Return to Transcripts main page


Text Messages Revealed in Trump Impeachment Investigation; Sources: Intel IG Gave Committee Documents Showing Efforts to Corroborate Whistleblower Complaint; Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is Interviewed About the Ongoing Whistleblower Complaint Investigation. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 4, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It seems like Trump is all but daring the House to impeach him.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today: President Trump responding to a House subpoena with a quid pro quo of his own, telling Speaker Pelosi she will get nothing until the full House goes on the record with a vote on impeachment.

This drama unfolding, as the man who handled the whistle-blower complaint that started this all, the inspector general, returns to Capitol Hill. I will speak to a lawmaker coming up, someone who was behind closed doors with him.

Plus, scroll up, those damning text messages now impeachment evidence and a potential smoking gun of quid pro quo that the president held up military aid and a Ukrainian visit to the White House for political gain.

Welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD: "White House in Crisis." I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with another historic day in Washington where norms are being eroded and facts trampled upon. President Trump today telling the American people, in essence, ignore all of the evidence you have been presented with, including his own words and those of his aides, when it comes to the president's clear use of his presidency to push foreign leaders to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.

Last night, further evidence emerged that such an investigation was part of a quid pro quo with Ukrainian President Zelensky. The president's aides in texts clearly pushing Zelensky to publicly commit to an investigation into Burisma, the gas firm that once employed Hunter Biden, before the president would agree to a White House visit for Zelensky, one that Zelensky desperately wanted.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When this came out, it was quid pro quo. Well, there was none. There is no quid pro quo. There is no quid pro quo. There is no pro quo.


TAPPER: Repeating the denial of a quid pro quo, which is something exchanged with the expectation of receiving something in return, repeating it doesn't make it any truer, especially after the first witness in the Ukraine scandal handed over stunning text message exchanges to Congress in which a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine wrote -- quote -- "As I said on the phone, I think it is crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign" -- unquote.

President Trump today continued to deny that it is inappropriate for a president to push for dirt on political opponents. He called it an obligation to look into corruption.

But when asked today about a reporter if he could name one other time, one other time that he pushed for an investigation into alleged or invented corruption, not of a political opponent, well, President Trump said this;


TRUMP: You know, we would have to look.


TAPPER: "We would have to look," the president says.

George Orwell once wrote in "1984" -- quote -- "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command" -- unquote, a philosophy that is the apparent White House strategy for this scandal or, as President Trump once put it:


TRUMP: Just remember what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what is happening.


TAPPER: Actually, it is.

And, today, the first crack in the Republican veneer of solidarity with President Trump, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah saying -- quote -- "The president's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling" -- unquote.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, there is also now a Republican senator who is saying that he heard of this quid pro quo and confronted President Trump about it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Republican senator Ron Johnson telling "The Wall Street Journal" that the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told him that the status of that military aid for Ukraine was tied to the investigations that the president wanted to see the country carry out.

Now, that is significant for two reasons, one, because that ambassador to the E.U. told another top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine that there was no quid pro quo, that there was no correlation, and that essentially what he thought was happening was not happening.

It is also significant because Ron Johnson tells "The Wall Street Journal" that he confronted President Trump over this, who he says adamantly denied that the two were linked, something we saw the president do repeatedly in front of reporters today.


TRUMP: When I speak to a foreign leader, I speak in an appropriate manner.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump stuck with that line of defense today as he was forced to defend calling on another foreign leader to investigate his political rival, something he claims has nothing to do with the upcoming election.


TRUMP: I don't care about Biden's campaign. But I do care about corruption.

COLLINS: After suggesting China should look into Joe Biden, Trump denied linking it to a potential trade deal.

TRUMP: One thing has nothing to do with the other.

COLLINS: Making that claim, even though he mentioned trade right before saying this Thursday:

TRUMP: China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

COLLINS: Trump hasn't personally asked China's president to launch an investigation, he says, but sources tell CNN, during a summer phone call, that he not only promised President Trump Xi Jinping he would remain on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong; he also raised Biden and Elizabeth Warren, which he says he doesn't remember.

TRUMP: Was in 2017? I don't know. You would have to tell me when.

COLLINS: One question Trump didn't answer today was whether he'd ask other countries to investigate someone who is not his political opponent.

TRUMP: You know, we would have to look.

COLLINS: But he did confirm he will dare House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a formal vote on an impeachment inquiry before the White House will cooperate.

TRUMP: Well, we will be issuing a letter.

COLLINS: The White House argues Democrats don't have the authority to demand documents without one, though Democrats say otherwise.

TRUMP: These people are looking for anything they can get.

COLLINS: The Ukraine scandal overshadowing the September jobs report, which showed the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent.

TRUMP: They're the best numbers we have had in over 50 years.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, some administration officials want to only focus on that September jobs report.

But it is getting harder and harder to see how they will do that, now that House Democrats just in the last hour have now requested Democrats -- or -- excuse me -- documents related to Ukraine from the vice president's office as well.

Of course, he traveled to Poland last month, instead of the president going, where he met with the Ukrainian leader, though it is unclear, Jake, how the vice president's office is going to respond to that request.

TAPPER: All right, and he pushed Zelensky on the corruption issue. It is unclear if he said anything about the Bidens or any of the other investigations that the president wants.


TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

President Trump -- let's bring in my panel right now, my experts.

President Trump says he's focused only on corruption, not investigations of his rivals. But then he wasn't able to answer this quick key question from Eamon Javers about what other individuals he's pushed for when it comes to corruption in the investigation.

Take a listen.


QUESTION: Have you asked foreign leaders for any corruption investigations that don't involve your political opponents?


TRUMP: We would have to look.


TAPPER: Nia-Malika, let me start with you. Surely, the White House must have known that eventually President Trump would be asked about this. If corruption is so important, where are you on pushing for corruption investigations on any number of individuals?

He had no answer.


The only answer is the one we see sort of laid out in these texts and in these phone calls with the Ukrainian leader. His focus on corruption has everything to do with his political opponents, in this case Joe Biden.

And we see that laid out in these texts. It is always laughable that this was a president who was supposedly a global corruption buster, right? That is what he's trying to sell here.

But we know, based on his dealings with Saudi Arabia, based on his dealings with the Soviet Union and based on just his transactional nature in dealing with foreign leaders and really, I think, turning a blind eye to America's usual role in the world, talking about corruption, talking about human rights violations as well, it is just something he hasn't been interested in.

He says he is going to take a look to see if he has focused on anything other than his political opponents when it comes to corruption. I don't think it is going to take long. I think we know the answer to that already.

TAPPER: And, Laura, I mean, this comes as a lot of people in good government groups are insinuating that the Trump administration when it comes to all the times the president is pushing businesses -- I'm sorry -- pushing governments to stay at his hotels, pushing the G7 to stay at the Doral resort, et cetera, that he's actually pretty corrupt himself, these good government groups claim.


A number of those groups have been constantly looking at this, as well as House Democrats, because they allege that the president is profiting off of the presidency, that not only him, but his children are by these instances of federal -- or by foreign government officials staying at his hotels.

And in addition to what Nia said, when it comes to the evidence that we have seen so far of the president even out loud saying that he wants Ukraine and China to look into the Biden investigation, the FEC commissioner has repeatedly said in public just as recently as today that it is illegal for any person to get contributions, be that money, be that an investigation, from a foreign government or a foreign adversary when it relates to an election.


So the idea and Trump's claim that he can do this and that there are no legal consequences is inaccurate.

TAPPER: Governor Granholm, let me ask you.

President Trump says the White House will send House Speaker Pelosi a letter in response to the Democrats' request for documents and such. Sources tell CNN that the White House lawyers plan to claim they don't have to turn over any documents until the full House of Representatives votes on an impeachment inquiry.

Governor Granholm, why not have that vote?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: Well, they could. They could have the vote.

They have already launched an inquiry. But this, I think, is another example of obstruction of Congress. They don't need to have a vote of Congress on impeachment before they turn over documents.

Isn't it the Trump administration and Republicans who have been complaining that Democrats are rushing to judgment on impeachment before they have the evidence? Here, the Democrats are trying to get the evidence, and now the president says, we won't give it to you unless you vote.

That is very upside-down. But let me just say that. In this discussion, I just want viewers and people to understand that there are several potential crimes here that could be the basis of articles of impeachment.

The one -- the crime that does not require a quid pro quo is the violation of the campaign finance laws. All he all -- all the House has to prove is that he solicited, he asked for something of value, which would be dirt on an opponent, in conjunction with an election.

The other two -- the other elements are really important, though, abuse of power, bribery. The bribery does require a quid pro quo. And that, to me, based on the texts today -- and I know we will talk about that later -- is obvious.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Love, let me ask you.

Your colleagues have been -- your former colleagues have been pretty quiet, with the exception of your senator, Mitt Romney, who issued a very strong statement today denouncing the president's behavior as wrong.

What do you make of it all?

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Mitt Romney is someone who is not afraid to say what he thinks. I know that there are a lot of frustrations towards him at this point, especially with the president. The president did lash out at Mitt Romney.

One of the things that the president really has to remember is that they have an allegiance to the people that they represent. They don't have an allegiance to the White House, and that they are elected by people and so they have to represent them.

I do think, however, it is important -- there are a lot of members in the House that I have spoken to, one that I respect quite a bit, Representative Will Hurd, who -- he finds some of the issues, some of the text messages disturbing.

But he also feels as if -- and I think it is fair to say that the Republicans have completely been left out of the process. The impeachment inquiry, they're not part of the conversation at all.

And so they're saying, look, we want to be able to have subpoena power. We want to be able to have those things. And it is fair to say, look, we should be involved and it should transparent, so take a vote on the House floor.

TAPPER: All right, well, let me ask our next guest about that.

Everyone, stick around. We are going to keep talking to you, but our next guest just met with the intelligence community inspector general. I'm going to talk to a member of the House Intelligence Committee coming up next.

Plus, since President Trump says he wants to stop corruption, we are going to look at the corrupt countries and world leaders that he has called out many times strongly.

Oh, wait a second.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we have some breaking news in our politics lead.

We just learned that the intelligence community inspector general handed over documents to lawmakers today showing how he tried to corroborate the whistleblower's complaint. It's one of our first glimpses into what Inspector General Michael Atkinson has been telling House Intelligence Committee members behind closed doors today.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty joins me live from Capitol Hill where the briefing is still going on.

Sunlen, what are lawmakers saying about the inspector general's testimony?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, we expect this briefing to break up at any moment but certainly, a significantly long day for the ICIG, who's been behind closed doors with lawmakers now for going on six hours. And lawmakers coming out of that briefing telling us that Michael Atkinson briefed first and foremost on how he handled the whistle-blower's investigation and specifically about how he handled the corroboration of the whistleblower's complaint and coming to the table today essentially with something of a paper trail so to speak handing over, according to sources, that they tell CNN, handing over documents to the committee today, specifically about the corroboration in the process.

Now, we are waiting here, of course, for Atkinson himself to emerge from this room, and we expect to hear from the chairman of this committee, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff coming up.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Joining me to discuss is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.


She sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, good to see you as always.


TAPPER: You just came out of the briefing with the inspector general, Michael Atkinson. Give us the highlights, the headlines, what did you learn?

SPEIER: So the inspector general was very forthcoming. He was very compelling. And he made very clear how he went about corroborating the complaint by the whistleblower.

TAPPER: And what can you tell us about the documents that he handed over to the committee and before you answer, I just want to remind our viewers, Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, was appointed to that job by President Trump. But what were the documents that he handed over to you?

SPEIER: It was work product of his interviews with various witnesses. And it was also important to point out that he did this in a two-week period of time, as is required under the law. And then waited for the director of national intelligence to give him the go ahead to present this document and the complaint to the committees which, of course, the DNI declined to do and it wasn't until it became public through the media that the president made all of this available to us.

TAPPER: So take a listen to your Republican colleague, John Ratcliffe, and his reaction to the inspector general's comments today.


REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): Chairman Schiff should be disqualified from running an investigation where his committee, members or staff, are fact witnesses about contact with the whistleblower and the whistleblower process.


TAPPER: So he's referring to a "New York Times" story since corroborated and confirmed by Chairman Schiff which is that the whistleblower talked to a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, somebody on the Democratic side and received guidance on how to file his whistleblower complaint.

This is been an issue Republicans have been talking about a lot.

What's your reaction?

SPEIER: It's a red herring, Jake. The truth of the matter is that whistleblowers often come directly to the committee. They come to the minority and to the majority, to the Democrats and the Republicans and seek guidance. We are one of the means by which a whistleblower can come forward. It is then always referred to the inspector general to make sure that it is properly reviewed and classified.

So it is much ado about nothing and once again just kind of grasping at straws, because the fact of the matter is if you go to the corpus, what actually happened. You have the president of the United States seeking to have dirt from a foreign national, from a foreign leader, on his opponent. So, I mean, there is no -- there is no subject here other than the president.

And those of us who are in the Intelligence Committee are in a position to receive complaints but then they're always referred to the inspector general.

TAPPER: Republicans on your committee are also complaining that they are being shut out of the process. They're not being allowed to subpoena, is that true and what is your reaction to that?

SPEIER: Well, first of all, the subpoena power resides with the majority. And that's one of the facts of life. We had to deal with it when the Republicans were in the majority. But for them to say they've been shut out of the process is patently not true, because they were sitting there part of the interview process, they got equal time to question the inspector general, and there is a lot of whining going on but that's about all.

TAPPER: Something else not true. A number of your Republican colleagues came before the cameras yesterday during the Volker hearing and said it wasn't advanced at all but, obviously, these text messages advance the story quite a bit.

SPEIER: So, that's the point. They are always in a spinmeister mode and as a result, much like Mr. Barr was trying to spin the Mueller report, they want to get out there first to kind of spin it. But then the facts oftentimes dispute their spin. And certainly, all of the text messages that we released last night show that Volker and others, charge d'affaires, Mr. Taylor was also very concerned about the quid pro quo.


Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Democrat of California on the intelligence committee, thank you so much for your time. We always appreciate it.

We have talked about the damning text messages. Up next, the opening entertainment just obtained by CNN that connects the dots even more from a key witness.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with breaking news.

And the key witness before the House of Representatives in the Ukraine scandal, Ambassador Kurt Volker, is expected to resign from his position heading the McCain Institute, a source tells me. The institute had been sticking with Volker the source goes on until his text messages showed that he was much more involved in the Ukraine scandal than he had led others to believe.

Volker did not get a request -- honor our request for comment.

Volker had been the former special envoy to Ukraine who helped the Trump administration pressure Ukraine to investigate President Trump's political rival Joe Biden in exchange for a White House visit as well as an investigation that would undermine the Mueller report.