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Ex-Trump Official: "Deeply Disturbed" By Ukraine Phone Call; WAPO: Trump told Russians He Was Unconcerned with Election Meddling; Trump Officials & Defenders Face Face-Checks in Real Time. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired September 30, 2019 - 13:30   ET



J.W. VERRET, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL & FORMER ADVISER, TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION TEAM: There was enough to begin with essentially of a version of the grand jury process. But this is much worse. People have made the analogy to the Nixon-era scandals and Nixon's resignation. But this is a lot worse than that.

Nixon was a patriot. Nixon never would have accepted -- of all the crazy things he did, he never would have accepted help from a foreign power for his own personal interest in an election, particularly one that would compromise the U.S. strategic interest.

This is much worse and I think momentum continues toward impeachment.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: In the case of Nixon, there was the sense that the cover-up was really what got him in trouble, right, the cover-up almost being worse than the crime. But when you look at this, do you feel the cover-up is worse than the crime or not?

VERRET: Well, thankfully --


KEILAR: Alleged crime, I should say, or transgression. Let's call it a transgression. I don't want to say it's a crime. We don't know the answer to that.

VERRET: Yes. I think there's enough to look into election-based fraud and even to bring in Mr. Giuliani as a facilitator of accepting foreign help in an election, which is a felony.

But more to the point, there was potentially a cover-up but a bumbling cover-up, which was quickly revealed by a courageous whistleblower. We're in a position to move quickly, I think.

I'm glad the House is moving on impeachment. I think it's unfortunate that Speaker Pelosi took this long. I think she empowered Trump to make this second violation. But now everything is going in the right direction. I just hope the public sees that.

KEILAR: You thought impeachment was enough. Democratic leaders like Speaker Pelosi are trying to keep this very narrow, just focused on this Ukraine bit, and more on the inviting or seeking foreign intervention in the 2020 election.

What do you think about that narrow focus, not really focusing on the Mueller report, which you say was enough to begin impeachment?

VERRET: It's unfortunate. I wish it had a larger scope because they're interrelated. They're both instances of a president blatantly seeking foreign support to help in his own election.

In fact, it's the same playbook. He ran it over and over He got away with it. He immediately pulled the same playbook off the shelf.

I've seen this in white-collar criminal work I've done and working in compliance where it starts to serve the next Ponzi scheme while in prison serving for the last one. This is the same sort of deal.

KEILAR: We heard from Mr. Bossert. He's come out with some words of criticism for President Trump and the administration. Do you think that there will be other former aides, advisers, who are going to follow suit?

VERRET: Well, I think, at a minimum, as the proceedings begin -- what we have in the public is just the cover letter of the whistleblower's complaint, the unredacted, unclassified cover letter. He was careful to put only public news sources. Think about that. There's enough in public news sources to create this story.

There's a whole appendix full of classified stuff that the whistleblower put together based on conversations with other people working in the White House, including other career staff at the White House helping out.

So I think as they are under oath, start to tell the truth, the story is going to grow. Will other people come forward? I hope so. It's easier once someone else comes out front.

KEILAR: We did hear Senator Warner say essentially that what they heard from the independent inspector general was a very credible presentation. That's someone who would be privy to a lot of details that we're not publicly privy to.

Do you think that there are former aides, former advisers, who were looking at this, at least privately to themselves, saying what Mr. Bossert is saying but not coming forward? And if so, why do you think they're keeping that to themselves?

VERRET: I don't know. Nobody wants to be --


KEILAR: You don't know of other aides who --


VERRET: I think, frankly, there's a truth to this, even when you're a courageous whistleblower, and even after Trump is gone, people will only remember the fact that you're a whistleblower and they'll never trust you again. That's the reality of why it takes so much courage to do this, to come out. But I hope people will do it because the country needs it.

KEILAR: J.W. Verret, thank you for coming in.

VERRET: Thank you.


KEILAR: I appreciate it.

Did the president tell the Russians inside the Oval Office that he did not care about their meddling in the 2016 election? The disturbing new report as we learn the White House hid other calls with foreign leaders in a highly classified system.


KEILAR: We're learning now that the president, in 2017, President Trump told two senior Russian officials in the Oval Office, that meeting that he had with them, that he was not concerned about Moscow's interference in the 2016 election, because the U.S. did the same thing in other countries. This is according to the "Washington Post."

Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, is now demanding the White House hand over any documents relating to that meeting.

But this is not the first time we've seen Trump either dismiss or cheer on an election in a foreign country.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

If somebody calls from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I would want to hear it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: You would accept interference in the election?

TRUMP: It's not interference. They have information. I think I would take it.



KEILAR: Joining me now is Mark Mazzetti, Washington investigative correspondent for the "New York Times and CNN national security analyst.

There are actually multiple White House officials in that meeting. We remember when this meeting happened, the main concern was the president had basically disclosed classified information, right? That was the story that broke at the time.

At the time, who was there? H.R. McMaster, the president's national security. And he said the meeting was, quote, "wholly inappropriate."

Why are we finding this out now, do you think?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This was a very eventful meeting, right? There was the disclosure of classified information, the president saying to the Russians that he had just fired Comey, the, quote, "nut job," and it would relieve pressure on him from the Russia investigation.

And now we're hearing he also raised this issue of not being concerned about Russian interference.

So it's -- you know, we think that the remarks were sort of buried in transcripts of what actually happened, so these things come out over time. Now, essentially we're hearing about the president's inappropriate remarks over time, that people are coming forward. But it's entirely in keeping with the president's view on Russian or any other form of interference. It's entirely fine.

KEILAR: So the people we got the impression, we thought were there, or we thought they certainly had access to what the president said, maybe they didn't? Or do you think they kept it to themselves?

MAZZETTI: I don't want to speak to the "Washington Post" sources for this story, let's get on them. But certainly we know that those who were speaking at the time or may have only been speaking partially about what happened or not giving the full picture of what happened at that meeting.

We're still ourselves trying to get a clear picture of all the different chain of events inside that meeting, who said what when, because we're still learning more, and here we are more than two years later after this meeting occurred.

KEILAR: How did this not come up in the Mueller report, do you think?

MAZZETTI: There are a number of things in the Mueller report that are either redacted or that's where Mueller himself says, we tried to get at things and we couldn't get them. It's a very good question why this wouldn't be in the Mueller report. Perhaps it's in the Mueller report and for some, one of the many reasons, it's buried.

KEILAR: Very good point.

Mark Mazzetti, thank you so much.

MAZZETTI: Thank you.

KEILAR: I really appreciate it.

The spin coming from the president and his allies is pretty relentless right now but so are the fact-checks against them. See what happened in real time on TV when they were challenged with facts. Plus, is it even possible to keep the identity of this whistleblower

protected? Hear the lengths that Congress will go to.



KEILAR: In the past few days, the president has been on the attack over the Ukraine scandal, tweeting out dozens of times and sending out members of his administration and defenders who are trying to spin the Ukraine scandal and repeat talking points from the White House.

Including Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan who had this exchange with CNN's Jake Tapper, where he was fact-checked in real time.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): And then when the company that's paying him that money is under investigation, guess what? Daddy comes running to the rescue. The vice president of the United States comes running to the rescue.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": That's not what happened.

JORDAN: Fire that -- fire that prosecutor.

TAPPER: Sir, sir that's not what happened. The European Union, the Obama administration --

JORDAN: But nothing --


TAPPER: -- the International Monetary Fund, pro-clean government activists in Ukraine thought that the prosecutor --


JORDAN: You're saying --

TAPPER: -- was not prosecuting corruption.

JORDAN: You're saying Joe Biden didn't tell -- didn't tell Ukraine to fire the prosecutor? I think he did.

TAPPER: He did, but the guy was --


JORDAN: He bragged about it.

TAPPER: The guy was not prosecuting anything.


KEILAR: Multiple sources close to the White House tell CNN the president has been slow to cobble together a response and is convinced he doesn't need a separate impeachment team and is confident in his own ability to counter accusations from Democrats.

We have CNN chief media correspondent and CNN host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter, in New York for us.

Is this straight out of the Trump playbook to go on the offensive and obfuscate and does that approach work in this situation, brian?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": It is the playbook but I don't think it's working as well anymore for President Trump. His allies have been out on TV. These interviews show the country is really divided into two almost completely separate realities with almost no room in between. But when these pro-Trump talking points get challenged by interviewers, they dissolve like cotton candy on your tongue, like right away. There's no one they can hold up these talking points. They don't make any sense.

We saw this over the weekend on "FOX News Sunday" and on "60 Minutes.

Here's a couple more examples.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Why did they use three private lawyers to get information on Biden from the Ukrainian government rather than go through all of the agencies of this government?



WALLACE: How about answering my question.

MILLER: John Durham, as you know --


WALLACE: Wait a minute, John Durham is investigating something completely different.



WALLACE: Stephen, I'm asking you a direct question. Why did the president use private attorneys rather than go to the State Department? If you don't know, that's an acceptable answer. But let's not talk about John Durham --


WALLACE: -- who is not talk about John Durham who is investigating the Trump investigation. SCOTT PELLEY, CO-HOST, 60 MINUTES: 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 --


STELTER: They really don't have a defense of Trump's conduct. Instead, these folks confuse the facts. They throw smoke bombs. They attack the messenger. They perform for the cameras. I don't think it's working as well, Brianna, as it did a couple of years ago for figures like Stephen Miller.

KEILAR: Yes, it will be interesting to see who kind of comes out and criticizes the president and the White House. We've seen it from Tom Bossert, one of his former top aids.


KEILAR: The question is, are there going to be others. We don't know at this point. What do you think?

STELTER: I think there will be others. I think there's - something has changed in the past week. It's only been a week, but things are shifting dramatically. We're seeing even some right-wing media figures just trying to look the other direction rather than defend Trump.

Lying and witness tampering, these were key parts of the articles of impeachment against Nixon and Clinton. We've seen this before. And I think there's something about a cover-up, the allegations of a cover- up that give this momentum. The criticism of mystery that Trump cannot control.

Yes, the facts we know so far are damning but the allegations of the cover-up and there's more being kept secret, this gives the story a sense of propulsion that Trump can't challenge.

You have him doing more lies, making up stuff. He's spreading lies on Twitter. But it's not working as well for him as he used to.

KEILAR: Brian Stelter, in New York, thank you so much.

Be sure to catch Brian's show "RELIABLE SOURCES," Sunday 11:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. We'll be tuning into that. You just heard a former Trump transition official tell me that this

scandal is worse than Nixon. Ahead, you'll hear from someone who covered Watergate and the Clinton impeachment. What he says he learned and why this time is completely different.



KEILAR: When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017, four FBI agents jumped in to help rescue those in need. How they went above and "BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY."

Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the floodwaters came to Houston as Hurricane Harvey dumped epic downpours on the city, first responders were overwhelmed. In the chaos, FBI special agent, Jack Walker, put out a call to nearly 40 other agents, members of an FBI SWAT team, to rendezvous with the agency's headquarters and joining the rescue efforts.

(on camera): You guys get here, you're looking at each other, you're like, this is the army we have.

JACK WALKER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: This is the army we have, the tools we have, let's go do it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Joining Jack Walker was special agents, David Ko, Michael Walker, and Justin Widup (ph).

WALKER: A call for help over there.

LAVANDERA: One of their first missions was to pull about 30 Houston police officers trapped into a flooded police station to higher ground.

MICHAEL WALKER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I was like, man, let's take care of our brothers and sisters.

LAVANDERA: We sat down with the four agents to reflect with these unlikely heroes of the storm. This summer, they were awarded the Federal Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery, in a ceremony in the very neighborhood where they rescued countless storm victims.

DAVID KO, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: We didn't have specific training on it, but we knew people needed help. Part of being on the SWAT team is the call comes out, you go out and help people.

JACK WALKER: We eat had a flashlight and a pocketknife.

MICHAEL WALKER: I watch "MacGyver." There's also use for rope. I grabbed a rope. Maybe we can use that. LAVANDERA: They used the rope to tie themselves to the truck to keep from floating away. Each hour, the water got higher, and each mission into the floods more treacherous.

JUSTIN WIDUP (ph), FBI SPECIAL AGENT There was the manager at the I- Hop. They were standing on the tables inside the restaurant. When she got in the truck, you could see on the look on her fact that she was pretty defeated.

MICHAEL WALKER: This is just pure working to help people that needed help. I mean, it's probably one of the most rewarding things I've done on SWAT.

LAVANDERA: The calls for help didn't stop for days. They lost track of how many people they rescued. But they'll never forget the faces in the storm.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Houston.


KEILAR: That's it for me.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you.

Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me this Monday.


The impeachment inquiry into President Trump is moving fast. We could soon see public hearings with the key people who knew about Trump's conversation with the Ukrainian president and allegations that the White House took steps to cover it all up.

The developments in last 72 hours are so critical to understand the big picture here. So let me bring you all up to speed. This is where we are.