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Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) Interviewed on Whistleblower Complaint Against President Trump and Pending Testimony of Acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire before Congressional Intelligence Committees. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: -- of 217 Democrats and one independent. This comes, of course, just a bit before Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, will come before the House Intelligence committee to answer questions. And you can expect the Democrats are going to be grilling him about precisely why this whistleblower complaint did not come to Congress sooner.

Meanwhile, last night this report was declassified. We expect that it could be released very soon. It's unclear exactly when and how it will be released. However, I've been talking with the House Intelligence Committee folks, and they are telling us that they are not commenting at this time about when it will be released.

But a lot of drama last night. Democrats had a chance to look at the classified version of the whistleblower complaint, and I will tell you Democrats said they were disturbed. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, said it was deeply disturbing, and then Mike Quigley, another democrat on the committee, said it just raised further concerns for Democrats who, as again, announce that they are moving federal with an impeachment inquiry this week. Just a turn of significant events, and you could expect that today could be another turning point for Democrats. John and Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It sure sounds like today will be a turning point of some kind. Lauren, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee. He is a supporter of Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign. Good morning, Senator. Can you hear me?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER COONS, (D-DE), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I can. Good to be with you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Good to have you, Senator. Have you read the whistleblower complaint?

COONS: No, I have not. I'm not a member of the Intelligence Committee. I am pressing to get to the opportunity to review it. I think it is significant that today both acting DNI Maguire and the Intelligence Community Inspector General Atkinson will be appearing for the intelligence committees.

CAMEROTA: But you have read the transcript of the phone call.

COONS: Yes, I have.

CAMEROTA: OK. And your reaction, please?

COONS: First, it is not a transcript, as you well know. It is a summary. It is a memorandum. And it is striking to me that the White House released this summary of that call. It seemed clear to me that President Trump said to President Zelensky I'm asking you favor, and then specifically raised whether or not President Zelensky and his new administration in Ukraine would assist with an investigation into President Trump's leading opponent for the presidential candidate next year.

This is striking, Alisyn, that we have the president of the United States on an open call with the president of Ukraine, a country that has faced five years of withering attacks from Russian supported separatists and who was eagerly awaiting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the United States that had been suspended. This strikes me as a call that's really more appropriate to be reading a transcript from a mob wiretap than a conversation between the presidents of two democracies.

CAMEROTA: You say it's striking to you that the president released it. I think it's striking to a lot of people that the president released it. And since that is such a different tactic than the usual stonewalling the Democrats have faced from the White House, do you think it's something that your Republican colleagues in the Senate did that changed the tactic of the White House?

COONS: I do think there were a number of Republican senators, I spoke to Senator Graham on the floor yesterday, obviously we saw Majority Leader McConnell join with Minority Leader Schumer in passing a unanimous resolution that the whistleblower complaint ought to be advanced to the intelligence committees. I do think there were signals sent by strong supporters of the president that he should come forward with this information because they were confident it would show nothing.

In reading this memo summarizing that conversation, I see a there there. I see very clear evidence of a new president eager to receive assistance from the United States, and the president of the United States saying to him, do us a favor, and then later saying meet with my personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who is not a representative of the State Department, the Defense Department.

If President Trump's answer as to why he did this, why he pressed for an investigation, why he held up the aid, was that somehow he was concerned about corruption, then that is a matter for the Department of Justice or the Department of State. If the president was legitimately concerned that our European allies weren't helping out, his other excuse, that's a matter for the Deputy of Defense, Department of State. Why is he inserting his own personal attorney into this, and what has been the role of the Attorney General Bill Barr in this? I think that deserves further and prompt investigation.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that, because Attorney General Bill Barr's name was invoked four times in that conversation. I know that means that you would like him to appear before your committee. To what end? What are you going to ask Attorney General Barr?

COONS: First, I think it's important to know whether or not the oversight mechanisms within the inspector general for the Intelligence Community is functioning appropriately. That is something the intelligence committees are getting at today.

[08:05:00]

But my understanding is that some of this matter was referred to the Department of Justice, and they concluded there is nothing there. It's striking to if that was, in fact, their conclusion.

Second, I think it's appropriate for us to know, and I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee where this would be taken up, why this hundreds of millions of dollars in aid was slow-walked, was held up at the direction of the president if there was no policy reason for it to be held up. That suggests even further. That is important circumstantial evidence that President Trump was dangling this assistance in order to compel cooperation with his personal political goal.

CAMEROTA: Here's what --

COONS: And last, what concerns me most here is we see a president who either doesn't know or doesn't care about what the line is between his personal political interests and how to pursue that, and the national security interest of the United States.

CAMEROTA: Here is what the Department of Justice statement says about Bill Barr's involvement. The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything related to former Vice President Biden or his son. The president has not asked the attorney general to contact Ukraine on this or any other matter. The attorney general has not communicated with Ukraine on this or any other subject, nor has the attorney general discussed this matter or anything relating to Ukraine with Rudy Giuliani. That's pretty unequivocal, senator.

COONS: That's pretty unequivocal. And here's what's striking, President Trump proffered the excuse that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine and thought corruption broadly needed to be investigated. That is the sort of matter that would properly have been referred through the Department of Justice from our attorney general to their attorney general. If nothing like that was done, and, in fact, the only follow-up was through Rudy Giuliani, that is also important to know.

CAMEROTA: Would you like to see Attorney General Barr recuse himself from this whole matter?

COONS: Absolutely. I think it would be appropriate, especially if he has had no actual contact. If he's not engaged, not involved, then I would like to see him recuse himself from any further investigation into exactly how this was handled in the White House.

What I think we'll hear later today, Alisyn, or what the intelligence committees may well hear today, is that what the whistleblower was concerned about was both the content of this call and the way it was handled within the White House, ways in which White House staff acted to try and manage the record of this call and to prevent it from becoming public. That process within the White House is what I think will end up being a central concern alongside our president blatantly asking for the help of a foreign government in interfering in our 2020 elections against his strongest rival for 2020 election, Joe Biden.

CAMEROTA: In fact, "The Washington Post" today reports that information about communications between President Trump and foreign leaders was transferred to a separate and different computer network from where these communications are normally stored. What do you make of that?

COONS: Well, that's another intriguing detail that I think the Intelligence Committee today will be getting more information about. This is why I think it is appropriate for there to be an investigation into these details. Unlike the matter that Robert Mueller investigated for a long period of time, where it was somewhat opaque, it was hard to get to the bottom of it, what was actually discussed, who was actually at the meeting, this is recent. This is clear. And there was direct involvement by the president of the United States in seeking the engagement of the president of a young democracy under attack by Russia in ways that would help his 2020 election. This is much clearer, and intriguing developments like that I think suggest why this merits prompt investigation.

CAMEROTA: Senator very quickly on a personal note. Because you are such a strong supporter of Joe Biden, do you worry that his name being connected to this controversy, even without any evidence of wrongdoing, will hurt him somehow?

COONS: Right. Well, before Joe decided to run, one of the conversations we had was that we know who Donald Trump is. We know that he will engage in personal smear attacks. In his 2016 primary, I'll remind you, he went after Ted Cruz claiming that his father was somehow connected to the JFK assassination. It didn't matter which Democrat is the strongest candidate against Donald Trump. Joe Biden is going to face these personal attacks and smears, and so will any other leading Democratic candidate. We know who Donald Trump is. The challenge now is for us to pull together in Congress and show who we are as Americans, and our commitment to democracy and a free and fair election.

CAMEROTA: Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much for coming on NEW DAY.

COONS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: John? JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are just minutes away from the intelligence chief testifying at this table right here. These are live pictures from inside of the hearing room, the House Intelligence Committee. What will he say about the whistleblower complaint that is minutes away from going public? We'll discuss, next.

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BERMAN: Breaking news overnight, the whistleblower report, the complaint against President Trump, has now been declassified. It could be released at any moment.

Also, in just minutes the Acting Director of National Intelligence will testify right there before the House Intelligence Committee. This is a live look inside the hearing room.

Joining us now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Dana, I want to start with you. We know more this morning than we knew last night, and we knew last night much more than we did yesterday morning. This is developing so quickly.

But the new reporting is that this whistleblower complaint contains more than just the phone call between President Trump and the leader of the Ukraine, including suggestions that the White House, people inside of the White House, somehow were trying to perhaps conceal records of phone calls between the president and foreign leader, including the call in question. And it also includes the notion that there are other witnesses that the inspector general spoke with.

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A lot to discuss today.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot. And you got some of that information and cryptic yet pretty clear way given the reports out there, from some of your guests on the Intelligence Committee this morning. The notion that this is not just oh, my goodness I heard the president on this call or I heard a report because apparently this whistle-blower didn't hear it firsthand, the report about that, that is just the sort of bottom brick here.

The fact that apparently the call was not kind of put in the channels that normally they are put in, or maybe the documents were not put in the right areas, filing cabinets to use a dated term on purpose is very telling. And you're exactly right. So, it's getting that information about the process, but more importantly the people involved in that process.

And one of the questions is whether or not by releasing these summary of the call, by releasing, we expect, the complaint itself, whether or not the president and the White House have given up any privilege that they might otherwise claim in order to keep the officials that will likely hear about from testifying -- from going and giving more information to Congress. That is what I'm most interested as we see this play out and broaden pretty dramatically in the days ahead.

CAMEROTA: So, Kaitlan, tell us about the tactics that the Washington -- that the White House is using and the response that -- now that this is shifted into a different year of congressional oversight, how are they reacting in the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting to see how this changed over the last few days because this has all gone so quickly and it is surprising not just to Democrats and the Republicans on Capitol Hill but also to people inside of the White House who a few days ago were dismissing this because they've lived under this constant looming threat of impeachment and it is never come to fruition and now they're saying this time feels different. Which is interesting because a few days ago, they were dismissing this whistle-blower saying it was someone partisan, someone who didn't like the president and now that the details of the complaint are coming out and you're learning actually this person didn't have firsthand information, which they were using to discredit this person but this person heard it from other officials who are criticizing the way the president's conduct on this call and other aspects that we've yet to be -- yet to figure out, that is what is causing this shift inside of the White House.

And it is turning from one of dismissal to now there is a sense of anxiety among officials who do not know what's next and they're worried about just how quickly all this is happening.

BERMAN: We seem to see the president's mood change over the course of yesterday. Culminating in the news conference which was, to quote him, low energy and a bit rambling, is there a sense that they have lost control of this?

COLLINS: Well, I think the president seemed defeated yesterday. That is not the typical persona you see from Trump where he's bombastic, pushes back. He's this counter-puncher that he describes himself as.

That is not the sense you got in the press conference yesterday and it comes after a whirlwind day of having to meet with world leaders but where the president thought he was going to be able to deescalate things with Nancy Pelosi to get her off this impeachment call but if you know Nancy Pelosi and what Democrats are pushing for, that is not feasible. The president thought he had a shot at that.

And when he saw her come out and make this inquiry and how quickly this was moving, he was incredulous and couldn't believe just how quickly all it was happening.

CAMEROTA: Because as we know, Dana, as you know and we all know from reporting on the president for so long, he relies on personal interactions and he likes the human touch of being one-on-one with someone so he thought he could persuade Nancy Pelosi, that is plausible, and also he thought he could persuade the president of the Ukraine as you hear in that phone call and the president of the Ukraine is playing along, because he needs the U.S. and needed that money.

And so, I just think that we've seen the president's own style really sort of illuminated in the past two days.

BASH: Oh, we absolutely have. Obviously with very different power dynamics and both of those situations the head of the Ukraine -- of Ukraine I should say, they need the United States desperately. Nancy Pelosi is a power center in and of herself here in the States. And has -- as she talks about all of the time -- is mentioned first, at least the Congress is in the Constitution before the executive branch. And she uses that a lot.

And the president called the other day to talk about guns, ostensibly, and during that conversation we know it turned into a talk about whether or not he could hold off on this impeachment thing.

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That obviously was never going to happen. Whether or not he convinced himself that he made headway with her, you know, TBD. But I totally agree with what we saw from the president yesterday. But what we can expect knowing the president, watching him, learning about him over the past three years especially as a politician, is that his personality is likely to be different today in the way he approaches it because he's listening to people say he was low energy yesterday.

CAMEROTA: That is an excellent prediction.

All right. Dana, Kaitlan, thank you very much.

What about the Republicans in how are they reacting? Well, Mitt Romney, Senator Romney, is the first Republican to criticize President Trump's Ukraine call. But he is no longer alone. There are cracks forming in the GOP. We'll explore that next.

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CAMEROTA: Former vice president and 2020 candidate Joe Biden reacting to President Trump's call with Ukraine's leader. Biden appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show last night.

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JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: How does this rank on the outlandish scale for you, the last 48 hours watching this transpire?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Eighteen out of 10.

KIMMEL: Uh-huh.

BIDEN: When you step back from it, this is not about me and my family. There is not one single solitary legitimate journalist in the world that has given any credibility to this. They debunked all of what he said, say, for the past -- since Giuliani started this a while ago.

But what I do worry about is I do worry about all of the other families that can't take care of themselves and what is happening with this president and his constant diversions into -- look, we want to get his attention, have 70 polls in a row showing you're beating him and that all of a sudden gets his attention.

Based on the material that they acknowledged today, it seems to me it is awful hard to avoid the conclusion that it is an impeachable offense and a violation of constitutional responsibility. But, look, that's -- I'm confident in the ability of the House and Senate to deal with this. My job is just to go out and flat beat him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Now, here's what to watch today.

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CAMEROTA: As you know, Republicans have been mostly united in supporting President Trump amid the Ukraine scandal so far but there are signs something could be changing. We discuss with Governor John Kasich who ran for president, of course. He's next.

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