Acting DNI defends handling of whistleblower complaint

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 26, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-CALIF., CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We were presented with the most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office.

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I believe that everything here in this matter is totally unprecedented. I want to stress that I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout.

REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-CALIF., HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: The inspector general found the whistleblower displayed arguable political bias against Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT: It's another witch hunt, here we go again. It's Adam Schiff and his crew making up stories and sitting there like pious whatever you want to call them. It's really a disgrace. It's a terrible thing for our country.

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BRET BAIER, HOST: The first day of this testimony with the director of national intelligence spurred response from the president not only there talking to reporters, but on Twitter where he continued "Liddle Adam Schiff, who has worked unsuccessfully for three years to hurt the Republican Party and President has just said that the whistleblower, even though he or she only had secondhand information, is credible. How can that be with zero info and a known bias? Democrats scam!"

With that, let's bring in our panel, Charles Hurt, opinion editor for "The Washington Times," Mary Anne Marsh, former senior advisor to Senator John Kerry, and Bill McGurn, main street columnist for "The Wall Street Journal." OK, Bill, you heard the testimony today. What was your take away?

BILL MCGURN, CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's just a drama without any there there. I'm a simple guy, you want to impeach the president? Impeach the president, have a full vote of the House and go ahead and do it. That at least enforces some accountability. But I think we're having, again, all the drama without the real deal.

And it's going to make a difference later, because if they really do want to do the oversight and so forth and have and get documents, if it's an impeachment inquiry, they have a lot more power because it's considered judicial proceeding. If it's just oversight, they're going to be denied on this. I think -- and the question to this, for example, the law, I don't see the courts going against Donald Trump on this. I don't think he's part of the intelligence community.

BAIER: Speaking of that, the Speaker made the case that she said the DNI broke the law.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF., HOUSE SPEAKER: I think what the DNI did was broke the law. The law is very clear. The DNI shall convey the complaint to the intelligence committees.

JOSEPH MAGUIRE, ACTING DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It was not stonewalling. I didn't receive direction from anybody. I was just trying to work for the process and the law the way it was written. I have to comply with the way the law is, not the way some people would like it to be.

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BAIER: Mary Anne, your take on today?

MARY ANNE MARSH, FORMER SEN. JOHN KERRY SENIOR ADVISER: So everything comes down to a phone call, and there are two parts to this. The first is the phone call that Donald Trump is alleged to have made involves solicitation, acceptance, or receiving a donation from a foreign national in conjunction with an election. If that's the case, that's against the law, that is illegal, it's the FEC law.

But it's the report that John Roberts put at the top of the hour where he talked about the White House saying they are taking the transcripts and trying to button them up versus what Nancy Pelosi is claiming is a cover- up. It was a transfer of the call to the coded computer server that I think is going to be the biggest problem for this White House. If people witnessed this call and were so troubled by it that they then transferred it to a separate computer system because it was politically damaging, and then they covered it up doing that, that is a big problem. And were there other instances? I think that to me was the most shocking part of the day.

BAIER: From this complaint, and you rightly say if, if it happened. And that is where we are in this. If certain things have transpired, we are getting indications that may not have happened, number one. Number two, that if it did happen, it happened as a result of calls being leaked as a precaution, not as a hiding the ball. That's their perception on the inside.

CHARLES HURT, OPINION EDITOR, "WASHINGTON TIMES": And of course, we also spent the day listening to a guy we were told yesterday or in the last couple of days had threatened to resign or was going to resign over protests about this very issue, which turned out not to be true.

But the other thing is I think Democrats have a real hard time making the case that Donald Trump tried to cover something up when he and he alone made the decision to release this information, release not only the transcript of the phone call, but also the whistleblower report, which is not -- I don't think it's damning, but it's also not exactly a flattering thing either. And so if it's a cover-up it's kind of the worst cover of ever.

But throughout the whole process, Democrats have -- they are trying to thread this weird needle. For three years, we've been listening to Democrats say that they want to impeach Donald Trump for not taking Russian meddling in the 2016 elections seriously enough, and then evidence surfaces showing that he's trying to get to the bottom of meddling in the 2016 election, and now they want to impeach him for that. I feel like Democrats, they need to pick one or the other.

BAIER: Sure. They say that part of this call was about 2020 and his upcoming opponent. Take a listen to the president describing this whistleblower, what he thinks of him or her.

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TRUMP: Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call. He never saw the call -- heard something, and decided that he or she or whoever the hell it is -- sort of like almost a spy. I want to know who's the person that gave the whistleblower, who's the person that gave the whistleblower the information? Because that's close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little bit differently that we do now.

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BAIER: Help or hurt the president's cause there?

MCGURN: Look, I think the president has a point. He doesn't trust the intelligence community, and I think he has good reason to. Remember, we had two chiefs, I believe John Brennan and Mr. Clapper, calling him a Russian agent on television. The calls -- if they move the calls, part of that was they'd been leaked before. The conversation with the prime minister of Australia and the president of Mexico.

And to Charlie's point, it's very interesting to compare the president's reaction here and Joe Biden. Joe Biden, if you bring of his son Hunter, that's unfair, don't ask questions, starts attacking the reporter, won't tell us what happened. I'd like to see if there was any advice at the time to him from the administration about that. Where President Trump released a transcript and now the complaint.

And we go back on the complaint. I don't think a court will say that the law applies to the president. He's not a member of the intelligence community, and I just don't --

BAIER: You don't think the shall --

MCGURN: I think this is one of those things that's all a lot of noise now, but then if we get to a court they wouldn't do it. That's why I come back to if Democrats really believe this is -- impeach him, vote to impeach.

BAIER: Here's the impeachment process, the initiation process, six committees conduct investigations. Next stop usually initiated when a resolution leaves the Judiciary Committee. Judiciary conducts an investigate, can mark-up articles of impeachment for a full House vote. If the House approves the impeachment resolution, it heads to the Senate, then for a trial. Do you sense, Mary Anne, that we are going to get to that very point where there is a vote? Are we heading there? Do they have the votes?

MARSH: I don't think we know that today, but I think you are seeing the possibility of it, because people are looking into every element of this. If Trump made the call that I referenced about solicitation, that is illegal. There are many other actions underneath that that are illegal. You could see how this ends up to a vote in the House. But what is most interesting to me was the unanimous vote in the Senate to release the whistleblower complaint. And you're starting to see some cracks in Republicans, including on the Republican House side. So I think this looks more possible than people think.

BAIER: But the DNI said today that he didn't stonewall, he just delayed, and he moved the complaint, and actually the inspector general sent it to the DOJ. The DOJ then sent it to the FBI, which than the determination was made that there wasn't an illegal act committed in campaign finance.

MARSH: So the DNI process when it says shall provide to Congress doesn't stop at the DOJ, stop at the White House, and get a bunch of opinions. It should have gone directly to Congress. The problem here is the same thing happened with the Mueller report. Mueller gave the report to Barr. Barr made it his own version. Not only did he put it to the Congress weeks later, to this very day we do not have the full Mueller report, the evidence, or the documents associated with it.

HURT: I have a slightly different read on that unanimous vote. Obviously, there are some never-Trumpers, anti-Trumpers in the Republican Party. There always and there always will be. I take that as being a confidence among Republicans that they want the stuff out there because, first of all, they believe in airing the information, but also because, like Donald Trump, they're not concerned about the truth being out there because it doesn't amount to impeachment in the end.

BAIER: We shall see. Obviously, following every aspect of it.

Next up, wrapping up why we originally came up here, the United Nations General Assembly week here in New York.

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TRUMP: The prime minister and I will sign a document outlining the significant steps we are taking towards a fair and reciprocal trade agreement.

SHINZO ABE JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Under this agreement, we will be able to bring benefits to everyone in Japan as well as in the United States, namely consumers, producers, and workers, so the outcome of this negotiation is actually a win-win solution for Japan and the United States.

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BAIER: The signing of a trade deal here at the United Nations with Japan, the beginning of that process. This as the president met with a lot of leaders here at the U.N. He listed them off, a lot of individual leaders as well as the western hemisphere leaders about Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru. A lot of interesting conversations.

We are back with the panel. Charlie, obviously the news overtook this moment, but it was kind of a big week.

HURT: Yes, and I think, quite frankly, it sort of a dangerous situation I think Democrats could find themselves in because when you're talking about things like the situation in Iran or the situation with these trade deals, and it's important to remember President Trump wins or loses based on the economy, and the reason that a lot of us think he's going to win in 2020 is because the economy is doing very well and he's working very hard to get some of these trade deals squared away.

And to have Congress sitting there refusing to do anything about the USMCA, the trade deal with Canada and Mexico, when I think that it's clear that a majority of Democrats will go along with it -- the fact they are spending their time doing what they did today instead of that really makes them look bad, and makes Trump look serious and good.

BAIER: Mary Anne?

MARSH: I think they can do both.

What was striking to me was Trump's speech. I think many people thought he would talk about Iran more and the situation in the Middle East. He gave a very nationalistic speech, extolling nationalism at the U.N., which was founded in the wake of World War II that was brought on by nationalism. And I thought that was a very striking speech. You've never seen another president of the United States give a speech like that at the U.N. And I think it says a lot about where Donald Trump is today and what's going on around the world with so many leaders embracing populism.

BAIER: They describe it, Bill, as American exceptionalism, as fighting for your own nation, about fighting globalists and all the things that hurt a country and their ability --

MCGURN: I agree with Mary Anne, it's an odd thing to see a president do this, but I think he's doing what he campaigned to do, and he's saying I'm going into the belly of the beast and I'm going to make my case. I'm not going to shy away from it.

I will say one thing that got lost in the news, a pet interest of mine, the president had some strong language on Hong Kong, warning the Chinese. Before he talked about the trade deal, this time he mentioned the joint declaration. It's very important because in a few days we are going to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party in China, and people are expecting things not to go well in Hong Kong. It was interesting that the president had a paragraph or two on that.

BAIER: He pressed a couple of fronts. Iran, talked about the Saudis, and obviously there were two different takes on the Saudi oil attack, the Iranians saying they weren't behind it, everyone else, according to Secretary Pompeo, signed on.

HURT: And it's very clear from the Iranian denials that Iran is doing everything they can to try to draw us into some sort of hot action because they think that will improve the situation.

But I have to just make one slight disagreement about what started World War II. It was not American nationalism, it was Nazi fascism.

MARSH: Overall. I didn't mean America --

HURT: I know that, but it wasn't nationalism. Healthy American nationalism is a good thing, and that's not what started World War II.

MARSH: The U.N. was --

BAIER: Is that the battle we're going to see?

MARSH: Yes, and I think it's a global battle. And I think you're seeing - - what's so interesting to me is the way Trump campaigns and nationalism and populism in the United States and you start to look at the Democratic primary where you start to hear that -- Elizabeth Warren and the blue- collar workers and the hardworking middle America workers, where Trump and someone like Warren could meet, that's going to be a fascinating debate.

BAIER: It will, and we'll cover it all. Panel, thank you.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That is it for the “Special Report” in New York, back in D.C. tomorrow, fair, balanced, and still unafraid. "The Story" hosted by Martha MacCallum starts after a short break.

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