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Broader Secretary Effort in White House; Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) on Impeachment Inquiry; Ukrainian Ex-Prosecutor on Whistleblower. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: 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.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A new report in "The Washington Post" says that the White House has taken incredible measures to keep multiple communications secret. The new reporting details that the alleged attempts to bury that July call with the president of Ukrainian on a code word protected server were part of a much broader secrecy effort.


HARLOW: Josh Dawsey is on the byline of that piece. This is your reporting, Josh, in "The Post." Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

And let's just begin on the second sentence of your reporting, quote, the number of aides allowed to listen on secure drop lines was also slashed. I mean your reporting actually goes beyond what's laid out in the whistleblower complaint about, you know, the code worded servers. This seems like a very broad and coordinated effort.

How big was it?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, early on in the administration, there were embarrassing leaks of the president's phone calls. Remember with Mexico and Australia. And the president was incensed. And after that, the president asked for the number of people who get transcripts of these calls, the number of people on these calls to be called.

Then last year, there was another kerfuffle when the president -- it was revealed the president congratulated Vladimir Putin after his aide said do not congratulate in all caps in notes.

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: And that further led to a cut on the list. So basically what we found was when John Bolton became national

security adviser, he was given specific instructions from the president to do even more than had been done previously, and to make sure as few people as possible were on calls and got transcripts of the calls. And now there's a big top line that says eyes only, no copies on top of all of the calls that go to agencies and go to others in the White House so that they can't be disseminated any further.

SCIUTTO: Josh, the White House explanation for this, you hear, is that this was about preventing leaks. Solely about preventing leaks. Is that a substantive defense?

DAWSEY: Well, the president is very focused on leaks. I think all presidents are to some extent, but this president, you know, really has homed in on that on a number of occasion, dozens of occasions, wanting to know who the leakers are, who's leaking on him. And he often has freewheeling conversations, whether it's with world leaders or with others where he says essentially whatever's on his mind, as you saw in the call with the Ukrainian President Zelensky. And then afterward the White House tries to orchestrate ways, as we outline in our story, for that not to become public, what he says.

HARLOW: Josh, it's really important reporting. I hope people read it in "The Post" this morning. Thank you so much.

DAWSEY: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: A quick break. We'll be right back.

You got it.



HARLOW: All right, welcome back.

CNN has learned the Justice Department knew about the whistleblower complaint regarding President Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian president well before that complaint was referred to the department. Officials briefed on the matter say the agency's national security lawyers were first alerted to the complaint more than a week before that formal referral.

Let's talk about this and a lot more with Washington State Democratic Congressman Denny Heck. Of course he serves on the House Intel Committee. You saw him questioning the acting DNI yesterday.

Thank you, Congressman, for being with me this morning.

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): You're welcome.

HARLOW: So let's begin with your leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants you guys, House Intel, to lead this and she wants the scope of the impeachment probe to be narrow and just focus on Ukraine.

Is that the right approach?

HECK: For the time being, it certainly is. You know, we're just finishing -- this was the week that was, and it entailed about a year's worth of developments. Just a short 96 hours ago, the speaker announced that she was endorsing an official impeachment inquiry. And now, here we are, three and a half days later, and oh, my, what a week it's been, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. We made it to Friday.

Who is the most important person, do you believe, Congressman, after reading the whistleblower complaint, having your, you know, public and private testimony that you heard, who is the single most important person you would like to bring before the committee right now?

HECK: The whistleblower. And I think we're at work at that. There are obviously some sensitive discussions, if not negotiations going underway to assure that person's security.

But, according to open sources, they are a very seasoned intelligence officer. We think they have a lot to offer to the official complaint that was submitted. And I think the committee would very much like to have that conversation with them.

HARLOW: But can I ask you, what -- I was thinking about that yesterday as I was watching the hearing in real-time. What is it that you believe the whistleblower could tell you that is the most critical, that's not included in the complaint? Because it's very detailed.

HECK: So that's -- with footnotes, as it turns out.


HECK: That's a -- that's a very good question, Poppy. But, you know, I'm reflecting back to the opportunity that we had, to have Bob Mueller in, to actually walk through the report and provide us with an opportunity to ask him questions. That profoundly impacted me. In fact, quite literally for the next 72 hour after that conversation, I was plunged into some deep reflection about what the next, best step would be.


HECK: And that's, of course, when I came out in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

HARLOW: Sure. No, I -- you --

HECK: I think the whistleblower would have the same effect on a lot of members. It's one thing to read it on paper, black and white. It's another thing to have the conversation.

HARLOW: That's an interesting point, because you came out in favor of impeachment on July 28th. We saw the Mueller testimony on the 24th. The big difference, of course, would be this whistleblower testimony would be in the private, right, so the American public would not see it. But I hear you on that.


So let me ask you about this meeting yesterday between some Democratic members, in more vulnerable seats than yours, with Nancy Pelosi yesterday. Some of them have come around on impeachment, like Angie Craig, a Democrat from Minnesota, but some of them have not, like Representative Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.

Angie Craig said this, quote, I'm in a district where I've been reluctant to move forward from the perspective where I want to be disciplined. I want to look at due process. I want to make sure we get all of our facts straight, right? I mean there is more political risk for some of your Democratic colleagues than for others. Should that be taken into account as this moves forward?

HECK: Frankly, when I think it gets to something this serious, this somber, that political considerations should not be a part of the equation at all. The seriousness of this transcends any electoral consideration. It did for me.

And I think the point is, Poppy, that individual members arrive at their conclusion in different periods of time after different periods of reflection.


HECK: And so -- so we're not all going to get there on the same day at the same hour in the same minute. Everybody has to be exposed to an amount of information and reflect upon it, and then they get to where they're at, just as I did.


HECK: This is a matter of conscience, Poppy. None of us comes here to do this. We come here to make a difference in people's lives, and to -- as it were, elevate the human condition. This is not why we want to be here. But the founding fathers put this constitutional remedy to us because it's not apart from or separate from our job. There are circumstances where it is our job.

HARLOW: Let's listen to this last night. Hillary Clinton was speaking at an event. And she had this message for Democrats.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We got to do what is difficult to do in politics, and really hard. In this town we've got to do two things at once. We have to talk about what's at stake with impeachment, and we have to advocate for what's at stake in the next election. And we can do that. And we must do that.


HARLOW: Is it a salient point? I mean there are some that are worried that all of the energy and all of the air waves, right, and all of your time will be consumed with impeachment proceedings and things like gun legislation or immigration will be put again on a back burner.

HECK: Poppy, two nights ago, the House of Representatives passed on a vote of 321 to about 100 the Safe Banking Act which would allow for marijuana-related businesses in 47 states to have access to financial services. I've been working on that legislation for six and a half years. And it culminated and passed the House in an historic vote, by the way. This week, in the very same week that all of the rest of this was going on. And I would offer that as exhibit a, as our ability to be able to do these things.

HARLOW: OK. I remember seeing that. It's going to be interesting to watch where that bill goes in the Senate, though, but it was an overwhelming bipartisan vote supporting it.

Finally, before you go, so we all heard the president yesterday at the United Nations say that the person within the White House, the people within the White House that gave the whistleblower this information about the Ukraine call, is close to a spy and should be handled the way that they were handled in, quote, the old days, right? You don't have to have a big imagination to realize and remember how spies were treated in this country in the old days.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar this morning on NEW DAY said, quote, he is basically threatening execution.

Is that how you heard it?

HECK: Well, it was witness intimidation at a minimum.

Poppy, let's remember that the president has precisely four plays in his playbook. I think I've talked with you about this before. He doesn't have five. He doesn't have three. It is deny, attack, play the victim and change the subject outrageously. And this is an example where he employed both number two and number four.

Nobody believes that he is seriously intending to actually execute anybody. But what he's trying to do is intimidate people and change the subject.

And, you know, Poppy, that's not going to work. And let me refer back to the hearing yesterday with acting DNI Maguire, because you actually saw two Director Maguires on display there. You saw the one who torturously contorted himself to rationalize the fact that he did not follow the law to advance the complaint to the committee in accordance with law, you saw the director that somehow tried to rationalize that the very first person he talked to outside the agency was the White House, even though they were the subject of the whistleblower complaint.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

HECK: And at the same time, Poppy, you saw the other acting Director Maguire, the one who honorably served this country for 40 years. And when I pushed him to acknowledge that if he -- any president pressured another country into getting involved in our elections and interfering with them, he finally ultimately said it was unequivocally wrong.



HECK: So that's representative of some of the people in the White House. They have within them a heartbeat of patriotism, which is why some of this material is coming out.

HARLOW: Congressman Denny Heck, thank you for your time. I know it's been quite a week for you guys. We'll talk to you very soon.

HECK: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, we'll be right back.


HARLOW: The former top Ukrainian prosecutor, who is a key figure in the whistleblower complaint, is now talking, weighing in, calling some of the allegations inconsistent with the truth.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now from Ukraine.

Matthews, tell us about Lutsenko and what specifically is he questioning about the whistleblower's complaint.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you he is. I mean he's the former Ukrainian prosecutor general. He has emerged after we've been wading through all these various documents, including the whistleblower testimony as perhaps the key figure out of Ukraine, liaising with Rudy Giuliani and by extension with President Trump.

Out of all these extremely contentions stories and speculations and conspiracy theories that we've been hearing so much about, including the role that Ukraine played in meddling in the 2016 election, and specifically that allegation against former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and the propriety of his interventions of have a former prosecutor in this country taken away from his post, that Lutsenko, it seems, was the main source, for all of those stories, or at least he crystallized all those rumors in a way that Rudy Giuliani was able to sort of talk to him about.

And he wasn't just a guy who walked in off the street, remember, this is the prosecutor general of this country. He's saying that many of the allegations against him or the things that have been said about him in the whistleblower report are not true, but he hasn't specified which of those things he doesn't agree with.

HARLOW: That's an important specifics to make. So let's hope he does that.

Matthew Chance, thank you very much, live for us in Kiev this morning. Much more on the whistleblower scandal after this