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Republicans Say President Trump was not Serious When He Asked China to Investigate the Bidens; Federal Judge Dismisses Suit Brought By Trump in Effort to Block Subpoena for Tax Returns; U.S. Troops Begin Pullout from Syria Near Turkey's Border. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- Houses attack on the first whistleblower which he'd called hearsay.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Before news broke of that second whistleblower, 90 former national security officials, veterans of both Republican and Democratic administrations issued a letter voicing their support for the first whistleblower. Let me read you part, quote, "A responsible whistleblower makes all Americans safer by ensuring that serious wrongdoing can be investigated and addressed thus advancing the case -- the cause of national security to which we have devoted our careers."

SCIUTTO: Now Congress may still be in recess for the week, but that will not slow down this impeachment inquiry. Two more witnesses are expected to testify behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in the coming days.

HARLOW: And this breaking overnight, the Trump administration ordered U.S. troops to essentially abandon our allies, withdrawing from northern Syria. This clears the way for an invasion by Turkey and leaves behind the Kurdish fighters who fought alongside the U.S. to defeat ISIS. That is incredibly important, we'll get to that in just a moment.

Let's go to Capitol Hill. Let's start with our congressional reporter Lauren Fox.

So, Lauren, the significance of the second whistleblower aside from the very important point that they, according to their attorneys, have firsthand knowledge.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. And that really undercuts the Republican talking point we have heard up here on Capitol Hill, Poppy, that this person, this first whistleblower did not have firsthand knowledge of the phone call that has now become the centerpiece of Democrats' impeachment inquiry. So one of the biggest points about this new whistleblower, of course, is that this person did have firsthand knowledge. Of course, they are working through the whistleblower protection system. That's, of course, very key. Democrats are arguing that this is an important new development.

Meanwhile, Republicans are arguing that basically nothing has changed. And I think that that is going to be the tenor for which we go into this week in which we have two State Department officials coming up to Capitol Hill for closed-doors depositions with three committees, the Oversight Committee, the Intelligence Committee, and, of course, the Foreign Relations Committee. So all of that happening this week.

We have Gordon Sondland coming tomorrow. Then we have the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who's coming on Friday. She will talk to lawmakers behind closed doors. And I will tell you, Democrats are going to be interested in why she was ousted and if she has any idea about what happened behind the scenes and why she was suddenly let go of that post -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: And of course those are two officials with firsthand direct knowledge.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Of the events leading up to that decision.

HARLOW: And that's what Congressman Jim Himes was saying this morning is one of his key questions, you know, to hear from what was it that led to her removal.


HARLOW: Was it that she wouldn't go along with this?

SCIUTTO: And the president's line was -- what was it, you know, certain things are going to happen to her or something in that call, pre-staging her eventual removal.

HARLOW: Lauren, thank you very, very much.

It did not take long for the White House to dismiss this second whistleblower. Joe Johns joins us this morning outside the White House.

So, even though some of the circumstances here are different, again, a firsthand knowledge being one of them, still being dismissed by the administration?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, the bottom line from Stephanie Grisham over here at the White House is that the president did nothing wrong, so it doesn't matter how many whistleblowers there are out there. But also important to say the president tweeted just this morning once again, discrediting this second whistleblower. You know he has a history of that, it goes all the way back even before Robert Mueller who he went after with a vengeance. The president this morning writing, "The partisan whistleblower," apparently referring to the first whistleblower to come forward, "was very wrong." The president writes what his, quote, "perfect no pressure call" with the Ukrainian president was and then apparently referring to the second person, he writes, "Bring in another whistleblower from the bench."

So now you got the president once again going after the first whistleblower, the second whistleblower. We don't know any of their names at all and we can certainly expect this to continue over the weekend as well. The president also referring to an attorney for the whistleblowers as the same for both, and also indicating that that person is a Democrat supporting both Hillary Clinton and Obama. That's apparently -- apparently a reference to attorney Andrew Bakaj who in fact was an intern for Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, the two New York senators back in 2001. Back to you.

HARLOW: All right. Joe Johns, thank you very much for laying all of that out.

SCIUTTO: Well, 90 former National Security officials who we should note worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations have come together, signed an open letter in support of the first whistleblower. That letter says, and we're quoting, "Simply put, he or she has done what our law demands. Now he or she deserves our protection."


Former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is one of the officials who signed that letter. He joins me now live from Washington.

Director Clapper, tell us why you and these other officials felt the need to come out publicly in support of this whistleblower's right here.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Jim, I think it stems first with my involvement with the intelligence community whistleblower protection program when I served as director of National Intelligence and I was a strong proponent of it for the simple reason that people in the intelligence community must have, should have a legitimate conduit for expressing concerns about wrongdoing and be able to do it in such a way that they are protected and the information they are conveying is protected.

So when I was approached about signing such a letter, open letter to the public, about the importance of whistleblowers and the importance of protecting them, I signed on in a heartbeat.

SCIUTTO: That's right. As you know, the president has called for this whistleblower to be outed and you've heard it from some of the president's surrogates, Senator Lindsey Graham as well, and I want to play a short comment from him on FOX News and then ask you a question. Have a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If the whistleblower's allegations are turned into an impeachment article, it's imperative that the whistleblower be interviewed in public under oath and cross examined. Nobody in America goes to jail or has anything done to them without confronting their accuser. This is Kavanaugh all over again.


SCIUTTO: Now Senator Graham, as well as you and I, know that the whistleblower law is designed expressly to protect the identity of whistleblowers so they feel secure in coming and exposing the possibility of wrongdoing.

Do you see a deliberate effort here by the president and his supporters to discourage future whistleblowers? To make it clear to them that there will be public consequences if they come forward?

CLAPPER: Well, yes, absolutely. I think, in fact, the statements such as Senator Graham's and certainly the president's about outing the whistleblower is I think casts -- creates a chilling effect on others to come forward if, in fact, the law is going to be summarily violated. I think that would cause others to pause about coming forward. Now it appears that may not have applied here, which is a good thing in the case of this second whistleblower complainant.

SCIUTTO: As you know, the president now has sitting members of this government. You have the attorney general, traveling the world now, meeting with U.S. intelligence partners, trying to find out in his view whether they participated in some sort of Obama administration- led effort to undermine President Trump in the last election here. You also know that John Durham, who is a former prosecutor, senior Justice Department official, he's pursuing his own investigation on the origins of that probe.

Are you concerned that Barr's or Durham's investigation will find wrongdoing and seek to punish former intelligence officials?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't -- I don't know. I don't think there was any wrongdoing. I think at the time all of us were trying to navigate a very, very difficult, politically fraught, highly charged situation. I know from my part my main concern was -- were the Russians and the threat posed by the Russians to our very political fabric. And the message I'm getting from all this is, apparently what we were supposed to have done was to ignore the Russian interference, ignore the Russian meddling and the threat that it poses to us, and oh, by the way, mulling off what the then commander-in-chief, President Obama, told us to do, which was to assemble all the reporting that we could, that we had available to us, and put it in one report that the president could pass on to the Congress and to the next administration, and while we're at it, declassify as much as we possibly could to make it public and that's what we did. And --

SCIUTTO: One issue I'm --

CLAPPER: It's kind of disconcerting now to be investigated for, you know, having done our duty and done what we were told to do by the president.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. And as you know we're just a little more than a year away from another election which the intelligence community is concerned, and others, Republicans and Democrats concerned that Russia will interfere again, and other officials.

I wonder, as you see the president, as you see the attorney general, as you see, for instance, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, Ron Johnson, talking about all these possible conspiracies in 2016, who's minding the store now for 2020?


Who should Americans at home feel confident in to protect the next election from Russian or interference by other countries?

CLAPPER: Well, I think despite Senator Johnson's statements, the very same institutions that were attempting to protect the country in 2016, and that's the intelligence community, the CIA, NSA, et cetera, as well as the FBI. And those great, you know, men and women of those organizations continue to be vigilant and continue to try to keep the nation safe and secure, particularly as we approach the 2020 election. And I anticipate not only the Russians will be trying to interfere, meddle and influence, but other countries as well who went to school on what the Russians did and the success they enjoyed in 2016.

SCIUTTO: And, of course, we're in a remarkable situation now where the president seems to be inviting countries to do the same.

Director Clapper, thanks very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: That's saying a lot that others have learned from Russia and he expects that others will do the same.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

HARLOW: OK. We have a lot ahead. Coming up, we'll speak with Congressman Jamie Raskin. He, of course, sits on both the Intelligence and Oversight Committees. Will one or both of the whistleblowers testify? What are they expecting? We'll ask him next. Plus, more on the Trump administration's stunning move overnight, withdrawing troops from northern Syria. What does this mean for the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in the region?

SCIUTTO: Well, they're abandoned again. And talks between United Autoworkers Union and General Motors have taken a turn for the worse, according to a chief negotiator. Is there any end in sight? Enormous political, economic consequences from this. We're going to be live in Detroit.



HARLOW: Well this morning, we are seeing a new strategy by some Republican lawmakers when asked whether they think President Trump asking China last week to investigate his political rival is out of bounds. A number of them are saying the president is just, you know, joking. Listen.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I don't think it's a real request -- I think he kind of -- I think he did it to gig you guys.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): I doubt if the China comment was serious, to tell you the truth.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You really think he was serious about thinking that China is going to investigate the Biden family?


HARLOW: With me now, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, he of course, sits on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committee. He's very busy these days, congressman, thank you for being there. Let me just begin with that? What is your response to your Republican colleagues who say the president is just joking?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, do they think he was joking when he withheld $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine, and then sent people over there including Rudy Giuliani, to shake them down to extract from them a commitment to investigate Joe Biden to unleash prosecutors and investigators on Joe Biden? Was that a joke too?

Look, I think anybody looking at this, any reasonable observer would understand that's a completely absurd defense of the president who now has involved not just Ukraine, but Russia and invited China.

Look, I think we should step back and ask the question, why is it a big deal to get them involved? Because, you know, I disagree with Jim Jordan about almost everything, but I would defend with my life his right to participate in our politics. But that's not true of Vladimir Putin or Ukrainian prosecutors, Russian spies or Chinese operatives.

HARLOW: Right --

RASKIN: They should not be involved in American --


RASKIN: Elections.

HARLOW: So to that -- to your exact point, Congressman Raskin, listen to this, Mike Pompeo who by the way we now know was on that July 25th call between the president of Ukraine and President Trump, here's how he defended it, speaking in Greece over the weekend.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: Look, nations do this. Nations work together and they say boy, goodness gracious, if you can help me with X, I'll help you achieve Y. This is what partnerships do. It's win-win. It's better for each of us. I don't -- I'm not offended when your Prime Minister asks me, can you help us with X, right? It doesn't bother me a lick.


HARLOW: It's win-win, it's best for all of us. Do you agree?

RASKIN: Well, they're confusing international cooperation on economic and military and security objectives with the president converting the office of the presidency into an instrument of re-election, and an instrument of private self-enrichment. That's what this president has done.

He's treating the government of the United States as though it's part of his political campaign, and he's putting our national security at risk by trying to use other governments against American citizens. We've never seen anything like this, it's completely unprecedented in the history of our country.

HARLOW: Here is what Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said over the weekend about the whistleblower who he believes not only needs to testify before Congress, but needs to do so in public. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If the whistleblower's allegations are turned into an impeachment article, it's imperative that the whistleblower be interviewed in public under oath and cross-examined. Nobody in America goes to jail or has anything done to them without confronting their accuser. This is Kavanaugh all over again.


HARLOW: He even said, congressman, quote, "if that doesn't happen in the house, I will make sure it happens in the Senate." This is those 90 former national security officials just wrote a letter, saying, we must protect the whistleblower. What is your reaction to Senator Graham saying they have --their identity has to be made public?


RASKIN: Well, the desperation of some of the Republicans is quite extraordinary at this point. It used to be a bipartisan commitment that we protect whistleblowers because we want them to come forward with the truth of the conduct of our elected officials. But we don't have to depend on just this one whistleblower, not only is there another whistleblower who is about to come forward, but everything that the whistleblower said has been corroborated by independent objective evidence including the contemporaneous transcript of -- or memorandum about the phone call that took place on July 25th between President Trump and President Zelensky.

We also have objective, verifiable evidence that the president's withholding of the military assistance at the same time in order to create coercive leverage over this vulnerable ally resisting Russian aggression. So, everything the whistleblower has said has been objectively borne out by the testimony of other witnesses and more are coming forward every day.

And you can see already the contradiction in what they're saying. On the one hand, they're saying there's absolutely nothing wrong with what they did, as President Trump puts it, it was a perfect call, it was a perfect strategy. On the other hand, you can't believe the people who establish the reality and the facts of that call and this strategy that unfolded in order to put pressure on Ukraine.

HARLOW: Congressman, on the impeachment question, obviously you're leading on this front, and you've said that you think articles of impeachment are inevitable at this point, you said that to our Manu Raju. But Elizabeth Warren; Democratic senator running for president in 2020 said over the weekend when she was asked by a reporter, quote, "you've seen enough evidence to convict yourself", meaning to convict in the Senate, and she said yes.

I wonder if you think that it would be more prudent for members of the Senate to wait until they see evidence before saying they are ready to convict. What do you make of her answer?

RASKIN: Well, but I didn't see the interview and I assume what --

HARLOW: I can -- let me play it. I have it --


HARLOW: I believe, I think we can play it, just to give -- do we -- if they can get it back in there, we will play it for you just so you can --

RASKIN: Sure --

HARLOW: See the totality of what she said. Here it is.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've seen enough evidence to convict yourself?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you would vote right now to (INAUDIBLE) --

WARREN: Look, I think the evidence is clear. When Donald Trump released the transcript and which he solicited a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 elections, he broke the law.


HARLOW: Your thoughts, congressman?

RASKIN: Well, what I take Senator Warren to be saying is that the evidence at this point is overwhelming of the president's culpability for perpetrating this plot which was a complete sellout of our constitution. Now, I'm certain -- I don't speak for Senator Warren, but I'm certain her position would be if there's evidence that contradicts it, then obviously, she would change her mind. But at this point, there's no evidence coming forward.

All we're getting really is the irrelevant distraction of the president calling people traitors and spies and them complaining about how unfair the process is, and all of these extraneous immaterial arguments. They really don't have any answer to the fact that what the president did is to unleash his operatives to go and to shake down the Ukrainian government in order to get political dirt on American citizens who are, you know, his political rivals and then cover the entire thing up.

And nobody has been able to negate a single element of that story and the evidence piles up every single day as more people come to testify. They're better off doing what they're basically doing now --

HARLOW: Yes --

RASKIN: Which is admitting it and saying, well, he wasn't really serious, he wasn't kidding, everybody does it. But all of that, again, is a distraction from a very serious offense against the constitution of the United States.

HARLOW: I would note the president of Ukraine said at the U.N., I didn't feel any pressure. We have to leave the conversation here, we'll be back to it very soon. Congressman Raskin, always appreciate your time, thank you.

RASKIN: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: You got it.

SCIUTTO: This is breaking news just in to CNN and it's significant as regards to the president. A federal court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Trump in an effort to block a subpoena issued by the Manhattan District Attorney's office for eight years of the president's tax returns.

And we are just learning an attorney for President Trump has already quickly filed an emergency appeal. The judge in this case, I mean, his language is scathing here.


SCIUTTO: He calls Trump's argument a categorical and limitless assertion of the presidential immunity here.

GINGRAS: Yes, that's right --


GINGRAS: And let's go back a little bit just to give some context here. Let's remember now what happened is, this is a back and forth between the Manhattan DA's office and the Trump org and the president himself for quite a while now. And essentially, what they are wanting was eight years of tax returns because they believe there was some business practices that were not legal during those hush money payments prior to the campaign --

SCIUTTO: Right --

GINGRAS: Right? So, we've been going back and forth with these two sides for a long time.

SCIUTTO: But specific to the Stormy Daniels payments --

GINGRAS: Exactly --


GINGRAS: And essentially what happened here is the president argued while he was -- they were trying to get those tax returns, which many people have been wanting to see, that he can't be subjected to any criminality, he can't be under investigation while he is a sitting president.


And as you just read, federal judge says, well, that's not really the case, and he was very strong in his language. It was a very long actual comments as to why they believe that. But let me read it again, he basically said, "categorical limitless assertion of presidential immunity that would constitute an overreach of executive power."

Essentially saying your argument isn't strong enough, and essentially they can go forward --


GINGRAS: With this lawsuit that the Manhattan DA's office filed.

SCIUTTO: OK, so they going forward, the president's team has already filed --


SCIUTTO: An emergency appeal. I suppose we see where that goes. Are they likely to be granted an appeal here?

GINGRAS: It's not really clear at this moment, but let's also remember that this went so far as to the president's own Department of Justice got involved --


GINGRAS: Just last week --


GINGRAS: Saying that they wanted to have some sort of skin in this game and have an opinion about what was going on --

SCIUTTO: Right --

GINGRAS: Between these two sides. So, it's almost like what's going to happen next because things are happening that we haven't seen before.

SCIUTTO: Right --

GINGRAS: But this is a big ruling by this federal judge --

SCIUTTO: So, it's a big loss? OK --


SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras, thanks very much, certainly a story we're going to stay --

GINGRAS: All right --

SCIUTTO: On top of.

HARLOW: All right, a stunning turn of events overnight. The president pulling troops, U.S. troops from Syria's border with Turkey, effectively abandoning our U.S. allies there, the Kurdish forces who helped U.S. soldiers in the defeat of ISIS. This is significant, this goes back to why Jim Mattis resigned, we'll have the developments ahead.