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CNN: White House Received Pressure From Congress And Multiple Agencies To Release Ukraine Funds; New Subpoenas In Impeachment Inquiry For Three More Trump Administration Officials. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you for being here. We have breaking news now out of Washington, D.C. We're a month now into this Impeachment Inquiry.

President Trump is sounding a familiar tune when it comes to that July 25th phone call with Ukraine's leader defending his actions, while blasting the Democrats.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The level of unfairness for a perfect conversation with the President of Ukraine, this was a perfect conversation. And frankly, had they known what the conversation was, they wouldn't have even wasted everybody's time.

The President of Ukraine and the Foreign Minister came out and said, there was no anything. There was no -- he used the word, no blackmail. They said there was no pressure. There was nothing done wrong. This is a hoax.


BALDWIN: We just heard the President there saying that there was no pressure on Ukraine despite testimony from multiple diplomats to that country, but CNN is just now learning that when it came to his decision to block the millions of dollars in critical aid to Ukraine, the President of the United States was the one under pressure from within the White House and far beyond.

CNN Political Correspondent, Sara Murray and CNN White House Correspondent, Jeremy Diamond have all of this new reporting. So let's dig in. Jeremy, first for you. What are you learning about when the President actually finally decided to release this aid to Ukraine?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brooke, it all came down to a phone call between the President's and Ohio Senator Rob Portman on September 11, in the afternoon, we're told according to six sources familiar with the call that Ohio Senator Rob Portman repeatedly urged the President once again to release these funds. The President we're told, put up his usual defenses blaming European

allies for not providing enough funding to Ukraine. But what happened after the call is what is unusual in terms of what had happened four months before. The President was withholding these funds, withholding -- resisting the pressure from Congress and from others.

But after the call, we're told, the President directed his aides actually to release that funding to Ukraine. Now, Brooke, we don't know yet exactly what played into the President's thinking and why he decided at that moment after months of resisting doing so releasing that funding.

But we do know that there were several other key circumstances happening around that time. There was this congressional pressure, the Vice President Mike Pence, who was also in the room, I'm told for this phone call with Rob Portman had recently returned from a trip to Poland, where he also came back and urged the President to release these funds.

But there were also some other factors playing out at the White House where top White House officials were beginning to learn about some of those concerns from National Security Council officials and also learning about this whistleblower complaint that had been percolating for several weeks from an Intelligence official.

So we don't know whether those factors played into the President's decision, but certainly, he, just two days before that decision learned from the Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that there were concerns that what he was doing amounted to a quid pro quo -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: So -- let me just go over quickly of what you're saying, so there was this pressure that was mounting. So what I'm hearing from you was within the White House. It was Members of Congress, as you point out, it was Rob Portman who made that final phone call, a Republican.

There was another Republican senator who was alarmed early September, he also called the President. So it's several levels of government. People were wondering, what is going on? Is that right?

DIAMOND: That's exactly right. There were numerous concerns inside and outside the White House about this. What's interesting is the timing of the President's decision, because it didn't just begin a couple of days before that those Members of Congress were urging the President on this front. This had been going on for weeks and even months.

BALDWIN: Okay, so Sara, to you. So how has the White House explained Trump's decision then to release the funds?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, Brooke, obviously the White House knew that they were under pressure to release this money by the time the President decided to release it. They're under even more pressure now because this is my one of the things that impeachment investigators are looking at, it is why the President ultimately decided to release this money.

And the White House didn't comment for our story today, but in the past, they've offered sort of shifting explanations. They said there was a national security review and that was the reason that, you know, these funds were held up for a while.

Well, that review had actually already been done by the Pentagon and the State Department before the President had even frozen the aid.

You know, Mick Mulvaney went on Fox News, and he said, there was actually a review at the Office of Management and Budget that needed to be cleared before the money could be released.

But sources say there was no extensive review that was done at OMB. OMB is not in charge of these policy processes and instead, they basically just had to pull a sheet of numbers and what these various countries were contributing to help out with Ukraine and provide that to others who were conducting these assessments.

So none of these explanations really explain why these funds continued to languish for weeks and weeks even though the State Department, the Pentagon, the President's advisers, lawmakers were all saying Ukraine needs this money. What is going on here?


BALDWIN: So, all right. So then, do you think in addition to obviously, Trump being at the center of this and the one at the end of the day whose decision it is, Jeremy points out that, you know, at one point, what was it? Mike Pence was in the room for the Rob Portman phone call -- I mean, I guess, Sara, I'm wondering, are there other members of this administration who now may be, should be questioned by congressional investigators?

MURRAY: Well, look, I think that's a big question. I think, you know, one of the other curious things that happened around this time was Ambassador John Bolton left the White House.

You know, it's certainly easier, I think congressional investigators have found to talk to people who have left the administration and people who are still there, so he may have insight.

And I think the other big question is whether Vice President Mike Pence is ultimately going to be asked to appear before congressional investigators.

I think that they have wanted to be sort of deliberate on the Hill on who they're bringing up. And I think in some ways, they're looking to save some of the bigger fish for last, but we will see if that ever becomes an issue if they ever do want to speak to the Vice President about any conversations he may have had directly with Trump.

Although, Brooke, you've seen the protests from the White House. You can imagine all of the different ways they would try to block a request like that coming from Capitol Hill. BALDWIN: Okay, Sara and Jeremy -- with this incredible reporting

coming out. Both of you, thank you very much. Let's analyze all of it. Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst.

She is joining me now. Ryan Lizza is POLITICO'S chief Washington correspondent and a CNN senior political analyst. So welcome to both of you. And there's a lot to go through.

So Gloria, let me just start with you, and again, just to underscore to everyone keeping up, right, because there's a lot -- there's a lot happening. So many people, my take away from their reporting, so many people expressed concern about Trump holding up these millions of dollars in fund in aid to Ukraine.

You have Republican senators, the Pentagon, OMB, former Ambassador Bill Taylor, other diplomats, so what do you think, Gloria, when you look at the totality of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that Donald Trump was the one making the decisions. Period. End of paragraph. That's it. In consultation, of course, perhaps with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, and the person who was so involved in crafting this alternate Ukraine policy, because he represented clients there and because he wanted to get the political payback the President thought he was due from Ukraine to investigate his political enemies. I mean, there seems to be no other reason.

The question that I have is what pushed him? What pushed him to make this sudden change? Because it was reversed in the day. So what was it that pushed him? Was it Bolton quitting that pushed him? Was that a part of it? Was it that he knew that there was a whistleblower out there, perhaps, and that he knew that this was going to unfold?

So did he want to approve the aid before publicity caught up with him? Was it because he thought it was the right thing to do overnight and suddenly?

So you know, we need to answer that question of why he changed his mind.

BALDWIN: Yes, that's the mystery. That's the mystery. And also, just when you look at the pressure coming in, Ryan, especially like in this era of President Trump, you know, bipartisanship is a four letter word in Washington. But this was actually one of the few things that seemed to get the D's and R's on the same page.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, Gloria has asked the correct question and hit on all the issues here.

If you look at the timeline, I think we have the answer to what pressured him. So September 11th is a really important date in this scandal, because you have three things that are happening simultaneously on that day.

The first -- really four things -- the first is that the whistleblower complaint has already, you know, been through the system and Adam Schiff is publicly talking about it.

Number two, you have Bill Taylor saying this is crazy that we're doing this, you know, that we're holding up funding. Remember, Taylor originally didn't know that funding was a part of this quid pro quo, he finds out about it and he sort of -- he has that famous text exchanged with Ambassador Sondland.


LIZZA: Sondland talks to the President and, you know, comes back the next morning and says, oh, you know, I talked to the President, it's not a quid pro quo. Then you have Bolton resigning.

And then the day after, September 12th, the day after Trump makes this decision, you have a very important Committee hearing in the senate where Republicans and Democrats are going to go on the record saying release this money.

So I think Portman is probably -- when he calls Trump -- according to CNN's reporting here, he is probably telling Trump, look, Congress, we have an Appropriations Committee hearing tomorrow, Lindsey Graham and the Democrats are teaming up to smack you on this issue, you know, release the money.

Meanwhile, Trump personally knows that this has become a very fraught issue with Bill Taylor no longer on the reservation. So the timeline really makes sense in terms of Trump finally having to say, okay, the cat is out of the bag and things could get worse. I better release the money.


BALDWIN: Yes, maybe the phone call with Rob Portman was after this accumulation of things that you just outlined that that was maybe the tipping point.

Gloria, what do we know about Trump's relationship with Senator Portman?

BORGER: We know that Portman is from a very important state to the President. We know that he is more moderate than the President of the United States, but he hasn't -- you know, he hasn't been -- he has kind of walked a fine line.

And we also know one thing about Portman, which is he told the President one more thing, which is if you don't approve this aid, it's going to vaporize. It's going to go away because we go into another year and the Ukrainians are never going to be able to get this money back and there's going to be hell to pay.

So the role that Portman served was kind of as the truth teller to the President saying, look, you're going to have big problems on your hands and, you know, all roads lead to you. So I think he was somebody who kind of called him out of frustration, perhaps.

And because he understood, as Ryan was saying that there was bipartisan support for this money being released and that nobody could understand exactly why it was being held up.

BALDWIN: Yes. We'll keep chipping away with all of our reporting to understand what it was, why that -- why did President Trump finally release the money, and maybe Gloria, to your point, it was about getting ahead of the bad publicity that was to come with this whistleblower complaint that had been filed.

We will continue that conversation, Gloria and Ryan. Thank you both so much for that.

We are also getting breaking news from Capitol Hill, new subpoenas in this Impeachment Inquiry. Three more Trump administration officials have been called to testify. We will tell you who.

And the Justice Department has now opened a criminal investigation into its own Russia investigation. So we'll tell you where that might be heading.

And the crisis in Syria. The situation there is unraveling. It appears to be unraveling. As President Trump says, quote, "It's going very well." We've got a lot to talk about this afternoon.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. President Trump is now openly attacking America's top diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor.

When asked by CNN if he believes that Taylor's testimony to congressional investigators about a quid pro quo directed toward Ukraine's President, Trump did not directly answer the question, but instead said this.


TRUMP: Here's the problem. He's a never Trumper and his lawyer is a never Trumper and the other problem is, hey, everybody makes mistakes. Mike Pompeo, everybody makes mistakes.


BALDWIN: We are also learning more about several other Trump administration officials who may be compelled to testify on Capitol Hill. For that, let's go to Manu Raju, our CNN senior congressional correspondent and so there are what now? Three officials who are being subpoenaed and why are they important?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the three officials, two of them from the White House's Office of Management and Budget, including the Acting Director Russ Vought, as well as the Associate Director of National Security Programs, Michael Duffey and a senior State Department, official Ulrich Brechbuhl who all have been served with subpoenas by this Democratic-led impeachment effort.

What the Democrats are trying to do is understand why that aid for Ukraine was withheld, the reasoning behind its decision to be withheld and the discussions that may have existed within the White House, to the extent to which -- and the administration, the extent to which it was tied to the President's efforts to investigate Joe Biden and Joe Biden's son and secret investigations into the 2016 elections.

Now, it is uncertain whether they will comply. Vought gas already tweeted in the past that he wasn't going to comply with the request to testify, but now that they have been served with subpoenas, we'll see how they ultimately -- what they decide to do.

Now it's also interesting that this is scheduled for the first week of November. So we're expecting these closed door depositions to take place over at least -- at least over the next couple of weeks, and next week, we do expect significant testimony as well from a top official at the White House National Security Council, Tim Morrison, who is expected to corroborate some key elements of testimony from this week from a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who suggests -- who said he had been told that the President did seek to withhold that aid from Ukraine in exchange for seeking a public declaration of Ukraine of seeking those investigations that could help the President politically.

And Brooke, also another key development is what will happen with that whistleblower, will the committees on Capitol Hill get a chance to interview the whistleblower? And we're seeing some signs that it's growing increasingly unlikely that lawmakers will have an in-person interview with the whistleblower.

The whistleblower's attorney put out an op-ed today in "The Washington Post" saying that essentially that everything that has divulged so far, it is more than what the whistleblower knows. And interestingly in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee that was just released, it says that the Committee's -- the attorney say an interview is a quote, "nonstarter." An in-person meeting with the committee staff is a nonstarter citing the need to protect the whistleblower's safety -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, we're talking to a whistleblower later and we'll ask him if he thinks to that point, since so much testimony has corroborated and taken it five steps further, if he thinks this whistleblower should be testifying. Manu, thank you very much.

Now, I want to talk about investigating the investigators of this whole Trump-Russia probe. Remember this from Attorney General Bill Barr six months ago?


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: That was followed by the appointment of this career Federal

prosecutor, John Durham to lead a review inside the Justice Department on how the Trump-Russia investigation actually began.

And so now we're learning from a source that Durham's review is now a criminal investigation. The criminal investigation goes along with a prime grievance from the President that he was the victim of quote unquote, "a deep state."


TRUMP: There's been a long term look at looksee and it looks like it's becoming very serious from what I'm hearing. Investigate the investigators, whether it's Strzok and Page, whether it's Clapper and whether it's Comey and all of these people.

I can't tell you what's happening. I will tell you this. I think you're going to see a lot of really bad things.


BALDWIN: But Andrew McCabe defends the work that led to the Russia investigation and ultimately, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 400- plus page report. McCabe is a former F.B.I. Deputy Director, now CNN contributor.


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I know because I was there. I was in the room when these decisions were made. I worked with the team that opened and initiated these cases, approved their work. I know that nothing improper was done.

What you had was not, you know, political operatives planning a coup. There was no improper purpose to the decisions we made. You had a room full of career government officials with a very serious responsibility about investigating potential threats to National Security, and that's exactly what we did.


BALDWIN: Let's go to Shimon Prokupecz. He's our CNN crime and justice reporter and so it is a criminal investigation now. Why criminal? What's the objective?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So the objective here is to really gain more information. What escalated this? Not entirely clear to us.

But the one thing that we've been told by doing this, by making this a criminal probe, it allows John Durham, that man you mentioned who is now leading this investigation with the Attorney General, who are working both hand in hand in this, it allows them to use powers like subpoena so they could compel testimony.

We've been told that there are people who they've been wanting to talk to that have not been willing to voluntarily come in and speak with them.

So this allows them to use subpoena powers, possibly a grand jury to put people before a grand jury if they're not willing to come in and share information. That could be one part of it.

The other part is just not entirely clear. Was there something that they have seen that has now said, you know what? We're going to turn this into a criminal probe. It's really not entirely clear, but it certainly is an escalation, Brooke, in this investigation.

BALDWIN: Do we know -- on your first point, do we know who they're trying to talk to, who clearly have not been talking?

PROKUPECZ: We don't know who in this group of people that they've been wanting to talk to, former F.B.I. officials, former Intelligence officials they haven't been able to talk to, but as we've reported, there's been some extraordinary measures here undertaken by investigators and certainly by the Attorney General, who himself with John Durham have traveled to Italy, where they reviewed information.

Of course, there's that Professor Joseph Mifsud, who had contact with George Papadopoulos during the campaign that started a lot of this investigation.

There is a lot of questions about him and they're looking at that. That is an aspect, a big aspect of this investigation. And of course, it's the former C.I.A. Director John Brennan, James Comey, Jim Clapper -- all of these people that really, the President has riled against.

And so that is what's going on now. And also keep in mind, we also have the Inspector General's report coming on the entire FISA issue and the F.B.I. investigation that's due to come out in the next several weeks.

BALDWIN: Shimon Prokupecz, I know we'll be talking about that when it drops. Thank you, sir, very much.

And you know, just what a week. It may just be the most dramatic yet in this Impeachment Inquiry from explosive testimony to a dramatic Republican protest up on the Hill. We will talk to Trump biographer about how the President may be handling it all.



BALDWIN: Despite new accusations of atrocities against U.S. ally, the Kurds, President Trump continued his defensive withdrawing American troops from Northern Syria allowing for the incursion by Turkey.


TRUMP: We're doing very well in Syria with Turkey and everybody else that we're dealing with. We have secured the oil. We have a lot of oil.