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Pompeo Holds News Conference Amid Impeachment Clash; Whistle- Blowers Almost as Old as the U.S.; Pompeo on Ukraine: 'I Was on the Phone Call.' Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 2, 2019 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- questions right now. Here's what we're going to do. Let's reset at the top of the hour. We'll bring you more of this news conference in just a second.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo taking questions in Rome. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Does the U.S. intend to support Italy's approach when it comes to ending the violence and to promote a cease-fire. With which interlocutors do you intend to work with and how?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So we had extensive discussions today. We had had them with President Mattarella and Prime Minister Conte, as well about Libya. Our mission set is very similar. We recognize that the first and most important --

BERMAN: We'll hear from the Italian foreign minister in a little bit, as well. We will come back to this if and when the secretary faces questions on the issue of the impeachment investigation.

Obviously, Democrats say he is a fact witness to this investigation now, because the reporting is that Mike Pompeo listened in on the phone call where President Trump leaned on the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She is the White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Maggie, great to see you this morning. A flurry of developments; not only Mike Pompeo talking. The president speaks this afternoon. Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff brief us on the investigation shortly.

And also, we've learned that Mike Pompeo wants to block State Department officials from talking to Congress.

What do you see as the single most important development over the last 12 hours? MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Boy, John, I don't really

know how to separate them. I think, actually, the most important development is one we don't yet know about, which is this briefing that the State Department inspector general is going to give members of Congress today.

We don't know the specifics. We don't know what it is. But it's been described as urgent, and this is highly unusual, according to members of Congress that I've spoken with. So we will see what that emerges as.

But it happens as we are hearing all these questions about whether Mike Pompeo will be willing to submit to questions, and his efforts to block other witnesses at the State Department from participating in the congressional oversight. And the question that's been raised by Democrats in Congress is doesn't Mike Pompeo have a conflict of interest here, since he himself is a witness?

CAMEROTA: So Maggie, Giuliani is at the center of so much of this, you know. In the whistle-blower complaint he's all over the place. He has inserted himself into these diplomatic dealings or been inserted by the president into these diplomatic dealings.

And so do you have a sense of what's happening inside the White House and how President Trump and people around him feel about Giuliani as well as how Mike Pompeo feels about all of this with Giuliani?

HABERMAN: I do. And they're not all the same. The president is very happy with Rudy Giuliani still. There was some trepidation among Trump advisers as Giuliani headed out to Sunday shows this past weekend, and the president was very happy with how he did.

And remember, Giuliani has been playing for an audience of one this whole time. The president's aides, however, not all of them but most of them are not happy with Giuliani. They wish that he would stop talking. They wish he would stop giving interviews. They don't find him helpful.

And Mike Pompeo, according to multiple people I've spoken with, is very frustrated with Rudy Giuliani. Mostly, with the fact that he keeps talking publicly, and he keeps inserting ideas in the president's head, as it's been put to me.

I do think that the complaints about Giuliani and what he says to the president tends to absolve the president of having responsibility here. He is the one telling Giuliani to go ahead with certain things. Giuliani is not freelancing. That's become clear. And that phone call makes that clear.

BERMAN: Again, we are waiting to hear if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is asked anything on the investigation. Perhaps about the State Department inspector general, a man named Steve Linick -- and we can put his picture up on the screen here -- all of a sudden, he could be an important player here, Maggie.

Steve Linick was appointed during the Obama administration. Admiral John Kirby, who served with him there, says he is seen as a straight shooter, concerned mostly just about the facts.

And you talk about the mystery surrounding what he'll say. We simply don't know. There's some reporting that it pertains to documents obtained by the legal counsel at the State Department.

But again, the idea that he is independent from the State Department political apparatus. Talk to me about the range of possibilities here. We've already got a whistle-blower that went through the intelligence community inspector general. So there's some speculation that we just don't know that the State Department I.G. is coming forward with something else here.

HABERMAN: We don't know if this is another whistle-blower. We don't know if this is about documents. We don't know if this is about efforts to keep people from testifying or cooperating with these congressional investigations. It could be any of those. It could be none of those.

But what it reminds us, John, I think, is that as much as people want to sort of game out what they think is going to happen politically to the president based on this impeachment inquiry, there's so much yet to happen. There is so much we don't know out there.


And one of the big risks for the president that every adviser of his that I have spoken with has conceded is that more will come out. There will be either additional whistle-blowers, additional information, additional evidence that he was involved in something beyond just that phone call.

And look, it's a phone call the White House put out. But there certainly are other phone calls with foreign leaders that could emerge. And there is a concern that there are just additional facts that will essentially swamp the presidency as he's trying to get re- elected and ignore this impeachment inquiry and hope it backfires on Democrats.

CAMEROTA: There's also text messages that Rudy Giuliani keeps talking about. In fact, he keeps waving around his cell phone to show these are the text messages I've gotten so many of them from the State Department. He keeps saying on national television.

Do we know who those were from? Do we know what they said?

HABERMAN: My -- I don't. My sense in my conversations with him and just what I have seen is that these are some kind of exchanges with Kurt Volker about what he was doing in terms of Ukraine and in terms of his own contacts. And I think what he had been hoping to show was that State Department officials -- and this gets to part of what Pompeo has been frustrated by -- that State Department officials knew what Giuliani was doing.

There was some effort not by the president but by others in the government to try to isolate out Giuliani and act as if he was doing this on his own for a while. I think Giuliani, who has seen any number of people around the

president get sort of cut off and described as they were acting on their own, I think, is trying to make clear that that was not the case. And look, it is clear that that's not the case.

Now, whether he was, you know, leading people and whether they felt pressured to participate or whether everybody was on the same page, I think we're going to hear more in the coming days. But there's no question that Giuliani had other people working with him in the government.

BERMAN: All right. I want to take the 30,000-foot view here. Because I think you probably have more sources inside this White House than most reporters in America.

Just generally speaking, what's the mood inside the White House? Is there a sense that the president understands how serious this is? That this very well, very likely, perhaps, might lead to impeachment. And who exactly is he listening to?

HABERMAN: He's listening to a couple of people, but the main person he's listening to, frankly, is himself and a couple of his outside lawyers. Jay Sekulow, who you've seen quoted a bunch of times this week, this was a key figure in dealing with the Mueller probe on behalf of the president, will be a key player again.

The president is listening to Giuliani. He is listening to some members of Congress, and he is obviously taking counsel from his family, as he always does.

But at the end of the day, I think the president hasn't yet processed what this could look like if he is impeached. And I think his aides are not in agreement that this is a problem. Some of them think that this --

CAMEROTA: Hey, Maggie, sorry to interrupt. He's getting a question. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is getting a question right now about all of this.

MATT LEE, REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: -- of it including the transcript or partial transcript from the White House accurate and complete. And if you were on the call, did you hear anything on that in the conversation that raised a red flag? Anything inappropriate or anything that gave you any concerns?

And then secondly, you told -- you said last week that you -- as far as you knew, everyone at the State Department had acted appropriately in regards to Ukraine, including yourself. And so is that still the case? Is that still your belief?

If it is, why object to the demand for deposition from the House committees on the Hill? And then do you have any concerns at all about what the State Department inspector general is going to be briefing to Hill staffers later today? Thank you very much.

POMPEO: Thanks, man. I'll try to answer questions four through seven first and then one through three after that.

Back to first principles, the predicate of your final question about objecting to what the folks on Capitol Hill have asked is fundamentally not true. What we objected to was the demands that were put that are -- deeply violate fundamental principles of separation of powers. They contacted State Department employees directly, told them not to contact legal counsel at the State Department. That's been reported to us. They said that the State Department wouldn't be able to be present.

There are important constitutional prerogatives that the executive branch asked to be present so that we could protect the important information. So our partners, countries like Italy, can have confidence that the information that they provide the State Department will continue to be protected.

And so the response that I provided to them was one that acknowledged that we will, of course, do our constitutional duty to cooperate with this co-equal branch.

But we are going to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental values of the American system. And we won't tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying, intimidating State Department employees. That's unacceptable, and it's not permissible. It's not something I'm going to permit to happen.


As for was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call. The phone call was the context of now, I guess, I'd been a secretary of state for coming on a year and a half. I know precisely what the American policy is with respect to Ukraine. It's been remarkably consistent, and we will continue to try to drive those set of outcomes.

It's what our team, including Ambassador Volker, were focused on, was taking down the threat that Russia poses there in Ukraine. It was about helping the Ukrainians to get graft out and corruption outside of their government and to help now this new government in the Ukraine build a successful thriving economy.

It's what the State Department officials that I had the privilege to lead have been engaged in. And it's what we will continue to do. Even while all this noise was going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Chris O'Dea, National Review.

CHRIS O'DEA, CORRESPONDENT, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Thank you, both, for being here.

I'd like to, I guess, address the question to both of you. You can kind of take it in whichever -- whichever order, whoever wants to kind of go first. Primarily oriented towards, I guess, what is conveniently termed kind of the belt in the road these days. But on a somewhat broader basis, not just with Huawei but does the U.S. have any specific plans in terms of how to counter China's -- CAMEROTA: OK. You've just been listening to Secretary of State Mike

Pompeo speaking in Rome. And he was just asked the burning pretty much the questions of the day about the phone call between president of Ukraine and President Trump and whether or not he was actually on the phone call and what he thought of that phone call. And it was the first time, we think, that he said, quote, "I was on the phone call."

But then he pivoted to say it was about the mission, our mission with Ukraine has been very clear. That's what Ambassador Volker has been working on. So he didn't really address whether he is comfortable with President Trump asking for a favor and pressuring the president of Ukraine.

So we're joined again by Admiral Kirby and Maggie Haberman. So Admiral Kirby, does that answer any question of yours?

ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: That certainly answers the question that -- of whether he was on the call or not. And he had a chance to talk about -- Matt Lee's question was an excellent one, multipart though it was, about -- about whether he heard anything that he thought was inappropriate, whether any red flags that were raised about this conversation.

And he simply went right back to policy. He said, look, the call was about policy. It was about Russia. It was about corruption. It was about the economy in the Ukraine. He completely just sort of glanced over any potential mention of Giuliani or Volker or Ambassador Yovanovitch. And he didn't -- didn't get to any of that detail.

He was very defensive, as you would expect that he would be in terms of his letter back to Representative Engle. He went back to process again, just like we talked about before the break, that this was about executive branch privilege. It was about, you know, the process through which Congress was trying to depose these individuals.

So again, I don't think we gained a lot, other than him admitting that he was on the call. He basically -- he was in the defensive crouch for the rest of those answers.

BERMAN: Right.

KIRBY: That said, I will give him credit for going to Matt Lee. Anybody who stood at the State Department podium knows Matt. He's a tough questioner from the Associated Press. He didn't have to take a question from the Associated Press. He took a second one from "National Review," which is a conservative magazine.

So I do give him kudos for at least, knowing the question was coming and having it come from Matt Lee.

BERMAN: "I was on the phone call" was the answer to the question that Martha Raddatz asked ten days ago. That was the honest answer to the question that she asked. He gave an evasive answer to Martha. Ten days later he says, "I was on the phone call" to Matt Lee. Doesn't tell us anything he thought or what he thought when the president leaned on the president of Ukraine. Maggie, what did you hear there? Again, the secretary definitely did

not talk about any of the details that might come up in the impeachment investigation. But what do you take away?

HABERMAN: I agree that Matt Lee is a good questioner to go to. And he's a -- he's a real reporter, and he asks tough questions. But I took it, frankly, as a recognition that Pompeo knew that he could not avoid this anymore after what happened with Martha Raddatz. I think they felt like they had to rip the Band-Aid off.

But he didn't answer the key question that Matt asked, which was whether he heard anything inappropriate, and that's going to be the question that, if he ever faces members of the House for questioning, he is going to get asked.

And it is, you know, a legitimate question within the oversight function that the members of Congress play, Republican or Democrat, of the executive branch. And there's going to continue to be a push for it. I think that his answer there is only going to raise more questions about why he wasn't more forthcoming the first time and why they have handled things the way they have over the last ten days.

CAMEROTA: OK. So many developments happening, really, every moment here. So Admiral Kirby, thank you very much.

Maggie Haberman, thank you. NEW DAY will bring you all of the latest developments when we come right back.


CAMEROTA: A lot of Republicans helped build this nation's proud history of protecting whistle-blowers. To say that they've changed their tune today is an understatement. John Avlon has our "Reality Check" -- John.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, guys. Whistle-blowers and the intimidation game at the heart of a lot of debate right now. Whistle-blowers being attacked by the president, and branded a saboteur by a senior adviser, kicking off what the architect of the last impeachment, Newt Gingrich, is now calling an attempted coup. Language being echoed by the president.

So it might surprise you to learn that protecting whistle-blowers is an idea almost as old as the republic itself and so bipartisan that the last whistle-blower act passed Congress in 2012 with unanimous support. That includes the president's closest allies in Congress, like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell and then-Congressman Mike Pompeo.

So how did we go from unanimous support to talking about treason? Got to go all the way back to 1778, just two years after the Declaration of Independence, when we got our first whistle-blower law. It said it's the duty of all Americans to, quote, "give the earliest

information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge."

This came about because ten sailors blew the whistle on a commodore who was apparently infamous for his unprofessional antics and dangerous temperament. "I have sometimes thought he was not in his senses," one of his sailors wrote. The Continental Congress immediately relieved the commodore of duty.

Whistle-blower laws also got a look during the Civil War with the False Claims Act, allowing private citizens to sue on the government's behalf. In other words, blow the whistle.

In recent decades, we've seen Whistle-Blower Protection Act of 1989 and its enhancement in 2012.

So given this proud American history of protecting whistle-blowers and the legal requirement that their complaints, deemed urgent and credible, be shared with Congress, it was a little galling to hear this.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If there really is nothing there, why not just -- why shouldn't the White House just let Congress look at this whistle-blower complaint? If it's as innocent as you say, then that will clear it all up.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I think that would be a terrible precedent.


AVLON: Terrible precedent? It's one of the oldest precedents in the United States. Of course, that didn't stop this outburst from senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.


MILLER: This is a deep state operative, pure and simple. And this individual is a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically-elected government.


AVLON: Not even a little bit there, pal. Whistle-blowers have historically outed saboteurs, among other bad actors.

And then we have President Trump. Listen to what he told stunned employees at the U.S. mission to the U.N.


used to do in the old days, when we were smart, right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.


AVLON: Yes. Yes, we did, Mr. President, which is why we have these laws in the first place.

Today's whistle-blower already fears for their safety, and who could blame them? But look, where you stand is often a matter of where you sit in Washington. Which is why Republican Senator Chuck Grassley deserves praise for sticking to his principles, saying yesterday that the whistle-blower "appears to have followed the whistle-blower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected." That's why we need whistle-blower laws and why we need to strengthen them, if anything.

But don't just take my word for it. Just listen to this guy.


TRUMP: The United Nations must hold every level of management accountable, protect whistle-blowers, and focus on results rather than on process.


AVLON: "Protect whistle-blowers." I give you President Trump at the United Nations just two years ago.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: It's important words to hear, John. And I have to say, it's a stunning place that we've come to, where it's a profile in courage for Senator Chuck Grassley to stand up and say, hey you know what? A whistle-blower who follows the whistle-blower process, maybe we should listen.

CAMEROTA: But it is.


CAMEROTA: It is a profile in courage, John.

AVLON: It shouldn't be, but here we are.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Moments ago, you heard Secretary of State Mike Pompeo make an admission that he has avoided and dodged for ten days. He said, "I was on the phone call." He gave a dishonest answer about this ten days ago. Why the change? What does it tell us about what's going on inside the Trump administration? That's next.



BERMAN: All right. The breaking news just moments ago. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted he was on the phone call where President Trump leaned on the leader of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. This is a vast evolution from where he was ten days ago.

Let's walk down memory lane. This is how Mike Pompeo responded when Martha Raddatz first asked him about ten days ago what he knew about that phone call.


MARTHA RADDATZ, CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: What do you know about those conversations?

POMPEO: So you just gave me a report about a I.C. whistle-blower complaint, none of which I've seen.


BERMAN: Not so honest. This morning, the honest answer. Listen.


POMPEO: As for was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call. The phone call was in the context of now, I guess, I'd been the secretary of state for coming on a year and a half. I know precisely what the American policy is with respect to Ukraine.


BERMAN: "I was on the phone call." Would have been a sufficient answer to Martha Raddatz when she first asked.

CAMEROTA: Seems easy enough.

BERMAN: Seems easy enough.

CAMEROTA: OK. Joining us now to talk about this and so much more, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Michael Shear.

So Michael, I mean -- we'll just -- we just still don't know why he didn't give that easy, one-sentence answer to Martha Raddatz ten days ago.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, it's -- as John just said, it's the honest answer, but it was also the perfectly evasive answer. Right? The real part of Matt Lee's question was not just were you on the phone call, though that's an important admission, but it was, you know, what did you think of it? Did it hit you? Did it strike you at the time that the president had said something inappropriate? And the secretary of state completely didn't answer that question. And the problem for him is that that question will not go away. Those

kinds of formal press conferences that you just saw a piece of are a difficult place to have follow-up questions.

But members of Congress are going to be able to follow up when they -- you know, if they get him before --