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Acting Spy Chief Joseph Maguire Testifies About Whistleblower Complaint; Whistleblower Says White House's Use of Intel System to Lock Down Call Transcript was "Abuse" of the System; House Intelligence Releases Redacted Whistleblower Complaint Moments Before Spy Chief Testifies. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired September 26, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and by the way, an IG appointed by this president and looked at this evidence, and established that in his view this was credible and urgent. Again, underlying -- underlining rather the point that somehow this was a rogue operator.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And if you don't mind, if I can follow up, we know from "The New York Times" reporting last night that the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, their memo, his memo, in part concluded that this document, after reading this document, it's a partisan person. It's somebody who doesn't like the president. And that is part of the reason why initially he said to the administration, we don't have to give this to Congress.
The question is, does that even matter? Let's just say that's true. Let's just say this person voted for -- voted against Donald Trump, voted for Hillary Clinton or somebody else. Does it even matter?
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hold that thought. And we'd like to --
SCIUTTO: Listen to this line.
SCIUTTO: This is remarkable.
HARLOW: OK. So this is from the classified appendix. And this is a very important line and I quote, "According to White House officials I spoke with, this was, quote, 'not the first time' under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code worded level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information."
HARLOW: Not the first time and the whistleblower source on that, Dana, is a White House official.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So they say politically sensitive but not national security sensitive.
SCIUTTO: Right. And that's the key issue here because that gets to -- and that's on the very first page of the whistleblower complaint saying that this does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters, which is the core of this. This is about a national security question. And I have to say, when you see that line it's not the first time it happened, the president spoke to a lot of world leaders where he has taken unusual steps to conceal the record of that conversation. Most famous, July 2017, Hamburg with Putin, even confiscating the translator's notes.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Absolutely. Just --
BASH: Can I just --
TURNER: Just a point on how serious this is with regard to moving this into a special system. What they're doing here is they are taking this out of a system in which people with a top-secret security clearance might be able to go and look at this information. And they're moving it into what's called a compartment system. And what that means is that you have to have special access and it really limits the number of people who can look at it.
HARLOW: Can I ask you, who would have access to that then?
TURNER: So it really depends on -- for example, with my security clearance with extremely sensitive programs, someone would have to bring me and read me into that program and any time I received any information related to that program, there would be a record of that. So in this case, anyone who first of all had the appropriate clearance, but anyone who went and accessed this information, there would be a record of who did that.
BORGER: Would the attorney general have access to that information?
TURNER: The attorney -- if he did, he would -- there would be a record that he actually went and accessed that information so that you could control who would see that information and you would know if --
HARLOW: If they had looked.
SCIUTTO: Control is a key word because it seems to be about controlling the information flow. We should note, the reason we're showing you live pictures of the chamber there is shortly the acting director of National Intelligence will face questions on this that we have right in front of us now. It's going to be a remarkable two hours of testimony.
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Jim, I think it's important to also remember that, you know, these conversations that have been moved into the secure storage area are the official conversations that took place. This complaint details many unofficial conversations that are taking place between Trump's emissary, Rudy Giuliani, and the Ukrainian government which the complaint says was circumventing the regular channels. And in particular, that he was gathering evidence for Attorney General Barr's -- this is in footnote 9 on page 5, his investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation.
Now let me tell you, when there's an open investigation in the Department of Justice, the proper channels for getting evidence or information from a foreign country is for the Department of Justice to go through State, which then contacts the embassy in that country which uses the legal attache at the U.S. embassy to liaise with the law enforcement agency there. Then there is a proper official chain and chain of custody of whatever information they get.
Rudy Giuliani is not the FBI. As far as I know, he's not the State Department. And this -- he is all over this complaint as going around -- I don't know, acting like Scooby Doo or something and gathering evidence.
HARLOW: Guys, hold that thought. We'll get right to you, Gloria. I do need to go to our Evan Perez, though, with more on this.
Evan, what strikes you?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I mean, one of the things I think will jump out to people, especially after they read the complaint and then the letter from the inspector general, is the fact that the Justice Department did not do any interviews with these witnesses, these people that the whistleblower says would have been able to corroborate what the whistleblower is reporting, the concerns that are being raised, multiple White House officials allegedly are saying these things, raising these concerns about the actions, not only of the president but the lawyers inside the White House who are trying to conceal some of this, trying to contain some of the damage.
And so, the question that will be raised is why weren't those interviews done? We were told by senior Justice officials yesterday that this was essentially an assessment being done of this whistleblower's complaint and whether or not it merited opening a full-blown formal investigation. The decision was made after several weeks of being looked at inside the Justice Department by career lawyers that it did not meet that standard.
So the question is going to be, well, why wasn't it done? Why wasn't more done simply because of the seriousness of this? We're talking about the president of the United States. We're talking about perhaps an allegation of interference, looking to get interference in the 2020 election, which is a big priority for the administration, for the Justice Department, for the FBI.
We know the FBI got a separate referral from the ICIG. They deferred to the Justice Department on this issue. So the question will be, why was this treated so differently from, say, the Hillary Clinton e-mail case?
SCIUTTO: Right. To your point, Evan -- to that point, Evan, as we reported earlier that there were criminal referrals that came from the intelligence community, went to the Department of Justice, Gloria Borger.
SCIUTTO: The Department of Justice made a determination there was no there there without doing interviews?
BORGER: Right. Without doing any --
SCIUTTO: With any of the --
BORGER: Without doing any work. And said, OK, this isn't --
HARLOW: Because they called it partisan.
BORGER: They called it partisan and are they saying, oh, it's just Trump, right? And he didn't mean anything by it. But I want to add one more thing to this, which is sort of in the classified appendix, what's been declassified. The whistleblower says, "I learned from U.S. officials that around May 14th, the president instructed Vice President Pence to cancel his planned travel to Ukraine to attend the Zelensky inauguration."
According to these officials, it was also, quote, " "made clear," unquote, to them that the president did not want to meet with Zelensky until he saw how Zelensky, quote, "chose to act," unquote.
HARLOW: In office.
BORGER: In office. And then later on in this, it says it depends on his willingness to, quote, "play ball."
SCIUTTO: That's incredible.
BORGER: So you have officials saying OK, we sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry to go because the president didn't want to elevate Zelensky --
SCIUTTO: So that's two pieces of leverage.
BORGER: -- until we know he was collaborating.
SCIUTTO: The leverage then is the military assistance it appears and a face-to-face meeting.
HARLOW: With the vice president.
BORGER: With the vice president.
SCIUTTO: With the president -- right. I won't meet with you until you do so.
HARLOW: Dana --
BORGER: That's a quid pro quo.
HARLOW: You could see this as, you know, officials dialing 911 from -- in the building.
BASH: They are. I mean, that's really the takeaway here if you take a step back. And yes, this is all reported by this whistleblower. But assuming that what this whistleblower is saying is accurate and it is easily to find the facts that Jeffrey Toobin is so fond of, by interviewing these officials, that what you have here are people inside the White House, working for the president who are so alarmed by what they are not just seeing but being probably being asked to do, they are calling 911. They are calling the fire department saying, please help. This is not normal. This is not OK.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Dana --
BORGER: And we know it's not the only time.
TOOBIN: Who is going to be John Dean? Who is going to be in the White House and say, I can't do this anymore?
BORGER: Or somebody who left the White House.
TOOBIN: Who is going to say there is a cancer on this presidency that I am no longer going to be a part of?
SCIUTTO: That's the test.
TOOBIN: Look -- I mean, look at -- it's not just the White House. It's not just the White House.
TOOBIN: Look at how the Justice Department, it appears, has been corrupted by their involvement with this presidency. Look at how they became part of the coverup of this process.
SCIUTTO: Carrying water. Asha, to your point, though, the question about quid pro quo, and some Republicans who have read this whistleblower complaint say there's no there there, there's no quid pro quo. How could holding back on a presidential visit, one, but also at the same time withholding military assistance in light of the very clear communications about what the president wanted from Ukraine, how can that not be a quid pro quo?
RANGAPPA: It is a willfully obtuse reading even just the complaint. Before we even saw this yesterday, I was on with Jeff, and I mean, it's right there. They are talking about aid. Then he says, do me a favor. You don't get more quid pro quo even than that. Right? And now we have -- you know, they wanted -- they knew that they had to play ball. There was an understanding. I think we cannot get caught in this trap of unless it says only if you investigate the Bidens will I give you the money. If that phrase isn't spoken that somehow it's not there, we need to look at the common understanding. HARLOW: Right. So what you're seeing now -- and we'll keep this
discussion going until they gavel in, but you're seeing members of the House Intelligence Committee. They are getting seated to begin this critically important hearing of the acting DNI who will have very important questions to answer.
Now, Gloria, I was saying, they were starting a few minutes late perhaps because more and more people were reading this.
BORGER: Reading this, right. More and more people are reading this, giving everyone a chance to digest this and understand, you know, the severity of it. To Jeffrey's point about who -- or was it your point? Who is going to come forward and testify?
BORGER: Don't forget, there's been a 77 percent turnover in this White House. There are a lot of people that have left this White House with a bad taste in their mouth for Donald Trump. And --
SCIUTTO: And we should note, that, of course, is Joseph Maguire there, the acting director of National Intelligence. His long service in government, former head of the National Counterterrorism Center. Someone who has worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations. He is a man widely respected in the intelligence community and national community circles -- national security circles. This is going to be quite a moment.
HARLOW: And he's only been in this job for two months.
BORGER: Poor guy.
BASH: And it's -- I mean, it was already going to be temporary. Now it's way temporary.
BASH: But he's obviously in the witness chair. I'm also going to be fascinated to see what happens on the Republican side of the dais. Because even yesterday, aside from a very few small cracks from Senate Republicans, they were in lockstep. This is going to be the test. The first big test of, can the president shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it?
HARLOW: But let's not forget, the "Washington Post" reporting --
BASH: Because it's hard to read this in any other way than this is very, very bad.
HARLOW: And "The Washington Post" reporting that just yesterday he -- you know, he threatened to quit if he was not allowed to, according "The Post," Gloria, fully testify that. BORGER: Right. He denied that.
HARLOW: He does.
BORGER: He denied that. But the seriousness of this makes you understand the position that the inspector general was in and why the inspector general went to Congress and said, look, why the inspector general first of all said this was credible and urgent, and secondly why the inspector general went to Congress and said, look, I really want to talk to you about this, but they are holding me back. And you understand why the White House was trying to hold him back.
BORGER: Because they understood so --
SCIUTTO: One thing we should note because this is contained in here as well, and we're going to hear it today, I imagine, from some Republican lawmakers. Let's go, the gavel is in. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Let's listen in.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Without objection, the chair reserves the right to recess the hearing at any time.
The Presidential Oath of Office requires the president of the United States to do two things. Faithfully execute his or her office and protect and defend the Constitution. That oath of course cannot be honored if the president does not first defend the country. If our national security is jeopardized, if our country is left undefended, the necessity to faithfully execute the office becomes moot.
Where there is no country, there is no office to execute. And so, the duty to defend the nation is foundational to the president's responsibilities.
But what of this second responsibility, to defend the Constitution? What does that really mean? The founders were not speaking, of course, of a piece of parchment. Rather they were expressing the obligation of the president to defend the institutions of our democracy, to defend our system of checks and balances that the Constitution enshrines, to defend the rule of law, a principle upon which the idea of America was born that we are a nation of laws, not men.
If we do not defend the nation, there is no Constitution. But if we do not defend the Constitution, there is no nation worth defending.
Yesterday, we were presented with a most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office. Betrayed his oath to defend our national security and betrayed his oath to defend our Constitution. For yesterday, we were presented with a record of a call between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine in which the president -- our president -- sacrificed our national security and our Constitution for his personal political benefit.
To understand how he did so we must first understand just how overwhelmingly dependent Ukraine is on the United States, militarily, financially, diplomatically and in every other way.
And not just on the United States, but on the person of the president. Ukraine was invaded by its neighbor, by our common adversary by Vladimir Putin's Russia. It remains occupied by Russian irregular forces in a long simmering war. Ukraine desperately needs our help, and for years we have given it and on a bipartisan basis.
That is until two months ago, when it was held up inexplicably by President Trump. It is in this context after a brief congratulatory call from President Trump to President Zelensky on April 21st, and after the president's personal emissary Rudy Giuliani made it abundantly clear to Ukrainian officials over several months that the president wanted dirt on his political opponent.
It is in this context that the new president of Ukraine would speak to Donald Trump over the phone on July 25th. President Zelensky eager to establish himself at home as a friend of the president of the most powerful nation on earth had at least two objectives.
Get a meeting with the president and get more military help. And so, what happened on that call? Zelensky begins by ingratiating himself, and he tries to enlist the support of the president. He expresses his interest in meeting with the president and says his country wants to acquire more weapons from us to defend itself.
And what is the president's response? Well, it reads like a classic, organized crime shake-down. Shown of its rambling character and in not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates. We've been very good to your country, very good. No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what?
I don't see much reciprocity here. I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though, and I'm going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it on this and on that. I'm going to put you in touch with people, not just any people, I'm going to put you in touch with the Attorney General of the United States, my Attorney General Bill Barr.
He's got the whole weight of the American law enforcement behind him. And I'm going to put you in touch with Rudy, you're going to love him, trust me. You know what I'm asking, and so I'm only going to say this a few more times in a few more ways.
And by the way, don't call me again. I will call you when you've done what I asked. This is in sum and character what the president was trying to communicate with the president of Ukraine. It would be funny if it wasn't such a graphic portrayal of the president's oath of office. But as it does represent a real betrayal, there's nothing the president says here that is in America's interest after all.
It is instead the most consequential form of tragedy. For it forces us to confront the remedy the founders provided for such a flagrant abuse of office, impeachment. Now, this matter would not have come to the attention of our committee or the nation's attention without the courage of a single person, the whistleblower.
As you know, Director Maguire, more so than perhaps any other area of government since we deal with classified information, the Intelligence Committee is dependent on whistleblowers to reveal wrongdoing when it occurs. When the agencies do not self report. Because outside parties are not allowed to scrutinize your work and to guide us.
If that system is allowed to break down as it did here, if whistleblowers come to understand that they will not be protected, one of two things happen, serious wrongdoing goes unreported or whistleblowers take matters into their own hands and divulge classified information to the press in violation of the law and placing our national security at risk.
This is why the whistleblower system is so vital to us. And why you're handling of this urgent complaint is also so troubling. Today, we can say for the first time since we have released this morning the whistleblower complaint that you have marked unclassified, that the substance of this call is a core issue.
Although by means -- no means the only issue raised by the whistleblower's complaint which was shared with the committee for the first time only late yesterday.
By law, the whistleblower complaint which brought this gross misconduct to light should have been presented to this committee weeks ago and by you, Mr. Director, under the clear letter of the law. And yet it wasn't. Director Maguire, I was very pleased when you were named acting director.
If Sue Gordon was not going to remain, I was grateful that a man of your superb military background was chosen. A Navy SEAL for 36 years and director of the National Counterterrorism Center since December 2018, your credentials are impressive. And in limited interactions we have had since you became director of NCTC, you have struck me as a good and decent man.
Which makes your actions over the last month all the more bewildering. Why you chose not to provide the complaint to this committee as required by law, why you chose to seek a second opinion on whether shall really means 'shall' under the statute.
Why you chose to go to a department led by a man Bill Barr who himself is implicated in the complaint and believes that he exists to serve the interests of the president, not the office itself, mind you, or the public interest, but the interest of the person of Donald Trump. Why you chose to allow the subject of the complaint to play a role in deciding whether Congress would ever see the complaint.
Why you stood silent when intelligence professional under your care and protection was ridiculed by the president, was accused of potentially betraying his or her country. When that whistleblower by their very act of coming forward has shown more dedication to country, more of an understanding of the president's oath of office than the president himself.
We look forward to your explanation. Ranking member Nunes.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Thank the gentleman. I want to congratulate the Democrats on the rollout of their latest information, warfare operation against the president and their extraordinary ability to once again enlist the mainstream media in their campaign.
This operation began with media reports from the prime instigators of the Russia collusion hoax. That a whistleblower is claiming President Trump made a nefarious promise to a foreign leader. The released transcript of that call has already debunked that central assertion. But that didn't matter.
The Democrats simply moved the goal posts and began claiming that there doesn't need to be a quid pro quo for this conversation to serve as the basis for impeaching the president. Speaker Pelosi went further when asked earlier if she would put brakes on impeachment if the transcript turned out to be benign.
She responded, quote, "so there you go. If the whistleblower operation doesn't work out, the Democrats and the media" -- we have candidates -- quote, "we have many candidates for impeachable offenses." That was her quote. So, there you go. If the whistleblower operation doesn't work out, the Democrats and their media assets can always drum up something else.
And one other information that's come to light since the original false report of a promise being made? We've learned the following. The complaint relied on hear-say evidence provided by the whistleblower. The Inspector General did not know the contents of the phone call at issue.
The Inspector General found the whistleblower displayed arguable political bias against Trump. The Department of Justice investigated the complaint and determined no action was warranted. The Ukrainian president denies being pressured by President Trump.
So, once again, this supposed scandal ends up being nothing like what we were told, and once again, the Democrats, their media mouth pieces and a cabal of leakers are ginning up a fake story with no regard to the monumental damage they're causing to our public institutions and to trust in government.
And without acknowledging all the false stories they propagated in the past, including countless allegations that Trump campaign colluded with Russia to hack the 2016 election. We're supposed to forget about all those stories, but believe this one. In short, what we have with this story line is another still dossier.
I'll note here that in the Democrats' mania to overturn the 2016 elections, everything they touch gets hopelessly politicized. With the Russia hoax, it was our intelligence agencies which were turned into a political weapon to attack the president. And now today, the whistleblower process is the casualty.
Until about a week ago, the need to protect that process was a primary bipartisan concern of this committee. But if the Democrats were really concerned with defending that process, they would have pursued this matter with a quiet, sober inquiry as we do for all whistleblowers.
But that would have been useless for them. They don't want answers. They want a public spectacle, and so we've been treated to an unending parade of press releases, press conferences and fake news stories. This hearing itself is another example.
Whistleblower inquiries should not be held in public at all. As our Senate counterparts, both Democrats and Republicans obviously understand, their hearing with Mr. Maguire is behind closed doors. But again, that only makes sense when your goal is to get information, not to create a media frenzy.
The current hysteria has something else in common with the Russia hoax. Back then they accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russians when the Democrats themselves were colluding with Russians and preparing the still dossier. Today, they accuse the president of pressuring Ukrainians to take actions that would help himself or hurt his political opponents.
Yet, there are numerous examples of Democrats doing the exact same thing. Joe Biden bragged he extorted the Ukrainians into firing a prosecutor who happened to be investigating Biden's own son. Three Democratic senators wrote a letter pressuring the Ukrainian general prosecutor to reopen the investigation into former Trump campaign officials.
Another Democratic senator went to Ukraine and pressured the Ukrainian president not to investigate corruption allegations on involving Joe Biden's son. According to Ukrainian officials, the Democratic National Committee contractor Alexandra Chalupa tried to get Ukrainian officials to provide dirt on Trump associates and tried to get the former Ukrainian president to comment publicly on alleged ties to Russia.
Ukrainian official Serhiy Leshchenko was a source for Nellie Ohr; wife of Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr, as she worked on the anti-Trump operation conducted by Fusion GPS and funded by the Democrats. And of course, Democrats on this very committee negotiated with people who they thought were Ukrainians in order to obtain nude pictures of Trump.
People can reasonably ask why the Democrats are so determined to impeach this president, when in just a year, they'll have a chance. In fact, one Democratic congressman, one of the first to call for Trump's impeachment, gave us the answer when he said, quote, "I'm concerned that if we don't impeach the president, he will get re- elected", unquote. Winning elections is hard. And when you compete, you have no
guarantee you'll win. But the American people do have a say in this, and they made their voices heard in the last presidential election. This latest gambit by the Democrats to overturn the people's mandate is unhinged and dangerous.
They should end the entire dishonest, grotesque spectacle and get back to work to solving problems, which is what every member of this committee was sent here to do. Judging by today's charade, the chances of that happening any time soon are zero to none. I yield back.
SCHIFF: I thank the gentleman. Director, would you rise for the oath and raise your right hand? Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you'll give today shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do.
SCHIFF: Thank you, you may be seated. The record will reflect that the witness has been duly sworn. Director Maguire, would you agree that the whistleblower complaint alleges serious wrongdoing by the president of the United States?
MAGUIRE: Mr. Chairman, the whistleblower --
SCHIFF: Well, actually, I apologize. Director, let me recognize you for your opening statement, and you may take as much time as you need.
MAGUIRE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Chairman Schiff, Ranking member Nunes --