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Mike Pompeo Subpoenaed in Impeachment Inquiry; White House in Crisis; Interview With Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Sources: Trump's Ukraine Envoy Named in Whistleblower Complaint Resigns One Day After Complaint is Made Public. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 27, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Are he and his team prepared for the battle ahead?
And gone rogue. That's how the House speaker is describing the attorney general, after Bill Barr's name came up repeatedly in the whistle-blower complaint. How soon might Congress call him to testify?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was just slapped with a subpoena, as House Democrats demand documents related to the Ukraine scandal. It's a new sign of just how fast the impeachment investigation is moving forward. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says his committee could begin hearings as soon as next week, with a vote on impeachment possible, possible, by Thanksgiving.
Democrats are seizing on a whistle-blower complaint alleging President Trump abused his power by urging Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election and that the White House tried to cover it up.
I will get reaction from Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, a new subpoena for documents tonight for the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, first batch of subpoenas since Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry earlier this week.
Committees, led by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have sent a subpoena to the secretary of state, asking for documents about apparent efforts by Rudy Giuliani to reach out to Ukraine officials to push for that investigation into the president's political rival former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as his son Hunter Biden.
The Democrats had sent a letter asking for documents about State Department efforts apparently to facilitate some of those discussions. Those documents were not turned over by the Democrats' deadlines. So, as result, these subpoenas have been issued, and also depositions. They're demanding to interview State Department officials about exactly what transpired.
Now, at the same time, the House Intelligence Committee, which is taking the lead for now on this impeachment inquiry, plans to move expeditiously on its probe.
Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee, telling me earlier today that he plans to push forward over the next two weeks, when Congress is on recess, but he's committed, he said, to be working through the recess, potentially scheduling hearings as soon as next week.
They have scheduled a hearing, I'm told by a source, on Friday with the inspector general of the Intelligence Committee, who deemed that whistle-blower complaint about the president's conduct credible and urgent.
Now, at the same time, he's warning about potential other subpoenas for individuals and other hearings as well, demanding information.
Now, Wolf, in some new information tonight, we're told by Democratic sources who are planning this impeachment probe that they plan to not get into a drawn-out legal battle with the Trump administration over their requests. They don't want to get into a months-long fight if the White House resists and stonewalls.
They say, if that happens as they demand these documents, it will only be added to their articles of impeachment, assuming they go down that route, by saying, this is another -- more evidence of obstruction of Congress and pointing to articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon, which had a similar citation, saying that he obstructed Congress.
They are say that they will not get into this protracted legal battle. So, watch for that to play out. But, Wolf, Adam Schiff is telling me he's preparing for a busy a couple of weeks, hearings and subpoenas. We will see what information they ultimately glean -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're entering a very, very intense period.
Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you.
As Democrats move very quickly on impeachment, President Trump has been unloading on Twitter.
Let's go to our chief white correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the whistle-blower has become one of the president's top targets.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is continuing to lash out at the whistle-blower complaint that's launched these impeachment proceedings up on Capitol Hill. The president stayed behind closed doors for most of the day as the White House wrestles with whether it's time to start setting up a team for dealing with all of these proceedings.
But one source close to the White House earlier today told me a lot of the president's people in his orbit to advise him and counsel him on his strategy and so on, they believe the Ukraine investigation is getting worse for the president, more than usual.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Taking cover in his social media bunker, President Trump is painting the mysterious whistle-blower as a turncoat who can't be trusted, tweeting: "Sounding more and more like the whistle-blower isn't a whistle-blower at all. All secondhand information that proved to be so inaccurate, that there may not have even been somebody else, a leaker or spy feeding it to him or her. A partisan operative?"
But one key part of the whistle-blower's complaint is adding up, as the White House acknowledged its own national security attorneys directed aides to move the rough transcript from the president's call with the leader of Ukraine to a highly classified system.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The whistle-blower. Oh, the whistle-blower.
TRUMP: Highly partisan whistle-blower.
ACOSTA: The president is crying foul, describing himself as the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by the deep state and the media.
TRUMP: We're in a war. These people are sick. They're sick. And nobody's calling it out like I do. I don't understand. People are afraid to call it out. They're afraid to say that the press is crooked. We have a crooked press. We have a dishonest media.
ACOSTA: But House Democrats appear to have seen enough and are making a list of Trump figures who should testify under oath, including the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who insists he was talking to Ukrainian officials about former Vice President Joe Biden with the blessing of some aides at the State Department.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They basically knew everything I was doing. So it was being done with the authorization and at the request. And then I have a final one in which they -- there's a big thank you about how my honest and straightforward discussion led to solving a problem in the relationship.
Gee, I should get some kind of an award.
ACOSTA: Democrats want to hear more about that.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): I actually think that Rudy Giuliani is digging himself a deeper hole. And I do believe that he is the political henchman for the president, not an attorney, not a person that is working for the State Department.
ACOSTA: But there are also questions for Attorney General William Barr, mentioned by name by Mr. Trump in that call with the Ukrainian president.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): I would. I think, first, let's remember he applied for this job by arguing against the special counsel's work. He has acted not as an independent attorney general, but as a special counsel for the president of the United States, during the Mueller investigation and certainly now.
ACOSTA: The president demanded the resignation of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who mocked Mr. Trump's Ukraine call earlier in the week. Schiff, the president said, "must resign and be investigated. He has been doing this for two years. He is a sick man."
Biden is hammering out new lines of attack for the upcoming campaign, tweeting: "I believe our elections should be decided by the American people, not foreign governments," as Mr. Trump's former foe is warning the president should be stopped.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He's endangered us all by putting his personal and political interests ahead of the interests of the American people.
But this is ultimately about much more than Donald Trump. It is about us.
ACOSTA: Now, White House officials appear to be souring on the idea of bringing in former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to lead a rapid-response war room for an impeachment fight.
Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is now opposed to that idea, we are told. And the president was angry when he heard about the proposal. We're also told about that, as one official put it, no one here sees a need at this point for adding to the inside team.
Wolf, they seem to be sticking with the team that they have right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta at the White House.
As the Ukraine scandal explodes, we're learning more about the administration -- what the administration officials knew and when they knew it.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.
Jessica, multiple people apparently were aware of the whistle-blower complaint before Congress and the public learned about it.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf.
Several top officials at the Justice Department were aware of the whistle-blower's concerns sooner than was previously revealed. And now that's prompting questions about how those officials handled the whistle-blower's allegations.
Plus, there is swirling uncertainty now about when the attorney general first found out about the complaint and how that may have played into the timeline of events.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Officials now say the Department of Justice and the White House knew about the whistle-blower's concerns more than one week before they were formally alerted by the acting director of national intelligence and the intelligence community inspector general, the last week of August.
Here's the timeline we know so far. August 12, the inspector general for the intelligence community receives the whistle-blower's seven- page complaint. Two days later, on August 14, attorneys at the DOJ's National Security Division are alerted about the whistle-blower's concerns during a routine conference call.
The next day, the head of the division goes to the White House to review the transcript of the call between President Trump and Ukraine's president, where the president pressed the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son.
The head of the DOJ's Criminal Division and the deputy attorney general are notified afterward that the attorney general was mentioned in that call. For at least the next 10 days, the DOJ deliberated about how to handle the matter.
It's unclear how much the attorney general learned during that time or on which day, but he was made generally aware of the situation.
JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The inspector general, in consultation with my office, referred this matter to the Department of Justice for investigation. I think the whistle-blower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.
SCHNEIDER: And there is also major scrutiny tonight of the DOJ's decision not to open a full-blown criminal investigation of potential campaign finance violations stemming from that July 25 call. The DOJ came to its conclusion, despite the fact that the intelligence
community's inspector general did find the whistle-blower's complaint credible -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider, thank you.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. She serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services committees.
So, Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good evening.
BLITZER: We got a lot to discuss.
How concerned are you by the allegations that have been laid out in this whistle-blower complaint?
HIRONO: Very concerned.
How could we not be, when you have a president who apparently is shaking down -- as Speaker Pelosi said, shaking down the leader of a foreign country for his own personal political gains, using taxpayer money as leverage? How is that OK?
So I feel a sense of urgency going forward.
BLITZER: Do you believe this rises to an impeachable offense?
HIRONO: I would say so, yes, because it is a felony to accept help from a foreign country.
And then for the president, literally, as we say, shaking down a foreign leader for his own political ends, using his power, that is called abuse of power.
BLITZER: So, if the House of Representatives goes ahead and votes by a simple majority, 218 votes, to impeach the president, and then it goes to the Senate, where you guys will have a full-scale trial, the chief justice will preside, you will have to vote on whether or not to remove him to convict, you would vote to convict?
HIRONO: Well, let's see what the House comes up with in terms of their articles of impeachment.
And I will certainly do my job, as a senator, listening to their -- what they're going to argue.
BLITZER: Do you believe the administration is ready to cooperate fully with the House and Senate in releasing documents, making witnesses available?
HIRONO: No. So, all along, the White House has stonewalled the various House
committees. And why should he do anything different? So, as mentioned, this kind of stonewalling can be part of the articles of impeachment.
BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, the president's private attorney, says he would need to consult with President Trump before he agrees to testify before Congress, citing attorney-client privilege.
What do you think, first of all, about that argument? You're a member of the Judiciary Committee.
HIRONO: There is no attorney-client privilege if the conversation is in furtherance of a crime. And that's what's being alleged. So I would say that he is not on firm ground.
BLITZER: So, if he does testify, you think you will get useful information from him?
HIRONO: If he tells the truth.
BLITZER: Like, what specific -- what questions? Give us one or two examples of the type of questions you would ask Giuliani.
HIRONO: What was he doing in all the times that he went to the Ukraine?
Was it -- and I assume at the behest of the president, because his name is mentioned in the phone call that the president had with the president of Ukraine, not to mention that at least three times Giuliani's name is heard at the same time at the same time as Attorney General Barr.
And so what was he doing, and at whose behest?
BLITZER: Well, it was clear he was trying to get dirt on Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, Democrats, Hillary Clinton. He was trying to collect as much negative information as he possibly could.
HIRONO: And I assume that's at the president's behest. But he should testify as to that. And as to the State Department's involvement in all of that, we would like to know what was going on there.
So, there's a lot more to be uncovered. And that's why the House committees have to go forward.
I think that the -- for us to contemplate that we have a president who actually would shake down the leader of another country for his own personal political gain using our money, taxpayer money, as leverage, is just totally beyond the pale.
BLITZER: You're a member of the Judiciary Committee. What questions do you have for the attorney general, Bill Barr, and his involvement or lack of involvement in all of this? HIRONO: He seems to have been involved during the -- before he even
found out about what was going on.
And then, of course, when the whole matter was brought to him by the DNI, director of national intelligence, what is to be expected? Do you think that his Office of Legal Counsel will say, yes, Mr. DNI, you should disclose the whistle-blower's report to the appropriate committees?
Did you think that that was going to happen? No, it did not happen. So, both before, during, and after, I think Bill Barr has a lot to answer for.
BLITZER: You're a member of the Armed Services Committee. The president, he froze U.S. military assistance, almost $400 million in military assistance, to Ukraine. Then he has this phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine.
And, first of all, do you see any legitimate reason why the president would freeze that congressionally authorized and appropriated funds for Ukraine?
That is money that is supposed to go to the Ukraine to help them fight Russia. And for the president to hold it back, for whatever reasons -- I don't even know what lame excuse he came up with -- but the timing of it is such that, a few days later, or contemporaneous to that, he has this chat with the Ukrainian president.
And the president says, the Ukrainian president says, I need to buy more missiles, and Trump says, I need some favors, though.
BLITZER: He says, can you do me a favor?
HIRONO: Can you do me a favor, though.
BLITZER: The word though was added after that.
HIRONO: Yes, takes on a lot of meaning here.
BLITZER: All right, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, clearly now wants this accelerated.
BLITZER: But she wants the impeachment investigation to focus strictly on the Ukraine and not on the allegations of obstruction of justice, the Mueller report and all the other issues. Is she right?
HIRONO: I don't second-guess what the speaker is doing. She knows what she's doing.
And I think we feel a sense of urgency to go forward. And still, for myself, sure, I remember the Mueller report and the allegations of obstruction of justice.
But even after the Mueller report came out, and all of the -- whoa, excuse me -- the efforts by the House committees to get information, it's being stonewalled. So he continues to obstruct justice.
BLITZER: Very quickly, before I let you go, I want your -- I know you're very upset that the Trump administration has now decided to limit the number of refugees coming into the United States during the next year.
What, it's only 18,000. That's a -- that's a very low number.
BLITZER: What, if anything, can you do about that?
HIRONO: Every time we try to tell the president, don't do that, I mean, we try to limit what he can do in terms of going after immigrants, he comes up with something else.
So it's a continuing battle. I would have to think about what else we can do. There's appropriation language perhaps that we can put in. But since he doesn't think that anything that we do applies to him, it's a continuing battle with him.
But there's no question that this administration is out to get immigrants. And he wants to limit as many of them coming here as possible. And he wants to make it much harder for those with green cards to stay here, so at both ends.
He wants to prevent people from coming to our country and he wants to prevent people from staying in our country.
BLITZER: His argument is that the U.S. is spending a lot of money on all the undocumented, the illegal immigrants coming into the United States, that's he got to hold back for appropriations reasons.
HIRONO: Well, he said there's no more room.
BLITZER: Well, that's another issue as well.
BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for coming in.
HIRONO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Just ahead, will the secretary of state comply with the new subpoena from House Democrats? We're following the breaking news.
And Rudy Giuliani says he won't testify in impeachment hearings without consulting President Trump.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight on the Democrats' urgent push on impeachment.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been subpoenaed for Ukraine-related documents. Key House committees have also scheduled depositions with multiple State Department officials as they investigate a whistle- blower's allegations that President Trump abused his office.
Let's bring in our political, legal and national security experts.
And, Samantha Vinograd, you used to work over at the National Security Council. These three committees, they have subpoenaed the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for documents to testify. Is he likely to comply?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, frankly, I think that depends on what he has to hide, including any complicity on his part in Rudy Giuliani's fishing expeditions or any abuses of power by the president.
But let's do a quick flashback Friday here. Back in 2015, then Representative Pompeo was on the Benghazi select committee. He railed against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not knowing whom her senior staff was meeting with and not turning over documents.
So if he does not allow these depositions to go forward and he does not provide documents, he will be dousing himself in a lot of hypocrisy.
And having worked on these calls before, Wolf, there are a lot of irregularities. For example, the whistle-blower alleges that there was a State Department official, a counselor to the secretary, on this call. I can't recall a single presidential call that I was a part of where there was a State Department official on the line, not even the secretary of state.
Number two, the day after the call, according to the whistle-blower, two State Department ambassadors met with the Ukrainians to follow up on the call. It appears they got some kind of verbal readout after the July 25 call with the Ukrainians.
We have no indication that our acting ambassador in Kiev, the charge d'affaires, or a legal attache at that same embassy were part of those discussions. So, I think what Congress will be looking at is whether there was some kind of team working on implementing the president's personal agenda, leaving the actual people working on behalf of the American people in the dark, and, frankly, what role Secretary of State Pompeo played in all of that.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Abby Phillip, because Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, says he's not going to testify unless he gets permission from the president to do so. He cites attorney-client privilege.
Are House Democrats going to be able to do much if he doesn't testify?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they have -- there are a lot of other people who are a part of this whole scheme that House Democrats can certainly call before their panels, either privately or in public.
Rudy Giuliani is one piece of this puzzle. But he clearly had interactions with a lot of other people within the government and outside of the government.
And there -- even with Giuliani, there are some real questions about whether this attorney-client privilege is actually a real thing for him. Is the president actually retaining Rudy Giuliani as his counsel in some kind of matter, or is Rudy Giuliani basically acting as an unpaid political volunteer on the president's behalf?
So a lot of questions about that and about that kind of privilege that he's trying to assert here. And Democrats would be smart to both push up back against that, but, also, I mean, the universe of people here that we're talking about who they need to hear from is actually fairly large.
BLITZER: What are you hearing about how the White House is preparing for this impeachment process, which is moving very rapidly?
PHILLIP: Well, there's been a lot of talk in the last couple of days about whether they would try to, as the Clinton administration did, set up some kind of war room.
This idea was actually bandied about when the Mueller investigation was going on. And they didn't do it. This time around, the president's personal lawyers and his White House lawyers met today at the White House, a source familiar with the matter told our Pamela Brown.
But, on the other hand, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's personal lawyers, did say that they are not setting up a formal war room. They're batting down that idea. One of the people that they had floated for leading that was Corey Lewandowski. And now they're saying they're just not going to go with that strategy.
BLITZER: It's very interesting, because the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, says he may hold hearings as early as next week, even though the House is in recess next week and the week after.
How quickly do you anticipate that we're going to see this begin to unfold?
JACKIE ALEMANY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We're going to see this happen pretty rapidly. That is part of Democrats' strategy here, to keep this narrow, and to
keep it quick, and to not let it drag out, and to get it done well before 2020.
Someone on the Trump campaign speculated to me today that, with our current news cycle, this could be over and done with and out of voters sort of media consumption by the time the year ends.
But I think Abby makes a really good point, in that it might not be necessary for Rudy Giuliani to testify. It could just be another circus-like hearing, a la Corey Lewandowski.
And he is on FOX News so frequently that really what's most important here is getting people like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and William Barr on the record before these hearings, corroborating or answering to some of these pretty extraordinary claims that Rudy Giuliani's made, like the fact that he says the State Department authorized Rudy Giuliani to investigate whether or not Joe Biden -- Joe Biden's son committed corruption in the Ukraine.
And so these are the things that we really need to know. Was Pompeo aware of these directives? Was he in communication with Rudy Giuliani? Does he know why Ambassador Yovanovitch was ousted to begin with? There are a lot of unanswered questions here.
BLITZER: Rudy -- I mean, the whistle-blower, he's key to a lot of this.
The -- and, clearly, Adam Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee, they want that whistle-blower to come forward. But he's written a very lengthy memorandum already. What do they want to ask him?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there might still be additional information that they're going to want to get from this person or additional clarification, certainly the names of witnesses, not just to the actual call itself and the handling of that call transcript, but also to those surrounding circumstances, people who can speak to questions like, was the president actually directing Rudy Giuliani?
Was he directing other officials to engage with Rudy Giuliani or with foreign officials? And more -- and, also, you would want him to point -- you would want this person to see if they could talk to you about any documentary evidence that might exist.
Were their e-mails to the State Department? Were their e-mails to OMB? Because those documents are going to be critical to the impeachment strategy moving forward, finding evidence of that additional wrongdoing, really shoring up the case.
And keep in mind, the entire momentum here and the burden has shifted. Before, what we would see is Congress asking for these documents, and the White House refusing to produce them.
Now that we're in the context of impeachment, what the House can say is, we're demanding these documents. If you fail to produce them, we're going to go ahead and proceed with a negative inference and actually hold it as a reason to impeach you further.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by.
There's a lot more we're going to be discussing, much more on the breaking news, right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with our experts. Abby, the White House is now confirming a very sensitive part of the whistleblower's complaint that the transcript of the president's phone call conversation with the Ukrainian leader had been moved to a very secure server. What's their explanation right now? Why did they do that?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of this has to do with the fact that there have been other calls of President Trump's that have leaked. The call with the Australian prime minister was famously leaked, not once, but twice, descriptions of the call and then an actual transcript of the call.
So the White House has been sensitive about this for some time. They're trying to lock down on some of these leaks, but the question is for what reason. Is there a national security reason or just simply an effort to protect the president from embarrassment?
It seems like it's an effort to protect the president from embarrassment and there are some real questions now about whether that is a legitimate reason to change the normal protocol for something like a transcript of the president's calls, if only for the reason of trying to make sure that perhaps wrongdoing that might have gone on in that call doesn't get out.
BLITZER: And that rough transcript was eventually released and nothing was redacted, so there couldn't have been a whole lot of really classified, sensitive information.
Sam, you used to work at the NSC during the Obama administration. Give us some content here. What do we need to know?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, if the White House was really concerned about this call leaking, they would have had a much smaller group of people actually listening to the call in the first instance.
And while the White House might have tried to scrub the digital record of this call readout from the top secret system and then transfer it to the code word system, they can't scrub the verbal readouts. Allegedly, in the whistleblower complaint, there were numerous officials at the State Department and the White House who knew what happened on this call.
So the White House wasn't concerned about preventing leaks until somebody raised a red flag that something inappropriate happened on this call. The normal protocol when one of these calls happens is to, in the first instance, restrict who is listening when something is sensitive, and then two, the national security adviser would either personally or via his senior team authorize folks to give a verbal readout of what happened to key personnel at the State Department, at the DNI, at the CIA and other relevant officials while waiting for the official transcript or call readout to be finalized and sent around.
So this defense that this was to prevent leaking really doesn't hold water, especially based upon the fact that this call readout wasn't initially classified at a code word level. If it had been classified at a code word level, it would have been handled from the first instance on the code word system.
BLITZER: Jackie, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is expressing concern about the role of the attorney general, Bill Barr, in all of this. Watch what she told CNN earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I do think the attorney general has gone rogue. He has for a long time now. And since he was mentioned in all of this, it's curious that he would be making decisions about how the complaint would be handled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do Democrats believe now that the attorney general of the United States is acting for all practical purposes like the president's personal attorney?
JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST POWER UP: Yes. Well, I think that's a really big question here. And the attorney general has thus far escaped some of the scrutiny that I think is going to fall upon him in the coming weeks, which is that, why did the DOJ in the first place construct the acting director, Joseph Maguire, not to refer the whistleblower's complaint directly to Congress?
And then within the Department of Justice, when this was referred to the Criminal Department, why did they decline to pursue this, why did they decide that this wasn't worth any sort of campaign finance violation? Because the president was soliciting the help of a foreign government to investigate a political rival, which constitutes as an in-kind donation?
So there are a lot of questions that Barr needs answers here, and especially whether or not he knew firsthand of the whistleblower's complaint to begin with if he was the one who have that directive and then gave the directive on the Criminal Department to get rid of the charge.
BLITZER: Do you want to button this up for us?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I do think that there are serious questions about Bill Barr starting with whether or not he recused himself or why he didn't recuse himself from a complaint that named him specifically.
This question about how DOJ determined not to pursue a criminal inquiry is going to be a critical one, in part because DOJ didn't even conduct a preliminary investigation. They said this government investigation can't possibly be a thing of value under the law, so we're not going to look into it any further at all. How could you possibly know whether or not you can make that determination without asking sort of those preliminary questions.
And so this really does look like the DOJ got this, realized it was the Mueller report 2.0 and decided that they didn't want to go anywhere near it.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on all the breaking news.
Also, CNN is following the political campaign out there right now. Much more on that when we come back.
BLITZER: There's breaking news as CNN has now confirmed that Kurt Volker, President Trump's Ukraine diplomat, the special envoy for Ukraine mentioned in the whistleblower complaint, he has now resigned. According to the Arizona State University newspaper, The State Press, Kurt Volker made that decision amid all the controversy that has erupted over these past few days involving his role in this conversation that the president had with the Ukraine leader, reports that he corroborated with Ukraine and President Trump, and that he was working with Rudy Giuliani at the same time.
A lot of sensitivity right now, but Kurt Volker, the special envoy for Ukraine, we have now confirmed the ASU University State Press report that he has resigned.
Let's go to Samantha Vinograd. Samantha, you used to work in diplomacy for the U.S. government. All of a sudden, a key official involving Ukraine has stepped down.
VINOGRAD: Well, I certainly don't think it's a coincidence, Wolf. He has been actively working on behalf of the president and on behalf Secretary of State Pompeo for a long time. Now, he's named in this complaint and resigned. So it's likely not a coincidence.
We should keep in mind that his resignation will have an impact on U.S. national security. He was working on things, leaving aside his efforts to connect Rudy Giuliani with the Ukrainians, like helping Ukraine deter Russian aggression, helping Ukraine fight actual anti- corruption.
So that portfolio will now be vacant because, allegedly, he was involved in doing the president's dirty work when it came to the president's political agenda. Now, the question outstanding is, who else will resign? We know that special envoy Volker was in a meeting with Ukrainians the day after this July 25th call. He was with the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. who is another Trump appointee.
So I think it is possible that we may see other resignations, while the U.S. embassy in Ukraine is staffed more with what we call career diplomats, people that are not appointed by the president.
So, we may start to see battle lines being drawn between the Trump appointees named in this whistleblower complaint and the career diplomats who are on the ground in Ukraine and back in Washington, D.C. trying to do their actual work.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Kylie Atwood, who covers the State Department for us. She's joining us from New York right now.
Kylie, the suggestion was that Volker, the special envoy, the special U.S. envoy for Ukraine, was working with Rudy Giuliani and Ukrainian officials to establish a dialogue to work together in these areas.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.
And just hours ago, the House Foreign Affairs Committee said they had scheduled a deposition with Ambassador Kurt Volker just next week. So, the question is, is he still going to partake in that deposition? How does this impact that?
But as you said, Kurt Volker has been in contact with Rudy Giuliani. We know that because Giuliani has been publicly showing everyone those text messages. And that is the real question here.
The State Department hasn't said much about that. They said that everyone, Secretary Pompeo, when asked about this yesterday, said that to his knowledge, everyone had acted entirely properly at the State Department, meaning that no State Department officials were getting complicated in this politically-driven agenda of Rudy Giuliani.
But what Rudy Giuliani is saying is different. He's saying that he worked closely with Kurt Volker on his efforts in Ukraine, pushing for an investigation into Joe Biden. Now, I think it's important to note --
BLITZER: I was going to say, Kylie, that the whistle-blower complaint suggested that Kurt Volker went to Kiev at one point to work with the Ukrainian officials, to guide them on how to deal with the president's demands.
ATWOOD: Exactly. So, we know that Kurt Volker was talking to the Ukrainians in that text message that Rudy Giuliani put out. Kurt Volker was connecting Giuliani with one of the top aides of President Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. So, he was involved here.
Now, the State Department has not been backing up Volcker over the past week. They haven't been putting out any statements saying that he wasn't doing anything wrong. But over the summer, they did acknowledge that he had connected Rudy Giuliani with officials who are close to Zelensky.
So I think it's important, however, to take a step back here and look at who Kurt Volker actually is. He is someone who still is employed at the McCain Institute. He is a McCain guy. And as one person who is close with Kurt Volker put it to me this week, that is not a winning character trait for Trump. Trump knew that he was someone who was a McCain guy.
He was never a big fan of Kurt Volker. But Kurt Volker knew that President Trump was interested in this investigation, in pushing an investigation into Joe Biden. So he felt like he had to engage in some sort of way. That's what a source close with Volker told me just this week when we were discussing this.
BLITZER: Because at issue, Susan, is whether or not the president in that phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine, for all practical purposes said, you want U.S. aid, get me dirt on the Bidens.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: This is actually why Volker's resignation could spell some trouble for the White House. The claims of executive privilege only work for current officials or for officials who aren't interested in testifying. So, Volker might not be interested in being the fall guy here. We saw Rudy Giuliani essentially say if I'm going down, I'm taking you down with me.
State Department officials were in a difficult position. Rudy Giuliani is out there freelancing Ukrainian policy. They're trying to understand what's going on.
Now, Volker might be in a position to understand what other messages were being transmitted to Zelensky, who else was carrying those messages and how explicit did that quid pro quo actually get. What we saw in the transcript was very, very close. A lot of implicit quid pro quo but he is in a position to say, no, no, it was quite explicit and we carried that message to the Ukraine.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is actually I think the crux of how important he is to this matter. It would be the role of connecting the dots between what happened on that call and why the aid for Ukraine was frozen in the first place. The president claims it's because he was unhappy that the Europeans weren't doing enough.
But there's a lot of implication out there that he was unhappy because the Ukrainians were not doing more to investigate Joe Biden. The person who ought to know that would be Kurt Volker. If he is willing to testify, I think it could be really important to supposing what actually went down over the last several months inside the White House and inside --
BLITZER: I assume Adam Schiff and other Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, they're already getting anxious to bring him before the committee. JACKIE ALEMANY, AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST, "POWER UP": That's
exactly right, and as Susan said, the White House is unlikely to be able to exert executive privilege and at the end of the day, this subpoenaed issued to Volker. And also, to Pompeo, request any sort of documentation that is related to these conversations on official e- mail and Volker was working on official channels and he was the liaison between the Ukrainians and Giuliani.
I imagine there is going to be some potentially illuminating e-mails, text messages as we've already seen Giuliani tease on Laura Ingraham.
BLITZER: Yes. Giuliani keeps saying he's got a lot of messages with Volker.
VINOGRAD: I will note that he --
BLITZER: Everybody, hold on. We're going to have more on the breaking news, a very important development, right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news. CNN has confirmed that Kurt Volker, President Trump's Ukraine diplomat who was mentioned in the whistle- blower complaint, has now suddenly resigned.
We are joined by the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. He's a CNN national security commentator.
Mike, thanks so much for joining us.
Give me your quick reaction. How significant is this resignation? Is it another admission of some potential wrongdoing?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I would be cautious not to say it was an admission of wrongdoing other than hey, this thing is getting messy, I've got other work to do. He was -- Volker was a former ambassador to NATO, so he has experience.
But getting under this much scrutiny certainly doesn't look good. I have to tell you that. It tells me that people are starting to distance themselves from what they fear is a coming investigation.
BLITZER: It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about his communications with Rudy Giuliani as far as Ukraine is concerned.
We also heard, Mike, from the White House today that the transcript of President Trump's phone call with the Ukraine was indeed saved on a highly classified server. Does that confirm a key aspect of the whistle-blower complaint?
ROGERS: Well, and here's -- this is the odd thing about this, Wolf, and obviously, on the face of it, it doesn't look good, but if you go back, what was happening, if you remember the Australian ambassador's phone call was leaked in verbatim and that created quite a stir and not only in the United States and in the White House, but also with our Australian allies. And, you know, someone could come up in good faith and argue, hey, we had a leak problem and we were trying to find our leak problem, so we decided we would lock these thing away.
That being said, if you read the context of the phone call, it certainly would raise questions. So, I think, you know, this is part of why that investigation is so important, in a hyperventilating, partisan, you know, I can't wait to get this guy impeached, and, oh, by the way, we'll give him a fair hearing is really dangerous in trying to get the facts on all of these issues.
BLITZER: You're also, Mike, the host of CNN's very popular series "DECLASSIFIED" which returns for an all-new season this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
I want to show our viewers a preview of the first episode focusing on an attack plotted for the anniversary of 9/11.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Najibullah is striving to the bridge. It looks like he's going to come into Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're on the day before 9/11. And so what we're really thinking about is we cannot lose this guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zazi was the picture of an imminent threat.
Travel records had indicated that he had been to Pakistan in 2008, potentially that he'd attended terrorist training camps with Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay, his two New York counterparts, but we just didn't know what they were up to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So this episode, very intriguing provides, I understand, new details about how the plot was foiled?
ROGERS: Absolutely. For the first time we had the National Security Agency describing its role in this particular event. So you had local law enforcement from Colorado, the New York Police Department and every level from FBI to the National Security Agency to other agencies, providing information on something that was an ongoing operation, Wolf, meaning this thing was going to happen. These folks were driving into the city to blow up themselves on subway cars, and it was very, very close.
The whole case really resolved just around a few days about having to make tough decisions on how they would intercede, and even after they interceded, one of the -- one of the suspects there decided they were going to try to do a terrorist act on their own and ended up, was being caught in the act of doing that, as well.
BLITZER: Very quickly, what else can we expect this season? ROGERS: There's some great stuff. If you love the good, old-
fashioned Russian spy stories and I do as an old FBI guy, we've got some of that. And what we try to do is branch out a little bit. We got some other great counterterrorism stories that were successful by the good work of all of that community.
So if you like spy stories and you like intrigue and you like all of that, you're going to love "DECLASSIFIED".
BLITZER: We certainly will. And be sure to tune in for an all new season of "DECLASSIFIED: UNTOLD STORIES OF AMERICAN SPIES". It premieres this Sunday night, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
All of our Jewish viewers, have a happy and healthy New Year.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.