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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Announces Troop Withdrawal From Syria; Tallying Trump's Mistruths On Whistleblower; Trump Pulls Troops From Turkey/Syria Border As Some In GOP Say He's Abandoning Allies; NBA Apologizes To China Over G.M.'s Pro-Hong Kong Tweet. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: "Got my phone conversation almost completely wrong. So, now word is they are going to the bench and another -- quote -- 'whistleblower' is coming in from the deep state also with secondhand info."

Wow, there is a lot to unpack in that.

But let's just start with the idea, is the whistleblower claim completely wrong, as the president said?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Not at all, Jake.

The whistleblower had a three bullet point list about this call, and all three of those bullet points were effectively corroborated by the transcript or the rough transcript released by the White House itself.

So let's go through all three. Number one was that Trump pushed Ukraine's president to investigate the Bidens.

Correct.

TAPPER: True. Yes.

DALE: Trump pushed the president of Ukraine to investigate this debunked Ukraine server conspiracy theory. Correct.

TAPPER: True.

DALE: Number three was Trump pushed Zelensky to speak to his own lawyer Giuliani and the Attorney General Barr. That is correct as well.

The one caveat, Trump seems to take issue with the whistleblower saying this was pressure. Trump says, oh, it was a friendly talk, friendly request.

So he can quibble with the use of the word pressure, but in terms of the substance of those allegations, all of them have been confirmed.

TAPPER: Not to mention the White House has acknowledged on background that the transcript was then put in the secret file server, which is also in the whistleblower complaint.

DALE: Sure. Exactly. It is.

TAPPER: So, Trump tweeted that he thinks that Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Schiff should be impeached.

Fact-check that for us.

DALE: Jake, there is -- as you know, there is no impeachment for members of the House.

Members of the House can do impeaching of other people, like the president. They can be expelled, but not impeached. And Trump also got wrong the reasons that he said those two should be impeached.

He said they should be impeached for treason. Nothing they have done even approaches the constitutional definition of treason. And he said that Schiff illegally met -- or his committee staff illegally met with the whistleblower.

It is routine for the House Intelligence Committee to meet with potential whistleblowers. Nothing about this is illegal at all.

TAPPER: And then, lastly, the president also referenced this picture of former Vice President Joe Biden golfing -- let's put it up there, if we can -- which was also misleading.

DALE: It was, yes.

So Trump said that this photo showed Joe Biden golfing with a -- quote -- "company boss" of Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas firm.

The gentleman in question, Devon Archer, was a longtime business associate of Biden's son Hunter Biden, who was also on the board of directors, like Hunter Biden was. A board member is not the company boss.

So, again, Trump misidentified someone to try to serve his political purposes.

TAPPER: It's almost as if he doesn't really have a high regard for facts and truth.

DALE: Almost, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Daniel Dale, thanks so much.

Coming up, breaking news: We just learned about the extreme measures some House Democrats are considering to protect the identity of the whistleblower. What are those measures? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:53]

TAPPER: Some breaking news now in our politics lead. In a sign of just how much bipartisanship has evaporated in the House of Representatives, House Democrats are considering going to extraordinary lengths to keep the identity of the intelligence community whistleblower secret.

And, according to "The Washington Post," they want to keep it secret from their Republican colleagues. That includes possibly having the whistleblower testify from a secret location, and then obscuring his or her voice and appearance, according to sources talking to CNN, first reported by "The Washington Post."

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Manu, this is all over concerns that Republicans may -- or at least a Republican may leak the identity of the whistleblower.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's in large measure about the president -- response to how the president has really gone after the whistleblower and concerns about the whistleblower's safety.

Now, what I'm told from multiple people who are given -- had discussions about this process or involved in this process is that they're concerned that this person's name could leak to the press, and that person then -- the whistleblower could find him or herself in some jeopardy, be in potential harm because of the way that the president and others have gone after the credibility of this whistleblower, whose complaint, of course, has roiled the Trump presidency.

Now, I'm told from multiple sources who are involved in the discussion that the measures that are being discussed include doing this on an off-site location, limiting the number of people who can actually interview the whistleblower, disguising the whistleblower's voice, preventing them from actually seeing the identity of the whistleblower with their own eyes.

They are looking at all different options and perhaps even avoiding bringing him here -- him or her here to Capitol Hill, where perhaps that person's identity can be seen, although there are ways around the Capitol to avoid being seen.

But, nevertheless, that is what is now under this consideration. At the moment, though, the focus of the House Intelligence Committee is to bring in others who are maybe aware of the Ukraine matter, others who were involved in the fallout of the president ask to investigate Joe Biden.

But there is still very high interest among Democrats to bring in the whistleblower. They just need to figure out how to protect his or her identity.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Well, we have the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee here. And, former Chairman Rogers, obviously, no decision has been made. So this is not what's happening. But what do you make of it? I mean, the idea that House Democrats are so wary that some House Republicans would leak the identity of the whistleblower -- and President Trump's been demanding to know his identity -- that they might not even share his or her identity.

That's pretty striking.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is.

I'm going to throw the red flag here a minute. The very fact that they released the witness with a whistleblower statement told me they weren't really thinking about the whistleblower protection up front.

So I think, when you engage in these sharp-elbowed partisan attacks, nothing benefits.

That being said, I do believe the whistleblower deserves to have his or her identity protected in this particular case. Having it leak out that we don't trust the Republicans to do this, so we're going to create this regime not to do it, I think, is absolutely absurd.

[16:40:04]

And if you want a partisan investigation, that's exactly how you're going to get one. And that's exactly how people outside of this town will think of this investigation. I think they're shooting themselves in the foot. I think they think they're going to get some short-term benefit from this. That's wrong.

What they need to do is set the rules, say that they want to protect this particular whistleblower. There's lots of ways you can do it. I brought witnesses into the committee when I was chairman in ways that did not disclose their identity to the public or the press. We were able to get that in.

There are ways to do that. I would recommend, if they think it's this hot, then go ahead, find an off-site location, but you cannot deny both parties the opportunity to go through an investigation. And, by the way, if the facts are good, you might turn a few hearts on this either way, Democrats or Republicans.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, let me ask you.

The ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee is congressman Devin Nunes, who a lot of Democrats look at and say, he is more allegiant to President Trump than he is to anything else.

Would you trust Devin Nunes with the identity of the whistleblower?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think any Democrat in Congress is trusting Devin Nunes with the identity of the whistleblower. Hence is the problem.

I mean, Mike Rogers is not the chairman of the Intelligence Committee right now. It might be different if he was. Right now, Democrats are looking at how people like Devin Nunes and others on the committee, not every member, but certainly enough members, that they're concerned that they would choose Donald Trump over the protections and the safety of the whistleblower.

Now, I do think, to be fair, there are other factors here as well, including they don't want to chill this for other potential whistleblowers or other people to come forward.

They want to show that they can protect the person, keep their identity safe, or do everything they can so that other people may come forward. That's a factor here as well.

TAPPER: And precedents being set. I mean, if this happens against Republicans, then, when Republicans take the House back, will they do it to Democrats? It's something everybody has to think about.

Everyone, stick around.

It's not every day that Mitch McConnell disagrees with President Trump. But the presidential decision that led to the Senate majority leader sending a warning to the White House is our next story.

Stay with us.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you in our "WORLD LEAD" today. President Trump just moments ago addressed his decision to pull U.S. forces out of the Syrian border with Turkey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Syria, on withdrawing forces in Syria, why are you siding with an authoritarian leader and not our Kurdish allies?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well I'm not siding with anybody. We've been in Syria for many years. You know. Syria was supposed to be a short term hit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Republicans and Democrats sharply rebuking that decision by the president, saying that it leaves the Kurds who have been reliable U.S. allies in the region vulnerable to a massacre by Turkey. Senator Lindsey Graham called the move of a betrayal to Kurdish forces, while Trump's former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the decision would be leaving the Kurds to die.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is covering the story from Turkey, but let's start with CNN's Barbara Starr who's live for us at the Pentagon. Barbara, how are leaders they're taking this sudden policy shift?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Jake, the public claim is that they knew all about it, that they were not blindsided by the President's decision. But make no mistake, there is deep concern here at the Pentagon on what will happen to the Kurds now and the extent to which the U.S. military will once again be seen as deserting a vital ally at a critical time.

As you say, even Republicans now joining the course against the President's decision and surprisingly one of those was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said, and let me quote part of this, "A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime, and it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup."

The president, on the other hand, earlier today tweeting very strongly about defending his decision. And you only have to listen to what he had to tweet saying, "If Turkey does anything that I in my great and unmatched wisdom consider to be off-limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey." Remember Turkey is a NATO ally.

It's a small group so far of U.S. forces that have been withdrawn but one of the feelings is if Turkey was going to cross the border and launch this incursion, it's a difficult position for them. They are there as a deterrent, but they also can't be caught in the crosshairs. Jake?

TAPPER: OK, Barbara Starr. Let's go now to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in Istanbul, Turkey. Nick, Kurdish forces depend on U.S. troops for protection. What's the reaction from the Kurds to this move?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, they said they're disappointed. That is a vast understatement. But I have to tell you, this extraordinary moment of betrayal, I think it's fair to say as how many Syrian Kurds feel, this has been telegraphed, something Donald Trump said he wouldn't do about his foreign policy moves.

But he did say he might do this, then back down, now he still might possibly put U.S. troops out of the way of this potential Turkish move. It hasn't happened yet. And as Barbara said, there are possibly a couple of dozen U.S. troops who've moved back from the border at this point. And it does appear the U.S. is still controlling the airspace.

So that does make an immediate Turkish incursion a difficult. One the first thing the Syrian Kurds are going to probably do is have to start thinking about moving their forces who are protecting the rest of the population there from ISIS prisoners and ISIS displaced in large camps there, moving them towards fighting positions.

And of course, the larger question too, what of the broader alliance between the Syrian Kurds and the U.S. forces. There that seems to be shattered. There's been a long-term kind of uneasy accommodation the Syrian Kurds have had with the Syrian regime and their Russian backers so close often at great tension across their demarcation lines there as well.

Many, I think, think the Syrian Kurds may have picked up a phone already to Damascus and Moscow their backers, may be an alliance there. And that's just going to increase the capacity for bloodshed and tension as the U.S. debate their position in the days ahead.

At this stage though, Jake, nothing actually on the ground has changed apart from those troops moving back, and a massive symbolic blow for the U.S. leadership in the region. Jake?

[16:50:52]

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Istanbul, thank you so much. Let's chat about this. Chairman Rogers, you did all the classified Kurds coordination with the Obama administration leading up to the policy of open support for the Kurds. Are you worried that the Turks will Massacre the Kurds because of this move?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Oh absolutely. They're going to try to kill as many Kurds as they possibly can. This has been a festering wound with the Turks for a long time. But, remember, we trained the Kurds. We gave them mission direction, meaning, we said go here and do these things to keep -- to wipe out ISIS. As a matter of fact, the President of the United States bragged about how fast they went across Syria to get rid of ISIS. Well, thank you to the Kurds for making that possible.

I think when you look at everything going on today, when you're talking about Russia or China, this is far worse. This will be more devastating. It's already going to have an impact with our allies and how we do interactions in the Middle East, and you're going to have the consequences of real people who have been loyal to the United States and risk their lives in really difficult circumstances to fight the fight against ISIS who was threatening the United States. This to me is a disaster waiting to happen.

TAPPER: And President Trump says you know, we need to get out of these forever wars. And the U.S. was not supposed to be in Syria forever. What do you think I think?

JEN PSAKI, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's a really dangerous kind of mapping over a very difficult and challenging issue. You know, this is a case that you've just outlined it. I don't think I can even add anything to that, of course, but the Kurds fought beside the United States, fought at our direction against ISIS. We should -- we owe them a great deal of credit and thanks for that effort.

It's also just showing a complete misunderstanding or ignorant of what's happening in the region. I mean, the Kurds and the Turks have long had a great deal of tension that's actually been a point of tension. And on our relationship with Turkey over time, most U.S. presidents have managed that in different ways over time. But now we're sort of -- we're just leaving them leaving them to die. I mean -- and that's exactly what we're doing.

And I think, you know, the Kurds -- there are bad Kurds, there are -- there are the terrorist version, but there are the Kurds that have fought alongside us. And those are the ones that we are doing great damage to.

So you know, Donald Trump is oversimplifying a really more complicated issue as per usual. And as a result, he's sending a message to our allies and our partners around the world that you can't rely on us, you can't depend on us, and we're not going to back you up when you help us -- when we need your help. And that's very dangerous and in many other parts of the world as well.

TAPPER: And you know, this does seem to have been a tripwire for a lot of people who are willing to tolerate a lot from President Trump. Take a listen to one of the hosts of President Trump's favorite T.V. show Fox and Friends had to say this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of message is that to the next ally that wants to side with us? Are you kidding me? Again, we're abandoning our most loyal allies who did all our fighters. All we did is armed them and they did all the work. And now we say good luck, good luck surviving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, that show, the anchors on that show are willing to tolerate a lot from President Trump. It's interesting that that is something that crossed the line.

ROGERS: Well, when you talk about our nationals -- this will impact our national security. It also impacts our diplomatic missions in the Middle East and really across the world anywhere that there's trouble.

When the United States goes in and we send all kinds of our folks who are pretty smart on activities there to try to have these negotiations, who would trust us? Who would say I'm with you, I'm willing to take these chances, the United States, or are they going to say I don't know. I don't know if you're going to be there next week or not and we have a lot to lose if you walk away, just like the Kurds.

TAPPER: All right, stick around. We're going to talk about something else. How a dispute between the NBA and China has some Republican lawmakers speaking out. Yes, the same ones have been pretty quiet when it comes to the impeachment inquiry. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "SPORTS LEAD" today, bipartisan outrage today at the NBA for apologizing to the government of China after Houston rockets G.M. Daryl Morey tweeted support for the protests in Hong Kong. The NBA which anticipates billions in revenue to come from the Chinese market sided with the authoritarian communist.

Residents of Hong Kong have been protesting for months for basic democratic rights while mainland China has inaccurately portrayed them as violent separatists. Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeting today, "This is bigger than just the NBA. It is about China's growing ability to restrict freedom of expression here in the U.S., T.V. networks, airlines, hotel chains, retailers, and Hollywood self- censor. Now private citizens risk losing jobs if they offend China."

I suppose the good news is that we finally found some 2019 foreign interference in the U.S. that Republican senators find intolerable. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @jaketapper. Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.