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White House Releases Transcript of Phone Call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Along with Whistleblower Complaint about President Trump Making Concerning Promise to Foreign Leader; Past Whistleblowers Profiled. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- 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, quote, a profound national security concern.

Joining us now to talk about all of this, we have David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator, and Bianna Golodyrga, CNN senior global affairs analyst. David, so much has happened in the past 48 hours, as we keep saying. But the bottom line is that with our own eyes, we can see, from that transcript of the phone call, that the president asked for a favor from the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on a political opponent, and in the legal code, that's illegal.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it sort of makes that hoax thing a little awkward. You know, the president has suggested that the whistleblower account was -- should be discounted, because it was all based on hearsay. But the hearsay has been validated by the summary of his call. It was exactly what the whistleblower said it was. It was the core of the whistleblower's concern. And so the president has a huge problem here. I think he's behaving like a guy who has a huge problem. But this is a very serious matter with the evidence front and center and before us and offered up by the White House itself.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the evidence is out there. The very first big question, did the president pressure the leader of Ukraine, read it for yourself. So if you want to draft articles of impeachment, Bianna, that's article one, and it's right there in print, you just cut and paste.

The question beyond that, now, gets to the cover-up. And that's a little more interesting and perhaps a little more complicated, because the whistleblower complaint alleges that somehow in the White House, they were so concerned about this conversation that records of it were moved from the place where it normally is to this super secure server. What does that matter now?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you've got, according to the whistleblower's complaint, over half-a-dozen witnesses who were there to the phone call and the subsequent actions. And going back, clearly the focus right now is what happened during that phone call, July 25th. But this whistleblower complaint takes us back four months, right. You've got questions about not only what did Bill Barr know, are we going to hear from him, will he recuse himself at this point of the matter, but also that Vice President Pence. we know that Vice President Pence was scheduled to go to the inauguration after Zelensky won election. That was scrapped and it was replaced with Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Why was Mike Pence all of a sudden not going to this inauguration? How much of the fact that the president wanted pressure on Zelensky to dig up dirt on Biden, how much did he know of that? And where is he right now on this issue? There are so many other players in this right now.

And I have to say after watching Maguire yesterday, who is a patriot, who is a civil servant for many, many decades, he himself admitted that, listen, I was new to this job, I am probably not the most qualified for this job, there are others more qualified, but I was asked to come in. He had no idea what Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine, he had no idea whether Rudy Giuliani had a security clearance. And you're seeing the effect of an administration that constantly has new people coming in. There's no consistency. Why you have concerns about acting heads of organizations is exactly what we saw play out yesterday when we heard from the acting DNI. What would it look like if we had Dan Coats currently in place, if we had Sue Gordon in place? When you have so many unanswered questions from somebody who continued to say, listen, I did what I did because it was unprecedented. He seemed to not know where to take this situation, and herein lies a big problem.

CAMEROTA: Hey, David, the Rudy Giuliani stuff is so fascinating. This whistleblower complaint is rife with Rudy Giuliani references, as was the president's phone call with the Ukraine leader. And again, I am just struck by all of the machinations that Rudy Giuliani is going through. He travels to Madrid at one point to meet the people involved with this prosecutor to see if there's anything on the Bidens. He travels to Warsaw at one point to meet with people who might know something. He's meeting with the former Ukrainian prosecutor. I said this last hour, but I'm not joking, wouldn't it have just been easier for the president to talk about the economy to win the next election? Why are they going to these lengths? What does that tell you about what they think they need to win the next election?

AXELROD: Well, I think it's clear what they think they need to win the next election. You're talking about a president who's never cracked 50 percent approval rating in his entire presidency. It's never happened before. He's mired in the low 40s. And he understands that he has to win the next election like he won the last one and try to destroy his opponent, because he's never going to get to the point where the affirmation is so resonant that he's going to prevail.


And so they have a project. Joe Biden is leading in public polls by double digits right now. They do not want to run against him. They are trying to knock him out of the race. And that's what this project was all about, and it's why he's dispatched his political errand boy and not diplomats to deal with these Ukrainians.

I want to make another point, though. I was listening to Bianna speak about the impact of all of these people coming and going. One of the impacts of people going is that you create a lot of places for folks who want to investigate or do reporting to check with. There are many people -- there are people, Bolton was there. You mentioned the two previous DNIs, the permanent and acting, who left during this period. You have the ambassador who was dismissed. And after a while, if you antagonize everyone around you and dispatch them, you create larger problems for yourself. And I think that may be part of what's happened here.

BERMAN: I do wonder, all three of you have said stuff which intrigues me. You said a number of things were of huge interest. You bring up Rudy Giuliani, right? You talk about comings and goings. But I wonder if you're Nancy Pelosi this morning if less is more. Which is to say --


BERMAN: -- to what extent can you focus on the two main issues we've been raising here, number one, how and to what extent did the president pressure a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent. Number two, was there a coverup, and if so, why. Those two questions alone don't necessarily even require all these other admittedly fascinating subjects everyone's bringing up here, Axe.

AXELROD: Yes, listen, I think she is absolutely right to want to slim this thing down to the thing that's right in front of us. It is current, it relates to the 2020 election, the urgency is clear. And for her purposes -- look, her whole concern was this thing hanging over the election, not just impacting the presidential election, but also kind of a backlash to her own members who would be prone to the attack that they're so absorbed with impeachment that they're not working on anything else.

So I think in this case speed is essential. Clarity is essential. We saw through the Mueller probe, as serious as some of those charges were, that they were complex. And the longer you went on, the more you had a chance for rightwing media and the president's own operation to try to discredit the thing as a political -- as a political operation. So I think moving quickly, sticking to the fundamental facts here, which are damning, and moving forward is a smart thing, because she knows that at the end of the day, highly unlikely that the U.S. Senate is going to convict this president. So the impeachment in a sense is an official rebuke. Do it and move on. I think that's a smart strategy.

CAMEROTA: And Bianna, the schedule that we've heard is they could have articles of impeachment ready by October, which is in a few weeks.

GOLODRYGA: Moving very fast.

CAMEROTA: And this is what's so confusing, is there are still all of these questions. Obviously, the whistleblower complaint raises so many questions. There are, as you point out, more than half-a-dozen people in the White House that I know lawmakers would like to interview, because they're the ones who gave the whistleblower the information. How are they going to wrap that up by -- throughout October?

GOLODRYGA: Well, you have the president admitting to what he's being accused of. We've seen the transcript, right. If they thought the transcript was going to be exculpatory, that wasn't the case, given that we gave the whistleblower complaint yesterday. The president and the administration were saying, listen, this was all hearsay, this whistleblower even admitted to not being there and participating and being in the room during the phone call.

That being said, a lot of what the whistleblower complained about from the phone call was matched by what we saw from this transcript. So I think that makes things a lot easier, and I think for the American public to digest, having the president's own words right there as opposed to the president not testifying or not agreeing to meet with Bob Mueller. You have the president's words out for the American public to hear.

And I also think coming from a president who said, I'm campaigning on America first, this is all about prioritizing America, there was nothing in this phone call that moved American policy forward, right? This had nothing to do with promoting American international policy. This had everything to do with promoting his 2020 campaign.

BERMAN: Right, Bianna, David, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

This whistleblower's identity remains a mystery, but in a matter of weeks, it has triggered an impeachment inquiry into the president. CNN's Athena Jones joins us now with a look at how whistleblowers really have, Athena, changed the course of history.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They absolutely have. And good morning. We wouldn't be having this conversation without this whistleblower and of course a Democratic-led House. So this person is a big deal and key to all of this, just the latest example in a long line of people who have taken actions that have helped shape history.


JONES: We still don't know who the whistleblower is, but the complaint's contents have catapulted Washington into an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the now-declassified document alleging Trump trying to get Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 U.S. election.

With all the talk of a whistleblower in Washington in the past few days, what does that exactly mean? It's defined as an employee who brings wrongdoing by an employer or other employees to the attention of a government or law enforcement agency and who is commonly vested by statute with rights and remedies for retaliation. In this broad category of people, one of the most famous in American

history, Mark Felt, better known as Deep Throat. The FBI informant helped take down the Nixon administration, divulging crucial information about Watergate. And in 1971, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked top-secret Department of Defense information about why the U.S. entered the Vietnam War. William Binney and Thomas Drake were NSA officials who informed the inspector general about government surveillance programs they perceived as invading citizens' privacy by monitoring their Internet activity. FBI agent Coleen Rowley flagged then FBI Director Robert Mueller about intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks. Or Sergeant Joseph Darby who told military investigators in 2004 about inmate abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Not everyone who blew the whistle on the government has been rewarded. For some, it meant the end of their careers or even worse.

BOBBY L. CHRISTINE, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: Winner's willful, purposeful disclosure caused exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security.

JONES: Former NSA contractor Reality Winner leaked a secret report about Russian hacking in the 2016 election to a news organization. Now she's serving a sentence of more than five years after pleading guilty to leaking that classified information to the media.

CHRISTINE: Winner will serve a term of incarceration that will give pause to others who are entrusted with our country's sensitive national security information.

JONES: The Air Force veteran's mother telling CNN in March she's being painted as evil.

BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS, REALITY WINNER'S MOTHER: I think that we as Americans deserved that proof. And so how is it that she put us in danger by giving us that proof?

JONES: Winner is the first person arrested under the Trump administration using the Espionage Act, established in 1917 during World War I, originally intended to prosecute anyone interfering must war efforts, so people like spies. In modern times, it's the same law that sent Edward Snowden into exile in Russia, the former intelligence contractor accused of leaking NSA documents revealing a secret global surveillance program.

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, FORMER NSA DIRECTOR: These leaks have enflamed and sensationalized for ignoble purposes the work that the intelligence community does lawfully under strict oversight and compliance.

JONES: Earlier this month, Snowden said he would like to return to the U.S. if he's guaranteed a fair trial.

EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA WHISTLEBLOWER: I'm not asking for a parade. I'm not asking for a pardon. I'm not asking for a pass. What I'm asking for is a fair trial. And this is the bottom line that any American should require.

JONES: And in May, the Justice Department indicting WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange of 18 espionage accounts, ordering him extradited to the U.S. after spending seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Assange is charged with conspiring to help former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who spent two separate terms behind bars in connection with leaking secret Defense Department documents in 2010, published to WikiLeaks website. President Obama commuted her sentence and she was released in 2017, Manning telling CNN in May, she has no regrets.

CHELSEA MANNING, FORMER ARMY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: I did what I did with the information that I had, the knowledge that I had, and the tools and the resources that I had at the time. In 2010, when all of this happened, it was a very different landscape.


JONES: And it's important to point out the difference between the whistleblower involved in this Ukraine matter and folks like Julian Assange and Reality Winner who face criminal prosecution. They leaked or helped leak secrets for publication. That's a lot different than this case where the person went through the channels within the government established by law. So who counts as a whistleblower we're seeing is somewhat subjective. As James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence put it, one man's leaker is another man's whistleblower.

BERMAN: Thought there are legal definitions here. And to be clear, the person in this case, as you so correctly note, is protected by the legal definition of whistleblower. Joseph Maguire, the acting DNI, yesterday made clear that this person followed the letter of the law completely.

JONES: Right. Very, very different.

CAMEROTA: Athena, thank you very much.

Most Republicans are still solidly behind President Trump, but there are some cracks? So which Republicans are now saying what?




REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): I want to say to the president, this is not OK. It is -- that conversation is not OK. And I think it's disappointing to the American public when they read the transcript.


CAMEROTA: All right. That was Congressman Mike Turner's critical comments during yesterday's House hearing. It adds to a small list of Republicans expressing concern about President Trump's actions. Joining us now is CNN senior political commentator, John Kasich. He

is the former governor of Ohio and a former Republican presidential candidate.

Governor, it's great to have you here.

You were on the air here in our studio yesterday, as we got the whistle-blower's complaint and we read it cold, right then and there, as we got it, and we were all, I know, processing it in real time.

And so now that you've had 24 hours to let it sink in, what are your thoughts on the whistle-blower's complaint and the president's transcript of that call?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's all very -- it's -- it's a terrible situation in terms of that transcript, Alisyn, but the question is, does one phone call, at this point in time, lead to impeachment?

Mitch McConnell says it's laughable. I mean, he is the Senate leader. You know, we have the gentlemen you just quoted from Ohio, Mike Turner says, you know, it's not OK. I think it's absolutely worth condemning.

And, by the way, let me point out, Alisyn, there is nobody, no one inside the Republican Party who has fought harder against Donald Trump than I have. Not personally, but against his policies, his ways, his division. And this call is another example of his irresponsibility.



KASICH: The question is, where are the people? You know, where are the people?

Now, I'm out here in Ohio. I'm finally back in the heartland. There's nobody talking about this. Nobody coming up to me anywhere and saying, oh, my goodness!

We -- so it takes time. It's got to be made clear to the public what this is all about and so therefore, I think the investigation has to continue.

David Brooks in "The New York Times," it's a column worth people reading. He points out the dangers and the reasons why you don't go forward with it.

Now, David hasn't convinced me. Jury is still out in my mind, because I'm troubled. He's attacking whistle-blowers or people who know whistle-blowers. It's pathetic, OK?

But the question is, where is the public? Does this process move to a place where Republicans can grudgingly say, this is a problem? And right now, I don't see it. CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, you said, does one phone call lead to

impeachment? If there's illegality on that one phone call, doesn't it?

KASICH: Well, but that's a debate. That's a debate. If you asked the people who are going to have votes in Congress, Republicans, OK, is this a crime, I don't think you're going to get a lot of yeses, OK?


You're going to get concern. You're going to get severe criticism. You may even get some condemnation, but that's not what we're talking about here.

And I think that the Democrats have to be careful that they're not rushing towards this, particularly because they have people inside of their party who say, you have to do this, you have power, you have authority, you must do this.

Again, I have to tell you, Alisyn, that nobody's fought harder against this guy. I think he's been irresponsible in so many ways. But the question is, do you use this process to make up for the fact that everybody is frustrated about the way he's conducted himself in office, not just about this, but everything else.

CAMEROTA: Well, I understand, but in fairness to the Democrats, it has been three years. I mean, you say that they're rushing this process. They didn't do this. Nancy Pelosi pointedly did to the move towards impeachment after the Mueller report came out. She -- it was only because of this Ukraine --

KASICH: She didn't have any way to do that, Alisyn. Alisyn, she couldn't have moved then. There was nothing there to do.

And what I'm suggesting is you have to complete the investigation. You need to get the corroborating witnesses. You need to get the people in who moved the transcript from one set of computers to a highly classified computer. You need to find out what other things have been moved there.

I'm saying, let the process work. Look, I'm on this channel to tell you what I think, OK? I'm not at this channel to tell people what they want to hear.

I don't get a lot of credit when I say things like this, but that's not what I'm searching for. I'm searching for the good of the country. I'm searching for a process that is careful.

Now people are saying, we've got to just go do it. I just heard that. You know, we got to go do it. Get it done quickly, because we're going to have to -- we're going to start a new election cycle.

Wait a minute. We're talking about one of the few times in American history when a president may be impeached. This is not a light matter. If all of a sudden everybody can be impeached, then it has no power. One thing they ought to be considering right away is a censure of the

president. Censure what he's done at this point in time.

CAMEROTA: And why would that be different than the impeachment inquiry in your mind?

KASICH: Because a censure says the president is dead wrong and you might get bipartisan support and you might wake the public up. And that doesn't mean you'd stop the inquiry.

You do the inquiry, but you condemn this, because there's nobody that can see this that can say this doesn't matter. And when I hear Republicans say this doesn't matter, I'm aghast. I mean, if a Democrat president did it, they'd be going crazy. Well, the same way if a Republican president does this, the Democrats go crazy.

We live in a tribal society. And I don't think it serves our country well when we continue to do things that severely and significantly divide us in a way that is not consistent with bringing the public along. You've got to bring the public along.

I tried to do something, big reform out here in Ohio and the public shut me down, OK? What did I do? I learned from it.

You've got to bring the public. You've got to bring the people if you're going to be a leader. Sometimes you stand alone, but that's not often.

CAMEROTA: And, Governor, I mean, in terms of you saying that Republicans should say something about this and they shouldn't say this doesn't matter, here's some --


CAMEROTA: -- of the latest comments, I'll just get your take on this.

Senator Lamar Alexander says he's, quote, waiting for Intelligence Committee. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, no comment. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, not ready to make any conclusions.

Senator Marco Rubio, more questions than answers. Senator Mike Rounds, South Dakota, let the committee investigate. Senator Joni Ernst, going to have to dig into it. Senator Susan Collins, obviously, a lot of questions.

KASICH: Yes, I saw that.

CAMEROTA: Are these the kind of responses --

KASICH: But you don't want to be attacking -- we don't want to attack Collins, because she's the one who stood up when they were trying to kill health care for 21 million Americans. But for these other people to not have a comment about that transcript to me is absurd.

What the president did is he called a foreign leader and asked him to do something that was totally completely inappropriate. Excuse me, Alisyn. Totally and completely inappropriate, to say, we need more information.

I'm surprised at Lamar. I love Lamar. He's a great guy, former governor, senator, all of this, to say, well -- you've got to have a comment on this.

This is not right. If you whistle past the graveyard on here, you also set a precedent by ignoring something that is extremely serious. I have had one person close to me say, look, he asked somebody to do something that was wrong, there should be punishment for it. I mean, if you can't say that, you can't say that the president is dead wrong on this, what are you thinking?

I guess you want to go to the -- you know, to the Republican luncheon or something and have people cheer you. That's not good enough. Stand up. Make it clear where this country is, where it's going top and you just can't be silent. Don't be silent.

CAMEROTA: Governor John Kasich, we really appreciate your thoughts here this morning.

KASICH: Always interesting. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Indeed, it is. Thanks for being here with us.


BERMAN: Interesting in fact himself. He's seems surprised.

CAMEROTA: No, I don't blame him.


That is unequivocally interesting.

BERMAN: All right. Nancy Pelosi seeming to narrow the focus of the Trump impeachment inquiry and wants to speed up the timeline. We're going to speak to a member of the committee that is now leading this investigation, next.


BERMAN: All right, breaking news just moments ago, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux caught up with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and got her to comment on the president's comments yesterday, suggesting that people who spoke to the whistle-blower were somehow treasonous. This is what the House speaker just said.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): But for the president to say what he said about those who may have supplied information to the whistle-blower seriously undermines integrity in government. But the president does that almost every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: All right, joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He serves on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

And we now know, Congressman, the intelligence committee will be spearheading this investigation into matters surrounding Ukraine.

First, just a quick comment on what we just heard from the House speaker on the president's comments, suggesting that the people involved with the whistle-blower might be treasonous. Do you feel that that is tantamount to witness intimidation? And if so, could that in and of itself become ultimately an article --