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New Reporting Indicates President Trump was Briefed on Whistleblower Complaint before Releasing Aid to Ukraine; Poor Weather May Affect Holiday Travel in U.S.; Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) is Interviewed About the Impeachment Inquiry; CNN Poll: Biden Leads Nationally As Buttigieg Rises. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired November 27, 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]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- reports that when Mr. Trump finally did release the aid in September, he had already been briefed about the whistleblower complaint.

We also have a brand-new CNN national poll. Joe Biden maintains his double-digit lead at the top of the Democratic race.

But let's begin with those holiday travel woes. Ryan Young is live in Minneapolis with the latest. What's the situation, Ryan?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we went to sleep last night, there was no snow on the ground. What a change in a few hours. More than nine inches has fallen so far. You can see it just piling up here. And of course, with more than 50 million Americans expects to travel over the next few days, you know the roads are something a lot of people are focusing on.

We've had conditions here where there have been 20 to 30-mile-per-hour winds that have made it hard to see at some points. Visibility was a concern. Crews have been working overtime on the streets. If there is good news here in terms of this storm, a lot of this snow fell overnight, which meant the airport wasn't really having increased operations. Now, today we already talked to a few pilots on the way to the airport. They believe they're going to be able to get some planes out of there. But there should be some delays. So you should check ahead before getting to the airport.

But the real concern is out here on the streets because we've seen across the country, with some of the fast-moving falling snow, there have been accidents. So of course, we want everyone to pack their patience and to remember to try to have a full tank of gas as you're out there because, as we've seen already, sometimes the conditions here can get you stuck in the road for quite a few hours, though, we will say, there have been a lot of crews on the streets working overtime to make sure the streets are clear. Guys?

CAMEROTA: That's good. That is going to be important. Thank you very much, Ryan. Stay warm. For more on the worrisome forecast for the Thanksgiving holiday, CNN

Meteorologist Chad Myers has been watching it all morning for us. What's the latest, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're looking at the balloons here in New York, then we'll go and we'll focus on the rest of the weather. We have sustained winds for tomorrow around 20. That's below threshold. We are good. But may have gusts higher than that. Somewhere by the 10:00 hour, we could get over that 35-mile-per-hour range.

So let's get to it. The problem right now is wind in Chicago. Only 92 planes countrywide right now have been canceled. That's a good number for as much weather as we have out there, especially in the west. Winds will be gusting to 50 in San Francisco, maybe 35 or 40 with snow in Salt Lake City. We have the winter weather advisory still in the west for storm number two. And then wind advisories here in the northeast for storm number one that will eventually get out of the way for today.

There will be some delays in Atlanta. They'll be delays in New York City. No question about it. And winds gusting to 50 in Chicago, not every plane is going to get out of there on time, and maybe not every plane is going to get out at all. There may be cancellations 10 or 20 percent of the planes there.

Moving you ahead, though, as we look ahead into the rest of today, we will have the red dots in San Francisco, Chicago, into Cleveland, St. Louis, and even New York City. No question that planes are going to be delayed.

But moving you ahead until Sunday on your way home, you're going to have to watch out for this next storm. This is storm number two just coming onshore now in the west that could make snow in the Poconos, the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and on up into New England as well, and certainly snow into Chicago, Minneapolis and the U.P. of Michigan. Big storm there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Got the snowblower ready, Chad. Thank you very much.

MYERS: Sure you do.

BERMAN: I do. What is that? I don't get enough from her. I've got to have you piling on?

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: He just doesn't believe you have the snowblower ready.

BERMAN: I have the snowblower ready.

CAMEROTA: Sure you do.

BERMAN: It's my wife who uses it, but it's ready.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Turning now to the impeachment investigation, the "New York Times" reports when President Trump released military aid to Ukraine in September, he had already been briefed about the whistleblower complaint. And according to the only budget official to testify so far, at least two OMB staffers were so troubled by the aid freeze, they quit.

Joining us now, Abby Phillip, CNN political correspondent, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, and Neal Katyal, our special guest and former acting solicitor general and author of "Impeach, The Case against Donald Trump."

Let me read what "The New York Times" broke overnight. They wrote, "President Trump had already been briefed on a whistle-blower's complaint about his dealings with Ukraine when he unfroze military aid for the country in September." That's "according to two people familiar with the matter. Lawyers from the White House counsel's office told Mr. Trump in late August about the complaint, explaining they were trying to determine whether they were legally required to give it to Congress, the people said."

So he knew before the aid was released. He knew, Neal, before he got on the phone with Gordon Sondland and said there is no quid pro quo. He knew that there were questions about whether there was a quid pro quo. What does this tell us?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: It tells us a lot. So President Trump's defenders have basically not been defending the president as much as attacking the impeachment process. They haven't really said, oh, the president did things right. But the one way in which they have made that claim is to say, well, the military aid to Ukraine ultimately did flow. So no harm, no foul.

[08:05:06]

And what the Democrats have been saying for the last couple of weeks is that the timeline looks a little fuzzy because it looks like the aid flowed only after you got caught, only after you knew about the whistleblower complaint. And what this new story overnight tells us is that's exactly -- the Democrats are exactly right. That aid flowed only because the president knew he had been caught. And it's really not a particularly good defense in the law to be like, oh, well, I didn't rob the bank because I got stopped on the way by the cops, they arrested me. That's still attempted bank robbery. And here this is an impeachable -- the fact that the aid flowed doesn't matter. It's what the president intended to do when he set out a secret plot to do. He just got caught red-handed.

CAMEROTA: And it also, I think, proves that he knew he was wrong. He wouldn't have had to have released it if he didn't know he was wrong. He could have said I'm standing on my convictions. I still believe that Ukraine is corrupt. No. He released it. And so this blows up -- there's been so many Republican talking points that have been blown up. Here's another one that has been blown up now. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really proves

that all of this explanation Republicans have been doing in these hearings have been all about nothing. The president knew at the time that he released the aid that there was a complaint against him. And then later on in the timeline, there was actually a congressional investigation that was launched before the aid was released as well.

But for Republicans, the conversation he had with Gordon Sondland became very pivotal. He got on the phone with Sondland in the middle of the night and said no quid pro quo. I don't want anything from Zelensky. I don't want him to do anything except what he ran on. It turns out even that conversation was after he knew that there was a whistleblower complaint. So there are several conversations the president had with other people in which he denied that there was anything wrong happening. Those conversations all happened after he knew that there had been a complaint lodged against him. And also in the midst of all of this, the entire government is trying to figure out, how do they even justify this, because there were also signs that the whole thing was illegal to begin with.

BERMAN: There's a whole lot of reverse engineering that appears to have been going on. That's according to the stories we've seen in the last few days, these emails going back and forth. What do you see here, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's not good. The thing that's so remarkable about this whole impeachment investigation is that there's no unambiguous evidence. There's no ambiguous evidence. All the evidence points that the only reason this whole thing started, and the only reason Donald Trump did what he did, was he wanted to extort this information out of the government of Ukraine. He wanted to get the dirt on Joe Biden, and he was willing to withhold the meeting in the Oval Office and the $400 million in American taxpayer money to get that information. It's just every single piece of evidence points in the same direction. This latest one is just the latest.

KATYAL: Jeff, what I'd say is it's even worse than that. It's not that he wanted to get the information from Ukraine or extort it. It's he just wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation. He didn't actually care that it got done, as his own guy, Ambassador Sondland, said last week. This is so squarely about his interests, not the American people's.

TOOBIN: And this is why Neal's book is so important is that it's about abuse of power of the presidency. You or I, as bad as we are or could be, could not commit this offense. The only person who could do what the president did was the president himself. It's abuse of power. It's squarely, as Neal points out in his book, in what the framers contemplated as an impeachable offense because it is something that only a president can do.

PHILLIP: And this is the choice that Republicans have to make. Are they at the point NOW where they're just saying, this was fine. We're OK with it. We are totally OK with everything that has unfolded here, because they're not disputing the facts of the case. And so that's the question that's before Congress today. And as you pointed out, I think all the evidence suggests that they are on the verge of saying exactly that. When Will Hurd got up in the hearing and gave his little speech, it was basically to say, this looks kind of bad, but I don't think it's bad enough. I don't think it constitutes abuse of power and is impeachable. And I think he is the tip of the spear on this. A lot of Republicans are going to follow him.

CAMEROTA: If they're comfortable with the president usurping the power of the purse for them -- they had designated this money. They went through the proper process. The president froze it in what some say is an illegal act. If they're comfortable with that, then we know -- then they're going to have to make that case, and that that's -- they've decided that one of the main tenets of their responsibility they're willing to hand over to the president.

KATYAL: It's the end of an executive branch that lives under the rule of law at that point, because if the president can flout it and do it in secret, it's not just this president, it's any president. And then what happened to our Constitution?

[08:10:06]

TOOBIN: What's interesting about that argument, which does appear to be an argument that at least some Republicans are making, which is, this was bad, but not impeachable, how does that match up with the president saying the phone call was perfect? And the president doesn't like anyone diverging from his line, even if they're supporters. And I think that is something that the Republican Party has yet to work out and is going to be a struggle as we go forward a month. Do they say -- I haven't heard any Republicans, even the president's most ardent supporters, saying the phone call was perfect. Will they -- have you heard that?

BERMAN: They get close. It depends who you hear. The Sean Duffys of the world who say he wouldn't have done it. He says, well, the president was just fighting corruption, even though corruption wasn't mentioned once on that call at all. There seems to be many different defenses they're trying, and looking for one that sticks.

Neal, can I just ask one thing while we have you here since you're written a whole book about the Constitution and what the framers thought about this. What about the idea of censure? Brenda Lawrence from Michigan brought it up, other people have brought it up, also. Is that enough here?

KATYAL: I don't think it's enough. I think it's a helpful start, but it's really just a start. We're talking about a president doing the ultimate sin, putting his interests above those of the American people and using his powers, as Jeff says, as commander in chief. So it's one thing in 2016 when he may have tried or his folks may have tried to get help from Russia. He's a private citizen then. If we allow our commander in chief to do this here, we give every commander in chief the power to effectively stay in office for as long as they want, at least through two terms.

PHILLIP: It does seem that the trouble for some Democrats that they're thinking about is, what does an acquittal do to not just how the president views his own powers but how history will look back at this? Does it create a precedent that ultimately if this goes all the way through to the end and he's acquitted that President Trump is going to think, there, I did it, and it was fine? I think that that's one of the concerns that someone like Brenda Lawrence might have. Is it more damaging ultimately for the president to claim validation if the Senate does not convict?

CAMEROTA: Being impeached in the House is still a stain on your record.

TOOBIN: It is, although, I think we all know enough about Donald Trump to know that if he wins in the Senate, he's not going to portray it as a not guilty verdict. He's going to portray as a victory, as a ratification, as an endorsement. And that's something all sides are going to have to contemplate.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, Abby Phillip, Neal Katyal, special guest, a special treat today. Have a happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.

So the next impeachment hearings in the House will happen next Wednesday. New witnesses will testify. And even President Trump has been invited to take part. We'll talk to a House Democrat who will be there, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:17:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The House Judiciary Committee has invited President Trump or his counsel to participate in the first impeachment hearing that they will have, that's one week from today.

So, what can we expect as the impeachment inquiry enters its next phase?

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being with us.

Before we talk about next week, I want to ask you about what we learned overnight. This "New York Times" report that the president was told of the whistle-blower complaint in August. He was told there were concerns about the phone call and reports of a quid pro quo before he released the military aid to Ukraine, before he got on the phone with Gordon Sondland and said, I want nothing, there's no quid pro quo.

What's the significance of that to you?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Well, there are multiple layers of significance. Number one, that he was briefed on it as they tried to figure out whether or not to report it to Congress under the statute. Number two, that he was conscious of -- that he was caught doing something wrong. That the whistle-blower had information that the president was holding up needed military aid that Congress -- we in Congress authorized in order to shake down a foreign country and asking them to interfere in our elections.

This shows a consciousness of guilt. Then the president tries to backpedal and say, no quid pro quo, and then ultimately because he's been caught has to release that aid. There are layers of problems within that reporting.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about what we will see next week from your committee, the House Judiciary Committee, holding your first hearings on the impeachment matter. And I understand you will be hearing from experts about what the Framers intended when they were talking about impeachable offenses.

What is your intention here? Is this meant to be an education for the American people?

DEAN: I think an education for the American people because happily, we very seldom have had to exercise and go through impeachment. So I think it's important we hear the constitutional case for impeachment. What did the Framers actually robustly argue for in terms of the process? And what rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor.

So we'll have academics and historians and others who will advise all of us and remind all of us exactly what that constitutional framework is all about.

BERMAN: Do you anticipate having the report from the House Intelligence Committee so you can point to that and say, the intelligence committee says the president did X. OK, professor, does X constitute an impeachable offense. Will we see that?

DEAN: I don't know, to be very honest. I don't know when Adam Schiff and his committee will be able to transfer the report to us. We know that it is in the works now. It could be as early as early next week. So, we may have it in hand.

Even if we don't have it in hand, certainly we do have public testimony of evidence that we could question about.

[08:20:05]

But there's lots more to learn from the fuller report. In the meantime, I think it's totally appropriate that we make sure that we understand exactly what impeachment entails. What our duty is in the House versus the duty of trial in the Senate.

BERMAN: As per the rules that were written for these hearings, the president and his legal team are invited. They can take part. What do you anticipate from them?

DEAN: I don't know, but I read Chairman Nadler's letter yesterday and he continues along the exact line that he has held the entire time. He wants this to be as fair as possible. The privileges of the president are broader than in historical past impeachment proceedings. I hope the president does come forward or have his counsel come forward so that they can fully participate.

Let's think about it. The president has had ample opportunity to bring forward exculpatory evidence. We've seen none of it. It's time for the president to participate if he has any counter information to the extraordinary depths of the wrongdoing.

Let's remember what Fiona Hill said. There were two tracks going on. One was about global security and diplomacy around the world and another was a private political errand for personal gain of this president. The president invited a foreign country to interfere in our upcoming election. There's not much more grave interference by a president than that.

BERMAN: There's been a fresh round of polling on the American people after the two weeks of public impeachment hearings. And it just proves one claim that the president has been making. He's saying support for impeachment has plummeted. That's not true. It's B.S., as he would say.

However, support for impeachment hasn't really grown markedly either. It stayed static. It seems people's opinions are entrenched.

So what does that mean for you in your investigations? Do you need to convince more people that these are all impeachable offenses?

DEAN: I read that poll differently. The CNN poll that shows 50 percent of Americans polled believe that the president should be impeached and removed. Not just impeached, removed from office, to me that's a staggering number.

And the arc of history is long. Two polls over the course of three weeks that say the same thing, and solidify that 50 percent of people believe the president has done culpable things that warrants his removal? To me, that's a very strong poll.

So, I'm not -- I'm not persuaded the other way that for three weeks it didn't shift to a greater degree. Remember, we haven't seen the entire report. We haven't put forward -- drafted even, articles of impeachment. We have a long way to go.

And, remember, this then has to go to a trial in the Senate if we pass articles. The American public might be persuaded much more seriously in upcoming polls.

BERMAN: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean from Pennsylvania, thanks for being with us. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

DEAN: Happy Thanksgiving to you, John.

BERMAN: Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Speaking of those polls, as you know, there's this new CNN national poll out on the 2020 race just this morning. So we have more on where the top Democratic candidates stand now.

BERMAN: Plus, Senator Bernie Sanders, the dancing machine. Jeanne Moos just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:02]

CAMEROTA: Our new national poll on the 2020 race has former Vice President Joe Biden leading the Democratic field with 28 percent. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are battling for second, and Pete Buttigieg on the rise now in double digits.

Let's discuss with CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, Aisha Moodie-Mills, and CNN contributor and "New York Times" columnist, Frank Bruni.

Great to have both of you, guys.

So, it's one of the headlines, the durability of Joe Biden, Aisha.

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I just don't think that's the actual headline. There were a lot of headlines that came out of this poll. And it's not just about Joe Biden.

What's interesting to me is that we still have at least like 58 percent of the people polled who aren't quite set on a candidate. That's not insignificant. So, it means, yes, the people who are saying I really like someone like Joe Biden but there are still a lot of folks movable in this. We also need to be talking about them.

The second thing I found really interesting is that while we keep having this progressive versus moderate conversation, if you look at the poll, people do want a candidate who can actually get something done and implement, but at the same time, they look at Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as being those two. So, I think that there's a lot of things that kind of come out of this that are deeper than Joe Biden just keeps being at the top.

BERMAN: You were talking about those same things, Frank.

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, no, I was. I was very interested in many more voters say they want to see a candidate that can get things done than a candidate who swings for the fences. And I think that estimation is hurting Elizabeth Warren. I think that's why we've seen her level off or dip a little bit.

The other top line from this poll is that Pete Buttigieg is now a very serious candidate. So he's one of only four in double digits in your poll. But if you look at state polls, he was in the lead in several Iowa polls. He's in the lead in one recent New Hampshire poll.

This is not a national contest. It's a sequential state contest. And what happens if Pete Buttigieg wins Iowa, let's just say, and then wins New Hampshire, not impossible to think of. What your national poll shows is there are plenty of voters out there who are receptive to him. If he has that kind of momentum coming out of those two states, what happens --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Now you're speaking my language here because --

BRUNI: South Carolina is a problem.

BERMAN: Here's the thing.

END