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Trump Escalates Attacks as House Dems Begin Impeachment Push. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 30, 2019 - 06:00   ET



REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The president believes it is his God-given right to shake down foreign leaders for help in his re-election.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democrats want to impeach because Rudy Giuliani talked to a couple Ukrainians. Good luck with that.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Could not ignore what the president did. He gave us no choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This whistleblower allegation is so serious, it gets to the very heart of our nation's democracy.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: If you read the seven- page little Nancy Drew novel that the whistleblower put together, it drips with condescension, righteous indignation and contempt for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Donald Trump has been caught red-handed with his hand in the taxpayer cookie jar.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, September 30, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Berman is off today. Jim Sciutto joins me.


CAMEROTA: Great to have you here. It was a busy weekend.

SCIUTTO: There's a lot going on.

CAMEROTA: Yes. It promises to be a busy Monday. So we begin with the developments in the impeachment inquiry.

President Trump escalated his attacks on the anonymous whistle-blower, demanding to meet his accuser face-to-face and threatening whoever gave the whistle-blower information. Attorneys for the whistle-blower say they have serious concerns about their client's safety. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff confirms there is a tentative agreement for the whistle-blower to testify soon.

SCIUTTO: At the same time House Democrats begin their push for impeachment with several hearings and depositions this week. The president's former homeland security adviser says he repeatedly warned the president that the conspiracy theory -- and that's what it is about the Bidens and Ukraine -- was, quote, "completely debunked."

Tom Bossert also saying he was deeply disturbed that President Trump tried to get Ukraine's president to dig up dirt on his potential political opponent.

Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House.

You know, Joe, reading the president's tweets this weekend, you sense concern is a mild word there.


SCIUTTO: Perhaps some fear as he's lashing out. That's what -- is that what you're hearing this morning from the White House?

JOHNS: Well, that's for sure, Jim. I mean, we've had plenty of bluster, energy, debunked theories from the president, his personal attorney, his other defenders. But in the process, they may be showing just how difficult it is to come up with a rational, credible, fact-based defense for the president in this Ukraine case.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's going on now is the single greatest scam in the history of American politics.

JOHNS (voice-over): A defiant President Trump launching a tweet storm Sunday, writing, "I deserve to meet my accuser," "the so-called whistle-blower," claiming "his lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen."

The president's outburst coming after CNN learned the whistle-blower's attorneys sent a letter to House Intel leaders and the acting director of national intelligence, citing serious concerns that their client "will be disclosed publicly and that, as a result, our client will be put in harm's way."

Chairman Adam Schiff confirming a tentative agreement to have the whistle-blower testify soon, stressing his committee's taking all precautions to keep their identity safe.

SCHIFF: It will depend probably more on how quickly the director of national intelligence can complete the security clearance process for the whistle-blower's lawyers. But we're ready to hear from the whistle-blower as soon as that is done.

JOHNS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sending a firm message to the White House.

PELOSI: Honor your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Speak the truth. Don't make this any worse than it already is.

JOHNS: Pelosi speaking with her caucus on a private phone call about the impeachment inquiry Sunday, saying, "We have to be prayerful, somber, and non-partisan. This isn't about politics. It's not about partisanship. It's about patriotism."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says the inquiry is a waste of time.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Why would we move forward with impeachment? There's not something that you have to defend here.

JOHNS: Other Trump allies quickly jumping to the president's defense.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The Salem witch trials had more due process than this.

MILLER: The president of the United States is the whistle-blower. and this individual is a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically- elected government.

JOHNS: But some Republicans refusing to fall in line. Former Trump homeland security advisor Tom Bossert saying he's frustrated the president and his team keep peddling a debunked theory about Joe Biden and Ukraine.

TOM BOSSERT, FORMER TRUMP HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: I'm deeply disturbed by it. It is a bad day and a bad week for this president, for this country, if he is asking for political dirt on an opponent.

JOHNS: And Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger slamming one Trump tweet that quoted Pastor Robert Jeffress, implying removing him from office will cause a civil war. Kinzinger writing, "I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a president. This is beyond repugnant."


JOHNS: This process does seem to be moving at a rapid pace. We are told, CNN is told that Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, is expected to appear in a deposition next week. Also, the United States attorney general for the intelligence community.

Jim and Alisyn, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Folks, this is all starting right away. These are concrete steps towards an impeachment inquiry. It's amazing to watch in such short form here.

Meanwhile, could President Trump's attacks, public attacks on the whistle-blower come back to haunt him as part of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry? We're going to have more on the president's latest tweetstorm, coming right up.



CAMEROTA: President Trump is demanding to meet the anonymous whistle- blower and quoting a pastor who predicted that impeachment would cause a, quote, "civil war" in the country. That suggestion prompted a rebuke from a Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger, who called that "beyond repugnant."

Joining us now is CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.

Let's just start with that, John. The idea that the president is retweeting a prediction about civil war and, I mean, even going further. Not even saying it's a prediction; saying it would happen.

JOHN AVLON, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's the kind of language we've heard from right-wing militia types for decades. To hear the president of the United States raise the specter of a second Civil War over an impeachment proceeding is an insult to the 700,000 Americans who died during the last Civil War. It's an insult to his responsibility to try to unite the nation. It's an indication of how desperate he is and how ugly this is going to get.


SCIUTTO: And as often is the case, it's not by an accident. The president uses that kind of language for a reason to rile up the base.

Abby Phillip, what struck me, you go to Tom Bossert, the president's former national security adviser. Homeland security advisor, rather. Having to go out and say in public, in no uncertain terms, that the president basically buys a conspiracy theory, that two and a half years into his presidency, he does not accept that Russia interfered in the elections; still getting his personal lawyer to go to Ukraine to pursue this idea that Ukraine did it. How does the White House explain that to you?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what you're hearing from Tom Bossert is a kind of frustration that's pretty common among the president's aides, where they see the president going down a rabbit hole that is, essentially, self-destructive. And there are officials who are frustrated that they can't get him off of these conspiracy theories. That these -- some of these allegations about Ukraine are completely debunked, and the president nevertheless continues to be attached to them.

White House aides are not even bothering to defend the substance of many of these allegations. That is what we have to remember here. They are just trying to say that nothing that the president did was -- was illegal, according to the letter of the law.

So I think it's very telling that you're not seeing a real substantive defense of what the president is actually wanting the Ukrainians to look into and the actions that he took in order to press them to do that.

SCIUTTO: Here's the thing. Because it's not just self-destructive. Right? I mean, if the U.S. president does not accept that Russia interfered in the election in 2016 when we're a year and a half out from another election that we know Russia's going to interfere in, this is about not defending the country from an attack on an institution.

CAMEROTA: It has repercussions for all of us. It's not down a rabbit hole. He's in a rabbit warren of his own build -- making, because I mean, "The New York Times" --

AVLON: A hutch? Is that like a hutch?

CAMEROTA: It's bigger than a hutch.

AVLON: It's -- just checking.

CAMEROTA: It's an entire warren of different avenues that lead to conspiracy theories. Because as "The New York Times" --


CAMEROTA: -- reports this morning, many aides -- it's not just Tom Bossert, though that is really notable.


CAMEROTA: Many aides have tried to speak sense to him, tried to present the facts. He rejects it, because he likes the Ukraine -- the idea that Ukraine meddled, not Russia.

AVLON: And you saw it from Bossert this weekend, you know, where he almost -- There's a certain condescension to the president as sort of a child who keeps glomming onto things. And people should stop putting it in his field of sight, because he might get distracted and go run down one -- what's in a warren? Is it a tunnel --

CAMEROTA: Just lots and lots of underground tunnels.

AVLON: Little underground tunnel?


AVLON: To extend the metaphor, look, that's one of the stunning things here. And look, we saw "The Washington Post" reporting over the weekend, though, that apparently, in May of 2017, he's acknowledging Russian interference to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in private and saying it's no big deal while, of course, denying it in public.

PHILLIP: But Alisyn, it should be no surprise that President Trump is not capable of getting away from conspiracy theories. All of this -- I mean, I think the origin of President Trump's political story starts with birtherism.


PHILLIP: He is a conspiracy theorist by nature. He -- the very first conspiracy theory that put him in the public sphere was one that was clearly, clearly debunked and one that he took years to get to a point where he would even be willing to walk it back in the slightest way. So this is just an extension of that.

But as Jim, you pointed out, the consequences are so serious this time around. I mean, I think they were the last time, but this time he is the president of the United States. It relates to U.S. national security and the security of the next election. So it's part of a pattern.

SCIUTTO: And the sycophancy of his aide. I mean, you remember the story that Mick Mulvaney told Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, not to raise election security to the president, because it's a subject he didn't want to deal with. That's dereliction of duty.

John Avlon, we're in a different place than we were one week ago. Democrats are moving forward this week with an impeachment inquiry, after months of this kind of back and forth. Is it? Isn't it? A bunch of investigative lines that didn't seem to be going anywhere. I mean, for folks at home, we have to acknowledge how different a place we're in right now.

AVLON: This is moving at rapid pace. And it's serious, and you can see the polling is also moving in the direction of an impeachment inquiry. Republicans could have set up until last week, that this wasn't popular with the American people. Now a majority support it.

The hearings are going to move forward this week. Some in private, some in public, perhaps. So this is real-deal stuff. And the president's tone has gone from being, bring it on, I'll benefit politically, to a real sense of desperation that he doesn't want to be part of this club.

CAMEROTA: All right. Abby, John, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: How is the Trump White House doing fighting back against this impeachment push? Up next, we're going to speak to Joe Lockhart. He ran the Clinton war room during his impeachment. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: A series of President Trump's most loyal supporters made the rounds on the Sunday shows to defend the president and downplay the impeachment inquiry.


MILLER: The president of the United States is the whistle-blower, and this individual is a saboteur. MCCARTHY: Why would we move forward with impeachment? There's not

something that you have to defend here.

GRAHAM: This seems to me like a political setup. It's all hearsay.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): What I have a problem with is what the Democrats are doing.


SCIUTTO: A lot of common talking points here. Now to discuss the White House's strategy, CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart. He, of course, was President Clinton's press secretary and led the war room during his impeachment inquiry.

You know, you made a great point this weekend, which struck me, is that during the Clinton impeachment, there was an intentional effort to say that, while that was going on, the president was still doing or attempting to do the people's business, because that's what people at home want him to do.

Trump's strategy is the opposite. Because all his tweets and focus is on this and attack and so on. Is that a smart strategy?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a terrible strategy. It's very hard to say this is all political when everything you're doing is political.

I think the -- the effectiveness of President Clinton's strategy was he never talked about it. He never, ever, for month after month after month, no matter what they said about it, he'd say, "I'm not dealing with that. My lawyers are dealing with that. I'm dealing with the people's business." And we continued.

Now, did that make it go away? Of course not. It was still the dominant story, but as far as people looking at what the president was doing, what he was thinking, what he was working on, they -- they never wavered in thinking that he was focused on them, not on himself.

CAMEROTA: Joe, I've been struck by the surrogates who are going out, the president's biggest defenders and his champions. I don't think they're actually reading from the same script. They seem, to me, to be sort of casting about to explain it.

I mean, you can just watch Kevin McCarthy, was on "60 Minutes" last night. He was attempting to dispute what's in the transcripts that we can all read in black and white with our own eyes. Maybe we have that. I'll play just one second of it for you. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump replies, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

MCCARTHY: You just added another word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It's in the transcript.

MCCARTHY: You said, "I'd like you to do a favor, though"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's in -- it's in the transcript.

MCCARTHY: When I read the --


CAMEROTA: I mean, is this effective?

LOCKHART: Well, it's effective in giving, you know, 35 percent of the country something to hold onto. You know, to say he didn't do it. This is all just the Democrats.

But they're -- clearly this weekend, you saw a contrast between what went on in the '90s and what -- what's going on now. Which is the White House is not -- they don't have the infrastructure to organize a defense that's consistent, that actually has some meat behind it.

And you see -- you saw three or four members of Congress and Stephen Miller who, you know, as a partisan, I hope they keep putting out. Because I think he scares people. But it was all people trying to make up what they thought that -- why this was political. And so they're -- again, they lack the professionalism and infrastructure to defend themselves.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it's interesting. If you look at Russian propaganda strategy, one of the things they do is just throw 30 different conspiracy theories out there --

CAMEROTA: Flood the zone.

SCIUTTO: -- and flood the zone and muddy the waters and so on.

It strikes me that the White House doesn't really know the true extent of this.


SCIUTTO: From its own perspective. It doesn't know how many people are involved. I mean, for instance, the Giuliani/Pompeo relationship. What did Pompeo know? So they're doing a defense before they even know the true extent of everything.

LOCKHART: And one of -- one of the more effective defense would be to say, we're looking at this. We're trying to figure out the extent of this, and we'll talk to you when we do.

But the reality is they don't know. Because what happens is there are thousands -- tens of thousands of emails going back and forth that you have to go through and look at. And this is something the lawyers are doing now.

And the worst thing you can do is go out and say definitively, this didn't happen. And then an email shows up that says this did happen. I think the second thing is you want to organize your rebuttal in a

way where it will be heard, and it will be powerful. You can't do it based on every new story. Every little -- you get to impeachment, and everything is magnified. Every little detail.

You know, I remember with the Starr Report, we waited until the Starr Report came out and issued our own report, that actually included a bunch of exculpatory evidence that hadn't been seen before, and it was a very effective document.

So in some ways, I understand why they're not defending this on the merits. Because they haven't quite figured it out yet.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the defense that the Democrats are using and what you think of that, and if that's been effective.

They also are on a fact-finding mission. They obviously have a deluge of information coming at them, and if they're going to have an effective impeachment inquiry, they are going to have to cobble that together somehow. So Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi.

Or should they just keep it simple and go with the transcript that we all see with our own eyes? Is that enough for them to make the case that the president did something unconstitutional?

LOCKHART: I think it's enough for now, but I think there's a lot more there. I think one of the things that they'll focus on is the mechanics of holding up that aid, which they still have more to find out about. And then the process to cover this up.

Those are the two things. They've got the facts that he's done this, but there's -- there's some more minds here to -- to get to the bottom of.

CAMEROTA: Joe Lockhart, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.


CAMEROTA: OK. Ukrainian officials have remained silent, largely, but CNN's Clarissa Ward managed to catch up with two of the officials mentioned in the whistle-blower report. They are pivotal. So she will bring us her live report from Kiev, next.



CAMEROTA: Overnight President Trump stepped up his attacks on the whistle-blower and anyone who provided him or her any information. The president is also demanding to meet his anonymous accuser face-to- face. Attorneys for the whistle-blower have expressed serious concerns about their client's safety because of the president's threats. SCIUTTO: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says they

hope to hear from the whistle-blower soon, Schiff confirming that.