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Trump's Ex-Russia Adviser Testifying Now in Impeachment Inquiry; Ambassador Sondland Expected to Testify Thursday; GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz Kicked Out of Impeachment Inquiry Hearing; Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Be Called to Testify Due to Safety Issues; Growing Fear of ISIS Resurgence as Trump Order U.S. Troops Out of Northern Syria Abandoning Kurds; Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) Discusses Trump's Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Northern Syria, Fears of an ISIS Resurgence, Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 14, 2019 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks very much for being with me.

Right now, President Trump's former top Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, is on Capitol Hill. She's testifying behind closed doors, the latest witness in the impeachment inquiry, which kicks into a whole new gear this week as Congress returns from recess.

Here's what you need to know about Fiona Hill for today. She left her post on the president's National Security Council just before President Trump's July 25th call when he, of course, pressed the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rival, Joe Biden.

She is sure to face many questions about the president and the role of even Rudy Giuliani and U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

She is not the only key witness, though, going before Congress this week. House investigators plan to hear from Gordon Sondland on Thursday. That's at least for this very second. Let me check the Twitter feed in two minutes.

He is the ambassador to the European Union and his testimony was blocked by the White House last week, you'll remember.

According to the "Washington Post" though Sondland is expected to tell Congress that the president told him there was no quid pro quo in regard to Ukraine. But he's also expected to testify that he didn't know if the president was telling him the truth or not.

CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, on Capitol Hill following this.

Manu, what are you hearing about what's expected lawmakers want to hear from Fiona Hill and everything playing out this week?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fiona Hill was served a subpoena from Democrats demanding to know what happened in the run-up to the July phone call of President Trump and the Ukrainian President Zelensky.

What Democrats are trying to do as part of this investigation is look at what happened in the run-up to the call, during the call, and what happened in the efforts to allegedly cover it up.

She has since left the administration in August and some of the aftermath she may not be as intimately aware of. But we are told by sources familiar with the matter that she is not particularly aware of the efforts that had been discussed and the aftermath of that phone call.

But nevertheless, there will be a number of questions for her about her concerns that she may have had about the removal of the Ukrainian ambassador who testified last week, what happened in there. What happened also with Rudy Giuliani and carrying out this effort to urge the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.

This hearing this morning, Kate, got off to a bit of a slow start after one Republican member, who's not on the three committees, showed up to ask questions. That's Matt Gaetz, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Three other committees are leading the inquiry at the moment.

And we're told, from Mr. Gaetz, that is he was actually kicked out of this closed-door hearing because Democrats said he was not allowed to participate. They waited on a ruling from the House parliamentarian. And he was asked to leave. And he came out and spoke to us moments ago, criticizing the process, calling it a sham process.

So already we're hearing, without the testimony taking place, some partisanship on both sides. Democrats saying the Republicans have just simply -- just theatrics for them. Republicans criticizing the process.

But this is part of a busy week as Democrats press forward on this impeachment probe. And deadlines for a range of documents, including for Rudy Giuliani to turn over documents that he was subpoenaed for this by Democrats related to what he did to Ukraine.

And also that big testimony on Thursday with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, what he knew about efforts by the president to withhold military aid, how that was connected to what he asked for on the Bidens.

And so all this, Democrats hope to get information in the coming weeks. And coming this week, to make a decision about how quickly to move, to whether or not impeach this president in the weeks ahead -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Manu, can we pull back the curtain for a brief millisecond on this? Matt Gaetz, to appear and ask questions, isn't that something that staff-level conversations beforehand could have been hammered out if he wanted to request to be part of the hearing rather than just show up?

RAJU: Perhaps. And he clearly wanted to make a point on what Republicans have been --

BOLDUAN: Of course! Of course.

RAJU: -- saying this is all -- this is all, in their view, and Matt Gaetz saying -- calling this a kangaroo court. So he expected probably to get kicked out and then to make his points as he did moments ago -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nothing if not exciting. I guess that's what we'll call it today. Thanks, bud. Great to see you.

A lot to come and you can expect Fiona Hill she'll be facing questions for hours as we have seen with the other witnesses.

Thanks, man.

Joining me now, Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for "the New Yorker," and Kim Wehle, a former federal prosecutor and associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation. She's also the author of "How to Read the Constitution and Why."

Something I think we all need to be doing right now, Kim. Thank you so much.


Susan, let us begin with Fiona Hill. What do you think she can offer here in the midst of this impeachment inquiry, kind of where they are right now?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, she is the first witness who was working in the White House to testify as part of this impeachment inquiry. She obviously held a significant position.

She was not actually still there during the July 25th phone call. She left the White House on the 19th but is deeply familiar with the event that is led up to it.

And a source familiar with the testimony's told "The Times" that she is preparing to testify extensively about the firing of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, which was something done at Trump's own behest. Fiona and others were - professionals -- were deeply concerned about this.

She apparently relayed her concerns about this to John Bolton, then the national security adviser. Bolton has not yet been called by the committee but, obviously, would be a key potential witness. He is reported to be -- to have objected to this, as well.

I think, in all, if you step back, it suggests there's a shadow foreign policy being undertaken by President Trump with regards to Ukraine involving Giuliani, involving another witness who's going to come later this week, the ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland. Why was he involved in the first place? That's never been clarified.


GLASSER: In previous administrations, Fiona would have been the key official in charge of our Russia policy. That was not the case, obviously, from the very beginning in this administration. She was there in Helsinki and may be asked about President Trump's attitude toward Vladimir Putin.

It will be very interesting as a test of potential executive privilege issues, as well, how much she is willing to testify about in terms of Trump, Russia and Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Really good point.

Kim, one thing that intrigues me so much about Fiona Hill is, the way it looks from the outsider, is she doesn't have any skin in the game here, per se. She is not mentioned in the original complaint, not on the text messages revealed we have seen so far. As Susan points out, she was not on that July 25th call. She had left by then.

From your perspective, does that make her more or less a compelling witness here?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION & AUTHOR: I think the thing to keep in mind with this investigation that's different from Whitewater, which I worked on and the following impeachment inquiry, is Congress has to do the spade work of prosecutors right now.

There's not someone handing a big binder of grand jury material, witness interviews, document material. That happened with Mueller. That happened with Ken Starr. Here, Congress is doing it methodically.

Calling the witness could be the stage setting for people in Congress or it could be because she's cooperating. We don't know the negotiations going on behind the scenes.

My guess is we will see articles of impeachment. But I hope that Congress takes the time that is needed to go through, step by step, the factual investigation.

Of course, the critical issue has to do with the president's role in all of this apparent wrongdoing because the wrongdoing is clearly on the table. What has to be made is the political case for or against the president being removed from office by virtue of his being behind this whole thing.

BOLDUAN: Kim, on that, let me ask you quickly, because you have also House Intel Chair Schiff saying now, over the weekend, that the whistleblower may not be called to testify, looking at that person's safety.

As you're well reminding everyone, an impeachment proceeding is not criminal. Impeachment is very, very different and very unique. With that in mind, do you think the whistleblower should and needs to testify? WEHLE: No, the whistleblower, under the statute, which has been

around for our government prior to the United States Constitution -- the concept of people inside government blowing the whistle on wrongdoing is foundational to our democracy. That person was essentially just passing the baton off to Congress.

It's really important Congress talk to people with firsthand knowledge. In this instance, you know, what is this witness's knowledge today about why the Ukrainian ambassador was basically sent home? Was that because she was interfering with this kind of side behind-the-channel diplomacy to basically start an investigation against a political opponent?

Very serious stuff for the broader structure of democracy.

BOLDUAN: Susan, kind of opposite of Fiona Hill, you have Gordon Sondland to testify, the E.U. ambassador. He's mentioned multiple times on the complaint. He's on the text messages. He's still in the administration. Just to list out some of the few reasons that they're very different and where they're coming from.

What do you think this means then that he's apparently going to be saying, according to the "Washington Post," that he was -- what was dictated to him and what he sent in that one text message that's gotten so much attention, came directly from the president and he can't necessarily say if he believes the president was telling the truth or not?


GLASSER: Yes. I mean, that "Post" story over the weekend was an eyebrow raising story. Why? Because it suggests that ambassador Sondland, though in the middle of the efforts directed from the White House and the Oval Office to essentially bypass our normal foreign policy machinery and insert himself apparently at the direction of the president in the Ukraine policy, he also seems to be wanting to preserve his own reputation, to protect himself.

Perhaps he's been advised to do so by a lawyer. There may be more facts that we are not aware of that look bad for him.

Anyway, if he does go ahead and testify, as the story suggests, it is quite an extraordinary thing. He's saying basically the president told me to say this, perhaps it was a cover-up, but I can't speak to the truth of what the president of the United States said.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

Susan, good to see you, as always.

Kim, thank you.

GLASSER: Thank you.

WEHLE: My pleasure. Thank you. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, as President Trump orders all U.S. troops out of the northern Syria, a retired four-star general says there's blood on the president's hand now. A live report from the Turkey/Syria border on what is happening as this is devolving very quickly.

Plus, a stark warning from a former top diplomat at the State Department. Why he says the United States is entering a new age of McCarthy-ism now.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: A nightmare scenario is playing out right now in northern Syria. The long-time U.S. ally on the ground, the Kurdish forces, are facing chaos and bloodshed from Turkey's military offensive.

And in a dangerous turn, the Kurds have now turned to Syria's Bashar al Assad for help. The same Assad that, as we have reported very recently last week, has brutally tortured and massacred thousands of his own people, the very same Assad regime that is backed by Russia.

This comes as President Trump ordered all U.S. troops out of northern Syria, a move widely condemned as abandoning a U.S. ally.

But the defense secretary defends the order this way.


MARK ESPER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Now what we're facing is U.S. forces in a -- 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 servicemembers comes first to me.


BOLDUAN: And for a president who promised to wipe out ISIS, there's now this. Growing fears of ISIS resurgence in the region after reports that the Turkish offensive has led to hundreds of ISIS fighters escaping capture in northern Syria.

CNN international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, joins me now.

Nick, you just came out Syria. You saw the fighting up close. Describe what's happening.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the key thing to understand is how fast this is moving. So 24, 30 hours ago, we were on a simple drive to the town of Kabani where U.S. troops are station. But the road was cut by Syrian rebels backed by Turkey and even by the Turkish military, expediting it seems the U.S. withdrawal as the situation on the ground descended incredibly fast. U.S. officials saying they regard the Syrian rebels fighting with

Turkey as extremists, former al Qaeda, former ISIS. Some of them wearing uniforms of the Syrian Kurds.

Things fell apart incredibly quickly. A civilian convoy driving toward one of the Kurdish towns was hit by an Turkish airstrike. A lot of civilian lives have been lost.

But the key issue was exactly when the Syrian Kurds would announce who their new ally was since the U.S. effectively abandoned them. They did that last night by saying, as many expected, they'd get back in the bed with the Syrian regime.

The Syrian regime has moved incredibly quickly, too. And the reason we are here in northern Syria is they, who are very unfriendly to Western journalists at times, were moved across the ground very fast indeed.

They were in the town we were in 24 hours ago, moving, it seems, many said, towards the border here with Iraq, looking to grab as much territory as they could under the guise of the new political accommodation with the Syrian Kurds, who used to be American allies.

The Syrian Kurds terrified, desperately looking for somebody to protect them, given how they've lost American support here.

We're seeing a whole new chapter in Syria's civil war with Turkey backing Syrian rebels, some quite extremist, against the Syrian regime. America's former ally, the Syrian Kurds, with Russia's backing. And America nowhere in the picture at all, with ISIS breaking out of jails and seemingly on a pretty fast resurgence -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much for being there, as always. Be safe. We'll check back with you. Thank you so much.

Joining me for some important perspective is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, of California.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: The president is promising sanctions against Turkey over this. Lindsay Graham said he's never seen -- he said this morning, so much bipartisan support with regard to the sanctions he is working on. Where are you on this in terms of sanctions?

GARAMENDI: We'll see what the sanctions are but it's not going to solve the problem. The problem has already created by the president giving Turkey a green light to invade Syria. And they took advantage of that green light and now we have this terrible problem.

[11:20:05] General Allen said it very well. The president has blood on his hands and it's going to be a lot of blood. Also, we'll see the black flag of ISIS reemerging in Syria and quite possibly in Iraq. It is a horrible situation unleashed because the president didn't have the guts, didn't have the courage to stand up to Erdogan for whatever reason that might be.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about the administration defense on this. But really quickly, as a member, senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, the withdrawal of U.S. troops, did you all get a heads up?

GARAMENDI: No. No, not at all. Nor did we have a heads up that the president had given the green light to Turkey to invade.

In fact, there was very serious and, by all accounts, successful and moving towards a successful negotiation with Turkey on establishing a safe, demilitarized zone along that border. Erdogan woke up one morning and said, I think I can roll the president. Got on the phone and, indeed, he did roll the president. And the president said, well, go ahead, invade if you must.

BOLDUAN: Let's ask you the explanation that -- it's the most recent from the defense secretary yesterday for moving troops out of Syria. Essentially, Esper saying they had no other option but to pull all troops back because Turkey was moving in no matter what. Do you agree they had no choice?

GARAMENDI: In that situation, that's probably correct. But you've got to step back four days and say, how did all of this begin. All of this began when President Trump gave Turkey the green light to invade.

And that then put our troops at risk. First the 50 that were right at the border, they retreated. And then, as this war developed, as the invasion from Turkey into Syria continued, it became apparent our troops were at risk. And unless we we're going to fight -- and that's obvious that we were not prepared to do so -- then retreat was necessary.

But the problem is we are not only retreating with 1,000 troops, we have essentially left Syria. We have left Syria to ISIS. We have left Syria to Russia, to Assad, to Turkey, and to the reemergence of the terrorist organizations in the area.

BOLDUAN: Does this guarantee reemergence of ISIS?

GARAMENDI: Just watch the television clips. It's going to happen. It will be a matter of days before you will see black flags in various parts of Syria.

Of equal concern is we're likely to see the same thing in Iraq. Now, I was in Iraq in March with a delegation.


GARAMENDI: We knew then that if we did not act quickly to create restoration, to bring about a solution to the economic and social crisis in the area, it would only be a matter of time before there would be a reemergence of ISIS. Now we'll see it.

BOLDUAN: ISIS is a huge concern in Afghanistan, as well, to be honest. ISIS moving in there.

I want to ask you -- of course, we are running out of time -- about the impeachment investigation into the president. There are multiple current and former officials to testify this week. One is E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland.

According to the "Washington Post," he is going to testify that this key text message exchange about a quid pro quo was directly dictated to him from President Trump and that Sondland is going to say he doesn't know if the president was telling him the truth or not.

What do you do with that, Congressman? What does that mean to the investigation?

GARAMENDI: I think what it means is a lot of information is being gathered that will clearly implicate President Trump putting together an extortion racket to try to extort, to strong-arm, to bully the new Ukraine president into doing the president's bidding. That is, to try to dig up dirt on the 2016 election.

What was that -- what was President Zelensky to do when the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, says, I'd like you to do a favor, though?

Well, here we go. We'll get that information. All of these depositions are to gather the data, to gather the data. And then from there, there will be hearings and there will be public testimony about exactly what happens. This is the process of gathering the details, understanding who said what, when. There's going to be a lot of data, a lot of texts, e-mails and testimony, all of that will come public in the days and weeks ahead.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you for coming in.

GARAMENDI: Thank you. Thanks, Kate.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, diplomatic malpractice. That's the warning from a top official at the State Department. Why he says President Trump is damaging U.S. foreign policy with what he calls "scorched earth" tactics. An important conversation coming up, next.


BOLDUAN: Right now, President Trump's former top Russia adviser is testifying behind closed doors with more top State Department officials slated to appear this week as the impeachment inquiry rolls on. And Congress is back in session really for the first time since this all began. Buckle up, is what I'm trying to say.


Last week, you'll remember the ousted ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, leveled some brutal criticism against the Trump administration, including that the State Department is being, quote, "attacked and hollowed out from within."