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State Department Inspector General Requests Urgent Capitol Hill Briefing Tomorrow On Ukraine Documents; Former Envoy To Ukraine To Testify Next Week; President Trump And Allies Accused Democrats Of Starting A Coup; Some Republicans Challenging President Trump's Conduct In Ukraine Whistleblower Investigation; Ways And Means Committee Chair Investigating Possible Misconduct In Auditing President Trump. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired October 1, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Neil hasn't said who the possible whistleblower is or if he wants that employee to testify. But that is one worth watching.
"CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts right now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Look at you, right on time. Ten o'clock at the nose.
CUOMO: On the button, baby.
LEMON: You've done this a time or two. So, this one has yet to -- this one has to be investigated and dug into a little bit more, but it is certainly interesting. And you think about this, the, how this president eats up the news cycle, right? Everything goes so fast.
So, we're talking about now there's a second whistleblower possibly for the tax returns. That gives us much more to do and the American people much more to chew over. But do you think this one is going to get the American people, or at least the people in Congress, a better chance of seeing the president's tax returns?
CUOMO: No, not the whistleblower complaint. I mean it helps thicken out the request a little bit, but they weren't supposed to have to thicken out the request. The statute is painfully simple that they're operating under. Now it's being litigated, and that's due process, but we'll see. Look, here's the problem with the taxes. This is all on the president. It's a manufactured problem.
CUOMO: He could just show them. Well, he's not forced to. That's not the standard for good leadership. He created this. This is on him. Ukraine is an entirely different animal. But I do think the taxes are going to come out.
LEMON: You do?
CUOMO: I think eventually he's going to lose the litigation.
CUOMO: But I don't know why he's forcing that fight. Now, in Ukraine, it makes sense. I get forcing that fight because this transcript looks terrible. This is the only thing we've investigated about this president during his tenure where the proof is largely already satisfied.
CUOMO: What to make of it, what standard is reaches, that's up for Congress.
LEMON: Yes. You're talking about now -- which one are you talking about, Ukraine or --
CUOMO: Yes. You got to keep your scandals straight, Don.
LEMON: Look, let me tell you, we follow this every day.
CUOMO: You need a Filofax.
LEMON: I need more than that. I need a friend right now.
CUOMO: You got one, brother. I'm here.
LEMON: I got to tell you, though, even though I've heard so much -- and you've been -- you're out there with me. I saw you this weekend. We talk about it. We see folks. They walk up to us, they talk to us about this.
There are people despite -- and the polls show it. Despite what everyone is saying in Trump land, Trumplandia, about well, this is nothing, this is second, third-hand information, whatever. The people at home, the folks on the street actually get this. This is simple enough for everyone to be able to wrap their heads around it.
And there are Trump supporters, a number of them who I know, you know what they're saying? Don, I think the president's in trouble this time. I said, I don't know, but when you're facing impeachment, that puts the bar at a whole new level when it comes to cooperating and subpoenas and so on and so forth. What say you, Mr. Attorney?
CUOMO: I say that you don't have to be an attorney to figure out the standard because it has to be overwhelming on a common sense level.
Now, the smarter Cuomo, my brother, has been pushing Democrats to make the case of what crimes are involved. I actually think he's creating a really high bar for them. I think that if you look at the history of impeachment, even that Federal -- Federalist paper 65 from Hamilton, they saw this as being about an abuse of public trust, and that's what you have to articulate. Is the president in trouble on this one? Yes, because it looks in the transcript of the call like an abuse of power of his office. Is it enough? I don't know. LEMON: OK, Chris, you're right about that, but this is the confusion that I've heard from legal experts. You tell me if you think it's right because it's not whether it is a high crime or a high misdemeanor. It is whether someone who is in a high position is abusing their public authority or the public trust.
CUOMO: Yes, it's both. It is definitely about people in positions of public trust, 100 percent. It's about crimes against the community. High crime and misdemeanor, they outline treason and bribery for two reasons.
One, they were trying to put some meat on the bones of a standard that didn't exist in American law. Right? This is from British common law from like the 1400s.
CUOMO: And second, they didn't want this to be penny ante where Chris Cuomo says, you know, that Don Lemon man, he keeps beating me in these elections. He's got to go. I'm getting rid of him. It can't be about political pettiness. And that's why they wanted it to be high, and that is the way it should be.
But we have proof of this president's perfidy in a way that we haven't had before. Can they make the case? We'll see. But I took on that whistleblower theory tonight about Fred Fleitz, smart guy. Goes on state TV all the time fanning the flames.
Even though we have the transcript so the whistleblower is kind of secondary, if they're going to make something relevant, I'm going to test it on the show --
CUOMO: -- because you have to show what people are taking in --
CUOMO: -- and forming their opinions on, and that's a big narrative.
LEMON: Since when, as I leave you, has anyone who has ever tried to have a favor, who is in a public position, said, hey, listen, this is a quid pro quo right now. I need you -- did you get that? Do you hear what I'm saying? That's not how it's done. Nobody -- not even the dumbest person does anything like that.
CUOMO: I do like it as a nickname, though. I'd like to go by quid pro-Cuomo. I'd like to get something back especially where you're involved because your tie is too close (Ph) to pink. But I'll tell you this. They're only saying the quid pro quo thing because they want to say you can't make this bribery, and you can't make this treason, and that is the standard. It's not the standard.
LEMON: I'm always shock when they say read it. And I'm like, you don't really -- do you really want people to read it? Because listen, it's not even reading between the lines. He said what he said. He said do me a favor. The guy talked about buying things. We're going to buy this and buy this. And he goes but I need you to do me a favor, though.
CUOMO: No Bueno. No Bueno.
LEMON: See you quid pro-Cuomo.
CUOMO: Quid pro-Cuomo.
LEMON: Take it easy.
CUOMO: I'm making the shirt right now.
LEMON: Nice show. You better trademark that right away. See you next time.
We got a lot to get to.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
And there is a mystery afoot in Washington tonight that could be huge. The State Department's inspector general requesting an urgent staff briefing with congressional committees. It is very mysterious. A private briefing in a secure room at the Capitol, saying it's all about Ukraine-related documents obtained by the acting legal adviser in the State Department.
The news raising a lot of questions about exactly what those documents might contain. We're going to have a lot on the latest in this reporting in just a moment for you here on CNN.
But let's remember this. It was the whistleblower complaint to another inspector general for the intelligence community that set the impeachment inquiry into motion.
And all this comes as the former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, is set to testify on Thursday. Here's what a source is telling CNN, that the State Department realizes that since Volker resigned last week, they can't block him from testifying.
But the news of tomorrow's briefing, which was described as highly unusual and cryptically worded, comes as the battle is raging between the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House Democrats.
The chair of the House intel, foreign affairs, and oversight telling Pompeo tonight that any effort to prevent five State Department officials from speaking to them is, quote, "illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry."
That in response to Pompeo accusing Democrats of attempting to bully and intimidate those officials. And tonight, Congress is letting Secretary Pompeo know exactly what they think of that.
Pompeo just one of all the president's men caught up in Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry. Remember he was actually listening in on the president's infamous Ukraine call and then dodged questions about the whistleblower's complaint when he, himself, was a witness to the call in real-time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you know about those conversations?
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, you just gave me a report about a whistleblower complaint, none of which I've seen.
I haven't had a chance to actually read the whistleblower complaint yet. I read the first couple of paragraphs and then got busy today, but I'll ultimately get a chance to see it. If I understand it right, it's from someone who had secondhand knowledge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: It's pretty short. It doesn't take that long to read it. That secondhand knowledge thing, that's a red herring.
And then there is Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, who today hired Jon Sale, who was an assistant Watergate prosecutor, to represent him.
Let's face it. When your lawyer has to lawyer up, that may not be good for you. Here's what Sale told CNN today. He said, quote, "Every time I turn around, Rudy's on another TV show. He and I could have a conversation, and then I'd turn on the television, and he could be doing something else."
That's for sure. Can you believe it's only been one week since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an official impeachment inquiry? In that time, this president has railed against the anonymous whistleblower and demanded to know his or her identity. Demanded. Who are they? We're looking into it, suggesting with a nod and a wink that any official who spoke to him or her was a spy deserving execution, hinted at arresting the House intel chairman for treason, and quoted a supporter who predicted that if the president were to be removed from office, that could cause a, quote, "civil war-like" fracture in this country.
And he's at it again today, tweeting of course, the absurd and outrageous charge that the impeachment inquiry is a coup, clearly a Republican talking point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This is not an impeachment process. This is a coup d'etat.
PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: This is nothing less than an attempted coup d'etat, an end run around the ballot box.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Nope, nope, nope, no. It is no such thing. That was a Republican talking point. What it is, is an impeachment inquiry, an attempt to get the facts.
Remember, facts first. Just when you think you've heard it all, there is this. In fact, when I read this tonight, I honestly, I thought this was the craziest thing that I had ever heard, especially coming from a president.
This is what the New York Times is reporting. OK. Listen closely. And it's based on interviews. The New York Times is reporting it. It's based on interviews with more than a dozen White House and administration officials directly involved. OK?
That last March when the president was considering shutting down the border and outraged at not being able to deliver on his signature campaign promise -- remember, build that wall -- well, the president suggested shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down. That's not the -- you got to hear the rest.
Here's the rest. Quote, "Privately the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost, cost estimate.
He wanted the wall electrified with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal.
But later, in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That's not allowed either, they told him."
Again, sounds hard to believe, doesn't it? Did Dr. Evil come up with that?
We reached out to the White House for a response when the story broke, but I got to tell you it sounds crazy, right? But just remember this, OK? A month before he even said all of this, we reported on this.
Remember, the president tweeted out a picture of what he wanted his barrier to look like, including spiked steel slats. Seriously, Mr. President? What is the matter with you? A moat full of snakes or alligators? That's some Harry Potter stuff right there. It's not funny, but it's just laughable. The mind boggles although something about that sounds familiar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They said we needed to triple the border patrol. Now they're going to say we need to quadruple the border patrol, or they'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: That's why he hates him, because he's got his number. He has your number. That's why you talk about him all the time. He's got you down pat. Wow. Look, it sounds ridiculous because it is.
And there is more. The president reportedly berating then Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen saying, quote, "Lou Dobbs hate you. Ann Coulter hates you. You're making me look bad."
The ultimate sin in this president's eyes, you're making me look bad. Going on to say this about the legal authority to take down drones. Quote, "Kirstjen, you didn't hear me the first time, honey. Shoot them down, sweetheart. Just shoot them out of the sky, OK?"
The president unconcerned there with both illegality and obviously of the sexism. Honey? Sweetheart? Blasting senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, saying "all you care about is your friends in Mexico. I've had it. I want it done at noon tomorrow."
Just imagine the number of people, former members of team Trump, who have heard this kind of thing from the president of the United States, who are now on the outside of this administration as the impeachment inquiry looms.
But all this illustrates a really -- a much larger point here. The president told the Times this summer -- and I quote -- "I have absolute power to shut down the border."
And that's what all of this is about. This president believes he has absolute power to do whatever he wants, and that's why we are here right now. That's where we are.
Let's turn to our breaking news. So much to report now on the mystery pertaining to the State Department and the impeachment inquiry into Ukraine.
Shimon Prokupecz, CNN crime and justice reporter, joins me now.
Shimon, thank you so much for joining us. Listen, shortly after Secretary Pompeo accused Democrats of bullying and then indicated the State Department couldn't cooperate with the committee's request, the inspector general of the State Department requested an urgent briefing. It sounds very mysterious. What's going on? What do you know?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Just an hour after that letter was sent to members of Congress, this is what came out. The inspector general said that he wanted an urgent meeting with members of Congress, and when you look at the list, at the number of people that he's asking to brief -- so this is an urgent briefing. We're told that folks have called this high will you unusual, and it's sort of cryptic. And look at all of the committees, Don, that he wants to brief.
There's a list of at least eight committees there. You have the House foreign affairs, you have Senate foreign relations, House appropriations, Senate appropriations, House oversight. So, you're talking about dozens and dozens of officials including House intelligence and Senate intelligence, which is taking up the whistleblower issue.
So, this is going to be in a secure room sometime tomorrow on the Hill. It's significant. The fact that they're doing this, the fact that they're calling this urgent, the fact that they're telling they want -- telling folks that they want to do this tomorrow, it seems that something has happened here.
This appears to be documents, perhaps, that the inspector general has obtained through the lawyers at the State Department, perhaps relating to Ukraine. That's at least what we're told. But there could be other issues here.
But whatever it is, it is urgent, and it is something that the inspector general says needs to be done right away. And that is why they are briefing all of these -- the staff members of these committees, something very significant here certainly.
LEMON: Is the State Department I.G. acting independently of Secretary Pompeo?
PROKUPECZ: Yes, absolutely, completely independent. That is his role here, the inspector general. He's the watchdog. He's the guy who kind of keeps an eye on things here.
So, something has come to his attention that is pretty serious, and we'll see if we even learn -- how much we learn tomorrow. This is going to be done in a secure facility, so it could be something that's classified and therefore perhaps members won't be able to share. But nonetheless, it's going to be a really busy day on the Hill tomorrow as this --
LEMON: Our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz with our breaking news. Shimon, thank you. I appreciate you coming in to do this.
We're just one week into the impeachment inquiry, and we've already got a big mystery on our hands with the State Department's inspector general requesting that urgent closed-door briefing with congressional committees that Shimon just talked about tomorrow.
And that's not all. The former Governor John Kasich is here to weigh in on all of our breaking news. That's next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: President Trump and his allies on defense tonight as the impeachment inquiry heats up. Here to discuss this and more, former Ohio Governor Mr. John Kasich. Good evening, sir. Welcome.
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks.
LEMON: Good. So, let's talk about this. The president now trying to convince his followers on Twitter that this investigation into his strong-arming Ukraine's president is a coup. The language he is using seems to be getting more extreme by the day. What is your reaction to this?
KASICH: Well, this whole attack on the whistleblower and talking about, you know, this would be a Civil War or something along those lines, it's just -- it's ridiculous.
Look, Don, you know, I've been saying let the chips fall where they may, and obfuscation and delay and misleading is unacceptable. It's bad, and frankly it makes the scale -- it affects the weight of the scale when you're not cooperating. Let's get to the bottom line.
LEMON: You've been saying all along that both the Democrats should do their due diligence and investigate, and the president needs to go along with it, right, because of what the point is --
KASICH: Well, Yes. And I said that, you know, I don't want the Democrats going too fast. But I don't want the Republicans saying, there's nothing here.
KASICH: I mean it's ridiculous.
KASICH: There is something here. Yes.
LEMON: Let's talk about Secretary Pompeo, Governor. Secretary Pompeo is saying that he will use all means at his disposal to shield State Department officials from testifying.
And we learned yesterday that Pompeo was on the call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. You were on the foreign affairs committee. You have any concern about how Pompeo is handling this?
KASICH: Well, yes. You can't block these people from coming in and talking about what they know. I mean, again, this stonewall doesn't work. Let them go and testify. And what I was interested in is I saw the clip. You know, sometimes it doesn't tell you everything. But they were asking him did he see the whistleblower report or, you know, did he see the transcript or whatever. He acted like he didn't know anything about any of it, and he was on
the call. I mean that's not -- you know, if you're on the call, say, OK, I was actually on the call, and what I heard was x. it was like, what did he think? Nobody would know he was -- I guess he never thought nobody would know that he was actually on the call.
But if you listen carefully to what he said to that reporter, you could see he was stumbling around. But you don't just go and say, my people can't go. If they're being harassed or intimidated, tell us how they're being harassed and intimidated. Tell us what's behind this. Just don't say they are.
Tell us what your evidence is because frankly some of them want to testify, and I guess this guy Volker, who was that special envoy, resigned and now he's going to go and testify. Let them all talk.
KASICH: Find out what the truth is. Get to the bottom line.
LEMON: Well, you mentioned it, you know, this targeting of the whistleblower. The president is doing that. But Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said in a statement that the whistleblower -- and I quote here -- "appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected."
The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he would hold a trial if he gets articles of impeachment from the House. Do you see a glimpse of the GOP drawing a line in the sand here? Do you have any hope?
KASICH: I don't see that with McConnell, but there are Republicans now, Don, and I think Chuck Grassley saying, we're going to protect the whistleblower. He's -- I think he's probably one of the authors of the whistleblower law, which by the way I voted on when I was in the Congress.
You know, look, the whistleblower law is designed to say, you've got something, and you got to tell somebody, and it rises to a very high level. At least that's what the inspector general -- you know, the intelligence community said. This rises to a very high concern.
What we don't want to do is start trashing the whistleblower, try to figure out who it is because it will absolutely chill all other whistleblowers in the government. The purpose of it is to allow people to come forward to say what's on their mind, what they saw, with protection.
Now, if they're irresponsible, it isn't going to rise to the level -- you know, for example, in this case, where the attorney -- or the inspector general of the intelligence community said, this is real. If it was phony, if it was stupid, they wouldn't say that.
So, there's great protection, and frankly, whistleblowers cannot be called out, identified, called a traitor, or anything else.
KASICH: Sometimes whistleblowers do wonderful things to help our society, and it's not just in government. It's across the board.
LEMON: Well, before we run out of time, I want to get to this story. I've got to get your take on this new reporting tonight. It's from "The New York Times" about the president's ideas for securing the border. This is from a meeting this past March.
Again, this is according to "The New York Times." The president often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified with spikes on the top that could pierce human flesh.
After publicly that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That's not allowed either, they told him.
Listen, we're talking about the treatment of human beings here.
KASICH: Don, can we -- let me ask you a question. Let me ask you. Can you even believe this?
LEMON: No, I can't. That's what I said, I can't.
KASICH: I can't believe it either. I said to my wife, I said, he wanted to put snakes and alligators in the trench, and the idea of shooting somebody in the legs, I don't even -- you know, we don't even want to go there, right? It's horrific. It must be out of some --
LEMON: You went there.
KASICH: -- cartoon or some science fiction novel. I just -- if I were sitting in a meeting like that and somebody said something that crazy, I would be looking for a way to get another job. Wouldn't you?
LEMON: Well, I got to tell you, I mean, I wouldn't be there in the first place. But, yes, I see your point.
KASICH: Let's get to the larger issue here. The fact is America is a land where we welcome people who want to come to this country, and we want them to come in an orderly way, but we don't hate immigrants. We like immigrants.
My family got here because they were immigrants.
KASICH: And I've said it before. I happen to be in Ohio tonight. If you're an immigrant, when I was governor, I said you come. We want you. We want your hard work. We want your family. We want your values. God bless you. Don, thanks.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you, sir. See you next time. John Kasich.
KASICH: All right.
LEMON: We'll be right back.
LEMON: CNN has learned tonight that the State and Department's inspector general has sent what sources described as an urgent request for a bipartisan congressional briefing tomorrow related to documents on Ukraine.
Let's discuss now. The former Director of National Intelligence, Mr. James Clapper. Director, thank you so much for joining us. Let's get straight to it. What do you make of the State Department inspector general requesting this urgent briefing happened with Congress hours after the Secretary of State Pompeo says, he is no intention of cooperating with House Democratic demands to turn over documents and depose current and former officials?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, I don't know what this means. It's significant. I do think that. And I wonder and hope that the inspector general of the State Department is exercising his independence, which is what I.G.'s are supposed to do. So this could be quite interesting to see what comes of this.
LEMON: Listen, the president tweeted tonight saying, what's going on isn't an impeachment. It's a coup. Is that responsible language from the president of the United States?
CLAPPER: Well, of course not, and it's almost as irresponsible as his inference about an insurrection or civil war if he were removed from office. That was I thought reprehensible and irresponsible, particularly given how polarized things are in this country, which of course, he is well aware of and exploits.
LEMON: The president also questioned on whether -- on Twitter why he wasn't entitled to interview and learn everything about this whistleblower, right? Are you worried about the pressure being put on the whistleblower by the president? I mean what must that be like, do you think?
CLAPPER: I can't imagine. I mean, this whistleblower did a brave and courageous thing, and the law says, the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act says that there is not to be retaliation and that the anonymity of the complainant is to be preserved.
Now, having said that, there's not a whole lot in the law that enables you to enforce that, but that is what the law says, and of course as usual, the president either, you know, is ignorant of the law or doesn't care or both, but I worry about this employee, and I hope and trust that it's not so much on him as much as it is the officials in charge of looking to his protection. Namely the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joe Maguire, and his home agency Director.
LEMON: We learned that President Trump pressed Australia's Prime Minister during a recent phone call to help A.G. William Barr re- investigate the origins of the Russia probe. The Washington Post is reporting that Barr is doing the same thing with Italian and British officials. He's trying to change the facts to favor the conspiracy theory that Russia didn't try to help him. Is that what it sounds like to you?
CLAPPER: Well, yes, it does. If just shows the incredible lengths that this administration is going to try to discredit the Russian meddling, the Russian interference. Rather than try to protect us against it, we're trying to discredit those who reported it.
And I'll tell you, Don, the takeaway for me, having been in a, you know, senior intelligence position in the last administration, is that it would have been much better had we not reported on this threat to our country, that is the Russian meddling, and I guess what we were supposed to have done is blown off the direction that the then- commander in chief, President Obama, gave us to put together all the reporting on this and produce a highly classified version and then declassify as much as we possibly could and make it public, which we did.
Well, apparently the message I'm getting from all this is, we shouldn't have done that. With respect to this very unorthodox and, as far as I know, unprecedented engagement by the Attorney General himself with foreign countries, what I think one of the offshoots, one of the results of this is going to be a chilling effect on our foreign intelligence allies who, in this case, provided in good faith what they thought was information that bore on our national security. And now they're being investigated as well as everybody here in the United States who is involved with it.
LEMON: Before we go, I got to get your reaction to this reporting from The New York Times about the president reportedly wanting a moat with snakes and alligators at the border and asking whether migrants could be shot in the leg to slow them down.
CLAPPER: You know, I -- words fail me. I don't know what to think about that. On one hand, it's comical. On the other hand, it's sad, depraved, and so, so far from what have been traditional American values and standards. If this is true -- I have no reason to do it is -- it's bizarre.
LEMON: Director Clapper, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: We'll be right back.
LEMON: This is only the beginning of the impeachment inquiry, only the beginning and already just a week in, several prominent Republicans are voicing serious concerns about the president's conduct.
Joining me now, is J.W. Verret, also Peter Wehner. Peter is the author of "The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic after Trump."
Boy, if you could do that. You'll have a whole lot of fans. Thank you. You probably make a ton of though. Thank you very much, both of you, for joining us. J.W., I'm going to start with you. You served as a Trump adviser who has since opposed the president after the Mueller report. Are you hearing anything behind the scenes, and if so, what are you hearing?
J.W. VERRET, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Well, the friends I have over at Treasury Department, the financial regulators White House, all tell me the same thing about him. They've said from the beginning, they see his flaws. They're not blind. They're hoping to do good policy.
We haven't talked about this most recent scandal, but what I get from them is either, you know, I kind of secretly agree with you, or at least I admire what you're doing and understand it. The only nasty calls I get are from random people out in the middle of the world, but those are easy to ignore, Don.
LEMON: Peter, in your New York Times op-ed, you called the Republicans' failure to condemn the president's attempt to leverage Ukraine for information on a political opponent, you say, Republicans could support Trump's agenda while simultaneously condemning his corrupt behavior. Have you seen anyone pull that off?
PETER WEHNER, CONTRIBUTING OPINION WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES: No, not many. I mean, Mitt Romney has spoken out, to some extent Ben Sasse. But look, it's muted. This is a party that is Trump's Party through and through. He has an iron grip on it, and Republicans in Congress are afraid of taking him on because they're afraid that the base will be catalyzed and that they'll target them and that they'll try and eviscerate them. It happened with Mark Sanford. It happened with Bob Corker. It happened with Jeff Flake.
So this is a Party that is cowering. If you talk to Republicans privately behind the scenes, they all agree with most of the critiques that I make about Trump, including the fact that he is not psychologically or emotionally well, but they're afraid to take him on. The problem with that is that he is breaking the party in the process. More problematically is he is doing tremendous harm to the country.
LEMON: Why privately then? Why won't they say it publicly, Peter? WEHNER: Well, I'd say a couple of things. One is what I said. It's
fear of the base. I think there's also I wrote in The New York Times piece, the psychology of accommodation. It's a strange process that goes on, but once you begin to make these deals early on and you accommodate yourself to outrageous behavior and the behavior gets worse, you keep going and going and going.
And before you know it, you no longer can condemn Trump because you would be condemning yourself. I also think that Trump has tapped into something about the GOP base which is disturbing, which it's a base that is filled with grievances and resentments. And he is its voice.
WEHNER: And this is so fundamentally different, of course, than Ronald Reagan, but it's in some ways a party that is antithetical to Reagan and Trump embodies that.
LEMON: Well, it is the embodiment of -- what do you call it -- of identity politics.
LEMON: Excuse me. You know, the Republicans have always called out Democrats for identity politics, and now this is really the epitome of that. J.W., I want to bring you back in here. While we're starting to see some Republicans express concerns about President Trump's conduct with Ukraine, Justin Amash, Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney as mentioned are some of the folks that are doing it. And then there is this from the House minority leader. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Zelensky says, we are almost ready to buy more javelins from the United States for defense purposes. And President Trump replies, I would like you to do us a favor, though.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You just added another word.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It's in the transcript.
MCCARTHY: He said, I'd like you to do a favor, though?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's in the White House transcript.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Were they given separate transcripts? I mean, I can't believe that they even use, J.W., this transcript as exculpatory or as saying that this exonerates the president. It is so damning. Why is Kevin McCarthy twisting himself into knots to defend the president on this?
VERRET: Well, Kevin McCarthy has never been our best and brightest, but I will say this. I will say in the week since Speaker Pelosi came out in favor of impeachment, Ben Sasse, Toomey, Romney have shown more courage and more willingness to challenge their president than Nancy Pelosi showed during the entire Clinton administration. That is something, and that cannot be discounted.
LEMON: What do you say to that, Peter?
WEHNER: Well, I think Kevin McCarthy is weak and pathetic. It's kind of disgraceful what you're seeing. The reason he ties himself in knots to defend Trump is you can only defend Trump if you tie yourself in knots. There's no way to defend him on the record. There's no way to intellectually to do it with any intellectual honesty. What they are trying to do is -- try and change the channel, change the subject, and they go on the attack. That's all they know, but I don't think it's going to work. This is different, what's happened with the Ukrainian call. You can tell. If you talk to Republicans, you can tell the tectonic plates are shifting.
LEMON: I got to run. Peter, J.W., thank you. I appreciate it.
VERRET: Thanks a lot.
LEMON: See you next time. We'll be right back.
LEMON: House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is looking into allegations of misconduct related to the presidential audit program. Neil says a potential second whistleblower is claiming inappropriate efforts to influence the program. Joining me now, CNN's Lauren Fox. Lauren, thank you so much for joining us. Is there possibly a second whistleblower? What do you know?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: What we know is that back in July, Richard Neil received a complaint from a federal employee basically saying that there was a problem with how the presidential audit program was being conducted. And this is a serious allegation.
I want to take you back to July when Ways and Means Chairman Neal requested the president's tax returns. He basically argued he needed those returns to understand how this presidential audit program worked and whether or not he needed to change any laws to make sure that it was conducted fairly. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican coming into the White House.
But Neil wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, back in August, quote, the committee receive an unsolicited communication from a federal employee. Setting forth credible allegations of evidence of possible misconduct. Specifically potential inappropriate efforts to influence the mandatory audit program. He called this a serious allegation, also said that they heightened his concern and basically bolstered the court case that is ongoing in court right now, Don.
LEMON: Do you know the latest on the chairman's lawsuit to obtain the president's tax returns? FOX: Certainly. It's ongoing as we know right now. And there's
basically a discussion about whether or not they're standing in court to continue on. But I will tell you, Don, this is what Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal was always expecting would happen. So, it's going to be a long fight.
LEMON: All right. Thank you, Lauren Fox. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.