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Whistleblower Fallout On Ukrainian Call; Rep. Tom Steyer (D), Presidential Candidate, Interview On Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 28, 2019 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we're talking with the Port Authority cops as to what they've got to do at each of these spots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot let this guy get into Manhattan with a bomb in his car. So, need to do a vehicle stop. And we need to try to do it in such a manner to not overly raise his suspicion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we come up the Jersey turnpike. And we've got the surveillance team calling it out, where is he? We start at the Outerbridge Crossing. He doesn't take that. And then, he goes up to the Goethals Bridge, and he doesn't get off. Then, he goes to the Holland Tunnel, and he doesn't get off. And then, he goes to the Lincoln Tunnel, and he doesn't get off. Well, the only place he can go now, if he's coming to New York, is the George Washington Bridge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The new season premieres tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, right here on CNN.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is CNN's special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

On this Saturday night, the nation is at an historic crossroads on whether to impeach the 45th president of the United States. A move that has been long talked about by some Democrats, but only in this past week with the explosive complaint by an anonymous whistle-blower are we seeing the House of Representatives taking the first formal steps.

What may have been a slow walk is now a sprint. House Democrats are hoping for a vote on impeachment by Thanksgiving. The July phone call, between President Trump and Ukraine's leader, is setting off a chain reaction of truly stunning developments and accusations that the commander-in-chief is openly inviting interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

But before an impeachment vote, there will be a final effort to get answers and witnesses in front of several committees. The first major subpoena in this inquiry came just yesterday, directed at the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, after he failed to turn over documents.

As for President Trump, with his first term administration in potential peril, he spent part this of day playing golf with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Lindsey Graham, and two stars of the game. It was, by the way, the president's 300th day at a Trump property during his time in office, his 233rd day at a Trump golf club.

Also breaking news this Saturday night, the whistle-blower, whose name we don't even know, already the catalyst for at least one Trump administration official to be out of a job. The State Department's special envoy to Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, not only quitting in the wake of the bombshell whistle-blower complaint, but now being called to answer questions in front of not one, not two, but three Congressional committees. A big question tonight, will the White House take drastic measures to control what he says?

Also tonight, multiple sources telling CNN that one senior White House staffer, in particular, is taking the heat for this very bad week for the president. The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. We're told frustration is widespread that he didn't have a strategy in place for dealing with the fallout, when the whistle-blower complaint went public.

To the White House right now. And CNN's Jeremy Diamond, he's on the scene for us. Jeremy, the way it's described to us, about Mick Mulvaney, is that he's on, quote, "shaky ground." That's not an enviable position to be in, in this specific White House. What are you learning, specifically?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It certainly is not an enviable position, Wolf. And, tonight, multiple sources are telling CNN that the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is, indeed, on shaky ground with the president, amid the fallout from the whistle- blower complaint.

The frustration from the president and from other White House officials primarily stems not from the decision to release the transcript of the president's call with the Ukrainian president from back in July, but, instead, about the lack of a strategy to deal with the fallout from this whistle-blower complaint. We've watched as, in recent days, Democrats have quickly moved to form this impeachment inquiry, moving toward impeachment, indeed. And the White House has, largely, been caught flat footed.

The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, is pushing back on this story tonight. She says in a statement, this story is manufactured palace intrigue. And insists that the White House does not need a strategy, when the president has done nothing wrong.

Nonetheless, what we're seeing, instead, is the president very much taking matters into his own hands, going on the counteroffensive tonight in a series of tweets. Where he attacks Democrats. Where he goes after this whistle-blower, despite the fact that he still does not know that whistle-blower's identity.

And House Democrats, of course, Wolf, are, indeed, moving quickly with their impeachment inquiry. Already on Friday, three House committees have issued subpoenas for the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to produce documents. Those documents are demanded by the end of the week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thank you. Jeremy Diamond is over at the White House.

Let's get some analysis right now. Joining us, our CNN Political Correspondent Abby Phillip, former federal prosecutor Laura Coates, former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, and CNN Political Analyst Carl Bernstein.

[20:05:07]

John, let me start with you. The fact that the now-resigned ambassador, special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, is a McCain guy. Was never a Trump guy to begin with. Now, less than a week after he's resigned, he's ready to testify this coming Thursday. Should the White House be concerned, specifically, because there are a lot of folks out there who are suggesting he may be what you once were, another John Dean.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, I -- one thing is for sure, I don't think the effort to get him not to testify, to not appear, to not say anything, is going to work. It is a -- there is no privilege to do that. Although, some members of the White House staff, former members of the White House staff have done that in the House judiciary inquiry. I don't think he is going to fool with that, and I think he's going to get right down to it and tell them a lot about what was going on.

BLITZER: Yes, and he's going to be under oath, so he's got to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

DEAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Carl, you and your excellent reporting with Bob Woodward many years ago, you sparked that impeachment inquiry against Richard Nixon. Where do you see this heading right now?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's much too early to predict. I think that there are two things going on at once, both of grave consequence to the country at a very perilous time. The first is a very serious impeachment inquiry, based on preliminary evidence that really suggests that the president, himself, has compromised the national security of the United States. That he has collaborated with a foreign power to try and obtain dirt on a political opponent, something that's never happened in our history in this manner from a foreign power.

But the other thing that's going on right now is we are in a genuine national security crisis. Because -- and it may be even of more consequence, though it's connected to the impeachment in some ways, than the impeachment, itself. Because, for the first time in our history, we also have a president of the United States, about whom we now have serious suggestions, may not be capable or willing or able or knowledgeable enough to protect and defend the United States against enemies, foreign powers. And that's really -- we have got to find a way, somehow, whether through impeachment or some other device. It's essential that those papers, those conversations, those digitalized memos in the so-called locked box, be examined by some people at the highest levels of the executive branch of our government, to determine whether or not this president has undermined our national security. And very quickly, because it's a real crisis.

BLITZER: It certainly is a major crisis and they're moving quickly. Now that, Laura, there's a formal impeachment inquiry going on, will the Congress, the Democratic majority in the House, have better access? Will the White House have to respond to subpoenas? Will they stop stonewalling witnesses, for example?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they have much more latitude now. Because now you have written into the Constitution, essentially, a vehicle that we have given Congress the wherewithal to be able to say, we need to have a check and balance. This is the investigation part of it.

The other thing is, up until now, we have had stonewalling. But there was a sharp deviation the second you said impeachment inquiry out of the mouths of Nancy -- out of the mouth of Nancy Pelosi. All of a sudden, they were able to get the transcript. They were able to get the DNI whistle-blower complaint. Although, it was drafted in a way to have a classified and unclassified section. They gave everything to the American people, eventually. This tells you that they have departed from that idea of stonewalling.

Now, that may, actually, end up being a mistake. Because when they did so, they, essentially, gave more credence to the whistle-blower's complaint. They corroborated, probably inadvertently in their minds, and they tried to save themselves. And, more importantly, they accelerated the opportunity for Congress to have an investigation. It would have been unheard of to say, in a few months from now, we're going to be able to have an impeachment vote, potentially, on Articles of Impeachment.

Now, because the president of the United States has provided corroboration, he has, even without the whistle-blower complaint or person being identified, accelerated it and put it on the fast track. And so, the stonewalling days, I think, are over. Whether that was prudent for the president remains to be seen.

BLITZER: And we're also learning, Abby, you're doing some significant reporting on this, that the White House had gone to pretty remarkable lengths to try to protect or hide other conversations, sensitive conversations, that the president had with Vladimir Putin, for example, the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman. What are you learning about that?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, part of this is why this particular call was put into that code word, classified system, which is a completely separate communication system to lock down some of the most sensitive conversations that the president would have.

[20:10:07]

The White House moved to move some of these more sensitive conversations, because they were concerned about leaks. They were concerned because there had been leaks. There had been other conversations that the president had had with Australian foreign leaders, with Mexican foreign leaders that had been leaked to the press.

And it seems, based on what we're hearing, that these conversations were put into this separate system, not necessarily because there was something classified in them or something relating to national security, but because they were concerned about embarrassing leaks. About the president, in some cases, saying things that were -- that were more politically embarrassing to him, than they were dangerous or detrimental to national security.

BLITZER: John Dean, take us back to the first few days after the impeachment inquiry into president Nixon was launched. And you were there. You were in the White House. What do you think is happening in the current White House right now?

DEAN: Actually, at that time, I was not in the White House. I had already testified before the Senate Watergate Committee. I was looked at as one of the top enemies of the White House, at that stage. But I did follow the proceedings quick -- very closely. And I've talked to a number of people who were there. And they didn't really, other than staff, pay much attention to the proceedings, themself. Nixon, for example, was in California in San Clemente on the beach, when the first Article of Impeachment was handed down. He could barely look at these proceedings. He didn't follow the Senate Watergate hearings either.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Carl to weigh in, because he was reporting on all of this at the time. Obvious questions, like if nothing inappropriate was said by the president or done by the president or his senior advisers, why do so -- why do so much to ensure that these conversations, for example, never get out and put in that top-secret vault?

BERNSTEIN: Well, because it would appear -- and based on what the whistle-blower said in his complaint, it would appear that there is a cover-up going on. And that those documents, those digitalized documents and readouts and conversations in summary, are damning, based on what the whistle-blower learned second hand and what others told him. That's why we need to see them. And especially now that we know that they might extend to other conversations having to do with Russia, having to do with Saudi Arabia, et cetera, et cetera.

But I think we need to look at these documents in this digital lock box a little bit like the Nixon tapes, themselves. Presidents have a right to privacy. Presidents have an expectation that they can talk to foreign leaders without their conversations being examined if need be. This is a different situation, and again like the Nixon tapes in which Nixon was ordered by the Supreme Court to turn over his tapes, because there appears to be nefarious conduct by the president of the United States. And, in many ways, even more grievous to national security than what Nixon did.

If what the whistle-blower suggested and what we've seen so far is true, and including the account of the office meeting in the Oval Office with the president and the Russian ambassador in which -- in which the president said, oh, well, he was not concerned about the Russians interfering in our election. And that, oh, the United States does the same thing.

Well, the fact is, we did the same thing in the cold war a long time ago. We stopped. Russia, however, has gone back into a new cold war. And the president doesn't seem to recognize it, and that it is endangering us with its interference. And the very testimony, the other day, that was most dramatic, in some ways, by the DNA was when he said the greatest threat to this country, the greatest national security threat, not terrorism, but rather interference in our electoral process by foreign powers.

And that's what we're up against here. And we need to know what the president has done or not done to protect us in this situation.

BLITZER: All right, Carl Bernstein, John Dean, Laura Coates, Abby Phillip, everybody stand by. There's a lot more news we're following, including a new report just out tonight in "The New York Times," offering some truly amazing new insight into how President Trump, and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, ran what amounted to a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine. How did it lead to the impeachment inquiry? Our special live impeachment investigation coverage continues in just a moment.

[20:14:56]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The biggest controversy of the Trump presidency is now taking over Washington, as House Democrats push ahead on subpoenas and hearings in the impeachment inquiry. And it all started with the whistle-blower complaint, alleging President Trump called the president of Ukraine to pressure him to dig up dirt on his potential 2020 presidential rival, Joe Biden.

"The New York times" national security correspondent, David Sanger, is joining us right now. David, you cowrote an article, a really important article, in "The Times" just posted, entitled "How a Shadow Foreign Policy in Ukraine Prompted an Impeachment Inquiry." First of all, tell us what you can about what you describe as this shadow foreign policy.

DAVID SANGER, CNN PUBLIC AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, what's really remarkable about this story, Wolf, is that if you look at what the State Department was doing to approach Ukraine, it looked a lot like the policy that had been pursued by the Obama administration. That is to say, try to bolster the Democracy, keep funds, particularly military funds, going to the Ukraine, keep sanctions on Russia, and try to push the Russians back from their efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine and insist that they return Crimea. But the president, as early as the campaign in 2016, told me and Maggie Haberman that he didn't understand why it was that people were so upset about Crimea and what Russia was doing. He just wanted a good relationship with them. Clearly, he regarded Ukraine less as a country and more as an impediment.

[20:20:00]

And then, of course, as Ukraine released information to suggest that Paul Manafort had received millions of dollars, which was later verified during his trial, the president became convinced that the previous Ukrainian government, the previous Ukrainian government, was out to get him. That started a really bad relationship. By this year, you begin to discover that the what House has one policy, being run by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, while the State Department still had a different one.

BLITZER: Where does Rudy Giuliani fit into this shadow of foreign policy, as far as Ukraine is concerned?

SANGER: Well, it's really fascinating because you would think that if you were going to exercise a policy toward Ukraine, you'd either do it through the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, or you would do it through Kurt Volker, the special envoy for Ukraine, who, of course, just resigned yesterday.

Instead, Mr. Giuliani stepped in, wanted to meet the members of the new government, who just started coming in in March. Began pressing them to both investigate the Bidens and investigate the, sort of, strange conspiracy theory that somehow the hack of the DNC didn't actually happen in Russia initially. It didn't come from Russia, but it came from Ukraine. If you believe this, Wolf, then you'd have to believe the Justice Department's indictment of the Russians, President Trump's own Justice Department's indictment of the Russians, was a completely false document.

But, of course, the president was pressing both issues in that phone call that we saw that took place on July 25th. And, of course, we know that the military aid was suspended. Why you do that at a moment that you were still worried that Ukraine was subject to all kinds of Russian meddling, I don't know.

BLITZER: A very important article in "The New York Times." David Sanger, thanks so much for joining us.

SANGERS: Always great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So, some Democrats have been calling for the impeachment of President Trump for months and months. From his alleged obstruction, to racist taunts, among other issues.

2020 presidential candidate, Tom Steyer, launched his presidential bid on that specific message. There you see him. He's standing by live. We'll discuss right after this.

[20:22:27] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Democratic Presidential candidate, Tom Steyer, is, perhaps, best known for his efforts to see President Trump impeached. Long before joining the 2020 presidential contest, he put millions of dollars behind his "Need to Impeach" movement. Tom Steyer is joining us now. Tom Steyer, thanks so much for being with us.

Let's talk, first, about the Ukraine scandal, if you will. Without this current scandal, what do you think, were the chances of impeachment actually becoming dead in the water?

TOM STEYER, PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: Well, you know, Wolf, before the Ukraine scandal hit, there were 138 Democratic Congress people who were already in favor of an impeachment inquiry. And we had over 8 million people who had signed our "Need to Impeach" petition drive that we had started about two years ago. The majority of Democratic voters were in favor of impeaching this president. So, it wasn't as if it was dead in the water.

But it's certainly is true that this Ukraine scandal is a smoking gun that has energized the movement. That has made it clear to everybody that this president is a corrupt person, the most corrupt president in American history. And you can see, just from the number of people in the Congress who've come out publicly for an impeachment inquiry. It's gone from 138 to something like 223 in the matter of a week.

BLITZER: Including the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who was, for a long time, as you well know, very reluctant. But, all of a sudden, she supports it and she brought along a whole bunch of Democratic members in the process.

But, on the other hand, do you think a vote to impeach might perhaps bolster President Trump's argument that Democrats want him out at any cost and it could hurt, politically, the Democrats?

STEYER: Well, Wolf, I think the right way to think about this is to remember that the court of public opinion is the court that really matters. Everybody's talking about all the rules of the House of Representatives and all of the rules of the Senate. But the court that really matters is the court of public opinion and the people -- the American people, themselves. I've always felt that was true. So, that's why I did a petition drive to say, put the facts in front of the American people. I trust the wisdom of the American people. If we get a chance to see the truth, let us judge because that's what's going to drive the outcome.

BLITZER: But there's certainly -- let me interrupt for a moment.

(CROSSTALK)

STEYER: (INAUDIUBLE) from the American people and they say they're guilty, he's going -- he's going to be out of there.

BLITZER: Well, there's certainly a good chance he will be impeached in the House. And maybe there'll be a vote even before Thanksgiving. But do you think it's realistic at all to think that there's a two- thirds majority in the Senate to convict 67 senators? A lot of Republicans would need to come onboard to remove him from office.

STEYER: Well, Wolf, that's what I'm saying. I agree with you. I understand the reluctance of Republicans to convict a Republican president. But what I'm saying is this. If the American people see the evidence and say what I've been saying for two years, most corrupt president in American history. If I did that, I'd be in jail. Either you throw him out or we'll throw you out. I don't think Republican senators can withstand that kind of pressure.

So, that's why I say, to me, the question is, not the rules of Washington, D.C., but the vision and decision of the American people. That's why I'm a grass-roots activist. Because that's where I believe the wisdom of the country resides. Not inside the beltway, but all over the country.

BLITZER: Different Democrats have pushed to impeach on various issues, including Russia, for example. Obstruction. The president telling Congresswomen of color to, quote, "go back." How do you convince voters that now, all of a sudden, this is the moment that matters?

[20:30:03]

STEYER: Well, Wolf, I think you remember with President Nixon, he was a similarly corrupt president on a variety of matters. But what really got him was the smoking gun of the tapes. The fact that America caught him out in an absolute lie.

I think that this Ukraine incident is completely of a piece with Mr. Trump's behavior since the day he walked into office. He's been using the office for his own purposes. He's been putting himself ahead of the American people. He's been covering up his misdeeds.

Yes, all of that is in plain sight here. I think the difference here is it's simple. It's obvious. It's hard to mistake. And he's like a fish on a hook. He can wriggle as much as he wants, but I think he's going to get pulled into the ship.

BLITZER: You launched your presidential bid back in July and you just qualified for your first presidential debate with CNN and the New York Times will now host on October 15th.

But is the talk of impeachment distracting from the democratic primary, other key issues that Democrats want to discuss? In the last presidential debate, I don't think they discussed impeachment at all.

STEYER: Well, I agree with you, Wolf. I think that's a great point. Because what Democrats need to do, and what my goal is, is to say to the American people, it's not about Mr. Trump, it's about what we need to do together going forward.

Although I've got to say this is a good example. What I believe is, we have a broken government. The corporations have bought that government, and that the solution is by going to the American people, going back to government of, by, and for the people, driven by their grass roots. That's been my history over the last 10 years and really that's about impeachment.

Getting the American people to recognize there's really something rotten here, getting their voice listened to, and making sure that is the true power of the United States American. That's really why I'm running for president and impeachment is the proof positive that actually the grassroots works.

BLITZER: Obviously, impeachment is -- your big, big issue of this president, you believe, needs to be impeached. But what about some of the other issues? Are there other major issues you're running on right now?

STEYER: Well, my point about this, Wolf, is this. I think we all recognize that Americans aren't getting what we want. We're not getting health care as a right. We're not getting the education system from pre-K through college that our kids deserve. We're not getting a living wage for working people. We're not getting clean air and clean water.

But my point is this. If we want to get them, we're going to have to break the corporate stranglehold because there's a reason we're not getting them. We're not getting them because the corporations don't want us to get them and Congress won't let us get them.

So what we need to do is retake this government, retake our democracy. And if we do that, if we break this corporate stranglehold on our government, we're going to get all of them, and we can talk about which Green New Deal we want, and which health care plan we want, and which education plan we want.

But first thing before we get any of them, we're going to have to beat the corporations. That's what I've been doing for 10 years, that's what we've to do in Washington, D.C., and really that's what happened in impeachment.

If this goes forward, that's going to be a huge success for democracy and a huge success for the people of the United States.

BLITZER: Tom Steyer, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck out there on the campaign trail. We'll see you at the next presidential debate as well.

STEYER: Thank you so much, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more of our special coverage coming up, including our new CNN reporting that the special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who just resigned last night, will appear before three congressional committees within days. So, what does this mean for President Trump?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:11]

BLITZER: Tonight as an impeachment inquiry and multiple subpoenas loom over the White House, President Trump is on the attack tweeting in part, and I'm quoting now, the whistleblower's complaint is completely different and at odds from my actual conversation with the new president of Ukraine.

And a shakeup in the wake of that bombshell whistleblower report sources confirming to CNN the special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, resigned last night. He'll be appearing before three congressional committees within days.

Joining us now Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Carl Bernstein. CNN political analyst, Sarah Isgur. Former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu. And CNN contributor, a former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean.

Carl, what do you make, first of all, of the president's newest attack on the report? Is there a strategy at play here?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they are looking for a strategy, but so far, the facts are lining up against them and they're trying to find a way not to have to make further disclosures of the president's conversation or memoranda of summaries of his conversations with foreign leaders.

But they're up against something very different here. One, Nancy Pelosi, more than the candidates running for president of the United States and the Democratic Party right now, is the face of the Democratic Party.

And what she has accomplished in the last week, she said to someone in a New York Times interview, that she told Trump that he's in her wheelhouse now, which is intelligence matters.

And clearly, she's running some circles around him, thus far, and there are people that I've talked to who say that the White House understandably is really worried about this, they're worried about Republicans for the first time. Perhaps defecting. We have the chairman of the Trump campaign in Nevada, who was a congressman, Republican congressman, saying, yes, there should be an impeachment inquiry, not saying he is for impeachment.

[20:40:10]

This is now a totally different threat to the president and his presidency, and the people around him know it, and there's going to be a bunker mentality here, I think, we're already seeing.

BLITZER: You know, John Dean, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, resigned last night. We're now learning he will testify up on Capitol Hill this coming Thursday.

How significant could this testimony be in this impeachment inquiry?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it could be very important for a number of reasons. First of all, Giuliani who has been interacting with the Ukrainians really said that he gets his authority from Volker, that is the person with whom he talked and was getting guidance.

I don't think it is that way, and it certainly is not that way if you read what was said in the whistleblower report. He said they had to rein Giuliani in. I think, also, that it was -- it was Volker went to the new President Zelensky, and was the one who tried to tell him how to deal with Giuliani's pressure.

So it's going to be -- he's got a lot of inside knowledge and he can frame this thing for what it really is which is an abuse of presidential power.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Shan, because multiple sources tell CNN the president is supposedly in denial right now about the gravity, the seriousness of his predicament. How do you see it?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think he may be in denial, and the reason for that is Trump is, a, historical, unlike the president that john worked for and that Carl reported on. Trump has no sense of history. He does not really understand what this predicament is. To hi, it's just another part of the news cycle for him.

BLITZER: You know, Mitch McConnell supposedly was recommending to the White House, Sarah, that they go ahead and release these documents. The White House didn't release the documents to their credit, they released the rough transcript, the whistleblower complaint.

But apparently, they weren't very happy that -- the president is not very happy that there was a good strategy to deal with the fallout.

SARAH ISGUR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and this goes back to how much turnover there's been in the White House, especially among senior staff. They don't have a set communications team the way that, for instance, the Nixon White House did by this point. The Clinton White House did.

And so to be thrown into chaos with a new team is incredibly challenging. At the same time, there can be no question that releasing the transcript was the correct thing to do, because they were going to have to turn over the whistleblower complaint. If you turn over, the whistleblower complaint without the transcript, I think they would be in a lot worse shape than they are today.

So I actually think the president gets frustrated when things aren't going well without ever considering that this is still the best option that he could be in.

BLITZER: You know, I want to get your reaction to what former Republican senator, Jeff Flake, is quoted in saying, he thinks at least 35 Republican senators would vote to impeach Trump if the vote were private. What do you -- the votes are not going to be private if it comes to --

ISGUR: Right. You know, there's an interesting interview with Mitt Romney, this week, with the Atlantic in which -- you know, I thought he was pretty forthcoming. Whether he represents all senators or not, it's hard to say.

But I think, over the course of history, to your point, when push really comes to shove, Americans tend to put their country before their own political interest, and I think that if it really came to that, that Jeff Flake would be -- would be right even in public.

BLITZER: Will the White House be able to stonewall, ignore the subpoenas, ignore the demands for witnesses and documents?

WU: I think they will continue to do that. To Sarah's point, this is a White House that has no organization whatsoever. They never have any discipline to stay on the plan. If they stay on their plan, they should stonewall.

I think part of the blowback that Mulvaney is getting is he did the smart right thing. You got to release something, but Trump is mad about it now. So they will probably return to the stonewalling and it's going to force Congress to either activate their own sergeant at arms or go to court over the contempt.

BLITZER: Shan Wu, thanks very much for joining us. Sarah, thanks to you as well. Also John Dean and Carl Bernstein.

As she prepared to launch impeachment inquiry into President Trump, we're going to hear from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi describe the phone call that she received from President Trump hours earlier. We have details. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:45:37]

BLITZER: All right. Just moments ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the phone call she had with President Trump just hours before launching the impeachment inquiry. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Later in the morning, I received a call from the president, started off by talking about topic A for me which is passing gun violence prevention and the background check.

(APPLAUSE)

We had said, Mr. President, we're not going away until we get the background check bill passed. So he called me about that to tell me of progress that he thought was being made on that subject. I didn't recognize it as progress, but I said, I look forward to hearing more about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

PELOSI: But helpful, helpful. Because it's a matter of life and death, and I said that any of these politicians who are, who cherish their own political survival rather than the survival of our children we have news for them. So in any case, the president went on to then say that I was going to be so -- that phone conversation, I'd be so pleased when I heard it in more detail because it was perfect.

It was perfect. It was perfect. And that really was -- really a moment of truth for me. Because what happened in that phone conversation, that a president of the United States would withhold military assistance, which was paid for by taxpayer money, to effectively shake down the leader of another country unless he did him a favor. This is so clear. It's so clear.

[20:50:26]

Now, again, in order to -- again, we want to be -- unifying, but we have to honor our oath of office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's only the start. We're going to have more of what the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been saying in Austin, Texas. Does she believe there's a cover-up by this White House? You're watching our special live coverage.

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BLITZER: The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Austin, Texas. She's not mincing any words in suggesting there's a cover-up of a cover-up going on at the White House. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: They don't want to look like they're aware of certain things. So I think that -- I think that -- I think, right now, there's a cover-up of the cover-up. This is really goes beyond. And I'm just saying to you that people say you have to take a political risk doing that. That doesn't matter. That doesn't matter, because we cannot have a president of the United States undermining his oath of office, his loyalty, to his oath of office, undermining our national security and undermining the integrity of our elections. Our elections are the fundamental point of our democracy.

(APPLAUSE)

[20:55:24]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, yes.

PELOSI: If you insist on talking about this, I have one other thing I wanted to say. And really, to tell you the truth, I've been very prayerful a bit. I would just have hoped that there would be something exculpatory, something that would say, well, this is not what it seems to be, but that's not where we are right now.

What remains is what is additional, and what will it take to have a Republican review this and say that? But we just couldn't wait for them. But let me say this. I talked about our founders, a republic if we can keep it. It's our responsibility to keep it, and our founders, Thomas Paine said, in the earliest and darkest days of the revolution, the times have found us. The times have found us.

Well, we believe that the times have found us now. Not that we place ourselves in a category of greatness of our founders, but in a category of urgency about the threat to our constitution. And if this would -- activity --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very strong words from Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker. And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching CNN's special coverage. To our Jewish viewers, have a happy and healthy new year.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special "TED TURNER: CAPTAIN PLANET," comes up right after a quick break.

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