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GOP's Reasons Vary On Trump Whistleblower/Ukraine Scandal; Pelosi Preps House Action Amid Growing Impeachment Calls; Trump Mocks 16-Year-Old Climate Activist For Calling Out Leaders; U.S. Official Feared Trump Administration Would Let Egyptian Government Arrest Reporter. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: As more and more Democrats call for President Trump's impeachment, accusing him of attempting to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent, Joe Biden, in exchange for U.S. military aid, Republicans are downplaying this controversy.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): It's possible it's something he shouldn't be done but it might not be an impeachable offense.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: We need to get the facts.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I really think the real issue here is not what the president said, but what, indeed, did Biden's son do?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If that's not an executive privilege moment, I don't know what would be.

UNIDENTIFIED REPUBLICAN: This is not something I have any background on.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): I would like to have the whistleblower come and talk to me so we know what his story is. I don't want to hear it secondhand.

REP. MATT GATZ (R-FL): I think there are parts of the Intelligence Community and other parts of the government that have it out for our president.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): He was asking twice to have "Saturday Night Live" investigated. It's not the way I would approach it, but that's the way the president rolls.


KEILAR: But Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney is calling for an airing of the facts. He says Congress should get to see the whistleblower complaint that prompted all of this. He tweeted, "If the president asked or pressured the Ukraine president to investigate his political rival, either direct oral through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme, critical for the facts to come out."

The president, in turn, mocked Romney by tweeting on a video pf the Senator's general election loss to Barack Obama. President Trump comparing this with clips of his own 2016 win over Hillary Clinton.

We have CNN Legal Analyst, Jennifer Rodgers, and CNN Political Commentator, Errol Louis, with us.

Let's begin. We now know Democrats -- this is fast moving. You can feel the ground shifting when it comes to impeachment. Democrats are meeting this afternoon. There will be a resolution on the floor tomorrow before the acting DNI testifies on the Hill on Thursday.

Jennifer, sort of walk us through the steps legally and about what this would mean if this is a full House impeachment inquiry versus what we have been seeing, which is in a committee.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If they're really moving to impeachment, we would expect them to start collecting evidence in that context. Up to now, there's been a lot of stonewalling. The administration has said, no, you can't have this witness, executive privilege, all these other things.

So now they will say we are in impeachment proceedings. That will give a chance to collect evidence without regard to these privileges and stonewalling. If they have to go to court to enforce those subpoenas and those requests, they should win, and they should win more quickly than it has been happening in the past.

I would expect a lot of same things going on in the way of collecting evidence, but it should move quickly because the judge will know, we're in impeachment proceedings, they have a right to this information, collect that evidence before, ultimately, an impeachment vote.

KEILAR: So now, the piece of information in question is this whistleblower complaint. Would this allow Congress to be more effective in compelling this from the administration?

RODGERS: It should, it should. They're also, of course, going to have to draft articles of impeachment, so the whistleblower issue with Ukraine would be one thing. There will probably be obstruction of justice going back to things we learned during the Mueller report.

There are all sorts of things that will likely go into articles of impeachment, so you're talking about an indictment with different counts, gathering different kinds of evidence on different tracks. You see them proceed on different tracks, but that will be one.

KEILAR: We're still waiting to see what this resolution will say, right? I think we have an indication the way everything is going. Gregory Meeks just came on. He's been resisting calling for impeachment. He just changed his mind and said it here first on CNN.

What are you thinking about this moment, Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One thing that's important, if a special committee is, in fact, created, it enables the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to put whoever she wants on it. Now she doesn't have to work around this member or that member who happens to chair a political committee.

There's reporting that she's at odds with Jerry Nadler, not entirely happy with how he managed his share this question through Judiciary. She can create her own committee, staff it with as many professionals as. She can make it more of a tool for her than the different leaders in the House to kind of charge off in different directions.


I thought it was important to note that Gregory Meeks doubles as the chairman of the Queens County organization, a section of New York City. It's one of the biggest county organizations in the country. He also doubles as the chair for the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee.

These are people that have a lot of clout and a lot of weight in the Democratic Party. And to see him, and to see some of the suburban Democrats from flipped seats in swing districts to have them all sort of come out today, Antonio Delgado and these other ones, it tells you the ground is shifting on this.

KEILAR: That was one of the things Gregory Meeks said. He said, in talking to his colleagues, who really helped deliver the majority for Democrats, who are in more purple districts that they are now moving and that they are on board.

Our Manu Raju and Dana Bash have some interesting reporting about the speaker, which is she's telling members she thinks this issue is understandable for the American public. They get it. She has long worried about all of this backfiring.



KEILAR: Is that going away?

LOUIS: It certainly is understandable. I think, frankly, it's also more understandable to the members of Congress, right, the idea that foreign entities, foreign hackers could get involved in an election, one in which they're running, by the way.

Who is to say that digging up dirt on Biden stops with him? He may, in fact, be the Democratic nominee that could take down the whole ticket. It could disrupt the operations of the DNC the way it did four years ago.

This is something they understand. I think the American public will understand it as well.

KEILAR: Errol, Jennifer, thanks so much for your insight.

LOUIS: Thank you.

KEILAR: Both Speaker Pelosi and Joe Biden will be speaking moments from now. Stand by for that.

Also, President Trump publicly mocking a 16-year-old climate activist whose impassioned speech to the U.N. inspired millions around the world.



KEILAR: President Donald Trump wasting no time mocking 16-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, making fun of her passionate remarks during the speech she delivered at the U.N.


GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean.

Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.

And all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.




KEILAR: Now, after that speech, Thunberg spotted Trump in the hallway and glared at him as he walked past her.

Hours later, the president tweeted a sarcastic response. He said, "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see."

Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, is here.

Chris, the president of the U.S., this is a father of five and a grandfather of 10. So he's taking time out of this big summit to be mean to a kid.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, I actually saw this tweet this morning, Brianna. You look at it you just think, OK, societally, we should be able to say an adult picking on a kid who, yes, was passionate, yes, was emotional, but is a 16- year-old, picking on a kid is wrong. And yet, while we shouldn't be surprised that Donald Trump did this,

because honestly the truth of Donald Trump's presidency is there's no bottom to it. There's no place where you say, oh, he wouldn't go to that place, because he will always go to that place and blow it.

What really stuns me and depresses me, candidly, is the response from people who support Trump. Basically, who say, she deserved it. The media is just freaking out. You're nothing but a bunch of snowflakes.

Again, let's return to what we're talking about. An adult male, who is the president of the United States, broadcast a mocking tweet to 60-plus million followers mocking a 16-year-old. OK?

Let's see if we can put it in human terms rather than political terms and maybe that will help us a little bit. I'll actually give Greta a ton of credit because she did something which I would never do.

She had a sense of humor about this. I think we have what she changed her Twitter bio to. We're showing that tweet -- here it is. She changed her Twitter bio to a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future, which is honestly an A-plus troll of the president if you don't understand what the president mockingly about her.

Kidding aside, I think, Brianna, we have to be able to draw a line. This isn't about politics. This is about common decency. This is about what we want to be as a society and a civil nation.

An adult mocking a kid is not the kind of thing that should be cheered, it is the kind of thing that should be condemned, the Republican, Democrat, Green, Independent, whatever, take it out of politics, it's not the type of thing we should have.


KEILAR: No. I think a Gold Star, a POW, now you have --


CILLIZZA: White Nationalists. We've been all over this ground.

That's the thing. It's not that he did it, unfortunately. What's really depressing is people rise to defend it solely because they support him. And that supporting someone should not be enough to defend conduct like this.

KEILAR: Chris Cillizza, thank you so much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

KEILAR: The publisher of "The New York Times" says the Trump administration was ready to let Egyptian authorities arrest one of its reporters. We have details on that ahead.

Plus the Dow dropping after the president singles out China during his U.N. speech. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KEILAR: When Egypt was planning to arrest a "New York Times" journalist in 2017, the paper says it was tipped off by a U.S. government official. The paper wanted to warn its reporters that the arrest was coming.

But "The Times" says today it almost didn't get the information. Because as the paper's publisher wrote in an op-ed today, quote, "We learned the official is passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egypt government or assist the reporter, the official believed the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out."

Chief Media Correspondent and Anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter, here with us. He was also a media reporter at "The Times." And David Rohde is the executive editor of the "New Yorker" Web site.

This is a stunning reversal for the way the U.S. normally conducts itself, Brian.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I'm glad that Sulzberger is speaking out about this, sharing the information so people know how it works.

Yes, of course, relations between newsrooms and governments are contentious, supposed to be rough and tumble. When it comes to the safety and security of journalists in harm's way, the American government worked hard behind the scenes to help in these situations.

If, the Trump administration, as Sulzberger suggests, he was not trying to help, perhaps sitting on the information and going to let Walsh get arrested, that is deeply disturbing.

KEILAR: David, you come at this from a deeply personal and professional space. You were held captive by the Taliban several months in Afghanistan. You escaped with some help?



KEILAR: That's right.

But you were aware what the government was doing for you. Tell me about that.

ROHDE: Yes. So it fits with this story. I was working for the "New York Times," I was kidnapped at the very end of the George W. Bush administration. He had a lot of frustration with "The Times" coverage.

The George W. Bush administration did everything they could to bring me home. Worked closely with "The New York Times" and with my family. And I was still in captivity when Barack Obama took office in January of 2009, the baton handed over, Republican president to Democratic president, no questions asked. Help an American citizen, help a journalist kidnapped.

KEILAR: What is your worry when you see this story?

ROHDE: It's retaliation for reporting. If you don't write favorable stories about this administration, they're not going to help your journalists when they are kidnapped by terrorists.

The big dynamic, governments are arrested journalists around the world. Egyptian government, Turkish government, Chinese government. Not a threat from terrorist groups. And we need the American government to defend press freedom at home and abroad.

KEILAR: This happened two years ago. We are just learning about it. It is making, I think, all of us wonder if this is an isolated incident or the offshoot of a philosophy?

STELTER: The tip of the iceberg and need to see what's under the water. There are, unfortunately, a number of cases, not just with the "New York Times" but other news organizations where journalists are in harm's way and need the help of the American government and other governments to get out of those situations.

This should not be partisan or Democratic or Republican. Every administration should be counted on to protect American journalists and journalists working for American newsrooms.

Big picture, when the president talks about "fake news," there are real-world consequences. As Sulzberger said in his speech. There are real consequences to this hateful rhetoric he's spreading.

And when he attacks news outlets, he's doing it for days like today? Right? Days where there are reports of important information coming out. Possibly illegal conduct involving Ukraine. He's trying to tear down the press to protect himself. But we see real-world consequences because of that.

KEILAR: Do you feel that rhetoric not only reflecting a philosophy of how the U.S. government could deal with a situation like this, and also whether it would hold other countries to task?

ROHDE: It doesn't. It emboldens authoritarian rulers around the world to mock the press. The term "fake news" has spread to regimes all over the world and it's bad news for citizens.

We're not perfect. Journalists make mistakes. We all should do our jobs and go straight down the middle. Some lean left, some right, but we're trying. We're part of democracy. And it scares me that the U.S. government is encouraging other governments to see us as enemies.


KEILAR: David Rohde, Brian Stelter, thank you so much, both of you. STELTER: Thanks.

KEILAR: Moments from now, Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be speaking, live, as both make some big announcements on the growing calls for an impeachment inquiry into the president. Stand by for that.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me today.