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NEW DAY

Interview With Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) About Second Whistleblower To File Complaint Against President Trump; U.S. Announces Withdrawal Of Troops From Northern Syria Ahead Of Turkish Invasion Of Kurdish- Controlled Territory; Second Whistleblower Comes Forward On Trump's Actions; Sen. Lindsey Graham Slams Trump's Syria Troop Withdrawal. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: And this is especially important, Bianna, because G.M. is slating to close four plants by 2020, including this one right behind me. So as these picketing worker are waiting to hear their fate about this contract, they're also waiting to see if they're going to have a job to come back to in 2020. Bianna?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, thousands of jobs and votes at stake here. Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you.

And thanks for watching. For our CNN viewers, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next. And for our U.S. viewers, a second whistleblower raising urgent concerns about President Trump's actions inside the White House. NEW DAY continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, October 7th, 8:00 now in the east. Alisyn is off. Bianna Golodyrga here with me this morning.

GOLODRYGA: Great to be here.

BERMAN: Great to have you here.

There is new fuel on the impeachment fire this morning with word that a second whistleblower has come forward, making claims about President Trump's interactions with Ukraine. We are told he or she has firsthand knowledge of the phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. This undercuts the arguments from some Republicans who demeaned the first whistleblower's account as hearsay. The question now is really what else will this second whistleblower say, and how will that affect the impeachment inquiry?

GOLODRYGA: The inquiry is ramping up on Capitol Hill with two more depositions planned this week from two key players at the State Department implicated in the initial whistleblower's complaint. All of this comes as the White House is bending over backwards to come up with more and more explanations. Some Republican allies now shifting away from outright defense of the president's actions to simply saying he doesn't deserve impeachment for what he's done.

BERMAN: And breaking news, a huge change in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. forces are stepping aside, retreating from the northern border of Syria as Turkey plans this military offensive against Kurds in the northern part of that country. The U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, U.S. allies, they have been America's most reliable partners in Syria and played a huge role in the fight against ISIS, Kurdish-led Syrian democratic forces are now calling the move a stab in the back, and we'll have the latest from the Middle East in just a moment.

We are going to begin, though, with the latest developments, the impeachment inquiry. Joining me is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. And Congressman, we do understand that there is this second whistleblower who has firsthand knowledge of the events surrounding the phone call between President Trump and the leader of Ukraine. What does this add to the case you're all making?

REP. JIM HIMES, (D-CT): Well, good morning, John. Hard to know because, of course, nobody has actually seen what this purported second whistleblower has to say. Presumably that will change this week. I'm glad this individual, by the way, is going through the whistleblower process. That's what the first whistleblower did, it's the right thing to do.

I've made the point to a couple of people now, I get a kick out of the president's rage on Twitter at Adam Schiff, at Nancy Pelosi, at the Democrats. As a Democrat who is in the room, I will tell you, we're like a bunch of folks in the outfield just catching constant pop flies coming from people who are actually in the room or in and around the president. The first whistleblower certainly that was true of.

The media now for weeks has been getting stories about other presidential conversations with leaders. This is not a Democratic-led thing. This is people around the president who have watched his behavior to a very long time and are finally saying this can't happen anymore. I'm going to come forward. You hope they do it through the whistleblower process. Some of them are obviously doing it by talking to the press which is not the ideal way to do it.

BERMAN: We always welcome people coming forward and telling us their version of events. I think the American people would very much like to know what happened there. Look, we have evidence at this point in our hands. We have the rough transcript of the phone call. We have the texts that went back and forth between U.S. diplomats. So what more do you want on the committee before you draw up articles of impeachment?

HIMES: You're exactly right. Again, I chuckle at the defenses, the ever-changing defenses of those in Congress who at all costs are going to defend the president, saying it's hearsay even as you point out the transcript comes out validating exactly what the whistleblower said.

But to answer your question, we have to learn about at least two more things. Number one, and probably most important, is something that I think we'll be taking up this week, which is this question of whether an ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who was the ambassador to Ukraine until she was relieved of her duties.

Was she relieved because she was refusing to go along with the president's political agenda as channeled by Rudy Giuliani? If that fact pattern is true, we have a huge problem, right. That's almost as bad as using U.S. aid for political purposes, messing around with the career of a dedicated diplomat because she didn't go along with some crazy run for political dirt on your opponent.

[08:05:12]

That in and of itself is a major scandal. We're going to learn more about that this week. We need to get to the bottom of that. I think we need to talk to Rudy Giuliani. This guy was running a one-person ambassadorial effort for the political benefit of the president. We need to understand exactly what he was doing, who he was talking to, and what kind of promises he was making.

BERMAN: You've just gone further, though, on that point, just on that point, you just went further than Chairman Adam Schiff has gone, because he hasn't said that he wants to hear from Rudy Giuliani. You want to hear from Rudy Giuliani?

HIMES: I do want to hear. And I don't speak for the chairman and obviously he makes the final decisions, but to my way of thinking, Rudy Giuliani has he's the lead actor in this whole drama. Meeting in Madrid, going and putting pressure on State Department officials.

So again, I'll defer to Adam on exactly who we're going to talk to. But to me Rudy Giuliani is probably the central actor in creating the pressure on the State Department and other people on behalf of the president's political interests.

BERMAN: I interrupted you. You were going to tell me there was a second area you want more information before you start drafting articles of impeachment?

HIMES: Yes, and it really is secondary, but this whole notion that the White House actually took the transcript of the president's call with the Ukrainian president off the traditional server and put it in a highly classified server, there's two questions about that. Number one, was that a cover-up? It happens to be against the law to classify something in order to avoid embarrassment.

But if that happened, then we need to ask the question, did that happen with other conversations that the president had with foreign leaders? Because remember, the allegation is that people were so shocked, lawyers inside the White House, again, the president's people were so shocked by that conversation, that they said, hey, we're going to reduce the distribution and put it on this more classified server.

Again, that's not quite, to my way of thinking, as serious an allegation as some ambassador's career being wound up because she didn't go along with the plan, but I do think we need to understand what happened there.

BERMAN: To be clear, putting it on the more secret server wouldn't require classifying unclassified information. It would just be putting it somewhere else, correct?

HIMES: That is true. And I should clarify, there's not an indication it was improperly classified. What you have here is at least the allegation or the appearance of a cover-up. And again, I think the American people deserve to know if that happened, why it happened and why they felt it needed to be covered up.

BERMAN: A number of Republicans, and there have been different defenses of the president, but there's one that I want to focus on, Tucker Carlson wrote it, and it almost seemed to be a plea to Republicans in Congress to take this line, which is this, which is to say, what the president did was wrong. He should not have leaned on the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent. That's bad, but not impeachable. How would you respond to that line?

HIMES: Well, I guess at some level of all the crazy defenses I've heard in the last couple of weeks, that one at least has some coherence to it. To hear my Republican colleague saying that the whistleblower's complaint is based on hearsay when the White House itself confirmed that the whistleblower's account of the phone call were accurate, there's been all sorts of crazy defenses.

At the end of the day, that at least has some coherence to it, but remember, what is impeachable is one thing and one thing only, and that is what the Congress of the United States determines to be impeachable. Does it clear the barrier of high crimes and misdemeanors?

If it is true, and we're still in an inquiry, if it is true that the president held up hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to a vulnerable country in order to achieve a political objective of getting them to find or manufacture dirt on Joe Biden, hey, if that's not impeachable, I don't know what is. If Barack Obama had done a 10th of these things, he would have been impeached twice before lunch time.

So again, there's at least some coherence to what Tucker Carlson is saying, but the notion that if all of these allegations are true that that is somehow acceptable behavior by the president, I don't think that's an America that any of us would recognize as the kind of country we believe in.

BERMAN: Congressman Jim Himes from Connecticut, thanks for being with us this morning.

HIMES: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: We're going to turn now to another pressing geopolitical development overseas, and that is the war in Syria. The White House says U.S. troops are moving out of northern Syria, making way for Turkey to invade the region. The move essentially abandons American- backed Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS. CNN's Ben Wedeman live in Beirut with the breaking details. Ben, I've been following your tweets all morning and there's reaction coming in from around the world.

[10:10:05]

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Bianna, it's not really a surprise that President Trump wanted to pull American troops out of Syria. Last December he made that announcement, and that, of course, led to the resignation of the defense secretary, Mr. Mattis. But the way that he announced it really did shock people, no more of course than the Kurdish allies of the American in that part of Syria. Around 11,000 of their forces were killed in the war against ISIS.

Now, already we're seeing that U.S. troops are pulling out of two locations on the Syrian-Turkish border. That's from Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. And of course, the Turks are talking about occupying an area about 19 miles deep all along the Syrian-Turkish border starting from the Euphrates River in the west all the way to the rocky border in the east.

Now, the Syrian democratic forces, which is the predominantly Kurdish group that has been the main ally of the United States in the war against ISIS has come out and described the American decision as a stab in the back. The statement they put out today says that, among other things, the Turkish operation in northern and eastern Syria will have a large negative impact on our war against ISIS and will destroy all the stability that has been accomplished over the past years.

There is a real concern that this will create a vacuum as the Kurdish forces focus on the Turkish invaders into which ISIS will be able to move be and perhaps have a resurgence. John?

BERMAN: All right, Ben, thank you very much for that. We're watching this very closely, because these are significant developments.

It is a big week in the impeachment investigation of the president with some key witnesses speaking to Congress. What will they have to say, and what questions will they answer? That's next.

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[08:16:13]

BERMAN: So this new whistleblower has come forward, apparently corroborating the story from the first whistleblower. There's that.

Plus, two witnesses will talk to the House Intelligence Committee this week. What more will they provide? What are the big questions that need to be answered in the impeachment investigation?

Joining us CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash; CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory and CNN Political Correspondent, Abby Phillip and Dana, I want to start with something that Jim Himes, Congressman from Connecticut just told me.

He told me there are two additional areas that he wants his committee to look at. Number one, was their political retribution against State Department officials, namely Ambassadors Marie Yovanovitch - was she fired to forward the President's political goals? And number two, to what extent has there been a White House cover up?

It was interesting to me that he said that because one of the big questions that, to me that hasn't been answered, what more do the Democrats want, since they already have so much evidence?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's fascinating because the more they believe they can get, look, they're on this path. It's pretty clear, and they feel that they have enough already to -- even though they're doing the investigation, they feel that they already have enough to move forward with articles of impeachment. That's pretty clear.

The more that they have evidence-wise as wide as they can get in and around this one topic of the President asking for political dirt on his opponent and the ramifications of that, the better case that they have. That's probably stating the obvious, but on this new whistleblower, one thing that he said and also Senator Chris Coon, said earlier to you guys, is where that could lead them vis-a-vis, the other officials named in the initial complaint and calling them to the Hill or at least having to fight to try to get them to the Hill. That is another avenue for them to explore.

And the question of the most basic thing of what we're looking at now is the potential crime and the cover up.

GOLODRYGA: David, let me ask you, could expectations be a bit too high from the Democrat's standpoint, given what we're going to hear this week from Marie Yovanovitch and Gordon Sondland?

Gordon Sondland we know was an ally and a supporter of President Trump's. Marie Yovanovitch - there's no indication that she was recalled for merit, and yet, there are a lot of grievances. I'm sure she has. She happens though, to still be a State Department employee.

So unlike Kurt Volker, who resigned, could there be any things that hold her back from being as forthcoming as we heard from Kurt Volker?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, because she's still there. But I think there are pieces of this larger puzzle to figure out how much of a political agenda was being pursued and what was done to make sure that that agenda got carried out basically the President's political wishes and political agenda and using the government for that.

I think what's important about other officials coming forward is not just additional numbers of officials who knew what was going on, thought it was wrong and are now speaking out about that. That's important.

And I think moving the summaries of the calls onto a separate server is very important. The more evidence there is to suggest there were people who saw what was going on, thought it was wrong and had to be hidden. You know, that's directly, in contrast to the President who says what I did is perfectly fine and defensible. Because this is where the political arguments going to go, which is,

do you have -- it's Tucker Carlson's op-ed from Fox News saying this was wrong, but it's not impeachable? I do think that's where it's headed.

BERMAN: Abby, where are you on the what-else discussion this morning?

[08:20:06]

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Sondland has a lot that he has to answer for. Specifically, we should remember that he told Senator Johnson that he'd heard that there was some kind of -- some kind of scheme holding up the billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine related to the President's desire for Ukraine to investigate the Biden's or investigate the 2016 election.

We already know that based on the reporting. He is going to have to answer for whether or not that is true, and why he would have said that, especially given the text messages that were revealed last week, which suggested that he was deeply involved in the back and forth.

There were references in those text messages to cut off other conversations that were happening between him and the Ukrainians and him and people in the White House, even President Trump himself.

There's just a lot there that needs to be explained that he has to explain why he told Senator Johnson one thing, and then in a very lawyerly text message at the very end of what we got from Kurt Volker that said, hey, President Trump isn't doing anything improper. But by the way, let's stop talking about this via text message. Call me.

This is really, really important that it gets to the heart of whether or not officials knew what was -- what the machinations were in President Trump's political orbit, and whether or not those were directed by people in the government at the State Department, particularly, Mike Pompeo, who was also at the center of all of this.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, that lawyerly text came four hours later in the conversation - that was a bit confusing to see. Dana, let me ask you about the White House and how they've been responding because they said they're not going to respond to congressional subpoenas for documents unless Nancy Pelosi holds a formal impeachment vote.

That is something that has transpired and passed presidential impeachment. She doesn't have to do it. But it seems to be one of the talking points you're hearing from more and more Democrats and more and more Republicans sort of thing. You know what, we're going to do this when you launch a vote? Is she going to do that and there's going to be more pressure to do it?

BASH: There could be more pressure to do it, whether or not she is going to, you know, give into that. Unclear at this point, it looks like the answer is no, but things do tend to change.

And the reason Republicans are doing that is very obvious. They want it to be a political weapon in the short term against some of the Democrats, who -- many of the Democrats who we call front liners who won in 2018 in Trump districts, people who like Elissa Slotkin in Michigan who had very tough Town Hall meetings last week. She comes from a district where the President won by seven percentage points.

They want people like that to take a vote to use it in campaign ads against them. You know, it does cut both ways. You're also forcing Republicans to take votes. And most of them will be happy to take a vote and say no, but some of them might not. And you might be in a position of forcing the house to take what could look like at least a little bit of a bipartisan vote. So it's a risky strategy.

BERMAN: And there's an easier vote, I think, this week or next week than it would have been two weeks ago when Pelosi first went down this path. So the White House may be wasting its time on this argument. We'll see.

David, a little bit of breaking news here and the control room isn't aware. I'm going to read this right now. But we just got reaction from Lindsey Graham, to the important decision that President made overnight to withdraw U.S. troops from the Syrian border with Turkey, pulling back basically abandoning the U.S. allies in Syria, the Kurds who helped defeat ISIS there.

Senator Lindsey Graham, his "Hamlet" routine is almost hard to follow in some cases. It was very critical of this decision. He says, I don't know all the details regarding President Trump's decision in Northern Syria. He is in process of setting up a phone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But Graham writes, "If press reports are accurate, this is a disaster in the making." That's from Lindsey Graham, David.

GREGORY: Well, a free pass for Turkey, to move on the Kurds in in a region where Russia already has a strong hand in support of Syria. So it's very dangerous.

And it's interesting, we know that former Defense Secretary Mattis resigned over this. We know that Lindsey Graham has been very consistent in his concern about any withdrawal of U.S. forces from this area.

A precipitous withdrawal from this area or from Afghanistan. This is an area of some consistency for Graham, which also stands in contrast to why someone who is so concerned about national security would not be as concerned about foreign meddling in our elections or the President trying to go to foreign powers to dig up dirt on his political opponents. That part of consistency has been lost by Graham.

[08:25:05]

GREGORY: But on this point, he's going to be a consistent critic of the President on this.

BASH: Can I just jump in real quick on this, because but when Senator Graham talks about wanting to be relevant, which is why he -- the main reason he gives for his total 180 on the President, it's this kind of issue that he argues he can have influence over the President on - that he feels strongly about keeping U.S. troops in there to fight ISIS and the fact that he hasn't been able to convince the President on this is very telling.

BERMAN: Abby, 10 seconds.

PHILLIP: And you know, you were talking about Brett McGurk the U.S. Special Envoy who tweeted condemnation at this move, one of the things he said was that it shows the President Trump is no longer listening to his advisers.

This is exactly the concern that many Republicans like Lindsey Graham had, when James Mattis left his position that what it would signal was that President Trump had stopped listening to the military advisers that he had actually kind of listened to for a lot of his first two years in office. So we're seeing the repercussions of that happening right now.

GOLODRYGA: We are. The President tweeting about his decision as well in support of it. All right, thank you so much panel. We appreciate it.

One alarming position from the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, why he says he does not trust the FBI and CIA, Former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe will be joining us with his take, coming up, next.

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