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Rough Transcript Shows Trump Pushed Ukraine to Investigate Biden; Romney: "Troubling" If A President Asks A Foreign Leader To Do A Political Investigation; 2020 Dems Pounce After Transcript Released; Kamala Harris Wants to AG Barr to Testify Again. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: -- to bring Rudy Giuliani up to talk about his meetings. Every reason to ask the White House for the additional phone calls between President Zelensky and President Trump to ask is it believable that the attorney general's name comes up repeatedly in this phone call and it never makes its ways to the Justice Department.

And if that is the truth, why. What kind of a railroad are they running that the attorney general -- but to that point, Michael Zeldin raises some legal questions, the campaign finance question. There is no explicit quid pro quo, the president does not say investigate Biden or you don't get your money. He doesn't say that but he does say I need a favor right after the Ukrainian president asked for aid.

And then to this for me, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney running around, this one to me, again, I'm going to come back to this. Whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. This is the president of the United States involving the United States Justice Department, the government in this conversation. That is where Democrats are going to say it's an abuse of power and it's the use of government to influence foreign power.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and I think Adam Schiff there used the word "depravity" when talking about that aspect of this. In terms of, you know -- I mean, I think if you're the Democrats, you think this is very easy to understand. And you see this phone call, Adam Schiff there essentially saying it was much more damaging than he thought it would be when it came out. And, you know, you see him using phrases like reciprocity, the effect that there was no reciprocity from the Ukrainians, and then going into the favor.

At this point, in terms of where the public is, in terms of impeachment, it's about 37 percent. It's been as high as about 41 percent. I think for Clinton, it was never higher than 30 percent. One of the things you see in the numbers though so far is that Democrats aren't fully on board with impeachment. About a fifth are still not with where the House is right now in terms of full-bore impeachment.

And, you know, so far they haven't been so convincing, Democrats, in bringing the public along but they sure have fallen in line. If you look at where they were at the beginning of this week, it was 137 or something like that and it's almost 200 now. So we'll see if the actual party and the public move along with them.

KING: And so we're going to take a quick break. Just want to mention, we're waiting for the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, he's going to speak about this. We're waiting for the president of the United States. He's in a big meeting with the Japanese prime minister as Jeff noted a news conference this afternoon but we may hear from him before then.

Also now, a debate back and forth within the Trump administration. The Justice Department says no big deal. The intelligent -- the inspector general for the intelligence community says, yes, it is quite a big deal.


[12:36:58] KING: Welcome back.

Republicans are for the most part so far sticking with the president, insisting this memo about a call with the president of Ukraine contains no smoking gun or those Republicans say no reason for the impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats. Instead, they say this is a partisan overreach by the Democrats.

So let's get straight up to CNN's Manu Raju who's tracking some of the reaction and reporting up on Capitol Hill. Manu, the Republicans, most Republicans saying no "there" there.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. You're hearing Republicans fall in line from the top Republican in the House on down to the rank and file, saying there's no explicit quid pro quo, there's no explicit threat by the president to withheld military aid in exchange for investigating Bidens. They dispute the circumstantial evidence that the Democrats say is abundantly clear that that's exactly what the president was doing. And Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, made clear he saw nothing wrong with the transcript.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They talk about the Bidens in that call. Is that OK, Mr. Leader?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): How many times did he mention Biden?


MCCARTHY: No, he didn't. He mentioned it one time. Who brought it up? No, you watched the president of Ukraine brought it up.


RAJU: So in the transcript itself it says that the president of the United States is the person who first mentioned the Bidens. In fact, it says the other -- Trump says in this Trump, John, the other thing, 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. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution. So if you want to look into it, it sounds horrible to me.

Those are the words from the vice president -- from the president of the United States about the former vice president. Now, other Republicans are making clear that they say that the conversations with the Ukrainian president about investigating the Bidens were simply about draining the swamp. That's the words of one Republican who led the Russia investigation last year, Mike Conaway of Texas and told me that there's nothing wrong with talking about rooting out corruption in your own respective country.

So, while we're hearing some Republicans, the usual who have been critical of this president including Mitt Romney saying he's very troubled by the transcript. For the most part, we're hearing Republicans falling in line defending the president and making very clear that they believe the impeachment inquiry is an overreach.


KING: Manu Raju, important reporting on Capitol Hill. Just as a student of body language, 35 years student, when the leader is walking away as quickly as he can. That tells you a little something about his interest in the subject and his willingness to actually answer tough questions. But appreciate the efforts up there, Manu. Keep in touch with us as we go.

Let's bring it back in the room, you know, that -- I don't say that to be snarky. If you could stand there, look the camera in the eye and take questions about everything in this memo, it's not a transcript, it's a memo, you would stop and talk. They don't want anything to do with this. They want to get away as fast as they can.

I want to come back to the point Manu made because -- impeachment is a political exercise. This document, there's plenty in here. I don't care what your politics are, read it, please. Take your time. There's plenty in here to say, OK, that's worth further inquiry here. You don't have to come to a conclusion, it's worth further inquiry here.

[12:40:02] What was the president doing? What other meetings that Rudy Giuliani have? Did he promise a summit? Did he talk about the aid? What else was happening? What are the phone calls with the president?

One goes who says let's get the facts, a lonely Republican at the moment is now Senator Mitt Romney.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I don't know that I've focused so much on the quid pro quo element as perhaps some do. There's just a 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. Clearly, if there were a quid pro quo, that would take it to an entirely more extreme level.


KING: But just the pressure, Senator Romney finds troubling and says we need to get the facts here. Why aren't there more Republicans saying perhaps Democrats are without over their skis, they already want to impeach, but let's get the facts here?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Romney says that one of the reasons why is because the Republicans want to stay in power and they're concerned that if they speak out against the president, they could lose power. One thing that is really telling to me as I read this amalgamation of a transcript is that the president is coming into a conversation with the new Ukrainian leader that has obviously already been started. So when he begins to talk with him about former vice president Biden, when he first raises his name, he just says Biden. You know, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son that Biden (INAUDIBLE).

Well, if you were like bringing up a conversation for the first time, there would be some preamble. I've got some concerns about the former vice president, I hope I could bend your ear for a minute, we're all worried about corruption. But he just picks up in the middle of the last time they talked about it.

KING: And Zelensky mentions Giuliani. So he's already been involved as well. You're right, this is the middle of a conversation not the beginning or end of a conversation.

TALEV: Yes, he was calling him Rudy. And, you know, say it very respective. It is -- and Zelensky says there are (INAUDIBLE), he says stuff like, oh yes, I know that what you're talking about or yes, we're fully informed about that. And so it is the picking up of a middle of a conversation I think that is going to raise pressure both in terms of knowing more about what the totality of the whistleblower's complaint was. And in terms of if the Ukrainian president has already agreed to have excerpts of their calls released and there were other calls and other conversations, you know. I mean, as a reporter I'd like to see the rest.

But I think, you know, it's just -- the other thing is that I've had a couple of like full-length sitdown interviews with the president and this is a much more compact -- maybe he just talks shorter in more concise sentences with foreign leaders. But this is like -- we've all -- we have all had that sitdown time with him, this is a much more --

KING: This is not his language. This is not -- if you listen to the president of the United States every single day including earlier today when he went on this at times incoherent word salad about how he'd done nothing wrong, it's not how he talks. It's not how e talks. He's a very effective communicator but this -- that doesn't mean as anything apparent here. This is a summary, that's what they say it is, it's a summary, notebook report if you will of the phone conversation. But you're right, this is not the language the president uses.

I'm sorry.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I was just going to say to Margaret's point about this being kind of like the interim stage of an ongoing conversation. I mean, we already know that -- from various people on the Hill that the IG presented that the whistleblower's complaint was not based on just one event, right? So, there's the assumption out there that this is part of a puzzle. But also, you asked a minute ago, you know, why aren't members of the GOP saying let's see the facts here?

Because in this situation -- seeing the fact is often a way of deflecting but in this situation, it's actually taking a side. Because if you're saying let's see the facts, you're essentially saying let's see the whistleblower's complaint which says we don't accept the DOJ's argument that clearly the DNI is listening to that this is a question of privilege and a question of what the president can and can't say to foreign leaders and the Congress has no business seeing that.

TALEV: (INAUDIBLE) already asked for the complaint though. They have said we want to see it, but we want to see it behind closed doors with a group of --

DEMIRJIAN: To make this sort of thing publicized in the same way that this transcript summary is publicized would be to basically be taking a side in the argument. And that's why you're kind of stuck if you're a member of the GOP who doesn't want to cross the president here.

KING: The question is whether these private concerns become more public whether other Republicans join Senator Romney in saying they want to see more and that they -- even just to say they find it troubling that the president would raise a domestic political issue with another foreign leader. We're told that some Republicans did go to the White House to read this memo, again, it's not a transcript, it's a memo about the call before it was released.

So the White House obviously working closely as it should to coordinate the political messaging. That's how it should work, and at least sharing information.

We're going to take a quick break. This is -- A lot of moving parts in the story today. We're still waiting to hear from the Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in the Senate. We're waiting to hear from the president of the United States. He is trying to conduct business at the United Nations General Assembly amid all these.

And the Democrats have an impeachment inquiry. Most believe it will carry over to 2020. So what do the Democratic candidates competing in 2020 think about it? That's next.


[12:49:38] KING: The release of this memo detailing the president's phone conversation with the president of Ukraine and the decision yesterday by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call what the Democrats are doing in their investigations. A formal impeachment inquiry reverberating among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Just some of the reactions, this is from Elizabeth Warren, "This transcript itself is a smoking gun. If this is the version of events the president's team think is most favorable, he is in very deep jeopardy. We need to see the full whistleblower complaint and the administration needs to follow the law now."

[12:50:07] Senator Kamala Harris saying, "They admit it, Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to work with the U.S. attorney general to investigate a political opponent. He must be impeached."

Julian Castro, "This is the smoking gun. Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to work with his Justice Department to investigate a political opponent. Congress should cancel recess and begin impeachment proceedings immediately."

Two more (INAUDIBLE) on Senator Amy Klobuchar, "The record of this call is deeply disturbing. The president solicited a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and his family, prioritizing his personal gain over the national security interests of the United States. The president has violated the public's trust."

And Beto O'Rourke says, I would like you to do us a favor, though, essentially tweeting what the president said to the Ukrainian president there.

My big question here is, is a Washington consumed by impeachment good or bad?


KING: There's two issues there. One is to win the nomination. And then what is the impact on the general election?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, to win the nomination, probably is good to be out front impeachment which Elizabeth Warren has been far out front of this than anyone else. But in the long-term, we don't know. It depends where it goes.

But I think we know a couple things. One, all this talk about Joe Biden and nothing's been proven et cetera, it's still not exactly what you would want at this moment of the campaign when he is no longer the sole frontrunner. He is a shared leader of the pack if you will with Elizabeth Warren.

But, overall, I think that we -- one thing Speaker Pelosi has managed to do at least, for now, is unify Democrats which we have not seen for quite a while on this. So that probably helps in this primary fight. But long-term, Democrats have no idea if they're walking into a trap on this or not.

KING: To the point about Biden, a lot of the things being said by the president and by Republicans about what happened in Ukraine are not true or they're exaggerated. However, Hunter Biden was a consultant for an international gas company, a natural gas company there. He did other consulting work. It is fair to say, is it not, just like the Trump children traveling the world trying to build business while their father is president, just like as the Republicans did forever to the Clinton Foundation they called it swampy, that there is swampy behavior here that is perfectly fair game, right? Former congressmen become lobbyists, people trade on their names and they try to get influence.

HENDERSON: Yes. And that certainly what the Trump campaign is betting on, this idea -- that in some ways they can kind of try to turn Biden into Clinton. You heard from the campaign manager, you know, he said, you know, it's Donald Trump who wants to drain the swamp and go after corrupt folks. I mean, I think that would be news to a lot of people that he is somebody who really wants to root out corruption around the world and in the United States.

I think Jeff is right, we don't know what the impact of this will be, right? I mean, you can look at what happened to Bill Clinton. He did well in the midterms better than an incoming, you know, or a sitting president would do. But then his sitting vice president didn't do so well in 2000.

So, we don't know -- we also don't know about the timing of this, right? They keep saying it's going to happen expeditiously, maybe it happens by the end of the year, and they can clear the decks and move onto 2020. Hard to believe they can actually do that.

KING: And so part of the issue is, some of the candidates are members of Congress, most of them are in the United States Senate. Kamala Harris, for example, says she's coming back for the hearing into -- when they try to bring the whistleblower, and she's on the committee. She's also making a deal, she's talking about the attorney general who if you read the memo about this call, the president of the United States repeatedly tells the president of Ukraine get in touch with Attorney General Bill Barr as you investigate Joe Biden and Joe Biden's son. Essentially saying call the Justice Department, not just my personal lawyer, call the Justice Department.

Kamala Harris tweeting today, "I asked Attorney General Barr in May, did the White House ever ask him to investigate anyone. He wouldn't answer. Barr needs to come back to Congress and answer that question again under oath. This time he better have an answer."

So let's just -- let's go back to that exchange. So here it is in May at Capitol Hill, the attorney general before the Senate.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone, yes or no, please, sir?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president or anybody else?

HARRIS: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us. BARR: Yes, but I'm trying to grapple with the word suggest. I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation but --

HARRIS: Perhaps they've suggested?

BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest.

HARRIS: Hinted?

BARR: I don't know.


DEMIRJIAN: This kind of goes towards what we're all talking about right here, like is it black and white very clearly something stated do this investigation or in the context of this phone call, here is your quid pro quo or is it innuendo and hints and nuance that, you know, are subtle as, you know -- or not subtle at all. So I think that is -- you're seeing a lot of maneuvering around that. And again, if you're trying to have a hard legal standard, there are two ways of interpreting what signals have been given.

HENDERSON: I don't think the attorney general is going to come to the Hill and answer everybody's questions. But I do think that like --

KING: But if there's an -- if there are impeachment proceedings, actual articles of impeachment, he may have to.

[12:55:01] TALEV: Yes. But he's been pretty skillful on the stand so far. And I do think that no quid pro quo is going to become the new no collusion. We'll hear it again and again.

KING: We'll hear it again and again. It's a busy day. Stay with us.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Come back tomorrow. We'll continue to track this story. Don't go anywhere on this busy breaking news day. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage after a very quick break. Enjoy your afternoon.