Return to Transcripts main page


Whistleblower Complaint Declassified, Intel Chief to Testify. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 26, 6 a.m. here in New York. We begin with a firehose of breaking news for you this morning.

The whistleblower complaint was declassified overnight, and it could be released at any moment. We are also just hours away from America's intel chief, the DNI, testifying on Capitol Hill about that whistleblower complaint at the heart of this new impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

So this morning, we have new details about what is inside that report. "The Washington Post" reports that, quote, "The complaint alleges a pattern of obfuscation at the White House, in which officials moved the records of some of Trump's communications with foreign officials onto a separate computer network from where they are normally stored." "The Post" says this includes records of that controversial July call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine's president.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And that is not the only conversation now under scrutiny. "The New York Times" reports this morning that President Trump spoke to Zelensky in April, as well. Now, we knew that.

What we did not know is, according to "The Times," President Trump pushed the Ukrainian leader to work with Rudy Giuliani even then, in April. So when will we see the notes from that call?

Also, CNN has learned that the anonymous whistleblower has tentatively agreed to testify, as long as his lawyers get security clearance to attend. So much going on this morning. We will keep up with it all.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Lauren Fox, live on Capitol Hill, where it will be a very big day.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John. And we are learning some stunning new details about what was in that whistleblower's complaint. And it could be released as early as this morning after it's been declassified overnight. This all comes as America's top spy chief will testify on Capitol Hill.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No push, no pressure, no nothing. It's all a hoax, folks. It's all a big hoax.

FOX (voice-over): A defiant President Trump now playing defense.

TRUMP: I fully support transparency on the so-called whistleblower information, even though it was supposedly second-hand information, which is sort of interesting.

FOX: As members of the House Intelligence Committee had their first look at the whistleblower complaint, which raised concerns about the president's conduct in calls with foreign leaders. CNN has learned that complaint was declassified overnight and could be released this morning.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): I describe it as explosive and jaw- dropping. I could not believe what I was reading.

FOX: In just hours, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire will testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint. Chairman Adam Schiff says the document helps provide his committee with the blueprint to begin their investigation.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think that what this courageous individual has done has exposed serious wrongdoing. And I think it a travesty that this complaint was withheld as long as it was, because it was an urgent matter.

FOX: According to a Justice Department memo, the intelligence community inspector general said the person had "some indicia of an arguable political bias." A source who read the complaint tells "The Washington Post" the document alleges "officials moved the records of some of Trump's communications with foreign officials into a separate computer network from where they're normally stored." The whistleblower says officials did just that with the president's July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president, according to "The Post."

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): What is important here is that the complaint, laid out in a very professional way, gives us further evidence to seek, other witnesses to find, and documents, as well as witnesses who would corroborate what he or she is complaining is an urgent and credible concern.

FOX: Trump allies downplaying the threat.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): It's been nearly three years of this Russia hoax. Now it's transformed into the Ukrainian hoax.

FOX: Senator Ben Sasse sending a warning to his party, writing, "Republicans ought not be rushing to circle the wagons and say there's no there there when there's obviously a lot that's very troubling."

This coming after a rough transcript of the president's July call with the Ukrainian leader was released, showing he urged Vladimir Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Trump asking Zelensky, "I would like you to do us a favor," before

getting into more details saying, quote, "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great."

President Trump also requesting that Zelensky work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. When pressed on why Giuliani was involved with government affairs, Trump refusing to answer.

TRUMP: You'd have to ask Rudy. I will tell you -- I will tell you this. That Rudy's looking to also find out where the phony witch hunt started.

FOX: Trump also called Zelensky just hours after his victory in April. "The New York Times" reports that Mr. Trump, quote, "urged the Ukrainian leader to coordinate with Mr. Giuliani and to pursue investigations of corruption," according to people familiar with the April call.

A spokesman for Trump declined to respond to "The Times'" questions about the call Wednesday night.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Rudy Giuliani seems to be completely out of control and unhinged if he's representing the United States of America in these negotiations, with either the Ukrainians or anyone else.


FOX: And the Department of Justice and the FBI heard three times from intelligence officials about this call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. Of course, they ultimately declined to prosecute -- Alisyn.


CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you very much for laying all of that out for us. We have so much to discuss. So let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins; CNN political analyst and White -- "Washington Post" congressional reporter Karoun Demirjian; and David Gregory, CNN political analyst. Great to have all of you.

Karoun, let's start with your paper, "Washington Post's" reporting. There was a different server or computer system on which they were transferring communications with President Trump and foreign leaders? What?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It begs the question, really, of why. The -- this -- the contents of this call was moved to a place where it wasn't normally supposed to be. That raises questions of whether it was -- the reasons that it was moved and was it kept intact when it was moved? And what was the purpose of doing so? Who are they trying to hide it from?

I think all of these questions are going to be front and center in lawmakers' minds as they're grilling Maguire today about why this was done.

BERMAN: Kaitlan, you've been all over the White House team for the last day, reporting what's going on here. It blows my mind how far along we are over the last 24 hours, what we've learned.

I mean, No. 1, you have the -- the notes from the phone call, which include an explicit ask for the leader of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. You've got criminal referrals to the Justice Department on this call. You've got explicit mentions of Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani. What's going on inside the White House team? Where are they this morning? Do they feel like they've lost control?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It doesn't just blow your mind. People in the White House are kind of reeling from this, because initially, when all of this was starting to take shape, they were very dismissive of this whistleblower, saying the Democrats were overreaching here by reading into this transcript.

Then, of course, the transcript comes out, and the people we've spoken with, there's this sense of anxiety, and they can't believe how fast all this has unfolded, how rapid -- rapidly this has progressed.

And they're sitting here looking at this, because they for so long have operated under this cloud of a threat of impeachment inside the White House. And it never happened, and it never happened, even though they were told it was going to happen, related to the Russia investigation.

And when that ended, they really thought it was behind them. They truly -- There were still the problems with the White House, still the chaos inside the West Wing, but they truly thought that was behind them.

Now here they are. They've woken up, and it's on their doorstep. And it's really surprising to people inside the White House. They truly can't believe just how fast Democrats have progressed with this impeachment strategy.

CAMEROTA: It is remarkable. David, what have you seen over the past 48 hours?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you see these changing tactics by the White House, as Kaitlan says. The fact that they've released so much information. They've -- you know, the declassification has been strange. You know, they had the complaint up there. They classified it initially, retroactively, and then declassified it.

So I think they're changing their strategy of providing information to Congress, rather than stonewall, and I think the only reason to do that is because they felt that they don't have a choice. And now they at least want to try to affect the debate, affect what the narrative is.

The president tried to do that in a press conference, I thought, very poorly yesterday. His surrogates are going out, his allies on FOX News and among Republicans are making the case, circling the wagons.

But as we've seen, there are some cracks among Republicans. And I think there's a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill who may reflexively be careful about criticizing the president. But they've got to be very worried, wondering what the fuller context of all of this is right now.

BERMAN: You have Romney. You have Ben Sasse from Nebraska. You've got Pat Toomey saying things that aren't 1,000 percent supportive. And other people behind the scenes giving anonymous quotes to reporters, like Robert Costa at "The Washington Post" that makes you believe there's even more out there.

And this is only the beginning, because we have more today. We have the whistleblower complaint, which could be released any minute. It was declassified overnight. I have to believe everyone is going to want it out there before this testimony from DNI Maguire at 9 a.m. this morning. But what are the key questions that Congress wants to ask him?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I think that they want the DNI to be able to speak freely about this report. So having it out there, having it declassified means that he's going to be able to, but having it out there gives the public a reference also to what he'll be talking about.

I think the people want him to talk not just about the contents of what's in there and whether this moving of this information about the call to different servers that alarm the whistleblower, that alarm the I.G., also alarmed -- also alarmed him. And comparing that to the normal process of things, I think they're going to want to ask him about what was going on behind the curtain for the last several weeks while this -- while this complaint was not being transferred to Capitol Hill.

We know this was not just a decision taken within the DNI's office that involved the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Bill Barr, who does not have that many friends on the Democratic side of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

And so I think there's going to be a lot of questions about what was going on here in terms of the discussion and who was involved with it. How much the DNI actually says about that versus sticking to the substance of the complaint as much as he can talk about it, by the time this hearing starts, we do not know.


But I think lawmakers have questions not just about comparing the contents of the complaint to what is supposed to be the normal practice. But also, what's been going on through the cabinet-level officials that is the reason that they didn't get to see it for so long.

COLLINS: And another interesting thing to watch is going to be how you've seen the White House really dismiss this person, this whistleblower is someone who's potentially partisan and whatnot.

Well, now we're learning that this person didn't have this information firsthand but heard it from other officials who clearly saw something wrong with the way this phone call was handled. That's going to be a big question going forward. And that's actually making people inside the West Wing nervous, because there are officials who found problems with this. It's not just one person they can dismiss as someone who didn't like President Trump. That's what people are keeping their eye on right now.

CAMEROTA: But Kaitlan, I just want to go right to what David Gregory said. I think that this is pivotal. Why did they switch strategies? Their whole strategy, Donald Trump's whole strategy for the past more than just the time that he's been in office -- I mean, let's say three years -- has been stonewalling.

And they would have made the Democrats duke it out in court, which could have lasted past the election. Why did they declassify this and release it? It's so out of character.

COLLINS: And it had been really successful for them as these Democrats have been doing their impeachment inquiries before Nancy Pelosi formally endorsed it.

They have been pretty successful in stopping Democrats from getting their hands on documents, getting interviews with officials to where it's really been frustrating for Democrats. It really slowed their momentum. And the White House was happy to let it play out in court.

This week the president made this decision to release the transcript against the advice of a lot of people inside the West Wing.

CAMEROTA: So why --

COLLINS: That's the big question. And they essentially thought it was going to clear the president, and then now it came out and a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill were left looking at this, wondering why do we now have to answer this. Why did you think this was a good idea to put out something that you weren't required to put out, like the law mandates?

BERMAN: I've got a one-word answer and a three-word answer to why. The one-word answer would be "hubris." Right? They just were confused and they misjudged, because they think they get away with everything. But the three-word answer would be "official impeachment inquiry." That once that was launched, the president didn't have a lot of ways to prevent this, because sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later -- let me finish.

CAMEROTA: How did you know that?

BERMAN: Sooner rather than later this House committee would get the whistleblower, the inspector general, or more information. David, go ahead.

GREGORY: Or it would leak. I mean, this was already being leaked. That's the point.

I mean, you have a whistleblower out there. You have lawyers involved. You have other parts of the government who know that's what happens. Then it starts to leak. Especially if there's an attempt to cover something up.

This is also something that happened. Right? This is not -- In the Mueller investigation you were trying to prove whether something happened. And there was not proof of collusion in that particular example.

Here, something happened. The president defended what he did. And so I think there was a fear it would leak. Or to your point, John, that there would be the official machinations of an impeachment inquiry that would force their hand.

And I think there has been a hope and, as Kaitlan says, it was not widely shared. The more we put this out, the more that Republicans can circle the wagons and argue that this is just not an impeachable offense. This was somehow defensible conduct. There was not a quid pro quo, et cetera, et cetera. That that's how the defense could go.

And one other point. Also, the president is talking about how this is someone who is against him politically. Let's remember our impeachment history. It's not like Linda Tripp was going to vote for Bill Clinton. And she was the linchpin. And he still got impeached.

So it's not always your -- you know, it's not always your political supporters. It doesn't mean that there is an underlying conduct that's going to get you in trouble.

BERMAN: And also, there's an inspector general here, who deemed it to be of urgent concern, who was appointed by the Trump administration. So you've got that player in here, as well.

CAMEROTA: So Karoun, let's talk about your reporting, your specific reporting. And that is that the DNI, who will be testifying in a couple of hours, threatened to resign over this if he was not allowed to testify or speak freely, I guess, about what he knew. He was threatening to resign.

Now, he has come out with a statement disputing that. So tell us about your reporting.

DEMIRJIAN: Our reporting, we had seen that the DNI has disputed the story. So has the White House. But our reporting stands, and we stand by the story that he did make this threat that, if he was not able to speak freely and openly at that hearing that's happening at 9 a.m., that he would -- that he wanted to resign.

And I think that just goes to show you that the -- that the unified front that the administration tried to put out about why they thought that it was not a good idea to transfer this complaint over to Capitol Hill was not actually so unified. That there is disagreement among the ranks. That this rankled people at DNI, even as they were being the face of telling the Capitol that they didn't actually have the grounds and the standing to get this report.

And that shed some light on, potentially, the tensions within the administration. We've reported on them in many different circumstances. But given the seriousness of this particular event, that is significant for lawmakers to know, especially since they were in an open legal dispute with the administration as to whether they do or not. They should be able to have that information in their hands.

BERMAN: All right, friends. Stand by, if you will. We are waiting to see the full whistleblower report. It has been declassified. It's just a matter of time before it's released.

Much more on the beginnings of fissures within the Republican Party.

And also, this April phone call between President Trump and Zelensky where Rudy Giuliani reportedly came up, as well. All that ahead.



BERMAN: All right. We're learning new details about how early President Trump began discussing with the new leader of Ukraine things pertaining to Joe Biden and corruption and Rudy Giuliani.

"The New York Times" says that their very first call in April, it started then. This is the quote. "When Ukraine elected its new leader, Zelensky, on April 21, Mr. Trump seized on the moment as an opportunity to press his case. He urged Mr. Zelensky to coordinate with Mr. Giuliani and to pursue investigations of corruption, according to people familiar with the call, the details of which have not previously been reported."

"The New York Times" also reports that inside this Giuliani/Trump world, Ukraine-themed park that they're living in, corruption has been a code word for Biden.

So want to bring back David Gregory and Kaitlan Collins.

David, I want to start with you. So President Trump mentioned Giuliani, according to "The Times," way back in April. So this has been a thing for some time. The president also said if you want to take a look at that phone call, we'll release the notes from that. I imagine people want to see that.

GREGORY: Right. Because there's a constant theme where the president is going after a couple of things. The broad overhang is corruption, which means Biden, which is his involvement in trying to get an anti- corruption prosecutor removed, incidentally for inaction, for failure to root out corruption in Ukraine, which was something that he was doing. He was kind of the tip of the spear of, really, the entire western world, trying to put that pressure on Ukraine, which is fighting Russia in Crimea and relying on western aid.

And the other piece of this is the suspicion that the president had and, presumably, Giuliani had that there was information that was harmful to their campaign and to Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman that originated in Ukraine, perhaps, and not in Russia.

So these are the conspiracies that are fuel -- that are really lodged in their minds. And he's pressing that case earlier. And that's what's so important here. Because we know in July that military aid, to the tune of $400 million, is frozen by the Trump administration.

The president is having phone calls, saying we do a lot for Ukraine, you know. And you hear, especially in the July 25th phone call and the notes that we've gotten of it, you have a newly-elected Ukrainian president who was completely dependent on the United States. And completely president -- dependent on the good will of this president, who he's sucking up to to secure that relationship.

So all of this becomes a very important piece, and it's not just about the one call that we know about.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm so glad that you're using the term "sucking up to," because I was searching for the term of -- of what exactly -- how to characterize the transcript.

GREGORY: That's an official term. That's an official government term.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I literally -- an hour ago was thinking, pandering? No. Obsequious, not good enough. No. Sucking up is the word, because I mean, the transcript just reads it's -- it's almost embarrassing how much he's flattering President Trump, how much he's complimenting him and telling them they're best friends. Because he needs him.

I mean, he recognizes that he has to curry favor immediately, as you can tell from -- if you read the transcript.

But let's talk, Kaitlan, about how Republicans are dealing with all of this. And you're starting to see cracks among some predictable places. We have a full screen. I can put it up. Mitt Romney was one of the first. He came out and called it deeply troubling. Ben Sasse, who of course, has been one of the bolder Republicans.

BERMAN: Well, the issue about Ben Sasse is he was bold, and then he completely backed off.

COLLINS: Wrote a book on it.

CAMEROTA: And he got endorsed.

BERMAN: Got a Trump endorsement, has been quiet. But now all of a sudden --

CAMEROTA: Now he's back to being Ben Sasse. And he says it's, quote, "very troubling."

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, he calls this inappropriate. Senator Rob Portman, when asked should the president have pressed the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, he says, "He should not have." BERMAN: That's a huge amount of excitement from Rob Portman, by the


COLLINS: I mean, these are so mild in their condemnations of what the president did. And of course, this would not be the same reaction that they would have if this was a Democratic president who had said as much, who had called to them and told them to investigate Donald Trump Jr.

So that is really something to keep in mind as you're watching these Republicans roll in. But also, you're seeing what they're saying publicly. Listen to what they're saying privately when they're saying, why did they release this transcript? Why did this happen?

Of course, they know that this is how the president interacts with world leaders. They're not totally surprised by it, I don't think. But now that they're having to answer for it, it's becoming more of a problem for them.

The question is whether or not anything changes going forward. If they are actually going to come out.

The thing is, Trump is kind of concerned about that. He's not completely confident that all of these Republicans are going to have his back. He's been mistrustful of the party for some time, back even when you saw Democrats win the House in the midterms in 2018. He thought it was a good thing because he thought he could work better with Democrats than he could with Republicans.


So he has a general mistrust for most Republicans, with the exception of a few that he speaks with regularly. So that'll be interesting to watch as this impeachment fight unfolds. How does the president treat these Republicans, who he's going to need to count on to not lose their support.

BERMAN: I will say that yesterday it was just Mitt Romney. Now it's Romney and Sasse. So that's a 100 percent increase in Republicans --

COLLINS: And we don't even have the complaint yet.

BERMAN: -- who are publicly uncomfortable. And I suspect that Donald Trump might have some words for Ben Sasse, who he's been tweeting about.

I think the Democrats are interesting here, as well, David. Because before these notes were released, there was some trepidation. You had Democrats being Democrats and second-guessing themselves. Well, have we gone too far? Are we out too far over our ski?

I think after those notes came out, hard to find many Democrats who were as nervous as they were beforehand. And not only that, I think Pelosi and some of the committee chairs were surprised by how much they had in front of them. They seemed to be recalibrating some of their strategy now, just wanting to focus on Ukraine as they look at possible articles of impeachment.

What do you see there?

GREGORY: Well, there's a lot of political sensitivity on the part of the speaker and top Democrats who realize the charges of them overreaching and doing everything and anything to remove the president from office when we're already in an election season.

But for them to try to do it precipitously through the impeachment process, rather than at the ballot box, opens them up to the charges of overreach and partisan witch hunt, all the things that the president has leveled at them.

I think the speaker has made the calculation, look, there's something here that's easy here to understand that is relatively easy to investigate. The contours of it are visible. It's not like the Mueller report. You know, when it started, you know where it ended. You know who's involved. We can do this pretty fast. And we can make this the hill to die on.

And I think that's going to be the plan. And there's a lot of merit to that, politically. There's still danger, though. Because this is still going to be open to interpretation, whether many people believe that or not. There's still going to be an argument about just what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor. And whether this is it. There's going to be a debate about that. And that's what an

impeachment process is about, if it goes that far.

CAMEROTA: Well, if the speaker has narrowed the focus, she may want to alert Congresswoman Maxine Waters about that. Because yesterday we had her on, and she said that the articles of impeachment that she plans to present to the judiciary, Jerry Nadler, include Deutsche Bank. She wants to revisit Russian obstruction. That she thinks that, you know, the Mueller report gave short shrift to. I mean, there's just a whole laundry list of stuff that she laid out. She has long wanted impeachment.

But if they are going to limit it, it would -- it would just be different than what some Democrats have in mind, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. And what's going to be interesting here is when Nancy Pelosi launched this formal impeachment inquiry, a lot of people were asking what's so different? Because she said the six committee chairs were going to continue their investigations.

What was different, though, is they were going to say it was under the umbrella of a formal impeachment inquiry. If they decide to limit it just to the Ukraine stuff, that could be more effective in making their legal arguments for subpoenas, for getting people up on Capitol Hill in front of these lawmakers. Something that Democrats have not had on their side so far.

Because you've seen the way that this has been so slow and stalled in the courts. If they limit it, that could potentially help them. That's a concern that has changed in the White House over the last few days. BERMAN: Can we leave you with something that Chris Christie said

before the release of the notes yesterday? Chris Christie was on ABC with some of our friends, saying this isn't going to be bad unless -- watch this.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: If he's saying, listen, do me a favor, you know, go investigate Joe Biden, that's one thing. If he's saying, listen, I'm concerned about corruption. You've just gotten elected. We send hundreds of millions of dollars over there. You need to start looking at this. For instance, one of the things that occurred was the Hunter Biden situation. That becomes totally different.


BERMAN: So David, he literally said, do me a favor. Then right after that, he said do me a favor and go look at this tinfoil hat conspiracy about Ukraine having the server. But he said, do me a favor. And he also said, go investigate Joe Biden. Chris Christie maybe laid the foundation for something there he'd like to take back right now.

GREGORY: Well, and you know, this is what's going to be debated. And it's already the subject of interpretation. Is it an actual quid pro quo? We know that's not necessary for all of this.

But I think what so clear, and we've been talking about it, is that you have a foreign leader who's so dependent on the United States, and the president is making it very clear what he cares about, which is we do a lot for Ukraine, and this is the corruption I'm worried about. Do us a favor and do this. Meet with Giuliani. I mean, it's pretty clear what the president's priorities are and what he expects.

CAMEROTA: When I heard Chris Christie say that, I thought, oh, he is earning his money from ABC. Because you know, sometimes people say why do you all pay contributors? Because they know their subject matters. And he knew that that's how Donald Trump speaks.