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Whistleblower Alleges White House Coverup; Rep. Adam Schiff, (D) California is Interviewed About the Whistleblower Complaint; Whistleblower: Trump Abused Power by Trying to Get Ukraine to Interfere in 2020 Election, White House Tried to Cover It Up; Trump Demands to Know Whistleblower's Sources, Says They're Close to a Spy, Alludes to Execution as Punishment. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 26, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, alleging a cover-up. The whistleblower complaint against President Trump goes public, alleging not only did he try to get dirt on Joe Biden from the Ukraine but also that the White House tried to cover it up by hiding the rough transcript of his call in a top secret computer system.
Play ball, the whistleblower says Mr. Trump appeared to withhold aide to Ukraine, block Vice President Pence from visiting and wouldn't talk to Ukraine's President until there was evidence he'd -- play ball and give in to President Trump's demands.
Treason threat, President Trump rails against the sources who told the whistleblower about the Ukraine call saying they're like spies and alluding to execution as punishment.
And privilege conversations, the Director of National Intelligence refuses to say, if he talk to Mr. Trump about the whistleblower saying he can't discuss his conversations with the President.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."
We're following breaking news. The truly explosive release of the whistleblower report, alleging President Trump not only abused the power of his office by seeking help from a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election, but also that the White House tried to cover it up.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was sharply questioned by Democrats of the House Intelligence Committee about why he waited weeks to share the complaint with Congress as required by law. And President Trump has been railing against the complaint, demanding to know who the whistleblower sources were. Comparing them to spies and alluding to execution as a punishment for what he called treason. We'll talk about the breaking news with the lawmaker driving the House investigation of all of this. The chairman of the Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's get the details of the newly released whistleblower complaint. Our Justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is digging into all of that for us. Jessica, it's a very, very serious allegations against the President and the White House.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. Now that the whistleblower complaint is in full view, we're not only learning more about the President's July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian President, but we're also getting an in-depth look into allegations that White House officials locked down all records of the phone call and placed the transcript into a system typically used for just highly sensitive materials.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, allegations of a White House cover- up as details of a whistleblower's complaint are revealed.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
SCHNEIDER: Among the key allegations, not only did President Trump seek Ukraine's help in interference in his 2020 reelection campaign, but the White House subsequently took steps to keep it quiet. The seven-page now declassified complaint says after the President's July 25th phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky in which Trump pressed the Ukrainian leader to investigate Biden and his son. The whistleblower learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call.
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 into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.
The whistleblower saying that move underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired on the call because of their belief that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain. And the whistleblower also disclosing officials said this was not the first time that a presidential transcript was placed into a separate electronic system.
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.
SCHNEIDER: Tonight the Acting Director of National Intelligence under fire for not sharing the August 12th complaint with Congress within seven days. A move Democrats say was mandated by law. Maguire, who called the situation unprecedented, consulted with the White House counsel and Justice Department first, concerned Mr. Trump's call with the Ukrainian President was covered by executive privileged.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Why he choose to go to a department lead by a man Bill Barr, who himself is implicated in the complaint and believes he exists to serve the interest of the President not the office itself mind you.
MAGUIRE: We consulted with the White House Counsel's Office and we're advised much of the information in the complaint was, in fact, subject to executive privilege, a privilege that I do not have the authority to waive.
SCHNEIDER: Republicans lashed out at Democrats who questioned Maguire's integrity.
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): They've accused you of breaking the law.
MAGUIRE: I am not political. I am not partisan.
SCHNEIDER: Republicans are also trying to question the credibility of the whistleblower.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): On page one the complaint reads, "I was not a direct witness to most of the events described." This seems like a very important line to look into.
SCHNEIDER: Maguire explained he does not know the identity of the whistleblower and no one within the White House or the Justice Department have asked him to disclose the identity.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Did the President of the United States ask you to find out the identity of the whistleblower?
MAGUIRE: I can tell you emphatically, no.
SCHNEIDER: But one Republican did call out the President for his phone call with Ukraine's president.
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): I want to say to the President, this is not OK. It isn't -- that conversation is not OK and I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript.
SCHNEIDER: And meanwhile, there are growing questions about how the Justice Department led, of course, by Attorney General Bill Barr, who was mentioned in that July 25th phone call, how the DOJ handled the whistleblower's complaint and, of course, the DOJ's decision not to open a full-blown criminal investigation into potential campaign finance violations. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very significant developments, indeed. Jessica Schneider, thanks for that report. Let's get some more on the breaking news right now. Our Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, the President is clearly furious about all of this.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly is, Wolf. President Trump is raging out after the release of the whistleblower complaint and the now expanding Ukraine investigation. The President suggested at a private breakfast that the person who told the whistleblower what Mr. Trump was up to amounted to a spy who could be punished, like "In the old days". A source who has spoken with President in the last 24 hours tells me Mr. Trump appears to be lacking and focus and "more distracted" as he becomes more consumed by the whistleblower complaint.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Up against a mounting crisis for his administration, President Trump is throwing punches in almost every direction, taking aim at Democrats running the whistleblower hearing up on Capitol Hill.
TRUMP: Just watched a little bit of this on television. It's a disgrace to our country. It's another witch hunt. Here we go again. And I have to put up with Adam Schiff on an absolutely perfect phone call.
ACOSTA: President is also sounding like he wants vengeance, lashing out at a private breakfast, demanding to know who tipped off the whistleblower behind the skating complaint alleging Mr. Trump sought Ukraine's help in the 2020 election.
TRUMP: I want to know who's the person who gave the whistleblower. Who's the person who gave the whistleblower, the information, because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right, with spies and treason? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump also predicted the economy would collapse if he's thrown out of office tweeting, If they actually did this, the markets would crash. A supporter who's spoken of the President in the last 24 hours described Mr. Trump as more distracted and less focus than usual. Not really coming to grips with what's happening. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff brushed off the attacks.
SCHIFF: I'm always flattered when I'm attacked by someone of the President's character. Thank you.
ACOSTA: Complaint is damning, not just for the President but potentially for White House aides. Not only did the whistleblower say Mr. Trump's actions posed risks to U.S. National Security and undermined the U.S. governments to deter encounter foreign interference in U.S. elections. The complaint warrants White House aides were worried they were being asked to cover Mr. Trump's tract, saying "They told me there was already a discussion ongoing with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood in the officials retelling that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain." Democrats are hearing echoes of Watergate.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up.
ACOSTA: Also appearing throughout the complaint, the President personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who claims the State Department was fully aware of his work in the Ukraine on behalf of Mr. Trump to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I never talked to a Ukraine official until the State Department called and asked me to do it. And then I reported every conversation back to them. Laura, I'm a pretty good lawyer, just a country lawyer, but it's all here, right here.
ACOSTA: Giuliani share with CNN what he says as text from a top state department official, "As discussed, connecting you here with Andrey Yermak who is very close to President Zelensky. I suggest, we schedule a call together on Monday. Kurt". The Secretary of State insist, his Department did nothing wrong.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: To the best of my knowledge and for what I've seen so far, each of the actions that were indicate in my state department officials was entirely appropriate and consistent with the objective that we've had certainly since this new government has come into office.
ACOSTA: And the White House, Press Secretary, rather than answer questions about the scandal and a briefing instead release the statement saying nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of third-hand accounts, of events and coupled together, press clippings. But if the President is innocent and did nothing wrong here, even Republicans are wondering why the White House would have covered up Mr. Trump's actions as one source closed to the White House conceded to me, earlier today, Wolf, this matter warrants an investigation. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, very disturbing right, Jim Acosta, at the White House, thank you.
Well, the allegations against President Trump are very serious. Among them, the whistleblower alleges the President asked Ukraine's President to investigate political rival, Joe Biden, on a phone call. And that the White House lawyers ordered the rough transcript of that call to be hidden because it showed, and I'm quoting now "Abuse of office by Mr. Trump." The complaint also says it wasn't the first time rough call transcripts have been hidden because they showed politically sensitive information.
The whistleblower goes on to say that Ukrainian officials were led to believe President Trump wouldn't talk to them unless they were willing to, "play ball." And that he canceled Vice President Pence's trip to Ukraine as a form of pressure. The complaint says, State Department officials met with Ukrainian officials to help them navigate Mr. Trump's demands, and that the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is a central figure who, "circumvented the national security" decision-making processes while the President withheld military funding to Ukraine.
Let's get some insight from our political legal and national security experts. You know, Susan Hennessey, what stands out most to you? It was a very dramatic three-hour appearance before the committee?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think but, that the most significant pieces, that of course the whistleblower complaint does appear to comport with this transcript, which leaves -- is a reason to believe the other allegations in this complaint, right, that there's a lot of credibility here.
You know, look the show is pretty astonishing abuse of office. We're also showing that, you know, that not only is the President targeting his political opponents but that the Ukrainian government understood that -- understood what was going on. They were sort of the targets of the extortion. They understood that they were supposed to be playing ball.
Now, the involvement of Rudy Giuliani is another very significant sign that the President is not going through ordinary process. He's not pursuing the interests of the United States of America. He's pursuing his own interests, using his own personal attorney over the objections of the actual government foreign policy apparatus to the detriment of the United States National Security.
Additionally, we are seeing that there are other serious abnormalities in the process. Remember the thing that started this all off was Adam Schiff writing that letter saying, hey, there's some kind of sign that the rules here aren't being followed. Now, we're seeing more allegations, the abuse of this classification system, the storage of documents. That might be another indication that there's even more wrongdoing going on underneath that rule breaking.
BLITZER: Shawn Turner, you used to work for the director of national intelligence, among these allegations that have been leveled, what stands out most to you?
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think you know, first you have to look at the overall allegation. Any time you have the President of the United States making an agreement or entering into some sort of deal with a secret deal with a foreign government, or foreign leader, let's assume for a second that everything went forward as the President planned and that there was an investigation opened and the money was transferred and we never found out about it.
Well, in that scenario, you still created a situation in which now you have a foreign leader or foreign government that has leverage over the United States of America. So at some point in the future, you know, then we could have a situation involving a national security matter and the President of Ukraine could say, hey, we need you to do this and I think you ought to do it because we know what happened here. So from a national security perspective, a lot of people don't understand why this is the national security issue, it's because of that issue.
But there's also the issue of the system. Look, there's a reason that we have super secret classified systems where we keep the most sensitive information. For someone who misused that system by putting information there that is not sensitive or related to a national security issue but is information that's politically embarrassing for the President that is a misuse of the system. That also represents a national security threat.
BLITZER: Big picture, Gloria. How damning is this whistleblower complaint?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very, very damning. I think it opens the whole Pandora's Box. I mean, again, going to the credibility of the whistleblower. The whistleblower's complaint mirrors, you know, what we learned in the summary of the telephone conversation. So, the whistleblower was pretty accurate about that, as Susan was saying. But, this opens a whole host of questions. Were these lawyers in the White House, who directed people to put these files in the file 13 or the vault or whatever you want to call it, was there a consciousness of guilt there? Did they know? And were they trying to cover up or protect the President in this situation?
What were the other phone calls that they also were hiding? Who was the President speaking to? And what was he saying to other leaders that he should not have been saying?
What did Mike Pence know? When the President canceled the Vice President's trip to Ukraine and set the Energy Secretary instead, did he tell the Vice President why he was doing that? What was his level of knowledge about what the President wanted from Ukraine?
I mean, these are lots of questions and more questions will spiral as a result of all of this because I'm sure the committee will be, you know, they've been given a road map and I think they're going to follow it.
BLITZER: It's very important though, because you know, Kaitlan, as Gloria just points out, the President, according to the whistleblower's complaint, roped in other top officials in the floor, that the current Vice President, Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, was not an official but the President's lawyer, White House lawyers, a whole bunch of others into this scheme?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and that's the question of the why -- if the President was the one who directed these lawyers to store these on a different server or tell other staffers to do that. Because, the President this week has been maintaining that there's nothing wrong with the transcript of this call and that's why he authorized the release of it thinking it would get Democrats who were calling from his impeachment off his back. So, there are questions of what exactly was the process in this and how this was done? But of course, the President has long been hesitant about how many people are on his calls with foreign leaders or have access to it. Ever since, remember when he was first in office and two transcripts of a call with Australia and another world leader both came out and pub -- or published and they weren't flattering to the President because they showed certain statements he was making to those leaders that typically have not happened in these past presidencies. And so that is certainly some things that's been a concern in the White House. Everyone knows that the President is sensitive about what he says to foreign leaders leaking out and that's clearly led us to the position that we're in now.
BLITZER: You know, Jeff -- Jeffrey Toobin, I want to go through this list of allegations that we just reported on. Where is the legal liability, potentially? Not just for the President but for others who are mentioned in all of this.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there are a lot of subsidiary questions in one big question. And the big question is did the President abuse his office? Did the President violate his oath of office in terms of foreign policy, in terms of national security, to get dirt on his political opponent? Was that his goal in his interactions with Ukraine and instead of doing the nation's business? All the other questions flow from that.
And that, I think, is not a criminal matter but it is certainly an appropriate question for an impeachment matter. Now, I don't know if he's guilty of that. But that is the core question here.
Now, as you expand outward from that, you get to the classical -- classic Washington question of a cover-up. Were there people who were violating some law by trying to cover-up what went on here?
Now, the certainly one question, will be ask was, was there any inappropriate use of classified information, were people using classified information misfiling classified information not for national security reasons but for political reasons? But to tell you the truth, I don't think there are a lot of criminal liabilities for anyone here, but I think there is a huge question of abuse of office and an impeachment question for the President himself.
BLITZER: And that's an important point, Bianna, because according to the whistleblower, this wasn't necessarily the first time the White House had locked away sensitive politically, potentially politically damaging information in what's supposed to be a top secret vault that's reserved for only the most sensitive classified national security secrets. So what red flags does that suggest?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it suggests that it happened more than once and suggests others were well aware of it. And this whistleblower account and the one we read today, there were 12 people in the room during the call with Zelensky, who were aware of what the President had said. And the question that Gloria raised, how many other conversations with world leaders have been put in the "lockdown" vessel as well and set aside in these circumstances? It does raise the national security concern.
And I think it goes back to continuity and how unstable this administration has been. Maguire has been a career civil servant, he is a patriot. There's no doubt about that. But look what he walked into. And this is the downside of having constantly acting heads of these departments, specifically the DNI, it seems as if there were situations and questions that he wasn't able to answer. Not because it wasn't classified information but because he just wasn't aware.
He didn't know if Rudy Giuliani was sent over to speak with Ukrainians for certain instances. He didn't know if he had classified clearance as well. There were so much that he was not able to answer and he even himself said that others were better suited for the job.
But of course, he did his duty to step up. When he was ask what would have happened if Sue Gordon had had this position, if Dan Coats had had this position?
Also something else that stood out to me was looking at the pressure, not just put on by getting dirt on Biden, those put on Zelensky, but also on, "working things out with Vladimir Putin." Remember, Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine five years ago, it had 13,000 deaths subsequently. The President on August 2nd, as laid out and this was a lower memo said that, oh, they should work things out and then perhaps Zelensky could get a White House invitation. We still haven't seen Zelensky at the White House yesterday, sort of joked about that and said, yes, I know you offer it but we don't have a date yet. So, you see the extra pressure put on this very vulnerable country.
And the final thing I will say is Bill Barr and his role in all of this. Remember, if you go back to the Mueller investigation, when the report came out, Bill Barr himself came out and editorialized why he believed that the President, "could have at least look like he obstructed justice," and that was because he was in an unprecedented situation, he was entering office and thought that this would impact his presidency with an investigation like this. OK, maybe he gave them the benefit of the doubt there but what does the President do the day after Mueller's testimony? He picks up the phone and has this conversation with Zelensky. So that excuse can't fly twice now. So I'd be very curious to hear what Bill Barr has to say about all of this.
BLITZER: Very cure -- all of us are curious about that.
Chris Cillizza, what stands out to you from the alleged misconduct, this list that we've been reporting on?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I got two things for you, Wolf. First to Susan's point, I would be wary if I was a Republican senator today after seeing how closely the whistleblower description of that call between Zelensky and Trump gets to how close to this with the --
BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, I'm going to -- your microphone is not on. So I'm going to make sure our viewers can hear you. You're going to attach your microphone in a moment. There it is, go ahead. He's putting on the microphone and then go ahead.
CILLIZZA: Mr. Wolf, I thought I was loud.
BLITZER: Start it --
CILLIZZA: I thought I was loud enough that you can hear me without --
BLITZER: I just want to make sure all of our viewers are hearing every word you're saying.
CILLIZZA: Here's what I'd say, two things and I'll do it very quickly. Number one -- well, three things. One, always put your microphone on. Two, make -- it would worry me to Susan's point. If I was a Republican senator, it would very much worry me today if I saw how closely the whistleblower's description of that call between Zelensky and Trump comported with the transcript, a rough transcript, of that call very closely. So I think that's one.
Point two, to Jeffry's point, cover up, cover up, cover up. If there is evidence that that transcript, which should have been placed in bin A, was placed in bin B, for reasons because someone in the White House or some ones in the White House were concerned that it potentially will put the President in a situation where it looked like he was abusing his office, will we should be able to track that. This isn't hearsay. This isn't the whistleblowers, the partisan blah-blah-blah- blah-blah. This is -- it should have gone in A and it's in B. And that to me something that we can find out and that for me strikes to be as something that should be very concerning.
Again, I just don't know how you read that transcript and within the whistleblower's complaint and conclude, because Donald Trump didn't say, if you do x, I will give you y, that he is somehow fully exonerated and this is all a witch hunt as people like Lindsey Graham have said, common sense dictates that's not accurate.
BLITZER: All right, stand by. I want to get some more on all of this. Over the key drivers of the current impeachment inquiry is joining us, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, I notice this had been a crazy hectic day for you. Thank you so much for joining us.
SCHIFF: My pleasure.
BLITZER: All right, so as you know the whistleblower's complaint lays out a long list of alleged misconduct by the President and the White House staff. Which specific allegations are the most troubling to you?
SCHIFF: Well, look, I think a lot of what the whistleblower brought forward surrounds that telephone call, that telephone call is the centerpiece of his concern or her concern. But we need to know a lot more about what took place before that call, what took place after that call, what were the circumstances in which the President, which is still a mystery to apparently people of the National Security Council, Senator Mitch McConnell and others can figure out why, what explanation the President gave at the time for withholding vital military assistance to Ukraine. So the whole constellation issues around that, I think are really the central point of the complaint. Obviously, Rudy Giuliani plays a role in that, Bill Barr may have a role in that.
The other main allegation, I think, that comes out of this complaint is that of a cover-up, as you mentioned, that is why was this transcript or more accurately memorandum of the call, why was it put in a file that is reserve for the most highly classified intelligence, for example, that involve in covert action.
And what else may be in that file? And so, these I think are two of the most important allegations. And the whistleblower has given us a pretty good road map into trying to find out.
BLITZER: He suggests that wasn't necessarily the first time. Do you have any reason to believe there were other instances when the White House lawyers or whoever did that?
SCHIFF: You know, we certainly know that other -- at other times, the President has been deeply concerned about whether there would be a record of his conversation, what comes most to mind is his conversations with Vladimir Putin. If there was an effort to destroy an interpreter's notes or seize interpreter's notes of that communication, then you can imagine what might have happened to any more complete record of that communication between the President and Putin.
So the short answer is we don't know, but we do know that this President has a history, particularly when it involves Vladimir Putin as indeed these allegations of denial of military assistance to Ukraine to defend against Putin's Russia involve, that he is very secretive about his conversations. And so we're determined to employ every tool, we have to find out.
BLITZER: According to the whistleblower, several other names, an unnamed people inside the Trump administration were involved in or witnesses to the President's conduct on the alleged cover up. Are you panning to subpoena them as well?
SCHIFF: Well, I'm hoping that these witnesses will choose to cooperate, will volunteer. But I have to say, I am deeply worried, and now that the President on the eve of our hearing or during our hearing was threatening these witnesses. And I don't know how else to determine, you know, to interpret the President of United States saying that these individuals, well, you know, we used to have a way of dealing with them, that's how we dealt with traitors and spies. Well, we used to execute traitors and spies.
And, so, I think it's pretty clear what the President is trying to do. He is trying to deter people from following the courageous example of this whistleblower. BLITZER: Because witness intimidation obviously is a very serious allegation. What's your message to these potential witnesses who clearly are -- will clearly are concerned, I'm sure.
SCHIFF: Well, look, my message is, this is a fight for the heart and soul of our democracy. If a President of United States can trade away the power of his office or use the power of his office or to trade away our national security interests for the reason that he wants help in his political campaign, that is about as serious level of misconduct about this fundamental betrayal of his oath of office as one might imagine. And if there are people who witness that conduct, who are knowledgeable of the facts of that conduct, I would hope that they would muster the same courage that this whistleblower displayed and come forward. Because our democracy depends on it, and I understand how difficult that is, but I also understand how important that is.
BLITZER: The President's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is clearly at the center of this complaint. Will you call Giuliani to appear before your committee?
SCHIFF: Well, I do want to get into specific witnesses at this point. But Mr. Giuliani is clearly at the center of a lot of this. The spade work for this phone call may very well have been done by Rudy Giuliani. It appears to me from reading the transcript that the Ukraine president had a pretty good idea of what might happen on this call. And so, why that's the case, and how that was communicated to him, we need to find out and I wouldn't be a bit surprise if Rudy Giuliani is a part of that answer.
BLITZER: What's your timeline for getting these witnesses to come before your committee?
SCHIFF: Well, we're going to move as expeditiously as possible. We're really focused on this issue, this constellation of issues as the most important, because it represents the most significant danger to our national security. So we're going to move quickly. I have no doubt the administration will continue to try to get in our way and did so in a fundamental way by implicitly threatening these witnesses. But we're going to move forward expeditiously. We feel a real sense of urgency here.
One thing that was notable to me about the hearing today is the director took no issue with the urgency here, took no issue with the credibility of the witness here. And, indeed, the -- as you were discussing earlier, it was remarkable to me that so many of my GOP colleagues were saying, well, this whistleblower wasn't even a party to the call. That makes it all the more credible because the whistleblower was all the more right. And if the whistleblower's allegations as to other misconduct, other evidence of misconduct by the President are borne out as well as this record of call bears out, his information on what was exchanged between the President of the United States and the President of Ukraine. Then it says that these other allegations are equally serious and subject to proof.
BLITZER: When do you hope the -- the whistleblower will come before your committee?
SCHIFF: As soon as possible. And I was very pleased that the Director gave his personal assurance that that whistleblower would not only be protected but when that whistleblower comes before our committee -- and all that is remaining is to get the security clearances for his or her counsel.
That when that whistleblower comes before our committee, there won't be any Department of Justice minder, no White House minder, no one to sit next to that whistleblower and try to circumscribe, redact anything that whistleblower has to say as it pertains to misconduct by the President or anyone around him.
BLITZER: I assume the whistleblower will appear behind closed doors. Are you concerned, though, Chairman, about the possibility that the whistleblower's identity could be revealed?
SCHIFF: I'm deeply concerned about it. I'm deeply concerned about it. And obviously, we're going to do everything we can to take whatever steps are necessary to protect the whistleblower's identity.
But given, you know, those real repugnant threats coming from the President, I have a real concern about this. And so, we're going to, to obviously, have to deal with this in a way that we don't with most witnesses where security is not such a vital issue.
BLITZER: And we heard today, by the way, that the Speaker is really -- in terms of the current impeachment inquiry process, you're in charge now for all practical purposes. Explain what's going on.
SCHIFF: Well, you know, that may be an overstatement of the matter. But I think, as far as this constellation of issues, those around the President's misconduct vis-a-vis Ukraine, those involving the President's effort to badger another -- badger another leader to provide dirt on his opponent, the locust will be the Intelligence Committee where this whistleblower has brought forward this evidence.
So I also think it's the case that the caucus recognizes that, of all the misconduct of this President, this is probably the most serious because it goes so to the heart of his oath of office, so to the heart of his commitment or lack thereof to defend the constitution and jeopardize our national security.
This is why so many veterans who are serving in the Congress have come forward to denounce the President's conduct and demand a full investigation and impeachment inquiry. So I think we understand the centrality of this issue and that's why we're giving it such urgent priority.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Chairman, you're being severely criticized by a lot of Republicans for mocking the President during your opening remarks today at the committee. Was it a mistake to make light of the situation?
SCHIFF: Oh, I don't think it's making light of the situation. And I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that there is anything comical about this, but I do think it's all too accurate that this President, in his conversations with the President of Ukraine, was speaking like an organized crime boss.
And the fact that these words are so suggestive, that the President used, of what we have seen of organized crime harkens back to me of what, for example, James Comey said when he was asked by the President if he could let this matter involving Flynn go, when Michael Cohen testified about how the President speaks in a certain code where you understand exactly what's required here.
The point is that the President was using exactly that kind of language and the President of Ukraine fully understood what he was talking about.
BLITZER: Well, do you regret, what you called the parody, the use of those phrases during the course of your opening statement?
SCHIFF: No. I think everyone understood, and my GOP colleagues may feign otherwise, that when I said -- suggested that it was as if the President said listen carefully because I'm only going to tell you seven more times, that I was mocking the President's conduct.
But make no mistake about this. What the President did is of the utmost gravity and -- and the utmost seriousness because it involves such a fundamental betrayal of his oath.
BLITZER: I know you got to run and I appreciate your time and the time you spent with us, but getting back to Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer in all of this, do you think, potentially, he is criminally liable for some of his actions?
SCHIFF: Well, look, if Mr. Giuliani was involved in a scheme to coerce a foreign government into giving dirt, manufacturing dirt on President Trump's political opponent, then, yes, that certainly can violate the law, violate the criminal laws.
Do I have any confidence, hope or whatnot, that the Justice Department would be willing to investigate? No. They've made it clear they're not going to investigate this. And they don't want anyone else to.
The fact that they would so cavalierly dismiss this credible evidence and say it is not even worthy of us looking into is yet another affirmation that Attorney General Bill Barr believes that he exists to serve the will and the interest of the President, not the presidency. And that's exactly what he's doing.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Thanks so much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, let's continue our analysis of what we just heard. You know, Gloria, the Chairman, he's very forceful. He's got a game
plan, he's got a road map, he's working, and the Speaker has given him the authority to go ahead and push.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but what he did say to you is that he is very worried about getting some of these people to testify because the President, as he said, has been threatening these witnesses.
We heard what the President said today, and it's clear that there's going to be some bloodletting somewhere, whether it's in the White House or somewhere in the national security realm. But, you know, when you have a President out there calling these people treasonous, he -- he said, look, you know, this is -- this is going to be -- this is going to be very difficult for us.
He was also quite tough on Barr, the Attorney General, who put out a statement saying he knew nothing about any of this. But the President of the United States seemed to feel fine saying to the President of Ukraine, you know, I'll have my guys, Rudy Giuliani and Bill Barr, deal with this. Now, he said that never happened, but I'm sure they'll want to investigate.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think this is a really important point. We saw that transcript. We saw the President of the United States holding out the Attorney General as a political lackey for him, describing Bill Barr as a person who would be willing to breach the oath of his own office.
Those are the President's own words in the transcript he, himself, released. And so, it's pretty astonishing to not see the Attorney General saying anything to push back on that representation.
In an ordinary administration with an Attorney General with an ounce of personal integrity, we would see -- we would be seeing him offer his resignation this morning and say, I'm sorry that the President had this perception of me. I'm sorry that he's holding me out in this role to a foreign government. I'm appalled to hear that he's doing this, and, obviously, I cannot continue to serve in an administration for a president who views me as his personal attack dog.
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.
BORGER: And did not recuse himself on any of this.
TURNER: Yes. OK, and --
BORGER: Until -- on any of this.
TURNER: And, look, no whistleblower should ever have to fear for his or her safety. I mean, can you imagine being these people who spoke to this person now and hearing the President say what he said?
And I think that there's an argument to be made here for, you know, kind of pre-emptive witness tampering. As you -- as you know, when the I.G. gets his complaint, he's got 14 days to determine that it's credible, so he had to go and talk to some of these people.
I think that if the -- if the whistleblower comes forward and is now asked to tell them, OK, who did you talk to? Who said this? There's a question as to whether or not those people would be willing to come forward and say I was one of the people who said that because of what the President said.
BLITZER: Because in his complaint, he begins by saying, 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.
Jeffrey Toobin, let me play the clip of how the President responded today when he was meeting with U.S. officials who work at the U.N. in describing these officials who may have given some information to the whistleblower.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information because that's close to a spy? You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle them a little differently than we do now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: I'm curious to get your thought.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's so toxic at so many levels. What seems likely, based on reading the whistleblower's complaint, is that the people in the White House had a business everyday relationship with the whistleblower.
There was nothing -- it wasn't like they were -- that there was any sort of spying going on. This was the whistleblower seeing White House employees in the course of their day-to-day responsibilities and seeing how the White House employees were concerned about the corruption of the foreign policy process, but it wasn't like they -- they were spies.
And the whole point of whistleblower laws, which Chuck Grassley, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been the champion of for decades, has been to offer these people protection, not to threaten them with death, the way the President of the United States did. I mean this is such a perversion of the whole whistleblower system that it is almost astonishing to contemplate.
BLITZER: It truly is, you know. And, Bianna, the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in his testimony -- and it went on for more than three hours -- he praised the whistleblower for the way he conducted himself during the course of this entire issue. BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And he said that
he would do everything that he could to protect the whistleblower as well. Obviously, you juxtapose that from what you hear from the President, and you see how frightening the situation could be for any other potential whistleblowers as we know that there were over a dozen people who were there in the room as the whistleblower noted. Who were there for that conversation.
The whistleblower also states that there were others that had told the whistleblower directly that they found the President's behavior alarming, too. But, clearly, they may not be coming forward, knowing how the President and anticipating how the President would be reacting.
Also, I think from a public perspective and how this would look for Americans as opposed to the Russia investigation and the Mueller investigation, which became very convoluted -- and a lot of it took place prior to the President even being in office.
This is a President who has run on and said, every day, he's looking out for America's best interest. You look through this transcript. There was nothing that served the American public in this conversation.
It was all about getting dirt on Joe Biden so that it could help his re-election campaign for 2020. Once again, putting pressure on President Zelensky, a country that we are in the process of helping, a country that is trying to westernize and get rid of past corruption.
There's no mention of Vladimir Putin here. I think one has to question previous conversations that the President has had without note-takers many times with President Putin as to what this President's agenda is with our Ukraine policy going forward.
The President keeps saying you've got to work things out and -- notwithstanding that there is still not a specific date to invite President Zelensky to the White House. That would have sent a clear message to Vladimir Putin if he had he seen Zelensky at the White House, yet we have not seen that take place. And I think, once again, this does benefit Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: All right --
BORGER: And those conversations could be in the vault for all we know.
BLITZER: A secure vault. Everybody, stand by, a lot more on all the breaking news today right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, the release of the
whistleblower complaint fueling the drive for impeachment among House Democrats while most Republicans are defending President Trump.
Our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is working that part of the story for us. Sunlen, what are you hearing up on Capitol Hill?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are some important markers today. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is essentially laying out the next phase of this impeachment inquiry in the wake of this whistleblower complaint.
She said today that it's very clear that this whistleblower complaint is going to be the new focus of the impeachment inquiry going forward and that it will be led primarily by the House Intelligence Committee. The six other committees will continue doing their investigations of President Trump, but this whistleblower complaint is the new focus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The inquiry and the consensus in our caucus is that our focus now is on this allegation now that we are seeing the evidence of it, the actions taken by the President. This is such a whole new terrain, a whole level of concern about his lawlessness. So the timing will relate to the committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And that was Pelosi responding to my question when I asked her if all of these new allegations in this complaint, does it expedite a timeline, essentially, for drawing up formal articles of impeachment?
She said that she's not given a deadline to her committees. That the facts, she says, will dictate the timeline here. But that might not satisfy many Democrats up here on capitol hill, Wolf, many of whom are pushing to not lose momentum on this, potentially even having a vote on articles of impeachment this fall -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much. Let's get back to our analysts.
Chris Cillizza, do you think what's -- the new information we're getting on Ukraine and all of this will eventually -- if there is a formal vote in the House of Representatives to impeach, not to start an investigation but to formally impeach the President of the United States, do you think there will be a majority, 218 members?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I do, Wolf, and I wouldn't have said that candidly a week ago. In fact, I probably said on air that one of the reasons they haven't brought it up in the past is because there wasn't a majority. You had a lot of Democrats representing districts Donald Trump either won in 2016 or narrowly lost in 2016 who were still wary of this, who said look at the public polling on impeachment. It suggests a large majority, 55, 60 percent of people don't think
Donald Trump should be impeached. And those are the same polls that had Donald Trump's approval rating, 40, 41 percent. These were not favorable groups to Donald Trump. They just didn't think he would be impeached.
I do think you will see -- we'll see. I could be wrong, but I do think you will see polling move. Now, it may not stay where it moves to, but I do think, given the focus of this past week, given the fact that -- again, just go and read the transcript of the -- the rough transcript of the conversation between the Ukrainian President and Donald Trump. Or the whistleblower complaint or both.
I just do not see how you can read those things and say, well, this all seems above board. There was no pressure here. There was no reminder that the U.S. does a lot.
BORGER: Well --
CILLIZZA: I do think that will change some people's minds. I don't know if they'll change back --
BLITZER: Well --
CILLIZZA: -- but my guess is you'll see polling move more people in favor of impeachment, which makes it an easier vote, if it eventually comes to that, by House Democrats.
BLITZER: It's a very, very disturbing development. Kaitlan, you cover the White House for us. They must be very nervous right now, beginning with the President.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting to see how their mood has changed over the last few days.
Because at the beginning of those -- the week, when we're still talking about this and the President was headed to New York for that United Nations summit, officials were dismissing this, saying it's just some partisan person who doesn't like Donald Trump, wants to get him out of office. Essentially, making that argument of really not thinking too much about it because they were focusing -- they're just trying to redo the Mueller investigation, they said, of Democrats.
Things have changed. There is definitely a sense of anxiety among the President's allies and aides in the White House at how quickly all of this has unfolded. That's what they're most surprised about.
BORGER: Well, you know, the question to me is, what's going to happen with the Republicans? Where are the cracks going to appear, if they do appear? And we -- you know, we saw --
BLITZER: There have been some tiny cracks appearing.
BORGER: There have been some tiny cracks we saw. We saw Mitt Romney, you know, come out. We saw Ben Sasse, who's been generally positive to the President lately -- he's up for reelection -- saying Republicans shouldn't be circling the wagons so early. We see John Thune say, yes, I don't like what I read.
But there has to be sort of someone like a Mitch McConnell or somebody who comes out and says, this will not stand. And we have not -- we have not seen that yet. So far, they're running and ducking, right?
CILLIZZA: And until we see that --
HENNESSEY: But even then --
CILLIZZA: Yes, until -- I was just going to add to Gloria's point, until we see that -- Mike Turner of Ohio, today, said very troubling, potentially.
CILLIZZA: But the Governor -- the Republican Governor of Vermont said impeachment proceedings should --
BORGER: That that doesn't matter.
CILLIZZA: But again, those people -- Mitch McConnell is not marking down and saying, oh, the Governor of Vermont, but, you know, it has to be -- to Gloria's point, it has to be a high-profile person who has not been a Trump critic. Someone who has been with Trump who says, you know what, I just cannot, in good conscience, look at the body of evidence that is indisputable, including the transcript, and say this is OK for a president, regardless of party.
And given the allegiance we have seen to Donald Trump from the Republican Party since he became the nominee, it would be a huge thing and a big mountain. And I don't see anyone ready to take that on just yet.
HENNESSEY: Yes, but even --
TOOBIN: Can I --
HENNESSEY: But even the nature of the -- of the defense that we've seen from Republicans, Republicans are not coming out to actually defend the President's conduct here. Even people who are inclined to be --
HENNESSEY: Right. That are lobbing -- you know, they're lobbing criticism at the Democrats, they're saying I haven't read it, right? This only 8-1/2-page document, they're claiming they haven't read it.
BORGER: Call me tomorrow.
HENNESSEY: Even Mitch McConnell was saying he thought it was laughable that this was impeachable. None of them are coming at -- even though the White House is clearly putting out these talking points trying to get ahead of this story by saying, no, nothing that the President did was wrong, we actually have Republicans that are not willing to take that step for the President. And that must be something that's making the White House nervous.
BORGER: Because they know more is going to come out.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, you wanted to weigh in?
TOOBIN: Well, I just wanted to make a plea for patience.
TOOBIN: You know, we don't know the full story. We are just getting the beginning of this story. And you know, it may turn out that this whole coverup story with the -- with the, you know, changing the classification, it may turn out to be nothing. It may turn out to be a big White House conspiracy.
The facts are going to look different by the time this investigation is over, and I think predicting the outcome now --
TOOBIN: -- is probably a little unwise.
BORGER: Who would do that? You know?
BLITZER: Yes, patience is very important.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around, the breaking news continues next. We're going to have a lot more on the explosive release of the whistleblower complaint alleging abuse of power by President Trump and a coverup by his White House.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Abuse of office. That's just one of the bombshell allegations in the whistleblower complaint that's now public. White House officials accused of covering up for President Trump after he pushed Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.
Lockdown. The complaint claims details of the President's controversial Ukraine phone call were buried in a super-secret computer system. It allegedly wasn't the first time Mr. Trump's foreign contacts were hidden to protect him politically.
Spies and treason. President Trump is lashing out tonight, suggesting the whistleblower's sources are close to being spies who deserve the death penalty. Is he planning or encouraging retribution?
And this is not OK. A House Republican surprisingly acknowledges the gravity of the whistleblower's allegations as the President demands his party stick together. Will there be more cracks in the GOP as Democrats weigh impeachment?
We want to welcome --