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AT THIS HOUR
Turkey Launches Military Offensive in Syria, U.S. Allies at Risk; White House Refuses to Cooperate with Impeachment Inquiry; Trey Gowdy to Serve as Trump's Outside Legal Counsel; Democrats Say White House Refusal to Cooperate is Obstruction; Trump Told Officials to Work Through Giuliani on Ukraine. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired October 9, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan. Thanks for joining us this hour.
We do begin with breaking news. A major escalation in the Middle East. Turkey's president just announcing Turkey's troops have launched a military offensive in northern Syria.
That attack coming days after President Trump announced U.S. troops were pulling out of that same area, the border between Turkey and Syria. That left Kurdish forces, a key U.S. ally in the region, to defend themselves. The Kurds are now reporting Turkish warplanes are carrying out airstrikes in civilian areas.
CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is near the border in northern Syria. She joins us now on the phone.
What can you tell us about what's happening there on the ground?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Erica, let me try to paint a picture for you. We are outside a town which has been bombarded steadily for the last few hours.
The air is thick with black smoke and we are in a massive traffic jam. We are talking hundreds if not thousands of vehicles full of civilians who are panicking, who are desperate to get out of this town, who are afraid for their lives and don't know where they're going tonight. It is a chaotic scene.
And from what we've heard, it is artillery used, not airstrikes in this town but artillery, and it was a steady stream of artillery. We saw at least six black plumes of thick, thick smoke. We saw a building on fire.
Now as I said, the streets just choked thick with cars, families. I saw a very elderly woman who had difficulty walking, who was hoisted up by a man and carried along the roadside. This is a truly desperate situation, Erica.
And important for our viewers to remember that these people, many of them, are Kurds, who have been the most steadfast allies that the U.S. has had in the fight against ISIS -- Erica?
HILL: Just one other point that I want to hit home on, you mentioned, Clarissa. You are stuck in this traffic jam with hundreds of thousands of cars, civilians. They don't know where they're going.
WARD: No, they don't. We have actually gone up to a number of people to try to talk to them, women on flatbed trucks weeping, carrying their young children. The air is so thick with smoke, it's a hazard to breathe it.
I asked them, listen, where are you going? Are you afraid? They said, of course, we are afraid, we are afraid for our children. We have no idea where we are going. We have no idea where we will be able to sleep. More importantly, going forward, we have no idea what this Turkish military operation is going to look like, what it's going to do to the life that we have known.
HILL: And that is, of course, the great unknown that so many people are trying to figure out, both civilians and folks in governments around the world.
Clarissa, thank you. We will continue to check in for further developments.
Joining us, CNN global affairs analyst, Max Boot, a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a foreign adviser for several Republican presidential campaigns.
Max, as Clarissa said, she is hearing it from people on the ground. Frankly, the world is wondering, how does this play out. Where does it end?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's not going to have a happy ending. That's for sure. This a great tragedy, a humanitarian catastrophe on the ground.
To underlie the point, these are allies being slaughtered. These are the Kurds who fought and bled and died to defeat ISIS with American help so that U.S. troops would not have to do the bleeding and fighting and dying on the ground.
Now, President Trump, for reasons I think remain mysterious, on Sunday, decided to betray our allies, the Kurds, in a phone call with President Erdogan of Turkey, who is, although he is a part of NATO, he is no friend of America. He is somebody who has been playing footsie with the Iranian, the Russians. Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 fighter program.
All of a sudden, without any planning or consultation with the Pentagon, with our armed forces, President Trump decided to betray our Kurdish allies who had been told repeatedly by our troops on the ground that we would stand with them. You have to wonder, at this point, who would ever believe America ever
again when we say we will stand with you.
HILL: That's a point you make in your most recent columns. You say this plays into Putin's hands. And the messaging of Putin, hey, we're a much better ally because you can't count on the U.S.
BOOT: Right. This plays into the hands of our enemies and betrays our friends. It underscores what Putin says that is we're not a reliable ally. Certainly, the Iranians say the same thing.
This will be a gift to Russia, to Iran, to Bashar Assad. The Kurds have to turn to somewhere. If we're not going to help them, they will wind up turning to the Iranians, the Russian, to Assad. This is a great geopolitical gift to our enemies.
HILL: There's an ISIS factor, which we can't ignore. You just touched on that. Part of what the president said, hey, Turkey, you are responsible for these ISIS fighters we have been watching and had in captivity. The reality, it's the Kurds who are taking care of that. We have 10,000 ISIS fighters, 60,000 family members. What happens to them now?
BOOT: Well, that's a great question. That is one of the great unknowns here.
One thing is for sure, there was no planning done by the United States to handle this matter in an orderly way, because President Trump just sprung it on the Pentagon and on the world. We don't know what's going to happen.
But the Kurds have been saying, they're going to have to defend themselves, so they have to pull away forces from guarding these prisons where you have these 10,000 ISIS fighters, some of the worst terrorists in the world, including 2,000 foreigners. There's a real possibility they could break out. This could lead to a resurgence of ISIS.
This is not only potentially a catastrophe for American honor but a catastrophe for American national security interests if it leads to the revival of this terrible terrorist group we have been fighting for years.
HILL: To your point, Senator Lindsey Graham, tweeted about an hour- and-a-half ago, that these strikes by Turkey said, quote, "This move assures the re-emergence of ISIS."
We are also hearing from Liz Cheney," who says, "The news from Syria is sickening. Turkish troops preparing to invade Syria from the north" -- this is from earlier today -- "Russian-backed forces from the south. ISIS fighters attacking Raqqa. Impossible to understand why Donald Trump is leaving America's allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS."
You make the case that Republican allies of the president, especially the Lindsey Grahams of the world, he's so outspoken on this issue.
To your point, that is because this is politically safe.
HILL: Does any of this outspokenness on the part of Republicans, the disgust, the concern on their part, does that -- is there a chance any of that could have an influence on the president? Because we saw a little play out a few months ago when we saw he announced all troops were coming out of Syria?
BOOT: There's no question Trump could change his mind as he did in the summer when he announced we will pull our troops out of Syria. Secretary of Defense Mattis resigned and, somehow, John Bolton got Trump to scale back that announcement. That could happen this time.
But it may be too late at this point. The Turks are already in there. They're already fighting. They're already killing. So it may be too late to unscramble this omelet.
HILL: This is definitely the beginning of something. And where it all leads --
BOOT: Something very ugly.
HILL: Something ugly. We will be watching it closely.
Appreciate it, Max, as always.
BOOT: Thank you.
HILL: Back here at home, President Trump flat-out refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, setting up a constitutional battle.
The White House issuing a scathing letter to congressional Democrats, which reads, in part, quote, "Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice. President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi firing back, warning efforts to, quote, "hide the truth of the president's abuse of power will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction of justice."
She writes, "Mr. President, you are not above the law. You will be held accountable."
CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House.
Sarah, what are you hearing this morning on the heels of this?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, the White House is making clear its intention to stonewall the House Democrat's impeachment inquiry. A source says the White House is preparing for an escalating skirmish with House Democrats over documents and testimonies related to that now-infamous Ukraine call. Also the source says the White House has all options on the table for dealing with this impeachment inquiry.
Now as the White House is gearing up for this legal battle, CNN is learning the White House is expected to bring on former GOP Congressman Trey Gowdy to serve as the president's outside legal counsel. Gowdy was here at the White House yesterday meeting with acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.
We are learning more about behind the scenes how White House officials scrambled to try to keep the contents of that Ukraine phone call secret as concern was spreading through the White House.
A source says one White House official described that call and the aftermath A "crazy, frightening," saying they were shaken by what they heard on that call.
But this morning, President Trump misrepresenting that White House official's concerns. I want to fact-check a part of the tweet President Trump sent. He said, "The so-called whistleblower, before knowing I was going to release the exact transcript, stated that my call with the Ukrainian president was crazy and frightening."
That was not the whistleblower's characterization of the call. That was from a White House official whose views were memorialized by the whistleblower, that memo given to the Intelligence Community inspector general.
The president goes on to tweet that, "The whistleblower and others spoke before seeing the transcripts."
Now, this is a sort of a theme of a common false attack the president's allies have been launching on the whistleblower, claiming this person or now people did not have first-hand knowledge of the call. In a rare public statement, the inspector general for the Intelligence Community had come out and said that the whistleblower did, in fact, have first-hand knowledge of the events.
So it's clear the White House here, gearing up for a battle with House Democrats, daring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a formal impeachment vote.
HILL: Sarah Westwood, with the always important fact-check. Sarah, thank you.
Coming up, will this defiance from the White House force Democrats to change strategy? Could they be forced to hold a formal vote on impeachment in order to move forward?
Plus, new details on Rudy Giuliani and his involvement in Ukraine,. Was he the president's gatekeeper when it came to dealing with a foreign government? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HILL: President Trump is dramatically escalating his fight with House Democrats over the impeachment inquiry. His lawyer sent a scathing 8- page letter to congressional Democrats saying, in no uncertain terms, the administration will not cooperate with what it calls an illegitimate investigation.
CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is on Capitol Hill.
So what's the reaction from the Hill to this letter to the White House?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats are signaling to me that they're not going to let this process drag out. We're not going to see what we've seen all year with White House refusal to comply with Democratic subpoenas, that they've gone to court, they have engaged in seemingly endless letter writing. And some of these court fights are still waiting for their final ruling, including to get testimony from former White House counsel, Don McGahn, on a separate matter.
Now they're warning if the White House continues to refuse to comply, it can be rolled into an article of impeachment against the president of the United States for obstructing Congress.
And look no further, when Nancy Pelosi wrote last night to the White House in a response to the White House's letter warning that the White House's refusal to -- "The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president's abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. "
Adam Schiff, the House intelligence Committee chairman, also warning that they will not put up with a prolonged fight with the White House, saying they will consider as potential grounds for impeachment, he said in the past.
Yesterday he tweeted, "The White House says there's nothing wrong with pressuring a foreign government to intervene in a U.S. election. They said they will not cooperate with an impeachment inquiry unless it's on their terms. They mean the president is above the law. The Constitution says otherwise."
So you are going to see is this back and forth. And the ultimate question is, will they get any more witnesses, will they get any more evidence. What will the Democrats do? They say they could still move forward with impeaching the president this fall -- Erica?
HILL: We know, too, that both the allies for the president are also arguing a formal vote on impeachment is necessary in the House. What is the likelihood today of that actually happening?
RAJU: Very slim at the moment. Because the Democrats believe that they really don't need to have a formal vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry in order to move forward. Even though it's happened in the past, there's nothing that requires them from doing that.
Nevertheless, it would also create some political problems for some Democrats who don't want to cast that vote. Also, it would eat up some floor time because they would have to get a resolution, get their members on board, have a floor debate.
Republicans have argued they should get subpoena power, like minority parties have done in past proceedings.
All of which is an argument and fight the Democrats don't want to have. They'd rather focus on the substance, the allegation of what the president has done. They believe this is simply a distraction.
But if they ultimately are forced to do that, we'll see at the moment, that's not what the leadership wants to do as they decide whether or not to impeach the president in the coming weeks here -- Erica?
HILL: Manu Raju, with the latest from Capitol Hill. Thank you.
Joining me now, CNN political correspondent, Abby Philip, and CNN legal and national security analyst, Asha Rangappa. She's also a former FBI special agent.
Abby, as we look at all of this, in terms of what we are hearing from the messaging from the White House, is there any reason to believe that, if, in fact, the House -- let's say Democrats decide to hold this vote. If they did hold this vote, would it change anything in terms of how the White House plans to play ball or not?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't necessarily think so. I think that was the part of the letter that was not written explicitly in the letter but is implied in everything that's in it. They are not saying that they will actually cooperate with this probe, no matter what Democrats do.
Which is one of the reasons why some people have looked at this letter and wondered, so what's the argument here. Is there any circumstance under which the president and the White House would provide documents and depositions to the House of Representatives in any kind of impeachment inquiry? And it's not clear what the White House' position is on that?
They want to leave their options open to continue to stonewall even if there's a vote. So I think that's one of the reasons why Democrats are saying we're not going to have our hands forced into a vote until we have all the facts on the table.
HILL: Until they know they get something out of it, right.
In terms of -- I want to step back a bit and look through this letter a bit. There are a few things call on me.
Asha, I want your expertise.
The White House argues in this letter that the president is being denied due process. They talk about having access to charges. But this is the inquiry. This is the investigation phase. Do they have any legal standing on that point?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, this -- their letter is a complete confusion on what the Constitution outlines. The impeachment phase is analogous to, in criminal terms to, the grand jury investigative phase.
If you know criminal procedure, that's not a stage where defendants get to go in and question witnesses. It's happening secretly. Prosecutors are gathering evidence in order to decide whether or not to bring charges.
In the House inquiry, the equivalent would be the articles of impeachment. Once that happens and they vote on that, that's when it goes to a trial in the Senate. That's when the protections for the person who is being accused, in this case, the president, would kick in. He should be allowed to question witnesses, call his own evidence, et cetera.
But I'll add here, Erica, he does have the opportunity to be able to present exculpatory evidence in the form of witnesses, you know, who either were on this call or knew about it. And yet, he is preventing those people from doing so. So that kind of tells you something right there.
HILL: I'm glad you mentioned the confusing in the messaging.
Abby, I would argue that is a point of this letter, right, is to confuse the public, because impeachment is confusing. Is it an inquiry? Is it the trial phase? What are the articles? All those things get jumbled under the umbrella of impeachment. They're very different.
PHILLIP: It's an effort to get everyone bogged down in process. Just like this focus on the whistleblower, himself, which, frankly, is much less important considering we have the primary documents. We have the transcripts of the call. We have these text messages that were shared between senior officials in the Trump administration discussing this.
So this is a part of the strategy to avoid talking about what the actual debate is about, which is about the president's behavior. I don't know, though, how effective that is. Voters are typically not moved by process considerations. And so, it's a little bit of a thin argument.
But I think it tells you about how much of a struggle this has been for the White House and for Republicans. They're having a hard time coming up with a good strategy that will protect the president. Protect them, themselves, politically.
HILL: Just to sort of piggyback off of that, what's fascinating is, in the letter and in the messaging from the Republicans, it's not refuting the basis we're talking about here, the facts, which have been corroborated not just by documents from the White House but comments the president himself has made.
Asha, that's what stood out to me. This letter was nitpicking process, but beyond saying the president's call was completely appropriate, there was no defense of the president's behavior at all.
RANGAPPA: No, and I think that they are going to struggle on that front. Simply because, it comes more and more to light that there's an expanding circle of people who are incredibly concerned about this, and that that concern translated into efforts to conceal the call. Which kind of suggests that they knew that there was something untoward about it.
You know, I think that Abby is exactly right. The prima facie case is right there. This would be a different story had they not released the transcript, if there was still questions about what actually took place.
They've let go of the goods and the White House has now lost a lot of its leveraging power in that regard. And I suspect that they may not have realized it when they did that. But I think that the House now essentially has a rebuttable presumption of an abuse of power.
HILL: Asha Rangappa, Abby Phillip, appreciate it. Thank you both.
Just ahead, new details about the president's personal attorney and his evolvement in the Ukraine controversy and, frankly, in dealings with Ukraine, period. Did the president use Rudy Giuliani to bypass official channels? And will Giuliani soon testify on Capitol Hill?
HILL: We have a much bigger picture this morning of just how much power President Trump has given his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, when it comes to dealings with Ukraine. Two sources telling CNN, as far back as May, the president essentially made Giuliani the gatekeeper for determining how the administration would deal with Ukraine's new president. Never mind the official channels.
CNN national security reporter, Kylie Atwood, joins us from the State Department with details on a meeting where the president made clear how much clout Giuliani would have.