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Trump Denies Pressure to Probe Biden, Despite Transcript; Intel Director Denies Report That He Threatened to Resign; Whistleblower Complaint to Soon Be Delivered to Congress; Trump Will Speak after White House Releases Transcript. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we need to understand more about the behind the scenes conversations between the President and the Attorney General to better understand that. But Bill Barr has said that he's conducting an inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation. So it's very plausible that it could fall under that category. But I think the bigger issue between the two is that the heart of public corruption is the melding of official duties, carrying out officials acts, for personal benefit.

And so what the President -- what this phone call summary shows is that the President is using the instruments of the U.S. government, his foreign policy role, the Attorney General of the United States for purposes of his own political gain, and that is public corruption.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: What about --

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CHIEF COUNSEL FOR HOUSE JUDICIARY DEMOCRATS DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: If I could add.

BALDWIN: Yes. Please. Please.

EPSTEIN: I was going to add to that. I think Carrie is very you're very proper to to caution us in terms of not reading too much into the DOJ role.

That is the benevolent read that she just gave that the administration will try to put out there. I think however if you look at the context of the conversation, it appears very possible that Trump is trying to involve the Department of Justice in an investigation into Biden. And if that is the case this takes on a Nixonian quality.

So I think the pieces of the puzzle are coming together in a very negative way for the administration. That said, one thing I want to say is that it's very important for Democrats not to appear political here, not to appear gleeful, not to appear anxious. The story of the 1998 impeachment against Clinton was --

BALDWIN: Hang on one second. Julian, forgive me, we've got to listen in, this is the President speaking with the President of El Salvador.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- Ukraine and it was a fantastic meeting. He said no pressure, no nothing. It's all a hoax. I call it the hoax and this is just a continuation of the witch hunt and that's all faded, that's all gone, and they had to come up with something else. The same players, Adam Schiff, Nadler, all the same players. But now Nancy Pelosi was forced into a position that she didn't want to be in and unfortunately, she wasn't tough enough to stop it. So thank you very much, everybody. I think we're going to be doing the news conference in a little while, and that will be the end. Thank you very much. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: All right. So we wanted to just dip in, because obviously, we knew reporters would be shouting questions. And you heard him there doubling down on what he just said with Zelensky a minute ago. Saying there was no pressure and then familiar words to all of us in calling this a hoax and a witch-hunt, et cetera. Julian, you were making a point. You want to finish that?

EPSTEIN: Yes. So the point I was making is that the story of impeachment in 1998 is the Republicans over playing their hand on a case that ultimately the public didn't believe. The story of the Mueller report I think was Democrats overplaying their hand in terms of Russian collusion in a way that this report ultimately didn't back up. And I think Democrats and I think a lot of the media lost some credibility on going out on the impeachment question on the Mueller report.

It's very important for Democrats to look at those two lessons now and not overplay their hand here, not look political, not look to anxious to impeach, look like they're methodical trying to get the facts and doing everything they can to tone down rhetoric while reaching out to undecideds and to Republicans. Even though that I think this is a very damning set of information that's come out in the last 48 hours, Democrats have got to play this very, very carefully at this point.

CORDERO: But there's a lot of connections between the information that's in the Mueller report and what is happening, what's been revealed by this conversation between the President and the Ukrainian President. What -- the connections is that the Mueller report documented that the 2016 Trump campaign's efforts and interest and openness to receiving foreign government assistance in order to win an election. And what we now know is that in the summer of 2019, the President is doing the same thing in this case he's not just willing to be on the receiving end, he is soliciting the assistance of a foreign government to dig up dirt on a political opponent.

EPSTEIN: Yes.

CORDERO: So the Mueller report was a warning for what is actually transpiring in the present.

EPSTEIN: And the irony --

BALDWIN: Let me jump in. Hang on, hang on one second, Julian because we're actually off the breaking story in the "Washington Post." I want you guys to respond this. Because we're now getting a statement from Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, right. He's the one according to the "Post" in the last couple of minutes who wanted to testify freely in front of Congress and didn't want the White House to try to stonewall.

And so this what Joseph Maguire has said. At no time have I considered resigning my position since assuming this role August 16, 2019. I have never quit anything in my life and I'm not going to start now.

[15:35:00]

I am committed to leading the intelligence community to address the diverse and complex threats facing our nation.

So, disputing the reporting. Carrie, your response?

CORDERO: Well, I think what we're seeing in the last 24 or so hours from the Acting Director of National Intelligence is an assertion of his independence. So he issued a statement yesterday indicating that he was working with the administration and Congress, almost placing a little bit of distance between himself and the administration with which he is a part, and now it looks like he is going to be testifying tomorrow before Congress.

And so, this statement I think this continues his assertion of independence that he is not going to go down with this ship. He has a reputation to preserve. He is going to try to do the right thing by the community and so it will be really interesting to see how forthcoming he is in his testimony tomorrow.

BALDWIN: Julian, 30 seconds. Close us out. Final thought from you?

EPSTEIN: I think in the Nixon impeachment episode, the Director of the IRS, bucked President Nixon in what appears to be a similar way in which the Acting Director may be standing up to the White House here. This is cartoonist quality to this, I mean this was kind of like a Bond villain and meeting Mr. Magoo. Where President -- and the buffoonery of it where President Trump is actually soliciting foreign intervention in our election the very day after Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill,

BALDWIN: The very day after.

EPSTEIN: -- in which the administration in a full-throated way is saying we never sought collusion from a foreign entity in the election. So there is a cartoonish quality to this.

BALDWIN: Yes. Julian and Carrie, thank you both so much for your insight. Again, just a reminder to all of you, who are waiting for this news conference to begin with President Trump and also this release of the whistleblower complaint.

Also, Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper host a special late-night wrap up with all the headlines from Washington. CNN special report "THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY" live tonight at 11:00 Eastern on CNN. [15:40:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Just a reminder. In a couple of minutes President Trump will be holding a news conference as his interactions with the Ukrainian President have launched this formal impeachment inquiry. Republicans for their part seem to be falling in line when it comes to their defense of the President. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham weighed in earlier challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring an impeachment vote to House floor.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Underwhelming, if you're looking for a circumstance where the President of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigate his political opponent, you would be very disappointed that does not exist. So from my point of view to impeach any President over a phone call like this would be insane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And Senator Mitt Romney took a different tone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT) There's just the question of, 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, and I feel that -- and so -- if there were a quid pro quo that would take it to an entirely more extreme level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Mia Love is a former Congresswoman from Utah and a CNN Political commentator, Congresswoman, nice to have back. And you heard your state Senator, Mitt Romney what he said there. Troubling. Do you think other Republicans will follow suit?

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that what was the conversation was troubling. I think anytime you ask a foreign entity to investigate what's going on in the United States it opens up a whole can of worms and is a national security issue.

But what Republicans were looking is if there was a quid pro quo. If there was any evidence that the President withheld financial support, aid to Ukraine in exchange for looking into a political opponent, and I think that the reason why the President said, well, my conversation was perfect, is because he knew he was being very careful about the conversation.

So I don't see -- the problem Democrats have now is, they're not going to be able to get any Republican support and they've also put a lot up their Democrats that are in swing districts on record. And so, that's going -- they have to be very careful about how that's going to actually affect them in the House.

BALDWIN: So then what will it take? You know, how great would the pressure have to be for every Republican to have to respond to this?

LOVE: I think that if there was any evidence that he withheld, he used his seat to withhold funding from Ukraine in order to get information on his political opponents or even in order to get anything, any personal gain from this would warrant an impeachment.

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So I think that also that the whistleblower, they're not as concerned about the whistleblower's comments as they are with the transcript. They wanted the transcript more than anything, and the fully unredacted, complete transcript I think is actually going to be more beneficial than the third-party complaint of the whistleblower for them anyway.

BALDWIN: What do you make -- listening to Lindsey Graham. It's sort of become cliche at this point, but if this was President Obama, like flip the script? I can only imagine, Congresswoman Love, that the reaction from these Republicans.

LOVE: Yes. You know, Lindsey Graham has been supportive of the President, you know, I have not been an apologist for the President. So again, I'm looking for ways that -- I'm looking for a connection of quid pro quo. I do think that there are Republicans out there that believe that the conversation itself was inappropriate. And that he -- even though he said that he didn't pressure, the foreign minister says that he didn't feel pressure, that there was obviously an ask there that -- that probably shouldn't have happened.

BALDWIN: Last question for you. Cindy McCain made some news because she said on a podcast that was just released today that the Republican Party is no longer, quote, the party that my husband and I belong to. And she wasn't specifically talking about, you know, what we're discussing, this Ukraine controversy or President Trump, but was speaking about the party in Arizona. Your reaction?

LOVE: Well, my reaction to that is that, you know, I hope that she would look at these things and say, you know, I'm not led by one person in the White House, that you hold people accountable to the principles and platform that we believe in. I know that that's what I do, and you know you call people out when they do something wrong. You don't leave the party. You keep the party and keep the integrity of the party. And that means that you have to step away from the President sometimes. You have to call out when something is wrong. And so I will continue to do that. And I hope that other Republicans will do the same thing and just be completely honest and open instead of just following blindly one person. Because people will let you down.

The platform is written and you've got something that you can actually hold people accountable to.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes. Need that from everyone. Left and the right. Congresswoman Mia Love, thank you.

LOVE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Much more breaking news ahead. President Trump speaks live and this whistleblower complaint is about to be delivered to Congress. We'll be right back.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Any moment now, that full whistleblower complaint that helped ignite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's impeachment inquiry will be delivered to lawmakers. And it is important to know just how early she is in this historical process. Under this new umbrella, six separate House committees will continue their investigations into the President and then from there a decision will be made on whether to draft articles of impeachment. And then even if the full House impeached the President, an actual conviction and removal would require a two-thirds majority from the U.S. Senate which is of course majority Republican, right now.

My next guest is a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina. Michael Gerhardt is author of "The Federal Impeachment Process" which is considered a modern authority on the subject. So Michael, thank you so much for joining me today.

MICHAEL GERHARDT, AUTHOR, "THE FEDERAL IMPEACHMENT PROCESS, A CONSTITUTIONAL AND HISTORICAL ANALYSIS": Thank you.

BALDWIN: I saw that in May of '17 you wrote this op-ed, with the headline, "Considering Impeachment? Slow Down." But today we see the President explicitly ask a foreign government to help in investigating a political rival. The question to you is, is that an impeachable abuse of power, in your opinion?

GERHARDT: It could well be. The point of that earlier article and I appreciate you looking at it was that I thought calls for impeaching President Trump way back shortly after he was elected just were way too soon. Impeachment depends on fact-finding and that is what the Speaker has asking for. She's asked for there to be fact-finding in the House, investigations to go forward. Particularly on this most recent instance involving the President's talk with the President of Ukraine.

But that talk as we've read about it so far seems to be very disturbing. It doesn't matter whether there is a quid pro quo. He's asking a foreign leader to help him defeat a political rival. That's something that is quite inconsistent with our separation of powers. It's not appropriate for the President, that's an abuse of power.

BALDWIN: Another piece of this conversation is about the public, right. I know you've written about the importance of the public confidence in the gravity of pursuing impeachment. I just want to play something that really stood out to me from when Speaker Pelosi was being interviewed yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA): This is about the Constitution of the United States. And we have many other, shall we say, candidates for impeachable offense in terms of the Constitution of the United States. But this one is the most understandable by the public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The most understandable by the public. Do you think the past week or really the past 48 hours, Michael, feels different than say, the revelations from the Mueller report in the public eye?

[15:55:00]

GERHARDT: I think it does. I think it feels different because first we have the transcript. I mean we're getting more concrete data about this than for example we are about the self-dealing the President may be engaged in. And that makes it different.

The second thing that makes it different is this is involving foreign affairs. The President is talking to another national leader but he's not talking about American interests, he keeps going back in the conversation to his own political needs, to what is going to help him politically. That's very different. In fact, that is pretty much the essence of the kind of corruption the impeachment process was designed to address.

BALDWIN: Of the other three Presidents who faced impeachment inquiries, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, do any of them offer any lessons or cautionary tales of how lawmakers should proceed?

GERHARDT: Well, with both Nixon -- with Nixon more than with Johnson and Clinton, the House actually did engage in fact-finding and so did the Senate. That fact-finding took two years. I'm not sure we have that much time for fact-finding to be done by the House in the current circumstances. But impeachments typically require fact-finding which takes time. The other thing about Nixon which may be helpful to remember is he had two impeachment articles approved against him by the House Judiciary Committee.

One involved a President's refusal to comply with subpoenas, well, this President has refused to comply with lots of subpoenas. Another article approved against Nixon charging him with ordering that head of IRS and the CIA to go after his political enemies. Here we have the President asking a foreign leader to help go after one of his political enemies. So if anything it sounds worse than what we've seen before.

BALDWIN: Sure. I have a feeling you and I are going to be talking again. Michael Gerhardt, I appreciate you very much. Thank you for coming on and again just a reminder any moment now, we will see President Trump at that podium in New York holding a news conference in the midst of this scandal involving his phone call with the Ukrainian President back from July. So we'll take that live. Be right back. You're watching CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to "THE LEAD," I'm Jake Tapper. We begin today with breaking news in the politics lead. We are in day two of what well could end up proving to be a long national nightmare. Any moment President Trump is expected to take questions from reporters as the threat of impeachment hangs over his presidency. We are entering a moment in history. Today the White House released a rough transcript of the July 25th phone call in which President Trump clearly asked Ukraine's President Zelensky to work with Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer and Attorney General Bill Barr, America's chief law and enforcement office to investigate his potential 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden and Biden's son, Hunter. Of the Biden's we should note again the Ukrainian prosecutor has already said there is no evidence that they did anything wrong. The context of the President's call, Mr. Trump was holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine that he needed to fight off Russian aggression.

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