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Two Men Who Helped Giuliani's Efforts To Dig Up Dirt On Biden In Ukraine Under Arrest; Trump Laywer Rudy Giuliani Used 2017 Oval Office Meeting With President And Rex Tillerson To Press For Help For Client; Turkish Forces Advance In Operation In Syria. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired October 10, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: -- Inside Politics, come back this time tomorrow.
Boris Sanchez is filling in for Brianna Keilar. He starts Right Now. Have a great afternoon.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Boris Sanchez in for Brianna Keilar, and we start with an extraordinary indictment that could explosive implications in Washington and beyond.
Two men accused of breaking campaign finance laws and conspiracy are set to appear in court in less than an hour.
We know the men helped President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tried to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. And according to this indictment, they played a part in trying to get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine recalled by the Trump administration. They gave more than $300,000 to a Super PAC that supports President Trump and they tried to buy access to and are linked to an unnamed congressman.
CNN has learned that Texas Republican, former Representative Pete Sessions, appears to be that unnamed congressman. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing as of this point.
Our Jessica Schneider is at the courthouse in Virginia where the two men are set to appear. Jessica, they were arrested last night at Dulles Airport. Pick it up from there. Where do we go now?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They were, Boris. So these two close associates of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, they were arrested at Dulles Airport last night. We know that they were brought to a Virginia jail and they're scheduled to be in court in Virginia Federal Court at 2:00 this afternoon where they'll have their initial appearance here.
Now, this is an indictment that actually stems out of the Southern District of New York, but they'll appear here first before facing those charges in New York. The indictment, alleging conspiracy and also illegal campaign contributions it says that these two men helped funnel foreign money into U.S. elections here.
And the two men did give hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Trump- aligned Super PAC. According to the indictment, it says this, that these contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests, and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working.
Now, what's key about these two men in the broader scope of the Ukrainian impeachment inquiry are their ties with Rudy Giuliani. The fact that they worked with Giuliani to help him dig up dirt in Ukraine on Joe Biden, Ukrainian officials and also the fact that they pushed that former U.S. congressman from Texas to help get the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, fired.
In fact, it lays it out in the indictment, how they worked on it, saying this. Parnas met with Congressman 1 and sought Congressman 1's assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. That's Yovanovitch. Parnas' efforts to remove the ambassador were conducted at least in part at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.
And, of course, Yovanovitch is scheduled at this point to appear before Congress tomorrow for testimony. Still remains to be seen how exactly that will move forward if the State Department will try to block her.
Meanwhile, here at court in Virginia, we know that both men are scheduled to appear at 2:00. And what's interesting here, Boris, is that we just learned that these two men will be represented in part by Paul Manafort's attorneys, Kevin Downing and Tom Zenley. So this all ties back to something that we saw a year ago when Paul Manafort was in this exact same courthouse, eventually found guilty on several counts.
These two men will now appear before a magistrate judge at 2:00 P.M. stemming from this conspiracy indictment out of the Southern District of New York. Boris?
SANCHEZ: You have some familiar faces on their defense team. Jessica Schneider, thank you for the reporting.
Plenty to discuss, so let's bring in our panel, CNN's Michael Warren and Karoun Demirjian. Karoun is a Congressional Reporter for The Washington Post. And in New York, we have CNN Legal Ross Scarborough and our own Shimon Prokupecz outside the federal court in New York.
Ross, let's start with you. John Dowd is one of their attorneys, a familiar face, he used to be President Trump's attorney. What can you tell us there?
ROSS SCARBOROUGH, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So there are a lot of connections to Trump world. So these guys are represented by John Dowd. John Dowd wrote a letter to the committee investigating the impeachment issues last week in which he objected to the document requests from the committee on behalf of these guys. So his role, he as is the role of Rudy Giuliani.
SANCHEZ: Now, Shimon, to you. The Southern District of New York is handling this case, not the U.S. Attorney in Virginia. We know those federal prosecutors in New York are set to make an announcement within the next hour or so.
What does it mean to you that they're handling this case and what questions are still unanswered out there?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, certainly there are still a lot of questions that are unanswered. And one of those things is how deep do these men's connections into Ukraine, into foreign nationals, how deep does it run? And I think that is going to be one of the biggest questions that need to be answered here. Who was helping them? What foreign nationals?
We know that in the indictment, they talk about a foreign national, number one, being a Russian. Who is that person and how deep into the Ukrainian government, perhaps the Russian government, does this run? And those are some of the biggest questions.
The other big question, obviously, is Rudy Giuliani. What did he know about these men and where the money was coming from and who perhaps else was involved? One of these men is alleged to have been the fixer, is the guy who was setting Rudy Giuliani up in Ukraine with meetings to try and dig up this dirt. So that's a big question.
And the other thing I think we should all be very cognizant of is that this is exactly what the FBI, what U.S. Officials are very concerned about, is just how some of these foreign nations have been able to penetrate Washington, have been able to penetrate, in some ways, you can even argue, the White House here with the effect of what's going on with the entire Ukraine matter now and the president potentially facing impeachment on that.
So those are all very big questions. Certainly the FBI is all over this. They're still investigating, and I think there is going to be what appears to be a lot more to come. We do expect to hear from the U.S. attorney here at 2:00 as well as the FBI, Boris.
SANCHEZ: Now, Michael, to you. America First, this pro-Trump Super PAC, they're saying that they didn't use these $300,000. They say that they're in a segregated account. What does this mean that they're still holding onto this money?
MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Well, it's a little unusual and we should not right at the top, nothing in the indictment alleges any wrongdoing on part of this Super PAC. Nobody has alleged wrongdoing with regard to this money. But this is a significant amount of money, particularly for a Super PAC that has faced in the past some fundraising issues. So it is interesting, and, of course, it's interesting that this is a campaign finance violation, according to the indictment, that the government is alleging. You do have to question what it was that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman thought they were getting by giving this large amount of money.
SANCHEZ: Right. Karoun, to you, this is like a bad game of clue. You've got Fruman and Parnas in Ukraine working with Rudy Giuliani, trying to get dirt on Joe Biden, trying to influence the U.S.'s outlook on this U.S. ambassador. What does all this represent to you?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, this is just an example of how -- this has been an outside-in, inside-out sort of experience the whole way through. I mean, Giuliani is saying that he did many of the things he did at the behest of the State Department, yet it seems like he worked with outside individuals who were clearly not employed by the government in any fashion, and that that all seems intersect, and there seems to be awareness and cognizance that there were some people in the administration that were aligned and in favor of what was going on, and some that were very worried about what was going on.
And we see all of these characters now coming into these investigations on Capitol Hill. It's two of the four people who were mentioned in that indictment, or two of the three of the Giuliani's associates that they want to talk to, one of them was supposed to actually be today, originally.
And so it's many intersecting strings basically of who was pulling the strings here and who had power, people that were around Trump and outside the government or people that were in the government. And if it's the former and it was the Giulianis and others of this world calling shots of what the government was doing and the pressure it was putting on other foreign governments, that's problematic.
SANCHEZ: Yes. Ross, a point that Karoun just brought up there is critical here. Both of these men have just been subpoenaed by the three heads of the House committees running this impeachment inquiry. Is this going to complicate things for House Democrats?
It appears we don't have Ross, but I'd love to hear from you guys on it. Michael, what do you think?
WARREN: I think -- look, I don't know if it makes things difficult. It certainly makes the drama more apparent here. I think there are a lot of questions here as well about what Rudy Giuliani is going to do. Of course, he has a subpoena for documents from those congressional committees. And there are questions they are currently saying Rudy Giuliani and his legal team saying that they're not commenting and nothing has really changed regarding these new indictments and these now subpoenas for Parnas and Fruman as well, for similar documents. But I think it certainly makes the -- the plot is now thick.
SANCHEZ: Right, very thick.
Karoun, Marie Yovanovitch, she was scheduled to testify tomorrow. Do you think the White House Counsel's Office is going to try to block her via the State Department?
DEMIRJIAN: Well, I mean, we've seen the White House Counsel put out that letter that says that they're not going to cooperate at all until the House takes a floor vote on the impeachment.
But as we reported last night, that since Yovanovitch is still expected to show up on the Hill, despite the fact that that letter is out there, and I think we are waiting to see whether a similar thing happens, as Happened with the Sondland interview, that being the E.U. was involved in those text message with the former special envoy, Kurt Volker, that phone call for forbidding him for actually showing up at a 9:30 A.M. interview, came at 12:30 A.M. that same morning, I guess, technically speaking, right? . And so there's still some time to see what's going to happen. But it seems like everybody is expecting her to show up and that she is intending to appear.
SANCHEZ: So much to keep an eye on, so much to keep track of. Michael Warren, Karoun Demirjian, Shimon Prokupecz and the entire panel, thank you so much.
We're having some technical difficulties, but stay with us. We'll be right back.
SANCHEZ: We're following breaking news this afternoon. CNN has learned about a shocking request made at a 2017 Oval Office meeting. In it, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pressed then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help with one of his clients. The man, Reza Zarrab, he was facing Department of Justice charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran's nuclear program. It was a deal that Tillerson said he simply could not support.
I'm joined by CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez and CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. Kirby also served as the State Department and Pentagon spokesman during the Obama administration.
Evan, first to you, give us the details about how exactly all of this went down.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is an extraordinary meeting. Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State at the time, walks into the Oval Office and the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Mukasey, the former attorney general in the Bush administration, are sitting there and the president essentially says to these men, give Tillerson your pitch. And the pitch is this. To trade Reza Zarrab, who was facing U.S. charges in New York for violating Iranian nuclear sanctions, okay, and trade him for a U.S. -- an American pastor that was being held in Turkey on some trumped up charges.
And so the president says, give him this pitch, they make the pitch to Tillerson. Tillerson says, I cannot support that. First of all, it would be interfering with a court proceeding, something that this man is already facing charges in New York. Secondly, it would be bad U.S. policy for you to be able to set an example, a precedent, that you can trade people away who -- essentially Americans could be targeted for being hostages overseas if you do something like this. So Tillerson refused to go along with this.
In our reporting, we found that Mukasey also spoke to the president and said, look, Mr. President, this is within your power to do. You could do this. The president essentially left it up to them to try to work it out.
In the end, Tillerson did not do this. The Justice Department did not go along with this. We know that Rudy tried to get the Justice Department to do it. They declined. And Zarrab is now -- he is now convicted of those charges in the United States.
SANCHEZ: So Rudy was asked about this. And, initially, he denied that this ever happened. But then he sort of changed his tune, right?
PEREZ: Right, he did. He doesn't want to talk about it, but he said essentially that this is something that would have been good for U.S. policy. This is something -- by the way, you've heard from other people that this would have been a good thing to try to get this American out of a very tough situation. He was being held in very harsh conditions in a Turkish prison. So that's the good from the American side.
But, really, I think the importance of this is the idea that the president's personal lawyer was using the Oval Office of the president to try to transact something that is a personal business thing that he was doing and intertwine it with U.S. foreign policy, by the way, which is this central allegation, of these Ukraine allegations that are now causing so many problems for the president.
SANCHEZ: Yes. Admiral Kirby, how is this not an attempt at abuse of power?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I don't think you make the case that isn't an attempt at abuse of power. It obviously didn't go anywhere, but it's very troubling. And then for all the reasons that Evan said, but even more from a foreign policy perspective, here, you have a guy who is being prosecuted for violating Iranian sanctions, at the same time the president and the secretary of state are out there saying maximum, the Iran deal was the worst deal ever in history, and they're willing to look the other way to get this guy to not have him prosecuted for doing the exact same thing that Trump is beating up our allies and partners for potentially doing, which is continuing to trade with Iran.
SANCHEZ: What message does that send to not only our allies but our adversaries around the world that the president is so focused on his personal agenda and the personal agendas of those around him that he's basically willing to basically look the other way on something that he has been so harsh against, this Iran nuclear deal?
KIRBY: It's the same message that this whole Ukraine affair sends to allies, adversaries and partners around the world, which is that U.S. foreign policy is for sale, it's barterable, it's transactional, especially if you can make a deal that is to a benefit to the personal interest of the president of the United States.
SANCHEZ: All right. Admiral Kirby, Evan Perez, thank you, gentlemen, so much.
We're following more news as Turkey continues its bombardment of Kurdish positions in Northern Syria. Civilians are paying an enormous price.
They're fleeing their homes with nowhere to go. A live report from the region, next.
SANCHEZ: Right now, the fighting along the Turkish-Syrian border is ramping up. Turkey has advanced deeper into Syria, pounding Kurdish positions from the air and with artillery. But for the first time, Kurdish-led forces are fighting back with mortars over the border.
This is all happening as the Turkey's president threatens Europe to back off its criticism of the offensive or else face a flood of refugees, despite civilians, women, children and mend are fleeing the area with aide agencies warning of a looming humanitarian crisis.
CNN International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is on the border of Turkey and Syria. Nick, it's only day two of Turkey's military operation, but this is looking it could go into the next few weeks, if not, months. Help us understand why.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Boris. And we've actually just heard from Turkish foreign minister the first on the record confirmation of what they say is the initial mission goal of this operation, and that's to take a stretch of 120 kilometers of this border area behind me. You can't see in the darkness now but that is the Syrian town of Tal Abyab that the Turkish have been fighting clearly for today and 30 kilometers deep. That will potentially take them all the way own to Ras al-Ain.
Now, Tal Abyab and Ras -al-Ain, they are the two towns that U.S. troops withdrew from in anticipation of this offensive. That is their initial goal, it seems. But I heard a U.S. official with a pretty good grasp of the situation here, and their assessment is they could be looking for more territories behind (ph) that. But today has been one in which the speed of the Turkish events has become clear and I think a large scale of their goals.
We saw this morning the Turkish personnel carriers coming in from Syria back to the border. We saw shelling across the skyline here, moments, it was hard to see because it seemed like some tire fires have been set by Syrian Kurds. The Kurds also fired, it seems, mortars back into here, Turkey, at (INAUDIBLE) the town, wounding six or seven, as they land on the center. We understand that across the border area, about three people have lost their lives so far today because of this response shelling, and, in fact, one rocket was fired directly over our heads landing over there.
The Syrian Kurds though massively less well-equipped and the Turkish army, they're facing, the second biggest army in NATO, who will probably advance quite fast. The question is what happens when they stop and maybe the Syrian Kurds launch an insurgency of attrition in urban areas, where they've really practiced fighting ISIS.
But, politically, it's been an extraordinary day in which we have seen pretty much everybody, you would expect, to be Turkey's ally and normally condemn this move. And the President Erdogan, like you said, telling the E.U. to frankly get on board, I paraphrase here, or they would essentially weaponize the 3.6 million refugees from Syria that they say they want to put back into when they've cleared this territory, and maybe even send them north to Europe, reminiscing scenes in 2015, extraordinary to hear those statements and the geopolitics of this so feeble (ph), Boris.
SANCHEZ: Yes, weaponizing refugees. Nick Paton Walsh, stay safe out there, thank you for your reporting.
Still come, we're told President Trump calls the senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a lot, demanding that fellow Republicans stick by him or face his wrath if they don't. We'll talk about it, next.