Return to Transcripts main page


Pence Defends Trump's Ukraine Call; New Book on Mike Pence; Pelosi to Meet on Impeachment. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 08:30   ET



DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So tenuous and he's a couple of hours away from meeting with Donald Trump, who still has the support of his party, which is -- which is a very different situation politically.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of turmoil in a lot of important countries.

David Gregory, Dana Bash, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

Vice President Mike Pence is defending the president. Hear his new explanation of the president's call with Ukraine's leader, next.



MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president spoke to him about our concern, investing hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars in seeing him move a reform agenda.

He mentioned Vice President Biden and his son in the context of us wanting to see honest government.

The American people can be confident in this congratulatory call that the president spoke about issues that are of interest to American taxpayers, notably corruption, but there was no quid pro quo.


BERMAN: Vice President Mike Pence all of a sudden in the middle again of a scandal involving the president of the United States, defending the president.


We are learning that President Trump asked his acting chief of staff do freeze millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine roughly one week before that call in which he discussed with Ukraine's president investigating former Vice President Joe Biden's son. Joining me now is Tom LoBianco. He is the author of a new book, a terrific new book, "Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House," on bookshelves today.

And what's interesting is that the vice president met with Ukraine's president instead of the president. So he's in the middle of all of this now. And, again, he is watching as a scandal surrounds his boss.

TOM LOBIANCO, AUTHOR, "PIETY AND POWER": Absolutely. If you -- look, a couple of months ago they looked like they were in the clear, right? Nothing comes out. Nothing actionable seems to come out of the Mueller report. They punt to Congress. Congress -- Pelosi doesn't want to do anything. And Pence, in particular, looks like he survived it.

And now we see -- go back to that transcript for when he's in Poland, and the White House transcript, and he's answering the questions about Ukraine and his meetings with the prime minister. And what are the questions? Number one, did you bring up Joe Biden and his son? And he says no. Number two, did you talk about pressuring the president on aid? And he says, we're fighting on anti-corruption. We want them to handle anti-corruption. And he's right back in the middle of it. He's in the same place where he was right back in the beginning of 2017.

BERMAN: And you get to this in your book. What are his considerations? What are the vice president's considerations when dealing with these things? Is he concerned with defending the president or is he concerned with protecting Mike Pence?

LOBIANCO: Well, the funny thing about that is he has to do both in order to succeed. Number one is survival. That is the goal. And when you talk with Pence's advisors, when you talk with his aides, they see 2024 as an option as long as -- as long as you can get two terms of Trump, ride the coattails, do the H.W. Bush thing. That's how they win.

But, in order to do that, you have to support Trump. If you are caught flagging, you've run into this problem that we've seen recently, this talk about maybe he gets replaced by Nikki Haley. That's what happens.

BERMAN: I don't want to give away the game here, but one of the things that's crystal clear in this book is that he wants to be president.


BERMAN: You think Mike Pence wants to be president and is making plans to do so, correct?

LOBIANCO: Absolutely.

BERMAN: So let's just stipulate that before people even pick up the book.

I think there are other really interesting insights you give us into the vice president and his relationship with the president of the United States. And the title here is "Piety and Power."

President Trump has enormous support among evangelicals. Enormous.


BERMAN: What does he need Mike Pence for then at this point?

LOBIANCO: This is something I learned. And I couldn't see it in the day-to-day, but when I stepped back and really reported deeply with the book, I spent a lot of time with Pence's faith, with his religion and trying to see how his practice is. Outside the politics, you know, what is his type of evangelicalism? And what I see, by the end of it, and this is the answer, is that you don't need -- Trump has the televangelist. Pence brings a different group of evangelicals, conservative evangelists to be sure. But these were the folks who were on board with Cruz. And to understand this, you have to look at why Reince Priebus and Paul Manafort were pushing so hard for him to join the ticket in 2016. They knew that if you lost those evangelicals, they would stay home. They wouldn't vote for Clinton or Trump.

And according to -- when I -- when I talked with Pence's advisors, when I talk with Trump advisors, they tell me the same thing. They don't think that Trump has a lock on those evangelicals. So you -- if you dump Pence, you lose that -- you lose the quiet Midwestern evangelicals. And then you start to worry about places like the rust belt, places like Michigan, western Michigan, Wisconsin, places that you need for the re-elect.

BERMAN: Another thing I learned in here, which I didn't know, frankly, was you write about the vice president and his wife's need of and awe of money.

LOBIANCO: Yes. Yes. That kind of surprised me initially, although it makes sense within the context. Remember, they lose it's about a million dollars in 1986. They lose stock options from when the family, the Pence family oil company goes under, Kiel Brothers, $700,000. They've never been rich. They've never been poor. But modest, so to say.

So what happens is, after the -- after the election, there's an outburst and Karen Pence says -- you know, right, immediately after the election tells Mike, she says, what are we going to do? We're out of money. We need money. And he kind of pulls her, grabs her, walks her out of the room, and a few weeks later their chief political aide goes to the inaugural committee and says, hey, we need some money for the Pences. And they -- they're not entirely sure how to take it. The folks I spoke with from the inaugural committee told me that this was money for living expenses.


When I spoke with Pence's people, they told me that this was just for furniture for the VP's residence. It's possible it's both.

What I do know is that when you check the tax forms, the 990s for the inaugural committee, and the VP's residence fund, you see a charitable donation from the inaugural committee to the VP's residence fund for $750,000. BERMAN: Tom LoBianco, thanks so much for having you back again, an old

friend. The book is "Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House." Congratulations on the book.

LOBIANCO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That was really fascinating. Thank you for that.

Here's what else to watch today.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 10:15 a.m. ET, President Trump address U.N.

11:15 a.m. ET, Trump meets U.K.'s Boris Johnson.

4:00 p.m. ET, House Democratic caucus meets.


CAMEROTA: Now to this story.

An active duty soldier is under arrest, accused of discussing plans to bomb CNN and target a presidential candidate. The details, next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right, the breaking news, just moments ago, we heard from the British prime minister, Boris Johnson. He was speaking about the huge ruling by the supreme court in the United Kingdom, that his five- week suspension of parliament was unlawful. This is what he just said about the ruling.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I have the highest respect, of course, for judiciary and for the independence of our courts, but I must say I strongly disagree with this judgment. And we in the U.K. will not be deterred from getting on and delivering on the will of the people to come out of the EU on October the 31st, because that is what we were mandated to do.


CAMEROTA: It's interesting, I'm not sure he gets an appeals process.


CAMEROTA: The fact that he disagrees with the supreme court, that's -- that's it. It's done.

BERMAN: It's done.

CAMEROTA: It's done. And so now, I guess, the --

BERMAN: Parliament's in session tomorrow.

CAMEROTA: Parliament's in session. That's right. It's gone back. And so I guess the next thing that we wait for in terms of something cataclysmic is October 31st.

BERMAN: Is Brexit.

CAMEROTA: OK. We'll bring you all of the updates as we get them.

Meanwhile, impeachment could take a huge step forward. In the coming hours we will get "The Bottom Line" from everything we've heard today for you, next.



CAMEROTA: Will this day be different than other days? Will this day, as Dana Bash just predicted, be the day that the history books look on and say something shifted today in the impeachment inquiry process?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with key committee chairs and the entire Democratic caucus this afternoon amid reports that her resistance to impeachment is softening.

Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN political director David Chalian.

David Chalian, what is the answer? Is today the day for the history books?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, today we are in a new place. There's no doubt about that. And there is also no doubt that the House Democrats are closer to impeaching the president today than at any point they've been during the Trump presidency. Those things are the reality in which we find ourselves.

What is not clear is if Nancy Pelosi is going to call for a -- you know, just a full bore impeachment process as soon as she leaves that caucus meeting today, or if this is part of continuing to lay some groundwork that she's paving a path to ultimately get there. We'll see when she comes out of that caucus.

But, remember, there are two things that she has always pointed to that we still don't know have changed. One -- well, one, I think we do know, the Republicans, it doesn't seem there are any Republicans on board with this yet. And, two, the American people. And it's not clear yet if the American people have moved on impeachment. We'll see as future polls come out after this story seeps into the public consciousness. But those two things are things Nancy Pelosi is watching. The thing that puts us in a different place, Alisyn, and I've said

this to you guys on this show for many months, it was never about the quantity of Democrats in her caucus calling for impeachment. It was about the quality. Were they the Democrats from those districts that delivered her the majority? That flipped from Republican to Democrat. Those people that wrote that op-ed in "The Washington Post," people very close to Pelosi's thinking, we're hearing new language open to impeachment from them, and that is what makes today so significant and different.

BERMAN: That's exactly right. That has changed. Fundamentally changed. And it changes by the hour. I mean we get more and more members coming out each hour, David, saying they want to support the process. And we know from our reporting that Nancy Pelosi was on the phone last night using language she hasn't used before, these seven freshman members, they spoke to her before they released I think (ph). It's out there. So something now is fundamentally different.

Plus, there are these open questions that people are being asked about whether or not the Democrats look weak by the inaction, by being pushed around by Corey Lewandowski last week. They're in a different place tonight.

CHALIAN: They are. And this is why, when I was saying, you know, Nancy Pelosi's calculus has been sort of, where are the American people on this? Will this be a dead end because Republicans are not moving at all? Those are political calculations.

What I think has shifted is sort of the moral implications inside the Democratic caucus in the House, which is that I think you have more people on the side of saying politics be damned here for a moment. There may be a real moral call that there's a constitutional responsibility here to hold the president accountable. And that, you know, the political argument can begin to sort of pale in comparison if that really swells with those critical members that define the very reason why Nancy Pelosi holds the speaker's gavel.

CAMEROTA: So, tactically speaking, this meeting this afternoon with the Democratic caucus that she's having, is this about whether to begin impeachment or how to begin impeachment?

CHALIAN: I think it may be the latter.


CHALIAN: I mean I think it may be that we are more in a world of when and how and the path from here to there than whether this is happening or not. I mean this seems to be a moment in time where the idea that impeachment is somehow off the table and just a side conversation, I think those days are behind us.

BERMAN: I think that's the question of the day that you just asked there, Alisyn Camerota.


It's not if, it's how. How they do it.

Any signs, David? I know the committee chair is meeting. We've got 30 seconds left. Is this going to be a Jerry Nadler operation in Judiciary or might there be something bigger, like a select committee?

CHALIAN: Yes, I don't -- there have been some reporting out there, John, that a select committee may overtake all of this. That's not entirely clear yet. I think that's part of some -- the how that will emerge from this meeting. And I don't think we know that yet.

You know committee chairman are not all that eager to give up their ability to run the show.

BERMAN: Never.


BERMAN: David Chalian, thank you for being with us today.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

So, we have these major developments on impeachment. Maybe there will be move tonight and this afternoon in these meetings.

Also, the president is speak -- set to speak at the United Nations in just a couple hours.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, he's making moves as well. All of our breaking news coverage continues in just a moment, if I can breathe.