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CNN RIGHT NOW
Biden To Back Impeachment If Trump Doesn't Comply; Trump Denies Quid Pro Quo On U.S. Military Aid To Ukraine; Rep. Nancy Pelosi Preps House Action Amid Growing Impeachment Calls; Interview With Rep. Gregory Meeks. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired September 24, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- to the inspector general appointed by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, Trump-appointed I.G. went to Congress. We'll continue to follow the story.
Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics today. Don't go anywhere, a busy day if you haven't noticed.
Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great day.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar.
Underway right now, a critical moment in American history as more and more Democrats support impeachment proceedings against President Trump. And just in, one of the 2020 frontrunners who has been reluctant to call for impeachment now says Congress may have no choice.
This is Joe Biden's new response to the baseless allegations leveled against him by President Trump. The president had asked Ukraine's president to investigate the former vice president, also asking to investigate his son.
Now, that was in the July 25th phone call that triggered concerns from a whistleblower.
Jeff Zeleny is live with more. Jeff, tell us what we're expecting to hear.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, Joe Biden has been front and center in all of this latest controversy. But so far, he has stayed away from calling directly for an impeachment inquiry. We're told that that is likely to change this afternoon when he addresses our reporters in Wilmington, Delaware in the next hour.
I'm told by a campaign aide he plans to say this. Let's take a look.
He's going to make a point that Trump's latest abuses are on top of all of his prior abuses. He's going to call on Trump to comply with all of Congress' outstanding lawful requests of all their investigations in the Ukraine matter and in other investigations. And if Trump does not comply, Biden is going to say Congress has no choice but to impeach. That is from the top Biden adviser.
So, Brianna, what this means is that Joe Biden is a part of this growing groundswell of Democrats really from across the spectrum of the party here now who seemed to be moving forward in the idea of initiating some type of impeachment inquiry.
Of course, Joe Biden is late to this party if you talk about other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Elizabeth Warren, of course, has been out front for months on this. But by adding his voice to that this afternoon, if the White House does not comply, he says that Congress should impeach President Trump.
Brianna, the political question here is, is this going to make the 2020 campaign entirely about impeachment? Some Democrats I'm talking to this morning were wondering if the president is laying a trap for them, if it becomes impeachment a referendum, is that bad for Democrats? So all that will be litigated. But we do know Speaker Pelosi will be having that meeting with House Democrats this morning, but Joe Biden getting out slightly ahead. He's adding his voice earlier. Brianna?
KEILAR: Yes. Maybe he sees the writing on the wall here. Jeff Zeleny in Washington, thank you.
It's President Trump's second day at the United Nations General Assembly. And while he addressed the world body about foreign affairs and influences, it's his pressure on Ukraine's president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden just after the U.S. froze aid, $400 million in aid to that ally that is still capturing headlines.
Our Kaitlan Collins is at the U.N. And, Kaitlan, you have learned new details about the president's personal involvement in freezing that aid. Tell us about that.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There was a lot of confusion about the timeline that happened here, but we have now learned that actually in the days of that call, that late July call that the president had with the president of Ukraine where he pushed for that probe into Joe Biden and his son, that's when they were doing this broad review throughout the administration of all of these foreign aid packages.
And the president zeroed in specifically on Ukraine, which surprised staffers in the administration who said before the president had a general uninterest in engaging with Ukraine, even sitting down with the president. All of a sudden he was talking about Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, and accusing them of being corrupt and wasting money.
That drew staffers' attention, of course. That's what led to Mick Mulvaney, the Chief of Staff, to tell the Pentagon to freeze that aid. Though, now, since the president has been here in New York, he's offering different reasons for why it is that that happened before that phone call. Listen to the difference on what he said today and what he said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We want to make sure the country is honest. It's very important to talk about corruption. If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?
One of the reasons the new president had got elected is he was going to stop corruption.
My complaint has always been, and I'll 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, just the United States. We're putting up the bulk of the money, and I'm asking why is that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So now, he's saying it's not about corruption, it's because other European countries aren't paying enough. And certainly, that's been a reflection of an attitude the president has had before. He essentially views some of these packages as freebies.
But now, he's saying he didn't do anything wrong because that money was eventually released. But, Brianna, that money was only eventually released because there was a lot of poking and prodding happening from Republican lawmakers and those inside the administration who said that Ukraine needed that aid package.
KEILAR: So what is -- and maybe your sources may be telling you something about this, but what do they attribute his change in justification to?
COLLINS: Well, they noted that, of course, the president at the beginning over the summer when he was first expressing that interest, it dovetailed those efforts from Rudy Giuliani where he was going on television, accusing Joe Biden of all of these accusations that he's making without any basis, really, as he's been going on television.
But, of course, now you're seeing the president shift his ways because he's making several arguments for why that aid wasn't released, and, of course, saying that other countries should be paying more for protection of Ukraine. That money was to protect them from Russia.
And something you've heard the president echo in the past that he feels the United States is paying too much money, but it's a very different argument than what he was making before. And, essentially, what is the result of you not seeing the administration offer any other reason why Ukraine's aid was stalled over the summer, no other countries, and they're not really providing any other basis than the Joe Biden accusations.
KEILAR: You watched his address to the General Assembly today, Kaitlan. How was that received there in that hall and did it feel like all of this was hanging over that speech that he gave today? COLLINS: Yes. The speech you saw the president touched on topics you expected in China, Iran. Really, the audience that comes here to the United Nations General Assembly knows what to expect now that Trump has been here. This is the third year in a row. Remember last year when the president was touting his accomplishments, they were laughing at him in the audience. So they really know what they're getting with President Trump in this America first message that you've seen him bring here for the last several years.
But the larger point is though the president is talking about Iran, talking about Venezuela, what this firestorm over Ukraine has hung over this summit. But a lot of that has to do with the president himself, who up on arrival here at the headquarters for now two days in a row, that's been the first thing he's addressed as he stopped and to talks to speak to reporters. And he's even talking about it on Twitter and in between his meetings with world leaders.
KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much, at the United Nations.
And in a few hours, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with all the Democrats and the House of Representatives as talk of impeachment gains momentum. Right now, there are at least 155 House Democrats calling for an impeachment inquiry following this whistleblower complaint that is, in part, about the president's call with the president of Ukraine.
Now, the Speaker was initially opposed to the idea of impeachment. She's been holding off her caucus. But she told CNN's Jeff Zeleny the Democrats, quote, will have no choice, end quote, but to move forward with an inquiry.
I want to go to CNN's Manu Raju and Dana Bash with some news here. Dana, tell us what you're hearing.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, some new developments we can report at this hour, Brianna, that is that we are told by sources family with the speaker's plans that she plans tomorrow to put a resolution on the House floor amid these calls, growing calls for an impeachment inquiry.
Now, here's the key. We are told, multiple sources say, that the content of this resolution is still being drafted. It's being worked on as we speak by the key committees. So we don't know exactly how far it's going to go with regard to impeachment, but it is being worked on right now, and the plan again is for the resolution to come to the House floor tomorrow.
And why tomorrow? I'm told by sources familiar that -- so tomorrow is Wednesday. Thursday is the day that the acting DNI is scheduled to come to Capitol Hill to talk to the House Intelligence Committee. He has been pressured, of course, to actually hand over information about the whistleblower complaint, Brianna. The hope is that whatever this resolution is tomorrow will pressure him to actually go forward with that. Just a couple more quick things that I'm told, and that is that you have seen throughout the day, Democrat after Democrat, from John Lewis to House freshmen coming out and saying that they now support a potential House impeachment inquiry.
And that is being encouraged by the speaker herself, I am told, because she wants to get this groundswell out there. She is saying that she actually believes the American public understands the gravity of an American president potentially talking to a foreign leader and threatening a quid pro quo. How deep that goes, we don't know. But even the president himself said he talked about this issue.
And so those are the details that we're learning at this hour. It is very much a moving target in terms of the content of this resolution, if, in fact, it does come forward tomorrow, Bri.
KEILAR: And I wonder, to Manu, how much is this affected, how far the speaker can go on this resolution without having the physical whistleblower complaint?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in some ways, Democrats say that not having the complaint almost adds to their push towards impeachment because they can make the case to the American public, in their view, that the White House is defying the law, the president is defying the law.
Congressional subpoena is also requirement under the law to turn over this whistleblower complaint that Congress and that, according to Democrats, would only be added to articles of impeachment.
But I just want to underscore what Dana said. The speaker's language has changed dramatically over the last several days. Of course, for weeks, she has been throwing cold water on the notion of moving forward on impeachment. Then she later embraced language in the House Judiciary Committee lawsuit to say that they were actively considering articles of impeachment. But she still had said it was divisive, she still had said that she does not believe the public is there.
But in the aftermath of the whistleblower complaint and the belief that the president may be involved in withholding Ukraine aid in exchanging for investigating the Bidens, the belief among Democrats is that is a bridge too far, is a much easier message to sell to the American public of wrongdoing than some of the allegations of the Mueller report, and that it could be a little a bit more harder for people to digest.
Democrats believe this is something that they need to all get behind now, because, in their view, it's too far, which is why you see Democrat after Democrat today, moderate Democrats, freshmen from districts that President Trump carried, people that Pelosi herself has been trying to protect, this whole impeachment debate, now signaling that they are ready to go forward. And that's a big reason why we expect the speaker to be forward-leaning and embracing the notion of impeaching this president when she speaks later today. And, Brianna, I asked the speaker herself, will she get behind impeachment? Have her views changed? All she would say is I plan to make a statement later today. Brianna?
KEILAR: And, Dana, the politics have been such a consideration for the speaker because she has this concern that it will backfire for Democrats, that this will create so much enthusiasm in defense of Donald Trump with his supporters. But where is the calculus on this that, at a certain point, even if that is true, Democrats may need to proceed forward?
BASH: That's exactly the calculus. You just said it, Brianna. This has become a question for a lot of voters, and the speaker sees this, of why did we elect a House majority of Democrats if they are going to not move forward every single time the president does something from their perspective that is not just untoward but a potentially impeachable offense?
And we can't forget what happened a week ago, which is Corey Lewandowski and his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, how upset she was because she was hearing, and she saw it with her own two eyes about how reckless, frankly, that the Democrats looked and they were not using their majority wisely. That very much plays into this as well.
But the public sentiment is key. She has said publicly and privately, Nancy Pelosi, that she's not going to push this until she feels that the public is there. Now, she's balancing the public being there and bringing the public there, which is why, As Manu was saying, we have seen everybody, from John Lewis, who is the moral compass, I think, of the Democratic caucus on a lot of these issues, to House freshmen who are politically vulnerable going out one after the other today. And, again, I'm told that is being encouraged by the speaker herself.
KEILAR: Very interesting. Dana Bash, Manu Raju, thank you so much.
Stand by for us. I'm going to be speaking live with a Democratic congressman about the next steps forward as Speaker Pelosi takes this dramatic action.
Plus, just in, two men both facing exploding scandals in their home countries coming face-to-face at the U.N. See what happens as their fates remains unclear.
And the president mocks a 16-year-old activist who is pleading with world leaders to fight the climate crisis.
KEILAR: With pressure for impeachment building, we now know that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is putting out a resolution tomorrow to address the Ukraine controversy, the president having made a call to the leader of Ukraine amid frozen aid to that country as he asked that leader to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. We don't know exactly yet what this resolution is going to say though.
Joining me now is Congressman Gregory Meeks, Democrat from New York. Sir, thanks for being with us.
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Good to be with you.
KEILAR: This is a turning point for many Democrats right now. You have not called for impeachment yet. Are you calling for impeachment now?
MEEKS: Well, definitely. This is different than yesterday, different than last week. I believe at this moment that the president's refusal to hand over the whistleblower information is a direct obstruction to the United States Congress of us conducting his great abuse of power.
And, therefore, the only result that we have to get that information to protect our democracy, to make sure that he is not doing the same thing that he did as a candidate when he asked for Russia's help, he's now doing from the Oval Office to ask for a government who Russia invaded and then withheld money from.
The only course of action is to go into an impeachment inquiry.
KEILAR: Okay. So you want to know -- you are as of this moment now a yes. We are expecting this resolution on the House floor tomorrow from Speaker Pelosi. Is that what we are going to hear? Is she going to call for impeachment, and how far is she going to go in this?
MEEKS: Well, I don't know. I know we will have a meeting somewhere around 4:00 today. What I do know is what my position will be when we go into that meeting. And I think that the line has been crossed.
I think that the American people -- and I would hope that my Republican colleagues now stop protecting him and hiding and not speaking or defending this guy who has obviously abused his power as president of the United States. It's time for us to come together as an institution of Congress. We are not part of the executive branch.
And to say this is a clear abuse of power and obstruction by not allowing this whistleblower information to be released so that the Congress knows exactly what took place. It is now our responsibility. The president has refused to do it, so therefore there is no other alternative but an impeachment inquiry.
KEILAR: We're watching really what seems like the dam breaking for Democrats on this issue as more and more, including yourself, are now supporting impeachment.
One of the big holdups specifically for the speaker has been a concern that public opinion could be against Democrats, but actually this is something that could make President Trump's supporters enthusiastic and rally them behind him in an election year. And a lot of Democrats have been banking on voters voting the president out. The speaker, we are told, is telling members that she thinks this issue is now understandable for the American public. You just said as much. What if it is not understandable for the American people?
MEEKS: Well, I think it is. I think that it is for everyone other than the members of Congress who happen to be Republican. This becomes clear and blatant.
So, look, there are 25 or 30 percent of the people, as the president said, this is, I think, his mode of operandi. He believes that (INAUDIBLE) as we know, if he shot somebody, out of his own words, in the middle Times Square, that they would still stand behind him if he committed it. That's what basically he was saying. If I committed a homicide in plain view, people will still support me. Well, here is what he's doing now in plain view.
And so I believe that, and as I was abet (ph) on America and American people, that the overwhelming number of American people will not go along with that and say that he has now absolutely crossed the line and absolutely acting almost as if he is an agent of Russia. Because if you look at the relationship between Russia and Ukraine and what's taking place and holding up money in that regard seems to be on the best interest of himself and his own political ambition as well as working with -- because we've seen him give classified information to Russia previously.
So I think that the American people can see the dam is now broken. He's crossed the line by not giving up this whistleblower information, and basically in our face almost laughing about it, saying, yes, I did it. And so what?
So 25 percent, 30 percent, they will back him. But I do believe now the overwhelming number of American people will not tolerate him withholding and not giving up the whistleblower information so that we can do what our Constitution responsibility is.
KEILAR: You had said that there would be more troubling details about the president's past actions that were going to be coming from investigations in various House committees, including two that sit on, financial services and foreign affairs. How would a full House impeachment inquiry change that, if at all?
MEEKS: Well, one of the things that I intend to speak up on at our meeting is I think that those investigations should continue. I do not warrant that now the investigations within the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Financial Services Committee, the Government and Oversight Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the Intelligence Committee, all of those who continue to proceed.
And as we get the information that's necessary, then feed it in at the end, because ultimately what we're doing now is an impeachment inquiry, and once you get all of the information -- because I don't want that to stop -- once you get all that information, then you vote on whether or not to impeach. Because I do believe there is a lot more. I don't want to get to the point where we have impeached or gone through the actual act of impeachment, and then afterwards we find facts that we should have also had involved when we went through the inquiry.
Let's do the inquiry, make sure that it is complete, and we get all of the information by these committees completing their investigation. They should not stop. They should continue to do what they're doing and not just focus just on the Judiciary Committee. Let us get all the information because I think there is a lot more there.
KEILAR: All right. Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much. You are here a couple hours from meeting with the entire House Caucus in what is going to be a pivotal day on Capitol Hill in Washington and very likely, the country. Thanks for being on.
MEEKS: Thank you for having me.
KEILAR: As the Ukraine controversy builds, President Trump makes fun of Senator Mitt Romney in a new video after the senator criticized the president's call with the Ukraine's leader. But Romney's GOP colleagues are taking a different public stance on the controversy. Hear what they say, next.