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Trump Singled Out Ukraine During Foreign Aid Program Review; U.K. Supreme Court Rules Prime Minister Suspended Parliament Illegally; Tropical Storm Takes Aim at Puerto Rico; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed about Possibility of Trump Impeachment. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump directed his chief of staff to freeze millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine just days before a call with the Ukrainian president in which he raised unfounded corruption allegations against Joe Biden.


The president was in the middle of a broad review of foreign aid programs earlier this summer when he specifically targeted Ukraine upon the urging of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and to the surprise of staffers.

The big question this morning, was there a quid pro quo? And are the allegations enough to push House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to supporting impeachment? We are seeing big moves on the part of Democrats this morning. In just a couple of hours, the president will address the United Nations General Assembly.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the call with the Ukrainian president and the stonewalling over the whistleblower complaint seem to be a tipping point as House Democrats whether -- weigh whether to launch impeachment proceedings.

A hundred and 45 House Democrats now are supporting an impeachment inquiry. That's up since yesterday. That's including this group of potentially vulnerable first-term representatives. So this afternoon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with the entire Democratic caucus to discuss the next steps in this investigation.

BERMAN: All right. There's also breaking news in the United Kingdom, an historic court ruling. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, illegally suspended Parliament as the Brexit deadline approaches. His political future this morning very much up in the air. We're going to have a live report from London in a little bit.

First, though, the scandals here.

Joining us now, Jane Harman, a former member of Congress from California who served as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and Ian Bremmer, editor at large at "TIME." Ian, I want to start with you. Because you are normally the voice of

restraint. You normally stay out of the day in, day out, controversy in Washington. But this time, you think it's different. Why?

IAN BREMMER, EDITOR AT LARGE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think this is a tipping point on impeachment, which matters for an awful lot of people. I mean, we are talking about a president who is not in any way denying that he had a call with the Ukrainian president where Biden and corruption in Ukraine was discussed.

It is now clear from the record of facts that that actually was linked by a matter of a few days to a decision to pull back and suspend American military aid to the Ukrainian government.

In part, this happened because it was the day after, this call to Ukraine, the day after we had testimony from Robert Mueller. So I mean, clearly, Democrats are going to be feeling like, in part, the reaction or lack of reaction on impeachment from the Mueller investigation is part of what is emboldening and empowering Trump.

But a really important point here is that the actual action in Ukraine, which people are forgetting about, that Biden originally took at the order of the American president at the time, Barack Obama, was to remove a special prosecutor who was not investigating Biden's son. And whether or not there was corruption going on, this was a guy that was taken out precisely because he refused to investigate anyone. He was very corrupt.

So if Biden had been concerned about corruption and about his son being investigated, you wouldn't want to remove this guy with someone who potentially would uphold rule of law. It is a canard. It is being very intelligently promoted by Trump and his supporters, because they want something else to focus on. But this for the Democrats, I do think, is going to force them to move towards opening impeachment proceedings.

CAMEROTA: There you go again using logic. Thank you for explaining the origin of all of this and how upside-down the logic has been about whatever the motivation was.

So that is the tipping point that he's talking about is what got these seven Democrats to write this op-ed. It just came out overnight. I'll read a portion of it. "The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to leverage -- as leverage to do it. He allegedly sought to use the very security assistance dollars appropriated by Congress to create stability in the world to help root out corruption and to protect our national security interests for his own personal gain."

That is what has gotten these seven, who all have had public -- lives of public service, sometimes in the military. They're not career politicians, and that's what is their tipping point.

JANE HARMAN, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN (D-CA): Got it, but a little history. I was a young aide in the Senate during the Nixon impeachment. I was a member of Congress during the Clinton impeachment. There was a big difference. The Nixon impeachment was bipartisan.

Bill Cohen, a freshman House member at the time, a future senator, was a vote on the Rodino committee, which was managed in a very different way, less partisan, no CNN -- sorry -- at the time. But at any rate, that impeachment, the indictment of Nixon, led to a visit by senior senators, telling him he would be convicted in the Senate. That's when he resigned. We don't have any facts like that.

The Clinton impeachment was totally partisan. I was there. It was a miserable experience. What happened? Clinton was not convicted by the Senate. He became stronger. The party that was responsible for it, the Republicans, were punished.


So this is the third movie. Nancy Pelosi is shrewd. She knows how to count. If a majority of her caucus, including moderates, wants this, she'll probably have to go there.

However, it will be partisan, at least at the moment. Harry -- Harry Reid, good grief. Mitch McConnell shows no signs of doing anything in the Senate, and there are no Republicans who are staying in Congress who are siding with the Democrats. Only those leaving and three that are running against Trump, three Republicans, are talking about this.

So one suggestion: let's get the whistleblower complaint. Let's see it. You do make a great point, Alisyn, that these were duly-appointed -- duly-appropriated funds by Congress to help fight corruption in Ukraine. There was no national security reason why President Trump should have withheld the funds. So let's start there, but let's get all the facts, and I think maybe then this will become less partisan.

BERMAN: But right now, they're not getting those facts, which is part of the problem here. The administration is stonewalling, more than stonewalling, stiffing Congress, who's been looking to get that inspector general report.

And remember, there's the whistleblower, and then there's the Trump- appointed inspector general, Ian, who says this is a matter of urgent concern.

And it appears to be of concern of more than just this phone call, more than just the communication between the president and the president of Ukraine. There appears to be other underlying information there, which could be the withholding of funding that was going on at the time. It could be the instruction to tell Congress as part of an intra-agency review, which appears to be bogus.

BREMMER: We don't have those facts yet. Jane's right. We should not be talking about pushing for a transcript of the call, which is what Joe Biden said he wanted yesterday. That would be a mistake.

First of all, it's a bad precedent to set. You want presidents to be able to conduct diplomacy without the necessity of that concern. CAMEROTA: Yes, but when there's a question of corruption, why not see

the transcript?

BREMMER: Because they'll redact it, and because they'll only put it out if it's useful to tell their story. What you need, as Jane just said, is the whistleblower complaint. You have that. That's actually the legal process.


BREMMER: That's what we should see.

Biden does have a problem here, by the way. I mean, I have to say, $50,000 a month for Hunter Biden clearly to be selling influence, because otherwise, no one would ever pay him that kind of money for a company that, frankly, was pretty corrupt and has been before and has been since, under investigations.

CAMEROTA: And is that Joe Biden's fault or problem?

BREMMER: No, but it's hard to imagine Joe Biden wasn't aware of it. And I think that -- I expect that President Obama, if he had known about the reality of this situation, would have probably told Biden, get rid of this. Like, we shouldn't have your son working in this situation. That would have cost him something.

And I -- I fear like even if maybe Biden wasn't aware, but Biden should have been aware that that would cause a -- cause an issue for him. So I mean, if this ends up being an Al Franken moment, where he gets thrown under the bus so the Democrats can be seen as, actually, the party that cares about values and rule of law, then maybe that's what they need to do.

HARMAN: Yes, maybe.

CAMEROTA: But Jane, back to your point, I mean, you say you've seen this movie before, but haven't times changed? I mean, in other words, do you think it would play out just like the Bill Clinton impeachment, where you think that the party bringing this, in this case the Democrats, would be punished? Or have times changed?

HARMAN: I'm just warning that that was the last movie. This movie needs bipartisan buy-in. I think that is possible once we see all the facts.

Just to comment on Ukraine, I was there during the -- as an observer on Madeleine Albright's delegation when Poroshenko came to power in 2016. We interviewed other candidates. He seemed to be the guy who could fight corruption. And he started that way. And removing this prosecutor was the right thing to do, trying to get the Rada, the legislature, trying to change that -- they were all pay-to-play electeds -- was another right thing.

So I think the Obama policy was right. Hunter Biden and his father's relationship I don't quite know, but let's imagine all the tragedy the Bidens have suffered and this kid just -- he lost his brother. He lost his sister. His lost his mother. And so I -- you know, I'm a little sympathetic to his situation, not necessarily why he signed up with the Ukrainians.

But at any rate, my point is that I think the Obama administration was doing the right thing for the right reasons, and there is not a tie-in to what's happening now. And I just hope we see the facts and understand whether or not the aid was withheld in exchange for pressuring the Ukrainians -- That's the allegation -- to do something inappropriate.

BREMMER: There is no precedent. It is unacceptable for a president to use the power of the United States, the power of its purse, with a country that we are supporting, that Congress mandates that we are supporting, to support his own election, and that is precisely what happened here. We've never seen it before. And that is the point --


HARMAN: Well, precisely what is alleged here and may have happened, but let's see the complaint so that everyone can be on the same page and then if the country's outraged on a bipartisan basis, that will make an impeachment complaint so that everyone can be on the same page, and then if the country's outraged on a bipartisan basis, that will make an impeachment proceeding, it seems to me, be more credible.

BERMAN: There are some agreed-upon facts here provided by none other than Donald J. Trump and Rudy Giuliani. Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, told us that he did in fact talk to the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden, right? He said that. He said that.

Rudy Giuliani told Chris Cuomo that he told the Ukrainians to go investigate Joe Biden. Those are agreed-upon facts here.

HARMAN: For today. Tomorrow it might be a different story.

BERMAN: Well, they may change their story.

HARMAN: That's why let's see the complaint.

BERMAN: But was there a quid pro quo? Was there money? That we don't know. And how explicit was the order to go investigate Joe Biden? But there may be enough already, you know, for there to be serious issues with what you're alluding to.

BREMMER: I think it's pretty clear that there is. I think Jane's right that you want to go through the process. But she seems to be implying that we need to have bipartisan support to make Pelosi want to go through with it. That may be true.

HARMAN: No, I didn't say that. I think Pelosi will probably go if a majority of her caucus, including moderates, want to go, but what I'm saying is for the process to resonate as a -- as a real step forward for the country --

CAMEROTA: Yes. HARMAN: -- it needs bipartisan support.

BREMMER: But the likelihood that you're going to get Republican support on this as the process goes through seems to me to be virtually zero.

HARMAN: Maybe not. Let's see what the facts are.

BERMAN: You want to weigh in on Boris Johnson? How much longer is he going to be prime minister after the Supreme Court ruling?

BREMMER: You know, at least for another month or two until there are actually managed elections. But the problem for Boris Johnson, you know, there -- so it turns out in the U.K. if you're a leader, you can't actually break the law, unlike in the United States.

CAMEROTA: Well, we'll see.

BREMMER: No, no, no. The Supreme Court just said, actually, Parliament is back in session.

HARMAN: He's right.

BREMMER: Parliament's back in session, and that really matters because it means that Johnson is under much more pressure now. The reason that he wanted them out was to give him more of an opportunity to both negotiate with the Europeans in an unfettered way, and push ahead with his outcome before elections happen so he could get rid of Nigel Farage, defend his right flank. He now can't do that.

It's more likely that he ends up having to go with an extension beyond October 31 and having an election without having a solution on Brexit, which means that Farage and everyone on his right, on Johnson's right leaves him. And if that happens, the likelihood that Boris Johnson is still prime minister, which is all he cares about here, has just gone down a lot. So bad for the country.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you both very much for the perspective. Great to talk to you, Ian and Jane.

OK. We will speak with two of those freshmen Democrats who are now supporting an impeachment process. Representatives Jason Crow and Mikie Sherrill will join us in our next hour about what changed for them yesterday.

BERMAN: All right. We do have breaking news. We just alluded to it. This historic ruling in the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court there has just ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament unlawfully in the run-up to Brexit.

CNN's Melissa Bell live outside the Supreme Court with the breaking details. The future of Boris Johnson and that government uncertain this morning, Melissa.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, I think that is one of the effects of this ruling, so far did it go against the government's decision just a few weeks ago, John, to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court here really couldn't have gone any further.

As you can hear, a lot of demonstrators have been out here over the course of the morning, both in favor of the government's position and its pro-Brexit strategy, and against.

And what we've heard over the course of the morning, especially after that verdict came out, was look, Boris Johnson needs to go. Johnson out, Johnson out, that's what they were shouting.

Now of course, Boris Johnson is in New York, as you know. But all eyes very much on how he's going to react. Is he going to feel the pressure to resign on what is certainly a very difficult day for him to react to?

The other question is how quickly MPs, the Parliamentarians here in the U.K., can get back to business just across the street there at Westminster, since essentially, what's been decided by the Supreme Court is that prorogation did not happen. That means that they can reconvene and continue their business as usual and, most significantly, John, keep pressure on Boris Johnson to strike some kind of deal with the European Union and avoid the U.K. crashing out with that one.

That's what they did very successfully before suspension. That you can be sure is what they're going to do afterwards.

Just one more point on that question of the pressure on Boris Johnson. What the verdict essentially ruled today is that when he went to the queen to ask for prorogation, he misled her. That's been one of the questions here over the course of the last week. Has the prime minister misled the queen? And as one British friend said to me just a couple of weeks ago, who lies to the queen? I mean, who does that?

That is one of the things that brings pressure on the prime minister today and one of the reasons we're going to be looking very closely to what it is he has to say, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Melissa, thank you for that report from a very raucous Supreme Court there.

BELL: Raucous.


CAMEROTA: We'll check back with you.

All right. Meanwhile, schools and government buildings are closed today across Puerto Rico as Tropical Storm Karen moves closer to the island. Karen has already drenched parts of the Caribbean. Puerto Rico also rattled by a powerful earthquake overnight.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in San Juan with more.

They can't get a break, Dianne. DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, and I'm going to tell you,

Alisyn, we felt that earthquake last night. The lights in our hotel started swaying. We could feel the lobby really shaking at that point, and a couple aftershocks throughout the night here in Puerto Rico.

Again, this precursor, we came for a tropical storm, weren't expecting an earthquake, and that's kind of what we were hearing, especially from the tourists here in San Juan at this point.

Now, look, the government has said that they are going to close schools today, close those government buildings as a precautionary method as Tropical Storm Karen comes onto the island.

They are concerned mostly about the rain at this point. Mudslides, flash flooding, and some of those islands, we could be looking at up to six inches of rain later at Vieques.

But for here, because of what happened in Hurricane Maria, and there is still so much damage that remains. There is concern about this vulnerable power structure. Their grid is not necessarily prepared for these type of winds.

So even those hurricane -- excuse me, those non-hurricane force, those tropical storm, tropical-force-winds may cause some issues here. There are still houses that have blue tarps over them at this point. So any kind of weather affects them.

I was talking to a friend here in San Juan who said, look, we had a power outage yesterday. This has just become the way of life now. So any additional weather just makes things more difficult as they still work to get back from those two -- from that hurricane two years ago.

BERMAN: All right, Dianne. Not what they need. Thank you for being there on the ground for us. Have to believe that earthquake's incredibly unsettling overnight.

This morning, there are signs that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is backing off her resistance to impeachment proceedings. A key meeting just hours from now. We'll have new details for you, next.



BERMAN: All right. A major development this morning. We learned overnight that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled key meetings this afternoon.

First, she'll meet with key committee chairs to discuss the path forward on possible impeachment, and then she will meet with the full Democratic caucus. There are signs that Nancy Pelosi's resistance to impeachment proceedings may be ebbing.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. She is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and, I might add, someone who has been in favor of impeachment for some time.

So Senator, let me ask you. What do you think is different this time?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): What's different is Nancy Pelosi sending the letter that she did to her caucus, saying that they're at the point where, when the White House withholds information from the whistleblower that should come to our committees; when we hear about what the president supposedly said to the leader of the Ukraine, him holding back almost 300 million or $400 million in aid to Ukraine, these all add up; and so she's having a meeting. I think it's going to be very critical.

And then you have a very close ally to the speaker, Rosa DeLauro, who is echoing the kind of concerns that the speaker is raising.

So John, you know, first there needs to be an inquiry. That's why I've called for an impeachment inquiry or impeachment process. That's different from impeachment, in my view. And so first you have to get the evidence, and then you decide whether or not you're going to go ahead with an impeachment -- proceedings after that.

BERMAN: Why is the substance of this case -- the president allegedly pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, obviously the administration withholding funds to Ukraine at the same time -- why is the substance of that, do you think, a better case for an impeachment process than everything we went through before?

HIRONO: I think there is more concrete evidence, and even if the president didn't say, hey, by the way, leader of the Ukraine, you know, I'm holding back money so I'll release it if you investigate Biden, my opponent, possible opponent, you know, you don't have to have the president actually say that. The president knows that his conversations are monitored, but one should be able to connect the dots.

And I think there is evidence -- not to mention the whistleblower, who sent a complaint to his I.G., and what's supposed to happen after the I.G. determines that this is credible and important information, that that was supposed to then go to the director of national intelligence, who by law is supposed to release it.

But does the DNI do that? No, he goes to the Trump attorney general, and lo and behold, the attorney general's office, the Office of Legal Counsel, says you don't have to do that.

So this is an administration, it all adds up after a while. The cumulative impact of all the things that this president does to flaunt the law adds up, and you get to the point where he's actually having some kind of a quid pro quo kind of a deal that he's trying to make with the leader of the Ukraine. That's beyond -- that's beyond the pale, really.

BERMAN: Well, we have a quid and we have a quo. We may not have the pro. We have the president talking to the president of the Ukraine about investigating Joe Biden. We have President Trump withholding military funds. What we don't have is proof that he held that over the president of Ukraine's head. We don't have proof that he directly explicitly connected the funding to the investigation of Joe Biden.


HIRONO: And -- and --

BERMAN: Is that important? Is that important to have that explicit connection?

HIRONO: You know, in a situation like this, as they say, the president knows his calls are being monitored or listened to. He's not as insane as to come out and say what he's going to say, saying that, well, this is a quid pro quo so.

But, you know, let's connect the dots. It's -- it's just in line with the president's view that he is above the law and that the rule of law doesn't apply to him.

I think it's really important when we talk about democracy, you know, democracy is not something that, John, that we can take for granted, and democracy is chipped away with -- at when you have a president who attacks the press, attacks anybody who doesn't agree with him. Who does all the kind of things that he does and who now is engaging with foreign leaders in what looks like a quid pro quo kind of circumstance. That is why an impeachment inquiry is critical at this point.

BERMAN: There are those who say that releasing the transcript would compromise the ability of presidents to speak with world leaders in the future. If you're a foreign leader, why would you speak with the president of the United States if you fear that one day, the entire transcript of that conversation would go public. Is that a legitimate concern?

HIRONO: In my view, if you're talking about legitimate national security and other kinds of conversations that leaders should be having with each other, and you're not engaging in some sort of an illegal quid pro quo, then you should -- you have nothing to fear.

So it's when you go, you know what? I sometimes am at a loss for words with this president, because he truly does not believe that the rule of law applies to him.

BERMAN: Let me read you some of the response from some of your Republican Senate colleagues. Senator John Cornyn said, "Is it a whistleblower or is it a leaker? I don't know which."

Senator Kevin Cramer says, "I think, as is often the case, it's a lot of hysteria over a little."

And then Richard Burr said, "I don't even know if the complaint even deals with the intelligence community."

What signs have you seen that your Republican colleagues, in any way, might support an investigation?

HIRONO: I see very little signs of the Republicans having the guts to come forward and -- and doing the right thing and saying the right thing, so we should live so long.

In the meantime, an impeachment inquiry should proceed so that, at least the American people will know what the heck this president has been doing and what he's been saying, so that the American people can make a decision if nothing else.

I'm really saddened by the state of the Republican Party and the Republican members. And by the way, when the funds to Ukraine were held back, there was a bipartisan group of -- of senators who expressed grave concerns about that, including by the way, Lindsey Graham, who wanted to know why this money that Congress had appropriated was being held back.

BERMAN: Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii, thank you for being with us this morning.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. President Trump says there was nothing wrong with his call to Ukraine's president. So what does this mean for his 2020 campaign? David Axelrod joins us next.