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Whistleblower Says Trump's Ukraine Call Is An Abuse of Power; Iran to Accusers: Prove It; Brexit Crisis; Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Meets Angry Audience For Talks. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired September 27, 2019 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And for Britain's prime minister, sorry seems to be the hardest word to say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Forty-five years after Watergate, 20 years after the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, once again, the impeachment motion is grinding (ph) back to life in Washington.
The declassified whistleblower report on Donald Trump's phone call with the leader of Ukraine outlines new allegations of presidential wrongdoing and an attempt of a coverup by White House aides.
Here's the thing, while the accusations of extortion and the abuse of power are yet to be proven, there really hasn't been anything close to emphatic (ph) denial from the administration, just the usual claims of witch hunt and fake news. CNN's Jessica Schneider begins our coverage.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Allegations of a White House coverup as details of a whistleblower's complaint are revealed.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Among the key allegations, not only did President Trump seek Ukraine's help in interference in his 2020 reelection campaign, but the White House subsequently took steps to keep it quiet.
The seven-page now declassified complaint says after the president's July 25th phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky in which Trump pressed the Ukrainian leader to investigate Biden and his son, the whistleblower learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to lock down all records of the phone call.
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. Instead, the transcript was loaded to a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive of nature. The whistleblower saying, that move underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired on the call because of their belief that they had witnessed the president abused his office for personal gain.
And the whistleblower also disclosing officials said this was not the first time that a presidential transcript was placed into a separate electronic system.
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The acting director of National Intelligence under fire for not sharing the August 12th complaint with Congress within seven days, a move Democrats say was mandated by law. Maguire who called the situation unprecedented, consulted with the White House counsel and the Justice Department first, concerned Mr. Trump's call with Ukrainian president was covered by executive privilege.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Why you chose to go to a department led by a man, Bill Barr, who himself is implicated in the complaint and believes that he exists to serve the interest of the president, not the office itself, mind you --
MAGUIRE: We consulted with the White House Counsel's Office and we were advised that much of the information in the complaint was in fact subject to executive privilege, a privilege that I do not have the authority to waive.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Republicans lashed out at Democrats who questioned Maguire's integrity.
REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT): They accused you of breaking the law.
MAGUIRE: I am not political. I am not partisan.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Republicans are also trying to question the credibility of the whistleblower.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): On page one, the complaint reads "I was not a direct witness to most of the events described." This seems like a very important line to look into.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Maguire explained he does not know the identity of the whistleblower and no one within the White House or the Justice Department have asked him to disclose the identity.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Did the president of the United States ask you to find out the identity of the whistleblower?
MAGUIRE: I can tell you, emphatically, no.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But one Republican did call out the president for his phone call with Ukraine's president.
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): I want to say to the president, this is not OK. That conversation is not OK. I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): Meanwhile, there are growing questions about how the Justice Department led by Attorney General Bill Barr, who of course as mentioned in that July 25th phone call, how the DOJ handled the whistleblower's complaint, and the DOJ's decision not to open a full blown criminal investigation into potential campaign finance violations stemming from that phone call.
Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.
VAUSE: The president's reaction has been predictable, ignored the allegations of wrongdoing and attacked the messenger. (INAUDIBLE) as he spoke to 50 staffers at the United Nations, this meeting was meant to be private, but all the details as well as this audio recording leaked within hours.
TRUMP (voice-over): I want to know who's the person who gave the whistleblower -- who's the person who gave the whistleblower the information, because that's close to a spy.
TRUMP: You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right? With spies and treason. We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
VAUSE: To L.A., joining us now is former assistant U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, David Katz. David, thanks for being with us. David, are you there?
DAVID KATZ, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Yeah, great to be here.
VAUSE: Great. David, from what the presidents has been saying both privately and publicly about the whistleblower, from a legal perspective, do the statements by the president rise to a level of witness intimidation?
Well, I think they do, John, add up to witness intimidation. There's no reason to say those things except to communicate with the potential witnesses. This very thorough, well-written, about nine-page whistleblower complaint is a real roadmap for how the House impeachment can proceed at this point because what they have here is names of witnesses.
They have people who are going to be called and subpoenaed by the House to testify. It's not just Giuliani and Barr who appear as a kind of a dynamic duo of political fixing, but all the White House witnesses who coordinated. The New York Times has now said that the whistleblower is a he and is a CIA analyst. This person had inter-agency meetings with a lot of White House officials that gave wealth of information. And so what is the point of the president making that remark? And it's pretty rich, isn't it? Because he himself, Trump, was accused of treason.
So, it's pretty rich to go back into our history and talk about what the punishment for traitors and spies was, himself having been accused of treason by many responsible people, and his abuse of power and the other thing that are shown by the tape, John, that are also shown by the cover up, this lock down that was orchestrated by the White House lawyers, a terrible day for lawyers.
VAUSE: Yeah. The president has also publicly and repeatedly questioned the credibility of the evidence which was presented in this whistleblower report. Again, here is some of that audio from earlier at the United Nations.
TRUMP (voice-over): Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call -- heard something and decided that he or she or whoever the hell it is -- they're almost a spy.
VAUSE: This is because everything from this report came basically from a second-hand account. So clearly a first-hand direct account on the phone call would be good. But is there any reason why a second- hand account which in this case well corroborated and detailed is not credible?
KATZ: Right. That's what's absurd about this. I mean, as to try to put on a defense, of course, the president is going to say something. It is remarkable how even the Congress' persons didn't really defend him at the hearing today, even those of his own party.
You know, they distracted, they threw a lot of mud, but they didn't really defend. In fact, one Republican congressman really attacked what the president had done in this implicit quid pro quo. So I think that this really doesn't -- this doesn't add up in any meaningful way to any sort of a defense, you know, by Trump. It is just to say something.
VAUSE: OK. Let's get to the coverup because, again, the whistleblower report notes, in the days following the phone call, he writes, "I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to 'lock down' all records of the phone call that was produced -- as is customary -- by the White House Situation Room."
The records were essentially taken out of one easy to access system within the White House, David, and placed into another which was much more secure, usually used to store highly sensitive information for national security. The whistleblower says that shows that the White House was aware of the gravity of the phone call. But when you look at what was in that call, from what we know about the summary from Wednesday, is there anything in that call which sort of talks about national security? Is the reason why it was locked into this high secure area is because there was essentially incriminating evidence against the president?
KATZ: Well, this was a coverup. This was a way to classify up. This is what the White House lawyers under Trump's direction wanted to be done and tell people to do. It was a way to hide something by giving it an overclassification which is itself a violation of the law.
It is very clear that to avoid embarrassment and for other non- national security reasons, something cannot be given a higher classification. That is exactly what was done so that people couldn't find it. And what is especially troubling, that has been brought out by Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who I used to work with years ago in the Reagan administration.
What he brought out today is that there may very well be other times that are also embarrassing. There may be other conversations by Trump with other foreign leaders that have also been hidden by the same device, up classifying them so that they cannot be readily found.
KATZ: They're going to subpoena that and they're going to get to the bottom of that. There may be even more --
KATZ: -- than this conversation.
VAUSE: Very quickly, we talked about consciousness of guilt over the last couple of years. This seems like consciousness of guilt. Is that right?
KATZ: Well, this is right. This is kind of -- this is Ukraine gate now. It has all the elements. It has all the lawyers that are being involved who are supposed to make sure the law is obeyed but are helping violate the law. You have the coverup. People cover something up.
It is because Trump and his cronies know that criminal action has taken place, that a quid pro quo was demanded, that they held this money back that have been authorized by Congress, it is now about $400 million, that this Ukrainian president needed to defend his country against aggression by our enemy, Russia.
They needed the money. He held back the money, Trump did. He only released the money when? After he knew the whistleblower was out there, after he knew that this was going to come out, this cat was going to come out of its bag.
And then he finally released the money just a short time ago to Ukraine, this money Ukraine desperately needed. It is a classic obstruction of justice. It is a classic quid pro quo. It is not something the president is supposed to do for his own political benefit.
The country of the United States and its taxpayers will do something for you, that has been authorized by Congress, but only if you do something personally for me as the president. It is really unprecedented, John.
VAUSE: Yeah. There is also that denial from the Ukraine president, sitting next to Donald Trump, that he felt pressured, that doesn't seem much of the denial or defense either, again from the fact that he was sitting next to Donald Trump at the time. David, it is good to have you with us. Thank you.
KATZ: Well, it is great to be with you. Thanks.
VAUSE: Well, in the past three days with the release of the declassified whistleblower report and a day earlier the summary of the phone call between Donald Trump and Ukraine president, 75 more House Democrats have publicly announced their support for impeachment.
That means 219 congressional Democrats plus one former Republican now independent believed the House should drop articles of impeachment. That is a majority.
In the past few days, you can see a surge in fundraising for the Trump campaign. Eric Trump, presidential son, tweeted, "A big thank you to Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats. In the last 48 hours, we have raised $8.5 million in small dollar donations. People are sick of your nonsense but please keep it up. You are handing Donald Trump the win in 2020."
For more, let us go to Michael Genovese. He is the president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University. Michael, what are the big differences? When we look at this whistleblower report on Ukraine and the Russia investigation, is that here there is no waiting.
There is no special counsel to submit findings. There is no waiting for Robert Mueller to testify. Everything is right there in 14 pages or so, not 400. And for Congress, it is yay or nay, isn't it? This is it.
MICHAEL GENOVESE, PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL POLICY INSTITUTE, LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY: That is right. And you will recall in Watergate, it was drip, drip, drip, a very slow process. Gave people time to process information, gave people time to think it through.
The Mueller report, it was wait, wait, wait. Now, it is boom, boom, boom, very quick sharp hits. And those hits really have struck a blow with the president. He has been off his game. He has lost control of the narrative. He likes to do the punching but now he is getting punched. He is becoming the victim. He is acting like the victim.
And so I think what you're seeing is a very, very different set of circumstances now. This is something that the American people can understand. This is something you can wrap your hands around and go, yeah, I get this one.
VAUSE: And with that in mind, we know that House Democrats -- where they stand with regard to impeachment. But there is a number of new polls out there including one from NPR and PBS that was conducted on Wednesday, saying 49 percent of Americans support opening the impeachment inquiry, 46 percent are opposed.
Given the sort of the study done here, the process is just getting underway, are those numbers where you expect it to be? Are they a little high or a little low? How do you see it?
GENOVESE: I think that the American public is tired of hyper- partisanship. They are tired of all this back and forth name calling. And so I think there's a general reluctance to jump into the water on this. But I think once the process really gets underway, it becomes high drama.
I am old enough to remember Watergate when every day you run home, turn on the TV, you want to see the testimony, who said what about whom, what was the questioning, did someone get stumped. It was fascinate and detailed TV, compelling as anything.
That is what we might see again. If we see that, the American public will tune in and be interested. That is also the reason why I know the smart money (ph) says that Trump will probably be impeached but not convicted.
GENOVESE: I believe that to be the case. Some Republicans who will think this is a historic, my historic reputation is on the line, there may be a few who turn on the president.
VAUSE: That seemed like what has happened on Thursday. It has gone from this is a nothing burger to I haven't read the whistleblower report.
VAUSE: The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, is one who is still defending the president. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN MCCARTHY, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What in this case rises to impeachment? This is a president of the United States that had a conversation with a leader in another country. Never before has a president had to put forth their conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: I wonder how effective that line will be, especially to Trump's supporters. It's very easy for Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE) deny the crime, just played down. You know, this is just a conversation. As much as the Mueller report was so detailed, this is obviously what has (ph) happened, but how important will it be to this public? GENOVESE: John, in movies, the willing suspension of disbelief is necessary so you can enjoy the movie, which is probably absurd and is unbelievable. This is now being applied by Republicans to political reality, the willing suspension of disbelief. They read those words, but they don't understand the definition of those words, what they mean or they refuse to.
Why don't they -- they choose not to because lined partisanship, tribal loyalties are preventing them from actually admitting what they see, what we all know. There is a big, big hammer in the room. No one In the Republican Party is willing to recognize it. And consequently,
there are suspending disbelief to believe the president, their pied piper (ph).
VAUSE: Yeah. It seems that the Trump circle is turning on the personal lawyer for Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani. They blame him for planting the story about Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the president's head, getting him involved for the first time.
The Atlantic had an interview with Rudy Giuliani. It was kind of bizarre. Among the weird statements, here is one of them. "It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I'm not. And I will be the hero. These morons -- when this is over, I will be the hero. I'm not acting as a lawyer. I'm acting as someone who has devoted most of his life to straightening out government. Anything I did should be praised."
This is the man who was called America's mayor after 9/11. What happened?
GENOVESE: Oh, Rudy, Rudy, Rudy! Why is the president, his personal attorney, engaged in the foreign policy process the way he is? There is something very fishy about that. It should not happen. That could be done by State Department or even Defense or the president's National Security Council.
But Trump has been watching reruns, I think, of "The Godfather." He thinks that is the way you operate. You don't operate that way. You operate through procedures and through processes. You don't have your personal attorney, who may be the president thinks that he will be protected by lawyer-client privilege and nothing will be revealed. But that is a terrible, terrible way to run foreign policy and especially terrible when you have someone as volatile as Rudy.
VAUSE: Yeah. Keep in mind Rudy Giuliani wanted to be secretary of state which would be interesting. Michael, thank you. It is good to see you.
GENOVESE: Thank you, John.
VAUSE: As the number of governments blaming Iran continues to grow for that oil facilities attack, Iran is sitting back with a message to the accusers, so prove it. We will be live in Tehran with all the details.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [02:20:00]
VAUSE: For the second time in less than a week, the U.S. has announced an increase in military support for Saudi Arabia, part of the broader response to the airstrikes on Saudi oil facilities earlier this month. The Pentagon plans to also strengthen the kingdom's air defense with missiles and radar systems.
Both Washington and Riyadh are holding Iran responsible for that attack. Iran denies it carried out the attack and is challenging all of its accusers to prove it.
At a news conference in New York, President Hassan Rouhani reiterated that Iran is willing to talk with the U.S. if the economic sanctions are lifted. He also confirmed his country started using advanced models or centrifuges to enrich uranium.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us now live from Tehran. Fred, how significant was this announcement about the advanced centrifuges because to think -- was there much surprise to that (ph) or this is pretty much way they felt the nuclear program will be at this point once this sort of nuclear deal fell apart?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I think initially a lot of people were quite surprised by the announcement. First of all, it came out in the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency where they came out, and they said that the Iranians have now shifted some of the way that they were enriching uranium by using these advanced centrifuges.
But the Iranian president at his news conference sort of tried to downplay that a little bit. He was asked point-blank whether or not that was true. He said, look, this is not something that the Iranians were saying, that this is something that they have announced in advance. They say this is all part of their plan to scale back their commitments under the nuclear agreement.
Of course, the Iranians at this point in time are saying that they believe that they are the only ones who are still fully abiding by the nuclear agreement. They said the European nations because there simply are the sanctions in place are not giving Iran what it is due under the nuclear agreement.
Of course, the U.S. has pulled out altogether. The Iranians are saying that they have announced in several points plan that they would scale back their commitments to the nuclear agreement, and they say that this advanced new centrifuges are the third stage of that.
Now, there is a big distinction that the Iranians made. They said that on the one hand, yes, they're using these advanced centrifuges, but they are not increasing so far at least any more the level of enrichment of uranium.
Of course, this is something very important when you are talking about moving from uranium as it is used for energy as opposed to possibly using some sort of bomb which the Iranians of course say that they are not interested in as well.
The Iranians are saying this is something that they are going to continue to do to scale back their commitments. But they are also saying that if some sort of breakthrough is achieved, obviously the Iranians are saying right now they believe that the ball is in America's court, if some sort of breakthrough is achieved, it is something that they can rid of again as well then obviously move back to full compliance with the nuclear agreement. John?
VAUSE: OK. Fred, thank you. Fred Pleitgen, man in Tehran, live. Thank you, Fred. In U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson is defending his choice of words after her was denounced in Parliament for inflammatory language. He repeatedly called legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit, the surrender act.
But for all of his explaining, it seems Mr. Johnson, a man who is never short of words, is failing to say one. Here is CNN's Melissa Bell.
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After a very rowdy first session back in the British Parliament on Wednesday, there were calls this Thursday for an apology from the British prime minister, lots of criticism this Thursday morning more broadly about his tone and about the narrative. It has been coming from the government benches. A situation of the Parliament versus the people as the country heads towards an October 31st deadline for Brexit.
PAULA SHERRIFF, BRITISH LABOUR MP: -- dangerous or inflammatory language for legislation that we do not like, and we stand here, Mr. Speaker, under the shield of our departed friend with many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day.
Let me tell the prime minister that they often quote his words, Surrender Act, betrayal, traitor, and I for one am sick of it. We must moderate our language. It has to come from the prime minister first. So I would be interested in hearing his opinion.
SHERRIFF: He should be absolutely ashamed of himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, I -- I have to say, Mr. Speaker, I've never heard such humbug in all my life.
BELL: That reply from Boris Johnson proving particularly controversial calls for an apology from within the House of Commons this Thursday but also from the continent, with a number of officials within the European Union saying that they're watching with growing alarm the sort of language that is coming from the government, language that many feel can often turn into real violence and cause real danger and concern. For the time being, no hint of apology or any sort of repentance from Boris Johnson as MPs and the government look ahead to how this question of Brexit will now be resolved between the Parliament on one hand and the government on the other.
Melissa Bell, CNN, London.
VAUSE: Soon to come, as Donald Trump escalates his attacks on the White House whistleblower, (INAUDIBLE) criminal but it seems the system of checks and balances might just be holding and in fact working in this instance.
VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause with an update on our top news this hour. Another denial from Iran even though France, Germany and U.K. now join the U.S. and Saudi in blaming Tehran for the strike on Saudi oil facility. But Iran is saying prove it. U.S. has responded by sending Patriot missile batteries as well as additional military support to the kingdom.
Afghanistan is sending tens of thousands of troops across the country for presidential election (ph). The Taliban had promised suicide bombings and rocket attacks. It comes after peace talks between the United States and the Taliban fell apart.
It is engulfing (ph) the White House. The acting head of the U.S. Intelligence told Congress he believes the whistleblower has acted in good faith and within the law. The whistleblower is accusing the U.S. president of asking his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a critical rival, Joe Biden, to help win the 2020 White House election.
President came straight out and said those who leaked information to whistleblower will be executed. But in typical Trump style, it was implied with a nod and a wink and a glint in his eye, reportedly in front of 50 people at a private function at the United Nations.
There is no shortage of army, just hours later, both the details and then the audio of those remarks threatening death to leakers were leaked to the media.
On the audio recording, the president is also heard trying to discredit the report as well as the whistleblower, who the president described as a criminal, a bigger slur from a week earlier when Trump called him a political hack.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call -- and he never saw the call, heard something and decided that he or she or whoever the hell it is -- they're almost a spy. I want to know who's the person that gave the whistleblower -- who's 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 where we were smart, right? The spies and treason. We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VAUSE: To New York now and CNN Global Affairs Analyst, as well, as the executive editor for The New Yorker Web site, David Rohde. David, good to see you.
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thank you.
VAUSE: Let's just stop and consider what we heard then from the President, and you know, admittedly it was a private function behind closed doors, but it was in front of 50 or so people. It's an incredible threat. And some people may say, Well, listen to his tone, he's joking. But we don't know that he was joking.
ROHDE: Yes. And look, this sits a long pattern of, you know, the President's actions since he took office. He called, you know, he made a fake allegation against the intelligence community that they had, you know, bug Trump Towers, he compared them to Nazis. There's been a pattern of anyone, any official who questions the president is declared an enemy. You know, he's declared the members of a deep- state conspiracy. And it's a -- it's a tactic, it's to marginalize people who question him or who criticize him.
VAUSE: And he obviously doesn't really understand the difference between a whistleblower and someone who leaks.
ROHDE: That's correct. I mean, this person and I don't know their identity. You know, this was a meticulous nine-page complaint. They're very careful to not include classified information. And they did what a government employee is supposed to do. They went to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. The Inspector General did the right thing. He agreed this was an urgent and a credible whistleblower complaint. And the system worked. I, you know, I do think there were some positive elements out of what happened today.
VAUSE: OK, let me quote your words back to you. Because this is, you know, your piece from the New Yorker with the headline, The Whistleblower Complaint Is Democracy at Work, Not the Deep State. You then go on to write, "The Intelligence Community Inspector General deemed the whistleblower's complaint credible and urgent. And again, following the law, forwarded it to the Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. The system worked again. Maguire, a former Navy SEAL, agreed with the Inspector General that the complaint was credible. He demurred on the issue of urgency."
Congress asked the acting DNI, specifically about that timing issue earlier on Thursday. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: After
reviewing the complaint and the Inspector General's transmittal letter, the Office of Legal Counsel determined that the complaints allegations do not meet the statutory requirement, definition concern, legal, urgent concern, and found that I was not legally required to transmit the material to our oversight committee under the whistleblower protection act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: And that has to have some serious questions over whether or not it was urgent or not. Because you know, when you read this, it certainly does seem to be urgent. And that is where the system seems to be breaking down. And you know, if it wasn't for someone who actually got this information out to the media, to The Washington Post, I think, and then, you know, the others, this could have, you know, been tied up forever.
ROHDE: Yes. And where it fell apart is really the Justice Department, and that, you know, has been run by Attorney General William Barr. And there's been very strong criticism of him for making legal interpretations that helped the President, politically. Barr released a summary of the Mueller report that, you know, played down Mueller's findings. And then, this is critical, the Office of Legal Counsel, that's what the DNI -- acting DNI referred to at the Justice Department, told him to not forward this report to Congress. And the whole point of the whistleblower law is to use the separation of powers United States so that Congress can learn about misconduct in the executive branch and challenge the executive branch on what's happened. So, essentially, you know, William Barr's Justice Department blocked this complaint from going forward. Maguire who testified could have pushed it forward, but he abided by the Justice Department decision. So, yes, that's where the system broke down.
VAUSE: And there's another area, too, as well. That once it was decided that the memo was not urgent about the phone call, the Office of Legal Counsel essentially knew all other allegations which should be made by the whistleblower outside of that July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. The point being, it seems that, you know, the mechanism of government, the institutions which have been rotting away here under the Trump administration, are no longer working as they should.
ROHDE: Well, that's correct in terms of the Justice Department. And again, I -- it's a -- one thing that did work was the House of Representatives, you know, used its most, you know, awesome tool, and that is threatening the President with impeachment. That forced the President to release a partial transcript of his call with the Ukrainian President, and it forced him, you know, to release this whistleblower complaint.
So, the checks and balances are working for now, but this is just an extraordinary situation. You know, as you talked about, the president is, you know, making death threats against whistleblowers. He's accused of breaking the law. He's facing impeachment, and his Justice Department and under reforms that were enacted after Watergate, after Nixon's resignation, the Justice Department is supposed to administer the law fairly and equally, not to protect the President to not -- you know, the Justice Department should not be acting as a political player. And that has happened under William Barr.
VAUSE: And just very quickly, David, there was a specific reason why these mechanisms, you know, have been rotting away, have been torn down by the President and those around him within the administration. And I guess, as we get closer to articles of impeachment, would you see those efforts ramped up in any way?
ROHDE: I think you'll see more obstruction, the President and the White House have refused to turn over documents subpoenaed by six congressional committees. That is Congress's power. This could end up in a standoff that goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, a historic, you know, constitutional crisis, that could be decided by the Supreme Court if Donald Trump refuses to turn over more information.
VAUSE: Yes, this is only going to get a lot more intense from this point on, I think. David, thank you, good to see you.
ROHDE: Thank you so much.
VAUSE: More protests, more anger, but Hong Kong's leader, after more than 100 days, find some protesters to actually talk to. She's trying to come some widespread unrest. More on that in a moment.
VAUSE: This weekend will mark the 17th week of protest, 119 days of anger on the streets of Hong Kong. And finally, the city's chief executive has spoken to a handful of demonstrators. As Carrie Lam arrived for community town hall, she was greeted with more protests but showing up is 90 percent of life. More than 20,000 applied for a chance to talk with Lam. Only 150 were chosen to take part. Here's CNN'S Will Ripley.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hong Kong's embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam gets lukewarm applause from a preselected audience.
A much larger, louder crowd gathers outside. This is Lam's attempt to fix the crisis she helped create, holding her first community dialogue since the protests began four months ago. Some say it's too little, too late.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): You should show to the biggest responsibility as the whole movement comes to the stage. You must step down.
RIPLEY: Hong Kong's summer of unrest began with outrage over Lam's disastrous, now withdrawn, extradition bill. Later broadening into a prodemocracy antigovernment movement with regular outbreaks of vandalism and violence. Outside the venue, hundreds of protesters, inside more than a dozen empty seats. 20,000 people applied for 150 spots. 20 didn't even show up.
Many who did come say Lam herself is to blame. Others accuse her of being a puppet for the Chinese government. Lam says she's here to listen, and to help Hong Kong heal.
CARRIE LAM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF HONG KONG (through translator): I've heard a lot of people questioning if this dialogue is a political show or a P.R. show. Because for the past days, confidence in the SAR government and confidence in me have been falling.
RIPLEY: Months of unrest have pummeled Hong Kong's economy, paralyzed public transportation, and postponed major events. Fireworks for China's National Day on Tuesday cancelled. October 1st is the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, a day expected to be a crucial test for protesters and police
STEVEN KWOK, CHAIR, HONG KONG LABOUR PARTY: This (INAUDIBLE) have more and more protest. And it is more militant, I think. It's more vigorous because it's just the National Day.
RIPLEY: Hong Kong Police keeping a low profile outside the dialogue venue, with hundreds of nearby officers standing by. Schools and stores taking no chances, closing early.
Rumors had been circulating that protesters might try to storm the dialogue venue. Queen Elizabeth Stadium here in Wan Chai. Participants are also banned from bringing in what's become standard protest gear, helmets, gas masks, and umbrellas.
Protection from the rain became a symbol of Hong Kong's prodemocracy movement five years ago. That movement lasted 11 weeks, this one approaching week 17, with yet another major protest planned this weekend. Dialogue or not, there is end in sight. Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.
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