Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Says, Doesn't Matter If I Discussed Biden With Ukraine; Interview with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-CT; Giuliani's History Of Preempting News By Admitting It First; Global Strike, Masses Take To Streets Over Climate Crisis. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters.

President Trump going on the record today about whistleblower accusations concerning a phone call with a foreign leader. The president attacking the whistleblower as partisan while also admitting he doesn't know who the whistleblower is, also insisting he did not do anything wrong but that he doesn't know what phone call is at the heart of this complaint.

Our Jim Acosta is at the White House. Jim, tell us what more are you hearing.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. I mean, the president just wrapped up that press conference just a few moments ago with the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. The president did not have more to say about this whistleblower matter.

I did try to ask the president as he was walking out of the east room, could he talk about his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and what went on with Ukraine? He did not answer that question. I'm not even sure if he heard the question as he was leaving the east room.

But you saw what he was saying just a short while ago in the Oval Office when he was sitting down with the Australian prime minister, when he did not really answer the question whether or not he spoke with the Ukrainian prime minister about former Vice President Joe Biden, at one point, saying, it doesn't matter what he discussed.

But there are plenty of contradictions here that the president offered up to reporters when he was sitting down in the Oval Office, at one point describing the whistleblower has being partisan and part of a hack job, but at the same time saying he doesn't know who the whistleblower is. The White House is not saying at this point whether or not they know who this whistleblower is specifically, who the individual is who filed that whistleblower complaint that's being blocked by the administration in terms of being turned over to Congress.

But at this point, Brianna, we have a lot more questions than we have answers, and the White House at this point appears to be stonewalling to Congress when it comes to getting information on this complaint, and the president, as you saw during that spray in the Oval Office with reporters, was just not answering questions in a straightforward fashion in terms of what he talked about with the Ukrainian president about Vice President Joe Biden and whether or not there was some kind of offer on the table in that conversation.

Those are all questions that are out there hanging over this administration despite what the president had to say about Iran and China during that news conference, he was patting himself on the back saying he was showing great restraint when it comes to Iran and pledging once again that he'll find some sort of trade peace with China.

But it just seems that this whistleblower complaint is hanging over everything at the White House and the president and his top officials are just pot providing any answers, Brianna.

KEILAR: That's right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

And let's back up for a second now, because in April, T.V. comedian turned politician Volodymyr Zelensky was elected as president of Ukraine. A couple of weeks later, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said that he was going to Ukraine to talk about a dropped corruption investigation into a company linked to Joe Biden's son, Hunter. Giuliani scrubbed that trip under public pressure.

But then in July, the meeting happened. Giuliani held talks in Madrid with an aide to Zelensky, which is a meeting that was set up by the State Department. And then in late July, July 25th, to be exact, President Trump talked on the phone to the Ukrainian president. This was a phone call that The Washington Post and The New York Times say is at the center of the whistleblower controversy.

On August 12th, the whistleblower voiced concerns to the inspector general. Later in August, President Trump put a hold on $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. And at the time, officials said the president wanted to make sure U.S. interests were being prioritized.

Then on September 9th, three Democratic-led House committees announced that they would investigate Rudy Giuliani and efforts to influence Ukrainian investigations. Just three days after that, the Trump administration announced it would unfreeze the $250 million in aid promised to Ukraine, and, of course, I should also mention that President Trump and Ukraine's president are expected to meet face-to- face next week at the United Nations General Assembly.

Senator Chris Murphy is joining us now from Capitol Hill. And, sir, thank you so much for being on. We wanted to talk to you because you actually met with the Ukrainian president a few weeks ago and you specifically spoke with him about these demands from the Trump campaign to investigate corruption. What did President Zelensky tell you?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, I went to Ukraine a few weeks ago in part because I was hearing these concerns from my friends in Ukraine that President Zelensky was very confused about what to do with these overtures from the Trump political operative, Rudy Giuliani, and, frankly, whether it was connected to official American policy.


So I went to Ukraine with Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican. I raised with the president this issue and said the worst thing for Ukraine would be for them to have any perception of interfering in an American election, doing the bidding of the president's political operation.

The president did assure me that that was not their intent, nor did they have any plans to be involved in an American election. But he also raised concerns at that same meeting about this aide being suspended, and he wanted to know why that was. And, of course, there was no way for people in Ukraine to not draw a connection, even if it wasn't ever made explicit to the Ukrainians over the phone or in person.

Of course, they came to the conclusion, some of them must have, that there was some connection between the political messages coming from Rudy Giuliani that were likely not being met and this sudden unexplained suspension of aid to Ukraine.

KEILAR: Did President Zelensky indicate whether President Trump himself had demanded that Ukraine investigate corruption, and more specifically, Joe Biden?

MURPHY: He did not tell us that the president himself had asked for these investigations. He did acknowledge that there had been communications from others connected to the president asking for these investigations, and he assured us that he was not going to do anything that would compromise U.S.-Ukrainian relations, but he never spoke to us in that meeting about requests coming directly from the president.

KEILAR: And there had been a phone call where the Ukrainian readout was much more detailed than the American readout of that phone call, talking about how -- at least from the Ukrainian perspective, if the Ukraine wanted to tackle corruption that they might improve relations, essentially, with the U.S.

MURPHY: Well, listen. It has been a longstanding policy of the United States to press Ukrainians on their fight against corruption. It's an enormous problem in Ukraine. And so Democratic presidents and Republican presidents have been involved in this fight. So there's nothing inappropriate of us pressing them on general fights against corruption.

What is wholly inappropriate is for communications to come from the president's political operation, his campaign, regarding specific people that the Ukrainians should prosecute because it benefits the president politically. That's what's totally inappropriate here, not that we would be communicating generally about the issue of corruption.

KEILAR: So if this turns out that the president used this aide, this American military aide, as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate a political rival or that his associates did that, what recourse does Congress have? Is that impeachable? MURPHY: Well, let's get to the bottom of this first. I won't cross bridges on hypotheticals, but I've asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to conduct an investigation. I frankly asked them to do that in May, and I reiterated that request today. The law clearly states this whistleblower complaint has to be disclosed to Congress. They can only stonewall so long and I hope that the House goes to court over this if they indeed don't produce something in the next several days.

But let's be honest. If it does turn out, and again, I haven't seen the whistleblower complaint, but if it does turn out that we have told the Ukrainians that they will only get their aid from the United States unless they do the political bidding of the president of the United States, it frankly doesn't get more serious than that. So let's find out what the facts are.

KEILAR: Do you think that the whistleblower should come directly to Congress?

MURPHY: Well, I don't know the circumstances of this complaint. Obviously, there is lots of sensitivities when you are disclosing wrongdoing that you see inside your company or the administration. There are reasons why he may want to keep his identity secret. I just think we should have the law followed. The law says that when a complaint has been made to the administration that is of urgent concern, it has to be presented to Congress. So there is no need for him to come directly to Congress if the administration just follows the law.

KEILAR: The president tried to discredit this whistleblower while he was talking to reporters in the Oval Office earlier. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't know the identity of the whistleblower. I just hear it's a partisan person, meaning it comes out from another party. But I don't have any idea.


KEILAR: Is he violating the protections that are supposed to be in place for a whistleblower who is following appropriate, formal, official channels here?

MURPHY: This is, again, extraordinary. I know we've become numb to this president's conduct, but the idea that the president in the Oval Office is attacking a whistleblower without anyone knowing the content of that communication or even the president having knowledge about who it is is absolutely extraordinary.


And it frankly sends a chilling message to anyone who is thinking about uncovering or disclosing information about corruption or wrongdoing in this administration, because if you do, the president will attack you. And, listen, what's to stop this administration, who are the only people who know who this person is, from disclosing his name, or from carrying on a campaign of harassment against him? The reason that this is supposed to come to Congress is so that we can make sure this individual and the information he is presenting is protected. And right now, this is an effort not just to compromise this whistleblower, it's an effort to send a message to anybody else may be trying disclose information about wrongdoing in this administration.

KEILAR: Senator Chris Murphy, thank you so much for joining us.

MURPHY: Thanks.

KEILAR: Rudy Giuliani has a history of preempting some big news by revealing it live on T.V. We're going to take a look at that.

Plus, we'll fact-check the conspiracy theory involving Joe Biden, his son and Ukraine.

And underway right now, protests erupting in major cities around the world as crowds call attention to the climate crisis. CNN is there.



KEILAR: President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, making a stunning admission right here on CNN last night, just seconds after claiming that he did not ask Ukraine to investigate Trump's political opponent, Joe Biden. He revealed this to Chris Cuomo.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You never asked anything about Hunter Biden, you never asked anything about Joe Biden in his role (ph) with the prosecutor?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed, dismissed the case against anti (ph) --

CUOMO: So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

GIULIANI: Of course I did.


KEILAR: All right. So that's far from the first time that Giuliani has gone on T.V. and admitted something that seems really, really bad for the president, right? For instance, here he is seemingly admitting that conversations about building a Trump Tower in Moscow lasted well into the campaign, possibly even after President Trump was elected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GIULIANI: Well, it's our understanding that they went on throughout 2016. Not a lot of them, but there were conversations. I can't be sure the exact date, but the president can't remember having conversations with him about it.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Throughout 2016?

GIULIANI: Yes, probably up to -- could be up to as far as October, November.


KEILAR: Well, prior to that interview, President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, had told Congress the conversations had ended months earlier. And here is Giuliani admitting that President Trump repaid Michael Cohen for those hush money payments to former porn star, Stormy Daniels.


GIULIANI: Sorry. I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money, no campaign finance violation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So they funneled it through a law firm?

GIULIANI: Funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it.


KEILAR: A month earlier, the president had told reporters he had no knowledge of the payments to Daniels, and here's Giuliani admitting that the president did suggest that former FBI Director James Comey go easy on his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: -- if he's saying that the president was asking him, directing him, in his words, to ask to let Michael Flynn investigation to go?

GIULIANI: He didn't direct to do that. What he said to him was, can you --


KEILAR: So the president had previously denied that as well. And finally, shortly after it was revealed that Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort shared polling data with a Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch, here is Rudy Giuliani seemingly admitting the people in the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.


GIULIANI: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign. I have no idea --

CUOMO: Yes, you have.

GIULIANI: I have not. I said, the president of the United States.


KEILAR: Here with me now, Irvin McCullough is a National Security Analyst for the Government Accountability Project and CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger, is with us as well.

What do you make of Giuliani's role in this and just the way that he seems to reveal things right before they're going to come out?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: There is a method to his madness.

KEILAR: Clearly.

BORGER: He knows what he's doing. He's going to deliver the bad news before we know about it or before the president is mentioned in it, and he's going to try to shape the story before the story comes out. I mean, he's back. This is what Giuliani did, as you showed really well here during the Mueller report. And this is what he's trying to do now. And, effectively, take the fall himself to a certain degree because he knows more is about to unspool itself in terms of the president's role in all of this and his phone call with the Ukrainians.

KEILAR: Just because you admit something, Irvin, like it's no big deal doesn't mean it's not a big deal. That doesn't inoculate you against the consequences of doing something that is wrong.


IRVIN MCCULLOUGH, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: No, that's absolutely right. And the intelligence community inspector general has come out and actually said that this is a big deal, in his words, in the statute towards an urgent concern that warrants an investigation not just from the intelligence community inspector general but also by the congressional intelligence committees.

KEILAR: And -- okay. So his defense, Giuliani's defense of the president is that some whistleblowers lie. You have a familiarity with whistleblowers. You've represented some in the past. What do you say to that?

MCCULLOUGH: Whistleblowers are truth-tellers. They're not out here to lie. This whistleblower does not want to get famous. I am sure that, if anything, all of us talking about him or her is putting a target on their back. Whistleblowers speak the truth and face reprisal for that.

The fact that the president and Rudy Giuliani would say that this whistleblower is partisan is ridiculous. It puts a target on his or her back. KEILAR: Okay. Well, speaking about that, so that's what the president is saying, that the whistleblower is partisan. Then, in like the next breath, he says he doesn't know who the whistleblower is. He also said that this phone call was completely -- the phone conversation was completely appropriate. Then he also said he didn't know what phone call is part of the complaint.

BORGER: Well, it's not surprising, I guess, that the president would charge that somebody who finds fault with his behavior is a partisan. He did that all during the Mueller investigation. It was a witch hunt, it was a hoax, the intelligence community could not be trusted, and he's saying the same thing here. Because we know that the person, who is the whistleblower, is probably a member of the intelligence community in some way, shape or form and is risking a lot and went through all the proper channels, correct? I mean, you know this --


BORGER: You know this better than I do.

So -- and it's just stunning to me that the president, who claims to know nothing, is suddenly talking about what he knows. We don't know what phone conversation is being referred to here. He says he doesn't, but maybe he does.

KEILAR: Because the reports are out there that it's a phone conversation with the leader of Ukraine.

BORGER: He can ask. He's the president, right? He can ask any time. And so, tell me, I want to know.

KEILAR: Do you think -- is Congress going to see this complaint, and if, yes, any time soon?

MCCULLOUGH: I would hope so. There will be a fight, but I really hope that the congressional intelligence committee has come out ahead on this one. They should see the complaint.

KEILAR: So would the court look favorably, in general, on Congress wanting this information, do you think?

MCCULLOUGH: The law is fairly clear-cut here. The fact that the acting DNI did not transmit the complaint, as he is required to do by statute, is disgraceful. I believe that the courts would see that.

BORGER: And, you know, the inspector general's letter yesterday was really strong and effectively said that the Director of National Intelligence is keeping me from doing my job. This is what I do as inspector general. I gather these complaints, I figure out whether they're credible and then my job is to pass it on to Congress, which has a responsibility for oversight, and they're keeping me from doing my job. And this person was appointed, let's not forget, by the Trump administration.

KEILAR: Yes. We have heard -- look, I've heard a defense of DNI Maguire from Mike Rogers, and I think this is important that he's not seen as someone who is, for lack of a better term, a partisan hack. He is in an extraordinary situation. I mean, Mike Rogers told us he saw many whistleblower complaints come across his desk. He never, in his tenure as Chairman of the Intel House Committee, saw one that had to do with the president. So it's very unusual, to say the least.

Gloria, Irvin, thank you so much to both of you.

There are some massive protests erupting here in the U.S. and around the world as crowds call attention to the climate crisis. You're looking at live pictures in Washington. We're going to take you there.

Plus, HUD Secretary Ben Carson accused of making dismissive comments about transgender people angering staff members.



KEILAR: This is a rare moment that we are witnessing from Australia.

Millions are gathering across the globe for one cause, which is to demand action on climate change, and joining this wave of people, children who left their schools, workers who left their jobs to participate in a climate strike day.

CNN is covering this coast to coast. Scott McLean is in Seattle for us, Rene Marsh is in D.C. and we begin with Bill Weir in New York.


Tell us what you're seeing, Bill.