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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democrats Expected To Announce Formal Impeachment Inquiry Against President Trump; Sources: Pelosi Says They Will Have An Impeachment Inquiry; Meeting Between Speaker Nancy Pelosi And House Democrats Just Wrapped Up. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And we know from the complaints that it wasn't just about this one phone call. This is what Nancy Pelosi was talking about as well, that there were multiple incidents that this whistleblower was alarmed by.

So it's not just from what we can expect in this transcript tomorrow. The president already suggested that he's going to be vindicated. Many people believe this is not going to be a quid pro quo kind of conversation.

That having been said, you have members of Congress, even those that were reluctant seeing and learning the facts that money that they appropriated was stalled and that they, in fact, were not told the truth as to why that money wasn't released to Ukraine.

So, at the end of the day, I think this was a, "We have got to do something once and for all" kind of a moment.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, Astead, yesterday on this show, David Axelrod explained the difficult situation Nancy Pelosi was in, although apparently she has crossed the proverbial Rubicon, as Congressman Schiff would say, in that there is a concern that an impeachment could politically help President Trump with swing voters, with independent voters, and guarantee his reelection in places like Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is why Speaker Pelosi has been slow to move to this point, because she did not want to motivate the Republican base and to turn off independent voters.

What we do know is that the Republican base is already motivated. The Republican base already thinks the president has been under attack by the Democratic Party and they are going to come to next year's election with that in mind.

What they did not want was a situation where the Democrats were giving them extra motivation or turning off those independent or swing voters in between.

What we have now seen in the last 48 hours is that Democrats now believe that this is an -- I'm sorry -- this is an argument that they think that they can win on the merits. And so they are going to use this new Ukraine inquiry to say, no, this is not about Robert Mueller. This is not about the special counsel investigation.

This speaks to a larger issue that the president and his personal lawyer have already admitted and talked about. They think that is a better argument.

I think it's interesting. You look at the national security concerns and those Democrats who come out on that front.

TAPPER: Yes.

HERNDON: That's very separate than the ones the Squad is talking about. That's very separate than the kind of moral concerns that we have seen from the activist space.

This is a more kind of merit-based argument that they think is better for swing districts.

TAPPER: And what do you think is a good argument for swing districts? Because you were doing some interesting calisthenics while Congresswoman Slotkin was talking and liking some of what she said and thinking that some of it could be worked on.

What's the best messaging for a Democrat supporting impeachment from a Trump district?

CHRISTINE QUINN (D), FORMER NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Well, I think the best message is you have a -- forget the candidacy days, right? Those are behind us.

You have the sitting president of the United States admitting to making a call. The point of that call was to compel a foreign government to get involved in our politics and play funny business with money Congress had allocated around international affairs.

That is not the confusion of the Mueller report or what is collusion and is collusion even a crime? That is a straight line. The man who runs this country is manipulating our foreign affairs and manipulating your taxpayer dollars.

I'm for impeachment to protect your money.

TAPPER: And, Scott, is there a risk for Republicans here? You talk about Democrats going too far.

Is there a risk for some Republicans in districts like -- well, for instance, a Senator McSally in Arizona, or Senator Cory Gardner in Colorado, places that are purple states, potentially in Arizona, that they not be that -- that they be seen as not taking it seriously enough? You know what I mean?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think that out in the country in those states you mentioned and several others, the hysteria for impeachment doesn't exist in the electorate at large.

It certainly exists in the Democratic base, people who are never going to vote for Republican senator in a presidential election year anyway.

I think they have to be seen as taking it seriously. But just as important to me for swing voters is they have to be seen to be measured and not give in to emotion, when we don't even have all that the facts yet.

So I think that's why this week, getting the transcript, maybe having some hearings with the Intelligence Committees, that's when I think people have to start to take action, not before you have that set of information.

TAPPER: All the facts is good.

QUINN: It's hard to say Nancy Pelosi has been in hysteria about impeachment. She's been methodical, not hysterical.

TAPPER: Speaking of methodical, Joe Biden just moments ago announcing the only path he says that he sees forward if President Trump -- quote -- "continues to obstruct Congress."

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump will leave Congress, in my view, no choice but to initiate impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's if President Trump does not comply with requests from Congress.

Joining me now is CNN's Arlette Saenz. She's covering Biden for us. She's in Delaware right now.

And, Arlette, this is the strongest language we have heard from Biden on this, but still falls short of what we have heard from most of his Democratic colleagues running for president.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it sure is, Jake.

Joe Biden didn't call for a flat-out impeachment, saying -- making a qualifier there that, if the president does not comply with a request from Congress, that then he will -- there's no other choice but to pursue impeachment.

[16:35:12]

And over the past few months, you have heard other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates calling for a forthright impeachment process. The former vice president wading a little bit further than he has before into this today.

And he stood here at a podium with teleprompters and flags draped behind him, trying to give off this presidential feel, as he's trying to also contrast himself to President Trump, warning that the president, the current president, is engaged in an abuse of power and that he believes he's above the law.

Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: We have a president who believes he's above the law.

Pursuing the leader of another nation to investigate a political opponent to help win his election is not the conduct of an American president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now, these comments from Biden are coming as you're hearing from more Democrats deciding that they do believe impeachment should be pursued. We will see if the former vice president decides to go any further in the coming days or weeks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Arlette Saenz, traveling with Biden in Delaware.

And our own Jeff Zeleny reports that Speaker Pelosi and former Vice President Biden have not spoken about this impeachment inquiry the Democrats are about to launch, and they have not spoken in recent days.

The long-term political gambles that some Democrats that are calling for an impeachment inquiry may face, that's coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:01]

TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news in the politics lead.

House Democrats meeting at this hour, right now, on all the investigations into President Trump ahead of Speaker Pelosi's expected announcement soon of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

I want to bring in CNN Political Director, David Chalian and CNN's Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, let me start with you.

You're getting some new reporting from inside the caucus room, the hearing that's happening right now on the impeachment proceedings and how they might play out. What have you learned?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a moment in history, Jake.

We are told by multiple sources that the speaker announced to her caucus behind closed doors -- the meeting is still going on -- that the House of Representatives will proceed with an impeachment inquiry. That is going to happen. She's going to say so publicly. Currently,

she's telling that to her caucus behind closed doors. Now, how is that going to play out.

What she said is that, procedurally, not much is going to change. The six committees that have jurisdiction are going to continue the inquiries that they have already started. So there won't be one select committee, which was discussed, but then scrapped, I'm told, in large part because none of the committee chairmen wanted to give up their jurisdiction.

They wanted to have a piece of this pie. So the six committees are going to continue. But the speaker of the House is going to announce, just like she did in private, in public that she now supports this, which is a sea change from where she was just a few weeks ago, I think you can even say last week, on this issue.

TAPPER: And, David, I think it's about 140 House Democrats supported impeachment before the Ukraine scandal broke. Now it's something like 160.

What's the difference? What's the difference between the Democrats who supported it then and the ones who support it now that are making the impeachment inquiry a reality?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it's such a good question, Jake.

I have long sort of thought it was never about the quantity of Democrats for Nancy Pelosi. It was about the quality. And I don't mean good Democrats or bad Democrats. I mean the type of Democrat that was coming on board here.

And when we saw those seven centrist moderates write that op-ed in "The Washington Post," obviously giving the speaker a heads-up, these are the majority makers. This is what is so important to understand.

You got to remember, 43 seats flipped from Republican to Democrat in 2018 -- 21 of them, the Democrat won it by a margin of less than 5 percentage points. And 14 of those were actually also won by Donald Trump in 2016.

These are the districts that give Nancy Pelosi the speaker's gavel in her hand. And so she was paying keen attention to when those members might move in this direction. And they did with this very discrete set of facts around the Ukraine situation.

And that has been the shifting underneath the speaker's feet here as to why she's in a different place now.

TAPPER: And, Dana, we know that (AUDIO GAP) and President Trump spoke this morning. She said so at the "Atlantic" conference just a few hours ago, talking about -- I think the conversation was supposed to be about whether or not they can agree on any gun legislation.

What have you learned about that conversation? BASH: That's right.

We're just learning from sources that the speaker told her caucus that she pressed the president -- she used the opportunity of that phone call to press the president to release the whistleblower complaint.

Of course, that is a big underlying issue here, the frustration of Congress that the acting director of national intelligence will not allow his inspector general to give the complaint to Congress, as Congress believes he is supposed to do.

So she used the opportunity to press the president himself. We don't know exactly how the president reacted to that.

TAPPER: And, David, what about the equation for Republicans?

Some Republicans are going to be running for reelection in districts where there is a sizable Democratic vote, a sizable independent vote that -- who knows how they're going to swing -- and, of course, some running for Senate reelection in purple states like Colorado.

[16:45:00]

CHALIAN: Right, and Maine and Arizona.

I think those political calculations are going to be a lot tougher if indeed this ball moves over to the Senate, Jake. But remember, the great vast majority of Republicans in the House are running in safe Republican districts. They've tied themselves to the president and it seems unlikely they're going to move away from that.

And this is why as they go into this process, the burden is going to be on the Democrats to bring the country along. That's what Speaker Pelosi has been wary of. Nothing is changed on that calculus yet. The Democrats now are going to have to bring the country along throughout this process if they're going to make that case successfully to the American people.

BASH: And just real quick, Jake. What I've been told that the Speaker is telling her caucus privately all day today and even yesterday is that she does believe that this is different. She does believe the public will understand that it is not appropriate for the President of the United States to be talking about a political opponent with another foreign leader the way he even said that he did. And that is a big part of the reason why she changed her tune in just -- in such a dramatic way.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, David Chalian, thanks so much. Coming up, why releasing a transcript of his call with the president of Ukraine may not do enough to hush Democrats calling for the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Stay with us.

[16:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Breaking news in our POLITICS LEAD. That meeting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats about an impeachment inquiry into President Trump just wrapped up. Let's go live now to Capitol Hill where we find CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, what's the latest? What are you hearing?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, certainly sources in the room are telling us that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is being very clear that this is going to be an impeachment inquiry and certainly she is playing up the significance of the moment. She says according to a source in the room, here we are a moment of truth. Truth is what this has been about all along.

And she went through, according to a source in the room, the history of the Ukraine situation really laying it out for Democrats in the room. Perhaps some Democrats that might be unconvinced still, but she said, according to a source in the room, this is a betrayal of our national security, a betrayal of our election. He's taken it to another level of betrayal, therefore, we are moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry.

And she certainly walked through the potential next steps that we've been talking about on-air, the fact that the six committees already investigating President Trump will continue to do that work. But certainly under this new umbrella so to speak at least in rhetoric of that this is now an impeachment inquiry.

Now, Speaker Pelosi did just leave a few moments ago and we're now seeing Democrats filter out through this hallway as they're leaving. Certainly, we'll be interesting to get their perceptions, but certainly, the people were talking to so far has said wait to see Speaker Pelosi. She will be speaking from the speaker's balcony in a matter of minutes. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thank you so much. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak any minute now after meeting with House Democrats to talk about impeaching President Trump, beginning the impeachment inquiry. We're going to bring that to you live. Stay with us.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We have breaking news in our "POLITICS LEAD." We're hearing our first comments from House Democrats after they left a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about an impeachment inquiry into President Trump which it appears House Democrats are going to launch.

Let's go back live to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's on Capitol Hill. And Sunlen, you heard from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota.

SERFATY: That's right. Ilhan Omar, the Congresswoman from Minnesota, very outspoken, one of the House freshmen who very early on called for impeachment. She just emerged from this closed-door meeting with Speaker Pelosi and said that Pelosi made clear she believes that President Trump has broken the law. Here is more of what she said moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): And she wanted to make sure that we understood she feels the President has broken a law and she wants to make sure that we are moving on impeachment and moving swiftly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And the last part also key, Jake, certainly because the word swiftly means so much as many Democrats filtering out this meeting want to know the timeline of all of this. Certainly, swiftly carries a heavy gravity here, the fact the next steps are at this point still unclear.

We know that the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has told those House committees investigating Trump to continue to do so, now under the umbrella of impeachment. But then at some point, where does it go next? And I can tell you from people filtering outside this meeting, that is the big question.

Will we hear more from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when she speaks from the Speaker's balcony in just a few moments? That of course key and certainly this next phase of this investigation now that it is an impeachment inquiry, these are going to be the debates and the conversations that many Democrats are having.

We've heard in the leadup to this moment from this decision from Nancy Pelosi some grumblings, some consternation from Democrats how exactly this will work, what will this look like, will there be a select committee, what committees will take the lead investigating?

Some of those questions have not died down. Certainly, Democrats leaving tonight wanting to know more. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen, so many questions that we do not know the answer to yet. Will there be a select committee, will the House Judiciary Committee take reins on this? Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Our coverage continues right now. Stay tuned for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news. We're standing by for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to momentarily announce the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump.