Return to Transcripts main page
Turkey Launches Offensive in Syria; White House Refuses to Cooperate With Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired October 9, 2019 - 15:00 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.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hour two. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank for being here.
It may be Joe Biden's third bid for the White House, but, today, he went somewhere he has never gone before. For the first time, the former vice president called for the current president, Donald Trump, to be impeached.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In his words and his actions, President Trump has indicted himself by obstructing justice, refusing to comply with the congressional inquiry.
He's already convicted himself, in full view of the world and the American people. Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed this nation, and committed impeachable acts.
To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached. That's not only because of what he's done. To answer whether he's committed acts sufficient to warrant impeachment is obvious.
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. And we cannot let him get away with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Biden's comments just today come as the White House takes its fight with House Democrats to a new level, declaring that the Trump administration will not cooperate with an impeachment inquiry.
The White House is making its case, so to speak, in an eight-page letter, blasting the probe as baseless and constitutionally invalid. It also said the Democrats have violated civil liberties.
So let's start there with you, Kaitlan Collins, over at the White House. And we will talk about this letter in just a sec.
But it didn't take long for the president to respond directly to Joe Biden. What did he say?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it clocked in at about 10 minutes before the president responded on Twitter, clearly watching Joe Biden's speech, saying -- quote -- "It is so pathetic to see sleepy Joe Biden calling for my impeachment."
He said: "I did nothing wrong. Joe's failing campaign gave him no other choice," implying there at the end that the only reason Biden today called for his impeachment for the first time, a noteworthy moment, is because of his campaign and his polling numbers.
Now, Brooke, this comes as the president has obviously been increasingly sensitive about this impeachment inquiry that Democrats say they're conducting on Capitol Hill. Today, President Trump called for it to end, after, yesterday, his White House sent that scathing eight-page letter, saying that they believe it's constitutionally invalid, that it violates precedent and the president's due process rights and saying, no, we are not going to be cooperating with any of your requests.
Now, they say they're not going to be cooperating. The question is, what will they do if the White -- excuse me -- if Democrats do take that floor vote, if they do make this a formal impeachment inquiry in the White House's eyes? Will they have to change their game plan here?
While they're waiting to see what Democrats do in response, we do know that they're gearing up for an impeachment fight behind the scenes, with the president recruiting someone to be his outside counsel, Trey Gowdy, of course, the former South Carolina congressman who led the Benghazi probe as the House Intelligence chairman at the time.
So it does give you a sense that, behind the scenes in the White House, they are gearing up for this to happen, for this to move forward, and for them to prepare for the president to potentially be impeached.
BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you with the setup there.
Let's get some legal analysis.
Jennifer Rodgers is with me here in New York. She's a former federal prosecutor and a CNN legal analyst. Also joining us, Keith Whittington. He's a professor of politics at Princeton.
So, welcome to both of you.
And, Jennifer, you first.
First of all, you said, if this were a first-year associate at a major law firm writing this letter from the White House, that this person would be fired. You also said a couple of key pieces of the -- quote, unquote -- "arguments" that the White House is making, one of which about the Trump administration's claim that they need a vote in order for this investigation to be credible, you say that's wrong.
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right.
I mean, it's based on absolutely nothing. They say, oh, it's unprecedented in the history of our country that you proceed with an impeachment without a vote. Well, we have had this twice exactly. And, yes, both times they did that, but nowhere in the Constitution, in statutory law, in case law, in House rules, nowhere does it say that you have to do that.
It says that the House is in charge of impeachment procedures and how that works. So there's no basis for that at all.
BALDWIN: The other piece is that the White House counsel and the president saying that they have been denied due process and that he has a right to confront and call witnesses, be informed of charges -- the charges against him.
And you call that misleading.
RODGERS: Another ridiculous claim.
I mean, and they even cite a case, actually -- and this is where I said a first-year associate would be dismissed for this. They cite a case in a very misleading way.
The case is about the procedures that have to happen in the Senate when the trial happens, right? So, if you think about this as an investigation and then a trial, the way that criminal law works, although this is not criminal law -- we know that the rights that attach for a criminal defendant don't apply here.
But even just assuming that they would, you don't get any rights to these things during the investigation stage, which is where we are now in the House.
So think about a criminal defendant saying, wait, when you were investigating and interviewing the eyewitnesses to the robbery, like, I had a right to be there and have counsel and question them myself.
BALDWIN: You don't do that.
RODGERS: No, no, you don't get any of that before the charges.
RODGERS: And so that's where we are with the House. They're looking at the evidence. They're trying to decide whether to file the articles of impeachment.
If this moves to the Senate for a trial, that's where the president will get some limited -- not like a criminal defendant, but some limited rights to do some of those sorts of things that this letter claims to ought to have it. BALDWIN: Got it. Got it.
And then, Keith, you come at this from an interesting perspective, because, from what we have read in the past, you have been hesitant to say that President Trump and his actions meant that we were in a constitutional crisis, right?
But you have now changed your tune.
KEITH WHITTINGTON, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Right.
BALDWIN: And I want you to tell me why.
WHITTINGTON: Well, he's certainly setting the stage for one.
This letter issued by the White House counsel is extraordinarily aggressive and bold in its rejection of the authority of Congress to pursue an impeachment inquiry. The kind of rhetoric and language it uses really is designed to try delegitimate Congress, in both its investigatory powers in general and its general oversight powers, but also specifically in engaging in an impeachment inquiry.
And, ultimately, I think Congress has to push back on that. I think the president has really thrown down the gauntlet, dared Congress to impeach and try to hold him accountable for these claims.
And I think even the Republicans in Congress have to think very seriously about what the long-term consequences are of allowing a president to make those kinds of claims and stick by them without consequences.
BALDWIN: One of the big questions that I think a lot of people following along are wondering is, OK, well, when will they hold a vote?
And I remember, I will never forget you sitting here, I don't know, in the last two weeks, saying the Democrats really need to keep this tight, tidy, neat, this investigation.
And I'm just wondering, how long do the Democrats need to prepare to do all of that before they do hold a vote?
RODGERS: That's a great question, because now we know that there will be no cooperation at all.
RODGERS: And if they're going to tell current administration employees that they can't appear, that they can't turn over documents, that's a problem for the Democrats. They really want to see this evidence.
They don't want to just impeach him on the fact that he is not cooperating, that he's obstructing.
BALDWIN: So, what do they do? RODGERS: Well, I think that they're going to push forward in court.
They're pushing forward right now, we know, on some of the underlying Mueller investigation documents that they wanted.
So they may give it a few weeks to try to get some of this jarred loose, because, I tell you, a judge would listen to these arguments, it would be like a two-second thing, and the judge would rule that they get it.
So they may give it a few weeks to do that, but I don't think they will do it for too long, because I think you said that the name of this game is delay, delay, delay with the election coming.
So I'm thinking by the end of the year, we will probably see a vote, whether or not they can shake anything loose from the White House.
BALDWIN: Got it.
And then, Keith, I want to ask you too about this, that just yesterday, the Trump DOJ, the Justice Department, argued that a Watergate ruling where a judge had allowed Congress to see a secret grand jury report on Nixon was incorrect, which the judge -- this was also noteworthy.
The judge responded, wow, the Department of Justice is taking an extraordinary position in this case.
I mean, you laugh. Everyone else does like hearing this judge, right, how she -- what she said, but they are basically arguing -- my interpretation -- that this president is above the law.
WHITTINGTON: They are extremely bold claims.
And I think that judge's reaction is reflective of how lots of lawyers, including judges, are likely to react to the kinds of arguments the administration is now mustering.
I think, increasingly, the administration is in the territory where, really, it's making political arguments, not really legal arguments. They're not arguments that are designed to persuade lawyers that there's some kind of decent constitutional grounds for what the administration wants to do here.
It's really designed to set up now a political fight, including a political fight in the Senate in an impeachment trial, but, ultimately, it will be a political fight in the presidential campaign and in the court of public opinion over how the people themselves view the president's role here, and whether the people themselves are comfortable with the president stonewalling to this degree investigations from Congress.
BALDWIN: Keith and Jennifer, thank you both so much.
Any moment, President Trump is set to appear at the White House. Obviously, we will be watching to see if he answers any questions on impeachment or the breaking news out of Syria, where the president's decision to pull out U.S. support has led Turkey launching an offensive today against our key allies in the region, the Kurds.
Thousands of civilians are in danger. And CNN is the only network there. We will take you there live next.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.
BALDWIN: We are back now with more of our breaking news out of Northern Syria.
U.S. allies are currently under attack just days after President Trump announced that he would pull U.S. troops back as Turkey begins its planned military offensive.
And now, in an exclusive new interview, a senior aide to Turkey's President Erdogan tells CNN that President Trump knew -- quote -- "precisely" about the scope of Turkey's military operation before it began, despite Trump's claim that he made it clear to Turkey that the operation was -- quote, unquote -- "a bad idea."
CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is live for us along the Turkish-Syrian border.
And so, Clarissa, tell me more about what you're learning on what Trump knew and what you're hearing.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Brooke, let me just give you a picture for what we saw today, because, when we arrived in Northern Syria on the outskirts of the town of Ras al-Ayn, we were there just in the aftermath of a series of strikes on that town, thick plumes of black smoke, the air thick with smoke, the streets empty.
And then suddenly you saw this sort of wave of civilians, hundreds and hundreds of civilians choking the streets full of traffic, women and children desperately trying to get out, to escape this onslaught.
And when I talked to them, the thing they kept telling me was, where do we go? Where is safe now? What happens next?
These are all questions that nobody has an answer to, Brooke. And I think there's a real sense of confusion and betrayal, because a lot of people here actually believed that maybe the U.S. would change course, that maybe President Trump would change his mind and stand by the Kurdish fighting forces who have been, Brooke, the Americans' main ally, the number one fighting force on the ground in the fight against ISIS, more than 10,000 of them dead.
And now they are sort of staring down the barrel at this Turkish military incursion, no one knowing what to expect, no one knowing where to go, and no one knowing, most importantly, Brooke, who on earth will help them.
BALDWIN: It is an incredibly bleak picture you paint of the civilians, of the women and children not knowing where to go.
Clarissa, thank you.
Again, our allies in the fight against ISIS, the Kurds.
Let's discuss all of this.
Our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, is with me.
And, Peter, back to the other piece of news that we're just learning, that President Trump knew the scope of this operation in advance, that he had apparently reached some sort of understanding with President Erdogan.
Your thoughts on that?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, yes, of course he had reached an understanding with Erdogan. Otherwise, Erdogan wouldn't have done this.
I mean, the withdrawal of American soldiers from Northeastern Syria was a sort of sine qua non of what we're seeing unfolding now, because those soldiers, American soldiers, were that really there as sort of a trip watch to prevent exactly this happening.
And who knows what President Trump's Syria policy is really, because he's changed it so many times. In December, he was going to pull everybody out, all the American forces out. Then he changed his mind. His advisers said that would have a victory to ISIS, Iran, Russia, and President Assad.
And now he basically green-lighted this operation with the Turks. And then he recently tweeted that he was going to obliterate the Turkish economy, not a usual thing that you would do to a nominal ally in NATO, if they did things that he thought were kind of -- quote -- "outside the limits" of what he thought was acceptable.
Well, now we see these pictures. And the interesting question is, what is acceptable, when you have hundreds of civilians, as Clarissa was reporting, streaming out of these areas, not knowing where they're going to go?
So it's a mess. But the main point, I think, Brooke, is, it's a self- created mess. I mean, none of this needed to happen. President Trump didn't need -- there was actually quite a good policy in place, where we were -- the United States was protecting its Kurdish allies and preventing exactly what we're seeing unfolding right now.
BALDWIN: To your point about it being a self-created mess, Peter, I mean, how unusual is it that we have not seen any Pentagon officials speaking publicly about this, explaining the Trump administration's position? BERGEN: Well, their explanation has been hitherto that we're not
going to support this Turkish operation. That is what they have publicly stated.
And, obviously, we're not going to support an operation which is going after our own allies. It would be senseless.
So, you know, there's -- I mean, look, I can't think of a recent set of issues that has more united the Republican Party against the president.
When you have Liz Cheney, when you have...
BALDWIN: Lindsey Graham.
BERGEN: And Lindsey Graham and Nikki Haley and Mitch McConnell all saying the same thing, that is sort of quite a quartet.
BALDWIN: A senior U.S. defense official tells CNN that this incursion has already had a detrimental effect on our counter-ISIS operations.
How likely is an ISIS resurgence in the aftermath of this? And, Peter, who, if not the Kurds, would jump in and help the U.S. if and when that happens?
BERGEN: Well, I don't think there are any.
I mean, one of the reasons that we supported the Kurds is, they were the only force with the sufficient ground capacity to take out cities like Raqqa. I mean, we were talking about a 60,000-person force. So the answer is, we don't have any allies like that in the area.
But the officials of the United Nations have put the number of ISIS fighters that remain at 20,000. So they haven't all disappeared. I mean, they're biding their time. They're coming back in places like Iraq, and so that we face the real possibility of an ISIS resurgence.
And we have seen this movie before, where American forces pulled out of Iraq at the end of 2011, and that helped pave the way for ISIS to take over much of the country.
BALDWIN: Peter Bergen, as always, thank you for your insight, especially in this part of the world. Nice to have you on.
BERGEN: Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, a woman who worked on the National Security Council under President Bush joins me live.
Her take on what's happened in Northern Syria, and, also, with regards to the impeachment crisis, why she says the president's Ukraine call was blatantly illegal.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:26:18]
BALDWIN: Today, two sources tell CNN that, months before President Trump's call with his Ukrainian counterpart, that he circumvented official diplomatic channels and directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry and two top State Department officials to deal with his private attorney Rudy Giuliani when the Ukrainian president sought to meet Trump.
Kori Schake served on the National Security Council and the State Department under President George W. Bush.
Kori, a pleasure to have you on. Welcome.
KORI SCHAKE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AND STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.
BALDWIN: First, just your reaction to hearing this news that the president, you know, went around official channels like that?
SCHAKE: My reaction is that the president's private attorney ought not to be meeting with American diplomats.
That right there is inappropriate. And especially for the president to do so in a country that is in transition to democracy, that is struggling against corruption, for the president of the United States to try and encourage corruption for his domestic political advantage is disgraceful.
BALDWIN: Last week, Kori, you told CNBC -- quote -- "The whistle- blower account seems convincing that the president was using our foreign policy to blackmail a foreign country."
Given all the corroborating details and the new context we have seen just this week alone, do you still see it that way?
SCHAKE: Oh, absolutely.
The details that have come out since then corroborate the whistle- blower, as you suggested, Brooke, and also make clear that the president was dangling the prospect of a White House visit for the president of Ukraine, only if you Ukraine would falsify evidence against a political rival of the president's.
And he withheld American military assistance vital to Ukraine's ability to defend itself against Russia.
BALDWIN: And then the news that came out just in the last 24 hours about how the White House official that helped inform said whistle- blower and his or her report was -- quote, unquote -- "shaken," and that they described that July 25 phone call as crazy and frightening.
Your reaction to those words?
SCHAKE: Well, I think we should take them very seriously. The person quoted was evidently in the room when the call happened.
And I think it says a lot about how alarmed intelligence officials and other national security professionals and even political appointees that President Trump has put in their jobs -- I mean, I was struck that the legal counsel from the CIA and from the National Security Council staff were also -- also believed a criminal indictment should be brought against the president of the United States for that.
BALDWIN: Bringing up National Security Council, I mean, what do you make of the actions of this National Security Council official who alerted the National Security Council lawyers about the call, who then, you know, place it in that code word-protected, the vault, essentially?
Are those National Security Council officials implicated in a cover- up, do you think?
SCHAKE: Well, it sounds like it, but I don't have enough information to be able to make a judgment on that.
BALDWIN: That's fair.
SCHAKE: I think that the NSC officials alerted the legal counsel is a really good sign. That's a sign of the system working.
But the troving information away, information that's not classified, into a highly classified file in order to prevent it from being revealed and disgracing the president, that's not OK either.
So, it's not clear to me just how much culpability that NSC