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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

NBA And Free Speech; Turkey Prepares Syria Offensive; White House Letter To Pelosi Says Trump Won't Cooperate With Illegitimate Impeachment Process; NBA Commissioner Not Apologizing For China Tweet. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 8, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: So I think it is important to recognize that this -- these are statements that acknowledge there is a deep, deep problem with how Donald Trump and this administration are conducting the business of the country.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we should just note -- I want to just note that this is not according to the whistle-blower's actual complaint. This is according to a memo that the whistle-blower provided.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right.

So it ultimately -- I was just going to say the same thing.

TAPPER: Oh, sorry.

PHILLIP: That this was not actually in the whistle-blower report, probably for the reason that you outlined.

But it does suggest, according to the reporting, that very shortly after this call between President Trump and President Zelensky, the whistle-blower memorialized what people were telling him about the call.

And, ultimately, the concern that President Trump has really actually focused on is, who inside of the White House was so concerned about the call that they told the whistle-blower about it? I think that is a critical piece here.

There are people who are probably currently serving in Trump's White House who are the sources for this information. And that is what -- that is what is problematic for the president. And it is potentially yet another avenue for the Democrats as they're pursuing this impeachment inquiry.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But here is what I think is problematic, and I really struggle with this.

We're talking about the possible impeachment of a sitting president, removing him from office, largely based on someone that we don't know who it is. I think everything is credible. I think it is backed up. I think it's documented. He was meticulous.

But I think if we're seriously talking about ripping someone who was elected out of office, we ultimately need to know who that person is. And that is unfair. It is hard. He or she is going to get smeared.

But it's a difficult thing to keep basing everything on this, when this person hasn't come out in light and given testimony yet.

TAPPER: Not yet. Not yet. It is early yet.

But I do want to point the fact that there is a new "Washington Post" poll out today that finds that 58 percent of adults polled say they support the decision to start an impeachment inquiry; 58 percent say should have, Congress should have begun the impeachment inquiry; 38 percent say should not have.

That is a lot of support for beginning an impeachment inquiry.

HAQ: Well, that certainly shows that the American public is starting to make a distinction between the Mueller report and what happened in the relitigation of 2016, which does leave a distaste in many people's mouth, and acknowledgment that, wait a second, this president in office shortly after Mueller testified was doing exactly the same thing that the report outlined.

And so this is happening in real time. And it comes at this time when people are already sick of dirty politics, feeling that they're under attack and things are divisive. So to see a president of the United States, who should be leading in Syria and foreign affairs, all these other spaces, leading on the economy, really tweeting all day about whether or not somebody should testify, this is not the type of leadership any American wants.

TAPPER: And, Phil, independents -- I go to you because I think of you as an independent. Independents' support for beginning the probe, not necessarily for impeaching, but beginning an inquiry, has gone up 20 points since July.

It is 57 percent now against 38 percent. But that number, "The Post" notes, has gone up 20 points since July from 37 percent. Now it's 57 percent.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, but I'm a little bit skeptical on the independent side.

And that is because I still don't think what the American people fully understand what they're asking for. I don't think they still understand the difference between the House and the Senate process.

I think they don't fully understand what Mitch McConnell is saying. They think this is a simple process where the House goes and investigates and votes and then something happens with the president.

I think that word impeachment is loaded. And I think, if you look at it through that lens, the polling data looks a lot different. I don't think the American people know what they're asking. CARPENTER: And that's why I actually agree with Republicans, although I think it will backfire on them, in that Speaker Pelosi should hold a vote to...

TAPPER: On the impeachment, OK.

CARPENTER: ... go forward in the inquiry, so that they define what this is about, because right now it does just look like endless investigations, endless fighting.

But if they have a vote and it is written on paper so people can evaluate the problem they are looking into, that would be helpful for everyone.

TAPPER: And, Abby, let me point out the fact that there's a new Quinnipiac poll out today. And this is a different question.

Asked if President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, not just the inquiry, but actually impeached and removed from office, 45 percent of the American people say yes, 49 percent say no.

So there isn't this zest to get him out of office right now, even if people do want the inquiry to begin.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, it does suggest that people do understand that the removal part of this is actually a step further, and that they're not quite ready to go there yet.

I wish some of these polls would ask both questions separately, so that we can have a sense of whether people want the inquiry and removal or just the inquiry and not removal.

But, you know, we will take it up with the pollsters later. I just think it's important for us to note that, while all of these numbers are kind of a little bit noisy between the polls, the polls do suggest that people are uncomfortable with the behavior that they know about that has been outlined.

That's also another source of problems. When people hear about what's going on, they don't like it and they think that the president is potentially abusing power. I think that's more of what we should be paying attention to as we go forward.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:35:02]

HAQ: It's the quest for accountability and wanting some check on administration.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have got more to talk about.

President Trump on the defensive after his biggest supporters ripped into his decision to withdraw troops from Syria. We're going to go live to the Middle East next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you in our world lead.

Right now, staffers on Capitol Hill are being briefed on the current situation in Northeast Syria. Both political parties, including loyal allies to President Trump and the Republican Party, have excoriated his decision to withdraw U.S. troops there, given that the Kurds who live there have been stalwart allies of the U.S., and there are credible fears that, without the U.S. there, Turkey might massacre them.

[16:40:05]

CNN Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward joins me now live from Northern Iraq.

And, Clarissa, signs today that a Turkish strike against the Kurds could theoretically be imminent.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

I mean, essentially, it could happen any moment now. No real clarity on the timing, the Turks simply saying that everything is in place for that to begin. They're calling it Operation Peace Spring.

And make no mistake, this is going to be a major operation, Jake. You're talking about 300 miles of border area. They want to cut a swathe 30 miles deep and cover that entire area. So this is not going to be something that happens overnight.

We have heard reports of military personnel, howitzers, various other military machinery massing in some areas along the Turkish-Syrian border. But the question now is, when will that effort begin under way? It appears that the Turks are not paying any attention to President Donald Trump, who did something of sort of pedaling back by saying, listen, if you hit the Kurds too hard, your economy will pay a very dear price for it.

The Turks responded by saying, we will not bow down to any threats. They seem very determined to go ahead with this -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, President Trump tried to defend his decision today. But it doesn't seem like even his closest allies are convinced that this is the right move.

WARD: Yes, it's interesting, Jake.

It doesn't matter who you talk to, whether it's his allies in the Republican Party, as you say, who see this as essentially handing a victory to Russia, to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, to Iran, or even European allies, who are very, very concerned about the real possibility that this could create a vacuum, that all those Syrian Kurdish forces who are currently guarding thousands and thousands of violent ISIS fighters in prisons under their purview, could potentially be now forced to go onto the front lines to fight against a Turkish invasion, leaving those prisons with the doors open.

Kurds very worried as well, of course, that they will simply be hung out to dry by their strongest ally, the U.S. -- Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward, live for us in Irbil, Iraq, thank you so much. Stay safe.

Airball. The NBA commissioner seems to have listened to all the backlash in his league's free speech face-off with China.

That story next.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We have some more breaking news for you now. CNN is learning that at any moment President Trump's lawyers will tell House Democrats in a letter that President Trump and the Trump administration will not cooperate in the impeachment inquiry arguing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding an illegitimate impeachment process.

CNN's Pamela Brown joins me now live. Pamela, what can you tell us about this letter?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's more familiar with the matter says the White House is expected to release this letter to congressional Democrats later today. And we're told it's a blistering letter, Jake, where the White House will make the argument that President Trump and his administration have no choice but not to cooperate with the Democrats ongoing impeachment inquiry.

The White House making this argument that the inquiry is illegitimate and is an effort to overturn the 2016 election results. And it also will make the case that it's circumvents by not having this vote. It circumvents President Trump's due process rights. And it will point out irregularities in the Democrats' investigation.

I'm told it will also take direct aim at Adam Schiff when Schiff had said he hadn't had contact with the whistleblower but then we had later learned that the committee, his committee did have some sort of contact and then also Schiff's reading of the transcript. Those will be a couple of the items in this letter that will be going to the Hill momentarily.

But we should point out, Jake, that I'm told the White House doesn't go so far as to corner itself in terms of saying if you hold a vote then we will give you everything you're looking for and we'll cooperate. Go ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much with the latest. And Abby Phillip, we should point out that the Constitution does not actually have rules for how somebody is going to be impeached.

And the last time this was done during the Clinton -- the Bill Clinton impeachment, I mean the House of Representatives isn't even necessarily set up the same way. The committees might be different. So I mean they can claim this but it's not based on the Constitution.

PHILLIP: Exactly. And I think most people -- impeachment experts agree that there's actually no requirement for an impeachment vote. And so I think it really kind of calls into question whether this is really a legal document or really more of a political document.

It sounds like from Pam's reporting they're going to be rehashing some of the arguments we've been hearing from President Trump about Adam Schiff claiming -- and I think we should say falsely, that there was something irregular about a committee staffer directing the whistleblower to go through a formal process. That's actually pretty much by the book how it's supposed to be done.

But they're going to be raising that as part of the argument against this. And I think this is -- this is another part of the political pushback. I just don't know how much legal weight it has in stopping Nancy Pelosi.

CARPENTER: I think an impeachment vote would be a clarifying exercise. But make no mistake, this is about the White House trying to gain control of our process they have no control of. They believe once there's a vote, House Republicans will get subpoena power and so for every legitimate witness that the Democrats bring like a Bill Taylor, expect they'll bringing in a Rudy Giuliani to blow it up.

TAPPER: Yes.

HAQ: This is exactly like after the Mueller report before anybody even got to see it, Bill Barr released a messaging document saying this is what this is all about and how it should be. Ultimately, this is going to be oversight by the bodies of Congress that already have a legal authority to conduct oversight. They don't need a vote to do that.

[16:50:14]

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all for being here. Coming up, the NBA backtracking and now saying that they actually are not sorry for that tweet that caused controversy in China. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our "SPORTS LEAD" now. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is today saying that the NBA is no longer apologizing after the Houston Rockets General Manager tweeted support of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. The NBA initially apologized to China and then they were assailed by lawmakers from both major parties for focusing on the billions to be made in the Chinese market instead of standing up for American and democratic values.

China's sports channel now says it will not broadcast any of the NBA games being held in China this week. Let's bring in the Atlantic's Jemele Hill who just published an op-ed arguing "the problem for the NBA is that this isn't just a free speech issue, this is a test to see whether the NBA has a stomach to fight for certain values when doing so compromises business."

Jemele, an honor to have you here. Thanks so much. How do you think the NBA and Silver are handling this test?

[16:55:47]

JEMELE HILL, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I think they're handling it very delicately. And I think the original way that they sort of came out of this thing with that statement where they refer to Houston General Manager Daryl Morey's tweet as regrettable. It really raised a lot of eyebrows.

I mean, here's a league that in large part is considered to be among the more progressive, if not the most progressive of all the major pro sports leagues, and for them to seemingly back away and distance itself from one of its employees, when it's kind of built that reputation, it was very eye-opening to a lot of people.

And it looked as if the NBA was just content, to kind of kneel to China, so as not to affect business and forgetting -- and they forgot about the fact that you know, they have players and coaches and other league personnel that they've allowed to be vocal on a number of political topics. So it would be very hypocritical for the NBA to all of a sudden abandon those principles.

TAPPER: Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post wrote, "It's more than a little bit ludicrous for everyone from Ted Cruz to better work to suddenly hand the NBA and the Rockets the tab for American toadying to authoritarians in Beijing." Jenkins then goes on to list companies like KFC, General Electric, Wal-Mart, and on and on, all of whom have big business in China.

What do you think about that argument? Is it hypocritical for people to go after the NBA and let -- turn a blind eye to other companies going after those Chinese dollars?

HILL: I think it's a little more nuanced than that. I mean, Sally is definitely right that there's a lot of American businesses that do business in China and they sort of hold their nose as they write and receive checks. The difference is how many of them have the social responsibility brand that the NBA does.

Keep in mind, Jake, that this is the same league who delayed having the All-Star game in Charlotte because of the controversial bathroom bill. This is the same league that basically as Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, many of their players have been outright critical of the President of the United States. And their entire response has been, hey, let these guys say what they politically believe.

This is the same league where Commissioner Adam Silver was dancing at the gay pride parade on a float in New York City. So they have made being socially responsible a part of their brand. And that's why there's a different expectation for them.

TAPPER: So you may Steve Kerr. He's the normally outspoken head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Take a listen to him. He was -- he was asked about this controversy and it was a reaction that I've never ever heard from Steve Kerr. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE KERR, HEAD COACH, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: It's a really bizarre international story. A lot of us don't know what to make of it. I'm not going to comment further.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A bizarre international story. A lot of us don't know what to make of it. I'm not going to comment any further. Did that surprise you? He's so reticent there.

HILL: Yes, I was stunned. But I think that speaks to the depth of the relationship between China and the U.S. basketball forces, if you will. Keep in mind that you have players that are regularly making pilgrimages to China in order to sell their products, in order to be more marketable.

In the NBA, I mean, they recently signed a $1.5 billion contract extension, with the largest digital media giant in China. There's a lot of money to be made here. And if we look Daryl Morey's original tweet which was an image and a caption that basically was pro- democracy, what we're supposed to be about in this country, it was really benign.

And so if you're Steve Kerr, if you're anybody else being asked to comment on this, if you saw how a tweet that was deleted rather quickly can cause this kind of incident, I'm not surprised it was a no comment. It's just surprising considering this is the league where everybody has worn this outspoken label as long as it draws them praise. But the moment it conflicts with business, then everybody wants to get silent.

TAPPER: And very quickly if you could. LeBron James is in China right now. We only have a few seconds, but do you think you should keep his mouth shut on this or what do you think?

HILL: Well, I would be surprised if LeBron said anything because again, they're looking at what happened as a result of this Daryl Morey tweet. If you're LeBron James, and you also are empire into yourself -- unto yourself, I would not be surprised if he were quiet.

Now, what does that mean for somebody who has this entire campaign called more than an athlete? I don't know.

TAPPER: All right, Jemele Hill, great having you on. Thank you so much.

HILL: Thank you.

TAPPER: Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. We'll see you tomorrow.