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Whistleblower Complaint Reveals Stunning Allegations; Former Ukrainian Prosecutor Met with Rudy Giuliani. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A cover-up at the White House. A whistleblower says officials try to hide damaging details about the president. And it wasn't the first time. What's next as the impeachment inquiry marches on?

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning. I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, September 27th, it is 4:00 a.m. in New York.

Big questions for this White House following a gripping day on Capitol Hill. The whistleblower complaint alleges a White House cover-up, after President Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.

Overnight, CNN learned the Justice Department knew about the allegations soon after President Trump's July 25th call with the Ukrainian president. Officials briefed on the matter say the whistleblower informed an intelligence agency general counsel, who alerted the Justice Department as required. "The New York Times" reports the DOJ then told the White House.

The timing of all of this raising more questions about the handling of the complaint and efforts to keep the details from Congress.

BRIGGS: Overnight, "The Washington Post" reporting the White House has taken extraordinary measures to keep details of President Trump's calls with foreign leaders secret. A number of steps have been taken after embarrassing disclosures early in the administration. Among them, reducing the number of aides allowed to listen in on calls and some officials who deliver memos now have to sign chain of custody records in case of a leak.

Moments after the whistleblower complaints went public, acting spy chief Joseph Maguire testified to the House Intel Committee. He defended both the whistleblower and his own handling of the complaint.


JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I am not familiar with any prior instances where a whistleblower complaint touched on such complicated and sensitive issues including executive privilege. I believe that this matter is unprecedented.


BRIGGS: The fallout from all of this has come fast and fierce.

CNN's Jessica Schneider with more from Washington.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the details of the whistleblower's complaint are now fully revealed and the stunning allegations are twofold. First, of course, that President Trump sought out Ukraine's assistance and interference for the benefit of his 2020 reelection campaign. And second, that the White House subsequently tried to cover it up.

The whistleblower laying it all out in stark detail, saying that senior White House officials intervened after the call to, quote, "lock down all records of that phone call." Now White House officials told the whistleblower that they were directed by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the regular computer system it would normally be on and transfer it to a separate system only normally used for highly sensitive materials that only certain officials have access to. All of this, in what some are saying amounts to a cover-up by the White House.

The whistleblower also recounting how White House officials said that they were deeply disturbed by what transpired in the July 25th phone call, where President Trump pressed the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son. And the whistleblower also saying that White House officials put it this way, that they had, quote, "witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain."

And even more alarming, the whistleblower says this isn't the first time that a presidential phone call transcript was placed in the separate electronic system, leading to a lot of questions.

Now, the acting director of National Intelligence was on Capitol Hill for fierce questioning on Thursday. But he defended not only his handling of the complaint, but also the whistleblower, saying that that whistleblower did the right thing and followed the right steps to get that complaint into the right hands.

The whistleblower does want to talk to members of Congress, and if he is allowed to, that could, of course, be the next step in what has officially now become an impeachment inquiry -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: As for those next steps, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has assigned the House Intel Committee to take the lead on the impeachment inquiry. She's telling members the probe will for now focus narrowly on allegations related to the Ukraine call.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The complaint reports a, quote, "repeated abuse" of an electronics record system designed to store classified, sensitive national security information, which the White House used to hide information of a political nature. This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up.


ROMANS: Democrats are hoping to vote on formal Articles of Impeachment before the holidays.


For now, they don't plan to make Robert Mueller's report central to their investigation.

BRIGGS: Mueller's work had been under the purview of the Judiciary Committee but its hearings on alleged Trump misconduct were widely panned for turning into a circus. More than half of House members now support an impeachment inquiry. Remember, impeachment requires only a simple majority in the House. Removal from office requires a vote of two-thirds in the Senate, which is of course controlled by the GOP.

ROMANS: And President Trump reacted angrily to the whistleblower complaint. He suggested whoever spoke to the whistleblower is a traitor and alluded to execution as a punishment.


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.


ROMANS: CNN has learned that inside the White House some are now second-guessing the decision to release the whistleblower complaint and the Ukraine call summary under the belief it would de-escalate the situation.

There were those that were like, get it out there.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: That was the most important thing. It appears Corey Lewandowski, the political operative who helped the president get elected, could take a lead role in the looming Trump impeachment fight on the White House side.

BRIGGS: Two Republican governors now publicly support the impeachment inquiry. Vermont Governor Phil Scott and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Among Republicans in Congress, criticism of the president and support for impeachment is rare. Instead the party strategy involves trying to discredit the whistleblower.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): 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.

REP. MIKE CONWAY (R-TX): Find anybody out there who third and fourth hand information could build their allegation that they want to -- that they're concerned about. My guess is, based on the reporting that you guys do, there's a lot of folks out there who --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The inspector- general said that this was an urgent and credible concern.

CONWAY: Well, under the pure definition. Not urgent the way we normally consider urgent.


BRIGGS: A handful of Republicans in the House and Senate have criticized the president but most are deflecting. Many influential GOP senators saying they hadn't even read the complaint as of yesterday.

ROMANS: One big question, is Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in legal trouble, legal jeopardy? According to the whistleblower complaint, multiple U.S. officials said they were deeply concerned by Giuliani's circumvention of national security decision-making processes. The whistleblower says Ukrainian leaders believe they needed to play ball with Giuliani and the contact with Mr. Trump would depend on their receptiveness to investigating the Bidens. Even getting a call with the president was going to mean he had to appear he was ready to investigate the Bidens. Giuliani's involvement could violate the Logan Act, which makes it a crime for private citizens to intervene in disputes with foreign governments without authorization.

BRIGGS: The complaint says at least two State officials called Giuliani trying to contain the damage he was doing. Giuliani claims the State Department reached out to him first, a claim CNN has not been able to verify. "The New York Times" reports Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is frustrated with Giuliani. This was his response.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: In fact, I'm a legitimate whistleblower. 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.


BRIGGS: Giuliani also told "The Atlantic," quote, "It is impossible that the whistleblower is a hero and I'm not. I will be a hero. These morons -- when this is over, I will be the hero."

ROMANS: And there's new intrigue around a former top Ukrainian prosecutor whose allegations against the Bidens were central to Giuliani's efforts. He inadvertently set a trap for President Trump. CNN's Matthew Chance live from Kiev. What a mind-spinning 24 hours --

48 hours, it's been, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is. And we've been wading through all of these documents. Not just the White House transcript to the phone call from April 26 but also this incredible whistleblower report, which has been very rich in giving us some indication of how this all works. And out of all of it, it's this figure from my point of view here in Ukraine, it's this figure Yuriy Lutsenko, who has emerged as central.

He was the prosecutor general of this country. Wasn't just some random guy who walks it off the street. He seems to have been the main point of contract from the Trump administration, through Rudy Giuliani, in terms of, you know, not sourcing all those humors particularly the rumor about Joe Biden's conduct in and having the former prosecutor dismissed to protect the boss of his son. Not sourcing those rumors but crystallizing them for the Trump administration, in the form of one man.


He basically, you know, and I'm paraphrasing here, he basically must have reached out to Rudy Giuliani or at least liaise with Rudy Giuliani, and said, look, you know, I am going to help you get all these rumors into the public, prove them and get them into the public. And why did he do that? Was it to damage President Trump? Was he lying in order to cause damage to Trump administration? No. He was doing it because he wanted to say his own job here in Ukraine. He was facing the possibility of dismissal. He was eventually dismissed, but he wanted to make himself valuable to the Ukrainian government, say, hey, I'm in with the Americans. Don't get rid of me. Didn't work. When Presidents Zelensky, the current president of Ukraine, came into office he basically got rid of them, even though that prosecutor had tried to change his mind and call back on some of those allegations.

He's now issued a statement saying, you know, all these reports that misrepresented the reality about me. And you know, I'm manipulative. But, you know, anyway, a central figure in the saga.

ROMANS: A good Netflix miniseries, except it's actually in the news and reality.

Matthew Chance, thank you so much for that from Kiev this morning

BRIGGS: The safety of whistleblowers now a big concern. Top House Democrats are warning President Trump to stop what they call reprehensible witness intimidation. Three committee chairmen write, "Threats of violence from the leader of our country have a chilling effect on the entire whistleblower process, with grave consequences for our democracy and national security. A GoFundme to cover legal fees for the whistleblower. It's now reached more than $125,000.

ROMANS: All right. And then this. The number of refugees allowed into the U.S. will hit a record low. New rules from the White House, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROMANS: President Trump is warning the stock market will crash if he is impeached, tweeting this, "Do you think it was luck that got us to the best stock market and economy in our history? It wasn't."

Impeachment is so rare. History is not a great guide here. During Watergate, the market faltered because the economy wasn't strong not because of the Nixon impeachment. The impeachment of President Clinton had zero effect on confidence in the economy. In fact job soared. Oh, and by the way, the S&P 500 rose 27 percent. Bottom line, the health of the underlying economy trumps impeachment.

And, look. At least right now, it's unlikely the Senate will remove Trump from office. The risk for investors is Trump chaos fatigue causes him to lose in 2020.

Now he has warned this before. For example, if the Democrat beats him, that the stock market would crash. And he's at the risk here of becoming the president who cried stock market wolf. The bigger threat to stocks are his own trade war with China, maybe freezing up in the lending markets, we've seen the New York Fed battling that in recent weeks, and some kind of a shock that we can't predict to the 10-year- old bull market.

BRIGGS: A record low number of refugees will be admitted to the United States. The Trump administration says only 18,000 refugees will be allowed in next fiscal year. That's compared to 30,000 this year, which was the lowest level since 1980. More than 100,000 refugees were admitted in the final years of the Obama presidency. Some in the White House wanted to let in no refugees at all. The head of the International Rescue Committee responding in a tweet, quote, "This is a very sad day for America."

ROMANS: Military suicides keep rising. A new Pentagon report shows 541 service members died in 2018, up from 511 the year before. The report shows a particular increase among active service members, 325, up from 285. Pentagon officials say they don't see a direct correlation between suicides and combat deployments.

BRIGGS: Ahead, two more deaths, hundreds more sick, as the vaping epidemic expands nationwide.



ROMANS: All right. Two more deaths related to vaping, bringing the nationwide total to 13. The CDC says there are now 805 confirmed and probably cases of lung illness associated with e-cigarette use in 46 states, up sharply from 530 cases in just last week. The 13 deaths are spread across 10 states. Later today Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to announce a vaping-related executive order. Several states have put a hold on the sale of vaping products. BRIGGS: Boeing overestimated how well 737 MAX pilots could respond to

emergency warnings in the cockpit. That's according to the NTSB in its first safety analysis since two 737 MAX planes crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia killing 346 people. Aircraft design flaws took the planes into steep dives. The pilots were unable to correct. Federal safety investigators issued a series of recommendations. They say Boeing should re-evaluate how cockpit confusion can slow the pilot's response time. The 737 MAX fleet has been grounded since March.

ROMANS: DoorDash confirming a data breach that exposed the accounts of nearly five million customers, workers and merchants. The popular food delivery company says it happened in May. User names, e-mails, delivery addresses, passwords, all compromised. They say the hack affects users who joined the platform on or before April 5th, 2018. In response, DoorDash says it has added more security layers and improved security protocols required to gain access to that data.

BRIGGS: Jennifer Lopez and Shakira are taking their talents to South Beach.


The two superstar performers will headline the Super Bowl LIV halftime show in Miami, February 2nd. Both artists have close ties to Miami and have had big success on the pop and Latin charges over the years. J. Lo recently finished a tour to celebrate her 50th birthday, if you can believe it or not. She's also getting some Oscar buzz for her role in a surprise hit movie "Hustlers."

ROMANS: I want to see that movie. You know, for JLo, they say, you know, 50 is the new 40 for the rest of us? For JLo, 50 is the new 28.

BRIGGS: Thirty, yes.

ROMANS: I mean, she is better than ever.

BRIGGS: She's remarkable. That'll be fun, too.

ROMANS: Yes. All right. A week of whiplash not over yet. The White House accused of covering up damaging phone calls from the president. It looks like the White House knew about the whistleblower complaint sooner than we thought.