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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Joe Biden Calls For Impeachment Of President Trump; Turkey Launches Offensive In Syria; For The First Time, Biden Calls For Trump To Be Impeached; After Heart Attack, Sanders Will Cut Back On Campaign Events. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 9, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Tom Mueller, author of the brand-new book "Crisis of Conscience."

And breaking news: Turkey now sending ground troops into Syria just days after the U.S. withdrawal.

We're live on the ground in Syria up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And breaking news in the world lead: Turkey escalating its strikes in Northern Syria, now sending in ground troops.

Today, President Trump called the operation a bad idea, never mentioning one thing, the Kurds, Turkey's intended targets and U.S. allies who helped America fight ISIS.

Now, just as critics of the decision to pull U.S. troops out of the way feared, Turkish forces have crossed into the border into Northern Syria, launching airstrikes, civilians left running for cover, as fighter planes and plumes of smoke fill the sky above.

[16:35:12]

CNN's Clarissa Ward and Nick Paton Walsh are both along the Turkish- Syrian border.

Clarissa, I'm going to start with you.

It is almost midnight now. Have the attacks scaled down into the night at all?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, essentially, Pam.

We're just learning from the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, largely made up of Kurdish fighters, that, in fact, it appears Turkish ground troops have been making a push into Syria.

We are here in Northern Syria. And I can tell you, Pam, it has been quite a day here, a steady stream of artillery and strikes, really starting in the late afternoon, and pretty much continuing, not just in the town of Ras al-As you know that we visited earlier, where we could see the aftermath of strikes, thick plumes of black smoke, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of civilians fleeing the roads choked with traffic and smoke, people trying to get to safety, but simply having no idea of where to go to be safe.

And now, of course, the fear is that this is turning into a full-blown ground invasion. No one knows exactly, Pam, yet what the scale of it is, how many troops are coming in, what exactly their purpose is, or how long they will be here.

But what is certain is that people here feel very betrayed by the international community, and particularly by the U.S., because it's Kurdish fighters who have been fighting and dying in the battle against ISIS. And now they face a very uncertain future -- Pam.

BROWN: And let's talk about that, because, as we know, just a few days ago, the president withdrew U.S. troops from helping the allies there.

And the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, says civilians have been killed in the Turkish airstrikes. It's begging the U.S. to implement a no-fly zone to stop the attacks.

Is that possible at this point?

WARD: It doesn't appear to be.

We have heard of Turkish airstrikes already today, Turkish artillery. And now we're hearing from a senior Turkish official who spoke to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, saying that President Trump knew exactly what was going to happen here, that President Erdogan of Turkey had been very transparent with him about what it was exactly that the Turkish military had in store.

And people here are just sort of reeling, essentially, Pam, because, believe it or not, they did actually have a moment where they believed or at least hoped that the U.S. might change its tune, might do an about-face, and might step in to sort of give the Kurds a stay of execution, if you will.

Now that it's abundantly clear that that is not going to happen, they are, of course, looking to their other options, looking to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, looking to their backers in the form of Russia and Iran.

But they don't have a lot of good options right now. And given how long they have been fighting and how many thousands of souls have been sacrificed in that fight against ISIS, it's fair to say there's a lot of bitterness and resentment, as well as fear on the ground here -- Pam.

BROWN: Understandably so.

Thank you so much, Clarissa Ward.

I want to go now to Nick Paton Walsh, who is also along the Turkey- Syria border.

A senior U.S. defense official just told CNN Turkey's attacks are already hurting the U.S. counter-ISIS operations, effectively bringing it to a halt.

Nick, what are you hearing there on the ground about what the attacks mean for the resurgence of ISIS?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are two ways of looking at that. Firstly, there are the ISIS detainees.

That's the urgent, pressing problem, because their fate, frankly, was a thorn in everybody's side, particularly the Syrian Kurds, who were struggling to hold them in the facilities they have, often makeshift, about 10,000 fighters held, 2,000 of those not Syrian or Iraqi, so foreign fighters.

And Donald Trump, one of the things he said back on Sunday was that Turkey had promised to take custody of those fighters. Now, that was farfetched, frankly, back then. It's even more farfetched when he suggested it again today.

They are held by Syrian Kurds who would be under attack by Turkey. So, somehow, amid that pitched battle, this handover of 2,000 or more of the most dangerous possible people on the planet would have to occur. That's one problem, certainly.

The second is, ISIS was created in a vacuum. That's how they came to be in the horrors of Syria's civil war, representing disenfranchised Syrian Sunnis who needed someone who perhaps could look out for them, however brutal they were.

There will be another vacuum now, as the Syrian Kurds rush north to try and stop Turkish military forces coming in, as there's general chaos and possibly in the south those same Syrian Kurds see Russian or Syrian regime forces move into areas there.

We have already seen the occasional attack inside Raqqa, the former de facto capital of what ISIS used to call their caliphate, just a few nights ago. It seems like one man attacked a security headquarters there.

We will hear more disinformation possibly about ISIS' reemergence. Nobody really knows how strong they still are, but there have been periodic attacks out here in the desert, certainly over a period of time.

[16:40:09]

And I'm sure, you can bet the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, their leader, is waiting for a moment of chaos like this.

BROWN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much there on the ground on the border.

Well, no ifs, ands or buts, Joe Biden today making a statement about President Trump that he has never said before.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He believes he can and will get away with anything he does. We all laughed when he said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away with it. It's no joke. He's shooting holes in the Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Well, there you heard it. Former Vice President Joe Biden for the first time calling for President Trump to be impeached today. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports on what was Biden's strongest statement over the growing Ukraine controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BIDEN: To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For the first time today, Joe Biden calling for the impeachment of President Trump dropping any caveats of waiting for the outcome of the House investigation.

BIDEN: President Trump has indicted himself by obstructing justice, refusing to comply with congressional inquiry. He's already convicted himself.

ZELENY: In a speech in New Hampshire, by joining many of his Democratic rivals in calling for Trump's removal from office saying the President has repeatedly undermined American democracy.

BIDEN: We see it in Trump's own words. We see the text from State Department officials that have been made public. We see it in his plane much of the United States government into his corrupt schemes, individuals within the government and his appointees.

ZELENY: It's the latest escalation from Biden who initially supported an impeachment inquiry and plan to withhold final judgment. But he said too many damning details have already been disclosed about Trump pushing foreign leaders to meddle in the 2020 election.

BIDEN: We all laughed when he said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away with it. It's no joke. He's shooting holes in the Constitution and we cannot let him get away with it.

ZELENY: He also mounted another defensive of his son Hunter Biden and the work for Ukraine gas company while Biden was vice president and arrangement Trump has seized upon with no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. BIDEN: He's targeted me and my family with lies, and distortions, and smears. That's all they are. Because he thinks he will undermine my candidacy for the nomination.

ZELENY: Here in New Hampshire, Democratic voters are still sizing up the field, but not Biden's integrity.

What do you make of all the back and forth between President Trump and Joe Biden right now? Do you have any questions about Joe Biden's character?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, because I trust him to be more truthful than what we have as a president right now. And the negativity is just way beyond. It needs to stop.

ZELENY: But even some admirers say the controversy has raised questions about Biden's judgment that may warrant more explanation.

Do you have any questions of Joe Biden's integrity or character?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not as much as I do President Trump but you know, certainly, you know, there's some questions on how his son got that job and that sort of thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. But when we talked to voters today, there was a sense of confusion over all of this. One voter even called it so proper between the President and the former vice president.

Pamela, that is one of the reasons Joe Biden is speaking out much more forcefully. And he talked much more aggressively than he has over the last three weeks about this. He accused the President of betraying the country.

He also said this, Pamela, we are not going to let Donald Trump try and pick our nominee, period. That of course, was a veiled reference to Elizabeth Warren. Some Democrats wonder if Biden is weakened here if that will help Elizabeth Warren.

Of course, we are here in New Hampshire. You can see people lining up for this next Biden event behind me. Elizabeth Warren beating Joe Biden here, very competitive at this point. Pamela?

BROWN: All right. Thank you so much, Jeff Zeleny for bringing us the latest there. Now, Senator Bernie Sanders admitting that he needs to scale back his campaign schedule after his heart attack, telling CNN he just isn't going to be able to keep up his usual schedule.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me live in Sanders' hometown. So Ryan, just how big of a deal is it that Sanders has a scaled-back his campaign schedule?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, it's a big enough deal that he's already starting to walk those comments back. In an interview with NBC set to air later tonight, Sanders said that he misspoke when he told us yesterday that he plans to change the nature of his campaign and dial back on the excessive numbers of rallies and travels they set up until the campaign at this point.

Sanders is saying now that he will slowly get back on the campaign trail after suffering that heart attack, but plans to get back to that vigorous campaign schedule he had before the incident. Now, Sanders is also responding to criticism that he did not let the public know soon enough that he suffered a heart attack last week. This is what he told NBC today about the transparency of his campaign.

[16:50:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We wanted to have a sense of what the hell was going on, really. So the first thing that we're trying to do is understand what's going on and not run for the New York Times and have the report every 15 minutes. You know, it's not a baseball game. So I think we acted absolutely appropriately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: The campaign has bristled at any kind of criticism that perhaps they did not let this information out early enough saying that they've been transparent from the very beginning. Sanders still resting here in Burlington. He's not expected to get back out on the campaign trail until that October 15th CNN New York Times debate. Pam?

BROWN: All right, Ryan Nobles, thank you so much for that. Well, the presidential candidate potentially posing more of a threat to Joe Biden than questions about Ukraine. That's up next.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Well, in our "2020 LEAD," former Vice President Biden for the first time today calling for Trump to be impeached. So the question is, why is this significant, Amanda? Why does it matter that Trump is calling -- sorry -- Biden is calling for this now?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's catching up to the rest of the field. But I do think it presents some problematic questions, because Biden's whole appeal to the general voter is that he can ultimately win over Trump voters.

So now you're the person calling for Trump's impeachment. I don't know how that squares with people who voted for Trump. I think he has to do it at some point or another but there's going to be a dance there. And that's something for Trump voters to grapple with if Joe Biden is still the safer option.

It's just this whole -- this whole idea of permission slips for Republican voters to come over to the Democratic side, and I didn't see him do that in that speech today.

BROWN: OK. And, you know, the question is we've seen other candidates who have already called for this, right? Why now? Is Biden leading from behind you think?

MEHDI HASAN, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THE INTERCEPT: Very much so. You know, good work catching up with everyone else as you said. Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren we're back in April were calling for impeachment. Beto O'Rourke says he was calling for it for two years. Biden comes out now.

Now, It's awkward for him, of course. One point you didn't mention is that whole impeachment saga has to do with him and his son. He doesn't want really people to talk that much about a son because while Donald Trump is wrong about his son in Ukraine, there are other issues to do with his son which probably might harm him in a general election.

I was on the show months ago just before he declared. I remember saying the only place for him to go with front runners down, especially because I believe he'll be a disaster of a candidate and that's what's happened. He has gone down this week. We've seen Elizabeth Warren become the front runner in the polls. Good. People shouldn't have written off Elizabeth Warren, and they shouldn't have kind of gone the top about Joe Biden.

BROWN: And let's talk about that. Yes, let's talk about that because Biden still is very focused on being this big threat to Trump.

HASAN: In his head.

BROWN: But let's look -- let's look at this Quinnipiac Poll that you're alluding to. Warren is at 29 percent, Biden is at 26 percent among Democratic voters. What do you think Leyla? You cover Warren. Should Biden be more concerned about Warren than Trump right now?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you that over the weekend when I was with Warren in San Diego, as well as Carson City, an area that's pretty red, and at the SEIU event, I actually heard people who were telling me, Biden isn't going far enough here.

We like that Warren is a fighter. That's what we're looking for as voters. I didn't see that quite play out among the candidates themselves when they were asked about that. They all sort of stayed on to your point, if -- Beto called for impeachment, he said he did it two years ago.

But in terms of the voters themselves, I really did see a bit of that reflected in saying that those were with Biden kind of stayed with them but those who were on the fence, that was an issue.

BROWN: And this is key, because and I should note in that poll, the lead is within the margin of error, but it just shows you how tight it is right now. And also, as you look at these numbers, and you hear the President continuing to hammer Joe Biden, it does make you wonder, how much of an impact that is having? Does it help or hurt Biden do you think?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it definitely hurts, Biden. When you have the President of the United States out there talking about you all the time, slamming you, we can say on T.V. a million times that what the President is saying, you know, isn't necessarily true, isn't based in fact that, but you know, Joe Biden and Hunter Biden, there's no sign that they did anything wrong, but this is still a huge bully pulpit.

When you are the President of the United States, you have the biggest megaphone. And he has decided to turn that against Joe Biden. Now, if all of a sudden he realizes that Elizabeth Warren is on the rise, and he feels like Elizabeth Warren is a real threat, he's going to turn his megaphone around to Elizabeth Warren.

HASAN: He called her Uber left Warren.

MURRAY: Exactly. So I think that exists. Yes, the threat exists for anyone who's running against a sitting president. And I do think that, you know, Biden's campaign would be fooling themselves if they didn't think that this had something to do with it.

BROWN: And let's talk about Senator Bernie Sanders because he said that he's going to be cutting back on his campaign schedule after his heart attack. What does this mean, though, in terms of the other candidates? Because does this -- the question is, does this shine a light not just on his age, but also the other candidates' ages? As we see here on the screen, Amanda, they're around the 70s?

CARPENTER: Well, I think largely it makes it hard for anyone to attack Bernie in the upcoming debate with two reasons. One because of his health, but the other thing, he still has a strong base. He's raising a ton of money. And long term people worry about a convention scenario, contested convention.

It would be the Bernie people that stick by in through thick and thin that present those problems. And so there's just no way to kind of gently nudge him out unless he goes himself.

BROWN: All right, let's thank you all so much. I do appreciate it. And be sure to tune in to CNN tomorrow for a ground-breaking town hall event, Equality in America. CNN partnered with the Human Rights Campaign to discuss the issues facing the LGBTQ community with the 2020 presidential candidates. And it all starts tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Our coverage continuous right now.