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Trump's Defenses Keep Evolving: Deny, Admit, Deflect, Blame Rick Perry; Democrats & Republicans Blast Trump's Move To Abandon Allies In Syria; Trump Says His "Unmatched Wisdom" Will Determine Whether To Retaliate If Turkey Launches An Operation; House Democrats Threaten To Subpoena Three Giuliani Associates; Democrats Face Heat At Home Over Impeachment Decision; NBA General Manager's Hong Kong Tweet Ignites Firestorm In China. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 14:30   ET



CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Then we moved over here to spy. Remember, the whistleblower may be a spy. Big difference between a spy and a whistleblower. Donald Trump didn't differentiate.

Then we have Adam helped - this amazed me -- helped co-write the whistleblower complaint. That's based on a fact that Adam Schiff found out it through a staff it was being filed but he did not co- write it.

It's a hoax. What is Donald Trump's definition of a hoax? I have no idea.

It's my right. We have a tweet for it's my right. I believe it's his right to do this stuff. No, anti-corruption. He's doing this because the world is corrupt, he needs to breakthrough. He should be able to do that because that's a good thing. We do have a tweet for corruption I believe. Oh, no.

The joker defense. Which is, he was just kidding. Of course. That's Marco Rubio. He was just kidding, everyone knows that, China doesn't take him seriously. Does China know he was just kidding?

And then this guy, the fall guy, Brooke, Rick Perry. This guy was the one who told Trump to call the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. It was about energy, not about the Bidens. Here's the problem. We know, because they released a transcript that Trump --


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: But they never mentioned it.

CILLIZZA: What difference does it make what the initial call was, we know that Trump got to what he wanted to get to, the Bidens in Ukraine.

All of this -- remember, it's not as though we've been dealing with this Ukraine issue for months and months and months, it's two weeks, all of these explanations. Trust me, there's about 50 more tweets that go with all this stuff, too.

It's just wild and it speaks to the fact that he's just throwing stuff against the wall in the hopes that something sticks.

BALDWIN: I suppose so.

Chris Cillizza, you amaze me every day with everything you and your team come up with.

CILLIZZA: It's your team but thank you.

BALDWIN: Yes, thank you. Thank you very much.

Still ahead here on CNN, Republicans and Democrats alike both slamming the president's decision to turn his back on the Kurds in Syria. Why is he abandoning a U.S. ally?

Why his unmatched wisdom will determine whether to retaliate if Turkey launches an operation.



BALDWIN: President Trump now stands accused of abandoning a U.S. ally two American troops have fought side by side within the battle against ISIS. I'll show video taken this morning showing U.S. forces in northern Syria moving out of the way so that Turkey can launch a military offensive against the Kurds, whose fighters it considers a terror group.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say they're blindsided by this. And the U.S. pullout will have a negative impact in the war against ISIS and destroy the stability that's been accomplished through the past years.

Key members of Congress also are afraid this will give ISIS new life and threaten civilians in a fragile part of Syria.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now saying the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria will only benefit Russian, Iran and the Assad regime..

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once again says, President Trump is deserting an ally in a foolish attempt to appease a foreign strongman.

And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we've made, thrown the region into further chaos. Iran is licking their chops. And I'm an ISIS fighter, I have a second lease on life. I think a lot of military people are sad today that we've given back the battlefield to the enemy.


BALDWIN: My next guest is also worried. Hagar Chemali is an expert on the Middle East. She was at the White House as director for Syria and Lebanon for the first two years of the Syrian crisis. She's with me now.

And so we're looking at one of your tweets from today. Let's step back for a second and remind us, why U.S. troops were in Syria, and what Turkey's interests are.

HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, U.S. MISSION TO THE U.N.: The U.S. troops went into Syria in 2014 as part of the effort to defeat ISIS. The area they went into, in particular, was an area that had cleaned ISIS out, and they were there to help with reconstruction efforts, development. The idea was to get refugees to come back to Syria, which helps a global migrant issue.

There's a pattern for all of this, and a cycle for all of it. And certainly to counter Iranian influence and counterterrorism in the region.

BALDWIN: We'll come back to Iran in a second.

First, with this move, what are the short-term and long-term implications, in terms of the Kurds, the refugees.

CHEMALI: The United States backed the Kurds that live in that part of Syria. They funded them, they equipped them, in order to be able to defeat ISIS. They were a large part of why we succeeded in that goal. So that's where we are with them.

If the Turks are allowed to go in -- the Turks have made it clear they are going to invade that part of Syria and pursue a military assault. They've wanted to do this for a while. They've said so repeatedly.

The last time we faced this was last year, last December, when the Turks told President Trump they thought he should leave. And the role -- this role is reverse due to pressure from Senate Republicans.


What happens in a military assault, they're going to go target who they deem, the Turks deem to be Kurdish terrorists. This is a dangerous zone.

There's one organization that the United States has recognized as a terrorist organization called the PKK. That's doesn't mean all Kurds affiliate with the PKK or they all side with them, just as no ethnic group or religious group sides with one extreme or violent faction.

BALDWIN: So many Kurds could end up being killed?

CHEMALI: So many Kurds could end up being killed. The Turks have made the claim they want this area to be made stable so that millions of refugees from Turkey could return to the area. The very fact they view the Kurds that live in Turkey as refugees is

already a problem. It sets things up for mass migration and ethnic cleansing. It's extremely dangerous.

BALDWIN: So you mentioned Senate Republicans. This tweet from Senator Mitt Romney just a bit ago: "Barring a reversal of this decision, the administration must come before Congress and explain how betraying an ally and ceding influence to terrorists and adversaries is not disastrous for our national security interests."

Is this a gift to Iran and Russia?

CHEMALI: Yes. It's a gift to Iran and Russia with seemingly nothing in return. Certainly, a gift to the Turks. And the part that's even worse is, it's not just a gift to them, it directly has an impact on our national security.


BALDWIN: How do you mean?

CHEMALI: This matters. Syria matters. I know I sound emotional about it. It's definitely a point --


BALDWIN: You were there from the beginning.

CHEMALI: It matters because it is surrounded by U.S. partners and allies, Jordan, Israel, Iraq. What happens in Syria matters.

It's why -- even at the beginning of the Trump administration, our goals in Syria were very clear. We wanted to support reconstruction and development so refugees could go back. We wanted to support counterterrorism efforts and we wanted to counter Iranian influence.

If you let these countries make a muck of Syria, and make it worse than it is, which they could, it directly undermines the stability of our neighbors, and Israel in particular, where we're going to be asked to go in and help them. It's just -- it doesn't make sense any which way.

BALDWIN: Hagar Chemali, thank you so much.

CHEMALI: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Democrats say the president's actions are impeachable. But are they illegal? One former ambassador says yes. He joins me, live.

Plus, some Democrats now facing heat back home during the congressional recess for supporting an impeachment inquiry. How they're defending their decisions.


BALDWIN: Breaking news. Now, House Democrats are warning they will subpoena three associates of Rudy Giuliani if they do not comply with their requests for documents and depositions as part of the impeachment investigation.

Let's go to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

I suppose this is all about adding that pressure for Rudy Giuliani. Why?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Democrats sent a letter to three Giuliani associates asking them to turn over documents by today and calling for their depositions to occur this week and next week.

We are told from an official that they have not gotten compliance yet, and Democrats are warning they will subpoena for their appearance if they do not get compliance and they will subpoena for those documents.

A source tells me that while we have engaged in councils for these witnesses, they have so far refused to testify or turn over the relevant documents. If they continue to fail to comply, they'll be served with subpoenas.

Of course, this is the latest escalation as we saw subpoenas go to the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, also the Pentagon to get more documents related to the Ukraine. Separate subpoenas sent to Rudy Giuliani himself and the State Department.

You can see where this is headed. The question is, will they get compliance?

Democrats and the Trump administration continue to fight over these subpoenas. We'll see if they get anything turned over. Democrats say if they don't get compliance, that can be an article of impeachment in itself -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you for that.

A moderate Democrat recently came out in support of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump's conduct got an earful during a town hall meeting in her home district.



REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): OK, I'm going to continue talking --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't want lies.

SLOTKIN: If you interrupt me again -- (CROSSTALK)

SLOTKIN: I'm going to take questions.


BALDWIN: You hear these constituents shouting at freshman Democrat Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who faced angry constituents in her home state of Michigan in a district Trump won by seven points in 2016.


SLOTKIN: Myself and six other members of the freshman class in Congress, all former military or CIA, wrote a join op-ed and came out in support of an impeachment inquiry. And I wanted you to know from me --


SLOTKIN: I wanted you to know from me --





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where you fell off the cliff for me is when you joined the coup against our president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the rush with the impeachments? Impeachment is a serious thing. This could be only the fourth president in history to be impeached. And to be impeached over something like this is really stretching it.


BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny is our CNN senior Washington correspondent.

You know the congresswoman is listening to her constituents. She also wants to hang onto her seat. Might this sway her at all?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, the question is, all of these members of Congress are facing this exact same thing and weighing the applause versus weighing the boos from a few people, shows us one thing. It shows the country is deeply divided on partisan lines, which we know already.

It's one reason Elissa Slotkin was one of the last Democrats to say she supports an inquiry here.

We don't know where the politics of this are going. It may cost some Democrats their seats and it may cost Republicans their seats for their silence. That is something that so many members of Congress I spoke to on both sides are uncertain about this.

It's clear some Democrats are uneasy going down this road. They believe they are doing the right thing. We'll see how that all ends up, Brooke.

It's important to put all of these meetings in context.

As Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, she had someone shout at her the other day. She had a lot of applause as well.

This is a long process in a deeply divided country. They're supposed to be doing the right thing here. We'll see how that falls down on the line.

We should give her credit for having a town meeting, Brooke. So many members of Congress have stopped that tradition.

BALDWIN: Good on you, Congresswoman.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you.


BALDWIN: Is the NBA putting profits over human rights? The general manager of the Houston Rockets tweets support for Hong Kong's pro- democracy movement and the league sides with Communist China. That's next.



BALDWIN: The general manager of the Houston Rockets is under fire for tweeting out support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. Daryl Morey shared this photo that included the phrase "fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."

The now-deleted post angered many businesses, NBA sponsors, who have cut ties with team. That includes the Chines Basketball Association, whose chair is Yao Ming, a former Houston Rockets superstar. Ming has been credited with making China the largest overseas partner.

Morey sent a tweet saying he didn't mean to offend anyone and his comments were his and his alone.

But then an apology from Rockets all-star, James Harden, sparked even more backlash.


JAMES HARDEN, NBA BASKETBALL PLAYER: Yes, we apologized. You know, we love China. We love playing near -- I know for both of us, individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love. We appreciate them as a fan base, we love everything they're about, and we appreciate the support they give us, individually, and as an portion. We love you.


BALDWIN: The NBA called Morey's tweet regrettable, adding, quote, "We have great respect for the history and culture of China, and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together."

But folks still aren't happy.

Josh Rogin, CNN political analyst and columnist for the "Washington Post" joins me now.

I know you just wrote a piece for "The Post." We'll get to your American business point.

But the NBA has allowed players and coaches to speak their minds in the past. Here's someone speaking out about justice overseas and it's treated entirely differently. Why do you think that is?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's all about the money, OK? The NBA faces a huge market in China, everything from exhibitions, to partnerships to jersey sales.

And what the Chinese government did here, they cut off the Rockets money stream hours after the tweet came out. The banks, the company that does their apparel, the Chinese Basketball Association all ran away from the Rockets within hours. That's a government -- in China's system, that's a government sponsored effort.

So what they've done here is basically threatened all these NBA teams, if you don't kowtow, apologize profusely, you won't be able to do business in China. This is a pattern the Chinese have been using against America companies but also international companies, Mercedes, Marriott, you name it, all over the world.

BALDWIN: Now you say it's on the U.S. government to help U.S. companies resist becoming complicit in Beijing's repression. How so?

ROGIN: There's a lot to criticize here in NBA's response. You could say they should have stood up for this manager's ability to say something simple, that people in Hong Kong deserve basic rights.

But what's the NBA really supposed to do? Are they really supposed to fight the Chinese government by themselves? I've seen others make this same threat and make the same calculation. They don't like being in the middle of U.S./China relations.

The fact that this is a Chinese government effort and organized and part of their strategy to snuff out criticism of Chinese government practices abroad, that's a policy issue. And that's something the U.S. government can address.

The U.S. government has said a lot of things about this practice by the Chinese government but hasn't done a lot of things.


If we want NBA and Marriott and Mercedes and all of these companies to make the right decision and side with human rights over dollars they definitely might lose, the U.S. government should be in there telling the Chinese government, no, it's not OK to pressure these companies. It's not OK to pressure them for speech.