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Turkey: Not A Ceasefire, Just A Pause In Syria; Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) Discusses Trump Celebrating Turkey Ceasefire That Turkeys Says Is "Pause"; Sondland Breaks With Trump, Says He Had No Choice But To Work With Giuliani; Trump & Pelosi Each Say The Other Had "Meltdown" During White House Meeting; Chris Cillizza Reviews Democratic Candidates' Debate Performance. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 14:30   ET



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It may be that essentially they're saying that Syrian Kurds have to pull away from that.

But the Turkish are sounding much more bullish. They're sounding like a massive stretch of the entire Syria/Turkish border has just been declared part of the safe zone out of which the Syrian Kurds have to leave, which includes their major population center, Kabani and Qamishli.

In Qamishli, we hear they're celebrating with gunfire from Syrian Kurds who are happy with this. They don't sound like they think they're leaving their homes anytime soon. And Mike Pence said that, in the western town of Kabani, there won't be a military operation.

There's glaring holes in how this plan will work. Those advocates say the Syrians regime, who stepped in America's place to back the Kurds, may be the ones coming into these towns to essentially be the guarantors of peace so the Syrian Kurdish military forces can leave and the deal comes through.

Brooke, you have to remember, the important part of all of this is the 120-hour-long time frame. The time between now, when there's a pause in military operations during which the Syrian Kurds are supposed to voluntarily leave areas where perhaps they may already have left.

And the meeting between Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is frankly, since America precipitously withdrew because of President Trump's announcements and the fast moves Turkish forces made inside of Syria, President Putin has stepped into America's role as the peacekeeper.

In fact, near Kabani, there's a peacekeeping base the American were in and now with a Russian flag flying over it.

Be no mistake here, this is not an enormous victory for American diplomacy. Partly because we only got here because of a Sunday night call between Mr. President Donald Trump and President Erdogan in which he withdrew American forces to enable this operation to happen in the first place. There's been frantic backpedaling on this awful mess in between that moment and right now.

The moment we're in now, President Trump is heralding the great leadership of President Erdogan, whose economy he threatened to obliterate. He's been so mixed in his messages about the Syrian Kurds, part of whom he, frankly, said were worst terrorists than ISIS. That's a Turkish talking point.

In just about 24 hours or so -- I don't know how the next five days are going to play out. It's certainly, potentially a pause that maybe all sides might choose to take advantage of. But so much can go wrong, not the least what happens in this not-quite-defined safe zone where that the cease-fire will actually happen -- Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Nick, with all this perspective in Irbil, Iraq.

Nick, thank you.

Hang tight, Jamie Gangel.

Because with me now, freshman Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan. She serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee and is an Air Force veteran.

And Congresswoman Houlahan, you just heard the president refer to this as an amazing outcome. And adding to that, Turkey is denying that this is a permanent cease-fire agreed to, 120 hours only. Your reaction to where we are right now?

REP. CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D-PA): So what I think I just heard is, our president declared victory in a war that, as far as we can tell, he caused. Also, declared success and reveling in the fact he successfully negotiated a peace settlement with an ally of ours, a NATO ally of ours. And also effectively declared mission accomplished in something that appears, by all accounts, to be only a five-day pause.

If I have seen one thing about the way we progress in wars in this nation and around the world is that nothing is accomplished when it's apparently accomplished. So on all three fronts I'm disappointed.

BALDWIN: What about, just what we listened in Ankara, to the vice president saying that there won't be any further sanctions against Turkey? Should Congress, should you all go forward with sanctions?

HOULAHAN: Obviously, as a co-equal branch of government, Congress holds the authority and right to be able to go forward with sanctions if deemed appropriate. I believe we will be in the process of figuring out whether or not that is something we'd like to exercise.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me ask you about a sobering interview just into CNN. A former national security official who has experience in dealing with President Trump said this, quote, "Pity the president. He can't help himself. While the tragedy for our country worsens, many Special Forces troops are distraught or furious. We are witnessing sad obedience by the military to immoral and strategically unsound borders." Congresswoman Houlahan, has the damage on removing these U.S. troops

already been done?

HOULAHAN: I do worry about the damage that we've already done. We definitely sent a message around the world our handshake is no longer as good as it used to be. That concerns me not just for allies but also for the troops we put in harm's way and the families that are asked to make sacrifices for their family members to be serving overseas.

I also really worry about, as you mentioned, 160,000 people displaced in the region now. Women and children who have been displaced. I worry for their health and safety. I worry for the stability of the region. When women and children are displaced, peace for generations are upset as well.


One of the things I am committed to doing making sure we move forward legislation like the one I'm submitting right now on restoring funding for the U.N. FDA. Funding for women and girls for reproductive issues, to make sure we are taking care of the very people who are more likely to produce peace than the men who are along their sides.

BALDWIN: We appreciate that as a champion of women there on Capitol Hill.

Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, thank you very much.

HOULAHAN: You're very welcome. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Let's go now to Washington, to Gloria Borger, who's been listening to all things President Trump.

And thanking the Kurds, thanking Erdogan. You know, spinning this as some sort of victory. Your thoughts on all of it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president is effectively saying he has succeeded in ending what he started, and then declaring that he's unconventional and nobody else could have done this.

But I think the thing that's missing from all of this so far is the question of whether this Pence announcement solidifies the gains that the Turks and the Russians and Assad have made so far.

There was no talk of going back. Right? There was no talk of that. So effectively, we have totally abandoned the SDF. They've been given nothing. And we -- it seems to me we have no means of enforcing any kind of commitment.

And you have the Turkish foreign minister saying just now there's no cease-fire. So -- I don't know what to think. And I think the question the Congresswoman raises is a very good question. The president says, oh, we're not going to impose those sanctions, because I've done this great deal to end what I started, but I've done this great deal. I don't know if Congress is going to see it the same way.

I'll be interested to hear what people like Lindsey Graham are going say. Will Republicans think this is a enough and there shouldn't be sanctions?

Again, it kind of enshrines all the gains that the Turks and the Russians, et cetera, have made so far. It doesn't go back. I think that -- I think that will still be a big political problem for this president no matter how he tries to spin this.

BALDWIN: And Congresswoman Houlahan's point, what does our handshake mean now?

BORGER: Exactly.

BALDWIN: In any conflict, wanting to work with any kind of ally, is it empty?

Gloria Borger, we're going to wrap it.

Thank you very much for your perspective.

Continuing with more breaking news.

The White House admits it. The president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, telling reporters there was a quid pro quo, that aid to Ukraine was in fact tied to President Trump's wish for on investigation into the 2016 election. A stunning, stunning admission today.

And all of this is unfolding as a key player in the Ukraine controversy is again behind closed doors today. How Gordon Sondland, the E.U. ambassador, is breaking with President Trump.

You're watching CNN. We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: Now to this impeachment inquiry and the witness nearly all witnesses are talking about. President Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is now testifying before three House committees conducting this inquiry and the first Trump ally to be questioned.

The hotelier-turned-diplomat blames the president for pressuring Ukraine under the direction of Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. And Sondland says the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quite aware. Quoting Sondland's opening statement, quote, "Based on the president's direction, we were faced with a choice. We could have abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthen U.S./Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region, or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the president's concerns."

However, Ambassador Sondland also said he thought the investigations were solely about fighting public corruption and not initially realizing the Biden connection.

Again, citing his opening statement, quote, "I didn't understand until much later that Mr. Giuliani's agenda might have also included an effort to prompt Ukrainians to investigation Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians director or indirectly in the president's 2020 re-election campaign."

And Sondland also acknowledged this text, in which he denied there were no quid pro quos of any kind came, from the president himself by phone.

"I asked the president what he wanted from Ukraine. The president responded nothing, there is no quid pro quo. The president repeated no quid pro quo multiple times, a very short call. And I recall the president was in a bad mood."

So John Dean back with me, former Nixon White House counsel. CNN Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, takes a deeper look into Gordon Sondland.


John Dean, to you. Sondland was a big donor to the president and in his opening statement we know he appears to throw President Trump under the bus over and over again.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's the appearance, at least. Brooke, he's a man who bought his ambassadorship. So he's probably no friend of Trumps of any longtime standing.

But what I also must say is he's a rookie in Washington. He doesn't know how the game is played.

And if he thinks he can get up there and somehow weave a very fine line where he just skirts at the edges and maybe even goes over them to explain why he had no idea about all of this quid pro quo business going on, how they were really trying to investigate Biden, how they were really trying to look at a discredited conspiracy theory as part of the deal, and says, I really didn't understand that, that means he has to say he didn't read the newspapers. He wasn't well-informed about his job.


DEAN: And I don't think he can get away with it. It's probably a pretty tough day for him up there.

BALDWIN: As he is sitting there and doing this delicate dance, just remind us with you, you know, what was it like when you had to turn your back on someone that you admired to do the right thing?

DEAN: Well, by the time I started testifying, I was -- I had realized Richard Nixon wasn't the man I thought he was when I had gone over to work for him.

And I had tried internally to get him to stop the cover-up and failed and I had been very blunt in telling him the problems, very blunt in telling my colleagues what I was going to do.

And so when they suited me up to be the scapegoat of all of it, I said, you selected the wrong guy. And that's when I realized I had to not only blow it up internally but externally, and that's what I did.

BALDWIN: John Dean, thank you very much for, obviously --

DEAN: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: -- your role and expertise on all of the above. Thank you, sir.

We continue with breaking news. The White House admits there was in fact quid pro quo. That military aid to Ukraine was tied to Trump's desire for an investigation into the 2016 election.


BALDWIN: "Third-rate politician." That is what Republicans and Democrats say President Trump was yelling at Nancy Pelosi yesterday during this contentious meeting at the White House over Syria and Russia.

You've seen the photo. Just one of a few women in the room, and the first woman to serve as House speaker. It's hardly third rate.

How did she handle being yelled at by the yesterday? She kept her cool completely, with a number of onlookers adding they had never seen anything like that, because presidents don't act like that.

This is what she told reporters she was likely saying when the White House photographer snapped that photo.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): At that moment, I was probably saying, all roads lead to Putin.



BALDWIN: After, she and Chuck Schumer and Steny Hoyer walked out of that meeting at the White House, she walked right up to the cameras and said this.


PELOSI: -- shaken up by it and that's why we couldn't continue in the meeting, because he was just not relating to the reality of it.


PELOSI: What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say.


BALDWIN: The president's response, he tweeted out the photo as evidence of her, quote/unquote, "meltdown."

President Trump then tweeting, "Nancy Pelosi needs help fast. There's either something wrong with her upstairs or she just plain doesn't like our great country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her. She is a very sick person."

All right. Now, President Trump calling someone names, not news. What is news here, how the speaker of the House chose to handle it. She took that photo that the president thought she should be ashamed of and proudly put it on full display on her Twitter page.

Her triumph wasn't just the photo or her line about Vladimir Putin but she had the overwhelming bipartisan support of Congress to back her up. The House voted 354-60 with Republicans support rebuking Trump's decision on Syria.

My point is this, that this is not about politics. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or Independent. This is about being a statesman, or woman. And acting like it.

CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, is back with me.

And I know you have talked to people in that room.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So we have some new reporting, and I'm going to put on my glasses to read some of the quotes because they're so shocking.

The bottom line is, Nancy Pelosi, as you just said, was not the only person shaken up coming out of there. We've spoken to a Republican source who was in the room and I'm told that they were alarmed at his demeanor.

Quote, "Everyone left completely shaken, shell-shocked. He is not in control of himself. It is all yelling and screaming."

And I asked the source, you know, who's been in many meetings with them, has it changed, is it worse, because every week we talk about, is it getting worse. The source said, 100 percent. I asked, are you worried about his stability. And the source said, yes. And the source went on to talk to other senior Republicans in the

meeting. They were also shaken up. One used the word "sickened."

And they got a sense of the Pentagon, the generals who were there, and they were very upset. And the same thing, that this goes beyond just a policy difference. They were concerned about his demeanor.

BALDWIN: Stunning. All of it is stunning.

Jamie, thank you very much for always your scoop and your reporting here.

Let's move on. CNN's "The Point" is out with its latest 2020 rankings and the Democratic race for the White House. And if you watched Tuesday's debate, you probably know who tops the list of presidential candidates to beat.

Chris Cillizza is our CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large and he is here to break it down.

Hey, Chris.


Run through them fast. Get rid of the top 10. Get rid of the lower five first.

In a lower five, highlight two people. Beto O'Rourke down three spots. To your point about the debate. Really a weak performance I thought. He got dunked on by Pete Buttigieg about courage. Sort of not there.

Up two spots, Amy Klobuchar finally she had a moment. Took on Warren effectively. Presented herself as a voice if from the Midwest. Finally a moment for people like me who thought she'd continue to be a potential dark horse. Now, does she make November debate or not? Don't know. Raised $1 million in the next 24 hours debate. We'll see.

Top five. I know it's what people are most interested in. All right. Let me dispense two of them. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, five and three.

Kamala Harris at five, because Harry Enten, who does the rankings with me, couldn't figure who to put above her. Not moved upwards, struggled badly. Really bad in our debate on Tuesday night. But she's got $10 million on hand.

Sanders, you know his deal. Ton of money, he'll be there.

The big three. Pete Buttigieg. Best debate I've seen. Best debate by anyone I've seen in this presidential election cycle. Ton of money.

And Joe Biden, vice president, still going to be there. Number one, important, first time here, Elizabeth Warren. Ahead in

Iowa. Best debater. Ahead in national polling now. Ton of money.

She's the one to beat now, Brooke, which I think is a remarkable change. You saw it Tuesday night. Everyone going after her rather than Biden. Tells you everything you need to know.


BALDWIN: Chris, thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I want to continue with more breaking news. The White House today admitting there was, in fact, a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

And President Trump celebrates -- you heard me right -- celebrates this cease-fire with Turkey, but says -- according to Turkey, saying, not so fast.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We continue on with hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

Here's the big news today. Moments ago, the White House has admitted there was in fact a quid pro quo between millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine and President Trump's pressuring Ukraine to conduct specific investigations.


The president's Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney undercuts Trump's claims there has been no quid pro quo.