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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Battleground Ohio; Syria Pullout Controversy; Joe Biden's Son Hunter To Give First T.V. Interview On Day Of Debate; Once A Toss-Up, Dems Fear Ohio Leaning Republican; Cop Who Shot And Killed Woman In Her Texas Home Resigns, May Face Charges. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 14, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:32:23]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Welcome back to our world lead.

President Trump defending his decision to suddenly pull all U.S. forces out of Northern Syria, as Turkey continues its massive offensive into the country.

The move by President Trump has pushed the Kurds, a staunch American ally, into the arms of the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran.

And, as CNN's Barbara Starr reports, it's prompted some to accuse the president of betrayal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Security in Northern Syria deteriorated within hours of President Trump's decision to pull nearly 1,000 U.S. troops out of the country.

Turkish forces advanced from the north and the Syrian regime moved in from the south.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We find ourselves is, we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies. And it's a very untenable situation.

STARR: The Pentagon now has to keep U.S. personnel safe long enough to move them out amid huge backlash against the president's decision, which is widely seen as abandoning Kurdish fighters that American troops have partnered with to fight ISIS, and effectively given Turkey a green light to invade.

"There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies," retired Four-Star Marine Corps General John Allen told Jake Tapper.

The administration insists the president's action was not a signal for Turkey to strike. But Trump has always wanted out of Syria, making multiple false statements to justify his decision.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have all these people that want to stay. They want to stay. And I don't want to stay. We were supposed to be in Syria for 30 days. We have now been there for 10 years.

STARR: At one point tweeting: "America's Kurdish allies may have deliberately let ISIS fighters go free, so the U.S. gets involved."

U.S. officials tell CNN that that there is no evidence that is true. The president is not tweeting about how his Syria decision is a move that now helps Russia, the Kurds cutting a deal with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Russia for protection. But it may give Moscow access to Kurdish oil fields.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The biggest winner is Vladimir Putin, no question about it.

STARR: And ISIS may be back, a U.S. defense official telling CNN nobody knows how many ISIS prisoners may have already escaped.

LEIGHTON: We have to expect that ISIS is going to try to show itself to be a very potent force.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:35:00]

STARR: And just a short time ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the president's strongest allies, of course, issued a blistering statement criticizing the decision, saying, in part: "Withdrawing American leadership from this pivotal region would not serve our nation's short-, medium-, or long-term interests. It would only make a troubling situation much worse" -- that from one of the president's closest allies in Congress -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

CNN Senior International Correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh just got back to Northern Iraq after being on the ground in Northern Syria.

Nick, tell us what you saw.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We saw really, everything changed in about 24 hours.

Quite startling how a simple drive to Kobani, where there are U.S. troops based, yesterday morning ended about six hours later with the announcement that the Americans were leaving wholesale, simply because what we saw there, a highway being cut off, as far as we understand, symptomatic of the broader isolation U.S. troops were facing and the collapse in security conditions.

Syrian rebels backed by Turkey, they moved in, they cut that highway off. It cut, basically, the west of Syrian Kurdish areas off from the east, civilians terrified, trying to work out where they could drive, where was safe.

And on that main highway, too, the Turkish military, who simply weren't supposed to be as far into that, into Syrian Kurdish territory, have turned up on the side of that highway sitting peacefully, but making it quite clear they were there to stay.

All about the changing territory there, moving so fast, people simply don't know where to run to some of the time. Now, we moved around, tried to stay out of harm's way, but the next morning, the Syrian regime started to move in.

They see an opportunity here, because the Syrian Kurds don't have their former ally of the United States and don't have the guns to resist the Turkish NATO member military with all its firepower and airpower and might and the pretty ruthless Syrian rebels they're using to do the fighting on the ground.

So, they have turned to the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime have taken a lot of towns that we were in. We had to leave because of the continued advance, it seemed, of the Syrian regime. Big winners here, Turkey certainly getting what it wants, and the Syrian regime and Russia moving in very fast too, and the United States nowhere to be seen -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Nick Paton Walsh in Northern Iraq, thank you so much.

And joining me now is retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Europe.

General, thank you so much for joining us.

The president is threatening sanctions, vowing to leave really a contingency force in the south, but nothing in the north. Is that going to be enough to preserve American interests in the region?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's going to be difficult, Brianna.

One of the things with the sanctions, even if they were in place today, they would take weeks, if not months, to take effects, to have a bite.

What you're already experiencing is something we call operational momentum. The attacks have started. The maneuver has occurred. There is killing going on. There are allegedly instances of horrible things happening.

KEILAR: War crimes.

HERTLING: War crimes, we could put it in that category, yes.

And besides that, we have lost the reputation with not only the Kurds, but with many of our allies in Europe. So, partner Kurds, who already have reason to believe that we don't always stand up for them, have certainly more reason to believe that today.

KEILAR: What about the potential resurgence of ISIS? Because there have been reports that prisoners have escaped.

HERTLING: Yes.

KEILAR: There were many, thousands and thousands of prisoners being watched by Kurds in the north.

HERTLING: Well, when you're talking about the resurgence of ISIS, anybody that's watched ISIS over the last several years, even as they were being defeated by the coalition forces in the area, will tell you that they had a tranche of money that they had already taken away from Iraq, estimates of $400 million-plus.

All they needed was the coherence and the fighters. All their leadership escaped. So what you have now is not only the potential for additional fighters to come back to the fold, but you have a victory.

ISIS is seeing this as a victory. And whenever you have that, you're going to have more opportunity for attacks.

KEILAR: I want to listen to what the defense secretary, Mark Esper, said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ESPER: 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 service members comes first to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Let's talk about the safety of service members. What are the long-term implications here for the safety of service members?

HERTLING: It's not only the fact that they have been placed between two attacking forces, potentially, the Syrians, the Russians, as well as the Turks.

But you're also talking about the trust that's been generated with partners. So we have had green-on-blue fires, blue-on-green fires. This is another instance where those who are our partners, who have come to believe in our forces on the ground for helping them do things, now don't trust us anymore.

[16:40:02]

They have seen orders being given, like disestablish your defensive positions. And, suddenly, because of that disestablishment of the positions, we have had our Kurd partners overrun by Turkish forces.

Those are the kind of things you just can't get back. A trust is gained in drops and lost in buckets. And we have just lost a whole lot of trust with any ally or partner.

KEILAR: General Hertling, thank you so much for your insight.

A key 2020 question: Is Ohio still a battleground state after Trump's 2016 victory?

[16:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: In our "2020 LEAD," Joe Biden's son Hunter is going to give his first interview since the Ukraine scandal broke just hours before the Democratic debate tomorrow. And the Biden campaign, Jeremy, tell CNN they knew about this but this was Hunter's decision, Hunter Biden's decision to do this. That said, how essential for Joe Biden is it that Hunter Biden get out there and speak for himself?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it's interesting because you've seen the Biden campaign try and not talk about it, try and kind of put it aside for a little bit for a little while. And now you're seeing them kind of go to a different strategy which is not only talk about it but try and turn the tables against Trump, right?

And that's what Vice President Biden did just yesterday when he came out with this plan talking about ethics in office and talking about how he wouldn't have any of his kids have an office in the White House, a clear reference to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the President's daughter and son-in-law.

How it's going to play tomorrow once there is this interview with Hunter Biden comes out I think has a lot to do with how Hunter Biden answers some of these questions. Either way, Trump campaign folks are fairly happy that this is going to be a point of discussion, right? This is what they've been trying to do.

They may have been falsely characterizing the extent to which there is any evidence of impropriety or corruption here, but they've managed to get it into the ethos and to have it be a part of the conversation. And so I think to have this interview happen on debate day, it makes it almost impossible not to address it at some point during this nationally televised debate where millions will be tuning in.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Not to mention the fact that the President has been tweeting out and asking his supporters, "where is Hunter?" You know that's been his thing. He wants to make t-shirts about it. And suddenly now Hunter Biden is going to be doing the interview and the President is going to say, well, there you go.

Like you know, obviously he was afraid or you know just -- he feels that he had some sort of direct impact to basically pull him from out of where he would -- he alleges was hiding to come and explain himself and that's how they're going to probably characterize it.

KEILAR: It's interesting Mary Katharine because the president's children clearly have conflicts here, right? And yet this -- the optics aren't great with Hunter Biden. But these are not equal things, right? You can't equate these two -- what we've seen with the conflicts with the Trump children, and yet this is the position that President Trump has Joe Biden in. It's a very tricky one.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, it is tricky because Biden and any Democrat who runs -- who has to run as a great contrast to Trump particularly in this way -- because Trump having basically no shame is just like yes, this is the thing that we do, but look at you, you're doing it, right?

Now, there's a reason that Biden doesn't want to talk about the story because it's not a good story. There is a conflict of interest with the Ukraine, part of it even though the most fever' swampy theories have been debunked.

And now they're going to have to talk about it because if there is one skill Trump has, it is keeping an attack line on an opponent alive. And he will continue to talk about it until they have to talk about it over and over and over again.

I'm not sure this is going to work out well. I've been surprised how weak the response was from the beginning on this.

KEILAR: There is no proof of wrongdoing, right, when it comes to Hunter Biden sitting on this board Burisma without having much experience in this industry for sure but the optics aren't good because -- of course it makes you wonder would he have this position -- would he have had this position if his father were not the vice president of the United States, and that's why it is so difficult.

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE: When you have to fall back on -- well, it's legal, it's not a great argument, right? And I -- but I do wish and I think people have been wanting a more forceful response from the Biden administration -- sorry -- the Biden campaign to push back and make it seem like that any one of the Democrats is able to really punch as hard as Trump is.

So going into this, Trump has had the ability to set the narrative which is what the President of the United States generally does. I think having Hunter out there will see not only what he says but it could be the definitive interview, and then allow for every candidate on that stage of which there are 12 to point out exactly the hypocrisy about what is nepotism in the White House right now versus the possibility of it with a different administration.

KEILAR: Will it put this to rest or will this keep the storyline going? That would be the nightmare --

HAQ: But this is -- this is the pivot then, right? If you look at with China trade talks going on this past week with Ivanka Trump having 11 trademarks just been given to her, $84 million that Jared Kushner made off of this administration.

KEILAR: A state once considered a presidential bellwether is increasingly leaning red with President Trump's 2016 victory so convincing. CNN's Jeff Zeleny examines if the Buckeye State is still a battleground or if it's Trump territory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: As Democratic presidential candidates descend on Ohio for their next debate tomorrow night, all eyes are on the state. But will they be a year from now?

NAN WHALEY, MAYOR OF DAYTON, OHIO: Why would you abdicate Ohio so quickly to Donald Trump?

[16:50:00]

ZELENY: Nan Whaley is the Democratic mayor of Dayton. She says voters should hold President Trump accountable for his trade policy, promises to restore manufacturing jobs and so far not acting on guns. A key issue here after a mass shooting killed nine people and injured 27.

WHALEY: I almost feel like Hillary's loss awakened a group of people that were not interested or willing to do the work of politics that are now completely fixated because they know what's at stake here in 2020.

ZELENY: She's talking about women like Stephanie Pyser, Tiffany Roberts, and Lisa Ludwig. Shell-shocked by Trump's victory, they formed a group in the Columbus suburbs called Positively Blue.

STEPHANIE PYSER, VOTER, OHIO: This neighborhood tends to be a little bit more Republican. And that was kind of the reason that we started positivity blue because we didn't have anybody to talk to.

ZELENY: They're motivated by a sense of obligation, and perhaps feelings of guilt.

LISA LUDWIG, VOTER, OHIO: Like I wish I would have been more involved prior to the 2016 election. Truthfully, I didn't think that that would be the outcome.

ZELENY: You didn't think Trump could win.

LUDWIG: Never. I like to think I'm pretty in tune but I never saw it coming.

ZELENY: Winning Ohio will be no small task for Democrats. While Barack Obama carried the state twice, Trump's eight-point victory over Hillary Clinton showed how deeply red Ohio can be. But the suburbs are changing. Here in Westerville, Mitt Romney beat Obama 53 to 45 percent in 2012, but four years later, Clinton 50 to 45 despite losing the state.

DAVID PEPPER. CHAIRMAN, OHIO DEMOCRATIC PARTY: There are areas of this state that only six and eight in ten years ago were reliably Republican, big population centers that are now blue. And that makes the starting point of the '20 election A lot closer from the get-go.

ZELENY: State Democratic Chairman David Pepper said the party should select a nominee who appeals to a broad cross-section of voters. The Trump reelection campaign in the Ohio Republican Party have been hard at work all year, investing heavily to avoid that. Their branding all Democratic candidates as too radical for Ohio.

JANE TIMKEN, CHAIRWOMAN, OHIO REPUBLICAN PARTY: Those messages I don't really resonate in Ohio and I don't think suburban voters are going to buy it.

ZELENY: But around kitchen tables like this, at least one thing has changed from 2016. The Trump presidency is motivating Democrats.

LUDWIG: I've talked to people who admitted they voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will not be doing so next time. So -- and they've always voted Republican.

ZELENY: Do you think that they're making a mistake by underestimating what is happening in your kitchen and in kitchens across Ohio?

LUDWIG: Oh, yes. Yes.

PYSER: But don't tell them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So there's little doubt that some of the most important battlegrounds in the general election campaign will be the suburbs here in Columbus all across Ohio, Brianna. There is a group Red, Wine, and Blue that's being founded to find these non-political women who want to be more active in the next campaign.

You can tell the Trump campaign is listening. Tomorrow afternoon right here in the suburbs of Columbus, the Trump campaign is coming to have an event of their own hours before that Democratic debate. Brianna?

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much. And do not miss the 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate hosted by CNN and "The New York Times." Tune in to see the 12 candidates face off live from Ohio. That is starting tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And we do have breaking news. Police now talking about the officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman who was in her own home.

[16:55:0]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Breaking news in our "NATIONAL LEAD." The police officer who shot and killed an African American woman in her own home just resigned. The victim's family wants him to face charges.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADARIUS CARR, BROTHER OF ATATIANA JEFFERSON: He murdered someone. He should be arrested.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Body camera footage shows the Fort Worth officer fired his gun two seconds after he shouted, put your hands up, show me your hands, and he never identified himself as a police officer killing 28- year-old Atatiana Jefferson.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is joining us now from Fort Worth. And Lucy, how is the police department explaining this? LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, amidst the grief and the

outrage within this community, the Fort Worth Police Department identifying that officer in question as Aaron Dean. He's been with the department since 2018. He was actually going to be fired this morning but resigned before he could be fully questioned. The Police Department now is promising to do better. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED KRAUS, INTERIM POLICE CHIEF, FORT WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT: Nobody looked at that video and said, there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately. I get it. We're trying to train our officers better. We're trying to shore up our policies and we're trying to ensure that they act and react the way that the citizens intend them to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAFANOV: Now the interim police chief says they have launched a criminal investigation. They've also reached out to the FBI about a potential civil rights investigation into the shooting. The question here of course, whether this is going to be enough. The shooting that took place at the house behind me is the ninth officer involved police shooting by the Fort Worth Police Department. Seven of those shootings were deadly.

The family is now calling for an independent investigation not just into that officer's conduct but into the conduct of the department itself. And Brianna, it is going to take a lot more for the folks in this community to feel safe again. Brianna?

KEILAR: Lucy, thank you for that report, Lucy Kafanov. And you can follow me on twitter @BRIKEILARCNN or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. And our coverage on CNN continues right now.