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Dems Begin Impeachment Push as Trump Escalates Attacks; Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is Interviewed about Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired September 30, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It was so good. Woody Harrelson did a mean Joe Biden. I mean, a funny Joe Biden.

[07:00:06]

OK. Meanwhile, we're learning when the whistle-blower may testify before Congress. NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Salem witch trials have more due process than this. We're not going to impeach a president based on hearsay as long as I'm around.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president did nothing in this phone call that's impeachable.

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): There are troubling issues within the whistle- blower's report. But they are allegations. And I think that's why we should explore these allegations through hearings.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We're going to need evidence from Rudy Giuliani. And it's our intention, as soon as the first thing next week, to subpoena him for documents.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CAMEROTA: It's a beautiful morning here in New York. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. John Berman is off. Jim Sciutto is with me.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you and all of your reporting. I know that you've been working on this yourself for the past week, so it's great to have you share that with us this morning. SCIUTTO: There's more to come.

CAMEROTA: OK. It is full steam ahead for Democrats and their impeachment for -- sorry. In their effort for an impeachment inquiry. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff says his committee has a tentative agreement for the anonymous whistle-blower whose complaint launched this impeachment investigation to testify soon. President Trump is stepping up his attacks on the whistle-blower, demanding to meet his accuser face-to-face in a flurry of tweets this weekend. Lawyers for the whistle-blower say the president's threats have them concerned for their client's safety.

SCIUTTO: At the same time, President Trump's former homeland security advisor, Tom Bossert, is speaking out, saying he repeatedly warned the president that a conspiracy theory the president was pushing about Ukraine was, quote, "completely debunked." Bossert also expressing concern over the whistle-blower's report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOSSERT: Yes, I'm deeply disturbed by it, as well. And this entire mess has me frustrated, George. It is a bad day and a bad week for this president and for this country if he is asking for political dirt on an opponent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: He wasn't alone. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger also criticizing the president for quoting a past -- pastor warning of a civil war in this country over impeachment. Kinzinger called Mr. Trump's tweet "beyond repugnant."

Joining us now, CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip and CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox.

Lauren, you've been covering this for some time. One week ago, impeachment was kind of floating up in the ether. It wasn't going anywhere. There were 47 different lines of inquiry. This week with the Ukraine scandal, and a true impeachment inquiry is underway.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. And Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, she held a conference call with her caucus yesterday, basically explaining exactly what she wanted them to do. She's arguing that they need to take this carefully, that they need to be deliberate.

And she also touted again that Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is going to be taking the helm of this investigation into this phone call, specifically because it is in his committee's jurisdiction. That, of course, is a major shift, because the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Jerry Nadler, had been taking the helm of the investigation surrounding the Mueller report.

So a very big change over the last week. And of course, that official announcement that this is now an impeachment inquiry -- Jim.

CAMEROTA: Abby, we're just getting in word -- this is crossing on Reuters. And that is that the Ukrainian president says that he will not release his version -- the Ukrainian side of that conversation, that July 25 conversation that President Trump had. They don't plan to release their side of it.

So we are taking that rough transcript at face value that the Trump administration released for everyone to see.

And Abby, that raises another point that I know you have reporting on. What of this other secure codeword-protected computer system where this conversation was transferred, though it didn't have anything to do with national security? What more do we know about what else might be in that computer network?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems that the White House, in response to a fear that the president's conversations were leaking in media reports, started moving some of his conversations, for reasons that don't seem to be related to national security, as Jim has reported, to this other server. Those conversations include conversations with the Saudi crown prince and with Vladimir Putin.

So the reason they're doing this, White House aides will say, is because if you remember, all the way back a couple years ago, the president's conversations with the prime minister of Australia leaked. Not only did the description of that conversation leak but an actual transcript of that conversation leaked. That really alarmed people within the White House, because they felt that there was this idea of the deep state. There were people within the administration at all levels of the bureaucracy in the White House who had access to these transcripts. They tried to restrict that access.

[07:05:14]

But the key question here is, is that actually what the -- what this server is for? And Jim was just speaking to a guest earlier who said he didn't even recall ever seeing conversations that did not actually involve codeword intelligence being moved into that server.

So these are really the key questions. And to Lauren's comments about Adam Schiff taking -- taking ahold of this investigation, that could be why. This actually involves national security. This actually involves the handling of classified servers and potentially classified information within this White House. And that could be one of the reasons why Democrats are trying to handle this in a slightly different way.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, that system was meant for classified information, not for politically embarrassing information, which seems to be what it was used for with these calls.

Lauren Fox, you have new reporting on what's another key question here. Because the timing of the president's unexplained delay of military assistance to Ukraine, a delay that raised questions right up to Mitch McConnell in the Senate. It wasn't just Democrats asking those questions prior to this call, pressuring the Ukrainian president to look into Joe Biden. Tell us what more you've learned.

FOX: Well, that's right. On Capitol Hill, there's one thing that is sacred. And that is when Congress appropriates money, they expect it to go and be used in the way they appropriated it.

So of course, there was nearly $400 million in Ukrainian military aid that Congress had appropriated. And by the end of the summer, in late August, it became clear that this aid had still not gone out. And that concerned members.

There were members of appropriations, members of foreign relations, members of armed services, and of course, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, making calls himself about what was going on with this military aid.

There had been some concern that Mulvaney was trying to slash some money over the summer in what is known as a rescissions package. But after it became clear that rescissions package was not going to go through and the money was still being held up, members of Congress had a lot of concerns.

In fact, they were preparing an amendment over an offense appropriations bill, basically to release the money and force future years' administrations to release the money on time. Right before that appropriations markup is especially when the administration announced that they would actually release the funding.

So it had been a long time coming on Capitol Hill. There are few issues in the foreign relations space that are as bipartisan as giving Ukraine military aid. And that is something the members of Congress were very concerned about when they learned that the money still hadn't gone out. It was months in the making.

CAMEROTA: We're having Senator Gary Peters from Michigan come up just right after you guys to talk about this. About how he had gone to Ukraine, seen the urgent need, that Congress had passed it, as you say, Lauren. And then there was a mystery about what happened. What were you going to say, Abby?

PHILLIP: Well, there's an element of this that I think may -- potentially publicly may, or privately get more information about.

Last week on Friday, Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, resigned from his position because of his involvement in all of this. He is one of the people who might be able to say what was really behind this money being held up. It's a really important question.

Putting aside the issue of a quid pro quo, the president is claiming that he did it -- he held up this money because Europe wasn't paying enough. Is that actually the case? Or was it being held up because he was upset with how Ukraine was handling these investigations into Joe Biden?

A person who might know that is Kurt Volker. He's no longer employed by the State Department, a part of the federal government, and he has -- is cooperating with this probe. And I think that will be one of the keys to how this investigation moves forward as we find out more about that.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, one thing, is that if there's an answer -- if there's actually an answer to this.

PHILLIP: Yes.

CAMEROTA: As we know from the transcript, and as we know from how President Trump often speaks, he often says more than one thing in any one conversation, or even in any one sentence. And so it's possible that he would have told Volker two different things. That it was about Europe, and it was about that Ukraine wasn't, you know, sort of falling in line.

SCIUTTO: The fact is, though --

PHILLIP: Someone in the administration would have known, I think, Alisyn. I mean, they were withholding that information from Congress. But someone within the White House would have known why the president didn't want this to go forward. And I think we've got to find out what was behind that. I think even Republicans want to find out what was behind that.

SCIUTTO: By the way, it was an act of Congress that authorized that aid. In a bipartisan vote, Congress decided that Ukraine -- and by the way, Ukraine is at war with Russia, which has invaded its territory.

Lauren Fox, it stood out to us this weekend. Have the president's former homeland security adviser say, in no uncertain terms, that the president is still pushing an entirely debunked conspiracy theory that he's told repeatedly is a conspiracy theory, that Ukraine and not Russia hacked the DNC's computer, in effect, interfered in the 2016 election.

[07:10:05]

I just wonder why we haven't heard from Republicans on the Hill who know the seriousness of Russia's intervention. The fact that the sitting president two and a half years into his administration still doesn't buy the facts, accept the facts.

FOX: Well, you know, Republicans are a little busy trying to protect the president from this latest allegation. When you talk to them, they basically are arguing over and over again that the president's done nothing wrong here; that they don't see any reason why the president should be impeached at this point.

But I mean, you know, Jim, this is just more of the same that we have seen from Republicans on Capitol Hill for the last two years. Every time the president says something and reporters ask, you know, what do you think about the president not basically owning up to the fact that Russia interfered in our election, despite all of the congressional inquiries into it? Especially the intelligence community's inquiries into this. All of this, Republicans argue, that's just the president being the president. What matters is the facts, and you know, if he wants to tweet about "X," "Y," or "Z," that's up to him. And I think that that has been the line from Republicans all along.

CAMEROTA: But that's why it was so notable to see his former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, come out this weekend and say he was deeply disturbed by the president not using the facts and continuing to cling to this conspiracy theory. That, you just don't hear that very often.

SCIUTTO: By the way, fourteen months out, this country is going to have another election. Intelligence agencies know -- know that Russia is going to try to interfere again. If the president doesn't accept that they interfered the last time around, how can he protect the country? It's a fair question.

CAMEROTA: Abby, Lauren, thank you both very much. Great to talk to you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, a new report details the shadow foreign policy campaign President Trump and Rudy Giuliani were running behind the scenes with Ukraine. Why is someone who does not work for the U.S. government, why is he involved in crafting U.S. foreign policy? We're going to discuss that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:16:29]

SCIUTTO: A new report shedding light on how President Trump's concerns about Ukraine led to the impeachment inquiry. "The New York Times" reports that, while the State Department largely continued the Obama approach to Ukraine, President Trump and Rudy Giuliani -- his personal lawyer, by the way -- were running a shadow foreign policy campaign behind the scenes, fueled by conspiracy theories and, crucially, attacks against political rivals.

Joining me now is one of the journalists behind that article, CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger. He is the national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, good to speak to you this morning.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Great to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So what's key here is that this Giuliani mission to Ukraine was not isolated. It was part of a broader kind of rogue, I suppose you could call it, Trump approach to foreign policy. The key question is why? Why is he doing it this way?

SANGER: It's a fascinating question. And I think in the end, that is going to be sort of the key question of the inquiry. And I think we may learn more about it this week when Chairman Schiff holds some of his hearings. But the key element is this. If you go into the conversation and you

thought to yourself, "OK. The -- what we're told by the State Department, what we're told by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is that the official policy to dealing with Ukraine is, basically, a continuation of the Obama-era policy, which was contain Russia, build up a democracy in Ukraine, help it build up its military capability to deter Russian activity. And as you noted earlier this morning, there's basically a low-level war going on in eastern Ukraine.

So then the question is why is the president not doing that? Holding the aid back, as Abby noted before. And basically, in the conversation, never raising these goals for the new president of Ukraine.

And instead, he mentions both an investigation that needs to be followed and this sort of crazy theory that the Russians weren't actually involved in the DNC hack, which has come up periodically over the past two years.

SCIUTTO: That stood out to me dramatically in that call. Here we have a president in Ukraine, which is at war with Russia for five years, more than 13,000 people killed in that war, according to the U.N. The president does not mention once Russia.

And I just -- it's a bigger picture question there, right? The president still pushing a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the election. That the president withholding military aid. Clearly, Russia not a priority in his conversations with Ukraine. He's talking about Joe Biden the whole time. And a whole host of other moves by this president, including accepting Putin's word over the intelligence community's in Helsinki, et cetera.

Two and a half years into his presidency, does this president acknowledge that Russia is a threat?

SANGER: Clearly, he does not. Now, one of the interesting things that he did say in the run up to the G-7 summit in August was that Mr. Zelensky, the new president of Ukraine, has to make a deal with Vladimir Putin. And the interesting question is what would be in that deal?

We also know that the president wanted to get Putin back into the G-7. They were thrown out after they annexed Crimea. We know that he wants to get sanctions lifted.

So it's possible that the deal he has in mind is one in which Ukraine basically acknowledges that Crimea is now part of Russia. It's been annexed by Russia, and maybe gets the Russians to be less active in eastern Ukraine. And that would pave the way to lifting sanctions and getting Russia back in the G-7. Goals the president has said he wants to accomplish.

Now, that might be secondary to what he was asking about helping President [SIC] Giuliani -- helping his lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, rather than sending the president of Ukraine to, say, the secretary of state. SCIUTTO: Just quickly before we go, there's a fundamental weakness,

is there not, in the president's approach to Russia on all these issues? He claims to be, no one's tougher on Russia than Trump, but in actuality, you look at all these policy moves, and he's retreating rather than advancing when it comes to Russia.

SANGER: I think one of the oddities here, Jim, is that not only does he appear at moments to be retrieving, but he's running contrary to his own government's policy.

I mean, the government has actually done a pretty good job of continuing the sanctions, because on a bipartisan basis, Congress has said they will not lift the sanctions. You've seen more money being put into and more effort being put into election security. Though here we have the president once again coming up with this theory.

And you know, that's happened consistently. You'll remember you and I talked about a time the president called me after the first time that he met Putin and basically, made the case, Putin says they're so good at cyber they never would have been caught. That's right, isn't it?

So he wants to believe this, even though his intelligence agencies are telling him to the contrary.

SCIUTTO: And over the interests of his own country.

David Sanger, great to have you on. Great morning to you.

SANGER: Always great to be with you.

CAMEROTA: OK. So are any Democrats still worried about moving forward with an impeachment inquiry? Some are not yet on board. So we'll talk to one leading senator to get his reaction, next.

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[07:26:34]

CAMEROTA: Democrats in the House are moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, but what about the Senate? What questions do they still have?

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Gary Peters.

Senator, great to have you here. And before we get to your comfort with impeachment or not, I want to talk about what I know is one of your burning questions.

You sent a letter to the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, asking why the aid to Ukraine, the $400 million that Congress had authorized, was held up. Have you gotten a response to your letter?

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): We haven't yet. Hopefully, we will get that response.

You know, I sent that letter in my capacity as ranking member of Homeland Security and Government Affairs. We are basically the chief oversight committee for the United States Senate, oversee OMB. And these are very important questions. And we have to get the answers.

I know how important that aid is to Ukraine and to their sovereignty and to push back against the consistent Russian aggression against that country. I've been to Ukraine in my capacity as a member of the armed services committee. Met with Ukrainian officials, military officials. And they absolutely have to have assistance from the United States.

This is a significant issue for the Ukrainians. They were waiting for that aid, and then for whatever reason, all of a sudden it was blocked, even though it had gone through many hurdles. So we need to find out exactly what happened, who ordered that and what were the reasons for it.

CAMEROTA: Well, just tell us also behind the scenes what was happening that summer. When you found out that they weren't getting the aid that you all had authorized and that you, as you point out, saw was urgently needed. What -- what were you thinking in the Senate? What was the conversation behind the scenes?

PETERS: The conversation is we couldn't understand why this was happening. Certainly those of us who have been following this situation closely and know how important the aid was. The Ukrainians were waiting for aid. They are a situation where there are men and women wo are fighting against the Russians are often underarmed. They don't have the same kind of fire power. They need to be able to have the ability to stand up to the Russians. And that's why we provided this very vital aid. And having delay is not good.

CAMEROTA: But what did the White House tell you when it didn't happen?

PETERS: I didn't get any -- I did not get any specific reasons from the White House. And that's why we're trying to find out exactly what happened.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about what happened this weekend. The president wants to meet the whistle-blower. The president wants the whistle-blower exposed. The president wants to know who the whistle- blower is. The president wants to know who the people are in his administration, in his White House who were so alarmed, according to the whistle-blower complaint, that they shared information with the whistle-blower.

Here was the president's tweet: "Like every American, I deserve to meet my accuser, especially when this accuser, the so-called whistle- blower, represented a perfect perfectly conversation with a foreign leader in a totally inaccurate and fraudulent way. Then Schiff made up what I actually said by lying to Congress."

What do you think about that tweet?

PETERS: Well, I think it's outrageous. Whistle-blowers, by definition, need to be anonymous. You know, we deal with whistle- blowers all the time in my committee, the Government Affairs Committee. We are an oversight committee. We rely on whistle-blowers coming forward to give us information so then we can ask the tough questions and try to ascertain the facts.

Whistle-blowers are taking great personal risk. They know it. It's very difficult for someone to come forward. They know that they may be putting their job in jeopardy, coming forward with this kind of information.

And when you think about someone coming forward to bring information against the president of the United States himself, that is a very difficult decision.