Return to Transcripts main page


DOJ to Give Redacted FBI Memos from Mueller Probe to Lawmakers for Use in Impeachment Inquiry; Syrian War Defector Calls on Congress to Take Action after Revealing Atrocities Committed by Assad Regime; Democratic Presidential Candidate John Delaney Discusses the White House Blocking Sondland from Testifying Before Congress. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This just into CNN. The Justice Department has agreed to give the House more than 30 memos from the Mueller investigation for use in the current impeachment inquiries. What does this mean? And what is in these memos?

Let's get to CNN's Jessica Schneider gathering more details on this.

Jessica, what are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this is just another front in this battle over access for documents. All morning long, while we've seen everything happening on Capitol Hill, there has been a battle happening in federal court here in Washington, D.C.

And basically, the general counsel for the House of Representatives has been battling with the Department of Justice over access to memo that stem from the Mueller report and the Department of Justice.

The House general counsel saying, up to this point, the Department of Justice hasn't given them memos that they need, memos of documents that Robert Mueller did, for example, with former White House counsel, Don McGahn.

So now the Department of Justice is saying that it has agreed to give the House of Representatives at least 33 FBI memos. But the key here is that many of those memos will be redacted.

So this is a big fight that's happening in court. And what's interesting about this fight, Kate, is that this is really showing how broad this impeachment inquiry could be. The whole fight over the access to documents, the DOJ has been pushing back on it, saying, of course, there's never been a vote for a formal impeachment inquiry.

And the general counsel in the House of Representatives here saying we don't need a formal vote to do our jobs to look into this, to launch this impeachment inquiry. And crucially here, Kate, the House general counsel saying that this

impeachment inquiry stems far beyond just the Ukraine issue. And crucially, in court today, the House general counsel saying that the president, in fact, could be impeached just for lying to the American public.

Again, this shows just how broad the scope is in this impeachment inquiry stemming from the House and it's a battle playing out in court. At the same time, we're seeing the battle play out on Capitol Hill, too -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fascinating because the focus is just squarely on the Ukraine issue, as we call it that, but are reminded it's far beyond that.

Jessica, thanks very much.

Much more on that. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: "Disgraceful, unnerving to its core, a betrayal." That is the Republican reaction to the president's surprise decision and order to remove U.S. troops from a key section in northern Syria.

On Sunday, the stunning announcement that the U.S. will be essentially be abandoning the Kurdish allies who have fought for years on the ground there to help U.S. defeat ISIS.

Despite the criticism, though, the president is defending his decision this way.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we've been in Syria for a long time. And it was supposed to be a short-hit. A hit on ISIS. But it didn't work out that way. They never left. They've been there for many, many years. We were down to few soldiers in Syria. We had 50 in the region that you're talking about, 50 soldiers. And they've been already moved out. But we'll see what happens.


BOLDUAN: Now, if anyone needs a reminder of what's really at stake here, one man has been sounding the alarm for years, risking it all to expose the atrocities of President Bashar al Assad and his regime.

He just returned to Washington again to beg for action on what is described as the mother of all sanctions bills sits and sits and we were there.

I do want to warn you, the images you're about to see are graphic and disturbing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): We can't tell you his name. It's too dangerous to show his face. He won't even allow his voice to be recorded as he speaks through his translator.

But we can show you these. Almost 55,000 photos he risked his life to bring out of Syria, some of which have never been seen publicly until now. And he's risking his life again to plead with Congress to act.

(on camera): How are you feeling in this moment, being back in Washington again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My feeling being here is a feeling of a bit of disappointment, and at the same time frustration, because after everything that I've done, in order to expose what the regime has done, we have yet to see any real action.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): His code name is Caesar. He was a military photographer in Damascus when the civil war began in 2011. He said he immediately realized what he was then documents were not accidental deaths but torture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For example, millions of bodies had their eyes gouged out. Most had very deep cuts. Most of them were emaciated, starved for many, many months. And marks all over their bodies from head to toe. I would see their jaws and teeth broken.

BOLDUAN: Instead of defecting right after the war broke out, Caesar says he decided to stay for two and a half years to bear witness, collect evidence, and to expose what really was happening in his country. Where any sign of sympathy for the dead could be interpreted as betrayal of the regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would work for hours taking photographs, load the photographs. And I would have to hide my anguishes, I would have to pray that a tear does not come down my face, because if they saw one tear. If they saw one expression on my face that showed sympathy, then I would be killed as with my family.

(on camera): How did you do that?


BOLDUAN (voice-over): In 2013, he finally fled and brought with him what the FBI confirmed as authentic and the State Department's ambassador for war crimes described stronger evidence than what existed against the Nazis.


BOLDUAN: The Syrian government has denied responsibility and called the photos fake. Caesar made his first trip to Capitol Hill in 2014, testifying before

Congress under cover in the exact same disguise he used for our interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I honestly thought that if I could have the courage to go for the years that I did, doing the work that I did endangering my life every single day, that once I came out and showed the world what I had that the entire conscious of the world would move.

BOLDUAN (on camera): And then that didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In four years, the world did not move.

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I'll never forget what he showed up.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): The sanctions bill sparked by Caesar's testimony and photographs has passed the House three times with bipartisan support but has yet to make it to the Senate floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what I am pleading is for the American people to please save the Syrian people. Save these people that do not deserve the hellish nightmare that they're living in.

BOLDUAN: One of the lawmakers Caesar made his case to this time, Senator Lindsey Graham. Not only is he a longtime critic of Bashar al Assad, Graham has also had the ear of President Trump, and he revealed to CNN that he's introducing a resolution to declare Assad a war criminal.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): To the people in Syria, we're not turning our back on you. I wish we could do better. The administration needs to do more, quite frankly. We don't have a coherent strategy in Syria and I'm committed 100 percent not letting Assad get away with it and standing behind people like Caesar. And I'm going to make my colleagues in the Senate vote.

BOLDUAN: Until then, the bill sits on Senator Mitch McConnell's desk and leaves Caesar right back where he began, putting his life on the line, to try and convince the world to care, and once and for all, not look away.

(on camera): We're in the Holocaust Museum. And after the Holocaust, the world said, "never again." And I'm really struck by seeing the atrocities coming outside of Syria, and the fact that the world is not saying that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're right. How many more children must be killed? How many more men must be tortured to death? How many more women must be raped until you mean it, when you say never again?


BOLDUAN: I want to bring in two people now who know the situation in Syria better than most, CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, and former ambassador-at-large to war crime issues, Stephen Rapp.

Thank you so much.

Ambassador, first to you.

Why does what Caesar has produced and smuggled out to show the world, why is it so important? And what is your reaction that at least in the United States it's done very little?

STEPHEN RAPP, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE TO WAR CRIMES ISSUES: Well it's extremely valuable evidence. I prosecuted the Rwanda and can the atrocities in Sierra Leone, and this is better evidence than we had. Each of these provides the number and the individual tortured to death.

And we have documents from that same time that the Assad government made the decision to go all in. It wasn't facing a civil war then.

They had hundreds of thousands of people on the streets hoping for democracy, his answer was to put hundreds of thousands of them in prison and basically torture those folks to death. And by doing that, suppressed this revolution. He committed massive war crimes against humanity in the process.


The frustrating thing is we haven't had an international court to take it to because the Russians and also the Chinese have blocked the kind of action that we had in the Security Council when we prosecuted in Rwanda.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, quickly, one other thing. I keep wondering in covering this, why does the Assad regime want documentation, records, evidence of this?

RAPP: Well it's a strange thing. But the machinery of death, the machinery of torture and repression is very regulated. We see it in the 800,000 documents that the organization seizes brought out of the country.

They documented everything, including evidence that profoundly implicates them in these crimes. And they send these bodies to Caesar and to the unit that he had in a military hospital whose job it is to investigate suspicious deaths.

Of course, the whole purpose was to take their photos so the bodies could be destroyed. And presumed that, of course, that kind of evidence would never come to the light of day outside of Syria.

BOLDUAN: Clarissa, you can put all of this in perspective, kind of in the context of today with U.S. forces being pulled and the U.S. ally on the ground saying they've now been stabbed in the back. You've been in Syria. You've seen what's happened on the ground. Put it in context.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just want to sort of piggyback on what the ambassador was saying there as well as to why they would document these crimes.

And the reality as to what we've wean in Syria, this is a war without consequences. This is a war in a post-truth war where you can document the coordinated extermination of thousands and thousands of people and there will still be nations that will take your side at the United Nations Security Council, block actions taken against you.

This is a world where you can exterminate 1800 children and women, using poisonous gases after it's been declared a red line and not face any consequences for it.

So the Syrian regime understands full well, despite the international outcry, they have basically been led to victory by the support of Iran and Russia.

And now, there are even sort of quarters of the international community that would seek to rehabilitate the Assad government. So there's no consequence for the sort of behavior we've seen.

And it's that lack of moral authority and moral clarity, coming from the U.S. is what upsets so many people in Syria, whether it's Syrian Kurdish forces feeling like they've been cast aside now that President Trump has already declared victory against ISIS, or whether it's the Syrian people who are left to the mercy of a brutal dictator like Bashar al Assad -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And in the face of all this, what is described as the mother of all bills against Assad and the regime sits in the Senate and waits again.

Clarissa, thank you.

Ambassador, thank you so much.

RAPP: Sure thing.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: If the impeachment inquiry into the president was not already contentious, it just hit a new level this morning with more fast-moving parts. What the chair of the House Intelligence Committee now calls strong evidence of obstruction. The breaking news just in, he, Adam Schiff, along with the other committee chairmen, has issued subpoenas for that person, ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.

The White House blocking this key witness from testifying just moments before he was set to appear this morning.

And attorney for the E.U. ambassador said this in a statement today that, "Ambassador Sondland is profoundly disappointed he will not be able to testify today." Going on to say that, "Ambassador Sondland believes strongly he acted at all times in the interest of the United States and he stands ready to answer the committee's questions fully and truthfully."

But will he ever get that chance? One source familiar with Trump's impeachment team told Jim Acosta this, "The days of being nice are done."

We've also learned that Eliot Engel, as I just said, they're issuing subpoenas for Sondland, for his testimony, and for documents. That's the breaking news that just came in.

Joining me to talk about this is Democratic presidential candidate, former Congressman John Delaney.

Thank you for being here, Congressman.


BOLDUAN: You have been supportive of the House moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry. Do you think the House should hold this formal vote to launch the impeachment proceedings like the House is asking, because that's part, at least, of where the tension is here?

DELANEY: No, I don't think it's worth spending any time on that point. I think Speaker Pelosi is the speaker of the House and she can set the rules for how to proceed, and they're proceeding and doing their work. So I think it's -- you know, I defer to her and I think she's handling this very well.

BOLDUAN: It also happened with the past two presidential impeachment inquiries. Why wouldn't the House do it here if it would move things along? I can't say I promise it would, but that's the president's position at this point, that it would.

DELANEY: I think Speaker Pelosi knows more about this process than anyone who comments on this process. So I defer to her. I suspect she's thought through how to most successfully conduct these investigations and get to the truth, and I think that spending too much time on this question, quite frankly, is not all that important.

What's more important to do is to talk about actually what happened, making sure the House gets the information they need.

But also remember that we also have to focus on things that actually improve the lives of the American people. Because that's what they really want us to do.

BOLDUAN: Well, part of -- one of the many important questions -- one of the many things that is wrapped up in all of this is former Vice President Joe Biden. And while there's no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Joe Biden or his son, Hunter, this has raised questions about whether family members of a vice president should be sitting on boards of foreign companies.

Some of your fellow Democratic candidates have spoken out about this. Would you allow that of your vice president? DELANEY: No. Listen, I want to be clear. I don't believe the vice

president or his son did anything wrong. I just want to be very clear about that.

However, I generally believe you should always avoid the appearance of impropriety, particularly when you're in a position of public trust.

So in my administration, I expect to raise kind of the ethic standards, if you will, to prohibit certain activities that deal with foreign corporations, and this would be one of them.

Again, I want to be very clear. I do not believe that the vice president or son did anything wrong, and I think the president's attack on him are inappropriate and are designed to mask his behavior, which, in my opinion, is in violation of his oath of office.

But also to be clear, I think avoiding the appearance of impropriety is always the best way to serve the public trust of the United States of America. So that's how I would think about this issue.

Listen, I spent two decades in the private sector before running for Congress. I started two companies. I took them public. I was the chairman and CEO of two publicly traded companies. I understand all the New York Stock Exchange governance rules, all the FCC rules about conduct.


I'm the only person running for president that actually has that entrepreneurial or CEO experience. And my companies every had any issues or violations with any kind of code of conduct or governance.

I set a very high standard on these types of things. When I was running my businesses, for example, I always thought, as the chairman and CEO of my company, I shouldn't be on any other company's board because I wanted to show my shareholders they had my full attention.

I think the same thing is true in public service. You ought to be able to look at the American people and say, I'm fully focused on what matters to you, what improves your lives, how I can do things to help you.

BOLDUAN: I'll say it again, there's no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Joe Biden and his son, but do you think this should be a question about Joe Biden in the debate?

DELANEY: No, I don't. At the end of the day, the most important things for us to talk about with 2020 candidates is how do we improve the lives of the American people, period.

And 40 percent of citizens can't afford their basic necessities. Half of them can't afford a $500 expense. Quite frankly, they're kind of disinterested in a lot of this stuff. They want us to lower drug prices, build infrastructure, do things to create jobs in communities that are left behind, those kitchen table pocketbook issues that I spent all my time talking about. I think members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the administration are going to engage in this debate about the impeachment. I fully support everything that's going on. I think the president is not only ignorant as to his job and he doesn't care about serving the best interests of the American people, and I think he's violated the oath of office.

But at the end of the day, the job of the people running for president is to talk about how we're going to improve their lives. I don't think we should spend too much time on these kinds of things in our campaigning.

BOLDUAN: John Delaney, thanks for coming in.

DELANEY: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.