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Interview with Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL); Interview with Syrian Democratic Forces Spokesperson; California Wildfire Sparks Emergency Evacuation. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 11, 2019 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Several GOP senators running for re-election also seem to be running away from this very direct question. Is it appropriate for President Donald Trump or any president, Democrat or Republican, to ask a foreign government to investigate his political opponent? It's fairly straightforward. Watch Cory Gardner of Colorado avoid the question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the question is, is it appropriate for a president to be --


SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO): Look, I think we are going to have an investigation. And it's a --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to ask a foreign government to investigate?

GARDNER: -- it's a nonpartisan investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, Senator, it's a yes or no question.

GARDNER: It's a nonpartisan investigation. It's an answer that you get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is OK for you to ask a foreign rival to investigate --


GARDNER: Look you know what I have said before. You know what I've said before.


GARDNER: This is about --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're not answering the -- we want to hear from you. GARDNER: Look --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a smart guy. You know the debate.

GARDNER: This is about the politics of the moment. And that's why they're trying to do this now.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now is Congressman Michael Waltz. He's Republican from Florida. He's also an Army veteran, decorated Green Beret who's been very vocal on the president's decision to withdraw forces from the border with Syria.

Congressman Waltz, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: Let's begin with Syria because you've been very vocal, and you are someone who served on the ground there. You know the role that Kurdish forces there -- the central role -- played in fighting back ISIS in Syria. In the simplest terms, has the president, with this decision, abandoned American allies on the ground?


WALTZ: Well, they certainly feel abandoned. And, you know, what is so disturbing, so heartbreaking -- and I'm talking to Green Berets who are out there working with them now -- is, we assured them that we would protect them from a Kurdish -- excuse me -- a Turkish incursion. We helped them dismantle their defenses with that security guarantee, and now they're turned around and being attacked.

And keep in mind, they are the prison guards for tens of thousands of ISIS fighters. And they are no longer guarding those ISIS prisoners, they're defending themselves against the Turks. Meanwhile, the leader of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, who is still alive, has been calling on his guerilla fighters to attack those same prisons so that ISIS can resurge again.

And, you know, after all of this blood, sweat and tears, which the administration, I think deserves credit for, for taking off the handcuffs that was on the military under Obama, and unleashing them to defeat ISIS, ISIS is defeated as a caliphate but not as a movement.


WALTZ: They can and fully intend to come back again, and that's why you're hearing so many of us speak up and speak out, because ISIS can attack Europe and they can inspire attacks in the United States, Jim. Just very quickly --


WALTZ: -- you know, my district touches on Orlando, with the Pulse nightclub shooting, which was an ISIS-inspired fighter. SCIUTTO: Yes.

WALTZ: We have to stay on offense, we have to keep our foot on the neck, whether that's Afghanistan, Syria or other places. Otherwise, this problem will follow us home.

SCIUTTO: I went and I covered that attack in Orlando, and it was a horrific one.

WALTZ: It was.

SCIUTTO: What do you think, then, when you hear the president say, well, those ISIS fighters, they'll go home to Europe, where American allies are --

WALTZ: Well (ph), I (ph) mean (ph) --

SCIUTTO: -- is that the way a U.S. president should talk about the --

WALTZ: Well, look --

SCIUTTO: -- ISIS terrorists?

WALTZ: I understand -- I understand a lot of people's frustration with how long these wars have taken. Too hard, too long, too expensive. How does this end, is this an endless war.

But one of the things that we have to help people understand, we're not talking tens of thousands of troops here.


WALTZ: We're talking a few hundred that are actually preventing this conflict and preventing future wars. Look, if the goal, if the strategic goal of Rand Paul and other isolationists -- and they're in both sides and both parties -- is to bring a few hundred troops home, then we have 50,000 in Japan since World War II, 30,000 in South Korea still. We still have a battalion in the Sinai.

So if we want to bring a few hundred troops home, there's a lot less dangerous places to do that than --

SCIUTTO: Yes, than there.

WALTZ: -- the heart of where ISIS sits. And we can't repeat the mistakes that President Obama made, of pulling out of Iraq too soon. That's what led to al-Qaida resurging and turning into ISIS in the first place.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you another question, and this is on --


SCIUTTO: -- U.S. elections and foreign help. You've seen the president's phone call with Ukrainian president, you've seen the president, even on the White House lawn, say, hey, China, investigate Joe Biden.

In the simplest terms, should a U.S. president of any party ask or seek the help of a foreign country in a U.S. election?

WALTZ: Well, look, I don't -- I am not comfortable -- if there is a clear-cut quid pro quo, then, yes, that makes me very uncomfortable and we should take a hard look at that. But, Jim, that's not how I read this transcript. And I think a lot of people are projecting, you know, what happened there.

SCIUTTO: Wait --

WALTZ: I think you would also call --

SCIUTTO: You saw the language, though --

WALTZ: -- hang on, I think you would -- I think you would also call --

SCIUTTO: -- I need a favor, though --

WALTZ: -- for a clear-cut -- I think you would also call for a clear- cut --

SCIUTTO: -- that was the president's language.

WALTZ: -- vote. Let's take a vote. If it's so clear-cut and that's what people believed happened, then I hope you would also call on my Democratic colleagues to take a vote, up or down. If this is impeachable, if this is a high crime and misdemeanor, treason or bribery, and it's so clear-cut in their mind, then take a vote.

But I don't think it's that clear. I don't like asking China, who is an adversary. Let me be clear there. But I do think you could interpret that -- and I do -- as looking into corruption and looking backwards at 2016 at the CrowdStrike server. So --

SCIUTTO: OK, but let me ask you this --

WALTZ: -- I think we -- but --

SCIUTTO: -- because (inaudible) soldier, a veteran --

WALTZ: Sure.

SCIUTTO: -- on what happened with Ukraine. Because the military aid to Ukraine, which is --


SCIUTTO: -- currently under invasion by Russia, fighting a war that's killed 13,000 Ukrainians over the last five years --

WALTZ: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- they depend on that aid. The aid was halted before that phone call. And, by the way -- you're familiar with "The Wall Street Journal"'s reporting -- the White House had to move control of that aid to a political appointee because the career lawyers noted that it would be legally problematic to withhold that aid, which was -- which was authorized by an act of Congress --

WALTZ: Well, Jim --

SCIUTTO: -- do you view that -- let me ask you, because you say if we're abandoning allies in Syria, do you view that as abandoning America's ally in Ukraine for political purposes?


WALTZ: This administration, Jim, unlike the Obama administration, has sold lethal aid to the Ukrainians with the Javelin --

SCIUTTO: But they withheld the aid --

WALTZ: -- sale last year --

SCIUTTO: -- they withheld it.

WALTZ: -- and this year. And -- but, I mean, be fair --

SCIUTTO: But they withheld it for weeks.

WALTZ: -- in your reporting -- be fair in your reporting. The president has had questions about aid around the world. Northern Triangle countries, Afghanistan, he has repeatedly asked --

SCIUTTO: He did it before the call.

WALTZ: -- political officials around the world on, is this being used effectively, is it in U.S. interests, and is corruption involved in abusing this aid? That has been -- he has been clear on that since day one, and he's --

SCIUTTO: You accept that explanation?

WALTZ: -- been clear on questions --

SCIUTTO: You accept that explanation?

WALTZ: -- since 2016 -- I do accept. Yes, I do accept that explanation --

SCIUTTO: Even as the aid was -- was withdrawn --

WALTZ: And political appointees are in charge of aid throughout the State Department and the Defense Department. I don't even see why that's -- why that's an issue you're asking about. That's --

SCIUTTO: Well, it's an issue because they asked the career lawyers --

WALTZ: -- that's our (inaudible) government.

SCIUTTO: -- and the career lawyers as well as career diplomats, Marie Yovanovich, who's testifying today; Bill Taylor --

WALTZ: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- a longtime veteran of the diplomatic corps, they saw a direct connection there. Do you think they were mistaken --

WALTZ: Jim --

SCIUTTO: -- to see that connection?

WALTZ: -- wouldn't you like -- wouldn't you like to see the transcript of that testimony? I would. I'd like to see --


WALTZ: -- Volker's testimony, I'd like to see the inspector general of the intelligence community's testimony. But instead, I as a member of Congress can't even see it. But I'm talking to my colleagues who are in the room, and they say it runs completely counter to Adam Schiff's narrative, who's going right to the cameras right after these hearings.

But sitting on -- I mean, shouldn't, for an impeachment hearing, this is a big deal. We should have a vote and we should have transparency.

And when I talk to Floridians -- I've just been in my district for the last few weeks -- they're demanding the same thing. They're fed up with investigations --


WALTZ: -- and they're asking, what happened to health care, transportation, infrastructure --

SCIUTTO: Fair point. Although we do know this administration --

WALTZ: -- immigration, all of those things.

SCIUTTO: -- at first blocked some of this testimony. So if we're looking for transparency, I think we can both agree we want it across the board.

WALTZ: Well, I think we should follow the historic precedent of Clinton and Nixon, and let's have an up-or-down vote. And I hope you're asking that tough question as well.

SCIUTTO: We ask it of -- as my colleague Poppy did, of a sitting Democrat, just moments ago. Congressman Michael Waltz, we do appreciate --

WALTZ: Great (ph).

SCIUTTO: -- you coming on the program, and you're welcome any time.

WALTZ: Sure. All right. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Turkish military officials say more than 300 people have been killed in just three days, since the incursion into northern Syria began. Nearly two dozen Kurdish fighters, who of course stood side-by-side with U.S. soldiers and helped defeat ISIS, there, are among the dead.

The death toll is also clearly certain to rise, 600,000 people living in makeshift camps are caught between the advancing Turkish army and the Syrian Democratic Forces.

SCIUTTO: We're going to go right to the ground there, now. Joining me now is Kino Gabriel. He's the spokesperson for those U.S. allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Mr. Gabriel, thank you for joining us from there.

I want to ask you a question. You described the president's decision here to step aside as, quote, "a stab in the back." Has the U.S. abandoned its ally here?

KINO GABRIEL, SPOKESMAN, SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES: Well, in some ways, it looks like that. We have been disappointed with the decision to withdraw the American troops from the border area.

Those troops were part of the agreement that was reached by the U.S. and Turkish government, along with the agreement with SDF to reach a security mechanism for the border area in order to support the stabilization of north and east Syria, and work on the claims (ph) and fears of the Turkish government.

Of course, from our side, as SDF, we abide fully to this agreement. And we all -- we withdrew our forces from the border area, we withdrew our heavy weapons for more than 20 kilometers. And there, we had (ph) already joint patrols, air and land patrols, by the U.S. and the Turkish forces.

And later, we were accessed (ph) supplies and disappointed with this -- to withdraw those forces, which already enabled Turkey to start its attack over north and east Syria.

SCIUTTO: OK. It's our understanding that some two dozen Kurdish fighters have already been killed in this Turkish attack, fighters who fought alongside U.S. forces against ISIS. Do you blame Donald Trump for those losses today?

GABRIEL: Well, we don't blame anyone. If (INAUDIBLE), it's not about blaming each other. But I think we should focus on reaching a solution for this situation. Yesterday, there has been a meeting for the international Security Council. I think nothing actual happened regarding stopping Turkey from this invasion. And we would like to see more efforts made by the U.S. government to try to stop this attack.

We are aware of the Congress studying our (ph) law or a decision to -- SCIUTTO: Sanctions, yes.

GABRIEL: -- to make sanctions over Turkey in order to force it to stop the attack. But, again, I think we need to hurry up regarding this matter and we also would like European countries and governments to -- who are already also part of the international coalition, to participate in those efforts in a better way.


SCIUTTO: Well, Kino Gabriel, we are continuing to watch this story and we hope that you and your forces remain safe there. Thank you for coming on.

GABRIEL: Thank you.

HARLOW: So important to hear from that voice on the ground.

OK. Right now, a fast-moving wildfire is forcing tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles to evacuate immediately. We will take you live to the fire line.


HARLOW: All right. More breaking news this morning. Thousands of people in and around Los Angeles are being told to get out now as an explosive wildfire is threatening their homes: dry heat, gusting winds making it difficult to control the flames, which just jumped over two highways overnight.

SCIUTTO: It's amazing, how quickly this has been moving. It's one of several fires now, actually, burning across Southern California, more than 15 million people around the region under what are known as red flag warnings, that means, get out.

Nick Watt is live in Porter Ranch, California with the latest. And, Nick, what is the latest?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, since I last spoke to you, we have watched this wildfire tear down this valley, tear down this hillside, engulf this home and many others. You can see firefighters have salvaged what they can.

The road closures in northern Los Angeles, I've lost count of how many highways have been closed this morning. It's going to be a rough commute. Many schools have been closed in the area. And the Santa Ana winds that have been whipping these fires, they are scheduled to continue, they are forecast to continue throughout the day.


The sun is now up, and they are beginning to assess the damage that has already occurred. We're expecting to hear, very shortly, about structures lost, potential lives lost.

Excuse me, the smoke is very acrid. There is a huge cloud of black smoke, hanging over the San Fernando Valley and the damage is just being assessed now. The winds are carrying on until this afternoon. Back to you guys.

SCIUTTO: Now, these are people's homes, burning, live, as we're watching on television here. Keep yourself safe, there, Nick, because breathing this stuff is not --


SCIUTTO: -- a healthy thing.

HARLOW: Nick, thank you so much for bringing that to us, in the midst of all of it. We appreciate it.

Of course, we're staying on top of these horrific fires, we're staying on top of all of those several breaking stories for you, including the former ambassador to Ukraine who is on Capitol Hill, testifying behind closed doors right now as part of this impeachment inquiry. We'll stay on that.

Thank you so much for joining us today. We hope you have a really nice weekend. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" starts right after a quick break.