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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA); Trump Openly Calls on China to Investigate Joe Biden. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 3, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The campaign also says that the senator does plan to be at the CNN/"New York Times" debate on October 15.

That is it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for joining me this last hour.

A special edition of "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis."

I'm Jake Tapper.

To say we are in an unprecedented time is understating just how aberrant the behavior from the president of the United States has become.

Today, President Trump not only openly called for exactly what Congress is looking into in their impeachment inquiry, pushing the Ukrainians to investigate his domestic political rival, Joe Biden, but the president expanded what critics are calling a clear abuse of power to include China.

No whistle-blower required here. President Trump pushed this at the White House on the South Lawn, after being asked by a reporter what exactly he wants from Ukraine's Leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would think that, if they were honest about it, they would sort of major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens, because how does a company that's newly formed -- and all these companies, if you look at -- and, by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A reminder that the prosecutor and, as of today, former president of Ukraine both assert that there's no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or his son. But beyond the indecency of this potential abuse of power is the shock of the deafening silence from almost everyone in the Republican Party, apparently hoping that history will never wonder what they were doing while this was all happening.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, you have been reporting that aides in the White House are worried that the president doesn't quite grasp the enormity of this. He's just saying it out loud now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have been talking for the last several days about a private request that Trump made.

And, today, he did it again about another country in front of the cameras, surrounded by microphones and reporters. And we should note, it was unprompted. As you heard there, he was talking about Ukraine, when then he brought up the fact that he believes China should also investigate the Bidens.

So, right now, what you're seeing, if you step back, is the president is calling on a foreign power to investigate his political rival while he is facing an impeachment threat for calling on a foreign power to investigate his political rival.

Now, we should note the president said he had not spoken to the president of China yet about this, but he made clear that there's an opening and that he might do so, noting just moments before he made that request that the U.S. -- or the Chinese trade delegation is going to come back to the U.S. next week to Washington for another round of those talks, though it's unclear if it's going to come up then.

But the president made clear he thinks it's fine if it does.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, this afternoon, the vice president, Mike Pence, defended the president. What did he have to say?

COLLINS: Yes, there have been questions about Pence's role in all of this, because, remember, Trump sent Pence to Poland when he couldn't go. He stayed back to monitor that hurricane.

That's when Pence sat down with the Ukrainian president. And there were questions about whether or not Joe Biden came up during that question -- during those talks between the two. He said they didn't.

But, today, he said that he thinks these are legitimate questions to ask about investigating the Bidens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you hold the second highest office in the land, it comes with unique responsibilities, not just to be above impropriety, but to be above the appearance of impropriety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: So, of course, he's not only saying that Joe Biden's not above the appearance of impropriety, but he was also talking about the specific allegations that the president has been making that, of course, the president has not provided any evidence or reasoning for why he believes these things.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House with the latest there, thank you so much.

On Capitol Hill today, the first witness to testify about this Ukraine scandal appeared before three congressional committees behind closed doors, Kurt Volker, the now former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine.

CNN's Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, Republicans are claiming that Volker behind closed doors has not advanced the impeachment probe in any way.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they are.

They're saying that, but they're not providing any details about exactly why they are making that case. This Volker testimony is happening still, Jake, five-and-a-half-hours behind closed doors.

He is still talking to this committee, going through documents that have been provided by -- provided to this committee, as well as answering questions about what was in that whistle-blower complaint about Volker apparently trying to navigate concerns that the Ukrainians had about the different messages that came out about -- from both the president himself and Rudy Giuliani about pushing for an investigation into Joe Biden, also about meeting that he apparently set up with Rudy Giuliani and a liaison to the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, to talk about these issues.

All those are being discussed. Now, Republicans have been saying all day that this is nothing to advance the impeachment inquiry. But when you ask them, what do you mean by that, they refuse to comment on the details, because this is still ongoing.

[15:05:12]

And Democrats have yet to comment on this as well, Jake, so we will have to see exactly what emerges from here, but, at the moment, questions still ongoing. We will see when this wraps up -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Manu, you spoke with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Adam Schiff.

What did he have to say about that characterization from Republicans that Volker wasn't moving the ball in any way?

RAJU: Well, he declined to comment. I asked him directly that question, your response to the Republican contention that essentially this is undercutting your investigation. He would not comment about that, but, instead, he took a -- criticized the president directly about the president's comments on the South Lawn of the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I'm not going to comment at all until after the hearing, except to say that I think the president's once again inviting interference in our election is repugnant and a violation of his oath of office.

It endangers our elections and it endangers our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, he also declined to comment when I asked him if anybody on his staff knew the identity of the whistle-blower, this coming, of course, after his office acknowledged that the whistle-blower had reached out to a staff member and to essentially determine the process for filing a complaint.

This after Adam Schiff had said publicly that they had not had contact with the whistle-blower, they had spoken to him. Now, Adam Schiff has since, through a committee official, has said, essentially, that he should have been clear, that they did not review the whistle-blower complaint. They certainly didn't write the whistle-blower complaint, as the president has alleged.

But the whistle-blower did reach out to a staff member just to talk about the process, which they see -- they say is completely normal. That happens from whistle-blowers all the time, where they reach out to the committees. The committees direct them how to file a complaint.

But, still, that's something that Republicans and his allies have been trying to attack Schiff over to undermine his credibility. But, nevertheless, he declined to comment on that today, but questions ultimately will persist -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Another player in this Ukraine probe is the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Democrats want her to testify as well. She's now gotten tangled up in a series of documents that the State Department inspector general handed over to Congress yesterday.

You might recall on this show yesterday there was confusion Capitol Hill as to why the inspector general handed over this weird bunch of documents described by a Democratic congressman as conspiracy theories about various individuals that the president considers enemies of his.

We have since learned that some of these documents came from the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who sent them to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

CNN has obtained these documents, which contain unproven claims about the Bidens, as well as former Ambassador Yovanovitch.

Let's get right to CNN's Kylie Atwood.

And, Kylie, what can you tell us about these documents?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, a large part of these documents prop up what we have already seen in the public sphere, these unfounded conspiracy theories about both Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, alleging that they were corrupt, that they were doing things illegally, also propping up unfounded theories about the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, saying that she was an operator of the Democratic Party and she was making requests on behalf of the U.S. government that were improper of the Ukrainian government.

Now, we know that she never made those requests that were alleged. But also in these documents we have some internal State Department e- mails. And what they show is that some of the top State Department officials were passing around these right-wing conspiracy theories and charging, claiming that they were not right, calling out the fact that they were casting the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, incorrectly, and saying that they captured the basic fake narrative that was out there.

TAPPER: Hmm.

So Giuliani says that some of these documents originated with him and he passed them on to Pompeo. What did you think was going to happen after that?

ATWOOD: Yes, so it's kind of like playing a game of phone tag, right? They passed it from one to another. First, they started with Giuliani.

Giuliani then passed on those documents to the White House and he asked them to be directed to Pompeo. Somehow, they got from the White House to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. When Pompeo got them, at some point, they were passed on to the legal adviser at the State Department.

Now, the legal adviser got them and then share them with the inspector general of the State Department. That was about in May, right? And they shared those documents with the FBI. The FBI said that they could share those documents with Congress, indicating that the FBI is not actively investigating this matter.

[15:10:04]

Congress now has those documents because the inspector general brought them to Congress yesterday. We don't know exactly what Giuliani wants done with these documents, but we know that he wanted Secretary Pompeo to look into them and to investigate them.

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood, thank you so much appreciate your reporting. The letter signed by several Republican lawmakers, it seems to undermine President Trump's credibility argument about the whistle- blower.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:18]

TAPPER: Welcome back to this special edition of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis."

Today, President Trump openly suggesting both Ukraine and now China should investigate his political rival Joe Biden and Biden's son.

Let's talk about this with our experts.

Ryan Lizza, let me start with you.

How significant do you think the president's words today were?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think they're very significant, because what Trump is doing -- what Trump relies on his support from Republicans, right?

Obviously, that's the -- that's what buoys him, right? And so he tests every day, how far can he push his arguments? How much can he get away with, right? And he has no compunction about completely changing what he says he believes about this, right?

So we have a whole set of Republicans and right-leaning commentators who defended the transcript that was released by the White House by saying, the president never asked him to investigate Joe Biden. It was really just about these -- these other issues.

Well, lo and behold, Trump just blurts it out, right?

TAPPER: Yes.

LIZZA: And so now he's put his entire party in the position of, OK, we now have to either condemn the president -- not likely to happen, based on previous examples -- or readjust their defense of him, based on his latest words.

And that's the most important dynamic is, how far can he push them?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Everything indicates that he can push them very far, and that they in, essence, created this president.

And, in many ways, they have given him permission over these last three years to basically do anything he wants, right? Never mind what he was doing as a candidate, if you think about what he was doing even in the first weeks in office, divulging classified information in the White House, questioning the credibility of the intelligence agency, lying and lying and lying thousands of times, racial division, as well as just spreading conspiracy theories.

So this idea that all of a sudden Republicans are going to balk at what this president says and does, I think it probably won't happen, because, in many ways, they are this president.

TAPPER: What are you hearing from Republicans on Capitol Hill? Are any of them expressing concern that this is, in fact, a complete violation of his oath of office and an abuse of power and something they would never tolerate in a Democratic president?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, there are a lot of heavy sighs, because it is a lot more of and in many ways worse than what the president did without the cameras there with Ukraine.

I mean, saying what he said to China, a country that he's in a trade war with, a country that presidents of both parties have reamed out for stealing America's intellectual property, he is saying, excuse me, can you help me investigate my political opponent?

I mean, it's just almost impossible to wrap our minds around. I agree about, you know, this putting Republicans in a very tough position. They admit that very openly. But...

TAPPER: It's a tough position if -- I'm sorry for interrupting.

BASH: Yes. Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: But it's a tough position if getting reelected is more important than standing up for what's right.

That's what makes it a tough position.

BASH: Yes. I mean, if -- however, for some of the purple state Republicans who are up for reelection, who could determine whether Republicans keep control of the Senate or not, depending on how this goes, that might not be as clear-cut of a political decision that they make, because they're going to need their base, but they're also going to need independents and Democrats.

We will see how this goes. The president, he has just decided that this is not wrong, he doesn't care. And by saying it out loud, he's going to make it OK.

TAPPER: And, Elliot, Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was, we should mention, fired by Trump, he called this a plausible second article of impeachment. I don't doubt that, but here's the question.

Is it illegal? Is calling on a foreign country to investigate your domestic political opponents, is that against the law?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you're the president of the United States, it's more complicated, because the president has brought authority to conduct things like foreign relations, and he has -- this is what tripped up the Mueller report somewhat, because the president does have broad authority.

Now, look, there are a number of crimes that you step up to, like bribery, extortion and -- but you have to demonstrate that there's a thing of value coming to the person for the crime they're committing.

At the end of the day -- and you know this very well, Jake -- it doesn't have to be a crime for it to be impeachable. And Congress ultimately says -- I mean, the term high crimes and misdemeanors in the Constitution isn't really defined.

Generally, Congress believes, number one, if someone's abused power, if someone has behaved -- a president has behaved in a manner incompatible with the oath of office or misused the office for personal gain, that's sort of a slam dunk on both these China allegations and the Ukraine allegations.

TAPPER: Yes.

WILLIAMS: But you just probably couldn't charge them as a crime.

BASH: By the way, they're not allegations. They're pronouncements.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Yes.

[15:20:01]

WILLIAMS: He said them.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No. No, you don't need a whistle-blower for this one.

So, back in September, Republican Senator Mitt Romney tweeted -- quote -- "If the president asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out."

Now, Democratic Congressman David Cicilline just responded to that, saying -- quote -- "The president just did exactly this, on camera, no less. It's time for Republicans to put our country ahead of their political party."

But do you see the Mitt Romneys of the world -- well, I don't want to criticize Mitt Romney, because he's actually gone out farther than anyone.

LIZZA: Yes.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: But are they going to say anything? They mean, they wondered, if he did this, it would be horrible. Now he's doing it in front of the cameras. LIZZA: Look, the pattern here is that they won't, right?

And I think Dana made the great point. He's saying it out loud to make it OK. That is the unusual thing we live with in the era of Trump, where he says something out loud and publicly. And it's almost like, well, he's not keeping it secret, so maybe it's not so bad.

And he conditions the sort of information environment, especially on the right, to then sort of adapt to that argument. We have never really seen anything like this in American history.

And all of a sudden, his supporters on the right will start making those defenses. And the glue that holds this together is, frankly, just hatred for the other party. That drives everything. And until Republicans...

TAPPER: And the media.

LIZZA: And the media.

TAPPER: Yes.

LIZZA: Until Republicans think that what Trump is doing is worse than what they see in the Democrats and in the media, they will stick with this.

But you know what? We have seen this in history before. And, sometimes, there is a breaking point. You look at cases like support for Joe McCarthy, support for Richard Nixon. Eventually, that cost- benefit analysis changes.

TAPPER: Well, the one thing that I think everybody knows is, in this town, when one standard is eroded, and you're OK with it, it comes back to bite you, no matter what, and it gets worse.

BASH: Oh, yes.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely.

BASH: Well said.

TAPPER: And we have seen that a million times with a million different things. We have never seen an erosion like this, though.

With President Trump now publicly calling for not one, but two foreign countries to investigate his political opponent, did he just help the impeachment inquiry?

Our next guest is on one of the committees leading that inquiry.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:03]

TAPPER: We're back with the politics lead in this special episode of THE LEAD: "The White House in Crisis."

President Trump now publicly pushing the leaders of Ukraine and China to investigate his political rivals.

Joining me now to discuss is Congressman Ro Khanna, who serves on the House Oversight Committee, which is helping to lead the impeachment inquiry into the president.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

You heard the president earlier today just out in the open call for Ukraine and now China to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son.

Is that against the law?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): It is, Jake.

I mean, there is no factual dispute here. The president is brazenly committing impeachable acts on national television. He's soliciting foreign interference to get dirt on a political rival.

He's, frankly, rejecting George Washington's farewell address, where George Washington warned this country that the downfall of our constitutional republic would be foreign influence.

TAPPER: So what's the exact crime? Conspiracy to -- I mean, I don't -- I don't know exactly what the law is. I understand that you think it's impeachable, which is a political call.

And I understand people think it's an abuse of his office, an abuse of power.

KHANNA: Yes.

TAPPER: But what's the law that he's breaking?

KHANNA: Well, as you know, Richard Nixon, one of the articles of impeachment was for abuse of office, abuse of your constitutional oath.

And that is the central case against the president, that he's abused his oath of office. He hasn't protected our Constitution. Now, are there possible criminal violations as well? That can be looked into. But you don't need that for an impeachment.

What you need is an article saying that he's abused his office and violating -- violated his oath.

TAPPER: Take a listen to something else President Trump said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I think Biden is going down. And I think his whole situation, because now you may very well find that there are many other countries that they scammed, just like they scammed China and Ukraine.

And, basically, who are they really scamming? The USA. And it's not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Just to be clear, the president's providing no evidence for these lies and smears. He's just saying whatever in front of the cameras, in front of the American people.

What's your reaction when you hear that from the president?

KHANNA: They're ad hominem attacks. They have no place in American politics.

You know I co-chair Bernie Sanders' campaign, but every Democrat needs to condemn them. They should not allow this president to try to do to a Democrat what he did to Hillary Clinton. It's despicable.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Max Rose, one of your colleagues, a Democrat from New York, announced yesterday that he now supports the impeachment inquiry, though he did have some words of caution.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MAX ROSE (D-NY): What's most important here is that we do not jump either to any conclusions.

This is a sad, sad day for America. No one should cheer this. No one should applaud it. There were Democrats that signed onto impeachment before they were even sworn in. That's absolutely wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree with the congressman? Do you see colleagues sometimes acting in a way that you think might undermine the seriousness of purpose of the impeachment inquiry?

KHANNA: I haven't.

[15:30:00]