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Russia Fills Vacuum Left By U.S. In Northern Syria; LeBron James Criticized For Calling Rockets G.M. "Misinformed"; First Debate Since Impeachment Inquiry & Trump's Syria Move; Ronan Farrow Book: "National Enquirer" Shredded Trump Documents Held In Safe. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired October 15, 2019 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The exit of U.S. troops from northern Syria has left the door open for Russia just to walk right in.

We have CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, here with us.

Tell us where things stand right now. It's been very quickly moving over the last couple of days.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: A very dynamic situation. Let's look at the map and we can get a sense. This is the buffered area the Turks are trying to form. It's a couple of hundred miles long and about 20 miles deep. You can see they're predominantly located in areas which are border towns. Lots of highways crossing into Turkey here. So that's their focus.

Green represents where the Kurdish forces are predominant. You'll see red here. The Syrian army here.

We just got reports last night, Brianna, Syrian army forces have approached on the outskirts of Raqqa and Anisa (ph). This is where there's a detention camp of some potential ISIS family members are being held. So it will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple days.

KEILAR: There are Russian forces in the middle of this?

KIRBY: There are Russian forces supporting Bashar al Assad. Russian, they're a winner here. The Russians have had a longstanding physical footprint in Syria. In fact, it's their only geographic footprint in the Middle East. They don't want to let that go. And that's why they're backing Bashar Assad. They will come to his assistance as he tries to regain territory.

Here's a big winner here, too. In one fell swoop, without firing a shot, he's now regained about a third of his territory in the country of Syria since our Kurdish allies have asked him for support.

Turkey, of course, their focused on the Kurds alone. They consider almost all Kurdish forces to be terrorists. We don't believe that's the case.

But now, as the Kurds are going to be focusing on Turkey, it gives him more latitude to go in there and perhaps do it more violently.

KEILAR: And finally, ISIS.

KIRBY: ISIS. ISIS stands to gain here, too, because our Syrian Democratic Forces, which were aligned with us fighting ISIS, now they're not focusing on that. They want to focus on fighting the Turks. So they are leaving their positions south in the country, including around some of those detention camps where ISIS fighters are being guarded and moving to the fight against the Turkish forces.

And of course, Iran benefits. Iran has been primarily focused using Syria as a round bridge around the south and middle of the country to provide arms to Hezbollah.

So they're won't be involved in the direct fighting. And the administration will say they're still keeping tabs on this border town, Altop (ph). They're keeping U.S. forces there to prohibit or prevent Iran from moving those arms in. But any diminution, any decrease in American influence in Syria actually works to Iran's benefit.

KEILAR: Very interesting.

Thank you so much for breaking all of this down for us.

KIRBY: You bet.

KEILAR: John Kirby, we appreciate it.

LeBron James' stunning comments on the NBA Hong Kong controversy. What he said that is raising so many eyebrows.



KEILAR: Basketball superstar, LeBron James, is finally weighing in on the NBA/China dispute and, in some ways, he's reigniting. James, who is known for speaking out on social justice issues, is now criticizing Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, for his tweet supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

This now-deleted tweet has embroiled the league in a standoff with China for days, causing the league's Chinese partners to suspend ties. And the country's state broadcaster to halt all broadcasts of pre- season games.

James now says Morey was, quote, "misinformed."


LEBRON JAMES, NBA BASKETBALL STAR: I just think when you're misinformed or not educated about something, and I'm talking about the tweet itself, you never know what ramifications can happen. We all saw what that did. Not only did the fall happen in America, the people in Chinese as well. And sometimes you have to think through things that you say that may cause harm not only for yourself but for a majority of people.


KEILAR: Joining me now to discuss is the editor-in-chief for "The Athletic D.C.," David Aldridge.

Thank you so much for coming into the studio.


KEILAR: It's such an interesting story and has reignited this controversy.

I would like to say LeBron James tried to clarify his comments with a tweet. He said, quote, "Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I'm not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that."

OK, you dissect that for us. That's not exactly what he says.

DAVID ALDRIDGE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE ATHLETIC D.C.: I think he's walking it back just a little bit, right?


ALDRIDGE: I think people got caught up on a few words "mis-educated" and "misinformed." Nobody is more informed about China than Daryl Morey when it comes to NBA and people because of the Almay presence. Almay was the first-round pick of the Houston Rockets. They worked extensively with the Chinese government over the last 15 years.

KEILAR: Because the team is incredibly popular.

ALDRIDGE: Yes. They're the most popular team in China by four or five times. Daryl Morey knows China. But they got stuck on that.

When LeBron started talking about the economic impact of his tweet, I think that really rubbed some people the wrong way, because obviously the protestors in Hong Kong do not care about the economic impact of what is going on with this thing with the NBA and Lebron James when they're fighting for freedom.


I think some people got caught up in that. And I think LeBron was trying to thread the eye of a very, very small needle by trying to limit it to the impact of what Daryl Morey said rather than what Daryl Morey said in the subject of the tweet. I don't think most people will be nuanced about it.

KEILAR: And even that will not absolve him of criticism on this, right?

Right now, when you're looking at the big picture of where this is, the NBA versus China, what is your expectation about how this moves forward?

ALDRIDGE: I think we saw last week China starting to pull back just a little bit in its criticism of the NBA and about the Silver, the NBA's commissioner.

Look, I think the reality is the NBA is a multi-billion-dollar industry, like other multi-billion-dollar industries that do business in China, like all -- all the United States airlines, which don't refer to Taiwan now because China asked them not to as a separate country. Like Starbuck's with thousands of stores there. Like Apple that took the Hong Kong protest ad off its online store a couple weeks ago.

You have to make accommodations to deal with the Chinese government and the Chinese business structure. If you don't want to do that, they're not going to do business with you.

KEILAR: It strikes me, when you look at the players here, who have spoken -- Daryl Morey is an executive. LeBron James is the most important voice, the most important player. Could other players have gotten away with either -- with weighing in on either of these ways?

ALDRIDGE: I think this may be one of the things that angered LeBron James. Sort of the cause of his anger was that he felt like an executive was allowed to say things that maybe a player would not be allowed to say without ramifications, right? Whether he's right or wrong about that feeling, that was, I think, part of his feeling.

And, again, you can criticize LeBron James, and I think he was wrong to say what he said, because it's just so complex and nuanced that you have to be careful about what you are saying for it to make sense to people who aren't paying attention.

I also think, though, that there are a lot of people who don't like what LeBron James said about Black Lives Matter, who don't like what LeBron said about Trayvon Martin, who don't like what he said about some of the other incidents involving police and brutality, all of those other social issues in the United States, that now look at this as a convenient time to jump on LeBron James and make a point he's on the wrong side of this.

I don't know that they're especially motivated by the protestors in Hong Kong.

KEILAR: That's a good point.

David Aldridge, thank you so much with "The Athletic D.C.".

ALDRIDGE: Thank you. Appreciate you having me.

KEILAR: We appreciate you coming in. More on this explosive testimony coming from career diplomats that

paint a picture of a rogue operation involving the president and some of his men, including Rudy Giuliani, who is referred to as a, quote, "hand grenade."

Plus, tonight's Democratic debate on CNN. And these are live pictures for you here. This is the first since the impeachment inquiry, the chaos we've seen in Syria, it's the first since Bernie Sanders had a heart attack. We'll talk about what to expect.



KEILAR: As you can see at the bottom of your screen, it is debate day here on CNN. As the top 12 Democratic presidential candidates gather in Ohio for tonight's CNN/"New York Times" debate, it's important to remember just what happened since the last debate 33 days ago.

The formal impeachment inquiry launch. We saw the whistleblower report and a phone call transcript of the president's conversation with the Ukrainian president where he asked for an investigation of Joe Biden. There is the debunked Biden conspiracy theories. Elizabeth Warren, her rise in the polls. Bernie Sanders has had a heart attack since the last debate. Also, this military offensive by Turkey and the pullout of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

We have former New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, a CNN political commentator, here to discuss all of this from the debate site there in Westerville, Ohio.

Mayor, with all that's going on, do you expect these candidates to be focused on President Trump, about their own ideas, or taking issue with each other?

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the one thing they all agree on is that President Trump has abused the power of his office to divide America, to hurt the American people and to make us less safe.

Nothing could be more stark than him actually getting red-handed working with a foreign government to undermine the election process, which has caused now the impeachment process to move forward.

Of course, the stunning testimony in the last couple of days is going to be compelling to the American people. I think that's going to be important.

Not the least of which is his decision with Turkey to throw the Kurds under the bus, which has caused havoc in the Republican caucus on the Senate side. I think there will be some discussion about that tonight.

The candidates also have to stay focused on the bread-and-butter issues most Americans care about.

And of course they have to distinguish each other on the stage.

I expect it to be a really good night. It's a great and beautiful day for an argument. And the American people, I think, are excited about it and looking forward to it.


KEILAR: It's always a good day. Even if it's not a good day for an argument, it seems to happen in politics.


LANDRIEU: It's going to be beautiful.

KEILAR: It will be.

We heard from Hunter Biden this morning for the first time. He says it may not have been his best judgment to join the board of the Ukrainian energy company but he stressed he didn't do anything wrong. He said he didn't do anything improper.

Does Joe Biden deal with that tonight? How should he deal with that? And are other candidates going to make issue of it?

LANDRIEU: Well, if asked about it, he ought to deal with it forthrightly and say what everybody else has said, there's no evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong and that Hunter Biden didn't do anything wrong.

And then I would pivot and say, it's ironic we're talking about this given the president has his kids actually working in the White House. They made $80 million last year and they're doing business with a foreign government as we speak.

The issue is always: compared to who? If you compare it to Trump, you always come out looking better.


KEILAR: There's a lot of candidates on the stage who are hoping that they're going to make it to the next round. They're hoping they make enough of a splash they can fundraise and continue on campaigning. We've seen some of these, I guess, the lower-tiered candidates trying to make a name for themselves. Is there anyone in particular you have your eye on tonight?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, all of them have a serious challenge. There are going to be 12 people on that stage. I've been on the debate stage many, many times. It's hard enough to get a word in edgewise with only four people, much less 12.

The debate will be fairly long and they're three hours and, hopefully, each have a moment. But they do have to find a way to get past each other.

Elizabeth Warren, as everybody has seen, has been doing better in polls. Bernie Sanders had a health issue I think he's going to have to address. That will cause some people some concern.

But the lower-tier candidates, whether it's Tulsi Gabbard, Pete or Beto or Julian, they have to make themselves known tonight. And it's going to be interesting to see how they choose to do it, and when they pick the moment, what they choose to say, and whether or not it resonates with the public.

KEILAR: Because we never know what's it's going to be. We always come out of the debates saying, wow, that was some kind of moment there.

Mitch Landrieu --


KEILAR: Sorry?

LANDRIEU: We don't know what the moderators will ask or start with.


LANDRIEU: It could give anybody an opening. We'll see what happens.

KEILAR: We sure will.

Mitch Landrieu, thank you so much.

Again, the debate begins this evening at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

In his new book, Ronan Farrow makes explosive claims on just how far the "National Enquirer" and its parent company "American Media, Inc. went to protect Donald Trump before the 2016 election. In "Catch and Kill," Farrow writes about the tabloid's practice of buying and burying stories that could be embarrassing to Trump. And in an interview on CNN this morning, he says some of the very documents disappeared.


RONAN FARROW, JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: We also document multiple source documented accounts of a destruction of evidence before the election.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: They were shredded?

FARROW: There's an incident in the days before the 2016 election where we have employees saying that Dylan Howard, this senior AMI official, ordered documents to be removed from the safe and shredded.


KEILAR: CNN chief media correspondent and anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES" here on CNN, Brian Stelter, joins me for this.

Brian, the timing of that shredding is particularly interesting. BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because only a few

days before the 2016 presidential election. I think about a lot of things involving President Trump as iceberg, but we only know about the tip of the iceberg. There's more going on underneath the water.

In this case, the iceberg was melted, shredded by a document shredder, according to Ronan Farrow's book.

What was happening in early November 2016 was the "Wall Street Journal" was calling around about Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. "The Journal" was about to publish its first story about the hush money payments to keep the women silent because of their allegations involving President Trump.

According to Farrow's books, documents, unknown documents, which he says were Trump-related, were taken out of the "National Enquirer" safe and shredded right after the "The Journal" called, before "The Journal" story came out.

We all know the "National Enquirer" had collected dirt about Trump and kept it secret. Called "Catch and Kill," as Farrow's book is titled. To know it was shredded just before the presidential election makes you think differently about what happened before Election Day.

KEILAR: Any other details we should look for in the book?

STELTER: American Media denies that, denies this account. That's the parent company for "The Enquirer." They say this book is full of information that is unsubstantiated.

The company says, "While these stories may be dramatic, they are completely untrue."

But American Media in the past has lied to reporter. I want to put that out there.

And Dylan Howard's lawyer has declined to comment because he says he might be thinking about legal maneuvers in the future.

But Farrow has multiple sources for these details. And it is very notable, he says, documents were shredded right before Election Day.


KEILAR: He's a pretty good reporter.

Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

KEILAR: Rudy Giuliani telling Reuters he was paid half a million dollars by the firm of his indicted associate as career diplomats testify they became more alarmed by his rogue foreign policy operation.

Also breaking, another top State Department official is telling lawmakers the concerns about Giuliani began earlier than previously thought.