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All U.S. Troops Ordered Out Of Syria; U .S. Ambassador To The EU, Gordon Sondland Will Testify In The House; Hotel That Was Under Construction Collapsed In New Orleans Yesterday; Multiple Top Trump Administration Officials Face Deadlines To Turn Over Documents; CNN/"New York Times" Presidential Debate On Tuesday. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired October 13, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:14] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin with breaking news. All U.S. troops ordered out of Syria. The U.S. defense secretary says the U.S. had no other choice but to order a deliberate withdrawal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Now what we are facing is U.S. forces trapped between a Syrian Russian army moving north to take on the Turkish army that is moving south. It puts us in a terrible position and the protection and safety of our service members comes first to me. I spoke with the national security team yesterday. We all talked on the phone. I talked to the President. And he is concerned, and so last night he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the northern part of Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: A U.S. official tells CNN the withdrawal of U.S. troops won't happen immediately but could take days to weeks. Fighting in northern Syria is intensifying as Turkish forces are pushing further into Syria territory occupied by Kurds. This incursion started Wednesday, just three days after President Trump ordered a pullout of U.S. troops in the area.
Kurdish leaders responded with fury saying the U.S. had abandoned them and left them to be killed. The Kurds had been a key U.S. ally in the defeat of ISIS militants. CNN has confirmed that one Kurdish journalist has been killed in a Turkish airstrike.
Our coverage begins with Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.
So Barbara, what do we know about this pullout? How it will take place? We are talking about some thousand U.S. troops in the area, right? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka.
There are about a thousand U.S. troops in Syria. What secretary Esper is talking about is a withdrawal from the entire area of northern Syria, far beyond what the President ordered just several days ago. That was a very small group to leave, less than 50.
This will now be the majority of U.S. troops coming out of Syria. They may try and leave some in the south. What were talking about the outpost consolidating into a couple key areas, couple base areas that they operate out of, and then they will try to get everyone out either by air to fly them out or drive out over land. This is very well known that this would be the way U.S. troops would leave Syria, but now it is very accelerated.
When they say days or weeks, that is the hope, that they can do it in what they call a deliberate and orderly fashion. But the situation in northern Syria really is deteriorating by the hour in the view of the U.S., certainly in the view of everyone on the ground.
So there could always be the possibility that some troops will come out very quickly in some sort of extreme situation. There is the capability to do that, but right now they hope they can do it in a somewhat orderly fashion.
The big question, of course, what does this all mean? It means that U.S. troops really are done in Syria. Their participation with the Syrian Kurds in trying to counter ISIS essentially is over. The door for ISIS back on the rise certainly has been opened as those ISIS detention facilities become less secure and there is going to be massive uncertainty.
Just as secretary Esper said, you have a Turkish military moving south, a Russian and Syrian military moving north, the Kurds may try and cut that deal with the Russians to protect them overhead, air positions by Russian air force. This simply means the U.S. has to get out of the way. That's the view of the Pentagon -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: So Barbara, what about what has long been a cooperative military operation between, you know, Turkey and the U.S.? I mean, leading up to Iraq war and the U.S. involvement. The U.S. used air strips, air space, air installations in Turkey. So what kind of leverage, if any, does the U.S. have in trying to persuade Turkey to stop doing what it's doing, even though it was this administration's pullout of U.S. troops that has opened the way for this to happen?
STARR: In the view of many, it has opened the way. Some people very strongly inside the U.S. military feel that if the U.S. troops hadn't initially been pulled out, they wouldn't been on the ground, they would have been a deterrent to the Turks. Many others say, no, they were coming south, anyhow. It has had animosity toward the Turks for a decades long variety of reasons. And the Turkish government, president Erdogan wanted to simply come south and he was going to do it, cross into Syria and take territory one way or the other.
In terms of leverage, what can the Trump administration do now? It's very hard to see. It's important to remember Turkey is a member of NATO. The U.S. is not going to go to war against a NATO ally. The President is talking about economic sanctions as leverage. But from North Korea to Iran, we have seen so many authoritarian regimes survive sanctions year after year.
There is universal condemnation in Europe. European governments, several of them have already stopped any of their weapon sales to Turkey. Governments in Europe really tried to pressure the Turks. But how all of this happened may be a reflection of President Trump, some say, either not having the juice to deter Turkey or just simply feeling that he was going to let president Erdogan go ahead as an authoritarian leader and do what he wanted to do -- Fred.
[14:05:54] WHITFIELD: All right. Barbara Starr of the Pentagon, thank you very much.
All right. Let's go to the region now. Our Nick Paton Walsh is in northern Syria.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are startling developments which we saw on the beginning of the road toward where a number of U.S. troops face Kobani. We saw Syrian rebels passed by Turkish forces, putting up checkpoints on that road. Effectively cutting (INAUDIBLE), causing panic amongst many people we saw there. And a Turkish jet flew low, busing it seems an American convoy putting out of a nearby town there. This was after really 12 hours before the United States announced it would be leaving almost fully from Syria in the days, and possibly weeks, ahead.
Fast-moving phase movements there. As we were on that main roads, we also saw patchy- helicopters coming in to support those U.S. troops of convoy, four of which where leaving that particular town. (INAUDIBLE) Iran brought vehicles to the side of the road to take control of that area.
It is extraordinary how quickly things are unfolding in northeast in Syria and how fast collapse of the Syrian Kurdish positions here seem to be a result of force and determination of the Turkish military invasion here. But as it stands, there is talk of possible (INAUDIBLE) between various sizes to consolidate their positions. But still the same day in which the American and the (INAUDIBLE) positions appear to have collapsed incredibly quickly.
Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Syria.
WHITFIELD: I want to bring in now general James "Spider" Marks. He is a former U.S. army commanding general and a CNN military analyst. Good to see you.
So, you command a division, you know. Can you give us a sense of what a drawdown would look like? A thousand troops to be withdrawn from a singular area, even though we also hear Barbara saying some people might be moving further south of this area. But what does a drawdown of this magnitude mean?
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.). FORMER U.S. ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL Well, Clearly, Fred, what has to take place is we got the notion of physics that play here. There are is only so much stuff you can put along the road network. And there are only so many vehicle transport capabilities to get everybody out.
This is not, I can assure you, a pell-mell departure from Syria as quickly as possibly heading north toward Turkey. What this is very organized, very sequential. And at all times, also there is all pieces of equipment, all of those units, all contributing members of the joint team will be protected in a three-dimensional kind of bubble as they go. You are going to have air support, you will have communications, commanding control, visibility. So everybody can track where everybody is, but I can guarantee you that you force protection, ensure that everybody who is there now can get out of thee safely is mission number one.
WHITFIELD: So which way is the exit, though?
MARKS: I would imagine it is going north. There will be some area where you can do some vertical departure.
WHITFIELD: Into Turkish military forces who are carrying this incursion?
MARKS: Exactly, correct. You're going to have to deconflict. Most of that is going to be to the east as the map indicates and where the United States is going to depart is going to go through Turkish lines. So you are going to have to do deconfliction of all of that to ensure the U.S. can then get into Turkey and departs strategically back to the States or wherever their home base is.
WHITFIELD: Do you see real risk in doing that?
MARKS: Of course, all the time. The good news is Turkey is an ally. Regardless of what we think, Turkish is an ally. We have routine training exercises. We routinely work with the Turks. So those coming control, what I would call the lowest levels of engagement, that sergeant to sergeant, the young office to young officer try both coordination takes place. That trust is now essential in order for this to be done appropriately.
WHITFIELD: So have a listen to the President defending his reason for this U.S. troop pullout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Kurds are intending to leave and that's good. Let them have their borders. But I don't think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years, guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can't guard our own borders at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:10:11] WHITFIELD: What do you think of his argument?
MARKS: Yes. I would not draw that comparison. That's, you know, between our border protection of the United States and border protection of an international kind of engagement based on our relationships with allies. That's a comparison I wouldn't draw.
What I would say is the Kurds have been looking for some sort of independence forever basically. At least post World War I has put them in this predicament --
WHITFIELD: But they were always counting, though, on the promise of being made by the U.S. for this kind of reinforcement and protection along the way?
MARKS: Sure. Sure, absolutely. Again, let's be frank. This was a negotiated transaction. There is a contract where there was a confluence of interest between what the Kurds are trying to achieve and what the United States is trying to achieve visa-a-vis ISIS.
The biggest issue, Fred, right now -- I mean, you can put -- there are really kind of three things here. You have the face of the Kurds. That is a tragedy. We all understand that. The second thing is our relationship with Turkey and NATO and has been described by Barbara and secretary of defense Esper, you have Russian and Syrian force moving toward what could be engage Turkish forces. If Turkey is engage by that force, the United States has an obligation to come to the aid of Turkey, we have not been in a fighting engagement with the Russians of the Soviets. Is this the time and a place where we need to do that. And then the third thing obviously is ISIS and the release of prisoners, that again, an existential threat that we have describe in great detail that exist. And I would imagine that they will have an ability to pull us. That vitriolic position comes with ISIS, I would imagine that that is going to be a bigtime problem going forward. And Europe is going to have to deal because that is the natural direction for them to go as well.
WHITFIELD: Yes. The reaction is very mix. We heard from Republican lawmaker Kissinger earlier who called this really depressing for him, one who served. And then also got into politics to see U.S. abandon, he says, is very disheartening. So lots of varied reactions this afternoon.
Spider Marks, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
MARKS: Sure. Thanks, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, President Trump is defending his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani ahead of a huge week of hearings and deadlines on Capitol Hill.
And crews are desperately searching for a construction worker still missing after a building collapsed in New Orleans, killing two people. We will go live to the scene.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:16:25] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back in the impeachment battle. President Trump is sending a message through a meal. A source says Trump lunched with Rudy Giuliani Saturday at the Trump golf resort in Virginia where the President was also seen golfing today. It's an apparent sign of solidarity with the president's embattled personal attorney. The former mayor of New York is reportedly a target of federal probe over his dealings with Ukraine.
But in the last 36 hours, the President has been on a po-Giuliani push twitting phrase for the legendary crime buster as he calls him.
And here was the President on a call with FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He's a great gentleman, he was a great mayor, one of the greatest, maybe the greatest mayor in the history of New York. He was a fantastic prosecutor. I know nothing about him being under investigation. Somebody said, I heard a report today. I can't imagine it. He's a man that looks for corruption, and whatever he does, I really believe he's a totally -- I mean, I know he's an honorable man. I stand behind Rudy Giuliani, absolutely. Again, he was a crime fighter from day one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The show of support comes as the President faces a major week in the impeachment probe, with all eyes on Thursday when his ambassador to the European Union will testify under subpoena. Texts show Gordon Sondland played a key role in Trump's investigating the Bidens.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House for us.
So Jeremy, the President is talking about, you know, personally going after top Democratic leaders over this impeachment inquiry. To what extent?
JEREMEY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, he certainly is. And this is just a continuation, of course, of the President's attacks that we have seen him level against House Democrats for pursuing this impeachment inquiry. Over the last few days, he has called it unconstitutional B.S. inquiry. And now the President is threatening legal action against the two leaders of this impeachment inquiry, the House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff and House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I actually told my lawyer, sue him anyway. He has immunity but they can't get immunity for that. I said, shoot them, anyway. Even if we lose, the American public will understand. And sue Nancy Pelosi. Or maybe we should just impeach them.
(END VIDEO CLIP) DIAMOND: And now I spoke with the President's attorney, Jay Sekulow, yesterday and asked him if this is indeed, true. He said he confirmed that they are considering legal action but said they are only in the research stages. We should note, of course, that the president has repeatedly floated lawsuits against some of his critics, only to not follow through subsequently.
But what's clear in the President's attacks here is that he is increasingly concerned by this impeachment inquiry which, again, is moving at a very fast pace.
Just next week, in addition to those interviews that you already outlined, Fredricka, there are document request deadlines that are coming in for key members of the President's administration, vice president Mike Pence, defense secretary Mark Esper and OMB director Russ Vout on Tuesday are expected submit documents as well as the secretary of energy and the chief of staff by Friday.
So a busy week and clearly, Fredricka, the president's rhetorical attacks against the Democratic leaders running this impeachment inquiry, this is certainly not slowing them down.
WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Diamond, you better believe it. Thank you so much. Appreciate that.
All right. Let's focus on the star witness now expected to go before the house on Thursday. A U.S. ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, he donated a million dollars to Trump's inauguration, and he is now the ambassador to the U.N. -- to the EU, and he will be testifying despite the White House and state department ordering him not to last week.
And now the "Washington Post" reports Sondland plans to tell Congress it was President Trump who directed Sondland to deny any quid pro quo of any kind when another U.S. diplomat questioned the pressure the Trump administration was putting on Ukraine. The Post is also Sondland is expected to testify that he does not know if Trump was telling the truth at the time.
Joining us right now Sahil Kapur, political reporter for "Bloomberg" and Daniel Lippman, White House reporter for "Politico." Good to see you both.
So Sahil, if Sondland testify that it was the President that directed him to say, you know, no quid pro quos of any kind, how would that impact this inquiry?
[14:20:55] SAHIL KAPUR, POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Well, it would be a significant thing. I suspect House Democrats would look at that and talk about that as an evidence of potential cover-up. They have the transgression which they believe is an impeachment -- an impeachable offense of the President. And if Gordon Sondland says that he was told to say no quid pro quo, and if again, there are a number of ifs in Democrat (INAUDIBLE) that he believe that there was something on that going on, that could be powerful in a court of public opinion and in a potential Senate impeachment trial. Because again, if you have the transgression and you have a cover-up, that can convince a lot of people that the President believe at some level that he was doing something wrong.
WHITFIELD: Daniel, you know, let's look at Sondland's expected testimony that he didn't know if the President was in fact telling the truth, you know, when he made that comment, does it sound like even Sondland didn't believe there was, you know, no quid pro quo?
DANIEL LIPPMAN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. For Sondland to potentially say that in a few days, that is significant because, you know, he has been all in with Trump for the last couple years, which is ironic because he was actually critical of Trump during the primaries and during the "Access Hollywood" tapes. And so for him to kind of go off the reservation and say, I didn't know what to believe from the White House, but I still pass this along without doing any due diligence, that is pretty interesting and that could Democrats are going to definitely use that and say, hey look, Trump's owned political appointee doesn't even believe him on this, doesn't disbelieve him. But still not someone who is showing that much loyalty to Trump right now.
WHITFIELD: And all of this, while you have the backdrop of, you know, the President's U.S. troops pull out, you know, in northern Syria being and the defense secretary mark Esper being asked a number of question on this who said today about the Pentagon's cooperation in this impeachment inquiry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ESPER: We will do everything we can to cooperate with Congress. Just in the next week or two, my general council sent out a note that, as we typically do any situation to ensure documents are on obtained.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that a yes?
ESPER: That's a yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will comply?
ESPER: We will do everything we can to comply.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: We will do everything we can to comply. So you know, he later said on another network that he didn't know yet the restrictions on releasing any documents, Daniel. So if the White House to supply documents whether be from the pentagon or from anyone in state department, what would be the potential consequence here?
LIPPMAN: The potential consequence would be Democrats wouldn't be able to get exactly what they need from DOD to show what were the internal machinations about that military assistance. I don't think there's going to be huge smoking guns in terms of there is no email from the White House saying to the Pentagon, hey, until we get that buy-in dirt, we can't release the funds. But anyone who is involved in stopping these funds improperly, they will have some significant questions to answer. WHITFIELD: Sahil, you know, the president says, you know, he wants to
sue Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, maybe even impeach them. Fact check for us, is impeachment even a possibility for these members of Congress?
KAPUR: No, the constitution does not allow members of Congress to be impeached. There are separate prosthesis for that Congress could theoretically expel a member but not impeach them. And as for a lawsuit, the President can try to sue them but they are exercising their constitutional authority of oversight.
WHITFIELD: Exactly, as a co-equal branch of government.
KAPUR: As a co-equal branch of government that gets their authority from the same document that put President Trump in the White he lost the popular vote. It is a fascinating document. Now, he is also suggested in that clip you played that he is suing to raise attention to this issue. It sounds like he doesn't actually expect to win any such lawsuit if he does file it, but he uses it as a kind of political tool to get supporters mobilize against this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sahil and Daniel, we are going o talk some more. Thank you very much.
In this week of "Staying Well," diet and exercise aren't the only things that work when you Are trying to lose weight.
[14:25:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During hypnotherapy, the person becomes highly focused and the brain becomes more receptive to ideas and suggestions from the therapist.
DR. MATTHEW SCHMITT, SLEEP MEDICINE, PIEDMONT HEALTHCARE: Hypno- cognitive (ph) behavioral therapy helps people understand in a conscious way your feelings, your emotions, and the habits you have behind the behavior. Studies in the past showing that people who did combined therapies using both hypnotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy instead of just one alone, did achieve more weight loss.
SANDY AMES, HYPNOTHERAPIST: If somebody comes in and says, I want to lose weight, I will first work with their doctor. I need to know for sure that we are not working with any kind of medical issue.
SCHMITT: Every program begins with the smart diet and exercise programs. I'm definitely seeking our guidance from professionals. But adding hypnotherapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy, I think it helps reinforce us to make appropriate diet choices. There's very little down sides when you talk about hypnotherapy. People with psychiatric disorders could have unwanted or untoward effects from some of these therapies, unexpected perhaps reaction.
TERESA ECKERT, HYPNOTHERAPIST CLIENT: Down. Deeper down. Hypnotherapy helps me remember all the point s that I need to remember. Definitely (INAUDIBLE). I have more confidence. This is good all around. (END VIDEOTAPE)
[14:30:33] WHITFIELD: All right. Right now, rescue workers are scrambling to find a construction worker trapped beneath rubble and debris after a hotel that was under construction collapsed in New Orleans yesterday. Authorities say two people died and at least 30 others were injured.
CNN's Rosa Flores joins me now from New Orleans.
So Rosa, rescue cranes were brought in to stabilize the believe, but we are also learning now there are engineers traveling from Europe to help out. This is a huge undertaking.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is. And what all that means, Fred, is that it's going to take hours for these cranes to be assembled and for the building to be stabilized. And hours before these search and teams rescue can get to the missing and to the dead.
Take a look over my shoulder. Let me show you the scene here. Beyond these barricades, you will see the pile of debris. And it is hard to see from this angle, but beyond that is one of these cranes that is being assembled.
Here's what we know from local authorities. The calls came in to dispatcher about 9:12 yesterday about a partial building collapse , the Hard Rock Hotel in Downtown, New Orleans. When members of the New Orleans fire department arrived, they found that the frame of the building was stable but that overall, the building was unsupported which created a very dangerous situation. That's why they issued a mandatory evacuation which impacted 100 residents that live in this area.
Now, if you take a look at the video of the collapse, this dramatic aerial footage, you will see that the upper floors flattened. Chunks of the concrete domino down almost cascade down creating a cloud of dust. People start running for their lives. Some of those workers, according to the builder, about 100 workers were at the site at the time of the collapse. Here is one of them had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't even explain. It was crazy, the sound. Watching guys go over the side like -- I don't know, man, it was crazy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: And as we take another live look, there are teams trying to assemble those two cranes that arrived overnight. They weigh 110 tons each and take at least three hours each to assemble. Now the cause of this collapse is under investigations. And authorities here say they don't know exact what will caused that collapse right now but Osha is on the scene -- Fred. WHITFIELD: My goodness.
All right, Rosa Flores, keep us posted. Appreciate that.
All right. Coming up, President Trump making his feelings known on the impeachment inquiry against him increasingly angry, unfiltered, uncensored. Is this the beginning of Trump's impeachment era campaign?
[14:37:32] WHITFIELD: All right. It seems like President Trump is trying to reenergize his base by using old tactics. First, Trump claim that the political establishment was rigging the 2016 election against him. And now a majority of the President's campaigns rallies and speeches seem to be aimed at discrediting the impeachment inquiry, all while unleashing an arsenal of uncensored and profanity-laced attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Hunter, you're a loser, and your father was never considered smart. He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama's ass.
Nancy Pelosi was on television the other day. She is either really stupid, OK, or she' has really lost it.
Adam Schiff. Adam, I have had you up to here, you and nervous Nancy. I used to think she loved the country. She hates the country, because she wouldn't be doing this to the country if she did.
They know they can't win on Election Day, so they are pursuing an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional, bullshit impeachment.
Adam Schiff made a statement. He has a very narrow neck, you remember? Pencil neck.
Dana, you would not be impressed with him physically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Back with me now to discuss, Daniel Lippman, "Politico" White House reporter and Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg political reporter. Good to see you back.
So Daniel, what does this behavior signal for Trump's 2020 reelection strategy?
LIPPMAN: They say he is going back to the old hits. This is what Trump voters want to hear, but this is not necessarily going to attract moderate and suburban voters who have been tired of the scandals and kind of the controversy coming out of his Washington. And for evangelicals and social conservatives, they have liked the policy wins they have gotten on judges and abortion, but they are also turned off by a president of the United States swearing on national television. Increasingly, that seems to be his tactic.
WHITFIELD: Sahil, I mean, the President has been crass before if you want to call it that, and it definitely seems like it's up a notch right now, maybe a reflection of his frustrations. But is there anything that you read into this that is different about his behavior?
[14:40:07] KAPUR: Not particularly. This is a lot of red meat designed to keep Republicans rallied up and immobilized. And it has been the centerpiece of President Trump's political strategy. It worked well enough for him during the Mueller investigation.
WHITFIELD: You see this as more of the same?
KAPUR: Essentially more of the same, yes. Now, the crucial thing to note here is that it won't save him from impeachment in the House because Democratic voters and independent voters have moved away from him. They increasingly support the impeachment inquiry. And if it comes to his reelection, that is not going to work either just win with Republicans. He is going to need independent. He won narrowly last time in 2016, by the way, and his polling numbers are upside down with them. So there are a group of voters outside his core base that he needs to win that I'm not sure that this strategy will work with.
WHITFIELD: All right. Daniel Lippman, Sahil Kapur, good to see you both. Thank you so much for sticking around. Appreciate it.
So on Capitol Hill this week, a flurry of testimony of three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry. The author of the book "impeachment, a citizen's guide" will join me to talk about it live next.
[14:45:14] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The battle lines are being drawn as the impeachment inquiry is expected to heat up this week when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill. And several key people are set to give testimony to three House committees leading the inquiry and multiple top Trump administration officials face deadlines to turn over documents this week.
Joining me right now, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein. He served as president Obama's regular czar and he is the author of the book "impeachment: a citizen's guide."
thank you so much for joining us. So far the method has been to stonewall, you know, not cooperate with the Democrats' subpoenas and search for documents. And now the president of the United States is threatening to sue Democrats, even try to impeach Schiff or even Pelosi. Are those viable options for the president?
CASS SUNSTEIN, AUTHOR, IMPEACHMENT, A CITIZEN'S GUIDE: Not really. So any White House wants to proceed very cautiously before turning documents over, so that's standard. But basically to say an impeachment inquiry, it's not even a proceeding at this stage. An inquiry is unconstitutional, and if you're not going to cooperate, that's extremely hard to defend. It's an affront to constitutional system of separation of powers. If it's an opening and start a negotiation that's trying to be reasonable, then it would be more defensible and maybe more constructive. This seems like a kind of hair on fire approach to something that's very grave.
WHITFIELD: I have heard many describe this inquiry phase is similar to like a grand jury phase before there are really charges, you know, imposed. This is kind of exploratory to see if it really, you know, reaches the level of any potential charges. Is that how you see it?
SUNSTEIN: That's fair. That's a fair analogy. And the right way to think about it is that because of the gravity of what we are in the midst of, to proceed with a degree of caution and to try to assemble the facts and get (INAUDIBLE) is a good first step for a White House to say, you know, we are not going to hand over something just because you want it. That's reasonable. To say that the whole thing is unconstitutional and to start using words that ordinarily don't belong on national television, that's really not a responsible way of taking care of this faithfully executed (INAUDIBLE).
WHITFIELD: So the Republicans, you know, have been struggling, you know, to come up with an impeachment strategy, for example, you know, refusing to answer whether there is anything wrong with asking a foreign country to interfering in U.S. elections. However, you know, following the arrest of clients of the President's personal attorney, now U.S. senator Lindsey Graham wants to call Rudy Giuliani to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee to give him an opportunity, he says, to discuss, you know, concerns about the Ukraine corruption.
Giuliani, you know, has been at the center of this scandal. He is a private citizen. Is there anything that would preclude Giuliani from testifying if requested by that committee?
SUNSTEIN: No. If he has subpoenaed, he has a legal obligation to testify. The President might want to --
WHITFIELD: Attorney-client privilege, he is representing the President?
SUNSTEIN: Well, it could get a little messy there, but attorney- client privilege in the context of potential criminal activity by the client, then it's not exactly clear what happens when it's investigation that has the "I" word in it by Congress. And it's not clear that attorney-client privilege would be a sufficient defense against testifying.
It would be fair for Mr. Giuliani to say, I'm going to be very reluctant to disclose internal conversations. And you will have to get at the heart for a reasonable basis for thinking criminality has occurred to be able to say that the privilege is waived.
WHITFIELD: This week five scheduled testimonies before House committees. In your view, you know, what is the importance of the pace being set during this inquiry process?
SUNSTEIN: There is a balance to be struck between proceeding expeditiously, which is fair to the American people in a way that suggests, you know, this is a serious matter and there is no delay (ph). And also to proceed in a way that is respectful of the constitutional order and the magnitude of what we are talking about. And I think right now, the House of Representatives has been responsible. That is it is using the word inquiry. And most people are saying we are trying to figure out what happened here. The quid pro quo issue foremost in mind because of the various concerns that have been expressed by those who think the impeachment inquiry is a good idea. The quid pro quo is definitely the most troublesome.
[14:50:02] WHITFIELD: Cass Sunstein, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.
SUNSTEIN: Thanks to you.
WHITFIELD: In just two days, 12 Democrats taking to the stage for the CNN "New York Times" Democratic presidential debate. Next, how the growing political storm in Washington could play a role in the face- off Tuesday night.
[14:53:47] WHITFIELD: OK. We are just two days away now from CNN/"New York Times" presidential debate. Twelve candidates will share the stage for the biggest presidential primary debate in history. The House impeachment inquiry into President Trump will likely loom large as the candidates face-off in the battle ground state of Ohio.
CNN's Abby Phillip is in Westerville, Ohio outside the debate hall at Otterbein University.
So Abby, how the dynamics change since the last debate?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite a bit, Fred. There have been so many different news cycle have been occurred since this last presidential debate. And also the dynamic at the top of this race seems to have shifted a bit.
Joe Biden, the former vice president, who has been for many, many months been the frontrunner of this race, seems to be getting quite a bit of competition from senator Elizabeth Warren, who in several national and state polls appears to have taken at least a little bit of a lead based on a sort of average look at all the polls that are out there.
And then on top of that, as you mentioned, this impeachment inquiry touches on the Democratic presidential candidate -- presidential primary. Joe Biden may very well face questions about the question surrounding his son Hunter Biden's business dealings overseas. Hunter Biden this morning announced that he was leaving the board of a Chinese company.
And then on top of that, there have been some major health challenges for Bernie Sanders, who has been in the top tier of this race all along but has be losing a little bit of momentum and just two weeks ago had a stroke. Bernie Sanders has been saying he is doing just fine. He is expected
to be on the debate stage on Tuesday, but I think we will expect to see between those top three candidates quite a lot of interaction between them, particularly as a lot of attention has shifted to Elizabeth Warren who has become a bit of a frontrunner.
But you are also going to see some of those other candidates who are further out on the edges of the stage trying to edge in there, trying to get some attention in not only a crowded stage but also a crowded news environment.
Impeachment certainly has taken a lot of oxygen out of this room, but I think the Democratic candidates all agree on one thing. They believe that these allegations against President Trump are very serious. Many of them have called for the President to be impeached. And I imagine you'll see many of those candidates focusing on that on the debate stage as well, Fred.
[14:51:10] WHITFIELD: OK. And then Abby, I know you were, you know, thinking about, you know, Bernie Sanders and what he's been through, but it was a heart attack that, you know, was made clear that is what he experienced, not necessarily a stroke. But I wondered, too --
WHITFIELD: Yes, in the democratic field, I wonder if there is almost like a commitment among the challengers to either, you know, not target him, you know, because of that, or perhaps if there is a more concerted effort to not even target Biden because, you know, they are trying to focus their attention on the nemesis, you know, being the president, unseating the President.
PHILLIP: I think that's right, Fred. Quite a few candidates have said that the attention shouldn't be focused on Joe Biden. But some of them have also said, including Elizabeth Warren, that they would not necessarily allow their vice president to have the appearance of some kind of conflict of interest like the one that might have existed between hunter Biden and Joe Biden.
So there are some inklings that some of the Democratic candidates are not comfortable with the arrangement. But many of them, and I would say most of them, have wanted to refocus the attention on the allegation against President Trump and less so on Joe Biden. But I do think this is going to be something that Joe Biden will probably have to answer for. And that several of the other candidate will have to answer for what they would do if they were president of the United States.
WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you so much. Appreciate it in Ohio.
And a reminder, you can watch the CNN/"New York Times" Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN. That is Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern.
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