned out everything else they came to Washington to talk about.

BOLDUAN: There's one very honest fact, which is, the impeachment conversation of yesterday, it can be different than the impeachment conversation today. The facts have changed. That's what we're hearing from the Democrats, a discussion to be had among Democrats, of, if we all get to impeachment through different routes, do we support impeachment still? This is for later.

I do want to ask you, talking about the Democrats, Susan, the Republican response to this, has ranged from, say nothing, attack the whistleblower, defending the president, saying the focus needs to be more on Joe Biden. Mitt Romney is the outlier.

Former Republican governor, John Kasich, of Ohio, he had a message for his fellow Republicans when I talked to him yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If Barack Obama had made calls like this, people would be going crazy. Now, if Democrats had done things in the past that were wrong, OK, fine. That doesn't have to do with this. This has to do with where we are today.

And things are slipping and sliding. I am worried about our country.

BOLDUAN: I'll I've got to say is --

(CROSSTALK)

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

(CROSSTALK)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Susan, what do you think of John Kasich's message yesterday? He is fed up. He's upset.

GLASSER: A of couple things. One, I think it's this idea that there's a certain obligation to proceed that may be driving the Democrats. At the moment, we don't see that showing up among Republicans.

Some people pointed out that interesting interview you had with Kasich yesterday. And pointed out he's not running against Donald Trump in the Republican primary. At least not yet. He is rhetorically stepping.

BOLDUAN: Right.

GLASSER: But the president's continuing popularity among Republican voters has deterred many Republicans, even many that have qualms about the president.

It will be interesting if Democrats go down the road of an impeachment inquiry, as they now appear set to do. Whether you get a set of the lack of support for Republicans on Capitol Hill for President Trump.

You had an interesting report the other day the post about the number of Republicans that were leaving Congress, in part, because they were having to defend Trump or have it be about Donald Trump. That's 18 Republicans. They are resigning or retiring from the House next year.

(CROSSTALK)

GLASSER: Again, will they be voting for impeachment? That would be an interesting factor.

[11:15:05]

BOLDUAN: Yes.

GLASSER: And look at Mitt Romney, who offered mild criticism of President Trump yesterday and the president mocked him from his Twitter feed in a way that we lose our sense of outrage. But this was just an incredible thing. I commend it to your viewers as an astonishingly unpresidential tweet.

BOLDUAN: And --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Just real quick, Kate, the Republicans that Susan is talking about, they are getting out of the kitchen because it is too hot, those 18 Republicans. We have not been able to find any of them that have said they are willing to go along.

It is very early. None of them, or the Republicans who say in the Senate, up for re-election from 2020, who might potentially be inclined to be at least more- hard on the president about this phone call, crickets. BOLDUAN: Why not get the facts out? I heard so many Republicans say

at the beginning of the Russian investigation. Just get the facts out. Get the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Let the process play out, as they believe the law dictates. That's one place to be. That's not where a lot of them are.

Dana, Susan, great to see you guys. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, what will come out of the big meeting of House Democrats today? One of the 146 House Democrats calling for impeachment joins me next.

And President Trump is set to sit down with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this hour, just after the British Supreme Court ruled that Johnson illegally suspended parliament. There's a lot of pressing questions facing both of these leaders. They will be sitting down together to chat. We're going to bring you that when it happens.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:36]

BOLDUAN: Moments ago, top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, took to the Senate floor, renewing his call for the release of the whistleblower complaint that, in part, sources say, centers on President Trump's controversial phone call with Ukraine.

Here's Senator Schumer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Today, I will seek approval for a simple solution, calling for the whistleblower complaint to be transmitted to the relevant committees in Congress. I hope the majority leader and Senate Republicans would not block it. I hope they will rise to the occasion and realize this is their constitutional duty and realize that this involves the security of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: We'll see what happens with that. But no sense, of course, if that resolution, if it did go through, would be able to force the hand of the administration, who has the whistleblower complaint in their hands right now.

This comes as the House Democrats -- the House Democratic caucus is preparing to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with one issue at hand. What to do about this whistleblower complaint. Does this move the speaker closer to supporting impeachment? Because she has been resistant to calls to that all along. Has the ground shifted?

Joining me is Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, of California. Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: What are you looking to hear from the speaker this afternoon when you all meet?

GARAMENDI: I believe what we're going to hear is that it's time to proceed with a formal impeachment inquiry, to impower the committees with a resolution from the House tog o and gather up the information on all the issues out there, the Mueller report, the Ukrainian issue, the issue of stonewalling, the issue of Emoluments. All of those issues.

We need to get about it. We need to be formal. We need to empower ourselves with the resolution. And hopefully, that's what we'll accomplish.

BOLDUAN: You --

GARAMENDI: And go to the floor this evening and get on with it.

BOLDUAN: You think that will be decided and agreed to this afternoon?

GARAMENDI: Well --

BOLDUAN: And the path be set this evening?

GARAMENDI: It should be. We're past the point of dillydallying. We're passing the point of, maybe yes, maybe no. We're clearly at that point where we must proceed with a formal process that may lead to a vote of impeachment. We'll see what happens on the last step.

But we got to get this under way in a formal way. We have to empower the chairman and we have to set the stage and get on with our work.

BOLDUAN: If Nancy Pelosi is hesitant, resistant to that this evening, what will you say?

GARAMENDI: I will say that she has more than enough votes. She will have a clear -- not a majority, but perhaps the entire caucus saying, we have to proceed. This is our responsibility. This is our duty.

We have that new information about Ukraine. Every hour, there seems to be more confirmation that the president was, in fact, extorting the Estonian president, withholding money -- excuse me, I said the Estonian president -- the Ukrainian president, that the Ukrainian president would launch an investigation against Biden. That's extortion, that is bribery, that is abuse of power. All of those reasons for impeachment. We'll go forward.

[11:25:02]

All of the things we talked about earlier, the Emoluments, the Mueller report, all of the stonewalling, the refusal of this president to provide information -- (CROSSTALK)

GARAMENDI: -- those are all --

(CROSSTALK)

GARAMENDI: Those are all reasons for impeachment.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this. You have seven moderate Democrats coming out saying they are not for impeachment yet. But if the reporting around Ukraine and the whistleblower is true, it would be impeachable. I wonder, why do you think you can go any further at this point, because it centers around this whistleblower complaint that's being held up right now.

GARAMENDI: No, that's not correct. It centers around the other issues brought forward, the Mueller report, the obstruction of justice that was --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You already -- you were already to a place of impeachment. But there's a dramatic change among other Democrats --

GARAMENDI: That's correct. We should.

BOLDUAN: -- because of this new episode. I'm wondering, if this is -- if the facts have changed with this reporting and this whistleblower, why go any further? Why can't you go any further than just saying, if this is true, it would be impeachable?

GARAMENDI: That's what we need to investigate. That's why we need to formally begin or continue, but in a formal way, the inquiry. That's the formal hearings that -- the impeachment hearings, if you will, and get that under way. That has to take place now.

The seven people that came forward, the seven members, are extraordinary individuals. I work with them on the Armed Services Committee. They have enormous background. They have dedicated their lives to this country.

And they are saying, in most recent Ukraine situation, enough is enough. They made the decisions that it's time to get on with a formal process that may lead to an impeachment vote. We must do that.

I believe today at the caucus, at 4:00, there will be a broad call, I would say a clear majority, perhaps well over 200, maybe 218, which is the vote necessary to move a resolution on the floor, to get on with it, to get this process formally under way, in the most dramatic and necessary step possible. That is formal resolution to proceed with impeachment.

Congressman, are you in a place this is not a "if?" This is -- are you confident this is a "when" there's a vote on impeachment on the House floor?

GARAMENDI: No. That will come as the hearings develop.

BOLDUAN: OK.

GARAMENDI: The information that we have available today, would I be prepared to vote for impeachment today? Yes. Is the House prepared? No.

That's why we need to get these formal hearings under way. Why we need to end the stonewalling that this president -- has publicly said he will not allow anybody to bid any subpoena. That is an impeachable offense in my view.

BOLDUAN: Let me play something that Marco Rubio said. There's been a variety of Republican responses, mostly, not wanting to talk about the latest whistleblower report.

GARAMENDI: Yes.

BOLDUAN: But Marco Rubio had something to say. Let me play it for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Their aware the president has admitted he has raised the issue with the Ukrainian president. That's something that the voters can determine. Again, it's possible to do something that is wrong and not be an impeachable offense. And people are throwing that term around so loosely, it's lost all meaning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: It just strikes me, after this conversation that we had, just been having. Does he have a point?

GARAMENDI: No. I think he's wrong. I think he lacks the courage to look at the clear facts. And he's dissimulating. He's trying to avoid the responsibility that may ultimate be his to vote as a juror.

In the meantime, he should be calling for the House of Representatives to get an impeachment inquiry, the formal process, under way. So that the facts can be laid out there. So we could all know.

And it may come to an election, rather than impeachment vote, in the House and on the Senate as a jury. That's a possibility.

But the issue before us is, do we proceed in a formal way to get the facts out?

Clearly, the president has stone stonewalled. We can provide one more very important way to overcome the stonewalling. That's to formally undertake our constitutional responsibility of investigating and holding people accountable in an administration that is out of control and engaged in multiple illegal activities.

Not the least of which is the Ukrainian issue and the emoluments and the earlier issue of obstruction of justice, as laid out clearly in the Mueller report.

[11:30:03]

BOLDUAN: I'm very interested to see what comes out this afternoon. Please come back on, Congressman. I know you're also, importantly, and we'll discuss this later.