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Nancy Pelosi Announces Official Start of Trump Impeachment Inquiry; Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) is Interviews about Impeachment Beginning. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- President Trump. Up first, we could see the transcript of the July 25th phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian leader, where Mr. Trump is accused of asking a foreign power to help tarnish his political rival.

[07:00:14]

Second, the White House is also promising to release the whistleblower complaint to Congress, as required by law ahead of tomorrow's blockbuster testimony from the nation's intel chief.

So we have brand-new reporting on all of this. A source tells our Jim Acosta that President Trump does not want to be impeached and is worried about this prospect. He has -- as he has been for almost a year since the Democrats won the House.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, new reporting from "The Washington Post" that directly puts Rudy Giuliani at the center of all of this. "The Post" reports that the whistleblower complaint references Giuliani's attempts to insert himself into the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.

One official remarked, in part, quote, "Rudy, he did all of this. This blank show that we're in, it's him injecting himself into the process."

Six House committees now tasked with investigating the president under this umbrella of an impeachment probe. The White House has been trying to dismiss it all as political theater, but the fact remains Donald Trump is just the fourth president in U.S. history to face an impeachment inquiry.

Joining me now is Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger. She is one of the seven freshman Democratic lawmakers who threw their support behind an impeachment inquiry, drafting this op-ed in "The Washington Post" yesterday, calling for this process to be.

And Congresswoman, thank you very much for being with us this morning. So much has happened over the last few days, even the last few hours. I want to start where we are most currently.

The White House says it will release a transcript of the phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky. The White House claims it will release the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Now, all of this is going through the filter of the White House

itself, so we don't know how much or how they'll actually distribute this. But as a former CIA case agent, someone who has analyzed evidence yourself in the past, what are you looking for in these releases?

REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): So I'm looking for any array of information that will provide with certainty what did or didn't happen.

The purpose of the op-ed that you mentioned that we wrote was to outline for the American people and for our constituents that the allegations facing the president, allegations that he would use his political position and his power as president to influence or pressure a foreign nation to provide information, dig up dirt on a political opponent and that he would potentially use the security assistance dollars to do it are unthinkable allegations.

And we need to use all of the tools available to Congress to get to the bottom of that. And so whatever evidence we bring forward, we can find, you know, I'm looking for irrefutable evidence to demonstrate that these allegations are true or not true.

BERMAN: The president himself and his guy, Rudy Giuliani, they've already admitted, to some degree or another, some of the allegations here. The president has admitted he spoke to the leader of Ukraine about Joe Biden. Rudy Giuliani has admitted to pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

So what more do you need to see in the transcript or the whistleblower complaint?

SPANBERGER: Looking at something as serious as the potential impeachment of a president, I think it is our duty as members of Congress to present as full of a case as possible to the American people, if and when we determine that we must move forward with articles of impeachment. That is also necessary that the case that we send over to the Senate be as full and as complete as possible.

So the fact that the president has made these admissions, that the president's attorney has confirmed his efforts to pressure Ukraine, I think, demonstrate that we are doing the right thing by further digging into this investigation by further ensuring that we are using every -- every congressional authority we have to get to the bottom of what happened and to be able to determine with clarity if, in fact, these allegations are true. And that's what we intend to do.

BERMAN: Are those admitted facts alone, are they enough for you to support impeachment?

SPANBERGER: I'm a former CIA case officer, as you mentioned in the lead-in, and I'm also a former federal agent. And I believe the more facts and evidence we can bring together, the better.

I think that what has been said by the president and by Rudy Giuliani is certainly validation that our concerns are well, well founded. That these allegations are, indeed, as -- as grave as we believe them to be.

But I see every -- every benefit in ensuring that we get all of the facts and evidence available to us and possible before we move forward.

BERMAN: The flip side of that is asking it this way, which is what some supporters of the president say, is what if this whistleblower complaint doesn't have damning details? Or more specifically, what if the transcript doesn't prove a quid pro quo? Is that exculpatory, in your mind?

[07:05:10]

SPANBERGER: So a couple things. One, the quid pro quo element doesn't need to be there for this to be a crime. It's a violation of federal law for anyone, any candidate to ask for foreign assistance in an election.

It is beyond the pale for the president of the United States to use any sort of power or privilege that he may have as the president to try and pressure a foreign government. It sets a terrible precedent in the world in terms of what it is that a president may or may not be willing to do and what -- what level of political power a president is willing to exert.

So this is a national security concern, because it is dealing with the president.

But I think at the end of the day, if we are at a place where we -- we see that this -- these allegations are not true, then that's a path that we move forward, as well.

I think that it's incredibly important that I restate that the purpose of this inquiry is to prove these allegations to be true or not true. And I would hope that any colleague entering into this process would -- would want to get all of the facts available --

BERMAN: There is --

SPANBERGER: -- and would want to determine the -- the real truth here.

BERMAN: I think everyone wants the facts and to get as many of them as possible. There is some irony there then. In this case, it might be disproving what the president has already admitted to and Rudy Giuliani has already admitted to. Because you say that that, in isolation, is of concern.

You've stuck your neck out, along with other freshman members of Congress who had been wavering, or at least not there yet on the impeachment process.

Is the process, as announced by Nancy Pelosi, are you supportive of the way she's doing this? Is this everything you hoped it would be?

SPANBERGER: So as it pertains to potential proceedings towards impeachment of the president, I have no hopes or preconceived notions of what that should be.

My -- my goal, my priority is to make sure that we, as a Congress, are collecting all of the available pieces of evidence that we can so that we can make a case one way or the other to the American people, to the United States Senate. And so that we know that we are doing our due, due diligence.

And -- and the allegations, as -- as they were laid out, as we wrote in this op-ed are so deeply, deeply concerning from a national security perspective that I believe that we had a real requirement, a duty to work to uphold and protect our Constitution. And that meant drawing attention to the severity and the national security risk inherent in these allegations.

BERMAN: Would you rather the full House be voting on launching an official impeachment inquiry, rather than just declaring it to be so?

SPANBERGER: I have no real preference on that. What I want to do is ensure that we're getting all of the facts and evidence. There's -- this hasn't happened very many times in history, and there's not a strong precedent of how it must proceed.

So the facts of the matter remain that we have moved into a place of inquiry, and that means that we're going to be heads down at work, collecting information, so that we know if these allegations are true or not true; and at the same time, focusing on all of the pieces of legislation -- prescription drugs, gun violence prevention, health care, infrastructure, trade -- the issues that are really important to the people back home in our districts.

BERMAN: Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, thanks for being with us today. You have your work cut out for you. We don't know if we're going to get it. We don't know what we're going to get. And then we've got to analyze what's actually there, so thank you for being with us today.

SPANBERGER: Thank you so much for having me.

CAMEROTA: But the White House has suggested that we will get it today. They said they're open to it.

BERMAN: They said we'll get something. I don't know what it is.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: I just don't know what it is. It's the transcript, they say, of the phone call. But the transcript, as dictated and provided by whom? Filtered by whom? How much are they putting in and putting out?

CAMEROTA: Of course. I predict the transcript will be unsatisfying for people who are looking for a smoking gun.

However, they've also promised that they'll release the whistleblower complaint. BERMAN: But a whistleblower complaint that could implicate the White

House is currently in the hands of the White House and being filtered by the White House, too. So there's just so much we don't know yet.

CAMEROTA: Well, we're about to know more, because joining us now is CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jim, great to have you here in studio.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: You have new reporting on how the president --

ACOSTA: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- is reacting to all of this.

ACOSTA: Right. You've heard, Alisyn, John, that the president has said, well, this could be good for me. This impeachment process will work for us and help the Republicans. The Trump campaign was saying last night, this is going to energize our base, and so on.

I talked to a source close to the White House last night, somebody who regularly talks to the president, who says, you know what, he does not want to be impeached. Does not like the idea of impeachment. Has been worried about this since last December right after the midterms when the Democrats took the House. And that this has been on his mind for some time.

This source looked at what happened yesterday where, all of a sudden, we are going to see the transcript. And all of a sudden, we are going to get this whistleblower complaint, supposedly. We'll find out in what form and so on. That is -- that is being viewed as signs that the president is concerned about this.

[07:10:07]

My understanding, from talking to a White House official, is that they're going through a de-classification process right now, to go through this whistleblower complaint. And so it'll be interesting to see what form it comes out in.

But as for this call transcript, which Alisyn, you were mentioning a few moments ago, that could also be very revealing. I talked to two White House officials last night who said prepare to be underwhelmed by the transcript of that phone call between the president and President Zelensky of Ukraine. So we're going to have to wait and see.

Now, that would put a lot of the focus on the whistleblower complaint. And I talked to a White House official last night who is, essentially, starting to lay the ground work for undermining the credibility of this whistleblower. This White House official referred to this person as the so-called whistleblower. So a sneak preview of coming attractions. BERMAN: This whistleblower may also be speaking to Congress at some

time in the near future. Adam Schiff we're going to have on in a little bit, has said that the whistleblower has reached out, says they want to testify. They're trying to work that out right now.

Jeffrey, I've heard you on TV say you're a champion of facts --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

BERMAN: -- in this case. You heard Abigail Spanberger, congresswoman from Virginia, on just moments ago, saying she's going to look at this for the facts also.

But again, there's been a fair amount that's been admitted to.

TOOBIN: There has. But these stories tend to get more complicated, not less complicated as you start to dig into them.

Just going back, way back to last week when this story broke, "The Wall Street Journal" said that the president mentioned Biden eight times to the president of Ukraine. First of all, is that true? Is it just a mistake by "The Wall Street Journal"? But is this phone call the only communication they had?

BERMAN: No. They talked in April.

TOOBIN: Well, see? I mean, again, you want to know more about, you know, what the communication really was. That's one area of inquiry.

The other issue is the whole question of the aid between -- that the United States was going to give Ukraine. And why it was put on hold, why it was released. Did that have anything to do with the offer of help on -- you know, getting dirt on Biden? That's a story that the White House has put out several different versions of. You want to get the story, you know, the full story there.

Rudolph Giuliani, what was his role in all of this? Was he putting pressure on behalf of the administration?

BERMAN: He says yes.

TOOBIN: Well, he says yes, but he also says he was doing it at the instigation of the State Department. What was that connection? What are the facts there? All of that is worthy of investigation.

Plus, simply just a timeline of what happened when. That's always important in any investigation.

CAMEROTA: Jim, you know, I've been predicting this morning that the phone call transcript will be underwhelming. And that's not just a hunch. I mean, that's from having reported on Donald Trump for all of these years. He doesn't speak in explicit overt demands.

ACOSTA: That's right.

CAMEROTA: It's sort of always couched in what -- you know, he employs his sort of charm offensive. He doesn't speak like, "I'm going to need this or you're not going to get the money." That's not how he speaks.

ACOSTA: That's right.

CAMEROTA: But are you struck by what he decided to do yesterday? I mean, the idea that he did promise to release the transcript of this phone call and the whistleblower complaint. After all these years of whenever Democrats wanted anything, they've stonewalled and they've forced the Democrats to go to court. They could have done that with this. And so why do you think they changed that yesterday?

ACOSTA: I think what changed the game here is that Nancy Pelosi finally, you know, took action. And this is something that Democrats have been urging her to do for months, and launching this impeachment inquiry appears to have shaken things up over at Trump Tower.

We were over at the United Nations yesterday afternoon when the president suddenly arrived over at Trump Tower, and the White House pool was told he's having some executive time right now.

What that really meant was he was watching Nancy Pelosi on television and then imploding. Because what you saw after that is he start -- started to have this tweet storm on Twitter, where he was tweeting out his frustrations about what was going on. How can the Democrats launch an impeachment inquiry without looking at the transcript and so on? Obviously, this is not going to be satisfactory to him.

But put all of that to the side for a second. Remember what has happened over the last 48 hours. Unlike what happened during the Russia investigation, where the president would repeatedly say, "No collusion, no obstruction," over the last couple of days he said, yes, I did pressure the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden. And yes, I did hold up that money to Ukraine.

Because first, we wanted to get to the bottom of corruption, and now we wanted the Europeans to chip in their fair share.

BERMAN: Which they do.

ACOSTA: He's been shifting in his rationale for holding up that money. But he has admitted to two very key things. And what the congressman was just saying a few moments ago was very important. I think Nancy Pelosi touched on this yesterday.

That is, do we want a situation in this country where it's OK for the president of the United States to put pressure on foreign leaders to go after your political adversaries? That's what -- that's the state the president is trying to set right now.

TOOBIN: There's also another factor -- thing that happened yesterday. It was a very busy news day. You had the Senate --

BERMAN: Yes.

TOOBIN: -- including the Republicans, say we want to see the whistleblower report.

[06:15:07]

This is something very unusual in Trump-era Washington. To have Republicans say they want an investigation or any sort of facts about the Trump administration. That had to put a bit of fear into them. And thus, we think the whistleblower report will be released very soon.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, got time for a five-second answer. You've been resistant to say that impeachment would change the legal dynamic here. But it does seem to have changed the political dynamic. A whole bunch of stuff changed all of a sudden after Democrats did this.

TOOBIN: Politically, no question. Legally, I still think that courts are going to evaluate the issues of executive privilege more or less the same, based on an oversight investigation versus an impeachment investigation.

BERMAN: Wow. This has been interesting.

CAMEROTA: I told you.

TOOBIN: The news business.

CAMEROTA: We're going to need water and to take a deep breath today.

BERMAN: Exactly.

ACOSTA: A lot of caffeine, too.

CAMEROTA: Because things are moving at a dizzying pace.

BERMAN: All right. Jeffrey, thank you.

Jim, get back to the U.N. Tell us what else is going on.

ACOSTA: I will. We'll be over there, yes. No executive time for us.

BERMAN: All right. So what is next in this impeachment process? Our man on the inside in Congress is going to lay out exactly what's happening and what's next.

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[07:20:43]

BERMAN: This is now just the fourth time it has ever happened in U.S. history. An official impeachment inquiry of the president of the United States. The Senate, we should note, has never convicted and removed a president from office. Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, they were impeached but acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned before that full House could vote on impeachment. How will the process work this time?

Joining me now is someone who knows, because he's been reporting all night on how this will work out. CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

If I can, let me start with what isn't happening, or at least not yet. The House did not vote to launch the official impeachment inquiry. Why not? Is it important or crucial that they didn't? And will they?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans say that they are required by House rules to essentially move forward and have a vote to establish an impeachment inquiry. That is something that has happened in the past. They say that will have to happen again.

But Democrats say the actual term impeachment inquiry carries no real legal meaning, in that it doesn't matter to the courts one way or another if there's an official inquiry, and there's nothing requiring Congress to actually have a vote to mount an impeachment inquiry.

Ultimately, the one thing that matters is whether or not the House votes on articles of impeachment to try to impeach this president. That's the actual significance of what ultimately may have to happen. And that's the argument that the Democrats have been making to court, as well. That they're actively considering impeaching this president. So actual vote moving forward, John, they say makes no difference.

And of course, that could spare a tough vote on the floor, if they were to actually vote to open an impeachment inquiry. Some of those vulnerable Democrats may not want to do just that.

BERMAN: There's nothing in the Constitution about a full vote to launch the inquiry. There's just nothing there on that subject.

All right, Manu. How is this going to work? Six separate committees doing what? And then what?

RAJU: Well, substantively, they're doing pretty much what they have been doing for the course of this year. These six different committees have been investigating all aspects of the Trump presidency. They've been looking into his past, his businesses and the like. The House Judiciary Committee, House Intelligence Committee, two of those six committees, they're going to continue their investigations. And then, ultimately, they will have to make a decision, and probably before the end of the year, to decide whether or not to move forward with articles of impeachment.

And when they do, the House Judiciary Committee would vote on those articles of impeachment before the full house would ultimately vote. And that would be half of the House would have to vote. A majority would have to vote to actually impeach the president.

Of course, then, as you said, John, before he -- the third president in history to actually have been impeached by the House.

So substantively, about the same thing that they've been doing. But the difference here is the politics and the messaging. Now that Speaker Pelosi has gotten behind the idea of mounting an impeachment inquiry, it makes it increasingly likely that they're going to go down that route of ultimately impeaching this president. And now this caucus can speak mostly with one vote on this issue as

they've been divided over it for the past several months, John.

BERMAN: There was some suggestion there would be a select committee chosen to oversee all of it. They decided to keep it separate in the six different committees.

Who's going to get the Ukraine piece of the puzzle, which seems to be what pushed so many Democrats over the edge into supporting the official proceedings?

RAJU: Yes, this will most likely be for the House Intelligence Committee, which tomorrow is going to hear testimony in an open session on the acting director of national intelligence, Joe Maguire, about that whistleblower complaint, about exactly what happened on the Ukraine matter.

But the talk of a select committee was broached privately among House Democrats among the House leadership. The speaker had considered it. One reason why, though, not moving that route, John, unlike past, they let the Watergate Select Committee in past efforts.

Because essentially, what would broach on the different turf of the different chairman who would be concerned about -- about protecting their own investigations, and it could upset some of the members. So that was one reason why Pelosi decided not to go down and anger some of her own members, keep it in the existing committee structure and see where they ultimately come down.

BERMAN: But Adam Schiff, the chairman of Intel, still gets the Ukraine part of it, which may be the most explosive.

Very quickly and finally, if the House does vote to impeach, which is still a long way down the road, this would go to the Senate for a trial. Any sense of how Mitch McConnell would handle this?

[06:25:05]

RAJU: Well, almost certainly, this will have no chance of being proved in the Senate. A two-thirds majority in the Senate would have to vote to convict and remove this president, and there's a 53-47 Republican majority. That is almost certainly not going to happen. would have to move this. Would have to move this. A majority. That is almost certainly not going to happen. Not a single Republican senator has supported the idea of moving forward with impeachment inquiries.

Even Mitt Romney, who's the one who has been raised the most amount of concerns, has said this is too early to consider impeachment at this point. So getting to 67 votes will not happen in the Senate at this point. So Mitch McConnell almost welcomes this fight, because they believe it will help them politically. Democrats disagree. We'll see how it shakes out in the coming weeks.

BERMAN: Yes. Democrats say it could put Republican senators in a tough spot. Who knows? Who knows how that will play out? Manu Raju, though, thank you for some of the details on the process.

Really great having you on.

RAJU: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is emerging as a central figure in the whistleblower scandal. Was he pursuing a shadow agenda with Ukraine on behalf of the president?

Senator Chris Murphy went to Ukraine as Giuliani was pressuring them. What did he learn? That's next.

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[07:30:00]