Return to Transcripts main page


Congressional Delegation Heads To Ukraine Amid Trump Scandal; Interview with Rep. John Garamendi, D-CA; Wash Post: Effort To Shield Trump's Ukraine Call Part Of Broader Secrecy Effort. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 7:30   ET



[07:33:13] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Timing is everything. Later this morning, members of Congress will travel to Ukraine to meet with military and political leaders.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman John Garamendi. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee leading the congressional delegation to Ukraine. I know you were the chairman of a key subcommittee, and you have a range of issues that you would be discussing anyway with political and military leaders in Ukraine.

However, my question to you now is this. Will you be raising the matters that have been discussed over the last 48 hours or so? And if so, how?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Well, tomorrow morning, we will be in Ukraine. We'll be meeting with top Ukrainian military leaders and the American team that is there to assist and advise the Ukrainian military. The principal question is, the president has delayed for some 60 days critical military equipment, everything from rockets to defensive equipment, guns, 50 caliber machine guns and ammunition, and on and on. Will that be -- is that a problem? And if so, what does it mean to you?

There is a hot war going on right now in Ukraine against Russia. And what are the implications of that later. In the week, we hope to meet with the political leaders in Kiev. Now, given all of the disruption, it remains to be seen exactly how that goes. That would be meetings with the defense minister and the top ministers and others in Kiev. We'll see what happens. Again, the question there is Ukraine is a critical ally. Ukraine has been invaded by Russia. What does all of this mean to Ukraine? How can we be -- how can we make sure that they get the assistance that they need to continue to push back against Russia and ultimately be successful in the -- and push Russia out of Ukraine.

[07:35:07] BERMAN: How careful do you now need to be in these discussions given that a central aspect of an impeachment inquiry now is if the president of the United States leaned on the president of Ukraine for political gain?

GARAMENDI: We're going to have to be very, very careful. One, because of the tasks that the six of us have in the impeachment inquiry itself. We'd be voting yes or no on that impeachment resolution should that come to pass. And I suspect it will. But -- so, yes, we're going to have to be very careful.

With the military, those are just straightforward questions. We don't have to dance around it. Do you have the equipment you need? Have there been delays? What is the implications of the delay that has been caused by the president withholding those funds for nearly 60 days? And it's almost a half a billion dollars of critical military equipment as well as the money to pay for the American trainers.

BERMAN: Would a quid pro quo in this matter which is to say, did the president explicitly or implicitly withhold military aid or aid in general to Ukraine in order to advance his political gains, how important is proving a quid pro quo ultimately to you determining whether you vote yes or no on impeachment?

GARAMENDI: I think the quid pro quo is right there in his own words. He fancies himself a sly fox. Michael Cohen has been very clear about how the president makes it clear. And the -- in his own words in that phone call with President Zelensky makes it very clear. That together with withholding of funds which preceded the phone call, all of these things are there. And that's not circumstantial. Those -- that's factual.

BERMAN: Do you even need that, though, given that you now have this letter and you can read the words of the president leaning on the leader of Ukraine? Do you even need a quid pro quo in order for you to vote yes on impeachment?

GARAMENDI: No. As I said, the quid pro quo is there --


GARAMENDI: -- in the president's words. It's already there.

BERMAN: We understand that Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, is trying to limit now as much as she can the impeachment investigations or focus them on the matters surrounding Ukraine. How do you feel about that?

GARAMENDI: Well, she's certainly right about focusing. However, my understanding is that the other inquiries which have been underway for several months will continue. Whether those become part of the actual impeachment articles remains to be seen.

BERMAN: What do you want?

GARAMENDI: Well, what I would like to see is the focus on the Ukraine matter. That is in this president's word, the indictment is right there in the president's own words. The other matters should go forward for their investigation. Whether they are folded in or not remains to be seen as those investigations take place. But, clearly, the Ukraine matter is subject one. It's up there. It is the president's word. It is the White House. It is the cover-up. All of that is now known. Those facts will be proven, I'm sure, in the hearings that'll take place over the next several weeks. And then we'll have it and we'll go forward at that point.

BERMAN: Yes. So your office indicated to us that when you were in Ukraine speaking to officials, you do plan to ask about matters related to Vice President Joe Biden. What matters and how?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think this goes back to what the president was trying to do. Once again, there -- things are rapidly evolving here. What the Ukrainian government will do and how it will respond to what has got to be a major political issue for them back in Kiev remains to be seen. And -- so we're going to be treading very carefully on the political side of this. The military side is very straightforward. On the political side, we have to take into account the reality of what is certainly going to be a significant political disruption and concern in Kiev as all of this takes place. I have -- I want to see the new government succeed. And I don't want to go stomp all over what may be a very, very sensitive situation when we arrive in Kiev later next week.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman John Garamendi, safe travels.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BERMAN: Please report back to us what you learn. Appreciate you being with us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John, the whistleblower complaint lays out a White House effort to cover up President Trump's attempts to pressure a foreign power for political gain. So up next, we speak to a former intelligence officer who worked inside the Situation Room and knows how these sensitive phone calls are handled.


[07:43:58] CAMEROTA: "The Washington Post" reports that about a dozen people were listening in on President Trump's July phone call with the Ukrainian president, including at least three inside the Situation Room who took notes and helped coordinate it. Then according to the whistleblower, at some point, a transcript of that call was moved to a highly classified server where national security secrets are usually stored.

We're joined now by Larry Pfeiffer, former CIA chief of staff, he also managed calls like these in the Situation Room during the Obama administration.

Mr. Pfeiffer, we were so wowed by your appearance yesterday because you have such important information that we asked you to come back today, now that we have all read this whistleblower complaint. So, again, you were in the Situation Room. This was your job. You listened in on calls like this. So, what struck you most now that you've read the transcript of that call and seen the whistleblower complaint?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR CIA DIRECTOR MICHAEL HAYDEN: Well, the transcript that reads like every transcript that the people who worked for me created during my time at the White House, fairly exhaustive.

[07:45:05] You know, the verbatim back and forth, probably cleaned up a little bit to -- you know, to create a little bit more elegant flow to the language. I don't think there's really anything significant, if at all, missing from the transcript.

The whistleblower complaint, we have a brave, courageous individual who's put their career on the line, who today has now been threatened directly by the president of the United States. Very serious situation there. The complaint itself, probably one of the most well written, well sourced, well-thought out whistleblower complaint I've ever seen. Most whistleblower complaints tend to be from very disgruntled, angry, emotional people who have an axe to grind. This is somebody who clearly appears to love his country and has some very serious concerns about behavior that he was seeing from the highest levels of government.

CAMEROTA: Here is something that has jumped out at so many people about what happened after the phone call. And that is that the contents, the written transcript, were -- was transferred to a different computer server or network than would normally hold something like this. Here is from the whistleblower complaint. "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." What did you think when you read that?

PFEIFFER: I was frankly appalled. The -- this is a database that is intended to protect the most secret secrets we have in the intelligence community. Covert action programs, very sensitive reconnaissance programs, exotic collection programs we have. There were times during my White House tenure where a phone conversation might be stored in this database, but it would have been a conversation between the president and another leader on a covert action program that perhaps that country was helping us with.

The only instance where it was anything of a diplomatic nature was the phone conversations that took place very early in the process that led to the Iran nuclear agreement when those talks had to be very highly protected. It's an affront to the care and standards by which the U.S. intelligence community operates in protecting that material to use that database in a way to try to avoid embarrassment or to protect, perhaps, even illegal activity. Horrible thing. Putting it there is an unnatural act.

CAMEROTA: The process by which it would end up in that other code- word-protected computer network is interesting. Here's what "The Washington Post" writes. "To transfer a call from the normal storage system to the National Security Council's code-word-protected network, a very senior White House official, someone as high as the chief of staff or the national security adviser, must make a formal written request to do so, according to two people who've worked with memos of foreign leader calls."

So, do you believe that the national security adviser or the chief of staff at the White House knows about this and had to be involved in transferring it?

PFEIFFER: I would say if it was not them, it would have been, again, somebody equally as high or higher who would have been issuing that order. I don't frankly recall the exact procedure if we needed a written memorandum from one of those senior officials in order to do it when I was there. But, it would have been a small group of people that would have known about the existence of the database that would have known about -- that would have been able to authorize moving that material over there.

White House council being involved seems very unusual. I can't recall a time in my time at the White House where White House council was making decisions about what should or shouldn't be in that database.

The --

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, when you say higher up, them, do you mean the president would have to have asked for it?

PFEIFFER: Yes. He may not have said, oh, please go put this in that highly sensitive enclave that we have in the NSC's directive (ph) of intel programs, but he may have said, hey, this thing needs to be buttoned down. Go do that. Go button it down however you need to do it. I could see that being possible.

CAMEROTA: Now that you know or that the whistleblower alleges that it was transferred to this other computer network, is that, to your mind, a cover-up?

PFEIFFER: I'm probably not the most qualified guy from a legal perspective to make that judgment call. But, clearly, it was an effort on the part of people in the White House to prevent this material from being broadly -- more broadly disseminated, even to the small group of people that would normally get presidential phone call transcripts.

[07:50:08] It does actually even raise questions as to whether there might have been senior people in the White House who didn't want this material to be seen out of a concern for what the president was saying.

CAMEROTA: Larry Pfeiffer, again, we really appreciate your expertise. Thank you so much for being here with us on NEW DAY.

PFEIFFER: You bet. Thanks, Alisyn.


BERMAN: All right. So whistleblowers have played a critical role in exposing some of the nation's biggest scandals and, frankly, changing history. That's next.


[07:55:13] BERMAN: Laugh break. The late-night comics, they had a lot to say as you might imagine about the whistleblower saga and the impeachment investigation. Here are your late-night laughs.


JAMES CORDEN, THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN HOST: Now, perhaps the biggest bombshell to come out of the whistleblower's complaint is the fact that White House lawyers were so concerned about Trump's phone call with the Ukraine that they hid the transcript in a top- secret computer system. They hid Trump's embarrassing communications, which is weird, because they know that we can all see his tweets, right?

TREVOR NOAH, THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH HOST: White House officials heard the phone call and then moved the record of it from its normal computer to a more private server so that nobody would see it. And, yes, this is a new scandal about a private server. Hashtag, throwback Thursday.

Wouldn't it be nice if this was the meet cute that brought Trump and Hillary together, you know? Like he just calls her up like, I finally understand you, crooked Hillary.

STEPHEN COLBERT, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT HOST: A different computer server? Is everything Trump accuses someone else of something he's done? He used a secret computer server. He colluded with Ukraine. He probably cheated on Robert Pattinson. Robert, you can do so much better.


BERMAN: I mean, honestly, who doesn't love a good "Twilight" reference?

CAMEROTA: No, that's right. That's all good.

BERMAN: Seriously.

CAMEROTA: It's all good. The material writes itself.

All right, meanwhile, Prince Harry paying tribute to his mother Princess Diana's legacy during his trip to Africa.

OK, we'll explain how that was a tribute. But 22 years after she championed the issue of clearing mine fields in Angola, he detonated one there. Prince Harry also donned body armor, much like his late mother did when she walked across a mine field in Central Angola. More than 1,000 mine fields remain in the country. The minefield Diana walked through is now a busy street.

BERMAN: That's a very important legacy. Maybe the biggest public policy legacy she left behind was addressing that issue, which does afflict so many countries. All right. Nearly 8:00 a.m., where does the whistleblower

investigation go from here? We have a key member of the House Intelligence Committee coming up to tell us. NEW DAY continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a disgrace to our country. It's another witch hunt.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It's not about partisanship, it's about patriotism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to cause a big divide in the United States.

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The phone call evidences and effort by the president to use the power of his office to keep himself in power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was trying to make it clear that the charges against the president were completely false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy's done an incredible job of once again casting up a conspiracy theory that serves his purposes of creating a counternarrative.

GOV. PHIL SCOTT (R-VT): These are serious allegations and we need to do the fact finding and figure out what exactly did happen.


BERMAN: All right. Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, September 27th. It is 8:00 in the East. And this morning that we have learned that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to move quickly on impeachment, think fast track with passage of formal articles of impeachment as soon as this fall. Everything now depends on two key questions. Did the president of the United States pressure a foreign leader to investigate one of his political opponents? The answer to that is now in print. And did the White House move to cover it all up?

CNN has learned that both the White House and Attorney General William Barr knew about the whistleblower allegations more than a week before the formal referral, and now there are questions about possible witness intimidation. Witness listen to the president describe people speaking to the whistleblower as treasonous and there seems to be an implication here that he thinks maybe they should be executed.


TRUMP: I want to know who's the person that gave -- the whistleblower. Who's the person that 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? The spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.


CAMEROTA: And there's another key question, who ordered the transcript of President Trump's call with the Ukrainian president to be moved to that separate classified computer system and why did they do that? "The Washington Post" reports a senior White House official must make a formal written request to transfer a call to that secure network. An action that could signal officials knew the president's conduct was potentially illegal.

And just moments ago, "The Washington Post" published a letter from more than 300 former U.S. national security and foreign policy officials, warning that President Trump's actions regarding Ukraine are --