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CNN Special Live Coverage of the Impeachment Inquiry of the President of the United States. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: ... complaint was handled. He would have escaped, I think, a lot of this a lot of this criticism. He has, unfortunately painted himself into a corner. And that testimony was kind of dancing on the razor's edge trying to figure out -- trying to explain why he handled this complaint differently than every other one we're aware of, every other one he has or will interact with, and I'm not sure that those answers were entirely satisfactory.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Andrew McCabe, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

MCCABE: Thank you.

KEILAR: And that is it for me. NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

[14:00:38]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you so much. Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN Special Live Coverage of the Impeachment Inquiry of the President of the United States. The allegations triggering this inquiry have just catapulted to a whole new level of offense.

First, it was a phone call. Now, there are accusations of whether there was this White House cover up. That is the new detail today from this whistleblower complaint just released this morning -- all part of this Capitol Hill hearing with the acting Director of National Intelligence.

Among the first words from the still unidentified whistleblower are as follows quote, "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. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President's main domestic political rivals."

That pressure as detailed in a rough transcript released just yesterday came from President Trump as he pushed the President of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and investigate his son, Hunter. Investigations show they have done nothing wrong, and now the

whistleblower complaint details what happened after that Trump- Zelensky phone call back on July 25th, quote, "In the days following the phone calls," this is the whistleblower here, "... I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced."

Not the first time, White House officials used an extra secured server meant for classified and especially sensitive information. This whistleblower also described a coordinated effort to pressure Ukraine by the President and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

According to this whistleblower, President Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his trip to Ukraine. This was back in May, until Trump saw how Ukraine's new President chose to act -- chose to act in office.

The acting Director of National Intelligence was confronted by all of these details today as he tried to explain to Congress why he initially withheld the whistleblower complaint from them in the first place.

But Joseph Maguire did stand by the credibility of the intelligence official blowing the whistle on the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Director, you don't believe the whistleblower is a political hack, do you?

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't know who the whistleblower is, Mr. Chairman, be honest with you. I've done my utmost to make sure that I protect his anonymity.

SCHIFF: That doesn't sound like much of a defense of the whistleblower here, someone you found did everything right, you don't believe the whistleblower is a political hack, do you, Director?

MAGUIRE: I believe -- as I said before, Mr. Chairman, I believe the whistleblower is operating in good faith, has followed the law.

SCHIFF: Well, then they couldn't be -- they couldn't be in good faith that they were acting as a political hack, could they?

MAGIURE: Mr. Chairman, my job is to support and lead the entire Intelligence Community. That individual works for me. Therefore, it is my job to make sure that I support and defend that person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Much more on today's hearing in just a moment, but first, some breaking news. Also, out of "The New York Times" this morning, President Trump reportedly threatening retaliation, telling a crowd of staff from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations that he wants to know who provided information to this whistleblower about his phone call with the President of Ukraine and calling whoever did it, quote, "close to a spy."

Let's start at the White House. Our CNN White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez and Boris, tell me exactly what the President said to these people this morning.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump told this crowd that he not only wants to know who spoke to the whistleblower, but he suggested that they should be punished.

"The Times" is reporting that President Trump spoke to a crowd of about 50 people with the United States Mission to the United Nations. Apparently, one of these people was taking notes and explained that the President effectively told the crowd that he wanted to find the identities of the people who spoke to the whistleblower.

Remember that the whistleblower at one point cited more than half a dozen officials who provided them with information. The President also compared them to spies and said this quote, "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."

[14:05:04]

SANCHEZ: Brooke, as you know, spies historically in the United States have faced the death penalty, so it appears that that is what the President is referring to.

According to "The Times," people in the room were stunned. Some people were laughing. I yelled questions at the President when he arrived back here at the White House just a moment ago, asking how should these officials be punished? How should this whistleblower be punished? The President did not take questions. But he did speak to reporters shortly after landing at Joint Base Andrews before getting here to the White House, Brooke, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just watched a little bit of this on television. It's a disgrace to our country. It's another witch hunt. Here we go again. It's Adam Schiff and his crew making up stories and sitting there like Pius, whatever you want to call him. It's just a really -- it is a really disgrace. It's a terrible thing for our country. They can't do any work. They're frozen. The Democrats are going to lose the election. They know it. That's why they're doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Brooke, the President didn't actually take any questions from reporters there either. All of this is coming as we're hearing from people close to the President sources who are openly questioning if this White House has a plan to counter Democrats on the Impeachment Inquiry. They're curious as to whether the President actually has a strategy.

According to people close to him, it appears that all of this, the speed at which Democrats moved on this caught him off guard -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Okay, Boris, thank you very much. Elie Honig. I'm coming to you. And again, in case you didn't hear Boris, let me just repeat again what this President said to this group this morning. "I want to know who is the person who gave the whistleblower 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." Executing. Executing people. Your response?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. This is nuts, not a legal term. This is lawless. And to use some legal terms, this is witness tampering. Everybody on any side of this needs to be on notice now.

I know people think of witness tampering, they think of someone sitting in the witness box, taking the oath. No, no. You are a witness under Federal law from the moment there's an investigation or potential investigation.

So everybody who has mentioned or alluded to in this whistleblower complaint is now a potential witness. Hands-off. No intimidating, no threatening, no trying to influence them. That's a Federal crime and I believe also impeachable.

BALDWIN: Frank Bruni. I mean, is he just -- is this just the manifestation of him being totally rattled?

FRANK BRUNI, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think I think he is in denial for one, because when he says, you know, the Democrats are a disgrace. These hearings are a disgrace. I mean, you said, this is nuts. I hear him say that it's repulsive. And when people say he has the impulses and the character of an autocrat, this is the sort of stuff they're talking about.

How you can say this -- I mean, even if, in some ways, in his mind, it's in jest, or he is exaggerating, he truly doesn't understand the kind of bounds of decency, and he keeps to this thing, and this is the kind of larger picture here, where he utterly conflates the interests of his presidency with the national interest.

BALDWIN: How do you mean?

BRUNI: These people ratted him out for bad behavior, which he is denying his bad behavior, therefore, they are unpatriotic. They are close to spies. What is that? Spy adjacent? Right? So they are spy adjacent, and that's because they countermanded him.

He views countermanding and undercutting him --

BALDWIN: That's the crime.

BRUNI: It is the equivalent of undercutting America.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BRUNI: He's got it all wrong. He is the one who is undercutting America.

BALDWIN: Jen, what do you think?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what's interesting is that we have Whistleblower Protection Statutes, and we're hearing a lot about the one that applies to the Intelligence Community this week for this very purpose so that people in power who have the power to hush people up, retaliate against them are not able to do it.

And you have the President, the head of our entire country, showing us exactly why these whistleblower protections are necessary. He should be supporting whistleblowers. He should be saying, we need people to come forward and tell us what's going wrong, where people are abusing power, and instead he's doing the exact opposite.

BALDWIN: I want to get to this whistleblower complaint. But Kylie, just to get you in to, off the top. You know, you just said you just ran here from the briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinking perhaps he would address some of this. Nada.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: He did only a little bit. He got a few questions, and only one of them was about this whistleblower complaint. And he said that is to his understanding, to his knowledge that everyone at the State Department acted entirely appropriately when they were dealing with Ukraine, okay.

So what he is saying is that everything that's reported in this whistleblower complaint, according to him, is appropriate. Now that said, he has not read the complaint yet. That's what he told us this morning. So I'm sure that things could change perhaps when he does read it.

But it's important to note that he didn't mention anything about Giuliani when he was asked about this complaint and obviously, Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer has been the go between, between the State Department and Ukrainian officials here.

So we really need to know more about what he thinks about that and his action -- Rudy Giuliani's action is entirely appropriate.

BALDWIN: Let's go back to Giuliani a second, I've read the complaint. I know all of you have read the complaint.

[14:10:10]

BALDWIN: So Page 3, the unclassified section and the two words that everyone is honing in on today, lock down, right? So let me just read part of this for you. "In the days following the phone call ..." This is the whistleblower talking," ... I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call." This is the call between the Ukrainian President and President Trump, " ... especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House Situation Room."

"This set of actions underscored for me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired on this call." So many, many questions out of this. I know I see you nodding like, wow, it's you first, just on the law. I mean, all of these multiple White House officials mentioned over and over in this thing. Did they break the law?

HONIG: Well, they might have. Every scandal needs its cover up, and I think this is part of the cover up here. Right? And it depends what they knew and what their intent was.

If their intent was the President has just said this crazy thing that we don't want to get out there, it could be. It could be evidence tampering, but what would it certainly is, is what we lawyers call consciousness of guilt, meaning, why would you try to hide these documents? Why would you move them to the more classified server unless you knew something was wrong, unless there was something you are trying to hide? It's common sense, but it's also the law.

BALDWIN: Not only did they, according to this whistleblower, you know, do this. This wasn't the first time, right? They apparently, and this administration had placed this presidential -- other presidential transcripts in this highly classified National Security Council only for special occasions, you know, sort of place and presumably for as the whistleblower details for political reasons, rather than national security sensitive reasons, which makes you, Frank Bruni, I'm sure wonder as I did, who else could be in the vault?

BRUNI: Well, yes, I mean, that that's the part of the complaint that actually kind of riveted me the most because --

BALDWIN: Yes.

BRUNI: How many other conversations of what nature -- you know, we're now getting congressional investigations intensifying. We're having hearings. This could go on for a while, because this raises enormous questions, many of them.

BALDWIN: Like what?

BRUNI: About how he has been talking to other -- what other conversations so concerned them in terms of the way the President was behaving that they wanted to lock those down, locked down being a synonym here for cover up, right?

We don't have any they're talking about, but we need to know what those were because some of those could be even worse than this for all we know.

BALDWIN: How can -- go ahead.

ATWOOD: And I also think, I mean, there are policy implications here, right? A number of folks at the State Department who are working on policy are cut out of this highly sensitive, you know, bank that they're putting this in -- some of these calls into, then they can't follow through on necessarily knowing that the policy that they are pushing is also being advocated for by their boss, who is the President of the United States. So there are a lot of questions there about, you know, what he is

saying and how it undermines what they are doing.

BALDWIN: And looking at the -- this is the classified appendix, right? So part of this is redacted, and this is this is the money line where when this whistleblower, he or she is referencing, placing these other transcripts in the National Security Council Directorate for Intelligence Programs, aka the vault is what I'm calling it.

Some official voice concerns internally that this would be an abuse of the system -- an abuse of the system. How would anyone in Congress -- how does anyone get access to this?

RODGERS: So that's a great question. And I mean, one thing that we were talking about earlier is how is Congress going to proceed? On what tracks are they going to proceed?

You know, they're doing an impeachment inquiry, and certainly this issue with the President abusing his power to get Ukraine to help him by investigating Joe Biden is going to be one of the Articles of Impeachment, I think, but how far should they go?

I'm concerned that if they investigate all of this stuff, with the cover up and the different vaults and so on, which they surely should, as a matter of their oversight, and potentially other, you know, charges down the road.

BALDWIN: Yes.

RODGERS: If it's part of the impeachment proceeding that they're in the middle of now, it's going to take too long.

BALDWIN: Because that was your point to me the other day, and I think it was so excellent. Can just make it again, how they want to keep this tight so it can roll.

RODGERS: Yes, they need to be focused, right? Because they don't want this to go too far into the election year. They need to pick maybe three or four things and this Ukrainian abuse of power is certainly one of them.

BALDWIN: Okay.

RODGERS: Maybe a couple of instances from the Mueller report. We were talking earlier about maybe the Don McGahn and the Corey Lewandowski related obstruction of justice counts, and they need to go with those tight, quick, concise, get it done.

BALDWIN: Okay, stand by everyone. What a day. What a week. Our Breaking News, of course, continues in a perilous moment for the presidency of Donald Trump. I'll speak live with Carl Bernstein coming up, next. You're watching CNN's Special Live Coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:19:24]

BALDWIN: We are back with the Breaking News. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

In a critical moment for the Trump presidency after a whistleblower complaint alleges the President tried to get a foreign power to interfere with an election, and the White House tried covering that up.

With me now, CNN Political Analyst Carl Bernstein. He of course won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on President Nixon's Watergate scandal and Carl, let me add to all of the flurry of news today that "The New York Times" is also now reporting that the President wants to know who spoke with this whistleblower and then in front of this audience this morning, he threatened you know, officials, U.S. diplomats, you know, reminding them whoever did talk is a spy and then mentioned treason and what the penalty for treason is. Your response, sir?

[14:20:10]

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Today is a historic day because we are seeing both in real-time with the President's remarks, and also through documentary evidence his corruption, certainly in terms of what he has tried to do to undermine the free electoral process in this country. We see his temperament in an extreme, perhaps even greater than we've ever seen before. In terms of his remarks, talking about treason and executing people.

And remember the other day, he was talking about the electric chair that must have been on his mind for the past few days. So we're watching tooth, an unraveling in front of us both factually and also temperamentally in terms of the conduct of the President of the United States.

And why? Well, partly because the President of the United States recognizes that there is in this whistleblower's documents, terrible evidence of the President's corruption, of his willingness to undermine the free electoral system in this country to involve foreign powers in our election, and also to try and get involved at the President's behest or with the Attorney General's connivance, the Attorney General who is trying meanwhile, to bring about proof that there is a deep state conspiracy that led to the Mueller investigation.

That's what some of these comments in the whistleblower's remarks are about.

BALDWIN: Let's get to that.

BERNSTEIN: Some of what the President is talking about, when he is saying, oh, I want you to talk to Barr. Barr is trying to deliver and I have this as do other reporters from other sources to deliver evidence that perhaps this has all been a deep state conspiracy, just like Donald Trump alleges. BALDWIN: Well, let's get to this criminal complaint, which we have

all read today. And so starting really with the cover up, right, the quote, "Senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call." And that White House officials were quote, "Directed by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system." So the cover up. When you first read that, Carl, what did you think?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I got some texts from people in Washington saying, are these like the Nixon tapes that were never intended to see the light of day?

BALDWIN: What did you say?

BERNSTEIN: That gave the President's corruption -- I haven't answered the texts yet. And I think we don't know --

BALDWIN: Tell us what you think, everyone wants to know. You're Mr. Watergate, you uncovered --

BERNSTEIN: No, no, no, no. Let's take a very cold look at this. These are clearly documents that the President does not want exposed, and which according to the whistleblower and other witnesses, demonstrate the President's cover up, as well as his actions per se in these Ukraine phone calls.

So there are definitely some parallels here. They are not tape recordings, but they are about apparently, a secret system of classification, a secret system of keeping the President's actions and words from other witnesses.

And so when the President sits here, somewhat out of control, not sitting in his statements about treason, et cetera. Then we are reminded again, of what -- read Bob Woodward's book, my colleague, Bob Woodward.

There is a reason that people around this President whether it is Mattis, McMaster, others, Tillerson, believe to their bones, that this President of the United States is not capable of handling national security events, that he is a danger to the national security of the United States. And that's where this is about.

Whether it is purposeful his undermining of our national security, or whether it is because he is incapable of making the distinction between as President undermining our national security and his own and his family's personal interests, political interest, everything before, as in the election, free election, the real security of this of this country. We are seeing it on full blown color TV right in front of us. And now we have this roadmap.

And if there's a real question about how the Democrats are going to handle this, because this deserves the most sober, grave consideration of all the people in this country, of the press. It's not a time for hysteria. But it's a time of crisis.

This is a real crisis because of the conduct of the President of the United States, not the conduct of the press, not the conduct of Hillary Clinton, not the conduct of a deep state, not the conduct of the people in the NSC, who look many of us who are reporters contact with people in the NSC bureaucracy and elsewhere who have heard tales from the inside about this President's inability to recognize the national security interests of the United States and to undermine them in the way that this whistleblower has pointed out.

And the whistleblower has given the names apparently of others who have witnessed the President undermining our national security.

BALDWIN: Some extraordinary day, extraordinary week. Carl Bernstein, appreciate your voice in all of this. Thank you very much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Our Breaking News coverage continues from this controversial phone call to allegations of a cover up. We will break down the timeline for you in this whistleblower complaint.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:00]

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