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Justice Department Knew about Whistleblower Complaint for a Week Before Referral. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who's the one who gave the whistle-blower the information? With spies and treason. Used to handle it a little differently than we do now.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president is acting like his back is up against the wall.

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This matter is unprecedented. I also believe that I handled this matter in full compliance with the law at all times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The committee is committed to make sure that we get to the bottom of what questions need answers.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): This is a sad, sad day for America. It can't get any lower. They got it even lower today.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I never thought we would see a president take the actions that he has.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, September 27. It's 6 a.m. here in New York.

And if you managed to sleep overnight, we need to bring you up to speed on some brand-new developments on the impeachment investigation into the president of the United States.

Remember, everything you hear today and are likely to hear for some time boils down to two main issues. To what extent did the president pressure a foreign leader to investigate one of his political opponents? And we can all read that for ourselves now.

And the new question: to what extent did the White House go to cover it all up? And are they still trying to do so? To that end, this morning, CNN has learned that both the White House and Attorney General William Barr knew about the whistle-blower's allegations more than a week before the formal referral. They've known about this person and that others spoke to this person for some time. Key context when you hear the president seeming to muse that people speaking to the whistle-blower should be executed. Is this a threat to keep potential witnesses silent?


TRUMP: I want to know who's the person who gave the whistle-blower -- who's the person that gave the whistle-blower 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.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Reports are that there was more than one person speaking to that whistle-blower.

Other key outstanding questions: Who allegedly ordered the transcript of the president's call to be moved to a separate classified system and why? "The Washington Post" reports that a senior White House official must make a formal written request to transfer a call to that secure network, an action that could be an acknowledgment that officials knew the president's conduct was potentially illegal.

The whistle-blower also claims this was not the first code word -- not the first time the codeword-level system was used, quote, "solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive information."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is narrowing the impeachment inquiry is focus on Ukraine, with some Democrats pushing for a vote as soon as October.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now to help understand all the new developments, CNN national security analyst James Clapper. He is the former director of national intelligence under President Obama.

And Director, I want to start by reading to you from the whistle- blower complaint itself: "White House officials told me that 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 into a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature. One White House official described this as an act of abuse of this electronic system, because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective."

You have now read the notes from that call, as well. In your mind, experienced mind, does it contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective? JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it doesn't. I'll

say this, John. It doesn't in any way compromise intelligence sources or methods, which is, you know, the thing intelligence people worry about.

And so no, I don't think -- I mean, typically, all these transcripts, regardless of substantive content, classification of sensitive content or, at a minimum, classified secret, that's kind of the standard thing. This one -- as this one was, and then it was declassified for public dissemination.


CLAPPER: So -- and cloistering sensitive information in a network, say, that contains higher classification is not in itself a nefarious or illegal thing. The key thing here in all of this is what was the motivation and who directed it?

BERMAN: So to that end, what are the possible motivations you can think of?

CLAPPER: Well, the obvious one that comes to mind is, you know, people were -- wanted to protect the president from himself or realized the gravity of the content of the essence of that call and what it really meant. And you know, it suggests criminal activity, and I think people probably realized that and wanted to cloister it away, to minimize his exposure.

BERMAN: You say who ordered it. The whistle-blower complaint says that White House lawyers are the ones who asked for this. Why would White House lawyers be asking for this to be placed somewhere where fewer people could see it?


CLAPPER: Well, for the afore-mentioned reasons. The lawyers, probably more than anyone else, realized the import of -- of that dialogue, that conversation. And of course, the thing that strikes -- came to my mind is, well, this is one phone call. What about others? You know, it makes you wonder about the phone calls with Vladimir Putin, just to name one.

BERMAN: So do you -- does that suggest to you -- and again, this is not the only time this happened according to the whistle-blower complaint -- if other calls were treated this way. What concerns do you have about the content there?

CLAPPER: Well, if there's similar questionable leverage exerted on foreign leaders and, of course, there's long been speculation about exactly what the nature is of the relationship that the president has with Vladimir Putin.

And so again, calls with Putin or Mohammed bin Salman after the murder of the journalist, what sort of dialogue was there there between the president and MBS? So is this a reflection of masking potential criminal activity? BERMAN: So the whistle-blower said that there is concern, and concern

among officials that he or she has spoken to that they witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain. That phone call with the Ukrainian leader, now that you've read the notes from that phone call, does it look to you as if the president abused his office for personal gain?

CLAPPER: Well, it sure does. That's -- that's my read of it. Obviously, there is not unanimity about that, but that's -- that's the way it looks to me.

BERMAN: And the nature of the complaint itself, the way it was written, what does that tell you?

CLAPPER: Well, first, I've seen many whistle-blower complaints during my time as DNI, and this one was the best written, best researched, it was footnoted. It didn't get ahead of its skis. You know, ski tips. It was very compelling and very convincing, I think.

It was written in the style of a seasoned intelligence analyst. And it approaches the quality of a national intelligence estimate, which is kind of the apex report that the intelligence community issues.

BERMAN: One of the things -- of the many things suggested by this whistle-blower was that he or she spoke to many White House officials and government officials. The president has now suggested that these people are tantamount to spies and he mused, you know how spies used to be treated when committing treason. Which of course, is they were executed. So what message do you believe that that sends to either, A, whistle-blowers or, B, people who might be witnesses in this investigation?

CLAPPER: Well, I thought a statement and, as usual, extemporaneous was reprehensible. It -- I'm not a lawyer, but it smacked to me of potential witness tampering. And it certainly is a chilling message to others who might consider being a whistle-blower.

And the whole point of the whistle-blower, in fact, the law governing, the Whistle-Blower Protection Act, one of the major features of it is to insulate complainants from retaliation. And I'm kind of looking at some of the Republican champions of whistle-blowing to speak to this, which probably won't happen.

BERMAN: Well, we will see. One of the key questions I have, which we're going to ask our lawyers, is could this, in and of itself, be seen as tampering with the current investigation. and might that also ultimately play into the impeachment inquiry as a possible article of impeachment.

Director, I want to leave you just with this question based on your decades of experience here. And based on these two extraordinary pieces of evidence that we already have before us, the notes from the phone conversation and this whistle-blower complaint. What's the key question that you want to see answered at this point?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know if I can pick one question. One comment I'll make first, John, is the remarkable congruence between the transcript of the call or the summary of it and the actual whistle- blower complaint, which to me makes what the whistle-blower said very credible.

I think there's a whole range of questions that the whistle-blower complaint suggests. The fact that I think it provides kind of a road map for a lot of questions. You know, who was aware of this? What was the reason for cloistering the transcript? And related questions like that.

I don't know that I'd pick one. I think there's a whole series. And the whistle-blower complaint, as I say, lays out a road map to do that.

BERMAN: We'll try to get to the bottom of all those questions. Director Clapper, always a pleasure to have you on. Thanks for waking up early for us.

CLAPPER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: John, Rudy Giuliani's behavior is all over this whistle- blower's complaint. But Giuliani insists he is the hero here. Is Giuliani in legal trouble today? That's next.



CAMEROTA: The whistle-blower complaint describes Rudy Giuliani as a central figure in the Ukrainian controversy. There are big questions this morning about whether the president's personal attorney broke the law. Giuliani insists he did nothing wrong, and here's how he responded to reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is angry at Giuliani for inserting himself into State Department business.


RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYER: In fact, I'm a legitimate whistle-blower. I have -- 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.

BERMAN: The alarm bells already ringing on what Giuliani was saying.

CAMEROTA: Was the police coming for someone right there and then?

All right. Joining us now is Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter; David Gregory, CNN political analyst; and Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

Elie, let's start with the Giuliani question. Is he in legal trouble today? ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he is. There is a federal

criminal law that says a person cannot solicit from a foreign national a campaign contribution or something of value relating to a campaign.

So let's break that down. Is he soliciting? He's begging. That's more than soliciting. Right? Is it from a foreign national? Sure. It's from the leaders of Ukraine. So the only question is, is this of some political value? Right? What other possible purpose could campaign dirt -- could dirt on Joe Biden serve Rudy Giuliani or Donald Trump other than campaign value?

So it's really a straightforward statute. The other thing is everyone is fixated on quid pro quo. You don't need a quid pro quo for this statute. As long as you're asking, it's a crime.

BERMAN: Look, I also think it's interesting. Every time Giuliani opens his mouth, David, he makes the situation more complicated and dicier.

He went on TV last night and said, hey, it wasn't just me. The State Department was involved in all of this. The secretary of state, he knows what's going on here. You know, he keeps on basically providing a witness list for the impeachment inquiry. And it's just interesting to watch.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, I mean, he's channeling his friend the president, right? I mean, his behavior on television, going back now for the past several years, is so over the top, so meandering, and certainly not very careful. Which really is in line with how President Trump conducts himself.

The obvious question is where is the State Department on this? And I think those who are investigating this are going to want to know whether, in fact, he was an envoy of some kind, even in an unofficial capacity, deputized by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state.

We know the president wanted him involved. I'm not certain he's going to be -- I think he's going to be investigated as a central player in all of this and, certainly, there's a lot of focus on him. But I think the conduct that we know about is where the impeachment inquiry will focus.

And two, Giuliani is going to also fortify the positions of those critics of this process and the critics of the Democrats who will say, yes, you may not like it. But he was investigating, looking backwards, whether Ukraine was interfering in 2016 and probing, you know, areas that the media won't look at about conflicts of interest that the vice president had at the time, and that's a worthy enterprise.

I think Giuliani is a central player here, not just for what he did, but going forward for how the White House wants to fight this impeachment inquiry.

CAMEROTA: Nia-Malika, there were so many stunning developments and revelations yesterday. I mean, they just came one after the other. And one of them was this coverup.

So not only the alleged crime, but then the coverup of transferring this call to this sort of codeword-protected secret computer system where calls like this normally do not belong.

Here's what "The Washington Post" overnight reported, a new development about this: "To transfer a call from the normal storage system to the National Security Council's codeword-protected network, a very senior White House official, someone as high as the chief of staff or the national security advisor, must make a formal written requested to do so, according to two people who worked with memos of foreign leader calls.

Or at least that's how it used to work. I mean, who knows anymore what's happening in the Trump White House.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Obviously, they're breaking so many norms, including what's evidenced on this call.

But listen. In that story, you've got them naming national security adviser, naming someone like the chief of staff. You know, are those people actually involved in this? Are they going to be ensnared in this impeachment inquiry, as the Democrats go forward and try to see this document, the whistle-blower complaint, essentially as a road map for impeachment.

This document obviously alleges that there are White House officials who essentially were cooperating with this whistle-blower passing on information and what turns out to be accurate information, particularly about that call. It was a call that the whistle-blower didn't hear but in this complaint was able to detail quite accurately.

So if you're Democrats, you see that everything, you know, day by day we've been in this story, what, two or three, four days or so? It gets worse and worse for the president. But we'll see.

You know, one of the things that people are asking, why did the president release the phone call? Why did he -- why did they release the whistle-blower complaint? Partly, the Senate was insisting that they do that in a bipartisan way.

But in some ways, this is what the president I think benefitted from, in some ways, in the Mueller report. Remember? Much of the Mueller report sort of dripped out over the course of two years or so. And then when the Mueller report finally came out, a lot of those, you know, instances the public already knew about.

So in this instance, you know, maybe the worst for this president is out there, and he feels like he can say, well, what's the problem? Everything was perfect. I think you'll see Democrats really try to move quickly on this. Maybe try to wrap this thing up by the end of the year with this laser-like focus on what happened with Ukraine.

BERMAN: If everything was perfect, why the alleged coverup? That's what matters with the moving of this transcript or the notes from this phone call into the, you know, codeword-level clearance.

Elie, to that end, explain more why the coverup matters here. Because how and where you store intelligence, in and of itself, isn't criminal as far as we know.

HONIG: Right.

BERMAN: So what does it tell us about the more important accusation of pressuring a foreign leader? And how would you go about investigating the significance of the coverup?

HONIG: Yes. So there's a reason that we say that every good scandal has a coverup, right? Because it goes to what we call consciousness of guilt, which is really just the common-sense notion, and it's admissible in court, or any argument that, if people are trying to lock down evidence, as the terminology was here, there's a reason. There's a reason that people are trying to hide evidence. And the reason is they know something's wrong.

Keep that in mind, by the way, as the president and his defenders fan out there and say nothing's wrong. What's wrong? Talk to the people around the president.

BERMAN: We haven't said this yesterday, and we should. No one has denied this specific allegation yet at all. No one has denied that this was put in a separate server computer space.

HONIG: Yes. And what I would do if I was following up on the investigation, I would want to know, everyone who was involved to lock this -- this document down on the separate server.

First of all, there's going to be an email chain. People had to have been discussing this on internal emails. I would want to get those emails, and I want to talk to all those people. Because these -- Those are people who had enough sense to raise a flag and say there's something wrong with this. And so they could become very powerful witnesses in a case against the president or others close to him.

GREGORY: And I think that's important, because it takes it away from the focus on the whistle-blower himself. If there's other people who were involved who investigators can talk to or, if they come forward to say, yes, we had real concerns about this, and so did others.

Because right now, you have this kind of closed loop of the president, Giuliani, and maybe Bill Barr, as well, who's implicated in all of this, based on the whistleblower complaint. Who were able to kind of close off the circle.

But there could have been other people, and apparently, were who were really concerned about what the president was doing, and there may have been more of this kind of thing, more divulging of -- of information or inappropriate phone calls.

So, you know, at what level is what we have to protect the president from himself or he's just -- you know, he's saying too much, he doesn't realize this. You know, what's actually happening here? What the complaint suggests is that they knew -- he knew what he was doing, and -- and we have to, you know, salt this away.

CAMEROTA: And that there was at least half a dozen people who were concerned about it.

BERMAN: Witness list. Witness list.


BERMAN: Stand by, everyone. We've got much more to discuss, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now narrowing this impeachment inquiry into President Trump and laying out quite an ambitious timeline. We'll give you the details on that next.



BERMAN: All right. Congress leaves today for a two-week recess.

CAMEROTA: That's convenient.

BERMAN: Yes, right. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff says his committee plans to work through the break to investigate the allegations in the whistle-blower complaint while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she hopes to draft articles of impeachment as soon as this fall, hearing maybe even by the end of October.

Back with us, David Gregory, Nia-Malika Henderson. Also joining us, CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart. He was the press secretary at the Clinton White House and ran the Clinton war room during the impeachment investigation.

When you hear about this ambitious timeline, which is basically let's get it done now, what do you see in that?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think two things. One is they have what they need on articles of impeachment pertaining to the Mueller report. They've -- you know, that won't take much. And I don't think they'll have to do any public information gathering on that.

Secondly, I think the speaker wants --