Return to Transcripts main page
Turkish Military Forces Claim To Have Complete Control Of A Town In Northern Syria; Rudy Giuliani Is Under Federal Investigation For His Work In Ukraine To Uncover Dirt On Joe Biden; Shepard Smith Of Fox News Was Quitting After 23 Years; Bombshell Testimony from Ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; E.U. Ambassador to Testify in Impeachment Inquiry; Pompeo Defensive When Questioned on His Support of Ukraine Ambassador; Fires Devastate Parts of Los Angeles. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired October 12, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt in for Ana Cabrera. Thanks so much for joining me.
Breaking news now, a CNN exclusive. The military general who commands Kurdish forces who are friends of the United States, he says his troops are going to be slaughtered because of U.S. pullout from northern Syria.
MARQUARDT: Now that is according to an internal U.S. government readout that was obtained exclusively by CNN. The commander of the Kurdish troops spread along Syria's border with Turkey told a senior U.S. diplomat that he feels the U.S. quote "sold us and that this is immoral." He was talking about President Trump's decision to pull American troops out of that border area which leaves Kurdish soldiers wide up to attack by Turkey, their longtime enemy.
The Turkish forces did launched military operations on the border few days ago. They claim so far they have killed hundreds of Kurdish fighters who they consider terrorists.
Let's get straight to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, the U.S. defense secretary is insisting that the American military is not abandoning Syria's Kurds who, of course as you know, fought along U.S. troops in the lengthy fight against ISIS. Many of those same Kurdish forces paid with their lives. At the same time, we have seen U.S. forces pulled back from that border area which now we have seen the Turks go into, going into Syria. How can the Pentagon say that that is not abandoning the Kurds?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they are standing on a very fine point that they are not walking away from the Kurds, even as they pull back in this area of northern Syria because they say they will continue to fight ISIS. But the Kurds are going to get very busy with this terrible situation evolving on the border. Their priority rapidly is becoming to fight the Turkish attack. And if the U.S. can't fight ISIS, if it doesn't have a partner to fight ISIS, it does not have a mission there.
The general Muslim (ph), the head of the Syrian democratic forces in this meeting with a top U.S. official, just brutal in his dismay and upset and outrage at the U.S. decision. And he says, let me read part of it to everybody.
He says to the U.S. official according to this document, 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.
Now this all according to this document circulated throughout the Trump administration about what this meeting was all about.
He goes on and says, I need to know if you are capable of protecting my people, of stopping these 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.
The U.S. is not going to make a deal clearly to protect these people against the Turks. The Turks are a NATO ally. Again, in the U.S. and Pentagon view, it is not fighting ISIS. And that's the only mission they say they technically have. This is going to get increasingly complex, the nightmare scenario, the Kurdish fighters that have been protecting thousands of ISIS detainees in Syria. They may move north to fight Turks. And it is not clear how soon ISIS may be able to regroup -- Alex.
MARQUARDT: Increasingly complex, increasingly bloody and that is a very important point that the commander made right there that as the U.S. pulls out, there may be a lot of room for Russia to move in.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much.
MARQUARDT: Now Turkish military forces claim to have complete control of a town in northern Syria. That would be the first key piece of territory that was taken by Turkey since the sudden exit of American troops.
CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is not far from the border area on the border with Turkey and Syria.
Arwa, we just confirmed from the pentagon, the Kurdish commander is accusing the U.S. military of leaving them to be slaughtered. Now, the prisons that are holding these ISIS detainees, they have always been vulnerable, even more so now with Kurdish personnel being pulled away to fight. The Turks are now saying that they will take responsibility for these ISIS detainees. How plausible is that?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is going to be very challenging, Alex. And look, most of the places where the prisons are located, most of the places where the camps that hold the families, the wives and widows of the last holdouts in the battle against ISIS, they are pretty deep into Syrian territory, quite a distance away from where Turkey at least to say it is going to be concentrating this operation.
But Alex, Turkey isn't just saying that they would, in theory, take over prisons and camps. They are actually telling or have told the U.S. that they would be willing to take the burden of the battle against ISIS in Syria off of America and take the responsibility on themselves.
This is an extraordinary military undertaking potentially, especially given that Turkey plans to do this while somehow simultaneously creating the safe zone along the border and also doing it inside hostile territory. It is not as if the Kurds inside Syria are going to be welcoming these Turkish forces coming in, trying to push them away. And it is so complicated, so potentially devastating when it comes to reversing the gains that were made in the battle against ISIS because already in camps like (INAUDIBLE) that has population of about 70,000, mostly wives and widows of ISIS fighters, they are already rioting as they have been in the past. And even before the operation began, Alex, the Kurdish security officials there were saying they could barely keep the situation contained.
So it is also a big issue of how this battle will be drawing those assets away from those camps and those prisons, possibly well before the Turks and their allies on the ground even reach them.
[15:06:28] MARQUARDT: Yes. And Arwa, as you know well, we are not talking about just a handful of ISIS prisoners, more than 11,000 of them, including many that are what U.S. officials call high value targets. They say they have a plan to get some of the high value targets into their own custody, but it remains to be seen how possible that will be.
Arwa Damon on the Turkey-Syria border. Thanks very much.
Now Turkey's president has wanted to target Kurdish forces in Syria for a long time. So why did President Trump choose now to move those U.S. troops out of the way for the Turkish operation to happen? It all comes within the odd context of President Trump doing what Turkish president Erdogan wants, even at the expense of American interests.
CNN's Jake Tapper reports.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE UNION (voice-over): Despite President Trump's vague threat to Turkey Thursday.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to possibly do something very, very tough with respect to sanctions and other financial things.
TAPPER: His order to withdraw U.S. service members from northern part of Syria on the eve of Turkey's assault on America's long time Kurdish allies is in fact just the latest in a number of decisions where the Trump administration has seemed to bend over backwards to give Turkey's president Erdogan what he wants.
JONATHAN SCHANZER, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: It is not a good pattern. It is a pattern of appeasement.
TAPPER: The Trump administration ties to Turkey began even before the 2016 election when former national security adviser Michael Flynn at the time adviser to the campaign, was doing secret lobbying work on behalf of the Turkish government. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Flynn met with Turkish government officials at the time about getting one of Erdogan's enemies, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania in exile (INAUDIBLE) forcibly removed to Turkey. Erdogan has accused (INAUDIBLE) of masterminding an attempted coup in 2016, though (INAUDIBLE) denies any involvement in the coup and he was never forcibly removed from the U.S.
TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man.
TAPPER: Flynn subsequently admitted to breaking the law by making false statements on federal lobbying disclosures about his work for Turkey. And there is Rudy Giuliani's representation of (INAUDIBLE), a Turkish businessman with ties to top Turkish officials, indicted by the U.S. for helping Iran to evade billions of dollars in U.S. sanctions.
In an oval office meeting with Giuliani and Trump, then secretary of state Rex Tillerson was pressed to drop a criminal case against (INAUDIBLE) who reportedly had an office in Trump tower Istanbul. Tillerson said no.
Even more curious, the Trump administration so proud of withdrawing from the Iran deal and imposing new sanctions, has not yet fined the bank involved in the (INAUDIBLE) case, the state owned hulk bank. Why not? The Trump administration did not respond to questions for comment.
Then there is the matter of Turkey purchasing the Russian s-400 missile defense system, a system that Pentagon officials have said would pose intelligence risk to the U.S. since Turkey also purchased U.S. f-35 fighter jets. According to a 2017 law, Turkey's purchase of these weapons is supposed to trigger congressionally mandated sanctions against Turkey. But Trump has not pulled that trigger. Why not?
The Trump administration told us today quote "we continue to urge Turkey to reconsider receipt of the s-400." There's a deliberative process ongoing on the issue of sanctions.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There could be more sanctions to follow. But frankly, what we would like is the s-400 not to become operational.
[15:10:04] TAPPER: Reporter: After the Pentagon insisted that the White House cancel Turkish purchase of the f-35 jet, President Trump sounded more upset about the law than Turkey violating it. TRUMP: I have a good relationship with president Erdogan. Because of
the fact he bought a Russian missile, we are not allowed to sell billions worth of aircraft. It is not a fair situation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sends a terrible message to the Turkish regime that they can continue to test red lines and get away with it.
MARQUARDT: All Right. We are also following breaking news out of New Orleans. There are evacuations that are under way in the cities downtown area after several floors of a high-rise construction site collapsed this morning, creating a giant plume of gray and black smoke as you can see there. At least one person is dead and 18 other people injured after the 7th and 8th floors pancaked. Investigators are trying to assess how stable the building currently is, including the crane that's standing next to it. Efforts are under way to find three people who at last word were still unaccounted for.
A new report says the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is now under federal investigation for his work in Ukraine on behalf of President Trump. And it is just the latest in a lengthy list of setbacks for the President. Those details ahead.
[15:15:09] MARQUARDT: We are seeing something of a new approach from President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani following reports that Giuliani is under federal investigation for his work in Ukraine to uncover dirt on Joe Biden. Now, a quick reminder. Here is what President Trump said about his own lawyer just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Rudy Giuliani still your personal attorney?
TRUMP: I don't know. I haven't spoken to Rudy. I spoke to him yesterday briefly. He is a very good attorney and has been my attorney, yes, sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: At the same time, Giuliani was tying himself even tighter to the President. He told the "New York times" quote "I was representing the president of the United States through his work in Ukraine."
CNN White House reporter Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House.
Jeremy, the President is now defending Giuliani. What's he saying?
JEREMEY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Alex. Yesterday the President wasn't quite sure whether Rudy Giuliani was still his personal attorney. And today, the president is taking publicly to twitter to defend his long time attorney, former New York city mayor. Here's the president's tweet from earlier today. He writes, so now
they are after the legendary crime buster and greatest mayor in the history of New York city, Rudy Giuliani. He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer. Such a one sided witch hunt going on in the USA. Deep state shameful.
Now, it is not clear that the President is specifically referring to this investigation by federal prosecutors looking into the former New York city mayor, but this term deep state is something the President has previously used to refer to members of the FBI in particular. And obviously the President's comments come after this "New York Times" reporting that Rudy Giuliani is indeed under investigation for potentially violating federal lobbying laws.
Now publicly, the President may be defending his attorney, but privately we are told the president has begun expressing some concerns about the legal exposure that his attorney maybe facing. That came in particular after two of Rudy Giuliani's associates were arrested earlier this week.
MARQUARDT: All right. Giuliani is rough around the edges. That putting it lightly.
Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.
It has really been a brutal 24 hours of bad news for President Trump, in a single day, in addition to learning that his personal lawyer was under federal investigation, the President suffered three major losses in court. He lost an appeal to keep his tax documents away from Congress, a federal judge ruled the plan to use emergency funds to build a border wall was unlawful, and three federal judges blocked a rule that would have limited legal immigration for those that use public benefits.
And doesn't stop there. The President's acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan, he resigned last night and then this bomb drops. The former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, she testified as part of the House impeachment inquiry that her ousting was part of a quote "concerted campaign executed by none other than President Trump himself."
Here's her direct quote. I met with a deputy secretary of state who informed me of curtailment of my term. He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me. And that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause. That is ambassador Marie Yovanovich, the former ambassador to Ukraine.
For more, I want to bring in "New York Times" investigative reporter Matthew Rosenberg and Republican strategist, Doug Heye.
Gents, thank you so much for joining me this afternoon. Doug, I want to start with you. We said this was a bad week for
President Trump. But now he is under the cloud of impeachment. Has anything that happened in the past 24 hours from a long list I went through? Does that change the calculus for Republicans, either voters or members of Congress?
DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think it is starting to. We've seen in a lot of polling that the number of Republicans willing to support an investigation of impeachment, not necessarily removal from office, but investigation, is starting to creep up. The first poll for a lot of Republicans caused a lot of questions as to whether or not this is a trend or outlier. We are seeing now more polls showing it is beginning of a trend. We will see how long that continues. It should be of real concern to the White House because that it shows that a basis smaller than they might have initially thought. And that spells trouble as they try to move in into an election, that is going to be more about motivation than persuasion.
MARQUARDT: And we have seen time and time again how reliant President Trump is on that base, that he really wants to cater to.
Matthew, want to ask you about Giuliani's defense about the article in "New York Times" that he is under federal investigation. He is arguing that this investigation, the fact that this was leaked to your newspaper is a sign it is a political attack. He says if this was an appropriate investigation that he, the subject, wouldn't know about it. What do you make of that defense?
[15:20:15] MATTHEW ROSENBERG, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, look, he led this office, southern district of New York, that's investigating him. I think he knows well how word of prosecutions gets out. He is no stranger to that.
Look, my colleagues who broke this worked hard for that story. This wasn't some kind of political operative coming dead of night and say hey, you guys should go tar Giuliani with this. There are real questions and concerns. He has acknowledged he and his associates worked with Ukrainian officials and prosecutors to undermine the U.S. ambassador. Now his defense of that is he was doing it on behalf of the president of the United States.
Aside from a legal issues here, there is also a bigger issue is do you it appropriate the president's personal lawyer is working with foreign governments to undermine our own ambassador? I mean, there are real questions there that, you know, I think we all have to have a larger debate about.
MARQUARDT: Right. And that debate is certainly one that the Democratic candidates for president are pushing with voters.
Doug, yesterday we just played that sound of President Trump distancing himself from Giuliani. HE said he didn't know if Giuliani was his lawyer, today calling him a wonderful lawyer. We have seen the President. He is remarkably consistent in standing by friends and allies who are in trouble. But how much trouble do you think Giuliani is in now? HEYE: I think that water is very hot. And what Donald Trump does is
he stands by his friends for awhile until it is no longer in his best interest to do so. There's probably no better example of that than Jeff Sessions who his number one guy a long time until he wasn't. And then his tenure as attorney general is obviously rocky the entire time because as secretary, Sessions did the proper thing of recusing himself. And if Rudy Giuliani is seen as a negative or albatross for the administration, you will see Donald Trump distance himself not just a little bit but a great deal. And we know that when he turns on people, he turns very strongly and very loudly. It is something that we are not only going to have to pay attention to, there will be no way to really avoid it.
MARQUARDT: Matthew, I want to switch gears and read you back comments from ambassador Marie Yovanovich yesterday to Congress. This is according to "New York Times." She said there was concerted campaign against her, referring to the president, Giuliani and his associates, said the state department has been attacked and hollowed out.
How damaging do you think her testimony is given that she is (INAUDIBLE), she was in the foreign service -- she has been in the foreign service, I should say, for 33 years. How damaging is that?
ROSENBERG: I mean, look, it is fairly damning to go out there and say that the President and his associates are hollowing out the foreign service is to make fairly claim. You serve -- you know, you are supposed to be representing this administration. That is part of your job. And what she is saying is look, I can't. They are after us. They have no interest in working through the institutions that we have created. They want to do it on their own. They are doing it in opposition to our own national security interests. And it is a pretty damning statement.
MARQUARDT: Yes, it absolutely is. And then there are a number of other ambassadors that are coming up in the next week, ambassador Sondland who is the ambassador to the European union, and then we are also expecting to see ambassador Bill Taylor who current senior most diplomat to Ukraine. So we will see if they follow -- if they disobey as Yovanovich did the state department orders to not testify.
Before we go, I want to ask you, Doug, about one final subject. And this was the blockbuster news, really, that came out of the clear blue sky that Shepard Smith of Fox News was quitting after 23 years. He announced that at the end of his show yesterday. Here's how President Trump reacted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you or your administration pressure Fox News to get rid of Shepard Smith?
TRUMP: I don't know, is he leaving? Oh, that's a shame.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But why did Bill Barr meet Rupert Murdoch the other day? TRUMP: That I don't know. Wait, did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?
Is he leaving because of bad ratings? Tell me, I don't know. He had terrible ratings. Is he leaving because of his ratings? I mean, if he is leaving, I assume he is leaving because he had bad ratings. He had the worst ratings on Fox. So there's a reason. Why is Shepard Smith leaving? Well, I wish him well. I wish Shepard Smith well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Doug, you can hear the sarcasm there. And just a quick fact check, Shepard Smith actually had very good ratings in his time slot.
But Doug, what do you take from this clear sign that Smith had had enough of Fox's programming? And what do you think it means for people that get their news primarily from Fox News?
[15:25:00] HEYE: Well, I think as with anybody, you have to be double checking and triple checking what you watch and what other outlets are saying for a full spectrum. Shep was obviously a man on an island certainly in the daytime at Fox News. I can tell you two times I went on with Shep were two of the hardest interviews I ever did. He is really tough, doesn't let you get away with a lot. That a great for FOX viewers. Unfortunately they are losing out on that.
It also says there are going to be a lot of questions as to who may move into that role. Where that Shannon Breem who is popular at night, comes from the news side and whether they go in a news direction or opinion direction.
MARQUARDT: Right, Shepard Smith still often held out as one of the real journalists at Fox News.
Gentlemen, we have to leave it there.
Doug Heye and Matthew Rosenberg, thanks so much for joining me.
HEYE: Thank you.
ROSENBERG: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: All right. Well, as we were mentioning, this has been a tough week for the President. But one of the biggest bomb shells was that closed door testimony from the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Ahead, we have details about what she called the concerted campaign by the President to get her fired.
[15:29:58] MARQUARDT: Congress returns from recess this Tuesday. But you might have be forgiven for believing that there has been no break, zero in momentum surrounding the impeachment inquiry.
The most dramatic moment this week may have come from America's one time point person on Ukraine.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): Tonight, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich defying the Trump administration, appearing before lawmakers, after the State Department tried to block her testimony.
Yovanovich responding to a subpoena by House Democratic leadership, leveling a stunning allegation, telling lawmakers, according to "The New York Times," she'd 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," Yovanovich 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 policy in Ukraine."
The former ambassador referring to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Giuliani associates indicted yesterday for trying to use political contributions in order to get her fired.
Yovanovich was known for her 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. BOB 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: Yovanovich is the latest in a string of key interviews for House Democrats as the impeachment inquiry deepens.
On Monday, former White House Russia 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: For more, let's bring in Julian Epstein, the chief counsel for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during President Clinton's impeachment.
Julian, thanks so much for joining us.
JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRAT'S HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHIEF COUNSEL DURING CLINTON IMPEACHMENT: Good afternoon.
MARQUARDT: I want to start with Ambassador Sondland, due to testify on Thursday. He was supposed to testify last week. That was just a request. He followed his State Department boss' orders to not testify. And that originally came from the White House, blocking him at the last minute.
He is now under subpoena to appear this Thursday. His lawyers say he intends to testify.
And, Julian, I want your take. He's an interesting case. This is someone that's a political appointee, a Trump donor. He gave a million dollars to the Inaugural Committee.
At first, he obeyed his bosses at State, and now he appears to want to testify. What do you think he will say? What can we expect?
EPSTEIN: I think he is going to try to split the middle. I think he will try to give as benevolent an explanation as to what happened as he possibly can.
But he's in a precarious situation because he has text messages and documentary evidence he doesn't want to provide that he says is the State Department's decision. I think he's in a difficult and precarious position.
I think overall, the administration is in a very precarious position. There are many more shoes that will drop. There's not just diplomats who, I think, will contradict the ambassador and be more forthcoming.
You have a lot of people inside the administration that now to want to talk. You have a Russian angle with indictment a couple days ago. You have Southern District of New York engaged at this point. And i think you have a lot of Republican Senators privately
contemplating a sort of Julius Caesar moment, even if they won't say so publicly. And I think they're getting very shaky. All of this is led by a president who I think even Republicans now see is very erratic and unpredictable and unstable.
So that's a very, very shaky situation with lots of different loose pieces inside the administration that they don't have their arms around right now.
I think regardless what happened with Sondland, it is starting to spin out of control. It certainly has that feeling.
MARQUARDT: Because we saw Ambassador Yovanovich testify Friday, even though in closed session, we know there's been good reporting on what she said, and it was very damning. She did go against the orders of her bosses at the State Department to testify.
To your point there, do you think now others are going to be more free to speak? Will there be an opening of floodgates, if you will, with Sondland this week? They also want to interview Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and perhaps others. Will the floodgates open?
EPSTEIN: I think floodgates is the exact point. I think in the same way Republican Senators, nobody wants to be the first Senator amongst Republicans to say they think the president needs to be held accountable, I think it is the same dynamic inside the administration where as soon as a few people start speaking, more are likely to start speaking.
I think the message that they're hearing is that when a president converts the office of the presidency for personal gain, you're not only talking about an impeachable offense. You're talking about a criminal offense, a possible criminal offense on a half dozen counts.
If you're anywhere close to that, whatsoever, and you are a part of an effort to cover that up, you inside the administration, any administration official has legal liability. Just look at all the people in this administration associated with Trump that have already gone to jail in the Russian investigation.
I think a lot of people are starting to say, hey, I'm not going down for this president's possible illegal conduct. So I think there's a dynamic now.
You see this a lot of times in investigations, where as soon as a few people come forth, a lot more other people inside the administration realize the water is warm and they ought to, for self-preservation purposes, be willing to cooperate with the investigators.
I think that's the dynamic under way now. That's part of the reason this is becoming a situation that the White House has limited ability to control. MARQUARDT: And one of the big questions will be, what will the
consequences that people like Yovanovich and Taylor and Sondland face if they disobey their boss' orders.
We have to leave it there.
Julian Epstein, thanks so much for breaking it down for us.
EPSTEIN: Thanks for having me, Alex.
MARQUARDT: In the wake of explosive testimony from former ambassador, Marie Yovanovich, to lawmakers yesterday, you can hear Secretary of State Mike Pompeo being pressed about his involvement in the ambassador's recall, and his very defensive response. That's next.
MARQUARDT: The Ukraine scandal that consumed the Trump presidency has led one top State Department official to call it quits. A source telling CNN a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo resigned suddenly this week, in part, because the State Department leadership wasn't defending former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovich. She was abruptly recalled from her post in Kiev back in May. As we mentioned earlier, she defied the administration and testified this week.
But Mike Pompeo himself was defiant as well when asked about Ukraine and the ousted ambassador during an interview Friday with a reporter, Nancy Amons, of our national affiliate, WSMV. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY AMONS, REPORTER, WSMV: Did you support ambassador -- the ambassador being recalled months before her tenure was up?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I supported every mission the State Department is engaged in and will continue to do that.
AMONS: In mid-February you were in Warsaw. So was Rudy Giuliani. During your time there, did you meet with Giuliani?
POMPEO: You know, 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 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 in that mission.
AMONS: So you're not saying whether you met with him?
POMPEO: When I was in Warsaw, I had a singular focus. My focus was singularly on the work we have done, effective work, to recover what the Obama administration has done, which was to underwrite the world's largest sponsor of state terror. We stopped that and we are making real progress. AMONS: 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 inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. That's what I worked on. It was the only thing I engaged in while I was there.
AMONS: OK. Text messages show that diplomats under your authority told the Ukrainians 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: You know, again, you've got your facts wrong. 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 is unfortunate. It does a real disservice to employees and the 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 with when Poroshenko was in charge and we 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.
This administration, unlike the previous one, has taken those responsibilities very seriously.
Part of that, an incredibly important part of that is making sure that corruption is weeded out at every level inside of Ukraine. And our team, for the entire time I have been the secretary of state, has been working on that project.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Secretary Mike Pompeo's body language saying perhaps more than his words. Nancy Amons did a standup job in that interview. In it, Pompeo also declined to talk about that resignation of his senior adviser, calling it a personnel matter.
Coming up next, California declares a state of emergency as a new and destructive set of wildfires erupts around Los Angeles. We take you to the frontlines.
Stay with us.
MARQUARDT: The race is now on. Firefighters in southern California are working around the clock to contain a fast-moving wildfire. The Saddleridge Fire, which broke out Thursday night, has so far destroyed 31 homes and burned more than 7500 acres. Evacuations orders are slowly being lifted. As of Friday night, more than 100,000 people in the Los Angeles area were forced to leave their homes.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Granada Hills, California.
Paul, we still don't know what caused this fire. But it does look like firefighters are starting to get ahead of it. What are the conditions like on the ground?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The conditions are much better, Alex. Behind me, you can see this is one of those homes that they lost in the fire. The firefighters are carefully going through these devastated neighborhoods and they're making sure they put out every single ash pile.
This house next to that house also burned down to the ground at the end of a cul-de-sac. They say this is 19 percent contained.
We well know that fire officials often underestimate the containment numbers. Sometimes, frankly, they don't even have time to update them.
A 91-year-old widow lived her. She got out with her life. Everyone thrilled.
And others, if you want to see the whimsy of fire, look over here. This house was completely spared, the other one here as well.
I want to bring in Ayad Jujor (ph).
You live in this cul-de-sac. Ayad (ph), for you, this is really mixed, because you're so close with your neighbors. Your house spared. Burned right up to the back fence. And you look over and see this.
AYAD JUJOR (ph), CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: It is just sad to see the neighbors, who are close to you, their house is gone. But we thank God our house is good.
And neighbors, they saved me. The neighbors saved me. They called me in the middle of the night at like 10:30, and they left messages. I was asleep. And they told me to wake up and get my stuff ready.
We have a great neighbor. We're always there for each other. Nice guy.
But at the end, everybody is safe. We are happy that our neighbors are still standing.
VERCAMMEN: Very well put, Ayad (ph).
As you heard, Alex, just a tragedy here. Some homes lost, others saved. But everyone is heartbroken to see what happened at the end of this cul-de-sac in Granada Hills.
Back to you.
MARQUARDT: All right, Paul, thanks very much. Our thoughts are with Ayad (ph) and everybody else from that area. Thank you very much, Paul Vercammen, near Los Angeles.
We are following breaking news out of New Orleans, where a part of a building has collapsed. This stunning video from the moment it began crashing down. That'll be next.
MARQUARDT: There are more and more seniors across the U.S. who are living in isolation and growing lonely, which can cause major health problems, including dementia, heart disease and depression. This week's "CNN Hero" helps seniors live life to the fullest by helping them cross items off their bucket list.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: The reality of living in isolation is out there, and it's real. It's really one of the driving forces for us to keep going, for us to take those people out of isolation and make an example of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, we're moving.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: I looked at it as much more than a hot air balloon ride. There is a sense of accomplishment, a story that they get to take back to their community. It lifts their spirits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: And to see more, you can head on over to CNNheroes.com.
A quick programming note. Get ready for what could be the make-or- break moment in the race for 2020. The CNN/"New York Times" presidential debate is this Tuesday, at 8:00 p.m., live from the battleground state of Ohio.
We'll be right back.