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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Schiff Says Intel Committee Preparing for Hearings Soon as Next Week, Subpoenas Going Out Expeditiously; Some Republicans Defending Trump's Call with Ukrainian Leader, Others Expressing Concern; Pence Was Expected to Attend Inauguration in Ukraine, Trump Instructed Him to Cancel; Senator Scott Says Whistleblower Complaint Is Hearsay; GOP Lawmakers Grapple with How to React to Whistleblower; Former Ukraine Prosecutor Tells "Washington Post" That Hunter Biden Did Not Violate Anything. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- and then the President says after a conversation about CrowdStrike, and another thing -- and he brings up the Bidens.

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL TO KENNETH STARR: Exactly, so one of the arguments that I've heard made is that the favor was only about investigating CrowdStrike and the DNC and Russian interference. And that therefore that's somehow OK. But the President just rolls right along and says, and again, another thing I'd like is for you to investigate Joe Biden, his son Hunter, their connections, et cetera. Biden's been bragging about shutting down the investigation. I mean granted, the President's never a model of clarity in what he says. But in this instance, he's actually pretty much a model of clarity.

TAPPER: Now some of the President's defenders are pushing back on the fact that some of the details in the whistleblower complaint do not appear to be accurate. For instance, the White House says that one of the people he says is on the call was not actually on the call. Giuliani claims that the whistleblower appeared to have gotten some Ukrainian prosecutors confused. Is that important or is it more important that just the big details are right?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, credibility is always about accuracy. And it's always a balancing test. The bigger the detail you get right, the better it is. For example, here the whistleblower accurately described most of the content and most of the tenor of this call before the memorandum of record was publicly released. So he was telling us in advance what to expect in the memorandum of record and got it exactly accurate.

Likewise with the fact that the memorandum had been moved to a code, classified code word server. Perfectly accurate. When a witness predicts in advance what to expect and then proves to be true, that's a real high mark of credibility.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Mike Turner who is on the House intelligence Committee, he did call out the President on the Ukraine call. He said it was not OK but then he took issue with the whistleblower complaint in terms of what he was taking issue with. I want you to take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): This is not OK. That conversation is not OK. What's clear about the complaint is it's based on political issues, Mr. Director. He's alleging, or she, is alleging that the actions of the President were political in nature. Now, that's my concern about how this is applied to the whistleblower statute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is a President pushing a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent whether or not this was quid pro quo with the military aid, is that just politics?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, no, Congressman Turner is exactly right and exactly wrong. The whistleblower's complaining about the politicization of what should be a completely apolitical process. The President's engagement with a foreign nation should be based upon the best interests of the United States and we can have a debate about how best to define that. But one way that we cannot define that is that the best interests of the United States involved giving me dirt, fake dirt, it turns out, but dirt about my political opponent. So it is, in fact, a complaint about politics, but it's a complaint about the President injecting politics into what should be a relatively non- partisan effort to aid the Ukraine.

TAPPER: All right. Paul Rosenzweig, thank you so much for your expertise. We appreciate it.

ROSENZWEIG: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, it's basic stuff according to then vice- presidential candidate Mike Pence. But now that he is Trump's Vice President, he seems he's forgotten that basic stuff. Stay with us.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, you all need to know out there, this is basic stuff. Foreign donors and certainly foreign governments cannot participate in the American political process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was Governor Pence in 2016. Vice President Pence in 2019 is now defending foreign governments participating in the American political process in terms of President Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. I want to bring in "Washington Post" White House reporter, Toluse

Olorunnipa, who's also a CNN political analyst. Toluse, thanks for being here. You report today in the "Washington Post" that Ukrainian officials wanted Vice President Pence to attend the inauguration for the new president Zelensky in Kiev. What are you learning about that trip, it was canceled, right?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. This was part of the whistleblower complaint, the whistleblower said that this May 20th inauguration that Ukrainians wanted Vice President Pence to be there and apparently President Trump canceled that trip as a part of this broader effort to squeeze the Ukrainians and try to put pressure on them to get them to investigate Vice President Joe Biden.

Now, we talked to some members of the Trump administration and they say there was discussion about actually having Vice President Pence go over to Ukraine. There were some talks about different dates for making that trip happen. At some point that fell apart, the Vice President decided not to go and they said -- they wouldn't go fully and say President Trump canceled the meeting but they said that any time Vice President Pence gets signoff from President Trump that the standard protocol.

And seemed to lend some credence to the whistleblower complaint that at some point Vice President Pence was scheduled or thinking about going to Ukraine and ultimately, he decided not to go, and it was around the same time that President Trump was putting pressure on the Ukrainians.

[15:40:00]

And his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was putting pressure on Ukrainians to try to investigate Joe Biden as a part of this broader campaign.

TAPPER: Very important to Ukrainian leaders to show a strong relationship with the United States since they feel so threatened by Russia and they are literally being threatened Russia. In the complaint from the whistleblower it says, quote, it was also made clear to them the President did want to meet -- made clear to the Ukrainians -- that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, until he saw how Zelensky chose to act in office. Is canceling that trip part of pressure, kind of?

OLORUNNIPA: According to the whistleblower that is the case. You have some pushback from the White House that say President Trump had other things going on, he other priorities, even Vice President Pence had other priorities. He ended up going to Canada around that same time to push a trade deal.

But this whistleblower complaint is very -- has a lot of evidence in a lot of the allegations in this complaint that have come to be true, and we've seen them being confirmed one by one.

So this specific complaint about President Trump trying to put pressure, diplomatic pressure on Ukrainians, trying to see whether or not they are willing to play ball. We saw some of that in the transcript. We're seeing more evidence come out. And I think that's going to be one of the key things Democrats are going to be pushing for during this impeachment process to find out whether or not the money that President Trump was withholding was part of that broader effort to hold back diplomatic overtures to Ukraine. To put pressure on them and say, after you fulfill what I want, which is putting pressure on Vice President Biden and investigating him and his son. Then we can give you all the things that the U.S. can offer in terms of diplomatic overtures, money, having the President and Vice President going and have this meeting. Its whether or not that took place is going to be a key part of the impeachment process.

TAPPER: All right. To be continued. Toluse, thank you so much for being here.

I haven't had time to read it or it sounds like hearsay. Those are just some of the responses from Republican lawmakers and it sounds we've heard these talking points before. More on this special edition of THE LEAD: THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS right after this quick break.

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TAPPER: Welcome back to our special edition of THE LEAD: THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is attempting to undermine the whistleblower's complaint. Today he told CNN, quote, I would suggest that since it's a whistleblower who was not really there, it's not really a whistleblower. So, it's really more hearsay, unquote. This is of course a new definition of the term whistleblower. Plenty of whistleblowers have been privy to information while not necessarily firsthand witnesses to all of it.

But it is the latest example of how though there are a handful of Republican officials raising questions about the President's conduct, many of the most vocal Republican lawmakers are brushing off the latest controversy and adamantly defending President Trump. Let's chew over all of this and Dana, Senator Scott called it hearsay. Is this the new defense? We already have proof from the White House of the major allegations. The conversation and the fact that the transcript was hidden.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's one of the versions of what you hear Republican Senators who just don't want to go there and are looking for a lifeline, a rhetorical lifeline to got- of-no there say. I mean that's a great example of that.

You know, this is going to be such a test and we've talked about this over the last past days. But the more we talked to Republicans, I know, you all have as well, who are focused o getting President Trump re-elected, it is remarkable how even this, they are -- and especially this, they are absolutely convinced that they are going to do better with their turnout. That they're obviously, they believe, they say, they see doing better with fundraising numbers and that this will only help him. The question is -- I'm sorry, just real quick. The question is the

swing voters. Are there any swing voters? We're not going to know that until the week before the election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And setting aside the 2018 election and preservation of democracy, the Republicans have seen this President survive so many things that would have been, you know --

TAPPER: Fatal. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- the end of any other Presidency

BASH: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's starting with the "Access Hollywood" tape and the President, and some of them who spoke out, the President punished them ever since that happened. And they've seen themselves dragged and his supporters turned against which causes them problems at home. So there is a political calculation very nakedly going on here for a lot of these Republicans.

TAPPER: And there is, Sabrina, even among some of the President's most ardent defenders and acknowledgement that there are some questions that even they need the answers to. I want you take a listen to Congressman James Comer's exchange with our own Jim Sciutto earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: If this call was entirely OK, a beautiful call as the President has said, why did White House officials immediately after that call take the extraordinary step of putting the record of that call in a code word protected system?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Well, I think that's a good question. I think that's a question that the Trump administration needs to answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I've also seen some Republicans defending President Trump but acknowledging the role of Rudy Giuliani as something that needs to be further examined. What do you make of that?

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SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's certainly a lot of questions on the part of Republicans with respect to not just the allegations themselves but why, once again, we've seen Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal attorney, so deeply involved in talks with a foreign country. But the challenge for these Republicans is whether they're simply going to probe or actually be forced to vote on whether or not to remove the President from office.

And we were talking about how in the Senate they are defending nearly two dozen seats so it is going to be a real question as to whether or not Mitch McConnell wants to force his members or is willing to put his members to the test. He certainly wants to protect them from having to take what could be a very politically unpopular vote. I also do want to point out one of the biggest challenges for Republicans is that the President himself has repeatedly acknowledged the behavior of which he is accused in part because he doesn't think he is doing anything wrong.

TAPPER: Right.

SIDDIQUI: He repeatedly says everyone does it. I think back to that interview with ABC News in June when said he would gladly take help from a foreign government, he would accept dirt on a political rival. And he probably wouldn't even report it to the FBI.

BASH: He argued that he is doing exactly what he was elected to do, to root out corruption.

TAPPER: And, Shan, we have seen House Republicans coming out in strong defense of the President. Republican Senators have been quieter on this. Look at some reactions we've seen, they breakdown basically into a few categories. The I haven't read it yet category. The no comment or I need more information category, of course, the defending Trump category. Some have already come out stronger against what the President did like Senator Romney, Senator Thune, they've expressed concerns over the phone call.

I guess one of the questions I have is if ultimately nothing happens here, does that mean we have a new acceptance in the United States that Presidents can use and push foreign governments to hurt their own domestic political rivals? Is that the world we're going to face?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think so, at least for this term and this administration. I think if this administration leaves at some point, it's going to revert to the rule of law. This kind of defense of Trump saying it is hearsay, the whistleblower may not be credible, is really ridiculous. I mean this is an example of triple corroboration. There is the summary memo itself, which corroborates what they said, the Inspector General corroborated it, and of course Trump himself corroborates it. So it's an amazingly solid complaint.

TAPPER: Coming up, he's the person President Trump cannot stop talking about. You're watching a special edition of THE LEAD, THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. Stay with us.

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TAPPER: You're watching a special edition of THE LEAD, THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. Our world lead now, despite the Ukrainian prosecutor saying he has seen no evidence that the Biden's were involved in any wrongdoing, President Trump continues to try to point the finger back at Hunter and Joe Biden in the wake of the release the whistleblower complaint. A former top Ukrainian prosecutor named 24 times in the whistleblower complaint tells "The Washington Post" that Hunter Biden in fact, quote, did not violate anything, unquote. Let's bring in CNN's Matthew Chance in the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev. What is the significance, Matthew, of this particular prosecutor to this Trump Ukraine story?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, you said yourself, he was mentioned 24 times in the whistleblower document. And that just indicates just how crucial and central he was to this whole kind of toing and froing between Ukraine and the United States. He was the linchpin essentially, he the main point of contact for Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, when it came to fishing up and digging out all these incredibly strange and sort of speculative stories, all about Trump opponents.

Joe Biden, just as he was announcing he was going to be a Presidential candidate, you know, basically saying he could have been acting improperly when he was Vice President to do with the gas company in the Ukraine, and getting a former prosecutor fired. You know, to do with meddling in the 2016 election, one of President Trump's favorite themes, how the Ukrainian government may have had a hand in that. All of those salacious rumors. they were all generated, and crystallized by this guy, the prosecutor general of this country, the former prosecutor now, and passed on to Giuliani. It was manna from heaven for Giuliani and for President Trump.

TAPPER: And the prosecutor also issued a statement saying that the whistleblower complaint is, quote, manipulative.

CHANCE: Yes, I mean look, he said that, he also said he it no relationship to the truth, and he hasn't been able to speak to us. He hasn't been willing to speak to us to clarify what exactly he means. What I do know, though, is this is a man who has changed his story multiple times. He started off kind of slamming these figures. He then came back and issued a statement back in May that the Bidens did nothing wrong under Ukrainian law.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance in Kiev, Ukraine, thank you so much.

Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD, THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington. And we begin this hour with breaking news in our politics lead.

Sources are telling CNN that House Democrats could move forward with articles of impeachment against Trump by Thanksgiving. And House members have been told to be prepared to return to Washington during the recess scheduled to begin just in a few hours.

All of this as we are learning more about the whistleblower complaint at the heart of the impeachment push, and potential efforts to block Congress from seeing that complaint. Sources tell CNN that Justice Department lawyers were first alerted to the --

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