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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
White House in Crisis; Mike Pompeo Subpoenaed in Impeachment Inquiry; Three House Committees Subpoena Secretary Pompeo; House Schedules Depositions For Five State Department Officials. Aired 4- 4:30p ET
Aired September 27, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All of this as we're learning more about the whistle-blower 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 existence of the complaint more than a week before the document was referred to the proper department to ascertain whether a criminal investigation needed to begin. Democrats are now demanding answers as to why the delay.
We have more breaking news today, with the Trump administration admitting that another key allegation in the whistle-blower complaint is accurate, that White House officials did move the transcript of the Ukraine call to a secure computer system typically reserved for highly secretive information.
The White House today claiming that White House lawyers told White House officials to do so.
CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins kicks off our coverage.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: It doesn't affect him and it certainly doesn't affect his presidency.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the drumbeat of impeachment in the background, President Trump is lashing out today, calling into question the credibility of the whistle-blower who has nearly single-handedly put those gears in motion, tweeting: "Sounding more and more like the whistle-blower isn't a whistle-blower at all. All secondhand information that proved to be so inaccurate."
That's a statement his own aides seemed to disagree with today, when a senior administration official confirmed one of the most explosive parts of the complaint, acknowledging a National Security Council lawyer directed staff to move the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president to a highly secure system.
The whistle-blower says it didn't belong there and noted this isn't the first time it's happened. As the White House is attempting to sow doubt, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is condemning Attorney General Bill Barr for handling the complaint that named him multiple times.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I do think the attorney general has gone rogue. He has for a long time now.
COLLINS: Sources tell CNN the Justice Department knew about the complaint more than a week before the official referral, but officials insist Barr was barely involved.
PELOSI: It is curious that he would be making decisions about how the complaint would be handled.
COLLINS: Today, Trump also called on House intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff to resign after he read a fictional version of Trump's call with the Ukrainian president.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): By the way, don't call me again. I will call you when you have done what I asked.
My summary of the president's call was meant to be, at least in part, in parody.
COLLINS: People close to the president say he is in denial and doesn't realize the gravity of what he is facing, though aides denied they're scrambling to deal with the fallout.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: No one I have talked to is concerned about this because there's nothing there.
COLLINS: So, Jake, you hear aides like Hogan Gidley brushing this off, saying that.
A lot of that has to do with a lot of them had to whether the incremental measurements of the Russian investigation, which never triggered impeachment. But the speed of how this has developed has really thrown people off. And it actually is generating a lot of concern in the West Wing.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, let's chat about this.
I do want to ask you, what is the president thinking? What is his mood? Does he understand that an impeachment might actually -- potentially, I guess, the Trump campaign theory of the case, that it's going to rally supporters and raise money, I guess potentially that's true, but it also going to be a real blight on his presidency.
COLLINS: Yes, you don't know which way it's going to go.
Sure, maybe it could actually shore up a lot of support for him. Maybe it could encourage his voters to turn out, or maybe going through this process is going to reveal a lot of -- more damaging information that they don't want to come out that's not going to be helpful, that's going to contribute to this whole chaos cloud that has surrounded President Trump for so long. So that's the concern. But, so far, people are trying to get the
president engaged to make him realize this is going to be something you can get over, but you are going to have to fight this. He does not have that mentality right now. That's why a lot of people have been telling us they think he is in this denial stage of what he is actually facing.
TAPPER: And, Nia, the president and his allies are going after the whistle-blower's credibility right now.
President Trump tweeting -- quote -- "Sounding more and more like the so-called whistle-blower isn't a whistle-blower at all. In addition, all secondhand information that has proved to be so inaccurate."
A lot of the information, just strictly speaking about the facts, a lot of information has proven to be correct, the description of the phone call.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Was exactly right.
TAPPER: The hiding of the transcript in the...
HENDERSON: The lawyer -- yes, that the lawyers are more involved in that.
The source for this whistle-blower, according to this document, are people in the White House. "More than a half-a-dozen U.S. officials have informed me of various acts related to this effort."
That's what's in the complaint. So this idea that they can go after the credibility of the whistle-blower, that he wasn't really there, well, listen, a lot of cases, the actual person isn't there. Maybe they're getting information from folks in the inside, which happened to be what was going on in this case.
You saw some of that go on in the hearing yesterday, with one of the congresswomen essentially saying the same thing, that he wasn't really there, this is secondhand information, it's not firsthand information.
Good luck with that. Good luck with that.
HENDERSON: I mean, the kind of cooperating document -- and, listen, I am sure there are regrets why they released that transcript. Maybe they didn't have to. That's the original corroborating document. And you see it in the whistle-blower document as well.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stand by. We have some breaking news.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Breaking news: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just been subpoenaed by three House committees as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Let's go straight to CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.
And, Manu, this has to do with President Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine, is that right?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.
Three House committees have subpoenaed the secretary of state to turn over records relating to the committees' investigation into the Ukraine matter, particularly the role that the State Department may have played in helping facilitate some of these discussions that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, had with Ukrainian officials.
Now, these committees, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, which is leading for now the impeachment inquiry, as well as the House Oversight Committee, have been demanding for weeks that Pompeo turn over these records.
They set a deadline for Thursday for Pompeo to turn over this information. He did not provide the information. So these committees just now issuing the subpoena.
And in this letter that's written by the House -- by these House chairmen, it says: "Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry."
So what they're trying to say here is, give us the information as part of their probe into the Ukraine matters as they consider impeaching this president. But if they don't turn over this information to the committee, they're going to use that as evidence of potential obstruction of Congress, which could also be an article of impeachment against this president.
So this is the first escalation we have seen from the Democrats since they have announced a formal impeachment inquiry. We will see how the administration ultimately responds. They're giving them a matter of days to provide these records -- Jake.
TAPPER: And let's talk about this.
Mike Shields, there's this interesting, I don't want to call it a subplot, but there's this interesting other story involved here about Rudy Giuliani, his role in reaching out to the Ukrainians. And he -- sometimes, he says that he's acting on behalf of his client, the president, and other times, he says he's operating on behalf of the State Department.
And he's -- sometimes, he's like holding up a phone to show -- or I guess it was an iPad -- to show text messages from somebody at the State Department. And it seems that he's trying to suggest that the State Department is involved in this, and that he wasn't this rogue operator.
MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, yes.
First of all, two things. The first thing is reporting that this is a subpoena from the House impeachment investigation, that has not been authorized by the House. And so it's important to keep in mind the politics of this.
Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to make all of the members of the Democratic Caucus who are vulnerable to lose because they're in Trump's seats vote on impeachment. So they have actually opened an investigation and they're issuing subpoenas without actually authorizing it, which is what the rules of the House and the law requires.
So it's very interesting to me see how they enforce a subpoena on someone for something that hasn't actually been authorized to even have a budget to pay for it.
Anyway, in terms of Rudy Giuliani, I think the Democrats are in a very interesting position when it comes to hypocrisy, because he is essentially the Sidney Blumenthal type of person here. He's a private lawyer. So,, some of what he's saying he conducted on behalf of his clients as a private lawyer.
And then he's also doing things as a friend of the president. Sidney Blumenthal, which many Democrats have defended, was involved in the Steele dossier. And when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, he was known to be sort of an extracurricular, Hillary's outside spy that was doing things and bringing information back to her.
So that gets pretty murky for a lot of Democrats to really criticize -- politically, to criticize Rudy Giuliani, when they have defended the actions of Sidney Blumenthal and how the Steele dossier was created.
So that just creates a lot of -- I look at this from the political perspective. It creates a lot of murky political things, which is why they don't have a House floor vote on impeachment yet. Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to do that.
TAPPER: Nayyera, what's your response to the three committees subpoenaing the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo?
Obviously, Rudy Giuliani saying, hey, look, I did this on behalf of the State Department. I wasn't just trying to help President Trump in the election. This is official business.
NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I think it's fascinating to see how this is all quickly unraveling. It seems to be only the tip of the iceberg.
Talking about the politics of it, it seems to be that Secretary of State Pompeo may have to watch out for his own legacy. He's somebody who served in the House. He served the intelligence community. He understands what's at stake here for himself.
And everybody's pointing fingers in different directions at this point. This has not been a disciplined White House response in any way to impeachment inquiries or any of the other documents and conversations around it, particularly when it comes to engaging outside counsel, who is clearly involved in a government cover-up of the president trying to use government resources to go after a political opponent.
At the end of the day, that is a national security risk that goes above and beyond anything we have seen before.
TAPPER: And we should note, Nayyera, that you signed on to a letter issued by 300 national security officials, former officials, who have served Democratic and Republican administrations, supporting the impeachment inquiry.
The letter says, in part -- quote -- "To be clear, we do not wish to prejudge the totality of the facts or Congress' deliberative process. At the same time, there is no escaping that what we already know is serious enough to merit impeachment proceedings. From there, the facts, and nothing but the facts, should dictate how Congress holds the president to account."
HAQ: And in particular with that, it seems to be a pattern of behavior.
This is not -- this is the only one that we know of, but knowing that White House lawyers, not NSC lawyers, who are a different set of people, the White House lawyers directed that this transcript be put onto a classified server as part of this cover-up raises concerns about what other conversations have happened with other foreign leaders, and what else -- what other kind of quid pro quo conversations have happened that the American public has no idea about?
TAPPER: Was it White House lawyers or NSC lawyers?
COLLINS: So, it just said White House lawyers in the complaint, but what we learned today was, they -- a senior administration official told us it was a National Security Council lawyer who directed the staff to do it.
Now, the argument that can be made is that they all fall under the same umbrella of the White House Counsel's Office, but clearly what we read between the lines from that was the White House Counsel's Office was trying to say, no, no, this wasn't just the White House Counsel's Office that did this. It was specifically someone from the National Security Council, a lawyer for them, that directed this to happen.
TAPPER: OK. Yes.
COLLINS: That actually created some buzz in the West Wing.
TAPPER: And the committee chairmen, we should say -- we should note, some more news here. The committee chairmen said they have also scheduled depositions for
five State Department officials over the next two weeks, including Ambassador Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, and Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
We should note that the former ambassador to Ukraine is among them. She was dismissed from her post by President Trump.
But let's go back to the Pompeo situation, because there was a really interesting moment last night on FOX, when Laura Ingraham told Rudy Giuliani that Maggie Haberman from "The New York Times" was reporting that Pompeo was mad that Rudy was doing all of this and was saying all these things, and it wasn't helpful, et cetera.
And Giuliani basically said -- and I think I'm pretty close to quoting here -- I don't care.
HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's that's pretty much what he said.
And he clearly means it, right? I mean, he's meant that all along in terms of feeling like he can be kind of a freelance secretary of state, the job he sort of initially wanted, but folks didn't think he could pass muster in terms of getting out of the Senate and confirmed.
Listen, I think, if you're Mike Pompeo, you might be thinking about running for Senate at this point. I mean, that's been on the table, whether or not he wants to continue in this spotlight.
But, listen, at this point, you have all of these fingers pointing at different people, whether it's Giuliani, Donald Trump, obviously, William Barr, and now you have Rudy Giuliani essentially saying, listen, I was authorized to do that. It's not just me. What about Mike Pompeo?
And we will see. We will see who else is subpoenaed. You imagine somebody like Rudy Giuliani and most of the folks who are mentioned in this document will be subpoenaed.
TAPPER: All right, stick around. We have got a lot more to talk about. We're going to keep talking about it.
More breaking news. We have just learned the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been subpoenaed by three House committees. Who else could be subpoenaed?
Stay with us.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with breaking news in our special edition of "The Lead." The White House in crisis. We just learned the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, perhaps President Trump's closest cabinet official friend has just been subpoenaed by three House committees as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
I want to bring in CNN National Security Reporter Kylie Atwood right now. Kylie, what's the basis for the subpoena?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well we knew this was coming, because these committees asked the State Department repeatedly over the last few weeks for documents related to the State Department dealings with Ukraine. The State Department did not pass over those documents to the committees and they said just this week that if they didn't get the documents they had requested, they would subpoena the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. That's exactly what they are doing today.
Now, it's interesting, however, that the State Department has remained largely silent this week, even though that we know that Pompeo himself is frustrated by what Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer has been saying. The State Department has not said anything more on the record about its personnel and what they have been doing with regard to Ukraine. Now, Pompeo was asked about this briefly yesterday when reporters caught him here in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. And he said that everyone to his knowledge at the State Department had acted entirely appropriately.
Now the keyword there is to his knowledge. Were there things that were happening that were not to his knowledge? But what we do know is that Ambassador Kurt Volker who is in charge of all U.S. relations with Ukraine from the State Department, he had been dealing with Rudy Giuliani. He had been talking with him. He had been texting with him. And sources tell me that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had signed off on those talks. So the question here is, what is Pompeo going to be able to provide to the committees and what is he going to admit to knowing and when he knew it.
TAPPER: I believe Ambassador Volker was putting Giuliani in touch with prosecutors in Ukraine, prosecutors that Giuliani hoped to convince to continue to investigate the President's political opponents, the Bidens. Kylie, we've also learned that these House committees, these three committees that have subpoenaed Pompeo have also scheduled deposition for five State Department officials, one of them is Volker. Tell us why that's significant.
ATWOOD: Yes. So I just want to clarify here. So, what Ambassador Volker was he was actually putting Rudy Giuliani in touch with one of Zelensky's top aides. And so the State Department has acknowledged that. They haven't acknowledged that Volker went any further. But what Rudy Giuliani has are text messages that show that Volker was actually willing to hop on the call with that Zelensky aide and with Rudy Giuliani. He wasn't just connecting them, he was talking to them.
Now, there are five other as you said, Jake, State Department officials who are also subpoenaed. All of them were mentioned in the whistleblower complaint by name. So clearly, the House committees, everyone on the Hill is wondering what exactly their role was here. Now one of them is Ulrich Brechbuhl, who is the Counselor at the State Department. He is very close with Secretary Pompeo personally. They attended west point together. He is in charge of personnel at the State Department. So I'm told that he had a role in what was -- the recalling of the Ukrainian ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, I'm sorry, that happened abruptly earlier this year.
The State Department said that she was recalled for normal reasons, it was just normal protocol, but people on the Hill said that it was actually politically motivated and that the Trump administration did not want her there for political reasons. So they're trying to get to the bottom of that by talking to the people who are directly involved. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Kylie, thank you so much and thanks for that clarification. Appreciate it.
We are now hearing that the subpoena might be not for Pompeo to appear in person but for Pompeo to hand over documents. We should note that Pompeo led the CIA, he now leads the State Department, he's been by President Trump's side for years and I think it's a question as to whether or not Pompeo is going to comply with the subpoena.
MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC: Well, yes. Because as I mentioned before, I don't even know that here -- what is going on with impeachment in the House. There's an impeachment inquiry that hasn't been voted on, and so these committees are sort of very, very quickly just -- I mean, the fact that they're already issuing subpoenas. And keep in mind, impeachment is a political decision, it is not a legal decision, it is a political decision.
And so they are trying to politically create an atmosphere that, oh my gosh, this is going to happen. That really hurts a lot of vulnerable House Democrats and it also puts the White House in a place where they go maybe we just don't have to comply with this and we're not going to listen to you because politically the people are with us. And so until you sort of resolve that aspect of this, this entire conversation is political.
TAPPER: What I've heard from Speaker Pelosi's team is there really isn't much of a precedent, there only have been three impeachments before, or other was a censure of Jackson, but then there was an impeachment of Johnson, impeachment of Nixon that never was even voted on because Nixon resigned before it could be, and an impeachment of Clinton. So there isn't like one set of rules. Isn't --
SHIELDS: But she's saying that because she doesn't -- Republicans are trying to force a vote on the people.
TAPPER: You're right. You're saying that Pelosi is only trying to protect vulnerable members.
SHIELDS: She has been fighting against impeachment for, literally, years --
SHIELDS: -- as AOC and the left wing of a party were trying -- she finally thought she got away Mueller things over, we can get back to talk about health care and things she wants to run on. And now she's finally saying I can't do anything about it.
TAPPER: The whistleblower came forward.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But there have been questions inside the White House about, yes, that was kind of the concern that it didn't change much. They're like why are we calling this formal impeachment after she announced that. Once they narrowed the scope to just the Ukrainian stuff and she's put Adam Schiff in charge that -- and, you know, if you read the subpoenas from Mike Pompeo it says under the House impeachment inquiry, that will be the question going forward. That was -- We talked to some lawyers inside the White House and allies of the President wondering if they'd be able to make a stronger court argument with that. That will be the question going forward.
Another thing to keep an eye on is this past week, you saw the White House willingly turned over the transcript of the President's call with the Ukrainian President and they made the complaint, the whistleblower's complaint public. That was interesting to people because so far the White House's move has been to block everything even subpoenas and congressional requests. They were like, nope, not happening.
They willingly turned this over, people really questioned that strategy. Mike Pompeo is one of the people advocating do not turn over this transcript of your conversation with the Ukrainian President. So it's interesting how he reacts to the subpoenas.
TAPPER: And Nayyera, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, he had dealings with Giuliani. Giuliani showed the texts allegedly sent by Volker on Fox News last night. I'm sure Democrats are going to have lot of questions for him when he comes before the committees.
NAYYERA HAQ, FMR. OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: As they should because this is somebody who has taken an outsized role in rule of law in the United States, right. He is a personal attorney for the President of the United States. The attorney general is now acting like the President's attorney inside government. So the question becomes who is watching out for rule of law. When it becomes a question of whether or not a subpoena is going to be complied with, and that's actually just a matter of course now, that is a dramatic change of norms and standards of how we feel about American democracy and that's part of hopefully what this inquiry will get back on track.
TAPPER: And reporters have not been able to get in touch with the Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, she was sworn in as Ambassador to Ukraine in 2016. She was unexpectedly recalled from her post in May months earlier than expect. Trump people thought that she was a Clinton person, and not sufficiently allegiant to the Trump principles. A lot of people want to know what she thinks.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And you imagine she will be somebody who they want to hear from. She was kind of pushed out. Rudy Giuliani didn't like her. And so she's not in that post any more. Yes, I mean, this is a road map for who they want to call. And you imagine that over these next couple weeks, Adam Schiff leading this effort. He wants to do this quickly. He wants it over by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and going into the New Year perhaps into the Senate.
So we'll see what happens. But, my goodness, they've got this road map, they've got the call which, again, I think is the White House that might regret that they released that transcript. Because if they hadn't, they could get in a sort of he said, she said situation but now he got --
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about. We're going to keep talking about it. We have much more on our breaking news. Next, we're going to talk to a Democratic Congresswoman who's on one of the committees working on an impeachment inquiry. Stay with us. We'll be right back.