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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democrats Expected to Announce Formal Impeachment Inquiry Against President Trump. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for rolling with me these last two hours.

Let's go to Jake. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with breaking news in our politics lead.

This is a historic day. Within the hour, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to announce a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, multiple sources confirm to CNN.

Right now, Speaker Pelosi is meeting with House Democrats behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. At least 160 members of Congress now support starting impeachment proceedings, including even some from congressional districts that Trump won in 2016.

The scandal involving President Trump reportedly pushing the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter clearly crossing a line for many Democrats.

This afternoon, President Trump announced by tweet that he will release the -- quote -- "complete, fully, declassified and unredacted transcript" -- unquote -- of that phone call with the Ukrainian president tomorrow.

Two important caveats on that. One, this is a White House that has falsified information before, from showing a doctored hurricane map, to promoting a video that an outside group altered of a CNN reporter. So, who knows if the transcript will actually be complete?

Second, the whistle-blower's complaint about President Trump is about more than just that one phone call, according to members of Congress who have been briefed by the intelligence community inspector general.

CNN sources said that the inspector general referenced a -- quote -- "sequence of events."

On that whistle-blower, more breaking news, with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, tweeting -- quote -- "We have been informed by the whistle-blower's counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the acting director of national intelligence as to how to do so. We're in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistle-blower's testimony as soon as this week" -- unquote.

Let's get right to CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, it's interesting timing, obviously. Less than two hours before the House Democrats meet, the president tweets that he's going to release what he claims will be the full transcript of this call with Ukraine.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And, Jake, the president believes that releasing this transcript is going to prove him right, that he didn't say anything inappropriate during the last known phone call with the Ukrainian president, and he says that's why he's going to release the unredacted -- quote -- "declassified" version of this transcript, because he says -- quote -- "You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call where there was no pressure" and, in his words, no quid pro quo.

Of course, this is going to be released tomorrow, the president says. That's the same day he's set to meet with the Ukrainian president here at the United Nations summit.

And releasing this transcript, Jake, we should note, follows an internal fight inside the White House over whether or not it should be made public. People like the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, were arguing they should not release the transcript because they say it sets a dangerous precedent for Congress to then argue they need to see other transcripts of the president's calls with world leaders, including potentially with Russia.

But then there were people on the other side, like the attorney general, Bill Barr, who is saying they should release the transcript because it will help dispel some of the drama around this situation and the scrutiny around this call, though that's another question, because Democrats have made clear they not only want to see the transcript, they want to see that whistle-blower's complaint, which so far the White House has refused to send to Congress as well.

TAPPER: That's right, the whistle-blower, of course, saying that this is a sequence events, not just that one call.

The White House just issued a statement, Kaitlan. What does it say?

COLLINS: Yes, this is coming from the press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, while they're here bouncing between meetings with world leaders.

She said -- quote -- "The Democrats continue to weaponize politics when they should be working on behalf of their constituents, which is nothing new. President Trump is working on behalf of our country here in New York City while they continue to scream the word impeachment. Nothing new here."

So, you're seeing there Stephanie Grisham brush off these growing calls for impeachment, though not you're not hearing that same kind of confidence behind the scenes from White House officials, who are realizing what a turn this has taken, because, of course, especially with Nancy Pelosi and the news that she's been making in the last several hours.

So, they're starting to see something turn here. And they're going to see essentially what the Democrats continue to say over the next few hours and whether or not they continue to push for this whistle- blower's complaint or whether releasing the transcript is going to quench those calls.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, traveling with the president at the U.N., thanks so much.

Within the next hour, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak publicly about the next steps for House Democrats. She is expected to announce a formal impeachment inquiry.

I want to bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's live outside the Democrats' meeting right now.

And, Sunlen, what are you hearing?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you can certainly sense the gravity of this moment for House Democrats, as they filtered very quickly into this meeting behind me, this closed- door meeting that they will have with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, where, as we know, she will announce then that she is launching a formal impeachment inquiry.

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And top on many Democrats' minds, of course, is, OK, now, what is the next step? What does this next phase look like? Who will be investigating? Who will be pushing forward in these committees.

And we got a little hint of that from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. He said just moments ago that he believes that the directive from Nancy Pelosi -- and he did indeed just huddle with her -- is that the six committees that are already investigating President Trump, they will continue to investigate President Trump, but now, of course, under the umbrella of an impeachment inquiry.

So, of course, those issues likely what House Democrats now are sorting through, trying to get briefed from Nancy Pelosi what exactly the next steps look like.

And then after this caucus meeting, she will emerge and make a public statement from the speaker's balcony, certainly a location significant of the gravity of the moment and signifies her authority in this moment, where she will announce something, Jake, of course, that she has been so reluctant to announce for so long, that she would be pushing ahead with this impeachment important -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with my experts.

And let me start with you guys over here.

Christine, let me ask you. The president is now announcing that he's going to release the transcript of the call. Does that change anything? Does it force Democrats to maybe hold off on this push for an impeachment inquiry to see what's in the transcript?

CHRISTINE QUINN (D), FORMER NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Well, two things.

One, I believe that he will release the transcript when we see it, and it's confirmed it hasn't some way been changed or redacted. I don't believe that we will see it tomorrow.

I believe that he said it. He thinks that will distract people, people will think it's done, and then they will come up with some White House policy or protocol that makes it impossible, one.

Two, I hope it doesn't dissuade Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats, because I feel like, for the Democrats, we have been waiting for the Holy Grail to appear, the Mueller report, whatever it is that shows everything in one nutshell. That may not happen.

We need to deliberately go about the work of this investigation to know the facts. Nothing outside, like what the president releases, should control what the speaker puts out there. The word that was used, I believe, by the reporter was authority.

She needs to command this moment and drive it. And we can't wait for something else to take it over.

TAPPER: Scott, are you hearing from Republicans that they are concerned about this? I mean, the allegations as they are even from what Giuliani and President Trump have said publicly they did, pushing the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens, are -- I mean, Judge Napolitano on FOX said that, if that's what happened, that's against the law, that's a crime.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm hearing a few things.

One, yes, Republicans are concerned about this allegation. Number two, they think there's been a lot of hysteria, though, without knowing really what happened. Number three, I think they're all eager to see the transcript.

This whole hysterical moment has bubbled up because of a whistle- blower, anonymous, secondhand knowledge of the phone call. And now we're going to actually get firsthand source knowledge of the phone call when the White House releases the transcript tomorrow.

So I think you're going to see Republicans remain in wait-and-see mode until they see the full context of what this allegation is, which I think the president made the right call in deciding to release it.

QUINN: Jake, I just want to say, almost by definition, whistle- blowers are anonymous for an extended period of time.

TAPPER: Right.

QUINN: So that is not decreasing of the significance. Whistle- blowers have the ability to stay anonymous. That is how the law and the statute is written.

TAPPER: And what happens if it comes out, and there isn't the smoking gun? I mean, none of the reporting has suggested that the president directly said, if you want the money, the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, you have to give me this.

And whatever you think of President Trump, I think he is smart enough to never say something that directly, nor would he need to. I mean, the threat is implicit.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. You're talking about the quid pro quo, which is the president's hoping that tomorrow that that will be his salvation, that you don't see a quid pro quo.

But you saw Nancy Pelosi today preempt that, saying the act itself, even picking up the phone and calling a foreign leader, asking for dirt, regardless of whether you're holding money ransom in exchange for it, is worth impeachment investigation enough.

And don't forget, when it comes to the whistle-blower, we now know that the whistle-blower wants to testify later on this week. So it seems, regardless of what we see from this transcript, the Democrats will be moving forward.

Had we seen the president perhaps take this move last week, when we first got word of this conversation, maybe we wouldn't be here today. But, clearly, Nancy Pelosi, even though she's been hesitant, has been persuaded that this is the route she has to go.

TAPPER: Now, Astead, you're out covering the campaign quite a bit, 2020, covering the Democratic candidates. Is there a thirst for impeachment among Democratic voters, as best you can discern anecdotally?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, what we're seeing basically is, Congress coming to the point that the trail has been that for a little bit now.

Remember, it was five months ago that Senator Elizabeth Warren first called for impeachment. And you have seen almost all the Democratic candidates with the release of the Mueller report and the like come to that conclusion, call for an impeachment inquiry.

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What Nancy Pelosi was doing was trying to protect those front-line majority-making Democrats who helped deliver them that win in 2018. Those folks are not worried about the trail, the kind of base voter.

Those folks are worried about districts that are Republican-leaning. So they were looking at kind of a different type of threshold than we saw from folks like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, who have come out for impeachment.

But I think we should know -- we should say what changed in the last 48 hours. For those majority makers, those freshmen who had won tough districts...

TAPPER: Trump districts, yes. Yes.

HERNDON: Trump districts.

This was a new line that allowed them to use the impeachment inquiry as something that was forward-looking, as a new action that wasn't caught up in the Mueller investigation, that wasn't muddled by what the White House has already kind of attacked them on.

They think that this is an easier thing to explain to their voters than the kind of murkiness of the past. And so that's why we have seen them actually go out and say, now I'm open for an impeachment inquiry. And that's a big step.

TAPPER: That is a big step.

And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff just tweeted, as I noted, earlier today that: "We have been informed by the whistle- blower's council that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the acting director of national intelligence as to how to do so. We're in touch with counsel and look forward to the whistle-blower's testimony as soon as this week."

And we should note -- and, Scott, let me start with you. That would go to the Gang of Eight, which is the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders. So Republicans would be able to hear this too.

JENNINGS: Yes, they -- yes, that's correct. They would be able to hear it.

And I think Republicans in the Senate are also looking to their Intelligence Committee to conduct the most professional or thorough investigation of this. I don't think there's a lot of belief in the Senate among the Republican majority that the House Intelligence Committee is going to do the job, the thorough, nonpartisan or bipartisan job that has to be done.

One other issue here, I think, if they're going to continue to pull this thread on Trump -- and obviously they're now barreling down this road. If you think Republicans are going to let go of the argument Trump is making about how is it that Hunter Biden came to be making all this money in the Ukraine and in China, I think you have got another think coming.

I think a lot of Democrats want this impeachment inquiry. But the one that's most imperiled by it is Biden, when you consider the body of reporting on what Hunter Biden was doing and in the interest in it among the Republicans.

Everybody's -- everything's coming out here and the Republicans are not going to let it go.

TAPPER: And we should just -- we should just note that the prosecutor in Ukraine has said that he's seen no evidence of any wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden, Christine.

QUINN: It's no surprise that Donald Trump will continue, whether it's this story about Hunter Biden or another one, throw fake, made-up stories at his opponents.

That, we know. We have seen it. We -- I speak as a Democratic leader. We expect it. So, if it's not this one, it'll be another one.

The president and Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, have admitted that they made this call. Nothing happened. That's what he will hang his hat on. But this is different than things in the past, because he's the sitting president. He's not a candidate, and he has admitted it.

So they're not -- we're not barreling down some road to nowhere. The president created kind of the stop sign on the road, and that's where we're going.

TAPPER: So we were just talking about the majority makers, the House Democrats from congressional districts that Donald Trump won.

Next, we're going to talk to one of those freshman Democrats who came out today and called the allegations against President Trump a threat to national security.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: Right this second, House Democrats are meeting on Capitol Hill behind closed doors to discuss beginning impeachment proceedings. One of the tipping points today, an op-ed in "The Washington Post" with seven freshmen Democrats who are now backing an impeachment inquiry.

Just moments before she walked into that meeting, I spoke with one of those congresswomen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan -- Congresswoman Slotkin, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Sure. TAPPER: Breaking this afternoon, President Trump says he is going to

release what he claims will be the full transcript of his phone call with Ukraine's president. What's your response to that? How might that impact House Democrats as you decide whether to push forward with an impeachment inquiry?

SLOTKIN: Sure. I think it's a great thing. I mean, you know, I think the onus is on the administration, given what we're talking about here to sort of disprove what is being swirling around in the press.

And, again, the allegation is so strong that the president used his office to put pressure on a foreigner to provide dirt on an opponent. And we need to hear from them how that wasn't the case especially the president's lawyer came out on camera and said live that, indeed, we did reach out to the Ukrainians, indeed we did ask for an investigation of, you know, Biden and his family.

So, to me, the onus is on them. I'm glad they're providing it. We need to see the whistleblower case, right, by law. The DNI should have already provided that. Let's provide that.

And I think, you know, we need to understand what actually happened here because the allegation -- I know we've had a lot of talk about impeachment for a long time. But for me, this is qualitatively different. As a national security person, it just -- we're talking about the preservation of the democracy and I don't want any president, Democrat or Republican, going out to the Chinese or the North Koreans or anybody and saying, hey, why don't you help me defeat my opponent in an American election? That can't be OK.

TAPPER: Sources tell CNN, Speaker Pelosi is going to launch an official impeachment inquiry. She's going to announce it at 5:00 p.m. today. Have you spoken to her about her plans?

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SLOTKIN: So a number of us who wrote the op-ed, a bunch of former military and intelligence officers who wrote a joint op-ed this morning went and spoke with her yesterday. This was before I'm seeing the news that you're seeing, that she's apparently calling for an inquiry.

I -- we didn't discuss that, but it was very, very clear that she also saw the gravity of the situation, that we've been going back and forth on other issues for a long time but that when it comes to national security, we need to be clear and, you know, we're about to walk into a meeting with her. We'll see what she says.

TAPPER: Does it matter at all whether or not this transcript, assuming it is the actual, accurate and full transcript, whether or not there is an explicit quid pro quo, whether or not President Trump brings up the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that the Ukrainians wanted from the United States that President Trump had been holding back, preventing them from getting? Or does the fact that that was the context, is that enough? SLOTKIN: So, for me, the original problem, and I've literally

introduced legislation on this, is if you are an American senior leader, especially the president, the commander-in-chief, and you go to a foreign country and you ask for help defeating an opponent, that is a problem to me. And I've drafted legislation months ago now say that go if a foreigner comes to you with dirt on an opponent, you should immediately have to report that to the FBI. So, that, to me, is the original problem. A major exacerbating factor is if, indeed, there was this trade for security assistance. I think that's another major problem.

But I don't think that's the only problem. I think that original idea of going to a foreigner and trying to get that information. And, again, the president's lawyer talked about it openly. So, it's not just the security assistance.

TAPPER: President Trump, of course, won your congressional district by nearly seven points. So this decision is one that might have political ramifications for you.

SLOTKIN: Yes.

TAPPER: The National Republican Congressional Committee put out an email blasting you, saying, quote, Elissa Slotkin caved to her rabid base to back impeachment. Slotkin's decision to appease the radical left's hatred of President Trump over representing Michigan's 8th congressional district will be the death of her career in Congress.

Are you worried this impeachment supporting the inquiry beginning that could cost you your job?

SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I just didn't really take the political consideration as my first and only factor in making this decision. I had been pushed and prodded here in Congress to support impeachment for a long time, and I didn't do it. I was judicious about it.

And the most important thing to me is that we have to bring the American public along with us. And in the conversations and the hearings and the public presence that we've had from Congress, I will acknowledge it hasn't been clean, streamlined, strategic. And I think for me I took my time in really thinking about this. But when this latest round came, I just can't imagine any person, Democrat, Republican, independent coming out and saying I think it's totally fine that a senior official from the United States, the commander-in- chief, go shopping for dirt on an opponent.

And I'm willing to stand up and say that even if there are political ramifications, and all I can hope is that in my district, the people who elected me, the people who didn't vote for me, understand that I made it with the full weight of thought behind it and that I made it based on my personal integrity as someone who has served and had to make tough choices my entire career.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin from Michigan, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SLOTKIN: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: The fine line that Joe Biden tried to walk today with his statement on the president and impeachment, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This isn't about politics. If we have to on our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic, that's what we'll have to do. But we have to have the facts. That's why I've said as soon as we have the facts, we're ready. Now we have the facts, we're ready, for later today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who in about half an hour is expected to announce that the Democrats are beginning a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, according to CNN sources -- a move which right now is backed by 161 House Democrats. But not all of them.

Let's chew over all of this with our experts.

And, Bianna, there is the risk that we've heard from Republicans that if they do this before the president releases the transcript, and this is probably one of the reasons why he's releasing it tomorrow, they look like they're rushing to judgment. But there's also the fact we know from Rudy Giuliani's own statements he told the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: First of all, why was the president's personal attorney in Ukraine at all, in the middle of this? If the president believes Joe Biden or his son broke the law, you have an FBI. Why not have the DOJ look into this? Why do you send Rudy Giuliani? That's one.

Two, you talk about the whistleblower, and we know from the complaints that it wasn't just this one phone call. This is what Nancy Pelosi was talking about as well, there were multiple incidents that this whistleblower --

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