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Rudy Giuliani: State Department Asked Me to Reach Out to Ukraine; Trump-Zelensky Phone Call Whistleblower Says White House Locked Down All Records of Ukraine Call; Nancy Pelosi Claims Bill Barr Has Gone Rogue; White House and DOJ Knew of Complaint a Week Before. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:31]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good and a very news-y Friday morning to you, I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, we made it to Friday. And what a week it has been.

SCIUTTO: We did.

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We begin this morning with new developments on the impeachment investigation into the president of the United States. CNN has learned that both the White House and the Department of Justice knew about the whistleblower's allegations more than a week before the formal referral so why did it take the inspector general to come forward to Congress for anyone to even learn about its existence?

SCIUTTO: So many deliberate delays in this throughout the story. Also, this morning, another crucial question. How far have those who surround President Trump gone to protect the presidency from the president's own words and actions?

There's new reporting from the "Washington Post" this morning, detailing alleged attempts to bury that July call with the president of Ukraine, on a code word protected server, that this was part of a broader secrecy effort. Quoting from the story now, "The White House has taken extraordinary steps over the past two years to block details of President Trump's phone calls with foreign leaders from becoming public. Following embarrassing disclosures early in his administration that enraged the president, and created a sense of paranoia among his top aides."

There is a great deal going on this morning. We will get to all of it, let's begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux who just spoke with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

What is she saying about Bill Barr's role in all this? Because we see repeated efforts here, it appears, not to follow the whistleblower law.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jim, because what she is saying this morning is that they're not only looking at an alleged cover-up by the president, but also a cover-up of a cover-up. That is how she is describing the role of Attorney General Barr here. And that of course, a great deal of interest in his role in all of this going before the House Intelligence Committee.

I spoke with her, and she is very much aware of the weight of this moment. She knows that she has more than a majority of Democrats on board, at least for the inquiry, but not necessarily for Articles of Impeachment. There is also a sense of urgency here that people want to move this forward as quickly as possible. She did not commit to a timetable, but there's been a lot of discussion, at least from the members, of potentially trying to wrap this up by the Thanksgiving break. And she talked about the various levels of this impeachment investigation. Just take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Can you give us a timetable in terms of when the committee plans to wrap up before Thanksgiving?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, I mean it is up to the committee. They will do the work that they have set out to do. Following the facts. And the time that it takes to find the facts. As you know, you never know where we're going next. Now, I think we're getting involved in the cover-up of the cover-up, and that may be something that will take some time to investigate.

MALVEAUX: Do you believe that the attorney general must go and testify before the impeachment inquiry. You mentioned the cover-up of the cover-up, and that he is essentially potentially a part of that.

PELOSI: Well, let me just say, the committee will make their own announcements about who they are calling in to be witnesses. 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 decisions about how the complaint would be handled.

MALVEAUX: And are you worried about the security of the sources of the whistleblower, the president --

PELOSI: Yes. I'm very worried about it. I think what the president said goes beyond irresponsible. It's dangerous. Whistleblowers have an important role to play in unfolding -- revealing wrongdoing in our government. If their complaint has been deemed by the inspector general as credible, and also, of urgent concern, and therefore, sent to the director of National Intelligence, the law says the director must send it to Congress.

The White House intervened. The executive branch intervened. And held him back from doing that. I feel sad for him, because he is a respected professional. But for the president to say what he said about those who may have supplied information to the whistleblower, seriously undermines the integrity in government, but the president does that almost every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And what she is referring to is the fact that the president before, foreign service leaders and workers, essentially said that he considered the sources of the whistleblower to be spies and that the old days of spies, were shot in this country. That's how they were treated, so there was an implied threat there.

And also, I had a chance to speak with Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of the Intelligence Committee who says they are gathering that list of people they want to talk to and testify.

[09:05:09]

That will happen shortly after the recess -- Poppy.

HARLOW: It might be a pretty long list after yesterday.

Suzanne, thank you very much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, CNN's Jessica Schneider with more on the timeline of the Justice Department's handling of this complaint.

Jessica, it waited a week here before following proper channels with distributing this complaint.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, Jim, I mean, the questions over what the Justice Department and in turn the attorney general knew and when continue to mount. So, we've learned that DOJ's national security lawyers, they were first alerted to the whistleblower's allegations one week before there was actually this formal referral from the IG. So these officials were told that the allegations related to the president's July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president. And we now know that DOJ lawyers actually went to the White House to review the transcript of the call, since the White House was also aware of these allegations.

Those lawyers, after going to the White House and listening to this, alerted officials at DOJ's criminal division and the deputy attorney general's office that Attorney General Bill Barr was in fact mentioned on that call. It wasn't until, though, more than a week later, that the inspector general for the intelligence community actually officially referred this matter to the Department of Justice.

Now the Justice Department has previously said that Bill Barr was informed, when that criminal referral was delivered to DOJ in late August, and that Barr was minimally involved in this issue. And of course, we know that the DOJ ultimately decided not to open a full- blown criminal investigation into potential campaign finance violations stemming from that July 25th phone call.

So these new details, Jim, really about the DOJ's early awareness of the allegations. They raise even more questions now about any potential involvement from the attorney general, what he knew, and when, as these questions do continue to mount here -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. A lot of delays. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, lots to talk about. With us Patrick Healy, politics editor for "The New York Times," Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor and David Gergen, former presidential adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and President Clinton.

Good morning one and all. And Shan, let me just begin with you to build on what Nancy Pelosi said. Attorney General Bill Barr in Nancy Pelosi's mind has, quote, "gone rogue." Legally, if that is the case, what does it mean for him? What does it mean for the administration?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, let me just make one thing clear. They talk about Barr having minimal involvement. He should have had zero involvement. I mean, he is the subject of the complaint. He should be recused right away. That's the immediate problem. Secondly, there is a question mark about this quick declamation. I mean, that's an amazingly serious allegation and they so quickly determined that there is no criminal charges to be fired.

HARLOW: Yes.

WU: Now did they do that because he's the president and can't be indicted anyway? Or they think there is no merit to it? Those are just some of the obvious questions about DOJ.

HARLOW: Yes,

SCIUTTO: David Gergen, help us with the politics here, because ultimately of course impeachment is a political process. Do you see a qualitative shift here on the prospect of impeachment? And the key being, does it extend beyond the Democratic Party? Yes, we've had a voice here, a voice there, but do you see a significant shift?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We're seeing the beginnings of a shift, Jim, whether it goes further, whether it deepens, and the cracks open up, and the Republican Party, I think a great deal depends on how well the Democrats handle these hearings. They're going to have to call witnesses. If they go too fast, and don't really bring in serious witnesses, and sort of, you know, they try to ram it through, I think that will hurt badly out in the country.

On the other hand, if they go too slow, they let it go into the election year, which is negative for them, too. So they've got to find the right balance. I think they need to, so one thing is that, the second thing is that lawmakers are now going home for two weeks and they're going to have a chance to talk to their constituents, and sort of sort this out. And the public hasn't known about it very long. We know that public opinion has shifted in favor of the Democrats. The country is much more evenly divided. It was lopsided against the impeachment.

Now it's evenly divided. So there has been a shift. But you know, a lot depends now what members hear when they go home and what they try to say, how they try to persuade their voters. HARLOW: And just, David, quickly, you do have a warning for Democrats

because again, you have advised Republican and Democratic presidents, Nixon and Clinton who have gone through this before or been very close to it for Nixon, you said that one thing in terms of the Democrats not rushing too much is that they shouldn't underestimate the value of having these folks on television.

GERGEN: Yes. Absolutely. Watergate changed dramatically because of the urban hearings, when John Dean got up and testified, and Alex Butterfield and Howard Baker did a superb job, the whole thing was handled very, very well but it sank in with the public and people realized the solemnity of what they were dealing with, the gravity of the charges.

[09:10:12]

We're rushing through this. We need to slow this down enough that a series of witnesses is going to come forward now. The White House might try to block that. They may say no, no, we'll not let anybody come up. I personally think they'll waive the executive privilege but I think this has to be done with an eye toward television.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And so, Poppy, it's not the first time we've heard someone raise the John Dean testimony there. And the question, who -- will there be a John Dean here, someone from inside the administration with a moment of conscience and says listen, this shall not stand, in effect.

But, Patrick Healy, you say that Trump is acting more like a banana republic dictator than an American president. Specifically, to this exchange yesterday, I want to play it for our audience, the president describing the whistleblower as a spy. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to know who's the person that gave the whistleblower, who is 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. Right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Now, I can already hear, Patrick, I'm sure you can, too, the president's defender saying this is just the president making a joke, et cetera, but he is the commander in chief, seemingly threatening a whistleblower who followed the law.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Jim, this isn't locker room talk. This is the commander in chief, as you said, who is making what is clearly a threat of violence against a whistleblower, protected under the law, but also what looks like several members of either the White House staff or the intelligence community, or both, who it appears pretty clearly from this complaint, that they had a number of concerns about how the president was trying to leverage a foreign power to hurt his leading Democratic rival.

And the fact that the president of the United States is going through a threat of violence, and it is really clear, Jim, I mean I realize that Republicans will say, well, this is just how he talks, and it is loose on Twitter, and it's loose in private conversations but the reality is, is that, you know, the way that spies were once treated in this country in the old days as the president said were shot and that raises -- you know, it doesn't just raise questions. It -- you know, it tells us the mindset and the way that the president has and is going to deal with challenges and with people that he sees as his enemies. And you know, that's something that we've just never seen before.

HARLOW: Shan, something interesting that Senator Kamala Harris brought up last night, she was on "360," and this is around Giuliani because he plays an even more central role now, if you can believe it, in all of this, and she said that the State Department inspector general should open up a probe into whether State Department employees used Giuliani in official conversations with their counterparts in Ukraine. Explain why that would be problematic.

WU: It's problematic because Giuliani has no official role in the government. He is the president's personal lawyer. He does seem to be trying to use that defense, the State Department authorized things, he's held up his phone saying he's got the text message proof, making his phone into exhibit one at this point but that's absolutely another area we have to find out, was the State Department having him do errands for Trump, for Trump's personal benefit?

SCIUTTO: Shan, another legal question, if I can. Drawing on your enormous experience here. If, and David Gergen mentioned this possibility, if in the impeachment inquiry, the White House refuses or blocks testimony, from key witnesses in this, who the Democrats might call, you can imagine a Bill Barr, of course, he is mentioned in the call, Giuliani as well. What is the legal recourse? Do we end up in a month's long court fight?

WU: It could. Congress of course has the seldom-used possibility of themselves enforcing contempt and they may be attempted to do that.

SCIUTTO: Meaning sending the sergeant at arms?

WU: Exactly, and they have the more modern version of that which is going to court over it. Now, of course, if the White House in this instance, in an impeachment inquiry, still uniformly blocks everything, that could be yet another article, grounds for another Article of Impeachment.

SCIUTTO: Right. Poppy, can you imagine the sergeant at arms showing up at the Department of Justice.

HARLOW: No. No, but there is a lot that has happened this year, Jim, that I couldn't have imagined. Very quickly, Patrick, to you at the end. Rudy Giuliani speaking to a reporter at the Atlantic, quote, "I'm not acting as a lawyer, I'm acting as someone who is devoted most of his life to straightening out government. Anything I did should be praised."

He also said, by the way, there is no way I'm not going to be the hero in all of this. I think he really believes that.

[09:15:00]

HEALY: Yes. He really believes it, Poppy. I mean, his friends in New York have longed said Rudy obviously has streaks of self- righteousness of even megalomania, but this takes it to a whole different order. I mean, it reminds me of candidate Trump's comments, you know, only I can fix this.

You know, Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani are quite a pair in this. They seem to believe that, you know, the world should bend, you know, to their views on a lot of issues. And foreign leaders who get aid from the United States should be doing them political favors.

And Rudy Giuliani is a kind of un-appointed, you know, special envoy going to foreign powers and doing the asks for Donald Trump is you know, just a really pretty striking dynamic.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: And to the alarm of people inside the State Department and inside this administration --

HEALY: Yes --

SCIUTTO: They saw this --

HEALY: Yes --

SCIUTTO: And clearly didn't seem sure -- listen, Patrick, Shan, David, great to have all of you here, we know you're going to be -- we're going to be speaking to you about these issues in the weeks and months to come. Still to come at this hour, following the release of the whistleblower complaint, a handful, a small one of Republicans in the House and Senate deflecting, well, some even saying they have not bothered to read the eight-page complaint --

HARLOW: Wow --

SCIUTTO: We're going to discuss with one GOP lawmaker.

HARLOW: And the former Ukrainian prosecutor who met with Giuliani and appeared several times in that whistleblower complaint, he is speaking out, we'll take you live to Kiev for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:20:00]

SCIUTTO: The whistleblower complaint detailing President Trump's July conversations with Ukraine's president and an alleged attempt to cover it up by the White House has shaken D.C. as members of Congress, senators and the public rush to read the nine-page complaint and the transcript as well of the president's phone call. Republican Senator Mitt Romney weighed in, calling the transcript troubling. And GOP Congressman Mike Turner said yesterday during the House Intel hearing with the acting DNI, the following.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): I want to say to the president, this is not OK. It is -- that conversation is not OK, and I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining me now is Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky; he's a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: You saw your colleague, Mike Turner's comments there, do you believe that this call was OK?

COMER: I don't see anything wrong with the call, I've read the transcript several times. It appears to me that President Trump simply asked his counterpart in Ukraine to possibly look into potential corruption from the Biden family, and I don't think that that's anything irregular.

And my question would be, if President Trump is not the appropriate person to ask that question, then who is?

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you a question though, let's read directly from the transcript. Here is how the president brought this up. He said the United States has been very good to Ukraine. I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good, but the United States has been very good to Ukraine.

You see President Zelensky's response there, bringing up U.S. military assistance. And then Trump immediately saying, I would like you to do us a favor though. When you read that, citing USAID, saying that the Ukrainians have not been reciprocal, then asking for a favor. How is that not pressuring a foreign leader to do what you want?

COMER: Well, I don't think any country is reciprocal, other than possibly Israel to our foreign aid. But aside, to get back to your question, I don't see anything wrong with it. I mean, it's the president's right to try to find potential corruption, and you know, I think that, that's something --

SCIUTTO: He withheld --

COMER: That gets lost in --

SCIUTTO: Military -- he withheld military assistance to Ukraine before that --

COMER: Right, let's not --

SCIUTTO: Call, and as you know, Russia is at war with Ukraine. There're 13,000 people have been killed in that war. You believe it's --

COMER: Right --

SCIUTTO: Proper for the U.S. president to withhold that assistance as he pressures the Ukrainian president to investigate a potential political rival?

COMER: You know, what's come out in the last 24 hours is that the Ukrainian leadership didn't even know that the money was withheld. So, I don't think there was any quid pro quo there, I think that the president simply --

SCIUTTO: They noticed the --

COMER: The --

SCIUTTO: Military assistance was withheld, there were communications with the Defense Department. You're saying that they didn't notice that they didn't get any military assistance --

COMER: No, I don't think at the -- no, they know they get military assistance. You know, the United States unfortunately is a check book for a lot of -- a lot of countries. But I think that it was -- they didn't know that the money had been withheld at the time of the call, so I don't think there was anything improper, but I welcome more investigations.

You know, the Democrats have investigated --

SCIUTTO: Nothing improper about --

COMER: This president --

SCIUTTO: Not helping an ally who's been invaded by a foreign power.

COMER: Wait -- no --

SCIUTTO: And stopping that aid as you're demanding a political favor at the same time.

COMER: I think you're -- I think you're overreacting in what the president said. I've been watching CNN all morning, and I think David Gergen and John Kasich, both constant, consistent critics of President Trump have both said, I think the Democrats need to slow down.

Certainly, this is something that it's probably worthy of investigating a little further, but as far as a full blown impeachment inquiry, I think that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats overreacted as they do many times with respect to President Trump --

SCIUTTO: OK --

[09:25:00]

Let me ask you this.

COMER: All right --

SCIUTTO: 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?

COMER: Well, I think that's a good question. I think that's a question that the Trump administration needs to answer. Certainly, that's something that I'm confident will be asked as the Democrats press forward with their quest to try to impeach the president.

But one of the things that I think I'll hear when I'm back home in Kentucky next week is that, you know, why are they constantly -- 'they' being the Democrats, constantly trying to find something new on President Trump? You know, it started out as Russian collusion, the Mueller report --

SCIUTTO: Could that be because the president -- could that be because the president takes steps that are outside the bounds of his office? He sent his personal lawyer to a foreign country to ask that country to look into his political rival.

COMER: I think that the question of what role does Rudy Giuliani play? I think that's a fair question for --

SCIUTTO: OK --

COMER: All of us in Congress to ask, but as far as over dramatizing what happened in the conversation, I mean, it was a very brief conversation. This is one Senate, yet, on a lot of the more liberal media, this has turned into a full blown threat, a full blown quid pro quo, and I just don't see it. And --

SCIUTTO: Well --

COMER: You know, I have the -- I have --

SCIUTTO: To be clear with the transcript, the transcript shows that the president pressured the Ukrainian president more than once, in fact, multiple times. I do want to draw your attention to a line in the whistleblower complaint that also caught my attention.

Another mission that the president sent Giuliani to Ukraine on was to examine what is a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered in the 2016 presidential election that hacked the DNC. As you know, U.S. Intelligence Committee, bipartisan committee rather, bipartisan committees on the Hill determined with complete confidence that it was Russia that interfered in the election.

When you see the president sending his personal lawyer to investigate a conspiracy theory in Ukraine, does that tell you that the president still does not believe Russia interfered in 2016? COMER: Well, I think it shows that the president is innocent with

respect to collusion with Russia, and that's what the Democrats have been spending so much time investigating --

SCIUTTO: No, but I'm asking --

COMER: And prior to this call with Ukraine --

SCIUTTO: This is not investigating a collusion charge, this is investigating --

COMER: All right --

SCIUTTO: What U.S. Intelligence Committee has concluded with confidence that Russia interfered, and he has his --

COMER: All right --

SCIUTTO: Personal lawyer going to Ukraine two and a half years into his presidency to say, hey, was it really Ukraine who did this.

COMER: Yes, well --

SCIUTTO: Doesn't that concern you as we approach 2020 when as you know, the concern is --

COMER: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Russia will interfere again.

COMER: Well, you know, I don't trust Russia at all. I don't really have a lot of confidence in Ukraine either, but that's beside the point. I think that the president clearly has high level of distrust towards the Intelligence Community and I think it's very clear from watching James Comey and Jim Clapper give constant interviews --

SCIUTTO: So, you're saying the president has cause to not believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and sending his lawyer to --

COMER: I think the president has --

SCIUTTO: Explore --

COMER: No --

SCIUTTO: An unfounded conspiracy theory?

COMER: I think the president has every reason to be suspicious of the higher ups in the Intelligence community because we want to know -- one of the questions that we want to know, the Republicans in Washington is, what was the genesis of the Russia investigation? I mean, it was clearly no collusion, the Mueller report --

SCIUTTO: Do you have any doubt that Russia interfered? Do you have any doubt that Russia interfered in 2016? COMER: No, I think Russia -- no, I've always said that --

SCIUTTO: OK --

COMER: Russia interfered in the election. But I didn't -- I've always said that it didn't appear to me that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and I think that was --

SCIUTTO: Honorable, that's not what I asked --

COMER: The result of the Mueller report.

SCIUTTO: I'm just curious how Americans at home can feel confident that their commander-in-chief will defend the 2020 election against Russia interference if he still doesn't believe that Russia did it in 2016. How can they have confidence?

COMER: Well, you know, they're going to have the opportunity in one year to go to the ballot box. You know, the way the constitution says you're supposed to get rid of a law-abiding president is that the ballot box, if they choose to seek for -- seek re-election. And you know, this, I think it's clear that a lot of Democrats -- we've heard Al Green in Texas say this, that they fear that if they don't impeach the president, he could probably get re-elected.

So, this is a last-ditch effort to try to bail out the Democratic Party. I do think there are things that are worthy of an investigation, I take my role as member of the Oversight Committee very seriously. I'm open to hear what role Giuliani played. I'm open to hear more about the other server and what other information may be in that --

SCIUTTO: Fair enough --

COMER: Server. But I'd also like to know what was Biden doing getting paid by Ukraine --

SCIUTTO: OK --

COMER: And I would like to know the genesis of the whole Russia investigation to begin with.

SCIUTTO: All right, Congressman Comer, we appreciate you taking the hard questions this morning.

COMER: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: As the whistleblower complaint alleges a White House cover-up over President Trump's call with Ukraine, there is new reporting this morning on just how far those within the administration went to keep the president's call with foreign leaders a secret. We'll have a live report on that, next.

[09:30:00]