Return to Transcripts main page


Federal Judge Rules Impeachment Inquiry Is Legal; Why Did President Trump Change His Mind on Ukraine Aid?; Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) Is Interviewed About John Bolton's Attorney Discussing His Possible Testimony; Pentagon Papers Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg Says Whistleblower's Identity And Testimony Not Needed; Trump Organization Open To Offers For Controversial D.C. Hotel; President Obama: "There Is Nothing Weak About Being Honorable"; President T rump's T.V. Attorney Rudy Giuliani Talks Need For Money In Accidental Butt-Dial To NBC Reporter. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired October 25, 2019 - 20:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.

And we start this hour with breaking news. A major win for House Democrats tonight as key arguments President Trump and his allies have depended upon to argue that the impeachment inquiry process is unfair or unconstitutional have just gone up in judicial smoke. A federal court judge tonight has not only given the green light for House Democrats to obtain the grand jury proceedings from the Mueller investigation for their own probe, but she has firmly established that, yes, the current impeachment inquiry is absolutely legitimate.

And along the way, Chief Judge Beryl Howell eviscerated arguments of her decision. The House Republicans have argued that since the full House hasn't voted to start the impeachment proceedings and the inquiry isn't legitimate in their words.

But the judge called that argument, quote, cherry-picked and incomplete. She noted the House Judiciary Committee began considering impeachment against President Andrew Johnson before the full House later approved that resolution. And here's what she says of the Justice Department's rationale for how it says it tried to find a workable solution.

Quote, "These arguments smack of farce. The reality is that DOJ and the White House have been openly stonewalling the House's efforts to get information by subpoena and by agreement, and the White House has flatly stated that the administration will not cooperate with congressional requests for information," unquote.

Phil Mattingly joins us now from Capitol Hill tonight with the latest reaction.

Phil, what's the word there tonight? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's really

one word from a lengthy statement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that kind of best encapsulates what I've been hearing from Democrats in the wake of that hearing. That's how they view the 75-page opinion by the district court judge, and it is really is for two particular reasons, and they definitely intersect. The first is the actual nuts and bolts of the impeachment inquiry that is currently under way.

You noted a couple of the key things here. The White House, the White House counsel's office has made clear their opposition to pretty much agreeing to anything, whether it's witnesses, whether it's documents, anything at all is based on the fact they don't believe it's a valid or legitimate inquiry. This makes clear or gives Democrats something to point to, saying it is exactly that.

Why does that matter? That will be helpful as they move forward when it comes to trying to get witness testimony, trying to get documents. Obviously, there's still a fight going on right now. There are subpoenas issued today for three new Trump administration officials. No expectation they're actually going to show up.

Now they have this to point to the others. John, you noted, Republicans have made a central part of their argument the fact there was never a full House vote taken on an actual impeachment inquiry. This goes directly in the face of that, undercuts that completely.

And you can bet press release after press release, public statement after public statement from Democrats from here on out will be pointing to this opinion, saying not only is this inquiry legitimate, but it should move forward, and the Trump administration should be compelled to cooperate at least in some grounds as this moves forward in the weeks ahead, John.

BERMAN: So, Phil, has the president responded to this ruling yet?

MATTINGLY: You know the president is tweeting because it's a day that ends in "y," but not on this ruling itself.

Now, the Justice Department did release a brief statement saying they're reviewing the opinion and it's worth noting while the opinion states that the Justice Department has to turn over the grand jury information by October 30th, the expectation is there will be an appeal, and this could play out. It could get all the way to the Supreme Court. So, we are waiting to hear from the White House, waiting to hear from the president specifically on this issue.

But I think you can't underscore enough the fact that there was a memo from the White House counsel saying that this inquiry was illegitimate. This ruling goes directly against that, so the White House is going to have to figure out to some degree another message and another strategy, John.

BERMAN: Phil, as you've been noting, the president has been tweeting about iPhone design tonight, but not this yet.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it. For analysis of a decision that upholds a precedent the judge and

others call the Watergate roadmap, which helped lead to the downfall of Richard Nixon, we have CNN contributor, former Nixon White House counsel and Watergate whistle-blower John Dean, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, and CNN senior political analyst and adviser of four former presidents, David Gergen.

And, Elliot, I want to start with you. There two separate things that happened here, and, yes, this was specifically about the Mueller documents, but put that aside because legally speaking, I think the more important part of this has to do with legitimizing the current House impeachment inquiry. How significant of a ruling is that?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's profoundly significant because what you have is a court saying now that what an impeachment proceeding is, is a judicial proceeding. Now, that's relevant in the law. The grand jury's secrecy rules, so, you know, materials can't -- everything that comes out of the grand jury has to be secret, right, except when you have a judicial proceeding.

Now, there was an open legal -- to some people believe it's an open question as to whether an impeachment proceeding is a judicial proceeding.


Moreover, she spends a lot of time in the opinion making the case very, very, very clearly that it is -- number one, it's a judicial proceeding, but most importantly that the process didn't require a vote. If you notice, Congressman Doug Collins is the ranking member of the House Judiciary, the chief -- Republican House Judiciary -- make -- keeps making this point and made the point of pleading to the court that because the process is flawed, because the Democrats have not voted specifically to open an impeachment proceeding, the whole thing is for naught.

She shoots that argument down and very clearly says this is a completely legitimate impeachment proceeding regardless of the nature of the vote that started it.

BERMAN: Again, if you read the 75-page decision, it seems she goes even further than she would need to in order to make that case above and beyond.

So, David, the political side here. What kind of political boost does this give to the Democrats?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Significant. Significant. This judge has taken a sledgehammer to the stonewall that the administration has tried to erect and maintain. And I think that's a big deal.

We -- frankly, the decisions themselves, I think, are rather easy to make. It's very clear from law and from precedent that there's no requirement to have to vote on the legitimacy or to have a formal vote opening a proceedings. So I just think that was a false argument to start with.

The grand jury is also pretty established in law. But what we know is there will be -- I'm sure there will be appeals. I'm sure they'll take time, and what the Republicans will argue, John, aha, an Obama judge has now overturned a couple of things.

Just wait until we get to some of those Trump judges up the line from the appeals process.

BERMAN: John, the historical precedent is interesting, right? In 1974, the courts did allow the Watergate committee to get its hand on this grand jury material, and that was important.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Very important. It was the so-called roadmap. And just recently this very same judge just released the last of that roadmap if you will. She made it public. She's the chief judge. As a result, she has jurisdiction over the grand jury. That's the practice in certainly this circuit or the D.C. circuit.

And, John, what strikes me most about the opinion is she's very firm in it, and she's just saying, Justice Department, you're messing around. You're not playing square. And she smacks them down.

And she also lays out, as you mentioned, a roadmap of sorts. She goes through chapter and verse where it's important that the Congress get the grand jury information. They could just match it up. And she said this is what's missing from this story, and when you read her opinion, suddenly you come up to the word "redacted," you realize how vital these words are and how powerful once the Congress gets those.

BERMAN: Eliot, David made the point that this will be appealed. It will almost certainly be appealed, and I have to believe that the Supreme Court will see this sooner rather than later. But when you're talking about the constitutional law aspect of it here and even the Trump-appointed judges like Neil Gorsuch on the court, they like to hew to the text of the Constitution. There really isn't ambiguity in the text of the Constitution here.

WILLIAMS: Yes. I hope so, and it seems -- it's pretty clear on its face, John. It says this too. It's a pretty clear decision. Congress' power to conduct an impeachment is laid out in the Constitution, telling Congress that they don't have the authority to do so because of some fabricated notion that they need to have a vote is nonsense and just not accurate.

So the law is clear. I would think that right or left-leaning judges ought to come out that way. Judge Howell's opinion was meticulous, and, frankly, she actually goes back to quoting the Federalist papers and going back to that original meaning of the Constitution. So, yes, I do think it ought to be appealed. That's the right legal step to take. It does seem relatively straightforward.

BERMAN: So, David, there is a temptation here for the Democrats and maybe, according to some, a dangerous temptation, which is that if this is upheld, they would have access to the grand jury material from the Mueller investigation. That's not the investigation that's happening right now getting all the publicity with Ukraine here. And there are some people think they should be focused exclusively on the president pressuring a foreign country for political gain, which is what's happened on that phone call with the Ukrainian president.

GERGEN: I don't agree with that argument, and it does seem to me that this ruling today helps us to recall that there is a second potential charge that's going to be made by the House. One is going to be on the Ukrainian abuse of power argument, and then the other will be based on obstruction of justice during the Mueller proceedings.


And, you know, it's important not to forget, though, the whole question of obstruction, right? You know two or three months ago, we were all saying they've got a very strong case on obstruction. So, it's well possible that you could have two charges now come out of the impeachment process, and that might strengthen the hand of the administration with regard to the final vote.

BERMAN: The Mueller report laid out 10 possible areas of obstruction there.

John Dean, this Republican Party, Republicans in the House specifically, the ones who illegally stormed the SCIF earlier this week, I don't know if they're going to be swayed by the logic of a federal court judge, do you?

DEAN: They better not go down and storm the courthouse. They won't have the same result. They won't go home that night.

You know, I'm hopeful that there is some action taken in the House to reprimand those members who really broke the rules blatantly. That is not conduct becoming a member of Congress, and I can't believe that the speaker is not going to address that at some point, and she's not going to tolerate it.

BERMAN: John Dean, Elliot Williams, David Gergen, thank you very much.

Still to come tonight, John Bolton's attorneys are talking with House investigators about a possible deposition. We'll speak with one member of the House Oversight Committee about the state of the impeachment inquiry.

And also, the eulogy of Congressman Elijah Cummings and President Obama's maybe not so subtle hit on President Trump.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.




BERMAN: Even as a federal judge tonight tells us the impeachment inquiry is legal, there are still questions about the focus of the inquiry that do remain a mystery. One, why President Trump ultimately released that military aid to Ukraine that he'd held up for months, which CNN now reports came at about the same time as a phone call from a Republican senator and the firing of the president's national security adviser.

Sara Murray has done some terrific reporting on this, joins us now with more.

Sara, what are you learning here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we know the president was under a lot of pressure by the beginning of September to release this hold on funds. And we're learning that one of the last things he did before finally relenting was speaking to Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

And on this phone call on September 11th, Rob Portman basically made the case that if you don't move to release this money essentially now, you are going to lose it because the fiscal year is going to end. Ukraine is not going to get these funds, and it's going to be a big problem. And at the end of the call, the president hung up, and he ended up turning to his aides and saying, OK, release the money. This actually came as a big surprise to officials from Washington all the way to Ukraine because the president had been so adamant for months on sitting on this aid and holding this money, John.

BERMAN: So if you look at the calendar for September, it's so jam- packed with these extraordinary developments. The president released the aid to Ukraine the day after he fired John Bolton, his National Security adviser.

So did one have anything to do with the other?

MURRAY: This is obviously one of the questions investigators are going to be asking if they can get John Bolton in front of them. You know, we don't have a clear answer to that at this point, but we do know that the timing is certainly interesting. And we know that throughout this, John Bolton had been saying that Ukraine should get the money. He was adamant this money should be released, and he was one of the people who was pressuring the president as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the Pentagon, the State Department saying what is the holdup here? Just release these funds.

So, that is certainly something investigators are going to want to know about.

BERMAN: And we talk about timing, we talk about this extraordinary calendar, there is an aspect that has timing with a possible stink -- which is the White House was made aware of the whistle-blower complaint before the date of releasing the aid, correct?

MURRAY: That's right. And for a while, it was just lawyers at the White House that knew about this. But in the beginning of September, right around this time, essentially the same week, the president ultimately relented on this. More people at the White House began to learn about this whistle-blower complaint, began to learn about the broader concerns around the way the president was dealing with Ukraine.

Now, we don't know if that ultimately played a part in the president's decision to move forward and release these funds, but it certainly again is interesting timing and just another indication that at least others in the White House were certainly feeling this pressure, John.

BERMAN: Is there an official version to why the president changed his mind? What does the White House say?

MURRAY: There are many official versions, John. For this story today, the White House decided not to comment. But in the past they've pointed to a national security review that the president ordered and said they had to wait for that to be completed. The reason that doesn't make sense, though, is that a review like that had already been conducted back in may before the president ever decided to put a hold on those funds.

Mick Mulvaney last weekend went on TV and said, well, actually the Office of Management and Budget had to conduct a review. We had to make sure that was done before we could release the funds. But sources told me and my colleagues that actually that review was a pretty cursory poll of all the aid other countries give to Ukraine and that wasn't the kind of thing that was going to be holding up these funds for weeks.

So, once again, it seems like this decision, much like the decision to freeze the aid, the decision to release it came squarely down to President Trump.

BERMAN: I think this is such an interesting thread.

Sara Murray reporting, it's been terrific here, thanks so much for being with us.

For more now, I'm joined by Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence who sits on the House Oversight Committee.

Congresswoman thanks so much for being with us. Have you and your colleagues been able to determine exactly why President Trump decided to release the aid when he did?

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE (D-MI): That's why these hearings and inquiries are so important, because the president is challenged with the truth. And now we have a whole administration doing everything they can to support things that he's said that are not true, and we are just in this journey of finding the truth. The truth matters, and accountability will come when we get to the truth.

BERMAN: The White House had been made aware of the whistle-blower complaint prior to the releasing of the aid. A coincidence? What have you seen that suggests it may or may not be? LAWRENCE: Well, when I sat and listened to Taylor's testimony, it was

so detailed and so clear of how passionate he was about trying to find out the reason why this is happening. That's why Morrison is going to be very important to this inquiry.

And what we're doing -- it's like a puzzle. We're putting the pieces together despite the temper tantrums and the unprofessional behavior that we saw last week -- this week. We are continuing to put the pieces together, and we are on a committed time line. That's why the hearings and inquiries we will continue tomorrow, Saturday to do the work.

Nancy Pelosi has been really clear that she does not want this to keep lingering on. And if we can get Bolton in there to talk, we will hopefully get the last pieces of the puzzle.

BERMAN: Let's talk about John Bolton because we understand your committee is in talks with his people. What is the status of that? And I'm curious. Did you reach out to him, or did he reach out to you?

LAWRENCE: This was a reach-out for us because we know that he has information that we need, again, to close some of the missing parts and to connect. And we are hoping that he will be an honest man under oath and be able to answer the questions. We are -- we have not gotten an answer. We're working on that.

And I'm telling you that it's -- it's very clear that the president had an ulterior motive. You don't want to call it quid pro quo, but he clearly had an agenda that he was trying to push that had nothing to do for our national security and nothing to do with the checks and balances of awarding the funds that had been appropriated for Ukraine.

BERMAN: You said you hadn't heard back from John Bolton's people yet. Do you have a sense of which way it's leaning at this point?

LAWRENCE: I haven't been in that room to see if there is pushback, but I do know that we are actively engaged and going back and forth, and we need his testimony, and we really want to find a way to bring him forward. And we -- we're very excited about the information we're receiving.

I do want to say this because it keeps being said that, you know, Donald Trump is painting himself -- our president is painting himself as the victim. This is not about beating up Donald Trump. This is about checks and balances of our democracy, our republic, our government.

And this is a clear case of a president sitting in the office with the power and all of the authority that he has, misusing that power. Our Constitution, our government is set up with checks and balances. Shame on us as a country if we don't fulfill our requirements.

BERMAN: It's interesting that you brought up the president painting himself as the victim because today he said something in a speech in South Carolina when he was speaking at a historically Black college about criminal justice reform. And he seemed to make an historical comparison between himself and the experience of African-Americans in this country.

He said, you know, I have my own experience. You see, it's a terrible thing going on in our country, he said. It's an investigation in search of a crime.

I wonder, in your mind, do the parallels he's seeming to draw here suggesting he's being treated unfairly the way that African-Americans have historically?

LAWRENCE: The president made a very insulting comparison recently, comparing the process of checks and balances, the power that's bestowed upon Congress to fulfill as a lynching. I'm sure that the president cannot go back and find his forefathers where a rope was put around his neck and he was hung from a free.

He continues to use this analogy that he's a victim, and to be insensitive to the fact that -- to use that term and then to stand in a black college and to talk about he too has been a victim, it's -- it's interesting. If you're innocent, then go through the process and prove your innocence.


BERMAN: Congresswoman Lawrence, thank you so much for being with us tonight.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. So, should the Ukraine whistle-blower testify before Congress as the impeachment investigation ramps up? Just ahead, I'm going to speak with one of America's most storied whistle- blowers to get his take.


BERMAN: The lawyers for the whistle-blower whose anonymous complaint about Ukraine triggered the impeachment investigation say there's no need for their client to testify in person or even in secret. Writing in an op-ed for "The Washington Post," the attorneys say protecting the identity of the whistle-blower is paramount and there's no additional information to deliver about that phone call President Trump made to Ukrainian President Zelensky.


BERMAN: "Exposing the identity of the whistleblower and attacking our client would do nothing to undercut the validity of the complaint's allegation, they say. What it would do, however, is put that individual and their family at risk of harm."

Some perspective now from one of this country's really legendary whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg, who of course leaked the Pentagon Papers sparking a landmark Supreme Court decision that allowed the papers to become public. Dan, the whistleblower's attorney says the person's identity is no longer relevant. What do you make of that argument?

DANIEL ELLSBERG, PENTAGON PAPERS WHISTLEBLOWER: It makes sense. What they've revealed, what she has revealed or he, is what's at stake now and there seems to be a lot of corroborating evidence for that now. So it's the -- it's not the person, it's the information and that seems to be out now.

BERMAN: It's not the person, it's the information. That information is out now, you say. So does this person, in your mind, even if the identity is kept secret, need to testify?

ELLSBERG: President Trump has put a bullseye on the back of that person by calling them a traitor, a spy and almost calling on his vigilante constituency to take care of this troublesome person for him.

So I think that every effort should be made to keep that person's identity secret for their own safety, which I think is very much at stake. I hope that she or he will not have to testify.

On the other hand, having gone this far, I have a feeling they're courageous enough to do it if it's necessary.

BERMAN: You obviously had a much different situation with the Pentagon Papers. You turned yourself in. You were prosecuted. It's entirely possible that this whistleblower is thinking, hey, I don't want to go through anything close to what Daniel Ellsberg went through. Should they be thinking that?

ELLSBERG: They're using, whoever it is, is using a path that didn't exist in my time for Whistleblower Protection Act. But had they stuck entirely to that, the act wasn't going to work as planned.

The President and specifically the inspector general turned to the CIA inspector general, turned to the White House, and they were managing to bottle it up, to keep it locked up in effect. Had it not been for other people doing unauthorized exposures that is leaks, the Congress wouldn't have known this complaint existed.

In terms of other analogies, my wife used to worry that I was in physical danger under President Nixon. I wasn't. I'd worked in Vietnam. I knew that people who embarrassed the U.S. government were in danger there, but I didn't think it was a problem for U.S. citizens like me. I was wrong, she was right.

On May 3rd, 1972, a dozen CIA assets came up from Miami with orders to incapacitate me totally, and those orders came out of the White House. So, they didn't do it because they felt they were being set up as patsies. But that's why I say that this whistleblower's safety is a problem, is being in danger just as it was then.

BERMAN: Dan, you have an interesting take based on your own experience about one of the arguments that's being made against this whistleblower, that this whistleblower doesn't have any firsthand knowledge of the infractions that allegedly took place. Is no firsthand knowledge in your mind and based on your experience actually a credible argument to make against a whistleblower?

ELLSBERG: That's an absurd statement. It doesn't have any legal bearing for whistleblower protection, moral bearing, ethical, anything else. I had a lot of firsthand knowledge in Vietnam. I saw that war up close and personal. And I had knowledge -- firsthand knowledge in the White House that the President Lyndon Johnson was violating his oath of office by lying and sending us to a wrongful war and I was violating my oath along with him by keeping my mouth shut about that.

But most of what I put out of the 7,000 top secret pages were not after all my firsthand knowledge. It was documentary evidence and that wasn't the last word either. But it was good information. It had nothing to do with firsthand knowledge. The point is that there has to be an examination of that evidence as to whether the President has, in fact, violated their oath of office.

And I would say that every person who listened in on that phone call and heard the President committing a crime with 12 persons listening in and every one of them who kept their mouths shut about that who ordered that information locked up was violating their oath of office and is impeachable as a result. That applies to Secretary of State Pompeo to start with.


BERMAN: Daniel Ellsberg, we thank you very much for your time.

ELLSBERG: Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next, the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., it's a favorite spot for foreign leaders and associates of the President, but now the Trump family may be willing to sell its lease. The reason, ahead.


BERMAN: After years of scrutiny, the Trump family is considering selling the lease of its controversial Washington, D.C. hotel. Just down the street from the White House, that hotel is a favorite location for foreign leaders and Trump associates. This has led to several lawsuits accusing the President of violating the constitution's emoluments clause by accepting payment from foreign governments.

According to personal financial records, the President has reported earning $80 million in revenue from the hotel while in office, but now the Trump Organization might unload it. The reason, Eric Trump claims, "People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel and therefore we may be willing to sell."

Joining me now for his take on this is Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush. Full disclosure, Richard, has been affiliated with the campaign legal center of left leading group that frequently criticizes the Trump administration and he's involved in the pending emoluments lawsuit CREW versus Trump. Richard, you say the Trump family selling the hotel could pose the very same type of ethical issues that owning it does. Explain that.


RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER W.H. ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first of all, who is he going to sell it to? Putin? Erdogan? Is he going to sell it to the Koch brothers? I mean, we don't know who is going to buy the hotel and how much they're going to pay for it.

But if this hotel is sold to anybody using foreign government money, that would be a violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution right then and there. If this hotel is sold to anybody for more than its fair market value, then that's going to be gratuitous transfer to Donald Trump. And that money could go right into his campaign and that involves campaign finance laws as well as the possibility of a quid pro quo. So we need to find out who they're going to sell the hotel to and for how much.

But this should have been done in 2016 when he won the election. And I got to say, this is not a right wing or a left wing issue. When I was with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, we did sue the president because of this hotel under the emoluments clause of the constitution.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld our lawsuit and our standing to sue the plaintiffs who were co-plaintiffs in that suit. And there are two other emoluments clause cases because of foreign government money. This hotel should have been sold in 2016 along with the rest of the Trump business empire, we wouldn't have these problems.

BERMAN: So the two issues you raised really are the two key issues here, which is selling it to whom and for how much. Why are those issues so important?

PAINTER: Well, if the person buying the hotel uses any foreign government money, right then and there, emoluments clause violation, it can't be done. If its private money, the question is, is someone going to come in there and pay too much for that hotel to give a gift to Donald Trump?

And if that money is plowed into the Trump reelection campaign, we have a campaign finance issue because we do have limits on campaign contributions. Even if not, there's the question of a quid pro quo. Is somebody going to buy that hotel to take it off Donald Trump's hands and expect something in return from the United States government?

We already have a man who wants to open a sulfide mine up Northern Minnesota who rents a house to Jared and Ivanka. He bought a $10 million house in Colorado and rents it to Jared and Ivanka and he wants to open this sulfide mine. Everybody is going into real estate deals with the Trumps who want something out of the United States government. BERMAN: You do have listed several possible ethical concerns about selling it. You still, though, think that that's better than continuing to operate it, correct?

PAINTER: Well, that certainly has violated the emoluments clause every single day it's open, so President Trump needs to do something. He should have sold it three years ago. But if he can find a buyer who is going to pay a fair price who doesn't want something from the United States government in return, all right, let's see him do it.

But if he sells it to somebody who wants some sort of quid pro quo, who is trying to destroy the environment, who wants a defense contract or whatever it is, that's going to create more controversy.

So let's just see what happens with it, but Donald Trump is in a lot of trouble that has nothing to do with that hotel and it looks like he may get impeached. That's part of what's going on here. I think he just wants to minimize the controversy as best he can.

BERMAN: We will see. We'll see what happens there. That's playing out on its own course. But there are people who are speculating that what the Trump Organization, the Trump family is doing is perhaps hedging against the possibility of maybe an electoral defeat because the theory is that the hotel won't be worth as much if Donald Trump isn't president. Do you see something like that as being possible?

PAINTER: I think that's very possible. It won't be worth as much if Mike Pence is president for the last year of Donald Trump's term. And that's looking increasingly likely given the fact that there's a lot of nervousness among Republicans in the Senate about what's going on.

And I wouldn't be surprised if a number of them told him at least get rid of the hotel and clean up your act because this is turning out to be a very bad situation for Donald Trump and anybody who supports him.

BERMAN: Well, we will see. So far it seems like they're a long way to getting the 20 Republican votes they would need to convict him in the Senate if he is impeach. We'll see. That's a ways away. But Richard Painter, I appreciate you coming on and helping us understand what's going on tonight. Thank you, sir.

PAINTER: Thank you.

BERMAN: So President Obama was one of the speakers today at the funeral of Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. Up next, was he also delivering a message to President Trump?



BERMAN: You know, it's been some time since we heard former President Obama -- former President Obama speak in public. Today, he was one of many eulogist at the funeral of Congressman Elijah Cummings who at his desk with the chair of House Oversight Committee. Language came thought they all kind of great deal when a current or former president speaks or used to. So listen to some of the words President Obama spoke. We're going to play an excerpt, not a television sound bite but a whole expert, and decide for yourself if you think he's directed his comments at anyone in particular.


OBAMA: There is something about daughters and their father. And I was thinking, I'd want my daughters to know how much I loved them, but I'd also want them to know that being a strong man includes being kind. That there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing -- there is nothing weak about being honorable. You're not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.


I was sitting here, and I was just noticing the Honorable Elijah E. Cummings. And, you know, this is a title that we confer on all kinds of people who get elected to public office. We're supposed to introduce them as honorable. But Elijah Cummings was honorable before he was elected to office. There's the difference. There's a difference if you were honorable and treated others honorably outside the limelight.


BERMAN: Joining me now, former speechwriter for President Obama, David Litt, author of, "Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years." David thanks so much for being with us.

So, to the people who did listen to President Obama's speech today and heard beyond the really lovely praise for Congressman Elijah Cummings, some people did hear an indictment of President Trump. What do you say to those people?

DAVID LITT, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, John, thank you for having me tonight. And I have to say, I don't work for President Obama anymore, but I can pretty much guarantee you, he was not thinking about President Trump while writing a eulogy.

That said, we have reached a really strange point in American life where if you say nice things about someone, if you say someone has integrity, or they're honest, or they're honorable, or they're not a racist, or they're respectful to women, people say, whoa, you know, you're attacking the President. And that just says something really -- pretty remarkable about our President and about where we are as a country right now.

BERMAN: When he says that being nice doesn't make you a sucker or when he goes on the riff about the meaning of honorable, you don't think in any way that was meant as some kind of a comparison?

LITT: I think that we're at a moment when there are a lot of people who are not living up to their responsibilities. I would point out, this is my own opinion, that it's not just Trump, right? When you talk about people who are not acting honorably, think about the number of people in this country, the number of Republicans in Congress, who right now are willing to risk their careers in order to make sure that Donald Trump, the worst role model you could imagine for your kids, remains the President of the United States.

So this question of honor, this question of what is our legacy going to be, who are we as a country, questions that are bigger than politics, those are questions that I think President Obama has always addressed in his speeches and absolutely did today.

BERMAN: What's the process like, and specifically I mean in reference to these words and things that I was just talking about there, when President Obama is coming up with that or in the speechwriting process, do you think he at least knows that some in the audience will perceive it to be a comparison or a reference even if he may not mean it as such?

LITT: Here's what I would say about all of the speeches that we worked on for President Obama. In my experience, the big question -- he was always pushing us to ask bigger questions, questions that transcended politics, and the big question is, who are we as a country?

And I think that question, if you can write a eulogy that identifies what makes someone special but that also identifies what makes us special, then I think as a speechwriter or as a speech giver, then you've done a very good job.

So, I absolutely think that when you look at a speech like this one or you look at some of the speeches around Senator McCain's funeral, they were about who we are as Americans because we were celebrating the life of a great American. And I think that's what you're supposed to do.

BERMAN: And because this was a time when we heard from President Obama where he's not heard from so often, once again we heard voices of supporters of President Obama saying, we want more of this going forward. We need more of this, they say, this next year, which is an election year. What reasonably do you expect to hear from President Obama over the next 12 or 13 months?

LITT: Well, honestly, I don't know. I'm writing books these days. My colleagues are my two cats. I work from home, so I'm not so plugged in. But what I would say is just as a supporter of President Obama's and as someone who misses that, it's a remarkable thing.

You alluded to this as you introduced the clip, thinking about what it was like when a president used to take their words seriously, and not as a writer, but just as a listener and audience member, that was certainly nice to hear.

BERMAN: David Litt, we want to thank you and your two cats. We appreciate you all being with us tonight.

LITT: Thank you very much. [20:55:00]

BERMAN: Up next, President Trump's T.V. lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, apparently accidentally called a T.V. reporter and left voicemails that are raising a lot of questions. What he said on one call and what he's saying about it now when "360" continues.


BERMAN: More now on Rudy Giuliani. NBC is reporting that he accidentally dialed one of its reports multiple times and left voicemails of himself in conversation with an unknown person. Here's some of what Giuliani said in a call just last week.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Tomorrow, I got to get you to get on Bahrain. You got to call -- you got to call Robert again tomorrow. Is Robert around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rob? He's in Turkey.

GIULIANI: The problem is we need some money. We need a few hundred thousand.


BERMAN: We need a few hundred thousand, said Giuliani. Now, our Dana Bash reached out to Giuliani, and he told her that the voicemail is helpful somehow because it shows "that I don't do anything dishonest," he claims. He also told Dana what he was discussing is not related to Ukraine or President Trump, but he declined to get into specifics.

One final note to keep in mind here, Rudy Giuliani was named then President-elect Trump's informal adviser on, you guessed it, cybersecurity back in January 2017, which somehow seems a fitting end to the week for us.

But not for CNN, because special report "On the Brink: When a President Faces Impeachment" starts now.