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Pentagon Officials Dismayed by Trump's Decision; Trump Appointee Put A Freeze on Ukraine Aid; Joe Biden Shifts Strategy; Trump Takes Issue with Fox News Impeachment Poll. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:30:17] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Count Pentagon officials among those angered by President Trump's sudden decision to abandon the Kurds. Today, several senior defense officials telling CNN sidelining U.S. troops in Northern Syria effectively gave a green light to Turkey and effectively end the fight against ISIS.

Remember, U.S. special operators fought shoulder to shoulder with the Kurds, our allies. But the secretary of state didn't refer to them that way in an interview last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you personally changed your thinking about being -- viewing the YPG as U.S. allies?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Turks have a legitimate security concern. We've talked about that. I've talked about that repeatedly. They have a terrorist threat to their south.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Turkish invasion still raging at this hour. Kurdish-led forces have responded by firing mortars but they say casualties are quickly piling up. And U.S. officials are warning there are signs on the ground that gains against ISIS terrorists are coming undone because of all this.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is right there in the thick of it in Northern Syria. Clarissa, what are you seeing? What's the latest?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So John, we were up for most of the day in the town of Tell Abyad, that's right on the Turkish border. It was pretty much deserted when we arrived. There had been artillery strikes earlier that morning. Then we came across a small group of people who were protesting, planning on actually walking up to the Turkish border to show that they would not be cowed but very quickly they were told by Kurdish fighters to get out. That's when more artillery started hitting surrounding areas.

We Kurdish fighters building huge piles of tires and setting fire to them to create a short of an effective smokescreen. But essentially there is a lot of confusion here, John, about what exactly Turkey's end game is and what this military operation is going to look like. We saw a lot of artillery coming in. We did also see a few rounds going out from Kurdish forces into Turkey as well. And that was just one town.

This is a huge swath of border, more than 200 miles that Turkey ostensibly wants to try to clear and create this buffer zone. No sense, though, really how they're going to do that without avoiding civilian casualties. Already, we're hearing reports on both sides of the border of a number of civilian casualties. Turkish forces did appear to be targeting fighters' positions as opposed to civilian areas. But as you well know, John, the minute you have artillery going off back and forth both ways, you run the risk of civilian casualties, and certainly we've seen a lot of civilians displaced from their homes, they're running away but they don't know where to run, where is safe in Syria for America's former allies, the Kurds, John.

KING: Clarissa Ward, appreciate the live reporting and I appreciate your courage being in the middle of that -- in the middle of this at this very sensitive time. That's the best way to get information. Clarissa, thank you.

Vivian Salama is still with us, a White House correspondent now but you know the neighborhood very well from your previous assignments in the Middle East. This is from your reporting today. "The official acknowledged the likelihood that the decision will strain relations with the Kurds, as well as coalition partners in Europe and elsewhere. He knows it, this person said of the president. They're just not his priority."

Why?

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: The president believes that he gave -- made a campaign promise to his supporters, to the entire country that he was going to get out of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. He really doesn't have any appetite for it. We know this now a couple of years into his administration. And so what he believes is that getting them out, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the consequences, he is fulfilling a campaign promise here, and so he wants to go ahead with it.

KING: And his language yesterday was quite striking. Just listen to the president at the White House saying here's one reason why we don't need to stay with them anymore, even though many of them died helping us.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now the Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand. They're fighting for their land. And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn't help us in the Second World War, they didn't help us with Normandy, as an example. They mentioned the names of different battles. They were there but they're there to help us with their land, and that's a different thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I think the Brits were fighting for their land and the French were fighting for their land. I don't quite get the history there. But what --

SALAMA: I'm not even going to address the historical inaccuracies of it, but one of the important things to note is that this is going to hit really close to home for a lot of veterans, including a lot of veterans who voted for the president. Those who fought in the Iraq war believed that the Kurds were essential not only to our success but to their survival. The Kurds fought alongside them, sacrificed everything, the Kurds lost their land to ISIS but continued to battle alongside the Americans. And so this is going to hit close to home for a lot of those Iraq war veterans.

[12:35:02] KING: You mentioned the veterans because they have a code of honor. You fight on the battlefield with people you don't turn your backs on them. This is H.R. McMaster, a general, also the president's former national security adviser just said this at an event. "I know it feels good to some people to think, well, let's just disengage from that and worry about ourselves but, of course, if we did that, we'd become very vulnerable. We have to remember the tremendous human cost, the financial cost as well associated with the catastrophic attack that occurred on 9/11."

That's General H.R. McMaster, the president's former security -- national security adviser clearly not naming the president there but clearly not happy with this decision as well.

Coming up for us, new questions being raised about who was involved in freezing U.S. aid to Ukraine.

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[12:40:39] KING: Topping our political radar today, President Trump signaling possible progress or at least hope for progress in U.S.- China trade talks. A short time ago announcing he'll meet personally with China's vice premier today at the White House. Expectations have been low as U.S. and Chinese and negotiators kick off their 13th round of talks here in Washington. That kickoff earlier this morning amid doubts Beijing was ready to make any major concessions.

Another retirement in the House, this one a Democrat. Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York announcing she will not seek re-election next year. Lowey is also the powerful chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. She's 82-years-old and has served in Congress for more than 30 years. Chairman Loweys says she's looking forward to spending more time with her family.

Today, some new CNN reporting about the freeze of that vital military assistance for Ukraine at a Trump political appointee's role.

CNN's Sara Murray joins the conversation. Sara, this is central to the Democrats' impeachment case that he held up this aid in exchange for favors. What are you learning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and you know, Democrats just subpoenaed the Office of Management and Budget because they wanted more details on exactly this. Who made the decisions? What the discussions were around the decision to freeze this aid to Ukraine?

And we are learning, me and my colleague Rene Marsh through our sources that there was actually a Trump political appointee Michael Duffey who's a senior official OMB who signed a number of these documents freezing the aid to Ukraine. And the reason that this is unusual is because it's usually a career budget staffer who would sign off on this. And a source tells me that one of the reasons that it was not a career official was because career officials were actually afraid that they would be running afoul of the law if they did not move forward with these funds that Congress had already appropriated.

Now, another source said Michael Duffey was new to OMB, he just wanted to get a better sense of how this budgeting process work, and his only concern about this was that President Trump didn't like foreign aid and so that's the reason he was involved. But as you pointed out, there is no doubt that this is going to be of interest to congressional investigators as they try to follow the paper trail and the money trail. It is worth noting that an OMB spokesperson said it was ludicrous that the Trump administration appointees would not be involved in a decision like this.

KING: I think you just made the key point there. A name not known to many Americans above and beyond our witness' list for the Democrats up on Capitol Hill. Sara Murray, appreciate the reporting. To Rene Marsh as well. It's important to track how this all happened.

Up next for us here, as Joe Biden shifting strategy, the former vice president and his campaign now targeting the media, the president, and one of his 2020 rivals.

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[12:47:43] KING: Joe Biden suddenly going offense on several fronts. Overnight, his campaign sending letters to both Twitter and the New York Times blasting the former for allowing a Trump ad to remain online, and the latter for some of its coverage of the Ukraine controversy and his son Hunter Biden's business dealings.

Deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield posing this question to the Times' executive editor. Quote, "Are you truly blind to what you got wrong in 2016, or are you deliberately continuing policies that distort reality for the sake of controversy and the clicks that accompany it." The tone and strategy shift comes as the former vice president made his first public appearance in days, using a speech in New Hampshire to slam the president, and for the first time to directly call for his impeachment.

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JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the full view of the American people, Donald Trump has violated his oath of office, betrayed the nation, and committed impeachable acts. To preserve our constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, I believe he should be impeached.

I'm not going to be distracted by his lies, his distortion, his name- calling. None of these attacks are true, and I'm going to stay focused on your lives. That's what this election is about, your lives. Your kids. Your children. Your family.

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KING: The direct call for impeachment puts him much more in touch with the Democratic base. He had been much more cautious on that issue. Is that what this is about, or is it because it's personal because Trump keeps -- and Rudy Giuliani keeps going after his son?

I think the campaign had been in this space for a while but the candidate had not. You know, Joe Biden is lagging in polls, in some enthusiasm and fundraising. This is sort of a way to reorient the campaign a little bit. And you saw that yesterday.

I mean, the crowd was into it, he was sharp, and he was really aggressive with President Trump. And I think that's what his campaign wants to see from him. Whether that works, and you saw Trump, you know, yesterday afternoon sort of pushback pretty aggressively at Joe Biden, and it's a new kind of campaign for them where they're embracing this more than they had been.

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: But we should say, and you pointed this out, this was his first public event of the week. You know, Biden has not been as aggressive in his campaign schedule which maybe we'll see.

KING: And I want to play a piece of an interview with WBZ that he did while he was up in -- no, it was in New Hampshire. WBZ is a Boston TV station. (INAUDIBLE), I just -- I want you to help with this one in the sense that he's right.

[12:50:06] A lot of the things that the president says and Rudy Giuliani say about him and about his son are just reckless, unfounded, wrong, unproven, some of them disproven (ph). And yet, his son was on the board of this Ukrainian energy company at a time he was vice president. Obama, the president asked him to go to Ukraine to talk about corruption issues. So there's at least the appearance there but listen.

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BIDEN: I don't discuss business with my son. I didn't know that was the case and then -- when in fact I found out after the fact. And because I don't discuss things with my son and my family because I don't want to have any knowledge of any -- I don't want to be accused of, well, you talk with your son, or you talk with your -- whomever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you're the vice president in an administration that is proudly boasting it's the most ethical administration in history, isn't that backward? Isn't that backward? I don't want to hold him to -- you know, you might be holding him to a different standard. There's a lot of people who trade in on their political connections and their family connections in Washington. But I don't talk to my son? Don't you need to know, so that you can say, Mr. President, I can't go to Ukraine, Hunter has business dealings there, you need to send somebody else? Am I wrong?

VISER: No. And I don't think Biden has really addressed the fundamental question of that about when did you talk to Hunter, why did you not talk to him earlier? And as president, how can the American public be assured that your son is not going to presenting in the appearance of a conflict of interest. And I don't think he's fully addressed those questions yet.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: If you read that New Yorker profile of Hunter Biden which came out a couple of weeks ago, they talk about this. They talk about, you know, Hunter Biden used to be on the board of MBNA or worked for MBNA. And as a senator, Joe Biden had a lot of bills and stuff related to banking.

So, there's been a long history of Hunter Biden's work being sort of adjacent to Joe Biden's work. And of there being this family policy that was discussed at length in this article of they just don't talk about it, they just talk about family.

KING: One more from yesterday again, impeachment gets him closer in touch with the Democratic base. The candidate who has the most favor with the base right now or at least throughout the summer has been Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden says this.

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BIDEN: America has enormous possibilities. They're limitless. I want to take that vision, and yes, take the plans. But that's not enough. It takes proven ability to get things done. We're not electing a planner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Hello, Senator Warren, right?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think it shows that they're reading the polls that we're seeing and that's his new challenge there. He has to separate himself from her a bit. And on the other issue, I think that the concern among Democrats and the hope among some Republicans is that Joe Biden will be collateral damage in all this impeachment talk, and they're trying to forestall that.

KING: That's certainly what the president wants in his attacks. The president doesn't want the impeachment part of it but that certainly what he wants. And again, a lot of it has been reckless against Joe Biden but that answer still I'm not sure up to snuff.

Up next, Trump lashes out at Fox News after they do a daring thing like publish an impeachment poll.

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[12:57:41] KING: This is breaking news. President Trump taking issue with his usual favorite network today. That would be Fox News, of course, because Fox this morning that showing support for the president to be impeached and removed from office is up to 51 percent. That's a 10 point increase in Fox News polling from January.

It's a perfectly legitimate poll, but the president tweeted, "I never had a good Fox News poll. Whoever their pollster is, they suck." Those are the president of the United States' words, not mine. "Fox News doesn't deliver for us anymore. It is so different than it used to be. Oh, well, I'm president."

Instead, he thanked the One American News network saying see you at the big rally tonight. That would be in Minnesota.

It's always just interesting into the president's mindset but he thinks that Fox News is supposed to be a cheerleading operation not publish a poll that's bad news for the president.

SALAMA: Well, and they also have a very reputable polling system and so he hasn't really kind of sunk in -- this hasn't really sunk in with him the fact that they can put out critical polls of him and they can be fair. He does not want to hear that. He expects that he turns it on and he's going to see familiar and friendly faces like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson whom we know also the president talks to privately.

And so, anything beyond that, and we see him even lashing out some of the White House correspondents when they ask him tough questions. He gets really mad at them so he doesn't really handle the criticisms well.

KING: And primetime I'm guessing you won't see this number from the Fox poll on Fox News. But this is their own poll. The Trump administration is more corrupt than previous administrations. Forty- six percent of Americans said that in September, 51 percent of Americans say that now. It is interesting, again, in this idea that we saw this in the Mueller probe which you mentioned earlier, now we see it in impeachment. He thinks you're supposed to pick sides in our business, and he thinks if Fox says anything critical it's somehow hearsay.

KEITH: Well, he definitely is now differentiating between the opinion branch of Fox and the news branch of Fox. Because he knows that he doesn't like the news branch of Fox. And he's made that clear through tweets, you know, he says that he doesn't watch Shep Smith's show because Shepard Smith has been known to contradict the president's line.

And increasingly, he is talking about One America News which is blatantly pro-Trump. For instance, they filed a friend of the court brief for the president in the fight over Jim Acosta's press credential.

KING: That's -- I won't say anything. Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Come back this time tomorrow. Boris Sanchez filling in for Brianna Keilar. He starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

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