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Details Emerge from Declassified Whistleblower Complaint; Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) is Interviewed about Whistleblower Complaint; Whistleblower: White House Moved Records of Some Trump Calls with Foreign Leaders to Separate Computer Network. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired September 26, 2019 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.
And breaking overnight, the whistleblower complaint at the center of the impeachment investigation into the president has been declassified. A redacted version has been turned over to Congress. We are waiting for its full release. That could come at any minute, and we will go through it when it becomes public.
Details are beginning to leak out already. We are told it goes further than the notes from the phone where President Trump asked the president of Ukraine to do him a favor and asked him to investigate political opponent Joe Biden and his son.
This complaint will be at the center of what could be a dramatic hearing on Capitol Hill just a little bit from now later this morning. Acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, will testify in public before the House Intelligence Committee.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And again, there is more to this whistleblower complaint than just the one phone call, according to lawmakers. It also outlines multiple named witnesses inside the White House to potential presidential misconduct.
And then there's this stunning detail published overnight in "The Washington Post." Quote, "The complaint also 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 the one where they are normally stored."
Democrats say all of this evidence bolsters their decision to move forward on impeachment.
BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Democratic member of Congress Val Demings. She is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. She has read the classified version of this whistleblower complaint. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us. That complaint
has now been declassified. A redacted version has been turned over to Congress. We are told that complaint goes beyond the notes from the phone call that we've all seen now, where the president asked the leader of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. Goes beyond just that phone call. Can you tell us in what way?
REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Well, good morning, John.
It's good to be with you. And look, this is not a good day for America. This is a dark day for America. But we are -- we did review the classified version, the complete version of the report on yesterday. We are looking forward to hearing from the director of national intelligence within a few hours. And we are hoping at that time that we will be able to publicly release many of the details in that report.
What I can tell you is that it is deeply troubling. It is quite disturbing. It lays out several elements of things that things any member of Congress and, quite frankly, any American should be concerned about. It has multiple witnesses. And as the member of the Intelligence Committee, there's clearly a trail of evidence and witnesses that we can talk to and documents and other things that we can review.
BERMAN: So multiple witnesses. In what way? And what is the context in which it goes beyond the notes from the call we have seen?
DEMINGS: Well, I'm really not at liberty to get into those details. And I -- I just can imagine that there are a lot of you and a lot of people out there that want to get to the bottom of this. As you know, a lot has changed very rapidly and very quickly over the last few days.
But while I cannot get into the details, what I can tell you is that the readout that we all had an opportunity to look at yesterday involving the conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky, what we had an opportunity to review in the skiff yesterday certainly has more detail, goes farther. And as I said, we'll hear from the director within a couple of hours.
BERMAN: Who else do you want to hear from in this investigation?
DEMINGS: Well, clearly, we want to start with the director, Director Maguire because, you know, my main question is he did not go through normal channels, if you will, or follow normal procedures or the law, quite frankly, in terms of immediately releasing this report to Congress, to the Intelligence Committee.
So certainly, we are quite interested in knowing why he chose to deviate from what the law requires and if officials within the administration were involved in that decision.
As you well know from the readout that we all saw yesterday, Attorney General Barr's name was mentioned quite frequently. And I know the attorney general has indicated that he never had that conversation with the president. But I, as a former law enforcement officer, find it quite interesting that the president felt -- President Trump felt extremely comfortable directing President Zelensky to reach out to his attorney general, Attorney General Barr, for additional follow-up.
And we all know -- and I think this is where the troubling part really starts -- the American president asked the president of Ukraine to do him a favor.
DEMINGS: A country that depends so much, as we all know, on the American government. So more to follow.
BERMAN: He asked him to do him a favor. He asked him to look into matters surrounding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
You mentioned William Barr, the attorney general. Do you feel he needs to recuse himself from this matter now, since the president mentioned him multiple times in his phone call with the Ukrainian leader?
DEMINGS: I think history demonstrates that there are few times that Attorney General Barr should have recused himself from investigations, but clearly, in this case, as the top cop, he should want to be above board, to be above any appearance of impropriety on his part. So yes, he should definitely recuse himself.
BERMAN: Rudy Giuliani. Should he be a witness before your committee?
DEMINGS: You know, I can only -- let me say this. For someone who was assigned to the Orlando International Airport during 9/11 and watched Mayor -- then-Mayor Giuliani operate in New York, I have been quite disappointed in his performance over the last two and a half years. I'm not sure what attorney Giuliani would bring to the table that would involve anything other than alternative facts.
BERMAN: So you are resistant to call him, because you think he'll lie?
DEMINGS: If you have watched him -- and I know we've all watched him, we've heard him, we've heard him in interviews say, well, no, I didn't do that, for example. And then within the next minute say, oh, well, yes, I did. And I never said I didn't.
And I'm not sure what's going on with Rudy Giuliani. I know the decision whether to bring him in or not is above my pay grade.
DEMINGS: But what I can say is I don't see where he would add any value, if we are seeking the truth and seeking justice in this particular incident.
BERMAN: "The Washington Post" reports that the whistleblower complaint raises questions about how the White House handled records of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders. Perhaps suggesting, the inference there, that they were trying to hide some of these conversations. Have you seen evidence that the White House has been trying to keep information from the public?
DEMINGS: Well, like I said, I cannot get into the details. I cannot confirm or deny anything that I reviewed on yesterday. But what I can tell you is that we all have to be suspicious of any deviation from norms for regular procedure and processes as it pertains to the storage of documents or official records.
BERMAN: There is reporting this morning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, given I think, that so much came out from the notes from that phone call, now wants to focus as much as possible all of the various impeachment proceedings on Ukraine specifically. In your mind, do you think that the focus for the impeachment investigations should be primarily on Ukraine, this matter?
DEMINGS: Well, John, what I can tell you, I serve on House Intelligence Committee, as well as the Judiciary Committee.
But what is troubling about this particular incident, as you well remember, the inspector general report said that the -- the whistleblower's report was credible and that it was of an urgent nature. And I think, as members of Congress and, certainly, the speaker, we have a direct obligation to spend our time and our resources right now on clearly understanding and investigating the urgent nature of this complaint.
BERMAN: So this is more important? More urgent than the other matters that have been before you?
DEMINGS: I think those words would get the attention of any American, that it's credible and that it is of an urgent nature.
And let us not forget that this is all about our national security. When I came to Congress as a former law enforcement officer, I said my No. 1 focus, my No. 1 priority is the safety and security of our nation.
So certainly, I believe the speaker is absolutely correct that we need to focus on this whistleblower's report because of the urgent nature of what's in it.
BERMAN: Congresswoman Val Demings, thank you for coming on this morning. We look forward to speaking with you again.
DEMINGS: Thank you, John. Take care.
CAMEROTA: OK, John.
So given all these revelations this morning, what will the Republican reaction be? Some cracks are starting to emerge in the GOP. We discuss them next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: OK. We're less than two hours away from hearing from America's top intel chief about the whistleblower complaint. This morning, we have new details about what is inside that report.
"The Washington Post" reports, quote, "The complaint also 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're normally stored. The whistleblower alleges that is what officials did with Trump's July 25th call with Zelensky, an action that alarmed the intelligence community inspector general and prompted him to request that the White House retain records of that Zelensky call." That's from the person who read the complaint.
We have a lot to talk about. Joining us now is CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN chief legal analyst.
Jeffrey, moving communications with foreign leaders to a different computer network that they're not normally stored on, is it time to page Hillary Clinton's server? I mean, how is this possible that that -- they could be doing that in the White House?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is an illustration of the complexity of this investigation. Because in order to know whether there was anything untoward in the moving of these records, first of all, you need to know whether that actually took place, whether the records were moved. And you have to know what the usual procedures are. And then you have to know, were the usual procedures followed. And if not, why?
All of that gets pretty complicated, especially if you're going to be investigating a White House, which has proven that it's not going to cooperate with any inquiries.
So I mean, just this one little corner about the moving of the records, if it took place, it could take weeks, if not months, to untangle. And I think that's just a good metaphor, an illustration of how complicated this inquiry could become very quickly.
BERMAN: You know, I went to the Toobin law school. And, in moving something to make it less discoverable, could reflect a consciousness of guilt or could reflect that people know there's something wrong with the public seeing it.
And Jim Acosta, one of the other things that's been reported this morning -- and we just heard from Val Demings, who has read the classified version of this thing. We now need to speak to more witnesses about this. But we know from reporting this morning, the inspector general, who deemed this to be of urgent concern, has spoken to other people and is urgently concerned.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you know, a couple of things. I talked to a lawmaker last night who had reviewed this. And this person said the same thing, that -- that not only, you know, is the president involved here, obviously. There are multiple officials in the Trump administration who were involved, and that the scope of this is much larger than what was originally reported when this first came to light.
And so this lawmaker was saying -- and I think this is what the congresswoman was just saying a few moments ago -- is that they're going to have to hear not just from this whistleblower but multiple officials inside the administration. And that means this is just going to start mushrooming from here.
The other thing I will say about all of this -- and this gets to something that the president was talking about yesterday at this wild press conference, when he was going after the whistleblower, saying that the person was dealing with second-rate information. We've heard officials in the White House saying, well, you know, he might have partisan motivations, and that sort of thing.
I talked to a source close to this process last night who said that is irrelevant because of the other officials involved in all of this. This person could be an anti-Trump whistleblower. Sure, that might be the case. But if other officials were involved, like "The Washington Post" is saying, trying to cover things up, that obviously points to something much bigger than what we originally heard in these reports.
CAMEROTA: And to that point, the reporting is it was secondhand information.
CAMEROTA: That this was -- the whistleblower wasn't privy to that phone call, wasn't listening in on that phone call.
ACOSTA: Doesn't mean that it's wrong.
CAMEROTA: NO, of course not. And I mean, to your point, did hear it from another White House official, which does just make the circle larger.
ACOSTA: That's right. And that is why I think, at this point, you know, we saw this on the president's face yesterday. He was very, you know, almost sedated seeming during this press conference.
And one of the things that happened during the course of that news conference is he was trying to simply avoid answering questions about what went on. He talked for about 30 or 40 minutes but only took two questions that pertained to the Ukraine matter. He was asking for questions on the economy and on the markets. He clearly didn't want to talk about all of this.
But at one point, the most striking thing about it. He goes, impeachment for this? I mean, this is -- this is a president who got on a phone with a foreign leader and was seeking help in an election. And now it seems, if you look at what's in "The Washington Post" and what we're hearing from lawmakers, that other officials in the administration, it sounds like something out of "All the President's Men." Other officials in the administration are trying to cover it up. That's a big problem.
BERMAN: And again, I just want to note this can't be said enough. The inspector general, who is a Trump administration appointee, has looked at all of this, deemed it to be of urgent concern. And, he believes, goes to the center of what the mission of the DNI, the National Intelligence Agency, is which is to protect the United States and its elections.
Jeffrey Toobin, one of the questions that I think Alisyn has been correctly asking all day is the notion that was spun by the White House and others earlier yesterday, that the notes from this phone call would be exculpatory. Do you see exculpatory information there?
TOOBIN: Well, no. I mean, I think it's incredibly incriminating. But like any piece of evidence, a good lawyer, you know, can figure out ways to spin it.
But, you know, and I don't know if we've had the opportunity to show any of Jay Sekulow's -- one of the president's lawyers -- interviews with Chris Cuomo last night. And Sekulow was pointing out that the Democrats have done different things, and you know, which is, as far as I can tell, not true.
It's not, you know, a videotape of a crime in progress, but it is far more explicit than I think anyone expected. It is a very obvious attempt by the president to involve a foreign -- foreign official in domestic politics.
I also think that the context and the full reading of -- of the transcript shows that there was, in fact, a quid pro quo. Give us dirt on Joe Biden; we will give you military aid. That is implicit. It's not explicit. And that's something that's obviously going to be the focus of a lot of debate. But you know the idea that this is an exculpatory call seems absolutely nuts.
CAMEROTA: Isn't that -- I mean, Jim, isn't that just the part, to me, that begs the question, the $60,000 question, why did they release it? As Jeffrey said, they're not known for cooperating with inquiries. They're known for stonewalling. Why do you think, knowing this White House as you do, why did they release the whistleblower complaint and the transcript?
ACOSTA: I think because the -- the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was threatening impeachment; and we've reached a point now where, if they don't turn over information that pertains to potential legal wrongdoing on the part of the president, then you're going to see this go to the courts, and you could see a court decision very quickly. Jeffrey could talk to this.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but they weren't scared of going to the courts. The president has 3,500 lawsuits --
CAMEROTA: -- that he's involved in.
ACOSTA: Well --
CAMEROTA: Or has in his career.
CAMEROTA: He's not afraid of going to court.
ACOSTA: No, he's certainly not.
CAMEROTA: This is just so out of character. I just didn't know if you had --
ACOSTA: There might be -- and I did talk to a Trump adviser who might point us to some of what they're thinking. And that is -- and there might be some delusional thinking in all of this.
And that is they believe -- and I've talked to a Trump advisor about this yesterday -- that bringing this issue up and getting it out there in ether sort of drags Joe Biden and his family into all of this. They say -- I had an adviser say to me yesterday, well, the Trump family had to go through all this in 2016. Now it's Joe Biden's turn.
So I think, to some extent, they think they've pulled Joe Biden into a trap. But as we're about to find out with the release of this report -- I talked to a source last night who said minimal redactions in this report. If you see evidence in there and you see information in there that just compounds the problem outlined in that call transcript yesterday, that rough transcript yesterday, you're going to have a lot of new questions by the end of the day.
BERMAN: Jeffrey, very quickly, can I ask you about the Republican response here? Jeff Flake has left the Senate, so you can't go after him, which I know you're going to regret.
BERMAN: But Mitt Romney, you know, has expressed his concern. Ben Sasse yesterday came out with a statement that said there's very troubling stuff in here. What do you make so far of what you've heard from Republicans? Because we have four people up there on the screen who have expressed some level of discomfort. But it's not exactly a groundswell.
TOOBIN: Well, I think this is very much in the Jeff Flake tradition, which is, you know, expressing concern, troubling. But then when push comes to shove, when there's any sort of vote, they fall in line.
But you know, this is a developing story. And I do think, you know, one reason they -- that the White House turned over these documents is you had a very rare example on Monday of the Senate unanimously saying that the whistleblower's report should be policed [SIC] -- released. That's -- that was a very rare example of Republicans saying to the White House, be cooperative with an investigation.
So I would say there are very small cracks in the facade of unanimity in the Republican Party. But this is still Donald Trump's Republican Party, and in terms of any Republicans voting against the president, supporting impeachment, supporting, you know, anything other than a further investigation, don't hold your breath on that.
CAMEROTA: All right. Gentlemen, thank you.
ACOSTA: All right. A long day.
BERMAN: Great to see you in person, Jeff. I know.
ACOSTA: Great to see you, guys, too.
BERMAN: All right. The whistleblower complaint is also said to involve the way that White House staffers handled records of the president's calls with foreign leaders, including this most important call in question with the president of Ukraine. We're going to speak with someone who helped run the recordkeeping surrounding these conversations, next.
BERMAN: So new this morning, in addition to the phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, this whistleblower complaint that we are waiting to see, by the way, reportedly also calls into questions the actions of some White House staff members.
According to "The Washington Post" overnight, the whistleblower said the White House officials moved the records of some of Trump's communications with foreign officials onto a separate computer network from where they normally were stored. "The Post" says that includes the July 25th call with the Ukrainian president.
Joining me now is Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to CIA Director Michael Hayden. He managed calls with heads of states in the situation room under President Obama.
Larry, thank you for being with us today. What does that mean to you? When you hear that records of these phone calls were moved to a different server? What does that tell you?
LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM: So when I was running the situation room.