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Report: Acting DNI Threatened to Resign Over Whistle-Blower Complaint; Interview Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And now we know, thanks to Karoun and her team at "The Post," that's exactly what's happening.

Dana Bash, to you, my friend.

This is extraordinary, yes?


And I was going to say exactly what -- what Kylie said. The acting director of national intelligence gave us a big preview of his feelings and tried to put white smoke out there for people to see what his feelings are with that statement that she just reminded us of from last night, saying he wants to do this.

He wants to comply with the whistle-blower laws. That's all he's done his whole career is serve America and the military and elsewhere. And this is -- he was -- it was like a mayday call from inside, as much as he could.

And thanks to our friends at "The Washington Post," they're explaining what was going on behind that.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Dana, thank you.

Jim Acosta is our chief White House correspondent. He has got some scoop on the -- this whistle-blower complaint.

Jim, what do you have?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, one of the things that we have been looking forward to is the release of this whistle-blower complaint. And that is something that White House officials have been telling us was on its way.

You know, in addition to the release of this transcript of this phone call, this White House transcript of this phone call between the president and President Zelensky of Ukraine, we were going to see presumably the whistle-blower complaint.

Now, were we going to see all of the complaint? That wasn't exactly clear. Were there going to be classified portions of it that would be redacted? That possibly was something that was going to be a complicating factor in all this for the public to find out exactly what went on.

But from what we understood from talking to our sources, White House, the intelligence community were going through a declassification process for essentially this complaint to be revealed to Congress by tomorrow, because, as you know, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence , was supposed to testify and talk to Congress about all of this tomorrow.

And he was presumably going to have that complaint to look at to testify to Congress exactly what went on.

Now, why is all of this important? Well, flash back to last week, when the inspector general for the intelligence community went to the House Intelligence Committee, and essentially said that his hands were tied, and that the administration was not allowing this to happen.

Flash forward to yesterday, and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, essentially threatens to impeach the president, and then all of a sudden the transcript is coming out, and all of a sudden we're finding out this whistle-blower complaint might be coming soon after.

And so it sounds as though what we did not know about going on behind the scenes is that there was some -- some drama regarding Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, according to "The Washington Post," really upset that the administration was trying to hold him back and keeping him from saying exactly what he wants to say to lawmakers.

Now, Brooke, here's the big question in all of this. The president was just essentially stomping his feet with the president of Ukraine a few moments ago, insisting he applied no pressure on President Zelensky. He has said over and over again, I can't count how many times, that it was a beautiful call, it was a perfect call, they didn't do anything wrong, He didn't do anything wrong.

If that is the case, why is there so much drama surrounding the release of this call transcript? Why is there so much drama surrounding the release of this whistle-blower complaint?

And I suppose that will be one of the questions for the president when he walks in here for this news conference. If there's no problem here, if there's no there there, what's the big deal, Mr. President? Why are you not releasing this information to the public?

BALDWIN: Jim, thank you. Stand by.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill to Manu Raju, who also has some more information on this whistle-blower complaint.

And, Manu, do we know exactly when it's being delivered, when Senate Intel members will get a chance to read it?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republican senators are saying, Brooke, that this will happen this afternoon. And the Senate Intelligence Committee will get its first chance to look at this whistle-blower complaint this afternoon. This is according to Senator John Cornyn of Texas. It was a topic of discussion internally at a closed-door lunch earlier today.

Also, Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated that the Senate Intelligence Committee members would get a chance to look at this as well.

Now, we do expect to the House Intelligence Committee would review this at the same time. Now, the ultimate question is, how much of this will be publicly released...

BALDWIN: Exactly.

RAJU: ... and how much will these members be able to say afterwards?

But, Brooke, at the same time, some new reporting too about weird things are going on the impeachment front, because this all plays into how Democrats plan to push forward on impeachment.

Now, I'm told that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear to her members that she wants to keep the focus on the impeachment inquiry, narrowly looking at the issue of Ukraine, the whistle-blower complaint, how the president handled this phone call, the transcript.

They believe that is the most -- the clearest message that they can deliver to the American public of what they believe is wrongdoing by this president.


So, all those allegations of obstruction of justice that were laid out in the Mueller report, while they will still be an issue to focus on by the committees at large, the investigation as they consider how to impeach this president and move forward with articles of impeachment, they are going to look at more specifically on what happened with Ukraine, which is why it's so significant that this whistle-blower complaint will be delivered to Capitol Hill this afternoon, because, ultimately, it's going to play into how Democrats draft articles of impeachment.

There's a debate ongoing on how broadly to draft that articles of impeachment, how quickly to move. And there's a focus to try to move as quickly as this fall to actually move on articles of impeachment to impeach this president, making him just the third in history to be impeached.

But that -- this whistle-blower complaint will only add fuel to the fire if it is -- it confirms some of the Democrats' suspicions. And we will see how the Republicans react, because right now when you look at the transcript, Republicans are defending this president -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: They are. Manu, thank you so much.

Anne Milgram, just to you on, all right, so it goes to Senate Intel this afternoon. house gets to take a look. We don't know when the rest of the world will get to see this thing. But what would you be looking for?

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So I think there are a number of things that they should be looking for, including the fact that it's been publicly reported that it's not just the call from July 25.


BALDWIN: It's multiple events.

MILGRAM: Exactly. It's not just President Trump talking to Zelensky.

And so I would be looking for what else is in there. And, frankly, I would be looking at who else could be witnesses that the committee can call. I think we have already talked about a number of folks at the State Department, Office of Management and Budget, but there are a lot of pieces here that I think that the complaint can hopefully help to connect the dots a little bit.

BALDWIN: And also listening to Manu talking about Nancy Pelosi -- I jotted down the note narrowly look at the issue of Ukraine.

I was talking to Jen Rodgers, also a former federal prosecutor, and she was saying, yes, Brooke, they want to keep this tight, so it can go fast.

MILGRAM: Yes, I agree.

And I think, unlike the Russia investigation, we already know a lot of the pieces, and a lot of the people work in the United States government. And so it will be, in my opinion, very hard for them to say, no, the person who works at the State Department who Rudy Giuliani talked to cannot come in as a witness.


MILGRAM: And so I think the tighter they keep it, the better and the quicker it can move.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And it'll be interesting if they do rein it into just this, because yesterday, when Nancy Pelosi came out, she announced this formal impeachment inquiry.

A lot of questions in the White House were, what's different? Because she essentially said the six committee chairmen that were already investigating the president for different aspects were going to continue to do their work, but under the umbrella of a formal impeachment inquiry.

So they were asking, what really is that different about this? Will anything be changed? There were questions about whether or not that would make them more successful with those subpoenas and enforcing them in court. If they choose to rein it into just this tight little area, that could

potentially change that, make it more effective when Democrats are arguing they need to be able to enforce certain people in court.

So that's what the White House Counsel's Office and the legal team is essentially going to be looking at if they do, do that.


Let's go back to Jim Acosta, because, Jim -- Jim, you have got some White House reaction to this "Washington Post" piece on Joseph Maguire threatening to resign if he can't testify freely in front of Congress.

What are they saying?

ACOSTA: That's right, Brooke.

Just a quick update. The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, just posted a tweet a few moments ago saying about "The Washington Post" story: "This is actually not true. And we would have gone on the record to say that if 'The Washington Post' had given us more than six minutes literally to respond."

That is the only response at this point coming from the White House press secretary in reaction to this "Washington Post" story, which if it's accurate, as it's being reported right now, suggests that there is a very serious schism inside the administration, to have the director of national intelligence, the acting director of national intelligence, as you guys have been pointing out, to be so up in arms over this that he was threatening to resign.

That is a very, very big story in the middle of all of this, and obviously complicating the issue of whether or not the whistle-blower complaint is going to be really anytime soon to anybody's satisfaction -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Well, you mentioned the schism within the White House.

And weren't we just talking, I think Kaitlan and I, but all of you guys had the reporting from a couple of days ago, in the midst of this whole thing, that there was already sort of this White House divided over this issue of Ukraine.

And I remember one of the quotes from one of your notes on, this is like -- this is a huge deal vs. this, we have seen this movie before, this is Mueller 2, right?

ACOSTA: Right.

BALDWIN: It just shows right that not everyone's on the same page over at the White House.

ACOSTA: No question about it.

There are Trump advisers who were deeply worried about this earlier in the week, saying that this is a serious issue for us, pointing to the fact -- and we have seen this over the last 48 to 72 hours -- the president admitting that he put pressure on the Ukrainian president to go after Joe Biden.

He has now dialed that back, and the president admitting yesterday that he did hold up the aid to Ukraine, but saying that it was because of corruption reasons and the reason of Europeans not doing enough to chip in to help the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression.


But no question about it, there have been some concerns inside the president's circle of aides, advisers, outside advisers, and so on. I talked to one just yesterday evening, Brooke, who said, yes, the president is concerned about being impeached. He may act publicly like this is the best thing that's ever happened to him.

You heard him say just a few moments ago, sitting down with Zelensky, that his poll numbers are going up. But, privately, he has confided to people around him that he's concerned about this and where this might be heading.

BALDWIN: Do you want to add to that?

COLLINS: Yes, I think that's what's going to be so interesting about watching this, is because this was not supposed to be the highlight of the president's time here at this summit.

So now that it has become...

BALDWIN: It's dominated.

COLLINS: ... the central focus, it has completely overshadowed essentially everything, and not just because of media speculation or Democratic criticism.

The president himself has addressed Ukraine essentially every day at the start of his meetings with these world leaders.


COLLINS: So that will be something to watch as they're doing this and what exactly it is the president says, how they respond if the president does get a question about the acting DNI and what his position on all this is.

We are going to continue to see the president insist, I didn't do anything wrong. The question will be once that complaint comes out what is said after that.

MILGRAM: And just one quick point on the acting DNI.


MILGRAM: The fact that the complaint is going to the Intelligence Committees before the acting DNI talks to the committee tomorrow, they're going to have a lot more information when they question him than they would have otherwise.

And so I think that this is in part potentially why we're seeing "The Washington Post" story, because he's going to definitely be on the hot seat, even if they don't publicly reveal classified information tomorrow.

The committee members will know it, and they will have it, and it will be a -- it's a very different conversation than if they know nothing.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: And I also want to point out that we have three committees that have threatened to subpoena people at the State Department if Pompeo doesn't turn over documents to them that they have requested regarding Rudy Giuliani and his dealings with Ukraine by the end of the day tomorrow.

So, we have this going on. And then we also have folks at the State Department having to decide how they're going to react to this request of this vast amount of documents that these committees have asked for, and how they're going to move forth there.

We also know that there's considerations for asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come up and testify on this subject. So we're going to see plenty, plenty more top administration officials involved in this, I think.


And just to your point, just reminding everyone, if you're just tuning in, Dana Bash, just bringing you back, again, the headline from "The Washington Post" -- and we talked to Karoun Demirjian a second ago -- is about Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, saying, I need to testify freely, and, if not -- on Thursday -- and if not, I want to resign.

And so you made a point. Will just make your point about Maguire's statement just 24 hours ago and how that perhaps foreshadowed this scoop?

BASH: That's right.

And I'm looking down because I'm trying to find it, so I can quote from it appropriately. And I have it now.

He said in this statement last night, which is pretty rare to have this kind of statement from a DNI, acting or not, particularly in the middle of this -- this situation that we have now.

He made a point of saying, cryptically, but maybe now we understand: "I have a sworn oath to the Constitution. Eleven times -- I have sworn an oath 11 times in my 36 years of public service and view it as a covenant with every American that I will discharge my duties of the office."

And he went on to say at the end: "I look forward to continuing to work with the administration and doing" -- he also said: "I'm doing what's right to protect the whistle-blowers."

You know, I don't know if it's a cry for help now, in retrospect, or if it is more of him signaling to the public and to the Congress, I'm trying to do this here, but I'm in a tough spot.

And as our colleagues at the table there were pointing out, he is acting. He is not -- he's the guy who was left holding the potato at the -- at the office of DNI. And so he's trying to navigate this incredibly difficult situation, where you do have a law that protects whistle-blowers, but also a law that never intended for the whistle- blower to be blowing the whistle on the president of the United States.

So it makes it very murky.

BALDWIN: OK. Dana, thank you very much.

As we -- this conversation is dominating not only the U.N., but the nation, the number of Democrats supporting an impeachment inquiry continues to tick up, now to more than 200. There are 235 total Democrats, which means about 30 are still not on board.

And one of them is with me now, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia from Texas.

Congresswoman Garcia, a pleasure. Welcome.

REP. SYLVIA GARCIA (D-TX): Well, thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: You are not only a member of Congress. You are a lawyer, a former judge, member of House Judiciary Committee, which is supposed to oversee these impeachment proceedings.

And even before I ask you about impeachment, just what's your reaction to the breaking news regarding the acting director of national intelligence?


"The Washington Post" reporting that Joseph Maguire threatened to resign over concerns that the White House might try to get him to stonewall Congress.

What do you make of that, Congresswoman?

GARCIA: Well, nothing surprises me anymore. Unfortunately, this White House is more about stonewalling and ordering people not to testify, ordering people not to appear, and doing everything they can to cover up some of their activities, that nothing surprises me anymore.

BALDWIN: Is that a bad thing?

GARCIA: What -- of course it's a bad thing.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Yes. Shouldn't we be surprised? I mean, this is pretty extraordinary times.

GARCIA: Well, it is.

And how many times have you all had to say breaking news? Because something breaks every second almost.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes, yes.

GARCIA: And, for me, it's like even the acting director said -- you know, I too have sworn an oath of office for over 12 times in my 25 years of service.


GARCIA: So I know what that oath says.

We are to protect the laws of this country. And that's what this is all about. It's about the Constitution.


GARCIA: It's about national security. It's about the heart of our democracy.

It's not about this president. It's not about any president. It's about the Constitution and the rule of law.


So I read a quote from you yesterday saying that you were leaning toward impeachment. Now that you have read this transcript, Congresswoman, where do you stand?

GARCIA: Well, I need to see the full, unredacted complaint.

And I mean the full every-letter version, not someone's interpretation. This is not a...


GARCIA: ... transcript.

BALDWIN: The whistle-blower complaint?

GARCIA: Well, no, the -- correct, the whistle-blower complaint.

I would like to see the whistle-blower and hear directly from him or her. And I look forward to seeing what the acting director does say tomorrow. I hope they don't block him from coming to us. And I will leave it up to the Intel Committee to decide what they do if he or -- if he does not come, or that we don't -- they don't get to see the full hearing on the complaint itself.

BALDWIN: You know, I mentioned there are 200-plus Democrats who are already sort of over that fence. They are in favor of this impeachment inquiry.

And since you're not quite there, I'm just curious, are they reaching out to you? Can you tell me about any...


GARCIA: No. Well, let's be clear. I have never said I'm not for the inquiry. I have not made a decision on whether to impeach or not, because, obviously, there's no articles prepared. There's no...

BALDWIN: No. No. No. We're just on the impeachment inquiry. I don't want to put the horse before the cart here, no.


GARCIA: No, exactly. And I'm not going to do that.

But I have been for the impeachment inquiry that we've been doing in Judiciary since before the summer break. I was at the press conference with the chairman when we announced it. I have been supportive of all the other inquiries.

I think question of an inquiry and the formal investigation that we're doing now on this very one issue is very critical and may just be the last straw, because, if everything is true, then I'm going to be ready to support impeachment, period.

No one should accept the fact that this president talked to the Ukraine president and asked him to -- the transcript is clear. He says, I need a favor. He talks about what -- all the work that we do for the -- and things that we do for the Ukraine government, and then says, oh, and look at this thing about Joe Biden's son, which is all fabrication.

So you look at all of those things, and it's easy. You don't have to be a judge or a lawyer to figure that out. Someone's asking for a favor, and it's political, and it's to get dirt on an opponent, that is unacceptable, it's outrageous, and we should not stand for it.

BALDWIN: Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, thank you so much.

GARCIA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I appreciate your perspective.

And, again, moments from now, we are expecting that whistle-blower complaint to be delivered to lawmakers up on Capitol Hill, as Manu is reporting. This is all happening as President Trump is going to be holding a news conference

So stay with us for live coverage, as the breaking news continues to unfold.

We will be right back.



REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Before -- before I even became part of the leadership, I saw the evolution of these laws and then the improvements on them with further protection for whistle-blowers.

I was also there for the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the relationship between the two. And it's a careful balance of protecting whistle-blowers, but also protecting our national security and our intelligence, our intelligence.

So, in any event, we -- one of the bills we wrote was the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. The law plays a vital role in our democracy.

It enables our system of separation of powers to maintain the rule of law by making sure that the abuses of unlawful actions are known, first to the inspector general of the intelligence community, and then the congressional Intelligence Committees, House and Senate, which can act upon it.

The statute does not permit the DNA (sic) to second-guess the inspector general's determination of any complaint he finds to be credible.

At no point in the history of this law has a DNI ever refused to turn over a whistle-blower's complaint that has been found by the I.G. as credible. Refusing to do this is a violation of the law.


Our national security depends on this framework. This vote today is about more than just any one president. This resolution is about the preservation of our American system of government.

Once we pass this resolution -- and I acknowledge that we are joining the Senate, which passed it without objection yesterday unanimously -- once we pass this resolution, the DNI will be faced with the choice to honor his responsibility to help preserve our republic or to break the law.

This resolution passed by unanimous consent, I repeat, in the Senate. Every member, Democratic and Republican, should join us in passing this in the House.

While we await the release of the full complaint, we reiterate our call for the release of the full transcript of the call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, and reiterate our call to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation.

I urge bipartisan a vote to defend our national security and to protect our democracy.

I yield back the balance of my time. Thank you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to reserve the balance of my time.

BALDWIN: All right, listening to Speaker Pelosi there.

She's talking about this whistle-blower complaint. We know from our reporting here at CNN that that complaint is being delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon.

And the question is when the other members of Congress will be able to get a look at it and perhaps the rest of us.

We are also moments away from a news conference from President Trump this afternoon and the release of that whistle-blower complaint that in part sounded the alarm on President Trump pressuring a foreign power to investigate his political rival in Joe Biden.

The president and the man at the center of that call, the Ukrainian president, actually met moments ago in front of lots of cameras, insisting that there was no pressure on that phone call that happened back in the end of July.

But that transcript shows this was anything but a nothing call. At one point, President Trump tells Ukraine's newly elected leader that the U.S. has been very, very good to Ukraine, adding that the generosity was not reciprocated.

And so President 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: "I'd like you to do us a favor, though," a favor that included investigating a U.S. cybersecurity firm called CrowdStrike, and separately investigating Joe Biden's son.

President Trump then promised to connect Ukraine's president to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr.

CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero was counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security. And Julian Epstein was the chief counsel for the House Judiciary Democrats during the Clinton impeachment.

So thank you both for being with me.

And Julian just starting with you, this is not a verbatim transcript. In reading this today, do you see a smoking gun?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it's pretty close to a smoking gun.

And I think that, combined with the fact that the director of national intelligence getting ready -- or the acting director getting ready to tender his resignation if he couldn't provide the whistle-blower information, I think this is sort of a house of cards that's starting to fall around the administration.

I think it's not inevitable that we're going to see an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, but I think the center of gravity has now gone away from a decisive unlikely impeachment to a possible, if not probable, impeachment.

And I think the idea that the administration can give and Trump can give a benevolent explanation of the phone call with the Ukrainian president is -- I just think that dog is not going to hunt. So I think this is as close to a smoking gun as you get.

BALDWIN: Yes, hearing the president jumping in, saying there was no pressure during the bilateral they had a couple minutes ago.

Carrie, to you on Bill Barr, right? So Trump brings up the attorney general's name several times on this call. Still, CNN has learned that there was never any consideration that he would recuse himself from handling this issue.

So do you think he should? Is there a conflict of interests, as he is the head of DOJ and DOJ is handling the whistle-blower complaint?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, part of the answer to that question depends on whether what the president said in his conversation with the Ukrainian president is true, like, whether or not the president actually was discussing this issue with the attorney general, or whether he just said that in the conversation.

And I think we need to understand more about the behind-the-scenes conversations between the president and the attorney general to better understand that.