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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dems Walk Out Of White House Syria Meeting Accusing Trump Of "Meltdown"; Sources: Federal Investigation Of Rudy Giuliani's Business Dealings In Ukraine Includes Counterintelligence Probe; Sources: Former State Dept. Adviser Told Lawmakers He Resigned After Pompeo Was Silent On Ouster Of U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine; Rep. Mike Quigley (D- IL) Is Interviewed About The White House Syria Meeting, Trump's Letter To Erdogan; White House: Trump Was "Measured" During Syria Meeting, Pelosi Walkout Is "Baffling;" 2020 Democrats Resume Campaigns Following Debate Highlighted By Attacks On Warren; Trump Denies Again Giving Turkey "Green Light" On Syria; Kim's Horseback Photo-Op May Indicate Major Move Ahead. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 16, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Pelosi said that the President had a meltdown during the meeting. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Walkout. Congressional Democratic leaders abruptly leave a White House meeting on Syria after what they say was an insulting tirade against them by President Trump that included calling the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and I'm quoting now, "a third-rate politician."
Giuliani investigation. New details of the federal probe into President Trump's personal lawyer, sources are now telling CNN that it includes a counterintelligence investigation of Giuliani's Ukrainian business ties.
Taking heat. Elizabeth Warren comes under fire from Democratic rivals in the CNN/"New York Times" presidential debate. Tonight, the candidates are revealing how much they've raised since the face-off. And Bernie Sanders picks up some key endorsements.
And Kim's high horse. North Korea releases new photos of the dictator, Kim jong-un, on horseback, riding a white horse in the snow. Snow-covered field on a sacred mountain. But experts say this may be more than propaganda and could signal Kim is about to do something big.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following breaking news. Democratic congressional leaders walking out of the contentious White House meeting on the crisis in northeast Syria triggered by President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out. The meeting followed an overwhelmingly bipartisan House vote opposing the President's move. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Mr. Trump had a meltdown and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer describes the President's behavior as insulting saying he called Pelosi "a third-rate politician."
And CNN has also learned that the federal investigation of President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani includes a counter intelligence probe sparked by his ties to allegedly corrupt Ukrainian figures. We'll talk about that with much more with Congressman Mike Quigley of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analyst are also standing by.
But first, let's go straight to the White House. Our CNN Political Correspondent, Abby Phillip is over at the White House.
Abby, first of all, tell us more about this dramatic walkout at the White House. Democrats accusing the President of having a meltdown during this meeting just a little while ago. Republicans say Pelosi stormed out. What happened?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just moments ago the House and Senate Democrats came out to the microphones to talk about yet another White House meeting with President Trump that was derailed by some kind of dispute that seemed to stem from President Trump's comments with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Democrats say that this was about the President being unhappy that Republicans have been bucking him on Syria. Republicans say this was about the Democrats being focused on impeachment.
Here's a little bit of that back and forth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: 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 diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: What we witnessed on the part of the President was a meltdown, sad to say.
REP. STENY HOYER, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: When he started calling Speaker Pelosi a third-rate politician --
SCHUMER: When he was extraordinarily --
PELOSI: Which I say, I wish you were a politician Mr. President and then you would know the art of the possible (ph) --
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) MINORITY LEADER: The Speaker tries to make everything political. Her own statements weren't unproductive, to storm out of a meeting which I've watched time before during other crisis is really not the ability of a speaker or the style how a speaker should carry herself out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: And Wolf, it's not just the Democrats who are unhappy with the President's moves on Syria. This issue has caused a rift with Senate Republicans namely one of the President's biggest defenders, Senator Lindsey Graham. Take a listen to some of the back and forth between Graham and the President just earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: He's not listening to his commanders. He's not listening to his advisers. He is not -- he's making the biggest mistake of his presidency by assuming the Kurds are better off today than they were yesterday.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years, with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people's wars. I want to get out of the Middle East. I think Lindsey should focus right now on judiciary like the Democrats, the do-nothing Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: Now Republicans and Democrats are alike are alarmed by the President's language. He's comparing the Kurds -- saying that they are no angels and using some of the talking points that's being employed by the Turkish President Erdogan about the Kurds.
But now we are also learning according to a letter that CNN has just obtain that President Trump wrote to Erdogan to deliver a sharp message saying, don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool. Encouraging him to not continue with this military operation in Syria whether or not this will work, we do not know.
But in just a few hours Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are heading to Turkey to try to broker a ceasefire. Their job made a lot more difficult tonight by the President's own words today, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Abby, thank you. Abby Phillip over at the White House.
There's more now on the other breaking news we're following the newly- revealed counterintelligence investigation of President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, is working this story for us.
Evan, you're getting new information from your sources. This is very, very sensitive material.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And look, we knew that there was a component of this, a criminal investigation looking at Rudy Giuliani's ties to allegedly corrupt Ukrainian figures. What we didn't know is that there is an counterintelligence aspect to this investigation that's been going on for a lot longer than we all realize. And certainly this makes it a much broader investigation into what Rudy Giuliani has been doing in Ukraine than, I think, anybody had a good picture of. And we got some indication of this from a New York lawyer, his name is Kenneth McCallion who spoke to CNN, Sara Murray, and he said that the FBI Counterintelligence Agency came to him in February or March and started asking questions about his ties to a couple of these associates that were indicted last week and Rudy Giuliani. And the concern that was raised was that there was a counterintelligence concern with regard to Rudy Giuliani.
And so what we've learned is that essentially this investigation, this part of the investigation is looking at whether or not Giuliani was either wittingly or unwittingly part of essentially a foreign influence operation that was targeting the White House. That was targeting the President because obviously Rudy Giuliani is very close, he's the personal lawyer of the President of the United States.
So, the question is, you know, how much of this does Rudy Giuliani know about? Is it just these business interests that he has? Was he aware of what this was -- what was happening behind the scenes? Or was he just being used by these people in Ukraine and beyond? We don't know.
BLITZER: And amidst all of this, yet another Giuliani associate was arrested today.
PEREZ: Right. And so this is one of the four people who were indicted as part of this case that we first -- first emerged last week. His name is David Correia. He had been out of the country. He turned himself in to the FBI when he landed today at JFK. He and another one of these four are doing court tomorrow. The other two are expected to be in court next week, Wolf.
And, look, this is what this tells us is that there are many more parts of this investigation that are moving on, including, obviously the former Congressman Pete Sessions who has received a subpoena from this investigation. And it's clear that this is -- again, we were told that this investigation is not over, that there were more things coming. Well, one indication of this is that there could be more charges coming as a fact, again, that these people are getting subpoenas and there's a lot more investigation to be done.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, thanks very much for that.
There is also breaking news up on Capitol Hill where we're learning new details of the latest closed-door testimony in the impeachment inquiry. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is working that story for us. What's the latest, Manu?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, behind closed doors today Michael McKinley who recently resigned as a top adviser in the State Department testified about the circumstances of his resignation and he discussed his concerns that Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, did not show support for the ousted Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch, of course, had been targeted by Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani associates and had been bad- mouthed by the President himself. But according to our sources who are familiar with this testimony, Michael McKinley made clear that he went to Mike Pompeo, urged the Secretary of State to issue some sign of support for Yovanovitch, asked him repeatedly to do so but was only greeted with silence. And that was a key reason why he ultimately resigned from the post.
Now this comes amid the Democrats push to investigate exactly what happened both in the circumstances of the Yovanovitch resignation and the lead up to that now fateful July phone call between President Zelensky of Ukraine and President Trump where Trump urged the Ukrainian government to open that investigation.
Now, we are told that Mr. McKinley did not say he had any contacts with Rudy Giuliani but there will be questions tomorrow when the key witness, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union does come and testify about all of those discussions that occurred around that phone call. So a lot more ahead after today's key testimony, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. We certainly have a lot to discuss.
But first, this truly extraordinary meeting at the White House today completely devolved with the President insulting the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They stormed out according to the Republicans. What's your reaction to this?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY, (D-IL): First of all, Speaker Pelosi can certainly take care of herself. And I think you could make the case that she's the most successful female elected official in our country's history. So, that's fine.
It blinds us, I think, momentarily to the bigger issues here. And that is that the United States has backed out of a commitment to the only troops really fighting Isis on the front lines, our allies the Kurds. And as a result the Isis now has free reign. We have betrayed one of our closest allies. And I believe that makes us less safe in the future.
On foreign policy, I remember what Emerson wrote, to have a friend you need to be one. Does anyone in the world now think that we'd be a trusted ally?
BLITZER: The White House just released the text of the letter that the President said -- that the President sent to Erdogan of Turkey among other things saying this in the aftermath of the earlier decision by the U.S. to pull out troops, saying, "don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool." What's your reaction to that?
QUIGLEY: You know, I'll be honest, I saw this online first. I got a copy of the letter. I actually thought it was a prank, a joke. That it couldn't possibly come from the Oval Office. It sounded all of the world like the President of the United States in some sort of momentary lapse just dictated angrily whatever was on the top of his head.
These are extraordinarily serious issues and an extraordinarily dangerous part of the world. And for him to write this and to also say that it doesn't effect us is ignorance at the highest level. The fact is everything is connected. And places across the world can impact us here. They affect our allies. It affects our allies' willingness to help us. That makes us less safe.
But clearly Isis is willing to come here and do damage and willing to go and kill our allies as well. So, he's wrong on all points of this and it's particularly scary that there doesn't seem to be any guardrails on foreign policy on this President.
BLITZER: Speaker Pelosi also said that emerging from the White House meeting that impeachment -- the impeachment inquiry didn't come up during the course of the meeting. But do you think that is what is agitating the President right now?
QUIGLEY: I think a lot of things are agitating the President right now. I don't think there is anyone there who pushes back that he listens to. And I think as a result you see this helter-skelter foreign policy and his actions on the local level. But, look, the House and the Senate can do more than one thing at a time. The impeachment inquiry moves on but in the meantime we're passing important legislation on a daily basis.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the latest in the Ukraine scandal. How significant is it, Congressman, that federal prosecutors are conducting what's being described as a counterintelligence investigation into the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
QUIGLEY: You know, I'm not aware of the investigation. But if it's true, it's absolutely no surprise. I mean, how can anything go wrong. Rudy has absolutely no security clearance. He has no foreign policy experience.
My questioning, the head of our intelligence community said he didn't know what Rudy was doing. Secretary Pompeo apparently didn't know what he was doing. So it shadow government and what role Rudy was playing is perhaps known only to Rudy and the President of the United States.
As a result, I think he can be taken advantage of. I think he could be a target. And it's a concern beyond the fact that I believe they were doing things contrary to U.S. policy.
BLITZER: Your committee heard today more testimony this time from one of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's key advisers, Michael McKinley who just resigned the other day, what sort of context did he provide?
QUIGLEY: You know, I'm following House rules now and I can't testify -- I can't talk about what was testified today. I know others might have already. But I'll just say this, none of the testimony seems to contradict in any way by anybody what we have learned in the whistleblower's complaint and the transcript that came out of the White House, right.
The President of the United States bullied one of our closest allies and enlisted the Department of Justice to help in that manner. But as far as how anyone testified, I can't talk to that.
BLITZER: Congressman Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, stay with us. We're going to have much more this afternoon's dramatic walkout by Democratic leaders during a White House meeting with the President on the Syria crisis.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now including Democratic congressional leaders complaining a late afternoon White House meeting on the Syrian crisis deteriorated into what they call a nasty diatribe by the President. The Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells reporters the President had in her words "a meltdown." Let's bring in correspondents and analysts.
And Gloria, I like you to listen to Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, what he said following this meeting in the White House driveway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOYER: I have served with six presidents. I have been in many, many, many meetings like this. Never have I seen a president treat so disrespectfully a co-equal branch of the government of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, what do you think? Have you ever seen anything like this emerge, the way the President of the United States is smearing Nancy Pelosi?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's done it before to Nancy Pelosi, honestly. But, you know, this is just devolved into fist fights every day. And it's sad to watch. And, you know, then Congressman McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy who is the minority leader came out after this meeting and just said that Pelosi was politicizing the meeting.
It's not how a speaker should comport themselves, that her behavior was unbecoming and that her behavior is concerning to him. What does that mean? I -- what is that mean? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know what concerning to me, that there are people dying in Syria.
DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly.
TOOBIN: And, you know, while this comic tragedy, it's tragic comedy is going on. I mean, there are people dying because of what the President did in withdrawing our troops. And, you know, I don't know who is at fault. I don't know, you know, what the circumstances here, but that should be, I think, the priority in trying to deal with this situation.
BASH: I was saying as I was watching this, I'm so lucky that I have a third grader, because I could -- I know how to handle this. I know how to read this. Which is just let them do it and focus on what really does matter.
And Jeffrey, you're exactly right. Which is frankly obviously why the President is so upset, because it is not just the Democrats despite Kevin McCarthy coming out and, you know, saying what he felt like he needed to say standing on the White House driveway after a very odd and contentious meeting. But the reason he had to do that and the reason this is so, you know, uncomfortable to say the least for the President is because of the blowback that he is getting, not just from Democrats, but from Republicans. In fact that Pelosi --
PEREZ: Your third grader, by the way, is much better well behaved.
BASH: Well, thank you. I think you're right sometimes.
BORGER: Dana, he lost the vote in the House. A majority of Republicans voted against him.
BASH: Yes. Exactly.
BORGER: And, you know --
BLITZER: This was a resolution that passed today in the House of Representatives by a vote of 354 to 60. Three hundred and fifty-four to 60, twice as many Republicans voted against the President as opposed to those who stood by the President.
BASH: And that is, Jeffrey, often times for the past two and a half years has said, I'm waiting for the Republicans to speak out against the President. It happened. And it happened with a very loud volume given that the numbers that you just put out there. And that's what this is all about.
BORGER: So he doesn't --
BASH: Because they think that he is damaging American national security and endangering Americans because decision -- the snap decision he made is allowing for Isis to, you know, reconstitute and could potentially hurt. BLITZER: You know, Evan, the speaker emerged from that meeting in a short little meeting saying the impeachment issue never came up during the course of the meeting but it's clearly very much on the President's mind. It's one thing for him to smear and berate the Speaker of the House outside of the White House when he's not with her. It is another thing to go after her face-to-face. But listen to what he said only a couple of days ago about the speaker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I used to think she loved the country. She hates the country, because she wouldn't be doing this to the country if she did. She hates the country. Nancy Pelosi hates the United States of America because she wouldn't be doing this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: She hates the United States of America he says.
PEREZ: Right. I mean, look, every indication that we've had including from some reporting on Capitol Hill is that the President is very obsessed with this. He's taking to calling Mitch McConnell two to three times a day, the majority in the Senate two to three times a day to try to figure out how to corral and make sure that Republicans stay on board with his message.
And he's very, very much, you know, obsessed with the idea that, you know, that he believes Republicans aren't nearly as united in defending him as Democrats are in attacking him. And so that's foremost in his mind and I think you see that reflected in some of his comments.
BLITZER: The White House Press Secretary, Jeffrey, Stephanie Grisham just issued this statement. I'll read it to you and to our viewers, "The President was measured, factual and decisive while Speaker Pelosi's decision to walk out was baffling but not surprising.
She had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues while Democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country."
TOOBIN: Well, if I had relatives among the Kurdish allies whom we are betraying and condemning to death, I would really feel wonderful about this whole exchange because nothing is helping these people. They are in desperate need and fear for their lives. There is a possible genocide going on in Syria and this nonsense is going on.
I mean, you know, I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. But we know that there was no progress towards resolving this situation.
BORGER: And can I say, the Democrats are giving a completely different readout of this meeting. And according to reporting by Manu Raju and, you know, it doesn't sound, according to the Democratic readout, that the President was measured, that when Chuck Schumer raised General Mattis and quoted General Mattis about Isis reconstituting himself, the President went off and -- cut Schumer off and called Mattis, his former defense secretary, the world's most overrated general. You know why? He wasn't tough enough. I captured Isis. Mattis said it would be two years, I captured them in one month.
And then went on and on and apparently called Nancy Pelosi a name and it got nasty and she decided to leave. So, when we get more of a complete readout from both sides we're -- they're never going to agree. But it doesn't sound measures.
BLITZER: Let's not forget, we'll take a quick break. But the Kurdish fighters, with U.S. logistical support --
BLITZER: -- air cover, the Kurdish fighters did most of the heavy lifting in destroying the caliphate, the Isis --
BORGER: Not Donald Trump.
BLITZER: -- forces in Syria.
Everybody stick around. We have a lot more on all the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.
Gloria, Senator Elizabeth Warren clearly way up there in the polls right now. She came into the presidential late -- debate last night with a target on her back.
BLITZER: And it clearly showed. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything except this.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are making Republican talking points right now in this room.
ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Saying this is a rules problem is ignoring the reality that Americans see around us every single day.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Warren, I just want to say that I was surprised to hear that you did not agree with me.
KLOBUCHAR: I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth because no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires, not even the billionaire.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I went on the floor and got you votes. I got votes for that bill.
BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Warren is -- is more focused on being punitive.
KLOBUCHAR: At least Bernie is being honest here in saying how he's going to pay for this and that taxes are going up. And I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but you have not said that.
BUTTIGIEG: I don't think the American people are wrong when they say that what they want is a choice.
KLOBUCHAR: Your idea is not the only idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How do you think she handled herself, Senator Warren?
BORGER: Well, she was -- certainly was under a barrage, and she didn't give an inch. And she continued to say that, in terms of Medicare for All, she supported Bernie Sanders, but she was going to figure out that -- that there would be such a cost reduction that the American public would love it.
And it's clear that that affected her campaign today because M.J. Lee is reporting that they -- the campaign said tonight that it is studying a range of options for paying for Medicare for All, leaving open the possibility that the candidate may diverge from Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders has come out and said, yes, I would have to raise taxes and --
BLITZER: Including on the middle class.
BORGER: And as Klobuchar said, at least he was honest about it. She was kind of dancing around, dancing around all night about it. And I think you -- you -- going forward, you have to have an answer to that question.
TOOBIN: Although --
BASH: What's interesting to me --
TOOBIN: Although can we just, like, have a little bit of reality here? I mean, even if the filibuster is -- is abolished, which is a big if, the idea that there would be 50 votes for abolishing health insurance in the United States --
BORGER: Right. BLITZER: Private insurance.
TOOBIN: -- private health insurance seems like extremely unlikely.
TOOBIN: So the idea that, you know, Elizabeth Warren is going to be inaugurated next January 20th and then the next day, everybody is going to lose their health -- you know, private health insurance, I mean, come on.
BORGER: But she's running on it.
BASH: Yes, she does.
BORGER: She's running on it.
TOOBIN: Well, she's running on it, I -- I understand that, but, you know, the -- I think, thematically, we need to sort of have a little recognition that none of these plans are going to go into effect like this.
BASH: You know who's not going to have that recognition? The Trump campaign.
TOOBIN: Oh, that's right.
BASH: If she's the nominee and they have -- it's just -- they just -- they're swimming in money that they are preparing to spend if -- well, whomever is the nominee, they're going to spend it, but particularly on her to nail her on this issue because they think it's the best issue. And obviously, so many of her competitors agree because that's why they went after her.
I was told before the debate that she was preparing for this. She -- she knew she was, you know, maybe a co-frontrunner with -- with Joe Biden. She knew that she would take incoming like she hadn't before. And you could see that she was, you know, kind of trying to -- to deflect at every turn.
But the fact that M.J. is reporting that what they thought that they could kind of say and then just be done with, which is I will never sign something into law that raises the cost for the middle class, maybe it was too cute by half.
BLITZER: Do you think the former Vice President Joe Biden, Evan, put the controversy involving his son, Hunter Biden, to rest?
PEREZ: Look, I think he hopes so. And I think he tried to address it and -- and it does look like the other candidates are not looking too eagerly to -- to keep this alive. I think the issue is something that, obviously, President Trump and his campaign are going to keep coming back to.
And you know, it is an issue. It is an issue of appearances, and I think that's one reason why you saw Hunter Biden -- Biden -- do an interview with ABC this week. I mean, they understand, I think now, that -- that staying silent and -- and that their previous strategy was not really a good one to answer what are, I think, legitimate questions that people asked.
TOOBIN: But in the -- in the spirit of what Dana said about Elizabeth Warren and health care, just because the Democrats, you know, are not attacking Joe Biden on this issue, I mean, this -- this is --
TOOBIN: -- the -- the President's entire strategy.
BLITZER: And that will continue, you're absolutely right. Guys, stick around. There is more news we're following. So what's the story behind these very curious pictures of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un riding a white horse?
BLITZER: The breaking news, House and Senate Democratic leaders say this afternoon's White House meeting with the President to discuss the Syria crisis deteriorated into a nasty diatribe by the President. The meeting came after the President, once again, denied he gave a green light for the invasion of Syria during his phone call with Turkey's President Erdogan.
Our senior investigate correspondent Drew Griffin has been looking into the President's relationship with the Turkish leader as well as his business dealings in Turkey. Here is his report.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the question not even whispered any more in Washington -- why is Donald Trump allowing Turkey's leader to seemingly do whatever he wants?
And with a self-promoting businessman in the White House, one theory focuses on Donald Trump's business in Turkey and point to this braggadocios statement he made during the height of his presidential campaign. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a little
conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul. And it's a tremendously successful job. It is called Trump Towers.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The truth is Donald Trump doesn't own Trump Towers Istanbul; he owns a licensing deal. In 2008, a major Turkish developer agreed to pay Trump in a multimillion-dollar deal to use his name to build two towers, a residential and an office building, along with a shopping mall underneath.
Trump's daughter, Ivanka, helped with design, picking out the finishes, as Trump said, at the opening in 2012, but that's pretty much it. Trump Towers Istanbul is not owned, developed, or sold by the Trump Organization or any of their current or former principals or affiliates. It is a Trump property in name only and that name continues to pay him.
During the presidential campaign, financial disclosures by the Trump campaign stated income from Trump Istanbul between $1 million and $5 million. Last year, the President's financial disclosure brought that figure down to $100,000 to a million dollars. A source familiar with Trump's business telling CNN the fee fluctuates on condominium sales and the strength of the Turkish economy.
And despite telling Turkish reporters in 2012 that he was looking to do something else because this has been so successful, a Trump Organization official says that never happened. There was nothing else in Turkey. There are no new projects.
What has developed, according to Soner Cagaptay, is a bromance between Turkey's strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and President Trump who is envious of Erdogan's powers.
SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR OF TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I think the reason the Erdogan/Trump relationship works because -- is because Erdogan has a political man- crush on Trump, and -- the other way is also true. Trump also seems to be quite infatuated by Erdogan and his government style.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Cagaptay is Director of Turkish Research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and has just released his third book on Turkey, "Erdogan's Empire."
CAGAPTAY: Erdogan has been able to build a base that adores him, and I think, in some ways, Trump perhaps wants to copy that model inside U.S. politics. But at the same time, the two leaders get each other because they're both strong men. They both want to make -- want to make their nations strong.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It's a relationship that dates back to at least 2012 when then-Prime Minister Erdogan attended the launch of Trump Towers Istanbul, and Ivanka Trump made sure to publicly thank him. Since taking office, Trump has hosted Erdogan twice at the White House, met him in Japan. The two men share another connection, sons-in-law who participate in
governing decisions. In February, Trump sent his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Turkey to discuss Middle East strategy. In March, Erdogan admitted, my son-in-law has a working bridge to Kushner and discussed how his son-in-law and Kushner text each other.
Last week, the White House announced Erdogan will visit the White House again next month. That was before the current backlash over Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria, before Trump imposed sanctions, and before Turkey's assault on Kurdish forces.
Now, the strategy and mutual admiration between these two leaders is being challenged by the same issue, how to appear strong to their base while also trying to prevent yet another Middle East war.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, today, the President's quotes are almost interchangeable with what Turkey's President Erdogan has been saying about the situation, that the Kurds are no angels, that Syria and Russia should fill the security voids and fight ISIS, and that the U.S. should leave Turkey's border to Turkey. Wolf.
BLITZER: Drew Griffin, very good reporting, thanks very much.
Coming up, why these curious pictures of Kim Jong-un riding a horse could signal potentially something big.
BLITZER: There are pictures worth a thousand words, and they may -- may -- indicate that the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, is about to do something big. CNN's Brian Todd is here with details. Brian, these are new photos of Kim on horseback.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Spectacular photos, Wolf. Kim Jong-un is seen riding on a white stallion on North Korea's vaunted Mount Paektu. Analysts say this is Pyongyang's propaganda machine in overdrive. But given Kim's track record on that mountain, this is likely more than just a photoshoot.
TODD (voice-over): There's nothing for Kim Jong-un quite like a ride on a white stallion on a revered mountain top as a means of inspiring his people. This time, the North Koreans made such an event out of it that they pulled their legendary state T.V. anchor, Ri Chun-hee, out of semi-retirement to give her signature breathless narration.
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
TODD (voice-over): Pyongyang's state-run news agency released several photographs of Kim riding the galloping horse atop North Korea's highest peak, the volcanic Mount Paektu. It's said he was taking in the first winter snow and called it a, quote, great event of weighty importance.
MICHAEL GREEN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR ASIA AND JAPAN CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's clear that the North Koreans are in full propaganda, full cult of personality mode.
TODD (voice-over): For North Koreans, few places are as sacred as Mount Paektu. Located in northern Samjiyon County. It's the birthplace about 4,000 years ago of the mythical founder of the Kim kingdom of Korea and the Kim dynasty has co-opted that story.
ANNA FIFIELD, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT SUCCESSOR: THE DIVINELY PERFECT DESTINY OF BRILLIANT COMRADE KIM JONG-UN": Kim Jong-un derives his legitimacy as the leader of North Korea from this kind of mythical Paektu bloodline that they call it. This idea that the Kims have descended from mythical Mount Paektu in North Korea and, therefore, have been divinely chosen to be the leaders of North Korea. So Kim Jong-un says he has Paektu blood in his veins.
FRANK JANNUZI, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, THE MAUREEN AND MIKE MANSFIELD FOUNDATION: I think a good way to think about Mount Paektu is a little bit like Camp David. It's a place where the North Korean leader would go to reflect and ponder important moves.
TODD (voice-over): Kim ascended Mount Paektu near the time of the test firing of his largest intercontinental ballistic missile. Again, ahead of the diplomatic opening with South Korea. And he went there just before giving a chilling order which consolidated his power.
MICHAEL MADDEN, CHIEF FUNCTIONARY, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP WATCH: The most famous instance of Kim Jong-un going up to Samjiyon County was when it was about two weeks before they executed Jang Song-thaek in 2013.
TODD (voice-over): Jang Song-thaek was Kim's powerful uncle who he accused of treason and reportedly had executed with an anti-aircraft gun. On this visit, Kim's pulled a page out of the Putin playbook. The Russian President is fond of being photographed on his horse, including a shirtless ride.
The two strongmen held a summit in Vladivostok this spring. It's unknown if Putin coached Kim on horseback propaganda, but tonight, analysts are concerned about what this photoshoot might foreshadow.
GREEN: Most likely scenario, frankly, is that they're going to resume missile tests or nuclear tests because they're unhappy with the U.S.' unwillingness to accept their demands. And the most recent working- level talks between the U.S. and DPRK fell apart.
TODD: But analysts say the Mount Paektu visit could also be a signal that Kim could be ready to make a deal with President Trump, and the clock may be ticking for that. North Korea previously gave an ultimatum that progress on a nuclear deal has to be made before year's end, and Trump is, of course, gearing up for a contentious re-election campaign where he's under more pressure than ever for a foreign policy victory -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's very interesting indeed. Isn't much of the propaganda, though, about the Kim family and this mountain not necessarily true?
TODD: Right, Wolf. The North Koreans have always said Mount Paektu was where Kim's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, had his headquarters when he was a resistance fighter against the Japanese in World War II. But analysts say that area was occupied by the Japanese at the time, so the grandfather could not have been there.
The propaganda also says Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, was born on the mountain and that a star rose above the mountain at the time, but most historical records show Kim Jong-il was actually born in the old Soviet Union.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Brian Todd, reporting for us, thank you.
There's more breaking news. Coming up next, Democratic congressional leaders walk out of the tense White House meeting on Syria, accusing President Trump of unleashing an insulting tirade against them. We're learning new details.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Meltdown. Democrats say the President lashed out at Speaker Pelosi during a face-to-face meeting at the White House amid new bipartisan backlash against the Syria troop withdrawal. Mr. Trump also lashing out at Republican Lindsey Graham who's warning the President's policy is dangerous and, quote, screwed up.