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Sondland Testifies in Impeachment Probe; Giuliani Facing Probe; Syria's Kurds under Siege; Trump Comments about Kurds. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 06:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Whether it was really because the president of the United States wanted the Ukrainians to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden.

During that period, our reporting is that the ambassador picked up the phone and called the president of the United States. What was that conversation like? What did the president tell him? And also, beyond that, what conversations did he have with Rudy Giuliani and how did that play into what the administration, the people on the front line dealing with Ukraine felt that they had to ask for and deal with.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Look, this is CNN's reporting on what Sondland will testify to today. Let me read it. Quote, if you wanted to get this meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky, then you could either abandon that or you could work through Rudy, the person said, again describing what Sondland may say on Thursday.

BASH: Exactly.

BERMAN: They came to understand that what Rudy wanted was a public statement by Zelensky to look at Burisma and the server in 2016.

And, Jim --


BERMAN: Big picture here. The White House didn't want Sondland to testify.

ACOSTA: Right.

BERMAN: They tried to block him from testifying last week. But he's part of this parade of government officials who's going anyway.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BERMAN: And telling this story of what appears to be an alternate foreign policy run, by Rudy Giuliani, not necessarily for the benefit of America, but for the benefit of the president.

ACOSTA: Right. And, remember, Rudy Giuliani is a private citizen. He is the president's outside lawyer. He is not a government official. And he's certainly not a part of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus of the government.

I think you're -- I think you've hit the nail on the head, John, and I think that is why Congress is taking a very close eye at all of this. This was a shadow or rouge operation that was being conducted by members of the administration. Some were up to speed on everything that was going on and some were not. And it seems Rudy Giuliani and the president, all of the lines connect back to them in terms of what was known and when it was known.

In terms, you know, of the big picture here, John, I don't think we've seen anything like this since the days of Iran contra during the Reagan administration when you saw a shadow foreign policy operation being conducted by the administration. There are -- I think there are parallels between this moment and that one. And I think that is why, when you listen to some of the sources that we're talking to up on Capitol Hill, I talked to one earlier this week who was very familiar with what was going on inside this room when Fiona Hill was talking to lawmakers, this individual said that this is a pivotal -- quote, pivotal week in their inquiry, in their investigation. When you talk to people who are looking into all of this, they feel as though they are amassing information and evidence it -- presumably to bring articles of impeachment against the president. And I think Gordon Sondland is a key part of this today.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, he definitely has answers. Whether or not he will share them with investigators --

ACOSTA: Right.

CAMEROTA: We'll find out later -- later.

BERMAN: That is a big question. How much will he talk?

CAMEROTA: How much will he share?

BERMAN: Why does he want to go today and not last week?

CAMEROTA: Yes. OK. So --

BASH: Well, last week the administration told him he couldn't. It's fascinating that he's saying, I'm going anyway, whether it's a subpoena or not.

BERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: OK. Well, we shall see.

ACOSTA: The call is looking less perfect by the day, (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: Dana, Joe, thank you very much. Jim, I should say. CNN has --

BERMAN: Larry.


Has learned that the investigation into Rudy Giuliani includes a counterintelligence probe. So what does that mean? How does that change the case? How much legal jeopardy is Giuliani facing? We break all that down next.



CAMEROTA: CNN has learned that investigators have been looking into Rudy Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine for months, digging into everything from possible financial entanglements with alleged corrupt Ukrainian figures, to counterintelligence concerns.

Let's discuss with Elie Honig. He's the former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

OK, things are still -- the pieces are starting to come together, maybe, for investigators. Here's our CNN reporting. The counterintelligence probe hinges in part on whether a foreign influence operation was trying to take advantage of Giuliani's business ties in Ukraine and with wealthy foreigners to make inroads with the White House, according to one person briefed on the matter.

If this were the case, things would start to make sense for investigators, Elie, you tell me if I'm wrong, because they follow the money.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, follow the money, exactly right. There's a reason that's sort of an axiom.

A counterintelligence investigation is separate from a criminal investigation, they can both carry on in the same time on separate tracks. We -- I think everyone's sort of familiar with the point of a criminal investigation. The main point of a counter intel investigation is basically to ask, who is this guy working for really? And with Rudy Giuliani, that is a very open and important question.

I mean we already know that he's receiving reportedly $500,000 from these two guys who were indicted the other day by the Southern District of New York. What's that all about? Who's he -- whose interest is he really representing there. At the same time he's representing powerful Turkish interests that come into play, Reza Zarab (ph). I mean so whose bidding is he really doing? That's the question of the CI (ph).

CAMEROTA: Maybe he's doing his pocketbook's bidding.

HONIG: Well, that -- that's certainly his interest, right. And that's the problem. If you're compromised or if you're willing to take money from anybody, then you could be doing bidding of whoever can pay you.

BERMAN: Right, and that's not an offense, that, in some ways, is incriminating. Who's paying him and why is a key question not just for the counterintelligence investigation, but also the criminal investigation here, Elie.

How much trouble might he be in? The Southern District appears to be investigating a lot connected to Rudy Giuliani.

HONIG: Rudy Giuliani, as the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District, should know better than anybody how much trouble it is when the Southern District really digs into you. When the Southern District investigates you, it's like one of those like full body MRIs. They -- every aspect of your life will be examined. Finances, your political ties, every action that you take will be looked at.


BERMAN: He's going through a divorce, too, on top of all of this. Talk about tangled finances.

HONIG: Right. Right. But, I mean, look, he could be in trouble on a lot of different levels.

First of all, let's remember, he's out there openly soliciting Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. We could have bribery, extortion, foreign election aid there. We know he's tied in closely with Parnas and Fruman, these guys who were just indicted. There's money flowing back and forth. We know the Southern District is looking at him for potential lobbying violations if, in fact, he was representing Turkey and he had -- and he certainly did not register as a foreign lobbyist, that's a crime too.

CAMEROTA: When Michael Cohen got ensnared in all of this, he went to jail. He's in jail. But they're -- I hear some people say, well, with Rudy, they would want him to turn over everything he knows. Turn over all sorts of information.

How do you think that plays out?

HONIG: Boy, I'm trying to think of the possibility of cooperating Rudy Giuliani. I mean I've cooperated some bad guys with some long history, but Rudy would be really tough, just because it's all about credibility. And he's all over the map. I mean he's on TV contradicting himself every 30 seconds.

So I've put some tricky people on the stand as witnesses. If I'm back at the Southern District and I had a chance to flip Rudy Giuliani, I would think twice and a third time about that.

BERMAN: Of course there's also the subject of flipping those other guys now who have been arrested and indicted. Will they flip on Rudy?

HONIG: That's a huge question. And one thing that's really important to understand in the Southern District, corruption is all or nothing. In some other prosecutors' officers, you can corporate just on whatever the specific charge is. In the Southern District, if either of these guys from the charge last week or any of the four guys cooperates, they're going to be a complete open book to the Southern District. The Southern District will know everything they know about Rudy or anybody else. CAMEROTA: That is interesting. You have to say, everything you know.


CAMEROTA: You can't just say, well, I'll tell you everything I know about John Berman. You say everything.

HONIG: Anybody.

CAMEROTA: And I know a lot, OK?


CAMEROTA: Call me, Southern District.

HONIG: I'd flip you on Berman any time.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much, Elie.

HONIG: Thanks, Ali.

BERMAN: All right, other major news this morning, Turkey is pressing ahead with its military assault on the Kurds in northern Syria. This as the president tries to wash his hands of this. We have a live report from the ground, next.



BERMAN: All right, still more breaking news.

Vice President Mike Pence and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just arrived in Turkey. These pictures from moments ago. They will meet with the Turkish president, Erdogan, in less than two hours, presumably to push for a cease-fire in northern Syria, to stop the attack that really only began after President Trump opened the door by withdrawing U.S. troops. Erdogan has already dismissed President Trump's new call to end the incursion, insisting the threat of sanctions does not bother him.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, Turkey's assault on Kurdish forces in northern Syria continues. CNN has obtained video of daily mass funerals in the region and of Syrian regime forces advancing.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in neighboring Iraq with more reporting.

What have you learned, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very tough task for the U.S. delegation arriving in Ankara. Turkey's really made it clear, it has no interest in a cease-fire. And Donald Trump complicating yet again his own diplomat's task by last night reciting really Turkish talking points, saying that the PKK, that the Turkish part of the Kurds, that form part of the Syrian Kurdish forces that fought ISIS, Donald Trump said they're, in fact, worse terrorists than ISIS. Despite all this, though, people continue to bury their dead on the ground.


WALSH (voice over): There's little light left for Syria's Kurds who must bury their dead and their old allegiances.

It wasn't your time to die, my son. Why were you killed, she mourns. Your mistake was defending the country against invaders.

Take a moment to consider their world. They've grieved like this before under American direction to fight ISIS and buried 10,000 sons and daughters. And now America's president, in one phone call, has unleashed Turkey's NATO standard army and air force on them, and America's army has reluctantly left them.

A martyr does not die, she chants. One of many here who do not look like they will submit to Turkey's new borders here soon.

At the hospital in Kamishli (ph), the doctors line up outside to receive the wounded. It is an endless stream. Despite eight days of fighting, Syrian Kurdish fighters who complain so often at only having old Kalashnikovs to fight ISIS, are still holding Turkish forces back.

They have had some help, desperate enough to strike a deal with something worse than the devil, the Syrian regime arriving here quite far north in the town of Tal Tamr. The flags may be so new, they've just been unfolded, but the moves, the show of loyalty, is old and practiced.

Our spirits are high and our will strong, he says.

We're here to defend Syrian land and people, another adds.

While diplomacy stalls in Ankara, and soon the Kremlin and the displaced scavan (ph) shelter yet again, possibly hundreds of thousands are on the move while the fighting continues.

Turkish President Erdogan wants control of a deep swathe (ph) of Syria, yet the Kurds are fighting hard for Ras al-Ain, with the Syrian regime supporting in nearby Tal Tamr. Pro-Turkish forces push towards this road and the American base west, but the regime and Russia are now in Manbij setting both sides for a collision in the city of Kobani.

Tuesday, Turkish backed rebels fought fiercely for Ras al-Ain. U.S. officials have called them mostly extremists. Some former ISIS. But Turkey says they are the moderate face of the Sunni Arab Syrians who rightfully live here.


Yet again, Syria ground to dust and rubble as forces and hatreds that are hard to restrain open another chapter in this endless saga.


CAMEROTA: So, Nick, when you just told us about this potential clash in Kobani, what do you know about Russia's presence there?

WALSH: Well, when we talked a few days about an outpost outside Kobani where U.S. forces were possibly accidentally maybe deliberately shelled by Turkey, that outpost now, according to eye witnesses, has Russian flags flying above it.

Kobani is key to both sides. If Turkey doesn't have it, then its whole plan for a secure area along the border falls apart and the Syrian Kurds, they lost thousands fighting in rubble (ph) to kick ISIS out. It's integral to them.

But Russia and the Syrian regime have moved in. We saw a picture of that last night into Kobani to help secure it for the Syrian Kurds.

I have to tell you, though, it is extraordinary to see the fast pace developments on the ground. The U.S. forces pulled out of their main base near Kobani at the cement factory and had to blow up their discarded munitions and equipment there in the base using F-15 air strikes. I can't recall that since frankly about ten years ago in Afghanistan.

All eyes, though, on Sochi, the meeting between President Erdogan and President Putin next week. A lot of time, though, before that likely diplomatic solution for things to change on the ground.

Alisyn. John.

BERMAN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh for us in Erbil. Thank you very much. Pictures of those Russians trodding (ph) upon U.S. bases.

The president called former Defense Secretary James Mattis the most overrated general ever. We're going to ask a general about that remark and the global impact of the president's retreat in Syria, next.


BERMAN: Happening now, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just arrived in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, to try to undo a calamity. Perhaps make right a decision from the president that's had deadly consequences.


They will meet with the Turkish president, hoping to persuade him to agree to an immediate truce and cease-fire in Syria. An invasion that Turkey only began after President Trump announced he would pull U.S. troops from the border to make it possible, abandoning America's Kurdish allies.

In the Oval Office, the president tried to wash his hands of this conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have a problem with Turkey. They have a problem at the border. It's not our border.

We're not a police force.

As two countries fight over land. That has nothing to do with us.


BERMAN: Want to bring in retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is a CNN military analyst.

General, not our border. That's how the president talked about the Kurds. He also called them no angels. And now we've seen pictures of Russians trotting upon U.S. bases there and the U.S. having to blow up munitions dumps as they retreat.

What's the takeaway to the president's words and THE actions we're seeing on the ground?

GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: it's both embarrassing and infuriating at the same time, John. It's pretty obvious that the president does not have a good feel for either geopolitical or strategic advantage provided by the military and the use of the military in different areas.

The other thing I'd have to remind you of that a few years ago, when ISIS was running rampant in this area, there were no U.S. forces in Syria. And General Votel (ph) was given a mission impossible to put a force together that would fight ISIS, which he did. It isn't the U.S.' border, but those ISIS rebels or ISIS terrorists along that border certainly cause significant problems to the United States and most of our allies.

BERMAN: It was Liz Cheney who noted yesterday in this White House meeting reportedly, the terrorists on 9/11 traveled 7,000 miles to blow up the World Trade Center in New York.

Also at this White House meeting yesterday, the president was reportedly read comments from James Mattis about the risks of removing U.S. troops from Syria. And this was the president's response to that.

Mattis was the world's most overrated general. You know why? He wasn't tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.

Mattis was the most overrated general. General Hertling, your reaction?

HERTLING: Yes, it's a reaction to what was said. Remember, John, as all your listeners do, that Secretary Mattis, former General Mattis, resigned because of what he perceived to be the president's actions towards Syria. And he warned them -- the entire administration and the president -- that this would create a geostrategic crisis. Not just in the short-term. You know, doing something for short-term gain, getting soldiers out of there, but in the long-term. This is going to have second and third order effects, which concern me

in the extreme. This is going to cause problems, not in the -- not only in the Middle East, but in Europe and in the United States. And I think that's what Secretary Mattis warned him about. And now he's bearing the repercussions of that and trying to place the blame at someone else's feet. And it's probably not going to work.

BERMAN: I want to put a picture up on the screen for you and our viewers to see here. This was inside the White House yesterday during that meeting with congressional leaders. You see the confrontation there between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the president. Sitting next to the president is the chair of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, there. And you see, I think, the strain that this has put on the military as the president makes this case about withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.

I wonder if you have any guess of what General Milley was thinking there and just the overall morale inside the military as the president has chosen to take these actions and mount this strange defense that he has saying it's not our border.

HERTLING: Yes, Mark Milley is a good soldier. He's been in the military -- in the Army for over 30 years. He's served in various positions, both in peacetime and -- a significant amount of time, I think over six years in combat situations. He understands the implications of this. He knows how dumb it is. He knows that he, as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, his primary job is to offer military advice to the president and to the secretary of defense.

I would guess that he more than likely has offered repeatedly. and probably very energized tones, the challenges associated with this and the kinds of effects that will come about by the president saying the words he says, writing the letters he's writing, and all of those other things.

I saw the pain in Mark Milley's face. And, truthfully, you know, sometimes those of us who are retired say, what would we do in this kind of a situation? And, frankly, John, I'm not sure what I would do in this kind of situation because the president is not taking military or political advice in terms of how to address these issues. He's just not doing it.


And, again, it goes back to the fact he's getting his input from somewhere else. We can only guess where it is. But it's not from our military or our intelligence agencies.