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Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Pelosi Announces Formal Impeachment Inquiry; Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is Interviewed About the Formal Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 24, 2019 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following major breaking news.

House Democrats drop the hammer, launching a formal impeachment inquiry, as the outrage over the president's Ukraine phone call reaches critical mass. The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, making the announcement just a little while ago, accusing President Trump of betraying the nation by asking Ukraine to help him hurt his potential 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.

Tonight, the president is firing back in familiar fashion, calling the impeachment probe a witch-hunt. Mr. Trump failing to calm the controversy by promising to release the transcript of his phone call with Ukraine's president tomorrow.

All this as the person behind the whistle-blower complaint that set this scandal in motion now wants to speak directly with Congress. The House Intelligence Committee chairman says that could happen as soon as this week.

Our correspondents, analysts, and guests, they are all now standing by as we cover this breaking story.

First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, after months and months of impeachment pressure, the Democrats just reached their tipping point.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls for months to move forward on impeachment proceedings, saying that the public is just not there, it is a divisive tactic that shouldn't be replicated, only in the gravest circumstances. But in the aftermath of the president's handling of the whistle-blower

complaint, as well as the president's admission of talking to the Ukrainian president about investigating Joe Biden and Joe Biden's son, that was a bridge too far for the speaker and a number of Democrats, particularly moderate Democrats from districts that President Trump carried in 2016, who have called for an impeachment inquiry.

Speaker Pelosi, behind closed doors, told her colleagues now they are in an official impeachment inquiry. And she made it very clear publicly that that's how the House plans to proceed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically.

The action of the Trump -- the actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.

Therefore, today, I'm announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

I'm directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry. The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Wolf, I'm told, behind closed doors, she told her colleagues that they want to move forward -- quote -- "expeditiously" on this.

She did not lay out a specific time frame, but some Democrats want this wrapped up by the end of the year. And, Wolf, how this plans to move forward is this. She will allow these six committees to investigate and continue their investigations.

That includes the House Judiciary Committee, House Intelligence Committee, and then ultimately they may recommend articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee would ultimately vote on before the full House would consider articles of impeachment.

We will see if they take that step. But most Democrats believe that now that she has blessed an impeachment inquiry, now the House will almost certainly move forward and make President Trump the third president in history to get impeached by the House.

BLITZER: I understand, Manu, we're about to hear from the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and the minority whip, Steve Scalise.

And we're showing our viewers the microphone there. I assume they're going to come out and give their reaction to what the speaker just said.

RAJU: Yes.

And they're going to push back rather aggressively, calling this a partisan effort, criticizing Democrats, calling it a witch-hunt, all of the same lines you're hearing from the president.

These are some of the president's closest defenders on Capitol Hill. They're going to make the case very clearly that they believe the president -- that the Democrats are out of line, even in light of the concerns raised by the inspector general of the intelligence community that this whistle-blower complaint was urgent and credible.

Most Republicans, including in the Republican leadership, have downplayed the concerns from that whistle-blower complaint, have said that the president was right to raise concerns about the Bidens in his conversations with the Ukrainian president, even amid reports that he was pressuring the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens.

They -- Republicans are not raising concerns about that. Instead, they're going to call this Democratic overreach and warn that Democrats will face backlash from voters at the polls, particularly moderates in those key swing districts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We will stand by. We will wait to hear from the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. And we will get their reaction.

But, right now, I want to go -- actually, I see them walking out right now. There they come, Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, Steve Scalise, the minority whip. Let's listen in.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Thank you all.

I just listened to the speaker of the House. Speaker Pelosi happens to be the speaker of this House, but she does not speak for America when it comes to this issue.

[18:05:08]

She cannot decide unilaterally what happens here. They have been investigating this president before he even got elected. They have voted three times on impeachment on this floor. Twice, they voted before one word of the Mueller report came back.

Our job here is a serious job. Our job is to focus on the American public. Our job is to make tomorrow better than today. Our job is to legislate, not to continue to investigate something in the back when you cannot find any reason to impeach this president.

This election is over. I realize 2016 did not turn out the way Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen, but she cannot change the laws of this Congress. She cannot unilaterally decide for an impeachment inquiry.

What she said today made no difference of what's been going on. It is no different than what Nadler has been trying to do. It's time to put the public before politics. Thank you.

BLITZER: Short statement from Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, blasting the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for formally announcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States.

I want to go to the president's reaction now. He is right now on the attack as the threat of impeachment becomes more real.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is covering the president for us. He's up at the United Nations, where the president has been meeting with world leaders.

The speech was vastly overshadowed, his speech at the U.N. today, Jim, by what's going on in here in Washington.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And the president lashed out at the House speaker just a short while ago and her announcement of an impeachment inquiry, saying that this call for an impeachment inquiry is what he described as, breaking news, total witch-hunt garbage.

Now, earlier in the afternoon, the president did say he is going to release the transcript of the phone call that he had with the Ukrainian president to try to put all of this to rest. Mr. Trump has been trying to argue throughout the day that he has done nothing wrong, because he says there was no quid pro quo in that conversation with the Ukrainian president.

But that's enough -- not enough for former Vice President Joe Biden, who accused Mr. Trump earlier today of shredding the Constitution.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Admitting he held up military aid for Ukraine just before he pressed that country's leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, President Trump offered up a new excuse for his actions.

He sat on the money, the president said, to force Europe to pay their fair share.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as withholding funds, those funds were paid. They were fully paid. But my complaint has always been -- and I would 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.

ACOSTA: But the president sounded at times like he's still trying to get his story straight, insisting he didn't pressure the Ukrainians, before telling reporters he did.

TRUMP: 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. They have no idea how they stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump has been shifting his rationale for holding up the Ukraine money, at first claiming he didn't want the funds to fuel corruption.

TRUMP: We're giving a lot of money away to Ukraine and other places. You want to see a country that's going to be not corrupt.

ACOSTA: Hoping to tamp down on the controversy, the president tweeted he is authorizing release of "the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with Presidents Zelensky of Ukraine."

The president ordered administration officials to hold up hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine back in July, just one week before he asked Ukraine's president to investigate Biden's son Hunter's business dealings, despite zero evidence of wrongdoing.

Little more than a month later, an administration official blew the whistle on Mr. Trump's conversation. Two days after that, the Ukraine money was released.

Sitting with the British prime minister, the president claimed he wasn't using those military funds as leverage to get what he wanted.

TRUMP: There was never any quid pro quo. The letter was beautiful. It was a perfect letter. It was unlike Biden, who, by the way, what he said was a horror. And ask how his son made millions of dollars from Ukraine.

ACOSTA: The new looming Ukraine investigation hung over the president, who sounded downright low-energy in a speech to the United Nations.

TRUMP: Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their own country first. The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.

[18:10:01]

ACOSTA: In response to the uproar, Biden fired back.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can take the political attacks. They will come and they will go, and, in time, they will soon be forgotten.

But if we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever.

ACOSTA: The president had one other distraction at the U.N. in the form of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmentalist pleading with world leaders to confront climate change.

Her emotional pleas for action prompted this tweet from Mr. Trump, who appeared to mock the activist: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see." Thunberg trolled right back, adding that to her Twitter bio, a restrained response that might be described as being best.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the president's response by saying he is going to release the transcript of his call with President Zelensky of Ukraine is not good enough for Democrats, who want to see that whistle-blower complaint at the center of this investigation.

And so far, the White House is not promising to provide that. As for the president, he is expected to sit down with the Ukrainian president tomorrow before holding a news conference. Mr. Trump appears to be all but daring the Democrats to impeach him.

His campaign has put out a statement saying that this has energized his base. And, Wolf, the campaign is fund-raising off of this impeachment inquiry tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much, Jim Acosta at the United Nations in New York. Thank you.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And we've got a lot to discuss here, Gloria.

And I want -- I don't want to lose sight of the fact this is history unfolding, a very historic moment in American history, when the speaker of the House announces the start of a formal impeachment procedure against a sitting president of the United States.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Those of us who have covered the Russian investigation, many of us sitting at this table, understand that for two years the president has been investigated for that.

And now, at Mach speed, I would have to say, after disclosure of this phone call, and notice of a whistle-blower complaint, the Democrats in Congress and Nancy Pelosi reluctantly, I would have to say, and in a very somber way, talked about the president's violation of law, said that he was using his power to interfere -- to speak with a foreign leader, to interfere in an American election, and that he seriously violated the Constitution.

And so it seemed to me that she was saying that only after deliberation did she come to this moment. And I would have to also add that, at the same time she was doing this, the Senate in a bipartisan vote called for the whistle-blower report to be released to their Intelligence Committees, so they can look at it, as is required by law.

BLITZER: What do you think, David Axelrod?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I was -- it curious to hear Kevin McCarthy's remarks. It was as if he had them in a case marked break glass in case of impeachment.

But it really needed updating, because it missed the last week. This has been an avalanche since the revelation of the whistle-blower and the president's own admissions about his conversations with the president of Ukraine and, of course, the withholding of money, which put a whole different coloration on this.

And I think it changed the entire dynamic. That piece in "The Washington Post" this morning by seven moderate members of Congress was a critical juncture, these first-year members, all of whom from the national security community, because they were the ones Nancy Pelosi was worried about.

It was in their districts that there was the greatest resistance to impeachment. But I think there was this sense that the cynical political thing at this juncture would be not to act.

That doesn't mean there aren't risks. I think there are great risks here, and no one knows really how this is going to play out. You could end up, in fact, invigorating the president's chances.

You could end up losing many Democrats in the House if people react poorly to this. And you could end up with a president reelected and unbridled in his power.

And that's, I'm sure, what Nancy Pelosi has been mulling over for months and months. But I think she was left with no choice today.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, for people out there who are used to hearing what many describe as noise coming from Washington, the churn and the chaos of Washington in the Trump era, it is understandable that people are still saying, I don't want to tune in.

Well, tune in, because this is not noise. This is something that doesn't happen very often. It has only happened three times in history, that the House of Representatives has launched a formal impeachment inquiry.

[18:15:08]

And even though there are very partisan times that we are living in, for the speaker of the House, who was reluctant to do this, and did make, given where we have been, a pretty fast change in her outcome and approach, to do this is incredibly big.

And the fact is, given where the House Democrats are, it is hard to see these six committees, particularly the House Judiciary Committee, not ending with articles of impeachment and a full House vote.

And that is just the reality that today has brought.

BLITZER: It's a very important point

Jeffrey, I want you to weigh in. But remember, her words are precise, Nancy Pelosi, in announcing the

opening -- in her words, the opening of an official impeachment inquiry, meaning an investigation. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're all in favor already of impeaching the president.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

And I would just like to put a word in for facts. We don't know a lot of facts about what actually went on here. And certainly it will be an important development tomorrow when there's a transcript released of this one phone call.

That's not the end of the investigation. That's going to be the beginning. Is the transcript accurate? Does it correctly characterize what went on in the phone call? What is the story with the money that was supposed to go to Ukraine?

Was it actually an extortion attempt to hold back the money pending the Ukrainians' agreement to investigate Joe Biden? That's very unclear at this point. What was the role of Rudolph Giuliani in all of this? Was he doing his own investigation? Was he doing it at the instigation of the president?

I mean, these stories tend to get more complicated, not less complicated, as you start looking at them. And I just think judgments about whether someone will be or should be impeached should maybe wait until we actually see what the heck happened here.

BLITZER: And tomorrow, Pamela, we're going to see -- unless the president changes his mind, we're going to see the official unredacted, complete transcript of that conversation the president had with the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky.

And I assume the president is not going to change his mind. But a lot of people will wonder, is that transcript precise, is it distorted? And they will say isn't there an audiotape of that conversation that we could back up the words with?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that would be up to the president.

I mean, he could release the audiotape. I am told by current and former officials that, when the president has a call with a foreign leader, like the Ukrainian president, it is recorded, and then someone in the NSC would then type up a transcript that's filed away.

And so that's the big question. What are we going to see tomorrow, in what form? There hasn't been clarity on that.

And we have to remember that the transcript, this call was Zelensky, is just one piece of the whistle-blower's complaint. The president is hoping this is going to de-escalate the pressure on him, that it's going to take some the heat off of him. But we can't forget there is more that we don't know about this story. There was a sequence of events, our reporting is. This is just one

part of that. But I can tell you in terms of what the thinking in the White House is on the development today, because, as Dana rightly points out, this is a new chapter. This is the time to tune in. This is -- the noise has sort of stopped in a sense. It's time to get serious.

There is a feeling in the White House that this is serious. The White House Counsel's Office is buckling down. This is something they knew was a possibility. What the president will do moving forward is likely continue to play the victim card, as he already is doing today.

And I don't think the witch-hunt phrase is going away anytime soon.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And you saw the president really try and play up that he is going to authorize or he has authorized the release of this transcript.

But, to Pam's point, this one transcript alone will not answer all of the questions that we have about the nature of the president's discussion with his Ukrainian counterpart and his real rationale for withholding that critical military aid.

And what that does is it in a way is an attempt by the White House to distract from the fact that the administration is blocking the release of this whistle-blower complaint to Congress, which went well beyond this one phone call, and which the inspector general deemed was of urgent concern.

And it's highly unusual for the DNI or acting DNI to overrule the inspector general in terms of providing this information to Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Also missing in all this, there was the July call was Zelensky, but let's not forget there was also an April call between the president and the Ukrainian president.

And then the readout said they spoke about corruption. We don't know what the contents of that call is.

BLITZER: That was the Ukrainian readout, said they spoke about -- the U.S. readout didn't mention...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Yes, I'm talking about the -- yes, the April call between the president and Zelensky.

We don't know. And that was around the time that I know -- and Rudy Giuliani was pushing out this messaging about Joe Biden.

[18:20:05]

BORGER: Exactly.

BROWN: And so there's a lot of unanswered questions.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, hold on.

I want to bring in Samantha Vinograd.

Sam, you used to work at the -- during the Obama administration, on the National Security Council. There were many phone calls that President Obama had with world leaders.

What was, at least then, the general procedure about getting a transcript or recording those conversations?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wolf, if it was a well-oiled machine.

And it started with the Situation Room connecting the call, and then putting staff on the call to perform the sole responsibility of taking accurate notes of what was said on that call.

Typically, there were at least two people transcribing the call, so that so that they could compare notes once it concluded. Once that draft transcript was put together, it was then shared with what we call the suite -- that's where I used to work, the national security adviser's office -- to go over the draft to see if there were any errors.

The national security adviser was often on the call, so he or she could whether there was anything that was inaccurate. And then whoever else was on the call, perhaps another NSC official, again would crosscheck accuracy.

The final transcript would be sent back to the Situation Room for distribution with a very specific list of whom was authorized to see it. Typically, that would be the secretary of state, the DNI, and the director of the CIA, as well as a small group at the National Security Council.

It was also sent, the final official copy, to the executive secretary to be filed in line with the Presidential Records Act.

So while we wait to see the transcript of this call tomorrow, there are people that were on the line with President Trump and with President Zelensky that can vouch for the accuracy of this call, if, for example, they're called before Congress, if they're subpoenaed, or if they go in willingly to describe its contents.

BLITZER: But, during the Obama administration, did you routinely record those phone conversations?

VINOGRAD: No, we did not record those conversations, Wolf, not to my knowledge. And I have consulted with former colleagues in the Obama administration as well who share my recollection that those calls were not recorded.

That said, there are human witnesses to that call, professionals that work in the Situation Room, as well as perhaps a senior director for Europe at the White House, the national security adviser, the secretary of state, who, again, are human witnesses to what was said at that call.

And I will flag, Wolf, President Trump is meeting with President Zelensky of Ukraine, I believe, tomorrow. We had better hope that there's a notetaker in that meeting, and that there is an accurate record of what happens in that meeting tomorrow that can be presented before Congress as they proceed with this impeachment inquiry, because he may go into that meeting tomorrow and try again to potentially misuse his position and to abuse his power.

BLITZER: Stand by.

I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, who serves on the House Oversight Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Lots of important, historic news unfolding today, but let me get your immediate reaction to this announcement from the House speaker today.

Why is now the time to launch an official impeachment inquiry?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, Wolf, the most dramatic moment in our caucus was when the freshman Democrats who have served this country in the military, in national intelligence spoke.

Many of them represent Trump districts. And they said, now you have a president who has admitted that he tried to get dirt on a political opponent. This compromises national security. Some of them said, this may cost them their seats in plus-six districts, but they no longer can stay quiet.

They're coming out. And I think that really set the mood for the caucus. This behavior is just a bridge way too far.

BLITZER: You spent two years following the Mueller investigation, the fallout from his report.

Why was this Ukraine phone call a tipping point for the speaker of the House and for your party?

KHANNA: For two reasons.

One, the freshman Democrats, the front-line Democrats are deeply offended by this, because of the compromise of national security.

And, second, this isn't relitigating the past. This isn't relitigating the election with Hillary Clinton. This is about the president abusing his office in seeking political dirt about an election that's upcoming.

And I think the national security concerns is really what weighed on these members. Many of them represent districts with large military family populations. And they felt that this is something that they could just not put up with. BLITZER: If the House of Representatives can confirm for itself that

President Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and used funding to Ukraine as leverage, will you, will you, Congressman, vote to impeach the president?

KHANNA: Yes, I will.

And the first part, the president has already admitted that. The president has said that he pressured the Ukrainian government to get dirt on his political opponent. That is bad enough.

I mean, the quid pro quo will make it even worse. But I don't understand when it's been acceptable for a president of the United States to ask a foreign leader to investigate political opponents.

[18:25:03]

I mean, this is -- our founders wrote against this in the Federalist Papers.

BLITZER: The president's argument is that he was trying to end corruption, widespread corruption in Ukraine. You don't buy that?

KHANNA: Well, why does he have to then mention Biden?

I mean, imagine the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, his accusation is that Biden's son Hunter Biden -- and there's been no evidence of to prove this, by any means -- was corrupt.

KHANNA: I'd say, give me a break.

Of all the corruption in Ukraine, you conveniently are singling out the case of your main political rival's son? I mean, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

It would be -- imagine if President Obama had asked a foreign leader to investigate Mitt Romney's family. So I think this is so easy for Americans to understand. They're offended by it.

And the president is out there admitting it. It's almost as if he is saying, I can violate the Constitution and the norms. Come get me. You can't -- he's almost daring Congress to act.

BLITZER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for joining us.

KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let me bring in David Chalian, our political director, to give us a quick thought on the political fallout, what is happening on this historic day today, that, all of a sudden, the speaker of the House changes her mind and says there, yes, must be a formal impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, it's a really sobering

day in American history. It is no small thing.

And what I think you're seeing now, Wolf, is, this is going to play out on a very elevated track and a very sort of mundane and tactical track.

You're seeing all the process stories will start. The facts will come out bit by bit. This document will be revealed. That document will be revealed.

But what Nancy Pelosi went before cameras to say to the American people today is, what the president has already said has now put the country into a constitutional crisis, where the very foundational principle of co-equal branches, checks and balances, is being tested, that there is no choice but to now hold the president accountable through the constitutional means of an impeachment inquiry going here.

That larger point is going to remain with us throughout all the micro- points. And you saw Kevin McCarthy and you see in Mitch McConnell's statement they're going to try to frame this as, Democrats just want to relitigate in the election they lost in 2016.

The Democrats are going to have the challenge to make sure to make the case to the American people and see if they can bring them along to this larger question about Donald Trump's behavior and the abuse of power.

BLITZER: Let me bring David Axelrod into this as well.

David, first of all, you agree with David Chalian's analysis?

AXELROD: Yes, I do.

I think, most likely, when Republicans say that Democrats just want to relitigate the last election, they will respond as Representative Khanna did, and say they're just trying to protect the next one, because the president is actively trying to do -- to subvert that election.

And that was what that interchange with the president of Ukraine was all about. But I just want to offer two reality checks.

I was -- I was inspired by Jeffrey's quaint paean to facts, very 20th century.

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: But the fact of the matter is, we have seen months and months and months of hearings.

And we know what the White House strategy has been. It has been to deflect, to deny, and ultimately to delay by sending everything into the courts.

So the Democrats -- we heard earlier Manu say that they had hope to finish this by the end of the year. I think the hopes of the administration are to push everything into the future and fight every bit of it.

So this notion that people are now suddenly, because of the gravity of the moment, going to come and bare their souls and tell these committees what they haven't been willing to tell them before simply isn't true.

And I don't know. I'm not -- perhaps Jeffrey does. And this is really a legal point. I guess there's more power behind an impeachment proceeding. But I still expect that you're going to see the same strategy on the part of the White House and the president's defenders.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let me let Jeffrey respond.

TOOBIN: Well, I plead guilty to a quaint belief in facts.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: But I also think, you know, you are absolutely right that the White House is going to fight at every opportunity.

But just in the past week, we have learned that they don't control every part of the fact-based world. This whistle-blower came out of nowhere. We don't even know who he or she is.

There may be more people out there who know about what went on here and think they have incriminating information. This whistle-blower wants to testify. This whistle-blower may have evidence other than his or her memory.

[18:30:01]

The transcript will certainly illuminate something. I mean, if the name, Biden, even appears in the transcript, I think that will be viewed has highly incriminating. Why the heck is the president, if this is the case, talking to the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden whose son hasn't even worked there for years that --

BLITZER: Hold on a second, because the president is continuing to tweet.

John Kirby used to work at the State Department, the Department of Defense. Phone conversations between a president of the United States and a foreign leader, very sensitive, I don't remember when they released transcripts of these kinds of conversations. But the president just tweeted this, and I'll read it to you and I want to get your thoughts.

This is the president. Secretary of State Pompeo received permission from Ukraine government to release the transcript of the telephone call I had with their president. They don't know either what the big deal is. A total witch hunt scam by the Democrats. That's what the president tweeted.

But it's interesting, our Alex Marquardt is reporting from the United Nations that the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, Volodymyr Zelenksy, he would not answer CNN's questions on this sensitive issue if it was, in fact, this understanding that aid for Ukraine and the investigation of the Bidens was linked in that conversation. Zelensky simply responded that his conversations with the president are, quote, private and confidential. And when asked if he wanted the transcript of the call to be released, Zelensky simply said, we'll see.

This is clearly sensitive stuff. Do you remember a time when the White House releases transcripts of these kinds of phone conversations with world leaders?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, I don't, and either at the State Department level, we didn't do that as well because you want to be able to protect the confidentiality of these discussions. Oftentimes, they are over very sensitive issues. And diplomacy is best done behind the scenes. That's the way it should be done.

I think in this case, I actually applaud the decision to release it. These are exceptional circumstances now we're looking at an impeachment inquiry. So I think it is the right decision to release it.

I would say two things. One, they'll spike the football when this thing gets released because they wouldn't be releasing if they didn't believe it didn't provide evidence of a quid pro quo. It's just -- but it's only just the beginning of this inquiry and there's a lot more context regarding the relationship with Ukraine.

Number two, Trump is going to be meeting with Zelensky tomorrow. And I think that President Zelensky is understandably going to feel a little bit boxed in here in this meeting with Trump. There is going to be both in the public face of it and when they shut the media out, there's going to be real limits to how much Zelensky can have in terms of meaningful diplomatic discussion with Donald Trump about honest to goodness problems they're having in Ukraine.

There's still fighting going on today in Eastern Ukraine. And he is going to be limited and constrained in what he can get in terms of cooperation and assistance from the United States because of this now domestic --

BORGER: Talk about being in a bad situation. I mean, how would you behave if you were President Zelensky?

BLITZER: And you're dependent on U.S. support.

BORGER: And you're having this meeting with Donald Trump tomorrow, what do you do, what do you say coming out to the media after your conversation about that phone call? I mean, this is putting a foreign leader in a very difficult situation.

I want to say one thing about the politics of all of this. It's clear to me that what the Republicans are going to do, as they're starting to do it on Twitter, is to discredit the whistleblower, even though they don't know who the whistleblower is. The president has said the whistleblower is partisan. There are some people saying, well, this whistleblower is represented. The council to the whistleblower is somebody who has represented Democrats in the past. So, clearly, this whistleblower is partisan.

But I would like to remind everybody of this. The inspector general who called the whistleblower's complaint urgent and credible is a Trump-appointed whistleblower -- I mean, Trump-appointed inspector general. So while you may try and discredit the whistleblower, go right ahead. Your own inspector general has said that this complaint is very worthwhile, and I don't know how you push back on your own inspector general.

BLITZER: And it's an important point, David Swerdlick, because the inspector general, as Gloria says, named by the Trump administration in the intelligence community says the complaint from the whistleblower not only falls within the DNI jurisdiction but relates to one of the most significant, important of the DNI's responsibilities to the American people. And that's a significant statement.

SWERDLICK: It's a significant statement, Wolf, and I think it goes to the context that we're hopefully going to learn in the coming days and weeks. You have the inspector general having found that this was urgent and credible, and the questions that I think members of Congress are going to have for acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire Thursday among others will be why didn't this already come to Congress if there was this finding and what was the holdup.

[18:30:09]

I think you're also going to have members of Congress wanting to stitch together what the I.G. found, what the whistleblower knew beyond what's in the four corners of whatever transcript comes out tomorrow. And I think you're also going to have members of Congress asking, well, if the administration at first didn't want this to come out, why didn't they want this to come out. But we actually have to see what was said.

It's unlikely, I think I'll go out on a limb and say, there's not going to be a series of dialogue where President Trump says, we'll give you military aid if you give us dirt on Vice President Biden, but it will be for members of Congress to decide whether or not what took place in that conversation, plus actions that took place outside that conversation equal an impeachable offense. We don't know yet.

BLITZER: And I want to bring in Pamela into this conversation as well, because you're getting additional reporting.

BROWN: Yes. There was this discussion about how is the White House going to -- what is it going to do moving forward. And what is interesting is it may actually be undermining its effort in this impeachment fight by releasing this transcript of the president's conversation with Zelensky. Because, remember, the White House has argued that it won't release the transcript between the president and Putin under longstanding precedent.

But now, it's basically undermining that by releasing this transcript tomorrow. And I can tell you, behind the scenes, that was a big point of concern. What are we doing when the Democrats come back to us and say, well, you've already released this transcript, give us the other foreign leader calls. So that is something to keep an eye on.

And also concern behind the scenes of releasing it, there is a big divide among White House officials, Secretary Pompeo as well, the concern being that this will have a chilling effect on foreign leaders speaking with the president moving forward.

BASH: That's probably true, but -- definitely true, your reporting. But I spoke to a Republican ally of the president on Capitol Hill today, who was very firm about the fact that despite the potential precedent that this sets, this situation is so important and so different, as Admiral Kirby has been saying, that the transcript needs to come out.

Because even for the president's allies, even though they're not saying this publicly, the notion of the president on the phone with a foreign leader saying -- talking about his political opponent, talking about his potential corruption, asking for investigations, potentially, and it being understood, even though he didn't necessarily say so, that the aid that the U.S. gives the Ukraine hangs in the balance is a very, very grave possibility, even for the president's allies, even though they're not saying so.

BLITZER: I want to bring David Axelrod into this as well. David, there is some concern among democrats, and you remember what President Obama used to say, sometimes you get ahead of your skis, that the Democrats right now may be ahead of their skis, especially if the transcript that's going to be released tomorrow doesn't show the worst of the allegations that were leveled in the past few days against the president.

AXELROD: Yes. That's why I think Nancy Pelosi and others have stayed pretty closely to the president's own words and what he has already offered about these conversations. He's had many iterations of this over the days as this thing has gotten more complex.

But, essentially, he said, yes, I talked about it and I think that they should be investigating Biden, and there's already been acknowledgment that he froze the aid to Ukraine and that was hanging over the conversation, even if it wasn't mentioned.

So I do think Democrats may have made a mistake or those who emphasized the transcript because I really think the whistleblower report is far more important. It has more depth and undoubtedly more information than they're going to get from this. So the thing they don't want is to get this transcript and then have the president's supporters say that was disclosure sufficient enough.

Let me make another point. Dana was absolutely right. This is a moment of extraordinary historical import, only three presidents in history who were impeached, but it's also true that no president in history has ever been convicted and removed from office. And it is very, very unlikely that that's going to happen here. The 67 members of the United States Senate, including large numbers of Republicans, are going to agree to -- I guess 20 Republicans would be necessary to remove the president.

So, in many ways, this is an important exercise. We should be sober about it. But we also kind of know how the story is going to end. Donald Trump is not going to be removed from office but this is an overhang that he will have to deal with over the next many months as he is seeking re-election.

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BLITZER: Yes. The only way he's going to be actually removed in office is if he is defeated in the November 2020 election, then he would be removed from office.

David Chalian, I just want to get your thoughts because David Axelrod makes an important point. All of us who covered the impeachment of Bill Clinton remember, yes, he was impeached in the House of Representatives where a simple majority can impeach a president of the United States, but there was not two-thirds majority in the U.S. Senate to convict and to remove him from office, and a lot of people, as David Axelrod was pointing out, suspect a similar scenario could develop this time.

CHALIAN: That's right. And that's why the politics are potentially treacherous. It's exactly this reason, because the democrats are in a position of launching a process now, as David was just indicating, that we already know the end result of. The notion that Donald Trump is going to be removed from office does not seem within the realm of possibility in the Republican-controlled Senate.

So this is part of why Nancy Pelosi has long said that she thinks this process should be bipartisan. Well, there's no indication that that is happening yet. So she has already taken sort of one of her guide posts in this last year in talking about impeachment, Wolf, and put that to the side.

The other one that she constantly pointed to was you can't launch impeachment if you don't have the country on your side, also something not entirely clear. But what is clear is that Democrats believe the president's behavior is so egregious at this point that by defending their constitutional responsibility here, they have an argument to take to the American people and bring them along in this process.

That's what the speaker is banking on right now, that she will get the country along with her substantial enough chunk of it. But let's not kid ourselves, there's going to be nothing about this process that is going to be bipartisan.

BLITZER: And you need Republicans if they're going to convict in the Senate.

Right now, are there any Republicans that are even supporting the start of an impeachment investigation?

BASH: No. I have just been looking at my phone just to see email after email, statement after statement from Republicans, never mind, Mitch McConnell, who issued -- lashed out at the house speaker for going forward with this before seeing the transcript, for example, and getting other bits of information. But also, people like Shelley Moore-Capito of West Viriginia, a partisan Republican, but nevertheless, somebody who tends to hold her fire and others. So that's the long way of saying no. This is right now a partisan exercise in the sense that it is just the Democrats.

And I can't underscore enough what David was just saying about --

BLITZER: Which David?

BASH: All of the Davids, but In this case, David Chalian, about the fact that, as I said earlier, this is still incredibly politically perilous. And that's why the argument that Nancy Pelosi made that I have to do this, and we have to do this, despite the politics, politics be damned, might be the argument in this strategy as possible, saying I understand how bad this is, how hard this is for us.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, just about the politics, one fact that I think is worth pointing out, in the Clinton investigation, impeachment investigation, and in the Nixon impeachment investigation, the full House of Representatives took a vote to open the impeachment inquiry.

Speaker Pelosi did not conduct such a vote. She did not force her members to take a vote on this. She simply announced it herself.

Now, I think she has the right to do that, but I think that's indicative of her desire to protect her members from taking votes about impeachment.

BLITZER: That's a very important point. And you know, Gloria, there was a lot of speculation earlier in the day she might name a special committee, a select committee on impeachment along the lines of the select committee on Watergate, for example, but she made it clear at the end of the statement today, there are six committees that are looking into various aspects of this and all of them are going forward in their own way.

BORGER: Well, that may have had a lot to do with committee chairman not wanting to give up that turf.

BASH: It had a lot to do with it.

BORGER: But also the optics of having a select committee would remind you of Watergate. And I don't think she wants to sort of go down that route at this particular point. And I think Jeffrey's point is absolutely right. She did not call for a vote on an impeachment inquiry. She just kind of declared it. And I guess she can do that. But she knows the kind of pushback she's going to get. I mean, already, Ronna McDaniel, who is the Republican chairwoman, said that this --

BLITZER: The Republican National Committee.

BORGER: Right, said this has the fingerprints of the same political vendetta that has consumed Democrats smear against Donald Trump since he was elected. And she pointed out that the whistleblower --

BASH: They're playing the victim card, which, in some quarters (ph), will work.

BORGER: Of course.

But I also think that Pelosi, again, is an institutionalist, cares about the Congress and its prerogatives as do the Republicans in the Senate who voted today to say we want the whistleblower complaint because that is the law and we ought to get it.

[18:45:19]

And I'll be interested to see what the Department of Justice does now. What do they -- I mean, Pamela, you covered Department of Justice, what do they do now that the Senate says we're demanding this?

BROWN: Yes. It's certainly putting more pressure on. I don't think release of the transcript is going to do anything to take pressure off. I think that there's wishful thinking in the administration, the DOJ that that's going to happen, but you're right, the law is the law, pressure is growing, given developments today with the Republicans.

SIDDIQUI: I think that the effort to release the transcript is clearly designed to demonstrate that the administration is being transparent when in fact they're still blocking the whistleblower's complaint being released to Congress. And it was very important that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, notable in fact, that she focused very much on what the president himself has already said, that he has acknowledged that he did discuss Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in this call. So at a minimum, if that does not appear in the transcript, it is certainly going to raise a lot of questions over whether or not the administration can be trusted or the White House can be trusted to put out its own accounting of the conversation.

Also want to point out to Dana's point, that Mitch McConnell issued a fresh statement after Pelosi addressed the public where he really went after Democrats for playing the impeachment card. He said they have been trying to find any rationale that they possibly can to impeach the president and undo the result of the 2016 election, similar to what you heard from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy just earlier this hour.

And I think that really reinforces that, as much as the Republicans in the Senate are joining Democrats in trying to have this complaint handed over to relevant committees in Congress, they're willing to play defense for this president and echo this idea that this is all yet another witch hunt that's politically motivated by Democrats. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, David Swerdlick, I think right

now, 160 or 170, maybe some more of the Democrats have supported at least the opening of a formal impeachment investigation or inquiry into the president of the United States. I suspect the main reason why Nancy Pelosi didn't want a roll call of the full House of Representatives was because she feared she may not get to 218 that you need, the majority. But, B, she didn't want to put a lot of pressure on Democrats in swing districts that may feel uncomfortable with that kind of vote.

SWERDLICK: That's right, Wolf. You don't get to be the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives if you can't whip and you can't count votes. And I suspect, Jeffrey makes a good point about the fact there was no full House vote today, I suspect that the speaker wasn't quite ready to go to the floor saying she had the 218 votes to get a full house vote on impeachment inquiry going today.

But at the same time, the move she made today suggests that she's saying to Republicans who aren't there on impeachment, probably won't be on impeachment, look, just because I folded a lot of hands doesn't mean I don't know how to play and doesn't mean I don't have a stack of chips to play with. I think that the speaker wants to move it forward slowly and she has a measure of credibility because she has slow played this to say now we're going to take it to the next step and put some pressure on Republicans and Department of Justice to get not just the transcript but also the whistleblower complaint that went through the I.G. office.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. We're getting a lot of reaction. Joining us right now Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of

the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us, this is a historic day here in Washington, D.C., as you well know.

You have said that this is an act of constitutional responsibility -- why do you think the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided that now is the time to open this formal, official impeachment inquiry?

REP. ILHAN OMAR, (D-MN): Yeah, it's been really important for the speaker to make sure that this impeachment investigation wasn't going to be about political expedience.

She wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for there to be an understanding about what laws were being broken. And I think it's very clear at the moment that a law has been broken, and she's ready to move on impeachment.

As we have been -- you know, many of us have been talking about how this president thinks he's above the law, and how we needed to hold him accountable. And I'm very excited that she's finally onboard and that we can start this process with leadership in tow.

BLITZER: Why do you think, Congresswoman, that the -- this Ukraine phone call and the whistleblower's complaint triggered this formal inquiry, but not necessarily the Mueller report?

OMAR: Yeah, I think, as the speaker used to say, this president is in the process of self-impeachment, and this is the straw that broke the camel's back. This particular incident shows that the president clearly thinks he's above the law.

He is withholding aid so that he can pressure a foreign country to dig dirt on a potential presidential opponent. That is very unconstitutional, and we must hold him responsible.

BLITZER: Do you believe Democrats, though, have squandered some really valuable time over these past several months by waiting until now to launch this official impeachment proceeding?

OMAR: The speaker has said today that sometimes the time finds us, and we are at a moment where the time has found us.

It is time for us to act, and I'm excited for that to take place.

BLITZER: I guess the bottom line is many Democrats, as you know, they've been calling the ongoing Judiciary Committee investigation -- Jerry Nadler's Committee -- an impeachment investigation -- a formal impeachment investigation.

So will this new phase announced today by the speaker really be any different?

OMAR: She said she wanted impeachment investigation to take place, and she wanted it to be swiftly done.

And I think the way that the Committee chairs understood it was that they have her full support in moving this process as swiftly as possible, so that we can protect our democracy and make sure that the law of the land is held to the highest level, and that we are doing the work of protecting our democracy and upholding our Constitution.

BLITZER: Do you have any concerns, Congresswoman, about choosing the phone call between the president of the United States, the new president of Ukraine as the jumping point for an impeachment inquiry when you, and none of us, have yet seen the official transcript -- the unredacted transcript? And certainly none of us have seen the whistleblower's complaint.

OMAR: Chairman Schiff just announced that the whistleblower is going to come and testify in front of his committee.

We already know that the president himself has said that -- the president himself and his supporters have been on the record talking about Joe Biden and his son as being the reason that they were talking to Ukraine.

So we have enough information to know that a law has been broken, and we look forward to learning more as the whistleblower comes and speaks in front of committee.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, thanks so much for joining us on this very important, historic day.

OMAR: Thank you so much for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's bring back John Kirby as we watch what's going on. I wonder -- put yourself in Russian President Putin's shoes right now for a moment when he sees what's going on here in Washington. You see the dissent, the debate that is unfolding right now. What do you think he's concluding?

KIRBY: Yes, Putin must be dancing a jig right now, Wolf. I mean, he wanted to sow discord in our system and deepen the divisions inside this country. Clearly, he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, not to mention he's succeeded in trying to further violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine. I mean, now, he's got a President Zelensky there who is going to be seen as weak and almost a puppet of Donald Trump no matter which way he goes as a result of this controversy inside Ukraine.

So he's also continuing to weaken the political structure and foundation inside Ukraine. So, this is a good day for Vladimir Putin, no question.

BLITZER: Ii his goal was to dissent here in the United States by meddling in the U.S. presidential election, obviously, from his perspective, mission accomplished. We've been saying that for a while.

I want to get some more on the breaking news right now. Our political reporter Arlette Saenz is joining us live from Delaware.

Arlette, the former Vice President Joe Biden, he ramped up his response to the president of Ukraine's phone call earlier today. Tell us about that.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, he sure did, Wolf, and this was the furthest that Joe Biden has gone in regards to these calls for impeachment. He said that if the president does not comply with Congress' request that Congress will have no other choice, but to impeach the president. Now, his fellow 2020 Democratic rivals have gone further than Biden in calling for an explicit impeachment.

[18:55:02]

But take a listen to what Biden had to say here in Wilmington, Delaware, earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for this administration to stop stonewalling and provide the Congress with all of the facts it needs, including a copy of the formal complaint made by the whistleblower. And it's time for the Congress to fully investigate the conduct of this president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now, Biden also was using this as an opportunity to paint a -- draw a contrast between himself and the president saying that President Trump is engaged in abuse of power and that he believes he is above the law -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Arlette, thank you very much for that report.

You know, David Axelrod, I want your thoughts on this very important day that we're watching all of this history unfold before our eyes. We're getting a front-row seat right now, but when you see this, what do you think?

AXELROD: Well, what I think that while the politics are very intense the issues are really grave. A president's powers and does a president have unlimited powers and can he flout norms and rules and laws and institutions with impunity? And I think that's what Nancy Pelosi was wrestling with and that's why they took the step they took today because the politics aside, this is a fundamental question about our democracy.

And just to echo what Dana said earlier, we all ought to pay a great deal of attention.

BASH: And it's going to be in some ways easy to do so because all eyes will be on the House and in some ways hard to do so because you are going to have six committees looking into this and although it has been incredibly hard for the Democratic majority to get answers to get documents, to get witnesses from the White House, the way you can also look at it, and I know the way the House Democrats are looking at it is now that the impeachment inquiry is launched, everything that's stonewalled, every delay, every blocking is another line in the column for impeachment.

BROWN: Yes, and I think also the White House and the president wants this transcript released tomorrow because they believe it will be good for them in the short term and they believe it's not going to be as damaging as people think. But in the long term it could hurt their efforts in terms of giving ammunition to Democrats with other transcripts with leaders. But also, it can no longer -- the White House and DOJ can no longer claim that the whistleblower complaint is protected by privilege because it's releasing the transcript of the president's phone call with this foreign leader.

And so, it will be interesting to see how the White House and DOJ tries to block it moving forward if it tries to block it moving forward. As Gloria pointed out, Senate Republicans now want to say this whistleblower complaint and it's required by the law.

SIDDIQUI: And the president so far going on the offense tweeting presidential harassment. The Trump campaign is already fund-raising off of this. The Republicans have cut clips of the Democrats who are supporting impeachment.

But the fact of the matter is we don't know how this will play out politically, even though polls had shown that there was not a majority support for the impeachment. That was in the context of the Russia investigation. This is explicitly an example of the president potentially using the power of the presidency to try and investigate a political opponent.

And I do think that as the election gears up and more of this information unfold, the politics could change very rapidly and it is also important because even as Senate Republican are unlikely to remove it from office, there are as many as 20 vulnerable Republicans who if there is a vote on the Senate floor are at least going to be on record either supporting this president or being forced to take a very politically sensitive vote.

BORGER: I think we're all going to have to look at this as kind of a national civics lesson and the question will be, what is -- what are the powers of the president? What are the powers of Congress and what are the checks and balances between the Congress and the presidency?

And the president will say, as he has said look at Article 2 of the Constitution, I can do anything I want and the congress, the Democrats in Congress are saying, no, you can't, and what you did on that phone call or in these actions, plural, was an abuse of your presidential power and a violation of the law and we'll have to see how the president defends himself and how the president's defenders defend him on this. It's a crucial question in our democracy.

CHALIAN: It is.

Gloria, can I just add and I can almost guarantee, Wolf, that the circus atmosphere that is about to overtake this town will not match the severity of this moment and what it means for our democracy. Those two things are not going to match up here.

BLITZER: It's going to be a dramatic moment, indeed. I know the House is going to go on a recess for a couple of week, but then when they come back, not a whole lot of time between now and the end of the year and, of course, next year is an election year. We'll see how this formal impeachment investigation unfolds because the stakes clearly are enormous.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN's breaking news coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

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