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Ex-Adviser Says Bolton Called Giuliani "A Hand Grenade"; WSJ: Giuliani Under Criminal Investigation for Ukraine Business Dealings; Hunter Biden Speaks Out on Ukraine/China Deals & Pushes Back on Trump Attacks; New Poll Shows Biden & Warren in Top Tier Ahead of Debate; Russia Fills Vacuum Left by U.S. in Northern Syria; Rep. Anthony Brown Discusses Russia in Syria, Military Officials Angered over Trump Abandoning Kurds, Trump Announcing Sanctions on Turkey, Impeachment Inquiry. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Does not look, at least from all view, that we have right now that that stopped Fiona Hill from saying anything. She was in there 10 hours testifying yesterday. George Kent in there now.

On top of all this, Carolina, you have the "Wall Street Journal" reporting that Rudy Giuliani is under criminal investigation by the southern district over his business dealings in Ukraine. And it's been -- and "the Wall Street Journal" is reporting this investigation has been going on since August. What does this mean for him?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL & WHITE-COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think, clearly, the way that southern district press conference went down with Jeffrey Berman standing up there saying and really drilling down on the fact this is an ongoing investigation, wink, wink, it seems obvious the southern district didn't want to have to make this investigation public. But --


BOLDUAN: Some of the reporting was one-way tickets. They had was forced.


POLISI: Yes. Their hand was forced. They had one-way tickets. They were at Dulles International Airport, one-way tickets to Vienna, exiting the country. They had no choice but to arrest them on American soil.

Now their cover is blown a little bit. Now they're getting back reporting saying they've been looking into Giuliani since August.

To be clear, as a criminal defense attorney, I have to say, he enjoys the presumption of innocence --

BOLDUAN: And he's denied wrongdoing. POLISI: -- and he's denied wrongdoing.

But, again, it's hard to resist putting two and two together when you look at, again, what we've heard on the Hill from Fiona Hill about the desire to remove Yovanovitch and also the close ties Giuliani had both in money and this rogue shadow policy political dealings he had. It's hard not to put two and two together.

BOLDUAN: Continue to say though, Giuliani denies wrongdoing in all this.

Great to see you guys. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, breaking his silence. Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, is hitting back against President Trump. Why he says he did nothing wrong. And what he has to say about the Trump family.



BOLDUAN: It is debate day in America once again. The CNN and "New York Times" Democratic presidential debate in great state of Ohio kicks off in hours. This is also a very different debate, though. For the first time, the specter of impeachment is hanging over it all.

And caught at the center of that is former Vice President Joe Biden as President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival over Biden's son's business deals in Ukraine.

This morning, Hunter Biden is speaking out for the first time. Speaking to ABC News, Hunter Biden says he is not hiding anything, and he did nothing wrong.


AMY ROBACH, ABC NEWS CO-ANCHOR, "20/20": Do you regret being on the board to begin with?

HUNTER BIDEN, SON OF JOE BIDEN: No, I don't regret being on the board. What I regret is not taking into account that there would be a Rudy Giuliani and a president of the United States that would be listening to this ridiculous conspiracy idea, which has, again, been completely debunked by everyone.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, CNN's Arlette Saenz, and senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, both in Ohio at the site of tonight's debate.

Arlette, this was a fascinating conversation with ABC's Amy Robach. What else did Hunter Biden say?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It really was, Kate. As Joe Biden is preparing for tonight's debate, it's his son, Hunter Biden, in the spotlight, giving his most in-depth comments on the business dealings in Ukraine and China, which have come under criticism and attack from President Trump.

Hunter Biden, in this interview, acknowledged that it was poor judgment to go ahead and sit on that Ukrainian natural gas companies board but that he did not do anything improper, that there was no ethical lapse in this.

That's something you heard his father say over and over again on the campaign trail, that there has been no evidence of wrongdoing on either of their parts.

Take a listen to what he told Amy Robach in that ABC News interview this morning.


BIDEN: I think it was poor judgment on my part. Is that I think there was poor judgment because I don't believe now, when I look back on it -- I know I did nothing wrong at all. However, was it poor judgment to be in the middle of something that is a swamp in many ways? Yes.

And so I take full responsibility for that. Did I do anything improper? No. And not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever.


SAENZ: And the Biden campaign is responding to that interview this morning. Deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, saying that Hunter Biden was responding to a smear campaign from the president.

And she said, quote, "Hunter was forceful and spoke with conviction calling out the illegal acts Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani carried out to exploit him and his father."

She goes on to say that "The reason that Trump is targeting Biden is because he fears facing him in a general election."

In just a few hours, Biden will be taking the stage here in Ohio where he could face more questions about his son's business dealings and the attacks from President Trump.


BOLDUAN: Looking forward to the not so distant future, the immediate future, Jeff, there's the question, where does this leave Joe Biden going into tonight's debate?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is something that is really playing out in real time. It's going to be something that the voters are ultimately going to have to judge what they think of Hunter Biden here.

If you think over the last three weeks, the Biden campaign has struggled their way through this. Initially, the former vice president pushed back against the president but defended his son.

This interview opens the door to more questions in many respects. Talking to some senior Democrats, they think it was probably a good idea for Hunter Biden to come out with this interview. But by sort of acknowledging a question in judgment, it does sort of raise question, has he done anything else.

It's clear that the Biden campaign wanted to move beyond this. They're trying to move beyond this.

And other Democratic rivals have been saying, look, we would not allow our children to serve on those boards if were elected. That that's something Joe Biden wants to get off his plate.

I would be surprised tonight if any Democratic rivals would go after this. We've seen what happens to Democratic candidates who tried to muddy up Joe Biden. It's not worked out well for them.

Again, in a long-term play, we don't know how this plays with voters, if it sounds too swampy or if it doesn't. We'll have to see in the months ahead how it plays out.

BOLDUAN: I totally hear you, Jeff.

It is one of those things of attacking a candidate's family. Because I have had one of the top diplomats at the time trying to get the prosecutor out of Ukraine, I have one of the top diplomats on my show who said that Joe Biden was on the up and up. Like it's indisputable that Joe Biden did not have any corrupt intent in pushing for the ouster of that prosecutor.

There's the clash of reality. And then what they would deal with, when it comes to family member of a candidate.

Arlette, something else new heading into this debate is we have a new Quinnipiac poll showing it is Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren very much in a league of their own in terms of the national poll. Never before have they owned the top tier alone ahead of a debate. What is that going to look like? Are you getting any inklings?

SAENZ: That's certainly going to be a new dynamic. It's one that Joe Biden has been dealing with the past few weeks, as you've seen Elizabeth Warren rising in the polls, and the two of them becoming the front runners in the Democratic field.

Last week, Joe Biden told a group of donors that he needs to be more aggressive in the debate. It's unclear if there's a certain target he has in mind.

But he did take a swipe at Warren saying "We are not electing a planner right now. We're trying to elect a president."

That being a reference for Warren who has talked about the plans she has for this country.

You're also going to see -- it's going to be interesting to watch, are other moderate candidates going to try to take on Warren? Are they going to try to present contrast with her. And also Bernie Sanders who has already started to present some of the differences between himself and Warren.

BOLDUAN: Jeff, something that you've been doing as you've been taking the temperature of folks in Ohio, the site of the debate, and something I'm super intrigued about is this question of, is Ohio the bellwether it once was. What are you hearing?

ZELENY: That's the question that's going to be asked for the next year or so. Right now, the reason it's important, Kate, is it depends who the party's nominee is.

We talked to several voters here and strategists and others, a couple dozen in all. The take is, yes, people in Ohio want Ohio to remain a swing state but they are still stung by President Trump's eight-point victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Of course, Barack Obama won twice as well.

I talked with Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from here in Ohio. He won in 2018 pretty strongly. And he has advice for Democratic candidates. He said this, and it's pretty striking when you think about the content of the debate tonight.

He said this about health care. Let's take a look. He said, "I think it's a terrible mistake if the Democratic nominee would publicly support Medicare-for-All."

That, of course, is directly addressed at Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Senator Brown has not supported Medicare-for-All. He believes that the Affordable Care Act should be expanded and pre- existing conditions should be protected.

That's the whole setting of the stage, if you will. If Democrats nominate someone too progressive will they be able to play here next year? We'll see -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Really interesting, guys.

It's great to see you. Thanks so much.

Don't forget everybody, tonight is debate night in America. I only say it because I get to. All the candidates for the first time on the debate stage. The most candidates on one stage at one time ever. And it's all happening right here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.


Coming up for us still, filling the void. A telling, terrifying sign on the ground in Syria. A major announcement coming from the Russian military. That's next.


[11:50:10] BOLDUAN: A startling sign of the vacuum that's already being left as U.S. troops are ordered to withdraw from northern Syria. Russia announced today that Russia military police units are now patrolling an area in northern Syria, an area that, until this week, the United States maintained two military bases.

When folks say things are changing on the ground there fast, make no mistake, this announcement is a striking signal of that.

This comes as a wide range of U.S. military officials are expressing to CNN frustration, anger and even betrayal over the Trump administration's refusal now to support Syrian Kurds.

Several of these officials, including some deployed to Syria, going as far as to say that they are livid at the U.S. troop pullout considering how long the Kurds have fought alongside American troops in the fight against ISIS.

In the face of intense backlash from even his own party, President Trump has now announced sanctions against Turkey for its military operations that started this all. That, of course, is after the president gave Turkey the green light by saying he's pulling U.S. troops aside.

But are these sanctions enough?

Joining me right now is Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown, of Maryland, the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thank you for being here.

REP. ANTHONY BROWN (D-MD): Nice being with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You are an Army veteran yourself. First and foremost, what do you think when you hear top-ranking military officers are expressing this level of frustration and dismay about orders coming from the president?

BROWN: Yes, we're all frustrated. And we saw it coming. We saw it as early as December of last year when President Trump announced that he was going to withdraw 2,000 troops from Syria. Secretary Mattis, combat veteran, a highly regarded military strategist, resigned.

We knew it was going to happen when the United States pulled forces out of northern Syria, that the only winners were going to be Russia, Iran and the barbaric Assad regime.

So it's very frustrating. And these sanctions, quite frankly, while we need to impose them, they may be too little too late.

BOLDUAN: And that's what I wanted to ask you about. Where are you on the sanctions? Is it enough?


BOLDUAN: What do you actually think it's going to do? BROWN: Look, we definitely need to take steps. The most important

thing right now is, operationally, we need to make sure that U.S. forces are protected, because the president has put them in a very dangerous position. They are literally between two warring forces, the Turkish Army and the Kurdish forces. So, operationally, that's my top priority.

More globally, strategically, we do need to impose sanctions. We need sanctions against Turkish leadership. We need to have an arms embargo. And we ought to go after their energy sector.

We're going to see a resolution this week on the floor that condemns the president's decision as well as Turkey, and we're also in conversations with the Senate on a bicameral, bipartisan sanctions bill.

BOLDUAN: But when things are moving quickly as they are, resolutions with little teeth to it, they mean very little in terms, you're talking about, the threat to U.S. personnel on the ground, the threats to allies, the Kurds. What does it mean to you that Russia is now patrolling these areas in northern Syria? Does this mean Russia and Assad are fully in charge?

BROWN: It certainly strengthens Russia's position in Syria. It strengthens Assad's position. He is barbaric. There are three million Syrian refugees in Turkey. There are 250,000 Syrians who are now fleeing northern Syria to the south. It creates a humanitarian crisis.

And this is a result of the president green-lighting Turkey's decision less than a week ago. Not only that, but it sets back the many years of our counterterrorist efforts. The United States working with our partners on the ground, the Kurdish forces, who lost over 10,000 of their fighters in the fight against ISIS, it sets them back.

And finally, let me say it really jeopardizes U.S. credibility for not only current but future allies we may have in this region and every other region around the world. We've lost credibility in the face of our global partners and allies.

BOLDUAN: And that really, honestly, folks, is no small thing. If people can't trust the word of the United States.

Let me ask you really quickly about impeachment. You've come out in support of removing the president from office. There are a lot of questions now for former national security adviser, John Bolton, after Fiona Hill's testimony yesterday.

Do you want to see him testify? If you were able to, with what you are now learning coming out, especially from Fiona Hill's testimony, what would you ask him, get him to answer?


BROWN: Look, what I would ask him is, to the extent, what did he advise the president in terms of our foreign policy towards Ukraine. I would want to know who was involved in influencing the president's decision, and certainly I would want to know what the president said to John Bolton.

I'm very concerned about Rudy Giuliani's involvement, last week's indictment of his two -- whether it's clients or associates -- demonstrates that the president was pursuing his own personal political agenda, digging up dirt on Vice President Joe Biden to advance his own 2020 election goals instead of pursuing U.S. foreign policy, which is to root out real corruption but also to support the Ukraine or Ukrainian government in their battle against Russia.

So these are some of the things I would want to know from John Bolton.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens. Every day is a different day on the Hill right now.

Congressman, thank you for coming in. I appreciate your time.

BROWN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back, folks.