Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Whistleblower Says, Trump Tried To Get Ukraine To Interfere In Election And White House Tried To Cover It Up; Trump Speaks After Intel Chief Testifies On Whistleblower Complaint; New York Times Reports, Trump Attacks Whistleblower's Sources Alludes To Punishment For Spies; Interview with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Presidential Candidate. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired September 26, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: -- have been linked together in terms of working behind the scenes to be able to get this claim?
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: What would help, if they read this, they at least call the White House and say, I'll give you a day or two to answer. Otherwise, we might have to answer it.
Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics, a very busy day. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: John, thank you so much. I'm Brianna Keilar.
We have two major bombshells in what is now a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump. First, the whistleblower complaint that triggered this inquiry, the one centered around that July 25th phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine is now public. And then second, the official who originally withheld the complaint from Congress, despite being required to by law to turn it over, acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
Let's listen into the president live.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- 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 pious, whatever you want to call them. It just really is a 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. And it should never be allowed what's happened to this president.
And despite that, I think I've done just about more than any president in his two and a half years in office. If you look, I think you'll see very few could compete with the things we've done for our military, for the economy. We have the best economy anywhere in the world by far. We've rebuilt our military, we've done so many things that are so incredible with tax cuts and regulation. And I have to put up with Adam Schiff on an absolutely perfect phone call to the new president of Ukraine. That was a perfect call.
But Adam Schiff doesn't talk about Joe Biden and his son walking away with millions of dollars from Ukraine and then millions of dollars from China, walking away in a quick meeting, walking away with millions of dollars. He doesn't talk about Joe Biden firing a prosecutor. And if that prosecutor is not fired, he's not going to give them money from the United States of America. They don't talk about that. My call was perfect.
The president yesterday of Ukraine said there was no pressure put on him whatsoever, none whatsoever. And he said it loud and clear for the press. What these guys are doing, Democrats, are doing to this country is a disgrace and it shouldn't be allowed. There should be a way of stopping it, maybe legally through the courts, but they're going to tie up our country. We can't talk about gun regulation. We can't talk about anything because, frankly, they are so tied up, they're so screwed up, nothing gets done except when I do it.
I'm using Mexico to protect our border because the Democrats won't change loopholes in asylum. When you think of that, and I tell you, I want to thank Mexico. 27,000 soldiers, they have. But think of how bad that is, think of it, when we use Mexico because the Democrats won't fix our broken immigration system, we need their votes. If we don't get their votes, we can't do it. The Republicans are all on board. They want to fix it but the Democrats won't do it. They don't want to talk about infrastructure, they don't want to talk about lowering drug prices, they don't want to talk about anything because they're fixated on this, and Nancy Pelosi has been hijacked by the radical left, and everybody knows it. Thank you.
KEILAR: All right. We just need to fact check some of the stuff the president was saying there, saying that Adam Schiff isn't talking about Joe Biden and his son walking away from Ukraine and China with millions of dollars. There is no proof that Joe Biden has had any wrongdoing when it comes to what we're seeing in Ukraine or China. And these things have been looked at for sure.
He also talked about Biden firing a prosecutor. That prosecutor actually, and this was Joe Biden as a member of the Obama administration, it was a prosecutor the Obama administration did not want to see there in Ukraine, but that was actually because the prosecutor was lax on enforcing corruption and had not even looked into the energy company, the head of the energy company, Barisma, that Hunter Biden sat on the board of. And actually getting rid of the prosecutor, it was seen as something there could have been more oversight of the board of this company that Hunter Biden was sitting on.
I think in retrospect, would Hunter Biden have sat on that board? I think that is something certainly that the Biden campaign will be reckoning with right at this point. But, again, no findings of wrongdoing when it comes to Joe Biden or Hunter Biden.
We were just talking about the acting DNI who just finished testifying about the contents of a whistleblower complaint under oath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: The whistleblower complaint is nine pages long and it really helps bring things full circle. Because consider this, if yesterday's transcript of the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president revealed evidence of a potential impeachable evidence, a quid pro quo, then this complaint reveals its alleged cover-up.
Here is how the whistleblower begins the complaint. 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.
And then the whistleblower goes on to describe president Trump's July 25th phone call with Ukraine's president in which, according to a White House transcript, President Trump asks for a favor to investigate what is a conspiracy theory, that Ukraine is in possession of the DNC server that was hacked by the Russians and also a favor, to investigate another unfounded claim, as we were just talking about, about Joe Biden's actions regarding Ukraine while he was vice president as his son, Hunter, sat on the board of this Ukrainian energy company.
The whistleblower writes, the White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me that there was already a discussion ongoing with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials' retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.
And here is where the alleged cover-up comes in. Quote, in the days following the call, 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 as is customary by the White House situation room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.
According to this whistleblower, two things then happened. First, White House lawyers directed officials to remove the electronic transcript from a computer system where these kinds of transcripts are typically housed. And two, the transcript was then loaded onto a separate system that is used to store highly classified information which this call was not.
And then there's this stunning bit of information which could be a major tell as to where this investigation is headed. Quote, according to White House officials I spoke with, this was not the first time under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed in this code word level system, that is a highly classified system, solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information.
Let's discuss this now. With us, we have former FBI Special Agent Asha Rangappa, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams, CNN's Gloria Borger, CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Pamela Brown, as well as our Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, on the Hill.
And, Manu, to you first. You know, we watched this hearing. What is the reaction there on the Hill after this?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just spoke to Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, and asked him about some of his next steps. And he made it very clear talking to reporters just now that he plans to use this whistleblower complaint as what he calls a, quote, road map for his investigation in the days ahead. They plan to pursue all of the leads that are in this complaint, talking about the White House lawyers who allegedly tried to conceal this complaint from going forward, and other people who are mentioned in there as well as Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, as well as the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr.
I asked Schiff specifically, will you bring in Bill Barr? Will you bring in Rudy Giuliani? And will you subpoena for those other transcripts that were allegedly stored by White House officials to prevent them from getting out? The whistleblower said they were improperly concealed. I asked Adam Schiff if he would subpoena for those. He would not comment on the specific investigative steps, but he made very clear that they planned to pursue all avenues. Now, he says that he plans to push this, quote, as expeditiously as possible in the weeks ahead.
But in a very significant statement earlier today, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, said that she essentially has designated the Intelligence Committee led by Adam Schiff to take the lead on this impeachment inquiry. Now, that means this committee will essentially be the one pushing to determine essentially the scope of the ultimate articles of impeachment, assuming the Democrats go that route.
And Nancy Pelosi wants to keep that focus on the Ukraine complaint, on what happened here, what we heard today, on what the whistleblower is alleging, not all of those allegations of obstruction of justice and other allegations of criminal wrongdoing by the president but specifically on the Ukraine issue, to keep it as narrow as possible and presumably to push to impeach this president by the fall.
So this is just the beginning of an aggressive effort by Democrats to try to move to impeachment in just a matter of weeks, as Republicans overwhelmingly are dismissing what happened today, calling it politics, criticizing the whistleblower, saying it's all relying on secondhand information, not going anywhere near Democrats are, but some Republicans raising concerns. But, nevertheless, Brianna, expect an aggressive effort by this committee, the House Intelligence Committee, to determine whether to impeach the president over these issues, Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Manu, thank you.
And, Pamela, we heard the president describing this call, what he called a perfect call. That's what he just said, right, a perfect call. But there are these allegations in this complaint of something happening to this, quote, unquote, perfect call that would make you think, maybe this wasn't a perfect call, and if the president thinks it's a perfect call, there is a lot of people around him who do not.
The whistleblower says officials told him White House lawyers directed officials to remove the electronic transcript from the normal computer system where it's housed and move it to this highly classified system. How significant is this?
PAMELA BROWN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very significant because the big point here is there wasn't classified information in the transcript, but it was politically damaging, as we now know, to the president.
So the fact that, according to this complaint, White House lawyers reviewed the transcript and thought, well, this is going to make the president look bad, and then put it in this secured classified system certainly raises questions and sounds the alarm bells on this. Because -- and sources I'm talking to, they say that, basically, this was an effort to cut down all the leaks, because they were worried that this would get out there.
Now, the irony, of course, is that this has now caught the attention -- this caught the attention of the whistleblower and it has come out, anyway, through this person.
And so it is significant and it does raise the question of what other calls were put on that secure system that wasn't classified, that didn't contain classified conversation, and potentially what other White House documents outside of head of state calls. I mean, this would have opened the Pandora's Box for that.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And you've mentioned that White House lawyers did it. Who told them to do that? I mean, this says part of the complaint is they were directed to do that. I mean, that's one of the very first questions, I'm guessing. There are many important questions that the impeachment inquiry will try to get answered, but who directed it? And assuming it was someone pretty high up, if they directed this --
KEILAR: But you would have to be --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: They were directed by the lawyers, yes.
BASH: They were directed by -- well, yes. And the reason for that is because the director knew that it was bad. They knew this was something that should not get out. KEILAR: Stand by for me. We just have some breaking news in now from The New York Times. Maggie Haberman is on the phone reporting that this morning. President Trump told a crowd of staff from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations that he wants to know who provided information to the whistleblower and also remarked that, quote, in the old days, spies were dealt with differently.
Maggie Haberman, what can you tell us?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Hey. Thanks for having me. So the president spoke this morning at an event at the Intercontinental Hotel. It was for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft was on (ph) and as well as about 50 people in the room.
The president from the outset was hot about the whistleblower, hot about the Bidens, hot about the media, referred to the media as scum, said all kinds of other things about the Biden family and then said that there was nothing wrong with his phone call before he was several minutes into his remarks saying he wanted -- the whistleblower didn't hear the call and he wanted to know who the whistleblower had heard things from. He said that was, quote, close to a spy.
Then he said, you know what we used to do in the old days, quote, unquote, when we were smart about, quote, spies and treason, unquote. He said, we would have handled things a little differently or he did -- well, we used to handle it differently.
Some people in the audience laughed, some people seemed to be stunned. But this all took place as the ODNI, Maguire, was testifying on the Hill defending the whistleblower and saying this person followed the law.
KEILAR: That's right. The acting DNI said that the whistleblower was operating in good faith and also was asked about making sure that the whistleblower would not be retaliated against. I mean, we have to point out this is a whistleblower who has gone through, Maggie, the formal channels, the official channels for reporting this information, and part of that allows them to be protected by law.
Also, I wonder what you think, Maggie, because according to the whistleblower complaint, it says, the information provided herein was relayed to me in the course of official interagency business.
So the question will be, right, it seems like, according to the whistleblower, this is information that would have come to them just in the course of doing their work, so what would the president's reaction be to that?
HABERMAN: I mean, look, I think that we're probably going to see more of the same from the president again. Look, we're heading into uncharted territory. We know this is a president who doesn't typically have discipline in terms of what he says. I apologize but that there is a rainstorm around me right now. He doesn't have discipline in terms of what he says. Sometimes makes these kinds of comments behind closed doors.
The process started on a different kind of inquiry, whether or not his supporters think it's fair and whether or not they think it's justified where he is right now, and the weight of these kinds of remarks are going to be viewed very differently than I think in a way you've seen a lot of people dismiss what he said over time as to just how he talks.
KEILAR: All right. Maggie, thank you so much for bring us that breaking news.
I want to ask Asha Rangappa about this. Asha Rangappa, the president is in dangerous territory here.
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL: Yes. Listen, the reason that we have something called a Whistleblower Protection Act, in this case for the Intelligence Community, is precisely to provide a mechanism for people to report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. And what he is signaling is that he wants to know who it is so that he can retaliate.
And it sounds like he even wants to extend that to the people within his own circle, potentially. I mean, as we were just talking about, clearly, there are people who are involved in doing these calls who found it so problematic that they have been talking about it to somebody who then reported it. So it does have a potential chilling effect for them to blow the whistle or to take advantage of this mechanism. And I think Congress will be very concerned about that as well. That was a big focus of the discussion today, particularly, with Chairman Schiff.
KEILAR: Jim, what is your reaction to this New York Times report that the president -- as we know, the president has been attacking the whistleblower, but now the president is saying he wants to know who spoke to the whistleblower, and he talked about how spies used to be treated, even as retaliation against this whistleblower is strictly prohibited by law.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, the president's definition of spy is, and it's not just confined to this incident, anybody who provides critical information on him, right? We've heard him use that term before, and we've heard him make threats before, although we should say that this is qualitatively different from the Commander-in-Chief to reference, it appears, the death penalty for spies for treason perhaps in a way that he's done before offhand flippantly, but still serious words to hear coming from the mouth of the Commander-in-Chief.
But keep in mind, the president has leveled this kind of charge before, not just against individuals but against entire institutions of this government, right? Intelligence agencies, the FBI, when he has felt that their investigations or the intelligence they provide do not align with his interests or somehow are critical or expose even wrongdoing by him, he's accused them, you'll remember early in his term, of Nazi-like behavior, the Intelligence Community, as part of its Russia investigation. He's made similar outrageous charges against the FBI for its role in the Russia investigation.
So in the president's dictionary, a spy, in effect, is an internal critic here. And then beyond that, let's look at the effect of what the whistleblower law is intended to do. It's intended to provide a legal and protected route for people inside government to report what they see as wrongdoing by their leaders, including -- up to and including the president.
And, by the way, remember, it is an appointee of this president, the inspector general of the Intelligence Community, who determined this whistleblower complaint to be both credible and urgent. That's something that got lost in the hearing this morning.
So spying is something the President uses flippantly and frequently when he hears internal information or criticism that he finds inconvenient. And to hear a commander-in-chief threaten them is, in a series of remarkable statements, a remarkable one.
KEILAR: And, Gloria, I mean, I am sure that the president is getting counsel about how he needs to tread on this, which is carefully, because this -- he can really get himself in trouble. And we're watching it happen before his eyes, according to this New York Times report. But, clearly, he is messaging politically with this.
BORGER: Right. What is he trying to do? Is he trying to obstruct this investigation? I mean, let's be honest. The president looks at these people who spoke to the whistleblower as rats. They're rats to him.
And that's how he looks at leakers and people who were concerned about his behavior. He sees them as rats. And he sees the whistleblower as a rat, not somebody who did his duty or her duty, you know, as was said this morning, you know.
And so I think the president is furious. He says, I want to know who these people are. I want to get rid of them. And what he doesn't understand is that that will only inspire more people to talk to the investigating committees.
BASH: Well, there's that, but there's also -- it's one thing to not like rats or leakers. This is a completely different case here. This is a whistleblower who has legal protections and he just tried to obstruct that.
KEILAR: We have so many legal questions for Elliot specifically after the break, so many for you. We'll be coming to you right after the break. We have a whole lot more on these explosive regulations, including the legal peril.
Plus 2020 candidate Senator Cory Booker is going to join me live to respond.
KEILAR: Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, facing a slew of heeded questions today over the handling of the whistleblower complaint, which is at the center of the current impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats in the House.
And not long before this hearing began this morning, a redacted version of the complaint was released to the public. The concern spanned beyond the nature of the president's phone call with the president of Ukraine. They detail how the White House handled the call afterwards and the alleged attempt to lock down the records and contain the damage, a cover-up.
Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator Cory Booker is joining me now. He sits on the Senate Judiciary and the Foreign Relations Committee. Sir, thanks for joining us.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's good to be here. Thank you.
KEILAR: I want to ask you first about this report that was just out from The New York Times that actually says, the president told a crowd of staff just this morning at the United States Mission to the United Nations that he wants to know who provided information to a whistleblower about his phone call with the president of Ukraine. He said whoever did so was, quote, close to a spy, and that, quote, in the old days, and this is paraphrased, that spies were dealt with differently, this reporting coming from Maggie Haberman. What's your reaction to this?
BOOKER: Well, this president is showing us who he is. He's got this ruthless recklessness with which the way he speaks that's not only vicious and cruel, but, frankly, it is violative of the standards within our society, within our nation, the decency that should come from the highest office in the land. And he is just continually making it worse for himself the more he opens his mouth.
KEILAR: I want to talk to you about the facts as we know them at this point. The call transcript which we saw yesterday demonstrates the president pressuring Ukraine to provide dirt on Joe Biden as the president at the time was holding up approved aid to Ukraine.
The whistleblower complaint also alleges the White House officials hid the transcript of the call in a highly classified computer system that it would be away from eyes who would usually see it. Is this a conspiracy in the White House?
BOOKER: Well, it's pretty damning. Look, we know from Iran-Contra scandal all the way to Richard Nixon's scandals that the cover-up is often crimes within themselves. And so now we have a lot to unravel. There is a lot of dense, dense smoke that indicates to me a blazing inferno, potentially.
So we have to to be sobered about this, pull back and just go where the facts lead us. But after this release of the whistleblower complaint, there are so many indications of criminal behavior, of cover-ups, of folks who knew that what the president was doing was dead wrong, endangering national security, putting his own personal benefits, his financial interests, his political interests ahead of national security.
KEILAR: The hiding of the call was something we didn't know about until we saw the complaint, and one of the other things we didn't know until we saw the complaint was that the whistleblower said it's not the first time a politically sensitive transcript has been hidden in a system that is meant for information that is supposed to keep private, sensitive information, classified information that has to do with national security.
What recourse though does Congress have in investigating this allegation?
BOOKER: They have tremendous recourse. And this is why I think it was so important that Nancy Pelosi began impeachment inquiries. It actually gives us a greater constitutional standing to investigate, to do the things that Donald Trump was preventing us from doing in the past, gaining access to documents.
KEILAR: How does Congress investigate a standalone computer system that is housed at the NSC on White House property?
BOOKER: I mean, this is -- again, it's, number one, about the legal standing that Congress has to hold the administrative branch accountable to provide oversight. So, yes, we actually have a legal right to those documents. So this is going to be play out over the coming weeks and months.
But this is clearly -- and this is what Americans -- we should all know, and this is why this can't be about partisanship. It has to be --