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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO); The White House in Crisis. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD, "The White House in Crisis."

I'm Jake Tapper in what has been a nonstop and truly unprecedented day of news, President Trump apparently furious about the whistle-blower whose allegations now threaten to bring about his impeachment.

Sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump behind closed doors earlier today said he wanted to know who in his administration spoke with the whistle- blower.

And, according to "The New York Times," which first reported the story, President Trump then said -- quote -- "Because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little different than we do now" -- unquote.

An apparent reference there to executions, as well as a misuse of the term treason.

But the president's over-the-top response comes in context, comes after a key moment in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Today, we got our first look at the full whistle-blower complaint about the president, the one that sparked this whole impeachment investigation.

This whistle-blower sounding the alarm about President Trump using his power to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, and the White House, according to the whistle-blower, then trying to lock down records of that phone call, hiding the transcript in a computer system where only the most sensitive national security information is typically stored.

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it is clear what this sounds like to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Those allegations of abuse of power and an ensuing cover-up would be quite damning, would be extremely unethical.

And now, of course, it is up to Congress to decide if those acts happened and if they are impeachable.

Today, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, testified on Capitol Hill, defending the decision to not immediately hand over the whistle-blower complaint to Congress, as prescribed by law.

But Maguire would not say whether he spoke to President Trump about the matter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Did you ever speak to the president about this complaint?

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: My conversations with the president, because I am director of national intelligence, are privileged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Acting DNI Maguire also added that he thought the whistle- blower and the intelligence community inspector general both acted in good faith.

Let's go straight to CNN's Sara Murray.

And, Sara, despite President Trump attacking the whistle-blower's sources, the acting spy chief says he believes the whistle-blower did all the right things.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

President Trump and his Republican allies have questioned the credibility, the motives of this whistle-blower. And we saw from acting DNI today as he was parrying these questions from lawmakers, he said, look, it is not my job to investigate this complaint. That was up to the inspector general. He found this complaint to be credible.

And then he went on to say that he believes both the inspector general and this whistle-blower did essentially exactly what you're supposed to do in this situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGUIRE: I want to stress that I believe that the whistle-blower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout. I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: So you could see him sort of stepping out there and offering the defense he could. He also admitted that he does not know who this whistle-blower is. He does not want to know who this whistle-blower is, that he's committed to maintaining this person's protections and ensuring they're not retaliated against, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Sara, the acting director of national intelligence, Maguire, was asked multiple times about his conversations with President Trump about this.

He refused to answer. But there was one part of his conversations with President Trump that he was willing to discuss.

MURRAY: That's right, Jake.

I mean, this was obviously a point of frustration for lawmakers. They wanted to know whether he had and the president had ever talked about the complaint. He wouldn't say anything about that. But he was asked, did the president want to know who this whistle-blower was? Did he want you to find out?

Here's what did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Did the president the United States asked you to find out the identity of the whistle-blower?

MAGUIRE: I can say I -- although I would not normally discuss my conversations with the president, I can tell you emphatically no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, he also confirmed that no one else at the White House, no one else at the Justice Department has asked him to try to figure out who the whistle-blower is.

But, Jake, you can imagine lawmakers were very skeptical today. They had a lot of questions for him about why he would have taken a complaint that mentions the president and Attorney General Bill Barr by name and then gone to the White House and the Justice Department.

TAPPER: Indeed.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

The complaint lays out in detail the whistle-blower's concerns that President Trump was pushing a foreign power, Ukraine, to investigate his potential 2020 opponent.

CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is with me now.

And, Evan, what exactly does the whistle-blower say about President Trump's conduct?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is the bombshell, really, in the complaint. And it has to do with what exactly the president was up to when he was making these conversations, saying these things to the president of Ukraine.

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Part of the complaint says in part: "I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."

Obviously, Jake, that is the center of this controversy. Now that the White House has released the phone call, everyone can make a judgment to determine whether or not they believe this is what the president was doing, asking the Ukrainians to investigate his likely rival in the 2020 election.

TAPPER: And, Evan, what does this whistle-blower say in the letter about how the White House handled the aftermath of the phone call?

PEREZ: Right.

And what the whistle-blower says, that there was an attempt to a cover-up. Essentially, people at the White House knew that this could be a problem.

And so what the whistle-blower says in part is this: "I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials have intervened to lock down all records of the phone call" -- this is the Ukrainian phone call -- "especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what transpired in the call."

And, Jake, according to this -- to this whistle-blower, other phone calls, other interactions were handled in a different manner. This one was handled in a completely separate way. And, again, that's leading to all of the accusations of a cover-up.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much.

"The New York Times" first reported and CNN has confirmed that President Trump earlier today told staff from the United States mission to the United Nations that he wanted to know who provided information to the whistle-blower about his call with the Ukrainian president, and whoever talked to the whistle-blower was -- quote -- "close to a spy."

And then he said -- quote -- "In the old days, spies were dealt with differently," an apparent allusion to executions.

I want to bring in CNN's White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez.

Boris, how was this met by staffers?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, many were stunned.

According to "The New York Times," some actually even laughed. This was a crowd of about 50 people. According to the reporting, the U.N. ambassador, Kelly Craft, was also in the room for this. At least one of these people was taking notes.

And that's how we know what the president said.

Listen to this quote specifically, the president saying -- quote -- "I want to know who's the person who gave the whistle-blower the information, because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now."

Jake, the president, making an apparent suggestion that these people should potentially face the death penalty, very noteworthy, considering the issues circling this president regarding obstruction of justice in the past, and the fact that these officials could potentially become witnesses in the very near future, also because the acting head of the DNI was testifying at the time that this whistle- blower acted lawfully and did the right thing, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, there's certainly going to be questions about witness intimidation, based on those remarks.

Boris, we are also just learning that Corey Lewandowski, the president's former campaign manager, is in conversations with the White House about potentially heading up the impeachment team to defend President Trump?

SANCHEZ: Oh, that's right, Jake, a familiar face returning to center stage, potentially.

This kind of gives you an idea of the scramble behind the scenes at the White House, with people close to the president telling CNN that they wonder if the White House actually has a plan to respond to this impeachment inquiry.

According to multiple sources, Corey Lewandowski has had conversations with the White House officials about joining some kind of team to respond to this inquiry. Notably, Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary, told CNN there are no plans to form an impeachment response team.

Lewandowski told CNN that he had not spoken directly to President Trump, but he didn't totally deny the reporting altogether -- Jake.

TAPPER: Right. When last saw Lewandowski, he was testifying on Capitol Hill.

SANCHEZ: Right.

TAPPER: Among the things he said was that he doesn't see anything wrong with lying to journalists, which is essentially the same thing as lying to the American people.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, Boris, thanks so much. Much more on our breaking news, including if the whistle-blower will testify before Congress.

You're watching a special expanded edition of THE LEAD: "The White House in Crisis."

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: We're back with our breaking news.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff today confirming his plans to bring the whistle-blower in to testify before Congress, presumably behind closed doors.

Schiff also says that the whistle-blower has given Democrats a -- quote -- "pretty good road map" to investigate the president on the Ukraine matter.

Let's chew over all this with my experts.

Dana, let me start with you.

So much news, so many things going on, crazy comments made by this person and that person. But let's stick to the fundamental issue right now, which is this whistle-blower, who was deemed credible by the inspector general of the intelligence community appointed by President Trump, saying that President Trump was seeking foreign assistance to help damage his political rival, and then the White House helped cover it up.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Yes, I mean, that really is the thing that we have to keep in mind. There are so many details about, you know, what the law is and about an alphabet soup with I.G. and I.C.

Put all that aside. When you boil it down, it is the president of the United States made not just a phone call, but, according to this whistle-blower allegation, a series of phone calls that people in his orbit thought were so problematic that they broke protocol.

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I don't know if it's the law, but definitely protocol, by putting it in a place that is supposed to be for top-secret information. And the people who saw that happen were so concerned about that cover-up, alleged cover-up, that they were telling other people, and it got to this whistle-blower, and that's when he wrote this down.

I mean, that's huge. And that provides a huge road map, as Adam Schiff said, for them to do, to go and ask all of these people who were involved in not just putting these -- these transcripts in a vault, but also the people who thought that was...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And, Nia, we have heard a lot of Trump defenders and the president himself attacking people.

One thing we haven't really heard is any denial of the essential facts, many of which have already been confirmed by President Trump and the transcript and Rudy Giuliani speaking out in the open.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes, I think which makes it hard to deny the facts, because you have got this call and obviously the whistle-blower complaint.

They tried to attack -- you saw in the hearing today sort of tried to attack the whistle-blower, basically say, well, the whistle-blower didn't have firsthand knowledge. Well, he clearly -- he or she clearly had enough knowledge to match in this complaint what was in that call.

This is a replay of what we saw from the Mueller probe, right, to attack the media, to attack Democrats, basically to attack the whistle-blower in this case.

But that, I think, is going to be hard to sustain, given that this -- according to this complaint, the people who were giving this whistle- blower information worked in the White House, right, or were White House officials.

And you imagine if you're the president, and the president is known for conspiracy theories. He thinks there's a deep state. He thinks there are sort of spies all around him. In the case, there are people he could be working closely with who were so concerned about what they were seeing, that they were telling other people that this could have represented an abuse of power.

So that's why you see him lashing out today and essentially saying, wow, these people should be handled and handled harshly.

TAPPER: Jen, you worked in the Obama White House, in the Obama State Department.

How -- what was your read on how this was handled, both the call and then White House officials obviously seeming to know that they had a problem on their hands, putting the transcript where normally, not politically sensitive, but actually like intelligence matters- sensitive information, was put?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, in a period of 48 hours, where there's been a lot of striking and shocking information, I think two of the pieces that there's going to be a long tail on are the web of people who were aware of what was happening and their role in this.

And, as you mentioned, I was in the White House for eight years. For at least half of that, I worked closely with the national security team. This is not a decision that would have been made unless there was a high-level directive to do it.

So there had to have been awareness at a high level. But the other pieces -- piece that really stood out to me is the fact that this was not the only call, not the only time. So, yes, he asked the Ukrainian president to look for dirt on his opponent.

What about his calls with Mohammed bin Salman? What about his calls with President Putin? What about his calls with Duterte of the Philippines? People he has talked about having good relationships with who have kind of -- are not aligned with the views or the values of the United States, has he asked them for information? Where's that? Is that also in the same server?

So, to me, this could be the tip of the iceberg. We don't know. But there's a lot of more questions that I think Adam Schiff will ask, journalists will ask, and I expect we will learn more in the coming days.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, CNN sources are now confirming that President Trump attacked the whistle-blower's sources behind closed doors.

"The New York Times" first reported the story, reported that President Trump said behind closed doors -- quote -- "I want to know who the person -- who's the person who gave the whistle-blower the information, because that's close to a spy. You know what we used in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle a little different -- a little differently than we do now."

What's your response when you hear that?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the strongest talking point that Republicans have right now is that this is all secondhand sources.

So it's pretty obvious to me that President Trump is trying to intimidate anyone else from corroborating the story, because...

TAPPER: Those are firsthand sources.

CARPENTER: Yes, the complete details there's half-a-dozen people who can corroborate this, who told them this. So he doesn't want them to come out.

This is an act of intimidation. And the people who have knowledge of this, I have a message. There's strength in numbers. They can attack one or two people and smear them. They can't smear dozens. And there are dozens of people with knowledge of this national security risk.

And a lot of Republicans, I think they're shaky on this. When you talk to them, many of them admit it's concerning, but maybe not impeachable. And I think they need to be asked this honest question. How will it be prevented again?

Because President Trump has done this twice now, with Russia, welcoming all foreign interference, and now Ukraine. And it's clearly, it's obvious that President Trump is not deterred by a sense of internal ethics or the law.

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So if you won't impeach him, please, tell me what you're going to do to protect the elections and restore character and dignity and truth to this office, because I don't know what the answer is.

And so I would like them to tell me.

BASH: And you saw this -- talking about Republicans, you saw this dynamic began during the primaries in 2016, that people who were asking questions of that ilk back then, they just got steamrolled by the president, because he has, and he still has this connection with his supporters, which still exists, those supporters who are -- who make up the base, never mind of the Republicans in the House, but also even Republican senators from purple states who are going to need those supporters to get reelected, in addition to some Democratic voters.

So that is really the thing we have to keep in mind, is that even him screaming at people saying, this is treasonous, or making this phone call, the Fifth Avenue line still applies.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

We have got a lot more to talk about.

And coming up next, one of the seven freshman Democrats who wrote that op-ed calling for the start of impeachment hearings. Does the whistle-blower's complaint, does DNI Maguire's testimony change anything?

Stay with us?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news, a whistle-blower complaint released today claiming that President Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, and then the White House hid that information away in a computer system, usually used for especially sensitive information.

Those allegations, that news, as more than half of the House of Representatives now says they back an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

Joining me now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. He is an Army Ranger veteran and one of seven Democratic freshmen who wrote an op-ed calling for impeachment hearings to begin.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Now that you have read the rough transcript of President Trump's call with the Ukrainian president, you have read the whistle-blower's complaint, you have seen the acting director of national intelligence testify today, what's your reaction?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, I was very disturbed last week, when these allegations first came to light.

Yesterday, when we read the rough notes from the call, I was even more disturbed, and then yet again more shocked today, as not only are there corroborating witnesses, apparently, but this seems to be a broader issue involving potentially the attorney general, Mr. Giuliani, meetings in Madrid between folks at the highest levels in Ukraine.

There's a lot here. So we have to follow a process. And we have to do it quickly, because this goes to the core of national security.

TAPPER: I keep hearing Democrats say quickly. What does that mean? In the next month, in the next two months, in the next six months?

CROW: I don't think we know yet.

I mean, the urgency is being driven by the fact that this is an ongoing national security issue. And all of this has to be understood within the context of what's going on here in Ukraine.

Ukraine is in active war with one of our chief enemies, Russia. And one of the reasons why there aren't Russian tanks going across the plains of Ukraine right now is because of our assistance, our support, our provision of things like these Javelin missiles that came up in the complaint that are really critical for not just Ukraine's security, but the security of Europe and our soldiers and our sailors, our airmen serving in Europe.

So we have to get at this quickly, but we have to be thorough as well.

TAPPER: You represent I think it's fair to call it a swing district. And it will be very competitive, no doubt, in 2020.

Do you think that supporting an impeachment inquiry or even going farther and ultimately supporting impeachment will hurt you in your reelection chances?

CROW: Here's the thing about the politics of this.

I took an oath -- the first oath I took to the country when I was in my teenage years. I have taken many oaths to the country over the course of several decades. I took my most recent oath earlier this year when I joined the Congress.

To me and my colleagues that signed on to that op-ed, that oath is more than just words. It's a way of life. It's a commitment to the country, to our national security. And, sometimes, that entails sacrifice.

So I'm not going to think about the politics of this. We have to divorce politics from this, because duty is calling to fulfill our oath to protect the country. This goes to the core of what we have to do to make sure that we're getting our arms around this issue. TAPPER: You said sacrifice. Obviously, in the terms of military

service, that seems -- that means something much more serious. It means a sacrifice of life or limb.

CROW: Yes.

TAPPER: But, generally, you seem to be suggesting that ultimately you're going to do the right thing, whatever you think the right thing is, and if you lose your job, then that's just the price you pay.

Is it -- am I reading that right?

CROW: Yes, I'm not going to think about the politics of this.

I think the people of my district support me bringing transparency and accountability to Washington. They're concerned, as I am, about making health care more affordable, immigration reform, addressing the gun violence crisis.

I represent a district that's been disproportionately impacted by gun violence. We were the -- we're the location where the Aurora theater shooting happened, Columbine, many other shootings.

We have to continue to address those issues. And we're going to. Over the last nine months, we have passed over 260 bills addressing kitchen table issues. And we're going to continue to do that.

But, at the same time, we also have a role to make sure that we're maintaining checks and balances. And the people

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