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Trump Holds First News Conference Since Impeachment Inquiry; White House Rough Transcript Shows Trump Repeatedly Pushed Ukrainian President To Investigate Biden's Son; Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) Gives Wolf First-Hand Account Of Whistleblower Complaint: "Deeply Disturbing"; Rough Transcript Shows Trump Pushed Ukraine to Investigate Biden. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, by the way, China is starting to buy our agricultural product again. They're starting to go with the beef and all of the different things, pork, very big on pork. But if you look and if you see and they actually put out, I think, a statement but they're starting very heavy by our Ag again. Now they want to make a deal and they should want to make a deal. The question is do we want to make a deal?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If UMSC doesn't pass through Congress, is that it for NAFTA?

TRUMP: Well that would be a shame. Well, I don't want to answer that question but you know how I feel about NAFTA. I think NAFTA is the worse trade deal ever made although I also happen to think World Trade Organization was not one of the greats. Not one of the greats. That was the creation of China which went like a rocket ship from the day they signed. It was terrible.

But, no, we're going to find out. That's going to be a very interesting question. With Nancy and Chuck and all of these people focusing on the witch hunt, because they can't beat us at the ballot, they can't beat us at the ballot and they're not going to win the presidential. We're having great polls. We have internal polls. Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania is looking good, North Carolina.

We just won two races that a lot of people we thought were going to lose both of those races. One was down 17 points three weeks before the race and he ended up winning by a substantial margin, by a substantial margin. And Dan Bishop -- and then we had a second race as you know. And he was up one or two points and he ended up winning by what was it? 25 points or some incredible -- I'll ask you folks because I don't want to be inaccurate otherwise I'll have a front page story.

We have breaking news, Trump exaggerated but he won by many, many points and he was leading by maybe two, maybe three but he won by in the 20s. So it's been -- So we're looking great in North Carolina, looking great in Florida. And you had one or two congressmen, Democrats, saying, listen, we can't beat them at the election so let's impeach him, right? Didn't you hear Al Green, that's a beauty. He's a real beauty, that guy. But he said very distinctively, it was all over the place, I don't know, they're trying to lose that tape I guess, but he said we -- essentially he said we can't beat them. Let's impeach him. That's pretty dangerous stuff. Steve, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. You had expressed some concerns about the president of releasing the transcript --

TRUMP: Yes, I don't --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you go ahead and do it.

TRUMP: Because I was getting such fake news and I just thought it would be better and now they're asking for the first phone conversation and I'll release that too if it's important to you. But they're asking for -- Because I had a conversation previous on a previous election plateau that he had hit. The current president hit a couple of different plateaus and I spoke to him previous to the call that we released which was a very innocent call. Very, very innocent, very nice call.

And as he said, I wasn't pushed. I wasn't pushed. Meaning pressured. He wasn't pressured at all. But I don't like the concept of releasing calls because when a president or a prime minister or a king or a queen calls the United States, you don't like to say, gee, we're going to release your call to the fake news media and they're going to make you look like a fool. What happens is it's hard to do business that way. You want to have people feel comfortable so I hated it. But you folks were saying such lies. Such horrible things about a call that was so innocent and so nice.

In fact, Lindsey Graham said to me when he read it, it's very interesting, he's a good man, he's a smart man, he said I can't believe it. I never knew you could be this really nice to a person. He said, I cannot believe it. You were so -- I didn't think you had that in you to be so nice. I was nice. I'm nice to a lot of people. People don't understand that. But I was.

But he was shocked that it was such a nice call. Then he said there is nothing here. And all fair people say the same thing. But I don't like the precedent, Steve, I don't like it where you're dealing with heads of state and to think that their call is going to be released. But I felt that -- and you know, we spoke to Ukraine about it. Mike actually called up his counterpart and we spoke to Ukraine about it because we wanted -- because it could have been -- if they didn't want us to do it, we would not have done it but he actually said that was a very innocent call. You can release it all you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are you now braced for a long impeachment saga?

TRUMP: Well I thought we won. I thought it was dead. It was dead. The Mueller report, no obstruction, no collusion, you look at all of the things that happened. Corey Lewandowski was fantastic the other day as a person that they have been tormenting.

[17:05:03]

You look at all of the people that they've tormented. All of the legal fees. People came here with bright eyes, they wanted to make life so great for other people. And they left where they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees that they didn't have and it's a sad thing. What these Democrats have done to ruin lives is so sad.

I've seen people with only good intention. They came to Washington because they wanted to make the United States and the world a better place and they went home, they were dark. They got hit by Mueller subpoenas. I think there were 2,500 subpoenas or some ridiculous number. Five hundred people were interviewed and yet they don't interview Joe Biden and his son. If you're a Democrat, you have automatic protection. That's years and years of people putting in certain people into positions.

But when you look at all of the trauma that these fakers have caused -- and the press, look, the press is -- much of the press is not only fake, it's corrupt. These stories they write are corrupt. They're so wrong. And they know that. You know, it used to be -- I used to get great press until I ran for politics. I mean, I used to be the king of getting good press. I was good at it. And I go it -- I mean, they covered me well otherwise I probably wouldn't be here.

And once I ran, I said, boy, this is incredible. But if you see the way they treat my family, used to be treated great. My family work so hard. The people that work with me, these people, all of these people, they work so hard. They've done such a -- look, we have the greatest economy we've ever had. We have a military $2.5 trillion. We've rebuilt the military. You don't hear the vets complaining. We got choice approved. It couldn't be approved.

But when you see what happened with the viciousness and when you see little Adam Schiff go out and lie and lie and stand at the mic -- smart guy, by the way -- stand at the mic and act like he's so serious and then he goes into a room with Nadler and they must laugh their asses off. They must laugh their asses off. But it's so bad for our country.

People have said, Rush Limbaugh, great man, Sean Hannity said it. A lot of people have said it. Mark Levin, they said they don't know if one man anywhere in the world with all of the men they know or woman that could handle what I've had to handle. And I think that's true. But I handle it. To me it's like putting on a suit.

All right, how about one more question. Question on the economy. A question on the economy. Go ahead. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Mr. President. VPItv from Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela.

TRUMP: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TRUMP: How are you doing over there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty bad. Our situation.

TRUMP: I would say pretty bad. Yes. Sad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. But we are fighting.

TRUMP: And it was one of the great countries, one of the richest countries not so long ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TRUMP: Fifteen years ago. It's incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But we are going to make it.

TRUMP: Right. I agree with that. And we're helping you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TRUMP: We're helping you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I know and thank you.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have two questions to take advantage of this. Maduro traveled to Russia and Diosdado Cabello to North Korea. Two of the most antagonist nation in the U.S. interest. What can be done to contain this? What are they looking for in that country and -- because they are special envoy Mr. Abrams said that the Russian are willing to negotiate. This is one question.

And the other, Mr. President, you say that the socialist is one of the biggest challenges. You say yesterday in the United Nations, but the region is far from safe. Maduro is still a dictator, full in power, and in Argentina and Brazil are under threat about the socialist and populist, are you worried about it?

TRUMP: Well I just say that socialism will never happen in the United States. Can't happen in the United States. And Venezuela unfortunate I have to use your country as the example of what socialism can do. How it can tear the fabric of a country apart. Because I know a lot about Venezuela.

I've had many, many friends of mine come from Venezuela. They live many in Miami. Certain section of Miami. I won't mention the name because they'll say I'm thinking about my business and I'm not. But they are fantastic people. And they like your president. They voted overwhelmingly for me. They like what I'm doing for Venezuela.

We have Venezuela very much in our hearts and very much in our sights. And we're watching it very carefully. And you know what I would say, we're giving millions and millions of dollars in aid, not that we want to from the Maduro standpoint, but we have to because on a humanitarian -- people are dying. [17:10:10]

They have no food. They have no water. They have no nothing. They're dying no medicine. Their hospitals are closed or don't even have electricity. It is so sad to see. Let me just say that we have it under control. We're watching it very carefully. And we're going to be very, very --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Russia is next stated.

TRUMP: We're watching it very carefully, including other countries that may or may not be playing games. We're watching it very closely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, you know, if Russia is talking with USA or Guaido, what can you tell about us?

TRUMP: Just put this in the back of your mind, it's all going to be fine. We know everything that you said and it's all going to be fine. We're very much involved. We very much know what's going on. And we're very much involved, OK.

Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there you have the President of the United States. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in "The Situation Room" and you've been watching the President giving his first news conference since the announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry against him here in Washington.

Let's bring in our experts, John King among others to discuss. John, you know, where the President, I guess he leveled several distortions, falsehoods in the course of that 40, 45 minutes.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did, about Joe Biden, about Hunter Biden, about other facts around these investigations. To the most interesting part to me was how he did it. This President can be -- whether you agree or disagree with him, can be passionate, can be a good communicator, can be quite defiant. That was a somber sulking President. If you need any proof with the last 24 hours of Washington D.C., have the President's attention or affect -- in affecting the President's mood, watch that press conference.

Yes, he went after Adam Schiff. Yes, he went after the Democrats. Yes he said the left is a socialist, and worse, have taken over the Democratic Party. But the way he said it with no energy and very little passion sulking, sulking through it. It's proof that we've had some giant changes. Just consider what has happened in the last 24 hours. Not just Nancy Pelosi putting the words formal impeachment inquiry on what the Democrats are doing, but an administration that has said no to almost every request from Congress for months. No, no, and hell no has released.

The summary of this call has sent up the whistleblower complaints and is going to send the Director of National Intelligence, the acting Director of National Intelligence up to cooperate tomorrow. The President that hoped that would somehow cut off the move for impeachment. Hardly, it has added significant momentum. This summary has added significant momentum to it today. But a lot has changed in this town the 24 hours including the President's mood.

BLITZER: It's very rambling news conference. And he's opened with a lengthy statement but he went from a whole bunch of subjects to a lot of domestic political issues.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITIFCAL ANALYST: Right, but always coming back to himself and always coming back to what's going on with impeachment. And, you know, a couple of things were interesting to me. Number one, he continued to peddle conspiracy theories which we've seen him do throughout his entire presidency. You know, he throws them out there like birtherism. He let some, you know, he let some stew steers the pot and then lets boil over. That's what he's doing with Joe Biden. And then he tried to discredit the whistleblower.

We don't know who the whistle-blower is. He said at one point, he didn't know who the whistleblower is. I don't know if he knows now. But he said certain things have come out about the whistleblower that are interesting and kind of leaves it, kind of leaves it there. So he says I support transparency. I'm going to give you the first phone call, OK. That's good. And then he went on and on complaining how could it be that the children of an elected official could use their parent's stature to do business.

How can a Trump possibly say that? I have no idea. But it was sort of stunning to me in a way that it all came back to him and the conspiracy for him was that the Democrats planned to do this during the U.N. meeting just to discredit him in front of all of his cohorts in foreign countries and that he was incredibly insulted by that.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta is there at the news conference. So Jim, you're there in New York. And let's not forget, in the --

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BLITZER: -- this summary that was released by the White House, the President specifically quoted as saying to the Ukrainian President, I would like you to do us a favor and then goes into an investigation into the Bidens and the Democrats.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And the President never really asked, you know, or answered the question. I tried to ask the question as he was walking out of the room, what did he mean by, can you do us a favor. He never explained what he was talking about with respect to that question. And I think what you saw during this press conference is that the President is really just stewing with anger over all of these.

[17:15:01]

He feels frustrated that the press largely over-looked what he did at this United Nations General Assembly. But once again I think that responsibility lays at the President's feet. I mean this was something that they were stonewalling Congress on a week ago. And then as soon as the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi throw down the gauntlet and threatened impeachment, all of the sudden transcripts are being offered and now the whistleblower complaint.

One of the tidbits of news that I think we heard from the President during this press conference is when he said that whatever calls you want, whatever transcripts of whatever calls you want involving the President and President Zelensky of Ukraine, the public can see those transcripts. And so it seems that, that will be forthcoming from the White House. But at the same time, Wolf, when you heard the President talking about those prospect of impeachment, it was almost as if he is welcoming that prospect daring Democrats to impeach him at this point. He thinks it's politically advantageous for him.

But Wolf, I think as we entered this press conference, there were a whole slew of questions about what the President was up to in this phone call with the Ukrainian President and whether or not just a sleazy news standard for Presidential politics as been set. The President offered no apologies that a President of the United States or any political candidate can go to a foreign government and ask for help to get dirt on a political opponent. The President offered no apologies, no regrets on that front. And it sounds as though, listening to what the President said during the press conference, he do it again, Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying behind the scenes over there at the White House about all of these decisions this week by the President and the Senior Advisers to go ahead and release this rough transcript for example, release the whistleblower's complaint, at least on a confidential classified basis for House and Senate Intelligence Committee?

ACOSTA: Wolf, it sounds as if there was a bit of a debate going on behind the scenes. You heard the President talking about how Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State had to talk to his Ukrainian counterpart to make sure it was OK with that government to release this transcript. We do understand that the Secretary of State was concerned about setting a new precedent for releasing these kinds of transcripts to the public because foreign leader in the future might have some qualms about speaking with the President over the phone.

If it runs the risk of being this publicized at some later date, they can't talk candidly in that kind of scenario. But you heard the President say, he wanted to sort of clear the air and get this out of the way. But Wolf, the President's own attitude I think spoke volumes throughout all of these. Some of the other comments that he made that he sees this all as another witch hunt.

Wolf, talking to sources inside of the White House, sources who talk to the President advisers' campaign and so on, they see this as nothing more than Mueller Part II. And while they were concerned earlier in the week that perhaps this doesn't look good for the President. And, yes, he has been worried about impeachment for several months now going back to when the Democrats took the House. At this point it seems as though they have gone to their battle stations and they're ride or die with this President, Wolf. It doesn't matter what the Democrats throw at them at this point even when it comes to a transcript that clearly shows, President sought help from a foreign government to get dirt on Joe Biden, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's very interesting. You know, Nia, at that one point in the rough transcript that the President tells President Zelensky of Ukraine, whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible. He's referring to getting negative information or dirt on the Bidens and the Democrats and Hillary Clinton and her server and all of that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And this comes after the President essentially says that the United States is giving so much aid to Ukraine. That they're giving much more aid than Europe even though that's not actually true. And also after the President says, you know, there's not a lot of reciprocity from Ukraine in terms of what the United States is doing for them. And from there, he essentially asked for a favor.

Listen, there is the focus from Republicans on this idea of quid pro quo and this memorandum of this call doesn't explicitly show a quid pro quo. But if you talk to Democrats, you heard from Adam Schiff today, he essentially says, it doesn't matter if there is not a quid pro quo that is exhibited in this phone call. As well, we also know that the White House, that this whistleblower complaint will have a fuller picture, right.

You heard the President there. Part of that picture is going to be what he said in that first phone call. He also said that the Vice President phone calls could be made available too. So we'll see what happens tomorrow when the acting DNI talks more fully from this. And we know obviously that people up on the Hill at this point are looking at that whistleblower complaint. So this is a President today that seemed defeated. If this a President that we thought was going to be energized by impeachment or impeachment talk, he certainly didn't show that on today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And --

BLITZER: Hold on one second, I want Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in on this as well. Jeffrey, go ahead.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I just like to say a word about the press conference. That was 40 minutes and it was a torrent of lies.

[17:20:00]

I mean just a torrent of lies about Joe Biden, about Hunter Biden, about what the Democrats did regarding Ukraine. And it was a torrent of lies about the summary, what some people call the transcript of what was released today.

I mean, you know, the good thing about this document and whether it's a transcript or a summary and how much has been left out of it is the subject for another day. But what was released today showed that this President when he talked to the President of Ukraine was not talking about the national interest. The only agenda he had for that phone call was to get information to defeat Joe Biden. That was his only agenda. And, you know, that is bad enough.

But there was also the most obvious and clear evidence of a quid pro quo about the military aid that the President of Ukraine badly wanted. And what did the President say when the President of Ukraine said, we want that military aid and we're going to buy the javelin missiles. What did he say? He said, I want you to do me a favor. You know what that means? It means he wanted him to do him a favor. And that is a quid pro quo.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But having said all of that, now that we're seven hours into being able to digest this summary, transcript in quotes intentionally. What we have is something that has defined the Trump era which is, it's a political warship (ph) test. That what Jeffrey said -- there's the truth which we have been talking about. But how you read the truth has -- it's so depends on where you stand, which might seem like, duh, in today's political environment but it wasn't that clear-cut when you guys were at the White House covering the Clinton impeachment. Yes, of course it was incredibly partisan, but there were some people who said whoa, whoa, whoa on the democratic side.

And in this case what you have is a president who, yes, he said so many things that were -- he just throws things out there, makes things up, talks about things that are absolutely not substantiated intentionally. It is what defined him pre-presidency, you know, back he was talking about Barack Obama being -- not being a U.S. citizen to now and the reason he does is because it works. Is because it works. He got out there in a very coordinated way, defined the narrative for his base, for Fox News, for conservative radio for his people on Capitol Hill and it is that versus the Democrats.

And what I have also found interesting is talking to House Democrats especially yesterday who put their neck on the line politically to say, OK, let's go for this impeachment inquiry, they wanted to make sure that Democrats could match that rhetorically message-wise. And at least some people I'm talking to think that having Adam Schiff out there is helping.

BLITZER: I want to get David Axelrod's thoughts on all of this. And David, you worked in the White House. This, you know, five-page document that the White House released today, it is not called a transcript. It is called a memorandum of telephone conversation. And then there is a note on page one, "Caution, a memorandum of a telephone conversation is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion."

Basically says these are the notes and recollections of senior staff members on the NSC and "The Situation Room" over at the White House. But react to that and then give us your thoughts.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well my thought, first of all, it is not customary to release transcripts of conversations with foreign leader with the president. But what is stunning about this was that this summary itself was damning. Forget about transcripts. This is what they released as their account of what happened and what happened is what has been described.

But I also want to pick up on what Dana said because the president is using his very, very large bull horn and his ancillary sort of supporting networks Fox and social media and so on to amplify his themes. And you do see Republicans falling right in line. And it does remind you of when the president said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base would stick with him.

And you get the sense that if he did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue that Lindsey Graham and some others would rush to the scene to say it's obviously a case of self defense. You know, it is going to be a very partisan discussion sadly because what was in that document should be of concern to people in both parties and no party.

BLITZER: Yes, I mean, it certainly should be.

[17:25:00]

I want to bring in Congressman Mike Quigley, he's Democrat, he's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. I understand you just came from that secure room up on Capitol Hill. You now had a chance to read the whistleblower complaint. What can you tell us?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You know, on the way up the stairs, I was thinking about what your person just said, what the President said during the campaign that he could shoot somebody on the street and his base would stay with him. I guess what I read to me was the political equivalent of that, defining the constitution, committing a criminal act and thinking, well, I can get away with it. Some sort of bizarre cult of personality. Deeply disturbing what we read this morning, alarming. We enforced to an extraordinary magnitude by the report that we've just read.

BLITZER: You read the obviously the summary, the rough transcript that the White House released but now you've read the whistleblower's complaint. First of all, how long is this document?

QUIGLEY: Well, here is what I can say about it. It's extraordinarily detailed and it's very, very well done. At this point in time it is still classified. I think the White House is trying to imagine or figure out what it can or cannot or what it wants to release. We would argue that it is not their call. That this was something sent -- meant to be sent to us in the first place. But those living in realtime right now, I mean, I think those actions, those decisions are being made right now.

BLITZER: I know you can't release sensitive classified information. But does the whistleblower complaint echo what we've seen from this rough log of the phone conversation that the president had with President Zelensky of Ukraine.

QUIGLEY: I can't detail that it involves any call. I can't detail what it involves period. I will tell people that it is deeply disturbing. It reinforces the concerns that what we previously learned and I think it is a blueprint for what we still need to know. It lays out exactly what Congress needs to investigate.

I think it reinforces two things. The courage of this whistleblower and the fact that if a whistleblower is not -- is blocked in the manner in which DOJ and the Acting DNI did, two bad things happen. Things leak, which we've unfortunately seen and that's not good or a wrongdoing goes unpunished.

You know, I heard my Republican colleagues on the floor say today, what are you complaining about? You got the transcript. You're getting the report. They're going to testify. We're going to have the complaint. The only reason we know about this at all is because a complaining witness had the courage to come forward.

BLITZER: And you've heard what the president has said about the whistleblower, the intelligence official who issued this complaint and what his supporters are saying as well that he's just some sort of pro-Democratic political hack. I want you to respond to that.

QUIGLEY: I think if the American people will be patient and let all of this information come out in its totality, they will understand the truth of this and why it's important. I think when you ask that question, I'm reminded that in the real world that we're living in now, as polarized as this country is, that the new maxim ought to be I'll see it when I believe it. People are going to believe what they want.

I can only hope that at least the middle ground of America, the ones that decide the -- split the difference will look at this in its totality and appreciate that the president has continued to commit high crimes and misdemeanors. It did begin with the Mueller investigation. There's so much more to be investigated. But these actions that we read about this morning took place literally right after the Mueller testimony, the Mueller report.

So what does that tell you? The president's never been held accountable for his wrongdoing. And if he thinks that -- he apparently thought that the special counsel didn't ding him sufficient so he can go on to higher crimes and higher misdemeanors.

BLITZER: In this lengthy 11-page document that the Justice Department released from the Assistant Attorney General Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engle, he suggested that the whistleblower complaint focused largely on that one phone conversation between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine, the rough summary of which we got earlier in the day. Is that true? Is it simply based on that or was there a lot more in the whistleblower complaint?

QUIGLEY: You know, I'm going to follow the rules even though they're not. This is still a classified document. So the White House can selectively try to control the spin on stuff, as they did with the special counsel's report, when as you recall Mr. Barr lied about what was in that report.

[17:30:09]

And there -- I will tell you -- all I can tell you is they're doing the very same thing here. Let's let this report get out. Let's Congress continue this investigation. I only ask that middle America to watch this. If you don't have a -- necessarily have a belief on this, let the truth come out. This is extraordinarily important.

BLITZER: Well, on that point, Congressman, if it does come out, if it's released based on what you just read in that secure room up on Capitol Hill, do you believe it would have an impact on the American public as far as impeachment of the president is concerned?

QUIGLEY: Look, the American people have about 3 percent read the special counsel's report. Millions more watched the special counsel testify. Millions more will be able to watch the testimony that we're going to see beginning tomorrow. I do think it will have an impact on the Americans who haven't already made up their mind. We're counting on them to lead this country forward.

BLITZER: You think it could easily be declassified or is there really some very, very sensitive national security secrets in there which if released could undermine what the intelligence community they call sources and methods?

QUIGLEY: It's hard to tell. I do think that the classification -- declassification process should go very, very quickly on this. I think it ought to be available for mass consumption very soon. We'll see what kind of games the White House play as they've done before.

BLITZER: Well, do you think it would have an impact once it's declassified and released? Do you think it will have an impact on some of your Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate?

QUIGLEY: I think it does personally. Look, they can disagree. But I think privately they have to ask their selves what kind of president are we dealing with? I think they represent America to an extent and that is there are those that will go along with the president no matter what he says or does. But I do think that there is a group of Republicans that find the president, you know, look at what Speaker Ryan said after he left. The profiles encourage our absence. I do think that most of them find the president's actions to be extraordinarily objectionable.

BLITZER: If you could come up with one word to describe what you read in that whistleblower complaint, what would it be?

QUIGLEY: Disturbing.

BLITZER: Disturbing is an important word. When you have a chance to read that rough transcript of the President's conversation in July with President Zelensky, what stood out to you from that conversation?

QUIGLEY: Well, first I didn't necessarily trust it in its entirety because the President seems to be able to change the truth as he did with a hurricane. And given how long the conversation was supposed to have taken place, the transcript is much shorter. So my first reaction is I don't necessarily trust them. And if this is the purified redacted version, it's still awfully damning. BLITZER: I will point out in the memorandum that was released that said the phone conversation on July 25th went from 9:03 a.m. to 9:33 a.m., that's a half an hour, 30 minutes. It's a five-page single spaced document that was released, that would be a lot less. But, I must tell you that the White House officials are suggesting that Zelensky spoke in Ukrainian and as a result there was consecutive translation on that point and that could have expanded the sense of that conversation.

Stand by for a minute. Adam Schiff, the chairman of your committee is speaking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: -- idea that the Department of Justice would have intervened to prevent it from getting to Congress, throws the leadership of that department into further ill repute. But again, I want to thank the whistleblower and let the whistleblower know that we are going to do everything possible to protect you. Thank you

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does this have to do with the Ukrainian phone call, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so there you hear the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and he clearly also read the document like Congressman Mike Quigley has read the whistleblower complaint. It's secret for the time being. We'll see how quickly it takes to declassify it and release it to the American people.

Shawn Turner, you used to work in the Intelligence Community for the Director of National Intelligence. What goes through your mind as you see these developments unfold so quickly today?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, well, a couple of things, Wolf. One, you know, as I kind of listen to what the congressman said there, look, you know, I think it's really clear that what the president has done here, whether he wants to admit it or not, is he has solicited foreign involvement in the U.S. -- in a U.S. election. What he does understand here is that as Americans we -- we don't want any type of interference in our election.

[17:34:55]

Look, you know, I worked at the Director of National Intelligence for almost four years. And during that time, I cannot remember a single instance when, under James Clapper, the former DNI, when the Inspector General, who at the time was James McCullough, forwarded an urgent I.G. whistleblower complaint to members of Congress. Now, whatever -- what that should tell everyone is that the I.G. sees that this is a very high bar for, I mean, an urgent complaint.

And what people should understand is that because that has not happened in the past, that when the I.G. does that, what he's saying to members of Congress is that this is the kind of thing that we think that you need to respond to immediately. And so, you know, I think that for everyone who's looking at this and kind of said, you know, well, maybe there is something here, maybe there isn't, people should understand that, as an experienced I.G., this I.G. thought that this was important enough to say to Congress, this is something that needs to be addressed right now.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to get Bianna's thoughts on all of this that's unfolding, as I said, very, very dramatically and very rapidly. Bianna?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, this really is a David-and-Goliath type of situation when you look at the predicament that President Zelensky is in right now. He's president of one of Europe's poorest countries. He is now put in this position where this transcript has been released out into the public where he, along with President Trump, bad mouthed and trashed other European countries, who, by the way, have given Ukraine billions of dollars.

We're now getting word that he didn't believe that his part of the transcript was going to be released. He started walking back some of his comments and thanking other European countries as well. But for the President to say, oh, no, you see what he just said, he didn't feel pressured, one has to wonder what else could he have said in a situation like that.

He is a new politician who ran on an anti-corruption campaign, and you have the President of the United States calling him -- and soliciting not only his personal attorney but the Attorney General of the United States -- not to help him in getting rid of previously corrupt politicians and Department of Justice heads and focus on who he's going to bring in. No, he is soliciting that they come and help him on a previous prosecutor who was fired who was known to be a corrupt prosecutor, all in bid to get more information on Joe Biden.

So he is in this untenable position, and you have to think of other world leaders who say, listen, my conversations with the President may not be classified as well. So from a national security standpoint, this is a big hit to the United States and to Ukraine. Ukraine now has had -- between the Russian war with Ukraine, some 13,000 people have died over the past five years. I can't help but think that Vladimir Putin is very happy about the turn of events right now because this was not a good day for President Zelensky. And obviously, you see the chaos that this has caused here in the United States as well.

BLITZER: Yes, not a good day for President Zelensky, John King, but also not a very good day for President Trump of the United States. Are you surprised, and I'm a bit surprised, that -- given all of the damning information in this -- the rough transcript, clearly what Congressman Quigley says all the damning information in this still- very-secret whistleblower complaint, are you surprised that the President, I assume, in the end, he had to authorize the release of these documents? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not surprised because it

was inevitable, especially once the Democrats put the word impeachment on their inquiry, that they were going to subpoena these documents and that there's no -- there is no recourse if you have a formal impeachment proceeding for the administration withholding them. So instead of having to provide them to the Democrats as Exhibit A and Exhibit B, the President can now try to say he is being transparent here.

He was forced to be transparent and not just because of the Democrats. We've had our conversations throughout the day that most Republicans are towing the public White House line, there's no "there" there, leave it alone, or at least that the Democrats are way out of their skis rushing to impeachment. Privately, a number of Republicans have conveyed that the President and the White House need to get out ahead of this because, especially after they saw this summary this morning, they do not view this as acceptable presidential behavior.

So what do you have now? You have this summary -- not a transcript, a summary -- in which the President clearly brings up aid, asks for a favor, talks about Biden, and -- also, Wolf, something we haven't talked about -- asked the President of Ukraine to request help from the United States Attorney General. That, Democrats say, just -- whether there's a quid pro quo, certainly, the President links aid to the request for a favor.

That, Democrats say, is an abuse of power. You're essentially asking a foreign government to ask for government help. So then, there's a leak, Ukraine asks Justice Department for help on Biden investigation. Even if there is no "there" there. That's one thing. So you have this. Now, you have the whistleblower complaint which, right now, is classified and in private. At least parts of it will come into the public.

Impeachment is a political process, but it's a trial. So you have Evidence A. You have the whistleblower complaint, Evidence B. From those documents then, you start calling in witnesses including the whistleblower, including Rudy Giuliani, including additional documents like the President's first call and other witnesses. So as the Democrats, it's a risky business. But they are now on a path to impeach this president, and you're beginning to see today the building blocks of their evidence.

[17:40:04]

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I say the bottom line here for Donald Trump is, it's very to me, he thinks he did nothing wrong? Everything we read in this, he's like -- he's -- so what? I did it. So what if I did it?

These are conversations he had as head of the Trump Organization with people cutting deals all of the time. He wasn't explicit. As Michael Cohen called it, the code. You know, we knew what he was asking us to do. He didn't have to come out and do it.

This is the way Donald Trump has behaved for decades, and becoming President of the United States has not changed him. I don't think he understands or cares to understand that he occupies a different perch now as president, and he cannot do these things.

So today, what was stunning to me, also in an earlier availability he had with the President of Ukraine, he was defending Rudy Giuliani. He said, I love his passion. And he said Rudy has every right to find out where all of this started, all of these conspiracies that he is talking about.

And so, you step back and you look at this picture, and it's Donald Trump and his buddy, Rudy Giuliani, as it was during the Mueller probe. And they're cooking this up --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And there's --

BORGER: -- and he -- and they're doing it, together.

BASH: And there's a reason for that. And that's because he knows that his friend, Rudy Giuliani, is --

BLITZER: By the way, we got some live pictures coming in. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, going into that secure room skiff to read this document, the whistleblower complaint, like several other key members of the House are doing right now. I assume the same thing is going on in the Senate.

BASH: That's right. What I was saying is that he knows that Giuliani is like a kamikaze pilot.

BORGER: Sure.

BASH: He doesn't care about blowing himself up for the greater good. And from his perspective, the greater good is getting all of this stuff about Joe Biden and his son into the ether, allowing Republicans to talk about it, making it so that Fox News talks about it, and making it so that the super-PACs out there cut the ads that they have started to do today to get on the air in order to try to hurt the person they think is going to be his number one problem if he's the Democratic nominee. Right or wrong, that's what they think at this point, and that's Joe Biden.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And I guess the question with that scenario is, how much collateral damage do they do to Donald Trump in the meantime, right? Over these last few days, obviously, you've seen a slew of Democrats get off the sidelines, call for this impeachment inquiry. This call which is very damaging to this president in terms of the light it puts him in, right, essentially bringing up this aid then asking for a favor.

So we don't know. I mean, there has been this kind of conventional wisdom that the President wanted this, that he feels like this will energize his base, that this will kind of bind the Republican Party to this president, but you saw today -- Kevin McCarthy, right, was asked in the hallway about this call. He wasn't too eager to come before cameras --

BORGER: You think?

HENDERSON: -- and talk about this. This is an unfortunate set of facts for Republicans. It's a little different, I think, than what we saw with the Mueller probe, right, over two years? It's kind of a slow-burning fire. This is like a wildfire, right? It's completely new, it's completely easy for people to understand.

This is five pages. The Mueller report was much longer. Not many people read that. So we'll see. I mean, this is -- you know, this is obviously a gamble for Rudy Giuliani. We'll see how many other people join. Obviously, Lindsey Graham has, but we'll see.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Wolf --

BLITZER: Go ahead, David.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, just to add to the point that Gloria was making, you know, I've said this before, Donald Trump has spent his life skirting rules and laws, and he is an expert at laying out the quid and the quo.

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: He's a pro at laying out the quid and the quo and letting you figure out the connections. And the other thing he obviously knows how to do is send emissaries to fill in the blanks, if necessary. I think there's going to be a lot of interest in what Rudy Giuliani's conversations exactly were. And why did he choose Giuliani and not, say, a government official to come and deliver the word on what they were looking for here? I think it's pretty obvious that he was there to fill in the blanks.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Jeffrey Toobin to weigh in. What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Rudy Giuliani has said he worked with the State Department on this, and it would be certainly very interesting to know who at the State Department and what was said. But I'd just like to call attention to the issue of Attorney General William Barr.

William Barr is in charge of this investigation in the Justice Department today. He has been leading an effort to keep all of these documents secret, the whistleblower request, the transcript. You know, for other reasons, they became public, but his legal position was they should remain secret.

They come to the public, and we see that the Attorney General is at the heart of the President's appeal to the President of Ukraine. He is -- the President is saying, you got to talk to my Attorney General. You got to get my Attorney General, you know, involved in this. How is it even conceivable that he is not recused from anything further with regard to this?

[17:45:01]

BLITZER: Well --

BORGER: Well --

BLITZER: And you make an excellent point, Jeffrey. And let me read a line from this rough transcript. This is the President speaking to President Zelensky -- I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call. And I'm also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.

The bottom of all of the conspiracy theories the President is leveling against the Bidens, leveling against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. So make the case, why do you think the Attorney General, right now, needs to recuse himself from this current investigation?

TOOBIN: Because the heart of the accusation against Donald Trump from -- that's arisen in the last week is that he has had an improper, unconstitutional relationship effort in terms of his interactions with the government of Ukraine. A key part of his effort to get dirt from the government of Ukraine on his political opponent Joe Biden is to get the government of Ukraine to talk to his Attorney General.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: To provide that information to the Attorney General. How can the Attorney General possibly supervise an investigation --

AXELROD: Yes.

TOOBIN: -- in which he's clearly a witness? Now --

BORGER: Well, he says he wasn't informed about it, right?

AXELROD: Yes, that --

BORGER: He says he didn't know.

TOOBIN: Well, that's very interesting.

BORGER: Remember what happened to the last Attorney General who recused himself from an investigation.

AXELROD: Exactly.

KING: Right, right.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: Well, you know, that's a very sad story.

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: But, you know, Jeff Sessions --

(LAUGHTER) TOOBIN: Jeff Sessions did the right thing.

BORGER: Right, absolutely.

AXELROD: He did.

TOOBIN: And I think anyone who knows anything about the recusal rules of the American legal system knows Jeff Sessions did the right thing.

BORGER: Exactly.

TOOBIN: Donald Trump thought he did the wrong thing, and he --

BASH: Jeff --

TOOBIN: He's not going to want Barr to --

BASH: Jeffrey Toobin, I don't think you should hold your breath --

TOOBIN: Well, you know, you --

BASH: -- and wait for the --

TOOBIN: But that --

AXELROD: Exactly.

TOOBIN: I mean, that doesn't --

BASH: -- for the Attorney General to recuse himself.

TOOBIN: That doesn't make it any less right --

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: Right.

KING: Yes.

TOOBIN: -- for him to recuse himself.

BORGER: Totally.

BLITZER: Well, what was disturbing, Jeffrey -- especially disturbing to me, at least -- when the President says to President Zelensky, I'm going to have Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr give you a call, we'll get to the bottom of it; he then says in the next sentence, your economy is going to get better and better, I predict. Now, is that a coincidence that that follows his suggestion that he is going to have these guys call him?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, far be it for me to follow exactly the thought process of the President of the United States, but the whole context of the conversation is, if you help me get information on Joe Biden, good things will follow -- military aid, an improved economy. That is called a quid pro quo. That is the entire context of this conversation. And anyone who reads it can't possibly have any alternative view.

BLITZER: Let me --

TOOBIN: I think.

BLITZER: Yes, let me get Bianna to weigh in as well. Go ahead, Bianna. I know you --

GOLODRYGA: Well --

BLITZER: You got some serious thoughts on all of this.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLODRYGA: So many thoughts, Wolf. Like, so much of that presser made 0.0 sense and here is why. Here is just one reason. You talked about the President's new focus on corruption, right? Let's just go back and look at the timeline.

This president approved money -- military aid to Ukraine at the end of 2017 with no strings attached in that announcement. It wasn't, oh, if you get rid of corruption, then we're going to do the following and give you this amount of money. Congress then approved it.

Then you had elections in Ukraine in May. In May, right? So you have the new president come in. Joe Biden announces that he is running for president of the United States in April. Come May, all of a sudden, Rudy Giuliani finds himself in Ukraine.

Mind you, this is a new Ukrainian president who ran on anti- corruption. I mean, you even heard in that presser with the President that he was focused on looking forward. A clean slate, draining the swamp, words that he knows the President is very familiar with. Yet the President, all of a sudden, since Joe Biden announced that he would be running for president, is focused on getting rid of corruption in Ukraine.

BORGER: Right.

GOLODRYGA: It really makes little sense.

BLITZER: You know, Pamela Brown is over at the White House for us. And just remind us, Pamela, because you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, why did the White House, why did the President think it was in the President and the White House's best interest to release this rough transcript?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the key question here, Wolf. Because remember, initially, our reporting was that the White House had been advising DNA to not turn over the information such as the transcript and the whistleblower complaint to Congress. And then, of course, this was a big change, to release this conversation with a head of state.

And sources say, initially, the President thought that this would take some heat off of him, that it would deescalate the pressure, and underut the Democrats' argument that he had something to hide. Now, that may have backfired, given all the fallout over this conversation that the President had with President Zelensky back in July.

And what's interesting as this fallout continues, in talking to sources, now they are saying, look, our arms were twisted. That there was just, you know, too much pressure from the media and from Democrats. Really, we had no choice here even though this was a really bad idea.

[17:50:03]

Others say this was in the interest of transparency. That the institutional concerns were weighed and that, ultimately, the President wanted to be transparent here. But it's unlike, Wolf, that he would have released this unless he thought, somehow, it could help him.

Now, Republicans are focused on the lack of any explicit quid pro quo, but that is also debatable, given the fact that the President started off this conversation talking about how much the U.S. had helped Ukraine. Zelensky had brought up military aid, defense, and the President then went on to say, I'd like you to do us a favor, though. And there has been a big divide here on the White House and controversy over the release of this transcript with Zelensky.

But at the same time, Wolf, battle lines are drawn. Republicans, allies of the President, are very much defending him tonight. The campaign has put out statements. They're trying to fund raise out of all of this, and so they are very much pushing the idea out now that the President is a victim. And we heard that from the President himself during the press conference, that he really views himself as a victim in all of this, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, John King, that Congressman Mike Quigley of the Intelligence Committee -- he was just with us -- he emerged from that secure room, having read the whistleblower complaint, suggesting, in response to my question, he thinks it eventually will have an impact on Republicans going down this impeachment process. What do you think?

KING: It's an interesting question. You and I covered an impeachment a long time ago. That you could trace the seeds of this polarization back to the Clinton impeachment. Now, the seeds of that -- the polarization is on steroids or worse. He said we need to have patience; the American people need to have patience. The people out there watching have to have patience.

Will they have that patience in the sense that everything in this town now and everything in our political conversation is built, ring the bell, go to your corner? You're pro-Trump; you're anti-Trump. That is what the President is trying to do today. That's what all his allies are trying to do today.

Can the Democrats have a disciplined approach to this to counter what I call the Trump leaf blower defense strategy? Which is, a leaf blower is loud and annoying, it distracts you. Plus, it blows everything up in the air. Hyperbole, lies, misstatements, confusion.

Can the Democrats somehow cut through all that to make their case? This is the President linking aid to an investigation of Joe Biden. This is the President trying to get his Attorney General involved in this. Then, take the whistleblower complaint, then bring in the witnesses, and make a case that is viewed as impartial, if you will, even if it is going to be led entirely by Democrats.

And can -- Democrats are for impeachment, Republicans are not. Can they convince the middle of America there's something here, we need to all step back, be patient, be open-minded, and listen? That is a giant challenge for the Democrats.

BORGER: Well, and this is why the hearings --

AXELROD: Wolf, that's the --

BORGER: -- are so important.

AXELROD: That --

BLITZER: Hold on, David, one second. Go ahead, Gloria.

AXELROD: OK.

BORGER: This is why the hearings are so important. I mean, if you get -- for example, the former ambassador of the Ukraine, whom the President trashed in his phone conversation and recalled -- she was a career diplomat and she was recalled, and he trashed her to the Ukrainian president. Why was that?

AXELROD: Right.

BORGER: Is she going to testify? What did she know about what Rudy Giuliani was doing over there? Did she try and stop it? I mean, there are lots of ways to unspool this story, and it's up to the Democrats, right now, to tell that story and to be able to make it digestible to the American public.

BLITZER: Yes, David, go ahead.

AXELROD: Well, a couple of points. One, as to what John said, you know, the thing that really broke this thing open politically was when those seven freshmen members who had been in the national security community came forward because they all come from districts where Donald Trump did relatively well in 2016.

They were elected in 2018. They have been the most reluctant to step forward on this impeachment talk, and they felt moved to step forward. If there is a backlash to what the Democrats are doing, they are the ones who are going to feel it first, and yet they stepped forward.

The second point is to Pamela's point, you know, the notion that the President did this to be -- for -- out of institutional concerns. Released the statement out of institutional concerns. If this president, given his history, released this for institutional concerns, it is truly a historic day.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Very quickly, Nia, there are some Democrats who are still nervous.

HENDERSON: Yes, there are some Democrats who are still nervous. There are Democrats who felt maybe, like, Nancy Pelosi rushed in terms of the impeachment inquiry. But, now, they're obviously digesting more of this information and probably think they're on a little bit more firmer ground.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we're following. The breaking news continues. We're going to talk to another congressman who just saw the whistleblower complaint against President Trump. We'll be right back.

[17:54:43]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Do us a favor. A rough transcript reveals President Trump's own words as he pressed Ukraine's leader to investigate Joe Biden. Top impeachment investigators are calling it damning and shocking evidence of a shake down.

Reading the complaint. Members of Congress are now reviewing details about a whistleblower's concerns that exposed the President's attempts to pressure Ukraine. We're getting new reaction to the complaint that's being described as alarming.

[17:59:58]

In denial. Tonight, the President insisting he did nothing wrong, lashing out at opponents and spewing unsubstantiated allegations. How is he dealing with the growing danger of impeachment?

And ask Rudy --