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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) & Presidential Candidate Discusses the Whistleblower Complaint, White House Coverup; Whistleblower: Trump Phone Call Memorandum Moved to Stand-Alone Server; Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) Discusses Whistleblower Complaint, Impeachment; Fallout from Whistleblower Complaint & Acting DNI Testimony. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 13:30   ET



SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): So, yes, we actually have a legal right to those documents. So this is going to 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 about patriotism.

Because this is an issue -- and been to, as my role in the Foreign Relations Committee, I've been to Ukraine. I've met with soldiers who are on the front lines in this fight against Russians who have fought them in a kinetic way but they've been undermining our democracy, from Latvia to Lithuania to the United States of America, undermining our democracy.

In the context of all this, Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, was sending aid to people that I saw with my own eyes with critical life- saving resources. But this president now, with every indication, was willing to hold up in order to pursue his petty, personal, political ambitions.

This is devastating not just to him and his position as a president, but to that office and what it is urgently charged with, which is to protect national interest.

So this is in the context in which this is happening, and Congress has an urgent constitutional responsibility to investigate.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: You said this shouldn't be partisan. This is very partisan. We just saw the divide play out on the House Intel Committee. House Republicans are defending the president. Privately, are you hearing differently from your Senate colleagues?

BOOKER: I've had the opportunity to get to know a lot of my colleagues, not just as colleagues but really as friends.

There's a historical precedent to this moment we are in right now. When the Nixon investigations began, there was fierce partisanship there. But the more the truth came out, you began to see profiles in courage.

You began to see heroes in the Republican Party that said, enough already. I'm going to put my personal, political, short-term interests, I'm going to put those aside and be a patriot and break with my party to be with my country.

And history looks back on those Republicans --


BOOKER: Pardon me?

KEILAR: Have any of your colleagues said that they're thinking about that?

BOOKER: Well, you're already seeing -- you're already seeing friends of mine like Ben Sasse, or you're seeing people I'm just starting to get to know, the new Senator Mitt Romney, really have a sobered, thoughtful perspective on this.

And I think that we are just on the foothills of a mountain of evidence that will come out in the coming days and weeks. And I have faith, at the end of the day, knowing a lot of my colleagues like I do, that some of them will have the courage to stand up and do the right thing at the right time.


BOOKER: That remains to be seen in this fierce time of tribalism, but I have a lot of faith in my country as a whole -- and by the way, public sentiment means a lot in this. As public sentiment shifts, often people -- the winds of public sentiment do affect a lot of the Republicans that are there right now.

I'm not looking at this not as a partisan right now, not as a Democrat who is fighting hard to be the one that shows down Donald Trump in the 2020 elections.

I'm a United States Senator. I swore an oath not to support my party, I swore an oath to defend and protect the Constitution.

I hope all of us in this position look at this, at this moment, especially in the shadow of history looking back at this, will do what's right in the moment of history.

Right now, the right thing to do is to investigate all of the leads that indicate, right now, we have a president who has betrayed his office, betrayed his nation and violated his oath.

KEILAR: Investigate. What about impeach? Does the content of the complaint warrant impeachment?

BOOKER: Well, I believe right now the right thing is happening. I've been calling for impeachment proceedings to go before Nancy Pelosi did. But now we have begun. Impeachment proceedings are fully justified. Pelosi did the right thing by her country. And now numerous committees have a lot of work to do. I am going to

be a juror. Should the articles of impeachment pass in the House, I will sit with the whole Senate as a jury as evidence is presented, and we will have to take a vote on the record.

I'm looking keenly as the House does their investigation, and I'm actually a little encouraged because the Senate should be investigating right now as well. We've already seen some bipartisan signs that the Senators on both sides of the aisle want to get to the truth.

KEILAR: All right, Senator Cory Booker, thank you so much.

BOOKER: Thank you very much.


KEILAR: We will continue to follow our breaking news. As the whistleblower complaint was declassified, the "New York Times" is reporting that President Trump threatened retaliation.


KEILAR: Back to our breaking news on the day that we see the whistleblower's report on the president's call to the president of Ukraine.

The "New York Times" reporting that the president is asking who talked to the whistleblower, calling them a spy, saying that this amounts to treason, and you know what we used to do to spies, essentially, is what he said.

We have Elliot Williams with us and Samantha Vinograd here with me now.

There's a couple of important things we need to talk about,.

One is the complaint from the whistleblower says that politically sensitive information, meaning this phone call, which was not classified, was moved to a stand-alone server, right, housed with the NSC on White House grounds, was moved into this highly classified system to keep it from certain eyes. What would that have taken, Sam?


SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: To be clear, this was classified. The difference is, typically, when the transcript is drafted by members of the Situation Room, distributed to members of the NSC staff and then distributed to cabinet officials and other employees, it is typically done on a top-secret server.

KEILAR: So it's a different classification?


VINOGRAD: It's a different classification. It is a top-secret system and that's where it is drafted and disseminated more broadly.

This is a stand-alone system that is typically used for what we call code word level information, information that is related to most often covert actions.

The issue here is someone essentially took that transcript, that telephone conversation, and moved it from the top-secret server to the stand-alone server, which typically, Brianna -- and this is important in light of Maguire's testimony -- only members of the Intelligence Community have access to it.

Misusing it to hide a conversation, to hide a crime, is misusing Intelligence Community resources.

And so now the question is, who gave that order to move the document. And we found out in the whistleblower complaint, someone said that document should be scrubbed from the top-secret system so there was no trace of it and only be used on the covert system.

KEILAR: So my question, then, is really twofold. Is that conspiracy, and is the president threatening this whistleblower, as we now know he did, according to the "New York Times," talking to a crowd, is that obstruction?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, conspiracy is relatively straightforward. You have to have an agreement to break the law and some act in furtherance of that agreement. So when two people say, we're going to violate the law, or let's do this thing that's illegal, that's a conspiracy. Now --

KEILAR: So yes?

WILLIAMS: If there's an underlying crime attached to it, then certainly, yes, it could be a conspiracy.

On obstruction of justice -- we know this from the special counsel investigation, we've heard these terms before -- but you have to have an active obstruction, an official proceeding connected to the thing you're obstructing, and corrupt intent, right? So, yes, it looks like those things are here with the president.

But, look, the issue isn't whether the president committed a crime. A lot of the president's defenders right now are saying no quid pro quo, there was no bribery, there couldn't have been a crime here, and so what. That is not the point.

The question is, just as Senator Booker said on your network a moment ago, did he violate the public trust, did he violate his oath as president of the United States. That's the standard of impeachment and, frankly, that's the standard the president is judged by.

But this whole question, to some extent, of did his conduct rise to a level of criminal statute almost doesn't matter --

(CROSSTALK) VINOGRAD: And there are definitely witnesses to this, at least from a White House and NSC perspective. The national security advisers -- John Bolton, who is now a private citizen, by the way, would have been involved in this process. The director of the Situation Room, the senior director of intelligence, not to mention anybody who originally got that transcript.

So at this point, there are multiple people within the White House -- the director of intelligence that transferred it to that code word system, that could be called as witnesses as part of this impeachment inquiry, even before and even if we don't have access to the telephone calls themselves.

WILLIAMS: The attorney general of the United States. I mean, if there's any --


VINOGRAD: He said he did not get a readout of the call, which I find hard to believe.

WILLIAMS: So if there's any one thing that needs to be confirmed is that there will now be more hearings.

KEILAR: Indeed.

WILLIAMS: We need to hear from more of these people.

KEILAR: Elliot, Sam, thank you so much. Stand by for us.

We have breaking news in what has become a critical moment for the presidency of Donald Trump.



KEILAR: Let's stay with the story that has engulfed the White House in the nation today. The revelations in the redacted release of the whistleblower report.

It details allegations that the president used his office to both pursue foreign help from Ukraine in influencing the 2020 election and then that the White House covered that up.

That report is at the center of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

And my next guest is one of the seven freshman lawmakers who penned an op-ed this week explaining their decision to vote yes on impeachment. Michigan Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin is joining us now.

Explain what it was about this moment that changed your mind.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Sure. I was pretty reticent to jump into anything related to impeachment. I think it's a huge deal and a somber deal for the country. But when I started to learn about this deal with Ukraine and the idea

that the president acknowledged and admitted to that the president in the most powerful country in the world called that president and asked for dirt on an opponent in an American election. That, for me, just crossed a threshold in its -- threshold in its seriousness.

As national security professional -- I'm a former CIA officer and Pentagon official -- it just went right to the heart of everything I feel I've been fighting for ask and swore an oath to do.

And importantly, it's prospective, right? It's looking forward to protecting our 2020 elections. It's not looking backwards. This is about the future, and I feel like my oath really kicked in, and I came out along with a number of my peers.


KEILAR: So you have this Intel Community background.

Knowing this whistleblower complaint says this phone call was scrubbed from the top-secret system and moved into a more highly classified system, which houses code word, classified information, code word information, what does that tell you, and also what can Congress do to figure this out considering the whistleblower says they understand this isn't the first time this has been done?

SLOTKIN: Sure. So I think it's important in this whole thing to keep focused on sort of the top line, which is, again, what the president and his lawyer acknowledged they've done.

What we did learn today from the whistleblower letter that there's sort of a greater depth and breadth to this story.

And as someone who actually was on detail to the White House both under President Bush and under President Obama, there are, indeed, two different systems. One for unclassified information, one for classified. So it seems they moved it from one to the other, and that's not good. Right?

Again, I think what we keep doing is getting wrapped around the axle on the specifics when we know kind of the top-line message and the top-line problem here. The president used his influence to collect dirt on an opponent, and that can't be OK.

KEILAR: This is a concerted effort by Democrats to try to stick narrowly to discussing what you just discussed. Are you worried that when you go beyond that and that even if you don't go beyond that, that you might not be able to pull enough Americans along to support Democrats politically as they move forward with the impeachment process?

SLOTKIN: Listen, it is the job of the U.S. Congress to be really clear, strategic and efficient with how we handle this process. That is our job. And I'm ready to acknowledge we haven't always done that with some of the things that have gone on before. People have gotten confused. There's a lot of different things

happening at the same time. It is on us to make sure this process feels different for people.

And I hope that if we do that correctly people see what we see, which is just forget about the political, you know, persuasions of this president. I don't want a future Democratic president saying, hey, I'm going to go to China privately or North Korea and get dirt on my opponent. I just don't want that to be something that we set as a precedent.

So it's on us to present that information. And I hope that the American people will see that this is something -- listen, no one wanted to be in this position. I certainly did not.

And I come from a district with a lot of different opinions about impeachment. I've heard from a lot of different sides on this. But at a certain point, we all took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and that is what I feel I'm doing.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you for coming on.

SLOTKIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, standing by. His take on the whistleblower complaint and the report the president threatened retaliation against the whistleblower.



KEILAR: Let's return to our top story, the fallout from the whistleblower complaint and testimony by acting DNI Joseph Maguire in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

Former deputy director of the FBI and CNN contributor, Andrew McCabe, joins me now.

I want your reaction first, though, to this "New York Times" story. It's important to explain to people, this whistleblower who Maguire today said is acting in good faith, has gone through an official, formal process, which provides this whistleblower protection. Right?


KEILAR: And the president, according to the "New York Times," told us a crowd of staff from the United States mission to the U.N. that he wants to know who provided information to the whistleblower, and whoever did so, the whistleblower, close to a spy. and he said in the old days spies were dealt with differently.

MCCABE: Yes. Two things jump out at me here. First is, of course, the president is doing exactly what government officials are not supposed to do. He's clearly targeting the person who's filed this complaint that affects him seriously and is kind of laying the marker down that he wants this person's identity and he wants to be able to follow-up on this.

So absolutely a total contravention of all the protections for whistleblowers.

The second thing that jumps out to me is that he made these comments in front of what had to have been other U.S. government employees and officials. People from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

So you have to ask, was this some sort of a message to all of those folks and indeed a message to all people serving in the government that if they step forward with complaints, they can expect the president to come after them.

KEILAR: You just heard from Congresswoman Slotkin.


KEILAR: She says that she wants to focus on the president using his influence and, frankly, government money, right --


KEILAR: -- to influence Ukraine to dig up dirt on an opponent.

I asked her about what we've learned in the complaint. That information was actually moved around to hide it at the White House. And she wants to focus more on the other things. She thinks Americans understand that and doesn't want that from anyone, Democrat or Republican.

What's the bigger deal? Is it all a big deal?

MCCABE: I think it's all a big deal. Those two different pieces of information, I think, really reflect on each other differently.

So just to put it in context. I, in the course of my career as an investigator, reviewed hundreds, maybe thousands of transcripts of telephone calls. I can tell you, had I reviewed that call in one of my cases, I would have run to the prosecutor's office to show them, look what we got on the intercept last night, or whatever that took place.

If not an entire case of criminal activity, it is highly relevant information about transgressions that those conversants were involved in.

The second thing I would say is, if I then learned that one of the people on that call or people acting at that person's behest tried to destroy records of the call, tried to destroy the facilities that the call had taken place on or in any way tried to conceal what took place on that call, that would be a highly relevant piece of information to investigators and prosecutors.

If it's not a crime in and of itself, it certainly is something that's relevant to the intent and the mental state of those involved, a concern about keeping the substance of that call concealed and away from the eyes of folks who might look into.

KEILAR: Acting DNI Joseph Maguire -- he's not known as a partisan.


KEILAR: He tried to stress that today in this hearing.

Democrats had some pointed questions, because when he got this complaint from the inspector general, he went to the Justice Department. He went to the White House. He seemed to say, in his defense today, as they say, every other complaint goes to Congress, he said, like, yes, but they normally don't have to do with the president. Right?


KEILAR: Did he do the right thing?

MCCABE: Well, I don't know. You know, I -- I -- like many of the congressmen said during the hearing today, I have absolutely no reason to question his motives. He is a man of distinction and has served this country well for so many decades.

But the question is his judgment around making that decision raises a lot of issues. Had he, instead, handled the complaint the way every other whistleblower complaint was handled, he would have escaped, I think, a lot of this criticism.

He has unfortunately painted himself into a corner. In that testimony --