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Trump Attacks Whistleblower, Pushes Conspiracies, Warns of Civil War as Impeachment Probe Intensifies; House Democrats Begin Impeachment Hearings, Depositions This Week; Ex Trump Official Slams President for Seeking Dirt on Political Opponent; Giuliani Contradicts Himself But Says Will Testify if Trump Approved; Pompeo Announces New Sanctions against Russians Involved in Election Meddling; Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) discusses the Ukraine/Whistleblower controversy and Trump Impeachment. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 30, 2019 - 11:00   ET



RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So now that we know this, the big question is, why didn't they put those safeguards on the 737 MAX. they're going to have to answer to that to regulators as well -- Poppy?


Rene, it's important reporting. I know you have been all over the story. Thank you very much.

Thank you all for being with me today. Jim will be back with me tomorrow morning. We'll see you then.

"AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I am Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan. Thanks for joining me today.

President Trump lashing out as Democrats begin their push for a fast and focused investigation into his possible impeachment.

The president firing off a barrage of tweets, some aimed at the whistleblower whose detailed complaint launched the impeachment inquiry. The president demanding, quote, "I deserve to meet my accuser." And threatening whoever gave the whistleblower information, tweeting, "Was this person spying on the U.S. president? Big consequences."

Meantime, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's message to her party, keep it simple and sober. Saying in a private conference call with caucus, quote, "Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution." And telling "60 Minutes," "This is not about politics."


SCOTT PELLEY, CO-HOST, "60 MINUTES": What is your message to the White House in terms of cooperation?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): To the White House? Speak the truth. Honor your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Speak the truth and let us work together to have this be a unifying experience and not a dividing one for our country. Don't make this any worse than it already is.


HILL: House Democrats have several hearings and depositions planned this week. Adam Schiff says the whistleblower has agreed to testify very soon, while attorneys for the whistleblower say they have serious concerns of their client's safety.

We are following all angles for you. CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House. CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, on Capitol Hill.

Manu Raju, let's begin with you.

What are we looking at coming down the pipe this week?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Expect some subpoenas to come out in a matter of days. Adam Schiff made clear that he may subpoena Rudy Giuliani early this week to get documents related to the efforts by the president's attorney to urge the Ukrainians to investigate on the Bidens. Questionably, will they call Rudy Giuliani to testify? That's still an unsettled matter.

Others are expected to come forward and brief the committee, including the inspector general of the Intelligence Committee, Michael Atkinson, who previously was to talk to the House Intelligence Committee. That was before the whistleblower's complaint had come forward. Now Democrats have specific questions they want to ask Atkinson. That's going to be behind closed-doors on Friday.

Later this week, also Kurt Volker, who was the president's envoy to Ukraine, as agreed to come behind closed-doors to talk to three House committees about exactly what happened here. He was mentioned as well in the whistleblower complaint in relation to the Rudy Giuliani efforts.

At the same time, Republicans are trying to push back and defend the president, including the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, who said this on "60 Minutes" yesterday.


PELLEY: What do you make of this exchange. President Zelensky says, "We are ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes." and President Trump replies, "I would like you to us a favor though."

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You just added another word.

PELLEY: No, it's in the transcript. MCCARTHY: You said, "I'd like you to do us a favor though?"

PELLEY: Yes, it's in -- it's in the transcript.

MCCARTHY: When I read the transcript --


RAJU: Kevin McCarthy last week told me that he said that the Ukrainian president is the first person who brought up the Bidens in that phone call, but the transcript reveals that the president was the first person who brought up investigating the Bidens in that phone call. That's according to the White House rough transcript that came out last week.

Nevertheless, Republicans are trying to push back and defend the president and calling it, in their view, hearsay from the whistleblower.

The question though is, will the whistleblower come to Capitol Hill. Will that person come and testify? Adam Schiff believes it is going to happen. The attorneys for the whistleblower have yet to confirm that ultimately is going to happen.

Nevertheless, Erica, expect this investigation to move in a rapid - Democrats hope to wrap this all up potentially by Thanksgiving -- Erica?

HILL: Wow. That would be quick, indeed.

Sarah, we mentioned we heard from Manu that the president threatening the whistleblower but he also suggested the country could actually be headed to civil war. What was that about?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erica. President Trump throwing out a variety of defenses on Twitter over the past couple of days as he pushes back this rapidly escalating impeachment inquiry.

This morning continuing to attack the whistleblower, like many of his allies. He tweeted this morning, "#fakewhistleblower."

Also threatening that there could be a civil war is Democrats remove him from office. Quoting a supporter, he wrote, "If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, which they will never be, it will cause a civil war-like fracture from which our country will never heal."


He's quoting there Pastor Robert Jeffries from FOX News. That attack among others on Twitter over the past couple of days raising eyebrows.

The president has been casting about for some kind of strategy. CNN is reporting the White House does not have that much of a strategy right now to defend President Trump against this impeachment inquiry. They have tried a number of different attacks, from going after House

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to attacking the whistleblower to claiming that Ukrainian transcript was exculpatory. But they did not some overarching strategy to push back.

CNN was told, in fact, President Trump was surprised by how quickly the Ukrainian controversy exploded into public view over the past week or so. There's no plans that have been unveiled to bring more lawyers or aids to handle messaging around the impeachment inquiry.

This, as Democrats have appeared more and more unified as they pursue this impeachment inquiry and these documents and testimony related to the Ukrainian controversy. They are more coordinated than ever.

The president, though, still not demonstrating any clear strategy heading into a key week on Capitol Hill -- Erica?

HILL: Sarah Westwood and Manu Raju, thank you both.

Joining me now, former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa, a CNN legal and national security analyst, and Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter.

As we look at these developments of the last couple of days, Asha, when we see the president tweeting he wants to meet his accuser and calling this person fake, is that witness tampering?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think at this point it could be considered witness tampering. It is a violation of the Whistleblower Act.

Remember, the Intelligence Committee Whistleblower Act is intended to provide a protected channel for whistleblowers to report misconduct, and specifically retaliation is prohibited. What we have is the president suggesting that he wants to retaliate.

I will say that to the extent that he wants to confront his accuser, with the whistleblower meeting with the House Intelligence Committee potentially, he'll be able to give them the names of the actual people in the White House who gave them the report they found troubling.

If impeachment goes through and a trial in the Senate, he would have all of those due process rights to confront his accusers.

HILL: As we look at this, we know, Nia, one of the Republican talking point is that this whistleblower did not have this information firsthand. It came from some of these other six White House officials as we learn. They're going back to the witch hunt, calling it political witch hunt. Again, this is based on hearsay. Then we have the Democratic talking points coming from Speaker Pelosi, saying keep it serious, keep it somber, keeping it apolitical.

Which of those messages, Nia, is really breaking through?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The other message from Nancy Pelosi is to keep it simple, right? Stick to the transcript. Something or sort of a summation of this conversation.

As you hear from Republicans -- we'll have them on air and they'll be on other channels -- they don't want to stick to the transcript at all. They want to go in every way and talk about the whistleblower and talk about the fact that this was a firsthand information.

Listen, it was not firsthand information, but my goodness, you look at the whistleblower's complaint and the actual summation and memorandum of that call, the transcript, it essentially confirms what he heard from folks inside that White House, or in or around the White House. Those were his sources.

Listen, I think it is troubling to Republicans that the White House itself does not seem to have much of a strategy other than throwing a bunch of stuff on Twitter as the president has been doing over these last days, and also troubling to the Republicans that polls seemed to be shifting in terms of how the public is seeing this.

They are using the same Mueller strategy. But, listen, it is new information at this point. And it is very, very easy to understand.

You can sum up what the president did and what he says he did on that call and in public in 30 seconds, right? He essentially called the Ukrainian leader and asked him to meddle in the 2020 election. Is that OK?

That's a question that Republicans do not want to answer because it is an inconvenient set of the facts.

HILL: Obviously, condensed to read the rough transcript that the White House put out and the complaint. A lot less paper required than the Mueller report.


HILL: For the first time, we are also seeing someone who worked for the Trump administration admitting that what the whistleblower is alleging is not OK. I want to play a little bit of that. This is the president's first Homeland Security advisor, now former, Tom Bossert. Listen.


TOM BOSSERT, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, I am deeply disturbed by it as well. This entire mess has me frustrated, George. It is a bad day and a bad week for this president and this country if he's asking for political dirt on an opponent.



HILL: Nia, is it your sense that he's an outlier or beginning of something?

HENDERSON: We've heard from a few other Republicans here and there. Romney last week essentially using the same language that he was sort of deeply concerned and found this call deeply troubling.

But mostly you hear from Republicans either going down and wanting to talk about everything but the call, calling on the whistleblower saying it is a witch hunt or just silent.

Listen, the silence itself isn't great either for this president. If you're the president who wants to create an echo chamber, you don't see a lot of people defending him. You don't see a lot of people saying, this is a president would never do anything like that. This is a president who is moral, who sticks to the Constitution, and would never ask a foreign government to interfere in an election. Because they can't do that.

Again, it is inconvenient of these facts. They've got to figure out what they're going to do here.

The Democrats clearly first time very organized on this and unified and they're moving fast on this thing. And you have a sense from the White House of the chaos that's we've seen emanating from this White House for years is catching up with them in crucial period.

HILL: Asha, a quick last thought?

RANGAPPA: I think you mentioned the same tactics being used as they did in the Mueller investigation. What we are seeing is one of the ways in which a criminal investigation actually advantage the president.

Because it kept things in the black hole, where now everything is sort of just -- you know, the pandora box is opened and everybody sees it and people can comment in it and people who are involved in this, I.G., the people in the White House who, by the way, are all of Trump's own people.

I think that gives lie to suggestions that this is just a partisan witch hunt.

HILL: Boy, things are moving quickly.

Asha Rangappa and Nia-Malika Henderson, appreciate it. Thank you both.


HILL: Coming up, Rudy Giuliani contradicting himself on whether he would testify about his role in all of this as questions grow over his interactions with the State Department. Those details ahead.

Plus, House Democrats, as we have been talking about, moving at full speed on impeachment. Is the country behind them though?

Stay with us.


[11:17:14] HILL: The president's personal lawyer offering conflicting messages about whether he'll cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry over the whistleblower complaint.

Take a listen to what he had to say on Sunday morning in this interview. Here is Rudy Giuliani.


RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would not cooperate with Adam Schiff. I think Adam Schiff should be removed.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: You are not going to cooperate --


GIULIANI: I didn't say that. I said I will consider it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said you wouldn't do it.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That you would not cooperate.

GIULIANI: I said I will consider it. I have to inclined to my client, frankly. I am a lawyer. It is his privilege, not mine. If he decides that he wants me to testify, of course, I will testify.


HILL: Confused? Giuliani was not committal when CNN asked if he would comply to a congressional subpoena for documents.

Joining me now on that and Giuliani's accounting of what the State Department knew and approved, CNN's national security reporter, Kylie Atwood, and CNN reporter, Michael Warren.

Kylie, let's start with you.

What is Giuliani saying in terms what the State Department knew?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: He's putting the onus completely on the State Department saying they were the ones that directed him to engage with the Ukrainians, with Zelensky's aid, and that he met with State Department officials throughout this process.

On Sunday, he was asked during one of his rounds of interviews if Secretary Pompeo had directed him to have these meetings. He said that Pompeo did not direct him to have meetings. But he did say that last week he spoke with Secretary Pompeo and he said, he told me he was aware of it.

What exactly did Rudy Giuliani meant when he said, "aware of it," we are unsure if he meant that he knew what Rudy Giuliani was doing. Rudy Giuliani had been speaking about it publicly, pressing Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden or his son, or if he knew Giuliani was consistently speaking with members, State Department officials throughout the process as Rudy Giuliani has alleged.

The State Department has not replied to our requests for comment. But last week, Secretary Pompeo did claim that, to his knowledge, everyone at the State Department had acted entirely appropriately.

We are waiting for an update from them.

HILL: Waiting for that response.

Michael, meantime, when it comes to this possible subpoena, you are learning more about whether Giuliani would cooperate. And also, there are questions about attorney/client privilege and how it could come into play. What are you finding?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: That's right. It can be a little confusing, as that clip you showed demonstrated about what Giuliani is really going to do.

But when you press him on it, as I have, he does not commit to not or appearing to if he's subpoenaed.

What he's trying to do here is muddy the waters, to get out this information that he believes that Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee, they are somehow illegitimate.

But when you press him on it, he does rely on this idea that I have to talk to my client. Rudy Giuliani's client is the president of the United States.


So he's putting the ball in President Trump's court here about whether or not he'll testify or produce these documents. Again, not being clear on what he would do.

He's using this as an opportunity to push the P.R. agenda that Giuliani wants to get out there, which is this Democratic probe is somehow illegitimate.

HILL: Kylie, meantime, the State Department just announcing new sanctions against Russians involved in meddling in U.S. elections. What more do we know about that?

ATWOOD: On this list of new sanctions announced today is a key Putin ally. He's been sanctioned because the Treasury Department said that he attempted to influence the 2018 elections.

Now also, the Treasury Department went after a number of his assets, including three aircrafts, a yacht and six individuals who work for him at an Internet research company that, according to Russian media, is an actor for President Putin. They do a lot of work for Putin, according to sources on the ground there.

What the Treasury said in their statement today, this came from Secretary Mnuchin, saying, quote, "Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of American democracy and we'll use our authorities against anyone seeking to undermine our processes and subversively influence voters."

This comes as questions about what the Trump administration is going to be doing to help prevent any more election interference in 2020, the upcoming election. But that statement from Mnuchin did say they're working towards that end. We are waiting on answers on the specifics there.

HILL: Kylie Atwood and Michael Warren, appreciate your reporting. Thank you both.

Coming up, a warning to top Democrats from Speaker Pelosi, to the entire party: Don't make impeachment political. Is that possible?



HILL: Top Democrats wary of mistakes with the Mueller investigation hold a conference call Sunday to hone their message. The leader of the party campaign arm telling members to test that messaging in their districts while at home for the two-week recess.

All of this comes as support may be shifting in their favor. A new CBS poll finds 55 percent support an impeachment inquiry.

Joining me now, one of the Democrats up for reelection in 2020, California Congressman Jared Huffman.

Sir, good to have you with us this morning.

REP. JARED HUFFMAN (D-CA): Good morning, Erica.

HILL: Good morning.

So you are in a pretty safe district but I know there is some concern from some of your colleagues in swing districts.

Here is a little bit of what Speaker Pelosi had to say about the politics of impeachment. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any anxiety of any of the stuff we are talking about or anything we are not talking about impacting your ability to hold control of the House in 2020?

PELOSI: Does it matter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't matter.

PELOSI: Our first responsibility is to protect and defend the Constitution --



HILL: Is it worth that risk?

HUFFMAN: I think she's exactly right. I love hearing the speaker of the House frame it in those terms. I have long argued that if we step up and do our constitutional duty, the politics will follow. I think we are starting to see that.

HILL: When you say, "the politics will follow," what do you mean by that?


HILL: We know the speaker wants to keep it apolitical.

HUFFMAN: I think doing the right thing is good politics. I think, for some, we had a little backward as we were struggling with how to step up to and address the moment.

We are in a great place today. There's something about what the president did in this Ukrainian scandal, it is a betrayal of the highest order. And it has brought a clarify of purpose and a unity to our caucus and increasingly beyond our caucus.

We're going to stay focus on that. It is the right thing to do. It's what the Constitution says we must do. Ultimately, surely, it will end up being good politics as well.

HILL: You mention beyond your caucus. Your colleague across the aisle, Adam Kinzinger, gave a direct rebuke to the president over the weekend. Not, I should say, on the substance of the whistleblower complaint but he was pushing back on how the president was talking about it after the president quoted a supporter who said impeachment would cause a civil war atmosphere.

We hear all the time from Republicans and Democrats what they are hearing from Republicans privately. Give me a sense of, what you are hearing in your conversations with colleagues across the aisle.

HUFFMAN: Certainly, in my conversations with Republican colleagues, there is, I believe, no deep love or loyalty to this president. There's a recognition that he has created a very unforgiving political climate in Republican politics that requires them to stick closely to him.

But I think, with the latest scandal, with this betrayal of his office, this gross abuse of power that involves our national security, you should see some cracks emerging in that cult of Trumpism.


HILL: When do you think we'll see those cracks?

HUFFMAN: Well, you quoted Adam Kinzinger just this morning