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Former Deputy Secretary of State: Trump Damaging U.S. Diplomacy; Ft. Worth Police Kill Woman Playing Video Games with Nephew; Republicans Struggle to Defend Trump; Biden Takes on Trump with New Plan to "Restore" Government Ethics as He Shuts Down Questions about Son. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 14, 2019 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And Congress is back in session really for the first time since this all began. So 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."

That raised alarm bells, among other things, for our next guest, former deputy secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Bill Burns, who writes in "Foreign Affairs" this morning the following: "In my three and a half decades as a U.S. foreign service officer, proudly serving five presidents, 10 secretaries of state from both parties, I've never seen an attack on diplomacy as damaging to both the State Department as an institution, and our international influence as the one now under way."

Ambassador Burns is joining me now.

Thank you so much for being here, Ambassador.

You and I have talked president's version of diplomacy before but I have not seen you use such striking terms as before. You consider what's happening today as a new McCarthy-ism. You write in here that it "bears more than a passing resemblance to the McCarthy's playbook." What's happened that pushed you to call him out in this way?

WILLIAM BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE RUSSIA FEDERATION: Kate, first, it's great to be with you.

I'm not an alarmist. As a recovering diplomat, I know how hard these jobs are. But I'm deeply worried about the hollowing out of my old institution today and what it means for promoting American interests on a very competitive and complicated international landscape.

You look at the tangible measures, you know, the White House's efforts to cut the budget for diplomacy in the State Department severely. You look at the sidelining of career expertise, you know, of the 28 assistant secretary level positions in the State Department today, which are senior positions -- there's on one career officer holding such a position.

And you've had a huge drop in the number of young people to apply to the foreign service, something like a 40 percent drop in the last two or three years, after 20 years in which every year it rose.

And then there are the intangible factors. The president's contempt for career public servants and their expertise. You know, when he was asked a little more than a year ago whether he was concerned about the number, the record number of senior vacancies in the State Department and ambassadorships overseas, he said, no, not really because I'm the only one who matters.

That's diplomacy as an exercise in narcissism and not what I learned years ago as a young diplomat of presidents, like George H.W. Bush, or secretaries of state, like Jim Baker.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador, why does it smack of McCarthy-ism today?

BURNS: I think it's one of history's sad ironies that, Roy Cohn, who was the chief counsel to Senator McCarthy is the early 1950s, later became President Trump's lawyer and his counselor, as well.

If you will remember, in the early 1950s, long before my time as a diplomat, there was a savage attack on the State Department for alleged disloyalty. There were 81 career public servants forced out on totally specious grounds, unfounded attacks. People like our China experts at this time, in the '50s, were forced out. And that blinded American policy on China for some time.

So you see more than a passing resemblance to those same kinds of tactics, that same kind of contempt for career expertise that we saw in the 1950s. That took a real toll then and it's taking a toll now.

BOLDUAN: I wonder, what is your prescription then. If what is happening now is the new McCarthyism, what do you think should happen? Should folks be standing up and walking out of the State Department?

BURNS: Well, I have huge admiration for my colleagues who are continuing to try to serve and serve honorably. Colleagues like Ambassador Yovanovitch, as you mentioned earlier.

I think you need the State Department leadership that's willing to stand up for its people in the face of unfair and unfounded attacks. That would help. I think the Congress has a role to play here, as well.

I just hope that the wider American audience appreciates the significance of diplomacy. Because, at the moment, we are no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical block. It's a competitive world. So diplomacy, backed up by military and economic leverage, really ought to be the tool of first resort.

BOLDUAN: Can I ask you? This fits kind of into this as we're talking about what's happening in Syria. Not only do you have Turkey moving into the country, and faster than folks thought would happen, you have ISIS prisoners and sympathizers escaping capture. From your perspective, Ambassador, would this be happening had the

president not given a green light to Turkey?

BURNS: It certainly wouldn't be unfolding in this way, in my view. I don't underestimate for a moment the animosity between Erdogan and the Kurds. It would have been difficult to manage.

But I think what we're seeing unfolding is truly a betrayal. Not just a betrayal of partners who bled for us in the fight against ISIS. But it's a betrayal of common sense, too. It's hard to sustain a U.S. military presence in eastern Syria indefinitely but there's a smart way and a dumb way to try to manage this process. And I think we're employing the latter right now.

[11:35:17]

The only beneficiaries of this, so far, first, ISIS with hundreds and hundreds of detained ISIS fighters apparently now being released or escaping. The Russians, Iranians and the Assad regime are also beneficiaries as the Kurds are predictably driven in their direction.

And you also see a betrayal of process, you know, or anything resembling a coherent policy process. Not only the U.S. military and diplomats scrambling to keep up with the president's tweets, but you have our allies, who are kind of left adrift on this, and it's deepening their own doubts about American reliability.

BOLDUAN: Speaking of the president's tweets, adding to what has to be the chaos is the president, on Syria, weighs in on Twitter with misinformation. Just today, tweeting that the Kurds may be releasing some ISIS members, quote, unquote, "to get us involved," which does nothing to help the situation.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Does nothing to help the situation.

BURNS: It doesn't.

And it's part of a wider incoherence where, at the same time the president is talking about pulling out a thousand U.S. Special Operators or troops from northern Syria because he wants to reduce American military entanglement in the Middle East, and then sending 2,000 more U.S. military personnel to Saudi Arabia to deal with Iranian threats that were the predictable effect or result of the president pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal a little more than a year ago.

BOLDUAN: Ambassador Burns, thank you for being here.

BURNS: My pleasure, Kate. Thanks.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:41:37]

BOLDUAN: Here's what we know about what happened in Ft. Worth, Texas, this weekend. Police received a call from a concerned neighbor that a neighbor's door was open in the middle of the night. Police responded. Atatiana Jefferson was inside with her nephew and she was shot through a window by the responding officer.

Police there will be holding a press conference in a couple of hours. This morning, you can believe the community there's already demanding answers.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of pain in this community over how what should have been a simple welfare check ended with 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson shot and killed in her own bedroom as her 8-year-old nephew looked on.

This all began with a call from a concerned neighbor who was concerned because he saw the door to Jefferson's home open past 2:00 in the morning.

When police got there, police say that they parked near but not in front of the home. And body camera footage that the department released shows the officers making their way through the dark property with flashlights.

Then one of the officers approaches one of the windows, really quickly, gun drawn, yells, "Put your hands up." And literally, within seconds, fires a single fatal shot through that window leaving Jefferson dead. Again, in front of her 8-year-old nephew.

Now, police say that officer fired his weapon because he, quote, "was perceiving a threat." That officer is now under administrative leave as this investigation continues.

The family's attorney is calling for an independent investigation, saying the police department shouldn't be trusted to investigate one of their own.

As for the neighbor that made that initial call, he put it simply saying he's always been told when you see something, you say something. But, he said, in this case, he did say something and it led to a person losing their life.

So 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson killed in the bedroom of her own home within minutes of that initial call going through.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Omar, thank you so much. An important note. Ft. Worth police say the officer did not identify

himself or announce that he was a police officer before this shooting happened. Again, that press conference from the police will be happening in a couple of hours.

Coming up still for us, Republican lawmakers spent much of the recess, much of their time back in their districts dodging questions about whether it is appropriate for a president to ask a foreign government to help dig up dirt on a political rival. So what then will they say as they head back to Capitol Hill finally this week? We'll ask former Ohio governor, John Kasich. He's with me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:48:07]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): Donald Trump has been exactly covert about this. There's great integrity in his authenticity, which is something people in the heartland appreciate about him. So he has the discussions and wide open.

I think he talks, he thinks out loud, he expresses whatever is on his mind. And people can take that and twist it any way they want to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: That was North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer's response when Jake Tapper asked if it is appropriate for a politician to use his position in foreign policy to push a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

The fact that the president said it out loud seems to make it OK. That is now the latest defense from one of the president's most ardent supporters on Capitol Hill.

Joining me is former Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich. He's a CNN senior political commentator. And he's the author of a new book out this week, called, "It's Up to Us, 10 Little Ways We Can Bring About Big Change."

We're going to get to the book.

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: "Integrity in his authenticity." I have never heard -- wow. You have to be up late at night to figure that one out. How about having a little bit of couth? How about not being rude?

BOLDUAN: This is the latest defense that -- I mean, I was listing out this morning kind of like now if you say it out loud it's OK.

To your Republican colleagues, what do you say to them in this moment? With so many of them -- most of them --

(CROSSTALK) KASICH: I'll tell you. How would you feel if your kids were that way? No, I'm serous. You know, people say --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We have a timeout chair on the ready.

KASICH: I think most people would say, no, that's not the way to behave. You just don't go blurting something out. In terms of this phone call, that's outrageous.

Here's what's amazing to me, Kate. I was in politics a long time. I understand the push and the pull. But why wouldn't they say the call was wrong? I mean, I don't --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Stop reading my mind.

[11:50:00]

Where is the line? Why isn't -- why have they not found a middle ground? I don't know if it's a middle ground. That it is wrong, it is not impeachable. I don't know why I haven't seen Republicans saying this.

KASICH: It's -- I don't understand it. Because it's simple to say this was wrong. Period. You didn't say, you should have an impeachment inquiry which, I think they should call for.

BOLDUAN: Right.

KASICH: You're not taking a position on impeachment. You're just saying, when a president of the United States calls a foreign leader and tries to get him to dig up dirt on their political opponent, it's just wrong. What do you have to do? You can't parse that. It's just wrong.

BOLDUAN: They apparently are trying.

Let me play one more -- this is probably the most awkward example of Republicans facing these questions.

KASICH: All right.

BOLDUAN: Here's Cory Gardner in Colorado last week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO): Look, we are going to have an investigation and it's a non-partisan investigation. (CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: It's an answer you get from a very serious investigation.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Would you be OK if it was a Democrat asking a foreign government --

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: -- a jump to a very partisan, partisan serious use of a tool in the Constitution. This is about an investigation taking place in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Where it should be.

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: But you're not answering the question. We want to hear from you.

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: You're a smart guy. You know --

(CROSSTALK)

GARDNER: This is about politics in the moment and that's why they're trying to do this now. The American people will have a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: He was asked seven times.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: It's the politics of survival. He's really at risk in his Senate race.

BOLDUAN: He really is.

KASICH: And John Hickenlooper will probably be his opponent and John doesn't stumble around like that. It's all about survival. He doesn't want to make his base mad.

And, you know, Kate --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Is that really survival though? I mean --

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: I think that's what he considers it.

Here's the thing. When you're in, you have to look back and say, how did I do when I was in. I mean, if you don't have a good answer to that, what were you doing there? I would like to think people -- whether Republicans, Democrats,

Independents, it doesn't matter -- when you had your hands on the wheel and you were driving the car, did you drive it in the right direction? Did you sell out your principles because you thought you were going to get somewhere?

And I'm not trying to be wholly roller. All of us are hypocrites at times.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: This really gets to one of the central themes of your book, which, to me, this is like all of the conversations that you and I have camera and off.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: Yes.

BOLDUAN: We end up here, which is, all great big change starts from the bottom up. Where did the motivation for this come for in this moment?

KASICH: It didn't come from what's happening. Except for this. People are frustrated, like, I don't know what to do, I'm wringing my hands. What's going to happen with Trump? What is going to happen with Congress.

I'm like, wait a minute. It's like this one obit writer said in this book, if the secretary of state or your trash man went on vacation, who would you miss the most? Not the secretary of state. I want -- this is a manual for how people can have power, how they can be in charge of their lives, of how they can make a difference.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: Look, you're an Indiana girl. You understand that culture.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Yes, but I also read this and I thought, this is John Kasich giving up on Washington completely. Is that what this is?

KASICH: I know this. If people want change, it has to come from them to the top. The change is rarely going to come from the top to the bottom. Civil rights? People demanded it. Women's suffrage. Look how long it took. People demanded it. Ending the Vietnam War, people demanded it.

So the key to this book is live a life bigger than yourself. And it's a handbook for personal power. And there are so many stories that can give people hope as to what they can do in simple and little ways.

BOLDUAN: As you said when you were coming on, this book isn't about politics. It is in red, white and blue. And it's up to us. I'll say, this does sound like a very good campaign slogan. I'm just saying that.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: It's not, Kate. You know that. We've talked so many times about what really matters in this country. And people have certain gifts. They need to use them. They can find them.

You know, Martin Luther King said, if you can't do big things, do little things in a big way.

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: Kate, this takes our country back.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. It's great to see you. Thanks for being here. Thanks --

(CROSSTALK)

KASICH: It's so good to be on the set with you.

BOLDUAN: I know.

KASICH: You're the best.

BOLDUAN: Stop hiding from me.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Even though that's where you should be right now because -

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- John Kasich.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:58:05]

BOLDUAN: On the eve of the next Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden is stepping up his attacks, not against someone sharing that stage with him, but against Donald Trump. He just unveiled an ethics plan pledging that no future president will abuse the office again, he says.

It comes after Biden's son, Hunter, became the target of criticism from President Trump and Republicans over a seat that held on the board of a Chinese. We know where that all led to with those theories from Donald Trump.

Yesterday, Hunter Biden announced he'll be stepping down from that role. And the former vice president has ramped up efforts to shut down questions about his son's foreign business ties.

CNN's M.J. Lee is at the site of tomorrow's big debate.

M.J., what are you hearing from the Biden campaign right now?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know, there was a really significant announcement from Hunter Biden, first of all, that he is going to resign from the board of this company and, second, that he plans to do no foreign work if his father, Joe Biden, were to be elected president.

All of this coming as both Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, have faced accusations from critics, including President Trump. Though, we have been very clear that there has been no evidence of wrongdoing for both Joe Biden or Hunter Biden.

But in terms of what the Biden campaign is saying now, they are saying they were only aware of the fact this announcement would be coming the day before the announcement was made. And one adviser raised the question, they weren't really sure why it took weeks for Hunter Biden to make this kind of announcement.

We are certain this is going to be a topic that will continue to loom over the Biden campaign, because we just learned that Hunter Biden has sat down with ABC News for an interview. And the campaign also says that the decision on whether and when to speak out was Hunter Biden's alone.

And I will just quickly note that ahead of tomorrow's debate, of course it is a big moment not just for Joe Biden but for the two that are flanking him, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and for everybody else who may not be able to qualify for the November debate.

So a big moment, of course, tomorrow night -- Kate?

[12:00:06] BOLDUAN: Great point.

M.J., thank you so much.

And a programming not. A reminder, you can watch tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate right here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.