Return to Transcripts main page


Damning Text Messages Detail Trump Administration's Pressure on Ukraine; Jared Kushner and Mick Mulvaney May Lead White House Impeachment Defense; CNN: President Trump Raised Up the Issue of Biden and Warren with Chinese President Xi in June Call; Sources: Trump Promised Xi Jinping the U.S. Would Stay Silent on Hong Kong Pro- Democracy Protests While Trade Talks Continued. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 4, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In the next hour, a very special edition of "CNN NEWSROOM" with Jim Sciutto picks up right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good and a busy and a consequential morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy Harlow has the day off.

The breaking news this morning. An explosive set of text messages underscoring what this impeachment inquiry is all about. U.S. diplomats appearing to have offered a White House visit to the president of Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into the 2016 election and into Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The messages were revealed by Kurt Volker who until recently was in the State Department, a special envoy to the Ukraine. A senior Ukrainian aide even told Volker they had plans to announce the investigation and a visit.

We're quoting here. "Once we have a date, we'll call for a press briefing announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of U.S.-Ukraine relationship, including, among other things, Burisma and election meddling in investigations." Burisma, of course, is the Ukrainian gas company that put Joe Biden's son Hunter on its board.

Another text highlights what appear to be deep reservations coming from a senior U.S. diplomat as he refers to hundreds of millions of dollars in crucial U.S. military aid to Ukraine being withheld at the time of these demands. Quote, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?" The response to that text? "Call me." As in, let's quickly get this off the record.

This is all happening as the president openly admits to enlisting other countries to investigate his political rivals. As my reporting shows, not for the first time. In fact, he raised the Bidens on a phone call with China in June and a source now says that the White House may argue they do not have to provide any documents on all this to Congress until the House formally votes to hold the impeachment inquiry. That's their draft response to Democrats threatening to subpoena

documents. There does not appear to be any constitutional basis to that stonewalling. This morning the intelligence committee's inspector general is returning to Capitol Hill. Remember he is the one who originally delivered that whistleblower complaint to Congress.

Let's begin there with CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox.

You know, clearly the dynamic of this has changed because the administration's attacks on this whistleblower and the claims in the complaint seem to have been blown up by text messages, corroborating the elements of that complaint. How does this play out on the hill today?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, behind the closed-door testimony from Michael Atkinson, the ICIG, that we expect in just a little over an hour, Jim, is certainly going to shed light on both those text messages and the complaint itself. If you remember, this is the first time the House Intelligence Committee is going to be able to question the ICIG since this complaint has been released publicly.

We also know that this is not Atkinson's first time on the hill. Last week he met with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Today is going to be a meeting with the House Intelligence Committee. But I am telling you that Democrats are eager to learn a lot more about who in the administration knew what and when. That is going to be the thrust of their questioning today.

Meanwhile, Republicans I'm told are going to be trying to question the credibility of this whistleblower. They want to understand exactly what the whistleblower complaint knew and exactly why the whistleblower and what kind of knowledge they had exactly about whether this was first hand, second hand. If you remember, Republicans had been arguing that this person was just relying on hearsay. Of course, Democrats are pushing back on that saying every document they have is just confirming more and more of this whistleblower complaint.

Today's also the deadline of course for Mike Pompeo, the secretary of State, to turn over documents to Capitol Hill -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Another consequential day on Capitol Hill. Lauren Fox, we know you'll be there. Thanks very much.

Sources are telling CNN that the president's son-in-law and acting chief of staff will head up the White House response to the impeachment inquiry.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is following the latest from the White House.

And Joe, there has been talk about a Clinton-like war room. That seemed to go by the wayside. For a while, it seemed like the president was his own war room on this. But now, it seems like there is a plan in place to push back. A team in place. JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right, and that's

still I would say a work in progress. Jared Kushner by the way was one of the people who didn't think a war room would be a good idea, despite the fact that the Clintons did it back in the 1990s. But what we do know is that this team that is working on this is expected to also try to put together a time line, if you will, a chronology, of all the events leading up to that July 25th call between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine.

Of course, this is legal due diligence, if you will, in trying to unravel the nature of the relationship between foreign governments and the White House Counsel's Office is involved, along with the situation room, as they try to put together a record of all of the calls that were made.


Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, along with the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are the people who are said to be leading that effort. So, the other thing that's important to say is that it is pretty clear in one form or another, the White House is going to go after the issue of process up on Capitol Hill, specifically no vote for this impeachment inquiry. As you said at the top, it's not constitutionally mandated but could be a problem if the Democrats have to go to court to try to dislodge documents and depositions. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The White House has not been reluctant to go to court on a whole host of requests from Congress.

Joe Johns at the White House, thanks very much.

You've heard for the last several days questions from the president about the whistleblower complaint, questions from his surrogates undermining it. Well, now, we have text messages from officials in this administration involved in dealings with Ukraine. Take a look at these text messages.

Here is CNN's national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three House committees releasing an avalanche of new evidence after former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker met behind closed doors with investigators for more than nine hours. House Democrats releasing text messages provided by Volker, showing President Trump wanted Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to agree to launch investigations into former vice president Joe Biden before meeting with the newly elected leader.

Volker texting Ukraine's top diplomat Andre Yermak less than an hour before Trump's call with Zelensky, writing, "Heard from 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." According to President Trump, last month -- DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was never any

quid pro quo.

MALVEAUX: But senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor questioning if that's the case. Texting on September 9th, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." More than four hours later, Ambassador Gordon Sondland responding, "I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind."

The text messages also revealing just how involved Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was in setting up the call between Trump and Zelensky. The whistleblower complaint alleging Volker held meetings with Giuliani, where in one, according to the "Washington Post," he warned Giuliani against trusting information he was receiving from Ukrainian political figures about Biden and his son.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: If Volker had said to me, that my sources were incredible or wrong, any of it, I would have immediately said, did you do an investigation? Because I really wanted them to.

MALVEAUX: Republicans insisting Volker's deposition showed no wrongdoing by the White House.

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

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): The administration is an even stronger place today than they were this morning.

MALVEAUX: Earlier, President Trump making this stunning suggestion.

TRUMP: China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.

MALVEAUX: And doubling down on Twitter, despite his pending impeachment inquiry, writing, he has an, "absolute right, perhaps even duty, to investigate or have investigated corruption. And that would include asking or suggesting other countries to help us out."

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president has confessed to his violation of his oath of office, and right then and there. So there won't be too much inquiry.


SCIUTTO: Folks, don't listen to the misinformation. Look at the facts. Look at the texts.

Suzanne Malveaux, thanks for your reporting.

Let's talk about this now. CNN legal and national analyst Asha Rangappa, CNN political analyst Molly Ball and White House correspondent for Reuters, Jeff Mason. Good morning to all of you. Asha, I want to begin with you. Let's

highlight a couple of these texts. Let me start with this one. This one appearing to connect a meeting with the U.S. president to an announcement by the Ukrainians that they are looking into the president's political opponent or likely political opponent here. Here's one. This is one coming from Taylor, who's a member of the team. Actually this is from Kurt Volker, a member of the team for the president, in fact, his envoy.

"Assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate, get to the bottom of what happened in 2016, we will nail down date for a visit to Washington. Good luck. See you tomorrow. Kurt." Is that a quid pro quo?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, not only is there a condition here of, you know, having a meeting in exchange for doing something, I think that one thing we need to highlight is what they were looking for was a public announcement.


Now, this is really what, you know, makes the lie of we're looking for corruption versus looking for dirt and helping the campaign. If you're really wanting someone -- another country to investigate, they can do it quietly, you wait for the findings and then, you know, let them take it on. What they wanted was a public announcement that would then, you know, publicly cast doubt on Joe Biden in a way that would benefit Trump. And I think that that need for them to be very public about this investigation, that they were ostensibly starting, really adds to this idea that he was looking for a personal benefit to his own campaign.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So that was one piece of leverage there. In meeting with the U.S. president, these meetings are important for countries such as Ukraine, to show the strength of the relationship. Another piece of leverage, and this is really key, is U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. A reminder to our viewers, Ukraine is at war with Russia for five years. Russia has invaded the country, more than 13,000 Ukrainians have died, they continue to die there.

So listen to this text here. This one comes from Bill Taylor, longtime U.S. diplomat, actually this is not the right one, there is another one, where he says, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." If we could put that text up on the screen there. Because, Jeff Mason, I want you to comment on that.

This is another apparent quid pro quo here, is it not, because the question had been, why was U.S. military assistance to Ukraine mandated by Congress, why was it delayed in the days and weeks leading up to the presidential phone call with Ukraine? Does that text message indicate to you a quid pro quo on that military assistance?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, it indicates to me that there is a U.S. official who was asking that question, and so if you've got a U.S. official who thinks look, this is a potential issue, this is a question mark, you've got to assume that the Ukrainians are potentially asking that question as well.

Now, the president has said repeatedly there was no quid pro quo, the aide did end up going to Ukraine, but the fact that there is now evidence, number one, that that was something that was being discussed and question marks within the U.S. government about the reasoning, is certainly more evidence for Congress to consider.

SCIUTTO: Well, and look at the response of Gary Sondland, he by the way is a Trump appointee, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., when this issue was raised again by Bill Taylor. This text coming in from Taylor, this on September 1st, 2019, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?" The response from Sondland, "Call me."

Now, Molly Ball, there is a very simple answer to that question, via text, if there is nothing to it, absolutely not. We would never condition crucial military assistance on an investigation of a political opponent. Call me, which to me is the kind of thing you say when you want something off the record.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the other texts as well, where they come out with an explicit denial that there is a quid pro quo indicates that there is some consciousness on the part of all of these officials that they're doing something or they may be seen to be doing something improper. That they're not just sort of skipping down this path oblivious to the potential implications of what they're doing. And you know, the military aid piece of it is what is so alarming, particularly the Democrats in the national security community, saying we in Congress, by bipartisan majorities, approved this military aid for a reason because our national security is at stake and so the impression that the White House, that the administration were willing to violate America's national security interests in order to pursue this conspiracy theory is what has so troubled so many.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And Ukraine's national security. Imagine you're Ukraine, a small country invaded by a very large Russia. You've had part of your country annexed by Russia five years ago, and your ally the U.S. says we're going to hold back this aid until you do this political favor for us.

I want to repeat a text for you as well, Asha, on who benefits from all of this. We talked about quid pro quo. So how about qui bono? Just to throw some Latin out there at you. This again from Bill Taylor. "The nightmare is they get the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it. And I quit."

I mean, this is a key point here. Russia benefits from this. Does it not? The U.S. withholding aid from Ukraine, as it's invaded by Russia.

RANGAPPA: Yes, I think that that text to me stood out the most. So as you said, Jim, this is the United States, standing there, holding a life saver and then asking Ukraine to do a bunch of things. In legal terms, we would call this duress. You're placing someone under duress, under pressure to be able to -- to do something in order to get something they urgently need or want. I think in this particular text, there is also the implication that

look, Ukraine is expecting to get this life saver, as soon as they do it and I think, I'm worried that they might not each get it then, and that this whole thing could be a big gift to Vladimir Putin. And so --



RANGAPPA: I think that you're right to highlight that, we don't want that part to get lost as well.

SCIUTTO: Now, folks, you're going to hear a lot of misinformation. You're going to hear a lot of partisan information attacks. Look at the texts. It's in the texts. And they were released by the way by a Trump appointee in sworn testimony. Listen everyone, stay with me, there's a lot more to analyze here.

Still to come, the president's personal attorney wrapped up in these explosive new text messages between U.S. diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide. We're going to go through it all. Plus, as President Trump is asking China to investigate his political rival Joe Biden, I'm learning this was not the first time that Biden has come up during the president's conversations with Chinese President Xi.

Sources telling me about a promise that President Trump made to Xi surrounding trade talks at the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. I'm going to speak to the president's senior trade adviser, Peter Navarro, that is coming up in just a few minutes.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. In returning to our top story, explosive new text messages released by the former special envoy to Ukraine, appointed by President Trump, show how a potential Ukrainian investigation into the 2016 election was linked to a desired meeting between the president of Ukraine and the president of the U.S.

Those texts also underscore how Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani was directly and closely involved in setting up the July 25th phone call between the two leaders. Let's bring back our analysts here. So let's begin with this if we can, Molly. The source telling CNN that this statement that was worked out, Ukrainian's basically saying yes, we're going to get into this investigation, reboot U.S.- Ukrainian relations, that, that was drafted by the Ukrainians.

But it does appear that U.S. officials were highly involved in getting that message out. What's the significance of that?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I think there is a lot of questions about Rudy Giuliani's role in this, and how he interacted with the State Department, how he was involved in telling State Department officials what to do, despite not -- SCIUTTO: Yes --

BALL: Being a part of that official structure. This question is about the legality of it. There's also questions about what exactly was his capacity? Was he working as the president's lawyer? Was he worked as a sort of a political fixer, which is how a lot of this appears. And you know, Giuliani has been all over television, and on the phone with reporters, trying to explain this. But the question is, how is he going to respond to Congress?

They have subpoenaed him, and obviously there are a lot of questions outstanding about him.

SCIUTTO: So, let's read one of these texts, Jeff, this is from Kurt Volker to the U.S. ambassador to the EU. It reads, "I had breakfast with Rudy" -- of course, Giuliani this morning, "teeing up call with Yarmak" -- this is a senior Ukrainian official, "Monday must have helped, most important is for Zelenski" -- that's the Ukrainian president, "to say that he will help investigation and address specific personnel issues if there are any."

That text is interesting because we now know that the president pushed for the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, because it seems she wasn't playing ball with this Biden-centered political investigation.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Yes, you know, what's interesting to me, countries work together on statements. Any of us who have covered a G-7 --


MASON: Will know that the different countries involved negotiate and they get what they want in and they agree on something --


MASON: But in this case, it wasn't a joint statement that they're talking about. That's a Ukrainian statement from the Ukrainian government, that apparently is being edited by or influenced by very specifically --

SCIUTTO: Right --

MASON: Demands from the U.S. side, and that is unusual.

SCIUTTO: And to get what they wanted.


SCIUTTO: This is military assistance, a meeting with the president. Asha Rangappa, from a legal standpoint and a policy standpoint, what is the issue, what is the danger with the president's private attorney playing such a prominent role in a central U.S. foreign policy and national security issue?

RANGAPPA: I think Molly had it exactly right. I mean, why is he there, and what is he doing? Listen, you know, Rudy Giuliani is the private attorney for the president. That means that his interests are solely his client's private interests. And he is here working on an official statement that is ostensibly, you know, supposed to be about the interests of the United States.

These can be in conflict. And you know, he's helping to tailor a message that is going to benefit Trump specifically personally in the best way possible, which is at odds with what the duty is of these State Department officials. So, I think that that's a problem. And it's a major conflict, and it's not clear what his role was in that whole thing.

SCIUTTO: All right, so some more news here, if you haven't had enough already. We know already that President Trump mixed domestic politics with foreign policy in Ukraine, now, we know he did the same with China. CNN has learned that during a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping in just June, June of this year, Trump raised Joe Biden's political prospects as well as those of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who by then had started rising in the polls.

This, according to two people familiar with that discussion between Trump and Xi. The White House record of that call, we should note, was later stored in the highly-secured electronic system used to house a now infamous phone call with Ukraine's president, and which helped of course spark the whistleblower complaint that has led Democrats to now open an impeachment inquiry into Trump.


That system, we should note, had in the past been reserved solely for conversations involving highly classified intelligence. Back with our experts here, Asha Rangappa, so U.S. president speaking to the Chinese president in this instance, again bringing up U.S. domestic politics, and again, his staff moving that call to a secret system, that even White House officials have restricted access to. Tell us what the significance of that is.

RANGAPPA: I mean, we see a pattern here, obviously, if someone has missed the pattern so far, he's now bringing up a second potential political rival, someone who, you know, the story for Biden has been, well, you know, they need to -- people need to investigate corruption. I mean, why is he bringing up every time that he is seeing a potential threat from an internal political rival, he's bringing them up with these foreign governments.

And we apparently, they're -- these conversations are being moved in a place where they are hidden precisely because they are incredibly problematic --


RANGAPPA: From, you know, a legal and national security point of view. And it's just more of the same, I mean, I don't know how much we need.

SCIUTTO: I hear you. And Jeff Mason, you've covered this White House for some time. I mean, clearly problematic to the extent that this administration wants to restrict access to the content of that calls, even within White House staff.

MASON: Even within White House staff indeed. And I think it's worth noting, this is coming at a time when the president, when the United States and China are in the middle of very consequential trade talks. So, they have been saying, we talked about it already with Ukraine, there is no quid pro quo.

There can be an impression of or an indication that there's -- if you do this, you'll get this. Boy, on the China-U.S. level with regard to trade, that's talking about a lot of money and a lot of, you know, a very big deal that both sides are trying to get and are having trouble getting.

SCIUTTO: I mean, Molly, you would have to think, and particularly with the president on the White House lawn yesterday, saying again, by the way, China, you should investigate Joe Biden as those talks are continuing with great consequence for both sides and the global economy.

You can imagine China reading that as a, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Can you not? I mean, relevant to the ongoing negotiations.

BALL: Absolutely. And I think as Jeff was saying, these trade talks, we've been told for, literally years now, that the president is pressuring China, using these harsh tough tariffs that are hurting the Chinese economy and government, we've been told that it's all because he wants a fairer deal from the Chinese for American manufacturers.

If it turns out that the only thing he wants in return actually is for China to do some kind of, you know, bogus political hit on the Democrats who are running for president, where does that leave all of the -- all of the American economic interests that he claims that he's helping?

Again, there is a potential that there is a conflict between what the president sees as the national interest --


BALL: And what he sees in his own interest, and what is the cost of that?


BALL: You know, to the American taxpayer, to the American citizen.

SCIUTTO: Does he sell out --

BALL: Or when that is what --

SCIUTTO: Right --

BALL: The president is focused on. SCIUTTO: Does he sell out one of those key economic interests which

affects farmers, you and me, you name it. Jeff Mason, Molly Ball, Asha Rangappa, thanks to all of you. Coming up in just a few moments, CNN has learned new details about a promise President Trump made to Chinese President Xi. This, about staying out or staying silent on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Coming up next, Peter Navarro; he's adviser to the president, involved very much in these U.S.-China negotiations. We're going to discuss that, plus new job numbers and more.