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First Witness Testifies in Impeachment Probe; Trump Openly Calls on China to Investigate Joe Biden; Three House Committees Interview Key Witness Named In Whistleblower Complaint; George Conway: Trump's "Narcissism" Makes Him "Unfit For Office". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 3, 2019 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump today continued to shock the political system by openly pushing both Ukraine and now China to open investigations into Joe Biden and his son, despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing, which the former Ukrainian prosecutor and president have said publicly.


One need not have whistle-blowers for today's story. President Trump said this in front of TV cameras today standing on the South Lawn of the White House.

And the reaction from Republican lawmakers to further evidence that President Trump is clearly using his office to push foreign governments to investigate his domestic political rivals either are in defense of the president's conduct or the faint sound of crickets chirping.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins starts off our coverage now from the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his own words today, President Trump called on another foreign power to investigate his political rival.

TRUMP: I think Biden is going down.

COLLINS: Saying it in front of the cameras, while facing an impeachment inquiry for make a similar request behind closed doors.

TRUMP: If it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens.

COLLINS: Today, Trump finally telling reporters what he wanted the president of Ukraine to do about the Bidens, after he refused to answer the question Wednesday.

TRUMP: We have the president of Finland. Ask him a question.

QUESTION: I have one for him. I just wanted to follow up on the one I asked you, which was, what did you want...


TRUMP: Did you hear me? Did you hear me?

COLLINS: His brazen call for China to investigate Joe Biden's son and his business dealings echoing a request he made during the 2016 campaign.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening...

COLLINS: Though Trump said he hadn't brought it up with China's president yet.

TRUMP: Certainly something we could start thinking about.

COLLINS: Moments before, he told reporters the Chinese trade delegation will be in the U.S. for another round of talks next week.

TRUMP: But if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous, tremendous power.

COLLINS: As Trump spoke, Vice President Mike Pence was in Arizona defending him and attacking Biden.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people have a right to know whether or not the vice president of the United States or his family profited from his position.

COLLINS: There have been questions about Pence's own role in the scandal after he was sent to Poland in the president's place last month, where he sat down with the Ukrainian leader, but denied that Biden came up.

PENCE: Well, on the first question, the answer is no.

COLLINS: Pence's national security adviser was on that July call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, though aides insist Pence was unaware of the push for damaging information on Biden.

Asked if it's appropriate to ask foreign governments to investigate political rivals, Pence said this today:

PENCE: Clearly, in this case, there are legitimate questions that ought to be asked.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, we should note that, despite those comments, no authorities in the United States have accused the Bidens of any wrongdoing overseas.

And, of course, we should note that, as we talked about how the president said, Russia, if you're listening, find Hillary Clinton's e- mails, after that, aides later said the president was joking. They have not offered up a similar defense for his comments about China this morning.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with our experts.

And, Jen Psaki, the president now openly calling for two foreign governments, Ukraine and the autocratic regime of China, to investigate his domestic political rivals. It seems fairly unprecedented to me.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's safe to say. And this was an exact transcript, we can say. It wasn't even notes from a transcript.

There's a couple of things in common here. And Kaitlan touched on mu of this. The main thing is that there are ongoing negotiations. Ukraine wanted military assistance. They had wanted military assistance from the United States for years.

And there had been ongoing discussions about that. Holding that over their head, that's the quid pro quo right there.

With China, as she touched on, there's negotiations that are ongoing. They're coming here next week. So...

TAPPER: The trade negotiations.

PSAKI: The trade negotiations, exactly. Those have been ongoing.. President Trump has put significant tariffs onto Chinese goods.

And I will tell you, foreign leaders, they watch what the president says. Even when I was the State Department spokesperson, they watched what I would say in a briefing to give an indication of where negotiations are going.

So, they're looking at what he's saying and the Chinese are probably saying, huh, what does that mean, OK? They obviously are watching the news. But, yes, this is unprecedented. And he did, in clear daylight, what he is under an investigation in impeachment for with another country.

TAPPER: What would the reaction be among Republican lawmakers, do you think, hypothetically, if Barack Obama had openly called on Iran and Russia, just to pick two other countries, to openly investigate Mitt Romney?

I am really -- I have to say, there is a principle here that goes far beyond partisan politics.

SARAH ISGUR, FORMER TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Everyone knows the answer the answer to that. And we know that because can see all the hypocrisy from back in the

Clinton days. How many people said impeachment was the only way on the right? And how many people on the left said impeachment is way too strong a thing to do over this?


This is what tribalism is. This is what partisanship is. Of course. They complained when Barack Obama wore a tan suit. So, I think, yes, calling Iran to investigate Mitt Romney would have been seen as a no- no.

TAPPER: Right.

Do you get the impression, Seung Min, that there are people in the White House who understand that this behavior is, A, not helping matters when it comes to impeachment? He's basically making the case that the transcript is as the whistle-blower said, even more so than the transcript did, but then also it's just not correct, it's just not right, that the founding fathers did not want foreign governments to play any role in our elections?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's clear from -- there are certainly people inside the White House and there are certainly Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are feeling that nervousness.

And going back to your earlier point, granted, we're not hearing a lot from them right now, because most lawmakers are back home on recess. This might not have been the best timed congressional recess for Senate Republicans and House Republicans in some time.

But I talked to some Republican sources earlier this week about, what is the strategy here? I mean, you're clearly going to have to do something.

And aside from some of the big kind of the -- the bulldog defenders of the president that we have already seen speak out in favor of -- in favor of the president and defending him, a lot of Republicans just don't know what to do. They're not getting a lot of guidance from the White House.

They get talking points that are accidentally sent to Democrats. They don't get much guidance beyond that. They look at the president for messaging, for tone, for guidance, but he is all over the place and also very angry.

That's not really a playbook that Republicans want to follow here. So I think there's just a lot of nervousness, confusion. I think once we get -- once lawmakers return in the next couple of weeks, we will get a better sense of where -- how they feel.

But they are certainly being very quiet today.

TAPPER: And this was -- we should just point out, this foreign governments should not interfere in U.S. elections, this is not just something that the founding fathers said more than 200 years ago.

This was said in 2016 by an obscure governor. I'm not sure if you have ever heard of him.


TAPPER: Let's play that tape.


PENCE: Now, you all need to know out there. This is -- this is basic stuff. Foreign donors, and certainly foreign governments, cannot participate in the American political process.


TAPPER: Elliot?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's good that that obscure governor has laid out such a clear, important precept of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

What is up to now, I do wonder. I don't know. And he seems like an upstanding fellow who would not be involved in an administration that is constantly engaging...


TAPPER: It's funny. You wonder what he's up to. I will tell you what he's up to. Let's roll that tape.

This is Vice President Pence today.


PENCE: The president made it very clear that he believes -- he believes our -- other nations around the world should look into it as well.

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. And, clearly, in this case, there are legitimate questions.


PSAKI: Look, I mean, Mike Pence owes his political survival to Donald Trump. He knows that. Without Donald Trump, he would be a former governor who just lost his reelection campaign.

I think that was pretty clearly the trajectory. So he's learned to date that he can play this role of pretending he didn't know, as he did with Michael Flynn, or being quiet, as he did with Charlottesville and not echoing it, but not saying it's bad either.

His staff, as we have seen, has indicated pretty clearly that he's going to be traveling, and on the road, and on the road often. That will work for only so long.

I mean, I think this case is different, because as we know with the timeline, he was -- not only was his national security adviser on that call in July that we have all seen the call notes from, but he had a meeting with the president of Ukraine in September.

So the notion that he had no idea or didn't know is absurd. Obviously, he's changed his point of view, but I think with this it's hard for him to kind of wriggle his way completely out of this.

TAPPER: I'm just remembering early this year, when Biden got in trouble with the left for saying that Pence was a decent guy, and they got all mad with him. I'm sure he's really regretting that now.


TAPPER: Coming up: The first witness in the impeachment inquiry has been testifying on the Hill, and he's still talking to several congressional committees.

What we know about his testimony next.

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

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news in our special edition of THE LEAD, "The White House in Crisis."

A big day in the impeachment inquiry, with the very first interview of a witness named in the whistle-blower complaint, still behind closed doors, that hearing.

Kurt Volker was a special envoy to Ukraine. He resigned last Friday admits this scandal. Rudy Giuliani says it was Volker who arranged his meetings with Ukrainian government aides.

Let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, who is on Capitol Hill for us.

Sunlen, Republicans have just started coming out, trickling out of that meeting, sharing their characterizations of Volker's testimony?


And lawmakers coming in and out of that room today are not offering much by way of actual substance of what's being said in this room. They are not revealing any of the content of what Kurt Volker is saying, nor what those pages and pages of documents that were delivered last night to Capitol Hill on his behalf were.

And we are seeing, though, similar -- a similar Republican line really being revealed from the lawmakers who are speaking about what they heard in the room, making their own characterizations and conclusions largely from Republicans on these three committees, basically saying that there's nothing that they see or heard in there that advances the Democrats' impeachment inquiry.

Here are two Republicans on those committees including Congressman Lee Zeldin who just spoke moments ago.


REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): The administration is in an even stronger place today than they were this morning as a product of Ambassador Volker coming to testify.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Not one thing he has said comports with any of the Democrats' impeachment narrative, not one thing.


SERFATY: And going into this deposition today a source with knowledge of Volker's thinking says that offering some explanation of the allegations of his appearance in the whistleblower's complaint saying that he was trying to get the Biden Giuliani issue just essentially off the table given that it was a political effort and certainly not in line with his role in the State Department.

So Jake, we'll certainly see and hope to learn whether lawmakers heard a similar argument there from him in the room. And notably, this is a very lengthy briefing still going on behind closed doors now almost reaching the seven-hour mark, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Let's chat about this. Kurt Volker, Sara, a fairly respected individual, Chairman or Executive Director of the McCain Institute and former Ambassador to NATO gets caught up in this. Rudy Giuliani seemed to have been trying to suggest that everything he was doing was with Kurt Volker and the State Department's blessing.

SARA ISGUR, FORMER TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Yes, Jen and I were talking about this earlier. What's coming out from the hearings right now is he's not providing a lot to either side, I think. But we have his encrypted text messages that we're just starting to hear about which shows that at least within their own ranks, they were concerned that the withholding of aid was a quid pro quo and then there were those who were like, no this is about corruption.

But the fact that back in July, there was this concern within the highest levels of the State Department in the government I think is a conversation we're going to be hearing a lot more about in the next day.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: What we need to remember is that this question of what constitutes a quid pro quo. Yes, it's a legal term but there doesn't need to be an explicit transfer of funds or specific offer of it (inaudible) ... ISGUR: Sure, it'd be a shame if something happen to that nice

restaurant of yours.

WILLIAMS: That's a nice restaurant. It'd be a shame if the windows broke or something like that.

ISGUR: Yes. Yes.

WILLIAMS: And so I know, but seriously but they are stepping toward serious misconduct, I think, getting hung up on was the criminal statute met is not the inquiry we need to be following here.

ISGUR: That's not what impeachment is.

WILLIAMS: That's not what impeachment is.

ISGUR: It's political.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And there's also a lot that I think we will learn, I'm certain, from seven hours of him testifying here. I mean who directed him to host these meetings or to set up these meetings, it seems so unlikely to me that he was just doing this of his own accord.

TAPPER: Giuliani?

PSAKI: No, I'm sorry, Volker.

TAPPER: Volker, yes.

PSAKI: Volker, which is what the accusation has been. Now, Volcker as you touched on, he's a longtime diplomat. He's a savvy operator. He's very well-connected in Washington. He ran the McCain Institute.

I mean he knows what he's doing. He probably was not kind of pulled into something that he didn't understand. So I would love to know kind of who directed him, who knew, what did Pompeo know, what did other people at the State Department know who were political appointees, what did the White House know, and did he know what Giuliani was going to be pushing and asking for. The answers to those questions I think are going to tell us a lot.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: I think what's difficult here too is that this is all being done behind private doors or closed doors, so the parts that are dripping out it allows both Democrats and Republicans to kind of create their own narratives. So Jim Jordan can go out there and say, there's nothing that we've heard in the last five hours or however long we've been there.

That implicates the President in any way and Democrats can say something completely different. I think what's really important what you're not hearing right now are some of these key voices on these committees of moderate Republicans who may be more open-minded and more willing to kind of not suddenly go to their partisan corners.

So people like Will Hurd, Elise Stefanik who are both moderate Republicans, who are both on the Intel Committee, I would be really interested in hearing from them in the future what their takeaway is from today.

WILLIAMS: Yes. And sort of as a congressional matter, those closed- door depositions are immensely valuable, because you can kind of in private without the klieg lights on get someone's information. In a political process though, people can come out however they want, they're dripping it out.

TAPPER: And while Volker has been behind closed doors, I just want to show Rudy Giuliani's Twitter feed if we can. He's been filling his Twitter feed with these screenshots of text messages in conversations that he had with Kurt Volker. He claims, Giuliani, that it showed Volker reached out to him.

I don't know if that suggests that Giuliani is nervous about what Volker is saying or not. Apparently, I've seen, I think, The Washington Post reported that Volker was actually showing all of the text message chains not just little excerpts of it.


KIM: I will say as a broader picture, when I was talking to some Republican sources earlier this week about their strategy. One said to me, one of our goals is to try to get Rudy off air a little bit. They don't think it's ...

ISGUR: It's not working.

KIM: They know this is not helping their case to have Rudy on air.

TAPPER: Yes. Rudy is going to talk about that later tonight.

ISGUR: Yes, (inaudible) ...

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We're examining the scathing op-ed about president Trump's alleged fitness for office written by Kellyanne Conway's husband, a noted conservative tourney. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD THE WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. His wife is one of President Trump's closest advisors, but today noted conservative lawyer George Conway who has emerged as a leading Republican critic of the commander-in-chief is eviscerating President Trump and his fitness for office.

In a more than 30-page article in The Atlantic magazine, Conway lays out why he thinks President Trump is a narcissist who should be removed from office and he says, you don't have to be a mental health professional to agree.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a scathing 11,400 word piece in The Atlantic

magazine, noted conservative attorney George Conway declares President Trump to be 'unfit for office'. "You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," Conway writes. "And you don't need to be a mental health professional to see that something's very seriously off with Trump, particularly after nearly three years of watching his erratic and abnormal behavior in the White House."

Conway writes that he agrees with the mental health professionals who argued the President clearly meets the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Conway then asks the reader, does the president exhibit traits typical of pathological narcissism while providing evidence that he says makes his case. Specifically, does the president 'exaggerate achievements and talents' and believe that he or she is special and unique.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm an extremely stable genius.

Nobody knows this stuff better than me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have a 'sense of entitlement' or demonstrate 'arrogant, haughty behaviors'?


TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILL BUSH, FORMER RADIO HOST: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: But I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To answer that question, Conway points to these comments from Trump on September 11, 2001. A short time after the World Trade Center collapsed.


TRUMP: 40 Wall Street actually was the second tallest building in downtown Manhattan and it was actually before the World Trade Center was the tallest. And then when they built the World Trade Center became known as the second tallest and now it's the tallest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conway also points to Trump's reaction after a man fell off the stage at his Mar-A-Lago resort and was badly injured. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, beautiful marble floor, didn't look so good. It changed color, became very red.

Get that blood cleaned up. It's disgusting.

The next day, I forgot to call to say is he OK.

He was OK.


TRUMP: It's just not my thing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conway finds other more recent examples of Trump seeming to lack basic empathy, including how after his visit to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to honor the victims killed in a horrific anti-semitic mass shooting, his first tweet about the trip read in part, "Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away. The Fake News stories were just the opposite. Disgraceful."

Conway writes, "What kind of human being, let alone politician, would engage in such Unempathetic, self-centered behavior while memorializing such horrible tragedies? Only the most narcissistic person imaginable."

And Conway connects this theory to the way the President 'is using the presidency to advertise his real estate holdings', pointing out is just one example to Trump's recent efforts to host the next G7 meeting of world leaders at his resort in Doral, Florida.


TRUMP: With Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings, we call them bungalows. They each hold from 50 to 70 very luxurious rooms.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ties this also to other aberrant behaviors upsetting the political stage, including the current Ukraine scandal.


TRUMP: I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so Conway argues, Trump's mental state should be taken into account as this impeachment inquiry begins. He writes that the president, "Places his interests over everyone else's including those of the nation whose laws he swore to faithfully execute. That's not consistent with the duties of the President, whether considered from the standpoint of constitutional law or psychology."


TAPPER: Joining me now to discuss this, Dr. Andrea Bonior. She's a psychology professor at Georgetown University. And we also have Shankar Vedantam, a Social Science Correspondent for NPR and the host of hidden brain.

Dr. Bonior, let me start with you. So George Conway's basic argument is you don't have to be a psychologist as you are to make these diagnoses, to see this obvious behavior. Does he have a point or ...

ANDREA BONIOR, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I think he has a point about the behavior. We can all sort of observe this behavior and be troubled by this behavior and maybe speculate on how it makes him unfit to be President.

I think when we get into the idea of a diagnostic label, that's when there's some concern because I still maintain that even as clinicians we can't do this from an armchair.