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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Text Messages Show How Trump Admin Tried to Pressure Ukraine to Investigate Biden; Ukraine to Probe Owner of Company Linked to Biden's Son; Damning Text Messages Detail Trump Admin Pressure On Ukraine. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 4, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: 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.

[16:30:02]

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.

As CNN's Jessica Schneider reports, Volker had told Congress that President Trump believed Ukraine was corrupt and said the Ukraine leader is trying to take him down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker's opening statement to lawmakers obtained by CNN today details Rudy Giuliani's influence on President Trump's perception of Ukraine as he tried to convince the president that Ukraine's new government was serious about stopping corruption. Volker revealed that he met in late May with President Trump who insisted Ukraine was a corrupt country full of terrible people. The president said they tried to take me down.

The president referring to a theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. That has been debunked.

Kurt Volker released pages of text that show how the Trump administration with the help of Rudy Giuliani was determined to push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son as well as that debunked theory. On July 25th, the day of Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, Volker texted Zelensky's aide: Heard from the White House, assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate/get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.

But Volker insisted in his statement he never took part in an effort to encourage Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, saying the suggestion he that would be influenced in his duties as vice president by money for his son simply has no credibility to me. I know him as a man of integrity and dedication to our country.

But Volker's involvement in influencing Ukrainian policy is clear, from this text in early August to Rudy Giuliani. Hi, Mr. Mayor, had a good chat with Yermak last night, he was pleased with your phone call. Mentioned Z making a statement. Can we all get on the phone to make sure I advise Z correctly as to what he should be saying.

The statement was supposed to lay out how Ukraine would pursue corruption investigations into the 2016 election and a company Hunter Biden was involved in.

But that statement was never released. On August 30th, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, tells Volker that the president has canceled his trip to Ukraine. The next day, Taylor texts Gordon Sondland, a prominent Republican donor and U.S. ambassador to the European Union, are we now saying that security assistance and White House money are conditioned on investigations? Sondland responds, call me.

On September 9th, Taylor again brings up the point: As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. Sondland texts back hours later, defending the president. I believe you're incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Volker did stay in his opening statement that he became aware that foreign aid to Ukraine was being held up at the same time he was connecting Ukrainian leadership aides to Rudy Giuliani.

But, Jake, Volker saying he did not perceive those issues to be linked in any way -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's bring my experts back.

And, Laura, let me start with you because as a "Wall Street Journal" report saying that Sondland, mentioned in that report, told Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, very loyal to President Trump, told him according to Johnson that the military aid was directly tied to the Ukrainians promising to investigate Hunter Biden's company Burisma. Although Johnson said he confronted President Trump about it and Trump denied it.

I mean, that's pretty damning from Senator Johnson.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That is. And yet despite that and despite also hearing Trump say out loud, again, and confirming what was in the transcript, Johnson still appears to be pretty much standing by the president and saying that he believes the president and that, yes, why not investigate, why not -- why shouldn't China look into this.

And that goes along with what we've heard so far from Republicans on the Hill which is that it is either mostly crickets or it's some of Trump's staunch loyalists defending him either on the grounds of attacking Democrats over process, or saying that the texts are cherry picked but not explicitly defending the text messages that we saw come out last night.

TAPPER: And, Nia-Malika, I mean, Watergate took months and months and years really.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

TAPPER: This scandal has been at a rapid clip and we are seeing things out of the president's mouth at the South Lawn, text messages from his top advisers having to do with Ukraine.

[16:35:06]

Nothing is secret. You don't even need a whistleblower at this point.

HENDERSON: Yes, you don't need a whistleblower.

What's interesting is, yes, you flash back a week ago, there was some concern and hand-wringing among Democrats, this idea of whether or not they were going to lose momentum because of the recess but my goodness, they have made a big stride during this recess. The Volker testimony, the text messages of it came out of that, as well as what we saw today. Atkinson being up there for six or so hours and giving them details about the witnesses he talked to.

They have really done well, Democrats, in terms of getting facts, more facts and more damning facts for this president, and I think if you look at what Republicans have done, it has so far I think been a bit of a lost week for them and some setbacks. If you think about the White House and the president standing on the White House lawn and asking for China as well to investigate Biden, not a good week. You feel like all of their excuses have sort of crumbled.

It was about the whistleblower and the whistleblower. And so, now, at this point, you don't need the whistleblower because all of the additional damning facts have come out. So, we'll see. It is sort of week one. We'll see what happens next week.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Love, here is one exchange from the text messages. This is from Volker to Zelensky's said Andrey Yermak, Volker writes, quote: Heard from White House, assuming President Z, Zelensky, convinces Trump he will investigate/get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, that's a reference to an investigation that would undermine the Mueller report, we will nail down date for visit to Washington, unquote.

That message alone breaks down what both sides wanted, what was needed for this meeting to take place. It's pretty much the definition, not just the text but all of the other subsequent ones, a definition of a quid pro quo. Something being offered, but in exchange, you have to do X.

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think what is even more concerning about that is that all of these things are inquiries into a political opponent and so, that is something that is not lost.

But again the thing that is frustrating is that I've got a senator in the state of Utah that's actually more -- a Republican senator more outspoken than the lone Democrat that is in the state. So, there are also a lot of Democrats that are in swing states that do not want to touch this.

And so, I think again the only way we could be transparent and hold people's feet to the fire is if you actually have a vote on the House floor which is why I think this is such an important thing. It's important for the American people to see and they could hold you accountable to exactly where you are on the this impeachment inquiry.

TAPPER: I think that was a reference to your Democratic opponent 2018 if I don't -- I'm not mistaken.

LOVE: Yes. He's a lone Democrat that's in the -- yes.

TAPPER: No flies on me.

Governor, I want to ask you. We spoke about Senator Mitt Romney criticizing the president's actions. Most Republicans have been AWOL, frankly.

When asked about the president calling on China to launch an investigation into Joe Biden, Republicans Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who is very aggressive when it comes to China, he's a real hawk, he said, quote: I don't know if that is a real request or him just needling the press knowing that you guys are going to get outraged by it, unquote.

Your reaction?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What a wimp, honestly. What a wimp.

You can assume that all of the Republicans who are completely silent in the face of what is overwhelm evidence becoming more and more overwhelming every minute that every single one of them thinks it's perfectly fine for a president to misuse his power, to abuse his power and ask for dirt on their opponents from a foreign adversary and that's exactly what you could read into Marco Rubio's comments.

Let me just say one other thing, if it's not -- it is China, it is not just Joe Biden, now it is Elizabeth Warren. I think that Democrats and Republicans need to be aware that this president will go to any means to preserve his personal power.

TAPPER: Yes. And the precedent being set here is remarkable. I don't know what people think will happen if this is deemed OK for future Democratic presidents.

GRANHOLM: Exactly.

TAPPER: Everybody, stick around. We have more to talk about.

After all -- after all of the evidence of pressure from the Trump administration, it looks as though Ukraine is giving President Trump exactly what he wants. We're going to go live to Ukraine, next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:47]

TAPPER: So the American people have now seen the text messages, the whistle-blower complaint and the phone call transcript all showing the Trump administration pushing for the government of Ukraine to investigate the president's political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter and now, it appears Ukraine did indeed feel the pressure.

Ukraine's prosecutor general announced today that his office is reviewing a probe into the owner of the company that Hunter Biden sat on, Burisma, on the board of.

CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Kiev.

And, Sam, why do they say they're opening this review now?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, they are saying that they're opening a review into the owner of the company Burisma that Joe Biden's son had a seat on and the reason for that may be a reaction to what Mr. Trump demanded but they are pretty insistent it is not. And indeed, I asked for the prosecutor general's reaction to Donald Trump's public demand now that the Ukrainians directly investigate the Bidens, and this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLP)

RUSLAN RYABOSHAPKA, CHIEF PROSECUTOR OF UKRAINE: My reaction is calm and professional. The prosecutor office is outside of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:45:00]

KILEY: Now, he's also saying that whilst there is a kind of cleanup operation that's actually got to finish by November the 20th in which this Prosecutor General goes over all the previous cases that may or may not relate to the role of Mr. Biden in Burisma, they are saying that this is part of a national effort to just clean the stables here. They're insistent that this is not then bowing to the pressure coming from the White House.

And if you look at the text of the exchanges during the negotiations for a statement from the new government here in return for a visit to the White House, what the position that the Ukrainians have taken is very similar to the ones that fail to win over Rudy Giuliani and others in return for that White House visit. Jake? JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Sam Kiley in Kiev, Ukraine. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Are these text messages really a smoking gun in the impeachment inquiry? We're going to ask the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York next. Stay with us.

[16:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to another edition of THE LEAD: White House in Crisis. Damning new text messages between U.S. diplomats involved with Ukraine revealing the extent to which the Trump administration seemed willing to withhold military aid unless an investigation was open into the Biden's.

On September 1st, as the aid was held up, Bill Taylor, the top us diplomat in Ukraine texted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Taylor says, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? Sondland replies, call me suggesting that they take it offline.

Eight days later, Taylor text Sondland again, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. Sondland responds, in part, Bill, I believe you're incorrect about President Trump's intentions, the President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo of any kind."

Joining me now is Preet Bharara. He's a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was fired by President Trump, we should point out. Preet, thanks so much for joining us. As a prosecutor, all right, just put your prosecutor hat on.

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: All right.

TAPPER: In the text messages, in the transcript, in what President Trump has said publicly, in the whistleblower complaint, would you think as a prosecutor that you have enough to make the case that there was a quid pro quo, and exchange of X for Y?

BHARARA: Yes. I've been saying all week, and I posted this on Twitter at I think last night, saying like, it's very rare and it's almost never the case that you have a written record in support of a quid pro quo. I prosecuted -- I oversaw prosecutions of I think more public corruption cases during my time as U.S. attorney as -- than any other office in the country.

Legislator after legislator, we prosecuted in almost none of those cases. In fact, I can't off the top of my head, consider any one of them to have an explicit written quid pro quo in connection with text messages or e-mails. And then last night, when I saw these text messages, I said, well, I stand corrected. Sometimes you do have that.

Now, there was, as you pointed out, there's some effort to sort of muddy the record and make a different record, in response to the -- to the text messages from, you know, the one diplomat. The other diplomat wants to say, well, I think you're wrong about this. And that muddies it a little bit.

TAPPER: Sondland -- he replied.

BHARARA: Sondland, correct.

TAPPER: Yes.

BHARARA: And it has -- it has the feel of someone who's trying to correct the record whereas, you know, with respect to the first diplomat, it has the feel of someone who's trying to, you know, make sure that the record is clear, because the phone calls are not being recorded.

That ends up getting, if you ever brought this to a court, to a trial, getting a little muddy. But the overwhelming sum of the evidence -- you have direct evidence of the president making his own phone call and he has direct knowledge of this. You have this corroborating evidence of these texts. You have some statements being made by Ukrainian officials themselves. And then you have common sense.

You know, Mitt Romney himself, you know, who's a Republican senator, who's been a little bit more outspoken than others, himself points out the craziness of the assertion that the only time that the President of the United States seems to ever have cared about investigating somebody, it happens to be his principal rival in the Democratic side.

I think some reporter asked earlier today very wisely and said, have you ever asked another country to investigate someone who was not a political rival? And he said we'll have to get back to you on that. So the sum total is good.

TAPPER: Yes. The President made clear that he believes he has every right to ask a foreign country to investigate his rivals or in his mind, alleged corruption and that has nothing to do with politics. He tweeted, "As President, I have an obligation to end corruption, all caps, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries. It is done all the time. This has nothing, all caps, to do with politics or a political campaign against the Biden's."

Forgetting whether or not you believe him and clearly, you do not, Do you think he has that authority?

BHARARA: The President has the authority to do a lot of different things. The President has the authority to fire the FBI Director, the President has the authority to terminate everybody with an I.Q. higher than 80. The President has the authority and the power to launch a nuclear strike against Toronto. I mean, lots of things that the President has the right and authority to do.

In some contexts, depending on what else is going on, if it's a connection with a bribe, he might not be able to do it because it's a crime. And all of these things are subject to accountability by Congress to impeachment.

[16:55:05]

TAPPER: All right, Preet Bharara, thank you so much for your expertise. We always appreciate it.

BHARARA: Thanks, Jake. Absolutely.

TAPPER: We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Be sure to tune into "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday morning. We're focusing exclusively on the impeachment inquiry, of course. My guests will include Republican presidential candidates Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh among others.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I will see you Sunday morning. Have a great weekend.

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