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White House Acknowledges That Lawyers Directed Moving Documents To A Highly Secure System; Joe Walsh Weighs In On Trump Impeachment; Giuliani Implicates State Department With Texts From Diplomats. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: This Sunday night, the return of two CNN original series. You can find out the true stories of the agencies protecting the U.S. on declassified at nine, followed by another powerful and provocative season of "This Is Life with Lisa Ling" at 10:00 p.m. That is right here only on CNN.

I'm Brianna Keilar live from Washington with a Special Edition of CNN RIGHT NOW.

President Trump is on a scorched earth mission to discredit the person behind that whistleblower complaint. But perhaps in an attempt to mitigate legal fallout, his own administration is quickly corroborating much of the explosive report.

And at the heart of today's developments, a senior White House official just confirmed a CNN for the first time that officials did indeed direct the Ukraine call transcript to be filed in a separate highly classified system amid these elegant that that amounts to a cover up.

That admission matches almost verbatim of what is in this whistleblower complaint, which goes to say, quote, "One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective."

And all of this as House speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is now narrowing the Impeachment Inquiry to focus on Ukraine with some Democrats pushing for a vote as soon as next month.

President Trump signaling how he plans to fight this telling attendees of a private event in New York that this is war.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So the whistleblower came out and said nothing, said a couple of people told me he had a conversation with Ukraine. We're in a war. These people are sick.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: With me now, CNN's Senior White House correspondent, Pamela

Brown. Pamela, explain further how these officials are explaining where this transcript was stored.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the White House today did acknowledge that a key graph in the whistleblower complaint was accurate. It said in the statement from a senior White House official that N.S.C. lawyers directed that the classified document talking about the transcript between Zelensky and Trump be handled appropriately.

So what the White House is saying here, according to this senior official is, yes, N.S.C. lawyers did direct for it to be moved to that code word system listed in the complaint, but that it was appropriate, that there was nothing wrong with that, essentially.

And they're making the argument that the transcript was already classified as every head of state transcript is, but Brianna, that the code word system that the transcript was moved into is reserved for highly classified transcripts that include information like covert operations. It's not typically used to house classified information like a call with a head of state that doesn't have the more sensitive layer to it, as I just mentioned.

We are told, Brianna, that the White House began to clamp down on who could see head of state calls after the leaks of the President's calls with the head of Mexico, with Australia and with Putin.

So it does raise questions whether this was the only transcript moved there or whether there were other transcripts moved there that also didn't meet that threshold of highly classified information.

It is interesting, too that this does corroborate part of the complaint, and as you know, Brianna, the President has continued to go after this whistleblower, attacking the credibility of the whistleblower, calling the whistleblower bias.

At last check, according to a senior administration official though, the President nor the White House knows what the identity of this whistleblower is -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much. And now one of my next guests joined 300 former national security professionals in signing a letter to sound the alarm about the President's actions with Ukraine.

This reads in part, quote, "If we fail to speak up and act now, our foreign policy and national security will officially be an offer to those who can most effectively fulfill the President's personal prerogatives."

And it goes on, quote, " ... there is no escaping than what we already know is serious enough to merit impeachment proceedings."

Jeffrey Prescott is a former Special Assistant to President Obama and also with me, Mark Mazzetti, a Washington investigative correspondent for "The New York Times." He is also a CNN National Security Analyst.

Jeffrey, to you first, the White House coming out and saying, yes, information was moved. But the line from the White House is that this was appropriate. So as someone who understands how these things work, explain it to us.

JEFFREY PRESCOTT, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Sure. So there are systems that the White House has to appropriately handle information of a very sensitive nature for national security purposes.

I think what's most troubling about what we've seen in the whistleblower's complaint and what we've learned so far through your reporting and others, is that this transcript seems to have been moved from one system, from one server to another server as a way of protecting the President's personal misconduct, or protecting the President from embarrassment, not for national security reasons.


PRESCOTT: And I think one key point, these systems are designed to protect our nation's most closely held secrets. That's the reason, our national security that those information systems are in place.

And it's very unusual, in fact, unprecedented in my experience to have information moved from one system to another for other than national security or classification reasons.

KEILAR: Mark, I wonder, though, if the White House is more comfortable trying to say, no, but we do this sometimes. Because look, we had leaks. If they are more comfortable to be in a place where they are explaining the movement of this transcript, which they say is essentially not a big deal than they are to be discussing the content of what is in the phone call. Is there anything to that?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, of course, it raises questions about what other calls, what other transcripts were indeed processed and handled in this way.

But as we and others have reported, there were several officials listening to the call, who immediately were concerned, not necessarily for classification reasons or national security issues, they were concerned about what the President said on the call. And so inside the White House, there was a worry that this was a problem.

And so the fact that this transcript was handled this way, it does raise concerns, as you said that this was done for political reasons, besides any kind of actual national security reasons. And of course, then, well, if other calls were processed this way, then why?

KEILAR: Jeffrey, this statement to CNN from the White House, the White House says National Security Council attorneys directed this Ukraine call transcript to be moved.

You were on Obama's National Security Council. Jack Quinn, former Clinton White House counsel just said that sounds so odd to him that White House lawyers would say that that should be moved. What do you think?

PRESCOTT: I completely agree. I mean, the White House lawyers, lawyers for the National Security Council are in place to protect the rule of law. Their job is to be essentially the traffic cop to make sure that N.S.C. officials are following the rules and following the law.

It's deeply troubling that these reports suggest N.S.C. lawyers or White House lawyers were directing information to be mishandled or handled inappropriately. That raises serious red flags and really does need to be investigated.

KEILAR: About how the lawyers are conducting themselves or about whether that's actually what happened?


KEILAR: Both. Okay, so Mark, let's talk about Nancy Pelosi, because the speaker has said that the Attorney General Barr who is mentioned in this phone call, but insists the D.O.J. does that the President didn't actually reach out to him in the way that he said he was going in the phone call.

Pelosi says he has gone rogue. Adam Schiff says he has little confidence that the D.O.J. will be willing to investigate Barr or Giuliani. Schiff just told Manu Raju he expects subpoenas and depositions, and he is working through the recess. What are you expecting from the administration?

MAZZETTI: Well, I mean, one natural process of things might be that the attorney general might recuse himself from something like this. But we know how the President feels about recusals of the Attorney General into these matters.

So I think it's probably unlikely that that would happen. The fact that Barr is mentioned directly by the whistleblower, does then raise concerns questions about just the extent that the Justice Department would look into it.

Now remember, the Justice Department also, Barr ordered an inquiry into this whole matter involving the election in 2016 that is currently being handled by an attorney, a U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, John Durham. So there's already this ongoing D.O.J. investigation.

And so it appears, you know, certainly Congress will try to get information from the D.O.J. and you can see why Democrats in Congress would not think that Barr is an honest broker in this, but you would not expect that he was going to recuse himself from this.

KEILAR: All right, Mark, and Jeffrey, thank you so much to both of you. I really appreciate it.

So what's going on with Rudy Giuliani as he faces intense heat? The President's personal lawyer now implicating the President's administration in all of this. Plus, I'll speak live with one of the President's Republican

challengers for his first response and also what he thinks about how Republican lawmakers are largely dismissing this. This is CNN's Special Live Coverage.



KEILAR: The whistleblower complaint detailing President Trump's July conversation with Ukraine's President and the alleged attempt to cover it up by the White House is front and center as Congress, the public and 2020 candidates all weigh in on this nine-page complaint.

One big question, where do congressional Republicans stand? GOP Senator Mitt Romney called the transcript troubling. Other Republican senators, many of them say they haven't read it or they had no comment on the whistleblower complaint.

Joining me now to discuss, former Congressman and 2020 Republican presidential candidate, Joe Walsh. Joe, thanks for joining us.

JOE WALSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Brianna. Good to be with you.

KEILAR: So Congressman, first, I just want to get your reaction to this complaint and the White House now acknowledging that officials did direct this Ukraine call transcript to be filed in a separate, more highly classified system. They're clearly saying it was appropriate, but they are confirming that this was moved. Is that an impeachable offense in your eyes?

WALSH: Absolutely. And Brianna, let's just pull ourselves back for a minute because we tend to overanalyze and overcomplicate everything with this President.

What have we learned this week? We learned that the President of the United States asked a foreign government to interfere in our 2020 election. That's what the American people found out this week.

And Brianna, what's astounding about that, right, the President asking a country to interfere in our 2020 election is that's the very issue that has torn this country apart for the last two or three years -- Russia interfering in our 2016 election. And we find out this week that this guy in the White House asked another country to interfere in our 2020 election.

Brianna, it's impeachable. It's clear that this President -- and this is a serious thing to say -- doesn't give a damn about this country. And Brianna, this is a gut check. This is gut check time for Republicans.

KEILAR: He has certainly said publicly in the abstract prior to all of this coming to light, that this kind of thing was okay, that he would do this kind of thing. Now, we have seen the phone call. We've seen the memo. We've seen

the complaint. He doesn't still at this point -- he is attacking the whistleblower. He doesn't seem to think that there is anything the matter with all of this.

WALSH: And again, Brianna, not surprising, because to put it quite simply, we have a President who doesn't have any respect for the rule of law. He doesn't have any respect for truth, and he's got no guardrails.

Look, all Donald Trump cares about is Donald Trump. And this phone call, what we learned this week makes it clear, if there's one issue, Brianna that has been eating at this country for the last three years, its foreign interference in our election.

And here is the President of the United States just a couple of months ago on this call, it's quite literally like he is giving his middle finger to the American people. I don't care about that. I'm going to ask another government to interfere in our 2020 election. I dare you to come get me.

He is giving the country the middle finger and Republicans better understand that.

KEILAR: Joe, you said there are no guardrails. I think it's pretty stunning to a lot of people because a lot of Americans think there are guardrails.

There are laws that government figures, including the President are supposed to operate within, and then you even look at this whistleblower process, where the D.O.J. and William Barr being a part of this complaint in the White House, the President being at the center of this, get brought into this. This almost doesn't even go to Congress.

What is this revealing to you about how things maybe need to change because there should be guard rails, shouldn't there?

WALSH: Brianna, there should be guard rails and the Attorney General doesn't work for Donald Trump, the Attorney General works for the United States of America.

And Brianna, that's interesting. You just raised what is probably the second most disturbing thing we learned this week. Whistleblowers in America should be revered. They should be praised. They should be protected.

You had the President of the United States yesterday basically saying the whistleblower is a spy and he should be hung for treason. Look, Brianna, if I'm President, I can tell you what, I believe in transparency. And if a whistleblower has a complaint, a whistleblower should be able to take that complaint directly to Congress. And I would encourage a whistleblower to do this.

Donald Trump again acting like some sort of mob boss, he thinks everything is about him and it's not about the country and I'm going to be a broken record, again, Brianna, the republicans have to decide. This is gut check time. Are they going to defend Trump? Or are they going to defend the rule of law?

KEILAR: But Congressman, what about so many voters who support Donald Trump? I mean, what is -- not disparaging voters who support Donald Trump at all, but my point being, they have a point of view, they are attracted to his message enough that this other stuff we're talking about doesn't matter enough to influence that support.

What does that tell you, especially as -- you're a candidate -- what does that tell you about what you need to be listening to from voters and what you need to be providing voters?

WALSH: His voters, Brianna, had so much invested in what he was, and I get that because his voters are the same folks who have been listening to me on the radio for the last six years.


WALSH: They're tired of both political parties. They're tired of the political system. So they said, let's put this guy in the White House and he will shake it up and he will drain the swamp.

I can tell you, Brianna, that being out there in New Hampshire and Iowa and campaigning, I'm beginning to sense more and more every day his voters are fed up with the drama. They're fed up with waking up every single day and there's another Trump scandal or issue in the news. They're just tired with it.

I actually think Briana, his voters are going to move before congressional Republicans will. It'll take some time.

KEILAR: It might take that for congressional Republicans to move indeed. Former Congressman Joe Walsh, thank you so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Geraldo Rivera says -- yes, thank you. Geraldo Rivera says he would like to beat up the quote, "rotten snitch whistleblower." This is just one example of how this is playing on the President's favorite channel. We're going to discuss with Michael Smerconish, next.

Plus, have White House officials tried covering up this call? Hiding this? Are they legally exposed?



KEILAR: The President's personal attorney is a central figure in the whistleblower complaint against the President and he is insisting that he was directed by the State Department to meet with Ukrainian officials tweeting out text messages that he claims are from the U.S. envoy to Ukraine. Now here's how Rudy Giuliani responded to reports the Secretary of

State Mike Pompeo is angry at him for inserting himself into State Department business.


RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: In fact, I'm a legitimate whistleblower. I haven't -- I have uncovered corruption that this Washington swamp has been covering up effectively for years.

And his State Department, you know, asked me to do this, so Mike, if you're unhappy with me, I'm sorry, but I accomplished my mission.

I have no idea if he's unhappy with me or not. I frankly don't care. I'm the President's lawyer.


KEILAR: Let's talk now with Michael Smerconish, CNN Political Commentator and host of CNN's "Smerconish." So, I mean, Michael, what do you make of this? Because the President's personal lawyer, is now pointing a finger back at the President's administration.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So Rudy Giuliani has been portrayed in a lot of this thus far as a rogue agent. In the complaint, the whistleblower uses the word circumvention to describe the concerns that he was hearing from others about Rudy Giuliani's role. Now, Giuliani responds and shows these texts, one of which is thanking him for his involvement and comes from someone named Volker, who was our Special Representative to the Ukraine.

The point Giuliani wants us to realize is he was very much on the team and acting at the behest of the State Department. I look at that, and I say to myself, okay, Mr. Volker, one more person whose testimony will probably come out on the wash that we will hear from before this whole process runs its course.

KEILAR: The reporting out of the Volker camp is basically that they have Rudy Giuliani running amok, and they are just trying to kind of contain him and he is the President's personal lawyer. So they're being nice in how they talk to him.

SMERCONISH: It could be that, but then again, it could be that because he is so close to the President, that he is given deference and that they rely on his connection to the President to run interference.

I mean, you know, I looked at the text and I looked at the complaint, it's hard to square the two of them without taking testimony from each of them.

KEILAR: Let's talk about how this is playing outside the Beltway, outside of the coast here, and let's talk also how this is playing on Fox News. Let's listen to Geraldo Rivera just this morning.


going to be the President of the United States in a conversation that was intercepted by a rotten snitch, I'd love to whap him. But that's another story.

Imagine this poor President, his whole tenure in office has been marked by snitches and rats and backstabbers. It's amazing how he functions at all.


KEILAR: So this is, of course, what the President is listening to. What though do the President's supporters, maybe people who voted for President Trump, but you know, they're not so sure, what are they thinking, Michael?

SMERCONISH: So in the O.L.C. legal opinion, and you know, you get into the weeds, Brianna, in a hurry in this case, there's a little something for everybody.

There's a reference made here to this indicia of political bias on the part of the whistleblower. With the President's supporters, I'm sure when we get a look at this individual we will say, aha, political bias, but then, you know, you read the next sentence, and it says, nevertheless, was deemed to be credible.

And so the detractors of the President will say, well, it's a credible individual. My gut check is and I know CNN has not yet squared away the reporting as to who exactly this person was and what their job was, but commonsensically, I say, if it was someone working in the Intel Community given out access to the White House, it's not like they plucked a talk radio host off the street.

This has to be an individual who was vetted --