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All the President's Men Caught Up in Ukraine Scandal; Secretary of State Blasts Congress Over Subpoenas. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 1, 2019 - 15:00   ET




Gloria, thank you very much, Gloria Borger in Washington.


BALDWIN: Special coverage continues with "THE LEAD" right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD: "The White House in Crisis." I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

And we begin today with breaking news in the politics lead. Moments ago, House Democratic leaders fired back at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They accused Pompeo of potential obstruction after Pompeo claimed Democrats were intimidating and bullying State Department officials who the Democrats plan to depose.

Pompeo tweeted -- quote -- "Let me be clear. I will not tolerate such tactics and I will use all means at my deposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead and serve alongside side at the Department of State" -- unquote.

Pompeo has, as of now, had no comment about the revelation that he was in fact listening in on that July 25 phone call in which President Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son Hunter.

This is a fast-moving story. And we have it covered from the White House to Congress and all the way to Ukraine.

Let's start on Capitol Hill, though, with Manu Raju.

And, Manu, what did the House Democratic chairmen have to say to the secretary of state?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they pushed back rather aggressively, Jake.

They are saying that any efforts to deny these witnesses from coming forward -- these are current and former State Department officials who the Democrats wanted to have deposed beginning tomorrow. They said any efforts to block that from happening would constitute an obstruction of their impeachment investigation.

They just said -- the three chairmen said this in a statement that was sent just moments ago: "Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress, including State Department employees, is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry. In response, Congress may infer from this obstruction that any withheld documents and testimony would reveal information that corroborates the whistle-blower complaint."

Now, reading between the lines in what they're saying here, Jake, is that they're not -- they don't have the patience for a sustained fight with the Trump administration. We have seen year -- this entire year, Democrats and the Trump administration fight subpoenas being issued, the Trump administration not complying with that, saying they're out of bounds, some ending up in court.

This is likely where it's not going to happen. Democrats don't want to go that route. Instead, they're suggesting that any efforts by Pompeo and others in the Trump administration to not give them what they want, not turn over documents, not provide testimony, as required by the subpoenas, essentially could amount to an impeachable offense, obstruction of Congress being that impeachable offense, is what Democrats are saying.

So we will see what ultimately ends up happening, but a witness who's scheduled to come tomorrow, it's unclear if that person will be deposed tomorrow, but Democrats at the moment say that this could all lead to a rather quick impeachment this fall, Jake.

TAPPER: A House reminded me last week that obstruction of Congress was one of the articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

Manu, where do things stand right now on that possible interview with the whistle-blower by the House Intelligence Committee?

RAJU: Talks are still ongoing about bringing this individual forward.

The House intelligence chairman, Adam Schiff, is confident that this whistle-blower will come forward. But he just arrived here on Capitol Hill. I tried to talk to him about this and other matters. He declined to comment.

Also, the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to bring that whistle- blower forward. But there are concerns that the president's attacks against this whistle-blower could essentially prevent him or her from coming forward.

And, in fact, today, Jake, a top Republican, Chuck Grassley, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, someone who has advocated for whistle-blower protections, sharply criticized any attacks going against the whistle-blower, saying those should be left off the table and are not helpful for this country -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. He's, Grassley, an ardent supporter of whistle-blowers.

Thank you so much, Manu Raju, on Capitol Hill.

Let's go now down the street to the White House, where we find CNN's Abby Phillip.

And, Abby, we have not seen President Trump in public today. He has made his presence felt on Twitter, though.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Loud and clear, Jake. He's been tweeting up a storm and really attacking this whistle-blower this morning, even sending a tweet that is misleading at best.

Here's what it said. He said: "So if the so-called whistle-blower has all secondhand information, and almost everything he said about my perfect call with Ukrainian president is wrong, why aren't we entitled to interview and learn everything about the whistle-blower, and also the person who gave him false information?"

But the problem is that, yesterday, there was an extraordinary letter coming from the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who the president appointed, that pushed back on that very narrative.

Here's what the inspector general wrote: "The whistle-blower stated on the form that he or she possessed both firsthand and other information. The ICIG reviewed the information provided, as well as other information gathered, and determined that the complaint was both urgent and that it appeared credible."


So, a strong pushback there on this idea that the whistle-blower is simply trafficking in hearsay. Not only is the inspector general saying that firsthand information isn't necessary, but he's also saying that the whistle-blower did provide some firsthand information, and the secondhand information was corroborated by an investigation.

TAPPER: Yes. And, in fact, it was corroborated by the release of the transcript and corroborated by the White House admitting that they took the transcript and put it in the super secure server as well.

Abby, what are your sources telling you about how President Trump plans to mount any sort of defense during this impeachment inquiry?

PHILLIP: Well, Jake, so far, there has not been much in the way of an organized, coordinated defense.

The president has been taking matters into his own hands on social media. And, last week, he started a process of talking. His aides -- his aides in the White House and his lawyers, both inside and outside of the White House, got together to try to come up with some kind of strategy. And they're expected to present him with a plan this week.

But there is a sense of anxiety among the president's aides that they are not fully prepared for this. The idea this week is to come up with some kind of plan, both a communications plan and a legal plan, to help them cope with this fast-moving impeachment inquiry.

Meanwhile, President Trump's aides and advisers and allies have been fanning out on television trying to defend him, attacking the whistle- blower, all of them trying to mount a defense as this investigation seems to be moving very, very quickly underneath their feet, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.

Let's go now to Kiev, Ukraine, where we find CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward.

And, Clarissa, the president of Ukraine addressed this controversy today. In fact, you asked him about the military aid and any pressure he may have felt from President Trump.


Well, he didn't want to answer these questions. He started out the press conference by saying he was only going to talk about the situation here in Eastern Ukraine. But we pressed him on the issue. And, believe me, his answer was evasive, relying on semantics to really try to avoid being pinned down.

Take a listen.


WARD: Did you feel pressure from President Trump to investigate the Bidens in order to unfreeze military aid?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I understood.

I'd like to tell you that I never feel pressure. I have lots of people who would like to put pressure on me here and abroad. But I'm the president of an independent Ukraine. And I'd like to think and my actions suggest no one can put pressure on me.


WARD: Now, you hear there he says, no one can pressure me, Jake. That's different from saying, no one did pressure me.

But the message we were getting from the president was, listen, I cannot seem to be taking sides in America's domestic political turmoil. Ukraine relies heavily on USA. And no matter who is the president, Democrat or Republican, it's crucial for Ukraine to have a good relationship.

So this president is really hoping that all of this is going to blow over, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, President Zelensky also spoke about Rudy Giuliani. WARD: Yes, that's right, Jake.

He was asked whether he had ever met with Rudy Giuliani, although we should say there's nothing to indicate and there's been no suggestion that he has. And he was very unequivocal on his answer. Take a listen. `


ZELENSKY: I have never met Rudy Giuliani, never, and never had any phone calls with him.


WARD: Important for our viewers to remember, though, Jake, in that transcript or summary of the conversation, the now infamous conversation between Zelensky and Trump, it is Zelensky himself who brings up Giuliani.

He says, one of my assistants has spoken to Giuliani. We look forward to inviting him to Ukraine.

So, certainly, it was a fair question to ask, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. I mean, Rudy Giuliani reached out to one of his aides, to one of his Zelensky 's aides.

Clarissa Ward in Kiev, Ukraine, thank you so much for that reporting.

Coming up: They're the men whose names came up on the phone call with the Ukrainian president and their names also appeared in the whistle- blower complaint. We're going to take a deeper look at the roles played by all of the president's men coming up.

You're watching a special edition of THE LEAD: "The White House in Crisis."

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with the breaking news.

Top House Democrats pushing back this afternoon against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, suggesting that Pompeo is intimidating witnesses in order to protect himself and President Trump.

Let's chew over all this with our experts.

Nia, let me start with you.

Pompeo is accusing Democrats of intimidating and bullying his own employees. Now Democrats are saying that Pompeo is doing it. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the

message that's coming out of this White House is, this was a perfect call, that everything was above-board here. And then you have Pompeo reveal that he was on the call.


And so the idea that he is now saying it's really the Democrats who are bullying these folks, who may very well want to add information to the public's knowledge of this call and what was going on with Ukraine.

So, it does seem like he is signaling to the folks who might want to come forward that it's an uncomfortable thing for them to come forward. So, this idea that they're kind of being bullied by Pompeo, it does seem to be that that's what he's trying to do, essentially chill their testimony before coming forward.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: But, I mean, the irony here, when the president wants to meet the whistle-blower face-to-face so he can bully him, and he says that Adam Schiff is treasonous, which, by the way, is potentially something you can be executed for, and then the secretary of state says, wow -- it's like he joined a frat and said, wow, there's hazing here.

They both need to settle down.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: But they're both right out of the president's playbook, which we have seen, which is, you undermine the institution investigating you, claim you're the victim, and then just question their legitimacy.

Pompeo's doing it. Now, he's not using the language that the president uses, not using terms like treason and so on. But it's the same thing. You just say they're not legitimate and not able to investigate you.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's just so striking, the difference between what we heard from Mike Pompeo and what we heard from Mark Esper at the end of last week, where he said, of course, we will give you whatever you want. Whatever Congress wants to investigates this, we're happy to turn it all over.

And then you get someone like Pompeo, who's obviously very close to the president, who was on this call, and he sounds exactly like the president.

And I do think -- I know the tone the president has taken. But if you're one of these career officials, and you have been working on this issue, I think it matters if you hear Mike Pompeo saying what he said vs. if you hear Mark Esper saying what he said.

I think that definitely sends...


MUDD: Oh, absolutely. But I mean, I feel like I'm at a heavy metal concert and I need earplugs.


MUDD: I mean, what Mike Pompeo can write back is typically in these circumstances a witness needs time. It can be a glaze-over two-page letter.

He goes out in Twitter, Trump-style. This is playing to the boss.



Speaking of playing to the boss, I want to get your response, Nia, to President Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, earlier today on FOX Business. Here's how he described the impeachment inquiry.



And it reminds me there was a -- the first guy who was the head of the Soviet Union secret CIA equivalent, Beria, he said, show me the man, I will find you the crime."

Every day, the president has got to get up, and he's got to deal with China, he's got to deal with Russia, he's got right with Iran, and now the House of Representatives, and I don't know which one's more dangerous.


TAPPER: "I don't know which one's more dangerous." House Democrats. China. Iran.


TAPPER: I mean, that's honest -- that we're -- your tax dollars at work.

HENDERSON: Yes, this is what he's saying.

And this is, I think, a reflection of what they have been hearing kind of in the conservative chattering class, some of the talk show hosts, folks like Rush Limbaugh.

It's also, I think, their attempt to basically make this one long narrative, right, from the campaign, to the Mueller probe, to post- Mueller probe, to kind of not make the Ukrainian issue a separate issue, because that's what Democrats want to do.

They want to focus on that phone call, what the president was doing. And so you have the all the president's men out there essentially saying, this is a Democratic plot. This is what they have always wanted to do. They think this president is illegitimate, and this is just part of that long plan that the Democrats have had.

TAPPER: And, Sara, you have covered this White House. Is there a strategy here, other than whoever -- gathering together all the loyalists and having them go out there and just throw whatever mud they can against the wall?

MURRAY: I think the strategy is fight and deflect.

If you are, I think, an organized, smart, intentional White House, you might have people going through the transcripts of other calls and saying, OK, what else do we have here that's potentially problematic? What do we need to get organized or get in front of?

Instead, I think we're going to see a lot of officials going out and saying, this is an extension of the witch-hunt, pointing their finger at Joe Biden and Hunter Biden, saying this scandal is really over here, and kind of seeing more of the same.

And Rudy Giuliani's fate to be determined. Maybe we will see more of him too.

TAPPER: And, Elliot, you heard Phil talk about some of the things the president has done, condemning the whistle-blower, suggesting that he's going to find out who it is, joking about or making comments about executions when it comes to people who provided information.

Does any of that break the law? There is a whistle-blower protection act that is the law of this country. Has the president crossed that line?

WILLIAMS: This is exactly why we have specific whistle-blower protection statutes.

Now, it has to cross into the level of an actual threat. I mean, you don't really want to get into hurting people's free speech rights, as silly as that sounds.

But when it crosses into, I'm going to kill this person, I'm going to put a hit on this person, absolutely, it violates the law. The better question is, the president is just exercising profoundly unsound judgment as a president of the United States, and that's what we need to worry about.

TAPPER: So he has not yet violated the law.

WILLIAMS: The law.

TAPPER: Good point.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr, the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, we're going to try to connect the dots between all the president's men who have been caught up in the impeachment inquiry. [15:20:06]

Stay with us.



TAPPER: All the president's men now being caught up in the Ukraine scandal and impeachment investigations.

That includes the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the nation's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Bill Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is trading accusations today with House Democrats.

I want to bring in CNN's Tom Foreman to help us connect these dots.

Tom, starting with Secretary of State Pompeo, why is he attacking Democrats today?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, Jake, he's upset that he has now been caught up in this web of scandal around that phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky in which President Trump asked a foreign government to help investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son.

Pompeo, as you know, has acted for days like he really didn't know anything about this, except what he was hearing. But now we know he was one of a dozen people who were on that call, that he didn't want the transcript released. And we also know that White House attorneys for a period of time had this locked up in a classified computer file normally reserved for state secrets.

But, as you noted, he's not the only one. You look at William Barr over at the Justice Department. He's roped in because President Trump told the Ukrainians they should work with him on this investigation of the Bidens, even though there was zero evidence the Bidens did anything wrong.

We also know the president has asked other countries, including Australia, to work with Barr on his investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, which so bedeviled the White House.

Giuliani, the private attorney for the president, he's caught up in it, same reason, because the president told the Ukrainians, work with him. And we now know that there are Ukrainians who told CNN, yes, he specifically was looking for dirt on Joe Biden. He's been subpoenaed, along with some of his records.

And then there is the vice president, Mike Pence, who told the Ukrainians, I want you to get after corruption.

But we now know that the president equates that with going after Joe Biden. Pence insists the president did nothing wrong here, even though all of this was happening while millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being suspended by the White House.

So, Jake, all you have to do is look at all these men connected to the president who are now also firmly attached to this questionable phone call to a foreign power to get involved in U.S. politics.

Of course, the Republican echo chamber says none of these people did anything wrong. But if that is the case, then why did all of them seem to want to keep this secret, Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Joining me now, someone who knows a lot about all the president's men, investigative journalist Carl Bernstein. Also joining us, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Thanks so much to both of you for being here.

Carl, let me start with you.

Take a listen to Pompeo two Sundays ago with Martha Raddatz, before we knew that he was on that call between President Trump and Ukrainian president.


MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that President Trump pressed the president of Ukraine eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani to investigate Joe Biden's son.

What do you know about those conversations?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So you just gave me a report about an I.C. whistle-blower complaint, none of which I have seen.


TAPPER: Carl, if there was nothing wrong with the call, as President Trump claims, that's not exactly the most honest answer to that question.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think Mr. Pompeo has been very honest throughout this episode.

And one of the real similarities to Watergate -- there are real differences. And I think that Trump's conduct as president is far worse than Nixon was in terms of his corruption, in terms of his contempt for the established practices of the presidency and the rule of law in this country.

But what we see in both instances are the roles of attorneys general to facilitate the corruption and to facilitate the cover-up. In the case of Watergate, Mr. Nixon had two attorney generals who facilitated this, one of whom went to jail.

And here we have Mr. Barr, the attorney general, at the center of all of this. And what Mr. Barr has been doing -- and the first day after the whistle-blower's complaint was revealed, I said on this air, just about this hour, this is about William Barr's attempt to produce evidence that a deep state conspiracy began and was responsible for the Russia investigation.

And of course, that's where we're going here. Rather than focusing on what indeed the president of the United States has done, we're trying to invent a conspiracy that somehow was about Joe Biden and his actions.

TAPPER: And, Doug, Rudy Giuliani acting as the president's personal lawyer, there are people in the White House, in the administration who think he's doing more harm than good.

What do you think?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, there's no question he is.

He seems to be just unspooled, rambling around