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Release of Ukrainian Transcript Call Creates Firestorm For Trump; Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); GOP's Romney Says Ukraine Phone Call Rough Transcript Is Deeply Troubling; Lawmakers Reviewing Whistleblower Complaint as Rough Transcript Shows Trump Pushed Ukraine's President to Investigate Biden. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 25, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, the president insists he did nothing wrong, lashing out at opponents and spewing unsubstantiated allegations. How's he dealing with the growing danger of impeachment?

And ask Rudy. Mr. Trump dodges his questions about his personal lawyer's involvement in urging Ukraine to investigate Biden. Rudy Giuliani playing a central role in the newest scandal engulfing the president.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on the Ukraine scandal that launched a formal impeachment investigation of President Trump.

The whistle-blower complaint that started it all is now in the hands of Congress, and it's being reviewed by lawmakers right now. One Democrat are telling me the details are deeply disturbing.

This comes after the release of a rough transcript that shows Mr. Trump pushed Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden, his possible 2020 opponent.

Tonight, President Trump denies he put any pressure on Ukraine, slamming the impeachment inquiry as a hoax.

But top Democrats say they now have damning evidence of a shocking abuse of presidential power.

We have a team of correspondents, experts and guests standing by, as we cover this major breaking story.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, this is a huge day in the Trump presidency. We heard from the president just a little while ago, as lawmakers were learning even more about his Ukraine phone call. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was a critical

day, Wolf, but the president dodged questions and released a fog of conspiracy theories as he tried to evade scrutiny in the Ukraine investigation.

The president offered no apologies from seeking the help of the Ukrainian president in trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was all planned.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Delivering a long and rambling defense of his phone call with the leader of Ukraine, President Trump mocked the prospect of impeachment.

TRUMP: They're getting hit hard on this witch-hunt, because when they look at the information, it's a joke. Impeachment for that?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: It's better to be on TV than by phone, I think.

TRUMP: Yes.

ACOSTA: Insisting he doesn't want to be drawn into the raging impeachment battle in Washington, while still asking for more military assistance from the U.S., Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters he isn't feeling any pressure from President Trump to investigate Joe Biden.

ZELENSKY: I think you read everything. So I think you read text. I -- I'm sorry, but I don't want to be involved to democratic open elections of USA. No, you -- sure, but we had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things.

And I -- so, I think -- and you read it -- that nobody pushed, pushed me, yes.

TRUMP: In other words, no pressure.

ACOSTA: It appears there was pressure. A White House transcript of Mr. Trump's call with Zelensky last July reveals that, after the Ukrainian leader offered to buy more military equipment from the U.S., the president says: "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

And then on the next page, Mr. Trump adds: "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son. So, if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me."

The president also requests that Zelensky work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr. Asked why Giuliani, a private citizen, seemed to be conducting government business, the president told reporters, ask Rudy."

TRUMP: You would have to ask Rudy. I will tell you -- I will tell you this, that Rudy is looking to also find out where the phony witch- hunt started.

ACOSTA: Giuliani told FOX News he was representing the administration.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know who I did it at the request of? The State Department.

I never talked to a Ukrainian official until the State Department called me and asked me to do it.

Laura, I'm a pretty good lawyer, just a country lawyer, but it's all here, right here.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This is how a mafia boss talks.

ACOSTA: Democrats are pouncing, accusing the president of shaking down the Ukrainians, justifying their calls for a formal impeachment inquiry.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The fact is that the president of the United States, in breach of his constitutional responsibilities, has asked a foreign government to help him in his political campaign, at the expense of our national security, as well as undermining the integrity of our elections. That cannot stand. He will be held accountable.

ACOSTA: The president suggested the impeachment slugfest threatens to torpedo any hope for progress on proposals awaiting action in Congress, like new gun legislation.

TRUMP: She really has lost her way. I'll tell you what. Nancy Pelosi is not interested in guns and gun protection and gun safety. All she is thinking about is that she's been taken over by the radical left, the whole Democrat Party.

[18:05:03]

And you take a look at what's happening in the media today. The whole party is taken over by the left. And thank you very much. My poll numbers have gone up.

ACOSTA: Most Republicans are rallying around the president, with some GOP lawmakers gathering at the White House to hammer out their message backing Mr. Trump.

But the White House accidentally sent some of their talking points to House Democrats. So far, only a few Republicans are breaking from Mr. Trump.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: If the president of the United States asks or presses the leader of a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that's troubling. And I feel that.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now that the White House feels like it's been cleared by the release of the call transcript, the White House and the president are now going after the whistle-blower whose complaint was turned over to lawmakers up on Capitol Hill just a short while ago.

But, Wolf, when you listened to the president in that press conference just a short while ago, it sounded as if he is welcoming the prospect of impeachment.

And in the words of a Trump adviser I spoke with earlier today, the president and his team are at their battle stations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in New York for us, thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.

Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is also watching these developments.

Sunlen, it's been a day of some very fast-moving developments. Now lawmakers, they're in that secure confidential room. They're reading the whistle-blower complaint.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And as lawmakers are leaving that secure location where they're reading a classified version of this whistle-blower's complaint, we are learning some small details. According to lawmakers, the whistle- blower's complainants is between 10 and 12 pages' long, approximately, that it's written in plain and simple language, they said, certainly something that's very easily digestible.

But the members did read this, again, in a classified setting. It is still a classified document. So they are unable to essentially discuss the substance of what the report actually says.

But they're response more broadly speaking that we're hearing from lawmakers reading after reading -- leaving after reading this report is basically falling into partisan camps. Republicans we talked to said that their concern is no higher than it was before they read the complaint.

Democrats on the other side, though, not mincing words at all, saying that this is troubling, disturbing and only reinforces their concerns.

Here's what the House intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff, said moments after he completed reading the whistle-blower complaint.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: I have had the opportunity, as have members of the committee, to read the whistle-blower complaint. I found the allegations deeply disturbing.

I also found them very credible. I can understand why the inspector general found them credible, even without the benefit yet of the inspector general's full analysis.

But the complaint was very well-written and certainly provides information for the committee to follow up with other witnesses and documents. So we're well aware of the work that we have to do.

And I want to thank the whistle-blower for coming forward. I think that what this courageous individual has done has exposed serious wrongdoing. And I think it a travesty that this complaint was withheld as long as it was, because it was an urgent matter. It is an urgent matter.

And there was simply no basis to keep this from the committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And many Democrats we spoke to really echo that sentiment, that, if anything, this complaint just gives them more leads and more basis to pursue this complaint and on this investigation.

It certainly, according to one Democrat, heightens their push towards impeachment. And, Wolf, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been in the House SCIF for a little over 20 minutes reading this classified document herself.

BLITZER: Like several other members of the House of Representatives.

Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

I want to bring in our analysts.

And, David Chalian, for those viewers who may just be tuning in this hour, step back a little bit. Give us some perspective on the enormity of this day and the developments that have unfolded.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, it was a bombshell of a day.

And it was a day where the future of Donald Trump's presidency came into focus in some ways of what it's going to look like at least for the remainder of this term -- of his first term, should he get reelected.

But what you saw was, in the release of this rough transcript of a phone call, you saw something very rare in Washington. You saw largely an unspinnable document here.

I know the president and his team are trying to downplay the severity of this, but it is -- as clear as the president had made it in the days before about what his actions were, this transcript, Wolf, made crystal clear that the president was using his position of power in order to urge a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

[18:10:01]

I just don't -- I don't see any other possible interpretation of what was going on here. And I know the president says, that's not what's going on because it

was quid pro quo.

But I just want you to watch how the president handled himself at that press conference at the U.N. today, Wolf. That was a dejected President Trump. We have seen him in much more sort of on-his-heels moments where he is fiery and fighting back and punching back.

And, yes, some of his words were doing that, but his overall tenor, it struck me as, we can't forget how much this president sort of understands moments in media and on television and how things are playing.

And this is, it seemed to me, a president who fully understood that he is in a world of hurt at the moment.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, because he did come across, the president, as a sort of rambling in his opening statement and elsewhere, but also rather low-energy.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If he were watching somebody else give that, he would call them low-energy Trump. I mean, if it was -- that's what he would do. I totally agree.

He did seem maybe dejected, tired. It's exhausting, I think, being up tweeting until all hours of the night and back doing it in the morning, never mind legitimately having a lot of very key meetings, including a very stressful meeting -- I mean, again, just like many things in the Trump world, you could not write this if it were a script -- with the guy who he was on the call with that the summary came out about, and having to dance around that, which was incredibly uncomfortable and maybe a little bit awkward to watch, certainly hard for the...

BLITZER: And, by the way, Nancy Pelosi, who was in that secure room, the so-called SCIF, she's leaving right now. You see a whole bunch of reporters running.

BASH: That's not Nancy Pelosi.

BLITZER: Yes, that's not Nancy Pelosi.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But that's where she was going to be walking. But we got some live pictures, as she's wrapping up her read of this whistle- blower complaint.

BASH: Right, which will be fascinating to see.

Just maybe because you mention that, it is worth noting how much of what we are seeing on Capitol Hill and the push by Nancy Pelosi, because she feels so comfortable -- as she mentioned right at the beginning of her speech a little more than 24 hours ago -- with this kind of -- of this information, with this kind of...

BLITZER: There she is, by the way, right there.

Let's see if she says anything.

PELOSI: ... has now been classified by the president. So, I can't talk about it.

BLITZER: She said it's been classified by the president, so she can't say anything.

But I assume they're going to go through a declassification process and release a lot of it.

BASH: They are.

And this is an area where she has incredible experience. Like she said, before she was in leadership, she came up through the Intelligence Committee.

And so she understands that kind of the DNA of not just the committee, but of the community and how these things work, and how this issue, from her perspective, is married with the American public, and how it can be used and kind of digested by the American public just to show how Donald Trump is acting in a bad way, in a way that other issues -- because there have been so many of them that they potentially could have gone after him on -- might not have risen to that level.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Susan Hennessey. I'm anxious to get your thoughts.

In this rough, rough transcript, he does say -- the president says to President Zelensky: "I would like you to do us a favor." And then he says, "Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it, if that's possible."

He's referring to getting information, negative information, or dirt, whenever you want to call it, on the Bidens, on Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, this is an incredibly damning transcript.

And I think, at this point, it's hard to believe that President Trump is not about to become the third president in American history to actually be impeached.

So what this transcript shows -- and this is just this transcript before we get to anything by the whistle-blower complaint or additional reporting -- it shows both a quid and a quo, whether or not the pro is sufficiently sort of explicit, but there's certainly an implicit quid pro quo, that he is pressuring Zelensky to do these favors for him in exchange for the release of U.S. military aid or additional U.S. security cooperation.

He's also soliciting a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent, absent sort of the basic standards of criminal predicate or national security purposes. That's an abuse of office, full stop. Beyond that, he's also soliciting a foreign leader to interfere in a United States election once again. And so this really is in black and white.

I think the speaker -- whatever's in that whistle-blower complaint, obviously, it's quite disturbing to the lawmakers who have read it. There might be additional information.

But just this information in this transcript alone lays out in black and white an absolutely stunning abuse of office. Very difficult to imagine the House is not going to conclude impeachment as appropriate.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And, you know, there's another word for what went on in this transcript, which is collusion.

I mean, this is the president colluding with a foreign government to try to win the 2020 election.

[18:15:01]

What was the Mueller investigation about? It was about the same thing, whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in order to win the 2016 election.

Now, Robert Mueller did not prove that there was a meeting of the minds, that the Russian government and the Trump campaign actually agreed. But what we saw over and over again in the Mueller report was that the Trump campaign and now the Trump presidency was more than willing, was encouraging, was supportive of the idea of having a foreign government help them win the election.

And that's what today's news is about.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And you know why this is even more striking to me about the Mueller comparisons here?

What didn't we have in the Mueller report? We didn't have a direct oral statement by the president of the United States. We had a written response vetted through attorneys.

Well, look what happened when the president of the United States actually spoke about what he did. You accelerated it and streamlined the entire process of an investigation about figuring out whether the president of the United States actually engaged in behavior that could fall under a category of not this kind of more nebulous term of collusion, or how does the Congress define a high crime and misdemeanor.

The founding fathers actually put the word bribery in that particular clause as well. And what is bribery? It's asking someone for something of value in exchange for an official act.

Well, the president of the United States is saying, well, I'm going to withhold the official act of giving you the military funding that Congress has appropriated, allegedly, in exchange for what? Dirt on my opponent. You see, this is the kind of thing where it's not odd that there is a bipartisan or should be a bipartisan support for getting information, because, in many ways, this is what the founding fathers were trying to guard against.

BLITZER: All right, hold on for just one moment, because I want to bring in Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's a Democrat. He serves on both the Intelligence and the Judiciary committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us on this really important day.

And I understand you have now had a chance to go into that secure room, read the whistle-blower complaint for yourself.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes.

BLITZER: I know it's classified.

SWALWELL: Yes.

BLITZER: But how much more context does this provide, beyond the rough summary or transcript we got of the July phone call between the president and the Ukrainian leader?

SWALWELL: Well, Wolf, I will just say the complaint itself is a five- alarm concern for me.

I can't relate it to the president's transcript or the notes he put out, because the director of national intelligence won't allow us to say anything about that. We're going to clear that up with him tomorrow.

But what is important here is that the complaint, laid out in a very professional way, gives us further evidence to seek, other witnesses to find and documents, as well as witnesses who would corroborate what he or she is complaining is an urgent and credible concern, which I also found to be an urgent and credible concern.

BLITZER: Does the complaint provide a specific road map for your committee to take in the next steps in your investigation?

SWALWELL: It does.

And I want to thank the whistle-blower for coming forward, because what's so alarming about this is the number of people around the conduct that occurred and who didn't say anything. And so it was this whistle-blower who came forward.

My hope, Wolf is that, if other people are out there, and they want to be patriotic, and they want to be brave, and they want to do the right thing, that they will follow this whistle-blower's lead, because it's actually shocking that so many people saw this conduct and didn't come forward.

So, thank you to this whistle-blower. BLITZER: Well, based on this whistle-blower complaint, which

witnesses do you need to hear from, whether in the Judiciary Committee or the Intelligence Committee?

SWALWELL: Well, I think, right now, it's in the realm of the Intelligence Committee.

But, tomorrow, we're going to have a hearing with the acting director of national intelligence. We want to understand what the White House's role is in this, why it was not turned over.

And just to take a step back, Wolf, the whistle-blower did the right thing here. We don't need to change the law. We don't need the whistle-blower to go around the law. We need the acting director of national intelligence to follow the law and give us the full report and allow the whistle-blower to come talk to us and actually give us the coordinates for this road map.

BLITZER: Now that you have actually read the whistle-blower complaint in full, and it's -- you read the whole thing, all the classified information.

SWALWELL: Yes.

BLITZER: Do you think there was any justification at all for the administration trying to withhold it from you guys over these past few weeks?

SWALWELL: Yes. The justification would be a consciousness of guilt on their part. So that's how they would probably justify it, as I can see, reading it, why they would not want this information out there.

But, as far as the law goes, there's no justification.

BLITZER: Did you see any suggestion of partisanship on the part of the whistle-blower? You have heard the president raise these allegations. You have heard some of his supporters in the news media raise these allegations, that he's simply some sort of Democratic hack who's got an axe to grind, who doesn't like the president.

SWALWELL: I'm not going to go into anything about that, except to say that, if this was just one person raising their hand with a concern, I would accept that we need to do more work, but this person laid out a lot of other documents and witnesses who were subjects in this matter.

[18:20:05]

And I'm not concerned at all about anything like that.

BLITZER: So just to elaborate, if you can, a little bit, in the whistle-blower complaint, other individuals in the government are cited as backing up these allegations? Is that what I'm hearing?

SWALWELL: The whistle-blower invokes other witnesses to the disturbing conduct. And the inspector general ran -- he conducted an investigation. Now, what we need to see is, who did the inspector general talk to that was able to corroborate the whistle-blower's report?

But we can all deduce that, if the whistle-blower's complaint, which I read, invokes these other witnesses, and the inspector general did an independent report and said that the complaint is urgent and credible, that that inspector general talked to those witnesses, and the conduct was, in fact, corroborated.

That, I think, is a logical deduction.

BLITZER: Are those witnesses potentially you could call to testify before your committee?

SWALWELL: If we learn their names.

And right now, the acting director of national intelligence is blocking us from seeing the full report. And so he's going to have a lot of questions around that tomorrow.

BLITZER: What do you -- what do you mean he's blocking you from seeing the full report? What did you just read?

SWALWELL: We saw the whistle-blower's complaint. We did not see the investigation that the inspector general did.

So, Wolf, just so your viewers know, a person makes a complaint. They say they want Congress to know about it. That doesn't mean it automatically goes to Congress.

What that means is that activates a process where the inspector general looks into the complaint, looks at documents, talks to witnesses, and then says whether it's, yes or no, urgent and credible.

In this case, after doing that, he says, yes, it's urgent, it's credible.

So that's why I'm concluding and most can conclude that there are a lot of people we need to talk to you that the inspector general talked to.

BLITZER: But you think some of these witnesses could be called publicly to appear before your committee? I assume some of them have very sensitive intelligence community-related jobs.

SWALWELL: Certainly. And we want to protect our nation's secrets. We want to protect the whistle-blower. So we will do it the right way.

But, again, Wolf, this is a call right now for anyone who saw the -- anything wrong in the intelligence community, it's time to come forward. No more lawlessness. You will not be rewarded in this administration or by this Congress for your lawlessness. It's time to come forward. BLITZER: If the whistle-blower's name were revealed -- and, obviously, this whistle-blower was acting according to the law, doing it through the prescribed procedures -- if the name were released, would that affect this whistle-blower's career? Could it potentially endanger this whistle-blower?

SWALWELL: It could affect the whistle-blower's ability to get a security clearance. It could affect the whistle-blower's ability to get a job in the future. It would also affect future whistle-blowers from coming forward.

I'm really concerned, Wolf, that the president is already questioning the whistle-blower's patriotism, mostly because, how the hell does the president even know who this person is? There's no reason at all, under the law, that the White House or anyone in the administration should know the name.

If that's the case, if the name was passed forward to the White House or the Department of Justice, boy, we are in a whole different area of violations of the law here.

BLITZER: So, the inspector general at the -- in the intelligence community has gone beyond the whistle-blower's complaint and done a full investigation, and that full investigation, the conclusion has not been made available to your committee, at least not yet?

Is that right?

SWALWELL: It's a 14-day preliminary investigation to decide if this should go to Congress.

And so it's really on Congress to do the full investigation. But we don't have the work that the inspector general did. We're seeking to get that. And -- but the law demands that we get that. There's no discretion here. And that's...

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise.

What you read just now was the whistle-blower -- the initial...

SWALWELL: Yes.

BLITZER: ... whistle-blower complaint, right?

SWALWELL: Yes, a very professional complaint that lays out disturbing conduct that the whistle-blower observed, that also contemplates multiple other individuals.

BLITZER: And it clearly impacted the inspector general of the intelligence community, who was overruled by the acting director of the intelligence community and the Justice Department and the White House.

They wouldn't let that complaint be released to you guys, at least until today.

SWALWELL: First time that's ever happened. First time that's ever happened in the history of the whistle-blower law.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Very quickly, what's the timeline of the behavior that was -- that was explained in this whistle-blower complaint?

SWALWELL: That the matter is still urgent and credible. It was urgent and credible when it was reported over a month ago, and it remains urgent and credible today.

BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's get some more analysis.

Jim Baker, you're the former FBI general counsel. You just heard what the congressman had to say.

You have been privy to a lot of these kinds of whistle-blower complaints over the years. What do you think?

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- you just read what's been released so far, and it's very alarming, as other folks have said. It's extremely alarming.

And we're at the start of the investigation, right? I mean, we have the complaint. We now have the text of this phone call, to a certain degree. And so now, as the congressman was saying, there's lots of investigative stuff that needs to be done. In a normal I.G. investigation, they will follow all those leads and then, at the end of that, produce a report.

[18:25:00]

So, to me, we're really at the beginning of this process. I mean, the risk for, I think, on the various committees is how much do they want to include in their -- what they're calling an impeachment inquiry?

But in terms of the I.G. investigation, there seems like there's lots to chew on for the inspector general.

BLITZER: There certainly is.

Shawn Turner, you used to work for the director of national intelligence. What jumps out at you?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, a couple of things.

First of all, what Congressman Swalwell said is exactly right. When this complaint went to the inspector general, there is an investigation, and there are a lot of people that are talked to. He has to validate the information before he can make a determination that this is credible and urgent. Now, look, just speaking from experience here, it was understood when

I was at ODNI that, when the inspector general forwarded a complaint to the director of national intelligence, he was doing so to give the DNI the opportunity to comment on that complaint before it was sent to the appropriate members of Congress.

The DNI always understood that he didn't have the option of telling the inspector general not to forward that information or circumventing that process in any way.

So what you have here is extremely unusual. Now, I should say, Wolf that, after reading DNI -- acting DNI Maguire's letter and talking to some former colleagues in the intelligence community, I take a little bit of a different take on his role in this.

Look, I think he found himself in a very difficult situation when he was forwarded a complaint that involved the president of the United States. I think it was probably appropriate for him, under those circumstances, to go ahead and involve his general counsel.

I think that where this all fell apart is when the general counsel made a decision to bring in the OLC, wherein it's pretty predictable that we would get an opinion that would suggest that this didn't fall under the jurisdiction of the DNI.

So I think that, tomorrow, we will get to the bottom of this with the DNI. But I don't -- I think it's probably premature to suggest that the DNI was in any way trying to protect the president here.

It certainly could have been the case that he just found himself in a situation where he just really didn't know what to do, and then the OLC made the decision for him.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, as we watch all of this unfold, the debate on Capitol Hill is unfolding rather dramatically right now. And you're getting some new reporting.

BASH: That's right, from our team on Capitol Hill.

We were watching the Republicans to see if anybody breaks besides Mitt Romney, and to see if that changes even more as they, especially those on the Intelligence Committees, read the information that we just heard about from Eric Swalwell.

Ben Sasse, Republican in the Senate, said that he saw it, and he said some of the things he saw were very troubling. That's interesting, given the fact that we have heard crickets from almost all Republicans when it comes to this document.

And it is so in keeping with the Republican Party in the Trump era. Again, if you saw a Democratic president give this kind of -- have this kind of conversation, read a summary of a phone conversation from a Democratic president saying exactly what Donald Trump said, the Republicans would be -- their hair would be on fire.

I mean, that's just the way it is. Now, it is part of the partisan nature of this city right now, but it also is very much because of what we have seen time and time again.

The one difference was yesterday, when the Senate Republicans who lead the Senate allowed to vote, which passed unanimously, in order to see exactly what's going on right now, to see the complaint in a classified manner.

And -- but that's, I think -- in a large part, it's because it was CYA. They don't want to hear reporters ask them questions over and over again about why they are not doing their job. The implication of that is that they're going to come out and they're going to have to give information about problems, if they're talking in an honest way.

But for the most part, Republicans have been in lockstep, not new, but for something like this, it is certainly noteworthy.

BLITZER: It's interesting, David Chalian, because you have got Senator Mitt Romney, now Senator Ben Sasse.

You have got two Republicans now who are beginning to say they're concerned about what they have seen over the past 24 hours.

CHALIAN: Yes.

I mean, Mitt Romney has been on an island. I guess there was room for Senator Sasse there, who, by the way, recently just won Donald Trump's endorsement for his election campaign.

I will just note there is, yes, typical politics, as Dana is totally right to note, that if the shoe were on the other foot, they'd be behaving differently.

You see the clips of Lindsey Graham from 1998 as a House impeachment manager and compare that to the clips today. You can do that.

But there's got to be a moment where the typical politics have to fall by the wayside for the constitutional responsibility of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches.

[18:30:07]

And the Republicans on Capitol Hill have totally and thoroughly abdicated that responsibility, save these two, and what was so amazing to see, because I'm not even sure if another Republican president would have this kind of loyalty, Wolf, if the scenario was similar.

What is amazing to see is that Donald Trump has such loyalty from Republicans on the Hill that even Mitt Romney, who was the head of the party just seven years ago, when he is out there in a different place, nobody is there to follow along with him. That's how much control and loyalty Donald Trump has engendered inside his own party.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, I do think we should note one critical substantive difference between this and the behavior we saw, say, at the Russia investigation, and that's that Donald Trump wasn't president of the United States. And so what we're saying now is Donald Trump actually using and abusing the powers of the American presidency, his constitutional authorities, his ability to make foreign affairs, in order to abuse them for his own political benefit.

And so, you know, I don't think the Republicans deserve very much credit based on past performance. That said, there is a reason why Republicans who might have not spoken out after those really disturbing findings of the Mueller report might say this is a line, this is a bridge too far and we do have to start speaking.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Let me get Samantha Vinograd, who used to work in the National Security Council during the Obama administration. Let me get her to weigh in.

What's jumping out at you right now?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: What's jumping out at me as these members of Congress read the whistleblower complaint and the urgent and credible concern that was expressed several weeks ago is the president's own actions in the last 24 hours alone add to the urgency and the credibility of concerns related to what he's been doing in terms of any abuse of office or violation of his oath to uphold the Constitution. That's point number one.

The second part of this that is really sticking out to me, Wolf, and I think we're going to see this play out over the coming weeks, is there is a battle being set up between Rudy Giuliani and Secretary of State Pompeo. Every time Rudy Giuliani speaks or the president speaks for that matter, they are adding to the evidence that members of Congress may have access to, may use as they proceed with this investigation into what happened.

Rudy Giuliani has been freelancing as an ambassador of conspiracy theories for a long time. He did it last night. President Trump used some of the same conspiracy theories in his remarks throughout the course of the day. And having lived through the Benghazi Special Committee, as members of Congress start pursuing these various investigations, this is going to be a massive drain on the actual State Department, on the NSE and White House staff that worked on Ukraine and are just trying to do their actual jobs.

So we are seeing national security being degraded by the president himself, by his lawyer, and to date, Secretary of State Pompeo has been relatively silent, as Rudy Giuliani and the president have gone around and really undercut the actual foreign policy work of the State Department.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jeffrey Toobin, you read this, I assume a few times now, this rough transcript or summary or memorandum, whatever you want to call it, of this phone conversation in July between President Zelensky of Ukraine and President Trump.

In that conversation, the president says at one point near the beginning of the conversation, and I'm quoting, now, the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine, and then he says, that hasn't always been, in the president's words, reciprocal. And then he says something along the lines, and I'm quoting from this rough transcript, I would like you to do us a favor, and then he refers to investigating the Bidens, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Sometimes we talk about Donald Trump talking in code. There's no code here. I want you to do us a favor means I want you to do us a favor, meaning do this for us. And what is it he wants? He wants dirt on Joe Biden.

I mean, the Mueller story was perhaps too complicated. This story does not appear to be all that complicated. What's going on here is this phone call is about a supplicant. The president of Ukraine is a supplicant. He needs money. And he's talking about in that phone call, we need money to buy missiles, to buy Javelin missiles. And the president says, I need -- I want you to do us a favor. Quid pro quo, money for information, that's what's in this transcript.

BLITZER: Well, let me get to Jim Baker, the former general counsel over at the FBI to weigh in on this because it's illegal that a domestic political campaign in the United States to get foreign contributions but also what they call in-kind contributions, aid, assistance. Do you sense reading this rough transcript that the president is asking the president of Ukraine for an in-kind campaign contribution, which potentially could be illegal?

[18:35:05]

JIM BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: Well, it seems like it, yes. The short answer is yes. But the trick, you know, there was a whole section in the Mueller report about this, it's not quite clear how you value such a contribution. And so that is where it may run into trouble in terms of being an actual crime that could be prosecuted.

Keep in mind, as the Mueller report showed us, the DOJ says you can't prosecute a sitting president. That does not indicate what could happen to Rudy Giuliani or the attorney general if he, in fact, participated in some of this activity, which is his whole role in this is quite alarming and we don't know exactly what happened, and even the mention of him repeatedly in this transcript set my hair on fire. I was quite concerned about that.

TOOBIN: But if I could add just one point about the impeachment context, it's been clear since Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that you don't have to commit an actual crime or violate the law, 18 United States code, to commit an impeachable offense. Abuse of power, that's what the framers were most concerned about. If you abuse your power as president and don't happen to violate a specific criminal code, that can still be an impeachable offense.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And the indication is enough as well. I mean, you can solicit the actual act. And I think we're actually beyond this realm of the in-kind transfer. In the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Veselnistkaya, that was about trying to quantify what oppo research might look like against Hillary Clinton.

We actually have a number in mind here. It's $250 million in military aid that was appropriated by Congress using their power of the purse. We have a quantifiable measurement here. The president was very clear.

And I almost wish I could be a fly in the cell of Michael Cohen right now, because he's thinking to himself, I was telling you all, he didn't give a direct order but it was more the innuendo. Well, what are we seeing, the absence of code.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just go back to one thing, because I'm now seeing more of the transcript of what Senator Ben Sasse said. And he went after Democrats for jumping to impeach. But more importantly, he said that Republicans ought not be rushing to circle the wagons and say there's no there there when obviously there's a lot very troubling there. That's the full context of what he said, which, for a Republican in this environment in this day where people were doing exactly that, circling the wagons on the Republican side, that is significant.

Ben Sasse has certainly had his criticism of Donald Trump but he's also held his fire, and right now he's continuing that, which is noteworthy, as David was saying, so far, Mitt Romney has been on an island of one. Maybe he has two now.

BLITZER: Ben Sasse, a very, very intelligent guy, as we all know as well.

Everybody stand by for a moment. I want to bring in our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, you have been breaking down that rough transcript of the president's Ukraine phone call. Tell us what you're learning.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And, look, we heard the president say he never put pressure on the Ukrainian president. But if you look through this transcript, you can see that President Trump makes it clear he thinks the U.S. is getting the short end of the stick in terms of relations with Ukraine, and he had a list of things he wanted from the Ukrainian president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: President Trump urged the Ukrainian president over and over to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and he volunteered the help of the U.S. Justice Department to do it.

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, Trump says in a July 25th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky according to the rough transcript released Wednesday by the White House.

Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution. So if you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me, Trump says.

Zelensky responds, the next prosecutor general will be 100 percent my person. He or she will look into this situation, specifically to the company you mentioned. Trump insists there's nothing wrong with his request.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: That call was perfect. It couldn't have been nicer.

There was no pressure. The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell.

The phone call was perfect.

MURRAY: But the rough transcript provides the clearest evidence yet that Trump tried to use his position in the Oval Office and the weight of the Justice Department to go after his top political rival.

Trump's call with Zelensky came as he and Rudy Giuliani were fixated on Biden's push to have the Ukrainian prosecutor, who was widely seen as corrupt, ousted in 2016 when Biden was vice president.

Trump and Giuliani claimed Biden was protecting his son, Hunter, who served on the board of an energy company the Ukrainian prosecutor had previously investigated.

TRUMP: When Biden's son walks away with millions of dollars from Ukraine, and he knows nothing, and they're paying him millions of dollars, that's corruption.

MURRAY: There's no evidence though that Joe or Hunter Biden did anything wrong.

Roughly, a week before Trump's call with Zelensky, Trump ordered a hold on hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine.

[18:40:04]

On the call, Trump doesn't explicitly threaten to continue withholding the money in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens.

TRUMP: There was never any quid pro quo.

MURRAY: But the president does suggest the U.S. is getting a raw deal.

The United States has been very, very good to Ukraine, Trump says. I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good. But the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.

Soon after Zelensky brings up America's great support in the area of defense, that's when Trump tells Zelensky, I would like you to do us a favor, saying, our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine.

Trump then references CrowdStrike, the cyber security firm the Democratic National Committee hired to investigate after it was hacked in 2016. CrowdStrike publicly blamed the Russian government, as was confirmed by Robert Mueller's investigation.

But both Trump and Giuliani have floated another conspiracy theory, that Ukraine invented the idea that Russia was meddling in the 2016 election.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Several people in Ukraine knew about a tremendous amount of collusion between Ukrainian officials and Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

MURRAY: On the July call, Zelensky says the issue is an important one, and Trump vows to have Barr and Giuliani follow up with Zelensky. The Justice Department says Trump never asked Barr to contact Ukraine, and Barr has not communicated with Ukraine on this or any other subject. Giuliani, meanwhile, has already been in contact with Ukrainian officials.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Now, Wolf, throughout the call, you see the Ukrainian president say over and over again, he thinks these areas of corruption are important, he's going to look into them. But when you saw him alongside President Trump today, you could see what a difficult position he was in, taking pains to say he does not want to be at the center of the U.S. democratic process. Back to you.

BLITZER: A very good report, Sara Murray. Thank you very much for that.

You know, Susan Hennessey, I want to play a clip. We just spoke a few minutes ago with Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of the Intelligence Committee. He reviewed the whistleblower complaint in that secure, classified room, and then he emerged and spoke with us and said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): This person laid out a lot of other documents and witnesses who were subject in this matter, and, you know, I'm not concerned at all about anything like that.

BLITZER: So just elaborate, if you can, a little bit. In the whistleblower complaint, other individuals in the government are cited as backing up these allegations, is that what I'm hearing?

SWALWELL: The whistleblower invokes other witnesses to the disturbing conduct. And the inspector general, he conducted an investigation.

Now, what we need to see is who did the inspector general talk to that was able to corroborate the whistleblower's report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a pretty significant statement.

HENNESSEY: Yes. So the inspector general is authorized to receive and investigate any complaints. And so it appears that Swalwell is maybe talking about two separate things. One thing is actually the substance of the complaint. Does this whistleblower name other people, point to other evidence that Congress might want to look into? And then also what were the sort of preliminary investigative steps (ph) that the I.G. might have taken in making that determination of urgent and credible?

It wasn't entirely clear for me from Swalwell's comments whether or not he was saying that the I.G. has already completed this 14-day review, but that the I.G. has personally spoken to these witnesses or whether they're merely asking the questions and asking for sort of the I.G. to produce that investigative material. But either way, I do think it indicates fact that there is more here, more sort of bread crumbs and evidence potentially for Congress to collect.

BLITZER: Well, Jim Baker, on that point, are there a bunch of other witnesses now that potentially the Intelligence Committee, others, maybe even the Justice Department or the FBI might be calling if there's a full scale investigation?

BAKER: Well, yes. There needs to be a logical investigation conducted in a professional way of all the allegations, all the potential witnesses need to be looked at, all the potential documents, emails need to be pulled, text messages, as we all know, need to be pulled, the evidence needs to be gathered to understand exactly what happened here.

I mean, the I.G. could have moved very quickly to understand an important part of the investigation in the 14-day period. I doubt seriously that he's completed a full and robust investigation. If there are allegations, if something comes out that there was criminal activity afoot, that could be referred to the FBI, of course, and just run around the top of the FBI.

I mean, one of the things that I would like to know is the extent to which, with the president having invoked the name of the name of the attorney general, I understand the attorney general has said apparently that he hasn't done anything with respect to Ukraine. But what, if anything, was the FBI asked to do with respect to this? Was the FBI asked to investigate Vice President or his son? What involvement did they have and what involvement did they have with respect to investigating if, in any way, the complainant?

TOOBIN: And the State Department. Rudy Giuliani in his interview with Fox the other day said, I was asked to go to Ukraine by the State Department.

[18:45:06]

What? I mean --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't think the State Department knows what he's talking about.

TOOBIN: Well, let's find out. That is a classic example of why you need an investigation. LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do think, though, I would be

shocked if the inspector general of the intelligence community run it up the flagpole in this way on a cursory review of information. All I think Representative Swalwell was asking for was not to reinvent the wheel.

Remember, the I.G. had to determine if it was urgent and credible. Most importantly, being credible. So, what did you use to actually make that evaluation and assessment. We already know in a pattern of stonewalling how -- what it took to get the information released today. Imagine if they were to wait and say, well, maybe they'll give us more. He has to know that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let me bring David Swerdlick into this as well. David, you've been studying all this late breaking developments. What do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, Wolf, I think that you have a situation where, yes, the I.G.'s report is going to provide additional context here, and may get to the bottom of some of the questions about why Rudy Giuliani was involved rather than people from the State Department. I mean, there's a bigger question about why the president was seeking the help of President Zelensky for, you know, his own benefit but why did he send essentially his bagman, Rudy Giuliani, instead of working through people who are part of the executive branch.

But I want to go back to something that Dana said a minute about what Senator Sasse said. He's warning Republicans not to say there's no "there" there here because unlike the Mueller report, you have a situation here where even if we haven't seen the I.G. report, even if we haven't heard DNI Maguire's testimony yet, if our viewers read this four-page rough transcript or rough summary, it lays out pretty clearly and Sarah just did in her report, something that to the average person they can get their hands around, and even if no crimes were committed, looks fishy.

There's the sort of butter up, hey, we're better friends than the E.U. or Germany, we do way more for you than Angela Merkel. There's the sort of here's where we're at part of this transcript, where the president says, look, they didn't lay a glove on me with Mueller, so, let's talk about what we're going to do next, and finally, there's the ask. He goes to Zelensky and brings up Biden, I want you to get on a call with Rudy Giuliani which again, why is he asking him to get on a call with someone who's not part of the government, who's the president's personal lawyer.

BLITZER: Those are important questions, indeed.

Samantha Vinograd, at one point during the president's news conference, he lashed out at Senator Bob Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee, some other Democratic senators for supposedly doing improper some pressure tactics on the Ukraine government in order to get rid of some of what they consider to be corrupt officials in Ukraine.

But you have been looking into this. What do you discovered?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I have been tweeting back and forth with Senator Menendez on this recently, Wolf, and President Trump and the White House just tweeted out something on this as well, alleging that Democrats had improper contact with Ukrainian authorities related to investigations that were going on in Ukraine.

Let's be clear, two wrongs don't make a right. Even if there was inappropriate contact by Democrats or Republicans before President Trump, that doesn't absolve him of wrongdoing. On this particular issue, Senators Menendez, Durbin and Leahy did send a letter to the Ukrainian authorities, regarding press reports that Ukrainians were backing off of investigations because they did not want to upset Trump. They wanted to curry favor with Trump, and these members of Congress wanted to ensure there was nothing inappropriate that was influencing the functioning of the Ukrainian law enforcement system.

They were trying to get rid of corruption in Ukraine, rather than encourage it as President Trump has allegedly tried to do by intervening these legal proceedings in Ukraine, related to Vice President Biden. So, he's mixing apples and oranges here, he can throw the whole fruit basket at Democrats that will not absolve him of any wrongdoing and I expect this attack on Democrats, these false equivalent -- equivalencies to continue. That's his best strategy right now and it is quite transparent, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important stuff indeed.

You know, Dana, we hear two Republican senators now beginning to question the president's activities as far as Ukraine is concerned. I suspect there's going to be more in the coming days and weeks.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll see. A lot of it depends on how troubling to use Ben Sasse's words coming out of the SCIF, coming out of reading this classified complaint, it really is, and whether or not other Republicans see it that way, and more importantly, if they see it that way because let's be honest, privately I talked to Republicans who see this summary of the phone call as troubling, although they're not saying it in public, how much they're going to be willing to say it.

[18:50:06]

I mean, the politics of this cannot be overstated, how dicey it is for Republicans. If they want to be reelected, whether they're in swing district in the house or more importantly in the senate, those are up for reelection, in purple states, you would think maybe they would try to appeal to Democrats there. No, they're much more worried about losing the Trump base which could mean lights out.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: But I would just add one thing to that.

BLITZER: Very sensitive moment. Very quickly, David. CHALIAN: I would just say, let's put some names on what Dana is

talking about. Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine, Martha McSally in Arizona, these are the people we need to be looking, yes, they need the Trump base but they're not getting reelected in those purple states without some of the middle also. So the politics of this is going to become impossible for them very quickly.

BLITZER: Well said. Everybody, stand by. A lot more of our special coverage on this historic day, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:48]

BLITZER: Amid the very fast and dramatic developments today in Congress' impeachment inquiry into President Trump, one particularly curious detail came to light. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now.

Brian, the rough transcript of the president's call with the Ukraine's leader shows Mr. Trump bringing up a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. In that call, the president asked the Ukrainian president to investigate a computer server from the Democratic National Committee, a server that had been hacked by the Russians as part of the 2016 election interference campaign.

The president somehow believed that server had made its way to Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's one of the more bizarre comments made by President Trump in his phone call with Ukraine's president, the suggestion that somehow a computer server tied to the 2016 election is now mysteriously in Ukraine.

According to the rough transcript of the July call, Trump says he'd like his Ukrainian counterpart to, quote, do us a favor, and alludes to the Mueller investigation before saying I would like to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. They say CrowdStrike, I guess you have one of your wealthy people, the server. They say Ukraine has it.

I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.

The only problem, experts say there's no evidence of any of this.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL & STATE PROSECUTOR: This is really a deep state conspiracy theory. It's not supported by the fact.

TODD: The server Trump refers to appears to be the Democratic National Committee server, which federal indictments filed by Robert Mueller say was hacked by the Russians during their 2016 election interference campaign, as part of the Kremlin's effort to help get Trump elected. CrowdStrike, which the president mentions, is the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic committee to investigate the hacks.

Trump in more than 20 interviews, tweets and other public comments has harped on the debunked idea that the DNC server somehow contains unrevealed evidence and might be in mysterious hands.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server and what is the server saying?

TODD: Trump regularly points out that the FBI never had access to the original DNC servers, that's in part because of the FBI's practice of working with copies, but the DNC says none of its original servers were ever missing. The DNC and CrowdStrike say they ultimately gave the FBI copies of the DNC servers once they determined there was a Russian hack, something then-FBI Director James Comey didn't object to.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Best practice is always to the machines themselves and this, my folks, tell me was an appropriate substitute.

TODD: So why would the president think someone in Ukraine has a DNC server? We got no response from the White House. CrowdStrike did previously do work for the Ukrainian government, but that was totally unrelated to the DNC or the 2016 presidential election.

And Trump once mistakenly asserted that CrowdStrike was owned and run by a Ukrainian, a comment reportedly driven by online conspiracy theories.

Analysts say Trump is either just repeating these false online myths or he's trying to misdirect and muddy the waters.

HONIG: I think he's looking continually for a counter narrative to the Mueller report, constantly trying to shift the blame.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Then there's the matter of Mr. Trump telling the Ukrainian president that he wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to contact Ukrainians to get to the bottom of the server question. Legal analysts say it would be inappropriate for the attorney general to get involved in any of that.

A Justice Department spokeswoman tells CNN tonight the president did not ask Barr to contract Ukraine on that or any other matter, and that Barr has never communicated on Ukraine on his own -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Brian.

The president has also put out misinformation about the former Clinton campaign chair, John Podesta, related to those DNC servers, right?

TODD: He has, Wolf. Trump has tweeted that John Podesta somehow refused to hand over the DNC servers to the FBI. That is absolute nonsense. As Podesta himself pointed out, he worked for the Clinton campaign, not the DNC. So the hacked servers were never his to give anyone. It's more misinformation from the president.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

And this important note, stay with CNN for complete coverage of the Ukrainian scandal. Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper anchor a special later tonight, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

[19:00:00]