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Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) is Interviewed about Maguire's Testimony and Impeachment Inquiry; Biden Accuses Trump of Abuse of Power; The Process of Impeachment; Aired 9:30-10a

Aired September 25, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:32:09]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, at any moment, the White House is expected to release what it says is the unredacted log of the president's phone call with the president of Ukraine. And sometime today we should also get that whistle-blower complaint that there's been so much fighting over. Both developments, significant.

This as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially launches an impeachment inquiry into the president.

Meantime, the House Intelligence Committee is preparing to question the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire. That will happen at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. This is after Maguire told lawmakers that he couldn't appear last week, didn't receive enough notice.

Congressman Peter Welch is with me. He, of course, sits on that committee.

Good morning, sir.

REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): Good morning.

HARLOW: So let's begin with impeachment. You called for this back in July after the Mueller report came out, before Mueller testified. Adam Schiff, the chairman of your committee, did not, but he has this week. And here's what he said on CNN this morning. This is the, quote, most serious misconduct of the president thus far, referring to Ukraine.

Do you agree with him?

WELCH: I do. You know it's egregious, even for Donald Trump, because it puts his campaign ahead of our national security. That's number one.

Number two, it's easy to understand. The Mueller report was somewhat confused but this is pretty easy to understand. The president basically withheld aide in order to try to extract assistance for his campaign, which put the national security of the American people in jeopardy. HARLOW: Well, you're saying that there -- but here's the thing,

congressman, you're going a bridge further than the facts do right now, right? We know that he pressed for an investigation of Biden and his son. We know that he withheld $400 million in aid for Ukraine around the same time. We just don't have the quid pro quo.

So my question to you this morning -- because we're going to get a lot of information today in the next 48 hours. If the transcript, the log of that call of the president of Ukraine and President Trump doesn't show that there was a quid pro quo and if the whistle-blower complaint doesn't bear out to show that, does that exculpate the president?

WELCH: It wouldn't exculpate him. I mean those are obviously very relevant and the president withheld them initially and now we're going to get them and that's a good thing.

But here's what you do know by the president's own admissions.

Number one, you know that he made a phone call to the president of Ukraine in which he asked the president to do an investigation that would benefit his campaign. It had -- his request about the Biden investigation had nothing to do with American national security.

Number two, you know that before he made that phone call, he directed Mick Mulvaney, his chief of staff, to sit on the $391 million of aid.

And, number three, what you know is that there was administration involvement in telling Mr. Maguire, the director of national intelligence, not to comply with the statute that directed that within seven days he provide the whistle-blower complaint to the intelligence committees.

[09:35:07]

So those three things are things that the president himself has admitted.

HARLOW: So -- OK. So that, to you, Congressman, sounds like it is enough for you on those three points to move forward on impeachment. But there is some trepidation among Democrats, some Democrats this morning, privately, to CNN, are telling us that they fear that Nancy Pelosi moved too quickly on this, that it would have been more prudent had she waited for the log of the call to come out, for the whistle- blower complaint to come out, for the testimony to happen tomorrow before making this jump. And the president just tweeted to that effect this morning as well.

Should she have waited?

WELCH: I think she has waited. She's been extremely patient. And, as you know, Pelosi has been the one that's been holding the caucus back from proceeding on impeachment. I think that what happened here is the three things I just mentioned were shocking to her and it was a level of misconduct, putting the national security in jeopardy for political benefit.

HARLOW: Because -- because here's -- here's --

WELCH: But there is going to be risk on it. There's no question.

HARLOW: There's going to be risk for Democrats politically you're saying.

Hold that thought. Tell me more about that on the other side of this because here is your fellow member of Congress on the Intel Committee, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah. Here's how he sees it.

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REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): I'm not at all surprised. I mean they've been trying to impeach this president since literally before he was inaugurated. And, Wolf, I think they're going to regret it.

They announced this rather than wait less than 24 hours to read the transcript and see if there was a reason for this. And Ms. Pelosi came on and she unequivocally said, this president has broken his oath of office. He has betrayed national security. How in the world does she know that?

This inquiry hasn't even begun. For her to make a statement as definitive as that, that's why the American people are going to view this and roll their eyes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: You've said there's risk for Democrats here. How grave is the risk?

WELCH: Well, there's -- there's risk either way. I mean the fact is that the president's conduct, particularly in this case, goes beyond anything we've ever seen, even with President Trump. And there is an enormous amount of concern among many of the American people that we hold him accountable and uphold the constitutional standard of government.

But there's going to be a huge pushback. Mr. Stewart I think reflected accurately what we're going to be hearing from the Republican side, who will try to diminish what the president did. My hope, by the way, is that on our committee, the Intelligence Committee, that we're together, Republicans and Democrats, in demanding that we do get the whistle-blower report.

You know, there should be --

HARLOW: Can --

WELCH: Go ahead.

HARLOW: I was just going to say, can you -- because we're running out of time, can you just give us a quick sense of the most pressing question you have tomorrow for the acting DNI?

WELCH: Well, there's a lot of noise here, so I think I heard you. But the question I think for Mr. Maguire is, the law says that you are required, you shall, within seven days, transmit that report. Why didn't you do it? Who intervened? Who told you not to and why? That's the big question.

HARLOW: Yes. It's an important one. We will all be watching. We'll have special coverage from D.C. on the hearing tomorrow.

Congressman Peter Welch, I really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.

WELCH: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come, we are waiting to get that log of the call between President Trump and Ukrainian's president as this formal impeachment inquiry is underway in the House. What is former Vice President Joe Biden saying about all of this? That's next.

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[09:43:20]

HARLOW: All right, this morning, former Vice President Joe Biden is back out on the campaign trail after accusing President Trump of abuse of power for pressing Ukrainian's president to investigate the Bidens.

CNN correspondent Jessica Dean is with me.

Good morning, Jess.

I thought it was interesting what Biden said last night, essentially, like, I can take it. This doesn't bother me. But our republic cannot stand for this.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning to you, Poppy.

Yes, that has been their message and, as you'll recall, this has been core to their entire campaign, that President Trump has ripped at the fibers of what makes America America. We hear him say over and over again he's running to restore the soul of a nation.

But up until yesterday, he had not explicitly -- he really hadn't called for impeachment. But yesterday he came out and he said, look, if President Trump won't comply with what Congress is asking of him, then Congress is going to have no choice but to move forward with impeachment. And he said this is a tragedy but a tragedy of the president's making.

Take a listen.

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JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can take the political attacks. They'll come and they'll go and in time they'll soon be forgotten. But if we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: And if you think about the strategy of team Biden around this whole situation, if you look at that video we just played for you, you'll notice it looks very presidential. The visuals there of the flag, of Vice President Biden standing at the podium, it's going back to what the Biden campaign has said all along, that Vice President Biden is the man to do this job, that he can do this, and it really, they're hoping, can crystallize their position on this, Poppy, and do two things, remind people that president Biden is the right person to take on Trump and remind people what's at stake in this election.

[09:45:18]

And we hear him saying over and over again since this has happened, since this has come about, that the reason that President Trump is attacking him is because he's afraid of him. Expect to hear more of that messaging too as we go on in the coming days.

HARLOW: All right, Jessica Dean, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

DEAN: Yes.

HARLOW: What is the next step in this now official impeachment inquiry? We'll lay it out. It's a consequential process. With me will be a former adviser to President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

That's ahead.

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[09:50:32]

HARLOW: Well, this morning, the president joins a small club, if you will. He is just one of four American presidents ever to face a serious impeachment threat. How does this play out now that Nancy Pelosi has opened a formal impeachment inquiry? Six separate House committee will essentially continue their investigations and from there a decision will be made on whether to draft articles of impeachment.

With me now someone very familiar with how this process works, Guy Smith. He served as a special adviser to President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

Good morning.

GUY SMITH, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good morning.

HARLOW: Thank you for being here.

SMITH: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: OK, walk us through this. Where does this go from here? SMITH: Where this goes from here is the six committees in the House

now have even strengthened investigatory powers. The courts will pay more and closer and quicker attention to what is being unfolded.

Now, we also are going to see later today what's in this transcript.

HARLOW: Sure.

SMITH: The Mueller report was amorphous. It was easy to spin. Barr distorted it. What Trump has already admitted to, and Giuliani has already admitted to, clearly violates a law, is clearly unethical, soliciting help from a foreign power is against the law. It's easy for people to understand.

HARLOW: It's interesting that you say that this will give the courts a reason to expedite because you've got five major outstanding court cases between the Trump administration and the House. You've got, you know, three cases over the president's tax returns.

SMITH: The judiciary reacts more quickly by precedent to an official inquiry.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, that matters.

SMITH: It matters.

HARLOW: And I think that's not getting the headlines, but that certainly matters.

Let's talk about the risk for Democrats. OK, because, flip this thing on its head, let's go back to 1998. We saw the political repercussions for Republicans after the impeachment of President Clinton. So for Democrats right now?

SMITH: They're -- they're -- no, there's not a risk for Democrats, and here's why.

HARLOW: Peter Welch, Democratic congressman, respectfully just told me -- and he's on the Intel Committee -- there is a risk for Democrats.

SMITH: Well, there's not.

HARLOW: Why?

SMITH: Well, here's why.

All of this impeachment activity and Trump's behavior has been contracting his base. Not the red hat people, they'll never change. Think about the edges of his base, white women, independents in suburbs, even farmers now, those -- and he does nothing to expand his base. Now we have the Ukraine thing that everybody can see, everybody can understand. It's not hard to understand what he has done. And there will be even more questions coming from the transcript and the whistle-blower.

HARLOW: So let's play this out. You don't think there's a risk for Democrats, even of Nancy Pelosi -- some of her Democratic colleagues think she may have jumped the gun here, making this announcement that she's been so hesitant to make before getting the log of the call, before hearing the acting DNI testify, before getting the whistle- blower complaint.

SMITH: None --

HARLOW: You don't think she jumped the gun at all?

SMITH: It doesn't -- no, it doesn't matter. They should have done it sooner because then they would have been further along with the courts. And, remember, it -- there's not going to be a conviction in the Senate. It's just -- the votes aren't there.

Now, things could change the way they did with Watergate. Nixon was at 68 percent approval when the hearings first began. After a year, he was where Trump starts today. So -- and then Howard Baker asked that famous question and it all collapsed.

HARLOW: But that's the question, is there a Howard Baker?

SMITH: I don't think so. But that's still not the point. The point is Trump can't sustain a reelection with this drip, drip, drip.

HARLOW: That's interesting. You believe, Guy, that the way this may play out is that it will politically cost the president -- which may cost him the 2020 election?

SMITH: That's right.

HARLOW: But you do -- but that's the process, you're saying impeachment proceedings help the Democrats on that front?

SMITH: That's right. It will be more and more revelations. Remember, even in the Mueller report, there are 12 referrals to U.S. prosecutorial jurisdictions that nobody knows anything about. But what we do know is, none of them are going to be any good for Donald Trump. There will only be more revelations that chips further away at his base, especially in states like Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. His campaign has already said they're giving up on Michigan. Already his campaign said that.

HARLOW: How damaging -- I haven't heard them say that, but how damaging to the republic, to democracy is impeachment in general?

[09:55:02]

SMITH: It's not damaging. It's strengthening because it shows that we can govern ourselves, that we're not governed by people, we're governed by laws. That's why the whole process --

HARLOW: So you think the impeachment of President Clinton was strengthening to the democracy?

SMITH: Well, it showed that it -- that -- where people were because he became more popular -- HARLOW: Sure.

SMITH: And it was about a single blue dress. Trump has dozens of blue dresses.

HARLOW: This is for another segment.

Guy Smith, we are out of time. Thank you very much.

SMITH: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: I appreciate it.

Any minute now we are expecting the release of the log of the phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart.

Stay with us for that.

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