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Trump News Conference Amid Impeachment Inquiry, Syria Crisis; Pence, Pompeo Head to Turkey as Trump Says If Turkey Goes into Syria "It's Not Our Problem"; 3rd Day of Testimony from Senior Advisor to Mike Pompeo Who Resigned Last Week. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired October 16, 2019 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And when you ask a question like that, it's very deceptive. Almost as deceptive as you showing all of the bombings taking place in Syria and it turned out the bombing being showed on television took place in Kentucky. But I think ABC owes an apology.
(TRUMP PRESS CONFERENCE FROM 13:30:23 TO 13:41:20)
TRUMP: But we have to be treated fairly on NATO and we have to be treated fairly on trade with the European Union.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We have a whole lot to discuss here as the president wraps up this press conference with the leader -- with Italy's president.
I want to bring in Susan Glasser. We have Ron Brownstein with us, Carrie Cordero, Ross Garber as well.
There are a lot of things to discuss here because so much of what the president said was not based in fact. And a lot of it was oddly based in either a Russian or a Turkish world view or talking points easy, especially as he was talking about Turkey invading northern Syria and attacking the Kurds, where we have been seeing casualties for days.
Let's start there, shall we?
First off, we just have to be clear that the SDF, the largely Kurdish forces who had been working with U.S. forces in the area to manage the ISIS situation and keep it at bay, basically almost a maintenance operation, they had taken tremendous casualties over time in this fight. This is at least formerly a U.S. ally who's been very helpful to the U.S. What the president said, Susan Glasser, was they are not angels. Take
a look. He made this association basically saying essentially that the SDF is the PKK, a Kurdish entity that Turkey views as a terrorist group.
He said that the SDF was paid well, sort of washing his hands, paid to fight. He said they did fight well with us, the U.S. They didn't fight so well without us. Basically saying, hey, it was all America anyways.
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: When President Trump gives up on an ally, he does so in a pretty maximum way. These folks were fighting beside us a couple of weeks ago. We were at bases with them.
Not only has President Trump chosen to withdraw and essentially abandon them to the Turkish military invasion. He's now trash talking them. He repeated this line that the Turks are -- sorry, that the Kurds that we were fighting alongside were no angels three different times at least today. I may have missed one.
I think it's very significant. You know, President Trump is essentially making clear that he never was committed to his own administration's policy. To me, that's another big take-away from this.
You mentioned that he sounded like -- the president of the United States was essentially offering us Russian and Turkish talking points about the situation in Syria, but he also -- he was taking it even further in essentially saying he disagrees with his own administration's policy.
This is very hard to imagine any U.S. ally in the world being comfortable with this, because essentially the president is saying we don't have your back, we may abandon you at any moment.
KEILAR: He doesn't have backup really from anyone when it comes -- there's bipartisan criticism, broad criticism, Republicans have maybe dialed back a little bit of it. But the sense, the view of Democrats and Republicans is that what he's done is terrible.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: To Susan's point, the secretary state and the vice president going to Turkey ostensibly trying to try to force, compel them to pull back. The president basically said it's a bunch of sand that we don't have an interest in. Russia, you're welcome to it. Not exactly a lot of wind in your sails if you're Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence.
To your larger point, one thing that strikes me about this is that the president is in the midst of an intense fight over impeachment. He needs Republicans to be standing with him on impeachment.
And yet, he has rather casually taken a position that is incredibly offensive to the vast majority of Republicans that drew -- really, I think, unprecedented criticism from Lindsey Graham today on Twitter and he brushed that off, basically threatening Graham that if you go down this road, I have a better idea of what the voters in South Carolina want.
To me, that is a statement of how really arrogantly he believes he has the Republicans in Congress kind of wrapped around his finger that, at the moment he needs them the most, he is willing to do something they find so offensive out of confidence they still will not break with him.
KEILAR: Yet, to that point, Republicans have started to temper some of their criticism. We heard Lindsey Graham today basically say this is Turkey's fault, but he will hold President Trump accountable. But you see that he's sort of walking that line, right?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Here's the issue, Brianna. President Trump is fundamentally reorienting American foreign policy. It doesn't matter where the institutional Defense Department thinks differently. It doesn't matter where the institutional State Department thinks differently.
It doesn't matter whether certain Republicans in Congress traditionally have had a different view. He is reorienting American foreign policy and he is doing it quickly. And the last week has just brought it into focus.
But what he has articulated today is a foreign policy based on U.S. military engagement that is based on a country paying us, it is a mercenary-like engagement, or whether it costs us a certain amount of money. He doesn't care about human rights. He doesn't care about America's role in the world. He doesn't care about historical strategic alliances.
And until sort of the country and our allies and Republicans in Congress start to digest that, they are not going to understand how quickly he is changing the country.
KEILAR: Ross, I want to go to Kaitlan Collins, real quick, at the White House.
Kaitlan, between this and watching the president earlier in his event just preceding this with the Italian president, this has been -- I mean, it's pretty stunning to listen to what the president is saying about the Kurds and a number of other topics here.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. The president made some really remarkable statements as he was defending his decision on Syria, saying here that he doesn't want to get in a war between Turkey and Syria.
And while he was essentially answering those criticisms from not just Democrats but also Republican, who say the president is abandoning those Kurds who fought alongside the U.S. to fight ISIS, the president talked about the fact that the United States paid those Kurdish fighters. He essentially brushed off any claims that they are abandoning them and leaving them.
Earlier, he said they were fine, though there are reports that some civilians are being slaughtered just driving down the road.
What you heard the president also essentially saying here is this is part of his promise he made on the campaign trail to get the United States out of endless wars.
Brianna, we should note, just minutes after the president was defending that decision, he talked about the fact that he recently authorized sending 2,000 more troops to the Middle East, saying he had negotiated with Saudi Arabia, and claiming they were going to pay for that full deployment.
We should also note that the president is saying he's getting soldiers out. He's bringing them home. In a statement attributed to the president, the White House released two days ago, they said they are moving those troops but they're just redeploying them to another place in the region, not necessarily bringing them back to the United States.
The Italian president, next to the president, saying this Turkish incursion into Syria is a problem, that it's going to allow for the re-emergence of ISIS.
Something you've also heard from the president's ally, Lindsey Graham, who said the president is going to have blood on his hand if that comes to it. The president said Lindsey Graham should focus on the Judiciary Committee and the impeachment inquiry proceedings that are happening right now.
Brianna, just to essentially end this, the president says he wants to stay out of what's happening between Turkey and Syria. He did not explain why he is then sending the vice president and the secretary of state in just a matter of hours to Turkey for what they said was going to be so they could negotiate a cease-fire, a cease-fire that the Turkish president says isn't happening.
KEILAR: That was beautifully laid out, Kaitlan. The contradictions that we just saw from the president.
Thank you so much for that.
Let's talk about Italy and Italy's stance on this in comparison to the U.S., because we heard from the Italian president. He said, "More important than our friendship is the truth." Then he condemned the Turkish attack on Syria.
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The president brushed that aside. I think the for president --
GARBER: -- this is all about sort of keeping his political promises. I think, you know, you heard the mantra over and over and over, we're bringing the troops home, we're bringing the troops home, we're bringing the troops home.
You know, Kaitlan pointed out in a very well way, potential issues with those statements.
Politically, the problem is going to be that dynamic you see between the president and Lindsey Graham, that was pointed up in that press conference, where the president didn't just brush aside what Lindsey Graham had to say but sort of went after him, and said he sort of focus on the Judiciary Committee and focus on protecting me in the Senate.
And I think we're going to need to watch how the Republicans react to what the president said today.
KEILAR: Thank you, all of you, so much. We have a lot more to discuss. Stay put for us.
We're getting in more breaking news. A third straight day of testimony from a respected voice on U.S. foreign policy. Today, the three House committees are hearing from Michael McKinley, who resigned last week as senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
And our Manu Raja is on Capitol Hill.
Telling us what you've been hearing about that testimony, Manu.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're hearing from multiple sources with knowledge of Mr. McKinley's testimony that he testified that he urged Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, to show support for Maria Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
But after urging support Pompeo to show support, Pompeo was silent and did not explain why he would not offer support. And that silence is the reason why McKinley ultimately decided to resign his job.
Now, according to what we are hearing, that Mr. McKinley testified that the State Department morale was rather low after Rex Tillerson, then secretary of state, essentially gutted the department. But Mike Pompeo came in, helped restore morale, but very disappointing for not offering support for Yovanovitch.
She's important because she was targeted by Rudy Giuliani as well as the president and taken away from that position. And Democrats, in particular, believed she was removed in order to push for an investigation from Ukrainians into political rival, Joe Biden.
I am told by several sources that he did not say that he had any contact with Rudy Giuliani. In fact, he said he didn't have contact with Rudy Giuliani and wasn't aware what Rudy Giuliani was doing or aware of why Pompeo did not offer support for Maria Yovanovitch but that that's the reason he ultimately stepped aside. One key point, he has not turned over documents to the committee
today, because Mike McKinley turned over those documents to the State Department and we're told from multiple sources the State Department has not turned over those documents to Capitol Hill.
That's happened to previous witnesses who came forward. That's a key fight from Democrats moving forward.
But a big revelation today by McKinley saying he resigned his post in large part because Mike Pompeo was silent and would not explain why he would not offer support for that ousted ambassador to Ukraine -- Brianna?
KEILAR: Manu, thank you so much.
This is really important. Right? Because this kind of goes to the heart of whether Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is doing his job. Right? And whether he is standing by someone who is seen as a career foreign policy professional, or instead, if he is taking the political line. And so it is clear, at least according to this witness, his former topped advisor, which he's choosing, right.
GLASSER: That's right. And it's important to point out that this goes directly into the allegations that are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, because it was the president himself who has reportedly fired Ambassador Yovanovitch.
So this isn't just a story about American diplomacy and whether it's politicized under President Trump and Secretary Pompeo, but it goes directly to the question of, well what did Mike Pompeo know about the president himself firing Ambassador Yovanovitch?
What were the motivations of the president in firing this ambassador? Was there essentially a corrupt political intention behind removing this professional?
Why did Mike McKinley, a respected ambassador, who served more than three decades at the State Department, why did he wait all of these months from this time when the ambassador was removed until last week to resign from the State Department?
There's something specific must have occurred more recently as this impeachment inquiry was getting under way. A lot of important questions.
The main thing to tell people is that this goes to the heart of the questions at the impeachment inquiry. It's not a side story, firing of the ambassador. It's part of the main story.
KEILAR: Right. Because, Ross, the picture we are getting -- and I know it can be overwhelming for people as they watch these folks testify but we're getting important data points.
And what they're showing us is this whole thing was much wider than we previously thought it was. It went on for a long time, and that it appears the reason that Maria Yovanovitch was booted was because she was on the up and up. Getting in the way of stuff that was not.
GARBER: Yes. This, these committees are actually doing a very thorough, methodical investigation. I was critical of how the House Judiciary Committee was sort of handling things. And I'm actually very impressed with how these committees are sort of going through these things.
The questions that were raised are exactly right. And these committees are sort of working on answering this. You know, what were the motivations going on?
And I think the fact of these resignations and the fact that, you know, we're finding out about these conversations were being had, one key thing is it shows, or it suggests that people didn't think what was happening was OK. And that's something that the White House, that Secretary Pompeo and others have to answer.
And someone's going to testify this week. His testimony's going to be key, because he's --
KEILAR: To be clear, the ambassador to the E.U., former Trump donor, right. And this was someone who was involved in those text messages among the diplomats, that we saw certainly another diplomat be concerned there was quid pro quo going on, military aid for this from Ukraine.
GARBER: Quickly, you know, one thing that -- for most Democrats in the House, once they dot language from the rough transcript of he was talking about, "a favor," at that point they probably had enough information in their mind to vote for impeachment.
What this investigation is doing is making clear that wasn't as isolated event. It was a culmination of a month-long very wide --
KEILAR: Months-long --
GARBER: -- systemic process.
KEILAR: -- almost a year long.
GARBER: Another thing worth noting, so many national security professionals, career professionals, saying how disconcerted they were by this behavior, by this kind of -- in fact, in polling, you see 60 percent-plus Americans says it was inappropriate for the president to make that ask.
How are congressional Republicans going to continue their position, essentially saying, hey, nothing to see here, nothing from professionals focused on the region here. KEILAR: Thank you all so much.
We're getting in breaking news right now involving Rudy Giuliani and the investigation that involves him.
We'll be right back.