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President Trump Releases Memo Detailing Ukraine Call; Interview with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA); Trump Meets with President Zelensky of Ukraine. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST, HALA GORANI TONIGHT: And we continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thank you so much for being with me on yet another very busy news day.

President Trump will soon sit down with Ukrainian President Zelensky, this face-to-face meeting, the White House thought would neutralize outrage and this -- Democrats' impeachment inquiry over that July 25th phone call between these two men.

But something happened along the way to the United Nations, that only added more fuel to the fire. This morning, at the president's request, the White House released this five-page rough transcript of that call. And afterward, he said there's basically nothing to see here.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The letter was a great letter. Meaning, the letter revealing the call. That was done at the insistence of myself and other people that read it. It was a friendly letter. There was no pressure.

The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call, other than a lot of people said I never knew you could be so nice.


TEXT: Trump: I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine... I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.

BALDWIN: Here are the facts. That transcript shows that this was anything but a nothing call. At one point, the president tell Ukraine's newly elected leader that the U.S., quote, "has been very, very good to Ukraine," adding that the generosity was not reciprocated.

TEXT: Zelensky: I'm very grateful to you for that because the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine... I would also like to thank you for your great support in the area of defense.

BALDWIN: Zelensky responds by thanking Trump for defense support, before saying Ukraine wants to buy more anti-tank missiles from the U.S. And that prompted this response from President Trump. He said this: "I would like you to do us a favor, though" -- a favor that included investigating a U.S. cybersecurity firm named CrowdStrike. And, separately, investigating Joe Biden's son.

TEXT: Trump: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike...

BALDWIN: President Trump then promised to connect Ukraine's president with his own personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General Bill Barr.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a shakedown that confirmed the need for an impeachment inquiry. And House Intelligence Chief Adam Schiff summed it up this way.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The notes of the call reflect a conversation far more damning than I or many others had imagined. It is shocking at another level, that the White House would release this -- these notes, and felt that somehow this would help the president's case or cause.

This is how a mafia boss talks. What have you done for us? We've done so much for you, but there's not much reciprocity. I have a favor I want to ask you. And what is that favor, of course? The favor is to investigate his political rival, to investigate the Bidens. And it's clear that the Ukraine president understands exactly what is expected of him.


BALDWIN: Kaitlan Collins is one of CNN's White House correspondents; Anne Milgram is the former attorney general for the state of New Jersey and is a CNN legal analyst; Hagar Chemali is a former spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

So welcome to all of you. And let's just hit it quickly, round robin. This rough transcript. Why did President Trump think that releasing it would be a good idea?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House and the president's allies think that this clears him. They say that there has been this build-up over the past few days that made it sound like the president explicitly threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine, in reward for them -- or if they didn't investigate Joe Biden and his son's business activities. And so they thought that when this came out, it would prove the president right.

Of course, that has not been the reaction to it that you've seen. And the question is whether or not the president, and how he's going to react to this. Because he is one -- he was the one who thought it was going to be a good idea to release it, after he had that phone call with Nancy Pelosi yesterday morning, where they talked about this whistleblower's complaint, and he wanted to get this out there because he thought it would clear him and prove him correct.

BALDWIN: You read (ph) this?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I agree. I mean, I think in some ways, the president was trying to get ahead of it, the story was mushrooming. I also think that, you know, the president's arguing that there's no quid pro quo in this, it's a very strange analysis of what I think is an incredibly damning letter. And I think it's sort of the wrong question to be asking.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you, legally speaking, most damning, in a second.

Hagar, why do you think he put this out?

HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, U.S. MISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS: At the end of the day, I think he doesn't think he did anything wrong. Releasing White House transcripts is not a common practice. I know, I was at the White House --


CHEMALI: -- we did numerous calls. Transcripts are not even shared within the government. For them to release it is a big step, and it means they just think he did nothing wrong. And I think that's a pattern for him. If you go back to the campaign, when we talked about working with the Russians and --


CHEMALI: -- meeting with the Russians, they just don't think anything wrong of it.

BALDWIN: What do you think, Anne, just from a legal perspective? What is the most damning piece of this?

MILGRAM: So, you know -- and I've been a criminal prosecutor for a long time, I've prosecuted Democratic --


MILGRAM: -- and Republican politicians for political corruption. I think the president is seeing this very narrowly, as a political corruption case. My personal view is that I think there are criminal violations here, very likely to exist. But this isn't really about this. This is about political corruption in the bigger sense, which is an elected official using their power to --

BALDWIN: Abuse of power.

[14:05:00] MILGRAM: -- abuse of power, to benefit themselves. And if -- you know, this isn't about proving a very narrow bribery statute right now, this is about the president of the United States also co-opting the entire law enforcement, putting Bill Barr -- three times, he mentions him in that call, it's beyond outrageous and it's something we can't accept in the U.S.

BALDWIN: And you were at Treasury when Russia invaded Crimea?


BALDWIN: So you know --


BALDWIN: -- how important this aid is, right? For both the U.S. and for Ukraine.

CHEMALI: Absolutely. When it happened, aid was a key part of our strategy to support the Ukrainians and to back -- to balance the power between Russia and Ukraine, and Russia and the United States.


CHEMALI: And that wasn't just a policy of the White House and State and Treasury, it was a policy of -- backed bipartisanly in Congress. So it had support, writ large. I mean, at the end of the day, this money is not Donald Trump's to give or not give. It's part of the policy, part of our strategy.

BALDWIN: And invoking Bill Barr, right? This is the lead law enforcement chief, DOJ. He's like, Bill Barr will call you, or you call Bill Barr. He mentions him, like, five times, kind of in the same breath as his own personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

And my question is, based upon what we know from all things Mueller and how President Trump felt about Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all of that, A, is this not a conflict of interest? And, B, just looking at you, Kaitlan, how can Bill Barr not recuse himself?

COLLINS: Well, he hasn't and he didn't in this decision. We know that as they were going through this, whether or not, you know, this criminal referral, whether they were going to open this investigation, they interviewed the White House officials who were involved in putting this transcript together, that's it. They didn't interview anyone else.

And then they made the decision not to go anywhere with this, the basis of what could be the value of an investigation into Joe Biden for the president politically, is it actually a campaign finance violation.

But it's -- one of the bigger mysteries is that Bill Barr wanted this transcript to be released. People are questioning why now, because he is mentioned throughout it, even though the DOJ insisted he didn't know how much he came up during this call until -- BALDWIN: Couple weeks later.

COLLINS: -- this whistleblower filed this complaint, though it was in part based on this conversation. So that's a big question, coming out of it. Because it's not a flattering look for the White House, to have the president telling a foreign leader to reach out to the U.S. attorney general to investigate Joe Biden and his family.


COLLINS: So that's kind of something you're hearing, not just from critics of the president. You're hearing it from people who are allies of this White House. In most typical forums, they're questioning why they would release this when it's got comments like that included throughout.

BALDWIN: OK. So all of this -- I have more questions for you.

Also, of course, we're standing by for this, you know, bilateral meeting between the president of Ukraine and the president of the United States, so that's happening in mere minutes.

With me now, one of the Democratic lawmakers who wrote that opinion piece that really helped turn the tide on starting an impeachment inquiry against the president. She is Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.

So, Congresswoman Spanberger, a pleasure to have you on. Welcome.

REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): Thank you so much for having me.

BALDWIN: So you are also a former CIA case officer, an ex-federal agent for the Postal Inspection Service. You have read this transcript, you tell me what you think is the most damning piece to you.

SPANBERGER: Let's start with the allegations as they exist. The allegations that the president of the United States sought to leverage his power as president over a foreign nation, to collect and dig up dirt on a political opponent.

And that's what we see in these -- in this transcript memorandum, that's what we see. We see a president using his presidential power, using his influence. And I certainly think that we need more evidence before we move forward as a Congress. But I believe that, unfortunately, these transcripts do affirm that these allegations may have some truth to them, particularly given the tenor of the conversation, the element of pressure.

And we need to remember, this is the president of the United States, speaking with the leader of a foreign nation that requires and relies heavily on U.S. security aid, and on a positive relationship with the United States.

BALDWIN: Do you see a quid pro quo? SPANBERGER: Well, I think, first, it's important to note that you don't need to have a quid pro quo. However, I do think that within the transcripts that we have seen so far, that there is an implication of U.S. support, all the U.S. does for Ukraine. And I think that there is an inherent power imbalance in this, and that's an important thing to note, especially from a diplomatic perspective.

From a diplomatic perspective, many countries rely on positive relationships with the United States of America. And this power imbalance is something that everyone needs to understand, in looking at whether or not there is an element of quid pro quo which, again, doesn't necessarily have to be there in the first place.

But, when we look at the larger scale, that the president of the United States may have sought to use and leverage security assistance dollars, taxpayer dollars to pressure a foreign government to dig up dirt on an opponent, that is beyond the pale. That is one step further than the initial element of using that pressure.


BALDWIN: What about Speaker Nancy Pelosi? So do you agree that her announcement yesterday didn't change anything in terms of process?

SPANBERGER: So I think her announcement yesterday focused on these allegations, to say we are now officially in an impeachment investigation, I do think it changes things. It starts a new place.

And it -- when we are looking at these specific allegations, these allegations, if proven true, I believe -- and this is what my colleagues with a background in national security assessed -- these represent a national security threat, and these allegations, if true, represent impeachable offenses.

So the announcement yesterday, that the speaker made, is to allow the House of Representatives to use all congressional tools and authorities necessary to determine if these allegations are true or not.

BALDWIN: And then, Congresswoman, I was just having this conversation with these ladies, here in New York, about Bill Barr, right? So the attorney general, when you look at this transcript, the president brings him up five times. Let me just read one reference. President Trump says that, quote, "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great."

You know, you know Bill Barr. He's the head of DOJ, DOJ, overseeing this whistleblower. So do you think there's a conflict of interest here and should he recuse himself?

SPANBERGER: I think there are so many conflicts here, I think there are so many complicating factors. The fact that if there is some sort of criminal concern, why would DOJ not be the point person? Why would DOJ not bring any concerns to the FBI, the fact that the president would be bringing up a political foe and asking for help in investigating him. None of it is appropriate, and certainly not bringing up the attorney general.

And, part and parcel, bringing up the attorney general right there with the president's personal attorney --

BALDWIN: Correct.

SPANBERGER: -- there seem to be many conflicts and many confusing factors to this transcript. And I think it's important, from a national security perspective, to also question how confusing is this, for the president of a foreign country, to get these sort of messages from the president of the United States.

BALDWIN: Right. Again, we will see these two leaders any moment now. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, a pleasure. Thank you very much.

SPANBERGER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Of course, our breaking news coverage continues as we wait for the president to meet with the president of Ukraine. What both of these men have to say after the release of this White House transcript of their phone call from end of July?

Also, President Trump's personal lawyer, he is mentioned, also, several times in this transcript. What we know about Rudy Giuliani's direct involvement in the scandal.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: We're back with more of the breaking news here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN amid this swirl of controversy over President Trump's phone call with the president of Ukraine. These two men will sit down for a bilateral meeting at the U.N. any second now.

And let me just remind you what got us here, right? So you go back to May of this year, when Rudy Giuliani considered traveling to Ukraine to look into the debunked theory about former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter.

Now, he canceled the trip after major criticism. And then fast- forward, two months later, in July, Giuliani instead meets with a Ukrainian official in Madrid. And later that month is when this phone call takes place between Trump and Ukrainian counterpart. Just days before calling the Ukrainian president, Trump had ordered a hold on millions of dollars in military aid.

And so, then, that brings us to September where, just weeks after a whistleblower files a complaint with the intelligence inspector general, Congress launches three investigations into the president and Giuliani's efforts with Ukraine. Three days later, the administration lifts the freeze on Ukrainian funding. And then, last night, on "Fox News," Rudy Giuliani responded to his

role when it comes to Ukraine. Watch this.


RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL LAWYER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: And you know who I did it at the request of? The State Department. I never talked to a Ukrainian official until the State Department called me and asked me to do it. And then I reported every conversation back to them.

It's all here, right here. The first call from the State Department, the debriefing of the State Department --


GIULIANI: Ambassador Volker called me, he asked me to do it. He set up the meeting, or helped me to set it up. I debriefed him three times in great detail about it.


BALDWIN: All right.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. We're with the president of Ukraine, and he's made me more famous than I --


-- I will say, he's got a great reputation. He's very, very strongly looking into all sorts of corruption, into some of the problems they've had over the years. I think it's one of the primary reasons he got elected, his reputation, absolutely sterling.


And it's an honor to be with you. And we spoke a couple of times, as you probably remember. And they'd like to hear every single word, and we give them every single word. And then they'll say, well, what about today? I think the press would like to stay in the meeting, but we have lots of witnesses, if you'd like to have it.

But the country of -- our country is doing phenomenally well. We are -- we have the best economy we've ever had, we have the best employment numbers that we've ever had. We have, now, almost 160 million people working, which is more than we've ever had. So we're doing very well in every respect. And I have a feeling that your country's going to do fantastically well, and whatever we can do --


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Please, please.

ZELENSKY: Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to me to be here. And it's better to be on TV than by phone, I think.



ZELENSKY: And, Mr. President, thank you very much. And I'm not -- the first time to stay (ph) in New York.

TRUMP: Right.

ZELENSKY: But I know that you've never been in Ukraine --

TRUMP: That's right.

ZELENSKY: -- and your predecessor, also -- how do you say it in English -- didn't find time.


TRUMP: That's right.

ZELENSKY: So, can you give me a word that you will come to our great country?

TRUMP: Well, I'm going to try. And I know a lot of people -- I will say this, I know a lot of people from Ukraine, they're great people. And I owned something called the Miss Universe Pageants, years ago, and I sold it to ING. And when I ran for president, I thought maybe it wouldn't be the greatest thing to own the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants, but it's a great thing. And we had a winner from Ukraine. And we've really had -- we got to know the country very well in a lot of different ways, but it's a country, I think, with tremendous potential.

ZELENSKY: Yes. I know it because I am from this country.

TRUMP: Right.


ZELENSKY: And I want to thank you for invitation to Washington. You invited me. But I think I'm sorry, but I think you forgot to tell me the date.


But I think in the near future.

TRUMP: They'll tell you the date.

ZELENSKY: Oh. Yes (ph) they know before us.

And I want to thank you, to thank you, especially, Mr. President, to USA, to your government. Like I said, I know many people, many faces, it's like they're second family after you -- my Ukrainian family, we know each other. Thank you for your support. Especially now, when, you know, when we

have two -- really, two wars in Ukraine. The first one is with corruption, you know --


ZELENSKY: -- but we'll fight -- no, we'll be winner in this fight, I'm sure. And the priority, my priority, to stop the war on Donbas and to get back our territories: Crimea, Donbas, (INAUDIBLE). Thank you for your support in these cases. Thank you very much.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Mr. President. If you remember, you lost Crimea during a different administration, not during the trump administration --


ZELENSKY: Yes. So you have chance to help us.

TRUMP: That's right, I do. But that was during the Obama administration, that you lost Crimea. And I didn't think it was something that you should have, but that was done a long time ago and I think it was handled poorly, but it's just one of those things.

One of the elements that we discuss is, the United States helps Ukraine but I think that other countries should help Ukraine much more than they're doing: Germany, France, the European Union nations, they really should help you a lot more. And I think, maybe together, we'll work on that.

They have to feel a little bit guilty about it because they don't do what they should be doing. You're very important to the European Union, you're very important strategically, very important. And I think they should spend a lot more in helping Ukraine. And they know that also ,and they actually tell me that. But they don't seem to produce.

So I'm sure you'll talk to them, and I'll certainly be talking to them.

ZELENSKY: Thank you very much, Mr. President. And, you know, now, we need -- I want to tell you that we now (INAUDIBLE) the new country. And, I'm sorry, but we don't need help, we need support, real support.

And we thank -- thank everybody, thank all of the European countries, which help us. But we also want to have more. More, but I understand, so only together, America and E.U. -- only together, we can stop the war. And, you know, we are ready. We just want to tell that we are -- remember, that we are the biggest country in Europe, but we want to be the richest one. It's true, it's in my heart.


TRUMP: Well, you know, you have great people in Ukraine, and you have very talented people --

ZELENSKY: Very smart.

TRUMP: -- in terms of manufacturing, in terms of some of the things they do. And we'll be doing -- we're doing trading already, but we should be doing a lot more trading with Ukraine. But you have very talented people. They make great things.


TRUMP: You're at the top of the line, really. So that's very important.

And the other thing is, I've heard you actually have, over the last fairly short period of time, you've really made some progress with Russia. I hear a lot of progress has been made. And just keep it going. It'd be nice to end that whole disaster.

ZELENSKY: First of all, I want to tell you, before -- before the relations with Russia, I will prolong, just one minute. I mean, you have to know -- I want world to know that now we have the new team, the new parliament, the new government.

TRUMP: Right.

ZELENSKY: So now we voted about 74 laws, new laws, which help for our new reforms, land reform, big privatization, they did the law about concessions. Did we reload (ph) their general for security, and we launched the service secretary. Is it right, service secretary?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And anti-corruption court, as well.

ZELENSKY: And anti-corruption court. As we came, we did -- we launched the anti-corruption court. It began to work on the 5th of September.

TRUMP: Right.

ZELENSKY: It was -- you know, it was after five days, we had the new government.

So, we are ready. We want to show that we just come. And if somebody, if you want to help us, so just let's do businesses cases.

TRUMP: Right.

ZELENSKY: We have many investment cases. We're ready.

TRUMP: And stop corruption in Ukraine, because that will really make you great. That will make you great personally, and it'll also be so tremendous for your nation, in terms of what you want to do and where you want to take it. Thank you very much. It's a great honor.

ZELENSKY: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Zelensky, have you felt any pressure from President Trump to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden?

ZELENSKY: I think you read everything. So I think you read text. I'm sorry, but I don't want to be involved to democratic, open elections of USA. No, you heard that we had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. And so I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed me. Yes.

TRUMP: In other words, no pressure.


TRUMP: Because you know what, there was no pressure. And you know there was -- and, by the way, you know there was no pressure. All you have to do is see it, what went on, on the call. But you know that. But you can ask a question, and I appreciate the answer.

Go ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you like President Zelensky to do more on Joe Biden and investigate --


TRUMP: No, I want him to do whatever he can. This was not his fault, he wasn't there. He's just been here recently. But whatever he can do in terms of corruption, because the corruption's massive.

Now, when Biden's son walks away with millions of dollars from Ukraine, and he knows nothing, and they're paying him millions of dollars, that's corruption. When Biden's son walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund, and the biggest funds in the world can't get money out of China, and he's there for one quick meeting, and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think that's a horrible thing. I think it's a horrible thing.

But I'm going far beyond that. I know the President, and I've read a lot about Ukraine. I've read a lot about a lot of countries. He wants to stop corruption. He was elected, I think, number one, on the basis of stopping corruption, which unfortunately has plagued Ukraine. And if he could do that, he's doing, really, the whole world a big favor. I know -- and I think he's going to be successful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, on Rudy Giuliani, why do you think it's appropriate for your personal attorney to get involved in government business?

TRUMP: Well, you'd have to ask Rudy. I will tell you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mentioned it to the President --

TRUMP: I will tell you this, that Rudy is looking to also find out where the phony witch hunt started, how it started. You had a Russian witch hunt that turned out to be two and half years of phony nonsense. And Rudy Giuliani is a great lawyer, he was a great mayor, he's highly respected. I've watched the passion that he's had on television over the last few days. I think it's incredible, the way he's done.

What he's at is, he wants to find out where did this Russian witch hunt that you people really helped perpetrate, where did it start. How come it started? It was all nonsense. It was a hoax. It was a total hoax. It was a media hoax and a Democrat hoax. Where did it start?


And Rudy has got --