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Criticism Grows Over Trump's Syria Withdrawal; Rudy Giuliani Under Federal Probe; Pelosi: Trump Had "Meltdown" Over House Vote On Syria; Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is Interviewed About Trump's Syria Decision. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And after hearing the president speak today, a spokesperson for the Dunns said that they are extremely angry and feel taken advantage of.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The feds have been looking at Rudy Giuliani for months.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today, new details on the federal investigation into the president's lawyer and his dealings in Ukraine, looking into an alleged operation that could go all the way to the White House.

Shocking comments, even by President Trump's standards, calling his deadly decision to pull troops from Syria strategically brilliant, while trashing our former allies left behind.

Plus, welcome to front-runner status. Moderate Democrats gang up on Senator Elizabeth Warren, while the most troubling news for Joe Biden may have nothing to do with last night's debate.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with breaking news in our political lead today, shocking news that the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is investigating the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani, who himself used to be the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The probe deals with not only potential corruption, but also includes a counterintelligence investigation about whether Giuliani helped wealthy foreign figures attempt to influence the White House.

Joining me is CNN's Evan Perez and Sara Murray, who broke this story for CNN, and former federal prosecutor Kim Wehle, whose new book, "How to Read the Constitution -- and Why," is out now.

Evan, let me start with you.

The fact that there is a counterintelligence component to this, how significant is that?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is a big deal, because what this means is that this goes beyond just run-of-the-mill financial crimes, alleged financial crimes, possible corruption.

It means that there's a national security component, that there is a national security threat component to this investigation. And that's why FBI agents and prosecutors have been looking into whether or not Giuliani, either wittingly or unwittingly, was essentially being part -- being used as part of an influence operation, an influence operation that's targeting the Trump White House.

In other words, people overseas trying to figure out a way to use Rudy Giuliani and his close ties with the president in order to try to influence the way the U.S. does business, the way U.S. policy is carried out. And that's a big deal.

TAPPER: And, Sara, obviously, it was last week that these two figures connected to Giuliani, these two Soviet-born individuals who were helping guide him through this Ukrainian dirt-digging, they were indicted for campaign finance violations.

But the indictment didn't even mention Giuliani. What does that say to you about the potential scope of this investigation?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, and when they put this indictment out, it was relatively narrow. It was based on these campaign finance violations that had to deal with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

And they made clear, though, that this was an ongoing investigation. And I think now we're starting to get a glimpse of just how widespread that investigation could be. It was just yesterday, I think, that Rudy Giuliani said that he doesn't need a lawyer anymore.

I don't necessarily know that that is going to be correct for him over the longer term. I mean, what we are learning today is that it's very clear that investigators were looking into how Rudy Giuliani could potentially be playing into this entire scheme and, as Evan says, whether it was wittingly or unwittingly, and why he was in business with these two guys to begin with.

I mean, when you talk to people about these guys, they say these were really shady characters and, essentially, Rudy Giuliani should have known better.

TAPPER: And, Kim, how serious is it that there are counterintelligence investigators involved with this probe?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Yes, sure. As Evan mentioned, there's the criminal investigators on the one side

in the FBI, and then counterintelligence personnel. And the idea is to root out espionage, to root out essentially operating in this instance potentially on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

That's not consistent with what's best for American -- you know, American people. And to the extent to which President Trump was part of that, that's really scary stuff.

I think it's really important to keep in mind, in light of the impeachment hearing, now we're seeing the Justice Department kick in. That power of a grand jury subpoena overseen by a federal judge, we don't have these questions of, can Congress actually enforce these subpoenas?

We have professional prosecutors gathering the evidence, not just members of Congress, because, remember, in Whitewater, which I worked on, Ken Starr did all the investigation, handed it in one big binder, here you go, here are the facts.

And Congress has kind of been a bit hamstrung doing it on its own. Now it has the Justice Department behind it.

PEREZ: And one of the fascinating things about this, Jake, is that last month, when we got a briefing about the president's July phone call with the Ukrainian president, one of the things that we heard was -- from the Justice Department is that they had looked at campaign finance as an issue and that they had found no violation. Case closed.

Turns out the New York prosecutors and New York FBI was working on this separate case. And it appears to be a lot bigger, certainly involving the president's attorney, personal attorney.

And that's one of the things that main Justice, headquarters of the Justice Department, doesn't necessarily have tight reins on. We all know that the New York prosecutors kind of march to their own drumbeat.



PEREZ: And they do things sometimes that headquarters doesn't really like.

So we will see how this goes. There's a lot more here that is kind of out of control, frankly, from D.C. than people realize.

TAPPER: And let's remind people, Rudy Giuliani mentioned in the original Trump-Zelensky rough transcript by President Trump as the guy to talk to who -- quote -- "knows what's happening."

And Giuliani admitted to Chris Cuomo that he asked Ukrainian officials about Joe Biden.

Take a listen.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?


CUOMO: You just said you didn't.

GIULIANI: And you want to cover some ridiculous charge that I urged the Ukrainian government to investigate corruption. Well, I did, and I'm proud of it.


TAPPER: And let's walk through Giuliani's role.

Former Trump administration officials are accusing him of leading a shadow diplomacy, conducting foreign affairs in an unofficial capacity. He's a personal attorney for the president. He's mentioned in that phone call with the Ukrainian president.

He -- there are these guys that were arrested last week, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. And they donated to Congressman Pete Sessions, pushing him, Sessions, to fire that U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

He's like the center of this whole thing.

MURRAY: He is.

And he's really at the center of what was essentially a Ukrainian and/or Russian misinformation campaign that made its way all the way up to President Trump. And Rudy Giuliani was really at the heart of that.

He was one of the people -- and the president certainly embraced it and championed it as well, but he was one of the people in the president's ear saying that this ambassador seems to have a lot of problems, she's bad-mouthing you, she's not doing what you want. And, by the way, there's all this information out there about the Bidens. We should really be pressing them to investigate.

And Giuliani was going on his own trips to press Ukrainian officials for more information. Now, we don't have any indication that any of that information is true, that the Bidens did anything wrong, that this ambassador did anything wrong.

In fact, everyone that you talk to about it essentially says that this information can't be believed and the Ukrainian officials who are peddling it are liars.

And yet Giuliani ran his arms around this, he took it to the president, and the president fully embraced it. And it's hard to believe that that is not something that investigators are interested in. TAPPER: All right, thanks, one and all, for being here. Appreciate


A former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just finished answering questions in the impeachment inquiry. What he says caused him to abruptly quit his position at the State Department.

Then, President Trump treating the Oval Office like a game show, surprising a grieving family whose son was killed, in a move that the family describes as an ambush.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking right now at the White House, following a meeting between President Trump and congressional leaders.

Let's listen in.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): ... taken in Syria.

It calls upon the president to urge the Turks to exercise restraint, for us to have humanitarian assistance to the -- some of the Kurds' children are being killed there.

And very, very importantly, and most importantly, it asks for a clear plan on how we're going to fight ISIS.

I think that both, the sides of the vote, more than 2-1 of the Republicans voted to oppose what the president did, probably got to the president, because he was shaken up by it.

And that's why we couldn't continue in the meeting, because he was just not relating to the reality of it.

Again, we are proud of our men and women in uniform. Those who have been in Syria have conducted themselves in a way that makes us all very proud. And I conveyed that to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

We had some questions about ISIS. And I'm going to defer to the distinguished leader from New York -- well, from the Senate from New York, who focused on ISIS in the meeting.

Mr. Leader.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Yes, thank you, Speaker.

And thank you, Leader Hoyer.

I told the president that, being from New York, as he was, we're particularly aware of the problems, the terrorism that an organization like ISIS can create.

And the fact that someone no less than General Mattis has said that ISIS has been enhanced, that the danger of ISIS is so much greater worries all of us.

I asked the president what his plan was to contain ISIS. He didn't really have one. He said the Turks and the Syrians will guard the ISIS prisoners.

I said, is there any intelligence evidence that the Turks and the Syrians will have the same interest that the Kurds or we did in guarding ISIS?

And the secretary of defense was -- was -- thank God, he was honest. He said, we don't have that evidence.

And so I said, then, how can we think that this is a plan, when there are Syrians and Turks who are not our friends who ISIS, if they escape, does them very little harm, how can we let this happen? They didn't have any good answer.

This is appalling. The president had no plan, no real plan for containing ISIS, other than relying on the Syrians and the Turks. Then, why did we spend a decade, billions of dollars and lost lives in trying to curtail ISIS, if, on a phone call, on a whim, the president is going to undo all of that and turn this over to the Turks and the Syrians?

I would also say one other thing. He was insulting, particularly to the speaker. She kept her cool completely. But he called her a third-rate politician. He said that the -- there are communists involved, and you guys might like that.

I mean, this was not a dialogue. It was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe, not focused on the facts, particularly the fact of how to curtail ISIS, a terrorist organization that aims are hurt the United States in our homeland.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Just briefly, you're going to hear the president say we walked out. We were offended deeply by his treatment of the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The president, in my view, has created a crisis in the Middle East, a crisis that undermines the world's confidence in America.

This crisis required a rational, reasonable discussion between those of us who have been elected by the American people to set policy.

Unfortunately, the meeting deteriorated into a diatribe, as Leader Schumer has said, and a -- very offensive accusations being made by the president of the United States.

I have served with six presidents. I have been in many, many, many meetings like this. [16:15:02]

Never have I seen a president treat so disrespectfully a co-equal branch of the government of the United States.

I'll yield to the speaker and to the leader for questions.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I just want to say this other thing and that is I think the president was very shaken up by the fact that 350, was that 350 -- 354, I had to make sure I had the number correct, and that means the majority, a big majority of the Republicans voted.

HOYER: There are 194 Republicans, 60 voted against the resolution which said the president's decision was wrong and dangerous, and lacking in giving our allies comfidence that we would stick with them in time of trouble.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): And one point I want to make that I hadn't made a moment ago. So, Leader McConnell said he thought the president's decision was wrong. He said it in strong terms. I beseech Leader McConnell to put the same resolution that passed the house on the floor of the Senate.

It's a bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Senator Menendez a Democrat and the senator from Indiana, young, a Republican, and we urge Leader McConnell not just to condemn the president but put this resolution on the floor because the -- the safety of America, the safety of the Kurds are in the hands of one person, President Trump.

And the best way to pressure him is a strong bipartisan resolution such as passed the House to undo the damage he has done.


PELOSI: We witness on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say.

REPORTER: Speaker Pelosi --


PELOSI: No, it did not come up. Not at all. No, it did not come up. It did not come up.

REPORTER: When you called you a communist?

PELOSI: He didn't call us a communist. He said --

SCHUMER: He said -- let's clarify. He said the communists are --

HOYER: Some of the ISIS were communists --

SCHUMER: Some of ISIS were communists and you would be happy with that.

PELOSI: That might make you happy. SCHUMER: That might make you happy.

HOYER: And speaker said -- we walked out.

REPORTER: At that point?

PELOSI: No, later.

SCHUMER: When he started calling Speaker Pelosi a third rate politician.

PELOSI: Which I say, I wish you were a politician, Mr. President, and you would know the art of the possible --


REPORTER: (INAUDSIBLE) say behind what the Republicans say?

SCHUMER: Some of the members on both sides stayed behind and wanted questions. I waited a moment to ask him the question about intelligence reports on the Turks and Syrians guarding ISIS. Which I think is --

PELOSI: We also expressed our concern that we have been asking for a bipartisan -- all member, bipartisan, briefing to the House of Representatives on what is happening in Syria and was scheduled for tomorrow but they canceled it. So, that was part of our question. Why are you not briefing all of the members of Congress?

SCHUMER: Thank you, everybody.

TAPPER: You just heard House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, all talking about how they had walked out of a meeting with President Trump. Schumer called it a nasty diatribe by President Trump where he insulted House Speaker Pelosi as a third-rate politician. Speaker Pelosi said the president had a meltdown.

And this comes, we should note, Jeff Zeleny, right after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly, 354 to 60, with three voting present, voted to rebuke President Trump's decision to pull U.S. service members from the border of Turkey and Syria, from Northern Syria, that includes 129 Republicans, including all of the House Republican leadership voting to rebuke President Trump's decision. A pretty stunning diss by the House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It is stunning. Something that has really opened just a couple of times that I think during this administration, a small handful of times.

Look, I think that, you know, sums up the sentiment among Republicans across the spectrum -- eEvangelicals, moderate Republicans and others who believe that, a., they are not sure if the president has a strategy, and if he does, they are not believing it is the right one here. But this is something that the question is what happens in the Senate? As Senator Schumer was saying, there is Leader McConnell going to bring this up in the Senate or not.

But I can't remember a time, if we're thinking back 18 years since 9/11 there could be this type of discussion or this type of meltdown, politics aside here, about ISIS. It really is a little striking here that there's not seem to be cooler heads on any side here prevailing.

TAPPER: And we've heard some really strong language from one of the president's supporters in the Senate, Senator Lindsey Graham, saying that the president is going to have potentially blood on his hands if these prisoners -- these ISIS prisoners escape and kill people, including Americans.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know. It is incredible from a political perspective because we've seen Lindsey Graham align himself so closely with the president and now he's drawing daylight we're used to see him draw daylight on with past presidents when it comes to foreign policy.

But I think it's also highlighting, you know, a real concern here. I think people are sort of aghast by the images they've seen. I think they've seen what is playing out is exactly what they expected and fear would play out when the president has made the decisions that he has made here, and that's why I think you're seeing these kind of reactions.

You know, people like Lindsey Graham who were the ones were issuing stern warnings about removing U.S. troops in the first place and now they're saying reward you and it's only going to get worse.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about.

But you just heard from Democrats outside of the White House. We expect Republican congressional leaders to speak any moment. We'll bring that to you. We're going to sneak in this quick break.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Any moment, we expect Republican congressional leaders to come out of that door and speak outside of the White House after that meeting on Syria with the president as President Trump today dismisses the power vacuum that Russia seems ready to fill.

The power vacuum created when President Trump made the sudden decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, abandoning the U.S. ally fighting ISIS, the ally being the Kurds. It's a move that the president called strategically brilliant today. His former envoy in charge of fighting ISIS called it disastrous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our soldiers are not in harm's way, as they shouldn't be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. Syria may have some help with Russia and that's fine. It's a lot of sand. They've got a lot of sand over there.


TAPPER: I want to bring in Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He sides with the president on pulling U.S. troops from Northern Syria. He's also out with a brand-new book called "The Case Against Socialism."

Congratulations the book, Senator. We'll get to that in a second.

REP. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Thank you.

TAPPER: I do want to ask you about this. You might be President Trump's biggest supporter when it comes to withdraw U.S. service members from Northern Syria, what advice did you offer the president before he made this decision?

PAUL: He and I didn't talk one-on-one on it. This was his decision, but I agree completely that it was the best thing not only for our troops but it's also the way to adhere to the Constitution. The Constitution says you don't declare a war unless Congress votes on it, and who are we going to declare war against? Our ally Turkey? The Free Syrian Army that used to be our ally? Assad?

It's a sort of a messy situation, but he was told by the Turks that they were coming one way or another and they have 50 troops, 50 troops don't stop 10,000 troops. You don't got to war with 50 troops.

I think he made the right decision. I'm reminded of Beirut when we made the wrong decision had 300 marines in a barracks that weren't well protected. I think if 50 troops had been massacred in there, then we'd be in an enormous war. So, I think he made the right decision.

TAPPER: You really think that Erdogan would have sent the Turks across the border with U.S. service members. I mean, that's the only thing that kept them from attacking before.

PAUL: Well, no, I don't think so. I think what you found is in the early footage, you saw and I think you all showed some of this footage, that you saw the special operations teams having bombs still dropping very close to them --

TAPPER: Right.

PAUL: -- so they didn't seem to be deterred even though we still have soldiers in the region.

So I think it was strategically the best thing to do. But also here's the thing that may end up happening. This may be the best thing that ever happened to the Kurds, because they need a protector in Syria that's willing to stay. We had been preventing having them talk to Assad and now they made an alliance with Assad and the irony of this is, it may end up being the best thing that ever happened to them. If Assad and Erdogan can now have a truce and Assad will agree to patrol the Syrian side of this, there's a possibility that the Kurds could have an autonomous region similar to what they have in Iraq.

TAPPER: That seems like very wishful thinking, if you don't mind my saying.

PAUL: We'll see. We'll see, Jake. Nobody knows.

TAPPER: So, the president's former point man on ISIS said today, that, quote, U.S. personnel had been scrambling to evacuate positions surrounded by hostile Turkish backed oppositions forces. They're evacuating under duress and then bombing positions so nobody can seize them.

Do you have any concerns about -- forget the idea of withdrawing U.S. forces. We understand that you support. Do you understand about the way many people feel this was rash, it was sudden, it was not done in consultation with the Pentagon. It was not done in consultation with the State Department, with U.S. allies, and there are Kurds who are innocent civilians who have been killed by the Turks and the Turkish- backed militias.

PAUL: He said from the very beginning our goal was to wipe out ISIS and we did. Our goal was not to create a homeland for the Kurds.

TAPPER: By ISIS prisoners are getting free, the prisoner -- prisoners.

PAUL: Well, if you want to have a homeland for the Kurds, it might take a hundred thousand troops. That's not what we signed up for.


PAUL: That's not what we said we were for, and I'm not for putting that kind of troops into an area.

So, here's the irony. The left hated the Iraq war and hated George Bush for it. A Syrian war where we created a homeland for the Kurds would be just as messy as the Iraq War.

So I think the left needs to get over their hatred of President Trump and say, you know what, do we want another messy war in the Middle East? It used to be the left who was against war in the Middle East. What happened to the left?

TAPPER: But what -- what I'm asking about though is if there wasn't a better and more measured and more programmatic way to do this with planning as opposed to just like get them out right now?

PAUL: I guess I have never seen so much hyperventilating over moving 50 soldiers. Normally, the Lindsey Grahams of this world would say, Article 2 gives the president the authority to do whatever he wants and we don't -- [16:30:00]