Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats Subpoena Pentagon And Budget Office In Ukraine Scandal; Second Whistleblower Comes Forward Over Trump's Actions; Energy Secretary Perry Pushes Back On Trump's Ukraine Blame; GOP Uses The Trump's Just Joking Defense In Scandal; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R- KY) Vows To Block Impeachment In New Campaign Ad; Democrat Confronted At Home Over Impeachment Support; Trump Abandons Kurdish Allies Ahead Of Turkey's Expected Invasion. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- joining us in Inside Politics


Brianna Keilar starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, as a second whistleblower comes forward, Republicans are using the Joker defense to shield the president from the indefensible.

Plus, he's been the quietest cabinet member until now. Energy Secretary Rick Perry fighting back after the president throws him under the bus.

And if the president is impeached, his chief of staff is reportedly predicting that the president will shoot the moon in 2020. Hear how many states Mick Mulvaney says President Trump will win.

And in the middle of all of this, President Trump makes an explosive decision that causes even his closest supporters to accuse him of betraying U.S. allies who helped fight ISIS and abandoning them for slaughter.

But, first, Democrats are ratcheting up their impeachment inquiry into a defiant President Trump. House Democrats have now issued subpoenas to the Pentagon, as well as the Office of Management and Budget for key documents related to Ukraine, which include the president's to withhold military assistance and attempts to pressure Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 election.

And this comes as a second whistleblower has now come forward, claiming to have firsthand knowledge to support claims made by the original whistleblower, causing some Republicans to now scramble as they try to defend the president's actions, while other Republicans are staying silent. In the meantime, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is now responding to President Trump who says it was Perry who pressured him to call Ukraine's president on July 25th. But Perry says his push was for the leaders to talk about energy.


RICK PERRY, ENERGY SECRETARY: For the president of the United States, to be comfortable that, Mr. President, you can feel assured that this country is headed In the right direction.

Absolutely. I asked the president multiple times, Mr. President, we think it is in the United States' and In Ukraine's best interest that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there.


KEILAR: Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Tell us what you're hearing, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Brianna, all of this got started last week during this call with House Republicans, where the president phoned in and he said he didn't even want to make that July call to the Ukrainian president in the first place. Instead he told these lawmakers that it was the energy secretary, Rick Perry, who pushed him to do so.

And there, of course, you see Perry confirming, yes, he did push the president to do so, but he said it wasn't about the Bidens. He wanted President Trump to call the Ukrainian president to have a discussion about corruption, about transparency. Rick Perry is someone who has been back and forth to Ukraine, I think, three times now that he's visited.

And in another interview, he's saying, no, I didn't bring up the Bidens during this sit-down with the Ukrainian president. And today, in a statement, his spokesperson is confirming that, saying that in all the conversations he's had with these Ukrainian officials, including the president, they say Hunter Biden and Joe Biden have never come up during any of those conversations.

Of course, the question will be whether or not the Ukrainians were well aware that this is something that the president wanted them to look at while they were having these discussions with Rick Perry.

And the question going forward will be, are House Democrats going to try to sit down with the energy secretary, someone who has really managed to avoid the president's ire for some time now that he's been in this cabinet position? The question now will be whether or not the president continues to try to use him as a scapegoat, essentially, for this Ukrainian call and what exactly he says to Democrats if the White House lets him sit down with them.

KEILAR: Thank you for that report, Kaitlan. I really appreciate it. And some Republicans now seem to be embracing a new narrative over President Trump publicly telling China to investigate the Biden family. He wasn't serious. They say it's a joke. He didn't really mean it.

Here with me now to discuss Matt Lewis. He is a Senior Columnist at The Daily Best. And we have CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Okay. So let's look at who's been saying this, right? Senator Marco Rubio said it. Congressman Jim Jordan said it. This is actually a defense that Trump has used before, right, when he was talking about Russia, if you're listening about the Clinton emails. What's your reaction to this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's such a cut-up, Donald Trump? He's just full of these jokes, always joking. They're looking for a rationale. They're looking for an excuse. When I went back and looked at his answer to the question to Mueller in writing about those emails, and what his lawyers wrote was, I made the statement in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer, when he said, if you have the emails for Hillary Clinton.

Well, it wasn't apparent to any objective observer, and any objective observer watching him say to China, with whom he is engaged in trade negotiations, hey, I really think it would be a great idea for you to investigate the Bidens.


I don't think that was funny.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think the part of it is Republicans and Donald Trump want to give Republican voters different options. You can believe it's a perfect call or you can take the Pompeo route that a quid pro quo is really another way of saying compromise in diplomacy, or you could take the Marco Rubio, it's all just a joke line. Well, again, I don't think China or Ukraine thinks it's a joke when the president asks them to do something.

But let's assume for a minute that he's just trolling us all and he is joking about things that are very serious. I think that makes him unfit for the presidency. Best case scenario, you should get rid of him because he is joking about very serious things that would be really inappropriate for a president to joke about.

BORGER: And we don't know what he has said to the Chinese privately at this point. We know some of what he said about Hong Kong, for example, but, you know, there is still more parts of this onion to be peeled, and we'll find out what kind of joke it was.

The thing about Donald Trump is he often says things publicly that he also says privately.

KEILAR: Yes. I want to listen to what was really a key moment over the weekend on the Sunday shows. This is one of the president's supporters, Senator Ron Johnson. This is what he said on Meet the Press.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I just want the truth. The American people want the the truth.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Do you not trust the FBI? You don't trust the CIA? I'm just very confused here.

JOHNSON: Absolutely.


TODD: Okay.

JOHNSON: After James Comey.

TODD: You believe the FBI and the CIA, these government agencies?

JOHNSON: John Brennan. No, I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration.

TODD: I'm just curious. Do you trust them now?

JOHNSON: Who are you talking about?

TODD: The CIA and the FBI.

JOHNSON: I don't trust Andrew McCabe. I don't trust James Comey. I don't trust Peter Strzok. I don't trust John Brennan.


KEILAR: He named people who aren't there anymore as part of the Intelligence Community. That said, he's also playing into this idea that everyone in the Intelligence Community is like a holdover from the Obama administration, is a total political hack, which anyone with minimal exposure to this community knows, writ large, that is totally not what is going on here. What's the effect of the senator saying this?

LEWIS: So, first of all, I think this is a continuation of the last question, which is Republicans throwing out all sorts of, in some cases, mutually exclusive theories as to what happens and how to explain this and how to be an apologist.

But, first of all, this is a real departure of the Republican Party, which was once thought of as the party of law and order. In so many ways, the Republican brand, all the things that you thought you knew about Republican Party's moral authority and being on the side of law and order has been really cast aside in the Trump era.

But why would he do this? Well, look, if you don't trust the media, if the media is all fake news, and you also don't trust the Intelligence Community or law enforcement, at some point, you run out of people that you might trust other than Donald Trump. If you've essentially nullified all of these other institutions that are supposed to hold powerful people accountable, who is left to do that?

KEILAR: But what's the -- this is a moment in time, but what's the long-term effect of doing that, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I think the Republican brand, such as it was, is gone. And I think Republicans now have to figure out what their party stands for. This is a party that stood for national security, that backed the FBI and the CIA. Now, the president is announcing no presence in Syria. There is no --

LEWIS: Moral authority on the Kurds, on Hong Kong, on human rights.

BORGER: There seems to be no there there. It is the party of Trump, which is different from the Republican Party.

And I think what Ron Johnson was doing, by the way, was playing to Donald Trump, because he got himself in a little bit of trouble by saying, well, I winced when I was told that there might be some linkage between --

KEILAR: He didn't want there to be a linkage between military aid, right?

BORGER: Exactly.

KEILAR: And this investigation with the Bidens.

LEWIS: He had to clean that up with Trump.

BORGER: He had to clean that up with Trump. Because Trump, as you can tell from his Twitter feed is watching every television show.

KEILAR: I will say, that was a demonstration of what Republicans are up against with President Trump to watch Ron Johnson backpedal like that.

Gloria, Matt, thank you so much, I appreciate it.

So what is the significance of a second whistleblower coming forward and what can he or she provide?

Plus, Democrats confronted at home, why some constituents are challenging their Democratic lawmakers' impeachment push. And even Republicans lasting the President for abandoning the American-backed fighters res who helped fight against ISIS, why they're calling this a betrayal and saying that he's leaving them to die.



KEILAR: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is using the prospects of impeachment for President Trump as a fundraising plea for his own re-election bid. In a new ad, McConnell says that, as Majority leader, he'll shut down the impeachment.


We have Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen with us now. He is Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Sir, thanks for joining us.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Nice to be with you.

KEILAR: What's your reaction to McConnell saying he'll block impeachment and fundraising off of this?

COHEN: Well, I'm not surprised. I think Mitch always wanted to be an offensive guard on a football team because that's all he does is block. He blocked Merrick Garland's appointment to the Supreme Court, which I think was unprecedented and improper. He is blocking legislation and calls himself the Grim Reaper, so bills we passed on prescription drug prices, on reasonable gun laws, on ethics laws have been blocked by him, and now, he's going to block the impeachment.

So, yes, he's trying to be the Outland Trophy winner as the greatest blocking back in history, blocking lineman.

KEILAR: Energy Secretary Rick Perry is now defending himself because the president has said that he was the reason for the call with Ukraine's president. Perry today said he absolutely urged the president to call Ukraine but thought the call should be about energy partnerships. He says he never mentioned the Biden family. Who do you believe here?

COHEN: I believe Rick Perry. I think he's one of the few people in the cabinet who I found to be a straight shooter and I found to be a very nice guy. And the president, of course, has a track record that is probably the worst of anybody in history. If he was a horse in the racing form, I think they would give him the worst track rating imaginable. I mean, he's a prevaricator.

KEILAR: I want to ask you what you've watching on recess, maybe not in your district, but you know that there are members who are holding these town halls in their home districts and we're getting a sense of what they are dealing with.

Let's watch part of Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin's town hall.


REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Myself and six other members of the freshmen class in Congress, all former military or former CIA, wrote a joint op-ed and came out in support of an impeachment inquiry. And I wanted you to know from me -- I wanted you to know from me --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you fell off a cliff for me was when you joined the coup against our president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the rush with the impeachment? An impeachment is a serious thing. This would be only the fourth president in the history to be impeached. And to try to impeach him on something like this is really stretching it.


KEILAR: So we get a sense there for Congresswoman Slotkin of just the mixed response, right, that she's getting. How does your caucus plan to inform constituents and should some members, some Democratic members understand that this likely could cost them their jobs?

COHEN: Well, I think this two-week break, which I was not particularly in favor of but I think it's been productive, Adam Schiff and the Intelligence Committee has stayed focused on this, as has Eliot Engel and Elijah Cummings, as the three committees most responsible for this foreign policy intervention, the subversion of our Constitution and abuse of power for the benefit of a national -- the president politically dealing with an international situation and a country where promised military aid and then as an abuse of power conditioned pretty much on this investigation of his rival, Joe Biden.

I know it could be difficult in some people's districts. I listened to Congresswoman Slotkin and I think she and her six colleagues did the country a service by coming together and writing that op-ed, explaining their position. They're all former military, Air Force, Navy, CIA, intelligence people. And they explained why they resisted impeachment in the past but that this action in calling a foreign power and conditioning, we'd like you to do us a favor though, and cutting off the military aid that they needed was in need for it.

KEILAR: Do you think this will cost some of your colleagues their jobs?

COHEN: I don't think it will because I think the American public will see that they made a thoughtful decision, that it was the right thing to do, that this president should be impeached for doing this because he is -- it's against all laws. George Washington warned us as far back as his election not to get involved with foreign entities. American elections are supposed to be determined by Americans.

And we shouldn't be having Russians involved. Russia was involved. The CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the Mueller report all said it. Trump still doesn't believe it. And now, apparently, Senator Johnson doesn't believe it. We can't be operating in an area where some people hear the truth and some people refuse to hear the truth and get what they call fake news and they just discount the truth.


Slotkin's town hall, most of the people were supportive of her position, I believe. There were people in red, hot hats and yelled out and hollered, but they were the minority in that crowd. She handled it very, very well. They did this on the Affordable Care Act and came out in town halls and made their voices heard but in stronger numbers. That was a strong response. But Slotkin's, it wasn't that strong and the truth is --

KEILAR: I just want to be clear on what we just watched, Congressman. There were constituents there who were not wearing red hats and they were asking thoughtful questions and they had concerns. I just want to be clear about that.

I do, unfortunately, Congressman, I'm out of time, so we will, of course, see you again very soon. Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you very much.

COHEN: Brianna, I watched it too, and she handled it well and they were not the majority in that crowd. But I think people will support Congress people that support holding up their oath in supporting the Constitution, and that's what America is about.

KEILAR: All right. Congressman, thank you. It's very good to see you.

COHEN: You're welcome.

KEILAR: So even though the president seems to be his own whistleblower, another one has come forward. We'll have the details.

Plus, with his explosive decision to pull troops out of Northeast Syria, the president is being accused of leaving American-backed forces to die in a slaughter.



KEILAR: Stabbed in the back, that's how Kurds in Syria are describing a stunning and sudden foreign policy reversal by President Trump. The White House announced the withdrawal just last night of U.S. troops from an area in Northeast Syria along the border with Turkey, effectively clearing the way for an invitation -- invasion by Turkish forces.

Turkey is targeting Kurdish fighters who worked with the U.S. troops to defeat ISIS in the region. President Trump says the Kurds were paid for their help and the U.S. will only fight when it benefits the U.S.

But just a few months ago, the president was adamant that the U.S. would protect the Kurds.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: He had a 65,000-man army at the border and he was going to wipe out the Kurds who helped us with ISIS. We took out the caliphate. We have 100 percent of the caliphate. And I called him and I asked him not to do it. They are, I guess, natural enemies of his or Turkey's, and he hasn't done it. They were lined up to go out and wipe out the people that we just defeated, the ISIS caliphate with, and I said, you can't do that. You can't do it. And he didn't do it.


KEILAR: Now, President Trump is already getting pushback from within his own party. Senator Lindsey Graham, who is usually a staunch Trump defender, criticized the decision.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I expect an American president to do what's in our national security interests. It's never in our national security interest to abandon an ally who has helped us fight ISIS. It's never in our national security interest to create conditions for the re-emergence of ISIS.


KEILAR: And President Trump's former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was even more blunt, saying, leaving the Kurds, quote, to die is a big mistake.

With me here is Major General Spider Marks. He is a retired commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. He has a lot of experience in this area. And I want to start with these buffer zones, right, that we're seeing. What does Turkey control? What do they want to grab here?

JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What Turkey is looking to try to achieve is this buffer zone along the border here with Syria, primarily because they want some standoff from the Kurds. Again, as has been indicated, the Kurds, in multiple forms, have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for the United States in our desire to try to eliminate ISIS. ISIS is now isolated. The caliphate is essentially destroyed. They still remain in Syria.

But Turkey would like to have this border so that there is room for them to have a safe zone because Turkey views the Kurds -- you know, 20 percent of the Turkish population is Kurds. The Kurds want an independent Kurdistan of some sort. Turkey has forever labeled them a terrorist organization. That's what they're trying to achieve, what Turkey is trying to achieve.

KEILAR: So ISIS is isolated, the caliphate is destroyed, but what will this do to ISIS? What's the concern?

MARKS: The purpose of the buffer zone is exactly to allow Turkey -- has less to do with ISIS and more to do with Turkey's relationship with the Kurds and to achieve some standoff, primarily. Turkey feels like it can take care of itself. What it doesn't want to have to do is be in a position to go after Kurds and to have an international body that will keep the Kurds away from Turkey.

KEILAR: So right now, the president says that Turkey doesn't have anything that he considers off Limits, he is going to destroy the Turkey's economy.

MARKS: Pretty bold.

KEILAR: Yes, what do you make of this?

MARKS: Well, the problem is as Turkey has indicated that it's got a pretty independent stance globally in terms of its relationship. Again, let's be frank. Turkey is a NATO partner. The United States and NATO are in a better position with Turkey on our southeastern flank there. And Turkey has relationships, burgeoning relationship with Iran, a problem for us, and Turkey is buying air defense weapon systems from Russia.


They operate independently, irrespective, necessarily what the United States would like to try to achieve.