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Secretary Of Navy Fired; E-mails Reveal Attempts By White House Staffers To Justify President Trump's Order To Withhold Military Aid To Ukraine; Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) Reacts On WAPO Reporting Showing Officials From OMB And Mick Mulvaney Were Trying To Justify Withholding Aid To Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired November 25, 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]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, November 25th. It's 8:00 in the East. Alisyn is away. Bianna Golodyrga joins me this morning.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's 8:00 already?

BERMAN: Yes, it's flying by.

GOLODRYGA: So much news.

BERMAN: A dizzying series of developments at the Pentagon this morning. The secretary of the Navy has been fired, and on his way out the door, Richard Spencer wrote a stunning letter, basically accusing the president of undermining military discipline. And this is all connected to Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher who was demoted for posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter, a decision President Trump overturned.

A senior defense official tells CNN that Secretary Spencer is losing his job for going outside the chain of command and trying to work out some kind of secret agreement for the White House for Gallagher to remain in the Navy.

GOLODRYGA: And if that is not enough, on the impeachment front this morning, new e-mails reveal a scramble inside the White House to contain the fallout from President Trump's freeze on military aid to Ukraine. "The Washington Post" was first to report this story, and it found an extensive effort to justify the president's move after the fact, as well as a debate about whether it was even legal.

Documents from the White House review include e-mails from acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to White House budget officials in early August asking why the president was blocking aid already approved by Congress.

BERMAN: Joining me is CNN Political Analyst, Josh Dawsey. He is a White House reporter for the "Washington Post" and the lead reporter on the team that broke this story over the weekend. Josh, let me read you one line from your reporting on here.

This is about the White House trying to retroactively create justification for the halting of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, quote, "One person briefed on the record's examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It's unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly." What's going on here, Josh?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So what the records show is that the president ordered this aid halted in July, and then in August, early August, the chief of staff says, have we decided what our legal justification is for this, and how much longer can we withhold this aid? And it shows the White House retroactively trying to review the process trying to come up for a justification for a public explanation and a legal justification as well for the aid that was being withheld.

And it shows a lot of scrambling from defense officials, national security officials, folks on the NSC who have said we're not sure if this is legal, and OMB pushing back. So what these documents at their core show is the president who makes this decision in July, who orders the aid held, and then the bureaucracy trying to catch up with him and trying to figure out, can we do this, and if so, for how long.

BERMAN: It sounds like there are a lot of documents here, Josh, which could shed a whole lot of light on some of the subjects being looked at in this impeachment inquiry, so what are the chances that Congress ever gets its hands on the e-mails?

DAWSEY: The White House says they are not going to comply with any of the requests, they are not going to put the e-mails out there, they will not be showing the documents. But the White House Counsel's Office and lawyers inside the White House are looking across agencies at OMB, at various national security agencies inside the White House, to understand for themselves what's going on.

They've been interviewing folks who have been involved, who were part of the e-mails, have been called in to be interviewed. And the White House is preparing its own report. How much of that ever sees the light of day I don't know, but as you can imagine, we'll be trying to figure it out and bring it to you.

BERMAN: So part of this, and part of your reporting, deals with a rift inside the White House between the acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. Explain that.

DAWSEY: Right. So acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was not on board with the decision to release the first transcript. That came from the Counsel's Office, from DOJ, and ultimately the president. And since then, there's been diverging strategies on how to respond to the onslaught of requests, subpoenas, strategy for pushing back against the impeachment probe. And Mulvaney and Pat Cipollone, the lawyer, are not necessarily seeing

eye to eye, simpatico, on many of these issues. And what we're seeing here is that both of them are blaming the other for this kind of coming out in the public.

BERMAN: Bottom line here insofar as the inquiry is concerned, is there evidence here that the White House halted the payments in order to get the investigations into the Bidens or even into the 2016 election? Do you have any sense that there is any kind of documentary trail in there?

DAWSEY: We don't, but we're trying to figure that out. The e-mails that we know about so far just show a White House that's grappling to come to order with the presidential directive, and they don't understand and they don't know why he's doing this, and they're trying to figure out if it's legal and how long they can withhold it. We have not seen anything in writing that implicates what you said, John. But that said, there's still a longways to go here.

BERMAN: But it was a presidential directive? This was something the president ordered --

[08:05:01]

DAWSEY: Yes, it was something the president ordered clearly, and there's staffers at OMB, State, Defense, trying to figure out how can we implement this, is it legal to implement this, and if so, and how long can we implement this for before we have to release the aid?

BERMAN: All right, Josh Dawsey, as always, thank you so much for your reporting.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Political Analyst, David Gregory, and CNN White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Jeffrey, there are documents, there are these e-mails which answer some of the questions clearly that are being asked or at least color in some of the edges here, and I just think it's amazing that Congress doesn't get to see this.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And people who know the answers to all these questions, Mulvaney, Bolton, Pompeo, all of them know how these decisions were made about why the aid was withheld to Ukraine, but the president has directed that they not disclose them, and they're not being disclosed so far. But there's no evidence that suggests anything other than the most incriminating view of what happened.

BERMAN: Is it fair for me to think that if these e-mails and if these witnesses could exonerate the president, they might be more willing to let us hear them and see them?

TOOBIN: That seems to be a reasonable assumption. You're a fair person, Berman. I would say that is fair, that you can make that assumption.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: OK, but also the fact that they're even doing this review shows you how scattershot this decision was, and that it wasn't done properly through the interagency process or with the sign-off of these attorneys saying that it was legal, because it shows this decision was made, then they had to scramble to get a legal justification to see if it was even legal, and that really shows you the fact that they're doing this review shows just how broken this process was, how people were excluded from this, key players, and how essentially they tried to wall people off from this.

GOLODRYGA: And the reason we talk about the legal question, David, is because there's actually a law, it's the 1974 Impoundment Law, that says that the OMB must release money that was appropriated by Congress. We know that this budget cycle was going -- the fiscal year was ending at the end of September, this money was released September 11th, just a few weeks shy of that. So how does this implicate, in particular, Mick Mulvaney?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's the one, as you pointed out last hour, who said before the press corps yes, there was a quid pro quo, and then tried to walk that back a couple of days later, or less than that, after he had inadvertently told the truth.

What's striking about this entire investigation, this proceeding, is that it began with the president saying, of course I did it. Yes, I did it, what was wrong with it, that I asked Ukraine for a favor in that July 25th phone call? But what's also striking is that the president has said, look, we're going to strongarm Ukraine.

This is what I want. How do we justify this? And once the heat comes on from the whistleblower, how do we look for justifications for holding up that aid? So the question is, we know this phase of the impeachment proceedings. Do we end up hearing from these additional people who know down the road if we actually get to a trial?

BERMAN: Perhaps you don't need the documents to incriminate Mick Mulvaney. Mick Mulvaney is perfectly capable of implicating himself, as we saw in this news conference.

GOLODRYGA: And he doesn't have many friends this morning, either.

TOOBIN: Mulvaney didn't do this on his own. Mulvaney has no known views about Ukraine. He doesn't care about Ukraine. This all comes from the president. There can be no other conclusion.

GOLODRYGA: But yet the Republicans' argument time and time again, and the president's as well, is that there is no drink link to him. I think people can deduce this came from the president, that this wasn't something that Mick Mulvaney all of a sudden had an issue with Ukraine over, the same with regards to a meeting with President Zelensky in which Sondland said that, in his opinion, was definitely a quid pro quo. But there was no one who actually heard the president say, quid pro quo --

BERMAN: I will say, no direct link to the president, except for the transcript of a phone call that I'm holding in my hand.

GOLODRYGA: The perfect phone call.

BERMAN: If only there were a transcript of a phone call from July 25th, where the president of the United States says, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, a lot of people want to find out, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.

GOLODRYGA: But again, and as Republicans thought they won points from in Sondland's testimony, is that Sondland said he could not say with 100 percent accuracy that the president wanted to withhold money in exchange for dirt on Biden.

TOOBIN: One of the things judges do when they instruct juries before they give verdicts is they say to the jury, use your common sense. And I think that's good advice for news consumers as well. The idea that this directive came from anyone other than Donald Trump, and was anything other than a demand for dirt in return for the money authorized by Congress, is just totally implausible.

COLLINS: Gordon Sondland testified and the others made pretty clear, they thought they were operating with what the president wanted them to do. They didn't really leave a lot of confusion about that.

And going back to Mick Mulvaney's press conference, which has resurfaced time and time again throughout this whole saga, he said he discussed this with the president. So he's the one who actually drew the link directly to the president. You've heard that from Republicans.

They say there's no explicit link of the president expressly saying this is what I want. Mulvaney said yes, we had discussed this, this is absolutely part of the reason why this aid was held up. He wasn't under testimony when he said that. He was in the briefing room saying it. But it still counts as him drawing that link.

TOOBIN: We can at least possibly assume someone from the White House briefing room is telling the truth, that isn't necessarily the case, but it does seem to be at least plausible that he was telling the truth.

BERMAN: David?

GREGORY: We have a jury here, ultimately, for impeachment that are senators, right. It's the Senate. But they're not sequestered, right. So the news media can do its job and can keep unearthing other supportive facts of this effort to block aid in order to extract political dirt from the Ukrainians. But I think what's striking is that Democrats certainly believe that it's very clear what happened here.

It's a separate issue from whether they're going to move this politically at all, but it's clear what happened. And yet there is more supportive detail when you unearth these e-mails and when there are people who are not coming forward and saying what clearly happened, which there was an effort to block the aid and then to justify it after the fact.

BERMAN: Control room, if you can find the John Kennedy sound with Chris Wallace this weekend while I'm talking here, because David just brought up a good point, which is the Senate is the jury here, but there are some in the Senate who will be part of this jury that don't seem to care about the facts. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their e-mails? Was it Russia, or Ukraine?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R-LA): I don't know. Nor do you. Nor do any of us. Miss Hill --

WALLACE: Let me just interrupt to say the entire intelligence community says it was Russia.

KENNEDY: Right. But it could also be Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: David Gregory, John Kennedy, Senator Kennedy went to Oxford but might have gone to Hogwarts because he's living in some kind of fantasy world there. He's just basically saying I don't care about the facts. So when talking about a Senate jury, what does that tell you?

GREGORY: Well, that they've made up their mind. I think you heard the defense from the Intelligence Committee, the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, which is to say, sure, maybe Russia interfered, but the Ukrainians did it as well. There's no evidence to support that, and it's been specifically debunked, including by people who are advising the president, his former homeland security director.

And this is where Dr. Hill was so powerful as a witness, just saying stop the madness and follow what the evidence tells you. But again, however strong this case is, this is a political process. Republicans have made it very clear, even Will Hurd, who is retiring, who is more moderate on these issues, saying they're not backing off the defense of the president.

COLLINS: But also, to be clear, when John Kennedy says that he doesn't foe who it was that interfered in the election, the detail in Mueller's report was so fine and so specific that you could look at the Facebook ads that these Russian operatives created to sow discord, to sow disinformation about the information. It's that level of specific. So for him to brush that off and say he doesn't know because he didn't watch Russia try to interfere in the election is really, really stunning.

TOOBIN: And it's not just the Mueller report. There are two very detailed indictments pending today against Russians, one about social media, one about the hacking of the DNC e-mails, of Russians for interfering in the election. So it is actually before our judicial system. It's not just Robert Mueller's opinion.

COLLINS: And there's a report from Senate Republicans which John Kennedy is.

GOLODRYGA: So you're saying there's a lot of evidence, right?

TOOBIN: There's a lot of evidence.

GOLODRYGA: RT couldn't have produced a better segment than that one that we just saw from John Kennedy. It really is a shame.

BERMAN: That's a great point.

GOLODRYGA: Kaitlan, Jeffrey, David, thank you so much.

GREGORY: Thanks.

GOLODRYGA: Well, there are plenty of unknowns about the next phase of the impeachment inquiry, including who else could be called to testify. Court decision coming today that could help decide. That's coming up.

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[08:18:29]

GOLODRYGA: An internal White House review shows an extensive effort to justify withholding military aid from Ukraine after the crucial assistance was already frozen.

One of the figures allegedly involved, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who has so far refused to testify. Will he and others be compelled to speak to Congress now?

Joining me now Democratic Congressman Peter Welch. He serves on the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, great to see you this morning.

Thanks so much for joining us and I want to start off by getting your reaction to that latest report from "The Washington Post" showing that officials from the O.M.B. and Mick Mulvaney were trying to justify withholding that aid.

REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): Well, it's more corroboration of what the hearings I think clearly established.

President Trump used the -- he dangled the White House meeting and withheld the aid in order to get Ukraine to agree to do his dirty work on Vice President Biden.

In everything that we've seen, it just corroborates what the President said in his phone call, and now it appears there's a paper trail that shows the machinations that the White House went through to try to keep that congressionally authorized aid -- bipartisan vote, strong bipartisan vote to keep that at bay, so Ukraine didn't get it until the President got what he wanted. GOLODRYGA: And Adam Schiff over the weekend seemed to suggest that we

won't be hearing from any more witnesses. Does this new report give that a second thought? Does it give you pause that maybe we should pursue or you should hearing from people like Mick Mulvaney and even John Bolton?

[08:20:05]

WELCH: Now, we would like to do that, and I think what Chairman Schiff said is that he is acknowledging the reality that if the President is going to continue to stonewall and not allow Bolton to testify, not allow Mulvaney to testify that we've got plenty of evidence, so we've got to proceed and not let the President's resistance -- he should be turning over to Congress the paper trail, the documents that are in the State Department with Secretary Pompeo, and he obviously should be turning over these documents that show the White House effort to withhold aid.

But if we are going to allow ourselves essentially to be rope-a-dope by the President, when we have this overwhelming evidence of what obviously happened, then we'll get nowhere.

So Chairman Schiff and the whole committee is open. If we can get that, then there are going to be court battles going on. But let's proceed with what we have. I think that's the point.

GOLODRYGA: And you seem convinced there is an impeachable offence here worth pursuing. And that to you in case of a smoking gun is the transcript itself. You say by the President asking the leader of a foreign country to dig up dirt on his political rival or opponent is worthy of impeachment. Why do no other Republicans thus far seem to agree with you?

WELCH: Well, you know, it's a good question. I mean, where's the Howard Baker of this year? But essentially, what you have is documentation, I think, overwhelming proof that the President used his power in an effort to force the Ukraine to do something that was good for him personally in his political life. It had nothing to do with national security interest.

And you know, we live in this society now where everybody apparently feels that they can see the facts as they want to see them. I mean, it's a real challenge for our democracy where there's not a common set of facts.

Trump exploits that. He pushes that, but the bottom line here is it is astonishing to me that my Republican colleagues don't express a real concern about the President's invitation to Ukraine to interfere in our election and also his pressure on Ukraine to get what he wants and ask them to do that political investigation for him.

GOLODRYGA: Let me ask you about a story first reported here on CNN and that is about Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, and a potential meeting that he may have had on a CODEL last year in Vienna meeting with -- and this is through Lev Parnas that we're hearing this who is a questionable figure at that and an associate of Rudy Giuliani -- but Lev Parnas's lawyer says that he has evidence that Devin Nunez met with Shokin who was one of those quote- unquote, "corrupt politicians and prosecutors in Ukraine," if in fact this meeting did happen. What is your reaction?

WELCH: Well, first of all, I have no knowledge and the Committee has no knowledge. And of course, Mr. Nunes has vehemently denied it. But obviously, that's a very serious allegation.

Shokin is a totally discredited Ukrainian prosecutor who was completely corrupt, and if the reports of that meeting were that the effort was to try to get Shokin to start doing in effect the Biden investigation, then we have this incredible situation where the Intelligence Committee, I think, at that point, Mr. Nunes was Chairman or at least Ranking Member, was in effect, accommodating the President's desire to pursue that investigation.

We don't know yet, but Mr. Nunes has got some answering to do to make certain that we do get to the bottom of this.

GOLODRYGA: And we'll continue exploring this story on our end as well. I want to end by asking you about what you hear privately behind closed doors without naming names because as we've been talking about, the polarization which we've covered the same hearing where you have two different things party's coming out, suggesting they heard two different testimonies the past two weeks.

I'm curious if you're hearing differing opinions behind closed doors from your Republican colleagues about what they've heard, and whether they think what they've heard is impeachable.

WELCH: Well, frankly, they're keeping pretty quiet even in public. You saw Francis Rooney raise questions. He is from Florida, a Member of Congress who is retiring, and he asked the question as to whether this was impeachable. And then he immediately got hammered, essentially.

The Trump tweets still has an immense impact on my Republican colleagues, who tend to come from districts that have overwhelming Republican support because of gerrymandering.

So we've got a situation here where it is almost as though the facts don't matter. People are choosing sides. That could change over time. I mean, if we start getting documents, like you with Sondland where you had documents that he had in his possession that in black and white confirmed what he was saying about the President focusing on the investigations, we know there's a paper trail with Mulvaney, with Bolton, with Pompeo, probably with Pence.

[08:25:10]

WELCH: But would that ultimately change my colleagues' minds? I think it would, if in when the people in their district and public opinion starts to look at the reality of this.

GOLODRYGA: The if and when, of course, is the big question. Congressman, we appreciate your time. Thank you so much. WELCH: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. We're just learning some new details this morning about a brazen heist at a museum in Germany involving one of Europe's largest treasure collections. We're going to give you the breaking details on this next.

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