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Former Pompeo Aide Testifies on Capitol Hill; Criticism Grows Over Trump's Syria Withdrawal; Rudy Giuliani Under Federal Probe. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 16, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: What's going on?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

So, it's the FBI here in New York, other FBI agents certainly in other jurisdictions, that have now been part of this group of agents that are looking into this influence operation, essentially, by the Ukrainians, perhaps others involved in this, of trying to influence policy here in the U.S.

And all of this right now is centering around the two Ukrainians, the two associates of Rudy Giuliani. And what we have learned is from an attorney who has represented Ukrainians, high-level Ukrainians in the past, he's told our Sara Murray that FBI agents came to him as early as February or March of this year asking questions about these two associates, about some of the work that they were doing, about Rudy Giuliani.

So, I think what this tells us certainly is that this is a much larger investigation. And I want to remind folks that this is a lot of what we saw during the Mueller investigation. You had Several parts going on. You had the counterintelligence...

BALDWIN: Parallel investigations.

PROKUPECZ: Parallel investigations.

So, you have a public corruption investigation that is being conducted...

BALDWIN: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: ... by the FBI agents. And then, separately, you have counterintelligence.

And counterintelligence has to do with national security. The big concern here -- and I have been saying this certainly from talking to folks -- is that people were trying to influence policy working outside the normal channels of the State Department, back-door channels, getting to Rudy Giuliani, who had the ear of the president, to try and influence policy. And that is a big part of what the FBI and the counterintelligence

investigation involves, is trying to see whether or not people were going to Rudy Giuliani to then try and get him to go to the president and other politicians, members of Congress, to try and influence policy.

Certainly, the issue of the firing of the Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch...

BALDWIN: Yovanovitch.

PROKUPECZ: ... that is a big part of this investigation. It says as much in that indictment that we saw last week of the two Ukrainians.

And that is what's playing out here, the FBI very much concerned that there was something else going on here.

BALDWIN: So there's a lot going on, Guy. Every time I see this guy sitting in this chair, I know some more breaking news is coming forward, and oftentimes it has to do with this investigation. Oftentimes, it has to do with the president's good friend and attorney Rudy Giuliani.

And I'm just curious what you think just from your perch. You know, at what point -- we were listening to the president speaking earlier today, sitting next to the head of Italy, going off on all of this, but also praising Rudy Giuliani.

How long does he continue to do so before he throws him under the bus?

GUY SMITH, FORMER CLINTON IMPEACHMENT ADVISER: Until he feels personally threatened and -- or he thinks that Rudy can no longer be a shield.

And these things -- this is unfolding at a breathtaking pace.

BALDWIN: Breathtaking.

SMITH: And I think it's very important to remember, in impeachment, it's not a -- you're not looking for a crime. It's a political activity. That's it. It's not looking for a crime.

So while there crimes clearly are being committed here, with extorting a foreign government, asking foreign governments into our elections, that kind of a thing, this is a political judgment that the House of Representatives -- the Constitution gives the House of Representatives sole jurisdiction over how to do an impeachment.

That's -- and you see, in the Republicans, they're all talking about process because they have got no substance to talk about. So they're all whining about process, which is not relevant.

BALDWIN: We will get to the Republicans in a second, because, apparently, they're looking at Rudy Giuliani like a wild card. We have got a reporter who is going to talk about that in a second. But Shimon was just on with me yesterday talking about how Rudy

Giuliani's good friends were saying, hey, you know, you may want to hire a criminal attorney. And thus far he's declining it.

What do you make of that?

SMITH: Well, it's sort of -- I think he probably said no because it would -- then Trump would throw him over the wall. And that's an acknowledgement of, there's a problem, not necessarily guilt, but a real problem.

Well, today, what's he going to do? He needs an attorney. I mean, he needs a bunch of attorneys, because Giuliani is in serious trouble. And if there's a counterterrorism investigation going on, this is serious business.

BALDWIN: Counterintelligence.

SMITH: Those guys don't just look for non-paid parking tickets. This is serious stuff.

BALDWIN: It's also serious, because isn't part of the reporting that some of these FBI agents, prosecutors -- I mean, Michael Cohen seems like ages ago, but some of these guys were looking into him.

And they're now looking into Rudy Giuliani.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

This is where I think this puts the president at a disadvantage, is because they know how the president operates. They know how the president thinks. They have spent time looking at Michael Cohen, who did cooperate, to some extent, and provide them a lot of information.

BALDWIN: Yes.

SMITH: So you have FBI agents and you have prosecutors who are very familiar with how the president works, very familiar with what's been going on here.

And now these same agents and these same prosecutors are looking at another one of his lawyers, are looking at financial dealings again. So it is significant.

[15:05:00]

And I think for -- folks also need to understand that some of the FBI agents in New York, some of them that are running this investigation, some of the most tenacious investigators out there in the FBI.

I mean, I know people who know them, and they say, any time this one particular guy comes after you, you better watch out, because they will leave no stone unturned.

And they know what happened previously, when they were investigating the hush money payments. BALDWIN: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: That stays with agents and prosecutors.

BALDWIN: Did you want to jump in on that? I'm seeing you nodding.

SMITH: Well, I just want to say that Giuliani is so close to the president.

And, as we have seen in the last three weeks, every day, there's another rock that is overturned, and none of it's good for Donald Trump. This is advancing the impeachment issue. And then we see, a little while ago, you had Lindsey Graham giving the president hell about...

BALDWIN: Syria, yes.

SMITH: About Syria.

Well, Lindsey Graham's only doing that because his constituents are letting him do it. What's happening with his constituents on Trump and impeachment? Mitch McConnell is only one point ahead of his opponent. There's some serious stuff going on, on the Senate side that's not starting to break yet, but you're starting to see glimmers of it.

And that is the political end for Donald Trump, if that happens.

BALDWIN: Hold that thought.

I want to talk Republicans. Stay with me.

The Senate Republican luncheon just wrapped up. And, apparently, there was only one topic of discussion, that being impeachment.

Lauren Fox, I'm coming to you now, our congressional reporter.

And so I understand a lot of questions for the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. What was said?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, this is the first day back for Republican senators. This is the first time they get to meet at the conference and really discuss what's been going on the last two weeks since Nancy Pelosi launched this impeachment inquiry.

And, as you can imagine, Brooke, there are a lot of questions from Republicans. So, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, I'm told by two people in the room, went through how this process would work. And it was really more of a conversation about what the Senate rules are.

One of them -- and here we are bracing ourselves up on Capitol Hill -- is that they would be in session six days a week. So they would be moving through this trial, except for Sunday, so a very busy time ahead. Also, there's no talking on the Senate floor, no socializing, which we see a lot on Capitol Hill during normal business, during the Senate trial. And one of the potential penalties for that is that you can be

removed. So I'm told that there was some fun exchanges in the lunch about who might be able to be removed, given the fact that senators tend to be pretty talkative.

But that's just exactly what McConnell laid out to members during this lunch. I'm told that there were a lot of questions, and sometimes there weren't a lot of answers, because this is a very rare thing that happens in the Senate. This is not something that happens every day, every year, every couple of months.

So there are still a lot of unanswered questions. And I will tell you that rules can change with the unanimous consent agreement. That is just a fancy word for saying all parties have to agree to change the rules -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, Lauren, thank you.

And, Guy, part of what Lauren's reporting -- I was just handed it -- this is the end. Bottom line with regard to this luncheon, members are viewing Rudy Giuliani as a wild card. And no one knows what is coming next from these depositions.

SMITH: That's exactly right.

And we don't know what Rudy Giuliani is going to go on TV any night and say. We're talking about Trump may throw Rudy under the bus. Rudy may throw Trump under the bus, I mean, because we just don't know.

And that sounds crazy, but anybody that's watched three seconds of Rudy Giuliani tape, like with Chris the other week when -- within 30 seconds, he switched his position. What he's going to do tonight?

BALDWIN: I have got to ask you, what's it like, having been sort of in the bunker for Clinton impeachment, and now being just an observer of all of this?

SMITH: In the Clinton era, when we had to deal with impeachment, there was a very set-aside impeachment team that just dealt with impeachment.

Everybody else ran the government, including the president. The president didn't run his mouth all the time, like we saw -- we're seeing every day here.

When he had something to say, we said it. But it was orchestrated, practiced. We knew what he was going to say. And then we had a surrogate operation that was very organized that then -- that we had -- there was coordination between the Democrats in the House, the Democrats in the Senate, the DNC, the DCCC, surrogates all over the country.

And only people that worked on impeachment worked on impeachment. You couldn't even -- we didn't permit people in the hallway or in other meetings, a meeting on education, no talk about impeachment. BALDWIN: No cross-pollinating, no nothing?

SMITH: Couldn't even talk about it.

BALDWIN: And now this?

SMITH: And John Podesta was an enforcer of that.

BALDWIN: So, discipline?

SMITH: Very, highly disciplined.

BALDWIN: And this?

SMITH: Including the president.

BALDWIN: And this?

SMITH: Well, I mean, they're just woefully unprepared.

I mean, they just -- they don't -- other than the Twitter feed of the president, there's no communication operation. There's clearly no communication with the Senate.

[15:10:08]

Lindsey Graham only decided this morning whether to call Giuliani as a witness. And now, if he's under investigation, is he really -- he really should call him, but will he go? I mean, this is...

PROKUPECZ: That could backfire, calling -- trying to call Rudy Giuliani. And what if he says, well, I maybe I can't come now because I'm under investigation?

And you have the whole Fifth Amendment issue.

BALDWIN: I'm going to see a lot more of this guy, and hopefully this guy.

Guy and Shimon, I appreciate both of you very much on all of this. This is all so important on our democracy.

Our breaking news coverage continues, growing bipartisan backlash to President Trump's actions in Syria. We will talk to one woman who says the betrayal of the Kurds is personal.

Plus, just days after calling it quits, the senior adviser to Mike Pompeo is behind closed doors. What we have learned about his testimony so far.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:15:49] BALDWIN: The House just overwhelmingly approved a resolution opposing the Trump administration's move to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, the 354-to-60 vote sending a strong message to this president from both sides of the aisle.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, defended the Kurdish fighters who've been abandoned by the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): What tools do we have? We have got the potential for Turkish sanctions. We're looking at that.

Any president has a lot of latitude in deploying troops, and many of us have been arguing that this was a mistake. It shouldn't have been done, and hoping that he would reverse course. There seems to be no evidence of it so far. But I think it was a mistake.

And I hope it's not too late to stop this aggression.

You know, as messy as Syria was, this was working pretty well, pretty well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Senator McConnell just one of the congressional leaders meeting with the president this hour to discuss the chaos unfolding in the region. And they have a lot to talk about, because, at this joint news conference with the Italian president today, Trump took zero responsibility for the Turkish assault unfolding in Northern Syria, after ordering U.S. troops to leave.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have a problem at a border. It's not our border. We shouldn't be losing lives over it.

They've got to work it out. Maybe they can do it without fighting. Syria is protecting the Kurds. That's good.

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: President Trump is also denying reports that the Turkish president just dismissed the U.S. calls for a cease-fire.

Nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will soon head to Turkey to try and convince Erdogan in person to stop his assault.

My next guest is someone for whom this crisis is extraordinarily personal. She has said she is completely baffled by the president's actions and his remark that what's happening in Syria with the Kurds -- quote -- "has nothing to do with us." Susan Shirley lost her son Levi in the war against ISIS in 2016. He sacrificed his life while volunteering with the Kurdish militia in Syria. And Levi was, according to "The L.A. Times," the second American volunteer to die there.

Susan Shirley is with me now.

And, Susan, thank you so much for being with me.

SUSAN SHIRLEY, SON KILLED HELPING KURDS: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: So, let's go back a few years.

Your son Levi, I know I had read that he had wanted to join the Marines. He couldn't because of his eyesight. So tell me about the moment that he came to you and said, mom, I'm going to Syria to volunteer to fight alongside the Kurds.

SHIRLEY: Yes, I -- I was pretty well taken in shock by that.

And then, over the next week or so, I realized I was very proud of him. And I had a good friend who said, you need to tell him that.

So, before he left, I was able to have that talk with him, that I was just very, very proud of him. He could not stand by and let those atrocities happen and not -- as an able-bodied young guy, he needed to do something.

BALDWIN: So he went and did something, with his mother's pride along with him. And then he was killed. He was 24.

And with the loss of your son in this fight against ISIS, how deeply, how personally invested in this battle have you become?

SHIRLEY: Well, there's a number of other families around the world who have lost people or who have had people there and fortunately came home. And some of the fighters themselves are in this community.

And I think it's fair to say that we all had the feeling that, as long as we're able to put ISIS down for good, that the pain isn't going to go away, but it's like a surgical pain. So it's pain that has a purpose. It's for something.

[15:20:05]

And when that did happen, I think that we were pretty unanimous in feeling that, OK, we have had this horrible loss, this great sacrifice, and yet we have we have accomplished -- our people have accomplished something together. And this is a huge thing.

This was, in my opinion, probably the most evil force in modern times, and they were able to be dismantled.

BALDWIN: But now you know the news, that President Trump had this phone call with the Turkish president, decides to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves, including an all but certain slaughter.

And what did you think when you first heard that?

SHIRLEY: Oh, it just hit me so hard.

It's -- there are just so many levels to this thing. And we have got -- I don't think to say, it's not our border, that's not a compelling argument, in my opinion, because we're all standing on the edge of the same cliff.

And the Kurds might be a half-inch closer to the edge, but we know that terrorists don't respect borders. And if ISIS is reconstituted, I'll give you three guesses who's going to be their favorite target.

And they're not going to stop at a TSA checkpoint and go, oh, sorry, we changed our mind.

This is -- we should all be concerned for our personal safety. So, if we're not concerned over the plight of the Kurds, which, in my opinion, we definitely need to be, at least we can be concerned for the United States.

BALDWIN: I mean, Susan, what about the concern that -- you talk about pain, right.

But the concern that Trump's decision to do this is now opening this door for a security vacuum that risks a resurgence of ISIS, the very group that your son lost his life fighting, how does that make you feel?

SHIRLEY: Well, to use the surgery analogy again, it's as if all those stitches were just ripped out, another incision was made, and then bacteria just poured into it.

It's -- I'm just at a loss to understand if there was even any thinking behind that. And, as we just heard Mitch McConnell say, it's messy, but it has been working. So why we would fix something that ain't broke, I can't even answer that.

But as far as on a personal level, I was at a demonstration on Sunday, a pro-Kurdish demonstration here in Denver, which was really beautiful and well-attended. It's a small community here.

But it was well-attended. And -- but I could barely catch my breath. And it was just so emotional to...

BALDWIN: Tell me why.

SHIRLEY: You know, to just have those feelings come back.

Well, the feelings come back up again.

BALDWIN: What feelings?

SHIRLEY: And you're there because -- the grief and loss and almost like futility, like, here we are again. And if you have ever had the privilege of meeting any of the Kurdish

people, they're just everything that you would want in a group of people. And the community that they put together in Rojava is this incredibly forward-thinking, inclusive kind of oasis.

They have guarantees in their constitution for women and religious freedoms that we don't even have here. So it's an amazing thing that they have put together over there. And now it's just being blown away.

BALDWIN: No, it's important to remind people, as my friends in the military have, it's our brothers and sisters in arms who've been -- who've been part of the -- who've been fighting, who've been the Kurds, the YPG fighting alongside the United States.

Susan Shirley, I thank you so much for your time. I am sorry for the loss of your son. I can't even imagine how personal this feels for you. But it's -- I just appreciate hearing your perspective. So thank you for taking the time.

SHIRLEY: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Right now on Capitol Hill, the senior adviser to Mike Pompeo who abruptly quit last week testifies on why he left the State Department.

And Senator Bernie Sanders wins three big endorsements. We will talk about the pros and the cons of winning approval from the Squad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:42]

BALDWIN: On the impeachment inquiry, for the third day in a row, someone once in or still with the Trump administration blasted its treatment of Marie Yovanovitch.

She was pushed out in May as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. And, today, a former aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave testimony behind closed doors. And sources say Michael McKinley testified that he was disturbed by Secretary Pompeo's silence over Yovanovitch's dismissal.

McKinley resigned last week.