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Lawyer: 2nd Whistleblower Comes Forward on Trump's Actions; Democrats Issue New Subpoenas in Ukraine Investigation; Biden Grapples with Attacks from Trump, Surging Warren Campaign; New Supreme Court Term Begins. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00 ] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: -- and after you read the text messages that were released last week, if you see other things, the Bidens obviously did come up in other conversations. Secretary Perry saying, not me, I have nothing to add to your investigation.

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And as Rick Perry is eyeing the exits, you noticed that he didn't defend the president, either in that state. So he doesn't necessarily feel that he has to show extreme loyalty as he's on his way out.

KING: It's an interesting point there. Democrats still want to talk to him. We'll see what happens there.

This all happens, you have two key witnesses this week, Gordon Sondland who is the president's -- he is the president's ambassador to the European Union, and then the former ambassador to Ukraine who was pulled back, and the story there is that Giuliani went to the president and said, she's not doing what we want her to do, therefore, pull Ms. Yovanovitch back. There's that happening.

And then there's also the word that there's a whistleblower who has hired an attorney. The question is will we see a complaint, will we see the whistleblower come up. This is Lindsey Graham who we talked about earlier talking about, if we're going to have whistleblowers, then?


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


KING: Is that a call for transparency which most times is a good thing or is that an effort to intimidate whistleblowers that if you keep pushing your complaints, I'm going to unmask you and your anonymity which you are guaranteed by the law will be taken away from you? JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The president has been accusing these people of treason at this point and said that in the old days we've taken care of them. I mean, he's threatened them. So, the intimidation already started whether or not they're unmasked.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think that we should just be clear here. An impeachment inquiry is not a criminal proceeding, and so the idea that we should treat this as some kind -- the president is potentially going to be sentenced to some kind of prison time, this isn't that kind of thing. And so not only is the whistleblower entitled to anonymity and the protection of the law against retribution but no, the president is not entitled to necessarily, in this case, meet his accuser. So it seems Lindsey Graham is changing the subject in an effort to do what the White House would prefer to do which is talk about the merits of the whistleblower, talk about the merits of the person making the claim not about what is actually being alleged.

KING: If there was a House impeachment and we sure seem to be on that path, and the Senate had a serious trial, the rules for such trial could allow the president's defense team to at least have access to the whistleblowers in private, could allow them to at least have access to that testimony. So it is possible if the Republicans were to proceed with a serious trial and write rules. That's a big if.

PHILLIP: But Graham wants it to be public. He wants it to be a public flogging which I think is a very different type of inquiry.

KING: So it's interesting. You mentioned this a bit earlier as the -- we see these emerging Republican public defenses, if that's what we want to call them, or ways to distract attention from the president's call. Here's one from the White House press secretary. "It doesn't matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call, the telephone call, a call the president already made public, it doesn't change the fact that he has done nothing wrong." That's Stephanie Grisham.

This isn't about just the call, it's about what Rudy Giuliani and what other officials were doing in the weeks before the call and in the weeks after the call. But the White House is trying to tell you, well, we released the call, the president says it's perfect, you can read it at home yourself and see if you find it to be perfect. But, that in itself is sort of a destruction strategy.

KUCINICH: Well, right, because it's -- they're just not waking up and calling themselves a whistleblower one day either, they're going through a process that is set out in the Intelligence Community to get to this point. And you had all -- you know, many different levels inside the Intelligence Committee, particularly with the first complaint say this is serious. So it -- they are, they're trying to distract, they're trying to make it about the transcript which, in and of itself, whether -- when you read it is shocking and does have a lot of questions.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Then in the meantime, you have Democrats on the Hill who are -- they're trying to find more evidence -- more things that can cooperate what this whistleblower came out and said. I mean, we've seen the transcript, we've seen the whistleblower complaint, and Democrats feel that in and of itself is damning enough to impeach him. They got it right there. At least that's what they think.

But what they're doing is they're trying to collect as much evidence as they can so that Republicans can't just point to this whistleblower and say, oh, you know, who is this whistleblower? He or she is alleging something that is not fair, there is some sort of political bias or something like that. So what they're doing is they're going to all these different sources and collecting information. And last week, for instance, we saw Kurt Volker came in and actually gave text messages, proof there, showing that there were State Department officials who were in touch with people in Ukraine saying, in order for the president to meet with your new president, we've got to have a public commitment that you're going to investigate Joe Biden.

KING: And that's why Sondland is so important in the witness chair because when he responds -- he finally responded after four and a half hours to one of those texts where Bill Taylor was saying I'm worried about this, why are we doing this, it's crazy to withhold aid to help a political campaign. The response came after four and a half hours, Democrats what to know, who you would call in that interim and did include the White House. That's one question.

I want to -- just get to this. Tucker Carlson, who on Fox News has been very loyal to this president, he defends the president and he talk from time to time, writing this in an op-ed over the weekend with another friend of his.

[12:35:05] "Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there's no way to spin this as a good idea. Like a lot of things Trump does, it was pretty over-the-top."

THOMPSON: Well, the real question is, is this him being critical to the president or is he trying to point the direction forward and how to message this thing in order to avoid impeachment? And I think there's a division of whether or not he's -- I mean, he's criticizing in order to save him.

BADE: And the president himself has shown that he is not taking well to this sort of criticism. I mean, he hasn't gone after Tucker Carlson yet, but he's gone after Mitt Romney so -- and Mitt Romney made that same sort of strategy there saying this is not OK. But he didn't say back the impeachment and yet the president is attacking him.

PHILLIP: It does seem like this is a road map for Republicans if they need to get to this point to figure out how do they navigate the waters between saying, well, we don't like this kind of behavior, this is not what we want presidents to do in general because there's an implication about this. So what happens if a Democratic president did this? There are some Republicans like Tucker Carlson who are concerned about setting that kind of precedent. This gives them a road map to say that but then to take the Mitch McConnell doctrine and say, well, we are so close to an election, we shouldn't even bother with impeachment because the voters will decide in a year in next November. I don't know if that argument is really going to fly if a lot of independents come to the side of the Democrats and are persuaded that this conduct is really unacceptable and warrants some kind of, you know, a consequence that set out in the constitution, impeachment.

KING: We're still in the early chapters here. We shall see where the book ends.

Up next, Elizabeth Warren, not the only 2020 candidate that's got a plan.


[12:41:42] KING: Topping our political radar, plans are plenty today from the 2020 Democrats. Let's start with Senator Kamala Harris, she is proposing up to six months of paid family medical leave that would be available to full and part-time employees, self-employed workers, and independent contractors giving them time to take care of themselves, a sick family member or a new child. People making up to $75,000 per year would get 100 percent of their wages while on leave. That amount would phase down for people with higher incomes.

Senator Bernie Sanders vowing to ban all corporate donations to next summer's Democratic convention if he is the party's nominee. Sanders also wants to make federal elections publicly-funded and to end super PACs. All part of a campaign finance reform package he just rolled out. The senator at home in Vermont as he recovers from a heart attack suffered last week on the campaign trail.

And Mayor Pete Buttigieg unveiling his plan today to cut prescription drug costs. His Affordable Medicine for All proposal caps out of pocket spending for those who choose a public option under the mayor's Medicare for All who want it plan. Today's proposal would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. Mayor Buttigieg says that would be paid for by increasing fees on drug makers and penalizing pharmaceutical companies that raise prices beyond the inflation rate.

Up next for us, testing time for Joe Biden.


[12:47:36] KING: Joe Biden trying to navigate two storms at the same time. To his left, a vigorous 2020 primary challenge most notably from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. And from his right, scathing attacks from President Trump. Most of them are false but all of them are fierce. And Biden finds himself in a fight with the Republican incumbent even as he enters a critical stretch in a Democrat primary race.

The former vice president turned more aggressive strategy against the Trump attacks in recent days. But even his closest advisers acknowledge the uncertain terrain. This from a Biden confidant and reporting by CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Arlette Saenz, quote, I'm not going to sit here and say there is no concern. As this drags on, we just don't know. No one knows.

Jeff Zeleny joins our conversation. And that is an interesting moment where there's a debate coming up next week. Then you're in the stretch where we're 18 weeks from Iowa, 17 weeks away from Iowa. He's got to worry about his primary race and he has the president of the United States in his face every day.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No question. And all of that was planned. I mean, they knew at one point that either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren was going to, if not eclipse then certainly match him. But this was not planned. The attacks from the president were not planned, specifically on Hunter Biden. And that's the question here.

The official line from the Biden campaign is, no, no, this is good for the former vice president. It elevates him, you know, for a head-to- head match which Joe Biden has long been wanting. So it looked like that initially but now it is uncertain because there are no questions. David Ignatius from the Washington Post saying -- you know, and he's largely friendly to Biden but saying, what was he thinking having Hunter Biden on this board and him taking the portfolio of a Ukraine senator?

So there is a -- you know, after this calms down a little bit, there will be questions, you know, should there be children on board members, et cetera. Almost every Democratic candidate has said no. So this is an uncertain future here for him but the Warren stuff is real political problems. That's why they're hearing the wrath of advice here and he's trying to make his way through it all.

KING: And from the piece on the Warren front, on the policy front, advisers to Biden said they will gradually sharpen differences particularly on Warren's support for the single-payer Medicare for All proposal. But they have no plans to use a scorched-earth against the Massachusetts senator, largely because they believe it would backfire, and they hope other Democratic rivals will assume that role. "Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

PHILLIP: Oh I do think they probably will. There's already a sense of anxiety among the other candidates in the race about Warren because, in addition to the kind of taking some of the frontrunner status from Biden, she's also sucking up some of the oxygen from candidates like Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg and even Kamala Harris.

[12:50:08] So, I think you are going to see more -- especially as we approach this next debate, more candidates trying to find ways to undermine Warren's message. Some of them are kind of becoming from the center-left, and others are going to be coming from the far-left, particularly on the Sanders side. But Warren is in the center of the bullseye right now, and I think there's a lot of potential firepower for that.

Yes. And from the Democratic establishment, you're hearing concern about Warren and whether she'll be a good general election candidate because there always is going to be that strain particularly in this race about they just want to beat Donald Trump and there's a question of whether she can and then attract independents (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And in that regards, a new Fox News polling out that if you're Joe Biden you might not want to bring this up too much but you might bring it some and hope others bring it up for you. Wisconsin, a very important state to President Trump's map. Joe Biden in the current Fox News poll beats the president by nine points in Wisconsin. Elizabeth Warren beats him but that's within the margin of error, 45- 41.

So part of Joe Biden's case, you're going through the primaries, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, all very close, Biden has a lead in South Carolina. You want to get Democratic primary voters to lift their heads and think about that. Think about the general election. The question is, can he?

THOMPSON: Well, and it's an extraordinary moment also for Biden and these two front wars he's facing because Trump isn't just tweeting attacks on him and Republicans are going to attack him on TV. The Trump campaign actually purchased a million in ads in the four early states. So they're going on TV against him, too. Meanwhile, he's having to fend off the left. He had, you know, less than stellar fundraising this last time and so his war chest isn't as big I think as they hoped. And so, this next three months, while he's getting it from both sides is really going to be the crucible of his campaign and whether or not those negatives start driving up little by little.

KING: And it'd be fascinating to watch as the president trying to meddle in the Democratic primary, does it hurt? The ads can hurt even when Democrats say you shouldn't be playing in our game. That can hurt. We'll watch as it plays out.

Up next for us, a new Supreme Court term begins today. Why it could be the court's most polarizing term in memory?


[12:56:37] KING: Welcome back.

Supreme Court justices returning to the chamber today with a potentially explosive set of issues on the docket. Long lines forming around the block over the weekend. Take a look there. Some people even posting up in sleeping bags trying to get a seat inside. Here's what the court has on tap. Cases involving abortion, the Second Amendment, LGBTQ rights, immigration, and religious liberty.

We should note, Justice Clarence Thomas is not at the court today. He was home with the flu.

CNN's Supreme Court Biographer Joan Biskupic joins us now back from the first day of court. Let's start with the substance list of those politically controversial cases. So the Roberts' court, the chief justice in the middle on a lot of cases including this Louisiana abortion decision.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's right. He's starting his 15th term and this could be his hardest term ever because just on Friday they agreed to take a big abortion case that isn't a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade but it will certainly determine access across America to abortion clinics. And then you just saw those lines out there? That's for tomorrow's case testing -- it's a trio of cases testing whether a very important anti-discrimination law in America barring sex discrimination in the workplace covers grievances based on sexual orientation or gender identity. So that's there.

And then just today the justices told us that they weren't going to get rid of an important gun control Second Amendment case that New York had said its moot because it's amended the law, so lots on the calendar. And this would have been -- if Clarence Thomas had come today, it would have been the first time that all nine were sitting because Brett Kavanaugh didn't make the first Monday in October last year because his confirmation was still finishing up.

KING: That's a good point. So we'll have questions about Kavanaugh, the president's most recent appointee in the middle all of these cases. It's October 2019, a lot of these cases will be decided somewhere in the middle of the 2020 campaign which makes you say, wow. And you're in the courtroom today, and Clarence Thomas is home with the flu, a lot of people looking at Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she had some health issues over the summer.

BISKUPIC: She asked the first question in a couple of cases this morning. Sounded loud and clear. She's still here is her message, but, you know, we're just on round day one of a nine-month term, so watch for June.

KING: It's a nine-month term. Joan, it's interesting that you said that. How conscious are the judges were conscious of the politics in any case? We're going into a presidential year, the court will be an issue. The Democratic nominee will be saying, look what president, you know, Trump did, Kavanaugh will probably still be an issue. How much does that wrinkle into what they do?

BISKUPIC: It definitely does. They like to say they're only looking at the law, they're only looking at precedent, but they are so aware of the political overlay. And you remember, John, what Chief Justice Roberts' mantra is, this court is not political, it's not like the other two branches, and he keeps saying that. I think he wants everyone to start believing it but in an election year, it's especially hard.

KING: Election year especially hard. Any interplay between the conservatives at all?

BISKUPIC: Oh, well that, you're going to see that for sure because five justices on the conservative side control the majority. But all conservatives are not created equal on this court. You've got Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch on the far-right and then you have Chief Justice John Roberts straddling in the middle, and Justice Kavanaugh trying to figure out how boldly he goes.

KING: We're going to find out a lot about Kavanaugh.

BISKUPIC: Yes. KING: You're like a kid on the first day of school, it's going to be fun.

BISKUPIC: Oh, I love it.

KING: Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.