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NEW DAY

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is Interviewed About Trump's "Meltdown" At White House Meeting; Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) Passes Away; U.S. Ambassador to E.U. Gordon Sondland to Testify to Congress about Possible Quid Pro Quo between President Trump and Ukrainian President; Pictures Released of Nancy Pelosi Standing Up and Speaking to President Trump During Meeting. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00]

CHARLOTTE CHARLES, MOTHER OF HARRY DUNN: -- directly for four, five minutes. Instead it just wasn't happening.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: He tried to again to meet with her yesterday when you were unprepared emotionally, unprepared with having a support network around you. But you will keep pressing to have her come to the U.K.?

CHARLES: We will.

TIM DUNN, FATHER OF HARRY DUNN: Yes, we will.

CAMEROTA: Charlotte, Tim, Radd, we're sorry that you're enduring all of this. We're so sorry for your loss. Obviously, we will continue to follow your story.

CHARLES: Thank you.

DUNN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I am, too, sorry for their loss.

We're also getting new reaction into the sudden passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings, even as there are major developments in the impeachment investigation. NEW DAY continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, October 17th. It is 8:00 in the east. We have a jampacked morning of breaking news. First, the most tragic. We learned that Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings passed away overnight. A passionate leader, a gifted orator, a champion of transparency. Cummings was respected, even loved by members on both sides of the aisle. His office says he passed away early this morning of complications from longstanding health challenges. Cummings had been in and out of the hospital, missing votes and business in his committee. He did play a key role in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump as the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He was first elected to his seat back in 1996. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland just 68 years old.

CAMEROTA: OK, and we'll talk more about that. But this, just moments ago, Vice President Pence arrived in Ankara, Turkey. He is there along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to try to broker a ceasefire to the fighting that began in Syria when President Trump withdrew U.S. troops. Any moment now, we can see the vice president meeting with Turkey's president. And then less than two hours from now, back here in the U.S., Gordon Sondland, the E.U. ambassador at the center, now one of the key figures in the impeachment inquiry, will appear before three House committees, including Oversight. His scheduled testimony, you'll remember, last week was blocked by the State Department. According to "The Washington Post," Sondland is expected to say there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine, but he did not believe a corrupt one.

BERMAN: As we said, a lot of news to get to. We will get to all of it. Joining us now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

We are going to start with the loss of Chairman Elijah Cummings, son of a sharecropper, beloved on both sides of the aisle and respected as well. And Dana Bash, you have perhaps what is the most vivid example of that this morning. Explain.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Mark Meadows, who are viewers probably know as a very staunch Republican, a very close ally of President Trump, well, he also, according to Cummings' own words, was one of Cummings' best friends. Very, very different politically. Very close personally. And Meadows said to me this morning, quote, "I am heartbroken, truly heartbroken." He went on to say "I have no other words to express the loss." Again, this is a staunch Republican talking about a very prominent Democrat who is investigating Meadows' close ally.

And I think that there's so much that that says. But I think just if we can take a moment, as divisive as this town is, there are relationships, personal relationships across the aisle. And Meadows and Cummings and the way that he is expressing or having difficulty expressing his sorrow for Cummings' loss even amid the turmoil politically that's going on here I think is very important to talk about.

CAMEROTA: We just had Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on who was basically crying through your interview with her, John, and she was just expressing what a loss and what a shining light he was, what a beacon for so many people across the aisle and as Democrats, and just waking up this morning to this sudden news for many of us. So obviously, we'll have much more on the loss of Congressman Cummings later in the program.

But let's turn to something that he was very interested in, and that of course is the impeachment inquiry. BERMAN: And Debbie Wasserman Schultz told us that he would want the

hearings to go on today.

CAMEROTA: And they are. They are going on today. Every day has had breaking news in terms of that. So today is no different. It is the ambassador to the E.U., U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland. He's a very interesting person because his appearance was blocked, as you'll remember, Jim, last week, and now he's coming back. They have all sorts of questions for him because he is the person in those text messages with Bill Taylor with the infamous "call me" when things seemed to be getting too hot in terms of questions about this quid pro quo.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Whenever you're exchanging texts and then they say call me it typically means you don't want to continue to have that conversation via text.

[08:05:00]

And it does sound as though the ambassador is going to have a lot to answer for when he goes behind closed doors. All you have to do is look at what Fiona Hill, the top Russia adviser to the president was saying behind closed doors earlier this week according to our reporting. She was describing the former national security adviser, John Bolton, as referring to the scheming that was going on between Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Ambassador Sondland as a, quote, drug deal, and saying that what Rudy Giuliani is doing is like a hand grenade that's going to blow everybody up. I think we're going to have to get to the bottom of that.

And I think lawmakers are going to want to ask about not just what Fiona Hill was testifying about, but also why was Gordon Sondland talking to the president as he was texting with Bill Taylor about this so-called quid pro quo? And according to "The Washington Post" and some other outlets, including CNN doing some reporting on all of this, apparently Sondland has said, well, it was a quid pro quo, but it wasn't a corrupt quid pro quo. But that flies in the face of what the president has been saying over the last several days, that there was no quid pro quo. Soliciting foreign help in an election is against the law. And if we get to the end of this process and there's evidence of that, my guess is you're going to see articles of impeachment brought forward. I talked to a source who was in the middle of some of this testimony earlier this week who said this is a pivotal week in this investigation right now.

BERMAN: I will only note, the evidence of the president soliciting foreign help for an election is in the transcript of the call where he says, hey, go look into the Bidens, talk to Rudy Giuliani more about it.

ACOSTA: But what's amazing is that there was all of this maneuvering going on up until that phone call. And for the president to say it was a perfect phone call, nothing nefarious here, there was no pressure. It sounds as though there was a pressure operation going on before that phone call even occurred. BERMAN: And apparently Gordon Sondland will testify to that today.

This is CNN's reporting. You said "The Washington Post" saying he will say there was a quid pro quo, not a corrupt one. CNN is reporting about the meeting that Gordon Sondland was trying to set up here in, this is a quote, "If you wanted to get this meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky, then you can either abandon that or you could work through Rudy Giuliani." The person again describing what Sondland may say on Thursday. "They came to understand what Rudy wanted was a public statement by Zelensky to look at Burisma," that's Hunter Biden's company, "and the server," that deals with the tinfoil hat conspiracy theory about CrowdStrike in 2016. The important thing there, Jeffrey, is, again, Zelensky is saying there was something that would be needed, be conceded by Zelensky if he wanted to meet with the president, hence a quid pro quo.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And what makes Sondland so important is that he actually had a relationship with Donald Trump. He is not a government bureaucrat. He is a hotel owner from the pacific northwest who gave $1 million to the Trump inauguration. He had not been a particularly close Trump supporter in the year leading up to the election, but he became one in a very self- conscious way, it appears, to get an ambassadorship. He got one. And there were at least some phone calls between Sondland and the president.

And what makes his testimony so important is that he is someone who can testify about what the president said about the relationship with Ukraine. And since we are in an impeachment investigation, what comes out of the president's mouth is so important. Obviously, we have the partial transcript that was released earlier that many people regard as a smoking gun. But Sondland can also testify about what Trump was saying in real time, and that's enormously important in unfolding how this story developed.

CAMEROTA: And then Dana, all of this is happening on such a busy week on so many other levels. Obviously, what's happening in Syria, as we just saw the vice president has just landed in attempt to broker some sort of ceasefire that many people believe the president began by giving the green-light to Erdogan. And then this letter that was released by the White House from the president to Erdogan and the language in it that just struck so many people as unusual coming from a president.

And then this iconic photograph that both President Trump and Nancy Pelosi have released. This was Nancy Pelosi standing up to -- well, I don't know if that's the right word. Just confronting the president about the things that he had said in this meeting. Our reporting is that in this White House meeting, I'll just take you through a few. The president bragged about his nasty letter to Erdogan. We may have a chance to read some portions of that. He called General Mattis the world's most overrated general. He said fewer than 100 ISIS prisoners had escaped, and they're the least dangerous ones.

BERMAN: Yes, but the important thing there was the secretary of defense wouldn't confirm it. He wouldn't confirm that they were the least dangerous.

CAMEROTA: How do we know who is the most dangerous ones when you're in a prison, anyway?.

And then he called -- I think President Trump called Nancy Pelosi a third-rate politician. And that's when, I think the moment where you see her standing up, I think is the moment where she says, why do all roads with you lead back to Putin? What a day, Dana.

[08:10:07]

BASH: What a day. This is -- if we were watching a TV show about a presidency, we would roll our eyes and say, yes, right. You can probably say that about every five minutes of this presidency, but this really caps it, because it's climactic. And that picture, the fact that the White House, that the president wanted that out because that makes it look bad for Nancy Pelosi, I guess she, like many politicians, are kind of a Rorschach test. But it's hard to see how that picture shows anything other than her literally and figuratively standing up to the president, particularly after what we now are told from people on both sides of the aisle who were in that room happened where the president was, again to use his term, rude to her. And that was all the talk, I'm told, on the floor of the Senate when members of Congress came back.

And, again, the whole reason for this blow-up is because the president got his head handed to him with a major and very important vote yesterday in the House of Representatives where the majority of his fellow Republicans rebuked him on his decision in Syria and what it has done to the U.S. allies there in the fight against ISIS, the Kurds, as we've been talking about. That is at the core of all of this behavior.

BERMAN: And Jeffrey, can I tie this together a little bit with the impeachment inquiry? Because the president lost on the floor of the house yesterday two to one on the Syria vote. And it also seems he's losing a little bit in the process here on impeachment. The White House is trying to stonewall. They're trying to utilize the strategy they did with the Mueller investigation and the initial Congressional inquiries after that, stonewalling. But the wall is crumbling because all these people they've tried to keep from testifying or they're hoping wouldn't testify are. And they are telling a story.

TOOBIN: This is really extraordinary. The White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote this letter I guess it was last week, although we seem to work in dog years in this --

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: It seems like a long time ago, but it was only last week, this eight-page letter saying no one in the administration is going to participate in this kangaroo court. You're not going to get any witnesses, you're not going to get any documents. But what we've seen this week is that quite a few representatives of the Trump administration, mostly career people, but not all, Sondland is a political appointee, what the Democrats are doing is they are slapping these individuals with subpoenas. And they are going to -- they are dealing with the question of, am I going to listen to the White House counsel or am I going to listen to my own personal lawyers who say you have got a subpoena, pal. You better show up.

And what these witnesses are doing is, by and large, showing up, and they are building a case that certainly looks like it is heading towards impeachment at this point. But that letter, that eight-page letter, which many of us thought was a complete shutdown, has turned out not to be. And that is very much benefiting this investigation.

CAMEROTA: Very notable and very important day. Obviously, we'll continue to follow all of the developments. Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: We were just talking about that White House meeting, that remarkable picture. Democrats who are in it say the president had a meltdown. We will speak to one senator who was there in the room and says he has concerns about the president's behavior, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:17:44]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So this morning, Democrats accuse President Trump of having a meltdown during this White House meeting that was meant to be about the crisis in Syria. Instead, Democrats say it quickly devolved with the president calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a, quote, third grade politician.

Joining me now is Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. He was in that meeting at the White House.

Senator, what happened? What turned? When did this meeting go south?

REP. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, from my perspective, the meeting started off with the president walking in and slamming down his files on the table, suggesting that this was a meeting he agreed to, but that we had asked for.

No one had asked for the meeting. I got an invitation from the White House. It wasn't at my solicitation or the speaker's or the Democratic leader of the Senate.

And it was belligerent from the get-go. And when you have the president of the United States who is supposed to bring our country together, particularly in times of challenges, call the speaker a third rate politician, suggests that Democrats who support the Kurds because they have fought for us and the Kurds, according to him, are communists so Democrats should be happy with that -- in essence calling us all communists. And when, in fact, you have someone who belittled General Mattis as too weak.

And then goes on to not show a grasp and understanding of what has been unleashed by his decision, particularly as it relates to the potential reconstitution of ISIS and Iran getting a land bridge to attack our ally, the state of Israel, and handing Russia a major role. Well, that's worrisome. So, you know, the speaker was restrained until he continued to

belittle her and Democrats in general. And as the third in line to the presidency and speaker of the House, I don't think she should have had to take that type of abuse.

BERMAN: You said overnight, quote, I did not see a person in control. You just told me it was worrisome. What do you mean by that?

MENENDEZ: Well, it's the president of the United States who is the commander in chief. It's the president of the United States who holds the code to the nuclear weapons of this country.

[08:20:02]

It's the president of the United States that has to get other leaders in the world to join us in common cause. I did not see a person who was of the temperament and had a grasp of the issues that would ultimately show a sense of feeling there was a person totally in control.

And, you know, what I saw yesterday, I have not seen in 27 years in serving under four different presidents.

BERMAN: What do you mean?

MENENDEZ: I saw a person who -- you know, I was here when George Bush was the president. You know, we didn't always agree, but he was always agreeable. He was someone who would listen. It wasn't combative in tones when you engaged with him.

You know, it was someone who, you know, at the end of the day, you might disagree with him, but you felt there was a sense of calm and steadiness at the White House. That is not what I sense.

BERMAN: Are you suggesting -- are you suggesting you have questions about mental capacity is the word people toss around? Are you concerned he's not up to the job at this moment?

MENENDEZ: I don't know about mental capacity. I'm not -- I'm not an expert to determine that.

I am simply saying that someone who is the commander in chief needs to bring our country together in common cause and acts the way he acts is not something that I want to see in the president of the United States. And when we challenge him, what is your strategy on ISIS, what guarantees do you have that the 10,000 ISIS fighters that have been detained by the Kurds are not going to get released in the course of these events, how are you going to stop Iran from coming in to Syria which is already there fighting on behalf of Assad for some time to get an attack point against Israel? What are you going to get from Russia in this regard?

When there are no -- virtually no answers to that other than "don't worry", then I worry.

BERMAN: And I know you pushed him on just that fact. Liz Cheney reportedly from Wyoming, Republican member of Congress, noted the al Qaeda terrorists and 9/11 came from 7,000 miles away. So, the idea this isn't happening on our border may not be applicable.

And apparently, the president handed out copies or asked, I think it was Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House to pass out copies of this letter the president said he sent to President Erdogan last week. Let me just read an excerpt of that.

Let's work out a deal. You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy, and I will. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool. Then the president says, I will call you later.

The president wanted this handed out. He thought this would bolster his argument that he was in control of the situation. Was that your understanding?

MENENDEZ: Yes. I mean, he handed this letter to all of us. I first read the letter and I said, wow, that's one heck of an interesting letter the way it's written.

But what I took the letter to be is basically cover your backside at the end of the day. He saw the reaction from Congress and from others in the foreign policy and national security establishment have a huge backlash. And he wanted to, in essence, show that he had a different calculation.

But this letter is only after you unleash the gates of hell at the end of the day and gave a green light to Turkey.

BERMAN: Senator Bob Menendez, I know you, along with the rest of us, are waiting to see the results of this meeting with Mike Pence and secretary of state and President Erdogan. Hopefully, we'll talk to you after that. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, John.

Senate Republicans pushing back against President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. Why was this the straw that broke their silence? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:12]

CAMEROTA: Republicans in the Senate have been slow to criticize President Trump on much of anything, until now. Over President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, thereby unleashing violence and death on the Kurds.

Here are just a few examples of what lawmakers are saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If you don't believe ISIS is going to come our way, you're mistaken.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm speaking for most members of my conference that this was a mistake, and I hope it can be repaired.

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): I hope that the vice president and the secretary of state can do something in this trip to begin to turn this back in a better direction.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): We are reversing our stance on maintaining peace and stability in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Well, joining us, Susan Glasser. She's a staff writer at "The New Yorker" and CNN global affairs analyst.

Susan, great to see you.

I mean, one of the defining characteristics of Republicans in the Senate has been their reluctance to criticize or speak out against lots of things over the past couple of years with President Trump.

So, why now? Why has this Syria decision changed things for them?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, that's right. I mean it's been one of the central paradoxes of the Trump era, the silence of the Republicans. And, you know, they have these object lessons in what happens when you criticize Trump publicly. You know, some of their brethren who did, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake essentially driven out of the Senate, collapsing Republican support for them.

And it just -- it strikes you as this almost incredible, weird hypocrisy on the part of Republicans to be so vocal. Lindsey Graham who flatters the president at every turn is out there now saying it's a disaster for the presidency. It's the worst decision he's made.

And, you know, there's a couple political dynamics at work here. Number one, I think there is a cynical perhaps perception on the part of Republicans that the American public doesn't care that much about foreign policy, that it's essentially a far away conflict. And that makes.

END