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Trump Escalates Attacks As Impeachment Probe Intensifies; House Democrats Begin Impeachment Hearings, Depositions This Week. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired September 30, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:01]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: The president himself is going on the offensive this morning, launching attacks on Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, hinting that the House Intelligence Committee Chairman should be, quote, potentially arrested for treason, also targeting the whistleblower, whose lawyers say they have serious concerns for their client's safety.

Apparently, not sharing those concerns with the president who is demanding to meet his so-called accuser face-to-face, and yet another troubling thought from the leader of the United States warning a civil war could come in this country if he is impeached.

Our team is covering all of this from all angles. Let's begin this morning with our White House Reporter, Sarah Westwood, then we'll go to Manu Raju on the Hill.

Look, so, Sarah, it is -- I mean, it's worth just taking a moment to take through what the president did, calling for Adam Schiff potentially to be arrested, saying another U.S. official was spying on him and calling essentially for the outing of a confidential whistleblower.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. President Trump has just been casting about on Twitter with the past couple of days looking for a way to defend himself, and he's been raising eye brows with a series of attacks that he's launched on people related to this Ukrainian controversy.

As you mentioned, he claims that he has the right to meet this whistleblower whose identity is being protected right now by the Intelligence Community, by his lawyers. He's painting this person as his accuser. That's more of a criminal context, not the political context, in which he know finds himself.

He's also accusing Chairman Adam Schiff of the House of Intelligence Committee of saying a fake and terrible statement, questioning whether Adam Schiff should be arrested for treason for what Schiff said at the beginning of the Intelligence Committee hearing with the acting Director of National Intelligence last week. And he's also claiming that a civil war could break out if Democrats successfully if remove him from office. Now, all of this is coming as the White House seemingly has no overarching strategy to defend the president against this growing impeachment inquiry, this as Democrats are more and more united, they're coordinated across committees, across different ends of the Democratic ideological spectrum, as the Trump team seems to have no strategy. They have not unveiled plans to bring on more lawyers. They have not unveiled a coordinated messaging strategy.

We did see White House allies out in full force on the Sunday shows over the weekend, Poppy, but what we saw really was defending the president against impeachment little in the way of defense of the president's actual context on the phone call with the Ukrainian president.

HARLOW: Okay. Sarah Westwood, thank you very much for that reporting.

Let's go to Capitol Hill for more on the Democrats' push. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins us live.

Manu, I do think it was interesting to hear Nancy Pelosi say over the weekend, politics aside, even if this cost Democrats the House or seats. This is bigger than that at this point.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we expect a pretty aggressive push from Democrats with the question, ultimately is how much cooperation will they get from the administration. House of Intelligence Committee Chairman and Adam Schiff plans to move forward in the next two weeks, pretty intensely sending out letters, sending out subpoenas, trying to get documents from the Trump administration.

Already, we saw on Friday the Intelligence Committee along with two other House panels sending out subpoenas for the State Department, to turn over records by Friday, also demanding depositions from five State Department officials who were aware of this Ukrainian phone call, including Kurt Volker, who is expected to come on Thursday. He's a former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine who was mentioned in that whistleblower complaint, someone who apparently has knowledge of what happened Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani's efforts to try to push Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens.

But that's not the only thing the committee plans to be doing. Expect on Friday a closed-door briefing with the Intelligence Community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson. Atkinson, of course, said that that whistleblower's complaint was urgent and credible. And he came previously behind closed doors before this committee, before they had seen the whistleblower complaint. So there are many more questions about that.

And Schiff himself warned last night that he planned to issue a subpoena to Rudy Giuliani to get documents, and that could happen early this week. So we can expect a big push to get information.

But, Poppy, ultimately, the question for Democrats, if they don't get compliance, what do they do? I am told from a number of Democrats that they are not going to engage in a prolonged back and forth with the administration, get into legal fights, as we've seen throughout this Congress. Instead they may use that as another -- more evidence, as they see, for obstruction of Congress, which they believe is an impeachable offense. Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes, right. It's one thing to ask for and subpoena the documents and testimony, but we've seen how the White House has just refused over and over, time and time again. It sounds like this time, the reaction from Democratic members will be different. We'll see.

Manu, thank you very much.

Let's talk about this. CNN Political Analyst Alex Burns is here, National Political Correspondent for the New York times, and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein, Editor for The Atlantic, joins us as well. Good morning, gentlemen.

Alex, let me begin with you. There was reporting over the weekend of Mulvaney is on shaky ground because where was the White House's strategy to deal with all of this.

[10:05:03]

Then you saw Kevin McCarthy, how he responded to Scott Pelley in that weird exchange on 60 Minutes last night, claiming part of the transcript that wasn't actually there when it was. Are Republicans and is the White House ready for this fight?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not from what we have seen so far. And I think that it's an open question whether it's possible for them to be ready in any conventional sense when the man at the heart of the defense is President Trump and he's behaving the way we have just been talking about, right. But you can't really map out any kind of traditional communication strategy to make the case and the president's defense when he is calling for the people investigating him to be arrested for treason, right? That's not part of the traditional damage control playbook.

I mean, it's so stunning wrong, Ron. And, I mean, Alex says, like in passing (ph), we all do because it's -- nothing is surprising from the president anymore but this is so startling. I mean, the fact that these three things that he is called for overnight, including this morning the potential arrest of the House Intelligence Chairman for doing his job.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and against the backdrop, right? What are we talking about? He is facing impeachment because of credible evidence in his own words in the transcript of the phone call with the Ukrainian president that he's trying to leverage the power of the federal government to harm his political opponents and basically use federal power to advance his political interest.

So facing that accusation, he comes out the next morning and says, let's use the federal government to arrest a member of Congress who is investigating me, I mean, kind of confirming the charge, and, by the way, not coincidentally over the weekend, the State Department making clear that they are investigating former Hillary Clinton aides over emails or the president describing officials inside the government who spoke to the whistleblower as spies days after he said, basically, spies should be executed.

All of these are precisely examples of the kind of behavior that has triggered the impeachment inquiry in the first place.

HARLOW: There are some cracks, Alex. I mean, they're small cracks. But you saw Adam Kinzinger call out the president in no uncertain terms last night with his tweet about civil war-like fraction (ph) and the country calling it repugnant. You see Republican representative Mark Amodei of Nevada saying, well, at least let this inquiry play out. And then you see, largely overshadowed last week, but that unanimous vote by the Senate last week led by Mitch McConnell to have the whistleblower report come forward.

So there are cracks, there is just not a Grand Canyon yet.

BURNS: And I think there are two things that are really key to watch here. One is folks like Adam Kinzinger, who are not really comfortable addressing or condemning the underlying behavior by the president, the underlying allegations or endorsing an impeachment inquiry but who are comfortable and even eager to condemn the sort of second order behavior by the president when he is talking about things, like civil war. They'll talk about the behavior that flows from his handling of the investigation, not the behavior that's actually being investigated.

The second thing is all the folks who were saying nothing at all, right, that the people who were proactively out there defending the president are a very, very small group, that even folks who would, I think, in most other controversies, be kind of the first ones into the breach are at best saying -- like Kevin McCarthy was a great example, at best saying, I don't think this is an impeachable offense. They're not actually defending his behavior.

HARLOW: That's a very good point. So, Ron, the shift in the polling, you're great with these numbers, and you had some great analysis a few weeks ago about the cost to the Republicans during Clinton's impeachment and what it meant for the Democrats. But what do you make of the polling we're seeing? We have it on the screen 55 percent of Americans now comfortable with this moving forward in terms of an inquiry but still only 6 percent of Republicans.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think on the inquiry side, it was actually up to about 23 percent or 24 percent of Republicans rather than removing him from office, which I think is the lower number, Poppy, that you're referring to.

HARLOW: Just so you know, the PBS polling we have his --

BROWNSTEIN: The PBS polling, right. So people are kind of focused on the movement between that PBS polling, NPR, Marist Poll earlier in the week when there was only single digits of Republicans saying that they supported even an inquiry, and then the CBS survey, they count on Monday only, so they found a larger amount. Look, I think it is potentially a critical variable of how many Republicans in the public support impeachment in terms of what that means for Republican-elected officials. But I think it's highly unlikely we're ever going to get to a situation where a majority of Republican voters support impeachment or removing him from office. And I that is ultimately going to leave Republican-elected officials in the same place essentially weighing their conscience based on the evidence and whether they think they can move forward.

It is worth noting ,as you cited, the impeachment of Bill Clinton was less popular when it happened than this is already at this point. And, of course, Clinton's approval rating was 20 points higher.

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And there were many, many more Republicans in 1998 in districts who voted for Bill Clinton two years earlier than there are Democrats today in districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. And yet despite all of that, only 7 of the 91 Republicans in districts that voted for Clinton in '96 were defeated in the two elections after impeachment. The big backlash that we kind of remember didn't really occur.

And I think the Democrats in the Trump districts, given the overall public opinion, and those were the ones that Nancy Pelosi was holding up because of probably have more leeway than many think they kind of do what they think is right.

HARLOW: All right. Finally, Alex Burns, 30 seconds, what does this all mean for Joe Biden? I mean, there's no evidence of wrongdoing by him or son, Hunter Biden? But is the American public confused? And if so, what does it mean for the Biden camp?

BURNS: I think it means two things. I think the first thing is it gives him an opportunity, one, that he is not particularly taken over the last week to fight back and elevate his campaign over what it has been so far, which is largely message-less other than going one-on-one with Trump, which, again, he's not particularly doing over the last week.

The second thing is, I think, it is a preview of some of the issues that he will have to ultimately deal with in this campaign. These specific charges that the president is making about Joe Biden appear to be totally baseless about his relationship with this prosecutor in Ukraine.

The issue of Hunter Biden business relationships both in the U.S. and abroad is one that Biden's closest advisers and Biden personally has been bracing to deal with for a long time. Trump may actually have helped him sort of put off that day within the context of the Democratic primary. I think it's hard to see his immediate opponents raising that anytime soon.

HARLOW: All right, Alex Burns, thank you, Ron Brownstein, good to have you both. Always appreciate it. Still to come, as we mentioned, the president suggesting the arrest of the House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, we'll get reaction from one of the seven freshmen Democrats in Congress who wrote that op-ed one week ago today that really changed so much.

Also, Ukraine is bracing for the fallout from the whistleblower complaint. Officials there are remaining largely silent, but CNN managed to catch up with two of the officials mentioned in that report. You'll hear from them, ahead.

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HARLOW: Welcome back, I am Poppy Harlow in New York. And this morning, the president is ramping up his attacks on the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, now questioning if Schiff should be arrested for treason.

This follows what Schiff calls his parody at reading of -- his parody reading of the Ukraine call transcript. He did that at the opening meeting of Thursday's hearing.

Joining me now is Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. He is a former U.S. Army Ranger, served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded bronze star, also serves on the Armed Services Committee. Thank you so much for being here.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Hi, Poppy, glad to be on.

HARLOW: Hi, and thank you for service to this country.

You are one of those seven freshman Democrats with national security backgrounds. You wrote the op-ed in The Washington Post a week ago, the day that really changed so much and really turned the tide for House leadership, and where are where we are now, I would just like your reaction to the president in the last 24 hours threatening the investigation and arrest of House Intel Chair Adam Schiff for what he calls treason, saying that another U.S. official spied on him, and on top of that, essentially calling for the outing of a confidential whistleblower, your reaction this morning?

CROW: Well, the president clearly has no more legitimacy in this debate anymore. The allegations against him are so shocking and so egregious. And, really, they represent such a betrayal of trust and his oath to this country and undermining our national security. He has threatened U.S. ambassadors. He directly threatened an Intelligence Community official last week. He is trying to get his supporters to find the identity of the whistleblower, which under federal law, these individuals are protected and now, of course, he's threatening Chairman Schiff.

This is pattern and practice for him that whenever he comes under attack, he lashes out and tries to divert attention to other places. But we're not going to be distracted. We are laser focused on protecting this country, fulfilling our oaths and doing what we need to do to execute our duties.

HARLOW: Let's talk about the facts that we know from the transcript of the July 25th call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president that was, I should note, it's worth repeating, released by the White House, okay? The Ukrainian president brings up buying more Javelin missiles, those anti-tank missiles. The president says, I need a favor though. Given your experience in this arena, your expertise as a former Army Ranger, can you talk about how critical Javelin anti-tank missiles are specifically and any withholding of funding for something like that, what does that mean for Ukraine, what does that mean against Russian aggression?

CROW: Yes, absolutely. So one of the things that shocks me so much about this is how it goes to the core of our national security and my background fighting for this country. The context here is we have over 60,000 U.S. troops stationed throughout Europe, many co-stationed (ph) with our NATO partners. We have mutual defense treaties, obligations with those partners, which means an attack on one of them is considered an attack on all of us.

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On the frontlines of liberty in Europe is Ukraine. Ukraine is in active war with Russia, our primary opponent, our primary enemy in Europe. They are truly on the frontlines in every respect. And these Javelin missiles systems are critical to make sure that there aren't any Russian tanks moving west across Ukraine today. One of the biggest reasons why Putin is not sending those armor division across Ukraine is because of these Javelin missile systems that can knock out these tanks. So the fact that the president would be willing to withhold that aid or use those weapons as a carrot, so to speak, to get what he needs to advance his own political interest in a campaign is really beyond the pale.

HARLOW: Given all of that, I want you to listen to this. This is from fellow Democrat in Congress, Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. He was speaking on Fox News on the 28th of September. Here is his point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF VAN DREW (D-NJ): The odds are very high that it's not going to bear any fruit. The odds are very high that this president will continue to be the president.

The people of the United States of America are going to have an election now in a year. They can go ahead in the ballot box and impeach if they desire to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He is one of the 13 members of your caucus in the House who have not yet come forward supporting the impeachment. What's your message to him?

CROW: I don't think about politics here. I think we need to completely separate politics from the task at hand. We have allegations of extreme betrayal of trust and abuse of power and a national security issue that's actually current. This is not backward-looking. This is a current issue that's forward-looking that deals with an act of war in Europe where we have 60,000 U.S. troops stationed. We have to do what we need to do to execute our duties and make sure the country is safe and our soldiers are safe and the president isn't abusing his power.

So we can't be thinking about elections and politics here. We just have to keep focus on the issue.

HARLOW: So you're ultimately saying -- he's saying, look, I don't think an impeachment proceeding will bear fruit, meaning, I don't think it will work, I don't think it will remove the president, I don't enough Americans are behind it?

Nancy Pelosi said in Texas over the weekend, essentially, it doesn't matter if this cost the House seats or Democrats the House. Do you agree with both of those?

CROW: Well, I go back to what I just said, that this has to be about our duties. I took an oath when I was a teenager actually for the first time to this country to uphold the Constitution and to defend our nation against all enemies, and I'm going to keep that oath. That's lifetime oath. I took it again in January.

And the thing about oaths are they're not supposed to be convenient, they're not supposed to be about you, they're not supposed to comfortable. It's about sacrifice to the country. It is about doing what you need to do to serve the country. And that's what service is about.

So I would encourage all of us, my Republican colleagues alike, it is time to step up and defend this country and do what we need to do to protect our nation and prevent abuse power. And I would encourage my Republican colleagues to be on the right side of history on this issue.

HARLOW: Congressman, quickly, before we go, are you hearing a different tone or tenor from your constituents, both Democrats and Republicans, this trip home than you were, say, six months ago when the focus was more the Mueller report?

CROW: I'm hearing a lot of concerns about these issues that I'm hearing. There have been concerns for many years about the abuses of this administration. And one of the reasons my constituents sent me to Washington is to restore the checks and balances in Washington and to make sure that our system, our constitutional system is preserved and reinforced.

So, certainly, people want that balance of power. But this issue, I represent over 60,000 veterans, I have an Air Force based in my community, there's a lot of active duty, families, people that have soldiers serving throughout the world right now that live in my community, they want to make sure that their sons and daughters are being protected. They want to make sure that our countries is being defended.

And, again, the allegations go to the core of that. And I'm going to make sure that I'm discharging my duties to them and that my constituents to the parents of these troops and everybody else to address the issue.

HARLOW: Congressman Jason Crow, thank you for time and, again, thank you for all of your service to this country. We very much appreciate it.

CROW: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course.

Up next, I'll be joined by an attorney who advised House Democrats during the impeachment President Clinton. What advise does he have for Democratic lawmakers now, next.

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HARLOW: All right. As Democrats dive into their impeachment inquiry, what lessons are there from history that they should heed? Julian Epstein was chief counsel for the House Judiciary Committee Democrats during the Clinton impeachment. He joins me now.

Good morning, sir.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CHIEF COUNSEL FOR HOUSE JUDICIARY DEMOCRATS DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: Good Morning, Poppy.

HARLOW: So if you are Adam Schiff, what is the most prudent move you can make next?

EPSTEIN: Well, I think if you look at the '98 impeachment and if you look at the Mueller report, I think both of those stories are stories of partisans overplaying their hand.

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I think that certainly happened with the Republicans in 1998.