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U.K. Supreme Court Reverses Parliament Suspension; Trump Takes Questions at U.N.; Trump Defends Ukraine Call; Former Ukraine Foreign Minister on Trump's Call. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired September 24, 2019 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back.
Now to a stunning legal defeat for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, happening while he is here in New York for the U.N. General Assembly this morning.
Britain's supreme court ruled that Johnson's five-week suspension of parliament was illegal and that his advice to the queen on that front was unlawful. This is a huge blow to the prime minister's Brexit strategy.
Melissa Bell is live in London for us this morning.
This is incredibly significant. It was a unanimous vote on this. A unanimous decision. So does this mean that the MP's will show up at parliament tomorrow?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Despite the wishes of the British prime minister, and according to the verdict that was delivered here in such spectacular fashion just a few hours ago, MPs will be returning to Westminster tomorrow.
And, of course, that changes everything, Poppy, for the Brexit negotiations going forward because, bear in mind, that on one hand you have Boris Johnson determined to keep the no-deal Brexit on the table as we head towards the 31st of October deadline. You have MPs who now have control back, determined to stop him from doing that.
Now, let's just have a listen to that verdict that was delivered a short while ago by Lady Hale.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LADY MARJORIE HALE, PRESIDENT OF U.K. SUPREME COURT: The prime minister's advice to her majesty was unlawful, void, and of no effect. The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP) BELL: That was an astonishing verdict. Not only because it deemed unlawful the actions of a sitting prime minister, but because it went further than that, Poppy, essentially taking the executive out of the equation and saying to MPs, get back to work, pretend as though the suspension never happened. It, in a sense, kind of preventing the prime minister from getting in the way of that.
Now, have a listen to Boris Johnson's reaction. All eyes on how he was going to react from New York with growing calls here in London in the wake of that verdict for his resignation. This is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that the justices remotely excluded the possibility of having a queen speech (ph). But what we will certainly do is insure that parliament has plenty of time to debate Brexit. Parliament has been debating Brexit for three years solidly. Now is the chance for us to get a deal, come out of the EU on October the 31st, and that's what we're going to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BELL: Now, that reaction very much seeming to minimize the effects of that verdict and repeating that stance that he's kept throughout that he will head towards the 31st of October deadline, whatever happens, with no-deal Brexit on the table. We're now hearing, Poppy, that he's leaving New York tonight, showing that he's not able to minimize this as much as he wished to.
HARLOW: Certainly not.
It is remarkable and it is incredibly significant.
Melissa Bell, thank you very, very much.
Jim, an example of authority checked there, right?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: True. And his response, just remarkable, he disagrees with a unanimous supreme court decision.
HARLOW: Yes. Right.
SCIUTTO: Another story we'll keep watching.
Here at home, calls for impeachment growing on Capitol Hill as you see even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying she may have no choice but to launch an inquiry. Why now? There's much more to come right after this short break.
[09:40:46] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.
Just moments ago, this is the president's limousine arriving here at the United Nations headquarters in New York. He will enter the building. He's scheduled to speak before the U.N. General Assembly at about a quarter past the hour. Of course, we will bring you those comments live as President Trump prepares to address the world, world leaders.
Ah, and there he is walking into the building. These are live pictures of the president now arriving. In a little more than a half hour, he will address world leaders here on a stage in which he has used in the past to lodge attacks against the North Korean leader.
Let's listen to what he has to say.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we had a great meeting yesterday, as you know, with the prime minister. And I think that, as far as Pakistan's concerned, India, they're talking. I'm certainly willing to help. I think they would, in a certain way, like my help, but they have to both want it. They have very different views. And I'm concerned about it.
On Iran, I think we're doing very well. Let's see what happens with Iran. But we are -- we're in very strong position on Iran. And I think they'd like to do something. And I think it would be a smart thing for them if they did.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE), I have two questions. The first is your reaction to "The Washington Post" story about you supposedly asking and withholding or holding (INAUDIBLE) aid for Ukraine. And the second one is, you meeting tomorrow with Venezuela -- with leaders of Latin American to talk about Venezuela. (INAUDIBLE) say that if the United States changed the policies of Obama, they will meet with you and they would love to have talks. What's changed (ph)?
TRUMP: So here's the story very simply. We're watching Venezuela very closely.
As far as withholding funds, those funds were paid. They were fully paid.
But my complaint has always been, and I withhold again, and I'll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine, because they're not doing it. This is the United States. We're putting up the bulk of the money. And I'm asking, why is that?
And I want Europe and it's always been this and everybody knows it, every single reporter knows it, everybody in the administration knows that what I want, and I insist on it, is that Europe has to put up money for Ukraine also. Why is it only the United States putting up the money? And I -- and, by the way, we paid that money. But I always ask, why aren't other countries, in Europe especially, putting up money for Ukraine?
TRUMP: Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Congress is moving towards impeachment, including Nancy Pelosi. Could be as a result of the Ukraine call. What -- how do you feel about that?
TRUMP: I think it's ridiculous. It's a witch hunt. I'm leading in the polls. They have no idea how they stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment.
This has never happened to a president before. There's never been a thing like this before. It's nonsense.
And when you see the call, when you see the readout of the call, which I assume you'll see at some point, you'll understand.
That call was perfect. It couldn't have been nicer. And even the Ukrainian government put out a statement that that was a perfect call. There was no pressure put on them whatsoever.
But there was pressure put on with respect to Joe Biden. What Joe Biden did for his son, that's something they should be looking at.
TRUMP: Go ahead. You.
QUESTION: Why did you block the aid a week before the call with the Ukrainian president?
TRUMP: Because very important, very important, I want other countries to put up money. I think it's unfair that we put up the money. Then people called me, they said, oh, let it go, and I let it go.
But we paid the money. The money was paid. But, very importantly, Germany, France, other countries should put up money. And that's been my complaint from the beginning.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) are you confident that your advisers aren't dragging you into war in Iran? Thirteen percent of Americans only support war with Iran. There seems like a lot of your advisers, including (INAUDIBLE) drag you into a war?
TRUMP: Well, we're going to see what happens. But I think Iran is coming along well. Regardless of what happens, we're in very good shape with respect to Iran.
TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.
SCIUTTO: You've been listening to the president there giving comments on his arrival at the U.N. General Assembly.
A couple of notes there.
One, he seems to have presented an entirely new reason for withholding military assistance to Ukraine. One, seeming to admit that he did so, but saying he did so because he wants Europe to put up the money. He also said that we paid the money. Of course he did so under pressure from Congress.
He again leveled what are unfounded charges against Joe Biden and his son with regard to Ukraine and claimed as well that the U.S. is in a very strong position with Iran.
Let's bring in CNN's Dana Bash and Jeff Zeleny.
As we -- first of all, Dana, if you can help me understand the president's seemingly new reason there for withholding military assistance from Ukraine. Again, remember, it was just a few days ago the president calls this entire story fake news. He has --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
SCIUTTO: Evolved over the last several days to now admit it and justify it. But this is a new justification, is it not, to say he wants Europe to pay its fair share.
BASH: It is.
Jim, it struck me exactly as it struck you. This is a Trump mantra, was during the campaign, that Europe has to pay its fair share.
Broadly his focus historically has been on NATO. This is adding Ukraine to the mix. And it might very well be the case that in his discussions with lawmakers and others who were pushing him to go ahead with the money for Ukraine, that he did have those discussions. We have not heard that as part of his defense or, as you said, rightly, Jim, his justification.
What we also heard here with the question and the answer about Democrats today having very important meetings likely moving to another phase on impeachment because of the groundswell and the changes we have seen from Democrats who are in red districts, from Democrats who are Pelosi allies, he used a familiar phrase, witch hunt.
BASH: He talked about the fact that this has never happened before. It's a phrase that worked for him for a year and a half over Russia. And he is relying on the fact that Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have been so silent, except for Mitt Romney, will hear that and take it as a cue that they should keep their silence because it didn't go so well from their perspective for Democrats politically during the Russia probe.
Jeff, the issue for Democrats here, the qualitative step forward was the use of presidential power on a foreign country to, in their view, intervene in a U.S. election by undermining the president's political opponent here.
By the president just there seemingly admitting that, yes, he did withhold the aid, does that give Democrats an argument there? Of course he did not admit withholding the aid in connection to demands for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden's son, but he -- but he did migrate a bit closer to confirming that suspicion.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He did. But as Dana was just saying, the president also used those two words, witch hunt. That is essentially, you know, a siren to any conservative, any Republican out there, you know, who may be thinking about questioning the president on this, that this is just all the same as the Russia probe. So what Democrats are trying to do is draw a major distinction, that this is a new moment.
And it is, indeed, a new moment, at least politically speaking, because, as Dana was saying, there is a groundswell of support now from these Democrats who have been elected from Trump districts. Speaker Pelosi has been trying to protect this broad coalition of Democrats really for several months. But now that several of them have come forward and said that they believe it is, you know, a potential moment to initiate an impeachment inquiry, this is something that Speaker Pelosi is going to be deciding later today.
I spoke with her last evening and she said that, you know, she is not ready to say the timing of this, but certainly leaving the indication that this is a tipping point. This is an inflection point here and she has been able to sort of hold this off until now.
The question, I think, Jim, is -- and this is one we don't have an answer to -- is this the president trying to draw the Democrats into a trap here, if you will? And is this, you know, whole impeachment conversation going to overtake the 2020 campaign coverage? So Speaker Pelosi has been trying to sort of weigh all of these factors. That's why those meetings on Capitol Hill this afternoon, so important as House Democrats decide their way forward.
SCIUTTO: Well, and to see those swing state Democrat who is wrote this op-ed in "The Washington Post" --
SCIUTTO: Ones who the perception had been, listen, these districts are at risk. We face our -- we face our own political risks if we getting on board. Seeing them get on board, or at least open to it, a step forward it seems for impeachment talk.
Dana Bash, Jeff Zeleny, thanks to both of you. I know we're going to keep drawing on your wisdom as we watch this process go forward.
Of course, all of this is unfolding here in the U.S. as the president takes, arguably, the largest stage in the world, here at the U.N., the U.N. General Assembly. He is set to speak here in just a few moments. We're going to bring you those comments live.
And we'll be right back.
HARLOW: All right, welcome back.
Significant news out of Ukraine this morning. And the word from the former Ukrainian foreign minister is that this scandal with the United States may actually be seen as a victory for President Vladimir Putin.
Matthew Chance joins us now in Kiev.
This is significant, the words that he chose to use.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, I think it is significant because Pavlo Klimkin is the name of the former Ukrainian foreign minister. He was, of course, the foreign minister when this controversial phone call between President Trump and the newly elected President Zelensky here was actually made. But he wasn't party to that conversation. He says he hasn't seen a transcript. He said that he wasn't even briefed on the contents of it, which is perhaps a little surprising given that he was, at least for the following four weeks, the country's foreign minister.
He has, though, been quite critical about the way this scandal has weakened Ukraine in its confrontation with the neighboring country of Russia. Of course Ukraine is fighting an actual war with Russian- backed rebels on its eastern flank. It's diplomatically trying to secure its territory back, which was annexed in Crimea by Russia in 2014. He's doing that with U.S. backing.
This scandal, Pavlo Klimkin told me earlier today, is essentially handing a victory to the Kremlin. Take a listen.
All right, well we don't -- we don't have that sound at the moment, but let me tell you the points that the former foreign minister was making is essentially, Poppy, that, you know, look, Ukraine has to have bipartisan support in the United States in order to secure the military funding, in order to confront Russia in an effective way. That's been undermined by this scandal. Also, he commented on this issue of the suspension by the Trump
administration of military assistance to Ukraine. He said that sent an important message to the Kremlin that perhaps Washington is not altogether committed to defending this country.
HARLOW: And I look forward to seeing the interview, Matthew, because it is so important in the context of what's going on right now. And, remember, it was, as you said, those bipartisan calls, including from Senator Lindsay Graham, to get Ukraine aid for specifically this reason.
Thank you very much, Matthew Chance, live for us in Kiev this morning.
At any minute we will hear from the president. He takes the world stage. He is set to address world leaders at the United Nations. This as calls for his impeachment grow. We'll bring you the president's remarks live right here.
Stay right there.