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Republicans Largely Support Trump; Whistleblower Complaint Released; White House Officials Intervened in Ukraine Call. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired September 26, 2019 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): If the president of the United States asks or presses the leader of a foreign country to carry out an investigation of a political nature, that's troubling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, that was Senator Mitt Romney, the first Republican to publicly criticize President Trump's Ukraine phone call, but he is no longer the only Republican condemning it.
Joining us now is CNN's senior political commentator, John Kasich. He's the former Ohio governor and a former Republican presidential candidate.
Great to have you in studio, governor.
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
CAMEROTA: When you read the transcript between President Zelensky of Ukraine and President Trump, what did you think?
KASICH: It made me sick to my stomach.
CAMEROTA: What does that mean? How did it make you sick?
KASICH: Well, you don't expect presidents to do that and it was completely inappropriate and, you know, frankly it borders on -- it doesn't border, it was an outrageous thing. He should never have done that.
But, come on, Alisyn, what is it we're surprised by these day? I mean the president says things, he does things that is pretty shocking. So there isn't much that he could do that would, frankly, shock me. And -- but this was completely and totally inappropriate for a president to do.
CAMEROTA: So why haven't we heard from more of your Republican colleagues?
KASICH: Well, I think the vote in the Senate, by the way, that unanimous that all this information should be investigated I think is a very powerful statement. I'm not quite sure. I've been saying that I thought it happened because some were going to get off the reservation and McConnell didn't want them off the reservation, but they're all now -- I mean they voted that unanimously. We've got a lot of action on Capitol Hill. And this is the way it ought to work.
Now you've got the Senate Intelligence Committee going to see things. You've got the House Intelligence Committee beginning to see things. Let the chips fall where they may. Do the full investigation.
CAMEROTA: And do you think it was that change -- you know, normally they fall in line. The Republicans thus far, for the past three years, have fallen in line, as you know, around President Trump. But that vote was different. The vote to release the whistle-blower complaint, which last night was declassified. Today, this morning, we're going to be seeing that.
CAMEROTA: That's so different because normally the White House has stonewalled.
So do you think that that is what has caused the change in tactic from the president?
KASICH: Look, I think, first of all, you have to remember that, you know, Republicans have always been national security conscious. And when there's something involving national security, the Ukraine, which, you know, has been such a big issue on the landscape, that when Republicans see that, I think they -- they have no choice but to kind of look that and see what -- see what they think about it.
But, of course, initially, the reaction has been, oh, well there's not much here. And there's just a few that are saying they're disturbed or concerned. I -- I think it, frankly, goes beyond disturbed or concerned. I mean I'm glad they're going to do the investigation. Now, that's the process. Get all of the -- you know, the witnesses, have -- you know, it's not just one phone call, from what I understand, but who knows. We -- we just got to get through -- through all of it to figure out what we conclude.
CAMEROTA: In terms of the Republicans who have said something, to your point, about disturbing, Senator Mitt Romney deeply troubling, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has said, quote, very troubling, Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has said, quote, inappropriate, and Senator Rob Portman, when asked whether the president should have this conversation, he said he should not have.
I mean these are not, you know --
KASICH: They're not like lightning strikes from heaven. I understand. Look, this has to -- has to go its way. And, you know, I -- I -- I
don't know what's going to come out. But I can tell you that if it becomes more and more serious and more and more obvious that there was a quid pro quo, it's going to be real trouble for the White House. So you have all their support until you don't, is kind of the way this works.
CAMEROTA: But do you -- are you suggesting that you need a quid pro quo for impeachment?
KASICH: Well --
CAMEROTA: He asked a foreign power for help.
KASICH: Yes. Look, impeachment's a big deal. I've had a -- I voted on it when I was in the Congress. It's a very serious matter. You just don't say, OK, I read a newspaper article or I saw one transcript and therefore throw the guy out of office. I think it is a long process and there has to be more, in my opinion.
CAMEROTA: You're just not there yet? You -- but, hold on, let me ask you something. Hold on.
KASICH: I'm not there yet because we haven't gotten very far yet other than a lot of headlines and things that we read, like the transcript, which I've just said is -- is really upsetting.
Look, I'm not going to support Trump. I didn't support him the last time. I'm not going to support him again. I don't think he's conducting himself appropriately in that office. Not just these things, but dividing our country.
You know, but that's a long way from impeachment. And I'm -- the jury's out in my mind as to what's going to happen. I just want to get the facts, because that's the way to proceed.
Alisyn, if they go full barrel and they do things, they're going to divide this country even more. And this is a country that is so seriously divided, this has to be handled appropriately. Where Republicans would say, if, in fact, if they move forward here, if they would say, begrudgingly, yes, this is a problem.
CAMEROTA: But in terms of Nancy Pelosi saying, yes, it's time to move forward with an impeachment inquiry, is that --
KASICH: I thought she moved forward too fast myself. I think she should have wait until these -- this testimony in the intelligence committees. But she felt a lot of pressure from her party. Her party saying, we're in power, you know, it's time for us to go and do something here and it's like a -- you know, they're -- they're all looking for a pound of flesh because they're so angry at Donald Trump. That -- you cannot proceed on the basis of emotion and anger. You have to proceed logically, carefully. This is really an important matter. This is not just about Donald Trump, it's about the precedence for the future as well.
CAMEROTA: You tweeted this, I have a simple message for the GOP members of Congress, where are you?
CAMEROTA: Are you hiding under a rock? This is not political. This is our national security we're talking about here. The intel committees in Congress need to review information. Follow the law, exclamation point.
So have any of them emerged from under the rock? Have you --
KASICH: Well, you mentioned some of them.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but I --
KASICH: And, in fact, the vote.
I mean what I was saying in the beginning, all the way back on Tuesday, was, look, this has to go to the intelligence committee. This has to be turned over. And it -- and it -- and it is -- now has been, which makes me pretty pleased that that's -- the process is working.
CAMEROTA: OK. We are about to -- we're keeping an eye on the hearing room where the DNI will be appearing to talk about all of this at 9:00 a.m.
So, Governor John Kasich, if you would stick with us, we have a few more questions for you right after this very quick break.
KASICH: Sure. Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the breaking news is this.
Just moments ago we received this document. This is a redacted version of the whistle-blower complaint to the intelligence community that express serious concerns about the president and the White House.
Let me read you one line.
In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.
CAMEROTA: It goes on. I was not a direct witness to most of the events described. However, I
found my colleagues accounts of these events to be credible because in almost all cases multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.
BERMAN: This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president's main domestic political rivals. The president's personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.
CAMEROTA: About that phone call, very quickly, multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that after an initial exchange of pleasantries, President Trump used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests, namely he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the president's 2020 re-election bid.
BERMAN: All right, let's go to Lauren Fox, who's outside the hearing room. We're waiting to hear from the director of national intelligence.
This is the document we've been waiting for.
Lauren, you've had it for a few minutes longer than we have. What jumps out at you?
LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I think the key points here, Rudy Giuliani is a key person who was involved here. And, again, the president was using his office, this whistleblower alleges, basically to solicit foreign interference in the election against his top political rivals. That's going to be serious. And Democrats in here are going to be questioning the top spy this morning about exactly why this complaint did not come to Congress earlier, given the gravity of what is being alleged here.
We knew that this was going to be damaging. That's what a lot of Democrats who were coming out after they saw this in a classified setting last night were saying. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on this committee, warned that what he saw was very disturbing. And other Democrats as well came out and said, this is just more proof that Nancy Pelosi made the right decision when she announced earlier this week that they were moving forward with that impeachment inquiry.
Of course, now more than half of the Congress supports moving forward with that inquiry. A very significant development. And we're going to be watching for more.
I'm also going to be continuing to read through this complaint just before Democrats sit down again with Joseph Maguire, the DNI.
BERMAN: All right, Lauren, thank you very much.
Please stand by for us.
We want to go through a key part of this document that we're just seeing. Alisyn, if you want to read this. Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.
CAMEROTA: In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to, quote, lockdown all records of the phone call, especially the official word for word transcript of the call that was produced, as it customary, by the White House Situation Room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in that call.
BERMAN: White House officials told me they were directed by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization and distribution to cabinet-level officials. Instead, the transcript was loaded onto a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information in an especially sensitive nature.
One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.
CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, let's just stop there. That that is -- that's -- that is a fascinating development that shows how worried people were. That people knew that something was amiss and they were worried and somehow the whistleblower was told of this and brought it to the attention of the inspector general.
Also it says -- I'll just go on, the White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They had told me there was already a discussion ongoing with White House lawyers about how to treat this call because of the likelihood in the official's retelling that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain.
BERMAN: All right, again, the key thing here, White House officials told me they were directed by White House lawyers to remove the transcript from the computer system in which transcripts are typically stored.
Governor Kasich, you are here with us right now.
The suggestion here, it's not just a suggestion, it's flat out stated by this whistleblower -- and, again, I will note --
KASICH: (INAUDIBLE) by the whistleblower. I think this is a report by the --
BERMAN: This is the letter from the whistleblower. The inspector general then investigated it --
BERMAN: And find this to be of urgent concern --
KASICH: That's correct.
BERMAN: Which adds credibility here.
KASICH: And I think it explains why he was of urgent concern.
BERMAN: But what about that notion that White House lawyers ordered --
KASICH: Well, they knew they had a problem with that call. I mean there's no question about it. So they -- get -- get rid of it. See if you can move it off the computer. So somebody early on felt this was inappropriate. And that's, I think, what the whistleblower said, wait a minute, you're not going to move that off, so it can't be investigated. I'm going to report this to the inspector general. And so that's the critical nature, as my read here, because we've just -- as you know, we've just been handed this document.
But I think what happened is, there was somebody in the White House that said, no, we're not going to bury this. This has to get out. People have to understand what transpired. That's my read of this. And, of course, there were people in the White House saying, no, we don't want anybody to see this and the whistleblower is saying, wait a minute, this has to come to the light of day. And it's very serious. Extremely serious.
CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, your reaction as you read this and how you think the White House will --
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and what's so interesting is, we've heard White House officials downplay this whistleblower, saying it was someone who they believed was bias, didn't like the president. And when you're reading this it says, quote, over the past four months, more than half a dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various facts related to this effort.
So this person who made this complaint spoke to multiple people and says later on that essentially what they were hearing from some people they were hearing from multiple people. So -- and they corroborated each other's stories. So essentially it's multiple people inside the government that were making claims about this.
KASICH: Here's the thing, when I look at this, how does it make me feel? It's just really depressing because, you know, I know that the news is hyperbole and we've got to get out there and all this. But, you know what, removing a president of the United States, taking him out of the White House -- because I was -- I remember the day when Nixon got on the helicopter and flew out of there. And I don't want to compare them, but I remember that. We deal with the presidency. It's a very serious matter.
BERMAN: Can I ask you --
KASICH: And to see this, it's -- this is -- this is very, very serious.
BERMAN: Does -- does it make that possibility more likely? Does this document make that possibility more likely? KASICH: I -- well, what this document says is that you had White House
people who wanted to not let this call become public, who then acted to try to not have it come public. And this statement says, this was what -- this was urgent concern because the IG sees this and says, no, this has to get out there. And it has to be investigated.
BERMAN: There's a word for this. There's a word for this. Or a hyphenated word. It's cover-up. The idea here that it's not the conversation -- not just the conversation itself, but it's covering up and hiding the fact of the conversation.
KASICH: Trying to remove the call. Yes, I don't -- I can't -- look, I'm -- I'm with you on this. But we've got -- you know, we've got additional information. Giuliani is going to have to testify. William Barr is going to have to testify. Let us go in sequence, carefully, and in a position where --
CAMEROTA: I understand.
CAMEROTA: I mean you have been prescribing being circumspect. And when we talked to you before the commercial break, you said you didn't have enough information. But here's a big chunk of new information.
KASICH: Well, a lot of this is confirming what we already saw in the transcript. I mean that's what a lot of this is. And why he thought it was so important. I think it's critically important. That's why the intelligence committees have to go through this. I'm just suggesting to you orderly, in a way where the American people can say, this is a problem. I mean that's what I'm suggesting.
COLLINS: OK, but --
COLLINS: Speaking of Rudy Giuliani, let's get back to this and talk about a big part of it where it says, this person says they heard from multiple U.S. officials that they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani's circumvention of national security decision making processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Ukraine and the president. It goes into pretty detailed how all of this got started before --
KASICH: Very, very serious.
COLLINS: Before this phone call that we're talking about. And it's saying that State Department officials, including ambassadors, had spoken with Giuliani in an attempt to, quote, contain the damage to U.S. national security.
It's talking about how they met with members of the administration to discuss policy matters and they were receiving from U.S. officials on one hand and from Mr. Giuliani on the other. This is going to be a big deal talking about how the president's
personal attorney was intervening in relations between the United States and Ukraine.
KASICH: It -- that is just unbelievable to me.
KASICH: That they got this -- he's not even working in the government.
KASICH: And he's an attorney. He's running. He's trying to negotiate stuff.
This is -- this is, again, this rises again to another level of -- well, look, at the end we see what the facts are.
BERMAN: You stopped yourself. Stop yourself every time.
CAMEROTA: Yes, of what? Of what?
KASICH: You know why? Because I don't -- it's hard to characterize it in a way. I want to be careful about that. We're dealing with the president of the United States. He -- I have never been a fan of his. I've never supported him. I just want the process to play out. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts is all I want.
And the jury, in my mind, John, the jury is out in my mind as to whether this is going to lead to his removal. I don't want to go there. I want this to be completed and let everybody look at the facts and then decide, yes, no, right, wrong, what do we do?
BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan, Governor Kasich, Lauren Fox, thank you very much.
In our hands, this document detailing not just the phone call but a possible attempt to cover up the contents of it.
CAMEROTA: And not just one person. It says repeatedly, multiple people inside the administration were alarmed by this.
Obviously much more coverage. It is a very busy news day.
Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow are standing by right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.
We now have in our hands the breaking news.
This is the complete whistleblower complaint that has caused so much controversy and very hard questions about the future of this presidency, detailing exactly what this whistleblower was alleging took place, particularly in conversations -- not one -- conversations between the U.S. president and the president of the Ukraine, activities of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pursuing what appears to be a political agenda over U.S. national security interests in Ukraine.
I'm going to quote directly from the whistleblower's complaint describing what this whistleblower says constitutes, quote, a serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of law or executive order. To be clear, while the president has tried to characterize this as being the view of just one partisan, in his words, the complaint makes clear that more than half a dozen U.S. officials informed this whistleblower of various facts related to this effort.
And there's a whole host of things in here -- and we were discussing just moments ago -- about the allegations in effect of a cover-up by White House lawyers.
I think we should read everyone -- and, again, this is not long. Everyone should read this themselves.
But let me read you, at the end of page three, a paragraph that really has struck Jim and I.
Quote, White House officials told me, this is the whistleblower, they were, quote, directed by White House lawyers to remove the electric -- electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization and distribution to cabinet level officials. The whistleblower goes on to write, instead, this transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.
SCIUTTO: And this raises -- the president, of course, has said that this call was perfect, in his words, et cetera. Why then the extraordinary step of removing the records of this call from the normal record keeping system long established by this White House?
SCIUTTO: We have Jeffrey Toobin here, as well as our panel.
Jeffrey, you read this complaint. It backs up a lot of the smoke signals that we've heard coming out about the whistleblower to this point.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, more than that is that, remember, this was written before the transcript or partial transcript that was released yesterday. The whistleblower is completely corroborated in his or her assertions about that phone call.
TOOBIN: So we begin by establishing that this whistleblower has at least a considerable degree of credibility --
TOOBIN: Because he or she was correct about what was in the phone call.
So now we look to the -- to the further accusation -- you know, assertions here.
People will read this and judge for themselves. This does not sound like a crazy person.
TOOBIN: I mean you -- you read the detail -- the sobriety with which this is written, it's pretty -- I mean it's pretty impressive.
SCIUTTO: And this sticks out to me as well, that two and a half years into the presidency, the whistleblower counts that this president still does not believe that Russia interfered with 2016 election.
HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE). This --
SCIUTTO: That part of the goal here was to --
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Discredit the Mueller investigation.
SCIUTTO: Discredit the Mueller investigation, but also the findings of the U.S. intelligence community --
HARLOW: Dana --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, but --
SCIUTTO: That Russia interfered and claiming it was Ukraine.
HARLOW: Dana, the fact that this was moved in this way that is laid out here, the question becomes, doesn't that clearly show a consciousness of guilt to pre-emptively say, this has to go somewhere else?
BASH: Absolutely. I mean, as Gloria said, and you said, this -- the allegation here is a cover-up, period, full stop, because the White House officials that he is describing here were ordered, as you guys just read, to remove this. It means that people in the president's White House, his own staff thought, there's something not right here. This is not appropriate.
That's -- that's big in and of itself. But also when it comes to the impeachment inquiry has -- opens up several new avenues for them to go down talking to these officials. What happened? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: A dozen.
BASH: A dozen. What happened? It says that they were directed. Who directed you to do that? Find the person who directed them to do that. Why did you do that?
If I may, there's one other thing in here which broadens it even further than just moving the transcript and the documents. And that is, on page four, talking about the fact that following the phone call ambassador -- two ambassadors, including Ambassador Volker, went to Kiev to talk to President Zelensky to, quote/unquote" navigate, help navigate the demands that the president put in there.
BASH: I mean it's not just that the president did it, it's that his people from the State Department had to go to Ukraine --
BASH: To try to say, OK, hold on.
SCIUTTO: Using -- using the machinery of government to pursue a political agenda.
SCIUTTO: And, Jeffrey Toobin, here, on this issue of -- from a legal standpoint -- because this relates to the next step in the impeachment process. But the consciousness of guilt. Tell us about the significance of that, in your view.
TOOBIN: Well, that's -- this is what makes, you know, this news so interesting on top of the news from yesterday. One of the talking points that the Republicans -- and including the president have said is that this phone call was perfect. There was nothing wrong with this phone call.
TOOBIN: The president's behavior was entirely appropriate. If that is so and if the White House perceived that as so, why did they go to such lengths to hide the transcript? Why are they paralyzed with fear that this transcript might come to light if there's nothing wrong with it?
BORGER: Right. I mean, clearly a cover-up. But they're trying to -- you know, you get this picture -- and this is written in a very dispassionate and professional way -- but you do get this picture of panic inside the White House.
HARLOW: Right. Right.
BORGER: More than a dozen White House officials are saying, oh my God, what do we do with this phone call?
BORGER: What do we do with Rudy Giuliani?
BORGER: How do we contain this -- this guy?
BORGER: And so, you know, there's also a notion of two officials -- two ambassadors, Volker and Samlin (ph), spoke with Giuliani in an attempt to, quote, control the damage.
So you have this White House saying not only do we have to control the president, but we have to figure out how to control his henchmen and what do we do about it.
TOOBIN: And it --
RANGAPPA: It's also itself corroborative, right?
RANGAPPA: Because what -- I mean this starts out on page one, I've heard from half a dozen officials --
RANGAPPA: That there is a concern. And if -- you know, the president did not move this into some secure (INAUDIBLE). Like, there are other people who did this --
RANGAPPA: Who are clearly the people who are also --
SCIUTTO: And that -- that belies the idea this was a single, rogue, partisan --
TOOBIN: Well, and --
SCIUTTO: But the concerns extended beyond that whistleblower.
RANGAPPA: That's right.
TOOBIN: And -- and just to be the master of the obvious, the first question to this whistleblower should be, who are those White House officials?
HARLOW: Of course.
HARLOW: Because --
TOOBIN: What are their names? And, thus, the congressional investigators will then go to those White House officials to speak to them.
BORGER: But let me ask you -- let me ask you something. Is that against the law? If you want to protect the president and you work in the White House -- people who work in the White House want to protect the boss. Moving it and the national security --
RANGAPPA: It's over classification. So you're not supposed to do that.
BORGER: And so is that -- is that illegal? Is it --
HARLOW: Shawn Turner.
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I wouldn't go so far as to say that they want to protect the president.
Look, you know, there's something here that's going to help us understand what happened because there's a very small universe of people who would be responsible for taking the transcript of this call and archiving it in the system that allows for other cabinet members to see that.
TURNER: That's a very small group of people who work in the White House Situation Room. So we know -- we can divide -- we can divide from this who those people are.
Look, I -- I worked at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for four years. I saw lots of IG reports. I had never seen a -- a whistleblower complaint that so clearly lays out a cover- up as I see here.
During my four years at ODNI, the IG never forwarded an urgent report to Congress.
SCIUTTO: Yes, and, by the way --
TURNER: So this really speaks to how serious this is.
SCIUTTO: An IG appointed by this president --
TURNER: Appointed by this president.
SCIUTTO: Who looked at this evidence --
SCIUTTO: And established that in his view this was credible and urgent. Again --
BASH: Can I just add.