Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Turkish Artillery Hits Close to U.S. Forces in Syria; Trump Administration Faces Legal Setbacks; Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Testifies; Sources: National Security Adviser to Slash Career NSC Staff and Add Political Appointees. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired October 11, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You can see more of his incredible work. Go to CNNHeroes.com.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. Have wonderful weekends.
But stay right here. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump scoring a hat trick of terrible news from the courts today.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Bad news for President Trump all around today, from his tax returns, to hopes for his border wall, to the scandal that could find him impeached.
President Trump once called her bad news on his now infamous Ukraine call. Today, a career diplomat delivering a blistering attack on the president's conduct in front of the very people who could vote to impeach him.
And breaking just minutes ago, Turkey nearly bombing U.S. Special Forces, apparently by accident, after President Trump opened the door for that country to go into Syria. So why does it seem like President Trump is always bending over backwards to do Turkey's bidding?
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
And we start today with breaking news. A series of devastating news today for the Trump administration, including losing three court rulings. President Trump lost his appeal to stop a House subpoena to obtain his tax returns. A federal judge in Texas ruled that President Trump's national emergency declaration to build a border wall is unlawful.
And yet another federal judge today blocked the Trump administration rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance to obtain legal status. Now, amid all of these rulings, a key witness in the impeachment
inquiry came forward, the former ambassador to Ukraine pointing the finger directly at the president today as she testified to members of Congress behind closed doors.
According to a copy of her opening statement obtained by "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said that President Trump himself pushed for her to be removed from her role as ambassador because of -- quote -- "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives" -- unquote, which seems a reference to President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has admitted that he brought information about Yovanovitch to President Trump.
And "The Wall Street Journal" recently reported that Giuliani had complained Yovanovitch -- quote -- "was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kiev" -- that's Ukraine's capital -- "to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden."
This afternoon, the Democratic House chairman leading the impeachment inquiry accused the White House of trying to block this key witness from testifying. She's a woman who could shed light on this question. Did President Trump actually fire a U.S. ambassador because she was getting in the way of his lawyer's attempts to get dirt on his political opponents?
CNN's Alex Marquardt leads off our coverage today from Washington.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Defying the Trump administration, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch went before lawmakers today after the State Department tried to block her testimony.
She was appearing in response to a subpoena by Democratic leadership and leveled a stunning allegation, telling lawmakers, according to "The New York Times," she had been removed from her post by President Trump because of unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives, referring to efforts by the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
"I do not know Mr. Giuliani's motives for attacking me," Yovanovitch wrote in her statement, adding, "but individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption in Ukraine."
The former ambassador talking about Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two of Giuliani's associates who were indicted yesterday for trying to use political contributions in order to get her fired. Yovanovitch was known for his anti-corruption work.
MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: The old oligarch system is still clinging to life, and corruption is its life support. MARQUARDT: She also said in her opening statement: "The harm will
come when bad actors in countries beyond Ukraine see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system."
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): It is incredibly alarming that the secretary of state is not standing by our career people, incredibly alarming that she points out that private citizens -- in this case, Mr. Giuliani and others -- were having a shadow of diplomacy into Ukraine.
MARQUARDT: As the impeachment inquiry deepens, Yovanovitch is the latest in a string of key interviews. On Monday, former White House adviser Fiona Hill is set to testify, someone who had a pivotal role in the president's dealings with Ukraine, but who a source tells CNN will testify she was unaware of some aspects of the Ukraine scandal.
Also next week, E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who was blocked by the White House last from being deposed, he is expected to now show up under subpoena.
GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Well, President Trump has not only honored me with the job of being the U.S. ambassador to E.U., but he has also given me other special assignments, including Ukraine.
MARQUARDT: He was a top aide on Ukraine. Text messages show he was well aware of the president's desire for an investigation into Joe Biden and his son.
Of vital interest to the committees is Ambassador Bill Taylor, another career diplomat currently running the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. He was clearly uncomfortable with the pressure being put on Ukraine by President Trump.
Texting Sondland: "Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?"
Sondland responded: "Call me."
Taylor has been asked to testify. It is unclear when that may happen or if the administration will try to block his testimony as well.
MARQUARDT: There are now three ambassadors at the center of the impeachment inquiry who either are or may be defying the order of their bosses at the State Department and the White House to testify to Congress.
Now, Jake, Ambassador Yovanovitch is a 33-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. She said today that if the State Department's leaders don't stand up for it, the country's interests may be irreparably harmed -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Alex, thanks so much.
I want to go straight to CNN's Pamela Brown now. She's live for us at the White House.
And, Pamela, three significant losses today in the courts for the Trump administration. How has the White House reacted?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're about to hear from President Trump as he departs the White House.
But the president is certainly ending this week, Jake, with a barrage of more negative headlines, on top of what we just learned, the former Ukrainian ambassador saying the president directly campaigned for her to be fired for political purposes.
In a devastating blow, the president has also lost three high-profile federal court cases today, Jake. Earlier today, he lost the court battle over turning over several years of his tax returns to Congress. His lawyers are saying that they are weighing an appeal to the -- to this decision by the D.C. appeals court.
And then he lost two court battles on his signature issue, immigration. A federal judge in Texas ruled the president's national emergency declaration to build a border wall is unlawful and appears poised to block the use of those funds, Jake.
And in a third defeat, a federal judge today blocked a Trump administration rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance to obtain legal status.
So, really, the trifecta there of these court rulings dealing a big blow to the president. As you will recall, Jake, that controversial initiative that I just mentioned was announced back in August.
And the president's top adviser Stephen Miller was asked about all of this today. He fired back at the court rulings, calling them disgusting federal injunctions that impedes democracy.
And as we have seen in the past, Jake, the president is not afraid to go after a federal judges. So we will have to wait and see what he says in just moments.
Now, a silver lining here at the White House -- for this White House today is this announcement that the president just made that a preliminary trade deal with China has been reached.
He -- the president just met with the Chinese vice premier in the Oval Office. But there are no details as of yet as to what that deal entails. You can imagine the president will want to focus on that, rather than all of these court losses today -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks so much.
We have some more breaking news in our world lead. We are just learning that U.S. Special Forces in Syria were dangerously close to being hit by Turkish artillery, according to one U.S. official. Turkish forces moved into Syria after President Trump days ago said he would pull U.S. service members out of that region.
I want to bring in CNN's Barbara Starr, who is at the Pentagon for us.
Barbara, what are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is exactly what U.S. senior military commanders did not want to see.
U.S. forces in Northern Syria near Kobani apparently came dangerously close to Turkish artillery fire, artillery fire coming out of Turkey landing several hundred meters away from that U.S. Special Forces position.
Initial reports indicate no U.S. troops were hurt in this event, but it's not what the U.S. wanted. It's one of the reasons they have been so concerned about keeping U.S. troops in this region where the Turkish advance is happening into Syria.
Right now, we also know that the U.S. military has emergency evacuation plans to pull some or all of the 1,000 troops in Syria out of that country if the fighting accelerates and the view becomes it is simply too dangerous for them to stay there -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right.
One wonders why the president made this decision about pulling the U.S. service members from that region.
Barbara Starr, thank you so much.
Right now, the former ambassador to Ukraine is still testifying on Capitol Hill.
Up next, someone who worked closely with Ambassador Yovanovitch breaks down her testimony.
Then: thousands of people forced from their homes, major highways shut down, and this raging wildfire in the United States could get even worse.
We're going to go live on the ground.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.
And a key witness, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, right now testifying on Capitol Hill, after she was subpoenaed. Three House Democratic chairmen saying this afternoon that subpoena was issued after the White House and State Department directed Yovanovitch not to appear before Congress.
Yovanovitch was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, but she was removed from her position in May over what she called today unfounded and false claims.
She said that she was told by the deputy secretary of state that there had been a -- quote -- "concerted campaign against me and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018" -- unquote.
Jen, you were the former spokesperson for the State Department during the Obama years. You know Ambassador Yovanovitch. Tell us about her. Is she a partisan Democrat? Is she not professional?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I worked alongside her for two and a half years. She was in a senior role in the European bureau when I was there. I was a visitor as a political appointee. Most people in the State Department are Foreign Service officer, civil servants. They've served, as she noted in her testimony, often many Republican and Democratic presidents.
I would have no idea what political affiliation, I still don't know what political affiliation Ambassador Yovanovitch had or has today.
You know, I will say about her that she is somebody who took pride in being representative of the national interest and the United States' interest overseas. She had hardship posts which she mentioned in testimony as well, places that many people don't want to serve, that are difficult because they are authoritarian governments. She went and delivered tough talking points or tough messages when that needed to happen.
She's somebody who respects the process, respected the process and the institution and when it was working, what that could result in, which is things being negotiated and discussed and worked through at a working level before they come to the secretary of state or even levels right below that. That's how it's supposed to work.
You know, I think -- the other thing for people to understand or I think it's important for people to understand is that when you're a foreign service officer, at least in my experience being there for a couple of years, you're not looking for the limelight. You know, you're not looking for a moment where you can testify or be a public face or have your face on CNN. This is something that they all do reluctantly because they feel it is important and it is important part of their public service.
So my bet is this was very difficult for her to put together and deliver today, but she felt it was important not just for her own reputation but for the reputation of the institution and to kind of be a voice for all of the frustration and anger that is felt in that institution, and has been for the last several years. TAPPER: This all reminds me, Toluse, of a week or two again when the
inspector general for the State Department went to Capitol Hill and presented what was described as a bunch of conspiracy theories about people that are perceived to President Trump's enemies, the Bidens, Ambassador Yovanovitch and others, and she said today that they're just a bunch of lies coming from -- she insinuated I guess that they were coming from people like Rudy Giuliani, I have no idea where they're coming from, but insinuated from President Trump's partners and allies that were, you know, spreading this stuff.
And that that's the reason she was ousted, because somebody had given President Trump all these lies about her.
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and she warned that is a green light for other actors who want to use misinformation to make the U.S. government take specific action and in this case, she's saying misinformation was spread about her by the president's allies and that caused her to be removed from her post and that is a -- a decision very welcomed not only by the president's personal lawyer but also by these two indicted affiliates that he had that wanted her out as well. So, the fact that we have potential criminal actors who are spreading misinformation and getting the president to take action, that's something that she warned could be dangerous to the U.S. democracy. It could allow folks like Russia and other adversaries to try to use that same playbook and she was warning the senators and a lot of these senators agree that, you know, we need to have one voice for the U.S. government, we can't have people playing State Department actor when they are not officials within the State Department.
So, she put that in her opening statement and I think she's speaking to those Republican senators who actually agree with her that they don't like the fact that Rudy Giuliani is playing the role of shadow State Department actor when he doesn't really have an official position in the government and she's speaking to those Republican senators who have those concerns as well.
TAPPER: Initially, Mary Katharine, we heard that Secretary of State Pompeo was annoyed by what Rudy Giuliani was doing, but lately he's been saying things along the lines of -- I think he told Judy Woodruff of PBS that it's not so unusual for private citizens to be working with the government to do things like that. It sounds certainly disruptive.
MARY KATHARINE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, unclear where Pompeo is on this move. We get more clarification about it. But I'm struck over and over again by the fact that Trump puts someone like this ambassador in it -- former ambassador in a situation where she must speak for herself, right? There is a situation in which she serves as the pleasure of the president, he recalls her, he puts someone in and she wants to stay quiet because she believes in the mission and the situation.
But if indeed there were stories about her and she feels like that's why action was taken against her and inappropriate, then she has to get out there and speak for herself. So he's always putting people in a position knowing they won't necessarily be backed up by the institution or by him personally to have these conversations openly.
TAPPER: Especially when she's subpoenaed by the House.
Shan, if you were behind closed doors, if you were one of the House Democratic chairman today, what would you be asking her?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I would be asking her what kind of pressure she was subjected to and what she understands the support was for her, because it's so critical that the career people who are nonpartisan get the support of the government structure.
And if she didn't feel supported I think we should look into exactly how she wasn't supported.
TAPPER: And "The Washington Post" reports that one person familiar with the sequence of events after the Trump/Ukraine call in July said, quote, when people were listening to this in real time, there were significant concerns about what was going on, alarm bells were kind of ringing, people were trying to figure out what to do, how to get a grasp on the situation. Alarm bells were ringing.
PSAKI: Look, I think reading the story, one of the most interesting components to me was the role of -- his name is John Eisenberg, the lawyer on the national security team who has been there from the beginning, people went to him and expressed these alarm bells and concerns about what they heard. He also was there way back when there were other concerning things happening with Flynn, et cetera. I want to hear more about him and hear more about what he knows and what his role is in here.
It's not surprising to me that people were concerned when they read the call. That wasn't that interesting. What was interesting was his role in being the person that people went to and he sat on it and that is clearly -- or the story indicates that's why people went to the CIA.
TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about in the middle of this impeachment inquiry.
We have learned that President Trump is trying to make controversial moves with his National Security Council, the changes he reportedly wants to make. That's next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.
Sources telling CNN that President Trump's handpicked national security adviser is slashing the number of career officials on the National Security Council who help to advise the president. These are the types of people who have come forward with concerns about President Trump's actions, career people. Also, we're told that the national security adviser plans to replace some of these individuals with political appointees who, by definition, will be regarded as having more loyalty to President Trump.
CNN national security reporter Kylie Atwood joins me now live.
And, Kylie, what role did President Trump play, if any, in this staff shake-up?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, President Trump himself was the one who directed his new national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, to make the shake-up.
Now we should note that Robert O'Brien has only been on the job for about two months now. So, this is a pretty big change for him to be making very early on in his tenure as the national security adviser. And what we know from our reporting is that the slash is legitimate. It is big. He wants to cut it by about 50 percent. He wants to make the National Security Council close to 120 by early next year and they're going to cut down on the folks who are rotating into the National Security Council from the other agencies and departments within the U.S. government.
Now what that means is that they're going to be fewer folks who are the policy folks who work for every administration and there is going to be a greater percentage of political appointees that are in the National Security Council.
And I also spoke with someone at the NSC right now who predicted that President Trump himself is going to get frustrated by this move because there will be fewer people that he can turn to when he wants quick answers on foreign policy questions that he has and that is the role of the National Security Council.
TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.
Let's talk about this.
Jen, you worked at the White House. How concerning is this to you, if at all? I've heard in the Obama administration --
TAPPER: -- that there had been bloat among the National Security Council.
PSAKI: Yes, the National Security Council is large. It's probably been too large in years past, in recent years past. But clearly, the most concerning piece here, I should say, is the switching and political appointees for civil servants and people who have served presidents of both parties.
To me, this is the clear reaction to the fact that the whistle-blower was somebody who was rotated in from another -- or I would guess, or that's, you know, the assumption from another agency who was there who wasn't a loyalist to Donald Trump, who was a loyalist to the United States, a loyalist to the institutions and he wants to crack down on that.
What's concerning about that is that that becomes a group of people who want to deliver on solely the president's agenda and what we've seen from the past few months is that agenda is pushing getting political dirt on his opponents, letting his personal lawyer out there kind of represent the United States. That's not traditional national security interest. That's not traditionally what the NSC does.
I think the comment that was shared at the end about how somebody said Trump will be frustrated, to me that's quite generous to his level of interest and intellectual curiosity in national security. I don't think he's shown that. He's probably going to be happy not to see people as deep state or, you know, people who aren't in the same page with his agenda.
TAPPER: What do you think?
HAM: Yes, my libertarian tendencies lead me to think that all government agencies think that they should be exactly as large as they are, if not bigger, and cannot possibly operate being smaller. I'm skeptical of that, and I think it probably can operate smaller and do a good job.
O'Brien, I have some faith in. His record shows and he also points out this is not an immediate change through attrition and he also puts more faith probably than Trump in the actual agencies from which they are gathering information --
HAM: -- through this personnel and that he would rely more heavily on them as institutions as opposed to having people in house.
This is like a very large D.C. think tank level of personnel right now. And as many people know that has come with a lot of bureaucracy.