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Protecting The Whistleblower; Trump Announces Troop Withdrawal From Syria; Democrats Subpoena Pentagon And Budget Office In Ukraine Scandal As GOP Struggles With Impeachment Strategy; New Manhunt And Mystery After Killing Of Key Witness In Trial Of Former Police Officer Conducted Of Murder; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 7, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Why is Mr. Trump pointing fingers, when he insists his call was perfect?

Unmatched wisdom. The president brazenly claims his judgment is great and unparalleled, as he defends his abrupt decision to withdraw troops from Syria and abandon U.S. allies against ISIS.

Tonight, top Republicans who usually refuse to rebuke him are angry, and they are speaking out.

And key witness gunned down. Just days after a former police officer was found guilty of murder, a man who reluctantly testified in her trial has been shot and killed. This hour, the manhunt and the mystery.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on new efforts to protect the identity of the whistleblower who exposed the Ukraine scandal.

Sources now tell CNN Democrats are considering what are being described as extreme measures if the whistleblower testifies before Congress, including hiding the individual's face and voice.

Also breaking, impeachment investigators churn out more subpoenas. They're now demanding documents from the Pentagon and the White House Budget Office related to the president's decision to withhold military assistance to Ukraine. They're also threatening to subpoena associates of the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

This hour, I will talk with the House Armed Services Committee member John Garamendi. It's his first interview since returning from a congressional trip to Ukraine.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, Democrats are very worried about the whistleblower's safety during possible congressional testimony.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Indeed, they are, Wolf.

And sources telling CNN tonight that -- quote, unquote -- "extreme measures" are being discussed right now in order to protect the whistleblower's safety and identity when and if this person ultimately decides to potentially appear before the committees and let their side of the story be known, that there are a variety of options right now being discussed in these negotiations to get this person in front of the committees.

Things like potentially disguising the whistleblower's identity, disguising their voice, potentially limiting the number of people who will hear this person in the room, limiting the number of Hill staff, limiting the number of members in the room, and also the possibility, Wolf, of even using an off-site location, going away from a secure room on Capitol Hill to hold this very important testimony.

All to make sure, of course, that the whistleblower's name is not ultimately leaked to someone not only within the Trump administration, but within the press. Now, this also comes as House Democrats today are ramping up and essentially broadening out their own impeachment investigation, today issuing subpoenas to the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget.

They want to know -- they want documents, they want information related to the sequencing of events of the withholding of military aid to the Ukraine. And no word yet how the response will go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks for that update, Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.

As the Trump administration is hit with new subpoenas, President Trump also is under fire for a major shift in U.S. policy in Syria.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we heard from the president just a little while ago.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And the impeachment inquiry is certainly getting to President Trump. Just a short while ago, he complained the inquiry is making his job tougher. And the president is behaving more unpredictably these days, as the impeachment inquiry ensnares more members of his administration.

The president whipped up another firestorm in the meantime over Syria, announcing he's given the green light to Turkey to wipe out Kurdish forces that had helped the U.S. defeat ISIS in that country.

Republicans are pushing back against the president when it comes to that policy, but not so much when it comes to Ukraine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is complaining that the prospect of being impeached is making life in the Oval Office more difficult.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, the impeachment inquiry is a scam. I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it better than anybody's done it for the first two-and-a-half years.

ACOSTA: But the Trump administration is sinking deeper into the impeachment quicksand up on Capitol Hill, as House Democrats have issued new subpoenas to defense Secretary Mark Esper and the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget for information about the president's phone call with the leader of Ukraine that included a request for dirt on Joe Biden.

The letter doesn't mince words, insisting each subpoena compels you to produce the documents by October 15, 2019. With a second whistleblower coming forward, White House allies are trotting out shifting explanations for the president's comments, with some in the GOP claiming Mr. Trump was only joking when he asked China to investigate Biden.

[18:05:00]

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You really think he was serious about thinking that China is going to investigate the Biden family?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He said it right there in public.

JORDAN: I think -- I think he's getting -- as I think Senator Rubio said a couple days ago, I think he's getting the press all spun up about this.

ACOSTA: Though economic adviser Larry Kudlow wasn't sure about that.

QUESTION: Was the president joking or in any way not serious when he suggested that the Chinese should investigate the Bidens?

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I don't honestly know. I don't honestly know.

ACOSTA: The president is also claiming Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged him to turn to the Ukrainians.

RICK PERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF ENERGY: 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.

So, absolutely, yes.

ACOSTA: Even though Perry insisted Biden didn't come up. PERRY: Not once. As God is my witness, not once was a Biden name, not the former vice president, not his son, ever mentioned.

ACOSTA: The president and his defenders sounded unhinged at times over the weekend, with Mr. Trump tweeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was guilty of treason, and that Utah Senator Mitt Romney is a pompous ass.

GOP Senator Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, stood by Mr. Trump by saying he doesn't trust parts of the intelligence community.

CHUCK TODD, "MEET THE PRESS": You believe the FBI and the CIA, these government agencies?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Peter Strzok, John Brennan, no, I don't trust any of these guys in Obama administration. I don't trust any of them.

TODD: OK.

ACOSTA: The president offered up a new distraction from the impeachment drama, announcing he will allow Turkey to sweep into Syria, withdrawing U.S. forces and jeopardizing Kurdish fighters who have helped in the battle against ISIS.

But Mr. Trump warned, "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."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took issue with the president, stating: "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" -- a rare moment of dissent from inside the GOP.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): ISIS has not faded, my friend. The biggest lie being told by the administration, that ISIS is defeated. This impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we have made, thrown the region into further chaos.

ACOSTA: The president was asked why he is siding with autocratic leaders over the nation's Kurdish allies.

TRUMP: Well, I'm not siding with anybody. We want to bring our troops back home. And I got elected on that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And the president told reporters he did consult with top military commanders before making this decision on Syria.

As for Ukraine, there's one more Republican senator to emerge to criticize Mr. Trump's phone call with the president of that country. Ohio Senator Rob Portman told "The Columbus Dispatch" that the president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period, in the senator's words.

But the senator said the president's actions do not warrant impeachment. Despite that, Wolf, though, it does not sound, though, that the Republican Party is as unified tonight as it was last week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more on the president's Syria announcement and the fallout, which is dramatic.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us.

Barbara, the president says he consulted with everybody about the move. Why are so many Republicans speaking out so strongly, though, against him on this specific issue?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's hard to come to any other conclusion, but it may be because top military generals did not want to see this withdrawal, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, by the way.

For the last several days, we have seen public messaging from the Pentagon that the Kurdish forces are doing everything the U.S. asked them to try and de-escalate the situation on the border. Suddenly, we have the president's announcement.

And the president has given multiple explanations for his decision. He has said he's moved a small number of U.S. troops out of Northern Syria, pulled them further back for their own safety and security, if and when the Turks do cross the border, which he does not appear to widely object to.

And -- but make no mistake, he has not wanted U.S. troops to be in Syria. And he also id today talked about -- you saw there in Jim Acosta's piece -- he was elected on bringing U.S. troops home, and he truly believes that that is the way he wants to go.

The only problem is, right now, it is hard to see a way ahead. The next time the U.S. military needs help from local forces on the ground in any country in the world, those local forces may well remember that the Kurds have essentially been abandoned by the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Joining us now, Congressman John Garamendi. He is a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Sure.

BLITZER: And I want to get to this issue of Syria in just a few moments. But you have just returned from leading a congressional delegation to Ukraine. You met with the Ukrainian defense minister, the foreign minister, the senior staff for President Zelensky... [18:10:00]

GARAMENDI: Right.

BLITZER: ... the top American diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, the charge d'affaires.

What can you tell us about this trip?

GARAMENDI: Well, I can tell you that Ukraine is an exceptional country and they have exceptional leaders.

Given all that's happened to them, given all that the president has done to this new president, who came into office on cleaning up the corruption, on leaning to the West, totally dependent upon the West, and specifically America, and then for Trump to do what he has done, they are showing enormous strength, enormous courage.

They're soldiering on. They have lost almost 14,000 people, soldiers to the Russians in the battle. It is a hot war. They're going to make it. They're going to do it, despite what Trump has done to them. It's just -- well, chalk up one more win for Putin.

But they -- they're going to soldier on. I was very, very impressed, very impressed by what they intend to do.

BLITZER: We have seen some of Bill Taylor's text messages, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat...

GARAMENDI: Right.

BLITZER: ... the acting ambassador in Kiev right now, including one where he said -- and I'm quoting now -- "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

What did you learn from him during your conversations?

GARAMENDI: I learned that we have a very good man at that embassy. We had a long conversation about what is going on in the country, about his own long career in the diplomacy and also in Ukraine, a good person, obviously a person that saw what was the problem and spoke out, or at least in an e-mail laid it out.

He was -- well, the morning that that e-mail became known, we met with him just moments afterwards. And he acknowledged that it was there and he said it was the right thing to do. We're lucky that he's there.

We are just going to have to try to overcome the enormous problem that Trump has created in that country, to say nothing of what he's created here in the United States.

BLITZER: Does he believe that the president of the United States was squeezing the new Ukrainian president, Zelensky, for dirt on the Bidens in exchange for U.S. aid, U.S. assistance, for a high-level meeting in Washington with Zelensky? GARAMENDI: Yes, we didn't discuss that.

However, his e-mail indicates that he was very much aware of what was going on and obviously concerned about it. Just, given the nature of the meetings we had, we didn't ask him. We were not there to investigate. That's going to come in the halls of Congress in the days ahead.

BLITZER: But what was your impression, though, based not necessarily simply from the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev, but from others with whom you had conversations, including high-level Ukrainian officials?

GARAMENDI: Well, I think Zelensky said it as well as a person in his position could possibly say it.

And that's, oh, it wasn't pressure.

Well, what else is he going to when he's totally dependent on the United States and NATO allies for the continuation of his efforts to push Russia out of his country?

Clearly, they knew what was going on. These are not naive people. These are extremely smart people. They know that they're going to have to mind their P's and Q's. They're going to have to say the right thing at the right time. They can't further anger the president, who, clearly, in the days ahead, has the power to withhold money once again.

And so they're going to be careful. They're smart. They also want to deal with corruption. In the meeting with the minister of defense, we had a long conversation about their efforts to root out corruption in the military.

And they actually would like to have an inspector general team go to Ukraine and teach them how to establish an inspector general. We can see what good that brings to America when we have such a person in place.

BLITZER: So you met with the foreign minister of Ukraine, the defense minister, the senior staff for President Zelensky.

GARAMENDI: Right.

BLITZER: Did you discuss the whole issue, the Biden issue, Hunter Biden serving on the board of this Ukrainian gas company? Did you discuss any of the allegations that the president of the United States and Rudy Giuliani have leveled?

GARAMENDI: Actually, we did not.

However, the foreign minister alluded to it in our opening. And we quickly put that out of the way and got to the things that I wanted to deal with there, which is, how can we support Ukraine? What can we do further?

How can we avoid the kind of problem that Trump ha created, establishing relationships, making sure that money flows and whatever additional support they might need? That's why we were there.

The foreign minister did allude to that, and we moved on.

BLITZER: How did he allude to it? What did he say?

(LAUGHTER)

GARAMENDI: I don't remember the exact conversation, but he said that, with all the things going on, he recognized that we were there at a difficult time.

[18:15:00]

BLITZER: But he didn't want to get into specifics, because he felt under pressure from the U.S.?

GARAMENDI: Well, of course there was pressure from the U.S.

It's in the president's own transcription of his phone call. There's considerable pressure; $400 million of critical military aid was put on hold. And then there was a phone call. And then there were further discussions, all the things Giuliani and everybody else involved in trying to dig dirt.

So, of course they knew there was serious pressure. And keep in mind that the minister of defense had been on the job two weeks when we arrived. And he's trying to gain civilian control over the military, deal with the corruption in the past.

And they have enormous tasks. And Trump -- all that Trump managed to do was to really hit that government right in the gut at a very critical time, as they were trying to build their new government and to deal with the mandate that the people had given them, not only a 75 percent vote for Zelensky in the presidential election, but then an overwhelming majority in their Parliament.

And then for Trump to come in and to hit him as to hit that government and that president, as he did, it was only one winner, one winner in all of that, and that is Putin, an enormous gift to Putin, on top of all of the other things that this president has done for Putin, everything from demeaning and demoralizing our national security agencies, the FBI, CIA, the joint -- the nuclear agreement with Iran, all of these things, and now Syria.

Boy, you just chalk up -- put the scoreboard up there in just the first five innings, win for Putin, win for Putin. And once again, every time, it's another win for Putin and another harm to our alliances and to our really key allies.

And keep in mind that Ukraine is an ally. Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Crimea was stolen from Ukraine. And a war is going on now, right now, in Ukraine. It's nighttime, and the mortars are falling on top of Ukraine's soldiers now.

And what does Trump do? Well, he tries to get dirt on Biden and leverages, extorts the new president. It's unconscionable, what's happening. And then for our NATO allies,

more than a billion dollars of critical infrastructure taken from our NATO allies and Eastern Europe and put into the border wall. Unconscionable. One more win for Putin.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Thank you.

BLITZER: We have more breaking news coming up.

How far will Democrats go to protect whistleblowers complaining about the president, as one is in talks to testify and second has now come forward?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:44]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news on what House Democrats may be doing to try to protect the Ukraine scandal whistleblower, after repeated attacks by President Trump.

Sources now tell CNN the whistleblower's face and voice may be disguised during possible House testimony. That's one of the extreme measures being considered.

Let's bring in our correspondents and our analysts.

Phil Mudd, they're trying to make sure this guy is OK, this whistleblower, and there may be two whistleblowers now, that they will be protected, their security will be OK.

What do you think?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I'm surprised it's how this long.

Remember, there aren't a million people who go through those kinds of positions at the White House. There have to be still White House people, people connected to the president, who know who this individual is.

My point here is, they can do whatever they want, but surprisingly in this town, we're relying on people's courtesy and professionalism not to speak. If somebody decides this is so politically charged, I'm going to put the name out, there's nothing you can.

Last thing, if I were this individual, I would be telling the government you better have some place for me to go set up, because just physical security of guards isn't good enough. This individual will have to relocate.

BLITZER: Because the president has said, Dana, that he wants to -- he wants to meet this whistleblower be confronted by this whistleblower, because he suggested that the information he had second- and third- hand, that they were spies who gave him this information.

You have heard the comments of the president.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, inappropriate. And that's not my word. That's the word of the few Republicans who have spoken out, especially including senior Republicans, like Chuck Grassley.

That was kind of the line that they drew, not necessarily on the substance of the president's call, but on the notion that he's trying to call out the whistleblower.

It still kind of blows the mind to think about the fact that this is the president of the United States potentially putting somebody who followed the law, who followed the rules, didn't leak, as he likes to talk about it, and sort of cast aspersions on those who leak information.

He did exactly what he is supposed to do when he sees something he doesn't believe is legal. And the fact that he is potentially in danger because the president of the United States, did you ever think you would see that?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And also because, if you look at the House Intelligence Committee, there are fewer committees that have become more riven by partisan divisions.

[18:25:02]

The ranking member, Devin Nunes, a very close ally of the president's. And so you can see why some of these committees might want -- it's not just about protecting the identity from the president, but also from his allies, many of whom are members of Congress themselves.

That is really -- to me, that is the extraordinary part. The members of Congress do not trust each other to keep this person's identity protected, even though, by law, this whistleblower is entitled, not only to the anonymity, but also to protection from retribution.

That's the part that a lot of Republicans recently have not wanted to remember about -- about why whistleblower protections exist.

BASH: The same Republicans who relied on whistleblowers in their investigations during the Obama administration.

PHILLIP: Exactly.

BLITZER: It's not just retribution and job security, Jamie Gangel, but it's also the physical security, the threat potentially to the life of this whistleblower, that is of deep concern to so many members.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

There's only one for this. It is outrageous. This should never have been the case. And for this person to feel that there's a threat against their life, for the committee to have to protect him from other members, this is beyond through the looking glass, Wolf.

It's just outrageous.

BLITZER: At the same time, these committees now are demanding from the Pentagon documents, office of Management and Budget documents.

They're trying to figure out why the military aid to Ukraine was withheld. Was it withheld as leverage to try to get the Ukrainians to provide dirt on the Bidens?

BASH: That's why they're -- yes, they're trying to figure it out. That's why they sent the subpoena.

But in their heart of hearts, the Democrats know that the chances of getting those documents from the Trump administration, whether it's at the Pentagon or the Office of Management and Budget, are very slim.

So what they're doing by sending these subpoenas is building their case and making it broader and deeper for their impeachment inquiry.

BLITZER: Everybody, stick around for a moment. We have got a lot more we need to discuss.

There's much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: We're back with our experts and we're following the breaking news in the Ukraine scandal. As House Democrats issued new subpoenas, Republicans, they are struggling with their strategy against impeachment.

Let's go back to our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, what are you hearing from Republicans?

BASH: Well, Republican leaders in the House did a conference call with House Republicans who are spread out all in their districts because they are in recess this week. And they said they did polling with 31 Trump districts and they insist that impeachment is hurting Democrats, not Republicans. They're trying to spin it as much as they can.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Most Republicans are so unsure about how to play this. They're in virtual hiding. And the few who are speaking out, well, listen to House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy this morning.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You watched what the president said. He's not saying China investigate.

BASH: Actually, he did. Listen.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

BASH: Some Republicans tried to explain that away with a different tactic, deflect, claiming Trump was just kidding.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): I doubt if the China comment was serious, to tell you the truth.

BASH: CNN contacted more than 80 GOP congressional offices about the president inviting China to investigate his political rival. Barely a handful responded. Most notably Mitt Romney, who said the president's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.

In response, the president went after Romney, calling him pompous and a fool, clearly intended as a warning to other Republicans weighing whether to speak out.

It didn't stop Maine's Susan Collins, who did criticize the president, which plays well with Democrats she needs to win re-election in her blue state. She said, the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent. But she also echoed Trump's loyalist pummeling the House Democratic leading the probe.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee misrepresented and misled people about what was in the transcript.

BASH: Mitch McConnell, also on the ballot in 2020, is raising money for his Kentucky race with a promise to protect the president.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): All you know your Constitution. The way that impeachment stops is when a Senate Majority with me as majority leader.

BASH: McConnell's campaign aides argue that impeachment is galvanizing the GOP base as much as the 2018 Kavanaugh nomination fight, which contributed to several Democratic Senate defeats.

Then there's Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, who takes it to a full deep state level.

CHUCK TOOD, MSNBC HOST: Do you not trust the FBI? You don't trust the CIA?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): No, I don't, absolutely not.

TODD: You don't trust any of the --

JOHNSON: After Lisa Page.

TODD: Okay.

JOHNSON: After James Comey --

TODD: You believe the FBI and the CIA, these government agencies? JOHNSON: No, I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don't trust anybody.

TODD: You don't trust them now? Do you trust them now?

JOHNSON: No, I didn't trust them back then.

BASH: Colin Powell, never a Trump fan, all but called Republicans cowardly.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: They need to get a grip. And when they see things that are not right, they need to say something about it.

BASH: Some Republicans, like Rob Portman of Ohio, are starting follow a, yes, but road map laid out in an op-ed by Fox's Tucker Carlson.

[18:35:05]

Portman told the Columbus Dispatch, the president should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period. But added, I don't view it as an impeachable offense.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And I talked to a House Republican, Wolf, today who, just like Rob Portman said, that he thinks the president's call to Ukraine's leader was totally inappropriate but he also told me he isn't ready to say that publicly yet because he doesn't know if there's another, quote, jack-in-the-box out there. So he's reluctant to go too far in supporting the president and he said he's talked to a lot of his House Republican colleagues who say the same thing.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. You know, Jamie, you know a lot of these Republicans. You cover them. Are they becoming increasingly reluctant to side with the president? What are you hearing?

GANGEL: So to use Dana's word, privately, I don't know how many times we're going to be using that but Republican sources privately are saying something very different from what they are saying publicly. One of them said, we have Trump exhaustion.

They are also very worried that they do not know what is coming. There's one whistleblower. There seems to be now a second whistleblower. A lawyer said they may represent multiple whistleblowers. And they really don't know what evidence is going to come out. They do think, however, that it is likely, if not inevitable that in the House, they will get to impeachment.

So what happens beyond that, they have to watch be polls. They have to deal with Donald Trump. But right now, they are looking for a larger desk to hide under.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

What are you hearing, Abby? PHILLIP: Well, it's interesting that Jamie mentioned that they are looking at the polls. We've heard the president today spending a lot of time inflating polls. He said twice today that he's gone up in one poll that he didn't name, some 17 points. That's clearly not true. But he's trying to put on a brave face on this, reassuring Republicans that the base is with him and that it would be a politically risky move to move forward with kind of breaking ranks here.

So this is a president who is holding the line but the question is how long. You're already seeing some Republicans test driving some messages that they can possibly use if they decide to say, for example, what the president did was inappropriate but we don't think that it warrants actually removing him from office through impeachment.

BLITZER: Most of the Republicans, as you know, Phil, they are reluctant to criticize the president as far as the Ukraine phone call was concerned, but they are increasingly coming out now and criticizing the president's decision on Syria.

MUDD: Yes, I mean, they've got to. We have an ally who fought ISIS with us. I worked with the Kurds when I was in government. They have been with us since the Iraq War.

And all of a sudden, without evidently a lot of consultation, you step back and say, hey, Kurds, we're out of here. It's not just about the Kurds, it's about their families because the Turks are going to come across the border and the people that we told we would protect are going to get killed.

This is a day I think I'd be ashamed to be an American. You've got to tell an ally, we told you we'd stick with you, and now, for that choice, you may die. It's unbelievable.

BLITZER: And some of the Republican criticism, Dana, we're putting up on the screen, some of the words that we're hearing. These are not Democrats, from Republicans, huge mistake, betraying an ally, disastrous, insures ISIS comeback, shortsighted and irresponsible, a stain on America's honor. We could go on but you get the point.

BASH: Right. And, look, I mean, this is about a policy that Republicans, during the Obama administration, criticized that president for intensely and this is a rare area where you're seeing some consistency in politics. Meaning all of the Republicans that came out eagerly going after the president today, it's because they believe, you look at recent history, it's true, by pulling out, what you're doing is you are going to allow ISIS to come back.

The caliphate is gone but it wasn't that long ago that they were a real viable threat. And by pulling out U.S. troops, it's going to allow them to come back, just like, from the perspective of all these Republicans, happen when the U.S. pulled out too quickly of Iraq.

It's fascinating though the way that they -- it's almost as if they were unloading their impeachment angst on this particular policy decision. BLITZER: Yes, and it's going, I suspect, as well.

Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following.

An urgent manhunt is under way as authorities try to figure out who killed a key witness in a former police officer's murder trial. Was it retribution?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, Dallas Police are investigating the mysterious killing of a key witness in the murder trial of former Police Officer Amber Guyger. The new shooting comes just days after Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison for killing her neighbor in his own apartment.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is following the story for us. He's joining us from Dallas. What are you learning, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, two days after the world was talking about the hugs in that courtroom at the end of the Amber Guyger trial, one of the key witnesses gunned down in the parking lot of his own apartment.

[18:45:05]

And now, investigators are trying to unravel the reason why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tonight, the manhunt is under way for the killer who gunned down a key witness in the Amber Guyger murder trial. Dallas police say there are no leads or suspects in the Friday the killer who gunned down a key witness in the amber the killer who gunned down a key witness in the Amber Guyger murder trial.

Dallas police say there are no leads or suspects in the Friday night shooting death of 28-year-old Joshua Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please state your name for the record.

JOSHUA BROWN, WITNESS: Joshua Brown.

LAVANDERA: Brown lived across the hall from Botham Jean and testified about what he heard when Guyger opened the door and shot and killed his neighbor.

AMBER GUYGER, FORMER POLICE OFFICER: I thought this was my apartment.

LAVANDERA: Guyger who thought she was entering her own apartment when she encountered Jean was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder.

BROWN: She was crying. Explaining what happened, what she thought happened, saying she came into the wrong apartment. LAVANDERA: Brown's murder had raised concerns and triggered a flurry

of speculation that he was targeted for testifying in the Guyger murder case, that he was seen as a snitch.

A family lawyer said Brown had been shot in the mouth. That turned out to be false. Dallas police say Brown was shot multiple times in the lower body. He was in the parking lot of a Dallas apartment complex.

LEE MERRITT, JOSHUA BROWN FAMILY LAWYER: I was blown away.

LAVANDERA: The family lawyer who represented Botham Jean's family says Joshua Brown was reluctant to testify.

(on camera): Why was he nervous about testifying in the Guyger trial?

MERRITT: I think he had some apprehensions about being seen as an informant or a snitch. And then he had some personal beef with people who did not, to that time, know that he was still in the city of Dallas. That trial revealed that he was, in fact, here.

LAVANDERA: In November of last year, just a few months after Botham Jean was killed, Joshua Brown was hanging out at this club in Dallas. He got into an altercation and was shot and wounded and another person was killed. The attorney representing his family says that since then, he had feared for his life worrying that whoever carried out that shooting was going to come back and finish the job.

MERRITT: He wasn't there with the victim.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Brown's family law says all of the people involved in that shooting attack knew each other from their high school years and he fears the exposure from testifying in the Guyger trial made Joshua Brown a target again and he was still getting threats.

MERRITT: I have been told that he had concerns about -- he wasn't living on the run per se, but he did have concerns about people knowing his whereabouts.

LAVANDERA (on camera): He was watching his back?

MERRITT: Right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, Brown's family attorney that you just heard from there says that he believes prosecutors should have done more to protect him given his reluctance to want to testify.

We have asked Dallas prosecutors about that but have not heard back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed. Thank you very much, Ed Lavandera in Dallas.

We have much more news right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:52:35]

BLITZER: As the U.S. Supreme Court begins its new term today, it will decide whether to take up a landmark case on how the U.S. military and the prosecutors deal with rape.

Brianna Keilar is here with the special report for us.

Brianna, you've been working on this for a while. The Trump administration is asking the high court right now to overturn the decision by the top military appeals court that threw out multiple rape cases.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This decision retroactively put in place a five-year deadline for reporting rapes that happened from 1986 to 2006. And now, it's up to the Supreme Court. Do they take up this case? Do they overrule the military justice system?

I sat down with three women whose lives have been turned inside out by this military court decision and a warning that their stories are graphic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER ELMORE: I've been asked over and over and over and over and over again what is it that you want. My answer has been the truth to be told.

KEILAR (voice-over): Jennifer's father is a retired two-star Army General James Grazioplene. She says she was three years old when she first remembered him sexually abusing her.

ELMORE: In the summer of 1974, when came home to my grandmother in upstate New York. He took my underwear down and he masturbated himself touching me. I knew not what really was happening but I knew I was terrified and this was very bad.

KEILAR: The abuse escalated to rapes, she says, and continued for years. In 1986, her mother Ann Marie (ph) wrote to family member that her husband was taking perverted liberties with my child and had made an attempt at sexually molesting Jennifer. She was sleeping, thank God, and I caught him before he got started.

Ann Marie Grazioplene who is still married to her husband told CNN her words had been distorted. The Army charged the general with six counts of rape. More than two decades after the alleged abuse stopped. Grazioplene pleaded not guilty but never saw his day in court.

That's because the top military appeals court ruled in a separate case. U.S. v. Mangahas that rapes have a statute of limitations of five years. The court had reversed longstanding precedent. ELMORE: The countless number of times my father harmed me, I would think I'm going to stay silent because if I spoke, they're not going to believe me.

[18:55:03]

And worse yet, if they do believe me, they're not going to do anything.

KEILAR: In total, the military dismissed or declined to prosecute at least ten alleged rapes from that time period. Five victims who already secured convictions saw military courts vacate them.

HARMONY ALLEN: They get their rank back. They get their benefits back. They also don't have to register as a sex offender.

KEILAR: One of Harmony Allen's instructors, Master Sergeant Richard Collins raped and beat her in 2000. Harmony says she fought back.

ALLEN: I hit him in the face and he punched me in my face. He knocked me out. And when I woke up, he was inside of me.

KEILAR: A military jury sentenced Collins to 16-1/2 years in prison in 2017. But he served just two before successfully appealing.

Collins' lawyer declined to comment for this story.

D.K.: After it happened, I didn't think anybody would believe me.

KEILAR: D.K., whose identity CNN is not disclosing was raped in 2005 by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael Briggs.

D.K.: I told him no, I didn't want to, I told him to stop and then he started raping me. And the next morning when I woke up, I was in a lot of pain. I had blood all over me. I had bruises on my thighs. I was extremely swollen. I couldn't sit down.

KEILAR: Eight years later, D.K. officially reported her rape to the military. Then she called Michael Briggs on the phone.

LT. COL. MICHAEL BRIGGS: Lieutenant Colonel Briggs.

DK: Hi, this is Sergeant (AUDIO DELETED), actually you probably remember me as airman from when we were stationed at Luke together?

BRIGGS: Yes.

KEILAR: Air Force investigators were recording the call.

DK: You raped me. You destroyed me. For eight years, I've had to live with this by myself. I can't talk about it. I can't tell anybody. You took everything from me. Why?

BRIGGS: I didn't know the repercussions and even if I did, I wasn't -- I was selfish. I was --

DK: I need to hear you say you're sorry for raping me.

BRIGGS: I am sorry. I have been sorry. I will always be sorry for raping you.

KEILAR: Briggs was convicted in 2014, but a court dismissed the conviction this year and an attorney for Briggs says he maintains his innocence.

Now, the Trump administration has taken the unusual step of asking the Supreme Court to overrule the top military appeals court.

NOEL FRANCISCO, SOLICITOR GENERAL: The Department of Justice's goal is not to just to win but to ensure that justice is served.

KEILAR: Solicitor General Noel Francisco seen here at his confirmation hearing in 2017 is arguing that Congress did not intend for there to be a statute of limitations for sexual assault in the military at the time that DK and Harmony were raped.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: What the government is saying that the Appeals Court for the Armed Forces got it wrong and the Supreme Court should correct that, but also in a larger sense is saying this is very important to larger military policy.

KEILAR: The military declined to comment on ongoing legal matters but the Pentagon is struggling to confront an epidemic. In the #MeToo era, reports of sexual assaults have risen in the Armed Forces, up 38 percent from 2016 to 2018.

Don Christensen was chief prosecutor for the Air Force until 2014 and now advocates for victims of military sexual assault. He says the military fails to hold most rapists accountable.

DON CHRISTENSEN, MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT ADVOCATE: If a rapist or sex offender knows that 99 percent of the time, he or she will never be held accountable, their are disincentivized to ever change. It also sends a bad message to the entire force that this is something we don't care about.

KEILAR: Jennifer Elmore has sought justice elsewhere, in Virginia, where there's no statute of limitations for rape.

Retired General Grazioplene is scheduled to stand trial there in January on multiple rape counts.

ELMORE: I'm incredibly grateful that I have another chance that others have not gotten, who are struggling with essentially being told you are not worth, which is what a victim hears and knows. You're not worth something different.

KEILAR: For DK and Harmony, all they can do is wait and watch the Supreme Court in the hope it will decide to hear their cases.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: If the Supreme Court does choose to take on the cases, this would be a first. The justices weighing in on sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, as well as the issue of military sexual assault all with its newest justice on the bench, Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed last fall amid allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman when he was in high school -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Really important report. Thank you so much, Brianna, for bringing that to our attention. We appreciate it a lot. Brianna Keilar reporting for us.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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