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AT THIS HOUR

Lawyer: 2nd Whistleblower Has "Firsthand Knowledge"; Rick Perry: "I Asked the President" to Call Zelensky about Energy; 2 More Key Witnesses Testifying This Week; GOP Homeland Security Chair Johnson: "I Do Not Trust the FBI or CIA"; U.S. Trump Announces Troop Withdrawal from Syria Near Turkey's Border; NBC Executive's Hong Kong Tweet Ignites Firestorm in China; North Korea Cuts Off Talks with U.S. Despite Trump/Kim Friendship; Russian Embassy Retweets WAPO Report that Trump Doubted Russia's Involvement in Spy Poisoning. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Our thanks to all of you for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

The news continues. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

The whistleblower is no longer standing alone. CNN has learned that a second person has come forward. And this second whistleblower is said to have firsthand knowledge that supports what was first laid out in the original complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry.

Which would poke yet another hole right through the president's ongoing and evolving defense in all of this. And also poke a hole through his main attack line against the accusation that's he pressured Ukraine to investigate a political rival and then folks around him tried to cover it up like this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The whistleblower never saw the conversation. He got his information, I guess, second or thirdhand.

The whistleblower said terrible things about the call. But he then -- I found out he was secondhand and thirdhand. In other words, he didn't know what was on the call.

It was second or thirdhand. Never heard the call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now you not only have the president openly and on camera asking Ukraine and China to investigate a political rival of the president, you also have this new whistleblower, who may have been on that call and has direct knowledge.

Let's start there. CNN's Boris Sanchez is joining me from the White House.

Boris, what are you hearing from there this morning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Kate. The director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, is answering questions just a few steps away from me moments ago. Largely dismissive about questions regarding the second whistleblower.

Really, that's been the posture of this White House, dismissing the second whistleblower, the second intelligence official, largely, saying that they don't have any new information and that they don't have anything direct about the president and his dealings with Ukraine, negating the reporting we've seen through CNN and the "New York Times" and in other places.

I want to show you this statement put out by Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary. She effectively says that these whistleblowers don't matter. She writes, quote, "It doesn't matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call, a call the president already made public. It doesn't change the fact that he has done nothing wrong."

Important to point out these whistleblowers -- at least the first that came forward, showed a large pattern of behavior with the president trying to effect Ukrainian policy not just the one phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky.

Kate, we should point out we're hearing from energy secretary, Rick Perry, for the first time. The reports in the "Washington Post" and "Axios" that, on a call with House Republicans, the president essentially scapegoated Perry, saying he didn't want to have the phone call with President Zelensky of Ukraine but that Rick Perry urged him to.

Today, Rick Perry sort of confirmed that. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY, ENERGY SECRETARY: Absolutely. I asked the president multiple times, Mr. President, we think it is in the United States' and in Ukraine's best interests that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there. So, absolutely, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Of course, energy and -- trade and energy is a huge part of the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine. So not surprising that the energy secretary would want these two leaders to speak. But it appears that Trump was not telling some of his members of his own party the full story. Of course, we've known that for weeks, Rudy Giuliani and others have

been laying the groundwork with the Ukrainian leadership, essentially telling them that for a good relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine, they would have to investigate some of the president's 2020 rivals in Joe Biden and to investigate the 2016 election, as well.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Boris, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Let's move now from the White House to Capitol Hill, where it should be yet another quiet week since the House and Senate are both on recess, of course. Or absolutely not since two key witnesses are coming before the House -- before House committees that are investigating impeachment. One current ambassador and one former.

CNN congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, has the details on it.

Lauren, who's coming, and what do the committees want to know?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Kate. It is another busy week on Capitol Hill. Gordon Sondland will come tomorrow before the House Foreign Affairs committee, as well as Oversight and Intelligence Committees. He's going to be talking behind closed doors.

Of course, this is someone who is a major donor to the president. He also was a part of that text messaging chain that was released last week revealing more information about what the U.S. relationship with Ukraine was like, specifically about what was going on with Ukrainian military aid that had been held up, Kate. So a lot of questions are going to be about what he knew and when.

[11:05:02]

Then on Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, is going to be coming before the same committees, again behind closed doors. Democrats want to know specifically why she was fired back in May. She was let go very suddenly. There's a question about whether or not that decision to let her go was politically motivated. So that's going to be a key point of questioning for Democrats on Friday.

Republicans, meanwhile, holding the line, arguing that President Trump has done nothing wrong, and even as he's publicly state that he wants China and others to investigate his political rivals, they're arguing he wasn't serious -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All a joking matter until it absolutely clearly wasn't.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

So joining me now is former White House press secretary for President Clinton and CNN political commentator, Joe Lockhart, and former director of communications for the Intelligence Community, CNN national security analyst, Sean Turner.

Sean, let me start with you on the second whistleblower. From your perspective, this person speaking up through -- obviously not speaking up publicly but speaking up through his attorney, does what? Because we know both of these people are members of the Intelligence Community. We know that the White House is saying that no matter how many whistleblowers you have it doesn't matter.

SEAN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Well, there are a couple of really important things we could potentially get from this second whistleblower. The first thing is that you'll recall, Kate, early on that a lot of the president's supporters and the president himself made the claim, made the point that the original whistleblower only had second or thirdhand knowledge.

If the reporting is correct and this whistleblower has firsthand knowledge, then we're going to get -- you know, that argument falls apart and we're going to get a firsthand understanding of what was discussed on this call. And I think that's really important.

You know, for everyone who is making the claim that they -- this was only secondhand knowledge, they had to understand that they were going -- there were going to be people who were part of this conversation that might be able to provide firsthand knowledge.

The second thing I think we get that's really important is, you know, this transcript that the White House released, you know, there's been much said about the ellipses in the transcript. And people -- we really shouldn't call it a transcript. It's a summary.

This new whistleblower will be able to tell us whether or not that summary of the phone call accurately reflects what was actually said between President Trump and President Zelensky in that phone call.

So I think there are a couple of really important things that will help Congress understand what happened here.

BOLDUAN: There's an element of this, Joe, which is -- I almost -- someone might be able to agree with the White House that it doesn't matter how many whistleblowers come forward, only because the president himself has come forward and asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and has added China on top of that since this whistleblower complaint was made public.

From your perspective, what you're looking at here, where does the White House defense evolve from here?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, Kate, you're right. In one level, it doesn't matter how many whistleblowers come forward because the president has already admitted to the underlying behavior.

I think where it does matter and where I think the White House press secretary's statement falls short is these -- whether it's White House, cabinet members, who have to go in and speak and be deposed by the committee or anyone, like the ambassadors this week who will go in, they are going to fill in the blanks.

They're going to articulate what the quid pro quo was, give the details who else was involved, fill in, you know, provide the missing puzzle pieces. So it is important.

But this is not a -- this is not a crime, you know, in search of a perpetrator. The president has told us that he would do it, he'd do it again. And that is ultimately going to be their defense, that it's OK for a president to leverage U.S. power to get dirt on a -- on a political opponent. That's ultimately what their position is going to be.

BOLDUAN: And that -- and that comes to the threshold question that all -- every elected official needs to answer is are you OK with that, and where is your line.

That gets us to Senator Ron Johnson.

Sean, let me first play what he had to say on Sunday. He is the Republican chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. And part of his defense not only slamming what he would think is media bias but he also himself attacked the Intel Community. Listen to what he said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I just want the truth. The American people want the truth.

(CROSSTALK)

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Sir, do you not trust the FBI --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: The --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: You don't trust the CIA?

JOHNSON: No. No, I don't.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: I'm confused here. You don't trust --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: -- Lisa Page?

TODD: OK.

JOHNSON: After James Comey --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: You believe the FBI and the CIA --

JOHNSON: John Brennan -- I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don't trust any of them.

TODD: You don't trust them now? Do you trust them now?

JOHNSON: No, I didn't trust them back then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Didn't trust them then, doesn't trust them now.

Sean, he is the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. What do you say to that?

[11:10:06]

TURNER: There are so many things that are wrong with what Ron Johnson said there. And I -- I can't list them all here.

First of all, he has to understand that these individuals, these are not people who are part of the Obama administration. The men and women who make the FBI and the CIA, you know, fantastic and wonderful organizations that they are, are career civil servants who have spent their entire lives, entire careers, serving this country.

And so for him to say that he doesn't trust them because they're Obama people is -- is terribly flawed thinking.

You know, the other thing, this is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. You know, if he has issues with the way that the CIA and the FBI are doing their jobs and -- he needs to not only put those issues on the table, but he needs to put some evidence on the table to show that they're not doing their job consistent with the laws and rules and regulations in this country. And so far, he hasn't done that.

It's -- to simply say he doesn't trust them because, you know, he has political views that are not being met, is not only startling but is also extremely disrespectful to the men and women who have committed their lives to working for those agencies.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And let's make sure to follow the line. This is why he doesn't trust the CIA, says he doesn't trust the FBI. Thus, you shouldn't trust the people coming out with these allegations and what they're saying.

Others have pointed this out, though, Joe, and it deserves repeating, that the Senator not only is the chair of the Homeland Security Committee but he has also himself voted to reauthorization FISA programs and voted in support of the Patriot Act, both of which give sweeping powers to the FBI and the CIA to surveil regular Americans.

How do -- how does one square that? And what is Ron Johnson doing? He knows that. He knows his vote record.

LOCKHART: Yes. This is the latest example of people putting their party over their country. You know, Ron Johnson is the chair of this committee. He's not taken a sweeping look at our Intelligence Community through hearings and potential legislation.

Remember, you go back to the 1970s, there were concerns about how the Intelligence Communities work. And there were hearings, and they were fundamentally restructured, and abuses were taken care of. But that's got nothing to do with what's going on here.

You know, Ron Johnson was told by the E.U. ambassador about this call and about the quid pro quo. And rather than come back to Washington and hold a hearing on this, he went and told the president that you've got a political problem here, Mr. President.

So I think what's happened, you know, in the Trump era is -- you know, among the Republican Party, particularly in the Senate, it's all about protecting the president, protecting their party, protecting their own interests, and they've completely lost touch with what the country's interests are.

And that's -- that's a very dangerous position to be in when you have a president and a majority party in the Senate.

BOLDUAN: I just think -- I --

(CROSSTALK)

TURNER: Kate, I would add that --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Yes, Sean, go ahead. I just see the real long-term damage here. When you just -- these blanket statements over and over again. If you don't trust them, don't trust the nameless, faceless people who are doing all of this hard work, don't trust the FBI, only trust what's coming out of my mouth.

It is -- I think there's real, sure, this might be a political defense for right now, in this moment, but this is a real moment of real long- term potential damage that can be done to these institutions.

TURNER: Yes. Look, I completely agree. You know, I talk with people a lot about how long it's going to take to undo the damage that's being done to our democratic institutions. And it -- there's a lot of the damage being done. I still go to some agencies, spend time catching one colleagues. It's a very different feel.

I just want to add another thing to what Joe said. You know, the other thing that didn't exist back in the '60s and '70s the way it difference today is the whistleblower program. Now you have a program that recognizes that the Intelligence Community has an immense amount of resources and capabilities.

And you have a program within the Intelligence Community that's designed to make absolutely sure that people are held accountable for fraud, waste, abuse, and other mismanagement.

And that very program that Congress was responsible for helping to put into place is now routinely under attack by members of Congress. So I think that Joe is right, this is just another example of putting politics over country.

BOLDUAN: More often we see that right now than the alternative.

Joe, Sean, thank you. Appreciate it, guys.

TURNER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Trump makes a major announcement overnight. U.S. troops withdrawing from northern Syria. Why the president's former ambassador to the U.N. is calling the move a big mistake.

[11:14:42]

Plus, the NBA is at the center of a huge geopolitical firestorm right now. And it's all about how the league handled a single tweet. The details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Stepping aside, withdrawing, a sudden and huge shift for the U.S. Policy in Syria. Right now, U.S. forces are leaving northern Syria following a late-night announcement from the Trump White House.

And then early morning tweets, followed by early morning tweets from President Trump, like this one: "It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous, endless wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. We will fight where it is to our benefit and only fight to win."

[11:20:09]

But is removing U.S. troops from there to the benefit of the United States? Quite the opposite says, one of the president's closest allies, Senator Lindsey Graham.

(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I expect the American president to do what's in our national security interest. And it's never in our national security interest to abandon an ally who's helped us fight ISIS. It's never in our national security interest to create conditions for the re-emergence of ISIS.

(END AUDIO FEED)

BOLDUAN: Add to that, Trump's former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, tweeting this today, "We must always have the backs of our allies if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake."

Here with me, Ian Bremmer, the editor-at-large for "Time" and president of the Eurasia Group.

Great to see you, Ian. (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: So much to get to today.

Put in perspective the impact of this decision by the president.

IAN BREMMER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, TIME MAGAZINE & PRESIDENT, THE EURASIA GROUP: Well, interesting that Nikki Haley said Turkey is not our friend. They are our NATO ally. But a lot of people think they're not asked that way.

It's more complicated than people say. The Americans are withdrawing from an area on the border.

BOLDUAN: On the border.

BREMMER: There will still be lots of American troops on the ground there.

It is certainly true that the Turks have been looking to take that area so they have a place -- clear it out, have a place to actually move a bunch of their refugees. They're hosting millions of Syrian refugees right now. Erdogan's under a lot of pressure.

No question the Kurds are going to feel, in time and tradition, that the Americans are again leaving them. And the result will be ultimately that the Kurds will start working more closely with the Russians. But it will take some time for that to happen.

BOLDUAN: And work closely with the Russians. The Kurds will have to turn and work with Assad.

BREMMER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: I mean, that's the way the alliance -- their alliance will have to move.

Can this move be reversed? I ask because that's what Graham said on FOX this morning. It's what he was going to try to convince the president to do through a resolution is to convince him to turn -- to turn this back.

BREMMER: They've been trying for three years. The Pentagon and the State Department has strongly opposed the idea that Americans would pull out of this area. Trump has --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: They reported in August the Pentagon had said that this would allow for the resurgence of ISIS.

BREMMER: I mean, if anyone can flip-flop on a policy decision made by a tweet, President Trump is the person to be able to do it.

If he doesn't and they do pull out, there's going to be enormous pressure on Trump to expand sanctions against the Turks, especially because they've accepted that Russian missile defense system, which means that American airplanes are not going to be able to operate because they will get the information and give it to the Russians.

On both sides, the Russians are going to be at advantage here. But Turkey's going to be under a lot of pressure. I think we should watch that.

BOLDUAN: Russia at the advantage no matter how this turns out right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: OK, another situation I would like to get your take on, China and the NBA. The G.M. for the Houston Rockets, with a single tweet that he deleted, but a tweet in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. That's how this began.

China responds demanding a, quote/unquote, correction. And the NBA gives it essentially. I mean, here's -- let me read the statement, saying, "We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable."

This may be about offending, in part -- this may be about basketball. This may be -- in part, this is about money. But this is about freedom. This is about human rights. This is about a geopolitical mess.

BREMMER: Well, first of all, the statement that you read was the English-language statement. The Chinese-language statement that was delivered by the NBA was actually different and much more apologetic.

BOLDUAN: What?

BREMMER: Believe it or not. Yes. No one's advising these people obviously.

But it's quite something. The Chinese market is important to the NBA. They think it's their future. A lot of Chinese are really into basketball. There's a lot of money there.

And so when the Chinese say, how can you possibly say this, one of your G.M.s supporting Hong Kong. What the NBA should have said is, hey, we do not take political stances, what he says stands for itself.

I actually heard about this originally -- I was talking to my friend, the Celtics Center

BOLDUAN: Right.

BREMMER: -- but is strongly anti-Erdogan in Turkey. And has been very public about that because they've imprisoned his father and --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: The NBA supported him. BREMMER: The NBA has never had a problem with him making political

statements, and he's innocent. The NBA isn't going to say, we, as a league, don't like Erdogan. But they're not trying to muzzle their player.

There's only one difference here, and the difference is Chinese cash.

And South Park, for example, just shut down today in China. Why? Because the Chinese didn't like what "South Park" had to say about the Chinese.

They're vastly more powerful economically today than they were five, 10 years ago. And American corporations, if you want to do business there, are saying, what can we do to facilitate you. That means we're going to censor ourselves, we're going to censor our employees, we'll fire them if there's a problem.

The Americans are going to have to get used to their reality.

[11:25:02]

BOLDUAN: We shouldn't be surprised, but this is shocking. It really is shocking.

I'm going to add two more story lines to this because I want to get your take.

BREMMER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: North Korea now cutting off talks with the United States, despite the supposed friendship -- after talks this weekend, despite the supposed friendship between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. North Korea says that talks aren't worth it at this moment.

And then there's also this tweet from the Russian embassy in the U.K., tweeting out reporting from the "Washington Post" that Donald Trump told Theresa May that he's skeptical of the intelligence that Russia was behind the attempted murder and poisoning of former Russian spy on British soil last year.

I put these together because -- just taking a step up, back, out for a second, add it up, what does this say about U.S. foreign policy right now?

BREMMER: Well, U.S. foreign policy on North Korea is no more successful under Trump than it has been under previous presidents. You know, you've never been able to move them on --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And love letters didn't do anything --

(CROSSTALK)

BREMMER: Love letters didn't do anything. They're not testing ICBMs. Clearly, if they start that, that was the red line. It's going to be Trump to say, I'm still happy with them, I want to engage. But for now, we've got to freeze on the talks. They said maybe we'll get back by the end of the year. We'll see.

On the Russian story, the Russians know good propaganda stories when they see it. The fact it came out, that Trump was telling Theresa May, hey, I don't believe your intelligence that the Russians were behind the assassination of this former agent, Sergei Skripal, the Russians were like, see, Trump didn't believe it so, obviously, we're clear, we're clean.

That's not a special relationship, let's put it that way. At least not between the Americans and the U.K.

BOLDUAN: To say the very least.

BREMMER: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Ian. Good to have you here as always.

BREMMER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, many Republicans are responding to House Democrats, their impeachment inquiry. And how are they responding? With silence. But Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is buying ads on impeachment. What's his message? Will it work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)