Return to Transcripts main page
Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo Arrive in Turkey; Gordon Sondland Testifying Today; Boris Johnson Announces Possible Deal. Aired 10:30- 11a ET
Aired October 17, 2019 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. At any moment now, from Turkey, we will hear from the vice president, Mike Pence, and the secretary of state. They're there for a critical meeting that they just wrapped, a one-on-one with Turkish President Erdogan, an extended meeting went on. And then included the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
President Trump sent Pence and Pompeo there to push Erdogan for a ceasefire in northern Syria.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Erdogan has already dismissed that, though. And those troops continue to progress on the ground in norther Syria. Our Kaitlan Collins has been traveling with the vice president. She joins us now by phone.
I wonder, Kaitlan, you've covered this White House for some time. What are their actual expectations of success or progress here, given the president's public comments undermining this mission? And after all, the fact that Turkey's getting what it wants and has wanted for years on the ground in Syria, a foothold there --
HARLOW (?): Sure.
SCIUTTO: -- chance to confront Kurdish groups directly. Is there any realistic hope being expressed to you by White House officials?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, yes, Jim and Poppy. We've been speaking -- and based on what President Trump has said publicly and what President Erdogan has said publicly, the expectation had been pretty low for this meeting.
And there have been a lot of questions about what the purpose of this visit was, even from inside the White House, people we spoke with since the president announced that this delegation was going to be making their way to Turkey.
And that's essentially what we are waiting for, now that we are on the ground here. We're here -- the reason we're not on-camera is because we're inside the presidential grounds right now as these meetings are under way.
That one meeting between President -- or, excuse me, Vice President Pence and President Erdogan lasted a lot longer than we'd expected it to. It's only scheduled for about 10 minutes, and it ended up going (INAUDIBLE) hour and 20 minutes, that's just the --
HARLOW: Oh, wow.
COLLINS: -- two of them in the room with a translator in addition to that.
Now, they've been moved on to an expanded meeting, which means it's President Erdogan, Vice President Pence and then the delegations for each side. They just actually had the press come in. We'd been pretty limited in our access so far, getting here a few hours ago, just holding in a room essentially.
But we went in briefly with cameras. We'd been instructed not to ask questions of the two leaders, but we did ask the vice president, has a ceasefire been agreed to? Because that is essentially what they were sending them here to get.
It's a question the vice president didn't answer, and said he thanked the media for getting in there.
COLLINS: We're told that he actually pushed twice to let the press come into that meeting. But of course, whether or not they're going to actually agree to a ceasefire and what that ceasefire would look like is a big question. Because, as you noted, Jim, Erdogan said before that he's not agreeing to a ceasefire.
So there are a lot of questions about exactly what this is going to look like --
COLLINS: -- at the end of the day.
HARLOW: Kaitlan, thank you for being there. It's so important to have you on the ground. Do you have a -- I mean, do we have any sense of the White House -- from the White House on what Pence was allowed to go in there in terms of talking about the level of sanctions that could come?
Because he goes as bipartisan members of Congress are pressuring this administration, you know, in the face of legislation coming today that would slap much harsher sanctions on Turkey for this incursion than the White House has.
COLLINS: And that really puts Pence in an interesting position here. Because since they've taken office, Pence has been, really, the liaison between the White House and Capitol Hill.
HARLOW: Right. COLLINS: He knows a lot of the lawmakers, he's been to a lot of -- so
surely, you can imagine, he's likely been fielding some of those angry phone calls from Republicans who are not pleased with the president's decision, even though many of them have said that publicly, including Lindsey Graham.
So that is the question, are there mixed messages here. Because even though they are here to broker a ceasefire, just yesterday at that press conference, President Trump was saying he didn't feel like it was the U.S.' responsibility to be involved, be in between Syria --
COLLINS: -- and Turkey. So that is why people are wondering how they can come here and deliver this message when, really, Erdogan can just look at what the president said publicly yesterday.
SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins, good to have you on the scene there. We'll look to see what the results of this mission are.
SCIUTTO: It was he said, she said at the White House as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Trump had a meltdown during a meeting on Syria yesterday, he told a different story. He says it was the speaker, accused her of having a meltdown. Both of them, using this picture to make their point.
Meanwhile, CNN has learned a months-long investigation into President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani now includes -- and this is crucial -- a counterintelligence probe.
HARLOW: Joining us to talk about all of this, CNN legal analyst Ross Garber. H teaches impeachment law at Tulane. He's also notably represented four governors who have faced impeachment before. Good morning. You know a thing or two --
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.
HARLOW: -- about this process. So let's just begin with the significance of Sondland's testimony that is happening right now on Capitol Hill.
Because he is -- was, shall I say -- such a Trump loyalist, and what we know from his opening statement that he is saying about the president and Ukraine, how big is this in the inquiry?
GARBER: I think he's actually an incredibly key witness. You know, he's important for all those reasons. He's also a key link between the government of Ukraine, the president, and notably, Rudy Giuliani. He's a guy -- and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
Sondland is at the center of a lot of this. And so I think what he has to say is important. And as we know, you know, concerns have been raised about, you know, what he thought he was doing on behalf of the president --
GARBER: -- with Rudy Giuliani.
SCIUTTO: He's already said in his opening statement, explicitly, that the president directed him and others to run Ukraine policy through his personal lawyer. So, to quote a lawyer, let's stipulate that for a moment here.
On the question of whether there was a quid pro quo, withholding financial -- military assistance from Ukraine and a presidential visit unless they investigated Joe Biden, he bases his denial on one phone call. He says, in his testimony, that he called President Trump.
The president responded, nothing. There is no quid pro quo. The president repeated, no quid pro quo, multiple times.
This was a very short call, and I recall the president was in a bad mood.
It strikes me that this -- you know, he's not saying there was an explicit quid pro quo, and that's hard to prove, you know? Because it's not like you're going to have a record of a presidential call here, saying, take this away until I get X. So, short of that --
SCIUTTO: -- legally, how do you prove that there was a quid pro quo?
GARBER: Well, first of all, you know, I read his prepared remarks. And I would probably have days of questions for him.
GARBER: You know, and -- one of the -- one of, I think, the big issues is what he thought was going on here. If there wasn't a quid pro quo, what did he think was going on?
GARBER: If he wasn't doing the president's personal bidding, what did he think Rudy Giuliani's place was in this, as his personal --
SCIUTTO: Yes. He doesn't, in his testimony, provide -- he says that it would be wrong to delay military assistance. But he doesn't provide an alternate explanation for why that military assistance was delayed at this time.
GARBER: Yes. No, that's exactly right. And at least in my experience, also, when people start speaking Latin to you, you know, you have reason to ask some questions about what's actually going on there.
HARLOW: What do you make of the president's behavior? We just showed you that tense meeting with Nancy Pelosi, calling her a third-rate lawmaker, you know, once again throwing former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, under the bus. To what end, I don't know. What do you make of his behavior in the middle of an impeachment inquiry?
GARBER: Yes, I'm actually sort of perplexed by the president's actions, and also the actions of those around him in the context of an impeachment inquiry.
Normally, what you would want to do in order to survive this kind of thing, is show that you're in control, show that you're working for the American people, show that you're trying to accomplish things. Show that there's no reason for you to be impeached.
And you know, the letter to President Erdogan was odd, to say the least. The tweets have been very, very, I think, troubling. And even the actions of his White House in response to the impeachment inquiry are odd, in terms of sort of the sort of just general stonewalling as opposed to articulating reasons --
HARLOW: The reasons each time.
GARBER: Exactly, right.
GARBER: And so I think those things, if I were representing the White House or the president, would be troubling to me.
HARLOW: Yes. Thank you, Ross. Always good to have you.
SCIUTTO: Good to have your expertise.
GARBER: It's good to see you.
HARLOW: See you very soon.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. and the E.U. have reached a deal on Brexit. The question this morning is, will it pass the U.K. Parliament? We're in Brussels with the latest, next.
HARLOW: Welcome back. So President Trump can pretty much count on most Republican lawmakers to have his back no matter what battle he is fighting. But when it comes to what is unfolding in northern Syria, there is a serious break in the ranks.
SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a big one. It's coming from one of the president's closest allies, Senator Lindsey Graham. CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash has more.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lindsey Graham is frantic.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He's making the biggest mistake of his presidency.
BASH (voice-over): Donald Trump is annoyed.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Lindsey should focus right now on Judiciary.
BASH (voice-over): Lindsey Graham is warning about terror attacks.
GRAHAM: He will have American blood on his hands if he abandons Kurds because ISIS will come back.
BASH (voice-over): Donald Trump doesn't want to hear it.
TRUMP: The Democrats, the do-nothing Democrats, as I call them --
BASH (voice-over): Listening to that, it's hard to believe Graham is one of Trump's most loyal allies. It's like a time warp, back to their campaign rivalry.
LINDSEY: I don't think he has the temperament or the judgment to be commander-in-chief.
BASH (voice-over): Then, 2016 Graham warned voters about exactly what 2019 Graham is apoplectic about now, that Trump's promise to withdraw troops from the Middle East will make America less safe.
GRAHAM: For God's sakes, pick somebody who is worthy of the sacrifice of those who are fighting this war, and who actually knows how to win. And I don't believe that's Mr. Trump.
BASH (voice-over): For Graham and Trump, it's complicated, very complicated. On abandoning the Kurds, U.S. allies against ISIS, Graham says he's holding Trump to the Obama standard.
GRAHAM: By assuming the Kurds are better off today than they were yesterday, that is just unbelievable. I can imagine if Obama said that, what Republicans would be saying now. So I'm going to say it with Trump. That is just unfair, dangerous.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon.
BASH (voice-over): But what if Obama called a foreign leader and asked for dirt on his political rival, like Trump did with Ukraine's president on Biden? It's hard to imagine Graham would say, no big deal, like he is now.
GRAHAM: This phone call is a nothing burger.
BASH (voice-over): In fact, Graham is still staunchly defending Trump.
GRAHAM: Thank you very much, been a good hearing.
BASH (voice-over): Even using his powerful role as Senate Judiciary chairman to backstop the president against the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.
GRAHAM: I can do two things at once.
BASH (voice-over): But that's not how the president seems to see it.
TRUMP: He ought to find out about what happened with Comey --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, what is the president's mood today, with regard to --
BASH (voice-over): Trump seems almost disoriented, that Graham is not singularly focused on settling scores against Democrats.
TRUMP: What happened with President Obama, what happened with Brennan (ph), that's what Lindsey ought to focus on. That's what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on.
GRAHAM: It's not about me and him, it's about the country.
BASH (voice-over): Yet it is about the two of them. Being close to Trump helps Graham, who is up for re-election in South Carolina, where the president has so much support, a top Graham aide calls it "Trumpistan."
Trump treasures Graham as a golf buddy and a navigator in the ways of Washington. But we now know Graham's influence, his attempts to curb the president's isolationist worldview, has limits.
TRUMP: 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.
BASH: And that right there is the fundamental difference between the two of them that has not been bridged. And Graham has always been candid in saying that staying close to the president keeps him relevant. But being relevant and being effective in keeping the president from making even -- from even what Graham calls, Poppy and Jim, an impulsive decision --
BASH: -- we now see are two very different things.
HARLOW: Dana, it's remarkable to see all those comments side by side. Thank you for that, very very much.
[10:48:00] SCIUTTO: Well, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, says that the U.K. and E.U. have reached a tentative Brexit deal. The question is, can it pass the U.K. parliament? We're going to ask that question. We'll be in Brussels, live with the latest, next.
HARLOW: All right. The U.K. Parliament will vote, Saturday, on a new Brexit deal, just brokered by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union. Johnson says he thinks this time, it's going to pass.
SCIUTTO: That's far from certain. Several British lawmakers have said they do not like the deal, they'll oppose it. Let's get to CNN's Nic Robertson, he's in Brussels with the latest. So, Nic, it is significant that the E.U. seems to like this agreement, so does the Irish prime minister, but not --
SCIUTTO: -- the Labour Party, not the pro-Brexit party. What happens next?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Super Saturday is what you're talking about. Back in London, Boris Johnson takes a deal that presumably -- and it's widely expected -- that E.U. leaders here will tick the grid (ph), tick the box on that. He'll get their acceptance.
But when he gets to Parliament, yes, he's going to face a different story. The Labour Party, the main opposition party, say they'll vote against it. The Scottish National Party, the big party from Scotland that has 35 seats and is quite a significant political player in Westminster, they're going to vote against it.
But very significantly for Boris Johnson, the Democratic Unionist Party, that political ally from Northern Ireland, say, hey, what you've cooked up in this deal isn't enough for us, it doesn't satisfy our needs at all, made (ph) the people in Northern Ireland worse off.
And when they start backing away from it, then some of the hardline Brexiteers in Boris Johnson's own party could potentially back away from it. It doesn't look like he'll have the numbers. And these E.U. leaders kind of know that. So we could be back here again, you know, in a number of months, doing -- going through the same -- a similar scenario.
HARLOW: But this is their last shot, right, Nick? I mean, they -- or they crash out at the end of the month.
ROBERTSON: This is the way -- Poppy, this is the way Boris Johnson's call (ph) -- says it's going to be. It's going to be my deal or no deal.
HARLOW: Yes. ROBERTSON: But constitutionally, written into British law, on
Saturday, if his deal doesn't get accepted by Parliament, he is supposed to write to the E.U. and ask for a three-month extension. And he has said that he'll do that.
But spin doctors at 10 Downing Street say yes, but we've got other means to counter that. I think you're going to find sort of a constitutional, legal pitched battle in the U.K. after Saturday. But let's see, we don't know. We keep saying uncharted territory, that's where we're at.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And another three months might be another three months of --
SCIUTTO: -- negotiations without resolution --
SCIUTTO: -- we don't know.
ROBERTSON: The same --
SCIUTTO: Nic Roberson --
ROBERTSON: -- the same.
SCIUTTO: -- we know you're going to be there.
HARLOW: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.
HARLOW: Right now, a key witness in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is testifying behind closed doors. The statement already that we've received from E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland sheds a lot of new light on the president's dealings with Ukraine and demands. More on that, coming up.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good morning, everyone. Today is a very sad day for us, as we all awakened to the sad news of the passing of our dear friend, revered and respected colleague, Congressman -- Mr. Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, my brother in Baltimore.
He was -- in the Congress, Elijah was considered a North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity. He lived the American dream, and his own family's parents were sharecroppers. He, Phi Beta Kappa from Howard and a chairman, very important committee in the Congress of the United States. He lived the American dream, and he wanted it for everyone else. He
spoke with unsurpassed clarity and moral integrity, when he spoke on the floor.
I had the -- just coincidental -