Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Former Pompeo Aide Testifies On Capitol Hill; Interview With Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY); Former WH Admin Officials Paint Damning Pictures Of Ukraine Push; Trump's Letter To Erdogan "Don't Be A Tough Guy, Don't Be A Fool." Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): I have never seen so much hyperventilating over removing 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 question the president because he has latitude.

Now Lindsey Graham and all the war caucus are up in arms on both sides of the aisle, saying, oh, my goodness, President Trump moved 50 soldiers.

Well, he may will prevented them from being -- from dying in a massacre and drawing us into a big, huge war with five different parties in it.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It wasn't -- it's not just the -- we should just note, it's not just the war hawks, the way you describe Lindsey Graham.

There was just this major vote in the House in which it was overwhelmingly rebuking President Trump, including the majority of House Republicans.

PAUL: I would say that the majority of leadership on the Republican and the Democrat side are interventionists.

They are people who believe, for example...

TAPPER: Not just the leadership, the entire -- it's like -- it was like 360 to something.

PAUL: Oh, I know.

But here, I will give you an example. The president said, we should leave Afghanistan. Mitch McConnell and all the Republican leadership and the Democrat leadership voted to rebuke the president, saying it would be precipitous to leave after 19 years.

This is the prevailing swamp opinion. Republican and Democrats are unified in being in support of war, support of intervention, and support of never going home. TAPPER: Do you have any concern about the ISIS prisoners that we're

now told there is a great risk of them escaping?

PAUL: Right. Right.

TAPPER: And President Trump's response was, well, they're not going to come here. They're just going to go to Europe.

PAUL: Well, here -- here's my response.

Everybody says, well, the Kurds are going to use this, and they're going to release them on purpose now.

Why?

TAPPER: No, no. President Trump said that. I'm not saying that.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Why would -- no, why would the Kurds -- the Kurds live there.

The Kurds are the ones who have seen the way ISIS behaved. Why would the Kurds release these people? They're not going to release them.

TAPPER: I'm not saying they would purposely release them.

But do you not any concerns?

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: No, I do.

But I'm actually a little bit reassured with the alliance with Syria and with Assad that it will be less chaotic. And I predict...

TAPPER: Whose alliance with Assad?

PAUL: The Kurds allying with Assad.

TAPPER: The Kurds?

PAUL: My prediction is this -- and I may be wrong. Predictions are wrong.

But I think the Turks are going to slow their advance. And I think it's going to come to a standstill. And I predict that there actually will be a discussion between Erdogan and Assad.

And I think there's a possibility we can get the Turks to pull back within Turkey.

TAPPER: But last question. I mean, the Russians and Turkey and Assad could have done something about ISIS to begin with, and they didn't. And that's why the U.S. went in.

PAUL: But here's the thing, is, the U.S. has been preventing any kind of discussion, because it's been the policy of the war caucus to have Assad removed.

This is the John Bolton, this is the Lindsey Graham move. They believe in regime change. They want to get rid of Assad. And until Assad goes -- but also the Hillary Clinton group wants this too. So it's really left and right saying, we have to have regime change.

TAPPER: Well, the troops weren't there for regime change. They were there to fight ISIS.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Initially, they were, but everybody kept changing their point of view on what they were there for.

TAPPER: I will get a nasty note from your publisher if I don't ask at least one question about the book "The Case Against Socialism."

PAUL: All right.

TAPPER: You write in the book that the poor are better off under capitalism than socialism because they're motivated to work.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You write: "If government destroys this incentive, it also destroys productivity and economic growth."

But you note in the book, you acknowledge that younger people are no longer as enthralled with capitalism as the older generation.

Do you think that you're losing this argument?

PAUL: I think that we have to be concerned that the younger generation isn't appreciating where all the great wealth of America came from.

Our GDP has doubled eight times in the last 200 years. In 1820, poverty was 90 percent of the whole world. Now poverty is less than 10 percent, measured in extreme terms, less than $2 a day.

Capitalism is working. Capitalism has created enormous riches. Just in the last four years, under President Trump, the median income has gone up $4,000. There is a lot of good news out there.

And people get, I guess, obsessed with the Sturm und Drang, and they think, oh, it's a terrible world.

It's the best time ever to be alive, longevity, childhood mortality, infant mortality, everything is down. It is a great world to be alive in.

TAPPER: Wow. Listen to you, an optimistic Rand Paul.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I don't think I have ever heard you sound that way before. The book is "The Case Against Socialism."

Come back. We have lots more questions about Syria and not to mention Ukraine.

PAUL: Thank you.

TAPPER: I do have more questions. Congratulations again on the book.

We're going to wait -- continue to wait for Republican congressional leaders to speak outside the White House any moment.

Plus, President Trump defending himself when it comes to the impeachment inquiry. Why the testimony today on the Hill matters.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:43]

TAPPER: In our politics lead now, President Trump frantically trying to muddy the waters, as another key witness testified today in the impeachment investigation in the House of Representatives.

Former Trump administration official Michael McKinley, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, until McKinley resigned last week, just wrapping up testifying behind closed doors today.

And, as CNN's Alex Marquardt reports, a source confirms that McKinley told lawmakers that he had been concerned about the firing of a U.S. ambassador who had been sounding the alarm about the activities in Ukraine of the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Today, a new member added to the parade of officials going before Congress, all confirming the concerns raised by the whistle- blower over what has been called the president's shadow policy with Ukraine.

Now stunning new revelations from a former top adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accusing him, according to sources, of staying silent as Rudy Giuliani stepped up his pressure to have the president recall the U.S. ambassador from Ukraine, Mike McKinley testifying to lawmakers less than a week after abruptly resigning his position.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Most of this is a concern by a colleague for an ambassador that he held in high regard.

MARQUARDT: Behind closed doors, he said he repeatedly asked Pompeo to show support for former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who sounded alarms about Giuliani trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine.

[16:40:06] She said she was targeted by Giuliani with false accusations and was removed from her post by President Trump. Yovanovitch had been railing against corruption in Ukraine, including opposing the Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the company that Hunter Biden was on the board of and who has been indicted three times for corruption himself.

McKinley's testimony, like that of officials before him, reflecting the whistle-blower's report, despite this from the president today:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The whistle-blower didn't know what he was talking about.

MARQUARDT: It started with former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, one of the so-called three amigos who led the president's outreach to Ukraine. He provided text messages showing Giuliani's active role in pushing for an investigation of Joe Biden and his son.

Then Yovanovitch, who told lawmakers there was a concerted campaign against her, that she was attacked by Giuliani and his associates.

On Monday, former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill testified she was also deeply uncomfortable with the rogue foreign policy Giuliani was leading. She said her boss, former National Security Adviser John Bolton, called Giuliani a hand grenade who is going to blow everybody up.

She was followed by George Kent, also a career diplomat, who testified he was told by a boss to lie low after complaining about Giuliani's projects in Ukraine.

And, today, McKinley's revelations about Pompeo's role.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): Everything we have been hearing in depositions has corroborated the evidence we have in front of us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And we have just gotten word that another crucial official will soon be testifying.

That's Ambassador Bill Taylor, the most senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He was the one who, according to released text messages, said it was crazy for the White House to withhold $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to help the president's political campaign.

And, Jake, he is set to testify on Tuesday.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let's chew over this with our brain trust here.

David,we should know you're a Trump 2020 campaign adviser and a lobbyist who works on behalf of energy, defense and transportation companies. It seems clear that the president and the White House were not willing

to back up career Foreign Service individuals and were siding instead with Rudy Giuliani and dirt of questionable veracity that he had dug up.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, that's what it seems.

And, listen, but back to -- but as far as the Ukrainian ambassador goes, there have been several ambassadors, Korea ambassadors, Foreign Service ambassadors, in different postings that have kind of thrown in the towel, where the president and this administration has had disagreements with.

So it's not just the Ukraine here.

TAPPER: But she says she was fired because of misinformation that was coming from Ukraine that Rudy has admitted that he helped pass on to the State Department and to the White House.

URBAN: Well, we will see. We will see in one of these hearings when it all kind of comes down to it.

Again, it would be good to get a consistent story from Mayor Giuliani.

TAPPER: Yes, that's for sure.

Karen?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don't hold your breath.

Look, part of what is so frustrating about this, having worked in the Clinton administration and worked with folks at the State Department and our national security apparatus, these are policy people. These are not political people.

And these are the people who, from administration to administration, are the keepers of the continuity of our relationship, right? Things change a little bit here and there between agendas and different presidents, but not to this degree.

And I -- and from what I think we have heard, these folks were legitimately shocked by what they saw. And essentially what it sounds like we're hearing is, this three amigos sort of created their own back channel.

TAPPER: Who is that? Oh, the two...

FINNEY: Volker, Giuliani and Sondland.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Rick Perry.

TAPPER: Sondland.

FINNEY: Oh, Rick Perry, yes.

That they sort of created, with Mick -- Rick Mulvaney somewhere in...

TAPPER: Mick Mulvaney, yes.

FINNEY: ... there, Mick Mulvaney -- that they sort of created their own kind of back channel, so that they could circumvent the normal process that we would go -- you would go through, and create their own sort of policy channel, rather than -- and frankly put at risk our -- the normal relationship, which is that the United States, we are supposed to be a big supporter of Ukraine.

We should never threaten them.

TAPPER: And, Sara, one of the big wild cards right now, we don't know if former National Security Adviser John Bolton is going to testify, and if he is going to testify what he's going to say.

He's the one that said Rudy Giuliani was a hand grenade that could blow everybody up. What do you think?

MURRAY: I mean, he's weirdly silent right now. Right?

This is not, I think, the John Bolton that Washington is used to. So if I were a betting woman, I would bet that he's going to reemerge at some point, although we have seen the committee work quietly, I think, behind the scenes to arrange some of these things, especially some that are sensitive.

And I think Bill Taylor is actually going to be a really interesting person who -- when he shows up on the Hill next week. I mean, this is the person who was pressing Gordon Sondland, saying, I don't -- it's crazy that we're withholding assistance as part of a campaign issue. Is this now a quid pro quo?

He was pressing that, and he was pressing it in a way that indicated to you that he really wanted to get it in writing.

TAPPER: Yes. He wanted to leave a paper trail.

MURRAY: I think, with each witness, we're sort of -- we're learning more.

[16:45:00]

I mean, there -- these aren't people who are not making headlines.

TAPPER: Yes.

And, Jeff, the president trying to project confidence, trying to project that he's not concerned about this. What's it like behind the scenes at the White House?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Behind the scenes at the White House, I mean, there is a lot of concern about just what is going on. I mean, I was very interested earlier to the President was speaking very favorably about Mr. Bolton which has not always been the case. And he has said that he was you know, essentially had bad relationship --

TAPPER: Certainly not when he fired him.

ZELENY: Exactly. He was fired but, you know, usually when people are on the verge of possibly being called to the Hill to testify, the President suddenly is being nice. So look, behind the scenes, people are concerned, worried, don't really know what's going on. But this whole Syria policy now is overtaking this as well. So it's a bit of a mess over there as his mood indicates.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Elizabeth Warren got a first-hand lesson on what it's like to be a front-runner. Today, the attacks continue. That story, next.

[16:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. The White House just confirmed to me that President Trump sent a letter to Turkey's president on October 9th. Let me read you the letter. It is quite something.

Dear President Erdogan -- this is a week ago, October 9th, so this is before the President announced his troop withdrawal from northern Syria. Dear Mr. President -- the president of Turkey, "let's work out a good deal. You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy and I will. I've already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson.

I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don't let the world down. You can make a great deal. General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me just received."

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool, I will call you later. Sincerely, Donald Trump."

So I have to say, I saw this letter -- and we should note that it was broken by Trish Reagan of Fox Business News. I saw this letter and I thought it was a joke. I thought it was a hoax. But then I sent it to Stephanie Grisham, the White House Press Secretary and she said it was real.

MURRAY: I mean, you don't want to laugh because it is a very serious issue but it is very emblematic of Donald Trump's style essentially saying like do the right thing or everyone's going to think of you as the devil and like, by the way, I'll call you later.

I don't -- I don't think this is what these letters normally look like when you send this kind of thing but it's pretty clear that Erdogan didn't heed these warnings. I mean he didn't take this very seriously, obviously, and that's the position we're in right now. But it's just a striking window into how the president operates one on one with a world leader.

TAPPER: And I'm told I misspoke earlier that the -- that the President announced the troop withdrawal on the 6th, on Sunday the 6th, so this is a letter he sent to the Turkish President after he'd already announced and so he was -- he was saying even though the troops have been taken back, Erdogan, don't slaughter the Syrians. Let's make a deal.

URBAN: So listen, so I, of course, have a different viewpoint, right? The President has tweeted this out. I think he's trying to make it abundantly clear to Erdogan that, you know, he's going to -- this is the best deal he's going to get with, you know, the general leading the Kurdish defense forces, the SDF there Mazloum.

TAPPER: But what deal? What deal is there --

URBAN: I don't know what deal -- I don't know. He said, I'm enclosing, you know, General Mazloum's letter enclosed here within, I think it's what it said so. I'm not quite sure what deal they were trying to cut. I don't know but --

TAPPER: Do you support the withdrawal of the U.S. troops?

URBAN: No. So, I, like Senator Paul and Senator Tim Kaine and others I think there should be a vote on authorization use of military force. I don't think we should put America's men and women in harm's way without a robust debate in the Senate and I think in the House, in the Congress. And you know, people should really --

TAPPER: So do you think it was too rash?

URBAN: I think it was rash but I think the question is this. I hear Chuck Schumer saying you know, Turkey is not our ally, these guys are our ally. What are we -- what are we in there for? Whatever -- what's our objective? We should know what we're there for? What are kids dying for there?

TAPPER: That's a -- it's a fair question but you agree that it was rash. Karen, your response.

FINNEY: Well, I just -- I just go back to -- I'd like to know -- I hope we learn more about what this deal was because actually as CNN reported on the 12th, it was that General Mazloum who said you are leaving us to be slaughtered.

TAPPER: Right.

FINNEY: So clearly whatever deal they thought might have been in place several days prior fell through, and we've now seen what's happened in the successive days.

TAPPER: And this letter -- I mean, this letter is very unusual. "Hey, don't be a tough guy. History will look at you as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a fool." ZELENY: And it's clear that they've also had several phone calls which we know. I mean, the President has talked about this. But I mean, it's a very unusual way for the President and this president, in particular, has you know, an amazing command of the bully pulpit to explain his position, to explain American foreign policy.

You know, if there have been so many different viewpoints and contradictory things just over the last several days here, I think that the release of this does not clarify it all. But give a speech to the nation. Say what the objective is. There's been nothing like that at all so it is confusing.

TAPPER: And we should note that, I mean, the release of this letter also comes just as the House of Representatives just overwhelmingly Democrats and Republicans voted to rebuke the president for his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria.

We're going to have more breaking news from the White House meeting. That's next. Stay with us.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you. Republican Congressional leaders just spoke outside of the White House following a meeting with the President and Democratic leaders on Syria. The Republicans said they felt satisfied with the President's sanctions on Turkey.

Minority Leader of the House Kevin McCarthy coming out swinging over Democrats walking out of the meeting with President Trump. Though he did not dispute that the President called Speaker Pelosi a third-rate politician and insults the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I see a pattern of behavior with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive. The other Democrat state actually have a very productive meeting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pelosi said that the President had a meltdown during the meeting. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.