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White House Says Lawyers Directed Moving Ukraine Call Transcript to Highly Secure System; Whistleblower Says Call Transcript Moved to System Used for Classified Information; Pelosi Says Looks Like Coverup of Coverup, & Goes After A.G. Barr for His Role; Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) Discusses Whistleblower Complaint, Memorandum of Trump/Zelensky Phone Call, Possible Coverup; DOJ Knew About Whistleblower Complaint More Than a Week Before Referral. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you for joining me.

This morning, one of the more explosive claims in the whistleblower complaint was confirmed, at least in part, by the White House. In a statement to CNN's Pamela Brown, a senior White House official said, quote, "National Security Council lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately."

This just a day after the whistleblower complaint alleges that the details of the call with Ukraine's president was moved to a system normally used for classified information. But what this alleges in the complaint is that it was moved not for national security purposes, but because it was deemed political sensitive. We're going to have much more on that in just a moment.

Even before this news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking out, saying it all looks like a coverup of a coverup. And she's also going after the Attorney General Bill Barr for what she sees as his role in it. Listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-NY): I think we're getting involved in the coverup of the coverup. That may be something that will take time to investigate.

I do think the attorney general has gone rogue. He has for a long time now. And since he was mentioned in all of this, it's curious that he would be making discussions about how the complaint would be handled.


BOLDUAN: In the least surprising twist, President Trump is lashing out at the chairman of the committee leading the investigation at the whistleblower, and at the White House officials who allegedly talked to the whistle blowers. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to know, who is the person who gave the whistleblower -- who's the person who gave the whistleblowers the information? That's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when they were smart, right? We used to handle it differently than we do now.


BOLDUAN: A little differently.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill.

Kaitlan, first to you.

What are you learning from the White House after the statement they just put out?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is significant. This is the first time that the White House is acknowledging that, yes, lawyers did direct staff to move that transcript of the president's call with the Ukrainian president from where these transcripts are typically kept to a more highly secure system.

This comes as the president just this morning was doubting this whistleblower, questioning this person's credibility, and saying that their complaint that they filed was full of inaccurate information. Now we have the White House acknowledges that is just not the case.

You'll remember, back in that complaint, this whistleblower said, quote, "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."

The president is saying this complaint is full of inaccurate information. A senior White House official just confirmed to my colleague, Pam Brown, that without, yes, lawyers did direct that to be moved, but they're saying a National Security Council lawyer, because before, it just said White House lawyer. They're pinning the blame specifically on a National Security Council lawyer.

In this complaint, you'll remember this whistleblower said, according to White House officials this person spoke with, this was, quote, "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 information rather than national security sensitive information." What we're still trying to figure out, Kate, and still reporting our

is what other transcripts were moved from where these transcripts are kept to this sensitive -- to where these -- this highly secure area, where these would go, as the whistleblower notes, typically for more nationally security sensitive related material, not ones that could potentially embarrass the president.

But of course, this all came as White House officials knew that the president wanted these transcripts kept pretty close, because after some leaked right after he got into the office, the president was furious about that.

BOLDUAN: All right. This is significant. Much more to come on this, Kaitlan.

Sunlen, what is the latest today?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, members are about to leave for a two-week recess. They're not expected to be back on Capitol Hill until October 14th.

So as to not lose momentum, the House Intelligence Committee, according to the chairman, will continue working over the break, of course, with the number-one goal of potentially trying to get that whistleblower in front of their committee.

Sources tell CNN this morning that members of that committee have been told they would potentially have to return to Washington to attend that hearing, in addition for all the other work they have to do, making document requests, potential subpoenas, trying to get other witnesses before the committee.

Certainly, the timeline is what a lot of Democrats are talking about, how quickly, according to Democrats, they want to move through this. Many Democrats say they're trying to have articles of impeachment voted on in the House Judiciary Committee, the committee that would move articles of impeachment, potentially by the end of October, setting up potentially a full vote on the House on articles of impeachment potentially by Thanksgiving.


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been very noncommittal in terms of that timeline. But this morning, she said they should move with purpose but not hastily. Kate, clearly, the speaker not trying to send the impression they're getting ahead of their skis, while keeping the momentum focused squarely on Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Sunlen, really quick, sorry if I missed it. When it comes to if the House Intel Committee could be called back during the recess, is it clear -- if that's definitely going to happen? Is it just you need to stand by to stand by, because things are moving quickly?

SERFATY: I think definitely stand by, because things are moving quickly. They have been in discussion with the whistleblower's attorney about potential getting he or she in front of that committee. When and if that happens, that will likely call back members back to Washington, of course, to hear that testimony likely behind closed doors.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, to you.

We're hearing a list of -- the list is starting to grow and it's just beginning of White House administration officials that could be called up to Capitol Hill for testimony on -- as part of this investigation before the House Intelligence Committee.

What are you hearing from there in terms of -- we've seen how easily that has gone over with past investigations with the Democratic House. What are you hearing there in terms of the openness, the willingness for folks to be called up there now?

COLLINS: I think a few days ago White House officials probably would have dismissed that, pointing to what has happened to their colleagues in the past where they have been protected essential from having to go up in there.

But there's a sense that things have changed now. They realized what Democrats have undergone, how fast-moving this is. That's left a lot of people on unsure footing here. They're not confident that that strategy of blocking officials from going up there would technically work anymore.

That's really something we have noticed here in the White House. They essential feel like they're starting over. They're trying to figure out what the strategy will be because they didn't expect this. The ground shifted underneath them pretty quickly.

Right now, there isn't total confidence in the White House that the strategies that have worked with the past requests of Democrats are going to work when it comes down to this narrow focus you are seeing Democrats pursue here.

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

Sunlen, Kaitlan, thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.

For much more on this, joining me is Democratic congressman from New York, Sean Patrick Maloney. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading this inquiry, the committee that, as Sunlen pointed out, just found out that members need to be ready to return from the upcoming recess early to continue the investigation.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

First I want your reaction. There's new reporting, in case you've not heard it from CNN's Pamela Brown, received information from the White House, a statement from the White House. The White House is acknowledging for the first time that official did direct that key documents related to the Ukraine call, that they be filed in a separate classified system. The statement from the senior White House officials on this is

National Security Council lawyers directed that the classified document be handled appropriately. Just your reaction to that?

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Right. Well, you know, it's nice of them to admit what we all found out by dragging the information out through what we've had to go through the last few days.

Look, the point is the point that it's a highly unusual way to handle a pretty routine call with a foreign head of state.

I was the White House staff secretary. I worked in the White House for three years. I handled all NSA information going to the president, except for the presidential daily briefs.

I've seen memos like this. You don't codeword classify something like that. Codeword documents are among the most sensitive information you can imagine. The raid against bin Laden, things that will cost somebody their life if it gets out.

So that fact that they were classified in that manner may have been inappropriate, but it sure speaks volumes how they were trying to keep this quiet.

BOLDUAN: The "Washington Post" is reporting that to move a call like this from the normal system to this code-level protected system, an official as high ranks as the chief of staff or the national security adviser would need to make a formal request.

That is not what the White House is saying right now. They're saying right now this came from National Security Council attorneys.

But with that "Washington Post" reporting in mind, that it had to come from someone as high as chief of staff or the national security adviser, does that mean you all are planning to call Mick Mulvaney or the former National Security Council adviser, John Bolton, before the commit year?


MALONEY: I wouldn't get ahead of ourselves. I caution you not to. There's several things built into that statement.

I can tell you, as someone who would have worked there, I never would have presumed, even as a senior adviser to the president, to tell the professionals, particularly in the national security area, how to handle something, where to put it, how to classify it.

Anybody with any common sense knows you're in dangerous ground, particularly when your motives are to try to conceal embarrassment or keep something from being distributed to people who legitimately have a reason to have it. You know you're doing something wrong.

You're right to focus on it as suspicious, but who did what, what it means, what witnesses we'll call, way too soon to tell. BOLDUAN: If this was done without the president's knowledge -- again,

this all came out yesterday. There's many avenues you will need to explore with regard to the whistleblower complaint.

But if this -- when we're talking about this allegation, moving this call to the server, the whistleblower says for political reasons, not national security reasons, if it was done without the knowledge of the president, does that change things for you?

MALONEY: No, the president's conduct is what we should be, first and foremost, focused on. It's the most egregious conduct in any of this.

Everybody else is maybe trying to cover it up or clean it up. The president is the one who is, by his actions, doing things that are an abuse of his office, potentially illegal, threatening our national security, and the security of our European partners. That's where the focus should be.

BOLDUAN: After yesterday's hearing, I want to know where you want to focus this investigation now. After what you heard from the DNI, after reading the complaint, where you do you want the committee to focus next?

MALONEY: I think there's a couple of big things.

First, let's not lose sight of the substantive issues we have learned from is the call memorandum that are largely if not entirely confirmed by the whistleblower complaint, that the president abused his office, held over the head of a foreign leader military assistance to get political advantage, things goes to that, first and foremost.

But we do want to understand this effort to cover it up. I think the role of the attorney general is something that alarms me greatly. He's identified in the second paragraph of the whistleblower complaint, yet he's overseeing the agency making the decision to kill this I.G. report to Congress. I want to understand that.

Mr. Giuliani's role deserves attention. He is crashing around the world as a private citizen, and we need to understand what he's been doing, and he needs to explain that, it seems to me.

Then I think the other issues and things raised in the complaint deserve attention. There are some thing in here, in any normal context themselves, would be concerning.

Why is the president talking about the Ukrainians making a peace deal with the Russians or striking a deal?

What does he mean when he says something is going to happen to the woman who used to be the U.S. ambassador as he's criticizing her? Something is going to happen to her, some things are going to happen to her, he's alleged to have said. There's some alarming kernels of information in there that deserve attention.

But the big thing is the big thing. What did the president do? Who saw those actions? What really happened? That's what we've got to focus on.

BOLDUAN: The fact that the whistleblower acknowledges in the complaint that the information they are reporting is secondhand, that this is non-direct firsthand accounts of the allegations, is that a problem for you? That is something I have heard from Republicans on your committee and Republicans elsewhere.

MALONEY: Yes, I've heard them say that. We know these are White House talking points, because the White House mailed the talking points to the Democrats, not just the Republicans. So these guys may be shady, but at least they're incompetent.

So we know that they get these talking points, sure, look, of course, it's a --


BOLDUAN: Everybody gets talking points.



BOLDUAN: Everybody gets talking points. Democratic White House sends out talking points as well. But beyond that point, please continue.

MALONEY: Sorry to get distracted. Your point is a fair one. It's a reason to be cautious.

But look at how well the whistleblower complaint matched up against the call memorandum that was prepared by White House officials in the Situation Room. This is clearly a very well-informed person with a lot of training who did a very thorough job.

But, you bet, we shouldn't take anything at face value. We shouldn't take the whistleblower's word for it. That's why we need to do an inquiry. That's why we need to be rightly skeptical and corroborate things. That's what we're attempting to do.

BOLDUAN: On its face, the whistleblower is, at least in part, two for two on the transcript of the call and the fact that the transcript of the call was moved to a separate server, we are now learning this morning, as confirmed by the White House.

Congressman, thanks for coming on.


MALONEY: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, new details on when the Justice Department first learned about the whistleblower's complaint and what new questions it raises for Attorney General Bill Barr.

Plus, the Rudy Giuliani chronicles, as we can call it. His new claim he will be the hero when the dust settles. Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: Who in the Trump administration knew about the whistleblower complaint and when did they know it? These are new questions as officials are telling CNN that national security lawyers at the Justice Department were first alerted to the complaint more than a week before the formal referral from the Intelligence Community's inspector general.

According to the "New York Times" as well, the White House was also made aware of the complaint before the I.G.'s referral.

CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has much more.

Jessica, lay it out. It seems a new picture is emerging of the timeline.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It all adds to the questions, Kate, in particular, about what the Justice Department and the attorney general knew and when.

We learned that the DOJ's national security lawyers were first alerted to the whistleblowers allegations about one week before there was an actual formal referral from the inspector general. So these DOJ officials were total the allegations related to the president's July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president.

We know the DOJ lawyers went to the White House to review the transcript of this call since the White House, as you mentioned, was also aware of the allegations.

Those lawyers then alerted officials at DOJ's Criminal Division and the deputy attorney general's office, that Attorney General Bill Barr was mentioned on this phone call. But we know it wasn't until more than a week later that the inspector general for the Intelligence Community officially referred the matter to the DOJ.

The Justice Department has previously said that the attorney general was informed when the criminal referral was delivered to DOJ in late August, and that, in their words, Barr was minimally involved in the issue.

So we know the DOJ also ultimately decided not to open a full-blown criminal investigation into those potential campaign finance violations stemming from the July 25th phone call.

But, Kate, really all these new details about this timeline and about the DOJ's early awareness of the allegations in early to mid-August, before that formal referral to the DOJ the last week of August, it does raise these questions about the extent of the attorney general's involvement, and what we knew and when.

More questions swirling today, Kate, in the wake of the hearing yesterday and the reveal of the whistleblower's complaint -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thank you so much for laying it all out.

There seems to be much more to learn, especially in regard to this, because the attorney general's involvement in all of this is definitely now under scrutiny, as Jessica points out, in the transcript of President Trump's call with the president of Ukraine.

The president has said he would have Bill Barr contact Ukraine, Bill Barr would be in touch, along with Rudy Giuliani.

And after all of this, House Speaker Pelosi is today is now accusing the attorney general of, in her words, quote, unquote, "going rogue."

Joining me now is CNN legal analyst and former U.S. attorney, Elie Hoenig.

Elie, you think Barr should recuse himself from this matter. What factor of this -- what is this about for you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a no-brainer, Kate. Bill Barr is a participant potentially and, at an absolute minimum, he's a witness. And we know that because Donald Trump alludes to Bill Barr four or five times in the transcript of that call we saw. So that means either Bill Barr was involved in the conduct here or he was a witness to the conduct here.

We don't know for sure yet whether Bill Barr did the things Donald Trump said he would do on the call. He said, I'll have the attorney general get together with my personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and reach out to you, paraphrasing, but even if he did not do those things, he needs to be questioned: What did you know about this, did Trump talk to you, et cetera.

BOLDUAN: That's a question I have. Does it matter whether or not Barr ever, A, did follow up as the president said he would or, B, was even informed that he was mentioned on this call? These are all, of course, hypotheticals, more information needed. Do those two factors matter?

HONIG: It does not matter in terms of recusal. Either way, he needs to get questioned. He has a whole bunch of questions to answer: Did Trump reach out to you, did you follow up, did any of this every happen. You cannot be the prosecutor and a witness in the same case.

But if he did do some of those actions, if he did participate, then he's a witness at a whole new level. Arguably, worse-case scenario could even be implicated in some of the conduct here.

BOLDUAN: So the new reporting is that the Justice Department attorneys knew a week before the actual formal referral about the complaint. Does that mean necessarily that the attorney general was made aware?

HONIG: No, but I think, in all likelihood, a complaint of this level of importance, it would make its way up to the attorney general. We don't know that for a fact or --


BOLDUAN: Or would they want to protect themselves and block him off because --


BOLDUAN: -- they knew what was in the call?

HONIG: It could be. It would be a pretty damning statement about the way people think of Bill Barr.

But, look, there are a lot of questions about what happened within the Justice Department, whether it reached Bill Barr or not. How is this decision made to not even open an investigation of these allegations --


BOLDUAN: Now that the complaint is out, is someone - does it matter what happened before if the information that was potentially held up is out?

HONIG: It matters in determining whether our Justice Department is in the bag or not. If the Justice Department got this complaint and looked at it and said, we're not even starting an investigation, that raises all kinds of questions for me. Because there is more than enough there. All you need is a kernel to start an investigation. You do not need the crime to be laid out.

And when I look at that call, and I see it's being pretty darn close to a crime in and of itself, the crime of soliciting for an election aid, potentially bribery and extortion. So I don't know where this decision came from or how it was justified but we're not even going to look.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Elie.

HONIG: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, he is singled out in the whistleblower complaint. Now Rudy Giuliani is claiming that he will be the hero in all of this. Why is he claiming that? Well, just wait. That's next.