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Yovanovitch Testifies She Was Fired Based on False Claims; Trump: "I Don't Know Indicted Giuliani Associates"; Trump Sounds Impeachment Alarm to His Base in Minnesota Rally; Gardner Dodges Question on Whether It's OK Asking Foreign Gov't to Investigate A Rival; U.S. to Deploy 1,500 Additional Troops to the Middle East. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 11, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:33:51] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: A big accusation this hour from a U.S. diplomat and a key witness in the Democratic impeachment case against President Trump. Marie Yovanovitch says in her opening statement to congressional investigators there was a concerted effort to fire her based on false claims peddled by what she calls, quote, people with questionable motives. The ambassador statement mentions the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Yovanovitch says she's had minimal contact with Rudy Giuliani and she can't explain why she is the focus of his attacks. But she does say this about the people around the former New York City mayor.

Quote, 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 policy in Ukraine.

Remember, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment yesterday alleging that Giuliani's pals, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas hid the source of hundreds of thousands of foreign dollars donated to super PACs in U.S. political campaigns. Parnas and Fruman are also Giuliani's key links in Ukraine and the source of a string of unproven accusations against the Biden family.

[12:35:04] Did you get all that? Because now it's time for our panel to explain it all. Michael, I want to start with you from a legal perspective. How much legal jeopardy is Rudy Giuliani in based on what you've seen here over the past 24 hours?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, it depends on what these two guys have to say about him. On the indictment itself, Giuliani is not mentioned and there's no even implication of his criminal liability in it. If, however, hypothetically, Giuliani was part of a conspiracy to defraud the Federal Election Commission, these guys acts were countenanced by Giuliani, this was all part of a financial scheme that would bring money to a congressman, to remove this ambassador, to clear the way for them to do business, and for Yovanovitch to do the Biden dirt in exchange for it, then there is a possibility of criminal liability for Giuliani and further evidence of an abuse of power by the president. Two threads, they run parallel at the moment. We'll have to see what these guys have to say. Without them, it's a much harder case to make.

NOBLES: And we should point out that Giuliani has told CNN that he's not aware that he's under investigation. That he hasn't talked to FBI investigators about this. Is there any chance though, Michael that the Department of Justice is hoping that these two individuals may flip on Rudy Giuliani or bring him into this?

ZELDIN: Well, let's not call it flip on Giuliani so much as I think that the southern district of New York and the New York FBI indicated yesterday in the way they treated these guys with the way they were released on probation to go home in ankle bracelets so they can still talk to one another. They are trying to treat these guys nicely so that they will cooperate with them. Against whom and with respect to what, we don't know. So I wouldn't want to say flip on Giuliani because we don't know if Giuliani has done anything wrong at all. But these guys are --

NOBLES: Because they want to find out more.

ZELDIN: They want to find out what's going on here, what at the heart of this Ukraine mess that we're looking at.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Interestingly, Rudy Giuliani seems to be acting very nice to them right now. I'm not going to disavow them. That's a direct quote. He says he doesn't think they've committed a crime. That's not who they are in his view.

And this is what I'm wondering, as a prosecutor --

ZELDIN: And then he said that about Michael Cohen at the outset. He's a good lawyer, ethical guy, and then all of sudden --


ZELDIN: Yes, he's a scoundrel and a known liar.

KAPUR: So as a prosecutor, I wonder what the thinking would be. Would it be to potentially threaten them with jail time if we're looking at criminal charges and use that as a way to potentially get them to talk about the extent to which Giuliani was or wasn't involved?

ZELDIN: Well, they are facing jail time. They've been indicted. These are not witnesses.

KAPUR: Right.

ZELDIN: So in respect of if the government has an interest in Giuliani, something we don't know, then these guys who have worked with him on this matter that they're under indictment for and with the Ukraine policy more broadly would be their primary source of information so they'd want to get that. NOBLES: Let's talk about how this all gets back to President Trump, right, because it's always like two or three degrees of separation with President Trump. And I like to think that President Trump prizes loyalty, specifically when you're loyal to him, but not necessarily the other way around, right? This is what the president said yesterday on the South Lawn about the situation with Rudy Giuliani. Take a very close listen to how he frames this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know those gentlemen. Now, it's possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody.

I don't know them. I don't know about them. I don't know what they do. But -- I don't know, maybe they were clients of Rudy. You'd have to ask Rudy.


NOBLES: Maybe they were clients of Rudy, you'll have to ask Rudy. I mean there was a way for him to support Rudy Giuliani in answer to that question and he certainly did not do that.

JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He did not do that. I mean you can start to see the possible beginnings of a strategy here to not just distance himself from the men who were arrested yesterday, but also Giuliani. The problem in doing so is one, Giuliani is still his lawyer, so he would have to take a step to sever that relationship. And two, he actually more than anybody around Trump right now has really embraced Rudy, has seen him as a fighter for him, someone who is willing to go out and defend him. So there's a long record of standing with Rudy on this exact issue, not just on other issues.

He has embraced what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine. So it would be quite the turn if he were to separate himself from him.

KUCINICH: But we've seen him do this with other allies, and it's how that ally reacts under pressure if they are in trouble which dictates how the president treats them. Look no further than Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort, although, they have tried to distance himself saying, oh he only was with the campaign for a minute versus Michael Cohen who took the direction. I mean, the president still has nice things to say about Paul Manafort.

And so -- and I'm not saying, you know, Giuliani is going to get to that point, that he -- we don't know anything about whether or not he is in trouble with the law, but should he, we have two very good examples to see how the president treats his former allies.

[12:40:08] NOBLES: And it's also interesting that the list of people with legal problems around the president continues to grow. It doesn't ever seem to have an impact on his supporters and how they feel about him, perhaps this is a turning point. I guess we're going to have to wait and see, but we do know that it will probably play heavily in the 2020 election. And speaking of the 2020 election, that's what the president was focused on last night. He goes off-script in last night's campaign rally.


TRUMP: Maybe I'm a little different up here, I don't know, but I enjoy it. To me, it's -- I'm energized. Isn't it much better when I go off script, isn't that better?



[12:45:42] NOBLES: Before we get to President Trump and his rally last night, we do have an update to a story we were talking about earlier, John Sullivan who was involved in the opening statement from the former ambassador Yovanovitch has actually just been named the new ambassador to Russia by President Trump. Sullivan, a deputy to Mike Pompeo will now head to Moscow, assuming -- he's been nominated to that role assuming he gets confirmed. So John Sullivan nominated by President Trump to become the next ambassador to Russia.

Meanwhile, President Trump will head to Louisiana tonight for this second campaign rally in two days. In a speech last night in Minnesota, a state he narrowly lost in 2016, the president spoke for 100 minutes. It was his first rally since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry, and he brought the red meat to his base. Vote to save me from the swamp.


TRUMP: I can't win the 2020 election, so they're pursuing the insane impeachment witch hunt, the retched Washington swamp has been trying to nullify the results of a truly great and Democratic election. They smear you. They spy on you. And they target your friends, your family, your staff, for harassment, for abuse, for destruction.


NOBLES: So the president with a pretty specific message here to his supporters, I'm under attack, I need you to be behind me. Will it work?

KAPUR: He is getting edgier and (INAUDIBLE) and angrier about this, and he's using the same playbook that he used on the Russia investigation which is to discredit and try to undermine the investigation and create a counter-narrative and rally his supporters behind a counter-narrative in which he is being treated unfairly and by extension they are being treated unfairly. Will it work? We've seen the polls moved, a majority of Americans are now in favor of an impeachment inquiry. But Trump's approval is a straight flat line, it's still 85 to 90 percent among his supporters.

What's happened is that people who already disapprove of him now disapprove of him more strongly, and have moved from saying no, maybe he shouldn't be impeached to yes, maybe he should be impeached.

NOBLES: And let me show some of those poll numbers right now. You just -- you could see the trend line here, and you're right, they're all heading in one direction. Fox News poll has 51 percent of Americans now supporting impeachment. Washington Post at 49 percent. The NPR/PBS poll at 49 percent. Quinnipiac at 45 percent.

And it's also important to point out in the most recent poll, the NPR poll showed that independent support jumped 19 points since late September. And, you know, President Trump did have quite a bit of independent support in 2016. He needs it this time around, too, doesn't he?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think there is a sense in the White House that you can win by rallying your base, and I just don't think the math is there for that. So the categories where Mr. Trump, those independent voters, suburban women, where he did -- you know, white women where he did, you know, decently, fairly well in the 2016 election, are categories where we see support for impeachment growing in particularly strong ways. So that should be a problematic sign for him as he looks towards 2020. But, of course, we have a long way to go, so, a lot of things can happen.

NOBLES: And I think, Jackie too, the other thing too is there's two different conversations about these polls, right? There is the impact on 2020 but then there's also the conversation about whether or not the Democrats will have the will to impeach, right? And public opinion will play a big role in all of that.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. I mean -- and that's what they're keeping an eye on not just these national polls but how it's playing in these key districts with the Democrats that were elected, where the majority makers, they're in Trump districts. That's why you see Vice President Pence being dispatched to some of these districts to try to rally people against this effort because as Sahil pointed out, the -- these people are trying to invalidate your vote, your will from the last election. That's a powerful message.

Now, when you throw in this red meat that's so red it's still mooing, that's where you have, you know, women that Lisa was talking about, and some of the president's actions kind of taking pause.

NOBLES: Right, right.

LERER: There are arguments the president can make here. I mean, he could go with Nancy Pelosi hasn't held a vote. That's a big point of contention, this, you know, charge that the impeachment isn't quite proper. That's just not the direction he is going. The direction they're going is that sort of try to confuse the facts and muddy the waters and make it very difficult for people to understand what exactly is happening, and that's something that's been successful in the past.

[12:50:07] PACE: Absolutely. I mean, it speaks to what his re- election strategy is. I mean, his campaign has basically given up on the idea of persuading some of these suburban women. I mean, they know that these voters are gone, so their strategy, it's a narrow one but they believe that there are more sort of Trump fans out there, people who like him and maybe didn't vote last time, maybe aren't registered to vote so he needs to energize them. And how do you energize them? You throw the red meat at them, you don't make sort of a practical or process argument about this.

NOBLES: And I want to get now to how this is impacting the Republicans that are on Capitol Hill right now, maybe have re- election. And I want to play this sound bite yesterday from Cory Gardner. Two of my good friends, Scott McLean and Joe St. George asking the questions here. Listen to how this embattled Republican in Colorado responding to questions about President Trump.


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

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

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

GARDNER: It's a non-partisan investigation.

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

GARDNER: It's an answer that you get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it OK for you to ask a foreign rival to investigate?

GARDNER: You know what I said b4.

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


NOBLES: Sahil, he just will not answer the question, and he's not the only Republican who can answer or won't answer that simple question.

KAPUR: One of the reporters there said he dodged it a total of a dozen times. Now, it's a simple question about something that the president of the United States has said on the White House lawn, right? You can try to make it about impeachment but this is a simple question about whether the president's request publicly was appropriate or not. And this comes back to the very, very tricky position that Republicans in swing districts and swing states are in. They cannot offer any indication, any hint that the president acted inappropriately or they will hear it. They will face it from their Republican opponents in a primary. And yet, they don't want to say it was appropriate either because that's poisonous to a general election audience.

LERER: And they're coming back, unfortunately for them, they have to come back to Washington. So it's been fairly easy to dodge these kinds of questions when they're out in the districts, particularly, you know, in certain rural districts, places like that. That's going to be a whole lot harder when they arrive back in the capital and there's nowhere to hide. Ask the question a dozen-plus time.

NOBLES: Especially on taco salad Thursday.

LERER: Especially on taco salad Thursday.

NOBLES: Up next, the defense secretary faces questions on whether the U.S. abandoned a key ally in the fight against ISIS.


[12:52:09] NOBLES: Developing this hour, the Pentagon is sending 1,500 more troops to the Middle East but not to Syria. The Pentagon announcing minutes ago that the troops will be sent to Saudi Arabia. The assignment, protect against Iran.

CNN's Ryan Browne is at the Pentagon. Ryan, why is the president sending these troops in at this time?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Ryan, the idea behind this deployment is kind of this effort to counter what the administration sees as the threat emanating from Iran, particularly following those attacks on those Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. and several European countries have put the blame squarely on Iran for. So this additional deployment is meant to kind of help bolster U.S. deterrents in the region. There are some questions as to whether or not this is in part to help replace a departing aircraft carrier, something that the U.S. is losing in the region, so they're attempting to increase its footprint.

But really, the real crux of the announcements today were concerned about the situation in Syria. The Secretary of Defense Mark Esper defending the U.S. position that was withdrawing U.S. troops from the border with Turkey, something that many think helped prompt Turkey to launch its invasion of Northern Syria, an invasion that targeted America's Syrian Kurdish partners that helped fight ISIS. But Secretary Esper defended the move and saying that the U.S. has not abandoned its Kurdish allies despite saying that the U.S. military will not do anything to protect them.


MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: To be clear, we are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria. The impulsive action of President Erdogan to invade Northern Syria has put the United States in a tough situation given our relationship with the our NATO ally Turkey who has fought alongside the United States in the past, the Syrian democratic forces who helped us destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS, and the safety of U.S. military personnel. Rather than get pulled into this conflict, we put the welfare of our soldiers first while urging Turkey to forego its operation and working hard with us to address their concerns through the development of a security zone along the border. We remain in close coordination with the Syrian democratic forces who helped us destroy the physical caliphate of ISIS. But I will not place American service members in the middle of a long-standing conflict between the Turks and Kurds. This is not why we are in Syria.


BROWNE: So despite offering tough criticism of Turkey's move to invade Northern Syria, Secretary Esper making it clear the U.S. military will do nothing to protect America's Kurdish allies, and no other penalties for Turkey have been proposed.


NOBLES: All right, Ryan Browne at the Pentagon for us. Ryan, thank you for that update.

And that's going to do it for us on INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you so much for joining us. Boris Sanchez in for Brianna Keilar, and he starts right now.