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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mulvaney Undercuts Trump Denials Of No Quid Pro Quo On Ukraine, Admitting U.S. Aid Was Tied To Trump's Push To Investigate Democrats; Ambassador Breaks With Trump, Tells Impeachment Inquiry Pres. Directed Diplomats To Work With Giuliani On Ukraine; Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Mick Mulvaney, Impeachment, Gordon Sondland, Ceasefire In Syria, And G7 Summit; Turkey Refutes Trump-Pence Claims Of Ceasefire In Syria, Official Says It's A Five-Day Pause Of Military Operations; White House: Trump To Host G7 Summit At His Own Resort; Ambassador Breaks With Trump, Says President Directed Diplomats To Work With Giuliani On Ukraine. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 17, 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: And I don't know how he can claim that the President not going to profit from it.
Everyone stick around. Thank you so much for watching our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Quid pro quo. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney stuns the President Trump's legal team. Undercutting the President's denials of quid pro quo with Ukraine and admitting the U.S. aid was tied to Mr. Trump's push to investigate Democrats.
Breaking with Trump. The U.S. Ambassador to the European Union testifies in the House impeachment inquiry. Telling lawmakers the President directed him and other diplomats to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, on Ukraine as Giuliani was pursuing an investigation of Trump rival Joe Biden.
Far from a victory. Republican Senator Mitt Romney slams President Trump's claim of a ceasefire in northeast Syria. And Turkey immediately denies it's agreed to halt its attacks on Kurdish forces there is, saying it's only pausing the deadly military operation.
And Doral summit. The White House announces President Trump will host next year's G7 summit at his own resort in Doral, Florida, claiming it will save taxpayers money, but it's not releasing a detailed cost or revealing what other properties made the final cut and who made the final decision.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following breaking news. A truly stunning admission from the White House. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney directly contradicting President Trump on a quid pro quo with Ukraine saying hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid was tied to an investigation of Democrats in the 2016 election. Mulvaney told reporters to "get over it." And that, "we do that all the time with foreign policy."
Also breaking this hour, Turkey. Turkey is denying claims by President Trump and Vice President Pence that a cease fire has been brokered in the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory in northeast Syria. Turkey's foreign minister says flatly, it's not a cease fire, just a five-day pause of military operations. We'll talk about the breaking news and much more with Congressman Ted Lieu of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. And our correspondents and analysts are standing by.
First, let's go straight to the White House. Our CNN Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is there for us. Jim, we're hearing the President and the President's lawyers were truly stunned by Mick Mulvaney's admission.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House made a remarkable admission today as the acting chief of staff acknowledged there was a quid pro quo tying foreign aid to Ukraine to an investigation of the President's unproven conspiracy theory about the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 campaign. The President's legal team, we are told, was stunned by Mulvaney's performance with one source telling CNN it was not helpful, but the White House seems to be saying quid pro so.
ACOSTA (voice-over): For the Acting Chief of Staff, it was a moment of high drama. Mick Mulvaney conceded that the Trump administration's hold military aid to Ukraine was connected with the President's desire to investigate the Democratic National Committee's actions during the 2016 election, a quid pro quo.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We do that all the time with foreign policy. I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.
I'm talking. That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.
ACOSTA: Mulvaney's comments came as a shock to members of the President's legal team. One source told CNN "people are a bit stunned." Mulvaney's remarks have raised even more questions as he hinted there may be a recording of the President's conversation with the leader of Ukraine back in July when Mr. Trump was seeking dirt on Joe Biden.
MULVANEY: You can stop asking the questions there because there's no cover up and I can prove it by our actions.
If we wanted to cover this up, would we have called the Department of Justice almost immediately and had them look at the transcript of the tape? Which we did, by the way, all right? If we wanted to cover this up, would we have released it to the public?
ACOSTA: Mulvaney also defended the President's decision to involve his own personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, in the administration's dealings with Ukraine.
MULVANEY: It's not illegal. It's not impeachable. The President gets to use who he wants to use. The President wants to fire me today and hire somebody else, he can. The President gets to set foreign policy and he gets to choose who to do so.
ACOSTA: Part of the problem for the President, Mulvaney's comments directly contradict President Trump's claims there was no quid pro quo.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now all of a sudden, Schiff doesn't want to talk to the whistleblower. Now all of a sudden quid pro quo doesn't matter because they see in the call there was no quid pro quo.
The whistleblower said quid pro quo eight times. It was a little off. No times.
ACOSTA: Mulvaney's moment overshadowed Mr. Trump's announcement of the stoppage of the attacks on the Kurds in northern Syria.
TRUMP: On behalf of the United States, I want to thank Turkey.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump congratulated Turkey's President for hitting the brakes after receiving a green light from the White House.
TRUMP: I just want to thank and congratulate though, President Erdogan. He's a friend of mine and I'm glad we didn't have a problem because frankly, he's a hell of a leader and he's a tough man. He's a strong man and he did the right thing.
ACOSTA: GOP Senator Mitt Romney accused the President of turning his back on Kurdish U.S. allies.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH: What happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences? Further the cease fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally.
ACOSTA: Now key figure in the Ukraine investigation, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, informed the President earlier today that he is stepping down soon. Perry was one of three administration officials tapped to lead Mr. Trump's Ukraine policy along with his outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, but none of that eclipses what the White House Acting Chief of Staff said inside the briefing room earlier today.
Mulvaney's performance blind sided the President's outside legal team as the President's lead attorney, Jay Sekulow, said on the record to CNN, the legal team was not involved in the Acting Chief of Staff's press briefing. Wolf, that is pretty telling when the chief counselor to the President is saying we did not have anything to do with this.
BLITZER: Yes, it was truly an amazing, an amazing performance by the Acting White House Chief of Staff. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Up on Capitol Hill, one Democratic lawmaker involved in the impeachment inquiry says that Mulvaney and I'm quoting, "cosign the President's confession."
Let's bring in our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, so what other reaction are you hearing up there?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, even some Republicans are taking aback by what the President said. One Republican who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee that is investigating this matter that Francis Rooney of Florida told me that he was troubled by what Mick Mulvaney said. He said, "It's not a good thing to withhold aid in connection with threatening foreign leaders."
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Republican senator told our colleague Ted Barrett, that yes, absolutely, that's a concern. You don't hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for political initiative, period. But for the most part, Republicans either are declining to comment or siding with the President. And some Democrats, including some senior Democrats like Adam Schiff are saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: I think Mr. Mulvaney's acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse.
REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I think the key to today is to date, every single witness, every single fact has not supported any aid pause or hold up in foreign aid being attached to any conditions and that's been consistent with every witness that we've heard from so far.
RAJU: Mr. Meadows, Mr. Mulvaney did acknowledge that they held the military aid up in exchange for this investigation.
MEADOWS: I haven't seen it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So he said he hadn't seen exactly what Mick Mulvaney said because they were in this closed door session with the key witness today in this impeachment probe, but expect this will continue to be a line of questions next week when more witnesses come in asking about what happened with that military aid. That's one aspect of it.
But Wolf, you heard Democrats say right there, this acknowledgment essentially confirmed what they have been seeing that the President withheld military aid clearly in their view to advance his political interest, Wolf.
BLITZER: And it also comes at a time when the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testifies -- has been testifying up on Capitol Hill today. What kind of impact is that having?
RAJU: Yes, all day long, he has been behind closed doors and revealing testimony telling the White House investigators that the President essentially put on ice in an effort to strengthen relations between the United States and the Ukrainian government in exchange for these officials to talk to Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani wanted the Ukrainian government to put out a formal statement saying an investigation was underway, both into the energy -- the company Burisma that Hunter Biden, the former Vice President Joe Biden's son, sat on, as well as this investigation into the DNC server in 2016.
Now what Bill Sondland -- Gordon Sondland says in this testimony is that essentially that he was not aware what Giuliani was up to. But what Giuliani could be doing would be potentially attempting to help the President's 2020 re-election campaign.
Now, some Democrats are raising some concerns with what Gordon Sondland has said because he has distanced himself pretty dramatically from what Giuliani and President Trump said.
One Democrat, Harley Rouda, of California says that he has a case of "selective amnesia" because he said he was not aware of a lot of these key activities. But this testimony, Wolf, expected to go on for several more hours as one key political appointee here acknowledges what he says is troubling action by the President and Rudy Giuliani. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. All these witnesses that have been testifying seven, eight, nine, 10 hours over the mast several days. Thanks very much Manu for that report.
Mulvaney's admission appears to be the roll out off a new legal strategy to try to fight the impeachment inquiry. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working that part of the story for us.
Evan, some of the Mulvaney' explanation, they came as a surprise to Justice Department officials. What else do you learn?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this was a test drive of a legal strategy and it immediately ran into a ditch. Mulvaney's mention tieing what he says Giuliani and the President were doing about the aid and tieing it to a Justice Department investigation really drew a sharp reaction from the Justice Department.
I'll tell you what one senior Justice Department official said, "If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Justice Department, that is news to us." And the concern there, Wolf, is that what Mulvaney was doing was essentially tieing the entire controversy over Giuliani. And what he was up to in Ukraine with the activities of John Durham and investigation of Bill Barr is closely, closely monitoring, which is looking into some of the activities in 2016, looking at whether or not there was any interference by countries including by Ukraine and to see whether there's anything there. And so that investigation is still ongoing and -- but they want to make sure that there's some distance between that and what Mulvaney was saying today.
BLITZER: It is so important, John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut who's been charged with looking into what happened in 2016. Thanks very much Evan for that.
Let's get to more on all the breaking news. Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California is joining us. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let's get right to the news. You heard what Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said today. He admitted that part of the reason they froze funding to Ukraine was President Trump's desire to see Ukraine investigate on his behalf what was going on with the Democrats in 2016 he said. What does that admission mean for your impeachment inquiry?
REP. TED LIEU, (D-CA): Yes. Thank you, Wolf, for your question. Let me first acknowledge the passing of Representative Elijah Cummings, a giant of Congress. My prayers are with Maya Cummings and their family.
LIEU: Regarding your question. What Mick Mulvaney said today was stunning and it shows that the Trump defense is crumbling before our very eyes. It is illegal for the American President to solicit a foreign power to target an American political party. It's way worse to now tie that taxpayer fund and military aid that Donald Trump halted.
This quid pro quo was something that Trump repeatedly said didn't happen and now Mick Mulvaney admits and in fact it did happen.
BLITZER: The Acting Chief of staff Mulvaney also admitted that President Trump got Rudy Giuliani involved, his personal lawyer, someone we don't believe has any security clearances right now involved of all -- involved in all of this Ukraine policy, but he argued that the President has every right to do so. How do you respond to that?
LIEU: It's OK if the President wants to use a random person, but the difference here is Rudy Giuliani was very publicly advocating to investigate the Bidens and to investigate the Democratic National Committee and to ask a foreign power, in this case, Ukraine to do it.
And Ambassador Sondland's opening statement, which is now in the public domain, is very damning for Donald Trump because he specifically says Donald Trump told Sondland that he had to talk to Rudy Giuliani. He directed him to talk to Giuliani and that he understood that Giuliani was the key to Ukraine policy.
BLITZER: You also hard from Ambassador Sondland who testified -- who's still testifying for hours, that he felt he had no choice but to work with Giuliani. Was Sondland manipulated by the President's whims or did he knowingly engage in this pressure campaign on Ukraine to get supposedly to get dirt on the Bidens?
LIEU: Right. So, that's a good question. I don't think it actually matters for purposed of the impeachment whether Ambassador Sondland was a knowing participant or an unwitting pawn in this whole scheme, but he was clearly executing the policies directed by Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani has said that he was working on behalf of Donald Trump and these policies were to investigate the Bidens and to investigate this crazy DNC conspiracy theory and to have Ukraine do that. That is highly illegal.
BLITZER: So you were listening to him. How credible did he sound to you today?
LIEU: Right. There were a lot of I don't recalls and I don't remember. But the opening statement that Ambassador Sondland is now in public domain is very, very bad for the President because he links Ukraine policy to Rudy Giuliani and Rudy Giuliani, if you read his tweets and public statements at the time, was really publicly advocating for investigations of the Democratic National Committee and of the Bidens.
And we know Rudy Giuliani has said very recently he was working on behalf of Donald Trump. And now from Mick Mulvaney, we know that there was a quid pro quo with a halting military aid. All this blows away Donald Trump's legal defenses.
BLITZER: Well, you're a member the House Foreign Affairs Committee, let me get your reaction to what the President and the Secretary of State, the Vice President are calling a ceasefire in Syria, does this deal do anything to change the big winners, the losers in the aftermath of the President's decision to effectively pave the way for this Turkish military offensive against the Kurds?
LIEU: I don't object to the goal of withdrawing troops in Syria, but I object on how Donald Trump did it because of his impulsive decision, the lack of coordination and planning. The Turks slaughter a lot of Kurds who are our allies. Isis prisoners were set free. They were previously in these prisons. And then you have Russians taking over U.S. military facilities.
This ceasefire is actually not a ceasefire. It is a 120-hour pause and it's basically as giant concession to Turkey and to have the Kurds be literally be forced out of the areas in which they were in. And I think not only should we have sanctions against Turkey, I think it's also time that we formally recognize our Armenian genocide.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congressman, as you know the White House today announced that President Trump will host next year's G7 summit in June at his own resort in Doral, Florida. What's your reaction?
LIEU: Yes. So right now, there is an impeachment inquiry open because we're investigating the private corruption of Donald Trump. This is just public corruption right out in the open. You've got taxpayer funded moneys going to go to Doral as well as moneys from foreign powers going to Doral. That's how benefiting Donald Trump and his family because he did not divest from any of these businesses. This money is going to go to his family. It's going to benefit him and that's illegal and unconstitutional under the U.S. constitution.
BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stay with us. We have more on the breaking news in today's rather bizarre news conference by the Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Help or hurt the President fight against impeachment.
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now including the acting White House chief of staff undercutting President Trump's denials of a quid pro quo on Ukraine, telling reporters the USA was in fact tied, at least the part of the President's desire for the Ukrainians to investigate Democratic National Committee's actions during the 2016 presidential election.
Let's bring in our political, legal and national security experts to discuss.
Gloria, let me play a clip a little bit of what the Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MULVANEY: This is a corrupt place. I don't want to send him a bunch of money. Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money.
We look back to what happened 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.
The President asked Rick Perry to work with Mr. Giuliani.
You may not like the fact that Giuliani was involved. That's great. That's fine. It's not illegal. It's not impeachable. The President gets to use who he wants to use.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, that's the strategy. It looks like the strategy at least for Mulvaney's part to admit everything.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. You know, it's the Rudy Giuliani strategy, just like get it out there and say, I did it, so what? No big deal. Except, it is a big deal.
And the people at the Department of Justice according to our reporting also thought that it was a big deal because what he was doing was he saying that money was held up because of corruption, because other countries pay more, you know, for defense and for cooperating and for Turkish cooperating in ongoing investigations by the Department of Justice about 2016. Nothing to do with Biden, he said, oh, no, no, no. As if this were not bad enough.
I think, you know, if I were at the Department of Justice, my head would be exploding right now because what is he saying? I mean, he's got to testify now on Capitol Hill. He just admitted something that the President said oh no, no, no, no quid pro quo. And by the way, we do have the summary of that conversation, where in fact Biden was mentioned.
Now, the White House says that wasn't about money. Trump says it wasn't about money, but his own chief of staff says, wait a minute, it was about money because of this 2016 debunked conspiracy theory that they wanted the Turks to investigate. I mean, Ukrainians, sorry.
BLITZER: And Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. in his opening statement today, they released the text of it, said Giuliani was basically taking charge of Ukraine policy. Specifically mentioned the 2016 election including the DNC server and Burisma as two anti- corruption investigatory topics of importance to the President. Tell our viewers about Burisma.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So Burisma is a company, a Ukrainian company that Hunter Biden served on the board of. It is sort of the heart of this debug conspiracy theories. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Joe Biden in anyway interfered to get a prosecutor fired. There is nothing to suggest that there actually was any criminal wrong doing on part of Burisma.
Ukrainian authorities, independently before all of this investigated the company and cleared them entirely. And so this really is -- you know look, another step in the strategy to Gloria's point, of a full on confession. This is both Gordon Sondland and Mick Mulvaney going in front of cameras and basically saying we did it.
There was a quid pro quo. It is the absolute worst possible manifestation. We held up congressionally appropriated and authorized military aid in exchange for extorting a foreign government to both pursue, frankly, deranged conspiracy theories about the DNC server and to dig up dirt on the President's political opponent.
BLITZER: Yes. Mulvaney says we did it, but then he says get over it.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, yes. I mean, this is what we all talk about all the time, which is the attempt to normalize this behavior in ways that it's just not normal. Just to heap bad on top of bad, to add on to both what Gloria and Susan said. Susan effectively debunked the Burisma holdings thing.
I just want to dedicate a minute to the idea that Mick Mulvaney pushed -- and Donald Trump pushed with Volodymyr Zelensky, that the physical server that was hacked, the Russians hacked the DNC server site is somehow in the possession of the Ukrainians.
Now, how do we get there? Because there's an internet rumor particularly on the right that the founder of CrowdStrike, which is effectively (ph) sort of forensic -- online forensic -- they go in, they look into the server, they try to figure out how this all happened. They work in conjunction with the FBI. They've done other stuff like this.
There's rumor in the internet that the founder is CrowdStrike is Ukrainian. He's not. Donald Trump has taken what is a conspiracy theory that kicks around a message board on the right, not only promoted it and brought it up to the President of the Ukraine, but also made, we know now, thanks to Mulvaney, made military aid conditional on them looking into something. Ukraine has no idea what he's talking about. There's no evidence that a physical server is in the Ukraine.
BORGER: But Congress had already appropriated the money.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And by the way you're talking about taxpayer dollars in all of this. But here is why lies can be effective. And most effective if they've got a hint of truth in them.
It is true that we're talking about foreign aid, concessions need to be made. We're talking about the interest of the entire United States. We often conditioned funding on certain concessions.
What we don't do and what is not normal and what's the extra part that makes it the lie is the idea that we do so for the personal political gain of one particular candidate. That's what he's trying to conflate to the American people and that's what he cannot get over.
He has essentially confirmed, by the way, the whistleblower complaint which no one needs to hear from that person now because everyone else confirms the story, don't they at this point in time? And also he has confirmed that only has he had conditioned aid in this way for personal gain, but by telling people that Trump -- he was telling his aides, he talk to Rudy Giuliani who was clearly professed and put out these conspiracy theories as the basis for it, he's confirmed yet again, it was all about a personal political gain. So, the American people have to look at this as not a conflation of something that sounds kind of true and adds a little bit of lie, it and in of itself is inaccurate and unlawful.
BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more we're discussing, a lot more in all the breaking news right after this. [17:30:00]
BLITZER: We're back with political, legal, and national security experts.
Susan, in his opening statement today, Ambassador Sondland wrote that he was, quote, disappointed by the President's direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani in the Ukraine policy. In his actions, though, did Ambassador Sondland actually advance Giuliani's goals here?
HENNESSEY: Yes, so to the extent that he was disappointed in what the President requested of him, he took the ball and ran with it. He was actively trying to facilitate Giuliani's efforts, actively trying to introduce him to Ukrainian officials.
And Sondland himself was carrying that same corrupt message from the President to the Ukrainians, including that they needed to be investigating the Bidens, they needed to be running down this conspiracy theory for the President's personal political interest. You know, this is Sondland essentially saying, I'm not going to be the fall guy.
And so, I don't know how strong of a message it is that he is now trying to say, I knew it was wrong at the time. But that, ultimately, is the message that he is not willing to be -- to be beating the bush (ph) about.
BLITZER: You know, Chris, Sondland, let's not forget, not a career diplomat, a political appointee.
CILLIZZA: Right, he's a --
BLITZER: He gave a billion dollars --
CILLIZZA: I mean, he's a donor.
BLITZER: -- is a big Republican, gave a million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee. He said -- he says in his testimony today, under oath clearly, that he didn't understand until later that Giuliani was trying to dig up dirt, political dirt, on the Bidens.
BLITZER: Is that plausible?
CILLIZZA: No -- I mean, no, not really. I guess he is preserving some level of plausible deniability, but I just don't see how in that back in the spring, "The New York Times" had a big spread in which Rudy Giuliani was quoted directly saying, I'm going to the Ukraine to urge them to look into the Bidens. And the quote that he gave which I still can't believe he gave was, it's not illegal to meddle in investigations, it's only illegal meddling in elections. Well, I mean, I don't know how you could not see that, be aware of it.
It seems tough to make that argument, but Susan's right. Gordon Sondland is essentially saying, I'm not going to be the guy who gets pushed in front to take all this blow.
BLITZER: And if you read his statement, that's obvious. And it's -- what's also obvious is that, apparently, they heard the President say, check with Giuliani, he's the guy. Make sure you coordinate with him.
BORGER: And they did.
BLITZER: Didn't anybody say, well, you know, he's your personal lawyer. He's not really a diplomat.
BORGER: Well --
BLITZER: He's not even a government official, he doesn't have security clearances, and he is running U.S./Ukraine relations?
BORGER: Right. Well, our reporting shows that they were all scratching their heads. They're in this Oval Office meeting on May 23rd. They've just come back from the inauguration, they're all excited, and they -- they want to get the President on the phone with Zelensky.
They want to have a White House meeting. They -- and the President says, no, I'm not -- Ukraine hasn't fixed its corruption, check with Rudy. And then Rick Perry calls Rudy and Volker calls Rudy and Sondland talks to Rudy. And they're all saying -- this is their story. They're all saying, well, why is Rudy involved in this?
But they decided, and Sondland says this, that they had to do what they had to do because they thought that the aid needed to get through, one way or another. Now, Sondland's excuse is, and you -- you've heard this, is that he didn't know that Burisma, when he's told to investigate Burisma -- I know, you're giving -- making a face here.
CILLIZZA: I didn't even buy it (ph), yes.
BORGER: -- that he didn't know that Burisma equals Biden. So you have to decide whether you believe that or not.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Laura.
COATES: Well, I don't believe it. And I think that the idea of somebody trying to contort themselves into a pretzel, logically, to figure out why this person is having amnesia is just an oddity.
COATES: But I also do see that the more actions we hear about of Rudy Giuliani, the less like an attorney-client relationship he and President Trump actually have, which is going to bode very badly for him in terms of any testimony he might give, trying to hide himself behind any sort of privilege.
Also, you had the idea here that the President of the United States is still asking somebody who is not officially part of the federal government, knowing very well that he's been vocal about why -- what his motivation has been and trying to circumvent the laws we have in place that say we do not want interference in elections and trying to have this semantics-based it's not an election --
COATES: -- it's an investigation --
COATES: -- when they're one and the same. Remember, at the end of the day, you're talking about a political rival he's expected to have -- Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. That was his goal, nothing about the security of the United States of America.
BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by. There's a lot more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're about to go live to the Turkish-Syrian border. What's happening in the wake of today's announcement of what the U.S. is calling a ceasefire and what Turkey is calling a pause?
BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump is touting the newly announced deal to stop the fighting along Syria's border with Turkey for five days so Kurdish forces, which had been allied with the United States against ISIS, can withdraw. The President calls the deal an amazing outcome.
Our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is near the Turkish- Syrian border for us right now. Arwa, is there a ceasefire or is there not a ceasefire? Because as you know, Turkey's Foreign Minister says there is not a ceasefire, just a pause.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And there is a pause in hostilities, at least that is what we are hearing from various reports on the ground. Turkey saying this cannot be called a ceasefire because ceasefires are negotiated between two legitimate entities, and Turkey does not consider the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish fighting force, to be an entity, a legitimate entity. They consider them to be a terrorist organization.
But the bottom line, Wolf, is that, at the very least, tonight, as of now, assuming this holds, significant loss of life is no longer going to be occurring within these battle lines. But at the end of the day, this is something that many who have been observing what's happening in northern Syria are now saying this could've been negotiated months ago. Because this is exactly what Turkey had been pleading with the U.S. to
do prior to this operation, to get the Kurdish fighting force to push back from the Turkey-Syria border, Wolf.
BLITZER: Some are saying, Arwa, that this deal gives Turkey basically everything it wants. Is that true?
DAMON: Well, look at what Turkey had to give up in these negotiations that happened with this U.S. delegation. Nothing. Turkey gave up a couple of hours of its President's time and ended up getting exactly what it had been wanting from the U.S. all along. Again, for those Kurdish fighters to agree to pull back from the border area.
Of course, it's going to get tricky moving forward, Wolf, because now you have chunks of the border that are controlled by Turkey and chunks that are controlled by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. So we're going to be seeing some sort of future negotiation presumably being mediated this time by Russia.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us. Arwa, be careful over there. We'll check back with you, appreciate it very much.
There's more breaking news coming up next. The White House now says President Trump will host the next G-7 Summit at a Trump resort. Will the President illegally profit from it?
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, the White House announcing that President Trump will host next year's G-7 Summit at his own resort in Doral, Florida. That's coming up in June.
CNN's Brian Todd is here with details. Brian, there's a lot of controversy already erupting, including the possibility this could be unconstitutional.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a huge concern there, Wolf. Experts say this move could violate the constitution because the President is not allowed to personally benefit from U.S. and foreign government spending. Tonight, ethics watchdogs are apoplectic over this move. One of them saying if this was any other government employee, they could be on their way to jail over this.
TODD (voice-over): It's a historical first, the President of the United States using his office to bring a contract for a major event to one of his own properties in announcing that the Trump National Doral golf club near Miami will host next year's G-7 Summit. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said it's not a conflict of interest. MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There's limitations
at other places. We thought, of the 12 places that we looked at -- and you'd recognize the names of them if we told you what they were -- that this was, by far and away, the best choice.
TODD (voice-over): But tonight, watchdogs say the White House claim that the President's not breaking ethics rules is laughable.
LARRY NOBLE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION: Just the general principle that you're not supposed to profit off of government work. You're not supposed to make any private profit. There's a second reason, which is the President cannot profit from foreign nationals. And this is the very definition of it.
TODD (voice-over): Trump's been promoting Doral as a possible site for the G-7 at least since August.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings. We call them bungalows. They each hold from 50 to 70 very luxurious rooms with magnificent views. We have incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants. Each country can have their own villa or their own bungalow.
TODD (voice-over): Among those endorsing Doral, Trump said at the time, were Secret Service officials. Anthony Chapa, a former Assistant Secret Service Director who planned security for inaugurations, says securing such an enormous location is a serious challenge for the Secret Service.
ANTHONY CHAPA, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE: Well, some of the unique problems in a place like that is access. You know, who has access? How do you control access? How close can people come to the event?
TODD (voice-over): And questions keep coming back to whether the President is trying to save a struggling Trump brand. This spring, financial records obtained by "The Washington Post" showed net operating income at Doral, which Trump bought in 2012 and restored, fell by 69 percent from 2015 to 2017 when Trump became president. One of several indications that his presidency may have taken the shine off his gold-covered portfolio.
MARC FISHER, CO-AUTHOR, "TRUMP REVEALED: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY OF AMBITION, EGO, MONEY, AND POWER": Whether it's his golf courses, his resorts, or his showcase building in New York's Fifth Avenue, in each case, we see that there's been an impact where people do not want to do business in a place with -- that -- that carries the name of someone who they vehemently disagree with.
TODD (voice-over): Still, the dignitaries keep coming. More than 110 officials from nearly 60 foreign governments have been spotted at Trump hotels, golf courses, and other properties since 2017, according to "The New York Times." But Mulvaney and Trump have both denied that the President will make a profit from hosting the G-7 at Doral.
TRUMP: I'm not going to make any money. I don't want to make money. I don't care about making money.
TODD: Ethics and security experts say it is possible that Trump may not make a profit off the G-7 since, in order to secure the event, guests already there may be asked to leave and others may be asked to stay away from the place. But they also say it's possible Trump will make a profit from it if upgrades to Doral are made for the G-7 and if the government is billed for those upgrades -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, President Trump's properties have hosted U.S. government officials before. Has he made a profit off their visits?
TODD: Wolf, the Trump Organization has always said that it has not made profits off those visits. But, look, those visits are expensive. "The Washington Post" reports that at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, the government paid Trump's company $546 a night for each staffer staying in the club's guest rooms. And "The Post" says that the government paid $1,000 for one single night of drinking by White House aides at one of Mar-a-Lago's bars.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.
The breaking news continues next. A major twist in the impeachment inquiry as President Trump's Acting Chief of Staff contradicts the President and admits military aid to Ukraine was tied to investigating Democrats and the 2016 election.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. White House admission. The Acting Chief of Staff offers stunning confirmation that U.S. aid to Ukraine was tied to the President's demand for an investigation of Democrats.