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Whistle-Blower Complaint Against President Trump Released; Interview With Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY); Whistleblower: Trump Abused Power By Trying to Get Ukraine To Interfere in 2020 Election, White House Tried to Cover It Up. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 26, 2019 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A House Republican surprisingly acknowledges the gravity of the whistle-blower'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 our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the explosive whistle- blower complaint alleging not only an abuse of power by the president, but a cover-up within the White House.

It reveals new details on allegations that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election by pushing for an investigation of Joe Biden. And it claims White House lawyers were so worried about Mr. Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president that they directed the transcript be put in lockdown, hiding it in a highly classified computer system.

Tonight, President Trump is on the attack, suggesting the whistle- blower's sources are akin to spies who would have been executed in the past. His remarks just hours after his acting intelligence chief told Congress that the whistle-blower did the right thing and deserves protection.

Our correspondents, experts and guests are standing by, as we cover another huge day in the impeachment investigation.

First, let's go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, the whistle-blower complaint is now out. Democrats have a lot of new fuel for their impeachment investigation.


This complaint not only begins to get into the efforts President Trump went to have the Biden family investigated, but it also shows how administration officials allegedly scrambled to make sure the details of this call never got out.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Were you shocked at all by what you read?

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: None of us is above the law in this country.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): The complaint relied on hearsay evidence.

MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, bombshell whistle-blower complaint made public today reveals that President Trump not only asked the Ukrainian president to have his 2020 rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter investigated.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That call was perfect. It couldn't have been nicer.

MURRAY: But White House officials were allegedly so alarmed, they quickly moved to lock down records of the call.

"This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call," the whistle-blower complaint states.

Officials allegedly moved the transcript of Trump's call to an electronic system typically used to store especially sensitive classified information.

"According to White House officials I spoke with, this was not the first time under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code word-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive, rather than national security sensitive, information," according to the complaint.

The complaint also alleges that Trump told Vice President Mike Pence in May to cancel a planned trip to attend the Ukrainian president's inauguration. Trump wanted to see how Ukrainian President Zelensky chose to act in office, the complaint states.

MAGUIRE: I believe that this matter is unprecedented.

MURRAY: Today, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire appeared before the House Intelligence Committee and defended his decision to take a whistle-blower complaint that names the president straight to the White House.

MAGUIRE: Such calls are typically subject to executive privilege. As a result, we consulted with the White House Counsel's Office, and we were advised that 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.

MURRAY: Maguire refused to say whether he discussed the whistle- blower complaint with the president, but he revealed that Trump never asked him to figure out the identity of the whistle-blower. MAGUIRE: I can say I -- although I would not normally discuss my

conversations with the president, I can tell you emphatically no.

MURRAY: President Trump ultimately allowed the complaint to be made public after an outcry from Congress.

While Democrats condemned Trump's conduct outlined in the complaint...

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.

MURRAY: ... Republicans mostly slammed Thursday's hearings as an effort to undermine Trump.

NUNES: I want to congratulate the Democrats on the rollout of their latest information warfare operation against the president.

MURRAY: But as Trump and his GOP allies began taking aim at the unknown whistle-blower's motives, Maguire said he believes the whistle-blower acted in good faith.

MAGUIRE: I think the whistle-blower he did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.


MURRAY: Now, Wolf, this complaint also claims that Rudy Giuliani is a central figure in all of this.

And it may not surprise you that Giuliani had some thoughts today. He shared them with "The Atlantic" and said: "It is impossible that the whistle-blower is a hero, and I'm not. And I will be the hero. These morons, when this is over, I will be the hero."

BLITZER: He is really angry right now.

MURRAY: He seems very upset.

BLITZER: And you can see that in that conversation he had with that reporter.

All right, thank you very much, Sara Murray, working the story for us.

Now to President Trump blowing a fuse over the whistle-blower complaint and likening the people behind it to spies.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us right now.

Jim, the president is dismissing the complaint as a witch-hunt, but his fury suggests he knows this is very serious.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is raging out after the release of the whistle-blower

complaint and the now expanding Ukraine investigation. The president suggested at a private breakfast earlier today, for example, that the person who told the whistle-blower what Mr. Trump was up to amounted to a spy who could be punished like -- quote -- "in the old days."

A source who has spoken to the president in the last 24 hours tells me Mr. Trump appears to be lacking in focus and more distracted than in the past, as he becomes more consumed by the whistle-blower 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 whistle-blower hearing up on Capitol Hill.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 a -- on an absolutely perfect phone call.

ACOSTA: The president is also sounding like he wants vengeance, lashing out at a private breakfast, demanding to know who tipped off the whistle-blower behind the scathing complaint alleging Mr. Trump sought Ukraine's help in the 2020 election.

TRUMP: I want to know, who is the person who gave the whistle-blower -- who is the person who gave the whistle-blower the information? Because that's close to a spy.

You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little different 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 has spoken to the president in the last 24 hours described Mr. Trump as more distracted and less focused 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: The complaint is damning, not just for the president, but potentially for White House aides. Not only did the whistle-blower say Mr. Trump's actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. government's efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections. The complaint warns White House aides were worried they were being

asked to cover Mr. Trump's tracks, saying -- quote -- "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's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who claims the State Department was fully aware of his work in Ukraine on behalf of Mr. Trump to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I never talked to a Ukrainian official until the State Department called me and asked me to do it. And then I reported every conversation back to them. And, Laura, I'm a pretty good lawyer, just a country lawyer, but it's all here, right here.

ACOSTA: Giuliani shared with CNN what he says is a text from a top State Department official: "As discussed, connecting you here with Andriy Yermak, who is very close to President Zelensky. I suggest we schedule a call together on Monday. Kurt."

The secretary of state insists his department did nothing wrong.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: To the best of my knowledge and from what I have seen so far, each of the actions that were undertaken by State Department officials was entirely appropriate and consistent with the objective that we have had certainly since this new government has come into office.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House press secretary, rather than answer questions about the scandal in a briefing, as we have seen in administrations in the past, instead released a statement saying: "Nothing has changed with the release of this complaint, which is nothing more than a collection of thirdhand accounts of events and cobbled-together press clippings."

That's according to the White House press secretary.

But if the president is innocent and has done nothing wrong here, even Republicans are wondering why the White House would have covered up Mr. Trump's actions in all of this. As one source close to the White House conceded, this matter warrants an investigation.

And, Wolf, the president has still not taken any questions as to what he meant at that breakfast earlier this morning, when he suggested that the whistle-blower's sources could be treated like spies and potentially be executed, if you look at what he said earlier in the day. He has been in his office and in the residence all day today, Wolf. He has not taken a question on what he said earlier today, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta reporting for us from the White House, thank you.

Our experts and analysts, they are here. They're standing by. We have got a lot to discuss.

But, right now, I want to bring in Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. He's a Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. He was asking questions earlier in the day.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, we have now seen this full whistle-blower complaint that kicked off this entire controversy.

What concerns you most about this report?

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Well, clearly the way it was handled.

What is absolutely clear now is that the White House and the Department of Justice worked together to sit on it, to cover it up. And that's particularly alarming, because the two people prominently fingered in this complaint are the president of the United States and the attorney general.


And we now know that the man who was supposed to send it to Congress instead went to the White House and to the Department of Justice, where those two individuals implicated by the complaint could kill it.

BLITZER: So do you see evidence, hard evidence, of a cover-up effort by the White House?

MALONEY: Wolf, that's the effect.

The Department of Justice opinion saying that this is outside the jurisdiction of the inspector general isn't worth the paper it's written on. And, today, the director of national intelligence confirmed that he has authority over foreign interference in our elections.

And saying he didn't was the basis for the Justice Department saying it was outside the jurisdiction of the I.G. In other words, it was a transparent effort to keep a lid on this thing.

And, by the way, Wolf, that's the same reason, they abused the classification procedures and the normal procedures at the White House to take the record of this call and to put it in an extraordinary database, the code word top-secret database.

I spent three years at the White House. I was the White House staff secretary. This is not code word classification. And, by the way, it's improper and prohibited by executive order to classify things to avoid embarrassment.

They did it to hide it.

BLITZER: And the whistle-blower alleges it wasn't the first time they did something like this.

Do you have evidence to show when there were some other occasions?

MALONEY: Well, we're just getting started. We need to hear from the whistle-blower.

We need to run down all the different elements of the whistle-blower's complaint. We shouldn't take it at face value, by the way. It's just one account. And we need to make sure we are getting the facts in a fair way.

But it's got to be -- it's got to be expeditious. And it needs to be thorough. What you have here is, you have wrongdoing at the various -- very highest levels of the United States government and an effort to cover it up. And we can't let that happen.

BLITZER: So are you going to be subpoenaing some of the people mentioned in the whistle-blower complaint and others who are not mentioned? Are you looking to bring them before your committee?

MALONEY: I'm going to defer to the chairman on that, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: You can call me Wolf. You don't have to call me Mr. Blitzer.


MALONEY: Well, I'm going to defer to my chairman.

Here's the point. The point is, is, we're going to get out the facts, right? What's been amazing is that the president of the United States admitted most of it in the first few hours, maybe didn't realize how serious it was.

And now you see him acting erratic. I think he feels the walls are closing in. He knows he's been caught. And we're -- and we're, after only a couple of days, seeing the extraordinary revelations in this complaint of wrongdoing and the efforts to cover it up.

I think that's a pretty good day's work. And there's definitely more to come.

BLITZER: What's your understanding, Congressman, of Rudy Giuliani's role in all of this? Did he go rogue? Did he have the support of President Trump? Did he have the support of the attorney general, Bill Barr?

MALONEY: Well, look, what's clear is that he was working closely with the president. The president, by the document we have of the call, tells the

president of Ukraine to work directly with Mr. Giuliani. It's quite clear Mr. Giuliani was working directly with the president to engage in this smear campaign against the Bidens using a foreign government to do it, with leverage being American military assistant.

That's outrageous. So Mr. Giuliani's role is nothing good, I can tell you that. But we need to get to the bottom of it.

BLITZER: Are you concerned by the extent to which President Trump seems to be informed by right-wing conspiracy theories?

MALONEY: Oh, look, I'm concerned with just about everything that comes out of the president's mouth.

The thing he said today about how we -- how we treat whistle-blowers as spies, what -- what is that? I mean, my God, that is the kind of comment that is beneath his office, but it's clearly not beneath him.

BLITZER: And he raised the word treason, which, of course, carries capital punishment potentially.

I spoke to the chairman of your committee just a little while ago, Adam Schiff. And he said you will be moving expeditiously to bring in witnesses to describe the behavior described by the whistle-blower.

Which witnesses, first of all, do you want to see? Let's talk about prioritization of these witnesses.

MALONEY: Well, listen, the attorney general has some very serious questions to answer here about what he was doing with that opinion, what he knew and when about his own name appearing in this complaint as someone who might be engaged in this pattern of misconduct.

And he should recuse himself immediately. So that's one.

Mr. Giuliani obviously has relevant information. And I want to understand -- I want to understand what he has to say under oath. And there's others, mostly that we need to corroborate all of the elements of this complaint, so we make sure we're being thorough and fair.

And we also, by the way, want to protect this whistle-blower, so the other people who have knowledge of this pattern of misconduct feel comfortable coming forward with what they know.

The whistle-blower in the complaint mentions dozens of other officials at the White House and throughout the government who are aware of this, who are alarmed by it. Deeply disturbed is, I believe, the term he used. We want those people to feel comfortable coming forward.

And it doesn't help that the president of the United States is lobbing around threats.

BLITZER: Sean Patrick Maloney, the congressman from New York, thanks so much for joining us.


MALONEY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our experts to discuss all of this.

David Chalian, I want to walk through some of the major allegations contained in this whistle-blower complaint. They released the document earlier in the day.

Among the allegations, that President Trump asked Ukraine's president to investigate political rivals on a phone call, that White House lawyers ordered the rough transcript be hidden because it showed abuse of office by President Trump.

It was not the first time rough call transcripts had been hidden because they showed politically sensitive information. That Ukrainian officials were led to believe President Trump wouldn't talk unless they were willing to -- quote -- "play ball." That President Trump canceled Vice President Pence's trip to Ukraine as a form of pressure.

That State Department officials met with Ukrainian officials to help them -- quote -- "navigate" President Trump's demands. That Rudy Giuliani is a central figure who circumvented national security decision-making processes, and that President Trump withheld military funding to Ukraine.

How concerning are these allegations?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't -- I don't see how they couldn't concern every single American.

And I would urge everyone to read this document. It is damning. Now, the first one, the phone call that you talked about that we have got the transcript, rough transcript of that yesterday.

But those next two points on your list that you just read, that is a cover-up. I mean, that is about this notion of lockdown and moving these documents into a place that is reserved for national security issues, not for political vulnerability.

But it seems that that's exactly what this was done, and that that was directed by White House officials, according to this complaint.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And the important point you make about that is, as serious as it is, it is just, at this point, an accusation.

We have the transcript of the phone call. The phone call is not in dispute. We have a rough transcript. That is -- the president is going to have to figure out a way to deal with that.

CHALIAN: And corroborated in the complaint, right?

TOOBIN: And corroborated, yes.


TOOBIN: I mean, I -- that's out there and established as a factual matter.

But the Democrats, if they want to do this in a serious way, now have to take this, the whistle-blower's report, and see how much they can corroborate. It's incredibly serious to think that there was a cover- up in the White House of the relationship with the Ukraine, but it's not proven yet.

And the challenge to the Intelligence Committee is to be -- get the witnesses and the documents that will either prove or disprove that allegation.

BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, you worked at the FBI. You worked at the CIA.

What stands out in your mind from this list of whistle-blower allegations I just discussed?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think the issue of corroboration, to pick up on something that we were just talking about a moment ago, that Jeffrey was talking about, the issue of corroboration, the person who wrote this keeps -- is referred to as getting secondhand, thirdhand information. That's correct.

But in the intelligence business, there's a couple pieces here that to me are surprising. Number one, the number of avenues you can take to corroborate the information. There's a ton of names in there, and there are other people unnamed, like the intel guys at the White House, who could tell you how the safe was used, that you could corroborate in two weeks, if the White House complied with subpoenas from the Hill, assuming there will be, to have people testify.

So the level of corroboration in that document is pretty remarkable. And I'd say one more thing on corroboration. For everybody who wants to attack the person who wrote it, that person wrote that before the transcript came out. And it appears that the complainant's description of the phone call the president made is accurate.

So, there's at least some corroboration already.

BLITZER: Yes, it was very accurate, indeed.

Laura, the president clearly understood how much leverage he had over Ukraine, the new president of Ukraine.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course he did. And he exploited it, if we're to believe the allegations of this whistle-blower complaint.

And he did so in a manner that tied to taxpayer dollars. Remember what we're talking about. It's very basic in the sense that we pay taxes, Congress uses that, appropriate funds, and earmarked it to protect the national security and also the interests of Ukraine against a geopolitical rival that is Russia. In turn, the president said, I will take your tax dollars and I will

hold them for my political campaign. I need dirt on Joe Biden.

That is absolutely leverage. And why...


COATES: You call that an abuse of power.


COATES: And why, by the way, would somebody like the Ukrainian president be susceptible to that? Because he needs a quarter-million, at least, dollars to be able to push away Russia.

I mean, this is something. They have already annexed Crimea. He was so vulnerable. The president was aware of that. And that's not what -- that might be the art of the deal, but it's not the art of diplomacy.

It's not the art of being a public official who's beholden to the bribery statutes, the extortion statutes, which all have been named, by the way, in the Constitution.


And they clearly -- Samantha, you used to work at the NSC during the Obama administration.

White House officials immediately knew right after that phone conversation with Zelensky, the new president of Ukraine, that it was improper, there was awkward political statements, that the president was clearly seeking assistance from Ukraine to get dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

And they took this extraordinary step to hide the rough transcript of this conversation in a top-secret vault.

VINOGRAD: Well, Wolf, frankly, I served under two presidents, a Republican and a Democrat.

And I am, frankly, astounded that more people at the White House did not come forward after this phone call. We don't know about anything transcripts that may have even more damaging information.

But when White House lawyers, who, by the way, are supposed to help the president faithfully execute his executive powers, not abuse them, issued some kind of directive to misuse the code word classified system to hide information, I'm very surprised that someone in the national security adviser's office or someone in the intelligence directorate who would have access to the system and would have transferred the file did not come forward and express concern, not to mention Secretary of State Pompeo.

Typically -- I worked on these distribution lists -- the secretary of state gets a copy of a transcript. How was it not concerning to him that the president of the United States was soliciting foreign election interference, and suggesting that President Zelensky work with Rudy Giuliani, who is not a member of the U.S. government?

So for at least the course of when this phone call happened to when the whistle-blower came forward, there were multiple people that kept quiet.

And I think, to your point, Jeffrey and Phil, there are many human witnesses to what happened who may be more willing to speak now that this is out in the open.

CHALIAN: More than just the more than half-a-dozen that spoke to the complainant, who -- the whistle-blower, who sort of gives that number there.

Clearly, just listening to everything you just said, so many more than just that half-dozen have touched this moment in time of what was going on.

COATES: Assuming they're not scared by the president's comments earlier today about discussions about executing spies.

I mean, that's -- that's one of the reasons you have whistle-blower protection acts,because people are obviously fearful of what the retribution might be against them.

So if you have that, the head of the executive branch doing that, I mean, it could have just as going out there a chilling effect.

BLITZER: And it could endanger individuals as well, because there are people out there...

VINOGRAD: Which he's already done, by the way.

I mean, this is just the latest in the president putting the intelligence community at risk, declassifying information willy-nilly, exposing sources and methods.

So, at this point, to your point, Laura, the intelligence community has already been under pressure by the president. And now I do think -- if this is what he said publicly about threatening whistle-blowers and anybody that spoke with the whistle-blower, I really cringe to think what he's saying privately.

BLITZER: It's important, Sabrina, that we wouldn't know anything about this if the whistle-blower on April -- excuse me -- on August 12 had not written this lengthy memorandum, this complaint about what he had heard, what he had seen personally.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And if you look at this sequence of events, it's quite clear that, if it were up to the White House and some within the Trump administration, the whistle-blower's allegations would never have been made public, despite the assessment of the inspector general that the allegations were both credible and cause for urgent concern. The acting DNI took the unprecedented step of overriding the inspector

general's view that the complaint immediately be shared with Congress. Now, you heard the acting DNI testify before Congress today that the delay was in part due to concerns over executive privilege and his consultation with attorneys at the White House.

But I do think it bears repeating that some of this substance at least has been confirmed by the president himself, for example, that he raised the issue of Joe Biden and his son with the Ukrainian president. And then we saw, of course, the summary of the call from the White House itself.

Now, we still don't know, of course, who within the White House was familiar with the conversation that the president had with his Ukrainian counterpart. And I think, as this investigation unfolds, we will learn more specifically about the very damning allegation that there was an intentional effort by the White House to bury the contents of that call, and who notably was part of that effort on behalf of the president, because they knew that the conduct would be politically damaging and also raise all kinds of constitutional concerns for this president.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.

There's a lot more we need to discuss.

We're also going to be talking with Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

There you see him right there. He's got some very, very powerful thoughts on what's going on right now.



BLITZER: We're breaking down all the very disturbing allegations in the whistle-blower complaint that's now public and at the center of the House impeachment investigation.

We're joined by the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. He's now a senior CNN legal analyst.

Preet, what are the biggest red flags you see in this document?


The biggest red flag, we actually learned about yesterday, when we got a -- something on the version of -- along the lines of a transcript or a summary of that call between the American president and the Ukrainian president, the fact that he was trying to pressure a foreign leader for his own personal political gain, in a way that was an abuse of power.


Today, there's a reference to that phone call, which now seems to be corroborated by the transcript.

But the most powerful additional red flag, I think, that most people would see here is the fact that phone call was deemed to be so problematic and worrisome by not one, not two, but apparently lots of people around the president that they decided to lock it down.

And then further to that is this line that has been getting some attention but maybe not enough attention, and it's unproven but it should be investigated, the whistleblower says that he's told was not the only time that some conversation between the president and someone else was put in lockdown.

So the question is is this something that's just the tip of the iceberg or is it self-contained? You want to know how many conversations like that there were. Are they along the lines of this kind of thing where there was an abuse of power in connection with the conversation for personal gain, personal financial or personal political gain? And that, I think, is the duty and the job for various committees in the House to be taking a look into.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: What strikes you when you read about just how many people apparently knew about this behavior?

BHARARA: Well, a couple of things. One is, how come none of them came forward? It shows there's a consensus of opinion not on the part of people who come on television or who are in the opposing party in Congress, but these are all members of his own team, all handpicked by the president. And if they all deem as to be sensitive enough, as described by the whistleblower, to put in a separate, secret computer system, that tells you just how alarming they thought it was. And you also wonder why they didn't come forward.

And the other thing that tells me is that there are going to be a lot of requests for information from these witnesses. Obviously, Adam Schiff and/or Jerry Nadler need to get to the bottom of those facts. So the whistleblower has put in allegations. We need to find out what those people knew, what other conversations there were. So I think you can see a succession of hearings

The other, I think, is, you know, once the president has made the decisions strategically, and I think it's good for the country to so quickly released, after fighting a little bit, both the complaint and the transcript of the call, I think, a little harder pressed -- and saying he wants to be transparent. He's a little bit harder pressed when members of Congress say, well, now we want to see these other things. And if you're going to be transparent, let's see these other things.

It's a little bit hard to say, well, we gave you that, we're not going to give you anymore, especially since the American public, I think, has seized upon us as something they find problematic.

BLITZER: The president has been attacking the whistleblower. But earlier today, while he was still in New York and meeting with U.S. officials who work at the U.N., he went after anyone, any other U.S. officials who gave information to the whistleblower. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Who was 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 bit differently than we do now.


BLITZER: Is that witness tampering?

BHARARA: It may be. I mean, I think we should be careful not to get too caught up in legal definitions of additional crimes that the president may or may not be committing. But it's beneath his office, it's disgusting, it's un-American. All of this attention being paid to the whistleblower, I get, people who are not supporters of the president, think he engages in abuse of power, think of the whistleblower as a hero. I think the whistleblower is because look at how much damage and criticism and character assassination is about to come his way, if it's a him.

On the other hand, proponents of the president, supporters of the president want to make him out to be a liar and a scoundrel and unpatriotic, according to them. The point is there are multiple kinds of whistleblowers, right? There's the whistleblower who has been directly involved in misconduct. In other words, he has been a victim of misconduct, is a percipient witness to actual things going on and becomes important to the discovery of factual information later.

Then there's the whistleblower who might be somebody who just witnessed something or heard something on the the street, which every day in America, police departments around the country, in more mundane matters, take those leads in, take those tips in, and do an investigation. And that's exactly the kind of whistleblower this is.

He is not saying that he has firsthand knowledge of all this. He says this in the first two paragraphs of this complaint. So the idea that attacking him somehow helps the president's case, I don't get it. He's a conduit, he's a trigger for other people, other agencies, including Congress, to conduct their investigation and to find out if these allegations are true or not. He has basically done his job already. And character assassination of the whistleblower is not only wrong, it sounds like self-defeating, it doesn't make any sense.

BLITZER: You're the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Rudy Giuliani was -- before you, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Based on what you've seen so far in these documents that finally have been released, do you think potentially he's criminally, perhaps, suspect in these kinds of issues?

BHARARA: Yes. I'm not going to make an observation about whether he's criminally suspect or not. I think, again, we do too much of that when we were talking about the Mueller investigation. I think there are a lot of questions to be asked with Rudy Giuliani, my predecessor in the Southern District of New York.


I don't know who pays him. I don't know what his job is. He talks about being the president's lawyer. It seems clear that he is not doing lawyering work. I don't know if he is an adjunct to the State Department. I don't know what he says about being someone who was told by the State Department to have these meetings is true. I don't know what he's doing, what he's saying, what his arguments are, what his relationship with the president is and how confidential those communications should be.

But I do think there should be a lot of questions asked of Mr. Giuliani who, according to the whistleblower complaint, and, by the way, his own boasts, his gallivanting around the world conducting foreign policy and doing dirty political work for the president.

BLITZER: Preet Bharara, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our panel. And very quickly, the president is really going after the whistleblower and those officials at the White House who helped him. But Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence, in his three-hour testimony today, he was praising the whistleblower for doing exactly the right thing.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. So whether, you know, those on the left want to call him a hero or the president's admirers want to follow the president's lead and take him down, I think it's important to see that the president's appointed acting Director of National Intelligence went before Congress today, under oath, and said that this whistleblower did everything by the book, totally appropriate. He had no qualms, whatsoever, with the way that the whistleblower handled this complaint.

That's the president's guy saying that. I think that's an important point and I hope it's not lost on people. Because when I heard that, I could just imagine the president listening to that and how quickly he would like to move on to his --

BLITZER: What he says, Jeffrey, he said the spies and treason, he used the word treason which carries the death penalty.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, there are laws about whistleblowers. Charles Grassley, who's now the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has spent decades creating laws to protect whistleblowers. They are designed precisely to avoid what Donald Trump did.

And there are three words that are worth thinking about when you think about this whistleblower, Christine Blasey Ford. You saw what she endured when was a witness against -- in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. What she endured, and she had to move out of her house when she was harassed and death threats, what she got is nothing compared to what's in store for this person if his or her identity is revealed. BLITZER: Grassley was the chair, now Lindsey Graham who is the Chair of the Judiciary Committee.

Samantha, why would the president be issuing this threat and raising this notion of spies and treason if he had what he called a perfect phone call with the Ukrainian leader?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It clearly wasn't a perfect phone call or he wouldn't be reacting this way. Let's keep in mind that he's also said that members of the media have engaged in virtual treason when they have published commentary that is unhelpful to him or he deems as unflattering. He's reacting this way because the whistleblower complaint frankly reads like a rap sheet. And, of course, everything needs to be corroborated. But if he had nothing to hide, he wouldn't be reacting in this way and wouldn't be making these statements about the Intelligence Community.

I also want to pick up on another point that we are just discussing. This explicitly or implicitly is intimidation. The president is issuing threats against this whistleblower and anybody that works with them, whether that's criminal wrongdoing, I'll leave to the lawyers.

But if you're the whistleblower right now, you certainly know what the president and his team have done to attack other witnesses against the administration. And if you you're a member of the Intelligence Community right now or anybody working in the White House, you are likely very concerned that your name could end up in right wing media conspiracies and that you could be personally attacked.

I don't think that this was a careless comment by the president. I think it was likely intentional to send a message.

BLITZER: And send a message potentially to some of his supporters out there who are going to say, treason, if somebody commits treason, that's pretty bad.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, committing treason is alerting people to a potential abuse of power. That's actually patriotic in many respects to do so. I mean, that's why we have crafted a legislation to say we encourage you to come forward. We'll have protections available.

Remember, this is really completely a self-inflicted wound by the president. We wouldn't actually know about any of this had the proper channels been followed. It would have gone to the IG, then it would have gone to the DNI, and then it would have gone to the Intel Committees of Congress. There was no guarantee it was coming to the American people but for the White House's interferences and trying to make sure it did not come through.

So in that respect, the reason all of this is he's privy (ph) to the speculation, the conversations and the court (ph) of public opinion that scrutinizes his behavior is because he tried to cover up something and tried not to let everybody know. And so it must get very exhausting for the president of the United States to try to run at the speed he does by shooting himself in the foot time and time again.

BLITZER: Let me get Phil Mudd to weigh in. Go ahead, Phil.

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think this is pretty straightforward. The president is doing this because it worked. Look at the parallel and look at the playbook. Tell the American people that the investigators, Robert Mueller is ethically compromised and it's a bunch of Democrats.


We're doing this again.

Now, we're saying that the whistleblower is ethically compromised, he's a partisan or she's a partisan, same playbook.

Second step in the playbook, it's a hoax, the person who I'm opposing in this election did worse than I did. Last time, it was Hillary Clinton, this time, it's Joe Biden. Not only worse than I did but what they did was criminal. I'm waiting for the president to go to a rally to say lock him up.

The only thing that changed in this story, Wolf, is the pronoun, him versus her. The whole rest of the story, the president is depending on what worked last time, telling the American people that the whole system is corrupt. When you look at the phone call, he is corrupt. That's what we've got here.

CHALIAN: I would just note one other thing that changed. One other thing that I think is interesting to note is the speed with which the president moved from stonewalling to releasing this information. Now, there is that unanimous vote in the Senate, but obviously he knew this was coming.

I don't think we understand exactly yet what motivated the president to move so quickly and change his posture. We did not see that kind of rapid change of posture during the Russia investigation.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're going to be discussing right after a quick break.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let's get back to our analysts.

Sabrina, our friend Elaina Plott of "The Atlantic" spoke to Rudy Giuliani, and quote, unleashed a rant about the Bidens, Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, Barack Obama, the media, and the so- called deep state, almost shouting. She said, he declared that, quote, it is impossible that the whistle-blower is a hero and I'm not. And I will be the hero. These morons -- when this is over, I will be the hero.

He obviously is ranting about all of this. But he clearly has the president's ear.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as we've seen time and again, this is a president who places a premium, above all, on loyalty. And Rudy Giuliani has been one of his most loyal and vociferous proponents. I think it's true, Rudy Giuliani has caused multiple headaches for this president, not just pertaining to the current allegations with respect to Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani's own involvement in working with or trying to pressure the Ukrainian government with respect to Joe Biden and investigating Biden and his son, but also if you think back to the entire controversy surrounding Stormy Daniels, there were a number of times when Giuliani raised issues for the president by offering a conflicting narrative about what the president knew about those payments, when he knew them.

But all of that doesn't really matter to the president because he sees Giuliani as one of his most aggressive spokesmen when it comes to his presidency. Also, when you look at what Rudy Giuliani said about the Clintons, about Joe Biden, lashing out the media, that's not very different from what the president says on any given day. We were talking before the break about how the president is taking a page out of his Russia playbook, and a lot of what Giuliani said in that interview today, while it may seem somewhat unhinged, it's very similar to what the president has tweeted himself, trying to really aggressively push back against the allegations with respect to Ukraine.

BLITZER: Phil, how big a role do you think Giuliani has played in funneling to the president some of these conspiracy theories that he's clearly promoting right now?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think pretty significant for a simple reason. When you get information from the secretary of defense or secretary of state, people who might be talking to you about Ukraine, you're getting hard policy choices and good intelligence. You're not going to get weird conspiracy theories.

But you look at the channels the president has to get information, executive time, Lord knows who he's calling from the White House, but I guarantee you he's getting some weird stories. Rudy Giuliani, you mentioned, coming up with weird stories. And finally, the stuff he's retweeting from websites that make no sense.

Let me give you a close with a rule of thumb, there are a lot more wackadoodles outside government than inside government. When you're depending on people who get their information outside government on national security. Be careful.

BLITZER: You know, how big a role is the attorney general, Bill Barr, playing in all of this, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it seems like he's playing a role according to the allegations in the complaint. On the allegations, he, of course, is, I'm sure, disputing, yesterday he had a statement out that he was not asked about this, even though the president said publicly in this transcript that he was going to essentially use him as a vehicle or a conduit to follow up on this corruption allegations and all the whole opposition research, he said he didn't have a private conversation with him.

And ultimately, it's going to come down to that question I think in everyone's mind is, recusal. When there's somebody who has a hint of impropriety, we ask people to recuse themselves. However, Barr ultimately has the prerogative to stay on if he doesn't have a clear conflict of interest. And because these are allegations at this point in time, it's hard to force him to do so, and ultimately can say, no thanks, I'm not going to do that.


SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's something amiss here. Barr -- a few things.

Barr claims he didn't hear about the transcript of this call, the contents of the call, for several weeks after it happened. That is quite unusual in terms of actually process. Barr was mentioned in the call. And he should have gotten a transcript to follow up on the work.

Instead, Rudy Giuliani and two State Department political appointees went and met with the Ukrainians to follow up on that work instead of the attorney general and our charge in Ukraine.

[18:50:01] That deserves much more scrutiny.

BLITZER: Very quickly.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the interesting thing about Bill Barr is he seems to think the president of the United States is uninformed. The president of the United States is saying to the president of Ukraine, talk to my guy, the attorney general. And the attorney general is saying, who, me? I don't know anything about this.


Everybody, stand by.

There's a lot more we're following including big questions about Rudy Giuliani's central role in the Ukraine scandal. Was the State Department in or out of the loop?



BLITZER: The newly released whistle-blower complaint highlights Rudy Giuliani's big and very questionable role in the president's dealings with Ukraine.

Brian Todd is digging on that.

Brian, the complaint raises a lot of questions about what Rudy Giuliani has been doing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Wolf.

You know, tonight, Rudy Giuliani is tweeting out, taunting congressional Democrats for indicating they might subpoena him. Giuliani saying the attacks on his conduct are phony and questioning the whistle-blower. But tonight, Rudy Giuliani could be in some real legal peril and we dug into his alleged dealings with the Ukrainians that might have gotten him there.


TODD (voice-over): The whistle-blower says in stark terms he has information that President Trump used the power of his office to try to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and Biden's son, and that, quote, the president's personal lawyer Mr. Rudolph Giuliani is a central figure in that effort.

But Giuliani isn't just a central figure in the effort. He's a central player in the nine-page complaint.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: He's all over the place talking with Ukrainians in New York, going to places like Warsaw and even planning a trip to Ukraine that was eventually scrapped, trying to pull together information that could really help, he says, his client.

TODD: According to the whistleblower, Rudy Giuliani met more than once with Yuri Lutsenko, who was Ukraine's top prosecutor, even before the country's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, took office this May.

Lutsenko, who was eventually pushed out, had accused Joe Biden of trying to quash an investigation of a Ukrainian company that Biden's son Hunter was involved with. There was just one problem with the accusation.

WARREN: It turns out not to be true. The investigation that the Ukrainians supposedly stopped at Biden's behest had actually stopped two years earlier.

TODD: The investigation stopped Ukrainian officials say, not because Joe Biden asked for it, but because there was no evidence and that prosecutor Lutsenko, who made the allegation this spring and later as much, walked back the allegations.

But that didn't stop Giuliani from rabidly pursuing the conspiracy theory, and talking about it on TV.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I found out this incredible story of Joe Biden that he bribed the president of the Ukraine in order to fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son. That is an astounding scandal of major proportions which all of you have covered up for about five or six months.

TODD: Giuliani continued to push that conspiracy and to sell it to Trump, right after President Trump's phone call with President Zelensky in July, in which Trump pushed the Ukrainian to investigate Biden and told him to expect a call from Giuliani. That's when the whistle-blower claims Giuliani flew to Madrid to meet with the top aide to the Ukrainian president.

But that wasn't even the first trip the former New York City mayor had planned to, quote, investigate the debunk allegations. A couple of months earlier, Giuliani publicly announced he planned to travel to Ukraine to push for investigations that he told "The New York Times," quote, would be very, very helpful to my client. At the time, Giuliani said, quote, we're not meddling in an election. We're meddling in an investigation which we have a right to do.

Except legal experts say he really didn't because Giuliani was a private citizen, not a government official.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It makes no sense. Giuliani has no official role and when you look at these circumstances, there was no reason for him to be involved in it whatsoever.

TODD: Tonight, as the whistle-blower's report sends shockwaves through the Capitol, analysts say the man who made his name as a prosecutor, could now be prosecuted himself.

WU: There could be violations of the Logan Act which prevents private citizens from acting on behalf of the United States. There could be campaign violations to the extent that he's trying to get help for the president's campaign.


TODD: CNN reached out to Rudy Giuliani about the whistleblower's complaint and its information about his alleged dealings with Ukrainian officials. Giuliani told us he, quote, has no knowledge of any of that crap. And when we asked him about the concerns from U.S. officials about those dealings with the Ukrainians, he called that, quote, total nonsense. The former Ukrainian prosecutor who met with Giuliani, Yuri Lutsenko, just posted a statement on his Facebook face saying the whistle-blower's complaint is, quote, manipulative and inconsistent with the truth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Brian Todd, excellent report. Thank you very much.

An important note to our viewers right now. Later tonight, Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper host a special wrap-up of all of the day's headlines from here in Washington. Tune in for a CNN Special Report "The Impeachment Inquiry." That's live tonight 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our special coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".