Return to Transcripts main page


Transcript Shows Trump Pushed Ukraine to Investigate Biden; GOP Sen. Mitt Romney Speaks Amid Impeachment Probe. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's very interesting.

Let's go back to the White House right now. Pamela Brown is standing by.

Pamela, what are you learning about how the White House came up with this memo, came up with this memo, this transcript, these details that are released now?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's one of the big questions because it is the White House releasing this transcript. So the question is, how is it made, is it fulsome, does it contain every bit of the conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine.

We should note, at the bottom there's a disclaimer. It says, "The memorandum is not a verbatim transcript of the discussion. It text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room duty officers and NSE policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place."

I'm told by a senior White House official that the White House also uses voice recognition software. And so it is a combination of efforts. The voice recognition software will then give the transcript out and then it will be looked at by the note takers in the room listening to the call. The other NSE and White House officials who are listening in on that call, they look at the transcript and sign off.

But what is notable here, Kate, is, on a couple of occasions, there's the ellipses, the dot, dot, dot. One of the areas, of course, is when the president is talking about Joe Biden. The first time he raises Biden, it says to me, it says in the transcript, "Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution. So if you can look into it, dot, dot, dot, it sounds horrible to me."

Now, we don't know if that is the voice recognition software because the voice trailed off or if something else was said that is not in this. I have asked the White House for clarification on that and have not heard back -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Pamela. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I have a couple of questions. Let me bring Kaitlan and Samantha

Vinograd back in.

First and foremost, I want to make sure this is not overlooked. Attorney General Bill Barr, as was pointed out, Sam, is mentioned multiple times in this. The reporting is that he also says he never received an ask, he never had a phone call. Is that surprising to you? Would he have received a read out of a call like this?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Back in my day, part of the release of the transcript would be to make sure that work is followed up upon and any cabinet official mentioned in the transcript hears about what happened.

So the Justice Department saying that A.G. Barr didn't hear about this call until weeks after it happened means that they're either lying or this transcript never made its way to the attorney general, even though President Trump said he was going to ask Attorney General Barr and his personal lawyer to follow up with the Ukrainians. Debriefing Rudy Giuliani doesn't count.

It appears he may have spoken to Giuliani about what happened, but left Attorney General Barr in the dark. Attorney General Barr should have gotten a transcript. Secretary of State Pompeo should have gotten a transcript.

I kind of cringe to think, from a foreign policy perspective, how Pompeo could have read this transcript, and leaving aside the legal issues, could have thought it was anything but a massive blow to our foreign policy agenda.

BOLDUAN: It is fascinating. It is an interesting point. I'm glad you raised that.

Kaitlan, it was just raised to me that the Trump campaign is fundraising off of this now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are seeing how this will be handled not only in the White House but also in the president's campaign, outside allies. Essentially they're framing it as a Democratic hit job.

They're saying -- Brad Parscale, in his statement, the campaign manager for his reelection, saying, quote, "Because of their pure hatred for President Trump, desperate Democrats already determined their mission to take out the president."

They go on to essentially frame this as the Russia investigation 2.0, which is how they're going to see them push this because they think that because of the -- already the Russia investigation didn't lead anywhere, now they will try this with the Ukrainian story.

The question will be and what Democrats will argue is that this is something that the American people can understand. It is not this Russia investigation that is complicated with all of these layers. It is the president asking a foreign leader for help investigating a political rival.

They argue that that's actually why they're moving forward with impeachment because it is easier to understand.

The Trump campaign and his allies are hoping because there wasn't the president saying explicitly, if you don't investigate Joe Biden I'm not going to give you this military aid, that then they can effectively message this as this is just another effort by the Democrats to take down the president.

BOLDUAN: I want to get over really quickly.

Mitt Romney, Republican Senator Mitt Romney, one of the few if not only Republicans who have been critical or have at least said, if true, this would be a very big deal.

He was speaking this morning. He spoke this morning at the Atlantic Festival. He spoke about impeachment. Let's listen to this together.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of issues we want to talk about today, but obviously, I think we would be remiss if we don't start with the news. The White House just released the call summary between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. What was your reaction? You have read it, I assume?


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I have. My reaction was the same as I had a few days ago, which is, this remains deeply troubling and we'll see where it leads. But the first reaction is troubling.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get some support for that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the summary that we saw, did that amount to a quid pro quo agreement or at least the implication of a quid pro quo in your view?

ROMNEY: I don't know that I focused so much on the quid pro quo element as perhaps some do.

There's just the question of -- and I said this in my first reaction, which is, if the president of the United States asks or presses the leader of a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that's troubling. I feel that.


ROMNEY: So clearly, if there were a quid pro quo that would take it to an entirely more extreme level.

BOLDUAN: But in your mind, it is serious either way.

You're essentially alone among Republican officials in expressing concern over this. I do think it is worth articulating why you think it is so seriously. Also, why do you think so many of your fellow Republicans have been quiet on this subject or actively defending the president?

ROMNEY: Well, there's such enormous power associated with being the party in power, both in the White House as well as in the Senate and the House. Of course, people know that in the House, because you can pass all of the bills you want if your party is in power.

But also in the Senate. Even though it requires 60 votes to actually get any legislation through, if you are the majority leader you get to decide what we vote on. It is extraordinary power.

So I think it is very natural for people to look at circumstances and see them in the light that's most amenable to their maintaining power and doing things to preserve their power.

I think part of that is that both parties feel very deeply that if the other party were in charge, that terrible things would happen for the country and for the people, and that it is critical for them to hold on to their leadership so that those awful things that Bernie Sanders is talking about won't come to pass.

So I think it is just in human nature to see things in a way consistent with your own world view and your sense of what is necessary for the preservation of your position of power.

I don't know why I'm not afflicted to the same degree as perhaps others are in that regard. Maybe it is because I'm old and have done it --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are no other old Senators, right?


ROMNEY: Yes. One Senator said, hey, welcome to the club. It is a club for old men. So I fit right in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I mean, just to get back to that, you know, you're describing partisanship that's been with us for a long time, but at some point Congress is supposed to hold the executive branch accountable, right? There has to be a level of accountability. You are out there at least expressing concern and saying there should be some accountability for these actions.

What kind of accountability do you think the president should face given what you've learned so far? What should the consequences be?

ROMNEY: Well, the consequences are being considered by the House. And I'm not going to give advice to Speaker Pelosi. She will do whatever she thinks is in the best interests of the country and in the best interests of her position of power and her party. She is pursuing that. We will see where that leads.

There will be additional information that comes out as the whistleblower is heard from.

The Senate is doing what is right, which I think is insisting that the whistleblower appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, so more information will come from that front.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could this, in your view, rise to an impeachable offense?

ROMNEY: I think it is -- again, I'm going to leave it what I've said and let the process gather the facts that will ultimately come out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I might try to come back to you on that, but for now --


BOLDUAN: A valiant effort, an important day to be speaking with Republican Senator Mitt Romney.

With this, let me get back to Gloria Borger, if I could.

Gloria, Senator Romney has been a bit of an odd man out on this. What do you make of what he said there?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think his explanation was actually fascinating to those of us who have covered Congress. It was honest. He said, this is all about power and this is all about either getting power or keeping power.

So if you are a Republican, he said, and you want to keep your power, you are going to defend Donald Trump, and vice versa for the Democrats.

Now, why is it Mitt Romney different? He said because he's old.

The reason he's different also is because he's just elected and I think it doesn't get much safer than a Senate seat from Utah if your name is Romney.


He is sort of the lone voice out there. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't go to the step of impeachment. He did say, his reaction is deeply troubling.

But when you compare what he said, for example, to what Lindsey Graham said -- who I point out is up for election in the state of South Carolina -- Lindsey Graham not troubled at all. Mitt Romney, deeply troubled. Mitt Romney is the outlier so far. You know, the question is, will, as this story progresses -- and I

would argue we need to know more about Donald Trump's eventual call to Vladimir Putin.

We need to know more about the circumstances regarding the firing of that Ukrainian ambassador that Donald Trump talks about in this -- in this phone call.

We need to know more about this. We need to unravel it a little bit more. And we can find out more if there was anything like a quid pro quo in the offing.

I think that's what Romney is saying. He is saying, look, we have to know more of these details.

As our friend, Jeff Toobin, was saying yesterday, these things get more complicated. They don't get less complicated.


BORGER: It will get more complicated.


BORGER: But I think Romney is holding his fire but gave a very -- a very honest answer I thought about what puts people in their corners --


BORGER: -- which is this notion, I want to keep my power or I want to get some power.

BOLDUAN: I think it is an important perspective. Look, things will get more complicated. I think that people underestimate -- I think the American people, viewers, the American people can handle complicated if it is something that's important.

BORGER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: It is the job of those in power to explain it if it is complicated, if it needs explaining.

One thing that Romney is getting at, and I was thinking about it this morning because this is what I don't get. This isn't about one phone call or --

BORGER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: -- a leak about a presidential phone call.

BORGER: Right, right.

BOLDUAN: This is about a whistleblower complaint that an inspector general appointed by President Trump deemed urgent and credible.

BORGER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: I know I'm jumping on my soap box for a second, but those are no small words here. The letter that the inspector general sent to Congress on the 9th states that the complaint met both of those legal standards.

I will read them, in part, for our friends. "I determined that the complainant's disclosure met the definition of an urgent concern," the I.G. writes. "I also determine there were reasonable grounds to believe that information relating to the urgent concern appeared credible."

I'm just wondering why that is not enough for left, right and center, everyone in Congress, to say, I want to get to the bottom of it. I want to hear from the whistleblower.

BORGER: Right. Well, I think everybody does want to hear from the whistleblower. I mean you were talking earlier about the vote in the Senate yesterday, the unanimous vote to say to say, let's hear from this -- let's hear from this whistleblower. Let's get the story directly.

Don't forget, you are talking about an inspector general that is a Trump-appointed inspector general. There are already Republicans claiming that the whistleblower, whomever he or she is, is a partisan. But this inspector general is a Trump appointment. So they can't say the same thing about that. I think that's a problem.

I do think that everybody, Democrats and Republicans, want to let this story play out a little bit more. This is just one piece of the puzzle, whether it is the fruition of what went on before or the beginning of something that went on after, we don't really know yet.

But whatever it was, it was enough to inspire a whistleblower with some knowledge of how the Intelligence Community works, obviously, to do what he or she believed was the right thing at some great personal risk and take this to the inspector general, who deemed it, as you point out, urgent and credible.

BOLDUAN: I think that is -- for me, that is really where this comes back to.

BORGER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: There's an inspector general whose job was to look at this, who said this needs to follow the prescribed legal path. He looked into it and said, this is urgent and credible and this is where this needs to go now. So I feel like we are at still the very beginning.


BOLDUAN: Gloria, thank you very much.

BORGER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Joining me, I want to get more perspective, former associate White House counsel under George Bush, Jamil Jaffer.

Jamil, give me your take from your perspective of being in the White House counsel's office, what you see in the release of the details of this call but also where that puts this investigation right now.

JAMIL JAFFER, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, Kate, it is sort of astounding. You normally see readouts, as Sam was saying, released of calls, summaries of the calls made based on these transcripts. It is unusual to see a detailed transcript like this released. So clearly the White House and the Justice Department thinks it is in their favor.


Now, obviously we also have heard Secretary Pompeo was arguing against releasing this. It is very unusual to see something like this released. And so we'll see how it plays out.

I think what everyone is really going to focus on, as you have today, and Sam has, Kate, is this is the lines between pages two and three where Zelensky said, I want to buy Javelins, and the president says, yes, though I want to talk about this other thing, I want to talk about CrowdStrike in Ukraine.

The president is confused there. There was a CrowdStrike/Ukraine link up in the sense that CrowdStrike found that the same people who targeted the DNC also targeted the Ukrainian military systems. I don't think there's anything about the DNC servers in there. I am a little confused with the president there, but I think that's where the CrowdStrike thing plays in. But it is the tie between Javelin.

One thing worth saying, President Trump is the first president to provide a military to Ukraine and that's why it matters so much. Unlike President Obama, when Crimea was invaded and Russia began inappropriate activities in eastern Ukraine, we didn't provide military aid. An interesting dynamic playing out.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Jamil, stand by for me a second.

I want to get back. Sam, one thing that was raised by the president this morning when he was responding, that I am just to be honest now recalling, when he said, a few weeks ago, Democrats met with Ukrainian President Zelensky and his wording was like, if he they met with him, that should be impeachable. They asked him a lot of things.

There was a meeting.


BOLDUAN: Democrats met with Zelensky. I think it was Senator Chris Murphy and others. Can you give me your take on that?

VINOGRAD: Yes, the president is echoing something Giuliani said on "FOX News" last night. Giuliani said that the Democrats or Chris Murphy who met with Zelensky should be impeached.

Senator Chris Murphy met with Zelensky and was joined by a Republican, Senator Ron Johnson. The president is leaving out the fact that a Republican was part of the meeting because, Kate, Ukraine has been an issue where there's been bipartisan support in terms of Russian aggression.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

VINOGRAD: In responding to Jamil's point, we provided assistance to Ukraine after Russia invaded Crimea and started the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

President Trump likes to spin the fact Obama didn't provide military assistance. He said yesterday Obama provided blankets and pillows. We did provide significant military assistance to Ukraine under Obama. It just not lethal assistance like President Trump has done up until now, of course, until he put that freeze a few months ago.

BOLDUAN: So much and more.

Kylie is joining us now.

Great to see you.

Kaitlan, this all -- exactly what Sam is talking about.

COLLINS: Wow, yes.

BOLDUAN: -- leads me to wonder as was pointed out earlier, President Trump is meeting with the president of Ukraine in a matter of hours --


BOLDUAN: -- just what that could mean now in light of this?

COLLINS: It is so interesting. Because when you were looking at this, the meeting we should note was arranged before the firestorm over this phone call, was not supposed to be a highlight of the president's time here at the United Nations summit. That was probably one of the least newsworthy expected meetings that the president was going to have in between several other sit-downs with world leaders.

And now it is going to be one of the main focuses of the entire trip, if not the main focus that has overshadowed his entire time here.

What is interesting is the president, like, six months ago when we talked to sources, he wasn't that interested in engaging with Zelensky and Ukraine. He dismissed them, blew them off as a corrupt country that he said wasn't committed to reform.

Now the White House is counting on this meeting today. They say they're hoping Zelensky will back the president up. They are hoping they can use the meeting to counter Democrats.

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: So it is all on President Zelensky here.


COLLINS: Who, by the way, may be corrupt based on the transcript. Zelensky is no character witness that we should rely on based on the things you have said.

BOLDUAN: From the things that he said --


COLLINS: He's not a typical world leader. He was a former comedian. It is not like he had a wealth of experience in government before, so that's also something to keep in mind.

Essentially they will be using that to counter the Democrats during this meeting this afternoon. It will be interesting to see the interactions between the two of them.

BOLDUAN: To say the very least.

COLLINS: To put it lightly.

BOLDUAN: Kylie, you have been looking at -- one person mentioned, throughout, one person who has been on the Ukraine investigation, if you want to put it, for a very long time has been Rudy Giuliani.


BOLDUAN: Kaitlan puts it really well. But you see in this memo, the details coming from the White House that the president is putting Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, on the same level as Attorney General Bill Barr in this conversation with the Ukrainian president.

You have been -- look, there's a lot to it. You have been looking at that relationship, Rudy Giuliani, Ukraine,


ATWOOD: Right. It's a complicated one because it involves the State Department, it involves Giuliani, who is not someone who works for the Trump White House. He works as his personal lawyer outside of the White House. His personal lawyer. That's important to note here.

I do think, as much as Bill Barr is front and center here, it is clear from this transcript that Rudy Giuliani, in the eyes of President Trump, is also front and center when it comes to U.S. and Ukrainian relations.

President Zelensky is the one who brings up Giuliani but President Trump follows that and says, yes, Giuliani is a great man, he knows a lot about this issue, when references the issue of any Democratic wrongdoing into the issue of Ukraine.

And he says to Zelensky, I would like you to have a phone call with Rudy Giuliani. We don't know if that's actually happened. What we do know is Giuliani met with Ukrainian officials.

Here, there becomes a question in terms of what Giuliani was telling the State Department about those meetings. He said he gave the State Department those readouts of every meeting that he had.

The State Department hasn't answered any of our questions in recent days, however, about what they were learning from the president's personal attorney in the conversations he was having.

BOLDUAN: Some more perspective. Sam, is there a good reason for an issue of corruption on any issue between two nations that any president, any world leader would want to employ their private attorney to spearhead -- I'm stuttering because I don't get it.

VINOGRAD: The short answer is no.

BOLDUAN: But spearhead the action rather than going directly to the --


BOLDUAN: -- State Department for everything?

VINOGRAD: Of course not.

Kylie, to your point, the State Department has a rule of law programs. The State Department has legal attaches and embassies that work on anti-corruption. That does not happen via a president's personal lawyer. And anti-corruption does not mean investigating or asking a foreign country to investigate a political rival.

It's very interesting. Rudy Giuliani is throwing the State Department under the bus. He was flashing his phone around on FOX News last night. He's really undercutting the State Department's work.

Pompeo has stayed very close to President Trump. He has had his favor. It's been one of Trump's top lieutenants. Trump has a decision now as to whether he sticks with Rudy mad-libbing on TV or whether he tells him to cool it in light of the fact that he is directly hindering Pompeo's work.

Every time he goes on television, Rudy, he gives Congress more evidence to investigate with respect to more wrongdoing by President Trump.

BOLDUAN: What's the view from White House advisors and those around the president on Rudy Giuliani's involvement? This is the umpteenth time.

COLLINS: This isn't the first time he has given him a headache. People in the White House really dismiss Rudy Giuliani. They do not like that they often have to be dealing with blowback when Rudy Giuliani has gone on television and given an interview. This dates all the way back to those hush money payments. It's a longstanding problem for them. It's par for the course now. But for people to see just how involved Rudy Giuliani was in this way,

they say it's because the president sees him as he does his other close-range advisors. The president didn't see a problem with him interacting with these world leaders because he thinks of him so similarly to how he views Bill Barr.

That was a question critics raised in recent days. If the president truly thought that Joe Biden had done something wrong here, why not have the DOJ or the FBI involved in an investigation? Why is his outside personal attorney --


ATWOOD: Right?


ATWOOD: There are State Department and Pentagon officials who have made a concerted effort to shield themselves from anything that has to do with Rudy Giuliani, because they know that there's an implicit political implication there, right? So they want to be not at all involved in that. They work for the U.S. government. They don't work for President Trump outside of his role as the president of the United States.

The other thing to consider here is that Rudy Giuliani hasn't slowed down at all. He's here in New York. This is the United Nations General Assembly. We have world leaders here in New York. He's on FOX News. He's been spotted with multiple world leaders throughout the week.

I've talked to some diplomats who kind of raised their eyebrows because they were shocked he was out and about, comfortable enough to be having those meetings, even though the spotlight is on President Trump and largely because of Rudy Giuliani.

BOLDUAN: Let me bring back in Gloria Borger.

Gloria, thank you for sticking around.

I was looking down because part of this memo of this call, it very clearly -- as Kylie points out, Zelensky brings up Rudy Giuliani and says that, "We are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine."

Just the role of Rudy Giuliani in this, I just want your perspective.


BORGER: Right. Well, Rudy Giuliani just won't go away because the president doesn't want him to go away. I remember during the Russia investigation, there were the real lawyers and then there was the TV lawyer who was Rudy Giuliani.

And the real lawyers used Giuliani as a way to talk to Trump. He became the Trump Whisperer because they knew that Trump would listen to him.

So after the Russia investigation goes away, he and Trump continue their relationship and there are still some things that they're upset about. Maybe it's the Hillary Clinton e-mails, maybe it's Joe Biden, they're trying to get Trump elected in 2020.

You know, it reminds me that Rudy was there during Stormy Daniels. He was there for the whole Michael Cohen investigation when there was questions about should we pardon Michael Cohen or not pardon Michael Cohen. And he's just risen again.

And people in the State Department and the National Security Agency are probably -- and Kylie would know about this -- are probably pulling their hair out about this because they don't know how to handle him because the president wants him around.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, thank you so much.

Thank you so much, you guys.

As we've said, there's much more breaking news to come.

Remember -- I'm just going to give you another programming note. Later this afternoon, the president is sitting in that bilateral meeting with the president of Ukraine. That is going to be the next chapter in this wild tale of today.

Most importantly, this is the beginning, the most important thing I'm going to say once again, yes, the call is one thing and part of it, but the whistleblower complaint is the core and the impetus of the impeachment proceedings. And that is yet to be revealed what all is in that whistleblower complaint.

We have much more after a quick break.