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Conservative Lawyers Call for "Expeditious" Trump Impeachment Probe; Pence Defends Trump on Asking Ukraine to Investigate Political Rival; Death Toll Climbs as Turkey Invades Syria; Study Shows North American Bird Population in Rapid Decline; Tonight: Democratic Candidates at CNN Town Hall on Equality/Protecting LGBTQ Americans. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new push for impeachment and it's coming from a group of conservatives led by George Conway, the husband of President Trump's adviser, Kellyanne Conway.

The letter published just this morning says this, in part, "We believe the acts revealed publicly over the past several weeks are fundamentally incompatible with the president's oath of office, his duties as commander-in-chief, and his constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

It also goes on to say this, "The present circumstances are materially worse" -- when we're talking about the Russia investigation. "We have not just a political candidate open to receiving foreign assistance to better his chances at winning an election, but a current president openly and privately calling on foreign governments to actually interfere in the most sacred of U.S. democratic processes, our elections."

Strong words from a group of conservative legal minds. What impact is this going to have?

Joining me right now is one of the names to sign on to this letter, Stuart Gerson, a former top official in the George H.W. Bush Justice Department.

Mr. Gerson, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: I just -- why did you want to -- why did you want to put this letter out now? What was it?

GERSON: Well, we -- although, we signed this letter individually, as a group, we are conservatives who believe in the rule of law, who believe in the structural Constitution, who believe in the United States as a bulwark of democracy in the world. And what we're seeing is something decidedly different from that, that our institutions are at risk.

We think we're taking fundamentally conservative positions and defending the Constitution and that it's time to get more people like ourselves involved in the public dialogue.

BOLDUAN: I was really interested in reading the letter that it calls for an "expeditious," that's how it's put, impeachment investigation and potential trial in the Senate.

From what you lay out, though, in your letter as the undisputed facts here, do you think that the president has already reached the threshold of deserving impeachment and deserving being removed from office?

GERSON: Well, I try not to comment on the outcome of trials. But certainly we believe that there's probable cause to believe that the president has violated his oath of office, has violated the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, has violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and on the purely legal side, has violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.

We think, therefore, that the inquiry in the House has as much information as it needs.

While there's lots of dispute going on with respect to his subpoenas and their enforcement and who is going to testify, the fact is we believe that the House could proceed very expeditiously and that there ought to be a vote of impeachment.

When it gets to the Senate, there should be a trial and the president should get all the process that his counsel improperly claims he's entitled to in the House, but there would away fair trial in the Senate. And we believe there's substantial evidence that he needs to confront.

BOLDUAN: I have to say, why I find this so important is for you, this is very clearly fundamentally not political. Very clearly, this is not a political bias on your part, a political statement on your part when you say this is fundamentally about the Constitution.

And I find that so fascinating because the White House counsel, in this eight-page letter that he puts out in defense of the president stonewalling, argues the opposite, that the House investigation is unconstitutional.

GERSON: Well, that's an argument, but there's no legal support for it.

One suspects that the White House counsel is either avoiding or doesn't know what a grand jury does and that the framers intended the House to act in the nature of a grand jury, where one does not have the right against the right of confrontation or where hearsay is admissible. A grand jury, and in this case, the House, by analog can accept whatever it wants to accept.

[11:35:22] "High crimes and misdemeanors" is a term of art. It's not a term of criminal law. It's a term that means an act that is inconsistent with the position that is at issue, with the fundamental nature of the oath that this occupant takes. And --

BOLDUAN: I would like -- I'm sorry.

GERSON: Go ahead.

BOLDUAN: I'm sorry.

I wanted to ask you your message for other conservative minds, two Republicans, quite frankly. Because I want to play, CNN's Randi Kaye asked the fundamental question, the concern that you have in this letter, asked that directly of Vice President Mike Pence this week. And I want you to listen to his answers.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Right, but the president himself has said that he --


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the board of a major Ukrainian energy company.

KAYE: -- investigate his domestic political rival. Is that OK with you?

PENCE: I don't -- I don't believe that's the case. And, again, but I know that's the way that --


KAYE: He said it. The president said that.

PENCE: That's the way Chairman Schiff characterized it in his version of the transcript.

KAYE: The president said it on the lawn.

PENCE: But the American people should read the transcript and they will see that the president did nothing wrong. There was no pressure. There was no quid pro quo. The president simply raised issues of importance and interest to the American people.


BOLDUAN: The president literally said he wants Ukraine and China to investigate a political rival. I mean, on television. When you see Mike Pence answering questions like that, what do you say?

GERSON: Well, I think he's been cashiered. I respect Vice President Pence and I certainly respect the office, but as you say, the president made that statement with regard to the Ukraine on the public record and then went farther and solicited China to do the same thing.

Moreover, it was clear from the transcript that there was an attempt to withhold defense-appropriated money. That violates the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution.

But it certainly represents a quid pro quo. The leadership of the Ukraine is being told, you won't have the armaments from us in order to fight the incursions of Russia unless you investigate my political opponent. I think that's pretty clear. That's the point that's made in our letter.

BOLDUAN: I can assure you this, Mr. Gerson, I will be raising your letter with every Republican we have on the show to get their response.

Thank you so much for coming on.

GERSON: You're very welcome.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, right now, a dire situation is getting worse in Syria. Women, children caught in the crosshairs as Turkey enters day two of a major military offensive along the border. Something that President Trump essentially gave a green light to when he agreed to pull U.S. troops from the area. We're live on the ground, next.



BOLDUAN: The president of Turkey is now threatening all of Europe, saying he'll release a flood of Syrian refugees if E.U. leaders continue to criticize his military action.

Turkish troops are pushing deeper into Syria as we speak, hammering what were the U.S. allies fighting against ISIS for years, the Kurds. This is exactly what Democrats and Republicans have been fearing since Trump made his announcement to pull back troops on Monday.

Despite facing more and more intense blowback from his own party, more blowback than he has seen in quite some time on any issue, President Trump defended his military orders this way.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now the Kurds are fighting for their land.

They didn't help us in the Second World War. They didn't help us with Normandy, as an example.


BOLDUAN: Yes. Normandy as an example. And apparently a reason.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is in northern Syria not far from the Turkish border.

Clarissa, you've been seeing firsthand what this military operation by Turkey is already doing. What are you seeing and hearing there now?

Seems that we lost the shot with Clarissa. It was just up. We thought we could keep it long enough. We'll see if we can get Clarissa reconnected. She is there on the ground. We'll try to get reconnected with her to give you the very latest.


Still ahead for us, though, facing extinction. There's a new report with major warning -- with a major warning on how the climate crisis could impact hundreds of species of birds and it's not just about the birds. What it means for the rest of us. That's next.


BOLDUAN: All right, we've been able to reestablish with CNN's Clarissa Ward, who is in northern Syria not far from the Turkish border.

Clarissa, you've seen firsthand what this Turkish military operation is doing. What have you seen and hearing there?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we spent the day in a Syrian town right on the Turkish border and basically it's been getting hammered by Turkish artillery through much of the day.

I should say they've been largely targeting what appear to be Kurdish fighting positions on the edge of town. We've been hearing a steady stream of artillery.


There was a small group of protestors who gathered, who said they were going to walk right up to the Turkish border, showing they can't be cowed. However, Kurdish fighting forces came out and say, please not do that, leave immediately, it's not safe.

Kurdish fighters also burning lots of tires. I don't know if you can see the images. Thick black smoke. They're trying to create some kind of a smokescreen.

But simply put, Kate, this is not a fair fight. This is not an evenly matched fight. The Turkish military has seriously sophisticated weaponry. Kurdish forces here largely relying on guerrilla tactics.

The question everyone is asking is, how long does this go on for, when and where does it end, and where, if possible, can civilians get to safety -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's a huge question. Nobody has that answer right now. It's all unfolding as we speak.

Clarissa, thank you so much. Thank you so much for being there. As always, be safe.

I want to turn to another crisis we're following. The global climate crisis impacting everything from the air to the sea. The latest startling example, more than half of all birds in North America, hundreds of species, could be facing extinction if things keep heading the way they're going. This is shouldn't just be setting off alarm bells just for bird lovers either.

CNN senior climate correspondent, Bill Weir, has been digging into this. Watch this.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the Baltimore oriole to the golden eagle, from the songbirds in your backyard to America's rarest heron fishing in Tampa Bay, our fine- feathered friends are in deep trouble.

MARK RACHAL, SANCTUARY MANAGER, FLORIDA COASTAL ISLANDS SANCTUARIES, AUDUBON FLORIDA: At this site, there used to be 50 to 60 nesting piers. This was only about 15 years ago. And now, we're down to about five to eight piers.

WEIR: After a recent study found that the U.S. and Canada lost nearly three billion birds just since the 70s, Audubon scientists took the latest climate models and looked into the future of over 600 species.

WEIR (on camera): So this is not a development comes into a grassland and ruins the nesting grounds. This is that places on earth get too warm for these species, so they have to either move or go extinct.

BROOKE BATEMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST CLIMATE, NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY: Exactly. So, it's a combination of changes in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation.

WEIR (voice-over): Brooke Bateman was the lead scientist and found that if humanity keeps warming the planet at the current rate, almost two-thirds of the North American birds they study could be driven to extinction. And as they try to survive, many species, like the common loon, will fly north and never come back.

BATEMAN: This is a bird that I just -- I went home, in my second grade, and I wrote a report about it. And to this day, it's been a special bird for me.

Last year, I brought my 5-year-old daughter and we went and we sat on the lake and she got to hear the loon for the first time. And it's like magic -- you see it on her face.

And its range is going to completely shift out of the U.S. in the future, with climate change. So you'll no longer be able to go to that same place and hear that bird call anymore.

WEIR: But more alarming than a loss of pretty songs and colors is what birds like the common robin are telling us about the speed of climate change. BATEMAN: People usually think of robins as the sign of spring -- oh, the robins are back -- but robins are actually overwintering in a lot of places more frequently than they used to and not leaving at all.

WEIR (on camera): So it's a different kind of harbinger now.


WEIR: And if the robin is hanging out in December --


WEIR: -- something's wrong.

BATEMAN: Something's wrong. And that's the thing. Birds are indicators, birds tell us. They're the ones that are telling us what's going on in the environment.

WEIR: Yes.

BATEMAN: And so, we say, at Audubon, that birds tell us it's time to act.

WEIR (voice-over): And if humanity can act fast enough and somehow hit the carbon-cutting targets of the Paris accord, she says 75 percent of the most vulnerable species could survive.

WEIR (on camera): You have kids, do you?

RACHAL: I do, I have three young girls.

WEIR: Do you think these species will still be around when they're your age?

RACHAL: I do, I do.

WEIR: You do?

RACHAL: I think -- I think the habitat may be a little bit different but I'm hopeful.

WEIR (voice-over): Mark has been working at Tampa Bay for over a dozen years and has seen firsthand how even a casual love of birds can inspire positive action. Even the managers of that coal-fired power plant are Audubon supporters, he tells me.

But while it was the canary that warned coal miners of invisible doom back in the day, these days it seems that birds of all shapes and sizes are being forced to do the same.


BOLDUAN: It's really amazing.

Bill Weir here with me now.

I'm struck, and it's almost naive to say, Bill, but to be reminded once again how interconnected everything is.

WEIR: Yes. And indigenous people around the world are still connected to the land in ways where they know these living, chirping barometers of air and water testers. If they start moving out en masse, you're probably going to have to follow. Every form of life is going to be affected by that.

If you go to our story on, it will link you to Audubon. They have a tool. You put in your zip code and it will tell you what birds in your backyard are at risk.

It's amazing. A lot of the state birds will have to move out of the states that they're known for.


BOLDUAN: Unbelievable.

Thank you shining a light on it, Bill. Thank you so much. And your story telling. I just love it.


WEIR: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, hours from now, Democratic candidates will be taking the stage at the CNN town hall on equality in America. Next, what to expect tonight and what the candidates are saying about how they would protect LGBTQ Americans.


BOLDUAN: Tonight, you'll be witnessing history. For the first time, a major cable news network will air a presidential forum devoted to LGBTQ issues. It all kicks off a few hours from now right here on CNN.

CNN's Kyung Lah is there.

Kyung, what should people expect tonight?


What you're expecting to hear today is really a difference maker and a uniform voice among all these Democratic candidates. Ahead of all this, some of these candidates are getting a bit specific trying to roll out their proposals.

I want to tick off a few of them. There are three candidates in particular who have rolled out proposals ahead of this evening's historic town hall.

Senator Kamala Harris has rolled out her plan. She did stop by Los Angeles's The Abbey. It is a historic gathering place here in Los Angeles. She stopped to take pictures, to meet and greet with members of the LGBTQ-plus community.

And highlighting shortly after that, she released a detailed plan, much of which we have heard on the trail. She also says she wants to establish a chief advocate for LGBTQ affairs in the White House. She wants to expand the table of decision making for the community in her White House.

Now, all three of these candidates, Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, they all rolled out plans, which are tent-poled in supporting and passing the Equality Act, which has passed in the House.

It's expanding civil rights protections for the LGBTQ-plus community, repealing some of the measures in the Trump administration, and, Kate, expanding the rights and civil protection for this community, which they all say - and you'll hear this throughout the evening -- that they feel has been under attack during the Trump White House -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It all kicks off right here on CNN.

Thanks so much, Kyung.

A lot to look forward to this evening. Do not forget to watch CNN's back-to-back town halls. It starts tonight at 7:30 p.m., right here on CNN.


Thanks you all for joining me for another day, for another wild day.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.