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Text Messages Reveal Trump's Pressure on Ukraine. Aired 7- 7:30a ET
Aired October 4, 2019 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Kurt Volker showed how U.S. diplomats dangled a White House visit for Ukraine's president in exchange for Ukraine investigating the 2016 election and investigating the Bidens.
One text from a senior Ukrainian aide to Volker reads, quote, "Once we have a date, we'll call for press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the reboot of U.S./Ukraine relationship, including among other things, Burisma." That's synonymous with Joe Biden. "And election meddling in investigations."
And Burisma, as I just said, is the Ukrainian gas company where Joe Biden's son Hunter served on its board.
Another text from a senior U.S. diplomat references the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid that was withheld from Ukraine. This is from the senior U.S. diplomat there at the time; "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"
A source tells CNN the Ukrainian government went as far as to draft a public statement about its commitments to carry out investigations but never released it in part. Well, Rudy Giuliani felt it did not go far enough.
CAMEROTA: Then there is President Trump right on the White House lawn, publicly urging another foreign government to do his political dirty work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: CNN's new reporting is that this was not the first time the president raised Joe Biden's name with China. Sources say the president also discussed Biden and Elizabeth Warren with the Chinese President Xi in a phone call back in June.
This comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faces a deadline today to hand over documents from the White House or there would be a subpoena if they do not comply. And the intelligence community inspector general who turned the whistle-blower complaint over to Congress is set to brief lawmakers behind closed doors today.
BERMAN: All right. There is so much to discuss. Everyone should go online as they're watching this segment. CNN.com. Read the text messages for yourself, because they are revealing.
CAMEROTA: They are page turners, and you don't need to be Jeffrey Toobin to understand what they say.
BERMAN: But it helps.
And joining us now is CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
I just want to read a couple of these again, starting with P-209. This is a text message from Bill Taylor, who was the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine at the time. Written to Ambassador Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union.
Taylor writes, "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"
Sondland doesn't say yes. No, he says, "Call me."
And now I want to read P-203. Again, the idea of a quid pro quo. Something for something. Kurt Volker, special envoy to Ukraine, he writes a note to a Ukrainian official: "Good lunch. Thanks. Heard from White House. Assuming Ukrainian President Zelensky convinces Trump he will investigate/'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck. See you tomorrow. Kurt."
Assuming, Jeffrey Toobin. Something for something. Preet Bharara says we don't usually see evidence of a quid pro quo in writing. Do you see it here?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. This is just an obvious quid pro quo. Among the things this does is put a complete lie to what President Trump said earlier in the week.
Remember earlier in the week, he said, my only interest in Ukraine was to make sure that other European nations were helping as much as we were. That we were not a patsy. We were not giving money alone. This says nothing about that.
This has -- obviously, that had nothing to do with the decisions about our relationship with Ukraine. The only subject discussed in these -- in these texts are the Ukrainians' agreement to investigate the Democrats and Biden. I mean, that's what these are about. And the quid pro quo, as Preet said, is completely explicit here.
CAMEROTA: There are pages and pages of this. And again, what I meant was you don't have to be Jeffrey Toobin --
BERMAN: But it helps. CAMEROTA: -- is that you can just read -- when you read this, you see
the deal that's being hatched. You see Rudy Giuliani being involved. And you see the diplomats being quite uncomfortable once they figure out what this is about.
Here's an example, P-210. This is the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, saying, "The nightmare is that the" -- basically the Ukrainians give this statement and don't get the money, the security assistance. The Russians will love that. (And I quit.)"
TOOBIN: Right. I mean, they understand that this is not the correct way to conduct American foreign policy. They understand that the government of the United States does not give security assistance, does not spend millions of taxpayer dollars simply to get political dirt on the president's opponents. That that's wrong. That's not been done before. That's not how the system is supposed to operate.
And that's what particularly this -- this Mr. Taylor, the diplomat, is saying. But, you know, they are carrying out the Trump administration's policy and they're having to deal with it. But they recognize how wrong it is.
mat is saying. Mat is saying. But they are carrying out the Trump administration's policy, and they're having to deal with it. But they recognize how wrong it is.
BERMAN: Kaitlan, can I ask you. We now have seen these text messages that were released by the House committees last night. It's evidence now in the impeachment investigation. Is the White House, is the State Department, is anyone in the administration denying that they're real?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. They haven't denied that the texts are real. Of course, that's going to be pretty difficult for them to do.
And the question that they're going to be watching going forward is how much more information comes out. Because these are just a few texts. It's a few several pages, but this really isn't just the extent of all of the communications that we're told of.
These lawmakers were telling reporters that, actually, they got a ton of documents from Kurt Volker during that interview yesterday, where he was there for, I think, about nine hours.
So what they're going to be watching coming out of this is just how many people are named in this. Because so far, we've seen the White House deny that there was any wrongdoing here.
But from these messages, you're seeing just how involved the secretary of state was, because there are several references where when Bill Taylor, that career diplomat, is raising questions, they're essentially telling him, well, call Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's secretary or call Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Rudy Giuliani, of course, is also a big figure in these. You see just
how closely involved he is in shaping U.S. policy. That's going to be a big question going forward. And also, what are these lawmakers going to do next? Are they going to ask this guy, Bill Taylor, to come testify.
This is someone who is a career diplomat, very well-versed in Ukrainian politics. I believe this is the second time he's been over there. He's back there now after they recalled the other U.S. ambassador, something else that's come under scrutiny.
And he is essentially threatening to resign in these text messages if the White House withholds this military aid here. That is pretty significant. And it shows that this isn't just a Washington conversation about whether or not the White House was threatening to withhold this if they didn't get their investigations. It shows that career diplomats thought that was happening, as well.
CAMEROTA: So Jeffrey, we can read the text messages with our own eyes. We heard the president with our own ears yesterday say, basically, I'll do it all over. In fact, now I want China to go investigate things for my political gain.
Obviously, Democrats in the House will say this is a road map for impeachment. But people keep asking the criminality of it. I know that a sitting president, we've established a sitting president won't be charged by this Department of Justice. But is there criminality in this stuff?
TOOBIN: You know, I don't think it is -- it is criminality. You know, obviously, I've been thinking about that question. Is it extortion? Is it bribery?
No, I think it is an issue of abuse of power. And, you know, going back to the Federalist Papers, it's been very clear that impeachable offenses do not have to be crimes. They do not have to be violations of the criminal code. But you know, I don't think there is an actual criminality here.
CAMEROTA: Bribery is a crime. Why don't you see bribery?
TOOBIN: Well, I don't think that, you know, use of federal money in this way would count as bribery. I mean, you know, others may disagree. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say.
I don't think -- I think it is just a question of how the president exercises his power. And I think, you know, that in many respects, I mean, if you look at the impeachment clause and the history of it, you know, the thing they were most worried about was the president misusing his power. They weren't worried about him committing, you know, minor offenses. What they were worried about was using the power of the presidency for corrupt purposes.
BERMAN: And --
TOOBIN: And that's what appears to be a foundational issue in this country not just for the drafters of the Constitution. George Washington in his farewell address. He said, "History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government."
This is something that Washington was warning against at the very beginning here. Clearly, not something the founders desired in any way.
Jeffrey, Kaitlan, thank you very much.
There's a lot more to talk about on the damning text messages revealed -- revealed overnight. We want to know what it now means for the impeachment investigation. What will we hear from Republicans? How will Democrats use this in the inquiry? Stay tuned.
CAMEROTA: OK. We have breaking news. Overnight, these text messages have been released. And they link a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens, as well as a Ukrainian investigation into 2016 election interference to, in return, the Ukrainians would get a White House visit and military aid. What does all of this mean for the current impeachment inquiry?
Joining us now to discuss it, we have CNN political director David Chalian and CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.
Well, David, did the impeachment inquiry of House Democrats need any more evidence? Because as of this morning, they have a lot more.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think this is actually one of the most fascinating things about this process, which is the facts don't seem to be in dispute here. That is -- that is just not the norm of the kind of political brawls we've seen in the Trump era.
The president isn't disputing the actual facts. What's being disputed here is the interpretation of what happened and whether or not it violated his oath of office, whether or not it measures up to a high crime and misdemeanor, if it's an impeachable offense.
But it just seems that each day I -- we've yet to see evidence emerge that I think helps the president's case. Each day, the revelations that we're getting seem to bolster exactly why Nancy Pelosi launched this formal impeachment inquiry.
BERMAN: Nancy Pelosi said as much. Let's listen to what she said about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president has confessed to his violation of his oath of office right then and there. So does not need too much inquiry. It's sad for our country that we have a president that put us in this situation. But no one is above the law. And the president will be held accountable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: She's making the point that we don't need that much inquiring. And to an extent, if you listen carefully to discussions, everyone once in a while you hear an "if" or a "what if."
There's no "if" to a lot of this. The text messages are an "is." They are what they are, and we can read them. The president's phone call with the Ukrainian president is what it is, and we can read the rough notes from that.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
BERMAN: Go ahead.
HENDERSON: And we heard the president yesterday on the White House lawn, essentially say that he wants not only Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, but also China, as well. And we know that China is obviously an authoritarian regime that doesn't actually have a real system of justice there.
So yes, I mean, Nancy Pelosi obviously got a lot of criticism, because she came out with formalizing this impeachment inquiry before the transcript was released. And she did that because of the president's own words, right? And everything that has come out before -- since then, essentially, three set of documents, right?
First the transcript or the memo of that call and then the whistle- blower complaint and finally, these text messages which are incredibly easy to read, incredibly easy to understand, incredibly damning to the president.
The president all along has been saying, listen, the whistle-blower doesn't have any credibility. But listen, you don't even need the whistle-blower at this point, because you've got the transcript, of course, or the memo of the call, as well as these text messages.
We'll see what else comes out. Certainly, there will be more to come out. Atkinson, the I.G. is going to talk before the committee today and be deposed. Certainly, he'll have more information.
The meeting that we saw yesterday with the Ukrainian envoy, that was nine hours, right? And we see there are additional names and information in all of the documents released out of that. And there are more documents that are going to be released even from his conversation. Yesterday's nine-hour conversation.
So we'll see what comes out of today. And this is what makes it very uncomfortable for Republicans. They don't know what's around the corner. The president probably does, because he was involved in a lot of this. Rudy Giuliani, as well. But Republicans themselves are kind of in the dark about what additional shoes will drop. CAMEROTA: David, you keep -- we keep hearing this interesting talking
point on right-wing media, which is there's not even an impeachment inquiry happening right now, because there was no formal vote. She never held a formal vote. Therefore, the impeachment can't happen.
Can you debunk this?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Kevin McCarthy is going to make that a central line of attack, continue to do so against Nancy Pelosi. They believe -- the Republicans believe this process argument, and I believe Steve Scalise brought this up in a call with members yesterday on the Republican side.
This process argument is one that Republicans can really rally around that the Democrats are somehow abusing the process. That there is no indication in the Constitution whatsoever that, in order to move forward with impeachment, you actually need a vote on the floor of the House in launching the impeachment agreement. That doesn't exist. We've seen it --
CAMEROTA: In the past.
CHALIAN: -- in the Nixon and Clinton eras, but we -- but that does not mean that Nancy Pelosi has to do this.
Now, she was pressed on this yesterday. And she said, listen. We may -- we could have that vote if we want to. Just to sort of steal the talking point away from the Republicans. I think initially, she really didn't want to have that vote, because she was trying to protect her members in tough districts from taking a tough vote. But obviously, that's -- you know, the horse left the barn on that.
BERMAN: It would have been an easier vote today. I don't think they fear that now. They may fear the delay. They don't want to have to wait until everyone comes back in a week to push this forward.
All right. Nia, David, thank you very much.
HENDERSON: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Yes. We should stop sleeping. Because a lot happens while we're sleeping. It comes out. So stop sleeping.
BERMAN: We don't sleep much either. OK? We don't. And to have something like this, this major develop in the one hour where you shut your eyes is truly insane.
That's on us.
CAMEROTA: All right. There are these text messages that came out overnight. And they are blowing holes in the president's defense that there was no quid pro quo in any conversations with the Ukraine. Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci is here to explain how this works in the White House.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:24:24]
CAMEROTA: New text messages just released overnight show how U.S. diplomats coordinated with a top aide of Ukraine's president and Rudy Giuliani to try to leverage a meeting between President Trump and the president of Ukraine if the Ukrainians would agree to the conditions.
And that were -- those were to investigate the 2016 election and to investigate Joe Biden and his son.
This morning I spoke with former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci about these revelations.
CAMEROTA: Anthony, great to have you here in studio.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Glad to be back.
CAMEROTA: So much has happened overnight. People are just waking up to these text messages between these diplomats. And they seem to spell out the road map for the directive that they've been given. Either from Rudy Giuliani or the president.
Let me take you through a couple of them.
This is one from the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. "Do we still want Zelensky to give us an unequivocal draft with 2016 and Burisma?"
So in other words, is Zelensky going to give a statement in which he brings up Joe Biden is basically what they're saying? And then special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker says that's the clear message so far.
Next text. This one from the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. "Are we now saying the security assistance," meaning the military funds, "and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations? Meaning investigations into the Bidens. Here's where Gordon Sondland says call me. Even he knows at this point that the texts are getting dangerous. He wants to do it in person.
Next, this is from the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor. shouldn't do it in text.
"The nightmare is that they give the interview," meaning the Ukrainians," make this statement and don't get the money, the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)"
SCARAMUCCI: Good for him.
CAMEROTA: But what do you hear in these texts? SCARAMUCCI: Well, I hear rank criminality. I hear pressure on
American diplomats coming from above to push them to do things that are actually a revocation of the Constitution.
And so the president will -- his defense will be, well, he can't control those guys. He'll say all that sort of nonsense. But the very, very good news is we have the president on tape now, saying that he wants to disavow his oath to the Constitution and protect the --
CAMEROTA: What part are you talking about? Which part?
SCARAMUCCI: I mean, there's several different things he's done. He's admitted openly at the U.N. that he had no problem asking the Ukraine for favors. He admitted that openly. He declared himself yesterday, please ask the Chinese government to go after Vice President Biden.
Well, now we're learning that he may have had a conversation on his secured line with President Xi. That could have happened, as well.
So you know, look, it's totally disgusting, but the thing that is surprising to me, because you and I have been talking about this for two months. I would have thought that the leadership in the Congress would have broken by now. The Republican leadership in the Congress, what are these guys doing?
That's the thing I don't understand, because I would have predicted the president having a complete and total Trump-nobyl-like breakdown very predictable. He was already starting in the summer. But where is the leadership. Where's the statesmen and women in our Congress, Alisyn? That's the trouble that I'm having. I can't figure that out at all.
SCARAMUCCI: Now, before we get to all of that, I just want to talk about I think that this captures a very transactional nature. And they just spell it out.
So you're now saying that the military assistance is conditioned upon the Ukrainians making that statement. That's what our top diplomats are saying.
And because you know the president and you know how the White House operates, are there quid pro quos like that? Is the president as transactional as that?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, listen, I think it's very obvious. The short answer to that is yes. But the more complicated answer is that this is systemic injustice. This is systemic criminality. And it's coming from the top.
And so what ends up happening is, just like in the Richard Nixon situation, these guys are racing to cover it up. But they've got too many people involved now in the story.
And so there will be honest people who have good conscience that will look at the situation and say, wait a minute. I'm not covering this up for this guy, or I'm not going to stain my family by being associated with this.
CAMEROTA: But you know the president. Do you have text messages like this? Do you -- do you have text messages whereby there's --
SCARAMUCCI: The president doesn't send text messages. I -- I've never gotten -- just very candidly, I've never gotten a text message from the president.
CAMEROTA: He doesn't text.
SCARAMUCCI: He doesn't send text messages.
SCARAMUCCI: He would call you, yes. But I've never gotten a phone call like that either. And so I want to be very clear about that.
But you're in a different situation with the president now. He's under a tremendous amount of pressure. Poll numbers are a complete disaster. He's in a panic. He's about to be completely humiliated as an incumbent president who had a -- recently very good economy. Just his personality and style --
CAMEROTA: Well --
SCARAMUCCI: -- and his traitorous nature, because you have to call him for what he is. The American president is a traitor to the United States. So he is literally the most un-American president that we've had probably since Andrew Johnson.
SCARAMUCCI: So this is -- this is a full-blown disaster, and he's reacting to it in a way that somebody that doesn't have any principles or morals.
CAMEROTA: But explain to us how --
SCARAMUCCI: It will continue to get worse. And hopefully, the Congress will break at some point.
CAMEROTA: What I hear here also are career diplomats who are feeling compromised. When you hear them say, call me. When there's something that gets heated. So are you now saying, basically, is what Bill Taylor asks, that the military aid is contingent upon Ukraine saying this. And then you hear Gordon Sondland say, "Call me." So they know that they are wading into dangerous water. And they've become compromised.
SCARAMUCCI: The guy is saying he's going to quit. The guy's saying he's going to quit.