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How Will GOP-Led Senate Handle Whistleblower Complaint?; Republicans under the Microscope amid White House Cover-Up Allegations; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Now Supports Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: A very big question in Washington today, are House Democrats on their own or will the Republican-led Senate look at all into allegations raised in that explosive whistleblower complaint? The GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee choosing his words very carefully.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): Acting Director Maguire and the ICIG Michael Atkinson were extremely forthcoming with us today, extremely helpful at trying to fill in some of the things that we haven't been able to pick up just from the published documents. This will generate more questions than we ask today so the next two weeks we'll probably be trying to get answers to those.

But we've started in the process. Don't expect us to do -- to move at light speed. That will probably happen in the House. But the committee is committed to make sure that we get to the bottom of what questions need answers.


KING: CNN's Manu Raju now live on Capitol Hill. Manu, what questions I guess, what next for Senate Republicans here? How deep is Chairman Burr willing to go?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's trying to project an image of bipartisanship on this committee, to have a bipartisan investigation. That's the same thing that Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the committee is also trying to project much similar to the way they conducted the Russia investigation. The question ultimately is what do they ultimately find, and how quickly do they come up with answers. After all, the Russia investigation is still ongoing in their committee. They have yet to issue a report on how they determine the issue of collusion, for instance somewhat was one of the central areas of their more than two-year investigation.

Now they are planning to do all of this mostly behind closed doors. They've already tried to get an interview with the whistleblower and that's the same thing that's happening with the House Intelligence Committee. But John, the House Intelligence Committee is moving at a much more different pace. I just talked to Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who told me that he is prepared to issue subpoenas, he wants to move, quote, as expeditiously as possible. He said there could be hearings as soon as next week including witness depositions and the like. He would not detail any specifics on who he plans to bring forward. But, as the Democrats try to move forward with an impeachment inquiry -- attempting to potentially move on articles of impeachment as soon as this fall, the Democrats are moving pretty rapidly in the House Intelligence Committee including canceling events in their recess next week in their districts so the members could come back to Washington to carry out the investigation.

So, we'll see how the Senate proceeds. Right now, Richard Burr taking a much different tack than some of his colleagues not talking commenting about the veracity of the whistleblower's complaint, unlike a lot of Republicans who are already dismissing the concerns. Just moments ago, John, Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina told our colleague Ted Barrett that the whistleblower complaint is nothing more than hearsay. That is not the tack that Richard Burr is going. He says he wants to investigate this fully.


KING: And we'll watch. It might be a tale of two different paces but we'll see if they get to the same or different results. Manu Raju, appreciate the live report from Capitol Hill.

Up next for us, more on the Republican response. As Manu notes, some Republicans say there is no "there" there. But some say they would welcome an investigation, say, into the roles of Rudy Giuliani and those secret White House computer servers.


[12:38:09] KING: More now on where the president's fellow Republicans stand now that we know the president did ask Ukraine's leader to look for dirt on Joe Biden. Former Trump 2016 rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas reading straight from the White House talking points.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): So for months and months and months, it was all about Mueller. Mueller, Mueller, Mueller. Now, right now, there are screaming Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine. I got to say the transcript sure didn't live up to its billing. Investigating election interference into 2016 is a perfectly legitimate and appropriate law enforcement priority that the Democrats have been talking non-stop about Russian interference. I'm not sure why they somehow think Ukrainian interference shouldn't be examined.


KING: It's not all that black and white across the GOP. Many Republicans do say they don't support how the president handled that phone call with Ukraine's president. Some say there are more questions to be answered here, like Congressman James Comer of Kentucky.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I don't think there was anything improper but I'd welcome more investigation. I'm going to take my role as a 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 server.


KING: Where are we in the sense that it's been a pretty dramatic 48 hours. First, you do get the summary, the memo on the call with the president of Ukraine and it speaks for itself. Then you get the whistleblower complaint, and again, it needs to be investigated but some pieces of it are clearly credible, had clearly corroborated by other information. Are there cracks, any significant cracks, I guess is the best question in the president's party?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't that we've seen any significant cracks yet, but I do think that just as this has moved very quickly and the Democratic side where it's almost like flipping a switch from we're not going to do impeachment to OK, now we really are and we're going to maybe move very quickly.

[12:40:00] Republicans -- for Republicans on Capitol Hill, this has now becoming real. And they see given that there is documentary evidence, a transcript, a whistleblower complaint, a whistleblower who's been deemed to be credible by top intelligence officials, that they need to leave themselves a little bit of room here the ways that you just heard Congressman Comer doing to not just close the door on the possibility that there may have been wrongdoing or something that they might want to later point to as, OK, well, that crosses a red line. And you heard a little bit of that at the House Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, and you're going to hear I think a little bit more but certainly you're not going to have anyone jumping ship at this point the way Republicans think.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's the key. It's preserving the space in case this gets worse. Because the one really, I think, powerful line in that whistleblower complaint is that while they describe one phone call, they make clear that this has happened other times. And so Republicans have to be wary of just how much more there is to come and that there could be something that looks actually worse than what we've seen in the Ukraine phone call.

They also are keenly aware of their politics. They don't want to be seen as abandoning the president until they have more information. But they also know that this is not the full extent of the evidence that's going to be on the table ultimately.

KING: Right. If that part of the whistleblower complaint also, and again, the parts that have been able to be corroborated have been that what the context of the call that the president of Ukraine, the idea that the White House does put some documents in a more secret high- security server, conversations with, say, Crown Prince Salman on there, conversations with Putin in there. Does somebody inside start talking because the pressure of impeachment, look through their history books, that's how it works.

But it's interesting to see the different Republican responses. Here is Senator Marco Rubio, "The president can do a lot of things I don't agree with, that's why we have election." Senator Rubio essentially don't impeach, have an election about it. Rick Scott, also from Florida. "Would I say things the way he said them? No, I don't, OK? Let him be president." Essentially again leave it up to the voters.

Ron Johnson, "It's just the president being President Trump." John Katko of New York, congressman, "If I were president, I wouldn't have done that."

It's just the president being President Trump is an interesting one to me in the sense that are the Republicans -- if that's your position as the Republicans, there will someday be a Democratic president. Maybe it'll be in a year and a half, maybe it'll be in four years, maybe it'll be in eight years. So the official position of the Republican Party is, it's OK to do what the president did in that phone call to any future Democratic president. It's OK to have a personal attorney who runs around the world doing closet foreign policies.

Is that the new position of the Republican Party?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: A great number of Republican are also trying to keep their space (INAUDIBLE). Oh I haven't read it because (INAUDIBLE).

KING: I'm sorry for interrupting but anybody in the United States Congress who has not read this by now should resign. I'm sorry. No, we punish our kids if they don't do their homework. Your kids get failing grades if they don't do their homework. It's 10 pages, it's 15 pages. If you want to read the call from Ukraine and the whistleblower complaint, it's fewer -- I think fewer than 15 pages combined. If you haven't read it by now, get another job.

KAPUR: It's them strategically refusing to do their homework because Congress is up on a two-week break. They want to see how public opinion breaks down. NPR poll yesterday that was out, the president's approval rating is I think 90 percent with Republicans, 93 percent at this point disapprove of the impeachment inquiry. They're worried about their base. They always are. They are afraid to break with the president. They always are.

One senior Republican source close to McConnell's thinking in the Senate says there s not a single vote at this point for convicting and removing the president from office.

KING: And so we watch. So we watch having lived through the Clinton impeachment. Facts change, things change, climates change, moods change. We're going to look at Republican opinion. Here's one of the Republicans, five several on my list to watch closely. Here's John Thune, the majority whip and member of the Republican leadership.

"I'm not a fan of the way in many cases the president goes about this and I would prefer he would not raise an issue like that with a foreign leader. It makes sense for all of us to take a deep breath and just wait and see where the facts lead."

I've watched somebody like Senator Thune, a senior member. I watched the retiring Lamar Alexander from Tennessee who was a young aide to Howard Baker who's famous during Watergate for asking the president what does the president know and when did he know it. There are some older more establishment voices in the party who have long done this about President Trump who we should watch as this plays out.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think a lot of Republicans -- I mean, think about the position that they're in. They don't want to go too far out on a limb criticizing President Trump because so often in the past these things seem to hit President Trump and bounce right back off. He has not been brought down whether it is by the Mueller investigation or by "Access Hollywood". And so to go too far and abandon him at a time like this would be putting yourself in political peril.

But there are these older members, maybe more old school institutionalist who are concerned more broadly beyond their immediate electoral prospects about what this means for the future. And they're going to start to say things like, we need to investigate this more fully, I wish he hadn't said this, I wish he hadn't done this. But the reality is, the political reality for Republicans is that their party will accept a lot of what President Trump does. And so if they can afford to get re-elected without a majority of the Republican Party, good for them. But a lot of Republicans cannot.

KING: It's a great point as well for those Republican senators up in 2020 who have to win more complicated states like a Susan Collins in Maine and like a Martha McSally in Arizona. We'll watch as that plays out.

[12:45:07] Up next for us, the Kremlin has a related wish list to all of this. It wants its calls with the White House kept secret.


KING: Topping our political radar today, Ukraine's National Anti- Corruption Bureau confirming today it is investigating activity at a gas company that previously employed Joe Biden's son Hunter.

[12:50:05] But, that agency also clarifying it is only examining activity prior to Hunter Biden's employment there. We know, of course, thanks to the release of that White House phone call that President Trump asked Ukraine's president to look into that, including Biden's removal -- effort to remove a prosecutor who previously had investigated the company. Hunter Biden was on the board of directors. Again, the statement today making clear the investigation is about time before Hunter Biden was involved.

The Kremlin today saying it hopes Washington will not release any details of any phone calls between President Trump and President Putin. The Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov made that comment in response to a question about the release of President Trump's conversation with Ukraine's president. Peskov saying such calls are typically top secret but he did note both sides of the United States and Ukraine agreed to release the memo about that call.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian foreign minister meeting at the United Nations. That comes on the heels of new U.S. sanctions on a Russian firm and five vessels that shipped jet fuel to Syria which the United States says supported the Assad regime's attacks on its own people. Pompeo also ignoring this question about whether he knew about the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani's efforts to move around Ukraine looking for dirt on Joe Biden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, were you being briefed about Rudy Giuliani's efforts with the State Department on Ukraine?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks everybody. Appreciate you all being here.


KING: When we come back, a lot to talk here in the hour about Washington's view on impeachment. How about yours?


[12:56:14] KING: As Washington prepares for what looks inevitable, the impeachment of the president of the United States by the House, a quick look at public opinion. This is an NPR/Marist poll out, it's a one-night poll, September 25th but it shows the country evenly divided. Forty-nine percent say yes, proceed with an impeachment inquiry, 48 percent say no. Now it is a one-night poll, we want to see additional polling in the days ahead as this debate continues. But that number if we bring the conversation back to the table, that even divide is a little progress toward the pro-impeachment camp.

PACE: Yes.

KING: If you look at couple of weeks back, it was a smaller number.

PACE: Right. In the one hand, it's very telling of sort of where we are as a country that we're basically divided in half, but actually the majority of the country up until this point has actually said no. And that's what Pelosi has really been looking at saying, hey guys, this is going to be so divisive. You got to know what you're getting into. Now she thinks that they have a chance to flip that number in the other direction just because the evidence that they have is so directly tied to the president. And it's literally black and white, it's on paper right now.

KING: They believes it's much easier to explain than the whole idea of collusion and this and that and the stuff of the Mueller report. And as that plays out, as we watch to play out, a shift among the Democrats running for the presidential nomination. Tulsi Gabbard up until moments ago was the one Democrat of all the Democrats still seeking the nomination who was not in favor of an impeachment inquiry. She just put out a statement saying, she has switch her mind, quote, after looking carefully at the transcript of the conversation with Ukraine's president, the whistleblower complaint, the inspector general memo and President Trump's comments about the issue, unfortunately, I believe that if we do not proceed with the inquiry, it will set a very dangerous precedent.

KAPUR: It would have been quite awkward for her to be the only candidate on that stage not supporting impeachment when something like 90 percent of Democrats in the latest poll approved of it. But one thing that Democrats always underestimated was their ability to move the polls by coming out for this. There were great many people who look at this and said if House Democrats don't support impeachment, then there must be nothing there. Now they do and now the voters are thinking, hey, maybe there is.

PHILLIP: Yes, I think that's a really good point. I mean, the impeachment poll numbers are not static. They can move if there is information about what is going on. And I think in this case, unlike a lot of the things that have come before it, as you put it, it's in black and white, it directly implicates the president. And I also think it touches on something that I think most people intuitively will look at and say, that doesn't seem right.

Asking a foreign government to help investigate your political opponent for a lot of people who are in the middle of the political spectrum is just going to strike them as something that is at the very least going to warrant further investigation.

KING: And so both parties have a challenge in this, assuming both parties stay where they are. Democrats say, yes, let's move forward with an impeachment inquiry and then impeachment. There's no way they're not going to backed off now, their own base would implode if they back off now.

If the Republicans don't crack, a, you got to keep your base. Keep the Democrats for impeachment, the Republicans who are against impeachment. But then you have that fight which is why that NPR/Marist poll, it'd be interesting to see if other polls back it up. In the sense that if you went back just a few days ago there was a Quinnipiac poll that showed independents were not in favor of this. They were more of the view of let's -- we litigate these things in election. So watch that number as we go forward.

DAVIS: Right. And I think it's true that there were a lot of Democrats who were in favor of impeachment who've argued in the last few months that if the party came in favor of it that the public would follow. And not just Democrats but independents as well because that thought was, if they made a case, if they exposed what the case was and the evidence that they had, that perhaps people who are not necessarily motivated by partisanship but really care more about the facts would actually get there. And I think that's kind of what their bid has got to be.

KING: Right. I'll just show you quickly those trend lines. This is from the NPR/Marist/NewsHour -- NPR/PBS NewsHour poll, Republicans in June, only three percent approved an inquiry, now it's up to six in their poll. Independents have gone from 23 to 44. Again, this one poll. Don't go to Vegas on this but we'll watch the trend lines as this debate plays out.

Appreciate you joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you Sunday morning as well. Be right here early, 8 a.m. Eastern. Hope you can join us.

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next. For audience here in the United States, Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.