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CNN: President Trump Froze Aid Days Before Call with Ukraine's President; Nancy Pelosi to Meet Today with Democratic Caucus on Impeachment of President Trump; Saudis Call on International Community to Put Limit on What it Calls Iran's "Destructive Behaviors". Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:11]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto live today from the United Nations in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And what a big day it is, Jim. I am so glad you are there. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

This morning the drumbeat of impeachment nearing a fever pitch. We could know by the end of today whether House Democrats will move forward with formal impeachment proceedings. One Democratic lawmaker tells us the Democrats are reaching a, quote, "tipping point" on impeachment. They will talk about all of that at a member's only meeting this afternoon.

At this point at least 145 Democrats, you see them all there, have declared they are officially in favor of an impeachment probe. It follows bombshell reports that the president personally ordered a hold on $400 million in aid to Ukraine just days before that call with Ukraine's president.

The president now says he talked to the Ukrainian leader during that call about Joe Biden even though there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president, Jim, or his son Hunter.

SCIUTTO: And note that reversal there by the president. Of course he denied it initially. Now he seems to be admitting it, even defending it, perhaps. This growing controversy overshadowing the president's speech here at the United Nations today before world leaders. Trump set to address those leaders in just over an hour.

We have team coverage on these stunning new developments this morning. Let's begin, though, with our Lauren Fox. She's on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, those seven freshman Democrats notable in this op-ed in the "Washington Post" in that they come from swing districts where the perception had been that a vote for impeachment would be a vote too far, endanger their re-election. It appears that calculus may be changing.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. It's really been a stunning development over about the last 24 hours as we've seen a slew of freshman Democrats coming out saying basically if these allegations against the president are true, they think impeachment may be the appropriate remedy. Of course, that's significant because we've been talking about for a long time how Democratic freshmen in these swing districts may have been confronting a difficult political decision here about whether or not they wanted to move forward with impeachment.

In that op-ed by seven Democratic freshmen, all of whom have backgrounds in national security, they wrote, quote, "We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country. And throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over. Now we join as a united group to uphold that oath as we enter unchartered waters and face unprecedent allegations against President Trump."

Of course, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House is slated to meet with her six chairmen to talk more about the future of their investigation. And we know there's a special Democratic caucus today at 4:00 p.m., on a fly-in day which is a significant step where Democrats are going to meet and have sort of a family meeting, Jim and Poppy, to discuss the future of impeachment.

SCIUTTO: Well, it'd be a remarkable scene, no question, Lauren, to have formal impeachment hearings in the midst of an election year. We'll continue to follow the story.

Lauren Fox, thanks so much.

HARLOW: All right. The ever-growing Ukraine controversy could be the final straw for Democrats. You now see 61 percent of Democrats in the House in favor of moving forward on impeachment.

Kaitlan Collins is here with me.

Good to have you in New York. Usually you're at the White House. But you've learned just now that the president took, quote, "special interest" in the foreign package to Ukraine. Because this came at a point in time when the president and the administration was assessing overall foreign aid.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

HARLOW: But he took particular interest in the aid to Ukraine.

COLLINS: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Do you know why?

COLLINS: It started out as this broad review. And the president for some reason was focusing in on Ukraine which was surprising to staffers because before he had not expressed a lot of interest in engaging with Ukraine, wasn't interested in even meeting with the president. And then he started talking about Ukraine as they were looking at these individual packages saying that they wasted money, making these claims privately about them and talking about them being corrupt.

That's when he directed Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, to tell the Pentagon to freeze this aid as they were reviewing the package. Something that became a source of internal division between then National Security adviser John Bolton who wanted Ukraine to get the aid and Mulvaney. It seemed to be this them pushing back on each other when really it's Mulvaney doing --

HARLOW: That's interesting with Bolton out now.

COLLINS: Right. Mulvaney doing what the president wanted. So that is why you've seen the president take such an interest in this. But you've got to look at the timeline here. That's right around when Rudy Giuliani was pushing these accusations without evidence about Joe Biden and that was really something that people started to put two and two together. And while the president says they're not related, so far no one has really offered a reason why then that they wanted just Ukraine's military aid to be frozen.

HARLOW: Right. And Kaitlan, just remind us before you go, the messaging that was sent apparently from the administration to, you know, the folks working in the departments that would help distribute this aid on the why.

COLLINS: It wasn't clear to them. It was -- they're saying it was this interagency process.

[09:05:03]

But really what we're described to by sources is that it started in the West Wing and there wasn't a lot of communication to the Pentagon to Capitol Hill, to other people, why they were freezing this in particular. And that's why when you saw the White House eventually release it, it caught a lot of people off guard.

HARLOW: Sure.

COLLINS: Because what they've been hearing from the White House didn't sound like Ukraine was getting this aid.

HARLOW: Yes.

COLLINS: Which we should remind people is so they could protect themselves against Russia.

HARLOW: Against Russia. And there were a number of -- there were a number of Republicans like Ron Johnson, before he went to Ukraine, saying, you know, why is this being held up, et cetera.

COLLINS: They were furious about it.

HARLOW: But now listen to what Republicans are saying now.

OK, Kaitlan, thank you. Great reporting. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about this with A.B. Stoddard, the associate editor and columnist for "RealClearPolitics," and former NSA attorney and CNN national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennessey.

Good morning, ladies. All right, A.B. You've got 61 percent of Democrats in the House this morning, 145 at least who say this is the final straw. You know, politics aside, we have to move forward on impeachment proceedings. Where does this go?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, this is a remarkable turn of events because one of those national security Democrats who won Republican seats who've come together on that letter told me four, five months ago we didn't spend our lives in politics. We're not really here in Congress forever worried about protecting our political rears the way some of our colleagues are. And at some point, even if it brings the majority down in defeat at the polls next year, we will have to do this.

HARLOW: Right.

STODDARD: For history's sake and for the separation of powers. So, it's not surprising to me that they would come together and be part of this push following this whistleblower development. But I think a lot can happen in that family meeting today. I think 61 percent might not be enough immediately. It doesn't mean that we're moving to an official vote. I think it means that they're basically deeming this a serious potential offense that they need to know more about.

They're going to push this request with the complaint which is really at this point being held unlawfully against transmission to the Congress.

HARLOW: Right.

STODDARD: And I think they're going to try to continue to educate the public. But I don't believe that this immediately means we're turning to impeachment within days.

HARLOW: So you bring up the unlawful behavior. And Susan, you know, from a legal standpoint, I don't think it's a bridge too far to at least talk about comparisons between what just happened in the U.K. this morning with their Supreme Court saying essentially Boris Johnson blocked the ability of Parliament to carry out its job. You know, we have seen the Trump administration time and time again block the ability of Congress to carry out its oversight duties.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So that's one thing that's going on right now is that the DNI is refusing to comply with the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act which requires that they transmit this complaint to Congress. Now, I do think that we're seeing a little bit of an awakening in Congress. And that's that the court system is not really an effective remedy against the kind of stonewalling we're seeing out of the White House. Stonewalling that amounts to just the White House blatantly saying we will not comply with the law.

HARLOW: Right.

HENNESSEY: And that's really because courts take a very, very long time and they're very, very hesitant to weigh in between conflicts between the legislative and executive branches. They really want those branches to sort it out amongst themselves.

HARLOW: Yes.

HENNESSEY: And so one big question if Congress does decide to take this step to move towards impeachment in light of these really astonishing new allegations, whether or not they are prepared to use other authorities not just sort of litigating things in court over a period of weeks and months, but using appropriations authorities, putting freezes on nominations, using those other sort of coercive powers inherent contempt authority.

HARLOW: Sure. Well --

HENNESSEY: You know, to actually enforce its will.

HARLOW: Adam Schiff has talked about withholding some amount of funds from ODNI potentially. Right? I mean, we'll see.

A.B., but here's the Republican response. Let me quote a few folks. Marco Rubio, "The answer to all our problems is not constantly I disagree with something you did, I'm going to impeach you." John Cornyn, "Is it a whistleblower or a leaker?" Kevin Cramer, "A lot of hysteria over a little." Richard Burr, "I don't even know if the complaint even deals with the intelligence community."

Play this out for me. You're not in a position certainly at this point where you're going to get a conviction by a Republican-led Senate.

STODDARD: No, but we haven't seen the complaint and we haven't heard from the acting DNI.

HARLOW: Sure.

STODDARD: And there are still potentially more surprises down the road. It has been reported that it's not -- the complaint is not comprised of just one conversation. There was supposed to be a promise the president's made. It was supposed to be a series of facts that led to this both credible and urgent complaint. And obviously we had four and a half hours in classified session on Friday where the I.G. was telling the Congress this remains an urgent matter which they must be able to assess as soon as possible.

So it -- there is room in the future for potential Republican rebuke of the president on this. I see what they're saying. I was e-mailing with a Republican member I deeply respect on Sunday night who was telling me this was a media obsession.

[09:10:06]

It is not. It is the words of the intelligence community inspector general to the Congress last Friday that make this so alarming. Not even the meat of the allegation. This is a process. This has been held unlawfully from the Congress. There is no stop at the DOJ for Bill Barr to weigh in. There's no stop for Pat Cipollone at the White House to weigh in. This is supposed to be transmitted by law immediately to the Congress. And that is a huge problem.

So, as people reflect on what they're hearing Trump confess before the cameras before he gets on helicopters, they really have to remember this is a separate and co-equal branch of government that is being blockaded, hated by the executive. That's really hard for Republicans to defend.

HARLOW: Sure. Co-equal being the operative word there.

Thank you, A.B. Stoddard, Susan Hennessey. Both -- nice to have you both. I really appreciate it.

We have a lot ahead. It is an incredibly significant morning. A very important day. Still to come, moments away from the president on the world stage. He will speak again. His third address to the United Nations. Hanging over his head are these growing calls for impeachment.

With me next, a Democratic lawmaker who was the first of the 2020 Democratic candidates to call for impeachment. What does Congressman Seth Moulton have to say?

Plus, a landmark ruling for one of America's closes allies. Britain's Supreme Court this morning says its own Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law when he suspended Parliament. What does that mean for his future?

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[09:15:00]

HARLOW: All right, welcome back. President Trump facing world leaders this morning amid growing calls by House Democrats to move forward on impeachment.

This, as questions mount about the president and his interactions in dealing with Ukraine. Overnight, we learned that the president directly ordered millions of dollars, $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to be held back roughly a week before that phone call with the Ukrainian president which he admits talking to the Ukrainian president about Joe Biden and his son and investigating them.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton; of course, he's a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also a U.S. Marine who served four combat tours in Iraq. Thank you Congressman for being here --

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Good to be here --

HARLOW: And thank you for your service --

MOULTON: Thank you.

HARLOW: To this country. What we learned overnight, I just laid it out. So, now, the ball is in your court. What will Congress do?

MOULTON: Well, first of all, we need to get to the bottom of what's going on. That means calling the members of the administration before Congress and getting the documents, issuing subpoenas right away --

HARLOW: You don't -- you can't get it. I mean, that's why we are where we are.

MOULTON: Well, look, we need to actually start doing our job. And part of that is opening an impeachment inquiry, something I've been calling for since December of 2017. It's just the right thing to do regardless of the politics. And you've seen more and more Democrats moving in this direction.

Just to be clear, there's not a single Democrat who's moved from pro- impeachment debate --

HARLOW: Right --

MOULTON: To against it. Everyone included --

HARLOW: No, I hear you --

MOULTON: In this direction.

HARLOW: I hear you and the op-ed this morning by those seven Democrats who are in risky seats who, you know, this could cost them their political future.

MOULTON: The national security professionals --

HARLOW: It's different, they are -- they served --

MOULTON: They're national security professionals, and I campaigned for every single one of them. So, I know the political risks that they're taking. But they're showing the moral courage to do the right thing by the constitution that we swore an oath to protect them. By the way, every single one of those national security professionals swore the same oath to protect and defend the constitution, not just a member of Congress, but in the United States military.

HARLOW: So, let me ask you this though. Should you do it now? Should Congress do it now or should they wait? Because we have two things. We know that the money was withheld from Ukraine and we know the timeline, and we know the president talked to the president of Ukraine about Joe and Hunter Biden.

What we don't have yet is proof that there was a quid pro quo, right? We don't have the proof connecting the two. Would it be prudent for Democrats to wait for that?

MOULTON: I guess you technically don't have the proof, but the job of Congress in the constitution is to hold the administration accountable. To act as the check and balance in our government. And that means, you start asking questions right now, you open the inquiries, you have the hearings, and you hold people accountable. You know, if you have someone like Corey Lewandowski, whatever his

name is, come before Congress and just refuse to answer questions, hold him accountable. I mean --

HARLOW: In front of the --

MOULTON: Call him out, hold him in contempt. You know, fine him, put him in prison, whatever you need to do --

HARLOW: So --

MOULTON: But it's our constitutional duty to do this --

HARLOW: Democratic leadership hasn't done that during that, Jerry Nadler didn't do that. Nancy Pelosi -- I mean, you challenged her, you know, at one point. Is Democratic leadership failing the Democratic Party?

MOULTON: You know, this is so much bigger than leadership. This is about -- this is about patriotism.

HARLOW: But give me a straight answer on that. Are they failing your party on these fronts?

MOULTON: I feel confident that they're coming around, because that's the right thing to do. And I think the leadership you've seen from these amazing veterans who wrote that op-ed in "The Post" today is going to have an influence on the leadership. They're leading the caucus right now.

HARLOW: OK, so let's listen to Senator Marco Rubio who by the way doesn't like what happened on that phone call, right, he said that, but then he also said this about impeachment here just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Frankly, you know, the answer to all of our problems is not constantly I disagree with something you did, I'm going to impeach you. Now, we've had a week ago, people calling for the impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh, and now the latest call for the impeachment of the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: What do you say to him?

MOULTON: Stop supporting people who lie. Justice Kavanaugh lied in his confirmation hearing. That's why he should be impeached.

[09:20:00]

The definition of impeachment for the president of the United States is treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Using the office of the presidency to bribe a foreign leader into attacking the former Vice President of the United States, that fits into all three of those definitions. So, to Senator Rubio and the other Republicans, how about remembering

that oath to protect and defend the constitution? He didn't swear an oath to protect and defend his Republican president --

HARLOW: Yes --

MOULTON: Who happens to be good on Twitter. He swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution. We all in Congress need to find the moral courage and the leadership --

HARLOW: Right --

MOULTON: To uphold that oath.

HARLOW: All right, a few more questions on, you know, foreign policy and what --

MOULTON: Sure --

HARLOW: The U.S. is going to do in the face of Iran following Iran downing that American drone, reports that the president ordered a retaliatory strike and then canceled it. You've said, quote, "as a Marine veteran, I know that action should be strong, decisive and controlled. The goal is de-escalation. Make it clear that Iran's strike will not be tolerated, we will not invite a war."

Unfortunately, you wrote, "we have a weak and indecisive commander-in- chief with no strategy." Given the most recent developments that Saudi Arabia and U.S. Intelligence believes that it was Iran behind the latest attacks on the Saudi oil fields. If you were commander-in- chief, what would your response to Iran be?

MOULTON: Well, first of all, I would not send American troops into Saudi Arabia because Iran did not attack the United States and we have no mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia. So, it is actually illegal for Trump to send troops to Saudi Arabia to help them without coming to Congress first. But to go back to the first instance --

HARLOW: Would you strike -- would you strike Iran?

MOULTON: Not when they attack Saudi Arabia.

HARLOW: OK --

MOULTON: But when they shot down our drone, we absolutely should have taken action and probably if we had, Poppy, they wouldn't have initiated this subsequent attack on Saudi Arabia with more -- with more weapons.

HARLOW: Final question.

MOULTON: Yes --

HARLOW: You're not in the race anymore, you bowed out. You have called former Vice President Joe Biden a friend and a mentor. Are you ready to endorse him for the presidency today? MOULTON: I'm not going to do it right here on this show, no. Look,

they're fantastic people --

HARLOW: Is he where you're leaning?

MOULTON: Look, there are fantastic people running for president. It was an honor to be in that field. But I do think the most important thing is beating Donald Trump. I mean, he is the national security threat to the United States right now sitting in the office of the presidency and trying to act as our commander-in-chief.

So, we need to pick the person who's best equipped to go up against him. And I think the Vice President is doing a good job so far.

HARLOW: Thank you very much.

MOULTON: Thanks.

HARLOW: When you're ready to endorse, come on back. We appreciate your time --

MOULTON: Thank you, good to see you --

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Congressman, and then again, thank you for your service to this country. OK, Jim, back with us at the United Nations. Jim, you know, we really can't overstate how momentous a day this is for the president to be on that world stage.

SCIUTTO: No question, and with enormous vulnerabilities at home. Just about an hour from now, President Trump, he will address the U.N. General Assembly here at the U.N. of course, an annual event, and an event in which he has made news in the past.

You may have remembered this is the stage where he called Kim Jong-un rocket man before of course going into talks with North Korea multiple times. The subject today, Iran, but it's unlikely the ongoing Ukraine controversy will overshadow his speech there today.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins me now. Listen, there's so many issues swirling on the world stage separate from the president's domestic and real domestic political difficulties now. But let's start on the world stage. Iran's certain to feature prominently in the speech before the U.N. where the president has had difficulty getting allies to align with his view of the situation.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And as of last night, Britain, France and Germany who departed company -- or he departed company from that joint nuclear deal with Iran have now swung into support his and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's position that Iran was behind those attacks in Saudi Arabia.

That Iran now needs to get real on negotiating longer sunset clauses on the terms of that deal to negotiate on ballistic missiles. I'm not saying that explicitly. So on Iran, the president now perhaps in a stronger position to lay that out. However, concern remains in the region and they will be listening very

closely and carefully in Saudi Arabia. Is there any nuance in what the president says and when he talks about -- when he talks about Iran, is he leaving the door open for face-to-face with President Rouhani? Now, that would be a major concern for --

SCIUTTO: I remember being here a number of years ago when President Obama had a phone call with Rouhani as they -- he was leaving the U.N. General Assembly which of course led the way to those nuclear negotiations which led to the nuclear deal with which this president has pulled out of.

You just returned from Saudi Arabia where you were telling me, there's some consternation disappointment in the president's lack of willingness to take military action in response to repeated attacks. The criticism you've heard from Republican lawmakers here such as Lindsey Graham as well. Are they worried that the president is going wobbly here blinking?

[09:25:00]

ROBERTSON: They're worried if the president goes wobbly, that enables Iran. I think the view now from definitely for the United States, definitely from the Saudis and their Gulf allies, definitely get a PS from the British and French and Germans.

That not only was Iran responsible, but what that means is that Iran currently feels emboldened and it can do what has been called an act of war, cutting down Saudis output of oil by half. Massive. So, I think when you look at it in that context, what the Saudis are looking for is not to escalate the confrontation, but to send that strong message.

So, they worry every day when they wake up, what is President Trump going to say today about Iran? Is he going to be consistent? Is he going to be ten minutes away from a retaliatory strike against U.S. --

SCIUTTO: Can pull it back.

ROBERTSON: Against U.S. interest and then pull it back. So that equivocation on his part --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

ROBERTSON: It makes them fear another Iranian attack --

SCIUTTO: Or tweet a change in position which he has been wanting to do -- a lot of issues. Quickly before we go, how much does this march possibly towards impeachment here, and almost political difficulties for the president, does that affect his standing as he arrives here today? Do other leaders look at him differently? Do they receive his message differently? How does that bleed into this event?

ROBERTSON: I think they will see it in the wider context of this is a president who's been under extreme political pressure and criticism at home, has many potential and real failings, and that this is one of those that may be coming home to roost. But this is a president who fights, continues to fight on doggedly, and therefore this isn't going to change their strategic positioning of their narrative with the United States until they see what happens.

SCIUTTO: Nic Robertson, great to have you here. Of course, we're going to stay here, we're going to bring you the president's comments live when they come in the next hour. In fact, he's expected to arrive here at the U.N. in just the next few minutes, we will look for that as well.

Still to come, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his political future very much up in the air. Just a stunning defeat in the Supreme Court today, it ruling by a unanimous 11-0 decision that he acted unlawfully in suspending parliament.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures all pointing higher this morning, the Dow eked out a positive close yesterday, this is after some optimism. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says Chinese importers are buying more agriculture products again from the U.S.

The Department of Agriculture says the country has purchased at least 720,000 tons of soybeans over the past two weeks. That is good for American farmers. We'll keep a close eye on the markets today, stay right here.

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