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White House Officials Scrambled Immediately After Ukraine Call; Biden Campaign Communications Director Kate Bedingfield Discusses Trump's Accusations Against Biden, Ukraine Call And Whistleblower, The Presidential Race; U.S. Troops Withdraw From Syria As Turkey Prepares Offensive; Key LGBTQ Cases Heard Before U.S. Supreme Court. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 13:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Those are the same lawyers who later ordered that transcript to be moved from where they're typically kept to that highly sensitive server where transcripts were not typically kept in the past.

It also included also immediately officials who were aware of what the president said on the call, asking if they needed to alert other senior officials on what had been said, including the Justice Department, since the president had brought up the attorney general who was not on the call so much.

Brianna, a lot of this we're learning about the scramble really just backs up the whistleblower's complaint and exactly what the whistleblower was detailing in there.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And, Pamela, this is something they thought they could keep in the executive branch.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Sources tell me this was tightly contained within the White House counsel's office and the NSC. The initial concerns over the phone call, the administration lawyer who reached out to the White House counsel lawyer about that initial disclosure, that you'll recall, and even the whistleblower complaint itself.

We were told essentially that the White House lawyers thought that it could be dealt with and managed inside the executive branch. But then it became clear about a week before the whistleblower complaint was released in that transcript that that wouldn't hold, that basically they had lost that battle, and that it was becoming more and more clear that the complaint would be handed over to Congress.

Then we saw a change in posture in the White House counsel's office where the lawyers said, OK, let's push this out ourselves. Let's get the transcript out. By putting the transcript out, they basically had no choice but to then put the complaint out, I'm told.

What changed this whole dynamic was the fact that the whistleblower went to DNI, filed the complaint, went through the procedures. The DNI was told that he could not hand over the information to Congress. And the I.G. was -- seemed to be so upset about this, the I.G. alerted Congress to what was going on.

And so that was really what changed everything. This was about a week before the complaint was released.

And we're told that was when other people in the West Wing, top officials like the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Stephanie Grisham, the press secretary, and other top officials were then looped in on what exactly was going on with the complaint and the concerns over the call.

KEILAR: Pamela, Kaitlan, thank you both so much.

House Democrats say they will subpoena U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, after the White House contacted him early this morning to block his scheduled testimony today.

Sondland was pulled into the Ukraine phone call scandal when former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, provided text messages that he had, including with Sondland, to Congress.

Impeachment a huge issue on the 2020 campaign trail, especially for Joe Biden.

And Kate Bedingfield is joining us. She's the deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden 2020 campaign.

Kate, thanks for joining us.


KEILAR: So President Trump wanted dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden. Claims about wrongdoing here are unsubstantiated. We've looked. Lots of outlets have looked.

But it doesn't smell great to have the then-V.P.'s son on the board of a company in an industry that he really didn't know much about. And it gives an appearance of trading on his name.

This is also a vulnerability to a greater degree for the president's own children, and yet, your campaign is really steering clear of that line of attack. Why?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, look, as you said, every outlet in the world has looked into this and has come back and said there was no "there" there. We're not going to play Donald Trump's game. We're not going to let him distract from the corruption in his own administration.

You saw Vice President Biden come out on Friday and say that Donald Trump is overseeing one of the most-corrupt administrations in modern American history. This is his playbook, we know that.

But we also know the what aboutism and the false equivalency isn't going to work. We're not going to let him do it.

What we saw, for example, over the weekend. We saw a headline pop that when Rudy Giuliani was in Ukraine trying to fabricate, create this dirt on Joe Biden, he was also almost simultaneously trying to make a buck off Ukrainian gas contracts. Who was surprised by that? I know we're shocked to learn there's gambling going to in this establishment.

So look, we are not going to let them turn the conversation away from the corruption and malfeasance that is impacting daily voters' lives.

We're going to be very tough about that, but simultaneously, we're going to remind people why Donald Trump is doing this. And it's because he fears Joe Biden. There's one Democrat in this race he doesn't to want to have to face at the ballot box. And it's Joe Biden.


BEDINGFIELD: We're not going to let him be successful at playing this game.

KEILAR: There are reportedly Democrats that are concerned that it's been too long, that the campaign waited too long to really vociferously confront this. What do you say to them?


BEDINGFIELD: I would say Biden has been out and the campaign has been out aggressively every day since this broke. You heard Joe Biden give numerous speeches on the magnitude of this threat of the American people, what Donald Trump is doing to shred the Constitution.

You had him take multiple questions from reporters. We had multiple ads on air now. He had an op-ed in the "Washington Post" on Sunday where he talked about the fact that Donald Trump is putting his personal, political interests ahead of the national security of the United States and that is hurting people in their daily lives.

We've had absolutely no issue coming out and being aggressive against Donald Trump. But I think the Democrats are concerned.

What I see in these stories are pundits and strategists. What I don't see is voters. If you ask the voters, what you get is the Wisconsin poll from this week, where Joe Biden is beating Donald Trump by nine points. You get the South Carolina poll where he's leading by 29 points.


KEILAR: I want to ask you about that because you do have a new ad that is capitalizing on that. It's running digitally or on television in four early states. And you're emphasizing Trump's focus on Biden as you emphasize Biden's poll numbers.

Let's take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't care about Biden's campaign.

I don't care about Biden's campaign.

Joe Biden. Biden. Biden. Biden.


KEILAR: Your whole point here, especially as then you show the poll numbers where Biden is doing better, is you're inviting voters to join a campaign that can beat President Trump.

I will tell you this sort of focus on Trump being obsessed with Biden, Trump was obsessed with Hillary Clinton, too, including after he beat her.

BEDINGFIELD: He doesn't want to face Joe Biden. It's unprecedented for an incumbent president to be facing a 10-point deficit against a potential rival, and that's Joe Biden.

Now you have Trump and the RNC pouring money into a Democratic primary because he doesn't want to have to face Biden and he wants to win. If you asked Donald Trump who he wants to beat, it's Joe Biden. Just this morning, Biden is up 33 percent in the early states, up plus one.

People like the argument he's making. They know he's taking a strong moral case to Donald Trump, and they know he's the guy that can beat him. Part of the reason they know that is because Donald Trump is telling him Joe Biden is the person who can beat him. So that is something you'll continue to see from our campaign.

KEILAR: Joe Biden released his new education plan. This provides two years of free community college or vocational training. It would increase Pell Grants up to 200 percent for low-income Americans. There's money in there for historically black colleges and universities. This would reduce loan debt, especially for people who go into public service professions.

But then you have to the vice president's left, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are promising even more here.

What do you say to voters who might be enticed by their more general plans of free college?

BEDINGFIELD: Look, as Vice President Biden, and Dr. Biden, who is a community college professor, sat down to think about how they want to map out an education plan, the most important thing to them was to make sure the largest number of people have access to a middle-class life.

Yes, a college education is a piece of that. So is access to community college. So is access to high-quality training programs. As they were thinking about, how can we have the broadest impact on

the large number of people's lives in this country, that was the guiding philosophy as they thought about how to put this plan together.

We have a plan that also includes a historically large investment in HBCUs and minority-served institutions.

So what we have is a plan that I think is as ambitious for any plan in this race but with the broadest number of people.

I think this plan have a real impact on people's lives and that was the driving influence on their thinking, when he was thinking about, how can we put forward a plan that is aggressive, that is achievable and will make the most difference in people's lives. So that's what this plan is all about.

As you listed at the top, it doubles Pell Grant values. It caps student loan repayment at 5 percent to make sure people don't have this tremendous burden of student loans they currently have. And it targets that relief to the people who need it most. That's another piece of this plan, is that it really provides that relief and help for the people in our country who need it the most.

That is how Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden have approached this plan.


KEILAR: Kate, thank you very much. Kate Bedingfield, with the Biden campaign.

And we'll be right back with much more.



KEILAR: While Turkey may be a NATO ally, Kurdish forces were key allies in defeating ISIS in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces are dominated by Kurdish militias. Turkey considers this group a terrorist organization.

And this move to withdraw American troops, especially abandoning the Kurds, leaving them alone to face Turkish forces, it may force them to leave the camps where ISIS prisoners are being held.

CNN Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Iraq.

Tell us how the Kurds are reacting to this move. This must be devastating for them.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Brianna. And let me put it this way. President Trump is not only facing stiff opposition among his own allies in the Republican Party in the U.S. Here in Iraq, in the Kurdish areas, and of course, in Syria in the

Kurdish areas, very, very deep concern. They are troubled by President Trump's apparent change of mind with regards to this issue.

Earlier this year, he had said he was going to pull out all U.S. troops from Syria, then other cooler heads prevailed and that plan was shelved for the time being. Now it appears he's giving the Turkish president carte blanche to carry out a military invasion in northern Syria that the Kurdish people believe could result in a bloodbath.

Remember, Brianna, it's the Kurdish Syrian forces on the ground in northern Syria who have been fighting ISIS, fighting and dying by the thousands. This is a huge sacrifice the Kurdish forces have made.

Not only are they concerned. They're also confused. Because today, apparently, President Trump putting out new tweets saying we're not abandoning the Kurds, we do support them, and warning President Erdogan if Turkey lashes out in too tough a way that the U.S. will destroy Turkey's economy.

A lot of people here asking a lot of questions. And as you said, holding out the threat that they could have to abandon leadership of those ISIS prisons if they are forced to head north of the border and fight against a Turkish invasion -- Brianna?

KEILAR: A very alarming threat.

Clarissa Ward, in Iraq, thank you so much.

The rights of the LGBTQ community are before the U.S. Supreme Court today as protesters gather outside the court. The issue being debate inside, can employees be legally fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity? We'll be talking about it, next.



KEILAR: Earlier today, the Supreme Court heard arguments on historic cases that could impact millions of LGBTQ Americans. At issue, the reach of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protecting against workplace discrimination because of race, religion and our characteristics, protection. And that is key.

Now the justices must decide if the law barring workplace discrimination based on sex also encompasses gender identity.

Gillian Branstetter is with us. She's the spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Thank you for coming on.


KEILAR: One involves a transgender woman in Michigan, Amy Stephen, fired from her job at a funeral home shortly after she came out at trans to her employer. Tell us why that is something that actually reflects a broader experience and also why this case is so important.

BRANSTETTER: It is really hard to overstate the importance of this for transgenders. It's the first transgender case in front of the Supreme Court.

I was ready through the transcripts and it's the first time the word "transgender" was used in the Supreme Court. It's the first time "sister" had been used in the Supreme Court. It's a monumental moment for the trans rights movement in the country.

But it's also critically important, because the right to equal employment is crucial for the trans community.

The woman in this case, Amy Stephens, was fired from her job at a funeral home six years shortly after coming out. Unfortunately, an experience one in six trans people have had, where just by being themselves, they have lost the jobs.

And that's reflective of the experience of transgenders have had in a variety of areas of our lives not just in employment but in housing in our family, in our faith communities and in our relationships. Every transgender person has lost something.

KEILAR: Our Supreme Court reporter reported at the end of these arguments the justices seemed divided here. If the court decides that the law does not include gender identity in those protections, what does that mean for the community?

BRANSTETTER: Well, there are still 22 states that prohibit gender discrimination employment on gender identity. People under those states are legally covered. But the majority of transgender people live in a state without those protections.

By the court blasting a hole in the federal law, it leaves transgender people exposed to discrimination and sends a terrifying message about what kind of country this is and the role that equality and acceptance should play.

KEILAR: Gillian, thank you so much. Gillian Branstetter. Appreciate you coming in.


Make sure you tune in to the CNN equality town hall. That's Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.

[14:00:03] Breaking news out of Washington where, for days, we've heard President Trump shrug and say, nothing to see here, when it comes to the July 25th call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.