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Damning Text Messages Detail Trump Administration Pressure On Ukraine; Trump To Dare Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) To Hold Impeachment Vote Before Cooperation; Interview with Rep. Ted Lieu, D-CA. Aired 1- 1:30p ET
Aired October 4, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters, and we start with President Trump threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over impeachment, saying that he will not turn over any documents until House Democrats hold a full vote on the impeachment inquiry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDNET: We'll be issuing a letter. As everybody knows, we've been treated very unfairly, very different from anybody else. If you go over not only history, if you go over any aspect of life, you'll see how unfairly we've been treated.
And this is not about politics. This is about corruption. And if you look and you read our Constitution and many other things, I have an obligation to look at corruption. I have an actual obligation and a duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: The president there trying to portray himself as a champion against corruption saying, quote, we are investigating corruption, while saying that his calls for foreign countries to investigate the Biden family had nothing to do with politics.
The president's comments today coming in the wake of damning new text messages handed over to the House Intelligence Committee, and they show that U.S. diplomats tasked with carrying out U.S. policy in Ukraine believed that the military aid to Ukraine was indeed tied to Ukraine investigating the Biden family.
And now a rare rebuke by a Republican, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, tweeting, by all appearances, the president's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.
And it's important to remember that all of this started with this whistleblower complaint. And we're now learning more about what Kurt Volker, who is the first official to testify on the whistleblower's accusations, revealed to Congress during his closed-door testimony.
Sunlen Serfaty is covering this angle for us on Capitol Hill. What can you tell us, Sunlen?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. CNN obtained Kurt Volker's opening statement in front of the committees up here yesterday after he spent nine hours in the room, and it shows the president's former envoy of Ukraine essentially trying to defend himself, portraying him as someone who is constantly trying to tamp down the influence of President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and specifically his influence over President Trump as it relates to his demands to launch these investigations. Certainly, Volker underscoring that he was trying to convince President Trump to see the new Ukrainian government as one that was serious about making these reforms.
Now, in this opening statement, again, obtained by CNN, Volker says of a conversation he had with Trump, quote, he said that Ukraine was a corrupt country full of terrible people. He said, they tried to take me down.
In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new president, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view of Ukraine rooted in the past.
He was clearly receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view. And that certainly keeps in line with what we saw reflected in those text messages released from the committee last night, not only the extent of Rudy Giuliani's involvement, his influence over Trump but certainly Volker's efforts behind the scenes here to really intercede.
And one other thing from this testimony, Volker also said that he was not aware of any effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. He's clearly separating investigation demands for Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and, of course, that energy company that he was a part of. Brianna?
KEILAR: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much for that.
Now, President Trump is back on the defense today. He's claiming there was no quid pro quo of any kind between him and Ukraine's presidents, but damning text messages between U.S. diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide are telling a different story.
Jessica Schneider is joining me now. And, Jess, walk us through these text messages and what they tell us.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, these are pages and pages of texts turned over to House Democrats. They really show how the administration was determined to push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son and also pushing them to investigate the supposed Ukrainian influence on the 2016 election. Of course, the president has repeatedly suggested that it was Ukraine and not Russia that hacked the DNC servers, that's a claim that has been thoroughly debunked.
So here are some of those texts really seeming to push the president's points. This first one, July 25th, it was the same day as that now consequential phone call between the president and Ukraine's new president, Zelensky. So in this text, U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker, who we know abruptly resigned last week, he texted Zelensky's aide saying, 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 a date to visit Washington. So there's that text.
Then we really start to see the full extent of the coordination between Volker, other top U.S. officials and even a key Trump ally. So this next text is from Volker to Rudy Giuliani, and also Gordon Sondland. He's a prominent Republican donor and ambassador to the E.U. Here it is.
Hi, Mr. Mayor. Had a good chat with Yermak last night. That's Zelensky's aide. 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?
Now, that's a text from early August. And the statement in it that Volker refers to there was planned to be a public release by Ukraine committing to pursue investigations of corruption. The release of that statement though never happened. But these texts really do show that the Trump administration had a vested interest in what the statement by Ukraine was going to say.
So then days later, fast-forward to August 30th, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, he tells Kurt Volker that the president has canceled his trip to Ukraine, and then the next day, Taylor texted Sondland, of course, that U.S. ambassador to the E.U., also a prominent Republican donor, sounding an alarm.
This is what Taylor says. He says, are we now saying that security assistance and the White House meetings are conditioned on investigations? Sondland then replies, meaning, let's take this offline. And the security assistance there was referring to nearly $400 million in aid that was initially withheld from Ukraine by the White House, finally released on September 11.
But September 9th, two days before, Taylor again brings up this point. And he says, as I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign. And that's when Sondland texted backed hours later defending the president, saying, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions.
The president, continued on in the text message, the president has been very crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind. Sondland, after, suggest that they stop texting again, and then they do.
So you can see this debate about a notion of a quid pro quo. But, really, these series of texts shows just how involved top officials were pushing the president's agenda to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the former vice president and his son's business interest in Ukraine, Brianna, and also push some of Trump and Rudy Giuliani's conspiracy theories about Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 election, which they say was in favor of Hillary, which, of course, has been disproven, but definitely a damning series of text messages here. Brianna?
KEILAR: It sure is. All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for walking us through all of that.
And let's talk this over -- there is a lot to talk over with former U.S. Attorney Greg Brower, CNN Political Analyst and Congressional Reporter for The Washington Post, Karoun Demirjian, CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
Okay, Gloria, let's start with you because there is so much information that we've gotten with Kurt Volker's opening statement and with these text messages that Jess so beautifully walked us through here, but it's a lot.
So, to you, what are the headlines that really stand out when you look at all of this?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what you see in these text messages, first of all, is State Department officials who were concerned, that there was going to be a quid pro quo. I mean, that comes through loud and clear in Taylor's text, at which point, Sondland, hours later, which I think is key here, responds, no, no, that's not what the president wants. But there was concern.
And then if you look at the opening statement that Volker -- that CNN has gotten, it's very clear that he was Worried, and that he finally seemed to be saying to the president of Ukraine, look, you want to get your money? You have to kind of say something to appease the president --
KEILAR: So it's something on the issue of corruption.
BORGER: -- and appease Rudy Giuliani, and even on the Bidens. And they were all ready to do it. And Burisma, the company that Hunter Biden was on the board of, that you have to say something and that will get you your money.
But at no time, he said very clearly, did he -- was urging -- did he urge Ukraine that it ought to investigate Biden. And also went out of his way, I should say, to say that Joe Biden is somebody that is a man of integrity and dedication to our country. So he pushed back on any notion that Joe Biden could be corrupt. KEILAR: I wonder, Karoun and Greg, as you look at this though, the idea of investigating corruption and investigating Burisma, which is the company that Hunter Biden was on the board of, if that's sort of one and the same as investigating the Bidens. I mean, that does not seem like a very big cognitive leap, even as Volker says, third, at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And, look, this is the question of are there code words for meaning a political thing when you're trying to make it sound like not political thing. To investigate an energy company that, at one point, the Ukrainians were looking into, okay, that could seem innocuous except that the president is clearly pushing it in his public statements even if it's not reflected in these texts. He's made it pretty clear that, to him, Burisma, that investigation is about the Bidens.
And so if you take everything in its sum total between the public things that the president has basically defined for us, even if his officials in the State Department are trying to speak in a way which is potentially possible, I suppose, in terms of what they're trying to arrange here, you can connect all of those dots, and that's, I think, House Democrats are clearly doing, and saying, look, fine, we were talking about Burisma, the 2016 elections, it's pretty clear that the element of the 2016 elections that Ukraine was suppose to investigate was supposed to take some heat off Russia and the element of the Burisma investigation that they want to look into was supposed to put a heat on the Biden family right ahead of the 2020 season.
KEILAR: What do you see in this?
GREG BROWER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. I don't think there's any doubt about what Karoun just described. It's one thing for the U.S. government, through the FBI, through the DOJ, even through the president to encourage our foreign partners and other countries to cooperate anti-corruption efforts generally. That happens every day. We'd be trading (ph) out of the countries. It's very important to the global effort. But this is not that. This is a very specific attempt.
You know, I'm a former federal prosecutor in Las Vegas, of all places. I think I know an extortion attempt if I see one. This is a clear quid pro quo, where something is being offered or held back in exchange for a promise to do something else. It's a classic scenario, messages, I think, fill in the blanks. And I don't think there is any other way to look at this.
KEILAR: And at one point, the diplomats are saying -- they're consulting with Rudy Giuliani or informing him of what Zelensky might say publicly, right, what he might say publicly. And it seems to be a pretty general statement on corruption. But that, Gloria, does not suit what Giuliani thinks the president wants?
BORGER: Well, no. The president wants -- we're going to investigate Burisma, we're going to investigate Bidens.
KEILAR: 2016, you want to be clear, right?
BORGER: Right. And I'm old enough to remember when Rudy Giuliani actually wanted to be secretary of state and they turned him down, and now, he's behaving here as if he is the secretary of state. And the secretary of state is actually calling Rudy Giuliani to kind of say, well, you know, we passed this along, we passed your concerns along, because he knows that this is what the president wants. So it's everybody saying, okay, how do we get the aid to Ukraine, because everybody seemed to be convinced, except for maybe the president and Rudy Giuliani, that the aid needed to go to Ukraine and how do we work around this so we can get the money where it belongs to this country that is trying to fight Russian aggression.
KEILAR: Yes, which is also in the U.S. interest. Is there a legal exposure here that you see or is this more an issue of something that this is about what Congress could take up, and this is a political question, you don't look at this and see, oh, that is a crime?
BROWER: At minimum, in my opinion, in a traditional sense, this is a huge political problem. It would be a huge political problem for any president going back to ancient history, like the last president, right?
But beyond that, it could be a campaign violation depending up on additional details that need to be flushed out.
I mentioned extortion. I mean, there is actually a federal statute that prohibits extorting foreign officials. That, I guess, should be examined.
KEILAR: But who would examine it is my question.
BORGER: It's a political question.
BROWER: It is, and I would make this point. None of this should surprise any of us given the pattern of conduct that we've seen since the beginning of this administration.
What does surprise me, I think surprises all of us, is the still, deafening silence from Capitol Hill in terms of Republicans. I have to say that, as a former Republican elected official myself, and it's easy for me to say this because I'm no longer a Republican elected official --
KEILAR: Unencumbered by that?
BROWER: I am surprised that there isn't more because I know it's happening behind the scenes. They're talking to each other about how outrageous this is, but the fact that no one, with some small exceptions, is willing to come out and say, enough is enough, does surprise me.
KEILAR: That's your real House, Karoun. DEMIRJIAN: I mean, you're starting to see Mitt Romney speak more and more boldly, but it's the same character that have been actually expressing discontent and concern that are just getting much -- that much more embolden when they see this evidence come out to criticize the president and say it doesn't pass the smell test here.
But just going back to your other point about the legal exposure for the president, I mean, it's impeachment, basically, and we're already in an impeachment inquiry, so how much worse can it get for him could be potentially part of his calculation. He is speaking about this fairly openly. He does not seem to be afraid of the pressure that's coming from Capitol Hill, and Republicans seem to also be looking for any -- most Republicans, leading Republicans on the Hill, are looking at Sondland's texting, there's no quid pro quo here, looking at other parts of where you could explain this away.
KEILAR: That reads like there's nothing to see here. That's what that text reads like. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, nothing to see here.
DEMIRJIAN: It definitely does. But any opening is being exploited right now to say, well, this isn't exactly airtight. I mean, people were talking about hearsay in the whistleblower report about the fact that it's legitimate to investigate corruption, there was corruption in Ukraine, and there has been corruption in Ukraine. But when it's this one specific case and it's not brought up in any other country.
BORGER: Yes. But what about China? He sort of (INAUDIBLE) the lawn of the White House.
So it's a different defense, which is, I did it, so what? That's the defense.
And Jim Acosta has gotten the Republican talking points here. And as I go through them, they're all about process. Democrats refuse to accept the results of the 2016, the whistleblower is a Democrat, et cetera, et cetera. But none of the Republican National Committee talking points are actually about what Trump did and saying what Trump did is okay. It's all about process and the Democrats putting politics above everything. And I think that speaks volumes about what Republicans can say and will say at this point.
KEILAR: Should I add the whistleblower's identity is supposed to be a secret, just to put that out there. Gloria, Karoun, Greg, thank you so much, great discussion, I really appreciate it.
We have some breaking news. As the president openly asks foreign powers to interfere in the election, we're just getting word that hackers linked to Iran tried to attack a 2020 presidential campaign.
Plus, a Democratic lawmaker is going to join me live to respond to President Trump refusing to turn over any White House documents until Speaker Pelosi holds a floor vote on impeachment.
And most Republicans silent after this new wave of revelations, but the pressure back home is mounting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't speak for him. I'll just say that I can't speak for him.
REPORTER: I know you can't speak for him, but you can speak for yourself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: President Trump making demands now of Nancy Pelosi, the president saying today that he's sending a letter to the speaker saying that the White House will refuse to turn over documents requested in the impeachment inquiry unless there is a full vote in the House.
We have California Congressman Ted Lieu with us. Sir, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: So you're a Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Tell us, is the president here -- I mean, what are you reading here what he's asking of the speaker?
LIEU: Sure. Let me first say that impeachment is one of the greatest powers of Congress. It should always be our last option, reserved only for those instances where we can't wait until the next election. We're at one of those times because the president continues to solicit foreign powers to interfere in our electoral politics.
And if he wants to clear his name, he'd provide all of the information. But instead he is refusing to provide it, obstructing it. If he wants to have a vote of Congress, I'm sure that's fine. Over a majority of Congress has now publicly stated that they support an impeachment inquiry. It won't be a hard vote for us.
KEILAR: So do you think the speaker is going to just go ahead with that then?
LIEU: That it will be up to the speaker. But, again, we already have well more than a majority of members of Congress who have come out publicly saying they support this impeachment inquiry. And once the White House said this, if that vote happens, then they've got to provide all the documents based on their own terms.
KEILAR: CNN has obtained the opening statement from Kurt Volker, the former U.S. envoy for Ukraine negotiations and also text messages that now Congress has at their disposal that reveal a lot of the discussions between diplomats who were in touch with Rudy Giuliani and were discussing what the Ukrainian president needed to do to be basically right with the U.S. What is your reaction to these text messages? LIEU: The text messages confirm that this was not a one-off conversation that Donald Trump had with the Ukrainian leader. This was a months-long conserved campaign orchestrated to get Ukraine to target an American citizen for political purposes.
This scandal is not hard to understand. Donald Trump blocks military aid to Ukraine. A week later, he's on the phone call with the Ukrainian leader. And right after the leader asked about military aid, Trump asks for a favor, one of which is to investigate Biden. And then these text messages confirmed that our own diplomats understood that they were withholding aid for political purposes for this political campaign.
KEILAR: So what do you do with this information? I mean, the ball is entirely in the court of Democrats at this point.
LIEU: That's a great question. We're going to continue to investigate. I know that Kurt Volker came to Congress voluntarily. He sat there for nearly ten hours. He showed the cooperation that is expected of all witnesses.
Next week, we're going to have Masha, who is the U.S. ambassador who was recalled by Donald Trump. She's going to come in and testify as well.
I do want to make clear though that with all the evidence that has already come out, there is more than enough to draft articles of impeachment right now.
KEILAR: So Kurt Volker in his opening statement, his testimony that was submitted to Congress, he said, at no time was I aware of or took part in an effort to urge Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden. What do you make of that in the context of the text messages that you have read which mentioned Burisma, which is the energy company that Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son, was on the board of?
LIEU: It's not clear what he means when he was not made aware of, because, clearly, at some point, he was made very well aware of because he's the one that gave us all those text messages. So it's a little ambiguous is exactly what Kurt Volker was saying.
What we do know is that there was this months-long orchestrated campaign to get Ukraine to investigate Biden, and this was after Donald Trump specifically blocked critical military aid to Ukraine that Congress had specifically appropriated.
KEILAR: I want to ask you because, today, the president said he's not interested in punishing political rivals. Yesterday, he said that Ukraine and China should investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
LIEU: The president might want to watch the video of his remarks yesterday on the south lawn. I served in active duty in the U.S. military because I believe America is an exceptional country. And one of the things that makes us great is our shear understanding that we are all Americans. The American president should never, ever solicit a foreign government to target a political rival. That is un- American, it's wrong and it's abuse of power.
KEILAR: Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you so much.
LIEU: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: Republicans have remained mostly silent since the president asked China to investigate the Bidens, but they're starting to feel the heat in their home districts.
And more on the breaking news, the president firing back at Democrats, saying, his White House will not turn over any documents until Speaker Pelosi holds a floor vote on impeachment.