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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Two Men Who Helped Giuliani's Efforts In Ukraine Under Arrest; George Conway Calls White House Letter To Congress Trash; Feds Looking At Rudy Giuliani's Financial Ties To Arrested Associates; Death Toll Rises As Turkey Ramps Up Attacks In Northern Syria; GOP Anger Grows Over Trump's Decision To Pull Out Troops In Syria; Only Fraction Of GOP Expresses Concerns Over Trump Ukraine Call. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 10, 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]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The indictment says that these men told a congressman, not named in the indictment but we've learned it's Republican Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, they said they would raise money for him and then, quote, "sought congressman one's assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine," unquote.

Now the president's attorney Jay Sekulow says none of this has anything to do with President Trump or his campaign. And yet we do know that President Trump did essentially fire that U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from that position. What do you make of what Jay Sekulow has to say?

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, a couple of reactions. One, it's not just that Donald Trump wanted to remove the Ukrainian ambassador. The other reporting that I've seen is that he did it at the behest of Rudy Giuliani, who is an associate of these two men who got arrested. The other thing I would say in favor of the congressman and others is that the indictment makes clear to say, at least so far, that the schemes to engage in straw donors and campaign finance fraud were done without the knowledge of the campaign. In other words, without the knowledge of the candidates.

So it may be the case that these guys were operating on their own, may be the case that Rudy Giuliani had knowledge. But so far prosecutors are making it clear in their charging document that the candidate did not know.

TAPPER: House Democrats just subpoenaed documents from these two individuals, these associates from Rudy Giuliani. I guess one question I have is does the Southern District of New York, indicting these two, hurt the ability of House Democrats to conduct their impeachment inquiry?

BHARARA: That may be a consequence. You know, I've seen some people posting on social media, suggesting that this was a way for somehow the Justice Department to prevent them from testifying and in some way impede the House committee proceeding. The facts are, as I understand them, that these gentlemen were on their way out of the country and were arrested at the Dulles Airport, which may account for the timing of this.

It doesn't sound like they're going to be very cooperative with the House inquiry anyway. And as far as I'm concerned, when I was U.S. attorney, we thought if you have a serious criminal matter that took precedence. No disrespect to the other branch of government or to Congress. But you need to deal with the criminal proceeding first. Maybe there's a way to accommodate the House. But generally speaking, when people get indicted by the federal government, they will plead the Fifth with respect to any inquiries of them, including from the House.

TAPPER: You sat down for your podcast with prominent conservative attorney and Trump critic George Conway for a very rare interview. Your podcast is called "Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara." I want to take a listen to some of his comments on impeachment. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE ATTORNEY: I mean, this was trash. I mean, basically, the thrust of -- the thrust of it is that there are some kind of constitutional obligations that the House has failed to meet that, therefore render its impeachment inquiry illegitimate and unconstitutional.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's George Conway's reaction to the White House letter written to Nancy Pelosi basically saying they're not going to cooperate at all with the impeachment inquiry. What did you think of Conway's comments?

BHARARA: I thought he's exactly right. As I said in the podcast with him, my reaction to the White House counsel's letter was not good either. I thought it was poorly written. It seemed like a political document. His language was very strong. He called it trash, he called it garbage and various other synonyms for what you throw out on the street.

You know, the bottom line is it doesn't seem like the administration is actually basing its decision on principle or on constitutional tradition. They made a calculation that if they bring information forward it's going to hurt them and so they wrote this letter basically saying we're not going to play ball unless you do some other thing that's not required by the Constitution.

Look, at the end of the day, it could be that Nancy Pelosi decides that there will be formal vote in the full House to decide the procedures by which you proceed. That's not necessary under the Constitution, that's unnecessary under the rules. It's happened before. Maybe at the end of the day she'll do it. But the excuse that they can't come forward and cooperate based on that is obviously nonsense.

TAPPER: This morning Conway and a group that he's part of, consisting of other conservative lawyers and officials, they laid out a legal argument on why they think an expedited impeachment is needed for Trump. With you, Conway also talked about how impeachment and the president's pattern of behavior, in his view, is part of a diagnosis he's made of the president being a malignant narcissist or something like that.

Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONWAY: You can point to so many things, areas and ways in which he puts himself before the country. And not all of those things individually would amount to an impeachable offense but they do fit a pattern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:35:09]

TAPPER: Do you think that -- let's get away from the diagnosis since neither of us are physicians and George isn't either.

BHARARA: Yes.

TAPPER: But do you think an expedited inquiry is the best way for Pelosi to do this?

BHARARA: Look, I'm going to give you an equivocal answer. It depends on what that means. You know, there's a tension always in every investigation between wanting to do it quickly so that the cloud is lifted or, you know, some accountability has had, versus doing it in a thorough way so all the information is before the public.

Here, in some ways, we thought a couple of weeks ago when all we're talking about is Ukraine and that phone call and maybe the segregation of that material on a secret server, that maybe you could keep it, you know, narrow and streamlined and get to the bottom of it in a few weeks. Every other day we seem to find new information. There's information emerging about Turkey, there's information about Donald Trump dealing with China, and there are other whistleblowers potentially coming forward.

That makes it a little bit harder to have it go quickly. I also think that for purposes of impeachment, which is different from, you know, the normal federal criminal prosecution, public sentiment matters. And, you know, in some ways you want to have the public understanding in real time what's going on. And so they are backing hopefully what eventually will be a bipartisan vote in favor of impeachment, otherwise I think you think rip the country apart.

So, they should go quickly. I think when they're stalled, they should draft Articles of Impeachment that show that they have been obstructed and draw adverse inferences but they shouldn't go so quickly as to not, you know, let the public keep up.

TAPPER: All right. Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, thank you so much.

BHARARA: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Sure.

Some breaking news for you now on the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Law enforcement officials are telling CNN that Giuliani's financial dealings with these two associates who were just arrested are under scrutiny by investigators.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is with -- has this reporting for us. And Shimon, what are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jake. So Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two men that were stopped at Dulles Airport, their relationship with Rudy Giuliani has now caught the attention of both the FBI and Manhattan prosecutors here over at the Southern District of New York, the federal prosecutors, according to law officials that have been briefed, this according to me and CNN's Evan Perez who have been told that specifically they are looking -- one of the things that they are looking at is the financial dealings between these two individuals and Rudy Giuliani.

Of course, the Ukraine matter in the mind of a lot of the federal investigators and prosecutors, and they want to know what this relationship was about. Perhaps they're looking at the money. Who was funding some of this? Was Rudy Giuliani in any way making money off of this? We're told specifically that the financial dealings are one of the things that the FBI and prosecutors are looking at, as well as the overall relationship here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.

Coming up, fallout from the pullout. President Trump suggests the possible escape of some hardcore ISIS fighters are someone else's problem. Our reporter is one of the only Western journalists inside northern Syria.

Stay with us. We're going to go right there.

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[16:42:40]

TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD" today, the death toll rising as Turkey intensifies its military attacks in northern Syria, killing civilians and Kurdish forces who had previously helped U.S. troops fight ISIS.

CNN's Clarissa Ward was the first Western journalist into northern Syria.

Clarissa, what does Turkey say is its end goal?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Turkey says its end goal, Jake, is to clear a large swath of territory. We're talking about more than 200 miles wide, 18 1/2 miles deep into the country to completely clear it of Kurdish fighting forces that they view as being an existential terrorist threat and a risk to their national security.

Their second goal, they say, Jake, is to try to resettle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who are currently living in Turkey but frankly from what we have been seeing on the ground as a result of the first two days of this operation, it is only more civilians who are getting displaced. Some 60,000 forced from their homes already. That number expected to rise to hundreds of thousands in the coming days.

And the real issue here, Jake, for those civilians, is they don't know where to go. There is no place right now in northern Syria that is a safe place for them to go.

TAPPER: And Clarissa, you've been talking to people on the ground there in northern Syria, people who are not only afraid of what the Turks are doing but who feel betrayed by the U.S. and President Trump.

WARD: There is a lot of anger, a rot of resentment, a lot of confusion as well from people. The minute they find out that we're American journalists, they come up to us and they want to understand why it is, why would America betray us this way, why, after so many thousands of Kurdish fighters have laid down their lives on the front lines of the battle against ISIS, would the U.S. now pull back special operations so officers from the border, essential therefore giving Turkey carte blanche to come in and launch this kind of military operation.

And to be honest, Jake, as a U.S. journalist it's always an awkward situation because there isn't an easy answer to give these people as to why the U.S. isn't doing more to support fighters who have been their firmest allies in the fight against ISIS for many years -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Clarissa Ward, reporting from inside Syria. Thank you so much. And please stay safe.

[16:45:00]

Our next guest is a Republican congressman, who's taking a public stand against the president's troop withdrawal in Syria. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with more in our "WORLD LEAD." And Republicans lining up to call out President Trump and his decision to move U.S. troops out of northern Syria leaving Kurdish forces who worked for years to help us fight ISIS even taking the front lines themselves now alone to combat Turkey, which is of course, NATO's second largest army.

I want to bring in Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio. He's an Iraq war veteran and officer in the Army Reserve. He's also one of the many Republicans criticizing President Trump's move. Congressman, I know that you have met the Kurds both from when you were in the Army and also when you were a congressman. There are a lot of viewers out there who probably don't understand why people such as yourself have such an emotional attachment to them beyond the fact that they're U.S. allies. Explain.

[16:50:33]

REP. BRAD WENSTRUP (R-OH): Well, you know, when you're in more especially, you want to know who your friends are, and that is something that we learned firsthand in Iraq. I didn't spend a lot of time with the Kurds. I was mostly down into the main part of Iraq.

But when I did go to the Kurdish area, this is the only time that I could walk through the streets without armor, in uniform, and people would come up and hug me. It's the only time in a year deployment that I actually ate at a restaurant.

When I went up there I was surprised. We had American universities there. We had Dominos Pizza, you had churches. It was amazing and you felt so loved. And you know, you think about it, we did keep them safe from Saddam Hussein for years with the no-fly zone. And then, you know, unfortunately, when we withdrew from Iraq, and you had the ISIS caliphate, who was there for us? The Kurds were there for us, and they've been there for us.

And I think it's important to maintain allies, you know, because what goes on other places does matter here. If we didn't learn that after 911, I don't know when we're going to. And so although we don't want endless wars, we don't want endless wars, but at the same time, we sure would like to work with our allies so that they can keep an eye out for us and maintain our safety as well.

TAPPER: Congressman, I want you to listen to what your colleague Republican Congressman John Shimkus told an Illinois radio station earlier today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN SHIMKUS (R-IL): Pull my name off the "I support Donald Trump list." I mean, this is just -- we have just stabbed our allies in the back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree? Have we stabbed our allies in the back?

WENSTRUP: Well, I certainly -- unless I'm missing something, it seems like we've turned our back on them and I don't feel good about that. You know, you make a lot of friends in war, believe it or not. I just had lunch the other day with one of my interpreters who's now a U.S. citizen and a cardiologist in Ohio. And it gives me great pleasure. You know who your friends are, and the ones that are willing to support you. And when they do you want to stand by them and return.

And we do need them. You know, it's not that it's just over there. The world is different today. And like I said, 911, and the influence of ISIS to even launch attacks to harm people in the United States is very present. And you know, at the same time, let's talk about the Turks. I mean,

whether you were for or against the Iraq War, they wouldn't let us come in from the north, making it very much, much more challenging. So as you look at them, now they're buying weapons from Russia. It's a concern from both sides of this not only how we're treating the Kurds, and what the Turks are doing.

TAPPER: Do you have any idea why President Trump did this? Because this wasn't part of some like, let's withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria in Iraq, which at least if he had done that, that would have at least been made some sense. But why just withdraw the ones from the border area to do what Erdogan wanted him to do? Why?

WENSTRUP: I don't know. And I'd love to have a briefing on what the expectation is. But you know, we have a resolution out that's going to try and put some -- put sanctions on the Turks. And hopefully, that would have a positive effect.

You know, fortunately, we do have some other branches of government, and we can intervene at times and that's one of the beauties of America. But I think that if we can reach out and put some restrictions on Turkey, it'll be a big help and I'm going to work towards that.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about just one other foreign policy issue, of course, and that's the President and his team asking Ukraine to investigate the Biden's. Your fellow Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman said this week of the President's July 25th, phone call with the president of Ukraine. "The President should not have raised the Biden issue on that call period. It's not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent." Do you agree with Senator Portman?

WENSTRUP: Well, I have a couple thoughts on that. I don't think he needed to mention Joe Biden, because that was kind of the elephant in the room, if you will. I mean, this is a new story that's kind of known throughout the world so probably wasn't necessary.

But I do think it's appropriate for heads of state to be able to have a conversation and talk about corruption that may be affecting their country and ours. And I also think just because you're a candidate doesn't make you immune. If you're running for sheriff and you've broken laws, I think the sitting sheriff should be able to investigate you.

But that -- we can debate that all we want. The bottom line right now I think is what was actually said and both parties have said that they didn't feel that there was -- there was pressure. And I guess you know, going to whether it's an impeachable offense, you know, there's been a lot of controversy about how this whole thing has been handled starting in -- not starting with but concluding with Adam Schiff giving a false testimony of what actually was said between the two leaders.

[16:55:06] TAPPER: All right, we're out of time. Republican Congressman and Iraq war veteran Brad Wenstrup, thank you so much, and thank you for your service as always. In just a moment, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to sit down with Senator Bernie Sanders for a live interview about Senator Sander's health since he had that heart attack. Stay with us.

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