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Kurdish Military Leader Criticizes U.S. Troop Pullout of Syria; Kurdish Leaders Considering Making Deal with Russia to End Turkish Invasion; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Answers Interview Questions on U.S. Foreign Policy on Syria and Impeachment Inquiry against President Trump; President Trump's Personal Lawyer Rudy Giuliani Under Federal Criminal Investigation; Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch Testifies to Congress; Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Comments on Lindsey Graham's Political Protection of President Trump; Building Collapses in New Orleans; Analyst Examines Whistleblower Protections in U.S. Aired 2-3p ET.

Aired October 12, 2019 - 14:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: This wasn't a sanctioned event, so not technically the world record which Kipchoge also holds. But look at the reaction back in his home country of Kenya, a celebration is erupting around that country as he crosses the finish line. His remarkable feat was considered by many to be the last great barrier in distance running. Kipchoge says he may be the first to break the barrier but he certainly will not be the last.


ELIUD KIPCHOGE, FIRST PERSON TO RUN A SUB-TWO HOURS MARATHON: I'm just a man to run under two hours in order to inspire many people, to tell people that no human is limited, you can do it. I am expecting more of this in all of the world to run under two hours after today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: Hello again. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We are following some breaking news now. Desperate words coming from a Kurdish military leader on the U.S. troop pullout of Syria, saying, quote, you have given up on us, leaving us to be slaughtered, end quote. That sentiment in a document obtained exclusively by CNN detailing a fiery exchange between that Kurdish leader and a top U.S. diplomat where the Kurds vented their fury over the U.S. troop pullback in northern Syria. The U.S. does not want to see the Kurds turn to Russia as its ally there, but the Kurds are saying they are left in a position where that's what they may have to do.

Syrian Kurds had been the main U.S. ally in defeating ISIS in northern Syria. And when that battle ended, the U.S. remained in the area. But then days after U.S. forces abruptly pulled out of the area near the border after the president's announcement earlier in the week, Turkey began a long-expected offensive, launching ground and air assaults against the Kurds, a group the Turks consider to be terrorists.

Barbara Starr broke this story and she is at the Pentagon. So Barbara, there appears to be a lot of anger, despair, worry coming from this Kurdish commander.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A good deal of worry and a good deal of anger, telling the U.S. you are leaving us to be slaughtered. This is General Mazloum, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces, has been partnered on the ground with U.S. special operations forces for many years now fighting ISIS inside Syria.

Important to start with this. U.S. troops only authorized mission on the ground in Syria is to fight ISIS. The Turks, a NATO ally, have now come in to fight the Kurds, not ISIS. So the U.S. position is that technically it cannot get involved. It cannot get involved on either side because it's not an ISIS fight.

But clearly President Trump not having the juice or the desire to make certain the Turks did not come in, and now we have this situation. General Mazloum meeting with a top official, and let me read you some of the readout of that angry meeting that we have from a document circulated within the Trump administration. General Mazloum says "You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered. You have nothing for us. You are not willing to protect the people but you do not want another force to come and protect us. You have sold us. This is immoral." He goes on and says "I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping bombs falling on us or not. I need to know, because if you are not, I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region." Hard to imagine U.S. troops will be able to stay if it is Russian warplanes and Bashar al-Assad's warplanes flying overhead, protecting airspace where they may be below. Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And Barbara, stay with me. I want to bring in now Arwa Damon who is at the border between Syria and Turkey. So Arwa, what is the state of incursion now? Is there any stopping Turkey?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it really doesn't seem like there is, and it doesn't matter what Turkey is threatened with. Turkey has decided that it has been patient for long enough and it is going to go it alone. From Turkish perspective, the Syrian Kurdish fighting force, the YPG, poses an existential threat, and that is because the YPG is effectively an offshoot of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group that has been battling the Turkish state for decades.

Turkey believes it does need to push into Syria, establish this safe zone, as it is calling it across hundreds of miles of border between northern Syria and Turkey to protect its own population here. For Turkey, this is about national security. But then there's the added advantage from Turkey's perspective that goes like this. The Syrian refugees, upwards of 2 million of them that live in Turkey, can then be resettled back home in Syria into this safe zone.


The problem is, they're not from the safe zone. And as this operation has been going forward, you have had civilians displaced, upwards of 100,000 at this stage. They are mostly Kurdish, and they are going to be replaced with a mostly Syrian Arab population. So we have an issue of changing demographics along this border as well.

WHITFIELD: Wow. So Barbara, in addition to all of that, this is really comprehensive. Some of Turkey's assaults came close to the U.S. forces there in Syria. What can you tell us about that?

STARR: This in fact did happen on Friday. Turkish artillery landing just several hundred meters from a U.S. special forces position in northern Syria. Again, U.S. troops there to work with the SDF, the Syrian fighters, the mission is to fight ISIS. But Turkish artillery landing near them. No U.S. troops are hurt.

The real question on the table is, what was the Turkish motivation here? Was it simply inadvertent? Are they just lousy shots, did they not aim correctly, or were they trying to send a message to the U.S. to push them out of that area? Because the Pentagon has told the Turks exactly where U.S. troops are located in Syria so there can be no mistake. That is not what the Pentagon wants to see. It is trying to ensure the security of the U.S. troops as long as they are there. Fred?

WHITFIELD: And Arwa, what are other U.S. allies in that region particularly saying about this?

DAMON: Look, everyone has expressed their outrage. But Turkey is adamant to stick this out. Turkey has told Europe quite blatantly that if any European country continues to criticize this operation, Turkey will open the gates of the refugee route back to Europe and unleash 3.6 million Syrian refugees on them. Turkey has been criticized by Russia. Russia is also concerned about what is going to potentially happen on the ISIS frontlines given that right now that operation has paused because the Kurds that were fighting ISIS on those frontlines have been redeployed to come and take up on the battlefield against the Turks.

The U.S., obviously, has been highly critical as well with the threat of sanctions now being put on the table, and I have to say the Turkish economy is going to struggle to try to withstand that blow if they're ever implemented. But Turkey is going to do this. And it is going to be quite devastating for the population inside Syria, and quite potentially for the population along the border as well on the Turkish side because artillery is being fired back, and some of it is falling here.

WHITFIELD: And Barbara, how serious are these reported concerns that this decision by the Trump administration to pull out U.S. troops has now created an opening for a resurgence or reorganization of ISIS?

STARR: Well, this is the nightmare scenario as far as the Pentagon is concerned. The SDF, again, these Syrian fighters that the U.S. has been aligned with that may now move north to fight against Turkey, these are the troops that have largely been in charge of providing security for detention facilities in Syria that are holding thousands of ISIS fighters. Turkey has issued a statement saying it will take over that job, but there are a number of very senior ISIS so-called high value targets inside those detention camps, and the U.S. does not want them or any of the other ISIS fighters out on the street, so to speak. A good deal of concern on exactly what you said, Fred, that this provides an opening for resurgence of ISIS if security cannot be maintained.

WHITFIELD: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, Arwa Damon at the border between Turkey and Syria. Thank you to both of you.

Still ahead. One on one with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who discusses U.S. troop withdrawal in Syria and whether he supported the recall of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine prior to her tenure being ended.



WHITFIELD: All right, new today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is speaking out about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump. In a fiery new interview, Pompeo was pressed for answers, and at times grew defensive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you support ambassador -- the ambassador being recalled months before her tenure was up?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I've supported every mission that the State Department has been engaged in and will continue to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a question on Syria. A senior State Department official told reporters yesterday that among the deepest concerns about Turkey's incursion is the indiscriminate firing on civilians and even ethnic cleansing. Nashville has a large Kurdish population. What do you say to the worried families here?

POMPEO: So the United States under President Trump did enormous work to support the Kurds in taking down the Caliphate in the predominantly Kurdish regions of Syria. ISIS had infected their region. You remember the people in cages, heads being cut off. And you watched under President Trump's leadership the support that we provided to the Kurdish people there in the region to take down the Caliphate inside of northeast Syria where the majority of these Kurdish people live.

So I am very proud of what we have done in support of the Kurds. We are working diligently, even as I sit here today, our team is working diligently on the ground to convince President Erdogan it is not in anyone's best interest to engage in behavior that puts civilians at risk inside of Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In mid-February you were in Warsaw and so was Rudy Giuliani. During your time there, did you meet with Giuliani?

POMPEO: I don't talk about who I meet with. I went to Warsaw for a particular purpose. It was an important mission. We brought together people all across the world to take down the world's largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran. That's what I worked on on that mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not going to say whether you met with him?


POMPEO: When I was in Warsaw, I had a singular focus. My focus was singularly on the work that we have done, effective work to recover from what the Obama administration has done, which was underwrite the world's largest state sponsor of terror. We've stopped that, and we're making real progress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like you're not going to say.

POMPEO: When I was in Warsaw, we were working diligently to accomplish the mission to take down the terror regime that's inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. That's what I worked on. It was the only thing that I engaged in while I was there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, text messages show that diplomats under your authority told the Ukrainians that a good relationship with President Trump was only possible if they investigated his political opponent and theories about what happened in 2016. Were you aware that this was happening?

POMPEO: Again, you've got your facts wrong. It sounds like you're working at least in part for the Democratic National Committee when you phrase a predicate of a question in that way. It's unfortunate. It does a real disservice to the employees and team at the United States Department of State.

Our team was incredibly focused, we wanted a good relationship with Ukraine. We wanted it before the election when Poroshenko was in charge, and want it now with Mr. Zelensky in charge. We have an important set of foreign policy interests in Ukraine. The threat from Russia is real. And this administration, unlike the previous one, has taken those responsibilities very seriously.

Part of that, an incredibly important part of that is making sure corruption is weeded out at every level inside of Ukraine, and our team for the entire time I have been secretary of state, has been working on that project.


WHITFIELD: All right, that interview with the secretary of state and the reporter Nancy Amons with our affiliate WSMV in Nashville.

So joining me right now to discuss is David Rohde, executive editor for "The New Yorker" website and CNN global affairs analyst. David, good to see you. So your reaction to the secretary of state and how he handled these questions, at the start really talking about the U.S. troop pullout. He said this administration has done a lot to take down the caliphate, justifying what's happening now.

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, I want to be respectful to the secretary of state, but he frankly has his facts wrong. The president abandoned the Kurds, that just happened. The president ordered American troops to pull back and allowed Turkey to attack. And then we had the former ambassador to Ukraine testify yesterday that the president removed her from her post based on false allegations. So Mike Pompeo was protecting the president. He is not protecting the employees of the State Department.

WHITFIELD: In your view, is this insight as to how he would answer questions if he is to testify?

ROHDE: It is.

WHITFIELD: Before any number of House committees?

ROHDE: Correct. Yes, he would sort of talk about Iran and change the subject, and avoid the president's personal mistakes. And the president has made an enormous mistake in Syria by abandoning the Kurds.

WHITFIELD: And then of course he seemed very uncomfortable, right, when being asked about whether he met with, had interaction with Rudy Giuliani in Warsaw, Poland. And he says he does acknowledge, yes, he was in Warsaw. The question was, did you meet with Giuliani. He says I don't talk about who I met with. Not answering the question sometimes says as much if not more when you do answer a question. How do you interpret what just happened there?

ROHDE: Again, he is very defensive. Let's look at the facts. Just yesterday, two Ukrainian Americans that were working on this unofficial foreign policy with Rudy Giuliani were arrested for violating federal campaign finance laws. They were undermining the work of the State Department, of the diplomats Pompeo is supposed to be representing. So again, he is protecting the president, protecting Giuliani, and there's enormous questions about what went on and what mike Pompeo knew when.

WHITFIELD: What about his credibility? How do you see it?

ROHDE: Again, I want to be respectful to the secretary of state, but I was puzzled and alarmed when he said the reporter had her facts wrong. With all due respect, he has his facts wrong on Ukraine and also on the Kurds.

WHITFIELD: David Rohde, thanks so much.

ROHDE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Also developing right now, Rudy Giuliani reportedly under federal investigation amid the Ukraine scandal that has enveloped the White House. Now, did Giuliani solicit foreign help to influence the 2020 election? Giuliani has just responded, and President Trump now coming to Giuliani's defense, but that's after first being a little distant.


QUESTION: Is Rudy Giuliani still your personal attorney?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know, I haven't spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He is a very good attorney and he has been my attorney.


WHITFIELD: What's Trump saying now? We're live at the White House.



WHITFIELD: President Trump enduring a host of setbacks today. "The New York Times" is reporting that the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is now under federal investigation. The former New York City mayor now tells CNN that he is not aware of an investigation of him, instead calling the report a political attack.

Meanwhile, President Trump is defending Giuliani, tweeting today that he is, quote, "a great guy and wonderful lawyer," end quote. For more now, let's turn to CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House. So Jeremy, there was a little confusion about Giuliani's role as Trump's personal attorney because a reporter asked the president yesterday, and he made it sound like he has been my attorney. But now clarification, is he saying indeed he is still his personal attorney, or is he just saying glowing things about him?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, it was interesting, Fredricka, just yesterday when the president was asked about that, he didn't seem quite sure whether or not Rudy Giuliani remained his personal attorney. Now a source close to the president's legal team has confirmed to us that Mr. Giuliani still is a part of the president's legal team but that he is no longer representing him as it relates to anything with regard to Ukraine.


This is, of course, all coming as Rudy Giuliani's dealings with Ukraine and involvement in pushing for the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, has come under scrutiny, first media scrutiny, and now we're learning from "The New York Times" that Mr. Giuliani is also under investigation for potentially violating foreign lobbying laws as a result of all of that.

Now, Mr. Giuliani says that he is not aware of any federal investigation. Here is his statement to CNN. He says no, he is not aware of the investigation, but says "nothing but leaks, which has to tell you whether they are or not investigating. It's a political attack. Otherwise, why leak it? If it's an appropriate law enforcement investigation, you try to keep it secret so the subjects aren't alerted."

As you mentioned, Fredricka, the president earlier today did take to Twitter to defend Rudy Giuliani. He didn't mention this investigation specifically, but he suggested that the deep state is after the former New York City mayor. What the president is doing, though, is he is continuing to go after this impeachment inquiry, going after the Democrats leading this. Here's the president just last night in Louisiana.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The radical Democrats' policies are crazy, their politicians are corrupt, their candidates are terrible, and they know they can't win an Election Day, so they're pursuing an illegal, invalid, and unconstitutional bullshit impeachment.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: And that has been the message that we've heard from the president these past two nights at these rallies. Meanwhile, Democrats, they're moving ahead. Just yesterday they interviewed that former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in testimony on Capitol Hill. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

There's a lot there. Let's talk some more about it. Here with me now, former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. Thanks so much, Michael. So on Giuliani and Giuliani saying he is unaware of an investigation, he would know about it. Is that usually how it goes, you're only the subject of investigation if you have been informed?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. There are leaks in investigations all the time. And in fact, when he was U.S. attorney in Manhattan, there were leaks out of his office routinely. So that is really not a criterion for determining whether or not this is a valid investigation. What "The New York Times" reports is that he is under investigation for failing to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Ukraine. And we'll see whether they're correct about that.

WHITFIELD: How serious would that direction be?

ZELDIN: That's a serious crime. That was what Manafort and others were charged with, failing to register as a foreign agent. Michael Flynn was accused of that. It's a new renewed part of the Justice Department enforcement action. So if it's true, it's serious.

WHITFIELD: And then this reporting that he is the subject of investigation, federal investigation, comes after we learn that two of Giuliani's clients were arrested for allegedly attempting to channel foreign money into elections. They were arrested while trying to leave the United States with one-way tickets. So do you see any timing here?

ZELDIN: Well, the timing of their arrest is clear. They were fleeing and the United States attorney's office knew of this and had the FBI arrest them. How this links back to Giuliani is not yet clear. These guys worked for Giuliani and Giuliani's efforts to acquire dirt on the Bidens, and it's clear that these guys had business dealings in Ukraine that they believed the U.S. ambassador, who ultimately was recalled, was interfering with. So there's a lot to unpack here, and the evidence is still to be determined, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And what's the risk for the president of the United States to, whether a tweet that he's a good guy, he's wonderful guy, he's a great attorney, or whether he makes his comments on the White House lawn about Rudy Giuliani, knowing what has already transpired this week, the clients arrested, and now he, Giuliani, the subject of a federal investigation?

ZELDIN: Well, were I Trump, I long ago would have exercised my right to get rid of Giuliani from my team. I don't think he has been a help, much more of a hinderance in my estimation. At this point where he is potentially under federal investigation, where two of his associates have been arrested for campaign finance violations, I think it would behoove the president to sever all ties and let these cases play out. And then if Giuliani has done nothing wrong and the president still needs him as an attorney, bring him back. But if I were the president, I would cut my ties now.

WHITFIELD: Michael Zeldin, thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: Still ahead, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine telling Congress that she was pushed out over, quoting now, unfounded and false claims, unquote. Why Republicans are focusing instead on what they call lack of transparency in these impeachment inquiry hearings, next.



WHITFIELD: The latest now on this breaking news out of New Orleans. Evacuations are now under way after the three upper floors of a Hard Rock Hotel that was under construction collapsed. At least one person is dead, 18 others are injured, and three people are missing. There are a number of street closures in the area as a safety precaution. And new video shows the moment that collapse happened just as a trolley was going by.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get to the back. Get to the back.


WHITFIELD: You can see the view from inside the trolley. The passengers there, and the fear and fright. People say they heard a huge rumble, and then they saw this giant cloud of dust. Fire officials fear that a crane might be on the verge of collapsing as well.


TIM MCCONNELL, NEW ORLEANS FIRE DEPARTMENT SUPERINTENDENT: The building is unstable, so a collapse is still possible, further collapse of the building. Our biggest fear right now is the crane, it's 270 foot. So the reach of that crane if it were to come down has a tremendous amount of weight on it that works to support the crane as it stretches out. The weight of it is tremendous. It weighs several tons.



WHITFIELD: And we'll keep you updated on this breaking story out of New Orleans as we learn more information.

All right, GOP lawmakers are accusing Democrats are lacking transparency in their impeachment inquiry even though it was the White House that attempted to block a scathing deposition from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who says she was removed from her post based on false claims by people with questionable motives, her words.


REP. LEE ZELDIN, (R-NY) HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: How about the Democrats provide the Republicans and the president the same exact rights that they would demand if everything was reversed. You're talking about impeachment of the president of the United States, and everything is going to happen behind closed doors, offering no protection whatsoever, no transparency, no accountability, no due process.


WHITFIELD: With me now to discuss, Tim Naftali, CNN presidential historian, and Brittany Shepherd, Yahoo! national politics reporter. Good to see you both. So Brittany, you first. So the Republicans right now are focusing, those who are outspoken about this, are focusing more on process and procedure rather than on content of the depositions, what Yovanovitch said. What does that tell you about the direction of the GOP?

3BRITTANY SHEPHERD, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, YAHOO NEWS: Well, Fred, it tells me more than anything that they're focused, the GOP senators are focused on self-preservation. This is an election year, and I think a lot of Republicans haven't spoken out about contents of the Ukraine phone call because they're worried that any kind of repudiation of President Trump essentially means they will not be reelected. That's why you're seeing folks like who are in comfortable spaces really not lash out against the president. So for me it shows that they're a little scrambling on trying to get a message because they're worried they're not going to get reelected. WHITFIELD: So Tim, let's talk about how unusual, or perhaps not, to

hold depositions behind closed doors during an impeachment inquiry into the president. Many Republicans are saying this is lacking transparency by doing so. Is that the case?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: As a constitutional matter, the founders gave the House full latitude to determine how to do an impeachment inquiry. So there's nothing unconstitutional about the way Speaker Pelosi arranged it. As a result, the White House has to comply with the subpoenas.

As a political matter, given past practice, the Democrats this time around are not bending over backwards to try to accommodate some Republican concerns. And though they don't, as a constitutional matter, have to do it, it might make it easier for Republicans to vote on the basis of damaging information, to vote for impeachment if the Democrats do a little bit more at this point to involve the Republicans. So as a constitutional matter they don't have to. As a political matter, it might be smart.

WHITFIELD: So Brittany, Congress is back next week. You mentioned some Republicans being in an uncomfortable position, scrambling to try to figure out how and what to say. But from lawmakers, Jim Jordan to Cory Gardner, it seems as though there is this struggle to acknowledge what a good majority is starting to think is troublesome. Is that sustainable?

SHEPHERD: Well, I don't think it is going to be sustainable if Republican voters start changing their tune. I know a couple months ago Republican v3oters were saying we don't even want to deal with impeachment inquiry, we're not on board with that. But even the last couple weeks, we're seeing the number change, albeit in very small increments, but there is a shift of thought.

And these congressmen and senators are thinking about their base and reelection, like I said earlier. So I think that there might be a sea change if they're seeing that their constituency is open to having these conversations. And that's what they're trying to figure out now during recess. But I am not sure if that dam is going to break for the Republican base at all.

WHITFIELD: So Tim, listen to what former Senate majority leader Harry Reid told our David Axelrod on the latest episode of CNN's "Axe Files" about Senator Lindsey Graham and Graham's attempts to shield Trump from impeachment to bolster Graham's own reelection chances?


HARRY REID, (D) FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's amazing what happened to him when John McCain died. He suddenly was no longer a John McCain Republican. He became a South Carolina want to get reelected Republican. And he is a tote and fetch guy for the president. It is so -- I had such admiration for him. I am so disappointed in what has happened to him. His whole personality has changed since John passed.



WHITFIELD: Tim, your thoughts?

NAFTALI: These constitutional crises, they bring out the best and the worst in people. You see profiles in courage and you see profiles of cowardice. It is absolutely clear that Lindsey Graham does not want to show strength.

I want to add one more point, which is this business about the base I think shows contempt for the American people. If you believe you've learned something as an elected official in Washington that affects the nature of our republic, you should be willing to use your position as a bully pulpit to explain to your supporters why you made a tough call. The fact that people aren't willing to make a tough call because they're afraid of voters shows contempt for the voters. I think that's a point that's been lost in all of this.

WHITFIELD: Tim Naftali, Brittany Shepherd, thank you so much.

And of course, you don't want to miss former Senate majority leader Harry Reid on tonight's "The Axe Files" with David Axelrod, that's tonight, 7:00 eastern right here on CNN.

Still ahead, concern over the whistleblower's safety after President Trump continues his onslaught of attacks. The president openly asking why is the whistleblower being protected. We discuss next.



WHITFIELD: As President Trump's frustration with the impeachment inquiry against him grows, he is continuing to take aim at the whistleblower who set the wheels in motion. Listen to what Trump said at his rally last night in Louisiana.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But nobody thought I would release the call, probably nobody thought we had a transcript. So when I heard the viciousness -- but here's the worst of all, worse than the whistleblower. Now, the whistleblower, why are we protecting a person that tells you things that weren't true?


WHITFIELD: Let's discuss this with my next guest, Tom Mueller. He is the au3thor of "Crisis of Conscience, Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud." Good to see you, Tom. So your reaction to what the president said last night?

TOM MUELLER, AUTHOR, "CRISIS OF CONSCIENCE, WHISTLEBLOWING IN AN AGE OF FRAUD": First of all, protections, he mentions why should we protect this person. Protections are protections by law. They're anonymity is protected in the legal structure that they use to come forward.

And the whole notion that what he said, what the whistleblower said wasn't true, first of all, a lot of the allegations have been corroborated by White House and other sources. And second of all, it is up to Congress to determine now the rightness or wrongness of the claims. It is a legal process. This is not a personal matter that Trump can sort of bust through and make into a distraction rather than a focus on the facts.

WHITFIELD: And there's a federal protection act, goes back to the 70s, and then it was beefed up and reinforced a bit later in the 80s. Explain why it is so important that there are protections in place for whistleblowers, those who say they want to tell what they know, what they saw, particularly in the name of oversight or observation.

MUELLER: Yes. In my book I tell story after story about whistleblowers in a wide range of different activities, everything from national security to food safety to banks, where their lives in some cases, but certainly their careers are on the line when they come forward. They need to know -- they are intensely determined to get the truth out, but they also need to have some guarantee that their life will not be compromised, as it so sadly often is, by speaking truth.

WHITFIELD: What kind of measures are put into place to protect the physical well-being of a whistleblower, particularly after it is known that a claim has been made? What's the obligation and whose obligation is it to make sure that person is protected, doesn't lose their job, doesn't have any physical threats carried out?

MUELLER: The fact is, it's a mosaic of laws that is very, very imperfect. And even the best laws only offer a sort of a compensation for a lost career. The fact of the matter is, and this is a sad comment on our soc33iety, when someone comes forward and speaks the truth to power, even if they are absolutely right, even if they save 1,000 lives, they're still looked on as a snitch in their community and their organization, and are quite often blackballed for life.

So the best laws offer some sort of repayment for a lost career. The worst laws, frankly, the intel community laws are a joke. They are not protective at all. They simply give you a channel through which to surface your concerns to the very people, quite often, that you are concerned about, that you are accusing of wrongdoing. So it's a very imperfect system, it needs a lot of work on the Hill to make this into real whistleblower protections and not simply paper tiger laws.

WHITFIELD: And it really underscores what a whistleblower is weighing before actually filing the complaint. And your feeling is that whistleblower took all that into account before issuing this complaint?

MUELLER: Very definitely. They know what they're getting into in many cases. It's heartwarming to see, despite all this, despite the huge risks that whistleblowers run, that there are more and more people coming forward. The crisis of conscience that I talk about in my book is very real. And people maintain their professional duty and their personal conscience, even under the most extraordinary circumstances. It's quite inspiring. Even though we as society need to do better, they as people are real role models.

WHITFIELD: Tom Mueller, thank you so much, author of "Crisis of Conscience, Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud." Appreciate your time.

MUELLER: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, this week at CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues, several of the candidates were interrupted by activists who said they wanted more attention on violence against transgender women, including this dramatic protest.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Black trans women are dying, our lives matter. I'm an extraordinary black transwoman, and I deserve to be here.



WHITFIELD: One human rights group estimated that there have been at least 19 deaths of transgender women this year. LGBTQ rights are also taking center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court where justices are hearing the case of a transgender woman who says she was fired from her job after coming out to her employer. Gillian Bransteter is the spokeswoman for National Center for Transgender Equality. Good to see you. So the passion and the fear behind that moment that we saw played out at the town hall, can you tell me a little bit about where those feelings are coming from.

GILLIAN BRANSTETTER, SPOKESWOMAN, NATIONAL CENTER FOR TRANSGENDER EQUALITY: Sure. So I think what Blossom C. Brown, the advocate that spoke up during the town hall, what she was addressing was a frustration that's been present in the trans community for a very long time, and particularly amongst trans people of color. They have experienced a tirade of violence that really only recently is beginning to get some of the attention it deserves. And it is frankly historic that candidates are eager to address that and are eager to bring visibility to it.


WHITFIELD: So the U.S. Supreme Court began its new session, and in this new session this week it is also hearing arguments over whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers. So quickly, in your view, what is at stake?

BRANSTETTER: What's at stake is the right of every person to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Transgender people deserve to have the exact same chance to work and live as exactly who they are that every other American gets. The case at hand is about a transgender woman who was fired right after she came out. And unfortunately, that's an experience that one in six transgender people have. And frankly, it's an experience that fuels poverty, that fuels homelessness, that fuels much of the violence that you saw addressed at the town hall.

WHITFIELD: Gillian Branstetter, thank you so much. Appreciate your time in joining us today.

BRANSTETTER: Absolutely. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And thank you, everyone, for joining us this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. See you back here tomorrow. CNN's Newsroom continues with Alex Marquardt after this.